Terrified guardians of public safety protect kids from rocks, other imaginary dangers

Lenore "Free Range Kids" Skenazy's editorial in Forbes aims at the excessive regulatory zeal in kids' product safety -- where even the faintest whiff of danger is grounds for a recall:
Michael Warring, president of American Educational Products in Fort Collins, Colo., had his shipment all ready: A school's worth of small bags, each one filled with an igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rock. Then the school canceled its order. Says Warring, "They apparently decided rocks could be harmful to children."... The children will study a poster of rocks instead...

Well, there's the Graco Harmony High Chair. The commission warns parents to "stop using product immediately." Yikes! Scary! Is it ejecting kids? Spontaneously combusting? Not quite. Of the 1,200,000 units sold, the CPSC received "24 reports of injuries, including bumps and bruises to the head, a hairline fracture to the arm, and cuts, bumps, bruises and scratches to the body." In other words: For every 50,000 chairs sold, a single child has suffered a bruise, bump or--once--a hairline fracture. Now look: Nobody likes to see a sweetheart suffer. But the Harmony high chair does not exactly sound like baby's first Pinto.

Students Aren't Allowed To Touch Real Rocks (via JWZ)


  1. my daughter tripped on a poster depicting rocks, and landed on real ones, causing cuts and abrasions.

    we just describe rocks to her now in hushed voices.

  2. Real rocks are just as dangerous raw milk, if not more. Random trivia: Did you know that almost all people stoned to death throughout history were killed by rocks!?!

  3. Are you serious? I find this sort of thing ridiculous. We should stop trying to put kids in a plastic bubble protecting them from everything, it just makes them more vulnerable. The rocks could be potentially dangerous?

    If we think like that then aren’t we just making our kid scared of everything?

    1. And that’s how they want you to be. Once everyone is scared of everything they can get any stupid law passed in the name of “safety” (a more expansive form of how “terrorism” is used now).

      Recaptcha text: devour Maurice. Anyone have instructions on how to prepare him so I don’t get food poisoning?

  4. On a normal day both my kids manage to get a bruise or a cut. If they don’t that means they haven’t being playing enough.

  5. Seems like this article is a ringer, from Forbes… The message is ‘Nanny organizations cause more problems than they solve.’ Funny timing and funny source, don’t you think?

  6. Wait … a bump to the *head*? I find it a little difficult to blame the chair for that one.

    Sitting. Ur doin it rong.


  7. I have a solution to this problem: we take dangerous rocks and throw them at lawyers until either the rocks become safe or the lawyers become productive citizens.

  8. The shipping costs of a stack of posters is likely slightly less than sending a school’s worth of bags filled with rocks. I’d bet they just said the safety thing to give the shippers some excuse as to why they ‘had no choice’ but to cancel the already filled order.

  9. There are many schools where giving out a small bag of rocks to each pupil would be a recipe for disaster.

  10. The two situations are pretty different. The high-chair situation is a recall, where they’ve discovered a defective product and are offering a fix:

    “The screws holding the front legs of the high chair can loosen and fall out and/or the plastic bracket on the rear legs can crack causing the high chair to become unstable and tip over unexpectedly. … Consumers should immediately stop using the Harmony® high chair and contact Graco to receive a free repair kit.”

    Sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

  11. Am I the only one that can remember a time when rocks were the only thing between you and the dirt beneath the rust monkey bars? Sure there were times we flung the pebbles at each other, but that was a rare occurrence.

    1. I remember that, too, and I’m only 23. There are very, very few people younger than me who played on playgrounds that hadn’t been -funproofed- injuryproofed.

  12. One of the hardest (and simultaneously easiest) things to do as a parent is to resist the urge to constantly intervene with your kids while they learn to use their bodies and manipulate their surroundings. Don’t climb that tree, don’t put dirt in your mouth, don’t kiss the dog on the mouth….etc. I find that as I watch my children do these things my anxiety builds, but how ever will they learn anything otherwise?

  13. Skenazy also has a great blog she keeps up with
    postings of this kind of weirdness.
    Well worth checking out as an indicator of where this country is going as a culture.

    And compared to the UK version of the News of the
    Weird that I peruse, we Americans are downright
    laissez-faire when it comes to “Health & Safety” insanity.

  14. This woman is a nut job and anyone who hasn’t seen the ABC News segment on her should check it out (I’d provide a link but The YouTubes is blocked at my workplace). Anyone can find an extreme example and, sure, this is pretty ridiculous, but there’s this little thing called “balance.”

    I grew up in the sticks of NH. We played outside, alone, across several acres all the time. We came home with cuts, bruises, mosquito bites, stained clothing, even the odd tick or two. On the flipside, we went to school every day, bad grades were unacceptable, and we were expected to eat our vegetables. This woman allows her kids to do literally whatever they want. When asked how she thinks they’re going to cope in the real world, she has absolutely no answer.

    I’m not saying I think this school acted in a reasonable manner, but she’s cherry-picking an extreme example to support her beliefs (imagine that!).

    1. As a regular reader of Skenazy’s blog, and an owner of her book, and a person who’s seen the ABC story to which you refer, I can tell you that you haven’t the slightest clue what you’re talking about. A word of advice: Learn before speaking.

    2. Jeff, I don’t see where you get the “lets them do anything they want” thing. I’ve read her blog for a long time and I see a lot less there that I disagree with than on Boing Boing. I’ve certainly never seen her advocate for something that I’d consider a major threat to a child…

      We live in a world where your odds of dying in a car crash are about 1:100, and we’re focus on 1:1,000,000 kidnapping events and 1:100,000 risks of breaking an arm on a high chair. THAT is nuts. Lenore is just eccentric.

      Advocates for anything are _always_ more extreme than the average person will be. That’s how it works.

      1. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. It’s not about advocating your children’s engagement in specifically risky behavior. I’m not even talking about that side of things. I absolutely agree with her stance on rocks, playgrounds, all of that. What I’m referring to is her lack of parenting. Her kids don’t go to school. She doesn’t home-school them. When asked if she thinks her kids will be set back in life because of it, she seemed completely oblivious to how the modern world works.

        I don’t know. I don’t have kids and never plan to, so I guess this isn’t something that even affects me. I’m just not sure we should be raising a generation of kids who think they’re entitled to do what they want when they want. I also seem to be the only person who feels this way. So I guess I’ll keep my mouth shut.

        1. Jeff, I don’t think you’re taking crazy pills, I think you’re just misinformed. Read her blog a bit, or pick up her book at the library. She’s certainly eccentric, but the free-range movement isn’t about what you think it’s about. At least for most free-range advocates, Skenazy included. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, I think.
          Alternately, if you ARE taking crazy pills, are they a good time and where can I get some?

    3. This woman is a nut job

      I’d rather my kids go entirely feral than learn to argue via character assassinations.

  15. If the parents are that concerned about rocks, then they need to send their children into space. After all, Earth is one very large rock and the kids will be safe.

    Wait, there are moons out there…
    and asteroids…
    and micrometeorites…

    Let’s save the children by not having any!

  16. That’s so crazy about the rocks.

    Someone needs to do a followup on the whole lead testing regulations and how it was going to destroy the used toy and craft toy industries.

    I know at a homeschool fair I attended, the big used book dealer bowed out. I assume because of the law, but maybe something else. Any reporting on this?

  17. “…there’s this little thing called “balance.””
    Skenazy’s whole point is that there isn’t any balance in the way we (US and UK are her focus) assess risk, especially when it comes to children. Her own point of view is actually quite balanced, in that she advocates making choices based on actual risk rather than perceived risk.
    “This woman allows her kids to do literally whatever they want.”
    Nope. Not even close. They must be home when the streetlights come on. They may not ride their bikes farther than a certain distance. They must wear bike helmets. They must complete all their homework. They must help with household chores. Etc.
    “When asked how she thinks they’re going to cope in the real world, she has absolutely no answer.”
    She has a pretty coherent theory on this, which boils down to this: If you raise your kids in a way that teaches them how to deal with everyday situations and interactions, rather than fearing those situations, then when they grow up and go out on their own they’ll be self-sufficient people who know how to assess risk and fend for themselves. (I’ve observed the result of so-called ‘helicopter parenting’ myself – which Lenore opposes – and it it both widespread and terrifying.)
    “she’s cherry-picking an extreme example to support her beliefs”
    You’d be surprised how mundane this example actually is. There are thousands of similar examples, many even more extreme. I direct you to her blog, http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/, where she actually regularly posts examples of both absurd risk-avoidance and of measured and intelligent risk-analysis.

    1. Thank you! And I was wrong. So for that I apologize. I didn’t realize her kids had any restrictions place don them whatsoever. Maybe that’s a deeper problem with sensationalized media in this country. But I watched the whole 9-minute piece and I never got the impression there was any responsibility or accountability put on the kids.

      Just to clarify, I agree 100% when it comes to risk assessment and the ridiculousness of most parents. I also think helicopter parenting is insane. Like I said, my parents gave us plenty of freedom and I think that’s made me a more self-sufficient and, as you pointed out, less fearful person.

      Anyway, I still think there’s a middle ground and call me old-fashioned, but I still think education is important.

      1. Oh, her kids go to school. Not sure if it’s public or private, but they’re enrolled in a traditional grade-by-grade school.

      2. I know you already responded backing off your previous comments, but I wanted to clarify something else. You seem to be confusing the “Unschooling” movement with the “Free Range” movement, which are two different things.

        As others already pointed out, the “Free Range” movement simply asks for parents to do a better job at risk assessment and not shelter their kids so much. The point is so kids can learn how to properly do risk assessment themselves in the future and also not be afraid of mundane things.

        “Unschooling,” on the other hand, is more of what you’re complaining about, which is the theory that kids are innately capable of choosing what to learn on their own at their own pace, and don’t need the “structure” of modern public schools. Unschooling is misunderstood and gets a bad rap, in no small part to the media, but hopefully that clears up the confusion.

        Since others already covered the free range stuff, I’ll elaborate on unschooling a little bit. Don’t confuse it with letting kids do absolutely whatever they want, first off. Just because a kid gets more control over their own education doesn’t mean they get to go wild. They still have to learn that being part of a family requires compromises and they still have to learn to work within the constraints of the real world.

        It also doesn’t mean the children’s education exists in a vacuum. The parents are still their to guide the child once they decide what the need or want to learn. Note: many people forget that unshooling is guided by “need” as well as “want” so tend to confuse it with no structure whatsoever. The only difference is that unschoolers trust that kids will eventually develop the ability to determine what the needs are.

      3. “Maybe that’s a deeper problem with sensationalized media in this country. But I watched the whole 9-minute piece and I never got the impression there was any responsibility or accountability put on the kids.”

        You got out of the piece what ABC wanted you to. They have their reasons to be pro-helicopter and it has absolutely nothing to do with child safety. (Parent company of ABC is?)

  18. It seems to me that litigiousness is behind stories like this. Most lawyers are not scum. But can’t you imagine an unscrupulous one encouraging legal action against the school system if a child took a rock to the tooth (or eye)? Sadly, I can.

  19. Be careful with those analogies, it was found later that the Pinto didn’t have failure rates any higher than typical cars at that time. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Pinto

    Perhaps the last line of the story should read “…the Harmony high chair sounds more like baby’s first Pinto.”

    Or the analogy could just be left out.

  20. I guess the solution would be to have your kid sit on a picture of a Graco Harmony High Chair?

  21. I’d rather my kids go entirely feral than learn to argue via character assassinations.

    So they can go anywhere but internet comment threads? ;-P

    Actually, that would be an interesting way to teach kids to debate, or at least to show them lots of examples of logical fallacies and such.

    The above argument is an example of:

    a) character assassination
    b) a “straw man” argument
    c) a “no true Scotsman” fallacy

  22. Back when that border guard shot and killed that Mexican kid for throwing a rock, some of my more conservative friends were so eager to justify that response that they stated, without irony, that a rock is a deadly weapon and if someone looks like they’re going to throw one (not actually throwing, just LOOKS like they want to) at a police officer, that is attempted murder and the officer would be in dereliction of duty if they did NOT open fire with lethal force.

    Such contortions, for the sake of being “right.”

    I wonder what they would say about this.

    1. The only problem I see is when the students realize that they have rocks, scissors, and paper all in the same classroom, resulting in pure mayhem when they start literally acting out the game.

  23. Speaking of dangerous rocks, California’s State Senator Gloria Romero is pushing legislation to get the scary mineral serpentinite de-listed as the State Rock! Geologists are opposing in force. #CASerpentine

  24. The cool part of this is that you’re breeding a generation of lazy and fearful americans. The bad part is those americans will have nuclear bombs.

  25. Well, when rocks are outlawed, only outlaws will have rocks. Sorry, but somebody had to say it.

  26. Wow! I think I recognize the pebbles in that image. Are those from Pebble Beach (not the famous one) in Pescadero, California? I go there all the time and the mix of pebbles looks exactly like the ones there.

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