By Michelle Riddell
If the international powers that be are worried about 21st century America taking over the world (even after this election season), they needn’t look any further than the warning labels on kids’ products to ease their minds.
Just yesterday, I parted the spider webs in our shed looking for baby gear for a friend, and I came across proof, slapped onto a $20 umbrella stroller, that Western civilization is far from the dynamo empire we were once feared to be. It was a warning label that said, REMOVE CHILD BEFORE FOLDING FOR STORAGE. This was an umbrella stroller, mind you, aptly named because it folds into a slender, cylindrical shape much like—hard to imagine—an umbrella.
If you have a kid who could be stuffed into that, you have more problems than storage. Like, who let you adopt one of the Veggie Tales? And please, even if your kid would fit into a collapsed stroller, you think he’d go willingly? Obviously, the manufacturers haven’t encountered the body strength of a rigid toddler.
In a box of old crap we keep in the corner of the garage, which we are definitely taking to Goodwill this weekend, I found an blowup 5” x 7” Dora the Explorer picture frame, still puffy and red, with a sticker on the back that said, NOT TO BE USED AS A PERSONAL FLOATATION DEVICE. As in, Oh no! My kid fell overboard! Throw me that picture frame until the Coast Guard arrives. And this completely necessary nugget of wisdom: NOT INTENDED FOR INDUSTRIAL OR AGRICULTURAL USE on a plastic, 13” Fisher Price wheelbarrow.
More proof of our frivolity was on my daughter’s Razor scooter: THIS PRODUCT MOVES WHEN USED. Yikes, no wonder my daughter is so afraid to ride it that she prefers to stay inside waiting for her next dragon to hatch. And this cryptic warning on the packaging of a World Cup edition SuperBall: CHOKING HAZARD! THIS TOY IS A SMALL BALL.
Are these warnings in place because someone’s child has actually been hurt by these products and the manufacturer felt it necessary to warn others, or have we simply become the most litigious group of consumers on the face of the planet? Either way, stupidity and cover-your-own-ass economics are calling the shots here, and the lowest common parental denominator amongst us is the target demographic.
We are warned that bags of peanuts contain peanuts, the contents of a coffee cup may be hot, and Lego sets contain small parts. Somewhere, someone is trying to convince the American public that labels inoculate responsible persons from guilt. But let’s be honest, in the grand scheme of things, products inflict very little permanent injury compared to the intangible hazards kids face every day. What truly does harm a child directly or—by harming her parents—indirectly? What leaves hidden scars, inhibits potential, and causes irreparable damage? If the manufacturing sector (via our government regulators) is really concerned with the lasting well-being of its user base, shouldn’t it start slapping warning labels on these far more imminent threats?
Imagine it — WARNING:
- Shortened/unpaid maternity leave increases the risk of post-partum depression and anxiety, thus inhibiting maternal effectiveness.
- Unlimited exposure to Photoshopped images has been reported to cause bulimia.
- Unresolved anger issues and a lack of coping skills in parents may result in divorce.
- Oversexualizing everything to do with girls and their appearances has been shown to decrease math scores in adolescent females.
- Lying sacks-of-shit boyfriends are NOT intended for use as husbands—even if you become impregnated by them.
- Unaffordable childcare contributes to financial instability and, in some cases, debt.
- Sexual predators masquerading as trusted adults are closer than they appear.
- Cyberbullying will likely result in a lifetime of substance abuse.
Of course, warnings of this nature wouldn’t exempt anyone from damages any more than the existing ones do now. In matters like these, society itself is culpable, and proving negligence does not fall under any specific jurisdiction. The only way to caution our kids is to make it our collective duty as citizens.
We already have the authority to assess harm potential, to stop propping up sham laws that purportedly have a segment of the population’s best interest at heart, and to stop using our children’s safety as an excuse to tie each other up in litigation. We need to accept the duality of our role as both perpetrator and protector, for we, as a society, are more dangerous to our kids than a stroller could ever be. We can’t retroactively legislate bad choices, but we can invoke better industry standards for an enlightened sense of what constitutes “safe.”
That and a successful election outcome would do wonders for our worldly reputation.
About the Author
Born and raised in Detroit, Michelle Riddell now lives with her family in rural mid-Michigan on a very bumpy dirt road, surrounded by farms. Her essays have appeared in print and online magazines including MomSense, Hello,Darling, The Mid, Mamalode, and The Good Men Project. She is a reviewing editor at Mothers Always Write and a rock-star substitute teacher at her daughter’s elementary school. Find her on Twitter @MLRiddell.