Creative Destruction

May 19, 2006

“Bad moms” and child safety

Filed under: Popular Culture — bazzer @ 9:14 am

Look, I understand that Britney Spears is an idiot, and I'm perfectly prepared to believe that she's not a model parent, but the media feeding frenzy over her parenting skills has just gotten plain silly. It reached a climax of ridiculousness on Tuesday, when the New York Post ran this story on its front page.Britney's offense? She was driving a convertible with her baby in the back seat, strapped into a car seat, in the exact same fashion that all conscientious parents strapped in their kids… until recently. Now, of course, you have to strap the poor tike in backwards, or you're an evil mom and you want your kid to die.

You have to keep them in the back seat, facing backwards so they'll get motion sickness, and you can't see their face, and you have no clue as to whether they're sick, or choking, or uncomfortable. Oh, and car seats aren't just for infants anymore. Now you have to remain in them until you start shaving.

Sorry, but the "child safety" mania has gone too far. No activity is ever going to be 100% safe, so we have to strike a meaningful balance between acceptable risks and reasonable precautions. That sense of balance is lost today, and soon kids won't be allowed outside of the house without being encases in bubble-wrap with a GPS locator attached to them.

I don't normally post this type of thing here, but I received one of those e-mail thingies recently that's relevant here. Read it, if you haven't already. It'll remind you that there was once a simpler time, and a time that many of us here lived through and remember.

First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they were pregnant. They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can, and didn't get tested for diabetes.Then after that trauma, we were put to sleep on our tummies in baby cribs covered with bright colored lead-based paints.

We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets, not to mention the risks we took hitchhiking.

As infants & children, we would ride in cars with no car seats, booster seats, seat belts or air bags. Riding in the back of a pick up on a warm day was always a special treat.

We drank water from the garden hose and NOT from a bottle.

We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and NO ONE actually died from this.

We ate cupcakes, white bread and real butter and drank Kool-Aid made with sugar, but we weren't overweight because WE WERE ALWAYS OUTSIDE PLAYING !

We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach us all day.

And we were O.K.

We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem.

We did not have Playstations, Nintendo's, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 150 channels on cable, no video movies or DVD's, no surround-sound or CD's, no cell phones, no personal computer! s, no Internet or chat rooms……. WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!

We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents.

We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.

We were given BB guns for our 10th birthdays,

We made up games with sticks and tennis balls and, although we were told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes.

We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just walked in and talked to them!

Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!!

The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!

These generations have produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever! The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ALL!

If YOU are one of them . . . CONGRATULATIONS!

You might want to share this with others who have had the luck to grow up as kids, before the lawyers and the government regulated so much of our lives for our own good.




  1. Lots of us were not “O.K.” These regulations and changes were not invented by bored bureaucrats–they happened because somebody got hurt or killed and we didn’t want it to happen again. Darn those meddling gub’mint people and their laws against drunk driving! Why, in MY day, it was considered perfectly okay to let your kid bounce around the back seat while you swilled a fifth of Jack as you sped down the highway, and we turned out FINE!

    As for Ms. Spears, while it’s silly that this is supposedly front-page news, you are pulling the ‘recently’ argument out of thin air. Infant car seats are designed to be installed rear-facing and have been for well over a decade. They do not work otherwise. ‘Conscientous’ parents don’t put the car seat in backwards.

    Sorry, but the “big mean government won’t let us play with matches” mania has gone too far.

    Comment by mythago — May 19, 2006 @ 6:05 pm | Reply

  2. We got top-of-the-line car seats for our baby from infancy on, and they didn’t even have rear-facing seats in the store. Maybe it’s a regional variation.

    Comment by Robert — May 19, 2006 @ 6:13 pm | Reply

  3. It’s the AAp’s recommendation. I doubt it’s a regional thing; I don’t ever remember seeing non-rear-facing infant car seats in the stores, and it wasn’t in California.

    Comment by mythago — May 19, 2006 @ 6:23 pm | Reply

  4. Well, the AAP can go hang. I’m not putting a baby in a seat where I can’t see her.

    Comment by Robert — May 19, 2006 @ 6:53 pm | Reply

  5. The stores in my area seem to mainly carry convertable seats, which can be faced forwards or backwards. Infant seats, which face only backwards but are only useful for the first year (you’re supposed to face the kid forward after it’s one year old, or over 20 pounds, whichever comes second), are given much less shelf space.

    The number of accidental deaths that happen to children under age 1 in the US is pretty tiny – less than 1,000 ( source ). And most of those accidents aren’t car accidents. For all children who die in car accidents, 50% weren’t restrained at all (and Mythago, if you really think there’s no difference between being restrained in a foward-facing seat and not being restrained at all, I believe you’re mistaken). And 70% were being driven by someone who had been drinking. After the unrestrained and the drunk drivers are removed, my bet is that very few infant deaths can be attributed to a car seat being installed facing fowards rather than backwards.

    So, yes, a backwards-facing seat is one way a parent can make their infant safer; but the margin of difference is probably pretty damn small.

    I don’t think there’s a better example of why anecdotal data is dubious than the “we did it when we were kids, and we’re still around!” argument. By definition, the kids who got killed riding in the back of pick-up trucks (which I did), riding in car front seats (ditto), biking without a helmet (ditto), and so forth aren’t included in such anecdotes.

    We’ve saved a minority of children’s lives by making the majority of chlidren’s and parents’ lives feel more filled with anxiety and danger. The costs seem worth the gain to me, but we should be willing to admit that a price is paid for increased safety and safety-consciousness.

    Comment by Ampersand — May 19, 2006 @ 11:09 pm | Reply

  6. I am loathe to feed the “woe is me, I’m being victimized by government regulation” monster.

    But, for what it’s worth, the Freakonomics guys could not find much evidence for the idea that car seats save the lives of kids two years old and older. But seat belts do. See

    Comment by nobody.really — May 20, 2006 @ 12:59 am | Reply

  7. More accurately, the Freakonomics guys found that there isn’t any evidence that car seats are much better than seat belts once the kid is out of the infant seat. It’s restraint that saves lives, not $300 shells of high-impact uberdesign.

    “Restraint saves lives”. I breathe conservatism.

    Comment by Robert — May 20, 2006 @ 1:27 am | Reply

  8. In car seat terms, “infants” are aged up to one year, which is when you use the infant seat – that is, the backwards-facing seat.

    “Toddlers” includes kids who are out of the infant seat but not yet two years old. Since the Freakenomics guys don’t say anything about seatbelts being just as safe for 12 to 24 month olds, my suspicion is that the data shows that kids in that age range are better off in a child car seat.

    Although car safety experts may have brilliant counter-arguments that I don’t know about, if the Freakonomics described the FARS data accurately, I find that an extremely compelling argument against mandating car seats for kids over 24 months. (Of course, it may be that the difference is in injuries, not deaths. But I’d want to see the evidence).

    The last paragraph of the Freakonomics essay was a joke, but it was still kind of stupid. “Standing still” isn’t the same thing as having a safety restraint on, and in my experience kids rarely stay still for the entire time they’re in front of a DVD player.

    Comment by Ampersand — May 20, 2006 @ 1:40 am | Reply

  9. if you really think there’s no difference between being restrained in a foward-facing seat and not being restrained at all, I believe you’re mistaken

    That’s not what I said. I do think there is a difference between being restrained properly in a rear-facing infant seat that is designed to be used that way, and being restrained improperly because the car seat’s put in backwards. (As for seeing the kid, that to me is an argument for putting the kid in the passenger seat rather than the back. Rear- or front-facing, you can’t see the infant in the back unless you turn around instead of watching the road.)

    The Freakonomics study did not look at injuries, as the authors acknowledge, and that’s a major problem with it.

    Comment by mythago — May 20, 2006 @ 12:56 pm | Reply

  10. Mythago,

    Virtually everyone – including the link you provided earlier, iirc – agrees that the back seat is far safer for kids than the front seat. If we’re talking about what parents should do to keep kids as safe as possible, putting them in the back is probably at least as important as which direction the car seat faces.

    Also, at least parents can’t mess up putting a chid in the back seat. Studies consistantly show that the majority (70-80%) of car seat users do not have the carseat correctly installed or use it incorrectly.

    Depending on the design of the airbag release mechanism, cars with passenger-side airbags can be especially dangerous for children (and for anyone under five feet tall, actually, which is why airbags injure more women than men). If the airbag is badly designed, even a crash at 10mph can kill a small child. Admittedly, the risk isn’t huge, but neither are the risks you’re talking about.

    I don’t think they’ve even tested airbags and backwards-facing carseats to see how they interact. There’s no way we can know how safe or unsafe the combo would be.

    Rear- or front-facing, you can’t see the infant in the back unless you turn around instead of watching the road.

    A correctly installed car seat goes in the center seat. If it’s forward-facing, the parent can see the child with the rear-view mirror.

    The Freakonomics authors did follow-up work looking at injuries, and found the same result: their empirical data does not show a significant difference between using a seatbelt and using a carseat, for children over 24 months.

    Comment by Ampersand — May 20, 2006 @ 4:02 pm | Reply

  11. Thanks for doing the legwork, Amp. For a guy with no kids, you’re sure up to speed. Obsess about niece safety, much? 😛

    We’re now using the integrated childseat + seatbelt in the back of the Volvo for Stephanie (age 3 1/2). It’s nice because we can take the “sporty” car out for family trips instead of the minivan.

    Yes, I’m aware that considering a Volvo station wagon as the “sporty” car is genuinely pathetic.

    Comment by Robert — May 20, 2006 @ 4:26 pm | Reply

  12. Virtually everyone – including the link you provided earlier, iirc – agrees that the back seat is far safer for kids than the front seat.

    As do I. I don’t see anyone arguing that it’s exactly the same as the rear-facing position, and certainly I don’t see that if Robert is nonetheless going to insist on putting the kid in the front seat, that it’s reasonable to say “Well, hell, might as well not bother with any other safety precautions.”

    I don’t think they’ve even tested airbags and backwards-facing carseats to see how they interact.

    I’ve seen videos of such tests. They’re not pretty. If you don’t have an airbag in your front seat, of course, like those of us with older cars…

    The center seat is the ideal place for the infant seat, assuming you HAVE a center seat, of course. I don’t recall that twisting my rearview mirror around to check on the baby did much to improve my driving, but I guess everyone’s different.

    Comment by mythago — May 20, 2006 @ 9:02 pm | Reply

  13. Mythago, don’t forget, I’ll also be smoking a blunt, waving my firearm at passing police cruisers, and cranking Zeppelin* to 11.

    That ought to improve the whole safety situation immeasurably.

    *(The Immigrants’ Song, natch.)

    Comment by Robert — May 20, 2006 @ 9:22 pm | Reply

  14. I thought waving your firearm at passing police cruisers was legal in red states.

    Comment by mythago — May 22, 2006 @ 10:57 am | Reply

  15. If you have your child sitting correctly in a rearfacing seat you can buy a mirror to be able to see your child. I had two children young enough to be rearfacing and with the correct mirror. I could see both. Do some more research on the reasons that they don’t want you to have a baby forward facing before a year or over 20lbs whichever comes 2nd. It is much safer.

    Comment by Beth — August 21, 2006 @ 1:37 am | Reply

  16. Reminiscing about the “good old days”. Yes I do remember, but the world is a different place today and we learn from our mistakes… hopefully. While we are far from perfect, we continue to do things that will help prevent our little ones from getting hurt. A far from perfect society, never the less, if you read the CDC (Center for Disease Control) reports, you will see that there is not enough being done… or is it that we are just not doing the right things? I truly wish that children did not need my safety character Mr. No-No to help them become proactive of their own safety, but with over 4 million children a year accidentally being poisoned, I am glad I can save children’s lives.

    Comment by Mr. No-No — September 9, 2007 @ 2:04 pm | Reply

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