Another massive toy recall makes headlines and I’m starting to get dizzy. Are those fumes coming from my keyboard? Maybe I’m sitting dangerously close to Colum’s toy box. This latest mishap resulted in several children falling into temporary, drug-induced comas! It’s enough to make you nostalgic for good old fashioned lead poisoning. Asbestos anyone?
I’m not sure what to think of all this. It’s tempting at first to chime in with the “kids don’t need that crap anyway” school of thought. And, sure, it’s possible that one hand-carved wooden train set, an Indian rubber ball, a library card, and a healthy imagination is all any boy needs to get through childhood. (If you have a daughter, simply substitute a baby doll and skipping rope for the train set and ball. Oh, and the library card, too. Girls don’t need to read.) But it’s not 1934 and I’m not planning to move to the heartland and start homeschooling. My kid will have toys, lots of toys, maybe even more than I did. (But my generation will be hard to beat.) And after a scant year and a half I can already tell that many of those toys will not have my express approval. There will be blinking and beeping toys, squishy and smelly toys, glow in the dark toys and, I supose, even video games. Need them or not, want them or not, they will be there.
These recalls do remind us, though, that our world is not bubble-wrapped. (And even if it were, that’s a suffocation hazard.) Our safety conscious, hygiene obsessed, health and well-being oriented society is buoyed by a delusive trust in science and technology. We really believe that the answers are there to be found and that we can guarantee our children’s safety with enough research and the right gadgets. The right diet can prevent cancer and diabetes and heart disease and the right car seat will protect our babies. So it is good to re-examine those assumptions every so often and recognize their limits.
We should, nonetheless, continue to make every effort to ensure the safety of our children. When Colum takes a bite of crayon, or chews on a board book, or smears finger paint all over his face, it’s nice to know those things are non-toxic. When he wins dollar store prizes at a local fair or gets a new toy from Walmart, I’m not so sure, and that’s a shame. The free market is a ruthless, amoral creature that’s only aim is to increase profit. And while it’s one thing to get what you paid for in terms of aesthetics and durability, no price is cheap enough to entail compromised safety measures. I am planting myself, then, squarely in the “we need better regulation” camp on this one. The Bush administration has announced a planned increase in the funding and power of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. (Critics argue that it’s not nearly enough, though.) It’s high time we had an international regulatory body because even though we can expect corporate responsibility, we cannot count on it.