Monday, January 07, 2008

The Scourge of Overprotectionism

Wosog got me a great little pair of Nikon binoculars for Christmas. Like many Japanese products they came with a surprising amount of documentation. This included admonition to read thoroughly the safety precautions before use. Alongside sensible advice about not looking through the binoculars while walking, I was amazed to find instructions such as:

"Do not swing the binoculars by their straps. They may hit someone and cause injury."

"If you use the rubber eyecups for a long period of time, you may suffer skin inflammation. If you develop any symptoms, consult a doctor immediately."

"Be careful not to pinch your finger when adjusting interpupillary distance or diopter."

"Do not leave the polythene bag used for packaging witihin small children's reach. Children may put it into their mouths and suffocate."
I am a great fan of TED Talks, and I spotted this one today that seemed to be on a similar subject: namely the irresistible rise of overprotectionism. The speaker advocates, far from protecting children from every conceivable threat, that we should be deliberately exposing them to activities that could be dangerous:

The activities recommended include exposure to fire, using a pocket knife, throwing a spear. dismantling electrical equipment and driving a car: all under appropriate supervision, of course. It's surprising how wild these suggestions appear to a modern audience, including myself, but then I remember how many of these things, as well as even more hazardous activities I actually did when young!

The comments on the TED site are almost universally supportive of Gever Tulley's suggestions, so why are we and our American fellow parents still overprotecting our children, and why do manufacturers feel obliged to put this ridiculous advice on their products?

Fear of litigation is undoubtedly part of the explanation, but I don't think we can lay all the blame at the feet of the despicable lawyers!