Hazardous Hot Dogs? The American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended that choking hazard warnings appear on packages of several foods, including hot dogs, to alert parents to the potential danger for small children. That prompted writer Lenore Skenazy to question whether Americans are trying too hard to raise a risk-free generation, something she recently wrote about in The Washington Post. She discusses her thoughts with host Lynn Neary.

Hazardous Hot Dogs?

Hazardous Hot Dogs?

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The American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended that choking hazard warnings appear on packages of several foods, including hot dogs, to alert parents to the potential danger for small children. That prompted writer Lenore Skenazy to question whether Americans are trying too hard to raise a risk-free generation, something she recently wrote about in The Washington Post. She discusses her thoughts with host Lynn Neary.

LYNN NEARY, host:

It's now time for our weekly parenting segment. You know what they say: It takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms in your corner. Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a report on the dangers of childhood choking and called for warning labels on carrots, grapes and hot dogs. Now, the very thought of calling hot dogs high risk set off writer Lenore Skenazy's gag reflex and prompted her to publish an article in this Sunday's Washington Post. She joins us now on the phone from Chicago to explain why. Lenore, welcome to the program.

Ms. LENORE SKENAZY (Founder, FreeRangeKids.com; Author, "Free-Range Kids"): Well, thank you so much, Lynn.

NEARY: Now, in this article, you ask: Are children today so much more vulnerable to death and dismemberment than we were, or are we just more nervous about everything? So, which is it?

Ms. SKENAZY: It's definitely that we are more nervous today. I don't think that evolution suddenly took a U-turn with this particular generation of kids. But if you go into any of the baby superstores, you will just be shocked. There are 10,000 items there, and some of them are just beyond belief. I mean, you can buy baby kneepads now, as if crawling is, you know, as if it's on par with football. And there's something called the Thudguard, which is a helmet that babies are supposed to wear from the second they start learning how to toddle, lest they break open their skulls. But we're so worried that they are going to either die or that their bumps and bruises are going to be something that they can't bear and that we shouldn't inflict on them, that there's product after product. There's something called gLovies. Have you heard of gLovies?

NEARY: I have not. What are gLovies?

Ms. SKENAZY: gLovies are my favorite whipping boy. They are little, disposable gloves that you put on your preschooler when they're going out into the big wide world that's filled with germs that are going to kill them. So now you can't crawl. You can't walk, and you can't touch anything, if you're kid, without needing some kind of extra protection.

NEARY: Well, you know - yeah. Parents used to stand around and say: Isn't it amazing what kids can survive? Look at that.

Ms. SKENAZY: Mm-hmm.

NEARY: Little Joe just fell on his head and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SKENAZY: Right.

NEARY: ...he did fine. So what has changed (unintelligible)?

Ms. SKENAZY: What has changed is, first of all, there's a marketplace rushing in to create products for - to income families that are willing to buy them. I mean, whenever you can create a need - and to create a need, you create a fear - then you can sell people something. There's a lot of insistence from the marketplace that not only are our children too vulnerable, but we ourselves are too dumb to protect them any of the old ways.

NEARY: To get back to the choking hazard for a moment, on food - things like carrots, hot dog, grapes...

Ms. SKENAZY: Mm-hmm.

NEARY: ...we do know that choking is scary...

Ms. SKENAZY: It is scary.

NEARY: ...and that it can escalate pretty quickly into something dangerous. So it isn't anything to be taken lightly.

Ms. SKENAZY: I don't take it lightly. And, in fact, when my kids were much younger, I did cut up everything for them. And I don't see any reason why not to put a warning on something. But we are putting warnings and labels and Thudguards on so much of childhood that we're taking childhood away. I mean, yes, you know, get the lead out of paint and put a label on a hot dog. But now we're taking merry-go-rounds out of playgrounds because a kid could fall off. I mean, there are slides that are like no taller than an anthill, basically, because, once again, kids could go plummeting.

I heard from a woman in Texas who went to her child's kindergarten Christmas party. But she wasn't allowed in because everybody who comes into that school needs a background check to prove, honest to God, that they are not a convicted pedophile. And hers hadn't cleared yet, you know? And so she begged. And finally, the kindergarten teacher said, okay, you can come into the party if you stand at the back and don't interact with any of the children. And if you keep taking away these normal things of childhood - you know, communities participating together, children playing on swings or climbing up slides -there's nothing left except keeping them locked inside. And we forget what happens then. Then they're like, you know, watching TV and sipping on a hot dog milkshake - that's the only really safe way to have a hot dog now - and they're left with nothing that has to do with childhood. And we think that this is making them safer. But what we've taken away is all the opportunities for them to develop, you know, everything from muscles to self reliance to joy.

NEARY: Yeah. What do you think is getting lost for the children? I mean, how is this ultimately affecting the children?

Ms. SKENAZY: Well, I mean, there are the obvious things that I don't like to harp on. I mean, there's, obviously, a soaring diabetes rate, and there may or may not be an obesity epidemic. But what you're really missing is the chance to have something to love about being a kid, you know, to go high on the swing, to have a picnic where all the food has not been pureed, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SKENAZY: Girl Scouts are not allowed to toast marshmallows now without having one knee on the ground, lest they immolate themselves by falling face-first into the flames. When my sons were going on their fifth grade field trip to a nature center, the vice principal was explaining to the parents before the trip: It's going to be great. The night that they stay over, we have a big camp fire. Huh! You should have seen the parents, like, with their lawyers on speed dial. You know, camp fire? It's an outrage. And the vice principal quickly explained to them, oh, don't worry. The children are at least 25 feet back from the fire, and there is a row of chairs between them and the fire - a row of benches between them and the fire. And I'm thinking, you know, I don't think -your chocolate bar wouldn't even melt..

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SKENAZY: ...that far from the camp fire. But once again, you can't be too safe. That's all I'm saying. Not that we shouldn't be aware of dangers to our children, and not that we shouldn't cut up things when they're small and before they have their teeth and before they become champion chewers, but we are getting to the point where we're taking so much away from childhood to keep them safe that we've thrown the childhood out with the bath water.

NEARY: Lenore Skenazy is the founder of FreeRangeKids.com and author of a book called "Free-Range Kids." She was kind enough to join us by phone from Chicago. Thanks so much for talking with us today, Lenore.

Ms. SKENAZY: Oh, Lynn, stay safe.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: I will.

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