Professional Babyproofers: Spreading Fear Or Safety?
Filed under: In The News
Place plastic covers over electrical outlets. Make sure cords from window blinds are well out of reach. Install baby gates at strategic locations.
Oh, and keep that confounded Poppins woman under constant electronic surveillance.
Most new parents have a checklist of things to make their home safe for the baby. There are even a slew of gizmos designed to keep the nanny in line. (Sorry, shock collars remain in a legal gray zone.)
All this can be a bit much. If it gets too confusing, however, you can always call in a [dramatic organ burst] Professional Babyproofer. They actually exist. Consultants come into your home, look the place over and tell you what needs to be done and how to do it. Often, they will do it for you.
Professional babyproofers even have their own association, the International Association for Child Safety. Its executive director, Colleen Driscoll, says babyproofing a home is no simple matter. It can take some parents weeks to get the job done, she says.
"Checklists are fine, but babyproofers take it to the next level," Driscoll says. "Some parents are confused by lists. They need more explanations. It can be a difficult and daunting process."
Meanwhile, Lenore Skenazy rolls her eyes.
She's the author of the book "Free-Range Kids" and the founder of a movement that believes modern parents have gone overboard in their attempt to prevent every conceivable mishap. Parental paranoia has become an industry, Skenazy says.
"It takes up whole floors at Babies 'R Us, and the idea of hiring someone else to babyproof is taking off like gangbusters," she says. "The mere fact that professional babyproofers even exist is one of the first hints that parents get from the Kiddie Safety Industrial Complex that their own instincts and smarts aren't nearly enough to keep their kids safe."
But that's not the point, Driscoll counters.
"The reality is looking at the fact that children are being injured," she says. "We want to prevent as many injuries as possible. Are you the parent who wants to drive a child to the emergency room? Most of us would say not."
Babyproofing a home is no more extreme than state laws that require people -- children and adults alike -- to wear seat belts in cars, Driscoll adds.
Skenazy says there are common sense steps to take, like keeping window cords and toxic chemicals out of the reach of children, but professional babyproofers take safety to a ridiculous -- if profitable -- extreme.
"When we start getting into the notion that you have to babyproof to prevent every possible accident -- even ones less likely than being hit by lightning -- we run into the idea that it's the parents' job to imagine the worst case scenario and plan accordingly," she says.
Skenazy says that creates an even greater, more insidious danger for children.
"Parents get the idea they can barely let their kids do anything," she says, resulting in timid, cowardly children afraid of taking even the slightest risk. "The babyproofing industry gets us used to the idea that zero danger is the only acceptable amount -- not 0.0001 percent. Zero."
That's not true, according to Driscoll. What is true, she says, is that children get needlessly injured and killed.
"We want to help make sure children don't get hurt from accidents that could be easily prevented," Driscoll says.
No one in her association second guesses parents' instincts, she says, adding that there are just some things professionals are trained to notice. One of them is the uncanny ability of infant masterminds to thwart safety devices. Sometimes, a new baby comes along, she says, and the old devices won't work.
Some babyproofers have been in the business for more than 25 years, Driscoll says. They can assess a house and know how to find the studs in the wall to properly anchor a baby gate and other safety features. They also know when to go to the hardware store when the nuts and bolts in the box aren't enough.
None of this casts aspersions on the parents, Driscoll says. Not all parents have the skills to do everything that's needed to babyproof their home.
You can't really babyproof a home, Skenazy says.
"That's a false notion, of course, and it drives parents mad," she says.
There is no certification process for babyproofers. Driscoll says her association is starting one, and it should be in place next year. In the meantime, she says, people should check babyproofers' references and do as much research as possible.
"We know how kids are getting hurt and what we can do about it," she says.
That's a load of creamed corn, says Skenazy
"The human race got to this point in history without toilet locks," she says. "Babies are built to be hearty and some common-sense notions will keep them extremely safe."
Related: Potty Training Advice from the "Babyproofers"