09/03/03
National Childhood Injury Prevention Week
    by John Cech

Brief sound clip

That's one of the harrowing episodes from the 1951 educational film "Live and Learn" on a video called "Mental Hygiene, Classroom Films 1945 - 1970." The ambulance appears throughout the movie, to rescue the unlucky children who have broken bones, nearly drowned, gotten their faces seared by fire, and wounded themselves with scissors and B.B. guns. Our ways of expressing our adult concerns about the accidents that are waiting to happen to children have changed very little from the 1850s, or even the 1750s, when youngsters were given cautionary tales with titles like "The Dangers of the Streets" or "The Misfortunes of Toby Ticklepitcher," who makes one blunder after another. In an early misadventure, Toby tumbles through the rotten boards of an old mill. In another, he lights the fireworks that his friend has in his back pocket -- with lethal effects. And in a third, Toby plays hookey and ends up running oblviously over the roof-tops to catch a pigeon, the narrator explains:


Till his fatal mishap, how I tremble to tell!
Master Toby's foot slip'd, to the pavement he fell;
His mother came out, full of grief, and there found
Her unfortunate boy lying dead on the ground.

It's National Childhood Injury Prevention Month, and we are still trying to figure out how best to alert children about their safety. Do we scare them with object lessons like these, or persuade them with friendly reminders and gentle but firm persuasion? As a general rule, I think, we've opted for the latter, less traumatizing approach. At least, until it's our kid tearing into the street without looking or mindlessly following the older kids on the stunts they're recreating from television programs. It's at times like these that we might find ourselves reaching for one of those old tales.

Copyright 2003 John Cech

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