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Lenore Skenazy
Lenore Skenazy
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Hot Dog! Stand Back 200 Feet!


Hot dog Slurpee, anyone? Hot dog spread? Hot dog pellets?

Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement calling for large-type warning labels on the foods that kids most commonly choke on — grapes, nuts, carrots, candy and public enemy No. 1: the frank. Then the lead author of the report, pediatric emergency room doctor Gary Smith, went one step further.

He called for a redesign of the hot dog.

The reason, he said, is that hot dogs are "high-risk." But are they? I mean, I certainly diced my share of Oscar Mayers when my kids were younger, but if once in a while we stopped for a hot dog and I gave it to 'em whole, was I really taking a crazy risk?

Here are the facts: About 61 children each year choke to death on food, or one in a million. Of them, 17 percent — or about 10 — choke on franks. So now we are talking 1 in 6 million. This is still tragic; the death of any child is. But to call it "high-risk" means we would have to call pretty much all of life "high-risk." Especially getting in a car! About 1,300 kids younger than 14 die each year as car passengers, compared with 10 a year from hot dogs.

What's happening is that the concept of "risk" is broadening to encompass almost everything a kid ever does, from running to sitting to sleeping. Literally!

Consider that some schools have outlawed tag because of the risk that kids may fall when they run. One school I know outlawed football because a fourth-grader broke his leg — and he didn't even break it while playing! No, he did a little victory dance after a touchdown and tripped over a tree root. Nonetheless, football became forbidden. (I guess it was easier to outlaw than trees.)

As for sitting, companies are selling "shopping cart liners" — fabric baskets you insert in the shopping cart before you put your kid in, to prevent him from touching any germs.

There are liners like that for restaurant highchairs, too, because having your kid sit in a chair that someone else sat in first is too dangerous to contemplate sans seat condom, er, highchair cover.

And then there are all the infrared baby monitors you can use to watch your child remotely, even when the lights are out and she's sleeping, the message being: Your child isn't safe, even when she's asleep . A good parent is EVER VIGILANT.

The concept of constant vigilance once was confined to maximum-security prisons. Now parents get yelled at if they turn away from their kids for a second. Every risk, even the tiniest, is "high-risk." A mom I know went to Ikea and left her three kids at one of the cafeteria tables when she had to get more meatballs. Another woman passed by the table and waited for the mom to come back so she could chew her out: "Your kids could have been GONE!"

Really? Someone could take THREE screaming kids from a public place and no one would notice? This busybody ALREADY was noticing, and the kids were perfectly safe!

No doubt the busybody congratulated herself on detecting a very dangerous situation. We are encouraged to dream up the worst-case scenarios and then criticize any parent who hasn't been thinking along the same terrifying trajectory. Another mom I know had her kids, ages 3 and 7, sitting on the front porch. A passer-by called the police to report negligence.

When every single thing a kid does is considered risky beyond belief, no parent is good enough and no activity safe enough. All that's left is a childhood spent indoors, in a highchair liner, sipping a hot dog Slurpee, while Mom watches with a lump in her throat.

Just hope it's not a hot dog.

Lenore Skenazy is the author of "Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry" and "Who's the Blonde That Married What's-His-Name? The Ultimate Tip-of-the-Tongue Test of Everything You Know You Know — But Can't Remember Right Now." To find out more about Lenore Skenazy ( and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



3 Comments | Post Comment
Instead of spending time & money designing a safe hot dog, all that is needed is a slight change in serving the wiener: take a knife & make a big slit the length of the sausage. Or cut it right in half lengthwise. I've gotten hot dogs that were grilled this way anyway--for flavor.
Are we really getting so stupid that we need to use wiener paste, or spiral franks, rather than cutting them into a shape that won't choke? Knives are commonly available where cooking is being done.
Though I suppose knives are involved in more accidental injuries & deaths than are sausages. Ban kitchen knives!
And I hope someone is developing a boneless chicken so people won't choke on the bones.
Or perhaps it's all just evolution in action.
Comment: #1
Posted by: David Lehmann
Tue Mar 9, 2010 9:02 AM
Very interesting data you present. This reminds me a lot of Frank Furedi's thoughts on the culture of fear that exist in the society; take the worst case scenario and make it into something normal. Furedi has also written a book called Paranoid Parenting which should adress a lot of the things you mention here (I haven't read it)
Comment: #2
Posted by: Jacob Kullgren
Fri Jun 18, 2010 3:20 AM
The things I did, unattended by any adults, I would never trade for any kind of "safety." Whatever happened to "Go outside and play and come back when the streetlights come on"?

The only thing coddling gets is adults that can't think or do for themselves.

@David Lehmann

Weiner Paste? Are you kidding me? Sacrilege!

Also, steam the buns.

Comment: #3
Posted by: Boyle M. Owl
Fri Jun 18, 2010 11:44 AM
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