Sick of being warned about anything and everything when it comes to the holiday season?
So am I. That's why I'm ready to throw a lawn dart at a group called World Against Toys Causing Harm, or W.A.T.C.H. Every year since 1973, it has published a hyperventilating "10 Worst Toys" list at Christmastime.
Now, maybe back in '73, companies were still selling toy ovens that could smelt ore and chemistry sets that could actually blow things (that is, people) up.
But in the 40-plus years since W.A.T.C.H. was started — by a trial lawyer who wouldn't exactly suffer if he drummed up clients eager to sue toymakers for negligence — the regulations on toys and other kiddie products have multiplied to the point that if there's lead in the ink in the logo that's printed on the instep of a child's boot, which was exactly the issue in one infamous case, the item is recalled. Because what if a kid somehow hacked the boot into pieces, peeled out the instep and ate it?
It is just this zero tolerance for "risk" that W.A.T.C.H. exploits every Christmas. Among its top 10 dangers this year is a large plush elephant. What danger could a stuffed animal possibly present?
Duh. "POTENTIAL FOR SUFFOCATION! W.A.T.C.H. OUT!"
Also on this year's list is a kind of wearable beach ball called Bump n' Bounce Body Bumpers. You put the bumper around your waist like an inner tube and then proceed to bump into your friends. The manufacturer's own warning label, already quaking at the thought of personal injury lawsuits, clearly states, "To avoid risk of serious injury or death ... protective equipment (for head, elbows, knees, hands, etc) should be worn (not included)."
But somehow, even a warning about death was not dire enough. The company was shamed because its box shows kids using the toy without any head, elbow or knee guards whatsoever. Goodbye, St. Nicholas; hello, St. Peter.
If only they worked a little harder, I'll bet product liability lawyers could stop kids from ever moving their little bodies again. But so far, the folks at W.A.T.C.H. have shied away from the biggest kahuna of them all, the toy that must be stopped.
So I did it for them. I made a contest: Come up with a warning label for a ball. Here are the results:
Caution! Sharp edges. — Neil S.
WARNING: This is a toy and not to be used as an actual ball. — Matthew Trescher
Warning: Ball carries germs. Wash after each use. — Alanna
Do not insert into urethra. — Joe
For decorative purposes only. — Christina
Not to be used as a flotation device. — Adam Kampia
Do not operate without protective goggles. — Shelly Stow
Device does not provide a stable support. Do not attempt to sit or stand upon the ball. — Scott
Toy may change direction unpredictably when impacting an object. — Jim C.
Chasing this object could cause fatigue. — John B.
For educational purposes only. Not to be taken internally. Do not play "ball" while driving. — Bob Magee
For recreational purposes only. Do not use as a metaphor for having a great time. Do not use as a metaphor for masculinity or courage. Do not confuse with a formal dance. — Kenny Felder
Not to be used to exclude other children. — Backroads
If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, consult your doctor before attempting to throw ball. — Rick
Warning, if you bounce this too high it might break through the ceiling causing the house to cave in on you. — Alaina, age 12
To be used on padded surfaces only. Use of a helmet is recommended. If any hole or tear develops discard immediately. — Jessica
Not to be used by children under 13. — Sally
DO NOT THROW. — Jack D.
WARNING: Balls may be bigger than brains. — Lollipoplover
Lenore Skenazy is author of the book and blog "Free-Range Kids" and a keynote speaker at conferences, companies and schools. Her TV show, "World's Worst Mom," airs on Discovery Life. To find out more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.