Last Christmas I bought my father a desk toy called Buckyballs. They are a set of powerful magnets that you can link together and build things with them. Both he and I have had a lot of fun playing with them. There are warnings on the packaging saying that they are not suitable for children and are very dangerous if swallowed. Naturally when my much younger cousins came to our house I made sure the Buckyballs were kept well away from them.
So I was surprised while watching Channel 7 News that a mother is calling to ban them in Australia because her son swallowed them and needed surgery to remove them before they perforated his insides. The story was heavily biased to the side of banning the desk toy which I think is completely ridiculous. The packaging clearly states in five different places that they are not for children and should be kept away from them.
So why was he playing with a product not designed for or marketed to his age group? The warning also clearly states that they are a hazard if swallowed, so why would you not make your child aware of the fact that they should not go anywhere near your mouth? Or, if you have a child prone to swallowing things they shouldn’t, maybe don’t buy them in the first place? Of course children are going to swallow things they shouldn’t, but as an adult you can avoid them being in contact with them at all. As an adult, I have been playing with these and not once has one suddenly flown in into my mouth. Don’t swallow them and they are completely harmless and not at all life threatening.
Just think of all the things that could be dangerous if used in direct conflict with the warnings. Better stop selling kitchen knives, they don’t come with a warning not to run them along your skin or stab yourselves with them. Those little packets that come in shoe boxes, handbags and all sorts of things which clearly state ‘Do not eat’, well, we probably should ban them because someone might blatantly disregard that and start shoveling them down like candy. If you’re going to start banning things because someone might do what the warnings say directly not to do: where does it end? Today we ban Buckyballs, tomorrow we ban cars because people hurt themselves in those a heck of a lot more often than people swallow powerful magnets. I mean, really, soon we will need to wear protective gear when we walk past tables because of the anxiety caused by accidentally running into them.
What surprises me even more is that there is already legal action to ban them in the US (there has already been a stop-sale and the manufacturers have disputed it), which, if successful means it would be easier to buy a gun than Buckyballs. Apparently Buckyballs are more dangerous than something actually designed to kill.
Seriously, where is the onus on the consumer to use the product correctly? Or the parent to be responsible for their child? To be fair I don’t know if the mother was responsible for giving the Buckyballs to her son or if she was there to supervise him with a product specifically not for his age group (the packaging says ‘ALL children’, it doesn’t give specific ages) but I just don’t see how this is anyone’s fault but the boy’s or maybe whichever adult gave them to him, or left them in a place he could easily reach. Why should we ban something perfectly safe if used correctly just because some people can’t heed warnings?
I do feel for the mother, of course it’s stressful when your child does something stupid and gets badly injured. I split my chin open while sitting on a plush soccer ball when I was two. I was pretending to be a hen laying an egg. I was holding onto the ball with both hands, over balanced and hit my chin on our concrete floor. My mother was stressed, particularly as we were in Pakistan and the doctors over there aren’t open on Fridays. But, instead of leading a charge to ban plush soccer balls and concrete flooring, she taped my chin together with medical tape. She didn’t even throw the toy out, we kept it well into my teens. And you know what? I learnt something: when over balancing while sitting on a spherical object, let go and stop your chin from hitting the floor. I still have a little white scar to remind me to protect my head while falling and think through what you’re doing before you do it.
At a certain age children need to learn about consequences, that’s how they depart childhood and enter adulthood, where you are responsible for your own actions. I wonder what lesson will this child learn? Hopefully not to put strong magnets in his mouth again. But will he learn that this ordeal he went through was the manufacturer’s fault rather than his own for swallowing something that specifically says ‘do not swallow’?
That’s what worries me the most. I know everyone makes a stupid mistake every now and then, myself included. I know in hindsight that pretending to be a hen was not the smartest of ideas, I have learnt a lot more than not to attempt to balance on spherical objects through my own mistakes. Even the really, really stupid ones taught me something. But I don’t think I would have learnt as much had I successfully blamed those mistakes on other people and continued to act exactly the same way.
It worries me that we live in a world where even adults blame someone else for their own decisions. How many times have you heard ‘but I was drunk,’ ‘but they started it,’ ‘but I wasn’t aware of that rule,’ etc from someone who is at an age where they should own their own behaviour. Take responsibility and ownership of their actions. And I think parents need to stop ‘protecting’ their kids from consequences. Sound harsh? Yeah, it is a bit, but so is life. The consequence of not learning from mistakes, and externalising blame, is to turn into a society of Peter Pans who need to live in a cloud of bubble wrap and mustn’t handle sharp objects.
So I am not going to throw away Dad’s Buckyballs, as the end of the news bulletin called me to do. I might even buy a set for myself some because they’re so fun. I’m certainly going to keep them away from children as the warning on the packaging says I should. And I’m definitely not going to swallow them, or put them near a computer or credit card. And if I did accidentally do any of these things I would only have myself to blame. A harsh lesson to learn? Perhaps. But one that should be learnt.
Do you think the litigation in society is encouraging us to blame others rather than accept responsibility for our own actions? Do you think it is Buckyballs fault that a child swallowed them? Would you buy Buckyballs?
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Jessica Chapman has written 14 posts.
The consummate introvert, Jessica Chapman has a Masters in Creative Writing, a biting wit and a strong sense of justice. A world traveller since she was 5 days old, Jessica spent 5 years living in Pakistan as a child. Add to the mix a bizarrely harmonious relationship with her incredibly supportive family, an unparalleled ability to get food on her face and a pet golden retriever who is afraid of garbage bins.