Never Run With Scissors (or Knives)

scissors-321238_640Like Kelly, one of our readers, I’ve got Ken Jennings’ Because I Said So on hold at the library, because it sounds like such a book romp.  I am always telling my kids to put on a sweater because I am cold!

Also, I’m kind of a risk-taker, and I want to see what feedback Jennings has for the likes of me.  Just a few days ago, I let my 7 year old son ice his own Lego birthday cake.  I felt the fear and did it anyway.  It’s true that the chances I took ten and twenty years ago, um, differed from the ones I take today, but the risk factor remains.

So looked up what Ken had to say about “Never Run With Scissors” because my kids sometimes run with scissors, and I ask them not to run with scissors and other sharp objects.  I even sort of know of someone – my mother’s partner’s grandson (I don’t know his name, but maybe I met him once?) – who permanently blinded himself in one eye by poking himself with a fork (or something).

But while I do ask them not to run with scissors, I’m not vigilant about enforcing this or other sensible rules.  (And I find the line between sensible and sensitive is hard to draw.  My brother once told me it was unsafe to let the kids walk/run around with a toothbrush as they could impale their mouths if they fell.  But he also did not allow his children to play in the sand of their suburban neighbourhood park (there could be needles in it) or wear flip flops until they were nine (they might fall).)

So I was really hoping that Ken would debunk “never run with scissors” as false, but alas, and predictably, it ranks as “mostly true”.  Jennings explains:

Do injuries actually result when kids run with scissors? They do! The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission maintains a fascinating database called the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (or NEISS), a statistical sampling of emergency room visits nationwide. NEISS estimates that 4,556 kids under ten sought medical care in 2010 for scissor-related injuries, none of which were fatal. About a hundred of those are the eye injuries that Mom and Dad always harped on. Some of the cases in the NEISS database include physician notes, and I found 19 scissor-related cases since 1997 in which “running” was implicated. Those kids’ moms and dads must feel like the worst parents in the world!

Gratefully, though, Jennings provides some context:

But it’s easy to demonstrate with NEISS that scissors aren’t especially dangerous, certainly not in keeping with their gangsta reputation. Seventy-two percent of those 4,556 injuries were to fingers, it turns out, which means that cutting with scissors is a vastly bigger problem than running with them. Looking at scissor injuries to older kids since 1997, I was able to find doctors’ notes on six patients who suffered “buttock lacerations” when they accidentally sat on a pair of scissors, compared to only four who were hurt running. But is “sitting on scissors” a slang term for wild, devil-may-care behavior? It is not!

… NEISS reveals that kids are downright safe around scissors compared to death-traps like batteries (4,972 injuries last year), benches (11,563), coins (28,674) and handrails and banisters (9,434). Unless you shiver with fear at the sight of a banister, you don’t need to teach kids excessive paranoia regarding scissors either. Why is a bench or handrail dangerous? Because you could trip and hurt yourself on it, just as you could with scissors or a pencil or a toy. It’s the running like a crazy person that leads to the accidents, not the scissors so much.

And there’s the rub.  Because many of our children are hard-wired to run like crazy people, and are thus prone to banging themselves up in the process.  And I could tell my kids to stop running more often than I do, or to get out of the cold wet of the rain, or to stop wading in the mud of winter.  They might have fewer accidents or get less sick because of it.

But they might not.  It might be that kids that get to explore more fully with their bodies are likely to better know and accept their natural limits.  Maybe kids that play in the dirt (and eat it) will develop stronger immune systems.  (My brother-in-law says that kids on farms don’t have allergies.  True or false?  I should go ask Jennings.)

True story:  about a month ago, my four year old jabbed himself in the eye with a butter knife.  He was not cutting with it or using it.  He was just holding it, and all of a sudden, thought it would be fun to make sharp, jagged movements with it in front of his body, and he accidentally missed the air the was aiming for and hit himself in the face.  Luckily, he hit the upper edge of the socket and there was no damage to his eye.

I give my kids knives to cut with, and my four year old has long demonstrated the capacity for using butter and paring knives for certain jobs in the kitchen.  For a moment, the eye incident made me wonder whether I should stop that.  Except that he didn’t injure himself with a knife while cutting.  He hurt himself by reaching into the utensil drawer and playing in a weird, unprecedented way.  I didn’t know to say, “Don’t make sharp, jagged movements with the knife in front of your body”.  While it reflects fairly badly on his parents to say that he poked his eye with a knife, it was not really the knife that caused the injury, but the playing.  He could have hurt himself the same way with a stick or a pencil or even a pointy carrot.

From this view, the real culprit for this category of childhood injuries is not the scissors or knife or carrot:  it’s the child.  I suppose we could try to prevent them from running and playing like crazy people, but then they wouldn’t be like children, and where would we be then?

But I’ll never stop asking them to put on a sweater when I’m cold.