Dangerous products should be kept out of reach of children… check.

Parents have known this for thousands of years. So why do we have a news story like this one? Because we are reminded that human nature likes to blame others for bad things happening rather than ourselves.

Sure, at the very least, this news story about laundry detergent and dishwashing liquid “tabs” should remind us that just because dangerous chemicals are “contained” in a plastic tab does not mean that they are safe to put in the reach of children. What becomes frustrating as a cultural observer is what previous generations would have dubbed “common sense” is no longer so common. The example NBC News used to illustrate this problem was a mother of a young child whose grandmother mistook the “tab” for a teething ring and placed it in the child’s mouth. Because the “tabs” are designed to be water soluble, obviously it didn’t take long for the dangerous substance within the “tab” to find its way out of the “tab”.

Why did the grandmother think that this “tab” was a teether?

I suppose because these products are fairly new she could have mistaken the “tab” for a baby teether. But why? Why was the “tab” in a location where the grandmother would have made such a mistake? Wouldn’t all the “tabs” (for either laundry or dishwashing) be in a container under the sink in cabinet with a childproof lock or up on a shelf out of the reach of the child near the washer and dryer? If so, then why did the grandmother think to take a “tab” out of  a container with a bunch of other “tabs” that perhaps was labeled as laundry detergent or dishwashing tabs?

If this was a case where the childproof lock didn’t work or an errant “tab” fell out and the caregivers were unaware and then a child found that “tab”, then sure, I can see how a child would mistakenly see a colorful, mouthable object and eat it. These accidental cases happen all the time, and not just with “tabs.” But the example NBC News put forth to talk about this issue is fraught with irresponsibility. It is very frustrating that blame is placed on the product itself when the caregivers are so obviously at fault.

There were 17,230 calls to poison control as reported by the American Academy of Pediatrics. NBC News did not reveal over what period of time that number was reached. I don’t know how long these “tabs” have been around, but our family has used them for at least a couple of years. In the absence of the responsible news organization telling us the time frame for this “high” number, we could assume, at the very least, that those calls have came in since these “tabs” have existed (2+ years). For the audiences’ comparison, how many cases of other ingestible chemicals occurred in that same time frame? It would have been responsible for NBC News to report timeframes and comparisons instead of reporting these numbers in isolation.

This news story has so many problems with it that it was frustrating to watch. It doesn’t accurately report much of anything other than presenting a child who ingested a “tab” and is okay as well as telling viewers that bad things happen when something like this is consumed by a child.

The newer innovation of packaging dishwashing liquid and laundry detergent is not inherently good or bad. I’m sure that it’s a responsible thing for companies to put warning labels on the product’s packaging and launching information campaigns to help re-educate the public on a new product and its potential misuse or accidental acquirement by those it is not intended for. I am also not saying that of those 17,230 children there are not accidental situations that happen. As a father and an advocate of children, I am so appreciative of being able to reach Poison Control in the event of accidental ingestion of a chemical.

While Poison Control is helpful in accidental cases, if I were to leave “tabs” lying around where my grandmother would mistake them for a baby teether, then I or my grandmother would be to blame for such oversight, not the makers of convenient “tabs.”

What I am advocating for in this post, and the reason why this is has struck a chord in me, is addressing the responsibility problem.

  • Are we blaming the manufacturers for making the product colorful and bright?
  • Do we expect a company representative to come to each of their consumer’s home to show how to use and safeguard such products?
  • Are we addressing, as in this illustrated example, who is really to blame for what happened?
  • Should this story have been about the attractiveness of “tabs” to children or childproofing your home and your grandmother?

My “favorite” part of this story was the end where the reporter asked the Mom if she uses those “tabs” anymore. The Mom replied, “I don’t. It’s just not worth the risk to me anymore.” To which the reporter concluded, that “for this Mom the convenience came at too high a price.”

The real question should have been: “Does the grandmother know better now?”

source NBC News

Update: I mistakenly shared that NBC News did not give a timeframe for the study by the American Association of Pediatrics. They did. It was two years. A commenter pointed that out and I have corrected that in the post.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Just a couple things about your rant. One that struck me first was that the time frame of the poison control calls was two years. They mentioned it out right as well as saying this works out to a call every hour. I did the math, and double checked this comment… the figures match, so it seems NBC didn’t fall quite as short as you claim.

    The other is an assumption you made (and it pains me to point this out, because I am generally an advocate for personal responsibility in situations like this) which is that the mom or her grandma were just idiots. Perhaps they store their pods in a jar in the kitchen, but safely out of reach, for reasons like a lack of storage in the tiny closet that holds their stackable washer and dryer. Perhaps it never crossed the young woman’s mind that her grandmother would spot the jar, [tucked safely on an upper shelf of a hall closet which also contained diapers and baby lotion and miscellaneous baby gear] let alone incorrectly identify it. Maybe it was time to get more, and the last one or two pods no longer needed the large clumsy bag they came in and they were stuck in a zip lock and therefore lacking identification. That doesn’t mean they were in the baby’s reach.

    There was a mistake made, clearly, but no where did I hear the manufacturer blamed. I felt like this spot was more like “heads up, parents, this is common sense, but may not be on your radar”

    Like I said before, I feel strongly about personal responsibility, but I also feel strongly about people drawing conclusions from assumptions and looking for the worst in people.

    • Meghan, thanks for the correction on the timeframe. I noticed it when I watched the video again (I watched it several times to get the accuracy right, but I missed this one). I have updated the post to correct that issue.

      When I posted this link on my Facebook wall I added this text: “I usually don’t complain publicly. It’s one of those things that I refrain from doing on a regular basis. I do complain privately, however. It’s often my wife and a few close friends who catch that side of me. That being said, after I watched a news story from NBC News about these new detergent ‘tabs,’ I couldn’t contain myself. I could be wrong about what I felt when I listened to this story… but I don’t think so.”

      I’m not generally a complainer. I often keep these things to myself. But this was one of those rare times I stepped out because it elicited such a strong reaction in me. I thought and thought about why, and I think it came down to how NBC News portrayed the story of the Mom, grandmother, and the baby in relation to the “tabs.” I didn’t see the connection between the illustrated story and the need for a heads up about these “tabs.” It was almost like they found someone with a near tragic story that had to do with a child ingesting one of these things and then ran with it. Instead, it would have been better to find a story where the child actually got ahold of a tab (somehow) and decided to eat it because it is colorful and looks like candy (as their “expert” shared about in the news account).

      Perhaps I took my reaction too far when I made it about personal responsibility. I don’t normally look for the worst in people, but I got to say the truth of what happened with the Mom, grandmother, and the baby, has got to be somewhere between what I imagined happening (the worst) and what you imagined happening (the better).

      With that said and with the particular story NBC News decided to use, it still makes me wonder why there was no mention at all of a mistake made on the family’s part. What makes me believe (assume you say) that they are blaming the “tab” manufacturer is her closing statement of not wanting to use them because she doesn’t want to risk it. Now I get it that one might avoid a product after a traumatic event, so that might be at least what’s going on here. However, this statement minus any admission of personal responsibility led me to make the assumptions I did about what might have happened as well as the lack of taking responsibility for what happened.

      I just wished the closing statement went something like: “Boy, we sure learned a valuable lesson about making sure these kinds of things are in a safe and controlled area so as not to mistake them for something they shouldn’t be.” It probably would have changed the whole way I would have looked and reacted to the story.

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