It’s a dangerous world….

The Advertising Standards Authority managed to drag a wry smile out of me this morning as I read the news that they’d banned an advert for Heinz Baked Beans because it might encourage children to hurt themselves.

The story is here : and the advert is based around playing the rhythm of a song on full and empty bean tins. Now, apart from the risk of such tympanic efforts entering in to the nation’s psyche like the ‘Heinz Beanz Song’ from my childhood:

“A million housewives every day,

Pick up a tin of beans and say

Beanz meanz Heinz”

I was hard pressed to think what harm could come to kids from playing the Heinz Bongoes. OK, particularly hard pressed parents might throw the odd tin at their offspring to get them to stop, but that was it…but then it was made clear that the risks to kids were from possibly cutting their fingers on the open ends of a tin.

Now, at first glance I thought – fair enough.  Then I started thinking,

“No. Not fair enough. The world is a tough place. Kids need to learn that occasionally you’ll get cut, scratched, grazed, burned and bruised when you play and learn.  Don’t take dumb risks, but don’t live in a cotton wool world where folks try and stop everything happening to you.”

Because if you try and control the small stuff that gives a painful reminder of the dangers of the world, when the big, uncontrollable, nasty shit comes along out of nowhere on a Saturday afternoon the kids have no experience of what it’s like to get whacked. More importantly, they have no way to judge risk; a world in which you never get exposed to mild risk is not a healthy world.

There’s a lovely line from the god-like alien ‘Q’ in Star Trek: The Next Generation, where he is explaining something about the universe to Captain Picard who’s just had a VERY narrow squeak:

If you can’t take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. It’s not safe out here. It’s wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross; but it’s not for the timid.

He’s right. A world perfectly safe and with no risk couldn’t have generated the human race; and certainly won’t generate a healthy generation of children.  There’s a big difference between being safe and being timid; between taking stupid risks and entering for this year’s Darwin Awards and engaging in an activity that has a small amount of risk as a by-product

There was an interesting study done about the ‘range’ of children today and over the last 100 years – the maximum distance that a child was from home during their free time and play.  It was quite un-scientific and probably non-representative but suggested that a radius of 10 or more miles was not uncommon a hundred years ago; my personal radius in the 1960s/70s was down to about 5 miles or so; today in many cases it’s less than a mile, and little outside.

Activities are often now virtual; the biggest risk of harm is likely to be a pulled thumb muscle or repetitive strain injury.

So, here’s the start of a helpful guide for children of all ages to be used when adverts don’t contain the necessary health and safety small print.

  1. Sharp stuff can cut you. Really sharp stuff can cut deeply. So can paper. Watch those books.
  2. Hot things burn you.
  3. Anything electrical can potentially hurt you badly. Don’t screw around with anything bigger than a 9 volt PP3.
  4. Don’t eat anything that isn’t a recognised food.
  5. Jumping from heights has a risk of twisted ankles.

The list can go on and on….but you get the picture. It is a potentially risky world out there and play is one of the ways in which we get our abilities to function in the world honed to a fine point.

We never really finish learning; as Kipling said in ‘The God of the copy-book headings‘ “And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;”

May your day be full of small, manageable risks and may your bumps and bruises be safe ones.

WARNING – Nothing in this blog post should be taken as advocating risky activities. All safety guidelines should be read as humorous asides. (OK…legal guys…is that OK?)


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