Outrage of the Week: Europe Bans Balloons for Kids Under 8!

Hi Folks! A number of you sent me this today — news of the European Union’s new ban on kids under age 8 blowing up balloons unsupervised, for fear the children could swallow them and choke.

This is not to discount the suffering of any family that has experienced this unlikely tragedy. But if the chance that something terrible COULD happen is going to be (and apparently is) our new standard for what to outlaw, we will have to outlaw stairs (children could fall), cars (for obvious reasons), pets (kids could trip), chairs (kids can fall off, tip backwards, choke on a bite of the seat cushion, impale themselves on the legs — you name it). The fact is, there is a small amount of danger present in everything on earth, and if that means that now we insist kids can not be around any of it unless supervised, we are really just saying we don’t want kids to be unsupervised, ever.

Here in America, the number of children who choke to death on balloons was 4 in 1998, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Considering there are about 32,000,000 children age 8 and under, we are talking about 1 death in 8 million. That’s an outcome that is, thankfully, very rare. Rarer still must be the children somehow injured by those whistle-type things you blow into and they unfurl and then they curl right back up. We’re talking standard issue birthday party favors, but those are being banned by the EU, too — and not just for kids under 8. Here’s what it says in The Telegraph:

Apparently harmless toys that children have enjoyed for decades are now regarded by EU regulators as posing an unacceptable safety risk.

Whistle blowers that scroll out into a long coloured paper tongue when sounded – a party favourite at family Christmas meals – are now classed as unsafe for all children under 14.

FOURTEEN? A year or two younger than the age my grandfather sailed to America from Russia on his OWN?  But suddenly this generation of kids can’t even handle a BIRTHDAY PARTY FAVOR at PUBERTY?

We are really treating our children as if they are the dumbest, feeblest  generation ever to walk — crawl! — the earth. The question to ask is: What is lost when we do this, when we can’t just let our third graders blow up and play with a balloon on their own?

Answer: A whole lot. First of all, of course, there is the uninhibited fun of just goofing around with friends. It’s not the same with parents hovering. (Don’t you remember how different it felt when your mom came along on a field trip versus when she didn’t? I sure do.) Also endangered is that little hit of accomplishment: “I did it myself!” The sharing and compromising and creativity and problem-solving that all are part and parcel of kids coming up with a balloon game to play without parental “help” — those are gone, too.

But gone most of all is a sense of perspective. A little understanding that while we all want our children to be safe, there is no such thing as absolute safety and to try to conjure it up through legislation ends up bringing us laws like…well, like no party whistles for high school sophomores.

Somehow I just don’t feel our kids are a whole lot better off. — L.

Thank God these children are supervised! Look at the danger surrounding them!

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71 Responses to Outrage of the Week: Europe Bans Balloons for Kids Under 8!

  1. Stephanonymous October 11, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    To be honest, balloons kind of worry me. I have heard that if they pop and the latex gets inhaled, it can block the trachea and you may not be able to dislodge it with normal maneuvers. So it scares me a little and I am pretty strict about not letting my daughter play unsupervised with balloons. But my daughter is 15 months old. It’s understandable. Four, five, six, seven year olds not being able to handle balloons? That’s ridiculous.

  2. enyawface October 11, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    Due to the possibility that someone could be injured, life, for those under 18, has been banned.

  3. Uly October 11, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    Yeah, Stephan, it’s NORMAL for parents to be a little overprotective with their, you know, babies. Especially if it’s their first baby or they were preemie or something like that.

    It’s when you drag it out into their childhood or later that it gets problematic.

    (And no comments from the peanut gallery that YOU had your kid juggling knives while skydiving at nine months. No matter how incautious you were, you were more cautious with your baby than you were when that baby was a big kid.)

  4. Mom's Journal October 11, 2011 at 1:30 pm #

    I’ve heard the rubber/latex/whatever ones are fine. I was told to be leery of the shiny metal type of balloons. We had balloons for my daughter’s second birthday and at that time I had her play with them supervised. By her third birthday she could keep the balloons in her room (unless she stayed up at night to play with them). 😉

  5. Tracy October 11, 2011 at 2:10 pm #

    maybe we’ll be asked to accompany our kids to school and stay with them all day soon? Mine is a senior and 17 (tomorrow – happy birthday babes:) He’s male of course and prone to moments of stupidity. So perhaps you should lock up your girls (yep he’s been thru’ puberty), keep your freshman away incase he wants to dunk his head in a toilet, keep your kids off the play structures – he may amble thru’ the park with our dog (unsupervised) and God help us all, don’t give him a balloon! I dread to think what he’ll do with that…
    :)

  6. Chris October 11, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

    I have a hard time understanding and believing this. I am just back from three years in Germany, the most free-range place I have ever been outside Africa. It is not at all uncommon for 7 or 8-year-olds to ride their bicycles unaccompanied in large cities or for 4-year-olds to walk to kindergarten alone. Germany is full of things like real see-saws and carnival rides sans safety fences; if you told a German parent that balloons were unsafe, he or she would look blankly at you and carry on handing the kid a balloon. All the other EU countries we visited were similar, with the exception of England. I imagine this is a “government recommendation” to which no one gives any actual credence. It’s like the toys that say “for over 3 years only”; it’s printed on the package and that’s as far as it goes.

  7. myself October 11, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

    Living in Europe, I have no problem with this. We will simply ignore that rule.

    It is not like such rules matter. I understand that general attitude toward dumb rules in USA may be different :).

  8. helenquine October 11, 2011 at 3:45 pm #

    Ultra-caution for kids is annoying, and safety warnings become pointless when there are lots of them, so I am, unsurprisingly, annoyed by all this. But I think there’s a darker side to this story that you’re missing.

    The New Toy Safety Directive brings in checks for all toys intended for children under 14. Which means any manufacturer of any toy intended for under 14 yr olds must now make checks and maintain paperwork indicating that these toys meet the new standards.

    Even toys that have been safely used and played with for generations will be required to go through these checks. So parents will now have to pay higher prices for toys even though few toys intended for children under eight cause harm when not abused.

    I really dislike this sort of approach to safety. It puts high costs on businesses which are passed on to parents. This makes raising kids more and more expensive which has other detrimental knock on effects. And it stifles creativity, both in toy design and kids.

  9. Gidon Gerber October 11, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

    The US Child Safety Protection Act requires a warning notice on latex balloons since 1995:

    “WARNING:
    CHOKING HAZARD-Children under eight yrs. can
    choke or suffocate on uninflated or broken balloons.
    Adult supervision required.
    Keep uninflated balloons from children.
    Discard broken balloons at once.”

    It appears that the EU just followed the US approach.

    See also http://www.fisher-price.com/fp.aspx?st=2520&e=advicedetail&ccat=changingtimesgp&cid=59310

  10. Per October 11, 2011 at 4:54 pm #

    As a EU parent, I’ve always mused at the labels on some toys “EU: Not for children under 3. US: Not for children under 5.” and I’ve happily let my two-year old play with those toys. However, now it seems stupidity is moving closer.

    What amazes me it that people seem to believe that if you raise a child in an environment where they cannot possibly hurt themselves on anything, then at a certain age they will magically become careful.

    However, now that the labels are there, they also become necessary, since parents are thought that anything that is not explicitly labeled as dangerous can be given to a child without any instructions or supervision.

  11. James October 11, 2011 at 6:05 pm #

    Don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers! The text of the Toy Safety Directive itself doesn’t even mention balloons. The explanatory notes are mention the packaging and say: “For latex balloons there must be a warning that children under 8 years must be supervised and broken balloons should be discarded.” The only thing that the directive requires is a printed warning.

  12. Rachel October 11, 2011 at 6:15 pm #

    I don’t know why this post in particular, but it got me wondering what will happen on the day that the “Children can get injured” group bump into the “Children can get abused” group.
    You can only babify and supervise your child so much before you start verging on abuse from the opposite direction – what happens when directives start requiring constantly monitored cctv in any room used by children (including bathrooms), so they could never be unsupervised in a closed room?
    Perhaps they should be banned from changing clothes for sports without adult assistance (could choke when removing shirt?), but teachers should certainly not be allowed to remove a child’s clothing…

    I think we’re pretty close to reaching an “ad absurdum” proof that this is not the way to go.

  13. Daniel R October 11, 2011 at 6:38 pm #

    Please, please, don’t believe this sort of rubbish. The Telegraph is a notoriously anti-European newspaper, and prints this sort of story all the time – “OH NOES THE EU IS GOING TO BAN OUR “. It’s almost *never* true.

    We do have a problem of over-protectiveness in Europe, albeit not as bad as in the US, but this isn’t an example of it.

  14. Orielwen October 11, 2011 at 7:27 pm #

    Lenore, please don’t do this. Your headline says “Europe bans balloons for children under 8″. When you actually get to the body of your article, it says that all that’s banned is the unsupervised inflating of balloons by children under 8. And when you go to the original article, through the shocking headline, you find out that nothing is actually banned: all that’s required is that balloon manufacturers add a warning label saying that they are not to be used unsupervised by children under 8. No legal obligation on the actual use of the balloons whatsoever.
    You often complain about the media exaggerating dangers and whipping up emotions by using oversimplified headlines that don’t reflect the actual article. You are doing exactly the same thing here. Just as you insist, rightly, that helicopter parents check the original data before rousing in terror and sounding the alarm, you should be doing the same about the danger that fun free play is being legislated away.
    At least change your headline. Or people might accuse you of provoking baseless fear. Just like the media.

  15. Robin H October 11, 2011 at 7:49 pm #

    Helen is right, all this does is add unnecessary cost onto the products. It costs money to redesign packaging to include warnings and to discard old packaging.

    What I wonder is what would happen if a 5 year old were to go to the emergency room after swallowing a piece of balloon. Could the parents be charged with endangerment for letting a 5 year old play with an 8 year olds toy?

  16. Selby October 11, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

    Well if they can’t handle a balloon at age 8, they’ll never manage a condom at age 14. Just saying!!!

  17. Maya October 11, 2011 at 7:55 pm #

    “These safety standards have been agreed by the UK together with the other EU member states in order to prevent every parent’s worst nightmare,” said a spokesman.

    Sorry, old chap, but balloons ain’t my worst nightmare. Lately my worst nightmare is my kid being treated like an infant until age 18 and then thrown to the wolves and expected to know how to suddenly be an adult….

  18. Dolly October 11, 2011 at 8:28 pm #

    Lame. Now with babies sure, no balloons. Mine are 4 now and I trust them around balloons. I still get on to them for putting a balloon in their mouth and tell them they could choke if a piece went down their throat. But you know, they are just fine with them. I don’t let them blow them up just because they couldn’t and I don’t want them putting it in their mouth.

    Still like most things, most parents are going to ignore the rules and do what they want so I doubt this will change anything. While I would not let mine play with balloons at all when they were babies I saw tons of babies with latex balloons. So there ya go.

  19. Dolly October 11, 2011 at 8:31 pm #

    Tracy: I really hope you are joking when you said your son might dunk a freshman’s head in the toilet. That is pure bullying and is not acceptable.

  20. Sera October 11, 2011 at 9:05 pm #

    I honestly don’t think an 8-year-old is any more likely to choke on a balloon than a 14-year old, who is any more likely to choke on a balloon than a 21-year-old, or a 40-year-old. As long as the child is no longer in the “puts things in their mouth and has very little conscious control over breathing/swallowing” stage (i.e. infant, toddler), there’s no more risk to them than there is to an adult.

    If FOUR children died in 1998 by choking on balloons… how many adults died in 1998 from choking on balloons? Around the same? I mean, excepting infants, you’d have to go through a fairly specific and unfortunate co-ordination of events for a child to choke on a balloon, and ALL of those things could happen to adults. For example, if a balloon bursts while I’m inflating it, and part of it shoots down my mouth. Or, someone startles me while I’m blowing up a balloon. Or I hiccup. Likely? No. 1/8,000,000 likely? Yeah, probably.

  21. Kathryn October 11, 2011 at 9:35 pm #

    Just the age when balloons no longer hold any attraction.

  22. robynheud October 11, 2011 at 9:35 pm #

    This explains the dream I had last night where I blew up a balloon and it had a huge warning label printed on the latex that just got bigger and bigger the more I blew it up…

  23. MikeS October 11, 2011 at 10:03 pm #

    I’m sure the generation raised in this kind of fear and terror will be perfectly capable of dealing with the serious challenges the EU faces in the next few decades.

  24. pentamom October 11, 2011 at 10:35 pm #

    The thought of a kid inhaling a piece of balloon and suffocating definitely creeps me out, but the dumb thing is — how likely is this to happen when the balloon is being blown up, of all times? A whole balloon being sucked in by accident (hard enough to do anyway, I’d think) is big enough for someone to yank back out. What worries me is when they play with them close to their faces after they’re blown up — that’s when the force of explosion could impel a small piece of the thing into the throat, if it pops. I’ve been known to shriek “get that away from your mouth!” on occasion, though I don’t forbid playing with them, because I know the risk is small to being with.

    And anyway; how are you going to enforce a law about a particular person of a particular age doing something essentially harmless that is generally done in private, in a setting where kids of other ages are perfectly permitted to do it? There was a point in my life where I had an 8 year old in the house, and also an 11 yo, 14 yo, 16 yo, and 18 yo. Was I supposed to lock up the 8 yo if one of the other kids wanted to blow up a balloon so he wouldn’t want to do it, too? I mean, this isn’t drinking alcohol or driving a car, this is BLOWING UP A BALLOON.

    It’s just another excuse to throw parents who suffer a devastating loss in jail if they don’t conform to Nanny.

  25. pentamom October 11, 2011 at 10:37 pm #

    James and Orielwen, thanks. That’ll teach me to look more closely before I react.

  26. pentamom October 11, 2011 at 10:38 pm #

    Mom’s Journal, it’s the other way around. The Mylar balloons are much safer in this respect than the latex, because they’re less stretchy and so don’t form that seal that *could* block an airway.

  27. Lihtox October 11, 2011 at 10:53 pm #

    I’ll accept that the article is probably exaggerated, but this quote sums things up pretty nicely:

    “…the European Commission has insisted that the new safety legislation was needed to prevent ‘horror stories’. ‘These safety standards have been agreed by the UK together with the other EU member states in order to prevent every parent’s worst nightmare,’ said a spokesman.”

    And that’s the goal, isn’t it? Not to reduce risk to reasonable levels, but to prevent horror *stories*. If even one tragedy happens and makes it into the news, then that’s a horror *story*, and we can’t have that.

    And there is no possible way you can prevent all my worst nightmares. Many of them involve car accidents (ban cars?), or cancer, or poverty, or a whole host of other things more likely than choking on a balloon. Including the nightmare that I’ll raise a child who isn’t capable of taking care of herself.

  28. Lollipoplover October 11, 2011 at 11:33 pm #

    OK, unsupervised balloons at age 8 because they might put them in their mouth. My question: when is a child expected to know NOT to put non-food objects in their mouth? Did the age somehow go up? I get choking hazzards under age 3, but if your kid is still eating balloons at age 8, maybe you need to have a little talk.

    What next, no birthday candles because they might get burned?

  29. Karl Penny October 11, 2011 at 11:47 pm #

    When I was eight-years old, I popped an inflated balloon, whether by accident or design, I no longer remember. Anyway, looking at the pathetic little bit of latex (or rubber, or whatever) that was left, I had the bright idea of finding out whether it would be possible to swallow it or not. Since, in those days, I had the impulse control of a mousetrap, I converted thought to deed and, with some difficulty, and the aid of a few gulps of water, swallowed it. Only then did it occur to me that maybe I had done a Dangerous Thing. So, I went to my mother, told her what i had done, and mentally prepared myself for a visit to the hospital. To my surprise, my mom merely said that, not to worry, time would pass and so would the balloon (or what was left of it) and, oh yeah, don’t do that any more. Well here it is, 53 years later, and I’m still alive to tell the tale. Yeesh, when will the Chicken Littles of our world ever learn that a little risk does not mean that the sky is falling?

  30. Will Jessop October 12, 2011 at 12:39 am #

    You need to check your facts before you post this stuff. http://fullfact.org/factchecks/EU_Europe_children_balloons_Telegraph-3026

  31. Dolly October 12, 2011 at 1:08 am #

    Pentamom: Yeah I fear the whole exploding thing and shooting a tiny piece of latex down their throat too the most. That is why I immediately clean up any popped balloons and I have from the start told my kids if they put a balloon anywhere near their mouth I am taking it away from them. Also why until they were about 2 they were not allowed balloons at all unless I was right there the whole time.

    I worry more about that than sucking one in when blowing a balloon up although I guess that could happen. Mine don’t blow balloons up.

  32. moremadder October 12, 2011 at 1:19 am #

    I can’t help but think that if this story were in the US there’d be sniping about lawyers in here somewhere. Looks like neurotic helicopter-parenting flourishes even in the absence of the American trial bar! Maybe all that blame was misplaced? Funny thing about lawyers is, they have to have clients …

  33. Cheryl W October 12, 2011 at 1:21 am #

    When I was about 5, and my brother 10, balloons were pretty rare at my house. So when a balloon popped, we routinely gathered the pieces then took a piece, put in our mouths and sucked in, then twisted off the end to make a tiny balloon.

    My mother did tell us to be careful to not breath it in – if it got stuck in our windpipe we would die. She didn’t stop us though, I think because she knew we would do it at other people’s houses anyhow.

    The only choking I remember as a kid was when my brother was about 1.5 and my grandmother gave him some ice on a hot day. He swallowed it whole and started choking. My mom turned him upside down and thumped him on the back until the ice came out.

  34. MR October 12, 2011 at 1:24 am #

    Wow I really like that part that places limits on how noisy toys can be, can’t we ALL agree on that one:)

  35. walkamungus October 12, 2011 at 2:31 am #

    My biggest childhood balloon-related trauma involved helium balloons (two separate incidents — one big blue balloon with red and white stars, one black (and how cool is *that*?)) escaping from the tank top I’d tied them to and floating away, away, away…it took *decades* to recover from that!

  36. Jennifer Rawlines-Leblanc October 12, 2011 at 3:10 am #

    This is an absolutely ridiculous statement!! Not only has my almost five year old son been driving a two wheeler WITHOUT training wheels since the age of three, he also drives a two wheeled scooter, his full sized skateboard, his dirt bike and even daddy’s car!!( in an empty parking lot while sitting on daddy’s lap). Has he had some gnarly wipe outs? Of course! Does that mean i will stop him from doing something he loves? No way!! He always wear his helmet. We even bought him stunt pegs for his bike because he wanted to try doing stunts after he saw the local teenagers doing them. And stunt he does!! He loves making ramps out of scrap boards. In addition to riding his various bikes and whatnot, he also: Has his own pellet gun which he uses to go hunting with daddy (he knows he is not allowed to use it unsupervised and that it must’ve stay locked). Has his own toolbox full of real tools (*gasp!!*) which he uses to build things by himself or with daddy. He has also used some power tools such as drills and sanders but knows he cannot use those without supervision an the proper safety equipment). He is allowed to play outside by himself and knows where the boundaries are. And he has yet to cross them. He loves to navigate the woods behind our house, climb the giant rocks behind our shed and climb everything. He knows his way to the store and his school (although i have yet to let him make those trips alone i know he will be ready when the time comes. My son is a confident, capable, healthy and happy little boy who has had many great experiences that most 25 year olds have yet too have. I believe in Free Range Kids all the way! To see my little guy in action on his bike click:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vx26_JOXeUM . Dont get me wrong, safety is very important to us, and my son is NOT allowed to ride his dirt bike or whatever it may be without the proper equipment. He knows the rules and why the must be followed. We do not pressure him to do things he is afraid to do however if he feels he want to try something we are all for it! There have been plenty of times when he wanted to do something and when we asked if he was sure he could do it, he gave it some thought and then changed his mind and decided against it. In these cases we ask him what he thinks he needs to do to be ready to do it. We also have a two year old daughter and i am happy to say she is following right along in his footsteps. Right now her biggest love is climbing, and despite the reactions of many a parent at the local park, i let her do it And believe it or not despite all these “risks” i allow my children to take they have yet to break a bone, have a concussion, get a bad cut or be seriously hurt. Yes they have had their fair share of bruises and scrapes but what active kindergartener and toddler hasn’t? Thanks for this awesome website and supporting other parents who choose not to keep their child under lock and key. I am proud to say i have a five year old who is more independent, capable and has more common sense and “street smarts” then some adults i know! .

  37. LRH October 12, 2011 at 3:26 am #

    “Living in Europe, I have no problem with this. We will simply ignore that rule.”

    Darn right. I tend to live that way somewhat myself. It’s not ideal by any means, you sure don’t want to teach it to your kids, but when dumb politicians come up with dumb rules, they deserve the scorn-flavored treatment they receive.

    LRH

  38. Jennifer Rawlines-Leblanc October 12, 2011 at 3:34 am #

    Apologies, somehow I have managed to comment on the wrong post. My comment is meant for the bike related post about children under five should be driving tricycles. However, the balloon statement is also ludicrous. But to my understanding and as some have already pointed out that the balloons are not banned, it is simply now required to have a warning on the packaging. I understand you want an attention grabbing headline, but you have just done what you have accused the media of doing, exaggerating the worse to invoke fear and keep people watching. A little fact-checking could have prevented this. Anyhow, i still greatly admire you and your parenting beliefs and applaud you for standing up to the naysayers and sticking up for what you believe is best for yourself and your child. After all who knows him better than you? Keep up the great work with the site!! I am hooked:)

  39. Ben October 12, 2011 at 4:23 am #

    I remember a story I saw mentioned on the quiz show QI about tightrope walkers being required to wear hard hats. Someone commented that this was another loony law from the EU you couldn’t make up.

    It turns out that it was completely made up and bogus. I’d like to see the source material before I believe this one. I fully intend to ignore stupid rules that are implemented because of fear.

  40. myself October 12, 2011 at 4:57 am #

    @LRH It’s not ideal by any means, you sure don’t want to teach it to your kids, …

    True, but I do not want to teach them that anyone can invent new rules and enforce them neither. Hard to find the right balance with kids sometimes :).

  41. justanotherjen October 12, 2011 at 5:24 am #

    They have a warning like that already on the packaging of balloons here in the US. Never stopped me from blowing up an entire bag for my kid to play with. Last time it was for my youngest daughter’s 5th birthday. Those blowing up the balloons were all over 8 because, frankly, no one under 8 would have been able to blow those balloons up (they were small and a pain). As we filled them we tossed them onto the floor for my 5yo to run through.

    My youngest son was almost 9 months old at the time and LOVED them. He also tried to eat one right off the bat and it popped in his face. I made the kids spend 20 minutes finding every last piece of balloon for fear he would find it and choke on it. I’m not a paranoid person but that just seems like common sense. After that the kids kept an eye on him to make sure he wouldn’t put them in his mouth any more (he was actually more careful after that, the popping scared him). Those balloons were around the house for over a week.

    My older kids were also warned about the choking hazard to keep the baby and themselves safe. I explained what would happen if you accidentally breathed in a piece of balloon.

    Yet I still caught my then 9 1/2yo son chewing on a piece of popped balloon. He chews on EVERYTHING. I’m constantly telling him to get toys and things (even his shirt collar) out of his mouth. He’s like a 1yo in that respect. He never grew out of the “put everything in your mouth” stage. Of course, I also don’t expect him to try and swallow the stuff he’s chewing on like a baby would. Surprisingly enough, the baby (now 15 months) doesn’t put stuff in his mouth much any more and he spits stuff out on command (or with just a look from me).

  42. KD October 12, 2011 at 5:40 am #

    We have a latex baloon ban in our house, but its not for the kids…its for the dogs! I am not a free-range doggy mommy because my dogs well, they always make bad decisions. They run in front of cars, they play in garbage and they would chew balloons if we had them around. I was very cautious with balloons when the kids were babies and before the dogs, but by the time they were 2 1/2 to three they understood and could be safe with them. Now I am back to having three doggy babies and those old cautions are back. My husband often tells me that I am over-protective with the pets :).

  43. David October 12, 2011 at 5:49 am #

    I know the whistle blowers are really irritating and I make a point of bringing lots of them to friends children’s birthday parties and distributing them to everyone before I leave…. but everyone knows they fill up with saliva and fall apart…in built safety precaution! Also the idea that Ballons are DEADLY ruins my child hood memory of the film the “Red Ballon”..do you mean that the demonic ballon was luring that child away intent on choking him to death,,so sad…but, always governments know what’s best for us????

  44. FrancesfromCanada October 12, 2011 at 8:15 am #

    Thanks to those who commented on how misleading this headline is. Oh, a warning label? Fun is never to be seen again! Good grief. Now we’re fear-mongering about fear-mongering.

    I have no problem whatsoever with paying a little more for toys that are made with care and meet safety standards, especially if whichever organization sets the standards actually enforces them. I also have no problem with letting my boy throw sticks into the bushes to feed the ladybugs, then shake them back down on his head. Because that’s my call. Hidden hazards like lead-laced paint aren’t.

    I do wonder how they came up with 14 for the whistle blower thingies. Haven’t seen one in years, but 14 seems a very odd age. Oh well, up here you can get your learner’s license and celebrate with a party favour all on the same birthday…

  45. Cheryl W October 12, 2011 at 8:20 am #

    Like KD, I do not allow water balloons at my house because we have ducks and geese. They will eat silly stuff and it gets stuck in the gizzard. And when a duck or goose dies, it is major trauma and drama at my house that I would rather miss.

    Water balloons any place else, that is fine by me.

  46. Kim October 12, 2011 at 8:53 am #

    And yet Kinder Eggs continue to be legal there, but not in the US.

  47. Silver Fang October 12, 2011 at 9:31 am #

    I’m surprised to see that kind of paranoia in Europe, aside from England. I hope the good people of those great nations just carry on as if those silly rules and bans didn’t exist.

  48. Jennifer October 12, 2011 at 10:29 am #

    I must be a terrible parent because I taught my five year old how to blow up a balloon by herself this weekend. Next goal is to learn how to tie it.

  49. SgtMom October 12, 2011 at 11:06 am #

    I’m surprised a “real” nurse has not explained how a balloon can cause a choking hazard.

    I was scoffing about kids “swallowing” balloons in class when the school nurse I worked under explained that the choking hazard happens when the balloon is first being blown up – it can suddenly expell the air out and get sucked down the windpipe.

    Think of those first breaths – then you suck in more air for the next breath. An inexperienced kid can “lose” the air suddenly and have it sucked down.

    NOT TRYING TO BE ALARMING here, but that is how a nurse explained to me how it happens – it has nothing to do with popping or shreds.

    …and it doesn’t happen often. But it DOES happen.

  50. Cheryl W October 12, 2011 at 11:52 am #

    SgtMom, not disputing what you are saying, but my personal “risky” behavior with balloons was with using the popped bits to make tiny balloons by sucking them into my mouth in a reverse blow action to make a mouthed sized balloon. They were wet and slippery. The popped bits can be somewhat dangerous too.

    As can marshmallows. A boss I worked for had friends who sadly had a child choke to death on a marshmallow that lodged in the windpipe and then swelled up with the additional moisture. This child is the only child I have heard it happening to. (I am NOT saying they should be banned! Probably more likely to cause the death of drunk guys around the campfire than the average toddler.)

    I do think though, that I want to see if I can replicate what you said -it just seems opposite of what happens as the air pushes the balloon away. Unless you mean that the kid inhales the balloon on the initial breath before they get air into it, which could be possible, although, if the kid is observant, they would suck in air before putting the balloon up to the mouth. But if not familiar, then could pull it in with that first big intake of air. I think the nurse had the right idea, just didn’t explain it right.

  51. Chaz (@ChazFrench) October 12, 2011 at 3:41 pm #

    Lenore, every time I read your site I ask myself WHY?? WHY?? WHY do I put myself through the pain that is sure to follow from me banging my head into a wall at the stupidity of parents??????????? And oh, the unholy cursing of you for making me see this.

    I do thank the ineffable and unknowable Universe for the couple of friends who share your posts, because they’re always shared with comments that give me hope that there are others out there who don’t want to turn the entire planet into a world of rounded bumper corners and giant cushy pillow lined highways.

  52. Renee October 12, 2011 at 5:24 pm #

    I have to second Chris’s comments: I am currently an American living in Germany and, in my experience, helicopter parents are few and far between here in Europe. Children are encouraged to be independent, thinking individuals here, and from a young age. There are toys here, marketed for infants, that would never fly in the States. The difference? Europeans ASSUME that people will use common sense, unlike the States, where it seems the opposite is true. People are held accountable here when they act stupidly, they are expected to accept the consequences of their actions; however, people are not hung out to dry when freak accidents or tragic mistakes occur. Europeans seem to have an entirely different, and I must say refreshing, perspective on life than do alarmist Americans. I have a feeling this “law” will be accepted with equanimity and followed to the extent that it makes sense, and no more.

  53. Heather G October 12, 2011 at 10:16 pm #

    My guess is the limit on the noise a toy can make has more to do with giving parents a break than danger to the kids. Around here when the batteries die on a noisy toy they don’t get replaced. I’ve found a solution to the whole dangerous toy thing. Unless toys are given to us, I don’t buy them. Instead my kids, 6 months and 2 years, play with what we have around the house. Growing up poor I can honestly say that there is more fun to be had with household objects than single function toys. Even better, they don’t have annoying warning labels on them.

  54. Lihtox October 12, 2011 at 10:39 pm #

    Lenore, please add Will Jessop’s link to the top of your article; it’s an important correction.

  55. pentamom October 12, 2011 at 11:34 pm #

    SgtMom — I had a “real” doctor (who’d pronounced a tragic case in the ER) explain to me that fragments can in fact seal off the windpipe.

    Maybe it’s both? Maybe more than one of us has credible sources of information?

  56. pentamom October 12, 2011 at 11:37 pm #

    walkamungus — it probably would have taken even longer to recover if they’d taken the tank top with them. 😉

  57. FrancesfromCanada October 13, 2011 at 1:58 am #

    HeatherG — the limits on noise a toy can make comes from damage to hearing. I don’t have time to look up the link but apparently some toys emit more decibels than developing ears can really handle, especially at close range and for prolonged periods, which is sure how my little guy likes to play with them. I put tape over the speakers if there’s no volume control (which can also get “fixed with tape”!)..

    Before you all jump on me that we played with noisy toys as kids — well, sure. But the kids I grew up with weren’t exposed to nearly as much loud TV and stereos and machinery and traffic noise as kids are now, mostly because each household had one TV and three channels, and the speakers on the 70s record player couldn’t handle the volume. And the kids who did grow up with those things are what, 35? So we don’t know yet what will happen to their hearing. We do know that many seniors exposed to occupational noise suffer hearing loss earlier than those who weren’t. Given that, I have no problem with the precautionary principle being applied here.

    Besides, if kids really want to make noise, they can manage that just fine on their own.

  58. Tony October 13, 2011 at 2:16 am #

    Lenore, when you mentioned your grandfather being a few years older than 14 when he emigrated, I was reminded of my grandfather. He was sent, at the age of 12, by his family alone from Tuscany in 1922 to find work and earn enough to bring the rest of the family over He had $12 in his pocket. It bought him a ticket on the Pennsylvania Railroad to just past Pittsburgh, PA. He found work on that railroad the day he arrived by being willing to collect the legs off of the tracks of a worker who had just had them amputated by a train that ran him over. Five years later he sent for the rest of my family and that is why I live in Pittsburgh today. I am not advocating sending children half way around the world to collect random body parts from railroad tracks; but the thought that children today are incapable of even the most basic of common sense activities outside (and inside) the home is pathetic and sad to no end.

  59. SgtMom October 13, 2011 at 5:53 am #

    This was easy enought to google.

    The Dangers of Latex Balloons: Good Fun Gone Wrong
    Question: What can be so bad about balloons?

    Answer: They are a potential choking hazard.

    Of all children’s products, balloons are the leading cause of suffocation deaths, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. More than 110 children have died as a result of suffocation involving uninflated balloons or pieces of balloons since 1973. Most of the victims were under 6 years of age.

    Suffocation can occur when a child inhales deeply to inflate a balloon and accidentally sucks the balloon into his or her mouth.

    Completely inflated balloons do not present a hazard to young children, but they can immediately become dangerous if they pop. Discarded pieces of a broken balloon can pose threats if children chew on them or stretch the pieces over their mouths to blow bubbles. The balloon pieces can be drawn into the mouth, causing the airway to become completely blocked. It’s recommended that parents immediately make sure pieces of broken balloons are out of reach of children.

    In 1995, the U.S. government enacted the Child Safety Protection Act that requires the following warning to be placed on any latex balloon or any toy or game containing a latex balloon:

    “CHOKING HAZARD: Children under 8 years can choke or suffocate on uninflated or broken balloons. Adult supervision required. Keep uninflated balloons from children. Discard broken balloons at once.”

    Mylar balloons are a safe alternative to latex balloons.

    The article was written by Sandra Chinnici, RN, Answer Line nurse at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. For more information about the dangers of latex balloons and other choking hazards, please call the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Answer Line at 314.454.KIDS (5437) or toll-free 800.678.KIDS.

  60. me October 13, 2011 at 6:14 am #

    I remember the instructor in a baby & me class I took when my twins were babies telling all the moms how dangerous balloons are for small children. We all listened wide eyed and murmured among ourselves that “wow, we had never thought about that.” The instructor scared everyone so badly, that I don’t think anyone from that class has ever given their kids a balloon.

    Because of that class, I was in the same balloons=death camp until my kids turned 2 or so and I thought about it more and realized that in my 38 years of life, I have never heard of anyone dying from choking on a balloon – even on the local news. Car crashes, yes. Drownings, yes. Dog attacks, yes. Balloons, no.

    I’m happy to see the statistics back up my personal experience. 110 kids in 38 years? That is an infinitesimal risk if I ever heard of one. What a ridiculous waste of time and brain power that goes into thinking about (not to mention legislating!) these things.

  61. itsthebishop October 14, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    Thanks for a great blog but…
    The title of this article is a lie. Europe (a place, not a thing) did not ban blowing up balloons. The “newspaper” you quote prints these articles to woo a Euro-sceptic audience. Take care with balloons.

    Please do not publish hyperbole like this, it undermines the valid issues you raise.

  62. MrPopularSentiment October 15, 2011 at 12:24 am #

    Two nights ago, I was at a BBQ and my 7months old and the hosts’ 8.5month old were taking turns trying to pop a balloon with what few teeth they have.

    We had fun, they had fun, and while the balloon probably didn’t enjoy it all that much, I’d say it was worth it.

    I knew before my son was born that I wanted to be a free range mom. It’s a little hard listening to my son instead of the cacophone of worry-warts, but it’s so worth it when we’re at a party with other babies his age and he’s the only one heading out to explore and meet everyone. He “checks in” every so often to make sure I’m still there, but he has fun and doesn’t cling to me or whine if I put him down.

    The effects of confidence start so young!

  63. Dolly October 15, 2011 at 7:15 pm #

    Mrpopular: Sorry but letting a 8 month old try to pop balloons with their teeth is not a good idea at all. Actually anyone popping a balloon with their teeth is not a good idea from what we discussed above. Pieces of balloon can shoot all over when a balloon pops including down a throat.

  64. John November 29, 2011 at 12:51 am #

    I work with kids and balloons are perfect for games and such. Use a few simple comman sense rules. I do not allow blow em up games, I saw a balloon piece cut a kids eye once so I always have kids keep balloons away from the face. Popping balloons is great fun for kids, sitting on them, stomp, etc. Just discard the pieces after the game and you have nothing to worry about. I usaully don’t use balloons with kids younger then 4.

  65. Bastiaan December 7, 2011 at 8:18 pm #

    Please don’t trust anything you read about the EU in British tabloids without further investigation. The Daily Mail and the Telegraph seem to have a contest who can make up the most overblown story about EU directives and communications. Check http://ec.europa.eu/unitedkingdom/blog/index_en.htm, which, by the way, tells you this balloon story is nonsense.

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