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Cannon: Risk sometimes worth what kids learn from it

Published June 21, 2013 11:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The other day on our early morning walk, my friends and I noticed an old Wonder Horse in someone's front yard. So we talked about the Wonder Horses of our youth and how much we loved them even though you could fall off and crack your head open. Or get your bare toes mangled in the springs. Or end up sailing (YEEHAW!) halfway across the family room if you rode too hard, in which case you cracked your head open again.

Dude. It's like that toy was specifically designed to maim small children.

A lot of toys used to be like that. Child-maimers.

Remember Easy Bake Ovens that really baked cakes, for instance? And also fingers? Or the old Mattel Vac-U-Form (aka the "ThingMaker") that cooked Creepy Crawlers? And also fingers?

What about Tinker Toys? Hey! You could totally put your brother's eye out with one of those sticks if you felt like it. AND WHAT ABOUT THE CLACKERS, PEOPLE? Remember clackers? Two hard plastic balls on strings that Wikipedia describes as being "similar in appearance to the Argentinian weapons, bolas"? Seriously, is it ever a good thing when toys are described as looking like weapons? From Argentina?

Speaking of weaponry for small children, who can forget the belt buckle cap gun, introduced in 1959 by Mattel. To the naked eye, it looked like an ordinary belt buckle ... that is until the child wearing it did a quick, well-timed pelvic thrust and BOOYAH! Exploding caps everywhere, baby!

Talk about taking the bad guys — and everybody else in a 50-yard radius — by surprise.

Want another example of a suspect toy from the 1950s? How about the Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab — a junior chemistry set that came with actual uranium-bearing ore samples, because who doesn't want a kid to mess around with a few good radioactive rocks every now and then?

Then there was the Cabbage Patch Kids Snacktime Kid with fully functional mechanical jaws that ate pretend "snacks." And real hair.

Also! Remember lawn darts? Big freaking lawn darts? Need I say more? Seriously, you could kill a cow with those. (Not that The Salt Lake Tribune in any way, shape or form endorses the killing of American cows with lawn darts.)

I guess the point is this: Most of these toys would NOT be invented today. Concrete playgrounds with merry-go-rounds, metal slides and seesaws (aka "teeter-totters") wouldn't be invented either. We're much more safety-savvy now, and that's a very, very good thing.

Except ...

Sometimes I wonder if the main message we send our kids these days is that everything is dangerous. Riding a bike. Going out in the sun. Talking to strangers, even if it's the old woman standing next to your mother in the checkout line. Eating processed food (Gwyneth Paltrow recently said she would rather die than feed her kids a Cup-a-Soup.)

HEY, ALL YOU KIDS OUT THERE! HAVEN'T YOU GOTTEN THE MEMO YET? LIFE WILL KILL YOU! It's like we've turned into that robot on "Lost in Space," flapping our vacuum hose arms while shouting, "Danger! Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!"

My son with the 3-year-old daughter rolls his eyeballs whenever I start talking like this. "You make wanting to protect your child sound like it's a bad thing," he says. I can only apologize and tell him that's not what I mean. It really isn't.

And I also don't mean we should give them dangerous toys and let Cabbage Patch Kids Snacktime dolls accidentally chew off all their hair.

I'm just saying that in the well-intentioned rush to shield our kids, we might not always help them understand that taking a risk now and then can be a good thing.

Even if it's — you know — risky.

Ann Cannon can be reached at acannon@sltrib.com or facebook.com/anncannontrib.