When it comes to the dangers of television for small children, the conversation typically steers towards the long-term impacts of the boob tube on kids' cognitive development, the threat of ADHD or how to curtail the number of hours or the content of shows kids watch. As it turns out, there's a much more practical threat to the health and wellbeing of small children, a byproduct of the ubiquitousness of flatscreens: death by tip-over.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a blunt warning to parents yesterday, called "The Tipping Point," about the hazards of allowing their kids to sit close to an unmounted flatscreen. No, the government isn't worried about how much screen time it takes to warp kids' rods and cones into permanent myopia. Apparently -- and there's no nice way to report this -- record numbers of curious youngsters who scale the armoire to change the channel are dying when precariously balanced televisions or the furniture itself crashes on their heads.
"Small children are no match for a falling dresser, wall unit or 50- to 100-pound television," the report says. The imagery gets gruesome: "Children involved in these tip-over incidents often sustain severe head and other injuries to the body as a result of being crushed by the product or trapped under its weight."
In February, for example, a 1-year-old boy at home in Chicago bumped a 100-pound TV awkwardly set on an aquarium stand. It toppled on him, fracturing his skull.
"This is not as uncommon as people might think, sadly," said John Dregenberg, a consumer safety director at Underwriters Laboratories, a ground that sets safety standards for TVs. He was speaking back in February, after the incident involving the boy in Chicago. "We wouldn't purchase a car without seat belts. We shouldn't sell TVs without appropriate safety equipment."
The commission estimates that more than 43,000 people -- about 25,400 of them kids under 18 years old -- are injured by "tip-over incidents" each year, and notes that, on average, the accidents claim the life of one child every two weeks. According to the government's data, three children are injured every hour. That's 71 kids every day. Between 2000 and 2011, 349 people died in those incidents. And the problem is only getting worse: 41 people died last year, up from 31 in 2010 and 27 in 2009.
How can we curb this disturbing trend? Simple: Anchor your TV. Mount it on the wall or bolt it on a swivel so that it can't topple. TV gives us enough problems -- programming, content, attention disorders -- without the prospect of one crushing our kids.