Times Colonist

OK kids, drop the balloons


With Christmas on the horizon, European Union officials are giving Ebenezer Scrooge a run for his money. According to a decree from EU headquarte­rs, children under the age of eight are no longer allowed to blow up balloons. Roll-up whistles found in Christmas crackers are prohibited for kids under 14.

Also banned are magnetic fishing games and various types of colouring books (presumably for fear of lead poisoning). And hence forward, Teddy bears must be fully washable (to prevent the spread of disease).

Trying to dial back the predictabl­e flood of criticism, one of the officials stood his ground: “You might say children have been blowing up balloons for generation­s, but not any more, and they will be safer for it.”

No doubt they will. The number of youngsters killed by inhaling a balloon is tiny, but it does occasional­ly happen.

And there must be a case somewhere of a Teddy bear making like a plague rat, and infecting its unsuspecti­ng owner.

As for magnetic fishing games, who knows? There are 175 million children in Europe. Let enough of them play with any toy, and something unfortunat­e will happen.

Some of this Continenta­l anxiety disorder can be found on our side of the Atlantic. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recently published “safety tips” for Halloween. Here are some highlights: All costumes should be short enough to prevent children tripping.

Hats and scarfs should be tied tightly in place to prevent them slipping over children’s eyes. Rather than masks, children should wear full-face cosmetics. And children “should WALK, not run” from house to house.

At one level, who can deny the truth of all this? Swallowing small bits of metal is harmful, so let’s ban magnets. Falling down hurts, so let’s outlaw anything a child could trip over.

If it’s your job to translate common sense into a series of commandmen­ts, this is exactly what you’d come up with.

But viewed from a different perspectiv­e, the whole exercise is absurd. And not just because it takes the fun out of childhood.

The point about common sense is that we understand it without needing help from government. By all means legislate hidden dangers that aren’t widely known.

But children already have a wise and comprehend­ing authority to protect them. They’re called parents, and left to themselves, they’re entirely capable of doing the job.

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