Take a look at the photo Vox used to illustrate an article about teleworkers:
It’s a woman sitting on the beach with her laptop and headset, watching two young children playing by a lake or pond (or other still water). Presumably, this is a stock photo designed to capture the idea of working remotely. Alright, sure.
Except: if you’re the parent of an otherwise healthy American child under the age of five, of all the many dangers you might worry about, it’s literally most likely cause of accidental death of your child.
In other words: if you want to save the lives of young children, the most effective thing you can do is try to reduce the number of drownings.
Repeat: If you want to save the lives of young children, the most effective thing you can do is try to reduce the number of drownings.
How do you do that? By ensuring that young children are adequately supervised around the water.
I have serious problems with Vox using a photo like this as an illustration for their post on telecommuting because it standardizes, by the way, which is actually the leading cause of accidental death for children from 1 to 4 years old. Could you illustrate your remote desktop scene with an archive photo showing unsafe handling of firearms? A child who is not properly secured in a car seat? A child poisoning himself while the parent takes a call at work?
No you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t do this because the article is about employee salaries (important topic), and you wouldn’t post a photo of a dangerous child care situation (even if it is meant in a humorous or metaphorical way) unless your goal is to discuss dangerous child care situations.
I’m tense about this because this photo literally models how your 1-4 year old child is most likely to die accidentally. This is the image. It is exactly How’s it going.
I know this because, as longtime readers regularly hear, my child was in this predicament at the pool. She was four years old and playing on the wide, shallow steps on a calm morning after swimming lessons, less than ten feet from where a lifeguard was on duty. She knew where to play safely, and she wasn’t a risk-taking kid, she followed the rules.
She accidentally walked in slightly deeper water. Like her panicked and struggled in silence and began to drown, to at any time she could have saved herself by grabbing a railing, the edge of the pool or the step, which were all within reach all the time.
Because I was watching, I realized what was going on. I got up, walked into the pool, picked it up and carried it to the deck. She was fine, because I went to fish her immediately. As I stood there, holding my child, me dripping from my pants and blouse, my leather shoes soaked, the lifeguard got down from his seat and approached me, worried and uncomfortable. .
I assumed he was coming to have someone listen to lung sounds.
He said to me: “Madame? I’m sorry, but you are not allowed to wear street clothes in the pool.
He was the lifeguard. It was a calm morning. My child was playing right next to him. And he had completely missed the fact that she had started to drown and I had come in to rescue her. He had no idea.
If you’re on the phone, reading your book, or checking your email, you can very easily miss when your child starts to drown. It doesn’t make any noise. Looks like a child jumping into the water. And when you miss it, you won’t be alone. If the unspeakable happens, God forbid, your child will be dead the most probable cause accidental death in children aged 1 to 4 years.
So no, it’s not about shaming parents. If you are one of the parents who have lost a child by drowning, you know that it’s just a painfully common and very dangerous thing that happens, and it can happen even when you do everything right.
It is really difficult. It’s difficult because before you become a parent, the pool or the beach is where you go to relax. It’s hard because now you’re a parent and you’re so, so tired. Watching the children swim is boring. I mean: really, really, really boring. Suddenly the thing you loved is job. Boring work.
And the point is, as a new parent (or experienced parent, let’s be honest), it’s hard to know what to worry about. There are so many dangers, and you cannot raise your child in a bubble because it is not good for them even if it was possible. Good parenting requires allowing some risk.
It is therefore easy as a parent to misjudge the most serious dangers for your child. Worse yet: No matter how perfect you judge, no matter how careful you are, bad things can always happen. Nothing you do can protect your child 100%. Again: this is not about shaming parents. Not at all.
But still: the images of parents not looking at their children near the water are images of the leading cause of accidental death in children 1 to 4 years old.
I’m not “cancel Vox” or “there should be a law” at all. What I’m saying is: let’s be aware that an image of young children playing by the water’s edge while nearby adults are distracted is the iconic image of the death of young children. It is the Photo.
And I’m the one crazy to deal with it, because we as a culture are not being honest about it. A television show that has smoking for goodness sake, is flagged in reviews, because of the bad example it sets. Naturally. I don’t want my kids to think that smoking is okay.
I also don’t want parents to think that distractions at the pool or the beach aren’t a big deal, either. I’m not saying smoke around your kids (please don’t), but your kid would safer if you had the cigarette but not the book, phone, or laptop in hand while you watched the kids playing in the water.
It’s just the reality. A publication like Vox should take this reality seriously.