If parenthood’s leading sport is thinking about all the ways kids are in danger, there’s now a mobile playbook.
Health & Safety Watch has released free smartphone software that aggregates recall notices, environmental advisories and health warnings, acting as a one-touch guide to the myriad means by which youngsters – and family pets – could become ill, injured or killed on a given day. The epidemiologist behind the application, a former Health Canada senior public health official, says the goal is to put potentially life-saving information at parents’ fingertips any time, anywhere, over the summer holidays. But is it education or feeding into a culture of parental angst?
“We’re already bombarded with warnings, many of which are about dangers that are exaggerated or highly unlikely,” says noted sociologist Barry Glassner, author of The Culture of Fear. “The net result is needless anxiety and increasing confusion about risks.”
Dr. Jeff Aramini, president of Health & Safety Watch, hopes the software will have the opposite effect, allowing parents a greater sense of control and easier access to information that’s personally relevant.
“The more we know and the more we feel confident that we’re on top of things, the less we have to worry,” says Aramini. “The kind of information [on the app] ranges from drinking water advisories to food recalls to disease outbreaks … .These aren’t emergencies as long as we, the public, take action appropriately.”
According to the Guelph, Ont.-based organization, more than 1,000 recalls and advisories are issued every year, adding up to a tremendous challenge for busy parents. The app not only sorts these public notices by geo-graphic location, it allows users to filter threats by category: consumer products, food and drug, public health, and environmental.
“I became a father about 10 years ago. That was the point when I really started paying attention to these things,” says Aramini, recalling a mother who mistakenly fed her daughter meat contaminated with E. coli – causing the girl to become seriously ill – because she missed the public advisory. “I thought: ‘There has got to be a better way.’” But in putting health-advisory tri-age into the hands of citizens, with each notice receiving equal space and prominence on the iPhone app, sociologist Frank Furedi wonders if people will feel overwhelmed.
“When you get so many of these things together, each one trivializes the next until you don’t know what you really need to worry about,” says Furedi, author of Paranoid Parenting. “It almost works to create an industry of fear around parenting.”