Trolling for Safety

Earlier this week, a post popped up on a Facebook group I belong to for child passenger safety technicians. The tech who shared the link was concerned because the post was a review of a car seat, which showed a car seat being used entirely incorrectly. The straps were positioned wrong, the chest clip was too low and worst of all, a child who could not be more than 6 months old was pictured forward facing in the seat. The review itself mostly skirted by discussing anything of substance and instead was largely focused on how pretty the colors were.

I was alarmed on a few levels. I knew that if that child was in that seat, as pictured, and in a crash, she would likely be severely injured, if not killed. It doesn’t matter how many safety features are built into a car seat, if you use it against the manual and against the law and all safety recommendations, it’s useless. I was also frustrated because I think that reviews like that make parents look stupid. I may be a car safety nut, but every parent I know cares more about how long their child will fit in a seat, how it will fit in their car, if it’s relatively straightforward to use, etc., rather than what colors it comes in. But this second issue is beside the point.

After several of us (politely) expressed our concerns to the car seat company, the review was pulled and pictures were retaken with the child rear facing. The straps were still wrong and the review at no point acknowledged that the previous picture were misleading. In fact, in the comments, the poster was endorsing forward facing children at 1 and 20 pounds, which absolutely everyone in the car seat world agrees is entirely unsafe.

Once again, some CPSTs reached out to the poster in the comments of the post. I was one of them and I can tell you that my comment was 100% polite and simply trying to explain why recommending 1 and 20 pounds was not a good idea. As she had told another CPST to “do some research” I included a few links that would be useful for her and other parents interested in the seat and in car seat safety. Not only did my comment not get published, but I’ve been blocked from the website. This blogger wants parents to do research but doesn’t want any research to be shared?

Honestly, this is part of a bigger issue I’m personally struggling with. This person is calling me a “troll” because I want to help keep children safe by providing research. My only goal in sharing what I’ve learned about car seats is to keep children safe. I have no ulterior motive. I don’t think I’m a better parent. I really just want to help change the fact that car collisions are the #1 killer of children and that 75% of car seats are being used incorrectly. I’m not afraid to be blocked by people over this, I just wish there was a better way.

How do we incite change without being blocked and being called trolls? How can we teach parents what’s best if any attempt to do so is seen as a personal affront? I’m genuinely asking because I don’t even know anymore. We have a major issue with car seat safety in this country and it seems to be more difficult than ever to help parents learn how to keep their children safe in the car.

7 Responses to “Trolling for Safety”

  • Ok, I’m trying to choose my words very carefully here because I really genuinely like you and consider you a friend. But, the car seat thing honestly drives me nuts. And I get that it comes from a good place, wanting to keep kids safe, and I get that it’s something you’re passionate about. But I swear, every time I see a cute little viral video of a kid dancing in their car seat, people start commenting on it, “The straps are wrong! The chest clip is too low! Why is she forward-facing already?” Like, there was a video of a baby dancing to “Gangnam Style,” and some lady on FB who calls herself The Car Seat Lady (I’m guessing you know her) posted a screenshot with little call-out balloons of all the things the parents had done wrong. I didn’t comment on it, but if I had, it would’ve been to tell The Car Seat Lady to f**k off. To me, that IS trolling, because nobody asked for a lesson on car seat safety, they were just sharing a cute moment with their child.

    To draw a parallel – I once found an old video of Catie when she was about 6 weeks old, and my ex-husband was sort of bouncing her around trying to get her to burp. I posted it because I thought it was funny, then I got comments about, “You’re not supporting her head correctly! She’s going to have neck damage!” Catie was 5 years old when I posted it (and her neck is fine). It was drive-by “ur doin it wrong” parenting. While it may be well-intentioned, it comes off as condescending and self-righteous.

    I get this situation is a little different, because it was a product review, not just a random “here’s a pic of my kid in their car seat” post. And I didn’t read it, or your comment, so I’m not saying that YOU are condescending or self-righteous, because I’ve never known you to be either. But I think that just because something is important to you, doesn’t mean it’s important to everyone else, or that they’re going to be receptive to hearing your feedback. Unsolicited advice is just that – unsolicited. And even with the best of intentions, some people don’t want to hear it and will shut down the minute that they feel they’re being criticized. There isn’t really anything you can do for those people. Help the people who want help, give advice to those who seek it, and accept the fact that you can’t single-handedly get the entire world to share your viewpoints.

    [Reply]

    Katie Reply:

    I know that the car seat thing drives you crazy and I appreciate you commenting because I think your perspective is an important one. I typically don’t comment when I don’t know a person and I know what you mean about those viral videos. I personally don’t comment because I know that it’s going to piss a lot of people off (who will then only share painfully wrong information) and it won’t change what the person does. Not to mention, that moment is passed, the child is alive and harping on that person won’t change the video. It does make me cringe because sometimes the misuse is SO bad that the kid may as well be riding seatbelt-less in the front seat, but I know that my voice won’t change that. I still don’t think that’s trolling *if* it’s done in a certain way, but I can agree to disagree there.

    The only reason I said something on this particular post was because it was someone who had a big stage to educate on safety and was not only showing pictures of a forward facing 7 month old, but who was also recommending forward facing at 1 and 20 pounds and telling those who said that RF until 2 was best that they needed to do research. To me, that’s dangerous and worth sticking my neck out to be stepped on in the hopes that it will educate someone who doesn’t know anything other than the 1 and 20 rule.

    If I have a friend who is using a car seat wrong, I will only approach them if a) they seem like someone who would be open to that kind of information and b) if I can do it privately and non-confrontationally. I recently did this with a friend on FB, through a message and she was grateful, thankfully, but I was careful to phrase it as a suggestion, not a criticism. I try to be careful to never tell a parent that they’re wrong because ultimately, car seats are a parental decision, but my goal is to show how children can be made safer or safest. I don’t want the whole world to share my viewpoints (partially because it’s not like politics- this isn’t about getting people on my side, it’s about showing what we know, scientifically and practically, about car seat safety), but I would be really thrilled if more parents were given accurate information on car seats since I think that we as a country do an absolutely terrible job helping new parents with this. There are classes for breastfeeding, classes that help you learn to diaper and swaddle, but at no point does anyone show a parent how to use a car seat properly when it is arguable as important, if not more so than the other topics. It’s really not about anyone agreeing with me, I just wish more people had accurate information so that no matter what they choose, they’re at least making an informed decision.

    [Reply]

  • Runa:

    Katie, neither you nor Cindy know me from Pete, but I follow you both on Twitter and your blogs, and really like you both. That said, I really like and agree with Cindy’s comment.

    Here is my perspective as someone who’s trained in public health and risk assessment: if car collisions are indeed the #1 source of child mortality in this country, it’s not primarily because car seats are being used incorrectly, it’s because being in a car in motion AT ALL is the most dangerous thing that we all do on a routine basis. It’s honestly why I’ve chosen a life (as far as choice is involved at all — and I acknowledge that this is a real privilege I have) where I need to do as little driving as possible — I live a mile from work, my kids’ daycare is a two minute drive, etc etc etc. Let me repeat myself: it’s a privilege that I get to make these choices. I honestly do not have, nor care to have, any role in judging the choices or life circumstances that lead other people to do a lot more driving and expose themselves to that risk, because everything in life is a risk tradeoff — including the choice to RF or FF your child’s car seat.

    The person who’s front-facing a 6mo is acting illegally, so I actually do think it’s completely appropriate to educate that person on that. But this blogger, as far as is can tell, now knows the rule and has taken the photo of illegal activity down, and I think that that’s the best that you can do right now. I don’t think you’ll change the heart of a person who’s on the defensive any further, at least not at this point. And as long as what she’s doing is not actually illegal, I don’t think it’s appropriate to push.

    By the way, I really appreciate the previous post you wrote on why RF is best until age 4, and you best believe that this will inform how long I RF my 10-mo (answer: much longer that I RF’ed my 3-year-old). So I hope you count that as a win!!!

    [Reply]

    Katie Reply:

    That is a win and I’m so glad you shared that with me. Sometimes it feels a bit like I’m shouting into an abyss with things like this (though that is clearly MY issue, I know).

    Cars are dangerous, I totally agree with you there, but they are especially dangerous for kids. Research shows that somewhere between 2/3 and 3/4 of car seats are used improperly (either installed wrong, harnessed wrong, using improper seats, etc). Unfortunately there are a large percentage of crashes where a child should be the safest passenger in the car because they’re in the backseat (which is way, way safer than the front), but the child dies in an otherwise completely survivable crash while everyone else walks away without a scratch. We also have statistics from places like the Netherlands where kids RF until age 4 (in car seats designed for that) and there are literally almost zero child deaths in car crashes. They also drive far and frequently drive fast, yet somehow their kids aren’t dying like ours are, so there has to be something we’re missing. I agree that we should minimize driving and there will always be crashes that just aren’t survivable, but those aren’t the ones I’m trying to fix. It’s the times where a proper car seat, or a properly used car seat could’ve saved a life. We are seeing a decline in car seat deaths, so something must be working.

    I agree that I won’t change the heart of someone who is defensive, I just wish I knew a way to provide information to parents in a way that isn’t threatening. I completely understand how it can come across as criticizing a person’s parenting, which is something I really never want to do, I just don’t know how to do it differently. Is there a better way to educate all parents so they can make informed decisions without implying that choosing differently is inherently wrong? I truly don’t know.

    [Reply]

  • Rachel:

    I can understand why that blogger reacted the way she did. You mention that multiple people commented/emailed/contacted her and the car seat company in some way to say that her post was inaccurate and wrong. She probably felt very attacked. I’m not sure why exactly you felt the need to lend your voice to the crowd of criticism when others had already. Maybe you had a legitimate point that hadn’t been brought up. But I would say that if others were already pointing out her mistake then it isn’t particularly helpful to pile on more. It just makes her feel ganged up on and puts her on the defensive.

    [Reply]

    Katie Reply:

    @Rachel, I should probably have clarified that all of this took place over the course of I think 2 days (I don’t remember, which is kind of sad. It could’ve been all one really long day), so it wasn’t like a sudden pile on of meanness and it was only 1-2 of us who reached out to her. Most of those who did anything (which was like 5? I think) went to the car seat company because they posted it on their FB page showing pictures of a forward facing 7 month old. I didn’t want to bother the person who wrote it, but as a company promoting safety in the car, that to me, was unacceptable. The seat was not only being used against the manual, but also against the law and they were promoting it. I felt that it was appropriate to bring that to their attention (without bothering the blogger) in hopes that they would reach out, which thankfully they did.

    At that point, I was happy to leave everything alone. Unfortunately, that’s when the blogger started telling other parents that they should turn their child at 1 and 20 pounds. When someone reached out to her privately and politely, she sent them an old link and told them they needed to do more research and then promptly blocked them so they couldn’t respond to her or discuss it further. That is what prompted me to comment, which I did very politely. I simply offered her a few links (it was her suggestion to do research) and said that it might help clarify some confusion. No name calling or rudeness and it was done on a post with moderated comments, so I knew it wouldn’t immediately post and put her on the spot and she could review all of it privately (if I had her email, I’d have done that, but I didn’t). I don’t think anyone else commented, so I believe it was just 2 of us, not a whole crowd (we discussed it privately in a FB group that you can only see if you’re a member). She immediately blocked me, called me a troll, was really rude on twitter and then told me to get a life.

    Truly, my goal was not at ALL to dog pile or make her feel badly. If she hadn’t blocked the other person who was trying to help her, I wouldn’t have stepped in. But it is really troubling for me when someone has a microphone and a big stage and is giving unsafe information to other parents. If she wants to forward face their child before I do, that’s not my business and it is 100% her call. I wouldn’t step in or say a word to her. But if you’re going to make recommendations to other parents, that, to me, is different and that’s why I added my voice.

    If I had it to do over, I would do things differently, but I can’t at this point, which is why I’m reflecting on it and trying to come up with a better way to do things next time.

    [Reply]

  • purplebreath:

    “Help the people who want help, give advice to those who seek it, and accept the fact that you can’t single-handedly get the entire world to share your viewpoints.” Such a great way to put that. I really like it. I struggle with helpful-ness. I love to be asked for advice. I think you are mostly balanced, my dear. Such great information to be found here on your blog. Keep up the good work.

    [Reply]

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I'm Katie, a 30-year-old, wife, mom, former teacher-turned PT, who also had brain surgery in November of 2007. This blog chronicles my daily life, from mundane to crazy, often with far too much detail. Sit down, get comfortable and stay for a while.
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