Health warnings for life

Gerald Haigh

ZIG ZAG: Safety, Age range 8 to 10, BBC2 Mondays, 11.05am, Teacher's notes, Pounds 2.25, BBC Education, - 0181 746 1111.

How did I make it to adulthood? I used to play hide and seek under coal wagons, climb around in the local quarry and jump from the top of haystacks.

Few children get to do such things now. Fear of danger, and the search for a risk-free existence are high on the family agenda, which is why children are driven to school and have no conception of what lies across the fields and beyond the woods. We keep our children safe, but we undoubtedly also rob them of their childhood.

Take matches for example, shown in the first of a three-part Zig Zag unit on safety. Children are shown being tempted to play with matches, and warned of the danger. It is dangerous of course, but it is undeniably exciting. Matches might also be less commonplace now than a generation ago when they lit the fire, the gas mantle and cigarettes. We knew about matches, and we rarely came to harm.

Now there are self-igniting fires and cookers, and there are many houses with no matches in them at all, so when children do find them, they might have no idea how to handle them safely. All of which means that I watched these programmes on safety with something of a heavy heart.

But all the right messages are here. A good presenter Kevin Duala, with an engaging manner, a quiet voice and a Merseyside accent takes the young viewer into houses, on to the street and into the potential danger spots in countryside and town.

All the time, the theme is of being tempted to do the wrong thing to leave a hot pan with the handle sticking out, to use a big knife to cut bread; to run into the street after a ball; to examine a huge tractor a little too closely. Then, in each case, the right course of action is substituted and examined. Screen signals an alter ego, a tick or a cross, the word "Danger" keep reinforcing the message.

Appropriate adults, including a firefighter and policeman, make brief appearances to underline things, and there is very clear advice about when and how to call for help, either by just shouting or by dialling 999.

These programmes deliver lots of basic safety advice in a way that primary children will appreciate and understand it could quite well be used by parent groups too. There is plenty of reinforcement in the programme booklet.

I still have a pang of regret, though, that we need to tell our children that daily life is so threatening. It seems to me that if we really loved our children as much as we say we do, we would put more effort into making their surroundings safe and accessible for them.

As it is, most of the dangers are created by adults, and the best we can now do is to say to children, "This is the world we've made. It suits us, but if you step out of line it could bite you".

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Gerald Haigh

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