Dear Dave

Monday 1 March 2010

Shock tactics

Dear Dave,

We've all been there:

"Don't play on the rocks - you'll get hurt."
"Don't throw your toys - they'll break."
"Don't pat the dog - you don't know where it's been."
"Don't write there - we'll get arrested."
"Don't get sauce on your shirt - it'll never come off."
"Don't eat that - you'll get sick."
"Don't touch that - it'll explode!"
"Don't do that - your legs will fall off."
"Don't throw rocks at that dog - it'll eat you... and be sick on my shirt. Then the whole world will explode!"

It's easy to get carried away when stating the possible consequences of whatever mischief the kids are up to. Worst-case scenarios always spring readily to mind. It's not hugely surprising that you attempted to put the fear of hospitals, social services and Santa's naughty list into Sam after his little experiment with the forks. I doubt he's traumatised. Unfortunately, it's far more likely he's ignored you entirely and is already back raiding the cutlery drawer.

If you can hear clinking as you read this, you might want to go and investigate...



See, I told you, he's fine - he wasn't even listening.

I suspect that's why these extravagant prophecies of doom are so easy for us to utter. Lesser threats and warnings have no effect and so we escalate in an effort to get a response. Saying that rough treatment will scratch a new toy doesn't alter the behaviour, so the possibility of breaking the toy is mentioned. Sadly, this is only ever going to stop a child battering an Action Man with a pan long enough to say, "It's not broken. See!"

The concept of 'yet' doesn't come into it.

To be fair, though, it can be the same for adults.

The current fire safety campaign involves emotive scenes of death and destruction, and stern warnings not to leave washing machines on overnight. The accompanying blurb on the website strongly discourages leaving a TV on standby while out at the shops and recommends switching electrical appliances off at the mains when not in use.

This advice is all very well but I can't imagine it's had much effect. I certainly haven't rushed round the house disconnecting things myself. Half the gadgets we own include clocks which reset when the power goes off - they're clearly designed to be left on the whole time. Bearing this in mind, why bother with the other stuff? I'm not switching the kettle off at the mains, for instance. I switch it off once a fortnight when I clean it and that's quite enough. Later in the day, I nearly always end up wondering why it's taking so long to boil...

I'm sure electrical faults happen regularly throughout the country but not regularly enough for me to spend my life fiddling with sockets. Nothing's burst into flames yet. Heck, when I was young, my mum used to get up in the middle of the night especially to switch the washing machine on because the electricity was cheaper.

I can't help thinking the advertising money would be better spent showing smiling, happy people testing their smoke alarms. The slogan could be 'Checked the batteries this week? Superb. You're awesome!'. (They could get Huey to do the voice-over.)

It's the same with those warning ads at the start of DVDs claiming piracy somehow leads to international terrorism. They always seem slightly divorced from everyday experience. Then there are the ones which go on about pirated copies being such low quality that showing one will lose you friends and family. I'm not convinced. I always imagine that if I had a pirated version I wouldn't have to sit through countless unskippable copyright notices. The only time I've taken notice was when a message popped up along the lines of 'Thank you for purchasing this genuine product and helping to support the motion picture industry so we can bring you more great entertainment!' It was a refreshing change from shock tactics.

Being positive about good behaviour can be hard work but I guess it's worth a shot.

Good luck getting the forks out of your neighbour's shrubbery without him noticing. I'm off to check the batteries in the smoke alarms.

Yours in a woman's world,


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