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Dangerous Ignorance

Injury prevention begins with education


An 18th century poet named Thomas Gray most likely originated the phrase “ignorance is bliss.” His eloquent, lyrical take on an easy way to avoid pain and sorrow may work beautifully concerning rumors and back-stabbing opinions. However, a lack of knowledge about playing with danger does not lead to happiness. It can lead straight to the emergency department.

Every year Children's Hospital Central California treats countless kids for traumatic injuries that hit like an unexpected thunder clap. Tragically, many of these injuries occur through sheer ignorance. “We don’t call Mary Jo Quinterothem accidents,” said Mary Jo Quintero, pre-hospital liaison nurse at Children’s Hospital. “Accidents can’t be avoided and these injuries can.” Quintero serves as coordinator of the Hospital’s water safety program, and has seen the heartache suffered by parents of drowning victims. “They’re good parents, just like you and me,” said Quintero. “They just don’t understand how to keep their kids and family safe around water.” Quintero knows well-informed adults not only can help prevent water-related injuries, but also can thwart tragedy from any number of potentially dangerous situations. “We need to educate parents,” she said. “And that’s what we want to be able to provide for them.” 

As children grow more independent, the role of parents in protecting them becomes more difficult. “Teens think they’re invincible,” said Carlos FloresCarlos Flores, trauma coordinator at Children’s. But in 2010, the Hospital received 700 trauma admissions – many of them teenagers, who for the first time were forced to face their mortality. Far too often, the serious injuries sending 12 to 17-year-olds to our emergency department occur through irresponsibility, as well as ignorance. “Trauma is not always ‘blood and guts’ injury,” said Flores, referring to victims after a car crash. “It can be a solid organ injury or a traumatic brain injury.” Near drowning is not the only life-altering traumatic injury that Quintero and Flores would choose not to always call an accident. Today’s teenagers regularly dive head first into danger and call it recreation.

The Latin proverb – Pueri sunt pueri, pueri puerilia tractant – translated as “Children are children and do childish things”  proves that kids have engaged in foolish activities for centuries. However, today’s “childish things” have the potential to kill.[1]

“Trauma is the number one killer of kids,” said Flores. “All other causes of death combined result in less deaths than trauma alone.” While the majority of these deaths result from reckless and distracted driving, a variety of other dangerous behaviors are also included in the mix. Armed with knowledge, adults can help prevent the traumatic injuries that occur when children do childish things.

Most kids would never string a wire from one end of Niagara Falls to the other and skip across without a care. However, many of today’s youth walk a thrill-seeking tightrope. Sadly, parents and caring adults in a position to warn them have no knowledge of these activities, let alone suspect their children may be involved. Spotlighted below are a few of the unbelievably dangerous behaviors our “invincible” youth foolishly call fun.

The Choking Game

The internet overflows with memorial websites in honor of preteens and teens who died playing a game that causes euphoria by temporarily depriving the brain of oxygen. The Choking Game often appeals to high energy, well-balanced achievers attracted by the opportunity to experience a mind-altering thrill without ingesting illegal substances. They compare the dream-like rush to fainting, and never consider the potentially severe consequences of engaging in this unsafe activity. Cutting off the supply of oxygen to the brain even for a brief moment can cause seizures. The involuntary, jerky movement exhibited when the young person loses consciousness is considered part of the fun, but brain cells are dying. Longer periods of oxygen deprivation can lead to permanent brain injury and death. A growing internet presence has increased awareness of the Choking Game, but each year dozens of young people continue to lose their lives. Learn the warning signs as well as prevention and intervention strategies by visiting websites sponsored by G.A.S.P. and by the DB Foundation.

Sac Tapping

Football players have long slapped each other on the back side when breaking from a huddle. This harmless display of masculinity among teammates has always been motivated by camaraderie, not aggression. Recently the slapping has spread beyond the football field and has migrated to the front side. Formerly considered unsportsmanlike, hitting below the belt no longer carries the stigma of poor taste. In fact, the activity known as “sac tapping” evokes laughter from participants and onlookers. The hazardous practice has gained such widespread popularity and acceptance that a well-known department store sells T-shirts poking fun at sac tapping. Blunt force injuries to the groin can damage the external and internal genitalia. Even minor injuries to complex vascular erectile structures can lead to the formation of scar tissue surrounding the urethra, impairing genitourinary function. Outcomes may include difficulty urinating, sexual dysfunction and infertility. Talk to the young men in your life and warn them of the possible long-term consequences of sac tapping.

Flame On

Marvel comic book fans are acquainted with the impulsive, self-absorbed superhero named Johnny Storm, also known as the Human Torch. Johnny Storm gained his unique characteristics after surviving an onslaught of cosmic rays while in outer space, and became the youngest member of the Fantastic Four. His crime-fighting edge comes from his ability to engulf himself in flames and fly like the wind. When the Human Torch takes to the skies in a blaze of glory he customarily shouts, “Flame on!” Johnny Storm first appeared on the scene 50 years ago. Today, his creator would be horrified by the dangerous game named after the Human Torch’s customary phrase. Teenagers have added an element to the age-old game of tag. The person playing “it” holds a burning butane lighter and chases friends doused in flammable liquid. Once tagged, the ignited player will stop, drop and roll – but only after running around as long as he dares. Adults must snuff out this twisted game of chicken and put a stop to it.


Feelings of lightheadedness and a loss of inhibition – similar to the “buzz” of alcohol intoxication – as well as easy access to household chemicals, may explain why inhalants were the most frequently reported class of illicit drugs used among 12 to 13-year-olds in 2007. According to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the inhalants of choice among adolescents aged 12 to 15 include glue, shoe polish, spray paint and gasoline. However, the Office of National Drug Control Policy has identified more than 1,000 readily available products adolescents inhale intentionally. Breathing chemical vapors – known as “huffing” – can lead to impaired judgment, apathy, belligerence, hallucinations and depression. Chronic abuse can damage organs such as the lungs, liver, kidneys and heart. Huffing can also lead to permanent brain injury and death. Fatalities from cardiac arrhythmias, asphyxiation and suffocation can occur the first time an inhalant is abused. Unfortunately, a relatively low proportion of teenagers understand the serious risks involved with huffing. Communicating the consequences can save lives.

The creativity and imagination characteristic of childhood can lead to the invention of foolish activities like the Choking Game and sac tapping. Teenage “invincibility” can open the door to dangerous behaviors such as Flame On and huffing. Children are children and do childish things. Parents must be proactive in protecting them.

To each his sufferings: all are men,
Condemned alike to groan;
The tender for another's pain,
The unfeeling for his own.
Yet ah! why should they know their fate?
Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies.
Thought would destroy their paradise.
No more; where ignorance is bliss,
'Tis folly to be wise.[2]

Not even Thomas Gray would call dangerous ignorance “bliss.” Injury prevention begins with education. To aid in these efforts, Children's Hospital Central California is sponsoring an event designed to keep our children safe and well. We invite families throughout our community to this free event called Spring into Safety Central Valley 2011 on April 9 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Sunnyside High School, 1019 South Peach Ave., located on the southeast corner of Peach and Kings Canyon in Fresno. Attendees will meet injury-prevention experts specializing in road, fire and water safety. Children will have fun while learning life-saving information through hands-on activities.

For more information on this event and for additional injury prevention ideas, contact Carlos Flores (559) 353-5989 or Mary Jo Quintero (559) 353-8661 at Children's Hospital, or visit the injury prevention page on our website.

When foolishness invites danger, gaining wisdom prevents injury. Let’s work together to educate our children. Let’s help keep them safe by replacing ignorance with knowledge. Any resulting bliss will be no accident.


[1] Christine Ammer, “The Facts On File Dictionary of Chichés,” Second Edition, copyright 2006 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust.

[2] Thomas Gray, "Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College," lines 91-100, public domain, 1742.