Take pity on me because Marvin is a tough act to follow ;) Seriously, that’s one smart little fella and that link he posted was just priceless.
Anyhow, the previous blog post “Who’s better? Who’s best?” got me thinking about the practice of recommending carseats. The current standardized Child Passenger Safety training curriculum, as well as the previous curriculum, strongly discourages CPS Technicians from recommending specific seats. The curriculum tells us that it’s okay to recommend specific features (like a 5-pt harnesses, front harness adjuster, etc.) but that we should not recommend specific brands and seats. So why is it so common to see CPS technicians and even instructors (both online and IRL) recommending specific seats to parents and caregivers? Let’s examine the issue a little closer…
There are different reasons why a technician or instructor may recommend a specific seat or seats. Some reasons are justified while others are not.
Case #1: Some techs (despite the strong language in the curriculum) love a specific seat or brand of seats so much that they recommend it to almost all parents who ask for advice on what seat to buy. They obviously love this particular seat or brand very much and think it’s perfect for almost every child in every situation.
Case #2: This technician is still clinging to the old company line that all seats are equal and therefore only recommends the least expensive seats. This person thinks expensive seats are frivolous and unnecessary and will tell parents not to waste their money buying anything more than the most basic models regardless of the situation.
Case #3: Occasionally an overwhelmed parent or caregiver doesn’t want options and education – they want to be spoon fed. Just tell them what seat to get and they’ll be happy.
Case #4: The specialist. This tech takes the time to ask all the right questions and assesses the specific needs of the child as well as the specifics of the vehicle and the needs/desires of the parent or caregiver. All variables are considered and options carefully weighed before any recommendations are made. Depending on the specifics of the situation, the recommedations may be a choice of several different seats or one particular seat/product that can meet that family’s needs.
Obviously cases 1 and 2 are examples of what CPS technicians and instructors should NOT be doing when parents inevitably ask for their advice. I personally don’t believe in option 3 – spoon feeding parents who are looking for an easy way out. I certainly don’t want to feel responsible if someone winds up unhappy with a choice that I have made for them.
But what about case #4? Is it really wrong for a technician to recommend a particular seat or seats for a particular situation after a thorough assessment? The answer depends on who is doing the recommending. Truthfully, the majority of technicians out in the field aren’t qualified to make this assessment. This isn’t their fault – they aren’t trained to be recommendation experts. They aren’t taught the specifics of each and every child restraint currently on the market in their training class. And even if they were – they would need to constantly stay updated, learning every new CR as it hit the market. Trust me – that’s no easy feat. Yes, there are some who do keep up with it all but most simply cannot. Does that make them second-rate technicians? Absolutely not. But would you want someone who didn’t have all the information making carseat recommendations for you and your child?
The problem is that there is no way to determine who has all the necessary information and who does not. Who is truly qualified to make recommendations that are in the best interest of a family? How can a parent or caregiver be certain that the recommendations given to them are appropriate and well thought-out? Unfortunately, there are no guarantees or assurances. The only way to know if the recommendations you have been given are sound and in the best interest of your family, is to follow up with your own research. Remember, no one knows your child and your situation better than you do.
If you need some guidance choosing the “best” seat for your child (and most of us do at some point or another) then please take the time to visit the car-seat.org forums. Read the review forum to acquaint yourself with various new seats, look at posts from other parents/caregivers who are in a similar situation and get responses to your questions from more than one person. The beauty of the car-seat.org forums is that almost every response to every thread is peer-reviewed by knowledgeable technicians and advocates. If you receive questionable advice or inaccurate info from one person, it’s almost guaranteed that someone else will jump in quickly with a correction.
Yes, there are some people that I trust implicitly to recommend carseats for others in various situations but I’m not naming any names. One of these people once told me “I don’t go to the doctor and have him tell me, well, you should take a medicine that lowers your cholesterol, but I’m going to make YOU figure out which one is right for you”. She’s right of course. But on the other hand, I wouldn’t suggest that you take the recommendation of a doctor without following up with your own research either.