In the world of Child Passenger Safety, certain safety topics are a routine course of discussion: Is it better to use a booster or a harnessed seat with no tether? When is it okay for children to sit in the front seat? What do you do if a child needs to use a seating position with no headrest?
Every once in a while, though, there are questions that center around the practice of being a Child Passenger Safety Technician and what that means. One question I’ve seen come up from time to time is: Do you consider/refer to yourself as a “car seat expert”?
The answer, almost unanimously, is no. As one of the few dissenters, I’m baffled by that.
People’s reasoning varies. Some say that they don’t know everything and therefore can’t be considered an expert. Some say there are other people who know more than they do. Some say that it sounds egotistical. Some say that they still need to refer to manuals for information.
I say that none of that excludes someone from being an expert. I also contend that claiming we’re not experts actually hurts our reputation.
First, let’s look at it from a practical standpoint. When I tell people I’m a “Child Passenger Safety Technician,” they usually get a confused look on their face. What the heck does that even mean? It sounds like a piece of bureaucratic corporatese. It sounds like someone who engineers or assembles…children? I always need to follow it up with something like, “I help parents choose and install car seats,” or “I help keep children safe in cars,” but that’s all very clunky. It’s so much easier and clearer to say, “I’m a car seat expert.” That tells them everything they need to know.
Next, and more importantly, let’s take a look at the definition of “expert”: a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area.
Okay, so what does “comprehensive” mean? Including all or nearly all elements or aspects of something. I don’t think anyone involved in Child Passenger Safety would claim to know everything, but I don’t think anyone in any field would claim absolute knowledge. Even Neil deGrasse Tyson doesn’t know everything about the cosmos, but he’s certainly seen as an expert. Are CPSTs not experts just because they haven’t memorized the LATCH manual or installed a foonf?
Let’s look at “authoritative.” Able to be trusted as being accurate or true; reliable. Online and in-person, CPSTs use their credentials to explain why people should listen to them. Our training makes us better advocates than the friend who just loves her particular (misused) car seat, or the pediatrician who tells parents to turn their babies forward-facing because their legs touch the seat back. If we’re not trusted, accurate, and true, why are we giving advice, and why should anyone listen?
As a consumer, I’d be turned off if the guy who came to give us an estimate on a new fence today said, “Oh, I do this to help people but I’m not really an expert on fences…” Or if my optometrist said, “Nah, I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on eyes. There are ophthalmologists who know more than I do.” Or if my mechanic said, “I have to look up the part number for this. Clearly I’m no expert on fixing cars!”
I go to the fence guy, the eye doctor, the mechanic not because they know everything or are the absolute best in the world, but because they have the skills and training to do what I can’t.
Being a car seat expert doesn’t mean knowing everything. It doesn’t mean that we never have to look things up (in fact, our training specifically tells us that we should look things up). It doesn’t mean we can solve every problem. It doesn’t mean we’ll never run into a situation we haven’t encountered before. It doesn’t mean there aren’t other people in the car seat universe who know more or have more experience than we do.
Being an expert does mean that we know more than the average bear, at least in terms of child passenger safety. It means we’re a reliable source of information that we can use to help make kids safer.
To claim we’re not experts on car seats undermines what we do. Why would a parent trust someone who says, “I’m no expert, but your kid shouldn’t be in a booster seat”? It is our expertise that leads people to seek our advice and to trust what we say. If we claim we’re not experts, where is our credibility?