Educational safety videos terrified me as a child – we should bring them back

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The death of the three boys who tragically drowned in a lake in Solihull has shaken me – like everyone else – to the core.

As I walked my dog the next morning, I had a deep sense of sadness. I was thinking, not only of the trauma these families must be feeling, but the horrific conditions in which these little kids had died. 

With charities providing advice on what to do if you witness someone falling through ice, plus schools drumming it into kids about the dangers of playing on frozen lakes, my mind went back to the safety films I was subjected to as a kid growing up in the 70s.

This utterly terrible tragedy has happened, but could these videos be worth a reboot to prevent this ever happening again?

As a mother of three boys myself, I was outraged and disgusted by the Twitter trolls who reared their ugly heads – pointing their fingers at the parents for letting their kids play on ice and suggesting they were to blame. 

Statements such as, ‘Where the hell were the parents?’, ‘Useless parents teaching their kids nothing’ and, ‘They need to go to prison’ littered my Twitter timeline.

But this is nothing to do with the families. I believe, instead, we should start teaching kids about these dangers through films like we used to.

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Charley Says, voted the nation’s favourite safety film – created by the Government’s Central Office for Information and broadcast in the 1970s and 80s – warned children about everyday safety issues, such as not going off with strangers or playing with matches.

The messages were communicated in a fun way through the cartoons, but were still serious enough to scare the hell out of me.

I was part of a generation that grew up with the cartoon ginger cat alerting us to the dangers in everything; from how to cross the road safely to telling a parent where we were going (although I’m not sure I ever followed that one).

If anything, these films could well have been partly to blame for me developing anxiety as a youngster. But then, that was the point of many of the clips aimed at my peers and I – to terrify us into being cautious.

A lot of these public information films were pretty depressing. There was one warning about water safety, with Charley the cat jumping around by the edge before falling in and nearly drowning to the backdrop of dramatic music. 

Another film I watched at school focused on not playing with electrical sockets. 

Like most of my friends, I was probably oblivious to a vast array of terrible dangers but it made me more self-reliant as it was quite common to play outside without an adult watching us like hawks.

It meant that I always considered the ‘what if?’ when out and about. What if I jaywalked and there was a car coming around the corner? What if I ran with scissors and something bad happened? What if I climbed higher up a tree and a branch snapped?

I mean, I still make my 13-year-old message me to tell me he has got on the school bus.

I presume, looking back, the purpose of these public broadcasts was to help advise kids like me on how to be aware of the dangers we could come up against. Yet, these warnings reflected those times.

Nowadays, my kids couldn’t have it any more different. When not at school or university, they are either indoors on the Xbox, scrolling through their phones or watching Netflix.

My older kids are aged 20 and 21, so are well past being told what to do, but I wouldn’t be adverse to my 13-year-old being subjected to a public information advert – perhaps things to do with the dark side of the web, or the importance of not speaking to strangers online.

There are many people who despair of them, of course – believing we should rely on our own common sense and not be told what to do. But it’s not that simple.

I know the TV adverts about coronavirus that the Government put out in the early days of the pandemic were there to warn us and I thought they were absolutely vital in helping everyone stay safe.

I still to this day tell my kids about the dangers of playing with matches – even though they don’t! – as that was something that has always stuck in my mind.

Something good has to try to come out of awful situations like the recent deaths of the Solihull boys. Perhaps these public service announcements – flashed up on apps like YouTube and Snapchat – can be a way of reiterating dangerous things.

It’s just about finding the right audience and platform to target.

Then again, nothing else works like advertising on TV.

Look at the toys being advertised for Christmas at the moment; the more TV a child watches, the more toys that child is likely to want and ask for. If just a handful of these ads were warnings about dangers… then maybe, just maybe they can help.

If just one child is saved by them, isn’t it worth a shot?

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