Shameless Purell

From the Purell e-mail blast I just got:

Your little ones are headed back to school and so are millions of germs!  

I’m leaving aside all the nasty things I want to say about how we are MADE of germs and must get ACCUSTOMED to germs and when did start treating everyday life like lung surgery? But instead I will leave you with my son’s remark:

Oh, the germs took the summer off? – L.

 

Pithy, Witty & Wise

Hi Readers! I thought the analogy about overreacting, below, was  great, which is why I’m posting it here. I have also long sensed a connection between overprotecting our kids from “strangers” and overprotecting their bodies from “strangers” — i.e., germs. Either way, kids get one single, isolating  message: “Anything beyond your immediate circle (of bacteria or people) is bad. Resist all attempts at connecting.” Feh. –– L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Loved this comment [on the Build-An-Adorable Choking Hazard post] :  “Which is why I am always going crazy.” Exactly. As if parenthood isn’t demanding enough, now we have to consider every possible bad thing that might potentially happen and prepare for it as if it is Armageddon itself. No thanks.

By way of metaphor, scientists now believe that part of the reason for the giant surge in food allergies  is a severe lack of dirt eating by today’s children. (Seriously.) Kids aren’t getting enough exposure to germs and dirt and so their bodies aren’t learning how to tell the difference between an actual threat and something normally benign.

In a similar sense we are constantly bombarded with so many “fear this” messages that we are all losing our ability to tell the difference between a real threat (flame throwers in the hands of toddlers) and benign cuddly things.

So, I will continue to make my kids play in the dirt, avoid hand sanitizer, go to the park without me, play with toys clearly labeled as approved only for children over the age of 99, and *gasp* even talk to strangers.

I will prepare my children to live in the world and to be able to make good choices and tell the difference between true dangers and legal warnings.
I will do this because someone needs to ensure that “Idiocracy” is not looked on as a documentary by future generations. — Think Banned Thoughts

Making Up Halloween Fears

Hi Readers! Sometimes I think that in our uber-safe society, poor scribes are locked in a room and told they can’t come out until they dream up some new worry — no matter how far-fetched — to caution folks about. (My current fave is the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s apple bobbing cautions, below.) That’s why I love this column from Spiked-Online, a great, British site filled with all sorts of surprising info and opinions. It’s by Nathalie Rothschild, a freelance writer based in New York. Visit her personal website here, and find her on Twitter @n_rothschild.

THE HORRORS OF HALLOWEEN ADVICE by Nathalie Rothschild

Americans are really into Halloween….but some are taking the mischievous tradition of scaring the bejesus out of one another a tad too seriously.

ABC News warns that ‘while this is a time for little ones to have fun, parents shouldn’t let the kids’ enthusiasm drown out common sense. There are many hazards associated with Halloween.’ Face paint can trigger allergies, costumes can get caught in car doors or catch fire, masks can slip over the eyes, young children can choke on treats, cut their fingers off while carving pumpkins or be kidnapped by strangers.

Scary, indeed.

Halloween is apparently a highlight not just for candy-crazy, fun-loving kids, but also for every health-and-safety-obsessed organisation in the nation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise parents to ensure their children go trick-or-treating in groups or with a trusted adult, that they carry flashlights and that they walk, not run, between houses. Adults should limit the amount of treats kids eat and check them for choking hazards before the kids start gorging them. Kids should only be allowed factory-wrapped candies and should avoid eating homemade treats made by strangers. Their costumes should be flame-resistant and, to be on the even safer side, kids should not walk near lit candles.

The National Fire Protection Association says each house should have two clearly marked exits in case of an emergency. Battery-powered or electric candles are preferable, but if you do insist on lighting candles, they should be kept at least one foot away from decorations.

The American Academy of Pediatrics believes small children should never carve pumpkins. ‘Children can draw a face with markers. Then parents can do the cutting.’ Trick-or-treaters should stay on well-lit streets and always use the sidewalk. If no sidewalk is available, they should ‘walk at the far edge of the roadway facing traffic’.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology warns of the hidden dangers of buying decorative contact lenses without a prescription. There is apparently no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ contact lens. ‘Lenses that are not properly fitted may scratch the eye or cause blood vessels to grow into the cornea.’

he US Food and Drug Administration says ‘partygoers and partythrowers’ should avoid juice that hasn’t been pasteurised or otherwise processed. Before bobbing apples, a traditional Halloween game, thoroughly rinse the apples under cool, running water to reduce the amount of bacteria that might be on them. ‘As an added precaution, use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.’

The American Red Cross has published 13 (nearly) rhyming tips for a safe Halloween. For example, ‘If you visit a house where a stranger resides, accept treats at the door and, please, don’t go inside.’

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission offers this helpful image as guidance for proper costume wear:

The Halloween safety tips lists go on, but you probably get the drift.

Why are these organisations so scared of Halloween? Or, rather, why are they so scared of letting parents use their common sense, of allowing people just to let loose and to have some respite from the worries, rule-making and diet-watching that are already part of their and their children’s everyday life? Whenever the public sees an opportunity to relax and have fun, health-and-safety obsessives see an opportunity to scare them back into submission. It’s not necessarily sinister, though, it’s just their creepy, intuitive reaction to stop people from experiencing fun overload.

Sure, all these dangers are a possibility – decorations can catch fire, apples could be covered in bacteria and masks may temporarily obscure kids’ vision. But pointing out the obvious, over and over, and exaggerating the risks behind these things won’t make people feel safer. It just helps turn what is a harmless holiday into a nightmarish, control-freakish night of health-and-safety horror. – N.R.

What’s The Difference Between a Sack Lunch & a Recently Beating Heart?

Hi Readers — Nothing, as you know, is safe enough for children. Not notebook paper (as we saw a few posts below). Not toddling (as evidenced by the existence of the ThudGuard). And not old-fashioned spoons (which explains the kiddie spoons that change color when food is “too hot.”)   And now, it turns out, not even a home-packed sack lunch is safe enough. Or at least, that’s how this story was reported:

9 Out of 10 Preschoolers’ Lunches Reach Unsafe temperatures

According to this MSNBC account, “Unsafe,  as the researchers defined it, was anything that sat for more than two hours between 39 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.”

So basically it sounds like “unsafe” = any food that sat for more than two hours in room temperature almost anywhere on earth (and possibly Mars). Despite the fact that most of us adults went to school carrying sandwiches  we kept in our clammy lockers from arrival till lunch time — and are alive today — this became a huge news story, carried by TV and newspapers thrilled to have a new thing to warn parents about, a new everyday danger they must protect their children from.

….Even though, as it turns out,  the lukewarm lunches don’t mean that kids are actually getting sick. That was one of the fine points much further down in the stories, after the dire IS YOUR CHILD’S LUNCH UNSAFE?-type headlines.

So — what is the point? We should start worrying about sack lunches that have never been shown to hurt children just because a rather strange study of a non-problem found that there COULD be a problem if only there was one?

And yet, the press could not stop itself: “Should Parents Bag the Brown Bag?” asked the once-unflappable Boston Globe, as if one study proving something that every parent pas personally witnessed as non-threatening should now throw us all for a loop. It’s like that old joke, “Who are you going to believe? Me or your own lying eyes?”

Yes, I suppose it is better NOT to serve lukewarm yogurt and listless lettuce. But when, as the researchers determined, “just 1.6 percent of the perishable yogurts, cheese slices, carrot sticks, bologna and other items were at the proper temperature when pre-schoolers were ready to eat them,” it appears that 98% of everything kids eat from home is a dire threat, even if their parents packed their lunches with an ice pack. Yes! Forty percent of the 700 lunches surveyed contained a lovingly packed (and apparently useless) ice thingy.

Not to go to the old, “We ate curdled pudding and we LIKED it!” saw, but now parents are being asked to transport their kids’ lunches thusly, according to boston.com:

The researchers recommend brown bagging it and transporting the bag to the day care center in a small cooler filled with ice packs. Parents should then take the brown bag out of the cooler and put it directly into the center’s refrigerator — hopefully there is one and it’s set at the right temperature.

Excuse me — isn’t that the procedure formerly reserved for ORGAN TRANSPLANTS?

And, by the way, doesn’t this advice pre-suppose no kids are walking to school with their parents? Because who is going to lug along a cooler stuffed with ice packs?

My friends: This is how society changes. Not with a cataclysmic coup, but with thousands of little “tips” that trade one kind of lifestyle (walking to school, dropping a kid off ) with another (driving to school, coming inside, overseeing the lunch transfer).

And we wonder why parents feel so overwhelmed with everything they “have” to do and all the expectations for their constant involvement. When even a sack lunch is now a deathly danger, parents must be ever-present and ever on guard.

On the upside, if they ever DO have to transfer a heart or a liver, I guess they’ll have had plenty or practice.  — Lenore

Kids in grave danger from...their lunches?

Obsessive Compulsive Pre-K Disorder

Hi Readers! Well, I was miffed a while back about the rules against BRANCHES at the school in New Jersey. But the rules at THIS pre-k make Jersey seem like the garden state! — L

Dear Free-Range Kids: At my pre-school we can fail inspection if the children take off their jackets and put them in their cubbies before washing their hands unless we sanitize all of the cubbies afterwards. The reason being that their dirty hands would contaminate the cubbies. Never mind that those kids were just rolling in the grass in their jackets that they just touched with their now-clean hands to put away inside their cubbies!

Also if a child is playing in the sand box he must wash his hands before he can touch a bike or ball.

Also children must be directly supervised at all times even while using the bathroom. At one center I worked at, we’d send the kids in alone or in pairs from the playground to the bathroom which we could see from the playground. But at my current school, we wouldn’t dare. – Anon

What Is The LEAST Dangerous, Cutest Thing We Can Outlaw Next?

Hi Readers: Here we go again. For the sake of the children (somehow), schools are looking at whether they should banish class pets. After all, they could spread DISEASE! And they are (somehow) a liability! And ________________!  (Fill in the blank with something else bad they do. I know that’s kind of hard, but if you’re a pencil-pushing killjoy, keep trying. You can do it.) According to The Herald, in Everett, Washington:

…school districts have begun adopting policies that in many cases limit or even ban animals in the classroom unless they’re part of science projects.

Animals may be cute and fun to be around. But they can spread disease and cause allergic reactions in students. And students are exposed to animal wastes.

With these and potential liability concerns, the state is asking school districts to draw up policies on what animals, other than service animals, should be allowed in schools.

How about those scary animals that have clipboards and dream up worst case scenarios for every aspect of childhood? Let’s ban THOSE! But no, first we must worry more about The Children:

“You have to be very cautious about the environment in which they learn,” [Dept. of Health spokesman] Moyer said.

Students can be infected with bacteria, such as E. coli, MRSA or salmonella, after touching pets and not washing their hands, said Nickol Finch, who heads the exotic and wildlife services at Washington State University.

Students can get ringworm from guinea pigs, she said. And turtles, snakes and lizards can spread salmonella.

Germs can be passed when a child shares lunch with an animal, allowing it to take a bite of a carrot, for example, and then the child eats the rest of the vegetable.

Influenza, including H1N1, can be passed from humans to ferrets, or from ferrets to humans, she said.

No one’s saying we live in a disease-free world.  But to suddenly worry that pets are spreading MRSA is to imagine a Michael Crichton-esque scenario, at best. My son had a bunny in his kindergarten classroom and the only thing it spread was joy.

So here’s my (usual) plea: Instead of looking at life through the lens of “What if?” and Worst-First Thinking (A bunny? What if it spreads the PLAGUE?), let us step back, take a deep breath and chill. Like a lizard. — L

Okay, this is ONE animal I might ban from school. (It was filed in Flickr under "hamster"!!!)

Are More Kids Depressed Because They’re Too Clean?

Hi Readers: Let kids eat dirt? Yes!

At least, that’s my take-away from reading this thought-provoking article. It discusses the work of Emory neuroscientist Charles Raison, MD,  who studies the link between cleanliness and depression. His hypothesis is that maybe young people are experiencing more asthma, allergies and even depression because they are less exposed to the benign germs that have been co-existing with and HELPING humans since the beginning of time. One way those microscopic “old friends” may help humans is by teaching the immune system not to overreact to other non-threatening germs and become inflamed. And there is some connection between inflammation and depression.

Here’s Dr. Raison putting it far better than I:  can: 

His entire study appears in December’s Archives of General Psychiatry.  But me, I watched more of his short videos on YouTube and found them really good. Now…off to toss the Purell. — Lenore