As the Worm Turns (A Small, Strange, Not-That-Consequential-but-Interesting Story that is Just Slightly Longer Than This Headline)

Hi Readers — This story struck me as slightly, oh, I don’t know, BIZARRE? A worm was found in the local high school toilet and immediately all drinking fountains were shut off. Talk about giving kids a new idea of how to disrupt school! Here goes, from the Alamogordo Daily News:

Shortly after 4 p.m. Tuesday, the administration at Alamogordo High School reported finding a small worm of unknown origin in a toilet at school, according to a press release from Alamogordo Public Schools.

District administrators responded immediately and coordinated with the New Mexico Environmental Inspection Department, New Mexico Department of Health and the city of Alamogordo.

Inspection and water samples were conducted during the night. Preliminary water testing conducted by the New Mexico Department of Health revealed nothing other than good water quality.

As a precaution, all water fountains were shut off. Bottled water is being provided for students and staff at Alamogordo High School…

So now you don’t even need a pipe bomb anymore. All you need is a mini worm. Maybe even a gummy one! L.

How Can You Keep Your Child REALLY Safe From Germs?

Here’s how! Phew! All thanks to the U.K. show, “That Mitchell and Webb Look.” L.

Fun Links

Hi Folks — Once again, here are some recent Tweets, providing links to stuff you might enjoy. So enjoy already! — Lenore

A mom won’t let her kid drink from spigot at outdoor museum. “I’ll buy u bottled water.” WHY??

Amazingly cool, true, short article: The Death of the Phone Call. (It’s intrusive & old fashioned!)

So a guy (or gal)”s disability scooter breaks down near a group of kids. What happens next?

Go back to work & your kids’ll be just fine, a large study shows:

According to Daily Beast, swings, see-saws & slides are all EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. Better to lie in bed?

That’s it for now!

Interview with Author/Blogger/Parent Cory Doctorow

Alas, readers, not my own interview with him. But Reason.TV caught up with Doctorow outside of some pub in London and asked him about many things, including his books (my older son LOVED “Little Brother”) and  boingboing (a site that brought early attention to this blog), and,  most saliently for us:  “The War on Kids.”

The problem, according to Doctorow? Fear. Fear OF kids and fear FOR kids. Of course that excessive fear FOR kids is  the kind I concentrate on. In fact, today I was at the supermarket and asked a mom why she had her son in one of those padded fabric shopping cart covers that have sprung up in the last few years. It’s to protect him, she said, from germs and also so he doesn’t bang his head too hard.

Were kids really banging their heads on shopping carts?


Create a fear and you can sell its solution. It’s the American way, and it just keeps working.

Anyway: Enjoy Cory’s thoughts on kids today (and other stuff too, like technology). — Lenore

Pacifier Aggression

Hi Readers — Boy, your letters keep blowing me away. Here’s another one that made me think — and fume.  It reminds me of a great essay by Spiked Online contributor Nancy McDermott (Spiked is sort of Britain’s Slate) about how this generation of parents treats every childrearing decision as a Nobel-worthy research project. McDermott calls it the “tyranny of scientific parenting.” I’m sure it’ll sound familiar to any of us who’ve ever said, “Aw, let’s not sweat it. ” Read on!

Dear FRK: I am a first time mom of a four month old son.  I wouldn’t think of raising him to be anything other than a Free-Range Kid.  I find my parental philosophy differs greatly from the other moms in our baby group.  When my son drops his pacifier, I dust it off and put it back in.  I figure he’ll be crawling around and shoving everything he can get his hands on right in his mouth in a few more months anyway.  Besides, whatever happened to the five second rule?  You’d think I was purposely trying to kill him by giving him back the pacifier.  If you think I’m exaggerating, read this transcript from one mom’s facebook page:

“From what I’ve heard you should try to keep the binkie as sterile as possible. They can be real transmitters of diseases to infants… [Use] hot water if you got nothing else, but mostly keep that thing sanitized…especially if you’ve been out in public. Scenario: you’re walking down the beach boardwalk, your child takes the pacifier out of her mouth. A passerby with a Streptococcal infection in the early stages sneezes and some droplets get on your baby’s pacifier. You reach down to check on your baby and see that the pacifier has fallen to the bottom of the stroller, you don’t have any hot water nearby, and even if you did the gram-positive bacteria does not get washed off and is a thermophile so does well in hot temperatures anyway. I’m just saying, if you put that pacifier in the baby’s mouth and if it’s a listeria type of strain…you’re going to have some serious life threatening problems on your hands. Use a binky, just keep it clean, boil it before use, keep a second or third sanitized one on hand. Even if your baby doesn’t get sick or doesn’t show symptoms, she can still carry a bacteria or virus that can be transmitted to someone else who is not as resistant.”

Seriously?  All I could say when I read this is “WTF?!”  You hear about so many kids dropping dead from contaminated pacifiers these days, right?  It would be laughable if they weren’t so serious about it.

I suspect they won’t be asking me to watch their kids anytime soon. — D. in California

If baby drops her pacifier, it's a 3-day donkey-ride to the closest Purell!

Guess What? Purell Doesn’t Work

Hi Readers:  Time to quit pickling our kids in Purell. That’s not just MY conclusion, or even just the conclusion of Slate writer Darshak Sanghavi in this TERRIFIC piece, “How To Sell Germ Warfare.” No, it’s the conclusion of scientists who were surprised that giving free hand sanitizers (and, in one case, even Clorox Wipes) to families and schools failed to cut down on respiratory infections.

That’s because the flu, for one, spreads mostly via tiny droplets in the air. (ACHOO!!!) So touching things is only one way to catch it. Breathing — that gosh darn thing we keep doing — is the other.  Moreover, the article notes, kids touch their mouth or nose on average once every three minutes. So unless we Purell ’em 20 times an hour (which I’m sure some folks are considering), all bets are off. But not all germs.

This is not to say phooey (or achoo-ey) on basic hygiene. But phooey on obsessive hygiene, especially when it seems so profit-driven. — Lenore

Worse Than “Baby on Board!”

Hi Readers! Excuse me while I gag. Amazing how one sign can make everyone who passes this stroller feel big, dirty, disgusting, diseased and depressed.

Remember those “Baby on Board!” signs, that made it seem as if people who were seriously considering crashing into a car would reconsider upon realizing it was carrying someone small? I’m having flashbacks.  — Lenore

While we're at it, don't breathe near me, either.

Outrage of the Week: Science Fair Bans Most Science

Hi Folks! Here’s the latest — a brilliant Chinese plot to crush America’s lead in science and technology!

Oh wait. Seems it is just one Colorado school’s list of  science fair rules. Thanks, reader Bree, for sending it in. The list:

For safety: Project displays and posters may NOT contain any of the following:

NO: Organisms (living or dead).

NO: Microbial cultures/fungi/molds/bacteria/parasites.

NO: Plants in Soil.

NO: Chemicals.

NO: Flammable Substances.

So I guess if you are doing a science experiment involving the effect of dust on a desk, you’re ok. But beyond that, it gets very tricky.  And, worse, interesting. And so it is verboten. All for the safety of the kids, of course. — Lenore

Not welcome at the fair.  PHOTO CREDIT: Meneer Zjeroen / CC BY 2.0

Go Easy on the Anti-Microbial Soap, Says New Study

Hi Readers! I know, I know — there are probably another zillion studies that contradict this one, and there’s a danger in being whipsawed by every new “discovery” but as this one SO dovetails with the Free-Range outlook, who could resist? Voila:



Yes, so reads the headline on a study just released by Northwestern University that suggests that raising kids in too antiseptic an environment could lead to heart trouble (of all things!) down the way.

The problem seems to be that when the body isn’t exposed to the usual pu-pu platter of pathogens at a young age, the inflammatory system doesn’t develop quite right.

“Contrary to assumptions related to earlier studies, our research suggests that ultra-clean, ultra-hygienic environments early in life may contribute to higher levels of inflammation as an adult, which in turn increases risks for a wide range of diseases,” said Thomas McDade, lead author of the study, associate professor of anthropology in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and a faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research.

Relatively speaking, humans only recently have lived in such hyper-hygienic environments, he stressed.

The research suggests that inflammatory systems may need a higher level of exposure to common everyday bacteria and microbes to guide their development. “In other words, inflammatory networks may need the same type of microbial exposures early in life that have been part of the human environment for all of our evolutionary history to function optimally in adulthood,” said McDade, also a member of Northwestern’s Cells to Society (C2S).

This is so interesting not only in terms of chucking the Purell, but also because it is the perfect metaphor for all the other interventions we’ve been sold on — products and programs to “help” our children do what they’ve been doing for millions of years without ’em. Things like baby knee-pads to “help” them crawl. Educational placemats to “help” them get interested in words.  Marionette-like harnesses to “help” them learn to walk. What the whole baby-industrial complex ignores is that evolution has seen to it that our children come pre-equipped for the world.  So they don’t need baby knee pads — they have baby fat on their knees. They don’t need flash cards at birth — they come pre-programmed to find the world stimulating. Moreover, if we pad and pamper them through every normal stage of development, when do they develop normally? They don’t!

As this study notes:

“In the U.S we have this idea that we need to protect infants and children from microbes and pathogens at all possible costs,” McDade concluded.

“But we may be depriving developing immune networks of important environmental input needed to guide their function throughout childhood and into adulthood. Without this input, our research suggests, inflammation may be more likely to be poorly regulated and result in inflammatory responses that are overblown or more difficult to turn off once things get started.”

The same goes for an overprotected childhood: Keep our kids away from real life and don’t be surprised if they can’t deal with it later on.

And I say all this  not just because Purell always grossed me out. — Lenore

Kids Need Dirt. For Real! For their HEALTH!

Hi Readers — A bunch of you have been digging (har har) this story about how much protection our kids get from DIRT. This explains my philosophy of housekeeping!

Er…I mean: This explains my philosophy of childrearing. Anyway, here’s a bit of the article, by Murrray Wardrop,  in The Telegraph. (For some reason this story got more play in Britain than the U.S.):

Scientists have discovered that bacteria on the surface of the skin play an important role in combating inflammation when we get hurt.

The bugs dampen down overactive immune responses, which can lead to rashes or cause cuts and bruises to become swollen and painful.

The findings support previous research which suggests that exposure to germs during early childhood can prime the immune system to prevent allergies.

The so-called “hygiene hypothesis” has previously been used to explain why increasing numbers of children suffer allergies such as eczema and hay fever in more developed countries.

Parenting groups yesterday welcomed the findings as “a vindication of common sense” and urged parents to allow their children greater freedom to play outdoors.

Experts at the University of California at San Diego made the discovery by studying mice and human cells cultured in their laboratory.

The team, led by dermatologist Professor Richard Gallo, found that common bacteria called staphylococci, can reduce inflammation after injury, when they are present on the skin’s surface.

Prof Gallo said: “These germs are actually good for us.”

Of course, most Free-Rangers and other sensible folk suspected this all along. (And my book discusses it, too, in the chapter, “Germs, Anti-Germs & Shopping Cart Liners.”) But it’s nice when a new study comes along and explains WHY dirt and kids go so well together.

And why I’ve decided to sit here and blog rather than get out the mop. — Lenore