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

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

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:

THINK AGAIN ABUOT KEEPING THE LITTLE ONES SO SQUEAKY CLEAN

RESEARCH SUGGESTS THAT EVERYDAY GERMS MAY PREVENT DISEASES IN ADULTHOOD

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

Oh, Please!

I hate hand sanitizers, but are kids really DRINKING them? Or setting them ON FIRE?? Or are we just coming up with more bizarre worries? (Yes, I know. Another rhetorical question. Did I mention we just MOVED? Hard to blog and unpack! ) — Lenore