From the frequency of my posting recently, my overwhelmed readers can see I'm hacking away at a hugh backlog. Here's another in the Casting the Net series, which makes the job easier for me, if not for you. The good news is, like the can't-pass-this-up offer at the bottom of my inbox, and that $1 off coupon that's been in my wallet for six months, several of my must-posts are enough out of date I can cheerfully hit the delete key and not trouble you with them.
Free-Range Kids. I've only begun to explore Lenore Skenazy's site, but I like the premise, and it goes well with this cartoon. Skenazy found herself plunged into controversy after whe wrote a column for The New York Sun entitled, Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone.
I started this site for anyone who thinks that kids need a little more freedom and would like to connect to people who feel the same way. We are not daredevils. We believe in life jackets and bike helmets and air bags. But we also believe in independence. Children, like chickens, deserve a life outside the cage. The overprotected life is stunting and stifling, not to mention boring for all concerned. So here’s to Free Range Kids, raised by Free Range Parents willing to take some heat. I hope this web site encourages us all to think outside the house.
George F. Will's What Fear of Liability Has Wrought has unfortunately not gone out of date.
Called to a Florida school that could not cope, police led the disorderly student away in handcuffs, all 40 pounds of her 5-year-old self....No official at the...school would put a restraining arm around the misbehaving child lest he or she be sued, as a young member of Teach for America was...because the teacher put a hand on the back of a turbulent seventh-grader to direct him to leave the classroom.
In Indiana, a boy did what boys [and girls, I might add] do: He went down a slide head first—and broke his femur. The school district was sued for inadequate supervision.
A volunteer for a Catholic charity in Milwaukee ran a red light and seriously injured another person. Because the volunteer did not have deep pockets, the injured person sued the archdiocese—successfully, for $17 million.
The warning label on a five-inch fishing lure with a three-pronged hook says, "Harmful if swallowed"; the label on a letter opener says, "Safety goggles recommended."
The thread connecting such lunacies is a fear permeating American life. It is, alas, a sensible fear arising from America's increasingly perverse legal culture that is the subject of what surely will be 2009's most needed book on public affairs—[attorney Philip] Howard's Life Without Lawyers: Liberating Americans from Too Much Law.
Time was, rights were defensive. They were to prevent government from doing things to you. Today, rights increasingly are offensive weapons wielded to inflict demands on other people, using state power for private aggrandizement. The multiplication of rights, each lacking limiting principles, multiplies nonnegotiable conflicts.
But in such a society, dazed by what Howard calls "rule stupor" and victimized by litigious "victims," the incentives are for intensified complaining. Read Howard's book, and weep for the death of common sense.
Babies Know: A Little Dirt Is Good for You, from Jane E. Brody in The New York Times. Handwashing is a good thing, especially after using the bathroom, before preparing food, and during the time in our church service between the Peace, in which we've shaken hands with anyone and everyone we can reach, and the Eucharist, in which the bread is placed in those same hands and tranferred directly to our mouths. Nonetheless, I agree that the germ-free life, like the risk-free life decried above, is unheathy, especially for our children.
In studies of what is called the hygiene hypothesis, researchers are concluding that organisms like the millions of bacteria, viruses and especially worms that enter the body along with “dirt” spur the development of a healthy immune system. Several continuing studies suggest that worms may help to redirect an immune system that has gone awry and resulted in autoimmune disorders, allergies and asthma.
“What a child is doing when he puts things in his mouth is allowing his immune response to explore his environment,” Mary Ruebush, a microbiology and immunology instructor, wrote in her new book, “Why Dirt Is Good” (Kaplan). “Not only does this allow for ‘practice’ of immune responses, which will be necessary for protection, but it also plays a critical role in teaching the immature immune response what is best ignored.”
“Children raised in an ultraclean environment,” [said Dr. Joel V. Weinstock, the director of gastroenterology and hepatology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston], “are not being exposed to organisms that help them develop appropriate immune regulatory circuits.”
Studies he has conducted with Dr. David Elliott, a gastroenterologist and immunologist at the University of Iowa, indicate that intestinal worms, which have been all but eliminated in developed countries, are “likely to be the biggest player” in regulating the immune system to respond appropriately, Dr. Elliott said in an interview. He added that bacterial and viral infections seem to influence the immune system in the same way, but not as forcefully.
Most worms are harmless, especially in well-nourished people, Dr. Weinstock said.
Amen to all but the last statement, which unfortunately would discourage visits from Grandma: having cats as pets did not teach my own immune system not to overreact to the presence of their dander.
Dr. Ruebush deplores the current fetish for the hundreds of antibacterial products that convey a false sense of security and may actually foster the development of antibiotic-resistant, disease-causing bacteria. Plain soap and water are all that are needed to become clean, she noted.
“I certainly recommend washing your hands after using the bathroom, before eating, after changing a diaper, before and after handling food,” and whenever they’re visibly soiled, she wrote. When no running water is available and cleaning hands is essential, she suggests an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Dr. Weinstock goes even further. “Children should be allowed to go barefoot in the dirt, play in the dirt, and not have to wash their hands when they come in to eat,” he said. He and Dr. Elliott pointed out that children who grow up on farms and are frequently exposed to worms and other organisms from farm animals are much less likely to develop allergies and autoimmune diseases.
Also helpful, he said, is to “let kids have two dogs and a cat,” which will expose them to intestinal worms that can promote a healthy immune system.