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Readers — A study discussed in yesterday’s SFGate (the San Francisco Chronicle’s website) suggests that kids growing up with dogs may be a little more protected against allergies and  asthma, thanks to early exposure to the bacteria the dogs bring in. The bacteria seem to sort of “immunize” the kids. What’s Free-Range about that?


And imperfection. And an old-fashioned childhood. Since time began, kids and dirt have gone together like mud and pie. They tracked dirt in. They tracked it out. It is only our modern day, Purell-soaked society that is keeping kids cleaner than clean — perhaps cleaner than makes sense.

To me, the fetch-home message, then, is not only don’t worry about having a dog or dogs in the home. It’s to embrace the interaction of our children with animals, with the world, with germs, the outdoors, and with strangers of both the bacterial and human kind. They will be the stronger for it. – L.

This is good for all concerned.

This is good for all concerned.

Readers — Here are two recent gems from my mailbox. I hope you can take a deep breath and summon the courage needed to face these gigantic problems. Try to be strong! – L.

Hi Lenore,

Hope all is well! I wanted to send along a story idea that’d be great for your readers. [Really? MY readers?] As the school year winds down and kids get ready for summer vacation, it’s important for parents to know how they can help them re-adjust their schedules to accommodate the lazy days of longer sunlight, hot temperatures and staying up late. [Yes, how CAN we help them adjust to something so daunting? Longer sunlight AND no school -- I'm not sure any child has ever had to deal with something that complex before!]

Depending on a child’s age, summer can be a time of playing outside all day or partying all night and sleeping in late, therefore messing with the strict sleep schedule that school afforded earlier in the year. [And...are you saying that's good or bad?] Although late summer sleeping can be nice, changing one’s sleep schedule too drastically can actually lead to negative long-term health effects [Yes, this press release is actually warning us of the LONG-TERM NEGATIVE EFFECTS of enjoying summer!] – so, how can parents help their children adjust to summer sleep schedules?  [HOW HOW HOW? I sure hope there's an expert or book or app because otherwise my children might be harmed forever by that child destroyer: Summer vacation!]

Lenore Here — Naturally, the press release went on to recommend a summer adjustment expert, but here it won’t, because we’ve already got another thing to worry about: Filing your nails while pregnant!

Dear Lenore: Hope you’re having a fantastic day! [So glad you care...you person I've never met.] Many mommies-to-be want to keep their nails in tip-top shape throughout their pregnancy and while nursing, but going to the salon can be a major health detriment [Major?] as harsh grindings and filings [Do you get your nails done by a lumberjack?] can expose mom and baby to toxic chemicals. [Gosh! Have any moms or babies ever survived a visit to the nail salon? Doesn't sound like it!]  Does this mean the stylish mama has to put all her nail beauty efforts on hold for the time being?

Nope! With Custom Nail Solutions artificial nail kits, pregnant and nursing women can keep their nails primped and fancy without having to go to salons and risk breaking in harmful substances. ["Breaking" in? Spell check alert!] The kits give women beautiful, natural-looking, non-chipping, and everlasting custom-fit nails that are antibacterial and antimicrobial. [Do they also emit a magnet forcefield to keep out nuclear rays? I would expect nothing less!] Finally [Yes, FINALLY. I know I, for one, have been waiting on tenterhooks] …a safe way for moms-to-be and new mamas to keep their nails glam throughout the entire pregnancy and beyond!

Lenore here again: Sure, it sounds safe,  but is it safe ENOUGH? Is anything????

Source: Custom Nail Solutions

Hi Readers – Here’s the latest from our friends down under, where the national pastime seems to have switched from throwing shrimp on the barbie to throwing common sense on there and gleefully watching it go up in flames. (Don’t touch! Barbecue glowing red may be HOT.) – L.

KIDS will be banned from blowing out candles on communal birthday cakes, under strict new hygiene rules for childcare. 

But doctors warn the latest National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines go too far in “bubble-wrapping” children….

And daycare staff will now have to wash toys, doorknobs, floors and cushion covers every day.

The new guidelines state that kids who want to blow out a candle on their birthday should bring their very own cupcake – to avoid blowing germs all over a shared cake.

“Children love to blow out their candles while their friends are singing ‘Happy birthday’,” the document says.

“To prevent the spread of germs when the child blows out the candles, parents should either provide a separate cupcake, with a candle if they wish, for the birthday child and (either) enough cupcakes for all the other children … (or) a large cake that can be cut and shared.”

The NHMRC says children who play in the sandpit must wash their hands with alcohol sanitiser before and afterwards.

The NHMRC is also suggesting that children dip their elbows in paint to learn how to write their letters, so as to avoid handling crayons and markers other children have “possibly touched.”

Okay, okay. So I made that last paragraph up. Is it SO out of place in the Howard Hughes world we are apparently convinced we must create to safeguard this, the most sickly, sniveling, supposedly vulnerable generation in human history? – L.

I’m just like a birthday cake, but not lethal!

Readers — Next time you are at a restaurant, please remember that a lot of people have touched the menu before you, which means it is harboring germs. So wash your hands when you’re done with it, and make sure it never touches your plate or your utensils.

Also, do not touch the ketchup bottle with your bare hands. Others have done exactly that before you, which only means more germs. So what should you do? Just ask the waitress bring you a fresh bottle — a new one, from someplace else (I guess someplace germ-free, like a centrifuge). Or if you don’t want to make a fuss, just hold the germy bottle with a napkin. And now you can enjoy your meal!

Well…so long as you don’t order a drink with a slice of lemon in it – some 70% of lemons have germs on the rind. So make sure to avoid those dangerous garnishes.

And that’s just a little bit of what I learned earlier this week from The Today Show. Host Matt Lauer was interviewing Dr. Raj Roshini from Health Magazine on “What not to touch during flu season.” The segment went on for 4:44 minutes – a lifetime on morning TV – and their advice boiled down to this: Try not to touch anything anyone else has ever touched. If for some reason that can’t be avoided, immediately wash your hands.

Which, according to the two doctors and one virologist I spoke to, makes about as much sense as walking down the street in a gas mask so you don’t breathe in any harmful chemicals.

If a pre-touched menu can contaminate the utensils, reasons Dr. Marc Leavey, a primary care physician at Baltimore’s Mercy Hospital, “How did the utensils get to the table? Did the waiter touch them? Maybe you should bring your own utensils. Maybe the cook coughed on your food. Should you bring your own food? How crazy do you want to get?”

Pretty crazy — or at least pretty obsessive-compulsive. Granted, this flu season is a bad one. Granted, it makes sense to wash your hands before eating. Always has. But does it make sense to start treating the world like one big wad of Kleenex? Soggy Kleenex?

That seems to be exactly The Today Show’s perspective. “We are touching things all the time!” Dr. Roshini tells a shocked and horrified Matt, who, for his part, then screens a time-lapse video of the door at the Today Show studio. “Thirty-five people touch it in just ten minutes,” he reports. “Imagine over the course of the day.”

Imagine? I can’t! Do people REALLY touch the door and then other people do, too? Amazing!

Amazing, too, is the fact that this passes for decent health advice. “I would put my money on vaccines and urging people who are ill to stay away from work places,” says Dr. Kenneth Bromberg, director of the vaccine research center and chairman of pediatrics at Brooklyn Hospital.

To my surprise, I didn’t hear The Today Show mention flu shots at all. It did, however, tell people not to touch a soap dispenser. Even though – can we please think this through for one second? – what is the NEXT THING a person does after touching the dispenser to put soap in their hand?

“The more hysterical you get people, the more they listen to you,” says Dr. Bloom, a PhD in organic chemistry who spent 10 years in virology and now works at the American Council on Science and Health.  His advice? “Stay away from people trying to cough up your nose intentionally.”

That’s next week’s segment. – Lenore

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Don’t touch — you’ll get cooties!

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.


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

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.


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.