Time to study the bad advice given to good parents
Any day now researchers can be expected to conclude the best thing parents could do for children is to have none in the first place.
It wouldn’t be all that surprising amid the deluge of useless advice thrown at parents on how best to raise their kids.
The latest tip for mums and dads, in draft federal government guidelines reported this week, is that children should not watch television until they’re two years old.
Now there’s a simple rule about TV at our place: it only goes on for short periods after breakfast and dinner. This gives the grown-ups time to do things like get showered in the mornings and cook in the evenings.
The TV can also occasionally be switched on if mum or dad is on the verge of emotional collapse after a day of playing with blocks, sculpting small villages out of play-dough, reading Where Is The Green Sheep seven times, running chaotically around a park stooped halfway to the ground, handling toilet training, preparing meals and fetching snacks.
Our daughter has had this twice-daily TV routine for over a year, since around her first birthday. Now we’re told this means she could have stunted language development or a shortened attention span, though you wouldn’t detect either when she sings several verses of a nursery rhyme or demands yet another reading of Green Eggs and Ham.
These guidelines effectively say a parent should feel guilty for sticking the nipper in front of the box in order to preserve their sanity.
So add watching television to the ever-growing list of things parents shouldn’t do to children. It seems every week there is some new study or advice warning that normal parenting behaviour is going to turn their children into under-achievers or substance abusers or John McEnroe.
Here are just three examples of real research warnings to parents in recent weeks.
Background noise makes kids stupid. Parents in the many Australian suburbs under flight paths will be horrified to learn of international research cited by New Zealand audiologists showing background noise can impede learning.
Plastic water bottles make kids crazy. A chemical commonly found in the plastic compounds of drinks bottles and food packaging has been linked to heightened aggression and hyperactivity by a US study.
If a kid is sick, treatment could be dangerous.This month’s issue of the journal Paediatrics reports 500,000 children in the US end up in hospital every year with bad reactions to drugs. Doctors warned parents to pay close attention when their children start medication.
I want to stress this is not to take anything from the real implications of each of these studies but they are part of the torrent of do’s and don’ts directed at today’s parents.
It goes on. A teachers’ conference in Adelaide was told last week of a review of studies involving a total of 50,000 schools and 200 million students that had shown changing schools, television and school holidays had negative effects on education.
My favourite personal story of parenting advice is when a Montessori teacher told us children couldn’t learn the alphabet by rote. Instead, she argued, children should be introduced to the sound of letters instead of the letters themselves. Which is all a long way of saying that learning the alphabet the old A, B, C way doesn’t work.
“Bingo,” I thought, “that’s why I’ve never been able to get past L.”
And then there’s what to feed the kids. Allergies are on the rise – some studies say instances of food allergies are up 20 per cent over the past decade.
Thankfully there has been a research breakthrough that means kids can be cured by eating peanuts but starting with tiny amounts – about one one-thousandth of a peanut a day – according to research published earlier this year.
This is, of course, a great solution for any parent whose child has a food allergy. Just pick up an electron microscope from your local science equipment supplier. By the end of next week the little one will be up to seven one-thousands of a peanut. They can probably have a half a Snickers bar on their eightieth birthday.
It would be useful if someone could do some research on the effects of these studies - and the advice that comes out of them - on parents themselves. At the very least it would probably stop at least one research team toiling for a year or two to add another item to the list of things for parents to fear.
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