Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Healthy Immune Systems

It's sounds silly, but I try really hard to not worry about germs. Lots of people I know carry antibacterial sprays and lotions in their purses and disregard food if someone reached into a collective bowl or if it dropped on the floor. Of course, I hear the stories of germs on doorknobs and grocery cart handles and juke box buttons. They're gross, and I cringe as much as the next person.

Still, I also am familiar with the Hygiene Hypothesis, which seems to grow stronger with more support each and every month. Most recently, I read that boys seem to have lower asthma rates than girls because parents don't worry as much about boys getting dirty. They're allowed to be outside and get in muck, and their immune systems are, consequently, stronger. Girls are more likely to be kept clean and sanitary, and so their bodies are more likely overreact to dust and pollen and common allergens.

In my personal experience, it rings true. I try not to wash Oliver's hands all the time or keep him from touching public items. In fact, I only use water to wash his hands and face most days. I've expected him to get ill a lot in his younger years, hoping it will pay off for the rest of his life. However, even I'm surprised with how infrequently he gets sick. A couple weeks ago, I thought he and I were coming down with a cold. He woke up coughing for two mornings in a row, and I woke up with a sore throat for a few days. Nothing ever manifested. This means we've gone all winter without so much as a cold. Every time we go to a public place with kids, I'm convinced he's going to catch something. We go to the park whenever there is a nice day, and we've been to Chuck E Cheese and McDonald's playground. He's surrounded by coughing kids with runny noses, but he doesn't get sick.

Meanwhile, there are weeks when it seems that all my friends on Facebook are sick, and they complain that their children are sick, too.

Of course, I don't think bad parenting leads to sickly kids. I believe that almost every parent tries to do what they think is best for his/her children. In this case, letting my son get dirty and gross is what I truly believe is best, but I know that there are good, educated parents who disagree with me. Parents should do what they think is best, and if trying to sanitize their children's environment as much as possible sounds best to them, I think they should do it.

For us, though, it seems to be working out. So, let people stare when I let Oliver gnaw on the grocery cart handle and put his hands on the floor. It's what I think is best.

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