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Dublin: 5 °C Friday 17 January, 2020
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Warning! Parents at large...

Sound advice released on protecting children from disease and road accidents – but are parents worrying about all the wrong dangers?

Image: Brendan Riley via Flickr

MOST RESPONSIBLE PARENTS must think they know the basics of how to look after their children. In the past two days, however, they have been given some extra – and slightly terrifying – food for thought.

First came the warning in the Health Protection Surveillance’s Epi-Insight monthly bulletin that salmonella rates are high in infants. Scary enough, correct? Then listen to the contamination risks parents are told to watch out for:

1. Reptiles, snakes or amphibians are NOT suitable pets for children under the age of 5

2. Placing children in shopping trolleys with raw meat and poultry products is not safe practice (even if the meat is double bagged)

3. Parents and other adults must wash their hands thoroughly after touching food and before lifting the infant; this is a common way in which infection is transmitted.

4. Breastfeeding protects against enteric infections; mother’s milk is the safest food for young infants.

Washing hands might be a common-sense precaution, but shopping trolleys and pets – who knew?

Then comes the report in The Irish Times of comments made by Noel Brett, CEO of the Road Safety Authority, on a local radio station. He described the action – or inaction – of parents who don’t make their children wear seat belts in the car as “murderous”. He made the comment on Midlands 103′s Midlands Today show yesterday.

The dangers of not properly restraining passengers in vehicles are undeniable, so the strong words from Noel Brett are understandable.

However, do parents’ anxieties properly match the most common risks posed to their children? In the past week, we’ve had warnings from Nintendo about 3D games damaging the eyesight of children under the age of six and HealthDay News reporting that children are getting unnecessary tonsillectomies. Just today, the Irish Medical Times reversed what many parents might have assumed about infection risk in creches and reported that children who attend large creches as toddlers have fewer infections at primary school.

The barrage of information and warnings coming at parents seems to cause some confusion. A survey carried out by Christie Barnes, author of the Paranoid Parents Guide, last September found that these were the top five worries listed by parents (granted, parents in America, but still):

1. Kidnapping

2. School snipers

3. Terrorists

4. Dangerous strangers

5. Drugs

Then she established that the most common ways in which children statistically are injured or killed are as follows:

1. Car accidents

2. Homicide (usually committed by someone the child knows)

3. Abuse

4. Suicide

5. Drowning

It seems the RSA is correct to be worried about the seat belt issue. Ms Barnes herself describes it as a “life and death issue”. However, it is worth noting that on lesser issues, Science Daily also had a report about parental anxiety the same month that Ms Barnes published her survey. In it, they reported that Dr Lephuong Ong from Orion Health Services in Vancouver, Canada and university colleagues in Toronto concluded that “overprotective parents may impact heart anxiety in adults with congenital heart conditions”.

The medical researchers found that those adults suffering from congenital heart disease were more likely to worry unduly about their condition if their parents had been “overprotective” during their childhood and adolescence.

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