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Are Clean Freak Parents Committing Child Abuse?

Posted by on Jun 24, 2012 | 16 Comments

Here’s a quick parenting quiz for the parents out there:

1. Your five year old child is eating their own boogers. What do you do?

A. Scream at them and slap the booger out of their hand.

B. Ignore them and go back to doing what you were doing.

2. You’re in the grocery store. Your six year old child is licking a grocery cart. What do you do?

A. Scream at them and stop using shopping carts.

B. Ignore them and go back to doing what you were doing.

3. Your three year old child drops steak burrito on the ground, then picks it up and proceeds to eat it. What do you do?

A. Scream at them and replace the burrito with a hermetically-sealed snack-sized pudding

B. Ignore them and go back to doing what you were doing.

4. Your eight year old is using a porta-potty at a local 5k. They fail to use the hand sanitizer upon exiting. What do you do?

A. Scream at them then slather their hands with the sanitizer you carry on a rope around you neck.

B. Ignore them and go back to doing what you were doing.

Add up all the “A” answers. If your score is 3 or 4, you may be doing your child a serious disservice… according to some new research discussed in this article:

We’ve Sanitized Our Children Into a Bunch of Itchy, Allergic Messes

I reminded me of the time I was in a local grocery store with my then 1 year old daughter. She was riding in the cart, I was loading the groceries on the belt. She threw her pacifier on the ground and started screaming. Without hesitation, I retrieved the pacifier and placed it in her mouth. There was an audible gasp from the ten or so women that were standing in the immediate area. One bold lady exclaimed “How dare you expose that baby to the germs on this filthy floor!”

My response- I shrugged.


Is my daughter going to get some treacherous disease? Well, I guess there’s a one-in-a-million chance… but let’s think about this. How many surfaces had my daughter touched in the store? Probably hundreds. How often were those surfaces cleaned? I used to work in a grocery store… so maybe twice per year. How often was that floor cleaned? At least daily. The floor was one of the cleanest surfaces in the store!

That logic aside, why do so many people seem to freak out about microbes in our environment? Humanity has survived for quite some time without sterilizing our environment. Now it appears as if our obsessive cleanliness is harming our kids. Could our culture’s compromised immune systems be a larger health threat than the obesity epidemic? Who’s paying for these burgeoning cases of allergies?

What do you say parents? Let’s toss that hand sanitizer in the trash. Allow your kids to lick random objects. Let them roll around in the dirt.

Luckily my kids are being raised around barefooters AND ultrarunners… two of society’s last germ-embracing populations. I can sleep well at night knowing my kids have Spartan immune systems!

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go play in the mud. 😉



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  1. StaceyLynn
    June 29, 2012

    4 kids all of whom played in the dirt, and were not exposed to much antibacterial anything. Somehow they managed to survive to adulthood. I think letting them watch most of the crap that passes for television programming is far more dangerous than licking a shopping cart – or eating dog food as several of my kids tried to do.

  2. Lalit bhatia
    June 27, 2012

    Hate to post my first reply on you blog with a quibble-
    While I agree that too much obsession with modern ‘hygiene’ is counter-productive, I have to question the start of your post – Only two options for each question? It’s never that black and white and all people aren’t one extreme or another. The quiz does disservice to an otherwise great post on a the big parenting debate of our times.
    I say (in my head, to my kids) that if you want to wipe that snot, back side of the curtain is ok, just don’t do it on the sofa dammit

    • Jason
      June 27, 2012

      The quiz at the beginning was purposely giving a false dichotomy… an attempt at humor. 😉

  3. Andy
    June 26, 2012

    I’ll be another voice for grubby, healthy kids. My soon-to-be 11 year old is a germ infested, mud covered slob who has to take days off school every now and then for fun because he never uses sick days.

  4. John
    June 26, 2012

    Or try this: You are carb crazed and are on a carb depleted diet. Your plump, adorable 2 year old uses plump little hands to grab a bag of Chewy Gooey Super Yummy Monster Choco-Chip cookies. Do you:

    A). Scream at her and remind her of the dangers of that extra gram of carbs you’re not allowed to eat.

    B). Ignore her.

    C). Tear into the bag and share a chewy chocolate delight with your adorable, chubby two year old and laugh as her little eyes bulge out of her sockets when she tastes chocolate cookies…and say to hell with the carb counts.

  5. Brian G
    June 25, 2012

    About 20 years ago there was some talk in some microbiology circles that decreased incidences of allergies were associated with increased incidences of intestinal worms.

    The basic idea discussed in that article is that the immune system does not fully develop unless it’s put under stress during childhood, just like the brain, the muscular system, etc. And the only way to stress (train) the immune system is for kids to get sick.

    With that said, there are some things I won’t tolerate with my kids since that would gross me out too much, but I sure don’t go overboard. They’re kids after all.

  6. Stefan
    June 25, 2012

    For some question I could live with an anwser “C”: Talk to your child (in a normal voice) about what to do in public and what not. A parent ignoring his 6 year old licking the handlebar of a shopping cart is equally gross as those clean freaks. Don’t know about porta-potties but if there is no water for hand washing provided I would ask my 8 year old child to use the sanitizer. Simply out of respect for other people and not for the scare of germs. I use public bathrooms quite often and I’m always disgusted at how many people leave the stalls and proceed directly to the exit. I simply don’t want to touch the sh*% of other people.

  7. Angie Bee
    June 24, 2012

    I just read an article saying that only about a third of our bodies cells are actually our own cells. Pick that up off the floor and chew on it!

    • Dave
      June 25, 2012

      It’s actually more like 1/10th!

      • Bare Lee
        June 25, 2012

        Man, if I could kick those deadbeats out I’d really lose a lot of weight. Let’s pool our resources and invest in the anti-bacterial diet. We’ll make a killing.

        • Mary
          June 25, 2012

          Trust me, you don’t want to do that. You can’t function without them. We’re symbiotic.

  8. Shane D.
    June 24, 2012

    Hey, I am 38 and I still eat my boogers, lick shopping carts, eat food off the ground AND dont use hand sanitizer! Hasn’t hurt me any and it wont hurt my kids!! And I am pretty sure I have done all the above at a trail race at some point!

  9. karen
    June 24, 2012

    Spot on!! My daughter is nearly 5, she eats her boogers, plays with chickens,and picks strawberries and eats them right out of the garden. In the past 3 years she has only been to the doctor for her yearly wellness visit.

  10. WeaZel
    June 24, 2012

    I dunno. I played in the mud from infancy on, loved visiting my uncle and grandpa’s farms, had cats and dogs, played on the floor and outside constantly. I developed asthma at age 6, that nearly killed me a few times, but has mostly subsided in adulthood. I was treated like a freak in grade school for being the only one who had it. I’m also a lifelong allergy-sufferer to the point that I now get allergy shots twice a week to avoid constant misery and sinus infections. There is obviously a genetic component in my case but I don’t think the sanitizer/clean freak craze is the key to the whole story.

  11. Kenneth D
    June 24, 2012

    I know I sound like a broken record here, but I couldn’t agree more.

    You gotta let kids be kids and discover their environment the way human children always have . . . with their hands and mouth.

    I am also opposed to putting helmets on kids when they go for a walk, or elbow/knee pads for climbing on the jungle gym at the park. maybe that is just me. 🙂

  12. Nate Price
    June 24, 2012

    Love it! Father of five very healthy children, and we definitely DO NOT obsess over the hand sanitizer, et cetera. I saw a meme the other day that said “if your immunizations are so effective, then why do I have to get the flu vaccine”. I am in full support of the well-baby immunizations, but I do think that we’re going overboard and developing a generation of humans that will not have strong total immune systems that can handle what Nature dishes out.