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Raising Kids in the...

Raising Kids in the Age of TMI

Like many parents, I have a terrible case of information overload.

While my husband continuously assures me that I should worry less (“but you’re not crazy, honey”), I’ve spent a significant amount of time and money assuring that my eleven-month-old son won’t fall victim to environmental hazards, carcinogenic chemicals, the sun, mosquito-borne illness, lead-infested Elmo toys from China, and other such threats. Every day we are bombarded by news of dangers lurking in the form of children’s bedding or hormone-infused milk, and while I don’t want to be neurotic, I also don’t want to be reckless.

How much should we worry? Are things more toxic and dangerous now than they were when I was a kid, or in the 1940s, for that matter? How should we navigate the sea of information and make sure we’re conscientious parents without venturing into paranoid lunacy?

I’ve already gone to considerable lengths to make sure our Atlanta home, built in 1925, is safe. I had our paint, soil, and water tested for lead. We found out we had lead in our hot water, and quickly updated our plumbing. We tested our house for radon, which I learned is the No. 2 cause of lung cancer in the United States. (And the EPA says Atlanta’s four biggest counties have average levels above what is considered safe!)

I read about a study warning that plastic bottles can leak carcinogens into milk. Even though our pediatrician said this was not a real threat, I switched from plastic baby bottles to glass ones.

Now, the recent spate of toy recalls has made my head spin. Fisher-Price just recalled eighty-three types of lead-infused toys manufactured in China, including ones featuring popular characters like Dora the Explorer and Elmo?this on the heels of RC2 Corporation’s June recall of 1.5 million wooden Thomas and Friends railroad toys and parts. And I just learned this week that Essential for Kids jewelry sets have been recalled because they contain high levels of lead.

While we don’t have any of the poisonous objects that have been recalled, my son has some toys my mother saved from the 1970s that are starting to look awfully suspicious. Are they completely safe? I don’t know. Am I going to take them away from him? I don’t think so.

Although my husband might not believe me, there is a limit to my worries. I’m starting to get recall fatigue. Scary studies, widely circulated via email, blogs, and traditional media, seem to come out every day. And I just can’t heed them all. 

Call me crazy, but I take my son to the pool and apply sunscreen ?but I don’t make him wear long-sleeved bodysuits. I let him eat Cheerios off our floors when he drops them, and we get our house sprayed for bugs (but I admit I worry about the chemicals’ effects). I know I probably shouldn’t let my son put my cell phone in his mouth, but sometimes when he’s testy and I’m desperate, I capitulate to his teething desires.

We try to stay indoors during “Code Red” air pollution days, when breathing the air feels like inhaling a pack of flaming cigarettes, but venture out on “Code Orange” days, when the air is just semi-bad. 

I wish I had more direction as to which potential hazards warrant changing my actions and which are most likely benign. I’m navigating my way through this, and I find myself wondering whether decisions I make are arbitrary.

There is one decision about which I am completely secure: I cannot keep my son from adventures and experiences that make a childhood just because I’m scared. It may be that the biggest risk for my son is not radon or lead, but whether all this information ends up making his childhood no fun at all.

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