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Why Grandpa Needs to Retake Science Class

flickr / Michael Zeising

A troubling number of grandparents think feverish children should be tossed into ice baths and burned children should have butter rubbed on their wounds. A new study presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in San Francisco highlights the enduring power of outdated parenting myths and, more specifically, the degree to which grandma and grandpa are making potentially dangerous decisions based on outdated information.

“It is concerning that many grandparents still subscribe to some outdated parenting practices,” Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Northwell Health in New York, wrote in a statement sent to Fatherly.

Adesman and colleagues decided to test  baby boomers’ medical knowledge because some 7 million children in the United States are now being raised by their grandparents. To carry out their study, they asked 636 adults—94 percent were grandmothers—who self-identified as primary caregivers for their grandchildren to answer seven true-or-false questions about parenting practices that have been debunked in recent years.

“Forty percent of the grandparents thought that an ice bath was an acceptable way to treat a child with a very high fever,” he added. “A child should never be placed in an ice bath since it can lower the child’s temperature too much.”

The results were not reassuring. Ice baths aside, about 13 percent of grandparents maintained that “butter is a good first aid remedy for minor burns” (it isn’t) and that “chocolate causes acne” (it doesn’t). More disturbing, however, is that only 76.7 percent of grandparents knew that infants should be put to sleep on their backs to prevent SIDS and more than half said they’d put ice on a minor burn—a practice that is more likely to cause frostbite than bring relief.

“Although grandparents may be experienced at raising children, some important things have changed in the past 20-30 years,” Adesman wrote. “Grandparents should seek advice from their grandchild’s pediatrician as needed, and pediatricians should be mindful that some grandparents may still embrace some out-dated and potentially dangerous parenting practices.”