Fatherly Advice: Don’t Blame Your Kid for Getting You Sick

You shouldn't expect a second grader to protect your home from any kind of intruder. It's not realistic.

“Fatherly Advice” is a weekly parenting advice column by the experts at Fatherly. Need hard-won insights and scientific facts to resolve a parenting dilemma or family dispute? Email advice@fatherly.com. Need justifications for parenting decisions you’ve already made? Ask someone else. We’re far too busy for that nonsense.

 

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Fatherly,

I keep hearing all of this stuff about screen time being damaging for kids. But I feel like my 5-year-old learns a lot from TV, and his tablet is the only thing that can keep him quiet enough for my wife and I to have an adult conversation. How bad is screen time, really?

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Lloyd,
Spokane, Washington

***

The amazing baby researcher Dr. Celeste Kidd, from the University of Rochester Kid Lab, once told me something about screen time that has since eased my mind. She said: “There is not enough empirical evidence to have strong feelings at the moment.” And then she explained how she’s given her own baby an old cell phone to play with.

Still, though there may not be conclusive evidence of cognitive harm that would cause Kidd to slap the phone out of her baby’s hand, there is solid evidence connecting the blue light from screens with sleep problems. And those problems affect both kids and adults.

RELATED: FaceTime Isn’t Screen Time. It’s Good for Babies.

The issue is that blue light from screens has the same effect on the brain’s internal clock as sunlight. So when a blue screen is blasting into your kid’s eyes late at night, their brain is suppressing the release of the hormone melatonin, which is essentially fuel for the choo choo train to sleepy town. The result is wakefulness and trouble catching Zzzs. The same problem can occur if you have a pre-dawn waker that you’re trying to occupy with cartoons so you can get a few more hours of sleep. The screen acts as a kind of false sunrise, keeping them bright, alert and reinforcing their habit of early rising. The upshot is that it’s best to turn off the screens an hour or so before bed. Not because screens are rotting their brain, but because they are affecting their sleep.

So, if you and your wife are trying to have a conversation as the kid goes to sleep, then screens are a bad solution. If you’re trying to have a conversation at noon on a Saturday, don’t sweat it so much. It’s totally possible your kid is learning things from the TV screen. And as long as they’re not being traumatized by creepy YouTube kid’s channels, that’s totally cool. Particularly if it means you can have an adult conversation with your wife. I know how rare those can be.

And please do think about behavior modification strategies that don’t involve screens. If your kids are demanding attention, it may be time to teach them to ask instead. There’s nothing wrong with making a kid wait. A lot of life is waiting. Very little of life is like a cartoon.

 

Fatherly,

My little girl Claire started going to preschool this year, and I feel like I have been continuously sick ever since she started. My coworkers and boss are giving me a hard time, but am I wrong to blame her bringing home nastiness from other kids? And how do I make it stop?

Brett,
Provo, Utah

***

Brett, it’s very likely that your little Typhoid Claire has been bringing home viruses from her preschool. Does that mean she is to blame? Not really. Sadly, much of the responsibility for keeping your family and yourself healthy rests squarely on your shoulders.

Yes, It’s true that parents of school-aged kids are exposed to a wealth of interesting illnesses. That is just a fact of life as certain as the sun rises and sets. But the likely reason you’re getting sick so often is that your home virus defense system is weak sauce.

No matter how diligently you remind Claire to wash her hands and keep her fingers out of her nose and mouth, she is a kid. And as a kid, she just doesn’t have the cognitive skills to be consistent about protecting herself from becoming a vector for cases of flu, colds, or anything else going around the petri-dish you send her to every day. That means it’s your responsibility to create barriers that will keep the awfulness out of your house.

RELATED: A Doctor on the Front Lines of Flu Season

First off, you have got to get a flu shot. Every year. In fact, go to your calendar right now and put a note on October 1st that says “Flu Vaccinations.” That’s your first line of defense.

Your next line of defense will be a decontamination zone. Basically, you should pick one entrance to your home to use consistently. Inside the doorway, you will have a basket with hand sanitizer and antimicrobial wipes. The second Claire (or anyone else really) enters your house, you’ll remove shoes, sanitize hands, and wipe down any objects that have come home from school with antimicrobial wipes.

Once inside, you and your family need to be borderline obsessive about hand washing. Special care should also be taken in keeping bathrooms clean, mostly because that’s the room where the inside of the body tends to intersect with the outside world.

ALSO: Men Really Do Have Worse Cold and Flu Symptoms Than Women

Finally, you should be thinking about all the things your doctor has ever told you about staying healthy. The better your body is working, the better it will be at combating infection. That means eating your vegetables and exercising.

Of course, after doing all of this, you may still get the occasional virus. But, the odds are that you’ll get it from a co-worker who decided to come in despite feeling like crap. The good news is that you can now be the one giving people a hard time, but you’ve got your home, and your kid, on lock-down.

 

Dear Fatherly,
When my baby girl was born five months ago, I was determined to be an all-star dad. To that end, I’ve been making sure I bond with my baby girl every chance I get, including reading to her every day. But I have to admit, reading to a 5-month-old sometimes feels like a waste of time. Also, it’s boring. Is she really getting anything out of it?

Don
Minneapolis, Minnesota

***

The short and sweet and answer to your question is yes, absolutely. But I suspect that’s not what you’re really asking. What you really want to know is how to make reading to a baby less boring.

One of the ways to make it more fun is to remind yourself how incredibly beneficial it is for you to read to your kid. The more she hears your voice, the more she bonds with you. And the more words she hears the sooner she’ll be able to tell you how awesome you are in her own words. Every time she hears you reading, her brain is basically being wired to understand the world. That’s particularly true if you are saying words and pointing at pictures that correspond with those words. It’s called gaze sharing, and it’s essential for her to build an understand her world.

That’s all well and good, but I totally get how boring it can be to flip through the same 10-page board book over-and-over. So, let me change your life with a little secret: It doesn’t matter what you’re reading to her. Yes, it’s great to have a board-book full of animals where you point to a bear and say “bear.” However, she also benefits from hearing a variety of words. You could read her the March 2008 issue of Sports Illustrated if you wanted and that would be fine as long as you were okay with her grabbing the pages and ripping them to shreds.

MORE: How to Tell if Babies Are Happy Before They Can Smile

What’s most important is that she is hearing a variety of words, read with energy and inflection and that those words occasionally correspond with real objects that you can point out as you’re saying them: “Look at Tom Brady! Tom Brady is sad. Tom Brady doesn’t like losing. Poor Tom Brady.”

And don’t feel guilty about reading stuff that you enjoy. If it keeps you reading to your daughter, that’s great. If you raise a sports nut, so be it. There’s an upside to that as well.

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