Bad Parenting Trends (we can learn from)

Let’s face it, there’s way too much advice for parents out there. One of the most confusing things for both advice givers and advice takers (and I place myself in both groups) is the sheer volume of … information … that exists, to put it kindly. On my first day of med school a wise professor told us, “Half of what you learn here will turn out to be wrong. The problem is, we don’t know which half.”

If the past is prologue, it’s also full of all sorts of cautionary tales. So-called facts and accepted truths of all kinds that we absorb and include in our decision making about what is good and bad, and what we should and should not do.

Hormone replacement therapy for post-menopausal women is one example. Subprime mortgages is another. Then there’s the polyester leisure suit, which many of you don’t remember, and Latisse, the prescription product that grows longer eyelashes, which I predict will turn out to be a bad idea.

Life is full of trial and error, and so is the history of parenting trends. In case you’ve forgotten some of the seriously misguided concepts we used to take as gospel, here’s a partial list. We’d love it if you’d send us some that we left out.

Refusing vaccination because thimerosal causes autism. I know you don’t all agree, but I’m standing by this one. The research is on my side.

Birthday parties that cost as much as weddings. Maybe this is wishful thinking, but it looks like this values-crusher is on the way out.

Baby Einstein videos, and their friends, the teach-your-newborn-to-read flashcards. Enough said.

Put baby to sleep on his belly. The poster child for hardened rules that we now know was entirely wrong. The rate of SIDS has dropped dramatically since we started laying infants down on their backs.

Feed a cold and starve a fever. Children who are sick should be offered any healthy food that appeals to them and stays down, and more importantly, fluids, fluids, fluids.

All ear infections need antibiotics. Not. See The Pink Medicine Lie.

Infants will sleep through the night if fed solids early and often. Breast milk or formula only before 4-6 months is the new rice cereal.

Once a cesarean, always a cesarean. We applaud the rise of the VBAC. The routine risks of surgery are usually much greater.

Kids don’t need a bedtime, they’ll go to sleep when they’re tired. Again, not true! This approach only leads to chronic sleep deprivation. Recent studies show that kids with bedtimes do better in school.

Little girls dressed just like grown-ups. High heels for toddlers? Padded bikini tops for 1st graders? Is there any question why our ‘tweens are being sexualized way too soon?

Chubby babies are healthy babies. This may be part of what got us into the childhood obesity mess in the first place. We now know how early the problem can start.

Teething causes … fever, diarrhea, a rash, etc. etc. For years we blamed a slew of childhood afflictions on teething, probably because kids are teething more or less constantly between the ages of 5 months and 3 years. So anything else that pops up during that time must be due to … teething! Teething causes achy, throbbing gums and crabby, drooling kids. Nothing more.

Taking health/parenting advice from celebrities. OK, this may seem a bit self-serving, but why do we hang on the opinions of Suzanne Somers and Jenny McCarthy, and ignore what the actual experts who’ve had years of education, training, and experience have to say? Just asking.

I could go on forever, but I won’t. Some of these are silly and some serious, but the point is that today’s parenting must-do, must-have, or must- emulate is just as likely to be tomorrow’s infant cold formula — something we now know is ineffective and may even be harmful. So don’t believe everything you read or everything you hear — even from us. Use your own judgement, do your own due diligence, and never ignore your own mommy gut.

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

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