Viewpoint: Parental and grandparental wisdom should be taken in moderation

January 1, 2010

An editorial that examines the validity of certain familial admonitions and family wisdom.

Conventional wisdom from parents and grandparents is sometimes grounded in truth. For example, though eating carrots may not actually improve your vision as my grandmother said it would, the vitamin A found in carrots is important for normal black/white discrimination. On the other hand, there is absolutely no connection between a child in the United States cleaning his/her plate and alleviation of hunger anywhere else in the world.

So, where did your parents stand on dirt? How about sunshine? Research now indicates that both dirt and sun exposure are better for children than even recent precautionary advice would suggest. Several studies have provided evidence that children who are exposed to animals and live in circumstances that expose them to high levels of bacteria are less likely to develop allergic diseases, including asthma. Recently investigators from Northwestern University found that Filipino children who lived in close proximity to pigs and other farm animals had lower levels of C-reactive protein as adults than children raised in more hygienic conditions in the United States, suggesting that they may have a lower likelihood of developing inflammatory conditions. This information could make one wonder whether it really is wise to urge children to wash their hands after petting the family dog or after returning to the house after playing outside.

All this back and forth about what's good for children in everyday life reminds me of another saying frequently heard around the dinner table when I was growing up: "Too much of anything can be bad for you." Now, go out and play.

DR. MCMILLAN is the editor-in-chief of Contemporary Pediatrics.