HPV Vaccine: The Safe Choice for Your Kids

Dear Mr. Dad: I have boy/girl twins who are 11. Their pediatrician suggested that my daughter get a vaccine for HPV, but he didn’t offer it to my son. I’ve got three questions. First, why didn’t he suggest the vaccine for my son? Second, why are they offering a vaccine against sexually transmitted diseases to 11-year-olds anyway—isn’t that too early? Third, it seems to me that vaccinating kids against STDs will only make them more likely to have sex and less careful than they ordinarily would be. Am I right?

A: That’s a lot of questions, so let’s jump right in. But a warning: This column will include some adult words, so reader discretion is advised.

Your pediatrician should have recommended the HPV vaccine to your son. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the vast majority of a number of cancers are attributed to HPV. For girls, these include cancer of the cervix or anus (over 90%), vagina and throat (over 75%). Boys are also just as susceptible to anal and throat cancers, plus HPV causes nearly two thirds of cancers of the penis. HPV is also linked with nearly 100% of genital warts—an equal opportunity STD.
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Triumphing over Loss

Dear Mr. Dad: Our little five year old daughter passed away recently. My wife and I are both struggling with grief and it is causing distance between us. We barely speak and when we do, it’s just to argue. Now I’m worried about losing our marriage as well. How can we get through this pain and keep it together?

A: I am deeply sorry for your loss. The death of a child must be one of the most painful experiences anyone—especially a parent—can have, and the repercussions can challenge even the strongest of marriages. If you haven’t already done so, it’s important that you and your wife find a counselor who has experience working with parents who have lost children. For the rest of this column I’m going to share some of the advice I heard from experts in this area, including Melanie Davis, who wrote about losing her 7-month old daughter to SIDS in
The Triumph Book


Since your loss is recent, you’ll most likely experience what some in the bereavement world refer to as the Seven Stages of Grief: Shock, denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, depression, acceptance and hope. (These are similar to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages, which applied to people coping with their own impending death.)
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When Is a Chore Not a Chore?

Dear Mr. Dad: What is the deal with chores? I did them, my parents did them, and so did my grandparents. I don’t have children of my own, but I’ve noticed that very few of my friends’ kids seem to have any chores or responsibilities at all. What is going on?

A: When I was young, chores were something that contributed to the good of the family, and every kid I knew did them (according to a recent poll done by Whirlpool earlier this year, 82% of American adults did chores when they were growing up). But today, the word “chore” has taken on a completely different—and completely absurd—meaning. In a lot of cases, it has no meaning at all. According to that same Whirlpool poll, only 28% of parents say they assign to their children the same chores they did when they were young.
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Dating for Dads

Dear Mr. Dad: I’ve been divorced for almost a year and I’m just getting to the point where I’m thinking about dating again. My kids (8 and 10) and I have a very close relationship and we talk about everything. But when I mentioned dating to them, instead of being happy for me, they were angry. Is there anything I can do to get them to be a little more supportive?

A: Close relationships between parents and their young children are wonderful for everyone. But occasionally lines can get blurred, which is exactly what happened with you. Your social life will undoubtedly affect your children—especially if you get into a serious relationship. But it sounds like you’ve given them the impression that their close relationship with you entitles them to an actual vote in the matter. It’s really none of their business. You’re their parent, not their friend, end of discussion.

Aside from the boundary issue, your children may simply not want to share you with anyone. It’s been just the three of you for a long time, and they enjoy having you all to themselves. Any time you spend with other people—whether it’s going out for a beer with a buddy or dating a woman who’s not their mother—is time you won’t be spending with them. You’re in a delicate spot here, but here are few steps you can take to get your kids on board (or at least to reduce their hostility).
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Pregnancy Dreams Up in Smoke

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I are just about ready to start a family and we’re really excited. The problem is that we disagree about what she (and I) need to do to get ourselves physically ready. Two things in particular are causing some friction: I read an article that suggested that women start taking prenatal vitamins even before they get pregnant. My wife says prenatal vitamins are for pregnancy only. She and I both smoke. I say she should quit, she says she’ll just switch to e-cigs. What do you think?

A: I think you’re right to be worried about both issues and I suggest that you shelve your discussions about pregnancy until after you’ve got them resolved.

Let’s start with the prenatal vitamins. One of the most important reasons your wife should take them now is that they contain a lot of folic acid. Folic acid (or folate) is a B vitamin that plays an important role in preventing neural tube defects, which are major defects of the brain and/or spinal cord. These defects happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy—often before a woman knows she’s pregnant. Since about half of all pregnancies in this country are unplanned, pediatricians recommend that every woman of childbearing age get 400 micrograms of folate—which is what’s in most prenatal vitamins—every day, just in case.
Interestingly, there’s some intriguing research that indicates that you could benefit from a little extra folate yourself. A recent study by McGill University researcher Sarah Kimmins found that babies born to fathers who were folate deficient were about 30 percent more likely to have birth defects than those whose dads were getting enough folate. Granted, Kimmins’ study was on mice, but she believes that the findings will be similar for human dads. How much folate you need isn’t clear, but good sources include asparagus, avocados, bananas, beans, beets, broccoli, citrus fruits, dark green veggies, eggs, lentils, seeds, and nuts.
Now, on to smoking. When a mother-to-be inhales regular cigarette smoke, her womb fills with carbon monoxide, nicotine, tar, and resins that inhibit oxygen and nutrient delivery to the baby. Maternal cigarette smoking increases the risk of low-birth-weight babies and miscarriage. There’s also some evidence that paternal smoking is just as bad. If you think the baby is somehow protected from your smoke by being inside your partner, you’re dangerously wrong. Bottom line: Quit now, and try to get your wife to do the same. A lot of men put off quitting—or asking their partners to quit—out of fear that withdrawal might lead to some marital tension. Bad choice. The potential danger to your baby far outweighs the danger to your relationship.
Oh, and as for e-cigarettes? Don’t go there. While they’re less toxic than tobacco cigarettes, and they cut down on second-hand smoke, they’re hardly safe. Most e-cigs use liquid nicotine, which, besides being addictive, can cause high blood pressure and other heart-related issues in your wife, and can reduce blood flow to the placenta, potentially doing permanent damage to your baby. E-cigs may also contain propelyne glycol, which, when heated can turn into a powerful carcinogen, according to Stanton Glantz, a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco. Glantz and his team also found that far from being the “harmless vapor” e-cig companies claim, the stuff smokers are inhaling contains nanoparticles, which can irritate the lungs and aggravate asthma and other breathing issues. And the second-hand-smoke exhaled by e-cig smokers contains those same chemicals and nanoparticles, so no vaping for you either.

Back(pack) to the Future

Dear Mr. Dad: My daughter’s backpack is insanely heavy. I’ve mentioned this to her teachers and they say that textbooks aren’t used much at school and that students shouldn’t have to bring them in every day. But because my daughter spends half her time with me, and the other half with her mother, she’s worried that she’ll leave a book at the wrong house and won’t be able to do her homework. I get that, but I’m really worried that she’ll hurt herself. She doesn’t want a wheely backpack (says it’s not cool). How should we handle this?

A: You’re absolutely right to be worried about your daughter’s backpack. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are about 14,000 backpack-related injuries every year, 5,000 of which are bad enough to land the child in the emergency room. Most of those injuries involve muscles and the skeleton. But a study done by researchers at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering found that heavy backpacks can also cause short- and long-term nerve damage by pressing on the nerves that go through the head, neck, and shoulders.
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