Dear Mr. Dad: There are a lot of news items these days about how little parents know about what their kids are up to. Take the Florida girl who committed suicide after being bullied. How could the parents of the bullies be so ignorant?
A: In previous columns, I’ve written about the strange phenomenon of parents not recognizing (or admitting) when their children are obese. That willful blindness makes it impossible for those kids to get the help they need. We’ve also talked about how most parents believe that their children are smarter than they actually are. Why are we so in the dark? I think it’s because we want to see only the best in our children—and we ignore anything that challenges our fantasies. Let me give you a few more examples:
- Internet dangers. You’d think that with all the coverage of cyberbullied kids who commit suicide and others who use social media to post their intention to shoot up their school, parents would pay more attention to what their children are doing online. Sadly, the parents of those two Florida cyber-murderers (let’s be honest, that’s exactly what they are), are far from alone. A recent study published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication found that parents often have no ideas of what their kids are doing online until it’s too late. For example, while 30% of young people say they’d been cyberbullied, only 10% of parents said they were aware. And while 15% of children admitted that they were the ones actually doing the cyberbullying, fewer than 5% of parents knew.
- Asthma medication. Most parents of young children who take inhaled asthma medication don’t know what to do to make sure their child takes the medication properly. There are 10 steps parents need to go through. In a recent study of 169 caregivers of children 2-9 who had been hospitalized for asthma and required ongoing asthma treatment, only one knew all of the steps. Out of those 10, five are considered essential, but only four caregivers knew those. Although asthma is quite common, it can be deadly when symptoms are severe enough. And not properly using asthma inhalers means that the child isn’t getting medication he or she needs.
- Infants must sleep on their back. In 1994, the government’s “Back to Sleep” campaign announced that parents should put their babies to sleep on their back, not on their stomach as the previous conventional wisdom dictated. In the years since, the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) has dropped by more than 50%.However, more than a quarter of parents are still not putting their babies down on their back. According to Eve Colson, lead author of a recent study tracking baby sleep positions, “African Americans still lag behind caregivers of other races by about 20 percent in following this practice.” One of the most important predictors of whether caregivers will put babies down to sleep on their back is whether he or she got a recommendation from a doctor.
- Pregnant women shouldn’t smoke. This one seems obvious, but a lot of women still haven’t gotten the message. Smoking during pregnancy has been shown to increase the pregnancy complications, risk of preterm delivery, smaller fetal and infant size, birth defects, and even infant death. Despite all that, the CDC estimates that the percentage of women who smoke during pregnancy has remained at about 13% for quite some time. The percentages vary greatly by state, ranging from a low of 5.1% in Utah and 6.8% in New Jersey, up to 19.7% in Tennessee and 28.7% in West Virginia. Unbelievable.