Parenting

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Driving Under The Influence of Electronics: The New Law

Getting a DUI just got easier. Driving Under The Influence of Electronics (E-DUI) is real and will cost you as Washington State gets serious about reducing deaths from car accidents caused by distraction. The reason is clear: we know distraction from cell phone use increases risks of accidents over 20-fold and we know the habit of using a device has quickly become the norm. Here’s to hoping the new law helps us think of our cars as the sanctuaries they can be for those we cart around and for those we love. Of anything I’ve learned from researchers about vehicle safety and distraction it’s the reality that finger-wagging and telling-us-to-change type advice won’t affect our habits — we have to be motivated to change the culture of our car. We have to want to connect there or we have to be fearful of being fined. Since I made the podcast with Dr. Beth Ebel (embedded below), whenever I get in the car with my boys I think of it more like I think of time at the dinner table. And I love thinking about the car in that way. It’s so much easier to make sure I won’t pick up the phone…

The New E-DUI Law In Washington:

Tomorrow a new law signed by Governor Inslee bans holding hand-held devices, like cell phones, while driving (and even when you’re stopped at an intersection). The law makes it so drivers can only use their phones to call 911 or by using one finger to trigger a voice-activated application on bluetooth. In addition to a $136 ticket for your first offense and $234 for the second within 5 years, these citations will be reported to insurance companies. Learn more about the law on Washington’s Target Zero website. The reason is pretty clear — just as we were seeing the death rate fall from good seatbelt use and clamping down on DUIs, there has been a rise in accidents and deaths. Many believe this is in part due to the rapid rise of device distraction.

Under the new law you can’t even look at your phone at stop lights. Reason is, you lose awareness of situations around you and many accidents occur when pedestrians are struck by distracted drivers in intersections.

Data Driving The New DUI Laws:

  • Fatalities from distracted driving increased 32 percent from 2014 to 2015 in Washington.
  • 71 percent of distracted drivers engage in the most dangerous distraction, cell phone use behind the wheel
  • One out of four crashes involves cell phone use just prior to the crash.
  • At any given time, 2013 research has found that about 10% of people driving are actually using a device and half are texting! Anecdotally it only seems to be getting worse. I mean we look around and constantly we see people flying down the highway while trying to send messages.

The law is a big step in the right direction for avoiding injuries and death from distracted driving. We know that it’s hard for us all (!!) to keep the phone off or in the backseat. And we know the fear of tickets — the ones that take away money but the ones that also increase insurance premiums — may change behavior. And that’s the goal. Public service announcements scaring us about risk clearly are not enough and are clearly ineffective as use of devices in cars rages on.

Other Distractions When Driving:

All sorts of things can distract us while driving, of course (hello, screaming children in the back). And tickets will be given for other infractions (grooming, eating, reading or smoking) if it gets in the way of safe driving. Oddly, the tickets for those distractions are only $99. In addition, just how we think can put us at risk, too. So those with a diagnosis of ADHD who take medicine to focus should continue to be careful to drive only when taking prescribed medications. The distractions associated with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) can be dangerous on the road. This may be especially true for our teens who are already at risk of getting in a car crash. In fact, driving is the most dangerous during the first six months that a driver is behind the wheel. For the majority of new drivers, 15 to 20 year-olds, they make up 10% of all motor vehicle traffic deaths and 14% of all police-reported crashes that result in injuries. So thinking carefully about devices, distractions, underlying risks, and experience behind the wheel all will matter.

Recent Study Findings on ADHD, Driving, And Distraction

A new study from JAMA Psychiatry of more than 2.3M US patients with ADHD found:

  • Untreated ADHD patients had the highest risk of a car crash
  • Men with ADHD were 38% less likely to have a car crash event when taking medication
  • Women with ADHD were 42% less likely to have a car crash even when taking medication

To better understand distracted driving, it’s important to know the three types of distraction that occur with smartphone use and each additional distraction increases risks and danger:

  • Visual (eye aversion)
  • Manual (hand preoccupation)
  • Cognitive (thought wandering)

Know the Risks

  • Car crashes result in approx. 33,000 deaths and 2.8 million injuries per year
  • Adolescents are 4x more likely to be involved in a car crash than drivers older than 20 years of age
  • Performance of a secondary task can increase the risk of a crash because it is cognitively demanding (texting is known to increase the risk of a crash by as much as 23-fold increase)!

The risks are everywhere. Let’s do our best to treat our cars like sanctuaries. Let’s travel as best we can without picking up our smartphones. And let’s welcome the law to help ensure we change our behaviors. For more from safety expert and pediatrician, Dr Beth Ebel, listen to the podcast below! She is so smart, so passionate, and so fair in working to find ways to make this better and safer for us all.

Chemicals In Macaroni And Cheese Explained

If you’re a parent whose child loves macaroni and cheese (and truly, it’s the rare child who doesn’t), you’ve most likely seen the NYT media blitz on chemicals found in popular, boxed mac-n-cheese brands sold in grocery stores. I’m going to break it down quick and simple. Here we go….

  1. The chemical detected in the mac and cheese were are called phthalates. Phthalates aren’t an added ingredient that companies are purposely using in their products. This isn’t an artificial ingredient, per se. It also isn’t something you avoid in your food when buying organic foods.
  2. Phthalates are chemical toxins that are used to make rigid plastics more flexible and less breakable. These plastics are used in processing plants and conveyor systems that our food and other ingredients travel THROUGH while being preserved and packaged. The phthalates can then leak from the plastics (tubing, conveyor belts, machinery) INTO our food or ingredients.
  3. Research links phthalates to possible genital abnormalities at birth and disruption of hormones, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems. Phthalate exposures during pregnancy can cause changes in estrogen and testosterone levels in fetuses. There isn’t a known “safe” amount of phthalates for our diets. So when we can reduce our exposure to them, we should.
  4. Almost all dairy products you consume contain phthalates. So it’s not just the mac-n-cheese that’s exposing us to phthalates. Milk, cheese, cottage cheese, string cheese, ice cream and other foods…any milk product contains them. Phthalates piggyback into our food and are stored in fat. That’s one of the reasons it’s smarter to drink low-fat dairy products over high-fat ones.
  5. We don’t know yet which brands the report surveyed and this work wasn’t published in a peer-reviewed journal. Some media outlets are reporting Kraft was included but I was unable to unearth which brands and what levels were found. To be safe, I’d assume most macaroni and cheese prepared products contain some level of phthalates because they all require processing.
  6. Buying organic mac-n-cheese isn’t saving you from phthalate exposure. Remember anything that’s been processed through tubing or machinery can have phthalates. Phthalates can also leave plastic products in our house (plastic food containers, plastic dishware, plastic surfaces) and enter our food, especially when heated. So the less we use plastic to store or transport our food the better!
  7. We don’t actually know what level of phthalates are safe for consumption so as the science and understanding of the risks evolve it’s best to think on diminishing exposures.

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What To Do With Bug Bites and Itchiness

It’s July so we’re officially in summertime, thank goodness. My prescription: warm and outdoor adventures for us all! Obviously if we take the Rx seriously, we’ll all be more likely to get bit. When it comes to bug bites, the most important thing to know for your child (and yourself) is how they will react. Some children get bit all over and hardly react while others will have enormous, and tremendously ITCHY welts all over their body. There truly are children who are mosquito-bite sensitive and children who are not. Some get bit and hardly react while others of us end up with welts in minutes.

In general, bug bites cause a mild irritation to the skin. However, sometimes a more allergic reaction results and persists, even for days causing real discomfort. In these scenarios, it’s safe to use anti-allergy medications (diphenhydramine, etc) for itchiness from bites. It’s also safe to use over-the-counter (OTC) hydrocortisone cream or ointment on bites that aren’t scratched open or raw.

Some tips on how you can help keep your children bug bite free or help them when they do get bit: Read full post »

Just ASK About Firearms

It’s national selfie day (??? an excuse for my millennial behavior) and it’s also Just ASK day (smart stuff), hence the image I snapped this morning. I spent the morning today at KING5 news making some TV segments encouraging us all to ask about firearms when we drop our children and teens off for playdates, sleepovers, camps, and fun. Although it seems awkward at first blush to ask how a firearm is stored at a home of someone you love or someone you hardly know for that matter, I’m convinced it’s time to make it the norm. Weird, I suppose, to ask something that may feel imposing especially when someone is graciously taking in your little rugrat for dinner or soccer or a sleepover or a trip to the beach…the reality is this: 9 out of 10 parents don’t mind being asked about firearms. And ensuring that our children can’t get their hands on firearms at the wrong time is something we all work on.

Just ASK about firearms in the home. Every time. Make sure if firearms are in the home they are stored unloaded and are separate from ammunition. Ideally, firearms should be in lock boxes and/or have trigger locks

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A Few Recommended Rules For Fidget Spinners

Fidget spinners are everywhere. The photo here was captured this morning on the way into school. That little blue wonder spinner showed up in our home without us even knowing it last week. My 8 year-old got it at the 2nd-grade market our school put on! And I’ve even heard about a set of savvy middle-school students in the midwest using a 3-D printer to make their own. Hello, New World of Toys and Toy-Making. This just a reminder that these fidget toys are often cheap and easy to get ahold of so parents may not even know when one’s safely tucked in a backpack of a school-aged child or teen.

I played with one for the first time this morning and lemme say this: I get the draw.

Spinners are here to stay, at least for the rest of this school year, and teachers/parents/schools are making up the rules as we go. But yesterday when I interviewed with TODAY.com about potential choking risks after a 10 year-old needed surgery to remove a piece of a similar spinner from her esophagus, and I later learned the (now, not confirmed story — urban legend aka “fake news?”) tale that a teacher sustained a serious eye injury when one spinner went flying and fell apart. Although the injury is likely theoretic I got to thinking about what to know and how we can parent with the latest craze. The Facebook shares on this story have gone viral with over 700,000 shares and 75,000 comments in the past few days (*update 5/22/17: Facebook link has since been taken down). Clearly, spinners are on many of our minds.

The choking events will hopefully be exceedingly rare, as will the injuries from fidget spinners, but we can think clearly about how to enjoy these silly little objects and not go bananas or have anyone get hurt. Read full post »

Quick Video Q & A on Vaccinations

BBC invited me to discuss vaccinations and help answer some popular questions parents have about them. View this short Q&A video on BBC where I share the following answers to these common questions:

  • Can vaccines cause autism? We don’t know what causes all of autism spectrum disorders but we do know that vaccinations do not lead to the development of autism. More info worth reading here on Autism and Vaccinations from Autism Science Foundation — a non-profit working to support families with autism spectrum disorders and the research that helps guide and empower improved prevention and treatment.
  • Is it safer to space out vaccines? It isn’t safer to space out vaccines. Not a single study that finds a delayed schedule is safer than one spaced out. No data, for example, that an MMR shot is safer at age 3 than at age 1. Why wait while measles outbreaks do continue? Waiting only increases overall risk.
  • Should I be worried about the chemicals in vaccines? We know more about the safety of vaccines than we do about some of the foods we eat. The ingredients and rigor around the science of vaccines is tight. See recent post with info about ingredients or this info and Q&A on ingredients in vaccinations.
  • Isn’t it my personal choice? When you get your child vaccinated on schedule you’re not only protecting your child’s health, you’re protecting your community’s health. And your own family’s.

You can also view a BBC story on vaccination hesitancy or listen to a recording of its radio story where they discuss areas with higher levels of families delaying or opting out. As a reminder, in the US about 9 in 10 families do follow recommendations to get their children vaccinated on-time, keeping us all safer. Magic in medicine…

Getting Out Of Town With Children: Anchors of Happiness

Spring has sprung (hurrah!) and summertime is oddly just a couple of months off. A co-worker reminded me this week that school is out in 2 months. What?

As the rituals of summer near I’m reminded of the power and value in creating memories that break the mold of routine. Trips, time away, adventure, and creating a sense that the world is truly as big as it is. This starts and gains value right from home at the kitchen counter…

Recently, I’ve seen a series of online parenting articles about how family vacations throughout childhood are “anchors of happiness.” That they make and enhance a child’s life. At first glance it seems like pressure. It’s just been Spring Break, or is this week for you, and the pressures of watching families on Facebook fly off to Aruba are real… But I think there is something more essential to talk about here. Not the need or want to plan a luxury vacation, but the pristine opportunity to think on and prioritize exploration with our children. Clearly children notice and in my heart I know it’s meaningful.

The simple exercise of moving around our city or county or state or country or continent to different places with our children, during breaks from school and work, is magic. From planning a trip with your children to taking an actual vacation, there are a lot of data driven benefits – enjoyment (joy!), memory-making, cultural exposure and simple protected time away from school and work together to reflect on what matters.

In one article I read about family-vacationing, I saw this:

  • Only 25% of kids say they talk to their parents about something of great importance to them in a weeks time

Ohhhhhh, no! I decided to vet the above data with my 10 year-old. Puffed up with great pride that just in the last week I’d brought up the temperature of space, talked about the implications of a recent political scandal, worked on his school project together and generally been a stimulating conversation partner and “master mom” I said, “do you think we talk about things of great importance every week?” He paused and said, “No, I don’t think so.”

OH, no. Gotta get out of Dodge… Read full post »

I Like The Film Alike, A lot

Many of us struggle knowing which pitch or tenor to take in balancing the responsibilities, rigors and rule-following of regular school and work-life with the need to extend boundaries to live with our children in poetic, artful ways. How and when to comply, and how and when and why we sometimes don’t want to. It’s ultimately tricky and nuanced, yet the opportunity to live in color is just so profound.

Life is precious and unpredictable.

Thing is, sometimes we just miss the moment with our children. Sometimes we really are too demanding, too rigid, perhaps too purposeful. At least I know I am and can be. When I realize I’ve been blunted or on-task in ways that separate me from my children’s mindfulness or creativity or I’ve stunted my children in any way, it can feel a tiny bit like despair. Like a big, juicy #momfail.

I must say, I like Alike, a lot. This sweet film embodies the pulse of the challenge in living mindfully and playfully with children and the immensity of its import in daily life. There is a moment in this film that feels as tremendous as the love we feel for our children in real life. I cried witnessing it.

Everyone is born creative. Creativity can be especially fluid and accessible during childhood (some experts and parents and teachers and artists, of course, worry we work creativity “out” of children as they grow with our schooling structure and rigidity). Thankfully, children often get to live days that make space for the creative process and the exploration and silliness so wonderful in being alive that we stop making space for as we “grow up.”

Although this beautiful short film doesn’t offer any answers it moved me immensely.

I’ve been reflecting on mistakes I’ve made (ohhhhhhh, parenting is so tough!) but it also brewed a sense of optimism in me. I saw a glimpse of the big huge opportunity illuminated in each new day that unfolds. Enjoy, enjoy!

 

New Data On Preventing The Flu And Whooping Cough

Many of us have probably experienced influenza (the flu) at some point. Sometimes we really know it, sometimes we don’t. Previous data has even found that in a typical influenza season (winter) as many as 10 to 40% of all children get exposed or actually get influenza in a given year.

Sometimes the infection from influenza is mild (“just a cold”) but sometimes it’s a horrific long-lasting-high-fever-achy-pneumonia-hospital-causing infection. Sometimes it’s worse. Hard to predict why we all don’t experience the same virus the same way each time we’re exposed.

Those under age 5 and those over 65 years of age are at highest risk from influenza. The reason: young children have an unexposed, immature immune system that doesn’t work as well fighting against influenza as a 12 year-old where as the elderly have a tired immune system that just doesn’t work as well as it did during young adulthood. Each year children die from the flu that could have been prevented. The flu vaccine isn’t perfect in protection, and this year it’s got about a 50% chance of totally protecting you — far better than 0% when you don’t get it at all!

New data out proves that flu vaccine helps prevent death in children. News any mom or parent or pediatrician wants to hear and share.

For infants and elders, the flu can be deadly. For new babies, pertussis (whooping cough) can be, too. The good news is that these illnesses are vaccine-preventable. This post is just a reminder of the power of vaccines to prevent pain and suffering and new data that continues to support our use of whooping cough shots during pregnancy for moms and babies and flu vaccines for children every year.

Two studies from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) highlight just this by establishing vaccine effectiveness for reducing death and serious infection. Take these as reminders of why we vaccinate our children and ourselves! Read full post »

5 Things That Confirm You’re A Master Parent

After I published my book Mama Doc Medicine, I toyed around with the idea of writing tiny little books inspired by a favorite short story publication, One Story. Literally I was thinking that the way to consume ideas about parenthood was not in book form but in pamphlet-sized publications on parenthood, vaccines, & general tips for feeling awesome while raising children. I haven’t entirely tanked the idea (please weigh in if you think you’d read them!) but it’s not at the top of my to-do list. That being said, I realized after publishing years of blogs and a whole book of stories about my boys and science and parenting and the general overwhelm we all feel, that I could have perhaps just published five tips in five pamphlets! Sure would have saved time…

Thing is, in my opinion, if you do these five things, you’re wildly decreasing the likelihood of death for your child and pretty much preforming at the top 99%, parenthood-wise. All the rest is gravy. As a mom and pediatrician, I think if you do these things well you should feel like a ROCK STAR. The rest of what we all read about is a smattering of parenting “style” advice. There will continue to be books on grit and food selection and poop and sleep forever. And reading up on new ideas and new data can be great ways to bolster our confidence. But really, I’m saying, do these 5 things out of love and with ongoing daily respect for who your child is as an individual, and I think you’ll be a master.

This is the cousin to my recent “5 Things To Stop Worrying About” blog. In my mind, there are five non-negotiable pediatric parenting must-dos. If you can make these things a top priority, you’re pretty much nailing it. Congrats. Check this off on your life list as an awesome new start to spring. Listen to the podcast, please but little notes about it are below, too. Love up your children and love up yourself for doing all of this so well!

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