Monday, November 23, 2009

Let the children play

Many, many years ago, "when I were a lad" things were different, there was a great deal less paranoia about what kids got up too and where they went. During the summer hols, my mum used to see us at breakfast and again for dinner and occasionally for lunch if we happened to be in the area at the time. The rest of the time was spent out on bikes, exploring and generally getting into trouble, though the trouble was relatively harmless and involved such activities as scrumping, chasing the rival gang off our territory (and vice versa) and doing the odd spot of cliff climbing and swimming in the sea. I suspect these days my mum would have been locked up and us put into care because of what we got up too, but in our defence, all kids were doing it. We also used to get fairly grubby (and probably smelly) as hygiene wasn't high on our list of to do's. One thing though that stood out, was that we suffered very few ailments, not much in the way of asthma or allergies, which is why this report in the BBC did not surprise me.
Children should be allowed to get dirty, according to scientists who have found being too clean can impair the skin's ability to heal.
Normal bacteria living on the skin trigger a pathway that helps prevent inflammation when we get hurt, the US team discovered.
The bugs dampen down overactive immune responses that can cause cuts and grazes to swell, they say.
Their work is published in the online edition of Nature Medicine.
Experts said the findings provided an explanation for the "hygiene hypothesis", which holds that exposure to germs during early childhood primes the body against allergies.
Many believe our obsession with cleanliness is to blame for the recent boom in allergies in developed countries.
Researchers from the School of Medicine at University of California, San Diego, found a common bacterial species, known as Staphylococci, blocked a vital step in a cascade of events that led to inflammation.
By studying mice and human cells, they found the harmless bacteria did this by making a molecule called lipoteichoic acid or LTA, which acted on keratinocytes - the main cell types found in the outer layer of the skin.
The LTA keeps the keratinocytes in check, stopping them from mounting an aggressive inflammatory response.
 I'm not sure how or why we became so over-protective of our children, the most we would get off our mum was a don't talk to strangers and that was it, we never did, well not really except to ask for directions. Sex wasn't so high on the agenda either, we didn't live in a highly sexualised society, it just didn't figure, girls were just different, they were generally a bit cleaner, bit better behaved, but not by that much. We didn't really mix and were aware of the differences, though not enough to do anything about them.
These days though there's an obsession about protecting kids, the internet hasn't helped with constant scare stories about predators grooming kids online though I do wonder if the risks are so high, then again who'd care to take such risks with their children and there lies one of the problems.
The other one is an obsession with cleanliness, anti-bacterial sprays, super bugs (because of said sprays) kids just don't build up the tolerances necessary to fight them off and as a consequence suffer the allergies throughout their lives.

At some stage we're going to have to rethink our way of bringing up our children, let them grow, let them take risks with all the potential heartbreak that might bring and most of all let them go back to being the scruffy little buggers they naturally are.

4 annotations:

James Higham said...

I'm not sure how or why we became so over-protective of our children ...

Easy - the PC police.

scunnert said...

Pretty much describes my childhood QT. Some years ago researchers found that overly clean kids develop asthma for the same reasons cited above. Kids aren't allowed a childhood anymore. When I was young the streets were teaming with kids. Now the streets are empty.

Sad really.

Edgar said...

This is a theory that pops up every few years but, scientifically, it just doesn't completely hang together. It's true that hygiene was not a generally high priority for either parents or children say 40 years ago, but that was so only in the West. In East Asia, particularly Japan, Korea, Taiwan, scrupulous cleanliness has been almost an obsession for hundreds of years. They did not suffer particularly from allergies, then, but there are signs of that now! So, it may be true that there is some effect from the increase in cleanliness but there is almost certainly something else going on, and it's likely to be connected with chemicals used in agriculture, or something globally-present like that.

Anonymous said...

Scrupulously clean - in East Asia? Gosh, precisely where in East Asia was that.

I have lived in Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Korea and PNG - and I think you lived in a dream world.

As in most countries, there are places that are dirty, muddy, slimy, sticky and mucky and the kids love it. They play in it, they bathe in it and they do things I shouldn't mention in it.

scrupulously clean? You're having a go, aren't you? Oh I see, conspiracy theory!!