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The Dangers of 'Nerfing' the World for Our Kids

We have to take a collective step back and stop trying to protect our children from every little hiccup that comes along. Getting the Chicken Pox, having a runny nose, and making mud pies are a part of any healthy childhood.
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As you wait in the check-out line at the local drug store, a mother takes out a small travel bottle of hand sanitizer. She proceeds to use it not only on her own hands, but on her children's hands as well. Or, you reach for the peanut butter to make "PB and J" for your child's school lunch. Suddenly you remember that your child's school has a "no-peanut" policy. Or maybe even while at the park you see children running around, and out of breath, one of the children approaches the public water fountain. Before he can put lips to the spigot, his mother comes running over with a bottle of water in her hand. "Don't ever drink tap water!" she tells her son.

I can say with almost 100-percent assuredness that all of us have been privy to at least one event similar to those above. You may have thought it innocuous at the time, but each of those examples is indicative of a much larger issue. For the better part of 20 years, many of us have been participating in the "Nerfing" of our world. Our attempts to file-down the "sharp corners" of all aspects of everyday life has produced a "made-for-TV" quasi-existence that our children are experiencing in greater numbers every year.

Those of you who are old enough, try to remember the late 1970s and early 1980s. See if you can recall buying bottled water in cases. You can't, and that's because other than mineral beverages such as Pellegrino, there weren't many choices for bottled water. In fact, I remember a time when if you requested water at the local movie theater, they would force you to pay for a glass full of ice that you had to fill up at the public drinking fountain. Oh, the horror!

Bottled water is one of the biggest farces perpetrated on the American public in a very long time. We pay through the nose everyday for something that comes straight to our homes and is ostensibly free. If you have never quenched your thirst at the end of a garden hose, you haven't lived. The ultimate irony of the entire sham is that some of these bottled water companies get their water by turning on the tap at the factory.

Before I was old enough to go to the movies, though, I frequently engaged in behavior that would make most germ-conscious parents of today run away screaming bloody murder. They might even rush me off to the emergency room for good measure to administer a dose of antibiotics.

As a child, I vividly remember digging up mud-covered stink bugs the size of hockey pucks and letting them crawl all over my hands. Sound dirty? Well, during the summer months I upped the ante. While at the beach, not only did we dig up filthy sand crabs by the bucket-load, but during the medical waste dumping scandal it was commonplace to scoop up a syringe cover or used Band-Aid along with the little beetle-like critters. As you may have guessed, I'm still alive. Shocking, I know, given that we didn't have hand sanitizer to prevent the spread of the deadly whatever virus, but I'm hardly the exception to the rule.

Those of you who are parents should know that children are born without germ immunities that adults take for granted. It seems like common sense that in order to provide a child with a healthy set of these immunities, he or she must be exposed to the common bugs found in our world. You can argue that there are much more powerful germs now, but I would counter with an argument that all this hand sanitizer and antibiotic overuse use has aided in creating the mega-germs we now fear. Not to mention, if these germs are so hearty, is something that costs 59 cents at the checkout counter going to kill it? Superbugs are on the rise, and it's no coincidence.

You may be telling yourself that, as a child, I was just lucky and dodged a serious bullet. Well, all I can say is that the things I swallowed as a child could fill any parent's book of nightmares. For some reason, I had an obsession with putting shiny items in my mouth. Inevitably, some of those sparkly trinkets were swallowed. I distinctly remember swallowing a nickel, a paperclip, several thousand pencil erasers, and a pen cap or two. I might be a walking junk-drawer who jangles as he steps, but I'm still breathing. Oh, and, I ate so many peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwiches as a kid that there was an entire school year where I was unable to open my mouth fully.

Today, not only are children barred from having the childhood classic for lunch, but most kids are not even permitted to bring food to school that may have been in the same room as any form of peanuts. Yes, the peanut allergy is one of the most violent allergic reactions in existence, no one is claiming otherwise. To make an entire class suffer because one child might have a peanut allergy, though, is unconscionable! It wasn't that way years ago. My elementary school was pro-peanut, and would serve you peanut butter and jelly on saltine crackers if you forgot your lunch! Talk about living on the edge! Can you imagine if a school today deigned to even think about serving peanut butter? They would haul the principal out of his office at the front of a torch-bearing mob and string him up right there on the school playground shouting: "hey-ho, the peanut lover has to go!"

Here's the bottom line: humans have been around for millions of years. I can almost guarantee you that after a big mammoth hunt Ook the cavemen wasn't rushing to be the first in line to clean his hands. We have to take a collective step back and stop trying to protect our children from every little hiccup that comes along. Getting the Chicken Pox, having a runny nose, and making mud pies are a part of any healthy childhood. Short of wrapping your offspring in cellophane and foam rubber, there is no way to prevent every single misfortune that may come along. The only thing we will succeed in doing is making sure the common cold becomes a killer.