Is dirty really good for your child? The Anti-bacterial generation

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This is not a post on the constant re-invention of a powder detergent.  When you are bring up your young ones, how much dirt is allowed to create that balance between exploration, fun and good parenting?

An interesting incident happened over the weekend that got me thinking about dirt much more than I often would.

When I was growing up, our parents were not obsessed with cleanliness. Don’t get me wrong, I was never allowed to go to bed without a bath. However, playtime was dirt time. Thus we did all manner of things outside like mould things out of wet soil, slide using vibuyus (plastic containers)on a wet hill, cook fake food using mud (and occasionally eat it), go to the neighbours and steal sugarcane etc.

I had this fascination with termite soil, the one found on certain tree barks (don’t look at me like that, I know its a delicacy for pregnant mothers, I was barely 10 then) The smell from that soil is the same scent you get when the first raindrops hit the soil. I forget the name (yes, there’s a name for it). I need not tell you that I would always linger outside when it started raining just to take in all . Sometimes I dared myself not to breath out just so that  I could take it all in!

I spend some good amount of time with the girls outside as they play with sand, grass, soil or whatever other games they think up. The younger one is still in the ‘eating soil’ phase that every kid goes through, however, instead of soil, she eats sand. Weird right!

Any parent reading this will concur with me that, kids still find a way of eating that dirt no matter how hard you stop them, unless you lock them up in the house during that phase.

I have seen parents so obsessed with their kids being clean that they are not allowed to play outside lest they pick up germs.

I am tempted to blame the constant adverts by all the herbal and anti-bacterial soaps on our screens that make dirt and germs seem like an epidemic that needs to be kicked out of Africa.

Late last year, this subject of Anti-bacterial soaps became a news item.

According to CNN, Manufacturers of antibacterial hand soap and body wash will be required to prove their products are more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and the spread of infection, under a proposed rule announced by the Food and Drug Administration.

Those manufacturers also will be required to prove their products are safe for long-term use, the agency said.

“Millions of Americans use antibacterial hand soap and body wash products,” the agency said in a statement. “Although consumers generally view these products as effective tools to help prevent the spread of germs, there is currently no evidence that they are any more effective at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water.
“Further, some data suggest that long-term exposure to certain active ingredients used in antibacterial products — for example, triclosan (liquid soaps) and triclocarban (bar soaps) — could pose health risks, such as bacterial resistance or hormonal effects.”

A well known anti-bacterial product brand has been running a campaign for as long as I can remember on 5 different product versions all aimed at killing germs. These campaigns have been extended to schools encouraging kids to wash their hands even after handing their colleague a pen in class.

Don’t this wrong, It is important that kids maintain good hygiene like wash their hands after using the loo or before eating. However, marketing campaigns are making parents become paranoid of dirt. This in turn is affecting the number of activities a child is allowed to be engaged in like like just playing in the rain making meals using mud.

Marketing talk aside, dirt is actually good.

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