If You’re a Kid, the Experts Want You to Have a Fun-Free Summer

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From WSJ:

If You’re a Kid, the Experts Want You to Have a Fun-Free Summer
Digging in wet sand is dangerous. ‘Dry sand presents problems, too.’ And don’t ask about water.
By Lenore Skenazy
June 20, 2017 6:49 p.m. ET

It’s summer! Time to dig in the sand, gulp from the hose, play at the park, and leap with joy.

Unless you’re a kid—in which case, find yourself a comfy sofa in a dark, quiet room and settle in. This is the season your parents are bombarded with the kind of warnings previously associated with incoming torpedoes. The basic message: Don’t have fun, it’s too dangerous.

Yes, that would be the same kind of summer fun your parents endlessly reminisce about. “Remember when digging in the sand at the beach was a fun activity for young children,” says the website KidsTravelDoc. “Sorry. No more. Based on recent findings, only with lots of do’s and don’ts is frolicking in the sand a healthy activity, says the U.S. Environmental Protective [sic] Agency.”

I was unable to find the EPA’s granular list of caveats. But the blog’s author, Karl Neumann of the American Academy of Pediatrics, lays out his own don’ts: “Studies show that children playing in the sand are more likely to become ill than children merely walking on it. And the risk of illness increases with digging in the sand, being ‘buried’ in it, and digging in wet sand.”

Got it. Keep your kids on dry sand. No, wait: “Dry sand presents problems, too.” So, Dr. Neumann warns: “Discourage children from lying directly on the sand.”

While you’re at it: “Walking barefooted is another ‘don’t.’ Have children wear lightweight, ventilated, hard-soled footwear that covers the toes. This helps prevent stubbed toes, lacerations, puncture wounds, and burns from hot sand. Ideally, footwear should be worn for wading in the water.”

Why take them to the beach at all? Keep them at home on a hard, nonporous surface, free of dirt and obstacles, checking frequently for venomous spiders, disease-bearing insects, and sewage. Children should be in steel-toed work boots at all times, as well as oven mitts and chain mail.

But even that isn’t enough. Simply keeping the kids at home doesn’t ensure they’re safe, especially if they make it into the backyard. Parents magazine warns that “bees are attracted to flowers, so don’t put fragrances or floral-patterned clothing on kids.” Surely you’ve seen swarms of bees chasing children in floral prints, convinced they are flowering shrubs in work boots?

The American Academy of Pediatrics, meanwhile, suggests that if your moppets still insist on playing outside, the little daredevils at least “limit sun exposure during the peak intensity hours—between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.” That shouldn’t put a crimp in anyone’s day, should it?

The academy is afraid that kids will get too much sun. It’s also afraid they’ll get too little sun and end up with rickets. A related fear is that kids won’t get enough water because . . . well, everyone is obsessed with “hydration” these days.

It’s always seemed to me that drinking when thirsty does the trick. No. Now there’s a new product on the market called Gululu, which is a water bottle with a Wi-Fi connection. The Gululu app allows parents to monitor how much water their child is drinking. The cagey gadget even knows if the kids are secretly not drinking—pouring out water to stop their parents from texting them to drink more.

To make the sipping less onerous—it really does get tiring if you’re not thirsty—an animated character on the bottle’s built-in screen grows happier and healthier the more the child drinks. Let’s hear it for more screen time!

Gululu’s other advantage is it keeps the little ones from drinking the wrong sort of water. Google “hose water” and you will be deluged with stories linking the stuff to just about every illness except gout. Some study, endlessly reported, found that hose water contained “PVC plastic additives, which can cause birth defects, liver toxicity, and cancer.” Naturally, in these stories there is no mention of how many cisterns of water a child would have to guzzle for any of these issues to ever develop.

Being a kid these days is no walk in the park. But that’s just as well. Yet another Parents magazine masterpiece warns that to keep children safe at the playground, you should “walk away if you see cement, asphalt, dirt, or grass: These surfaces are linked to head injuries.”

So are walls, if you bang your head against them. My summer advice to parents is therefore short and sweet. Tell your kids they can’t swim alone, get into a stranger’s car, or let their parents buy them a high-tech water bottle.

And then stop reading other safety tips.

Ms. Skenazy is founder of Free-Range Kids and a contributor to Reason.com.

Appeared in the June 21, 2017, print edition.