Guest Author - Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Norman Rockwell’s Freedom From Want picture embodies the nostalgia so many of us feel each holiday season. Every time I see that picture, images flash quickly between that image to my own grandparents’ kitchens. Indeed, my grandparents played a huge role in my life growing up especially around large family functions. But compared to the involvement my parents have with my children, there is a dramatic qualitative difference.
My grandparents were almost spectators and our constant cheering section but knew little of the particulars of our lives. My children’s grandparents, like many of you, have a much more active role and pinch hit for me and my husband often. So, they need to know all the details. Some details like homework and after-school activities are not hard to figure out but health care is a different story. The world of pediatrics has changed so greatly since we were children that grandparents need a quick primer to catch up their databanks.
Here’s a run down of the most important health care and safety changes over the past century:
*Most of the diseases you recall as a child are all but eradicated including polio, measles, mumps, and even chicken pox. This is all due to the amazing advances in immunizations.
*TB (tuberculosis) rampant when you were a youth; today it is controllable and treatable.
*Our communities are cleaner with better public water supplies and sewage treatment. This has greatly decreased the amount of intestinal disorders you may recall many infants and small children succumbing to.
*We were given antibiotics for everything and nowadays they are used very sparingly. We now know that too much antibiotics fosters resistance, and that most illnesses kids get are viral.
*Like you, we had a great deal of unstructured playtime as children, yet our kids after-school lives allow very little. New studies are actually proving what you knew, kids need to play - just because. So the tide may be turning back on this important issue.
*We didn’t have TV, the Internet and all this technology to the extent our kids now have. This is a blessing and a curse. Increased screen time is directly linked to childhood obesity and many shows expose kids to inappropriate material for their ages.
*We used to sleep on our tummies. Now we know that SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) is greatly reduced if babies sleep on their backs.
*Infant seats were not common when we were young and are now mandatory.
*We rode bikes without helmets, as did you! Now we know the importance of protecting the brain during riding sports.
*Girls are involved in much more than when we were younger. They have the same access as boys today to all after-school activities.
*We were all in walkers when babies, now we know they are not so great. Babies can easily get into huge amounts of trouble by rolling through gates, downstairs and pulling objects onto their cute heads.
*More families have dual-income parents so kids are often cared for in after-school programs or by nannies.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Every aspect of pediatric care has advanced from neonatology to the treatment of cancer. In many ways, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Raising kids still involves patience, love and a healthy sense of humor. And, despite what we may all want to think now that we are "adults", you still hold the biggest trump card of them all: stories of your own kids’ childhoods to share with our kids to remind us that the apple does not fall too far from the tree, even if the tree is growing in a bit of a different way. In that regard, the most important elements of Freedom From Want will always be timeless.