By Dana Rousmaniere
We've all been there: Your son drops an animal cracker on the floor, then bends over to pick it up and eat it. You think to yourself, "10-second rule!" No damage done, right? But how bad is it, really? Are you letting your kids pick up germs and bacteria, or are they actually boosting their immune systems? And what about all the other gross things kids do throughout the day? Inquiring moms need to know.
To find out when -- and if -- being a germophobe mom pays, we talked with Carole Marsh, author of The Here & Now Reproducible Book of a Kid's Official Guide to Germs: Our Enemies and Our Friends!
Eating a cookie dropped on the floor: How bad is it?
"I don't think you can protect kids from every single thing that appears to be germy. And I think it's pretty safe to say that kids are going to eat cereal off the floor no matter what you do, so don't worry about this one!" Marsh says.
Researchers continue to debate the probable risks of eating food dropped on the floor; several studies have come to varying conclusions. A study at Connecticut College found that after hitting the ground, wet food was safe to eat for 30 seconds and dry food was fine after a full minute. However, another study at Clemson University found that food dropped onto surfaces intentionally contaminated with salmonella picked up enough of the bacteria to make a person sick.
While there is a risk of picking up bacteria from a fallen cookie crumb, think of it this way: Many objects you frequently touch -- like kitchen sponges, faucets and elevator buttons -- can contain significant amounts of bacteria, and you can't live in constant fear of coming into contact with germs. So when it comes to dropping something edible on the floor, most health experts advise parents not to worry.
Drinking out of the same juice box: How bad is it?
Keeping beverages to yourself doesn't make you a germophobe. In fact, sharing a beverage with a friend or family member carries multiple health risks, from tooth decay to strep throat and even meningitis.
"Some times of the year, every other kid has a cold, so there's a good chance that a child with a cold is going to drink out of that juice box. Viruses such as colds can be transmitted through bodily fluids like saliva. And let's not talk about all the other unmentionable gunky stuff that inevitably gets on the straws," says Marsh. "Even when everyone's healthy, it's important to teach kids good habits -- and learning not to drink out of the same cup or juice box as someone else is simply a healthy habit to teach."
So do your family a favor and keep juice boxes separate at snack time.
Sharing eye shadow: How bad is it?
Kids love to test-drive the pretty things moms wear, but unless you buy makeup specifically for your child, it's best to keep her fingers out of the pot.
"Children have different skin sensitivities, especially around their eyes," says Marsh.
Moreover, researchers have found that makeup, especially eye makeup, is often packed with germs, infections and even uber-icky Staphylococcus aureus, a toxic bacterium.
"Different people have different hygiene habits -- maybe someone else's eye shadow has been left open on a bathroom sink and has been contaminated with something," says Marsh.
Bottom line: It's simply safer not to share.
Sharing earrings: How bad is it?
You hopefully wouldn't let your friend stick a finger covered in gunk in your ear -- so letting your daughter use a friend's earrings should induce a similar sense of ickiness. Hepatitis is common in sharing earrings, as well as a slew of other nasty viruses.
"Never share jewelry for piercings of any kind," Marsh advises. "It just takes the tiniest opening in the skin for an infection to get in."
Eating your own boogers: How bad is it?
Health experts generally disagree on the benefits of picking your nose: Some say it's good for you, some say it's bad -- and some say it doesn't matter.
"This one is really high on the gross-factor list, but it's most likely harmless," says Marsh. "Just don't eat anybody else's boogers!"
Whether or not digging for nose-gold is actually good for your health, those same experts would agree it's a gross habit that your kid should kick to the curb.
Drinking bathwater: How bad is it?
When you consider the concoction of stuff in bathwater -- shampoo, bacteria and germs -- it sounds, well, disgusting. But just like a spilled cookie isn't the end of the world, a little bath water is also harmless for your tot.
"Kids don't typically drink 8 ounces of bathwater -- they'd probably get a handful or a slurp -- so it's not something to be overly concerned about," says Marsh. "I just wouldn't make a regular habit of it, since the soap in the water could cause an upset stomach or diarrhea. Plus, there could be fecal matter in the water, which is obviously not something you want to consume."
So don't worry if your child takes a sip of the soapy stuff. Just make sure she goes to the bathroom before taking a bath.
Sharing hats: How bad is it?
This is one problem that's stood the test of time. Your parents probably advised you not to share hats when you were a kid -- and since then, not much has changed.
"These days, there are a lot of lice outbreaks, so it's best not to share hats. If it's going to cause a huge headache, why risk it?" says Marsh.
Lice still love any head -- whether it's dirty or squeaky clean -- and can lay eggs in any hair they find. Keep your kids safe by asking them not to swap hats with their friends.
At the end of the day, Marsh says moms only really need to worry about getting their kids immunized, making sure they wash their hands and teaching them healthy habits -- like the importance of good nutrition and a full night's sleep. "When you see a child doing something gross, don't focus on the germs. Focus on what's good and healthy for all of us. For instance, say: ‘This is what we do to stay healthy and happy.'"
Dana Rousmaniere is a freelance writer who has written for Good Housekeeping, Women's Health, The Atlantic online and more.
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