Tuesday, September 20, 2011

You Deserve a Sanitized Play Space Today?

And you were worried that today was going to go by without a new addition to the ever-growing list of Stuff to Get Moms Paranoid About. On today's Early Show, psychologist Erin Carr-Jordan announced that her investigation of fast food play spaces in 11 states revealed everything from dirt and rotting food to a host of germs that could potentially make young visitors sick.

So parents, don't let your kids anywhere near those slides and crawl-through tubes at the mall or burger joint. Just say no to playdates and birthday parties involving indoor play spaces or giant animatronic mice serving pizza.  It's not worth the risk.

If they want to burn off some energy, take them to your local park playground instead for some good clean fun. Oh, wait. Guess we forgot about this morning-news report a few years ago where swings, slides and climbing walls across the country were tested and found to have salmonella, shigella, hepatitis and other bacteria, not to mention fecal flora - fecal as in poop.

On second thought, better keep your family safe at home. Just make sure you don't prepare their meals in the kitchen or serve it on plates you washed in the sink with a sponge. According to the public health organization NSF, 32 percent of household countertops, 45 percent of sinks and 77 percent of sponges are crawling with coliform bacteria, which can cause food poisoning. Sponges and fridge door handles are also breeding grounds for the superbug MRSA.

Instead of getting some exercise in a filthy play area, let your little ones play a game on your cell phone or iPad. Oh, wait. Turns out phones have more germs than the average toilet handle. But of course your kids never touch a dirty surface and then rub their eyes or reach for a snack, right? Same goes for computers, remote controls, doorknobs and pretty much everything touchable.

And once you've handcuffed the little ones to make sure they don't come in contact with anything in your petri dish of a home, you'll want to keep them away from school, too. Why bother having them protected at home if they're going to spend 35 hours a week sitting next to snotty-nosed classmates and doing their multiplication problems on bacteria-laden desks?

Okay, you get the idea. The point is that dirt and germs are everywhere, and touching an icky surface doesn't necessarily guarantee a trip to the hospital. In fact, our immune systems benefit from having something to fight off; children who catch lots of colds in daycare tend to get sick less often once they reach elementary school. Going all clean-freak isn't the answer, either; epidemiologists warn that overuse of antibacterial soaps and cleansers is killing off the less harmful bacteria in our environment and leaving behind the more dangerous antibiotic-resistant bugs.

My kids have been going to indoor and outdoor playgrounds since they were big enough to stagger up the stairs. I wouldn't want them climbing on an apparatus that was obviously broken, filthy, food-strewn or had, um, evidence of fecal flora. But if the equipment doesn't look any dirtier than their bedroom floor, I let them go to it - and make sure they wash their hands with good old soap and water afterward.

By all means, follow your own instincts and avoid those play areas if reports like these make you skeeved. Me, I'm more concerned about what these restaurants put into our children's tummies than the germs they might put on their hands.

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