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Why Are Teenagers Eating Tide Pods?

Recently, the Tide Pod Challenge and coverage thereof went viral. The Tide Pod Challenge is a particularly tragic episode in the series of dumb, dangerous things teenagers do to show off. It vexes the responsible parent, who childproofed their home for babies, toddlers, and young children, but thinks that teenagers ought to know better. 

What Goes On In The Teenage Brain? 

Fortunately, the vast majority of teenagers do know better than to gobble up detergent pods. For the most part, the laundry pod meme exists as a joke. People who are in on the joke stage photos of laundry pods on pizzas or in cereal bowls. The punchline: you can’t eat this, even though it looks appealing. Teens discover in this way that products are designed to appeal to all of our senses so that we’re more likely to buy them; this discovery doesn’t necessarily mean they are actually inclined to eat them. 

Yet the American Association of Poison Control Centers reports 86 cases of teens poisoning themselves with laundry pods in the first three weeks of January alone. Clearly, something is going on.  

“Teenagers are not as readily able to access their frontal lobe to say, oh, I’d better not do this.” 

Dr. Frances Jensen, a neurologist who literally wrote the book on the teenage brain, reports that teenagers lag behind adults when it comes to executive functioning. One reason for this is the lack of development when it comes to the connections between different areas of the brain. In other words, teenagers feel fast and think slow — a phenomenon that sums up the plot of Romeo and Juliet just as well as it explains the “Tide Pod challenge.”

Risk Factors for Poor Impulse Control 

One of the crucial aspects of this dangerous behavior is its social factor. Reported cases of teenagers eating Tide pods involve posting videos on social media, not ingesting poison in private. Does your teen have a healthy social life? Being involved in activities that encourage healthy social behavior can reduce the risk of teens seeking unhealthy social connections. 

Drinking alcohol and using drugs obviously affects impulse control. Pretty much everyone becomes more likely to endanger themselves and others while under the influence. This holds true for teenagers. Avoiding drugs and alcohol, getting a healthy amount of sleep, eating a healthy diet and staying active all contribute to heightened executive functioning.  

If your teen has a condition that affects impulse control, such as ADHD or bipolar disorder, they may be more likely to take serious risks. And the stereotype that boys tend to be bigger risk-takers is supported by research, though your child’s individual temperament regardless of gender has an effect too. 

The High Cost of Internet Fame 

Many teenage content creators aspire to Internet fame. Some achieve their viral moment in the spotlight by posting a silly picture of laundry pods posed as food. Others, clearly, make really poor decisions for likes and comments. This was true even before the Internet age: when you look back at your own teenage years, you probably remember someone (or remember being that someone) who sauntered into homeroom and bragged about doing something that made them sick, could have gotten them arrested, or otherwise compromised their safety. Even if that person’s peers all agreed that the behavior was stupid, for a moment all of them were paying attention. 

Likes and comments trigger the reward-seeking part of our brain. Teens (and for that matter, adults) can become addicted to the dopamine rush of getting these social rewards. It’s possible that teenagers do stupid, risky, even criminal things on social media for the same reason drug addicts do: they’re focused on getting their next fix. This doesn’t mean you should delete all of your children’s accounts immediately, but it does mean you should set ground rules and enforce limits on screen time 

Keep Poison Control Information Close 

Save this number in your phone and stick it on your refrigerator: 

24/7 Poison Help hotline: 800-222-1222.  

During an emergency, call 911. The effects of poison spread quickly, and every second counts. 

Posted in Blog on January 23rd, 2018

What All Parents Should Know About Gun Safety

If you own a firearm, you know it’s a constitutional right that comes with a good deal of responsibility. Even if you don’t own a firearm, your child may visit relatives or friends who do. Learn how to practice gun safety at all times, and how to properly secure guns in the home.

Younger Children and Guns 

Of all age groups, toddlers with their boundless curiosity are the most likely to find hiding spots and play with the guns they find. However, children of all ages are at risk. 

A recent study of children aged 8 to 12 found that after watching a PG-rated movie containing scenes of gun violence, children were more likely to use a real gun as a toy. Children who watched the movie with guns played with the real gun for about 53 seconds and pulled the trigger 2-3 times, while children who watched the same movie without the gun scenes picked up the real gun for about 11 seconds and mostly did not pull the trigger. It’s only natural for children to act out what they see on TV and video games. This doesn’t prove that violence in media turns children into violent adults, but it does illustrate that kids will be kids. Simply telling them not to touch something dangerous isn’t enough to prevent dangerous behavior. 

Preventing Teen Suicide 

Your teen may enjoy hunting or going to the shooting range, and be well-versed in safe handling of firearms. However, you still need to store guns in a location inaccessible to your teens. Adolescence is a difficult time. Mood disorders may develop faster than coping skills. Teenagers are known to take risks and not always think through the consequences of their actions – even sensitive, intelligent teenagers. It is always better to be safe than sorry. 

Keeping Guns Away From Criminals 

Most gun owners keep firearms for home defense. Criminals who obtain guns illegally often steal them from the vehicles or homes of legal gun owners. Keep guns off the street by securing them discreetly in your home and vehicle so as not to attract the attention of thieves. This will help make your family and your community safer. 

It is also worth considering that not all crimes are committed by “bad guys.” Mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, and other impulse control issues can lead otherwise good people to commit violence. If these risk factors exist in your home, consider removing guns entirely. 

How to Properly Store Guns 

Guns need to be locked and stored separate from the ammunition. If you worry that storing guns this way will make it too hard for you to access the gun in the event that you need to defend yourself, consider alternative forms of self-defense. Or, practice accessing and re-assembling the weapon, safety on, when your children are not at home so that you feel confident you can do it quickly enough. 

To learn more about preventing child gun deaths, visit the Be Smart campaign. Take the quiz to test your knowledge, and don’t be afraid to ask about gun safety in any home where your child is going to spend time. 

Posted in Blog on January 16th, 2018

Why Kids Need Vitamin D Supplementation

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for people of all ages. It helps us absorb calcium in order to grow strong bones. Since most of this growth takes place when we’re young, it’s important that children receive sufficient amounts of Vitamin D. Without it, children may develop rickets (soft bones) or be at risk for having brittle bones when they’re adults.  

How We Get Vitamin D 

Exposing our skin to the sun causes our bodies to produce vitamin D. This is the primary means of obtaining vitamin D, but be careful to limit sun exposure and protect yourself with sunscreen. Food contains vitamin D, but unless it is fortified, the amount of vitamin D in foods and beverages is small. Vitamins and supplements can make up for a lack of vitamin D in our diet. 

Breastfeeding and Vitamin D 

Breastfeeding is an incredibly beneficial way to feed your newborn. It helps the mother recover and bond with her baby, and breastmilk contains a host of nutrients and immunity-boosting goodness. However, unlike formula, breast milk is not fortified with Vitamin D. That’s why we often recommend an over-the-counter vitamin D supplement for babies who are breastfed. 

Vitamin D Fortified Milk 

Babies need the nutrients present in breast milk or formula during the first year of life. After 12 months, you may introduce cow’s milk. Milk naturally contains calcium and is fortified with Vitamin D. In fact, many juices are also fortified with Vitamin D, but since juices contain a lot of sugar, try to get it from milk instead.  

How Skin Color Affects Vitamin D 

People with darker skin have more natural protection against UV rays than people with pale skin. This is no excuse to not wear sunscreen, because you can still get burned or develop skin cancer from too much sun exposure, regardless of skin color. When it comes to Vitamin D, darker skin’s ability to block UV rays prevents the body from producing vitamin D via sunlight absorption. So, children with darker skin are more likely to have a vitamin D deficiency than children with lighter skin. 

How Vitamin D Affects Obesity 

Researchers have discovered a correlation between childhood obesity and vitamin D deficiency. The cause of this link is unknown and still under investigation. Children with a higher BMI may need additional supplementation.  

Ask your pediatrician about vitamins that are safe for kids, and right for your child’s individual needs. 

Posted in Blog on January 9th, 2018

How to Help Your Kids with Goal-Setting

January 1st marks the annual tradition of setting new year’s resolutions. Taking the opportunity to adopt a healthier lifestyle sets a great example for your kids. But the act of setting goals itself is a healthy life skill you can teach them.

Goals for Self-Esteem

Think about your own experiences with goal setting. When you set unrealistic goals, you’re less likely to succeed, and that can make you feel bad about yourself. Setting realistic goals makes you more likely to succeed and feel good about yourself.

Think about your experiences with failure, too. We all want our children to succeed, but everybody faces setbacks. Practice pursuing goals, and you learn how to deal with failure without feeling bad about yourself.

Children need to develop resilience, perseverance, flexibility, and ambition. These life skills arise from participating in activities that are both challenging and enjoyable. Whether it’s cooking, dance, sports, art, invention, programming, or building that insane Lego set they got for Christmas, encourage your kids to set resolutions and teach them ways to stick with it!

Setting Healthy Resolutions

One of the most popular new year’s resolutions is to lose weight or get in shape. Children learn from their parents and older relatives. Because of this, it’s important to keep a healthy perspective when setting goals about dieting and exercise. Avoid fad diets, respect your limits, and know that healthy bodies come in many shapes and sizes.

Adults often set self-improvement goals, such as being more mindful, getting organized, reading more, or becoming more involved in the community. You might want to include your whole family in some resolutions. For example, you can encourage everyone in your family to eat healthier. But don’t forget to let kids choose their own goals, too.

Keeping Expectations Real (And Dealing With Quitters)

Parents, it’s okay if your children frequently change their minds about what they want to do in their free time. Yes, it can be frustrating to switch from soccer to dance to karate in the course of a semester, but it doesn’t mean your child lacks motivation or commitment. They’re growing fast and exploring different interests.

If they want to quit, ask why. Let them know you want to hear if someone is hurting them or making them feel uncomfortable. If those aren’t the reasons they want to quit, the conversation can turn to either problem-solving (“You want to quit because it’s too hard? What about if you try a more beginner level?”) or simply understanding that they’ve moved on. When you invest in an activity for your child, hold them accountable to attending a certain number of lessons, or responsible for finishing out one season.

When it comes to long-term, difficult goals, encourage your kids to dream big and work one day at a time. Break long-term goals into measurable short-term gains to keep the momentum going. Remind them that good is better than perfect. The pressure to be the best at something (or everything!) can create stress, which results in a range of health issues; but a healthy drive to succeed relies on good self-esteem. So, when setting goals, encourage children to be specific, realistic, and accountable. Keep that shining goal in mind when dealing with stress and setbacks along the way, and let them know you’re proud of them.

Have a happy, healthy new year!

Posted in Blog on December 27th, 2017

7 Ways to Help Hospitalized Children

During the holidays, and when we’re considering our New Year’s resolutions, we think about ways that we can help people in our communities. If your child has ever had to stay in the hospital, you know the stress and fear that comes with the territory. Families with children in the hospital deal with financial and logistical challenges in addition to facing health issues, providing care, and coping with grief.

Whether you have had personal experience with children in the hospital, or simply wish to learn more about helping children and their families, Phoenix Children’s Hospital provides several ways to get involved.

Hold a fundraising event. Bring people together for a race, a bake-off, a talent show, a flea market – anything that raises money can be donated to nonprofit hospitals like Phoenix Children’s. Get your work, your religious organization, or other community groups involved.

Volunteer at the hospital. People over the age of 16 who are in good health can apply to be volunteers. Jobs for volunteers include teaching, tutoring, answering family’s questions, transporting patients, assisting with therapy and rehab, and more.

Join a charitable group. There’s no need to start from scratch with community organizing. Check out the groups you can join to help hospitalized kids.

Donate blood. Donating blood helps people in your community and beyond recover from injuries and illnesses. Blood has a limited shelf life, so there is always a need.

Donate items. Books and toys help children learn, develop, and bond with their families and friends. Hospitals have donation guidelines for health and safety, because children may have special diets or medical concerns.

Donate money. Do your research when donating money. In addition to supporting nonprofit hospitals directly, you can also help by donating to foundations. Rare diseases seldom receive grants or federal funding, and charitable foundations fill in the gap.

Learn from families. When people face difficult situations, we often don’t know what to say. We fear saying the wrong thing. A good way to avoid this is to reach out and listen compassionately to parents of children in the hospital. Give them an outlet, and ask how you can help. Could you prepare a meal, or do some household chores?Sometimes, simply being there is the best you can do.

Posted in Blog on December 20th, 2017

New Breast Pump Cleaning Guidelines from CDC

The CDC recently released new breast pump cleaning guidelines after reviewing the case of an infant girl whose death was caused by infection from contaminated breast milk.

Although these cases are rare, the CDC decided there was a need for these guidelines because they found a lack of education for new mothers on proper cleaning. Breastfeeding your baby has great health benefits, and 81% of mothers start breastfeeding their babies at birth. Of course, there is no shame in formula feeding, and at times it may be medically necessary. We believe the vast majority of mothers want to do what’s best for their babies, and encourage mothers to breastfeed if possible.

Working mothers routinely pump breast milk. Mothers with more flexible schedules may still experience times when they need to pump in order to relieve pain, increase production, or stock up for time away from baby.

Cleaning Bottles and Pump Accessories

Whether you breastfeed or formula feed, do not wash bottles and nipples in the kitchen sink with the regular dish sponge. Instead, use a clean bowl or basin and a scrubber designated for breast milk dishes only.

Rinse items immediately after use. Do not soak, since still water is a breeding ground for bacteria. Wash your hands, then wash the items in hot soapy water. Rinse under running water and air dry on a clean towel (do not rub dry with the towel). Sanitize with a commercial sanitizer or in the dishwasher.

Cleaning the Tube

The tube should not need to be cleaned, because only air passes through it. If you spot milk or mold in the tube, throw it out and use a new one.

Cleaning the Pump

Wipe the pump with a sanitizing wipe before use.

Always wash your hands before pumping, and before handling pump accessories.

You can view or print out a fact sheet on breast pump cleaning in English or Español.

Posted in Blog on December 13th, 2017

Child Deaths in Arizona Rising: What You Can Do

As pediatricians, it’s certainly not our goal to create more stress and give you more reasons to worry about your children. However, a recent report reveals that of the 800 child deaths in Arizona last year, 330 could have been prevented. What caused these preventable child deaths?

Car Crashes

Defensive driving is a must to keep your own family and everyone else on the road safe. Choosing vehicles with high safety ratings also helps prevent crashes, and mitigate damage when they do occur. For children, following carseat guidelines saves lives. When in doubt, ask your pediatrician and get your carseat inspected for proper installation.

Unsafe Sleeping Conditions

Sleeping guidelines change as the pediatric community gains more data about unsafe sleeping. That’s why it’s really important to adhere to the latest guidelines on infant sleep safety, even if you did things differently with your older children, or planned to do things differently before learning the latest guidelines. Make sure babysitters and any other caregivers who might put your child to bed understand the importance of safe sleeping.

Other Preventable Causes

We constantly educate parents about not leaving children in the car. It’s hard to believe until you’re an overtired, stressed out parent yourself, but it’s all too easy to forget that your child is still in the backseat.

Practice pool safety and bath time safety to prevent drowning.

Suicide caused 47 deaths of Arizona minors in 2015. Learn the signs of depression and anxiety, and work with counselors and physicians to help your child through difficult times. Suicidality develops over time, so early and consistent treatment is the best prevention.

Cases of death due to abuse and neglect rose. If you suspect a child may be in danger because of abuse or neglect, call 1-888-SOS-CHILD. If you struggle with high levels of stress and feel it may affect your parenting, or if you are living with an abusive partner, please get help.

Posted in Blog on December 6th, 2017

Pros and Cons of Virtual Assistants for Kids

This holiday season, virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Home, and Microsoft’s Cortana might be on your family’s wish list. With every new technology that changes our lives comes worry about how it may affect our children. And because technology comes out faster than long-term research studies, we don’t really know how virtual assistants will affect kids in the long run.

That said, there’s no reason to panic. The advice we do have stems from our understanding of child development.

Privacy Concerns

Parents, pediatricians, and child advocates pressured Mattel to cancel plans for a device called Aristotle, which would have collected data from children and stored it in the cloud. With any device that functions on artificial intelligence, data collection allows it to “get to know” users in order to better respond to their preferences. However, children have a tendency of divulging information without a filter, and even innocuous information raises concerns when it becomes public.

Understanding Devices Are Not People

When I was a very young child, I assumed that live bands played inside the car radio. Very young children are working on their grasp of reality. That’s why video games need to be age-appropriate, if played at all. The functions of parenting cannot be fully replaced by any technology. Virtual assistants can give mom and dad a break by answering a child’s torrent of questions, but they cannot teach everything a child needs to know. Also, if the child develops an emotional attachment to an AI unit, it cannot reciprocate love and warmth.

Developing Social Skills

Have you ever been rude to an automated phone menu? Frustrated by the lack of helpful customer service, you might say things to the robotic recording that you (hopefully) would not say to a person. Even then, you know that you’re being  rude, you just rationalize it. A child is still learning manners, and if he or she speaks rudely to a virtual assistant, it will not behave differently. Correction has to come from the parents. The virtual assistant does not have feelings that can be hurt, but once your child goes to day care or school, he or she will be interacting with people. Developing conversational skills with the help of a virtual assistant has some limits, and that’s where parents must step in.

On the other side of the coin, virtual assistants sometimes have trouble recognizing words spoken by young children. It’s important for children to feel heard and understood, so if they are growing frustrated with their robot friend, it could be that their words are lost in translation. Real people are able to work together to achieve understanding.

As always, moderation and attentive parenting are key. Not all TV shows are the same; 30 minutes of Curious George benefits your child while giving you a break, but 2 hours of The Walking Dead? Not so much. Likewise, letting your child converse for a little while with the AI while you’re half-listening in the next room: probably safe. Letting the AI babysit your child: not at all safe. Any time a new technology comes out, trust your gut while you wait for the official medical recommendation. Learn about the potential risks, and make house rules that everyone understands.

Posted in Blog on November 30th, 2017

Kitchen Safety for Kids

For many families, the holiday season means lots of cooking and baking. Holiday traditions often take place in the kitchen over mixing bowls and hot stoves. Your children will likely enjoy helping you make cookies, pies, side dishes, appetizers, meals, and whatever other delicious dishes are on the holiday menu. And, since schools are no longer offering home ec classes, teaching your kids how to cook while practicing food safety falls on parents and guardians.

Preventing Burns and Kitchen Fires

You can print out this flyer from Safe Kids Worldwide, which put together a nice checklist of fire safety and injury prevention tips. If you have small children, you already know their curiosity knows no bounds. Keep them away from hot surfaces, and keep pot handles and cords out of reach.

Preventing Falls

Little helpers should carry only manageable amounts of items. If anything spills or splatters, teach them to clean it up immediately. Wet floors are dangerous floors. A clean kitchen also discourages pests and bacterial growth. Prevent spills in the first place by alerting each other like the pros do: say “behind you” or “corner” to prevent collisions in a busy kitchen.

Preventing Cuts

Your child’s readiness for learning knife skills depends on their personal development and your willingness to teach them. Always supervise children, teach knife safety, set a good example, and know first aid in case of an emergency.

Food Safety

Before handling food, wash hands with soap and warm water. Prepare raw meats and proteins separately from vegetables. Check the temperature of refrigerated and cooked food, and check the shelf life of ingredients and leftovers. When it comes to licking the batter, the important thing to understand is that not all raw eggs contain salmonella – but there’s really no simple way to tell which ones do until you’re suffering a tummy ache! So, avoid batters containing raw eggs.

Finally, keep yourself safe too. If your child is more of a hindrance than a help in the kitchen, set them up to play elsewhere while you juggle pans and appliances and sharp tools. Plan ahead to come up with age-appropriate tasks so that when your young child inevitably wants to help, they can make themselves useful doing something relatively harmless. Need to unwrap candies for a dessert recipe? That’s a perfect job for a willing kid cook who isn’t ready to handle more hazardous tasks. For older helpers, peeling potatoes is a safer task than chopping onions. Use your discretion and your knowledge of your kids to delegate tasks, and never leave them unsupervised in the kitchen.

Posted in Blog on November 20th, 2017

What Does My Child’s Cough Mean?

It’s that time of year when parents start getting notices from schools about the latest contagious diseases going around the classroom. Young children have trouble communicating their symptoms, and infants and toddlers require you to interpret the symptoms yourself. If you have worries or doubts, you can visit the pediatrician or bring your child to urgent care. As you get used to what sounds normal and what sounds odd, you may worry less and feel more confident in your ability to care for your child.

Coughs that Might Mean Trouble

Croup, also known as a barking seal cough, is usually caused by a viral infection. It may be accompanied by a fever, and should be treated with fluids and rest. Call your child’s doctor if it doesn’t improve with treatment, or if the fever rises to dangerous levels and does not respond to treatment.

Whooping Cough, also known as pertussis, causes coughing fits that worsen over time and leave your child short of breath. A single coughing fit might be due to sinuses draining or an irritant in the air, but multiple fits that worsen over time and keep your child awake at night could indicate whooping cough. Whooping cough requires urgent treatment.

Coughs that Probably Aren’t Emergencies

Wet Coughs, also known as productive coughs, sound like hard work because your child’s coughs are effectively pushing excess mucus out of their system. They may experience some nausea or soft stools if they swallow phlegm or if their sinuses are draining.

Dry Coughs indicate an irritated respiratory tract. This can be due to dry air, allergens, secondhand smoke, asthma, or an infection of the lower respiratory tract. Try placing a humidifier in the child’s room, and remove irritants such as dust and smoke.

The common cold sometimes takes weeks to clear up. If your child’s symptoms aren’t improving after several days, it could be a persistent cold, or it may indicate allergies, asthma, or a secondary infection.

Posted in Blog on November 10th, 2017