Rethink Health - October 2009

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Let's Stop Molly-Coddling Children!

Waiting outside on the first day back, a 3-year-old ignored her mother's instructions and continued to climb on a metal fence round the nursery school. Mother did nothing to enforce her words, or offer any kind of safety-net. The child fell and managed to impale her neck on one of the blunt spikes topping the fence. The wound proved fairly shallow but very dramatic - onlookers described the child dangling from the fence, without a foothold.

Well, according to local opinion the fence is to blame for this. Parents who get themselves ignored, by never following through on instructions to their children? - they're not to blame, apparently, because  "you can't keep them on a ball and chain", to quote one.

Where do I begin? 

Home is not just an address, but the safe place within and from which children learn gradually to cope confidently with challenge. The process of and talent for coping is what I mean by health - the ability to participate in constructive action. As each new challenge is successfully negotiated and digested, it becomes part of home. Parents are vital in this process, since they know what the child has done already and can introduce the steps that follow. At least, they can if they are there to see the stages unfold.

Good parents encourage, watch, prevent premature danger. "No!" has to mean "no!", but it takes wisdom and insight to know when to say it. Thirty years ago I witnessed a child running alongside his mother who was pushing his baby sibling in a buggy. They were on one side of a busy London street and needed to cross to the other. The child spotted an opportunity, when gaps in the traffic in each direction were about to coincide. He dashed across at just the right moment, with complete and justified confidence in his action. Mother, who hadn't seen this coming, shouted "no!" He faltered, and nearly got run over. This justified mother, or so she felt, in scolding him severely. I thought better of intervening, and wonder to this day if I should have. I am very much afraid that he lost his self-assurance that day, and probably for ever.

Of course in wartime, youngsters are encouraged to dare without question. Kurt Hahn was a German naval officer responsible for training submariners  through two world wars. He eventually founded the Outward Bound Movement, saying "I refuse to organise a war in every generation to save the young from a depressing peace". Thousands participated in genuinely dangerous activities, and learnt by teamwork to cope safely, confidently and competently. We hear a good deal less of this kind of thing these days.

The 21st Century response is our "Health and Safety" culture. Make no mistake, this has absolutely nothing to do with health. Healthy people handle themselves well in all situations. 

ICI runs some of the most dangerous industrial plants in the UK. As a trainee  GP I visited their plant in Runcorn, with massive smelters and electroplating tanks. Every promising young manager had to do a spell as safety officer, to instill and sustain the life-saving culture of the place - that there are no unsafe processes, only unsafe people. Today, by molly-coddling them, we are breeding unsafe people. 

I don't know where you have got to in this process with your own children, but it's never too late to drop your fear and introduce adventure into your family life, bite by bite. You probably have something to gain yourselves - why should children have all the fun?

But if you say "no" mean it, and follow it through until you have your way - even if you were wrong. Don't embarrass yourself, getting yourself ignored in public by a dependent creature a fraction of your size.

Vaccine Death

 We are asked to believe that the death of a 14-year-old girl within four hours of a vaccination against cervical cancer, had nothing to do with that vaccination. She was, we are told, suffering from a serious underlying medical condition.

Is that so? Then answer me these questions.

Who was responsible for not discovering the underlying condition?

Had it been discovered, what would have been done about it?

Knowing of the condition, would vaccination have been withheld?

Are we supposed to believe that the girl would have died at that moment, whether or not she had been vaccinated?

Of course the vaccination had some part to play! Girls en masse sometimes get themselves worked into hysteria, and mass vaccination is a perfect starting-point. Perhaps this gave rise in her case to delayed shock (it was too long to have been acute allergy). If so, it was the first time in 14 years she had been shocked enough for her "underlying condition" to kill her.

Parents are wise, in any case, to think several times before accepting official assurances about this vaccine. It is at best imperfect. There is no substitute for prudent, self-respecting personal hygiene and behaviour. It is not cool to accept passively that teenagers are promiscuous - most would prefer us to support their self-preservative reluctance to get on the sex band-wagon. It cannot be made safe by vaccination - it is inherently unwise, unsafe, and self-destructive.  Cancer is the least of its consequences.

But none of that can be bottled for sale to the NHS, of course!