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Does It Take a Rocket Scientist to Raise a Child These Days?

Protecting your child from harmful consumer products has become almost as time-consuming as raising them.
 
 
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Parenting used to be simpler. Sure, there have always been emotional struggles and family crises, but the day-to-day logistics of life were quite clear. Here is your layette, here is a crib, babies are breastfed or fed with this bottle with this milk. The choices were simple and unambiguous.

Today, an enormous amount of time (that could be spent actually parenting), is spent wandering the baby product aisles of superstores trying to decide which of the 200 types of bottles available is the best one for your baby. Or which diaper or which pacifier or which bouncy seat or which car seat and on and on and on.

This enormously time-consuming task has only become more difficult with the growing awareness that many of the chemicals used as building blocks for these modern conveniences might not be safe for growing babies. Now we have to consider not only whether our baby will latch on to the bottle we selected, but also whether this bottle will leach suspect chemicals into the milk.

And the scientific discourse in the media is of minimal help at all, but most often adding to your confusion and fear. One article says avoid this chemical at all costs, and the next one says that the science has been blown out of proportion, that the exposures are so small we don't need to worry. Whom do you believe? And if you decide to read the studies yourself, how do you decipher and translate them? It shouldn't take a rocket scientist to raise a child.

In the face of all of this uncertainty, many parents are erring on the side of safety. It's a natural feature of human behavior to act with caution. We do it everyday without even thinking about it. We wear seat belts, we lock doors, we take vitamins, we buy insurance. The list goes on and on. It's built into our cognitive schemas from the day we are born. It's wired into our evolutionary adaptation for survival.

To cope with the uncertainty, here's a modus operandi for millennial parents: Avoid unnecessary exposures (because why take superfluous risks) and buy with the earth in mind (because what's good for the planet is good for our health).

Let's parse these two thoughts for a moment. The reason it's important to avoid unnecessary exposures is because of cumulative and collective impacts. We keep hearing industry say "the exposure is too small to cause any harm," but those tiny exposures are happening constantly throughout our days, and no one's done the research to find out what those combined exposures may do.

Today's babies are being born with over 200 synthetic chemicals in their blood -- chemicals that didn't exist when our grandparents were born. Every day of their lives they are exposed to countless others. Doctors are very careful about prescribing drugs together because of potential unexpected impacts, but we expose our babies to chemical cocktails all of the time. And we don't know what chemicals they are, we don't know how much they're being exposed to and we don't know how they'll interact. In the face of that kind of ignorance, I'll avoid what I can. Thank you very much.

Industry experts also commonly say things like "we've been using this chemical for decades," as if duration implies safety. We used lead in paint and gasoline for a long time, too. We thought drinking alcohol and smoking during pregnancy was OK for a long time. The fact of the matter is that our understanding of toxicology and genetics and science in general grows every year. So, as irritating and confusing as it may be, what may have been considered safe last year, may be found to be unsafe this year. It's called progress and it compels us to be adaptive and to use foresight, which means envisioning potential future problems and then mitigating them. It's that instinctual caution creeping in again. Some call it basic common sense. If there's an inkling of avoidable risk, we can act now instead of waiting decades for the science to ring clear as a bell such as with lead or tobacco. How many people are harmed during the scientific lag time? We need to learn from history instead of repeating it.

Millennial parents want millennial products that prevent harm to health and the environment. Fortunately, buying with the earth and our health in mind is getting easier every day, as the choir of common sense grows louder and louder. People kept demanding it and retailers have responded. Organically grown food is available at almost every major grocery store. National department stores are starting to stock organic cotton clothing, environmentally friendly diapers, nontoxic cleaners, wooden and cloth toys, and much more. And what you can't find in your local stores, you can definitely find on-line. We have access to a virtual eco-mall and a virtual community of people concerned for the health and well-being of our children and our planet.

Yes, parenting in the 21st century may be much more complicated than in the past, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to raise a child. It just takes a little common sense -- and maybe a broadband connection.

Christopher Gavigan is author of the new book Healthy Child Healthy World: Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home , and CEO/executive director of the national nonprofit Healthy Child Healthy World.