Parenting fads come and go, but unfortunately, children don't always escape unscathed. Some parenting fads lead to feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt or adult codependency, while others expose children to preventable diseases or vitamin deficiencies. Despite our good intentions, some trends have put children in physical or emotional danger (baby yoga and helicopter parenting, for example), while other parenting fads are so ridiculous it's hard to believe they're even legal.
So how do we know if we're putting our kids at risk? Here are 10 parenting fads that can be dangerous to a child's development, either physically and/or emotionally.
10. Alternative "Milk" For Babies
Just because it says "milk" doesn't automatically mean it's safe for babies, but that hasn't stopped new parents from giving their newborns almond, coconut, soy or other nut-based "milks" in place of breastmilk or formula. Even if you want your baby to be vegan, both breastmilk and soy-based formula fit right into the vegan way of life. Remember, offering a baby anything other than breastmilk or formula before they're a year old can lead to dehydration, serious nutrient deficiencies, or even end in tragedy.
9. Baby-Led Weaning
This new feeding fad was popularized in the U.K. about eight years ago with the publication of Baby-Led Weaning, by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett, but now it's made its way across the pond.
Don't let the name confuse you, this fad has nothing to do with giving up formula or breastmilk, despite the use of the word weaning This method of food progression encourages parents to bypass puréed baby foods completely and wait until the baby is ready to self-feed. The problem? Recent studies have shown that babies fed solely by the baby-led method are at more risk of iron, zinc and vitamin B12 deficiency and are more likely to choose predominantly carbohydrate-based foods.
8. Gentle Parenting
Also called 'yes parenting', this particular technique is characterized by avoiding the words 'no' and 'don't' and only using what's known as positive discipline. There are no bribes, no sticker charts, no time-outs, and no yelling. That's a lot of 'no' for something called 'yes parenting'! This approach argues that rewards and punishments override a child’s natural inclination to try and teaches them to behave in certain ways only for a reward, or to avoid punishment.
Sounds good, right? Psychologists disagree. If your child grows up with the healthy boundaries that come from hearing ‘no’, then it’s much more likely they will be able to create these boundaries for themselves and their adult relationships.
7. RIE Parenting
RIE parenting, or Resources for Infant Educarers, is a parenting philosophy that encourages parents to treat their children like mini adults (I'm not even kidding). RIE advocates having adult-style conversations with kids and discourages the use of toys, strollers, sippy cups, high chairs, baby talk, pacifiers and lullabies (or anything meant to soothe a baby). A lot of celebrities have jumped on the bandwagon, including Helen Hunt, Tobey Maguire, Penelope Cruz, and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Freebirthing is described on their website as "a movement of women reclaiming their autonomy during pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood", and should not be confused with an assisted home birth. A freebirth takes place when a woman decides she wants to deliver her own baby with absolutely no medical assistance, whether it's at home or in the middle of a field. Freebirth also encourages women to have little to no contact with doctors and to not have other tests or scans throughout their pregnancies. It's almost as if people have forgotten how dangerous childbirth can be because of life-saving advances in obstetrics and hygiene practices! Unfortunately, this dangerous new fad often ends in tragedy, particularly for women with high-risk pregnancies.
5. Extreme Breastfeeding
I think most people realize that breastmilk is chock-full of necessary nutrients and antibodies, but despite its many benefits, extreme prolonged breastfeeding eventually has some disadvantages, including limitations on a mother's schedule and lifestyle, a baby's dependence on the breast, pain from first teeth, critical public opinion, and effects on the menstrual cycle. Remember, just because it’s natural and historic does not make it right or best (it's also “natural” for many babies and young children to pass from diseases). Some psychologists even argue that it's not the breastfeeding that's wrong, it's the indulgence.
4. Restrictive Diets
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Many mothers, including Kourtney Kardashian and Gwyneth Paltrow, are big proponents of putting their children on special diets these days. This includes gluten-free, dairy-free, meat-free, nut-free and carb-free diets (even when the child doesn't show any signs of food intolerance).
According to Harvard's health blog, children should never go on a gluten-free diet unless their doctor has specifically instructed them to. Whole grains that contain gluten have lots of crucial nutrients and calories that children need. Dairy foods are also a main source of calcium that all growing children need for strong bones and teeth.
3. Measles Parties
If you think you can debunk this on Snopes, you're wrong (unfortunately). Apparently, measles parties are a real trend thanks to many misinformed parents choosing not to vaccinate their children these days. Back in the 1950s and '60s, before the MMR vaccine, measles parties were all the rage and were based on the belief that infected children will build up immunity to the virus because once someone has the measles they cannot catch it again. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly discourages intentional measles exposure, which is particularly dangerous for children under five. In a worst-case scenario, it can cause pneumonia, brain swelling, or even death.
2. The Alpha Approach
A combination of the helicopter parent and a tiger mom, the 'alpha' mother is always "hovering, pushing and anxiously urging her heavily scheduled child to over achieve and fulfill his or her potential". Yep, sounds like a nightmare. Despite being high achievers, children of alpha parents are usually over-scheduled and anxious.
“These children are certainly busy”, says psychologist Dr. Amanda Gummer, who specializes in child development. “They are likely to achieve academically and if you mark success in terms of exam results then this could be the way to go. However, these children might struggle to develop self-reliance and decision-making skills as their lives are managed for them. Beyond education, there is no evidence to suggest that these children will do better in later life and not every child thrives under constant pressure”.
Unschooling is an educational philosophy that eschews formal lessons and any form of structure. Instead, unschooling is led completely by the interests of the child and the kids are in control of what they do and how they do it.
One recent study by researchers at Concordia University and Mount Allison University, published in the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, found that unschooled children scored lower for academic ability in areas such as reading, writing and arithmetic compared with home-schooled children who followed a structured curriculum. Experts also worry about how unschooled children will cope as adults in a world that involves structure and deadlines. In other words, "unschool" at your own risk.