As parents, especially those who are new to the parenting scene, one of the things we run into is bad advice for our children’s health. I’m not talking about the unsolicited “tips” that your mother-in-law pushes on you or the criticism your friend with one infant tries to give you about raising your three school-age boys. While some advice is pretty easy to spot as unhelpful, and disregarding it is as simple as a smile and a nod, other misinformation — such as health information online — can be much more damaging.
You know how everyone tells you not to look on WebMD or “ask Dr. Google” unless you want to think you’ve got every disease known to man? Well, for parents, it’s like that, but only on steroids. Times a million. Plus 10. Our kids are the most precious things in the world to us, and it’s our job to make sure they are happy and healthy.
So, how do we ensure that we are doing our best as parents without overreacting or misdiagnosing our children? How can we ensure that the advice we’re seeking is credible and the right thing to do?
Get Advice from Your Pediatrician
Step 1: Make sure you have a trusted, licensed physician to care for your children’s health. Getting advice from multiple sources is always great, and it’s absolutely important to be the advocate for your child — but the best way to make sure you are getting an experienced opinion is to refer to your pediatrician.
Adhere to your pediatrician’s recommended regular preventative-health visit schedule. Having a pediatrician who takes care of your whole family — and staying with that pediatrician for as long as possible — is extremely important because it will help that person become an expert on your child’s health and on your family history.
This sounds like an obvious step for many of us, but with our ever-changing economy and lifestyles there are increasingly more families who have to relocate frequently or live too far from a local practice to make regular visits. If you move frequently, be sure to maintain a folder that contains all of your family history so that no information is lost when you change providers. Set aside some serious time for your new-patient visits so that you don’t let any information slip through the cracks.
What if a Doctor is Too Far Away?
Going to an urgent care center or hospital whenever something comes up isn’t always the answer. A more useful — and less expensive — solution to this problem is to familiarize yourself with phone and telemedicine options that allow you to receive inexpensive remote medical advice before your child’s condition progresses to an urgent care state. Your provider or insurer may offer this for free.
You can list symptoms that you observe and get an educated opinion for what you should do. More often than not, the recommendation will be something minor that you can do at home (rest, anti-inflammatories, water, etc.) and you can have the peace of mind that you’re doing the right thing for your child’s health. Likewise, if it is recommended that you do go to urgent care or a hospital, you’ll know you’re not needlessly wasting your time and money. You can feel confident that you’re doing the right thing for your family.
Turn to Family & Friends
Our development of strong relationships with other adults — especially other parents — is important for children’s mental and emotional health, not to mention yours. A 2005 study determined that interpersonal relationships, either through individual social relationships or community organizations, were the most likely to encourage actions that meet recommendations for healthy behaviors.
Makes sense, right? Our friends are our friends because we trust them. Their advice is something we typically seek out, and we develop a good sense of which friends we can rely upon for good advice. They may know from personal experience or be able to refer you to a professional they trust. At a minimum, two minds working on a problem are usually better than one. Additional benefits of reaching out to friends and family is that it strengthens these relationships and encourages more positive interaction, which is a great example for our children on how and why to have adult friendships.
Search the Internet Carefully
We’re all going to do it. There’s no way around it. Your kid will wake up puking like the exorcist at midnight on a work night and you have no idea what to do. All your friends are asleep and there’s no family member you would dare call and wake up for this. You want to do the right thing but you are panicked. You have absolutely no idea what’s going on, why this is happening or what you did wrong. What are you supposed to do now?
There are several different types of resources that you can find online, but they need to be vetted and approached in different ways. The big ones are online health portals and gateways, communities such as blogs and Facebook groups and search-engine results. A 2013 Pew survey reported that 72 percent of American adults use the Internet to find healthcare information. The most commonly-researched topics include specific diseases and treatments.
Where You Look is Important
Great places to start include established health information sources such as FamilyDoctor.org from the American Academy of Family Physicians or HealthyChildren.org from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The content on these sites is authored by medical professionals and is regularly updated to reflect the latest medical evidence. Online health gateways like MedlinePlus and OpenMD are another avenue to locating credible information sources.
If you look for advice in online communities, a couple things to keep in mind: these are often unmoderated, there are very few rules and regulations and there is no educational or professional qualification required. Many times, our online communities feel similar to our real-life interpersonal relationships, but we really have no idea who we’re communicating with sometimes. Yes, people we communicate with online oftentimes sound legitimate, but the advice could be ineffective or worse, harmful. Experts agree that the best approach to online communities is to limit the advice you take to only folks with whom you have a real-life relationship.
If you use an online search engine such Google or Bing, again, remind yourself that there is no moderation required and very few rules and regulations around Internet publication. A quick and easy guide is to remember AABCC: Accuracy, Authority, Bias, Currency and Comprehension.
Using the AABCCs
- Accuracy: Is there a reference to scientific literature? This means REAL science, not just a blog or popular media site. (Spoiler alert: The View is not medical literature.)
- Authority: Is the information you’re retrieving from a credible source? Do your research before even reading the advice. What does the “About Us” section say about the authors or the company sponsoring the site? Do an additional search about the company or the site to see reviews and scams before reading their material.
- Bias: Who pays for the site? Are ads and other sponsored content clearly labeled? As with many things in life — “follow the money.” If it is an ad-heavy page, chances are the information you’re seeing is not from an educated professional on the topic.
- Currency: When was this written? We assume everything we read is timely but many times, it’s not. A best practice is to be sure that the information you’re reading is less than five years old.
- Comprehension: Is the information easily digestible and the site easy to navigate? This is important for two big reasons. First, it’s a good indication of the level of professionalism by the organization presenting the material. If they put together a lackluster site, what sort of attention to detail do you think they used when researching their information? Second, a disorganized site makes it easy to get facts and information mixed up.
Always Use Due Diligence
Remember, YOU know your child best and you should always be their advocate. If something doesn’t make sense, ask questions. Dig for information until you are satisfied and confident that the approach you’re taking is best for your child. Whenever possible, refer to your pediatrician first — especially for serious or ongoing medical issues. Utilize friends and family as much as possible. Don’t simply disregard the Internet. There is so much information online and it is all at your fingertips — just be sure to properly evaluate the resource before following its advice. There is nothing wrong with more information and making sure you’re right when it comes to your children’s health.