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On Parenting
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 09/26/2011

New AAP car seat recommendation and the ‘expert’ advice parents ignore


Alexandra Horowitz struggles to strap her 7-month-old daughter, Phoebe, into her rear-facing car seat at a monthly infant/child car seat inspection held by the Montgomery Fire and Rescue at a Rockville car dealership. (Dayna Smith - For The Washington Post)
Last weekend, The Post’s Katherine Shaver wrote about how many parents are flouting the new American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that children ride in rear-facing car seats until at least age 2. She quoted parents who said they have no intention of following this advice.

There are very good reasons for listening to AAP. According to The Post story: “Riding in a rear-facing seat is particularly important for children, medical experts say, because their heads are relatively heavy and their necks and spines are less developed. In a crash, doctors say, children’s heavy heads can snap forward with a force that can break their necks, injure their spinal cords and cause severe brain injuries. When rear-facing, the safety seat cradles the head and neck, keeps them properly aligned and spreads the crash forces across the entire body.”

The story went on to cite a study that said “children younger than 2 were 75 percent more likely to die or be seriously injured when facing forward.”

Brand-new parents or people without kids (or cars) might be incredulous to hear that many parents would ignore guidance intended to help protect their children from the number-one child killer: car accidents.

The resistors insist that to keep toddlers in a rear-facing seat would be awkward and probably uncomfortable and, many think, an obstacle to normal development. These arguments are pretty weak given the statistics.

The thing is, there’s an even more powerful reason parents are resisting the new guidelines. All that evidence can’t compete with this: Parental entrenchment. It’s the belief that we, with the best intentions, have followed the “expert” advice we were given on how to raise our children at the time and everything turned out okay. Hence, that advice is best.

In other words, with each new day as parents, we are becoming our mothers-in-law.

Case in point: My own loving mother-in-law was told to feed her babies solid foods as soon as possible, which she did and her boys blossomed. So when one of those boys showed up on her doorstep with his own infant and mentioned that the baby had, up until that point, consumed only breast milk, the experienced mother discreetly rolled her eyes. As soon as the naive parents’ backs were turned, she fed her hungry granddaughter eggs (a great success) and sausage-infused stuffing (maybe not a great idea until infant Tums are invented).

Expert advice on raising children does change frequently, whether it’s how to hold, feed, care for or protect kids. Some of it is later revealed to be nonsense. Some of it remains debatable or unattainable for many parents. Much of it helps parents and children immensely, like the introduction of car seats and, most likely, these new guidelines. But it can take time for parents to accept any new advice, even good advice, especially those with older children who did just fine when parents followed the old guidelines.

This time last year, the AAP recommendation was that children could reach the considerable milestone of facing forward in the car at age 1. This means that most parents with a preschooler who was turned around in the car seat at 1 years old believes they followed a safe course. I count myself among these parents as our youngest was just under 2 when these new guidelines were released and my husband and I didn’t bat an eye about keeping her face-forward.

In The Post story, one mother said she plans to follow the rules because “kids are adaptable.” Very true. As for parents? Not as much.

What new “expert” advice have you ignored? What would you advise new parents to ignore?

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 09/26/2011

 
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