The week's best parenting advice: June 16, 2020

Jessica Hullinger
A playground.
Illustrated | iStock
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1.

Young blood

Scientists are still trying to understand why children seem to be less susceptible to COVID-19's most severe complications, but "research suggests that the answer might lie in children's healthy blood vessels," reports David Cyranoski at Nature. Adults who become very ill from the virus often experience blood clotting, which can bring on life-threatening heart attacks and strokes. This might be because the virus causes inflammation in the blood vessels' lining, called the "endothelium," which is supposed to prevent clotting. In children, the endothelium "is set up perfectly and then just deteriorates with age," says Paul Monagle, a pediatric hematologist at the Melbourne Children's Campus. Monagle and his team are looking into whether kids' blood vessels are more resilient to viral infection, with hopes of applying what they learn to cases in adults. "If we understand what happens to children, we could tweak adults to make them more child-like," Monagle says. [Nature]

2.

Are playgrounds safe?

Playgrounds are opening in some cities, and they'll only become more tempting for kids as the weather gets warmer. But are they safe? "It's impossible to negate all risks of contracting [the coronavirus] at a place like a playground," writes Christina Caron for The New York Times. But take comfort in knowing that outdoor playgrounds are probably safer than indoor spaces, since fresh air can help dilute the virus, Caron reports. It's not clear how long the virus can survive on outdoor playground equipment, so be sure to pack hand sanitizer. Children should keep their distance as much as possible — if a playground is too crowded, avoid it. But Dr. Sean O'Leary, M.D., also offers an important reminder for parents: "Don't assume that the children are the primary vectors of disease. Adults spread the virus more readily than children. That's why the adults that are supervising should be careful about staying away from other folks." [The New York Times]

3.

Workout buddies

If it feels too soon to head to the playgrounds and you want to make sure both you and the kids are staying active, consider inviting them to work out with you, suggests Cat Rodie at The Guardian. Since she started working out with her daughters, "working out is more fun than it has ever been," she writes. Her kids created a few workout playlists and turned the exercises into games: Chasing each other counted as a round of sprints, mountain climbers were more fun when the girls pretended to be climbing an actual mountain, and Rodie found being cheered on by her daughters made her work harder. "I've seen a big improvement in my fitness," Rodie says. "I can do more push-ups, I can run faster, and I can hold a plank for longer. And in stark contrast to the solo workouts I used to do at the gym (headphones in, podcast on), exercise is now enjoyable." [The Guardian]

4.

Screen time as medicine?

Can video games treat ADHD? We're about to find out. This week the Food and Drug Administration said it was okay for a video game called "EndeavorRx" to be marketed as a prescription-only therapy for improving attention function in kids with ADHD. The game's creators suggest it "can activate and strengthen certain neural networks in the brain," reports Rebecca Robbins at Stat News. The game underwent seven years of trials and at least one study reportedly showed that kids who played the game for 25 minutes a day, five days a week, for four weeks saw improved attention span. Of course, "we are talking about a study by doctors who work for the game's developer," writes Sean Hollister at The Verge, noting that even those doctors say the data doesn't suggest the game can replace established treatments. Now what? "The company will have leverage to try to get physicians to prescribe the game and insurers to pay for it," Robbins writes. [Stat News, The Verge]

5.

D'oh!

Homer Simpson. Phil Dunphy. Ray Romano. They're all examples of "bumbling and inept" fictional fathers. Indeed, the dumb dad is one of sitcom TV's most notorious tropes. And it's getting worse, suggests recent research from Erica Scharrer, a professor of communication at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The study examined TV dads' interactions with their kids in 34 sitcoms that aired between 1980 and 2017 and found that the more recent the show, the less likely it was to feature the fathers doing any actual parenting. And when they did, these scenes were more likely to depict sitcom dads' parenting as foolish. "Sitcom audiences, more often than not, are still being encouraged to laugh at dads' parenting missteps and mistakes," Scharrer writes at The Conversation. This isn't harmless, since "fictional entertainment can shape our views of ourselves and others," she says. "Sitcom writers can do better by dads by moving on from the increasingly outdated foolish father trope." [The Conversation]