The week's best parenting advice: May 11, 2021

Why kids should get the vaccine, teen girls' dietary deficiencies, and more

A doctor and patient.
(Image credit: Illustrated | iStock)

1. Pfizer for kids

The FDA has approved Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 12 through 15, paving the way for expanded vaccine eligibility in the U.S. as the country strives for herd immunity. But according to one survey, only about 30 percent of parents plan to immediately vaccinate their children, with many opting instead for a wait-and-see approach, according to The New York Times. Twenty-three percent of surveyed parents said they wouldn't vaccinate their kids at all. Rebekah Diamond at The Washington Post empathetically recommends hesitant parents take comfort in the reassuring data on the COVID vaccines, explaining that a clinical trial of 2,300 children showed Pfizer's vaccine produced stronger immune responses in adolescents than those found in young adults, and that the side-effects were comparable. "The 'what-ifs' of COVID infection and an uncontrolled pandemic pose far more danger and have far more evidence than the vaccines that can prevent them," Diamond says. "Let's let the data speak for itself."

The New York Times The Washington Post

2. Why doctors are worried about teen girls

Teen girls in America aren't getting enough of a number of vitamins and minerals doctors say are vital to their mental and physical well-being. According to a recent federal report, many adolescent girls are lacking in things like iron, vitamin D, calcium, and folate. Nearly 56 percent of young women eat less than the recommended amount of iron-rich foods in a day. Almost none of them are getting enough vegetables while simultaneously consuming far too many calories from junk food. Experts say these dietary deficiencies could hurt school performance and lead to long-term health problems. For example, girls gain most of their bone mass during adolescent years, but a shocking 80 percent of teen girls do not get enough calcium per day. This could lead to bone problems like osteoporosis. Elizabeth Mayer-Davis, chair of the department of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, tells The Wall Street Journal that the "most powerful single move" parents can make is to avoid buying sugary drinks and instead offer up fruit and vegetables.

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The Wall Street Journal

3. The gift of autonomy

"Autonomy has tremendous benefits for kids of all ages," says Michaeleen Doucleff, author of Hunt, Gather, Parent. It seeds confidence, boosts motivation, is linked to improved academic and career success, and crucially, it lowers stress. But kids are rarely in control. Instead, adults dictate their schedules, meals, and activities. "The biggest gift parents can give their children is the opportunity to make their own decisions," psychologist Holly Schiffrin says. What does this look like? Doucleff suggests decreasing the number of commands you give your child — offer no more than three an hour. "Resist the urge to tell the child anything: what to do, eat, say, or how to act," she says. "This includes asking questions about what the child wants or what they need … In the end, the child might not look or behave exactly how you wish, but the psychological benefits for the family will far outweigh these cosmetic issues."

Hunt, Gather, Parent

4. Not so evil after all

Stepparents get a bad rap thanks to historical and cultural representations of stepmothers as "evil." But science is here to put these outdated stereotypes to rest. Researchers know that parental loss — either through divorce or death — is hard on kids and can lead to negative outcomes down the line. But new research published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. challenges the theory that stepparents are "hoarding resources for their biological children" and are therefore to blame. The researchers compared mortality among two groups of kids who had suffered parental loss. One group saw their remaining parent remarry; the other did not. They found that parents remarrying did not affect mortality in kids, and in fact, stepchildren can benefit from new family members. East Carolina University anthropologist Ryan Schacht hopes the study will encourage more public funding for helping families experiencing parental loss.

East Carolina University Science Daily

5. Say 'yes' to play

At the end of a long day, the last thing you might want to do is play with your kid, because let's be honest, it can be really boring. But Kate Silverton, author of There's No Such Thing as Naughty, recommends always saying "yes" when your kid asks you to play with them. "Play helps with children's emotional growth and general mental health," Silverton writes at iNews. "We don't have to do much: it's about being there with and for our children." If you can muster the energy, go one step further and initiate the play yourself. "If, the first time you ask, your child says 'no,' then don't worry: they will have received the message you're open for playtime and will come back to you. Don't give yourself a hard time if play feels alien to begin with; the key here is in the connection to you for short periods."


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Jessica Hullinger

Jessica Hullinger is a writer and former deputy editor of The Week Digital. Originally from the American Midwest, she completed a degree in journalism at Indiana University Bloomington before relocating to New York City, where she pursued a career in media. After joining The Week as an intern in 2010, she served as the title’s audience development manager, senior editor and deputy editor, as well as a regular guest on “The Week Unwrapped” podcast. Her writing has featured in other publications including Popular Science, Fast Company, Fortune, and Self magazine, and she loves covering science and climate-related issues.