When he was a kid, MNN's Christian Cotroneo always had breakfast before he left for school, courtesy of his father. But while health experts today would applaud his efforts, they might raise a few red flags at the actual meal his dad served up: "That breakfast consisted of an ancient, horrifying recipe passed on from his own parents back in southern Italy: Warm milk and bread. He mushed it all together in soup — and then added a bucket of sugar. And off to school we went!"
Similarly, my mom gave me whiskey as a baby to soothe teething gums and a few times in my elementary-school years when I had teeth pulled. It was just enough to rub on the gums to supposedly ease the pain, but there is no doubt that giving alcohol to a baby would never fly today.
Cotroneo and I certainly aren't the only adults to look back at our childhoods and wonder what our parents were thinking. According to Allana Robinson, a parenting effectiveness coach and child behavior strategist, there are lots of things that parents of yesteryear did when raising their kids that seem questionable today. Here are a few of her favorites:
Parents have used some questionable tactics in the past in an effort to get their kids to peacefully sleep through the night. It's unclear whether the baby in the photo was placed on the ledge to get fresh air (although in 1920s London that seems unlikely) or to minimize the distraction of her cries, but either way this whole scenario screams bad idea.
Even after parents stopped placing their kids on ledges inside a cage, they put them to sleep on their bellies and swaddled them in blankets that were intended to keep them warm but ended up causing a suffocation hazard. "The back to sleep campaign in the mid-'90s reduced infant mortality by 50 percent," said Robinson. Sleep is still a complicated issue for many parents, but at least it's safer for babies than it ever was in the past.
In the old days, new parents were advised that sparing the rod meant spoiling the child. But while there are still some parents today who continue this antiquated practice, many now realize that spanking is a horrible method for disciplining children. Numerous studies, including a 2016 study from researchers at the University of Texas entitled, "Risks of Harm from Spanking Confirmed by Analysis of Five Decades of Research," have shown that children who are spanked are more likely to defy their parents, engage in risky behavior, exhibit anti-social behaviors and have difficulty with mental health and cognition as adults.
Even the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its policy in November 2018 to say it opposes spanking and other forms of corporal punishment. The AAP said "corporal punishment can bring on a vicious cycle of escalating poor behavior and more severe punishment." They also warn that long-term use of corporal punishment can cause children "to develop more aggressive behaviors, increased aggression in school, and an increased risk of mental health disorders and cognitive problems."
Adding juice/sugar/rice to baby bottles
Today, pediatricians advise parents to wait at least six months before allowing babies to have juice and even then it should be sparing as juice has less nutrition than formula and more calories than water. (Photo: Oksana Kuzmina/Shutterstock)
Back in the old days, new mothers were often advised to add rice to their baby's bottles to thicken the baby formula and help their little ones gain weight. But we know now that rice can cause gut issues, gagging problems and choking hazards for tiny babies. "If parents feel their children's food needs to be "bulked up" they need to speak to their pediatrician and only use approved milk thickeners," says Robinson. Some parents also gave their babies juice or even (gasp) sugar water in their bottles.
Today, parents are advised not to give their babies juice until they've passed the 6-month mark. Even then, they should do so only rarely as juice has more calories than water without having the added nutrition of formula or breast milk. Sugar water is never recommended.
Car seats (or lack thereof)
Car seats back in day barely consisted of a few bars to hold a baby above the main seat. (Photo: simpleinsomnia/Flickr)
Parents with new babies today probably grew up riding in car seats that kept them safe and secure on every trip. But those of us who have a few more miles on our odometers can remember the days of lying on the floor of our parents' cars without so much as even a seat belt. And the few car seats that were available were questionable to say the least. Now we know that children should be in car seats and booster seats until at least 12 years of age. They should still be in the back seat, but they should be secured in a car seat appropriate for their age, and definitely not lying on the floor.
"Social isolation is not effective long-term, and can cause damage long term," says Robinson. Timeouts are a good thing when they interrupt negative behavior and give your child a safe space to calm down. But back in the day, timeouts were doled out willy-nilly, both at home and in schools, as a consequence for nearly any infraction. And the subtext of the timeout was that of humiliation. Making little Johnny face the wall in the corner because he was talking during the lesson was a way to embarrass him, not a way to constructively deal with the underlying causes for his behavior. "Giving your child the same consequence for every transgression teaches children to blindly obey instead of thinking critically about their actions, and causes MORE of the misbehavior parents are trying to curb," Robinson added.
Cleaning their plates
Yes, we all know that that there are still starving children elsewhere in the world who would be grateful for the food on our plates. And we know that kids are not always interested in stopping whatever they were doing to sit down and eat. But we also know now that forcing kids to eat when they're simply not that hungry is a good way to teach them to tune out their bodily cues and eat what food is in front of them.
We all want our kids to eat lots of healthy foods to help them grow. But force-feeding isn't the answer. With rates of childhood obesity continuing to rise, most health experts now recommend offering kids a range of healthy food choices at mealtime and letting them decide when they've had enough. "It is okay if children do not eat everything on their plates" according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. "At this age, they should learn to know when they are full."
Sending kids to their rooms
When I was a kid, there was nothing worse than getting sent to my room when I was misbehaving. That's because my room was boring. There was no television, no computer, no telephone, and Wi-Fi and smartphones did not even exist. All I could do was read books, listen to music, fold the clean clothes that were lying on the floor, and think about what I had done to deserve my exile. That was the whole point.
Kids today cannot even fathom such an experience. These days, my teen begs to be sent to her room where she can binge-watch Netflix, play PlayStation, text her friends, or peruse Tumblr in peace. Sending kids to their rooms is no longer the punishment that it once was. But you know what is? Taking away the Wi-Fi password. That gets my kids' attention faster than you can say "vinyl record."
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in April 2018.