Our culture is obsessed with staying clean. Hand sanitizer dispensers seem to be on every other corner, people carry around disinfecting wipes with them, parents don’t let their kids play in the dirt… The list goes on.
It’s really out of control and in stark contrast to the way I was raised as a child not that long ago. I used to crawl around in the dirt, pick up turtles in the ravine, collect muddy rocks, taste leaves, you name it.
And while I don’t think any parent would be wrong to stop their child from putting weird muddy things in their mouth, I think there’s a great deal of benefit in rolling around in the dirt and getting a little mucky.
But never mind what I say – take science’s word for it!
Research has found that a rise in allergies and inflammation in kids could be a result of our modern obsession with cleanliness.
Why Do Kids Love Dirt So Much, Anyway?
In her book Why Dirt Is Good: 5 Ways To Make Germs Your Friends, Dr. Mary Ruebush says that kids’ attraction to dirt is the result of evolution over millions of years.
The immune system needs to be exercised in order to develop and resist illness and disease. The best way to do that? Playing with dirt!
Dr. Ruebush writes:
“What a child is doing when he puts things in his mouth is allowing his immune response to explore his environment. Not only does this allow for ‘practice’ of immune responses, which will be necessary for protection, but it also plays a critical role in teaching the immature immune response what is best ignored.”
A great deal of evidence exists supporting this hypothesis.
In 2012, researchers conducted tests to see how the immune system of mice would react if they were bred to lack stomach bacteria. The result was that those mice were not equipped to resist disease in later life.
Similar results were found when researchers tested humans to see how microbial exposure during the early years of life affected their risk of asthma.
No one is saying you need to raise your kids to be like unclean, flicking fleas at their friends. But it does mean your child can likely see major benefits from playing in the yard as often as possible.
Don’t be so worried about them catching a cold. Let them explore. Let them dig tunnels to wherever their imagination leads. Let them be kids.