A new study suggests getting kids ready for the school year is more stressful than ever. The study, which included 2,000 working parents, found that on average, parents have to complete 43 tasks before they get the kids out the door. Yikes!
Adding to the stress is the constant drumbeat that those school supplies you need might be filled with deadly toxins. The headlines have already started:
- “Toxic chemicals could be lurking in your children’s school supplies”
- “Some school supplies could contain toxic chemicals such as asbestos, report says”
- “Before you go back-to-school shopping, read this report on toxic fashion”
Yet, I urge moms to take a deep breath when they see these claims and question whether there’s an actual risk of harm here, or if these claims are designed to make moms purchase more expensive “natural” products.
Unsurprisingly, when a mom reads words like “lurking” and “toxic,” it’s sure to raise alarms. Lurking denotes invisibility and toxic suggests sickness and even death. There’s nothing more terrifying to a mother than the threat of something she can’t see or prevent from hurting her child.
Here’s the good news: the invisible toxins referred to in those articles aren’t present in doses that can actually harm anyone—especially since these products aren’t being ingested by the child (of course, if your child is eating his or her backpack, lunchbox, or three-ring binder, you’ve clearly got bigger problems).
What’s even more reassuring and rarely reported is that chemicals make things better and safer by making them more durable. Products that used to be made exclusively of breakable glass (like baby bottles) are now made of tough, hard-to-break plastic. Yes, that plastic contains chemicals, but the amount of chemical residue that leeches into the liquid contained in the bottle is so small that it’s nearly undetectable in anyone’s body.
That’s because most chemicals (like BPA, which make plastics harder) are quickly metabolized by the body and released through urination or sweat. Trace levels of BPA are sometimes detected in urine samples—because the body flushes it out so it doesn’t stick around or accumulate.
Chemicals can also make products less expensive and easier to manufacture. Those savings are passed onto the consumer because one doesn’t have to replace broken products as often. Moms should rejoice that we have longer-lasting products—like school supplies.
Competition exists in the marketplace. And today, many suppliers are trying to attract consumers by promising healthier, safer, more sustainable, environmentally friendly products.
That’s perfectly fine, and certain (usually wealthier) consumers are willing to pay those higher prices. It’s the marketplace at work. Yet, consumers should be aware that manufacturers may exaggerate or leave out certain facts. For instance, you may see the phrase “BPA-Free” on many products. While that’s true—many manufacturers no longer use Bisphenol-A (BPA) in their products—companies now use an alternative chemical to accomplish the same outcome. In many cases, manufacturers are now using Bisphenol-S (BPS), which is similar to BPA but which actually leeches more chemical into liquid (though still not at levels that are dangerous). So, while something may be labeled “BPA-free,” that doesn’t mean it’s chemical free or even a better, safer product.
The same is true with many beauty products. While the cosmetic and personal care industries have bowed to pressure to remover certain chemical preservatives—like parabens (which have been showed to be safe in hundreds of safety tests), companies simply replaced one chemical with another. By putting “Paraben-Free” on the label, the company is able to appeal to the consumer that fears chemicals while conveniently leaving out that they’ve simply swapped it out with another, very similar, chemical preservative.
It may sound trite, but my modest suggestion to moms is to try to relax as the school year approaches. Buy what you can afford, remind your children not to eat their school supplies, and ignore virtue-signaling marketing gimmicks and overwrought, hyperbolic news headlines about deadly backpacks.
But mostly, moms should rejoice that their children will soon spend eight glorious hours outside the home.