When it comes to raising children, people have a million and one ideas about how to do it best. Some parents breastfeed, others believe in attachment parenting, and others like to home-school. Most of the time, different approaches to parenting are all OK, and people will choose whatever works best for their family. However, there are some junk science claims out there that pose large risks to children — and when advocates of those claims target parents and their kids, they're endangering society's youngest and most vulnerable members, and that's absolutely not OK.
Junk science essentially uses faulty data or studies that don't adhere to scientific guidelines in order to prove certain findings. Since junk science can, unfortunately, often look similar to rigorous scientific findings, many people take their claims to heart. That's all fine and dandy when it comes to relatively harmless things, like horoscopes and palm readings. But once junk science starts to make claims that involve medicine or psychology, it can quickly become dangerous.
"Most parents are simply trying to do what’s best for their children in a world saturated with information and misinformation," Meghan Bridgid Moran, an assistant professor in the Department of Health, Behavior and Society at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote in an op-ed for Time last year.
Here are some of the most harmful bits of misinformation that are circling the internet at the moment:
Vaccines Are Toxic
The anti-vaccine movement recently led to the one of the largest outbreaks of measles ever seen in Minnesota, and if people continue to avoid vaccines for their children, we could see more outbreaks — and larger, more deadly ones — in the future. The idea that vaccines are dangerous or cause autism came from a single study, conducted in 1998 on 12 children, which has been repeatedly debunked.
The dangers of the anti-vaccine movement are pretty clear. Vaccines literally save lives, and every time the anti-vaccine movement convinces a parent not to vaccinate their child, they put that child (and any immunocompromised person near them who can't be vaccinated) at risk.
Climate Change Doesn't Exist
"Climate deniers," as they're frequently called, don't believe in climate change. They believe that the overwhelming majority scientists who believe in climate change are motivated by money, and they don't see a reason to take action right now to help slow human contributions to global warming — and that inaction places the next generation at an increased risk of flooding, droughts, and storms. According to The Guardian, climate change will put millions of children at risk for malnourishment and food insecurity.
It's no wonder some children are taking the government to court over climate inaction.
Being Gay Or Trans Is A Disease
Groups like the inaccurately named American College of Pediatricians have falsely linked pedophilia to homosexuality, pushed for conversion therapy, and claimed that LGBTQ couples are not good parents. The reality is, gender identity and sexuality are largely biological, and not harmful to children in any way. Conversion therapy, on the other hand, has been linked to depression, anxiety, drug use, and suicide. Also, being transgender is not a mental illness or disorder and has not been since it was dropped from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2013, according to Scientific American.
Everything Can Be Healed Naturally
There's certainly something to be said for not over-medicating children — after all, there is such a thing as antibiotic resistance, and it's important to let kids develop healthy immune systems. However, there's a good reason we have medicine, and depriving kids of it when it's necessary is tantamount to child abuse. Junk science that tells parents that kids with serious illnesses can be healed through homeopathy or faith alone are putting lives at serious risk.
Questioning the status quo is always good — but for parents, it's especially important to sit down, figure out where information is coming from, and evaluate how certain claims can affect their kids. It just might save a life.