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At least we beat the British.

By Alice Bradley

This week, UNICEF released a report on child welfare (a PDF of the report is here). First, the good news: the children of the United States are doing well—compared to third-world countries! Now for the actual news: in the rankings of 21 industrialized countries, we’re, hmm, second to last. Ouch. Here’s the list, from best to… us and the British.
1. Netherlands
2. Sweden
3. Denmark
4. Finland
5. Spain
6. Switzerland
7. Norway
8. Italy
9. Ireland
10. Belgium
11. Germany
12. Canada
13. Greece
14. Poland
15. Czech Republic
16. France
17. Portugal
18. Austria
19. Hungary
20. United States
21. United Kingdom
The six aspects of child welfare measured were material well-being, health and safety, education, relationships, behaviors, and subjective sense of well-being. The United States performed poorly in all categories, and dead last in health and safety. We’re second to last in infant mortality, just ahead of Hungary. And I’m fairly certain that Hungarians eat their young. Incidentally, no country featured in this study made it to the top third in all categories, indicating that there’s some serious need of improvement pretty much everywhere. We’re not the only ones who suck. And that’s the best news of all.
Next up: is that mold in your desk? Is your cell phone teeming with staph? And hey, are you storing fecal matter in your purse? Yes, yes, and yes, you filthy thing. According to researchers at the University of Arizona, women’s offices are dirtier than men’s. This is due primarily to their habit of using the wastebaskets in their offices for actual human waste, despite all the memos indicating where the restrooms are.
Kidding! Actually, according to “Germ Guru” Dr. Charles Gerba, working women are icky creatures for the following reasons: “First, they tend to use hand lotion more often, which gets on surfaces and traps germs. Then, they tend to be around children more often then men, and we all know how easily kids transmit germs. And finally they use makeup, which tends to absorb germs. Then it rubs off the face or gets scattered by brushes and sponges.” Also, he added, “women, in particular, are more likely to put food in [desk drawers]. I’m not sure exactly why — maybe because they are more likely to be secret snackers.”
(“Men,” he added, in my imagination,“tend more to snack out in the open–unashamed, virile, breaking open ripe pomagranates using their dry, wind-chapped hands. Then washing off the juice by placing their hands against freshly mined slabs of granite and dousing them with bleach. Meanwhile, your average woman smears her powdered–sugared hands across her decolletage and calls it a day.”)
In conclusion, we are furtive, clammy, children-loving creatures. In other words, disgusting. But now that you know all about the flesh-eating bacteria and microscopic pooplets (technical term) inhabiting your girl-office, what do you do about it? According to the Germ Guru, if you want things to be clean, what you need is a good disinfectant. Not soap, which according to Dr. Gerba, “just pushes the dirt around.” Yes. That’s why soap has failed us for so many centuries. By the way, Dr. Gerba’s study was funded by Clorox. I’m sure this is just a coincidence.
In other news, if you teach your kids how the brain works, they’ll get smarter. Well, sort of. A study published this week showed that students who learn that intelligence can increase actually perform better in school. According to the study, students who believed in a “fixed mindset” of intelligence—that how much smarts you have is innate and static throughout life—didn’t perform as well as students who had an intelligence “growth mindset.” The researchers then split a group of low performers in math into two groups: one group was taught basic study skills while the other was taught the nature of the brain and intelligence: the growth mindset. By the end of the semester, the kids who had been given the neuroscience primer had higher grades than the other group.
I have no jokes to make about this. I just picture these kids finally getting what “potential” means, and I get a litte giddy. You go, growth-mindset kids!
Finally: fewer kids these days are abusing pot (good!) but more teens are getting drugs from our medicine cabinet (bad!). That’s the conclusion of a White House report, which showed that in 2005, 2.5 million teenagers abused prescription drugs, with Vicodin and Oxycontin topping the list. (Adderall and Xanax are also popular choices.) Many teenagers incorrectly perceive the drugs in their parents’ medicine arsenal to be relatively safe. So parents: keep track of your presciption bottles, and throw out the pills you’re not using anymore. Of course your cabinet isn’t the only place where kids can get prescription drugs, so as always, keep those lines of communication open. Make sure your kids know that just prescription drugs can kill, just as surely as any street drug. And now a star with a rainbow trailing it will sparkle its way across your screen, as you realize that the anti-drug—is you. You’re entirely welcome.

Published February 16, 2007. Last updated May 10, 2010.
Alice Bradley
About the Author

Alice Bradley

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.


Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

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  • Joanna

    February 16, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    When I woke up this morning, I had no idea I would later be treated to the mental image of a well-formed poop inside of my purse. But I was, and it completely turned my day around (in a good way, of course). Thank you for taking me places I’ve never been before.

  • Anonymous

    February 16, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    I don’t know why, but the Clorox study reminded me of the only concern I had over my homebirth: that my house wasn’t very sterile. My midwives’ response: “As compared to a hospital?? Are you kidding? At least you’re acclimated to your own germs.”
    That settled that. To Dr. Gerba, I say, “My desk may be germy, but they’re my germs.
    Also? Isn’t the age of sterility ushering in all manner of auto-immune problems?

  • Cobwebs

    February 16, 2007 at 1:49 pm

    As an added factoid about Dr. Gerba (which I gleaned from an interview Dave Barry did with him some years ago), he gave his son the middle name “Escherichia,” after the Escherichia coli–that’d be E. coli as we know and love it–bacteria because he felt it would be a “conversation-starter.” He went on to say that, had it been a girl, he would have named her “Sally Salmonella.”
    That’s…probably all we need to know about Dr. Gerba.

  • ozma

    February 16, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    OK, making my plan to move to Spain even as we speak. Seriously, how do we get to move to one of these countries with a better subjective sense of well-being?

  • allison

    February 16, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    As one who has been through a whole lot of prescription drugs, I’d like to point out that the best way to get rid of them is to take drugs you’re done with back to the pharmacist, who can then dispose of them.

  • Molly

    February 16, 2007 at 6:22 pm

    “Microscopic pooplets” made me LOL. For real. I’m not just saying that– I spit on my monitor and everything.

  • Elizabeth

    February 16, 2007 at 6:47 pm

    That Clorox studied failed to mention that at least half of all public women’s restrooms have nowhere to put your purse except on the FLOOR, unless you balance it in your lap while trying to do your business. I just had a mental image of what might be crawling on the bottom of my purse, and it was not pretty.

  • Kelley

    February 17, 2007 at 2:36 pm

    At least the States made it onto the list. Apparently, we don’t have enough children in Australia to rate!

  • Melanie

    February 17, 2007 at 6:15 pm

    Alice and rainbows DO go together lately, don’t they? Are you getting ready to come out of the closet? Seriously, that study on potential is a bright spot in my day – how cool to think that you can help kids by telling them about doing their best, trying hard, etc. Usually that stuff seems kind of like a load of feel-good crap.
    Isn’t is strange how America is so like a third-world country in so many, many ways? Health care, schools, our children in general…
    And as to the Clorox study, I’ve read tons of studies on washing, and they all say soap is just hunky-dory, it just matters how much and long you scrub. Plus a lot of antibacterial stuff contains Triclosan, which is bad news.

  • Suzys

    February 17, 2007 at 7:37 pm

    According to an article in The New Yorker a few years ago, the thing about the Netherlands and Sweden, and I’m certain this is related, is that people are getting taller there. The average height is something like 5’10”. We are not, needless to say, getting taller here in the U.S.
    Look for the Hoogeveen Heros as the next NBA franchise.

  • Fairly Odd Mother

    February 17, 2007 at 9:39 pm

    So, if you were in the study about the fixed vs. growth mindset, and you were in the ‘fixed’ group, wouldn’t you be pissed when you found out that you were less intelligent b/c you were told your brain was fixed? Or, maybe you wouldn’t notice. This will keep me up tonight.

  • rhea

    February 18, 2007 at 12:23 am

    no hand lotion
    no kids
    no makeup…
    for the first time in my life I think “Could I be a man?”

  • emmms

    February 19, 2007 at 11:46 am

    Well that explains the giant turd I just fished out of my pocket. Thank Clorox for that, I was beginning to worry.

  • Monkee

    February 20, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    I remember in my biology lab in college we went all over the places swabbing things and then letting the cultures grow in petri dishes for a while. The moral, EVERYTHING is filthy, EVERYTHING is covered microscopic and not-so-microscopic pooplets, and people just need to accept that and move on…literally, it won’t kill you. Now everybody just breathe…and don’t think about all the things you’re breathing in right now, most of them are very benign…most.

  • mad muthas

    February 22, 2007 at 9:24 am

    oh dear – i hate to depress you even further, but being better than the british should not be any consolation to you at all. we’re really quite crap, y’know! sadly, life in britain has all gone a bit tits-up (charming olde-english idiom) over the last few years, but there are pockets of gorgeousness left over here. i’ll divulge them … if you like…