Unsolicited advice may be hazardous to your health

Ever notice how some well-intentioned people always seem to offer bright ideas about how best to raise your kids, regardless of your lifestyle, where you live, what you do for a living or if they’ve ever raised any children themselves?

If you’ve got offspring from 1 to 18 years of age, you’ve probably heard heartfelt advice from hardware store clerks, law enforcement officers, schoolteachers, bartenders and any number of thoughtful in-laws.

And the news media are always ready to add their advice to your already jumbled child-rearing formula.

We may not be able to tell the IRA from the IRS on any given day, but we’ve always got a sackful of bright ideas about how you should be bringing up your kids.

Just last month, Universal Press Syndicate sent out a helpful list of summertime activities “to keep you and the kids busy for 50 days!”

Uh-huh …

Rent a canoe, start a hobby, go to the library, do weekly science experiments, plant a garden, learn about nature, visit a farm or go berry picking, the article suggested, along with about 40 other activities to fill the doldrums that occasionally crop up during the lazy, hazy days of summer.

A trip to the library? Sure. No problem. The worst the kids can do is drive the librarian into a complete mental breakdown or set their pet tarantula loose in the reference section.

On the other hand, “do weekly science experiments” could lead to more excitement than most parents really need, even during the final days of August.

The summers of my own childhood were, of course, filled with a variety of scientific experimentation that my playmates and I engaged in before the dreaded return to elementary school in September.

We were all patriotic kids, so national defense was a major consideration whenever we launched a summertime research project.

Growing up during the height of the Cold War, it seemed as if we were always in the shadow of potential Soviet aggression. In response, our carefully planned summer science projects expanded to include such devilishly clever offensive weapons as the dreaded “Cannon Cracker in a Dead Catfish.”

This little-known but vital part of America’s Cold War arms race was devised by one of my 9-year-old neighbors who grimly announced, after a deafening explosion, “The Russkies may have Sputnik, but we’ve perfected the anti-personnel catfish – messy but effective.”

Placing a large firecracker in an overripe catfish was, of course, just the beginning. If memory serves, this was the same summer that we future physicists also discovered the remarkable properties of the gasoline our fathers kept in little red cans to fuel their lawnmowers and chainsaws.

I think we were trying to make a hot-air balloon out of a big shopping bag one sweltering July afternoon when the first explosion occurred, which somehow led to the fire which eventually spread to the front porch …

Needless to say, it’s always a good idea to have kids’ summertime science experiments conducted under strict parental supervision. That way, the neighbors will know where to send the bill when your daughter inadvertently blows up their new Winnebago …

Originally published July 9, 2000

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