When I was a kid, and it really wasn’t that long ago, my parents were totally up for letting me play in the dirt. It was an every day thing. These days, I watch everything-phobic parents of my generation keep their kids out of the sun, out of the dirt, and inside where it’s “safe.” But it turns out, that may not actually be good for them – or anyone for that matter.
According to an article published by Mary Ruebush, PhD, kids are naturally attracted to playing in the dirt. It’s an evolutionary trait that boosts our immune systems and makes us less susceptible to catching, and dying, of various diseases.
“What a child is doing when he puts things in his mouth is allowing his immune response to explore his environment.” writes Ruebush. “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.”
And it’s not just some random person saying it. Science backs it up. In a 2012 study, researchers were able to demonstrate what lack of exposure to microbes does to the immune system later in life. They found that early exposure to dirt and bugs helped immune cells later in life, and that there was actually a disruption of the natural bacterial flora in the body that led to hyperactivity in T cells and may contribute to asthma.
The most incredible finding though is that if children are denied access to these microbes, it can’t be fixed later on in life.
Of course, don’t overdo it! If you have kids, don’t make them eat dirt or anything. Just let them do what they do.