Sock it to me

Here’s a question from Charlene: “Dr Roy, can you please help settle a debate between my husband and I? Our issue is regarding our 2 year old little boy and his feet. Inside our local mall there is a play area for little ones to play. I allow my son to play barefoot on the little slides and tunnels. The other day my husband joined us on his lunch break and saw my son with no shoes on and my husband flipped out. My husband is convinced my son is going to catch a disease from running barefoot in the mall play area. Is it unsafe for my child to play barefoot? What are seriously the chances my child is going to catch a horrific foot disease?”

Sounds like there’s trouble afoot in your household!

You don’t have much to worry about at the play area. Feet are pretty sturdy, and unless there are exposed sharp things he ought to be fine. I suppose there’s a tiny risk of picking up a plantar wart (those are triggered by a viral infection), but these are really minimally contagious on dry surfaces. Parents might also worry about kids picking up athlete’s foot, a fungal infection—but again, this really isn’t very contagious on dry surfaces. I hope I don’t put my foot I my mouth, but I don’t see a pressing public health issue caused by the naked toes of toddlers.

Just to let the other shoe drop: I think the reason they insist on socks is to avoid having children running around in shoes. I could see with all the sliding around that a child in shoes could really hurt someone with an accidental kick. Having all the children shoe-less probably avoids accidents.

A quick Google search of “McDonalds Play Area Sock Policy” reveals that socks are required there, too, but oddly enough they don’t say why. I did learn that McD’s will sell you kid’s socks at the counter—who knew?

If the mall has a posted policy, you may not be able to put your foot down on the socks issue: it’s their play area, and they can insist on socks even if it makes their customers get off on the wrong foot. You might be able to convince them that their shoe is on the other foot if you bring them a copy of this enlightening post, but maybe it’s better to put your best foot forward and bring a spare pair of socks along.

Bet you’re sorry you asked!

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