Head lice ethics.
October 5, 2009 6:30 PM   Subscribe

Teenager with head lice. How/who to notify without embarrassing her?

After about a week of wondering, we got visual confirmation tonight that my daughter's itchy scalp is, indeed, caused by head lice. She asked to stay home tomorrow while we do the shampoo treatment and wash a hundred loads of laundry, but here's the rub: she slept over at a friend's house on Saturday and used one of her friend's pillows. I feel that I should call her friend's mother and give her a heads-up, but I also remember being 15 and know how utterly humiliated I would have been if any of my friends had known I had lice. Any advice on whether and how to broach this conversation?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (21 answers total)
Are you close enough with the mother that the conversation could be kept private? That mom has a 15-year old, too, she'd understand your desire for privacy.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:32 PM on October 5, 2009

I feel that I should call her friend's mother and give her a heads-up, but I also remember being 15 and know how utterly humiliated I would have been if any of my friends had known I had lice. Any advice on whether and how to broach this conversation?

Call now. The embarassment of having and spreading lice at 15 is infinitely greater.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:32 PM on October 5, 2009 [4 favorites]

Public health issues trump concerns about embarrassment. Not sure why this Is even a question.
posted by dfriedman at 6:49 PM on October 5, 2009 [4 favorites]

Call her friend's mom. Embarrassment is not terminal and will probably be shorter if you take care of the head lice now.
posted by plinth at 6:49 PM on October 5, 2009

This a question about broaching the subject. The poster is not planning on not calling. You guys can lighten up.

I'd just be direct about it, call the Mom, apologize, and let her now. Its likely that they washed the pillow, but its good to be safe.
posted by kylej at 7:04 PM on October 5, 2009

Could your daughter call her friend? If you feel she would lie and say "yes, I called" when she hadn't, then you should probably just call the mother. But if your daughter can handle the situation, let her.
posted by teragram at 7:28 PM on October 5, 2009

The people who are telling you to CALL NOW don't understand your question, and their breathless moralizing is a complete waste of time.

Anyway, couldn't you just call your daughter's friend's mother and let her know there has been a headlice outbreak, that you're being vigilant, and that they should be too?

That way they know, but they don't have to know about your daughter. If head lice were indeed transmitted, at least they have the headsup.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:02 PM on October 5, 2009 [4 favorites]

Can you somehow focus more on the fact that your daughter got lice from someone instead of being the 'dirty' one with the lice? And instead of having your daughter be embarrassed and try to hide it from the friend, can she also say to the friend "ugh, sorry for causing any trouble, I was helping out with this kid's group (or something), one of the little brats gave me lice" and make it more about fake-blaming someone who doesn't actually exist? Just an idea.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 8:05 PM on October 5, 2009 [6 favorites]

I like KateHasQuestions or KokuRyu's suggestion. I mean, the lice didn't magically spawn on your daughter's head -- she caught it somewhere from someone else, or trying on hats in a mall or something.

I'd probably go straight to the mom, though. She's the one who's going to have to handle washing linens, etc, and hopefully she can bring it up tactfully to her kid.

I know teenage dynamics have changed since I was 15, but at that age I wouldn't be having sleepovers with anyone who wasn't my BFF -- it's too old to have sleepover arrangements made FOR you at that point. So, I understand your daughter being embarrassed, but I would hope that if this is one of her good friends, it will be nothing that they won't all be over in a couple weeks.
posted by tastybrains at 9:02 PM on October 5, 2009

Definitely have your daughter call. While lice would have been pretty embarrassing for me at 15, having to have my mother deal with it would have been absolutely mortifying.

This question made my scalp itch.
posted by wsp at 9:29 PM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Ditto'ing the slightly passive route from KateHasQuestions.

I remember being 15, though I know my experience doesn't equal everyone else's experience. Your daughter might actually prefer to tell her friend herself. Let her know that if she doesn't, you'd be more than happy to do it for her, but certain things are easier handled through the kids than through the adults. (She'll also feel like she had a better grasp & control of the potentially-mortifying situation).
posted by mittenedsex at 9:29 PM on October 5, 2009

Oh, I also wanted to mention: I'm not actually very familiar with head lice (e.g. spotting them, their life cycles, how long it takes for them to latch on & become visible), but another potentially embarrassing outcome is if the other mom misunderstands and thinks you're blaming the friend for the lice. (Although if the friend doesn't have lice, that misunderstanding seems unlikely.)
posted by mittenedsex at 9:32 PM on October 5, 2009

Cannot back this up but remember reading about 1840's (american) etiquette for scratching oneself (where, how vigorously, number of passes, etc.) due to the fact that everyone had an infestation and scratching WILL happen.
Poor girl! These parasites will set up anywhere they can, but are no more "dirty" than a germ that gives you a "cold" and just as opportunistic. Of course you need to tell the other mom, and like the other responders said, your daughter did not sprout these by de novo
synthesis (seemingly out of nowhere), they came from the head of a live person and she could have got it from trying on hats at the mall or sitting on a bus.
Now we have medicine/techniques to help deal with the inconveniences that being alive formerly dealt to all persons! There is no shame and your proactive response can minimize the effects on the community your daughter daily inhabits.
Really, as exposure to the sun brings on a response (tan or a sunburn) exposure to this parasite brings on an infestation, and your daughter is not dirty for "getting" it any more than you will be if you inadvertently get it either.
posted by bebrave! at 9:42 PM on October 5, 2009

This happened to me when I was 15. My mom called the school and had them put out the word without mentioning me.
posted by tinatiga at 10:06 PM on October 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

I've had head lice as an adult more than once, thanks to my kids' elementary school friendliness, and it does indeed suck. So did some of my friends who were moms. We tended to turn it into a bonding experience, once we figured out that we were just having to fight a battle. My daughter seemed like she was a magnet for them for a couple years. Best thing we ever did was get an electric comb. Better than the shampoos ever were once I learned the life cycle of the little bastards. After a while of using the electric comb, we stopped doing the immense loads of wash every time because those bugs don't want to be on some pillow; they want to be on someone's head where it's warm and full of food. Daily after-school combing with the electric is pretty quick and painless. We still do occasional spot checks, and my kids are in middle school now. We haven't had a problem in years and are still kind of paranoid about them.

It's the heat of the dryer that kills them if they are on pillows or clothes. An hour-long cycle through the dryer on the hot setting should take care of it for the pillow, blankets, etc., so you don't necessarily have to wash everything, although I know it can make you feel better. Running a superfine lice comb (I like the little metal one by Rid) through heavily conditionered hair in the shower will go a long way. You have to go from the scalp to the ends. It works as well as the special shampoos, especially for folks with ragweed allergies. Followed by a thorough, hot blow dry and some more combing. As a test, I've captured a live one, put it in the sink, and dropped a dollop of the medicated shampoo on it. I also tried a few of the other home remedies you can find on the web, like rubbing alcohol. None of them seemed to slow them down one bit. Pulling all the eggs out is the super annoying part. They're like little beads of super glue and they tend to be the most visible part, especially if you have darker hair.

I hope your daughter's friend and her mom understand that it isn't the end of the world, and that it's likely that they might not even get them. I know being a teenager is hard enough without the "gross" stigma attached to head lice.

And just to repeat something said above, they didn't just spontaneously generate on your daughter. I like what bebrave! said about comparing them to catching a cold. Inconvenient and kind of icky, but they won't give you malaria or anything.

Hey, at least it isn't bedbugs. *shudder* I hope I NEVER have to deal with bedbugs.
posted by lilywing13 at 11:22 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm not quite sure of the timeline here, but is it possible the lice were picked up AT the sleepover?

If you don't know the mom very well, or you're not sure of her reaction, I would call her and tell her you heard of a lice outbreak at [school/youth group/sports team/scouts], and you're giving her a heads-up because you know she recently had a houseful of girls at her place, you never know if one of those girls might have a sibling involved, and etc., etc. Don't mention your daughter specifically unless you are positive the mom will react maturely and not make a big deal out of something that happens to every family with school-age kids at least once.

Also, Rid is a pain in the ass, but it worked for us, along with meticulous combing with one of those stupid little nit combs. Good luck.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:41 AM on October 6, 2009

Be an actress and just be very matter-of-fact. if you don't act like it is a huge embarrassment, it won't be as bad while talking to the other moms.

i had this with my youngest daughter during grade school, and I found most parents already know about the problem because it is going around. It will not be a huge shocker.

indeed, without everyone being proactive, it can go on for years with the girls spreading it back and forth. I put an end to sleepovers (sorry girls), and changed the entire family to Paul Mitchell Tea Tree shampoo. the lice don't like tea tree oil and will not stick around. much better than putting pesticides on your head.
posted by Goodgrief at 6:55 AM on October 6, 2009

Trust me, your daughter is not the only one with head lice. Chances are there's an outbreak at her school; after all they didn't spring spontaneously to life on her head. You also need to call the school (nurse's office if your school has one) and let them know as well. The school really needs to start a public information campaign about not sharing hairbrushes, hats and towels, and no sleepovers until the outbreak is under control. When my daughter was in 2nd grade a lice outbreak eventually encompassed more than 50% of the students at her K-12 school.
posted by nax at 7:08 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would have been mortified if my mom had expected me to contact my friend and tell her. There is no reason to delay calling up the parents. They are the ones who are going to have to check the family's heads and clean all the bedding, etc. The teenagers can just be justifiably grossed out.
posted by Gor-ella at 7:21 AM on October 6, 2009

My sister asked me to comment to say that she has been told by several health professionals that head lice can't survive away from heads, and therefore can't be transmitted through sharing bedding. These sites seem to support that.
posted by paduasoy at 12:04 PM on October 6, 2009

Call the friend's parent and say, "A friend of my daughter has head lice and, since we're going to be monitoring our daughter very closely, we thought we should warn you to do the same."

Alternately, have your daughter call that friend herself and say something similar, like, "I heard that a bunch of people have lice right now and, since I shared your pillow, I wanted to know if you had checked yourself out...?"

Then get rid of the lice on your daughter's head and move on.
posted by VioletU at 7:03 AM on October 7, 2009

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