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Modern Parenthood

Norfolk experienced two rare winter snow storms this January, the second of which dumped nearly a foot of snow on the city, forcing school cancellations and creating treacherous driving conditions. William Brown, 1, reacts to playing in the snow in Norfolk, Va. on Wednesday, January 29. (Lane Brown)

My kid hates the snow

By Correspondent / 01.31.14

It is the first winter season since my 1-year-old son began walking. Playing outside has become the perfect afternoon excursion for my mobile toddler, especially in the temperate climate of Norfolk, Va., where we currently live. 

When the once-in-a-decade deep freeze came to town last week, snow also came with it, much to the chagrin of many neighbors. I realized that while our family lives here as part of a Navy assignment, there are many people who choose to live here because its normal weather patterns include relatively warm temperatures most of the time.

However, winter storms actually arrived in Norfolk this January, and brought bitter cold and snow with them, something this area hasn’t seen in years. 

As snow lovers, my husband and I couldn’t wait to take our little guy outside after the first big snow. We swooned. Four inches of powder waiting right outside our door, a winter wonderland for a little kid.

We took out the camera, dressed my son in a full fleece body suit his grandmother sent him. The suit has a hood and bear ears, and makes him look more like an Ewok than a bear. But he makes an adorable Ewok, and we were sure he would stay warm as he played happily in the snow.

He hated the snow.

We tried to talk him into it. My husband picked up a little snow and tossed it in the air. “Whee! Look, William! Snow!”

My son's face quickly froze into a grimace from the brisk wind whipping through our front yard, his running nose creating a frozen snot-stache on his upper lip.

"Look, William, isn’t this fun?" I said in a sing-song voice, willing my toddler to enjoy the cold through my own gritted teeth. "Yay! We are having so much fun!"

We stayed outside for approximately seven minutes. About three minutes in the front yard, then four minutes in back yard, which offered a little more shelter from the breeze and less snow. We were determined to take a few precious pictures of our son smiling and playing in the snow. We instead snapped a few pictures of smiling parents holding a bewildered looking kid.

When he started to whimper, we submitted. After fifteen minutes spent retrieving winter gear from the attic and five minutes spent wrestling a toddler into a fleece bear suit, we lasted less than ten minutes outside. 

There are a few things as expectant parents that you look forward to before your kid even arrives. You play future-memories in your head long before they are acted out in real life. Playing in the snow was one of those things for me and my husband. 

I learned early on to take most expectations that I had built up around being a mom and throw them out. When, by chance, something has happened in real life that matches something I romanticized before William showed up, I’m elated. 

Will’s icy reception to the snow is accompanied by lots of other dashed expectations in early parenthood. Like homemade baby purees met with pursed lips, a crocheted Yoda hat ripped off by the ears at first test, and spit up covered clothes in every, single, picture, taken in his first seven months. 

What’s more important is that I have learned to shift expectations, and be on the lookout for new memories that pop up in the most unexpected places at any time, not those that have already taken shape in my head. It’s been one of the most valuable parenting skills I have learned, leaving me ready for so many special moments.

A few days after testing the snow, we visited the aquarium in nearby Virginia Beach, Va. The visit came at the end of a long afternoon spent running errands. Instead of his usual mid-day nap at home, Will slept in the car while we grocery shopped for the week ahead. Not sure if we might have a wilting toddler on our hands, my husband and I decided to wing it and wait to see how our son responded.

He loved it. Face pressed up to the tanks, high-fiving the fish through the glass, he had a blast. He took to the fish in the water like a fish in water and surprised me and my husband both. Expecting nothing more than a quick adventure together, we enjoyed watching our son make a whole lot of new memories, indoors with the tropical species instead of out with the snow birds.

We’ve ventured into the snow a couple more times since his first encounter. He is as wary of it as he was that first day. We know not to force it, just to let him try it at his own pace, and meanwhile we will stay on the lookout for that first hint that he loves the snow. And when that happens, we will remember to play it cool, as if we were expecting him to love it all along.

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New parents should find ways to nurture their friendship as they experience the challenges of raising a child. In this file photo, a person purchases roses at a florist in Los Angeles, Calif., on February 14, 2013. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters/FILE)

Love after baby: Stay friends with your spouse

By Correspondent / 01.30.14

At the first signs of strain on a marriage after a baby arrives, many new parents start to wonder what happened to the pre-parenthood bliss.

After a little research, it’s easy to find studies that point to marital happiness plummeting for a few years right after a baby arrives. Why is that?

Like many new parents do, I fantasized about having a perfect little family when I was pregnant, but then the baby arrived and reality smacked me upside the head. I still think my family is wonderful, and I never regret having a baby, but it’s not as easy going as I thought it would be.

When asked by others, “How can I best take care of my kid?” my father shares this piece of advice – “Love your wife or husband.” Along with many new parents, I'm beginning to get a glimpse of the wisdom behind this advice.

Before the baby came, my husband and I were so thrilled about having a baby that we figured she would just fold seamlessly into our lives. Sure, there would be stress. Sleepless nights, tantrums, and all the other not-terribly-pleasant aspects of being parents (we weren't completely naive). But I didn't expect having a baby to change our marriage so much.  

Our attention is almost completely redirected from each other to this precious little blob of energy and joy, sometimes making me miss my simpler life as “just a wife” – rather than “wife and mother.”  

Pre-baby, it was so much easier to sit and talk, go to a romantic restaurant, buy a gorgeous flower bouquet for our dining room table, etc. Now, almost a year into new parenthood, there are still some days where we don't get beyond asking, "How are you?" with quick one word replies. I miss the long conversations, but I know this phase will pass. Both of us are focusing on relishing every moment of our daughter's babyhood – and that's OK. To everything there is a season. 

Still, we realized recently that we parent much more effectively as a cohesive team, and that when we prioritize cultivating our marriage, we're better equipped to be good parents. 

Tom Rath, author of "Vital Friends: The People You Can't Live Without” says in his book, "Friendship is the silver lining in a marriage, accounting for approximately 70% of overall marital satisfaction.”

He then points to research results stating that couples found “the quality of a couple’s friendship” as “five times as important as 'physical intimacy.'"

So, we have started to take advantage of little windows of time to connect with each other – whether that's holding hands while the baby sleeps in the car, quick kisses when he leaves for work and returns home, staying up an extra hour to watch a grownup show on Netflix, bringing home a favorite dessert, hiding a love note for the other to find, and so on. 

Most of all, marriage needs a deep bond of friendship to weather the ups and downs of parenthood with grace and a sense of humor. Elizabeth Gilbert emphasized this point in her book, "Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage."

She wrote, "The act of quiet nighttime talking, illustrates for me more than anything else the curious alchemy of companionship.” Even if parents just have a few minutes of quiet conversation before falling asleep, taking advantage of those moments of companionship immeasurably helps keep the magic alive in the relationship.

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Canadian musician Justin Bieber is swarmed by media and police officers as he turns himself into city police for an expected assault charge of a limo driver, in Toronto, on Wednesday, Jan. 29. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press/AP)

Would President Obama deport Justin Bieber? (+video)

By Correspondent / 01.30.14

There have been some bad days parenting my four sons over the past 20 years, but at least I can say the President of the United States has never been petitioned by nearly 200,000 of my neighbors to step in and co-parent. Justin Bieber’s folks, on the other hand, are waiting to see if President Obama will deport their 19-year-old son for his rampant misbehavior.

Don’t get me wrong, I am shaking my head in awe over the fact that the leader of the free world is being petitioned to take time out of his busy schedule to parent a wayward teen.

However, isn’t that what every good parent does in between talking to our spouses about the state of our union and coping with the economic downturn, we also try and weed out the bad influences in our environment.

Mr. Obama is simply looking at the same issue every parent eventually faces, how to deal with that one kid in your child’s social circle who’s the “cool kid,” who makes bad choices, gets too wild, breaks things just for a laugh, ignores the rules, and generally makes parents a nervous wreck.

According to The White House’s "We the People" platform 188,945 Americans (and counting) say Bieber, 19, is that kid and have signed a petition asking the Obama administration to revoke Bieber's green card to kick him out.

The petition reads: “We the people of the United States feel that we are being wrongly represented in the world of pop culture. We would like to see the dangerous, reckless, destructive, and drug abusing, Justin Bieber deported and his green card revoked. He is not only threatening the safety of our people but he is also a terrible influence on our nations youth. We the people would like to remove Justin Bieber from our society.”

While the charges against Bieber are only misdemeanors he is on a collision course with national and international disaster, trashing America’s image (his foster parent nation) as he goes.

He tagged Brazil last month, defacing buildings with spray paint and making international headlines. He was arrested last week in Miami Beach, Fla., and charged with drunken driving, resisting arrest, and driving without a valid license during an illicit drag race. Also, in California he faces charges for splattering a neighbor’s house with eggs. And he is expected in court on March 10 to face charges for assaulting a limousine driver on December 30.

I think President Obama has a responsibility to respond to this particular petition, as both a father and leader.

Here’s why:

Parents know that there’s always that one kid in the social group who is the straw that stirs the shake.

As our kids get older and more social, forming groups of friends, we worry about how the behavior of those friends will influence our own kid’s decision making.

We don’t want our kids in with the wrong crowd because it tarnishes their image and can bring them down.

Of course, the best-case scenario is when your own child comes to you and says they don’t want to hang out with that kid anymore. Then you can be proud.

But they may need your help to make that happen.

I always tell my sons that they aren’t using all their strength until they have asked their parents to help them out. Once we are on board, they are using all they have at their disposal to get the problem solved.

That’s essentially what is happening right now with the deportation petition.

“We the people,” parents included, have asked the current representing “father figure” of our nation, Barack Obama, to help us use all our strength to send the message that our village can’t have this kind of child in it anymore.

Bieber and those exhibiting the same behavior from the streets to the world stage are bringing us down.

Young adults like Bieber who are not famous are a problem on a small scale, but as a national influencer of teen and young adult culture representing America overseas, he’s a bad apple in our cultural barrel.

When this happens in our own homes, the problem child is usually the kid who entertains everyone in the group with his or her antics, making your own child hesitant to cut ties.

CNN.com contributor Ruben Navarrette made a great point when he said Bieber’s wealth and status might be getting him special treatment.

"Bieber has an estimated net worth of about $130 million," Mr. Navarrette wrote. "I bet that, right about now, many of those Mexican immigrants who were deported because they came to the attention of local police officers for a burned-out taillight, or for not making a complete stop at an intersection, are wishing that they had been a rich, white kid with marginal music ability and too much money. If so, things might have gone differently for them."

A huge part of parenting is being fair and the President needs to think hard on that when looking at this situation.

At some point, the parent hosting the wild child must make a command decision to either call the other parent, or parent the child themselves.

My guess is that Obama can’t pick up the phone and call Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to say, “Uh, look, Steve, I hate to bother you, but we have a little situation here with Justin and I’d appreciate if you’d handle it.”

And I don’t see Mr. Harper recalling Bieber and revoking his travel privileges. Although, that would be absolutely brilliant.

Perhaps the compromise, while we are busy soliciting the president for his help, is for Obama to make a very stern phone call to Justin’s mom and dad.

I’m sure any parent would much prefer a call from the President of the United States to invite them over to praise their child than to tell them off for bad parenting.

If I ever got that call for one of my sons, they would be in for a world of parenting.

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Madison Jamison, 6, plays chess against an older opponent at the Park Place Library in Norfolk, Va. on Saturday, January 25. (Lisa Suhay)

Could video games teach civic involvement?

By Correspondent / 01.29.14

Researchers at Tufts University's Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service are developing an interactive video game to try to engage students in civic responsibility, leaving parents to wonder if the only winning move is not to play video games at all, but to get out and do more.

Civic Seed is the name of the game created in collaboration with the Engagement Game Lab (EGL) at Emerson College. Its mission: “to see if it can better prepare college students to engage with the community – and if it can do so more effectively than a non-gaming alternative,” according to a press release by the school.

“Student under-preparedness for working in communities is a pressing issue," says Mindy Nierenberg, senior student programs manager at Tisch College and director of the leadership minor in Tufts School of Arts and Sciences in the press release.

As the mother of four avid gamers interested in multi-player games, I read that and wondered if this is a lot of chasing our tails.

If the issue is that students are not getting out there enough to know how communities work in real life, then maybe the answer should not be online, but instead in the real world.

Many kids aren’t getting engaged in civic activities at the high school level, perhaps partially due to spending too much time online.

“Tufts students will be randomly assigned to either the interactive video game or the self-paced non-game training,” Ms. Nierenberg says about the study. 

According to Nierenberg, “Both groups will complete a pre- and post-test questionnaire that will measure things like critical thinking, communication with diverse populations, individual motivations and values and understanding the importance of certain buildings and pieces of land in each community.”

As much as I would like the gaming version to win in order to vindicate me for allowing my sons to game, I am also rooting for the “old school” field team to win so I can feel better about where society is headed.

Frankly, this may not be a fair testing environment, because there are things students will learn in real life interactions that no game can teach them.

Many video games breed a form of detachment, the opposite of “engagement,” because players are conditioned by previous experience to know it’s not real. Players who “die” in a game, or freeze, or burn, or get injured, realize that it leaves no mark on real life. 

Utilizing just video games might not be the best tool to teach civic engagement, however finding games that transfer between online and real life scenarios might help to support the research.

Chess is a perfect example of this game theory shared by the Tufts team because it can be played online or in person.

For the better part of the past six years, I have run the Norfolk Initiative for Chess Excellence (NICE) as a free, all-volunteer program with the bulk of our volunteers coming from local colleges and universities.

One of the very first lessons a college student learns when they walk into a community center, school library, or public building to play chess is that there is a world of difference between playing solely on a computer and playing a human face-to-face.

“I’m a Master level player online,” is a common greeting I get from college volunteers. They are all confidence about their years of online experience, until a six-year-old little girl smokes them in five moves they never saw coming.

They can’t fathom what just happened to them when beaten by a young child who just started playing months ago. Guessing by their real-life opponents age, they have underestimated her potential and become overconfident. There is no skill building around reading an opponent online.

My advice is to play all the online games you want in order to get some fundamentals across to students.

However, to really teach them something about civic engagement, it might take bringing a game to real-life, such as starting a chess club at a Title One school or community center in a low-income neighborhood.

Students can then learn civic engagement, critical thinking, and real-life skills for interacting with people of all backgrounds, while earning valuable volunteer hours.

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Outdoor play is an essential part of the paleo-parenting plan. Kids play in the snow at Central Park in New York, January 22. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

A return to 'paleo parenting'

By Correspondent / 01.29.14

Surely you’ve noticed the trending of the so-called “paleo diet.” Once I’d heard the term a few times – and my daughter had experimented on me with some of her paleo cookies – I had to do some research. 

“The paleolithic diet is a nutritional plan based on the presumed diet of Paleolithic humans,” says Wikipedia, the fount of all foraged knowledge. “It is based on the premise that human genetics have scarcely changed since the dawn of agriculture, which marked the end of the Paleolithic era, around 15,000 years ago, and that modern humans are adapted to the Paleolithic diet."

Could it be time that we applied such throwbacks to former times to a few other things beside our eating habits? How about a healthier diet for the mind and child development? What would that look like? 

One of my favorite texts about learning and childhood makes a potential “paleo parenting” recipe. May Sarton was a Maine poet who attended a progressive school. She remembered her zeal for learning in a chapter from her autobiography, "I Knew a Phoenix."

“We children must have seemed a primitive insurgent tribe,” she writes. “We were not subjected to a theory of education. We were set down in the center of a primal force at work. We never knew what would happen next, but what did happen was always immensely interesting. Everything we learned was alive, hunted down, a private possession.”

During my 30-year career in elementary education, I have carried this passage around in my intellectual “hip pocket.” I return to it frequently, for inspiration. Ms. Sarton has transposed the language of hunter-gatherers onto the elementary school day. It’s what makes her description passionate, energized, and un-school-like.

Who wouldn’t want to go to school (or work!) every day if that’s what you had to look forward to? 

It makes me think there ought to be a similar manifesto for childhood itself. Is there room for a concept of paleo parenting? Is there an emerging return to a philosophy of parenting that allows children to show up for their own childhoods as if they were “a primal force at work,” with similar aliveness, and private possession?

My parents might have been paleo parents, though they didn’t know it at the time. And they were not atypical. They probably would have eschewed such a reference to a trendy diet or theory of parenting. After all, Pop Tarts were a breakfast staple and they were winging it as parents of three kids. 

My own "paleo childhood" started in third grade when we moved from a suburban neighborhood outside of Chicago, with concrete sidewalks and a tree-town street grid – tame, ordered, planned – to a more rural suburb outside of Boston. In my new home, I was initiated into the life of exploration. My new neighbor, Jeff, showed me the dirt foot trails through the woods, to the big pond, and streams. We built forts, went fishing, had conflicts and escapades, and imagined ourselves the Natty Bumpos of Aberdeen Road.

After school, we simply took off for the wilderness of childhood that was waiting for us in the big woods across the street. Mom just needed to know we’d be back by dinner. Until then, the streams, mud, abandoned cars, derelict camp cabins, cool and mysterious white pine groves, and old farm fencing. It felt like an empire for our modest insurgent afternoons. 

"Wildwood Wisdom," the tattered camping guide I discovered on the family bookshelf, was my guide. I pored over its instructive drawings of lean-tos and backpacks and campfire cooking. And I can draw a direct line between this era in my childhood and going to Outward Bound in Scotland at age 14 and many years of wilderness treks, summer, and winter. 

But the paleo childhood is not really about life in the woods. That was just my landscape of awakening and development. It is about independence, resiliency, imagination, and ownership. I feel now that every kid deserves to have the same encouragement toward independence and a sense of inhabiting a domain all his own. The key to such a paleo childhood is distinguishing between information and physical experience. Contemporary childhoods and schooling often feel dominated by mere information. 

This relates to some of the contemporary conversation about boundaries and the line between parental protection and permission – between play that is prescribed and programmed, versus improvisational and creative. Too much app, too little Huck Finn. Childhood ought to be about “lighting out for the territory,” little by little. Paleo childhoods require time and space and materials. And, in my case, a medium sharp pocket knife at age 10. Nope – nary a cut.

Much of this conversation feels tinged with the afflictions of affluence, and a misplaced sense of parental responsibility. At a certain point in the 1980s, I remember the onset of a kind of parenting formatted by professional prowess. “If I just apply all of my professional skills to raising children (and interacting with their school), then I’m going a good job as parent” – at least that was the thinking. 

What happened to instinct and feeling? Parenting isn’t an occupation. It’s more like an art, a calling, a conversation based on improvisation and guidance. I like the way a former school mentor of mine put it to parents: “You need to add a little more benign neglect.” As the father of five boys, he could claim some gravitas. 

And so I like it when I read articles advocating that childhood be restored to children, that kids be allowed to play with real tools in order to experience their own cause-effect relationships. Good paleo parents let kids play with pocket knives! 

One could argue that maturity and learning have become alienated from the moment of greatest potential, much the same way our eating habits have alienated us from the source of our very diets. A great many teachers, parents, and children feel we have delegated curricula, testing, assessment, scheduling, and the myriad school day-opportunities to “hunt” to a remote, barren, often sterile intellectual landscape.

We’ve lost the narrative thread of learning in favor of overly conceptualized and abstract reasoning, and skill sets that feel disconnected from practical living. The experiential diet given to children is forlorn from how we’d like to feel about learning, and from the learning our children will need to live in post-industrial settlements.

How many kids can come home and tell the story of actually making something at school? In other words, students shouldn’t simply be consumers of learning, but makers of their learning. One of the afflictions of affluence in learning is being relegated to consumption, not production. And how many kids get to come home and go play in the woods?

So, what would a paleo parenting diet include? It would be all of the things we look for in contemporary food sourcing trends: local, organic, free-range, seasonal ... imaginative, and, potentially, improvisational.

Sure, it might mean no GMO “grains” grown by packagers of experience – just knowledge and learning stimulated by need, ingenuity, availability, hunter-gatherer skill, and opportunity. How would the childhood diet change for the better? We would be nimble, self-reliant, questioning, adaptive, resilient. We would make our own tools, and migrate to follow “food supply.” We would feel “set down in a primal force at work.” What is the childhood learning equivalent of making flint arrowheads, or learning how close you can get to the fire? 

Yes, one could stretch the metaphor ad nauseam while speaking of processed foods versus foraging. Simply put, might the notion of paleo parenting be a model for raising the effective continuing learners that will be required in the workplace of the 21st century? Many of the things that early progressive educators, like Sarton’s teachers, were inspired by have come around again. I predict it will be trending soon. Watch your Twitter feed, info-hunter-gatherer-parents. 

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Hours before giving his State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress, President Barack Obama walks along the Colonnade at the White House in Washington, Jan. 28. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Bingo! State of the Union game created by moms' group

By Correspondent / 01.28.14

Moms of all political leanings watching the State of the Union tonight will undoubtedly have particular issues they are hoping to hear in the president address. The group MomsRising.org has released its own State of the Union Bingo game card, available for those who register on the organization’s site. 

According to a press release from the group, “Every time the President talks about one of the issues on the card, you can mark it down on the BINGO card —and maybe even raise a juice box or sippy cup in a cheer!” 

According to the MomsRising.org website, the group focuses on grassroots campaigns, started by moms, to help drive legislation and corporate action for issues that affect mothers and families. Some of the organization’s current campaigns include building better maternity and paternity leave policies, excluding toxic chemicals from children’s toys, and obtaining fair wages for women.

What can you expect to see on the Bingo card? A sampling of squares includes topics such as: maternity leave, gun legislation, affordable child care, and fair pay. The group has even left the center square of the five-by-five square board open for a “Your Choice” entry.

This undated screenshot from 2013 provided by PepsiCo shows a Super Bowl advertisement for PepsiCo's Frito-Lay's Doritos played during the 2013 Super Bowl. PepsiCo's is reprising its "Crash the Super Bowl" ad contest for the eighth consecutive year, encouraging fans to vote for a fan-created videos. (PepsiCo/AP/FILE)

Super Bowl ads blitz kids online (+video)

By Correspondent / 01.28.14

As the Super Bowl approaches, parents may have concerns over how much advertising will affect young viewers. However, a new study by Common Sense Media published today reveals that marketing to kids is already immeasurably invasive in their everyday activities.

I say “immeasurable” because, according to the Common Sense Media, researchers need to develop new methods to quantify young people's exposure to advertising.

“At this point we lack even the most rudimentary research needed for policymakers to ascertain whether certain types of practices of marketing to children are fair, such as enlisting them as 'viral' marketers, enticing them to purchase products through rewards and incentives, exposing them to product placement in popular TV shows, or encouraging them to make their own ads and enter them in a contest,” according to the report.

This study points to Nielsen data estimating kids ages 2-11 see approximately 24,000 ads per year, which seems enormous until you realize that is a drop in their mental buckets, since there is also product placement (Coke paying to have all the "American Idol" judges drinking Cokes) and embedded ads (naming products in TV or film dialogue), and online ads woven into gaming experiences.

Sounds to me as if we need further study in this area so we can craft a better system of measurement in order to create some effective boundaries for advertisers.

The study points out that kids are often engaged in "immersion games," commonly referred to as "Advergames," where the brand is woven seamlessly into the plot of the game.

The study also highlights cross-marketing between companies, such as Disney and fast food chains that offer branded toys in kids’ meals, while products from the fast food chains randomly appear in the hands of characters in kid and teen TV shows.

This topic is so much of a daily battle in my house with four sons – ages 10, 14, 18, and 20 – who love YouTube and online gaming sites. My belief is that you can raise kids to think for themselves and shake this stuff off, but it’s a constant struggle to stay vigilant against the marketing push.

I have been following the video series with Anna Lappé called Food MythBusters by watchdog group Corporate Accountability International, because the tactics and science behind them are really helpful.

The advertising that goes uncounted, and which can be the most insidious and difficult to battle, is the newer practice of engaging a child’s creativity as a participant in the ad cycle. This includes the contests challenging kids to design an ad for the product themselves, or in the case of the Super Bowl, to vote for which ad will air during the game.

The website Armor Games sucks kids right into this process, via the Doritos "Crash The Super Bowl" contest, in which five fans have a shot at having their commercial play during the game.

The top item on the Armor Games site is an ad bearing the image of a little boy in a cowboy hat next to the words, “Help us win the Doritos contest. VOTE for Cowboy Kid!”

Of the five finalists’ videos, two have kids as the main characters 

I let my 10-year-old son Quin click on the videos, which were all pretty funny, until we got to the one in the series. Business Insider has announced the last video we clicked on, titled "Finger Cleaner," by Thomas Noakes of Sydney, Australia, as the projected winner.

I wish I’d seen the Business Insider story on this particular video before I ever allowed my son to click on it.

Business Insider declared this video “absolutely disgusting” adding “It's shockingly sexual. In the worst way possible.” That assessment is right on the money.

The premise is this: a man, his fingers covered in the orange Dorito powder – the result of wolfing down a bag of chips – sticks his finger into a hole in the wall to get it “cleaned.”

At the end of the video, viewers see it revealed that on the other side of the wall is a man who loves Dorito dust. Ick.

I was relieved when my son handled the gross factor by saying, “Oh that’s disgusting. Do you know how many germs that is? Plus the engine grease under the Dorito dust would make it taste bad. Next!”

You can be darn sure that you will not see a bag of Doritos in this house on Super Bowl Sunday, especially if that ad is selected. I don’t want that image rattling around the heads of my other sons, who might not dismiss it as quickly as my youngest. 

In an effort to change the discussion from Doritos to anything else I asked my son if he notices the ads online.

“It’s just too overflowing sometimes,” said Quin, who loves YouTube for its science and gaming videos, and often plays games online because it’s more affordable than buying a game system.

“On YouTube I usually choose the “skip ad” option and pass them,” he said. “Here’s the thing, sometimes they don’t have the SKIP option.”

That is “the thing” alright.

Thanks to this study parents have a lot to digest and much of it will not sit well.

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In this 2008 file image, young volunteers prepare to head out and canvass a neighborhood – encouraging voters to pick Obama. (Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/FILE)

How do you raise well-informed kids?

By Staff writer / 01.28.14

I wish I could say that I embarked on parenthood with a clear game plan for how to raise well-informed kids who care about the world, their neighborhood, and what the president has to say in his next State of the Union address.

But I didn’t, my Helicopter Mom status notwithstanding. And then life intervened. When my kids were 3 and 5, I became a single mom, and for the rest of their childhood was their primary parent. I was (and still am) working full time for the Monitor, and just getting dinner on the table in a reasonably timely fashion was good enough.

I don’t recall putting “Let’s discuss the front page of today’s Washington Post” on the menu. But I do recall a vague thought process. I would center conversations on what they were interested in – their school day, their activities, their friends – and let them bring up something in the news they might be wondering about, if they wanted. 

I’m also a big believer in leading by example. You want your kids to read the paper? Then read the paper yourself. Listen to NPR in the car on the way to school. Watch presidential debates together. (They might get bored, but they’ll remember that you thought it was interesting.) Let them see you reading the New Yorker or the Economist or that terrific new book about George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

When something jaw-dropping happens – like 9/11 – that’s an obvious time to drill down on making sure they know what happened, how it affects them, and that they’re safe. On Sept. 11, 2001, my kids were in fourth and sixth grades at a DC public elementary school about three miles from the White House. They had friends with parents who worked at the Pentagon, and fortunately no one they knew lost a loved one.

But 9/11 is an extreme example. Most Washington news isn’t all that interesting to kids – except for elections. Politics is kind of like sports: There are winners and losers, “good guys” and “bad guys,” and if there’s a family “team,” kids will almost surely pick up on that, even if you’re not putting out a yard sign. I remember chanting on the playground in 1968, “Nixon’s the one, Humphrey is a bum!” I couldn’t have told you anything about Richard Nixon’s policy ideas, but somehow I was certain he should be our next president.

In our house, as a rule, we don’t put out yard signs, because I cover politics. I have only one requirement: You have to vote.

On Election Day 2012, I put a short post on Facebook saying that I had told all my kids – including now a stepson – that I don’t care how you vote, but you must vote. And that includes all the initiatives on the ballot in California, where two of my three kids were living. Study up in advance, I advised. Those ballot measures can be long and complicated.

Soon, a “friend” replied that I was irresponsible not to make sure that my kids were going to vote “correctly.” Wow, I thought. Is that really the role of a parent, to tell their kids how to vote?

I recalled dinner with friends and their 20-year-old son, who announced that he didn’t like either President Obama or Mitt Romney, and was going to vote third party (in Wisconsin, where he was attending college). His parents were apoplectic. That’s a big mistake! they told him. You’re throwing out your vote! In a battleground state!

Again, I was a bit taken aback. Maybe, I thought, this kid needs to vote third party and see how that feels. After all, Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes certainly wouldn’t hinge on his vote alone. But I wasn’t going to tell my friends how to parent their son. So I kept quiet. 

The farthest I’ve gone in instructing my kids on election matters is advising them to vote at college (out of state) and not in the District of Columbia, since DC doesn’t have voting representation in Congress.

In my family, whom you vote for is a deeply personal matter, and it’s nobody’s business. By the time kids are old enough to vote, they’re old enough to figure out whom to vote for on their own. You want to talk about issues? Ask away.

The main thing, for parents, is to give kids the tools to reach their own conclusions. When my kids went off to college, I gave them student subscriptions to a few publications. So it may come as no surprise that my kids – boys out of college, daughter still in – are big consumers of news. Print newspapers are largely dinosaurs in their world, except for the Sunday New York Times.

On a night in, my 23-year-old son loves nothing more than to snuggle up with his iPad and read the Economist or the New Yorker. Mom still likes the print versions, so it’s perfect. For the price of one subscription per magazine, everybody gets what they want.

Mark Risinger, 16, checks his Facebook page on his computer as his mother, Amy Risinger, looks on at their home in Glenview, Ill. on October 24, 2013. (Nam Y. Huh/AP/FILE)

Should slang-deciphering software be used in US schools?

By Correspondent / 01.27.14

Parents are always looking for more insight into their children’s conversations with friends and a software company in the UK seems to have come up with a way of bringing teachers into the language loop by harkening back to William Saffire-style modern slang updates.

It came to light last week that an educational software package available by Impero, a UK-based software developer, has the capability to flag the use of words and slang terms related to bullying and self-harm for teachers, allowing them to step in for the safety of students.

According to The Guardian newspaper, “The software is used by 1,400 schools in the UK and has also been used in the US to combat gangs. It generates reports for teachers identifying problematic online behaviour.”

Jonathan Valentine, founder of Impero, mentioned on Twitter that the software sends an alert to teachers when a student is typing one of the words that falls into the screening parameters.

According to the Guardian report, “The software uses a constantly updated dictionary which includes words that most adults would not understand.”

This sounds like something I would like to see used more extensively in American schools for more than gang-violence prevention.

As a mom, I try to keep up with the new “slanguage" my teens are using, but that’s just to avoid being the clueless parent the kids roll their eyes at.

This software has a practical application that American schools have only just scratched the surface.

Impero has worked with the Anti-Bullying Alliance, students, and teachers to create the dictionary within the software, which includes words that deal with such topics as: sexting, suicide, grooming, self-harm, adult content, eating disorders, bullying and trolling, racism, and homophobia.

As a parent, I am very committed to ending bullying and abuse in our schools, but I worry that at any time my one of my children could be “flagged” by a computer program and singled out for a harmless comment online.

For instance, a teen mentioning their disapproval of “getting naked on camera” – or using the acronym “gnoc” to explain the same thing – could send an alert to the system.

However, it is because of the suicide prevention aspect, more than anything, that I am in support of this software being used in the US.

Today is the funeral for my son's friend, who committed suicide. It was the parents’ in-home discovery of their child harming herself that led to them seeking help for her, but one might wonder what could have been detected online even earlier.

While nobody will ever know if being alerted to this young woman’s self-hurting sooner could have made any difference in the outcome, I am left viewing this software differently because of my son’s friend.

It is worth considering the potential for use of Impero’s software on school and personal home computers.

Your kids may hate you for invading their privacy. Whenever my concerns over their welfare make them angry with me I tell them, “It’s my job to do everything in my power to keep you in this world a good long time to hate on my parenting.”

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In this updated photo taken by Foster Care India, a young man takes a break to supervise the hand processing of tamarind in a poor area near the railway station in Udaipur, India. (Ian Anand Forber-Pratt/Foster Care India)

Foster care takes root in India. How does it differ from adoption?

By Guest Blogger / 01.27.14

Family is an important component in anyone’s life. But those deprived of connections to their biological family, especially children, need access to programs that supplement a caring, safe environment for personal growth.

Currently, across the globe, there is a push for non-institutional alternative care solutions for children. International authorities are beginning to demand every child's right to grow up in a family-based setting.

Many of us, however, find that the options for the care of children are tough to differentiate. It is necessary to understand the difference between adoption and foster care so that the picture becomes clearer when it comes to global action.  

Adoption is a legally permanent living situation where the biological parents’ rights are surrendered and the child becomes a legal member of the adoptive family. Foster care is a temporary living situation in which the foster family has guardianship only. The child’s biological parents still remain his or her legal parents, unless their parental rights were terminated by law. So, we can say adoption is legally permanent and foster care is temporary.

In the case of adoption, the biological parents do not have a right to care for or control the assets of their child after adoption. 

Adoption benefits include a sense of permanence for the adopted child, as children know they are going to be a part of an adoptive family their whole lives. This permanence fosters a feeling of inclusivity from the family and sense of belonging for the adopted child.

In cases of foster care, the foster parents are responsible for providing the child with all the facilities of family life – to nurture children in order to benefit their personal growth and identity – without maintaining control of a child's assets or rights. 

The concept of foster care internationally is relatively new. For instance, in India, the foster care system is in its infancy. The Central Adoption Resource Authority in India has recently made conscious effort to put priority on domestic, safe adoptions and the entire country is moving toward a focus on non-institutional care options. Indian states are given the authority to expand their child protection laws, and the implementation of non-institutional care varies by state.

In India, it has been found that one of the reasons why families may prefer foster care instead of adoption is that they are not under an obligation to make the foster child a legal heir to the parents’ property.

This is related to one negative point which subsists in both adoption and foster care worldwide. Children under adoptive or foster care may not receive equal treatment given to the biological children of the family. To overcome this, there are provisions under foster care under India’s Juvenile Justice Act (2000, 2006) and Integrated Child Protection Scheme (2009) that keep regular checks on the parents so that no child’s rights are affected in any way.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child also demands children be supervised in any care environment. However, in case of adoption, there is often little follow-up.

If we look at the line of difference between adoption and foster care, both are means through which every child can find care in a family setting, but the international scope of foster care is still taking shape, providing a new option for childcare in India and worldwide.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Kripa Devpura is a member of the Foster Care India organization, which can be found at fostercareindia.org.

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