If Jennifer Garner really wants lawmakers to listen to her plea to stop paparazzi from relentlessly terrorizing celebrity children she needs to go beyond snapping a single photo, she needs to go GoPro on them by enlisting all the Hollywood parents in a film-making effort.
Garner made headlines for snapping back with her own phone camera at an aggressive paparazzi who was filming her and husband Ben Affleck while out at a farm market with their children Violet, Seraphina, and Samuel.
"I am an actress, but I am a mom first," Garner told the committee, according to the Los Angeles Times. "Being stalked has been hard for me, but it's beyond what a child should have to endure. The price paid for pictures of celebrity children is now absurdly high. They have a bounty on their heads every day. Literally every day there are as many as 15 cars of photographers waiting outside our home. Large, aggressive men swarm us, causing a mob scene, yelling, jockeying for position, crowding around the kids.”
Garner is at an extreme disadvantage in this situation because she lives in the fame bubble and may not have the benefit of neighborhood moms' PTA problem-solving style to help her out. Here in Norfolk, Virginia when one of us has a problem threatening our child it’s everybody’s problem. Facebook lights up and emails fly, phones ring.
Ben Affleck will soon have the bat signal to alert him to crime, but Garner needs all the Hollywood parents to light this one up.
Garner needs more than Halle Barry. She and Barry need a PTA (Paparazzi Teaching Association). Time to teach them you don’t mess with moms because, while you may just be looking at one, there is an invisible army of us ready to provide backup.
As a PTA member in good standing in my own community I am deputizing myself to help celebrity moms get organized.
For starters, if there’s one thing I have learned over nearly 20 years of parenting it’s that you can’t do half measures when facing down a bully, let alone a gang of them. Also you can’t go Sean Penn on them and just beat them up when they taunt you, and going to an authority figure (lawmaker) often only makes the problem worse.
No. You need to stand up to them, look them in the eye and tell them, “I am not afraid of you. I do not want a fight with you, but if you don’t stop tormenting me, I am going to respond in kind.”
Key words, “in kind.”
One photo snapped is weightless. However if every celebrity parent put a GoPro camera on their child’s head, baby stroller, and snuggly for a day to capture a child’s-eye-view of the bullies an editor could mine the footage for a body of Cannes-worthy visual evidence that would both sway lawmakers and show the paparazzi one big mirror.
As any dieter knows, sometimes all it takes is seeing ourselves in the mirror or on film, to get us to embark on a self-improvement campaign.
Photographers are living a detached life behind their lenses, sleeping in their cars like trolls, unwashed, ungroomed, safe with a barrier of polished glass and plastic between them and the nature of their actions.
Let the lawmakers and editors see these harridans from the point of view of a child or baby.
Telling people in a hearing room that your kids are just like theirs doesn’t work well because unless the people listening are beautiful, wealthy, famous, and generally adored, a part of them isn’t listening.
However, a child is a child no matter who their parents may be. Nothing is as compelling as hearing their voices and seeing through their eyes the faces of these big meanies.
The first time the paparazzi see the cameras on the celebrity kids they will think Christmas has come early. They will be worse than ever and in being so will give you all the footage you will ever need in one big take.
I think these may be the funniest home movies anyone ever takes, and your kids can laugh at what was once a pack of scary clowns outside their door.
Today the interactive Google doodle celebrates Jean Bernard Léon Foucault, a French physicist who in 1851 created the pendulum to prove the Earth’s rotation on its axis, but parents might prefer to thank him for being the big bang that probably led to the Spirograph and creative ways to get kids into STEAM education.
Sure, Foucault’s pendulum, as it came to be known, provided the first widely accepted proof of rotation using Earth-based, rather than astronomical, observations. However, like a hypnotist’s pocket watch the pendulum rapidly entranced artists and eventually our children in a hybrid world of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math we call STEAM.
“Foucault suspended a 67 meter, 28 kilogram pendulum from the dome of the Pantheon in Paris. The plane of its motion, with respect to the earth, rotated slowly clockwise. This motion is most easily explained if the earth turns,” according to the website for University of New South Wales, School of Physics, Sydney, Australia.
“Foucault was the original hipster of STEAM. He was doing science art before it was cool,” said Beau Turner, founder of MakerSpace757, one of many maker spaces around the country where inventors and innovators have access to a variety of tools and technology and can work in a hive mind environment, here in Norfolk, VA.
Okay, he might not have realized he was doing it, but Foucault was where the pendulum got into the swing of things. After the initial experiment many museums installed replicas of his design as art exhibits, infusing the science into the minds of artists worldwide and fueling their imaginations to wonder what the invisible patterns of the pendulum would look like if we could get them down on paper or sand or even in some cases in light.
I was at MakerSpace last night with my son for a bi-weekly Lego League team meeting and told Mr. Turner about the Foucault doodle. Makers are inventors, an eclectic group of technologists, math geeks, scientists, engineers, and dreamers of all ages.
Maker spaces are kind of like gym memberships for your brain. “Makers believe that if you can imagine it, you can make it. Everyone is a maker, and our world is what we make it,” Turner explained.
Families can join their local independently operated Maker space, a DIY environment filled with the physical tools they need to make their dreams into realities.
Foucault would have taken one look at the place and moved in lock, stock, and pendulum.
So while my son built his robot parts with the team, I sat down at a computer to research and “made” this blog.
A YouTube search for Foucault yielded a “sand pendulum” art video that helped me make the connection between Foucault’s Pendulum, Spirographs, and STEAM. The rest came from the Encyclopedia Britannica and various toy websites including Hasbro which now makes Spirograph.
STEAM powered art from Foucault to Spirograph goes something like this:
S: Science of astronomy was the catalyst so it deserves to be the first letter. Foucault decided to prove that the earth was spinning even though we can’t feel it doing so.
T: Technology is nothing more than, as Merriam-Webster puts it, “the use of science in industry, engineering, etc., to invent useful things or to solve problems.” The problem was that nobody believed the earth was spinning so Faucault invented a graceful and clever device to prove it was.
Foucault’s device would be modified over and over again evolving into the 1890s device called a harmonograph, a mechanical apparatus that usespendulums to create a geometric Spirography image, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica online.
E, A and M: British engineer Denys Fisher developed the Spirograph, a geometric art toy that draws mathematical curves known as hypotrochoids and epitrochoids. He reportedly based the toy on the invention by Bruno Abakanowicz who invented the integraph drawing device sometime between 1881 and 1900, all according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Fisher’s toy was first sold they year I was born in 1965. Today my nine-year-old’s favorite Kindle app is Geometric Pro which is like a living, touch-sensitive Spirograph for Dr. Who.
The Earth keeps spinning, new toys and gadgets are invented, but what really stands the test of time is our fascination with the art engaging our children in learning. Part of that we can trace back through the spiral of years to a man named Jean Bernard Léon Foucault.
Ben Seewald, 18 had to endure a parental security screening of Biblical proportions in order to date reality star Jessa Duggar, 20, the third daughter of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, which delivers the tired old message that parents’ arms are long enough to box with God over matters of the heart.
The Duggar’s strong Christian beliefs have led them and America, by virtue of their reality star status on their TLC reality series “19 Kids & Counting,” to turn dating into an NSA-worthy invasive undertaking.
For starters it’s hard to get past the fact that Jessa is age 20 which is generally a point at which young women have been thinking for themselves for quite a while and hopefully are able to make these kinds of choices by drawing on what her parents have instilled in her.
I would be interested to know if girls who want to date their sons go through the exact same process. I have known parents who screen female prospects just as carefully, like the old queen in The Princess and the Pea.
Also, the Duggar parents are taking a page from the NSA playbook by monitoring all electronic and phone conversations between the couple.
“It has been interesting to watch their interactions because they share very similar beliefs,” Mom Michelle added.
As the mother of four boys, ages nine, 14, 18, and 19, I have had plenty of girls I didn’t care for “go after” one of my sons. I didn’t like it and spoke with the boys, but if it happened once they were 18, I let them decide what to do.
At some point, we must let go and trust both our parenting track record and our own child.
When my husband and I met I was slightly older than Jessa and it was my husband’s parents who didn’t approve of me. They thought his former girlfriend was “the one” for them. Happily, she wasn’t the one for my husband.
I was raised a strict Roman Catholic and didn’t date until I was 17. Then I met my husband and all bets were off. We moved in together and married all inside of three months.
Everyone was aghast on both sides of the family, but my in-laws were inconsolable. They initially refused to come to our wedding. They thought I must be pregnant. I wasn’t.
When they did at last make it to the wedding, they came in black and left before the reception.
My father-in-law refused to kiss the bride and left us with the ominous words, “Hell can be fun for three months!”
In the midst of the never-ending, drama-driven news cycle, it can be difficult to keep priorities straight. Terrorism soaks up tons of ink, but kills very few Americans on an annual basis; traffic accidents claim far more victims but are viewed as a normal part of modern life.
So too has teenage binge drinking receded from popular consideration – evading the 21-year drinking age has long been something of a national youth sport, and getting a fake ID remains a rite of passage on college campuses from coast to coast.
A new University of Michigan Ann Arbor-Penn State study published this week in JAMA Pediatrics puts a fine point on the problem and its consequences. A sample of 16,000 high school seniors across the contiguous United States from 2005 to 2011 found that 20 percent reported binge drinking (five or more drinks at a sitting) within the past two weeks of being surveyed. Ten percent reported extreme binge-drinking of 10 or more drinks; and 5 percent reported consuming a (literally) staggering 15 or more drinks in a sitting.
The context for these stats: approximately 5,000 alcohol-related deaths a year of people 21 and younger, and an estimated $62 billion annual cost related to problems stemming from underage drinking.
The study (which excluded high school dropouts) found some trends among those who drink: Midwesterners and Northeasterners drank the most, boys drank more than girls, religious students drank less than others, and rural students drank more – rural boys, far more.
The study seems destined to kick off debate from coast to coast, and it has already been picked up far and wide. Stories highlighted a scary rising trend: Bloomberg wrote about binge drinking "turning extreme," USA Today framed it as "1 in 10 high school seniors are extreme binge drinking," and Reuters wrote about extreme binge drinking being "common," which ironically might send an unhealthy message because the study found that binge drinking was more pronounced among students who believe their friends are likely to drink. But these reports all seem to focus on the slight increase in extreme binge drinking and miss the study's findings, which suggest a slight drop in overall numbers of kids drinking from 2005 to 2011.
Largely missing from the discussion at this point are practical solutions, which may be because solutions inevitably divide public opinion; ideas range from a complete zero-tolerance ban on alcohol enforced with vigilant supervision and strict penalties to liberalized drinking laws that would recreate Europe's more tolerant (and, some would argue, more supervised) drinking culture for young adults.
One place to start might be sitting down with your teen and watching a few alcohol-focused episodes of the recently-canceled show "Intervention," which is a profoundly deglamorized and often painful look at the ravages of addiction and extreme alcohol consumption. The connection between the seemingly joyous side of alcohol (the word "partying" may be at the heart of it) and actual impact on one's body and mind can be surprisingly elusive if you're not looking for it.
Actor and aspiring singer Jaden Smith's condemnation of school via Twitter may sound like typical teen angst, but as a celebrity role model for youth his rant may have unwittingly perpetuated a poverty cycle which is often fueled by poor educational choices.
The widely influential Jaden, age 15, son to Will and Jada, brother to Willow, boyfriend to Kylie Jenner, and friend of Justin Bieber took to Twitter Sept. 12 to tell followers that schools serve the sole purpose of “brainwashing the youth.”
Reading the stories about Jaden’s rant popping up all over the Internet my heart sank, because for the past six years I have worked hard as a volunteer helping kids who hate school and feel disenfranchised by the system to re-connect with education via mentoring and chess. While I have never communicated directly with any of the Smiths, the Will and Jada Smith Foundation paid for the plane ticket that brought teen role model Pobo Efekoro of the film Brooklyn Castle here to Norfolk, Va. to empower kids to stay in school.
The most popular chess board we have in our program has a photo of the Smith family screen printed on it, and the kids race each other to get to play on it. The youngest and most easily influenced kids don’t recognize Will or Jada in the photo so much as Jaden, the heartthrob and mecca of cool.
Even the littlest ones in our program, as young as five, know who Jaden is and say, “That’s how I’m gonna be, like him.”
Everything Jaden wears, the music he plays, and especially what he says via social media is instantly trending with the kids at the Lamberts Point Community Center here in Norfolk.
In August, Norfolk announced that 31 out of 45 of our public schools failed to meet the Standards of Learning tests and will not be fully accredited as a result. The state is poised to take over those schools.
It sent a bad message to kids at the start of the school year that schools aren’t any good.
Now, comes the Jaden Smith Tweetpocalypse with the power to undo years of progress in the course of seven consecutive Tweets.
1. "People Use To Ask Me What Do You Wanna Be When You Get Older And I Would Say What A Stupid Question The Real Question Is What Am I Right Now”
2. “All the rules in the world were made by someone no smarter than you so make your own.”
3. "School Is The Tool To Brainwash The Youth”
4. “Education Is Rebellion.”
5. “If Newborn Babies Could Speak They Would Be The Most Intelligent Beings On Planet Earth."
6. “If Everybody In The World Dropped Out Of School We Would Have A Much More Intelligent Society.”
7. “Everybody Get Off Your Phones And Go Do What You Actually Wanna Do."
Jaden and other young influencers need the reality check that while they have the luxury of being rebellious, kids like Ka’ Lil, a six-year-old member of my chess group, don't have parents who, like the Smiths, can give them a golden parachute to carry them to safety should they decide to forego school.
Two years ago Ka’Lil’s sister Jada, (now 10) was bitten in the face by a pitbull shortly after attending her school’s honor roll ceremony. She walked to chess with her face bandaged because I had promised kids a free chess set if they made honor roll and she was going to collect that cool moment no matter what. She came because I promised her that school and all it can give her is cool.
If kids like Jada jump off the honor roll, nobody will be there to catch them but minimum wage and manual labor jobs instead of careers.
The pseudo-science of graphology has for centuries maintained that handwriting is a window into the soul: by scrupulous observation, an expert graphologist could, in theory, divine personal qualities, truthfulness, and even the moral character of the writer emanating from the handwriting that they were studying.
And while handwriting analysis might be overambitious about what it reads into the written word, it plays on an essential truth: the way we write relates to the way we think and express ourselves. As cursive handwriting is drummed out of schools from coast to coast, there has been push back from parents and educators – initially on an emotional basis, but increasingly with some more rigorous backing.
A study (published in 2012, but hitting the newswires this month) by Professor Isabelle Montésinos-Gelet at the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Education looked into the writing habits of 718 Québec students and teachers in 54 second grade classrooms. Students were learning cursive, or learning to print letters, or both – the study suggests that students just learning cursive reaped benefits when it came to spelling and syntax.
The development of automatic motor movements, the study suggested, was key – when you can write in a smooth, no-thought-required manner, you can concentrate on expressing yourself, not on grinding out each individual word or letter. Cursive in particular forced students to develop a stroke order that resulted in no backwards letters, and it also pushed students into laying down proper word spacing.
Interestingly, the study didn't examine what might happen to students who weren't taught any handwriting whatsoever, but were instead simply drilled on expressing thoughts through keyboards (or voice recognition software) alone. That may sound like a dark future, but as more and more of human communication moves onto tablets and phones, it's entirely possible that handwriting will one day be as generally relevant as donkey taming or archery.
As a still-active participant in the potentially dying art of writing letters out by hand, I think its possible death is a bit of a shame. A hand-written thank you note or invitation, for example, still trumps even the most animated of .gif-based communiques. And on those rare occasions when I receive written communication from someone with beautiful handwriting, I have to admit to feeling a little emotional about it – it's an almost magical thing these days, only slightly less rare than a unicorn.
Like many journalists and most doctors, my own handwriting is what used to be called "chicken-scratch." That said, the dozens of little hand-written to-do list notes I write for myself each day and fling about my home office, wallet, and car, are actually key to staying focused and getting work done. I could of course keep the same list on my smartphone or desktop computer, but having the physical artifact makes a big difference to actually being motivated by the list. And when it come time for my son to write thank-you notes for presents, he'll be doing it with pen and paper, regardless of where the school system has gone with writing instruction.
The scariest thing about abandoning handwriting (print, or cursive) is the idea that by writing things out by hand, we may actually be usefully training our brain in a way that the mere interaction with computers doesn't ... and that training, much in the same way that talking changes the way we think, may help us be the people that we are.
On that front, handwriting conservatives like myself can breathe a sigh of relief that, at the very least, people are looking into the issue and finding that jettisoning cursive is not a small decision – how we write may have a real impact on who we are.
My daughter, I'll call her Samantha, is getting married very soon. She is a professional violist and she is marrying a professional opera singer. I'll call him Darrin.
They're artists, and as such, they are in perpetual search of the next gig. For them, these are both exhilarating and challenging times. They make careful decisions about how to spend money but they are also in love. When car repairs ate up their savings last year and Samantha suggested they forego a Christmas tree, Darrin agreed, then surprised her with one anyway.
Recently, Samantha mentioned to me that Darrin thought they should be frugal over the holidays and spend Thanksgiving – her favorite family holiday – in Cleveland, where they live.
"It's tough to get away," she said to me.
"But it's your favorite holiday," I said. "I'll help."
Mothers of a bride can do that.
But I am to be a mother-in-law soon. When a wedding is as close as theirs is, mothers of the bride are in training to be mothers-in-law. If you are the mother of a bride and don't think so, I can tell you, the bride and groom think so.
"No," she said, "we have to do things like this on our own."
I can go a few ways with this.
I can be Aunt Clara: clueless, clumsy at times, but a kind and loving presence; always happy to spend any time I can with Samantha and Darrin because they are also kind and loving.
Or, I can be Endora: manipulative, divisive, critical, judgmental, controlling; blowing in to sit atop the bookcase in my elegant pajamas and point out what she's giving up, even as she is trying to tell me what he has given up for her on many occasions.
I could be Endora, and overlook that Samantha is considering Darrin's needs along with her own now, the way healthy witches do when they don't wish to abuse their power.
I could be Endora, and lay on the guilt and pressure from up there on top of the bookcase, telling Samantha what she already knows: "You live in Cleveland all year round. You miss New Hampshire. You need to come home to feel connected. Give up another trip home, not this one."
And, I did say that, while she was home. And, I'm sure she went back and reported it to Darrin, who probably rolled his eyes to think of the discussions we would have like it in the future.
But, time has a way of making you hear your words again, and again, as someone else might have heard them, while you were abusing your power.
And so, I did two things. First, I channeled my inner Aunt Clara who helped me look at things anew:
As Darrin's future mother-in-law, I have his wishes to honor now as well as Samantha's. Even if from afar, Darrin will be a presence in our family as Samantha is in his, and as such, his needs must be considered with everyone else's. Those of us on top of the bookcase are not "helping" when we put our own affection for past traditions before a couple's attempt to establish future traditions that blend both their needs.
And then, I had a discussion with Samantha in which I urged her to try and forget what I'd said, and promised not to ask her to defend this or any other decision she makes with Darrin in the future.
Mothers-in-law come with power and I can do a few things with mine: I can be Aunt Clara and use it in a kind and loving and supportive way that will get me invited back. Or I can be Endora and abuse it so that poor Darrin is always checking the top of the bookcase on his way in the door.
I'm training to be the right mother-in-law. Because, I just don't want to be Endora.
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.
While we discourage kids from interrupting in general, letting kids engage in discussion while we’re reading with them may be the key to raising a reader while providing more positive family experiences, according to a new study from Kansas State University.
Reading the study conducted by Bradford Wiles, an assistant professor and extension specialist in early childhood development at KSU, I came to the conclusion it may be time for librarians and parents to put away the bag of “Shhhhh!” and find ways to channel that effervescent curiosity.
The study on emergent literacy draws a distinction between reading “to” a child and reading “with” a child.
“Children start learning to read long before they can ever say words or form sentences,” says Professor Wiles. “My focus is on helping parents read with their children and extending what happens when you read with them and they become engaged in the story,” Wiles is quoted as saying on the KSU website.
Reading “to” is just simply reading the book and a whole lot of shushing from the reader, according to the university's website. However, reading “with” means having adult readers pick up these cues from children and using them to ask them questions to fuel discussion.
As a children’s book author who has read aloud “to, with, for” and sometimes “at” children in schools all over the country for the past 14 years, many a child has raised a hand, bouncing up and down with enthusiasm begging to ask a question in the middle of a tale.
Calling on the child inevitably results in one of two things: either a blank stare of terror because the question’s been forgotten, or an exuberant burble of their personal theory on mermaids, dinosaurs, or talking animals, as in one of my books.
My go-to response is to politely shush the teacher who is shushing the child and use the teachable moment to add a bit of reading comprehension or information about the topic that isn’t in the storybook.
I will often pause on a page and ask the children, “Do you see this map of where the mermaids live here in the city? Has anyone you know ever used a map to get around?”
That’s a group dynamic which is hard to wrangle, whereas at home with our four sons I let our youngest stop and start the reading in order to dash to the computer to look something up if he’s inspired.
“Although his research mainly focuses on 3-5 year olds, Wiles encourages anyone with young children to read with them as a family at any time during the day, not just before going to bed. He also believes that it is okay to read one book over and over again, because the child can learn new things every time.”
That reminded me of the famous American educator, philosopher, and author, Mortimer J. Adler who famously wrote, “In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”
Wiles is quoted on the KSU site saying, “There are always opportunities for you both to learn and it creates a family connection. Learning is unbelievably powerful in early childhood development.”
I believe people use the expression “introduce your child to reading” because it is meant to be an interactive experience, a meeting that can lead to making more books into “friends,” teachers, and partners in adventures yet to be written.
Thanks to technology, the difference between our lives and our maps is increasingly eroding – we not only know where we are, but the map (and the world) knows where we are, too.
Facebook and more specialized services like the popular Foursquare app provide a stream of information about what your friends are doing and where they are, but also give you the chance – or the obligation – to "check in" at a physical location and thereby broadcast where you are and what you're doing. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that "39% [of adult smartphone users] say they check into places on Facebook, 18% say they use Foursquare, and 14% say they use Google Plus, among other services."
Naturally some parents are less than thrilled with the new rise of "hey, world, track me down at this specific location" apps, but the reality for teens is more complicated than that, and such services actually offer young people a number of advantages that their parents and grandparents might have enjoyed as teens. But first, a few of the potential downsides to smartphone-based location-based services:
-- Stranger Danger
"Stranger danger" is listed here as a courtesy to public expectations, nothing more; the actual incidence rate of stranger abduction and assault is quite low, and the very nature of social media means that it's challenging to trace the movements of someone you don't actually know – you need to be virtual friends (or at least friends of friends) before you can begin following a trail of breadcrumbs toward your target.
More realistic than your teen being hunted down by some random predator is your teen being teased, hazed, or even physically bullied by a person or persons with a specific grudge against him or her. Inasmuch as social media and location-based services make it easier for us to learn more about our friends, it also gives bullies more ammunition to use against their targets, just part of the much bigger trend of bullying (particularly emotional bullying) intensifying in the digital age.
Related to bullies (but more specifically relevant to kids in their late teens) are stalkers – romantically obsessed former flames (or would-be flames) who latch to the objects of their obsessions and refuse to let go. For these folks, check ins can serve as a how-to guide to create chance encounters, keep up with potential romantic "rivals," and generally make their targets' lives miserable.
-- Mind-Numbing Conformity
Certain places don't make for rock-star level check ins: Grandma's assisted living facility, the coin and stamp store, the hobby shop, and so forth. And others may be almost required to show that you're with it: particular parties for example.
Teenage life (like life in general, come to think of it) is a precarious balancing act between being who you want to be and who you think everyone else thinks you should be, and check-in services just add one more layer of information and monitoring to the sometimes nasty little fishbowl that is middle school and high school life.
For the places that leave you less cool just for having associated with them, the obvious answer to this is simply not to check in. And as for running with the pack to the places that be ... well, it's something teens will have to grapple with regardless of their access to location-based services.
-- Create a Living Diary
The old-fashioned idea of keeping a diary may be waning in popularity (at least inasmuch a diary needs to be written with pen on paper), but having a document that we can reflect upon to see our growth and evolution will never cease to be interesting. And that's where something like Foursquare or Facebook actually becomes a new way to solve an old problem – the logs of where we've been (and who with) may have changed in form, but they're still accessible. And more and more services are springing up to convert the digital and ephemeral into something more tangible (like this neat app that turns your iPhone photos into photo albums).
-- Discover New Places
The world is a big, complicated place, particularly for kids growing up in urban areas where the number of cafes, parks, restaurants, and other hotspots is essentially without limit. Check-in services can be a way to travel vicariously and get a sense of what else is out there – and inspire travel and exploration.
-- Bond with Friends
The flip-side of bullying is friendship - the joys of having a group of close friends to share life with as a counterpoint to all the chaos and stress of growing up. Check ins tell you what your friends are up to and where they are, and that's one of the real upsides – and truly "social" aspects – of social media.
-- Spend Money More Wisely
A service like Foursquare is more than just a way to trumpet to the world where you happen to be at a give moment – it's also an opportunity to share tips or lists of tips about specific cool things to do at that place, whether it's a restaurant, a park, or a shopping mall. By allowing their users to tap into collective knowledge, check-in based services can actually enhance their users' experiences of wherever it is they happen to be going. And certain location-based applications can offer discounts or other ways to maximize fun while holding down costs ... a real plus for a teenager on a limited budget, which is to say a goodly percentage of teenagers everywhere.
Toy buying for my nine month-old has escalated beyond simple rattle and crinkle car seat toys into the wide world of smaller handheld toys that I will inevitably trip on in the the middle of the night on my way to the bathroom.
I’ve decided to upgrade his toy collection to include Little People, those pudgy, smiling plastic figures that fit like pegs into little toy tractors, buses, cars, and airplanes, and directly into my son’s mouth.
I found Little People figures modeled after DC Super Heroes and Disney Princess characters, and chose the superhero toys immediately, avoiding the princess figures altogether. These are my son’s first action figures (nevermind the fact that Little People look more fit to snuggle you into submission rather than resort to violent force), and I want to buy toys that encourage heroic, powerful characters.
Why did I automatically choose superheroes? As I watched him chew on Little Wonder Woman, I wondered – If we are careful to avoid pushing princess fantasies with fairytale endings to our daughters (protecting them from the “Disney Princess effect” discussed here), should we also watch telling our sons that they need super powers to save the world?
I don’t want to be a buzz kill. I myself love superheroes and I can’t wait to encourage my son to have an active imagination which celebrates characters bigger than reality that help save the day. I am sure we will embrace our fair share of superhero make believe too, complete with underwear on the outside of the pants and homemade masks and capes to furnish his creativity.
Plus, superheroes, more often than not, seem to be positively defined for their strength, courage, and sacrifice for the greater good. Australian blogger Damon Young, comparing the superhero make-believe of his childhood with his daughter’s princess dreams, notices the following:
"But my fantasies were all heroic: fists, feet, flying. Great powers and great responsibilities, and all that guff. This is not simply about physical violence – it is also about moral virtues, including bravery, constancy, temperance, and so on. The classic superhero – and his kindred heroes in Star Wars or Lego – has a public role, and the strength and ethical character to fulfill it."
While I agree with Young, I do want to make sure my son understands that it is the character of the superheroes and not just the fighting, flashy suits, bulging muscles, and…ahem….tights that make them powerful.
I want to reinforce that the alter egos for each of these superheroes also impact their superhuman powers for the better. It is the men and women behind the masks that make the heroes, and they have their vulnerabilities, just like us. Marvel comics addressed this issue in 2012 when it modeled a character after a boy with a hearing disability. After the boy’s mother approached the comic publisher with concerns from her son that superheroes don’t wear hearing aids, Marvel created a character named “Blue Ear” who helps save the day with the help of his own hearing aid.
For now, I think the affable Little People figures modeled after caped crusaders will be a good jumping off point for what I expect to be my son’s long relationship with superheroes. As he grows, I will do my best to help him identify his own strengths that make him powerful and able to take on the challenges of the world. I’ll teach him that you can make the world a better place through Clark Kent’s journalism, Bruce Wayne’s philanthropy, or Peter Parker’s love of science.
And I will teach him that the courage to wear your underpants on the outside builds character too.
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. Lane Brown blogs at Mudlatte.com.