Toys and childhood are and always will be linked: you can't grow up without toys. They're your distractions, your companions, and – as we're increasingly growing to understand – your teachers.
A recent University of Delaware and Temple University study called "Deconstructing Building Blocks: Preschoolers’ Spatial Assembly Performance Relates to Early Mathematics Skills" digs into how three-year-olds of various socioeconomic levels play with one particular toy (Lego-like building blocks) to explore whether there's a connection between playing with blocks and learning math.
In a nutshell: yes. The report notes that: "Spatial skill independently predicted a significant amount of the variability in concurrent mathematics performance." Kids who were able to build block models that matched a sample model, in short, seemed to possess counting and measurement skills that paid off in terms of ability to count, add, and subtract. The study goes further, convincingly arguing a casual relationship: playing with blocks, in short, builds skills.
The study also found that despite the inexpensive nature of blocks, children from lower socioeconomic status (SES) families miss out on some of their benefits, in part because of a social push toward electronic toys and learning aids:
Blocks may not be a purchasing priority for low SES families when the marketplace is convincing parents that their children need more expensive electronic toys. The fact that low SES children were already worse at the age of 3 is an unfortunate harbinger given the relationship between spatial and mathematics skill. And the fact that these are low income children who are attending Head Start, a service designed to mitigate SES differences in development, only increases the concern for those not enrolled.
And although the study connected blocks with math, language plays a crucial role, too:
Parent reports of the spatial language they used with their child indicated significant differences between higher- and lower-SES participants. Lower-SES parents indicated that they used fewer spatial words, particularly words that convey spatial relationships between two objects (specifically, between, below, above, and near) rather than size (e.g., big or short).
The implications of the study are numerous, but the most bold and obvious finding my be that despite the dizzying expansion of the digital world, "meatspace" toys still matter – that gripping something with your hands and feeling how it interacts with other matter is actually a profoundly powerful way to experience the world and learn from it.
The study also suggests that, as with most things, a disparity of income seems to really matter in terms of how children fare in the world. As the gap between America's haves and have-nots continues to widen, it's worth considering that income inequality has consequences not just for health but also for education.
And for what it is worth: My own experience with wooden blocks was nothing short of fundamental to who I am. From my toddler years up through my early teens, I played with a large set of wooden blocks, building increasingly complex symmetrically balanced cathedrals, cities, and military emplacements. Blocks were the alpha and omega of play for me – entertaining by themselves, but also a perfect setting for incorporating other items (Legos, little green army men) and putting them into a larger unified context. My early math skills seemed to benefit from the experience, and I was on a hot streak until a nasty bout of advanced algebra in high school derailed me. I've been working with words ever since, but even in the world of writing, structure is fundamental. Structure is at the core of playing with blocks, and I'm pleased that my parents hung onto my set; they'll be going to my son sometime very soon ... with Legos to follow as soon as he can avoid swallowing them.
Today parents searching for a way to put the government shutdown into words their kids can understand might want to look to video games and the Urban Dictionary for the answer that Congress just “rage quit” the game we could title “The Battle of Obamacare,” leaving kids and families to suffer as collateral damage.
This observation comes courtesy of my youngest son Quin, 9, this morning.
“Uh Mom, the newspaper has the Capitol building upside down and says our government shut down today,” said Quin, 9. “Somebody at the paper seriously messed up.”
For Quin it was more likely that a major newspaper could flip the Capitol and get the facts upside-down rather than grasp that Congress has driven the nation into a partial government shutdown in a blood feud over President Barack Obama's health care law.
I explained to Quin that the paper had it right, Congress is fighting over a law and because they couldn’t settle their differences, about 800,000 federal workers are off the job and most “non-essential” federal programs and services are shut down today.
“Oh so they rage quit,” Quin said. “I get it now.”
To “rage quit” is a common video gamer term the Urban Dictionary defines as, “To stop playing a game out of anger towards an event that transpired within the game.”
Son Ian, 18, read the paper and said, “Great! So they just GGed the government.”
When I looked blankly at him he said, “When you rage quit you just type GG and sign off it means ‘Good Game.’”
It’s basically a high-tech tantrum. Nobody likes a rage quitter, according to Ian who is an avid online group gamer.
There are those who don’t approve of allowing kids to play video games. However, I am seeing another side of it as I look at Congress today because my sons do cooperative online gaming which allows multiple players to quest by working together towards the same goal.
Congress has just performed a monster rage quit that is impacting families right now because while the programs may be deemed “non-essential,” the jobs, daycare, and food supplement programs that shut down today are vital to families.
WIC, a Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children is part of the collateral damage in this political game.
Fortunately, according to Business Insider, “School lunches and breakfasts will continue to be served, and food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, will still be distributed.”
ForKids, a non-profit that helps homeless families here in Norfolk, Virginia, is bracing for the worst today, according to Bill Young, chief development officer. “Our program is not talking about wealthy families postponing their trip to Yellowstone,” Young said. “We don’t know the extent of what’s actually happening versus implications. There is a deep concern that the most poor have no safety net, so any elimination of critical services like nutrition or child care will have an immediate impact. There’s an implication that WIC, HUD and daycare offices will be closed, but the offices are open today. Although some are reduced hours. We are bracing. There is no good alternative to the elimination of child nutrition and child care programs. There is nada.”
According to PIX11 in Washington, D.C., many parents who still have paying jobs to go to can’t because Head Start funding is cut off which means some daycare centers and preschools which are funded in whole or in part by Head Start are closed today. More than 1,000 others face cutbacks in hours or programs, and could possibly shut their doors if the government shutdown were to wear on.
Looking at the big family picture this means that in many families everyone is home today on a forced vacation and nobody is happy about it.
Even families on regular holiday, who are not affected financially by the shut-down, are affected as our national parks shut their gates.
Now that Quin has me looking at the shut-down in video gaming terms I suddenly I see a future in politics for my sons.
I also see that members of Congress are in the wrong game session. They should be furloughed to a room full computers where they can learn to cooperate and the only damage they can do to our kids is in a virtual world.
I recently met my friend’s daughter for the first time in person. I already knew what she looked like and snippets of her personality through her parents’ posts on Facebook. I have essentially been her friend on Facebook for years, but it will be another decade before she has her own profile.
Similarly, my college buddies keep me posted on their daughter’s adventures via Instagram, posting photos of her on the trail, on a bike, and outside in Montana living the life of a mountain girl. Or, at least I assume she is a mountain girl because these are the only pictures I have ever really seen of her. I haven’t made it out to Montana since she was born.
And don’t get me started on the absolutely adorable pudge on my honorary nephew in New York. At six-months-old he is already slated to be my son’s best friend, as soon as we find time for a trip to the city.
I know more about my friends' children through social media posts than real-life encounters. Children today are part of the first truly social generation whose lives will be documented from birth to adulthood on social media sites. So, what is my son like to those who only know him online?
As adults, we put our best selves online (or a tightly managed, pleasantly self-deprecating version of our flawed selves). Like the “casual” picture of me sitting on the porch with my son that was taken and re-taken four different times by my husband before I accepted that it looked ready for mass consumption. Do we edit the information we share about our kids in the same way?
I think we have to behave online as if we are posting on behalf of our kids, not about our kids. It’s already hard enough for many folks to be friends with their parents on social media, as Mashable points out in this list. Now fast forward a decade or so and think about how your kid will feel seeing a post about his failed attempt at potty training. I want my son to appreciate his online profile before he takes it over.
When it comes to posting and sharing on social networks, plenty of resources exist urging teens to stay smart and safe online. Facebook has an entire division dedicated to online safety and a Safety Advisory Board. However, few resources teach parents what to do when posting on behalf of their own kids.
As a marketer, I’ve put together a few thoughts related to how to think about posting on behalf of your kids. Facebook is referenced a lot (especially as the number one network among my mom friends), but these tips apply to Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Google+, and other social networks as well.
What not to post:
- Please don’t share detailed descriptions (and DEFINITELY no photos!) of explosive diapers, vomiting, bloody noses, potty training mishaps, or any other bodily functions gone wrong. If you want sympathy, call a friend. If you genuinely need medical advice, I’m inclined to suggest that it won’t come from your former sorority roommate’s “hang in there!” comment.
- Never post nude photos of your kids online. I can’t believe I have to make this point, but I have seen one too many bare buns shots to gloss over the subject. There are definitely risks associated with predators who search for and use these kinds of photos, but more importantly, your kid will probably never want that picture in the public domain. I’m all for breaking out the cringe-worthy baby on a bear skin rug photo, but only in private when my son can defend those dimples in person.
- Avoid extensive and lengthy complaints about your kids. I have been reminded (repeatedly) by generations of mothers before me that I have it easy. I would tend to agree. I know there are always exceptions, but if I have time and the means to use social media to share commentary about my kids, odds are I’m not keeping busy tending the farm, darning socks, or working in the mine. So, I have implemented what I will call the “grandma rule” for social posting. If your grandma wouldn’t complain about it when she was raising kids, don’t go complaining about it yourself.
Tips when posting
- Make sure you understand how Facebook and other social media sites use the photos you post. For instance, look here for a primer of how photos are used by Facebook, and specifically in advertising.
- Know your privacy settings. Select the right group to share posts with when they include information about your kids. Consider tailoring who can see your posts from a Web-wide audience to a group of close friends and family.
- Ask before posting pictures of another parent’s kids. I’m not saying you need to ask your play date sign a photo release, but check in and make sure other parents approve you posting pictures including their kid. Feel free to share this tip with your child’s grandparents (ahem, mom and dad, I’m talking to you), who in their zeal to embrace social media, might post more photos from an afternoon of babysitting than you would post in a calendar quarter.
Where to share that isn’t all out there:
- If you like the ease of social media sites, but want to keep posts including your kids private, sign up for online and mobile tools like 23snaps that let you create “profiles” for your children. You can easily upload pictures, videos, and text, which is delivered in a newsfeed only to invited friends who have subscribed to your updates. 23snaps also provides options for sharing your updates with other social media sites.
- If you still want to use larger social media sites, consider creating private groups on those sites. Google+ and Facebook offer ways to build private, invite-only groups that allow you to share with a particular group of friends. This is a great way to access contacts only maintained through social networks, without worrying about making a public post.
- Use an online photo-sharing site like Shutterfly to create a Web site for your family. Send updates newsletter-style to select friends who can access the site through a username and password. And as a bonus, tools like Shutterfly and 23snaps allow you to create albums and other photo gifts, so you can combine archiving great memories with keeping friends and family up to date.
Hopefully up to this point I have done my son a favor and approached his online introduction responsibly. As far as I know, there are no bear skin rug photos floating around online. There might be a post or two of me looking a little feral (hat tip to mom blog “eating over the sink" for that descriptor) due to adventures in motherhood, but no tushies have been exposed in the filming of his childhood.
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.
Did you ever have something really good happen that you had mixed emotions about?
Ever dip into a panic right before you got married or had a baby?
Have you ever been offered a job you sought only to wish you hadn’t gotten it?
Have you ever had times when you are very emotional but couldn’t describe what you were feeling or why?
Did you ever think you were just plain crazy?
Of course you did.
Now imagine being two. Or four, or six, or twelve. In an immature stage of development, confused, overwhelming emotions spin around inside a child’s head like a tornado, the child doesn’t know what is happening, and the result is unwanted, inappropriate, out-of-control behavior.
If you were not experienced enough to know that this is only temporary, you’d probably think, “Is this how I’m going to feel forever?” Face it. At age forty or fifty you think that.
So when a young child is up and down emotionally, he understands his feelings a lot less than you do and has no way of explaining himself. So, “What’s wrong? How do you feel about that? Why are you so upset/angry/sad?” are the worst possible things you can say to an upset child.
My two-year-old grandson has just become the big brother to twins. He shows genuine affection towards them, is playful with them, and seems proud to be a big brother. At the same time, he has fallen a lot, gotten bruises and scrapes and 8 stitches. He has screamed, “No babies” and “I want to punch the babies.” And he’s having a very hard time sharing any of his toys with any other child. To ask him why he is saying and doing what he is would be pointless. So why do we do it?
I often ask parents how much of the time they spend at their personal best. As you can imagine, I get a lot of laughs and self-deprecating remarks. So then, why do we expect our children to be at their best? We learn what they are capable of and then expect that all the time. If someone expected that of us (other than at work), we would probably not be friends.
We need to give our kids a break, allow them to make mistakes – a lot of mistakes – and never label them as failures. Our children need to know that we understand their crazy emotions, we understand when they just feel like vegging, we understand when they don’t want to talk and when they want their sibling to disappear.
When you tell your kids you get it, it doesn’t mean you allow it. It means that you can understand why they feel/think/wish for what they do. That doesn’t mean you’re going to fulfill their every wish or condone their desire to punch out their brother. We all just want to feel understood.
If you came home and told your partner about something hurtful someone said to you, you would want your partner to acknowledge your hurt feelings – even validate you by saying he would have felt hurt too. You do not want your partner to tell you what you should have said or that you shouldn’t let such a stupid remark get to you.
In the same way, young children who don’t yet trust their feelings want to know that you understand so they learn their feelings are always okay and we all have them. When big emotions feel overwhelming, it is very validating to hear a parent say, “You were really angry when I said you couldn’t have ice cream. You wanted to hit me and I stopped you, which made you even angrier. Then you cried really hard, and I got mad too. We both got really mad, didn’t we?” In this way, you mirror what happened for your child so he feels understood and accepted. In this regulated state, he can think clearly and learns to trust.
When someone names what is going on for us, it feels extremely soothing (that’s why people pay big bucks for therapy). I once had my favorite car stolen in New York City. One of my friends said, “It’s only a car.” I felt wrong for feeling upset and certainly unwilling to share anymore with her. I wanted and even needed to hear, “Oh how awful. You really loved that car.“
Have you ever said or done something you didn’t mean, and then later apologized and felt better when you were forgiven? Why don’t we give our children the benefit of the doubt, know that they reacted impulsively, and give them time to take it in – experience natural consequences. Instead we jump down their throats, treat them like budding criminals, punish, and force phony apologies. That’s what brings on defensiveness. When we feel understood, we are in a much better place to solve problems and make amends.
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. Bonnie Harris blogs at Connective Parenting.
Singer/songwriter Alanis Morissette faces a lawsuit from a former nanny who alleges work abuses including long shifts without breaks and a lack of overtime pay. The former nanny, Bianca Cambeiro, is seeking $130,000 ($30,000 in unpaid wages and $100,000 in damages), according to the Daily Mail in London.
The Daily Mail story (ably illustrated by photos of Morissette in concert playing a sparkly gold guitar) lays out only the nanny's account of a grueling schedule: three to four overnight shifts a week (from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m.) confined to the baby's bedroom and the occasional seven-day stint without overtime.
This story is playing out in the media just days after California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that requires time-and-a-half overtime pay for domestic workers – including nannies, but excluding baby sitters. The bill's sponsor initially pushed for "a requirement for meal and rest breaks for housekeepers, nannies, and workers who care for the disabled and elderly, but those provisions eventually were dropped from his measure, AB241" according to the Associated Press story on the measure.
This is far from the first time that nanny-related controversy has walked into the limelight. Nannies have gotten headlines for everything from sexual harassment allegations (actor Rob Lowe), to "stealing" husbands (Ethan Hawke, Robin Williams), and to ending political careers when allegations of employing illegal immigrants and/or underpaying nannies come to light (most famously during President Bill Clinton's "Nannygate" series of scandals).
At the core of all the drama: the job of nanny is a uniquely powerful and powerless position. Some nannies work with some of the richest and most powerful people in the country doing one of the most vital jobs imaginable: caring for children. But they are often treated worse than other domestics (such as maids) who typically enjoy some sort of regular schedule and regulated wages and benefits. The job has its perks – it's a rare opportunity to earn money (sometimes off the books) by doing something that can be fulfilling and rewarding (sometimes with little or no formal training), but those same perks make the position easy to undercompensate.
And the public discussion over nannies tends to circle back to the bedrock, hot-button issues of race and class. It's entirely typical for nannies to be immigrants (legal or otherwise) who may have less knowledge of American laws, or no standing to invoke them in their own defense. And nannies are typically women employed by women, meaning that any oppression touches upon issues of gender conflict – and that when public backlash targets their rich bosses, the person in the cross hairs of the media is most typically the children's mother, not their father.
At its worst, being a nanny can be surprisingly similar to slavery – read this CNN report about a nanny who worked for a Fortune 500 company executive from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. without a single day off in 15 months, earning $1.27 an hour. At its best, it can be a rewarding, fairly compensated career that comes with extraordinary benefits: the joy of raising and educating children and the pleasure of being part of a loving family.
The remarkable gulf between those two extremes – and the reliance on nannies by extremely busy, extremely wealthy, and sometimes extremely temperamental people – ensures that they won't leave the news entirely anytime in the near future, Governor Brown's law notwithstanding.
In the 15 years since Google was founded (you can see that momentous event commemorated here in today's cute Google doodle piñata game), the company has had a massive impact on the way Internet searching works. And by improving the Internet search from a largely ineffective random grab into a powerful precision tool, Google has also transformed a number of other massively broad spheres of activity, including commerce, government, and leisure.
Beyond that: Google has changed the way parents do their thing, too. We are now armed with the rapid ability to obtain knowledge on nearly anything we want, which makes us more effective (or more efficiently ineffective) parents than the world has ever seen.
In short: the post-Google parent is aware (possibly over-aware) of trends, ideas, and occasionally actual knowledge in a way that his or her pre-Google counterparts weren't. That includes ...
Keeping up with slang
Since time immemorial, language has changed and adapted, with hallowed traditions defended by increasingly scarce and embittered graybeards while young whippersnappers dish up hot dishes of new, nearly impenetrable slang seemingly for the sole purpose of confusing and annoying their elders. And then, of course, the students become the masters, confused in turn by the next wave.
Having some idea of who Drake is
And what good is having a crude, dictionary-derived understanding of slang terminology and usage without understanding the various horrible pop cultural influences who will be teaching your sons and daughters these desecrations of the English language? Again: Google to the rescue. From Arabella (from Teen Mom 3) to Zedd, the Internet oracle serves up a quick thumbnail biography so that parents can be roughly conversant in current events with their kids, if not actually fluent.
Obsessing over baby milestones
Once upon a time, parents needed to buy tedious parenting books in order to worry about the minutiae of evolving sleep patterns or the potential implications of being three days late to start crawling. Thanks to Google, we're guaranteed democratic access to literally dozens of sites that let us track, quantify, predict, and otherwise dissect every move and sound made and uttered by our poor, over-interpreted offspring.
Being hyper-aware of baby-naming trends
Naming your baby used to be easy: You picked a well-known name held by an elder family member and/or inspirational figure from your faith, and you went with it. Now, the challenge is to be more original than anyone you know, for fear that your son or daughter might suffer if given a name that can be easily spelled and/or pronounced.
Fortunately there is a host of Google-accessible websites dedicated to the sole purpose of helping you find a name for your kid, citing naming trends going back to the 19th century and coughing up diamonds like "Isla" or "Bentley" for parents racking their brains for the new hotness.
And if you're agonizing over whether to name your little girl Leighton, Kieran, or Brinkley, agonize no longer - other parents are talking about it, and you can learn from their thinking, or, at times, what passes vaguely for thinking.
Knowing it all
When I was growing up, I considered myself fortunate to have a father well-grounded in science. His oracular knowledge (Why is the sky blue? How do fish breathe water? How do you make a Molotov cocktail? Can we make a diamond in the backyard if we bury coal for long enough?) seemed darn near magical. Having a dad who could explain the mysteries of life was exciting and, more importantly, it put me ahead of the game vis-a-vis other kids with less knowledgable parents.
Now, any parent with a smartphone or laptop or tablet computer can enjoy that same sense of knowledge and power ... until their son or daughter turns four and is able to out-Google them.
Knowing too much
Knowledge can be enlightening, empowering, dangerous, or worrisome, and that extends to parents' knowledge (or "knowledge") of what kids are up to these days. That can include the rough stuff that kids face: bullying (particularly cyber bullying) and the horrors of sexting (which, sadly, can sometimes feed back into a particularly nasty and damaging form of bullying.)
It can be hard not to fuss and worry when handed this dizzying array of intel about what can go wrong with kids. But then, there's also nothing to stop you from Googling a decent massage, a vacation at a cabin – or well-rated child-care.
Seeing the headlines on “sextortion” photos of Miss Teen USA it’s easy to assume that someone got hold of photos taken by someone she knew, but in this case it was her computer’s webcam that betrayed her when it was remotely controlled by a hacker.
It’s time for parents to form a Cyberhood Watch. We need to get the word out to parents that our kids need our protection not only when they are online, but when cameras in their laptops, tablets, and smart phones might be watching them without their or our consent.
The new cybercrime is dubbed “sextortion.” While this is a case of a teen being spied on it made me realize that it could also be used by pedophiles capturing images of younger kids who use our tablets, smart phones, and computers that have built-in cameras.
In the case of Cassidy Wolf, Miss California Teen USA, who won Miss Teen USA last month at the pageant in the Bahamas, it was nude photos.
According to The Associated Press, last month, Wolf told the website of NBC's "Today" show she received an anonymous email in which the sender claimed to have stolen images from the camera on her home computer.
“The sender of the email threatened to go public with images captured from Wolf's webcam unless she would provide nude pictures of herself,” the AP reports. This type of crime is commonly known as "sextortion."
Wolf went to authorities instead.
The AP reports, “An FBI agent's affidavit, included in the complaint, contends that Abrahams used malicious software to remotely operate webcams to capture nude photos and videos of at least seven women as they changed clothes — some of whom he knew personally and others he found by hacking Facebook pages.
The agent alleged that Abrahams, when interviewed, acknowledged controlling 30 to 40 hacked computers and extorting some women.”
George Orwell would have had a field day with the fact that while our webcams let us stay in touch with friends and family, they also pose risks of people hacking into them and spying on every action.
It also made my husband, who is ever distrustful of technology and webcams in particular, right about unplugging or covering the webcam when we are not using it.
There are numerous makers of webcam covers including a little tiny sticker called a “camjamr” that goes over the camera lens on your phone to prevent hackers from using it.
Think of every time you handed your child a device that contained a webcam. Consider all the places your smartphone or laptop have access to in your home as if you were on live TV.
A recent Pennsylvania lawsuit accused a school district of using webcams on school-issued laptops to spy on students and their families. Also, in China, hackers known as GhostNet cracked 1,295 webcams in 103 countries, according to the Norton Security website.
While this is deeply disturbing news, the one thing we have over cyber criminals is the fact that we, the parents, were here watching our kids long before they were. We’re better at it, more relentless, and much more dedicated.
If cyber criminals want to mess with a network they had better realize that one composed of angry, protective parents is the wrong one to target. It’s time to get a Cyberhood Watch up and running by blacking-out the view for these peeping-cyberToms.
Fair warning to hackers, we’ve got you in our sights now.
Believers with cell phones – have I got an app for you: The Book-of-Leviticus-put-to Fruit-Ninja-like graphics. No? How ‘bout the Bible Shaker – shake your phone, and see what verse appears. Or, no, wait here’s a Last Supper animation, leading you through the books of the New Testament. Gaming apps are perhaps the newest and fastest growing segment of the religious app market – melding the technology of gaming with the religious imagery of tradition to make faith, well, fun. And if slicing animals ninja-style seems hardly holy, some have faith that such apps serve to introduce children to their religions’ icons and culture.
Gaming is but the newest addition to a marketplace of religion apps so large and fluid that experts can’t even estimate how many are out there. Storytelling apps are also popular, especially with children, with varying degrees of interaction involved, according to Rachel Wagner, associate professor of religion at Ithaca College, and author of “Godwired: Religion, Ritual and Virtual Reality.
Social media apps published by specific congregations are emerging as religion app leaders as well, she explained. They feature denomination-specific content and often include streaming video of sermons, member comments, scriptures, worship, prayer materials and podcasts specifically packaged for a congregation’s membership. In an atmosphere of anonymous app sponsorship and dubious content, these church-specific apps offer congregants some familiarity and quality control: I know this conforms to my faith tradition. I trust this.
Many apps want to invite you into a ritual or faith practice via phone, the most notorious being the Confession app, which ostensibly allows Roman Catholics to receive the sacrament of confession via cellphone. The notion of participating in religious rituals alone, electronically, raises questions among believers of what, indeed constitutes legitimate worship, said Professor Wagner. Less controversial are the many and varied “prayer” apps, with Pray! being a favorite of hers. You type in a prayer and hit “send,” a prayer mindset activator akin to the more familiar prayer posture of kneeling or folding the hands, she said.
Sacred text apps are perennial favorites, and e-familiarity brings comfort. You can search your Torah, email your BhagavadGita, get commentary on that Gospel. Searching the apps stores using terms as specific as possible increases the likelihood you’ll unearth something designed not by an 18 year-old in his basement, says the professor, but by a someone who knows your own faith. Just because an app has 5 stars doesn’t mean it is meaningful. “Some religious experience isn’t popular at all,” she said.
Praying done, you can trim up your mobile prayer space with Jesus Christ Wallpaper, or screens showing Buddha, the Star of David, prayer beads, and such, and can hear anything from church bells to Christian pop and beyond on your ringer.
If all this leaves you wanting to clear your head, meditation apps like the Zen Garden come up big, as do others inspired by Eastern traditions. Some sites help you focus by locking out your email, phone, and other functions while you meditate. Guru Meditation makes you hold the device with both hands, thumbs not moving, in order to keep your distractible self from surfing. Om…amen.
The USA managed the greatest comeback in the 162-year history of the America’s Cup, beating New Zealand with grit, determination and all the brilliance in sport Americans are known for making Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian moms proud because it was mostly their sons and not ours captaining and crewing the boat.
There was only one American-born citizen on the winning 24-man American boat, Rome Kirby, 24, trimmer/grinder. A grinder is the guy winding the winches to pull in, let out, haul up, or bring down sails. It is the most physically punishing job on a yacht.
“Fellow American, John Kostecki, a tactician, was replaced on the boat by Britain’s Ben Ainsle after Oracle lost 6 of the first 7 races in the series. Since then, Oracle has stormed back to even the series at 8-8,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
This win gives weight to the expression “to win at all costs” by America once again purchasing national pride.
It’s become a trend here in our nation that when another nation beats us in sport or technology our solution is not to make our own people better by investing in programs here that raise the level of American kids’ performance, but to import and re-label the success we import.
I watched this revelation come to my son Ian, 18, this morning at the breakfast table as we discussed the epic victory after a week of watching the races with his father. We are a sailing family. We lived aboard a 38-foot long Columbia Yawl rig sailboat and later a 37-foot Jim Brown design trimaran when Ian was little. His father is a Laser racer and Ian has spent summers and winters running the committee boat for various races locally.
“Wait, what?” Ian said when I showed him the WSJ story. “Did America just win by beating New Zealand with an Australian captain and mostly New Zealand crew?”
I had found this out from my husband who mentioned it last night after cheering the win. I felt completely had.
Like Ian, I was upset with the “national pride” paradox.
When Ian started asking breakfast table questions, his younger brother Quin, 9, sailed into the conversation.
“So how did America win in this situation if we only had one guy,” Quin asked. Then he answered his own question, “Oh wait, I get it. We win because we bought the best team, because Americans weren’t good enough.”
Ian and I looked at each other in a moment of horror. It was like watching a toddler tumble to the fact that Santa looks an awful lot like his father and the Tooth Fairy resembles mom.
We were watching one light go on and another one go out.
“Mom, seriously, don’t even argue this one because he’s pretty much right,” Ian said. “That’s the message.”
I agree that it’s the message but I do not agree that it’s the truth about our kids and nation.
You can’t convince me that American sailors and captains can’t do this job. The issue isn’t a lack of talent but a lack of investment in that talent.
Also, there is a wealth of technology, scientific, engineering, and sport talent of all kinds in our schools that is going un-tapped because we are not investing in the cultivation and exploration of this natural resource.
If kids were oil-rich land we’d invest in developing them.
Right now I have two sons on rowing teams, one in high school and the other in college and neither is funded by the state or school. The same goes for our sailing teams and many other programs in both sport and education.
We expect our kids to pass standardized tests by teaching to that test instead of investing in good solid education that engages our children in critical and executive thinking exercises.
Then we are upset that this cheap fix isn’t turning out the technology giants that other nations have. So we solve this by importing intellect and tech.
The problem with buying success and outsourcing our thinking and sporting wins is that you need money to do that. By not growing our own crop of talent in sport and business we are racing to failure on a global scale.
I want my kids to be proud of American achievements. More importantly, I want them to know that they can be the ones who will be on the playing field.
Is gender neutrality the hot new thing when it comes to toys?
Inasmuch as a term as abstract as "gender neutrality" can sweep to popular acclaim, the answer may be "yes."
Starting with a Swedish holiday campaign for Toys R Us last year that showed girls shooting a toy gun and boys and girls playing together in a kitchen, pressure has started to mount on the industry-leading toy store to abandon decades-old marketing conventions that segregate most toys into one gender or the other.
A British parents' group called Let Toys Be Toys has succeeded in persuading British Toys R Us stores to "draw up plans for how to make its marketing more inclusive, and remove explicit references to gender in store," as well as tailor advertisements to break free of traditional gender constraints.
The changes have begun to be felt on this side of the Atlantic as well, with local journalists picking up the story and a Change.org petition pushing for an end to gender-based toy marketing picking up steam (it's up to 2,912 supporters as of the morning of Sep. 25 – not much in absolute terms, but a concrete sign that the topic is sparking passionate discussion and even advocacy.)
The idea of completely removing gender when it comes to marketing (or enjoying) toys seems quixotic – anyone who has witnessed the spark of magic that occurs when a little boy gets his mitts on his first toy gun will likely suspect that there's something hardwired in there. (When I was a kid, my parents forbade me from playing with toy guns, which meant that I spent as much time as possible hanging out at my friend Tim's house. There we had access to an arsenal of Italian-made heavy plastic weapons that were darn near photo-realistic and perfect for us-versus-them role play: cops and gangsters, Brits and Germans, humans and zombies, you name it.)
But the idea that toys must be gender segregated without any thought or discussion seems to be going by the wayside, as are strictly policed gender roles. The recent fast-moving and powerful media discussion of Pvt. Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning) shows that questions of gender identity are increasingly up for public discussion and debate.
Perhaps the key incident over the past few years in this regard is Lego's increasingly aggressive marketing of Legos for girls called Lego Friends. The toys put less emphasis on construction and modeling, and more on doll-like social play, leading to criticism by some parents as reinforcing gender stereotypes: boys build and fight, girls talk and nurture. That criticism does not reflect a consumer backlash – the girl-tailored Legos have been incredibly popular.
In short, gender will likely always have an influence over what toys are enjoyed by girls and boys. But the way that society in general (and parents, in particular) discuss it will keep expanding and evolving.