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Modern Parenthood

When was the first parachute jump? Today's interactive Google Doodle promises answers to questions like these through it's new answers engine. (Courtesy of Google)

When was the first parachute jump? Leaps of faith personified

By Correspondent / 10.22.13

One small drop for man, one giant leap for toys, amusement park rides, science experiments and imagination, today the Google doodle celebrates the 216th anniversary of the first parachute jump.

“The doodle is based on André-Jacques Garnerin's daring leap on Oct. 22, 1797 at Parc Monceau in Paris, which saw the then 28-year-old leap from a balloon using a seven-metre silk parachute that resembled an umbrella,” according to the Google doodle website.

The reason this event is important to parents is that without that first jump no little boy – or girl –  would ever have a plastic army man to toss off a balcony, no raw egg would make it safely to the ground when tossed off a building in a science class experiment, and Disneyland would be short the Parachute Drop ride which is a replica of Garnerin's basket drop.

Having four sons, I have seen more parachutes and been the victim of more airborne pranks than I can count.

My two older sons loved those little plastic army guys that come with a parachute. You could find the “air sailors” as my two older boys called them, in cereal boxes, birthday goody bags, and bubble gum machines at the supermarket.

When the two older boys were toddlers we lived aboard a sailboat down in Goodland, Fla. And we were worse than dirt poor, we were water poor.

One Christmas when we lived on the boat we had zero money and all I could afford was toys from the machine at the supermarket.

I cried and beat myself up over the worrying that I had failed them.

They opened all the handmade gifts and played happily enough until they began to unwrap the tiny packets containing the parachute men and began to whoop with total joy.

The little men who could float and catch the air currents in their little “sails” turned out to be their favorite toys for years to come, not that they lasted more than a few flights before needing repairs.

When we moved from the boat to land and an old log cabin in Medford, N.J. a few years later my sons’ greatest joy in life was launching the darn army “air sailors” off the balcony down into the living room to see who could land one in my morning coffee.

You never know where one little leap will take you. Those parachute men launched my sons’ fascination with science.

A few months ago my eldest son Zoltan, 19, informed me he intends to do a parachute jump as soon as it’s affordable.

While it scares me to pieces, I’m excited and amazed that one small toy derived from one great experiment by Garnerin's could give my kids’ imaginations so much air time.

qCraft brings the principles of quantum physics to the popular computer game Minecraft. (Mincraft Teachr/qCraft/You Tube)

How Google brought quantum physics to Minecraft (+video)

By Correspondents / 10.21.13

While Legos aren't going anywhere anytime soon, it's fair to say that the online building blocks game Minecraft is the modern-day online equivalent of Legos.

Minecraft, like Legos, is less a toy or a game than a complex system for building, playing, and learning, using hundreds (or thousands) of small units to build up complicated structures, systems, and scenarios.

And like Legos, it scales depending on what you want to do with it – a child can build a simple house; a world-class architect can build a profoundly sophisticated palace. And the former can concretely aspire to be the latter.

The beauty of Minecraft is that players can do quite a bit more than any but the best-funded Lego architect can manage.

You can create an assembly line. You can build a replica of the Taj Mahal. You can build a programmable computer. And now you can explore the world of quantum mechanics and computing thanks to an add-on by Google Quantum A.I. Lab Team.

The Team explained in a blog post:

Millions of kids are spending a whole lot of hours in Minecraft ... So how do we get these smart, creative kids excited about quantum physics?

We talked to our friends at MinecraftEdu and Caltech’s Institute for Quantum Information and Matter and came up with a fun idea: a Minecraft modpack called qCraft. It lets players experiment with quantum behaviors inside Minecraft’s world, with new blocks that exhibit quantum entanglement, superposition, and observer dependency.

And while the Google team concedes that qCraft isn’t a perfect scientific simulation, perfection is beside the point – the main thing is that it's "a fun way for players to experience a few parts of quantum mechanics outside of thought experiments or dense textbook examples."

Minecraft in general (and quantum Minecraft specifically) offers students an opportunity to experience virtual experiential learning – which is to say, the virtual chance to learn something by doing it, rather than learning by reading or listening to a description.

All of this is exciting to a dad like myself, an old-school nerd raised by a digital design engineer (i.e a truly old-school nerd). I grew up building massive houses of cards with computer punch cards, the pieces of paper that used to be how computers were programmed and operated, graduating as an older kid to playing (and re-playing, and re-playing) the classic city planning game SimCity.

And now I can look forward to having a son who eventually builds his own worlds in Minecraft - and explores the world of quantum computing within those worlds, to boot.

An astronomer observes the Orionids at an observatory near the village of Avren east of the Bulgarian capital Sofia, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2009. (Petar Petrov/AP)

Orionid meteor shower: Miss last night's show? There's more to come

By Correspondent / 10.21.13

Every October, fragments of the famed Haley's comet dance across the sky in the much-anticipated Orionid meteor shower. This year, the light given off by the nearly full moon during the shower peak last night obscured the show for many sky watchers. But all is not lost. The night sky offers many opportunities to explore stars, meteors, and comets throughout the year, says Smithsonian astrophysicist and Harvard lecturer Sean Andrews.

In three weeks, the Leonid meteor shower will splash across the sky, though Dr. Andrews expects that the moon might once again outshine the shower. He suggests that families might have better luck catching the Gemonid meteor shower on Dec. 12 and 13. “It might be cold, but the moon is not going to be obstructive,” he says.

There is also a major comet that could potentially come into view some time in the next several weeks. “No one really knows when this will happen or if we’ll get to see it,” Andrews says. “It’s very close in the sky to the sun so you can’t see it until it gets further away.” He expects that in a few weeks astronomers might have better predictions for when to look for the comet.

However, families need not wait for an astrological event to explore the night sky, Andrews says. Local amateur astronomy organizations routinely host stargazing events and welcome young would-be astronomers. Area universities frequently open up their observatories and telescopes to the public.

Last year, we offered suggestions for families hoping to glimpse the heavens together. These are not unique to the Orionids. Stargazing and astronomical events offer kids and families a chance to venture into the quiet dark to glimpse the heavens.

Waking them up in the middle of the night in and of itself creates a tone for the event, setting the stage for a magical moment that will probably last their lifetimes.

That moment, however brief, when parent and child gaze in awe as remnants of a distant world cross over into theirs, sharing gasps, locking astonished eyes, squeezing hands in exhilaration, that is the stuff that memories are made of. 

Bridget, 3, and sister Quinlan, 9, play a game on an iPad. (Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor)

iPotty to Tech Pet: Do we really need the iParade of kiddy tech?

By Correspondent / 10.20.13

At some point during my reporting of our magazine cover story this week, Toddlers on touch screens, I stumbled across the iPotty. 

Or, to be honest, someone e-mailed me a link to the iPotty, because, well, I was writing about toddlers and touch screens, and really, what could get at the essence of this topic any more clearly? 

The iPotty – and seriously, saying this out loud only adds to the parental disintegration of verbal dignity that starts with “Preggie Pops” and continues right on through “tummy time” – is a plastic toilet training contraption with a stand to hold a toddler’s iPad while he learns how to poo like a big kid. (Don’t worry – the product description assures that the iPotty “includes a removable touchscreen cover to guard against messy hands and smudges.”) It is brightly colored, child-sized, and like many of the new child iPad and iPhone accessories, a product that brings touch screen technology into some of the most elemental places of young childhood.

Like your bathroom. 

Creepy? Brilliant?  

Your reaction probably depends on how you view the rapidly growing integration of digital technology into the lives of preschool-aged children. And going by the dozens of parents I interviewed for the piece, that probably includes some level – but a level vastly different than your neighbor, since parents are all over the map on this – of unease. With the iPotty: There’s something to be said for keeping your little one on her seat. Those of us struggling with this particular bodily effort are probably not all that inclined to be moralistic about doing whatever it takes to, um, help get things in the right place.

At the same time ... do I really need the legacy of Steve Jobs to get my daughter to poop? And what if the iPad is not available? Are we going to have one of those association problems about which the child rearing books warn? What if I create a bathroom lingerer, ala those parental figures known to escape into the bathroom with the Sunday newspaper – or, well, the iPad?

(If all of this is TMI for you, by the way, you don’t have a toddler.)

But lest one start focusing too much on this particular item, there are various other touch screen accessories to ponder. Like the Tech Pet.

Move over, Rover. Once upon a time you might have taught your preschooler values like empathy, responsibility, and consistency with the family pet. Now you can just buy a white plastic dog and put your iPhone where the face should be. A dog’s image shows up on the screen and will respond to your child’s commands. “Forward!” “Backward” The nurturing lesson comes from the ability to “feed and groom” the Tech Pet, says its description.

Except that it’s, um, plastic. And using my phone. 

But to summon the Cat in the Hat (again, you’ll get this if you have a toddler), that’s not all they can do. Oh no, that’s not all.

There’s the stuffed Fisher Price “Apptivity Monkey,” which “comes to life” when an iPhone is attached to its belly. (Again, my phone.) There is the Barbie augmented reality digital mirror app, that let’s kids try on makeup – “without the mess!” (Groan. I mean, anyone else not want their little girls to see how they look with perfectly applied lipstick and glitter eye shadow?) There’s the “guitar controller” that let’s you attach an iPad to an air guitar – furthering the distance between one’s child and actual music making. (What’s wrong with the good old fashioned Bill and Ted-style air guitar? I know, I know, my toddler will soon enough tell me how old that cultural reference makes me.) Anyhow, the list goes on.

At first glance, these items can strike those of us nondigital natives as absurd. But something happened while I was reporting my story. The more I saw of these products, the more they began to seem normal – or at least as normal as any of the primary colored toys touted to my kids from all directions. That doesn’t mean that I started to want them in my house, mind you. But it meant that they didn't loom any larger because of their technological components. 

And that, perhaps, is what might happen with the iPotty. What started as an item that made me laugh out loud will morph into just another reason for my little family to double down on our goal of avoiding Stuff We Don’t Need, and instead focusing on the Real Lives We Have. 

You know, with dogs that actually need to go for walks. And toddlers who need to learn how to use the toilet – by themselves.

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Young children play a tea party game on a touchscreen iPad, on October 1, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. (Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor)

Digital literacy: How soon should kids learn to use touch screens?

By Correspondent / 10.20.13

This past month I spent a good bit of time interviewing parents for our magazine cover story this week, Toddlers on touch screens.  

While most had some level of anxiety about their toddlers playing with touch screens (a number mentioned what child development experts call the “zombie effect,” that blank, unresponsive gaze toward back-lit devices) many also said that they felt they needed to let their young kids delve into mobile technology. After all, they said, this is the future. And nobody wants their kids to be "left behind" – especially not the parents within that demographic of Americans who can afford iPads.

But I was struck by the somewhat contradictory nature of this worry.  

On the one hand, parents are almost universally amazed by the ease and rapidity with which their toddlers figure out how to use touch screens. Little ones are so naturally competent with swiping and scrolling that it doesn’t take long before they just zone out with the tablet – a rarity for an age group that usually demands constant attention. On the other hand, parents worry that if Junior doesn’t get a chance to exercise this digital inclination, he will end up trailing his iPad savvy peers.

Maybe he won’t perform as well on tests given (as they are in some districts) on touch-screen tablets. Maybe he won’t be involved in the Next Big Technological Thing. Maybe he’ll be the laughing stock of his peers when he reveals he doesn’t recognize the name “Angry Birds,” or even worse, “Duck Duck Moose.”

I asked educators and child development experts – including a number who are enthusiastic touch screen proponents – about all of this.

The overwhelming response from all sides of the iPads-and-toddlers debate? Parents can relax.

The sort of critical thinking that children might use to start the next great technological revolution develops not from using the technology of today, says Susan Linn, co-founder of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, but from hands-on play, interaction with parents, and good old 2-year-old exploration. After all, Steve Jobs didn’t grow up with an iPad.

“There just isn’t compelling evidence that screen time is necessary for young children,” she told me. The preschool at Google, she pointed out, is almost entirely screen free.

Those same aspects of tablet technology that makes it so easy for 2-year-olds to use means that children who don’t have iPads – and this includes much of the lower income population – will be quite able to catch up, she and others said.

Mary McFadden, a grandmother I spoke to for the piece, saw this “catching up” first hand. She has two grandchildren – Oliver, a 5-year-old, and Celia, who is almost 2. Oliver’s parents have long allowed him access to touch screens; these days he can pick up his parent’s iPad and play games whenever he wants. Celia’s parents, on the other hand, limit screen time, adhering to the American Academy of Pediatrics suggestion that children under 2 not be exposed to televisions, video games, iPads, and so on.

While Oliver is far more versed in the world of mobile app games, Ms. McFadden has been shocked at how equally competent Celia seems with the touch screen whenever she gets ahold of her grandmother’s phone. (Mom and Dad, McFadden says, make a grudging grandmother exception to the screen time rules, and she’s careful not to pull out Peek-a-Boo barn all that much.) 

“Celia must have learned the swiping from watching her parents answer the phone,” McFadden says. “Now she knows you can push the off button and you get these other options. She figured it out immediately.” 

The difference in Celia’s and Oliver’s access to the iPad, she suspects, will mean little down the road in terms of familiarity with the technology. 

This isn’t to say that digital literacy isn’t important, educators agreed. But this sort of literacy is something that comes offline, grounded in the real world of communication.

This means the tough conversations between parents and children about social media, for instance, or learning how to recognize advertising hidden within the plot line of a game. 

And it means, a number of child development experts suggested, that parents monitor their own mobile technology use – and keep educating themselves to understand (and then talk about) the off-line dilemmas their touch-screen savvy children might be entering in the iPad world.

Brian Kramp (l.) and Lauren Aspiro hold signs during a carwash fundraiser for Rebecca Ann Sedwick at the 7-11 on US 98 and Daughtery Road in Lakeland, Fla., Sept. 15. Rebecca committed suicide after being bullied for one and half years. (Rick Runion/The Ledger/AP)

Parents underestimate prevalence of cyberbullying

By Contributing blogger / 10.18.13

Among other goals, good social science fills in the numbers to back (or disprove) popular perceptions. It's easy to feel as though our kids are running wild online, and that we don't know the half of it. According to a Cornell University paper entitled "Peers, Predators, and Porn: Predicting Parental Underestimation of Children’s Risky Online Experiences" and published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, not knowing the half of it is almost literally true.

Parents reported a number of potentially dangerous behaviors (their kids being cyberbullied, cyberbullying others, or being approached by a stranger online) at a rate about half that of their kids reported the same experiences. When parents had an inaccurate view of their kids behavior, they generally underestimated rather than overestimated. Ten times as many parents who were inaccurate about their kids being cyberbullied underestimated the fact, for example, and a similar ratio underestimated their kids cyberbullying others.

The "Peers, Predators, and Porn" study touches on an intriguing observation about parenting styles relevant to how online socializing is regulated within a household.

Parents are generally categorized as inclined toward one of three parenting styles – permissive, authoritarian, and authoritative (Baumrind, 1991; Maccoby & Martin, 1983). Permissive parents tend to be more lenient and indulgent in order to avoid confrontation with their children – allowing considerable self-regulation; in some households, children set the rules. In contrast, authoritarian parents expect high levels of obedience, sometimes without explanation, and provide strict nonnegotiable rules. Authoritative parents juggle being responsive to their children’s thoughts and ideas, yet firm about expectations in the household (Baumrind, 1991). 

The implications are that both permissive and authoritarian parenting styles can lead to unpleasant online outcomes for children – the former because a parental avoidance of conflict leads to an underestimation of risky behavior, and the latter because:

...authoritarian parents expect higher levels of obedience, [and so] their children are more likely to conceal risky online experiences, leading the parents to underestimate them.

Authors do offer one suggestion that might prove useful to parents – simply move the computer into a public area of the home.

Parents are urged to be aware that if their children are online in a private place, it probably indicates that they do not know exactly what they are doing. Moving the computer to a public place in the home seems prudent, however this strategy is difficult to enforce, as the more strictly a parent controls Internet use, the more likely the youth are to find their way around such rules (Byrne & Lee, 2011)

All of this feels particularly relevant amid the controversy surrounding the death of Florida 12-year-old Rebecca Sedgwick, who was reportedly bullied by a 14-year-old and a 12-year-old, the former of whom was arrested after supposedly posting on Facebook that she had bulled Sedgwick and didn't care about the consequences.

The parents of the 14-year-old are now publicly stating that she can't be Rebecca's cyberbully – they monitored her behavior online, they maintain. True or not, it nods toward a common situation among parents: feeling as though they're got their kids all figured out while missing an entire secret life.

A report card from Eggertsville Elementary School in Eggertsville, N.Y., in the 1930s assessed students citizenship as well as academic performance. (Courtesy of Todd R. Nelson)

School report cards, then and now. What's changed?

By Correspondent / 10.18.13

If you were a fourth grader at the Eggertsville Elementary School in Eggertsville, New York, in the 1930s, citizenship occupied fully half of the small blue report card that you took home to your parents at the end of each marking period – six times a year. And your parents signed it and sent it back. And these reports – my father’s – would be saved for posterity.

Citizenship was complicated! It was divided into two parts: Social Adjustment and Attitude Toward Work, both categories detailed in subcategories: cooperation, dependability, healthfulness, self control, carefulness, initiative, interest, and perseverance, respectively. Even the sub-categories had sub-categories. The standards were clear and concise; the routine rigid; the document short and graphic. And there were silver stars to be earned, as well as letter codes: U, I, S, H!

Over on the “Scholarship” side of the blue card, the headings listed the academic subjects without sub-categories. Everyone seemed to know what was included in math, science, language arts. There were the traditional letter grades for each subject, and an average grade for the year. Stapled inside, was a very small blank piece of paper with room for the teacher’s “remarks,” if they chose.

“Bob did some fine work on the original Columbus Day play,” wrote Mrs. Shurgot. The year before: “Bob did some good acting in the class Thanksgiving play.” And in the Christmas assembly, “he showed more of his good work on the stage by the fine reading of his topic and poem.” I suppose we would call these “narrative comments” today. What was the name of that poem? What made his work on the play “fine”? It feels like incomplete reporting. There’s no directive information in them for the next marking period. I want details!

The Eggertsville card also contains one brief, statement of mission: “When the school and home unite in their efforts the best interest of the child can be served. The closest cooperation of these two forces is essential for the pupil’s development.” So, it’s a progress report! But what a starchy declaration of interdependence.

At any rate, young Bob took that card home six times and returned it to school with his mother’s signature. He was promoted to fifth grade, with many silver stars attached for good attendance, honor roll, band, music, newspaper. Evidently Bob’s mom valued her son’s record of achievement and saved all his report cards. They were preserved for posterity. Bob’s mom was June Nelson, my grandmother, and I hadn’t seen these historic artifacts until a recent Thanksgiving, when we had a good laugh over dad’s academic record around the family table.

What a role reversal. I was glad to see Dad’s progress from third grade music, when he got an I for “improving” in the “sings with pleasing quality” sub-category in music. The next year he took up trumpet, and avoided the whole singing issue. Back in kindergarten he had gotten a U (unsatisfactory) for “plays and works well with others,” and a U for “listens while others are talking, does not interrupt.” But by third grade, he cleaned up his act and was getting all H's (for honor), particularly noteworthy in the area of “volunteers and does his part in making school profitable and interesting.” All that emphasis on citizenship and civility was paying off.

Some things never change. A progress report form is still an expression of a school community’s values and relationships, as well as individual achievement. Judging by the space allotted to it, citizenship had value equal to scholarship in Eggertsville. The community knew what it wanted, and had a system for accountability.

Some things ought to change. My grandparents couldn’t tell what my dad was reading and writing in grade school, or how math concepts were taught. And I’d like to hear more of the voice of his teachers telling the story of those years—especially since he had his beloved Mrs. Shurgot for three years in a row. There should be a balance between data and eyewitness news; hindsight and foresight.

In 1942, Bob won second-best in the Buffalo Evening News Spelling Bee. He was on the road to becoming Robert C. Nelson, a journalist. But I’m more amused to know him as the kindergartner who got a U in playing well with others.

Family archives can be terrifying. Someone managed to save my tenth grade French teacher’s comment: “Very little effort expended in or out of class. C-.” Incomplete reporting! My own eyewitness news account would mention expending a lot of effort that year. Two years later I got a 750 on my French achievement test. Good data. And recently I’ve made a lot of new friends in France. “Ms. Hornbeak, would you revise my grade? I wasn’t done!” So it goes. Progress reports have transitory meaning, for some purposes, and remain priceless, if frozen in time, for others. I just hope mine don’t show up at some future Thanksgiving table.

Todd R. Nelson is Head of School at The School in Rose Valley, Pa.  

Glen James, of Boston (r.) holds a special citation while facing reporters with Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis during a news conference at police headquarters, in Boston, Sept. 16. (Steven Senne/AP Photo)

On Honesty: Should finders ever be keepers? (+video)

By Correspondent / 10.17.13

Trivial but troublesome: It’s summer, on the beach. A woman walks by, sees a pair of sunglasses on the sand, picks them up and examines them, halfheartedly holds them out to a sunbather five feet away with a “these yours?” expression. Getting a “no” and a shrug of the shoulders in return, she – amazingly – pockets the glasses and continues walking. This, with a lifeguard stand – as well as dozens of other people – within a few yards. 

Now it’s mid-September: the homeless Glen James finds a backpack at the South End mall in Boston. It contains, among other things, more than $40,000 in cash and travelers checks. He flags down a police officer and hands the bag over, later explaining that he would never have considered keeping any of the money: “God has always very well looked after me,” he explains. The police department honors him, and the public, through an on-line crowd-sourcing site, showers him with cash as well as leads on apartments and jobs. Thus far, the fund has raised a remarkable $150,000-plus for James. 

So should a finder ever be a keeper?

Kirk O. Hanson, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, calls the two incidents a “wonderful metaphor” for how people think about society. “For some people, life is about getting an advantage over others, and a piece of that involves taking advantage of others’ errors and mistakes.” Another approach, he explained, is to help others when they stumble – the classic image of a Boy Scout helping an old lady across the street.

What goes into the honesty mix when you find something that’s not yours? Well your own circumstances, for sure, says the professor, plus the implications of the loss for the other person. And then there’s the practicality – how much inconvenience are you willing to incur yourself to correct the mistake of another? So the sunglasses easily could have been handed to the lifeguard, for instance. And while a poor and homeless man might have been forgiven had he kept a little something from the backpack, Glen James’ values and his religious beliefs told him otherwise.

“Making ‘deposits’ for the sake of the community – when you do something that makes up for the mistake or stumble of others – is a contribution to the common good,” says the professor, explaining that concern for others is a part of the country’s Judeo-Christian heritage. But such deposits aren’t the no-brainers they once were. “To be honest, the country is experiencing a decline in a commitment to community,” he says, as evidenced by everything from the vitriol in Washington to individualism in sports to an ethos of reveling in the mistakes of others. The entertainment industry in particular seems to showcase approach, he says.

Of course, then a Glen James comes along, and things look up again. 

How can parents bring moral clarity to their kids so that they do the right thing when their turn to be the hero comes along? Look to yourself, advises Mr. Hanson. Are you the sunglasses mom, coaching your teenager to get the movie theatre discount by telling the cashier he is under 12? Or are you dad who, belatedly noticing that your little one has pocketed a candy bar at the checkout lane, piles all the kids back into the store, waits again in line, and oversees things while your child apologizes and pays. “You’ve got to set the standards of inconvenience and embarrassment you’re willing to go to,” in teaching your kids honesty, Hanson suggests. Demonstration is everything. “Nothing else can do it as effectively.”             

Then again, sometimes you don’t have much of a choice, the find being great and the likelihood of being found out inevitable. Reggie Theus, Texas restaurant manager and would-be benefactor to taxpayers, discovered this just last week, after he decided to do his countrymen a favor and use the $4 trillion credited to his bank account in error to pay off the national debt. Surprise – the bank discovered its mistake… um, darn.

Erin Cox punishment sends teens the wrong message

By Correspondent / 10.16.13

High school senior Erin Cox and teens all over the nation learned the wrong lesson from North Andover High School’s Zero Tolerance alcohol policy which resulted in Cox being punished for coming to the aid of a friend at a party she never attended – look out for No. 1 and let your friends drive drunk.

Each fall parents get homework on the first day of school in the form of multiple forms and agreements we must sign.

If you’re like me, with four kids in different schools you likely fall into the habit of simply signing without reading and analyzing each and every page of the voluminous codes of conduct.

Most parents assume their child will never fall victim to a policy designed to curb drugs, alcohol, and firearms in our schools. We sign-off for the good of the collective and run on faith. Also, what can you do about it once it’s in ink? If you don’t sign your kids aren’t allowed into school.

Reading about Erin Cox is one good reason to go back and review your school’s blanket policies and check into exactly what kind of power you have granted the school.

According to the Associated Press, Cox, a senior, lost her volleyball team captaincy and was suspended for five games for what she says was an effort to help a drunken friend.

Cox says she got a call two weeks ago from a friend at a party who said she was too drunk to drive, AP reports.

“She said she went to pick up the friend, because she didn’t want the friend driving drunk or getting into a vehicle with an intoxicated driver,” according to the AP. “By the time Erin arrived at the party, police were already there. They arrested several students for underage possession of alcohol.”

Cox was cleared by police for not drinking or being in the possession of alcohol, but school officials still spiked her senior year athletics record by punishing her for violating a no tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol, her mother, Eleanor Cox, told WBZ-TV.

These widespread blanket policies boil down to lazy parenting on the part of school systems that lack the mom power, resources, and motivation to actually investigate each incident and render individual judgments.

Schools act in loco parentis which according to The Legal Dictionary means, “a legal doctrine describing a relationship similar to that of a parent to a child. It refers to an individual who assumes parental status and responsibilities for another individual, usually a young person, without formally adopting that person.”

However, in this particular case Erin’s mom is suing over the decision her daughter made because she knows her child made the right call, according to AP.

Schools may be acting in our stead, but they are not acting like good parents who know how important it is to go hard on the problem but soft on the people.

A few years ago when one of my sons was in high school his friend saw a boy from his very rough neighborhood pulling a knife from his backpack in a remote part of the school athletic area.

The boy had brought it as a means of protecting himself after a gang incident back in the hood.

My son’s friend was a classic peace maker and held a leadership role in the school community. He knew that if he called a teacher he, his family, and friend could all suffer consequences from the gang.

It was like a modern version of West Side Story unfolding in Virginia.

It seems the boy, a high school junior at the time, had more faith in his own ability to defuse the situation than that of the school authority.

He should have told someone in authority but instead opted to prevent a fellow student from making the mistake of a lifetime.

School hadn’t started for the day yet and no teachers were in his area. He didn’t risk leaving the boy with the weapon to go and get help.

Instead my son’s friend talked the other, panicked, boy into handing him the knife which he threw into the classroom’s trash can in a closet before school began.

However, when a janitor found the weapon and the incident traced back to this boy having taken it away without reporting the situation to the school, he was severely punished.

Not only was the boy stripped of his leadership position, he was expelled under the zero tolerance for weapons policy and sentenced to a rehabilitation school for the worst of the worst students in the district.

I found out about the incident when I went to the rehabilitation school as a volunteer through my chess program and saw the boy in the hallway as armed guards shuffled lines of kids from room to room during the class changes.

Word quickly spread throughout the teen population that you don’t help. The risks are too great.

As parents we need to put our feet down, walk into school board offices and demand a review of these zero tolerance policies before they can do any more damage to the moral code of our kids.

Time to join the PTA, attend the meetings and read those reams of policies we sign off on every year before they sign off on our kids.

Craze supplement found to contain meth-like substance. Parents may want to have a conversation with sports-minded teens about supplements. Here, members of the Spring Grove High School football team walk off the field during sunset, Aug. 30, 2002. (Christopher Glass/York Daily Record/AP/File)

Craze supplement: Parents beware the Craze craze (+video)

By Contributing blogger / 10.16.13

“Alarmingly we have found a drug in a mainstream sports supplement that has never been studied in humans.”

That sentence is an attention grabber if ever one was written. The quote's by Dr. Pieter Cohen (an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School), and the context is N,alpha-diethylphenylethylamine (or N,a-DEPEA), a substance found in two "dietary supplements" called Craze and Detonate. The NSF story adds: "A review of this substance shows that N,a-DEPEA is likely less potent than methamphetamine but greater than ephedrine."

A report published in Drug Testing and Analysis and recapped on the website of NSF International found that the substance closely resembles the chemical structure of methamphetamine.

The report also investigated a marketing claim that suggested N,a-DEPEA is a constituent of dendrobium orchid extract and failed to find any evidence to support the claim. (The implicit suggestion: rather than being an herbally derived supplement, the N,a-DEPEA might be created in a lab. And while that has regulatory implications, even herbally derived supplements can have negative affects on health and wellness.)

What does all of this mean?

I don't have a teenager playing athletics, yet. But as a parent, this report forces me to pause and ponder the implications of the N,a-DEPEA discovery.

Dietary supplements have been promoted as an energy booster (or, frankly, just about anything else) and there appears to be a largely unregulated, Wild West-atmosphere governing this particular corner of commerce.

An NPR report on dietary supplements spelled it out clearly:

A recent published in JAMA Internal Medicine found 273 recalls of dietary supplements between 2004 and 2012 because they contained drugs that could cause "serious adverse health consequences or death."

When it comes to regulation of supplements, the FDA is "more reactive ... than proactive," explains Dr. Ziv Harel, an internist at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto and lead author of the study [published in JAMA Internal Medicine].

America's pharmaceutical culture is likely partially to blame for the explosion of so-called energy boosting supplements on the market – chronic lack of sleep, pressure to perform on the job, or in sports or athletics, and the ready availability of unregulated miracle cures is a pressure cooker designed to promote the irresponsible use of chancy substances as a solution for being overworked, overbooked, and under-rested.

Between the educational shift toward teaching to the test and highly strung helicopter parents flipping out at youth sports coaches and referees, the pressure's real. But the solution may come in the form of a re-balanced calendar and little perspective, rather than a packet or pill.

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