It's often said that the only permanent thing is change, and that old saw apparently applies the composition of the typical American family.
A study released today by Zhenchao Qian, a professor of sociology at The Ohio State University Ohio State University, shows a number of troubling trends: a decline in marriage (young people are delaying marriage longer than ever, and permanent singlehood is increasing), a rise in divorce and remarriage (the "marriage-go-round"), and a rise in adult children living with their parents for economic reasons.
Most troubling is a polarizing divide that means white people, the educated, and the economically secure have much more stable family situations than minorities, the uneducated, and the poor. Viewed against a background of widening gaps between the haves and have-nots in America, this is a particularly stark divide.
In a release on the study, which is based on census data and the 2008-2010 American Community Survey, Qian said that “there is no longer any such thing as a typical American family", although the study makes a caveat – immigrant families may come closest, with relatively low rates of divorce and remarriage, and low rates of cohabitation.
The key question is: if the typical American family is going the way of the passenger pigeon, does it really matter?
The answer seems to be: yes. Households headed by married couples lead to better educational, educational, and social outcomes for their children. (Whether that's causal - married parents lead to better outcomes - or correlated - stably married parents have other qualities that help their kids thrived - is open for debate.)
A New York Times story looking at the skyrocketing rate of birth outside of marriage among women under 30 (now over 50 percent of such births) pointed up one of the key differences between marriages and cohabitating couples:
Almost all of the rise in nonmarital births has occurred among couples living together. While in some countries such relationships endure at rates that resemble marriages, in the United States they are more than twice as likely to dissolve than marriages. In a summary of research, Pamela Smock and Fiona Rose Greenland, both of the University of Michigan, reported that two-thirds of couples living together split up by the time their child turned 10.
The research, in aggregate, says that things are changing for the American family, and quickly. There may be ways for the government to address the trend: increased financial benefits for getting and staying married, for example, or a macro-effort to actively battle rising economic inequality, but systematic change will be a long hard fight. The research seems to suggest that such a fight is worth the effort.
In the midst of the firestorm surrounding the twerking, bare-all “Wrecking ball” ways of Miley Cyrus it’s easy to join the angry mob when perhaps we should consider whether our public outrage is fueling the marketing cycle that drives female performers to more self-destructive heights.
Lindsey Lohan, Miley Cyrus, Amanda Bynes, are all in seemingly perpetual self-destruct mode, casualties of the relentless marketing of young female Disney child stars, driven from one phase of stardom to another.
The patterns seems to hold: Loveable child star goes rogue, burns out, tanks, fans turn on her and she finally gets it together for a glorious Disney ending comeback.
We loved them as children and now we cry out over what they’ve become. Television made them our children and in that everlasting role we can’t seem to stop paying attention to their exploits and rooting for the turn-around. Brittany made it, maybe they can too.
In her new video Cyrus begins in her underwear and progresses to total nudity (but for a pair of shoes) while on a wrecking ball, singing about how her lover has turned her into a wrecking ball in life and in the process destroyed her.
Viewers quickly filled the comments section her video with the majority saying they actually liked the song but the video wrecked it for them.
This backlash, however, will not likely get the video pulled, dampen sales, or deter the young star from future nudity and scandal.
In fact, given the way marketing works today it’s likely to bring more of the same because ultimately Cyrus’ name and therefore her “brand” is trending at number one on Yahoo and Google trends today.
About 20 years ago when I was a daily reporter on Long Beach Island, N.J., there was a public official named James Mancini. Mancini was a “double dipper” drawing a public salary as both mayor and county freeholder. The man would say the most outrageous things, shoot from the hip, scandalize and entrance voters and reporters alike.
One day he said something completely absurd in response to one of my questions, and I broke protocol and said, “Are you really saying this to me? You know we’re on the record. Why do you say it when you clearly know it’s untrue and damaging to you?”
Mancini smiled the smile of a grandfather about to reveal the secret of all time to a favorite grandchild. He said he gave me the quote because people forget. When they step into the booth on election day, they haven’t really been paying attention, he said. All they see is a name they recognize and the pull the lever.
I asked him if what he’d just said was on the record and he cunningly replied, that it was and asked me to do him a favor and print that.
The thing is that he was a great mayor and an even better freeholder and the people were always better off with him in office. When he died much of the people’s power went to the grave with him.
However, he could never bring himself to be himself because somewhere along the way he’d seen for himself that bad guys were winning elections. He wanted to do good things so he publicly played the role.
Miley Cyrus’ song was good. I find myself humming it even now, but would I have listened if the video hadn’t come to my attention via a trend alert on my smartphone?
The next time a young star is unwrapped and packaged like Cyrus, enraging us, perhaps viewers need to stop and consider whether expressing it in a public forum isn’t contributing to someone’s wallet and another’s downfall.
The topic of children and technology seems to be eating up more and more (often virtual) ink these days, and it's no wonder: as WiFi becomes viewed as a right equivalent to running water and kids increasingly communicate by text messages and status updates, it becomes necessary to try to understand what immersion in the digital environment does to their developing brains.
The question gets relevant fast. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission against educational (or "educational," if you're the CCFC) baby apps by Fischer-Price, and Open Solutions. The complaint argues that the apps promise, without suitable scientific support, to teach babies skills before they're taking their first steps.
The apps "prey on well-intentioned parents," argues the CCFC, which is calling for increased guidance for marketing apps as "educational" and wants Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act – Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices enforcement against marketers of these apps for babies and very young children. The saber rattling has already begun to work – Open Solutions has withdrawn its educational claims, and CCFC has withdrawn its complaint.
The conflict is interesting on a number of levels. On one hand, screen time can replace "living in the real world" time, to the detriment of kids' social skills, particularly vis-a-vis members of older generations, i.e. the people who will be hiring them for jobs.
On the other, (and this is a point that Slate makes well in a recent opinion piece), the equation might not be simply "baby + app = nothing of value," but rather "baby + app x parental context and input = something between neglect and education." Leave a baby to pound away on an iPad, and it's unlikely that a great deal of learning will take place. Use that iPad to deploy sounds, visuals, and interactive opportunities with the guidance of an adult, and it may be a different story.
History buffs are probably enjoying this story, because it plays a familiar script: the suggestion that an entire (newly emerging) genre of communication is nothing but a corrupting distraction.
Newton Minow, the FCC chairman in 1961, famously said of television "... when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there for a day without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland."
When radio was on the rise in the early 20th century, Forum Magazine contributor Jack Woodford wrote in 1929: "[Listeners] sit around the radio and sip watered gin and listen to so-called music inter-spersed [sic] with long lists of the bargains to be had at Whosit’s Department Store . . . Thus dies the art of conversation. Thus rises the wonder of the century... Radio!"
And – brace yourself – when Johannes Gutenberg's mechanized printing changed the way people read in the 15th century, the church raged against the printing press and the vernacular Bibles and criticisms of the church itself that rolled into circulation by the hundreds of thousands. (The church was right to worry; the printing press helped fueled the creation and growth of Protestant sects.)
Presumably there were ancient Egyptian parents complaining to the Pharaoh's equivalent of the FTC about the damaging impact of hieroglyphic writing on young children, too.
None of this is to say that there aren't worthless apps out there that will fail to educate your infant or toddler. But it is to suggest that a medium is as good or as bad as the people creating content within it - and the community (and that means parents) who interpret and contextualize it.
The sky has been in the news a lot lately, from the fireball that outshone the Moon to NASA’s LADEE moon launch, so when your child tells you, “The sky’s falling” if might be worth more than a story about a little chicken.
Last night Quin, 9, and I were driving home from the grocery store just before dusk, sevenish, when he pointed out a bright flare in the sky, like a tiny sun that appeared and then began to shoot away leaving a very bright trail.
I had just told Quin that after sunset we would go watch the sky to see the crescent moon ascend within a blink of Venus. It’s called a conjunction.
We had already followed the story of the comet that outshone the moon. According to The Latin Post, “a large, bright fireball shined in the skies visible from the southern part of the United States last week on Aug. 28.”
So Quin was already scanning the dusky skies as we drove home.
We were stopped at a red light not far from home when he saw the first flash and burn across the sky.
It was 88-degrees and the groceries were going to melt, but how often do you get to be so Biblical with your child that you choose to “follow a star?”
Half a mile later, we pulled into the entrance of Norfolk Southern Railway’s Lamberts Point coal yard and got out to marvel together.
I captured the event in both photos and video with my cell phone.
The results are not great, but in the end would get us closer to finding out what we were seeing.
What we saw with the naked eye were irregular black shapes appearing in the sky with orange coronas that flared around the leading edge and bright trails of white light behind them. It looked like a match head burning through a picture of the sky from the back.
In photos they just look like a jet contrail super highway.
Some seemed to be falling up, others changed course. Two nearly collided. Several seemed to just come down through the atmosphere as hunks of blackness with an orangey corona at the head and then became all white light. Each lasted only moments. The entire event lasted less than about eight minutes.
Quin loves science and sky watching. He also has a relentlessly logical mind that demands there be no mysteries and so we set about to solve this one.
I thought it might be debris from the launch of NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE, which blasted off from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, at midnight the night before.
After Quin went to school today I called Dr. Edward M. Murphy of the University of Virginia’s Astronomy Department and Observatory and asked him what it could have been.
After examining the photos and video he said, “From the way these are moving and the fact that two actually seem to go right at each other from opposite directions, and their speed, it isn’t likely to be a naturally occurring event but more likely some sort of very fast, high atmosphere craft. Probably military but I can’t really say.”
“Probably,” I said, latching on to the word I know will ring the bell in Quin’s imagination.
“Given the angle of the sun and that the street lights were coming on in your video I’d say the flashes you initially saw could have been the sun off the hull of whatever was up there at that altitude,” Murphy said.
I haven’t yet had a reply from my calls to Air Ops at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, the closest authority on what’s literally up.
This means family geek time until the mystery is solved.
Today my son went to school with a photo of “meteors.” He’ll go back tomorrow with the same photo which is now symbolic of a family exploration of the stars and our imaginations.
This is a perennial question, but it’s good that it keeps coming up. In Disney’s Babble.com, parenting blogger Katie (last name wisely not provided for her son’s privacy), again asks when a child’s right to privacy kicks in and whether parents are violating that right by sharing photos in social media.
“I believe that yes, my son has a right to privacy,” she writes, “but I also believe that [with her baby] at 14 months, it is my job as his mother to decide what is an appropriate amount of sharing/privacy and that it is possible to share pictures and stories without violating that right.” She discusses how there’s no single right answer, that each family has to find the right place for its kids on a kid-privacy spectrum from no online photo sharing at all to sharing privately to sharing a whole lot publicly. She shares only occasionally (admirably trying not to post anything that would be embarrassing if mother-son roles were reversed) and doing a cost-benefit analysis, the benefit being the support system that comes with sharing our lives.
Four years ago Lisa Belkin put a similar question to readers of the New York Times’s “Motherlode” column, but instead of asking when a child’s right to privacy starts, she asked “at what point do parents lose their right to their children’s tales?” Then she elaborated in a way that really pulls you up short: “When do things stop being something that happened to ‘me’ and start being something that happened to ‘them,’ and therefore not ‘mine’ to tell?”
That’s the exact question another parent, Amber Teamann – mother of two (one very young, one almost a teen) and assistant principal in an elementary school – seems to have asked herself four years later. She writes in her blog that she is “very cautious” about sharing information about her older daughter because “I don’t want her to be attached to the social stream of who I have defined her to be. I want her to be her own person, with her own likes, dislikes, pins, etc.”
Clearly all of these parents are mindful that this is a pretty permanent, searchable, global archive in which they’re displaying their children’s photos and milestones, and Belkin even touches on the criticism and trollish behaviors that can emerge online, well after a story about a child has been posted. It would be nice if there were a simple answer to these child privacy questions for all parents, but at least we’re getting better informed about the implications of sharing so we can better draw our own lines in the child-privacy sand. So let’s keep asking this: Do parents have the “online rights” to their children’s life story, and – if so – up to what point in their children’s lives?
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. Anne Collier blogs at NetFamilyNews.
“FYI (if you’re a teenage girl)” came up in my Facebook news feed a lot this week. It’s being shared with such enthusiasm that I was eager to read it. I hoped its advice for teenage girls about their Facebook activities would live up to the hype.
But instead, when I read it, my heart sank. Although the post is well-intended, the author, Kimberly Hall, makes a tremendous error: She places the responsibility for her teenage boys’ sexual desires on teenage girls, rather than on the boys themselves.
For example, addressing her sons’ female friends, she writes: “Did you know that once a male sees you in a state of undress, he can’t ever un-see it? You don’t want the Hall boys to only think of you in this sexual way, do you?”
Well, no. I’m sure that her sons’ female friends don’t want to be thought of only in a sexual way, considering that they are complex human beings with a range of feelings, ideas and interests. So why ask these questions? Doing so places the blame for her sons’ thoughts and desires squarely on the shoulders of the teenage girls they know–dodging the fact that boys are responsible for how they choose (yes, choose) to think of the girls in their lives.
I suspect that Hall’s post has gone viral because so many people are concerned with teenage girls’ self-presentation on facebook. We’ve all seen it: teenage girls trying to mimic the scantily-clad celebrities and models plastered on billboards and magazine covers. And naturally, people want to do something about it. After all, the implications of our media culture’s sexualization of girls is serious: As the American Psychological Association has noted, when girls learn that our culture values their appearances above all else about them, they may in turn learn to sexualize themselves – and the impact of self-sexualization on girls’ self-esteem and self-image is devastating. The damage of thinking of oneself first and foremost as an object can take a lifetime to undo.
Furthermore, once a photograph is online, it’s essentially impossible to remove it from the internet. So when girls place sexually provocative “selfies” of themselves to facebook, it’s a huge issue. For example, the photos can be used by bullies to shame the girls–and they can resurface years later, too, causing myriad problems in their lives.
But these are not problems that would affect Mrs. Hall’s sons. They would affect the girls themselves. Furthermore, the sexual double-standard in our society is so pervasive that any “sexy” photos the boys may post of themselves are unlikely to cause them similar harm.
We are living in a post-Steubenville world (which I wrote about here). We have seen graphic evidence of the results of the sexual objectification of young girls, and of the victim-blaming mindset – that a girl who presents herself in a sexy way “deserves it.”
Therefore, for parents like Mrs. Hall who are concerned about their sons’ well-being, their best course is not to focus on shaming girls and controlling their behavior.
Instead, we must teach our sons compassion. Help them understand that girls’ self-sexualization is prompted by a toxic culture.
We must teach our sons to always respect girls. Help them see girls as complex human beings, like themselves– never simply as sex objects.
Our boys MUST be taught these lessons. They must know that when a girl engages in sexually provocative behavior, her behavior does not give boys a “pass” to dwell exclusively on the girls’ sexuality. Nor does it entitle them to expect sexual favors from girls, or to pressure them sexually in any way.
Contrary to popular opinion, boys are not animals. They can practice self-control. And yes, it takes practice. But if we focus on raising our sons, rather than chastising other people’s daughters, it’s possible.
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. Rebecca Hains blogs at rebeccahains.wordpress.com.
Nature is important to me. My coastal friends often wonder why, with two perfectly serviceable coasts available for settling on, my wife and I ended up in Minneapolis. That's when I start talking about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, the Superior Hiking Trail, and the Minneapolis city parks system that many consider to be second to none.
And this in turn is why, as the dad of a soon-to-be-walking infant boy, my attention was piqued by a press release for this year's "Fourth Annual Hike & Seek nature events sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation."
Sounds great! In a nutshell, the release initially reads like a clarion call for a nationwide reconnection to good old-fashioned wholesome outdoor activity, taking place in 11 cities this autumn.
But what's actually being pitched is something more modern. Registering costs money, requires your contact information to be entered online, and nets you and your impressionable young ones a cavalcade of experiences featuring "interactive 'Stop & Study' nature stations," live wildlife displays (which presumably but not necessarily go beyond the actual wildlife you'd typically see while walking in a natural area), and a "Map & Mission Guidebook" for every child registered.
The cherry on this odd sundae of wholesome outdoor activity and modern commerce may be this: "This year's events will include a station highlighting an activity about trees themed around Disney Junior's hit animated series 'Jake and the Never Land Pirates.' "
To distill the message: You're being offered the opportunity to spend as much as $25 (registration fees vary) to go on a one- or two-mile walk with your family, featuring advertising. I'm not an anti-commercial, anti-modern-life kind of guy – I drive a car, eat hamburgers, and contribute to climate change with the best of 'em. But somehow this ad- and sales-ridden walk verges on the desecration of something sacred: family time spent together in nature.
Growing up in Madison, Wisc. (another good city for people who like both the cosmopolitan comforts of urban living and lots of trees and lakes), my family would go for weekly walks in the University Arboretum. It was beautiful, it was diverting, and the only media consumption that we experienced was the occasional reading of the plaques in the garden that explained what various plants and trees were. It was also free.
NWF's big-picture motives here are clearly noble: connect people with nature, and somehow make hiking into an event, while harvesting money, sponsorships, and information that can help perpetuate the group and its noble mission. I don't begrudge the NWF its attempt to make a national, high-profile event out spending family time in nature. It may well be the only practical way to get people talking about something that now seems so simple and old-fashioned. But speaking personally: If I spend money to hike, it'll be to buy a Minnesota State Parks permit, not to underwrite a Disney marketing push.
My nine-year-old is going to read this story and make us watch the movie "Chicken Run" for the next three days. On the bright side, then next time a child asks if chickens can fly I know that the new answer is “Yes, but only on a private jet when being rescued by Animal Place farm animal sanctuary, of northern California” Today that group flew 1,150 hens to New York in style from the California Bay Area.
According to a press release by Animal Place, the hens were part of a group of 3,000 rescued by Animal Place.
“The two-year-old white leghorns were saved from gassing at a California egg farm battery cage egg farm, where they lived in cages so small they couldn't stretch their wings. When they were eight days old, the hens had a portion of their beaks cut off, without painkillers, to prevent injuries from fighting in cages,” the release states.
After being checked by veterinarians and rehabilitated by Animal Place's staff and volunteers, the hens were carefully loaded from Animal Place's two facilities in Grass Valley and Vacaville, Calif., then trucked to the Hayward Executive Airport for a 6:45 p.m. departure. They arrived at Elmira Corning Regional Airport in Horseheads, N.Y. around 7 a.m.
If you woke up somewhere in the Midwest or Northeast this morning to a breakfast of tofurkey and soy milk thinking, “What I think my child really needs is a two-year-old white leghorn as an animal companion,” you’re in luck because these birds are up for adoption.
They will be available for adoption through partner sanctuaries in the Midwest and Northeastern US from the following sanctuaries and shelters:
Farm Sanctuary (Watkins Glen, NY)
Catskill Animal Sanctuary (Saugerties, NY)
Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary (Woodstock, NY)
Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary, Inc. (Ravenna, OH)
United Poultry Concerns (Machipongo, VA)
SASHA (Manchester, MI)
Lollypop Farm, Humane Society of Greater Rochester (Fairport, NY)
VINE Sanctuary (Springfield, VT)
Coming Home Animal Sanctuary (Candor, NY)
I hate to be a mother hen about this, but I just can’t read a story about raising chickes that involves New York State without remembering my favorite "I Love Lucy" episode when Lucy and Ethel decide to raise chickens.
They take much greater care than the California egg farm allegedly gave them. In fact, after buying 500 chicks in the dead of a New York State winter, Lucy and Ethel bring the poor little yellow fluff balls into the house to keep warm.
Little Ricky accidentally lets them loose to flock to every nook and cranny of the house just as a magazine crew from Better Homes and Gardens is about to arrive for an upscale story on the family’s new country home.
Mama Lucy’s solution is to imitate a mother chicken to get the 500 chicks to follow her back to their crates.
Lucy is mid cluck when the people from House and Garden Magazine arrive.
The moral to this story for those considering a poultry parenting experience is – when working with children and animals, Mom often ends up playing chicken with disaster.
“Molly” isn’t your teen’s friend, but the drug that goes by that name may be a classmate or TV buddy, so it’s time to get to know the new killer on the block.
Drug street names are to teen culture as drugs are to concert goers, addictive and potentially dangerous because they serve the dual function of marking our kids socially as both “cool” and open to trying drugs.
“Molly," slang for molecular, is the pure crystalline powder form of the popular club drug MDMA, which, in pill form, is known as ecstasy and is often mixed with other substances, such as caffeine,” according to USA Today.
The drug made headlines over the Labor Day weekend after New York's multiday Electric Zoo Festival (EZoo) was shut down because two young people died of suspected Molly overdoses, USA Today reported. A similar incident also took place at Boston’s House of Blues last week, another suspected Molly overdose death.
I have noticed that drug dealers appear to be getting smarter about what they name their products, which makes them blend more easily into conversation undetected.
Drug culture has saturated the lives of teens via mature shows like "Breaking Bad," which seems to have become a slang phrase generator of epic proportions. For example, my sons, ages 18 and 19 watched the AMC show Breaking Bad online and began making cultural references in front of our two younger boys, ages 14 and 9.
Teens of all ages watch shows and distill the words via a chemical process akin to a mental meth lab, taking away only the crystalized nuggets which they then pass around at school and other social settings.
For younger kids, speaking these buzz phrases earns "street cred" and acceptability for being privy to subject matter far beyond their life experiences.
However, when you talk the talk others may expect you to walk the walk.
A favorite saying quickly became the quote from "Breaking Bad" character Jesse Pinkman, a meth-head young adult who partners with his former high school chemistry teacher, Walter White, to producer crystal blue methamphetamine.
Jesse famously said in one episode, “We flipped a coin, OK? You and me. You and me! Coin flip is sacred!”
In teen-speak it became simply, “Coin flip is sacred!”
Then there’s the ever-popular line from the drug-addled character Badger: “Nazi zombies don't wanna eat ya just 'cause they're craving the protein. They do it 'cause, they do it 'cause they hate Americans, man. Talibans. They're the Talibans of the zombie world.”
Teen-takeaway is just, “Nazi zombies!” This is applied to anything viewed as bizarre or creepy in life. I suspect a healthy chunk of the Urban Dictionary is the result of "Breaking Bad."
Our whole household was saying “Coin flip is sacred” for months before I decoded the origin last Spring when another parent sent me a message that her kids referred to mine as “druggies” because of their phrases.
My sons returned from school to see me at the door with arms folded.
It’s amazing how many confessions this look can produce – who broke my headset, one son was late with a paper for school, but no drug revelations.
Then I told them about the other mom’s concern and they all went blank before they all erupted with responses.
“It’s from 'Breaking Bad'!” said Ian, 18, laughing. “You know, Walter White, Jesse, Badger?
“Seriously? You thought we’d be that insane,” said Avery who was scandalized by the accusation.
“I didn’t break anything!” wailed Quin, 9 who burst into tears. Later he would come to me and ask, “Can I watch the show the big boys were talking about, with the badgers?”
Then I watched the show, which I admit is both brilliantly written and addicting, but not to ever be watched by anyone under the age of 18.
At the end of the day it’s definitely a reminder to listen when our kids speak and do a bit of checking on where those buzz-phrases are coming from. We want our kids to speak themselves into being chemistry teachers, just not the Walter White variety.
Correction: An earlier version of this blog post incorrectly identified HBO as the network that airs 'Breaking Bad.' The show actually airs on AMC.
“To know the good, love the good and do the good.” Though Kevin Ryan, founder and director emeritus of the Center for Character and Social Responsibility at Boston University School of Education summarized it that way, that’s what a host of experts see as the goal in raising children of strong character. And with students back in the classroom this fall, their teachers are right there with them, as role models and guides.
But what happens when educators themselves are the ones flunking the character test? It happens, and in some places it happens big time. In Atlanta’s public school system, for instance, three dozen teachers and officials are due to stand trial for cheating on standardized testing in 44 schools, allegedly providing test answers, and changing answer sheets in an effort to boost test results. Testimony against the first administrator in the case began late last month.
So what can adults do when teachers or other important adults are caught doing something bad? It can be devastating to the children. But does that send an irrefutable message to children that “good” is just an empty word? That excuses can explain away immoral or illegal actions?
It doesn’t have to, says Leslie Matula, founder of Project Wisdom, which provides character education programs in schools. While hugely disappointing, and disillusioning to parents as well as kids, all is not lost, she says. “It’s important to remember that the vast majority of teachers are responsible, caring human beings who teach because they care about children. The demands on classroom teachers have probably never been greater.
“It’s always unfortunate when these things happen," she adds, "whether it’s a large scale scandal or a classroom teacher who 'falls from grace' because of a poor choice, but these situations do create teachable moments … opportunities to talk with young people about the consequences of their choices and the importance of living lives of integrity, lives based on a set of core ethical values.
More importantly, she says, such times provide “an opportunity for adults to sit back and reconsider how their choices and actions impact the lives of the youngsters in their sphere of influence. Children look to us for guidance as they navigate their way through the challenges of life. We have a duty to strive to be the best role models we can be so they have every opportunity to become successful, caring and responsible adults.”
As child psychiatrist and author Robert Coles wrote in “The Moral Intelligence of Children,” “The child is an ever-attentive witness of grown-up morality – or lack thereof.”
If all adults at all times are indeed helping to form children’s character – whether they intend to or not, whether they are aware they are doing it or not – then all adults have the ability to positively influence the next generation, say experts.
They suggest adults take a break once in a while from cheering on academic and athletic accomplishments, and focus on children’s virtues. Label the components of good character when you see virtue in action in kids and offer encouragement: You were thoughtful when you helped the checkout clerk; you were respectful when you called the volunteer mom by name; that was generous of you to share your lunch; I appreciate your honesty when you came clean with me about cutting class.
In discussing the Atlanta situation, parents and teachers can ask questions about potential temptations like cheating: What does this test mean to you? What might happen if you mess up? What if someone asks you for the answers – how might you respond? If you actually cheated, do you regret it? Was it an empty “A”? What would you do next time?