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In this photo, a surfer leaves the beach after a surf session at the Coxos break point, in Ericeira, central coast of Portugal on March 10. (Francisco Seco/AP/FILE)

Chairman of the Board: Hobie Alter shaped surfing and parenting (+video)

By Correspondent / 03.31.14

Surf enthusiasts are celebrating the life of the “father of popular surfing” – Hobart “Hobie” Alter, who died Saturday at 80. Parents might want to celebrate his lifestyle contributions and go-with-the-flow “Surfer Parent” approach.

I believe parenting is a lot like surfing in as much as it requires balance, skill, optimism, and a willingness to let go and allow forces much larger than ourselves to lift us to a precarious edge where we find new heights of joy.

That is how his friends and those lucky enough to spend any amount of time with Mr. Alter saw his approach to life, business, and parenting his three children.

“Hobie was not only the father of modern surfing, but such a good father and a real family man as well," says Alter’s lifelong friend and surfing buddy, Bob Holland, of Virginia Beach, Va. “He did all kinds of things with his kids from surfing to sailing and starting businesses. He was an all-arounder.”

According to Mr. Holland, Alter opened Southern California’s first surf shop, along Pacific Coast Highway in Dana Point back in 1965, not long after his first trip to Virginia Beach, where the two met and became friends. He last spoke with Alter just a few months ago, during one of Alter’s regular calls to the Virginia Beach resident who still surfs.

Holland admired many things about his friend, particularly his parenting.

“You know he was a good father by seeing his sons take over the business,” Holland says. “Hobie included his kids.”

Holland explains that while his friend wasn’t a master surfer, he was the man who brought surfing to the general public, and particularly families, by “making the boards widely available and affordable to everyone.”

“Hobie pioneered things such as the lightweight foam materials of which boards are made today,” Holland explains. “In the late ’60s, he invented a small, affordable, and fun sailboat that didn’t cost a lot.”

The catamaran he invented was a sailboat consisting of a trampoline stretched between what looked like two surfboard-like hulls – the Hobie Cat.

“Before Hobie Alter, surfing was just a novelty,” says surf enthusiast Jay Mann of Ship Bottom, N.J. “After Hobie, people finally stopped asking if these were airplane wings we were carrying around.”

Mr. Mann met Alter after running away to Maui, Hawaii, as a teenager and buying his first board – designed by Alter.

“Years after buying that board, I finally met and surfed with Hobie on Oahu,” says Mann, from his office at The SandPaper news magazine, where he is an editor. “It wasn’t that he shredded [was a remarkable surfer]. In fact, he’d rather sit on the board and talk about inventions and science than catch waves. You could cover 10 topics in nothing flat with Hobie as the waves rolled by.”

Alter is known for popularizing the opposite of the high energy, high profile pop culture, glitz surfer image of "Gidget" and The Beach Boys.

Those who knew Alter remember him as a laid-back, eccentric inventor who quietly and methodically worked a problem of engineering, design, or even shipping for days on end while surf culture happened around him at his favorite beaches.

While he himself may have spent more time on his board in quiet contemplation, away from the very surf culture evolving around him, he was in fact a superstar of surfing.

“Whenever I went anywhere with Hobie he really had no clue he was a rock star,” says business associate Zach Kerzner, who today manages Acme Surf and Sport on Long Beach Island, N.J. “It was like being out with Elvis.”

In addition to changing the lives of generations by popularizing the relaxed, go-with-the-flow, follow the waves, wind and sun, surf and sail lifestyle, Alter also influenced the way that surf culture inspires parents and grandparents today.

“I raised all three of my kids in the Hobie lifestyle,” says Jack Bushko, who runs a daily beach and surf report for Long Beach Island.

“I threw my kids [now ages 35, 23, and 18] in the water at six-months-old and they were all surfing by age five," Mr. Bushko explains. "They still surf, sail, windsurf, and skateboard with me whenever possible today.”

“I knew him as an amazing dad to his three kids,” Mr. Kerzner recalls. “He was always getting them into things he liked but also supporting things they liked.”

My husband has inadvertently altered my parenting style over the past 25 years by introducing me to the Hobie lifestyle via windsurfing, sailing multihulls, and surfing with our children.

Being born into the late 1960s flower-power atmosphere of Greenwich Village, New York, I was very free-spirited, but not an outdoorsy person at all.

When we moved to the New Jersey shore, I was raised by a flock of helicopter nannies until my teenage years, when my old-school Polish grandmother took over the practice of telling me not to get wet, dirty, or overtired.

Basically, I was the perfect candidate to convert to the Big Kahuna method of parenting.

While I am still skittish about big waves and fast sailboats, I am the go-with-the flow “Surfer Mom” today because my water-sport-loving husband and Alter got me on board.

I may be the world’s most uncoordinated surfer, but for the three seconds I can stand up, my fears transform into flight.

My husband has managed to get all four sons to try surfing on his massive longboard on the same beaches where Alter once stood to survey the waves with his friend Holland.

Alter made water sports in general, and surfing in particular, into a family tradition, passed on from his family to ours.

The man who brought surfing to the general population, lifestyle and all, is unlikely to be remembered by younger surfers today. When asking about a traditional surfer’s paddle-out memorial ceremony, friends of Alter aren’t sure if young surfers would initiate the ceremony. In the traditional Hawaiian ceremony, surfers paddle-out into the water in a group to take a moment together to honor the memory of a surfer who has died.

“Oh maybe when the weather gets a bit warmer,” says Holland. “But it’s hard to say if anyone who would appreciate him is still around and in shape to do the honors.”

Mann agrees, saying, “It’s really unlikely kids today have a clue who he was and what he did for them and the entire sport. So, no, there probably won’t be a paddle-out for the man who was the greatest influence surfing has ever known.”

From what I have learned about him, Alter probably wouldn’t have wanted anyone to make a fuss, but rather prep their boards for summer waves and get back to the surf as soon as possible.

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Dozens of young girls dance with Disney princesses during the Princess Ball at the Ashtabula County Fairgrounds in Jefferson, Ohio, on Saturday March 22. (Warren Dillaway/Ashtabula Star Beacon/AP)

Pink princess debate: Marketers, not moms, are the problem

By Guest Blogger / 03.31.14

Last week, New York magazine and Slate published pieces asking why so many moms have a problem with pink and with princesses.

“What’s the problem with pink, anyway?” gripes Yael Kohen in New York. Then, building upon Ms. Kohen’s piece, Slate senior editor Allison Benedikt demands: ”What is it with you moms of girls? I have never met a single one of you who isn’t tortured about pink and princesses.” Her annoyance is palpable.

Both writers proceed to defend all things pink and princess. ”We treat pink — and the girls who like it — with...condescension,” Kohen states, while Ms. Benedikt adds, ”Moms of daughters need to chill out.”

Let’s take a step back, please. I am the author of a forthcoming book called "The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years," and Kohen and Benedikt’s arguments are wrong on several levels. By pontificating on the subject without actually talking to the moms they’re criticizing, they’ve missed the point.

Having interviewed more than 50 parents about princess culture, and dozens of experts as well, I’d like to state this categorically: No one is blaming girls. To suggest otherwise is to make a straw man argument that distracts from the real issues at hand.

Furthermore: No one thinks that pink is inherently a problem. Pink is not the “color of oppression,” as Benedick charges sarcastically.

No, no — the problem is not with the girls or the color pink. It’s with the marketing, because that marketing is reducing girls’ choices.

As the mother of a young boy, Benedikt can’t understand why the mom of a little girl she knows spent her own daughter’s princess-themed birthday party apologizing for all the pink and saying things like, “The pink thing, I know — it’s crazy!”

Since Benedikt is a journalist, she would have been smart to ask the mom what, exactly, was “crazy” about “the pink thing.” But instead, Benedikt appears to have arrived at her own conclusion: The mom is the crazy one, because, as Benedikt notes incredulously, she was criticizing the very extravaganza that she herself had organized!

Now, if either writer had bothered to talk with moms of girls, like I did for my book – or, for that matter, to connect with the authors and activists who’ve been critiquing pink girly-girl culture for several years, like me, Peggy OrensteinMichele YuloMelissa Wardy, or the team behind Pinkstinks – they would have learned something important. In the marketplace, products that are pink and princessy now dominate the girls’ sections. The marketing is so insidious that the moms I interviewed complained that it is virtually inescapable – and to very young children, it implies that pink and princesses are the ONLY good choices for girls.

In other words, it wasn’t that they didn’t want their daughters to like pink or princesses. Far from it. It was just that they didn’t want their daughters to only like pink or princesses.

That, I’d wager, is what the mom who threw the princess-themed birthday party was fretting about. You know how the subtitle of my book includes the phrase “princess-obsessed years”? I’m not exaggerating when I say that there are many little girls out there who only want pink, only want princesses, and that the obsessiveness spills over into every aspect of their families’ lives.

In Kohen’s piece, she defends pink princess products and marketing because, she says, “plenty of girls seem to love it.” This is true – plenty of girls do love it. I would never tell a girl that she’s wrong to enjoy what she enjoys. Princess culture is full of pleasures for our little ones. It’s fun and sparkly and such a source of delight!

Kohen is missing a critical piece of the puzzle, however. Pink princess marketing is so forceful, backed by so many billions of dollars, that it’s not really a choice anymore. It’s proscriptive and it’s coercive.

According to a study published by a research team from California State University and New York University, approximately two-thirds of preschool girls go through a phase in which they believe that their sex (the fact that they are girls) fully depends on external factors, like how they dress, because they don’t understand that sex is determined biologically. Fearful of losing their gender identities, and declaring their joy in being girls, they latch onto the most obvious stereotypical markers of their gender.

The same study asserts that developmental phase used to manifest in girls as a refusal to wear anything but dresses. (In contrast, in boys, it manifests as an avoidance of all things girlish.) Now, it manifests in girls as a refusal to associate with anything but pink and princess – a full-blown obsession.

Perhaps that casts a more sympathetic light on the mom Benedikt slammed for planning a pink princess party despite feeling conflicted about it. The mom probably thought the “pink thing” was “crazy” because of its intensity, its apparent grip on her daughter, and its inescapability in the marketplace. And for a mom who wants her daughter to have a delightful birthday experience, but is worried about the consequences of all this pink princess stuff overrunning her daughter’s life, it’s a no-win situation.

Think about it. That is crazy.

Also a problem: The minority of girls who actively reject things that are stereotypically girly because they are gender-nonconforming (approximately 1 in 10 children, according to a recent Harvard University study) are left out, treated by peers and even adults as somehow defective. The Harvard study suggests that such children leave childhood with post traumatic stress disorder.

Meanwhile, parents whose daughters are inextricably caught up in pink princess culture have concerns about its effects. For one thing, princess culture focuses so strongly on physical appearance that it teaches girls that how they look is incredibly important. It teaches little girls to seek praise for their appearance – which is why so many little girls insist on wearing their princess play-clothes out of the house. People gush over them. This upsets parents who know that it’s what’s inside that counts, and who want their daughters’ sense of self-worth to come from within.

Also, as far as story lines go, the princess script is limiting. Parents I interviewed told me stories about their daughters lying around helplessly waiting for their princes to come rescue them – marking dramatic changes in their previously active and energetic play patterns.

Furthermore, even though Kohen notes that princess products "reflect subtle, but profound changes in the way our society views its girls and their girlyness,” with princesses who are “more dynamic,” she’s missing something: girls may adore their "Brave" and "Frozen" DVDs, but in many homes – indeed, across the Disney Princess franchise – "Cinderella" and "Sleeping Beauty" still reign supreme.

And although princesses on screen have indeed become more dynamic in our post-girl-power world, many of the toys – especially the dolls that preschool girls cherish – all seem to regress to the mean. Strong princess characters such as Merida from "Brave" get reduced down to sparkly fashion objects in ways that completely undercut the empowering messages from their films.

Here’s what’s happening: In the marketplace, products that are pink and purple are “for girls,” while everything else is “for boys.” As a mom, I see this playing out time and again. Anything with a hint of pink on it, my 5-year-old son rejects. “That’s too girly,” he’ll argue, even if there’s only the tiniest hint of pink on a product. Where did he pick up on this? Not from me! He’s absorbed this lesson from the culture we’re immersed in – from the marketing that relies on stereotypes to segregate our children, maximizing profits at the expense of children’s healthy gender identity development and well-being.

The moms of girls who are fretting about pink princess culture don’t need to be slammed by Benedikt, Kohen, and others. Jumping to conclusions doesn’t help anybody, and "pink and princess" really doesn’t need to be the latest installment of the Mommy Wars. If we can understand and address the root of the problem together, we can foster a healthier world for all of our children – boys and girls alike.

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.

This screenshot from video shows Ronald McDonald of Oak Ridge, N.C., in a Taco Bell commercial. The fast-food chain's new ads feature everyday men who happen to have the same name as the McDonald's mascot. The ad campaign was released on March 27. (Taco Bell via Taylor Strategy/AP)

Taco Bell has Ronald McDonalds. Mom recruits Wendys for breakfast battle.

By Correspondent / 03.28.14

In the marketing aftermath of Taco Bell announcing Thursday that breakfast is now on the menu, parents face another obstacle to getting kids to make a healthy choice for “the most important meal of the day.”

Many kids love to skip meals, but are drawn to funny marketing campaigns for less healthy alternatives, such as those offered by fast food chains.

This leaves parents wringing their hands in a quandary over whether a less nutritional breakfast is better than none at all.

After spending years trying everything from holding a fork-full of eggs over a kid’s head while making airplane noises, to pouring pancakes shaped like Mickey Mouse, I urge parents not to throw in the kitchen towel and head to an in-car breakfast.

I’m not talking about a bag of bakery doughnut, or a Sunday after-church trip to IHOP, but rather avoiding the choice of heavily processed folded food handed to you through a sliding window in the side of a building while the minivan motor is running.

I believe breakfast is a lot like parenting because it’s the work you put in early that pays off at the end of the day.

This issue hit my mommy radar because the Taco Bell ad campaign grabbed my kids’ attention by getting all those men named Ronald McDonald to approve of the new Mexican-ish morning menu.

I decided this weekend's breakfasts would be a family, home cookin’ event at our house.

Thanks to the new Taco Bell menu, I feel inspired to make breakfast burritos on Saturday and epic waffles on Sunday.

In case my sons need a side-dish of humor to go with breakfast, they will learn that I spent today calling all the women named Wendy I could find to get their favorite breakfast recipes.

Yup! I just did that.

I intend to tell the kids, “All those McDonalds like Taco Bell, but Wendys approve of breakfast at home with the kids.”

All my sons have a “thing” for the actress who does the commercials for Wendy’s. She is known in our house as, “Hot Wendy” and is the reason nobody leaves the room during those commercial breaks.

I started close to home with Wendy Warrington Mezzenga, a friend I know from my charity work, who said her favorite family breakfast is stuffed French toast.

“It's worth getting up early for, even on a weekend when I could be sleeping in,” says my Ms. Mezzenga. “Plus, it's a good way to get everyone to slow down and eat together!”

Wendy made a good point, that there’s a social component to breakfast that sets the tone of the day and a family dynamic that you can’t get through a sliding window on the fly.

When I went looking for information on the value of breakfast for kids, I found a 2013 study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing that found that “children who regularly have breakfast on a near-daily basis had significantly higher full scale, verbal, and performance IQ test scores.”

"Because adequate nutrition in early childhood has been linked to increased IQ through childhood, which is related to decreased childhood behavioral disorders, better career satisfaction, and socioeconomic success in adults, breakfast consumption could ultimately benefit long-term physical and mental health outcomes as well a quality of life," wrote the study’s lead author Jianghong Liu, an associate professor at University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.

For Chef Wendy J. Brodie of Carmel, Calif., who runs The Art of Food website and classes for families and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, color, texture, and shape play just as important a role as flavor in cooking.

“My father worked for CBS and Walter Cronkite and so our lives were not typical and there wasn’t always much time to spend together,” says Ms. Brodie. “But my father believed in breakfast so we had breakfast together pretty regularly. We tried to make that our meal.”

“Kids can take cookie cutters and pour eggs into them to make them in shapes,” Brodie adds. “Toast bread, cut it into shapes, use a healthy spread, and let kids decorate it with dried berries.”

If any of this rings a bell with parents, I hope they will consider making a homemade family breakfast as part of their daily diet as often as possible.

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A girl plays with a kite as she is silhouetted against golden sunset at a park in Islamabad, Pakistan, Wednesday, March 19. (Anjum Naveed/AP)

Time to tweak the 'golden rule'

By Daniela PapiStartempathy.org / 03.28.14

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

This “golden rule” might sound like a great way to live, but in terms of a personal leadership mantra, it turns out that it might lead you astray.

When our parents or grandparents reminded us to treat others the way we would want to be treated, they were probably reminding us about things like not being mean, not speaking behind our friends’ backs, or holding the door for someone coming in behind us. But what this phrase overlooks is that in a lot of nuanced ways, OTHERS don’t necessarily want to be treated how WE want to be treated.

I’m part of something called the Clore Social Leadership Programme, and as part of the process, we go through a range of leadership training, including personality and working styles tests. Ever since I started managing people, I have loved learning about different working styles, be that through the Myers-Briggs tests, or the Four Seasons personality test. Working through these things as a group always reminds me that the things I want and the way I would want to be treated are not necessarily the ways others want to be treated.

For example, when we first did the Myers-Briggs test for our whole team at PEPY, an organization I helped found in Cambodia, we realized that half of our team were Myers-Briggs “J”s (those who “judged” their time and planned ahead – in our team they were the ones who labeled things, planned ahead, and always seemed organized) and the other half were “P”s (those who “perceived” their time and needs as they went along, often figuring things out on the fly – in our team, they were the ones always adjusting their schedule on the fly, were comfortable with change, often packed a lot into their sometimes disorganized schedule, and were more likely to be procrastinators).

As we had two refrigerators in our office at the time, we thought we would do a little experiment. We labeled one the “J” fridge and the other the “P” fridge and had those who associated themselves with each of those types use their designated fridge. What we found was that everyone was happier: The "J"s all had their own shelves labeled with their names, their fridge was always clean and organized, and everyone kept track of their own food. The P fridge often got a little smelly, and few people really remembered whose food was whose anyway, but no one got upset if someone ate their grapes. Both groups were treated how they usually treated others, and by looking at how different the two fridges became, both groups realized that not everyone saw the world or treated others in the same way.

I’ve seen cultural differences also break down the “Do unto others” mantra. For example, when working in Asia, I slowly learned that being direct about a problem was a faux pas. It was not rare that another member of my team would tell me that “so and so” had a problem. At first, I was annoyed: I would think, “Why wouldn’t that person tell me directly if they wanted a vacation, or a raise, or if they had a problem they were worried about?” How I wanted to be treated was to be told directly, but it turns out my directness ran counter to the cultural norms of my Cambodian and Japanese co-workers, and after I worked in each place for a few years, I began to realize that the correct mantra would be:

“Do unto others as THEY would want to be treated.”

In order to do that, we need to find out how the others would want be treated, and even before that, we need to embrace the fact that our way of seeing the world isn’t their way of seeing the world. Through my work in development education and international travel, I think one of the best lessons we learn through our global education experiences is that our own sense of reality is constructed. Our rules of what is right and wrong are not the rules of what is right and wrong, and embracing that realization opens us up to being empathetic toward other ways of approaching life.

So, as we go out into the world and consider the responsibilities that come with our global citizenship, we can thank our grandmothers for the good intentions that fueled their teachings about the "golden rule,” but instead start treating others as “they” would want to be treated. If we all do that, then we’ll still each be treated how we want to be treated in the end anyway, and so will everyone else!

This article originally appeared on the Startempathy.org blog, published by the Start Empathy project from Ashoka.

An image of the FiLIP wrist cellphone, which is available in one size designed to fit children ages 5-11. (Image courtesy of Filip Technologies)

FiLIP: A cellphone for kids that makes sense (+video)

By Correspondent / 03.27.14

Seeing news of the colorful new FiLIP wearable all-in-one mobile phone, watch, and emergency beacon for kids that comes with a smart phone tracking app, may have some parents making a kid technology bucket list, while others remain skeptical. 

Reading about the FiLIP, which launched at the end of January, brings to mind a montage of futuristic devices that were once only in the homes of cartoon characters like “The Jetsons” and “Dick Tracy.”

According to Gerald Celente, publisher of the Trends Journal and director of the Trends Research Institute in Kingston, N.Y., “The kiddie tech industry is still in the growth stage – it’s huge.”

“For kids today technology is not second nature it’s first nature. They can scroll before they can walk,” Mr. Celente says. “I’m not a fan of this nanny-state technology. I should have been dead a hundred times with all the crazy things I did as a kid. Some survive. Some don’t.”

For the record, Celente doesn’t have children.

I called a friend who is tech-forward dad, Beau Turner, founder of the 757 Makerspace in Norfolk, Va., to find out his thoughts on making kids tech-forward too.

“Technology is smaller, more accessible and they get to pick out and find what works,” Mr. Turner said in an email about his son Dylan, 10, who recently was given a cellphone. “Giving them a smartphone, FiLIP, bluetooth tracker, etc.... is a balance and you have to fine tune to what is right for your family and balance to your needs.”

Another tech dad I know here in Norfolk, BC Wilson, director of cloud services for business software company Xtuple, and father to Lucy, 6, and James, 9, has already been down the “give your kids a cellphone” route with poor results.

“Sadly, I've found that giving tech, such as my retired iPhone, to my kids only results in them playing hours of Candy Crush Sage and Clash of Clans, not creating new worlds or composing amazing digital photo books,” Mr. Wilson says.

Wilson’s observations, and a few experiences in my own, are reasons why I think the better way to give tech to kids is to modify devices originally designed for use by adults, into a version for children that helps us parent smarter and with more confidence.

FiLIP launched in January, and its accompanying smart phone app is the latest tech combo to fit the bill.

This is a very basic wearable phone for kids, ages 5 to 11, that can hold five pre-programmed numbers such as Mom, Dad, Grandma, etc.

FiLIP is made from high-impact rubber, comes in primary colors, is water resistant, and looks sturdy with a “C-shaped” wrist band, free of frustrating buckles or clips.

All this appeals to me, particularly as a mom who has already had the experience of seeing a guilty-looking teenage son walk in the door with a dripping wet or pulverized cellphone in hand.

It’s also a device designed by a Norwegian dad after briefly losing his son Filip, now 8, in a crowded shopping mall for 30 minutes, when the boy was a toddler.

“It was the worst 30 minutes of my entire life to this day,” says FiLIP creator Sten Kirkbak. “After that, I looked and looked for some technology that I could buy so it would never happen again. There was nothing. Simply nothing available that did what I needed.”

The FiLIP has a panic button, which when held down for more than three seconds, activates an emergency beacon that sends emergency messages via e-mail to all the phone numbers on the child’s pre-programmed call list.

“Also the watch then begins to ping back to us via satellite, so police can follow the movements every moment after that,” Mr. Kirkbak says.

After 20 years of parenting four boys, I wish I had a time machine to go back and slap one of these on the wrist of each of my boys when they were younger.

Then I could take back all the shrill greetings I gave them after “being worried sick” over their whereabouts.

Kirkbak confirmed that I’m not the only parent with the potential for worrying my kids into seclusion.

“Our research in the US shows very clearly how many parents are keeping their children indoors for fear of losing contact with them,” he says. “The worry over safety has stopped parents from letting kids explore, exercise, and have a healthier childhood.”

I’d most like to place these phones on the wrists of my son Ian and his girlfriend, both 18, neither of whom ever answers their cellphones, prompting me and her mother to morph into rage monsters when we can’t locate them for hours on end.

I thought the teens would balk at the idea, but instead they were ecstatic.

“Are you kidding me?” Ian's girlfriend cried. “An easy phone I wear and my mom would just know where I am without worrying all the time? Sold!”

I had to tell them the device is still kid-sized with a grown-up price, $200, and is run via the AT&T network only. There is also a $10 monthly fee and an activation fee of $36. 

The devices have pre-installed SIM cards and can be bought online with an activation code that does not require a family to switch all their plans to AT&T just to put one of these on a child.

Kirkbak says he’s had many requests to expand the product line to teens and adults and he and his team are working on making the technology available to those over age 11.

“Actually, we are working on making the tracking app able to track any smart phone and be for sale without the watch,” Kirkback says. “That way, if your teen or senior citizen has a smart phone and you have our FiLIP App you can track their location." Which means the app would work on other smart phones and could be used all on its own to track any smart phone without the watch.

When Kirkbeck is done with that, maybe he can get started on my kid tech bucket list which includes: an “Unplugbot” that follows us all around removing chargers not in use from wall sockets. At the top of my bucket list is something to eliminate the misery of fitting rooms at clothing stores. I was thrilled to learn the device is already here, although not quite ready for major market consumption just yet.

The Fashion3D ‘Virtual Changing Room’ at the Flux Lounge in London might actually make clothes shopping with kids a positive experience that happens in minutes rather than hours. Fashion3D can capture, share, and “reflect” the image of an adult in the clothing that they are virtually trying on. When used with children it could make it easier to convince children to try new styles in minutes, rather than a whole afternoon.

Until all these great technological advances are both available and affordable, I am glad to know that the FiLIP is here so kids can be left to their own devices and stay safe.

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A father pushes his baby in a stroller in a square in central Stockholm, Sweden, on March 11, 2014. (Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff)

New parents and childless friends, keep the door open

By Correspondent / 03.27.14

She made funny faces as my daughter collapsed into a pile of giggles. After rolling a ball to her, she patiently waited for her to get around to returning it. When I stepped out for a moment, there were no tears – my friend was right there, and my baby was perfectly content to keep playing. 

I’m so glad my kid has such strong women to learn from and to look up to who aren’t her parents, or parents at all. Each time one of them visits is such a treat.

But then, as inevitably happens, my friend’s dating life came up. “Seeing anyone new these days?” “No, I like this guy, but it’s not going anywhere yet.” “Oh, okay.” Awkward silence. 

I sometimes feel rather lost when I’m with my single friends, since my life mostly revolves around my husband and daughter these days. Before meeting up with friends, I find myself browsing around online, trying to find conversation topics we all relate to. Of course, there are tons to choose from – what’s happening in Ukraine, Pope Francis, the upcoming Boston Marathon, and so many more – but they aren’t subjects that easily pop to mind. I have to work at it a bit more, scrounging up ideas, which is good. It gets me out of my kid-focused mindset and puts it all into perspective. There are billions of other people in this world, and so much more is going on outside my little circle. 

The average age for Americans to get married continues to climb – now at 27 for women and 29 for men, up from 23 and 26 respectively in 1990 – according to a study by the National Marriage Project. 

The differences between my single friends and me continue to grow, too, especially now that I have a baby. The average age of first-time moms most often falls somewhere in their late 20s, but the overall birthrate in the US continues to plummet, according to a 2013 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Many of my peers have delayed or opted out of marriage and having kids for financial reasons (among a myriad of other concerns). Finances were definitely a factor in my simple courthouse wedding a couple years, as we looked ahead to starting a family last year. I couldn’t imagine blowing thousands of dollars on a big wedding when I was still paying hundreds of dollars a month on my student loans, with no end in sight. Then, when my daughter was on her way, my husband and I did some soul-searching, tried to be as frugal as we could while maintaining our sanity, and trusted that everything would work out. No matter what our decisions about marriage and children were, the recession still had us gun-shy about starting a family.

But when I look at my social circle, I often feel like an island among friends who are still enjoying late-night karaoke and sleeping in every weekend. When my daughter goes to sleep at 9 p.m. and I change into my jammies to watch a grown-up TV show with my husband, my friends’ high-excitement evenings are just barely getting started. It’s hard to avoid feeling rather humdrum in the face of all that perceived pizzazz. 

But I’m not boring, and I’m not alone, either. I’m genuinely supported on all fronts. Sure, my friends are busy with work, school, dance and design classes, French lessons, and so on, but they still make room for getting some coffee with me and playing peek-a-boo with my little one. The fact that they don’t have a kid, I think, spurs their interest in mine. 

Attending playgroups with other moms and babies is always fun, but everyone hones in on tending to their own child – wiping boogers, putting socks back on, refereeing the line for the slide – so there’s not much space for other interactions. I love chatting with other parents while we watch the kids play, but it’s so special when my daughter gets to interact directly with other caring adults. 

My daughter always gets undivided attention when she’s playing with my single friends. She shows off her new tricks – clapping, blinking flirtatiously, standing by herself – and they soak up all her giddy full-blast kid energy, going home refreshed and happy. 

When my friend was getting ready to leave, she said, “I always feel so good after playing with your baby!” I gave her a big bear hug and said she can come around anytime.

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This Nov. 6, 2013 file photo shows Robin Roberts at the 47th annual CMA Awards at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. Roberts appeared Monday as a guest judge on ABC’s 'Dancing With the Stars' alongside the regular panelists. She’s the first of several guest judges scheduled for this season, including Ricky Martin and Redfoo from the band LMFAO. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/FILE)

'Dancing With the Stars' gives Lando a chance, will Robin Roberts do the same?

By Correspondent / 03.26.14

As National Arts in Schools Month draws to a close with Robin Roberts taking her turn as a guest judge on ABC-TV's “Dancing With the Stars,” parents might want to tune in with their kids. The prime time contest is a fun celebration of the arts and shows how even TV dance shows can positively impact the way kids perceive both dance and some senior citizens who continue to expand their arts horizons.

"We think it is wonderful that there are positive shows like 'Dancing with the Stars' and 'So You Think You Can Dance' that highlight dance and many of its aesthetic values and show people of all ages dancing beautifully,” writes Susan McGreevy-Nichols, executive director of the National Dance Education Organization in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Ballroom dance lessons in Physical Education classes didn’t appeal to my sons until actor Billy Dee Williams, who played the character Lando Calrissian in “Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi,” became a contestant on “Dancing With the Stars” this season.

We only knew about Mr. Williams because my mother is a genius at engaging her grandsons in the arts via common threads she weaves into a tapestry of common interests.

“I figured it’s 'Star Wars,' right?” my mom said when Williams was in his first week on the show. “I can’t lose. Put one of the boys on the phone. I just sent them a link to the video on Facebook.”

Thus I began to see the power of a multi-generational family bonding and appreciation for dance as an art form being built by my mom.

I reached out to DWTS producers to get their take on the multigenerational appeal of this season. Conrad Green, executive producer of DWTS told me via email, regarding Williams and other past competitors, "We’ve always embraced dancers of all ages on the show as dancing is a joy in life to people of all ages. Our older competitors have often been amongst the most memorable, surprising and beloved cast members in the show’s history.”

Today, my sons want Ms. Roberts to know that next Monday they and their grandmother and many other “Star Wars” fans will be watching her to see if she is with The Force – and Mr. Williams – or if she will be the one who gives in to The Dark Side and eliminates him.

It seems fitting that my sons and so many other unlikely DWTS viewers are suddenly keen on the nuances of dance right now since March is “Arts in the Schools Month.”

The month is dedicated to activities in dance, music, theater, and the visual arts with a focus on achieving the goal of arts-rich schools for all students according to Homeroom, a blog by the US Department of Education.

According to Amy Fitter, executive director, Dance/USA, “Professional dance companies are reporting that enrollment in their education programs continues to rise. Some companies are even reporting that they are at capacity in their education programs for both children and adults and are exploring ways to expand their offerings.”

Asked if DWTS is part of the force creating that increase, Ms. Fitter responded in an email, “Though we do not have hard data to support this, I would say that dance on TV is definitely increasing awareness and enthusiasm for dance in our country.”

I have not been a DWTS fan, but my mother watches it religiously.

Mom recently took up Salsa dancing and actually dances in her living room along with the contestants while watching the show.

Then she calls my sons afterwards – they put her on speakerphone – to give a full report on everything from the eliminations to the costume choices.

“I did the Jive twice,” she reported this week after the show ended. “Hoo! Also, Billy Dee is still safe.”

I never thought Mom would pull off getting my boys interested in the cha-cha or tango.

However, Mom knew that once she sent them links to videos of Williams doing those dances on DWTS over the past couple of weeks, she would be their Golden Girl.

On the first week Williams performed a stately cha-cha with a glittering, scantily-clad version of Princess Leia plus the real R2D2, Storm Troopers, and whooping Ewoks. 

“OK, awesome,” admitted my son Ian, 18, after seeing the video. “Don’t care if he can’t really compete after two hip replacements. Win!”

Seeing this new ongoing dialogue opened between my mom and my sons tells me there’s more to be gained from this show and its casting approach than ratings or seeing if a man pushing 80 can out-dance someone half his age.

The value is in showcasing more and more senior Americans as active, fun, accessible members of society.

It’s also exposing a broader spectrum of kids to dance, which can be the springboard to greater appreciation of the arts in general.

My son Quin, 10, who likes to dance but dislikes ballroom dancing, never saw the show until his grandmother got him to see the “Star Wars” cha-cha performed on Week One and also the gangster-themed tango this week (per grandma’s instruction) with three female supporting partners. He was impressed.  

“Hey, he (Williams) gets as many girls as he needs to make it work,” Quin said after seeing Williams on Monday. “That’s just smart.”

What strikes me is that the show has evolved a cross-generational appeal by selecting more senior celebrity contestants such as Williams and long distance swimmer Diana Nyad.

Sadly, Ms. Nyad was eliminated Monday.

While critics are howling at the fact that Williams has avoided elimination, it’s important for them and guest judges like Ms. Roberts to see the greater pattern in the dance taking place across generations and genders.

Even my kids know that DWTS probably didn’t select Williams for the show because of any Fred Astaire-like qualities, but rather to expand the audience.

“Don’t know. Don’t care,” said my son Avery, 15, of Williams’s selection for the show. “Lando Calrissian just did the tango. Boom. Winner.”

McGreevy-Nichols added in an email, “National television coverage of dance certainly raises awareness of dance and does a lot to encourage young people, and people of all ages, to want to experience the joy of dance. However, parents should make sure their children receive dance training that is safe and developmentally appropriate and preferably taught by a highly-qualified dance educator. Dance is more than fancy tricks, flips and leaps. The art of dance uses movement to communicate meaning about the human experience."

I admit that my boys are not on the way to a ballroom dance class any time soon, but at least they know what it is and have some respect for it. That’s a good place to start.

It is spring after all, time to plant seeds both in the garden and in the minds of our children. There is a variety of arts “seeds” to nurture with our kids. Some are heirlooms from grandparents, while others may come from television shows or just cranking up the radio and finding some family groove time.

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Cast member Arnold Schwarzenegger attends the premiere of "Sabotage" in Los Angeles, California March 19, 2014. The movie opens in the U.S. on March 28. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Arnold Schwarzenegger's legendary 'I'll be back' and other movie lines lifted by kids (+video)

By Correspondent / 03.25.14

From the mouths of babes often come movie lines they parrot without understanding the adult-themed origins, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s catch phrase "I’ll be back" from "The Terminator," which is one of the most quoted lines in film history.

The former California governor and action hero, 66, told the media this week that he’s surprised to learn “I’ll be back” is one of the most quoted film lines in history, according to Metro

Many parents like me already know it as one of many misunderstood and inappropriately quoted lines that come out of the mouths of kids who have never seen the films, but absorbed the quotable lines via social osmosis.

“I’ll be back,” was the line uttered menacingly by the virtually indestructible, emotionless, homicidal android in “The Terminator” movie, sent back in time to murder a woman.

The Terminator, played by Schwarzenegger, says the line to a police front desk clerk before breaking into the station.

Today my son Quin, 10, who has never seen “The Terminator” growls the line, a la Terminator, to his best pals after a fun day because he thinks it’s a “Mr. Cool” way to say, “See you later for a play date.”

Because Mr. Schwarzenegger is out and about promoting his new film, “Sabotage,” the line is all over the media again and Quin has now donned sunglasses to add to the effect after seeing a clip of the film.

Schwarzenegger appeared on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” and “WWE Raw” on Monday, reminding us that the movie star and his verbal legacy will be back again and again for as long as it takes to promote his latest film.

The shock value of hearing a young child utter something very adult creates an instant laugh.

It reminds me of how a cussing toddler in the news months ago illustrated the viral popularity, and sometimes problems, caused by kids parroting what they hear from adults.

As a teen growing up in New Jersey – where those who want to set foot on a beach must wear a badge proving they have paid a local fee for the privilege – I recall telling the beach police, in the worst possible Mexican accent, “Badges? We don’t have no badges. We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges!”

To this day I have never seen “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” from whence that line comes. I don’t even know how I know the line uttered by Gold Hat as he reacts to Dobbs prompting him to prove they are policemen.

I had to look up the reference on YouTube to write this piece. 

Movie phrase misuse runs in the family, because over the past 20 years parenting four sons I have a vast collection of misspoken, misunderstood catch phrase memorabilia of which the “Terminator” is only a small sampling.

Cooking breakfast one morning, when my son Ian, now 18, was just about three-years-old, he toddled up to the griddle, inhaled deeply and announced, “I love the smell of Napalm in the morning!”

My friend who was sharing breakfast nearly died laughing at the reference to “Apocalypse Now” and the idea that perhaps my toddler thought my cooking was toxic.

Ian had no Idea what Napalm was. He’d heard it said by one of the workers in the boatyard where we lived aboard our trimaran, a 37-foot multihulled sailboat, in Goodland, Fl.

Then there was the time my eldest son Zoltan, now 20, was age three and discovered the joys of being a boy.

He strutted out of the tub on the boat deck, same boatyard in Florida, shouting, “Say ‘hello’ to my little friend!”

That was when I had to ask the boatyard workers to please stop spewing movie lines in front of my boys because my little “Scarface” was running around naked slaying the world with laughter.

The problem is that the more adults laugh at what kids say, the more they say it.

Now that we live in a house on land in Norfolk, Va., with TV and internet access, the catch phrases fly thick and fast.

I am not the only one who has fallen victim to a movie catch phrase attack by my kids.

In church when Avery, now 15, was about five he met the priest and while shaking his hand soberly quoted “The Blues Brothers” character Elwood Blues saying, “We’re on a mission from God.”

At the free chess program I run at a local community center, I have a front row seat for movie line madness as kids – mostly under age 10 – say the darndest things.

“THIS IS SPARTA!” an adorable little girl, 6, in a pink frilly dress crowed as she took her opponent’s queen.

Her father smiled guiltily while trying not to burst with laughter.

I tried not to laugh too, while explaining that, while chess may have originated in Persia in 500 A.D. I would prefer if we don’t quote the film “300” and reference King Leonidas saying that line to a Persian messenger while kicking him into the “Pit of Death.”

While writing this story, I realized I have my own phrase that my sons now use upon exiting a location, “It’s time to get out of Dodge.”

While I typically use it to mean it’s time to go, I just looked up the phrase and found it comes from the TV show “Gunsmoke.” I never watched “Gunsmoke" in my life. This one again proves there is verbal osmosis directly from pop culture to children.

In the show, the marshal looks steely-eyed into the eyes of the leader of a pack of murderous cowboys and says, “You take the rest of your men and you get out of Dodge.” 

It seems that parents might want to take a moment themselves to research and review the phrases we and our children habitually use, and perhaps kick a few of them out of Dodge in the process.

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Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray (L) host a roundtable discussion about universal pre-K and after school programs with parent bloggers, Rebecca Levey of KidzVuz (2ndR) and Anna Fader of Mommy Poppins (R), in the Blue Room of City Hall, in New York, March 7. (Susan Watts/Pool/Reuters)

Baby Book 2.0: I parent, therefore, I blog

By Correspondent / 03.25.14

Feed the phrase "mom blogs" into Google and the search engine returns 842 million results. Try "dad blogs" and you'll get only slightly fewer: 618 million results, to be exact. And while each result doesn't actually reflect a fully operational blog, the numbers do reflect a massive, ongoing, international project: the documentation, through words, photos, and video, of an entire generation of kids by their Internet-enabled parents.

Dive into the sea of parent blogs and you dive into facets of parenting in all their horror and glory. Posts about how to get your kids involved in the Super Bowl (candy is the key, apparently) bob up against product placement, meditations on short sales in real estate, DIY Egyptian Halloween masks, how to talk to kids about alcohol, healthier-than-thou recipes and dietary tips, and all manner of bric-a-brac, a digital cornucopia of anxiety, documentation, rank commercialism, and idealized plans for perfect childhoods that will never be anything more than partially realized, at best. 

What all of the blogs share, to some extent or another, is a desire to document the infinitely complex and subtle transformation of a howling infant into an independent, grown human being. Read enough of them, and you'll realize both what you're up against as a parent, and how many subtle gifts the whole process includes.

Whitney Honea is a dad blogger, and professional one at that – for the last seven or eight years, he has been supporting himself and his family by writing for a host of different sites including heavy hitters like Babble and BabyCenter. Writing at Honea Express, Mr. Honea files autobiographical blog posts that have the crisp and vivid pace of contemporary fiction. Amid the churning flotsam and jetsam of mom and dad blogs, his clearly-written record of his boys' childhoods stands out like a beacon. And while the text is pitched for his readers, his real audience, he says, is closer to home.

"I write more for my boys than I do for my readers," says Honea. "I like having an audience, but I'm writing for my boys because I want them to have an honest memory of what occurred."

"I'm kind of a romantic, as far as nostalgia goes," he adds. "We still have baby books and things like that, so I wouldn't say the blog has replaced them. But I definitely have a lot more online. There's definitely a keepsake mentality to it. I'm kind of making this - I want this whole blog to be something of a time capsule for my sons."

Honea has been putting his thoughts to virtual paper since 2005, meaning that his blogging has become rich and deep and layered, with dialogues nesting inside of histories that have played out, at least in part, online. The result is a remarkable series of stories that Honea is proud of – and worries about.

"My fear is the story of Christopher Robin, and how he became an adult," says Honea, "and how he resented being known for the [Winnie-the-Pooh] books. And he resented his father. I can't imagine how he grew up hating that stuff – it's some of the most beautiful – what a love song to a child."

"That scares me that that there'd be some sort of point that what I'd put out in public was something I wish I hadn't," he adds. "But at the same time, they're growing up at a time when everybody's famous – everybody’s online. Everybody has this persona that's bigger than themselves, and they're growing up with that, and it won't have the same weight that Christopher Robin felt. I'm hoping that they love it. I'm hoping it's the sort of thing that might keep me out of a home some day."

While what Honea does at Honea Express and with his other parenting missives resembles the milestones and malaprop-laden quotes of an old-fashioned baby book – the same way that Wikipedia resembles a baseball card – at the core, many of the same forces are at work: a desire to share, a desire to remember past the capability of the frail human mind, and a desire to shape and polish the stuff of everyday living into something worth celebrating and looking back at. It's that element of polishing and editing that is perhaps most interesting about our newly tech-enabled documentation of our kids – it’s not merely a matter of capturing, it's also a question of editing, producing, and styling.

"I'm definitely guilty of omission in places where I feel like it might be too personal for people involved in the story," says Honea. "As far as polishing it... probably too much. I really love language, and I kind of dance around with flowery language that didn't necessarily exist at the time. That's not to say I change what people are saying, but I set the stage with props and things that are prettier than probably were in real life. But not to the point where it detracts from what actually happened." 

Honea's dilemma and his choices are our dilemmas and choices, too. What do we remember, and how? And why? And thanks to blogging, Facebook, and any number of other channels, we have something entirely new to wrestle with: With whom are these manicured memories shared? Blogging about your kids for a living might seem to tear the lid off any semblance of family privacy, but it's double-edged – when you know everything may be revealed, you're also always on guard. The rest of us can be more selective, but, of course, the question as to whether anything is ever really selectively shared, or private, is a very open one indeed.

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In this 2013 file photo, a Twitter app on an iPhone screen is shown. (Richard Drew/AP/FILE)

Study into youth online behavior delivers international insights

By Guest blogger / 03.25.14

Before releasing its report on online conflict, MediaSmarts presented a much broader picture of young Canadians’ experiences in social media: “Life Online.” This is important context for any discussion about cyberbullying and other negative aspects of digitally informed life, whether we’re setting policy at the household, school, or national levels.

“There are a lot of assumptions out there about kids online,” wrote Valerie Steeves, the study’s author, “but the labels we use are often misleading and out of step with what young people are actually doing with networked technologies.” So for a reality check, here are some highlights of the digital lives of Canadians in grades 4-11 in every province and territory:

So connected: According to Life Online, just about all (99 percent) of young Canadians can access the Internet outside of school. They do so in various ways – but more with laptops or tablets (62 percent) now than desktop computers (59 percent), and MP3 players are the way a lot of 4th-through-8th-graders use the Internet. Interestingly, 80 percent of French-speaking Canadian students use portable devices to go online versus 67 percent of English-language students. 

Increasingly mobile: Nearly a quarter of 4th-graders (24 percent), half of 7th-graders (52 percent), and 85 percent of 11th-graders have their own cellphones, the report states.

Not so participatory: The report also states that young adults online are “confident and enthusiastic users of networked technology” but more for sociality and information than producing or participating. On the creative side, 38 percent have posted their own stories or artwork, 33 percent video or audio, 22 percent mash-ups, “but only a small number” do this posting regularly. In terms of civic engagement, less than a third "have posted comments on news sites, 50 percent have passed on links to people on news stories ... and just over a third have joined or supported activist groups online.”

Website top picks: A huge diversity of interests is noted in the report – respondents “listed more than 3,000 different favourite websites,” with YouTube (75 percent) at the top for all students. The rest of the Top 10 were Facebook (57 percent), Google.ca (31 percent), Twitter (24 percent), Tumblr (12 percent), Instagram (10 percent), Minecraft (8 percent), Miniclip (7 percent), Hotmail (6 percent), and Wikipedia (5 percent). The report focused on "websites" and didn't seem to distinguish between traditional websites and mobile apps for the same service.

Activity top picks: Top activities listed in the report included games (59 percent), posting on or reading someone else’s page (52 percent), downloading/streaming media (51 percent), posting on one’s own page (41 percent), posting on Twitter (21 percent), following friends/family on Twitter (21 percent), following celebrities on Twitter (20 percent), and pranking or trolling someone (20 percent). Teens in focus groups used "pranking" and "trolling" to mean "playing tricks or jokes on people" online or on phones, messing with their devices or their heads.

"Underage" socializing: Nearly two-thirds of 4th-through-6th-graders reported having a Facebook account, and 16 percent of them have Twitter accounts.

Online safety: The report states that students are generally aware of the potential risks of Internet use and are confident in their ability to handle them. Feeling safe "grows with age, from a low of 50% in grades 4 and 7 to a high of 66% in grade 11."

Household Internet rules: Of those studied, 84 percent of students have at least one Internet-related rule at home, and those who do are "less likely to engage in activities that adults consider risky." Interestingly, the percentage of household rules about online activities declined dramatically from 2005 to 2013, "most notably in rules relating to meeting online acquaintances in person (30% fewer students have rules on this) and sites you are not supposed to visit (28% fewer students have rules on this)." Girls are more likely to have them than boys, so their Internet use is more regulated than boys’.

Unplugging: To young people’s credit (credit they seldom receive), according to the report, 94 percent “choose to go offline to do other things like spending more time with friends or family, enjoying some quiet time by themselves or going outside.” On the other hand, 35 percent of teens with cellphones “sleep with them in case they get calls or messages during the night,” and the percentage increases with age – so 20 percent of 4th-graders do so and just over half of 11th-graders do. The report states, “Although one-third of students worry that they spend too much time online, only half say they would be upset or unhappy if they had to unplug for a week.” 

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.

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