[Editor's note: This is the second installment of Laurie Toupin's road trip series. See her first article here.]
During our family’s first road trip stop in Hershey, Pa., my son Jacob shouted as he passed through an industrial cocoa bean-drying oven.
"Wow...I'm baking like a real coco bean!" he rang aloud excitedly as we all passed through the drying oven, a pretend one of course, on the Hershey Chocolate Factory tour.
"I'm hungry for chocolate!" Colie added. And so was I.
Hershey Park, the first stop on our cross country tour, began with a fun, educational tour of how Milton Hershey manufactures his world famous Hershey's Kisses, chocolate bars, peanut butter cups, and other confectionary delights.
The tour is housed in Chocolate World, where the kids can also make their own chocolate bars, help solve a mystery in the chocolate factory while watching a 4D movie, or sip a frozen Hershey chocolate frappe.
We hadn’t even entered the main part of the park yet.
What you want to know if you’re planning a trip
Hershey Park is huge – 110 acres, the size of Vatican City. Kiddie rides are interspersed with "big" kid rides, so several age groups can ride at the same time without the adult ever having to move. The park boasts five large, very fast roller coasters and a huge water park where you can even try body surfing.
If you ever decide to visit, plan on coming the day the before.
Hershey allows most ticketed guests a “preview.” This means that we can go in the night before at 6:30 p.m. and stay until the park closes at 10 p.m. on the same ticket that we use the next day. What a perk! We got to ride attractions when the park was less crowded and decide what we wanted to hit the next day.
Also, it is worth staying in one of the Hershey Park lodging facilities. We stayed in the campground resort. Resort may be a bit strong of a word for this campground, but it is a wonderful way to see Hershey. A shuttle bus runs continuously from 8:30 in the morning until 11:15 at night. I do not have to pay for parking or move the RV the whole time we are here. We can leave the park during the day, come back to the campsite to swim, eat, and decompress before returning later for a second round of rides.
Another benefit of staying in the campground is that we are allowed into the park an hour before other guests.
Be ready for chocolate overload
Whether at the park or campground, we were reminded of chocolate constantly. We saw candy bars walking around everywhere! Peppermint Patty and Chocolate Moose visited us at the campground pool. Jacob had his picture taken with the Hershey chocolate bar. Colie high-fived the Hershey's Kiss and Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.
I found a T-shirt store that sold an orange Reeses peanut butter cup warning, “Stop Global Warming … or all the Reese's will melt.”
Even the rides are rated by chocolate type. Jacob is a Reese's (my favorite), Colie is a Hershey bar (her favorite), and Maria is a Twizzler. I am a Jolly Rancher…though not by much! A brochure indicates what rides are appropriate for what candy. That allows us to choose rides that are perfect for Jacob without him knowing that he is “too little” for some.
The only downside of the park is that everything and everyone looks so delicious that my children and I were craving chocolate constantly!
Oh well, every one needs some sweets for a road trip...even if we do eat them all in the first five minutes.
While technology adds to a senior’s quality of life by connecting them with family and friends, too many can’t afford or understand it, according to a new survey of the perspectives of the aging in America.
The survey, conducted by the National Council on Aging (NCOA), UnitedHealthcare, and USA TODAY, reached out to 4,000 US seniors age 60 and older to examine how the country can better prepare for a booming senior population.
“When asked what’s most important to maintaining a high quality of life in their senior years, staying connected to friends and family was the top choice of 4 in 10 seniors, ahead of having financial means (30%),” according to the NCOA.
My mother, age 82, who is reading this online, is going to agree with that assessment right after she checks Facebook to watch the video of her grandson Ian, 18, rescuing our cat from a tree at midnight last night.
A raccoon attacked her, she jetted upwards and could not get down – the cat, not my mom. My mom would have gotten online to look up raccoon repellants.
While the survey found that seniors today are comfortable using technology, they do say “a lack of understanding and cost” are obstacles for them to widely adopt technology.
Hence, I am my mom’s IT person on call 24/7.
“I’m taking a writing class but everyone’s complaining at me about the formatting of my stories,” my mom said in the umpteenth call about formatting this month. “Why don’t all computers just have the same word processor? It would make life so much easier!”
While my mind reeled at the prospect of explaining tech wars to mom, it was better to have her healthy and aggravated than isolated, weepy, and depressed because the technology wasn’t in her life at all.
I wish her N.J. town had volunteers at the library who gave basic IT sessions like we have here in Norfolk, Va. You can really improve someone’s quality of life by taking some time to volunteer and help them learn the basics of email, social media, and a word processing program.
Offline, the survey showed that seniors focused on taking care of their health are more optimistic about aging: “nearly two-thirds (64%) of optimistic seniors have set one or more specific goals to manage their health in the past 12 months, compared with 47% of the overall senior population.”
My mom has always been a health nut, often to my complete insanity. It started with skiing the Swiss and Italian Alps long before I was born and pressed on through Jane Fonda workouts, Dr. Fill-in-the-blank’s Diet Plan, and now? Now my mom is taking Salsa and Zumba classes. Did I mention she’s 82?
The woman has always put me to shame in the PhysEd department. She swims 50 laps in an Olympic-size pool.
Finally, the survey revealed: “Most seniors (71%) feel the community they live in is responsive to their needs, but less than half (49%) believe their community is doing enough to prepare for the future needs of the growing senior population.”
I tend to pay more attention to that 49 percent. We need to engage our seniors and keep them active in the community because one day we will be the ones taking the survey and not analyzing it.
I would be worried about the study from the journal Pediatrics, which states that boys with autism or ADHD have a higher risk of developing an addiction to video games, if I hadn’t witnessed a very positive side-effect of gaming in my own Asperger’s child – he taps his creative side to make arts and crafts inspired by the video games he plays.
The study posed questions to 141 parents of boys about the child's video game usage. The children included 56 boys with autism, 44 with ADHD, and 41 with no such conditions. The study found:
- Autistic boys played video games twice as long as non-autistic boys, 2.1 hours a day compared with 1.2 hours a day.
- Boys with ADHD were also more likely to spend more time playing video games than other kids.
- Boys with autism were also more likely to play role-playing games.
So that's "addiction?"
This isn’t 'Breaking Bad' – it’s a chubby little Italian plumber riding a little dragon, or an ongoing series of building block problems that force your child to think, often at speed, through numerous situations.
Doing that sort of critical thinking for two hours per day isn’t what I would feel comfortable calling an “addiction.” On Wednesdays and Saturdays, I call that chess, since that’s how long I sit kids down to “game” in our community as a chess club volunteer.
Good can come from video games. Take my son who has Asperger's, for example.
“Mom, I found these videos by a guy called Goomzilla on how to make your own plushies of stuff in my games,” said Quin, 9. He loves Mario and Minecraft games. “Will you help me sew them?”
The only thing I am worse at than gaming is sewing, but I pounced on his idea. I felt it would allow him to radiate some creativity from within that orderly, regimented mind of his.
Over the last 19 years as a mom with four boys, I have learned to ask which game we’re talking about before judging it as a bad thing. I don’t like games with bloodshed, but games where the player builds things, problem solves, or role-plays have benefits. We need to understand the differences in game genres and not assume that what our kids are playing is automatically harmful to them.
“OK mom, I have a plan,” Quin said. He had lists of materials, colors, and an attack plan laying out the order in which we’d tackle our new summer project list. “I think the star is going to be our best choice to start and if we really push, we can make a Yoshi, which is quite complicated.”
We raided Walmart for measuring and cutting devices, felt and plush fabrics, needles, pins with pearly heads, and a “tomato” for sticking the pins in. I don’t know who Goomzilla is, but every single video-taught design worked. An army of freaky little homemade stuffed creatures from Quinny’s favorite video games now surrounds us.
I am not alone in seeing the benefits some games can provide.
The United Nations began using Minecraft, one of Quin's favorite games, last September, according to CSM Blogger Ann Collier “U.N.-Habitat agency teamed up with Mojang to launch a program called Block by Block. It will use Minecraft to digitally reimagine 300 run-down public spaces in the next three years, giving people who live near them the chance to chime in on how they might be improved. First up: a dilapidated park in Nairobi’s business district and parts of its Kibera slum.”
While studies can shed light on things that should concern us as parents the best studies are the ones we do ourselves. Watch your kids and try doing the game they’re doing before you judge it or them.
Readers, this post (like a few others, recently) is inspired by my participation on the Aspen Institute Task Force on Learning and the Internet that got started last month. The task force would love to have you join us in what we hope will become a nationwide conversation about safe, successful and connected learning. Please sign up to join the conversation here, and you’ll get more information shortly. [Thanks to Renee Hobbs for inspiring this particular post.]
It probably comes as no surprise that, where the Internet’s concerned, parents are more protectionist than they are empowering or skill-oriented. The latest confirmation comes from research by University of Rhode Island student Kelly Mendoza for her PhD dissertation. The subjects of her research don’t necessarily represent all parents – “it was a non-representative sample of relatively affluent and well-educated mothers (with a few exceptions),” reports media professor Renee Hobbs in URI’s Media Education Lab blog – but there are lots of insights to mine from that sample, including a better picture of what “over-parenting” might look like (see also the 3rd study I link to here in the University of California, Davis, Law Review).
“Although a majority of parents use a combination of protectionist and empowerment strategies,” Dr. Hobbs writes, “most rely on protectionist Internet mediation overall. Even though parents report having confidence in empowerment strategies, they are less likely to use them. Parents rated protectionist strategies as simply more effective than empowerment strategies.”
To control, or to engage & explore?
Take a look at Hobbs’s examples of (bulleted) protectionist and empowerment approaches, but the former category might be summed up as controlling (rules, restrictions, parental control tools, etc.) and the latter one as engaging with our kids in digital spaces – basically, controlling vs. exploring. As we put it in our 2009 “Online Safety 3.0″ doc, one can approach it as safety from negative stuff or as safety for enriching, effective participation.
Hobbs reflects on why parents lean to the protectionist approach. If they have confidence in empowerment, as Mendoza found, what are the downsides – why don’t they adopt an enabling approach? She offers two possible reasons: the considerable time that productive engagement requires when parents are trying to reduce, not increase, their children’s “screen time” and the perception that increased Net use can increase risk (of “spam, malware, and porn”).
My own observations since the late ’90s have turned up other reasons, including this underlying one: the nearly 20-year development of a public discourse that has long associated children’s use of technology with negative, often worst-case, outcomes shaping the policy agenda (e.g., see this confused press release), news coverage, and to some extent the research agenda (see this from EU Kids Online about the public policy agenda). Through the years a number of studies – the headline-grabbing kind, not the academic kind – have even polled parents about their concerns, creating concerns about concerns (see this). Then there’s sociologist David Finkelhor’s very plausible hypothesis about the cause of what I’d call this digital siege mentality (see this about a possible antidote for parents). It could be argued that fear has hijacked the national discourse about children in digital media and 21st-century learning.
So I have a hypothesis…
Parents’ continuous exposure, over a decade and a half, to negative political messaging and news reporting and lack of exposure to social media research (exposing the positive and neutral impacts of digital media) has biased them toward controlling rather than exploring new media with their children. Whether or not you agree, shouldn’t we at least be asking about the effects of overexposure to fear on parenting and education as much as we’ve been asking about the effects of overexposure to digital screens on growing up? (See these posts referencing moral panics.)
Several years ago, researchers exploring digital ethics at the Harvard School of Education talked with a lot of young people who felt a lack of efficacy online and a lack of any consequence to their media use. Not a big surprise with social media being consistently represented as, at best, a waste of time and young people as time-wasters, media addicts, and potential victims of pornographers, predators, and cyberbullies. In my own experience asking a group of 7th-graders what they thought the No. 1 Internet risk was, they reflexively answered “predators,” but then not one could think of any brush they’d had with a predator, nor did they know anybody who had. So how effective is it to spread misinformation and instill in our children exaggerated fears, powerlessness, and a reflexive deprecation of the very media they need to master?
It’s not a binary
Hobbs suggests that maybe it doesn’t have to be an either/or, protectionist vs. empowering binary. She writes that both are needed. I agree, but what I also yearn to see in the public discussion about youth safety is more signs of a growing understanding that empowerment itself is protective.
In the area of inappropriate content, for example, Ofsted, Britain’s education regulatory body, published a study of 37 schools’ Internet safety practices in 2010. It found that what characterized the best schools for Net safety was that they didn’t take a “locked down” approach to the Internet but rather a “managed” one. They helped students take responsibility for safe use themselves. In the area of safe social media use, learning the emotion detection and management skills of social-emotional literacy (SEL) reduces bullying and increases safety, academic performance, and social efficacy.
So certainly it’s not that we need less protection; it’s that we need a clearer understanding of how essential empowerment is to young users’ protection in user-driven media and participatory culture. Can you have mastery in anything without some trial and error in/with it? Even the online-risk research shows that young people can’t have opportunity – or develop the internal protection of resilience – without exposure to risk online. That’s true of life too, isn’t it? Trial-and-error develops life literacy. This is not new to parenting.
So as Kelly Mendoza found in her research, “parents rated protectionist strategies as simply more effective than empowerment strategies,” Hobbs wrote. More effective for what? For keeping kids offline as much as possible, rather than for helping them develop the skills and literacies of safe, successful participation in today’s networked world.
A Yale School of Medicine study in the August edition of the journal Pediatrics finds that 30 percent of women cannot afford enough diapers for their children. It further finds that those women are more in danger of depression and anxiety.
If you've ever raised an infant, you know that the hassle of diapers is no laughing matter – travel plans necessarily include and to some degree revolve around some provision for hauling, shipping, or buying piles of diapers on site, and the speed with which used diapers can fill a trash bag is disconcerting to say the least. And if you're struggling to make ends meet, the sheer expense is non-trivial: buying enough disposable diapers for an infant can take 6 percent of a single mother's annual minimum wage income of $15,080, the survey finds. Cloth diapers are no silver bullet – the time and expense involved in laundering cloth diapers is as bad or worse than their eco-hostile, disposable brethren.
This insight into the cost of diapers – seemingly minor, but actually an important window into one of the many facets of poverty – couldn't come at a more relevant time, as a recent Associated Press survey reveals that a full four–fifths of Americans wrestle with near-poverty, joblessness, and/or reliance on welfare at some point in their lives, a trend exacerbated by a collapse of domestic manufacturing jobs and a widening gap between the rich and the poor.
There's no easy answer to poverty and joblessness across the board, of course. But there may be a simple way to deal with the expense of diapers for people in need. The challenge? Finding bipartisan support for patching this little piece of the frayed safety net. A Los Angeles Times story on the topic found that in 2011, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D) of Connecticut introduced a bill that would have made it easier to use federal funds to provide diapers to infants in need. It failed – in part because of mockery by critics like radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, who viewed the bill as part of a farsighted plan to indoctrinate children into the cult of liberalism.
Once upon a time, America prided itself on taking care of its less fortunate. And while there is always a valid debate to be had as to the nature and scope of the safety net, it seems like diapers for infants – and the support that would be provided to new mothers by ensuring those diapers are available – is a clear cut win-win for society as a whole and the moms who receive the support.
Golf is a sport that emphasizes integrity.
Players are expected to call penalties on themselves, even if no one is looking.
That's why it's fitting that Hunter Mahan – who was leading the RBC Canadian Open after two rounds – withdrew to attend the birth of his daughter. Mahan did the right thing – for himself, for golf, and for fathers everywhere.
That's not to say that it was an easy decision. Mahan hasn't won a PGA tournament this year. He finished in the top 10 in two recent big tournaments – the US Open and the British Open Championship. Going into Saturday's third round, he was leading by two shots. And if he had won, Mahan would have pocketed a $1,008,000 winner's check.
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How many new dad's would walk away from a $1 million pay day?
The baby wasn't due for a few weeks. But then his phone rang Saturday morning, while he was warming up on the practice range. His wife was in labor, her water had broken. He didn't hesitate. He politely left the tournament.
“I received exciting news a short time ago that my wife Kandi has gone into labor with our first child,” said Mahan. “As a result, I have withdrawn from the RBC Canadian Open to return to Dallas. I would like to extend my very sincere gratitude and appreciation to RBC and the RBC Canadian Open.
"Kandi and I are thrilled about this addition to the Mahan family and we look forward to returning to the RBC Canadian Open in the coming years.”
Mahan is not the first golfer to face the challenge of fatherhood vs. work. As Yahoo Sports writer Jay Busbee wrote: "Back in 1999, Phil Mickelson famously wore a beeper during the U.S. Open. His daughter was born the day after Mickelson lost to Payne Stewart. More recently, Ross Fisher vowed to walk off the course at the 2009 British Open no matter what if he heard his wife was going into labor; he was just one stroke behind leader Tom Watson at the time."
And last fall, Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman caused a stir when he suggested that the birth of his child would take precedent over showing up for his job. It sparked conversations on talk radio and in social media about work and family priorities. Tillman said:
"[Football will] always be second or third in my life. That was a great lesson learned, to teach me that family — when I’m done playing football — my family will always be there for me.”
As The Christian Science Monitor reported at the time, "Tillman's announcement drew criticism from some sports columnists and fans. Sport radio talk show starkly framed the question: "If you only work 16 days a year, should you miss one for the birth of your child?"
Tillman's daughter was eventually born on a Monday, saving the NFL player and fans from any further controversy.
But Mahan's daughter Zoe arrived on a work day. As a father, it's unlikely Mahan will regret the decision to leave the golf tournament. And there are probably more than a few dads – who missed the birth of their first child – who would now gladly give a $1 million to be there.
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“Fat shaming” and weight discrimination, be it from Abercrombie & Fitch or your university professor, are not the ways to help people shape up physically, socially, or academically according to a report published this week in the journal PLoS ONE.
“Weight discrimination, in addition to being hurtful and demeaning, has real consequences for the individual’s physical health,” says study author Angelina Sutin, a psychologist and assistant professor at the Florida State University College of Medicine in Tallahassee, Fla., NBC reports.
Weight shaming, the study found, can send people to the Twinkie Zone faster than you can say “binge.”
Rebecca Puhl, deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, told NBC:
“Stigma and discrimination are really stressors, and, unfortunately, for many people, they’re chronic stressors. And we know that eating is a common reaction to stress and anxiety -- that people often engage in more food consumption or more binge eating in response to stressors, so there is a logical connection here in terms of some of the maladaptive coping strategies to try to deal with the stress of being stigmatized.”
How is it that we didn’t know this by now?
I say this from the perspective of a life-long, diet yo-yo fat girl. Telling me I need to lose weight has never worked for me, or any obese person I have ever met.
What worked for me was my son, age nine, saying a few months ago, “Can we go to the beach this summer? I think you look fine. Nobody cares how you look and when we’re in the water it totally doesn’t matter.”
That acceptance inspired me to begin Weight Watchers two months and 16 pounds ago and keeps me moving down the weight chart.
Love, compassion, and telling me my size is irrelevant made all the difference.
This study should also be a lesson to people who feel no guilt when they weight shame because they say they’re “just being honest” or “trying to help.”
“Dear obese PhD applicants: if you didn’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation #truth.”
It sounds like one of those commercials for cable television: “If you’re fat you have no willpower. When you have no willpower, you agree to be the driver in a bank heist. When you agree to be the driver in a bank heist, you hit a fire hydrant and flood a pet store. Don’t flood a pet store. Get skinny.”
Miller is still employed there as an associate professor of psychology at UNM, according to the university’s legal advisor Diane Anderson.
“I want to mention that [Miller] made that tweet while on loan to NYU and wasn’t even here at that time,” Ms. Anderson said. “He quickly deleted the tweet and apologized.”
For those students Miller was addressing I would give a better tweet from Eleanor Roosevelt to put out today in response, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. #Truth.”
The yogurt maker Dannon is under fire for using carmine (a red color additive made from crushed beetles) in its product, although its far from the only company to use the stuff. Although a tiny percentage of the general population is allergic to carmine, much of the opposition to the additive seems to be coalescing around the idea that it's "gross" to eat bugs.
The most interesting part of this story is not the crushed bugs, per se – we should probably, as a society, be eating a lot more bugs since they're high in protein and environmentally sustainable – but rather how many other things regularly slip under our radar when we buy industrially produced food for our families.
Castoreum – If you happen to be a beaver, then you have castor sacs, gland-like pouches located in your nether regions that contribute to the scent-marking of your vast wilderness territory. If you happen to be a person, you're probably eating trace amounts of castoreum when you eat artificial vanilla or some artificial berry flavorings.
Rennet – Traditional cheese sometimes contains an ingredient that is not entirely to everyone's liking: an extract called rennet made from the dried and clean stomachs of calves. Not all cheeses are made with rennet, however – vegetable rennet, microbial rennet, and acid (such as citric acid) are also used, depending on the cheese and the cheesemaker.
Carrageenan – Long ago, fast food milkshakes found a secret weapon in their battle for the perfect thick, creamy texture: moss plucked from ocean rocks, processed into an additive called carrageenan. An extract from this seaweed keeps the butterfat in the shake from separating out, and thickens the texture.
Pretty much anything found in a typical hot dog – Since Roman times, or before, it's long been understood that finely-ground sausage is a perfect dumping ground for semi-edible and otherwise questionable bits of animals. Between the strong flavorings, the grill-imparted char, and the fine texture, just about anything goes. A recent survey found each additional daily serving of processed red meat like hotdogs was associated with a 20 percent higher risk of dying, making the daily dog equivalent to playing Russian roulette. On the other side of the coin: on a warm summer evening, nothing beats a hot dog.
Now, with the exception of processed red meats, all of the above, including crushed bugs, are fine for you. You may not want calf stomach in your cheese or seaweed in your milkshake, but you'll walk away from those encounters more or less intact.
Far scarier than bugs and mystery meat are the laboratory-formulated chemicals – the artificial sweeteners, stabilizers, preservatives, and more that make our modern food industrial complex what it is. Most are perfectly safe. Some are questionable. Some turn out to be dangerous (possibly or probably) only after years of production and consumption.
In aggregate, we could read every label of every food we eat, and avoid anything with an additive known to be questionable. (As a professional food reviewer, I can tell you: good luck. Many labels are 30 or 40 ingredients long and often include catch-alls like "natural flavors" or "artificial flavors" that could conceal just about anything.)
Alternatively: We could go to more farmers markets, buy more whole foods in general, eat less processed food, make our own yogurt (it's easy!) and cook more from scratch. It's work, but the reward is a longer, healthier life. And we can still enjoy crushed bugs on special occasions.
I am a firm believer in the squabble stop. For the uninitiated, a squabble stop is a timeout due to squabbling in the car. And, in order to maintain its efficacy, it must happen immediately. Which is why, somewhere north of Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Interstate 5, we stopped. Not right in the midst of a lane, of course, but on the side of the freeway.
The infraction? My 10-year-old son, feeling drowsy, had rested his head on top of his seven-year-old sister's toy box. This heinous crime caused a great deal of shrieking, at which point I pulled over. I have a no fighting rule in the car. You think texting is a distraction? Try concentrating on the road with three screaming kids in the back. So we pulled over.
Where, you might ask, was my husband in all of this? Back home. That’s right. I took our kids on a family road trip without Daddy. Lest you think that we have marital troubles, the road trip was our way to get from our home to overnight camp in northern California. My husband's job didn’t allow for him to take off for that length of time, so I did what any good wife would do – I left him behind. Crazy, though, I am not. So I brought a mother's helper along to better my chances at child-wrangling.
There was a lot of driving on this trip – 514 miles. One day, we covered over 266 miles. It was 266 miles of are-we-there-yets? and I can't take it anymores. I think there was some lovely scenery too.
And then, appearing on the horizon like a mirage, our hotel. Thank God, because all any of us wanted to do at that point was get to the pool. (Actually, after 266 miles with my kvetchy kids, what I really wanted was the bar. But it wasn’t even 3:00 in the afternoon. And it didn’t seem right to stick the sitter with all three kids.)
When did I become the parent, responsible for driving and making reservations? How did this happen? Wasn’t I just piled in the back of the station wagon with my sister and brothers? And not much has changed. All we cared about was staying in a hotel with a pool. And HBO. One summer, we saw Grease 2 every single day of our vacation. Every. Single. Day.
My kids are no different. Their expectations are as shockingly low as ours were. Oh that hotel is SO nice, gushed Lilly as we drove past a motel with a pool in the parking lot. Note to Lil's future husband skip the fancy digs. Motel 6 apparently meets my daughter's standards.
"Hola Lola" tells the story of a young girl from Lima, Peru, who travels to her cousin Harry's birthday party in Honolulu and fears the language barrier will prevent the other children from including her in the celebration. The tune is upbeat, the lyrics are smart, and my kids demanded it be put on repeat.
For 37 miles.
Which took me back to the Summer of '86. "The Glory of Love" was the number one single on the Billboard Charts thanks to its inclusion in "The Karate Kid II." Deep in the throes of teenage angst, I listened to a 90-minute tape of this song on my Sony Walkman during a family driving trip. The entire trip. With just one song.
Kind of like my kids listening to "Hola Lola" on repeat for 37 miles. Kind of.
The trip was a success. Not only did we arrive at our destination with the same number of people with whom we left, but with the same people. And back home again too. Memories were made; some good, some not sharable. But good enough that we're going to do it again.
Note to self:
Do not forget the following items next time:
1. Pack n' Play (whoops!!)
2. Baby monitor
3. Lilly's blue blankie
4. Lilly's menagerie of stuffed animals
5. Water bottles for the car
On the up side:
It was a really smart idea to bring blankets. The hotel didn't have one for the crib and Jacob was a little cold. And individual journals for the big kids was a stroke of genius! It is fascinating – to see what made an impression on them.
And the duct tape came in all kinds of handy.
Rare is the opportunity to get insights into cyberbullying in elementary school because most US research has focused on youth aged 12 and up. The Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center (MARC) really delivered by surveying a huge sample – more than 11,700 – 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders three times over a year and a half, and I believe the results clearly demonstrate the need for social-emotional learning and media literacy education starting in even lower grades.
For example, 90 percent of 3rd graders play interactive games (and they didn’t just start in 3rd grade!), and most cyberbullying among them occurs in online games, MARC found. But before you jump to any conclusions about games, note this finding:
“Children at the highest risk for repeatedly cyberbullying others were the most likely to report problems on Facebook, email, or through text messaging.” What this suggested to MARC is that – though safety and social-literacy education should fold in online game play – it shouldn’t stop there but embrace Facebook, e-mail, and texting too, even for under-13 Facebook users. The 19 percent of girls in grades 3 to 5 who were using Facebook in 2010 increased to 49 percent by 2012. Remember that Facebook and social games are on phones too, and there’s lots of anecdotal evidence that plenty of 4th and 5th graders are in Instagram (see this) and game apps like Clash of Clans.
Sociality increasingly mobile in every way
More than half of the 5th graders surveyed had smartphones last year (the respondents were from all socio-economic brackets), and MARC found that “owning a smartphone was a significant risk factor for both being a cyberbully and being a cyberbullying victim” (12 percent of 5th grade non-owners vs. 18 percent of phone owners said they’d been a cyberbully) – something that parents who are considering buying their young children cellphones will want to be aware of, MARC suggests. But it adds that “traditional in-school bullying was far more common that cyberbullying.” I suggest that the focus of family discussion about this be more on how to be a friend whether or not technology’s involved.
Whether positive or negative (and certainly mostly positive), sociality, play, and media-producing and -sharing are not only one big mashup for kids, all the activity also moves fluidly from device to device and from offline to online – and changes fluidly as individual kids and peer groups change.
How ‘cyberbullying’ was defined for the kids
Because even adults, including risk prevention experts, haven’t entirely agreed on the definition of “cyberbullying,” I asked MARC’s director, Prof. Elizabeth Englander at Bridgewater State University, how they interviewed kids about it.
“You can’t use complex language with 8-year-olds,” she wrote me. “So we asked them if anyone online had said or done anything that was very mean and that really hurt or bothered them. Then we asked if this had happened only once or if the person had done this or similar things to them more than once. We included only the kids who told us that it really bothered them and that it happened more than once.”
Here are some other key findings in MARC’s study:
- Both bullying and cyberbullying increased from Grade 3 to Grade 5. “Just being a victim actually decreased from 3rd to 5th grade, but the number of children who both bully and are victims (“bully/victims”) increased from 15 percent in 3rd grade to 21 percent in 5th.
- As kids move up in grade level, the anonymity of the bullying decreases. In 3rd grade, 72 percent of cyberbullying victims said they didn’t know who the bully was, but the percentage went down to 64 percent by 5th grade (a trend that “continues through high school,” MARC reported).
- One-time meanness more common than the repeated kind: For both bullies and victims, “experiencing one episode of bullying is more common than experiencing bullying repeatedly,” MARC said, which suggests to the researchers that “efforts to control bullying may often be successful. It is also possible that many children learn, from one episode, how to avoid future episodes.”
- Children reported problems more. “Between 2010 and 2012, children were increasingly likely to claim that they had reported cyberbullying.” Reporting to adults and peers increased similarly, which suggests to MARC that prevention education “appears to be successfully increasing the rate at which children report cyberbullying.”
- Prevention education works. MARC found that kids were getting better at recognizing cyberbullying for what it is. “The proportion of children who could not define cyberbullying declined from 24 percent in 2010 to 10 percent in 2012. Non-bullies were more likely than bullies to report that their class had been offered education about bullying and cyberbullying (especially among fifth graders). Children who were repeatedly mean online reported the lowest level of education.”
Teaching children how to “recognize, report and refuse bullying,” as the bullying prevention and social literacy experts at Committee for Children in Seattle put it, is essential to reducing bullying in school and media environments. But what experts worldwide are seeing and voicing more and more is that social-emotional learning (SEL) – teaching our children how to detect and manage their own emotions and make good social decisions is the bedrock. Educators in Illinois certainly understand this, since in 2004, their state was the first to adopt SEL into its academic standards. Teacher Tontaneshia Jones of Chicago’s Ella Flagg Young School calls SEL “problem-solving with dignity,” as I wrote here, but its positive impact goes well beyond even social problem-solving to improving academic performance and a number of other factors for students and schools (see this).
The lion’s share of bullying prevention is social-emotional literacy. It gives kids (all of us, really) the self- and other-awareness and respect that encourages, gives courage, and provides the skills to thrive in communities online and offline, report unacceptable behavior, and stand up for those who need help.
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.org.