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One day after the royal crier announced the little prince was born, here he is. Britain's Prince William carries his baby son in a car seat, as he leaves the Lindo Wing of St Mary's Hospital, July 23. (Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)

A little prince is born, now how to raise him? Against the grain

By Correspondent / 07.23.13

The world just got its first glimpse of the royal baby, born this week.

The new prince means the lineage is that much more secure. The most important bit, though, is that the world gained another mom with the power to raise her little prince into a good man.

As the mother of four boys, I would like to welcome Kate Middleton to the realm of motherhood – where every son’s a prince. And each little prince looks up to his mom and sees a crown – a circlet of love, strength, and protection. 

That crown is really hard to keep on straight, Kate. It often tilts, it’s heavy, and it’ll leave a mark on our brow. 

Working mothers, including royal mothers with appearance schedules, face a great challenge because we must, all too often, trust others to take care of our children for us. And some will stand in when we don’t ask. 

It doesn’t matter if your address reads Norfolk, UK, or Norfolk, Va., (as mine does), everybody around a baby acts like a royal advisor. They’ll tell you that you are wrong because you’re new to the job. Bunk!

You have a grandmother-in-law who is actually the Queen of the entire UK, and she is known for being a bit rigid when it comes to royal dos and don'ts of royal parenting.

But Diana tossed the monarchy’s parenting manual out with the bath water and her sons were the better for it.

Go for it, Kate. Find your ground and stand it.

I went against the grain and lived on a sailboat for five years with my husband when our oldest two boys were toddlers. They grew up strong and confident. When they were bullied, I learned jiujitsu with them. When a doctor told me my youngest would never speak or connect, I quit my job to help him learn to speak, which he now does almost too often. Four boys, 20 years, thousands of mistakes and a stronger bond between a mother and sons is beyond my imagination.

How will you stand your ground for your son?

Perhaps you will be the first among us to embrace the wise words of a mother-in-law, though she be long gone.

Diana’s words may serve you best when you doubt yourself and think to hand the little prince to a nanny or boarding school.

If someone tells you that something is more important than your child, take these words from Diana to heart, “Family is the most important thing in the world.

When you worry about vaccinations, remember Diana said, “The biggest disease this day and age is that of people feeling unloved.

”Everyone of us needs to show how much we care for each other and, in the process, care for ourselves,” she said. Moms need to remember to take time for themselves in order to reboot and recharge.

And, of course, "Hugs can do great amounts of good - especially for children."

As long as you did your best and not someone else’s, your child and you will be great.

Britain's Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge appear with their baby son, outside the Lindo Wing of St Mary's Hospital, in London July 23. One day after the birth and some online commenters are already criticizing Kate's postpartum shape. (Stefan Wermuth/Reuters)

First glimpse of British prince brings comments about mom's postpartum body

By Guest Blogger / 07.23.13

Today, CNN published a photo to Facebook of Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, leaving the hospital with their newborn baby boy. When it came up in my news feed, I was aghast- – not at anything in the photo, but at the comments visible beneath it.

"Why is she so fat?"

"I'm sorry, but thats a BIG post partum tummy."

"i think they forgot anther baby."

"is she expecting twins?Its like something still breathing in her belly"

"is she pregnant again?"

"Kate still looks pregnant. is the a second baby?"

"Why she still look prego?"

"Whose kid is he holding? It's obvious that skank is still pregnant."

How classy.

Unfortunately (but not unexpectedly), Twitter featured more of the same:

"She's still fat.   #KateMiddleTON"

"OMG Kate middleton is fat still!"

"Why is Kate Middleton still fat? What's left in there?"

"Kate Middleton still looks pregnant. Is that normal? I know there's 'baby fat' after bt it lks like she's got anthr1 in there."

As was the case with the criticisms of Marion Bartoli's looks when she won Wimbledon, these comments about Kate Middleton's body demonstrate our culture's misogyny. If a woman doesn't live up to Western society's near-impossible beauty ideals – even if she just had a baby the day before – it's open season on her. Let the potshots commence.

Considering how many celebrities hide postpartum until they can "flaunt their weight loss," and because many people seem to have no idea what a postpartum body looks like, it's terrific that Kate appeared publicly. Her public appearance can be read as an act of self-confidence. But how sad is it that simply appearing in public with her new baby would require self-confidence in the first place? It should be such a simple thing – and yet it isn't.

Instead, I am continuously disappointed that women's bodies are under surveillance, endlessly policed, subjected to the harshest scrutiny.

As a friend pointed out in a reply to me on Facebook: "Remarking on Kate's body is unnecessary not only at this time, but ever."

The view from Beetle Rock in Sequoia National Park, Calif., which has roads too narrow for the Toupin's new RV. (Tracie Cone/AP Photo/File)

Road trip: If you rent a family an RV, they're going to buy one and go to SoCal

By Laurie ToupinGuest Blogger / 07.23.13

Never rent a recreational vehicle if you don’t want to buy one.

Last year, my husband planned a mystery day for the kids and I. After a scavenger hunt at several shops and restaurants, we followed the clues and ended at an RV rental store. The next day, we loaded it up and traveled from our home in New Hampshire to Pennsylvania for a family reunion, then on to Niagara Falls. 

After that trip, our three children never wanted to see our little popup again. They had been forever spoiled. In truth...so had my husband and I. I loved the freedom and independence of traveling with our home. (Turtles have it made!) We could go anywhere, anytime. 

So we bought an RV. The first time I sat behind the wheel, a long forgotten feeling of wanderlust resurfaced.

Almost immediately, I began planning (and preparing the kids) for a cross-country trip.  

I wanted this trip to be totally random and let the spirit move us as it would. But in order to ease the grandparents’ worry, the kids’ need for structure, and the logistics of arranging a time and place to meet my husband, some planning had to be done.  

The kids came up with their own method. A large United States map hangs in our kitchen. Using their Nerf guns with suction cup-tipped ammunition, they shot at the map and kept tallies of the states they hit. It was simple – we'd visit the states our sharpshooters hit the most. My husband and I decided to intervene when Hawaii and Alaska tied for first.

We decided to start off at the Peach family reunion in western Pennsylvania.

After that, each child was allowed to pick one (reasonable) destination. Being a Lego lover since Kindergarten, Maria, 11, wanted to visit Legoland near San Diego. Colie, 9, chose Hollywood – she acted in her first play this past fall. Jacob, 5, wanted to see any place with toys, so Disney. This all meant one place – southern California. Heck, if you are road tripping in America, one might as well drive all the way. 

Second step: how do we get there? There are four interstates that connect the east coast with the west:

I-90 travels 3,020.54 miles from Boston to Seattle.

I-80 travels 2,899.54 miles from Teaneck, N.J., to San Francisco.

I-40 travels 2,555.40 from Wilmington, N.C., to Barstow, Calif.

I-10 travels 2,460.34 miles from Jacksonville, Fla., to Los Angeles, Calif.  

The fifth major highway, I-70, crosses the central US, starting in Baltimore and ending in Cove Fort, Utah. 

After many wonderful suggestions from friends and family, we decide to follow I-70 to St. Louis, then veer south on I-40 through New Mexico and Arizona until, finally, into California.

We chose this route because of my son. The girls love to say that we “got Jacob from a Pizza shop in Phoenix.” Although only five, Jacob is proud of where he was adopted and wants to see it for himself.    

Using Google maps, we plotted a course that has us traveling no more than five hours per day.  

Next, we reserved a few campsites, which demanded some logistical aerobics.  

For example, our 28-foot, Class C RV is not allowed on certain roads in Sequoia National Park. The road system was built in 1946 when vehicles were much smaller.

One has to pay extra for a campsite with a tree and a tiny plot of artificial turf at the local Kampgrounds of America (KOA) in Las Vegas. At almost $90 per night, we will likely skip these luxuries.

And many campsites in Arizona and New Mexico are not accepting reservations because they had too dry of a spring.  

The kids can’t wait. Maria has been packed for months, Colie plans to wing it the day before, and Jacob is counting on Mommy for everything he needs, especially his “white blankie” and knights.  

Now, with just a few days to go, I go over our check list:   

Campground app – check

Trip Tik – check

Tire pressure (especially important when driving an RV in hot areas) – check

Extra water – check

Road games, books, movies for the kids – check, check, check 

We are as ready as we can be.  

Our tentative itinerary, from Brookline, N.H., to San Diego and back spans 7,109 miles. Without stopping, this will take us 111 hours and 4 minutes. With our planned stops, we will be gone six weeks.  

Here’s to learning about our wonderful country. Here’s to family vacations. Here’s to adventure. 

David Finkelhor at the University of New Hampshire giving his lecture, “The Internet, Youth Deviance & the Problem of Juvenoia," in 2010. (Screenshot)

Juvenoia: The kids are all right, even on the Internet

By Guest Blogger / 07.23.13

Over the 15-or-so years I’ve been covering family technology, I’ve noticed a kind of siege mentality developed among parents about kids’ use of digital media.

Then, a few years ago, when sociology professor David Finkelhor at the University of New Hampshire gave his milestone talk, “The Internet, Youth Deviance & the Problem of Juvenoia,” I heard him offer the most plausible reason I’d heard or seen yet for what he called this “juvenoia” – “the exaggerated fear about the influence of social change on youth” – that had developed around children’s seemingly unprecedented and uncontrollable exposure to a diversity of values and influences not our own.

Not helping was awareness of our children’s delight in and comfort level with the media and technologies enabling that exposure (here‘s where I wrote about that), a comfort level many of us had not ourselves reached.

24/7 exposure to somebody else’s values

“Virtually every parent from every station in life,” Dr. Finkelhor said, “sees him or herself as raising children in opposition to the common culture. Parents feel undermined by it – pitted, depending on their point of view, against consumerism, secularism, sexual licentiousness, government regulation, violence, junk food, public schools, religious and racial bigotry…. Of course the Internet is one of the institutions that increased the diversity of that exposure, and this leads to a constant anxiety about [children's exposure to] external threats” to their family’s values.

The professor hypothesized that this siege mentality has grown over the millennia as we’ve gotten further and further away from tribal society, where the tribe reinforced the values parents taught their children.

I’ve been working this problem for a long time, and up until now, about all I could think of to suggest to fellow parents besides getting informed about digital media and – much more important – playing and talking with their kids in the media they love.

I felt that, by focusing on the kids, the tools they love, and the facts (the research about the kid-media nexus), other parents might see what I’ve seen with my own kids: that their experiences in and with digital media are about 99% positive or neutral but, when not, can be worked through because mostly about people and parenting (I’d come to see that the context of those experiences in media was mostly home and school and the rest of offline life and sociality, not so much the media).

‘Myself, my family, our story’

Now, however, I think I’ve stumbled upon a missing piece to the equation – and it has even less to do with technology than my own antidote.

In a great commentary in The New York Times by parent and author Bruce Feiler about his own family and research, I read that “the last few years have seen stunning breakthroughs [from a number of fields] in knowledge about how to make families, along with other groups, work more effectively,” and it’s not just unplugging (see this).

“Develop[ing] a strong family narrative,” Feiler discovered – helping our kids know who and where they came from with those family-history stories and little rituals (some of the best are the hokiest) clans develop together – helping our children have a sense of family history, is one of the best things parents can do to help them develop self-esteem, resilience, identity, and all the other good things that sustain safety, mental health, and good relationships online and offline.

“The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned,” Feiler says psychologists have found. Think about the safety that ensures.

More focus needed on internal protections

Probably because the online safety field believed risk and safety were somehow all about technology, its messaging has always been weighted way too much on the side of external tools for kids’ well being – filtering and monitoring software, parental control, abuse reporting, school rules, laws. What about the resilience, confidence, empathy, moral compass – the internal protections – that help them deal with challenges and connect with others successfully for the rest of their lives, the “tools” more important than ever in a networked world?

Way back in 2008 a national task force on Internet safety found that a child’s psychosocial makeup and home and school environments were better predictors of online risk than any technology a child uses.

So there’s something really substantial, now, for concerned parents to go on: Know that neither your child’s inner strength nor your influence can be swamped by technology and that, even if you believe they can be, there’s something you can do about it – as well as something you can do to reinforce healthy child development.

You can help your children know themselves better by knowing “they belong to something bigger than themselves … the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness,” Feiler wrote.

When you think about it, we haven’t actually lost that ancient tribal support David Finkelhor referred to in his 2010 talk. We’re building on it as we work toward a better balance between internal and external protection for children and families.

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 Net Family News.

Royal baby: We care because we relate. A news cameraman reads a newspaper across from St. Mary's Hospital's exclusive Lindo Wing in London, July 22, 2013 after Kate Middleton was admitted to the hospital in the early stages of labor. (AP)

Royal baby boy: The awe-inspiring unimportance of birth (+video)

By Correspondent / 07.22.13

Much has been made about the birth of the so-called royal baby. He will be the new heir to the British throne, via the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton. But as much has been made about it, there has probably been more made about how too much has been made about it.

To get properly meta: Here's the BBC's Royal correspondent Peter Hunt's statement about the crown's statement about the baby:

"The statement from Kensington Palace contains just 45 words. Such is the global fascination with this baby, those words will be translated into countless languages and endlessly repeated until fresh information is provided once the child has been born."

Even factoring in the (nominal) importance of the baby to the overall health of the still-robust British monarchy, itself a system of nominal importance, the event is not stunningly important. It's absolutely trivial. It's utterly ordinary. And, yet – as a microcosm for birth in general – it is of course totally momentous.

What really happened is that a new baby was born – something that happens about 134 million times a year worldwide, according to the United Nations. But for everyone observing the event by TV, radio, Internet, newspaper, or other means, it's not merely a random baby that's coming into the world – it's a symbol for every baby that's ever come into the world, with all the fear, joy, and expectations that come along with it.

We can relate. And where there's that kind of emotional connection, there's a live-wire, capital "e" news Event, the kind that attracts special sections, 24-hour-watches, and blog posts that nibble enthusiastically on every particular edge of the story. (Yes, a bit like this one, I suppose.)

If you've recently become a parent like I have, you understand how difficult it is to get perspective on a birth, and so the royal baby is fascinating both as an exotic event and as a mirror to our own experiences.

For the parent involved in the baby carrying, birthing, and caring processes – each of which have their own halos of myth, superstition, and panic – the birth of a baby is not a trivial event. It is the big bang kickoff to an epic, years-long combination of celebration and self-flagellation, both a festival of joy and funeral for the freedoms of the pre-baby era, to be played out in adorable gifted onesies and growing mountains of soiled diapers and declined dinner invitations.

So yes, the royal baby has nothing to do with us, and isn't very remarkable. But, no, you shouldn't feel bad for following the spectacle. It is, after all, everybody's spectacle – it's the spectacle of human life.

Read entire post | Comments

Heat wave and kids: Take precautions not to leave your kids in a hot car. Here, 5-year-old Arbi Costas, from London, plays with his father in an inflatable car near Brighton Pier during the hot, sunny weather in Brighton, southern England, July 7. (Luke MacGregor )

Heat wave and kids: A revisit to the lessons of kids forgotten in cars

By Guest Blogger / 07.19.13

Statistically, it's barely even a blip: Each year across the United States, fewer than 40 children and infants die from heatstroke after being left in cars, well under 1 percent of those who die overall. But as a heat wave crawls across the United States, it can be hard for parents of small children not to think about the worst-case scenario.

Parenting is a volatile combination of hope and fear, and there are few fears more potent than losing a child to a simple, straightforward, personal error – one that we've all made on multiple occasion when the stakes are lower, e.g. a bag of groceries containing heat-sensitive dairy products.

Add the powerful (and almost universal) error multiplier of parental sleep deprivation to the mix, and you have a highly unlikely – but absolutely terrifying – situation as grim as a well-written horror film.

A recent Times of Israel blog post by Sarah Tuttle-Singer digs into the situation from the perspective of a mom who, "but for the grace of God," almost lost her son by forgetting him (briefly) in the car. If you're a parent of a small child, read it. It'll give you some straightforward practical tips for how to avoid doing it yourself.

A couple stray thoughts that Ms. Tuttle-Singer didn't cover:

1) Technology got us into this mess, it can get us out

The put-your-babies-in-the-back-facing-backwards rule that was spurred in part by child-smiting front seat airbags makes sense, overall. But it seems likely to have increased the overall number of heatstroke deaths of children in cars by putting them out of sight of their parents, as per this recent San Francisco State University report.

There should be – must be – some reasonably cost effective ways to prevent this by utilizing modern technology. Car seats that text parents when they get over 85 degrees, for example – and local emergency services when they get over 95 – might be one answer.

Or perhaps when car seats are engaged in the car, the car is aware of this, and will actually roll its own windows down and honk its horn if the internal temperature climbs above a safe level.

2) Let's abandon the urge to judge (or even publicly not judge)

Nearly every time a baby or child dies in one of these heatstroke situations, local media explodes with fury, judgment, and "judge not lest ye be judged" contrarian counter-fury.

Aside from being utterly depressing, the rage is pointless. Yes, we shouldn't forget our children in cars. No, posting hostile remarks about it on the Internet probably won't stop it from happening again.

Sheila Pott, mother of Audrie Pott who committed suicide after a sexual assault, stands by a photograph of her daughter and message board during a news conference April 15, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Teen sexual harrassment: Starting a dialog with your daughter

By Guest Blogger / 07.18.13

Recently I attended a fundraiser for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC). The event was held in a residential home in an affluent, highly-educated community in the 'burbs. The conversation started politely enough with easy questions about the size of the organization and how long it’s been in business.

In the wake of Steubenville (the rape in Ohio of a teenaged girl by her peers, who posted it on social media) and too many similar heinous stories like it, it didn’t take too long before parents jumped right into the heart of what was on their mind – how we can ensure my daughter is safe, when she walks out the door for school or to go to a friend’s house or on a date or attends a party. And how exactly do we talk to our kids about sexual harassment, assault and rape.

RECOMMENDED: Top 5 bullying myths

What was clear that night is that parents deeply want to have these conversations with their daughter, but are confused (or…even a little clueless) as to how to traverse the complexities of this topic as their little ones become middle school and high school preteen and teens.

As one parent said to me in a sidebar, “How can I have this conversation with my daughter. She often seems annoyed when I ask how her day was?”

A few days after the event, I met with a mom and a survivor and I learned a lot. (Thank you Sarah!) As it turns out, starting a conversation with our daughters doesn’t have to be nearly as scary or complicated as we make it out to be. Here’s a cheat sheet from Sarah and others to get you started:

This is not a conversation about sex. Melissa Gopnik, Director of BARCC said this to me last week and I loved it so much I want to say it again: “This is not a conversation about your kids having sex. Sexual harassment and violence is about kids getting hurt not having sex.”

Don’t blame the victim. Let’s state the obvious right up front. The victim is not to blame. Ever. If a teen is the victim of harassment or sexual assault, here is a list of information that you don’t need to know: what type of clothing she wears, what his sexual orientation is, whether she “flirts,” if she engages in consensual sexual activity, if she drinks alcohol, etc. We have to all agree on this as a baseline to keep our daughters safe. Remember harassment and assault is not about having sex, it’s wrong (and illegal) and is about kids getting hurt (sometimes devastatingly so). Period.

Use anatomically correct language. If you don’t call a nose “a sniff-sniff” to your teenage daughter… (You don’t, right?) use the “real” words when talking about all parts of the anatomy – like vagina, penis, etc…

Be a listener not a lecturer. The No. 1 reason sexual harassment and assault are so underreported are that kids fear that they won’t be listened to. Or, worse yet, that they won’t be believed or will be blamed. Never intimate that a survivor is remotely culpable for the harassment or assault.

Use language that reflects their experiences. Be direct, specific, and relevant. I made the mistake of asking Melissa how to discuss “date rape” with preteen and teen girls. She schooled me pretty quickly (but ever so graciously). As it turns out, research shows the term “date rape” is personally not relatable to many middle schoolers. And although should be discussed, may not be specific enough for even high schoolers. In other words, if a girl is groped in the hallway or taunted with sexual obscenities on the bus, she won’t connect this violation to date rape. She doesn’t believe what you are asking about sexual violence applies to her.

Remember this is an on-going conversation. Parents and caregivers often express feeling anxious about engaging in “a BIG talk.” Start to think about this discussion as on-going conversation. Molly, the host of the fundraising event I attended, explained it well, “these are conversations that occur over months, maybe years, often in small doses – especially with younger kids." You can begin what you consider to be a really intense conversation when your daughter asks you a question. And then when she’s had enough, she will walk away, grab an apple, and go read a novel. That’s the way it works.

Feel awkward, but be brave and talk about it anyway.  Use this series as a place to begin the conversation. We are going to get really detailed to help you. And guess what? Research on pre-teens shows that what is important to kids is not what their parents say, but that they cared enough to talk about it at all. In other words, just talking about this tough subject is what your preteen will appreciate. The only mistake you can make is NOT saying anything at all! Remember, you can always go back to make another point or even ask for a redo.

What You Can Do  - Take 5 Actions

1.) Start with the conversation opener below if you like or use your own words. Use a calm voice. Add your own parenting style and what works best with your daughter. I personally like to use self-deprecating humor to diffuse the awkwardness. That’s different than joking about or making light of the topic. Remember this is an on-going conversation. Be thoughtful but don’t put too much pressure on yourself. There are many opportunities for re-do’s and continuing the conversation. Research shows your daughter will appreciate the effort even if it is awkward and imperfect. I found this link of talking points extremely helpful.

Conversation starter: I was reading a blog about preteen and teen sexual harassment. It talked about how kids are being hurt during school and in other situations by sexual harassment. Some of the examples it gave were: Unwelcome sexual comments, jokes, or gestures, physical touching like touching girls’ breasts, a boy rubbing his penis against a girl’s buttocks, sending texts or posting messages with derogatory language or spreading a sexual rumor about a girl. It’s hard for parents to believe that this happens in school or in general but I know it does. So, I am checking in to see if you have ever seen or experienced anything like this at school.

(Be as specific as possible and use examples if you have them – see the previous blog for one example of a “gauntlet” in a school hallway.)

Conversation Wrap up: I care deeply about how you feel in school and in the world in general. So let me state the obvious. You deserve to feel safe at school and no one, not anyone – ever has a right, no matter what – to say things or touch you in a way that makes you feel scared or uncomfortable. Even if they say they are “joking." It’s not funny to hurt someone. It’s about showing respect to you and everyone. If you are ever harassed, I want you to know that you can talk to me about it and we can figure it out together. Or if you are not comfortable talking to me, then we will identify another trusted adult that you can talk to.

2.) If you haven’t already, e-mail or call your daughter’s school and simply ask for a copy of their sexual harassment policy. See our first blog of this series for a sample email. 

3.) Look for the next installment in the series on FB or by signing up for our regular tips and updates. Q&A with a clinician who specializes in working with survivors of sexual assault. She will help us continue by giving suggestions about what we should do if our daughter is harassed or assaulted. It will also include advice from our teen advisors.

RECOMMENDED: Top 5 bullying myths

Thanks again Melissa Gopnik, Director at The Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (www.barcc.org). Also special thanks to Molly Wong who opened up her home and started this conversation within own community.  And to Sarah, Julia Bluhm, and others who have been open and authentic in sharing their stories. In addition to Melissa, we will be gaining input from other experts in the field including: Miranda Horvath @miranda_horvath and Amy Jussel @shapingyouth. Thank you Miranda and Amy for your work and expertise!

Sam Cornwell's video, 'A Second a Day from Birth,' shows one-second per day of his son Indigo's first year on Earth. (Snapshot from 'A Second a Day from Birth')

Dad's second-a-day video: more viral adorability

By Andrew AverillCorrespondent / 07.17.13

Indigo Cornwell was born a year ago on July 9, and every day since, his father has recorded a one-second video of him. 

Dad Sam Cornwell got the idea from a lecturer who, speaking at a TED convention in 2012, said: "[A]s the days and weeks and months go by, time just seems to start blurring and blending into each other and ... visualization is the way to trigger memory."

Mr. Cornwell's video starts moments after his son was born. As the days and seconds go by, the initial uncertainty in Indigo's eyes gives way to trust and wonder and excitement. Indigo's growing up. 

In one clip, Indigo is on his belly at a beach, flailing his arms and legs out and up like a skydiver. In another he's crying while being held after getting a shot. In others he takes a step with help from his dad, and walks by himself toward his smiling mom. 

Certainly, the movie of one-second clips will be re-watched countless times by his parents and family as he grows up. Seeing him in a fluffy bear costume or going down his first slide, they'll be able to laugh and cheer as they did then. 

But the real prize is Indigo's. He'll always have a video full of daily reminders of his parents' time with him. He'll hear their sense of humor, see their smiles, and remember the love that held him up when he took his first step. 

Barbie sales are down in Mattel's most recent earnings statement. Do the numbers illustrate a doll in decline? Not quite. Barbie products are displayed at a local toy store in Hialeah, Fla., in 2012. (AP Photo/File)

Barbie sales are down, but here's betting she's not out

By Guest Blogger / 07.17.13

After more than 50 years as a pint-sized superstar, Barbie has hit a wall.

The perennially popular series of dolls, which are world-famous for (or notorious for, depending upon your perspective) their depiction of a glamorous, jet-setting, image-conscious lifestyle, has hit its fourth consecutive quarter of declining sales. Barbie's challenges have affected the overall financial condition of the toy company Mattel.

This isn't the first time the line of toys has struggled. "The slump is not at all unprecedented," Sean McGowan said in an e-mail, a senior analyst at the investment banking firm Needham & Company. "Barbie was in a decade-long swoon from 2000 to 2010 when it was competing with Bratz," he says, referring to the hipper, edgier dolls that were a sales and cultural phenomenon in their time. "It is recoverable, but it's tough. If [Mattel] management's explanation is right, second half sales should be better because they consciously shifted shipments to later in the year."

Even as Barbie has struggled, Mattel's American Girl collection has thrived, defying "the times are changing" analysis of why Barbie sales keep slipping. Mr. McGowan discounts the impact of the Internet and cell phones on the way consumers view the doll, saying: "Barbie's core [consumer] age is now about 5 to 6 years old, a bit young for cell phones."

The financial condition of Barbie is related to – but not the same as – its cultural condition. Tanya Lee Stone is the author of "The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie," a history  of the Barbie phenomenon written for younger readers, and she says that it's too early to count the dolls out.

"I don't think Barbie has lost relevance, especially the Barbie dolls that stay closest to the original mission of Ruth Handler, her inventor," Ms. Stone said in an e-mail. "Barbie was always intended to be a vehicle for a girl's imagination, and I don't think that concept can ever go out of style."

From Stone's perspective the intense (and longstanding) hand-wringing about the cultural significance of Barbie misses the point, which is the way children actually relate to the doll. "When I was collecting anecdotes for my book, the disparity between kid's opinions and adult's opinions about Barbie was dramatic," she says. "Basically, it was the grownups that were arguing about the detrimental effects of Barbie on girls while kids were not viewing Barbie as anything but a doll on which to impose their own ideas."

Barbie-branded merchandise, which has total annual sales somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 billion, isn't going anywhere soon – tradition, nostalgia, and a still-gigantic share of the doll market are powerful shields against the fluctuation of trends. For good or ill, the saga of Barbie continues – at least for now.

The tooth fairy may soon be as big a "holiday moment" as Christmas or Easter, if the toy industry has its way. Here, Claudia Raymond, dressed as the tooth fairy, examines a preschooler's shiny teeth looks at a Laporte, Ind., elementary school as part of a local Give Kids a Smile program. (AP Photo/The Herald-Argus, Bob Wellinski)

Tooth fairy: Toy industry wants to monetize the "holiday moment"

By Guest Blogger / 07.17.13

For children, losing one’s baby teeth is an important rite of passage. It marks a child’s departure from early childhood and entry into middle childhood – a time when, among other milestones, a child’s belief in magic begins to recede.

Because of this, there’s something precious about the myth of the tooth fairy. Our children’s belief that the tooth fairy is real is a sign that they are still little, that they’re not growing up too quickly, that they’re still innocent. Children love the strange idea that a tooth will be whisked away in the night by a fairy, with money or a small token left in exchange: It’s a fun, harmless fantasy.

Unlike the holidays of Christmas and Easter, which also have their own beloved fantasy figures attached to them, there is no predicting when an individual tooth will fall out. Waiting for a loose tooth to wiggle its way out takes patience – and once it’s out, it can be nerve-wracking for a child to keep it safe until the tooth fairy can collect it.

Perhaps because losing a tooth is such a personal, individual event, it has not been commercialized in the way that collective holidays and their fantasy figures have been. In the U.S., for example, millions of Christian families spend months gearing up for Christmas, anticipating the joy and the gifts it will bring. Marketers do everything they can to encourage people to spend a lot on the holidays; sales and specials encouraging purchases seem to begin earlier every year, and a fairly uniform image of Santa Claus is widely used in these promotions.

But with children’s teeth on their own individual timetables, marketers have never tried to monetize this milestone… Until now.

Susan Linn of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood reports that The Real Tooth Fairies, LLC is working hard to colonize the tooth fairy myth. Founded in 2011 by seasoned toy industry executives, The Real Tooth Fairies takes the open-ended, family-centered tooth fairy tradition and subjects it to a heavy-handed marketing makeover.

The way its marketing team sees it, “Each tooth is really a holiday moment” – in the same way that Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, and Halloween are holiday moments: moments that can be commercialized, packaged, and sold to consumers. In fact, they explain, “It’s just a massive opportunity.”

In the world of the Real Tooth Fairies, there is not just one tooth fairy; there are six tooth fairies who have been coronated by a tooth fairy queen. Why six? The brand is copying the formula for success experienced by other popular girls’ brands, such as Disney Princess, the Disney Fairies, Bratz Dolls, and the Spice Girls. Like the characters from those marketing success stories, each fairy has a different look: their hair color and skin tones vary – but not their body types; they all fit the Barbie mold. They also have different interests, ranging from animals to math to rock music – though without fail, each one of them has a handsome boyfriend. And a tiara.

In addition to these seven characters, the brand also serves up a short, stout, eyeglass-wearing, hairy-legged “wannabe” tooth fairy called “Stepella” who, like Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters, is clearly meant as a counterpoint to the tall, pretty, real fairies. Unfortunately, her existence perpetuates a negative stereotype that (like so much about this brand) is not age appropriate, and which our girls don’t need: She suggests that any girl who doesn’t achieve a stereotypically beautiful appearance is unworthy of love and acceptance – unwanted. Although the brand claims to promote kindness, Stepella is excluded from the group.

Real girls, called “Earthies” on the Real Fairies site, are expected to identify with one specific “real fairy” from the main group of six, and then make requests on the web site for things that their parents will have to pay for – everything from personalized letters from a favorite fairy (starting at $0.99) to birthday party packages (costing $379).

So much for the tooth fairy myth’s innocent simplicity.

In fact, the brand grafts together components from nearly every popular girls’ brand: fashion (Barbie and Bratz), music (Hannah Montana), fairies (Tinkerbell and friends), royalty and romance (Disney Princesses), a pro-social “kindness” message (Monster High), and so on. It’s a transparent effort to push every button possible in hopes the brand would sell.

Susan Linn agrees with this assessment. ”It’s like an amalgam of the worst trends in the toy industry,” she said. “It contains every known money-making ploy in a pseudo-sweet ambiance, but it’s full of gender stereotyping and sexualization.”

Although the brand was launched in December 2011, it has recently grown dramatically in popularity: In April 2013, it boasted 7.1 million unique viewers. It has already been funded with $3.9 million. With these promising viewing trends, the owners want to raise an additional $4 million to expand it; they’re seeking to add a boys’ section to the site (with time-traveling action-adventure elves, because apparently fairies are too “girly” for boys) and get licensed products into stores – so they created a pitch video for potential investors.

The company’s pitch video recently came to the attention of CCFC. Upon seeing it Linn, was disgusted. “The pitch to investors epitomizes the worst of the toy industry,” Linn said. “They’re cloaking themselves as doing something good for children, when really it’s about making money.” 

While corporations often feign that their product is meant to do something good for children – e.g., Monster High’s claim that it teaches kindness, which The Real Tooth Fairies, LLC has also copied – there’s something particularly problematic about the way it is playing out here. Linn points out that the tooth fairy has always been in the public domain, and beliefs about the tooth fairy have been very diverse. Families have enjoyed devising their own tooth fairy rituals for generations – and, Linn fears, The Real Tooth Fairy, LLC hopes to put an end to that.

“This is a major assault on an area of childhood that has been unbranded,” Linn explained. “It’s an assault on the imagination. Families have always made up their own tooth fairy rituals, and it’s egregious to stultify children’s imaginations in that way.”

To help CCFC save the tooth fairy, visit their web page or sign their petition

Follow Rebecca Hains on Twitter or Facebook. 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.

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