When I lived in South Africa in the late 2000s, I heard a lot of worries about the growing collection of health problems people were noticing among children, who, as a group, were becoming increasingly overweight.
They had a name for this phenomenon. It was called “The American Disease.”
I couldn’t help thinking about that today as I read about another, new, American public health concern: Death, literally, by television.
Although the number of children killed by unintentional injury – the No. 1 cause of death for American kids ages 1 to 19 – fell by nearly 30 percent over the past decade, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a record number of American kids in 2011 were killed by falling televisions.
In a report released this week, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission said that 29 children in the US were killed by falling televisions in 2011, while 12 more were killed by tipping furniture and other appliances.
Now, that might still seem low, compared with the 436 children aged 1 to 4 who were killed by drowning, or the nearly 1,200 children aged 1 to 14 who died in traffic accidents (these are 2010 numbers from the CDC). But it's a big jump from 2000, when 7 children were killed by falling TVs. And when you look at injuries overall, the numbers get more intense: Overall, some 43,200 people, on average, are injured each year by televisions, furniture, and other appliances; children experienced the most injuries (13,800) with televisions.
Most of those kids are between the ages of 1 and 4. And one of the most common explanations for the tip-overs is “climbing.”
But it’s not that toddlers have suddenly become more interested in climbing, public health officials said. It’s that we have more televisions. And, in particular, flat screen televisions.
According to the 2010 Gadget Census from Retrovo, a consumer electronic review website, there are more televisions in America these days than people, with 1.16 televisions per capita. More than 70 percent of US households have a flat screen model, which tips far more easily than the big, boxy versions of years past.
Many of these flat screen televisions are on when nobody is actively watching. They are also in rooms that no adult is monitoring – including children’s bedrooms. (Studies have found that 70 percent of kids between 8 and 18 have a television in their own room.)
So the solution, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says, is for adults to make sure heavy furniture items and televisions are well anchored and bracketed to walls. Keep them from falling, and you automatically reduce the injury risk.
Which seems sensible. (I have already sent my panicked e-mail to Husband about our need to bracket various household items.)
But it’s kind of hard not to wonder about the larger issue, too. I mean, it seems that we should take a hard look at this new American hazard. Our stuff is harming us. Literally.
I wonder what my former neighbors would think about this one.
The Internet has all but nailed shut the era of the closed adoption, says a new report from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, “Untangling the Web: The Internet’s Transformative Impact on Adoption.” With social media sites such as Facebook – not to mention all varieties of online databases and archives – interaction between an adopted child and his or her birth parents can come more quickly, privately, and unexpectedly than ever before.
Meanwhile, the report says, unregulated websites are increasingly competing with traditional adoption practitioners, a trend that has created a growing “commodification” of adoption and “a shift away from the perspective that its primary purpose is to find families for children.”
And at the same time, tens of millions of people across the globe are tapping into the Internet to find support for any number of adoption-related concerns or interests. These can range from grappling with the decision of whether to put a child up for adoption in the first place to struggling to raise a child with special needs to figuring out the best way to host Christmas brunch for a kid’s parents, her biological parents, and her siblings who are being raised by someone else all together.
Overall, the Internet’s impact on adoption has been massive. It has also, this report says, been essentially unstudied – and unregulated.
I called up Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, to ask him more about all of this, and about why his organization decided to take such a broad look at the big picture of the Internet and adoption.
The basic answer, he said, was that nobody else had done it.
Although the Internet was clearly impacting nearly every facet of adoption, and the millions of people across the world whose lives are touched by the practice, there are few if any macro studies, he explained. There haven’t been policy recommendations, white papers, legal adjustments, educational programs – any of those responses that you might expect from a field in transition.
“We haven’t begun to wrap our arms around what the Internet means in this realm,” he told me. “Sure, everybody in every field understands that the Internet is having a transformative impact. We know that. That’s not the shocker. But in many other fields there is research – people are discussing what the rules should be, whether [the field is] pornography or taxes or book sales. That isn’t happening [with adoption]. And this affects tens of millions of people – deeply vulnerable people – in their deeply personal lives.” [Editor's note: Mr. Pertman's original quote was revised, at his request, to clarify that "many," not all, are deeply vulnerable people.]
So this report is intentionally broad, Mr. Pertman said. It has some general recommendation for policy makers and those working in the adoption field (it suggests convening to explore these Internet-prompted issues further and developing new guidelines and educational standards) but it primarily set out to show the scope of the changes.
“We have to see what the elephant looks like,” he says.
The next step, he says, will be digging deeper into particular facets of the Internet-adoption realm.
Take the issue of search and reunion.
The trend over the past few decades has been toward open adoptions, those arrangements where there is some level of supervised contact between children and their biological parents. (A recent survey by the Adoption Institute found that through 100 infant adoption programs in the US, only 5 percent of the adoptions were completely closed.) But the Internet has basically taken control away from adoptive parents, child welfare agencies or any other parties who want to regulate these interactions.
Within a few clicks a web-savvy child can find a birth parent. Or, more scarily, an abusive biological parent can find their child.
“Parents need to be guided to discuss how to manage electronic communication long before their children are old enough to reach out or become found,” the report says.
Adoptive parents should be prepared for this sort of contact, as well.
“The list of positive, negative and complicated changes occurring in the world of adoption as a result of the Internet goes on and on, with many already in place and others still evolving,” the report says. “The common denominator among them is that they are not best practices derived from lessons learned from research and experience; rather, overwhelmingly, they are transformations that are happening simply because new technology enables them to happen.”
Two decades after the show’s producers created and then scrapped a segment about Snuffy’s parents splitting up, we learned on the Sesame Street website yesterday that Abby Cadabby, that bubbly pink fairy-in-training, has not one but two houses – one where she lives with her mommy, and one where she stays with her daddy.
She explains the situation to a bewildered Elmo and Rosalita. Abby’s friend Birdie – whose parents, we learn, are also divorced – also swoops down from a nearby fire escape to join in. (And to help start off the peppy and confident song that has the refrain: “They live in different places but they both love me.” Which, I have to admit, is pretty darn catchy. Nothing like humming that one over coffee to get some strange looks from Husband.)
Anyhow, Abby’s situation is part of the Sesame Street multimedia package, “Little Children, Big Challenges,” which was created to tackle everything from bedtime blues to bullying, from making new friends to having a parent incarcerated. This particular project is to give “much-needed resources” for divorcing families with young children, aged 2 to 8, the show says.
“Each year about 1.5 million children confront the divorce of their parents, a transition that can be challenging for the entire family, especially young children,” said a press release put out by the Sesame Street Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind the show. “While 40 percent of families experiencing this, there are few resources to show children they are not the only ones with big questions and feelings about divorce.”
Which kind of makes one wonder – has Sesame Street avoided this topic for 40 years? "R" is for ... Really? After all, this is the kids show that has tackled everything from race, adoption, and pregnancy to death and natural disasters.
(After Hurricane Sandy, producers re-edited a series from the early 2000s that showed Big Bird coping with a storm that had destroyed his nest and damaged his neighborhood.)
Well, as it turns out, the show’s producers did try to put together a segment on divorce in 1992. It just didn’t work.
In an article earlier this week, Time magazine and Tumblr Storyboard tell how, after a US Census report showed that nearly 40 percent of the country’s children would soon live in divorced homes, Sesame Street’s best writers, researchers and producers got together to design a script where Snuffy – aka Mr. Snuffleupagus – confides to Big Bird that his dad is moving out of his family’s cave.
The creators took the normal Sesame Street approach: Gordon explained why divorce happens, everyone assures Snuffy (and viewers) that his parents still love him very much, the characters talk and sing about how Snuffy will have good homes, and so on and so on.
But when producers tested the segment on a group of preschoolers, it bombed.
The kids were in tears. They thought nobody loved Snuffy. They worried their own parents were going to get divorced.
“It was really the first time we’d produced something, put all this money into it, tested it, and it just didn’t work,” Tumblr Storyboard quoted Sesame Street researcher Susan Scheiner as saying.
And so the show avoided the concept – until this week.
(Now, maybe I'm just a kid of the '80s, a member of what has been called the divorce generation. But isn't this ... I don't know ... amazing? Even even now, Sesame Street divorce won’t come into parent's living room unexpectedly. It is only online, available for interested parents, avoidable for the rest.)
The segments are varied, from Abby and Birdie’s peppy song to tougher scenes such as when Abby cries to Gordon that she’s worried it’s her fault her parents are getting a divorce, or when she has her magic crayons draw for her friends the story of how her parents told her they were splitting.
Along with the videos, the website has tips for parents, extended family members, links to webinars and a mobile app called “Sesame Street: Divorce.”
"With the frequency of children experiencing divorce and or separation today, it is critical to help children understand that the feelings or questions they may have are typical and should be discussed with a parent or caregiver," said Jeanette Betancourt, senior vice president for outreach and educational practices at Sesame Workshop, in the release. “These strategies will help children cope with changes as well as support them in understanding they are not alone.”
Raising children can sometimes be a slog; tantrums, sleepless nights, runny noses, dirty diapers, spilled milk and long car trips to visit Grandma and Grandpa can test even the most patient of parents.
But parenthood also has sublime, blissful moments. Never did I feel more at peace, more content, more important or more in tune with the universe than when one of my boys would fall asleep with his head on my chest. Sometimes, exhausted myself, I’d fall asleep, too. But mostly I just lay there, still as could be, looking out the window or at the ceiling and feeling a connection not only with the little boy so dependent on me, but with something bigger, something I’m not even sure I can identify.
My boys are 22 and 17 now, so it’s been a while since I had one of those magical moments, but I came very close the other day. It happened when Albie, our half golden retriever, half yellow Lab, with us almost five months now, laid down beside me on the narrow window seat in our living room. I was ready for a nap, but Albie, as always, was watching intently for the squirrels that dart around our yard and up and through the trees. He started out very alert, eyes following the squirrels intently, ears perked up, head erect. But slowly, he began to tire. His eyes started to close ever so slightly until he eventually succumbed, let out a long sigh, and brought his head gently down onto my chest and fell asleep.
You might think I was just comforting him, but really we were comforting one another. And as he slept came a feeling very much like the one I would have when the boys napped with their heads on my chest or shoulder: That we were somehow meant to be together, delivered to one another to share moments of serenity like this one.
I never expected to feel this way about a dog. The last time I had a dog was more than four decades ago; Kristi, a sweet and intelligent black standard poodle my father brought home as a puppy when I was in elementary school. That dog was deeply attached to my father and he to her, but being young then I didn’t have the kind of spiritual connection I feel with Albie. But I have some precious memories.
When I was about twelve, my Dad had Kristi bred and built a whelping box in our basement. One night, at about 1 a.m., the first puppy was born in my parents’ bedroom. As my Dad carried Kristi to the basement, I followed, carrying in the palm of my hands a tiny black puppy, its eyes closed, its fur still wet. You’d have thought I’d been handed the Hope Diamond. My Dad, a pediatrician, then called his friend, Sylvan, who lived down the street. Sylvan was an obstetrician and there they were, two doctors who often worked next to one another at Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, NJ delivering newborns, easing the birth of eight or nine little poodle puppies.
In the weeks that followed, those puppies frolicked all over the linoleum floor in the basement, always exuberant but always failing to gain the necessary traction on the smooth floor to stay upright. It was a riot of puppy energy and pure joy.
We sold all but one of the puppies, keeping a male we named Freddie. Freddie was the comic, slapstick genius who was always making mischief. He nipped at Kristi’s ear to get her attention, or her goat. He got into a box of sanitary napkins and left the shreds all over the house. He always ran at a 45-degree angle, often into walls at full speed. He got his head stuck in a pretzel box and couldn’t get it off. Then, one night, there was the sound of a car horn and brakes screeching and he was gone. The bloodstain remained on the street for weeks and I learned then what I know now: it is possible to love a dog deeply and well.
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.
We don’t blame you if you found that Kate Middleton’s pregnancy eclipsed all the other parenting news this week. It distracted us, too. (I mean, really. Hospitalization, Australian crank calls, bookies taking bets out on possible royal baby names... it went on and on.) But this is why we have our Friday parenting news roundup – to share some tidbits that you might have missed during the week.
But first, because we just can’t help it, a review of the news from London.
Heir in making
The British royals announced on Monday that Ms. Middleton and husband Prince William were expecting a child and that the Duchess had been admitted to King Edward VII Hospital with acute morning sickness. As poor Kate attempted to recuperate (even the most celeb-cynical moms must have a bit of sympathy on this one), the royal-watching world went nuts. The paparazzi camped outside the hospital. World leaders tweeted their congratulations. Bookies took out bets on what names the couple might pick for the future monarch. (At the moment, odds are pretty decent on Frances and John.)
And then pundits started analyzing Kate’s womb. You know, is she too thin? Is she having twins? Will she parent more like Diana or the queen mum?
As the palace confirms that Middleton is not yet 12 weeks pregnant, you can be assured that there will be much more Royal baby talk in the coming months. And that countless other pregnant women will be saying prayers of thanks that nobody is paying this much attention to their bellies.
No school, no job
On the opposite side of the socio-economic spectrum... a new Kids Count policy report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation says that nearly 6.5 million U.S. teens and young adults are neither in school nor working. Youth unemployment is at its highest level since World War II, with the employment rate for teens between 16 and 19 falling 42 percent over the past decade. Of those young people aged 16 to 24 without school or work, 21 percent are young parents.
This is a big deal, the report says. This large group of what it terms “disconnected youth” are more likely to be unemployed later in life and less likely to achieve “higher levels of career attainment.” Researchers quote another study that calculates the total taxpayer burden for out-of-school and out-of-work youths ages16 to 24 at $1.56 trillion.
Time for the policymakers to get working.
Another bullying video?
Just when we were thinking it had been a while since we had written about bullying, out comes yet another video of aggressive teen behavior. This one, showing two brothers aged 13 and 15 beating up a 13-year-old special needs student in Nevada, was viewed approximately 50,000 times on the Internet before it was removed from YouTube. By Friday, the teens involved were arrested, charged with battery and pleaded guilty. A judge ruled that the boys will stay in custody until Dec. 18, at which point he will decide on a punishment.
So.... open and closed, right? Except – and here’s our rant again – this story is way more complicated than meets the bully-attuned eye.
Most scholars say that “bullying” involves both a power differential and a series of repeated attacks. The power differential is here, but we don’t know whether the victim had been putting up with these sorts of attacks regularly. If this was a unique act of aggression, it wouldn’t make the incident any better, of course. But it would distinguish it from bullying. Violence can be bad enough without that label, right?
Most telling, perhaps, from the video was the reaction of the crowd observing the attack. Nobody tried to help the victim. And that, advocates say, is where anti-bullying – and anti-teen violence – programs need to focus.
Puppies for sale or rent....
Anxious that your college-aged child will find herself overly stressed during exams without the soothing charms of Fluffy or Rascal? Worry no longer. A slew of universities – and private enterprises based on college campuses – have started sharing or renting out furry friends to ease end-of-semester jitters. This week, the student union at Dalhousie University in Halifax opened its “puppy room,” where students can go and relax in a room full of dogs. (Yes, I realize that for some people – aka my dear husband – this scenario sounds not at all relaxing, but the dog people will get it.)
There was already a dog therapy program down the road at Montreal’s McGill University and are a number on this side of the border as well, according to a scan of the news headlines. Yale and Harvard have them, of course. (Students can check out Monty at the Yale Law Library for 30-minute sessions; Harvard Medical School’s Countway Library has a resident shih tzu named Cooper.) At Bringham Young University, student Jenna Miller got a bit of press this past week for her rent-a-pup business, where for $15, students can have their own dog for an hour.
Good for exams, the news reports said, as well as first dates.
That's it for now – happy Friday.
The actress told Britain’s Channel 4 News that she might have to step away from the screen as her kids become teenagers, because there will be “too much to manage at home.”
We can only imagine.
A quick reminder, for those of you who might have forgotten the details of the Brangelina brood:
Jolie and longtime partner (now fiance) Brad Pitt have six kids. Jolie adopted son Maddox in 2002 from an orphanage in Cambodia and daughter Zahara from an orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She gave birth to daughter Shiloh in Nambia in 2006, adopted a 3-year-old Vietnamese boy named Pax Thien in 2007, and gave birth to twins Knox and Vivienne in 2008.
Sure, the multimillionaire duo can hire whatever help they want. Nannies, housekeepers, tutors, LEGO experts, whatever.
But still, parenthood changes things.
That’s what Mr. Pitt said last month on “Good Morning America.”
Which, he said, he loves.
Jolie, too, did not seem to show regrets about the way parenting may shift her professional future.
“I will do some films and I am so fortunate to have the job, it’s a really lucky profession to be a part of and I enjoy it,” she said. “But if it went away tomorrow I would be very happy to be home with the children.”
In a new report by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, researchers from the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California found that only 28.3 percent of the speaking characters in family films (and 30.8 percent in children’s television shows) are female. Few stories are “gender-balanced,” or show females in 45.1 to 55 percent of all speaking rolls (11 percent of family films fit this category), while quite a few are very “male-centric.” (Fifty percent of family films and 39 percent of children's shows cast boys or men in 75 percent or more of the speaking roles.)
And it gets better.
Of those characters who do have speaking rolls, the ones shown working are typically male. (Females make up 20.3 percent of the total on-screen occupations in family films and represent 25.3 percent of those employed in children’s shows.) Prestigious jobs and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers also go to the guys.
Meanwhile – surprise, surprise – the characters more likely to be shown as thin, dressed in tight or otherwise provocative clothing or with exposed skin are female. (Yup, even in family films.)
The message, researchers conclude, is that girls should learn to be cute, quiet, and unemployed. Nice, right?
“Female characters are still sidelined, stereotyped and sexualized in popular entertainment content,” they write.
Disappointing, I guess, but not a particularly surprising report.
The realization that male characters drive the plot while female characters act as decoration is neither new nor under-analyzed We have written a lot ourselves about the sexualization of young girls and the gender stereotypes in popular media.
But reports like this do point out that these sorts of stereotypes are a continuing problem, despite an awful lot of attention by advocates and media-watchers. And they give a heads up to parents to be aware.
Which is all well and good, you might say, but... what’s a mom or dad to do about this?
It’s a question I’ve asked a number of child development experts over the past couple of years. Although there are a variety of answers and suggestions for ways to give kids some ammunition against gender stereotypes in children’s programming, the consensus is that it’s important to turn your little ones into pint-sized media critics.
This means being a critic yourself, and noticing that it’s the female character (animated or not) who does the dishes, or the teenage boy who is going on the adventure. Then talk with your children about it. With, notice, and not at. Ask them why they think that the female character is always wearing skirts. Ask why there might not be any female scientists. Don’t judge the answers, the child experts will often say, because the goal is to promote conversation and not to suggest that your daughter’s favorite television show character is, well, lame.
Many experts say the point is to get your kids to recognize that there are assumptions being made by those who create programming – often assumptions tied to commercial goals. And just because it's on screen, children don't need to copy.
Maybe moms and dads can learn that lesson, too.
Parents going along on their kids’ job interviews is so 2012. The new helicopter parent is way cooler.
The new trend (OK, it’s not a trend yet, but maybe it should be) started in Vermont, where a tech-savvy dad, fatigued by the frigid walk to the bus stop with his grade-school-age son, built a helicopter-like drone to do the job instead.
Dad Paul Wallich wrote about his efforts this month in the technology magazine “IEEE Spectrum,” where he is a contributing editor.
“Last winter, I fantasized about sitting at my computer while a camera-equipped drone followed him overhead,” he wrote. “So this year, I set out to build one.”
He collected a quadcopter design airframe, some motors and propellers, built legs to cushion the machine’s landing and gathered a whole bunch of equipment for the main control board that I believe he put together himself. (I say I “believe” this because although I have read his explanatory paragraph about this about 10 times now, I don’t get it. I might be shut out of this fad.)
He installed software that helps fly helicopters (in the making for several years, he wrote, by open-source enthusiasts) and worked to create a GPS beacon that “could fit unobtrusively into my child’s backpack.”
Eventually, he got the machine operational and sent it, and his son, on their way.
It worked, sort of.
Mr. Wallich told NBS that as it turns out, Vermont is a tough place for the new helicopter parenting, at least in its original design.
“You have hills and you have trees,” he said. “Hills mean the altitude control gets a lot more complicated and trees mean you have to do obstacle avoidance.
“If my kid is walking along the road and there is a branch overhanging the road, the quadcopter will gleefully run smack into it.”
He says he might be able to add sonar for collision control. He doesn’t want to fly the thing any lower to the ground because it could be dangerous. (The new helicopter parent does have standards, you know.)
Wallich says he will also have to work on the machine’s battery life.
Already, the dad has received some criticism. Some people have wondered whether this new machine is a further step in the over-protection of our children; a menacing invasion of their privacy; a tool to bring helicopter parenting to a dark, new level.
Wallich’s son, however, is thrilled by the machine, his dad says. After all, no other student has a dad who builds robot drones to go to the bus stop.
And it’s not like the drone is going on the bus, or arguing with teachers over grades.
“The actual idea that this thing would be following him around for real, rather than for fun? I don’t think that would actually go over terribly well,” Wallich said to NBC.
Personally, I think it’s fantastic.
Now I am just hoping that Wallich might be inspired to created a drone that can both follow a child and take the dog for a walk at the same time. That’s the type of helicopter parenting I could get into this winter.
Fred Savage, of “Wonder Years” fame, made a cryptic birth announcement via Twitter. Vice President Joe Biden and Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker decided this week to go shopping with the people. And new reports show both birth rates and child sexual assaults are down.
Yes, it’s time for our Friday parenting news wrap up – a helpful guide for those of you who might have missed the news, or just spent this week in a post-Turkey (or family gathering) haze.
The price is right...
If you were a Washington, D.C. parent and had decided Thursday morning to head to Costco to grab a jumbo pack of, I don’t know, Honey Nut Cheerios, you may have well run into fellow shopper Joe Biden. As in, Veep.
Yes, the second in line to the presidency made an appearance at the store’s opening, pushing a shiny, new, extra large cart in order to grab some cookies, kids’ clothing, fire logs and – he’s one of the people, after all – a new flat screen television. (He did decline a set of new tires, saying he didn’t drive anymore, but what can you do.)
As The Monitor’s Peter Grier wrote in the Decoder Wire, there are plenty of reasons Mr. Biden might have wanted to do a Costco run, ranging from political reward-giving to promoting urban business development. But we at Modern Parenthood wonder if there’s something more: With the mom vote proving so important this past election, and pundits focusing on the so-called “Walmart Mom” in particular, maybe Biden wanted to show that he knows how to bargain shop with the best of them.
If that’s the case, though, he’s still no match for Newark Mayor Cory Booker. That same day, Mr. Booker told the Associated Press that he will live on food stamps for a week, starting Nov. 27. He has challenged Twitter followers and even some celebrities to join him in the effort – part of a campaign by a number of public figures to show the difficulties of living on government assistance. (In New Jersey the monthly food stamp benefit is around $134 a month. Booker says he will be limited to $1.40 per meal.)
Next week, the pols reveal their favorite couponing strategies.
Sexual assault down
Here’s a positive, if sober, news item that came out this week: Researchers at the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center said that data coming from a number of sources seem to indicate that sexual crimes against children have declined significantly since the 1990s. Violent crime overall has also dropped during this period, but there are conflicting reports as to whether physical (not sexual) child-abuse has declined.
Some of the stats:
- FBI statistics based on local law enforcement crime reports show a 35 percent drop in sex crimes overall between 1992 and 2010; with 50 percent of rape victims younger than 18, these numbers suggest a drop in child assaults.
- The National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, showed a 62 percent decline in substantiated sexual abuse between 1992 and 2010.
- And the National Survey of Children Exposed to Violence, conducted in 2009, found that 2 percent of children ages two to 17 had been sexually assaulted, down from 3.3 percent in a survey five years earlier.
Sexual assault statistics (and local crime statistics overall, for that matter) are notoriously problematic as far as accuracy and reporting go.
Still, we’ll take it.
No baby boom here
Feel like all of your friends are giving birth these days? Are the post-work get-togethers dwindling? Is holiday party chatter veering dangerously away from hip new restaurants and adventure travel toward strollers and preschools?
Well, we’re here to say that, yup, it’s just you.
A new report from the Pew Research Center, putting together numbers from US Census data and National Vital Statistics Reports from the US Centers for Disease Control, says that the birth rate last year was the lowest in recorded history. Immigrant women having fewer babies was the main reason for the drop, Pew says. (The birth rate for US-born women has been declining for a while.) You can check out our piece on this here for more details.
Get out the vote: Pink LEGOs versus the 7-11 Slurpee Maker
Each year before the holidays, in a mocking companion to the Toy Industry Association’s Toy of the Year Award (aka TOTY), the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood presents its TOADY Award. (That’s Toys Oppressive and Destructive to Young Children, if you couldn’t figure out the acronym on your own.) The group tries to pick the worst toy of the year out of a disturbingly large choice of items that either promote the sexualization of children or push branded and screen-time based entertainment at the expense of other sorts of play.
Now, you can vote among the finalists. These include the LEGO Friends Butterfly Beauty Shop, in which girls can play with shapely LEGO figures at a LEGO hair salon, helping them “get primped and pretty” or “shop for makeup and hair accessories.” (“How do you turn one of the all-time great toys into a TOADY contender?” the advocacy group writes. “Give it a makeover!”) There’s the Put Me In the Story App by Jabberwocky Kids, which allows children to insert themselves as the main e-book character in a choice of otherwise classic children’s stories.
And, perhaps my personal favorite in the age of obesity, the 7-11 Slurpee Maker by Spin Master, with which kids can make their very own Slurpees. Awesome. Health concerns aside, though, it’s the branding that got the Slurpee Making nominated for a TOADY. The toy comes with the 7-11 logo, and a coupon for a free real Slurpee.
Voting is open through Dec. 5 on The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood website.
And because we admit to indulging in celebrity baby news now and then... Fred Savage – who, I admit, in my mind will always be Kevin Arnold of the “Wonder Years” – has a new baby son. Or so we assume, from a Tweet the actor sent out Nov. 26. The character-limited announcement included a snapshot of a baby’s hand and the words “he’s here.” No public info yet on when the baby was born or the name. Mr. Savage and wife Jennifer already have a 6-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter.
This just in from the Pew Research Center: The US birth rate – the number of births per 1,000 women – fell last year to a record low, led by a significant decrease in the number of children born to immigrant women.
Based on preliminary data, Pew says, the country’s birth rate in 2011 was 63.2 per 1,000 women – about half the rate of the Baby Boom years, when, in 1957, say, there were 122.7 babies per 1,000 women. (Only a decent percentage of whom were named Donna, Susan or Linda.) That’s the lowest since at least 1920, when the government began keeping reliable birth rate statistics.
In real numbers, these figures mean that 3.95 million little bundles of joy born last year. (Which really, when you stop to think about it, is sort of overwhelming. One has managed to deconstruct our household.)
Anyhow, while immigrant women still accounted for a disproportionate share of births (17 percent of women ages 14 to 44 in the US are foreign-born, while 23 percent of all births are to foreign-born moms), the birth rate for that population has dipped in recent years. Pew found that after a decade and a half of increase, the birth rate for immigrant women dropped 14 percent between 2007 and 2011; the birth rate for Mexican women fell by 23 percent.
Researchers say this drop in immigrant birth rate is the result of behavior change rather than a shift in population composition. And while they didn’t investigate in this study the particular reasons for this apparent behavioral disinclination to procreate, previous Pew reports have tied fertility decline to economic stress. (Ah, 2007 to 2011. You can connect the dots.)
All of this comes, it’s important to mention, in the context of a lot of speculation – political, social, you name it – about the future demographic makeup of the US.
Pew has projected that immigrants who have arrived here since 2005, and their descendants, will account for 82 percent of US population growth by 2050. Earlier this year there was a lot of press about US Census Bureau numbers showing that in 2011, for the first time, white babies were no longer the majority. (Minority babies made up 50.4 percent of the country’s births, although there were still more white babies born than any other individual group.)
The US still does not face the same population imbalance problem as, say, Japan, where low fertility rates are a national concern. (The Japanese government recently estimated that its country’s population would shrink by 30 percent by 2060.) But policies such as social security, where younger workers pay for the elderly, are dependent on population growth – or at least stability.
Even during the recent presidential campaign, pundits speculating about the future of the Republican party turned to demographic patterns, and the unequal birth rate between whites and Hispanics, as proof that the GOP needs to adjust its policies to stay relevant.
Some other tidbits from the Pew report:
Teen moms were more likely to be US-born women than immigrant women. (Eleven percent of US moms were in their teens in 2010, compared with 5 percent of foreign-born mothers.)
The majority of births to US-born women in 2010 (66 percent) were to white mothers. The majority of births to foreign-born women were to Hispanic moms.