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Bed making customs vary by country, as in Norway where couples share the same bed but wrap up in their own sheets. Here, a woman changes bed sheets inat the SenVital elderly home in Kleinmachnow near Berlin, Germany. (Reuters)

How to make a bed in Norway

By Guest Blogger / 06.07.13

There are some frustrations of life abroad that are hard to categorize.

Some of you may remember my blog post from a few months back where I announced my decision to make Oslo my home. I finally unpacked all of my boxes, threw some pictures on the walls and even bought a few plants. My husband and I made what we hope is our last epic trip to Ikea to, at last, replace our cardboard box night stands with ones that have actual drawers. It’s nice to be able to put a book down without the risk of the lamp caving into the box.

And, after a year and a half of refusing to purchase towels and linens in Norway, instead lugging back extra suitcases from the US or demanding my mom to snail mail me pillow covers, I finally came to terms with the prices in Norway and headed to the shops to pick out a new duvet cover.

It took me two months and five trips to the store to get it right.

After a bit of browsing, I found a cover I liked. It was my third trip, the one I was hoping would result in the successful purchase of a purple floral cover for my bed. But it turned out that I had confused the Norwegian words for “bedsheet” and “duvet” and had been browsing sheets all along, so I had to start again in another section.

When I finally found the perfect new design that was, in fact, a duvet cover I realized that I couldn’t just pickup a queen-sized duvet cover because the sizes were marked differently. I was supposed to choose from mishmash of sizes expressed in what looked too much like algebra for my understanding: 140cm x 200cm, 140 x 220cm and 200cm x 220cm.

I went home empty-handed.

Somewhere between work, family, a social life and the ludicrous opening hours of shops in Norway, it took me another two weeks to measure my duvet at home and get back to the store. I went after an exhausting cardio class at the gym and somewhere along the way I had lost the piece of paper with the measurements. So there I was, standing at the store, back to square one. I turned to the saleswoman for help. After all, how hard can buying a duvet cover be?

Very, very hard, apparently. The saleswoman was kind and helpful but we just had different definitions of what a “normal” bed cover is. She was convinced that I needed the smallest size because the others were enormous and the smallest size listed is the normal one, the one that everyone gets. At this point I was so irritated that a menial task had become so complicated that I went with the woman’s suggestion.

It was way too small. Then it hit me – just a few days earlier I was hanging out with some friends from the American Women’s Club and they were making fun of the way Norwegians make their beds. Apparently the local standard for couples sharing a bed is to have two separate, smaller individual duvets. So the saleswoman did sell me a normal cover. It just wasn’t my “normal.”

A few days later, I headed back to the store (for the fifth time) and exchanged the cover for the largest size, despite the saleswoman’s funny looks.

My story doesn’t end here.

First of all let me say that I know my way around the domestic sphere. I’ve changed duvet covers many times. In fact, in a strange way I relish the awkward act of shoving a duvet into a cover because I’ve found the perfect technique.

It took one Norwegian duvet cover to cut me back down to size.

The covers I’ve used in the past have the opening to put in the duvet on one side, with a few inches sewn shut, leaving plenty of space to get the duvet in and then neatly button up the opening. For some reason, the cover I bought here had a tiny, letterbox-sized opening just a few inches wide. I spent most of that Sunday afternoon struggling to squeeze the duvet into my new cover.

What does it say about Norwegian culture that couples have separate blankets and that those duvets are impossible to manage? Is this what drives the great work-to-life balance? They get home from work at 4pm everyday, have the typical early dinner at 5:30 and then from 6-9pm work on their duvet covers, then have a slice of brown cheese with bread at 9pm and snuggle next to their partners, under their very separate blankets.

When I proudly showed my husband the queen sized duvet I had just stuffed into the tiny open space in the cover, he said: “You got inside it, didn’t you?”

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. Saleha Mohsin blogs at Edge of the Arctic.

Teens' desire to drive is at its lowest in years. Maybe that's a good thing. Here, two boys, both of Crystal Lake, Ill., back out of a parking space recently at Crystal Lake South High School in Crystal Lake, March 8, 2012. (AP)

My teenage daughter refused to learn to drive, and she's not alone

By Guest blogger / 06.07.13

Her learner’s permit expired last year. There have been no road hours clocked in over a year and the classroom hours are a distant memory. The upshot is that I am still driving Anna around. True, I’ve had a respite while she’s been away at college. But now she’s back and the girl needs rides. Luckily, she’s become very adept at bumming rides from her friends. Sometimes she’ll do a very complicated automobile leapfrog to get from here to there. Sometimes it’s more like ballet and it can be a thing of beauty to watch her arrange her transportation.

Parents far wiser than I have told me not to push the matter. She’ll drive when she’s ready. Two years ago Anna wrote an editorial in her high newspaper about why she refused to learn to drive. “Every time I turn the key in the ignition, my blood pressure spikes and my heart rate doubles,” said my girl. “In the back of my mind, I know that I am driving a two-ton piece of weaponry. With one wrong move, I could end up hurting myself or the people around me.”

My daughter declared war on driving.

In my day the quest to get a driver’s license at 16 was an American rite of passage. But the more research I did, the more I learned that Anna’s aversion to driving is part of a national trend. In a recent study conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, 46 percent of all 16 year-olds had a driver’s license in 1983. By 2008 that number had dropped down to 31 percent. The study’s principal investigator concluded that the Internet is a big reason for this drop in the drive to drive.

There’s no question that teens rely on the convenience of high-tech social interaction to communicate with one another. Why leave your house when you can Skype or chat on Facebook? A recent survey finds that 46 percent of 18 to 24 year-olds would choose Internet access over owning their own car. But according to another study out of the Center for the Study of Young Drivers at the University of North Carolina, there are other mitigating factors for the decrease in teen drivers, including the health of the economy as well as state licensing systems that have more rigorous requirements in place to acquire a learner’s permit and eventually a license. Additionally, driver’s education has been cut back in many public school systems, leaving families to come up with up to $600 for private driving schools. Add that to the growing cost of gasoline and astronomical insurance rates for teen drivers and virtual socializing is a bargain.

As keen as I am for Anna to drive to the grocery store, I’ve also read some very sobering statistics about teen drivers. Although kids between the ages of 16 and 19 count for just one in 20 drivers, they are behind the wheel in one of seven accidents that kill either the driver or a passenger. To that end, 16 year-old drivers are more than twenty times more likely to crash a car than other drivers, and six times more likely to total a car than a 17 year-old. What a difference a year makes.

According to the Centers of Disease Control, these alarming statistics on teen driving are rooted in physiology. Coordinating eyes, hands and feet to drive is a relatively new experience for a teen. A younger driver is also more likely to miscalculate a traffic situation and is more easily distracted than an adult driver. There’s also the underdeveloped pre-frontal cortex of the teen brain, causing them to take risks like speeding, texting while driving or cutting off other cars.

But all is not lost. Parents are critical to driving safety for their teens. Start with something as basic as giving your teen extra practice behind the wheel. Driver Education programs typically provide a total of six hours on the road. To be a reasonably proficient driver, experts put the number at closer to 50 hours and recommend spreading out those hours to cover the winter months.

The American Academy of Pediatrics further recommends that teens have a restrictive license until the age of 18 or until they have been driving under adult supervision for two years. States that have officially adopted a graduated system of driving privileges have seen a 9 percent dip in automobile injuries and fatalities among 16 and 17 year-olds. Teens are also four times more likely to be seriously injured in a car crash at night. Cities that have instituted a curfew on night driving have seen a 25 percent drop in teenage car fatalities.

To see an additional reduction in car accidents the Institute for Highway Safety recommends that teens drive mid-size or full-size cars with air bags to provide more crash protection. The Institute further suggests avoiding sleek, high performance vehicles that may tempt teens to speed. And sport utility vehicles have higher centers of gravity that make them less stable and more likely to roll over.

As for Anna, she’s finally declared a truce on driving. She’s considering getting her license this summer at the age of 19. Maybe she was right to wait. After all, the statistics are on her side.

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. Judy Bolton-Fasman blogs at

A TV reporter was chased by dogs, sicced on her by their owner, a Rhode Island woman who felt the reporter was violating her privacy. (Screengrab, One Minute News)

Rhode Island mom sics pit bulls on reporter: privacy versus the right to know

By Guest Blogger / 06.06.13

While society has learned the lesson “don’t shoot the messenger for bringing bad news,” we are still working on not beating the daylights out of the messenger for prodding us with questions about that news. Such was the case for ABC affiliate reporter Abbey Niezgoda found herself under attack by the angry mom who threw a rock, grabbed a bat and loosed her dogs on the reporter for what she thought was asking a simple question – “How do you feel about that?”

In two separate incidents on Sunday, TV reporters were attacked by friends and family of shooting victims while trying to get a story. In one case, a FOX Sacramento, Calif. reporter and camera operator were beaten by a mob. The female camera operator was allegedly kicked in the face. In other news, a Rhode Island reporter for ABC6 was attacked by the irate mom of a teenage shooting victim.

As a reporter and a mom, I can tell you that if you ask an overwrought parent “How do you feel about that?” the answer might just go beyond words.

“There are no stupid questions,” is something my mom drilled into me my entire life, as did my journalism professors. I think that right about now we might agree that there is one dumb question being asked in perpetuity of victims and their families and it’s “How do you feel about that?”

In reality the answer is not sound-bite-friendly because it’s going to be a mashup of these: furious, frightened, helpless, impotent, terrified, protective, and possibly insane.

While reporters try to understand the volatile nature of the situations they are in with all the shootings involving children, what they fail to understand is that there are no simple or safe questions when it comes to probing the depths of emotional wounds.

According to the WLNE-TV, ABC6 website, on June 4 16-year-old Ny'asia Lawrence was shot in the back by an uninvited guest during a kindergarten graduation ceremony for her little cousin. The teen was treated at Hasbro Children's Hospital.

If you haven’t seen the video of the rock slinging mom of fury I’ll tell you that she and some others were standing outside their home on an urban street when ABC6 Reporter Abbey Niezgoda walked up to them to ask how the mom felt about the arrest of a possible suspect in the case. In most cases asking how a parent feels about an arrest of a suspect is pretty fair game. However, when your interviewee is backing away and getting hostile from the moment you arrive you need to think about the situation and your safety.

ABC6 News Director Bob Rockstroh said of his reporter, “She did everything right. She was on public property. Woman was outside her door.”

All of that is technically correct and straight out of the journalism 101 playbook. However, as a journalist of 25 years who has been given those kinds of assignments to try to pull off I think that there should be a special section added on why you should never ask anyone who is angry, upset or a victim “How do you feel about that?”

When I asked Rockstroh how he felt about that, he said of Mrs. Lawrence, “I wouldn’t classify her as a grieving parent. Her daughter was treated and released. She’s not dead. Also she [mom] gave an interview the day before to another station.”

This is where journalism and parenthood collide for me because if one of my boys were shot in the back – as this woman’s child was - I would be outwardly collected because I am  the mom and I am the tent pole of the family circus and inwardly volcanic.

Make no mistake, to throw a rock and send vicious dogs after someone who is unarmed and not physically threatening you is wrong, criminal and not something I would tell my child was warranted.

It should be pointed out that the footage from the station is heavily edited cutting away and intermittently muting the audio after the reporter tells Lawrence that a young man has turned himself in and asks, “How do you feel about that?”

The mom is backing away from the reporter throughout the encounter. Lawrence says, “Well that’s good” to the news of the arrest.

Then the station kills the audio feed and adds a voiceover so we don’t know what was said between mom and reporter.

The video cuts away and cuts back to Lawrence picking up a stone and the reporter calls to her, “You’re going to throw rocks now?”

In the end Lawrence beans the camera with the rock and shoos her dogs in the news team’s direction. The mom also appears to shout a racial epithet at the reporter who has been bitten on the forearm and is fleeing.

As viewers and reporters, we should not make the mistake of becoming so desensitized to grief, pain and fear we see in others that we dismiss them or fail to recognize them when we see them.

My heart goes out to victims, family and loved ones who have suffered senseless violence. I beg you not to perpetuate the trend of violence by attacking the people of the media. Remember, they are somebody’s baby too.

Zoltan Suhay assists Yorgos Bageldashery Worker Pheobe Morrel with a bagel rescue in Norfolk, Va., May 15. (Lisa Suhay)

Pope: Wasting food is tantamount to stealing from the poor (so how can you help?)

By Lisa SuhayGuest Blogger / 06.06.13

Pope Francis took a page out of the "Book of Mom" yesterday by denouncing consumerism and the “culture of waste” of modern economies when it comes to food during his catechesis Wednesday. Given the high volume of food thrown away by American businesses daily, this papal message could be manna from heaven for food banks.

My hope as a community volunteer is that the pope’s message will help food banks get more volunteers and create additional partnerships with businesses in order to perform what they call “food rescue.”

"Remember, however, that the food that is thrown away is as if we had stolen it from the table of the poor, from those who are hungry," according to his written remarks.  

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization released data showing approximately 1.3 billion tons of food — one third of the world’s total food production — are lost or wasted every year. Furthermore, "The consumer share of food losses and waste can be very high in specific locations; for example, the amount of food wasted in one community in new york state in the united states of America in one year was sufficient to feed everyone in the community for 1.5 months and 60 percent of the losses occurred after the food was purchased by the consumer," the report states. 

“Consumerism has made us accustomed to wasting food daily and we are unable to see its real value,” Francis said, comparing this attitude to the frugality of “our grandparents” who “used to make a point of not throwing away leftover food.”  

While the pope is pointing the finger at us wasting food as individuals and families, I have found that individuals can’t hold a candle to the food waste taking place among businesses.  In his speech, the pope also warned that a “culture of waste”  chiding media by adding “some homeless people die of cold on the streets, it is not news. In contrast, a 10-point drop on the stock markets of some cities, is a tragedy.”

The speech was part of the United Nations’ anti-food waste campaign to mark World Environment Day

As a volunteer who works with others to feed local children, I wanted to shout, “Amen!” when I read the pope's speech.

It wasn’t until I founded an all-volunteer chess program for at-risk kids after school at our local community center four years ago that I became familiar with the hunger that pains our community’s children. The quest to relieve their suffering led me to discover the stunning amount of food being  thrown away by businesses – much of it not rescued by food banks that are sorely in need of more volunteers to make the pick-ups.

Many kids here in Norfolk, Virg. go directly from school , where they eat lunch before noon in most cases, to their local community center for after school care programs so parents can work. In our city,  these programs often allow parents to pick kids up as late as seven p.m. In areas we serve with our after school chess programs most of the kids live well below the poverty line and don’t eat anything after school because parents often can’t afford to pack snacks or extra sandwiches.

The other volunteers and I quickly realized that it is impossible to teach a hungry child. School teachers knew this long before we did.

A local preacher, the Rev. Arthur Devine hooked us up by explaining that all the supermarkets, bakeries, and eateries must, by state law, throw away all foods labeled as “fresh” at the end of each day. He advised me to just go to store managers and ask to be allowed to pickup the food that was to be wasted.

“The food bank does manage to get most of it, but even they can’t get it all with the limited number of volunteers available,” Mr. Devine explained.

So on chess days I now make the rounds to Yorgos Bageldashery where we get two massive trash bags of fresh, mouthwatering bagels. Anything the kids don’t eat we package and send home with them and give anything remaining to the local senior citizen home.

Yesterday, I watched a boy, age 4, trying to wolf down a bagel while stuffing as many as possible into his little shirt sleeves and playing chess. “Slow down,” I soothed. “There’s plenty.” With his cheeks looking fit to burst, he tried to ask if he could take them home, he said, “Murf uf homufff?”

It’s impossible not to want to fix as much of the problem as you personally are able when that’s what you are met with week after week, child after child, year after year as I have.  

Many parents do not make use of local food banks. Part of it is pride, part is hope that it will get better before they have to swallow their pride. Another factor is a lack of transportation to food pantry locations. Often it’s just lack of knowledge that such things exist or being a working single parent who can’t get to the locations due to scheduling issues.

My approach is to simply give the food to the kids at the end of each of our chess meetings and have them tell their parents the absolute truth, “Tell your Mama or Grandma that you are just helping out because these are gonna go to waste if someone doesn’t take them home.”

Telling one of these children that food is going to go to waste is like suggesting to a Christian that if they don’t take home a Bible someone’s gonna burn it. Food is that sacred in these households.

Julie Braley marketing and business relations director for the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia here in Norfolk  was thrilled to hear the Pope’s speech. In a telephone interview today she said,  “It’s great to see leaders in this country and other countries who are willing to step up and address the issues of hunger and waste. Giving time as a volunteer, food donations, money – no one has to go hungry.”

To get an idea of how much food is being thrown away in the US, consider that every day the volunteers from the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia pick up the leftovers from supermarkets, restaurants, and other food service establishments and help 400 local partner agencies (like Devine’s church) redistribute this wealth to the hungry via soup kitchens, food pantries, and after school Kids’ Café programs.  Last year that included 3.3 million pounds  of fresh produce.

“A lot of what we get is food rescue, those fresh products like sandwiches and bakery items that they [businesses] have to get rid of because they’re not fresh anymore at the end of the day,” Ms. Brayley explained in our interview. “We also get meat, dairy, things like that, that aren’t good for their shelves anymore; but we go pick that stuff up directly or have our partner agencies pick it up. Fresh produce is one of our major initiatives to distribute as much as possible.”

Bayley recently went on a ride-along with a volunteer.  “One of our drivers does pickups from Walmart. She has a refrigerated truck. At the end of the day we take it over to Potter’s House  – a food pantry – and other services in Virginia Beach. As it came off the truck people were coming through to take food home and out to their families – a little over 5,000 pounds of food that day which would have been wasted had we not picked it up.”

That’s not a misprint, they picked up over 5,000 pounds of good food destined for the dumpster and rescued both it and the hungry.

The catch is that they only have so many volunteers to get that kind of work done and it’s happening across the nation in every community at every business that serves or sells food.

There’s no reason for any child in America to go to bed hungry or be too anxious about where their next meal is coming from to pay attention in class. When it comes to educating a hungry child, a bagel is a terrible thing to waste.

Senior shot: Graduation for injured athlete a surprise for students

By Andrew AverillCorrespondent / 06.06.13

Add another line to this high school graduate's resume – survivor. 

This teen, shot in the head at a party two months ago, recovered in time to take part in his high school graduation. Balaal Hollings, 18, was told by his doctors that showing up at his graduation was not possible, that his recovery wouldn't be complete in time to watch his classmates receive their diplomas and toss their mortarboard's in the air.

Obviously, the underestimated Hollings.

How'd he do it? Maybe he looked back on his high school career, one filled with athletic prowess, a homecoming crown, leadership roles, a college scholarship, and decided that the injury was just one more obstacle to tackle. He credits divine intervention. 
"First, I want to thank God. I got shot in the head and I am fully rehabilitated," Mr. Hollings, speaking behind the lectern, said to his gown-donned classmates sitting in the Millenium Center Auditorium in Southfield, Mich., north of Detroit

Video of the event, shot by Detroit's ABC Channel 7, showed tears shed by those attending, stunned that he'd made it this far in the two months after the incident.

On April 6, Hollings had attended a party celebrating his best friend's birthday.

"I had missed her dinner, so I promised to make it to the party," Hollings told "After the party, some East Side boy was shooting for no reason. A bullet hit the wall, and then it hit me."

He spent two weeks in the hospital and the rest of the time between then and graduation was reserved for rehabilitation.

"I forgot a lot of things. I forgot how to walk. I forgot how to talk. I didn't forget how to eat," Hollings, outfitted with a special helmet, complete with tassel, for the occasion, told his classmates. 

Hollings, due to the accident, is not going to pursue his athletic scholarship, but will instead use the $50,000 in academic scholarships (whoa!) to study criminal justice. 

Hams and other memorabilia is displayed at a restaurant in Smithfield, Va., on May 29. Smithfield Foods has agreed to be bought by Shuanghui International Holdings for about $4.72 billion. Residents in this southeastern Virginia town have mixed reactions to the idea (Amanda Lucier/The Virginia-Pilot, AP)

Smithfield sale to China casts a new light on your kid’s ham sandwich

By Lisa SuhayGuest Blogger / 06.05.13

Imagine a company from China, where food safety is a serious concern, were about to consume Pepsi Co., Dole, General Mills, Nestlé, Kraft or Oscar Mayer food producers. When the news broke here in Virginia that pork producer Smithfield Foods is just a hog’s breath away from being sold to China’s Shuanghui International, moms who fret over food safety standards as they pack ham sandwiches into lunch boxes, serve BLTs and pork roasts, like me, became concerned over the future of those choices. 

Keira Lombardo, vice president of investor relations and corporate communications at Smithfield Foods, Inc., confirmed in an interview that the potential sale would also include Smithfield brands: Eckrich, Farmland, Armour, Cook’s, Gwaltney, John Morrell, Kretschmar, Curley’s, Carando, Margherita, Healthy Ones.

So the sale includes Armour hot dogs, “the dogs kids love to bite”? That definitely makes this sale a parenting concern at our house. 

While the vast majority of food products that come from China are perfectly safe, pork specifically has been a health issue in China, making it vital for parents to keep a close watch on where their food comes from and who they are trusting with it’s continued safe production. 

Virginia Del. Bob Marshall, a Republican, agrees with that thought and criticized the proposed merger in a 13-paragraph letter sent May 31 to Smithfield President and CEO C. Larry Pope, according to The Virginian-Pilot

Marshall contends that the idea of selling this major food producer to China “has not been received well by my constituents, nor in my own family,” he wrote. “While Shuanghui may purchase your physical plant and property, Smithfield’s former reputation built up from 1936 will not transfer with the sale. Inevitably, the Smithfield ‘brand’ will suffer, and regrettably, so will many Virginians.” 

The delegate is the first Virginia politician to publicly skewer the proposed merger and he points to the discovery of a banned additive, clenbuterol, in pigs raised at a Shuanghui subsidiary.

“China’s widespread food safety problems are known to American consumers and will engulf Smithfield Foods products regardless of the names under which they are sold,” Marshall also wrote, according to The Pilot. 

In 2011, an NBC news article  said more than 2,000 athletes from at least 181 countries competing in the 14th FINA World Aquatics Championships, hosted that year by China, refused to eat the country’s beef or pork in order not to run afoul of the anti-doping rules. Good on them, because a World Anti-Doping Agency report from that time, cited in the NBC article, discovered 22 of 28 travelers returning from China tested positive for clenbuterol. 

The NBC reporter's conclusion: “The hard evidence from the World Anti-Doping Agency’s report is a damning indictment of Chinese food standards at a time when the government has been dealing with a rash of food safety issues all over the country.”

The Livestrong website gives a long list of dangerous side effects the drug, used in veterinary medicine as an antihistamine, can have when humans ingest it. 

As a parent, I want to know how this kind of food-related, accidental and unwanted drug ingestion can occur. 

Still, I wasn’t too worried because I know there’s a pending federal review of the merger’s implications for national security, according to Robert Passikoff, founder and president of Brand Keys Inc., a brand and marketing consulting company based in New York. 

However, I then read further in the Virginian-Pilot story and learned that most Americans are considered unlikely to share my concerns and Marshall’s. 

“To the consumer, it doesn’t matter,” Kenneth Bernhardt, a marketing professor who specializes in consumer behavior at Georgia State University, told the Pilot. “The key is not the ownership but the brand, and does the product deliver on the brand promise.” 

The chairman of Shuanghui International Holdings, who last week won Smithfield’s acceptance for what would be the largest Chinese acquisition of a US company, said he wants to tap foreign expertise and technology to help reshape food safety and production at home.   

“The question of food safety, whether it’s to American consumers or Chinese consumers, is a big deal,” Wan said, according to The Pilot. “Our nation has a tighter and tighter grip over food safety.”

Europe and America have excellent skills and equipment,” Wan said in the article. “If we go and purchase businesses from America and Europe, develop China’s meat industry, we will raise the level and standard of our food safety.”

Middle schools fear being bullied less than they ever have before and school violence has dropped by 74 percent in two decades. Here, middle schoolers in Hartford, Wis., put color on each other during Central Middle School's color run, June 1. (John Ehlke/West Bend Daily News, AP)

Though reports about bullying are increasing, the behavior itself is not

By Guest Blogger / 06.05.13

Do people ever consider the possibility that, if they’re exposed to increased reports about a social problem, it’s the reporting that has increased rather than the problem? It’s increasingly clear that this is the case with school bullying: Only news reports about it have increased, not the behavior itself. In fact, both bullying and fear of it are down among US middle school students (the grade levels that tends to experience bullying most), Education Week reports, citing new numbers from the National Center for Educational Statistics.

RECOMMENDED: Top 5 bullying myths

This is data reflecting both physical and verbal aggression. For all students in grades 6-12, “hate-related graffiti” in school classrooms, bathrooms, hallways, etc. “dropped from about 36% in 1999 to about 28% in 2011. The rate of students who reported fearing an attack or harm at school at all has also dropped dramatically, from nearly 12% in 1995 to less than 4% in 2011. For black and Hispanic students, it’s an even more encouraging shift—from more than 20% of both groups of students worried about being attacked at school to less than 5% in 2011 [the latest figures available].”

74% decline in school violence

The decline in actual physical violence in schools is even more dramatic: It was down 74% between 1992 and 2010, according to the latest US Department of Justice data, which was cited by David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, in a paper he published last January.

“The surveys that reflect change over the longest time periods, going back to the early 1990s, consistently show declines in bullying and peer victimization, some of it remarkably large. The more recent trends, since 2007, show some declines, but less consistently.” This is true internationally too. Dr. Finkelhor cited a study of bullying in the journal Social Psychology of Education showing a decrease in bullying in all nine data sets the authors reviewed.

What about cyberbullying? Online harassment increased from 6% in 2000 to 9% in 2005 to 11% in 2010 between, and it’s interesting to note that it increased less between 2005 and ’10 than in the first 5 years tracked. Because social media is very much a reflection of school social life for young people, the peer aggression seen in social media is a lot like the peer aggression seen on school bathroom walls. So once it finds its “dead level,” it will probably decline in the same way verbal and written aggression have.

So why do we so often default to worst-case scenarios where young people are concerned? Bullying is a problem but not a growing one, and far from the epidemic it’s sometimes reported to be in the news media. And there are other positive social indicators: both homicide and suicide rates are down among young people, Finkelhor reported.

Possible explanations

Besides consumer education and crime prevention at the societal level, he offers two other possible explanations for this downward trend in victimization of self and others:

  1. Psychiatric medications and better access to mental healthcare
  2. Digital media and communications on phones and the Web.

The rise of social media is another thing people don’t typically think of as a positive force in society. But consider this point from Finkelhor: “These technologies may have dampened crime and bullying by providing more ways of summoning help, more forms of social surveillance, and engrossing activities that undermine forms of alienation that lead to crime” (more on that here).

None of which is to say the problem has been solved. Parts of it – e.g., harassment and bullying of LBGT youth and students with special needs – still need a great deal of attention and effort. But over all, Finkelhor wrote “advocates and young people should feel inspired. Change can happen and it can get better.” And I propose that, if we adults can collectively show greater acceptance that most young people are kind and respectful toward each other most of the time they will respond positively to that confidence and respect in them.

RECOMMENDED: Top 5 bullying myths

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

Chicago school closings brought out community activists in protest of the move by the city. (Hannah Hayes)

Chicago school closings: Shuttering these institutions is shortsighted, says one local mom

By Guest Blogger / 05.31.13

In my neighborhood tonight, chaos will reign. My neighbor, President Obama, will be staying in his part-time home just around the corner from me in Chicago. His occasional visits bring limited parking, random ID checks, and bomb sniffing dogs to our front lawn.

But on warm summer nights, the street takes on a carnival-like atmosphere. Neighbors come out to chat and I sometimes get to meet people from the next block. The Secret Service agents are friendly enough, and when the barricades go up and traffic halts, people get out of their cars to stretch and enjoy the novelty of the president driving down this normally quiet residential street. More often than not, we recognize someone and invite them to join us for a drink on our stoop.

It can be inconvenient if you happen to be walking your dog without identification. But he was once our neighbor, and it’s all a part of living in this neighborhood. 

But I’m not feeling all that benevolent these days, and I may forego my usual stoop-sitting tonight. The truth is, a much more serious chaos has reigned in too many of Chicago's communities following last week's announcement that 50 Chicago neighborhood schools would be closed.

The closings made national news briefly, just like the murder of Hadiya Pendleton, the sparkly teen wielding a baton in the inaugural parade for President Obama, her Chicago neighbor. She was also a neighbor of mine and lived about a mile from my and the president’s homes.

Since Hadiya was killed in late January, the murders of 26 more teenagers did not make the news. Similarly, the brief blip last week about the largest number of school closings in the history of the country does not recount the anguish and dismay of 30,000-plus children and parents scrambling, wounded, and angry. 

In Chicago, we grew up hearing that Chicago is “a city of neighborhoods,” a patchwork of tightly knit, culturally distinct, and ethnically proud communities that together make up our city. While this may be an idealized re-definition of segregation, no matter where you live, you belong to a community. This attack on the most important of neighborhood institutions has left us collectively demoralized. We see ourselves on the nightly news, segregated, characterized by crumbling schools and random violence.

Despite our pride at the notion of being a unique “city of neighborhoods,” people all over the country know about community. It’s sometimes hard to describe as it shifts imperceptibly over the years. But we feel it, and we are bound to protect it.

The divide-and-conquer strategy of closures pits school against school. In this latest round, the initial hit list of 230 schools was pared to 120, then to 61, and eventually 50, while everyone waited anxiously, breathing a sigh of relief if their school was taken off the list. 

Sadly, our neighborhood middle school was not spared, although its closure was postponed for one year so the current class could graduate. Miriam Canter Middle School was named for a local activist who envisioned a racially and economically diverse school dedicated to kids precariously perched between childhood and full-fledged teen madness. Many of the devoted teachers at Canter live in the community. Last month, an article in The Nation recounted the hearings that drew hundreds of weeping teens, angry parents, and concerned community members demanding to know why they would close such a clearly successful school.

This scene was played out all over the city. But then something happened – something that happens when communities feel threatened. Instead of feeling isolated and under attack, parents from closing schools organized, talked to each other. They began with a series of marches, challenging Mayor Rahm Emanuel to “walk the walk” their children will have to walk to their new schools. The mayor didn’t show, but parents from around the city went from school to school in solidarity, sometimes 300 showing up in a neighborhood they may never have visited before. 

They were retired teachers and students; union members supporting the thousands of lunchroom workers and engineers who would lose their jobs; grandmothers marched beside pierced and tattooed Occupy students; and parents of children in elite “selective enrollment” schools not on any hit lists who came carrying signs saying “Every Chicago Public School is My School.”

I marveled every time I participated in one of these events. These people rallied because they know the binding institution in any community is the neighborhood school. This is known by businesspeople, promoted by real estate agents, accepted by children, and desired by most people. 

The Board of Education says that demographics have changed, money is not there, and school closings are inevitable. They cluck sympathetically that “change is hard” in a tone so condescending I wouldn’t dare try it on my teenager. But I suggest to them that they are the ones who must change.

For example, they did not visit Matthew Henson Elementary School, a so-called “underutilized” school with a population that is 100 percent low income, where 12 percent of the children are homeless. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials say it is only 32 percent utilized. However, in the “unused” classrooms, they have a parent resource center, a computer lab, a science room, a music room, a library, a full-service health clinic, and a visiting food pantry. Another classroom is used for small group interventions, and yet another serves as after-school space for teens.

When Henson closes, not only will the receiving school become overcrowded but these vitally needed services will not be available to the community.

Is this not shortsighted? Once upon a time in the baby boom years, this school may have adequately served a much larger population. I would argue, whatever the population’s size, this school is adequately serving the needs of the community.

Unlike the Lawndale neighborhood where Henson is located, people in my neighborhood have a lot of choices when it comes to schools. In addition to quality public schools, we have a Montessori school, the elite University of Chicago Laboratory School (once attended by the Obama girls, schools chief Arne Duncan, and now Mayor Emanuel’s kids), and a Catholic school. One of the reasons we were unsuccessful at keeping Canter open was that many of the students were from outside the boundaries. They come to this school from other neighborhoods because it is a safe school in a safe neighborhood.

As a community we welcomed them, but now we’re told that we cannot.

The thousands of people fighting against this know it’s not about boundaries and numbers, it’s about what unites a neighborhood and how they relate to the one institution. Many of these schools are uniquely suited to the neighborhood and population.  

What’s happening is more than a news blip. The one-room schoolhouse changed with the changing needs of the population. It’s time to seriously rethink how neighborhood schools and public education align with the democratic principles of freedom and inalienable human rights. 

I know... change is hard, but it’s time.

Baltimore Orioles left fielder Lew Ford sprays on sunscreen during a game. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends reapplying sunscreen every two hours. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Sunscreen and umbrellas: What you need to know about sun safety this summer

By Staff Writer / 05.31.13

With all the wriggling and complaining that comes when you smear the white paste on your small ones, it’s inevitable moms get tired of going through the put-on-some-sunscreen fight during the summer. It’s a cloudy day, so they’ll be fine, right? Or, they’re only going outside after 5 p.m., and you read somewhere that you’re safe from the sun’s rays then. You can wait to break out the Coppertone until tomorrow morning, can’t you?

Sorry – sunscreen is a must for your kids every day. In fact, you’re supposed to put it on year-round, so make a resolution for September if you’ve been missing that part before now.

And don’t think that if they’re in the shaded woods rather than swimming in the pool, they’re less in need of some sun protection.

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Just a few serious sunburns can be dangerous, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  website for skin protection says. “Kids don't have to be at the pool, beach, or on vacation to get too much sun. Their skin needs protection from the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays whenever they're outdoors.” And the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends sunscreen for children whenever they’re outside.

So first step: What kind of product should you buy for your kids?  Look for a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to ensure proper protection and one that is “broad-spectrum” (it will protect against both UVA and UVB radiation). Many kids’ products also come in bright colors or appealing scents that might make your family dread sunscreen time less.

When you’re applying it, make sure to touch on spots that can be forgotten such as the hands and feet, ears, and nose. Find a product that will keep lips from being burned as well. Make sure to apply it early enough – a good guideline is putting on sunscreen half an hour before kids will be outside so it has enough time to be on the skin before it’s put to the test. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends reapplying every two hours.

Other forms of sun protection: make sure your child has a hat and sunglasses. A hat should ideally protect the face, neck, and ears from the sun, while sunglasses, aside from stopping your child from squinting into the sun, will protect him or her from UV rays. Check the glasses when you’re buying them to make sure they combat both UVB and UVA rays.

Wherever you are, make sure there’s a shaded area that your child can sit in. Tote an umbrella to the beach or choose the pool chairs that are under the trees at the pool. This is the most important step if you’re a new mom – children 6 months old and under shouldn’t be exposed to the sun at all because sunscreen isn’t safe to apply to them. So if your baby isn’t in the shade, you need to cover him or her with clothes or in a carriage that shades them.

And the important step many parents forget is following sun safety yourself. If your kids see you generously applying sunscreen and making sure to stay in the shade, they’ll start to think of the sun safety as a normal part of the routine.

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Hannah Robertson (Courtesy of Corporate Accountability International)

'We don't sell junk food': McDonald's CEO's comment sparks backlash against 9-year-old

By Correspondent / 05.30.13

The mother of a nine-year-old girl who addressed McDonald's CEO Don Thompson at a shareholder’s meeting about the corporate practice of using toys included in meals as a means of getting kids to eat unhealthy food says there has been an enormous backlash in comments against her child from the brand’s supporters. The fast food corporate giant also says the comments are unacceptable, stating that it hopes its supporters would show courtesy to those who have dissenting views like Hannah rather than bashing a child for her opinion.

This story has become both a civics lesson and a cautionary tale for parents who want to raise brave children who stand by their beliefs. The problem with helping our kids stand up for their beliefs is that we also have to teach them to weather the storm of criticism from online trolls (those who post nastygrams just to cause upset and hostility), bullies, and meanies.

As a parent of four sons, one of them nine years old, I regularly encourage my boys to express their beliefs, so I can understand why Kia Robertson agreed to accept the offer of the activist group Corporate Accountability of Boston and fly with her child from Kelowna, Canada to Hamburger University in Illinois so her daughter could formally address the CEO and shareholders during a scheduled meeting of the minds.

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I also share her shock at the outpouring of toxic comments directed at a little girl by people more committed to an eatery than humanity.

Margaret Meade once said, “It is easier to change a man's religion than to change his diet.” Amen to that, sister!

After reading some of the comments on stories about this event, I see it’s considered by some akin to treason and flag-burning to suggest that the fast food chain outed in the documentary film "Super Size Me" is anything other than ideal.

What did Hannah say to Thompson in that fateful meeting that has the McMob enraged?

She read from a written statement her mom helped her prepare, according to The Raw Story.

“Something I don’t think is fair is when big companies try to trick kids into eating food that isn’t good for them by using toys and cartoon characters," Hannah read. "If parents haven’t taught their kids about healthy eating, then the kids probably believe that junk food is good for them because it might taste good.”

“It would be nice if you stopped trying to trick kids into wanting to eat your food all the time,” the younger Robertson continued, still reading from the statement. “I make cooking videos with my mom that show kids that eating healthy can be fun and yummy. We teach them that eating a rainbow of fruits and veggies makes kids healthier, smarter, and happier because that is the truth.”

According to The Raw Story, an alternative news site, instead of being gracious when a child was a guest at his corporate table, Thompson shot back, saying, “First of all, we don’t sell junk food, Hannah.”

Contrary to some of the many comments I have seen posted on various stories about Hannah, her mom did not “burst into a board meeting, child in tow” to randomly shout at the CEO. Also, it wasn’t something she initiated as a publicity stunt for her tiny Canadian online business, which promotes healthy cooking with your kids, according to Robertson.

“It all started last April when this group called Corporate Accountability went looking for mommy bloggers to address their concerns as part of the Moms Not Loving It (a play on the brand’s I’m Loving it slogan) over various practices of corporations marketing to children,” Kia said during a phone interview. (The campaign can be found online here.)

Jesse Bragg, press secretary for Corporate Accountability International, confirmed that the organizers there contacted Kia, not the other way around.

The fact is that the lobbying group Corporate Accountability of Boston flew the Canadian mom and daughter to Hamburger University in Chicago for the board meeting.

Sriram Madhusoodanan, who is an organizer on the Value the Meal Campaign run by Corporate Accountability, seconded Bragg, saying, “I can definitely confirm that we traveled to Blog Her last year, which is a conference of women who blog... We met so many moms who blog and are sick of the repeated efforts by the company to undermine parental efforts.

“We began with Moms Not Loving It, launched on Mothers Day, and then we saw this incredibly moving and personal post by Kia. But Hannah is so articulate and passionate about kids’ health. Hannah really wanted to speak up herself on behalf of kids, so that’s what we did instead of [just] having her mom speak.”

Madhusoodanan said his team had not really expected this meeting to garner such viral media attention.

“I think it’s unfortunate that McDonald's can spend multimillions of dollars to campaign with little resistance, but here’s a little girl like Hannah delivering such a powerful message and getting this kind of blowback from McDonalds supporters,” he said.

Meanwhile, McDonald's also says the encounter has been misstated in the media. 

“The headlines on this really don’t reflect what happened in that board room," Heidi Barker Sa Shekshem, the vice-president of Global External Communication McDonald’s Corporate, said. "Don Thompson had a very amicable exchange with Hannah. They were both very friendly and as a father, he would only want Hannah’s remarks to be treated in that same spirit by anyone outside our organization. We would like to see anyone out there engaging in discussion on this to follow that same amicable spirit.”

Kia Robertson said that she never imagined how vicious McDonald's supporters would be in their responses to her supporting her child’s decision to make her beliefs known to corporate America.

“People have been really rough on us over this, saying I’m a bad parent and accusing me of just doing this to promote my business,” Kia said. “Some of the things they wrote to Hannah directly via our website are just too vile and ugly to repeat. She hasn’t seen any of those, but it’s frightening to see people writing to a child this way. I guess being behind a computer, people feel like they can be that way to a child.”

Someone posting under the name sotoli commented on a UPI blog on Hannah, “know what Hanna, if you don't like the food there, simple solution, EAT WHERE YOU DO LIKE THE FOOD. I don't like salads, but I don't go and try and make salad restaraunts look bad. You come off as a spoiled brat saying things will have to be my way or no way.”

Meanwhile, Wayne Russell Hawkins, a worker at a Simpsonville, S.C., McDonald's location, posted on another news story about Hannah, “you know....if you don't like it, don't eat it...I am PROUD to work at the number 1 restaurant chain in the world!”

Another poster named Schuyler commented on the UPI story, “Don't worry Mr. Thompson; no intelligent person is going to listen to a snotty little brat begging for attention and egged on my her idiot mother. When I want a Big Mac, fries and a chocolate shake no words from a rug rat is going to affect my decision.”

Those were the tamest comments I could find. I was relieved when they were rebutted by people with some sense of decorum who related their stories about how members of their own families had seen a decline in health after prolonged eating of “junk food” at the fast food chain.

A commenter named Susan posted on the same UPI blog, “About 10 years ago my friend's 19 year old son got an apartment in walking distance of his job. There was a McDonald's in his neighborhood. For 30 days he ate McDonald's 3 times a day. Then he was hospitalized for 5 days for serious gastro-intestinal problems that the doctors said was caused by his diet. You decide... does McDonald's sell "junk food"?”

Hannah's mother Kia said the situation has had some positive effects.

“On the good side Hannah’s been getting some really nice emails from kids via their parents," she said. "She’s now gonna have penpals in Texas and all over. Even the Canadian children’s singer Raffi tweeted for people to ‘give Hannah a hug.’ ”

I’m going to go to Raffi for the wisdom to solve all of this business via his song, “The More we Get Together.”

"The more we get together, Together, together, The more we get together, The happier we'll be.
 ‘Cause your friends are my friends, And my friends are your friends. The more we get together, The happier we'll be."

I believe it was the right thing to do as a parent to bring a little girl together with a grown corporate leader and all those shareholders and reporters. Because we don’t need more meanies or upset in the world. The more we get together to discuss our views, the happier we’ll be.

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