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Are mermaids real? As real as you want to make one: Here is a mermaid coloring page from Lisa Suhay's book. Enlarge this image, save it to your computer, and print. Kids can color them, add sequins, glitter, and even feathers. Then cut it out and glue to a popsicle stick to make a mermaid puppet for summer fun. (Sam Hundley)

Mermaids: Are they real? NOAA says 'no,' but Mom and Animal Planet say ...

By Lisa SuhayCorrespondent / 05.28.13

Ever since the first little mermaid sat on a rock to sing a scale, children have asked parents, “are mermaids real?”

Depending on our personal commitment to the maintenance of childhood innocence and the magic of TV, especially Animal Planet’s Mermaids docu-tales (documentary fairytales) we can make childhood stretch just a bit longer. However, be careful what you wish for, lest you end up with adults who find themselves, like Peter Pan, unable to grow up and face the music of real science on sirens.

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Given the ocean of Titanic news events we must all slog through daily, it’s little wonder I – who literally wrote the book on Mermaids – meet so many adults as well as children who ask me, “Are mermaids really real?” Over the past 10 years of living in Norfolk, Virg. where I have written two children’s books about merfolk and created a read and walk story trail from one larger-than-life-size mermaid sculpture to the next.

While I love science, I also have a household of men, four sons and a husband, who are all serious, logical, literal business 24-7. In response to that, I try to generate a little mommy magic and occasionally take a poke at science just to lighten things up for my sons and my sanity. Given the fact that science tends to flip-flop on everything from the value of fish oil in our diets to the shroud of Turin, I think it’s OK to have a little fun at its expense every now and then with a mermaid tale or two.

Last night, Animal Planet  followed-up its science fictional, but photorealistic, “Mermaids: the body found,” with “Mermaids: The New Evidence.” The new mer-mentary asks us to keep on believing that mermaids are among us, if only through the some very fishy video.

Last year when the first “documentary” came out in May, I was filling in as an editor at a local daily newspaper and had to call someone in a city office here for comment on a story about the how the broadcast was impacting tourism.

Norfolk is known as The Mermaid City because our city symbol is the mermaid and more than 300, 8-foot-long, 4-foot high, mermaid sculptures dot the landscape. More mermaid sculptures, mostly by local Artist Georgia Mason, are added to our streets by private collectors and businesses every year.

To my eternal shock, the city official asked to “go off the record” asking me, “Are mermaids really real? I swear never to tell another living soul, but I need to know because I’ve always believed and I know your books explain everything about them. I know you lived on a sailboat. You must know the truth.”

I suppose now is as good a time as any to admit to being the one behind Merwiki which I began with my youngest son immediately after the first Animal Planet mockumentary and the NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) response debunking our girls came to light. The site regularly generates e-mail questions from around the globe on the legitimacy, history, and physicality of mermaids. I try to answer as many as I can each week.

Any time I am asked if mermaids are real, I tell the same story; and when that fails, I quote Shel Silverstein.

The first thing I tell people is that when we moved from New Jersey to Norfolk 10 years ago our sons, then ages nine, eight, and three, would point to each and every mermaid sculpture they saw, competing to be the first to shout, “There goes a mermaid!” The first to shout it claimed that mermaid as his own personal property.

My husband told them, “They’re not real. They’re just statues.”

Son Ian, then eight, would have none of that kind of talk and beset his father with questions in an effort to prove that these so-called sculptures must have some actual connection, some secret entrée to the magical world of merfolk. Every car ride was peppered with questions about these fiberglass sculptures. See the Norfolk City website Mermaids on Parade to view some of our “mermaids."

Because each sculpture is mounted on a pipe, Ian insisted, “Why pipes? Pipes are useful things, carrying water. Maybe there’s a reason they chose pipes for the sculptures!”

One day, as we drove around downtown, a place where one can’t swing a dead catfish without hitting a mermaid sculpture, Ian had my husband at the end of his rope due to his relentless inquiries.  

To save us all from impending doom I turned to Ian, who was in the back seat, and delivered the impromptu speech that would change our lives and make me “the mermaid author” for all-time sake. 

“The pipes are there because they go down through the street, under the city and out to the river which leads to the sea. Mermaids are shape-shifters. They can turn into water and swim into the pipes, under the city and flow up into the pipes, up through the city and into the hollow sculptures which are their city apartments. When we stop the car you can get out and put your ear to one of the mermaids and if you hear the ocean you know a mermaid is at home inside.”

Ian looked at me and weighed this answer carefully before responding, “Excellent! How do they get out and turn into women?” Ummm…

When Hurricane Isabelle hit the next day, we had nine days with no electricity and a note pad to figure out the answer to that and all the mermaid questions the other boys asked during that time. The answers became the book “There Goes a mermaid! A NorFolktale," which benefits two children’s charities here in Norfolk.

Unfortunately, telling that simple and slightly ambiguous truth with no explanation of how I “knew” that about the sculptures often fails to satisfy. In those cases I simple recite "Magic," a favorite childhood poem from Shel Silverstein's "Where the Sidewalk Ends":

“Sandra’s seen a leprechaun,

Eddie touched a troll,
Laurie danced with witches once,
Charlie found some goblins gold.
Donald heard a mermaid sing,
Susy spied an elf,
But all the magic I have known
I've had to make myself.” 

Of course being a parent means making magic all by yourself. To do so requires imagination and isn’t the necessity for that daily magic the mother of invention?

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Teaching "colorblindess" to our children does not impart racial understanding, researchers say. Similar research, which studied black children ashamed of their skin color, were instrumental in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education. Here, Linda Brown Smith stands in front of Sumner School in Topeka, Kan., in 1964. (Associated Press)

Discussing Race: The pitfalls of racial 'colorblindness' and the importance of talk

By Guest Blogger / 05.24.13

“Now, I don’t see race. People tell me I’m white and I believe them,” late night satirist Stephen Colbert frequently tells his guests. He isn’t the only one claiming to be racially “colorblind.” Since the days of the civil rights movement, many parents and teachers have adopted this approach with the hope that by simply refusing to point out differences to their children, racism, stereotyping, and bigotry would just fall away.

Instead, “in this supposed racial vacuum created by parents, the kids have been left to come up with their own conclusions based on who knows what. Their own observations? Heresay? Who knows?” said Janie Ward, Simmons College Professor and Department Chair of Africana Studies and author of The Skin We’re In: Teaching Our Teens to be Emotionally Strong, Socially Smart, and Spiritually Connected.

According to recent research, many of those conclusions have not been good.

Ward shared the results of a recent University of Texas study on racial attitudes with a group of parents and teachers gathered for a lunch, lecture, and book signing as part of The Boston Children’s Museum’s Lunch and Learn Lecture Series this week.

UT researchers initially set out to assess the impact of multicultural characters in television programs on white children’s attitudes about race. They solicited hundreds of families to participate in the study and gave the children an initial racial attitude test. They asked the children questions like, “Are white people nice,” and “Are black people nice?” They followed up with additional questions and substituted the adjective “nice” with other adjectives, including “pretty,” “mean,” and “smart.” This was intended to be a base line measurement of children’s racial attitudes.

Then the researchers divided the families into three groups. They sent one group home with a video that included an episode of Sesame Street where the cast members visited a black family at home. They gave the second group the same video,  as well as a list of talking points for parents to use in discussing the video with their kids. The third group took home just the talking points.

However, the researchers soon realized that something was wrong.

Many parents balked at the idea of raising the discussion of race with their kids. Five parents refused to participate entirely. Several indicated that the idea of having such a discussion with their kids was scary. Others said they preferred to raise their children to be “colorblind.” So the researchers shifted the direction of the study to examine the effect of “colorblind” child rearing on children’s actual racial attitudes.

When the researchers returned to the results of the original study that they had already given the kids, they discovered that the children were forming their own ideas about race. When asked how many white people are mean, almost all of the kids responded “almost none.” When asked how many black people are mean, many answered “a lot.” When asked about their parents' attitudes toward black people, 14 percent of kids said that their parents did not like black people and 38 percent of kids said they did not know how their parents felt. While the parents have been trying to impart “colorblindness,” the kids have still developed white biases, Ward said.

Similar studies where researchers have asked black children to point out which of two dolls — one white and one black — is nicer, smarter, prettier have shown that black children also harbor white biases. The first of these studies proved instrumental during the landmark Brown v. Board of Education court case that resulted in the desegregation of public schools. Many things have changed since then. However, many black kids still identify the black doll as “bad” and “mean” and label the while doll as “nice” and “pretty.”

That lack of ethnic pride is particularly troubling, Ward said. “Ethnic pride is about a whole lot more than just feeling good,” she said. In her research, Ward has found that children’s sense of ethnic pride can affect both their grades and their mental health. Further, she found that teenagers with a strong sense of ethnic pride were able to navigate social inequities more effectively than kids that harbor feelings of shame about their ethnicity.

Parents can start to foster ethnic pride at a very young age. Ward offered the example of one mother who used the opportunity of brushing her child’s hair to plant the seeds of ethnic pride. “Your hair is so beautiful. Other kids have different kinds of hair, but your hair is just like Mummy’s hair and grandma’s hair,” she would tell her daughter. Ward asked the mother why she felt this was so important. “As a black woman in this society I know what my daughter is going to be up against. I’m giving my daughter the tools now that she will need to do battle when she gets older,” the mother responded.

Ward urged parents to talk to their children about race throughout their childhood. “I know that this kind of conversation can be a scary conversation, but the more you talk, the better you get at it. It’s not just about one conversation, it’s about talking about these kinds of things over time and being on the lookout for teachable moments,” she said.

Doodle 4 Google shows us that to support our troops we must support their kids

By Lisa SuhayGuest Blogger / 05.23.13

Today’s Doodle 4 Google image by Wisconsin teenager Sabrina Brady illustrates the powerful emotion of a military parent-child reunion. Looking at it, I suddenly realized the images I usually associate with soldiers coming home from a tour of duty are images of adults in the throes of emotion — Norman Rockwell’s famous Saturday Evening Post cover of a GI returning home, the sailor dipping a nurse and stealing a kiss on VJ Day. 

Sabrina's image shows it’s actually more powerful to see images of children in a moment of commingled relief and joy. It reminds us that supporting our troops also means supporting their kids.

The theme for this year’s Doodle 4 Google competition, which invites K-12 students to submit an illustration incorporating the search giant's logo, was “My Best Day Ever...” Sabrina won with her piece, “Coming Home,” an illustration of her running toward her father upon his return from an 18-month deployment in Iraq.

The image shows the stages of military childhood: from steadfast support, through expectation, and into embrace.

While my family members are not in the military, nearly all our friends and neighbors here in Norfolk, Va., are Navy families. Deployments are hard on anyone who has a loved one in harm’s way. However, I believe the greatest price paid for our freedom comes from the emotional piggy banks of the children of military families.

Nearby to Naval Station Norfolk — a Navy base supporting US naval forces in the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic and Indian Oceans — this is sure to be the most popular Google Doodle of the year.

The image resonates even more strongly as President Barack Obama draws overseas troop levels down and military personnel return from deployments.

One such moving reunion moment came a week ago when Alayna Adams, 9, threw out the first pitch at a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game in honor of her father, a lieutenant colonel in the Army stationed in Afghanistan. However, when Alayna threw the pitch, the catcher took off his mask and revealed himself to be her father.

I watched that moment on television at the gym while I ran on the treadmill and had to stop to cry my eyes out along with four others in the room. Women and grown men who were there pumping iron alongside me paused, too. The emotion of the images on the big flatscreen flattened us all.

Seeing today’s Google Doodle brought it right back, and here I sit, at my computer, with tears running down my face in unison with the downpour outside my window.

In another TV reunion moment, Army Spc. Larry Shaffer arrived home last week from his stint in Afghanistan to his wife Misty who had lost over 100 lbs in his absence.

But for me, the more gut-wrenching moment came when Mr. Shaffer tried to hold his daughter Nevaeh (Heaven spelled backward) at the Wilmington, N.C., airport, but had to hold back as the little one shrieked and cried in panic at the sight of this “stranger” trying to hug her. She clung to her grandmother, hysterical, as her father helplessly looked on, powerless to reconnect for the moment.

Parents in the military make the ultimate sacrifice in the name of our nation’s security and freedom. There are men and women, fathers and mothers, in every branch of service who would rather face death a thousand-fold rather than their own child who has been separated from them for so long they recoil from their parent’s “strange” embrace. Maybe it was just the excitement that had Nevaeh unglued, but here in Norfolk it’s not uncommon to see children becoming tense and either overly emotional or shut-down as they wait in anticipation for a military mom or dad to come home after being away for many months.

For her ability to capture that in a “doodle” and bring it all home for use, I believe Sabrina deserves all the accolades and prizes heaped on her today. Besides the home-page display, Google announced in a press release that Sabrina has won “a $30,000 college scholarship, a Chromebook computer and a $50,000 technology grant for her school.” She beat out a field of 130,000 submissions that collectively drew millions of online votes. Google reports that she’ll attend the Minneapolis College of Art and Design this fall.

I want to thank Sabrina for letting us into her moment. We should all take a moment to do something kind for the child of a military family to show them that we support all our troops, great and small.

Bed Bugs, seen here in all their pesty glory. 2011, file. (PR Newswire)

Bed bugs on the eve of summer vacation: A mom’s guide [+video]

By Lisa SuhayGuest Blogger / 05.22.13

As the kids watched their beds, blankets, and dressers make their way to the curb, our son Avery, 14, said, “Man, I never realized grandmothers meant it literally when they say ‘Goodnight. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.’ ”

Bed bugs are real, easily transferred to our homes, and expensive to cope with. However, everything we need to know comes from my granny, her sayings, and some moms who went buggy over these critters.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bed bugs — blood-sucking insects that feed on humans while they sleep — are literally everywhere. “Everyone is at risk for getting bed bugs when visiting an infected area," the CDC reports. "However, anyone who travels frequently and shares living and sleeping quarters where other people have previously slept has a higher risk of being bitten and or spreading a bed bug infestation.”

Contrary to urban legend, bed bugs are not microscopic; those are mites. Bed bugs are reddish-brown, wingless, about the size of an apple seed, and can live several months without a blood meal.

I can tell you that while bites are painless, welts left behind are itchy, but they don’t transmit diseases. Some people are mildly allergic to them. The welts from bed bugs sometimes get written off as mosquito bites.

That was all the bad stuff. Now let’s talk about getting them to bug-off. I was perfectly serious about taking our cues from nursery rhymes and old wives' expressions because those old girls have forgotten more than we even know.

The bed bug, Cimex lectularius, was my childhood nickname given to me by my maternal grandmother, Anne. She called me “My little vance (vants)” which is Yiddish for bed bug. This makes little sense because she was a blonde, blue-eyed, Roman Catholic to the bone. According to her, it was also a Polish expression of endearment. I looked it up and in Polish the word for bed bug is pluskwa.

While she might have been a little off-base on nicknames, I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that Grandma Anneisms had some practical sense when it came to bed bug riddance.

“Some Like it Hot,” was one of my Grandma Anne’s favorite films and it works as an extermination plan for bed bugs because bed bugs hate warmth, according to Scientific American.

However professional heat treatments are costly, between $2,000 and $4,000 per single-family home, according to Scientific American, which also tells us that today’s bed bug has become “pesticide resistant,” while heat remains effective.

The best and thriftiest solution comes from friend Theresa who had them through two moves until she learned to put things in the dryer for 25 minutes and then put the still hot items into a plastic bag in a warm place for a few hours. She actually had bags in her car in the sun for the day and that did the job better than chemical treatments that had repeatedly failed to get the job done.

That means if it can go in the dryer on high for 25 minutes you’re probably going to be able to keep it. If the bed doesn’t fit in there it’s time to call the trash guys for a bulk pickup or rent a dumpster.

“Snug as a bug in a rug.” Well that says it all for how we got bed bugs at our house after accepting a beautiful, but infested rug from a neighbor. Beware the magic carpet that will take you on a hellish ride through bed bug land.

We put it in the room shared by Avery and Ian, 18,  over the tatty old tan wall-to-wall carpeting to hide the stains and make the room bearably warm in winter.

At first we thought the plush oriental carpet was itchy because of its age and not being aired. Later we thought it might have mites so we sprinkled it with powdered insecticide. This had the effect of sending the bugs deeper into the carpet where they lay dormant through the cold winter as our furnace repeatedly broke down – thus keeping the house quite cold.

The moment the heat bloomed here in Virginia the boys began getting bites at night. We thought it was fleas and dipped, sprayed, and generally made miserable our two cats and the dog. We washed sheets and vacuumed. Nothing worked until Avery at last spotted a little flat, oval, brown bug in the seam of his mattress. “Mom! Do we have bug spray?” he called from his room.

Don’t spray the mattress inside the house. 

I don’t care what any “expert” tells you, unless you are ready to cope with something that looks like Hitchcock meets SciFi Channel as critters swarm out of the seams, don’t do it.

If you find one and you’re sure it’s a bed bug it’s time to bag it and tag it — the mattress and everything on it except pets and the kids.

I know this because I got the spray and used it, to my eternal regret.

How to bed bugs get around?
“This room may be bugged.” Granted, granny may not have said that one unless she was a spy, but it’s still a good one to pay attention to because hotels, conference rooms, workplaces, and even classrooms can be Grand Central Station for bug transport to our homes.

“Never leave your handbag, backpack or bags on a carpeted floor in a room that you aren’t completely certain is bug free,” says my friend Theresa, whose last name I’ll withhold because she doesn’t want to be judged for having had bed bugs in her house. “They get into everything, right through the seams of your handbag, shoes, or the kids’ backpacks.”

Theresa now keeps a clear Rubbermaid container by the door for depositing bags and backpacks.

“I do the same for clothing instead of wooden dressers now because I can see them immediately and nip it right in the bud,” she explains.

Myth: Bedbugs prefer unsanitary, urban conditions

"Bedbugs are terribly nondiscriminatory," Coby Schal, an entomologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh told Scientific American. The publication also concluded, “Bedbugs can be found anywhere from ritzy high-rises to homeless shelters. The prevalence of the bugs in low-income housing is therefore not a result of the insect's preference, but of dense populations and the lack of money to pay for proper elimination strategies.

Bed bugs only live in beds.  

We learned bed bugs not only travel in anything but they live anywhere they can slip into: wall sockets, vents, dressers, seams of cloth laundry baskets, every crack in the floor, and creases of any kind of bag, belt, or garment.

My friend Laura, in New Jersey, told me about how her daughter, who attends college in Richmond, Va., had to move apartments six times before she was able to sleep through the night without being bitten.

“She finally found out the bugs were moving with her each time because they were inside a wooden, acoustic guitar her roommate had gotten at a yard sale,” Laura explained.

Also, get a spray specifically formulated for bed bugs and use it liberally on vents, in every crack and cranny and take off electrical outlet covers for spraying as well.

Being thrifty, not so nifty

Curb your enthusiasm for thrifting, yard sales, flea markets (perhaps more aptly named bed bug bargains), trash day treasures and the like to avoid making someone else’s problems your own. I know, I love them too and times are tough but after this I would rather do without than do this all over again.

Global warming may be our ultimate weapon in the bug battle because Spring is here and I intend to save a pile of cash by not running air conditioning this summer. I will crank the stereo instead and listen to my new favorite tune, “Burn Baby Burn!” It’s gonna be a disco bed bug inferno here in the south.

For more tips, check out this Yahoo! Shine article.

Christine Gross-Loh's book about how parents raise their children around the world is a helpful reminder that there's no one way to correctly care for your child. (Screenshot of book cover)

Diaper-free babies and co-sleeping: Global parents use techniques we shun

By Judy Bolton-FasmanGuest blogger / 05.22.13

I knew it!

Even Dr. Ferber, the sleep guru of “just let the baby cry it out” fame (or notoriety, depending in your point of view), concedes that there are many viable ways for a baby to sleep. This is just one of the many wonderful nuggets of information that Cambridge writer Christine Gross-Loh brings to the table in her new book Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us.

It’s tempting to call Gross-Loh’s book a reference guide, but that would be giving short shrift to this wise and entertaining compendium on child-rearing. Her goal is simple: as borders blur and the world gets smaller, effective parenting can be more easily shared around the world. Gross-Loh delves into many traditions for advice on everything from co-sleeping, eating habits and guerilla marketing to our kids.

But back to Dr. Ferber for a moment. Ken and I had our own borders when it came to parenting Anna as a baby. Aside from the fact that we had no idea what we were doing, in a word the thing we craved most was sleep. But we had very different ideas of how exactly we would get Anna to sleep and tackle our own sleep deprivation. I was brought up by a Latina mother, and by extension much of my mother’s family. Though we didn’t call it that, co-sleeping was not out of the norm. If I had a bad dream I crawled into bed with my mother. My American father was not so thrilled about my visits and usually ended up switching beds with me.

And so these cultural differences continued in my marriage. Gross-Loh happens to be a proponent of co-sleeping. She and her husband and their four children have ended up in various groupings throughout the night. She also investigated co-sleeping in countries like Japan and Sweden where the family bed is a way of life. When Anna was born we lived in Baltimore where co-sleeping was not exactly in vogue. I swear I gave “Ferberizing” a decent try, but I just couldn’t do it. My very patient husband had to finally accept that Anna would be hanging out with us occasionally.

Throughout the book Gross-Loh draws upon her experiences from living abroad in Japan as well as her Korean heritage and her husband’s Jewish upbringing. I thought her section on children and eating was of particular interest. Like many parents, Gross-Loh is concerned with the growing rates of childhood obesity in the United States. She investigates American eating habits in search of a solution to curb our children’s growing waistlines. She finds despite a diet rich in fats and meats, French children are generally healthy and slim. One of the reasons is that snacking is highly discouraged in France. The French go so far as to air public service announcements warning against eating in between meals. Additionally, French kids eat their meals with their families. These meals are generally long and leisurely, and to compensate for a high fat diet, the French eat smaller portions. “In France,” writes Gross-Loh, “teaching kids to eat is as important as teaching them to read.”

Gross-Loh believes that the idea that children are picky eaters is, in part, an artificial construct; this rings true to me. She correctly notes that rejecting vegetables for potato chips is “a marketing strategy that doesn’t have to bind us.” Teaching children to eat well can be habit forming. To prove her point she takes her readers to France, Japan, South Korea, Italy, and Sweden where the culture dictates a diet of fresh whole foods, cooking from scratch with seasonal ingredients and taking the time to enjoy eating together. As for the babies—the parents in most of these countries give their little ones the same food as the rest of the family.

I know that cooking from scratch strikes terror in many a parent’s heart. I’m no chef myself, but honestly it’s a lot easier than it seems. I’ve just discovered quinoa, a healthy grain that’s easy to make. Most supermarkets have pre-cut veggies that you can throw in a wok. And for meat eaters like my family, turkey burgers are easy to make and roasting a chicken is simple. As for snacking, I work at home so you can imagine the temptation. The easiest solution is not to buy the chips or the Chex mix in the first place. I’m holding my own for the moment. But I still I keep an emergency stash of chocolate.

As big as food is in a family’s life, Gross-Loh also devotes an entire section of her book to conspicuous consumption or in her descriptive phrase, “The Tyranny of Choice.” She writes:

"Few families in the world are as vulnerable to the desire to buy as American families. Though commercialism is a modern, global phenomenon, it affects American children disproportionately because corporations have benefited from deregulation against marketing directly to children, which began in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan."

At last, an explanation for the genesis of what Gross-Loh calls “the pester-power”—in and of itself a well-honed marketing strategy and the source of much family stress.

As I said in the beginning of this column, there are so many nuggets to mine in this wonderful book. Add it to your collection of parenting books. I promise you that reading Parenting Without Borders will be like spending time with a very understanding and resourceful friend.

New data released by the Pew Research Center throws the curtains open on teenage social media habits: What do they share? Who do they friend? How often do they login? (Screenshot Pew Research Center)

Facebook waning, social media may have plateaued among teens, Pew study says

By Guest Blogger / 05.21.13

Contrary to how they’re typically represented in the news media, “few teens embrace a fully public approach to social media,” Pew Internet reports in a major new study, “Teens, Social Media and Privacy.” Yes, they share more about themselves than we did as teens, but “they take an array of steps to restrict and prune their profiles.”

Pew turned up a lot of intelligence on teens’ part, where safety, privacy and reputation management are concerned, bearing out findings in Canada last fall. Here are some key findings of this important research, Pew’s first in-depth look at teens’ online privacy since 2007:

  • “The frequency of teen social media usage may have reached a plateau” – the number of teens social media users who check their pages “‘several times a day’ hasn’t changed in any significant way since 2011,” Pew says.
  • Teens’ Twitter use is up significantly, from 16% of US 12-to-17-year-olds in 2011 to nearly a quarter (24%) now, and African American teens use Twitter significantly more than white teens – 39% vs. 23%, respectively.
  • “The typical (median) teen Facebook user has 300 friends, while the typical teen Twitter user has 79 followers” (and Pew found that teens “don’t always think of Twitter as a social networking site,” though the authors didn’t say what they do think Twitter is).
  • Online mirrors offline: “Teens’ Facebook friendship networks largely mirror their offline networks” (which should further reduce the speculative “stranger danger” fears of the previous decade and its national task forces [see this]). “Unwanted contact from strangers is relatively uncommon, but 17% of online teens report some kind of contact that made them feel scared or uncomfortable,” Pew said, adding in a footnote, thought that its question did not reference sexual solicitations, so respondents could’ve been referring to a wide array of concerning behaviors or interactions.
  • A whopping 70% of teen Facebook users say they’re friends with their parents on FB, and 91% of teen Facebook users are friends with members of their extended family.
  • Their use of Facebook is “waning.”
  • We knew this, but it’s important confirmation: “60% of teen Facebook users keep their profiles private [note that Pew's not just saying that 60% use privacy settings], and most report high levels of confidence in their ability to manage their settings.” On Twitter, thought, nearly two-thirds (64%) of teens tweet publicly, which is typical for adult Twitter users too.
  • “Teens take other steps to shape their reputation, manage their networks, and mask information 
they don’t want others to know: 74% of teen social media users have deleted people from their 
network or friends list”; 58% “share inside jokes or cloak their messages in some way” (see this about “social steganography” from researcher danah boyd); 26% post false information like a fake name, age, or location to help protect their privacy (see this about “fictionalizing profiles” as a safety measure).
  • Teens with larger friend networks on Facebook also use more social apps and services other than Facebook. They also share more information and media while at the same time show more care with “profile pruning” and reputation management.
  • Teens’ concern about advertisers’ access to their information is low: “just 9% say they are ‘very’ concerned”; 40% are somewhat *or* very concerned, while 81% of parents are somewhat or very concerned about this for their children. Pew adds that “teens who are concerned about third-party access to their personal information are also more likely to engage in online reputation management.”

So let’s zoom in on the reasons teens interviewed in focus groups gave Pew for why they’re using Facebook less and consider some takeaways:

  1. “The increase in adult presence”: The takeaway we might consider is that trying to monitor teens’ activities by setting up an account in every online service and app they use in a kind of whack-a-mole approach to tech parenting won’t ultimately keep parents abreast of their kids’ digital activities for the simple reason that the more we monitor, the more likely they are to move on. It’ll get harder and harder, too, because they aren’t moving on to a single new service (the way in the last decade Facebook replace MySpace as the No. 1 social network site). Today, digital socializing is expanding and diversifying because it’s now on the mobile platform at least as much as the Web. It looks like digital monitoring and “parental controls” are being replaced by good old-fashioned communication between parent and child about how they use digital devices and spaces (we ConnectSafely folk offer discussion points in two of those spaces with our new parents’ guides to Snapchat and Instagram).
  2. People sharing excessively”: Note how smart Pew’s respondents are to find that annoying! What this indicates is that protective social norms are developing – teens are viewing it less and less socially acceptable to overshare. Adults might find it comforting to see this; it’s online safety in action at the grassroots level. And I hope parents will increasingly understand and acknowledge the protective power of social norms among young people every bit as much as among adults.
  3. “Stressful ‘drama’”: This is one reason why, in other reports, young people are saying they’re moving to Snapchat and other perishable media services: drama avoidance (see this). If the photos and videos vanish in 10 seconds or less, there’s no chance posturing (or “posing”), no self-presentation, “claiming,” or grandstanding. Drama can’t build. Sharing becomes just fun, spontaneous and, well, gone in a few seconds. What a relief, huh? Drama can’t build (or at least drama queens and kings have to work a lot harder), people can let down their guard a little (a little), and reputation management becomes a little less of an issue.

“One of the most striking themes that surfaced through the Berkman focus groups this spring,” the authors write (referring to their co-authors at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society), “was the sense of a social burden teens associated with Facebook. While Facebook is still deeply integrated in teens’ everyday lives, it is sometimes seen as a utility and an obligation rather than an exciting new platform that teens can claim as their own.” Thus their growing interest in the mobile platform. Facebook and its Instagram app are mobile, too, but so are hundreds of thousands of other apps offering at least thousands of different uses. Teens’ digital social activities, from the friendship-driven to the interest-driven kinds*, are diversifying and segmenting. That makes for fascinating conversations with our children and their peers. Seriously, there is so much to learn about them now in kinder, more respectful, less intrusive ways than through impersonal monitoring software and “parental controls.”

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Anne Collier blogs at NetFamilyNews.

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Khan Academy teaches users visually. Here, an instructor uses a diagram to explain the US Social Security system, part of a 13-video series on American civics that includes pensions, a fiscal cliff explainer, and Medicare sustainability. (Khan Academy screenshot)

Summer school: Free online educational activities for students and adults

By Lisa SuhayGuest blogger / 05.21.13

When Jeanne Cairns Sinquefield’s goddaughter Kelley Sandhu, a student at St. Louis University, began to struggle to keep up with her advanced science classes, it was clear that, short of a magic wand, this godmother didn’t have what it takes to help.

When it comes to helping their kids with homework, many parents admit defeat while parsing through their kid's math and science assignments. However, Ms. Sinquefield found help for her goddaughter in free online tutoring resources, and she credits them for helping Ms. Sandhu make it to graduation last Sunday. She received a degree in organic chemistry.

“Kelley would come to me for help with organic chemistry. I would look at the assignments and it was just sort of a blur. Greek. Total Greek,” says Sinquefled in a phone interview with The Christian Science Monitor. “I was like, uuhhmmm don’t call me for help.”

However, Sinquefield, who holds an impressive educational pedigree and founded the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation, refused to quit and started looking for solutions online.

“I have raised four or five other children beside my own and Kelley was always with us,” she says. “When it comes to kids having difficulties in school, my theory is to never wait for a teacher who has 30 other kids in the room to get around to helping yours. Help them yourself, any way you can.”

Sinquefield went to the university and asked if Kelley could fulfill her community service hours needed to graduate by researching and testing various online tutoring sites, then sharing her findings with the Missouri Children's Education Alliance, with local charter schools, and in the local newspaper. Administrators gave her a green light. “So she got her free tutoring and she got her hours,” Sinquefield says proudly. “Believe me, it’s not the teacher’s fault that they have so many students. The teachers are all trying at every level from grade school on up. But hell’s gonna freeze over before they have time to get to your kid.”

Why is this woman in business administration and not education? “I spent 25 years in Boy Scouts with two sons and as den chief. Now I’m working with the U of Missouri on distance learning. So I suppose really, I am in teaching and have always been as a mom and in the Scouts.”

What she discovered as the mom of Eagle Scouts is, “Everybody learns differently, some are better with books, others with videos and visual learning.”

While the Khan Academy site worked best for Sandhu and Sinquefield’s, “But that’s not saying the others aren’t going to be great for you depending on how you learn,” Sinquefield explains.

I am going to pause here to say that this mom/godmom is an absolute genius in my book for turning the problem around in this manner. She turned lemons into lemon chiffon pie and brought enough to share with the whole parenting class.

Sandhu went to the following sites, tried them out, and evaluated each one:

As Sandhu researched each site, she shared her findings with her godmother. Their favorites quickly became Patrick JMT for calculus and Khan Academy for its 20 minute videos and worksheets, according to Sinquefield.

Sandhu wrote in the local newspaper, “I believe that education is the most important thing a person can have; it is the one thing that no one can ever take away from you. At the same time, I think it is unfortunate that a lot of children are unable to access tutoring due to the expense.”

My favorite new expression comes from Sinquefield explaining why she personally gravitates to the Khan Academy’s free lessons online, “I don’t want to do an hour because I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to talk to anyone longer than they are old. I just zone out.”

Not just for students

“Let’s say you’re bad at math and so you never feel comfortable checking your child’s homework. Well these free sites help you teach yourself. They start at 1+1 and go right up the chain to advanced calculus,” Sinquefield says.

I road tested the sites Sinquefield recommended, and a few I found on my own, with my son Quin, who at 9-years-old is a math and science wiz whose homework challenges my math-unfriendly brain.

His favorite? “Bookmark the Khan one so I can be all over it after school!”

I agree, but also fell in love with HippoCampus I liked these videos best for me http://www.hippocampus.org/HippoCampus/ for it’s easy to follow math videos and with the TedEd http://ed.ted.com/ site for it’s witty, well-illustrated lessons and lesson plans that are free and have the added advantage of being “flipped” by various educators who add their plans and ideas to the site regularly.

For some seriously fun and expansive learning across all STEAM (science technology engineering art and math) platforms, my sons and I look up the Vsauce and Minute Physics channels on YouTube which have put us on the cutting edge of those topics and generated endless non-video-game-related conversation at the dinner table.

There are enough free online tutoring and education services out there to make both parents and kids into mathmagicians, chemists, explorers, and better readers. At the very least they made me feel like I didn’t have to feel guilty over not being able to engage in homework help sessions for subjects I didn’t excel in.

You learn something new every day, especially when you want to be smarter than your third grader.

Horseshoe crab spawning season approaches! Beaches along the Seaboard are expecting hordes of the marine animal come June and not even Superstorm Sandy can stop them — at least, not without assistance from groups and agencies that fast-tracked projects to restore beaches, like this one in New Jersey, wrecked by the storm. (Dale Gerhard/The Press of Atlantic City/AP)

Horseshoe crab spawning: Take the kids on an after-bedtime adventure

By Guest Blogger / 05.20.13

Every year, ancient sea creatures resembling miniature armored tanks invade East Coast beaches with one mission — lay and fertilize as many eggs as possible before disappearing back into the sea.

For three nights, curious onlookers will have the opportunity to witness one of the oldest mating rituals in the world as scores of horseshoe crabs scuttle up onto the shores of Delaware Bay, Cape Cod, and the coastal beaches along the East Coast.

The horseshoe crab, officially known by its scientific name, Limulus polyphemus, has been making annual pilgrimages out of the sea for hundreds of millions of years. Most wait for the full and new moons of late May and June to perform their mating dance.

This year marine biologists expect that the biggest horseshoe crowds will emerge on May 24, June 9, and June 23.

While some horseshoe crabs come ashore during the day, the majority will wait for the cover of night. Then, scores of them will emerge from the sea to begin their moonlit dance on the beach. The females will come first, many with males already in tow in search of a bit of sand to lay their eggs. The females are considerably bigger than males to accommodate the thousands of eggs beneath each helmet-like shell. The females dig nests in the sand before they drop off their young and return to the water. The males pace back and forth over the nests, fertilizing as many eggs as they can before they too return to the cool shallows of the water.

For families interested in gaining a front row seat to the show, Delaware Bay is the world’s largest spawning ground, but they have been spotted up and down the east coast. Citizen scientists can report sightings online to the Ecological Research and Development Group. In Delaware and New Jersey, volunteers can help count the horseshoe crabs as part of a survey during the several weekends this spring and summer. Some horseshoe crabs have already been tagged as part of monitoring projects conducted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. If you come across a horseshoe crab with a circular or square white tag attached to the corner of the shell, make note of the number on the tag and report it to the US Fish and Wildlife Services online or by calling 1-888-LIMULUS.

Not really a crab at all, Limulus polyphemus is actually an arthropod and is more closely related to scorpions and spiders than any crab.

Limulus is a favorite species for marine biologists and teachers to share with children. The helmet-shaped shells, or carapaces, that protect them from predatory birds in the wild also make them hardy enough to thrive in aquarium touch tanks. While their blade-like tails may look menacing, they serve solely as a rudder for steering in the sand and helping the horseshoe crabs to right themselves should they become overturned by the tide.

Observant beachgoers may come across the discarded shells of horseshoe crabs that have outgrown their carapace and molted. These ghostlike shells can be great fun for kids to explore.

For families that cannot get to the shore, there are many non-fiction books for children describing these prehistoric creatures. Children’s book author Ruth Horowitz offers some moonlit magic in “Crab Moon”, a picture book illustrated by Kate Keisler and recognized by the National Science Teachers Association as an outstanding science trade book.

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The end of the school year — the Whoosh Zone — is about inhabiting the student's new level, the kindergartener's "first graderness." The students begin to feel out who they were, how they've changed, and who they can expect to be next year — and all of that manifests through self-portrait projects. (Todd Nelson)

The end of school 'Whoosh Zone': Plan for how you'd like to look back

By Guest Blogger / 05.20.13

We’re in the Whoosh Zone.

It’s what I call the vertiginous final weeks of a school year when the number of exciting and challenging events seem to defy the laws of thermodynamics and Einsteinian physics as they relate to time, space, and motion. You wonder: How can all these things fit into the available space? In fact, it’s kind of onomatopoeic. You can feel and hear the whoosh these days in the sunny playground times, and in the studios and classrooms. Yes, we have begun the wonderful glide down to summer on extended wings. It will all fit. It always does.  

It fits better with forethought. Step back: What’s really going on here, as parents, teachers, and children hurtle (or glide) towards summer? Are we in unfoldment mode, or crisis management? Do we have the analog view of where we are on an emotional, curricular, and cultural continuum?

Every school celebrates closure and transition in different ways. We are closing the books on projects and various academic studies; perhaps regressing a bit in terms of some social-emotional learning, but also consolidating the gains in other areas. We are fully “inhabiting” our new level, be it “first graderness” or parent of "first graderness.” And even for the veteran teacher, each academic year culmination has its own unique flavor and texture. Or it should.

At my school, a wise kindergarten teacher is good about alerting parents to what they should expect. Annie sends an e-mail replete with coordinates of all kinds. She is talking to experienced parents — whose youngest child is coming through kindergarten — as well as initiates into the world of whoosh, going through it for the first time.

This week she wrote home the following:

“Here are a few things that you expect as the school year is drawing to a close...

  • Unusually whiny and complaining children
  • Problems between friends.
  • Total illiteracy-they don’t even know the alphabet now. They don’t understand math now either.
  • Complaints about teachers (we never help them) food,(we don’t feed them), and all special subjects (they never go to shop, science, art, music).
  • Your children will complain they never...get called on, have a turn, go first, play outside, get picked....
  • Severe bossiness, questioning, nail biting, tripping and skinned knees.
  • Trouble separating.
  • The occasional shove, push, hit, and they will be as surprised to see this happen as we are.
  • Trouble sleeping, late nights...

“All this is normal, and happens at the end of every school year in Kindergarten.  It is how the children cope with their anxiety about moving to first grade, perhaps at a new school, and the ending of kindergarten.  Had you had the chance to see the children with their buddy friends from our partner school this week, you would have been so proud, and had a chance to see them at their very best.”

Annie is putting parents into the right journalistic framework. Observe the story your kids are experiencing; know that it is their age appropriate version of events, and stand by as their experienced guide. Don’t mistake their experience for your own. She continues with a mini-consultation for parents.

“Now this is some of the behavior that you will notice about yourself:

  • Unusual tendency to complain about food, teachers, public school, private school,
  • Excessive nostalgia, the last singing assembly, the last woodshop class, the last recess game.
  • Concern about your children’s friends and their relationships
  • Anxiety about whether your child has learned enough to tackle first grade, wherever they go to school.  (Be assured, they have!)
  • Severe bossiness, a wish to micro-manage your child’s behavior, bedtime, reading, friendships, even more than is called for
  • Trouble separating
  • Tears, trouble sleeping, worries, especially in the middle of the night.”

I wish every parent and child had the experienced teacher, like Annie, backing them up, so that the Whoosh Zone does feel exhilarating. We want to be helping kids and families to feel in control — driving, not driven by the excitement of transitions and transfers of all kinds. It may be Kindergarten this year, but even long after life lived in the calendar of school is done, we face moments of heightened expectation and curious bumps and curves in the road. Our inner kindergartner may persist in our lives for quite a while … even when we become parents ourselves. The vantage point Annie provides, gaining a little altitude on what we’re feeling, helps us navigate. No matter what size shoes we wear, we’re working on balance, composure, and the temperament of maturity.

We can also slow it down a bit with something I call “anticipatory savoring” of events. “Think ahead to consider how you want to look back,” I used to tell my students, early in their final spring. “What kind of memories do you want to create for yourselves in the days and weeks ahead? Plan out those memories. Stock yourself with nice endings — before the fact.”  You can make your own list just by completing this line of thought: I’m looking forward to looking back on….what? And how do you wish to look back on it — with your kids?

Of course, beneath the surface of all the visible activities, there’s another, quieter adjustment taking place. Just when every child has grown into the shoe size of their current grade, and feels as if they fully inhabit, their current “gradeness,” the next grade, and bigger shoes, appears on the horizon. Small schools like ours, are good places to make beginnings and endings feel like smooth, whoosh-less transitions. And summer can be a good time to begin savoring next year.

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. Todd R. Nelson is head of school at The School in Rose Valley. 

 

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The Office finale might have been sad for some, but Gretchen Rubin set out to make it an enjoyable experience for her family. Pictured, the cast of "The Office," from left, Phyllis Smith as Phyllis Vance, Jenna Fischer as Pam Beesly Halpert, Jake Lacy as Pete, Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute, Ellie Kemper as Erin Hannon, right, in a scene from the series finale. (Associated Press/NBC)

The Office finale: How I made this sad moment a happy one for my family

By Guest Blogger / 05.17.13

My daughters and I are huge fans of the TV show, The Office (the American version). We have the DVDs, we’ve watched every episode several times, and they get funnier each time.

Now, admittedly, you may question the wisdom of allowing an eight-year-old to watch the show. But I always watch with her, and I skip through the inappropriate parts.

One thing that my happiness project has taught me is that my own frame of mind can significantly boost (or diminish) the amount of happiness I get from something.

Therefore, one of my aims has been to boost my feelings of pleasant expectancy–to make little things into real events, so that I can look forward to them and revel in them, instead of letting them pass by only half-noticed. With a little mindfulness, I can often re-frame activities to help myself anticipate them more.

So when I read that the finale of The Office would air on May 16, I first thought, “Oh, too bad, the show is over.” Then I thought–wait! This is an opportunity to make a really fun night for me and my family.

As I write about in The Happiness Project, there are four stages for enjoying a happy event, and I tried to exploit each on this occasion:

– anticipation (for weeks, we talked about the fact that the retrospective and finale were going to air soon)
– savoring (enjoying it in the moment – no multi-tasking while watching!)
– expression (sharing your pleasure with others – we all watched together)
– reflection (looking back on happy times – I took photos as mementos, also emailed them to my parents and sister, which is another form of “expression”)

Framing the event in this way turned a minor event into a real happiness opportunity for my family. It was fun, it was easy, and it made a difference.

Have you found that you’re able to dial up the happiness you get from something, by framing it differently?

P.S. Because I’m such a huge fan of The Office, one of my favorite happiness interviews is with the brilliant Mindy Kaling, a/k/a Kelly Kapoor.

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. Gretchen Rubin blogs at www.happiness-project.com

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