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Modern Parenthood

A 16-year-old chess player from Nigeria named Oghenakpobo Efekoro, known as 'Pobo,' came to Norfolk, Va. and demonstrated chess strategies to elementary school students. (Lisa Suhay)

One young chess player shows the power of parental support

By Lisa SuhayCorrespondent / 12.21.12

‘Tis the season to hear of wise men following a star, and it got me to thinking about how to raise children to be wise and to reach for the stars. A recent weekend visit with a young chess player from Brooklyn and his Nigerian-born mother brought home the reality that in life, as in chess, you need both a strategic plan and someone to have your back.

After interviewing 16-year-old Oghenakpobo Efekoro (known as Pobo), the young star of the chess documentary "Brooklyn Castle," for this blog, I realized how much families here in Norfolk, Virginia would gain by meeting him and his mother, Christina Inuware. (I’m the founder of a little volunteer group that provides free chess learn & play sessions in our community called The Norfolk Initiative for Chess Excellence.) His story as a first-generation American with Nigerian parents, losing his father at age four and going down a dark road that only a board game and parental support could remove him from, is powerful.

The hitch was that we had to pay the plane fares, room and board for Pobo and his mom. We don’t have grants. We have chess sets, kids and free bagels from Yorgos Bageldashery. Airlines have yet to adopt the bagel currency system, so we had a problem.

Armed with video clips of our local children at community centers, libraries and schools trying to better themselves through chess, I sent emails out and asked for sponsors to give this holiday gift to our city.

And we received – big time. The Sheraton Waterside Hotel pledged full accommodations, two Board of Education members generated every kind of educational backup we could imagine, including a whole school for a learn and play event after the film screening and Q&A with Pobo at the theater. And Will Smith, a devoted chess player, paid the air fare for both Pobo and his mother Christiana from the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation after I sent videos of our city’s children playing chess and made the case for how much more powerful the learning experience would be if Pobo were here to keep it real.
The Norfolk city manager funded movie tickets to all our Lambert's Point chess kids, while local businesses and residents chipped in to buy tickets for kids and their parents/guardians, teachers and mentors to see the film.
On Dec. 8, Pobo arrived at the Naro Cinema, where nearly all 500 seats were filled, and then went to Campostella Elementary School, a Title 1 school in a struggling section of the city, where he taught chess for hours. He gave them a role model of a sort they had never known – a young man, well over six feet one inch and built like a linebacker for the Giants, who speaks softly, laughs easily and can devastate a man of 40 in blitz chess on the clock that had them gasping and cheering like they were in the stands of the NFL on playoff day.
Seeing him and his mother together, the respectful give-and-take and how she, too, smiled easily and advised well showed where his strength came from.

We’re trying to renovate the old trolley train station in a very under-served section of town called Villa Heights to make a free chess and STEM center for kids, and the neighbors there decided to throw a farewell for Pobo and his mother. The head of the Civic League there presented Christina with a bouquet of flowers, saying, “We wanted to honor you for the way you have raised your son, because we all know how hard that is for a single parent and how much you had to do with his success.”
As I drove them to the airport for the flight home, Pobo said, “I’ve been to a lot of cities for this movie, but this was the first place where we saw an entire community just come together from all walks of life. This is what’s amazing and important. It’s about everyone coming together and when someone like Will and Jada Smith can reach out like that and just make it real for people... it’s something I’ll never forget in my lifetime.”

Digital search tools in the classroom are distracting, not aiding students from academics, according to 64 percent of teachers surveyed in a recent report by the Pew Internet Project. Here, a woman holds up an iPad after a news conference introducing a digital textbook service in New York. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

iPads and YouTube: Are digital tools in classrooms a student asset or distraction?

By Guest Blogger / 12.21.12

For a new report, the Pew Internet Project surveyed and held focus groups with more than 2,000 middle and high school teachers in the Advanced Placement (AP) and National Writing Project (NWP) communities and found that 77 percent feel “the Internet and digital search tools have had a ‘mostly positive’ impact on their students’ research habits, but 87 percent say these technologies are creating an ‘easily distracted generation with short attention spans’.”

Almost two-thirds of the teachers (64 percent) said today’s digital technologies ‘do more to distract students than to help them academically’.”

Many of the teachers surveyed are probably amazing educators – like the ones Matt Richtel of the New York Times interviewed for his coverage of the study: Hope Molina-Porter, who has taught for 14 years and cares enough about her students to adjust to changing conditions, and 4th-grade teacher Dave Mendell, who said “it was tougher to engage students, but that once they were engaged, they were just as able to solve problems and be creative as they had been in the past.”

But do stop and think about this data. Thankfully, Mr. Richtel did. High up in the article, he wrote that researchers pointed out their findings represent subjective views and that “scholars who study the role of media in society say no long-term studies have been done that adequately show how and if student attention span has changed because of the use of digital technology.”

But there’s so much more to think about, and I hope that, out of respect for our children, parents and educators will give this even more thought. Here are a few more things I think we need to think about, whether or not you agree with me….

So students are changing. Is this a bad thing? We’re all changing, and a lot of things around us are changing too, not just technology. 

As for technology, it’s apparently rewiring our brain. The thing is, it always has – since the beginning of time, at least since Socrates, who “started what may have been the first technology scare,” author Jonah Lehrer wrote in the New York Times, referring to the invention of the book.

And our brains are constantly being rewired by all kinds of things, not just technology. “Being online does change your brain, but so does making a cup of tea,” wrote University of Sheffield researcher Tom Stafford at

What hasn’t changed as much as us and our technology is school. So here’s a thought: How about adjusting teaching and school to our changing students, culture, workplace, and society instead of somehow dialing students back to the way our generation learned (in school)?

Do we really want to make our children conform to the way students used to be – to the way we used to be? I imagine a lot of adults do want that. But we adults were information consumers and memorizers. They are information hunter-gatherers (as media professor Henry Jenkins put it years ago) who don’t need to memorize anything (it’s all at their fingertips 24/7).

What they need more than anything is to learn how to filter that information, to glean what’s of value. Thankfully, the Pew study indicates teachers really get that part: “Overall, the vast majority of these teachers say a top priority in today’s classrooms should be teaching students how to ‘judge the quality of online information’,” but I hope not just online information!

What students will tell you is that a lot of the information presented at school doesn’t interest them.

Students may have been saying this for generations, but what’s different now is that they are awash in information that is of great interest to them outside of school, and it’s instantly accessible (except at school, if they haven’t gotten around the filtering with their cellphones).

We didn’t have that choice. We could dream about what we’d do in our futures, but today’s students can write code, publish an e-book, produce videos, develop a following, get professional coaching, teach guitar on YouTube, take a Web-based MIT class, collaborate on projects, join fellow activists, etc. – whenever they want. That has to make it even harder for them than it was for us to sit through Algebra 2.

Possible conflict of interest? Many teachers – particularly those focused on long-standing measures of academic performance (e.g., AP teachers) – are invested in the education status quo.

So I wonder about the value of polling people about something that threatens the status quo. To her credit, referring to the teachers surveyed, the Pew report’s lead author, Kristen Purcell, said “the label of distraction is a judgment of this generation,” Richtel reported, and “acknowledged that the findings could be viewed from another perspective: that the education system must adjust to better accommodate the way students learn,” which was brought up by some teachers in focus groups.

And media use is just “entertainment”?! I find this really disturbing and disrespectful of students. One teacher asks in the Times piece, “What’s going to happen when they don’t have constant entertainment?” That’s a question a lot of adults have, I know, but it’s based on the mistaken assumption that what media was to us when we were young is what today’s media is to our children. That’s simply not the case.

And yet a whole study – a second survey of educators the Times covers, by Common Sense Media, uses the term “entertainment media” throughout, and respondents were asked questions using that term rather than the more neutral term “media” or “digital media,” prejudicing responses.

For Finding No. 1, Common Sense reports, “When asked about a range of specific academic skills, teachers are much more likely to say entertainment media have hurt rather than helped those skills.”

Virtually all media were included in the study’s definition of the term – including apps, computer programs, social network sites, videos, and texting. Like you, probably, I use all of those in my work. Certainly sometimes for entertainment too, but how is it respectful to assume the same media that is a blend of work and play for adults is just entertainment for youth? A past much-publicized study of theirs represented children largely as media "consumers."

Some improvements actually cited. And credit goes to teachers who saw positive signs amid the “entertainment media” use.

The Times reported that “the surveys include some findings that appear contradictory. In the Common Sense report, for instance, some teachers said that even as they saw attention spans wane, students were improving in subjects like math, science and reading,” the Times reported.

So there we have plenty on teachers’ views. Clearly we need more research on students.’ I hope that’s in the works.

Related links

  • Another expert calling on schools to change: In, California State University psychology professor Larry Rosen wrote that “the new, realistic technologies and how they lead to a strong sense of ‘presence’ which can be used to engage young learners. It is not a coincidence that most children’s movies are being shown in 3-D. iGeners are the most technologically immersed generation and just watching the intense look on their faces as they play video games, text all day long, Skype, Facebook, watch YouTube videos, and juggle a dozen websites at a time, it is clear that they are engaged. Now, we need to rewire education to take the home iGen lifestyle and transfer it into the classroom.”
  • And in this blog post, teacher Ben Grey asks, “Why does there remain such a fascination with teaching kids very specific technology skills in our schools today?” That would be the new “shop class,” right, Ben?
  • “An open letter to tech-fearing teachers everywhere” indicates that some teachers have the misconception that they’re under pressure to teach students technology. That’s not it at all. Students use technology to discuss, present, collaborate on, summarize, do research for, get quizzed on what they’re learning, and that’s only a small sampler of tech’s uses in classrooms.
  • “WoWing Language Arts” in The Journal about the breadth of learning students are experiencing in World of Warcraft in school – learning folklore through literature (e.g., Beowulf), vocabulary, socialization, time management, leadership and digital literacy – facilitated by teacher Peggy Sheehy at Suffern Middle School in New York (she elaborates in a video on page 26 of the article).
  • The Australia-based Massively Minecraft Guild: “a learning community for kids and their parents [that's] exploring how to live, work and play in Minecraft,” a digital environment game where people individually or collaboratively use LEGO-like virtual blocks to build just about anything they can imagine. It can be either a creative or a survival game with monsters that come out at night. As of this writing, its makers say that “so far 42,098,3157 people have registered and 7,531,314 people bought the game,” with someone new registering about every second, apparently.
  • A collective of educators – “GAME” (for Gamers Advancing Meaningful Education) – talk about their work in a new series of Webinars on YouTube, “It Takes a Guild,” starting here. Part two of the series, with teacher Marianne Malmstrom in New Jersey, is here.
  • Minecraft in School – a video of students’ work from a class developed by instructional technology coordinator Lucas Gillispie and teacher Craig Lawson in North Carolina, who have been collaborating with teacher Peggy Sheehy in New York on creating spaces in Minecraft and World of Warcraft for students to experience both so-called formal learning and informal learning (including social literacy).

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 is editor of, a blog, RSS feed, and e-mail newsletter that focuses on "kid-tech news for parents.” 

Christmas parenting wisdom: A family focus on togetherness is what kids remember more than gobs of presents. Here, Jerry Gellert rocked his granddaughter, Josie Greenhow, to sleep at the Festival of Trees in Polk, Wisc. (West Bend Daily News/AP)

Christmas parenting wisdom: 'It's Jesus' birthday, not yours'

By Guest Blogger / 12.21.12

“It’s Jesus' birthday, not yours.”

That statement was once said gently by my Grandfather Ralph Kochenderfer and repeated for years by other family members. Ralph was a reserved and kind man, but he had his priorities straight. He never missed an event his four children took part in. And he would even let them play hooky on good fishing days: With a lunch of oatmeal cookies and cheese they would spend the day by the creek.

But Christmas traditions were different.

Grandfather was Pennsylvania Dutch with what seemed like a significant Amish streak. A dignified and honorable man he kept all the secrets of his little town in South Dakota. As the railroad depot agent he was the telegrapher in town in the 1920s and '30s, so he knew the contents of every message sent and received.

While he did not believe in the frenzy over gifts he enjoyed the celebration.

The depot waiting room was the largest site in town and every year was the location for wonderful holiday parties – food, music, and spirit provided by everyone in town.

I’m grateful that this simple statement became part of the family culture. While others scurry around purchasing for people close and not so close to them, most of us are decorating our homes or arranging little (or sometimes big) parties. There’s a lot of empty space under our tree, but our homes are filled with friends and festivities.

My husband and I started early with our own children not to expect volume. Our family event on Christmas Eve takes very little time for package opening with only a few small thoughtful gifts.

Now that our children are grown, we give them a little money to add to their savings for a special purchase. And there is sometimes a handmade gift card for a special activity for the family.

One year when they were younger we took them for dinner at a nice French restaurant. That experience was so special and memorable it has become a point of reference for them.

I just made reservations at the same restaurant and am certain the memory of the upcoming dinner will stay with them longer than anything they could unwrap from under the tree.

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. Susan DeMersseman blogs at Raising kids, gardens and awareness.

Danielle Gretsch, 5, plays computer games at Fresno County Central Library. (Mark Crosse/Fresno Bee/AP)

Kids online will now be protected by new federal guidelines

By Guest Blogger / 12.20.12

The US Federal Trade Commission’s revisions to the COPPA Rule announced Dec. 19 are aimed at syncing up a rule mandated by a 1998 law with today’s technology and with “the way children use the Internet, mobile devices and social networking,” the FTC says in its press release.

For example, the personal information that services cannot collect from children under 13 without parental consent now includes photos, videos and geolocation information; the FTC will have a “streamlined, voluntary and transparent” process for approval of new ways children’s sites can obtain parental consent; and the COPPA Rule now rules out the use of “persistent identifiers” like cookies that would allow businesses to send kids behavioral ads based on their online activities.

In addition to “personal information,” the FTC also updated a number of other terms. For example, “operator” now means a kids’ site or service that integrates third-party services “such as plug-ins or advertising networks” that collect personal information from its visitors – not app stores like Apple’s or Google Play that just offer children’s apps. So an “operator” like Facebook or Apple’s App Store “will only be responsible if they have ‘actual knowledge’ that an … app is not complying,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

Also, “collection of personal information” no longer includes information children themselves post as a form of participation in “interactive communities” (e.g. online games) – sites and services don’t have to obtain parental consent as long as they “take reasonable measures to delete all or virtually all children’s personal information before it is made public.”

Collaborative regulatory power needed

From that last point, you can see that sites and services will be struggling for some time to understand the exact meaning of some of these revisions and how they apply to the user-driven content on their services. Both the confusion and some of the updates could either chill innovation (by increasing startup costs) or help shutter small businesses serving children.

For example, in its coverage of the revisions, the Washington Post cited the view of a developer of children’s book apps. The developer “fears heavy legal costs that she estimates could be as high as $10,000 [because] she would like to collect information about children to personalize her app so that users can create logs and reading goals.”

This indicates confusion because the FTC states that “no parental notice and consent is required when an operator collects a persistent identifier for the sole purpose of supporting … internal operations.” Collecting information for the sole purpose of enhancing a user’s experience – by allowing them to create “reading goals” in a book app – would probably be seen by the FTC as perfectly compliant, as an “internal operation.”

So as I watched the new rule’s unveiling live-streamed from Capitol Hill, I noted two things:

  • The pressure on regulators to keep up with new media and technologies and…
  • A lack of understanding of how the “user-driven” aspect of new media and technologies changes the regulatory equation.

The former aggravates the latter. Until governments stop trying to apply regulation to the conditions of the former (mass) media environment, in which professionally produced media was published or broadcast to people who merely consumed it, they will not fully protect “consumers,” who are now producers and participants every bit as much as consumers and whose media is the content of their lives.

Under these conditions, self-regulation (personal as well as corporate) becomes as essential to “consumer” protection as the government kind, and regulatory power is increasingly distributed and shared among users, media companies, and government (see this in my post about the unintended consequences of COPPA last summer).

Regulation in today’s media environment is necessarily a collaboration, and effective consumer protection under these new conditions requires a lot more consumer education not only about the importance of self-regulation but also about not having a false sense of security about regulation!

Obtaining your consent

The new COPPA Rule will also change the ways you can give your consent to children’s sites and services. New methods include “electronic scans of signed parental consent forms; video-conferencing [sounds like you could have a Skype chat with a kids' Web site or app company]; use of government-issued identification [a scan of your driver's license, perhaps]; and alternative payment systems, such as debit cards and electronic payment systems, provided they meet certain criteria,” according to the FTC.

How do you feel about giving consent in these ways? 

The new rule goes into effect next July 1, CNN reports.

Related links

  • A study released late November from New York University found that COPPA has likely increased minors’ risk online – see this.
  • study released last year about how, despite COPPA, a large proportion of US parents of children under 13 help their kids set up accounts in social network sites
  • submitted a comment to the FTC about the proposed revisions this past September.
  • In 2010, a task force I co-chaired sent Congress our report “Youth Safety on a Living Internet” – here’s a post about why we chose that title.
  • A year before that, my co-director and I published a document entitled “Online Safety 3.0: Empowering and Protecting Youth,” explaining why youth agency (and not treating youth or adult users only as potential victims) is essential to their protection.

Anne Collier is editor of, a blog, RSS feed, and e-mail newsletter that focuses on "kid-tech news for parents.”

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.

Butter can be hard to find in Norway because it hasn't got enough cows and the government's protectionist policies make it hard to import enough to meet demands. (Courtesy of Saleha Mohsin)

Christmas without butter?! Norway's perpetually uncertain butter supply

By Guest Blogger / 12.20.12

I've spent my first year in Norway trying to figure out what's wrong with this country. The work-to-life balance is ideal, the health care is great, and parental benefits are extravagant. It sounds utopian. But a recent trip to the grocery store revealed the darker side of Norway: there aren't enough cows.

Let me start from the beginning. I was supposed to bake a lovely cardamom bread for a recent potluck last weekend but I couldn’t find any unsalted butter. I went to three grocery stores and checked again throughout the week with no luck. There was regular butter and margarine in varying degrees of healthiness but nothing that I could bake with.

And now I’m getting nervous because last year there was a major butter shortage in Norway and I wonder if it’s going to happen again.

A butter crisis? It is such a strange concept. There’s rarely a shortage of any kind in the US. You walk into a store and you’ll find everything in abundance: aisles of ketchup, 20-packs of baby bibs stacked ceiling high, a 40-pack of toilet rolls. There’s no such thing as running out of the basics and there’s no such thing as buying just one.

I didn’t tell anyone back home about the butter famine because I was embarrassed that I had just moved to a place that, however modern or wealthy it was, couldn’t provide me with something so basic. Swapping homemade butter techniques was a normal conversation here last year. I couldn’t hide it for long because Stephen Colbert got wind of the story.

Mr. Colbert says the crisis was the result of a popular low-carb diet but that was an excuse a local dairy company tried out on the angry public. Actually it was because Norwegian farmers don’t have enough cows to meet local demands for dairy products and because of the government’s draconian protectionist policies that limit importing.

So there it is, the fly in the ointment: an extreme case of protectionism.

Protectionist policies in Norway include high import tariffs, import quotas and millions of dollars in subsidies for domestic farmers as incentives to continue production despite the difficult geographic and climate conditions so close to the Arctic. These policies are supposed to protect local products and the jobs they bring to the economy.

For example, to protect Norwegian cheese producers the government recently increased import taxes on foreign cheese by 277 percent. I guess I’ll be buying homegrown cheddar.

But perhaps Norway has taken it too far. In the case of butter, the government was naively trying to rely only on its own farmers, whose cows have more snow than grass to graze on. It could easily get it from neighboring Denmark (a major exporter of butter) but Norway’s trade barriers not only make that difficult, but they also raise the price of domestic products. So what does everyone do? During the butter crisis last year they did some crazy things – like buying butter in online auctions for four times the price.

Besides that Norwegians do what they call a harry tur, or “trash trip,” to Sweden for cheaper groceries. The two countries share a border yet Sweden’s more relaxed business environment means that items are generally 40 percent cheaper. A growing trend amongst my budget-smart friends in Oslo is to make the one hour and 40 minute drive to a shopping center in Strömstad, Sweden. Last year Norwegians spent 11.5 billion kroner ($2 billion) on the other side of the border, according to Statistics Norway.  

Clearly, locals aren’t happy with some of the drawbacks of protectionism.

My post, Norway’s dirty secret, provoked an insightful discussion in the comments section about socialism in Norway and I hope that conversation continues. Of course there are downsides to living here but they pale in comparison to the benefits. I don’t mind finding things out of stock from time to time (even if the reason is absurd), if it helps keep unemployment at 3 percent.

I’d still like my own cow though.

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.

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American parenting is viewed by many parents as harder now than it was 50 years ago, according to a report released this month by University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. (John Overmyer/

American parenting: My family is OK, yours is not

By / 12.19.12

Even before the heartbreaking shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, American parents were anxious about child rearing. 

According to a report that came out earlier this month from the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, less than a quarter of US moms and dads believe this is a  great time to be bringing children into the world, and most say it is tougher to raise children today than it was 50 years ago. Fewer than 1 parent in 10 thinks the quality of American family life has improved since they were growing up.

RELATED: America's 4 family cultures – what's yours?

But in a twist, researchers found that most parents in the U.S. think their own kids and family are doing just fine, thanks. It’s the other families out there that are the problem.

“Given the chorus of cries from all quarters about family crisis, families in decline, the pernicious effects of technology, and the increasingly tenuous nature of contemporary family arrangements, there was really only one thing we did not expect to unearth in our investigation: That parents actually think their families are doing well,” researchers wrote.  

Better than well, actually. 

Based upon parents’ responses in the project (a national sample that was surveyed with rigorous academic standards, according to the researchers), only 1 out of every 20 American school children consumes alcohol. Even limiting the analysis to teenagers, parent answers suggest only 1 in 10 kids ever drink.  (Compare this to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 72 percent of all high school students have tried alcohol.) 

More than 7 in 10 parents report that none of their children are overweight.  And according to parents, 72 percent of American teenagers have “definitely not” had sex, while more than a third of the country’s school children are A students, while another 49 percent are either A/B or B students. Ninety-three percent of children have never been suspended, and two-thirds have received an award or certificate for outstanding performance in school, sports, music or the arts. 

Now, this last tidbit might be close to accurate.  We wouldn’t be the first ones to point out the “trophies for everyone” trend has pretty well taken over our child rearing culture. 

But for most of these statistics, there is a clear disconnect between parent perception and what researchers say is an accurate picture of child achievement.  

Carl Desportes Bowman, the director of survey research at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture and the lead author of the family culture report, said he suspected the parents’ rosy view of their own families has to do with another national trend: one toward not just close families, but families where parents hope to be “friends” with their children. 

Nearly half of American parents put themselves on the “closest” end of a numerical scale that evaluated how close they were with their children; seven out of 10 American parents say “I hope to be best friends with my children when they are grown.” 

“There is so much emphasis on being close to your kids that it plays tricks with personal identity,” Bowman says.  

Now, some parents here might ask: what’s the problem with that?  Why not look at your kid in glowing terms? The researchers don’t confront this exactly head-on.  And sure, some less-than-objective love for your kid is natural.

 The issue, perhaps, is that when there is a wide-spread, culturally inflated view of one’s own family, everyone else's starts to look lousy in comparison. And this can’t be helpful for a society that, as this report showed, is quite divided about the moral questions of parenting, families and what values children should internalize. 

So next time - think a little closer about whether Johnny is really a straight A student who would never drink or have sex or text and drive.  A realistic view won’t make you a worse parent; it will just give you the empathy to deal with these issues on a macro level.

Rescue dog Albie catches a little shut-eye while his owners slip deeper into the "parenting" role, calling themselves "Mommy" and "Daddy" despite their vows not to. (Courtesy of the Zheutlin family )

Rescue dog: Is a dog owner by any other name still a mom or dad?

By Correspondent / 12.19.12

As a child in the late 1950s and 1960s, my brother and I always addressed our parent’s friends as “Mr.” and “Mrs.,” and our friends always referred to my parents as “Dr.” and “Mrs.,” though it was generally abbreviated to “Dr. Z” and “Mrs. Z.” A few especially close family friends we called “Aunt” and “Uncle,” but first names alone were never used. And so it was with all the adults in our lives: teachers, doctors, and acquaintances. It was one way of showing respect for our elders.

Sometime  in social upheaval of the late '60s, a few adults, even some teachers (or college professors) – the “cool” ones – said, “call me John,” or “Mary.” It was a bit unsettling and felt unnatural if you’d grown up addressing people older than yourself with more formality. As I became an adult, and my parent’s friends aged, it became easier and soon very natural to use first names. After all, we were all grown-ups now.

Almost all of our sons’ friends address us formally, though a handful use our first names, and oddly both seem natural for the individuals involved. I’m not sure how the different usages evolved and there’s no apparent pattern to it, but it would still sound odd to hear myself addressed by my first name by those who have been more formal, and vice versa. You just get used to the way things are.

When we brought Albie, our half golden retriever, half yellow Lab, into our home I didn’t think this would be an issue because, after all, he can’t talk. He’s smart, but he’s not that smart. But the issue wasn’t what he would call us, but how we would describe ourselves in reference to him. I always found it peculiar, even off-putting, to hear dog owners (if “owner” is really the right term) refer to themselves as “Mommy” and “Daddy” or variations thereof when talking to their dogs, as in “Daddy is going to take you for a walk now,” or “Mommy loves you, yes she does!” Good grief, people, these are dogs not children!

But I soon realized that I needed a comfortable way to refer to myself when talking to him and even more to the point, a natural way to refer to my wife Judy. I swore we’d never be Mommy and Daddy to Albie, and so, when Albie first came home I was referring to Judy as, well, Judy because that’s her name.

“Judy’s going to take you for a walk, Albie!” I’d say. But it didn’t sound quite right. Judy would be right if Albie were a friend, the kind you meet for lunch or a movie, but he’s something else. Then our dog-owner friends would arrive and refer to us as “Mommy” and “Daddy” when talking to Albie. It seemed inevitable.

The fact is, having a dog is, in certain respects, like being the mother or father to a young child: The creature is totally dependent on you for food, water, affection and a proper place to execute vital bodily functions, and leaving them home when you go out invites the same guilt pangs you got when the kids stared out the window, babysitter behind them, looking doleful as you got in the car and drove away. That’s why “Judy” and “Peter” didn’t sound right. It seemed too much like the groovy English professor from 1970 who insisted students call him by his first name, the one who might show up at your dorm party with a joint or a beer which seemed kind of cool then but seems creepy in retrospect. Still, I’m not sold on “Mommy” and “Daddy.”

So, for now, the question remains unsettled as I continue to weigh the options. Maybe we should just go with Captain and Tennille.

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.

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Talking through trauma with your child is a difficult process, we've tried to make it a little easier by pinpointing a few resources to help guide you. (John Overmyer)

5 tips for talking with children about violence

By Correspondent / 12.18.12

Much has already been written about last week’s heartbreaking elementary school killings in Newtown, Conn.  But rather than add to the words now, at a time when it seems that space for peace and personal reflection is perhaps most appropriate, we thought we would simply share a few of the resources we’ve found online for those who are struggling. 

1. The American Academy of Pediatrics has assembled on its website a series of tip sheets for parents and teachers, students and schools. These include everything from talking with your teen about violence to tips for school administrators to identify mental health risks. It also has links to a number of policy statements.    

2. The National Association of School Psychologists have also compiled resources for talking with children about the shootings, and about violence in general. Its documents emphasize reassuring children that they are safe, making time to talk with children and keeping explanations developmentally appropriate. 

3. Although many experts recommend that parents turn off the television and try to shield their children from the non-stop news about the shootings, it’s nearly impossible in the Internet era to create a media-free bubble. Common Sense Media has information about how to help children put news in perspective, with tips specific for various age groups.  “No matter how old your kid is, threatening or upsetting news can affect them emotionally,” their website explains.  See more advice here:

4. Sesame Street has a fantastic and practical pamphlet for talking to young children about emergencies. Much of the advice – from taking care of oneself to inspiring a sense of hope in children – is applicable in the aftermath of Friday’s shootings. Here is a link to the pdf:  

5. The American Psychological Association has information on “helping your children manage distress in the aftermath of a shooting.”  Here is the link:

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With holiday tipping, etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore says it's important to remember those that make your life easier such as day care instructors. Here, children eat lunch at the Kiddie Korner day care center in New Haven, Conn. (Melanie Stetson Freeman)

Holiday tipping: Don’t forget those who help your family function

By Staff Writer / 12.18.12

We know you made out your holiday shopping list in October, including everyone from your sister-in-law to the Secret Santa gift for work.

But we’re pretty sure you’re forgetting someone. Remember the newspaper delivery person? And your child’s day care teacher? And your dog groomer? You didn’t grab a sweater for them at Target, did you?

Holiday tipping season is upon us, a potentially complicated social negotiation that can take the cheer right out of the season. It’s usually a time to show appreciation for people who give you services all year long – but exactly whom to give to and how much to give can add extra weight to the simple idea of being thoughful. How little can you give without offending? How much to can you give seeming overly generous? Who is it imperative to remember? And if your holiday resources are shrinking, who can you – gulp – take off the tipping list?

Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of and author of "Poised for Success," says to focus on those who make your life run more smoothly from day to day such as day care instructors, hair stylists, those who work to take care of your pet and exercise class teachers.

“These are the people that make your life easier,” Ms. Whitmore says.

She says to plan ahead of time to make sure you’re not forgetting anyone who you want to make sure to thank. Doing so can also help you ensure you’re not going beyond your budget.

“You have to pick,” Whitmore sAYS. “I make a priority list ahead of time.”

For the teachers who watch over your little ones while you’re at work, Whitmore saYS some parents may be inclined to have children make something or pick out a gift at the mall, but this may come with pitfalls. She said she wrote an article once in which she instructed parents to have kids create the gifts and got less-than-happy responses.

“Two teachers wrote me back, very upset, saying 'We have too many tchotchkes, we'd rather have cash,’” Whitmore remembered.

You can always work with the other parents in the group to write out a card and pool funds for a gift – Whitmore recommends between $50 and $75 altogether. If it’s just you doing the giving and you feel uncomfortable about handing over a wad of cash, try a gift card to a local restaurant or spa.

And if you’re going to the hairstylist on the corner to get the kids looking groomed for Christmas dinner, add a little extra to that tip, especially if you’re a regular customer there. Whitmore, the daughter of a hairdresser, says tipping 20 percent is always essential, but more is best during the holiday season. 

“These people also appreciate cash,” she said. “They rely on their tips to pay their bills.” 

For a pet groomer or dog walker, it’s also good to thank them for looking after your furry friend with such care. The Emily Post Institute suggests the price of a session as a tip for groomers, or a present, and the price of one week’s work, or a gift, for walkers.

For money-strapped parents, Whitmore says these are the priority people to focus on. But if you’re able, workers in your life such as the newspaper delivery person or the mail person also appreciate little extras. But be careful with postal workers: per US Postal Service rules, you can’t give workers money, and gifts have to be worth $20 or less. Something small, like cookies, is always appreciated, says Whitmore.

“I usually greet them or leave the gift in the mailbox,” she says of delivering items.

Looking to thank others in your life? If a nurse or health care professional often visits your elderly parent and you’ve formed a relationship with them, a gift is certainly a nice idea – just check with their company to make sure it’s allowed. The Emily Post Institute recommends a present from you, not cash, if it is. A small gift or cash, between $10 and $30, is good for the person who delivers your newspaper every day, says the Institute.

And if you’re a city dweller and want to thank those who handle emergencies and keep you safe in your apartment, try cash or a gift for your superintendent (the Emily Post Institute recommends between $20 and $80) and your doorman (between $15 and $80).

Overall, it’s about not going beyond your budget and honoring those who help you all year long, says Whitmore.

“The people who take care of you and your family should be at the top of your list,” she says.

Teaching kids healthy food habits is what inspired the Mia & Grace restaurant lunch program. Here, restaurateur Jamie Paquin in Muskegon, Mich., makes healthy lunches for teachers and students of Winter Sun Schoolhouse attending Reeths-Puffer's Pennsylvania Elementary School, Sept. 24, 2012. (Ken Stevens/The Muskegon Chronicle/AP)

Holiday feasts: A time for families to talk about reducing food waste

By Guest Blogger / 12.18.12

Families are finalizing plans for December holiday celebrations, even as kids are scraping the very bottom of their Halloween candy buckets and last month’s Thanksgiving turkey has roosted on parents’ backsides. And this is only the beginning.

The month of December is often a blur of latke platters, Christmas cookies, and endless feasting. While many families stuff themselves until they cannot eat another bite, others struggle to put food on the table.

While the disparities of those with excess and those in need becomes more pronounced during the holidays, the problems of hunger and waste are systemic and persist throughout the year.

On average, American families throw away a quarter of the food they purchase, 50 percent more than their 1970’s counterparts. For a family of four, that can mean that $2,000 worth of food ends up in the trash every year.

According to a recent study from the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) , 40 percent of food produced in America never makes it to the table. At the same time, 47 million Americans depend on government assistance to put food on the table, according to August data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As the NRDC report points out, agriculture and food production are resource-intensive enterprises, taking up half of all US land, accounting for 80 percent of the nation’s freshwater consumption, and representing 10 percent of the country’s entire energy budget.

Food lost at the consumer level represents an even greater waste of energy resources because it has been through all the links of the food chain from field, to processing facility, to truck, to store, to family minivan, burning through fossil fuels at every step of the way.

Families interested in reducing their waste stream can examine their shopping, cooking, and eating habits. Some families purchase more than they can eat and it spoils before cooking. Others pile too much food on their plates and scrape leftovers down the garbage disposal. Most families likely fall into both categories.

Once families start to pay attention when they waste food, they can make small changes in their habits that can lead to less waste in the trashcan and more money in the bank.

Getting kids on board, however, can take some careful planning.

With produce racks overflowing with food, and grocery aisles filled with disposable versions of pretty much all household goods, it can be difficult for kids to comprehend the value of food.

By starting a discussion about waste, parents can help to place value on food and start to provide some context for understanding hunger.

Many parents remember staying behind at their childhood dinner table until they had cleaned their plates because, “there are children starving in China that would be glad to eat that food.”

Today, parents are more likely to encourage children to listen to their bodies and avoid overeating. That’s an important message, especially in the midst of the current obesity epidemic. However, on its own, it can inadvertently promote food waste.

Parents can encourage children to start with smaller servings and assure them that if they want more they can come back for more. Some parents may find it useful to resurrect the clean plate rule, but with the message that kids should eat what they take, rather than eat everything parents serve up.

Taking the kids to hand out bowls at a soup kitchen or deliver food to a food pantry can help give the idea of hunger some context.

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.

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