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Game developer Square Enix was pressured to take down its ad campaign that encouraged players to send death threats to friends on Facebook. Pictured here is a scene from 'Hitman: Absolution' (Square Enix/AP)

Square Enix ads pushing Facebook "hits" is nixed as cyberbullying

By Guest Blogger / 12.18.12

This was good to see: What looked like a truly anti-social media company, game developer Square Enix saw irresponsibility for what it was and quickly reversed a stupid marketing decision. I’d like to take it as a sign that – in this very social media environment where users are co-producers with the providers of their media experiences – media companies and users alike will be increasingly wise to the power that users have just by the nature of social media.

My definition of an anti-social media company is one that fails to treat its users as partners in the social experiences they’re co-creating with it.

But I wonder how sustainable such a company's practices are, because of the transparency and user-driven nature of social media, and what those say about where control ultimately lies (something users haven't completely wakened up to yet) – more on that here.

Anyway, the decision Square Enix decided to reverse was to advertise its game "Hitman: Absolution" with a campaign that started with an e-mail which “literally [said] ‘Square Enix Wants You to Put a Hit on Your Friends!’,” reported Geekdad at Wired. The e-mail instructed players to go to Facebook and use an app that would help them insult and send death threats ostensibly to other players. Only one of the problems with that is that non-players and people who’d never heard of this videogame could’ve gotten those cruel messages.

Maybe some of us get the sort of dark reverse psychology that cruel in-game behavior on display outside the game pulls some people into the “fold,” but non-gamers don’t. And many younger recipients of such messages would likely be non-gamers, since the game’s about as “M” as an M-rated game could be (M for “Mature” because of the gore, violence, sexuality and substance abuse it depicts, according to the game raters at ESRB). Maybe Square Enix  got that the timing, with online and offline bullying of high concern in our society, was really bad.

Maybe the company even got that a lot of people (e.g., those who hadn’t heard of the game) could get hurt, but I hope it even got that the campaign was modeling as well as enabling social aggression.

“The defense of this, if there is any,” writes GeekDad Curtis Silver, who said he’d enjoyed other games in the Hitman franchise but wasn’t going to buy this one because of the campaign, “is that gamers tag each other with dirty jokes and insults all the time, so it must be okay to send such an insult through Facebook. But what if you send it to someone who doesn’t play video games? Is it still just for laughs?”

This is great material for helping kids understand context and perspective – to think about how someone broadsided with a cruel inside “joke” might feel and what they might do to help. It’s also a good reason for gamers to talk about what they think of the in-game chat they participate in and whether – if they don’t actually enjoy it much or don’t feel it’s appropriate – they could think of something to do about that when playing games.

Talking about the abortive ad campaign is also an opportunity to learn from gamers in our lives about whether in-game chat changes from game to game or how playing different games makes them feel. And of course it’s an opportunity to talk about marketers’ tactics. For example, Mr. Silver writes that ad agencies serving game companies “sometimes dig deep in their pockets to create campaigns that transcend traditional advertising; they immerse the subject in advertising that asks you to play along.” Good to know. And great fodder for thinking out loud together about whether success can ever come from immersing people in or promoting social cruelty.

Related links

  • But there’s also a lot of good society – and even safety and youth advocates – can learn from game designers. Some examples here.
  • …and lots parents can learn from playing with their kids or observing their kids’ play – see: “Why kids love videogames and what parents can do about it.
  • However, as I wrote above and a while back, I believe that, due to the nature of the medium, it’s only logical that pro-social media companies will prosper more in the long term, as more and more of their co-producers wake up to their powers, and I think this is logic, not idealism. Exploitation of educated consumers is getting harder, which certainly puts greater and greater onus on education. I’d be interested in your thoughts.

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

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Sandy Hook put us all in uncharted territory. And in our fast paced, Wikipedia world we want to make sense of the senseless now. Well, we can’t. But there are some things we can do. Beginning with ourselves. (Illustration by Barrie Maguire)

Sandy Hook shooting: Parenting common sense and solace

By Guest Blogger / 12.17.12

Most parents are very good at comforting their children. They look under beds and in closets to prove no monsters are lurking. They dry tears, hug and hold on, because they know instinctively that the words they say are never as important as the acts of kindness parents perform on a daily hourly, moment-by-moment basis. That's why they became parents, because parenting equals love. And most of the time our children's fears aren't our own. So we can handle them calmly and rationally.  We say, "See you in the morning light," and mean it. 

But the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. last Friday are unprecedented and unimaginable. Although there have been acts of violence before at schools, the magnitude of the shootings at Sandy Hook put us all in uncharted territory. And in our fast paced, Wikipedia world we want to make sense of the senseless now.  Well, we can’t.  But there are some things we can do. Beginning with ourselves.
 
1.  We can act like the brave teacher at Sandy Hook, who hid all her students in a closet, telling them everything was going to be alright, even though she didn’t think it would be. She kept them calm by maintaining order, by telling them to smile, by telling them she loved them. What she did was powerful, and those children not only survived because of her, they also walked out of that closet with at least a small amount of equilibrium. And comfort.
 
2.  We can listen to the news reports in small amounts. It’s normal and necessary to know what’s going on in our world, but not to get hooked on every sound bite, some of which are often wrong. Now more than ever we need to monitor our children’s screen time.  We may even want to unplug for a few days.

3.  We can talk to our children about the other acts of courage and kindness that transpired at Sandy Hook. The custodian who warned the teachers and children, the first responders who got the other children out and told them to hold on to each other and keep their eyes closed. We can help them to focus on the good that transpired that day, not the horrible.
 
4.  We can realize that the quick fix fixes nothing. That we need to hit re-send, over and over again, in our prayers for ourselves and others. Yes prayers, even atheists can pray, because by prayer I mean thinking thoughts of love and kindness about the people of Newtown. And that’s exactly what I mean.

5.  Finally, a practical suggestion: The tragedy occurred on Dec. 14.  Two months later will be Valentine's Day.  What if your family sent a Valentine card, to Sandy Hook Elementary School, or the town of Newtown?  Just a card signed by you and your kids that says, "We love you and we’re still grieving your loss. We’re thinking of you, we’re keeping you in our prayers." The words won’t really matter. It’s the thought, the act, the love, that counts.

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Megan Fox announces nominations for the 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards, Dec. 13, 2012, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Megan Fox, apps spying on our kids, and more: Our parenting news roundup

By Correspondent / 12.14.12

It’s Friday, and time for our parenting news roundup.

First up this week: the television and you. (Or the television and your kid.)

Yup, still a bad idea...
We know, we know, you’ve heard all the dire warnings about “screen time.” It stunts your child’s intellectual development, makes her hyper, makes her tired, and generally is a bad idea. Despite the fact that kids are interacting with screens more than ever before.

Well, here’s yet another news item to keep in mind next time you’re tempted to shut the toddler in his room with the television babysitter. (And it’s not that we don’t understand the temptation, we assure you.) A study this week published in the “American Journal of Preventive Medicine” finds that not only do children with televisions in their rooms watch more TV, which in turn tends to make them fatter, the screen time logged in a child’s bedroom seems to actually make kids heavier than television watched in, say, the family room. 

In other words, if there are two children with about the same diet and level of physical activity, the one with a television in his room will have more health risks than the one who watches television in other areas of the house. 

Now, study researchers can’t say exactly why this is; whether it’s the television in the bedroom or other factors. But we’re thinking the take away is pretty clear. No television for Junior behind the bedroom door. 

Of course, this news comes a bit too late for most families. Studies show that in 70 percent of American households, children aged 8 to 18 already have a TV in their bedrooms.

And while we’re talking screen time...   
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) came out with a report this week showing that hundreds of the most popular children’s educational and gaming apps still fail to explain to parents what sorts of information is being collected about the youngsters who use them. Nearly 60 percent of the 400 apps the commission surveyed transmit information about the user – info that can include the user’s phone number or precise location –  back to the developer or to an advertising network, analytics company or other third party, the FTC found. But only 20 percent disclosed their data collection practices.

Somewhat creepy, no?

Meanwhile, 58 percent of the apps contained advertising. (Only 15 percent disclosed that prior to download.) Children’s advocates say reforms are needed.

She was blow drying her hair?
Because it’s Friday, I am indulging in a little celeb mommy news here. This past week we got some of the first reports from new mom Megan Fox about what it’s like to become a parent. (Review: the 'Transformers' actress gave birth to her first child, Noah, with husband Brian Austin Green, in September.) 

A lot of it is the normal stuff: It’s hard to describe how much love you can have for a new little munchkin. It’s hard to describe how completely, totally exhausted you are.

And it’s hard to try to blow dry your hair when you are in the midst of excruciating labor pains.

That’s right, the one-time Maxim Sexiest Woman Alive says that she wanted to look her best when she went to the hospital.

"I had wet hair, so I was trying to blow dry my hair before I went to the hospital," she told US Magazine. "I didn't want to go to the hospital with wet hair!"

I guess I’ll say I’m impressed. Or something. (I don’t blow dry my hair on a good day.)

Happy Friday, everyone.

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President Obama and First Lady Michelle discuss their marriage and two daughters in an exclusive interview with Barbara Walters, airing tonight on ABC stations.

Obama parenting: Michelle and Barack talk Scrabble and kids (+video)

By Monitor Staff / 12.14.12

The First Mom Michele Obama gets irritated when the president plays too much Scrabble on his iPad – and it annoys her when he wins; she also watches daughter Malia like a hawk now that she has her first cellphone.

RELATED: America's 4 parenting cultures

All this normalness is on display tonight as President Obama and Mrs. Obama are interviewed by Barbara Walters  tonight on "20/20"  on ABC stations.

Tipping televisions are causing increasing injuries and deaths of children in the US – particularly kids from ages 1 to 4 who do a lot of furniture climbing, says the Centers for Disease Control. (The Greeley Tribune/AP)

Tipping television: a growing American child safety hazard

By Correspondent / 12.14.12

When I lived in South Africa in the late 2000s, I heard a lot of worries about the growing collection of health problems people were noticing among children, who, as a group, were becoming increasingly overweight.

They had a name for this phenomenon. It was called “The American Disease.”

I couldn’t help thinking about that today as I read about another, new, American public health concern: Death, literally, by television. 

Although the number of children killed by unintentional injury – the No. 1 cause of death for American kids ages 1 to 19 – fell by nearly 30 percent over the past decade, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a record number of American kids in 2011 were killed by falling televisions.

In a report released this week, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission said that 29 children in the US were killed by falling televisions in 2011, while 12 more were killed by tipping furniture and other appliances.

Now, that might still seem low, compared with the 436 children aged 1 to 4 who were killed by drowning, or the nearly 1,200 children aged 1 to 14 who died in traffic accidents (these are 2010 numbers from the CDC). But it's a big jump from 2000, when 7 children were killed by falling TVs.  And when you look at injuries overall, the numbers get more intense: Overall, some 43,200 people, on average, are injured each year by televisions, furniture, and other appliances; children experienced the most injuries (13,800) with televisions.

Most of those kids are between the ages of 1 and 4. And one of the most common explanations for the tip-overs is “climbing.”

But it’s not that toddlers have suddenly become more interested in climbing, public health officials said.  It’s that we have more televisions. And, in particular, flat screen televisions.

According to the 2010 Gadget Census from Retrovo, a consumer electronic review website, there are more televisions in America these days than people, with 1.16 televisions per capita. More than 70 percent of US households have a flat screen model, which tips far more easily than the big, boxy versions of years past. 

Many of these flat screen televisions are on when nobody is actively watching. They are also in rooms that no adult is monitoring – including children’s bedrooms. (Studies have found that 70 percent of kids between 8 and 18 have a television in their own room.)

So the solution, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says, is for adults to make sure heavy furniture items and televisions are well anchored and bracketed to walls.  Keep them from falling, and you automatically reduce the injury risk.

Which seems sensible. (I have already sent my panicked e-mail to Husband about our need to bracket various household items.)

But it’s kind of hard not to wonder about the larger issue, too. I mean, it seems that we should take a hard look at this new American hazard. Our stuff is harming us. Literally. 

I wonder what my former neighbors would think about this one.

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Lauren Hancock, and her husband, Stephen, from Richardson, Tex., laugh together during a reception for the consummation of the adoption of their daughter, Anna Claire, at Christian Homes & Family Services, in Abilene, Tex., Dec. 12, 2012. (Tommy Metthe/The Abilene Reporter-News/AP)

Web transforms adoption: Closed adoption over, commodification in

By Correspondent / 12.13.12

The Internet has all but nailed shut the era of the closed adoption, says a new report from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, “Untangling the Web: The Internet’s Transformative Impact on Adoption.” With social media sites such as Facebook – not to mention all varieties of online databases and archives – interaction between an adopted child and his or her birth parents can come more quickly, privately, and unexpectedly than ever before.

Meanwhile, the report says, unregulated websites are increasingly competing with traditional adoption practitioners, a trend that has created a growing “commodification” of adoption and “a shift away from the perspective that its primary purpose is to find families for children.”

And at the same time, tens of millions of people across the globe are tapping into the Internet to find support for any number of adoption-related concerns or interests. These can range from grappling with the decision of whether to put a child up for adoption in the first place to struggling to raise a child with special needs to figuring out the best way to host Christmas brunch for a kid’s parents, her biological parents, and her siblings who are being raised by someone else all together. 

Overall, the Internet’s impact on adoption has been massive. It has also, this report says, been essentially unstudied – and unregulated. 

I called up Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, to ask him more about all of this, and about why his organization decided to take such a broad look at the big picture of the Internet and adoption.

The basic answer, he said, was that nobody else had done it.

Although the Internet was clearly impacting nearly every facet of adoption, and the millions of people across the world whose lives are touched by the practice, there are few if any macro studies, he explained. There haven’t been policy recommendations, white papers, legal adjustments, educational programs – any of those responses that you might expect from a field in transition.

“We haven’t begun to wrap our arms around what the Internet means in this realm,” he told me.  “Sure, everybody in every field understands that the Internet is having a transformative impact. We know that. That’s not the shocker. But in many other fields there is research – people are discussing what the rules should be, whether [the field is] pornography or taxes or book sales. That isn’t happening [with adoption]. And this affects tens of millions of people – deeply vulnerable people – in their deeply personal lives.” [Editor's note: Mr. Pertman's original quote was revised, at his request, to clarify that "many," not all, are deeply vulnerable people.]

So this report is intentionally broad, Mr. Pertman said. It has some general recommendation for policy makers and those working in the adoption field (it suggests convening to explore these Internet-prompted issues further and developing new guidelines and educational standards) but it primarily set out to show the scope of the changes.

“We have to see what the elephant looks like,” he says.

The next step, he says, will be digging deeper into particular facets of the Internet-adoption realm.

Take the issue of search and reunion.

The trend over the past few decades has been toward open adoptions, those arrangements where there is some level of supervised contact between children and their biological parents. (A recent survey by the Adoption Institute found that through 100 infant adoption programs in the US, only 5 percent of the adoptions were completely closed.) But the Internet has basically taken control away from adoptive parents, child welfare agencies or any other parties who want to regulate these interactions. 

Within a few clicks a web-savvy child can find a birth parent. Or, more scarily, an abusive biological parent can find their child.

“Parents need to be guided to discuss how to manage electronic communication long before their children are old enough to reach out or become found,” the report says. 

Adoptive parents should be prepared for this sort of contact, as well.

“The list of positive, negative and complicated changes occurring in the world of adoption as a result of the Internet goes on and on, with many already in place and others still evolving,” the report says. “The common denominator among them is that they are not best practices derived from lessons learned from research and experience; rather, overwhelmingly, they are transformations that are happening simply because new technology enables them to happen.”

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'Sesame Street' launched an episode dealing with divorce this week for the first time in the show's 40 year history. Here, Abby Cadabby explains why her parents live in two different houses. (Sesame Street)

'Sesame Street' tackles the big 'D,' Divorce (+video)

By Correspondent / 12.12.12

For the first time on Sesame Street, "D" is for Divorce.

Two decades after the show’s producers created and then scrapped a segment about Snuffy’s parents splitting up, we learned on the Sesame Street website yesterday that Abby Cadabby, that bubbly pink fairy-in-training, has not one but two houses – one where she lives with her mommy, and one where she stays with her daddy.

She explains the situation to a bewildered Elmo and Rosalita. Abby’s friend Birdie – whose parents, we learn, are also divorced – also swoops down from a nearby fire escape to join in. (And to help start off the peppy and confident song that has the refrain: “They live in different places but they both love me.” Which, I have to admit, is pretty darn catchy. Nothing like humming that one over coffee to get some strange looks from Husband.)

Anyhow, Abby’s situation is part of the Sesame Street multimedia package, “Little Children, Big Challenges,” which was created to tackle everything from bedtime blues to bullying, from making new friends to having a parent incarcerated.  This particular project is to give “much-needed resources” for divorcing families with young children, aged 2 to 8, the show says.

“Each year about 1.5 million children confront the divorce of their parents, a transition that can be challenging for the entire family, especially young children,” said a press release put out by the Sesame Street Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind the show. “While 40 percent of families experiencing this, there are few resources to show children they are not the only ones with big questions and feelings about divorce.”

Which kind of makes one wonder – has Sesame Street avoided this topic for 40 years? "R" is for ... Really? After all, this is the kids show that has tackled everything from race, adoption, and pregnancy to death and natural disasters.

(After Hurricane Sandy, producers re-edited a series from the early 2000s that showed Big Bird coping with a storm that had destroyed his nest and damaged his neighborhood.) 

Well, as it turns out, the show’s producers did try to put together a segment on divorce in 1992. It just didn’t work.

In an article earlier this week, Time magazine and Tumblr Storyboard tell how, after a US Census report showed that nearly 40 percent of the country’s children would soon live in divorced homes, Sesame Street’s best writers, researchers and producers got together to design a script where Snuffy – aka Mr. Snuffleupagus – confides to Big Bird that his dad is moving out of his family’s cave. 

The creators took the normal Sesame Street approach: Gordon explained why divorce happens, everyone assures Snuffy (and viewers) that his parents still love him very much, the characters talk and sing about how Snuffy will have good homes, and so on and so on.

But when producers tested the segment on a group of preschoolers, it bombed.

The kids were in tears. They thought nobody loved Snuffy. They worried their own parents were going to get divorced.

“It was really the first time we’d produced something, put all this money into it, tested it, and it just didn’t work,” Tumblr Storyboard quoted Sesame Street researcher Susan Scheiner as saying.

And so the show avoided the concept – until this week.

(Now, maybe I'm just a kid of the '80s, a member of what has been called the divorce generation. But isn't this ... I don't know ... amazing? Even even now, Sesame Street divorce won’t come into parent's living room unexpectedly. It is only online, available for interested parents, avoidable for the rest.)

The segments are varied, from Abby and Birdie’s peppy song to tougher scenes such as when Abby cries to Gordon that she’s worried it’s her fault her parents are getting a divorce, or when she has her magic crayons draw for her friends the story of how her parents told her they were splitting.

Along with the videos, the website has tips for parents, extended family members, links to webinars and a mobile app called “Sesame Street: Divorce.”

"With the frequency of children experiencing divorce and or separation today, it is critical to help children understand that the feelings or questions they may have are typical and should be discussed with a parent or caregiver," said Jeanette Betancourt, senior vice president for outreach and educational practices at Sesame Workshop, in the release.  “These strategies will help children cope with changes as well as support them in understanding they are not alone.”

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Rescue dog Albie has grown to be an irreplaceable member of the Zheutlin family. Here, Noah Zheutlin hugs the lovable golden retriever-Lab mix. (Courtesy of the Zheutlin family)

Rescue dog: Albie stretches the boundaries of human love

By Guest Blogger / 12.11.12

Raising children can sometimes be a slog; tantrums, sleepless nights, runny noses, dirty diapers, spilled milk and long car trips to visit Grandma and Grandpa can test even the most patient of parents.

But parenthood also has sublime, blissful moments. Never did I feel more at peace, more content, more important or more in tune with the universe than when one of my boys would fall asleep with his head on my chest. Sometimes, exhausted myself, I’d fall asleep, too. But mostly I just lay there, still as could be, looking out the window or at the ceiling and feeling a connection not only with the little boy so dependent on me, but with something bigger, something I’m not even sure I can identify.

My boys are 22 and 17 now, so it’s been a while since I had one of those magical moments, but I came very close the other day. It happened when Albie, our half golden retriever, half yellow Lab, with us almost five months now, laid down beside me on the narrow window seat in our living room. I was ready for a nap, but Albie, as always, was watching intently for the squirrels that dart around our yard and up and through the trees. He started out very alert, eyes following the squirrels intently, ears perked up, head erect. But slowly, he began to tire. His eyes started to close ever so slightly until he eventually succumbed, let out a long sigh, and brought his head gently down onto my chest and fell asleep.

You might think I was just comforting him, but really we were comforting one another. And as he slept came a feeling very much like the one I would have when the boys napped with their heads on my chest or shoulder: That we were somehow meant to be together, delivered to one another to share moments of serenity like this one.

I never expected to feel this way about a dog. The last time I had a dog was more than four decades ago; Kristi, a sweet and intelligent black standard poodle my father brought home as a puppy when I was in elementary school. That dog was deeply attached to my father and he to her, but being young then I didn’t have the kind of spiritual connection I feel with Albie. But I have some precious memories.

When I was about twelve, my Dad had Kristi bred and built a whelping box in our basement. One night, at about 1 a.m., the first puppy was born in my parents’ bedroom. As my Dad carried Kristi to the basement, I followed, carrying in the palm of my hands a tiny black puppy, its eyes closed, its fur still wet. You’d have thought I’d been handed the Hope Diamond. My Dad, a pediatrician, then called his friend, Sylvan, who lived down the street. Sylvan was an obstetrician and there they were, two doctors who often worked next to one another at Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, NJ delivering newborns, easing the birth of eight or nine little poodle puppies.

In the weeks that followed, those puppies frolicked all over the linoleum floor in the basement, always exuberant but always failing to gain the necessary traction on the smooth floor to stay upright. It was a riot of puppy energy and pure joy.

RELATED: Are you a Helicopter Parent? Take our quiz

We sold all but one of the puppies, keeping a male we named Freddie. Freddie was the comic, slapstick genius who was always making mischief. He nipped at Kristi’s ear to get her attention, or her goat. He got into a box of sanitary napkins and left the shreds all over the house. He always ran at a 45-degree angle, often into walls at full speed. He got his head stuck in a pretzel box and couldn’t get it off. Then, one night, there was the sound of a car horn and brakes screeching and he was gone. The bloodstain remained on the street for weeks and I learned then what I know now: it is possible to love a dog deeply and well.

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

Kate Middleton's pregnancy prompted Twitter congratulations from world leaders and a paparazzi camp-out outside her hospital. (Paul Rogers/Times Newspapers/AP)

Parenting roundup: Kate Middleton's pregnancy, puppies for rent, and more

By / 12.07.12

We don’t blame you if you found that Kate Middleton’s pregnancy eclipsed all the other parenting news this week. It distracted us, too. (I mean, really.  Hospitalization, Australian crank calls, bookies taking bets out on possible royal baby names... it went on and on.)  But this is why we have our Friday parenting news roundup – to share some tidbits that you might have missed during the week.

But first, because we just can’t help it, a review of the news from London.

Heir in making   
The British royals announced on Monday that Ms. Middleton and husband Prince William were expecting a child and that the Duchess had been admitted to King Edward VII Hospital with acute morning sickness. As poor Kate attempted to recuperate (even the most celeb-cynical moms must have a bit of sympathy on this one), the royal-watching world went nuts. The paparazzi camped outside the hospital. World leaders tweeted their congratulations. Bookies took out bets on what names the couple might pick for the future monarch. (At the moment, odds are pretty decent on Frances and John.) 

Are you a 'Helicopter Parent'? Take our quiz!

And then pundits started analyzing Kate’s womb. You know, is she too thin? Is she having twins?  Will she parent more like Diana or the queen mum?
 
As the palace confirms that Middleton is not yet 12 weeks pregnant, you can be assured that there will be much more Royal baby talk in the coming months. And that countless other pregnant women will be saying prayers of thanks that nobody is paying this much attention to their bellies.

No school, no job
On the opposite side of the socio-economic spectrum... a new Kids Count policy report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation says that nearly 6.5 million U.S. teens and young adults are neither in school nor working. Youth unemployment is at its highest level since World War II, with the employment rate for teens between 16 and 19 falling 42 percent over the past decade. Of those young people aged 16 to 24 without school or work, 21 percent are young parents.

This is a big deal, the report says. This large group of what it terms “disconnected youth” are more likely to be unemployed later in life and less likely to achieve “higher levels of career attainment.” Researchers quote another study that calculates the total taxpayer burden for out-of-school and out-of-work youths ages16 to 24 at $1.56 trillion.

Time for the policymakers to get working.

Another bullying video?
Just when we were thinking it had been a while since we had written about bullying, out comes yet another video of aggressive teen behavior. This one, showing two brothers aged 13 and 15 beating up a 13-year-old special needs student in Nevada, was viewed approximately 50,000 times on the Internet before it was removed from YouTube.  By Friday, the teens involved were arrested, charged with battery and pleaded guilty. A judge ruled that the boys will stay in custody until Dec. 18, at which point he will decide on a punishment.

So.... open and closed, right? Except – and here’s our rant again – this story is way more complicated than meets the bully-attuned eye.

Most scholars say that “bullying” involves both a power differential and a series of repeated attacks. The power differential is here, but we don’t know whether the victim had been putting up with these sorts of attacks regularly. If this was a unique act of aggression, it wouldn’t make the incident any better, of course. But it would distinguish it from bullying. Violence can be bad enough without that label, right?

Most telling, perhaps, from the video was the reaction of the crowd observing the attack. Nobody tried to help the victim. And that, advocates say, is where anti-bullying – and anti-teen violence – programs need to focus. 

Puppies for sale or rent....
Anxious that your college-aged child will find herself overly stressed during exams without the soothing charms of Fluffy or Rascal? Worry no longer. A slew of universities – and private enterprises based on college campuses – have started sharing or renting out furry friends to ease end-of-semester jitters. This week, the student union at Dalhousie University in Halifax opened its “puppy room,” where students can go and relax in a room full of dogs. (Yes, I realize that for some people – aka my dear husband – this scenario sounds not at all relaxing, but the dog people will get it.)

There was already a dog therapy program down the road at Montreal’s McGill University and are a number on this side of the border as well, according to a scan of the news headlines. Yale and Harvard have them, of course. (Students can check out Monty at the Yale Law Library for 30-minute sessions; Harvard Medical School’s Countway Library has a resident shih tzu named Cooper.) At Bringham Young University, student Jenna Miller got a bit of press this past week for her rent-a-pup business, where for $15, students can have their own dog for an hour.

Good for exams, the news reports said, as well as first dates.

That's it for now – happy Friday.

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Angelina Jolie, shown here at the 2012 Academy Awards, says she may quit acting and stay at home after her kids become teens. (Reuters)

Angelina Jolie may retire when her six kids hit their teens (+video)

By Correspondent / 12.05.12

Balancing career and family is tough – even for Angelina Jolie.

The actress told Britain’s Channel 4 News that she might have to step away from the screen as her kids become teenagers, because there will be “too much to manage at home.”

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We can only imagine.  

A quick reminder, for those of you who might have forgotten the details of the Brangelina brood:

Jolie and longtime partner (now fiance) Brad Pitt have six kids. Jolie adopted son Maddox in 2002 from an orphanage in Cambodia and daughter Zahara from an orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She gave birth to daughter Shiloh in Nambia in 2006, adopted a 3-year-old Vietnamese boy named Pax Thien in 2007, and gave birth to twins Knox and Vivienne in 2008. 

Tired yet?

Sure, the multimillionaire duo can hire whatever help they want. Nannies, housekeepers, tutors, LEGO experts, whatever. 

But still, parenthood changes things.

That’s what Mr. Pitt said last month on “Good Morning America.”

Having children, he told ABC NewsElizabeth Vargas, “turns everything on its head.”

Which, he said, he loves.

Jolie, too, did not seem to show regrets about the way parenting may shift her professional future.

“I will do some films and I am so fortunate to have the job, it’s a really lucky profession to be a part of and I enjoy it,” she said. “But if it went away tomorrow I would be very happy to be home with the children.”

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