According to a recent New York Times op-ed titled “Google, Tell Me, Is My Son a Genius?”, parents’ Google search trends teach us a lot about parents’ biases toward their sons and daughters. Specifically, parents tend to search the Internet for information affirming their sons’ brilliance, but when it comes to their daughters, they focus on physical appearances – revealing our deeply held cultural beliefs that boys should be smart and girls should be pretty.
Internalized sexism is alive and well in America today, embedded in the subconscious of well-intended parents.
Now, because I’m a professor with an interest in girls’ media culture, I read a lot of scholarly studies about girls’ socialization. So when I read this op-ed, I immediately thought of studies that show how parents’ unspoken biases can harm their daughters. Specifically, researchers have found that when mothers feel critical about their daughters’ bodies, their daughters are significantly more likely to have poor body esteem – even if the mothers have kept those critical feelings to themselves. Our kids are savvy and attuned to us; they can pick up on our unstated feelings.
Therefore, if Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s op-ed is right – if parents across the US are asking Google if their daughters are thin and pretty – daughters across the nation must be feeling pretty badly about their bodies, even if they never catch wind of their parents’ search strings.
When I posted to my Facebook page about this, my colleague and friend Melissa Atkins Wardy responded: “I’m not sure why, but this article shocked me a bit. I have never in eight years of raising a daughter searched anything about her appearance. I’ve searched health and development stuff on both kids, but the difference shown in this article feels like a canyon in my heart right now.
She added, "And how are we supposed to teach parents to do better when it comes to the media when they are such a huge part of the problem themselves?”
It’s a good question. If we parents are trying to do right by our kids, and trying to teach our kids to resist the stereotypes found in our culture – but, paradoxically, we’re part of the same culture we want our kids to resist – what can we do?
First, we can take stock of what we already know about media stereotypes in kids lives. For example, we know that media portrayals of boys and girls mirror cultural attitudes.
For example, studies show that kids feel it’s really important for boy characters in the media to be smart and for girl characters to be pretty – mirroring their parents’ search strings. Girls identify with female characters they consider attractive, whereas boys identify with male characters they consider intelligent. This is probably because of the biases they they pick up on at home, at school, and from other media.
When television shows and toys show girls in stereotypical roles, with stereotypical traits (boys who are valued for being smart and girls who are valued for being pretty), they’re reflecting widespread cultural ideas about girlhood and boyhood. But those stereotypical representations also reinforce those attitudes – making it cyclical. This means we need to break the cycle.
Therefore, my take is this. Effecting change requires three things:
- Consciousness-raising (helping us all to see our own biases, so that we can overcome them);
- Media literacy work (to help parents and kids break down and resist the biases they see on screen); and
- Activism, to hold media producers accountable when they perpetuate these biases.
There’s so much work to be done, it’s overwhelming. But it’s important, and it’s time.
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. Rebecca Hains blogs at rebeccahains.wordpress.com.
When you’re living a distracted life, every minute must be accounted for. You feel like you must be checking something off the list, staring at a screen, or rushing off to the next destination. And no matter how many ways you divide your time and attention, no matter how many duties you try and multi-task, there’s never enough time in a day to ever catch up.
That was my life for two frantic years. My thoughts and actions were controlled by electronic notifications, ring tones, and jam-packed agendas. And although every fiber of my inner drill sergeant wanted to be on time to every activity on my overcommitted schedule, I wasn’t.
You see, six years ago I was blessed with a laid-back, carefree, stop-and-smell-the roses type of child.
When I needed to be out the door, she was taking her sweet time picking out a purse and a glittery crown.
When I needed to be somewhere five minutes ago, she insisted on buckling her stuffed animal into a car seat.
When I needed to grab a quick lunch at Subway, she’d stop to speak to the elderly woman who looked like her grandma.
When I had thirty minutes to get in a run, she wanted me to stop the stroller and pet every dog we passed.
When I had a full agenda that started at 6 a.m., she asked to crack the eggs and stir them ever so gently.
My carefree child was a gift to my Type A, task-driven nature – but I didn’t see it. Oh no, when you live life distracted, you have tunnel vision – only looking ahead to what’s next on the agenda. And anything that cannot be checked off the list is a waste of time.
Whenever my child caused me to deviate from my master schedule, I thought to myself, “We don’t have time for this.” Consequently, the two words I most commonly spoke to my little lover of life were: “Hurry up.”
I started my sentences with it.
Hurry up, we’re gonna be late.
I ended sentences with it.
We’re going to miss everything if you don’t hurry up.
I started my day with it.
Hurry up and eat your breakfast.
Hurry up and get dressed.
I ended my day with it.
Hurry up and brush your teeth.
Hurry up and get in bed.
And although the words “hurry up” did little, if nothing, to increase my child’s speed, I said them anyway. Maybe even more than the words, “I love you.”
Then one fateful day, things changed. We’d just picked up my older daughter from kindergarten and were getting out of the car. Not going fast enough for her liking, my older daughter said to her little sister, “You are so slow.” And when she crossed her arms and let out an exasperated sigh, I saw myself – and it was a gut-wrenching sight.
I was a bully who pushed and pressured and hurried a small child who simply wanted to enjoy life.
My eyes were opened; I saw with clarity the damage my hurried existence was doing to both of my children.
Although my voice trembled, I looked into my small child’s eyes and said, “I am so sorry I have been making you hurry. I love that you take your time, and I want to be more like you.”
Both my daughters looked equally surprised by my painful admission, but my younger daughter’s face held the unmistakable glow of validation and acceptance.
“I promise to be more patient from now on,” I said as I hugged my curly-haired child who was now beaming at her mother’s newfound promise.
It was pretty easy to banish “hurry up” from my vocabulary. What was not so easy was acquiring the patience to wait on my leisurely child. To help us both, I began giving her a little more time to prepare if we had to go somewhere. And sometimes, even then, we were still late. Those were the times I assured myself that I will be late only for a few years, if that, while she is young.
When my daughter and I took walks or went to the store, I allowed her to set the pace. And when she stopped to admire something, I would push thoughts of my agenda out of my head and simply observe her. I witnessed expressions on her face that I’d never seen before. I studied dimples on her hands and the way her eyes crinkled up when she smiled.
I saw the way other people responded to her stopping to take time to talk to them. I saw the way she spotted the interesting bugs and pretty flowers. She was a Noticer, and I quickly learned that The Noticers of the world are rare and beautiful gifts. That’s when I finally realized she was a gift to my frenzied soul.
My promise to slow down was made almost three years ago, at the same time I began my journey to let go of daily distraction and grasp what matters in life. Living at a slower pace still takes a concerted effort. But my younger daughter is my living reminder of why I must keep trying. In fact, the other day, she reminded me once again.
The two of us had taken a bike ride to a sno-cone shack while on vacation. After purchasing a cool treat for my daughter, she sat down at a picnic table delightedly admiring the icy tower she held in her hand.
Suddenly a look of worry came across her face. “Do I have to rush, Mama?”
I could have cried. Perhaps the scars of a hurried life don’t ever completely disappear, I thought sadly.
As my child looked up at me waiting to know if she could take her time, I knew I had a choice. I could sit there in sorrow thinking about the number of times I rushed my child through life ... or I could celebrate the fact that today I’m trying to do things differently.
I chose to live in today.
“You don’t have to rush. Just take your time,” I said gently. Her whole face instantly brightened and her shoulders relaxed.
And so we sat side-by-side talking about things that ukulele-playing 6-year-olds talk about. There were even moments when we sat in silence just smiling at each other and admiring the sights and sounds around us.
I thought my child was going to eat the whole darn thing – but when she got to the last bite, she held out a spoonful of ice crystals and sweet juice for me. “I saved the last bite for you, Mama,” my daughter said proudly.
As I let the icy goodness quench my thirst, I realized I just got the deal of a lifetime.
I gave my child a little time … and in return, she gave me her last bite and reminded me that things taste sweeter and love comes easier when you stop rushing through life.
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. Rachel Stafford blogs at www.handsfreemama.com.
Uptight parents worried about snow days negatively affecting their children’s academic performance can chill out. A new study from Harvard University reveals, “Closures are not associated with changes in achievement.”
“Moderately bad weather impacts absences and achievement. Extremely bad weather impacts closures but not achievement,” says the study’s author, Joshua Goodman of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
The study, titled “Flaking Out: Snowfall, Disruptions of Instructional Time and Student Achievement,” finds that keeping schools open in bad weather apparently results in low-income, African-American, and Hispanic kids missing class time.
One might guess that the negative impact stems from the fact that low-income parents might be off to work in any weather, meaning that school delays leave kids to find their own way to school.
It could also mean that kids who rely on elderly extended-family members – who may fear driving in dangerous conditions – for their transportation to school may end up missing class time while others make it to school.
A full school closure seems to mean a level playing field for all students with no instruction time missed, since snow days are often made up at the end of the school year.
For parents who work full-time outside the home, foul weather days are full of anxiety for the entire family.
A delayed school opening can mean suffering the consequences of coming to work late as the parent or leaving kids to their own devices to help themselves get to school.
Because this study was done only in Massachusetts, where schools tend to close once snow reaches above the four-inch mark, parents like me, living in southerly climates, may have a little trouble relating.
Here in Norfolk, Va., we get rain and school when the rest of the state and Northeast are home playing in the snow. Four inches of snow? Norfolk has more than once shut down schools with only a threat of snow in the forecast.
When President Obama was elected to his first term, it snowed on inauguration day – everywhere but here. Not a flake or flurry. Still, it was “threatening snow,” so the entire city and its schools closed.
To this day, parents lovingly refer to this as “SnObama Day.”
Since then, the Norfolk public school system has been extra cautious about making the call to shut down.
In fact, while we have had several hurricane-related closures in recent years, there has not been a single snow day called in our district in over three years.
That all changed today, when temperatures dropped to a rare 14 degrees Fahrenheit, winds gusted up to 50 m.p.h., and the snowed accumulation reached two-inches overnight.
Today, Norfolk Public Schools are closed and the kids, and parents alike, are elated. Moms across Norfolk were on Facebook last night posting their wishes for school closures so they too could finally get a turn at the classic winter wonderland activities, including: snow men, snow angels, snowball fights, rolling in the snow, sledding, and saving a snowball in the freezer to make snow cones.
The Harvard study is great news for parents here in the south because it removes the guilt of wishing for this rare snow day to spend having all the good times that will be frozen in time until our grandkids get to hear about them.
The New York City Department of Education has published a social media guide for students – one for which, very wisely, it got student input. And apparently students were asking for guidance like this. Jane Pook, DOE executive director for digital communication policy and strategy, told the Huffington Post that demand for the guide “came from students.”
Across the river in New Jersey, teacher Kevin Jarrett told his professional network on Facebook that it’s “one of the best guides of its kind I’ve seen, and should be required reading at districts anywhere that truly embrace social media in the classroom.”
As for New Jersey itself, the state Senate just passed a bill that "would require middle school students to take a course on how to use social media responsibly," the Huffington Post reported. Let's hope it will be taught well.
Digital literacy and life literacy
So this bears out what we’ve been hearing from social media scholars for some years now – that “digital natives” aren’t just born digitally or socially literate. Even the digitally literate, like everybody else, are figuring out how to navigate life in the very social media of this networked world of ours. So, it’s to their credit that young people themselves are seeking guidance.
There’s digital literacy and there’s life literacy, which blends social literacy and media literacy. Both are needed, and – when you really think about it – the latter is nothing new, has been taught to all of us from birth, and is just given special names such as “media literacy,” “social-emotional learning,” and “critical thinking” once we’re in school.
What’s newer is digital literacy, but that’s changing too. When our so-called digital natives are parents, they will probably need to consult with their children about digital media less than we need to now, but the digital kind of literacy will probably always be more dynamic and different for each generation than the social and media literacies into which it’s getting folded.
New York schools’ good example
The one thing that’s clear right now is expressed by New York City teacher, Jennifer Gunn, in the Huffington Post article: Digital media is here to stay, it’s “ridiculous” to act as if the media students are using all the time doesn’t have a place in the classroom, so let’s get on with both helping them navigate it and using it in everyday classroom instruction.
We have an opportunity to honor both what students already know and what they’re seeking to learn, and we’ll be able to take advantage of that opportunity when we stop creating fear and fear-based policy about digital media and start working with our children in digital media.
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 www.netfamilynews.org.
In only about 5 1/2 minutes, the film “From 1994 “ tells a beautiful story of a mom’s love for her son, through a letter she wrote seven years earlier, before her death from cancer. As a typewriter clicks away, we hear her detailed observations of her son, questions about what he’s up to now as a 12-year-old, and motherly advice about how to live well.
After signing the letter simply, “Love forever, Mom” – she puts it in a Time Capsule marked “1994,” and tucks her 5-year-old son – Casey Warren, who grew up to co-direct this film – into bed, looks at him lovingly as only parents do, and shuts the door. It’s such a simple concept, but so tenderly executed, saturated with mother-love.
I can imagine my mom writing me a similar letter. While not so much a writer, she was an avid reader – often devouring a book in one sitting while sipping lemonade as she floated in our backyard pool. Her favorite social activity was her monthly book club, which she formed anew each time we moved (five times before I turned 10). Perhaps her self-consciousness kept her from writing – I’m sure she would have had a knack for it.
What I do know for sure is that she really loved my siblings and me. No self-consciousness in that area – her love for us radiated from her all the time. She relished being our mom – and we felt that joy. I can write that with complete certainty, even though she passed on when I was only 10. It’s that kind of deep-seated mother-love that makes a lasting impression – even now, 15 years later, I can feel it.
The film’s closing line says it perfectly: “Before I say ‘goodnight,’ I want you to remember – I will always be here for you, even though I may not be with you. Bye for now, from 1994 – see you in the next lifetime.”
My mom would say the same sort of thing to me, if she could – and I would say the same thing to my little one, if she were old enough to understand. It’s a real reminder to cherish each moment and never forget to express our love to our children.
It’s so important, though it often gets swept under the rug amid wiping of noses, kissing of boo boos, and insisting that they eat their broccoli before ice cream. Though in a way, all of these everyday parenting duties serve as a testament to our loving care of our children, even more so than a few words written down would be.
Still, there’s something special about reading a note written just for you, especially when you get older. Memory can be a tricky thing, with all our experiences getting jumbled and warped – but personal letters stand out as highlighted guideposts that say, yes, the person who wrote this note loves you so very much.
I get what mother-love is so much more now that I’m a mom – it is so complete, so no-matter-what-I-will-always-love-you, so deeply embedded in me that it’s like the freckles on my skin. Just like my mom, it radiates from me with a force that eradicates my self-doubt and insecurity.
I’ve always had trouble defining myself as I was growing up – any label I tried out seemed too constricting or too vague – but I can say with total certainty, I am my daughter’s mom. I love that about myself.
Like the mom in the film says, “My favorite time of my life is the years that you’ve been alive because you have made me feel truly alive.”
Hear, hear – it’s so true for me, too – and for most parents, I think.
Mother-love is a beautiful thing. I’m so grateful I get to experience it as a recipient and a giver.
If I could send a letter to my late mom, I would say:
Thank you for all you have done for me. Thank you for loving me always. I made it through after losing you, and now I’m a mom, too. You would love my daughter – she has your curious eyes, quick smile, and friendly tendency towards strangers. Her specialties are dancing and singing in the kitchen, rocking amazing hat hair, giving slobbery baby drool kisses, and playing Tupperware drums.
What are you up to now? I imagine you surrounded by friends, animatedly discussing some great (or horrible) book, and bringing out homemade chocolate chip cookies for everyone to enjoy. Whatever you’re up to now, my deepest desire for you is that you are happy. Don’t worry – I am. I love you! Hope to see you again someday.
The Weather Channel sent out an alert yesterday that the latest winter storm will be named ‘Janus,’ leaving some kids wondering about the difference in naming systems for various storm types and the messages those names are trying to convey.
Hurricanes are named after people, while The Weather Channel has seemed to have taken a more scenic route in devising names.
Either way my son, Quin, 10, surprised me by being totally aggravated with the choice, not because it wasn’t his name, but because he wished storms were named to more accurately reflect their regional intensity level.
“Janus? What is happening here?” he fumed. We live in Norfolk, Va., where snow in anything more than a fleeting dusting hasn’t been seen in years. “How can you tell what kind of storm it’s going to be by that name?”
Kids here in the South have seen storm after storm in this polar vortex that utterly failed to provide more than a drenching rain here.
After being part of the 2013 “Nature’s Fury” challenge with his FIRST LEGO League team, Quin has come to the conclusion that the names of the storms should play a more accurate role in order to more effectively warn people.
What might be a titan in New Jersey is more of a Smurf in southern Virginia.
“They need to stop naming them after people and get serious,” Quin said. “Call it Frost Eclipse or Whiplash.”
Sadly, The Weather Channel thought it was doing just that by naming winter storms differently with the help of a Latin class at Bozeman High School in Bozeman, Mont.
To those with a working knowledge of Greek mythology, the names are pretty awesome, including: Atlas, Elektra, Maximus and Zeus amid names such as Leon, Pax (Latin word for peace), Seneca, and Kronos.
This became a teachable moment at our house. I pulled out a gorgeously illustrated book on Greek mythology he was given for Christmas by his older brother to help him relate to the names. For starters, I explained that the name Kronos refers to the father of Zeus in Greek mythology or Saturn in Roman.
Quin looked at me as if I had completely missed the point saying “OK, that’s cool, but storm names should be something people see and know right away if they should panic.”
Quin continued to work out his kid-friendly storm warning system that wouldn’t be Greek to anyone his age.
For less mighty storms he suggests, “Chilly Kitten,” for electrical storms “Picachu” (named after an electric Pokemon) so kids will know not to expect a snow day or to watch out for lightning.
I always fretted when hurricanes were named thinking that if one of my sons’ names was picked, and it turned out to be wimpy, that son would get mocked.
Conversely, if the storm did brutal damage, would I have to change the child’s name to save him from eternal abuse?
I have met two adult Katrinas who wish that storm had been given any other name.
However, Quin points out that a tough storm bearing their name could be a gift.
“Let’s say a kid is always bullied,” said Quin. “Then along comes a monster storm with his name. It’s like, ‘Hey, don’t mess with that kid!’ ”
NASA has a great website for kids that lets your child check to see if a storm has ever borne his or her name.
If we’re going with a family-friendly naming system, then I would include: Hurricane Dad, White Tornado Mom, and Winter Storm Grandma/Grandpa.
Of course the ultimate storm moniker would be “Who Did This?” Then everyone would know they were in big touble.
From Peyton Manning raising money for charity via his “Omaha!” play calls, to Richard Sherman snatching personal failure from the jaws of professional victory, the runup to Super Bowl 2014 is an epic parenting opportunity.
Our kids learn a lot from watching sports on TV, especially if we are there beside them to give the color commentary on good and bad behavior exhibited by the players.
Sunday was a highlight reel of teachable moments, both during and after the game.
The main message I found in both Mr. Manning's and Mr. Sherman's performances is that our words have the power to build or destroy our image in an instant.
On the positive side, I got to tell my son Quin, 10, that every time Manning yelled “Omaha!” at the line of scrimmage, money was donated to his charity, thanks to help from the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and other businesses.
According to CBS Sports, the Denver Broncos' quarterback has made a practice of shouting "Omaha!" before the snap, and this week a group of city officials and business owners in Omaha, Neb., announced they would contribute to Manning's Peyback Foundation every time Manning said the word on Sunday.”
While it wasn’t Manning’s call to make his shout into a fundraising opportunity, it’s still a positive and creative way to tie social responsibility into the game. Bravo to all those involved.
However, Quin, a gamer and math whiz who's a latecomer to football fandom, was baffled. “Omaha?" he asked me. "Why not Minecraft or decagon, octagon, triangle!”
It became a source of laughter as we sat in front of the set and tried to decipher what the quarterback was yelling.
“Drapes!” I said at one point in the game. "I think he said drapes.”
My husband rolled his eyes and said, “Grapes. He’s saying grapes.”
Turns out hubby was right.
My husband and I watched both the Patriots vs. Broncos and the Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers games on Sunday, while Quin drifted between the games and the Minecraft game he was playing a few feet away.
My husband, Robert, has been spending a lot of time lately teaching Quin how to throw a football. Quin has been excluded from casual play before school for his lack of skill.
Quin got a football for Christmas and each and every day you can hear the calls from our backyard, “10, 42, rhombus, Picachu, hike!”
As we watched Sunday's games, Robert took the opportunity to teach Quin more about the game, while I used it to point out the good and bad behavioral choices made by the players themselves.
Thanks to Seattle Seahawk's cornerback Richard Sherman, I got to tell our son that no matter how great a player you are, if you’re a bad sport, you’re a loser.
Sherman made the most dazzling play of the playoffs when he broke up a throw to San Francisco’s Michael Crabtree in the end zone that linebacker Malcolm Smith then intercepted, essentially ending the game and sealing the Seahawks' 23-17 win.
Just as Sherman – known for his poor sportsmanship – had victory in his hands, his bad habits sank him.
First he slapped Mr. Crabtree on the butt, then he made the choke symbol at the opposing team and capped it all with an interview after the game where his mouth just kept running.
"I'm the best corner in the game!" Sherman screamed at Fox reporter Erin Andrews. "When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's what you're going to get. Don't you ever talk about me!"
While Ms. Andrews stood gaping, Sherman continued, "Crabtree! Don't you open your mouth about the best. Or I'm going to shut it for you real quick!"
That was quite the teachable moment.
I reviewed the play with Quin this morning because I have spent a lot of time emphasizing how important it is to be a “good loser,” because of his temper fits when he loses at anything.
My friend, chess Grandmaster Susan Polgar (also a huge football fan) is my go-to for coaching kids in any game because of her motto, “Win with grace. Lose with dignity.”
I reviewed that motto with Quin today, and Ms. Polgar also tweeted it as a reminder. Meanwhile, Quin was worried for Sherman, saying, “I bet his mom saw him do all that. I feel sorry for him!”
Maybe the NFL should create helmet visors (perhaps with Google Glass?) that show players an image of their mom or dad superimposed on the field at critical moments.
Until then, we have to rely on old-school parenting to teach our kids that our words can either support our goals or undermine them.
Jennifer Lopez just got her first love note from her son Max that made her cry, but what she doesn’t know is that by saving that note she will have a lifelong source of tears beginning when her child becomes a teenager.
Ms. Lopez, 44, said on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" on Wednesday that, "It says, 'I'll luv you beyond forever Mom.' I'll cry right now! Stop it!"
"It just made my whole life," the American Idol judge said of the handwritten message, which she also posted via Instagram.
Hang on to that note, J-Lo. Once Max hits his teenage years, you’re gonna need it like a child needs a security blanket.
When my son Ian, now 18, was little, he wrote to me, “I love you to the moon and back. I’m gonna marry you Mommy.”
As soon as he became a teen he coined the expression, “Mom’s touch burns like dragon fire.” He’s now 18 and can just about manage not to flinch when I try to hug him.
Actually, Lopez has a sporting chance that Max will not become a “touch-me-not” teen.
My sons Zoltan, 20, and Avery, 14, both came through the “Mom’s touch burns like dragon fire” stage and are back to being huggers again. My youngest son Quin, 10, is still a major hug monster.
When I saw Lopez’s story, my heart just turned over for her, but more for those aging love letters tucked away all over my house. I never did scrap books, but I have the notes squirreled away in books and in drawers.
In fact, Lopez inspired me to call my mom, 83, in New Jersey this morning to ask if she ever kept the love notes my brother, Adam, and I wrote to her.
“Oh, you’re killing me with this call,” she said. "I go looking for something else and instead up pops one of the love notes from your brother or you. I smile and cry at the same time. It’s crazy. I love finding them, but it totally wrecks me.”
I often feel deeply sad for my husband that he does not have a daughter to write love notes to her daddy. He has missed something truly precious because boys in our house don’t write lovey-dovey notes to Papa.
That means that as each son hits his teenage years, my husband lacks the secret weapon that has helped me to survive. When one of the boys is rude, or otherwise trying my patience and making me question why I ever had kids, I can go to their notes for moral support.
However, my husband and I both share the quirky joy of all those school-generated inadvertent love letters from our kids.
I am talking about the times when teachers assign essays with topics like, “My favorite person is…” and “My hero.”
Dad almost always makes it as the “hero” in the essays our sons have written.
I have noticed a few of those tucked away by my spouse, along with some misshapen pottery gifts from the boys when they were little.
Since Valentine’s Day is not far off, Lopez and other moms can add to their arsenal of love notes.
My mom used to have us write and draw with special Crayola crayons that allowed her to transfer those love notes by ironing them on to fabric for pillows and shirts.
Jennifer Lopez has her own clothing line and could take that a step further. My suggestion is for Lopez to solicit kid love notes from parents around the world in many languages and put them and Max’s note on wearable items.
Then, she could donate proceeds to struggling low-income parents – Wear the love and share the love.
No matter how Lopez decides to enshrine that adorable note, she now knows that, as a parent, nothing has a more lasting and powerful effect than the written words of a child we love.
A new Harvard University study shows that richer teens are thinner than lower-income teens due to better access to exercise and recreation programs. The study reports that teens from lower-income families exercise less and are effected by less-educated parenting decisions. Still, there are parents working hard to create affordable opportunities for their kids and communities.
“Increasing Socioeconomic Disparities in Adolescent Obesity” was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
It reports, “Obesity rates have fallen among children of educated parents but has continued to rise among children of less wealthy, less educated parents.”
According to the study, “Low-income neighborhoods have fewer playgrounds, sidewalks, and recreational facilities. Participation in high school sports and clubs has increased among high SES (socioeconomic status) adolescents while decreasing among their low SES peers.”
To add to this challenge, other studies report that the rising cost of after-school clubs and activities could be another reason low income children miss out.
I am thankful that here in Norfolk, Va., where we live, not only do we have some wonderful recreational facilities, but they are also affordable. Membership is only $50 a year for a family of four, which allows a family to use any rec center in the city. These same centers are free for those over age 65.
Growing economic disparity is one of the root causes of childhood obesity, especially as it pertains to the inability to afford participation in a team sport, or an after-school activity that engages kids in something other than snacking in front of the TV or a video game.
Yet, despite the Harvard study and others, I do see exceptional programs developing that are keeping kids active and healthy.
In Norfolk, the Lambert's Point Community Center is an example of community-inspired, open-to-all neighborhood gathering place that supports families of all backgrounds with sports and recreational groups.
In August of 2011, the Lambert's Point Community Center In Norfolk joined other centers nationwide to encourage kids to learn and perform group dance routines in unison to Beyonce’s song “Move.”
At that time, Ellen Pryor Harvey, then 88, led the Lambert's Point children each and every day as they learned the routine. While Mrs. Harvey died last fall at age 90, the kids still do the dance workout in her memory, because she was a remarkable woman who knew the value of getting kids moving in the right direction.
It was a magical thing to see, and it would never have happened if a community superstar like Harvey hadn’t decided to encourage kids and families to get a move on, in addition to the broader community supporting a free fitness program for kids.
The Lambert's Point Community Center is fairly new, and one of many Norfolk has developed in order to serve the entire community, not just the affluent residents. The city built the community center in the lower-income Lambert's Point neighborhood because Harvey, active in her local civic league since 1983, got her neighbors to make a lot of noise to make sure the local children were served.
Now without Harvey, the low-income sector here needs to turn to new champions, while too many communities have no one stepping up to the plate for kids who need both indoor and outdoor recreation facilities in order to be fit and healthy.
According to the Harvard study, “One in five kids from less educated, poor families report not having exercised or having played sports for at least 20 minutes sometime in the last seven days. By contrast, only one in ten kids with college educated parents report similar levels of physical inactivity."
Because sports clubs are so expensive, a group of parents at Lambert's Point also created affordable sporting opportunities via The Fast & Furious Track Club established in 2011, by Lerenzo and Neshell Nicole Leavelle, Monique Francis, and Tawanna Hardy.
“The purpose of The Fast & Furious Track Club is to educate and train young athletes in the sport of Track and Field, competitive excellence, personal accomplishment and good sportsmanship; to support and develop athletes for Amateur Athletic Union regional and national competition; and to give youth an alternative to delinquency and organized gangs,” according to the group's page on Facebook.
I met the Leavelle family through its extraordinary children: Deja, 16, Je-Da, 10, and twins Kadejah and Kalil, 7, when I started a free chess program at the Lambert's Point Community Center shortly after it was opened by the Norfolk Department of Recreation, Parks & Open Space in 2009.
I have spent the better part of the past six years as a volunteer teaching chess to kids in Title 1 schools and in the Lambert's Point Community Center.
Thankfully, families such as the Leavelle's prove there are exceptions to study findings, as the children serve as role models for every activity they take part in, from being strong team athletes, to honor-roll students, and great chess players, too.
Sadly, the Leavelle family's struggles also drive home the Harvard study’s point about how the economy affects the availability of affordable programs. I just learned that Mr. Leavelle lost his job last year and he and his wife were forced to shut down the track club as they race to make ends meet. He lost his job and, as a result, the entire community lost its only affordable track and field program.
In order to continue a trend in stopping obesity among low-income kids, we need to support more centers like Lambert's Point around the nation, serving communities in need, led by community leaders like Harvey and the Leavelle family who drive change from within.
This time of year brings views of sashed and vested girls knocking on doors, parents coaching their junior saleswomen, and enough money changing hands to build one of the most lucrative baked goods businesses in America.
In case there aren't Girl Scouts already canvassing your neighborhood, or a co-worker hasn't passed you an order form over the wall of your cubicle, don't fret. The business savvy Girl Scouts have an application for easy cookie location, available for iPhone and Android smart phones. The app was developed by Little Brownie Bakers, one of the two licensed bakers of Girl Scout cookies in the US.
And more Girl Scouts are using technology to track their sales goals and achievements. Girl Scout troops in the US using ABC Bakers, the other licensed baker of Girl Scout cookies, can now use the COCOMobile app on their iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch. The app allows the scouts to enter and manage cookie orders, set and track cookie sales goals, and even e-mail order confirmations to customers, among other tasks.
Need to whet your appetite before placing your order? Girl Scouts of the USA and individual chapters nationwide maintain Twitter feeds, Pinterest boards, and Facebook pages to keep troops and cookie fans up-to-speed on cookie availability and other scouting activities.
It's not surprising that the century-old organization is embracing technology, since selling cookies is big business. According to a 2013 USA Today story, "The Girl Scouts generated cookie sales of roughly $785 million in the first quarter of 2012, according to the Mintel consumer research firm, which estimates a similar showing this year."
According to those numbers, if the Girl Scouts were a for-profit corporation, they would be ranked No. 3 cookie company in the US, reports USA Today.