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Modern Parenthood

A father looks at rain-filled skies prior to the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles MLB American League baseball game in Baltimore on May 14, 2012. Baseball games and other shared experiences make great Father's Day gifts and help dads and daughters bond. (Gary Cameron/REUTERS)

Father's Day gifts: bringing dads and daughters closer together

By Guest blogger / 06.15.12

When it comes to selecting great gifts for kids, it’s important to gift experiences, not just toys. After all, studies show that experiences make people happier than objects do: Objects break, become outdated, or pale in comparison to superior items, and the thrill of ownership fades quickly. But experiences are personal, and the memories of positive personal experiences never lose their luster.

If you still have Father’s Day shopping to do, applying this principle to dad’s gift could prove very satisfying. If the gift is an experience that father and child can share together, the whole family can benefit. The key to making sure the experience is a good gift is keeping the recipient’s interests in mind while doing so.

For example, if the father is a sports fan, a child might give his or her father tickets to a sports game and promise to go with him. Plans for a father-child outing could also work with tickets to a concert, a museum, an art exhibit, or another destination that suits the father’s interests and the child’s age.

Gifts meant to be experienced together at home can make a great choice, as well. For example, tools are a perennially popular Father’s Day gift. Consider supplies for a project that the father and child can create together – gardening or carpentry or technology oriented. (For techie dads, the books in the "Geek Dad" series are full of amazing ideas.) The project could be as small as a birdhouse or much more complicated, depending on dad’s skills and the child’s age.

Another possibility: Seek out a toy that’s meant for both adults and children, around which family memories can be created. For example, toys like Geomags are fun for adults and kids alike – and they can be used collaboratively. The strategy game Rush Hour is also fun for all ages. If dad likes strategy games or puzzles, it could be a nice choice.

Consider gifts that bring dads and daughters closer together

Sometimes, it can be difficult for dads and daughters to develop shared interests. All of the gifts above could be given by boys or girls, but some girls and dads might hesitate when it comes to sharing experiences like carpentry, which are traditionally coded as masculine.

An experience-oriented gift that helps a daughter learn more about her dad’s interests and hobbies, despite gender stereotypes that they’re “not for girls," is another way to give a gift that benefits the whole family. Diversifying the daughter’s interests with dad’s support could benefit her in the long run: studies show that when fathers support their daughters by engaging with them in non-stereotypical ways, the daughters are significantly more likely to consider studying and working in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, which many find satisfying and lucrative.

Is your daughter unsure about joining her dad in his hobbies? The children’s book "Super Tool Lula" may offer her some great inspiration. The book’s heroine, Lula, enjoys helping her father with carpentry projects using tools from her very own tool belt, and after reading the book, girls often ask for their own tool belts. Taking a page from Lula‘s book, daddy-daughter tools might make a great, creative Father’s Day gift.

The importance of kids’ involvement in gifting

No matter what route is taken when helping a child give a parent a gift, the results of other studies bear mentioning: spending money on others makes us happier than does spending money on ourselves. So, if it’s possible for a child to willingly contribute some of his or her own money towards dad’s Father’s Day gift – whatever that gift may be – he or she will learn that giving to others really is its own reward.

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

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Children deserve more respect when it comes to online safety. Trust and open communication from parents is key to digital literacy. Here, a Chinese woman takes a nap while her child plays on a tablet computer at a resting point near the Great Wall of China at Badaling, north of Beijing on June 2, 2012. (Andy Wong/AP)

Kids' online safety: the key is trust and open dialogue, not fear

By Guest blogger / 06.14.12

Thankfully, the youth part of “Talking to Youth and Parents about Life Online” had a whole lot of good news in it because my heart sank when I read this first paragraph on parents’ views in this recent study from Canada’s premier digital and media literacy organization:

“The parents we spoke with were beleaguered by fear of danger and exhausted from the burden of constant vigilance. Although the exact nature of that danger is poorly defined, many parents told us that surveillance is now equated with good parenting, and that the days of trusting their children and providing them with space to explore the world and make mistakes are long gone.”

I asked MediaSmarts’s co-director Jane Talimm about that finding, and she emailed me that “this was consistent with almost all of the parents in our focus groups – we were actually surprised at the intensity of emotion many expressed in this regard – and as we know, this runs counter to the mutual trust, confidence and communication between parents and their kids that is so essential to helping them develop the skills they need for digital life.”

This is where Internet-safety messaging – amplified by the news media – has gotten us. Parents not only feeling beleaguered, fearful, and exhausted but, worse, feeling they can’t trust their children. Can the net result of that somehow increase our children’s safety?

Is it as clear to you as it is to me that we need to turn this Internet-safety ship around? Our children deserve better – for one thing, more respect.

Prominent sociologists Karen Fingerman and Frank Furstenberg made several related points in a recent New York Times article, saying:

  • Parents and kids are closer than ever
  • We’ve largely closed the generation gap so widely lamented 40 years ago
  • “We could be celebrating the strong bonds between today’s young people and their parents rather than lamenting the foibles of the next generation” and
  • “Technological and economic developments have contributed to this shift.”

Tech developments have contributed to what keeps kids safer than anything: the self-respect and resilience that come from love, communication, and respect.

So we’ve moved from one kind of gap to another: the gap between reality – how our children are living their lives from day to day, including what’s reflected and expressed of them in social media – and more than 15 years of exaggerated claims and misrepresentations of Internet risk.

How to bridge this new gap?

Two simple things for starters: Listen to our own kids more and look at the data. For example, just go to p. 6 of MediaSmarts’s executive summary about “What Young People Get Out of Networked Technologies.” Take scary commentaries and news reports we hear to our kids, analyze them together, and test the claims against our kids’ own practices and privacy settings. Fold those claims into the conversation and listen to our kids’ responses. If negative experiences emerge, develop strategies together for dealing with them – that calm, loving support from their parents is powerful.

I truly believe we’ll not only find comfort and mutual respect in the process, we’ll feel a whole lot less reason to be scared, beleaguered and distrustful.

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

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Children in summer camp read books during a literacy session in Jamaica Plain, Mass., in this 2011 file photo. For kids too young to go to camp, parents must deal with round-the-clock childcare and enterntainment. (Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor)

School is out: Mom needs a panic room

By Contributing blogger / 06.14.12

Me: Hiiiiieeeee

Teri: What is up?

Lauren: Nothing. It’s day 3.

Teri: Day 3, the natives have started to get restless?

Me: That was actually Day 2.

Teri: Day 3, the natives have organized.

Me: Day 2, the natives were made to clean. Day 3, we went to Barnes and Noble. Having just returned, 2 of the 3 are fighting. BTW, why does Barnes and Noble have a toy section? It’s a BOOK STORE. Do they hate parents?

Teri: The chief is scared.

Me: Out of my mind.

Three days down, 74 to go.

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. Lauren Parker-Gill blogs at Spill the Beans.

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Father's Day is an opportunity to thank dads who are actively involved in raising and caring for their kids. Here, Stuart Chaifetz plays with his son Akian Chaifetz, 10, in the backyard of their home in Cherry Hill, N.J., in April 2012. (Mel Evans/AP Photo)

Father's Day thank-you list: Top 10 reasons a mom gushes

By Guest blogger / 06.14.12

If I were a dad, I would be steamed about how much weight parenting coverage gives to mothers. Mommy wars. Attachment parenting. Breastfeeding. Stay-at-home mothers vs. working ones.

Mothers often attack each other and debate the right and wrong ways to parent in national parenting blogs, which often only use mom or mother in their titles. As a mother, I confess to writing Mommy-centric essays on occasion. But with Father’s Day approaching, I wanted to do something dad-centric: Write a thank you to my husband, the father of our four-year-old son.

It’s time to remember dads a little more as we continue this never-ending national discussion about how to raise our children. My husband is not a perfect dad just like I’m not a perfect mother. But he deserves more thank yous than I could possibly list. Here are my top 10:

1. Thank you, dear husband, for taking such an active role in our son’s upbringing from even before he was born. You cared as much as I about making the nursery a warm, earthy place. You helped give it a sense of both of us. You hung up that old drawing of a gooney bird that you had as a child. You refinished my old rocking chair.

2. Thank you for spending that first year of parenthood at my side. Laid off shortly before our son Simon was born, you thought of focusing on getting a job immediately. You instead chose to spend the first year at home with our child and figure out what type of job would make you happiest. At first, I worried about finances and about us getting in each others' way as stay-at-home parents. But over time, we developed a solid partnership as new parents. We gave each other parenting breaks. We sometimes went together and other times took turns going with Simon to weekday music classes for parents and children. Sometimes, you were the only dad at a local drop-in play center, and you took it in stride. That year was a gift for both me and Simon.

3. Thank you for already showing our son the importance of higher education. As you neared 50, you returned to college and earned an MBA, graduating when Simon was 3. Simon may not remember being at your graduation celebration or seeing you study at our dining room table, but someday, he will ask about those photos of you in cap and gown.

4. Thank you for naturally passing along your hobbies. Because of you, Simon already loves traipsing through the woods, watching birds, weeding, and planting.

5. Thank you for helping to teach our son what it means to be a Jew. You know more Hebrew than I, and introduce our son to the language in subtle ways, like counting to 10 in Hebrew when you play Hide ‘n Seek. You embrace our attempts to mark Shabbat almost every Friday with blessings over the candles and bread. You sing out, and now Simon sings with us.

6. Thank you for participating in every aspect of early parenting. You were an equal partner in potty training. Together, we agreed to take our cues from Simon rather than use stickers, candies or other incentives. It wasn’t easy, but being on the same page as parents helped.

7. Thank you for introducing Simon to books I never would have, books like The Phantom Tollbooth.

8. Thank you for never being the sort of dad who thinks many things are just Mom’s job.

9. Thank you for the tiny acts, like setting the cereal bowls out for us before you head to work. Simon knows you do that. He knows that every morning you think of him.

10. Thank you, my husband of few words, for saying exactly what our son needs to hear each night before he falls asleep. “I love you.”

By example, you show our son how to be a wonderful father and person. This thank you list will only grow as Simon gets older. You are a huge influence in our son’s life day in and day out. I cannot thank you enough. Happy Father’s Day, sweetheart.

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. Linda Wertheimer blogs at Jewish Muse.

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One in four children in the US live in an immigrant family, reducing their access to health care and education. In this 2011 file photo, students sit in the gym at Crossville Elmentary School in Crossville, Ala. (Jay Reeves/AP)

Children of immigrant families lack proper health care, education

By Correspondent / 06.14.12

Lest you think the days of the United States being a melting pot are over, check out this statistic from the Foundation For Child Development: Of all children in the US, one in four are growing up in an immigrant family.

That means that 18.4 million kids have at least one parent who was born out of the country.  And that, the Foundation for Child Development says in a report released this week, comes along with some troubling statistical findings on these children’s health care, financial security and education, as compared to children of US-born parents.

Although their parents are just as likely to have a job as US.-born parents, according to the report, 30 percent of children in immigrant families live below the federal poverty line. (Nineteen percent of children with US-born parents have a similar financial situation.) A quarter of children in immigrant families do not graduate from high school, compared with 18 percent of children with US-born parents, and only 7 percent of children who are dual language learners become proficient at reading English by the end of third grade.

Meanwhile, children in immigrant families (nine out of ten of whom are American citizens) are twice as likely not to be covered by health insurance than children of US.-born parents.

“Somewhere along the line, the system is failing them,” Ruby Takanishi, president of the Foundation for Child Development, said in a statement.

One “paradox” in the report, as researchers put it, came in the health category. They found that children of immigrant parents actually scored higher in some health categories than did children of US parents – they were less likely to have low birth weight, for instance, and more likely to have sustained physical activity as kids.

The obesity rates of children in immigrant families, however, have caught up to their US counterparts.

There’s a lot more in the report, including some recommendations for improving early education, revamping dual learning programs (which teach non-native English speakers in two languages at once), and making sure immigrants have more awareness of federal programs to provide health insurance to needy kids.

“Healthy, well-educated children are critical to  a strong, secure and prosperous nation, because the children of today are the ones who will be joining the labor force, starting their own families, and entering the voting booths for the first time during the coming decades,” said Donald Hernandez, an author of the report, in a statement. “By not investing in these children we not only undermine our future as a country, but also diminish their opportunities to become productive members of their communities.”

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Father's Day can be every day: Robert Suhay and Quin, the author's husband and son, go surfing. Robert's "adventure time" is prime evidence of this dad's awesomeness. (Courtesy of Lisa Suhay)

Father's Day is every day with surfer dad and 'adventure time'

By Lisa SuhayCorrespondent / 06.14.12

Being raised in an all-female, post-divorce household, I was part of the man-hater's club that believed men were incapable of "real" parenting skills. Just look at our culture and see how commercials, movies, and cartoons frequently paint fathers as loveable, but incompetent nitwits.

Now that I am the mother of four sons, ages 8, 13, 17, and 18, who will someday be in this role, I feel the need to give Papas back their John Wayne meets Father Knows Bestness, starting with my own husband.

Of course he has his moments that are worthy of a sitcom. An example might be putting a timid autism spectrum eight-year-old who just learned how to swim out in the ocean, tethered via his little ankle to a “supertanker” Dewy Weber surfboard and launching him onto a wave without a life jacket, alone!

RELATED: Are you a Helicopter Parent? Take our quiz!

I didn't learn this story all at once, mind you, but in jubilant pieces from the child when he jetted in the front door and began to disrobe in a sandy trail of tale.

"Pop tied me to the big board and the leash wouldn't come offa my ankle and I got dragged under and had to not panic," Quin, 8, crowed. "And then I didn't drown! Pop is awesome !"

In my entire vocabulary, the word "awesome" was not even a distant competitor for the space following the words "Pop is." My top pics were: bonkers and doomed.

Yet who could argue with the glow of accomplishment on our youngest son's face? He was empowered. He was stoked. He was trailing sand all over my floors because my husband doesn't believe in towels, snacks, chairs, or umbrellas at the beach. My husband packs for a day at the beach by checking to see if he has his surf wax.

"Awesome," I said to my son. "So you had a good time?" To which he answered the same exact pronouncement he has always made each and every time my spouse has taken the boys on an adventure, "It was the best day ever!"

However, the boys never, ever want to go on a Papa outing. They dimly recall the fear, pain, small injuries, and emotional trauma associated with "adventure time." My husband is always forced to bluster and insist until they capitulate. He laments this, groaning what all good fathers groan at such times, "I failed them. Where did I go wrong?"

Somehow they always come back in exaltation, having mastered something new and we can only assume death-defying. Then it's always "awesome." I think this is akin to the way women "forget" the pain of child birth and go ahead and have several more, as I did. Boys would never grow into men if they didn't have that nagging feeling that the adventures with Papa were going to be dicey, but worth the x-factors in exchange for bragging rights. I often stumble upon a whispered conversation, smothered laughter, among the boys that includes the words, "Remember that time Papa made us..."

My still boyishly handsome 48-year-old husband with his too-long-to-be-a-professional-adult blond hair, sails small terrifying boats in races come rain, shine, darkness, or leakage. We lived aboard a sailboat with the first two sons and sailed from New Jersey to the Gulf coast of Florida and lived like hippies for five years.

He rushes out to surf with dolphins that I think are sharks. When there's a hurricane he walks the boys to the river's edge to see the gleam off the teeth of the storm. He hikes, bikes and is the front page designer for a daily newspaper, which I see as the most life-threatening of his passions.

He and our four sons have a love/hate relationship over the outings and yard chores, as is common with strong male personalities all under one roof.

While I razz his methods and their apparent madness, I admit they are worth every drop of sweat wrung from me these past 18 years.

My own parents divorced when I was 10, my brother was 5. My brother was raised in a loving home full of attentive females. My mother commuted to work from New Jersey to New York. At home my grandmother, great-grandmother and I all raised my little brother like a flock of nervous hens.

Last week my brother went to jail for the second time. He went to jail for allegedly beating my 81-year-old  mother. That isn't because of anything my mother and our women did wrong or failed to do. It's what my father did and didn't do that manifested this. It is the example he set. My father taught that women were worthless, but worth hitting in times of frustration.

My husband teaches our sons, "Help your mother" and "Don't speak to your mother in that tone, she's my girlfriend." My boys would protect me like lion kings and I have my husband to thank for setting them on the path to being good men.

RELATED: Are you a Helicopter Parent? Take our quiz!

While I realize that could sound like an indictment of single mothers in the world, the truth is that it's an endorsement for good fatherhood. It's a standing ovation for fathers who take time to teach kids to play chess, an instrument, or to do homework. It’s a trophy for dads who spend time with their little girls doing all those same things and teaching them that girls can do anything. It’s the raw genius of letting kids get wet and muddy doing things that make this mom pale.

As I buy more sunscreen, bandages, towels and once again remind my spouse to take his cell and check in with me, I know in my heart that all the worrying means I can relax. The boys are in good hands with their Papa because he's one of those men who knows Father's Day is everyday.

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Father's Day gifts: Top of the real list might be a nap; but there are 70 million personalized and stereotyped ideas for Dad online.Three-year-old William Cox had a day fishing with dad Michael of Clarks Summit, Pa. June 6, 2012. (Michael J. Mullen/Scranton Times & Tribune/AP)

Father's Day gifts: personalized, stereotyped for 70 million dads

By / 06.13.12

It seems only yesterday that the helpful folks at were telling me, via my e-mail inbox, What Moms Really Want for Mother’s Day. Helpful items, these were, such as vacuum cleaners, sewing machines, cake decorating tools and even a breast pump. 

(At the time, I tried to point out to dads that, really, for the sake of their marriages, they should not follow Amazon’s advice.)

But time passes quickly. It is June. Almost Father’s Day. Which means that there is new information out there about parental desires – this time, dad's.  And here’s what I’ve been learning, from Amazon and the other five billion junk e-mails I get daily:

Dads, it turns out, Really Want electric shavers.  Because, you know, dudes love getting personal grooming items as gifts.

But they also want digital cameras and new clothes and watches and even the Rosetta Stone language CDs. Items that are educational, outward-focused and enjoyable to the recipient.  

A bit different than the Mom’s Day collection, I’ll say.

(C’mon Amazon, you’ve got to have some women’s studies majors working for you somewhere. Does it have to be like this?)

The suggestions do not end there. Which is fortunate for those of us who are still searching for the perfect gift and think Rosetta Stone is a bit out of our price range.

According to the online marketer, you can “Delight Dad with a Gift That Shows You Know Him Well.”


I followed the link, of course.  And then I was confronted by a choice:

Is Husband “DIY Dad” (who wants a drill), “Dapper Dad” (a tie), “Media Mogul” (some sort of tablet device), “Gadget Dad” (I don’t even know what was in the picture), “Sporty Dad” (golf clubs), or “The Hobbiest” (another digital camera)?

I searched mightily for “Tired Dad,” or “Overwhelmed Dad of a Toddler,” or even just “Sweet Dad Whose Family Loves Him,” but alas, they were not options.  No, apparently the nation’s 70 million fathers (24.7 million of which are part of married-couple households with children under 18, according to the US Census Bureau) fit into six nice categories.

So once again, I have ended up stuck.

And, to be honest, a bit annoyed at the commercial hype that surrounds what should be holidays that celebrate life’s sweetest relationships.

Because while I can readily admit there are a number of more important things to grump about today (Syria? Wildfires? The economy?) it seems a bit of a bummer that with Mother’s Day and Father’s Day comes a barrage of advertising that not only reinforces all sorts of gender stereotypes, but teaches us that the best way to honor our parents, husbands, wives, whomever, is with stuff. And not just stuff, but the stuff “everyone” wants.

So I’m still looking for a good father’s day gift. 

If anyone finds out that Amazon is selling naps, let me know.

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Disney Princess paint colors are the latest in a long line of Disney Princess products, including furniture, bedding and clothes. Here, a girl looks proudly at her tiara as she undergoes a Disney Princess Academy makeover at a major shopping mall on May 29, 2012 in Singapore. (Wong Maye-E/AP)

Disney Princess paint: New way for girls to be fashion victims

By / 06.13.12

Did you know that Behr produces a line of Disney Princess interior paints?

In fact, Behr has a whole Disney Princess-Disney Color catalog with color names such as Fairest of Them All, Tink Pink, Glamorous Glow, One Enchanted Evening, and Bibbidi Bobbidi Blue.

The catalog describes the Disney Princess bathroom: “Relax in rooms as pretty as a princess. Surround yourself in a setting as cheerful as her smile.”

And, of course, the Disney Princess bedroom: “In Sleeping Beauty’s room, everything is enchanted. What better place to dream?”

Sleeping Beauty’s room, pictured in the catalog, features Disney Princess paints, pieces from the Disney Princess Furniture Collection, Disney Princess bedding, and many other Disney Princess products.

While there seems to be a Disney Princess version of nearly everything, the idea of Disney Princess interior paints may come as a surprise. What’s going on here?

Brands, Megabrands, and Lifestyle Brands: How Disney Princess Works

My students and I recently screened the Media Education Foundation documentary "No Logo," based on Naomi Klein’s book of the same name. In the video, Ms. Klein explains why consumers and critics wind up protesting certain brands.

Klein says that the insidiousness of brand marketing is at the root of most protesters’ concerns. Brands are no longer seeking popularity; instead, Klein says, they “want to be everywhere and be everything.” In so doing, a brand becomes a megabrand.

Because of this outlook, Klein says, megabrands (and megabrand wannabes) regularly ask questions like, ”If it’s a line of clothing, can it be a house paint?”

The answer, of course, is yes. Megabrand Ralph Lauren makes clothes, home goods and, yes, house paints. Even though Ralph Lauren paint looks just like other paints that cost significantly less, the Ralph Lauren brand has enough perceived prestige to make it appealing to brand-conscious consumers.

In this way, megabrands – by being everywhere and being everything – become something even bigger: they transform into lifestyle brands.

Lifestyle brands are brands that permeate every aspect of a consumer’s lifestyle, such that the brand identity is intertwined with the consumer’s personal identity. Virgin is the quintessential lifestyle brand, illustrated by its subsidiaries list, which includes everything from music to travel to wine. A consumer with a strong preference for a megabrand’s products and services may think, “This is my brand,” or “This brand is part of me.”

Disney Princess as lifestyle brand

Like Disney as a whole, the Disney Princess brand has been following the megabrand playbook for years. The result is that in the past decade, Disney Princess has become a lifestyle brand, completely intertwined with little girls’ identities. Disney Princess is not just about the movies and the toys; it’s about food, clothing, and home goods, too. At this point, there are Disney Princess products available for just about every aspect of life, from diapers to wedding dresses.

If Disney wants its princesses to be everything and be everywhere, then of course your home’s walls are in its sights. As a special bonus, the Disney Princess paint catalog is a vehicle for the cross-promotion of other products, like Disney Princess bedding and furniture collection – a nice example of what marketers call “synergy." Jack Wayne, of Demand Media, defined synergy this way:

"When synergy happens, one plus one no longer equals two. It can equal three, four, five or more. Synergy in marketing is when two marketing initiatives create a response greater than the sum of the combined response the two would have elicited alone."

Synergy is basically the holy grail of integrated marketing campaigns – and Disney Princess is absolutely synergistic. As a collective, it’s worth much more than the sum of its parts.

Just check out your local Home Depot for more details on the synergy of the Disney Princess paint line.

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

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In this 2003 file photo, Big Brother Kevin Burke, an attorney, has been a mentor to his new Little Brother, Javon Chapman, 8, for several months now. Although the Big Brother/Big Sister program provides mentors for children, real big brothers do a lot to care for younger siblings and deserve to be celebrated on Father's Day. (Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor)

Father's Day: Celebrate big brothers who support younger siblings

By Guest blogger / 06.12.12

There are many fortunate youngsters who have a father available and able to provide the support and guidance that is part of that role. There are other children whose fathers are either unavailable or unable to provide that support.

For years I worked in a community where the presence of a father in the family was not common. For reasons of health, incarceration or economics many children did not have the luxury of that guidance. This role was sometimes filled in part by pastors, coaches, teachers and grandparents.

But in other families, big brothers served that role with amazing love and maturity.

I have watched with admiration as big brothers escort little siblings to school, checking their backpacks, adjusting their jackets and then going off to their middle schools. I’ve watched them pick the younger ones up from school and walk them home, often holding the tiny hands. These little fathers have risked appearing uncool, as they pass through their neighborhood with younger ones in tow. Some do it with such a sense of responsibility and dignity that they rise above any peer judgment.

In stores I’ve watched them hold and take care of the little ones while Mom took care of the shopping. At home these big brothers may be combing hair and fixing breakfast while Mom works an early shift. At some schools older siblings serve as translators to help the parents in teacher meetings.

These young men must correct, encourage and even dry the tears of little one. When Father’s Day comes around, when those younger siblings are grown enough to appreciate the gift, I hope they will thank that brother for being a little father. These young men have made a huge difference in the lives of their siblings. It may have seemed that it was just what they were supposed to do, but often what we are supposed to do is also something very special.

To those many little fathers, “Happy Father’s Day.”

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.

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David McCullough defends his ‘you’re not special' graduation speech, a refreshing, honest look at the ‘everyone is special’ plague. Here, Tarah Thesenvitz looks for her family from backstage before she and fellow South Kitsap High School graduates walk during their commencement ceremony at the Tacoma Dome in Tacoma, Wash., on June 8, 2012. (Meegan M. Reid/Kitsap Sun/AP)

David McCullough defends 'you’re not special' speech; we agree (+video)

By / 06.12.12

Last week, we wrote about an English teacher named David McCullough who gave an unusual commencement speech for students graduating from his Wellesley, Mass., high school. It has become known on the Internet as the “you’re not special” speech because that’s one of the main tips McCullough passed along to the class of 2012.

“And now you’ve conquered high school,” he said, “and, indisputably, here we all have gathered for you, the pride and joy of this fine community, the first to emerge from that magnificent new building... But do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not.”

Yesterday, McCullough (son of the famed historian of the same name) went on television to defend his message.

“My intention was a little hyperbolic drollness to get their attention so they would be paying attention by the end when I told them what I really wanted,” McCullough told CBS news.

Indeed, check out some of McCullough’s closing words:

“Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion – and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special. Because everyone is.”

I admit to being a bit surprised that McCullough felt he needed a defense at all. His words were refreshing, honest and beautiful.  (Except for a few unnecessary digs at my Baltimore Orioles.)

And they were timely.

Because, as the overwhelmingly positive reaction to McCullough’s speech shows, we are in the midst of an “everyone is special” plague; one that is not doing any favors for kids, their parents or their future employers.

(Note to the graduate here:  At your first job interview, don’t tell the boss that you’d like to be in her shoes in three years.  Or that you’re not the ‘office kind of person.’ Really.)

In their book “The Narcissism Epidemic,” authors Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell have a chapter entitled “Seven Billion Kinds of Special.”  (This book, I will add, is one of the best parenting reads out there. Even if it’s not really a parenting book.) They take aim at the same phenomena that McCullough discussed in his speech and argue that our cultural habit of telling every child that she is special does quite a lot to lower achievement and lessen empathy.  (Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman argue a similar line in their popular book, “NurtureShock.”)

“Feeling special is narcissim – not self-esteem, not self-confidence, and not something we should build in our children,” Twenge and Campbell write. “You can tell your child she is good at math, or that she will be good at math if she works hard, without telling her she is 'special.' Feeling special may give people a grandiosity-tinged sense of comfort, but in a real world of collaborating with others, waiting in lines, and getting cut off on the freeway, it just leads to frustration. And it is unlikely to lead to respect for others.”

They note that teens who feel too special – those who really do see themselves as different and special compared to their peers – tend to have more depression and struggle more academically.

Twenge and Campbell make clear that they’re not telling parents to withhold love and affection from their kids.  Quite the contrary.  And sure, your child is special to you. But the overall Lake-Wobegon “everyone above average” approach to raising kids? Not so helpful.

They also explore how counter-cultural the “you’re not special” message can be.

“We are a nation fixated on the idea of being the exception to the rule, standing out, and being better than others – in other words, on being special and narcissistic – and we’re so surrounded by this ethos that we find it shocking that anyone would question it,” they write. “Fish don’t realize they’re in water.”

Which is perhaps why McCullough’s speech has gone viral.

Because much of his talk, to me, at least, seems to be calling out some obvious truths:

“You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless. ... We have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement."

And that goes well beyond high school students.

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