Archive for August, 2014

Parents: Put Your Tech on a Time Limit

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Doctor with BrainPart of the back to school routine probably includes a trip to the pediatrician. Health forms need to be filled out. Vaccinations updated. Chances are the doctors are talking a great deal about what your child is doing. Are they eating healthy foods? Are they getting enough exercise? They may even caution about spending too much time with technology. And that caution extends to parents, too.

Today’s parents seem to have taken the kids’ physical exercise challenge to heart. Be careful, or you will be mowed down by a double stroller jogger on the way to the playground. The farmer’s market is full of parents helping kids pick out healthy foods. The only problem is these parents are glued to their smart phone at the same time—either double-tasking work, talking to friends or arranging stimulating playdates for their kids. While we are so busy worrying about the time our kids are spending online, are us parents too absorbed in our own technology? It seems rather dubious to ask our kids not to play games or be on their phones as we sit and stare at our own devices to no end. Do you have a technology addiction? Does it ever interfere with your child’s play? Has your phone replaced you as the first place your child goes to for answers to important questions? It might be a good time to not only look at your child’s technology habits but those of the whole family. Tech free time is not only a good idea, it is liberating. Yes, you can live without that Facebook update. The e-mail can wait. Chances are, you can get a note from your doctor, prescribing some tech-free time!


Crack a Few Eggs. It’s Time to Talk About Race.

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Discussions about class and race can be uncomfortable. diverse boys

Watching the upsetting TV news accounts of events unfolding in Ferguson, MO., centered on the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, has brought racism to the forefront once again, raising the topic and prompting much debate – about civil rights, civil disobedience, and how and when to talk with your children about it.

Many experts say that if race, class and gender topics were discussed at home with kids at an early age, the problems might be diminished for us as a society. We need to be talking about it, early, often and openly.

A University of Texas researcher, mentioned in this 2009 Newsweek story, found that race can be an issue at age three or even earlier. The idea of being “color blind” – not recognizing that we are a world filled with different colors – is not a good way to prevent discrimination and prejudice, according to research conducted by behavioral psychologist Michael I. Norton, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, and colleagues. They found that racial colorblindness is a social convention that begins to internalize by children as young as age 10. “Very early on kids get the message that they are not supposed to acknowledge that they notice people’s race—often the result of a horrified reaction from a parent when they do.”

But trying hard not to acknowledge race served to perpetuate bias, the Harvard group found. Instead, they suggested celebrating multiculturalism – acknowledging the many ethnic groups that make up our communities, and our world.

“The way we get better about talking about race is to talk about race,” Stephen Pimpare, author of A People’s History of Poverty, tells CNN in an excellent story and video on the topic.

So, how and when should we get started?

It depends on the age and maturity level of your children. Younger kids may be scared by the violent images. “In early childhood … the most important issue is safety,” Stephen Zwolak, executive director of the University City Children’s Center in St. Louis, not far from where the Ferguson events are happening, told St. Louis Public Radio. “They need to be physically safe, emotionally safe, and socially safe.”

Older teens in the St. Louis area have been discussing First Amendment rights and whether the officer was justified in his shooting. The notion of protests – peaceful and otherwise – is another timely topic.

For those of us watching from afar, it’s a chance to talk about empathy for other human beings. As one New Jersey mom told CNN of her children, “When they were very young, I started teaching them to respect people.” At, suggestions include telling your elementary school-aged children that we are all “different,” but that doesn’t make anyone “better” or “weirder” than the rest.

Dr. Beverly Tatum, president of Spelman College and author of two books about talking with kids about race, urges that the message can be imparted through everyday life – given the right opening.

eggs“I was cooking with my 3-year-old,” she told “We used the last white egg in the carton, and then took out another carton of eggs, this time brown eggs.  My son noted that the eggs were different in color. ‘Yes,’ I said, as we cracked both eggs open, ‘But look—they are the same inside.  Just like people, they come in different shades, but they are the same on the inside.'”




Back to School Conundrum

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

To those without kids, it seems a bit disingenuous, maybe even a little insulting, for parents to celebrate the kids going back to school as many seem to do. Parents are always talking about their kids and how they long for more quality time with the family. Of course, come summer, we realize how quickly our carefully made plans can go horribly wrong and how fast bonding time can go sour and simply turn into a marathon X-box session. Do we love our kids in theory, but not 24 hours in the same house for a week?

The hard truth about parenting—marketing and movies be damned—is that there are times when being with your own kids is—just, well, hard. Once you become a parent, you are the human napkin, the 24 hour bank, the playground pal and anytime/anywhere life coach. It’s okay to admit you need a break. In fact, it’s healthy to know your limits. It’s okay to quietly and privately celebrate some alone time when the kids go back to school. Even if it means a few minutes of sorting the mail after work, or gathering your thoughts before greeting the sticky kindergartner, it really does help kids when parents also look out for themselves.

First Day of School  Just don’t be surprised that, a minute or two after the bus pulls away, if you burst  into tears and start missing them immediately.


You’ll want to book the sitter for this one

Monday, August 18th, 2014

The movie is called Boyhood, but it could easily have been titled Parenthood. boyhood

Movie critics have been raving about director Richard Linklater’s impressive, poignant and ambitious film about a boy (in theaters now). What makes it so unique is that he filmed the movie in 39 days – over the course of 12 years. And it’s beautiful.

Linklater easily could have used makeup to age the actors and tell his story. Or he could have found kids of different ages to portray the same character growing up. But instead he used real actors and real time, and we get to see and experience their coming of age in a very real way.

The film opens with Mason, an adorable and sensitive six-year-old who’s trying to cope with a big sister, a single mom and school. The actor who portrays him, Ellar Coltrane, grows up and turns into an equally adorable and sensitive young man by the end of the film. We also watch as his sister Samantha, played by Lorelei Linklater (the director’s daughter), goes from sassy little girl to confident college co-ed.

But there are many bumps in between.

The years aren’t clearly marked in the film. We know them by the small changes  – weight gain, facial hair, old computers, new video games – and the big life ones, too.

Patricia Arquette deftly portrays a pivotal role as the kids’ mom, who makes bad choices when it comes to men and constantly struggles to better herself and her situation. The kids’ father is played by Ethan Hawke. He’s a sometimes-there dad, a rock-star wannabe with a hot car and no obvious job, but he isn’t a bad guy. The other two men she marries are. Mason and Samantha achingly deal with alcoholism and unhappiness from them over the years just as their own identities and passions are being forged.

The result is a moving, breathing scrapbook of life – mostly focused on Mason. You’ll feel his pain and root for his success. You’ll likely think of your own childhood and you’ll also look at your kids and contemplate how all the choices you’ve made have affected them. And in the final moments, you might find yourself thinking a little bit of Forrest Gump.

But Gump, rated PG-13, is a wild, fantastic story. Boyhood, rated R, is a longer, deeper look at a life – charming, moving, and definitely worth getting a sitter for the night.


Peaking Too Soon

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Tween_girls_standingWhen my daughter turned 13, she wanted to get her ears pierced and go to Build a Bear Workshop. My husband couldn’t wrap his head around the contradiction, but it perfectly illustrated a common problem for ‘tweens: they are literally in between childhood and teen-dom. It’s a hard line to straddle and new research shows that kids who try to jump into maturity are at greater risk later in life for bigger problems.

According to the journal “Child Development,” kids who engage in teenage behavior earlier in middle school are 45 percent likelier to have alcohol and drug problems and 22 percent likelier to engage in criminal behavior later in life.  Being cool in middle school, is perhaps, not all it is cracked up to be. The study, conducted by University of Virginia Psychology Professor Joseph Allen, took a look at 184 middle school kids considered cool—i.e. heavily concerned about particular peer groups, physical appearances and relationship status– and followed up with them 10 years later.  Allen found that while these kids seemed like they were on the fast track in middle school, they stalled out in high school and young adulthood, especially when compared to their “less cool” peers. That doesn’t mean if your child is concerned about clothes or the opposite sex that they are destined for trouble. What parents should be weary of is if their child is too concerned about trying to climb to the top of the middle school hierarchy—at any cost.  All of this comes as no surprise to my own mother, who told me, eons ago, one tearful day after middle school, that it would be pretty sad if the highlight of my life was that I was popular in middle school. It’s okay to take it slow. You don’t want to peak too soon.  And for me, I’m hoping that peak will come any time now!

For a closer look at the study and some helpful back to school coping mechanisms, check out the following articles from the Washington Post, and