Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Device-Free Christmas: Post-Holiday Musings

My husband and I didn't buy any personal digital devices for our seven and eight-year old kids for Christmas this year. Our youngest didn't ask for any, and our eldest asked for a digital reader only two weeks prior to the holiday. By then most of the shopping had been done.

I did consider giving my kids a device even thought it was not at the top of their lists. I sometimes wonder if holding off will cause them to be technologically behind their peers. I also have hopes of them mastering Chinese or long division through educational games.

In the end, I reason that occasionally sharing my laptop with my kids and having a basic Wii gaming system for the family is enough. I opted to give the girls some of the traditional toys, games and books that were on their list. So did Santa and lots of doting grandparents. We had a wonderful Christmas Day playing a little bit with each gift. My kids were truly spoiled.

So I was surprised when by 8:30 am the morning after Christmas my children were bored. And arguing with each other.  Neither wanted to play alone, but they were unable to come to terms with each other about what to play together. They remained at odds all day. And the next.

How could this be? Visions about what could have been danced in my head. Wouldn't my kids be better entertained with a digital reader, a iPod Touch, a DS? Perhaps if I had given them something - anything - computerized and new for Christmas, I could have given myself some peace in return?

Isn't that the biggest reason that we give our young kids a device? I would venture to say that it is, even more than the hope for educational benefits. Kids aren't easy. Many (including mine) have a hard time playing by themselves, get easily bored, and even start misbehaving - no fun for anyone.

Last night I studied a little boy, no more than two, playing with an iPad at a nice restaurant. He was certainly well-behaved (quiet) as long as the device was in front of him. As soon as it was taken away, he was fidgeting in his seat, and eventually started pushing his chair around the floor, bumping into other customers, until his parents carried him away. Giving him back the iPad seemed like the logical thing to do.

So here comes the argument to the contrary.

Early childhood experts do not recommend any screen time for young kids. There are a load of reasons. Screen time in this age group can interfere with normal cognitive, social, and physical development. Give a young kid a screen, and you may introduce a host of problems such as obesity, sleep problems, and issues with attention, learning and social interactions.

Freelance columnist Julia Steiny echoes this sentiment. Her article, The Jury's In, Screen Time Hurts Little Kids, explores a new report by early-childhood advocates Alliance for Childhood and Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. She adds her own thoughts:
[Computers are] fabulous. But they're not for young children whose bodies and beings are hardwired to upload the realities of their immediate worlds.  Let them learn, according to their natures, not according to advertising’s genius at selling stuff.  Children need trees, friends, bikes, like that.  In time, kids will pick up basic computer skills with frightening agility, so there’s absolutely no need to start early.
OK. Good. But what about my concern that my kids may be behind the technical eight-ball? That notion may be unfounded. Ms. Steiny quotes the report:
There is no evidence to support the popular view — heavily promoted by companies that sell electronic media — that children must start early if they are to succeed in the digital age. 
I guess I need to focus on the positive. Although winter break has been long and at times frustrating, our device-free Christmas may work out in the long run. My kids have engaged in board games, reading, baseball (Santa brought a new bat, ball and glove), and playdates. (However, we have had plenty of screen time between family Wii games and managed TV programs since school is out.)

All the disagreements between my kids (and even some with their friends) could be teaching them how to compromise, deal with disappointment, and even stand up for themselves. And the ability to deal with boredom or have moments of comfortable solitude are skills that take time to learn. Sherry Turkle studies the impact of computers on society for MIT, and she says, "If we don’t teach our children to be alone, they’re only going to know how to be lonely.”

So what's the rush to buy a personal device? At very least I saved money by staying out of Best Buy this season. And in truth, I know that my kids will pick up the technology quickly once they take an interest. It might not be long before we go down that road, and hopefully we'll reap some larger benefits in the meantime.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Tough Love: Taking a Stand Against Media Violence

I overheard a group of moms a few weeks ago talking about the video games that their sons want for Christmas. One mom couldn’t decide whether or not to buy a certain video game for her 10 year-old. She thought it was too violent, but her son wanted it oh-so-badly. And his friends already had the game, so he felt he was missing out on the action.

Another mother sympathized and said that she allows violent games in her home, leaving her kids with the reminder to “make good choices."

“That’s about all you can do,” she said.

Is that true? Are the only things parents can do when faced with such a dilemma is acquiesce in spite of our gut feelings, purchase the game, and cross our fingers?

I don’t have sons and my girls aren’t (at this stage in their lives) aren’t interested in many video games. So perhaps I can’t fully understand the struggle that these mothers feel. But I’d like to think that I wouldn’t allow violent games in my home. My neighbor, mother of two sons (ages 11 and 15) doesn’t allow video games in hers, and her sons seem to be just fine, happy and well-adjusted. It works for them.

The American Psychological Association says that exposing children to violence (through all kinds of media) can have an impact:
A typical child in the U.S. watches 28 hours of TV weekly, seeing as many as 8,000 murders by the time he or she finishes elementary school at age 11, and worse, the killers are depicted as getting away with the murders 75% of the time while showing no remorse or accountability. Such TV violence socialization may make children immune to brutality and aggression, while others become fearful of living in such a dangerous society.
The recent school shooting in Connecticut has renewed the debate over what causes lead to real violence, and of course the answer is not simple. But we might thoughtfully consider violent media as a factor. I’m not saying that watching a violent movie will directly cause a person to commit an act of violence. But it may be true that exposure to violent media can inspire a person’s actions, and can take away the gravity of a violent act, dehumanizing the victim and the victim’s families and friends.

I once watched a documentary about a serial killer that mimicked the serial murders he watched in a TV series. The real killer, before he was identified, found companionship with other fans of the show through online communities. The series, of course, didn’t make the killer commit the crimes. But I’m wondering how much the deranged person was inspired by the show. Did it make the act of murder seem a little closer to “normal?” Plausible? Did his online connections with fans of the show make him feel less like an outsider, and help justify his thoughts and actions?

This is an extreme example, but it came to mind because I believe that overexposure to violent media can “water down” the gravity of real crimes. We can become desensitized to it. Common Sense Media says:
[Violence is] in every TV show, movie, music video, and video game. Reality shows normalize outrageous behavior and violence among peer groups. And, yes, our kids can become numb to violence. The more they see, the more "normal" it appears. What kids see on the screen impacts how they view the world.
We as parents need to be mindful of our children’s developmental stages, emotional needs, and capabilities to digest violent media. We need to remember that what children see and hear at an early age can create an impression, and can be mixed in with other experiences to create adults that have a moral compass that can point us in the right – or wrong – direction.

Parents can talk to their kids about media violence, and help them critically assess what they see and feel. Model empathy for other people in everyday actions. And help kids learn coping strategies for when they feel angry, hurt or depressed.

There are other things we can do, too. Dr. Keith Ablow, in his article for advocates for parents to not allow violent games and movies in the home. He says:
I think we as parents have to be loving and be bold—which so often, for parents, amounts to the same thing. We have to be willing to say “no” and mean it to content we worry over. That should be enough to trigger action—the worry.

As I said, the scientific data isn’t really there yet to back up the concern. So we should do with such content what we would do if we had turned a blind eye toward alcohol being consumed by our kids—find it in the house and throw it in the garbage, and then explain it won’t be back in the house, period.

Let your kids know that you won’t even exchange the used games for credit at a store because you wouldn’t poison another family’s kids. And, you won’t peddle the junk on eBay because you’re not a drug pusher.

The same goes for movies that seem to offer little upside in the way of life lessons and mostly just play on the human fascination with bloodshed: You tell your kids those movies aren’t on the play list anymore, either in the cinema, in the house or on their computers, because there is a concern they could be “bad for them.”
Tough words for some. Dr. Ablow also says parents can lessen the draw of games and TV by encouraging their kids to get outside more. My thoughts circle back to my neighbor, whom I admire for the stand that she’s taken against video games. Her boys can be seen biking, skateboarding, and playing football in the neighborhood after school.

It might be hard to a stand against violent media in the home. But it can be done with success. Good parenting often requires tough love.

More information and tips: TV Violence: What to Do When TV Is Too Scary by Common Sense Media

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What Shall We Give the Children?

My daughter's preschool teacher shared this poem with her students' parents. It is a lovely poem for the holidays, as it reminds us to remember that quality time spent with your children is more important than buying them lots of "things." I know I could use these thoughts all through the year.

What Shall We Give The Children

What shall we give the children? Christmas is almost here.
Toys, and games, and playthings. As we do every year?

Yes, for the magic of toyland is part of the Yuletide lore
to gladden the heart of childhood, but I shall give something more.

I shall give them more patience, a more sympathetic ear,
a little more time for laughter, or to tenderly dry a tear.

I shall take time to teach them the joy of doing some task.
I'll try to find time to answer more of the questions they ask.

Time to read books together, and take long walks in the sun.
Time for a bedtime story after the day is done.

I shall give these to my children, weaving a closer tie.
Knitting our lives together with gifts money can't buy.

- Author Unknown

Monday, December 17, 2012

Words of Comfort After Connecticut Shootings

Mr. Fred Rogers
In the wake of the elementary school shootings in Connecticut, people of all faiths are looking to their religious leaders for words of comfort. I often look to Kim Lee, a director at South Mecklenburg Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC for help in understanding how to provide words of wisdom to my children regarding daily life - and in the aftermath of tragic events and disasters.

Kim says this of a character very familiar to my generation:
Of all the articles and blogs I have read, stories I have heard, and professionals I have listened to over these past few days, I have found Fred Rogers's words to be the most comforting and hopeful:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers, so many caring people in this world.
Strikingly, this suggestion is mirrored in the next verses of Psalm 63: So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life... (verses 2 and 3). So we look upon God. Where do we see God and God's power and glory? In the helpers at Sandy Hook Elementary School: the teachers, the school psychologist, the principal, the firefighters, doctors, police officers, ambulance drivers, clergy, neighbors, friends and family, everyone and anyone who offered to help.
Look for the helpers. Look for the good in people.

I remember trying to cope with the events of September 11. I was a young adult, but looking back I felt more like a child - searching, trying to understand, looking to older adults for comfort. I heard a prominent, local church leader give a radio address. I don't remember his name, but I remember his words. He, too, had been looking for words of comfort from his elders when the world looked so bleak, and his father had told him to remember that no matter what, the sun will rise tomorrow.

The sun will rise tomorrow, and we need to move forward. President Obama said in his interfaith prayer service in Newtown last night, the causes of mass violence are "complex." And they are. But rather than waste time arguing about which causes should be addressed first, let's just do something. Whether it be changes to gun control laws, mental health care, or stricter regulations on media violence, we should make an effort. It's time to take action before more children, parents and loved ones get hurt in senseless mass violence. I hope we don't waste a single day.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

What to Tell the Kids About the Connecticut Shootings

We are all immensely saddened by the recent shootings at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. The parents of these beautiful children must be feeling unspeakable grief.

Children across the country may be exposed to the news and to talk of the tragedy, and as parents it's important for us to meet their needs and answer their questions. Following are some articles and links that may be helpful for parents.

These sources suggest that our response to fears and questions should depend on the child's age and emotional development. Young children should be insulated from the incident as much as possible. Older children may ask more complicated questions and the conversation should be direct and supportive. For every child, it's important to balance honest conversations with an overwhelming amount of detail that can create even more fear.

I highly recommend this article:
Talking to Children About the School Shooting by Susan Stiffelman, Huffington Post

Reacting to the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting and
Helping your children manage distress in the aftermath of a shooting by the American Psychological Association

Video from Fox News, an interview with a psychologist speaking on practical tips for parents:

Article from that is directed toward parents with children directly affected by the shootings:

A few previous posts about talking to kids about tragedies and disasters from this blog: and

As Ms. Stiffelman recommends, parents should not forget to take care of your own emotional needs, and to reach out for support if they need it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

SmartPhone Apps Are Watching

Image: George Retseck
Source: Scientific American
Here is a / AP article regarding smart phone apps. It appears their makers may be in hot water with the FTC for quietly gathering information about kids and sharing the information with "advertisers and data brokers." Remember "Big Brother is Watching You?" Well, now Big Brother is likely watching your kids, too.

A few quotes from the article:
Of the 400 apps designed for kids examined by the FTC, most failed to inform parents about the types of data the app could gather and who could access it, the report said. Others apps contained advertising that most parents would find objectionable and included links to Facebook, Twitter and other social media services where kids post information about themselves.

The report said some mobile apps can siphon data to "invisible and unknown" third parties that could be used to develop a detailed profile of a child without a parent's knowledge or consent.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Miss Representation - Screened at Last

Gina Davis,
a Miss Representation contributor
Miss Representation, the documentary that explores sexism in the media, aired on television today. I recorded it and just finished watching it for the first time.

I was impressed, and highly recommend this film. It's thorough, examining the media's modern day omnipresence and power, and highlighting the numbers behind gender imbalances in the media. And it's compelling, sharing interviews with politicians, media executives, thought leaders, students and more.

The media - via television, movies, music videos, and video games - overwhelmingly objectifies women as sex objects and targets of violence rather than capable leaders and productive members of society. It's not just hurting women and girls, but also hurting men and boys.

The ending of the film offered words of advice on how fight back, including boycotting sexist movies and being mindful of how you criticize yourself in the presence of your daughters. One of the pieces of advice came form Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media.

Speaking your mind and criticizing media companies when you think they’re doing something that is inappropriate for your children is not just your god-given right as an American and as a parent but it’s also entirely consistent with the First Amendment.
Watch the film. And don't forget those words.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Work Invades the Bedroom

Not my bedroom - but I wish it were!
(Source: Pottery Barn)
My sister once read a book about decorating in the feng-shui tradition, which values decor as a means to joy and harmony. Her source didn't recommend having pictures of anyone in the master bedroom except for the "masters" of the house. Even pictures of kids were off limits, because the master bedroom should be a sanctuary for husband and wife (or whomever rooms there). I don't remember much else about that conversation, except that I didn't want to take my kids' pictures out of my room.

My bedroom exudes anything but peace, joy and harmony. As I've mentioned in a previous post, the room also doubles as my husband's home office. And it's also my second office when someone is occupying the guest bedroom which doubles as my first office. We've had a lot of visitors lately, and my work files, folders and textbooks lie on the floor at my bedside.

So yes, my husband and I bring work into the bedroom (work actually lives there), and we bring work to bed with us. And not just at night. Sometimes I find hubby in bed with his laptop during the day - he says he needs a break from his aching office chair.

I found a great article in the Wall Street Journal that reveals that we're just two of a growing number of people who do the same thing. As a result of this trend, businesses are finding new ways to cater to us. A few new products that have hit the market (from WSJ):
* The Double Duty: A two-part adjustable bed by Reverie with built-in outlets (set starts at $5,999), allows one person to work while the other snoozes.
* The Soft Desk: IKEA's laptop holder ($15) helps air circulate under a laptop better than placing it on a lap or sheets. (Side note: we have a similar model at our home.)
* Laptop Lifter: Furinno's folding bed tray ($62 at adjusts for comfort. (These are the modern-day TV trays from the 70s.)
* Pseudo Beds for the Office: Office-furnishings firm Steelcase is marketing feet-up work furniture.
* Surf Like an Egyptian: This pyramid pillow, available at ($39), can prop up a tablet—and keep stray pens from getting lost in the sheets.
* Mattresses that are larger than standard sizes, so couples have more room to lay out papers and devices.
As hard as some of these products try to make working in bed more comfortable, the practice has many ergonomic pitfalls: back problems, sleep problems, eye and wrist strain, and neck and shoulder pain. Not to mention psychosocial implications like loss of intimacy. I love this interactive graphic which highlights these issues. I am definitely the partner on the right, trying to sleep:

Daniel Sieberg, author of The Digital Diet (a book I now plan to get my husband for Christmas), says:
...Many people who bring laptops or other devices to bed get stiff necks or backs from holding their bodies in strange positions, propping themselves up on their elbows or rolling around trying to get comfortable. Tapping casually on a smartphone or tablet touch screen in bed is less likely to cause ergonomic problems than multitasking intensively on a laptop. But working on any mobile device in bed for more than an hour without lumbar support, with the neck bent forward too sharply, or with the arms and hands suspended at an awkward angle, is likely to cause aches and pains.
According to the article, Mr. Sieberg, a former device "addict," has made his bedroom a device-free zone. Such a great idea for adults - and for teenagers and kids. I wonder if my husband would agree to this. And if I could possibly find another space for all of my stuff...

Monday, November 26, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: What to Tell the Kids

Photo: American Red Cross
Hurricane Sandy may have been "last month's news," but thousands families are still in need and are still hurting.

And many kids are still asking questions. Perhaps they're worried for their safety, worried about another storm. Worried that something bad will happen to them, like it happened to the people in the path of the storm. Maybe they're asking "why me?"

As a parent, I'm often at a loss for words. So here are some words (not my own) that can help you help your child. Depending on your child's age, sensitivity, and questions, here are some tips about how to reflect on the disaster (or other events). This is quoted directly from Kim Lee, a church leader at South Mecklenburg Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. Take pieces of this that relate to your family's faith background. It can be so helpful.

God Can Be Trusted in the Midst of a Storm

"Last march it snowed and then it rained for four days and nights. 'It'll come a tide,' my grandma said. And sure enough… it did." Come a Tide by George Ella Lyon is the heart-warming story of a small but hearty mountain community experiencing a flood. "What do we do now?" comes the plaintive cry after the rain stops and the sun comes out. "If it was me," Grandma said, "I'd make friends with a shovel." And so they do, neighbor helping neighbor. Strikingly, George Ella Lyon writes in her dedication, "For friends and neighbors in Harlan County, Kentucky and for everyone who ever dug out."

Along the eastern seaboard, it has come a tide! And, with all the news coverage about the calamity, our children may be inundated and overexposed to news coverage, pictures, and frightening conversation. We, along with our children, are called to be Christ's light in the world for our brothers and sisters impacted by this devastating storm. It is important to provide careful and thoughtful spaces to talk about and act on our concern and love for those who are suffering. Story books can be a wonderful way to reassure children that God can be trusted in the midst of a storm and engage children in faithful conversation as we consider how to assist God in God's reconciling activity in the world. Here are some tips to help guide you as you journey along with your children through the horror and uncertainty that mark disasters.

Read the story Come a Tide. You may purchase your copy by following the link to Amazon or you may borrow my copy.
  • Say: God gives to us the gift of relationship. God first reaches out to us and in turn gives us the wisdom, strength, love, creativity, and desire to reach out to one another. Ask: What do you think about the story? Have you ever seen a flood? What does Grandma say? What happens to the houses, the neighbors, the pigs, and the chickens when the creeks and the river overflow? Where does the family go? Who takes care of them? What happens there? How do the Mac, the Cains, and Papa Bill take care of one another? How does God want us to treat our neighbors? What things are you good at doing? How could you use the things you are good at to help someone?
  • Allow children to offer their own prayers and reflections through art, song, story, and poem.
  • Older children can look for other Scripture stories and prayers that offer thoughts of God's power and love.
  • Write and/or draw letters and prayers for children's worship.
  • Be available for conversation with your children.
  • Provide a safe and quiet space for them to talk and express their concerns. Important faith values that are understood by children include the personal and protective love of God. Stories of Jesus' love for others and parables of his care for others are especially helpful.
  • Light a special "healing" candle each evening for family devotions or meal times. Speak of the Light of Christ and how God's love will never go away.
  • Limit exposure to TV and other media. This is especially important for younger children, for whom the devastation in the media can be particularly frightening. If you have an older school-age child, you may want to watch the news together and talk about what you're seeing.
  • Acknowledge your child's feelings. Reassure your child that what is happening is scary and confusing, and validate your child's many feelings.
  • Increase quiet time. Add quiet time for the family in the evenings or make reading and quiet time before bed longer.
  • Find out what our denomination is doing to help those suffering in the aftermath of this hurricane by clicking on the following link 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: An Adult Problem

Photo: Obama and Christie meet in New Jersey
Photo credit: CNN
I was fortunate to watch Piers Morgan's interview with Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey last night. As we know, Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey and several other states very hard, and the devastation is widespread. Governor Christie gained another fan (me) when he answered Piers' questions about how children might be affected by this hurricane. And I'm so glad that the topic came up (thank you, Mr. Morgan). Let's all remember the children who are suffering now because they live in the path of that hurricane, and also remember those kids that have watched the news unfold on television. Here are a few statements from the interview transcript.
MORGAN: You have a young family, are they all OK? Where were they when all this was going down? Was it at the family home? And what do you say to your children? What does any parent say to a child when this kind of catastrophe happens on their doorstep? 
CHRISTIE: Well, first off, you give them a hug and you say don't be scared, mom and dad will protect you. That's the first thing you do. And second, my family was at our family home in Mendham when we lost power finally late yesterday afternoon. The state police moved them down to the governor's residence in Princeton, where once we arrived, we shortly thereafter lost power there as well. 
But at least we were all together and I came from the operations and intelligence center last night over to the governor's residence and we spent the night together there last night. And we'll spend the night together there again tonight. 
MORGAN: And as I say -- 
CHRISTIE: No power but at least we'll be together.
MORGAN: What would you say -- what does a parent say, what should parents be telling their kids in New Jersey now?
CHRISTIE: I think they look at their children and, you know, children are obviously scared about this. So I said this in my press briefing the other day, I said -- spoke directly to the kids of New Jersey and said, don't be scared. The adults are taking care of this problem. We will take care of this problem. We will keep you safe. That's the most important thing. Kids want to know if they're safe. First and foremost.
And I don't think the message should be any more complicated than that. This is an adult problem for adults to solve and cope with. And we should just let -- lower children's anxiety by telling them that the adults in their lives will keep them safe, and there's nothing to be scared of.
This is such good, practical advice for parents, grandparents or responsible adults looking for the right answer to give an anxious child.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Another Blunder on Facebook?

Here's another example of how the careless use of Facebook can get you into trouble. A high school teacher in Gaston, North Carolina posted a student's homework on her Facebook page, visible to her own inner circle of Facebook friends. The student's work was reportedly filled with grammatical errors and typos. One of the teacher's comments on the post was: "See what I go through every day."

It's not clear why she felt the need to post the homework, but my assumption is that the teacher was looking for some attention and sympathy from her Facebook friends. But apparently some of the friends weren't as close to her as she would have liked, and they complained to the local newspaper and school officials. The teacher has been suspended pending an investigation.

Just like the news reports of students harassing teachers via Facebook and other social media communities, teachers make poor judgment calls as well, sharing private information (a student's homework) where information should clearly not be shared. I couldn't tell from the article whether or not the student's name was mentioned, and that might make a big difference in the school's investigation.

I don't have much to add here... But it reminds me of the old adage: think before you speak. It's just so clear from news report after news report that it is so important to think before you post.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Examining the Price of Consumerism

Photo by Brian Ulrich
Smithhaven, New York, 2003
For his project:
Copia: Snapshots of Consumer Culture
I had a realization tonight. My discomfort with technology doesn't have to do with the technology itself. It has to do with the messages that comes with it, and with the time that using technology takes away from our relationships and responsibilities.

It's the inundation of material messages through technology and media that causes me some of the most angst. I believe that the more advertising you see, the more unhappy you become. Marketers know that to motivate you to buy their product starts with pointing out a perceived flaw in your life. You aren't pretty enough. You're too stressed. You're why don't you treat yourself?

Kids are exposed to up to 40,000 TV advertisements a year (American Psychological Association), and they are learning how to value themselves through these emotional messages of discontent. They are learning to hold material goods in high esteem, and according to research, they are taking on more debt to pay for their "stuff."

I found an organization that seems to embody my defining values and the life that I want to create for myself and my kids. The Center for a New American Dream focuses on "the connections between consumption, quality of life, and the environment has made New Dream unique among environmental and progressive groups."

To me, refreshing.

Here is one compelling video about our material culture that is found on the New American Dream's web site. The High Price of Materialism examines "how America's culture of consumerism undermines our well-being." Watch it. Examine it. We could all learn from it.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Gingerbread Houses in August

 After hearing the phrase, "I'm bored" many times last weekend, I came up with this craft that kept the kids interested for a good chunk of time, keeping us from falling back on the TV for entertainment. A successful craft is no small feat for me - I am certainly not very "crafty." The kids loved playing with the candy and creating some cute gingerbread houses, and I loved cleaning out the pantry.

All you need are graham crackers, frosting and candy pieces. Oh, and a broom.

Here are our creations. My daughters love this so much that asked to do this activity for three days straight. So it was definitely a hit!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

More About Channel One

Campaign for a
Commercial-Free Childhood
Coincidentally, I received this email message about Channel One just a few hours after I published my post about the company.

Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood has got the company in its cross hairs, and is rallying concerned citizens to urge their state's departments of education to investigate Channel One's practices. CCFC says:
And now, in a desperate attempt to make up for lost revenue, Channel One is escalating its daily commercial assault by advertising inappropriate and disreputable websites to students and  turning entire broadcasts into ads.
The organization says that Channel One shouldn't be allowed in schools because:

* It’s waste of students’ time and taxpayers’ money.
* Channel One violates its contract with schools by exceeding the agreed-upon limit on commercial content. 
* Channel One promotes websites that are inappropriate for children and teens.

To take action, contact your state's department of education and let them know that captive video advertising in the public schools is inappropriate. Just find your state on the page and click the link. CCFC has an email template form that's easy to use and send. I did so for my home state.

For further information about Channel One's marketing practices to school age kids, check out

Youth Marketing Company Active in Schools

Did you know that a youth marketing company advertises to up to 5.5 million middle and high school students in 8,000 American schools through an educational news program?

Channel One contracts with schools to provide the use of audio-visual equipment. In exchange, the schools agree to show Channel One News, a 12-minute, daily TV show with 10 minutes of news programming and two minutes of commercials. Commercials include everything from video games to movies and beauty products.

According to Jim Metrock, founder of the grassroots organization, the time spent watching Channel One programming translates to at least 32 hours of lost instructional time a year, and seven weeks of lost instructional time for a middle and high school career.

This is particularly upsetting to Metrock, whose organization aims to remove marketers like Channel One from the schools. “Kids should be using school time to learn, to study,” he says. “Schools should be a marketplace of ideas, not a marketplace for products.”

Further, Metrock says, “Schools should be a place that promotes critical thinking skills. An advertisement is the opposite of that. These ads depend on emotional response. Commercials make you feel bad about yourself in order to make you want to buy something that can make you better.”

For those schools that broadcast Channel One News, Metrock would like to see classroom time allocated to discuss or deconstruct the program. “There just isn't time for teachers to help students deconstruct the powerful commercials they are forced to watch.”

Channel One promotes itself as the “leading television news network for teens nationwide. Our mission is to inform, educate and inspire by making news relevant and engaging for young people and sparking discussion around the important issues impacting youth today.” Reading their press releases, parents might have no idea that Channel One is a leading marketing company to teens and preteens (or tweens).

The company is owned by Alloy Media + Marketing, which is not shy about its purpose: “Capturing the attention of CONSUMERS. Creating conversations that fuel POP CULTURE MOVEMENTS.” Further, “Alloy Digital controls the top ranked and largest media and advertising network of youth targeted websites...and, Alloy Education offers the most comprehensive youth database.”

Parents Can Help

Channel One does not disclose the name of schools in which it broadcasts. So many parents don’t know about the program. "It’s almost like its invisible to parents and the school board,” says Metrock.

First, ask your sixth through 12th grade student if Channel One is in his school. If the school broadcasts the program, Metrock does not recommend going directly to the principal. “You may be the only one complaining about the program, and that’s not enough to motivate the principal to reexamine the contract.”

Instead, he advises that concerned parents garner the support of other parents and act together. Once a group is organized, going to the principal and the school board with objections will be more effective.

Schoolchildren need their parents to be advocates for commercial-free classrooms. They do that by learning about Channel One and then by reminding school officials that schools are to serve students, not advertisers.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Facts and Opinions in the Internet World

Here is a brilliantly-written, satirical editorial by Rex W. Huppke, Chicago Tribune reporter. The author mourns the death of Facts, and writes an obituary.

Political in nature, the editorial also alludes to information overload in the digital age:
To the shock of most sentient beings, Facts died Wednesday, April 18, after a long battle for relevancy with the 24-hour news cycle, blogs and the Internet.
American society has lost confidence that there's a single alternative...Anybody can express an opinion on a blog or any other outlet and there's no system of verification or double-checking, you just say whatever you want to and it gets magnified. It's just kind of a bizarre world in which one person's opinion counts as much as anybody else's.
I love this editorial and its commentary on modern life. I learned long ago, probably in college, that 47% of statistics are false. Today, that number is probably a lot higher. (This is, of course, an old joke.)

In all seriousness, I probably take very little that I read as 100% concrete, unwavering and factual. Don't polls include a margin of error? Aren't researchers trained that there is also a margin of error in their data? Are you ever sure who is funding the studies that provide the "facts?"

I write this little blog and I quote a lot of research and data. I try my best to use legitimate sources and provide lots of references so the reader can read on. Still, the information I share is only as good as the sources that I use. And I hope that the information I reference is as accurate and unbiased as possible.

One last quote from the editorial:
Opinion has become the new truth. And many people who already have opinions see in the 'news' an affirmation of the opinion they already had, and that confirms their opinion as fact.
Studies in psychology teach us that people often internalize what confirms their original beliefs, and they tend to ignore or refute things that are contrary.

I share my opinions on this blog. But you never know... I could be wrong about things. Still, my hope is that we as parents take a moment to stop and think about how technology might influence our individual families in ways that we may not want. We need to be in charge of our families' media consumption and screen time, and not let the technology be in charge.

We need to take pause, determine our priorities for our kids - and for ourselves as parents, partners and spouses - and move those priorities to the top of the list.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bullying Teachers and Digital Citizenship

An article by Christine Armario with the Associated Press reported on incidents of students bullying teachers, principals and other school employees. A few examples:

* In New York, Karen Klein, a bus monitor, was tormented to tears by students taunting her, including references to her dead son - and it was all captured on video and posted to YouTube.

*  In Maryland, students posed as their principal's children on pedophile websites. In other locations, students claim to be their teachers "on to neo-Nazi and white supremacist sties claiming to be a Jewish or minority teacher and inciting the group's anger. Others have stolen photographs from teacher's cell phones and posted them online."

* In Florida, a student started a Facebook site for other kids to express their hatred for teacher Sarah Phelps. The student, who eventually took the site down, was suspended and disciplined by the principal. But the ACLU backed the student's right to free speech, and she won $15,000 in damages and attorneys fees in a suit against the principal.

I don't know any details of this last case other than what was published in Armario's article. Maybe Ms. Phelps is a terrible teacher. But maybe she's a darn good one, or even somewhere in between. Regardless of her teaching abilities, her case seems to highlight how the right to Free Speech through the digital means can encroach on a person's right to common respect and dignity. As a society, I'm not sure we've given this enough reflection. A person obviously has the right to ruin his or her own reputation. But do we have the right to do it for them using widespread digital means? The issue is gray, according to our court system, which is inconsistent with their rulings with similar cases (see Wired, 2010).

Bullying and assaults on others' reputations is nothing new, of course, but it seems that with social networking and other online tools, it's easier than ever to do. According to Pew Internet and American Life Project, online harassment and bullying is different from traditional forms of bullying because of the speed and breadth of how messages are distributed, and because inhibitions are lower through "computer-mediated communication."

I thought the teachers had some insightful words. While Ms. Phelps encouraged parents to turn kids' mistakes into "teachable moments," she said in a written statement: "We need to redefine and expand our definitions of bullying, particularly techno-spread bullying devoid of personal accountability and disseminated under the guise of free speech."

Klein, the bus monitor, asked in an interview why students "would treat a bus monitor in a way they would not treat their own grandmother." She poses an interesting question. Why would we not do unto others as you would have them do to you - our your loved ones? 

Are we ready to throw that age-old principal out the window as we send a message that publicly bullying teachers - or anyone - is a viable form of expression? With all the positives that the Internet brings: enhanced connectivity, a sense of community, and access to information at our fingertips, individuals also have so much more power to hurt one another through the use of our social networks and other online tools.

We can't legislate digital citizenship, but we can still be good digital citizens. We can support those who have been hurt by bullying. And we can educate our children that decency and courtesy to others still apply online.

For another opinion on the Phelps case, see Fast Company.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Hazards of Sitting: Decreased Life Expectancy

There have been more articles published about the dangers of sitting for long periods of time.

According to the Wall Street Journal, researchers in Louisiana studied data of "sedentary behavior" and health from a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They concluded that sitting for just three hours a day can decrease life expectancy by two years, regardless of physical activity and other habits. Watching two hours or more of TV daily can further decrease life expectancy by another 1.4 years.

These findings echo results from other recent studies in Australia and Finland, which also point to the serious hazards of prolonged sitting. According to these studies, long periods of sitting - even when combined with daily physical activity - is connected to risks of cancer, heart conditions, and diabetes and other glucose management issues.

These studies are significant for office workers, who spend an average of eight hours a day - and as many as 15 hours a day - at a desk in front of their computer ( The Wall Street Journal article says,
Last year, scientists found that people who worked 10 years in sedentary jobs, or jobs that don't require a lot of energy expenditure, had twice the risk of colon cancer and a 44% increased risk of rectal cancer, compared with people who had never worked sedentary jobs.
Those of us with desk jobs can help ourselves by standing or moving at least every hour. I guess I'm advocating more trips to the water cooler, employee lounge or restroom. Or at least take more walks to talk face-to-face with someone in your office that you could otherwise email, or stand up while taking that conference call.