Thursday, May 31, 2012

Sleep Texting and Teens
Texting while driving, sexting, and coded secret messages are plenty for parents to worry about when it comes to their teenagers and their cell phones. And according to WebMD the Magazine, there is a new dubious texting behavior.

Teens are sleep-texting.

Much like sleepwalking to the refrigerator for a midnight snack without remembering leaving bed, teens are sending text messages at night without knowing they are doing it.

Health care professionals are concerned because sending or receiving these nighttime texts interferes with a teen's quality of sleep. Although teenagers need a minimum of nine hours of sleep, they don't usually get it because of biological changes and lifestyles. Further, "sleep problems among this age group are linked to obesity, high blood pressure, depression, behavioral problems, and drug abuse." Sleep problems at this age can even extend into health issues into adulthood.

The article cites the Kaiser Family Foundation's study that found that teens spend "an average of 53 hours per week engaged with some form of electronic media," which translates to seven hours a day. Another study indicates that teens send an average of 100 daily cell phone texts. And if texting occurs in the nighttime hours, it can interfere with a good night's sleep.

A 2010 report by the Pew Internet & American Life Center says that "four in five teens sleep with their phone in their bed." One reason for this is that a phone can serve as a clock or an alarm. However, the biggest driver for taking a phone into bed is for the texting capabilities. "Teens who use their cell phones to text are 42% more likely to sleep with their phones than teens that do not text."

What Can You Do?

The WebMD article's author, Michael J. Breus, PhD, ABSM recommends a "tech detox" to help improve sleep quality for teens. He recommends parents set boundaries for using electronic media (approximately only 30% of teenagers have rules at home for this); encourage outdoor activities and exercise to improve sleep quality and put distance between your teen and their electronic distractions; and perhaps most importantly, don't permit electronics in the bedroom.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tough Laws for Sexting

Reuters via
A 2009 survey by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found that:
  • 19% of teens surveyed had sent, received, or forwarded sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude photos through text message or e-mail.
  • Of the teens surveyed who had engaged in “sexting,” 60% sent the photos to a boyfriend/girlfriend
  • 11% sent them to someone they did not know
That was then. Could numbers are higher in 2012?

Sending sexually explicit photos can lead to a lifetime of embarrassment and shame, and possibly even graver consequences. Some teens have resorted to suicide after nude photos of themselves were leaked to the students in their school. summarizes two of these sad stories:
- In Ohio, 18-year-old Jessica Logan hanged herself in the bedroom of her Cincinnati home in July 2009, after her boyfriend forwarded a nude photo she sent him to pals. The image got passed along to more and more people until hundreds of students at at least seven area schools received it.
- In Tampa, 13-year-old Hope Witsell killed herself after a sexted photo of herself got sent around her middle school. Her death followed daily harassment from classmates who called her "whore" and "slut." School authorities reacted to the incident by suspending Hope for the first week of eighth grade. Like Jessica Logan, she hanged herself in her bedroom.
Now state and local governments are working to curb sexting. Police in Belmont, North Carolina are providing educational sessions on the dangers of sexting and social media. In North Carolina, using your smart phone to send, or receive and keep, a sexually explicit photo on your phone can lead to a conviction as a sex offender, charge them with child pornography, and time spent in jail.

Legislators in New Hampshire and South Carolina are proposing new bills that make sexting a criminal act separate from child pornography crimes. Those who oppose new laws against sexting say that punishments for these acts go too far, and can ruin a young life for years to come.

Regardless of the personal or legal consequences, teens need to know what can happen if they send, receive or forward sexually explicit messages, photos or videos. Open communication with parents can be the first line of defense against being a victim or perpetrator.

Common Sense Media offers advice to parents on the issue (quoted directly from the site):
    • Don’t wait for an incident to happen to your child or your child’s friend before you talk about the consequences of sexting.
    • Remind your kids that once an image is sent, it can never be retrieved -- and they will lose control of it.
    • Talk about pressures to send revealing photos
    • Teach your children that the buck stops with them. If someone sends them a photo, they should delete it immediately. It’s better to be part of the solution than the problem. Besides, if they do send it on, they're distributing pornography -- and that’s against the law.
    • Check out It’s a fabulous site that gives kids the language and support to take texting and cell phone power back into their own hands. It’s also a great resource for parents who are uncomfortable dealing directly with this issue.

      Tuesday, May 29, 2012

      From Tooth Fairy to Smart Phone

      I have a beef with the tooth fairy. Yes, the sweet little fairy who flutters around at night, doling out cash to little kids who have lost their teeth.

      When my oldest child lost her first tooth, the family was excited for the fairy's inaugural visit to our home. While my daughter slept, I carefully considered what I thought was an appropriate amount for the tooth fairy to bring in the year 2010. If I got a quarter per tooth back in the early 80s, wasn't a dollar bill plenty? Yes, at an increase of 400% in 30 years, a single was certainly very generous of the tooth fairy.

      When my daughter awoke the next morning, she found a crumpled dollar bill under her pillow. But there were no cries of joy. Just crying. Astounded, I quickly rushed to her side. What's wrong? I asked. She responded that the tooth fairy must not like her as much as Sally (real name withheld).

      You see, Sally told my daughter that she got a twenty dollar bill for her first tooth.

      And not only that, but Johnny says he routinely gets twenty dollars for each of his teeth. And Susie even claims she once got a cool fifty dollars for her left incisor.

      Now, it could be that the first graders were telling fibs, and one fib compelled the other kids to join in. But our school district does include very privileged neighborhoods, and it's possible that Sally, Johnny and Susie were telling the truth.

      I did my best to explain to my daughter that the tooth fairly loves her, too, and that perhaps the other kids were exaggerating. But her visions of big bucks were dashed, and she went to school sniffling. By the way, her younger sister was crying, too, because she didn't get any money at all. It was a memorable morning and I became cynical of the whole tooth fairy ruse.

      If we continue to live in this school district, we'll no doubt have bigger material problems as our kids get older. Our family is on a budget, and our kids will never be the talk of the school for their expensive clothes, big birthday bashes, or new sports car.

      From Tooth Fairy to Smart Phone

      As I was writing yesterday's post about phone apps that teens use to keep secrets from parents, my husband inquired about the topic du jour. He's one of the most level-headed, practical, Mars-oriented men on Earth, and his reaction was typically straightforward: Kids don't need the latest and greatest smart phones. "Just get them a phone without the ability to download apps. And don't have a text plan," he said. "The kid may be chastised for it, but it would keep him out of trouble."

      This angle hadn't occurred to me, and it wasn't expressed in the cited article, either. If a parent is truly concerned about risky behavior, sharing private information, or sexting with cell phones, there are additional options beyond trying to catch them in the act. One viable option is to not provide a teenager with a cell phone that has all the bells and whistles imaginable.

      Of course, cell phone technology changes at a rapid pace, and in just a few years today's smart phone could be considered a dinosaur. It may become very hard to find a phone with just the basics - the Yugo of the cell phone world. But jokes aside, whether its money from the tooth fairy or the latest smart phone, keeping up with the Joneses - or Sally, Johnny or Susie - may not always in the best interest of the child.

      At least I keep telling myself that.

      Monday, May 28, 2012

      Phone Apps Keep Secrets from Parents

      Did you know that there are apps for smart phones that that translate a phone text into a coded message, and that it can be decoded only by users that have that same app? What does this mean for parents?

      Teens are using these apps, like Hidden Text, Text Free, and Text Plus, to share secret messages with each other. When parents check a teen's phone, Mom or Dad read a benign, coded message, thinking they are reading the real thing. According to a report by Charlotte's News Channel 36, teens are using these apps - which are free and easy to download - to sext each other.

      Dr. Frank Gaskill of Charlotte's Southeast Psych says that one in five teens have sent nude or semi-nude photos or videos of themselves to others, and an estimated 40% of teenagers have sent sexually explicit messages.  Dr. Gaskill recommends four household rules for managing teen cell phone use:
      1. He says kids should have a phone curfew, a time when they have to put their phone down for the day.
      2. They should never be allowed to charge their phone in their bedroom overnight. Too risky and too secretive, he says.
      3. Parents have to learn the technology their kids are using. "They can't just sit back and say, ‘I don't understand that stuff."
      4. Finally, it’s all about the talk. "I'm saying have conversations with your kids starting at age five or six,” Dr. Gaskill said. And keep talking and learning, because this child psychologist knows one thing for certain: "There's a lot of apps out there…and there'll be 10 more in six months."
      What's the big concern about teens sharing private and sexual material with other teens? One concern is the permanency of online posts or photos shared. Jumping to a brilliant national article by Chelsea Clinton and James Steyer, the two have this to say about young people using the Internet to share thoughts, photos and videos:
      The immediacy of social media platforms, coupled with vulnerable youngsters who are socially inexperienced and not fully developed emotionally, can create a combustible mix. Kids often self-reveal before they reflect, and millions of kids say and do things they later regret. The permanence of what anyone posts online and the absence of an "eraser" button mean that the embarrassment and potential damage can last forever.
      Online posts, photos and videos are permanent, and can be copied and shared with anyone. Does a teenager, whose main focus is fitting in with peers, have the maturity and sound judgement to decide what he or she is comfortable posting and sharing with the world? Can they truly trust their young friends to keep text and photos to themselves? Do they fully understand potential ramifications for sharing private or sexual material with their friends or even strangers?

      And are most parents ready to contend with a continuous flood of programs that are specifically designed to help teens keep secrets from them. Or do many of us, like Dr. Gaskill claims, have our heads in the sand? The very existence of apps that are designed to keep secrets means that the onus is on us to protect our kids in ways that we may not be prepared for.

      Sunday, May 27, 2012

      Should Toddlers Use iPads?

      ZDNet, Jason D. O'Grady
      It's been two years since the iPad was released, and already nearly 40% of children ages 2-4 use one or a similar device, according to Common Sense Media. Now pediatric neuroscientists, psychologists and researchers are racing to study the affects of these devices on toddlers' brain development. They worry that due to the lack of current research on the subject, the majority of the experimentation actually takes place in homes with real children as the "guinea pigs" (What Happens When Toddlers Zone Out With an iPad by Ben Worthen, Wall Street Journal)

      The concern is that young brains develop at its highest pace between birth and age three, and it's possible that iPad use could interfere with the development of important neural connections. We already know that the amount of TV a child watches directly correlates with the likelihood he or she will have attention span issues. But some scientists suggest that issues related to the iPad could be even more significant, because the device is interactive and holds young children "captive" for much longer than a television screen. According to Dimitri Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children's Hospital: "One of the strengths of the iPad"—it is interactive—"may be the weakness."

      One way that tablets get a lock on that attention span is through a known biochemical process. Science has shown that the rewards and "exciting visuals" that apps and digital games provide cause the brain to release dopamine, a neurochemical associated with pleasure. This dopamine release encourages kids - and everyone else - to use the device longer and more frequently.

      Side note: I'm actually a little confused now. I thought that one reasons experts are concerned with television watching is because a child's focus gets interrupted too often. But now I'm reading that iPads may be harmful because they don't allow for enough interruption. Is it simply that the desire to use an iPad is that much stronger than watching TV, and even more hours are consumed with the tablet? I'd love some clarification.

      Anyhow, back to the article. Experts are concerned that iPad use could affect toddlers' development of decision making skills. The example given in the article compares the iPad to Legos. A child playing with Legos determines when her creation is finished. In the case of an iPad app, the app decides when the child has completed the task. It is "unclear whether this difference has any impact on a child."

      On the home front, parents like the iPad because some educational apps help kids learn, and some use it as a tool to entertain children and keep them quiet. Still, parents worry that it may make their "kids more sedentary and less sociable."

      Mr. Worthen concludes his article:
      My wife and I stopped letting our son use the iPad. Now he rarely asks for it. He is 4 and his friends aren't talking about cool iPad games, so he doesn't feel he's missing out.
      When it comes to toddlers, this is such a good rule of thumb. If they don't know what they're missing, and they're just as happy without it, why let them use it? I doubt they'll be less tech-savvy or academically prepared than their peers if parents postpone the use of devices like the iPad until they have a chance to develop more. What's the magic age? I don't know. I'm not an expert, but my gut says that a toddler may just be too young.

      Other articles on iPad and toddlers:

      Friday, May 25, 2012

      The Trouble with Earbuds

      My "Tech Teacher Interview" with Julie King this week gave me some new article ideas. One of Julie's recommendations for parents is to put a limit to kids' earbud use. She says:
      "I would...suggest that parents discourage constant earbud use. While parents may not want to listen to their kids music of choice, when kids pick up the habit of popping earbuds in often it's easy to miss lots of opportunities to connect."
      I thought that was beautifully stated. Just like the constant use of computers or smart phones can hamper meaningful one-on-one communication, we can close off ourselves with persistent use of iPods and mp3 player.

      William Clark, a leading audiologist at Washington University in St. Louis says that people sometimes have their earbuds in all day long (See Kids' Use of Earbuds Worries Hearing Experts, NPR). And that can be a problem, not just because of missed communication opportunities, but also because of hearing concerns. Audiologists have several recommendations for earbud use:
      • Limit earphone listening to an hour a day, at a setting no greater than six on a 10-notch scale.
      • If someone can hear earphone "leakage" from several feet away, it is probably too loud.
      • If someone has ringing in the ears or a feeling of fullness in the ear, or if speech sounds muffled after a listening session, the music was too loud.
      I've also read that it's safer for kids to use traditional headphones rather than earbuds. See an MSNBC article for alternatives that might be kinder to children's ears.

      Problems with hearing often worsen slowly, so it's hard to pinpoint the effects of exposure to loud noises through earbuds or by other means. However, Clark says that "the ravages of other exposures plus normal aging will contribute to an accelerated hearing loss when today's kids are in their 50s and 60s."

      Last winter I took my kids roller skating for the first time. We had a blast, although the music in the skating rink was loud. Very, very loud, the kind of loud that makes your ears ache and ring. The next time I took the girls skating, I brought ear plugs for everyone. My kids grumbled a little bit and my husband called me "granny," but they all got used to it, and I think they probably appreciated it in the end.

      Julie King's suggestion to discourage earbuds might be met with some initial resistance too, but if parents are consistent and clear about their rules, kids will get used to it, and maybe one day appreciate their parents for taking a stand.

      Thursday, May 24, 2012

      Eat More Chocolate? Depends on the Screensaver

      Sculpture by
      Alberto Giacometti
      Nutrition Action Healthletter is a publication of the Center for Science in the Public Interest that my husband and I have enjoyed for several years. CSPI is a "nonprofit health-advocacy group...[that] mounts educational programs and presses for changes in government and corporate policies."

      The group pushes for guidelines that protect kids from harmful junk food advertising. (See my April post for more information about that topic.) They've also developed a smartphone app called "Chemical Cuisine" that provides the "latest information about all the common food additives, and rates their risks to the entire population or vulnerable groups." You can get the app from the iTunes or Android market for 99 cents, according to the group's web site.

      Painting by Mark Rothko
      The newest edition of the magazine cites an interesting study that uses computers and screensavers as an independent variable. The research relates to decision making and eating habits, but it also exemplifies a basic way that computers can interact with people and their cognitive processes.

      Researchers counted the number of chocolate pieces that people ate while in a room with just a computer and screensaver (Appetite 58: 1109, 2012). People were asked to sit in a room with a bowl of chocolates for five minutes. Those that were in the room with a screensaver showing an image of a thin human sculpture by Alberto Giacometti averaged 4.7 chocolates eaten, while those that were exposed to the screen saver showing an image by painter Mark Rothko ate 6.4 chocolates. Most participants claimed they didn't even notice the computer or screensaver in the room.

      It seems that subtle cues can persuade us to eat more. I would argue that subtle environmental cues can persuade us to do a lot of things. It would be interesting to see similar studies that research other human habits, like interpersonal communication and buying habits. Visual images and cues matter, even when they are not a focal point.

      Wednesday, May 23, 2012

      Office Ergonomics: Thoughts from an Active Couch Potato

      Is this the solution? We could
      put one of these in our bedroom.
      According to my hubby,
      "It looks great, but how do you
      get out of it?"

      As I write this post on ergonomics, it's not hard to see why the topic is weighing heavily on my mind. I'm sitting on a blue exercise ball, hoping for back pain relief. I'm hunched over my laptop at the dining room table, squinting at the screen. I work from home but I don't have an office. Today I've worked while sitting on patio furniture, kitchen bar stools and formal dining room chairs. Although I took a break to exercise on my garage sale elliptical machine, it wasn't enough; my back and shoulders are killing me. (Insert sad violin music here.)

      My husband works from home, too. He doesn't have a formal office, either. He sits at a proper desk, but it's in our bedroom, and his chair is too tall to fit under the desk. He hunches over, too. Today he had an 8:30 am physical therapy appointment to help rehabilitate a painful shoulder. I'm convinced his shoulder problems are related to his workstation.

      There is so much information on the web about office ergonomics and computer-related injuries that it was hard to decide who to reference. I settled on, which is an information web site by ErgoAdvocate, an "Ergonomics Program Management Solution" for corporations. Office-Ergo claims to be "one of the oldest and most visited office ergonomics web sites on the web."

      According to the site, there are important differences between office ergonomics and industrial ergonomics. The former centralizes around the computer and long periods of sitting at a desk. "The principles are the same," says the organization, "but there are so many subtle differences and different products used in office ergonomics that we believe it’s best to specialize."

      There is a long list of hazards related to large volumes of computer use, including eye strain, repetitive stress injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, and generalized pain in the neck, shoulder, trunk, back, hand, wrist and arm. (While doing research for this post, I even read a few articles that warned of the hazards of tripping over computer wires.)

      That's a long list of potential injuries, but let's not forget about "sitting disease," which is a catchy phrase for problems related to office workers (and kids, too) who sit at our computers all day. According to Office-Ergo, many of us now sit for as many as 15 hours a day. Compare that with our ancestors, who hunted and gathered by walking or running six to twelve miles per day, or those that had to actively farm for their food! Some other interesting points about jobs that require large blocks of chair time (quoted from the web site):
      • It is estimated that half of all jobs in western society are computer-based. 
      • Sitting is harder on your back than standing.
      • Sitting disease or more accurately, metabolic syndrome, is a condition where the Lipoprotein Lipase enzymes in the blood vessels essentially go to sleep after 60 – 90 minutes of inactivity.
      • An hour of daily exercise won’t counteract the negative health effects of sitting. Running, biking and other types of exercise are great for improving fitness, but they don’t counteract the negative health effects of prolonged sitting. Exercisers who sit most of the day are known as active couch potatoes. (Yes, that describes me!)
      • You need to stand and move each hour or more to maintain health.
      My husband and I could get up and walk or stretch more during the day. But when it comes to body aches and pains, what is keeping us from making needed changes to our office furniture? One word: finances. Do we move into a bigger, and more expensive, house so we can accommodate improved home offices? Do we splurge on an ergonomic consultant, chairs and desks that are more friendly to our bodies? Because the cost for such changes would come out of our own pockets, we're arguably at a disadvantage. However, most people who work in a traditional office probably don't have access to ergonomic environments, either. One size office chair or desk does not fit all, and most large companies probably prefer to buy furniture in bulk.

      That's enough for now. I need to go to bed in our office-slash-master bedroom, the blue light of our wireless modem staring at me, and the hum of the television cable box lulling me to sleep.

      Tuesday, May 22, 2012

      Tech Teacher Interview: Julie King

      Photo courtesy of
      Julie King, ESK
      I'm starting an interview series with teachers to share their expert insight into the impact of technology on kids and families - good and bad. The first interview is with Julie King, the technology teacher at The Episcopal School of Knoxville (ESK) in Tennessee, a private K-8 school. Julie is an IT specialist, elementary technology instructor, and a parent! In the interview below, I've taken the liberty to highlight a few important points of my conversation with Julie.

      Q: What are your concerns with young learners and technology (if any)?

      A: The most important thing is to make sure that the technology kids are using is interactive.  It's easy, with iPads and other tools, to let students become passive users.  Parents and teachers need to choose apps and activities that encourage kids to actively engage, create, and build their problem-solving skills.

      Q: How is technology benefiting kids?

      A: Technology is particularly helpful in letting children move through learning at their own pace.  TV shows and DVDs move at a prescribed pace - often interrupted by ads.  Well-designed instructional technology is ad-free and lets students practice as long as they need before moving on to more challenging material.

      Q: Do you endorse any program for managing technology in the home and educating kids about online safety?

      A: At ESK we provide filtered internet access. Parents can do the same at home with tools like NetNanny or OpenDNS. There is no substitute, though, for ongoing conversations with your children about online environments, regardless of age. Even elementary school students can understand that being online is like being in the middle of a big city. They never know who will be in the same space they are. Children should know that the best thing to do when they encounter something or someone they're not sure about is to tell an adult - a parent if home, or a teacher at school. There are many resources (like Netsmartz Kids) online to help parents teach children about safe internet use.

      One helpful tip I've picked up is for families to institute a digital curfew. At a specific time in the evening, all devices are turned in. This gives parents the chance to check on their kids' computers to make sure critical material is being backed up, antivirus is running etc., and keep an eye on the apps and games their children are using. It also helps kids understand that there is a time and place for technology. There are also times and places for playing with the dogs, throwing a frisbee, reading and drawing! Disconnecting a couple of hours before bedtime helps kids begin to wind down and their minds prepare for sleep. I would also suggest that parents discourage constant earbud use. While parents may not want to listen to their kids music of choice, when kids pick up the habit of popping earbuds in often it's easy to miss lots of opportunities to connect.

      Q: What do you teach children in your classes?

      At ESK, our technology program's philosophy centers on three themes - adapt, collaborate, innovate. In a world where the technology students will use changes on nearly a weekly basis, the ability to transfer skills across platforms becomes critical. It may sound daunting, but today's kids are already wired for it. The day I watched my then-10-year old son and his friend set up a Wii and PS2 without help in the beach house we were visiting, I realized using multiple operating systems and tools comes pretty naturally to them.

      When children use technology to connect with others, be it in their classroom or around the world, they expand their own horizons. Just last week, one of our classes Skyped with students in Central America. Innovation is the most important goal, and builds on the others. Once students know how to learn, and can assimilate ideas from others, they're ready to create something all their own. Innovation and problem-solving are skills so important to today's world - and tomorrow's careers.

      Technology integration in school is always most effective when it is based on the mission and curriculum of the school. If not, it can become "technology for technology's sake" or pursuit of the latest/coolest tool. That's where the involvement and professional development of classroom teachers is fundamental to the success of technology in any learning environment. I think it's important that teachers know technology is only one piece of an amazing classroom. It's only successful when founded on strong pedagogy and a passion for engaging students. 

      Thanks to Julie King with The Episcopal School of Knoxville for sharing your expert advice with parents! Please see ESK's web site for more information about the school's technology department, policies and tech summer camp.

      Monday, May 21, 2012

      Why Some Resist Facebook

      Facebook has been in the news a lot in recent days. The IPO, Mark Zuckerberg's wedding, and analyses of how it interacts with our psyches (i.e. Stephen Marche's "Loneliness" article in the Atlantic Monthly). The sheer enormity of the social network - 900 million people use Facebook - is so staggering that those that choose not to use it have become objects of curiosity. What would possibly cause a reported two out of five American adults to actually resist Facebook?

      Surely Facebook holdouts must be peculiar, social hermits, or just old and out of touch. Actually, sometimes it's none of the above. According to an AP article by Anick Jesdanun, there are many reasons why adults opt out. An AP-CNBC poll reveals that the reasons for resisting Facebook include:

      * A generational difference. Although they may not be adverse to computers, some older adults are satisfied with their social lives and don't have the drive to connect with new social groups in the same way their younger counterparts do.
      * Economic and educational status. Lower income populations are less likely to use Facebook, sometimes because they don't have computers or Internet access. Those without college degrees are also less likely to use the social network.
      * Privacy concerns. "Women who choose to skip Facebook are more likely than men to cite privacy issues."
      * A general dislike of Facebook.

      One further bit of information about the makeup of a Facebook resister. According to Steve Jones, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago:
      Many resisters consider Facebook to be too much of a chore. We've added social networking to our lives. We haven't added any hours to our days... the decision to be online on Facebook is simultaneously a decision not to be doing something else.
      Amen to that.

      Sunday, May 20, 2012

      When Religion and the Internet Clash

      Hutterite children praying
      Photo by Annie Griffiths Belt for
      National Geographic

      While Internet-linked computers and digital devices have effortlessly made their way into mainstream homes around the world, several religious and cultural communities are fighting against them as a threat to their foundational beliefs.

      Tonight an orthodox Jewish rally is scheduled to convene at Citi Field, the Mets baseball stadium in New York City. The topic of the rally: "the dangers of the Internet, and how to use it in a religiously responsible way." (New York Times) The group sold so many tickets that they rented the nearby Arthur Ashe tennis stadium to accommodate more attendees. The religion heavily segregates the sexes, so women attended the rally via teleconference in schools and other public places.

      According to the New York Times article by Sharon Otterman:
      Speakers at the rally in Queens will not seek to ban the Internet, but rather to raise awareness about how, unmonitored, it poses a grave risk to the community, said Eytan Kobre, a spokesman for the organizers. The risk, he said, comes not only from pornography, but also from social media and the addictive pull of the Internet, which can limit human interaction, reading and study.
      In Lakewood, New York, Orthodox Jewish schools and synagogues already prohibit children and high school students from using the Internet, and adult use requires a rabbi's approval.

      Other religious groups have been in the media for their clashes with the digital world. Next week the National Geographic channel will air a new reality series featuring a Hutterite colony in Montana. According to the series web site:
      Most of the colony is holding tight to the age-old traditions of their ancestors, while others are flirting with modern society. Some feel that bringing modern technology, education, and ideas into the colony will only help it, while others fear that this modern way of thinking threatens their very existence.
      By allowing television cameras to film their everyday lives, it seems that some Hutterites don't have as strong convictions against intermingling with modern society as Orthodox Jews. Maybe they're getting paid a fortune to share their way of life with the world, and the temptation was too great for even community leaders. I'm curious.

      Religions of all kinds have long valued a disconnection with the rest of the world. But as the Internet and new digital devices are "shrinking" the world by improving communication between people all over the globe, it is also making it easier for religious members to mix with and be tempted by outside influences. My guess is that these ways of life have never been challenged to this extent. I wonder if over time we'll see a softening of separatist religious beliefs and a general fusing of many cultures. Sociologists have probably already documented and written about it. Maintaining a way of life and a moral tradition has got to be of great concern to some religious leaders, and as the New York Orthodox Jews are doing, they are rallying, educating their followers, and fighting to keep the outside world from creeping in.

      Friday, May 18, 2012

      Thank You...for Using Cell Phones

      One of my favorite movies is Thank You For Smoking (based on a book by Christopher Buckley and rated R - so definitely for grownups).

      If you haven't seen the movie, it's a satire featuring a guy who is chief PR spokesperson for the floundering tobacco industry. It's a hard job, but Nick Naylor (played by Aaron Eckhart) is a master at spin, at avoiding his own conscious, and rationalizing his career to his questioning young son.

      Without spoiling the ending, in the last scene, Nick ends up in a conference room as a valued adviser to lobbyists of the cell phone industry, who are worried because research is showing a link between their products and brain cancer. The not-so-subtle message is this: We all know that smoking is bad for your health. Will cell phones one day share the dubious stage with cigarettes?

      While acknowledging that Thank You For Smoking is fictitious, some worry that cell phone usage is truly harmful. According to the Environmental Working Group, the city of San Francisco recently passed a right-to-know ordinance, "making it the first city in the nation to require cell phone radiation disclosure at the point of sale." The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), which opposes radiation disclosure, yanked its annual conference out of San Francisco and filed a lawsuit against the city. Now the city of Burlingame, California is considering a similar right-to-know ordinance.

      The EWG maintains a cell phone radiation database, which ranks the phones according to radiation emissions. According to the group:
      Recent studies find significantly higher risks for brain and salivary gland tumors among people who have used cell phones for 10 years or longer. The state of the science is provocative and troubling, and much more research is essential.
      I looked up my HTC Droid Incredible, and its one of the worst offenders on the EWG list. I use my cell phone for a large part of my work week (I don't have a telephone land line), so this information makes me squirm. Since research is still pending, it could be that there are no health risks associated with cell phones; perhaps long-term cell phone users are also exposed to other hazards. But do I want to take that chance for me or my kids? It doesn't seem likely that I'll give up my cell phone.What's a girl to do?

      I'm going to buy a head set for my cell phone this morning at our local gadget store. And I'll consider spending an extra $30 per month at an old-fashioned land line. If I do, am I succumbing to environmental paranoia and throwing away money, as some of my family members would suggest?  And if I don't, am I taking unnecessary risks with my health? I'm not sure what to believe.

      Thursday, May 17, 2012

      Protecting Kids: The Environmental Angle

      Source: Environmental Working Group
      The stated topic of this blog is "exploring the interaction of the media, technology and families." Today I'm deviating from the media and technology angle while sharing something of great importance to families. 

      Here is a video from the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization that uses "the power of public information to protect public health and the environment." It's relatively long for a web video (about 22 grab some popcorn and a soda), but it's disturbing and enlightening, and something that parents and grandparents should see. The premise of the video is to show that "industrial pollution begins in the womb," and it encourages citizens to support legislation that requires chemicals to be proven safe for children before they are allowed into the market. That is, new chemicals should be guilty until proven innocent, rather than the other way around as they have been for over 30 years.

      EWG also provides a lot of information about which toxic chemicals are found in the products that we use every day in our homes and on our bodies, like cleaners, cosmetics and sunscreens. The group has also published a stance on foods marketed to children; for more on this see last month's post on this topic. Here is a compelling statement by the EWG as it relates to toxic chemicals and children:
      We are at a tipping point, where the pollution in people is increasingly associated with a range of serious diseases and conditions from childhood cancer to autism, ADHD, learning deficits, infertility and birth defects. Yet even as our knowledge about the links between chemical exposure and human disease grows, the government has almost no authority to protect people from even the most hazardous chemicals on the market.
      Like the organizations I follow that fight to keep commercialism out of schools or work for a safer Internet, EWG asks for our support for environmental concerns: shaping public policy, adopting legislation, signing petitions, and donating financially. I'm thankful that these groups exist to "organize the troops," but I wish it wasn't so hard for them to do their job of protecting the public.

      I don't plan to delve into environmental topics too often on this blog, but again, this is too important not to share.

      Wednesday, May 16, 2012

      Defending Your Online Reputation

      This morning I wanted to write about "personal branding." I originally thought I would look at this new phenomenon and marketing buzzword as a potential outlet for narcissism and self-preoccupation. Then I came across an interesting article that showed me the flip side of the coin.

      Could it be that you should monitor your personal brand because you need to defend your online reputation?

      Like it or not, it's becoming ever easier for anyone to find your history and background using online searches. What happens if an ex-boyfriend or jealous friend with a grudge posts something negative about you or your child? A permanent online record is created, and prospective employers, teachers, friends and family members could one day stumble upon it.

      Vanessa Van Petten writes and a column, and is a "youthologist" that speaks to groups "about family relationships, teen lifestyles, advertising to Net-Generation and many other issues pertaining to Gen Y." She wrote an article called Personal Branding for Teens: 7 Steps to Teach and Learn It. She says:
      Youth thinking about their personal branding the sense of how they are managing their reputation and how others perceive them... Just like teens want to know who is talking about them behind their back, you have to stay on top of what is being said or posted about you online. 
      Yikes. I had a hard enough time trying to manage verbal rumors back in the late 80s/early 90s. Now kids have to deal with protecting their online reputations. Its as if parents and teens need to become their own public relations operation, and not just for keeping up appearances, but for keeping dirt off the record.

      Van Petten advises that parents teach teens what kinds of personal information should never be shared online. They should setup a Google Alert using their own name as search criteria so they can see what is being said about them online. Manage and defend your reputation soon after something negative goes public. One way to do so is by using ReputationDefender, an online service that can help buffer messages that threaten your good name. Of course, there are also workshops for schools and families that can help train teens and their parents protect their reputation.

      As a teenager, I would have wanted to avoid what was being said about me online. I'd have the urge to take the path that many celebrities do: avoid any news about myself. If I did see something negative about me, it would have been hard to handle. I was a teenager with very thin skin, as is typical of many young people. I actually feel sorry for teenagers today for having to think about their reputation in such detail.

      This is where teaching digital citizenship to young kids and teens is so valuable. Such education could help prevent some uncomfortable or malicious messages from going permanently public. We should build a foundation early enough with children so they begin to think about how their online actions can affect others.

      I'll close my post with a quote attributed to Scott Monty of Ford Motor Company: "Whatever happens in Vegas...stays on Google."

      Personal message to Ms. Van Petten: You may see this post because you use Google Alert. I enjoyed your article very much. Your reputation is safe with me.

      Tuesday, May 15, 2012

      School Newsletter: Please Limit Screen Time

      Yesterday our elementary school newsletter came home in my children's folders. I was pleased to see a small paragraph suggesting parents limit screen time this spring and summer. Part of the paragraph says:
      Screen time is not just TV. It includes watching DVDs, playing video games, browsing the Internet, or otherwise playing on the computer. All that time in front of a screen crowds out time for regular physical activity, and experts say that children should get at least 60 or more minutes of activity every day.
      I recently approached the principal about sending home information about Screen-Free Week to all students. Admittedly, I was too late to get anything organized, and we agreed that we would review the subject next year. I don't know if talking to him inspired the article in the newsletter, but it gave me an idea.

      If you're interested in encouraging parents to limit screen time for kids, talk to your principal, parent-teacher organization (PTO) leaders, or teacher about sharing information in the school newsletter, on the school web site, or other in publications. I'll even write the paragraph(s) for you - just email me at parenttechorg at! Talking with school leaders about encouraging screen time management in the home is a fairly easy thing to do, and it may motivate some parents in your community to decrease family screen time and increase their kids' physical activity and imaginative play.

      Monday, May 14, 2012

      Graphing Baby: New Apps for Parents

      Sleep Telemetry chart by Trixie Tracker

      Shortly after my first child was born, I discovered a web site called The Trixie Update. Here a stay-at-home dad (Ben MacNeill) shared updates of his baby (Trixie), including everything from exact sleep and wake hours to the number of diaper changes. Although I read a lot of books prior to the arrival of my daughter, she was born with some complications that threw me for a loop, and in the end I felt wholly unprepared. As I tried to keep track of feedings, sleep schedules and diaper changes on my own in Excel, I was entertained by the data points and graphs that Mr. MacNeill produced by vigilantly recording his baby's activities. The Trixie Update gave me a sense that I wasn't alone in this new world of parenthood.

      That was 2004. Mr. MacNeill has since launched an app that helps all parents keep track of their baby's activities. Called The Trixie Tracker, the product web site says that "Our parents and caregivers have recorded 3.5 million naps, diapers and bottles."

      The Trixie Tracker was recently featured in an article called The Data-Driven Parent in The Atlantic Monthly (by Mya Frazier). This and other products, like Baby Connect, Total Baby, Baby Log, iBabyLog, Evoz, and the Bedtime app by Johnson's Baby, have made "parenthood a more quantifiable, science-based endeavor. Forthcoming versions of baby-data apps are poised to bring even more dramatic change, allowing parents to compare their child with other children in great detail."

      By using these products, parents can compare their baby's stats with those of thousands of other babies. It can bring relief to overwhelmed parents when they see that their baby falls in the middle of the curve. As Frazier says, "What remains to be seen is whether this new trove of information will reduce the anxieties of early parenthood or, by allowing constant, nervous comparisons, bring them into sharper relief."

      One question that I have about these products is the level of privacy that they can afford. No doubt some of them have a way to connect to social networking sites to share baby's information with the world. And parents need to thoughtfully consider what kind of record (if any) that they want to create and share when it comes to their child.

      Now that I'm an experienced parent, I realize that I could have relaxed a lot more, and that I did just fine without graphing my child. But had these products been around when my children were babies, I probably would have used one of them. Perhaps tracking diaper changes and feedings would have given me the sense that I was doing something that could help identify causes for concern early when in truth I often felt helpless. And it might have given me a small sense of community with other parents that I didn't have before. Of course, nothing could have replaced my meetups with other new parents and good old-fashioned advice from Grandma.

      Sunday, May 13, 2012

      Facebook and Your Baby: The Oversharing Dilemma

      Kudos to Steven Leckart for his Wall Street Journal article entitled, "The Facebook-Free Baby." Leckart questions the practice of parents "oversharing" information about their babies and young kids, and chooses not to share photos of his young son publicly. He writes:
      Two decades ago, parents began registering domains named for their kids. Today, they register Facebook profiles for their unborn children, and even write status updates in first person. Similarly, parents set up Twitter accounts for their infants, and send tweets on their baby's behalf. Messages I've seen range from the banal ("Ate. Slept. Pooped.") to the more self-conscious: "Thanks to social media my day wearing a bear suit will live on to inspire future generations...and embarrass me as a teenager."
      But what's wrong with sharing photos through social networks with only your 300 or so of your closest friends? Leckart says,
      Although privacy settings allow us to control which circle(s) of friends has access to parts of our profiles, many people either don't understand how to use them or prefer not to. Plus, like record labels and print publishers, parents are discovering that once content becomes digital, it can be easily copied and redistributed willy-nilly (hello, grandparents!). The result: photos of kids in compromising, colorful circumstances, and status updates recounting even more compromising, colorful circumstances, intended for a select few, are now spread out over the Web for everyone.
      I've actually thought about this a great deal. While it's nice to share pictures of the baby with grandparents and friends, when does it become a matter of "oversharing?" One of my children is, by nature, very shy and shuns attention. Will she appreciate a record of embarrassing pictures and her silly sayings when she's older? As she grows into adulthood, will new friends, partners or prospective employes have an easy way to research her every waking moment as a kid? Only time can tell what social networks may do with their information someday.

      In the end, I think that creating a permanent online record is something that a child should decide once she comes of age. For now, I get along very well by sharing pictures through a private SmugMug or Shutterfly gallery.  And I prefer to talk about our family events and cute sayings during my phone conversations with extended family and friends. Thankfully, my husband feels the same way. While we're extremely proud parents, we prefer to keep our private lives private, and protect the identity of our children while they're young. They may thank us one day.

      Thursday, May 10, 2012

      Thoughts For Mothers Day

      I'm exhausted. I over-scheduled myself this week. Somehow within a span of seven days I did the following: took a final exam, took a flight see my grandparents, went on an all-day school field trip with each kid, and drove the kids to piano practice, soccer practice, and a doctor's appointment. In between I managed to do laundry, wash the dishes, keep the kids fed, and keep up with my job. And now I'm supposed to pack for another trip. We're leaving to visit my mother-in-law for Mother's Day first thing in the morning.

      I've noticed that no where on that list is something that I did for myself. In fact, I ditched a few of my own plans in favor of doing for others. I'm not complaining, and I'm not bragging, either. Moms do it all the time. We have moments when we burn the candle at both ends until the light nearly goes out.

      In the midst of today's rush, I noted an email that came in from, an organization that sheds light on the imbalanced portrayal of women and girls in the media. The theme of the email was Mother's Day, and it referenced a piece by founder Jennifer Siebel Newsom written for the International Museum of Women.

      Citing the inequitable pay gap between men and women, the pay gap between childless women and working women, and the hardships of single motherhood, she writes:
      The feminists before me fought for my right to vote, to work and to have more choices than they had. Yet we are all still strapped with an extremely heavy and unfair burden.  Because despite all of the progress we have made, women are still expected to be the primary caretakers of the young and old, while continuing to manage the home and their careers.  And you don’t want to get me started on the expectations for how women are supposed to look!  It’s unhealthy to idolize the “Wonder Woman” phenomena – the mythic woman who can do it all to perfection.  She does not exist and never will.  And, it’s extremely dangerous that we think we can be her.

      ...Overall, we are not only harming ourselves but the collective female population by staying small, not believing in ourselves, and not demanding the support we want and need to succeed.  
      Yikes! Guilty.

      It's clear that being a mother is hard work. Not just because we are parenting our children, but because we parent through other enormous responsibilities. It seems the definition of parenthood often carries much greater weight when it attached to a mother than to a father.

      Yes, it's unfair, I'd like to see changes, and I don't know what the answer is. (Siebel Newsom offers some interesting suggestions.) I do know that being an attentive and caring mother is both a privilege and a sacrifice, and its a role that moms around the world take seriously. As Thomas Paine said so long ago, "The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph... What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly. It is dearness only that gives everything its value."

      So we honor our mothers because we value their efforts. I'm far from perfect, but I do the best I can for my kids every day. My mother gave me that same gift a generation ago. Now that I'm a mother, I can see her efforts for what they were. Not just something she was supposed to do, but something she did out of love every day, the best she knew how. And she likely did it because her mother did the same for her. Mothering is a gift given daily. And I thank my mother and grandmother for it. And I'll hit the road tomorrow and thank my mother-in-law, too.

      Wednesday, May 9, 2012

      Facebook and Loneliness: Chicken or Egg?

      Facebook Home Page
      Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? is a fascinating article by Stephen Marche in the May 2012 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. A brief summary: Facebook, and other social networks, have come during a time when people report feeling more lonely than ever. Researchers have found that heavy users of Facebook are lonelier (and correspondingly more narcissistic) than people who don't use Facebook as often. But the general belief is that the technology isn't making us lonely, it's the way that humans use it.

      The article is so well-written that I prefer to use direct quotes (in blue) than to use my own words any further. A few interesting points:

      Our society is lonelier than in the past.
      A 2010 AARP survey found that 35 percent of adults older than 45 were chronically lonely, as opposed to 20 percent of a similar group only a decade earlier. According to a major study by a leading scholar of the subject, roughly 20 percent of Americans—about 60 million people—are unhappy with their lives because of loneliness.

      The mean size of networks of personal confidants decreased from 2.94 people in 1985 to 2.08 in 2004. Similarly, in 1985, only 10 percent of Americans said they had no one with whom to discuss important matters, and 15 percent said they had only one such good friend. By 2004, 25 percent had nobody to talk to, and 20 percent had only one confidant.
      Loneliness has physical ramifications
      Being lonely is extremely bad for your health. If you’re lonely, you’re more likely to be put in a geriatric home at an earlier age than a similar person who isn’t lonely. You’re less likely to exercise. You’re more likely to be obese. You’re less likely to survive a serious operation and more likely to have hormonal imbalances. You are at greater risk of inflammation. Your memory may be worse. You are more likely to be depressed, to sleep badly, and to suffer dementia and general cognitive decline.
      Facebook users and the loneliness connection
      Facebook users had slightly lower levels of “social loneliness”—the sense of not feeling bonded with friends—but “significantly higher levels of family loneliness”—the sense of not feeling bonded with family. It may be that Facebook encourages more contact with people outside of our household, at the expense of our family relationships—or it may be that people who have unhappy family relationships in the first place seek companionship through other means, including Facebook. The researchers also found that lonely people are inclined to spend more time on Facebook...
      [Researcher Cacioppo says] “The greater the proportion of face-to-face interactions, the less lonely you are... The greater the proportion of online interactions, the lonelier you are.” 
      Does Facebook make us lonely, or are we using Facebook (and other social networks) because we are lonely?
      Loneliness is certainly not something that Facebook or Twitter or any of the lesser forms of social media is doing to us. We are doing it to ourselves. Casting technology as some vague, impersonal spirit of history forcing our actions is a weak excuse. We make decisions about how we use our machines, not the other way around.

      Our omnipresent new technologies lure us toward increasingly superficial connections at exactly the same moment that they make avoiding the mess of human interaction easy. The beauty of Facebook, the source of its power, is that it enables us to be social while sparing us the embarrassing reality of society—the accidental revelations we make at parties, the awkward pauses, the farting and the spilled drinks and the general gaucherie of face-to-face contact.  

      Sherry Turkle, a professor of computer culture at MIT who in 1995 published the digital-positive analysis Life on the Screen, is much more skeptical about the effects of online society in her 2011 book, Alone Together: “These days, insecure in our relationships and anxious about intimacy, we look to technology for ways to be in relationships and protect ourselves from them at the same time.” The problem with digital intimacy is that it is ultimately incomplete:
      Connection between Facebook and narcissism
      The Australian study “Who Uses Facebook?” found a significant correlation between Facebook use and narcissism: “Facebook users have higher levels of total narcissism, exhibitionism, and leadership than Facebook nonusers,” the study’s authors wrote. “In fact, it could be argued that Facebook specifically gratifies the narcissistic individual’s need to engage in self-promoting and superficial behavior.” 
      The final word
      What Facebook has revealed about human nature—and this is not a minor revelation—is that a connection is not the same thing as a bond, and that instant and total connection is no salvation, no ticket to a happier, better world or a more liberated version of humanity. Solitude used to be good for self-reflection and self-reinvention. But now we are left thinking about who we are all the time, without ever really thinking about who we are. Facebook denies us a pleasure whose profundity we had underestimated: the chance to forget about ourselves for a while, the chance to disconnect.
      The phenomenon of Facebook and other social networks may provide a way to either bolster personal connections (organize a party, for example) or disengage from meaningful relationships. It's all in how the tools are used. Understanding this can help parents educate their kids as they enter into the realm of social networking.

      Tuesday, May 8, 2012

      Parent Questions "Racy" Photos

      John Rosemond is a popular psychologist, syndicated columnist, and parenting expert. I don't know much about him and his beliefs, but I recently found an interesting column by him in the Charlotte Observer. A concerned mother writes to John that she's found "racy photos" of women on her teenage son's cell phone. Her husband wants to ignore it, and she wants to talk about it. John sides with the mother, and answers:
      The door is open for your husband to sit down with his son and give him some fundamental instruction concerning the opposite sex: call it Women 101.

      He could begin this mentoring by helping your son begin to understand that thinking of women as mere sexual objects is a form of disrespect; that anatomical attributes are not the measure of a woman; that while good looks are not a bad thing, the real prize is a woman who is a wonderful wife and mother, a woman, in other words, whose beauty goes deeper than her skin. There’s an opening here for your husband to help his son begin the journey to valid manhood. He should seize it!

      Read more here:
      I found this response very wise, and it sounded as if it was written from a woman's point of view!

      I remember when the Internet was relatively new, and how disturbed I was when the men at work congregated together at a computer to ogle over pornographic images. It was my first realization that with all the positive changes that the Internet was bringing, there were also going to be some big problems.

      In the digital world today, pornography and "racy photos" are certainly continuing to degrade society's belief that women are sexual objects with little other value. In my talks with two experienced elementary school teachers, they have seen boys as young as fourth grade know how to navigate the web to get pornographic images - using school computers. I'm of the belief that this exposure, and the continuation of this practice, will be very harmful to boys and their future relationships with women, to say nothing of how it is hurting our broader culture.

      On the PsychCentral blog, Robert Weiss, an expert in sexual dysfunctions, writes:
      It appears that the tsunami of accessible, affordable, and increasingly graphic Internet pornography accessed via home computers, laptops, smart-phones and other mobile devices we now carry in our pockets can, for some, cause not only emotional, relationship, and financial problems, but also sexual dysfunction. In a way, this confirms what many in the sexual addiction treatment field have known for quite some time—that among the many symptoms and consequences of sex and porn addiction is reduced or even nonexistent interest in sexual, physical, and emotional connections with spouses and/or longer-term sexual partners. 
      All kinds of relationships, including marriages and families, can be harmed by Internet porn. Unfortunately, protecting kids from the effects of porn may be a very hard-fought battle. It may be easier for some parents to ignore the issue. But because of the real and potential psychological risks, parents need to be vigilant, be aware that it's easy for kids to find graphic sexual images, and take every opportunity to communicate personal values when issues like this come up at home.

      Monday, May 7, 2012

      Social Networks Provide New Ways to Study People

      I took a short trip over the weekend to visit my grandparents. (Although it's off topic, I'm compelled to write that Grandma and Grandpa must be two of the finest people ever.) I read a lot in the airport and on the plane, which is something I don't do enough of these days. Two of the publications I read included the latest issues of the Atlantic Monthly and Scientific American: Mind, and they provided a lot of ideas for this blog.

      To ease into the week, I'll start with the shortest article that I wanted to comment about. Written by Janelle Weaver in Scientific American: Mind, the piece summarizes a study by researchers at Cornell University, who studied posts Twitter posts all over the world. Their findings show that people are happier in the morning and as the day wears on, good moods go downhill. Interestingly, results are the same on the weekend, but the "bad mood" effect is delayed by about two hours. The data "suggest that sleep schedules strongly influence mood cycles."

      The findings of this study are not hard to believe. It feels like the correlation between moods and sleep cycles is experienced in our home frequently. My kids and I don't necessarily get grumpier, but we can get more anxious and more emotional as the day wears on. At young elementary school ages, tears are far more likely to happen just before bed. When I was a new parent, I learned quickly that my baby needed a nap when she got fussy and inconsolable. A good night's sleep helps my outlook on life tremendously. Perhaps as adults we still have that innate tendency to experience negative feelings if we're sleepy, but we can just express our feelings in more mature ways.

      I'd be curious to know if the researchers considered the reality of a person's mood and what the person actually tweets about. I'll share another article that suggests that people tend to portray a happier self than how they actually feel. If that's the case, bad moods in this study could be that much worse!

      One angle about the study that I find fascinating is that the researchers say:
      ...that the rising popularity of online social media is allowing scientists to study human behavior in surprising new ways.
      This is a use of social media that could prove to be very enlightening. And perhaps something that a layperson could do. Hmmm... Maybe I'll run a study using my Facebook friends as subjects. Another blog post idea in the making.

      Friday, May 4, 2012

      Think Pink? Think Again.

      Products by Estee Lauder
      Last night I attended a screening and discussion of the movie Pink Ribbons, Inc. I attended partially because I want to host a screening of the films Consuming Kids and Miss Representation, both related to my adopted cause of understanding the impact of today's media on kids, and I was interested in what it takes to organize such an event.

      The Pink Ribbons event in Charlotte, NC was very well-done, and well-attended. But what also struck me were the messages in the movie. Here's what I took away from this powerful film:

      * The "pink ribbons" campaign for breast cancer was largely developed by corporations who wanted a new way to sell products to a huge target market: women. After all, women make 80% of the buying decisions in the home (Bloomberg BusinessWeek). We can now buy anything in pink, from hand guns to teddy bears. Unfortunately, often only pennies (sometimes exactly one penny) of the sales actually fund breast cancer research.

      * The color pink was adopted as part of the brand based on PR focus groups, which suggested that women like the color pink, and find it cheerful, happy, and warm. Unfortunately, many breast cancer victims do not feel like this represents the truth behind the horrific disease.

      * Many of the largest sponsors behind the Komen Foundation and other breast cancer research funding actually use known carcinogens in their products. Ford, Estee Lauder, Avon and Yopait were among the worst offenders.

      * Many women without a family history of breast cancer think that they are safe, but in fact around 70% of breast cancers are found in women with no family history of the disease. And although taking care of your physical health through diet an exercise are important, the link between this and the disease is not concrete. Healthy women get breast cancer, too.

      * Although evidence points to our environment as a major cause of breast cancer, very little money is allocated to researching environmental causes. In fact, at the time the movie was released, only 5% of research money goes to funding these studies. And only about 15% of money is directed toward prevention. The point to this is that donors should demand accountability for the money that they give and raise. Decide where your money should go. Demand that more money be spent finding the cause of breast cancer, which could save additional lives. As one physician in the movie put it, we just don't know the cause of the disease. "We're missing something big," she says.

      The movie just made me want to throw all of my cosmetics and food in the garbage, and start over from scratch. Unfortunately, I can't afford to buy all organic food and personal care products. So now I'm caught. If the odds of getting breast cancer in 1940 were one in 20, and now the chances are one in 8, what will the odds be for my kids when they get older?

      Like my concerns with the media and our kids' psychological health, I'm also concerned with physical health. Is it me, or is it harder to be a parent these days, with such gloomy statistics and so many conflicting and confusing media messages?

      Pink Ribbons, Inc. was a very compelling movie. Its messages are very much worth listening to.

      Thursday, May 3, 2012

      Marriages and Social Media: What is Unfair to Share?

      I find it fascinating to think about the affects that social networking has on our everyday relationships, including marriages. Spouses can declare their love for each other, complain about each other, and outright fight - all without being in close proximity.

      A recent New York Times piece by Laura M. Holson calls social networking a "new source of online friction" for some couples, and begs the question, "what is fair game for sharing with the world?"
      If one half of a couple is not interested in broadcasting the details of a botched dinner or romantic weekend, Facebook postings or tweets can create irritation, embarrassment, miscommunication and bruised egos.
      Couples may benefit from having a discussion about what is acceptable online behavior when it comes to the relationship. Is it OK to sharing embarrassing photos, complain about one another, brag (or gripe) about finances, or comment about a spouses' medical procedure? Is one-half of the couple extra sensitive about jokes made using him as subject matter? Can you trust the other person to keep private matters private? What happens if the relationship ends bitterly, and your former significant other wants to ruin your reputation using social networks as a platform?

      An earlier article in the New York Times investigated what relationship spats look like on Facebook.
      For most couples, the temptation to publicly slander each other is overpowered by the instinct to prove to their friends how happy they are, reality notwithstanding. But for others, arguing in front of others comes as naturally as slamming doors.
      And as it relates to marriage and social networking, Michael Vincent Miller, psychologist and author of “Intimate Terrorism: The Crisis of Love in an Age of Disillusion” says:
      Today, popular representations of marriage tend toward “two very self-protective egos at war with one another... each wanting vindication and to be right by showing that the other is wrong.”
      I've seen Facebook relationship statuses change from "married" to "single," and I know immediately when some friends suddenly head for divorce. Online bickering is a little awkward for me, as a friend of the couple (please don't expect me to comment or take sides). I've seen online love declarations, and I wondered if it feels easier to say "I love you," on a social network than in person.

      Thankfully, my husband and I both shy away from sharing much on Facebook, and we don't belong to any other social networks except LinkedIn, which is certainly not the forum to share personal thoughts, feelings and disagreements. We probably don't work on our marriage like we should, but at least we don't have to worry about throwing online drama into the mix.

      I also wonder about what's in store for my kids. Hopefully they'll be seasoned enough to understand the risks of sharing relationship details via social networks. I hope they'll be able to have candid discussions with a boyfriend or spouse about expected online behavior, or at least have thick enough skin to deal with online mishaps or breaks in trust. Responsible online behavior will likely have to be a criteria for selecting a if there needed to be anything else added to the list.

      Wednesday, May 2, 2012

      Padded Bras for Girls: What's The Message?

      Girls' padded bras for sale at
      Kohl's Department Store
      While shopping at our local Kohl's, I found this display in the children's section. Yes, these are rows upon rows of padded bras. Surprised? It's not just Kohl's. I've also noticed similar trends in other girls' clothing stores, like the popular tween retailer, Justice.

      Snapping a picture of the bras with my cell phone, my blood pressure went up. I have so many issues with this. And questions, too. Why do stores push the notion that young girls should artificially enlarge their breasts? Just who is benefiting from the girls wearing these bras? Do girls feel more popular and well-liked if their breasts appear larger than they really are? Are manufacturers making these bras, and the retailers selling them, because they are actually in demand? Apparently the answer to that last question is "yes."

      But it's not just about the bras. Look at any girls clothing store, and you can see short skirts, short shorts, skinny jeans, skimpy bikinis and bare midriff shirts all marketed for kids. And while my beef with clothing may technically fall outside the "media and family" theme of my blog, I think it relates with the messages that the mainstream media sends to all of us about young girls and women. After all, the media promotes fashion, trends and ideas about body image, and those ideas eventually translate into product sales.

      Girls are particularly vulnerable to messages that they see in the media. According to Miss, "three out of four teenage girls feel depressed, guilty and shameful after spending three minutes leafing through a fashion magazine." But perhaps more important are the messages that girls receive at home. Does mom worry incessantly about her looks, or does she model a healthy, and happy, view of herself? Does dad criticize mom's or daughter's body, or is he accepting and encouraging? Do mom and dad endorse purchases of short skirts and padded bras prematurely?

      We may not be able to change the world, or how the world grades girls' bodies, but we can make a difference at home. Through sensible purchases, candid discussions, and a loving and accepting environment in which girls can be girls, we can help our daughters develop at their own pace, discovering that they have value beyond their appearance.