Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Two Products for Babies: Shame on Fisher-Price and CTA Digital

I am appalled by Fisher-Price's
latest product
After a long hiatus from writing, I'm back. I got inspired by two new products that came across my inbox today.

Remember when I posted about the iPotty, the latest product for toddlers featured at the Consumer Electronics Show? This toy actually rendered me somewhat speechless in my post.

As I predicted, the iPotty did get the attention of childhood advocacy groups. Yesterday, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood announced that the iPotty won their dubious TOADY award for 2013.

Not everyone, thankfully, was speechless. Here are some comments that CCFC provided from their supporters about the iPotty:
“Toilet learning should be a time of positive interaction between child and caregiver. Also, children should be aware of the cues in their bodies as they learn. This toy takes this social/emotional focus out of the process and substitutes the hypnotism of a screen.”
 “It not only reinforces unhealthy overuse of digital media, it's aimed at toddlers. We should NOT be giving them the message that you shouldn't even take your eyes off a screen long enough to pee.”
As if the iPotty wasn't enough, CCFC also warns of a new toy that is designed for even younger people: newborn babies. Dubbed the "ultimate electronic babysitter," Fisher-Price's Apptivity Seat is essentially a bouncy seat with a screen placed above the baby's head. The screen is positioned such that it "blocks their view from the rest of the world."

This is so harmful to babies for a number of reasons, including posing a real threat to their all-important social development (let alone hampering their physical development). And do not be fooled - it is NOT educational for newborns, as the toy giant claims. Haven't we already gone down this path with Baby Einstein and their claims to educate babies?

Does Fisher-Price's iPad bouncy seat outrage you as much as it does me? PLEASE let F-P know by signing CCFC's petition. Tell David Allmark, Executive Vice President of Fisher-Price, that the produce needs to be discontinued, immediately. Our voices, collectively, can make a difference.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Advice from Fred and Kim: Talking to Kids About Tragedy

Since I posted this morning, I've found two more items that I want to share about "what to tell the kids." And both have made me feel more hopeful.

First is a helpful piece by a favorite to many of us older parents: Mr. Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. The web site for the Fred Rogers Company has an in-depth parenting section which includes an article entitled, "Fred Rogers talks about tragic events in the news." The children's television star says that his mother - a very wise woman - would encourage him to look for the helpers in times of tragedy. In retrospect, I do remember seeing video footage of people running toward the bomb blasts so they could help. Mr. Rogers also says, "What children probably need to hear most from us adults is that they can talk to us about anything and that we will do all we can to keep them safe in any scary time." What a comforting voice! The article and video are worth the time.

Second is an email of hope from Kim Lee, Director of Spiritual Formation with South Mecklenburg Presbyterian Church. Her email, entitled, "Talking with children in times of tragedy" says:
Chances are, your children are seeing and hearing all about the bombings in Boston. How do we help our children process what we can barely understand ourselves? We have two choices. We can ignore the issue or we can confront it head on.

I recommend full engagement. And I have a little help from a segment I saw on Good Morning America today.

Dr. Janet Taylor, a child psychologist, was asked, “What do I tell my 10-year old who was up late crying and trying to figure out whether or not she is safe?”

Dr. Taylor calmly replied, “Well, it’s difficult.” Let’s just acknowledge that right off. It isdifficult. So first off, let’s calm ourselves. And then consider maintaining a routine that involves limiting screen time -- phones, computers, and TVs -- answering your child’s questions openly and honestly, concentrating on the good that happens in the midst of bad, and giving your children good things to do—write a letter, light a candle, say a prayer, read a story.

In addition, I have a great story to recommend, A Terrible Thing Happened by Margaret M. Holmes...It’s about a young raccoon named Sherman who internalizes a traumatic event but, with some help from some trusted adults, begins to process his feelings. The story ends with the narrator saying, “Sherman Smith is feeling much better now. He just thought you would want to know.”
There is a temptation to feel bombarded and overwhelmed by what is wrong in the world. And yet, we Christians are confronted with a God who creates and calls that creation good. When we stop to think about it, there is a tremendous amount of good in this world—men and women who run toward bomb blasts not from them, doctors, nurses, firefighters, police officers. These are seemingly ordinary people who drop to their knees to tend broken limbs, broken bodies and broken lives. 
Maybe there’s a lesson in there for us. Maybe we can begin being kind to mean people, and loving our enemies, by processing our feelings, maintaining our routine, limiting our screen time, concentrating on the goodness of God’s creation and doing some good things.

Because, as Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Reposts: What to Tell Children About Tragedy

Once again, we're reeling from tragedy. So I'll post links to articles related to "what do you tell the kids about the [insert act of violence or disaster here].

Words of Comfort After Connecticut Shootings
What to Tell the Kids About the Connecticut Shootings
Hurricane Sandy: What to Tell the Kids
Disasters in the News: How to Help Your Family Cope

Overall, be thoughtful of what you tell your child about the Boston Marathon bombing and pay attention to how he or she is processing it.

After the Newtown shootings, I chose not to tell my eight year-old daughter about what happened, but she learned all about it from the kids at school. So this morning, before school, I told her about the Boston Marathon bombing. She didn't ask me many questions except if we knew who did it. Then she commented about how she was worried about her new unit in math.

She has her own set of worries that take center stage in her life right now. She's lucky. Others, like my sweet nephew, experience a lot of anxiety related to these huge news events. He was so concerned after the Newtown shootings that my mother found him sleeping with a knife; he was so worried about an intruder that he wanted to protect himself and his young siblings.

I'm sad today. In one year alone we've had movie shootings, school shootings, mall shootings, bombings in public places and other acts of violence. I wonder what kind of world we are living in now, and what kind of world my daughters are growing up in. If these past 12 months are indication, it will be a world in which mass violence is commonplace, something we have no choice except to tolerate and "overcome." It's hard to see an end in sight.

Most of all, I'm sad for all the children and families that have been terrorized and victimized in Boston.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Of Weddings, Basketball and Smart Phones

I attended a beautiful wedding a few weeks ago. The ceremony was lovely. The bride was crying, the groom grinning. The pastor was very eloquent. The unity candle was lit, the vows promised, the rings exchanged, and the big moment had arrived.

Precisely as the pastor was announcing that the couple was officially husband and wife, a cell phone went off. Loudly. All of the guests, the wedding party, the bride and groom, the pastors, were silenced, perplexed. Who forgot to turn off their cell phone?!?

Suddenly the groom chuckled, red and embarrassed. He reached into his suit coat pocket to turn off his own phone. Everyone in the church roared with laughter. The comedic timing of that phone call was hilarious. The bride had a great sense of humor about it all, and declared, "I love you anyway."

Rewind 45 minutes prior to the phone interrupting the high point of the wedding. My husband and I arrived at the church early and were a few of the first guests seated. My husband pulls out his phone and begins to watch the end of "his" big basketball game on his new WatchESPN app. Our friends behind us leaned forward to watch the game, too, and admired his phone. Thankfully the game ended at the exact time that the bride marched down the isle.

This isn't the first time that the phone and basketball game has clashed with me. To my annoyance, my husband watched a game during a family dinner out a few weeks ago. I guess an "important basketball game is an exception to our no-phones-at-dinner rule? A couple dining next to us saw the miniature TV and the man said he thought that was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

I foresee future games taking precedence over important moments in life. Sure, he can go with the family on any outing, but he won't really be there as long as there's a college basketball game on. I wonder what would happen if I watched an episode of Downton Abbey while eating out with my family.

I'm not passing judgment, merely musing how technology can - and does - interrupt everyday activities such as family dinners as well as monumental events such as weddings. I am a little sad about that, but others seemed to have accepted the changes comfortably.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Without A Computer

My laptop wouldn't boot up Monday morning. This is no small problem.

This is the fourth major crash and burn of my computer in three years. (It's a Toshiba, by the way, and based on my experience, no, I would not recommend that brand). After spending several minutes in line at my local Best Buy/Geek Squad, the lone representative kindly informed me that after nearly $200 and at least three days, we'd be able to talk about what was wrong with my computer. And now I've just learned that the source of the trouble is another hard drive failure, which requires more money.

Yes, there's a workaround for me. A fragile, working-at-a-fraction-of-full-capacity workaround. I'm sharing my husband's laptop with him. He works from home. I work from home. Sharing a laptop is akin to...

Honestly, I can't think of a good enough comparison and my time with this computer is ticking away so I better not dwell on it. Just be assured that it hasn't been pleasant for either of us (although my husband has been understanding and he's currently rebuilding my computer - again).

Being without a computer is slowly driving me crazy. I feel helpless, on indefinite hold with my work and student life. I'm walking around with a feeling similar to what happens before I take a big test or give a public speech. It's a fluttery, anxious feeling complete with an elevated heart rate. I need a stress intervention, but I know that a good stretch, guided imagery, or a massage will not postpone work deadlines for me.

All of my hopes of having a productive week have been dashed. There's no way to get ahead with school work, no way to bring in income, and no way to balance my checkbook. I can't respond at length to any email (its hard to type a long message on a smart phone), and I'm struggling to keep up with my calendar and appointments.

I'm trying to see the good in this. In spite of me not being at all productive with my work, studies, or personal checkbook updates, there are several advantages to my forced separation from my laptop. Here are just a few:

* I finished cleaning my kids' bathroom. I started last weekend and must have gotten distracted; I found the unused rags and cleaning supplies still on the counter. It's a good thing that I looked in there. Apparently I need to do some basic training on how (and why) NOT to smear toothpaste on the toilet, or to allow the whole toilet paper roll to get wet.

* I've had time to reflect, and certainly that's something that not just anyone has time to do. Self-reflection has helped me acknowledge that I'm a not-so-good housekeeper (unlike my mother) and that I'm a heavy computer user. Should I feel guilty about either? Well, I've had time to reflect on that, too, and realize that it's all in how I rationalize my actions.

* I discovered that I need to get with the "cloud" program. I'm well behind the times, still relying on a hard drive to run my programs and save some of my data (thankfully, work files are in Dropbox). I've strategized about how to change my work habits. It looks like Adobe Photoshop is available as part of their Creative Cloud system, which might work out very well for me. In the future, I'm going to work all from the cloud so that the headaches will be less the next time a computer crash happens. I'll still have to share a computer, but I might be more prepared.

Why is it that a little piece of machinery has so much power over me? Because this is the way I live. I communicate, work, and study via my laptop. And in spite of my blog posts related to putting separation between ourselves and our devices, I recognize it's a very complicated thing to do. I don't think that it's ironic that I blog about taking pauses away from technology while at the same time being at a complete loss when my computer crashes. My thoughts are a way of questioning the complicated relationship that we have with our devices and asking ourselves how attached can we afford to get?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ideas for Family Dinner Time

Source: CNN.com
"8 reasons to make time for family dinner"
Many experts agree that eating together as a family is vastly important for family communication and well-being. Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood cites many studies that refer to the immense advantages of having family meal-times:

* Family meals ensure healthier eating, especially when they are screen-free.
* Family meals are linked to healthier behavior and closer child-parent bonds, particularly among adolescents.
* Family meals decrease the risk of teenage substance abuse and other anti-social behaviors.
* Family meals are often the time when a parent finds out about what's going on in a child's life (three out of four teenagers report that they talk to their parents about this during meal time).

Unfortunately, with busy after-school and work schedules, regular family meals can be difficult to orchestrate. CCFC offers these tips:

* Start the tradition of family mealtime early on in a child's life. However, it's never too late to begin the tradition, even if your children are older.
* Delegate mealtime responsibilities to every member of the family, including the youngest family members.
* Work together to make mealtime an enjoyable - and less stressful - experience. I'm thinking meal prep and cleanup!
* With your child's input, agree upon the menu beforehand.
* Create a regular schedule of mealtimes, even if it is just two or three times a week.
* Concentrate on each other. Avoid electronic distractions!

To the last point, psychologist Sherry Turkle encourages families to create "sacred spaces" where devices are not allowed - including the family dinner table. I've heard others refer to creating "device-free zones" in your home. Whatever you call it, it's important to put down the smart phone or other electronic device during mealtime so you can focus on the conversation and on your family. Parents, especially, can set the tone for this with their kids. The message: you are important enough for me to join you for a meal - and to listen to what you have to say.

Having trouble getting dinner conversations started? One of my sisters gave us a gift that helps with just that. It's called "Beginner Dinner Games" and it's like a recipe box filled with cards that suggests topics to talk about and question-and-answer games to play with each other while at the table. Our version is for families with kids ages three to six, but the manufacturer also has games for families with older kids.

Another option is a set of cards called "Family Dinner Questions" by Melissa and Doug. They also have dinner question games with a theme, including faith-based questions, and questions for road trips and holidays. Our local specialty toy store sells these games.

There are also free conversation starters for families that I found doing a simple Internet search for "family dinner questions." There are dinner questions at blogs such as Balancing Beauty and Bedlam and Skip To My Lou. I haven't printed them myself, so I can't vouch for these web sites, but they look great!

Of course, you don't have to have pre-scripted cards at the dinner table (although they're fun!). Just being with each other is important, caring enough to ask each other, "How was your day?" My parents gave me that gift. I may have forgotten a lot of childhood memories, but one thing that hasn't left me is the memory of sitting down to meals with my parents, feeling so validated when they'd listen - and respond - to my stories from school. In particular, I thought that my stories from the school bus were so interesting and colorful, and even if they weren't, my parents seemed interested. They really cared about how my sisters and I were navigating through those social lessons that we learned during our long ride to and from school each day.

While I'm on the subject, my grandparents deserve credit for hosting family dinners on many Sundays when I was a kid. My sweet grandmother truly cannot remember much at all, but when we talk, she always speaks of family meals at her house. They are her favorite memories, she says.

I can speak firsthand to the effectiveness of family mealtimes. And I'm trying to replicate that for my kids.

For more information about how great family mealtimes are, see this CNN / Health.com article.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Wisdom from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Remember the wonderful book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl? Remember the Oompa Loompas, and their strange songs about the misbehaving children? I'm reading this book with my kids, and I wanted to share a part of the song in Chapter 27. To jog your memory, Mike Teavee - a little boy infatuated with the tube - disobeys Willy Wonka and jumps in front of a special television camera. He gets physically transported into a television set, and also shrunk in the process.

And the Oompa Loompas sing:
The most important thing we've learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
them near your television set - 
Or better still, just don't install
The idiotic thing at all.
In almost every house we've been,
We've watched them gaping at the screen.
They loll and slop and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out.
(Last week in someone's place we saw
A dozen eyeballs on the floor).
They sit and stare and stare and sit
Until they're hypnotised by it,
Until they're absolutely drunk
With all that shocking ghastly junk.
Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
They don't climb out the window sill,
They never fight or kick or punch,
They leave you free to cook the lunch
And wash the dishes in the sink -
But did you ever stop to think,
To wonder just exactly what
This does to your beloved tot?
'All right!' you'll cry. 'All right!' you'll say,
'But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children? Please explain!'
We'll answer this by asking you,
'What used the darling ones to do?
'How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?'
Have you forgotten? Don't you know?
We'll say it very loud and slow:
THEY...USED...TO...READ! They'd READ and
AND READ and READ, and then proceed
to READ some more. Great Scott! Gadzooks!
One half their lives was reading books!
The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!
And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
such wondrous, fine, fantastic tales
Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales...

...So please, oh please, we beg, we pray
Go throw your TV set away,
and in its place you can install a lovely bookshelf on the wall
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks - 
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do, 
They'll now begin to feel the need
Of having something good to read.
And once they start - oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hearts. They'll grow so keen
They'll wonder what they'd ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did.
Dahl published his famous book in 1964. I wonder if this Oompa Loompa song reflected any of his true feelings about television, and what he'd think about our world today where television is only one "machine" that competes for our children's attention.

Of course, I found both some humor and some truth to the poem, and wanted to post part of it. My girls wanted to know if I was going to throw out the TV set. The answer: no. But sometimes I secretly wish that I could. I know some families don't have cable, for either financial or other reasons. I don't think it does anyone harm to go without.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Technology Cartoon

Funny cartoon by Liam Walsh. I need to get this gadget for a certain someone...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Say What? The iPotty

iPotty - Julie Jacobson
Here's a gadget I just have to share. The iPotty was recently featured at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Here is an excerpt taken directly from the Associated Press:
Toilet training a toddler is no picnic, but iPotty from CTA Digital seeks to make it a little easier by letting parents attach an iPad to it. This way, junior can gape and paw at the iPad while taking care of business in the old-fashioned part of the plastic potty. IPotty will go on sale in March, first on Amazon.com.

There are potty training apps out there that'll reward toddlers for accomplishing the deed. The company is also examining whether the potty's attachment can be adapted for other types of tablets, beyond the iPad.
"It's novel to a lot of people but we've gotten great feedback from parents who think it'd be great for training," said CTA product specialist Camilo Gallardo.
WHO IT'S FOR: Parents at their wit's end.
PRICE: $39.99
I don't really know what to say about the iPotty... well, yes I do, but I'll have to come back to it. This might be some interesting fodder for child advocacy groups !

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Culture of "Me"

Here's another article by Dr. Keith Ablow, one which I highly recommend: We are raising a generation of deluded narcissists.

As the title suggests, Dr. Ablow is flagging the growing epidemic of narcissism and self-centeredness in our society - a result of our infatuation with media and technology. Regarding the data that indicates a growing trend of narcissism in young people, Dr. Ablow writes:
This data is not unexpected.  I have been writing a great deal over the past few years about the toxic psychological impact of media and technology on children, adolescents and young adults, particularly as it regards turning them into faux celebrities—the equivalent of lead actors in their own fictionalized life stories.
Self-centeredness gives way to unhappiness and the realization that the world doesn't revolve around "me." Ablow says this:
That’s really the unavoidable end, by the way. False pride can never be sustained. The bubble of narcissism is always at risk of bursting...Distractions, however, are temporary, and the truth is eternal. Watch for an epidemic of depression and suicidality, not to mention homicidality, as the real self-loathing and hatred of others that lies beneath all this narcissism rises to the surface.  I see it happening and, no doubt, many of you do, too.   
Such an important article for parents to read. In spite of modern advances in other directions, I believe that it's getting harder to parent kids. We're responsible for protecting them from the infiltration of media and predatory marketing, which is getting stronger every day. The end result of letting down our guard may be unpleasantly surprising.

Parents can't do it alone. We need the help of everyone to acknowledge the negative side effects of embracing the onslaught of media and technology without reservation, self-reflection and regard for the public good. Change might be like turning around the Titanic. But we owe it to ourselves to try.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Digital Diet Review

Daniel Sieberg's book, The Digital Diet, is a self-help detox plan for those addicted to technology. The subtitle says it all: The four-step plan to break your tech addiction and regain balance in your life.

The whole point is to make technology work for you, and not be a slave to your gadgets, social networks and online time. I took the author's test to measure my "Virtual Weight Index," and to see how addicted I am. I scored a 33, which puts me in mid-range. (This blog, by the way, counts for two points towards my VWI score.)

Apparently I don't need total detox, but according to the author, I could use help staying "sane and organized." I'd like to think that I use technology less than others, but it's not true. The bummer is that I try so hard to put boundaries between me and my computers, and boundaries between my kids and computers. I'm trying to be aware of my technology usage, but I wonder how bad things would get if I gave up the struggle.

Sieberg points out that our tech addictions - or temptations - break our concentration and interfere with our efficiencies at tasks, including work tasks. So much for the notion of multitasking. I'm a prime example. If I get to a point in my task where I'm not sure what to do next, it only takes a nanosecond to "alt-tab" over to the next screen and play a quick game or check the news. When I work, I absolutely have to avoid this temptation. It's not right to purposefully break out of the flow of work to do personal things without stopping the time clock. It's a lot easier to dawdle during my personal time - balancing a checkbook, writing my blog pieces, and studying - and I could be so much more productive if I didn't stop over to the next screen to entertain a diversion.

Outside of old-fashioned discipline, what's a person to do? I learned through Sieberg's book that you can engage technology to help manage your technology. Quite the irony. One example is RescueTime.com. By engaging the time management program, you agree to let the system "divide your time into sections and channel your energy in a linear fashion." In other words, the system won't let you work on an account spreadsheet for work and then divert your attention by surfing the web. According to Sieberg, the program is:
...a bit like an intervention. It steps in and says "put away the mouse and focus on the keyboard." And it rewards you along the way.
Systems like this help you measure the time you spend on tasks (wait...I just spent over an hour playing games on Sporcle?) and rates sites and apps from "productive" to "distracting," presumably so you can make more informed decisions about how you spend your time online.

I was surprised that the book advised readers to play online games to sharpen the mind (there's a whole chapter promoting certain brain-training websites), when readers like me probably don't need other ideas where to squander their time online. Otherwise, the book was enlightening. Some advice that I appreciated:

* Set a time of day/evening when your devices are turned off until the next day.
* Establish a family rule of "no heads down discussions." In other words, don't have a conversation with someone with your head down, looking at your devices. If someone is looking down while you are talking to him/her, stop talking until they look up.
* Organize a game night with family and/or friends. Dust off the old board games.

Good advice.

I don't write this blog because I am anti-technology or because I have it all figured out. In fact, I don't have it figured out. I spend way too much time tethered to my laptop. The Digital Diet was a helpful and self-reflective read. I'm better off when I remind myself to "do better." Put the laptop in the other room when the kids get home. Plug my phone into the wall - and leave it there - when I'm home. Get outside (when it warms up). Play with my kids. Be a better listener. And maybe, just maybe, go 'cold turkey' on Sporcle for awhile.