Sunday, August 31, 2008

Casey Life Skills

A friend of mine is a Youth Re-entry Specialist. She works with youth who are in a correctional facility or children who were recently released from one. She works to help reintegrate the youth back into society. Her job is extremely challenging and stressful, but her job is arguably one of the most important jobs anyone could have (if you talked to her, she wouldn't even refer to it as a job - she has found her calling, and helping these kids is her passion - she rocks!).
Because she works with a large caseload (roughly 40 children at a time), and because she is responsible for creating individual re-entry plans for each child, she recently underwent training to become an Ansel Casey Life Skills Trainer. 
Casey Life Skills is a free resource that incorporates tools and assessments to help prepare young people for adulthood. The website offers several assessments for children and their caretakers, and each assessment provides instant feedback.
Most of the assessments are relevant for children eight-years-old and older so I have not been able to utilize them for my son (5 months old). But I am excited about this website because the resources are FREE, professional, individualized, effective and user friendly. I have only started exploring the website, but thus far I am thoroughly impressed. 
And I should note, these resources are appropriate for ANY child. Just because a re-entry specialist is using these resources doesn't mean that these resources are only suitable for at-risk youth. I would encourage any child caretaker to check out the website and utilize the tools, assessments and resources on an ongoing basis. 
And thanks for sharing this information with me, Alyssa - those kids are so blessed to have you on their side.

Friday, August 29, 2008

History in the making

Yesterday Senator McCain announced his running mate for the November election. He chose Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska. I am thoroughly excited because no matter who wins this election, history will be made. By no means should people vote for Obama just because he is black or vote for McCain just because his running mate is a woman, but it makes me proud to know that no matter who is elected, the 44th President or Vice President of the United States will be a first for our country. 
I am especially proud because this will be my first election as a mother. I am excited to raise my children in a different era than that in which I was raised. I grew up only seeing one kind of leadership in the White House - two white men. My children will see diversity. No, this doesn't mean that every future P and VP will involve a candidate who is also a minority, but this November will be a great start!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Protecting our children from cyberbullying

When I worked as a School Counselor, I regularly delivered a lesson to students and staff regarding the newest culprit endangering our young people: cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is when a child is negatively targeted by another child using technology. It can come in the form of harassment, threats, or humiliation through electronic mediums including text messaging, social networking sites, or email.
Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention featured information on this growing issue. The feature refers to electronic aggression, a broader term encompassing all types of violence that occurs electronically (electronic aggression is only bullying when the act is repeated).
As the CDC points out, the use of technology has many benefits for young people. I have worked with many children who were normally shy and reserved, but they made social connections via MySpace. Unfortunately, I have also worked with many young people who were devastated and depressed because something embarrassing was posted about them on MySpace.
Many people who know me know that I have never had a MySpace or Facebook account. I have had to put out way too many fires related to the social networking sites, and I just cannot bring myself to join. By no means are the sites the problem. In fact, I often peruse my sister's site to read updates posted by mutual friends. And I carry a cell phone even though I encountered many situations when a child harassed another child over the phone or via text message.
In fact, cyberbullying is just another example of why we need to be all-up-in our child's business. Technology has allowed our children access to individuals all around the world, but what's frightening is that individuals all around the world now have access to our children.
Fortunately it is not hard to monitor a child's electronic communication. I suggest making if very clear to your child(ren) that they should not use technology if it means that they are doing something that they would not do in your presence. If my child had a MySpace or Facebook account, you better believe that I would be checking his/her page regularly. And quite frankly, up to a certain age, there is absolutely no need for a child to have text messaging privileges on a cell phone. 
But more importantly, we simply need to make our presence known in a child's life. I cringe when I hear about children who have a computer in their bedroom. What is the point of that? The computer should be located so that the parent is able to pop in and see what the child is doing at any given time. That is a teacher's greatest classroom management skill - his/her presence.
And by being present in their lives, we offer our children the structure, support and protection that they need to have healthy and successful childhoods.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Secondhand smoke and children

Poked & Prodded recently posted this commentary, Should smoking around kids be illegal? In my ideal world, smoking would be illegal - period. So should smoking around kids be illegal - definitely! But is that going to happen? I don't think so.
Unfortunately we have selfish parents who smoke in the presence of children, and here is why this is so troubling. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the effects of secondhand smoke (SHS) are down, and this most likely is in part to the smoking bans in public places. Good news, right? Well, sort-of. While the effects of SHS are down, they are down very little in children. As the CDC reported, “The primary source of SHS exposure for children is the home; therefore, eliminating smoking in workplaces and public places is less likely to reduce children’s exposure to SHS.” Poked & Prodded put it best, "Ironically, laws designed to protect nonsmokers against involuntary exposure to SHS don’t extend to the most vulnerable. It’s even possible that cigarettes not smoked in restaurants and bars are smoked at home—around kids."
Yikes! This is not good. Of course I do not suggest that we reverse the smoking bans, but what can we do? How do we protect our children from SHS?
As a School Counselor, I always enjoyed educating elementary school students on the effects of smoking. Their reactions were equally impassioned and innocent. I used to show an enlarged picture of a cigarette, and pictured around the cigarette were various chemicals that were found in a cigarette. I would then talk about these different chemicals. For example, methane is one chemical found in a cigarette. I would say, "methane gas is also found in sewers where our toilet waste ends up." The kids thought this was so repulsive that many of them would hold their mouths as if they were going to puke. One six-year-old said, "that is the most ridiculous thing that I have ever heard - toilet waste in a cigarette? Disgusting!" And that's the great thing about kids. They have no problem going home and telling their mom or dad or aunt or grandpa that what they are doing is disgusting and gross. 
But I also understand how very difficult it is to stop smoking. That is why I am such a believer in educating our children from a very young age, because once someone starts smoking, it is extremely difficult to stop. I do not support abstinence education. I have yet to find quality and unbiased research that supports abstinence education. Rather I believe in education and information. The truth sticks with a person a lot longer than a "just say no" campaign. If "just say no" worked, then my generation, the "just say no" generation, would be free of smoking addictions, alcoholism and premarital pregnancy, and well, my generation is FULL of those things.
I have a few parent-friends who smoke. They are really amazing people who happen to have an addiction. I appreciate them so much because I have never seen any of them smoke in front of their kids. They always go outside or into the garage when they need a cigarette. Sure, their kids know that when mommy goes outside she is going outside to smoke, but at least my friends are trying to protect their kids. And equally important, my friends don't want to be smokers. Like so many, they have tried and tried to quit, and unfortunately, nothing has worked - yet. Maybe one day their kids will come home from school and say, "did you know that a cigarette has toilet waste in it?" And that will be the last cigarette they ever smoke.

A mother's role in the White House

Last night I listened to Michelle Obama as she spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado. While her political agenda was transparent, I was touched by the emphasis that she placed on her role as a mother.
Malia and Sasha, the Obama girls, have hardly been absent from the spotlight during the campaign thus far. And though some might view their presence as a political move just as Michelle Obama's words last night were overtly political, I believe that the girls involvement in the campaign is a result of their parents' involvement in their lives. 
This is important to me because I believe that our next president must make decisions that protect our children, creating a safe environment for them in which to be raised. Having a mother's presence in the White House helps to assure me that our children will be in good hands.
I look forward to the Republican National Convention next week. I am eager to hear Cindy McCain, a mother of four, and I wonder whether or not she will emphasize her role as a mother as Michelle Obama did during her speech. I can only imagine that like Michelle Obama, Cindy McCain's family is her first priority.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Vaccinations - no win situation

Childhood vaccinations - I have avoided blogging about this topic, but it is a hard one to avoid. I am constantly aware of the controversy surrounding childhood vaccinations and the possible links to autism. It's a tough issue because, as a parent, we do not want to make any decisions that might lead to our child(ren) suffering.
Let's start with the facts: 1) The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children receive roughly twenty immunizations by their first birthday, 2) There is no known cause of autism, 3) The rate of autism in children is on the rise (roughly 1 in 150 children have an autism spectrum disorder - that ratio is higher in boys), and 4) According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, measles cases in the U.S. are at the highest level in more than a decade, with nearly half of those involving children whose parents rejected vaccination.
This is such a perplexing issue because instead of concrete facts, there is a lot of "speculation" and "recommendation." Sure, we know that immunizations protect our children from deadly diseases, but are we causing them harm by protecting them? Unfortunately, we do not know for sure. It is a big deal when the AAP recommends that children are vaccinated, but as a mother, it is so difficult to trust that recommendation 100% knowing that 1) autism is on the rise, 2) we don't know what causes autism, and 3) there are parents and researchers who swear up-and-down that vaccinations are linked to autism.
As for my family, we found a common ground. Beginning at our son's two month appointment, we only allowed him two immunizations at a time. We spread out his shots over the course of two weeks (most children receive 4-5 immunizations at their 2-month appointment). This schedule allowed us to monitor his reaction (if any) to each vaccine. We also had a hard time understanding how our little 8-lb. baby could handle FIVE immunizations at one time. Giving them to him over a couple of weeks gave us some peace of mind.
But that was our decision, and each parent is different. We all have our intuition and our instincts, and I believe that we should follow those God-given instincts. I am fortunate; my son has handled the vaccines well. We continue to only allow him two shots at a time - that is what works for us. I empathize with all you parents who struggle with this issue. It is a no win situation - the cost of protecting our children just might be the exact thing that harms them. Hopefully someday we will know for sure.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Going green to save our children

I recently read an article highlighting the Love Canal, a Niagara Falls neighborhood built atop tons of chemical waste. While reading this article, I became quite upset for two reasons: 1) We still have children attending schools near or on toxic waste, and 2) The toxic waste could have been prevented if only we had been taking better care of our environment.
Fortunately, we can prevent future schools from being built atop chemical landfills. Thanks to a nationwide awareness of environmentally safe(r) products and choices, we have access to many items and ideas that contribute to a green lifestyle. 
I absolutely believe that children should not be spending 35+ hours a week on top of chemical waste - that is irresponsible and possibly deadly for the children and school personnel. But ideally, the chemical waste would not be there to begin with. Of course, that is best-case-scenario, but reducing our carbon footprint should be a priority. Does it enrage anyone else that we have children literally seizing because they are exposed to such pollution every single day??? 
Being green isn't hard, but I recognize that it isn't easy either. I only ask that you think about one or two ways that you can make eco-friendly choices - it just might save our next generation of young people.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Coping skills and empathy

The recent shooting in a Knoxville, Tennessee high school is another reminder that many of our young people are deeply struggling in their adolescence. While this shooting is being classified as an isolated incident against one individual and not as a "school shooting" targeting an entire school, I believe that our school professionals need to evaluate their non-academic curriculums in order to better address the social and emotional needs of our students. 
Before I go any further, I understand that our school professionals are stretched and exhausted. The job of a teacher or principal or school counselor is taxing. While working with youth is arguably the most rewarding work, it can leave the school professional needing extensive social and emotional support. But that does not mean that we should continue doing what we are doing just because that is what has been done before. 
According to the American School Counselor Association, it is the role of a school counselor to "help all students in the areas of academic achievement, personal/social development and career development, ensuring today's students become the productive, well-adjusted adults of tomorrow." An overwhelming task , yes, but a competent school counselor is surely capable.
For starters, I suggest that schools incorporate empathy education into their curriculum if they are not already doing so. In fact, I think that it is necessary that students receive ongoing training in empathy. The ability to understand another's emotions allows young people to stop and think, "how would I feel if that were happening to me?" 
I recognize that this is a difficult undertaking. With the pressure for schools to excel on standardized test scores, teachers are reluctant to set aside classroom time for non-academic lessons. But we absolutely cannot afford to have our young people killing each other because they do not know how to handle conflict. Which brings me to another suggestion. I also believe that our youth need to learn better coping skills. Again, if we can help our children to appropriately resolve their social and emotional issues, we can guarantee safer and more nurturing educational environments.
If you are a school professional or your child is school-age, I encourage you to find out what the school is doing to teach empathy and coping skills. If you are not satisfied with the response, I urge you to challenge the appropriate school personnel to take another look at these important lessons. It just might save a child's life.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

An uncle's commitment to education

I read this commentary by Roland S. Martin, Don't whine, get involved in kids' education, and I thought, "how awesome is this man?!" Martin, married seven years with no children, recently encouraged his sister to send him her four kids for an undisclosed amount of time. Martin's sister is dealing with marital struggles, and the family unit is suffering greatly. As a consequence, two of Martin's four nieces (only two are school age) are struggling academically. As godfather and uncle to these children, Martin decided that he was not going to let these young ladies fall behind anymore. Instead, he decided to invest his own (and his wife's) time, energy and resources into the academic success of his nieces. 
Wow - that is amazing! It really made me think about my commitment to the young people in my life. Am I willing to take on something that great in order to see them succeed? I hope so.
All my thoughts and prayers are with Martin, his sister and those very-much-loved girls.
*Please don't misinterpret this post. I absolutely believe that what Martin's sister is doing is equally powerful. She is willing to let her brother help out in a time of great need. In doing so, she is behaving in a way that communicates her love for her family. So many times we judge parents because they seek assistance, but I believe that what she is doing is an act of courage and love.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Drinking age controversy

The drinking age controversy is headline news as several leaders of higher education have joined together to support the Amethyst Initiative (please see College chiefs urge new debate on drinking age). The initiative supports an informed debate on the legal drinking age of 21-years-old. The reason for debate surrounding the drinking age is that some believe that the current laws encourage dangerous binge drinking. By lowering the drinking age to 18, some believe that young people would abuse alcohol less because it wouldn't be forbidden to drink it at 18-years-old. Research currently suggests that the highest rates of binge drinking on college campuses are found in underage students*. There are two schools of thought surrounding that fact. Some argue that lowering the drinking age will diminish those years of binge drinking. Others believe that lowering the drinking age would encourage higher rates of binge drinking amongst even younger adolescence.
There is a TON of research surrounding college and underage drinking. In fact, my graduate school tuition was paid by the university (The Ohio State University) because I worked with researchers to combat alcohol abuse on our campus. Because I was very much invested in bettering my school's alcohol culture, I was offended by a remark made by Laura Dean-Mooney, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Gordon E. Gee, the president of my alma mater, is a supporter of the Amethyst Initiative. Dean-Mooney, an opposer of the initiative, stated, "it's very clear the 21-year-old drinking age will not be enforced at those campuses." However wrong she is! OSU faculty and staff work their butts off to reduce alcohol related concerns on campus. Over the last few years, they have implemented a comprehensive prevention plan that incorporates suggestions recommended by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to reduce alcohol and other drug abuse on campus, and their efforts are working (not to mention, the plan includes enforcement of the current drinking age)! For more information on this plan and its success, please visit OSU's Student Wellness Center's website
I am torn on the drinking age debate, but if we are going to move forward on this issue, people need to get their facts straight! Whether or not the drinking age is the main problem, colleges and universities such as OSU are spending millions of dollars to reduce alcohol abuse on their campuses - and many of them are succeeding! Just because the president of the university encourages a discussion regarding the legal drinking age does not mean that the entire campus is going to stop enforcing the current law. That is ludicrous. And if MADD wants to maintain credibility, it is in their best interest to respect the progress being made on campuses nationwide.
*Naimi TS, Brewer RD, Mokdad A, Clark D, Serdula MK, Marks JS. Binge drinking among US adults. JAMA 2003;289(1):70–75.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Documentary is a must see

While I have only seen the preview, I am eager to see America the Beautiful, a documentary that explores the question, "Does America have an unhealthy obsession with beauty?" Without even seeing the documentary, I think that I can answer the question: YES! America does have a VERY UNHEALTHY OBSESSION with beauty.
This documentary surfaced as I was doing some research about superficiality in America. This topic has been on my mind since I learned of the Chinese girl who was deemed not cute enough to sing during the opening ceremony in Beijing (see post Raising confident girls). Recently I was discussing this issue with family members, and my cousin said, "how can we judge [the Chinese culture] when we send the same messages to our young girls?" I believe that my cousin is right, but I also believe that there are many people in America trying to counteract those damaging messages. 
In the preview for America the Beautiful, a girl is remarking about her weight. I assume that she is in the modeling business because she says, "I am 6" tall, I weigh 130lbs, but I have already been told that I have to lose 15lbs." She then says, "if you're going to worry about your health then go to college." Astonishing - that in 2008 we have a young woman who recognizes that "too skinny" is unhealthy but she still desires "too skinny." Furthermore, she opts for "too skinny" and unhealthy instead of education. Cliche as this may sound...what is this world coming to? Be afraid, people, be very afraid!
I think that a documentary such as this one is a step in the right direction. When we are made aware of an issue, we cannot use the excuse, "I didn't know." Awareness is the first step in making a change. 
I hope that I am able to see this documentary. It is not scheduled to show in Ohio where I live, but I have emailed the director urging him to show the film here. Eventually it will be in video stores; I will see it then at the latest. 
Let's hope that this documentary brings a greater awareness to this issue so that we can make steps, even if they are small steps, towards changing the way we, as a society, obsess, or don't obsess, about beauty.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Shaken baby syndrome: Unnecessary devastation

I read this devastating story on New Year's baby's death shatters family, relationships. A 12 week old baby, born New Year's day, died of shaken baby syndrome. The article describes a horribly sad situation, and my heart is broken for this young family. All that I can think about is how easily this baby's life could have been saved. 
As a mother of a young child, I know what it is like to feel helpless as your baby cries and screams. Babies cry as a way to communicate with us, but it is still frustrating and difficult to listen to your child wail. To the best of my knowledge, no baby has ever died of crying. Yes, we need to attend to our babies when they are upset, but if you find yourself becoming inpatient and frustrated, it is in everyone's best interest that you put the baby down and walk away. Sometimes that is all it takes - a few minutes to collect yourself so that you can appropriately handle your crying baby. There is absolutely no reason that you should handle a baby (or a child, for that matter) if you are angry or aggravated. Please, please, please, give yourself time to breath and calm down before handling a crying baby. Shaken baby syndrome is irreversible and often unrecognizable at first. There is absolutely no reason that any baby should die simply because he/she was crying. 

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Autism and College

I was so excited to see this article on Living with autism in college. As more and more young people are diagnosed with autism everyday, and as more and more people discuss the controversy surrounding the cause(s) of autism, I was delighted to read an article highlighting successful young people who happen to be dealing with autism. *Autism is a spectrum disorder, and those diagnosed with the disorder can experience a range of symptoms from mild symptoms relating to their social development to severe impairments related to speech and language.
The article not only highlights individuals with autism who are attending college, but it also features colleges and universities that are accommodating individuals with the disorder. 
This is so refreshing because as our society becomes more and more aware of diversity in terms of ethnic background, gender, sexual preference and more, I believe that it is equally important that attention is given to diversity based on ability. For decades, colleges and universities have been making accommodations for individuals with physical challenges, and it is equally necessary that they also accommodate individuals who face less visible challenges. 
Many kudos to those schools that support students who deal with this disorder, and many more kudos to those students who refuse to let this disorder hold them back from success.
*I recognize that there are many young people with autism who will never be able to attend college because of the severity of their impairments. By no means are those young people any less successful than a child who is able to attend college. God does not give us more than we can handle, and individuals living with autism accomplish little and big successes everyday.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Raising confident girls

While I don't have a girl, I can only imagine how difficult it is to raise a girl in our society. The pressures on our girls are great, especially the pressure for our girls to look a certain way. I am convinced that it is impossible to raise a girl in our country who never struggles with her self-image at some point in her life. 
But as scary as it is to raise a girl in our country, I am thankful that I am not raising a girl in China. Today we learned that the young girl who sang during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics was actually lip-syncing ( Why? Because the actual singer, a seven-year-old Chinese girl, was deemed too ugly to be broadcast across the world. I am so sad for this little girl. Can you even imagine telling a child, "we only want to use you for your voice because you are not cute enough to be seen?"
By no means is the United States doing a much better job with the messages that we send our young girls. But I at least know that we want to do better. For instance, I LOVE what Dove is doing through their Campaign for Real Beauty. They are working to free the next generation from beauty stereotypes, and I pray that they are successful - for the sake of all of our girls.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Kid-sick, Helicopter parents, and Parent-ectomy

While perusing, one caption caught my attention: Parents get kid-sick with children at camp. While I do not have any children old enough to attend camp, I read the article with my son (4 months old) in mind. Both my husband and I enjoy the outdoors, and we cannot wait for our son to discover the wonders of life through digging in the dirt, climbing trees and attending summer camp if he so chooses.
The article addresses a condition termed "kid-sickness." It refers to a parent's struggle to let his/her child go and be away from him/her for an extended period of time. The article focuses on kidsickness when a child attends overnight camp, although I have witnessed and experienced kidsickness over a much shorter period of time (for instance, the first time we left my son in the church nursery - I really wanted to skip service and hide outside of the nursery, spying on his every move and interaction with the nursery staff).
The article attributes an increasing rise in kidsickness to several things: a more involved style of parenting ("helicopter" parenting, we'll get to this term in a moment), a parents ability to be in constant contact with their child(ren) through technology, an increased perception that the world is a dangerous place, and an increase in the amount of working parents who are spending less time with their kids during a typical work week.
Additionally, the article briefly touches on two other terms relating to the increase in involved (maybe overly involved) parenting styles: "helicopter" parents and "parent-ectomy." Helicopter parents are parents who constantly hover over their children, ready to swoop in and monitor every choice their child(ren) makes. A parent-ectomy refers to the removal of parent involvement and contact over a period of time.
The idea is that something happens when a child is removed from his/her parents over the course of a few days or a couple of weeks. In an appropriate and healthy setting such as summer camp, children are offered a rare opportunity to develop the independence, coping skills, social skills, and problem-solving skills that they might not learn with mom or dad right by their side. A helicopter parent might stifle a child's ability to "know thyself," producing an adult child that is inept in operating as an independent member of society. A parent-ectomy is a wonderful chance for children to flourish on their own and hone those skills that are often overlooked by a hyper and over-involved parent.
As I think about these issues, I realize the importance of experiencing kidsickness - embracing the feelings of separation anxiety, sadness, fear and nervousness, feelings associated with leaving our children with 'strangers', out of our control and out of our watchful eye. Kidsickness allows parents to trust not only their children but also the world around their children. Yes, our kids can get hurt and learn 'bad' habits when out of our care. Yes, without our grand influence they can make poor choices. But can't those same things happen when they are sitting right next to us? And how do we expect them to learn for themselves if we never allow them the space to learn independent of us?
And when we experience kidsickness, we begin to understand balanced parenting. It's okay to be sad when our kids go to camp, or a friend's house or their first day of school. It's okay to helicopter when they are facing a tough decision and need guidance, but it is in their best interest and our best interest if we fly away in time for them to make a decision on their own. That is how our children gain strength, confidence and independence. And when they experience a parent-ectomy, they can better understand life as an individual human being, and maybe one day they will appreciate that we loved them enough to let them go.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Too Much Information? Much Disappointment.

The August 2008 issue of Parents magazine features an article titled "Too Much Information." Tamekia Reece, the author, offers parents strategies for helping their child(ren) to understand the concepts of privacy and disclosure. 
Reece's article focuses on teaching children how to understand what is appropriate to share with others and what is not. For instance, how do we inform our children that it's okay to tell people what we ate for dinner last night, but we would rather that they not disclose daddy's time spent in the bathroom following that dinner? Unfortunately, Reece's article completely fails to recognize that teaching children the importance of privacy might come back to haunt them.
The terrible reality is that children are hurt everyday by a person whom they know and trust. According to Darkness to Light, an organization aimed at diminishing the incidence and impact of child sexual abuse, 1 in 4 girls is sexually abused before the age of 18, and 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused before the age of 18. AND ONLY 10% OF THE ABUSERS ARE STRANGERS. That means that 90% of those children are abused by someone whom they know! That is shocking.
Because of this disturbing information, Reece's article disappointed me greatly. For her article, she quotes several child-development professionals, suggesting that parents explain to their children that "private is something just for [the] family to know." The article even encourages parents to teach children the difference between good and bad secrets, explaining that it's okay to keep Grandma's birthday present a secret but it's wrong not to tell mom about a marker stain on the carpet.
What about when a family friend touches a child inappropriately and tells that child "it's our little secret?" How do we explain to our children that there are different kinds of secrets, those that only the family share, those shared amongst girlfriends on the playground, and then those relating to something as terrible as sexual abuse? 
Jim Hopper, a Harvard psychologist, notes that "in the case of sexual abuse, secrecy and intense feelings of shame may prevent children from seeking help."
This is not a warm and fuzzy topic, but it is a necessary one for us to address. I have worked in several schools serving a range of students, and I have yet to work in a school where we did not have to contact child protective services to report a case of sexual abuse. 
Reece's article offers a couple of fine strategies for helping our children to decipher when it's okay to blab and when we should just keep our mouth shut, but her suggestions merely add up to the common phrase "if you don't have anything nice to say then don't say it at all." 
Unfortunately the article baffles me with statements such as "secrets help your child build self-control." Shame on Parents magazine! There is nothing positive about keeping secrets when it might mean that a child hides the truth about being harmed. 
I suggest that we don't teach our children about secrets. I would avoid the word "secret" at all costs. Instead, let's focus on having a conversation with our children about 'good touch' versus 'bad touch' and what to do if someone, anyone, makes us feel uncomfortable. I would much rather that my 4-year-old humiliate me by saying something uncouth in front of a crowd than my 4-year-old fail to tell me the truth about a detrimental situation because he was instructed to never tell secrets.
If you are a parent, I urge you, don't fret about teaching your young ones about secret keeping. As your child matures and follows your positive example, he/she will eventually learn to use judgement in public. Instead, spend time teaching your children what they can do if anyone ever makes them feel uncomfortable. Let's make sure that our children are not afraid to seek help if they are in danger. Instead, maybe the perpetrators will be afraid to cause harm because they know that our young ones aren't afraid to tell the truth.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Take Action: Believe in a child today!

So this afternoon I caught the Oprah show, and today's program left me FIRED UP! Her show highlighted the many failures of America's educational system. While many of our schools are outstanding and successful, we still have an educational crisis on our hands. This is a nationwide concern, and I have two requests of all of you. 
First, I urge everyone to commit to believing in at least one child. Many young people drop out of high school because no one believes that they are any better than that, a high school dropout. One of the individuals on the Oprah show said that she might have stuck with school if only someone had expressed their belief in her. Please, I encourage you to not only tell a child that you care about them, but prove it.
Secondly, when you set expectations for a child, set them high. By no means am I asking you to set children up for failure, but DO NOT underestimate the potential of a child. Young people often give up on themselves because no one encourages them to do any better. When we encourage children to try harder and do better, they have a reason to do so (the operative word being "encourage"). But when we allow young people to learn in unhealthy and deteriorating environments, we communicate to them that they aren't any better than a crappy school and outdated textbooks. 
Please, let's break the cycle of low expectations by not only believing in our young people, but believing that they really can be successful and positive members of society.

In the news: Kids and fast-food

Recently the Center for Science in the Public Interest released a report that looked into the nutritional quality of kids' meals at thirteen major restaurant chains. They found that 93% of 1,474 possible choices at the thirteen chains exceed 430 calories (an amount that is one-third of what the National Institute of Medicine recommends that children ages 4-8 should consume in a day). This got me thinking...are people really looking to feed their children healthfully at fast-food restaurants, and if they are, then what exactly is the fast-food restaurants' responsibility concerning this issue?
Quite frankly, I don't have much sympathy for those individuals who are upset that fast-food restaurants do not offer more healthy food choices. There was a time when a family could not drive-through for dinner, and if you planned on eating on-the-road, you had to pull out the cooler and fill it with sandwiches and fruit. Really, is it that hard to plan ahead? I understand that fast-food is usually the cheapest way to go when we are in a hurry, but if we find ourselves in that predicament every night, then we have a greater problem. If we are only running through for dinner on occasion, then a 450-calorie meal isn't going to catapult our child into obesity. 
As for the fast-food restaurants . . . I argue that they are getting better. By no means are fast-food chains healthy choices, but they seem to be offering more options like fruit cups and yogurt. The report found Subway to offer the healthiest choices for a child, and that is no surprise. Subway brings a much healthier image to my mind than Burger King or McDonalds. I would expect Subway to offer the same healthy choices to kids as they offer to adults.
Overall, the report does not alarm me. It notes that eating out now accounts for a third of children's daily caloric intake, and the Center's nutrition policy director states that "America's chain restaurants are setting parents up to fail." I disagree. If a parent is failing to serve his/her child healthy meals, the only one to blame is the parent.