Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Nutritional information and eating disorders

I read this article yesterday, and I am still digesting it: Harvard removes calorie info, cites eating disorders. According to the article, Harvard University Dining Services removed the index cards detailing nutritional information from dining halls. Why? Because of concern that the information was contributing to an already serious issue affecting colleges and universities nationwide: eating disorders. A member of the Dining Services committee said,  "Those individuals can place an undue emphasis on calories and other literal food values, making their placement over every food item a real challenge...we did what we felt best addressed the special health needs of those individuals."
Although Harvard will no longer display the nutritional information alongside the food, the information is still available on the Internet and in dining hall kiosks. Additionally, Dining Services will continue to promote healthy eating among students through forums and informational sessions.
I don't have statistics, but I imagine that the percentage of individuals suffering form eating disorders is relatively high at colleges and universities. I commend any institution that is cognizant of this and wants to do something about it. Nonetheless, it is hard for me to imagine that removing the nutritional information makes that much of a difference. Is it likely that someone suffering from anorexia nervosa is capable of acquiring that information regardless. In fact, an individual so obsessed with food (or the lack thereof) is likely to memorize the caloric value of foods as part of their ritual and survival (or lack thereof). 
Then again, someone obsessed with food might see the caloric value of an apple and decide not to eat the apple whereas someone not suffering from an eating disorder would have no problem with that information.
I'm curious if Harvard is going to try and research the affects of removing the nutritional information. This is such an important issue, and I urge colleges and universities to follow Harvard's lead by looking into the ways that the institution is contributing to this serious health concern.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


KaBoom! Have you heard of this organization? If not, I encourage you to familiarize yourself with them. KaBoom's tagline is "it's starts with a playground." Simple, sweet, and packed with much more than one might think.
The story of KaBoom began in 1995 when a young man, Darell Hammond, read a story about two children who suffocated while playing in a car because they didn’t have anywhere else to play. With a vision to provide every child in America access to a great place to play, Darrell started KaBoom, one playground at a time.
Now a nonprofit, KaBoom is in its thirteenth year of service having constructed over 1,300 playgrounds, skateparks, sports fields, and ice rinks across North America. KaBoom rallies "communities to achieve better public policy, funding and public awareness for increased play opportunities nationwide; provide resources, including trainings, challenge grants, and publications for communities that wish to plan a new playspace on their own; and bring together children, business and community interests for a select number of community playspace builds each year." 
Making KaBoom especially unique is that each facility is designed by children and built by the communities (volunteers) who will use them. Nearly every aspect of the design and construction relies on the investment of the surrounding community. What a fun way to bring a community together!
In addition to building play spaces, KaBoom offers a PlaySpace Finder. The PlaySpace Finder is simply a map allowing the viewer to locate playgrounds in their area. Users can also add playgrounds, rate them, post pictures, and share comments. 
And as if that wasn't enough, the KaBoom website is packed full of other exciting resources including: a list of do-it-yourself side projects (chessboard tabletop - how cool?!), community involvement and play advocacy trainings (making your build day green - who isn't a fan of the 3R's?), fundraising ideas (a flamingo hop? you know you want to know more!), and other exciting resources.
Many kudos to KaBoom's founder, Darrell Hammond, and the entire organization. Who doesn't love to play?

Standardized tests for college admissions

A friend and colleague sent me this article about college admissions: Report Says Test Scores Should Be Less Important in College Admissions
The article highlights a report commissioned by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) that argues college admissions should rely less on a student's standardized test scores and more on a range of other standards including "exams that test students on their knowledge of high school curriculum subjects, such as the SAT subject tests, Advanced Placement exams, and the International Baccalaureate exams." The report has been commended by The National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest), an organization that "works to end the misuses and flaws of standardized testing and to ensure that evaluation of students, teachers and schools is fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial." FairTest supports test-optional admissions criteria and the reform of No Child Left Behind.
One of the greatest factors in the controversy surrounding college admissions is socioeconomics. With the availability of expensive test-prep programs such as The Princeton Review, affluent students are scoring better than those students who cannot afford such programs. For example, Princeton Review's LiveOnline ACT Preparation Course costs over $900 - not an affordable price tag for most students.
Add the rise in tuition costs, and it is no wonder that so many students are struggling to go to college. 
Interestingly enough, Harvard University, the creme de la creme of colleges in the nation, is working hard to break down these barriers. Just this year Harvard began the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative, a campaign to make a Harvard education more affordable. The initiative requires families with incomes between $120,000 and $180,000 to pay 10 percent of their income and the percentages decrease from there until reaching free tuition at $60,000. There is much debate about this initiative including Harvard's ENORMOUS endowment allowing the university to offer this program.
Harvard is also invested in the debate surrounding admissions criteria as the NACAC report commission included the Dean of Harvard Admissions. While Harvard has not indicated a change to its admissions process, the institution is invested in this concerning issue.
I don't know what the answer is to allowing equal opportunities to all young people regarding postsecondary education, but I support any effort to make college an option for all students regardless of their ability to afford it.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Preventing meltdowns

In every aspect of his life, my son is a "good" baby. Since two months old he has slept through the night. Until very recently he has never been sick. Most of the day he is pleasant and happy. He was smiling before a month old and laughing not long after that. During his last doctor's visit he didn't even flinch when he received his shots. My husband and I say it often: "we are so blessed with this baby." 
BUT with all that in our favor, there are still days that I think I am going to lose it. The occasional baby meltdown or the constant need for my attention is sometimes enough to make me wonder if I can handle being a mom. And I have a good baby. I cannot even imagine life with an overly-fussy or colicky baby. I have concluded that those parents are modern-day superheroes.
So when my mom sent me this article, 9 Ways to Prevent a Meltdown - Your Kid's and Yours, Too, I thought, "thank goodness, realistic meltdown techniques for both my son and me."
I enjoyed the nine tips because each one is appropriate for the child and the adult. Although many of the tips are best for children older than my son, all of the tips are perfect for the parent no matter how old the child. 
Here are three of my favorites:
  • Take a Time-Out: Although my son is not old enough to be in time-out, I intend on using this behavior management technique often when he is older. I am a big fan of giving children space to cool-down, especially boys. Girls benefit from time-out as well, but sometimes girls want to talk about the situation. Boys tend to need space, and I want to provide that for my son. Additionally, I know the power of a time-out for me. When my son is SCREAMING for no apparent reason, sometimes I just have to walk away for a couple minutes so that I can soothe him calmly and carefully.
  • Tap into Your Creative Side: This isn't for everybody, but it is definitely for me. My creative outlets are my sanity. Without them I would certainly be a surly person. And encouraging children to be creative when they are hurting or upset is brilliant because there is no more creative time in a person's life than during childhood. Kids can dream up the greatest stories and ideas. Allowing your angry child to scribble or write in a journal is therapeutic. As a school counselor, I used this stress-management technique often with students.
  • Lighten Up: This one can be so hard because when I am stressed and the baby is crying, it is a challenge to relax and make light of the situation. But on the rare occasion that I am able to do that, the outcome is wonderful. My son loves songs, so if we are in the car and he starts to fuss, the sound of a favorite song is usually enough to calm him down. And parents must admit, while many childhood songs are goofy and maybe even annoying, they can be quite fun. My son's name is Henry so I have learned the words to "I'm Henry the VIII, I am." The lyrics are bizarre (about a widow and her 8 husbands all named Henry), but the song has the best catchy tune. I enjoy singing it, and my son smiles every time he hears it.
Unfortunately there are no rules to parenting, and each parent-child relationship is different. Hopefully you can find a trick or two or three that works for you and your child. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

For richer or for poorer: Health care in the U.S.

Grrrrraaaahhhhh!!!! That's what I think about health care in the United States. I get FIRED UP when I hear about children who were denied appropriate health care simply because of their socioeconomic status (SES).
According to a recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, about 6.5 million children enrolled in Medicaid had untreated tooth decay in 2005 and were nearly twice as likely as children with private health insurance to have untreated tooth decay. According to a CNN.com article, "the report was ordered after widespread publicity of the case of Deamonte Driver, a 12-year-old boy boy who died last year in suburban Washington when an untreated infected tooth led to a brain infection." Driver "had extensive dental disease and his family was unable to find a dentist to treat him," the report said.
Does that fire up anyone else? A boy DIED because he couldn't get proper dental care???!!!
The report also states that 14.8 percent of Medicaid recipients said their children had not received necessary dental care because their dentist refused to accept Medicaid, which typically pays providers less than private insurers. Grrrraaaahhhhhh!!!!!!
When did health care become an institution of profit, profit, profit??? How can we allow young people (or any person) to suffer simply because they fall victim to a backwards system where money and profit are put before health and well-being. Oh, this makes me mad.
Yes, there are other factors to be considered. A family with low SES might have less available time to take their children to a dentist every 6 months. Individuals with low SES might also be less educated therefore they might not understand the importance of seeing a dentist on a regular basis. But anyone in their right mind knows that, in general, the poor are not receiving the same caliber of health care as the rich. 
But ask yourself this question, does the child of a restaurant dishwasher deserve the same access to appropriate health care as the child of a medical surgeon?
Probably the greatest factor in all this is health insurance. It is no secret that insurance is a for-profit industry. But does for-profit have to mean crazy-outlandish-millions-and-billions-of-dollars kind of profit??? It makes me sick.
I realize that I am generalizing and pointing fingers at an industry that can be beneficial. My son, a perfectly healthy six-month old, has visited his pediatrician four times since coming home from the hospital, and we have not had to pay a penny out of pocket. I am thankful. But I also understand how fortunate my family is to have a great insurance plan through my husband's employer. I wonder if I would be as grateful if my son was not perfectly healthy and needed to see costly specialists and receive expensive treatments. 
What about those parents who aren't as fortunate? What about those parents who have children enrolled in Medicaid and they are waiting hours in an overcrowded and understaffed urgent care just so their injured or sick son can see a physician's assistant? 
Let's take a hard look at health care in this country. Let's think about how we can better the lives of not just our own children, but all children. 
I urge you to consider what roll profit plays in life or death situations, and what could have been different to save the life of that young boy who merely had an infected tooth.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

BPA: A threat?

When we began registering for baby products one  year ago, the research surrounding the effects of bisphenol A was beginning to make headline news. Because we had to buy bottles for our baby, we went with BPA-free brand BornFree simply because if we were going to buy new anyway, why not buy BPA-free "just to be safe." But like so many things that I have encountered during my motherhood journey, a mom can make herself crazy worrying about the effects of this plastic, and that paint, and these germs, and those vaccines. Between the controversies, the research, the opinions and the recalls, trying to be the best-mom-that-you-can-be is truly mind-boggling. At times I have tried to take the "we had lead-infested toys when we were kids and we survived" attitude, but it is nearly impossible to ignore all the WATCH-OUT! information inundating parents today.
Bisphenol A, a chemical found in many plastics, continues to receive attention because research has linked it to cancer and brain, reproductive, and immune problems especially when babies and young children are exposed. The research has also shown that this is especially true when plastics containing BPA are heated up. Because so many baby bottles are made of plastic, most bottle manufacturers now make bottles that are BPA-free.
Although we use BPA-free bottles, I have not been as careful with any of the other plastics used in our kitchen. In fact I recently attended a baby shower where the topic of BPA came up, and like a couple of the other moms there, I agreed that we are beginning to make ourselves BPA-free crazy (there were some who disagreed, stating that BPA-free plastics are essential to safe and healthy children). 
But then today I stumbled across this online posting by health editor, Elizabeth Shaw. Shaw believes that products containing BPA should be banned completely from any product intended for use by a child 7-years-old and younger. In fact legislation supporting the ban has been introduced to Congress and is under further review.
Shaw's argument is supported by a recent Journal of the American Medical Association study that links the chemical to heart disease and diabetes. Unlike previous research, this study involved actual human beings, not animals.
Although I will continue to make BPA-free choices for my family when I can, I don't imagine that I'll become too-hyper about the issue just yet (though I would support the bill if it makes it through Congress). And for those of you struggling to do what's best in your household, I will pass on this link: Minimize Your Baby's Exposure to BPA. If you are like me, you do what you can when you can without freaking out about every little thing. It's a struggle to find a balance, and many kudos to those of you who have found that healthy medium.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The battle of the sexy

Childhood development experts Diane E. Levin, Ph.D., and Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D., offer parents an essential guide to protecting their kids from a sexualized childhood, in their book, So Sexy So Soon. The authors address a monster attacking our children's innocence: the media. Not only is it our obsession with sex that is damaging our young people, but our media-rich culture is drowning our children in sex, sex, sex, and more sex. 
The book offers the reader with suggestions, sample dialogues, stories, and resources for parents who want to address this sensitive topic with their children. Some of these tips can be found on the book's website. I have highlighted several and added my comments:
  • Work with your children to develop rules and routines about their TV watching and media use. Involving children in the decision-making process benefits them greatly. It teaches them how to make decisions and how to compromise, and it boosts their self-confidence as they experience a sense of investment in the decision made.
  • Get beyond just saying “no.” Yes, "no" is the easy answer, but think of what children gain when provided with an explanation and not just "because I said so." 
  • Establish safe channels of communication with children & Be willing to listen, do not rush in with judgments or advice. Allow your [child] to voice their own opinions and make their own decisions. Is there anything quite as valuable to a child as being able to talk to his/her mom or dad without feeling judged or ashamed? 
  • Try to take your child’s point of view and see the world through his or her eyes. We learn so much from young people when we understand their perspective.
  • Point out examples of males and females who are doing a broad range of activities, not just the limited range that children so often see in the media & Challenge assumptions about gender by asking your daughter to help repair something or asking your son to help cook and clean up. I am a firm supporter of breaking gender stereotypes. Let's embrace our children no matter what they want to do or be, and let's try to disrupt their desire to conform to the media's portrayal of what a man or woman should be and look like.
  • Work cooperatively with other adults & Model healthy intimate relationships. Our children learn so much by watching us. Help them to see positive and healthy relationships by modeling them in your life.
  • Get to know the parents of your [child's] friends. This helps gain perspective on your own parental experience, and fosters a feeling of safety to know where your [child] is and whom he/she is with & Get to know your [child's] friends. Allow them to feel comfortable spending time at your house by creating a [child]-friendly environment in which an adult can be present without hovering. This not only gives us a have a leg-up on what are children are doing, but it also provides us with a network of other adults who are working in the best interest of our children.
  • Do not allow computers and televisions in your [child's] bedroom. Have them use these items in a family or common room where you can occasionally glance at what they are watching on TV or websites they are visiting online. There is no good reason for a child to have access to these things in the privacy of their bedroom. Honestly, I cannot think of one good reason.
  • Share values and expectations with your teen. If you disapprove of your teen being sexually active, say so and give reasons why. Yes, these can be scary conversations, but these are exactly the kinds of conversations that we should be having with our children. We cannot assume that other people are talking to our children about sex in positive and productive ways. We are the parents - that is our job.
  • Encourage a broad range of interests and skills in your teen, and focus on compassion, kindness, perseverance, rather than how they look. This is a huge self-confidence builder. There is nothing more dangerous than a teen girl with low self-esteem mixed with a teen boy wanting to explore his sexual desires. If this girl doesn't feel good about herself, there is a great chance that she will succumb to the boy's desire in order to make herself feel loved and accepted.
  • Let your [child] know that conflict is inevitable in close relationships and teach ways to resolve conflict peacefully. Ahhh, conflict resolution. If we can teach children how to resolve conflicts peacefully, think of what a better world this would be.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Teen girls and sex: Whose to blame?

A friend recently shared this article with me, The Truth About Teen Girls, released by Time.com. The article focuses on the presence of sex in the lives of teenage girls today. But unlike many recent publications, the article addresses the appearance of sexiness put on by many young women as opposed to the actual sexiness of these young women. In other words, are our teenage girls overtly sexual or do they just want to appear that way?
The article points out that since 1991, the rate of pregnancies among teen girls is trending downward. This doesn't mean that sex isn't a problem among our young women, but it does force researchers to approach this issue from different angles and perspectives. One report by the American Psychological Association (2007) suggests that are youngest adolescents are not experiencing sexiness when they dress sexy, rather they experience a desire to look older. In other words, a nine-year-old girl might see certain actresses dressing sexy and think, "I want to look like her because she is older than me and she is cool." So rather than slapping on a mini-skirt because it is "sexy," the young girl dresses provacatively because she thinks that it makes her look older and cooler.
Unfortunately, the sexy images portrayed in the media are about the only images that our young girls are seeing. With the exception of a few positive media campaigns such as Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty and Girls Inc., most of our young girls are digesting media images that hinder a girl's self-confidence
Time's article highlights one suggestion made by Gigi Durham, author of The Lolita Effect: provide children as early as kindergarten with media-literacy classes to teach them how to dissect and understand the pervasive aspects of their environment. This is especially important because our children are raised in a "sex sells" culture. Imagine if our children were exposed to a media that wasn't trying to sell anything. And imagine what such media-literacy education could do for our girls by the time they are facing adolescence.
The article ends by challenging its readers to think about the not-so-pleasant reality that WE are at fault for this "sexual epidemic" and our children are merely the victims (like in Nabokov's book Lolita, Lolita was the victim). With child-pornography on the rise (and it's not the teens using it), adults are to blame for this sex-obsessed culture. We are the ones that freaked out when Miley Cyrus posed half-nude on a magazine cover, not our children. As the article points out, "when tweens see a picture of Cyrus with her back bare and her hair tousled, they don't see her as postcoital. That's an adult interpretation."
Maybe if we discovered how to contain our obsession with sex, we could stop the cycle of actual sexiness and perceived sexiness among our young people. Because let's face it, we can't expect our young girls to behave any differently if we continue to behave so much worse.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dobson & Political Satire: A Dangerous Mix

Although this story hit the press a few days ago, I am just now getting wind of it: Forum sells 'Obama Waffles' with racial stereotype. When I first heard about these waffles, sold in a box depicting a headdress-wearing Senator Obama and containing other possibly offensive material, I didn't think much of it because it is an election year. Political satire, no matter how off-color, is all part of the battle. But I later learned that these waffles were sold at a forum co-sponsored by Focus on the Family Action. Focus on the Family Action is the lobbying venue created by Dr. James Dobson who founded Focus on the Family, a Christian organization aimed at "redeeming families, communities and societies worldwide through Christ." Both organizations are extremely conservative and right-wing, and it is their right to fight for the causes that move them. 
But I am struggling with the "Christian" aspect of these organizations (or organization since the two are so closely linked). If Dobson's mission is to redeem families, communities and societies, how is that achieved when he platforms discriminatory practices? 
It is such a shame because Dobson has the opportunity to share with millions his views and resources on family-related issues such as parenting, childhood development, education and relationships. But I am utterly turned off by his indirect endorsement of this product...satire...or whatever you want to call it. Discrimination, racism and closed-mindedness has never brought together families, communities and societies. Usually those devices tear people apart.
The forum took place during the same weekend that Governor Palin was satirized on Saturday Night Live. Both satires are criticized for being off-color, but in my opinion political satire is part of the campaign. Satire can bring humor to these intense and often ugly campaign weeks. But let's leave satire and it's implications to the pros such as SNL. Dobson and his cronies have no business highlighting satire when it crosses a line that negates their entire mission. Last time I checked, SNL does not claim to bring together families, communities and societies. But Dobson does make that claim, and I wish he would understand that antics such as platformimg off-color humor turn people off from God and Christianity. It's such a disappointment because now, more than ever, our leaders and communities could benefit greatly from God and the fundamentals of Christianity.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Helicopter parenting ain't cheap.

Last month I blogged about helicopter parents: parents who constantly hover over their children, ready to swoop in and monitor every choice their child(ren) makes. In that post I focused on the relationship between allowing children to make their own decisions and self-confidence. But today I read an article that brought up another issue related to helicopter parenting: socioeconomic status (SES).
The article, Parents: When to back off, when to step in, offers recommendations for parents from two child experts. Allow me to highlight a couple of their recommendations:
  • You elementary schooler calls you from school (you are at work) and tells you she forgot her costume for the dress rehearsal. The expert recommendation: "The first time find a housekeeper or neighbor to bring it over...but if she does this routinely, she needs to suffer consequences to learn from the experience."
  • Your adult child is struggling to stay afloat financially, and she has made multiple requests for help paying rent and utilities. The expert recommendation: "Pay the first month's rent with clear expectations...she needs to know that this is a loan."
While reading this I thought to myself, "how many parents in today's economy have the time, money and resources to provide for their children in these ways?" Honestly, how many of us have a housekeeper or neighbor available to run errands for our children? And how many of us can provide our financially-unstable adult-children with a loan without jeopardizing our own financial security?
I agree that for a first or maybe second offense, helping out our children is okay. But for so many people, this is not an option. For many folks, just getting their children to and from school is a struggle. There are single parents with multiple kids and working multiple jobs, and they are lucky to get home in time to tuck their children in bed. And when their children are old enough to take care of themselves, well, forget a loan. They might have three or four other children that they are still struggling to provide for.
Sure, you don't have to have money to be a helicopter parent, but it sure makes it easier. Next time you think about swooping in to "save the day," think about that single mom who is working her tail off just to get home in time for dinner and homework. What would she do? Sometimes it takes the smallest amount of time, money and resources for our children to learn the most valuable life lessons.
I should note: In terms of SES, there are many wonderful parents who struggle financially while making great sacrifices for the sake of their children. I applaud these parents. But I would be interested in seeing research to support my theory of helicopter parents and SES - As SES increases so does the number of helicopter parents, and as SES decreases so does the number of helicopter parents.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Kids Health

KidsHealth.org is a great site for health-related questions regarding your child. I used this site often when I was counseling in schools because not only does it include information and resources regarding a child's physical health, but it also provides information regarding a child's emotional and mental health. Additionally, it is a safe site for your child to use. The site is broken into three areas: for kids, for teens, and for parents. 
The site is by no means a substitute for seeing a doctor, but KidsHealth is a convenient place to start when you are faced with a medical-related question or dilemma. If you are wondering about the site's credibility, here is what I found:
"The KidsHealth team of top-notch editors and medical reviewers develops a wide array of topics about medical, emotional, and developmental issues of children and their families...Physicians and other health experts review all content before it's published on KidsHealth. All content is re-reviewed on a regular basis (about every 1 to 3 years, or more frequently if needed)."
Also, the site is advertisement free which is a breath-of-fresh-air when I am trying to sift through ad-filled pages for a bit of relevant information.
I encourage anyone to check out KidsHealth.org. It might be exactly what you are looking for when you have a question about your child's health.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Attention All Moms: Vote!

The October 2008 issue of Parents magazine includes an excerpt from the book The Maternal is Political edited by Shari MacDonald Strong. The Maternal is Political features stories by women who are striving to make the world a better place for children and families.
Strong highlights the importance of voting to make this world a better, safer place for our children. She states, "I'll back any politician, any bill or measure that I believe to be in the best interest of children. My kids. Iraqi kids. Sudanese kids. Your kids...If we truly want to leave our children a world that's worth living in, we moms are going to have to fix it ourselves." She claims to be a part of the "Mothering Party," - recognizing, celebrating, and seizing the power inherent in mothering.
Her thoughts and ideas are inspiring and empowering, and I hope to read more from her book and her blog
Unfortunately, I was less inspired by Parents magazine's What Do Women Want survey. Published alongside the excerpt from Strong's book, the survey asked women which issues they most want to see on a presidential candidate's 2008 agenda. The survey was commissioned by the Meredith Corporation and NBC, and of the top five priorities, not one included education. Either the survey did a lousy job of asking women where education falls on their list of priorities OR the women surveyed care more about immigration and social security than the future of our young people. Sure, immigration and social security are important issues, but I was disappointed not to see education on that list. It's no secret that the educational system in America needs reform, and I encourage everyone to review the candidate's educational policies before making their decision this fall. To help you with this decision, here are link's to information on the candidates' stances on education: McCain, Obama.
Let's get informed and get voting!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Swimming with autism

I just cannot get enough of this story: a young man, living with autism, and his father survive being stranded at sea for over 12 hours. This young man is absolutely inspiring. I read this article today, and according to the young man's father, Christopher loves water. His love for swimming and the feeling of comfort that he receives from being in the water just might be what saved his life. It is absolutely amazing that this young man and his father survived. But it is also amazing that for much of the ordeal, Christopher expressed amusement; in his mind, he was on a swimming adventure. In fact, Christopher has been back in water since the "adventure." I am truly inspired.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Autism and Inspiration

I don't have a child living with autism, but I imagine that if I did, I would battle moments of "why me" or "why my son." I don't know why some children must endure this adversity, but the following story of a child living with autism inspired me greatly.
A man and his son were swept out to sea off the coast of Florida, and they were forced to tread water for over 12 hours before they were rescued. The boy, 12-years old, is living with autism. When the man was asked how he survived the ordeal, he said that it was his son's attitude that encouraged him. Although the boy is nonverbal, he often responded to his dad's calling, "To infinity" by pumping his fist in the air. The boy has an affinity for Disney movies, and "To infinity and beyond" is a phrase from Toy Story. Additionally, the young boy appeared to be amused at times by their "adventure" in the ocean. 
This story makes me believe that God has a greater plan for this young man. Although autism makes living in our world difficult and overwhelming, the boy's father managed to embrace his son's world which inspired them both to survive.
To see the family's interview on the Today show, check out this link. It is lengthy, but I guarantee you will be inspired by this young man. 
This is also a great plug for swimming lessons. The boy's father stated that his son is a strong swimmer and because of that his son managed to successfully tread water through the night. A child is never too young to establish a healthy and positive relationship with water. As soon as you can enroll your child in swimming lessons, I strongly encourage you to do so. Our local recreation center offers water exposure classes for children as early as 3 months old! 

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Not funny

Sunday night on the MTV Video Music Awards, a British celebrity made several jokes about a group of young men and their choice to remain abstinent before marriage. I don't have a lot to say about this because, quite frankly, I think most people would agree that a young person should be commended for their choice to remain pure. Making fun of a group of young men for such a commendable decision demonstrates a lack of intelligence. Honestly, this guy thinks that making fun of kids' virginity is funny? Then again, maybe I shouldn't be surprised at all. This was on MTV, after all. Don't get me wrong. I am part of the MTV generation, and believe it or not, MTV has done a lot to educate young people on sexual health. But they are known for crossing the line. It's just a shame because it wasn't so much that a line was crossed but that an obviously ignorant man was given a platform to showcase his idiocy.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Let's read!

I love friends, and I especially love when they share something great. A fab friend of mine recently shared with me Wondertime, a Disney Family magazine and website. Wondertime celebrates a child's love for learning, and that is right up my alley!
Although I haven't checked out the magazine, I recently spent some time browsing the website. Creative Parenting is one of the site's many categories. I love this topic because I believe that effective parenting is creative parenting. Kids are ever-evolving creatures, and in order to keep up with them, we have to be experimental, innovative and resourceful.
Although my son is only 5 months old, I read this Creative Parenting article with excitement, 5 big ways to help kids love books. My undergraduate degree is in English, and reading is my favorite hobby. I don't imagine that I'll ever push a sport or career onto any of my children, but I fear that I am going to force books down my kids throats to the point that they are burning them by the time they flee the nest. I just want my children to love books (and magazines and blogs and reading, reading, reading) as much as I do. So this creative parenting tip excited me to no end.
My two favorite tips are numbers 3 & 4: Write a book of your own & Find out what else the library offers. 
One of my fondest childhood memories is of the publishing center at my elementary school. My school converted an oversized closet into a mini-publishing workshop. It included all the materials necessary for covering and binding a homemade book. I remember feeling so confident as I left the publishing center with my newly bound book in tow. And when I think back, "publishing" my book was so simple and easy. What a great way to encourage a child's creative spirit and self-confidence.
The public library is another one of my favorite childhood memories. Today when I walk into our local library, the smell alone takes me to a place of storytime daydreams. How splendid! I decided to check out the offerings of our local library, and I was pleasantly surprised. Once a week they offer Baby Laptime for babies and their guardians. It's simply a 20-30 minute session of singing songs and discovering age-appropriate books, and it is completely free. I'll attend the first session next week, and I couldn't be more enthusiastic about exposing my little man to the library at such a young age. Not to mention, the library is one of the most fantastic places on and for the earth - it is recycling and education at its finest - I'm in heaven!
Many hugs to my dear friend who shared this wonderful magazine and website with me. I hope you all find it as delightful as I do.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Talking to our girls about their "girls"

There's a new book on the shelves, and I'm quite excited about it.  Taking Care of Your "Girls" is a tell-all, breast health guide for teens and tweens. Written by a breast oncologist and her daughter, the book is complimented by a fantastic website full of resources and additional information about the book. I love the book's concept because it addresses the MANY embarrassing and scary questions that every girl has about her chest as she approaches and endures puberty. Providing our young people with the facts about "boobdom" is crucial in helping them to make safe and confident choices about their own breast health. 
And not just for the young crowd, Taking Care of Your "Girls" offers women of all ages essential and dependable information for talking with our young people about breast health. I am such a fan of this because I am a firm supporter of education and communication. When we confront touchy subjects with our children, we provide them with a safe place to go when they have questions about their uncertainties and fears. I would much rather that my daughter ask me about her changing body than an uninformed friend or no one at all. I encourage young and old(er) women everywhere to check out this book and begin having honest conversations about breast health and development.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Healthy schools

While reading the latest issue of Kiwi Magazine, I read about this website: MyHealthySchool.com. The website provides teachers, administrators and parents with ideas and resources for creating greener, healthier, and more socially responsible schools. 
While there are plenty of available resources surrounding nutrition and organic eating in schools, MyHealthySchools.com not only addresses school food but also school supplies, lesson plans, school grounds and gardens, field trips, parent involvement, assemblies and more. 
One might think that the ideas and resources available on the website are common sense, but for whatever unfortunate reason, there are hundreds of schools failing to make green choices.
For instance, just last year I worked at an elementary school. On a daily basis, I witnessed an unimaginable amount of waste accumulation. During lunch alone, students filled multiple 50-gallon trash cans with styrofoam trays, plastic bottles, uneaten food, paper bags and aluminum wrappers. In the classrooms, pounds of paper and toxic craft materials were disposed into trash cans. When I asked why non-paper recycling was not offered in the cafeteria, I was told that the city was charging the schools over $100 per recycling receptacle. That's ludicrous! This school did offer recycling bins for paper only, although many classrooms were not utilizing them.
But with the support of educators, administrators, parents and students, schools can easily become environmentally-friendly institutions. Not to mention, a green school is more economically efficient. Think of all the money saved if we stopped buying disposable packaging for our children's lunches and if we taught our children how to utilize scrap paper. 
And by investing in green schools we are also reducing the risk for children and educators to suffer in pollutant and toxic educational environments (see Going green to save our children). 
Finally, children who are fortunate enough to attend a school that makes the environment a priority are likely to learn how to make choices that enrich their environment, their community and their own life.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Young people and mental illness

One of the most frustrating things about mental illness is stigma. Too often I encounter individuals who are ashamed or scared to talk about their mental health problems. 
But much like physical illness, mental illness can happen to anybody. And anyone suffering from a mental illness deserves the same support and medical attention as someone suffering from a physical illness. 
This is especially true for young people. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the prevalence of serious mental health conditions in people between the ages 18 and 25 is almost double that of the general population. Yet young people have the lowest rate of help-seeking behaviors. SAMHSA believes that young people have a great chance to minimize future disability if social acceptance is broadened and they receive the right support and services early on. SAMHSA has launched the Mental Health Campaign for Mental Health Recovery: What a Difference a Friend Makes to encourage, educate, and inspire people between 18 and 25 to support their friends who are experiencing mental health problems.
SAMHSA states, "the opportunity for recovery is more likely in a society of acceptance, and this initiative is meant to inspire young people to serve as the mental health vanguard, motivating a societal change toward acceptance and decreasing the negative attitudes that surround mental illness. Mental health recovery is a journey of healing and transformation, enabling a person with a mental health problem to live a meaningful life in a community of his or her choice while striving to achieve his or her full potential."
I believe full-heartedly in this mission. If we can love and support our young people who struggle with mental illness, we might enable an entire generation to live brighter and fuller lives. 
I commend SAMHSA on this initiative, and I encourage anyone who knows a young person suffering from mental illness to offer them your unconditional encouragement and support.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

So cute

Okay, I should probably devote this post to something academic or insightful, but I just witnessed the cutest scenario on T.V. I am watching the Republican National Convention, and Sarah Palin is speaking. The crew keeps zooming in on her family, and her youngest daughter, Piper, is holding Sarah's youngest son, Trig. Piper is seven, I think, and Trig is her newborn. Both Piper and Trig are adorable, but it gets cuter. Piper started combing and flattening her brother's hair with the palm of her hand. Then she took the palm of her hand, brought it up to her mouth, licked her hand, and then went back to grooming her brother's hair with her wet palm. Both my husband and I just started laughing out loud. It was so darling. 
Kids just crack me up. 

Vaccinations update

A study reported today in the Public Library of Science evidenced support that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR vaccine) is not linked to autism. This new research offers the strongest evidence yet on the MMR vaccine and autism controversy.
The National Autism Association released a statement questioning the study's design and methodology.
I merely post this information because it expands on a previous post which sparked some discussion.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Helping children cope with trauma

Once again our nation is suffering from damage and loss caused by a hurricane. For many of us, we are too far away to adequately assist those individuals directly affected by Hurricane Gustav. For many of us, all we can do is pray that God provides the victims with comfort, peace, strength and security. 
But there are individuals who can directly help the victims, and if you are one of those individuals, I encourage you to do what you believe that you are called to do. I am especially hopeful that the young victims of this tragedy are supported during this difficult time. 
Because of the magnitude of this event, many children will need appropriate emotional supports to help them survive the trauma caused by the hurricane. I encourage parents and community members to review the following information regarding children and disasters:
Both of these links are from the National Institute of Mental Health, and both provide a wealth of information and resources. 
My thoughts and prayers are with all of the individuals affected by Hurricane Gustav.