Sunday, January 29, 2012

Computer in the bedroom: have the rules changed?

I have been thinking a lot recently about how much the game has changed in terms of kids and their use of technology, but the rules for parents have not caught up yet with the game.

When my daughter was first starting school, the mainstream advice for parents was to keep the family computer in a public place in the house. Don’t let your child go into chat rooms because there may be sexual predators. Keep screen time limited to 1-2 hours. Don’t give out private information. Don’t email something that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. Possibly set up some kind of nanny control over what websites your child can view.

In many ways, those rules are out of date and no longer provide helpful guidance to parents. My daughter received a 4th generation Ipod touch for her 11th birthday. This essentially means that she has a computer, phone, television etc. in her room, and it would be foolish of me to think otherwise. At this point, she innocently uses it to “facetime” with her friends, sends iMessages repeatedly, and chats with others- -often all at the same time. She is not allowed on Facebook or any other social network. She is a good kid with good grades and no record of participating in on-line bullying, but I want to be aware enough to make sure she doesn’t go astray.

As I see it, there are several issues that we as parents, and educators, need to think about:

  • The constant distraction our kids are faced with while trying to do homework or read a book
  • The time they spend chatting instead of actually talking to friends and family
  • The propensity to write things that they would never actually say to someone’s face
  • The gossip and hurtful nature chatting can take on- it’s so easy to chat about other people
  • Cyber bullying
Yes, sharing private information, sexual predators, screen time over physical exercise are still issues too, but we would be foolish to think that these are the primary concerns today. There was an article in the Seattle Times yesterday by Julie Weed, “Ways for parents to ease tussle with teens over tech use.” This is the only article I found dealing with the rapidly changing nature of teens and technology, and contains a suggestion for setting new ground rules for parents.
The author says:
Today's parents may feel like technology is not just encroaching on, but subsuming, their family time. They may also get the uneasy feeling that their teens could be doing things online that could land them in trouble… As scientists and parents know, self-control is not fully developed in teen brains, so it can be hard for them to voluntarily turn off a video game or log out of Facebook. The average 8- to 18-year-old spends more than 7 ½ hours each day using entertainment media, according to a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study.
She provides a list of 5 rules for parents. I’m not sure that I agree with her rules completely, but at least there is someone out there rethinking the rules.

After much consideration, I have come to the conclusion that my daughter should be allowed to have her ipod in her room. I don’t think the old advice of keeping a computer in a public place is going to work for us in terms of ipods. It seems to me that I need to focus on open communication more than black and white rules. Just being aware that an ipod touch is a computer, and phone and television, is a step in the right parenting direction, and I need to keep an open dialogue with my daughter about what she is doing and with whom she is communicating. Through open communication, I hope we can set boundaries together. I can’t say for sure this is the attitude I will have in a year, or even six month, but for now, with a 6th grader, this seems appropriate.

The game has changed, and the rules need to catch up. What do you think the issues are and what should the rules be?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Lessons from a Lemonade Stand

Yesterday was a beautiful day, and my girls and a friend decided to run a lemonade stand. It got me thinking about all the lessons that we can learn from them.

Be excited about what you do!
Smile when you are selling, and look like you are having fun, but better yet have fun with it!

Spontaneously take advantage of new opportunities.
The success of a lemonade stand is often dependent on the weather. You have to been willing to take advantage of a beautiful day and be spontaneous in opening your stand.

Location, location, location.
Good location is crucial! In order to attract customers you need to be located in a place where your customers will find you. When choosing whose lawn to run the lemonade stand on, you should consider whose location has more customer potential. We happen to live across the street from a neighborhood pool which provides a great location in the summer.

Chase after what you want.
Our girls tend to chase after cars with an adorable sign, while screaming “Lemonade, want to buy some lemonade?” It is amazing how often customers respond to adorable kids!

Work with your business partners and don’t be greedy.
It’s more fun to run a lemonade stand with a friend, but you need to work together and share the profits. Even if the only thing your little sister contributed was her cute face, she deserves a share of the profits too. This provides a great lesson in sharing.

Don’t eat (or drink) your profits.
Remember to do quality assurance on your product line, but don’t drink it all.

Be aware of the development costs.
Know your costs. You haven’t mad e a profit until you have paid for the cost of the product. (This is a lesson I haven’t really taught yet since supplies have been on the house).

Remember those in need.
My policy has always been that you can keep the money earned at the lemonade stand without covering your costs, if you subsequently give the money to charity. The kids have learned that this happens to be a great promotion!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Family Dinner Dilemma

Family Dinners are touted as one of the most powerful rituals to make sure your kids stay off drugs and alcohol, do well in school, and avoid eating disorders, along with a number of other benefits. So, how guilty am I supposed to feel that our family does not always have dinner all together 100% of the time?

We always have dinner together as a family on Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, both Friday nights and for Saturday lunch. We also have dinner together on Sunday nights. We try really hard to have dinner together one week night each week. More often than that doesn't seem to be consistently possible.

It's not that I don't cook or that we eat take out every night. We do eat at home almost every day, but not all five of us together. I usually feed the girls (or to be completely honest, some nights our babysitter feeds them), dinner around 6:00 p.m. At least two to three evenings a week, one of us is still working at 6 p.m. Dinner much later than that doesn't seem to work well for the kids and bedtime.

I suppose if family dinners are as important as some studies suggest, we could give the kids a snack around 6:00 p.m., and then dinner around 8:00 p.m., but I am pretty sure that would be at the expense of the five of us playing together and reading together between 7:30 PM and 8:30 PM. I am sure that the girls (ages 10, 8 and 5) shouldn't be going to sleep any later in order to eat together. There are as many studies about the importance of enough sleep as there are about the importance of the family dinner!

How many times a week do you have to have dinner as a family to not feel guilty? The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University found that: Teenagers who eat with their families less than three times a week are more likely to turn to alcohol, tobacco and drugs than those who dine with their families five times a week. Does that mean that if we have dinner together four times a week, we are doing okay?

I really like the article, "The Guilt-Trip Casserole: The Family Dinner" from the New York Times. It talks about the length some parents go to in order to have a family dinner. One mom apparently leaves for work at 4:00 a.m. each day specifically so she can be home in time for the Family Dinner. The author asks the question, "But as parents go to ever more breathless effort, or feel ever more guilt-ridden, are we becoming too literal-minded about "family dinner"?

I hope so!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Race to Nowhere

Last night I saw the movie, Race to Nowhere.  The movie is supposed to be a call to parents, educators and policy makers to reconsider how we are preparing our kids to become responsible, leading contributors in society.  The movie emphasizes the negative repercussions of the incessant, resume-building-achievement-culture, driving kids to excel in academics, sports, music, etc. from the time they are toddlers.  As a result, any hint of failure or rejection can become catastrophic events in the lives of our youths.  Consequently, some kids resort to darker means to achieve their goals.

Although I found the movie deeply troubling, I also found it so sad.  Even if my children manage to make it through their schooling without a serious anxiety disorder, I still worry that they don’t have enough of an opportunity to be kids and play—especially in Middle school and High School when they have a longer school day and more homework.  One parent commented after the screening that between the length of the school day and the hours of homework, we are expecting our high school students to “work” many more hours than we expect most adults to “work.”   
Here are 18 quotes from the film that made me think.  The quotes may not be word for word exactly.
  1. We do whatever it takes to get an A.
  2. When I had kids I didn’t think that the only time I’d see them was for 20 minutes at dinner.
  3. These kids are so overscheduled and tired … I’m afraid that our children are going to sue us for stealing their childhoods.
  4. We want the best for them [so] we put pressure on them to be what we want them to be.  We want them to have choices. 
  5. I figured out that not eating gave me more energy … but it still wasn’t enough to get everything done.
  6. The countries that outperform us on international tests actually give less homework than we do in the United States
  7. At what point did it become okay for schools to dictate how we spend our lives after the bell rings? [regarding homework]
  8. When American kids encounter questions [on international assessments that don’t look like what they’re used to from their rote practice] they fall apart.
  9. Your 6–month-old is supposed to be sucking on his toes and thumbs not doing flashcards
  10. The point of education is to learn not memorize
  11. It’s impossible to cover all of the material for the AP course in one year. Literally impossible.
  12. After my daughter passed her AP French exam she said “I never have to speak French again.”
  13. So much of [kids’] time is structured. The only unstructured time they seem to have is the time they spend on the computer.
  14. What’s happening these days is that kids aren’t getting a chance to find out what they love to do.
  15. Parents say ‘My child is a good kid.’ No, they were a good performer. You never found out if they were a good kid. You just know they’re a good student not a good solid kid.
  16. I stopped trying because if you don’t try you can’t fail.
  17. If you’ve always had As there’s only one way to go and that’s down so that B feels like a failure
  18. We need to redefine success for kids … We have to get off this treadmill together. [We have to discuss] what does it take to create a happy motivated creative human being?
My kids are still in elementary school, but I already see the pressures of school having an impact in 5th grade.  Am I at fault as a parent for putting too much pressure on my daughter(s) and not modeling stress free behavior?  Likely the answer is yes, at least to a degree, to both questions, but I am sure that all the blame does not lie only with the parents.  I read several blog posts and articles that put all the blame on parents.   I am sure that it a much larger societal question and we need to keep the conversation going.   Let me know what you think. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Reward and Punishment-- how to change behavior?

How do we affect behavioral change in our children? Attempting to change an undesirable behavior in your child can be so frustrating and time consuming, and can have ripple effects throughout the family--especially when you are tired, running late or haven't had your first cup of coffee.

What if your child refuses to get out of bed and dressed in the morning, how can you change this behavior? Or your child consistently doesn't start a long term assignment until the day before it is due.

As a parent it is so hard not to get angry and want to punish your child. In some ways the instinct is to let your child know that you are the boss, and, therefore, you have the right, as the one in charge, to send your child to his/her room, take away TV or computer privileges, etc. But, I can't tell you how many times in my house this has devolved into a huge power struggle with lots of yelling, and I'm pretty sure it doesn't actually affect any behavior change in the long term.

Other parents might respond to the same situation analytically: rationalizing and explaining in a calm manner. But according to's Alan E. Kazdin, both of these parenting approaches are likely to be ineffective in changing the unwanted behavior.

It is of course meaningful and necessary for children to understand their behavior and how it has logical consequences. But a greater understanding of how or why a child misbehaved is unlikely to stop the child from misbehaving. "Understanding is not a strong path to changing behavior," Kadzin says.

My question is: does punishment really change the behavior of children in the long term?

According to this American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement:

The word discipline, which comes from the root word disciplinare to teach or instruct refers to the system of teaching and nurturing that prepares children to achieve competence, self-control, self-direction, and caring for others.

An effective discipline system must contain three vital elements: 1) a learning environment characterized by positive, supportive parent-child relationships; 2) a strategy for systematic teaching and strengthening of desired behaviors (proactive); and 3) a strategy for decreasing or eliminating undesired or ineffective behaviors (reactive). Each of these components needs to be functioning adequately for discipline to result in improved child behavior.

As an educator, I know (and this is backed up in numerous studies) that positive reinforcement works much better at changing behaviors in children than negative reinforcement. Focusing on what you want your child to do, rather than what you want your child to stop doing. Whether the positive reinforcement is a check on a chart, verbal praise or points earned towards a prize, it is rewarding the behavior change you would like to see instead of punishing the bad behavior. It will hopefully also set a positive emotional tone in the house. There will be less yelling and anger and, hopefully less attention on the undesired behavior, and more attention on the desired behavior. As an educator this approach is a cornerstone to my understanding of classroom management, but it is hard to apply this strategy at home when I'm tired, running late, or haven't had my first cup of coffee.

Change takes time, and lots of patience, and love. It can take months to fully achieve the behavior modification, and while it will avoid power struggles, you need to live with your child's choices. If you child does not display the desired behavior, the child is not punished; he/she simply does not get the reward. I appreciated this quote from the American Academy of Pediatrics which put parenting into perspective:

Even in the best relationships, however, parents will need to provide behavioral limits that their children will not like, and children will behave in ways that are unacceptable to parents. Disagreement and emotional discord occur in all families, but in families with reinforcing positive parent-child relationships and clear expectations and goals for behavior, these episodes are less frequent and less disruptive.

I found this set of useful strategies from the American Academy of Family Physicians to be a good set of guidelines:


  • Accept your child's basic personality, whether it's shy, social, talkative or active. Basic personality can be changed a little, but not very much.
  • Make a short list of important rules.
  • Avoid power struggles and no-win situations.
  • Try not to go to extremes. When you think you've overreacted, it's better to use your common sense to solve the problem, even if you have to be inconsistent just this once.
  • Try to avoid situations that can make your child cranky, such as becoming overly stimulated; tired, bored, or hungry (I'm adding here-sleepovers with very little actual sleep).
  • Don't criticize your child in front of other people.
  • Describe the child's behavior as bad, but don't label the child as bad.
  • Praise your child often when he or she deserves it.

  • Don't debate the rules at the time of misbehavior but invite the child to participate in rule making at another time, such as at family meetings.

Children who learn that bad behavior is not tolerated and that good behavior is rewarded are learning skills that will last them a lifetime.

Now, of course this whole blog post was just theoretical, and my children are perfect! Yeah, right, ;-). Wish me luck in remembering these strategies.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sleep training doesn’t get easier

I thought we had passed the challenge of sleep training a few years ago since our baby is 5, but turns out I was wrong.  Although all our girls have their own rooms, our youngest daughter does not like sleeping alone, and we have always been firm about not letting children sleep in our room.  In fact, my husband wasn’t even thrilled with the girls sleeping in our room when they were infants.  So, the youngest girl, who is now 5, was sleeping on a mattress on the floor in one of her sister’s room, but developed the habit over the last few months of climbing into her sister’s bed at night.  Big sis didn’t like it.  She was okay with little sis sleeping on a matress, but not in her bed. 
So, we have to sleep train all over again.  We have to train a 5 year old to sleep in her own bed—all night.  I made a chart and told her she would get a prize when the chart was filled.  She had to sleep in her own bed.  Unfortunately, for four nights in a row she woke up crying in the middle of the night, and had a very hard time falling back asleep.   
Since she is 5 and very verbal, we had a long talk about it in the morning, and asked her what to do.  She said she will be brave enough soon to sleep all night, but “not tonight.”  Ah!!  I don’t do well without enough sleep, nor does she. 
We talked about it again before bedtime that night, and told her she had to sleep all night, but maybe she wants something to cuddle with.  She said she really wanted a human to cuddle with (no joke, she said it).  We offered a stuffed animal to cuddle with.  She said she needed all the stuffed animals.  You can imagine that a house with three girls (four really when you include me) has a lot of stuffed animals.  Here is a picture of her bed.  She slept all night last night with all those stuffed animals, and here’s to hoping it works again tonight.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

I love my kids, but....

I love my kids, but I get so stressed out at random days off for them (ie, sick days, snow days, early dismissals).  I wish I could take this more in stride, but we live with such a tightly wound schedule that neither the girls nor I do well without our regular structure. Not to mention, that I work, and find it very difficult to get much work done with the girls at home.  I feel like I end up being a nearly full time chef and maid on those days and can’t manage to fulfill my other responsibilities. 

I find that when we have a scheduled week or so off, we do very well.  I always plan one outing out of the house, even if it just a trip to the grocery store or library, and I don't have the expectation that I will be able to work.  I enjoy the time with girl, and being able to be a bit more laid back.  That is what my “vacation” days are for! 

Now that more snow is expected tonight, I'm preparing myself for another disruption in schedule, but I'm not sure where I will find the time to make up the work. I don't think staying up in the wee hours of the night is the best solution because it only makes handling the day off harder when I'm exhausted. 

How do you balance this?  Advice please…