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Are We There Yet?

Archive for February 2010

Children and consumption

We drive old cars. My children wear hand-me-downs. We don’t have cable TV.

It’s hard to explain this to my kids, but I don’t ever want us to be defined by our stuff. Our priority has always been to spend our money on experiences rather than things.

Lately, though, it’s become a struggle as my children are getting older and becoming more aware of other people’s stuff. It’s hard for them not to make comparisons. In fact, it’s sometimes hard for me as well.

“We have become a nation that places a lower priority on teaching its children how to thrive socially, intellectually, even spiritually, than it does on training them to consume,” wrote Juliet Schor, author of “Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture.” “The long-term consequences of this development are ominous.”

I’ve been reflecting on this quite a bit, especially as I fill a box every two weeks full of stuff we no longer use. How did all this junk get into our house in the first place? How much energy and time did I spend cleaning it up, managing it and now hauling it away?

Trent Hamm, a guest blogger for The Christian Science Monitor’s “The Simple Dollar,” offered some advice on this very issue this week. ” I want my children to not derive their self-worth from the stuff that they own or don’t own, but instead from who they are and what they’ve accomplished,” he wrote. Here’s a summary of the tips he shared:

1. Be picky about the media your kids consume.

2. Steer conversations away from “who owns what.”

3. Focus on people’s qualities instead of the things they own.

4. Praise them for hard work.

5.  Actively work against defining other people by their stuff.

I need to incorporate some of his advice into my own life. As we get busier, it’s harder to be intentional about these things.

What do you do at your house? How do you steer your kids away from consumerism and accumulating junk?

A Code of Ethics for Kids

Debrah-Lynn B. Hook is a journalist and mother of three. In a recent article, “Ethical Behavior continues to decline,” she noted how pervasive lying and deceit have become among the latest generation of youth.

Her conclusion is supported by studies from the Josephson Institute of Ethics, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that established the CHARACTER COUNTS! Coalition, a partnership of more than 900 educational and youth-serving organizations committed to improving the ethical quality of America ’s young people through character development.

Last fall, the institute conducted a survey on high school character and its relationship to adult conduct. Here are their key findings:

  • “Young people are much more cynical than their elders – they are considerably more likely to believe that it is necessary to lie or cheat in order to succeed.
  • “Those who believe dishonesty is necessary are more likely to actually lie and cheat.
  • “Cheaters in high school are far more likely as adults to lie to their spouses, customers and employers and to cheat on expense reports and insurance claims.”

The Institute also emphasizes the need for schools to play a significant role in teaching honesty, responsibility, respect and other values to students.

But how about parents? What should we be doing at home? How do our own actions and lapses in ethical behavior affect our children’s attitudes? What steps can we take to help our children establish a healthy code of ethics?

The President on Parenting

The president’s daughters must get straight A’s. That’s my conclusion based on this quote from President Barack Obama: “Malia will tell you, my attitude was, if she came home with a B, that’s not good enough because there’s noreason why she can’t get an A.”

The president and First Lady Michelle Obama are on the cover of the March issue of Essence, scheduled to hit newsstands this week. The interview with the president  is part of the magazine’s three-part education series, “Teaching Our Children.” According to a press release from the magazine, the interview includes Obama’s opinions on a number of topics — from making teachers accountable and closing the education gap between black and white students to how he and the First Lady encourage their daughters to love learning.

According to this story from the Associated Press, the president also told Essence that Malia and Sasha never watch television on school nights. “The girls don’t watch TV during the week. Period,” he said during the interview.

Instead, they spend their time doing homework. When they’re done with that, they read until bedtime — which is 8 p.m. for 8-year-old Sasha and ano hour later for Malia, who’s 11.

When Essence asked him what parents can do to help their kids develop a love of learning, the president advises other dads and moms to set expectations so that the children take responsibility for their own education. He also spoke about how he and Michelle Obama started reading to their girls when they were still babies.

“There’s no doubt that Michelle and I have more resources and privileges compared with a lot of parents. We understand that,” he told Essence. “But I don’t care how poor you are — you can turn off the television set during the week.”

Do your kids watch television on school nights? Besides turning off the TV, what else can parents do to encourage learning?

Help for kids with disabilities

When Luann Kirkham’s son was diagnosed with several learning disabilities at the age of 2, the Spokane mom decided to pursue every avenue possible to help him.

Two and a half years ago, she discovered Lindamood Bell Learning Processes, a California-based educational institution founded almost 30 years ago to help children and adults “develop sensory-cognitive skills to read, spell, comprehend and express language.” It was established by educators Nanci Bell and Pat Lindamood, who both taught at a medical clinic where they focused on adults and children with learning difficulties.

Kirkham’s son, Sam, is now 11. “We have seen Sam finally break through walls we had worked on for many years and couldn’t overcome,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Sam loves working with them and the progress he made in working with them is very remarkable and encouraging. It really gave us hope.”

Lindamood Bell has learning centers all over the country, including one in Bellevue. Now, its founders are considering bringing a satellite learning center to Spokane. Kirkham wanted to help spread the word about two informational meetings later this month.

Parent’s, educators, and professionals are invited to learn about Lindamood Bell’s programs for reading, comprehension, spelling and math. Topics of discussion will include the causes and solutions for learning challenges—including the symptoms of dyslexia, hyperlexia, ADD/ADHD and autism spectrum disorders

When: Thursday, Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. and Friday, Feb. 26 at 10 a.m.
Where: Achieve Center, 524 West Indiana Ave. in Spokane

Call or email to reserve your space: 1-888-827-8130 or

Technology shapes latest generation of kids

Generation Y, also known as the ‘Millenials,” became known for their technology and multitasking skills — their uncanny ability to walk, talk and text all at the same time. But now, a new generation is coming along and psychologists and other experts say they’re becoming even more tech-savvy than the group before them.

Their digital gear is even more sophisticated, according to this USA Today story, “Tech-savvy ‘iGeneration’ kids multitask, connect.” And their relationship with technology is more intimate than their older siblings. They’ve never experienced life without any of these technologies so it’s normal for them to expect a connection with peers on a constant basis.

Larry Rosen, psychologist and author of “Me, MySpace and I: Parenting the Net Generation,” has referred to these youths as the “iGeneration.”

“The technology is the easiest way to see it, but it’s also a mind-set, and the mind-set goes with the little ‘i,’ which I’m taking to stand for ‘individualized,’ ” Rosen told USA Today. “Everything is customized and individualized to ‘me.’ My music choices are customizable to ‘me.’ What I watch on TV any instant is customizable to ‘me.’ ”

Rosen says the traits of this new generation include a desire for immediacy and an adeptness for multitasking.

What do you see in this latest generation of kids? How has technology shaped their day-to-day lives and expectations? Obviously, their capacity for innovation is probably greater than ever before, but is there a downside to being too-connected, too dependent on our gadgets?

“Children as prime-time accessories”

There’s now a description for Octomom, the parents of Balloon Boy and others who use their kids to gain fame or notoriety. In “When Kids Become Tickets to Fame,” a recent story from The Christian Science Monitor, staff writer Mark Guarino quotes a media analyst who called the trend, “children as prime-time accessories.”

“Parents and children are a combo that has reliably enjoyed the media spotlight’s glare for decades,” he wrote. “But what makes this current crop of fame seekers different is that they are primarily using their parental dysfunction to launch media careers.”

Some of the experts he interviewed noted how television and social media have encouraged this bad behavior. Family also used to be a private matter for some celebrities, but now, the children of famous people — including the president and his wife, a vice presidential candidate and of course, movie stars — have become part of the spotlight.

The article also quoted Susan Linn, director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood: “We are in a culture where everything is for sale. [That means] we are really dealing with the commoditization of everything, including children. With the proliferation of electronic media, there are many more opportunities for children to be exploited.”

Linn advised parents to be careful about posting videos of their kids on YouTube, to consider the impact of technology on a child’s development, and to become more aware of their kids’ right to privacy.

Her advice made me a little self-conscious. After all, I write about my kids in this blog, post occasional photos of them on Facebook (but not YouTube), and don’t really think twice about whether or not they want me to share their childhood adventures and anecdotes with others. I’m certainly not like Balloon Boy’s parents, but I wonder now if I’ve ever crossed the line.

Do non-celebrity parents also run the risk of using their children to get attention?


Why kids get bullied

Kids who lack social skills and are unable to respond to nonverbal cues from their peers are more likely to get bullied, according to a recent story posted on LiveScience, a website devoted to “groundbreaking developments in science, space, technology, health, and the environment.”

Almost 30 percent of youth in the United States (or over 5.7 million) are estimated to be involved in bullying as either a bully, a target of bullying, or both, according to statistics from the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center.

LiveScience interviewed researchers who examined why kids get rejected by others in their peer group. These experts concluded that kids who had social problems also struggled in at least one of three different areas of nonverbal communication: reading nonverbal cues; understanding their social meaning; and coming up with options for resolving a social conflict.

“Shunned children have few opportunities to practice social skills, while popular kids are busy perfecting theirs,” according to the article.

LiveScience interviewed Richard Lavoie, an expert in child social behavior.  Lavoie, author of several books including “It’s So Much Work to Be Your Friend: Helping the Child with Learning Disabilities Find Social Success,” suggested a five-step approach to teaching social skills to kids. The process involves listening without judgment; asking the child to figure out his or her mistake; helping the child identify the cue they missed by asking questions instead of lecturing; using a scenario to explain the problem; and giving the child “social homework” by asking her or him to practice the new skill.

In addition to social skills, I also think it’s important for our kids to learn how to be inclusive, tolerant and accepting of everyone — even the kids who might seem awkward because of their inability to read social cues. We need to focus more on the bullies and changing their unacceptable behavior. I also believe we have to empower our kids to speak out whenever they witness bullying and harassment.

What are your thoughts on all this?

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This blog is intended to provide a forum for parents to share knowledge and resources. It's a place for parents young and old to combine their experiences raising families into a collective whole to help others.

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