Monday, March 30, 2009

TV for Toddlers: Not harmful after all?

A new study by the researchers at Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School bucks the "TV is bad for your toddler" trend, finding that hours in front of the television, while not beneficial, doesn't seem to harm young kids, either.

"In this study, TV viewing in itself did not have measurable effects on cognition," said Dr. Elsie Taveras, senior author of the study and pediatrician at Children's. "TV viewing is perhaps best viewed as a marker for a host of other environmental and familial influences, which may themselves be detrimental to cognitive development."

It's worth noting that while the study took into account a host of variables -- mother's age, education, household income, marital status, and the child's gender, race, birth weight, body mass index, and sleep habits, among other things -- it did not examine the actual content being viewed by the 872 children involved. And though infants and young children who spent hours at a time in front of the television may not suffer from cognitive delays, TV exposure has been associated with increased risk of obesity, poor quality of sleep, and attention problems.

The American Association of Pediatrics still recommends that children watch no more than two hours of "quality" programming per day, and that children younger than 2 watch no TV at all. (Most kids in the US watch about three hours of TV a day). But as any working parent knows, it's nearly impossible to guarantee that your tiny tot will never watch any TV.

A reader recently asked for suggestions for shows that are appropriate for a 2-year-old. Barney was banned from our household when our oldest, now 15, was a toddler -- we just couldn't stand to watch it with her -- but there are plenty of age-appropriate, slow-paced, toddler-friendly TV shows that do make the cut. The details are at's Child Caring blog, but Teletubbies (PBS), Sesame Street (PBS), Curious George (PBS), Oswald (Nick Jr.), Yo Gabba Gabba! (Nick Jr.), and Blues Clues (Nick Jr.) are on my toddler's viewing list.

Other shows enjoyed (in moderation!) by our 2-year-old and our 4-year-old are Dora the Explorer (Nick Jr.), Go, Diego, Go! (Nick Jr.), Ni Hao Kai Lan (Nick Jr.), Word Girl (PBS), Super Why (PBS), and Arthur (PBS).

Typing this out, it seems like an awful lot of television for a couple of little kids, but if they only watch a show or two at a time, I'm OK with it.

How about you? What shows are on your short list?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

How to talk to kids about the economy and budgeting

I'm revisiting the issue of kids and money over at's Child Caring blog, where it's tied in to a great piece that Globe staff writer Linda Matchan wrote last week about talking to kids about hard times.

I've written about similar ideas over at Work It, Mom! and Larger Families, but this time the advice aimed specifically at parents of younger children. It can be hard to stay up-beat and still be realistic. Here are a few tips to try:

Be open and honest, but don't over-explain. Jamie Woolf, author of Mom in Chief, suggests that parents should answer kids’ questions and respond to their concerns, but not delve into all the details. “For example, you may be worried about your college savings, but your ten year-old daughter is not likely to lose sleep over it,” she writes on her blog.

Let the kids help you save. If the kids feel like they're helping you save money, being more frugal can become a source of pride rather than frustration. Let your little kids hold the coupons while you shop for groceries. Grade school-aged children can be tasked with shutting off lights at home when they're not in use. Teens can help track their own expenses and learn how to cut costs. Embrace inexpensive or free activities and homemade gifts, and find ways to make your entertainment dollars do double duty. (For instance, buying a family membership to a local museum is a tax-deductable way to enrich your kids lives and help the community at the same time.)

Be consistent. Kids crave stability, and you’re not doing them any favors by deciding to splurge “just this once.” If you do, when the next opportunity to spend comes around, you won’t have a leg to stand on.

Show them how to budget. Parents are split on the allowance issue -- should you tie it to chores or just give them the money? -- but you give your children an allowance, take the opportunity to talk to them about how to save and how much to spend. If your kids are really young and money has no real meaning to them yet, start with something they do understand -- like treats. Can your 6-year-old make a very small bag of candy last a week? That's basic budgeting.

Be willing to meet older kids part way. If you budget $25 for jeans and your teenager wants a much more expensive pair, tell her that you’re willing to pay for part of it -- but she has to come up with the rest. According to Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller, authors of The 10 Commitments: Parenting with a Purpose, saying so “curbs feelings of entitlement and allows children to take ownership for achieving their desires.”

Remember that, as a parent, your job is to set limits. “You’re not depriving your children” points out Dr. Michelle New at, “you’re teaching them important lessons about delaying gratification, earning treats and rewards, and about family finances.”

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tips for making tax time easier

Over at Work It, Mom! I'm taking on the tax man... or, at least, sharing a few tips and tricks for helping you cope at tax time.

By far, the best tip is to stay as organized as you can; filing your recipts and other tax-related documents as they arrive makes a big difference at tax time. If you can keep several folders at the ready and sort documents, not just file them, throughout the year, you'll be able to whip through that 1040 easily.

Here are nine more tips for taming the tax monster:

Evaluate your deductions. The standard deduction is easy to take, but you may save more money if you itemize -- especially if you work at home and can deduct part of your operating expenses. Take a look at this list of commonly overlooked tax deductions to make sure you aren't missing anything!

Double check your tax credits. You may be eligible for a tax credit of up to $1,000 for each dependent child under the age of 17 in your household. Check to see if you’re eligible for other tax credits as well.

Consider taking a loss. If it’s close to the end of the year and you’re looking at a potentially significant capital gain, consider unloading a less profitable investment and offsetting the gain with a loss (don’t forget that you can carry forward up to $3,000 in losses from previous years).

Stay up-to-date. Talk to your tax preparer or, if you’re going it alone, make sure you have the latest software -- it doesn’t have to cost a bundle (and, in many cases, the cost is tax deductible).
File online. The Internal Revenue Service offers a free electronic filing program for taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes of less than $56,000 in 2008. And this year, many Massachusetts residents can file their 2008 state taxes online, too.

Don’t forget about your unreimbursed business expenses. Things like union dues, travel expenses, and research materials may be deductible. Check with the IRS for details.

Sole Proprietor? If you received a 1099-Misc, the government considers you a business, even if you don't think of yourself as one. Understand your quarterly tax payment responsibilities. IRS publication 505 is required reading if you ran your own unincorporated business.

Take a little more time. File for an extension and you can work on your taxes for a few months after tax day. Just remember: An extension to file is not the same as an extension to pay. If you think you might owe money, you'll still have to pay all or part of your estimated taxes.

Being audited? Don’t panic. If a professional prepared your taxes that year, give him IRS Power of attorney and sit back and relax. Did your taxes yourself? Relax: it might not be as bad as you think. Check out’s tips for coping with the audit process.

What to do when you're overwhelmed

In addition to all the work-related stress we're feeling right now, many people are overwhelmed by what's going on around them -- at work and at home. At The 36-Hour Day, I've offered up the five things I try to do when I'm feeling overwhelmed. The details are there, but here are the five tips, in a nutshell:

1.) Put it in perspective. What's important? Where do you really stand in the grand scheme of things? At the risk of sounding trite, one excellent way to do gain perspective is to cuddle your kids. Even if they’re too big to be cuddled (some of mine are), grab them, give them an embarrassing hug, shrug off the “Moooooom!” and then take a few minutes to remember what’s important.

2.) Take baby steps. Divide your day into hours, and if you’re still feeling overwhelmed, get through the day in five-minute chunks. The time will pass whether you’re constructive or not… might as well be constructive.

3.) Be gentle with yourself. Being angry with yourself doesn’t make things better, and there’s no need to add guilt to the mix. Cut yourself some slack, take a short break, give yourself a treat.

4.) Go to bed. If my head hits the pillow before midnight, I consider that early; before 11 p.m. is decadent. Just the thought of it makes me all giddy. Giddy is good for battling overwhelm.

5.) Look to the past. Have you been in this situation before? Has anyone you know been in it? It took me a while, but then I remembered what my own parents went through, back in the early ’80s. How did they handle it? I’ll have to ask them, but the bottom line is that they got through it. Which means that now, 25 years later, I will, too.

Have you been feeling overwhelmed? What helps you cope?

Do parents put their kids at risk when they post their videos online?

I shoot plenty of video of our kids, but I've not posted a single snippet anywhere online. Photos? Yes. But video? No.

Why not? Call me paranoid, but even if the videos are intended to be seen only by friends and family, I have no way of making sure that a link doesn't get forwarded to someone else.

Over at Child Caring, I've asked parents to weigh in on viral videos, and whether they're fair to the kids who are featured in them. Recently, MomLogic talked to clinical psychologist Dr. Cara Gardenswartz about six of the most popular viral videos out there, and the analysis really makes you see these videos in a different light.

The videos show kids mispronouncing words, acting hyper, or freaking out over innocuous things. They're funny -- sort of. But there's something about them that's unsettling. The viewer is being invited to laugh at these children -- by their parents. It's one thing to embarrass your older kids in front of family and friends; it's another thing to expose your child to the world when he's vulnerable.

The videos of children who are clearly upset about something... those bother me the most. (for the record, they bother me when I see them on mainstream TV shows like American's Funniest Home Videos, too. Why are the parents still taping? Drop your camera and comfort your child.

Do you post videos of your children online? Why or why not?

Why I have a pet, even though I never wanted one

I am not a pet person. I never have been. In fact, the only reason we have a dog now is that my husband adores them and someone offered us a great, sweet, black lab puppy for free about 8 years ago.

OK, so that's not the only reason. At The 36-Hour Day, I talk more about my lack of a pet-loving gene, but I admit that there are some pretty good reasons for having a pet in the house:

So, what’s the benefit? According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, taking care of a pet may help children develop better social skills, self esteem, and self confidence. All reasons why there’s a dog sitting near my feet right now. And why I would love to take a page out of my Dad’s book and fake a pet allergy… but don’t. ... [More]

Do you have pets in your household? Why or why not?

If you drank as a teen, your kids might, too

Do you regal your teenagers with stories about your own wild-n-crazy teenage years? If you do, a new survey suggests that you probably shouldn't.

As part of the Intel Science Talent Search competition, Chelsea Lynn Jurman, 17, a senior at Rosyln High School in New York, surveyed 123 teenagers, asking them whether they agreed or disagreed with statements such as “My parents/guardians usually know where I am on weekends or after school,” how often they drank, and whether they knew if their parents had used alcohol as teens.

The results? Not what you'd expect.

Jurman's study found that teens who thought that their parents used alcohol as kids were more likely to drink themselves. Why? Well, if their parents drank and they turned out OK, teens think, then they can drink and they'll turn out fine, too. "The perception kids create becomes the reality," Jurman says.

At's Child Caring blog, we're discussing the survey and what it means for us as parents. Are we supposed to lie to our kids and tell them we never touched a drop before we turned 21? Gloss over our exploits? Tell them "Do as I say, not as I do?"

Are your kids old enough to experiment with alcohol? What were you like when you were their age?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Get your foreign currency before you get on board

The world has gotten a lot smaller since I wrote this piece for the Globe back in 2004, but the main point still rings true: If you're traveling overseas, you can't always rely on ATMs or foreign banks to be there when you need them. Here are a few tips for making sure you have what foreign currency you need before you travel.
November 21, 2004
Get their currency (euros, rupees, pounds . . .) here first

By Lylah M. Alphonse, Globe Staff

One of the best ways to get foreign currency when you're abroad is from an ATM. The transaction is instantaneous, the exchange rate is competitive, you have a record of all of your transactions, and the fees, though sometimes substantial, are deducted automatically from your account.

But what if the automatic teller machine is out of order? Or the tiny, picturesque seaside village has a couple of local banks but no ATMs? Or you forget your personal identification number or -- worst of all -- lose your card?

That's when it pays to have a little foreign currency tucked away, just in case.

Not all places accept US dollars, and you can't always purchase with plastic. A cab driver in Amsterdam may be happy to take your $20 traveler's check, but the rickshaw walla in Ahmedabad, India, could be reluctant. ... [More]
Read the rest at

Friday, March 20, 2009

Shortcuts to work-life balance (or, at least, things that make the juggle a little bit easier)

Over at Work It, Mom!, I'm writing under my favorite nom de plume (that is, "The Work It, Mom! Team"). Check out these recent offerings to make your work-life juggle easier:

Looking to update your work wardrobe on a small budget? Here are eight essentials that won't break the bank.

Spring break affecting your kids' brains? Check out these 10 great educational websites that are actually a lot of fun.

Getting ready for a trip? Make sure you know how to pack everything you need into a single carry-on bag.

No time to clean the house? These tips will help you keep things clean with minimal effort.

And don't forget to check out the latest picks at Affordable Luxuries! I've been on a bit of a reading kick lately; recent reviews include Regina Leed's One Year To an Organized Work Life, Jenna McCarthy's Cheers To the New Mom!/Cheers To the New Dad!, and some really cool software from Digitells that lets you turn any book into an audiobook.

Polish your image, increase your value at work

Like many, many other companies, the one I work for is talking layoffs, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t stressed out about it. As with any company, who stays and who goes may come down to things employees can’t control, but there are a few variables that can be, and they can make a big difference in how valuable you are as an employee.

At The 36-Hour Day, I write about a few things you can do to polish up your image and increase your value at work. Click through for the details, but here's the snapshot:

Increase facetime. You don't have to come in early and leave late every single day, but doing each once a week can make a big difference in terms of your visible at the office.

Look busy. I work at a computer — I’d have to try hard not to look busy — but if you’re not at a desk job, then make sure you look like you have plenty to do, even if that means refolding the shirt display eleventy billion times a week.

Be busy. Take on extra work if you can. Your company is going to want to wring every last bit of effort out of you in exchange for that paycheck; it’s a lot more palatable if you beat them to it.

Expand your skill set. Think of it this way: If you were just entering the workforce, you’d consider an unpaid internship, right, just to get the experience?

Read the rest at The 36-Hour Day and tell me, what are you doing to make yourself seem more valuable at work?

Are our precautionary measures making food allergies worse?

We deal with several food allergies and intolerances in our family -- fewer now than several years ago, but still. We've been gluten- and casein-free for about five years now and used to have to avoid, at one time or another, green beans, chicken, cashew nuts, corn, and soy as well.

The recent study on "curing" peanut allergies was interesting to me for several reasons. Are the scientists taking a page out of Homeopathy's handbook? Does their theory work for non life-threatening allergies as well? How about non-food allergies?

But the biggest question in my mind after reading about the study was this: By limiting our kids' exposure to certain, non life-threatening allergens, are we doing their immune systems more harm than good?

The discussion is getting heated in the comments section over at's Child Caring blog -- read the post and weigh in. But please note: I am not advocating challenging anyone's allergies in a non-hospital setting, I am not saying that nut-free zones in schools is a bad idea, and I am not equating scientific study with Homeopathy. I'm a parent with kids who have non life-threatening food allergies, and I'm wondering what their lives will be like 20 years down the road.
Here's the post. Read it an weigh in!

We deal with a few food allergies and intolerances in our household. One of our kids has been gluten- and casein-free now for about five years; that means no wheat, barley, US-processed (and possibly cross-contaminated) oats, MSG, modified food starch, or dairy of any kind (casein is a milk protein). When he was younger, we had to avoid eggs, soy, and corn (and anything containing corn derivatives, like corn syrup) as well. Yeah, that was fun; thank goodness he
grew out of some of those.

Another child is allergic to wheat and used to be allergic to cashews, green beans, and chicken. Yes, chicken. She outgrew that, too, but gets horrible, itchy eczema if she consumes wheat. A third is off gluten. The other two don't seem to be allergic to anything -- yet. None of them are anaphalactic to anything, thank goodness, but being GFCF can make eating out and packing lunches a bit of a challenge.

My youngest kids' preschool and daycare are nut-free zones (which, compared to avoiding gluten, is a cinch). But I read with interest the studies that came out earlier this week, about a possible therapy that seems to be helping kids overcome their peanut allergies by giving them daily, controlled doses of the very thing to which they're allergic.

"But over several years, the children's bodies learned to tolerate peanuts. Immune-system tests show no sign of remaining allergy in five youngsters, and others can withstand amounts that once would have left them wheezing or worse," the Associated Press reported.

Which led me to two thoughts: 1.) Are scientists taking a page out of homeopathy's handbook? And 2.) If very small -- practically microscopic -- encounters with allergens can eventually "teach" one's immune system to tolerate, rather than reject, certain substances, are our peanut-free classrooms causing problems rather than preventing them?

Please note: I am not suggesting that kids aren't really allergic to nuts, or anything else for that matter. My friend's child's face blows up like a balloon if he so much as rubs his eyes after touching someone else who's handled nuts -- food allergies are very real (though, thanks to an over-reliance on simple blood tests, misdiagnoses also seem to be on the rise). But as I scan product labels for the umpteenth time, looking for hints of gluten, I wonder... since our kids don't have celiac disease and their allergies aren't life threatening, is avoiding every last trace of gluten just making things worse for them in the long run?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dora grows up, parents aren't pleased

Nickelodeon and Mattle are teaming up to offer a Dora the Explorer to the tween set. But parents aren't pleased that the wholesome, adventurous Dora seems poised to become a typical 10-year-old.

The original press release showed a provocative, shadow-like silhouette of the new, older Dora which maybe left a little too much to the imagination: dubbed the new design "Dora the Sexplorer," and many moms assumed the new tween would look a lot like a Bratz doll. Mattle released a detailed image yesterday, showing her looking like a prettier version of the football-headed child our toddlers love. But to many parents, it's still too much.

I wrote about Tween Dora today over at's Child Caring blog, but the real discussion is raging in the comments section. Here's my two cents:

I think the new Dora is cute and all, and I understand that there are vast marketing and monetizing issues at play, but seriously, Mattel and Nickelodeon, take a lesson from New Coke here and leave well enough alone.

Why should our children follow Dora to middle school when Dora's ditched her best friend Boots and the rest of the gang? What does that say about the importance of childhood friendships? Why not develop something around Dora's cousin Alicia, an animal rescuer who helps save penguins and pumas with her brother on the spin-off show Go, Diego, Go!, in order to appeal to older children -- or create a new character entirely?

What's next? Adolescent Elmo? Blue's Last Visit to the Vet?

One of the most important life lessons for young kids is that you get bigger and move on to "big kid" things -- and that it's OK. When I was a child, we "graduated" from
Sesame Street and Mr. Roger's Neighborhood to The Electric Company and School House Rock and ZOOM. There's a reason why no one marketed a Sesame Street for older kids: Older kids aren't anxious to hold on to the trappings of toddlerhood, for all that their parents wish they might be.

What do you think? Read the whole post at Child Caring, and weigh in: Are we taking Dora's makeover too seriously?

(image from

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Grab a widget, stay in the loop

Want to know what I'm writing about? Grab a widget for your blog, and get updated as soon as I post at Child Caring, Affordable Luxuries (for all you frugalistas out there), or right here at Write. Edit. Repeat.!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Why Twittering is worthwhile

I was on the fence about Twitter for a long while before I finally decided to dive in to the pool. (You can follow me @36hourday or keep an eye on the Twitter feed on the right-hand side of this page.)

Of course, as with any public forum, there are potential pitfalls:

I think that the trap many people fall into is that of thinking of Twitter or Facebook as a place that belongs to them and is safe, personal, and private, when really, it’s not — anything you put up there could potentially be read by anyone else, even if you change all of your settings to “private” (you know how to copy and paste, right? Well, so does everyone else). But if you think of those social media sites as tools with specific uses, then it’s possible to be active on them without jeopardizing yourself or your career.

I think people have to figure out what they hope to get out of participating on those sites. Are you tweeting in order to collect followers/readers, or to broadcast information? Are you on Facebook to reconnect with friends and family or are you open to networking with coworkers (and, potentially, your boss?) ... [More]

So, why bother with Twitter? It depends on what you want to do. The New York Times Magazine recently had a great article about ambient awareness and microblogging, but my reasons are far more simple: I like being able to throw out a question and get a handful of different responses immediately, and it's great to be able to broadcast what I'm writing about and where. Do you Twitter? Let me know (I'll follow!) and tell me why in the comments here or at The 36-Hour Day.

What do you wish someone had told you when you became a new parent?

At the Child Caring blog, I'm asking readers to share the advice that they wish they'd gotten when they became parents -- and to dish about what advice a new mom or dad should ignore. Chime in with your tips or terror stories here or at!

Edited to add: Thanks to the Cafe Suzanne at, who linked to this post in her Daily Buzz on 3/17! The comments at Cafemom are great and the discussion is going strong... be sure to take a look!

Totally Tubular!

I live in New England -- even though it's a gorgeous day in the Boston area, it's still likely that we'll get at least one last blast of cold weather before Spring is really here. So, last weekend in The Boston Globe's "Bring the Family" column, I suggested that local readers make the most of it by heading to the hills for a little tubing...

Tubular Fun

WHO: Globe Magazine staff member Lylah M. Alphonse, her husband, and three of their five kids, ages 10 to 15

WHAT: careening down a snowy hill

WHERE: Nashoba Valley Ski Area Tubing Park, Westford; 978-692-3033;

Standing at the top of the hill, tubes at the ready, my older kids were too psyched to complain about who had been bothering whom just minutes earlier. With 15 lanes and four lifts, the tubing park at Nashoba Valley Ski Area has plenty of room, and an abundance of tubes means that even during the busiest times you rarely have to wait to take a ride.

The slope may look gentle, but you build up some serious speed on those tubes, and your heart hits your throat when your tube hits one of the built-in sculpted bumps. Weather conditions permitting, you can link up your tubes to caravan down the hill in a chain. Unlike old-school sledding, Nashoba Valley's lift makes it easy to get back to the top - attach your tube to the tow rope, take a seat, and enjoy the ride.

I'll be honest: I huddled on the sidelines - OK, OK, relaxed at the onsite lodge and snack bar - with our youngest two kids, while my husband and our big three took turns bouncing and sliding down the icy hill on the huge tubes. Visitors have to be at least 42 inches tall or 6 years old to participate, and while our 4-year-old made the cut, height-wise, she was not really up for the speedy descents (vice versa for our 2-year-old son, of course).

The tubing park is open seven days a week, 1 to 10 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends (tubing under the bright lights at night is pretty cool), and tickets cost $22 for a two-hour run. Fresh snow (natural or man-made - the park does keep the tubing runs nicely powdered) makes for a slightly slower ride; the park sometimes delays opening because of the weather, so it's a good idea to call before you get in the car for the 40-mile drive from Boston. [More]

Friday, March 13, 2009

Survey finds that Boston-area teens think Rihanna's beating was her own fault

(Photo from The Wblog/

A Boston Public Health Commission survey on teenagers and dating violence released yesterday offered up some pretty chilling results: Nearly half of the kids surveyed said they think Rihanna was "responsible" for what happened between her and her boyfriend, Chris Brown.

At The Boston Globe's Child Caring blog, we're discussing the survey results, as well as a few intersting comments from people on different sides of the issue. It's pretty eye-opening...

Every single one of the 200 12- to 19-year-old kids surveyed had heard about the incident involving the two R&B stars that took place hours before the Grammys on Feb. 8, but in case you don't know the details, here's what allegedly happened, according to the LAPD detective's notes and Fox News:

After Rihanna read a text message on Brown's phone from a woman, he tried to force Rihanna out of the car, but couldn't because she was wearing her seatbelt.

Brown then allegedly slammed Rihanna's head against her window, and when Rihanna turned to face him, he punched her.

The notes said blood spattered on Rihanna's clothing and the interior of the Lamborghini.

Rihanna also called her assistant, according to FOX 11, leaving a message saying, "I am on my way home. Make sure the cops are there when I get there."

Brown then reportedly replied, "You just did the stupidest thing ever. I'm going to kill you," and proceeded to punch and bite Rihanna. He allegedly put her in a headlock so long that she almost lost consciousness.
Rihanna, who turned 21 a few weeks after the incident, was beaten severely enough to require hospitalization. Brown, 19, who reportedly had a history of violence toward Rihanna, turned himself in and was charged with two felonies.

Yet 46 percent of the kids surveyed said that they thought Rihanna was to blame for the beating; 51 percent said Brown was at fault, and 52 percent said that both of them were somehow responsible. And, according to the survey, a significant number of males and females said Rihanna was now destroying Chris Brown's career.

The two got back together, which, while horrifying to many parents, doesn't seem to surprise many teenagers; 71 percent of respondents said that arguing is a normal part of a relationship, and 42 percent responded that fighting (presumably physically) was also normal.

Unhealthy relationships -- rife with physical, verbal, or emotional abuse -- has become so prevalent that kids' entertainment giant Nickelodeon did not bother to strip Brown of his nominations in their Kids' Choice Awards after his arrest, instead saying that Brown "was nominated by kids several months ago, and the kids who vote will ultimately decide who wins in the category." (Over at the Deep South Moms Blog, Ilana has written a great post about it; Brown withdrew his name from consideration on Wednesday).

Also... Michael Phelps gets dropped by sponsors for toking up, but Chris Brown beats his girlfriend and is up for a couple of awards?

How did we go from telling our preschoolers "use your words" and "don't hit people" to this?

According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC, one in 11 adolescents reports being a victim of physical dating abuse. And it starts early: 72 percent of eighth and ninth graders reportedly "date"; by the time they are in high school, 54 percent of students report dating abuse among their peers, according to the CDC.

"The consequences of dating violence can be severe and long-lasting. Teen dating violence victimization can be a precursor to adult violence victimization, and can increase risky behaviors during adolescence," Emily F. Rothman, assistant professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health, and an adviser to the Boston Start Strong initiative, said in a press release. The CDC reports that both male and female victims of dating abuse are not only at increased risk for injury, they are also more likely to binge drink, attempt suicide, get into physical fights, and take part in unhealthy sexual behavior. "Rates of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use are more than twice as high in girls who report physical or sexual dating abuse than in girls who report no abuse," CDC data shows.

Are your kids aware of what happened between Rihanna and Chris Brown? How do you talk to your kids about unhealthy relationships?

How to write a press release that will actually get read

I’m not a PR person, or a career coach; I’m just a journalist who gets a lot of press releases. A LOT of press releases. If I had a dime for every press release I deleted or threw in the recycling bin, I wouldn’t need a second job.

People ask me all the time for tips and tricks for making a press release stand out and so, over at The 36-Hour Day, I share the 10 things that make me read a press release instead of tossing it in the trash (or deleting it from my inbox). Here are my tips, in a nutshell:
1.) Pitch it to the right person. Make sure you’re sending your press release to the right place. I write a regular column about gear and gadgets for family travel; any press releases about exotic destinations, fabulous cruises, expensive resorts, or romantic getaways to other countries go right into the trash.
2.) Spell everything right. Especially the name of the person to whom you’re sending the press release. Use spell check, of course, but be sure to proofread carefully as well ("so" and "sew" go through spell check just fine, but aren't interchangeable). And make sure you get the name right; any press releases I get addressed to "Lyla" or "Lydia" get thrown out.
3.) Get to the point, and keep it short. Stick with who, what, where, why, and how — who you are, what you’re pitching, where it is, why it’s significant, and how to get more information. People are not going to look through a three-page press release, they're not going to click on an attachment, and they aren't going to bother to sift through a lot of chit-chat to find out what you're pitching.
4.) Spotlight what’s different or important, and highlight how it fits into the writer’s beat. If there's something really unique about your product or event, say so! If it's a reoccurring event, mention how long it's been running; if it's the first of it's kind, mention that. If someone well-known will be there, say so. If it would provide a service that's perfect for a particular demographic that the writer is trying to reach (working moms, families who travel, foodies, whatever), point it out.
5.) Make sure your contact info is easy to find. Don't slip it at the bottom of the press release, and don't bury it in the middle of the text. Put it at the top of the file with the word "contact" next to it.
6.) Keep it clean and professional-looking. Don’t clutter your press release up with graphics and fancy, funky fonts. If it's hard to read, or if it looks sloppy, it'll go in the trash.
7.) Don’t overload the reader with information. If you're pitching a product, it's OK to include a photo, but don't attach a slideshow to the press release; if you have some great photos or testimonials or additional information, direct the reader to your website.
8.) Offer to send samples or provide access. If you’re pitching a product, a legitimate reporter won’t review it if he or she has never tried it before. Be willing to send a sample -- and if you want it back, be sure to include a self-addressed, postage-paid envelope or box. If you're pitching an event, be sure to mention if there's a press screening, a discounted or free pass for whomever you want to cover it, or any after- or before-hours availability for interviews and research. They may not take you up on it, but if you make it easy for them to access information, they're more likely to give you the coverage you need.
9.) Don’t be cute or gimmicky. It’s not memorable, it's just irritating. Don't sprinkle the press release with glitter, douse it in perfume, put it on a little keychain, include a special party hat, or package it in anything that's difficult to open and read. It'll go right in the trash. If you want to grab someone's attention, do it by providing the information they need quickly and easily.
10.) Don’t push it. If no one responds to your email right away, send a follow up a few days later, but don't keep emailing and, for goodness sake, keep the phone calls to a minimum -- not only is the writer probably fielding other pitches, he or she is also trying to, you know, write. If you must call, the first thing out of your mouth after "hello" and your name should be, "Do you have a minute to chat?"

Above all: Do your research. A few minutes on the internet will tell you whether you've targeted the right writer, whether the publication is a good fit for your client, and whether the reporter you're about to reach out to has already written about whatever you're trying to pitch.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

When do you help someone else's child?

At Boston.coms Child Caring blog and over at Larger Families, I'm asking readers what they'd do if they saw someone else's child in trouble.

At Child Caring, we're talking about scenarios like the one described in gut-wrenching detail in a recent Washington Post story and about how men sometimes feel like they can't help a crying child because people will assume they're causing the problem, rather than trying to help:
Before I became a parent, I was a nanny, but even as a kid I was never able to walk past a child who seemed to need help. My litmus test: If it's a situation in which I'd want someone to help my child, I step in and help theirs. I've grabbed other people's kids as they sprinted out an open department store door and into a busy parking lot; I've let frazzled-looking parents know that the child they're calling is playing hide-and-seek in the cereal aisle. I've asked crying kids if they're lost. And I've had irritated parents glare at me for it, but I'm OK with that. ... [More]
At Larger Families, I share the reasons why I always, always butt in if I notice a child in trouble:

We’ve all experienced the Mommy Drive-By — unsolicited advice (or assvice, as the case may be) given by people who are positive they can parent your child better than you. But is there ever a time when butting in is the right thing to do?I think so.
ABC News has a segment called “What Would You Do?” and this week’s installment was on a topic most parents couldn’t ignore: Leaving a baby alone in a locked car.

The clip on the website is a little inflammatory, with passers-by confronting the actress who is pretending to be the mom of the baby (a very life-like doll). But what really infuriating is the way people respond — or don’t — to what appears to be a distressed baby trapped in a parked car on a hot day.

What would you do in that situation?

Me, I’d probably try the doors to see if they’re locked, scan the area looking for the parent, and then call the police. I don’t think I could just keep on walking by.

What would you do if you came across a child who seemed to be lost? Would you stop and try to help him? Locate an official or an officer and point the child out to her? Keep walking?

A few months ago, I was visiting a museum with four of our kids in tow. My husband and our oldest daughter were out shopping — it was just me and the rest of our crew. Our youngest, then about 1 1/2, was strapped into his stroller and very pissed off about it. Our 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son were paired up, experimenting with a hands-on exhibit in an adjoining room. Our 4-year-old was sitting just a few feet away from me — or so I thought, until I looked over at her and, all of a sudden, she was gone.

My heart stopped.

I called her name. No answer. I looked around — couldn’t see her at all in the suddenly way-too-crowded room. I pushed the stroller closer to where my older kids were, just in case she had wandered over to her siblings. She hadn’t.

Just as I was looking around for someone — anyone — who looked like the worked there, I heard my name being called, loudly and by a strange voice. An adult’s voice. And there was my girl, holding a young woman’s hand. The woman was calling my name, and she looked furious. Like I’d left my child alone on purpose.

My little girl had the presence of mind to look for “another mommy” and ask her to help find me, using my “grown-up name.” Yell “Mama!” in a crowded museum and at least half of the room turns around, but there aren’t very many “Lylah”s out there.

The whole episode lasted, at most, for about three minutes. But it was long enough to see the merit in those baby leashes. And to promise that I’d always, always butt in.

When is it OK to intervene with someone else's child? When is helping out of the question?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Should you respect your teen's privacy online?

I'm friends with our three oldest children on Facebook, and often find myself hesitating before I post a comment on their public "wall." If I were a teenager, would I want one of my parents leaving quips on my page? Will something I write end up as fodder for some other kid to use against them?

The conundrum lead me to think about teens and online privacy in general, and I took the topic to the readers at via the Child Caring blog:

I was hanging out on Facebook the other night, browsing through my friends' profiles and leaving comments here and there, when I noticed that my oldest daughter's status update had changed from something about volleyball practice to something about having to write several haiku for English class. I was about to add a comment about how I like to write haiku, but I froze: Wouldn't my liking that type of poetry make it automatically unhip to her and her friends? And also: If I were 15, would I really want my step mom posting public notes to me about poetry?

When our older kids wanted to set up Facebook accounts, my husband and I -- and their mom and step dad -- set up accounts of our own. The kids were allowed to be part of the social-networking site as long as they shared their passwords with us and "friended" us -- that is, added us to the list of people who could see their private profiles.

Their "friends" lists grew, but I was surprised to notice that mine grew more quickly than theirs. My old classmates from middle school, high school, and college were on there, too, and our mini reunions took place at all odd hours. And if unhip, old, boring, parents like me are socializing online in the middle of the night, you can bet our teenagers are doing it, too.

If you're not on Facebook, you probably should be -- if only to check and see if your kids are, and keep tabs on whom they're friends with. I admit that I don't "friend" my teens' friends as often as their mom does, but that's OK -- when you have four parents who love you and want to keep you safe, it's enough to know that at least half of them are always monitoring.

Even though we're keeping an eye on our kids and their friends because we want to make sure they're safe, it does bring up a few important questions: Where do you draw the line -- using the same access that any Facebook friend would have? Reading their email? Rigging the computer to record everything they do?

How much privacy should a teenager have online?

Trying to make "mom friends" -- this is harder than it looks

I took my 4-year-old on a playdate a few weeks ago and, truth be told, I was just as excited about it as she was. I was going to be able to hang out with another working mom! In public! Without having to dash home with cranky kids in tow to make dinner and wrestle them into bed before sitting down to do more work!

I know, I know… it doesn’t sound that momentous. But it really is. Making new “mom friends” is hard in general, but I think it’s exponentially harder when you’re a mom who is also juggling a full-time job.

Why? You're busy, and family time is at a premium, of course, but the bottom line is that you have more to lose. What if you and the other mom don't click? Will you end up affecting your child's relationship with her friend?

Read the rest at The 36-Hour Day and tell me: Do you think it's difficult to make new friends now that you're a mom?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Of course your tween thinks you're embarrassing. Here's how to cope

We did it to our parents, and this is one of the moments your mom was talking about when she said, "I hope you have a kid someday who is just like you." Your adorable child, the one who was loathe to leave your side even for a moment during the toddler years, looks at you and hisses, "You're EMBARRASSING me!"

There comes a point about 10 years in to this parenting gig when, all of a sudden, everything you do is embarrassing to your kids. I mean everything. The clothes you wear. The music you like. What you pack in their lunchboxes. Kissing them goodbye at school. Breathing. Everything.

Welcome to the world of parenting tweens and teens. It's likely that they will become more consistently human again in a few years. In the meantime, you have two choices: make yourself crazy trying to please them, or take it in stride.

Apparently, it doesn't matter how cool the rest of the world thinks you are, because as far as your kid is concerned, anything you do is, like, soooooo embarrassing. Even celebrities can't escape it:

"I took [9-year-old] Ava to a Carrie Underwood concert, and she said, 'Mom, I really appreciate you taking me to the concert, but will you please not embarrass me in front of Carrie Underwood by singing because she's a real singer and you're just, like, a movie singer,' " Reece Witherspoon -- who won a Best Actress Oscar for playing singer June Carter Cash in 2005's Walk the Line -- tells Parents magazine this month.

Bono, rock star extraordinaire and father of four, says his 19- and 17-year-old daughters worry that tells the he'll bore people by talking about his favorite causes. And Tom Cruise's and Nicole Kidman's 12- and 9-year-olds apparently are so embarrassed by their parents that they don't want them to pick them up from school.

So, how do you cope with feeling rejected by your bundle of joy, avoid additional humiliation, and give your tween or teen the space she needs while still keeping her safe?

Remember that your job is to be their parent, not their buddy. In spite of what your tween may tell you, you actually do know what you're talking about. It's uncomfortable, but it's OK for your kid not to like you if what you're doing is in their best interests. Explain consequences, set limits, and enforce them. Just don't expect them to thank you for the next several years.

Make them earn it. When it comes to teens and tweens, independence isn't a right, it's a privilege. Make them earn it giving them responsibilities, chores, and goals. Remind them -- often -- that you have high expectations about them because you care, not because you're trying to beat them down. Most kids will rise to the occasion.

Be willing to compromise -- a little. If your teen wants to stretch her wings (go to the mall unattended, for example), find a way to give her some of the independence she craves while making sure she's not in danger (you go, too, and let her know you'll be monitoring from afar). If your tween wants to watch that iffy movie on cable, sit down and watch it with him -- and be prepared to explain things, or even turn the TV off if need be.

Keep talking. They may seem like they're ignoring you, but tweens are still listening, much of the time. They need to hear accurate information about big issues like sex, drugs, tobacco use, alcohol use, relationships, finances, cyber safety, bullying, etc., from you, preferably before they hear it from their friends. has a great rundown of things you should talk about with your preadolescent.

Pick your battles. Some things really aren't worth fighting over. Purple hair? It's not on your head (and if you don't make a big deal about it, chances are it won't be on your kid's head much longer, either). Save your strength for the things that really matter.

Remember what it was like when you were his age. Chances are, you really didn't have to walk uphill in the snow both ways to go to school, dagnabbit. Remember what embarrassed you as a teen? Right. Try not to do those things to your kid. For example: It doesn't matter if you've called him "Cuddley Cakies" since he was a toddler, call him by his real name in front of his friends.

Don't take it personally. Keep in mind that your kids are going through a normal developmental phase. Most of the time, their embarrassment isn't about you and what you're doing, it's about them trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in.

So, how are you handling the tween/teen years? Sound off in the comments (or surf over to the Boston Globe's Child Caring blog and read the ones there).

Thursday, March 5, 2009

So. When are you going to have another kid?

Parents of only-children aren't the only ones who get asked this question; moms of more-than-one and even moms of many get it, too: When are you going to have another child?

Here’s the thing: The people who ask this know that my husband and I have five children, but that I only birthed the last two. Which means, in their minds, I’ve only got two kids. So… when am I going to go for “Number Three” seems perfectly valid, to them.

Except “Number Three” would actually be “Number Six” and that’s a freaking lot of college tuition to plan for. Especially given the fact that our oldest will be entering college the same year that our youngest starts kindergarten. ... [More]

In discussing the question in the comments at The 36-Hour Day, I finally figured out what bothers me so much about it. It's not the presumption that I'm longing for more kids (or, as is the case for some people, that they absolutely don't want any more children), but the fact that the question discounts my relationship with my older kids, who are mine by marriage. As I responded to one reader: It's as if they're saying that the only kids that “count” are the ones I give birth to, when I don’t feel that way at all.

What do you think? Weigh in here or at The 36-Hour Day.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The GrannyNanny concept, revisited

I've written about The GrannyNanny concept before, at The 36-Hour Day, but today I tackled it from a Child Caring perspective for The responses have been very interesting, with both moms and grandmothers speaking their minds in the comments.

Would you ask your mother (or mother-in-law) to be your GrannyNanny? What do you do if your parenting style is vastly different from your mom's or dad's? And who is in charge, you or your parents?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Do women work from home differently than men?

School was canceled yesterday, thanks to the foot or so of snow that fell during the wee hours of the night, and I ended up working from home with my youngest two kids in tow. I noticed how distracted I was -- and not just by the kids -- versus how distracted my husband wasn't. To wit:

Me: Get up to make a cup of coffee, notice that the sink is full of dishes, decide to load the dishwasher while the coffee is brewing. But the dishwasher is clean, so I have to empty it first. I do so, then notice that the counters need wiping down, and if I’m going to do the counters I might as well do all of the big surfaces, like the stove and the fridge. I go to get a clean dishcloth, discover that there are none in the drawer, duck into the laundry room to get one, take the clean clothes out of the dryer, find a clean dishcloth, set it aside, move the wet clothes into the dryer, and stuff another load of dirty laundry into the washer. Wipe down the laundry room while I’m at it, because it’s actually part of the downstairs bathroom, and what if someone comes over? Might as well scrub the toilet, too. Get another clean dishcloth, head back to the kitchen, wipe everything there down, re-load the dishwasher, grab my coffee, nuke it because it’s grown cold, wipe down the microwave, grab the now-warm coffee, and go back to my desk to work, thinking that I really should have pulled something out of the freezer to thaw for dinner, since I was in the kitchen anyway.

Him: Gets cup of coffee. Goes back to desk. Works. ... [More]

Is it me, or do women just work from home differently than men? Is it part of the supermom complex -- you know, the one where we think we have to be able to do everything, all the time, and all at once? Read the rest over at The 36-Hour Day and let me know: What happens when you work from home?

And the winners are...

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Survey: Three quarters of parents are too busy to read to their kids

Now, granted, the survey was conducted by a British company that's trying to drum up enthusiasm for reading, but still, the results are kind of shocking to me: A study of 2,000 British parents found that three-quarters of them were too busy -- or too tired -- to read to their young kids at bedtime.

It's been years since I read out loud to my older kids, but they're 15, 13, and 10 -- plenty old enough to read to themselves. (I know some parents would disagree, pointing out that reading out loud is for any age child, and for them I have two things to say: 1.) If I don't encourage them to read to themselves, how will they ever develop strong reading skills and 2.) I work full time, they're teens and tweens, it's OK to pass the torch on this one.) But either I or my husband read to our 4- and 2-year-olds every night, plus a few times during the day if we're all home.

Too busy to read a couple of board books? Really?

What do you think? Sound off here or in the comments section at the Child Caring blog.