A Mother’s Love – The Instinct to Protect

I recently had a traumatic experience that brought home the universal power of a mother’s love and the overwhelming instinct to protect her child.

The departure point for this story is our dog, Nelson. Nelson, a German shepherd mix who we rescued as a 6-week old puppy weighing 7lbs, is now an extremely sweet, loveable and not-so-bright 100lb lap-dog (or so he thinks). As our babysitter says, Nelson is “all about the food.” Constantly on a diet because of his tendency to put on weight – he follows me around in the kitchen for anything that might fall on the floor and is always looking for an opportunity to steal food, though he will settle for napkins, tissues or wrappers if nothing else is available. Although his size is intimidating, his nature is not. He is gentle and long-suffering as, over the years, my son has laid on him, pulled his tail, tried to ride him, grabbed his face, and pulled up on his ears saying “Look Mom…Batdog!”

But Nelson is actually a dog. A fact I couldn’t escape last week when I walked into the backyard and saw, or rather heard, a bird swooping and screeching incessantly above Nelson. I was dumbfounded for a moment until I noticed that Nelson was entranced by something on the ground – something moving. At that point I yelled out “NO” and started to run….but Nelson and his instincts were too fast. As the baby bird flapped, he pounced – large jaws snapping – while the mother continued her plaintive screeching.

I didn’t make it in time. As I realized this, I stopped halfway and felt the pain of the mother bird pierce me to my core. I admit that I doubled over and fell to my knees, sobbing uncontrollably. I couldn’t stop crying for several minutes. I had seen dead birds before, but what made this experience so traumatic were the mother’s frantic, and ultimately futile, efforts. I swear I felt every moment of the past nine years when my son was injured or sick or upset: when as a newborn he spent 3 days in the NICU hooked up to tubes and monitors; when he was two and needed stitches for a gash in his forehead; when he was three and was so ill he threw up all over me twice while on holiday in Germany; second grade when he fell out of a tree and broke his arm; at his old school when bullies teased him and he cried every morning on the way to school.

I think my husband thought I was nuts when I told him about my reaction. Maybe I am. But before having my son, I didn’t believe…would never have believed…the power of a mother’s love and instinct to protect her child from harm. I guess this power transcends all – culture, race, language…even species.

By the way, it took me a while but I eventually forgave Nelson. After all, he’s one of my babies too.

Is Your Tween (Illegally) on Facebook?

You have to be at least 13 years old to legally use Facebook, and there’s a reason for that: According to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), websites that collect information from a general-audience population must receive guardian permission to gather data from children 12 years old and younger. Often, sites like Facebook choose to make the legal age of usage 13 and up to bypass the litigious headaches that parental consent incurs.

But, as I’m sure you know, rules are made to be broken. Even if you help your child set strong privacy settings on Facebook, the service frequently changes its privacy policies. This makes it difficult to continuously adjust the settings to create a “bubble shield” around your tween.

And of course, many unsuspecting parents out there have tweens who are sailing on Facebook, playing games and socializing. Many parents aren’t aware of relationships their children are building on the social network.

The Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project found that 46 percent of 12-year-olds surveyed in the United States use social networks. That sounds like a high percentage, but the number makes sense when you consider that today’s children meet and connect emotionally through their digital devices.

You can imagine how difficult it is to find those tweens who are feverishly posting pictures, taking quizzes and making friends through the service. However, the website says it does take measures to find those young ones and remove them from the system. Recently, Mozelle Thompson, Facebook’s chief privacy officer, told the Australian Federal Parliament’s cyber-safety committee that the social networking giant deletes 20,000 accounts each day for age violations. Although an impressive number, he went on to say that the tools employed to find underage users are not foolproof.

What You Can Do

Just because Facebook is intended for 13-year-olds and older kids, it doesn’t mean that you as a parent should wait to introduce their kids to the concept of digital citizenship. Instead, you should carefully choose online environments that are specifically created with tweens in mind.

Currently, there are plenty of fun social networks for children on the Web. The level of control, permission and oversight needed to play in these realms makes them more secure than other spaces. More importantly, getting your children set up on age-appropriate sites is a great way to start talking about the boons and burdens of social media.

Remember: Don’t close doors — just guide your children through the ones that lead to safer and healthier relationships online. Statistics show that kids want to use social media. It only makes sense that they learn how through you.


Pediatric Safety Editor Addendum

Additional References for Concerned Parents:

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What’s the Message You’re Sending Your Child Today?

Last weekend- Memorial Day weekend- was the kick off of this year’s ‘Ticket or Click It” campaign.

A few days ago I was walking down the end of my driveway- walking my dogs. We were behind a large bush in our neighbor’s yard. My son pulled into our driveway. For some reason my eyes went to his shoulder to see if his seatbelt was on.

My son is soon to be 25. What had I done to instill in him the value of seatbelts? Well, ever since he can remember, I have worn mine. He (and his sister) was always in an age or size appropriate child car seat. Everyone who rode with me wore seatbelts. When he started driving I always told him if ever I saw him or anyone in any car of mine without a seatbelt- he would lose his driving PRIVILEGE and he would have to pay his own insurance.

My kids have never seen me drive drunk or even under the influence. Never saw me use drugs.

They never saw me indulge in food as a crutch or release.

They did see me struggle to kick cigarettes- heard me curse them, curse their addictiveness. Did see me finally win the battle.

They have always seen me work hard and put in long hours.

So what does all this mean?

My kids work hard and have a great work ethic. I have never seen them drink- never seen their friends drink. Neither of my kids smoke nor do their friends. And yes when he pulled into our driveway, my son was wearing his seatbelt.

One company I used to work for had a CEO. He had a one page list of things that were the guiding principles he used to run our multi-billion dollar company. At the top of his list, of every important thing that could have topped the list, was one word, repeated three times: “Communicate, communicate, communicate.”

In his mind and estimation nothing counted as much or led to success as much as communication, open and honest. He went on to say that he held this same belief in his personal life as well. That communication was at the top of his list in his marriage and in the way that he and his wife raised their children.

While communication is very much about the words we speak, it is about how we speak them and it is also about what we do- the examples we are each and every day. Had I only asked my kids to wear their seatbelts and did not lead by example- I truly doubt my kids would wear theirs today. Had I ever been seen driving while drunk- could I later chastise them for doing the same? Communication is also what their peers say or teachers or other adults. It’s what we see on TV and in movies. Sometimes our communication is in competition with others- especially as our kids enter the teenage years.

Don’t get me wrong- I/we made plenty of mistakes raising our children. Everything we did was seen and evaluated. Everything we said was heard and tested. Everything we did- how we lived- shaped who our kids would become- who they did become.

To the best of your ability- live the life you want for your kids. Wear your seatbelt, exercise, don’t drink and drive or text and drive. Don’t pour lighter fluid on a lit fire and practice acceptance and not prejudice. And remember that communication is everything- influences everything- is not just talking- it’s also watching and listening. It’s good business and good for any relationship- great for our kids.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

New FAA Recommendations for Transport of Children on Planes

Reported on ABC News by Tanya Rivero, and in an article written by Lisa Stark and Jordyn Phelps in ABC World News with Dianne Sawyer.

The current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) policy, allows children under the age of two, to fly free, if seated on an adult’s lap; the adult is safely restrained, the child is not.

As recently as March 2011, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), in collaboration with the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP), changed many parameters for the safe transport of infants and children when it recommended new guidelines for age, weight and seat orientation for safety seats in cars. (See the article on the Pediatric Safety website here).

On May 24, 2011, Randy Babbitt, an FAA administrator, announced at a press conference in Washington, DC, that the FAA has come up with a new set of recommendations for the airline industry, regarding the transport of children on airplanes, who weigh forty pounds-or-less. The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) has concurred with those recommendations.

Focusing on the safety of child passengers on a plane, the FAA believes that it is much safer to transport a forty-or-under pound child if he/she is secured in a FAA-approved safety seat that is properly attached to an airplane seat of his/her own, than if that child sits on an adult’s lap during flight.

Although the FAA clearly stated its recommendation, it will not make it a requirement, at this time, because of the concern that cost issues (the purchase of an additional seat) may deter families from flying. They also maintain that It is still safer for the child to fly while seated on an adult’s lap, than it is for that child to be a safely-restrained passenger in a car.

5 Healthy Habits to Pick up Right Now

Getting your family to adopt a healthier lifestyle is hard – and setting big goals makes it nearly impossible. Instead, work on making small changes that stick. Here are some easy ways to make healthy living part of your family’s routine:

1. Get colorful

Who’s got time to calculate the calories, carbs and bad fats you bring home from the supermarket every week. Instead of focusing on numbers, pay attention to the colors in your cart. How much natural green do you see? How about red, orange and yellow? If the answer is “not much,” go back to the produce aisle and grab a head of broccoli, a few red peppers and an avocado or two. Toss in some oranges, bananas and berries. Then return to the cookie or pasta aisle and put one of your boxes back on the shelf.

2. Shut it down

Overstimulation from watching TV, answering email or chatting on Facebook right before bed is a huge sleep killer. The result: chronic yawning. Give your family the rest it needs with a rule that everyone must log out and shut off at least half an hour before bedtime – even on weekends. Encourage the kids to spend that time in bed, relaxing with a book. But nothing too exciting, or they won’t put that down either!

3. Ditch the car

How many times a week do you drive less than a mile? Is it because you don’t have the time to walk, or that you don’t ever think of it? The next time you grab the keys to drive six blocks to your child’s playdate or pick her up from school, check your watch. If you can spare 10 minutes, walk. You’ll both get some exercise, plus extra time together. As an added bonus, you’ll go green and save on gas!

4. Schedule downtime

With our overscheduled lives, downtime doesn’t come naturally anymore. Build in half an hour a day of quiet family time – either after dinner or before bedtime – and make it mandatory. Take dessert into the family room and listen to music, play a board game, or just sit and talk. Watching a favorite TV show works too, as long as you’re all together.

5. Wash, wash, wash

The No. 1 way to keep your family healthy, particularly during cold and flu season, is to wash hands – even when you’re not sick. Make sure soap is readily available in every bathroom at home, as well as the kitchen. Remind your kids as often as possible to wash up before meals, after using the bathroom or blowing their nose, and when they come in from outside. Eventually, your nagging will make regular washing a habit, not a chore.