It’s Important to Explain Why “That’s Inappropriate!”

I don’t remember the phrase “that’s inappropriate!” from when I was growing up. Maybe it wasn’t used back then – or where I grew up in Canada. Or maybe I was just such a good girl…. Hmmm. But I must admit that it’s been a very handy phrase around our house over the past few years for things like: the use of “stupid,” excessive burping or bottom-waggling, and “toilet” humor – particularly at the dinner table.

Now, at our house, use of “that’s inappropriate” often gets good behavior results all on its own. Nevertheless, a recent incident at my son’s afterschool program highlighted how a great phrase like this can get over-used and become an excuse for not communicating properly with children when we are uncomfortable or don’t know how to handle a situation.

The “Situation”

One afternoon, at the school’s extended-care program, Elliott and his other 4th-grade friends were discussing characters from books like the “Percy Jackson” series. He’s read all the books and has become quite interested in and familiar with Greek Mythology.

Apparently one of the names they had come across was “Oedipus” – a tragic figure who unknowingly killed his father and married his mother (he had been given up for adoption as a baby) – made famous through Freud’s psychoanalytic “Oedipus Complex.” Although the boys didn’t know any of this back-story and only mentioned the name, their aftercare group leader heard their discussion and sharply told the boys: “That’s inappropriate!” Unfortunately her comments ended there – and my son’s confusion and sense of injustice began.

That evening, in relating his story, it was clear that Elliott really wanted to know what, if anything, he had done wrong. “If Oedipus is a character from Greek mythology, why would talking about it be inappropriate?” he asked. I told him that the conversation probably made his group leader – who was young and fairly new in her job – uncomfortable, since a famous doctor from over a hundred years ago created a theory called the “Oedipus Complex” to describe a mental illness when a boy loves his mother too much. “Too much?!” he proclaimed. “But aren’t we supposed to love our mothers?!” …..Hmmm. “Yes,” I said. “But Oedipus married his mother.”

The Outcome

Since Elliott’s response to that was “Ewww,” I concluded that he’s not suffering from the aforementioned complex – despite the fact that, at the age of two, he did say he wanted to marry me! We agreed that there probably wasn’t anything really inappropriate about Oedipus but that it was best not to talk about him at school, since some people clearly found the story disturbing. I don’t know if this was the right approach, but it seemed to satisfy him. And I did base my strategy on two common pieces of parenting advice for “socially-sensitive” subjects (like sex):

  1. Don’t make a big deal about the issue – or your kids will
  2. Communicate openly but don’t give them more information than they need or asked for

Now, I do wish that his aftercare teacher had handled the situation differently, but it did remind me that I also need to be careful of too-frequently reaching for the “that’s inappropriate” crutch. And I got a wonderful opportunity to practice my “sensitive-subject” skills. So I guess that’s ok.

Video Games and their Impact on Child Aggression and Empathy

“Can’t I just play one more hour?”

“But there’s nottttthhhhthinnnng else to do!”

“Chill out, Mom. The game is not that violent.”

There’s no doubt that video games are a part of the plugged-in generation’s lifestyle. But are you aware just how much of an impact video games have? Check out these stats:

REALITY CHECK: Did you know that:

  • 99 percent of boys and 94 percent of girls ages 12 to 17 play computer, web, portable or console games?
  • More than 90 percent of kids play video games 30 minutes a day though boys spend twice as much time playing than girls.
  • In fact, video gaming is so widespread among American kids that studies show that nearly every teen plays games in some way, regardless of gender, age or economic status.

For some kids games are “everything.” That’s why there’s also growing concerns among parents about video games that range from: making kids more aggressive, developing sedentary lifestyles, squelching cognitive development or academic potential. After all, it’s very easy for kids to fall into the habit of spending too much time in front of those controllers.

The truth is too much video game playing isn’t healthy for anyone and can rob our children from experiencing the great outdoors, reading for pleasure, getting enough exercise, doing their homework, as well as learning to get along with others. But don’t rush to judgment too quickly. Over the last decade video game makers have come a long way and playing some of those games actually benefits our kids’ learning and motor dexterity, and even helps keep them in better shape.

Here are solutions to help you wade through those tough choices and know whether playing that video game is actually aiding or hindering your child’s development.

Parenting Solutions for Kids and Video Games

Know Your Child

For my two cents, I don’t think it’s healthy for any kid to play violent video games. But don’t get me wrong, playing one video game is not going to cause irrevocable damage. Just please know that some children are influenced by aggressive content. If they continue playing violent games they will stress more and become more aggressive and less empathic. Research finds that video games may decrease our kids’ capacity to feel for others:

Video Games May Decrease Empathy

A University of Toronto study with 150 fourth and fifth graders found that those spending the most time playing violent video games are also most likely to agree with statements such as: “People with guns or knives are cool,” and “Parents should tell their kids to fight if they have to.” Those same kids are also more likely to disagree with statements such as, “When I’m mean to someone I generally feel bad about it later,” or “I’m happy when my teacher says my friend did a good job.” Many child experts (myself included) are concerned that violent video game playing may desensitize your child to empathy-or that glorious capacity to feel for another.

Kids who are more sensitive, have an aggressive or hyper temperament, or are predisposed to aggression by witnessing or experiencing it are also more likely to be aggressive after playing certain video games.

A review by the University of Michigan of over 85 studies found that “video games increase aggressive thoughts and angry feelings, aggressive behaviors and decrease helping behavior.”

But you don’t need research to prove that to you. Just monitor your child’s behavior closer. If you notice he becomes more wound up or aggressive and you think it’s due to playing that game, the solution is simple: Take away those controllers and stay abreast of late-breaking research so you can make responsible parenting decisions as to what is best for your child. Be clear as to not only which games are off-limits but how long your kid is allowed to play.

Be Selective As to Video Content

Set clear parameters as to which games you will allow your kids to watch. Ratings established by the Entertainment Software Rating Board are prominently labeled on the outside of each video game box. (By the way, game raters include child development experts, retired school principals, teachers, as well as parents). Teach your kid those ratings so there are no questions or arguments.

Video Game Ratings

EC (Early Childhood-Ages 3+): No inappropriate or objectionable material

E (Everyone Ages 6+): May contain minimal violence, some comic mischief or crude language

T (Teen; Ages 13+) May contain violent content, mild or strong language and suggestive themes

M (Mature-Ages 17+) May include more intense violence or language; mature sexual themes

AO (Adult Only-Ages 18+) May include graphic depiction of sex and violence

Watch the Whole Game

Many games appear mild at the lowest skill level but grow increasing violent as the player’s skill increases. So if the box with the rating is missing, watch what your child is playing all the way through to the end or ask your child to give you a demo. These games can appear deceiving.

One of the most popular-sellers, “Grand Theft Auto” begins as a fast-pace racing game, but as a player moves up in the competition (and later into the game) points are earned for knocking a policeman off his motorcycle and running down a pedestrian. You can also hire a prostitute, have sex with her, then knock her out and get the money back. Yes, such games are rated for adults, but kids say they can gain access to them easily and many parents never watch beyond the first scenes, not realizing how inappropriate is the content of following scenes. And a recent study found that nearly 80 percent of E rated games contain some violence.

Take Time for Friends

UCLA studies find though certain video games can increase kids’ IQ, they do so at the expense of learning crucial social skills. So don’t let video game playing detract from being with friends. You may also want to put limits on game playing when friends come over or restrict video game playing all together. Don’t be surprised that once you set limits for video playing in your home that your kid decides to spend more time at his friend’s house. If the friend’s parents are allowing unlimited video playing, it may be time to speak with them and share your own policy. They just may decide to adopt a one-hour limit as well.

Teach Anger Management

A study of 1254 preteens found that a big reason they play video games is to manage their feelings, including anger and stress. In fact, kids who play violent games are more likely to play to release anger. Make sure your child knows healthy ways to release anger such as exercise, healthier eating, journaling upset feelings, talking to someone about their upset thoughts, deep breathing exercises or meditation. Then encourage your child to use those strategies to get their anger out.

The long and the short on video games is that there needs to be more research to determine the long-range impact on our children. Meanwhile, keep a closer eye on your child’s behavior. And remember, you do pay the electric bill and are the parent. It’s okay to say, “NO!”

When A Parent Should Worry

Here are red flags that may signal that video games are a negative influence:

  • Peer replacement: Uses video games as a substitute for friends or being with kids.
  • Addiction: Replaces other entertainment forms; if restricted from playing, behavior flares up; goes through “video game withdrawals” (all your child wants to do). This is such a concern of the American Psychological Association that members are hotly-debating whether video game addiction should be labeled a mental health disorder.
  • Aggressive: Acts out, becomes more impulsive or aggressive after playing.
  • Less caring: Displays less concern or empathy towards others.
  • Grades wane: Homework battles increase, grades or test scores decrease.
  • Sleepless: Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep (Beware: quick-fire screen images and aggressive content activates the brain and can keep kids awake).
  • Couch potato: Too sedentary a lifestyle, limiting exercise, gaining weight.
  • Credit card: Your credit card shows unexplained charges. Online gaming networks charge to play; video games are easily purchased online using a parent’s credit card

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Dr Borba’s book The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries, is one of the most comprehensive parenting book for kids 3 to 13. This down-to-earth guide offers advice for dealing with children’s difficult behavior and hot button issues including biting, tantrums, cheating, bad friends, inappropriate clothing, sex, drugs, peer pressure and much more. Each of the 101 challenging parenting issues includes specific step-by-step solutions and practical advice that is age appropriate based on the latest research. The Big Book of Parenting Solutions has been released and is now available at amazon.com.

7 Ways to Sneak in Family Fitness

We’ve all heard about the alarming rise in obesity in this country, but more widespread is the epidemic of “couch-potatoitis” that affects even those who aren’t overweight. Americans have become increasingly sedentary, spending their free time on things that involve no physical activity: video games, movies and TV, the Internet.

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention recommends 30 minutes of moderate activity a day for adults and 60 for kids. But you don’t have to put your family members on a strict fitness regimen to boost their exercise quotient. Here are seven fun ways to get everyone up and moving.

1. Step it up.

Start a campaign to see which family member can take the most steps per day. The recommended number for adults is 10,000, but kids should do twice that amount. Buy everyone a pedometer (you can get them for under $10) and a small notepad to record where they walk and how many steps it took. Compare notes at dinner. You can hold contests or make a guessing game out of it: How many steps does it take to get from the kitchen to the laundry room and back?

2. Play games.

The next time you have a family game night, leave Monopoly on the shelf and grab Twister instead. Games don’t have to be sit-down affairs. Go for a round of Wii boxing or play a machine-dance game.

3. Be a citizen scientist.

Ever go out and record the colors of courting pigeons in your area? Or count the number of squirrels in your neighborhood? Through citizen science programs, your family members can become untrained “researchers” for a number of ongoing science studies, many of which involve outdoor activity. Visit the Science for Citizens website to see which programs are looking for volunteers.

4. Do the moonwalk.

Strolling around the neighborhood during the day is nothing special. Do it at night, and it’s an adventure. After dinner, grab a flashlight and hit the pavement for 30 minutes of walking, talking and stargazing. Be sure to return at least an hour before bedtime or nobody will be able to fall asleep!

5. Get handy.

Find a big project that everyone can participate in. Build a tree house, cut and haul firewood, paint a room, restore a piece of furniture. All that activity – sawing, hammering, scraping, sanding – is good exercise. Just don’t call it work.

6. Play tourist.

See your hometown or nearby city like a visitor would: Take a guided walking tour, visit the zoo, play in the park or go on a hike. Being a tourist always involves walking and physical activity, but it doesn’t have to include travel.

7. Create an obstacle course.

Making an obstacle course indoors or out with household items provides two workouts in one: First, you run around snatching up materials (cushions, shoes, sports equipment, garden tools, etc.), and then you run around the course. Your kids will be too busy laughing to realize how much exercise they’re getting … which is what family fitness should be about.



Holiday Shopping Safety Tips

Black Friday has come and gone this year but it is only the beginning of the busiest shopping season of the year. Everywhere you go, stores are packed, parking lots are full, and people are scurrying about trying to get the very best deals on all the latest, hottest gift items. If you are an avid shopper, this might be your favorite time to shop and score big bargains on the items on your gift list, but this time of year can also put shoppers at risk for theft, accidents, and other safety threats.

Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind while you are out doing your holiday shopping this year:

Shop with a friend

There is safety in numbers and not only will it make you less of a target, you’ll probably have more fun than shopping alone.

Take only the bare necessities

Before you head out to the mall or stores, clean out your purse or wallet and take only what you really must have. If possible, skip the purse and carry a small wallet in your front pocket. If you must carry a purse, carry it over your shoulder, across your body, or carry a wristlet purse. These make it harder for a purse-snatcher to access your purse. Plus, if you do have your purse or wallet stolen or if you lose it, you will not have to replace as many cards and can quickly report the ones that were stolen/lost.

Shop during the daylight hours

If possible, shop during the daytime. Once it gets dark, thieves have an advantage of being able to hide in the dark and then attack unsuspecting shoppers when they are walking back to their vehicles with their purchases. If you must shop after sundown, park as close to the store as you can and in a well-lit area. If you feel uncomfortable walking to your car, ask if there is a security guard who can escort you through the parking lot. Have your key out and check around your vehicle before getting in it. Once you are inside, lock your doors and don’t delay in leaving.

If you are approached by anyone in the parking lot or if someone’s behavior seems suspicious, return to the store instead of trying to get to your car. Your car cannot protect you as well as being in the store with other people can. Alert store security or a manager if there is any suspicious activity or if someone did approach you and seemed to be a threat.

Protect your purchases

Thieves know that holiday shopping time is prime time to find lots to steal in the parking lots of malls and other shopping centers. If you have to leave any purchases in your car, be sure to hide or cover them well. Lock them in the trunk of a car or if you are driving an SUV or minivan, cover them with a blanket. Don’t leave anything visible. If you plan to drop off purchases and then go back into the same mall/shopping center, get in your car and drive to another part of the parking lot to re-park. Or take a break, leave the area to get lunch or a snack and come back later. Thieves may be lurking in the parking lot and if one sees you put packages in your car and go back into the mall, your vehicle will be a prime target.

Don’t overload yourself

Leaving a store with arms full of several bags, boxes, and other goodies may look fun and exciting in commercials, but in real life it makes you a target for attackers. An attacker knows it will be harder for you to fight with your arms full and it will be easier to catch you off-guard because you’ll be distracted by trying to carry and balance all your purchases. And remember, thieves often work in pairs. If someone approaches you, be wary of not only them, but anyone else who might be around because they may be planning to pick-pocket or snatch your bags or purse while you are distracted by the one who approached you.

Be alert at all times

Be aware of your surroundings when out in public, not only for possible thieves or attackers, but for potential safety hazards as well. If you are walking through a parking lot, watch out for cars, as crowded and busy parking lots may make it hard for drivers to see you, especially if they are backing out of a parking space. If you are driving, watch closely for pedestrians, especially those who might be paying attention or may be overloaded with packages and bags. Look carefully behind you before backing out of a parking space.

If the weather is rainy, snowy or icy, be extra cautious walking in the parking lot and even when you step into the store, as slick floors may cause falls.

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and stay safe!

More Than a Meal: Benefits of Eating Together

Recently, I was honored to speak at the Texas PTA Leadership Conference in Austin, TX on the importance of family mealtimes. The benefits of family meals go far beyond nutrition. Did you know that young people who reported eating dinner with their family 5 or more times per week were much likelier to report receiving either all A’s or mostly A’s and B’s in school? Other key items from research include:

  • Mealtime conversations help children acquire and improve the language skills that are critical for school success. Children learn new vocabulary, sentence structure, and how to share their point of view with other people.
  • Conversations at the family table taught children more vocabulary than they learned from their parents reading books to them.
  • Elementary school children who did well in class and on achievement tests were those who generally spent larger amounts of time eating meals with their families.
  • Eating meals with their family was a stronger predictor of academic success than whether they lived with one or both parents.
  • The more often families eat together the less likely teens are to smoke cigarettes, use illegal drugs, abuse alcohol, become depressed, develop eating disorders, or get pregnant.

Nutrition Benefits

We can’t deny the family mealtime benefits on your child’s current and future nutrition. They include:

  • More likely to have a healthy weight.
  • Less likely to become or stay overweight.
  • Less likely to develop an eating disorder.
  • Family meals during adolescence had a lasting positive influence on the quality of their diets and meal patterns, such as eating breakfast. In other words, having family meals with your teenagers improves their chances of eating right in their 20’s.
  • Young people who eat more often with their families have higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy foods.
  • For teens, more regular family meals mean fewer fried foods and soft drinks. These adolescents also have higher intakes of key nutrients like calcium, iron, vitamins A, B6, C, E, and folate, as well as fiber.

Keeping It Simple

The great thing to know is that the meal does not need to be complicated to have all of these great benefits. If you are super strapped for time, these ideas don’t even need a recipe:

  • Flank steak with tossed salad and frozen vegetables
  • Pasta with frozen or canned shrimp, sautéed in olive oil with onion and garlic
  • Cheese omelet with tossed salad
  • Tuna salad in a whole wheat wrap made with reduced-fat mayonnaise
  • Black beans and brown or wild rice with frozen veggies
  • Spinach salad with grilled chicken, mandarin oranges, and slivered almonds
  • Peanut butter and banana sandwich on 100% whole-wheat bread
  • Hamburgers (made with lean ground beef) on whole-grain buns, with boiled potatoes and frozen vegetables

Add some skim/1% milk as a beverage, add quick veggies as needed and serve fresh fruit as a dessert – and you have a very well-rounded stress-free meal. Remember, eliminate all distractions and make all mealtime discussions pleasant and friendly. Involve your kids in the recipe selection, shopping and preparation for maximum impact. And if you are not eating at least 5 meals as a family, consider adding one per week. Dinner is a great time, but breakfasts and lunches work as well.

Eating together is one of the best things we can do as a family to enrich the quality of our children’s lives. Commit today to make family meals a priority in your home and watch all the great things that will follow.

December 3rd Sensory Friendly Film: The Muppets

Once a month, AMC Entertainment (AMC) and the Autism Society have teamed up to bring families affected by autism and other disabilities ”Sensory Friendly Movie Screenings“ – a special opportunity to enjoy their favorite “family-friendly” films in a safe and accepting environment.

The movie auditoriums will have their lights turned up and the sound turned down. Families will be able to bring in snacks to match their child’s dietary needs (i.e. gluten-free, casein-free, etc.), there are no advertisements or previews before the movie and it’s totally acceptable to get up and dance, walk, shout, talk to each other…and even sing – in other words, AMC’s “Silence is Golden®” policy will not be enforced during movie screenings unless the safety of the audience is questioned.

To quote once again our Special Needs Parenting Expert Rosie Reeves: “It can be challenging enough to bring a child to a movie theater – they are dark, the sound is very loud, there are tempting stairs and rails and they are expected to sit still and stay quiet. When a child has special needs all these elements and many others can prove too daunting to even attempt such an outing. And yet getting out, being with the community and sharing in an experience with an audience can be invaluable for just such children – and their caregivers, too”.

On December 3rd at 10am local time, “The Muppets” will be screened as part of the “Sensory Friendly Movie Screenings” program. Tickets are $4 to $6 depending on the location. To find a theatre near you, here is a list of AMC theatres nationwide participating in this fabulous program.

Coming January 7th: The Adventures of Tin Tin

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Editor’s note: The Muppets is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America. Please check the IMDB Parent’s Guide for a more detailed description of The Muppets to determine if it is right for you and your child.