Home Treadmill Hazards for Kids – Expect the Unexpected

We had a holiday open house on New Year’s Day: several families from the neighborhood, school and Cub Scouts – with mulled wine and hot chocolate to chase away the winter blues. It was a lot of fun, but my son was disappointed that none of his best friends could make it. In fact, no boys came – only girls. Despite this initial set back, the kids started to mingle – aided by a few activities and the display of newly acquired Christmas presents. Before I even had a chance to worry about boredom setting in, the kids had migrated downstairs to the TV/playroom to watch a holiday movie.

Things in the basement went well for some time – confirmed by occasional checks. But near the end of the festivities they must have gotten antsy – and we heard some loud crashes and telltale wails. The basement also has a workout area and – despite a long-standing restriction on unsupervised use – they had started to play on our treadmill.

Somehow Elliott ended up with a big friction burn on his shoulder from the treadmill belt – and one of the younger girls had fallen off and banged her head. Apparently these are common types of childhood injuries involving motorized treadmills. About.com reports that some friction injuries have been so bad that occasionally children have required skin grafts or plastic surgery!

I felt terrible that this happened – and at our house. That said, the girl’s mother informed me that they have a home treadmill too – and she’s also been told not to use it. Somehow power and curiosity overcame the parental restrictions. But apparently this situation isn’t uncommon. The Australian government became so concerned about home treadmill injuries to kids that in 2008 they issued a product safety alert and began a public awareness campaign. The key recommendations for parents are to place the treadmill in a separate room that children can’t access – or surround the machine with child barriers to ensure that they don’t try to touch or climb on the machine when it’s in use, which can happen before you notice. Even a short duration of contact can result in injuries to little ones. About.com provides additional guidance on home treadmill safety measures to minimize potential hazards.

Treadmill Safety Bypass!

Of course, fitness equipment like treadmills also comes with built-in safety features. There’s usually a safety clip and cord that should be worn by the user while running. If the runner stumbles or falls the clip disengages and the belt stops. Additionally, the machine won’t start without the safety clip in place – which is key to securing the machine from unsupervised use by children. However, kids can be very ingenious….our son realized that the clip attached to the machine via a magnet – and determined that he could bypass the clip using the magnetized crane winch from his Thomas the Tank Engine train set! Even your best safety plans can be undermined by the curiosity of kids. In cases like this, what is a parent to do?? Certainly, consequences for disobeying the restriction on using the treadmill can help – but I think the pain of his injury was a stronger lesson. I just hope he doesn’t always have to learn the hard way.

Parents Too Plugged In? That’s What Our Kids Say

“She’s always on her blackberry. It’s soooo annoying!”

“I hate it when he’s talking on his cell. It makes me feel sad.”

“I put a timer on the computer. When it goes off, it’s time to play with me.”

Sound familiar? After all, we do seem be complaining a lot these days about our kids’ online behavior. Except these complaints were issued by children! Yep, the kids.

Those were actual statements uttered by a group of four to seven year olds all fed up that their parents were always chatting, texting, or clicking away. And the kids sure had their reasons:

Each chat, text, or click, they said, meant less time for “Mom and me.”

Each chat, text, or click also made the kids feel like they didn’t matter to their parents. “She likes her Blackberry more than me.”


NBC correspondent, Kate Snow interviewed the children as part of a Dateline special entitled, “The Perils of Parenting.” I was the parenting expert in another room with the parents who watched and listened to their kids’ comments. Hidden cameras and a crew captured everything on tape. (That special aired Monday, Sept. 13, 2011).

If you’re surprised by how the kids responded, imagine their parents’ reactions. “Shocked,” “Sad,” “Guilty,” were their most frequently voiced terms.

“I had no idea it bothered my child so much,” parents told me again and again.

Though parents may be amazed by their kids’ responses, most child experts are not.

For five years Sherry Turkle, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Initiative on Technology and Self, has been analyzing how parental technology use affects kids. Her research found widespread feelings of kid hurt, jealousy, and competition – almost the exact comments the children shared on Dateline.

But the real hidden danger is that each minute we connect electronically means less face-to-face time with our kids.

Though there is no guarantee, fifty years of solid research shows that the best way to reduce risky behaviors and raise emotionally healthy kids is the strength of the parent-child relationship.

So what do you think your kids would say about your behavior? Don’t be so sure they wouldn’t express similar concerns.

Tips to Help Us Unplug and Engage More with Our Kids

Here are things you can do to make sure a plugged-in lifestyle doesn’t disengage you from your family.

Check Your Online Records to Get a Reality Check

While you may have important business obligations, make sure you’re not plugged in too much to risk crucial family interactions.

There is no rewind or retrieval button when it comes to parenting.

Do an honest assessment of your typical daily online habits.

Start by identifying specific daily times you designate for family interactions (such as your dinner hour or when your child is open to chat).

Next, check your cell phone, text, and tweet logs during those times, and add up the minutes.

How are you doing? The key, of course, is to find the balance that works for your family, and then stick to it.

Ask the Kids

Have a courageous conversation as a family. Ask flat out: “Am I too plugged in?” (And be prepared for their honest answer). Also ask questions such as: “How will you let me know you want my attention? How can we start unplugging and connecting more?” And then engage and empower the kiddos: “What suggestions do you have so we’re more unplugged?” (After all, this is the Net Generation. We might as well use their expertise. Research says the typical eight to seventeen year old is plugged in 7 and a half hours a day!)

Use Voice Mail and Alarm Features

While there are clear advantages to social networking, don’t let the ease of an online connection steal precious minutes from your family interactions. Identify those key “family moment times.” Then turn on your cell’s voice mail features. Set the alarm on your computer that alerts you as to your online length. Set features to “plug you out” at designated times.

Create “Sacred Unplugged Times”

Kids say that family meals, school activities, sporting events, and after school (pick up and welcoming connectors) are when they’re most bothered by their parents’ networking behaviors. Identify your own family’s “sacred times,” announce them to your family, post them, and then preserve them. Unplug!

Tune into Silent Signals

Kids usually don’t give flat-out requests asking us to put down our Blackberries or close those laptops, but their behavior can indicate silent wishes. Each child has a unique way of letting you know they wish you’d plug into them more, so identify your child’s signals, tune in and then plug in.

Attention getters: Acting out, ansty, clowning

Proximity: Moves in closer to you; grabs or pulls on you

Sulking: Pouting or turning inward

Annoying: Grabs your blackberry, throws something, unplugs you.

Hint: When we asked kids how do you know your parent is listening to you? The answer was always: “She looks at me eye to eye.” “He puts down what he’s doing?” “He tunes into me and not his dumb iPhone.”

Don’t Text and Drive!

If you caught the Dateline special you would have seen one very frightening segment: teens who were texting, driving and crashing – again and again. The real kicker was when teens were asked the million-dollar question: “Where did you get the idea it was okay to text and drive?” Their answer: “My parents do it all the time!” Research also verifies what teens say. We are texting and driving more than our kids, and it is sending them a potentially deadly message that it’s okay to do so. So do not text and drive. Show your teens how you turn off your cell and put it in your glove compartment the minute you get into your car – just as you expect them to do. If you absolutely must answer your cell, pull over to the side of the road and then – and only then – answer. Your kids say they are watching – and they don’t like what they see! Do you blame them?

Don’t get me wrong. There are clear advantages to Blackberries, computers, Facebook, twitter, and social networking including the biggest one: being able to spend more time with our families.

Let’s just make sure that we plug into our kids more than our Blackberries. Push the pause button every once in a while and check your online behavior. Remember, there is no rewind button when it comes to regaining family life.



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.

What Parenting Style Works Best For You…and Your Child?

For decades, pop psych has embraced the premise that there are three basic parenting styles: authoritarian (“Follow my rules because I say so!”), permissive (“OK, you can stay up to 11 p.m., but you’re going to be really tired tomorrow!”), and last but not least, authoritative (“I know other kids are doing it, but we think it’s too dangerous, so no, you can’t.”). It’s that approach — a combination of no-nonsense limit-setting with understanding and concern — which experts say is ideal. (A fourth parenting style, uninvolved, is for parents who check out entirely.)

“Authoritative parents certainly make demands, but they also take time to listen to their kids, empathize with how they might feel and explain why they think their decisions are best for them in the long run,” says Michele Borba, Ed.D., author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. This kind of parenting style produces the most emotionally healthy children, she adds.

Not sure where you fit in? Check out these scenarios:

Scenario No. 1

You find out your child, who’s not allowed on Facebook and is under the age-13 limit anyway, has been checking it out at her friend’s house.

  • Authoritarian “You not only broke my rules, you broke Facebook’s rule. I am taking away your computer privileges for two weeks, and you won’t be allowed at Sara’s house until I speak with her mother.”
  • Permissive “I’m really disappointed you went behind my back. But I guess you must be very curious about this stuff so why don’t we open an account together?”
  • Authoritative “I’m not happy that you broke the rules. Were you tempted because it seems like everyone else is Facebooking? Let me explain again why I don’t think it’s appropriate or safe for you right now. And if you do break the rules again, you will lose your computer privileges.”

Scenario No. 2

Your 8-year-old wants you to move his bedtime from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m.

  • Authoritarian “Sorry, but you need eight hours of shut-eye. Period. Now let’s go read a story before bed.”
  • Permissive “Just because your friend Joey is allowed to go to bed at 9 doesn’t mean you should. I tell you what, though: Let’s compromise and make it 8:30. Does that work for you?”
  • Authoritative “I know it must drive you nuts that Joey gets to go to bed at 9, but you need your sleep to have enough energy and focus for school. What is it that you want to do with the extra time you’re awake?

Scenario No. 3

You ask your 11-year-old to empty the dishwasher. An hour later, he’s still playing his guitar … and the dishwasher is still full.

  • Authoritarian “This is the third time this week you’ve ignored my requests! You can forget allowance for this week, and we’ll have to see what happens next week.”
  • Permissive “Hey, didn’t you hear me? I asked you three times to empty the dishwasher. I took care of it, but can you please take the garbage out after dinner?”
  • Authoritative “I know how much you love guitar. And I’m thrilled to see you’re practicing. But I’m going nuts downstairs getting dinner on the table so we can all eat before midnight. To do that, I need your help. That means if I ask you to empty the dishwasher, you need to do it.”

Authoritarian parents aren’t meanies, and permissive parents aren’t pushovers. But the middle ground, experts agree, works best for kids.

“Children raised by authoritative parents grow up feeling that they are heard, that they are worthy of having rules explained to them,” says Dr. Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist and editor of the Web site Aha Parenting. “They understand and ultimately appreciate their parents’ limits and demands because they believe their parents are on their side.”

New Font Helps Kids with Dyslexia Read More Accurately

Christian Boer, a graphic designer from the Netherlands, put his artistic talent to work to solve his own struggles with dyslexia. He designed a new font that gives the brain extra help recognizing letters, words and punctuation. The changes to the letters are subtle but may make all the difference to a child or adult with the condition. The font was his Masters thesis and now Dyslexie is available for purchase on his website at http://www.studiostudio.nl/project-dyslexie/ and payment is accepted via Paypal in euros. There are business and personal versions as well as a school version for kids.

Here is a video demonstration of the dyslexie font:

I’m 9 Years Old – Do I Really Still Need a Booster Seat?

My son doesn’t want to use a booster seat anymore. I can see his perspective: none of his friends use one any longer and he thinks the seat belts in our cars fit him just fine. So why bother?? Because he’s just nine. And because crash studies and child safety guidelines from experts like the American Academy of Pediatrics indicate that he still needs to be using one. Although he thinks he’s so smart and grown up, he’s just a kid – and I’m the parent. And I actually know what it feels like to be injured in a car crash.

Guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2011 recommend that kids use a booster seat until they are at least 4’9” tall (57 inches) and weigh between 80 and 100 pounds. This will likely be around the ages of 8-12 years. But it’s the physical dimensions that matter most. Kids need to be large enough to fit properly in the seatbelt – and mature enough to ride without slouching down and defeating the whole purpose of the belts. Focusing on the age of the child to guide booster seat decisions can be misleading. Last spring – at 9-years of age – my son measured in the 75th percentile for both weight and height at his annual pediatric visit (meaning he was taller and heavier than 75% of other nine-year olds)….and he STILL DIDN’T meet the criteria for graduating from a booster seat – he’s not yet 4’9” and weighs only just over 80 lbs. So why are we in the minority in our community in still using a booster seat?

The problem is that many state laws – and therefore local communications about what constitutes safe car travel for older kids – haven’t caught up to these recommendations (click here for a summary of state laws on child passenger safety). Many states – like Alabama, Colorado, Iowa and Nebraska (to name just a few) focus exclusively on age – without the all-important height and weight requirements. This list includes my state of Indiana which allows children over age seven to shelve the booster seat, no matter how big they are. My son’s best friend – also nine – stopped using a booster seat last year. He’s fully THREE INCHES shorter than my son. How can he possibly be safely restrained by an adult seat belt during a crash? And this isn’t just a theoretical issue. Safe Kids USA reports that children seated in a booster seat in the rear of the car are 45% less likely to be injured in a crash as compared to those using a seat belt alone.

While this is bad enough, some states – like Florida, Arizona and South Dakota don’t even have booster seat laws. In these states it is legally permissible for children as young as age 4 and 5 to use adult seat belts. Is there some reason why the children in these states are less likely to be involved in a traffic accident – or that they are somehow more resilient in a car crash?

Let’s face it – the process of proposing and passing laws is complicated and time-consuming. Hopefully all these states will eventually get on par with the guidelines, joining states like Georgia and Maine. However, in the meantime it’s our children riding in the back seat and I would rather base my car safety approach on best-practice guidelines than rely on the timeline and politics of my state judicial process.

So, in our house the 4’9” rule prevails. We even got out the measuring tape recently and determined my son has an inch to go. He’s counting down every day. And he understands that I’m following new expert recommendations to keep him safe – and that his friends’ parents probably just aren’t aware of these guidelines, which is too bad.

Children, Follow My (Healthy Eating) Cues

Feeding behaviors are solidified early in life. In general, children are wonderful examples of listening to their hunger and satiety cues. Both of my children are great examples. My son is a really big eater in the morning and into lunch time and then has a tendency to pick the rest of the day. While other days, he eats very little. My daughter, on the other hand, eats a small amount at breakfast and then slowly picks up throughout the day. Some days, she seems to eat the amount a grown woman would eat! But I trust she is accurately listening to her own body as she remains active and her weight is following a healthy growth curve.

Unfortunately, many parents confuse children when they tell them to eat because it is meal time. Parents think, “Surely they should be hungry because they haven’t eaten in several hours.” And not only do some parents make children eat, some make them clean their plates. I recently wrote a letter to a well-known, elite school here in Dallas when the mother of one of my pediatric patients (who happens to be a physician) told me they still practice the clean plate club at their school. Really?! I thought everyone has figured out by now that this is not a good thing to do if we want to encourage healthy eating. The clean plate club trains the body to “untrust” its physiological signals to eat or not to eat. This approach may have started back in the Depression when food was scarce, but I see many adult patients that are still trying to unlearn what they were taught by their parents. “Do not get up from this table until your plate is clean.” Or, “If you want that dessert, you better eat everything on that plate.” Dietitians cringe at the thought, although I truly believe parents are very well-intentioned.

One of the best food behavior gifts we can give our children is the gift of trusting in their own hunger and fullness cues. I credit my own mother for allowing me and my siblings to make our own decisions to eat or not, and I firmly believe this has been one of the foundations to my healthy relationship with food. We ate as a family at the table without distractions (this is key), which helped us in listening to our individual cues. Because of mom, I can have my favorite food under my nose and if I am not hungry, I have no desire to eat it.

Hunger Scale by Paula Ryan, MS, of Healthiest Regards Blog

Paula Ryan, MS, author of the Healthiest Regards Blog, posted a great hunger and satiety scale that I wanted to share with readers. It’s one of the best I have seen because it also lists the consequences of waiting too long eat, or not stopping when the body says it has had enough. If you find yourself eating in the absence of hunger or waiting way too long to eat, consider printing this scale off and going back to the basics. Many people eat for reasons other than hunger – like when they are stressed, mad or sad. Deal with those issues directly instead of turning to food. It may be easier said than done for some, but this can be a start to a healthier YOU in 2012. And a healthier you means a healthier family because the children are watching – and doing what you do.