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The Home Front

Politics, culture, and American life — from the family perspective.

What’s the ‘Truth’ about Santa?



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In case you missed it on the Corner, Nancy French “outed” her family as “Santa truthers.” For them, it boils down to the real meaning of Christmas.

The Christmas story is this:

God gave us the perfect gift even when we did nothing to deserve it. (And, in fact, deserved a lot worse than a lump of coal.) Instead of looking at us in our sin and putting us away, God was overcome with love for us. He didn’t hold our wrongdoings against us. Instead, at great cost, He gave us a way to be forgiven and reenter into communion with Him. That gift was His son, in the form of a baby.

The Santa story — other than the tales associated with the historical St. Nick, who’s simply a footnote in this commercial age — is this:

There’s a jolly, wonderful, magical being called “Santa” who is watching you. If you do something wrong, your name will be crossed off the “nice list” and put on the “naughty list.” Want good presents? You had better behave.

Which story is actually better and more comforting? The one that has the added benefit of being true. 

Nancy wrote in response to an article that unfairly characterized families that make this choice as being unimaginative. The article also argued that Santa truly represents the reason for the season. 

I have to say this is the first I had heard of anyone making this choice because they felt it was more faithful to their religious beliefs. Previously, I had heard arguments from the child-rearing angle – that in telling such tales “children take the feeling of betrayal and confusion into adulthood, and it has long-lasting effects on the parent-child relationship.” (Doesn’t seem likely in a relationship that is otherwise strong, but I’m not the expert.) 

I was happily surprised to see that PBS.org actually takes a pretty healthy approach to the story of Santa, and even points out that you can read religious-oriented books about him. (But of course, they also end with the noncommittal statement that “there is no right or wrong way” to talk about him.) And not surprisingly, there are atheists who would be more than happy for Santa and his remaining religious ties to fade away.

Weighing all the arguments, there is a part of me that wants to join Nancy and her family. I do feel that Christmas has become for too commercial, and that we have lost the real reason for the season. But I can’t let go of the tradition of Santa. My husband and I try to not stress the “naughty or nice” list and focus more on the spirit of giving that Santa represents as part of the incredible gift of salvation from our Savior’s birth. We feel the “truth” can be told in many ways that do not betray our faith — even including the myth of a jolly old elf.

This survey had it split relatively evenly, but more folks chose the truth. What do you think?

Suspended for Kissing?



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A six-year-old boy in Colorado was suspended for two days for kissing a classmate on the hand. Along with the suspension, a note was placed in his file at the school saying he was disciplined as per the district’s “sexual harassment” policy. The boy’s mom admits this isn’t the first time her son has been in trouble for kissing (and other things), but she’s objecting to the sexual-harassment stigma now attached to her child.

Of the many reports on this story, this one from Cañon City Daily Record gives the most balanced recounting of the events.

Here’s one suggestion for the mom: If you’re so worried about your son being branded a sexual harasser, stop going on TV. 

From the Daily Record piece above, it sounds like the school is doing its best to get the kid’s mother to address his behavior and she continues to make excuses. However, I do think the school should have used more discretion in the file — however temporary it is — and labeled this incident differently, with a warning that the “sexual harassment” notation will be forthcoming if problems continue. 

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What The Hunger Games Is Really About?



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The author of The Hunger Games trilogy is not tipping her hand on her political leanings. Susan Collins merely says she came up with the idea of the first book while switching channels one night and seeing a reality show and Iraq War coverage. But many liberals seem to think that the type of oppression portrayed in these books and movies points to the GOP. Apparently the commentary on the DVD for the first film has many references by the actors et al to”the Bush regime.” Seriously? Does that refer to the military methods and the increase in the invasion of privacy thanks to the War on Terror – that the current administration has taken to a whole new level?  Gee, do you think we will hear about the “Obama regime” in the second movie’s commentary?

And it seems there is also a group calling themselves “The Harry Potter Alliance” that is insisting that The Hunger Games reflects income inequality in the U.S.

[T]he Harry Potter Alliance [is] a group that aims to push a progressive agenda by politicizing popular young-adult novels and their fans.

For the New York-based nonprofit, “The Hunger Games” trilogy is more than the gripping tale of a brave teenage girl fighting for her life in a dystopian society — it’s a call for progressive social change.

The alliance launched its “Odds in Our Favor” campaign Nov. 21, the day before the release of the second “Hunger Games” movie… The drive is aimed at pushing what the organization calls the movie’s central theme: income inequality.

Hoo boy. 

       photo credit: Lionsgate

It’s interesting to watch the likes of Slate, when reporting on the meaning of the films, try to play both sides.

I have no idea whether Collins understood, while writing her best-selling trilogy of novels, that this would allow Tea Party libertarians to embrace Katniss Everdeen’s incipient rebellion against the tyranny of the effete, aestheticized and affluent Capital as easily as could Obama liberals or left-wing anarchists. Is this a story of the 99 percent rising against their corporate overlords, or of real Americans “taking their country back” from the cultural elite? 

Corporate overlords? Yeah, I’m sure Americans feel the oppression of corporations on a daily basis.

The Bush administration didn’t exactly try to control every aspect of Americans’ lives. But there actually are countries where citizens are given a test at a young age so that the government can choose which career path those children are “allowed” to pursue — or where they may live, or if they are allowed to step outside a certain border.

And viewers of The Hunger Games movies may have noticed something missing amongst the citizens’ possessions. Why does Katniss hunt with a bow? But it’s not the GOP that’s trying to disarm everyone — or even cracking down on “imaginary weapons.”

Though conservatives certainly have their own lavish parties, they are not the ones who dress up in outrageous fashion, making themselves vomit so they can eat more, with the cameras broadcasting their swanky soirees while the masses sit in their humble homes and watch.

And are conservatives the ones creating the reality shows that reward questionable behavior with instant fame?

Kids are smart, and hopefully will draw the right conclusions themselves. But it doesn’t hurt to ask them what they think The Hunger Games is really about.

Are Laptops in the Classroom a Good Idea?



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The response to that question can run the gamut from “what a great learning tool for advancing a child’s education” all the way to “what a colossal waste of our taxpayer dollars.” I have to say my own reaction when I first heard about such ideas — like the ubiquitous obsolete-upon-completion ”computer labs” that were opened in high schools across the nation — was largely skepticism. Couldn’t that money be put to better use? Because that’s what it’s all about: not the bells and whistles and dollars thrown at education but how we spend our money on our students, right?

So when I heard about the problems plaguing the Los Angeles program to equip each child with an iPad (they’re now considering a switch to laptops), I wasn’t surprised. Most teachers in LA did not support any more money being spent on the program, one commenting that there aren’t even funds to pay for custodial cleaning services for the classrooms. A similar program in Fort Bend County, Texas was suspended after it failed to meet expected goals. 

But lost among those stories of failure is a project that is making a phenomenal change where it has been tried. 

Here is a video of the success story in Mooresville, N.C., that started in 2009.

 

 

 

The program, which leases the laptops for much less than the Los Angeles program did, started with laying off about ten percent of the county’s teachers and increasing class sizes. You can imagine how that would go over in many school districts. But if it truly is about educating our children — not keeping jobs for union bosses and their members — all administrators should take a closer look at this shining example of what technology can bring to the classroom.

Read more about the Mooresville program here.

Hey Networks -- Families are Starved for Good Entertainment



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Oh, the haters were out last night for Carrie Underwood’s performance in The Sound of Music, broadcast live on NBC. But who cares if the producers couldn’t — as someone wished — dub her acting? It wasn’t about trying to best Julie Andrews. No one could (though I dare say that Carrie is the better yodeler). It’s about enjoying another version of an old favorite.

Was it comparable to Israel Kamakawiwo’ole giving us a new version of  ”Over the Rainbow“ ? Hardly so, as there was no chemistry between the leads and Carrie’s lovely renditions had more pop power than subtle nuance. (My biggest complaint actually was that Rolfe was totally miscast, looking like someone out of Gold’s Gym, not Hitler-Jugend.) But Audra McDonald — despite being far too young for the part — was a Mother Superior to be reckoned with, and the rest of the cast performed delightfully.

And for all that was lacking in Carrie’s performance, when there were tears in her eyes you felt she was genuinely touched by what was happening on stage. Especially singing the lines “somewhere in my youth, or childhood, I must have done something good.” A pure heart shines through.

The other problem that the naysayers had? The Walmart commercials. One reviewer called the series of ads shown throughout the show — featuring a family with twelve children happily interacting with one another — “obnoxious.” Bah, humbug.

But who cares what the mainstream reviewers say? The big news is that the broadcast was a ratings success. It was the highest for a Thursday night NBC show since the finale of ER four years ago. And the show maintained more than 80 percent of its audience over the three-hour broadcast.

You hear that network producers? Families are dying for new, friendly content. We don’t need Lady Gaga with the Muppets (a ratings bomb). Give us well-produced, wholesome content and we come running. How about My Fair Lady next?

 

 

If you missed it, forgot to record it, or can’t wait for it to come out on video on December 17, check your local on-demand channel. My cable company currently has it for free.

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Re: Therapist Bills



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When Colette mentioned that depression in young adults is soaring – and suggested it might have something to do with narcissism or helicopter parenting – I had to weigh in on a recent study that suggests a different cause altogether: casual sex.

Ohio State University researchers found that teens who showed depressive symptoms were more likely than others to engage in casual sex as young adults.

In addition, those who engaged in casual sex were more likely to later seriously consider suicide.

“Several studies have found a link between poor mental health and casual sex, but the nature of that association has been unclear,” said Sara Sandberg-Thoma, doctoral student and lead author of the study.

“There’s always been a question about which one is the cause and which is the effect. This study provides evidence that poor mental health can lead to casual sex, but also that casual sex leads to additional declines in mental health.”

Even more troubling, suicidal thoughts increased by 18 percent with each additional casual sexual relationship — for both males and females.

 

Yes, that’s specific. 

It should also be a sobering revelation for liberals who advocate against the notion that sex is best enjoyed within the context of marriage.

Stop Helicopter Parenting, Save Yourself Therapist Bills



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The rate of depression in millennials attending college is soaring, with about 44 percent experiencing symptoms. Some have blamed it on narcissistic personality disorder, but others are suggesting another cause.

The big problem is not that they think too highly of themselves. Their bigger challenge is conflict negotiation, and they often are unable to think for themselves. The overinvolvement of helicopter parents prevents children from learning how to grapple with disappointments on their own. If parents are navigating every minor situation for their kids, kids never learn to deal with conflict on their own. Helicopter parenting has caused these kids to crash land.

The Huffington Post and the Wall Street Journal have reported that millennials are now bringing their parents to job interviews, and companies such as LinkedIn and Google are hosting “take your parents to work day.” Parents went from strapping their kids into a Baby Björn carrier to tying their kids’ wing-tips.

It seems that the natural desire to protect children from any kind of heartbreak or setback has caused different, more difficult problems.

The era of instant gratification has led to a decrease in what therapists call “frustration tolerance.” This is how we handle upsetting situations, allow for ambiguity, and learn to navigate the normal life circumstances of breakups, bad grades, and layoffs. When we lack frustration tolerance, moderate sadness may lead to suicidality in the self-soothingly challenged.

Maybe millennials are narcissistic, like most 14-year-olds are. And maybe they will outgrow their narcissism later in life if 30 is the new 18. We don’t have the data on what millennials will be like when they’re 40. But more importantly, they need to learn how to cope.

Read more here.

Thanksgiving History Lessons for Kids



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Cool Mom Picks suggested some sites to help teach your kids about the origins of Thanksgiving. For older kids there is Thanksgiving Interactive: You are the Historian from the Plimoth Plantation. Kids can play the role of detective as they determine what really happened at the first Thanksgiving in 1621.

A second is from the go-to site for educational videos, Brain Pop. However, you have to subscribe to view their great pieces. It is $99 per year, but it is a great option for homeschoolers or other families who want to supplement their children’s education on a wide range of topics. (I’m hoping the Thanksgiving video will be the free one of the day on the actual holiday.)

Third is the good ol’ classic from Schoolhouse Rock — “No More Kings.” Enjoy!

 

How Parents’ Unemployment Affects Children



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From a story by Joanna Venator and Richard V. Reeves at Brookings: 

While economists and policy makers rightly worry about today’s jobless, there are potentially some long-term costs, too, not just for the individual out of work — but for their children. And not just in terms of economic and educational opportunities, but in terms of the picture of adult life provided to impressionable children. As Larry Summers says:

“We may be losing yet another generation of kids who don’t have the kind of role models in their parents that they should because of the difficulties their parents are having economically. There’s now been clear studies that show that when dad and mom have jobs that they’re proud of and they’re doing those jobs, junior works harder in school, does better in school, and is more likely to succeed.”

In other words, jobless parents raise less ambitious kids. If that’s right, inequality across generations gets entrenched even more deeply.

The article points out that it is not just economic hardship that affects children — it’s also observing their parents’ reactions to being out of work. 

Possessing “drive” or the intrinsic motivation to succeed can make a big difference in whether a child moves up the income ladder as an adult, as our work at Brookings has shown. If children witnessing their parents’ joblessness lower their own horizons as a result, the damage of today’s unemployment could last well into the next generation.

Introducing Children to Economic Concepts



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Over on GeekMom.com, I ran across an interview with the authors of  Follow Your Money: Who Gets It, Who Spends It, Where Does It Go?  The book goes beyond simply talking to kids about their allowance and what to do with it. The authors dig deeper, explaining the world of commerce from added value to profit margins. One of the authors, Kevin Sylvester, put it this way: 

Kids are a huge part of the economy, but when you say the word “economy” to them, their eyes glaze over. What we tried very carefully to do in the book was to talk about concrete situations, such as buying baseball hats and hot chocolate. There are big concepts in the book, but always seen through an everyday lens. As to why write the book, I think kids need to know where their money goes so that they can make informed decisions about what they buy.

And of course, there is some advice about how to teach kids the dangers of paying with plastic, as well as a novel approach to understanding money. From the other author, Michael Hlinka:

Translate spending into hours. If you’re providing your children an allowance for helping out around the home/doing chores, let them know how many hours it would take to pay for a week’s worth of groceries! I think that all of a sudden, your children will be far more appreciative of your efforts . . . and much more careful with money!

That is a good way, I imagine, for them to have some notion of the value of that hot little electronic they already have and are dying to replace with an upgrade. Read more here

November 22, 1963: A Child’s Memories



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Like millions of other Americans, I remember exactly where I was when I heard that President John F. Kennedy had been shot: sitting on the backseat of my mother’s blue Ford station wagon while she drove my brothers and me home from our Seattle-area grade school. I was six years old — a few months older than Caroline Kennedy, who turned six on November 27. Which means I am among the youngest people in the country who can vividly recall the assassination.

Not that I really want to. The shooting and its aftermath overshadowed the rest of my childhood in quietly destructive ways.

The murder of President Kennedy is my earliest memory of an event outside my home, school, and neighborhood. “You won’t be able to watch cartoons today,” my mother said as she swung the car onto our street. “The president of the United States was shot, and it’s on every channel.”

Looking back to that cold Seattle afternoon, fifty years ago, I realize my mother wanted to keep her three young children — aged five, six, and seven — calm. But the manner in which she relayed the information about JFK’s murder made presidential killing seem kind of ordinary — not something to get too excited about. The president was shot, huh? What’s for dinner?

The reactions of my parents over the next few days made me realize how upset they actually were, especially after my 32-year-old mother saw Lee Harvey Oswald shot on live television. 

People who grew up in the five increasingly coarse decades since that terrible televised moment can scarcely fathom how shocking it was. My parents belonged to the World War II generation, so they were hardly innocent about the world’s evils. But seeing murder committed before her eyes, on top of the shock of JFK’s slaying, so traumatized my mother that my father packed up his young family that very night and drove us into the Cascade mountains for a few days of camping, far from televisions, radios, and newspaper headlines. He planned to bring us home in a few days, when it was all over.

My parents could not have foreseen that “it” would never be over — not in their lifetimes, nor the lifetimes of their children. They had no way of knowing that the journalist friends and Camelot colleagues who idolized Kennedy would never let him go, nor allow us to let him go, either. They were traumatized by his loss, and they made darn sure the rest of us stayed traumatized, too. They worshiped “Jack,” and they determined that the rest of us would forever worship him, too. Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot  . . .

How could we possibly forget, given the endless books and articles they wrote, the weepy interviews they gave, the poignant Kennedy home movies they aired every November anniversary, until nearly all of these sad-eyed mourners finally died themselves?

They evidently did not realize that their public obsession with Kennedy delayed the ability of Americans to heal from the horror of his death. They prevented children like me, who had the assassination and its aftermath driven deep and hard into our young minds, from fully healing for decades, if ever. Their obsession with Kennedy led to my own youthful obsession — which is why, at age 16, I was reading Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye, by Dave Powers and Kenneth O’Donnell, and Jim Bishop’s The Day Kennedy Was Shot instead of Jaws and The Princess Bride, as normal teenagers did.

Keep reading this post . . .

Miracle of Life in a Concentration Camp



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Somehow I missed this article from last summer about the eight babies that were liberated from Kaufering I, a satellite concentration camp near Dachau. Miriam Rosenthal, the mother of the last child born, shared her story. The most amazing part was what happened shortly after she was first apprehended by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz.

Miriam Rosenthal was four-months pregnant, starving, bone-tired, cold, filthy and afraid when an SS officer in big black boots and a crisp uniform appeared before the barracks in Auschwitz with a loudspeaker in hand.

All pregnant women line up, he barked. Line up, line up — your food portions are being doubled.

“Can you imagine?” Miriam asks. “Even women who were not pregnant stepped forward. I was standing with my younger cousin, but I wouldn’t go. She says, ‘Miriam, what are you doing?’ ”

“Something was holding me back. Someone was watching over me. I feel maybe my mother, maybe God. Two hundred women stepped forward and 200 women went to the gas chamber. And I don’t know why I didn’t step forward.

“I have asked rabbis. I have asked some big people and no one can give me an answer. If you believe in God, then God did it. If you believe it was my parents, then it was my parents, which is what I believe.

“They were such good people, generous, kind. And maybe for their sake, maybe that’s why I didn’t step forward. I have asked myself this question so many times…”

But the miracle doesn’t end there. Read the rest of her incredible story — which needs to be made into a movie — here.

                                          This family photo shows Miriam and her son, Leslie, with the boy’s father, Bela, who survived a slave labor camp.

Re: What’s So Bad about Being a Princess?



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Have you seen the Disney “I am a Princess” video?  It feels more like a public-service announcement, but it’s obviously an attempt to rebrand the classic Disney products and movies for a more modern era:

Isn’t that a great commercial?

Except.

Martha Kempner does a great job of explaining why we Disney princesses are Disney princesses no matter how well done, inspirational, and multi-ethnic that commercial is:

The original princesses of the forties and fifties—Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty—all underscore the idea that a girl’s ultimate goal in life is to meet that one man, fall in love, and live happily ever after without ever really taking an active role in shaping her own future. Real women came along way in the next few decades but princesses seem to have gotten stuck in a gender-role rut as the 90’s entries into the genre had even worse messages. In the Little Mermaid, for example, Ariel makes a deal with Ursula, the sea witch, to give up her voice at least temporarily. She then has to get Prince Eric to fall in love with her without talking. What follows is a series of scenes in which she bats her eyelashes a lot but says nothing—and it works. The take away: shut up and look pretty and you’ll the get the guy. Beauty and the Beast’s Belle wants more than her small-town life and reads every book she can get her hands on which is admirable but as soon as the Beast starts being a little bit refined and kind of sweet, she seems to forget that he is still holding her captive.

… It is true that the newest major offerings in the Disney princess world, Brave and Tangled, have heroines who at least seem to be able to take care of themselves be it with a bow and arrow or a frying pan. But why must they still be princesses? 

Colette, you’re right that Kate Middleton is proving a princess can be a true partner in a marriage. But, as Kempner points out, “I don’t think becoming a princess is a realistic or worthy goal. (For one thing [Middleton] may have taken the only open spot.)”

For an alternative view on princesses, check out Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor breaking the news to a Sesame Street character that “princess is not a career.”

HHS Gives Advice to Married Women: ‘Calm Down’



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For real. I wonder if this was a study that included binders full of women?

Via @GabrielMalor

What’s So Bad about Being a Princess?



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It’s been tough walking the princess line with my daughters. I didn’t mind if some of them choose to dress up — even with a tiara — and dream of someday finding their handsome prince. But of course, I always made an effort to point out that princesses don’t need to be mere damsels in distress needing to be saved. 

Well, those days are pretty much in the past for my teenagers, in the literal sense. Now I  have to guide them as they make their own way and decide how a potential husband fits in. With that in mind, I have mixed feelings about an ad campaign put out by — of all places — a Catholic all-girls high school in Louisville, KY.

A new advertising campaign for Louisville’s Mercy Academy has been generating national attention for the Catholic all-girls school.

The eye-catching ads, made by Louisville agency Doe-Anderson, use fairy tale imagery like glass slippers and tiaras with messages like “Life’s Not a Fairy Tale,” “You’re Not a Princess” and “Don’t Wait for a Prince.”

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                                                                                                                                                                                        Photo: Adweek

Another ad reads: 

You’re not a princess. But you can still rule the world. At Mercy Academy, we train girls in the art of critical thinking through a performance task-based curriculum. . . . When women graduate from Mercy Academy, they’re better equipped to overcome any obstacles the world sends their way.

While the campaign has been cheered for its message of empowerment, part of me wants to say — what’s wrong with being a princess? Even in the Disney movies, the heroines aren’t helpless or entitled. Cinderella essentially rose above her circumstances by keeping a good attitude and work ethic (with some assistance from her fairy godmother). And does anyone think the plucky Ariel who stood up to her father, followed her outlandish dream, and fought an enemy side by side with her man went on to be dominated by Prince Eric? Or that bookish Belle suddenly became all about ball gowns and castle living?

And in the real world, Kate Middleton is proving that a princess can be a true partner in a marriage that inspires citizens to do great things for those in need. And here at home, we can teach our daughters to expect to be treated like princesses, while forging their own paths. No need to forego the glass slippers, if you like.

See a photo gallery of all the ads here.

Two New Kids’ Movies Have Interesting -- and Sometimes Troubling -- Subtexts



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By now, conservative parents know they have to be on guard when their children graduate from high school and go to colleges full of hedonism and liberal professors eager to indoctrinate students with leftist ideology. But, judging from two recent children’s movies, parents would be wise to start guarding their kids’ worldviews at a younger age. Much younger.

This weekend, I found myself with a free Saturday, so I packed my three kids up and headed to our local movie theater to see Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2.  It was a cute movie, full of fun food puns and adorable characters. However, it got me thinking about the subtle — and not-so-subtle — messages that are being delivered to our children in these films. (Spoiler alert.)

In Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, the enemy that seemed to be a danger to liberty was actually just misunderstood. (Plus, the person leading the charge was really just a money-hungry capitalist with a stake in the war.)

In Free Birds, an oh-so-cool turkey invents a deity because he realizes the rest of his dumb flock needs a fictitious god to give them confidence.

Parents trying to raise kids in a world frequently at odds with their values don’t have to stay home and watch old VeggieTales DVDs. However, it doesn’t hurt to pay attention to the subtext of what’s being directed at our children. 

Tags: Movie , parenting

Hospitals Use New Methods to Soothe Little Patients



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A recent article in the Wall Street Journal revealed some of the new ways of easing the pain and trauma that children undergo during hospital stays. 

More children are facing painful and invasive procedures, as medical advances have made survival possible for more premature infants and children with diagnoses including cancer, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis and congenital heart defects. Some three million children are considered “medically complex” at present, and their ranks are growing by about 5% a year. . . . Ongoing health problems have made many of these children frequent fliers in the hospital system. More than just temporary discomforts, fear and pain can lead to long-term trauma for children, studies show.

 Hospitals are using creative ways to help children endure the discomforts.

Hospitals take children on pre-surgery tours of operating rooms so they know what to expect. . . . Some hospitals are experimenting with distractions during tests, such as iPads or special goggles that kids can wear to watch a movie while undergoing an MRI.

. . . When inserting an intravenous tube, staffers use a device called a J-Tip, which uses pressurized gas to send numbing medication into the tissue beneath the skin so the IV needle can be inserted into the vein painlessly. Children can go into the operating room ahead of time with an anesthesiologist and try on the mask that will be used to sedate them.

Read about other methods hospitals are employing here.

New Studies on Delaying Gratification Reveal Interesting Results



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Perhaps you heard of the simple study that a Stanford researcher performed in 1972 testing the ability of children to delay gratification. Test subjects had a marshmallow (or other treat) placed in from of them, and they were told they could have two treats if they waited for the researcher to return. Follow-up studies on the test subjects seemed to indicate that the children who could wait longer went on to lead better lives in many ways, from having higher SAT scores and getting a better education to having a lower body-mass index.

But new studies suggest that it’s not always about self-control. Sometimes an individual will make an impulsive move based on strategic reasoning.

The ability to delay gratification has traditionally been seen in large part as an issue of willpower: Do you have what it takes to wait it out, to choose a later — and, presumably, better — reward over an immediate, though not quite as good one? Can you forgo a brownie in service of the larger reward of losing weight, give up ready cash in favor of a later investment payoff? 

When we set a self-control goal for ourselves, we often have specific time frames in mind: I’ll lose a pound a week; a month from now, I’ll no longer get cravings for that cigarette; the bus or train will come in 10 minutes . . . But what happens if our initial estimate is off? The more time passes without the expected reward — it’s been 20 minutes and still nothing; I’ve been dieting for a week and a half now and still weigh the same — the more uncertain the end becomes. Will I ever get my reward? . . . In this situation, giving up can be a natural — indeed, a rational — response to a time frame that wasn’t properly framed to begin with.

In new testing, with added parameters, researchers found that people often think that the longer they wait, the longer they will have to continue to wait for their reward — which seems the opposite of the logical conclusion that the longer you wait, the closer you are to getting it. So some children might not simply have bad impulse control, but a poor ability to gauge the passage of time.

The article goes on to describe other facets of the studies, and then offers this advice. 

For those of us battling with goals we just can’t seem to reach, the knowledge that our perception of time — and not some inherent shortcoming — is partly to blame may enable us to be more successful in the future. Instead of beating ourselves up for a failure of willpower, we can instead focus on learning to better calibrate our time expectations from the get-go, setting realistic, concretely framed time goals that capture the reality of the task we’ve set for ourselves.

This has made me see my children’s (and my own) ability to set goals and delay gratification in a new light. Read more here

Do We Need Anti-Bullying Programs?



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The bad news is that anti-bullying campaigns do not seem to have much effect and may even cause more bullying.

A new study recently published in the Journal of Criminology suggests that the anti-bullying programs that have become popular in many schools may not be as useful as previously thought. The authors examined 7000 kids at 195 different schools to try to determine child and school influences on bullying. Surprisingly, the authors found that children who attended schools with anti-bullying programs were more likely to experience bullying than children who attended schools without such programs. In fairness, the data is correlational, so it’s not possible to say that anti-bullying programs necessarily led to more bullying. One could argue that, perhaps, schools with bigger bullying problems were more likely to implement anti-bullying programs. Nonetheless, this data suggests such programs may not be terribly effective.

But the good news is that bullying is declining. Contrary to what it may seem, children are exposed to less violence in general, and statistics on teen smoking, drinking, pregnancy, and suicide are all improving — though the reasons are unclear

And in light of the recent NFL bullying incident, Charles Murray at AEI followed up with a piece suggesting a bit of bullying might not be so bad.

As someone who was a nerdy weakling in my youth and ran into my share of bullying, part of me is sympathetic. However, I’m also a parent of four who wanted my children to have happy childhoods but wanted them to become happy adults even more. Those two goals are in tension. In particular, we want our children to be able to cope with the adversity that is part of every adult life, which means being resilient. But how does one learn resilience while growing up? How much adversity is needed in our children’s lives so that they can exercise their resilience muscle? We don’t want to send our six-year-olds into the streets to fend for themselves, but do we really want them to grow up without experiencing any tough times?

And the parental balancing act continues . . .

Who Loses with Minimum-Wage Increase? Our Teenagers



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. . . and those under the age of 25, who comprise half of those who earn minimum wage. And we can imagine that many of those are young people living at home, trying to earn some extra money as they go to school. (Only 3 percent of workers over the age of 25 earn minimum wage.) We can draw this conclusion based on these facts from a piece at AEI-Ideas: 

The 2010 study “Will a $9.50 Federal Minimum Wage Really Help the Working Poor?” by researchers Joseph Sabia and Richard Burkhauser found that a federal minimum wage increase from $7.25 to $9.50 per hour — higher than the $9 that President Obama has proposed — would raise incomes of only 11% of workers who live in poor households.

 In a 2012 study, Sabia and Robert Nielsen found ”no statistically significant evidence that a higher minimum wage has helped reduce financial, housing, health, or food insecurity among the poor.” Why? You have to earn a wage to benefit and 55% of poor, less-educated individuals between ages 16 and 64 don’t work. Indeed, nearly 90% of the wage earners who benefited from the 40% increase in the federal minimum wage between 2007 and 2009 were not poor. They lived in households with an income two or three times the poverty level.

A 2013 literature review by David Neumark, J.M. Ian Salas, and William Wascher concluded “that the evidence still shows that  minimum wages pose a tradeoff of higher wages for some against job losses for others, and that policymakers need to bear this tradeoff in mind when making decisions about increasing the minimum wage.”

Research Texas A&M economists Jonathan Meer and Jeremy West find raising minimum wage levels may discourage firms over the long-term from hiring new workers. And that may be particularly true thanks to continuing — even accelerating — advances in automation.

The emphasis in the third point is mine. There will be higher wages for some — probably older, more established workers working more hours — and job losses for others — the younger, less experienced, part-time workers. Raising the minimum wage may sound like a good idea, but in the end it more than likely has a negative impact on young people’s prospects for employment.

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