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Question of the Week: What's Worse for Children — Exposure to Violence or Sex?

Today, kids are exposed to far more violent and sexually explicit material than when we were young. But which exactly is worse: violence or sex?

Do you know what he's watching?

Do you know what he's watching?

Some say that in a post-Columbine world, violence is the more dangerous influence. The biggest advocate of this position is the daytime advice-doling Dr. Phil. In particular, he targets violent video games as having an adverse effect on a child’s development.

The number one negative effect is they tend to inappropriately resolve anxiety by externalizing it. So when kids have anxiety, which they do, instead of soothing themselves, calming themselves, talking about it, expressing it to someone, or even expressing it emotionally by crying, they tend to externalize it. They can attack something, they can kick a wall, they can be mean to a dog or a pet.

Dr. Phil’s logic makes sense on the page, but anecdotally, having grown up with video games, I’ve never seen anyone “externalize” their emotions from playing Nintendo — at least not in a way that wasn’t just out of good ‘ol competitive spirit.

Still, while you’ll find plenty of articles on the effects of violent content, you won’t find quite as much writing on the dangers of sex. Instead, it seems to be a value that’s simply implied. Of course, there’s also the infamous divide on film ratings between the U.S. and Europe to consider. Americans tend to be more sensitive to content that involves any sexually explicit material — particularly nudity, despite the context — while Europeans are more affected by graphic violence — a quality that doesn’t seem to phase us as much in the U.S.

Still, there’s no conclusive or truly convincing study that proves that either violence or sex affects children negatively. Perhaps it’s too difficult to document, or maybe we’re underestimating the ability of kids to understand that what happens on television should stay on television.

There’s a brilliant headline from humor site The Onion that sums the counter argument perfectly. In reference to Janet Jackson Super Bowl halftime show debacle: “U.S. Children Still Traumatized One Year After Seeing Partially Exposed Breast On TV.”

So readers, which is the worse influence: violence or sex? Does it vary between movies, video games, and music? Discuss!

Irondads Crave Competition, Family Time

Kevin Nelson transitioning from the swim to the run.

Kevin Nelson transitioning from the swim to the run.

Like any high endurance sport, Ironman competitions carry certain dangers, but one risk in particular can come as a surprise: try the grueling race and you just might get addicted.

That’s been the case for two Minnesota-based athletes, Brian Moynihan and Kevin Nelson, who train for the 26.2 mile run, 112 mile bike ride, and 2.4 mile swim in St. Paul with a group called Performance Power (P2).

At first, the event seems like an impossible feat, and indeed Nelson, a vehicular scheduling manager at the Twin Cities Ford Assembly plant, considered it a joke when a friend suggested he even try training for a shorter triathlon. Read more »

Question of the Week: Do Guns Make us Safer?

Safe space? Photo by Barjack

Safe space? Photo by Barjack

Is it still harder to have a civil discussion about gun rights and gun control than health care reform, that trendy political third-rail? Depends where you look, but judging from a recent video on Momversation.com—one of the sites we follow at Life360—it’s actually possible to talk sensibly about gun ownership.

This particular Momversation episode saw mommy bloggers Dana Loesch (mamalogues.com), Rebecca Woolf (girlsgonechild.net), Maggie Mason (Mightygirl.net), Karen Walrond (Chookooloonks.com) all weigh in on the topic, but despite the respectful and coherent nature of their comments, even these peers fail to offer unanimous consensus. Loesch, an NRA member, is the only panelist who owns a gun, explaining “It comes down to I want to be able to defend myself.”

Each of the three other bloggers offered a variation on the “I don’t feel comfortable with a gun at home, especially around kids” theme, but both those arguing for and against owning a firearm raise the same question, central to the gun rights debate, which is: does owning a gun make you more or less safe?

This, of course, is where things get tricky. Typically each side presents statistics designed to make opponents hopelessly out of touch (often something like: you’re more likely to be killed by someone you know with a gun than a stranger or conversely, increased gun ownership correlates with lower crime rates), but it’s hard to find a conclusive and unbiased study to definitively answers this question.

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine published “Firearms Laws and the Reduction of Violence”, which stated that while gun ownership is correlated to increased incidence of suicide, while gun accidents in the US have decreased over the last 15 years.

The relevance of even these stats and whether this decrease was caused by increasing gun rights or increasing restrictions, however, remains a point of contention. It’s not an issue that promises to resolve itself anytime soon, but at least open discourses like that on Momversation are a step in the right direction.

Therefore, in the spirit of a frank discussion we ask: where do you stand on the issue? Do you have a gun in your home? Does owning a firearm protect you or put you and those you love at greater risk? Discuss!

Recession-Friendly Back-to-School Shopping

Don't spend too much!

Don't spend too much!

Back-to-school shopping is an annual wallet-draining ritual, but this year, you won’t have to give up appendages to get your kids everything they need for class. Or at least not as many.

The National Retail Federation is expecting an 8% drop in spending this shopping season, the worst in more than a decade. As a result, shoppers will see stores offering better-than-usual deals. Still, there are a number of tips and tricks that might help you save money when shopping this fall.

Zach Miners of U.S. News has several great bits of shopping wisdom. Seeking and sticking to bargains is also a big money saver. Miners recommends Shop It To Me, a website that sends you email alerts about sales at major retailers. Also, shoppers can try and delay certain purchases until after school has begun. Read more »

WeMakeItSafer Wants Homes, Stores Recall Free

Jennifer Toney, founder of WeMakeItSafer.com, and her recall free family.

Jennifer Toney, founder of WeMakeItSafer.com, and her recall free family.

Two summers ago, product recalls made big headlines when numerous plastic toys manufactured in China were found to contain dangerous concentrations of lead paint. It was an eye-opening event for American consumers, yet it can still be challenging to find recalls that haven’t made the news, according to Jennifer Toney, founder of WeMakeItSafer.com.

That’s something her company wants to change. Besides the media, Recalls.gov has been a go-to website for finding out about potentially hazardous products; however, Toney, who worked as a litigation consultant for 15 years, says the site isn’t exactly the easiest thing to navigate. Read more »

Question of the Week: Are You Prepared for a Natural Disaster?

We’re coming up on the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (prepare for the media onslaught!), you might recall that New Orleans revealed just how ill-prepared the government was to handle a disaster on any scale. But it also raises the question: how prepared are you in the case of a natural disaster?

Flooded Lake Forest area of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Flooded Lake Forest area of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Ready America, a national PSA campaign from the Department of Homeland Security, gives three steps for disaster preparation. First, families, when thinking about the possibility of an emergency situation, should focus the basics of survival: fresh water, food, clean air, and warmth. The Ready America website has a checklist of suggested items to include in your kit.

The second step is coming up with an emergency plan. The crux of each family’s plan should be communication. Identifying an out-of-town contact, ensuring that your family knows each other’s phone numbers by heart, and making sure everyone knows how to send text messages (probably not an issue with the younger family members). Ready America also has suggestions specific to the type of home you live in and where you are at the time of the disaster.

Last, Ready America recommends that everyone should “be informed.” Perhaps it’s a suggestion erring on the side of vague, but their site also lists some great, concise information on everything from hurricanes to volcanoes to biological threats.

In the case of a natural disaster, are you and your family prepared? Are you “informed”? Discuss!

SPF: Sun Protection Falsehoods?

In 2008, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) reported that four out of five sunscreen products provided dangerously low levels of protection. The biggest issue, according to dermatologists, is the SPF rating system, which lacks any scientific standard. From the 1,000 products reviewed, a mere 143 brands were recommended. Most of these were less popular because they include ultraviolet-blocking ingredients like titanium and zinc, known for leaving a white residue on the skin.

Is your sunscreen really protecting you or just making you feel sticky?

Is your sunscreen really protecting you or just making you feel sticky?

But the EWG says that the sunscreen industry has changed its ways. In what they’re calling a “dramatic shift,” the number of UVA-blocking sunscreens available on the market has more than doubled since the summer of 2008. However, that still leaves something like one in nine sunscreens that offer inadequate levels of UVA protection. Be sure to check out the EWG’s list of best sunscreens.

Some other interesting and somewhat terrifying findings from the EWG:

  • Many all-day moisturizers promise SPF protection, but only one in five actually blocks dangerous UVA rays.
  • Sunscreens with SPF ratings between 55 and 100 only block 1 to 2% more UVB radiation than SPF 30 sunscreens, and are not required to block UVA rays. (UVB rays are generally considered more harmful.)
  • 42% of sunscreens contain oxybenzone, which has been shown to “disrupt the endocrine system and release reactive oxygen species that could contribute to skin cancer.”