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Where the Kid-Appropriate Things Are

Cuddly but child friendly?

Cuddly but child friendly?

The film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are opened with an impressive gross of over $30 million at the box office last weekend. But the movie’s journey from production to theaters is a widely covered tale of artistic vision pitted against commercial viability. Wild Things was set to premiere a year ago, but the entire film had to be re-shot because Warner Bros. Studio believed the film was too weird for the young target audience.

Now there’s a new controversy: is the film appropriate for kids? Read more »

Denigrated or Defended, Video Games Hold Educational Promise

There's no two ways about it: kids love video games. Photo by sean dreilinger

There's no two ways about it: kids love video games. Photo by sean dreilinger

Do you have a convincing argument about the evils of video games? Pamela Eakes of Mother’s Against Violence does. In her article posted on a PBS website examining the impact of games, she enumerates the various problems video games can cause — addiction, increased aggression, and social isolation among others — and she urges parents to take an active role in monitoring, as well as restricting, their kids’ game usage.

In certain circles, hers are commonly held beliefs, supported in part by studies like one presented in a 2008 Washington Post story, which indicates that violent video games really does raise children’s hostility levels.

Eakes’s views, however, are not unanimous. While MIT professor Henry Jenkins probably wouldn’t encourage parents to ignore their offspring’s gaming habits, he details a series of misconceptions about video games on that same PBS website, many of which seem to contradict Eakes’ fears.

Jenkins suggests that games have become a scapegoat for certain social problems and actions that have nothing to do with gaming at all, and there is certainly some evidence to support this. Revelations about the school shooting in Columbine, like these myths illuminated by CNN, revealed that the assailants were not part of the “Trench Coat Mafia” gaming culture as previously supposed.

As with many controversial topics it becomes difficult to get the facts exactly straight. Virtually everyone can agree, however, that video games do hold tremendous power to capture the kid’s attention — something a recent edition of the NPR radio show Soundprint addressed, with a focus in particular on educational gaming.

Because of their appeal to youngsters, the information they allow people to access, and the skills they can develop, many educators and game developers believe video games have incredible potential in the field of education; the difficulty so far has been finding that balance between entertainment, learning value, and of course, profitability.

Achieve it, and you could very well have a product that everyone one can get behind, but the day that sees an ideal blend of teaching tool and adventure saga remains a ways off, so kids and parents will have to make do with the current offerings, as well as the concerns they continue, rightly or wrongly, to produce.

Question of the Week: Are Disney Princesses Bad Role Models?

Seven dwarves, one wicked influence? Photo by

Seven dwarves, one wicked influence? Photo by

Last month a $110 million museum opened in San Francisco, dedicated to the life and accomplishments of Walt Disney. Located in a former army barracks and two adjoining buildings inside the city’s 1,491-acre Presidio National Park, it houses some of the earliest sketches of Mickey Mouse, audio recordings of Disney himself, as well as notes detailing his thought processes during on early projects, and of course numerous pieces of memorabilia.

Museum board member Diane Disney Miller, Disney’s daughter, was quoted in a Bloomberg article saying, “I think a lot of people don’t know [Walt Disney is] anything but a brand… I want people to know who he really was.”

By most accounts the museum makes a fitting and honest tribute to the visionary cartoonist’s legacy, but it’s that very legacy and the Disney brand that have sometimes incited controversy. In particular, Disney’s fascination with and promotion of princesses has concerned parents who sometimes see these slender and arguably over sexualized icons as potentially dangerous role models.

In a 2006 New York Times article, author Peggy Orenstein wrote:

There are no studies proving that playing princess directly damages girls’ self-esteem or dampens other aspirations. On the other hand, there is evidence that young women who hold the most conventionally feminine beliefs — who avoid conflict and think they should be perpetually nice and pretty — are more likely to be depressed…

While some of Disney’s more modern characters like Mulan or Pocahontas have defied female stereotypes to a point, Orenstein says, they are usually not the ones marketed to girls and held up as figures to emulate. One counter argument is that a princess obsession is a harmless phase that girls grow out of, but not everyone is convinced.

What is your take? Do Disney princesses make for bad role models? What do you see as the Walt Disney legacy? Discuss!

Seriously… What's in a Name?

Choosing might be more important than you think.

Choosing might be more important than you think.

Would a CEO by any other name be as successful? The guys who wrote Freakonomics raise a similar question in one of their recent New York Times blog post. The answer? No, they say, names don’t affect how successful or unsuccessful someone is.

But the importance of names is not a point of universal agreement. A piece in Time written earlier this year also addressed the role a names play in shaping someone’s life. In an article titled “Can Your Name Make You a Criminal?”, John Cloud cited a study suggesting that your moniker can in fact increase the chance you end up in jail.

While the piece acknowledges that social class and upbringing also factor into people’s judgment, it does posit that certain names can lead to negative assumptions and sometimes negative treatment. It concludes that maybe parents should just settle for boring names, and judging from another Times article by J. Marion Tierney, they may be right.

“You can sort of understand parents’ affection for the sound of Chimera Griffin, but Monster Moor and Goblin Fester? Or Cheese Ceaser and Leper Priest? What provokes current celebrities to name their children Sage Moonblood Stallone and Speck Wildhorse Mellencamp?”

At the very least, it may be hard to take people with these names seriously, but do these names or others really have a negative impact on people’s lives? Some say yes, some say no, and others suggest that a bad name can actually make it easier for kids to roll with the punches.

Never fear, however, if you’re having trouble thinking of the perfect name for your new baby. Bloggers like the Name Lady at are more than happy to give you some advice.

Question of the Week: Could Spanking Your Child Make Them Dumber?

The morality of corporal punishment is a tough issue with many parents, but have you ever considered the fact that being spanked might make a child stupider?

Spanking: is it helping or hurting?

Spanking: is it helping or hurting?

Though it seems pretty unlikely (and somewhat out of left field), Murray Strauss, a professor in the sociology department at the University of New Hampshire, has two studies that show a correlation between children who were spanked and lower IQ scores. Strauss and his colleagues surveyed parents of 1,500 children and found that children who weren’t spanked between the ages of two and four had an average IQ five points higher than those who were; children between age five and nine saw a similar trend, but less striking.

But there could be other factors at work here. Strauss surveyed families from 32 different countries. Spanking is more taboo in developed countries, which could explain the difference in IQ scores. Plus, couldn’t the frequency of spanking be a determinant? NPR got Strauss on the phone and asked him about these possible explanations.

“The data suggests but does not prove that another reason the IQs are higher in these countries is that there is less corporal punishment where there is higher economic development,” he conceded.

Still, Strauss’s work is something to consider. Even if there was a chance that your child might be smarter — or at least have a higher IQ score — would it be worth foregoing corporal punishment entirely as a means of discipline?

What do you think: could spanking your child make them dumber? Discuss!

Blogger Spotlight on Jackie Burrell

Jackie Burrell shares her family travel tips.

Jackie Burrell shares her family travel tips.

Formerly the education and family reporter and currently food editor for the Bay Area’s San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, and Oakland Tribune, Jackie Burrell is no stranger to putting her family experience into words. She’s also writing online for the Bay Area News Group’s parenting blog, aPARENTly Speaking, and’s Young Adults section.

We caught up with Burrell to ask her about planning family vacations — what to do, what not to do, and how to avoid disaster.

Life360: You have four children and have gone on numerous family vacations to fun places in the U.S. and abroad. How do you plan ahead for family trips? How do you decide where to go?   We start planning six months to a year ahead and do a lot of research on the internet to find really memorable experiences, whether it’s luge rides in Austria (highly recommended) or a dinosaur dig in Montana (ditto). As the kids have grown, we’ve given them a lot of say in what we do and where. Read more »

Road Ready Dogs: Best Pooches for a Trip

An ideal traveling companion?

An ideal traveling companion?

So many people can’t live without their dog, however, when it comes time to visit family during the holidays or take that much needed vacation, Fido usually gets shacked up with an acquaintance or sent to the kettle. But, says Marguerite Cimino—owner of For Paws pet store in Fairfax, California—provided your beloved pooch has the appropriate traits, separation isn’t always necessary during a trip.

“If your dog is under 15 pounds and has the right personality,” Cimino says, it may be the ideal traveling companion.

Personality is key, as even a bigger dog, provided it has a stable character, can successfully tag along during most journeys—your mode of transportation does create certain limitations, as stuffing your St. Bernard into a mini-cooper or convincing an airline stewardess a Doberman fits on your lap can pose problems.

Cimino knows from experience that Shiatsus and English Bull Dogs both handle a trek away from home remarkably well, while “Chihuahuas can have anxiety.” Read more »

Question of the Week: Too Young to Sail Around the World?

If a couple kids have their way, 18-year-old solo sailor Mike Perham might lose his record. Photo by Matt Dinnery

If a couple kids have their way, 18-year-old solo sailor Mike Perham might lose his record. Photo by Matt Dinnery

Over the summer a remarkable young American, 17-year old Zac Sunderland, set the record for youngest person to sail alone around the world. Less than two months later, Mike Perham, a slightly younger 17-year old hailing from Britain, broke that record.

“I’ve made it, I’ve made my dream come true and it feels amazing. A big big thanks to my dad, mum, all the sponsors and every one who has helped me along the way,” Perham said, just prior to finishing his voyage. No one can take away his achievement, but at least two even younger teenagers have their sights set on snatching his title. 16-year-old Jessica Watson of Australia and 13-year-old Laura Dekker of the Netherlands both intend to take Perham’s place in the record books, yet, both have run into problems.

Watson literally rode her yacht into a cargo ship and has since been asked by the government of Queensland to abort her attempt.

Citing safety concerns regarding her age, the Dutch government halted Dekkers bid to sail around the world before it began. She’s currently meeting with psychologists who will decide whether she is capable of undertaking the demanding journey.

Dekker’s mom, who has expressed reservations about the endeavor, says her daughter can “sail like the devil,” but skill is not always enough to successfully traverse the high seas. In 1999 32-year old professional sailor Giovanni Soldini rescued a senior competitor, Isabelle Autissier, during a solo sail race around the world after her yacht capsized.

A year early, however, Soldini’s attempt to break a transatlantic crossing record with a crew of four ended in tragedy when a gale led to the death of his close friend Andrea Romanelli.

Few would argue that sailing, especially sailing alone, can be a dangerous adventure, but it’s also clear that youngsters who accomplish a voyage of this magnitude have a defining achievement and memory they will treasure forever. The question: is there an age minimum for this kind of challenge?

Are these teenage women too young to circumnavigate the world alone? If you’re a parent, would you let your child tackle something as ambitious as a global solo sail? Discuss!

Blogger Spotlight on Vered Deleeuw of MomGrind

Vered Deleeuw of MomGrind.

Vered Deleeuw of MomGrind.

Vered Deleeuw is a blogger for hire, a term you didn’t hear much up until recently. But Deleeuw is among a burgeoning number of tech savvy writers ready to help individuals and companies find an audience on the web. She also keeps a personal blog, in which she talks about everything from blogging to Obama’s recent speech on education to cupcake recipes.

We caught up with Deleeuw and asked her about her writing, family, and the role of social media in the home.

In a MomGrind article you wrote about children’s self-esteem, you advised that parents should “encourage your children to be adventurous and to try new things.” How can parents tell where the line between “adventurous” and “risky” is?

Simply listen to your instincts. I know I write a “mom blog,” and I sometimes give advice to other moms, but I’ll confess that I rarely take advice from others. I strongly believe that parents should listen to their own instincts instead of relying so much on information from the outside (books, blogs, etc.). Read more »