Tuesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

A group of us in the Bay Area and Sacramento plan to meet up for a River Cats game in Raley Field in Sacramento on Friday, July 2. The game starts at 7:05 p.m.. Children and partners are welcome! If you are interested in going, please purchase the $7 “lawn” seats here. The seating isn’t great, but it will allow for all of us to sit together and the kids to run around and have fun. Thanks pat of butter in a sea of salt for the idea!

Once again, Newsweek came out with its top U.S. high schools list, based on advanced placement college-level courses and tests.

I would be mortified if this happened to me. A fourth-grade teacher at a Christian school in Florida was fired for having premarital sex, according to the TODAY Show. But that’s not all. The principal actually told the staff and called up all the families of her classroom to tell them the reason for her firing.

Latinos, both documented and undocumented, are leaving Arizona in anticipation of SB 1070, according to USA Today. This quote by a school superintendent captured my feelings exactly: “They’re leaving to another state where they feel more welcome.”

In a comprehensive health study of the gay community, Boston researchers found that gay men were 50 percent less likely than their heterosexual counterparts to be obese, according to MSNBC.com. Among lesbians, it was the opposite, making them more vulnerable to heart disease.

In belated celebrity gossip break: first Kristin split from her husband, then Al and Tipper announced a separation. Now oldest daughter Karenna is the latest Gore to separate from her hubby. According to the Huffington Post, Karenna Gore and husband Andrew Schiff have agreed to separate for two months while they go through with counseling. The couple has three children.

Actress-model Jenny McCarthy is poised to get her own TV show, according to MSN. Let’s hope she stays away from the vaccine wars.

I loved this quote by Barbara Walters, which I also found in the Hybrid Mom magazine newsletter: “Most of us have trouble juggling. The woman who says she doesn’t is someone whom I admire but have never met.”

Ha! So true.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Study: Depression As Fatal As Smoking

Just to show you that mental illness can be as deadly as physical illness, a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that depression can be as fatal as smoking. From MSN Health & Fitness:

Depression is as deadly as smoking. Both are known risk factors for heart disease, after all. And people who are depressed and those who smoke both tend to engage in little physical activity, another known and very serious risk factor for heart disease.

Beyond the similarities with smokers, however, people with depression may be at risk because they don’t seek help, or they fail to receive help when they seek it, say the researchers. Complicating matters further, doctors may be less likely to look into physical symptoms in people with depression because they may chalk up all a patient’s symptoms to depression. Hopefully, this study with change that.

The article offered advice on how to thwart depression and help loved ones as well.

In a related article, Newsweek had a cover story casting uncertainty on the effectiveness of antidepressants. While the material presented by Sharon Begley, who I normally trust, was compelling, I don’t believe that there aren’t medications that help people with diagnosed depression.

Like Begley, I am skeptical about how easily doctors prescribe antidepressants without calling for an evaluation by a specialist. Many years ago before I had children, I took Serafem (prozac) after complaining to my gynecologist about mood swings around the time of my period. He prescribed — actually, he gave me the pills right then and there — without sending me to a specialist to diagnose an actual depressive mood disorder. The pills, which I stopped taking before trying for children, seemed to work. But I also never exercised and had a stressful workload after three rounds of layoffs at my company.

Then again, I still have these symptoms around that time of month and I do exercise, eat healthy and have since left that job. Which leads me to my next point: My gut tells me that for someone with diagnosed clinical depression or depressive disorder, these pills could work. I just think doctors have to be more careful in how they prescribe them. And if they are not experienced working with people who are depressed, then they should send patients to doctors who are. Depression is a real disease that requires it to be taken seriously and treated.

I agree with the first article that if you do suspect you are depressed, you should seek help ASAP. Did any of you catch either of these stories? What did you think?


Recession Good for Families?

Newsweek’s Kathleen Deveny recently touched a nerve in the comments thread with the assertion that the recession may be good for families because it is forcing unemployed men to do childcare and will probably usher in a “new level of sobriety to parenting itself.”

Sure, working dads do more chores around the house than their fathers did. But the waiting room at my pediatrician’s office is still invariably packed with women. Working mothers spend 60 percent more time each day on child care and household tasks than employed fathers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And when a father faces unemployment, he is likely to spend just one minute more per day—just one minute!—on child care. (He will, however, carve out 83 more minutes to watch TV.) Unemployed mothers, on the other hand, spend nearly twice as much time as working moms taking care of their kids, all while they too look for work.

I would like to believe that for families who can get through this economic slump in one piece—without losing jobs or health insurance or homes—these hard times might encourage a rebalancing of responsibilities. Women’s salaries are now critical to the well-being of more than 40 percent of American families, and so men must do better on the home front, doing the dishes, yes, but also planning the dinner that precedes them. “I hope this will lead us past the mommy wars and to the parent wars,” says Stephanie Coontz, a professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. “We need to get away from the idea that one person has to do all the parenting.”

We might also want to abandon the notion that attending every single school event is pivotal to our children’s happiness. What if I told my 9-year-old that, much as I would love to attend her class holiday party, I have to work instead? She would be upset—I would be upset—and then we would get over it. I can’t imagine it would come up in future psychotherapy sessions.

First of all, I tip my hat to Deveny who had real, hard statistics to back the inequities in division of labor even between working mothers and fathers. I, too, think it is unacceptable to not split childcare and household chores 50-50 when both parents work outside the home. If anything, as Deveny pointed out, expectations at work are much higher for the mothers.

America is approaching a milestone: women are about to hold more than 50 percent of jobs for the first time, in part because men have been hit harder by layoffs. And yet women still shoulder the bulk of child-care responsibilities because of retrograde family roles, school-event schedules, and employers’ attitudes. All of which can force an otherwise honest woman to fib.

In part, the reaction is rational. Maternal profiling is real. When a working father takes time off to watch a ballet recital, he’s seen as noble. When a working mother rushes out of the office to care for a case of head lice, she’s more likely to be labeled undependable. Mothers looking for work are less likely to be hired, are offered lower salaries, and are perceived to be less committed than fathers or women without children, according to a 2005 report by Shelley Correll, now an associate professor of sociology at Stanford University. And according to a 2007 survey by Elle/MSNBC.com, female bosses are twice as likely than their male counterparts to be seen as having family obligations interfere with work.

In that sense, I disagree with the defensive male writers in the comments section that Deveny is wrong for feeling the way that she does. Maternal profiling in the workforce and the inequity in division of labor at home are very real.

But still, I am finding it very difficult to see any silver lining in this recession. The only scenario is if the father was laid off a job he really hated and received a nice severance package to boot. Other than that, the added stress of job loss is not what any family needs this holiday season.

What do you think of Deveny’s essay? Do you see any silver lining in this recession?


Study: Noise Pollution Has Adverse Effect on Reading

Ashley Merryman over at Newsweek covered a fascinating study of school children living in a high rise apartment above a New York City interstate highway. What researchers found was that the children living in the lower levels of the apartment building had lower reading scores than children living in the upper floors.

After eliminating both income and air pollution as the culprits for the discrepancy — actually, people were paying very similar rents and carbon monoxide levels were higher in the upper floors — the scientists discovered that noise from the traffic was responsible for the disparity in scores. Read on:

All day, everyday, the kids heard the endless honking of horns, the screeching of brakes, and the continuous roar of hundreds of thousands of engines zooming by.

Human hearing isn’t sensitive to small changes in volume, which is why decibels are a logarithmic measurement. Every 10 decibel increase (one hash mark on your stereo) signals a doubling of the perceived volume. Leaves rustling are around 10 dB, while a jet engine taking off is at120 dB. Background noise at 45 dB is loud enough to interfere with the ability to understand speech.

On the Apartments’ 32nd floor, the traffic volume was at about 55 dB. For the kids down on the eighth floor, the noise was up to 66 dB (twice as loud). So the pattern was really: the lower the kid’s floor – the louder the noise – the slower the kid’s reading progressed.

None of these kids had hearing problems: all the kids had hearing tests, and they sailed right through. But, in addition to their reading problems, the lower-down kids also weren’t as good at auditory discrimination tasks. They couldn’t hear the difference between words like “cope” and”coke.”

Merryman covered similar studies with similar outcomes. In case you were wondering, the apartment building in New York City has since been retrofitted with noise-minimizing double-pane glass.  

Interesting, huh?


Midday Coffee Break

What’s up?

The Colorado parents of “balloon boy” will plead guilty to charges related to the hoax, according to the Associated Press. Richard Heene will plead guilty to attempting to influence a public servant, which is a felony. His wife, Mayumi Heene, will plead guilty for making a false report to authorities, a misdemeanor.

Jonathan Alter over at Newsweek made a compelling case for the candidacy of Alan Khazei who is running for the seat held by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. Khazei, Alter argues, is an education reformer with little name recognition who has built his candidacy around improving the state’s schools.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Cruel and Unusual to Jail Teens for Life?

This month the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide whether it is “cruel and unusual punishment” to jail a young teen — think 13 — for life without parole and without having killed anybody, according to Newsweek.

Of course, the crime by the two teenagers, a 13-year-old and almost 18-year-old, was hideous — it was rape — but the United States is the only country in the world to incarcerate teenagers for life without the possibility of parole, according to the magazine. From Newsweek:

There are about 2,500 juveniles (ranging in age from 13 to 17) currently sentenced to life in prison in the United States. No other country in the world currently has adolescents serving this sentence, reports the Frank C. Newman International Human Rights Law Clinic….

The cases the Supreme Court will hear are Sullivan v. Florida and Graham v. Florida, involving cases of rape and robbery by a then 13-year-old and a 17-year-old, respectively. If the court determines these sentences are unconstitutional, Joe Sullivan, now 33, and Terrance Graham, now 22, currently serving life sentences without the possibility of parole, could each be granted a new hearing to determine a revised sentence.

If the court finds the sentence unconstitutional, it could give them the right to go before a parole board to determine whether they are fit to assimilate back into society. It’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card, human-rights advocates are quick to note. Some juvenile offenders could still be forced to spend life behind bars, while others are set free early.

The article was very balanced in that it quoted the conservative Heritage Foundation, which pointed out that our country boasts one of the highest juvenile violent crime rates in the world.

But should the science behind peer pressure, brain development, and adolescent behaviors be enough to get reduced sentences for juvenile offenders? “If this [scientific] theory is true, then why is it that only juveniles in our country are more inclined [than adults] to commit multiple crimes and murders? Is it something about the brain development of American juveniles or is it the theory that’s wrong? Wouldn’t this theory apply across the world?” asks Charles Stimson, senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Burns of the National District Attorneys Association calls these scientific claims ridiculous. “An elderly woman is raped and beaten, and trying to blame it on some theory that juvenile brains are different doesn’t help the victim,” he says.

I was sad for all parties involved in this story. It is so tragic that at 13, a child could already have a police record and then be convicted to life in prison for a hideous crime like rape. It makes you wonder when and what made this individual so troubled. As for the victims who were terrorized, who would expect such ruthlessness from a 13-year-old? Shudder.

What do you think of the potential ruling? Do you have an opinion either way? I, for one, will be waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision.


Late-Night Liberty: Freaky Factoids Edition

Yesterday I was at a bookstore in downtown Berkeley and spotted the sequel to the book Freakonomics, titled SuperFreakonomics.

I merely thumbed through the original Freakonomics, which was filled with all kinds of eye-opening — and controversial — facts and statistics like the decline of crime following legalized abortion or more children die in swimming pools than handgun accidents. I already have way to much to read on my night table, so I did not buy Superfreakonomics. But I was tempted.

Luckily, I got a glimpse of what authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen Dubner wrote in a Newsweek review aptly titled, “We Read It So You Don’t Have To.” Here is what the magazine dug up:

1. Buy poor women TVs. In rural India, women are less likely to tolerate abuse and more likely to send their daughters to school when they live in a home with cable television.

I will remember that next time I plop my kids in front of the tube. Here are a couple other freakish stats:

3. Prostitutes face many dangers in their line of work — but the law isn’t one of them. According to data from Chicago, streetwalkers are more likely to have sex with a police officer than be arrested by one. (Hookers’ high season? The Fourth of July.)

4. By analyzing the banking records of known extremists in the U.K., Levitt and Dubner identified the telltale signs of terrorists in the making. The best indicator: they don’t buy life insurance.

Interesting, huh? Have you read either of these books? What were the freakiest stats in your opinion? Have you spotted other weird or interesting news?


Parenting Studies in Newsweek

From the “duh” file: Reasoning with your child as opposed to commands gives them cognitive advantages, according to a couple studies published in Newsweek.

In one of the studies due out early next year in the journal of Developmental Psychology, researchers spent more than a year studying two dozen Mexican-American families, observing real-world mother-child interactions like those between Xenia and Paulino. Mexican-American kids were found to spend around twice as much time watching television than reading. But the study’s most striking results had to do with parenting techniques. Of the more than 1,400 exchanges that researchers documented of a mother wanting her child to do something, a mere 8 percent included “reasoning,” while just 9 percent included clarification of what the child should be doing instead. By far the biggest category was “direct verbal commands,“ which accounted for 42 percent of parenting efforts. (Incidentally, the overall success rate with these strategies was almost 75 percent.) Other studies have found that white parents deploy reasoning techniques more than a third of the time—”inviting more complex thought and language development” as they do so, according to Bruce Fuller, a UC Berkeley professor of education and public policy, who coauthored the research.

In a second article, Fuller and colleagues found that parenting by declaration rather then explanation could undermine early childhood advantages within minority cultures. The work, due to be published this week in Maternal and Child Health Journal, tracked cognitive development among 8,000 children born in 2001, and found that Latino babies start life with significant benefits over other groups—including higher birth weights and lower mortality rates (two key factors in predicting brain performance). They also have mothers who eat better, and smoke and drink less than white or black peers, regardless of socioeconomic status. And they enter school with strong social skills and emotional stability. But despite being primed for success at birth, they soon lose ground when it comes to intellectual development: Latino kids fall up to six months behind their white counterparts in basic language and thinking skills by the time they are 2 or 3 years old, the study reports.

The results, say researchers, hold true even taking into account the poverty and scarce educational opportunities that many Latina mothers face relative to other populations. Among Mexican-American mothers, almost three fifths live in households that earn less than $25,000 a year (compared to one fifth of white mothers), and less than a third have completed college (compared with almost two thirds of white mothers). Similarly, Mexican-American mothers, and mothers of Hispanic descent in general, have higher birth rates than their white counterparts, meaning they care for more children at any one time. But even when compared to white children whose mothers share the same obstacles, Latino children still develop more slowly.

So next time your kid talks back to you, just think of how cognitively advanced he is! Okay, moving right along…

Newsweek writer Po Bronson cited a new study in the UK that shows children actually make a married couple happy. These findings contradict previous studies that show children make people less happy. I will let Bronson explain it:

Luis Angeles, an economist at the University of Glasgow, pulled 15 years of data on 9,000 households from the British Household Panel Survey. Life satisfaction in a variety of domains was part of that survey. According to his analysis, life satisfaction and happiness do indeed go down for those with kids – but that’s for all parents. When Angeles separated out married couples from all the others who have kids (cohabitating couples, separated couples, single parents never married, divorced parents), then a different story emerges: Kids do make married couples a little happier. And the more kids the better (up to three).

Perhaps what’s driving this data is less about kids and more about expectations. The vast majority of people who get married (not all!) want to have kids in their family. Doing so meets that expectation, and happiness is the result. By contrast, people do not expect to get divorced, and most single parents (with some important exceptions) didn’t plan to end up that way. Happiness might go down, but it’s wrong to suggest that kids caused the drop in happiness. It makes more sense that life not going to plan is causing the drop, and having kids when life doesn’t go according to plan makes getting back on track even more complicated.

What do you think? Have children made you happy? Don’t forget to take our informal poll!


Tuesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Meryl Evans over at the Gigaom Network offered tips on how to manage work in the short time the kids are at school. Good one.

Here is another good one: “The Five Biggest Lies in the Health Care Debate” by Newsweek.

Good food for thought: The Washington Post ran an editorial in honor of Labor Day about how we Americans say we love hard workers but have a hell of a way of showing it.

Sigg CEO Steve Wasik has issued an apology for selling “BPA-free” water bottles with the toxic, estrogenic chemical in them, according to Katy Farber over at Non-Toxic Kids.

This Associated Press story about Christian couples sharing e-mail addresses caught my eye. I have some family members who share one family e-mail and now that I think about it, they are fundamentalist Christian, too. The point of one shared e-mail address is to do something else together as a couple or a family. Do you have a shared e-mail address?

One more AP story: Unemployment affects the old and young alike — but in different ways. For example, the recent college graduate is likely to be passed up for positions to older and more experienced people and also fall into debt and lose their homes. The elderly are likely to be passed up for positions to younger, lesser-paid workers and also face higher medical expenses and dwindling savings.

President Barack Obama will address the nation’s students at 9 a.m. PT/12 p.m. ET today. We will have an open thread for it an hour before it runs.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Why Talking to Children About Race is Important

If there is yet another compelling reason to let our children hear our president speak tomorrow, check out this Newsweek story.

While the second half of the story focuses on studies showing that babies are already aware of racial differences and even exhibit signs of racism, the first half of the article is what I found most interesting.

The study, which focused on Caucasian children’s attitudes towards African-Americans — I wish it had included mixed-race and other ethnicities, by the way — was an utter failure. White parents even in progressive Austin, Texas, refused to talk to their children about race and dropped out of the study. Even when their children watched educational videos like African-American families shown on Sesame Street, they still exhibited signs of racism and even told researchers their parents didn’t like black people.

Vittrup was taken aback—these families volunteered knowing full well it was a study of children’s racial attitudes. Yet once they were aware that the study required talking openly about race, they started dropping out.

It was no surprise that in a liberal city like Austin, every parent was a welcoming multiculturalist, embracing diversity. But according to Vittrup’s entry surveys, hardly any of these white parents had ever talked to their children directly about race. They might have asserted vague principles—like “Everybody’s equal” or “God made all of us” or “Under the skin, we’re all the same”—but they’d almost never called attention to racial differences.

They wanted their children to grow up colorblind. But Vittrup’s first test of the kids revealed they weren’t colorblind at all. Asked how many white people are mean, these children commonly answered, “Almost none.” Asked how many blacks are mean, many answered, “Some,” or “A lot.” Even kids who attended diverse schools answered the questions this way.

More disturbing, Vittrup also asked all the kids a very blunt question: “Do your parents like black people?” Fourteen percent said outright, “No, my parents don’t like black people”; 38 percent of the kids answered, “I don’t know.” In this supposed race-free vacuum being created by parents, kids were left to improvise their own conclusions—many of which would be abhorrent to their parents.

I admit even in my own household in a multicultural enclave like the Berkeley/Oakland border, I have never felt compelled to talk about racial differences to my children. We have talked about socio-economic class differences because there are so many homeless people here and Ari has asked about them. But our discussions have never veered to race, unless you include language.

The only ethnic differences he seems to have noticed has to do with language — “So-and-so doesn’t speak Spanish like the people at my school” — but I think that has more to do with the fact he attends a Spanish immersion program. He has noticed it is not a typical school experience even in our area.

When it comes up, I use the opportunity to discuss why he is learning Spanish — to honor our Latino heritage and to talk to his family in El Salvador — and when it is not polite to speak Spanish. I have taught him that he should speak English with people who do not speak Spanish. But that is as far as our racial or ethnic discussions have gone.

When I spotted this story, I immediately went over to the Anti-Racist Parent blog to see if there was a discussion on it. I am sure there will be soon. Either way, it is an excellent blog focused on raising children who are aware of race but not racist.

Have you discussed racial differences with your children? How did those discussions go?