Friday, February 28th, 2014
This past Sunday I did one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in New York. I ventured uptown to the United Palace Theatre at 175th street for a screening of the movie West Side Story, featuring a pre-show Q&A Lin-Manuel Miranda and living legend Rita Moreno.
The doors opened at 4pm and I found myself in a line that wrapped around all four exterior walls of the 2,400-seat theater. I started chatting with a lovely couple from New Jersey who “just drove over the bridge.” Two teenagers stood in front of me. A young couple in a gown and tux combo (you get free popcorn if you glam up) held hands waiting. It was quite the diverse scene—all these folks coming together to simply watch a movie.
But therein lies the beauty of this new event series “Sunday Movies at the Place with Lin-Manuel Miranda”: it’s just about coming together. ”It’s people discovering this amazing space in the heart of uptown,” said Miranda. “This is very much a community event. Everyone working on it is doing it for the sake of community. No one’s making a fortune here.”
And Miranda wants this new monthly movie club to reach families, too, so his opening film in January was The Muppets Take Manhattan. A movie from the 1980s, Miranda loved introducing kids to a classic movie from his childhood. “I don’t know when you saw The Muppets Take Manhattan, but I remember being 5 or 6 and my mind exploding when the Sesame Street muppets were at the wedding at the end. Because it was like Oh my God! The muppets know and are friends with the muppets from Sesame Street,” exclaimed Miranda. “I got to see that happen for a new generation of kids when we showed that [scene], and kids screaming ‘Big Bird!’ and losing their mind.”
It’s incredible how a Sunday afternoon movie can create such a sense of belonging and evoke a sense of nostalgia for yesteryear when Sundays didn’t mean racing from soccer practice to ballet to piano lessons to robotics club. Miranda has truly created a home for bonding—communal and familial—especially when he mandates that the theater is a no cell phone zone. “We’re out of the habit of putting our phone away for two hours,” he said. “We’re gonna have this communal experience right now. Be here with us.’”
For those of you who don’t live in the New York City area, never fear! The possibilities for creating time to bond within your neighborhood or just your family unit are endless. Here are a couple ideas to get you started:
1. Throw a block party! Drop off flyers in your neighbors’ mailboxes inviting them to a block party in your driveway. You can enlist your child’s help as you walk up and down the street to distribute the invites (making for some time to chat and exercise together). Let everyone on the block know they should bring a dish—so you don’t end up doing all the work. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Throw some chalk and sports gear out on the lawn. Let the adults chat and the kids run around and use their imaginations.
2. Family movie night Take a page out of Miranda’s book. You don’t need a giant movie house to enjoy an iconic film and a bag of popcorn. Put your cell phones and electronic devices in a basket by the door of your living room so that your kids know this is designated family time. We know you can handle (and maybe even enjoy) two hours hands-free. Check out our list of best movies for kids.
Here are some ideas for healthy snack to eat at your block party or during movie night:
Click here for more information about “Sunday Movies at the Palace with Lin-Manuel Miranda” at the United Palace Theatre.
Photograph: Shutterstock.com/Jeff Thower
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Friday, February 7th, 2014
Earlier this week, the media was again abuzz with the long-debated question of ethics when it comes to genetics and babies. The spark? 30-year-old Amanda Kalinsky—a woman diagnosed with Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker disease, a rare genetic neurological disorder that will lead to a slow, painful (and by all predictions) premature death. Though immediately after her diagnosis four years ago she vowed never to have children in order to cut off the head of the GSS snake, The New York Times reported that Amanda and her husband Bradley now have three children thanks to genetic testing and in-vitro fertilization.
The Kalinsky’s doctors created 18 embryos, tested all of them for the GSS gene, and implanted only the 12 without it. My first reaction is that this is an amazing breakthrough. A woman who wanted very badly to be a mother without passing on a terrible fate is now Mommy to three kids. Thanks to the availability of testing, she didn’t have to play Russian roulette and hope that a naturally-conceived child would be born without the gene —or have to debate aborting a fetus who tested positive for GSS during prenatal tests. She also didn’t have to forego motherhood (and her husband didn’t have to forego fatherhood). Not to mention, if doctors were able to do this for GSS—a rare disease—this could mean that we may be able to avoid passing along so many other diseases to future generations.
At the same time, this is not an equal-opportunity solution. The procedure cost the Kalinksys $20,000 for the first round—which they paid out of pocket because many insurers don’t cover this. So are we saying that only wealthy folk get to eliminate their diseases? What about people who can’t afford this? Are they subjected to the choice of taking their chances versus no children, at all?
But questions of who can take advantage of this aside, there is one huge question we need to ask ourselves: Should we be doing this at all? Will we continue to use this technology to prevent disease, or will it evolve into so much more? I am all for giving every child the best shot we can at a healthy, happy life. But is that really what’s going on? As of a recent international survey, 2 percent of over 27,000 uses of preimplantation diagnosis were actually to choose a child’s sex. Clearly, not a life and death matter.
(If you want to try and predict if you’re having a boy or a girl—sans science—check out our Chinese Gender Predictor.)
I have a hard time believing that we will be able to keep the uses of this technology limited to “the right reasons.” And even if we do manage to pass laws and regulations about this technology (to keep it preventing diseases rather than brunettes), something tells me we may be drunk with power—believing that eliminating embryos of one gene means there are no unknown or other harmful genes lurking inside. But I have to say that in my opinion, if we have to put up with some people choosing girls over boys or blue-eyed kids over brown-eyed kids so that others can (to the best of their knowledge) choose healthy kids, then that’s the bullet we bite.
Yet, all this talk of genetic diagnosis reminds me of the other side of the genetics debate: genetic engineering. Last year Intelligence Squared sponsored a debate about whether or not we should prohibit the genetic engineering of babies. The most striking point was that genes do not occur in a vacuum. Genes interact with each other to create traits such as brown hair, fair skin, genius intelligence, or disease. By removing or altering a disease-causing gene, scientists cannot automatically declare victory. Disrupting the natural order could invent a new disease. It could cause the original gene to mutate and become alteration-resistant. Bottom line: We do not yet know the consequences of this.
When it comes down to it, here’s where I fall (for now): Genetic testing, yes. Genetic engineering, no.
What do you think about this hot-button issue? Sound off in the comments below!
Image via Shutterstock
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Friday, January 17th, 2014
According to Reuters, a new study out of Greece shows that young adults with an “unhealthy attachment to Internet use” more commonly recall their parents as unaffectionate or neglectful. Researchers suggest that the way in which children bond with their parents will predict how they relate to others later in life, which would then predict their likelihood of “Internet addiction.”
It’s no surprise to me that the way in which a child relates to his parents can indicate how that child will relate to others. After all, it makes sense that a child will model his relationships after the first and most present relationship in his life. However, the link to overuse of the Internet intrigued me.
It seems this study attempts to establish that those who feel unloved by their parents look to technology and online social outlets for the love, companionship, and feeling of value that they lack. Yet, I argue that the Internet is no grand solution to loneliness, but may be a contributor to it. The Internet attempts to substitute the human connection when it cannot. We are constantly updated about Facebook friends, notified that a new Twitterer is following us, pinged that someone has pinned our “brilliant” idea to their Pinterest board.
I’m guilty of it, too. I take pride when I post an article (maybe even this post) on my newsfeed and receive Likes in return. But we need to be mindful to foster relationships with real people outside of cyberspace. Ten Likes is zilch compared to a hug from Dad or a listening ear from a supportive friend.
As we live in an increasingly digital world, it is important to teach this to our children. The best thing parents can do is model a balanced life of online and real life relationships. As stated by the experts of this study: “Being preoccupied with technology to the detriment of social contacts is something we are seeing more frequently in young parents and this offers a negative model for their children.” We must use the Internet to facilitate relationships, rather than substitute for them.
What’s most concerning is that this study insinuates that lonely children seek to cure their loneliness through the Internet. Comedian Louis C.K. actually argued that our phones have become a device simply to avoid loneliness. What do we do when we start to feel alone? We text a million people in our phone book “hi.” We are so deathly afraid of being alone.
But the comedian urges us to allow the loneliness in. To feel sadness. To learn to cope with the sadness, let it pass, and understand the stark and wonderful contrast between sadness and happiness once the woe disappears. Parents should not be neglectful, and I wholeheartedly endorse a warm and comforting parental approach, but parents must teach children that it is OK to feel sad and lonely and that—while the Internet contains answers to many questions—it is more of a distraction than an answer to gaps in the human connection.
Check out our 12 Weeks to a Healthier Family newsletter for more tips on keeping your family emotionally (and physically) balanced.
Image via shutterstock.com
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Friday, December 13th, 2013
Last week, our televisions came alive with The Sound of Music. Over 18 million people tuned in nationwide (including myself) to watch NBC’s live broadcast of the musical classic starring Carrie Underwood. Personally, I was over-the-moon excited. I’m a theater fanatic and grew up on The Sound of Music—my grandmother popped it in the VCR every chance she got. I was thrilled that the artform often reserved for limited audiences in theaters—my passion that has given me so much—would be introduced to the masses.
The story of The Sound of Music teaches many lessons: that we should give people a chance, that we should embrace emotion rather than close off from it, that we should stand up for what’s right. But, more importantly, there is so much we can learn from the arts as a medium. The performing arts were so instrumental in shaping who I am, it was the topic of my college admissions essay.
Yet, the arts are often the first department to undergo budget cuts when funding is tight. This is a dangerous tightrope we walk, since music, dance, and all aspects of theater can teach children an array of necessary life skills, in addition to the artistic skill of choice. As actor Jay Armstrong Johnson told Playbill.com “Music is math. Theatre is English. Tech is science. Dance is physical education. The arts are everything.” Now there is research that shows involvement in music correlates with higher academic performance and that being a musician slows cognitive decline.
To put on a performance, there are a myriad of moving parts that need to operate in sync, from the actors to the band to the stage crew. Theater taught me how to work as part of a team. Moreover, it taught me how to collaborate and merge ideas to improve the final product. You see, first we’d learn our music with the music director while the orchestra was learning their music with the band director. Our choreographer had a responsibility to communicate the story of a musical number through movement, but she also had to cater the dance moves so that we weren’t expected sing a high C while running out of breath in a kickline. As I watched each leader negotiate and compromise, I learned how to do the same.
I learned what it is to commit to something. Downbeat was at 6pm and timeliness was key. I was responsible for attending rehearsals (sometimes 6 days a week) and being on time. I learned how to be disciplined, to work hard, and refine a skill. My directors set an incredibly high bar for the quality they expected in our performance—we could rehearse a single 5-second dance sequence 20 times until we got it right. But as I shot for the stars, as I worked my butt off to impress them, I learned how to exceed those expectations and make myself proud. I learned to trust—to have faith that my crew would not push a stage piece right into me, to know my dance partner would not drop me, to believe that my directors had a vision.
Now I know what you’re thinking, all of this can be learned on a sports team or on a debate team. Perhaps. But the one thing the arts can teach that nothing else can: the ability to effectively communicate emotion, even if you don’t speak the same language. The sound of music carries with it an innate ability to connect us. Songs can make our hearts soar, powerful movement can fill our souls and it is that learned capacity for emotion that I find the most valuable of all.
Visit our Shop Parents page for products to get your little musician started.
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Friday, November 22nd, 2013
According to the CDC, 1 in 88 people have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The prevalence has increased ten-fold over the last 40 years. There is no cure, but there seem to be as many treatments as there are manifestations of symptoms of the disorder. On November 14, the David Lynch Foundation and Joey Lowenstein Foundation co-sponsored a webinar called “Autism, Meditation, and Stress” to discuss transcendental mediation as a potential treatment for those affected by ASD—one that is non-invasive, non-medical, and works to help those with ASD as well as their families.
Transcendental meditation is the name of this treatment—truly a practice or technique to quiet the mind. While transcendental meditation itself is not new, the initiative to bring the practice to those on the spectrum has taken off in the past couple of years. A panel of experts in the fields of autism, psychiatry, and neuropsychology, gathered to vouch for the merits of meditation for this particular population.
“Those with ASD are in a state of chronic stress,” explained David Black, Ph.D., director of the Center for Autism Assessment and Treatment. While at this time the benefits of transcendental meditation are largely anecdotal for those with ASD, the research conducted with people who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder show that this practice settles the sympathetic nervous system, can reduce blood pressure, and lessens reactiveness to stimuli. The experts emphasized that ASD is a stress-related condition since the four components of stress are novelty, unpredictability, perceived threat, and low sense of control. It’s the sensitivity to all of these that make those with ASD “wired to be stressed,” according to William Stixrud, Ph.D, a clinical neuropsychologist and President of the Stixrud Group.
But how does TM work to relieve this stress? What does it mean to meditate? Is it just sitting quietly in a room—is that meditation? Transcendental Meditation is taught in seven steps, usually over a four-day period. Anyone who wants to learn will be paired with a certified TM instructor—of which there are thousands in more than 200 cities nationwide. The teacher helps an individual choose a mantra that custom-fits him or her and teaches the student how to use the mantra to access and inner quiet. It all sounds very vague, but I trust that you have to try it to understand it. I haven’t tried it myself, but I’m intrigued enough that I hope to meet with a TM instructor in 2014. I could certainly benefit from increased focus and decreased stress as much as anyone else.
It may sound counterintuitive that a child who cannot sit still would be able to meditate, but families report that after working with an instructor their child can do it—albeit only for a few minutes at first, but this will grow over time. Many families have already seen changes in the behavior of their children on the spectrum. Roberta Lowenstein and her 17-year-old son Joey—founders of the Joey Lowenstein Foundation—meditate together. Joey is nonverbal and when he first started to practice TM two years ago he was only able to sit for about 5 minute spurts. But after eight weeks, Joey was able to meditate for 20 minutes twice a day. Joey said (through his letterboard) that TM really helps him. He feels calmer. His mother has noted less outbursts. His grades in school have improved.
Roberta was shocked that her son was even able to sit down long enough to meditate. But he can, and he does. Children with ASD are able to meditate and find the calm within. “[The mind] is like the ocean,” said Bob Roth, Executive Director of the David Lynch Foundation. “On the surface, the it’s is busy and noisy, but deeper, a calm exists. We use TM to access a deep state of calm which is already present in a person.” Scientifically, this meditation enlivens the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which allows for more flexibility, sociability, and ability to cope with novelty. Sounds like a good matchup.
While this webinar focused solely on TM, it isn’t the only kind of meditation that can benefit children with ASD. In the past decade experts have embraced the idea of teaching a form called mindfulness to children with conditions including ASD and ADHD.
More research is necessary, and you do have to have the resources (TM costs around $375 per child—although scholarships are available) to match your child with a certified TM practitioner, but this practice may be worth exploring based on its tested effects on other populations. After all, TM doesn’t produce the side effects that accompany drugs and some other experimental therapies. As one mom said during the webinar, “After one month of meditating, I realized that I couldn’t remember the last time Alex had a tantrum.”
Image: Courtesy David Lynch Foundation; Students meditating at a San Francisco school
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