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Wednesday, December 11th, 2013
It was a horrible day that was sure to change everything. Certainly it changed the lives of the families of the 20 children and 6 teachers who lost their lives one year ago this Saturday, innocent victims who happened to be at the wrong school at the wrong time. They were gunned down by a troubled young man with a history of mental illness who was tragically given easy access to assault rifles and decided to go on a shooting rampage, beginning with his mother and ending when he turned the weapon on himself.
It was widely believed to be a seminal moment in the national debate about gun safety. President Obama pledged to push legislation through Congress to reduce gun violence, including requiring universal background checks for all firearm sales, banning assault weapons, and improving the quality of our nation’s mental-health treatment (especially for young people). In his Parents Facebook town-hall forum in February, Vice President Biden said, “We can’t guarantee that another mother won’t receive a dreaded phone call. But things will be a lot better. Fewer people will be victims. Fewer futures will be stamped out. Fewer kids will die.”
Joe Biden Answers Your Gun Safety Questions
A year later, those promises remain unfulfilled. Congress failed to act on the President’s plan. Even the bill to expand background checks, supported by more than 90 percent of the American people, was voted down. We haven’t heard a peep about gun control from the White House since then. In the meantime, there have been 26 more school shootings since that awful day, as a haunting ad from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Mayors Against Illegal Guns point out.
Mother Jones reports that 194 children 12 and under have died in gun accidents, homicides, and suicides since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Would all these senseless deaths have been prevented by gun legislation? Of course not. But isn’t saving the lives of at least some citizens—particularly the youngest, who can’t advocate for or protect themselves—a cause worth acting on, even if it means defying the powerful gun lobby? Yes, it will take guts—more than occupants of the House and Senate have displayed thus far.
At the least, we can and need to do a better job protecting our kids. And you can help. E-mail your congressperson asking him or her to support stronger childproofing regulations, including penalizing owners who leave their firearms unlocked and accessible to kids. Read Guns Within Reach, our report on how to teach firearm safety to your child. Before allowing a playdate at someone else’s house, make sure that the family stores its guns safely: locked in a gun safe, unloaded, and out of reach and site of young kids. Finally, take the Parents Gun-Safety Pledge, and share it to a friend. Sadly, we can’t bring those Newtown kids back. But we can still ensure that they didn’t die in vain.
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Photo copyright Gina Jacobs via ShutterStock
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Thursday, December 5th, 2013
Moms-to-be follow a near universal checklist when preparing for birth. Prenatal vitamins? Got it. Hospital bag? All set. Cord blood banking? For most moms, probably not. But anyone who’s ever considered the process should be armed with the facts.
At the Gift from a Newborn Baby conference, Rallie McAllister, M.D., author of The Mommy MD Guide (in conjunction with the Cord Blood Registry), discussed collecting and registering blood from umbilical cords for possible future medical treatment.
After the umbilical cord is cut, the obstetrician will harvest the stem cells in a non-surgical procedure. The cells can then be stored indefinitely in a secure holding environment and withdrawn when needed. Stem cells have already been used to treat a number of diseases, including sickle cell disease and aplastic anemia. However, it’s important to note that cord blood banking isn’t a fail-safe insurance plan, even when a child’s own stem cells are used. For example, a child’s own cord blood can’t be used for treating her leukemia because her stem cells already contain the disease, rendering a transfusion useless.
Cord blood stem cells can be donated for public use or registered privately within a family. While some families see security in banking their own members’ cord blood for an emergency, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises against it, instead encouraging families to donate to public banks for people in need. The Academy also cautions viewing cord blood registry as a backup plan, stating that “there are no accurate statistics on the likelihood of children someday needing their own stored cells.”
Shelly Connelly, a mother who spoke at the function, had a positive experience with cord blood banking. Her daughter Peyton had a brain tumor removed when she was a year old and suffered a major stroke two weeks later that left the right side of her body paralyzed. However, Connelly had registered Peyton’s cord blood at birth, which was used in a simple transfusion. Peyton can now sing, dance and play with ease.
Peyton’s story is uplifting, but concerns about cord blood banking persist. One of the biggest is cost, which comes to about $2,000 per individual collection and banking. And because of the uncertainty of its necessity and usefulness, many parents hesitate to put down such a sizable amount of money after an already pricey birth.
Cord blood banking is an obscure concept to many, so it’s often up to mothers and their partners to initiate the conversation with obstetricians. Parents who want to register their newborn’s cord blood need to prepare before labor. Expectant families must provide their obstetrician with advance notice that they wish to have their baby’s cord blood collected and should always discuss the cost, risk and necessity.
Cord blood banking is an entirely personal decision that moms and partners need to thoroughly research. Talk to your obstetrician and find out whether it’s right for your family.
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Wednesday, December 4th, 2013
In October, I received a random Facebook request from Jonathan, an old high school friend I’d lost touch with. It was an invitation to Like a page for something called The Julie Valentine Center. Googling it, I saw that it’s a sexual assault and child abuse recovery center in South Carolina. My first thought was that Jonathan knew I work at Parents and wanted me to be aware of the center. (He didn’t know where I work.) When I went on their home page, I saw they were promoting a blog series about life after sexual abuse written by Jonathan. I winced, understanding that he must have been sexually abused as a child. My mind flashed back to Jonathan in school, one of the smartest kids in our class, who went on to Pepperdine. You just never know what people are going through, I thought. Then I looked more closely at the blog post and my stomach dropped. Jonathan hadn’t been sexually abused. His 3-year-old son had.
As Jonathan now very openly explains–in an effort to make some kind of sense out of the horror he, his wife Michelle, and three older sons are still enduring–his youngest son, now 4, was sexually abused more than 20 times by Jonathan’s then-15-year-old nephew.
Jonathan has told me that they are all suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and feeling the effects of not only the abuse, but the way it has fractured their extended family. He is determined to speak out, though, if it means it will positively affect anyone else living through the aftermath of abuse.
He’s about halfway through a 12-week blog series and I hope all of you read what he’s written so far. His words are poignant and full of every emotion imaginable, including sadness, rage, empathy, guilt, hope, and most of all love. I showed them to Linda E. Johnson, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Vermont, who was instrumental last year when we ran this story in Parents about protecting your child from a sexual predator. She said of Jonathan’s writing: “I was very, very moved and very impressed… and very saddened by what happened to his little boy. But what was so important to me is that they just did everything right.” She praised their son, too. “Only one or two in every 10 victims tell while they’re children. The fact that he could is a testament to the healthy and loving relationship his parents have built with him. And he was right! He was right to tell, because they immediately believed him and acted upon what they learned.”
I asked Linda whether it’s common for parents to respond as thoroughly and publicly as Jonathan and Michelle have, especially considering they’re still feeling the immediate impact of the abuse. She said, “I want to believe what they’re doing is part of a movement toward the positive. But many parents succumb to the guilt trips put upon by other family members, or fear, or shame,” and don’t speak up.
She had kind words for The Julie Valentine Center as well. “The advocacy center deserves to be in the spotlight, too. They do yeoman’s work in supporting and guiding families and helping them with expectations during the legal process–expectations that may not be met.”
Of all of Jonathan’s posts so far, the one that feels most illuminating follows. Knowing that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused by the time they’re 18, and how likely it is that someone you know–child or parent, friend or family member–has been affected by sexual abuse, I urge you to read the rest.
Putting the Genie Back in the Bottle: Myths and Misconceptions
By Jonathan Mitten
I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support in response to my first post. Many friends have come forward to share their stories of being molested as children and wish their parents had stood up for them. I write in an effort to find some greater meaning in my family’s pain that they and those who have suffered the same, might find some sense of comfort or belonging. In both my and my wife’s eyes there lies sorrow reaching deep into our souls. It is a look I now recognize in the eyes of others who have been through the same. It is not a look of resignation, for underneath burns a fire that ignites whenever we encounter one of these myths, or as I now call them “lies.”
These excuses to which I refer are born of a deep denial, a desire to “put the genie back in the bottle” so that life can return to the way it was without acknowledging the horror of what has been done. It is a desire to minimize the pain inflicted so the charade of a happy family can continue unabated. The following myths and misconceptions were ones that we encountered over the last seven months. —Jonathan Mitten
It’s a family matter that doesn’t need to be reported
Unfortunately most child sex abuse is committed by family members, family friends, or others in a trusted position, not by strangers. When our 3-year-old first spilled the beans to my wife, she immediately confronted the offender who admitted his crime. My wife’s family expected that we would treat this as a family matter and not report the incident to the police. The reality is that all sex abuse must be reported. We cried for a day and I made calls trying to find some other way to minimize the impact to this young man’s life. It took two calls to the police and two visits before we finally filed a report. I had to have an EKG in the middle of this because my doctor feared I was having a heart attack. Ultimately, we immediately sought treatment for my son and were told that we had to file a police report and see a forensic counselor before he could be treated. A parent that fails to notify the police may be classified as a non-protecting parent.
A 3-year-old won’t remember
Unfortunately this is false and I truly wish it was true. We have not brought the topic up with our three year old. He on the other hand, now that the secret is out, has shared with us, with neighborhood children, and random folks at our house. He has shared everything in much greater detail than we necessarily want to know. It is a good sign that he doesn’t feel shame but he breaks our heart each time he brings it up. We have had several adults speak to us privately about their own experiences and unfortunately those who were his age when it happened still remember vividly what was done to them. It was stated at the sentencing hearing that the offender believes that our child wasn’t hurt and that he would “forget about it if people would quit bringing it up.” How I wish that were true….
Myth # 3
It didn’t hurt (he didn’t say no/he enjoyed it)
My stomach turns every time this lie is repeated, and I seethe with a thinly veiled rage. Forced sexual acts are humiliating, hurt physically and leave deep psychological scars. Anyone who says otherwise is in in deep denial eschewing all common sense and reasoning, not to mention volumes of documentation. Both the offender and his family have used this as a way of implying that there was no crime and that what happened is no big deal.
It’s just a teenage boy thing (hormones or just a phase he’s going through)
We all know that teenage boys are full of raging hormones that get the best of them and that they fantasize about a lot. I remember talking to the police officer by his cruiser as he was getting ready to leave and he made this point: It has not and has never been normal to fantasize about prepubescent boys and girls. He is correct. Those who fantasize about little kids are pedophiles and those that act on their fantasies are molesters.
It was suggested that Thanksgiving and Christmas could still be the same, as long as the molester had adult supervision at all times and was not left alone with the other kids. The biggest myth of all? That we can put the genie back in the bottle… really, we can.
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Image: See it stop it written on the child’s hand via Shutterstock.
Tuesday, November 19th, 2013
Anyone who’s ever given thought to the topic should read “The Choice,” a thorough and thought-provoking article by Patrick Hruby from SportsOnEarth that addresses one basic question: “Should you let your child play football?” The article opens and ends with a mom whose son started playing when he was 4. Her family is an NFL family through and through, with a father, uncle, two brothers, and many cousins who’ve played professionally. Football and everything it stands for is ingrained in all of her memories and in her very identity. And yet because of the growing concerns over the long-term risks of brain injury–which we’ve covered recently–she’s starting to doubt whether her son, now 7, should play. “Deep down, there’s a side of me that would love him to go to the NFL and keep up the tradition,” she says in the story. “Do I want him on a football field? Absolutely. Do I know the repercussions? Absolutely. Do I think he should play? As a mom, absolutely not.” Her son actually doesn’t play anymore, because he’s simply not interested. But if he changes his mind, neither she nor her husband know for sure what they’ll do.
The article takes a hard look at the game at all levels, and reveals some unsettling information about the lengths the NFL has gone to in order to keep kids interested in the sport, including putting out now-discredited scientific reports maintaining that concussions don’t pose health risks (?!). It also details the efforts being made by researchers, sports medicine experts, neurologists, and coaches to minimize the potential damage inflicted by concussions, in the form of things like helmets with sensors and performance analysis and correction.
This quote, from University of North Carolina public health professor Lewis Margolis, M.D., stuck with me: “I’m not saying that everyone should be placed into bubbles. But we have enough evidence now to know that there are harmful consequences from these traumatic brain injuries. We know that. And kids are exposed to this. To continue to allow children to participate [in football] in an unencumbered way, to me, is no different than exposing them to an untested medicine or medical device. Only it’s being done without the tools, procedures and protections essential to medical research.”
I was eager to get a reaction to this story from my brother-in-law, who’s in his fifth decade of either playing or coaching football. Both of his sons played football starting at a young age, and one played through college (as did my husband). He could relate to the mom in the article, because he “loved the game and everything about it, then started having doubts after the head trauma issues came out.” As a coach, he has what he calls a non-scientific theory about head injury: “Some kids are more prone to it than others. I have seen this often and am convinced there is relevance to it, no different than someone is more susceptible to illness or other injuries, such as weak shoulders or ankles.” When he thinks about whether parents should let their child play at a youth level, he cites the lack of evidence of major problems for the kids whose football careers end in high school. (Although I can’t help but think about the research showing that 7- and 8-year-old boys absorb roughly 80 blows to the head each season. Nothing good can come from that.)
Knowing the joy the sport has brought to my husband, brother-in-law, and nephews, I finished the article certain of one thing: I’m glad I don’t have a son.
Read “The Choice” here, and let me know what you think.
Image: Child playing football outdoors in yard via Shutterstock
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Monday, November 18th, 2013
I do: My 5-year-old, Lila, for one. That’s her in the photo. She’s had glasses since she was 2 1/2; I’ve blogged before about how surprised I was when I learned she needed them, as well as what it was like for her to wear a patch. I’ll never forget how helpful the Parents online community was when I asked all of you for advice on the best kind of glasses for very young children, as well as how the heck to get a toddler to keep a patch on for hours at a time. Among the people who responded was Ann Zawistoski, the founder of the enormously useful site Little Four Eyes and mom of Zoe, a little girl who started wearing glasses when she was just a year old. Spending time on Ann’s “When you’ve just found out your young child needs glasses” page basically answered all of my questions in one fell swoop.
Right away, friends and relatives looked for books in which the main character wears glasses. My dear friend Jean was the first to send Lila Magenta Gets Glasses (which only seems to be available as an e-book now); my mom found I Wish I Had Glasses Like Rosa. What was much harder to find were books about really young kids or even babies who wear glasses. In fact, none of us ever did.
Ann Zawistoski is about to change that, with her first book, Glasses! It’s a board book with rhyming text and featuring babies and toddlers wearing glasses. Such a simple concept, but it’s novel. She’s asking for backing via Kickstarter; if you donate even $5 you’ll receive a gift in return for your contribution. I gave $20, which will get a copy of the book to the preschool, childcare provider, or library of my choice. I love knowing that sometime next spring, a child in my town who wears glasses, no matter how young she is, can go to our public library and find a book filled with photos of adorable children who look just like her. But the project will only be funded if Ann meets her $6,000 goal, and she’s still roughly $1,700 short. If you know a little one who wears glasses, maybe you’d consider contributing, too? The Kickstarter campaign ends on November 26, so please act fast!
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