Archive for the ‘ Must Read ’ Category

Kickstart Your Kid’s Brain

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

If your morning routine is anything like my family’s, it’s all you can manage to get everyone dressed, fed, and ready on time (we won’t even mention the endless fights over bathroom time). So the idea of fitting in exercise before school seems a bit farfetched.

But it’s actually a lot easier than it sounds—at least for your kids—thanks to BOKS (Build Our Kids’ Success). This before-school fitness program, started five years ago by Massachusetts mom Kathleen Tullie, is now offered at 1,075 elementary and middle schools. And yours could be next.

The beauty of the program (and a primary appeal to administrators) is that BOKS is free. It’s run by parents, teachers, phys. ed. instructors—anyone who believes in the cause of helping kids get more activity. The nonprofit provides training tips and suggested weekly curriculums, which include a warm up, running-related activities (including relay races and obstacle courses), a skill of the week (whether it’s sit-ups, jump rope, or jumping jacks), games, and a cool down/nutrition talk. It’s designed to last 45 minutes and to be held two to three mornings a week, though it can be tailored to meet an individual school’s time and space limitations.

One hardly needs to make a case for why kids need more exercise. There’s a reason why September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 18 percent of children are obese, and that may be undercounting by 25 percent. The number has grown by a startling 500 percent since 1974. While eating habits are a large part of the problem, so is an overall lack of activity. Kids aren’t getting close to the recommended hour per day of exercise, and they’re getting less exercise at school than ever. Third graders average just 69 minutes per week of gym class. And recess has largely become a thing of the past, robbing kids of yet another opportunity to get moving.

But the issue isn’t just about their waistlines.  It’s also about their brains. Regular physical activity is associated with higher academic achievement. Kids who are physically fit outperform those who aren’t on reading and math tests. And exercising right before school seems to activate their brain and enhance their ability to focus, a clear win-win.

If this sounds like something your school (and your kids) could use, get moving—and fast. Through October 15, Reebok and the Reebok Foundation are awarding $1,000 grants to up to 300 schools to help implement the program. The funds can be used toward T-shirts, equipment, trainer stipends, and more. Find out more here, and then have your school’s administrator or PTA head enroll here. It might mean a little more rushing than usual in the morning, but your kids’ bodies and brains will thank you.

We Need More Physical Education in Schools
We Need More Physical Education in Schools
We Need More Physical Education in Schools

Photo courtesy of BOKS

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A Day For Play

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Obesity affects at least 18 percent of all children in the United States—triple the rate of a generation ago. While much of the focus has been on the poor dietary habits of our kids, the truth is that exercise (or lack thereof) is just as big a factor. Most kids don’t come close to the 60-minutes-a-day ideal for exercise, and schools aren’t helping much. As we reported, third graders average just 69 minutes per week of gym class, a fraction of the 150 recommended for that age group. Factor in the absence of recess in our testing-crazed academic environment, the increased time demands of homework, and children’s obsession (like ours) with all things electronic, and it’s little wonder they’re falling short—and getting bigger.

So as we embark on National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, it’s nice to know that some organizations are taking an active approach to the problem. On Monday, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) held a youth tennis exhibition prior to that day’s action at the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, New York. The purpose was to highlight the organization’s youth tennis initiative, 10 and Under Tennis, which shortens the court and lessens the bounce (via softer, spongier balls) for kids starting with the game.

The USTA has installed more than 13,000 youth-sized courts around the country and now holds all officially sanctioned tournaments for kids under 10 on them. It’s an investment in the future of the game that helped boost youth participation by 12 percent last year—and, more important, has made a difficult, highly skilled game easier for kids to feel successful.

The demonstration featured former boxing champ, health expert, and mom Laila Ali (pictured above, with a group of budding players). Ali, who dabbled in tennis as a kid before following in the pugilistic footsteps of her legendary father, Muhammad Ali, has rekindled her love for the game and plans to build a youth-sized court in her driveway for her kids, who are 6 and 3.

The exhibition also kicked off more than 1,000 free “play tennis” events for kids and families being held throughout the country this month. You can find one in your area here. I highly recommend giving it a try—your child is far more likely to play if you do.

The USTA is also a presenting sponsor of Nickelodeon’s 11th annual Worldwide Day of Play, which takes place in San Diego, Detroit, and a third city to be named (it’s being chosen via an online contest). It will feature a host of sports and activities—from football to dancing to double dutch. Perhaps most significantly, the station will suspend programming from 12pm to 3pm (that’s right—no SpongeBob for three whole hours!) in order to encourage kids to go outside and get active. It’s a fun event and a great cause, so don’t just read about it. Grab a racquet, a basketball, or your sports gear of choice, and go do something active with your kids. Their healthy future depends on it.

We Need More Physical Education in Schools
We Need More Physical Education in Schools
We Need More Physical Education in Schools

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Vaccines. Autism. Are We Done With This Yet?

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Editor’s Note: This guest post was written by Parents advisor Ari Brown, M.D., who is a pediatrician at 411 Pediatrics, in Austin, Texas, the author of Baby 411, and a mom of two.

It has been 16 long years since the shot heard round the world. I’m not talking about the Revolutionary War, but the Modern Vaccine War. It all started with a press conference held in London on February 26, 1998.

Researchers convened the press to discuss the findings of a newly published case report in The Lancet on a handful of children with gut problems and autism. It turned into a worldwide panic attack about the combination Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine possibly causing autism. Despite the fact that their report proved nothing of the sort (and has never been validated by later studies), the researchers chose to vilify the combination vaccine and advise that the three vaccines should not be given together.

As we know now, the Lancet case report had no scientific merit. What makes good science? When various independent researchers set up well-conducted studies and they all find the same results.

(Forget about the fact that the researchers on that Lancet report were paid six-figure sums to publish the study, the lead researcher lost his license to practice medicine in the U.K., and the report was permanently retracted from the journal. Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction!)

My point is simple and I bring it up today because there is yet another “controversy” swirling around social media about vaccines and autism.

Here’s the rub: A biochemical engineer dad with a child who has autism reviewed data from a 2004 study conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). After looking at the raw data, he determined that African American males have a greater risk of autism if they receive the combination MMR vaccine before age 3. (The CDC did not include some of this data in the published study because they did not have the complete data on race for all study participants and including it in the report might have led to erroneous conclusions.) He was alerted to this “hidden data” by a CDC researcher, Dr. William Thompson.

(Forget about the fact that this well-meaning gentleman is not an epidemiologist or a statistician and believes that his own child developed autism from vaccines. Although Dr. Thompson actually publicly agrees on the need for transparency in all research, he does not feel parents should “avoid vaccinating children of any race.”)

As you can imagine, this has brought the anti-vaccinationists, denialists, and conspiracy theorists out of the woodwork. While it certainly makes for provocative YouTube videos comparing the vaccination program to the Holocaust, let’s go back to my simple point.

What makes good science? Independent researchers study the same hypothesis and draw the same conclusions. The study in question came out in 2004, and was certainly not the only or definitive study done on the safety of the MMR vaccine. Believe me, the MMR vaccine has been studied repeatedly by researchers all over the world since the Modern Vaccine War began in 1998. Good science shows there is no association between the MMR vaccine and autism. Period.

The Vaccine Schedule
The Vaccine Schedule
The Vaccine Schedule

Image via Shutterstock

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Which Age Is Hardest to Parent?

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

I used to think that babies and toddlers were the hardest to parent, with all the sleep deprivation, bodily fluids and baby proofing that come with that age range. It felt like my children were trying really hard to get themselves killed, and we spent our waking hours standing sentinel and worrying that all that stood between my daughters and certain doom was a flimsy plastic cabinet lock. Those were the days of guacamole in the hair and 3 a.m. wakeup calls, but at least we got nap time to recover and get our groove back.

Now that I’m the mom of a tween and an almost tween, I find myself dreaming of those days. Because while the really physical days of parenting are done—no more bending in half and hunching my back for hours over a struggling-to-walk-toddler—parenting an older kid requires tremendous mental fortitude. And I’m not sure I have the skills necessary to survive the next few years. Here’s where I’m falling short:

Scheduling Prowess I need military-level precision to keep track of all the school projects, teacher meetings and extracurriculars—something a girl once voted most disorganized by a jury of her peers simply can’t muster.  I used to be horrified when I read stories of moms using their minivan as a traveling office/dinner table/living room, until my daughters began to fill every day with their various extracurricular passions. And now, my car comes stocked with paper towels, an array of snacks (and used wrappers), and is my regular conference call spot (thank God for Bluetooth!).

Mind Reader My daughter has developed a split personality, as she straddles the precarious line between childhood and adulthood. One minute, she’s begging me to let her watch The Fault in Our Stars—the next, she’s saying that she’s not too old for Sophia the First. And I’m never quite sure whether I’m talking to the grownup or the kiddo, which makes it hard to determine whether any suggestion I make is going to be greeted with a dramatic eye roll and sigh or excited exuberance. It’s hard to find that happy medium, where I’m allowing her to learn and grow, but not learn too much, too fast. So, despite the fact that I hear that every other parent in the fifth grade lets their children Snapchat on cell phones and watch Walking Dead marathons, we’re sticking by our guns.

Peace Maker I simply don’t have the negotiation skills necessary to get my girls to stop the battles and bickering and actually be the loving sisters I know they are, deep, deep (deep) down inside. I’d love to just tell my children to work it out themselves, but that often leads to tears and pain (and not just for me).

Book Smarts I was a straight A student when I was in school, but apparently I killed a lot of brain cells between then and now, or they decided to rewrite the curriculum just to make me look like the village idiot. Either way, there were things in fourth grade math that had me stumped, and I’m frankly a bit nervous about what comes next. I hope my daughters can teach me.

I’ve talked a bit about my struggles with tween parenting with my mom, and she just chuckles. “Wait until they hit the teens,” she says, ominously. “That’s when parenting really gets tough.” I hope I can survive it.

Tell us: Which age was the toughest for you as a parent? Why was that? Keep up with your kiddo through every age and stage through our newsletters.

Mom Confessions: My Latest Parenting Fail
Mom Confessions: My Latest Parenting Fail
Mom Confessions: My Latest Parenting Fail

Image: Busy mom by Angela Waye/

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Protect Your Family’s Identity

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

It was 10:30 at night. I was at the emergency room of an unfamiliar hospital. My son had ripped open the bottom of his foot at the hotel swimming pool, and he was bleeding heavily. The hospital attendant asked for details of the accident and my insurance card, which I provided. Then she asked for my social security number. In my single-minded focus on my son’s well-being, I nearly blurted it out. Then I stopped myself. Wait—what did they need that for?

“It’s standard procedure,” the woman explained. “Not for me,” I replied. “I don’t give that out to anyone. You have what you need to process the claim. Are you still going to treat him?” They did, and he’s fine now. But it brings up a salient point: Why do doctors, hospitals, even schools, persist in asking for a social security number when this simple nine-digit code is all a thief needs to steal your or your child’s identity—and make your life a living hell?

You probably know someone whose identity has been lifted. Nearly 10 million people are victims every year—19 new ones every minute. The danger is not just from social security numbers either. Thieves can steal your identity simply by obtaining your name and address (so shred everything addressed to you). That’s far from their only method of stealing of course. The huge Target data breach earlier this year means you need to monitor credit reports regularly (you can do so for free here). You need to protect your computer by installing anti-hacker software and storing sensitive data on an encrypted flash or external hard drive (not on your desktop). It’s also critical to set up a unique password for every digital device you use and each online account you access. (Sidebar: I must admit this latter piece of advice seems unrealistic; unless you have a photographic memory, you’ve got to write them down somewhere . . .).

Still, these safety measures are especially relevant to new parents. Research recently released by LifeLock, the identity theft protection service, revealed that people who go through major life milestones are at far greater risk. Newlyweds are eight times more likely than an average person to have their identity stolen. New parents are five times more prone, and new homeowners are three times as likely to become victims. A prime reason: Oversharing of personal data online. During exciting events like a wedding or the birth of a child, people tend to post pictures and details across the Internet. Thieves can often piece together the data they need to commit fraud. So pay attention to where you post information and how much you give out. Don’t use the Wi-Fi at your local coffee shop when checking your baby registry; you want to be behind a secure firewall, says personal finance expert Jean Chatzky, author of Money Rules: The Simple Path to Lifelong Security.

It’s equally important to protect your kids’ personal info. Child identity theft occurs 144,000 times each year, and this type of fraud often goes undetected for years—by which time a kid’s credit record may already be ruined. Never give out his social security number (except on your taxes—you do want the child tax credit, right?) and don’t carry it with you. Monitor your child’s computer, tablet, and smartphone usage closely. Remind her that she must never give out her full name, birthday, address, or phone number to anyone online. Then remind yourself of this fact: Even posting your child’s birthday and name to Facebook provides valuable data that savvy would-be identity thieves can use. Also be careful about buying from less-than-reputable sites that may offer a great deal on diapers or baby gear—they are prone to fraud and security breaches, says Chatzky.

Yes, new parents already have a zillion other things to worry about. You’re overworked and sleep-deprived and stressed out and . . . and yet, the number one thing every mom and dad wants to do is keep their little one safe and secure their future. So please take these precautions. And the next time your pediatrician’s office (or, God forbid, the ER) asks for your child’s social, just say no.


Car Buying Guide: 5 Questions to Ask Your Dealer
Car Buying Guide: 5 Questions to Ask Your Dealer
Car Buying Guide: 5 Questions to Ask Your Dealer


Social Security card theft via Shutterstock

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