Archive for the ‘ Health ’ Category

Does Playing With Barbie Limit Girls Career Choices?

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

“Playing with Barbie dolls can limit girls career choices, study shows.”

Well, let’s take this one step at a time.

What Did This Study Do?

From the press release:

Girls ages 4 to 7 were randomly assigned to play with one of three dolls: a fashion Barbie with dress and high-heeled shoes; a career Barbie with a doctor’s coat and stethoscope; or a Mrs. Potato Head with accessories such as purses and shoes. Mrs. Potato Head was selected as a neutral doll because the toy is similar in color and texture, but doesn’t have the sexualized characteristics of Barbie.

After a few minutes of play, the girls were asked if they could do any of 10 occupations when they grew up. They were also asked if boys could do those jobs. Half of the careers were traditionally male-dominated and half were female-dominated.

One important thing to keep in mind: a total of 37 girls were studied.

What Did This Study Find?

Again, from the press release:

Girls who played with Barbie thought they could do fewer jobs than boys could do. But girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head reported nearly the same number of possible careers for themselves and for boys.

There was no difference in results between girls who played with a Barbie wearing a dress and the career-focused, doctor version of the doll.

What Was The Conclusion From This Study?

Once more, from the press release:

Childhood development is complex, and playing with one toy isn’t likely to alter a child’s career aspirations … But toys such as dolls or action figures can influence a child’s ideas about their future …

What Is The Take-Home Message From This Study?

Well, much less than the headline “Playing with Barbie dolls can limit girls career choices, study shows” might imply. The conclusion summarized above is a reasonable perspective. But let’s face it – this study is quite limited in scope. Only 37 girls were studied and they were distributed in age between 4 and 7 years old. This is hardly a platform for making inferences about the impact of playing with Barbie. To do that properly (and I admit I come from a tradition of epidemiological research which can have pretty rigorous standards), we would want to see a few things. Some that immediately come to mind include:

  • a much larger sample, ideally one that would be shown to be somewhat representative of a specified community (e.g., a given region of the country, so that we have more confidence in the statistical estimates)
  • more attention to potential factors that could influence how the girls responded (e.g., Are there differences by age? Level of media exposure? Prior level of conceptions of sex roles and stereotyping?)
  • additional determination of how long the effect lasted (e.g., retesting 30 minutes later; 2 days later; 1 week later)
  • more naturalistic studies that examined what toys the girls played with in their home environment (e.g., Did it make a difference that the experimenters gave the girls the toys?)
  • inclusion of boys
  • replication of the findings

These are just some ideas to think about. Look, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the study. It was published in a peer review journal. There may be something to the results. But from the scientific perspective the study gets the ball rolling – and much more research would need to be done before we are anywhere close to making bigger inferences.

This is, admittedly, a pet peeve of mine. I don’t like headline “teasers” for research that is in an early stage. Frankly, I don’t like the idea that every study that gets published warrants a press release. Sometimes a study can serve as a platform for discussion, but I think we need to be much more conservative when we use the words “study shows“  because of the inference it carries.  It’s a long way from 5 minutes in a laboratory to the real world.

What career will your child have? Take our quiz to find out!

How to Make the Most of Playtime
How to Make the Most of Playtime
How to Make the Most of Playtime

Australian Classic Toy Stamp Featuring Barbie via

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Should Airlines Provide Safety Seats?

Friday, February 28th, 2014

Changes in car safety seat labeling have prompted another round of discussion about the best ways to keep our kids safe when they are driving. Similar conversations have been going on when it comes to safety seats on planes as well.

If you are planning to take a baby on a plane, the choice as of now is yours. You don’t have to purchase a seat for your baby (you can hold them if you like), and if you do buy a seat you are not required to bring a car seat.

The debates typically focus on whether or not parents should be required to purchase a seat and in parallel provide a safety seat. The question posed here, for your consideration, is the following:

If a parent purchases a seat for a baby (or of course a child up to a certain age), should airlines have a responsibility to have an appropriate safety seat available? Put another way, do they need to ensure the safety of every passenger who has a seat – and if that means a safety seat, then it means providing (and setting up correctly) the safety seat?

I would say … yes. The airlines have to provide seat belts that confer appropriate safety for their passengers who have a purchased seat. Why shouldn’t they have to outfit a seat for the smallest, most vulnerable passengers?


Find toys that will keep your kiddo occupied while you travel by plane or car at Shop Parents.

How To Install A Car Seat
How To Install A Car Seat
How To Install A Car Seat

Little Traveler in Airport via

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Recalibrating What We Mean By “Success” For Our Kids

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

In recent years, the word “success” has been batted around in parenting culture. This series of blog posts considers a number of views of what “success” might mean – and how that influences how we parent.

We often measure success for our kids via static indicators – grades, getting into a “name” college, attaining a high status occupation, and large income. While all of these things are notable outcomes for individuals, they aren’t necessarily what everyone is shooting for. And as such they aren’t necessary to be assumed as the key indicators of success in life and hence the fundamental goals for our children as discussed in Amy Chua’s new book.

It’s worth revisiting Madeline Levine’s book “Teach Your Children Well.” The premise is straightforward. Levine, a clinical psychologist, has seen many a family in which parents and children get caught up in the competitive treadmill that can define the adolescent years in particular. It offers a more balanced viewpoint that encourages children pursuing achievement without getting too caught up in the trap of stacking up a list of accomplishments. It’s a long-term strategy that suggests how parents and children alike should strive for a more developmentally grounded view that supports and encourages healthy practices for the mind and body – which in fact lay a stronger platform for kids to eventually find successes in the personal and professional lives.

Even though we are long past the “Tiger Mom” debates, the reality is that the pressure on many kids – throughout childhood and adolescence – are many and can be intense. “Teach Your Children Well” remains highly relevant even if these topics aren’t as topical as they were a few years ago.

Also in this series:

“The Triple Package”

What’s your parenting style? Take our quiz to find out!

What's Your Parenting Style?
What's Your Parenting Style?
What's Your Parenting Style?

Smiling Teen Reading via


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How Would You Define “Success” For Your Child?

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

In recent years, the word “success” has been batted around in parenting culture. This series of blog posts considers a number of views of what “success” might mean – and how that influences how we parent.

The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Affect the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America” – “Tiger Mom” Amy Chua’s new book co-authored with her husband Jeb Rubenfeld – has promoted discussion because their thesis is that certain racial groups achieve more success than others because of three fundamental factors: high self-esteem, insecurity, and self-discipline. One could debate the assumptions drawn about race and success, or the choice of factors which purportedly promote success. But less attention has been given to the indicators of success.

While “The Triple Package” isn’t about parenting per se, it certainly embeds ideas about development and the factors that influence “successful” trajectories. Thus, through the lens of parenting, the question raised here is  if these are really the most important things we would want for our children.

Consider these benchmarks highlighted in the book:

  • Income
  • Occupational Status
  • Test Scores

These are certainly outcomes that matter to a degree for our kids. We certainly make parenting choices to positively influence how our kids perform on tests, what occupational status they eventually achieve, and the income level that they reach. But the fact that they are highlighted as the starting point of the thesis under study provides an assumption that these indicators are benchmarks of success.

They may be what defines success for some people, or in fact many people. But I think it’s important, when we think about parenting, to recalibrate our thinking. While these outcomes may be goals – and important ones – for some, they aren’t necessarily the measure of success for many others. And I suspect that carries through in terms of parenting style.

Grading Paper via

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Does More Preschool = More (Wrong) ADHD Diagnoses?

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

In principle, no. But if a preschool environment is not designed with developmental principles in mind, and ADHD criteria are tossed around without regard to developmental level, then we could see artificial diagnoses made – maybe a lot of them.

Drs. Stephen P. Hinshaw and Richard M. Scheffler predict (in an Op-Ed in the New York Times) that such a scenario can lead to an epidemic of incorrect diagnoses of ADHD in preschoolers. What are the key factors parents should thing about? Here’s a few tips:


There are tremendous developmental benefits to attending preschool. These are achieved when they are designed with developmental principles in mind. That means, simply, that kids should be playing a lot of the time.

Play includes all kinds of activities, including: arts & crafts, music, using blocks to build things, pretend play, running around, and engaging in playground types of activities. Wait, what about learning letters and numbers and developing advanced reading skills and mathematical proficiency? That will come … when they get older (the idea is to promote academic readiness, not academics). For decades, we’ve known that early learning – the academic readiness that we are shooting for in preschool – operates very much through the body. Both gross motor and fine motor skills are primary for brain development and provide the sensory mechanisms underlying cognitive exploration and innovation. All that exploration sets the stage for fundamental cognitive skills that will be used later to master reading and math and writing. Consider this: the simple act of learning to copy figures in toddlerhood is a significant predictor of later academic performance in kindergarten (even after controlling for “cognitive” skills). So while some “academics” can be introduced in the preschool years, the savvy educators know how to do this in measure, and focus on the ways that preschoolers should be spending their time.

Keep in mind that interaction with adults and other kids is also critical for both social and cognitive development. It’s more important that they are being read to, than “reading” on their own. Their vocabularies are expanding tremendously but so much of this happens naturally in conversation and via planned reading group activities (rather than drills to master letters and words). Kids need to express themselves socially, and begin to learn some age-appropriate rudiments of self-control and emotion regulation. They also need to mix it up a little with other kids and learn how to get along with each other (with a little guidance here and there).


We are now diagnosing toddlers with ADHD. Some toddlers are getting prescribed medication for ADHD. The rationale for this is to help kids as early as possible before the consequences of ADHD take hold on their development.

While this strategy has been controversial, the fact is that some toddlers show very extreme levels of behavior that are different than what you see at that age. But keep in mind that this is a very low percentage of toddlers, and that it’s very challenging to determine this clinically. Hinshaw and Scheffler point out that inappropriate diagnoses of ADHD often come about because the diagnostic process is not comprehensive, and in fact way too short. The result is then a sloppy (and typically wrong) diagnosis of ADHD, and a potentially inappropriate prescription.

Parents need to be appropriately cautious (but not dismissive) of concerns that their toddlers are showing signs of ADHD, particularly if they are in a preschool that is expecting them to behave like “school kids.” One of the hallmarks of ADHD is that it is pervasive – it should be a big problem at home, at school, almost everywhere. Maybe not all the time, but you shouldn’t see “symptoms” in just one context, like a preschool classroom. And you should see the “symptoms” occurring much more frequently than you see them in other toddlers. Often times (not always) a hallmark is very impulsive behavior that can put a youngster at risk for injury. Being distracted now and then and not wanting to sit still is what we call … being a toddler.


The reality is that parents need to be savvy, both about the type of preschool environment that’s right for toddlers, and how ADHD gets wrongly diagnosed, especially in very young children. A preschool should look and feel like a preschool when you go in there. Kids should be acting like kids, having fun, but have some structure and purpose in mind. They should be playing a lot more than they should be doing “schoolwork.” Educators know how to nurture their developing brains and bodies to promote the very real and necessary social, emotional and cognitive development that takes place in those critical years that provide a foundation for academic readiness (a term which, by the way, shouldn’t go away in the early school years either). And if your preschool is concerned about ADHD, take the concern seriously, but be discriminate. Here’s an interview with an ADHD expert that provides a good feel for knowing when to be concerned about ADHD, and what to do about it.

Kids Playing via

Help your child organize her homework assignments with our helpful worksheet.

ADHD and Five Impaired Abilities
ADHD and Five Impaired Abilities
ADHD and Five Impaired Abilities

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