Minimalist Parenting, ‘Manimalist’ Style

The New York Times

By ANDY HINDS

My wife is leaving for a conference tomorrow. The next five days will be the longest stretch of time I’ve spent taking care of our twin, almost-4-year-old daughters without any backup.

If you’re picturing my wife typing out lists of instructions for the care and feeding of our children, drilling me on the days and times of all their activities, and stocking the freezer with elaborate meals to sustain them through her absence, you’re thinking about a different family. I do the bulk of the child care in our home, and I like to keep it so simple that even if I screwed it up, no one would really notice. To say that my stripped-down parenting style is because of my gender would be an oversimplification. But after reading a new book about improving the quality of family life by dialing down parental intensity, I’m inclined to think that it does play a role.

I’ve been a stay-at-home (mostly) dad since my wife went back to work when the girls were 4 months old. In the first year, I read a few books about child development, sleep training and parenting styles, but as the girls grew up happy and healthy, and as I got the hang of things, I stopped reading. Nowadays, I stick to parenting blogs and articles that celebrate the unleashing of a child’s imagination by providing plenty of unstructured playtime, and roll my eyes at photo spreads of extravagant parties and toys and the humblebrags of parents who are exhausted and stressed from shuttling their children to various “enrichment” activities.

Despite my dwindling interest in parenting manuals, I couldn’t resist a new release with a title that I felt encapsulated my child-rearing philosophy. Like most people, I enjoy reading books that support my own beliefs, and that’s why I stayed up late to greedily devour “Minimalist Parenting” by Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest, frequently nodding in agreement and exclaiming “Exactly!” to my dog (who seemed indifferent to the whole business). There’s nothing like being told that you’re doing it right.

The theoretical foundation of “Minimalist Parenting” is what I would refer to as “my way”:

Living a joyous life that’s in line with your values (instead of some manufactured version of “successful” modern parenthood) will give your kids room to grow into the strong, unique people they are meant to be. More important, this way of being will provide a model that shows your kids how to trust their instincts as they move toward independence and adulthood.

There is quite a bit of preaching (to the choir, in my case) the gospel of rejecting the shame, guilt and stress that many parents develop in trying to provide the latest and “best” of everything for their children. What’s more important than keeping up with parenting trends, Ms. Koh and Ms. Dornfest argue, is to “edit” or “minimalize” your schedule, adjust your expectations, roll with the punches, and create space in your family’s life for joy and fun.

For me, this book was not merely a gratifying confirmation of my own parenting instincts. In addition to the philosophical content, “Minimalist Parenting” offers a wealth of practical suggestions on how to achieve (or approach, anyway) this state of enlightened parenting. They don’t sugarcoat it either: there is work involved.

As disappointed as I was to learn that I couldn’t just cruise through the rest of my tenure as a father by being laid-back and scoffing at those who over-parent, I eventually found comfort in reading some of the tips on how to get the work done so there’s more time for fun. There are scores of strategies laid out in the book, covering everything from family finances, to clutter mitigation and birthday parties, but it was their advice on lunchboxes and leftovers that proved balm to my soul: my girls’ wonderful preschool provides all their food on the two days a week they spend there, but soon they’ll be big, brown-bagging kindergardeners, and I needed to hear that the new task could fit into our old routines.

While reading “Minimalist Parenting,” I (perhaps subconsciously) appreciated that it used inclusive language when addressing or referring to its audience. I’m so used to “Mom” being the default term for the primary caregiver that I hardly notice it anymore. It was refreshing to note that Ms. Koh and Ms. Dornfest mostly use the words “parent” and “partner” instead of “Mom” and “husband” when discussing family dynamics. Nonetheless, when they described the binds that parents get themselves and their children into when they try to be “perfect,” I didn’t picture any of my dad friends.

Through blogging and simply being a mostly stay-at-home dad, I am in contact with lots of fathers (and mothers) who are very involved in their children’s care. I do know a number of overzealous dads and free-range moms, but they are in the minority. I thought of my dad friends while reading the chapters that Ms. Koh and Ms. Dornfest dedicate to simplifying mealtimes and celebrations. “Simplified” is just the way most of us roll.

A quick meal of raw vegetables, pasta, simply cooked meats or other protein? Done. Don’t worry about themed holiday classroom celebrations? Never been a problem. Simplified birthdays? Last year, for my girls, I planned atransportation-themed birthday adventure. We took the trolley downtown (San Diego, that is), hopped on a ferry to the town of Coronado, ate lunch, rode around in a pedal-powered surrey, and then ferried and trolleyed back home, stopping for cupcakes on the way. The expense was negligible compared to a party, the planning took about half an hour, the children had a blast, and Mom and Dad were happy and relaxed. Just the kind of thing you might read about in “Minimalist Parenting.”

In the final chapter of the book, “YOU, Minimalist You!,” the gender neutrality dissolved. Suddenly, “motherhood” replaced “parenthood” as in, “there are real cultural associations between motherhood and martyrdom,” and the chapter went on to offer advice on topics like yoga pants and makeup. I don’t need that advice, but its appearance underlined the way the book read like a cheering section for me and my “manimalist” style but probably reads as the advice it’s intended to be for others.

Men are socialized toward minimalist parenting (and nearly everything else). Women are more likely to struggle to shed the burdens of the “cultural associations” that compel them to pursue unattainable parenting standards. “Minimalist Parenting” is a pushback against parenting expectations for women and maybe a push toward the more relaxed standards that exist for men. And to me, as far as gender roles are concerned, movement toward the middle is progress.

Girls Excel in the Classroom but Lag in Entry to 8 Elite Schools in the City

From The New York Times

An article about the small percentage of girls in NYC elite public schools.  Many of these schools concentrate in science and math.  Interestingly, according to the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools, girls who attend single-sex high schools are 3 times more likely to major in engineering in college, than girls who attended co-ed high schools.

Michael Appleton for The New York Times

Students at Brooklyn Technical High School on Friday; it is one of the eight specialized schools where girls are in the minority.

By Al Baker

In the United States, girls have outshined boys in high school for years, amassing more A’s, earning more diplomas and gliding more readily into college, where they rack up more degrees — whether at the bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral levels.

Multimedia

But that has not been the trend when it comes to one of the highest accomplishments a New York City student can achieve: winning a seat in one of the specialized high schools.

At all eight of the schools that admit students based on an eighth-grade test, boys outnumber girls, sometimes emphatically.

Boys make up nearly 60 percent of the largest and most renowned schools, Stuyvesant, the Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Tech, and as much as 67 percent at the High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering at City College, according to city statistics.

While studies suggest that girls perform as well as boys in math and science classes in high school, their participation in those fields drops off in college and ultimately in careers, a phenomenon that the White House, with its Council on Women and Girls, and the National Science Foundation have tried to reverse.

The fact that girls are underrepresented in New York’s top high schools, which tend to be focused on math and science, and which have more than a dozen Nobel laureates among their alumni, worries some academics who see the schools as prime breeding grounds for future scientists and engineers.

“It is very suspect that you don’t have as many girls as boys in New York City’s specialized schools,” said Janet S. Hyde, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin who has published research on girls’ performance in math and science from elementary school through college. Individual girls might be losing opportunities, she said, “but it is also bad for society as a whole because in a global economy we need to identify the best scientists and mathematicians.”

The racial makeup of the schools has been a combustible issue for years — 5 percent of the students accepted this month into the elite schools were black, and 7 percent were Hispanic. Civil rights groups have argued that using a test as the sole basis of admission favors students with means to prepare for the test, and have pushed unsuccessfully to have the schools adopt additional criteria, like middle school grades, for admission.

The gender imbalance has not generated the same kind of protest. But several academics and analysts said the reliance on the test might also play a role in keeping girls out. While girls outperform boys on an array of academic benchmarks in high school and college, they still trail on standardized tests, like the SAT, according to federal Department of Education statistics.

This year, of those who took the Specialized High School Admissions Test, 51 percent were girls. But only 45 percent of those offered seats in the schools were girls.

To Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy group, the gap at the elite schools could be as elemental as their perception as havens for science, technology, engineering or math, making them a natural magnet for boys, just as girls might gravitate to schools known for humanities.

“I don’t think you’re looking at discrimination here,” said Mr. Finn, who, with Jessica A. Hockett, wrote the recent book, “Exam Schools: Inside America’s Most Selective Public High Schools.” “I think you’re looking at habit, culture, perceptions, tradition and curricular emphasis.”

Still, he said, New York’s experience runs against a national trend, in which enrollment in highly competitive high schools is 55 percent female. “The big gender-related chasm in American education these days is how much worse boys are doing, than girls,” he said.

Even the specialized schools with a focus on the classics and humanities, Brooklyn Latin and the High School of American Studies at Lehman College, now have a majority of male students. It was not always that way: Girls outnumbered boys at both schools until recently. American Studies has used the specialized admissions test since it opened a decade ago.

But in the first few years at Brooklyn Latin, founded in 2006, it had a broader admission policy based on grades and exams. Once it was made one of the specialized test schools, its population swung toward males.

“Sometimes, we see boys who are very bright, and can do well on an admissions test,” said Jason K. Griffiths, the principal. “But then I think the skills that a student needs to succeed in a school may be a little bit different.”

A corollary, perhaps, of the masculine leanings of the eight schools is the makeup of some of the elite high schools that do not use the specialized admissions test for admission.

At Fiorello H. La Guardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts, which admits students based on grades and auditions or portfolios of artwork, 73 percent of the students are girls. At Bard High School Early College, which has campuses in Manhattan and Queens, as well as at Millennium, Beacon and Townsend Harris High Schools, girls outnumber boys by at least 3 to 2.

Shael Polakow-Suransky, the chief academic officer in the city’s Education Department, said the eight specialized-test schools represented just a portion of the city’s best schools, so there was a flaw in studying gender disparities solely in those eight schools. “These are not the best schools in the city,” he said of the eight specialized schools. “They are among the best schools in the city.”

He said that at the highest echelons of test-takers, girls scored as well as boys, but that overall, fewer of the strongest female students were taking the exam.

“And the question is why,” he said. Girls, he said, “are choosing some of these other options, over the specialized schools, because they think it is better or they prefer not to take this exam.” Or, he added, “Perhaps there are other reasons that further research could shed light on.”

Students at the schools — boys and girls alike — said that they were not bothered by the imbalance, though it was sometimes noticeable. At Stuyvesant, Caroline Phado, 16, recalled how the five girls in her freshman swimming class were tickled watching 20 boys pile out of the locker room to join them. Kathryn Rafailov, 16, a junior, said boys so dominated her square-dancing class that they had to pair off with one another.

Students and administrators said girls held their own in the classroom, even when they were outnumbered. Several students at the High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering, a 436-student school housed at City College, said that a girl was the top student in three of the four grades.

Outside Townsend Harris, in Queens, where girls make up 70 percent of the student body, several girls said they were attracted by its more holistic admission policy, as well as its focus.

“I feel like, all the other schools, they mainly specialize in math and science, and, I don’t know, that doesn’t sound appealing to me,” said Ritika Modi, 16, a junior. She said she did not even apply to any specialized schools. Also, as a resident of Queens Village, she said, her parents “weren’t O.K.” with her commuting as far as Brooklyn or the Bronx, an issue several other girls noted.

Dr. Michael A. Lerner, the principal at Bard, said he has worked to find ways to balance classes. This year, for the first time, the dry-marker board he keeps in his office reflects a 50-50 split between boys and girls in the current ninth grade.

Of the 3,060 students who applied to his school this year, 44 percent were boys. To help rank the candidates, he said, he simply adjusted the focus of student interviews to more effectively draw boys out in describing their own strengths. This year he offered seats to 136 boys and 134 girls.

“Are we worried about getting unqualified boys?” asked Dr. Lerner. “No not at all.”

Your Phone vs. Your Heart

From The New York Times

 

CAN you remember the last time you were in a public space in America and didn’t notice that half the people around you were bent over a digital screen, thumbing a connection to somewhere else?

 

Kristian Hammerstad

 

Most of us are well aware of the convenience that instant electronic access provides. Less has been said about the costs. Research that my colleagues and I have just completed, to be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science, suggests that one measurable toll may be on our biological capacity to connect with other people.

Our ingrained habits change us. Neurons that fire together, wire together, neuroscientists like to say, reflecting the increasing evidence that experiences leave imprints on our neural pathways, a phenomenon called neuroplasticity. Any habit molds the very structure of your brain in ways that strengthen your proclivity for that habit.

Plasticity, the propensity to be shaped by experience, isn’t limited to the brain. You already know that when you lead a sedentary life, your muscles atrophy to diminish your physical strength. What you may not know is that your habits of social connection also leave their own physical imprint on you.

How much time do you typically spend with others? And when you do, how connected and attuned to them do you feel? Your answers to these simple questions may well reveal your biological capacity to connect.

My research team and I conducted a longitudinal field experiment on the effects of learning skills for cultivating warmer interpersonal connections in daily life. Half the participants, chosen at random, attended a six-week workshop on an ancient mind-training practice known as metta, or “lovingkindness,” that teaches participants to develop more warmth and tenderness toward themselves and others.

We discovered that the meditators not only felt more upbeat and socially connected; but they also altered a key part of their cardiovascular system called vagal tone. Scientists used to think vagal tone was largely stable, like your height in adulthood. Our data show that this part of you is plastic, too, and altered by your social habits.

To appreciate why this matters, here’s a quick anatomy lesson. Your brain is tied to your heart by your vagus nerve. Subtle variations in your heart rate reveal the strength of this brain-heart connection, and as such, heart-rate variability provides an index of your vagal tone.

By and large, the higher your vagal tone the better. It means your body is better able to regulate the internal systems that keep you healthy, like your cardiovascular, glucose and immune responses.

Beyond these health effects, the behavioral neuroscientist Stephen Porges has shown that vagal tone is central to things like facial expressivity and the ability to tune in to the frequency of the human voice. By increasing people’s vagal tone, we increase their capacity for connection, friendship and empathy.

In short, the more attuned to others you become, the healthier you become, and vice versa. This mutual influence also explains how a lack of positive social contact diminishes people. Your heart’s capacity for friendship also obeys the biological law of “use it or lose it.” If you don’t regularly exercise your ability to connect face to face, you’ll eventually find yourself lacking some of the basic biological capacity to do so.

The human body — and thereby our human potential — is far more plastic or amenable to change than most of us realize. The new field of social genomics, made possible by the sequencing of the human genome, tells us that the ways our and our children’s genes are expressed at the cellular level is plastic, too, responsive to habitual experiences and actions.

Work in social genomics reveals that our personal histories of social connection or loneliness, for instance, alter how our genes are expressed within the cells of our immune system. New parents may need to worry less about genetic testing and more about how their own actions — like texting while breast-feeding or otherwise paying more attention to their phone than their child — leave life-limiting fingerprints on their and their children’s gene expression.

When you share a smile or laugh with someone face to face, a discernible synchrony emerges between you, as your gestures and biochemistries, even your respective neural firings, come to mirror each other. It’s micro-moments like these, in which a wave of good feeling rolls through two brains and bodies at once, that build your capacity to empathize as well as to improve your health.

If you don’t regularly exercise this capacity, it withers. Lucky for us, connecting with others does good and feels good, and opportunities to do so abound.

So the next time you see a friend, or a child, spending too much of their day facing a screen, extend a hand and invite him back to the world of real social encounters. You’ll not only build up his health and empathic skills, but yours as well. Friends don’t let friends lose their capacity for humanity.

Barbara L. Fredrickson is a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and the author of “Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become.”

Kids Are Logged On—and Tuned Out

From The Wall Street Journal

  • By DEMETRIA GALLEGOS

Columnist's name
 

image

Lars Leetaru

I’ve been listening this month to the conversation at our house, and it is deflatingly predictable: “Have you finished your homework? Then why are you playing computer games?” “Your room is still a mess, put that down until it’s done.” “Have you gotten off the couch today?” And this recent favorite, “You are banned from playing games until the end of the school year.”

We have a bad case of digital distemper, but it has been hard to find a solution. As with going on a diet, you still have to eat. Our girls have hours of computer-based homework almost every night. We have a terrible time knowing when the work is done and when the play has begun.

On one infamous Sunday in December, we watched 14½ hours of Netflix. I knew it was bad but didn’t know how bad until I looked back at the log and spotted a dozen episodes of “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.” I immediately canceled Netflix. But that’s like cutting the head off the hydra.

What would Hercules do?

John isn’t the least bit interested in the shows, games and websites that the children are drawn to. He feels that they’re big time wasters, and that our lives would be improved if the girls had zero access. I have a less-draconian attitude—in part because I see no harm in some online entertainment, and in part because I think spending leisure time online helps prepare children for tomorrow’s workplace.

Still, I know something has to change. But what?

Some parents I know have taken the tough approach. My friend Suzanne has simply banished the iPads her 12- and 14-year-old daughters brought home from their dad’s house. “They were immediately completely addicted,” she says. In addition, other devices must stay in common rooms and can’t be taken to bedrooms. She insists her children finish everything else before relaxing with computers. And between community service, sports, music and schoolwork, she says, “they never get to the place where they have spare time.”

Convinced there was something between Suzanne’s approach and mine, I decided to call a family meeting.

***

My opening proposal: hats for each child, festooned with colorful feathers to signify homework done, room cleaned, workout accomplished, so that we wouldn’t even have to ask when we spot them lying around like unblinking zombies.

The children immediately countered.

Isabella, 11, thought everyone should be limited to one hour of goofing around on the computer every weekday, with a higher limit on weekends. Using the honor system, time would be logged on a notebook near the computer, and could be saved up for longer sessions.

Anna, 13, wished we could set a time limit on every device, so that it would just shut off when the time was up.

Emily, 14, suggested I change the passwords every day and only give them to the children when homework is demonstrably done.

Jamie, 16, wastes the least time among us online, but she does miss the documentaries she used to watch for her history class. She agreed it would be nice if we knew exactly who on shared accounts is doing all the watching.

Jamie’s boyfriend, Daniel, pointed out that computers already have parental controls along the lines that Anna was suggesting. He told me how to turn off the desktops at 10 p.m., for example.

 

Daniel offered himself up as an example of someone who, until recently, was addicted to PlayStation 3. He said he would play for hours every day after school until his parents got home at 7 p.m. Just last fall, as his junior-year workload intensified, he began to recognize “the fact that I need to worry about college rather than beating my friend’s high score.”

“After a while you get used to not having it, and it becomes such a minimal thing in your life that you don’t think about going back to it that much,” Daniel said.

We kicked all these ideas around, really digging into Isabella’s honor-system idea, but acknowledging we would all be mentally clocking each other, leading to more tiresome nagging. Emily objected most strenuously to the bedtime curfew, pointing out how frequently her homework takes her past 10 or 11 p.m.

I had looked into getting an automated report on the time each family member was spending, broken down by website. Apps can do this, but we have so many disparate devices, we’d have to manually correlate the data. The idea of entering personal ID codes for every session seems onerous and nanny-state-ish.

In the end, it was John who put out the winning solution.

“The key is not to lock them out—having them learn to decide what’s right and what’s wrong is 10 times more important,” he said. John proposed that grades decide the access issue. If a child is holding a 95 or higher average, we simply won’t interfere with her digital consumption choices. Between 90 and 95, as long as report cards show an upward trend during the six grading periods our school uses, again no interference.

Anything below a 90 will merit restrictions on discretionary computer time, including a girl losing the privilege of working in her bedroom.

Additionally, the girls are willing to be more clear with us about where their work stands before they shift gears. They’ll be more on top of their chores and the chaos in their rooms. They agreed to look for things other than screens to entertain them.

Otherwise, they know I’ll be measuring their heads for feathered hats.

Part II

It’s been about three months since we began confronting the electronic elephant in our living room: the huge amount of time our girls spend online, captivated by games, shows and web surfing. After much brainstorming, we settled on a grade-based solution, which I wrote about last month, ultimately letting the girls’ performance in school decide how much freedom they’d have in using computers.

I can’t say that we’ve completely solved the problem. In fact, our confrontations over this have turned a peaceful home into a bit of a battleground. One child initially lost unsupervised use of her laptop in her room and has since lost use of her laptop altogether and now must queue up with the other girls for use of the main family computer.

But on the positive side, not only are we talking about a problem everyone seemed happier ignoring, we’re also pushing each other to solve it and planning some even more ambitious experiments.

Here are a few things we’ve learned—from our own experience so far and from readers—which may help others trying to get their arms around this problem.

imageLars Leetaru

Don’t be oblivious: Parents need to be in a position to understand how much time is being sucked away from their children. That may simply mean being home more often and in a position to monitor when the child is in front of the device. Or it may mean doing an occasional audit through the browser history or Netflix viewing log (which may alarm you as much as ours did me—we ended up canceling our subscription).

Frank Seldin, a reader in Dutchess County in New York, says he warns friends not to get their children tablets because they’ll lose control. “When the girls play videogames, it is on my wife’s and my iPad/Fire, and we know exactly what is on it and what they are playing,” he says. “All computer use is in the kitchen (where homework is done as well), and it will stay that way.”

Find individualized solutions: Every child is so different. My kids are at different levels academically, different ages, and have varying amounts of maturity around the concept of self-monitoring. You don’t have to solve this for all time. Instead, you want to stay tuned in to where your child is and what motivates him or her.

Insist on clearer communication: I’ve learned it’s first a process of educating the child about which activities constitute work and which are better defined as play. That distinction may not always be obvious to them as online chats about homework turn into silliness and become a big time waster.

As I suggested in my original column, the best way to minimize nagging is when a child learns to send very clear signals about where he or she is in the continuum of work and play. My kids now say to me, “Mom, I’m going to take a half-hour break because I’ve been working for the past two hours on homework.” That kind of communication on the child’s part makes all the difference.

Another reader, Bob Larson of Folsom, Calif., insists on honesty from his kids. “If we catch them abusing any of these privileges, they automatically are banned from all electronics for 2 to 4 weeks depending on the severity,” he says. “We have had some of our kids banned for 6 months when they told blatant lies to our faces when they were old enough to know better.”

Give kids a chance to earn autonomy: This may be the grade-oriented solution we found, or, as suggested by Brian Verhaaren, a reader in Salt Lake City, Utah, it could mean letting your children actually pay the cost for their computer devices, their game memberships, their Netflix subscription. Ultimately, you want kids to be able to police themselves.

Consider a router “kill switch”: This solution comes from an online commenter, who literally is remodeling her home to put a router kill switch in the master bedroom. You don’t have to take that drastic a measure, but there are easy ways to get devices powered down at bedtime, including parental-control settings on PCs and Macs, and simply taking the router power cable to bed with you.

Own the problem: What kind of example are you setting? How much time do you spend with your own nose to a screen at home? Mine has been excessive—I’m always finishing work or catching up on personal email or doing computer-intensive school volunteer work. Lately, as we’ve been pushing the girls to shift their own gears, they’re pushing me, asking me to read aloud or snuggle or play a game. I sometimes have to say no, but I say yes whenever possible, so grateful that they’re asking.

A few weekends ago Emily, 14, suggested to me that we have a computer-free day. I was so refreshed that the idea came from her, I hugged her. It wasn’t possible because of another daughter’s homework load, but it got us thinking about spring break, and even more time in digital detox this summer.

—Demetria Gallegos is community editor for WSJ.com. Write to her at SundayJuggle@wsj.com. You can also join the conversation at WSJ.com/Juggle.

Rachel Simmons Asks Why Friends Didn’t Help the Steubenville Rape Victim

By Rachel Simmons, Special to CNN
updated 5:34 AM EDT, Thu March 21, 2013

Watch this video

Steubenville victim’s mom: Raise awareness

Editor’s note: Rachel Simmons is the co-founder of Girls Leadership Institute and the author of “Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls.” Follow her on Twitter @racheljsimmons

(CNN) — Is anyone else wondering why the Steubenville, Ohio rape victim’s two best friends testified against her? With this week’s arrest of two other girls who “menaced” the teen victim on Facebook and Twitter, we have the beginnings of an answer.

Rape culture is not only the province of boys. The often hidden culture of girl cruelty can discourage accusers from coming forward and punish them viciously once they do. This week, two teenage boys were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old classmate while she was apparently drunk and passed out during a night of parties last August. Everyone who was there and said nothing that night was complicit; if we want to prevent another Steubenville, the role of other girls must also be considered.

On the night in question, girls watched the victim (Jane Doe) become so drunk she could hardly walk. Why didn’t any of them help her? Why, after Jane Doe endured the agonizing experience of a trial in which she viewed widely circulated photos of herself naked and unconscious, did one of the arrested girls tweet: “you ripped my family apart, you made my cousin cry, so when I see you xxxxx, it’s gone be a homicide.” Why were two lifelong friends sitting on the other side of the courtroom?

Rachel Simmons

Rachel Simmons

The accusation of rape disrupts the intricate social ecosystem of a high school, one in which girls often believe that they must preserve both their own reputations and relationships with boys above all else. This is a process that begins for girls long before their freshman year and can have violent consequences.

From the earliest age, girls are flooded with conflicting messages about their sexuality. They are socialized to be “good girls” above all: kind, polite and selfless. Yet they are also told — via media images, the clothing that’s marketed to them and the messages conveyed by some adults — that they will be valued, given attention and loved for being sexy. The result is a near-constant anxiety about not being feminine or sexy enough.

Meanwhile, girls consume romance narratives that tell them the most important relationships they can have are with boys who love them. They also observe a huge amount of psychological aggression among girls on television and in movies, often portrayed as comedy. Last year, researchers found that girls of elementary school age were more likely than boys to commit acts of social aggression at school after viewing them on television.

No surprise, then, that when the first crushes are confided in elementary school, it’s not uncommon for girls to turn on each other if they believe a friend is competing for the attentions of a boy they like. It often does not occur to them to reprimand the boy. This pattern is fairly innocuous in childhood, but by adolescence, it could have far more serious implications: Instead of grabbing the hand of a girl too drunk to consent and taking her to a safe place, some girls may instead angrily watch the drunken girl leave with a boy, figuring she deserves what she gets.

From late elementary school onward, the label “slut” hovers dangerously over girls’ every move. Most girls who are called sluts are not even sexually active. The word is used to distinguish “good” girls from “bad,” and the definition is constantly shifting. Few girls are let in on the criteria for who gets called a slut in the first place. The insecurity creates an incentive to call out someone else lest you be next.

In 2011, a study by the American Association of University Women found that girls in grades 7-12 were far more likely than boys to experience sexual harassment, including rumors, both in person and online. And Leora Tanenbaum interviewed 50 girls and women for her book, “Slut! Growing Up Female With a Bad Reputation;” all of them told her girls, far more than boys, were at the forefront of the slut rumor mill.

I am not saying that Jane Doe was raped because of girls’ silence. Girls may choose not to speak up for many reasons, but it’s hard to ignore the power of a culture that pushes them to choose boys over each other and punish other girls to protect their own reputations.

We must talk to girls about their responsibility in situations like this. If we want to prevent another Steubenville, we need to teach children from an early age about gender-based violence. The word “slut” is not just an epithet; it is a word that has given adolescents permission to abandon and hurt each other when a girl needs support most.

Girls must understand not only their moral obligation but their power to be allies to each other at parties and other potentially unsafe spaces for girls. If boys knew that girls banded together to support each other, they would be less inclined to share on social media, much less commit, these horrific acts of sexual violence.

Early Dating Leads to Risky Teen Behaviors

Another endorsement for single sex education:

 

Schoolchildren who date earliest do worst at school and are more likely to smoke, drink and take drugs

By ANTHONY BOND

PUBLISHED: 03:18 EST, 18 March 2013 

 

Young adolescents who begin dating at an early age do worse at school as well as being more likely to smoke, drink and take drugs, a study has revealed.

Researchers from the University of Georgia found that over seven years – from age eleven to leaving school – those who dated least did best academically.

Prof Pamela Orpinas said one of the reasons for those who date youngest performing worst with school work could be because it is an early indicator of high risk behaviour.

 
Research: Young adolescents who date earliest do worst at school and are more likely to smoke, drink and take drugs, a study has revealed.Research: Young adolescents who date earliest do worst at school and are more likely to smoke, drink and take drugs, a study has revealed. This is a file picture

Writing in the Journal of Research on Adolescence, she said: ‘Romantic relationships are a hallmark of adolescence, but very few studies have examined how adolescents differ in the development of these relationships.’

She followed 624 students in the U.S. from sixth grade – aged eleven or twelve – to the end of high school, at eighteen.

Each year, the group completed a survey indicating whether they had dated and reported the frequency of different behaviours, including the use of drugs and alcohol.

Prof Orpinas said: ‘In our study, we found four distinct trajectories. 

‘Some students never or hardly ever reported dating from middle to high school, and these students had consistently the best study skills according to their teachers. 

‘Other students dated infrequently in middle school but increased the frequency of dating in high school. We also saw a large number of students who reported dating since sixth grade.’

 
Findings: Children who date early are twice as likely to use alcohol and drugs, researchers foundFindings: Children who date early are twice as likely to use alcohol and drugs, researchers found

Of the early daters, a large portion of the study group – 38 per cent – reported dating at almost all measurement points throughout the study.

Prof Orpinas said: ‘At all points in time, teachers rated the students who reported the lowest frequency of dating as having the best study skills and the students with the highest dating as having the worst study skills.

‘A likely explanation for the worse educational performance of early daters is that these adolescents start dating early as part of an overall pattern of high-risk behaviours.’

She pointed out that children in these early dating groups were also twice as likely to use alcohol and drugs.

 

She said: ‘Dating a classmate may have the same emotional complications of dating a co-worker. 

‘When the couple splits, they have to continue to see each other in class and perhaps witness the ex-partner dating someone else. It is reasonable to think this scenario could be linked to depression and divert attention from studying.’

Malala Returns To School

Britain: Girl Shot by Taliban Returns to the Classroom

 

By DOUGLAS SCHORZMAN
Published: March 19, 2013

 

Reuters

Malala Yousufzai and her father Ziauddin.

 

Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old Pakistani campaigner for girls’ education who was gravely wounded by the Taliban in October, is back in school for the first time since the attack, according to a statement by her family. Ms. Yousafzai, shown with her father, is now enrolled full time at Edgbaston, a private girls’ high school in Birmingham, England, where her family now lives and where she underwent extensive medical treatment in recent months. “I miss my classmates from Pakistan very much, but I am looking forward to meeting my teachers and making new friends here in Birmingham,” she was quoted as saying in the statement.

Why School is Exhausting (It’s not Just Academics!)

By Dr. Roni Cohen-Sandler, clinical psychologist
When middle school or high school students are tired, it’s easy for parents to think of sleep deprivation and the pressure of so many academic demands. After all, kids often stay up late to do their homework, and are then expected to get to school on time the next day, show up for class prepared, listen carefully in class, take good notes, stay organized, track their assignments, remember meetings with teachers, and do well on tests and quizzes—not to mention, participating in clubs, band, and sports—every single school day. That would wear out anyone.

What’s Really Tiring

But what I hear from teens and tweens is that it’s not so much their work load or pressures to get good grades that are exhausting them, but rather the social and emotional challenges of being in school. This week, in fact, every young person in my practice talked about this:

• Kendra, a fifth grader, was upset and confused because girls are playing with her at recess one day, and then shunning her the next day.

• James, a high school junior, told me, “I sit at different lunch tables. I don’t really have a group. I’m the funny kid. Except what happens when I’m not in the mood to make jokes?”

• George, a bright, studious sixth grader new to middle school, admitted, “I try to ignore the bullies, but sometimes my teacher puts me in work groups with them.”

• Jan, a freshman, talked about worrying constantly about her closest friend, who’s been either picking at her food or skipping lunch altogether, yet angrily denies she’s getting too thin.

• Keira, a sophomore who gets along well with her peers but struggles to live up to the high standards she sets for herself, summed it up when she said, “It’s hard to love high school.”

If your children aren’t telling you these sorts of things, you’re not alone. Teens and tweens rarely offer parents details of their day—who said what, how they reacted, and how they really feel as they walk the hallways of school, enter classrooms, and try to find seats at lunch tables. Most also keep their innermost feelings and vulnerabilities from teachers and school administrators, who see only the outward personas teens project. But without this information, you may not realize how powerfully kids are affected by everyday, seemingly mundane situations and interactions with classmates. Here is an inside look into what may be draining your kids’ energy and emotional resources.

“Everyone’s Looking at Me!”

Social anxiety is endemic to this age group. With peer relationships becoming increasingly important, most kids desperately want to feel accepted and included. As they develop a sense of who they are, they’re on the alert for their peers’ approval and affirmation. Many kids truly believe that “everyone” is constantly looking at them and scrutinizing them throughout their day. That is why many students become exquisitely self-conscious, monitoring how adults and classmates respond to everything they say, do, and wear. Instead of being present in the moment, teens maintain vigilance over all their interactions, much like a spectator (or harshest critic). This added work only further drains whatever energy they have.

Wayne, an eighth grader who finds schoolwork challenging, worries about whether his teacher will call on him and potentially expose the learning issues and flaws he struggles to hide from his classmates. Jessica, a sixth grader, says, “I zone out in class because I think, ‘What are my friends going to think if I say that?'” Chelsea, a seventh grader, is too upset to eat lunch in school because “I heard one group talking about me, that my outfit was so ugly. So now I feel a little nervous when I walk in school. I usually look down. I walk in the middle of a group of girls.” Gil, an eighth grader, told me recently that he dreads every gym class because “everybody knows” he’s not a good athlete…

“I Don’t Know What to Do!”

For all their focus on peers, teens and tweens all too often encounter social situations they don’t know how to handle—yet are reluctant to talk about. These social dilemmas preoccupy them, siphoning their attention and consuming their energy. Brenda, for example, a 6th grader, expresses a common problem when she says, “When my friends ask, ‘What grade did you get on that?’ I don’t want to tell them, but I don’t know what else to do. I don’t want them to get mad.” Another quandary that follows many teens even through high school is whether to help friends cheat. Allen, a junior, says, “I never know what to do when some kid asks to copy my homework. I want to say no, but if it’s my friend I feel like I should help them.”

Stickier situations arise, as well. Valerie, a junior, finds it stressful to deal with an ex-best friend who is in many of her classes. “She’s always finding subtle ways to be competitive with me, saying stuff that other people might not pick up on, but I know what she means. I wish I didn’t have to see her; it makes every day hard.” Diana, a sophomore, told me, “Just before my chem test this week, my friend Olivia came up to me and asked me if it was okay if she dated my ex-boyfriend. Whoa! I really needed time to wrap my head around that one. I know we’ve been over for awhile, but I had a lot of feelings…”

“I’m Trying to Keep it Together!”

Many teens and tweens use up energy during the school day trying to keep their feelings and behavior in check. With the hormonal surges of adolescence, many of them are already moody. But they can become flooded by intense, mercurial feelings triggered by events as typical as disappointing grades, reprimands from teachers, upsetting encounters with classmates, or the opposite, not feeling the sense of connection they desire. Other kids struggle to rein in urges to be nasty or aggressive, especially when peers make comments designed to provoke them. It is even harder for kids who have to manage anxiety, depression, impulsivity, or volatility with the strict guidelines and punishments for infractions of many schools.

Unbeknownst to their parents, kids come up with various tactics to help them get through the school day. Since freshman year, Charlotte has been seeking refuge with her guidance counselor whenever she feels overwhelmed. Andrea, a sophomore, regularly flees to the school nurse’s office for a nap “when I can’t take it anymore and feel like I’m going to lose it.” Adam, a senior, has a favorite stairwell he goes to, where he knows he won’t run into anyone he doesn’t want to see.

For those who simply can’t face whatever awaits them in school, staying home is the best option. What is not immediately obvious is that many of the headaches and stomach pains that lead to absences are manifestations of emotional exhaustion. Some kids may not even be aware of the connection between their thoughts, feelings, and symptoms. Nevertheless, watching videos or going online in the sanctity of their bedrooms can be a compelling, sometimes addictive, act of self-protection.

What Can Parents Do?

Even if your kids do divulge these sorts of things, it’s unlikely they’re looking for you to provide solutions. In fact, they’ll probably chafe if you even try to offer quick fixes. It may be enough to realize that they’re legitimately exhausted by these behind-the-scenes experiences. Maybe you’ll understand why they don’t energetically start their homework right after school. Here are some other suggestions:

• Honor their need for down time. When they seem to be staring off into space or doing nothing after school, now you have a better idea of what they may be thinking about. So you might pause before automatically urging them to stop wasting time.

• Understand their need to process their daily experiences. You might better appreciate why kids bristle or answer in monosyllables when you ask, “How was your day?” or “What happened at school?” That’s exactly what they’re going to their rooms to ponder.

• Ask gentle, open-ended questions to invite discussion. Then wait patiently for them to respond. If they don’t, back off. When they sense you’re open to these issues and won’t judge them, they’ll be more likely to elaborate.

• Acknowledge their feelings. Reflect on the emotions kids seem to be feeling and empathize with them, even if it’s hard for you to completely understand them.

• Be a sounding board. When kids do divulge these sorts of personal reactions, be an especially good listener. Guide them to consider different perspectives, without expecting to solve their problems.

_________________________________________

Except in cases of bullying or harassment (which require your intervention), there may not be much you can do to address the social situations that are depleting your child’s inner resources. But by being more aware of what is going on, you might listen to your teens and tweens differently, perhaps more alert to signs of emotional exhaustion and hints about what may be causing it. All your teen may need from you is to feel understood. This is a powerful catalyst for learning about themselves, coping better with difficulties, and learning lessons that will guide them throughout their lives.

Helping Your Child Adjust to Daylight Savings

From Yourteenmag

By Diana Simeon

It’s that time of year again: daylight savings, when we turn the clocks forward and, ugh, lose an hour of sleep.

Already wondering how it’s going to go on Monday morning when your teenager’s alarm goes off? Probably not so great, says Sasha Carr, Ph.D., a certified sleep consultant with the Family Sleep Institute and founder of Off to Dreamland.

“If you have a teenager, you should be concerned,” explains Carr. “It’s going to be rough on them on Monday morning to get up for school.”

Carr has some suggestions for making the transition easier. These include:

  • Turn your clocks forward early on Friday evening, not late Saturday when you’re headed to bed. Yep, you read that correctly. By changing your household routine two days early, your teenager will have time to adjust to daylight savings over the weekend, making Monday morning all the easier. “Start daylight savings as of dinner on Friday. That gives that cushion of the weekend. It also helps that on Saturday and Sunday morning, your teenager doesn’t have to get up for school.”

Or, if you’d rather ease into it, you can move your clocks forward a half hour on Friday and then another half hour on Saturday, adds Carr.

  • Don’t let your teenager sleep in. Teenagers are biologically designed to want to go to bed later at night and sleep later in the morning than children and adults. But this weekend in particular, says Carr, parents should get their teenagers up at a reasonable hour. “When a teenager sleeps super late on Saturday or Sunday morning and then has trouble getting up on Monday morning, that’s called weekend jetlag,” explains Carr. “I would suggest, especially this weekend, trying to get them up around 8 a.m.”
  • Turn off computers, phones and any other devices, even the television, for 30 minutes before bedtime. “Staring at a screen does a number on melatonin, which is the most important sleep hormone we have,” explains Carr. “It’s been shown that just looking at a screen for even 10 seconds in the half hour before you’re trying to go to sleep will affect the secretion of melatonin in the brain … it’s like turning all the lights on in your house.”

The good news, says Carr, is that within a few days, your teenager should have made up for whatever sleep deficit daylight savings causes.

But in the meantime, anticipate some grumpiness.

“Unfortunately, I would put teenagers in the group that has the hardest time with daylight savings,” says Carr. “But they eventually make up for it because they’ll start to go to bed earlier once they make the adjustment.”

Daylight savings starts at 2 a.m. on Sunday, March 10.

A Fight to Save Baby Girls in India

By KAMALA THIAGARAJAN

Published: March 7, 2013

USILAMPATTI, INDIA — Back in the 1980s, this rural patch of the southern state of Tamil Nadu had the dubious distinction of the worst reputation for “gendercide,” or murder of unwanted baby girls, in India.

There were no official statistics, of course. Just as no one keeps a tally of how middle-class Indians today use scans to determine a baby’s sex and whether to abort a female fetus, the child deaths in the Usilampatti region, home to about 85,000 people, were whispered about, not totaled.

Often, births were unregistered, conducted by a village midwife who would then also kill unwanted girls. This was done quite openly — and prompted Valli Annamalai, head of the Mother and Child Welfare Project, an initiative of the Tamil Nadu state branch of the nongovernmental Indian Council for Child Welfare, to act.

She started by trying to grasp the size of the problem. Council statistics suggest that, in 1990, there were as many as 200 unaccounted-for infant deaths, all of girls, in this region.

“Girls were considered a burden and a liability in these parts,” she recalled during a recent visit to a council center in the village of Pannaipatti. Raising economic prospects “was the only way to stop the mindless violence and discrimination.”

One way to improve women’s lot, she said, was to care for infants and thus allow mothers to return to their work — mostly toil in the fields of this spottily fertile region, where women have been second-class for centuries.

The Pannaipatti center — a bare room with dog-eared posters of fruits, letters and numbers hanging from the ceiling, — is one of three run in the area since 1988. At one point, there were 14 centers with more than 350 children, but when the government started to provide more child care, Ms. Annamalai diverted attention to other projects.

At Pannaipatti, as the midday sun beat down on a recent day, 22 children 1 to 3 years old were in the care of a teacher and a trained assistant, who work 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. six days a week, playing, singing, telling stories and ensuring that children eat a lunch of sprouted green gram, lentils and rice. Mothers, most of whom work in the fields from dawn, arrive about 3 p.m. to collect the children and chat.

Ms. Annamalai, now 62, recalled the long slog to win trust. “It took a year to break the ice,” she said. Getting direct access to young mothers through child care centers helped the council to understand their problems, she said.

A first daughter was usually allowed to live, said P. Pramil Kumar, 48, a council worker in Usilampatti. But subsequent girls were under threat, so “we would register every pregnant woman and monitor their second and third pregnancies, as these were deemed high-risk.”

In 1991, while counseling parents to keep their daughters, the council opened a center where babies could be dropped off in a special cradle. A total of 146 babies — all girls — arrived from 1991 to 1999.

Medical staff members had to be on hand, for babies often arrived with infections from crudely cut umbilical cords and needed monitoring or even hospitalization in the nearby city of Madurai.

In 1994, after failing to save one baby girl, the council started to recruit volunteers from Usilampatti’s 309 hamlets. “We realized that we couldn’t be everywhere,” said R. Ramraj, the council’s rural development officer in Usilampatti. “We had to create not just awareness, but allies too amidst the villagers.”

After just a month, a group in the village of Lingappanayaganur, tipped off council staff members in good time. “Not only did we prevent the murder,” Ms. Ramraj said, “we also got the family to sign the adoption papers.”

Rathinam, then a 22-year-old field laborer in the hamlet of Kaluthu, recalls the first baby girl she saved, early one Sunday 17 years ago. Rathinam, who like many women here uses only one name, arrived as a village family prepared to feed its newborn girl poisonous milk of oleander. With two other volunteers, Rathinam persuaded the midwife who had delivered the baby to hand her over.

“We took the baby, 10 minutes after birth, still caked in blood and with the umbilical cord wrapped around her, and fled,” Rathinam recalled.

En route to a council center, the three rescuers purchased sugary milk at a roadside tea stall. “What an appetite that little one had,” Rathinam said. “The way she drank the milk with such gusto, it struck me she would have drunk poison in much the same way.”

Outside a thatched hut near the Pannaipatti center, Mockapillai, 47, a construction worker with one daughter and two granddaughters, summed up the changes of 20 years: “There is no more infanticide in these parts. We used to think that if we kill a female baby, we would cry only for a day, but if the baby were to survive, we would cry all our lives. But now, with so many women and girls educated, working and earning well, our attitude has completely changed.”

Today, there are 300 self-help groups in Usilampatti with 20 to 25 members each. Now, they provide microloans, or lobby government for street lights and water.

“Earlier, we couldn’t even handle five rupees , but now we manage over a lakh of rupees in savings with ease,” giggled P. Arul Jyothi, 43, of Meyanampatti village, discussing an increase from 10 cents to about $2,000. She was married as a teenager, but after eight stillborn children, her husband abandoned her. “I was bedridden for years, depressed and alone,” she said. Joining and now leading her group, she said, “was like being given a new purpose.” She has taken and repaid loans five times, investing in home businesses like selling incense or firewood.

Women now command respect in a still patriarchal area. “My teenaged son approaches me and not his father if he needs money for books or school,” said Bharathi, 40, of Poochipatti, who joined a self-help group in 1998. “I make the decisions for my family now and no one lays a finger on me anymore.”

Kalaiselvi Pethusamy, 45, of Rengasamipatti village, joined her village’s group in 2005. At the time, she owned a small parcel of good agricultural land, but had very little skill or knowledge. Over three years, the council trained her in cattle rearing, soil testing, horticulture and floriculture, then sent her for a week to observe a successful poultry and cattle farm in another part of Tamil Nadu.

Most important, she saw how to irrigate barren, drought-prone land that had helped keep the Kallar people, the main inhabitants of Usilampatti, in poverty for centuries.

Her self-help group helped Kalaiselvi get a loan of 50,000 rupees (about $1000) from a bank. She invested in five goats and today owns 20. Her farm has expanded from one to seven acres; she is repaying the last of her latest 150,000 rupee loan. She sells cow and goat milk and rears poultry. A local radio station invited her to talk of her success.

Ms. Annamalai said that since 2001, no baby has been reported killed or abandoned in the region.

Levimatteo Mathews, who heads an Italian aid association that has been the biggest single donor to the council in Tamil Nadu, said the project had worked “because of its personal touch and its holistic approach” to mother and child needs. Since 1993, more than 1,000 girls from this region have completed high school with sponsorship.

His group most recently gave furniture for the new community college in Usilampatti, reflecting a shift in focus from babies to adolescents. Last year, 16 young girls trained as hospital nurses, and 19 graduated in garment stitching and design.

By contrast, boys as young as 14 have problems with alcohol and drugs. “Perhaps,” Ms. Kumar told Ms. Annamalai, “it’s time to focus on the boys now.”