Parenting Through Tragedy and a 24 Hour News Cycle

12.14.12

Newton Connecticut school shooting news

This morning children went to school in Newtown Connecticut and were slain by a madman. Perhaps an evil man, perhaps both. Children were slain, adults were slain and the preliminary news is horrific. It will actually get worse.

Something else will happen, because with the advent of a 24 hour news cycle we will need to fill some gaps. There will be debates about this, there will be stories about how to talk to your children in the wake of a tragedy. There will be debates about gun control and body armor. Surely it will devolve in to a political bit of mudslinging that everyone will find distasteful and then the nation will forget. Newtown Connecticut will remember but the rest of us will move into the holiday season and shop with aplomb.

During all of this tumult people will get on TV and tell you how to talk to your four year old about death. They’ll have advice on how your eight year old deals with tragedy and your teens too.

Your four year old never needs to know about this. If your eight year old is your eldest child there’s no reason to talk to them either. I’ve got a really easy solution for you and it began for me on September 11, 2001.

When America was invaded by terrorists I had a newborn child and a toddler. Every image on the television was of the towers crumbling to dust. I did not want my daughter to have that image seared into her brain so I turned the TV off and lived without cable TV news. I got my information from news sites online and broadcasts after the kids went to bed. Not only was it the right decision for my kids, but it turned out to be the right decision for me.

It’s been 11 years and I haven’t turned cable news back on yet. The background noise of television is gone from my life and I’m really happy with it. I wasn’t getting particularly well researched news, I was getting breaking news. You don’t need breaking news outside of your own community. It’s okay to find out about things 4 or 5 or even 12 hours after they’ve happened. It’s okay to get news later in the day.

It’s also okay to have children who never consume TV news. It’s not the best of journalism and your children won’t be missing vital information. No one who watches these shows becomes informed, literate or balanced, they just watch TV.

Will you want to talk to your friends about this event? Absolutely. We adults are collectively shocked, horrified and saddened but we don’t burden our children with life events they cannot process. Why would we burden them with this?

You get one chance to give your children the gift of childhood. If you don’t live in Newtown Connecticut there’s no good reason to rob them of that.

If you live in Newtown my heart aches for you.

A Little More About Obesity

02.16.12

When I watched this video one of the many striking moments was the bowl full of candy in the classroom.

I love that we’re finally acknowledging the link from fatty and sugary foods to obesity and morbidity. Our bodies were built to survive famine, but it’s clear that we don’t survive the feast nearly as well.

Saving Obese Children Surgically?

01.9.12

obese-youngsters-children-body fat

This Sunday’s New York Times has an article that took my breath away. It follows the journey of a teenage girl who opts for the lap band in order to cure her of morbid obesity. The story is heart wrenching in every way, from the sad fact that a teenage girl would weigh close to 300 pounds to the ultimate failure of the device and our medical system.

Currently Allergan is trying to get the FDA to to allow it to market the Lap-Band to patients as young as 14. This is a phenomenal disaster in so many ways I’m not quite sure where to begin.

The Lap-Band restricts the size of the patient’s stomach so that they feel full. It’s not a surgery without risk but of course the folks who are getting the Lap-Band are already at risk for a host of terribly debilitating and life threatening diseases. The Lap-Band isn’t about getting cute, it’s a medical Hail Mary.

In restricting the size of a patient’s stomach, the Lap-Band also restricts a patient’s ability to get nutrition. Lap-Band recipients are told to take vitamins, but because of the size of their stomachs the vitamins are very uncomfortable to swallow. I have a hard time swallowing vitamins and I assure you I have the palate of a billy goat and a rather average sized stomach.

There are countless stories about Lap-Band patients and their misery post operatively. Common sense dictates that when someone needs to lose half their body weight it’s a medical issue, a behavioral issue and a psychological issue. A 45 minute surgery is more of an introduction to the solution than it is an ending.

It is alarming that Allergen would seek to make Lap-Bands available to 14 year olds. It is not alarming that Allergen wants to do business with teens. Allergen is a business and it operates to please it’s shareholders. What is alarming that there is a growing market for Lap-Bands with teens both literally and figuratively.

As I mentioned before Lap-Bands are the Hail Mary of medicine. When a patient gets a Lap-Band that means that diets, therapy, exercise, and behavior modification have failed. The tremendous risk of surgery is overshadowed by the risk of diseases such as diabetes and heart failure.

Every parent, educator and ally of children should be wondering how we can affect change so that 14 year olds never need to lose half their body weight. Every lawmaker who thinks they can cut physical education out of the school day needs to know that it’s going to cost our country hundreds of thousands of dollars to treat those children who are unable to work and who will require medical care that healthy sized folks don’t require. Every school board that serves crap lunches should know that they’ve effectively slapped every child in the face, hard, when they serve them dubious food.

Every time high fructose corn syrup (or Corn Sugar) is added to a food it should have a surgeon general’s warning on it much like a pack of cigarettes. This will attack your liver and send your pancreas into a tailspin. Your body doesn’t know what to do with this much sucrose.

And every time we tell ourselves that a ten year old has “baby fat” and then we reward him with a Snickers Bar we should be ashamed. Because it hurts our kids. It’s Munchausen’s by Twinkie.

It’s entirely possible that your breakfast cereal has more sugar in it than your homemade cake or cookies.

It’s probably not good medicine to give Lap-Bands to teenagers, but Allergan isn’t their parent. Let’s please look at articles like this and be shocked into doing something good for our kids, all of our kids.

If these kids feel ashamed for being fat we should all feel shame for making them that way.

Faux Research Harms Everyone

07.4.11

University of WashingtonLast week I told y’all that The University of Washington had settled part of a lawsuit with the founders of Baby Einstein. In paying $175,000 of legal fees they admit that they violated the public records act. This may seem like a ho hum piece of news, but it’s really important for families to understand how research at places like the University of Washington affects our daily lives.

Dr. Dimitri Christakis has a website (and a lecture business) where he promotes himself as an International Expert on Media and Child Health. Seriously, google the phrase and you’ll see Dr. Christakis lecturing in towns like Bozeman Montana and creating healthy child guidelines with the American Academy of Pediatrics.

I know, you’re still wondering why I have such an axe to grind with this particular physician.

Well, Dr. Christakis (MD & MPH not PHD), along with his research partners Frederick J. Zimmerman, PHD and Andrew N. Meltzoff, PHD study the deleterious effects of media on children. Their research as it relates to Baby Einstein’s impact on young children is faulty at best and fraudulent at it’s worst.

Again, why do I care so much about one single study that wasn’t controlled, included self reporting on the telephone from two regions, has two sets of raw data (raw data is NOT interpreted, in a good study it’s just one set of numbers, if there are two sets of numbers there were errors, omissions or lies… none of which belong in a study) and measured babies watching an average of 8 minutes of television a day, but then they just multiplied to figure out what it might look like if that was an hour? Why would I care about a study like that? It’s like caring about the fake Autism study that put babies (and our total population) at risk by scaring parents out of vaccines.

From the study’s abstract:

Results

Among infants (age 8 to 16 months), each hour per day of viewing baby DVDs/videos was associated with a 16.99-point decrement in CDI score in a fully adjusted model (95% confidence interval = −26.20 to −7.77). Among toddlers (age 17 to 24 months), there were no significant associations between any type of media exposure and CDI scores. Amount of parental viewing with the child was not significantly associated with CDI scores in either infants or toddlers.

You would think that the babies watched an hour of TV a day, wouldn’t you? They watched LESS THAN NINE MINUTES ON THE AVERAGE. No, I’m not making this up.

Here’s the problem, Dr. Christakis is running around America (and according to his PR machine the world) peddling snake oil wherein you can raise a smarter, more literate child by keeping them screen free. What everyone is ignoring is that Dr. Christakis and his crew are once again attacking  motherhood and while they’re wrapped up in their white coats sitting in a laboratory telephoning parents they’re telling American Mothers that they’re bad at what they do.

More importantly this “research” is accepted by the AAP as truth and parents are told repeatedly that they are harming their children.

But most importantly this study appears to have been at least partially funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH). My understanding about research (again like Dr. Christakis I’ve only got a master’s degree not a PhD like Zimmerman and Meltzoff) is that good research meant to answer a question, and not to prove a point.

A few things for smart parents to take into consideration before they make media decisions:

  • Not all media is created equal, sometimes your kids just want to lay back, relax and be entertained. Just like we do. Should this be hours of the day? Of course not, but you already knew that, right?
  • Some media is quite educational, you can participate with the kids and maybe learn some stuff, like letters, numbers, shapes and language. Watch TV or hang out on websites with your kids once in a while.
  • Sometimes your older child will want to watch TV and your younger child will wander into the room. At times the younger one will be interested, other times they won’t be. Isn’t that funny how children self-regulate? Write a paper on that, maybe the University of Washington will publish it and make it the Mommy Law.
  • If you need to get dinner on the table, make the beds or balance your checkbook without pretending you’re a home school mom and you’d like to do this stuff without your kids try and do it in 22 minutes. That’s how long a TV show lasts when you fast forward through the commercials.
  • You also have permission to let the kids watch a show and you can sit and do nothing. Guess what, you’re still a good mom.

Telling parents that they aren’t permitted to allow a child to look at a screen until a certain age is ludicrous, particularly when it’s based on junk science.

Parents know intuitively what’s good for kids. Also, what’s good for the parents is good for kids. The first two years are special, sacred even, but when parents are being screeched at that everything they’re doing is wrong, bad and going to make the kids less intelligent we end up with a crew of frazzled and misinformed families.

Frazzled parents abuse children.

Faux science is robbing children of their health and of calm homes. Faux Science is robbing parents of the ability to trust their pediatrician’s recommendations. I’m urging the AAP to rethink their recommendations until they have something more than a dishonest study to back it up.

I blame these three researchers Christakis, Zimmerman, and Meltzoff for breaching the trust of the parents everywhere. It’s a horrible thing that for some reason (ego maybe?) these three researchers would impose their bias on American households without even having a set of data that the pubic can honestly review. I’ll patiently wait for the University of Washington to apologize for rubber stamping research that is opinion based and clearly meant to further one man’s career as opposed to benefiting the public that it was supposed to serve.

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For your entertainment I’m exerpting the following from the NIH Guidelines for the Conduct of Research:

  • Financial interests include, but are not limited to,ownership of stock or equity, patents,consulting arrangements, collaboration  agreements, honoraria, service on advisory boards, or management appointments. Failure to disclose conflicts of interest can threaten the integrity of research and undermine the public’s trust in the NIH’s intramural research activities
  • Scientific integrity is inseparable from meticulous attention to the acquisition and maintenance of these research data
  • Research data, including the primary experimental results and computer andstatistical analyses, should be retained fora sufficient period to allow analysis andrepetition by others of published materialresulting from those data. Seven years is specified by the Federal Government (http://www.ori.dhhs.gov/documents/FR_Doc_05-9643.shtml) as the minimum period of retention but this may be longer under some circumstances, such as clinical research

If you’re like me and you love reading academic papers here’s one that is utterly dismissive of a large body of Christakis’ work (which he sells in paperback form) There Is No Meaningful Relationship Between Television Exposure and Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.
work

Same Discussion Different Day

05.3.11

Recently a reporter from CNN contacted me and asked a few questions about sharing other people’s information online. Most specifically my children’s.

You can read the article at CNN but I think we all know that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Nefarious