The Extreme Guide to (Sometimes Sad) Parenting

It's no secret that I love a good Bravo show. So when the previews started-- and I even got a press release about Extreme Guide to Parenting-- I knew it was must see TV for me on multiple levels. index

The six episodes recently finished and it's clear to me why the docu-series featuring nine families (three were so "out there" they got a full hour, and the rest were combined with two into a one-hour show) got so much press ahead of time, but not as much when the episodes aired.

It's because, somewhat shockingly, they weren't quite as out there as you might think. Sure, I didn't agree with everything said or proselytized-- and some of the families clearly need some professional help-- but three things saved the show from being a Toddlers & Tiaras, or even a Showbiz/Sports Kids Moms & Dads (earlier Bravo series that were clearly forerunners of this one).

1) Parents weren't simply presented as caricatures. The primary parent spoke about their own childhoods, often quite movingly, and it was clear how their own experiences often directly informed the decisions they make now. In short, CONTEXT was provided.

2) In almost every family one of the parents (or another close family member) tried to provide an alternative perspective. In fact, in all but one of the families a serious concession was shown being made . The one exception was in the attachment parenting family, where the family would have exposed their toddler to chicken pox instead of vaccinate, but the mom became pregnant instead (full disclosure I found this family the least likeable partly for this reason). Showing people's willingness not just to listen to other ideas, but also engage with them, was interesting-- if not a ratings coup.

3) What I also found interesting was that while these nine families tend to be extreme in their beliefs, they likely resonated with others on some level because there is a grain of truth in each of their perspectives. Is it sometimes necessary to "push" kids? Sure, we live in a culture where a story like this gets written about education, or this about men who can't give up their childhood sports dreams (full disclosure, I'm quoted here). Would it be great to show kids we shouldn't have too much stuff? Of course. Would it be great to spend even more time with your kids? Definitely. Do we want our kids to be tough but also passionate and well-rounded? Sounds great. Do we want our kids to be mentally healthy without the use of drugs, if possible? Obviously. And should we teach kids to be positive about their bodies and not ashamed? For sure [Though I will confess that nothing in the show shocked me because I have basically seen or head it all before as either a parent or researcher-- with one exception. I have NEVER seen someone collect menstrual blood, call it uterine lining, and use it to water plants. Gross!]

We all make decisions about how to balance all these forces, and more, in our lives as parents. Parenting, and life, is tough. My heart actually broke for the "indigo" child mom who is clearly trying so hard to do her best by her son (and because I had just read and reviewed The Price of Silence by Liza Long about childhood mental illness I wanted to send her a copy!). Instead of snapshots the episodes showed things over time (although the time frame wasn't always super clear) and while the editing was sometimes pointed, it still allowed people to speak for themselves a bit more. These families might not change your mind, but they will make you think and that's about all we can ask for these days in such a media saturated world.

I'll be interested to see if a second season is ordered, and if the formula changes at all. In the meantime, back to my Real Housewives viewing...

I not only get to write books these days, I also get to write ABOUT books

Books are my life these days-- and I wouldn't have it any other way! If I'm not reading or writing about my own book, I've been enjoying writing about *other* people's books.

As a non-fiction writer I especially appreciate the clear prose and narrative, but research-based, focus in books like Emily Bazelon's Sticks and Stones.

0-2Here's part of my recent review on the Brain, Mother blog:

The 1999 Columbine massacre changed the way we see bullying in schools. Since then 49 states have passed laws addressing bullying. In her recent book, Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy, Emily Bazelon, a lawyer and journalist, shows how in post-Columbine America bullying has become one of the biggest stories about 21st century childhood.

And, yet, according to Bazelon’s research, things aren’t as dire as you might think. The stats show that somewhere between 15-20% of kids are regularly involved in bullying (either as victims or bullies) and while cases of bullycide are tragic, often there are underlying issues such as mental illness. To make her case Bazelon draws on Scandinavian research, analysis of legal cases, and in-depth investigation of three high profile cases involving children in the Northeast.

Sticks and Stones is divided into four parts; the first two focus on the stories of Monique, Jacob, and Flannery, while the third focuses on a synthesis of research, and the fourth on conclusions and tips to combat bullying. I found Part III to be the most compelling, particularly Chapter 9, “Delete Day,” which concentrates on Bazelon’s visit to Facebook and what the social media giant is doing about cyberbullying.

Bazelon writes: “The electronic incarnation of bullying also changed the equation for adults by leaving a trail.” Kids today care more about having a Facebook account suspended than getting suspended by their schools, so she argues that the company should do more protect teens (Bazelon suggests a simple solution that Facebook make the default settings private for any teenage account holder, which Facebook hasn’t yet done).


In the print version of the current issue of Brain, Child Magazine I have a review essay on fact-based pregnancy books. You can read that in full BY CLICKING HERE! Oh, and for the record, this pregnancy I have had NO desire to eat that Sierra Turkey sandwich (too spicy for this expecting momma)... Maybe I simply don't want it since I gave myself permission to eat it?

I'm extremely excited that soon others will be sharing their thoughts on my book. And, get this, it was just announced that PLAYING TO WIN is the focus of The Brilliant Book Club: Illuminating Reads for Parents. Definitely a club after my own heart. Stay tuned for more!

More Talking, and Writing, about Competition (while being a mom)!

It's been a busy week; and I suspect it will continue to get busier as I prepare for the release of Playing to Win-- or at least I hope so! Before detailing those though, some thoughts on making all this work as a mom: On the day I did the two TV appearances described below, which bookend-ed my work day, I thought I had *finally* figured out how to be a mom, work, be a friend, etc. I did NECN early, dropped off breakfast for a close friend with a new baby where we talked about the "usual" postpartum issues, ran to exercise, and raced home to put Carston down for his nap since I didn't get to do our usual morning routine earlier. During the day I managed to get our garage door repaired and give Carston some extra Mommy kisses while preparing for Greater Boston. After the WGBH appearance I again raced home, and Carston and I headed off to dinner with a friend at the local mall. As I drove there I remember thinking to myself, "What a day! After 15 months this is really clicking!" My  husband was out of town for work and I felt like this was proof I could make all this work. Famous last words, right?! Well, Carston and his friend (who is almost 3) had a great time at P.F.Chang's. They were so cute together mimicking one another-- one would laugh, and vice versa, one would babble something and so would the other. The "problem" with this is that Carston is very into screeching. Can't figure out why this is, or whether or not this means he will be an opera singer, but no matter what we have tried to do, he still screeches like a little screech owl. Of course then, his friend screeched back. While most of the people around us were very understanding, one man in particular, sitting behind me, kept telling me how wrong I was to bring my son out and that this wasn't Chuck E. Cheese. I chose not to engage with him, but I did feel his comments were way out of line given that P.F. Chang's has a children's menu and the Natick Mall is one of the most baby/family-friendly places I have ever seen. I could have let this man put a damper on my day, and he did a bit (so much so that I am writing this), but other people around us were so nice, and as my friend pointed out there are SO many more good people in the world than bad. I ended the day by eating my carryout P.F. Chang's Lo Mein (couldn't eat while dealing with this man and my little screech owl), watching my WGBH appearance, and waking up around 1 am when John got home. All in all though, I still hope we are *finally* figuring all this out, despite people telling me where I should or shouldn't take my Little Man...

Two pieces I wrote related to competition appeared this week. The first is "Competitions Within Competitions: America's insatiable hunger," which is part of my ongoing blog at Psychology Today about children, competition, and popular culture. The piece specifically talks about the rise of even more competition in reality TV shows, where celebrities have teams that compete for the glory of the win on behalf of the team leader as well.

The other piece is about a young man who took competition too far, punching youth soccer coach Ricardo Portillo in the head during a game in Utah. Portillo died from his injuries a week later-- a sad incident that should prompt legal changes to protect sports officials and reflection about what increasing competition is doing to youth. This article, "Youth Soccer Shouldn't Be A Blood Sport" is on WBUR's Cognoscenti blog, a site where I have long desired to see my words appear (and that I got the YES on my birthday was a nice treat).

I've also done both TV and radio recently, talking about competition. In a radio appearance on The Larry Fedoruk Show on NewsTalk 610 out of Canada, I spoke about links between bullying and competition. You can hear that by clicking HERE.

Speaking again and bullying, and links to violence and social media, I appeared on WGBH's Greater Boston with Emily Rooney for a very interesting discussion about boys, terrorism, and violence. It was triggered by the arrest of an 18-year-old high school student, Cameron D'Ambrosio, in the Boston area for making terrorist threats on Facebook, but the discussion went much deeper into youth culture today.

Finally, another discussion about youth culture and competition took place at NECN's The Morning Show about how college graduates can navigate the increasingly competitive labor market after graduation.

This time of year is filed with competitive experiences- both victories and fall-out from losses- and I look forward to thinking, writing, and discussing more about these topics. Thanks for reading and listening/watching!

My Son's First Mitzvah: Why We Banked His Cordblood (Originally appeared on

THIS POST ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON JEWISHBOSTON.COM. CLICK HERE TO READ IT THERE! At my son Carston’s bris I proudly announced that he had already completed his first mitzvah—or at least I hoped he had. IMG_9044

Shortly after he came into this world, Carston gave up some blood—cord blood. He didn’t really have to do anything, but hopefully his donation will help save a life (and we know that to save one life is to save the entire world).

Any expectant mom who reads a baby magazine or signs up for a newborn-related email list has seen the ads for cord-blood banking. For parents with large personal fortunes, private cord-blood banking can seem like good protection against possible misfortune. Given some family’s medical history, private cord-blood banking might even be important. But for most of us, a better investment in our children’s futures is to take the thousands of dollars required for private cord-blood banking and open a college savings account instead.

My husband and I decided against privately banking our son’s cord blood, but I couldn’t stop thinking about cord blood.

For several years, my husband and I have been members of the National Marrow Donor Program. My husband has been matched not once, but twice, to someone in need of a bone-marrow transplant. It’s rare to be matched even once, so I joke that he has “super bone marrow” (though he’s never been called on to actually donate). I thought my son might have some of his dad’s super bone marrow and hoped he could perhaps help someone in need. So my husband and I decided to donate Carston’s cord blood to a public bank.

Because the hospital where I delivered did not collect cord blood, I reached out to the Carolinas Cord Blood Bank, one of four public cord-blood banks. They sent me a kit: a box that I brought with me to the hospital when I went into labor. A family member FedExed everything back to the blood bank the day Carston was born, and two days later we went home, minus the box, but with our bundle of joy.

We’ll never know if Carston’s cord blood helped someone, though of course I hope it has—or will someday. But to me, part of the importance of the act is in not knowing the specific impact. Hopefully my son’s cord-blood donation is but the first mitzvah in the life of a little mensch.


The Sociology of the Teen Mom Series (in the Media)

MTV's Teen Mom juggernaut (which includes Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2, along with the 16 & Pregnant series that inspired the follow-ups) is a treasure trove for sociologists. It often shows the inter-generational transmission of poverty (particularly powerful you see it unfold before you); linked to this is much about education, health, technology, and drugs in the lives of today's teens and young adults. Teen Mom logo

I've been speaking about a few Teen Mom-related stories in the press lately, which highlight some of these issues. More importantly, this shows how pop culture (like TV shows) and the media can be used to help students learn sociology. It's more powerful when it's something students already watch, but can then observe and analyze in a new way.

For example the troubled Teen Mom 2 star Jenelle Evans makes headlines both for what she does on the show and for her real-time life. While reality TV shows have sped up the air dates of some shows, for some reason both Teen Mom series have aired on such a delay that the audience often knows that much has changed since the episode was filmed (unlike other shows that do reunions, like Bravo's Real Housewives franchise, even the Teen Mom reunions are taped well in advance). Thanks to Twitter, fans follow the daily dramas of the MTV reality stars in real time.  Evans, who has been engaged/married/divorced in a blink of an eye on Twitter exemplifies this trourth end. Click here to read the story, and my comment, on why we follow Evans' soap opera life.

While Evans' series is still airing (with a fourth season to come), the first installment of Teen Mom has officially concluded. But some of the "stars" of that series manage to stay in the news. Farrah Abraham raised several eyebrows last month (pun intended) when she revealed she tried to wax, and ultimately tweezed, her three-year-old daughter's unibrow. This led to an NECN appearance where I spoke about what types of beauty treatments are (un)acceptable for toddlers and young girls.

Yes, I'm back talking about virgin waxes (remember Britney Campbell-- whose mom was lying for media attention-- but whose story brought real virgin waxing to light?).

On a more serious note though, it's possible that reality-TV starlet Farrah would have done this to her daughter anyway-- but you can't help but think that her experience on TV, and having her daughter on with her, impacted her decision. Sophia is now used to being seen and she knows that image matters. This is not really the primary lesson you want to be teaching young girls (or anyone for that matter).

Let's hope that Farrah saved some of her television money and invested some of it for Sophia's education (I don't think the kids on the show were compensated separately, like other reality TV kids, but I'd love to hear I'm wrong on this). If not, at least Sophia might have the option to use a website like Seeking Arrangement. Haven't heard of it? It's a relatively new "dating" website that connects wealthy adults with younger, attractive dates. It's usually sugar daddies, but some sugar mommas are on there as well. I was interviewed for a great NECN news segment on this growing trend in the Boston area among college students.

At least Sophia and the other Teen Mom kids are used to showing their own faces on camera already...