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!

Lines to Add to my Son's Baby Resume: Infant Scientist and TV Star

Is there anything worse than a Harvard stage mother? No, there is not. When I was an undergraduate and saw all the babies going to do experiments in William James Hall, I vowed that someday my kids would do the same. But in the haze of postpartum life I forgot my promise to myself. Until a letter arrived from Harvard's Baby Lab when Little Man was around 6 months. I immediately signed him up and he did his first experiment within weeks.


The next month I got a letter from Boston College's Infant & Child Cognition Laboratory so I also signed him up for experiments there. He loved their lab, where he found one of his all-time favorite toys (an activity table), and started a collection of Infant Scientist certificates (he's now received a post-doc in infant science and he's an Advanced Scholar, natch).

878. Baby Scientist!

That got the social scientist and writer in my thinking about other experimental opportunities in Boston. I quickly discovered that I could sign Carston up for experiments at other area institutions, like Boston Children's Hospital and University of Massachusetts-Boston. We'd officially joined what I dubbed the "Boston baby experiment circuit" and I had the motivation for my next article.

That article is in this month's Boston Magazine. It's even featured on the cover!

Click HERE to read the web version of the article or HERE to see the published version in the Magazine.

I mentioned the article to my friends at NECN's The Morning Show, where I am a regular guest, and they decided to follow Carston as he did an experiment at Boston College's Lab.

Carston *loved* being on camera, as you can see:


He also loved anchor Bridget Blythe, of course.


Here's his big TV debut!

(You can also link to the clip and story by clicking HERE.)

Also, I swear that the sensor cap doesn't bother Carston at all. They used an unsmiling (but nonetheless cute, of course) pic of my guy for the story, but here is one of my all-time favorite images of him smiling in an experiment:


He's even happy when he has "octopus kisses" after getting his cap off!


I have apparently raised a rather vain Little Man though; he was completely obsessed and mystified by seeing himself on TV this morning.


He even checked out the picture of himself watching himself (this is getting very meta and says a lot about screens in our society, I'm sure):


Carston, the Infant Scientist, thinks it would be an interesting experiment to see what kids his age think about seeing moving images of themselves...

The "Cool" Power of Pageantry

This morning I was on NECN's Morning Show talking about the controversy surrounding the Indian Land Elementary Warrior School Pageant-- a child beauty pageant meant to be a fundraiser in South Carolina that was ultimately canceled after parent protests.

You can read more of my thoughts on "Parents against pageants" by clicking here.  In a nutshell I think there are reasons to be concerned about schools sponsoring elementary school-age pageants (as opposed to high school level "pageants" like Prom/Homecoming Queen), but that doesn't mean all child beauty pageants are bad. As I say, there's reason to think it's easier to do a child pageant at 6 months than 6 years.

As Steve, the anchor, mentions about 55 seconds into the clip, Miss USA (the first ever from Rhode Island-- hence her New England connection), appeared about 45 minutes after I did. I know it's easy to confuse us-- ha!

At about 2 minutes and 20 seconds into the above clip Olivia Culpo does address the South Carolina school pageant.  Note that she does so in very stereotypically pageant fashion though, emphasizing that beauty is really on the inside.

I was somewhat surprised to hear Culpo respond in that way because as I was driving to NECN's studios earlier I heard her talking on the radio.  During her radio interview I was a bit shocked by how candid (and fun) she was about a few things.  One of the things she said was a bit negative though-- which I think she herself recognized because she then effectively said, "Whoops, shouldn't have said that on the radio!" While talking about her cello playing the radio hosts asked her why she chose to compete in Miss USA, which doesn't have a talent component.  She responds that she thought about doing the "American" system, but decided to do Trump's Miss USA because it's "cooler."  You can hear this exchange starting around 3:20 here.

Both Miss USA and Miss America have positives and negatives and while there are some cross-over contestants most young women opt for the system that fits them best.  Because Miss America places an emphasis on talent and interview/platform the women who go that route often aren't as "sexy" as Miss USA system contestants.  Trump's system is known for being physically sexier, but both Miss America and Miss USA have done a great job of helping women get into the entertainment industry.

Note that former Miss USAs (like Susie Castillo) are more likely to be entertainment reporters, while former Miss Americas (like Gretchen Carlson) are more likely to be news anchors/commentators.  The difference between Castillo and Carlson reflects slightly different politics (Miss America is known for being more conservative, as I wrote about in June on Slate-- though note that despite Trumps' known conservatism the Miss USA system is noted for being liberal, which helped lead to the first Miss Conservative U.S. Pageant in July).

Of course not all beauty queens go on to entertainment careers. Some go into politics, and I wrote about some of those currently running for political office yesterday at The Hill. You can check out my piece by clicking here: "From reigning to campaigning: Beauty Queen political candidates."  Despite Culpo's comment I found all the women I spoke with for this article to be pretty "cool."  I especially loved that Caroline Bright's (Miss Vermont 2010) mother has a PhD in women's studies and that Lauren Cheape (Miss Hawaii 2011) decided to run for office on her plane ride home from the Miss America Pageant (it is a long flight from Las Vegas to Hawaii, but it's not life-changing for everyone!).  I also loved Lauren's attitude about her noteworthy talent, jump-roping (yes, including a "butt bounce"!), which she uses to help fight childhood obesity and to explain to kids that you will inevitably make mistakes (like stepping on the jump rope) but you just need to keep going.

And, again, while some Miss America contestants may not be considered traditionally "cool" by their Miss USA sisters, many of them are pretty amazing individuals who I'd love to have a conversation with.  Take, for instance, the reigning Miss Montana who will compete for the title of Miss America 2013 in January.  Alexis Wineman could be the first woman with a developmental disorder to win the Pageant. The 18-year-old was diagnosed with autism at age 11.

The name of her platform is pretty clever, by the way: "Normal is Just a Dryer Setting, Living with Autism."

Wineman reminds us that "cool" comes in all different settings and any pageant that can teach children that cool and beautiful come in many different shapes and sizes is probably okay with me-- especially during October, which is Anti-Bullying Awareness Month (for more recent thoughts from me on anti-bullying this month, check out the profile of our little family toward the end of this newsletter).

What happens when you are first-time parents who study competition and education? Part II

Almost 9-months ago, right before my son was born, I blogged about how my work and my husband's work would impact our parenting.  Obviously so much in our lives has changed since then-- yet much has remained the same. Various "family business" over the past week captures all of our various interests... and hint at Little Man Carston's future academic and extracurricular pursuits!

1) Economics- With the Chicago teacher's strike my economist husband's research on teacher evaluations has been back in the news.  He spoke on the radio station WGBH about how similar issues might strike Boston over evaluation processes.  His work also appeared in The New York Times again, described in Nicholas Kristof's September 12th column, "Students Over Unions," as "the gold standard study."  Here is how Kristof described the work:

There’s now solid evidence that there are huge differences in the effectiveness of teachers, even within high-poverty schools. The gold standard study, by Harvard and Columbia University scholars and released in December by the National Bureau of Economic Research, took data from a major urban school district and found that even in the context of poverty, teachers consistently had a huge positive or negative impact.

Get a bottom 1 percent teacher, and the effect is the same as if a child misses 40 percent of the school year. Get a teacher from the top 20 percent, and it’s as if a child has gone to school for an extra month or two.

The study found that strong teachers in the fourth through eighth grades raised the game of their students in ways that would last for decades. Just having a strong teacher for one elementary year left pupils a bit less likely to become mothers as teenagers, a bit more likely to go to college and earning more money at age 28.

Removing the bottom 5 percent of teachers would have a huge impact. Students in a single classroom with an average teacher, rather than one from the bottom 5 percent, collectively will earn an additional $1.4 million over their careers, the study found.

2) Sociology- As the sociologist in the family I've also been speaking out, often on NECN's The Morning Show (for all of my recent clips, click here).  Last Tuesday I spoke about the evolving meanings of 9/11 and how we can commemorate the day with a new generation of children.

Today I spoke about the powerful op-ed, written by Bill Lichtenstein and published in last Sunday's The New York Times,and how and why discipline in the schools has evolved over time.

There's been some controversy over "A Terrifying Way to Discipline Children," though the basic facts of what happened to Lichtenstein's daughter remain undisputed.  For a good piece on the topic, see this Time article, along with Lichtenstein's own website, which provides commentary and links to both positive and negative pieces.

3) Sports- As I blogged last Thursday I reviewed a new sociology book on female sports fans on The Rumpus, mentioning my interest and John's interest in sports.  No word yet on Carston's athletic preferences though.

4) Pageants- Last Thursday evening I was thrilled to help select two new Miss America system queens-- Miss University and Miss Strafford County-- who will go on to compete for the title of Miss New Hampshire 2013.  I was impressed with so many of the people I met during the experience and I look forward to following their careers.  The most interesting, and difficult, part of the pageant wasn't the swimsuit competition, it was the interview.  Going through it, it's easy to see why the process of competing for Miss America is one very long job interview.

While we don't yet know which social science will most interest Carston-- or if his primary interests will be around education, sports, or pageantry-- we do know that he is already a media maven.  He especially loves social media, as his onesie reveals.  My Little Man, who is "Famous on Facebook," got this new portrait taken last week in between Mommy and Daddy's media appearances!

Can't wait to see who he will become!

The Need for Parenting Credentials?

While most of us spent yesterday celebrating fathers we seem to spend the rest of the year placing parents under a microscope.  So far in 2012 we've heard about why French parents are superior and why you aren't good enough if you aren't a breast-feeding mom.  And those are just the major headlines. Yesterday The Boston Globe Magazine ran an excellent piece on spanking, along with a well-researched timeline on the history of discipline in Massachusetts (though I do wish they had defined "spanking" more clearly-- is it over the clothes, using a strap, etc.).  The author, James Burnett III, starts by explaining how closeted spanking is and how many parents would not even consent to be interviewed.  He even compares the shame associated with spanking to extended breastfeeding.

This feature was especially timely given another story that made the rounds last week: Mom Carla Williams, of Lowell, MA was arrested after punching her 10-year-old daughter in the nose.  Williams claimed that she could discipline her child any way she saw fit.  The law disagrees, of course.  In a TV appearance on NECN's Morning Show and a radio appearance on WBZ's NightSide last week I explained why Williams is wrong-- mainly because you should think of discipline as child abuse if you bruise, break bones, or draw blood. You can see my clip below, and read more of my thoughts which are part of the article on their website, "Fallout after Lowell, Mass. mother accused of punching her child."

Both discussions were framed around the challenging question of whether or not we should license people to be parents.  This would be difficult for all sorts of legal and historical questions, as I mentioned, but it is worth pointing out that there is one instance where we do in fact require parents to be licensed: adoption.  Adults who want to adopt go through a rigorous process to prove their worthiness and capabilities.  In many instances age (at the upper bound), sexuality, race, education, and class come into play and worthy people are dismissed.  These are people who would more than likely make excellent parents if they could conceive on their own.  They would almost certainly be better parents than Carla Williams and Tuan Huynh, a Pennsylvania father who was recently sentenced for abandoning his 16-year-old daughter 14 miles away from her home after she failed calculus.  Huynh, who clearly wants the best for his daughter in terms of her education, didn't have the best parenting education himself; now he'll have to take parenting classes that clearly would have been helpful before this tragic incident.

Also, as more and more details of abuse emerge from the ongoing Jerry Sandusky trial, it's worth remembering that youth sports coaches also don't have to be certified to work with kids (Note that I wrote in that piece, "Sadly, nail salons are better regulated and have more safety requirements than programs where children can suffer catastrophic physical and emotional injury."  In Sunday's New York Times Magazine Jacob Goldstein wrote an interesting article on efforts to loosen restrictions on cosmetology licenses in various states. A diverse group are backing these efforts, which this far have not been successful.  I wish more would focus on licensing those who work with children and worry less about licensing or not licensing those who braid hair). As long as children are accused of "asking for" sexual abuse, as this story about an Indiana high school student who was raped by her volleyball coach suggests, it's clear we need better education not just for kids and coaches, but for parents as well.

No parent is perfect and we all can use more knowledge and education.  But no adult should abuse a child in any way and legally get away with it.  No matter what their credentials say.