Archive: Raising Great Kids

Do Parents Have the Right to Force Religion on Their Kids?

My Southern Baptist father and WASP mom raised us kids with exposure to many religions -- I went to Catholic, Presbyterian and Jewish services with relatives and family friends -- but they invoked little religious influence. I'm technically Presbyterian and I married someone Jewish; our kids are "half and half," which so far has worked out fine in our non-denominational urban universe. So I guess I am naturally baffled by parents who feel it is their right to "force" children to abide by their religious choices, such as an Oregon case earlier this year that attracted national attention when the Oregon Supreme Court blocked a divorced former Southern Oregon man from circumcising his 12-year-old son against the wishes of the boy's mother. According to the Oregonian, the court ruled that the trial judge failed to determine whether the boy wanted to have the procedure -- a voice of reason here...

 

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | April 30, 2008; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (154)

Help! My Children Don't Match My Wallpaper!

When my two oldest children were four and two, I met an adorable toddler at our local playground, one of those blonde cherubs that belongs in a Gerber commercial. Her late-in-life parents were equally charming and we became couple friends. They invited us over -- to their house, they explained, because they hadn't been able to find a babysitter who met their specifications. The steak was delicious, but we couldn't stomach a second date, because of, um, their home. It was a sleek modern townhouse with equally sleek modern art on the walls, sharp edged exotic stone tables, angular leather chairs and white shag carpet. My husband and I sipped Evian while gazing upon a staircase that floated through the living room without handrails or kickbacks, just lovely beautiful air, a lethal weapon for any baby who had reached the crawling stage. One look at that staircase and my husband...

 

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | February 20, 2008; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (65)

Beer for Teens?

Friends around the dinner table. One father talked about his 17-year-old-son's request to host a party, at home with parental supervision, where beer would be available to his friends. My kids are young enough that I haven't faced this one. But another mom at the table with teenagers spoke up immediately. "Absolutely not. Never." I was surprised by how adamant she was. She explained that she'd recently been to a school-sponsored "Drugs and Drinking" seminar that warned of the dangers of permissive parents. Her takeaway was that kids whose parents let them drink at home drink earlier, drink more, and are at increased risk for developing alcoholism. I asked what her feelings would be once her children left home to go to college. "Nothing I can do about drinking there," she said. Now I am not a drinker myself. I may feel differently in a few years, but my current...

 

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | February 13, 2008; 06:15 AM ET | Comments (137)

Is Your Kid A Genius?

Short answer: Probably not. Last month Newsweek revealed to parents something teachers have long known. They're No Baby Einsteins reports that 95 percent of kids are not gifted, no matter what we parents think. And the lack of genius is good news despite the "epidemic of specialness" rampant among parents today. "What parents don't realize is that there is still a normal curve," explains Wendy Mogel, Los Angeles-based psychologist and author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee. "Most kids are in the middle. Some kids will never love to read or never be good at math and they can still lead productive, happy lives." Like many new parents, there were moments when my husband and I thought our firstborn was a genius. He learned to read before kindergarten and could do multiplication and simple division by age six. Wow! But it turns out he was just exceptionally eager to...

 

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | February 4, 2008; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (54)

Kids, Cooking and Holiday Balance

As I've admitted before, I'm a lousy cook. And, like most parents, I'm too busy to spend much time experimenting in the kitchen. But that doesn't mean I've given up on my kids eating well -- and nutritiously. This is especially challenging during the holidays, when candy canes, Christmas cookies, Hanukkah gelt and school parties supplied by ubermoms abound. Three new books have arrived to help those with cooking challenges, like me, find some nutritional balance during December. Deceptively Delicious has gotten a lot of attention because the author is married to comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Jessica Seinfeld has three kids under eight and she partnered with a prominent nutritionist to create the recipes, so I figure she's got some degree of credibility in the kitchen. Her shtick is hiding nutritious foods in kids' favorite foods, and the key is puree: cauliflower, kale, blueberries, avocado, etc. The Sneaky Chef has gotten...

 

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | December 3, 2007; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

The Boys are Alright

By Rebeldad Brian Reid Former Postie David Von Drehle has the cover story in this week's Time, writing about the "Myth About Boys." It's well worth the read, even at 4,000+ words, for the way in which it cuts through all of the breathless warnings about how boys today are a bunch of video game-obsessed, super-medicated, borderline illiterate thugs-in-waiting. As it turns out, the stats suggest that Von Drehle's generation was far more screwed up (and that I came of age during a golden age of teen delinquency). But what was really interesting, from a balance point of view, was Von Drehle's attempt to explain why boys might be doing marginally better: Maybe our boys are doing better because we're paying them more attention. We're providing for them better; the proportion of children living in poverty is down roughly 2% from a spike in 1993. And we're giving them more...

 

By Brian Reid | August 2, 2007; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (168)

First Is Better When It Comes to I.Q. Scores

A scientific study was recently conducted to add to a half-century debate about whether first-born children have higher I.Q.'s than their younger siblings. The study, conducted by Norwegian epidemiologists, analyzed military records of birth order and I.Q. scores of more than 240,000 men born from 1967 to 1976. The finding that firstborns averaged three IQ points higher than their next sibling were reported in Science and Intelligence journals and by the New York Times in Research Finds First Borns Gain the Higher I.Q. The Norwegian epidemiologists corrected for factors such as parents' education level, maternal age at birth, and family size in order to isolate the birth order factor. They also studied families where firstborn sons died, turning younger siblings into effective "firstborns." The differences in I.Q. varied by family, showing up in most but not all families, but the average difference was significant. Now, I.Q. is clearly not the...

 

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | June 25, 2007; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (199)

Spoiled Rotten (By Us)

Following up Friday's talk about Slacker and Alpha parents, let's take a peek into what our kids might be like in the future through ABC News' Meet the New Millennials. "Millennials" are Americans born after 1981, the invisible tipping point where it suddenly became de rigeur for parents to micromanage our children's lives with flashcards, Baby Einstein videos, playdates, violin lessons, sports therapists, and tutors for every kind of special need, real or imagined. Now these "kids" have entered the workplace, with interesting results. "They grew up with an 'everyone gets a trophy' sense of entitlement," one 57-year-old employer says of his 20-something Millennial employees. "They are members of a generation that thinks it should get a trophy just for waking up in the morning." Typical problems include arriving to work on time, working towards long-term goals, dressing appropriately (the same employer had to tell a young female employee that...

 

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | May 21, 2007; 07:30 AM ET | Comments (336)

How Much Scheduling is Overscheduling?

By Rebeldad Brian Reid About a month or so ago, I was given an especially good thrashing in the comments for suggesting that overscheduling might not be all bad. A number of astute readers pointed out that "overscheduling" was -- by definition -- a negative. And while I can't argue with the correction of my language, I'm still flummoxed by the question of how much is too much when it comes to extracurricular activities. All of this is colored, in some ways, by my own upbringing. As an adult, I can skate, swim, ski, golf and read music, tremendously useful skills (golf excepted) that I began acquiring by the time I was six. I don't remember being dragged on daily marches from swimming to gymnastics to hockey to piano lessons, but -- somehow -- all of that happened for me, one way or another. So, I have a bias toward...

 

By Brian Reid | May 10, 2007; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (413)

Where Has Childhood Gone?

Last night around 7 p.m., on my way to book club, I drove through the neighborhood I grew up in. It was a lovely spring evening. Clean streets, trees with green buds, pretty cottage-style homes. Zero kids. When I was a child growing up there 30 years ago, the first warm, spring night meant one thing: Every kid from every house was out, playing in the street and on the sidewalks. Freeze tag, bikes, kick the can, hide-and-seek. I know where all the kids were. Same place as mine. Soccer practice. Piano lessons. Tutoring. Or in lock-down because the neighborhood was experiencing a wave of bombings, drive-by shootings and child abductions (not). Once at book club, one mom insisted that all the neighborhood kids needed to be inside because our world has become very dangerous. That schools forbid kids from walking or biking to or from school. That kids' nonstop...

 

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | April 25, 2007; 07:20 AM ET | Comments (0)

Alpha Girls

Last Sunday -- April Fool's Day -- the New York Times ran a front page article about a group of senior girls at Newton North High School outside Boston,For Girls, It's Be Yourself, and Be Perfect, Too (subscription or article purchase required). The girls are all "high-achieving, ambitious and confident," according to reporter Sara Rimer. They study Latin, are fluent in Spanish, have three years of varsity track, basketball, soccer, or another impressive sport under the belts around their slim waists. The pictures show them to be beautiful, thin, and athletic in addition to being articulate brainiacs. We are living in the age of the most empowered 17 year old girls in history. I'm not accusing the Times of getting this story wrong, or mocking these golden girls for their perfectionism. (Although I would like to see an article about high achievement among boys -- a seriously neglected media topic...

 

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | April 11, 2007; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (478)

A Flight of Independence

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were pondering the upcoming four-day President's Day Weekend. Aside from our confusion over exactly when three-day weekends became four-day weekends for schoolchildren, we were torn. We both had too much work to take time off. But why should our work schedules mean the kids couldn't do something fun? So, last Friday, my husband and I drove our two oldest children, ages 8 and almost-10, to the airport. They got on a a plane and flew BY THEMSELVES to visit their grandparents in Florida. Sure, there were other people on the plane, and my husband's kind, responsible, adoring, semi-retired mother and stepfather were waiting at the Florida airport by the time the plane took off from Washington. So, it wasn't a big risk. But it felt huge to us as parents. Some parents in my neighborhood have let their kids walk to school...

 

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | February 21, 2007; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

The AirTran Toddler Fiasco

Forget Snakes on a Plane. The new horror flick is Toddler on a Plane -- playing at airports everywhere. When reports surfaced last week about a toddler who'd gone postal on a crowded plane, I thought: been there, done that. I once became hysterical myself after all three of my kids melted down simultaneously mid-flight. One of the hidden benefits of parenthood is that most of us become far more sympathetic towards crying children (and their parents) in no-win situations like the one the Kulesza family experienced in Florida on Jan. 14 when their 3-year-old daughter, Elly, refused to sit in her seat. "Elly was sitting in front of our seat crying," mom Julie Kulesza told the South Fort Myers News-Press in one of the many media stories about the incident, Antsy Tot, 3, Gets Family Kicked Off AirTran Plane. "The attendant motioned to a seat and asked if we'd...

 

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | January 29, 2007; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (588)

Raising Balanced Kids

Passing by the bulletin board at my four-year-old's preschool, I recently saw the cover page of Emily Bazelon's October 1 New York Times Magazine article about overparenting, which highlights Wendy Mogel's 2001 book The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, a slim Jewish parenting guide that has mysteriously gained momentum in recent months. The director had circled the title and written in black Sharpie: "Please read this!" It seemed like a plea to all of us overindulgent parents, much like the Discipline Workshop the teachers beg us to take each year (with good reason). Parenting has changed dramatically from our parents' generation to ours -- the "helicopter" parents now populating every school and soccer game were treated as a kooky rarity 30 years ago. Often moms who've pursued higher education and careers in the past 40 years bear the brunt of the blame. The arguments I've heard (note: I disagree with...

 

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | October 16, 2006; 07:15 AM ET | Comments (195)

Celebrating Daycare

I wish that everyone who has ever disparaged daycare or scoffed at government subsidies of child-care centers could have been with me on Monday afternoon. My four-year-old daughter and I went to a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Small Savers Child Development Center at the Office of Thrift Supervision, a federal agency in downtown Washington, D.C. My daughter spent much of her first year of life in the infant room while I was at work a few blocks away. For me, working motherhood would not have been possible without quality daycare like Small Savers. The party was filled with about 200 parents, staff, and, of course, children of all ages tearing around playfully, bringing life and illumination to the drab government building conference room. The woman who founded the non-profit parent cooperative center in 1986 was honored. The director, who has run Small Savers for...

 

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | June 28, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (153)

High Price of Day Care?

I can't stand most media reports about day care, because they seem designed to terrify and guilt-trip working moms. The reports are never about quality day care, which I've found to be a godsend in my life as a working parent. However, an article on the high price of day care, which ran in the New York Times last Wednesday, is well worth reading. The findings were objective. Unsettling, too. The article reported on a day care experiment in Canada. Synopsis: 10 years ago the Quebec Family Policy started subsidizing day care at government-approved centers, ultimately spending $1.4 billion a year to offer care at only $7 a day. Mothers who suddenly had an affordable way to return to work did so in droves and gave the economy a lift. Great so far, right? Then three well-respected economists analyzed the well-being of the children (and parents) in the program. They...

 

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | June 21, 2006; 10:00 AM ET | Comments (185)

We've Raised A 'Me' Generation

My friend, Ann, a full-time working mom from New York whose kids are a few years older than mine, once warned of the perils of showering my kids with Baby Mozart, 24/7 flash card drills, and "help" such as doing their homework, cooking separate meals like a short-order chef and excusing them from household chores. "The world doesn't cater to individuals like that, and kids raised with too much attention have a really hard time once they get out of the house on their own." Turns out she's right. However, it's us moms -- working, stay-at-home and everything in between -- who pay the price, not our pampered kids (at least as long as we are alive to keep indulging them). The Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition (subscription required) ran an article I found horrifying on Saturday describing the "Me Mother's Day" where 20- and 30-something kids bought themselves presents...

 

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | May 16, 2006; 08:29 AM ET | Comments (195)

A Wish for Less Stress

I recently interviewed Ellen Galinsky, President of the Families and Work Institute in New York. Her 1999 book, Ask the Children: The Breakthrough Study That Reveals How to Succeed at Work and Parenting is filled with insights from children that lead to strategies for happy working families. I asked her to reflect back on the seven years since the book's publication and what her wishes are for children today. If I only had one wish, I would wish what the largest proportion of children in my study and book, Ask the Children, wished. They wished that their mothers would be less tired and stressed. For those who are employed, work has become more demanding and pressured. Many employees are electronically tethered to their jobs and the boundaries between work and family life are much more porous. Furthermore, the lives of children have become increasingly pressured and scheduled. So, I would...

 

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | April 17, 2006; 10:00 AM ET | Comments (55)

The Terrible Teens

Every mom seems to have a different theory when it comes to the "ideal" time in her children's lives to be working outside the home. Some of you might say "how spoiled to think women can just pick and choose when to work" or "how terrible to think there is ever an ideal time to abandon your children." There is truth in this criticism. But still, I hear women all the time debating this idea of when it's "best" to work as a mom (usually before they actually have children, when choices seem especially endless). B.B., a mom of teenagers in Chevy Chase who I must identify by her initials because she agreed not to discuss her teenagers in public, used to work in an office and has been home since her children became teenagers. She explains. "The conventional wisdom is that if teenagers come home to an empty house,...

 

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | April 11, 2006; 09:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Raising Independent Kids

A friend I saw recently in California, a stay-at-home mom, told me about trying to calm her five-year-old's night terrors with a promise that set off alarms in my head: No one but mommy or daddy would put him to bed. Forever. "Isn't it wonderful how we parent today?" my friend asked me, her voice tinged with pride. "He will never need therapy like we did." I looked at her like she was crazy or joking. She was totally serious. In the future, slapstick comedy writers will mock college-educated, turn-of-the-20th-century American moms as the nuttiest, most control-freakish, paranoid guardians of all time. We don't let our kids walk home from school. Neighborhood parks are filled with dogs instead of 10-year-olds because kids can't go anywhere unsupervised. Moms "help" with homework -- even with kids in college. Under the guise of loving our children, we give them the skewed message that...

 

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | April 3, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Kids' Eye Views on Working Moms

To help silence complaints about how lonely writing can be and how much gripping pencils hurt their hands, my son's third-grade teacher asked me to talk to the class about writing. So, I recently sat on a small, yellow chair, describing to 23 nine year olds the arduous and exhilarating process of slogging an idea through conception, writing and editing until it transforms, like a newborn baby, into a freshly printed book. The discussion turned to what the kids thought of the book's subject, working vs. stay-at-home motherhood. Voices, and emotions, began to fill the classroom. "My mom works at a bank and my dad works three hours away, so my babysitter has to pick me up every day." "Wednesday is the only day my mom can pick me up. I dream about Wednesday all week." "My dad works in an office in our attic so my brother doesn't kill...

 

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | March 27, 2006; 07:49 AM ET | Comments (167)

 

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