Friday, December 14, 2012

What to Tell Kids about the Connecticut School shooting

Sadly, trauma here we go again! Another day filled with tears over a senseless act of violence. This latest tragedy is particularly sensitive to discuss, since it took place in an elementary school. Here are some basic guidelines for parents:

• Don’t ignore the situation or try to hide it. Kids are likely to find out about it eventually from other kids at school, and when they do, your silence about it may amplify their fears. So ask if they heard about what happened and if no, tell them you want to discuss it because they will likely find out later.

• Don’t pull your kids from school over safety concerns. This is an irrational thing to do, and it feeds into a child’s fears that they aren’t safe.

How to explain this incident

Parents should talk openly and honestly about this tragedy. Here are some key points to discuss:

• Explain that tragedies such as this can happen anywhere, just like it’s possible for a small asteroid to fall from the sky anywhere in the world and knock you on the head. But when is the last time you got hit with an asteroid? Tragedies like this can strike anywhere, but that doesn’t mean they are likely to happen where you are at. Such cases are extremely rare, and it’s a one in a million chance you will ever experience a tragedy such as this one.

• School still is the safest place you can be. It’s filled with adults who will protect you with their life, and all in all, far more things happen away from school. The reason stories such as this get so much attention is precisely because they are so unusual.

• Don’t use terns such as evil or monster. These are lazy explanations, and they only fuel a child’s negative emotions. The truth is that as monstrous as this person’s actions were, he was not a monster, but a seriously disturbed human being who committed a heinous act. Describing people as evil avoids a serious explanation and nurtures feelings of fear, anger and hatred.

• Talk honestly about mental illness. Tell them to imagine a nursery full of babies. Inside that nursery, there are no bad or evil babies, because every human being is born good. But sometimes, as people grow up they experience things in their life that cause them to become bitter or angry. While we may never know what drove this person to commit such a horrible act, we can be sure that things occurred that made him feel helpless, bitter, angry, and out of control, turning him from that wonderful baby in the nursery to someone who was so disturbed that he thought this was the best direction his life could take.

• Some things there are no answers for. Explain that it’s hard for normal people to fathom how someone could do something like this. Most people would shield children from a bullet; to point a gun at a child and pull the trigger is unthinkable. Tell them this. Talk about how there are around 310 million people in America, and 309,999,999 would never consider doing such a thing. Try to make whatever sense of it you can together.

• Going forward, we should use this as a reminder to do all we can to insure everyone around us is loved and cherished, no matter how similar or different they seem from us. We can do all we can to try and make sure that nobody around us is ever feeling so helpless and out of control. Taking this approach funnels all this emotional energy into positive responses such as empathy and compassion rather than the destructive one such as hatred and fear.

Finally, our thoughts and prayers are with all the parents of Sandy Hook Elementary School, especially those unlucky ones who just had the worst day they will ever experience in their life. While there are not words to express what they are feeling, each and every child slaughtered in that school is now in the heart of us all.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

It's Not Just Celebrities Behaving Badly

Lately, everyone's been talking about celebrities behaving badly. From the Tiger Woods scandal to Lindsay Lohan's drunken criminal mischief to Mel Gibson’s racist rants and insane behavior, it seems as though there's never a shortage of celebrities behaving badly. of course, the reason for this is less scandalous and shouldn't be all that shocking: celebrities are imperfect people just like everyone else, acting in imperfect ways of their own unique types and varieties.

Whenever a celebrity reveals a less-than-noble side of themselves, parents scoff; society pounces, and their misdeeds become the fodder of news and talk shows. Yet everyone seems mysteriously quiet about another form of bad behavior broadcast all across television: the despicable ways in which society and the media at large tends to respond to such un-admirable behavior.

From a perspective rooted in psychological science, the bad behavior of people responding to such incidents often seems a whole lot worse than the transgression in question. We scoff. We snub our noses. We point fingers. We call names. We apply our own moral standards or personal beliefs to the lives of others. We self-righteously claim the high road and pretend that we would never make hurtful mistakes ourselves. We talk about how evil/horrible/nasty/stupid the person in question is. What's worse, such responses have become so normalized that people almost expect it.

There are a couple notable things about such responses. First is the hypocrisy. You might fool your neighbor with such finger pointing, but the research on human behavior exposes the charade. Do we really need to pull the statistics on how many of you cheat on your spouses? Yell at your kids? Get divorced? Hit your kids? Maintain dysfunctional households? Use (or have used) drugs? Have drinking problems? Drive drunk? Are verbally abusive? If one takes the time to tabulate the prevalence rates of bad/ hurtful behavior of various types, it exceeds 100% of the population dozens of times over. Obviously, each of us struggles with our own unique problems.

Aside from the hypocrisy, the more concerning issues is how these attitudes impact the absorbent minds of children. What does all of this blaming, finger pointing and condemnation really teach our kids? That when someone errs, the proper response is to joke and laugh and shame and humiliate the other while telling ourselves that we're good and they're bad; we're better and they're worse. Is this what you want your kids to be learning? that when someone messes up you're supposed to make a spectacle of it? that it's OK to be nasty and mean-spirited and spiteful, so long as you think you have an excuse for why the other person deserves it? This is what our kids pick up by watching news and talk shows. No wonder bullying in schools is such a widespread problem.

Amidst this sea of negativity, the only thing kids learn is that others will use your failings to hurt you, and you should use the failings of others to hurt them in return. Who's going to tell our children that shaming and humiliating someone tends to impede their progress towards prosocial behavior? That it only serves to alienate and divide people, rather than reconcile them? That people do imperfect things, and so will they, but what matters is not ones failures but how we try to correct them and what type of person they are overall? Who will point out that verbal abuse and social scorn is often more destructive than any other type of abuse, and so engaging in such behavior is abusive and every bit as wrong as what the other person might have done?

Who's going to tell our kids that when someone messes up, the right thing to do is to help them understand how their actions have hurt others, not rub the offenders’ nose in the sand? Who's telling them that reveling in the failings of others doesn't exactly make one righteous (only self-righteous: and that such behavior is itself injurious, and therefore wrong? Pundits in the media certainly aren't taking this approach. Rather, they are modeling behavior that is even more despicable than the sex scandals or drunken escapades of celebrities. This makes it all the more important for parents to aggressively combat this influence.

Forget for a moment your worries about what bad habits or unhealthy messages your child is picking up from watching celebrities. We're more concerned about what children learn by watching society's responses to these scandals, and you should be too. People are always going to be imperfect souls who make many, many, many mistakes over their life. This isn't news, nor is it even really a scandal. Yet if we continue to model such hypocritical and condemning reactions, the lessons our children learn from this is a threat to the very fabric of society. We're teaching our kids how to create divisive communities in which a Jerry Springer-like bully culture is the way of life; one which thrives off the hurt and humiliation of others. This is not a culture we should want any child to inherit.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Top 5 Tips for Keeping Your Kids Safe Around the Pool

A guest post

If you're lucking enough to have a swimming pool in the summertime, you, as well as your friends and neighbors, probably want to spend as much time as possible swimming and lounging. Pools are a great way to stay cool, have fun and be active in the summer. They can also be very dangerous for young children if the proper precautions aren't taken.

According to Sabriya Rice of CNN Health, "children between the ages of 1 and 2 represent 47 percent of submersion injuries and 53 percent of fatalities for children younger than 15."

To alleviate your worries and keep your child out of harm's way, here are some basic guidelines to remember and follow with your pool. These tips are also good to keep in mind year round, even if you are not using your pool.

Talk to Your Child

First of all, just be up front with your child about the risks. Let them know the dangers and why you have set rules around the pool. There are some books and videos that make it easier for children to understand pool safety.

Use a Pool Fence or Cover

It is always a good idea to have a fence around the pool. This will keep your child out of the pool area until you are ready to take them in. If you do not have or are unable to install a pool fence, there are special coverings and nets like the pool covers at In The Swim. These protect anyone who might slip or fall into the pool from becoming submerged.

Be Prepared

In the worst case scenario, if your child does fall into the pool, it is necessary to prepare yourself to deal with this. Even if 911 is called, having some basic first aid skills can save your child's life. Learning CPR can be an essential tool in saving your child's life in a pool accident. Life jackets, a first aid kit and anything that might help retrieve your child from the pool are items that should be close-by when swimming.

Do Not Leave Children Unattended

Never let your child outside without an adult. This may seem like common sense, but most cases of child drowning occurs when a parent or babysitter goes inside for just one minute. Even when you are with your child, pay attention to them. Do not do other tasks like reading or texting. According to, it can be more dangerous to have many adults around swimming children than just one or two— everyone assumes someone else is watching the kids.

Swimming Lessons

Swimming lessons are available to children starting at 1 year old. It's never too early to implement water safety training. According to, children under 5 account for 76 percent of drowning fatalities. Teaching them this valuable skill can help them be more prepared if an accident happens.

Set Rules

Make it clear that certain rules must be followed. Setting rules like no running around the pool or no going outside without an adult help your child understand the precautions they must take to stay safe. Let them know and remind them why these rules are important.

Lock Doors

When you are in the house with your child, keep all the doors locked so they cannot go outside without you knowing. Even if they are old enough to unlock the door, it is an indication to them that they are not supposed to go outside. If you have a pool fence, always keep that locked as well. Having an alarm can also be useful.

Following these guidelines will greatly reduce the risk of your child drowning or becoming injured by the pool. Don't forget these tips are relevant around portable pools or when taking your child to the beach as well. As long as you are aware and cautious, you will have a great time swimming this summer with your kids.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Back To School: Choosing the Best Backpack for Your Child

As children get ready to head back to school, there's an often overlooked health risk you have them carry to class every day: their backpack. Sure, it looks harmless, what with the Dora the Explorer figurines or other rather unimposing designs. But as kids collect their books and get involved in their schoolwork, lugging around all of that extra weight that's piled inside can take its toll.

In 2008, Consumer Reports sent out staffers to three different New York Schools on a quest to weigh the backpacks of 50 kids. Their results found that second-graders hauled around an average of 5.3 pounds. Fourth-graders, surprisingly, had just 4.6 pounds average between them. Sixth-graders were the real losers of the bunch, hauling around an average of 5.3 pounds.

“Kids are very susceptible to back pain with carrying weight,” says Orly Avitzur, a neurologist and medical adviser for Consumer Reports. “We know that an increasing number of children over the years are getting more back pain.” So parents need to look at more than just their child's favorite TV characters when choosing a backpack. It needs to be comfortable, too. Here are some tips to keep your child's backpack from breaking their back:

1. When kids try it on, the shoulder strap anchors should be about one to two inches below the top of their shoulder. The bottom of the backpack should go along the curve of their lower back and shouldn't fall more than 4 inches below the waist.

2. When you go to the store to test it out, go over to the book isle (or bring a few older books of your own, just make sure they actually are older, or security may come over to say hello on your way out) and have your child test a prospective backpack with weight inside to see how it feels. A backpack can feel completely different loaded than unloaded, and your child should test it according to how it will be used. Gather the approximate weight the child will carry, and try on different ones until you select which is most comfortable.

3. Get younger kids a backpack with a handle that extends out to roll on wheels. It can help relieve the burden, reducing the times they are forced to shoulder the weight.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Talking to Your Kids About the Aurora Tragedy

As a Colorado native who has been to that particular theater numerous times, words simply cannot express the sorrow felt for the families who endured this unspeakable crime. But no matter where you are in the nation, as a parent, children are going to watch the news or hear it from friends in school, so you may end up having to talk with them about what occurred. There is no rational way to explain such a senseless act. And in the lack of understanding, a parent's first instinct may be to blame it on a "monster" who did evil things. But this isn't usually the most comforting response -- it's neither true nor helpful information, and will tend to increase fears, not diminish them. Nor does it provide a productive outlet for these negative feelings. After all, evil is a term that disqualifies all else. The only thing to do against evil is to destroy it. Which means all our emotions will focus around destructive thought patterns. Instead, you should explain such maliciousness as being very much like a natural disaster. In the same way that a weather system draws upon a countless number of other variables to assemble the storm that spawns a tornado, people who flare up in destructive ways are the combination of an endless number of influencing factors -- their upbringing, biology, personal experiences, history, fears and desires, mental condition in a particular point in time, etc. -- all coming together to result in this terrible action. This explanation has several benefits. First, it helps diminish the anger or confusion they might feel. But it also allows us to focus our anxieties toward more productive responses. While we may never know what particular ingredients set this person off, we can take action in our life tomorrow to combat the elements that create and feed such malice. We can make sure we are doing our best to create an inclusive society that shows concern for everybody, so that no one feels like an outsider. We can do all we can to spread love toward others, because there is one thing for certain: this act was completely devoid of love. We can act compassionately, not just toward those we normally associate with, but with those who annoy or disturb us as well. We can understand that no baby is born into this world an evil being. We can understand that hurtful action such as this is brought about by different forces in an individual's life that create a storm in their mind which lets them consider such an atrocious act. Let's not waste as much of our own energy focused on hate -- which is precisely the type of emotion that allows soulless acts like this in the first place. Finally, point out how the majority of people are moved with compassion for this tragedy and are coming together and supporting one another. The world is still full of more love than hate, we just have to continue working to ensure everyone is touched with love, understanding, and compassion. It's the only thing that will prevent such flair-ups in the future.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Rats On Junk Food

If you have rats in your house, stop feeding them junk food. It's bad for their health, say scientists. And if you have children in your house, you might want to hear what a diet of too much junk food did to the rats, because there's reason to believe it could be doing the same to them.

The story starts when a pair of researchers got together to see what would happen if they fed rats a regular diet consisting of the same sort of crap we humans consume on a regular basis. What they found is that when rats are fed a diet consisting exclusively of junk food, it alters the brain's reward centers, inducing addictive behavior in rats that is similar to that caused by heroin. “This is the most complete evidence to date that suggests obesity and drug addiction have common neurobiological underpinnings,” reported study coauthor Paul Johnson.

The research was conducted by the Scripps Research Institute in Florida. Scientists separated rats into two groups. One was fed a standard low-calorie, highly nutritious chow. The other group got to gorge themselves on an endless supply of junk food: Ho Ho's, sausage, bacon, cheesecake, and pound cake. Predictably, the junk-food fed rats began to eat compulsively and became obese, taking in twice the calories of the rats in the control group. This revelation wasn't all that surprising, but the next one was notable - and worthy of concern.

They then tested both groups' sensitivity towards feel-good stimulation. After a mere five days on the junk food diet, rats in the test group showed “profound reductions” in sensitivity amongst their brain’s pleasure-reward circuitry. In other words, their pleasure circuitry had become habitualized to the joys of junk food, so that it required a bigger jolt of pleasure to obtain the same feelings of reward when it came to other pleasurable experiences in life. This reduction in sensitivity also meant that the obese rats had to eat more in order to get the same pleasure, just like a drug addict needs more and more of the drug to get the same fix as their body becomes habituated to its effects.

The good news is that this imbalance can be corrected, though not easily. In this study, deficits in the brain's reward circuitry lasted for weeks after the rats stopped eating the junk food. The other area of concern: this was only a rather limited time of exposure. Researchers are worried that when such diets persist not for weeks but for months and years, and especially when this occurs during the sensitive period of childhood, the changes in the brain might be permanent.

It's just another reason why early healthy eating habits are so important. Junk food in itself is not the enemy. It's when parents allow a lack of discretion, and junk food begins to comprise the bulk of a child's normal eating habits, where problems arise. A treat here and there will not ruin your child. In fact, denying children reasonable indulgences is not only mean, it can backfire; leading towards an overcorrection towards overindulgence in adulthood. But too much of a good thing just might habituate your child towards unhealthy habits, dulling their reward centers and setting them down the path towards obesity. Balance is the key.

Try to remember this the next time your child is scarfing down the sugar doughnuts you bought them at the convenience store, which will serve as a snack between the lunch at McDonald's and the take-out pizza planned for dinner. A little junk food here and there won't hurt them, but be sure not to make it a regular habit.

Bits of Wisdom:

The Modern Family
“The modern middle-class family still feels that its justification has to be derived from what it produces, but the only thing it produces now are children. Their perfection should justify the labors if not the very existence of the family. ...Perhaps we were all better off when children were seen as a gift of God, however they turned out, and not something, the high quality of which provides justification of our family.”
- Child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, in his essay “Why Youth is in Revolt.”

The false diagnosis of children
“As a result of organizing a group of parents of late-talking children back in 1993, I encountered many stories of emotional devastation that these parents went through because their children were diagnosed as autistic--diagnoses which the passing years have shown to be false more often than not. ...Many of the treatments inflicted on children diagnosed as autistic would be called child abuse if they were not done as medical procedures, and they can set back or distort a child's development.”
- Thomas Sowell, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, speaking in the Maui News (11-19-07).

Ill-thought-out Crusades
“There are many ways of coping with tragedies. One of the less promising, and often dangerous, ways is to launch a crusade. Crusades may be emotionally satisfying, politically popular and welcomed by the media. But crusaders are not known for caution, for weighing evidence or for counting the costs, which may extend well beyond the cost in money. ...Most crusaders...seem unwilling to consider the possibility of errors, much less the consequences of those errors.”
- Thomas Sowell, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, speaking in the Maui News (11-19-07)

Fatherly Guilt
“Children's thirst for their fathers can never be slaked, no matter how bottomless and brimming the vessel. I have abandoned my children a thousand times; failed them, left their care and comfort to others, wandered in by telephone or e-mail from the void of a life on the road, issued arbitrary and contradictory commands from my mountaintop when all that was wanted was a place on my lap, absented myself from their bedtime routine on a night when they needed me more than usual, forestalled, deferred, or neglected their needs in the name of something I told myself merited the sacrifice.”
- Michael Chabon, reflecting on his own parenting after discovering a tendency to hastily judge others, in Details Magazine (Jan. 2009)

The Dangers of Psychotherapy
“What few patients seeking psychotherapy know is that talking can be dangerous, too - and therapists have not exactly rushed to tell them so. ...The failure to heed Hippocrates reflects the assumption that psychotherapy is, at worst, innocuous. That naive trust should have been blown out of the water when ‘recovered memory’ therapy actually created false memories, often of childhood sexual abuse, tearing families apart. But the ‘Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Therapy,’ the clinicians bible, devotes only 2 1/2 pages out of 821 to adverse effects, even though documented risks of therapies could fill a small book. ...What is remarkable about psychotherapies is that few patients have any idea that ‘just talking’ can be dangerous to their mental health.”
- Science writer Sharon Begley, in The Rocky Mountain News.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Weathering the Bumps & Bruises of Toddlerhood

As a child enters their toddler years and grows increasingly mobile, an upswing in injuries is never far behind. As toddlers begin walking, caretakers watch as a child injures themselves left and right. Many parents become concerned about the number of serious bumps and bruises that their child is sustaining. You may wonder: "he's taken some major spills lately. Should I be worried that he's getting hurt so often?"

Bumps and bruises are an inevitable part of childhood. Your child builds their motor skills through attempting new feats and pushing their boundaries, and this experimentation and boundary pushing means they will be living life at the edge of their current motor abilities, leading to more injuries. The good news is that serious injuries from a toddler's wipeout on flat, level ground are rare. Most spills in toddlerhood can be easily resolved with plenty of TLC and a band-aid or two, along with encouragement to get up and keep exploring. Although it's natural for parents to want to avoid seeing their child in pain at all costs, a few bumps and bruises are an unavoidable part of childhood. Moreover, though they may cause temporary pain, over the long haul those scrapes and dings play an important role in your child's learning how to weather pain and persevere amidst setbacks.

The real concerns are things that could cause serious or life-threatening injuries. Falls from stairs, decks; windows; or other elevated surfaces can be deadly. This is nothing that can't be guarded against with a little childproofing and extra vigilance, however:

1. Install safety gates on stairs.

2. Install window guards on your child's bedroom/play areas.

3. Don’t open the windows all the way, which makes it easy for a child to stumble and tumble through the screen (which will not hold the weight of a toddler falling through it).

4. Supervise children closely around all decks or elevated surfaces.

5. Visit for more tips and information on childproofing your home.)

Another potential problematic situation could occur when a fall results in a child hitting their head just right (or rather, wrong) against the edge of a table or some other protruding object. This can direct the energy of the blow to an acute spot on the temple, and in rare but nonetheless frightening cases, can inflict a fatal injury. (Though it doesn't happen often, we've documented cases of a child hitting their head on a coffee table, brushing it off and continuing about their business, only to be rushed to the hospital and pronounced dead later that night.) You can help protect against such injuries by installing foam corner guards on any problem areas in your home.

Most head injuries result in little more than a headache, but others can be far more serious. If a child seems confused or lethargic after hitting his head, you need to seek immediate medical attention. Be particularly watchful after any falls that cause a child to hit his head against an acute object, such as the edge of a table or a concrete divider. If a child seems OK but the hit sounded brutal, keep a watchful eye and use your best judgment. When it comes to head injuries, it's best to play it safe. At least 99 times out of 100 you'll have wasted a trip to the ER out of an over-reaction, but it's that one time in a hundred when the situation is serious that we don't want to miss.

Other signs that your child may have taken a spill that requires medical attention are if he or she can't seem to bear weight on a leg, is favoring a limb, or has a cut that's large or one that won't stop bleeding. If she's in obvious pain, that's another sign something more serious may be wrong.

What will others think?
Another common yet often unspoken concern is this: "My god, when people at daycare or at the park see this bruise, they're going to think I beat him." On several occasions I've had a teary-eyed parent ask me not to call social services because a child fell down and got a bloody lip or was hit with a ball and developed a black eye. Parents can relax. With only a few exceptions, most people understand that kids, especially kids this age, often hurt themselves. Unless the bruise is shaped like a hand print or otherwise indicates something amiss, you should be in the clear. Remember: child care workers and teachers ALSO spend their days around children who manage to fall and injure themselves in every manner conceivable; and thus they generally understand that wobbly-legged tots are going to sustain more injuries.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Toddlers & Tantrums

Often times, real life truly is stranger than fiction. This is especially the case
wherever children and safety issues come together. Throughout our research, we
often encounter some truly unique cases that we couldn't make up if we tried. We
write about them in order to promote an expanded safety awareness of the different
happenings of the world at large, and sometimes, in situations not-too-serious, just to bring a good chuckle or two to this otherwise serious topic. So...

One of these stories really happened. The other two were derived from the voices
inside our head. Can you tell which ones real?

A) Policeman uses stun gun on toddler throwing tantrum

B) Toddlers tantrum helps foil robbery attempt

C) Toddlers tantrum triggers full-scale police and rescue operation

While you're contemplating the correct answer, consider this very real safety fact:
Little children put toys in their mouths an average of 20 times an hour, which is
why it's so important to keep the floor and their play areas free of anything that
poses a choking hazard.


In California, early in 2008, a young boy in the midst of a tantrum triggered a
full-scale police and rescue operation when he angrily threw his toy teddy bear over a guardrail at the edge of a road in Glendale.

The chucked bear ended up about 80 feet down a steep hillside. So as any mother
would do, the boy’s mom set out to retrieve it. In the process, she was also
overcome by the laws of gravity, and ended up tumbling down the rain-slicked
hill. You might be able to guess what's coming next.

Naturally, Dad made his way to rescue Mom, when he, too, slipped on the hill and
became trapped. "We could not climb up because it was very slippery," reports the
dad. The panic-stricken boy then ran to knock on a neighbor's door, and the good
citizen contacted the authorities.

When the police and firefighters arrived, they had to use ropes and wenches to pull
the parents to safety. Needless to say, the boy learned a lesson he'll never forget. In fact, it was such a remarkable story that we decided to loosely base a children's storybook from it. Look for 'The Boy Who Threw His Bear' on our website
sometime in the future.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Trayvon Martin; the next Rodney King?

Now that George Zimmerman has been charged, hopefully some of the hysteria will die down. Or perhaps not. CNN and other news outlets have resorted to airing tidbits about Zimmerman's incarceration or details about how he cries in jail; a blitz meant to feed the sadistic schadenfreude of the masses. But given the way this case has evolved what we've seen thus far may be dwarfed by what is yet to come.

Prosecutors may have indeed overcharged Zimmerman. Second degree murder requires the intent to kill -- a dubious leap of faith that even the most damning of evidence so far does not support. Plus, the Florida law, which appears to have been written by mentally disturbed second graders, allows gun owners to shoot people if they mistake someones waving hello for an act of aggression that makes them "feel threatened." This brings us to a very important question given the hysteria surrounding this particular case: what happens if Zimmerman is acquitted of the charge.

Given the emotions that have built up so far, will we see another Rodney King type outbreak of unrest spreading all across America? Lets hope not. Yet the potential for such flair-ups is arguably even more pronounced today in the era of social media than it was back then. Racial tensions remain in many places, and having a black president in office has brought out many hidden prejudices that I never knew existed. Making matters worse, many people are using the case as a poster child for hidden agendas. Blacks seem intent on insisting it was racially motivated, and are using it as a parable to the injustices they face. Young lobbyists will fiercely fight on the other side trying to make this a justified killing seem justified. As is the case with life, reality probably rests somewhere in the messy middle with no black and white, good guy bad guy answers.

Thus we arrive at the million dollar question! If the outcome is messy, or the verdict not what many believe it should be, will those who have staked so much on this issue be content to let it rest?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Teens "Dusting" to get High

More teenagers these days will do just about anything for a thrill. The latest trend for parents to watch for is something known as "dusting." It involves sucking in compressed air to get high, usually from a can of compressed air used to blow dust from electronics. (Hence the term dusting)

Breathing in the compressed air can produce a euphoria that is similar to what a teen might feel from playing the chocking game. In addition to unknown health risks, it can also lead to impairment. Police in Wichita Kansas have reported seeing crashed caused by teens dusting. They know of at least four crashes in which a driver caused an injury after taking a hit from a can of air.

So if you have a teenager or even a child in older elementary school, be on the lookout for signs of this latest fad.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Trayvon Martin Circus

My how this case has taken on a life of it's own. In the two weeks since we originally posted on this case, it's gone from a backwoods story to a nationwide media circus. Unfortunately, lost amongst the accusations of racism and heated emotion is the core of what this case is about.

I very much doubt Mr. Zimmerman intended to become a child killer. Unfortunately, that is exactly what he has become. Not because he is a heartless monster, or even a racist, but for a much simpler reason: when you carry around a loaded gun, life altering tragedies are as easy to come by as a simple misunderstanding. Trayvon wasn't killed because he was profiled, but because one person had a gun when the situation escalated, allowing a mistake and misunderstanding to turn deadly. Like a drunk driver who plows into another car, it was Zimmermans stupidity, not his evil character, that left a child dead.

It was a mistake for Zimmerman to assume Martin was up to something. It was a mistake to follow and confront the teen. And regardless of how things unfolded next, it was a mistake for Zimmerman to assume he needed to use deadly force against a 140 pound unarmed teenager. This is not a racial tragedy. It is a gun tragedy. Even if you believe Zimmermans rather dubious story that Trayvon reached for his gun, this would be a non issue, and a non life threatening situation, had Zimmerman not had a gun. This case comes back to one thing, and one thing only: Mr Zimmerman, this otherwise "law abiding" citizen, was packing, turning a series of mistakes into a deadly encounter.

Unfortunately, this is rather typical of the mistakes that are common to "law abiding gun owners" when more people carry loaded weapons. In fact, "law abiding gun owners" are several hundred times more likely to make a mistake or commit a crime with their weapon that they are to use it legitimately for self defense. That means that every person carrying a gun makes you and your children monumentally less safe and more likely to die from a crime despite what the gun lobbyists might have you believe. Having a gun can make you feel powerful, but it doesn't offer safety, for one simple reason: legitimate chances to be the hero are extremely rare. You have a better chance of winning the 'big ' lottery. The chances to make mistakes happen every day.

The real monsters of this story are people like representative Dennis K. Baxley, who sponsored the gun lobbies stand your ground law, openly encouraging people to shoot first and ask questions later. Or any of the other ill informed gun advocates who promote the fairy tale that guns offer self protection. This myth directly causes hundreds of child deaths each and every year. It was killing children long before Treyvon Martin, and it will be killing kids long after. Let us not forget that as we speak the gun lobby is pushing further and further to try and revive the Wild West days where every idiot carries a gun on his belt. If this campaign continues unchecked, we can be assured of thousands of more stories like this to come.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

When More Citizens Have Guns

Seventeen year old Trayvon Martin was an ordinary teenage boy living in Florida. His life tragically ended one night in late February when he left his home to walk to a local convince store to buy some snacks for the NBA all-star game. No, he wasn't snatched up by a sexual predator. Rather, he met his end at the hands of a "law abiding" gun owner who could be the poster child for the NRA.

He was shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman inside this gated community, who admitted to killing the child. Zimmerman had seen the black teen walking down the road, and thought he appeared "suspicious." So he called 911. Had he listened to the 911 operator, who repeatedly told him to stay inside his vehicle and not confront the teen because police were on the way, this story would have ended there. But instead, Zimmerman, who is described by a Martin family lawyer as a "homeowners association loss cannon," ignored this advice and went out to confront the teen.

Although it is unclear precisely what happened next, it is believed that Zimmerman stalked the teen, following him down the road and initiating an argument. During this confrontation, Zimmerman got out his 9mm gun, and shot the unarmed teen dead in the street, just 70 feet from his stepmothers home. Zimmerman would tell police that he acted in self defense, a puzzling claim, considering the teen was doing nothing wrong and Zimmerman was the one who confronted him. It's sort of like me walking up to you at Wallmart, trying to harass you or detain you, and then shooting you dead when you resist this action and calling it self defense.

As of this posting, Zimmerman had not yet been arrested, though the case was being reviewed by the district attorney. Hopefully justice will be done, and this child killer will get the same treatment as any other child killer receives. But there is a broader issue at play here.

Gun advocated love to make the claim that lives are saved when everyday citizens tote their guns around. This is a factual lie, refuted by research. (See our publication Guns For Protection) Safety advocates know better: most gun crimes aren't committed by career criminals, but by pissed off gun owners. So the more people you have carrying around loaded weapons, the more of these "loose cannon" situations you have ready to go off. The more people carrying guns, the more chances for misunderstanding, mistaken assessments, poor decisions, and unnecessary killings.

As more states continue to encourage every yahoo who owns a gun to be their own vigilante do-gooder, even passing laws allowing someone to shoot a fleeing person in the back so long as they "feel" threatened, we'll encounter many more tragedies like this. Tragedies where gun vigilantes such as this turn an otherwise innocent situation into a deadly encounter, slaughtering a child who is merely walking back to his house after buying candy. The most sickening part of it all is that this type of 'make my day' shoot first and ask questions later mentality is exactly what gun advocates want to see more of.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Finally, An Air-Bag You Want Near Your Children

Automobile air-bags have always been somewhat of a mixed blessing. While they work well in most cases, they can be deadly to children and even small adults. This is because when airbags deploy, it1s not exactly a gentle process. They inflate with a tremendous amount of force, which for little ones, hits them in the head and neck area rather than the more durable torso. Hundreds upon hundreds of kids have lost their lives to this safety device, and each case is frustratingly tragic. I can think of nothing more horrible than to lose a 5-year-old boy or girl in a minor fender bender that barely causes any damage to the car, all because he or she happened to be sitting in the front seat when the air bag deployed - a storyline in numerous deaths we’ve followed. This is why you don’t sit children in the front seat of a car that has air bags.

After more than a decade of development, Ford motor company is about to launch the first airbag designed primarily with children in mind. It’s an airbag sewn directly into the seatbelt itself, with bags that pop out into sausage-shaped tubes in a crash. The breakthrough involved working out a new type of cold gas system that inflates the tubes. A cylinder underneath the seat (much like a Co2 cartridge) shoots its contents of cold gas through a special safety-belt buckle and into the bags in the event of a crash. Because of the way they expand, it spreads the force of the crash out over 5-times as much area, which will greatly reduce the jolt children experience, and thus, the degree of injury they sustain.

The seatbelt air bags should be especially helpful in combating seatbelt syndrome - a condition where a child’s spine is broken in a crash and they become paralyzed. This happens because of the way in which the seat belt sits on them, which causes an uneven distribution of force. (This was a primary reason for the invention of booster seats, which were intended to combat this problem by better adjusting the way shoulder straps rest on a child. Lap belts alone, however, can be even worse, causing a whiplash action right in the child's midsection.)

As an added bonus, Ford spokesman Wesley Sherwood says that more than 90% of those who tested the belts rated them at least as comfortable as conventional belts, and many said they were even more comfortable because the thickness of the bag folded inside the belts makes them feel softer. This may assist in the battle to get more rear-seat passengers to buckle up; something government data reveals only 61% of rear-seat occupants to do, compared to 82% in the front seat.

These back seat airbags will be optional, at $395 extra, on the 2011 Ford Explorer, which hit dealers this past December. Eventually, Ford plans to include the feature globally in other models and seating positions.

We seldom get all googly-eyed over a safety feature, nor do we generally openly endorse a commercial product. But this is one that, if it works as planned, could help spare at least some children the torment of a debilitating spine injury.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Cell Phone Use by Passengers Can Also be a Distraction for Drivers

Unless you've been hanging out in Osama bin Laden's cave for the past few years, by now you're well aware of the potential dangers of cell phone use while driving. News reports abound of studies which outline what a distraction it can be, and you have probably encountered a few personal experiences yourself on the road in dealing with other drivers that attest to their truthfulness. I know I've navigated around several near-collisions to avoid a clueless driver distracted by a cell phone, and I doubt I'm alone.

But it turns out cell-phones in the car may be problematic even when it isn't the driver who is using them. Using a clever way to test drivers, a recent study in the September 3rd Psychological Science proves that cell-phone use by a passenger can also be deadly distracting. And it all involves the way our brain's process communication in our surroundings.

When someone around us is talking on a cell phone, we can't help but listen. It's wired into our brains. It's like putting a toddler in an empty room with a big red button on the wall--you know that button will call to them, begging to be pushed. Cell phone conversations are unique from ordinary chatter around us, in that we only hear half of the conversation. This creates a riddle that instantly draws our brains attention, even without our conscious awareness. We embark on the task of trying to fill in the blanks, to make whole this incomplete dialogue that hijacks our attention. When we're driving, this decrease in attention can result in a drop in safety.

To test this effect, Cornell University psychologist Lauren Emberson had participants complete a series of tasks while listening to several different types of conversational recordings: a woman recapping a cell phone conversation in a monologue, two women talking to each other on a cell phone in which both parties could be heard, and a woman talking to an unheard person in the “halfalogue” that we encounter when someone around us is talking on a cell phone.

They then tested participants on a couple of driving-related and concentration skill tasks. When trying to keep a cursor as close as possible to a moving dot on a computer screen, the performance among subjects dipped significantly while listening to the halfalogue, but not while listening to the other two conversation types. In a second task, participants were asked to remember four letters, and hit a computer key as quickly as possible whenever one of those letters appeared on a screen, all while ignoring any other letters-a task designed to test response times and general awareness. Once again, performance declined while listening to halfalogues compared to full conversations. Though the effect was not as noticeable on this test, it was still statistically significant.

So all in all, when someone is listening to halfalogue because a person around them is talking on a cell phone, driving performance dips. Brain-to-motor-skills plummet, they lose concentration, and their response time dips...all crucial detriments to motorists navigating traffic signals or potential hazards on the road. “Drivers should be aware that one's attention is drawn away from current tasks by overhearing someone on a cell phone, at least in our attention-demanding lab tasks, and that this effect is beyond conscious control,” says Emberson.

It's still uncertain precisely how much of a detriment passenger cell-phone use is in the real world as compared to other hazards such as regular cell phone use, drowsy driving, texting, or impaired driving. But it is clear that having a passenger use a cell phone in the car is a measurable distraction for the driver--and this would be especially true for teen drivers, who are still honing their driving skills, and thus need all the attention and coordination they can muster. This is why the “no cell phone use in the car” rule should apply to passengers as well as drivers.

You might also share this article with them. Knowing why these rules are created, and that they're created for a reason and not just dreamed up out of nowhere to provide unnecessary or arbitrary regulation by which to torment them, often goes a long way towards getting your teen to adhere to such restrictions.