Monday, January 31, 2011

California's Other Catastrothy

People who live in California live with the thought of the next big quake in the back of their mind. Yet Lucy Jones, chief scientist of the United States geological survey's multi-hazards initiative, says California's next big disaster may actually come from the sky. She warns that moisture-laden air currents 200 miles wide and 200 miles long that flow from the tropical pacific waters to the west coast could dump as much as 10 feet of rain in just a few weeks.

This flooding would created a vast "inland sea" about 300 miles long and 20 miles wide, spanning from north Sacramento all the way to Los Angeles. Geological records show this last occurred during the winter of 1861 to 1862. "We think this event happens once every 100 or 200 years or so, which puts it in the same category as out big San Andreas earthquake," Jones told Science Daily. In modern times, such a disaster could cause $300 billion in damage.

So take that, California. If the earthquake or Tsunami's or billion dollar budget deficits or crumbling schools or gang violence or illegal immigrants don't get you, you just might be done in by the rain.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Second Hand Smoke and Hypertension in Kids

Adding to the long list of reasons for why you should not smoke around kids, a new study out of Switzerland finds that children living with a parent who smokes are more likely to develop high blood pressure.

Researchers analyzed data on 4,200 five and six year old kids, and found that those who lived with smokers are 21% more likely to have dangerously high blood pressure, or hypertension (Defined as blood pressure values in the top 15% for their age group). This is especially concerning considering that high blood pressure in childhood tends to carry over into adulthood, putting them at risk for heart disease and stroke later on. Some 46,000 non smokers die each year in America due to heart disease brought about by living with second hand smoke.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Do Kids Have Too Much Freedom?

I was browsing through an article in Family Circle by Elizabeth Foy Larsen. The subject was bad ethical decisions among youth. As I was reading, I came across this statement listed as one of the primary reasons kids go astray: "They have too much freedom."

Such a phrase likely slips right through the psychology of most parents without raising any red flags or questions. Many are probably wondering what Liz had to say next, eagerly awaiting instructions on what liberties should be revoked from our offspring. The tendency amongst parents when things don't go as planned is to want to find ways to rule their children’s' lives through force. And why not? After all, it seems to work just fine throughout the early years.

Here's our issue with such a statement: Since when did freedom become a bad thing? Where else on the planet would someone get away with using "too much" as a qualifying word describing freedom? I'm reminded also of a quote by Dr. James Hollis, who writes: "Love asks independence of both parties, freedom, not control, not guilt, not coercion, not manipulation." Good parenting, too, requires NOT that children be kept as virtual slaves lest they act inappropriately, but that they be given the freedom to explore, and that we use those magical years of childhood establishing a desire to act ethically towards others. While many parents get away with such principles and even offer one another encouragement to the idea that children are slaves whose lives must be micromanaged, it is these ideals more than anything which cause many of our current problems.

If an adolescent hasn't learned how to act ethically by the time they're into their teenage years, when do you expect them to learn it? And is ethical behavior really something you can instill through sheer parental force? Unlikely. Responsibility is not something that can be micromanaged.

Freedom and responsibility depend on each other, and the idea that responsibility can be imposed is really making an oxymoron of the word. Responsibility can only be present when one is free to act in a variety of competing ways, yet still chooses the kindest and most ethical choice at the time. Restricting freedom does not create responsibility. All it does is avoid the issue.

The problem is not freedom, the problem is not technology, the problem is not all of those other things adults like to pinpoint as the root cause of the problem whenever citing testimonials about how ill-behaved youth these days are. The problem is that parents spend too much time treating their children as property to be commanded around, and too little time when young helping them develop the empathy and compassion to want to act properly, when given the freedom to do so.

Acknowledging ones children as free and independent human beings is the first step towards fixing this problem. In fact, the problems of adolescence are most commonly brought about because the type of dictatorship parenting style so many families rely on in early life starts to slip away. Because parents have spent the bulk of their time dictating restrictions and demands (often with little explanation or guidance) rather than developing responsibility through freedom and support, there's nothing for the teen to fall back on. When "do it because I told you so" starts to fail, and parents haven’t spent enough time allowing their children to make choices while talking to them like adults about WHY they should do this or that, this is when the biggest problems tend to emerge. When parents are inclined to see children as free and in dependent people with their own wishes, dreams, and desires, and when they take this perspective from a young age, they'll tend to spend a lot more time teaching and less time preaching. Just as importantly, they'll be less concerned with what children do, and more concerned with they do it and how.

Parents mistakenly assume they have 18 years to train their children. The reality is you have more like 12. It's not as though parents lose all influence during the teen years, they can still matter a great deal and still play a prominent role in the lives of their children. It's just that when a child hits adolescence, it is peers who will hold their attention and captivate their lives, and if the first twelve years haven’t been used building a strong foundation of empathy, ethics, and responsibility, adolescence is not the proper time nor place to try and develop these traits through force. Just as you need to board up windows before the hurricane arrives, rather than trying to haul around sheets of lumber in 150 M.P.H. winds, children need constant practice and instruction in empathy and responsibility when young to counter the onslaught of negative influence they'll withstand from peers during adolescence.

If your children are 7, 8, or 9-years-old, now is the time to be talking with them about some of these issues they might face later on. It is now you should be having discussions about how horribly words can hurt, and how important it is to be kind towards everyone, regardless of the circumstance. Now is the time you should model these traits yourself. Now is the time you should bring up stories about how a mean-spirited prank might cause another person so much hurt that they kill themselves. If it's not seeded early, it won't have enough staying power later on.

Most of all, remember that the measure of good parenting is not determined by how much stuff you can take away, how many freedoms you can restrict, or how well you impede your child's transition to adulthood. Unfortunately, this is precisely the premise behind a lot of the parenting advice out there today. Parents have succeeded when they can give a child full use of the computer or other technology, and be confident that the child won't use it to bully or harass others. Not because they're forced to, but because their conscience wouldn't allow it. Parents have succeeded when we can support our teens' modes of expression, even if they're not aligned with our own, knowing that it is from their heart and for the right reasons, and that any path they choose will be inclusive and considerate towards others. True success as parents can only be realized when we allow our children true freedom to do what they want to do and be who they want to be, while trusting the foundations are in place to guide them through whatever course they choose responsibly. They are bound to make mistakes along the way and may choose a path different than what we might have dictated for them, but freedom is a necessary part of responsibility. The core principles we want our children to have thrive on freedom, they aren't impeded by it. This requires parenting by means of a lot more explanations, a lot more freedom alongside guidance in empathy development, and a lot less sheer force, but the payoffs are well worth it. When you do this, children will make ethical and responsible choices all their own. Not because they're commanded to, but because it's the right thing to do and they want to.

1. James Hollis, 'Why Good People Do Bad Things,' New York: Penguin Publishing, 2007, p. 95. This book can be purchased through our Child Safety Store, with a portion of the purchase price going towards various children's causes.

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Skittling: A New Teen Danger

Do you know about skittling? If not, there's a decent chance your adolescent son or daughter might. It's a dangerous new party trend among teens that is sweeping the nation, and even being copied by some preteens.

It goes a little something like this: If youth are going to get together for a party or even just to kill time, they might ask each teen to steal whatever they can from the parents medicine cabinet. They then go to a gathering and dump everything into a bowl at the door. Then, you guessed it, every youth will simply grab a handful of this prescription drug cocktail and down them in the hopes that it will produce a psychedelic experience; hence the name "skittling." Like grabbing a handful of skittles and sampling the different flavors, prescription pills become the skittles and are ingested in assorted variety just like candy.

The goal is to get a high/buzz/psychedelic experience of some kind or another, no matter what it is. In the quest to cure teen angst and boredom, any sort of altered experience will do. Making matters worse, alcohol is a common companion to such gatherings. In fact, alcohol is sometimes used precisely because it will interact with prescription drugs in dubious ways.

Needless to say, skittling can best be described as downright stupid and potentially deadly. But that doesn't mean your child won't try it. (Being stupid and doing dangerous things is part of a teen's job description.) Considering the dangers, it might be worth it to ask your child what they know about skittling, and have a discussion about the potential dangers.

Give your kids the facts:
1. Drug overdose deaths have shot up remarkably in recent years; so much so that they now rival motor-vehicle accidents for the #1 cause of accidental death in the US. It's something your teen should know. While everyone's aware of the danger driving a car can pose, overdoses are still largely regarded as a freak phenomenon among youth...something that rarely happens to anyone, and certainly not to them. Knowing the reality of the danger may give them second thoughts.

2. Make sure they understand that certain prescription drugs can cause serious problems when mixed with alcohol, which is precisely the combination likely to come about by skittling parties. It may not take much of either (alcohol or the drug) to turn deadly.

3. Talk about how exaggerated the actual experiences one might get from skittling likely are. Kids may hear all sorts of wild stories about what so-and-so experienced while skittling. But here's a news flash: teens often exaggerate and tell stories to impress their peers. More often than not, skittling will produce feelings of faintness, dizziness, and general queasiness...hardly sensations that are worth the risk.

4. Keep your prescription pills locked up and accounted for!

Also keep in mind that younger kids who may see or hear about their older siblings doing this may be inclined to try it themselves. It's well suited for copycatting by tweens: It's free, and they have ready access. So while this is primarily a teen thing, keep an eye out for the younger ones as well.

Visit for more resources on child & teen safety topics, including free educational materials for children.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Memo To Doctors: Stop Snorting Cocaine

As if you needed any more reasons to be scared of the hospital, Italian hospital director Giuseppe Di Maria was scolded this past December after he sent out a memo to staff asking the Doctors and Nurses to stop snorting cocaine while on duty. Although government officials say he was right to act on tips that his staff was using cocaine while on the job, they say he erred in trying to address it via a memo: "The alleged consumption of cocaine in a hospital environment should certainly not be dealt with in this way," said an official.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of yesterdays tragedy in Arizona.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Wakefield Fraud Uncovered in the Vaccine - Autism Study

There was a new development today in a debate that won't seem to go away; The false belief that vaccines cause autism. Dr Wakefields 1998 study, the first and only study to ever find a link between vaccination and autism has long since been discredited by other research. Last year, the Lancet finally retracted the study after learning that the children used in it had been hand picked by lawyers who were trying to sue vaccine companies. Now it turns out the study might have been more than sloppy: it was outright fraud.

A new report out today in the British medical journal studiously rechecked medical records of the children involved against the data reported in the study. Wakefield's original premise was that autistic symptoms supposedly appeared in children in average 6.3 days after receiving an MMR vaccine. Medical records from the children show this premise to be outright fraud: many children displayed autistic symptoms before the vaccine, others not until many months later, and he changed dates to invent his correlation. The bottom line: the study was a bold faced lie.

After the study was originally released, the medial outlets picked up the report, and vaccination rates dropped dramatically. As this happened, more kids got sick from diseases that they were no longer vaccinated against. An unknown number died, and countless more experienced significant suffering, lengthy hospital stays, and permanent disabilities. In exchange for the lives of these kids, Dr Wakefield received $750 thousand dollars in blood money from the lawyers who were suing the vaccine company.

If true, Dr Wakefield's fraud will go down as one of the greatest in history; at least on par with Bernie Madoff. Yet as sickening and infuriating as this news is, we're more troubled by another aspect of it all.

This story shows the power of media to do vast damage through the promotion of incorrect information. The original study involved a mere 12 children; such a small sample size that even if the findings were true, they would still be highly suspect. Numerous other large scale studies based on real data have debunked the myth over and over again. Yet for more than a decade, myth was winning against fact, and with some people it still is.

There is more proof that unicorns and lawn faeries cause autism, if only because unicorns and faeries haven't been studied yet as a potential cause, whereas vaccines have. Yet the myth lives on and is widespread today, aided in no small part by irresponsible celebrity "advocates" such as Jenny McCarthy. Nor is there any hope that this recent news will now make it go away.

In our own work, we watch on a daily basis as myth and lies propagate among the public, destroying kids and families in the process. So much of what parents think they know about many issues are actually myths created by people with an agenda. These myths generate hurtful, damaging responses and disastrous public policy. It is deeply angering when people spread ignorance about things for which they haven't taken the time to explore in detail nor fully understand. Cockily, defiantly, McCarthy and other reckless advocates in any number of areas spread false information to the masses ... myths that kill and injure children. The vaccine autism myth is but one example of this among many.

This fraud was sad. But the fact that we live in a society in which any self serving fool can create a harmful myth with a small, self-selected study; whereas no amount of fact can succeed in killing it because people put more weight in celebrity opinion than in science, now that's flat our terrifying.