Category Archives: media

Old School Sesame Street

by Stacey

Ahh, Sesame Street.  Remember this? “The masonry on the dingy brownstone at 123 Sesame Street, where the closeted Ernie and Bert shared a dismal basement apartment, was deteriorating. Cookie Monster was on a fast track to diabetes. Oscar’s depression was untreated. Prozacky Elmo didn’t exist.” Why am I not surprised to learn that according to this article in the NY Times, our preschool age kids can’t handle it?

Recently released DVD’s of the old versions of the show come with a warning: “Sesame Street: Old School” is adults-only: “These early ‘Sesame Street’ episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child.”

Good grief. “The old ‘Sesame Street’ is not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for softies born since 1998, when the chipper ‘Elmo’s World’ started,” the article says. “Anyone who considers bull markets normal, extracurricular activities sacrosanct and New York a tidy, governable place — well, the original ‘Sesame Street’ might hurt your feelings.”

[The writer] asked Carol-Lynn Parente, the executive producer of “Sesame Street,” how exactly the first episodes were unsuitable for toddlers in 2007. She told me about Alistair Cookie and the parody “Monsterpiece Theater.” Alistair Cookie, played by Cookie Monster, used to appear with a pipe, which he later gobbled. According to Parente, “That modeled the wrong behavior” — smoking, eating pipes — “so we reshot those scenes without the pipe, and then we dropped the parody altogether.”

“Which brought Parente to a feature of ‘Sesame Street’ that had not been reconstructed: the chronically mood-disordered Oscar the Grouch. On the first episode, Oscar seems irredeemably miserable — hypersensitive, sarcastic, misanthropic. (Bert, too, is described as grouchy; none of the characters, in fact, is especially sunshiney except maybe Ernie, who also seems slow.) “We might not be able to create a character like Oscar now,” she said.

I haven’t watched Sesame Street lately, but apparently Cookie Monster eats a more diverse diet than just fistfuls of cookies. Too bad. Why can’t our kids take delight in the idea of a blue furry monster who gets to eat as many cookies as he wants? I didn’t think I was going to be allowed to do that, but I thought it was funny that he could.

I think the old Sesame Street was pretty damn great, actually. Here’s what the article says: “People on “Sesame Street” had limited possibilities and fixed identities, and (the best part) you weren’t expected to change much. The harshness of existence was a given, and no one was proposing that numbers and letters would lead you “out” of your inner city to Elysian suburbs. Instead, “Sesame Street” suggested that learning might merely make our days more bearable, more interesting, funnier. It encouraged us, above all, to be nice to our neighbors and to cultivate the safer pleasures that take the edge off — taking baths, eating cookies, reading.” I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t want our kids to learn that.

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Health Briefs…Through the Years

by Stacey

Lots of good stuff from the November issue of the Journal Pediatrics.

Let’s start with the babies. One new study called Are We Overprescribing Antireflux Medications for Infants With Regurgitation? shows that babies who are treated with drugs for gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, may not actually need the medication. According to the study abstract, “The majority of infants who were prescribed antireflux drugs did not meet diagnostic criteria.”

Researchers conducted esophageal pH monitoring (measuring the reflux or regurgitation of acid from the stomach into the esophagus) of 44 infants in a New Orleans medical center. Each of the children had persistent regurgitation. The study showed that while only eight of the infants had abnormal pH levels indicating GERD, 42 of 44 infants were on antireflux medication. When medication was withdrawn from the infants who did not meet GERD criteria, reflux symptoms did not worsen.

My son Sage was a “persistent regurgitator” as an infant. Oh, he regurgitated all over the place. On me, on himself, on the floor, on the furniture, on the airplane, you get my drift. It was a mess. Our pediatrician diagnosed him with reflux, but since it wasn’t the painful kind, he didn’t mention anything about treating him. I’m glad too, because what did I know? Probably if he had told me that Sage needed medicine for his constant barfing I would have given it to him. Do no harm, doctors, do no harm.

Now on to the little guys. Another study called, Early Violent Television Viewing Associated with Later Anti-Social Behavior, found a link between violent television viewing by preschool boys (ages 2 to 5) with antisocial behavior at ages 7 to nine.

According to the study abstract, researchers reviewed data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (a nearly 40-year study of 8,000 U.S. families) on 184 boys and 146 girls. The data review found a link between pre-school-age boys watching violent programming and antisocial behavior at ages 7 to 9. There was no link found between non-violent television viewing and antisocial behavior in boys or girls, or violent programming and anti-social behavior in girls. The study authors say the findings are significant as early childhood aggressive behavior is often a predictor of violent behavior in youth and adolescents.

I couldn’t make my way online to the full text of the article so I’m not sure what violent TV means or what defines antisocial behavior. Neither sound good. Sage doesn’t watch “tough movies” as he calls them. But his imaginary friend Hippy does. According to Sage, Hippy likes “the punching kind.” Yikes. I just hope Hippy’s parents are prepared to deal with the fallout.

And finally, a new study entitled Shorter Sleep Duration Is Associated With Increased Risk for Being Overweight at Ages 9 to 12 Years, found that kids this age who did not get enough sleep were more likely to be overweight by sixth grade. According to the study abstract, shorter sleep duration in 6th grade was independently associated with a greater likelihood of kids being overweight. Shorter sleep duration in 3rd grade was also independently associated with being overweight in 6th grade, independent of the child’s weight status in 3rd grade.

Conversely, for every additional one hour of sleep in 6th grade, a child was 20 percent less likely to be overweight in 6th grade; every additional hour of sleep in 3rd grade resulted in a 40 percent decrease in the child’s risk of being overweight in 6th grade.

For me sleep deprivation translates into energy deprivation which I try to make up for by eating sugar. I can’t believe the sweets I pack away when my kids’ sleep is chronically interrupting my own. Maybe that’s what’s going on. Or maybe the kids in this study were squirreling away boxes of cookies that they ate in the middle of the night by flashlight under the covers. After the insanity I’ve witnessed around here over Halloween candy, I’ll believe anything.

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Toxic Girlhood

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by Stacey

I’m deep into raising two little boys so that means I know a lot about trains, planes, sticks, and shovels. But a couple of articles I’ve read recently, one in the NY Times and the other in the Wall Street Journal, have got me thinking about the daunting prospect of raising girls. Thanks to Salon’s Broadsheet for the tip on both stories.

The WSJ piece looks at the increasing pressure on girls and teens to dress fashionably. According to the article, high-end designers such as Marc Jacobs, Chloe, Missoni, and Alberta Ferretti have all launched clothing lines for kids. And trendy boutiques in New York are opening offshoots specifically for children.

Dorothy Espelage, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, who has studied teenage behavior for 14 years, says she has seen an increase in “bullying related to clothes.” She attributes that to the proliferation of designer brands and the display of labels in ads. In the more than 20 states where she has studied teens, she has been surprised by how kids revere those they perceive to have the best clothes. Having access to designer clothing affords some kids “the opportunity to become popular — and that protects you and gives you social power and leverage over others,” she says.

Surveys of young teenage girls show that many of them feel they are bullied over clothes. One survey of more than 1,000 middle school students at five schools in the Midwest found more than one-third responded “yes” when asked whether they are bullied because of the clothes they wear. While the prevalence of fashion bullies was greater in wealthy cities and towns, where more designer clothing is available, the researchers found the problem is significant in poorer communities, too, the article says.

“The better brands you wear, the more popular you are,” says Becky Gilker, a 13-year-old eighth-grader from Sherwood Park in the Canadian province of Alberta. “If you don’t wear those things you get criticized.” In many schools, the most expensive designer goods, such as those by Chanel or Louis Vuitton, have the highest social ranking among girls. But popular teen brands such as American Eagle, Abercrombie & Fitch and Aeropostale are also important. Miss Gilker says Hollister and Roxy are big logos at her school.

Chanel? Louis Vuitton? I can’t imagine buying my kid a Louis Vuitton anything. Not even a fake Louis Vuitton lunchbox. Is this what parents of girls are dealing with?

Several new programs are trying to help parents, teachers and girls cope with bullying. In Maine, a nonprofit called Hardy Girls Healthy Women has developed a curriculum that has caught on at a number of junior high schools and is being adopted in after-school programs in Florida, Ohio, New York and other states. The program encourages young girls to build coalitions and gets them to look more closely at the messages they get from the media, including those about fashion and clothing.

I suppose that’s a good thing, but honestly, is there anything adults can do to combat this? In her NY Times column last week, Judith Warner (author of Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety) talks about a new book that was just released called The Daring Book for Girls, a kind of sister book to the mega blockbuster The Dangerous Book for Boys.

The authors told Warner they wanted to offer up “an escape route out of the high-pressure, perfectionist, media-saturated and competitive world of girlhood in our time.”

“The Daring Book for Girls” teaches the art of playing jacks and handclap games, roller skating, darts, jump rope, gin rummy and daisy chains. There’s fun and old-fashioned feminism: “Putting Your Hair Up With a Pencil” and “A Short History of Women Inventors and Scientists.” Instead of e-mail, instant messaging, group weigh-ins or slumber parties organized around “America’s Next Top Model,” the authors offer instructive chapters on “Clubhouses and Forts,” “Writing Letters,” “Telling Ghost Stories” and “Fourteen Games of Tag.”

The Dangerous Book for Boys spent 20 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list and is slated to become a Disney film, Warner says. “If the “Daring” book does anywhere nearly as well, then it could mark the start of a pop culture re-imagining of modern girlhood – one, perhaps, with an emphasis on doing rather than seeming, on growing rather than shrinking, and on exploring rather than shutting down.”

But she’s skeptical that this will actually happen. The book may promote bonding between mothers and daughters, much in the way that dads pass down tricks of the trade to their sons. “I wonder if it will have any wider effect,” she writes. “What power can any of us – moms and daughters, adrift in the cultural mainstream — have against the hugely seductive, hypnotic machine that has brought us Paris, Miley, Lindsay and more?”

A family counselor I heard speak last Spring said she believes that young girls today who get caught up in skinniness, fashion, popularity, pop culture and boys are, essentially, “underemployed.” Their brains, she said, need to be engaged by things larger than themselves: things like hobbies, sports, art, music or community service. If they’re not, there’s a vacuum, and all kinds of wretched stuff comes to fill their minds instead.

There isn’t a simple answer to relieving the social pressure on girls. “We can’t – and shouldn’t – raise them in a total media vacuum,” she says. “The only thing we can do is provide some sort of inspiration – of a kind of womanhood that makes them want to connect to the better aspects of the girlhood we once knew. And then, give them the space and the time to make it their own.”

Whew. So what say you moms with daughters? How are you faring in these waters?

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Filed under family, girls, kids, media, mothers, parenting, teenager, television

Toys for Girls and Boys

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by Stacey

The toy company Hasbro has recently gotten stuck in a scary 1950’s time warp. According to commercials for a new toy called Rose Petal Cottage, little girls can play happy homemaker with all the benefits of laundry machines and state-of-the-art kitchens. Thanks to Catherine Price from Salon’s Broadsheet for the tip. She explains:

According to the commercials, one of the best parts of the Rose Petal Cottage is that it gives your little angel a chance to practice her home-decorating skills. I’m not kidding. Click on the video link, check out the one called “Dreamtown for Moms,” and watch as the toddler rearranges her sofa and crib, presumably to make room for a teddy bear muffin party.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t encourage kids — both boys and girls — to dream of having their own homes, families and baking sets. I’m just surprised at how unabashedly anachronistic this one seems — I mean, couldn’t you balance out the scene of her doing laundry with a shot of a pretend computer? Or a desk? Or maybe, I don’t know, a book?

I have to admit, I like rearranging the furniture as much as the next gal, messing with my home decor if you will. But here’s where I draw the line: “In the commercial called “Dreamtown for Kids,” an overly enthusiastic singer croons, ‘I love when my laundry gets so clean/ Taking care of my home is a dream, dream, dream!'” Sorry, but singing about the laundry just isn’t credible in my book. Thankfully Price adds this verse: “Rose Petal Cottage is so pink, pink, pink/ As a toy for girls, it stinks, stinks, stinks!”

Hasbro doesn’t stop at stereotyping little girls. They’ve also got some new marketing for their line of Tonka trucks that’s based on the tag line “Boys: They’re just built different.” Again, Price explains:

In the ad, a little boy presents his bemused mother with a bouquet of flowers he has pulled out of the lawn and then tramps back outside, leaving a trail of dirt in his wake. The ad continues with scenes of little boys riding through the house on their Tonka trucks as the narrator explains reasons that the trucks are perfect for boys. “With the Tonka Scoot N’ Scoop, they can play their way,” she says. “It’s built around what he does naturally.”

What exactly is it that boys do naturally? According to the commericial, riding through the house on a toy truck chasing the family dog and busting through a pile of pillows presumably set in place on the floor by mom. Or as Price puts it, “whatever the hell they want.” She adds: “It’s quite a different scene from the muffin-baking, home-decorating, laundry-doing world of responsibility going on in the Rose Petal Cottage.”

Price is careful not to bash the idea that boys like to play with trucks or girls like to play with playhouses. And of course, that’s true to some extent. My son woke up one morning in love with garbage trucks and went on to love every other truck on the road along with anything else that moved through space via wheels, engines, sails, or motors. That boy loves him some transportation.

But he also loves to bake and cook. He’s psyched about the new kid-sized broom we just got him. And he’s very gentle with his baby brother who he likes to help wash in the tub. He even told me that he likes to play with the dollhouse in the childcare room at my gym.

I wonder what he would think if he saw these ads. Would he decide that just girls play house and just boys play trucks? It would be a reasonable conclusion. The thought of it makes me sad.

I think Price sums it up well. She says that ads have an effect on people’s self-perception and kids are particularly open to learning to want what they’re told they should want. “So I don’t like the fact that while the girl is shown meticulously rearranging her living room furniture, the boy is deliberately messing up the living room as his mother smiles in the background with a look that all but says, “Boys will be boys!” To which I would respond, sure — but boys and girls will also live up to the expectations we place on them. So we’d better be careful what those expectations are.”

What do you all think? Do toys reflect the larger culture? Are our kids going to grow up to be like Ward and June Cleaver? Or are these just a couple of random toys in a sea of plastic fun?

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Mommy Makeover

by Stacey

I won’t lie to you. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of myself undressed in the mirror and think, “Whoa, what happened to you, missy?” My curves used to be mostly in the right places. Now they’re all over the lot. Some in the front when they should be on the side, some near the bottom, when they formally lived at the top.

So I wasn’t totally surprised last week when I saw this article in the NY Times about mothers getting plastic surgery to repair the ravages of pregnancy, childbirth, and breast-feeding. But once I put the paper down, I felt like putting on a bikini and yelling, “Love me, love my misplaced curves!!”

Here’s what the article says about a “mommy job.”

Aimed at mothers, it usually involves a trifecta: a breast lift with or without breast implants, a tummy tuck and some liposuction. The procedures are intended to hoist slackened skin as well as reduce stretch marks and pregnancy fat.

“The severe physical trauma of pregnancy, childbirth and breast-feeding can have profound negative effects that cause women to lose their hourglass figures,” said David Stoker, a plastic surgeon in Marina Del Ray, Calif.

Severe physical trauma? Profound negative effects? Thanks a lot buddy. Don’t suppose it hurts your wallet too much to promote that kind of exagerated thinking.

What’s most disturbing to me about this is the intolerance towards aging, and specifically, the hatred towards women looking like they have the life experience that comes with aging. You know, I may not look as good as I did fifteen years ago, but I’d much rather have a conversation with myself now than the person I was back then. (You know what I mean.)

Many women struggle with the impact of aging and pregnancy on their bodies. But the marketing of the “mommy makeover” seeks to pathologize the postpartum body, characterizing pregnancy and childbirth as maladies with disfiguring aftereffects that can be repaired with the help of scalpels and cannulae.

“The message is that, after having children, women’s bodies change for the worse,” said Diana Zuckerman, the president of the National Research Center for Women and Families, a nonprofit group in Washington. If marketing could turn the postpregnancy body “into a socially unacceptable thing, think of how big your audience would be and how many surgeries you could sell them,” she said.

But it isn’t just the plastic surgeons promoting the idea that women should look like they’re in their twenties until they go into a nursing home. Pop culture and the media’s interest in celebrity parents (yes, yes, I know I am guilty of this one) also feed the idea that women should go back to their pre-pregnancy looks just months after delivery.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, last year doctors nationwide performed more than 325,000 “mommy makeovers” on women ages 20 to 39, up 11 percent from 2005, the article says. The procedures cost anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000.

“But other surgeons worry that packaging multiple procedures under a cutesy nickname could induce women to have additional operations, potentially increasing their risk of everything from infections to death,” the article says. Various studies published in medical journals have reported death rates from liposuction at one in 5,000 procedures to one in 50,000 procedures.

In Dallas, a father and son who are plastic surgeons, Dr. Harlan Pollock and Dr. Todd Pollock, use their Web site, http://www.drpollock.com, to expose the “mommy makeover” as a sales tactic.

“Clever marketing may encourage correction of a deformity that was previously of little concern,” the doctors write. “In other words, a woman seeking a tummy tuck, although not particularly concerned about the appearance of her breasts, may be influenced to have breast surgery just because it is part of ‘the package.’”

This sounds about as classy as a used car lot. “You can’t afford not to throw in the boob job! At these prices, they’re practically giving it away!!”

Well, I may look different than I used to and from what can tell, the trend is downward from here. So I better get used to it. I may try a new hairdo from time to time and even pierce my nose if I’m feeling a mid-life crisis coming on, but I don’t think I’ll be visiting the mommy makeover factory anytime soon.

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Flicks In-Flight

by Stacey

The other day a reporter I know sent me an email looking for a quote about a family-related topic she was writing about for her travel column. I agreed. At issue was whether or not airlines should show movies in-flight that contain violent content, considering there are almost always some young children on board.

The topic was newsy because last month Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., and Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C.. introduced the Family Friendly Flights Act which would require a separate seating area for kids and families “if a covered air carrier provides publicly viewable entertainment screens on which violent in-flight programming is displayed.”

The bill was prompted by the outrage of a parent names Jesse Kalisher who was flying with his kids in a plane that showed the movie King Kong. “The children were sleeping, but Kalisher was upset that, if the kids were awake, it would have been impossible to shield them from scary scenes in a movie rated PG-13 for violence,” the column says.

That movie does have some really scary scenes. I saw it on cable TV and I definitely wouldn’t want my three-year old watching that movie.

Kalisher would like the airlines to agree to show only G or PG-rated material during flights, but the airlines don’t seem interested in complying. He gathered a group of like-minded parents and now we have the Family Friendly Flights Act. “Ideally we’d like airlines to self-regulate and come up with a system that provides entertainment that appeals to adults but doesn’t terrify children,” Kalisher said. “This legislation will at least require airlines to make sure kids can’t see the monitors.”

I would be in favor of a family-friendly section in airplanes. As my friend Meredith pointed out, maybe the airlines could throw in a perk and hire flight attendants who actually like children. And I have an idea, maybe in the family-friendly section, there could be a normal place to change diapers, instead of on the floor, which I’ve had to do. Or in the impossibly small bathroom where your baby looks at you like you’re crazy the whole time you’re trying to keep him balanced on the changing tray and deal with the diapers.

But back to the column, I kind of waffled. One the one hand, I agreed with Kalisher that it’s hard for parents to keep their kids from looking at the movie screen and I said that it is up to the airlines to show content that won’t traumatize some of the passengers on board. But then I also said that I didn’t think the airlines should be required to show only PG and G-rated films. I guess I don’t think the world should have to stop and step aside just because my kid is coming its way.

So basically, I contradicted myself. What do you guys think? Should airlines be required to show kid-friendly films or is a family-friendly section the way to go?

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Rock Bottom

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by Stacey

Britney Spears lost custody of her children today in a hearing held in Los Angeles. According to this AP story, Spears was ordered to surrender custody of the children to her ex-husband Kevin Federline.

Superior Court Judge Scott M. Gordon ruled that Federline will take custody of Sean Preston, 2, and Jayden James, 1, beginning Wednesday “until further order of the court.”

Earlier this month, the judge accused Spears of engaging in “habitual, frequent and continuous use of controlled substances and alcohol” and ordered her to undergo random drug and alcohol testing twice a week as part of her ongoing custody dispute with her ex-husband, the AP story says.

She was also ordered to meet weekly with a “parenting coach” who was to observe her with her children and report back to the court.

Damn, this is sad. I know the girl has problems, but it’s heartbreaking to imagine being in her shoes. If the fiasco at MTV’s Video Music Awards show wasn’t enough, I hope this get her moving towards some serious help.

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