VIDEO: What Do Kids Think About Violent Video Games?

There has been a renewed discussion about violent video games and the correlation with real life violence.  This discussion crops up after every tragic mass shooting since the gunman more likely than not also played a lot of games like Grand Theft Auto or other violent games.

I’m not going to wade into this debate right now, (though I find this conclusion from Adam Thierer incredibly interesting) but at KidzVuz we thought it would be worth asking kids what they thought.

After all, this is the digital generation and it’s worth listening to them about the media, and world, they are growing up with.

Here’s the VIDEO:

If You Give a Monkey a Passport….

niagara falls

This little monkey named Marlin has been with my daughter since she was born – 11 years.

He’s traveled on road trips up New England and through the Midwest, to Mexico, Puerto Rico, California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, overnight camp, France, Italy, Disneyland (where he actually rode on rides tucked safely in my daughter’s jacket), and Disney World, and a few weeks ago to Canada where he enjoyed Niagara Falls.

It’s strange how a little stuffed animal can become a member of the family.  But, there he is, stuffing sagging, a bit deflated, his fur matted down and his sewn-on mouth long gone.  And yet no family journey would be complete without him.

Using Virtual Piggy to Raise Money Smart Kids

virtual piggy logo

My girls are now officially tweens.  Along with the usual angst about middle school and friends there seems to be a new obsession – fashion.  One of my girls has morphed into a walking fashion encyclopedia over the last year, pouring over Lucky, Elle, Vogue and any other fashion mags she can get.

And then she goes online.

My daughter can build a Back to School wardrobe wish list that would shame the editors of Teen Vogue in about 10 minutes.  But, just because she can build it doesn’t mean the money to buy will follow.  And that’s where teaching her about value and need vs. want come in.  My daughters have generous grandparents and they have built up a nice little piggy bank of cash, but online shopping is something else.  It doesn’t have that sting of handing over carefully saved paper bills, and it requires mom and dad’s credit cards.  And I’m not alone – almost all parents surveyed have made an online purchase for their child, and over 70% of 6-15 year olds have asked their parents to make an online purchase for them, according to a PlayScience Survey.  Not exactly the best scenario for teaching the value of money.  That’s where Virtual Piggy comes in.

Last month KidzVuz co-hosted a brunch to introduce a group of select bloggers to Virtual Piggy, a site dedicated to teaching kids how to be financially literate – and give their parents the tools to help them achieve that goal. (Full Disclosure: we were compensated for co-hosting the brunch) I first met the Virtual Piggy team at the Digital Kids Summit last spring and was really intrigued with the idea that parents could have a site that would allow their kids to save, plan and purchase online, while learning about what it really means to be an active consumer.  I have found that teaching my own daughters the value of money when it’s just a simple click of a button is harder than ever.  So, I was genuinely interested in seeing how Virtual Piggy could make the now ethereal reality of online money seems real to kids.

This video explains Virtual Piggy and how it works:

And here’s the quick run down:

  1. Set up a Virtual Piggy account, with a payment source and mailing address.
  2. Add a profile for each child, setting a monthly allowance and spending controls.
  3. Your child can now checkout with Virtual Piggy at approved stores, using only their username and password.
  4. You get final approval on purchases, and can monitor their spending, requests and wish list.

So, for my daughters Claire’s is a HUGELY popular store.  And for my fashionista daughter accessories have become a go-to option to change-up outfits instead of purchasing more clothes.  I am constantly channeling Tim Gunn in the morning and telling her to “Make it Work!” instead of giving in to her request for another shirt or skirt or pair of shoes that would make her life complete.  Claire’s is one of the approved vendors for Virtual Piggy.  YAY!

CLAIRES

So, after setting up my daughter’s Virtual Piggy account – having her hand over her cold hard cash to me in return for my funding her VP account on my credit card – she can then shop at Claire’s within the limit we’ve agreed on.  She has freedom to shop and feel grown-up and responsible for her spending, and I don’t get nagged.  Even more importantly, now that it’s her own money she’s spending online she is MUCH more discriminating about what she buys.  Suddenly all of the things that she needed are mere wants after all.  And we’ve had many conversations about if something is worth it, if she should wait for a sale, or if maybe she and her sister will go in together and share items to make their money go farther.  There’s a sense of empowerment there that Virtual Piggy has given them and that’s been very freeing for me.

Having the money talk for many parents can be hard.  But, it’s better to have the talk in conjunction with tangible financial accounting and practice than to keep having it in the context of “no, you can’t have that” without explanation.  Virtual Piggy has some great tools to talk to your kids about money, and for kids to explore on their own.  I especially love the money quizzes for kids:  Money Tips.

Check out Virtual Piggy and let me know what you think!   And if you have any parenting money dilemmas or tips for raising money smart kids I’d love to hear them!

It’s Takes a Village (or a List Serve) to Raise a Kid in this City

free-stuff-4

This is a Maternity Monday post by guest blogger and teaching artist Jess Levey.  This series publishes almost every Monday on Beccarama.

Well, we are getting VERY close now, just a month or so to go. And, although I have had to endure waves of anxiety due to financial stress and fears (and sleepless nights and sciatica!), I remind myself often about how freaking exciting this all is! The baby is moving like mad, especially at night, and I am connecting with him/her more and more. Later this week we will be getting another sonogram just to ensure that baby is head down, and I am so psyched to have the opportunity to see what he/she looks like these days! Surprisingly, another factor contributing to my excitement is my new membership in the neighborhood parent Yahoo! Groups. I have joined 4 of them, my favorite being the one from our own neighborhood, and then three from the surrounding Brooklyn neighborhoods. Every list serve is full of parents happy to offer support and hand me downs. It is truly incredible.

So far, we have received 140 Seventh Generation diapers ($20), beautiful crib bumpers, a mattress pad, and a brand new mini crib mattress (all free), A slightly used breast pump with brand new tubing and accessories ($60), and an amazing Maxi Cosi infant car seat ($40), which I had been wishing I could afford to buy after seeing it at the Biggest Baby Shower.  Of course, every day there is more and more offered for free or very cheap, but I need to hold back, at least until after my own shower this weekend, after we have our baby and find out if I need bags of boys clothes or bags of girls clothes (usually around $10).  Aside from all the stuff, the support is incredible. There are mom groups forming each month (hoping dads groups too!) and people constantly offering their advice about anything from how to navigate the daunting NYC school system to how to get your baby to sleep through the night. And, since people also use these list serves to offer their services, I have booked two private photography teaching gigs (moms needs to learn how to use those cameras!), and my husband has booked two family portraits gigs.

It’s amazing to me that after two weeks of heart heavy anxiety over the coming baby and our finances, I just needed to reach out to our immediate community to help ease my mind. Knowing that there are hundreds of people surrounding us with such a generous and open spirit is both comforting and encouraging and I can’t wait to give back to them (but I guess it will have to wait until after baby #2!). I am curious if other cities and/or suburban areas around the country utilize these helpful list serves?? Please let me know. If not, I sure do hope that this post motivates you to start your own!

I just received an email from a mom who said it all so perfectly, this is what she wrote:

I just wanted to make a public statement of thanks to everyone that I’ve interacted with since joining the listserv this summer. Our family was able to acquire/purchase most everything we needed from other caring parents. Nearly everything we purchased or obtained was in excellent condition. Pricing was always fair or even free! Our interactions ranged from polite to instant friendship. I am grateful to the group at large for making so many of the needed items available. If you recognize my name, consider this a special thanks to you. May you be blessed with long life, good health, and easy-to-raise children.

I know we are all in the spirit of giving, but I have a feeling this is how it works all year. With that I wish you all an amazing holiday season full of support and love!

 

What Does the MOM Media Blitz Teach Our Daughters?

A few months ago I received a pre-release copy of Jill Smokler’s book, Confessions of a Scary Mommy.  I had it out on my kitchen counter, on the couch, on a living room chair – basically I would pick it up read a few pages, laugh, sigh and put it down.  It was the perfect book to enjoy in small bites, letting the voices of all those women resonate and relate.  What I didn’t expect was for my 9 year-old daughter to pick it up and basically devour it.

I didn’t know she was reading it until I heard giggling coming from a corner of the living room where we have the one big comfy chair.  (also the only chair, but that’s another story)  I hadn’t read through the whole book, but figured I knew it was mostly funny, tongue in cheek – whatever.  Then it got really silent.  About 20 minutes later my daughter came out of her room and approached me with a confused and concerned look on her face.  “Do you like being a mom?” she asked me.  And my heart sank.

Now of course a nine year-old doesn’t understand that moms venting and needing to commiserate is actually one of the joys of motherhood – and certainly of mom blogs and forums like Scary Mommy.  When my daughters were born and I was literally trapped in the house because I was pumping every 3 hours to make sure my twin daughters only got breast milk, and I held one of them in the dark in our walk-in closet for hours because it was the only way she’d be calm – and then felt guilty because I wasn’t holding the other one as much since she slept so well by herself in her crib – the days had so many shades of wonder, exhaustion, self-doubt, minor victories, and overwhelming love, that I couldn’t tell one from the other or have time to think about what other new moms were doing to get through those initial months.

But, when I recount those early days to my daughters I don’t go into the parts that drained me or made me almost burn down the apartment building when I fell asleep while sterilizing my pumping tubes and gear.  They were babies of course.  Babies can’t help the demands they make of you.  But we can help the demands we make of ourselves.  I’ve been thinking about this a lot with Mother’s Day coming up, and all the silly Mommy Wars talk and the new ridiculous Time Magazine cover meant to shock.  My daughter saw that cover yesterday and couldn’t even make sense of it.  I couldn’t either.

But, it became a discussion about motherhood, about choices, and most of all about how the media will try to make huge issues out of topics that are not that huge at all.  That a real article about a woman being “MOM Enough,” would include her being mad enough.

Mad enough to demand better health care for babies and children like they are doing at Shot At Life and R Baby Foundation.

Mad enough to demand quality education for kids starting in preschool like they are doing at Save the Children.

Mad enough to demand that the media stop trying to pit moms against moms and realize that the highs and lows of motherhood are what unites so many women – no matter how they choose to parent – like you see in all of the incredibly honest and real mom blogs across the net from all parts of this country and beyond.

Mad enough to tell their daughters that being a mom is personal, not political.  That just as no one has a right to tell them how or what to do with their own bodies and minds, no one has the right to tell them what a “real” mom looks like, if and when they choose to become a mom.

Most of all, mad enough to know when to take their daughters by the hand and lead by example.  We moms can be a very judgemental lot – that’s what the media is counting on, after all.  So this Mother’s Day I am giving myself a gift.  I am not going to fall into the trap of rolling my eyes at the moms on the extremes of the parenting spectrum.  Or the moms whose choices are so blatantly different from my own.  Or the judgement I pass on myself every day for feeling like I fell short in some way or another on the Motherhood scale.  It’s not just a Mother’s Day gift for myself, it’s a gift to my daughters – so when they grow up and choose to be mothers – and I hope they do – they feel empowered, self-assured and excited, even in the midst of feeling scared and unsure.  It’s about winning the Mommy War that goes on inside myself every day – and that’s a war worth winning.

 

 

 

 

 

The 5 Scariest Things About Being a Mom

In honor of Halloween and all the horrors that await I thought I’d throw in some scary truths about being a mom – on Halloween and beyond..

  1. Your child is the same person they were at two weeks old.  And there’s nothing you can do about it.
  2. Your child will roll their eyes at you one day, and you will know they are right: you are embarrassing.
  3. You can’t protect them forever or everywhere, but you will never stop trying – your gray hair and worry lines will be your reward.
  4. By the time you figure out what you’re doing your child will move on to a new terrifying phase.
  5. And…No matter what you accomplish people will judge you by how your children turn out.  Or at least all the other moms of the world will.

Feel free to add your scary mom truism in the comments!

Promoting a Healthy Relationship to Food for Your Tween

Have you ever used the word “diet” with your kid?  Do you reward or punish with food in your home?  Do you cook – and if you do, do you involve your kids?  We are going to tackle the big topic of kids and food this week at our KidzVuz twitter party.  We’ve all heard the scary statistics about kids and obesity, diabetes and other illnesses caused purely by poor diets in this country.  And then we are bombarded by the other images – the anorexic and bulimic girls – on the other end of the eating disorder spectrum.  So, how can we find a really good, healthy way to approach food and teach that to our kids?

On Wednesday, October 19th at 10pm we will be talking about food and tweens with a teacher and mom of a tween daughter, Cristie Ritz King and nutritionist and founder of Foodtrainers, Lauren Slayton.  We’ll be dishing about picky eaters, creating healthy eating habits, having fun cooking together and more.  Plus, it wouldn’t be a twitter party without prizes, so we’ll be giving away 2 $25 gift cards to GrubHub (because it’s also fun to order in as a family!) and a $25 gift card to Panera Bread so you can get some freshly baked bread to go with your homemade meals.  (or course you could also get some yummy desserts, that’s up to you!)

So click over here and join us on Wednesday night!

My Back to School Promise to My Daughters

This week my daughters had to sign a Code of Behavior Agreement for their Hebrew School.  It stated that they wouldn’t use electronic devices at school, would arrive on time, respect others and the property and basically act like a decent human being.  Not much to ask for.  At their real school the discipline code is a ridiculous generic booklet sent home by the DOE that reads more like a legal document and doesn’t mean anything to a child.  Either way, the idea of child signing a slip of paper as a way to enforce real respect and civility is a waste of time.  The real code of behavior comes from home where expectations are discussed, debated and understood.  Same is true in effective classrooms.  And that is all well and good.  What I haven’t seen much of is a code of behavior to be signed by parents.  (or teachers and staff for that matter)  So I’m laying out my behavior contract for how I will help them with their educational goals and work for the year.

  1. I will provide an organized workspace for my kids.  Folders, pencil cases, supplies and quiet.  They will know where their stuff is, be able to find it and put it back themselves and feel like they have a real space to work.  It’s called the kitchen table but it’s theirs until dinner time.
  2. I will make them go to bed at a reasonable bedtime.  Isn’t that nice of me?
  3. I will not give them ready answers to homework problems or let them give up on difficult questions.
  4. I will volunteer – way too much – at their school, but still try to attend events with them.  This one is my tricky one.  The irony of being so heavily involved at the co-President level of the PA is that it sometimes comes at the expense of actually being there for your kid.  But, that’s something I’m getting better at balancing.
  5. I won’t embarrass them.  (well, not intentionally anyway)

And really I don’t know what else to say.  There’s the important stuff like fighting budget cuts and pushing for better and more challenging curriculum and enrichment but those are huge, big picture items that are part of my job.  I wish I could promise that I won’t complain in front of them about the things that make me nuts at their school and at the Department of Education, but that would be almost impossible.

So, that’s it.  That’s my code of behavior for the year.  I wonder what would happen if schools really did make parents sign contracts – and held them to it – and vice versa.  What do you think you can do to help your child’s education goals for the year?

Join Parenting’s Mom Congress on Education and Learning on Facebook at www.facebook.com/momcongress to connect with parents around the country who are standing up for great schools.  Want to make your school great right NOW?  Enter the Mom Congress School Transformation Grant contest to win $20,000 for your school. 

Writes Like an Angel – Lisa Belkin Dishes with the Blogging Angels

There are certain women journalists who have inspired me as an essayist and writer waaaay before the word blogging was invented.  Anna Quindlen was one and Lisa Belkin the other.  Aside from writing for The New York Times both women had a voice that spoke to me as a young woman starting out in the world – in college and afterwards – as they wrote frankly about work/life balance, feminism and in varying degrees, motherhood.  As a Film major and American Studies major in college I was steeped in the cannon of feminist literary, social and film criticism.  But few mainstream journalists were talking about the real issues on the ground in a way that made “women’s” issues a normal, worthy part of the public discussion.

I always looked forward to Lisa Belkin’s New York Times Magazine stories and later her Life’s Work columns.  When she launched The Motherlode blog on the nytimes.com site I was thrilled.  Not only is it an enormously vibrant community but it gives further discussion to so many of ideas and stories in the paper that normally would be a “lifestyle” piece and nothing more.  It also has a way of really tapping into the current ethos (and neuroses) of our current state of parenting like nowhere else.  Last year I was such a fangirl that Amy Oztan took pity on me and swung me an invite to a lunch Lisa Belkin held for parenting bloggers at the New York Times cafeteria.  We’ve been trying to get her on the Blogging Angels podcast ever since, but coordinating schedules is never easy.  Then, last month at BlogHer, Nancy Friedman luckily attended the same session as Lisa Belkin and jumped a the chance to have her record with us right there in the hotel in San Diego.  Unfortunately Heidi had an outrageously fabulous event to attend at the same time and couldn’t make this podcast, but we did our best and Lisa Belkin was a guest angel extraordinaire!

Listen in and hear all the scoop on the New York Times and bloggers, the future of journalism and all sorts of dishy stuff on parenting, mom blogging and what it all means.  Really, all that in a mere 40 minutes.  She’s that good.

Lisa Belkin Podcast  or listen on iTunes!

Mom Congress Day 1: How Many DC Cupcakes Can I Eat?

I guess this doesn’t really qualify as a first day since the Mom Congress started at 4:00pm with the opening remarks and an icebreaker session.  We were talking advocacy – the most effective ways to rally your cause, present your case and influence policy.  It was a reminder on how powerful data can be and how important a consistent, well-crafted message is to making yourself heard.  Something I am fortunately well acquainted with in our hyper political school.  I am more thankful than ever for the incredible parent advocates at my school who routinely spearhead petitions, rallies and letter and phone campaigns to politicians.  We are an obnoxious bunch and better off for it.

I’ve met some dynamic and incredibly engaged women so far.  The passions are varied – from gifted education to class size, school nutrition to speaking out against the standardized testing mania, these moms are vocal, organized and smart.  It gives me hope that there truly is a national force out there ready to fight the budget cuts and maddening discourse.  Tonight at dinner Marguerite Roza from the Gates Foundation spoke to the delegates about the exciting technology emerging to help change education as we know it, about teacher evaluation systems, about reallocating resources (i.e. raising class size) and about measuring teacher effectiveness and creating best practices.  I don’t think she won over the crowd.  She is undeniably smart, incredibly knowledgeable and striving to make education better.  But, the questions and concerns from the audience were real.  Class size increasing?  Not something parents want.  Standardized testing?  Not something parents want.

There is no doubt we are looking at big financial decisions and a need to rethink how our resources are spent but right now is really a giant experiment at the expense of our kids.  It’s not OK to say someday we’ll have much better feedback about student achievement because of coming technology so hey, then we won’t have big standardized yearly tests.   If those tests are the ultimate measure of a teacher’s effectiveness  – whether or not that is fair to anyone – then kids will be taught to the test.  These tests are much cheaper than having a real curriculum overhaul, professional development and personalized technology.

These are the debates and discussions we’ll be having over the next few days and hopefully some real plans and advocacy will come out from all of these smart, dedicated, energized delegates.  It would be incredibly to pool together all of these local advocates and know how and create a real, organized national parent voice.