Kids & Cars Seats, Why Safety Shouldn’t Take a Back Seat When You Fasten in Your Kids

Originally posted on my US News & World Report parenting blog (Sept 22)

THIS WEEK HAPPENS TO BE Child Passenger Safety Week – a week specifically dedicated to ensuring that parents, as well as anyone else who transports children, use the correct car seat and properly buckle kids in each and every time children ride in motor vehicles.

As a pediatrician with 15 years of experience being a child passenger safety technician and instructor, I am most definitely a fan of this week-long focus. That’s because the stakes are high when it comes to buckling kids in properly. Motor vehicle-related injuries continue to be a leading cause of death for children in the U.S.; and buckling up is the best way to save lives and reduce injuries. Child safety seats, when used correctly, can reduce the risk of death by as much as 71 percent, according to SafeKids.org.

Yet, despite all we know about the importance of passenger safety, nearly three-fourths of cars seats are still not being used or installed correctly.

Adding to this problem is a second challenge that’s by no means exclusive to car seats, but which stands to seriously thwart our collective efforts to keep our children safe in them. I’m talking about the culture of “mommy-shaming.”

Consider the photo that just a few months ago managed to capture the attention of the parenting world. The photo I’m referring to wasn’t just any picture shared by any mom. It was a snapshot of the then 18-month-old son of pop culture royalty Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. It also just so happened to be a shot of a not-yet-2-year-old strapped into a car seat that was facing forward, rather than rear-facing seat as generally recommended for a child of this age.

The parenting and media response was fast and furious. While the virtual dust has settled, I still feel the need to weigh in on a couple lingering aspects of this cause celebre.

Read more….

Books and Young Children – 5 Reasons You Should Read Aloud to Your Kids

Originally posted on my US News & World Report parenting blog (Aug 17)

WHAT IF I WERE TO START this blog post with the phrase, “In a great green room…,” ask you what the brown bear sees, or simply inquire as to what very hungry caterpillars eat? I’m willing to bet that most of you, as parents (not to mention grandparents, child care providers and early educators), would be able to finish the sentence and answer the questions without pause.

I imagine that for many of you, these ever-so-simple references would likely also conjure up the colorful images and happy memories that tend to go hand in hand with reading such beloved children’s books as Margaret Wise Brown’s, “Goodnight Moon;” or “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” written by Bill Martin, Jr. and illustrated by Eric Carle; and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” written and illustrated by Carle. Yet all too often, I find that discussions about early literacy move away from what we all know and love about the experience of reading aloud with young children, and towards the more literal, academic advantages. That includes getting kids familiar with “sight words” – or commonly used words kids are encouraged to memorize, or know on sight; teaching them the sounds of letters; and all of the various other nuts and bolts of learning to read.

That’s not to say efforts focused on promoting early literacy and helping young children make the necessary connections between sounds, letters and words are without benefit. After all, learning to read affords children the ability to spend the rest of their lives reading to learn. There is no question that reading aloud with young children can facilitate their learning their ABCs and help set them up for reading and life success.

Read more….

Parenting & TED: Key Parenting Takeaways From the TED2017 Conference

Originally posted on my US News & World Report parenting blog (May 5, 2017)

AS ONE OF ONLY A FEW pediatricians at last week’s TED2017 conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, I want to let you in on a little secret I’m fairly sure most parents and conference attendees don’t know: The TED conference is actually a parentingconference.

Sure, influential people from around the globe gather to hear thought-provoking talks delivered on “the world’s largest stage.” But when you get right down to it, the 90-plus carefully curated talks collectively paint a picture of the world in which our children will live.

It is this glimpse into what the future holds for our kids that makes TED especially relevant to parents. Whether you’re the world’s greatest female athlete sharing thoughts on becoming a parent (as Serena Williams did), or a parent on the go, what unites us is our shared hopes and dreams for our children. The legacy we leave will depend on how well we prepare our children to live healthy, meaningful and productive lives in a rapidly changing, complex world. This makes parents the people most in need of knowing the direction in which the world is headed. Ironically, we are also the least likely to have enough spare time to watch a 15-minute video online. That’s why I’m so compelled to share a handful of key parenting takeaways from TED2017…

Read More…..

Are the 3 R’s of Education Sufficient for the Future?

When I was a kid in the 1970s and ‘80s, those who could memorize the most facts and calculate figures the fastest were generally deemed the smartest and most likely to succeed. You could say a “cognitive” and “IQ”-based view of intelligence prevailed.

Enter technology and the shift from Industrial to Information Age. Nowadays, facts and figures have been rendered far more easily accessible to far more people than ever before. At the same time, our increasingly complex and globalized world is placing new demands on us to think critically and creatively; and now more than ever to “play well” with, empathize with and read other people. 

Continue reading “Are the 3 R’s of Education Sufficient for the Future?”

Hello. Allow Me to Introduce You to the QI Skills.

If you haven’t heard of QI skills before, you are not alone.

That’s because the use of the word “QI” (pronounced “key”) to describe a set of valuable 21st century skills is, in fact, altogether new as a concept I introduce in my new book, The Toddler Brain: Nurture the Skills Today That Will Shape Your Child’s Tomorrow. The familiar set of skills that I have collectively dubbed “QI,” however, are anything but new and likely to be quite familiar. Continue reading “Hello. Allow Me to Introduce You to the QI Skills.”

Teen Driver Safety

News of teen car crash victims invariably get me choked up, but I have recently found myself thinking even more than usual about teenage drivers. I’m sure this is in large part due to the fact that my oldest child has now started talking about what car she hopes to drive in the not-too-distant future. I’m pretty sure it’s also because of the recent news detailing the incredibly sad local story about teenage sisters involved in a fatal crash. But to be honest, this time of year always makes me think about the risks involved in newly licensed teens getting behind the wheel. I’m not sure why the time of year should make a difference – since the premature death of a teenager is without exception a horribly sad occasion in any season. But there’s apparently something even more devastatingly newsworthy about covering the senseless loss of life when it happens on prom night or just after graduation when teens should be excitedly preparing to embark on their future, not being laid to rest. Continue reading “Teen Driver Safety”

Why Every Parent Should Know about TED

As parents today, we are unavoidably exposed to overwhelming amounts of advice in the form of anxiety-producing parenting books, blogs and articles, not to mention an ever-increasing number of news stories generated 24/7 by fear-mongering media – all of which collectively stand to leave us wondering which way to turn. It’s no wonder that I’m so frequently asked my professional opinion on where parents can go to find good, credible advice on how to raise happy, healthy, responsible and engaged children. The fact of the matter is that knowing where to turn for credible information – parenting and otherwise – has become one of the defining challenges of the information age in which we live.

As a pediatrician, I can tell you with confidence that sites like the American Academy of Pediatrics’ HealthyChildren.org are a good starting point. If it’s early childhood you’re interested in – bookmark ZeroToThree.org. Autism? Add the CDC’s Learn the Signs campaign or Easter Seals to your trusted source list. Vaccines? Search the web with caution lest you fall prey to misinformation. Instead head to credible sites like the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Vaccine Education Center. Pick just about any parenting topic, and it’s simply a matter of knowing where to look. The problem is just that knowing where to look that has become anything but simple.

It also doesn’t address the bigger parenting question of what your overall approach to parenting should be….You know, the bigger picture sense of what the future holds, what skills and ideas are going to be of most value, and how best to engage your children in becoming contributing members of the increasingly globalized, connected world.

Okay, so I am well aware that some of you may currently be too buried in diapers, homework, mealtime preparations and/or carpools to give this bigger picture much thought at the present moment. But given that just about every parent I’ve ever met at some point contemplates how best to set their kids up to succeed in the 21st century, the search for a big-picture parenting perspective got me to thinking.

What if I were to tell you that there is a website out there that has everything a parent could want to help lay out a strategy for success, to pique children’s interest, nurture their imagination, and help better prepare them for the modern-day world? What if you could take your pick – from perennial kid-favorite topics such as robots, bugs, or the wonders of the natural world to thought-provoking information on the power of play, education, technology, or even a kid-friendly way to learn Chinese? Better yet, what if all of this was available to you for free, with no one trying to sell or get you hooked on anything (other than ideas, that is). And best of all, what if all of these things were at your fingertips – whether on computer, smartphone or tablet – in the ever-so-parent- and kid-friendly form of short, engaging videos, generally no more than 20 minutes long?

The website I’m talking about is TED.com. And while I’ve admittedly never heard it referred to as a parenting site before, I’d like to suggest that it is, in fact, a site that every parent should know about.

For those of you not yet familiar with the concept of TED, let me back up a moment to explain. Technically speaking TED got its start as a Silicon Valley conference in the 1980’s focused on the convergence of technology, entertainment, and design. TED today, however, has become something very much bigger than that – a global phenomenon of conferences and over 1000 TED talks posted online – all driven by a dedication to sharing ideas that stand to make the world a better place. Covering an impressively broad spectrum of topics – from science to business to global issues and from animal life to life in the deep oceans, black holes and beyond, it’s all fair game.

While there is a flagship TED and a TEDGlobal conference each year, as well as independent TEDx events in communities large and small around the world, you need go no further than the website to share in the experience and watch TED talks, which as of November 2012 reportedly exceeded one billion views. In other words, TED.com has become one big, thought-provoking virtual playground of global proportions.

Granted not all TED talks are meant for children by any means – whether by nature of their content or the intellectual level at which they are presented. But some are. And the idea of engaging children in the wonders of the world around them is one that I strongly believe can’t start early enough. Start with the curated TED For Kids or Natural Wonder playlists for example, and you’ll find that TED videos can hold their own against video games and YouTube videos of cats chasing their tails any day. As your children get older, use TED to start conversations about increasingly complex topics, as well as more challenging issues facing our world.

And for you, as a parent, I recommend you carve out fifteen or twenty minutes in your day, go to the site, and pick a topic that piques your interest. You, too, may find yourself hooked.

As someone who is sympathetic to the time-pressures of modern-day parenting and at the same time fundamentally believes that children learn best by example, I believe that having your children see you engaged in and excited about lifelong learning is one of the best examples you can set as a parent.

After my 13 year old witnessed my own enthusiastic response to the mind-expanding experience of attending this year’s 2014 TED conference in Vancouver, he has now taken it upon himself to watch a TED talk a day. And if that’s not screen time that a parent can be excited about, I don’t know what is.

For those of you interested in expanding upon your virtual experience and becoming involved with the in-person TED community, the good news is that we have one right here in Nebraska, and it is growing quickly. Be sure to check out Omaha’s annual TEDxOmaha and monthly TEDx Salon events, as well as TEDxLincoln.

Originally posted on the Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska

Wrapping our heads around the science of concussions

While you may know me as a pediatrician, what you may not know is that I also double as the mother of a teenage elite soccer player. This means that I spend plenty of time cheering on sidelines (albeit quietly so as not to embarrass my son) and chauffeuring around town as well as much of the Midwest. It also means that I spend more than my fair share of time worrying about the disconnect between my son’s dedication to soccer and the growing body of evidence that suggests that bouncing balls off one’s head – at speeds estimated to be upwards of 70 mph – may not be such a great idea.

For any of you who may be feeling my parental pain but at the same time considering yourselves lucky that soccer isn’t your child’s sport of choice, I strongly caution you against turning your head on what the medical and sports worlds alike are learning about concussions. The fact of the matter is that soccer in no way stands alone in posing a serious concussion risk to our country’s youth.

In fact, an extensive 2013 study on concussions in youth sports found that football, ice hockey, lacrosse and wrestling join soccer as sports associated with the highest rates of concussions for high school (and college) male athletes. And no, girls were not exempt, as those who play soccer, lacrosse, and basketball are also at highest risk. Even the sidelines aren’t free of risk, as cheerleading is of great concern as well. At an estimated 1.6 to 3.8 million per year, the sheer numbers alone have helped put concussions top of mind.

So just how serious a problem is a concussion? On the one had it’s actually hard to say with any certainty, since the research about youth concussions is limited. That said, according to the chair of the Institute of Medicine Committee that conducted the 2013 study, “the findings of [the Institute of Medicine] report justify the concerns about sports concussions in young people.” From the finding that there’s little to no evidence to suggest that helmets reduce the risk of concussions (skull fractures, yes, but concussions no) to an identified “culture of resistance” where young athletes don’t even want to report if/when they may have suffered a concussion, the phrase “Houston, we have a problem” keeps running through my head.

And that’s before even getting to the part of the scientific literature that addresses just what we know about the symptoms of concussion – broadly categorized in the all-encompassing categories of physical, cognitive, emotional and sleep impairments. Sounds serious, but in a vague sort of way that I worry still stands to be overshadowed by our love of the sports in question. In reading through the significant risks and serious symptoms associated with concussions and wondering to myself how it is that so may parents of athletes can look the other way, it occurred to me that perhaps changing what we call this all-too-common sports injury might help.

After all, along with the culture of resistance (or denial) comes what I’m concerned is a complacency around the word concussion itself. As someone who thinks that the words we use really matter, I truly believe that if we all switched to calling concussions “traumatic brain injuries,” it might be a step in the right direction. If nothing else, it might help us all to think harder about what’s really at stake, and take more seriously the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recent Return to Learning Following A Concussion conclusions and recommendations.

With the words “traumatic brain injury” and “cognitive impairment” forcing their way into my consciousness every time my son or his teammates heads a ball, needless to say I was very Nebraska-proud to learn about The University of Nebraska’s new $55 million, state-of-the-art Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior. Reportedly poised (and well-equipped) to lead the nation in improving the diagnosis, understanding, and treatment of traumatic head injuries, I think one of the first questions that will need to be asked is whether we – soccer moms, athletes and Husker Nation as a whole – are going to be ready – as in truly, for better or for worse ready – to wrap our heads around whatever the science of concussions tells us.

Originally posted on the Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska

Screen Time: A Reality Check on “Reality TV”

As someone who spends most of my waking hours dedicated to finding and promoting the best ways to raise children to be happy, healthy, well-educated and successful adults, I feel compelled to say that reality television is definitely not it. I realize that this sounds dangerously close to stating the obvious, but I would argue only in the same way as pointing out that the emperor is, in fact, not wearing any clothes.

To make use of language from the reality TV lexicon, “at the end of the day” what we now have – for better or for worse – is an immensely popular and pervasive form of television that is so far from reality that it begs the question of why on earth we still call it reality TV.

At this point, I should clarify that it’s not like reality TV only recently just hit my television screen for the first time. Having all but taken over the airwaves since it first burst onto the scene in the early 1990’s in the form of MTV’s The Real World, it has since invaded my home just as predictably as it likely has yours. It’s bad enough that grown adults (myself included) find it hard to look away. What concerns me even more is that “reality” television is working against us as parents, unless you happen to firmly believe in excessive drinking, lying and deceit, premarital sex, frivolous spending, catty fist fights, racist and/or sexist remarks and worse. Scoff if you like, but reality television is making these behaviors seem commonplace, and thus providing a terrible filter through which our children are learning to see the world.

Now I’m not the first (or the last) to note irony in the fact that we persist in using such a blatant misnomer to describe the genre. But I felt particularly compelled to share my mounting concerns when the admittedly hard-not-to-watch Bachelor franchise decided to have the admittedly suave bachelor-du-jour surprise his legions of fans at their new-season viewing parties. In case you missed the episode, there were plenty of 20-something women glued to their sets, and they predictably squealed and swooned with cameras rolling when the new bachelor dropped in to join them unannounced.

What really got me, however, was when pig-tailed girls who looked all of thirteen at best, gushed into cameras that the reason they love said bachelor, and the whole Bachelor franchise for that matter, was because it gave them proof that prince charming and true love really do exist, and that dreams really do come true (or something to that effect). I’m sorry, WHAT?? This is when my protective parenting and pediatric defenses collectively kicked in. Since when did watching 27 evening gown and/or bikini-clad women use their feminine wiles to compete for a man become as acceptable as, say, a pajama party?

At one time, I would’ve hoped that what I’m about to say would be obvious, but now more than ever I’m concerned that the point has been lost in two decades worth of reality TV channel surfing: Reality is what we make of it, and as parents (much less a society), we have both the opportunity and responsibility to shape how our children view it. To this noble end, reality TV is not helping – at best giving us more teachable moments about how not to live than we could possibly ever need.

Reality – in the real sense of the word – does not mean that every action one takes needs to be neatly summed up as a step in one’s life journey, or summarized in an “end of the day” soliloquy. Reality does not require every pound gained or lost or tear shed to be broadcast, nor should it involve stopping conversations mid-scene to turn to the camera and narrate to the public one’s every thought, feeling and emotion. In fact, reality should not include perpetually having cameras pointed at one’s face (unless said camera is held by one’s mother, I should add for the sake of not having this used against me by my children). Reality does not (for all but the very few who aren’t likely to read this, anyway) involve first or second or third dates in exotic lands or carefree lives limited to gyms, tanning and laundry.

And here’s the kicker. You may think all this is obvious, or harmless, or simply not a big deal. But as with the viewing of television violence, we now know too much about the insidious nature of these sorts of images and their ability to shape the way our children see the world to ignore what’s right in front of our children’s faces on a 24/7 basis. I’m not by any means saying that adorable Juan Pablo is single-handedly responsible for bullying or poor body images. But what I am saying is that what we allow our children to watch – day-in and day-out, matters. And words matter, which brings me back to my point that we really should stop calling it “reality” television!

Originally posted on Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska

21st C Parenting: Connecting with Kids in the Age of Digital Disconnectedness

Rising to the challenge of parenting digital natives – a term commonly used to describe a generation of children who have never known a world without digital technologies – inherently means that we, as digital immigrants, have some important work to do. As a crucial first step, we need to both familiarize ourselves and then keep up with technology. After all, the responsibility falls squarely on us to help our children learn good judgment and how to responsibly navigate the rapidly changing digital world.

With the new year and new resolutions right around the corner, I figured this was as good a time as any for us all to commit to doing a better job of setting appropriate limits for the use of technology in our everyday lives – both for our children and for ourselves. After all, in today’s digitally connected world, taking a few key steps toward disconnecting can actually go a long way towards helping families become and stay more closely connected.

The following are some tips to get you started in what I hope brings you and your family a happy, healthy and technologically harmonious 2014.

Make time for face time. Today’s digital invasion of childhood is raising serious concerns, as clearly evidenced by this year’s recent recipient of the TOADY Award. This annual dishonor, given to the toy deemed most oppressive and/or destructive to young children, was bestowed upon a digital potty seat designed to allow potty-training toddlers to remain connected to their screens. For infants, young children and teens alike, face time – not the kind you can ask Siri to set up for you on your iPhone but real, in-person face time – is critically important to their social-emotional development. For infants and young children in particular, this means resisting the temptation of replacing human interaction with iPad potty seats and app-loaded infant seats (yes – this too is an actual product that also understandably ignited a virtual firestorm of digital debate). What you can do instead is powerfully simple – read books, talk, sing, make eye contact. And while you’re certainly not alone if you’ve made a habit of texting your ‘tween or teen, or emailing your spouse as the most reliable way of communicating, remember that at all ages, nothing compares to in-person, face-to-face conversations.

Take a tech-timeout. Another big concern when it comes to technology’s pervasiveness in our children’s everyday lives is that it takes away any time for boredom. While I am well aware that that may seem a particularly appealing attribute when you’re busy, stressed or just hoping for some peace and quiet at the end of a long day or start of a long trip, you may want to think again. The problem with the constant and chronic use of tech toys as boredom-busters is that boredom has long been recognized as playing a key role in fostering creativity, resourcefulness, and innovation. So what’s a parent to do? Be sure to establish times and places when cell phones need to be put away and screens need to be turned off to allow your children’s creative juices to start flowing.

Vacation planning. For anyone with holiday travel plans, or planning any travel for that matter, take a moment to consider why it is you’re traveling in the first place. Visiting friends or relatives, perhaps. Setting out to see new sights. Or simply spending time together as a family. Regardless of the reason, the fact of the matter is that cell phones, tablets, TVs and/or computer screens all have the uncanny ability to keep kids from looking up, looking out of the window, making eye contact, or – simply put – connecting with the world around them. In other words, technology (it’s non-essential use, that is) can sabotage your best-laid vacation plans. My suggestion? Plan to leave any unnecessary cell phones and other digital distractions at home. While your children may well protest at first, have a little faith. With very little practice, they’re sure to find alternative, meaningful, tech-free ways to enjoy the vacation as a result.

Declare the dinner table a tech-free zone. As the parent of three teens, I will be the first to admit that this is easier to write than it is to enforce. Nevertheless, it’s absolutely worth rising to the challenge of establishing the dinner table as a tech-free zone. With no buzzes, no rings, no emails, texts or tweets allowed, your chances for meaningful conversations with your children increase considerably – whether you have toddlers, tweens or teens.

And with that, I will leave you with my best wishes for a very happy holidays. In the spirit of both the holidays and of practicing what I preach, I now intend to shut down the computer, turn off my cell phone, turn on some holiday music, and go spend some quality time playing our family’s favorite board game (Settlers of Catan) with my kids.

Originally posted on Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska