Produced by Gary Drevitch
An omnibus review of health and behavior indicators released by the Foundation for Child Development has much good news to report: Young people today are drinking less, abusing drugs less, having fewer babies, and committing fewer crimes
On the other hand, they're not getting any brighter, and they're doing their damnedest to munch years off of their potential life expectancy by gobbling up fatty snacks and sodas.
THEY MIGHT BE HEADED FOR GITMO
The new kids' album from They Might Be Giants, "Here Come the ABCs," has entered into the Heavy Rotation Hall of Fame at FD.com headquarters, alongside earlier releases from Dan Zanes, the Funkey Monkeys, and the original London cast of "Bombay Dreams." (Yes, we're eclectic, but you just see if your kids can resist dancing to the chorus of "Shakalaka Baby.")
Small Fellow and Tiny Girl have been dancing the night away to each of the 26 brief tunes on "Here Come the ABCs," from "E Eats Everything" to "Go for G!," "The Vowel Family," and beyond. But their favorite track is "The Alphabet of Nations," a quickie which on the surface appears to be nothing more than a tuneful, alphabetical listing of countries, as follows:
Algeria, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Dominica, Egypt, France, The Gambia
Hungary, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Libya and Mongolia
Norway, Oman, Pakistan Qatar, Russia, Suriname
Turkey, Uruguay, Vietnam
West Xylophone, Yemen, Zimbabwe!
Now, all of us here at the Department of Homeland Security agree that the group known as They Might Be Giants has the right to name any countries they choose in their popular songs. However, their decision to include such "countries of concern" as Cambodia, Iran, and Libya, when more acceptable alternatives such as Cameroon, India, and Latvia were readily available, raises a red flag in our offices. And the members of the group are certainly aware of our President's concerns over West Xylophones attempts to purchase weapons-grade nuclear material on the black market. And so, regrettably, while "The Alphabet of Nations" has a good beat, and we can dance to it, we're going to have to put the band on our department Watch List.
Small Fellow took ill this morning (at 5:30 in the morning, to be exact) and is just now getting his feet under him. But through the hours of crying, moaning, doctor visits and spiking temperatures, he still found time to ask us a few key questions, such as:
Daddy? When you're sick, do you always get to ask for things and not say 'Please'?
Daddy? When I'm sick, will everyone do nice things for me, and not yell at me at all?
Daddy? When I'm sick, can I always have scrambled eggs for lunch, every time? I KNOW they're usually for breakfast, but they can be for lunch every time when I'm sick?
Daddy? When I'm sick, can I always get videos from the video store from TV?*
[* Our rule is generally that Fellow and Tiny cannot rent videos that are simply compiled episodes of shows they already watch on TV, because it seems like a poor investment, but, indeed, that rule was waived today and Fellow convalesced with his friends Caillou and Blue.]
ACCORDING TO THE TIMES, HE PURSUES HIS IDEAS WITH THE DETERMINATION YOU'D EXPECT FROM A TWO-TIME NEW YORK CITY MARATHON ENTRANT. BECAUSE IF HE WERE FAT, HE'D HAVE GIVEN UP YEARS AGO.
Slowing down to introduce a visitor to a few colleagues, Dr. Verhagen acknowledges his notoriety with a bit of black humor. "He's here to see what the mercy killer is really like," he said.
Verhagen again discusses how his protocol would allow for discussion of each case by a panel of doctors, experts, officials, ethicists, social workers, poobahs, and potentates:
Dr. Verhagen, 42, wants a team of physicians, together with the baby's parents, to decide openly in very rare, extraordinary cases whether or not to end a child's life. Better that, he said, than a lone pediatrician behind a hospital curtain armed with too much pain reliever. "If you do this, the most important decision man can take, you must do it in a spotlight, you must do it with the curtains opened instead of closed, because it's extremely difficult and you can't be wrong," he said.
As we said before, it's this aspect of the protocol that we get hung up on, as it's so hard to imagine a parent basically appealing to a panel instead of making a decision with their trusted physician, but, unlike the good doctor, we haven't been there. Though even if we had, we might try to appear more sympathetic to our American audience than this:
DR. VERHAGEN says he has watched one child die and was there moments later for the three others. All had severe forms of spina bifida.
"The child goes to sleep," he said. "It stops breathing."
"I mean, it's difficult to give the right emotion there, but it's beautiful in a way," he said, somewhat aware of how this might sound to a layman. "They are children who are severely ill and in great pain. It is after they die that you see them relaxed for the first time. You see their faces in a way they should be for the first time."
Not sure how that's gonna play in Florida. . .
WHATEVER HAPPENS IN VEGAS . . . TOTS SHOULDN'T STAY IN VEGAS
We spent the weekend in Las Vegas without the children or their mom, and enjoyed all that the city had to offer. Which, at the end of the day, really ain't much. But there was one thing that disturbed us no end: The huge number of people who came to Sin City with their small children - and who were wheeling them up and down the Strip each night after midnight. Seeing dozens of bleary-eyed toddlers in their umbrella strollers passing through the gauntlet of men offering "live strippers in your hotel room" cards outside the Casino Royale just put a damper on the whole experience for us.
And so, Freelance Dad introduces this handy, one-step guide for parents traveling with young children:
If you and your child get off a plane in a new city, head to baggage claim, and find that area to be surrounded by billboard-size advertisements for topless revues (and/or magicians), just turn around and get back on the plane.
The tolerance-promoting video that intolerant Americans latched onto as evidence that SpongeBob might be one of "the gays" (which would be ironic, as we believe he reproduces asexually) has been screened for the first-graders at our very own neighborhood school, P.S. 87 - and, according to the Daily News, it's a hit.
JOLLY GOOD, BECAUSE IT'S SO, WELL, JOLLY
Maira Kalman was already one of our favorite creators of children's books, as she has a great sensibility for smart Fellows and Girls. (We especially recommend "Next Stop Grand Central.") Then we got a look at her illustrated London travel guide for kids in last Sunday's TIMES, and now we appreciate her even more. She has a knack for focusing on small details that will fascinate traveling kids, while never overlooking the forest; for example, Big Ben is experienced as a sight seen from a double-decker bus, the Cabinet War Rooms is represented by a green scrambler phone, and the King Henry VIII-and-his-six-wives Fine Mint chocolate bar is called "happy and sad at the same time."
Congress continues to put the heat on food companies for marketing unhealthy snacks to vulnerable children. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa took up the cudgel this week, in a Capitol Hill hearing we pray no children were watching:
“We got rid of Joe Camel. We’ve got to get rid of Shrek,” he said, holding large pictures of both.
Of course, Harkin did have a point, even if he expressed it monstrously. He went on to attack some of our own least favorite children's books, those in the Product Placement genre:
... behind a long table crammed with food and toy products featuring characters such as Shrek, Spider-Man and even Barbie clad in a McDonald's uniform, Mr. Harkin held up a book titled The Oreo Counting Book: 10 to 1 Is so Much Fun and called the marketing efforts by the food industry "obscene."
Yeah, those counting books - Cheerios makes them, too - are pretty stunning in their chutzpah. How many preschoolers have reached the end of one and said, "OK, now I want 10 Oreos!! NOW!!" It's like teaching algebra to teenage boys using breasts.
CAN'T THEY JUST LET US EAT OUR APPLE JACKS IN PEACE?
The $6.2 billion cereal industry was called out this week for introducing reduced-sugar versions of their sweetest cereals, but not actually making them any healthier. Nutritionists at five universities found that the sugar in the reduced-sugar boxes of Frosted Flakes, Froot Loops, and Trix had been replaced by Splenda and other crunchy carbs, all of which the body treats the same as it does sugar (i.e., by turning it into unsightly fat). In fact, the experts said, Splenda actually keeps children’s taste for sugar artificially high, making it more difficult for parents ever to cut back. The reduced-sugar cereals also have virtually the same number of calories per serving as the original brands, though we expect kids who don't realize that will eat more than they did of the originals.
Triaminic becomes the first maker of over-the-counter children's cold-and-cough medicines to have its product certified by the Orthodox Union. Look for the OU symbol on a bottle of the grape-flavored soother on a drugstore counter near you.
It's a bit surprising that no one has sought or received the kosher symbol before this, although for families who keep kosher, Manischewitz Concord Grape has, we're sure, always done an adequate job of soothing sick children. (In the case of a severe cold, we'd prescribe the Sangria).
Issues of Jewish law, especially kashrut law, always make for stimulating reading:
Prescription drugs are not a problem under Jewish dietary laws because they are viewed as lifesaving necessities. The Talmud — the collection of Jewish writings that include biblical laws and subsequent interpretations of them by centuries of rabbinical scholars — places a premium on the sanctity of life ....
But over-the-counter medicines and supplements like vitamins are treated more like nourishment. Intended to ease discomfort or enhance health — not cure an illness — they are not entitled to the same exemptions as prescription drugs. The flavorings used to make liquid medicine more pleasant tasting also complicate matters because, in the eyes of Orthodox rabbis, they make medicinal products more like food. So kosher law applies, and any ingredient bearing animal derivatives renders a product unacceptable.
OK, but what about medicines like hay fever remedies, some of which are sold by prescription only to preserve a pharmaceutical company's patent as long as legally possible -- and which, we might add, are not lifesaving drugs (in most cases) but relievers of discomfort (albeit a lot of discomfort)?
BUT IS THE CHICKEN POX VACCINE KOSHER?
If we weren't in the stand-up philosopher business, we might be tempted to go into epidemiology and public health, because we love fields where counter-intuitive thinking makes a real difference. Case in point: The chicken pox (varicella) vaccine.
On first glance, it has been an unqualified public health success: Even though the vaccine is expensive, hardly anyone gets chicken pox anymore and almost all children have been vaccinated. Incidence of the illness is down 90 percent and average annual deaths have fallen below 70. Further, the idea has always been that widespread use of the vaccine would not only prevent chicken pox but limit occurRence of the painful adult version, shingles.
But now the questionable durability of the immunity produced by the vaccine may alter the cost-benefit calculus. Older studies have shown that immunity to chickenpox (which historically has been virtually perfect after an attack of the virus) seems to depend on re-exposure .... It turns out that the vaccinated kids keep up high levels of protection because they are exposed over and over again to unprotected kids who catch the disease and pass it on. Each time such an exposure occurs, the immunized kids get a little "boost," which stimulates their immunity. Doctors think that the same thing happens to older patients who are at risk of shingles because they once had chickenpox—every time they're exposed to poxy youngsters, their immunity gets a kick, which helps to suppress the reactivation of the latent virus as shingles.
But now that practically every child in the United States has been given a dose of chickenpox vaccine, neither kids nor adults will have the opportunity for re-exposure. The initial hope that the vaccine would help prevent shingles (because immunized people are less likely to develop shingles than people who have had the natural infection) may unravel .... we may well need to routinely re-immunize children and perhaps even adults to prevent recurrent chickenpox and shingles—a far more costly proposition than we originally bargained for.
So, what to do? You could deny your child the vaccine. Maybe yours is the kid who should "take one for the team," come down the pox, and then shuttle around the community, giving all of your neighbors an immunization boost. But if you decide to go that route, let us know so we can make an appointment for infection, because we're not going to do it.
LET'S KEEP VIOLENCE OUT OF THE MEDIA, AND IN THE SCHOOL PARKING LOT, WHERE IT BELONGS
Over at Salon.com, Andrew O'Hehir has composed a couple dozen thousand words on the myth of media violence, pegged to Hillary Clinton's recent pandering on the subject. To make a long story short, he concludes that no one knows how violence in the media may or may not directly affect or influence young people, that even with all of the media options simultaneously available to our children, today's violent content is no more, and maybe even less shocking than that of the past, and that, after all:
Most of us don't have to worry about breeding little homicidal maniacs. What's far more plausible, and more dangerous, is that we'll raise a pack of sedentary, cynical little button-pushing consumption monsters who never go outside. Now that's scary.
In the battle to disinfect your child's hands, soap and water has it all over wipes and waterless rubs, because, when you think about it, with the other guys, the germs don't really go anywhere. Sleep well.
THIS IS BASED ON A STUDY OF MOSTLY WHITE CHILDREN FROM THE BOSTON SUBURBS. FREELANCE DAD IS A MOSTLY WHITE CHILD FROM THE BOSTON SUBURBS. FREELANCE DAD NEEDS A COOKIE.
According to Scary Study of the Day #2, kids who are in the higher ranges of normal weight as teens are far more likely to become obese adults than skinny kids.
“... we show that even children in the high normal weight range have an elevated risk of becoming overweight or obese as adults," said study leader Alison Field, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital Boston ....
“These findings underscore that even children who are in the high normal weight range may have adverse outcomes later in life, and our challenge may be even greater than we thought,” said Matthew Gillman, who also worked on the study.
So, what does it all mean? Well, if you're keeping score at home:
-- Obese kids are likely to become obese adults. -- Normal weight kids are likely to become obese adults. -- YOU may already be an obese adult.
But, hey, a toast from FD to all the crazy parents who deny their kids birthday cake, pizza, and cookies in an all-out attempt to keep them skinny: You were right all along. Well done. Keep up the good work. In the future, only the truly skinny child will not be doomed to a life of obesity.
JUST KEEP CLINT EASTWOOD OFF THE COMMITTEE, PLEASE.
A pair of Dutch doctors have developed "the Groningen protocol," which is not, as you might think, the title of Michael Crichton's next novel, but a set of guidelines for authorized euthanasia by doctors in cases of "infants with disorders associated with severe and sustained suffering ... when their suffering cannot be adequately reduced."
The doctors tell the New York Times that they are trying to bring a measure of accountability to acts that go on every day around the world. "Given the fact that it is already happening," [Dr. Eduard Verhagen] said, "we find it unacceptable that it is happening in silence."
First off, we're not sure that these intensely private acts need or ought to be brought out of silence and put into the public sphere. It seems entirely appropriate that these acts, if and when they occur, are done in quiet, away from any sets of formal guidelines. If the protocol was in place, how many more people - parents and physicians - would it deter even as it strives for a patina of public acceptance? One could imagine parents emotionally unable or unwilling to face the "subsequent review of each case by 'an outside legal body,'" as prescribed in the protocol. And while the protocol establishes a triage of sorts for profoundly suffering infants, how does any family locate their own situation on the provided continuum?
It's a challenging bioethical question, but not one that will be coming to an OB/GYN ward anywhere near you. The Dutch may be ready to put these issues up for public debate, but in the US, this car won't get out of the garage.
Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, said he could not imagine such guidelines and practices becoming the norm in the United States. "It's not acceptable to the culture," he said.
The doctors in the Netherlands appeared to agree. "This approach suits our legal and social culture," they wrote, "but it is unclear to what extent it would be transferable to other countries."
And we're not sure that's a bad thing.
And this would be the exception: Green Day helps a Welsh lad wake from a two-week coma following a car accident. Dare we advise parents to keep a copy of "American Idiot" in their emergency kit - just in case?
BY THIS INTERPRETATION OF MULTITASKING, WE SPENT 37 HOURS ONLINE YESTERDAY Our friends at the Kaiser Family Foundation have released a new study - "Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-Olds" - which claims that American kids age 8-18 are devoting an increasing amount of their time on media like TV, video games and the Internet. But note the innovative methodology the foundation employed (emphasis ours) :
.... the total amount of media content young people are exposed to each day has increased by more than an hour over the past five years (from 7:29 to 8:33), with most of the increase coming from video games (up from 0:26 to 0:49) and computers (up from 0:27 to 1:02, excluding school-work). However, because the media use diaries indicate that the amount of time young people spend “media multi-tasking” has increased from 16% to 26% of media time, the actual number of hours devoted to media use has remained steady, at just under 6 hours a day (going from 6:19 to 6:21), or 44 hours a week ....
So, perhaps to make their claims seem more alarming, with the goal of, say, gaining more press attention for a study that in fact shows no real increase in the total amount of time kids spend with media, Kaiser has violated all laws of physics, and possibly created an irreparable rift in the space-time continuum, by unraveling kids' multitasking time. Did you just spend an hour reading the newspaper with the TV on? That now counts as two hours. And you thought there weren't enough hours in the day. . .
Senator Hillary Clinton is apparently untroubled by Kaiser's callous manipulation of the fourth dimension. In fact, she sees the study as cause for some serious changes in the media:
Sen. Hillary Clinton . . . noted that the new data is good reason for marketers to make greater efforts to curb violent content and pitches for unhealthy food in their advertising.
Now, we at FD.com zealously agree that marketers need to curb advertising that targets young children, especially for unhealthy foods. (And PBS ought to be first in line.) We have and will continue to flog-and-blog that horse in this space. But the Kaiser study shows us multitasking kids who may are probably paying less attention to TV ads while they thumb their GameBoys (you know, a decade ago, that last phrase would have sounded a little bit dirty). As such, the new study is not necessarily a justification for major changes in the media. On the other hand, the industry isn't so worried about Clinton's proposed solution:
"Food advertisers should be more responsible about the effect they are having," the New York Democrat said. "I would like to see the entire food industry come together to develop voluntary guidelines that take their responsibility to children seriously."
Dick O'Brien, executive vice president of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, said his group was pleased Mrs. Clinton was asking for voluntary action by marketing companies rather than government intervention.
. . . because they don't have to do it.
It is an obvious truth which no one likes to admit: Advertising works. And anyone with toddlers or preschoolers has had an oh-my-God moment in which their three-year-old screamed about wanting to go to eat at Chuck E. Cheese (thanks, PBS) or at "Old McDonald's." We're amazed at the product loyalty inspired in Small Fellow by his Holiday 2004 Hess truck and twin motorcycles (which, we confess, are actually great toys). Every time we drive up the West Side Highway into New Jersey, he lustily cheers every appearance of the familiar "Hess" sign, and asks, "Can we go to that gas station building?"
In today's LA Times, David Shaw looks at the undeniable efficacy of junk-food advertising for kids, compellingly placing the comments of junk-foods merchants side-by-side with their hypocritical peers in the cigarette trade, and persuading that, if nothing else, for a mom or dad to ignore the power of ads is tantamount to parenting with one hand tied behind your back.
"I TELL YOU, MY SCHOOL WAS TOUGH. REALLY TOUGH."
"HOW - TOUGH - WAS IT??"
"I'LL TELL YOU, WHEN YOU DID SOMETHING WRONG, THEY MADE YOUR MOTHER SPANK YOU!!"
Hey! Schaumburg, Illinois! What the Hell is going on there? You've got a school that suspends a six-year-old boy because his mother refused to spank him in public for your sadistic titillation? What happens on the second offense, the boy has to fight lions in the Colosseum?
I WILL NOT EAT IT IN HOT SAUCE.
I WILL NOT BECAUSE IT TASTES LIKE MOSS.
I WILL NOT EAT TOFU ON TOAST.
WHY CAN'T I JUST PLEASE EAT A ROAST?
Today's Killjoy Research Study is brought to you by the scientific journal Pediatrics:
Children who drink more milk do not necessarily develop healthier bones, researchers said Monday in a report that stresses exercise and modest consumption of calcium-rich foods such as tofu . . . . [T]he report, published in the journal Pediatrics, said boosting consumption of milk or other dairy products was not necessarily the best way to provide the minimal calcium intake of at least 400 milligrams per day. Other ways to obtain the absorbable calcium found in one cup of cow’s milk include a cup of fortified orange juice, a cup of cooked kale or turnip greens, two packages of instant oats, two-thirds cup of tofu, or 1-2/3 cups of broccoli. . . .
You know what, we're happy to go along with the recommendation to exercise more to build strong bones instead of relying on milk, even low-fat milk, to do it for us. But OJ is full of calories, tofu isn't even food, and KALE?! Yeah, that'll work. We all know about the long love affair between America's children and KALE. . . .
After years of working alone, McGruff the Crime Dog has finally taken a partner in his fight against criminals who prey on children: Faux Paw, the Techno Cat. Faux Paw teaches kids how to stay safe on the Internet with the slogan, "Keep. Don't meet. Tell." (KEEP personal information private, DON'T MEET anyone you meet online, and TELL parents if you see something that makes you uncomfortable.) It's certainly earnest but it doesn't exactly trip off the tongue like "Stop, drop and roll."
In their first video adventure, McGruff - a solid, by-the-book detective just weeks from retirement - and Faux - a maverick upstart who makes his own rules and may harbor a death wish - are sucked into the World Wide Web, where McGruff repeatedly says, "I'm gettin' too old for this s%#&!!"