Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Transparency

. . . was promised again and again by Barrack Obama. It would be nice to get some even now and then. Instead, Republicans get locked out of committee rooms and bills are passed before they are written, let alone read. Don't expect things to get better--the Democrats cannot afford to have the public know what's really in their legislative proposals.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Nurture Shock

Karen and I just finished reading Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. It's a collection of some recent (and counter-intuitive) advances in child development research. Entertaining and surprisingly conservative in places, the authors touch on a plethora of topics ranging from sleep to self-control to teen rebellion. While none of the areas are considered in any kind of an exhaustive way, the book manages to be quite thought provoking. Parents will definitely benefit from the experience. A few tidbits:

Telling your child he is smart will likely encourage less effort on his part. Instead, try praising specific achievements focusing on the effort applied. Self-esteem is a red herring.

Kids are getting somewhere between 30 minutes to an hour less sleep each night than they used to only a decade ago. Loss of sleep causes problems for adults but it absolutely destroys a child's ability to function academically, turning sixth-graders into fourth-graders. There is also an amazing correlation between sleep-loss and obesity in children (more so than between diet or exercise and obesity).

Kids lie many times a day, and parents can't always (or even usually) tell when. Smarter kids lie better than other kids. They mainly lie to please a parent or other adult, not to avoid punishment.

Tests to identify gifted kindergartners get it wrong about 73% of the time. IQ is not stable in children and testing is meaningless until at least the third grade.

A teenager's need for autonomy peaks around age 14 or 15. It is higher at 11 than at 18. When adults hear disturbing phrases like "swim with sharks" and "bite on a lightbulb" they experience an immediate emotional aversion. When teens hear these phrases, they weigh the decision in the cognitive parts of the brain--they actually have to think about it! Their brains do signal danger during experiments involving sharing their tastes and preferences with peers. Arguments between parents and teens tend to indicate a lower level of dishonesty in the relationship.

Children who watch educational TV shows (like Arthur and Clifford) exhibit a higher level of aggression--they're even worse than Power Rangers! 96% of all children's programming contains verbal insults and worse. Spanking, when done consistently and not as a "nuclear option" is effective (though the authors can't bring themselves to recommend it).

Infant language development is not driven by the number of words the baby hears, but by the number of times the baby gets a response for making sounds. Baby Einstein videos are useless at best and could even be harmful.

As you can see, the list of topics covered is large and diverse. Even so, parents or those who work with children are sure to benefit from the many insights provided.

Friday, October 16, 2009

All the World's A Stage

Shakespeare told us that "all the world is a stage and all the men and women merely players". I suppose we can now add "and all the boys and girls are too".

The drama of the Balloon Boy, aka Falcon Heene, has thrown in sharp relief just how reality and make believe can collide. Yesterday, as news organizations breathlessly reported every new (and often not new) development in the story, everyone with any decency surely hoped and prayed for that family and that little boy. How terrible, how tragic, the story could have ended.

As it unfolded, I too prayed for the little boy and his parents. However, when it was reported that the balloon had landed and no one was in it and that Falcon's older brother had been the one to claim his younger brother had gone up in the balloon, I turned to my husband and told him, "That little boy is hiding in his backyard." (OK, I was off by a few feet.)

Why would I say such a cynical thing? Oh, maybe I just know something about human nature in general, and children in particular. It sounded to me like a childish prank gone awry. The story seemed to be resolved fairly quickly after that, as the six year old was found hiding in a box, and everyone was relieved (if chagrined) and that should be the end, right? Wrong.

When questioned, our young would-be adventurer piped up, "It was for the show". Show? What show? Here it becomes important to note that the Heene family are, ahem, a bit quirky. And they've managed to turn that quirkiness into profit by posting You Tube videos and appearing on the ABC reality show, "Wife Swap". (Side note: perhaps reality show ought also to be in quotation marks?)

Uh, oh. Did the Heene family lead the entirety of the U.S. media on a Wild Falcon Chase as a publicity stunt? Or is the young man just confused, and understandably so, about what is and isn't reality?

Whatever the answer may be, our media must share the blame. The lines between reality and make-believe, news and entertainment, have become hopelessly blurred. What did it benefit anyone that the news of October 15, 2009 was wall to wall "Boy Lost in Balloon" coverage? Would the reporting of the story in any way have helped the little boy if the story had been true? What exactly could all those reporters and camera men have done for the Heene family, anyway?

Falcon Heene, in his childish statement, has indicted his parents, the media, and, really, all of us. The media runs after a story for awhile, be it Anna Nicole Smith's death, Michael Jackson, Jaycee Duggard, "Octo-Mom" or really, anything that will sell papers and make interesting news coverage, until we're so saturated with all the sordid details, we just don't, and couldn't possibly, care any more.

Remember the old adage, "If it bleeds, it leads"? "The play's the thing", to quote our old friend Shakespeare again. Maybe we should just substitute "reality show" for "the play" in our time.

For today, the Heene family and the media, all have egg on their faces. We can be relieved that no one was injured, including all those willing to sacrifice themselves to save a little boy. We can be relieved, but we ought to be chastened and sobered by what this story can teach us.

"It was for the show," is exactly right, no matter how young Mr. Heene meant it. And everyone knows, the show must go on.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Grassley on Health Care

Senator Grassley explains the latest CBO estimate on the Baucus bill.