Should Children’s Books Have a Rating System?

September 27, 2008

A recent article has me wondering if we should be taking a closer look at what we qualify as “children’s books.”

A recent article said that a bookstore in Shanghai is pulling the children’s book “Book of Bunny Suicides:  Little Fluffy Rabbits Who Just Don’t Want to Live Anymore’ after a rash of suicides by children and teens.

I had mixed emotions when I read this article.  In general, I’m against book banning.  Authors should be free to express their opinions.

And I don’t really believe that a normal, healthy kid read this book and then suddenly wanted to commit suicide.  I’m not even sure it even really gives a kid ideas for how to commit suicide since some of these illustrations are unrealistic — head in a DVD player for instance.

But what I am wondering is how this book got classified as a children’s book.  It’s definitely not age appropriate for young kids.

Suicide is a very sensitive subject that kids – and many adults, myself included – don’t entirely understand.  I can understand why there might be a book in the children’s section explaining to a child how to deal with it when a friend, family member or other loved one commits suicide.

But why would a book mocking suicide be considered a children’s book?  Because it has cute little bunnies in it?  If that’s the qualification, then we really need to look at how a book gets classified as a children’s book.

I recently read The Golden Compass.  When I went to buy the book, I found it in the children’s section.  Sure the story deals with the adventure of a little girl, but the book itself is a fantasy that deals with some pretty dark themes. 

While I wouldn’t call the book scary, I did have some very gloomy dreams when I read it.  And I wondered how it would affect a young reader.

After reading this book, I wouldn’t let my child read this book until they were well into their teens.  How did this book get classified in the children’s section?

So my question is do we need to be more diligently in accurately classifying books (i.e just because it had cute little bunnies in it doesn’t mean it’s meant for children) or do we need to take it a step further? Do we need a rating system (like we have for movies, video games, music) for children’s books?

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Another Reason to Drive a Hybrid

September 15, 2008

Having you been considering a Hybrid?  The rising gas prices are a big incentive these days.  Or maybe you are just one of those save the planet types.

How's this for an incentive?  Courtesy of Marc LaFountain

How is this for incentive? Courtesy of Marc LaFountain.

But now here’s a reason for getting a Hybrid that even the laziest of us can get on board with – better parking.

According to Marc LaFountain’s blog, Ikea is adding Hybrid-only parking right up front next to the handicapped parking.

Pretty cool.

Anyone thinking about a hybrid? Would this entice you to go ahead with the purchase? Any hybrid owners out there? What’s the best thing you’ve found about owning a hybrid.


Schools Paying Students to Learn is a Mistake

March 5, 2008

It’s a sad day when we have to pay our children to learn.  But even more distressing is what they are learning from this experience.

MoneyThe New York Times recently reported on how the school systems in the city are paying kids to do well on each test and exam, with some kids earning as much a $50 per exam.

I nearly fell out of my chair when I read this article.  It’s one thing for parents to reward their kids for doing a good job.  I got a little pocket change on report card day for any As and Bs I brought home.  A little incentive never hurts.

It’s an entirely different thing for the school to bribe students to do their work.  This concept is absurd – on so many levels.

Firstly, the obvious financial impact on the school system must be considered.  We have schools in this country that can’t afford to buy the books and other supplies they need to properly teach our kids, let alone afford to pay students.

I understand that some school districts are better off than others, but surely they can find a better use for the money – more advanced classes, extracurricular programs, or tutors for the students doing poorly.  How about a class in managing finances?  Anything, but bribing the kids.

Secondly, we are setting up a precedent to teach these kids that they don’t have to do anything in life unless there’s something in it for them. 

Learning is fundamental for succeeding in life, in my opinion.  And learning is not something you do just in grade school – it’s a lifelong process.  If children don’t realize the value of learning for the pure fact that knowledge will make their life better, then they will never value learning.

What kind of world would we live in if we all stopped learning unless we were paid to do so?  How will these children deal with other tasks in their life – marriage, parenting – when they find out that they are “paid” to do them?

Next, we aren’t talking about pocket change here.  The article mentioned $50 a test for fourth graders.  What is a fourth grader going to do with 50 plus bucks?  Are they financially savvy enough to handle this kind of money?

The article mentions a school in a low-income district.  While I sure the families in this district can use the extra cash, when did fourth graders become breadwinners?  And who says this money makes it home?  Are we just financing vices – drugs, gambling, gang-related activities – with this extra cash?

It is one thing to reward a student that goes above and beyond, who does something outstanding.  It’s another when that incentive is expected and if everyone gets it all the time.

Give out certificates, the occasional gift card.  Make a big deal out of extraordinary events.  I believe it positive feedback.  But let’s not set up our kids to fail in the future by setting up unrealistic expectations of how the world works.

Photo by [Flickr User]. (License: Creative Commons Attribution)


Fox Cashes in on Super Bowl Audience

February 4, 2008

Already on a ratings high during the writers strike with its schedule of reality TV programs, Fox spared no expense to promote itself during the Super Bowl.

Super BowlI’d expect the network hosting the Super Bowl to use air time between plays to promote its shows.  That’s no surprise.  Neither were the vast amounts of onscreen logo promotions – you know, those annoying little logos that take up the corners of the lower portion of the screen.

But Fox went a step further it its promotion airing full ads to promote its shows.

Considering the amount of revenue a 30-second ad spot can earn during the Super Bowl, it’s a pretty bold move to use that valuable air time for self promotion.

I counted no less than five commercials for Fox’s new series Terminator:  The Sarah Conner Chronicles.  Two other new series – The Moment of Truth and New Amsterdam – got at least one commercial each.  But the commercials weren’t limited to new series.  Fox promoted Prison Break with two ads and spotlighted King of the Hill once.

Fox even spent some of its precious air time to promote events that evening including five spots touting the House episode schedule to air after the Super Bowl and a handful of commercials advertising the half-time show.

If all of this air time wasn’t enough, Fox spent some serious bucks marketing one of its schedule staples – American Idol, now in its seventh season.  Not only did Fox broadcast a minimum of six ads spotlighting the current season that’s in its last week of auditions, but Fox also used American Idol celebs throughout the Super Bowl event.

American Idol host Ryan Seacrest hosted a Red Carpet pre-game show.  American Idol judge Paula Abdul pre-taped a performance of her new single produced by fellow judge Randy Jackson for the pre-game show.  And last year’s winner Jordin Sparks sang the national anthem to kick off the game. 

Fox’s self promotion also included ads for future events that it’ll be airing including three ads for next week’s Pro Bowl and four commercials for the Daytona 500.

Is it me or did we see a little football among the ode to Fox?

When you consider the cost of producing a commercial on top of the lost revenue by not selling the airtime, Fox took an expensive gamble to gain a few viewers during a time when Fox actually has limited competition. 

What do you think?  Do you think Fox went overboard with its self promotion?  Are you more likely to tune into any of these Fox programs after seeing these Super Bowl ads?


WVA’s Idea To Teach Gun Training is Schools has Merit

February 1, 2008

Apparently, in an effort to fix a hole in the budget, West Virginia is contemplating teaching gun training in its schools, particularly 7th through 9th grade.

I’m not going to go into how a gun class can fix a budget.  You can read the AP article for that.

Instead I’ll like to comment on why I think that, budget crisis or not, gun training is not a bad idea, especially in a state with a lot of teens that hunt.

If a person decides they are going to handle and fire a gun, then they are going to handle and fire a gun.

Wouldn’t you rather that person knew what they were doing when they did?

How many deaths or injuries are related to people, in particularly kids, handling guns without knowing what they are doing?

You wouldn’t let a teenager drive without some training first.

In my opinion, one of the best forms of gun control is requiring people that want to own guns to go through the proper training before they can own one.  This training can talk about and discourage inappropriate uses of guns.

In fact I think people in a home where there is a gun should take a course in gun safety and learn to use it properly even if they never plan to use the gun.

West Virginia has a lot of hunters. These kids are going to be around guns.  Let’s make sure they understand that it’s not a toy. Let’s face it hunting is a life skill in West Virginia.

My father kept guns in the house when I was growing up. I was taught about gun safety since I could remember.  He could leave that gun on the table and I wouldn’t touch it because I was taught and understood that it was a weapon, not a toy. When he thought I was old enough, he taught me to shoot. I could shoot skeet at 12.

Teaching someone to shoot will not necessarily encourage them to own a gun.  In fact, it might discourage some of them — getting knocked on your ass with a little kickback can do that.

Today, I don’t own a gun. I’m not opposed to them; I just don’t have a need.  But you can be assured that I damn well know how to use one.  And when my kids are old enough, I will make sure that they can too.

I think if they understand what guns are, guns will lose their mystery.

In light of Columbine and other school tragedies, the idea of guns in school bothers some.  On the surface I can see where the idea might be difficult to digest.

But let’s think about it. The guns that are coming into schools and killing kids are coming there illegally from the street or without permission from home.

They are being held by gang members or by mentally unstable or emotionally stressed kids or by kids that have never fired a gun and think that it’s this cool, hip accessory that will get them some cred.

I don’t know how to stop the first two categories, but if a little training will prevent that third group, than it’s worth a shot.

And if a little training in school will help to ensure an increase in the number of adults (because after all that’s who these students will become) who own guns and can safely use them, then I’m for it.

Besides these aren’t mandatory classes.  And then guns will be loaded with blanks or disabled altogether.

Personally, I think it’s about time we start doing something to prevent these accidental deaths by firearms


The Challenges of ‘Growing Up Online’

January 23, 2008

I tuned into the PBS documentary “Growing Up Online” last night on Frontline for two reasons.  As a member of Generation X, I’m just on the outskirts of this technologically suave generation and am striving to keep up with them.  And as a mother of toddlers, I will be faced with raising children smack in the middle of this generation.

When the Internet came out and everyone wanted to regulate it, I remember thinking why?  It’s a form a free speech.  Let people say what they want and if I don’t want to hear it, I won’t visit their site.

But now the thought of my twins venturing online has me freaking out.  How can I ensure their safety?  How can I control/monitor what they see and do?  How can I prevent them from making stupid mistakes that become a permanent part of the World Wide Web for all to see and mock?

But I think the show described it best when it talked about the Internet as a social network for kids.  When I was a kid, we hung out at the mall or the rec center.  My parents hung out at the malt shop (I’m guessing).  For this generation, the hang out is electronic.

According to the documentary, kids go online to express them, to complain about parents and to communicate with each other.  All the things I did at my favorite hang out.

And just like my parents had concerned about me at the mall, I’ll have concerns about my children on the Internet.  But instead of blowing these fears out of proportion, parents need to adjust with the times to appropriately address the issues.

And to do so, parents need to understand the terminology and the reason for their child’s interest in the Internet.

The documentary showed some teenage girls defining “friends.”  They would have contests to see who had the most friends, numbering in the thousands, on MySpace.  But according to these girls, they understood that they only “really knew” about 200 of these so-called friends and only about 50 of them were “best friends.”

I don’t know about you, but growing up I had one, maybe two, best friends.  And I’m not sure that I’ve ever really known 200 people. 

In addition, according to the show, these kids are more comfortable being more public with their lives.  Since we live in a world where anyone’s private live could end up on the nightly news and the escapades of the latest pop princess is headline material, it’s no surprise to me that today’s kids aren’t shying away from the spotlight.

The times have changed since I was a kid and the Internet is new territory for us all. 

The documentary called the Internet “the new wild West,” adding that no one is really in charge. 

Therefore we as parents, family members, friends and teachers of today’s youth need to help guide them through this new terrain.

I think that stay-at-home-mom Evan Skinner expressed my fears the best when she said that she wasn’t afraid that the Internet would make her kids bad, but that her good kids would make a bad decision on the Internet and would have to pay for it permanently.

Kids don’t realize the impact of their decisions, the consequences of their actions and the overall permanence of the Internet.

If as a teen I had decided to flash a group of friends, once the act was over it was done.  There was no digital photography, no camera phones and no YouTube.  I could do something stupid and the knowledge of my act was limited to who was ever in proximity of me and lasted only until somebody else did the next stupid stunt.

Today, if a teenage girl flashes a group of friends, photos and YouTube videos are on the net before she can pull her shirt down.  And while it might seem like fun and games when she’s 16, how will she feel when that photo or video is still being viewed when she’s trying to run for Congress 10 years later?  Will she still be happy when her future husband stumbles across her hijinks on the Internet?  Or her own children?

Once it’s on the Internet there is no turning back.

Aside from this big lesson, the other issues facing teens and their parents on the Internet are the same issues that have faced them in the past, but just with a twist.

Cheating

The Internet offers another way for students to take the easy road when doing homework.  While Spark Notes might be the latest craze among those behind in their literature class, the concept is not new.  We had Cliff Notes when I was in school.

But schools are adapting and adjusting to the newest way to cheat.  According to the documentary, some teachers are requiring writing assignments be done in class to ensure its original work.  Others accept assignments through turnitin.com, a site that scans for plagiarism

Image Issues

The documentary gave several examples of teens who escaped the feeling of not fitting in by recreating themselves with online alter egos.

One father who had made his daughter delete her online site later let her put it back up after he discovered that she created that online identity because it’s where she felt comfortable.  I’m not sure I agreed with his decision entirely, but I do support the idea that we need to talk to our kids to find out why they are doing it.

The Internet also lets some teens bond with others in support of an addiction.  The example given was a girl battling anorexia.  Rather than finding help she dove deeper into the obsession getting encouragement and tips from other pro-anas.

My mother recently told me about a teen who was gambling big money on ball games through the Internet.

Bullying

The last story of the documentary was the sad story of Ryan Halligan.  Ryan was not only a victim of school yard bullying, but of cyber bullying.  Other kids would start online rumors about his sexuality.  Some mocked and threatened him online.  One girl flirted with him and then told him it was all a big joke.

I can’t even imagine how psychologically defeating that had to be, especially for tween caught in that awkward age of adolescence.

But the bullying isn’t the sadist part of the story.  Without his parents’ knowledge, Ryan began an online friendship with another boy where they talked about suicide.  He visited “how to” sites and one site that let you plug in your personality traits and it told you the best way to kill yourself.

This story was the scariest of all.  But his parents openly admitted and obviously regretted that they didn’t know, or try to know, what he was doing online.

I think that’s the best thing a parent can do – get involved in a child’s Internet experience and teach them how to use it responsibly.  Skinner suggested putting the computer out in the open so that you could monitor their use.

Predators

According to the survey done for this show, one is seven kids reported being sexually solicited online.  But most of these were discounted as teenage boys saying “hey baby” as opposed to a real predator.

The show also said that most kids that got email messages from people they didn’t know just deleted them.

It reported that most online meetings were when the kids went looking for them, adding that if a child is engaging in risky behavior online, they are probably engaging in even riskier behavior offline.

Kids don’t see the internet as something separate they go to.  Instead it’s just a continuation of their life, according to the documentary.

The show called the Internet “the greatest generation gap since the advent of rock ‘n roll.”

And as parents, teachers, friends and families it is our responsibility to bridge that gap.

What ways do you suggest doing so?

You can watch “Growing up Online” at PBS.com.


Does a Good Preschool Translate into Great Education and Success?

January 22, 2008

Exactly how important is preschool?  Seriously, does enrollment in a good preschool guarantee a great education?  Does it prepare the student to somehow take in and retain information better?  Will a quality preschool education guarantee a person a successful career?

Or is preschool just another status symbol in our “keeping up with the Jones” society?

Recently, parents in Houston camped out for three days all for a coveted spot in a preschool. 

One mother was quoted as saying “The statistics of the kids coming out of the school is well above average.”  What statistics?  How do they know it’s the benefit of the preschool and not some other education or outside experience the child had?

My children weren’t even one when someone asked me what preschools I had put them on waiting lists for.  My children couldn’t even talk, I hadn’t thought of preschools yet.  And waiting lists?  I thought those were something for college not preschool.

I was totally flabbergasted.  I was a new mom.  Did I really need to be thinking of preschool already?

To be honest, I don’t even remember if I attend preschool myself.  Did you?  Are we any better or worse for that experience or lack of it? 

Yes, I know times have changed and the education system is not like it was when I was a kid (which, for the record, wasn’t that long ago!).

Today, I went to an open house for a preschool for my children (they will be three by the time classes start in September).  I chose this preschool because it was recommended to me by a friend who had sent both of her children there.  Both of her children seem to be well adjusted, intelligent kids for 4 and 6 year olds.  The one who has started school seems to have made the transition with ease.  Does that make this a great preschool?  I don’t know.

My husband was unable to come with me because the kids were sick and beforehand we were discussing what I should look for and ask about?  The brochure covered the basics – costs, days of the week, hours, class size. 

Besides the basic safety questions, what else do I ask?  Is there one way of teaching numbers, colors and shapes that is so much better than another?  Isn’t the point of preschool to slowing introduce the concept of a classroom setting and to socialize with others that age? 

Besides price, safety and the quality of teachers, what makes one preschool better than another? 

In fact, do you really think that preschool can impact a child’s future education and career?