Extreme Parenting? My Reaction to Amy Chua

January 15, 2011

Another update: This is the Gwen Dewar article link that Elyse and Julia talk about in the 44th Episode of Parenting Within Reason podcast.

A parenting book review has caught my attention, and I just finished reading reactions about it a the New York Times. This started out as a comment there (not posted), but it became blog length. Read the rest of this entry »

No Television: An Update

January 16, 2010

One thing is for sure, this strategy of removing television has made it extra difficult to avoid comparing the intelligence of other kids to my own. There’s an inherent danger with plotting your child’s literacy on a grid against her peers because it’s quite easy to cross the line into jealousy if she doesn’t excel or gloating if she does.

That being said, I’m writing this to compare my children to themselves. We often highlight the achievements of our children and leave their faults unspoken, and the reason probably comes down to the fact that we want to take responsibility for their successes and not for their failures. Ultimately, both the best and worst traits of our children are likely a reflection of our own assets and liabilities as parents, and we might as well come to grips with our influences so that we can do our best to adjust.

In the past two weeks, my kids have only been offered two hours of television per weekend. Some people do zero TV and see results, some people do more TV and see results, we are doing a strict TV diet, which has been working for our family.

Sasha (age 5) has shown the most improvement in her literacy. She went from being illiterate two weeks ago to reading the entirety of “Hop On Pop” over Skype to her grandma a few days ago.

Juliet (age 2.5) has had a tougher time learning her letters, but she’s made a ton of progress from her previous alphabet ignorance. The first letters she learned were J-O-B-S (if only Obama could assimilate those letters); we’ve also been seeing success with T-H-X.  Recently, she’s stumbled on the vowels A & E, confusing the two even when we’ve just worked on one or the other. We haven’t even tried most of the others.

What I’ve realized is that I need to let Juliet learn at her own pace. The average child begins learning and understanding alphabet letters around age 3 or in pre-school. There’s this idea that many parents have in their heads that literacy MUST come early, that precocious literacy will predict future success, and that it’s fair to compare our children to outliers like Mozart and other geniuses. Really now, we can hammer our kids brains like a sculptor does a bronze statue, or we can nurture them at a fair and reasonable pace like a gardener and his plants. Both tactics will get results, but one will make your kid a lot happier (perhaps healthier).

One other thing, the moderate success we’ve had in literacy is merely because I’ve reshuffled my priorities and started focusing on educating them. Turning off the television was not a magical panacea that fixed everything, nor did it create shock waves of resentment and confusion.

Banning TV is not something that I recommend for everyone. I’m one of those people that needs to give 100% commitment to a project because when I leave myself a loophole, I sometimes lack the self-discipline to see it through.

Sasha and Juliet, by the way, have not missed it. Other than the occasional request to watch Scooby Doo, they have not even shown visible signs of missing the TV in our family room. The cable guy came and pulled the plug, but we’re still breathing. We’ve just been spending more time making pillow forts, cardboard clubhouses, and playing board games. Life could be worse.

A Year Without Television…

January 1, 2010

My daughters are too young to be speaking in run-on pop-culture sentences. Their imaginations have been hijacked by Disney, Pixar, Barbie, even PBS, and I’ve permitted this to happen.

It happened in increments, but I’ve become more aware of the problem in Juliet, my youngest; she has developed slower than I would prefer under the shadow of her older sister’s television schedule. Juliet has a wide vocabulary for her age when she chooses to talk, but what I’m more concerned about is her behavior and her ability to completely retain information, like colors and letters. She’s only two-and-a-half, so I will admit that this is a non-crisis, but I will invoke my unscientific intuition to justify my (perhaps) over-reaction. I’m envisioning trouble with her if I don’t make adjustments.

Those are some of the reasons that I’ve decided to remove the television from the living room starting the first of the year. Think of it as testing a hypothesis with my fears as the control group. There’s no way that I will ever know if cutting TV from the daily routine will make any difference because the kids will likely mature regardless of my intervention, but it’s a drastic enough change that I should be able to make testable predictions.

First, lack of television will not harm them. Will they benefit? I can’t say for sure, but I’m betting they will make progress in unexpected ways.

Second, this will not be easy. They’ll go through withdrawals, and start begging for the return of instant entertainment. I may even start begging for it myself.

Third, without an instant babysitter, I will be forced into more meaningful interactions with my kids. That makes me sound worse than I am, but I’m hoping most of you can relate to using an episode of Blues Clues as a crutch to get you through times when you want some peace.

Fourth, we’ll get outside more. I’ll return to a daily exercise routine, and let that be my time of solitude while they are watched at the YMCA childcare.

Fifth, Juliet will have space in her brain for colors and letters (among other things), and will stun everyone with her rapidly improving learning skills.

I’m not an extremist. I will allow them to watch one episode or movie on the weekends. Perhaps this destroys the experiment, but I’m not doing this to transform my family into “Little House on the Prairie” (to borrow a pop culture reference). I just want to start filtering out the junk that might be interfering with their little brains. It’s not my intention to make a dogmatic statement about the nature of television. It’s a personal choice, not a recommendation.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that young children older than two watch no more than 1-2 hours of TV per day, and that children under two avoid TV entirely. My honest assessment is that we actually meet the two hour recommendations already. This experiment will take things a step further.

I suppose it’s a good omen that I saw a bumper sticker that said “Kill Your Television” on my way to tonight’s New Year’s Eve dinner with friends.  Oh well, tomorrow I will cancel my cable. If all goes well, and I see the type of improvements that I’m expecting, we’ll continue our television abstinence into 2011. This is one resolution that will be tough for us.

Wish me luck.

Bigfoot in Kentucky

September 8, 2009
Bigfoot in Kentucky?

Bigfoot in Kentucky?

The Louisville, KY-based NBC affiliate, WAVE-3, ran a story on Monday that tried its best to be sensationalistic, even when the participants in the story were pretty well reality-based.

Before you go read the article and watch the video, here’s the basic rundown of what happened:

  1. Kenny Mahoney of Fairdale discovers his green beans are being eaten by something.
  2. He discovers bent-over branches in the area, too.
  3. He sets up his wildlife camera to try and record the culprit.
  4. He gets an odd picture he can’t identify.  It shows a large, dark figure.  People looking at it think it looks like a seated gorilla.
  5. His wife sends the picture to a wildlife expert she knows.
  6. Someone viewing the photograph apparently brings up bigfoot* at some point, and suddenly the news crews arrive.

Now see how WAVE-3 handles the story.  The video (about 2½ minutes, after an obligatory commercial) can be viewed here, and the text article is here.

What’s apparent to me is that Kenny Mahoney isn’t really considering the bigfoot idea.  I think he’s humoring the reporter.  His first reference to the cryptid is sarcastic:

…Didn’t expect to catch bigfoot on the camera…

And then later his true feelings are shown…

…They catch a prehistoric fish every once in a while…  I don’t ever rule anything out, but I’d say it’s a real longshot for bigfoot to be in a backyard in Fairdale…

Translation: “I’m not sure what this is, but I really doubt it’s bigfoot.” Bravo, Kenny. That’s the right approach to take.  Rather than force-fit in some hypothesis, just say “I don’t know.”  That’s cool.  Science is still ignorant about lots of things.  We like it that way.

Hey, I know…  Sending the photo to a wildlife expert might be a good idea…  Oh wait…  His wife already did that. So bravo again

They even are considering that it might just be a trash bag blowing in the wind, and that the fact that it looks like a seated ape (because it does look like that) is just our brains finding patterns where perhaps none exist (that’s pareidolia, like finding a face in a piece of toast).  So bravo a third time!

Perhaps Bigfoot is in Louisville to bet on the horses at Churchill Downs.

Perhaps Bigfoot is in Louisville to bet on the horses at Churchill Downs.

However, let’s now turn our attention to Ms. Elizabeth Donatelli, the intrepid reporter-on-the-scene, whose sensationalism knows no bounds.

I understand she’s doing her job, and probably someone higher up in the food chain at the station sent her there to do a story about bigfoot in Fairdale, but this statement from the video jumped out at me and lowered my IQ a few points just by hearing it:

But what else could it be?  Some have guessed a bear or an ape, but have you ever heard of either in Jefferson County?

Translation: I need to say something to make this crazy bigfoot story seem plausible. Now she is right about one thing – I’ve never heard of bears and apes in Jefferson County.

But come to think of it, I haven’t heard of bigfoots here either.

I don’t know what it was, but if I had to bet, I’d put my money on not bigfoot.  Maybe I’m wrong, but until someone can show me some real evidence, that’s where I’m sticking.

..Rob T.

* – Yes, I know the proper term is “Sasquatch”, but the WAVE-3 story is all bigfoot, all the time.

UPDATE – CNN.com is now running WAVE-3′s story.  Wonderful.

The Neutral Effect of Television on Toddlers

March 3, 2009


I’ve always thought that the expert warnings against children watching excess TV might be based on bogus presumptions.  Yes, it is possible that TV is making children dumber, but it is also possible that parents who let their children sit for hours in front of Nick Jr. are neglecting them intellectually.  In other words, it may not be the TV itself that is retarding the mind, but more likely the lack of parental interaction.

Backing up my amateur theory, a recent Harvard study has been published in Pediatrics showing that the amount of television watched by children under the age of two doesn’t affect their intelligence at age three.  In this study of 872 children, television posed neither harm nor benefit.  Initially, the results showed a correlation between excess television and low test scores, but the link disappeared when adjusting for several socioeconomic factors.

This brings me back to my point that the children of higher educated parents are more likely to have a supplement of reading and interaction.  It’s not the TV that is doing the harm.  I’ll be interested to see if the researchers follow up this study to determine if the neutral effects remain as the children age, or if there is a regression among the excess television group.

I do let my daughters watch some television, but lately they’ve been on a TV diet.  Their behavior seems better (less selfish, less whiny) when they are restricted.  However, I do not want to feel guilty every time I allow them to watch an episode of Sid the Science Kid or, god forbid, a Disney movie.  France has banned television programming directed at pre-school children.  I think there are a whole lot of adults who were once raised on huge helpings of Big Bird and Cookie Monster that would disagree with France.

What do you think?

Amanda Peet for President!

November 4, 2008

Amanda Peet’s brother-in-law is an infectious disease doctor, and because of her relationship to a reliable trustworthy source, she has allowed her self to be the voice of the pro-vaccine movement.

The more that Jenny and her friends aggresively pursue vaccines, the further it takes us from true autism discoveries.  Just this week, scientists plugged in the numbers and found that there are much higher rates of autism in areas with lots of rain.  To me, this is an important clue that may point the way to more meaningful studies, such as those that have compared rates of autism to time in front of the television.  If you think about it, rainy weather might keep kids indoors more than those kids in sunnier climates.  Perhaps there is something about being inside that triggers the genetic disorder.  Who knows?

What I do know is that Amanda Peet is awesome, and her P.S.A. is awesome, and people should vaccinate their kids.

Eleventh Hour Vs. The Mentalist

October 17, 2008

The CSI franchise does not have it’s hooks in me.  You’re more likely to find me watching LOST or my guilty pleasure, Kitchen Nightmares.  But, I may just have to dip my toes into the murder investigation pop culture trend now that there are two new CBS crime dramas that seem to be friendly to the skeptic crowd.

Both Eleventh Hour and The Mentalist are based around the crack investigative skills of a gifted specialty detective, both detectives have a nearly useless female sidekick, and both are dripping with over dramatic plotlines and over-eager guest actors.  Each of the respective detectives use their natural skills and scientific reasoning to solve the crimes.  So all things considered, the two dramas are on an equal playing field.

The Mentalist is, so far, the better of the two programs.  Simon Baker plays Patrick Jane, a reformed psychic fraud who uses his natural skills at mesmerizing, human observation, and intuition to solve crimes.  As any avid skeptic knows, the skeptical movement is founded on the vision of “The Amazing” Randi, a former magician turned rational skeptic; and if you go further back, the roots of skepticism as a sub-culture can be attributed to Harry Houdini, who repeatedly challenged psychic frauds.  Nobody knows better the folly of false belief than those who manipulate the gullible with magic tricks and stunts.

Simon Baker makes mentalism seem a little too easy.  His bag of tricks may get old.  The writers may run out of fresh ideas and start putting him in supernatural situations.  So far, however, his character has stayed real with perhaps a dash of silliness (such as solving a crime by asking the suspects which animal symbolizes them).  Robin Tunney plays his sidekick, and she is my favorite of the two useless female sidekicks, mainly because she actually helps with the investigation.  I have to admit bias here because I worked with Robin Tunney’s sister at Anne Sather in Chicago, which means absolutely nothing to anybody except to me, but you know how it is.

Eleventh Hour seemed promising at first.  The series is based around a science expert investigator named Jacob Hood played by Rufus Sewell.  Jacob Hood is more serious than The Mentalist’s Patrick Jane; he spends much of the episode glowering at everyone.  He solves the crimes with such confidence and knowledge that he comes across as a cross between Mulder and Macgyver.  The only problem with the program, from a skeptic’s view, is that they had the opportunity to scientifically deconstruct homeopathic remedies, and yet they didn’t.  Last night’s episode featured an herbalist homeopath using psychotropic frog secretions and foxglove poison in her pills.  They could have used science to explain why homeopathy is ineffective and magic, but instead they legitimized a sham alternative medicine.

I can’t complain too much.  I would much rather have two crime dramas that feature a reformed mentalist and an expert in science than I would another psychic detective.  If you can get past the cheesy premise of each episode, the self-important acting, and the fact that you’re watching another damned crime drama, you might find value in The Mentalist and Eleventh Hour.  For now, I’ll be looking forward to future episodes of both with my finger on the remote if they don’t improve.

Sid the Science Kid on PBS

August 27, 2008

PBS Kids is featuring a new children’s show about science.  Finally.

But is it good?  Yeah, um… not so much.

I really wanted to like Sid the Science Kid, which is about a digitally bitmapped puppet child who is very curious about the world.  The show is modeled on preschool science curriculum, and the series is segmented into scientific themes for each week.  The premise sounds great, and I certainly endorse science education.  There’s only one problem – the execution.

The director of Sid the Science Kid produced a mess of a show.  The problems start with the animated puppetry; the characters move around with an unsettling heightened realism.  I can’t quite place what is so odd about the movements, but watching them move fills me with nervous anxiety.

Another problem is the eye-contact.  These animated puppets have eyes that jiggle without focus.   Nobody really connects with anybody else in a meaningful way.

Finally, the voice talent is poorly matched to the characters and sounds jarring and awkward.

Beyond all those significant barriers to entertainment, there is the annoying reliance on characters breaking into song as transitions.  The idea is to give the show a pattern that children can expect for each episode, but if those recurring numbers suck (I’m looking at you Doodlebops) then you are left with a self-perpetuating annoying series.  Maybe they won’t bring back those musical theater transitions in later episodes.  I’ve only watched the premiere, but I am suspicious that they will.

The first episode was about charts.  Yawn.  I know they are following the advised curriculum, but I honestly don’t think that is a great idea.  Why not start us off with natural curiosity?  Why paint themselves into a corner by giving kids the same lessons they will learn in school?  There is so much to explore in the world, and they chose to talk about charts in the premiere???

Don’t get me wrong.  Charts are important.  They just don’t belong on the premiere episode of Sid the Science Kid.  By aiming so safe, they insult their young audience.  Without an emotional connection to Sid, we are left with an over-eager program that delivers nothing but bland sugar frosted science.

I miss Mr. Wizard.


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