Saturday, April 26, 2008

Blogging through a child's eye

From Marginal Revolution,
Yesterday I went to a party at Robin Hanson's. Megan McArdle, Bryan Caplan, Will Wilkinson, Tyler and many others were in attendance, as was my 6-year old.

"How was the party?," my wife asked the 6-year old.

"It was like this," he answered, "Blah, blah, blog. My blog, blah, blah, blah. Blog, blah, blog."


History of worrying

Emily Bazelon in Slate reacts to the child-subway story with a history of parental concern.
According to Peter Stearns' Anxious Parents: A History of Modern Childrearing in America, the idea that a bad parent stood behind every child accident—that there were no accidents, in fact—dates from about the 1920s. Nineteenth-century parenting manuals focused on health, not the risk of accidental calamity, Stearns writes. But, in 1922, people such as journalist and author Ida Tarbell were warning, "By analyzing some of the accidents to children, the mother's responsibility is clear enough. None but she could have prevented them." The timeline matches a small revelation I had when I read my kids the beloved All of a Kind Family books. The series, first published in 1951, is set on New York's Lower East Side in the 1910s. When the family's small son hurts his head badly after playing at a street construction site, his parents are naturally upset. But there's no self-flagellation. They don't berate themselves or even mention their own role, or lack thereof. The norm was so different that I had to stop myself from pointing it out to my kids, who don't really need me to reinforce the notion that it's parents who are at fault.
Sadly, the article then drops into what has to be the most spurious advocacy for parental leave I have ever seen: that having a parent at home will soothe anxiety and restore some sanity to worried parents.

Now I am not shy about recommending government intervention where there is some sort of market failure or an under-priced social good but come on. Payments to parents to help them get with it and stop worrying about their children. That is an incredible stretch and, moreover, no specific evidence is cited of the posited link.

Bazelon gives much airtime to Neil Gilbert, a professor of social welfare at Berkeley who has a new book on the rise of feminism and changing family life. I must say that linking the thoughtful material of Lenore Skenazy to this does not seem to be helping matters.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Parenting Idle

From the Daily Telegraph in the UK comes an advocate for 'idle parenting.' Tom Hodgkinson literally recommends that parents do 'bugger all.' They should abandon their children, lie in bed and not bother with planned activities. Go on, read it. Don't tell me you aren't tempted.

On idyllic idleness, one thing that we have discovered is the Sunday morning lie-in. We have made a deal with our children: do what you want so long as you get your 3 year old sister breakfast and we don't hear any of you. Of course, this means they have breakfast full of sugar and watch a couple of hours of television (which is pretty much their only viewing on a regular basis). But what is more, the fear of an argument bringing about noise, allows them to compromise on what would ordinarily be some disputes. Unlike the article, we aren't hung over, we just want some peace for a short time.

When it comes to activities on the other hand we are not doing so well. Let's look at our kids' 'out of school' activities:
  • Child No.1 (9 years): swimming, music theory (don't ask), basketball and taekwondo (twice plus a monthly full contact session)
  • Child No.2 (7 years): swimming, piano, gym, probability theory (again, don't ask) and taekwondo
  • Child No.3 (3 years): swimming.
Now I have long thought that this was way too much but any attempt at reduction brings howls of complaint from the children themselves. Indeed, they would happily do more. Personally, I think that if we offered a bit more TV up in return for dropping an activity, we would have a deal. But, apparently, such deals are about as socially acceptable as selling a kidney.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I knew it!

From The Onion:
Item! Have you ever noticed that you never see Miley Cyris and Hanna Montana in the same room at the same time? (She's kind of like Superman and Peter Parker in that way.) Well, that's because the hot Disney singer and the hot teen singer are one and the same person! I hope I haven't put her father, country superstar Billy Ray Cyris, in danger by revealing her secret identity, but it's news, and my job is to break big news.
Turns out that Miley is just wearing a wig and different clothes. Unbelievable. I'll have to keep this from the kids lest the magic be destroyed.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Children yada yada yada happiness

Happiness has been in the news today and I have written about it over at CoreEcon. But it also appeared in a recent issue of The Economist in relation to whether children make you happy.

IN EVERY nursery there is one child known as the Biter. Who suffers the most from this child's delinquency? Not his classmates, whose bite marks quickly heal. It is the Biter's mum and dad, who endure sideways glances from other parents when dropping him off in the morning and fret constantly that their own poor parenting has produced a monster.

Arthur Brooks was once the father of a Biter. For a year, his son gnawed on boys, girls, siblings, friends and so many guests that he had to be removed from his own fourth birthday party. Mr Brooks worried, argued with his wife, lost sleep and sought professional help. So he speaks from experience when he says that having children does not make you happy.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Caged children

Lenore Skenazy has walked herself into a media storm by letting her 9 year old ride the Subway in New York city. Here is the article and the follow-up. Suffice it to say, she has a point and now a blog; freerangekids. The basic argument being that parents are a bunch of 'worry warts' and that there is not a lot of difference between 'very very very extremely unlikely' and 'impossible' when it comes to statements such as:
If I let me kid go across the street to the park it is 'very very very extremely unlikely' that they will be abducted and beaten but if I let them play at home it is 'impossible' that they will be abducted and beaten.
Of course, the storm she encountered makes me wonder whether we caged our kids because we really think we are protecting them or if we caged them because we are protecting ourselves from what other people will think.

And, in any case, how sad it was that our daughter had to be 9 before we would let her ride her bike for an hour outside the front of the house without direct adult supervision let alone take public transport which she is entirely capable of doing.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Birth song

[HT: David Pogue] If your child ever rises to greatness and gets a televised documentary about their life it will start something like this (done for me).
1968 was a time of change. But on a day when Archie Bell and the Drells topped the charts with "Tighten up," a new voice came into the world.
Wow, I had never even heard of that song. Guess I was too young. Anyhow, if you want to prepare a little historical file for your children, take a look at this site. You can look up the No.1 Billboard hit for any date in history. Buy the song, cut a CD and then hope your kids will have some way of playing it in forty years time. (We'll just add it to the box with their hospital tag and the newspaper of the day as well as the printout of CNN's webpage).

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The hidden joy of giving

Well, it is that time of year again as parental birthdays roll around. It used to be that coming up with a birthday present for one's spouse was a stressful but ultimately useful exercise in the demonstration of true love. It is something I have handled with distinction, if I do say so myself.

But nowadays, it is all complicated by the necessity for the children to give their parents a present. And it should be clear, the purpose of that exercise is for the children to show just how much they love the said parent concerned. Last year, my son's choice of birthday present for me at least was dubious.

It falls on the other parent to ensure that the children understand the point of the exercise. However, what one quickly finds is that, if the point is to demonstrate their love, the role of the other parent quickly becomes one of hiding the truth of the matter. Suffice it to say, you don't want to find out how little your children love you; especially on your birthday.

Now the whole exercise takes some doing. For instance, in conversation with my 7 year old son, the concept of 'effort' was lost:
"Why don't we just order something over the Internet?"

"Well, you need to think about what would be appropriate. It is the thought that really counts."

"OK, I THINK we should order something over the Internet."

"That really isn't much thought. You need to think more."

"How long do I have to think for?" (As if he is being forced to play outside or something)

"As long as it takes to come up with something that your mother will really want."

(5 minutes later)

"OK, I have thought about it. I REALLY think Mummy would want something bought on the Internet."
And so on.

Taking the opportunity this week when their mother was out of town (recall that last year when she left, hilarity ensued) we embarked on various 'effort' related tasks to show love. You would think that absence makes this more convenient. Sadly not, it becomes another stressful activity in an already stressful week.

Trying to be efficient, I wondered if the kids could put together a video. My eldest daughter seized on this as it was clear it involved (a) not much additional thought and (b) no parting with precious pocket money. Sadly, her brother and sister didn't see it that way and were not willing to put in the minimum effort to at least pretend that the video was more than them jumping around to music.

Following on from that we went on to arts and crafts. This involved dismissing a suggestion by my son that he play with Lego and see what comes of it. Instead, we needed 'real' and 'planned' art projects. Those are both time consuming and messy. They also require a ton of thought; especially on my part.

This pretty much exhausted me. But by the end of the week, I had cajoled the children into demonstrating the requisite amount of love. Sadly, I was all tapped out on the thought front and had no birthday present of my own. I felt like the Seinfeld gang coming to the dinner party and just dropping off the wine and cinnamon bubka except that this time it is the kids walking in with their little love demonstrations and me coming empty handed. I can feel this is not going to end well. I should have let them crash and burn. Sigh.

Changing behaviour

I guess if there is one thing parenting is about it is trying to change a child's behaviour. In Slate, Alan Kazdin, a psychologist, looks at what not to do and what to do when trying to get your child to behave well. As I have noted before, to an economist, repeated punishment seems to be a sign of failure. However, the psychological viewpoint offers suggestions that might make things better.

Now, before anyone goes to the comments with stuff like, "I shout at my kids like my parents shouted at me and it is just fine," let me just advertise the article as 'something to think about.' Those come along every now and then and give us pause, for just a minute, to reconsider how we ourselves behave and whether it is doing good. This article is one of them.

For others, consider this one about praise and this one about goals.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Some new research for new parents

A couple of new studies have been released recently that would be of interest to new parents.

As reported in Slate, the effects of breastfeeding on babies are in preventing some gastronomical illness but do not appear to have psychological benefits. That still seems to me to make breastfeeding the way to start at least (relative to formula) but it reduces the pressure to continue it beyond three months.

And, as reported in Time, there are great benefits in taking a hard line on sleep. I have written about this previously here and here. Put simply, there is a negotiation to be had and price to be paid. (There is a whole chapter on the issue in Parentonomics. The new research shows that despite my complete lack of expertise, what I advocate there is on the right track).

Predicting birth outcomes

I am not sure what to make to Steve Levitt's post today about ignoring medical advice on IVF implanting (ignoring advice still seems risky) but the last bit was amusing:
My favorite story concerns my son Nicholas:

Relatively early on in the pregnancy we had an ultrasound. The technician said that although it was very early, he thought he could predict whether it would be a boy or a girl, if we wanted to know. We said, “Yes, absolutely we want to know.” He told us he thought it would be a boy, although he couldn’t be certain.

“How sure are you?” I asked

“I’m about 50-50,” he replied.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Anakin Skywalker Lego Cake

Regular readers know the we have an affinity with Lego -- and in particular Star Wars lego -- in our household. So it turns out the same is true for one of my 7 year old son's friends.

To the left is his 8th birthday cake. Yes, it is Anakin Skywalker (circa Attack of the Clones, ie., before the frown) in Lego minifig style. That is all chocolate cake (except for the lightsabre). Yummy. I wonder who got to eat his right hand?

Yes, before you comment on over the top birthday parties, blah, blah, blah, we all agree, but this is darn cool.

How to record lectures

OK so this is how I am going to record lectures in the future. [HT: Geekdad]

Friday, April 4, 2008

You let your child watch what!?! LOTR

There are only a few parenting blogs that I read; one of them is GeekDad at Jacob Russell has an on-going series: "You let our child watch what?!?" It is very amusing. Recently, he has been running through the original series of Star Trek.

Of course, that blog implies a dispute between parents. That isn't the case in our family where it is mutual consent. However, it can still inspire horror in others.

Our latest controversial move was to let our 9 year old watch all 12-odd hours of the extended version of Lord of the Rings. It was over several weeks in six sittings.

Now there are several levels of horror at this. First of all is the horror of not having her read the books first. To which my reaction is: I tried but didn't manage it, no need to expect any more from our daughter. Why restrict access to a ripper of a yarn?

The main reaction of course is that it is a tad violent. Thousands are killed in graphic detail, with lots of scary monsters, one big spider, murderous thoughts and a dual personality creature peppered with lighter moments consisting of talking trees and merry small folk. Suffice it to say, our daughter whose preference is the scarier the better, just loved it.

But I think what really worked for her was the premise of the trilogy. The basic idea what armies would fight for centuries over the possession of a ring played right into her materialistic tendencies. Why wouldn't they do this even if the 'powers' it possesses are relatively undefined? From her perspective it was enough that the ring was unique, rare and precious. Indeed, I think she related most with Gollum who sacrificed everything just to own the ring and never used it for world domination. She felt he died happy; there were no losers. She too would not have cast the ring into the fiery depths of Mount Doom except, of course, if that was the only way to keep others from possessing it.

To be sure, this is unlikely to be the reaction Tolkien would have been going for. But that is the thing with great literature (movies). Everyone takes away something a little different.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Even a child could do it

The Lego sculptures at the Brother's Brick are normally something quite special (for example). But check out the listings for April 1; they will help you understand and appreciate what your children are doing.