Who Decides What Makes a Toy "Safe"?

Last spring, Target recalled over a half-million water-absorbing toys, including Hatch and Grow Easter Eggs.

The story was one of those rare political unifiers. Commenters on Fox News’ coverage were indistinguishable from CNN’s, with the majority of respondents chiding kids without the “common sense” to avoid eating toys or blaming parents for not watching their young children closely enough. Many noted that the recall was overkill because no children had been harmed.

The egg case reflects a surprising problem facing today’s parents: toys are now so safe that we tend not to take safety warnings seriously. By many metrics, kids’ products are safer than ever. However, parents need to remain vigilant, especially in light of a current vacancy at the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The “Year of the Recall”

Just 10 years ago, toy safety was consistently making headlines. Consumer Reports dubbed 2007 the “Year of the Recall” after news coverage demonstrated the various barriers to toy safety.

In May of that year, the Chicago Tribune ran a pair of stories about the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s failure to act upon warnings about Magnetix toys, specifically, the super-strong magnets that, when swallowed, tended to rip through children’s intestines. The first part of that series focused on the gutting of the CPSC over the previous two decades. Its budget at the time was so small that one congressional aide interviewed for the piece called it a “rounding error.”

The second part of the series emphasized problems resulting from the Toy Industry Association’s role in setting voluntary safety testing standards. The Tribune’s coverage later received a Pulitzer Prize.

In June, the New York Times focused on China, which was implicated in many many of 2007’s product recalls, including a recall of 1.5 million Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway toys due to lead in the surface paint. According to that reporting, the CPSC’s staff had recently been cut by 10 percent, making it more difficult for the agency to inspect imported toys.

In August, an article published in the journal Injury Prevention revealed that many recalled items were still being sold online. The researchers randomly selected 141 items recalled by the CPSC and searched auctions for those items. During a 30-day period, the researchers identified 190 auctions with a recalled or “probably recalled” item. (“Probably recalled” referred to items with a matching product description and/or image, but without the additional confirmation of a model number.) 69 percent of the auctions resulted in a sale.

In December, NPR’s investigations showed that even when manufacturers issued a toy recall, the toys still posed danger, because very few were returned to companies. Many toy recalls were based on lead contamination. When parents responded to these recalls by throwing toys in the trash, they merely sent the hazard to a new location.

Improvements to toy safety

In response to these toy safety concerns, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act by a vote of 407-0 in December 2017. The CPSIA passed the Senate in March 2008. The bill drastically increased both funding and staffing for the CPSC.

The CPSIA restricts the amount of lead and phthalates allowable in children’s products. The law mandates third-party testing of children’s products. The law also requires permanent tracking information to be placed on all children’s products.

Since the passage of the CPSIA, there are drastically fewer recalls because toys are safer from the start. The large increases in CPSC staff have meant that more dangerous toys are discovered before they ever make it to market. In 2011, the CPSC established a Beijing office, which allows it to educate and inspect toy manufacturers. The CPSC examines 8,000 shipments each year to ensure products are safe before they make it to stores.

Due to higher standards, when toys are recalled, the health risks posed are often less serious than toy recalls from the previous decade. In 2007, the CPSC issued 172 toy recalls, 19 of which were for lead-contaminated toys. In 2016, the CPSC issued only 24 toy recalls, one of which was lead-related. The toy in question was a glockenspiel, for a recall of 150 units with one contaminated paint color.

The new regulations also mean that more recalled toys are being removed from circulation. The CPSIA applies to all sellers, from toy industry giants to online retailers to flea market vendors to garage sales.

U.S. online retailers have clear policies about recalled products. In its recalled items policy, Ebay makes clear that sellers are legally prohibited from selling recalled items. Amazon includes similar language for its third-party sellers.

Sellers who list products that had been under recall often do a thorough job explaining why the items are available for sale. A listing for the Thomas & Friends Yellow Box Car, which was included in the 2007 recall described in the above New York Times report, includes a disclaimer about the product along with its lead-free paint codes. A Fire Brigade train from that same recall indicates that the item being sold is a replacement item from that recall. However, no system is perfect. Multiple listings for the Old Slow Coach suggest that at least one of those recalled Thomas trains may still be available for purchase from Chinese sellers.

The CPSIA allowed for better consumer notification systems, including registration cards for cribs and other large products. Combined with recalls.gov, a registry for all recalled products in the U.S, these measures have improved the return rate for recalled items.

In 2007, Mattel reported that only six percent of its recalled toys were returned. In September of this year, CPSC Acting Chairman Ann Marie Buerkle reported that the CPSC has a 65 percent return effectiveness rate. That rate applies to all of the 15,000 products overseen by the CPSC. Toy companies and toy sellers contacted for this article declined to provide data on their recall return rates.

An emerging safety concern

Parents’ current responses to toy recalls make sense because current regulation has made toys impressively safe. But while we’re not paying attention, toys – as well as the other 15,000 products monitored by the CPSC – are poised to become more dangerous.

On January 30, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order on Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs, which included his demand that “for every one new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination.”

The EO prompted a response from the CPSC’s then-chairman Elliot Kaye. Although executive orders do not apply to independent agencies, Kaye’s practice at the CPSC was “to follow in spirit EOs that advance sound public policy and do not conflict with our critical public health and safety mission.” Kaye voiced his strong disagreement with this EO, which he claimed “would cruelly and unfairly have us pit vulnerable populations against each other when it comes to making safety decisions.”

In keeping with many political appointees at the start of the new administration, Kaye resigned his chairmanship on February 9.

President Trump has nominated Dana Biaocco to be the new CPSC chairman. Biaocco’s appointment is concerning because of her role defending companies in consumer safety lawsuits.

One notable item on Biaocco’s resume is her work with Mattel in defending itself against toy safety lawsuits. Her track record defending large corporations against safety complaints makes her a unique candidate to lead a government association designed to protect consumers from safety hazards. As the Daily News puts it, “Baiocco appears to join the list of Trump nominees who built careers doing the exact opposite of what their federal government role will entail.”

The Chicago Tribune’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the CPSC focused on how the Reagan administration paved the way for deregulation and inattention that resulted in the preventable deaths of children. Although toys seem safe to us now, parents have a responsibility to follow the CPSC’s new direction closely to ensure that 2007 does not repeat itself.

Car Seat Safety: We’re All Doing It Wrong

A car seat study has been making the rounds, giving new parents one more thing to panic about. But it’s possible the panic is misdirected.

You’ll probably never in your life drive as carefully as you do when taking an infant home from the hospital. Suddenly, the car seat you meticulously researched and spent an hour installing seems less safe than it did before.
In this case, you’re probably right, because according to an observational study published in the Journal of Pediatrics in 2016, 95 percent of infants taken home in car seats are “Unsafe from the Start.”
Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University investigated 291 mother-infant pairs as they were nearing discharge from newborn units. Child Passenger Safety technicians observed the caregivers as they installed the car seats and placed their newborns into them.
The technicians identified errors in almost 95 percent of the study population: 77 percent of caregivers made at least one installation error, such as improperly securing the car seat within the vehicle; 86 percent had at least one positioning error, such as not tightening the harness; 89 percent of the caregivers made at least one “critical error.”
This category of error, which the researchers based off the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration definitions, included positioning issues, like leaving the harness too loose (69 percent), using an incorrect harness slot (31 percent), or using a non-regulated product, like extra cushioning (21 percent). Critical misuses related to installation included car seats that could be moved more than one inch after installation (44 percent) or had an incorrect recline angle (41 percent).
The factor most associated with correct car seat use was working with a Child Passenger Safety technician before delivery. But even those caregivers had a serious error rate of 77 percent.
This study has been making the rounds on parenting websites, giving new parents one more thing to panic about. Although the results of the study suggest that better parent education is needed, here are three important questions to ask about car seat safety:

1 | If 95 percent of parents make car seat errors, are all our children unsafe?

The itemized list of issues caregivers commonly got wrong should alleviate some concern. For example, two of the errors – twisted harness belts and improperly positioned carseat carrier handles – are not likely to result in crash-related injury.
Even some of the misuses categorized as “serious” are not necessarily dangerous. For example, 35 percent of the participants left the harness retainer clip “too low.” Those harness clips, while frequently a source of social media shaming, are not meant to hold children. The clips are pre-crash positioning devices, designed to keep children’s shoulders in the right position before an accident occurs. It’s the harness buckles that keep kids in their seats.

2 | Given that these families were using car seats to take home their newborns, is it reasonable to assume that parents using car seats for the first time are more likely to make errors? Are experienced parents more likely to get it right?

According to this study, no. The researchers controlled for “parity” – that is, the number of pregnancies carried to term – and found that first-timers were slightly more likely to get it right than their more experienced counterparts. Women who had no previous births had a serious error rate of 89.6 percent. Women with two or more births had a serious error rate of 96.6 percent.
The sample size may be too small to draw any concrete conclusions about experience level and car seat misuse, but one explanation might be that the users with visible damage to their car seats or expired seats were among the experienced parents.
Parents preparing for a second (or third, or fourth…) child should pay close attention to car seat expiration dates and replace any car seat with any visible damage.

3 | Given that 77 percent of parents who seek help from trained professionals are still doing it wrong, are car seats too complicated to be used safely?

This study indicates that nearly all caregivers need better car seat instruction. But the results of the study should not in themselves be a cause for panic.
As it has been reported, the study seems to say that even most of parents with CPS training are doomed to misuse their car seats. But the study noticed a pattern in the CPS-trained parents. They were much more likely to make positioning errors than installation errors, suggesting that they had trouble applying the lessons they’d learned to their babies.
The study authors recommend better “postnatal collaboration,” so that parents – now with a live baby instead of a pretend one – get better practice with positioning. The reduction in error rate for caregivers with previous training suggests that Child Passenger Safety technicians embedded in hospitals could help increase safety.

What Is the Children’s Health Insurance Plan, and Why Does It Matter

Here is CHIP 101 – a brief overview of everything you need to know about this important program.

You might have seen the news that federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) expired at the end of September. But you might not be as familiar with what the program does, who it covers, or what this latest development means. So here is CHIP 101 – a brief overview of everything you need to know about this important program.

What is CHIP?

Congress created CHIP in 1997 with support from Republicans and Democrats. It gave states money to give insurance to children who are not eligible for Medicaid – the public health insurance program that covers low-income Americans. Since then, CHIP as been re-authorized in 2009 and 2015, but funding expired on September 30th of this year.
States can use the money they get from CHIP in two ways: either to pay for more kids to be on Medicaid, or to create a separate health insurance program. Some states use both approaches, enrolling lower income families in Medicaid and putting moderate income families on a separate program. About half the kids who benefit from CHIP funds are on Medicaid coverage.
Separate CHIP programs often go by their own names, like Florida KidCare or BadgerCare Plus in Wisconsin. So if you have a state program for children’s insurance, it’s likely funded through CHIP even if you haven’t heard it called that.

Who uses CHIP?

Nationwide, about nine million children receive their health insurance from CHIP funds – about one in every eight kids. In 20 states, pregnant women can also be covered through CHIP.
CHIP covers both low-income and moderate-income families under certain income limits. The limits are based on family size and a percentage of something called the federal poverty threshold. The federal poverty threshold is basically a number the federal government sets every year to determine who is living below the poverty line, and who is not. Eligibility for most state and federal programs is calculated based on a percentage of this number since families living above it may also benefit from the programs.
Each state can set their own upward-income limit for CHIP. The average nationwide is 255 percent of the federal poverty threshold. So for a single mom with two kids, this means having an income less than $52,000 a year. For a two parent, three kid family, it means having an income of less than $73,000 a year.
Because of CHIP, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), health insurance coverage for children is now at record high – 95 percent. Even though many of the families that benefit from CHIP are middle class, it has definitely helped expand insurance to kids who did not have it before.

So what does it mean that funding expired?

CHIP funding has already expired – meaning states are not getting any money for their programs from the federal government – but it doesn’t mean that kids are immediately booted off the program. States typically have a reserve of federal CHIP funds that can get them through the next few months. But 11 states estimate they will run out of funds before the end of the year, and 21 more, including Washington, D.C., are expecting their reserves to be tapped by March 2018.
Even if states run out of CHIP funds, they won’t be immediately shutting down their insurance programs. States who used CHIP funding to enroll kids in Medicaid must keep them in the program until 2019. The federal government basically agrees to pay for a certain percentage of the costs of Medicaid and CHIP. Under the old program, the federal government actually pays more per-kid for CHIP – even though those families tend to have higher incomes – because Congress wanted to give states an added incentive to expand coverage to those families. But with funding now expired, the state will have start paying a significantly higher percentage of the cost of covering CHIP kids because they won’t be receiving as much from the federal government.
Coverage for kids who are on separate CHIP programs is a bit more precarious. If funding runs out, states will be able to start capping or freezing enrollment, meaning some families who would have been eligible won’t be able to receive coverage. Worst case scenario, some states may be forced to shut down their programs altogether.
If CHIP programs close, some kids will be able to receive coverage through parents’ employer plans, but many will go without insurance altogether. Study after study shows that children do better when they have health insurance coverage. They have better health throughout their lives, are more likely to graduate from high school and college, and their families are less likely to go bankrupt.

What happens next?

The House and Senate are currently considering bills to extend funding for CHIP through 2022. These bill keeps up current funding levels through 2019, and then reduces it for the remaining years. The new bill would raise costs for high-income Medicare beneficiaries to offset the costs.

What can I do?

If you are concerned about your child’s access to insurance, contact your local state office for more information. They will be able to help you determine which type of plan you are on and if you will potentially be affected.
You can also contact your members of Congress to share your experience of using CHIP. In the past, the program has received support from both sides of the aisle, so representatives from both political parties will appreciate hearing your stories.

The Day My Kids and I Ran Away From a Man With a Gun

We were only two blocks from our home, about to pass my son’s school when a woman ran around the corner screaming, “He has a gun! He has a gun! Run!”

I was pushing my three-year-old daughter in the stroller while my five-year-old son walked next to me in Greenwich Village in New York City. We were only two blocks from our home, about to pass my son’s school when a woman ran around the corner screaming, “He has a gun! He has a gun! Run!”
So, I started to run, except my son ran in the opposite direction, back towards the threat. I was terrified to let go of my daughter’s stroller because people were stampeding towards us but I desperately needed to get my son. I caught his eye and shouted, “It’s okay, it’s okay. Come to me, now!” I stretched out my arm and finally he darted to me and grabbed it. Then we took off, pushing the stroller with one hand, pulling my son with the other.
I scanned all around us for a place to hide. The stores were all shoebox size and I thought if someone found us in one, we’d have no chance. So, I kept running. I didn’t stop to look if anyone was coming, didn’t register gun fire or lack thereof, just the continual pounding thought in my head, that my actions could save, or lose, my children’s lives.
The day before we had just learned about the shootings in Orlando, about the massacre in a gay club, that 49 people dead, and scores wounded, were primarily people of color. My husband is transgender and I identify as queer, and while we’re white and relatively privileged, it had still hit particularly close to home. We read news stories and cried before deciding we needed community so we went to a rally at Stonewall in Greenwich Village, a few blocks from our house. I explained to my son that sometimes people hurt people because they think something about them is wrong, be it color, religion, or who they love. I said people were coming together to remember those who got hurt, that putting love into the world is stronger than bad guys and that collectively we have the power to change the world.
He sat on my husband’s shoulders waving a rainbow flag and shouting “Stop hate, stop hate!” I hugged and cried with strangers and went home thinking that our world is so, so, sad but we can’t let fear win.
Then the next day I hear “He has a gun!” and think that we might die.
As I looked for a safe place to go, my thoughts were far from rational. I dismissed place after place. It was only after I’d run close to 10 blocks that I stopped. I crouched down next to my son on the pavement, hugged him, and told him he was brave. He was sobbing, hysterical, “We can’t go home. What if the bad guy’s in our house? What if he kills our cats?”
I did what any parent would do in that situation: assured him that we were safe and that our cats were safe and tried to hide the shock that reverberated through every one of my cells. I called my husband on the phone and tried to tell him what happened in an oddly sing-song voice, and told him not to worry the kids.
My husband left work, saying he’d meet me somewhere and walk us home. In the meantime, I searched for somewhere, anywhere to sit, something to distract the kids. I spotted a McDonald’s across the street and 10 minutes later,the kids were scarfing down hot-fudge sundaes, surrounded by people for whom this was just an ordinary day. I searched for news on my phone, trying to figure out what happened but find nothing. In shock, I texted friend after friend, trying to ground myself back to the world. My son, who happened to be wearing head-to-toe camouflage said, “I probably saved our lives because those bad guys couldn’t see me.”
“You probably did,” I said, kissing the top of his head, questioning my decision to let him believe it’s that easy. He will end up wearing that outfit every day for two weeks because he’s scared to take it off.
When my husband met us to escort us home, I sunk into his arms. I suggested we take a detour back, but he insisted we walk past the spot where it happened, the spot where a woman screamed and I thought, “What I do in this moment could save my children or get them killed.” I took deep breaths and gripped the stroller too hard.
“This is where we were, right mom?” my son asked. “Where the bad guys came?”
“Yeah, the bad guy had a gun,” my three-year-old daughter added and I realized she’s been taking it all in too, that she had not been as oblivious as she seemed.
I told them we don’t even really know if there was a bad guy or a gun. I said it’s possible that someone made a mistake, that there was nothing there at all.
The next day, I found out it wasn’t a mistake when a friend sends me a link to an article about the event. An off-duty cop pulled a gun during a confrontation with a bike delivery man –  something about the bike hitting a car mirror, an ice-pick that may or may not have been there. But what’s clear is the cop retrieved his gun from his car and didn’t once identify himself as police. A video shows him waving this gun, shouting directly in front of an elementary school. There’s no video of us around the corner, frantically running and running.
When my son woke up the next morning, he curled into my body for a kiss and asked, “What do I do if the bad guy comes back?”
“He won’t,” I told him. “He won’t.”
But how do I know this? The fact that this is the first time my children have run from a gun is disturbingly a relative privilege – many children grow up knowing how to run and hide. No one walked into that Orlando club on Saturday night and thought a “bad guy” would come and weighed the risk-reward ratio between freedom and love and death.
The day after the gun incident, my son left a sign in front of the Stonewall Memorial that said, “No more bad guys, no guns, only love.” I took a picture of it and posted it to Facebook, proud of his sensitivity and my progressive parenting. People “liked” away.
But part of me knew I had it all wrong. The idea of a bad guy is way too simple and we’re far beyond just needing gun control. Violence has become a reflex in our country and it needs to change, for our sake and for our children’s sake. I carry my experience with me, like altered DNA, and a shot wasn’t even fired. For so many others, “Run, they’ve got a gun,” is the last thing they hear.

Six Simple Ways to Raise Civically Engaged Kids

No matter what your personal politics are, you can raise civic-minded children ready to help their communities and put their ideas into the world.

Since the political surprises in 2016, it seems like more people are openly engaging in politics. Citizens call their representatives more often. They hold postcard-making parties. People around the world have joined together to rally, protest, or hold vigils on the same day to show the direction they would like to see the world taking. Getting involved in politics creates empathy, forces you to think about the future, and gives you a stake in the future of your community. For these reasons, kids too can benefit from getting involved in politics at any level.

No matter what your personal politics are, you can raise civic-minded children ready to help their communities and put their ideas into the world. Here are some ways to start doing just that:

Don’t put politicians in a single category

For a while, it seemed like all federal politicians earned law degrees, worked at a firm for years, got involved in state politics, and worked their way up to federal politics. Yet not all politicians were in the debate club or the Model UN. When we make politicians out to be one type of person, we make it difficult for children to see themselves in those roles, especially if no or very few current politicians are like them. Instead, point out the politicians that make you excited or the ones who took an alternative route to their seat.

Send thank-you notes together

When a politician does something you like, work together to send them a thank-you note to show that you appreciate the choice they made. Writing these notes can show your kids that politicians are people doing a job for their constituents rather than someone who always knows the correct path forward. It can also teach the children that politicians don’t necessarily vote with their constituents for a variety of reasons, and it’s important to acknowledge when they do something you approve of. For Americans, the Jennifer Hofman’s Weekly Action Checklist has a section that highlights politicians who have done something worth applauding.

Emphasize the power of the people to make changes

While politicians have the ultimate say in some issues, it’s important for children to know the power of their voices. Tell them the importance of voting, rallies, boycotts, and communication. Take them to a city council meeting or a school board meeting and let them see how the audience interacts. If they’re older, consider letting them speak on an issue or invite their friends to show their support for an issue. When children are more engaged in their community, they care more about it. Many websites, such as 5Calls, The Loyal Opposition, and Rogan’s List, provide overviews on a variety of issues and who to contact to share your opinion.

Teach your children empathy

Multiple issues can affect a single person or family, but your kids likely won’t face every single issue. By teaching empathy for people facing other challenges, your children can understand other viewpoints and what issues they might not have known existed. They might also come to understand that the issue they care about the most is not a priority for someone else. If they can empathize and act on issues that do not affect them directly, your children will be on their way to becoming great allies.

Encourage leadership in whatever form that takes

Your children don’t need to be student body presidents or even the class president to be a leader. Maybe they are the one who creates the best games on the playground. Maybe they lead their friends in songs on the school bus. Leadership is about making good decisions, explaining that choice, and listening when others have concerns or suggestions. Your child doesn’t need to be an extrovert or planner to show others a good path forward.

Be honest about issues your children ask about or are important to you

Politics can be a dirty game sometimes, but it’s important for you to remain honest with your children. Let them ask you questions about politics or your community. Explain the different sides of a debate, even if you don’t believe that debate should even exist. If they hear about a tragedy nearby, consider their age, but let them know what happened and why it happened. Consider working together to help an organization you care about, or visit Stay Nasty America to find an organization you’d like to support.

Biometrics: Coming Soon to Your School Cafeteria

Despite claims of extra security and increased efficiency, allowing our schools to use biometric technology could be a step in the wrong direction.

Our children’s fingerprints are all over everything – on the mirror in the bathroom, the fridge we just cleaned, and in places we didn’t even think they could reach. I pretty much follow my kids around the house with a roll of paper towels and glass cleaner.

What if those adorable little smudges could help our schools become more secure and efficient?

Biometric technology – technology that uses our unique biological traits, such as fingerprints or retina scans – is popping up everywhere. It may even be on your child’s school-issued device or laptop right now.

Bayometric, a company that makes biometric verification technology, suggests that using biometrics can provide greater security, accuracy, and efficiency in schools. It’s an easy sell. Who wouldn’t want their child’s school to be safer and more efficient? Bayometric’s marketing materials play right into the worries many parents have about their children:

  • A bully could steal your child’s lunch card and eat her lunch.
  • Your child might forget his PIN and not have time to eat lunch.
  • If your child loses her lunch card, the delay it creates could prevent other children from having enough time to eat lunch.
  • Attendance cards can be lost – will your child be counted?
  • Proxy attendance isn’t always accurate, which creates a security risk.

By the time I was done reading Bayometric’s reasons why we need their technology in our schools, my anxious mama-mind was in full tilt. Had a bully ever stolen my child’s lunch card? Had he ever been overlooked during attendance taking? What if he didn’t have time to eat because someone forgot their lunch card? After taking some deep, cleansing breaths and watching a few cat videos, I was able to think calmly again.

Despite its supporters’ claims of extra security and increased efficiency, allowing our schools to use biometric technology could be a step in the wrong direction. Here are some reasons I found that dissuade me from the use of biometric technology in schools.

The laws around biometric data aren’t clear

Biometric data collection is serious business. When a government body wants our fingerprints or DNA, it must demonstrate a reason for that collection and it usually requires a court order. There’s a reason for that: biometric data consists of a small number of unique identifiers that is irreplaceable. If our data gets stolen, we can’t call a toll-free number and request a new set of fingerprints.

Voluntarily handing our child’s biometric information over to a private company is risky. Laws controlling how corporations use biometric data vary from state to state. Our data may be protected by some general privacy laws and guidelines, but biometric data is essentially uncharted territory. Where they exist, current laws lean in the direction of protecting our children’s data. This may not always be the case. Therefore, our children’s biometric identifiers, and the data associated with them, may not be as secure as we’d like.

Once you give it up, you have no control

In addition to laws, biometric data is also controlled by the contract between the technology provider and our child’s school. So, for example, there may be a clause in the contract that permits the corporation to sell our children’s lunch-buying habits to marketers in exchange for more favorable contract terms. There might be a provision permitting the school to disclose data to health insurance providers, which could have repercussions if your child has issues such as diabetes, ADHD, or allergies.

Even more worrisome: at the bottom of the contract, in very fine print, there may be a clause that permits the technology provider to modify the terms of how it uses the data collected at any time. While this sounds like a far-fetched conspiracy theory, consider that AncestryDNA did exactly this to its customers. It’s also not unreasonable to foresee that schools might determine that there is an efficiency advantage to linking school lunch purchases to food inventory needs. This kind of statistical data may seem innocuous at first, but remember that all of it is permanently tied back to our children’s identity.

As consumers and technology users, we routinely provide corporations with information about our purchasing habits. When we do, it’s typically by using email and a password or by connecting to our Facebook page. By using biometrics at the point of sale in the school cafeteria, we are permitting our children’s lunch purchases to be linked to them, specifically, as opposed to that data being linked to a disposable or replaceable identifier such as an email address.

We simply can’t be sure how the data collected might be used in the future. Once data is associated to our children’s fingerprints, there’s not much that can be done if laws change or information is stolen.

Your child might learn less

Data security is a huge concern. However, of even bigger concern are the opportunities to learn social and problem-solving skills that our children lose when their lunch purchases are automated. Using biometrics in the cafeteria deprives our children of opportunities to develop skills they’ll need for the rest of their lives.

Many of our students already use PINs and meal cards for buying lunch. When our children buy their lunch, they learn how to make a purchase appropriately by waiting their turn, moving their food safely down the lunch line, and then completing the transaction by interacting with the adult who takes their payment. They also have an opportunity to practice their manners in during social interactions.

Throughout their lives, our children will be required to keep track of their belongings and memorize small pieces of information. Keeping their lunch card safe or memorizing a PIN is a low-risk way to begin teaching those skills. When our child loses her card or forgets her PIN, she’ll learn problem-solving skills such as figuring out who to ask for help. Or, to use an example provided by Bayometrics, he may learn how to handle a bully who’s trying to steal his lunch money. We need to let our children try and fail. Making mistakes is the key to learning and developing resiliency.

In an increasingly digital world, teaching our children how to manage their personal information safely is an important job.

If this concerns you, here’s what to do

If you’re concerned about your school’s use of biometric technology, there are a few important things you can do.

  • Familiarize yourself with the data privacy laws in your state.
  • If you can, start attending school board meetings. If you can’t be there in person, meeting minutes are typically posted online or available by email. It’s always a good idea to stay abreast of school board goings-on, and with the rapid increase in technology use it’s doubly important.
  • If the school board has biometric technology on their agenda, write letters to your school board members and speak up at the meeting. Encourage other parents to join you.
  • If your school district is already on the path to bringing biometric technology into the district, request a copy of the contract and read it closely. The district may not want to provide a copy of the contract to you, so you may need to learn how to request public records in your state.
  • During school board election season, ask your candidates where they stand on biometric technology.

Don’t ever be afraid to advocate for your child by speaking up, writing letters, or making phone calls. If you have concerns about the use of your child’s biometric data, there is nothing wrong with being that parent and opting out of its use.

In These 19 States, It's Still Legal for School Officials to Hit Children

During the 2011 to 2012 school year, American public school officials in 19 states used corporal punishment 167,000 times.

During the 2011 to 2012 school year, American public school officials in 19 states used corporal punishment 167,000 times.

We don’t know if that is 167,000 kids, or a smaller group of kids that received multiple punishments. What we do know is that at least 167,000 times in one school year, a school official hit a child. This punishment took place even in light of ample evidence suggesting that corporal punishment can increase aggression and hinder learning.

What follows is a primer for parents who want to better understand which states permit corporal punishment, which students are most likely to receive physical punishment, and the surprising heroes attempting to ban corporal punishment in their states.

The states that allow corporal punishment

Most of the debate surrounding corporal punishment focuses on public schools. That’s because all but two states – New Jersey and Iowa – allow corporal punishment in private schools.

The number of states allowing corporal punishment in public schools depends on which report you read. A report by the Society for Research in Child Development claims that 31 states, as well as the District of Colombia, specifically ban corporal punishment in public schools. The U.S. Department of Education put the numbers a bit differently, with only 28 states banning corporal punishment and 22 allowing it.

The discrepancy is explained by the extenuating circumstances allowed for in some state laws. For example, in Maine, corporal punishment was banned in 1975, but according to state law, school officials are permitted to use force against children when a child presents a danger to him or herself, or others. Some researchers count Maine and other states like it as permitting corporal punishment, even though the states themselves reported zero cases of corporal punishment in the nation’s most recent survey of corporal punishment.

A similar discrepancy occurs when counting the states that allow corporal punishment. Some put the number at 15. Others put the number at 19. That’s because some states specifically permit corporal punishment, while others simply have no legislation regarding corporal punishment.

No matter how researchers count, all agree that most of the corporal punishment in the country is concentrated in a handful of states. Just seven states: Oklahoma, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Texas, and Mississippi, account for 80 percent of corporal punishment cases in the U.S. Texas and Mississippi alone count for 35 percent of corporal punishment cases.

Which kids get hit?

Corporal punishment is not evenly distributed across all groups.

A 2009 Human Rights Watch report found that students with disabilities make up 14 percent of the population, but 19 percent of the population of kids subjected to corporal punishment, meaning that they are physically disciplined at a higher rate than their peers.

A report in The Atlantic found that black students, who make up 16 percent of the public school population, accounted for 35 percent of corporal punishment cases, meaning that they were three times more likely to be paddled than their white peers.

The rates of corporal punishment for males are even more disproportional than those for race. Boys are about four times as likely as girls to receive physical discipline. In some districts, that rate is five times as many.

Can parents opt out of corporal punishment for their children?

In some school districts where corporal punishment is still used, parents are given the opportunity to opt out of physical punishment, usually by filing an annual form. In other school districts, parents are notified of a child’s misbehavior and then given the opportunity to approve or disapprove of corporal punishment. In some states, like Missouri, not all districts allow parents to opt out.

Even in states where parents do have the opportunity to opt out, they can feel as though they have no choice to let school officials hit their children. Shana Perez, whose five-year-old was paddled in 2016, highlights the problems of giving parents the ability to “opt out” of paddling by opting into other penalties such as out-of-school suspension.

Perez had already been arrested for truancy after keeping her sick son home from school for too many days, and so believed that she would be arrested if she did not allow him to be paddled for spitting at teachers while running around in the bus line. A choice between your child being hit by the principal and you being put in jail (and thus taken away from your child) is hardly a choice.

Paddling is offered as an impossible “choice”

Paddling is often an impossible choice for students who, much like their parents, also feel that they cannot “opt out.”

Many proponents of corporal punishment will argue that students always have a choice. At Robbinsville High School in North Carolina, principal David Matheson offers students a choice: paddling or in-school suspension. Most students, Matheson asserts, choose the paddling so that they don’t miss school. That choice is often pointed to by educators and legislators as proof that they’re not hurting kids. Kids are choosing their punishment, and many opt for the paddling.

In a debate over a 2017 Arkansas State Senate bill to ban corporal punishment, Senator Alan Clark used his own son as an example, saying that he would have had “fire in [his] eyes” if his son had been suspended for three days instead of paddled. Senator Joyce Elliott, who sponsored the bill, asserted that Clark had been “forced into a false choice” between suspension and paddling.

Legislators like Elliott, as well as researchers across the country, are arguing for a third choice: non-punitive disciplinary methods.

Kids working to change the system

2017 has not been a good year for legislators looking to stop corporal punishment. This year, proposed bans have been defeated in Arkansas, Colorado, and Louisiana.

However, it has been a good year for students looking to corporal punishment for an education…in the legislative system.

In Arizona, high school student Taylor Garman was inspired by the Shana Perez’s viral video. She contacted State Senator Don Shooter about her research, and the two are now working to craft a bill banning corporal punishment.

Alex Young, a student from Louisville, Kentucky, led a group of students to write a bill for the Kentucky Youth Assembly. When his proposed corporal punishment ban passed the assembly, he took it to state representative Jim Wayne, who helped Young revise the bill and introduced it in February 2017. Although the bill was defeated, Young and his fellow students are still busy contacting state Republicans in order to find a co-sponsor who will help them re-introduce the bill in 2018.

You and your kids can read the existing corporal punishment laws for each state and territory here. If you’re unpleasantly surprised about what you find, maybe it’s time to follow in Garman’s and Young’s footsteps and contact your local representatives.

Why I Hesitate When a New Mom Friend Sends a Friend Request

It’s not that I don’t want to see cute pictures of their kids or hear what they had for dinner. It’s more political than that.

Whenever a new mom friend sends me a Facebook friend request, I hesitate.
It’s not that I don’t want to see cute pictures of their kids or hear what they had for dinner. And it’s not that I don’t appreciate the ease of coordinating get-togethers that social media enables. Usually, we’ve already hit it off quite nicely, and I could see us becoming friends.
So I click “accept.” Then I wonder if I’m going to regret it.
Do I really want to find out my new friend’s opinions on vaccinations? Or why they think climate change is a hoax? Or which politicians they think are despicable and which they find admirable?
The answer is yes – half of the time.
Too often, I find myself judging a new friend, not on the time we’ve spent hanging out, but on the political views she posts to Facebook. We might have discussed little more than diaper rashes and bedtimes when we met at the park, but now I find myself writing long comments on articles she shared on police-civilian interactions and the state of the American health care system.
The next time we meet, I will either know she is someone with whom I can safely air controversial opinions or someone with whom to awkwardly try to avoid any topic which could even potentially lead to a political debate. Organic foods? Unusually hot weather? A good borscht recipe? Best to avoid them all.
We’ve heard over and over again that Americans are becoming increasingly more politically divided. A Pew Research Survey found that Americans were significantly more divided in 2014 – years before our most recent contentious election – than they had been in 2004. The survey found that the median Republican is more conservative than 94 percent of all Democrats, and the median Democrat is more liberal than 92 percent of all Republicans.
By contrast, in 1994 the median Republican was more conservative than 70 percent of Democrats, and the median Democrat was to the left of 64 percent of Republicans. To put it another way, 20 years ago, you were much more likely to share a fair number of views with someone who was of the opposite political party than you are today.
Unsurprisingly, we tend to become friends with people who share similar political beliefs. Perhaps it’s because we share similar values and beliefs with them. In my case, as a self-admitted political nerd, it might be because I bore people who aren’t political by constantly asking them if they’ve heard the latest news.
Facebook’s algorithms can help further this self-segregation. When we click on an article, we are more likely to then see similar articles. So if a friend is consistently sharing articles from sites we like, or whose topics interest us, we will see more and more of what they post. Eventually, our Facebook feeds – and our friend circles – become a homogenous source of ideas that we already agree with.
But occasionally, a friend’s post breaks through the algorithm, causing us to clench our jaws and role our eyes. In the days before social media, we were warned never to talk about politics, money, or religion in polite company. Now we discuss intimate topics with people we barely know. Often it has the very result our mothers warned us about; a friendship ends before it even gets off the ground.
Is this necessarily a bad thing? Is it better to know early that we won’t be making a bosom buddy with whom we can discuss our hopes for the 2018 elections? Do we save time, not investing in a relationship based on chatting about our kids and our bosses, only to find out we have fundamentally different worldviews?
I believe it is a problem. Making friends can be difficult for many of us as we leave school and set out on our own. But unlike my clumsy attempts at friendships in my 20s, I have found making friends after becoming a parent much easier. Between story hour at the library and playdate groups, I am constantly meeting other mothers looking for someone to share the struggles of motherhood. Closing myself off to someone who might finally have the answer to how to get my kids to sleep through the night because they have a different political affiliation seems short-sighted.
Not only do we miss out on potential friends, we also risk developing a narrower view of the world. We can never truly form our own opinions if we are never exposed to critiques of our ideas. When the United States takes another hard look at what direction we want to head in a few years, we will hopefully have learned something from our last contentious election.
As my children grow up, I hope they have an opportunity to meet people who come from a variety of backgrounds and have myriad beliefs – something that is difficult to achieve if we only spend time with people who agree with us.
Of course, it’s difficult to be friends with someone who has fundamentally different values than you do, and it might not always be possible to bridge the partisan divide. But when we can, we should.
Perhaps next time I make a new mom friend, I’ll hold off on accepting the friend request and give her my phone number first. I’ve found it’s much easier to accept differing views from someone who is already our friend than from someone who isn’t.

The Staggering New Stats Surrounding Kids and Gun Deaths

Fact: 1,300 American children are killed by guns each year, making firearm injuries the third leading cause of death among zero to 17-year-olds.

Fact: 1,300 American children are killed by guns each year, making firearm injuries the third leading cause of death among zero to 17-year-olds.
That grim finding is unfortunately not newsworthy. Excellent resources, like FiveThirtyEight’s Gun Deaths in America, already paint a sobering picture of the topic in the U.S. But fewer resources focus specifically on contextualizing childhood gun deaths. A new study in the July 2017 issue of “Pediatrics” identifies patterns in childhood firearm deaths and injuries in order to develop more targeted, scientific solutions.
The study suggests that some risk factors for gun death are relatively static. For example, firearm homicides for both age groups are concentrated in the South and the Midwest, while firearm suicides are more evenly distributed across the country. But many of the risk factors changed with age, prompting the researchers to split the data across two age groups.
 
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Young children (zero to 12 years) were most likely to be shot in their homes (85 percent). Half of gun-related incidents involving young children had more than one victim. The perpetrators of these shootings tended to be older; two-thirds of them were over 25 years old. Forty-two percent of the perpetrators committed suicide after shooting. The overall picture painted by shootings of children in this age group is about domestic violence and the children caught up in it.
Older children (13 to 17 years) killed by guns presented a much different picture. Children in this age group were about as likely to be shot in the streets (38 percent) as at home (39 percent). Eighty-three percent of these shootings had only one victim, and the perpetrators of homicides were much more likely to be the same age as the victims.
For this group, the rate of firearm homicides was roughly equal to the rate of firearm suicides. The overall picture of shootings in this age group is a bit murkier than that presented by the younger age group – a mix of violent crime and self-harm.
It’s reasonably simple to explain the increases in death and injury rates as children age as a result of different social and cultural factors. Violent crime, for example, is frequently identified as a main cause of firearm deaths among older children, especially older boys. The “Pediatrics” report suggests that’s not the whole story.
At all ages, boys were significantly more likely to be killed or injured by guns, representing a total of 82 percent of gun deaths and 84 percent of emergency room visits. Older boys were six times as likely to be killed by a gun than older girls. Younger boys were 4.5 times as likely to be killed by guns than younger girls. Older boys were also six times more likely to commit suicide using firearms.
Some of the most surprising findings of the study are related to unintentional firearm deaths, which represent a much lower overall proportion of deaths than is often assumed (six percent of all firearm deaths in children ages zero to 17).
Also surprising was that, contrary to popular belief, older children were twice as likely to be killed by unintentional firearm injury than younger children. The majority of unintentional gun deaths for both groups occurred in a home. About half of unintentional firearm deaths resulted from playing with a gun (60 percent for younger children, 49 percent for older children).
The authors conclude that this more patterned view of gun deaths and injuries is a “first step” in developing tailored solutions to reduce gun injuries in the pediatric population.
A second step, suggested by Eliot Nelson in a companion piece, might be for pediatricians to acknowledge imperfect adoption of their own policy that “the safest home is one without firearms.” Acknowledging that households will continue to have guns and focusing on gun storage, Nelson argues, may help prevent many of the unintentional deaths and possibly even suicides included in the Pediatrics study.

In an Age of Epipen Price Gouging, the Story of That Band-Aid on Your Newborn’s Heel

The story behind Dr. Robert Guthrie’s discovery is so distant from recent tales of pharmaceutical companies caring only about their bottom line.

Next month my granddaughter will be born. I don’t know much about her yet except I hear she’s fond of changing positions in the middle of the night. There is one thing I’m sure of, though. In the baby’s first week of life, a nurse will prick her heel with a needle and several drops of blood will be smeared onto a special collection paper. Then the nurse will affix a Band-Aid, and my daughter will comfort her wailing newborn.
For me, this will be a powerful moment, even though it’s such a simple test. I’ll wince a little but smile, too, just as I did when I was a young mother soothing my own babies from the indignation of their tiny heel stick.
It’s powerful because I knew Dr. Robert Guthrie, the man who invented the test. A physician and bacteriologist, he developed the screening for Phenylketonuria (PKU), an inherited disorder not detectable by physical examination at birth. If left untreated, it results in irreversible brain damage. When PKU is identified by the Guthrie Test, an affected newborn treated by diet and medication can grow up healthy.
This moment is powerful, too, because the story behind his discovery is so distant from recent tales of pharmaceutical companies caring only about their bottom line.
Case in point: Martin Shkreli, founder and CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, who became a household name in 2015 when he was not only unapologetic but arrogant about raising the price of the drug Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 for a single pill. Daraprim treats a parasitic infection that can kill unborn babies and patients with HIV and AIDS.
Then there is Mylan, the company that produces the EpiPen, the life-saving injection taken during a severe allergic reaction. Since buying the drug in 2007, Mylan has raised the price of the EpiPen over 500 percent. CEO Heather Bresch has seen her salary increase by more than that over the last eight years.
In 1962, in his laboratory in Buffalo, NY, Robert Guthrie discovered something remarkable for the babies of the world. And he chose not to make a dime.
As his PKU screening test increased in importance in the early ’60s, it became clear that commercial production would be necessary to get it to as many babies as possible. Dr. Guthrie filed a patent and entered into a licensing agreement with a division of Miles Laboratories. At his direction, he would receive no royalties, but 5 percent of the proceeds would be divided among three charities for children with developmental disabilities.
When Miles could not keep up with production, Guthrie began producing his own kits in his laboratory, at a cost of $6 each, to stay ahead of the demand. A year later, he found out that the pharmaceutical company planned to charge $262 for the same product.
Guthrie was outraged when the drug company refused to lower the price. He appealed to the U.S. Children’s Bureau, and ultimately the surgeon general nullified the licensing agreement, keeping the price of the test low.
By the time Robert Guthrie died in 1995, the test that bears his name was mandatory in all 50 states. All these years later, parents still flinch when the nurse pricks their baby’s heel. Lots of them have no idea what this simple little test is.
Here’s what it is: It’s the life’s work of a man who – although famous – never wanted to stand out in a crowd, wore bolo ties though they were horribly out of fashion, and sat with his wife in the third pew on the left at church. A man who chose good over greed. In the age of the EpiPen and Martin Shkreli, Robert Guthrie’s story is a lesson for all of us who look at a newborn with wonder and hope, the way we wish everyone could.