We Shopped Through These 9 Mom-Targeted Facebook Ads So You Didn’t Have To

We clicked and shopped through nine Facebook ads and are fully prepared to separate the wheat from the chaff.

As parents, we are always looking for that perfect product that’s going to make our lives easier. But, ironically – because we’re parents – we have zero time to search for said perfect product.
What we apparently do seem to have time to spend hours on a day? Facebook. Smart companies know this and are happy to target the hell out of us while we’re reposting memes and liking baby pictures. From tampons and bras to kid’s clothes and superior socks, these Facebook ads claim they offer a one-click solution to life’s little problems. But which products are winners and which are snake-oil? We clicked and shopped through nine Facebook ads and are fully prepared to separate the wheat from the chaff. Get ready to spend some money! (Or in a few cases, not…)

Company: LOLA

The Pitch: “100% organic cotton tampons delivered directly to your door.”
Who Shopped: Apryl, writer & mom
What She Bought: Tampon and pad subscription, $27 every two months
Why She Clicked & What She Thought: “I had just recently broken up with my Diva cup and was back to using tampons. The ad made me really need to have them. I didn’t realize all the chemicals I was putting up there. Who knew? I mostly love that you can design your own box with whatever absorbency you will need. It delivers every two months. I never have to run out to the CVS at 9 p.m. in my pajamas for tampons again. It’s nice that they are chemical free, too.”
Recommended? Yes! “To anyone who menstruates. But parents especially, since some days are so hard and busy that we can’t even make sure we have tampons, let alone a moment to ourselves in the bathroom to insert it.”

Company: Glossier

The Pitch: “We’re creating the new essentials: easy-to-use skincare and makeup that form the backbone to your unique beauty routine.”
Who Shopped: Elizabeth, Freelance writer (and self-described “sucker” for Facebook ads.)
What She Bought: “Boy Brow” brow gel, $16
Why She Clicked & How it Went: “I was not looking for brow gel, but I was drawn in by the ads. They were video ads of different women applying the product. It seemed so easy. A few swipes of a mascara wand and your eyebrows stay put all day. I really liked the product. It’s as easy as it seemed and has staying power. I’ve purchased it a second time in fact.”
Recommended? Yes! “I’ve definitely recommended the product to my friends. It was not a disappointment.”

Company: ThirdLove

The Pitch: “The best bra is one you never think about. Available in cup sizes AA through G (DDDD), including our signature half cup sizes.”
Who Shopped: Me! Phaea, writer & mom
What I bought: Tee-Shirt Bra, $68
Why I Clicked & How it Went: After five years of nursing two separate children, I had no idea what size bra I wore. I’d wanted to duck into a store and get measured, but there never seems to be anytime. ThirdLove features an online quiz to help you figure out your size as well as a 30-day free trial period to test out their product. This was a total win-win for me. I took the quiz (32 C ½!) and ordered the recommended Tee-Shirt Bra in Naked-2. When the bra arrived a few days later, I was skeptical because it looked awfully small. But low and behold, it fit me perfectly!
Recommended? Yes! I’m not sure what kind of witchcraft ThirdLove employs to figure out my size without measurements, but I’m a big fan and will absolutely be going back for more.

Company: THINX

The Pitch: “Period Panties for Modern Women.”
Who Shopped: Mary, writer
What She Bought: One pair of Hiphugger panties, $34 & one pair of Boyshort panties, $39
Why She Clicked & How it Went: I had read about THINX in a blog article … but seeing the ad acted as a reminder. I will say though that the ads themselves were a big turnoff. It felt like they were trying really hard to be edgy – lots of raw egg yolks dripping all over. Because of these ads, I actually first went to a competitor period underwear company … but was disappointed. So, I eventually went back to the THINX site, held my tongue, and opened my wallet. I like [the underwear] a lot. I know that I’m a really heavy bleeder in general, so was always planning to use these as a backup in conjunction with tampons or pads. For that, it’s been amazing. No more stained clothes or sheets, and no more mid-day underwear changes. If I’d tried to use them INSTEAD of pads or tampons, I would have been disappointed.”
Recommended? Yes! “I encourage folks to try THINX in spite of the ad campaigns. Since the product works so darn well, THINX can try a bit less with their marketing. Right now it’s a lot of slick hipster lifestyle stuff that just misdirects from the fact this sh*t actually works!”

Company: PatPat

The Pitch: “Good Quality Deals for Babies, Toddlers, Kids & Moms.”
Who Shopped: Emily, writer & stay-at-home mom
What She Bought: Matching family Christmas PJs: $16.99 set of four.
Why She Clicked & How it Went: “I clicked on an ad for family Christmas PJs. We have been wanting to get all matching ones for a Christmas card. I thought ordering them on sale in August would be great so they would be ready to do for the holidays. After a couple weeks, I received an email saying it would take longer than expected and they gave me $5 off my next order. I emailed daily asking for an update. After 2 months, I said I wanted a refund (my card was charged immediately) and the order canceled. I had to send several emails asking this. I finally got an email saying they had canceled it because they didn’t have the items in stock.
Recommended? No! “I can advise against ordering from this company. I was so disappointed not to get what we ordered, and to have to deal with the company.”

Company: Bombas

The Pitch: “Bombas are game-changing socks that have to be felt to be believed.”
Who Shopped: Elizabeth, freelance writer
What She Bought: Woman’s Solids Calf Four-Pack, $45.60
Why She Clicked & How it Went: “I was sick and tired of my darn socks falling down all the time. Especially when wearing short boots. I searched and searched for socks that stayed up but nothing worked. Then I saw the ad for Bombas on Facebook, which claimed to be the world’s best socks or something. They were expensive. I think $45 for a four-pack. But I thought what the heck, let’s see if they live up to their claims. And they totally do!”
Recommended? Yes! “They don’t fall down at all.”

Company: Primary

The Pitch: “Kids Clothes Start Here. Brilliant Basics Under $25”
Who Shopped: Stacey, stay-at-home mom
What She Bought: Baby PJ set, $20 & Kid PJ set, $24
Why She Clicked & What She Thought: “I saw the Facebook ad for Primary quite a few times before I ever bought from them. Fast forward to Halloween. The four of us wanted to be characters from Winnie the Pooh, but there was not a single character costume still in stock on the entire internet. So, we decided to DIY. I remembered the Primary pajamas. We got Simon a set of orange pajamas that Patrick then sewed stripes and a belly panel onto. We bought a set of Tigger ears and a tail from amazon, and voila, Simon was Tigger. For Baxter, we bought him a set of the baby pink pajamas and a raspberry-colored tunic. We drew stripes on the tunic with a sharpie and bought a set of Piglet ears from Amazon. Voila, Piglet.”
Recommended? Yes! “I sing the praises of Primary as a Halloween base layer every year. Additionally, the PJs were really well made.”

Company: DressLily

Who Shopped: Elizabeth, freelance writer
The Pitch: “…the latest casual style wear for women and men, comfortable and suitable for everyday wear.”
What She Bought: Halloween Lace Panel Plus Size Dress, $18
Why She Clicked & How it Went: “I loved the look of the dress because I loved the haunted houses and it was only $18 so I figured I’d try it. [I] got the dress yesterday and I love it! I mean, it’s not the best quality but again, it was only $18, and I’m only going to be wearing it once a year. Oh, and the shipping times were long – I think it took a month?”
Recommended? Yes, with exceptions. “I would recommend it though for fun, cheap, special event clothes.

Company: Keen & Social

The Pitch: “…modern and unique products for Men and Women looking for something exciting.”
Who Shopped: Meredith, Project Manager & Mom
What She Bought: Londoner Long Tail Hoodie, $40
Why She Clicked & How it Went: “When I saw the ad, I thought it would be a cool look. I have black “skinny” jeans and some boots and the sweater would cover my personal trouble zones yet looked really cute and what I thought to be fashion forward. Plus, it was 70 percent off.  It took about six to eight weeks to arrive. It looks nothing like the picture. My son called me “Lord of the Rings” when I tried it on. I bought it to try to look kind of hip and cool and instead I looked like I belong on the Shire.”
Recommended? “Nope! [And] I will never order clothes from an ad from Facebook again unless it is a company I know and trust – like Lands’ End, etc.”
While shopping online is always a gamble — and clicking on Facebook ads doubly so — there are certainly a few companies out there that are worth your attention and well-earned cash. Are there any products or online stores you’re crazy about (or crazy-disappointed with?) Share all about it in the comments!

Alexa, What Does It Take to Be Human?

Could a tiny smart computer fill in all my gaps in parenting? The better question is, should it?

Mattel pulled a much-anticipated and hotly-debated toy recently.
Aristotle, a device geared for children anywhere from infancy to adolescence, was set up to be the kid’s version of Alexa. It boasted features such as the ability to soothe a crying baby, teach ABCs, reinforce good manners, play interactive games, and help kids with homework. Marketed as an “all-in-one nursery necessity” on Mattel’s website, it also offered e-commerce functionality that would enable Aristotle to automatically reorder baby products based on user feedback.
This little gadget would be the next big thing, engineered to “comfort, entertain, teach, and assist during each development state – evolving with a child as their needs change.”
You see where this is heading.
How much do we let artificial intelligence narrate our children’s lives? How can we put something like this in charge of soothing our kids to sleep, teaching the alphabet, and eventually helping with homework?
Could a tiny smart computer fill in all my gaps in parenting? The better question is, should it? I know what being saddled with my phone and Wi-Fi all hours of the waking day does to my psyche. What could it possibly do to a toddler or an 11-year-old?
The director of the M.I.T. Initiative on Technology and Self, Sherry Turke, said something in her approval of Mattel’s decision to nix Aristotle that made me pause: “The ground rules of human beinghood are laid down very early” and these machines have “changed the ground rules of how people think about personhood.”
Is this true? By creating Siri and Alexa and all manner of innumerable smart devices, have we changed what it means to be human?
Do you remember the little origami fortune tellers you could make out of a paper? You’d ask it a question – say, “who will I marry?” or “will I have a pool when I grow up?” – and then you’d pick a number, count it out, and open the flap to reveal your future.
I never got the pool. But I also never forgot that it was just a game. I didn’t really think I would marry David or Nick. But maybe if I carried it around all the time and asked it every question from age eight and onward, I would forget it was not, in fact, in charge of my fate.
Turke went on to say that “we can’t put children in this position of pretend empathy and then expect that children will know what empathy is. Or give them pretend as-if relationships, and then think that we’ll have children who know what relationships are.”
Have the things that used to define us as highly evolved creatures – our rationality and morality and curiosity – changed so much? Do we still care to defend right and wrong and ask why of the universe or are we content to ask Siri? Do we, the grown-ups, still know what empathy is? When I watch the news, I wonder.
Do we know what it means to develop and nurture and uphold sustainable relationships? I hope so.
Aristotle was a free-thinking scientist and philosopher. He was a man who believed in things acting according to their function. I do not believe he would have entrusted the development of our children’s minds to a computer. I’m not even sure where he’d put artificial intelligence in the hierarchical system. Is it animal, vegetable, mineral, or none of the above?
The ground rules of “beinghood” are constantly evolving, but the core of what makes us human stands. We still care enough to write great literature, fight injustice, love and lose and love again, and cancel a toy before it begins to raise our children. We still hold a tiny bit of prescience over the rightness and wrongness of where our curiosity is leading us.
As long as we are able to look up from our toys and ask of each other and the world, “What does it all mean?”, our humanity remains intact. Technology is a marvel and a necessary in the modern world, but it cannot define us. This is a new game we are playing, and we must play it wisely.

How to End Screen Time Without A Struggle

Do you ever struggle with getting your kids off the screen? Does it often end in tears (both theirs and yours)? This could help.

Do you ever struggle with getting your kids off the screen? Does it often end in tears (both theirs and yours)? Like so many other parents, I used to give my children warning.

“Five more minutes, then it’s dinner!” I’d yell from the kitchen.

This statement would either be ignored or grunted at.

Five minutes later, I’d march into the living room and turn the TV/tablet/gadget off, expecting them to silently accept and for us all to have a lovely, quiet dinner together.

Cue screams. Cue tantrums. Cue cold dinner. Cue grey hairs.

I realized something was wrong. Something was wrong in the way I was approaching the issue. My children aren’t naturally prone to tantrums, so I was thrown by this. I couldn’t work out what I could do to stop the sudden screaming at the end of every screen-time.

I wanted to find a way of gently disconnecting my children from the screen, of bringing them back into the real world without continual bumps and bruises along the way (because this happened almost every night), but I didn’t know how. Then a friend introduced me to a little trick by Isabelle Filliozat.

Isabelle Filliozat is a clinical psychologist specializing in positive parenting. She is the author of many books about children’s education, and an authority on gentle parenting in the French speaking world. From one day to the next, my world changed. I suddenly knew how to handle the end of screen-time without the screams, the tantrums, the cold dinner, or the grey hairs.

Here is Isabelle Filliozat’s very simple method to end screen-time without the screams.

The science behind screen-time

Have you ever had the electricity cut off just as the football game reached its most nerve-wracking stage?

Or your toddler pressed the “off” switch just as the protagonists in the deeply engrossing romantic comedy were finally going to kiss?

Or you ran out of power just as you were going to kill that alien and move up a level?

It’s hard to come out of the state of pleasure, which is what screen-time creates in our brains. It’s hard for adults. For a child, it can be terrible. Literally. Here, according to Isabelle Filliozat, is why.

When we human beings (not only children!) are absorbed in a film or playing a computer game, we are, mentally, in another world. Screens are hypnotic to our brains. The light, the sounds, the rhythm of the images puts the brain into a state of flow. We feel good, and don’t want to do anything else. We certainly don’t want the situation to change.

During these moments, our brains produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter which relieves stress-and pain. All is well – that is, until the screen is turned off. The dopamine levels in the body drop fast and without warning, which can, literally, create a sensation of pain in the body. This drop in hormones, this physical shock, is where children’s scream-time begins.

It doesn’t matter that we parents are quite clear that now is the end of screen-time. After all, we’d discussed and arranged it beforehand (”20 minutes!”), and/or given them warning (“5 more minutes!”). To us, it’s clear and fair enough, but to the child, it isn’t. When in front of a screen, she isn’t in a state to think that way or to take that information in. Her brain is awash with dopamine, remember? To turn the “off” switch on the television can, for the child, feel like a shock of physical pain. You’re not exactly slapping her in the face, but this is, neurologically speaking, how it might feel to her.

Cutting her off forcefully is hurtful. So instead of simply switching the “off” button, the trick is not to cut her off, but to instead enter her zone.

The trick: build a bridge

Whenever you decide that screen-time should come to an end, take a moment to sit down next to your child and enter his world. Watch TV with him, or sit with him while he plays his game massacring aliens on the screen. This doesn’t have to be long, half a minute is enough. Just share his experience. Then, ask him a question about it.

“What are you watching?” might work for some kids.

Others might need more specific questions. “So what level are you on now?” or “That’s a funny figure there in the background. Who’s he?”

Generally, children love it when their parents take an interest in their world. If they are too absorbed still and don’t engage, don’t give up. Just sit with them a moment longer, then ask another question.

Once the child starts answering your questions or tells you something she has seen or done on screen, it means that she is coming out of the “cut-off” zone and back into the real world. She’s coming out of the state of flow and back into a zone where she is aware of your existence – but slowly. The dopamine doesn’t drop abruptly, because you’ve built a bridge – a bridge between where she is and where you are. You can start to communicate, and this is where the magic happens.

You can choose to start discussing with your child that it’s time to eat, to go have his bath, or simply that screen-time is over now. Because of the minute of easing-in, your child will be in a space where he can listen and react to your request. He might even have been smoothed back into the real world gently enough, and is so happy about the parental attention that he wants turn off the TV/tablet/computer himself. (I’ve experienced my children do this, hand to heart.)

To me, simply the awareness of what’s going on in my children’s minds helps me handle end-of-screen-time much better than before. It isn’t always as smooth as I want it to be, but we haven’t had a scream-time incident since I discovered Isabelle Filliozat’s little trick.

Don’t take my word for it, go and try it yourself

Next time your child is sitting in front of a screen, and you want to end it, try this:

  • Sit with her for 30 seconds, a minute, or longer, and simply watch whatever she is watching/doing.
  • Ask an innocent question about what’s happening on screen. Most children love their parent’s attention, and will provide answers.
  • Once you’ve created a dialogue, you’ve created a bridge – a bridge that will allow your child to, in his mind and body, step from screen back into the real world, without hormones in free-fall, and therefore without crisis.
  • Enjoy the rest of your day together.

New Research Says Gamers Learn Better Than Non-Gamers

Your kids may be right: playing video games may not be a waste of time but may help learning and memory function.

Your kids may be right: playing video games may not be a waste of time but may help learning and memory function.

A new study out of Germany says that gaming helps cognitive learning and problem solving. In order to investigate memory formation and sensory processing, researchers at Ruhr University Bochum’s Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience pitted video gamers against non-gamers in a learning competition. “The video gamers performed significantly better and showed an increased brain activity in the brain areas that are relevant for learning,” according to the study.  Sabrina Schenk and Dr. Boris Suchan led the team, who used 3T Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to examine 34 subjects’ brains as they performed a weather predication task using cue cards.

Schenk and Suchan explained, “The participants were shown a combination of three cue cards with different symbols. They should estimate whether the card combination predicted sun or rain and got a feedback if their choice was right or wrong right away. The volunteers gradually learned, on the basis of the feedback, which card combination stands for which weather prediction. The combinations were thereby linked to higher or lower probabilities for sun and rain. After completing the task, the study participants filled out a questionnaire to sample their acquired knowledge about the cue card combinations.”

The MRI imaging showed brain activation in the hippocampus (the area connected to memory and learning), the occipital visual areas, and in areas related to attentional processes. “Our study shows that gamers are better in analyzing a situation quickly, to generate new knowledge and to categorize facts – especially in situations with high uncertainties,” said Schenk. (And the researchers questioned if video game playing couldn’t help older adults who need memory improvement.)

Before you and your kids celebrate the benefits of video games too much, you should take note of another study, published in August in Nature and Molecular Psychiatry, that states that action video game players may actually reduce grey matter in the hippocampus (which would negatively affect memory). Gregory West, of the University of Montreal and lead researcher on this study, said in an interview with Parent.co, “There are many different types of video games that we now know can have a differential impact on the brain. Our research specifically examined only two types of video games: first person shooting/action RPG shooting games and 3D-platform games….We showed a causal relationship between playing these games and changes in grey matter within the hippocampal memory system.”

West and his colleagues have studied video games for a number of years. He said originally he was interested in the positive cognitive affects of action video games, particularly on visual attention, motor control, and the brain’s reward system. Then, starting in 2015, they found evidence that linked action video game consumption to negative effects on memory (because of hippocampus grey matter reduction), so they started analyzing what types of video games caused what types of effects.

“3D-platform games, such as Super Mario 64, promote the hippocampal memory system,” West said. Logic and puzzle games do, too. West recommends parents limit young children’s game playing to these types of games because he says there is no research examining how action video games impact developing hippocampus. (The University of California, San Diego Cognitive Science Department says the hippocampus continues its physical development into the first two and a half years of life.)

One of the questions West has about the German study and its results is that the researchers seem to “lump together games that ask players to perform very different tasks into one category of ‘action video games’.” he said, “For example, StarCraft is highlighted as an example of a type of video game their participants often played. However, StarCraft is, in fact, a real-time strategy game that has very different content compared to a first person shooting game. Because of this, it is difficult to determine what type of gameplay experience is responsible for their observed results.” (Dr. Suchan did not respond to our inquiry about this.)

One thing that all researchers and gamers can agree on is that playing video games affects our lives, our abilities, and our brains in a variety of ways. Therefore, with some parental oversight, let the games begin.

When School Is No Longer a Reliable Babysitter

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
After a fraught winter of flirting with freelance writing (chagrin implied), I’d made some gains. They were almost negligible, and some of the platforms dubious, yet I got published elsewhere. Still mostly for free (more chagrin) but on bigger platforms for a few more likes, shares, and an occasional pocket change paycheck. (No large advance is forthcoming.)
Then school was out, summer happened, and I reacquainted myself with TV, some video games, full-time parenting, and the clouds.
Well, I’m a parent all the time but her first year of school was an amazing freedom for me.
It’s not that summer strips parents of all their free time. The hours between 9:30 p.m. and 8 a.m. were usually open. If I were a real go-getter, I’d have gotten up at the butt crack to “scribble” on the keys then burn the midnight oil after a few beers, but I didn’t.
Not all was procrastination, though. A lot went on this summer, and it started out fantastically with a two-week break from parenting. The g-rents whisked the kid away, leaving my wife and I childless. It was glorious. We were a couple of young adults without a child again. Other parents were jealous.
After that two-week stint without the kid, things changed. We traveled a lot, there was a death in the family, and we went from practically having a live-in babysitter (a niece) to being full-time parents again.
The adult time was over and my hobby sort of dropped off.
It dropped off because writing isn’t a sprint but a distance game, and it requires more than 20 to 30 minutes of attention at a time. I tried to write with her around but that required a lot of TV (something us modern parents aren’t supposed to let our kids overindulge in), and she had questions and concerns every two minutes.
Can’t get mad, though. When your preschooler asks you to come into the bathroom to smell her fart, your heart just swells. These are the precious moments parents carry with them to their graves.
I’ve also found that picking up where you left off only works with pieces that are nearly done. That being said, it’s easier to pick up a book and easier still to watch Netflix, Amazon, Hulu – whatever.
The easiest thing to do, however, is watch clouds.
Being committed to a word file takes focus, time, and, I guess, some will power.
Not making excuses helps, too, but no one else is going to get that paladin to level 99 other than you, bro.
That’s game talk and while procrastination and gaming go hand in hand, they should never be used in the same sentence around a gamer. They’re liable to set you on fire with a level four flame spell.
Instead, I set the writing aside and checked out critically acclaimed works of nonfiction, making sure I brought them with me so people would notice. I didn’t read them, just skimmed reviews in hifalutin magazines in case someone asked me about them. It’s what we procrastinators call “doing adequate homework”.
I also watched a lot of YouTube videos on lions, landslides, volcanoes (just one Saturday night), even Saturday Night Live, tsunamis again (never gets old), and an inordinate amount of Star Wars fan theory videos.
Did you know that not all Jedi are prudes? I didn’t think so.
The kid and I also did our fair share of floating around the pool. Well, I floated and she attempted the world record at most consecutive drowning attempts.
However, before I lay too much blame on parenting and chronic procrastination, let me reiterate the real culprit: summer break. I absolve myself of all responsibility and lay most of the blame, if not all, on the summer holiday. It’s just too long. Really, kids should be in school more. Perhaps all day so that the only time you see them is when they wake up and after dinner.
A parent’s daily peace of mind is worth a little state indoctrination, am I right?
To be blunt, summer break ruins a this peace-o-mind, pure and simple. Yes, it was great having almost three months off from school as kid, but I’m not a kid anymore and their time off offends me.
Of course, we could’ve mitigated all this with summer camps (I will become a convert next year) and a regular schedule. But to have regularity in you and your child’s schedule, you must plan for it. Since I’m neither a planner nor someone who remotely understand plans, this was not the case for me.
That’s why we’re here now, commiserating summer break together and relieved it’s over.
You hear that kiddo? Sounds like first bell. Time for dad to level up.

The Parenting Hack That Keeps My Kid in His Room at Bedtime

At the risk of sounding dramatic, bedtime has always been the bane of my existence- until I discovered this.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, bedtime has always been the bane of my existence.

As a child, it brought on anxiety, and fears of intruders and house fires abounded. As a teen, bedtime meant I had to close my computer and end phone calls with friends, and what a terrible thing to have to do. As an adult, bedtime often felt lonely and stressful, with endless to-do lists and existential thoughts suddenly overcrowding my mind. Now, as a parent, bedtime entails being utterly exhausted – bone-tired, brain-fried – but unable to rest until I wrangle my two energetic children into bed and somehow convince them to stay there.

It’s easier with my infant – just knock him out with some of Mama’s milk and he’s not going anywhere, but with my preschooler, it’s a different story. For the first three years of his life, he co-slept with my husband and me. While our family fell into the habit out of sleep deprivation and desperation, I grew to completely love co-sleeping: the cuddles, the closeness, the ease of nursing, the reassurance of having my baby right beside me, and the reassurance it gave my baby.

Still, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, and I knew that end was near when I became pregnant with my second son when my first was two and a half. I could tell by then that my big boy was ready for his own bed and his own room (both of which he had – he just hadn’t slept in them yet), but I also knew that this was going to be a tough transition, for both of us if I’m being honest.

I looked to the Internet to help me figure out what to expect from this process, and I came across the term: “Jack-in-the-Box Syndrome,” defined as a common “affliction” causing children to constantly pop out of bed after their parents have put them to sleep due to a major case of FOMO (fear of missing out). The articles I read contained some tips for dealing with it, but I soon learned that I’d have to think outside the box, because my son’s “Jack-in-the-Box” game was on point and strong.

“Hey Mom. I’m hungry.”

“Dad! I’m thirsty.”

“There are shadows on my wall.”

“What’s inside the wall?”

“How many miles have I slept so far?”

“I mean minutes.”

“Is it morning?”

By the third or fourth night of this, I was losing steam. I couldn’t spend the whole night ushering him back to his bedroom, and he couldn’t be staying up so late. I started to waver in my decision to transition him. Should we build some kind of epic family bed instead that can fit our growing family? No, no, no, I thought, this will be so good for him. He’ll learn to love his big boy bed and be proud of his independence.

But how would we get there?

One night it dawned on me as I was using the talk button on the baby monitor to tell my son, “You better not open up that door!” that I could use this talk function for way more than issuing warnings. I could use it as a tool to make it appealing for my boy to remain in his bed by inviting him to engage in actual conversation with me over the monitor. This way, I could open up the lines of communication that he so misses when I shut his bedroom door, and I could also ensure that I don’t miss out on the meaningful talks we always had while co-sleeping when he was relaxed enough to really open up – talks that would be more difficult to have with a newborn in the mix. Plus, we could pretend like we’re using walkie-talkies, and how fun is that? This could be our new special thing.

And just like that (well maybe there were also some toy rewards involved) bedtime started to change for the better. Not only did this parenting hack help my son stay put in his room, it also helped keep our bedtime routine (relatively) short and sweet. Kids will do just about anything to prolong saying goodnight. Now when my little man gives me puppy eyes after we’ve already done bath and books and snuggles, and says, “But I just have to tell you one more thing!” I reply, “And I can’t wait to hear that one thing, over the MONITOR!” and I make it sound super exciting. It works.

Now, of course, this monitor chatting can get a bit out of control, and there’ve been plenty of shit-show moments where I’m trying to nurse the baby to sleep while also fielding questions from my preschooler about why he can’t marry his cousin and how many days are left until Christmas. When this happens, I remind him that he needs his sleep and kindly request that he slow his roll with the questions. For the most part, he does.

Other nights, he barely talks to me at all, but knowing that he can is comforting to him, and that’s what makes this system so great. He gets his own space and chance to self-soothe, which is healthy and important at his age, and I don’t have to spend hours in a dark room waiting for him to fall asleep. I can tend to his baby brother, do chores, or unwind while still helping my son feel secure and heard as he decompresses from the day.

“I love you to the moon and back,” he tells me over the monitor each night.

“I love you to infinity and beyond,” I respond.

I don’t know how long he’ll want to talk with me like this, but I’ll be ready and waiting, monitor in hand, for as long as he does. When my six-month-old gets older and moves out of my bed, I’ll try the same hack with him, although with his chatty and loving big brother around, I may not even need to.

What You Need to Know About Protecting Your Kid From Identity Theft

With their squeaky-clean credit histories, our children’s data are the crown jewels to identity thieves.

It’s a standing joke that in the first week of school, parents have more homework than kids. One form our schools have always sent home is the permission slip for releasing directory information. Like me, perhaps you thought checking “no” and signing it was enough to keep your kids’ information safe. The sad truth is that most schools are under-equipped to keep our children’s data secure. After all, if big financial companies employing the latest in cybersecurity can’t keep our information safe, why should underfunded schools with out-of-date technology?
That should concern parents, because children are especially vulnerable to identity theft. With their squeaky-clean credit histories, our children’s data are the crown jewels to identity thieves. And the consequences aren’t pretty: identity thieves can use the data in multiple ways, like opening credit cards, obtaining government benefits and health care, using Social Security numbers to obtain identification for employment, applying for loans, and more. Once done, they can then sell it to other criminals.
Often, stolen identities are not discovered until it’s time for your teen to apply for an education loan or their first credit card. It can take years to repair damaged credit, and that can hamper your child’s ability to rent an apartment, apply for a loan, or even get a job. “Your credit touches virtually everything,” says John Sileo, a cybersecurity expert with The Sileo Group who has personally battled identity theft.
The New York Times, NBC News, and other outlets have reported that children as young as one-week-old have had their identities stolen. One young person who posted in an online forum for renting apartments in New York City expressed frustration with being unable to rent a place because his identity had been stolen as a teen.

A troubling trend

According to a Carnegie Mellon report, there were 11.7 million reported cases of identity theft in 2008. Researchers in the study looked at over 42,000 identity scans of children 18 and under and found that 10.2 percent had had Social Security numbers stolen – a rate that’s 51 times higher than the rate of adults who experienced the same theft.
Experts say it’s just going to get worse.
One mother I spoke to found out that all three of her children’s identities had been stolen when a pharmacy called to verify a prescription. It took her more than a year to resolve, and she ended up putting credit freezes on all her children’s files. This happened over 10 years ago. “Had it happened now, I think the repercussions would have been much, much worse for my kids,” says the mother, who wished to remain anonymous.
With more data than ever being digitized and more thieves and hackers trolling for vulnerabilities “it’s a catastrophe waiting to happen,” said Rachael Stickland, co-founder of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, an organization that advocates for stricter regulations to safeguard children’s data.
Just this month, the U.S. Department of Education issued a warning that many school districts have been targeted for extortion and threatened with the release of student data. Higher education is also vulnerable. Stickland says that colleges and universities report upwards of 4,000 attacks of ransomware a day.
In addition to inadequate protections at institutions, experts say there simply are not enough regulations in place that keep companies from selling children’s information. While FERPA supposedly protects this information, in 2012 many parents became aware of loopholes when the company inBloom, funded by the Gates Foundation, was able to set up service contracts with schools that accessed student information without parental permission. While the company closed after many states passed laws preventing any outside vendor from aggregating student data, it exposed the inadequacies in the system. The CEO of inBloom defended their database, saying that it was up to the schools to upload the data and that parental concern was really a misunderstanding.

An ounce of prevention

What it comes down to is that parents are left with little recourse to protect their children, but there are some things we can do. Educating ourselves is the first step, says both Sileo and Stickland. The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy provides a free downloadable toolkit that explains what data is collected, how it’s used, and how you can protect your children.
Parents also need to talk to their kids and make sure they know what to share and not share. “Educating kids often gets passed over,” says Sileo. Stickland recommends that parents frequently remind their kids about what they should and shouldn’t be sharing on social media.
Be sure to safeguard your child’s information by shredding documents that contain data. Ask schools and other groups that keep information where it’s stored and how it’s kept private. Only give out information that’s necessary to people you trust.
Some cases of identity theft are actually perpetrated by parents, guardians, and other adults who know the child. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests safeguarding your child’s information from anyone who may find it tempting to steal your child’s identity because they’ve been turned down for benefits or credit.
The FTC also recommends checking your children’s credit reports before they turn 16 so there’s time to address issues before starting the college search process and applying for jobs. You can request a free credit report annually for both yourself and your family members through annualcreditreport.com. Through this service, you can obtain free credit reports from the three credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. (There is a charge if you want to check it more than annually.)
You may find that there is no report on file for your child. Sileo recommends not doing anything until there’s actually a report, then freezing it. However, freezing your child’s credit report can be time-consuming and comes with its own challenges. It often requires you sharing the information you’re trying to keep private, like copies of birth certificates and Social Security numbers.
Many parents and advocates would like an easier process for freezing a child’s credit report. A number of states have passed legislation requiring credit bureaus to work with parents to freeze their children’s credit files. On the federal level, Rhode Island Congressman Jim Langevin has introduced legislation to allow parents and guardians to create a protected, frozen credit file for their children.
“We’re in a surveillance culture. What happens with our data could have a lasting impact,” says Stickland. “I think it should be a consumer right that your credit should be protected by default.”

Warning signs that your child’s credit may be compromised

  • Rejection for government benefits
  • IRS notices about taxes in your child’s name
  • Collection calls or bills for products or services you didn’t buy
  • Claims for medical treatment that they didn’t receive
  • Multiple credit card offers

For more information

No Son of Mine…

Before I broadly bash modern-day childrearing, allow me to point a finger squarely at the mirror. I do not want my son to follow in my flawed footsteps.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!

My wife and I, both 36, are expecting our first child, a boy, this coming April. Our emotions are a mix of joy and fear, enthusiasm and pause, hope and anxiety. We are simultaneously awaiting the greatest gift of our lives and bracing for a sleep-depriving time bomb to explode. We’ve been told, repeatedly and at length, that this is perfectly normal.

The logistical preparation is worry-free: The baby’s room has been determined, most of the furniture selected, and our soon-to-be son’s three living grandparents reside within babysitting distance. Check, check, and check.

That leaves the longer-term question of how to go about actually raising this kid. And with less than four months to go, I – uber-opinionated me, who often writes op-eds that read more like papal encyclicals – am completely void of any ideas toward a comprehensive parenting strategy.

I don’t even know where to start. Besides seeming overwhelming in general, the process of combining broad, proven parenting practices with subjective, far more personalized principles has no defined, logical point of commencement.

Rather, I find myself in a pre-planning phase – certainly remedial, hopefully helpful – with which, I hope, other formerly expecting parents can sympathize. Specifically, I have strong feelings about what type of parent I don’t want to be.

Before I broadly bash the hellscape of shoddy modern-day childrearing, allow me to point a finger squarely at the mirror. I do not want my son to follow in my flawed footsteps. Motherless since age three, I was raised by a father from a broken, alcoholic home, one who struggled mightily at parenting for lack of example. I grew up angry, afraid, and alone. The result was a 20-something man-child with untreated depression, anxiety disorder, and, eventually, alcoholism.

As it stands, my four years of sobriety does not a role model make. In terms of sound parenting practices, the only valuable takeaway is a solemn determination that no son of mine will replay the mistreated, misguided, and altogether miserable childhoods of his father and grandfather before him.

That leaves me looking out into the world around me for input, and I can’t say I’m in love with what I’m seeing.

Me Me Me first

The most obvious and immediate subject matter is Generation Y. Though it seems like tiresome target practice to pile on the already much-maligned Millennials, the set of young adults a decade or so my junior is, quite simply, the latest and therefore freshest crop of humanoids available to fully showcase parental handiwork. I can’t judge the parents of a ten-year-old because… well… the kid’s 10 for God’s sake.

To retread all traits good and bad associated with Gen Y is unfair in its generalization, and unhelpful in its inconclusive verdict. I’ve alternately liked and disliked Millennials displaying a range of opposing tendencies: some lazy, others diligent; some cookie-cutter, others creative; some wise beyond their years, others 25-year-old children with checkbooks.

But far above all others, one trait is shared by the vast majority of Millennials I’ve known: self-absorption. And though self-absorption is certainly nothing new to our American way of life – Baby Boomers, after all, were given the moniker “The Me Generation” in the 1960s – there’s a reason that, two years ago, Time magazine titled its Gen Y cover story “The Me Me Me Generation.”

When such a trait is so overwhelmingly found among young adults, it is almost certainly the result of broad, sign-of-the-times parenting. This is nurture, not nature.

Millennials are the result of an extreme, low-altitude form of helicopter parenting buttressed with perpetual, dubiously warranted praise. They are the participation trophy generation – an undeservedly confident set that, far too often, never learned what their special talents were because, they were told, they were so damn good at everything.

Self-esteem – liking oneself, flaws and all – is healthy; self-assuredness – pompous confidence in one’s own supremacy despite clear signs to the contrary – is not, because that mindset doesn’t foster a hunger for knowledge and personal growth that, for example, any 22-year-old recent college graduate should exude. No son of mine is going to enter the real world thinking he knows everything, or that he’s special to anyone except his family, because making him think otherwise would set him up for a series of avoidable rude awakenings.

All-consumering

Especially in their adolescent years, Millennials also were shaped by the Internet, social media, and on-demand entertainment, each perpetually available through requisite gadgetry like smartphones and iPads. As technology gets increasingly and exponentially sophisticated, those growing up behind Gen Y – my son’s generation – will experience ubiquitous, potentially inescapable connectivity in ways we’re only beginning to see take shape. It already seems too inundating – too noisy, too disruptive, too constant – and it’s only going to get more saturating.

Some of the parental pitfalls associated with this cyber-omnipotence are already common knowledge. Bullying is no longer limited to playgrounds, while violent and pornographic content is far too accessible to impressionable youths.

What worries me just as much is the expansion of consumerism – or, rather, its expanded meaning. Today’s consumerism isn’t just a frenzied collection of extraneous, superfluous items, but also a frenzied collection of extraneous, superfluous experiences. Smartphones, iPads, social media, and 500 channels of mostly mindless television combine to form a fool’s paradise where no one ever has to be bored for a single second.

We’ve all seen stories about the best ideas coming in the shower. Undoubtedly, an important factor is that the shower is one of the few remaining times we’re actually disconnected for 10 consecutive minutes… at least until someone, inevitably, invents an iShower.

This isn’t only eating away at attention spans, but fueling the unattractive notion that we somehow deserve to be entertained 24/7 – that the world should cater to us, at our beck and call. No son of mine is going to feel so entitled that he can’t stomach sitting silent for five minutes. Patience is a virtue I wish I possessed in far more plentiful reserve.

True or false?

Adding to my concern about the ever-present media is its ever-declining content.

Any reasonably-responsible parent can warn their kids that, for example, what they read on the Internet isn’t necessarily true. It’s easy to communicate that the World Wide Web has opened the door for anyone to become a blogger, and that some people online, just like some people in real life, simply don’t know what they’re talking about.

Today’s media landscape requires far more than such a standard disclaimer. We live in a bitterly partisan society divided not only by differing opinions but, to an extent unprecedented in modern times, by facts and morality. Settled science like climate change and evolution is somehow disputed. Bigotry and racism are not only tolerated but encouraged.

The media is fully complicit. Under the guise of telling “both sides” of any given story, news outlets give weight – sometimes inadvertently, but often purposefully – to things that simply aren’t true. The result is a free-for-all where even reasonably intelligent adults are either hoodwinked or, equally dangerous, disgusted to the point where they completely disengage, abandoning responsibilities of informed citizenry such as voting, protesting, and supporting worthy causes.

This essay has no clean conclusion; that was never the point. Hopefully, it at least provides a few counterpoints – some bad examples and unhealthy trends for me to be mindful of as my baby becomes a boy, my boy a young man. For now, “I’ll do my best” is the best I can offer.

No son of mine will have a father who doesn’t, at least, try.

This was originally published January 2016 in The Good Men Project.

13 Crafts for Little Artists That Aren’t a Pain to Clean Up

If you’re the one picking up from the latest art explosion, here are 13 crafts that will make your job easier and allow your little artist to be creative.

I think there’s still glitter on my floor. From five years ago. Arts and crafts have a way of sticking around, and while I want to encourage creativity in my kids, I hate cleaning up the aftermath.
Yes, we can make them clean up. I know. But seriously. Do they ever really clean it all up? If you’re going to be the one picking up from the latest craft session, here are 13 crafts that will make your job easier and allow your little artist to be creative.

1 | Melissa & Doug Deluxe Combo Scratch Art Set



I love this. Still. And kids are drawn to it. Scratch through the black surface to reveal amazing colors. Reveal as much or as little as you want. This favorite comes with 16 boards, two stylus tools, and three frames. Kids love the rainbow and metallic backgrounds.

2 | Boogie Board Jot LCD eWriter


A small notebook sized LCD drawing panel, the Boogie Board Jot is perfect for drawing anywhere, even in the car. No mess and endless possibility. Kids love the erase button and the ability to start fresh. Great for keeping in your purse for kids to play with on the go.

3 | Made By Me Build and Paint Your Own Wooden Cars

 

This one does involve paint, but it’s all pretty self-contained. Spread a piece of newspaper and grab a cup of water. Kids put together small wooden cars and then decorate using the stickers and paints provided. This one is great for keeping boys busy and giving them a chance to create.

4 | Fashion Angels Portfolios & American Girl Doll Fashion Design Portfolio Set

 

Kids design outfits and unique looks on the doll like outlines provided. Tons of great activity books with stencils for those who love to create fun fashion looks. Makeup, fashion and even home decorating books give kids great ways to draw and imagine as they get older.

5 | Melissa & Doug Paint with Water

 

Sometimes the little ones just want to paint. A great compromise that just involves water. Watch images and colors appear magically as your little artists swipes a wet brush across a page.

6 | Alex Toys Craft Color a House Children’s Kit

 

Cardboard box play taken to the next level, kids can easily construct a house and then decorate it with crayons. Toddlers love this and it keeps them busy for hours.

7 | Crayola Color Wonder Magic Light Brush & Drawing Pad

 

Half the fun of this amazing toy is the magic! Kids use the special brush to paint on their paper. It lights up with each color they pick and they create a masterpiece. Plus, it doesn’t leave marks on hands, the table or clothes.

8 | Rainbow Wikki Stix


These bendy, twisty sticks quickly become a favorite of kids and adults. You can link them together, twist and create without making a mess to clean up. Another great toy for the traveling creative.

9 | Sidewalk Chalk

 

Let nature take care of the cleanup! Kids love the ability to leave their mark and draw outdoors. A bucket of sidewalk chalk fits the bill, and all you have to do is wash hands when it’s done.

10 | Creative Hands Foam Kit Beads 2 Lace

 

Fun and great for fine motor development, Beads 2 Lace give kids the chance to string chunky foam beads in different shapes and colors to create one of a kind masterpieces. While there are a lot of pieces, this one is easy to clean up. You can even make a game out of tossing the foam pieces in the bucket when you’re done.

11 | Alex Toys Little Hands Mosaics

 

Using the color coded stickers kids place them on the template and create a beautiful picture. These are great for hanging up when they’re complete. Also offers fantastic color and shape matching and fine motor development.

12 | Crayola Model Magic


Softer and airier than the traditional play-doh, Model Magic is a great way to let kids mold and shape with less mess. It also air dries solid, giving little artists the chance to create forever masterpieces.

13 | Crayola Bathtub Finger paint and Crayons


When you can’t avoid the mess, at least make it in the easiest place to clean up. Finger paints and crayons specifically designed for the tub, give kids the chance to make a mess. And cleaning up when they’re done is contained and fun.
What mess free crafts do your kids love?
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Turns Out, Screen Time Does Influence IRL Learning

A recent study suggests media activities can provide kids with valuable learning, teaching problem-solving strategies that have real-world implications.

Ask my son what happens when you watch too much TV and he’ll be straight with you: “Your brain turns into mush.”
You can thank me for that one.
Back when he was still in my belly, I read the parenting book, “Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina”, and drilled the following phrase into my brain: “Face-time, not screen-time” (and I don’t mean FaceTime).
Medina explains that babies and toddlers need face-to-face interaction in order to form healthy social, emotional, and cognitive skills. This made total sense to me, so I resolved to wait as long as possible before exposing my son to TV or letting him get his hands on a tablet.
After waiting the recommended two years – okay, fine, it was 18 months – I began allowing him to view a little bit of TV at a time, just so I could get something – anything – done. As he grew older, that amount increased and the type of screen-time expanded, but so did my guilt and concern over it.
“Face-time, not screen-time,” a little voice whispers in my ear each time my son reaches for the remote or gleefully plays the Nick Jr. app on my husband’s iPad (reserved for extra stressful situations). But, another voice tells me to let it go, because I really have to nurse his baby brother or cook dinner or get us through airport security (read: extra stressful situation). And besides, he’s four now, so more than a little screen time won’t hurt…right?
Some recent research has found that, around age five, certain media activities may even help children learn. But can the skills they learn from a screen be useful in real life? In 2016, Joanne Tarasuik, a researcher at the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, set out to answer that question with a study that looked at how Australian children between the ages of four and six solved the same puzzle using a touchscreen tablet version and a tangible, wooden version.
She and her team found that children could indeed transfer skills they learned from working on the virtual puzzle to solving the physical one, demonstrating that screen-based skills were translatable to the real world – although in the age of smartphones and Facebook it can be hard to know what’s real anymore.
Because that finding contradicted most of the research that had come before it, the team decided to replicate their study using a different group of children from a different culture for reliability purposes. In the repeat study, recently published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, Tarasuik and her colleagues teamed up with researchers in Croatia and studied a group of Croatian children using a puzzle called the Tower of Hanoi, made up of wooden pegs and discs.
The children tackled the puzzle using the tablet version and/or the wooden version. Researchers measured the amount of time and number of moves it took for the kids to complete the puzzle. They observed whether practicing on the device enhanced the children’s performance on the wooden version.
According to Science Daily, “The children all needed a similar number of moves to complete the wooden puzzle, regardless of whether they had practiced using the virtual puzzle, the physical puzzle, or a combination of the two. From the first to final attempt at the puzzle, all the children also improved their speed,” thereby replicating their original finding that four- to six-year-old children can take knowledge gained from a screen-based activity and apply it in a new, physical, practial context.
Clearly, not all screen-time is created equal. Researchers hypothesize that passive screen-time, like watching a video demonstration, will lead to different learning outcomes for children than engaging in an interactive app. The results of this study suggest that certain media activities can provide children with valuable learning experiences, teaching them problem-solving strategies that have real-world implications. It also shows how further research on the learning value and real-world applicability of touch-screen technology for children of different ages could be beneficial.
While it’s clear that we need more information on this important topic and I’m not about to let my son ‘go to town’ with the TV or the tablet, I guess I should admit that not every screen will turn his brain to mush.
But those YouTube videos of people opening toys and Easter eggs will.