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Barbara F. Meltz writes the Globe's Child Caring column. She is author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes, Understanding How Your Children See the World," and a frequent speaker to parent groups. Join her chat on the first and third Monday of the month at noon.
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September 5, 2007

Toy recalls and why you need to pay attention

You can't afford not to pay attention to the toy recalls for violations of lead paint standards. By now, you've surely heard that Mattel has issued yet another, its third in a month.

While Mattel tries for damage control, the real issue for parents is, what does this mean for me and my kids? Here's a quick bottom line: Lead poisoning is dangerous and scary and very real.

Perhaps the most comphrensive and comprehensible story I've read on the subject is in the September issue of Good Housekeeping. Consider it a must-read.

Meanwhile, here's an up-to-the-minute listing of toys that have been recalled, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission:

Mattel Various BarbieĀ® Accessory Toys

In cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Mattel Inc., of El Segundo, Calif., is voluntarily recalling about 675,000 Barbie Accessory Toys. Surface paints on the toys contain excessive levels of lead which is prohibited under federal law.

Fisher-Price Bongo Band Toys
In cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Fisher-Price Inc., of East Aurora, N.Y., is voluntarily recalling about 8,900 Big Big World 6-in-1 Bongo Band toys. Surface paints on the toys contain excessive levels of lead, which violates the federal law prohibiting lead paint on children's toys.

Fisher-Price Geo Trax Locomotive Toys
In cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Fisher-Price Inc., of East Aurora, N.Y., is voluntarily recalling about 90,000 Geo Trax Locomotive Toys. Surface paints on the toys contain excessive levels of lead.

Additional Reports of Magnets Detaching from Polly Pocket Play Sets Prompts Expanded Recall by Mattel
In cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Mattel Inc., of El Segundo, Calif., is voluntarily recalling about 7.3 million various Polly Pocket dolls and accessories with magnets. Small magnets inside the dolls and accessories can come loose. The magnets can be found by young children and swallowed or aspirated. If more than one magnet is swallowed, the magnets can attract each other and cause intestinal perforation or blockage, which can be fatal.

Posted by Barbara Meltz at 01:29 PM
September 5, 2007

Grandmas and grandpas on the web


Facebook for grandparents! Well, not really, but almost. is a new entry on the web but, really, wasn't it just a matter of time before some smart boomer grabbed onto the grandparent market? This site is quite good, with interesting commentary, e-tools to create your own blog or post your grandchildren's photos, and suggestions for activities to do with your grandchildren in 25 cities around the US. Click here to see the Boston page.

Posted by Barbara Meltz at 11:54 AM
September 5, 2007

Your thoughts on executive function

My story yesterday on excutive function difficulties for children generated some thoughtful response from readers. Here's a sampling. (Some of them were long; the elipses are mine, where I've omitted some material in the interest of shortening.)

From Christine C. Cruikshank, of Montreal,
"It was with joy that I read your article this morning....I had found this article refreshing since it dealt with an aspect of children so often overlooked by many of the contemporary teaching establishment. One hopes that it will prove to be a large eye opener for those who struggle to reach children with learning disabilities and disorders. I have worked as a Learning Disability Consultant using proven educational therapy techniques, (I'm a Certified Educational Therapist) both within schools, private and public and in my own private practice. I have often run into the difficulty of explaining, to teachers, administrators and, occasionally parents, that children are all unique, learn differently from one another and may have some difficulties understanding what is being asked but in no way should this discourage the child from learning nor should it prevent us from helping the child to succeed. Your in-depth research and identification of the issues surrounding "Executive Function" is well stated and deserves commendation. The whole subject of "learning outside the box" which is a fact of life for about one in eight school aged boys and one in twenty girls needs to be addressed much more thoroughly."

Steve Morin of New Hampshire writes:
" question to you is coming simply from a parent of two small boys, who have not gotten old enough to start grade school (my oldest son began kindergarten today).

"When interviewing the experts in your research for the article, was video games ever mentioned? I guess I am asking how this working memory is being effected in the developmental stages. You outline the different stresses of more advanced teaching to younger students, but do you think any of the experts think that possibly video games and television, and our "fast food" society might be effecting the way our children break down tasks ahead of them? Most video games are built around levels, with small tasks... kids attack each level therefore they never see the entire "point" or goal of the game. For example, I will take one of the oldies. Super Mario. Goal of the game is to save the princess, right? But you have to go through 24 levels or something to even get to a point where you are actually saving the princess. So if children are breaking down problems in video games in small doses, but our educational system is starting to assign "project" based assignments at younger ages wouldn't the two somehow effect each other? Maybe I am overthinking things, but even our sports and games that children see and play are always broken down into smaller components, it is only when we get older that we start to be able to think in a "bigger picture" sense. And even then, how much of society wants instant, "make your decision now", live-in-the-moment philosophy, that our children are exposed to from the news, television programming, etc. "

From the mom of a 15-year-old:
"Thank you for your wonderful article. It seemed to set just the right tone. It will also help my daughter to validate her issues when she reads them. She is 15 and has managed to hide her "issues" until last year. Or as they say, she "covers" well. But she was finally diagnosed by Children's with ADHD and strong executive functioning problems/very weak short term memory. It doesn't help that she is in one of the most insanely riven high schools in the state (how about an article on how we're killing our adolescents in our top high schools where they can no longer experience normal high school years anymore but are immediately jump started by high schools striving to out-perform each other and throw these poor kids into the college experience with college-level work starting in ninth grade!? .... Who wants them to go through college prematurely in high school anyway?) ....Anyway, my question to you is about neurofeedback. Many -- from her pediatrician to her therapist and others -- all favor her trying this...They seem to think it will help her to develop these skills, the very ones you talk about as being stymied at an early age when they are presented with organizational challenges prematurely. Did you run into anyone offering an opinion on whether they thought this might help this problem at all?"

I told this reader I hadn't come across neurfeedback in this context. Have any of you?

Posted by Barbara Meltz at 10:29 AM
September 4, 2007

Pain in the back(pack)


When my son was in 7th grade (not all that many years ago, and, no, that's not him in the photo), we weighed his backpack. It was 40 pounds. No one in my family wanted me to register my, er, concern. Real boys just suck it up.

Luckily, there's more awareness today of the dangers of a heavy backpack. Turns out, a backpack should not weigh more than 15 percent of a child's weight. That means a 100-pound child shouldn't carry more than a 15-pound backpack. According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, more than 40 million US students carry backpacks and 60 percent of 9- to 20-year-olds report chronic back pain related to backpacks.

There's even a National School Backpack Awareness Day, Sept. 19. That may be carrying things a bit too far (forgive me, I couldn't resist), but there are some tips worth considering on the AOTA website for how to choose, load and wear a backpack. I recommend it.

Posted by Barbara Meltz at 04:02 PM
September 4, 2007

Executive function

Does your child have executive function difficulties? In my chat earlier today and in emails, I'm hearing from a number of parents in response to my story ("The New Term, With a fresh grasp on -- and label for -- an academic block, some slow achievers are eager to return to school.") Many of the parents are asking, "If I think this is my child, what's the first step?" If you've got a story to share, especially about resources or suggestions for other parents, please email me, I'll post some answers tomorrow.

Posted by Barbara Meltz at 12:14 PM
September 4, 2007

Empty nest, year 2

Yep, I've been on vacation. Among other things, my husband and I helped set our college son up in his fraternity room. This is his first year in the frat, his sophomore year in college. Without revealing any embarassing details, let me just say that the room was dirty. Like, rip-up-the- carpet, paint-the-walls dirty.

So he's there (sigh), he loves his new room (it's a single: red walls, shag carpet), and I enjoy walking into his old room (no clothes on the floor!) and just sitting on his bed. Our house is quieter, but we're getting used to it. I especially don't miss waking up at 2 am to go to the bathroom and realizing that he -- gulp -- isn't home yet.

PS. I did not cry. (See earlier post.)

Posted by Barbara Meltz at 11:52 AM
September 4, 2007

Girls fighting

Scary is probably the best word to describe this story, "Vicious attacks by girl cliques seen increasing," in today's metro section. For many readers, though, it may be easy to dismiss. The story is about teen girls in Boston. As in, not the suburbs. As in, not my daughter.

I have a different perspective to offer. Fighting among girls is on the rise all over the place, and it's starting at very young ages, like in kindergarten. I first reported about this three years ago in this column, "Shocking but true: Even 6-year-old girls can be bulllies," .

In a phone conversation this morning, researcher/psychologist Sharon Lamb of St. Michael's College in Vermont says the problem has a lot to do with what we glamorize in our culture. "From an early age, in story books and cartoons, there's always a mean girl. The point is for the audience to identify with the lead girl, who is the victim. But as more mean girls surface in the culture -- and I think there are more of them -- there are more examples of meaness for girls to emulate."

Her point is interesting. We want to prepare our girls for those times when they aren't the most popular girl in the class, or the best soccer player, or the smartest. We want to give them tools for dealing with feeling left out or less than. But at the same time, we're also providing role models for mean behavior. "I guarantee within five minutes of any movie, a mean girl gets introducted. I know it happened in 'The Bratz Movie' and in 'Ella Enchanted,' " says Lamb. "I haven't seen 'Nancy Drew' yet." Lamb, by the way, is co-author of "Packaging Girlhood," which has a chapter on this subject, "See no evil? What girls watch."

"The mean girl," she continues, "is the device that is used to make the lead girl look good by being 'nice' and to be 'nice' you have to show what mean is."

What's more, the nice girls tend not to have bad feelings, like jealousy or anger or rage. So when our real girls have those real not-nice feelings, where can they turn to for role models? To the mean girls, of course.

This is just entertainment? Think again. Children learn from everything.

Can we really blame teenage violence by girls on media? Not entirely, no. Lamb says that anecdotally she's sure there is more violence by girls in the media than ever before, a natural progression of the movement that began in the '90's to equalize women in the media. My contention is that it is certainly making volence and mean behavior more acceptable -- more normal -- for girls, starting at a young age.

Is it far fetched to think that what's happening on the streets of Boston may be one of the results? I don't think so. Do you? What do your daughters watch? Have you seen some of the mean behaviors in cartoons like Rug Rats and Angelica? Do you talk to your kids -- girls and boys -- about them? Have you seen examples of young girls behaving meanly that surprised you?

Posted by Barbara Meltz at 11:03 AM
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