Get Smart About Antibiotics!

20110106000758_0You may have read recent media reports about the dramatic rise in Superbugs — dangerous bacteria that are resistant to multiple antibiotics intended to treat them. To help you understand the facts about antibiotic resistance, we are reprinting this Q&A from the Centers for Disease Control, followed by a link to a fun quiz to test your knowledge. This is important stuff, Mamas! 

Q: What are bacteria and viruses?

A: Bacteria are single-celled organisms usually found all over the inside and outside of our bodies, except in the blood and spinal fluid. Many bacteria are not harmful. In fact, some are actually beneficial. However, disease-causing bacteria trigger illnesses, such as strep throat and some ear infections. Viruses are even smaller than bacteria. A virus cannot survive outside the body’s cells. It causes illnesses by invading healthy cells and reproducing.

Q: What kinds of infections are caused by viruses and should not be treated with antibiotics?

A: Viral infections that should not be treated with antibiotics include:

  • Colds
  • Flu
  • Most coughs and bronchitis
  • Sore throats (except for those resulting from strep throat)
  • Some ear infections

Q: What is an antibiotic?

A: Antibiotics, also known as antimicrobial drugs, are drugs that fight infections caused by bacteria. After the first use of antibiotics in the 1940s, they transformed medical care and dramatically reduced illness and death from infectious diseases.

Although antibiotics have many beneficial effects, their overuse has contributed to the problem of antibiotic resistance.

Q: What is antibiotic resistance?

A: Antibiotic resistance is the ability of bacteria to resist the effects of an antibiotic. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in some way that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of drugs, chemicals, or other agents designed to cure or prevent infections. The bacteria survive and continue to multiply causing more harm.

Q: Why should I be concerned about antibiotic resistance?

A: Antibiotic resistance has been called one of the world’s most pressing public health problems. Almost every type of bacteria has become stronger and less responsive to antibiotic treatment when it is really needed. These antibiotic-resistant bacteria can quickly spread to family members, schoolmates, and co-workers – threatening the community with a new strain of infectious disease that is more difficult to cure and more expensive to treat. For this reason, antibiotic resistance is among CDC’s top concerns.

Antibiotic resistance can cause significant danger and suffering for children and adults who have common infections, once easily treatable with antibiotics. Microbes can develop resistance to specific medicines. A common misconception is that a person’s body becomes resistant to specific drugs. However, it is microbes, not people, that become resistant to the drugs.

If a microbe is resistant to many drugs, treating the infections it causes can become difficult or even impossible. Someone with an infection that is resistant to a certain medicine can pass that resistant infection to another person. In this way, a hard-to-treat illness can be spread from person to person. In some cases, the illness can lead to serious disability or even death.

Q: Why are bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics?

A: Antibiotic use promotes development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Every time a person takes antibiotics, sensitive bacteria are killed, but resistant germs may be left to grow and multiply. Repeated and improper uses of antibiotics are primary causes of the increase in drug-resistant bacteria.

While antibiotics should be used to treat bacterial infections, they are not effective against viral infections like the common cold, most sore throats, and the flu. Widespread use of antibiotics promotes the spread of antibiotic resistance. Smart use of antibiotics is the key to controlling the spread of resistance.

Antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses.

Q: How do bacteria become resistant to antibiotics?

A: Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in some way that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of drugs, chemicals, or other agents designed to cure or prevent infections. The bacteria survive and continue to multiply causing more harm. Bacteria can do this through several mechanisms. Some bacteria develop the ability to neutralize the antibiotic before it can do harm, others can rapidly pump the antibiotic out, and still others can change the antibiotic attack site so it cannot affect the function of the bacteria.

Antibiotics kill or inhibit the growth of susceptible bacteria. Sometimes one of the bacteria survives because it has the ability to neutralize or escape the effect of the antibiotic; that one bacterium can then multiply and replace all the bacteria that were killed off. Exposure to antibiotics therefore provides selective pressure, which makes the surviving bacteria more likely to be resistant. In addition, bacteria that were at one time susceptible to an antibiotic can acquire resistance through mutation of their genetic material or by acquiring pieces of DNA that code for the resistance properties from other bacteria. The DNA that codes for resistance can be grouped in a single easily transferable package. This means that bacteria can become resistant to many antimicrobial agents because of the transfer of one piece of DNA. Over time, the use of antimicrobial drugs will result in the development of resistant strains of bacteria, complicating clinicians’ efforts to select the appropriate antimicrobial for treatment.

Q: How can I prevent antibiotic-resistant infections?

Only use antibiotics when they are likely to be beneficial.

A: You are taking the first step to reducing your risk of getting antibiotic-resistant infections. It is important to understand that, although they are very useful drugs, antibiotics designed for bacterial infections are not useful for viral infections such as a cold, cough, or the flu. Some useful tips to remember are:

  1. Talk with your healthcare provider about antibiotic resistance:
    • Ask whether an antibiotic is likely to be beneficial for your illness.
    • Ask what else you can do to feel better sooner.
  2. Do not take an antibiotic for a viral infection like a cold or the flu.
  3. Do not save some of your antibiotic for the next time you get sick. Discard any leftover medication once you have completed your prescribed course of treatment.
  4. Take an antibiotic exactly as the healthcare provider tells you. Do not skip doses. Complete the prescribed course of treatment even if you are feeling better. If treatment stops too soon, some bacteria may survive and re-infect.
  5. Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. The antibiotic may not be appropriate for your illness. Taking the wrong medicine may delay correct treatment and allow bacteria to multiply.
  6. If your healthcare provider determines that you do not have a bacterial infection, ask about ways to help relieve your symptoms. Do not pressure your provider to prescribe an antibiotic.

Q: How can healthcare providers help prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance?

A: Prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance by

  • Only prescribe antibiotic therapy when likely to be beneficial.
  • Use an agent targeting the likely pathogens.
  • Use the antibiotic for the appropriate dose and duration.

Q: Are antibacterial-containing products (soaps, household cleaners, etc.) better for preventing the spread of infection? Does their use add to the problem of resistance?

A: An essential part of preventing the spread of infection in the community and at home is proper hygiene. This includes hand-washing and cleaning shared items and surfaces. Antibacterial-containing products have not been proven to prevent the spread of infection better than products that do not contain antibacterial chemicals. Although a link between antibacterial chemicals used in personal cleaning products and bacterial resistance has been shown in vitro studies (in a controlled environment), no human health consequence has been demonstrated. More studies examining resistance issues related to these products are needed.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee voted unanimously on October 20, 2005 that there was a lack of evidence supporting the benefit of consumer products including handwashes, bodywashes, etc., containing antibacterial additives over similar products not containing antibacterial additives.

Q: Can antibiotic resistance develop from acne medication?

A: Antibiotic use, appropriate or otherwise, contributes to the development of antibiotic resistance. This is true for acne medications that contain antibiotics. Short and long-term use of antibiotics for treatment or prevention of bacterial infections should be under the direction of a physician to ensure appropriate use and detection of resistance.

Q: Do probiotics have a role in preventing or treating drug resistance or drug-resistant infections?

A: Probiotics are defined as microorganisms that when administered in sufficient quantities may improve health. There are a variety of probiotics that have been studied for various health benefits. Their role in preventing drug-resistant infections in humans has not been established. CDC is currently monitoring research on probiotic use, but cannot make any recommendations at this time.

Now that you’ve gotten the facts, take this Antibiotics Quiz on the CDC website to test your knowledge.

Be part of the solution.

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Take ‘Em to BOOK Camp!

The other night, Husband and I popped in to to our local pizza and salad spot for dinner. You know, the one with those gourmet, individually-sized, overpriced servings? As we approached the front station to be seated by an enthusiastic teen who appeared to be no older than 12, we passed a large crowded booth where two adorable toddlers,estimated age: 3, were silently engrossed in individual iPhone games. Two toddlers. Two virtual games. Two obscenely expensive tech gadgets.

Several adults surrounding them were engaged in cheerful conversation, undoubtedly pleased to be having a relaxed dinner out while their kids were entertained on cyberdrugs. I don’t blame them one bit.

Our early family years (pre-iphone, pre-gameboy) hold memories of rare restaurant meals spent rushing through our order before the inevitable meltdown began. If the timing was off we’d be stuck having the food boxed up to be eaten at home.

Fast forward a few years past those early days.

One summer we were on vacation with our kids at an island getaway we’d been to before. We stopped at a favorite lunch spot, and were seated near another family of five whose kids looked to be about the same age as ours. Our three were pretty restaurant-civilized by that time, and could make it through most any meal without getting crazy rowdy. But we noticed something remarkable about this other family.

Between bursts of conversation, all three kiddos picked up books they carried with them. For pleasure. Without coercion. A few pages in, one of them would look up and make a comment about something he’d read, or the amazing blue of the ocean or whatever, and a discussion would ensue. Then they all went back to their books. It was a sight to behold. Husband and I were green with envy.

Stay with me here, I’m going somewhere with this.

An article in Newsweek Magazine titled Texting Makes U Stupid, by Niall Ferguson caught my attention recently. In it, he bemoans the reading habits (more accurately, the absence of habits) of today’s teens. And I quote …

Half of today’s teenagers don’t read books—except when they’re made to. According to the most recent survey by the National Endowment for the Arts, the proportion of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 who read a book not required at school or at work is now 50.7 percent, the lowest for any adult age group younger than 75, and down from 59 percent 20 years ago. 

Ferguson’s conclusion, and I share it, is that kids who don’t read books are cut off from their history, and from the history of the rest of the world. Electronic media can’t connect you to the past the way the written word does, and, as we know, past is prologue.

Sure, you can read about history and past civilizations on Wikipedia and zillions of other internet resources (including this one!) designed to feed information, but you miss the depth and flavor of the time those words were written that only a book can give.

Texting does, indeed, make u stupid.

But wait! All is not lost! Ferguson offers an idea for remediation that I love. It goes something like this:

The next time you plan a family trip, tell your kids you’re taking them on an expensive vacation. Now you’ve got them hooked. Get in the car and drive to a remote location with dismal connectivity. You’d be surprised how easy it is to find small towns that fit the bill. I live in a major city in southern California, but I can get out of cell and wireless range in under an hour.

Settle in to your cozy vacation home with dozens of actual books you’ve hidden in the trunk of the car. The real kind, made with paper and binding and glue. You’re at BOOK CAMP! Activities on this adventure include … reading, reading, and more reading. Maybe punctuated with a few hikes in the woods or occasional swims in a nearby lake. No electronics of any kind.

Spend a week or two and I guarantee your kids will emerge with a new appreciation of the places a great book can take them. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll keep it up afterwards. Maybe they’ll be sparked to start a book club at their school or with their friends. You never know.

Thanks for the revolutionary idea, Mr. Ferguson. The parents of those toddlers I ran into last night may appreciate your wisdom in a few years.

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The Glass is (at least) Half Full

While Mamas always try to focus on the positives of raising healthy, happy kiddos, sometimes the events of the day force us to explore disturbing topics and offer teachable moments on trends that — frankly — scare the bejeezus out of us.

So it’s with great pleasure and some relief that we bring you a post that’s chock full of good news.

  • The skinny on toddlers. The CDC reports a 43 percent drop in obesity rates among children ages 2-5 in just the last 10 years. Consumption of sugar-filled soft drinks went down, while breastfeeding rates went up, which may provide part of the explanation. We can’t celebrate just yet, since the decreases didn’t hold for other age groups, so keep serving loads of fresh fruits and veggies and ditch the sugary drinks.
  • Boost for vaccines. Several states across the nation (Colorado, Oregon, Washington, California) are tightening rules requiring children to be vaccinated before enrolling in school. New guidelines require parents to receive counseling and education from a healthcare provider before opting out for non-medical reasons. The issue comes with its share of controversy, but recent deadly outbreaks of measles and whooping cough point to the urgent need for sensible reform.
  • You booze, you lose. A recent study from the Boston University School of Public Health finds that since the age 21 drinking law has been in effect throughout the US (1988), youths have been consuming less alcohol and are less likely to be involved in alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents.  Researchers found that in high school seniors, binge drinking fell from 35% in 1988 to 22% in 2011. Good start — a ways to go.
  • Yes, you DO matter.  New study from Cornell University finds that parents who play with their children, talk about nutrition, or just spend time with them are more likely to have children who grow up to be slim adults. The bottom line for parents: Spend a lot of time with your kids – it almost doesn’t matter what activity you do with them – just stay in their young lives.
  • Power lines DON’T cause cancer. Really. It’s hard to get this urban legend out of your head, but researchers at the University of Oxford in the UK have determined, once and for all, that children who spend their early years living near overhead power lines are not at greater risk of developing childhood leukemia. We all have plenty to worry about. It’s time to let this one go.
  • Smothering hate saves lives. Schools with explicit anti-homophobia programs, such as gay-straight alliances (GSAs), reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students, according to a new study by University of British Columbia researchers. We know that LGBT students are at higher risk because they are more often targeted for bullying and discrimination, but heterosexual students suffer too. Knowledge is power. Pass it on. 

Happy Monday, Mamas!

 

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The Super Agent Parent – Could YOU Be at Risk?

Over the last few years there’s been a lot written about the overly close parenting style that’s become increasingly common. You probably know the type – the moms and dads who habitually over manage and overprotect their kids to the point of being ridiculous – and potentially damaging.

One particular strain of this “disease” shows up in the parent who becomes, what I call, a “Super Agent.” There is a dark side to this style and it’s best to make sure you don’t catch it.

The motives of the Super Agent are initially no different from anyone else’s. After all, parents have wanted the best for their children since the beginning of time. Nothing wrong with that. But bad things happen when this normal human desire for their children’s happiness turns into an unquenchable, obsessive urge to create the perfect child — the one who does it all and does it all exceptionally well. And if the child can’t, the parent will.

We’ve all seen it: the dad screaming at the coach on the sidelines of the soccer field, the mother bragging about her daughter’s (parent-assisted) college essay, the surprising museum level quality of the 4th grader’s diorama. Who can blame them, right? Who doesn’t want their child to be everything he or she can be—the straight-A student, the captain of the football team, the first one invited to the prom? But, when the parent’s role changes from loving supporter to crazed super agent, it gets ugly and damage is done.

Just ask Corey Gahan, the one-time world-class rollerblader whose dad started shooting him up with steroids and human growth hormone when he was only 12. Although Corey was one of the best skaters in the world his father wanted more. So Jim Gahan moved his son from Michigan to Florida to train year-round with a famous coach and had Corey home-schooled so that practice time would not compete with school hours. Eventually, Corey became quite ill and blood tests revealed that he had 20 times the normal testosterone levels of a grown man in his system. His dad had been shooting him up for years in order to make him “more competitive.” Corey was banned from competing in his sport for two years after testing positive for illegal drugs. And his dad was convicted of providing steroids to his son and sent to prison.

Super Agent Parents work hard to give their child the edge from the start. At birth their children’s names are placed on the waiting lists of the best pre-schools in town. Baby Einstein tapes and other forms of “edutainment” follow soon after and from there on out the child is thrown into a dizzying array of activities like gymnastics, piano, soccer, flute, T-Ball and Japanese. Although one or two of these can be fun for a child, when the schedule is packed with five or six every week, the child suffers. Pediatricians and pre-school teachers alike are full of tales of exhausted, over-scheduled children who don’t know how to deal with unstructured play time and who are not developing the abilities to wonder and imagine.

As their kids approach elementary school and beyond, Super Agent Parents focus intensely on their child’s popularity or success in the classroom, on the stage, or on the field. And when their child does not make the team, get the lead role, ace the test or get invited to the party, the parents take it personally. They angrily confront the teacher about the grade or complain to other parents about the missing invitation or retaliate by having another party and excluding the kid who snubbed their child.

A few years ago, a story in the Baltimore Sun reported that teachers are leaving the field in droves because of parents who threaten and bully them over their children’s grades. Parental harassment got so bad in one school district that they were forced to implement a “civility policy” aimed at getting these over-demanding, rude parents to back off.

Unfortunately, when parents take over like this children do not learn how to deal with the consequences of not studying hard enough, or how to accept the fact that no one gets to be great at everything, or how to step back and let others shine, or how to deal with hurt feelings and move on from there. They do not get the opportunity to learn how to take responsibility for their actions and may walk away with the notion that mom or dad will always be there to clean up their mess or solve their problem.

The child also gets the loud but unspoken message that no matter how hard they may have tried, in the case of a low grade or small part or a cut from the team, it just wasn’t good enough. For a kid whose identity is still forming that often translates into “he or she” isn’t good enough. The child may begin to believe that in the absence of non-stop stellar grades or soaring popularity that he is sub-standard, disappointing and unworthy of his parent’s love.

For parents, the opportunity to teach their children the importance of trying their best and taking pride in the effort is lost. These experiences, although painful, can help kids learn what it means to be a friend, a neighbor, or a citizen and give parents the perfect chance to talk about perseverance, loyalty, being a “class-act,” the dangers of gossip and cliques, and how to get up and go on when things go wrong.

Since growing up does not happen in a straight line, kids are bound to make lots of wrong turns along the way. Mistakes, bad choices, getting caught and being in trouble are all a normal part of growing up. They are usually relatively harmless if someone is there to catch you and then give you the lecture, the sympathy, or the punishment. But if you never get the chance to make a mistake or step out of line, or if no one takes the time to call you out when you need it, the chances for more serious acting out later in life, when the consequences are far more serious, increase significantly.

The controlling, “step-back-while-I-show-you-how-it’s-done” parental attitude will eventually backfire once the child gets old enough to rebel or refuse. And because more time was spent pushing him to excel rather than on getting to know him, the parent is often at a loss as to how to reach this child once he really starts to push back. Then when the child gets too obnoxious or too insistent, the parent may simply give up and give in.

Many of these kids lose trust in adults and feel they have no one to turn to for advice and support. A recent survey showed that the people children most want to spend time with are their parents. They have a deep need for one-on-one time with their mom or dad. They want to be heard, questioned, listened to, and talked to by their parents and to gain the perspective that comes with age and experience. They need to sound out their ideas, hopes and dreams with someone they trust who loves them unconditionally and is on their side.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of lonely kids out there who rarely have frequent, relaxed, unscheduled time with mom or dad. Success at all costs bears a steep price. While on the one hand we have an enormous number of Ivy League applications going out, we also have a teen suicide rate that has tripled over the past two decades.

We’re at risk of raising a generation of kids who haven’t learned how to really struggle on their own to achieve something of value, how to fight fair, how to win with grace or lose with dignity, how to tolerate rejection or loneliness, how to daydream and imagine, or how to resolve a problem with a friend face to face.

Scary, sad, and not the way to go. Parents beware.

 

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Mother’s Love Changes a Child’s Brain

It’s not like we didn’t know, but it always helps when research provides medical evidence for what we thought all along.

Investigators at Washington University in St. Louis studied brain images of children who participated in a project focused on early onset depression in young children. As part of the project, Dr. Joan Luby and her colleagues measured the maternal support that children — who were ages 3 to 6 and had either symptoms of depression, other psychiatric disorders or no mental health problems — were given during a task.

The researchers placed mother and child in a room along with an attractively wrapped gift and a survey that the mother had to fill out. The children were told they could not open the present until five minutes had passed — basically until their mothers had finished the survey. Psychiatrists rated the amount of support the mothers gave to their children.

For example, a mother who was very supportive might console her child, explaining that the child had only a few more minutes to wait and that she understands the situation was frustrating. The task gave researchers an idea of how much support the child was typically receiving at home.

Four years later the researchers gave MRI brain scans to 92 children who underwent the waiting task. Compared with children with high maternal support, children with low support had smaller hippocampal regions, the part of the brain known to be important for learning, memory and stress responses. Results were consistent for children with symptoms of mental health problems and those without.

Though most of the parents in the study were biological mothers, the researchers say that the effects of nurturing on the brain are likely to be the same for any primary caregiver.

“It’s now clear that a caregiver’s nurturing is not only good for the development of the child, but it actually physically changes the brain,” Luby said. She and her team will continue following the children as they grow older, and plan to see how other brain regions are affected by parental nurturing during preschool years.

Take home message for Mamas looking to maximize smarts: love on ‘em lots and lots. More nurturing = smarter, happier kids!

 

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Baby, What a Big Surprise!

Think you’re well prepared for life with baby? Here are a few facts that may amaze you. You don’t know what you don’t know.

  1. Newborns sleep peacefully and barely make a peep during the first week of life. Then they find their voices and all bets are off.
  2. Even though you knew it would happen, the first time they flip from front to back (about 3 months) and vice-versa, you’ll be blown away.
  3. No matter how hard they cry, infants under 4 months don’t shed tears. Their tear ducts don’t develop until then. Why 4 months? Who knows?
  4. Their ability to grasp appears at about 6 months. Before then, pressure on the palms initiates a reflex splaying of the fingers. This reflex is lost as the grasp shows up.
  5. Sometime after 6 months, baby will start making sounds and noises for effect, to get your attention. He’s learned he can make things happen in the world and loves to interact.
  6. His sense of humor shows up at about 7 months. Silly faces, funny noises and baby jokes will get a true laugh from him, not just tickles and raspberries.
  7. By 9 months he will be easily distracted. His attention will be drawn to a toy for a flash, but a second later he’s moved on to chasing the cat. He’s now much more aware of all the stimuli going on around him.
  8. Baby’s first words appear shortly after 9 months. Usually DaDa, sometimes uh-oh. Rarely, MaMa will be first.
  9. Oops, I forgot! Baby may seem to forget skills he’s already learned. He hasn’t really forgotten though, he’s just putting all his concentration on learning something new.
  10. Your little baby can nurture, too. He’ll try to feed or soothe a doll, you, or a stuffed animal by around one year. This is the beginning of social behavior and empathy — encourage it.
  11. Get ready for the relentless days of “NO”- there will be many of them. Translation: You’re not the boss of me. Baby power is taking shape. It’s normal and to be expected and comes from his need to practice independence. Offer choices whenever possible and just remember, you are smarter than he is!

 

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Does Your Child Have “Affluenza?” Uh Oh.

Although this post was originally published four years ago, it bears another look. Why? Because recently, a 16 year old whose blood alcohol was almost three times over the legal limit, stole his dad’s car and plowed into four people, killing them all. His attorney pleaded that he should not be held accountable for their deaths. And the judge agreed. Why? Because the young man suffers from affluenza. Yep, that happened.

What on earth is affluenza? Is it contagious? Is it serious? Well according to PBS, which produced an hour-long television show about it, affluenza can be defined as: “1. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream.”

Basically, it’s an addiction to materialism — the overwhelming desire for more, more, more.

But what does that have to do with my kid, you might ask? He’s only three-years-old and more concerned with pursuing the household dog than dogmatically pursuing anything else. Career ambitions? Short-term, we’re shooting for total success in the potty training field and long-term, we’re possibly looking at something involving fire engines.

I know, but it actually does have a lot to do with your kid, and every kid, for that matter. It doesn’t just affect adults. Kids are suffering from it, too — in a big way — and yes, it is serious and highly contagious.

Just pair the affluenza idea with a recent study from San Diego State University and you’ll understand what I mean. Incredibly, they found that the number of teens suffering from anxiety and depression today is five times higher than it was during the Great Depression. Did you get that? And according to an article from Connect With Kids, the experts are pointing to affluenza as a major reason why.

That statistic took my breath away and it should get your attention too, because the trends that appear in the teen set today usually stick around for awhile and then eventually hit the pre-school set a few years later. The patterns and expectations you set up with your children now, while they are little, will last for a long time.

When we launched  this website, we promised to warn you about the inevitable potholes that appear when you least expect them, and hopefully save you some trouble. I know you’ve got a lot on your plate, with little ones running around but as a mom and a family therapist, I’m urging you to pay attention, because this is a big one.

So here’s the low-down on this prevalent and frightening virus: what it looks like like, how it gets passed around, and how you can prevent your child from becoming its next victim.

SYMPTOMS:

Many of the kids who were questioned in the study  (regardless of family income), said they needed the latest ipod, iphone, sports car, designer handbag, or $200.00 pair of jeans in order to feel comfortable and “good enough”  about themselves. Several reported buying something they wanted and then lying about its cost to a parent.

They knew they had crossed an important line regarding trust. But with affluenza, one’s sense of self worth gets linked to their possessions. What they own becomes the mark of who they are. Their accomplishments, ideals, families, talents or dreams for the future are not nearly as important as their “things” in determining how they see themselves.

The symptoms present as an obsession with shopping, or constantly comparing what they have with what their friends have. It’s a disease marked by competitiveness and their perception of “personal lack” can result in feelings of shame, anxiety, depression or unworthiness.

This is not, counter to what you might think, an exclusively upper-class disease. Kids from all racial and socioeconomic groups are affected.

CONTAGABILITY:

This one gets passed around very easily and often gets its start at home. Parents beware! Take a step back and look at how you spend money and family resources. Do your purchases tend to be needs or wants? We all like to indulge ourselves once-in-awhile, but a picture is worth a thousand words and guess which one they’re looking at?

They are certainly going to pick up on the behaviors and norms of their buddies in the neighborhood and at school. But that makes it even more important to make sure that at home, you practice what you preach.

TREATMENT:

Affluenza can be successfully treated. The first step is to spot it and call it for what it is. The rest is based on good, old fashioned follow-through. So here’s the plan:

1. Slow down on all the presents. Save them for birthdays and Christmas or Hanukkah. And even then, keep it modest. In a previous article, I mentioned that a large research study had found that 73% (yes, 3 out of 4) of the stuff parents bought their kids were things that the children hadn’t even asked for. The parents bought the stuff simply because they thought their kid might like it. Don’t go there. It can create an addiction and the story of the overindulged child does not end well. The kids in that study grew up deeply resenting their parents, and vowed not to spoil their own children when they became parents.

2. Set limits. If your child does want something, help him figure out how to either wait for it (“Put it on your Christmas list”); save up for it (remember the lay-away plan?); work for it; or forget about it. Remind him that just because he wants something doesn’t mean he gets to have it. And then, stick to your guns.

3. Hold off on giving them their own credit card until they are mature enough to handle it. Many of the kids in the San Diego study had them and spent over their limit on a regular basis. Unless you plan to fund them for the rest of their lives, you had best avoid that trap. That’s not to say they can’t have a credit card when they go to college for books, emergencies etc., but make sure you check it carefully each month and hold them accountable for any unauthorized purchases. And if they abuse it, cancel it.

4. Get them involved in giving back in one way or another. Volunteering in their community or school is a good way to start. This can start very young, with you!

PREVENTION:

There is no vaccine but there is hope. You are their best shot at prevention. And you can make all the difference. How?

1. Family dinnertime. Once again, it comes up as an antidote. Start right away with this habit and keep it going. Make it a priority to eat together at least 4 or 5 times per week. The research is crystal clear in demonstrating the positive effect on behavior, self-esteem, and overall happiness in children.

2. Spend time with your child playing, talking, and goofing around. Institute Family Game Night and “Special Time” and keep it going. The more quality time they spend with you away from the television and computer, the more confident they will feel about themselves.

3. Encourage them to develop their imaginations and become good at something creative that they enjoy. Something, not a hundred things. Maybe it’s music, or art, or fishing, or rock polishing. Just make sure it’s truly something that they like and don’t go overboard with lessons or teachers. Just give them encouragement and opportunity, and help them to develop their hobby or talent over time.

4. Make a pact with your friends to tone down the birthday parties and limit the excess when it comes to bigger and better. Work with your nursery school or P.T.A. to keep it simple when it comes to holiday parties or celebrations at school. And ask any well-meaning but notoriously overindulging grandparents, aunts, uncles or friends not to go overboard on a regular basis.

You can do this. I hope you’ll try. If you need a little more inspiration, keep in mind the wise words of Frank A. Clark: “A child, like your stomach, doesn’t need all you can afford to give it.” Now that’s something to chew on.


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Give, Not Gimme

HandPrints3+Painted+HandsAre you a bit stressed out about the whole holiday-present- buying thing? Short on time and, maybe, short on funds? We sure are, but the good news is that it’s easy to make the holidays less about material gifts, and more about the feelings behind them — especially for the littles in your life.

One of the most satisfying (and fun) ways to unite  the fam and replace some of the stuff-buying frenzy is volunteering. Volunteerism sets a good example for kids, shows them up-close that the world is much bigger than the small bubble they live in, and helps the community at the same time. A triple win! Start it early, and kids grow up expecting and wanting to participate.

And here’s the secret sauce that seals the deal …  how often do our smalls guys get to feel like they really make a difference in the world? The wonderful, empowering message for kids is that they’re important enough to have an impact on someone or something else. SHAZAM!

Next step … finding the right organization. Not always easy with small humans in tow, because many hands-on volunteer opportunities don’t exactly welcome the younger set. But a little creativity is in order here.

Even the smallest kiddo (with a bit of supervision) can pick up garbage at the park, playground, or beach. You don’t have to be part of a big effort to do this. Get yours together, find some garbage bags, and head out.

Or become involved in repair and renovation efforts for low-income residents. Younger kids might not be able to do the big jobs, but helping out by fetching a paintbrush or holding the nails involves them just the same.

Work at a community food bank or soup kitchen as a family. Find an organization that serves the elderly. Take food to people who are homebound and visit with them. Your kids can brighten a lonely senior’s day instantly. Offer your family’s help at the local animal shelter. Help plant flowers or trees.

Big kids (read tweens and teens) love to do for younger kids, so consider collecting baby clothes and toys for an organization that serves low income families. Who doesn’t love shopping for that adorable tiny stuff?!

Get your young’uns involved in choosing the activity and they’ll be more enthusiastic when the time comes. Approach it with excitement and anticipation — remember, they take their cues from you. You’re creating  lifetime habits here, Mama, and this is one to be proud of. Fight the holiday gimmes this year, show your family the true meaning of Christmas, and log less time fighting for a parking spot at the mall.

 

 

 

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Peer Pressure – It’s Not Just For Kids

The experts talk a lot about the power of peer pressure and how to help kids resist its pull as they enter adolescence. We are taught that the peer group has a remarkable and sometimes frightening ability to sway our kids away from the path they know to be right – the one we work so hard to keep front and center in their lives.

But what doesn’t get discussed nearly as much is how peer pressure and the tendency to go along with the crowd continues through life and can defeat us when we become moms and dads.

A case in point: Shannon, the mother of two boys from Portland, wrote that she was upset and confused by something that had happened with a couple moms in her son’s class. Billy, Shannon’s fourth grader, was invited to a sleepover party by a known troublemaker and overall bad influence. She said no to the invitation and her son accepted her answer without much of a fuss.

Later that week she got talking to a couple other moms in the school parking lot. Neither of them wanted their kids go to the party either. They all agreed that based on past experience, it would be poorly supervised and fertile ground for trouble.

Shannon told them that she had said no and encouraged them to do the same given their strong reservations. After some discussion, they were all on board. But the next thing she knew, the moms had changed their minds and their kids were going to the party. It wasn’t that they couldn’t say no to their kid, they couldn’t say no to their friend.

The two moms confessed that they were afraid of the upset and conflict that might arise if they declined the invitation. They decided to just go along with it and hope for the best.

When Shannon asked why they didn’t just bow out gracefully, claiming a previous commitment, they were aghast. “I won’t tell a lie!” was the response. Putting their kids in a situation they knew was neither safe nor healthy seemed like a better choice.

Even though Shannon had stuck to her guns and done what she felt was right, she ended up feeling isolated and “out.” Then she began to question whether she was being overly protective since all the other mothers seemed to be okay with it – even though in her gut, she knew she was right. Does any of this sound familiar to you?

In this situation there are actually two things going on: the pressure to follow along with our peers and the tendency to avoid conflict at all costs. Women in general often feel uncomfortable making waves, not because they are biologically wimpier than men but because they are socialized to be accommodating. Thankfully, this is changing and girls today are more comfortable being assertive. But many adult women still struggle with this.

Let’s face it: whether we are 16 or 70, we all want to fit in. We all want friends. But once those kiddies show up in our lives, the cost of not being able to fight the pressure to go along with the crowd skyrockets. It’s no longer just the effects on us that we have to worry about if we lower our standards and bow to the group. Now we have to consider how our actions will impact the safety and well-being of our kids.

Some of the more common parental-peer-pressure-traps that snare us every day include:

  • Letting kids go to parties or activities that are inappropriate or where supervision is questionable because our friends do.
  • Giving parties where rules are lax or non-existent because our friends do.
  • Letting teenagers drink or smoke pot at our homes because the other parents do.
  • Allowing girls to wear makeup or sexy clothing when they are too young because our friends do.
  • Letting kids have computers and T.V.’s in their rooms because our friends do.
  • Bending our own rules when we are around parents who have looser ones.

The thing to acknowledge is that we don’t always make bad parenting decisions simply because we have a hard time saying no to our kids. Sometimes it’s more that we don’t want to be odd (wo)man out with the other moms.

So how can you get more comfortable about following your own moral compass despite the influence of your peers? Start by paying attention to your feelings when you get into situations like this. If you begin to feel uncomfortable with what is being discussed, take notice. Check whether concerns about being different are causing you to question yourself and your values. Are they making it more likely that you will let others dictate what’s going to happen?

One of the best things to do is to take a good look at the other parents in your life and figure out which ones seem to be most on track and responsible when it comes to parenting. Wean out the ones who are constantly in crisis or who seem to make decisions that are inappropriate or irresponsible. A person who might have been a perfectly acceptable friend before you had kids might not be such a good fit now. Don’t forget: your peers matter! Surround yourself with good influences and depend on them for support.

In order to stand up for your own ideals, you don’t need to make a stink, you don’t need to shout, or to pass judgement. You must, however, learn to be discerning – to figure out what’s right for you and your family - and to stick to that truth calmly and courageously. You can definitely learn how to channel your “inner mama bear” and do what’s best for your children despite the potential social impact on you.

This is not a skill that can be learned overnight, but it can be practiced every day. And sometimes, if you follow your gut and do the unpopular thing, you are going to feel the sting of being the outsider. And that’s okay. You can do it anyway.

I would love to hear stories on this topic from you. Let us know how you’ve handled this kind of thing in your own life. Please share!

 

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The Mama ButtonThe information provided by MamasOnCall is not intended as a substitute for professional advice, but is for information purposes only. You assume full responsibility for the health and well-being of your family. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical or psychiatric condition.