Teachers As Comedians?

Teachers As Comedians?

Think back to your school days. Picture your favorite teacher. Now, picture your best friend’s favorite teacher. Chances are that they had something in common. They were funny.

Indeed, some of our funniest teachers may just have been the “best” for more reasons than one. Studies now show that laughter and happiness increase learning and memory. Dopamine is released when we are happy and oxygenation increases when we laugh, both of which stimulate the learning process. This makes humor a powerful tool for teachers.

The Science Behind It All

The newly emerging field of Mind, Brain, and Education science (MBE) represents a cross-section of neuroscience, education, and psychology. Laughter is just one subject, among many, that has been put under the microscope as MBE science is developing. Understanding the chemical effects of laughter on the brain can help educators recognize the significant impact this may have on learning.

MBE science aims to develop the best teaching practices, utilizing research from neuroscience and psychology. MBE topics cover the gamut from mind-body connection to reading interventions, from time management to classroom management, among many other subjects. This new approach to education can lead to exciting discoveries in each area: the study of the brain, psychology, and education.

The Brain on Laughter

Laughter, as seen from the MBE approach, has an impact on both the brain and body.  For instance, the medical profession has identified healing properties in laughter. The appearance of laughter therapy and even laughter yoga has become more commonplace in our times. Laughter therapy is a way to provide relief from emotional and physical pain and stress. This new therapy is even being used in conjunction with cancer treatments.

Cancer Treatment Centers of America cite studies that indicate that laughter provides physical benefits, such as boosting the immune system, enhancing oxygenation to the heart and lungs, relaxing muscles, releasing endorphins that subdue pain, improving blood pressure, stimulating cognitive functions, and soothing stomach irritation. Laughter yoga, much like laughter therapy, is touted as an antidote to chronic conditions such as depression, high blood pressure, and even asthma. However, laughter is not just a cure for those who are ill. Research is proving the physical and psychological benefits that laughter provides, and it also has positive implications for education.

MedicineIn her book, Mind, Brain, and Education Science, professor and educational researcher Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa suggests that laughter enhances our learning experiences:

Laughter triggers the release of endorphins and enhances oxygenation in the brain, both of which aid in learning.

She cites recent studies which suggest that laughter triggers memory, helping us to better remember those experiences and ideas connected to moments in which we find ourselves chuckling. Imagine that! The more you laugh, the more likely it is that you will remember whatever is linked to that moment.

Furthermore, there are changes in hormones that occur during times of laughter. Just as we know that happiness induces the flow of dopamine, it also augments our learning. Happiness and laughter, intricately tied together, serve to enhance memory and concentration.

In Flourishing in the First Five Years, Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers stress the importance that optimism plays in the classroom. Teachers are encouraged to promote positive feelings. Laughter is clearly a positive feeling, which allows teachers to provide an invigorating learning environment. Not only do children look forward to classrooms where humor is a part of the daily routine, but they actually learn better from the positivity that laughter creates.

Laughter is now being thought of as similar to exercise and movement within the classroom. What was once frowned upon is now recognized to be highly valuable to the learning environment. In fact, Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa names laughter as a tenet of MBE science, along with exercise and movement. Maybe there is a reason that some kids just can’t sit still in class? Perhaps their brains and bodies know just what they need to absorb more information. What about that class clown, was he on to something?

Now, the discovery of the positive effects of laughter and movement in the classroom doesn’t necessarily mean that all children who can’t sit still or all class clowns are on the right track. Every case is obviously different. However, it does give us better insight into the “whys” of what occurs when students laugh and fidget in the classroom. It also enables educators to work to create the best learning environment possible for their students.

Practical Implications

What are the practical ramifications of such studies on laughter? How can educators, and parents alike, make the most of this research? We learn that every tiny detail and experience inside (and outside) of the classroom and home makes a difference. As neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer says:

The brain is always learning–as it cannot function any other way.

A person’s brain functions best based on ideal timing and conditions, which help us to make the most of our learning. Understanding how the brain works allows us to create environments that are stimulating for our children. Researchers are not suggesting that teachers drop lesson plans in favor of comedy skits. However, creating a relaxed environment, sprinkled with laughter, can actually cause students to not only enjoy coming to class, but to retain what teachers work so hard to instill.


Perhaps teaching methods should incorporate humor. Perhaps teachers should welcome humorous comments (albeit appropriate and relevant to the discussion) from students. Perhaps a relaxing educational environment will allow humor to flourish. Not only that, but maybe, teachers should consider making time for laughter in their teaching schedules. For example, it might be pertinent to start classes off with a funny anecdote. Or, maybe, giving students a “laughing” transition between one topic and the next can be a perfect place for that pithy anecdote. Teachers can block out three minutes of time where they share a funny article, illustration, etc. As research suggests, those three minutes of “laughter time” can actually increase what students retain from lessons. Educators should also be cognizant of highly stressful times for students, such as before an exam, and use humor to reduce the anxiety of the situation. This will allow students to retain more of what is going in the lesson and participate in the here and now.

Tips for Integrating Humor in the Classroom

The National Education Association (NEA) advocates using humor in classrooms. They suggest using “games, parody, or comical voices (or wigs or hats)” to bring meaning and freshness to content. Some teachers use humor as part of their lesson plans, bringing in funny examples of their subject matter. English teacher Tracee O. made a Pinterest board of real-life examples of funny grammatical errors to teach her lessons. Other teachers relate how they intersperse comical facial expressions, voices, or stories into their teaching day.

Rutgers Professor of Psychology, Maurice Elias, author of “Using Humor in the Classroom” also gives examples of how to apply the humorous approach. He suggests creating bulletin boards for funny quotes and illustrations shared by teacher and students, placing humorous items on exams and assignments, encouraging students to bring in jokes for transition periods, and asking students to discuss some of their favorite comedic books.


Nevertheless, the American Psychological Association (APA) cautions against overdoing laughter to the point that students are distracted from the purpose of the lesson. Instead, when humor is applied correctly and in the appropriate times and amounts, it can stimulate interest in subject matter outside of the classroom. Students may actually seek out “homework” for themselves, because teachers have generated interest in a particular topic. Dr. Ron Berk, author and educator, uses musical skits to teach his biostatistics course. The result is that more students leave exhilarated with the (all too often boring) subject-matter and prepared to apply it in real life.

Teachers should also to remember to be careful in how humor is applied in the classroom. Chad Donohue calls our attention to making sure humor is always used in a respectful manner. He makes the point of telling fellow educators never to use laughter to single out or belittle a student. While this should go without saying, it is important that the sensitivities of all students are understood and that humor is used appropriately. Donahue chooses to create a relaxed atmosphere in his classroom, where students feel at ease, and he uses humor to do this:

In more than 20 years of teaching students ranging from as young as 12 to as old as 70, I have found one thing to be verifiably true: Humor positively impacts the learning environment.

Returning to your school days and that favorite teacher of yours…The APA proposes that it was, indeed, most likely the funny one: “Research suggests that students rate professors who make learning fun significantly higher than others.”

Humorous teachers have mastered the art of making learning fun. More importantly, when humor is applied correctly, humorous teachers can come to master the art of making learning memorable and significant.

I Hate School Lunches (She Said)

thanks michelle obama Large“I hate school lunches,” she said, as she came through the front door. “I HATE school lunches,” she said a bit louder this time, making sure her mother knew she’d come home from school. Slamming her school books and other random stuff on the dining room table, she headed into the kitchen.

There you were, fixing dinner. “I hate school lunches,” she said and opening the fridge, she began pulling objects off the shelf. Leftover pasta, a slab of cheesecake, anything. “Oh my God,” she said, cramming the food into her mouth as fast as could, while you despaired, knowing she’d fill up now and not eat the dinner you’re cooking right now. “I’m starving. And by the way, I HATE SCHOOL LUNCHES.”

Sound familiar? If so, you’re part of a nationwide movement of kids refusing to eat school lunches. Now hatred of school lunches has always been the stuff of legends. After all, school lunches are institutional food. It’s never going to be the sort of fare you’d find at a 5-star restaurant.

Fuel On The Fire?

Something has, however, changed of late with school lunches, so that the “I hate school lunches movement” has had some fuel thrown on its fire. Some say that it’s just the same old hatred repackaged and now directed unfairly toward Michelle Obama. It is true that Mrs. Obama is responsible for creating the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which has changed the way children are eating in schools across America.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was created to tackle two serious problems: childhood obesity and hunger. Childhood obesity is causing all sorts of health problems. Hungry kids can’t do their schoolwork, and won’t get ahead in life. In part, the idea of the act was to at least make sure that hungry children from low-income homes get at least one meal a day. Also, the act would add nutritional value to meals and help train children to prefer more nutritious foods.

Some say that changes made to the National School Lunch Program have made school lunches unappealing and created waste, while putting food services in the red. Others would quote studies that say just the opposite and want to give the program a chance.

“I Hate School Lunches” Isn’t New

Meantime, the cry “I hate school lunches” is heard from California to the New York Island and in all the places in between. But hasn’t that always been the way? It would be the strange child indeed who yearns to eat institutional food.

Let’s examine both sides of the issue.

The number of obese children has risen more than 2 percentage points since the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed. But that doesn’t mean that the program is a failure. Children don’t only eat at school, and sometimes things get worse before they get better. It may take more time to discover whether or not the act will lower the rate of childhood obesity.

One small study suggested that school lunch waste, or food thrown away uneaten, has risen by a whopping 56% since 2012, when the act went into effect. This study was based on before and after photographs of lunch trays in two elementary schools. The act requires kids to choose fruits and vegetables. This study said that children are putting these items on their trays, but pitching them into the garbage uneaten.

Fruit? Feh

A larger study performed by Harvard University found the opposite to be true: kids are eating more fruits and vegetables since the new lunch standards were adopted. And that means less waste, not more. Before the USDA school meal standards were changed, kids threw out 75% of their vegetables. After the changes, kids are discarding 60% of their school lunch vegetables. As for fruit, kids threw out 40% of the fruit before the changes went into effect and they’re still throwing away 40% of their fruit, now.

In other words, kids are eating more vegetables, but not more fruit, and there’s room for improvement. But it’s a start. And it tells us that food choices and food preparation must improve.

Another study by the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital found no increase in waste after the new guidelines were put in place. Here, kids had to choose a fruit or vegetable in order for the meal to count as a reimbursable meal. The researchers found that even so, kids were eating the same amount of food as before the changes took effect. In other words, these kids weren’t throwing out their fruit. They were eating it.

Beans, Beans, Go Away

That study did find that there was one particular food that kids were throwing away uneaten, and that was legumes, for instance beans, peas, and lentils. The children in this study were from eight elementary schools in southeast Texas, and were students in kindergarten through the 5th grade.

So there are two sides to this story. On the one hand, some kids are throwing away their school lunches and buying junk instead. But some kids have always done that.

Since, however, they can no longer get that junk food in school vending machines (under the rules of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act), they go off school grounds and buy it elsewhere. Or starve, come home famished and declare, “I hate school lunches.”

And maybe that’s one downside of these school lunch changes.

Rich Kids Buy Junk

On the one hand, starving kids aren’t going to do well in their classes. So the act means that more children from lower income homes will be fed at least one healthy meal a day: their school lunch. On the other hand, kids from the higher end of the socioeconomic spectrum, have money to buy junk food off-campus and are also being fed at home. And that is why some schools serving more privileged students have opted out of the National School Lunch Program.

Now that’s not a small decision. Opting out of the National School Lunch Program means opting out of the federal money that comes with that program. In Bozeman, Montana, for instance, that means giving up  $117,000 in food subsidies.

Bob Burrows, director of food services in Bozeman reported to the school board that since opting out of the program, school lunch “traffic is way up.” That’s good, because last year, the food service budget ended the school year $16,000 in the red. Sales are back up, because the service is now preparing food kids actually like, instead of offering them the prepackaged government meals.

It’s not only Bozeman, mind you. It’s happened in Denver, too. Denver’s Douglas County School District dropped out of the program a year ago. In fact, 70% of all school programs have taken a huge financial hit since the new rules went into effect and this has made a bunch of school districts drop out of the program altogether.

A Better World

That’s a shame. Because in a better world, offering children meals that are lower in sodium and fat and higher in good things like fiber and vitamins, would be a welcome gift.

But you know. School lunches. Institutional food.

It’s going to suck. Big time.

And kids are kids. So they’re going to blame someone, right? Even though the school lunch is historically disgusting.


So, to make a long story short, all this is why kids are tweeting pix and videos with the hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama. It’s like a competition to see who can photograph the worst looking food. And with these photos, they all pretty much win.

Some of this food is truly dreadful looking and these pix represent the worst of the worst. Seeing them will make you glad you are a grown up and no longer need to eat that stuff. But we leave it to you to decide whether the food depicted in these tweets is really so much worse than what you were forced to eat before Michelle Obama did her bit for our children’s health and welfare.

Tell us what you think in the comments section, below.

Um yeah. I can kind of see why a kid would look at that and say, “I hate school lunches.”


“I hate school lunches.” Uh huh. Has a ring to it.


I’m beginning to get the point. They hate school lunches.


It appears kids really don’t like this stuff. Who’d a thunk it?

It’s what’s for lunch.


“I hate school lunches.” Okay, okay. We hear you. No need to scream.

“But I HATE SCHOOL LUNCHES.” Um yeah. We’re getting that.



So, lemme get this straight? You don’t like the food at your school?



Ouch. I need eye bleach.




This is like a bad dream. When do we get to wake up?


Kid Snippets: Kid Fodder For Blah Days

Blah days. Every parent has them. They can come when the weather has been gray and nasty for days. Or a blah day can come unannounced for no reason whatsoever or because you ate dairy when you shouldn’t have.

But like I said, every parent has ‘em. And when those blah days hit, you need to find a way to entertain your kids so they don’t pick up on the fact that well, Mommy (or Daddy) is a bit out of sorts today.

Because it’s really hard to explain blah days, when you feel too low on energy to do much of anything at all.

In fact, the best remedy for blah days is to hang around on the sofa with a kid or maybe a puppy, some popcorn, and some cute videos to watch. The kid or puppy will provide the endorphins you need to pull out of it, and the videos will entertain you and your child without you needing to do much more than press the play button. The popcorn will help wake up your brain because of all the crunching and chewing (it sounds right anyway—some scientist will say this sooner or later).

As for what KIND of video clips to watch, now that’s easy. We’ve featured Kid Snippets before on the blog and thought we’d trot out some new clips just for you and your child, for those special blah days when all you want to do is veg out on the couch.

In case you don’t remember, the Kid Snippets team takes scripts written by children, based on common child play scenarios and works them up into video clips. Adults act the parts, their mouths and expressions perfectly in synch with the scripts as read by the child authors.

These clips take us back to childhood play, which is why they so deliciously manage to pull you up and out of a blah day. And even if nostalgia fails to work its magic on you, at least your kids will have had a good time.

Hair Salon

Ninja Warrior


Principal’s Office

My Teacher is an Alien

Marriage Counseling


Mean School Nurse


Blah days suck.  You know it and so do we. But we hope we gave you a laugh or two and that you are now on the road to better times. And oh, hey, pass the popcorn, willya?

Kars4Kids Jingle: At Last, A Fan!

Everyone hates the Kars4Kids jingle. Well, almost everyone. We do have a few hardcore fans.

Take Jamie Smith’s baby, for instance. Jamie posted the following clip to the Kars for Kids Facebook page with the comment, “I don’t know why but, My baby is obsessed with the kars4kids commercial, lol.”

[vcfb id=10205223301839839 w=640 h=385]

But hey, I’m not really surprised. My eldest is now 34 years old and I still remember the text of her favorite book when she was oh, about 6 months old. “Little chick takes a ride. It’s lunchtime for Squirrel!”

We, the wife and I, must have read that book to our daughter at least 8,000 times. We could recite the lines in our sleep. Which was a good thing at the time because we were SO sleep deprived.

Kids latch onto things and hold on fiercely. They like the familiar. It comforts them to know what to expect from an environment that puzzles them at every turn.

They like simple rhymes and melodies and single-syllable words. So yeah, we can see where a six month-old baby might fall in love with our jingle. We respect that because really, it’s a force of nature.

You can’t argue with a baby. You can only give in.Mom earplugs

Jamie, on behalf of the entire Kars4Kids family, my colleagues and I would like to offer you our sympathies for the upcoming months when you will be subjected to our jingle ad infinitum. May we suggest a REALLY GOOD pair of earplugs?


Cutest Baby Videos: You’ll Laugh, You’ll Cry, You’ll MARVEL

Cutest baby videos. Every time you see that claim, you just know it’s hyperbole. But you can’t help it: you gotta watch them anyway. Because you love babies more than just about anything in the world.

We do, too. For instance, these two little fellers who crack each other up. Twins are so awesome. I bet their mom doesn’t ever need to buy them toys. They just make each other laugh all day long. What a gift that would be, huh?

These little guys, too. I honestly cannot figure out why the mom and her friend call to get their attention. They’re having so much fun. Couldn’t they just leave them be??

And then there’s these two brothers. They aren’t twins, but they’ve got their own thing happening–subtle but real. The little guy is a sleepy-head and he finally finds himself a nice place to rest his head. Big brother doesn’t mind a bit.

Now here’s a little girl who’s WAY overtired. But still polite!

And of course, babies have their idiosyncrasies, like this lil guy who won’t stop crying until Daddy plays the right song! You can’t fool him. He KNOWS what he likes.

Now this little girl has a DARK SIDE. I would not want to be her babysitter. Freaky!

Last but not least, we give you this father-daughter duo that are amazingly in synch. They’ve just got something going on.

Do you have a favorite baby video you’d like us to post? Drop us a note in the comments.

Top 10 Lies Kids Tell

Kids lie. They just do. Some do it more frequently than others while an especially rare form of child will lie just once, never to sin again.

Yeah. Right.

“You are so busted,” said big brother to little brother, who sported a chocolate mustache while yet denying he’d used up the last of the chocolate milk powder.

“What are talking about? I didn’t make chocolate milk. Seriously. I don’t even like the stuff.”

“Idiot. Go look in the mirror.”

They lie to their siblings, but worst of all, they lie to YOU. They do it to get out of unpleasant tasks. And they do it because they think you’re too stupid to know better.

The first time it happens you feel crushed. He betrayed your trust!

But when it becomes habitual, you just sigh, resigned to the fact that he’s doing it again. Except for those times you feel fed up and completely lose it.

Yeah. That happens, too.

I thought about this when I walked into my kitchen this morning and saw that one of my children had washed the dishes. Except something didn’t make sense to my eyes.

Ikea, pot lid rack
Contrary to popular dish-washing child belief, this rack for pot lids has no special powers and will not clean pot lids when they are returned to this space after usage (photo credit: Varda Epstein)

The day before I had made grilled cheese sandwiches. So the skillets were washed and in the dish drain, as were the other dishes and utensils I’d used. So according to my mental inventory, everything was there except for the pot lids I’d used to cover the skillets. They were in the handy dandy pot lid rack the DH and I had purchased at Ikea.

I had this hunch, born out by experience, that the child who washed the dishes, had put the pot lids back into the pot lid rack, without washing the lids. He thought I’d never catch on.

Except that this had happened before.

I took the lids out of the rack and sure as shootin’ there were spots of congealed butter on their undersides.

It was a lie so predictable, he shouldn’t have bothered. But he did. And so enters another lie kids tell, for the annals of our family history.


To soothe my frustration, I decided to compile a list of the ten top lies kids tell, at least in my home:

  • 1) They didn’t look dirty to me-e. This is what my son will say when I confront him about the pot lid rack with magic powers. He will say he didn’t wash them because they didn’t look dirty to him. Even though he knows and I know that the lids were used to cook yesterday’s supper
  • 2) Of course I washed the outsides of the pots, pans, glasses, and dishes. This is the lie your kid tells you, even as you confront him with the encrusted underside of a plate or a perfectly placed lip print in Revlon Raspberry Pie Lip Butter on the rim of a glass .
  • 3) It wasn’t me who didn’t replace the empty roll of toilet paper. This one is almost believable, until not one of the seven people who live in my home will confess. One of them did it. One of them lied.
  • 4) I put my clean laundry away. Um, no. Putting your pile of laundry in your ROOM is not the same as putting it away where it belongs,fingers crossed behind back, lying, kids, teens in bureau drawers and closets.
  • 5) I cleaned my room. This one kinda sorta fools Mom until she opens the closet door and is felled by an avalanche of STUFF.
  • 6) Yes. I dusted that (choose one: piano, shelf, picture frame, chair). This one works because if Mom is asking the question, it means she won’t check. WRONG.
  • 7) It wasn’t me who left a tissue in my jeans pocket. This one used to work until Mom got wise and purchased colored tissue, one color per child. The rest is all about the forensic evidence which is all over the dark load.
  • 8) None of my friends have to clean. That’s not what their mothers tell me. I checked. Fooled you. Nyah.
  • 9) I don’t have any homework. You could call the teacher to check, but your kid is betting on the fact that you won’t bother. This works well until the teacher calls home to find out why your child NEVER does his homework.
  • 10) I did my homework. This lie kids tell usually occurs after the teacher has called home to find out why your child NEVER does his homework. For the next week or so, having been read the riot act according to Mom, the child will duly do his homework, each day after school. That is until the child realizes that he can get out of doing his homework by telling you he already did it.

I told you mine, now it’s YOUR turn. What are the lies your kids tell?

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What Every Parent Should Know About Teenage Drinking at Home

Teenage drinking at home: are you under the impression that within reason, this is a good thing?

I know my parents thought so. They felt that if given sips of good liquor, we would relate to alcohol as something delicious to be had in moderation. That’s as opposed to tippling large quantities of drink for the sake of getting wasted.

Not that my parents were into drinking. They totally weren’t. In fact, I don’t even think their friends were into drinking, except for one woman they murmured about in low voices punctuated by the occasional tsk.

But my parents prided themselves on being good and generous hosts, so when there was a party, the liquor cabinet would be unlocked and there, revealed in all its glory, would be the four-tiered built-in, pull-out well-lit bar, with all the different sorts of glasses, swizzle sticks, and soda dispensers a tippler could desire.

Back then, there was none of this single malt scotch snobbery. Chivas Regal was considered top of the line. Ditto Bristol Cream Sherry, deemed shutterstock_169020203elegant and therefore more appropriate to the ladies. Both these classics were present in my parents’ liquor cabinet, but there between them were such oddities as the tall-necked bottle of Galliano liqueur with its distinctive yellow color, and a wonderful chocolate liqueur from Switzerland with yummy cocoa nibs, to be drunk in small glasses as an aperitif. Whenever there was a party in our home, my siblings and I were given a choice of what we would like to drink and we could each have a modest portion of whatever we chose.

The liquor cabinet had a lock but we always had access to the key, because we also stored treats in the liquor cabinet; the kind of treats you eat while watching TV. It was understood that our parents trusted us not to abuse the privilege of access to liquor. For the most part, we never did.

Except once.

I was the youngest child at 11. My sister Margery was meant to mind me. She was 14.

Margery decided that my cultural education would remain incomplete until such time as I tasted a Harvey Wallbanger, which is basically vodka, Galliano, and orange juice. She mixed up two tall ones then and there. The next memory I have is of being passed out on the floor only to have my left index finger impaled by the spikes of my mother’s golf shoes. My sister had decided it was a necessary skill to learn how to walk in golf shoes, indoors on my mother’s new linoleum flooring. And since I was so rudely unaware of the importance of her learning experience, she decided to pretend I was simply part of the floor.


I have the scar on my finger to this day.

Interestingly enough, my mother came home right at that moment and found me crying and bleeding on the floor. Naturally, I wanted to lay the blame on my sister who was, after all, supposed to be taking care of me. “Margy made me drink Harvey Wallbangers and walked on my hand in your golf shoes,” I sobbed.teenage drinking at home

My sister did get in trouble, but not in as much trouble as one might have imagined. It was deemed that we had learned our lesson about drinking and could now be trusted to never become crapulous again.

Now I won’t say we never got tipsy after that, but certainly not at home, and certainly not until we were grown-ups. We enjoyed the taste of liquor and yes, the pleasant glow of having a buzz on. I won’t deny that this is true.

All this occurred to me as I tried to formulate a policy vis-à-vis how I would handle the subject of alcohol with my own children. On the one hand, genetics were on my side. I didn’t come from drinkers, nor did my wife. So that eliminated one risk factor for my children. Happily so.

On the other hand, I wondered about the parenting theory my parents subscribed to: allowing children to drink in moderation in the home. Did this serve to foster “a healthy attitude about alcohol?” And what does that mean, anyway, a healthy attitude about alcohol? Is there such a thing?

So I looked into the issue and found that there is a preponderance of evidence against the practice of allowing children to drink in moderation in the home under supervision.

Studies On Teenage Drinking At Home

For example, one study of children in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades whose parents let them drink at home had the steepest rise in drinking compared to their peers. See: Komro, K.A.; Maldonado-Molina, M.M.; Tobler, A.L.; et al. Effects of home access and availability of alcohol on young adolescents’ alcohol use. Addiction 102(10):1597–1608, 2007.

A second study found that teens allowed to drink at home will drink more than their peers when outside the home. See: van der Vorst; H., Engels, R.C.M.E; and Burk, W.J. Do parents and best friends Influence the normative increase in adolescents’ alcohol use at home and outside the home? Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs 71(1):105–114, 2010.

A further study, showed that teens will drink less outside the home if their parents forbid drinking from an early age and who take care not to overindulge in drink themselves. See: van der Vorst, H.; Engels, R.C.M.E; Meeus, W; and Dekovic, M. The impact of alcohol-specific rules, parental norms about early drinking and parental alcohol use on adolescents’ drinking behavior. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 47(12):1299–1306, 2006.

Lower Drinking Risk?

I came across only a single study that suggested that teens allowed a sip of a drink at a family gathering may have a lower risk factor for heavy drinking. See: Foley, K.L.; Altman, D.; Durant, R.H.; and Wolfson, M. Adults’ approval and adolescents’ alcohol use. Journal of Adolescent Health 35(4):7–26, 2004.

Taken as a whole, the literature on the subject is persuasive: teenage drinking at home is something that is best forbidden by their parents. Mom and Dad did a good job raising me. But the evidence suggests that my kids might not be as lucky as me and my siblings were in relation to drinking habits. The key to the liquor cabinet is therefore going into hiding.

I’d rather not take the chance.



Choosing the Perfect Babysitter Is Something I Never Want to Do Ever

If you’re reading this you’re probably nervous about choosing the perfect babysitter. That may be due to news items A/K/A horror stories related to nanny cams and abuse. But more likely, you’re just meticulous about being the best parent you can be and worry a lot about leaving your children with someone new and unknown.

Laidback parents will likely skip past this blog post to something—anything—else. They just don’t stress about leaving their kids with a babysitter. They figure it’s good for kids to spend time with someone different and they figure that most people are good. It’s just not really an issue. Plus, they don’t mind coming home to a less than spotless home. Kids make messes. It means they’re having a good time and being KIDS.

Choosing The Perfect Babysitter?

Now maybe you’re NOT that kind of parent. Probably not or yeah, you would not now be reading this piece, hoping for some enlightenment on choosing the perfect (or at least safe) babysitter. Maybe you even WISH you were that other sort of easygoing parent or even feel a bit guilty about being somewhat OCD about this stuff. But you’re YOU and there is no point in trying to change at this late date.

Before we move on to the subject of this piece, let’s just get this out of the way: it’s a GOOD thing that you work hard at parenting and want the best for your children. The main thing is to be true to your own parenting style—not try to be something you’re not. It won’t work and you’ll just confuse your kids who won’t know from one day to the next what kind of mommy, Mommy will be today. Not a good thing, so just lose the guilt and move on.

Now that we’ve covered that particular issue it’s time to lay it out straight: if you find the perfect babysitter, you will hate her because she will be a better caregiver than you. That’s not what you want. What you want is a babysitter that keeps your kids safe and amused. She may not leave your home sparkling and she may leave the milk out on the counter to spoil. That’s okay. It leaves you something to gripe about. shutterstock_132864209

As long as she’s not perfect, it’s all good.

As an example of how this works, let’s say you are renowned for your chocolate chip cookie recipes. Said babysitter decides to make none other than chocolate chip cookies with your kids while you are out. They have a wonderful time and the cookies are good and the kids are proud of their handiwork. The babysitter has even left the kitchen spotless.

The kids urge you to taste a cookie. You take an obliging nibble and thank your stars because: THEY ARE NOT AS GOOD AS YOURS.

Imagine how you would have felt if they were as good or horror of horrors, BETTER than yours.

Do you see where we’re going with this?

shutterstock_5541418Okay, so let’s take this to the next level. You’ve had a marvelous time out with your husband at that glamorous new eatery. You’ve had several glasses of good wine and romance is in the air. You get home, you open the door, and the aroma socks the two of you, you and your spouse, in your faces.

It’s the scent of hot buttered popcorn and spiced apple cider. Soft music is playing in the background and you can hear the happy murmurs of your children. They are all seated at the dining room table and they—your children and their perfect babysitter—have made an entire zoo out of origami paper. Each animal is a work of art.

You don’t know how to do origami.

Their eyes are shining. They await your compliments. Which you give them.shutterstock_138270803

When you left, earlier this evening, they were covered in mucous and oatmeal and smelled, well, a little RANK. They were fighting over a purple plastic dinosaur. You were, to tell the truth, a bit relieved to sic them on the babysitter. You were glad to leave them with HER.

Now you’re not so sure that was a good idea.

Nah. I just made that up. It would never happen IRL (in real life), especially not the part about oatmeal and mucous. That’s the other kind of mother who has kids like that. That would never be YOU—be YOUR children.

But I digress.

The real point here is that you want to be careful that your babysitter is adequate, even better than adequate, but she also has to be human and make some mistakes—the kind that are easy to forgive. With my kids, that would have been Sarah. Sarah was the eldest in a large family. She knew how to handle kids and keep them happy.


So what was wrong with this picture? Not a thing that I could spot. I paid Sarah and got ready for bed. It nagged at me as I removed the traces of makeup from my face and removed my earrings.

I shrugged. And went to bed, determined to put it out of my mind.

The next day, I got up, ready to face the day. I got the kids dressed and went to put their dirty clothing in the laundry hamper.

And that’s when I saw it: a WET towel. Mixed in with the dry dirty laundry in the hamper. Just beginning to mildew.

“Aha!” I said to myself with, admittedly, some satisfaction. “Putting a wet towel in the hamper! Can you even believe it? Didn’t her mother teach her ANYTHING?”

I went outside and hung the towel on the line in the fresh breeze of a new day. I inhaled the scent and turned my face up to the sun, letting it warm the smile on my face.

Perfection Is Relative

Sarah was not perfect. Not by a long-shot. But while she was not perfect, she was the perfect babysitter for my children.

I tsked once more at the towel, flapping there in the breeze and nodded my head, ready to face my household, refreshed after a night out with my husband, and knowing that I was still the best possible caregiver for my children.

Hands down.

Tomorrow: Tips on How to Pick the (Almost) Perfect Babysitter

I’m The Good Parent In Our Home

I’m the good parent in our home. The one the kids actually listen to. At least that’s the case with our teenage daughter Sarah.

It’s a constant refrain in our household, “Dear, can you talk to Sarah about 1) doing her homework 2) cleaning her room or 3) taking out the garbage?”shutterstock_84264385

For some reason, when my dear wife asks Sarah, our daughter, to do—why anything at all—the girl balks, sulks, and sometimes yells epithets or slams doors (sometimes all of the above at once). But when I ask Sarah to do exactly the same thing—nay TELL her to do those things—not a peep out of her. Not a protest, not even a sigh at being forced to leave her iPad and Facebook for the duration of the chore.

The wife and I have explored why this is so. Sometimes I think it’s because she asks Sarah instead of telling her to do whatever it is that needs doing. Like she’s too polite, or perhaps MEEK.

Maybe if she just laid down the law: “Put away the groceries,” instead of, “Oh, Sarah, would you mind putting away the groceries, please,” Sarah would just do it. Instead, it’s like my wife is inviting our daughter to protest. After all, it’s the nature of teens to rebel and create conflict with their parents. By asking instead of telling her to do things, my wife is giving Sarah an opening.

Naturally, the wife disagrees. From her perspective, it’s just semantics. She’s just being polite. She doesn’t really expect Sarah to say no so every time it happens, my wife is surprised anew.

Good Cop/Bad Cop?

Carey (why yes my wife does have a name) suggests that it’s something about our personalities. For some reason, people just want to say no to her and yes to me. Much as I’d like to accept the compliment, I’d also like to think that my beautiful, brave, and courageous wife is also a likable person in general and in particular—else why would I have married her in the first place?? Love me love my, um, wife.

Our son Robbie is still at that youthful stage of idolizing the both of us. He thinks we’re both perfect. His rebellious teens are still far away. So maybe it’s premature to suggest this without seeing how things will be between Robbie and Carey when Robbie hits his teens, but the bottom line is I think Sarah’s receptiveness to me and hostility toward Carey is a gender thing.shutterstock_47615263

I mean, we all know about the Oedipus and Electra Complexes in which there is just a natural rivalry going on with the same-sexed parent: a sense that both compete for the ultimate love of the opposite sexed parent/spouse. Like I said, Robbie is too young to test the theory. We have a good several years before he morphs into a pimply teenager. But I really think that’s what’s going on here: Sarah is just going to be this way: it’s innate, this issue of coming to conflict with her mother.

Whatever the reason, we do know that with Sarah and her mother, there’s going to be conflict. That’s our current reality. So at least for the meantime, I’m it when it comes to laying down the law on things we need Sarah to do.

I’m okay with that. And hey, who knows—Carey may need to do this for me with Robbie, somewhere down the line.

Just in case it’s really about me, I mean my personality or parenting style, as opposed to the opposite gender thing, I thought I’d give over some of my best tips for talking to and with teens so they’ll really listen. Here goes nothing:

1) Don’t ask, tell. Asking for chores to be done leaves an opening for protest. Just not smart. If it goes against your nature to be giving orders in a non-threatening manner, practice when no one is around to hear, until you get your tone down pat.

2) Watch and listen to how others do it. Do you know an adult who making effective contact with teens? Find opportunities to watch this pro in action. Go home and write down your observations. Review your notes before any important discussion with your teen.

3) Keep it light and casual. You don’t want to sound all polite and whimpery. Nor do you want to come down the heavy. Make like it’s no big deal. It’s what it is, no more and no less. Keeping your perspective intact will help your teen focus on what her perspective should be in relation to the task at hand.shutterstock_50689402

4) Always listen when they talk. Sometimes kids need to ramble on about stuff. Just listen. Even if they’re not saying anything that sounds particularly important and you’re busy or in a hurry to go somewhere. When there is an appropriate moment for you to say something, ask an open-ended question that shows you’re really listening and that you really care. For instance, “So Shelly wanted to see that action film but you don’t like action films. What kind of films do you like? What movie would you rather have seen?”

5) The eye-contact thing. Don’t hyperfocus on your child. Kids don’t like to feel like you’re examining them with a magnifying glass. As it is, they’re all self-conscious about looks and self-image. A good trick is to make talking to your child incidental by avoiding eye contact. For instance, you could be fixing a broken picture frame and looking at your work as you speak to your daughter. Or you could be taking a walk together, so you’re standing side by side, only kinda sorta looking at each other. It sounds crazy, but it’s my best trick for talking to and with teens.

The main thing with teens is to keep your cool as much as possible. Blowups will happen. It’s just the name of the game.

Be Her Rock

What a parent should always try to do is be there for a teen no matter what, through bad days and better days and all sorts of days in between. Try to be calm and be her rock. Even if she doesn’t know it, she needs you.shutterstock_47615206

And you know what? She does know it. She just doesn’t know she knows it.

Someday she will.



Spielberg’s Dyslexia, Over Drinking Water, and E-Cigarettes (Oh My!)

Quinn Bradlee has a disability as does one of his more interesting interview subjects, Stephen Spielberg. But neither Bradlee or Spielberg are going to keep those difficulties from letting them live, grow, and create. Bradlee, the son of former executive editor of the Washington Post, Ben Bradlee, and bestselling author Sally Quinn, has devoted the past several years toward helping others with learning difficulties.

To that end, Quinn has written two books, one of them co-authored with his father. He also made a film for the families of those with learning differences in conjunction with HBO.  Then, of course, there’s his happening Huffpo blog on the subject of disabilities.

These are big achievements for a guy with disabilities and differences, but then getting a chance to interview the famous filmmaker, Steven Spielberg, is nothing to sneeze at, either. Steven Spielberg was diagnosed with dyslexia, a reading difficulty, in 2007. Thanks to Bradlee’s interview, we learn from Spielberg what it meant for him to be different: to be bullied, shamed in the classroom and misunderstood. 

Spielberg tells Bradlee, and us, how he found a group of friends who, like him, were all just a bit different than everyone else. His isolation as a youth had Spielberg turning to film making for consolation. (Perhaps, if you ask Spielberg, there’s something to having a learning difference after all!)

Spielberg on Dyslexia

Poly WHAT?

With disabilities and differences like those of Bradlee and Spielberg, we have a direction. There’s the possibility of  getting evaluated and getting help. But as parents, we always worry about whether our children are drinking enough fluids, especially when the weather is hot. How can we know if they’re getting enough of the stuff?

But actually, there is such a thing as being too well-hydrated. Drinking too much fluid can result in a reduction of the salt concentration in the bloodstream. The result can be swelling of the brain, also known as polydipsia. The condition, shutterstock_95715592which occurs in some people with schizophrenia and in marathon runners, has the potential to be fatal.

Happily, a collaborative study by the University of Melbourne and the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health says we may not have to worry about our children over drinking. It seems our brains know when we’ve had enough water to drink.

In this imaging study, researchers studied the brain as the participants drank. First they drank while thirsty, but then the researchers had the participants continue to drink after their thirst had been quenched. Researchers found that two different parts of the brain’s emotional decision-making region were activated depending upon whether or not an individual experienced the sensation of thirst.

The researchers discovered what they described as a “stop mechanism,” a brain signal that tells a person to stop drinking when s/he is no longer thirsty. The researchers believe this signal represents a survival mechanism or human instinct that serves to prevent dangerous over drinking that could be life-threatening.

The upshot? When you urge your teenager to drink and s/he says, “Oh MOM. I’m NOT thirsty,” you can believe her.


E-Cigarettes Vs. Real Cigarettes

Good your kid won’t drink too much water. But have you heard about or perhaps even seen friends using e-cigarettes? What’s your take on them as a parent? Would you be willing to see your child use an e-cigarette instead of actually smoking real cigarettes? Is your kid, perhaps, already a smoker and you’re looking for a way to wean him (or her) to something milder?

Well, according to most studies, there’s no proof that e-cigarettes will help someone quit smoking, so you may want to rethink that idea. And while e-cigarettes may eliminate secondhand smoke and tar, they’re still plenty dangerous. For one thing, the vapors in e-cigarettes, like those of cigarette smoke, also have a secondhand effect and can escape into the air where others can inhale the fumes.

Second of all, nicotine is a poison and if you use enough of it, a person can become shutterstock_148351595really sick. And in fact, thousands of cases of tobacco ingestion are reported to poison control centers, with the majority of cases involving babies under the age of one year. (A child is naturally more susceptible to nicotine poisoning.)

E-cigarettes are especially tempting to kids, marketed as they are in child-tempting flavors such as chocolate, caramel, strawberry, bubble gum, cotton candy, and gummy bear. The good news is that the FDA finally got involved, cracking down on sales of e-cigarettes to teens. The American Academy of Pediatrics (APA), on the other hand, says the crackdown doesn’t go nearly far enough. Not to mention that the APA also says that teens who use e-cigarettes are exposed to carcinogens. 

Need Relief?

Now that we’ve freaked you out about all these dangers, you’re probably needing some relief. So we offer a bit of fun to take you way back to your childhood and remind you what it was like to be immersed in the make-believe world of play. (So much better than over drinking and carcinogenic e-cigarettes!)

Kid Snippets videos are film clips scripted by children. In this episode, the producers asked a couple of kids to pretend they were a salesperson and a customer. The results are this debut episode of Kid Snippets, as produced by Bored Shorts TV and seamlessly acted by John Roberts and Brett Roberts. Enjoy!

Editor’s note: This post was originally published March 27, 2014, and has been completely revised and updated for accuracy and scope.

Clean Up That Mess! Getting Kids to Clean Their Bedrooms

“Clean up that mess!” Getting kids to clean their bedrooms could very well be the factor that unites all cultures in every location in the world. It is extremely unlikely that the “clean up that mess” refrain is not heard in places as far-flung as Siberia, Japan, or Denmark, let alone in Texas, where granted, the messes are probably bigger than in other places. So what is it that is so hard about cleaning a bedroom anyway, and why don’t kids want to do it?

A question for the ages.

One week, I counted the number of times my wife recited the “clean up that mess script.” When I got to that fifth diagonal tally mark, I suggested she try varying the tone. She was not amused.

I offered to take over for my wife to give her vocal chords a bit of a vacation. “Fine,” she said. “Let’s just see how effective you are in getting the kids to pick up their rooms.”

“No problemo,” said I, affecting a nonchalance I did not feel. “Watch how the master does it.”

The next day was a Sunday. “Perfect,” I thought. “No school today. We’ll get those rooms into tiptop shape by sundown.”

At 8 AM I woke the kids, “I’ve got a big, hearty breakfast for you, kids. Come eat while it’s hot. We’ve got a big day ahead of us.”

shutterstock_77747272Somewhere in the vicinity of where I think my eldest child’s bed must be, under a mound of candy bar wrappers, colorful rubber bracelets begging me to save the seals, Pringles cans (jalapeno flavor), a poster of Miley Cyrus licking a hammer, the cat, and some dubious smelling gym clothes, I hear a muffled groan. Nothing from daughter number two, but I do see her foot sticking out of a similar pile on the opposite side of the room.

“Big day ahead,” I repeat superfluously. “Come and get it.”

I go down to the kitchen. I figure I’ll feed them well—the way to kids’ hearts being through their stomachs, or thereabouts, and then I’ll have this very reasonable talk with them about the state of their room.

Except they never show.

I go back up. “Time’s a tickin’,” I tell them with a jolly lilt, hoping they can’t hear the desperation creeping into my voice. My wife has gone out for the day, knowing I’m taking over her parenting duties for the day. She will be back at 4. Not enough Clorox in the world to make it happen. The mess is just too big and the kids are so well, ASLEEP.shutterstock_119325310

10 AM has come and gone. I go back upstairs. I cajole. “Who wants tickets to the Justin Bieber concert? Aaaaaaaall you have to do is get your room clean!”

Younger Daughter calls out from under the covers, “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeew. Justin BIEBER?? No one likes HIM. He’s like so YESTERDAY, Daddy.”

Elder Daughter does her sister one better and sits bolt upright in her bed sticking her index finger down her gullet while issuing gagging sounds for dramatic effect.

By now I’ve had enough. “Get UP. CLEAN UP THAT MESS. RIGHT. NOW.”

At precisely that moment, the wife walks in, complete with smug smile plastered across her face. “Why, D-d-d-dear,” I stammer. “A little early, aren’t you?”

“I just figured that right around now you’d be needing me. You don’t quite have the right intonation. Try it again,” she encouraged, “The sound should come from deep within,” she said and then giggled. Loudly. And at length.

By now I felt a total fool. And then I laughed. And laughed some more. Before we knew what was happening, our two daughters were laughing with us. We were, the four of us, rolling on the floor. The spell had been broken. We were ready to tackle the mess. Together.


We came up with a plan:

Divide and Conquer: We told the girls to imagine their room divided into quadrants and to tackle only a single quadrant at a session. That made the task more manageable from a psychological standpoint.

Show Them How: There’s a right and a wrong way to clean, just as there’s a right and a wrong way to do everything. Even if you’ve been showing your kids how to clean their entire lives, they may need a refresher course. The “wax on, wax off” scene from Karate Kid may offer inspiration here.

Don’t Make it About You: Cleaning their room is for their own benefit. Don’t fall prey to the martyr mommy (or daddy) script. And for heaven’s sake, don’t clean their rooms FOR them. You can help them, as long as you’re chilled and they know you’re doing them a favor and that ultimately, it’s their room, their responsibility.

Tie Responsibilities to Privileges: There is everything right with telling your child that she’s free to go hang out with her friends as soon as her room is clean. Or you can say that she can have time on the computer, as soon as her room is straightened. Cleaning isn’t a punishment, but privileges are earned through good works and after carrying out basic responsibilities. It’s as simple as that.

Relax—They Grow Up: Like I said, it’s universal, the messy bedroom syndrome. Just as universal is the fact that kids grow up and move into homes of their own. Most of the time, they become just as house proud as their parents and learn to keep things neat and tidy with time and experience. In the meantime, it’s okay to pick your battles and to look the other way on a day when you’re feeling frazzled or stressed. You can totally talk to them about their rooms on a different and better day. For now, a few deep breaths (and eyes closed shut) will get you through. Tomorrow is another day.