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1 Small Hack For Smarter Smartphone Parenthood

It’s the last official week of summertime around here. My babies love school and are eager about the beginning; it’s me nursing an increasingly bigger pit in my stomach as summer wanes and September nears. While my boys grow up I feel like I see more clearly the ways summertime affords juicy glimpses into the innocence of childhood. This summer I watched these little boys stay in their jammies past noon and watched as they dabbled in stories and books, make believe, competition, mindless daydreaming, Lego-building, risk-taking, and an earnest growing concern about safety in the world. To me the collection of those interests feels so earnest and utterly serene. Summertime is just slower.

I crave the de-clutter of long days without so much chaos. Without the stresses that the school schedule ushers in, the summertime-alarm-clock-free space lends priority to an actual circadian rhythm. We eat better, the days are less driven by rule following. I think we might laugh more. Less time spent rushing and shuttling from one thing to the next and more time listening. A lot more time goofing off. I mean my 8 year-old ran into my room first thing this morning in a cape! What life (with children) is ultimately about.

As this summer, in particular, wraps up I’m also recognizing with increasing fortitude the peril we’re under because of technology in our lives.

Nothing new or profound but I really feel it right now, more than ever. My work over the past years with The American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communication and Media has shaped the study on device-use as a station in my work, but it’s my role as a mother that screams out louder in me right now. We could really mess this up. Not our kids, per se, I just mean how we all experience this precious gift.

We spend a lot of time worrying about and tweaking our children’s media use. Yes, we can and should make use a media use plan to help guide how our children use devices (literally you can plug in a plan together here and print it out for the fridge) but at some point we have to think on how we grown-ups cherish our days, too. How technology will rob us of what we adore.

As the next decade unfolds, devices will only get better at grabbing ahold of us. We have to admit a frailty inherent in us; we need to practice being off our devices. Practice it, every day, like a craft. I think this is a new part of being human.

The piece in The Atlantic earlier this summer, Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation, brought the threats of  iGen tech use into an even newer, national focus. The thesis, in case you’ve not yet read it, is that teens are unhappier than ever, the author argues, since the iPhone hit stores. Smartphones have changed how we all live and think and love and connect and teens have more anguish because of it. I know there is ongoing suffering from device-use. There is, of course, also a profundity of ways devices build convenience and safety and social justice and intimacy in our lives. But a couple recent experiences where my own son had to tug on my sleeve to pull me away from a device made me feel basically just horrifically horrible. I was as gone to my phone as you can imagine. And after a couple summertime device Mom-fails I’m happy to re-invent how I improve at this. My earnest distraction wed to the accelerating feeling of the dwindling sand-in-the-hourglass time with my boys (before they leave home) motivates. I want to use this smartphone smarter. Wouldn’t it feel awesome to be great at this?

So how about this tiny tweak…

One Hour In Airplane Mode Every Day. A Tiny Tweak

I spent last week with my phone in airplane mode all day. I checked in quickly here or there and for little squalls of media in the evening, but the bulk of the days were left untethered. It wasn’t a full digital sabbatical, which for me was practical and less distracting. Sure, I know some of you can be a hero parent and not touch your phone after 5pm. And maybe you’re already good at putting your devices away, as are your children. We do#devicefreedinner and my boys are limited with their media use, but I’m thinking about fully protecting random other hours, too. Practically speaking, I want to think on finding one hour, every single day, to put my phone in airplane mode. We can untether ourselves. Make a new habit. Stop the rush and make a beep or a call an impossible interruption. Just be around for the goofing off. Bring summer all the way into the depths of December, every single day. Practice the art of one hour offline and out of earshot daily. Join me?

New Breast Pump Cleaning Guidelines From CDC

Every tool can carry risk when not used properly. The story about breast pumps and infection risk in the media recently is no exception. Attention all breast feeding & pumping mamas out there (and all the lovely people who support moms who pump milk): The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) has issued new guidelines for properly cleaning your breast pump & parts. The new recommendations come in the wake of a devastating story of a premature baby girl who showed signs of sepsis (bloodstream infection) at age 21 days due to an unusual bacterial infection. She developed spastic cerebral palsy, developmental delays and later passed away. This case is an outlier, for sure, but did prompt learning that the CDC felt the public should know.

After a full investigation, the CDC traced the infection source back to the breast pump and parts. The way the breast pump equipment was cared for may have allowed bacteria to grow. The CDC reported that the girl’s mother typically soaked the collection kit from her personal breast pump in soapy water in a wash basin for ≤5 hours without scrubbing or sanitizing. She then rinsed, air-dried, and stored the kit in a plastic zip-top bag until the next use. It’s possible how she cared for the pump allowed for bacteria to grow and be transferred to the baby. Because the baby was young and born prematurely, the baby was at greater risk for infection that most full-term older infants.

In response to the investigation, we reviewed existing resources for women about how to pump breast milk safely, but found little guidance that was detailed and based on the best available science,” Dr. Anna Bowen, a CDC medical officer, told Parents. “As a result, CDC developed its own guidance.”

New CDC Breast Pump Cleaning Guidelines:

  • Clean your pump parts after every use. Don’t skip a single feeding. I know it’s yet another step in the long process of breastfeeding and pumping, but it’s crucial. Annoying add but the recommendations are based in experts evaluating risks.
  • Wash your hands before touching your pump parts or pumped milk.
  • Key: keep a separate wash basin for the parts, the CDC doesn’t recommend you use the kitchen sink to clean pump supplies as the sink may house germs and bacteria from other food prep.
  • Have a dedicated cleaning brush for your pump and parts. Clean that brush every few days. Don’t re-use the sponge you use to scrub food off your plates and dishes.
  • Use running water and soap to clean breast pump parts that come in contact with breast milk.
  • Then let each piece and part air dry.
  • For extra cleanliness you can boil or steam the parts to sanitize in either a microwavable steamer or use the sanitize cycle in the dishwasher (HOT water). You can use the sanitizing bags that you use in the microwave or you can bring a pot of water to a boil and boil parts in the bubbling water for 5 minutes.

Bottom Line: this news isn’t meant to scare or drive moms away from breastfeeding and pumping. We know the many benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and baby (see below). This is just a reminder to be diligent when cleaning and sanitizing your breast pump.

Some Benefits of Breast Feeding For Baby

  • Lower SIDS risk in babies who are breastfed
  • Immune support that moms pass through breastmilk (no trivial thing!)– These free antibodies reduce infections for babies (ear infections, diarrhea)
  • Complete nutrition, no processed food! Yum.
  • Good bacteria — the passing along of the microbiome from mama to baby. So much to learn about this but we know the microbiome in breastfed babies is different than that of formula-fed babies. Time will tell how “protective” this really is. So I won’t promise it’s “healthier” but do know it’s different.
  • Potential allergy protection – some data suggest breast feeding can stave-off development of some severe allergies.

Benefits of Breast Feeding For Mom

  • Benefits for a more rapid recovery from delivery. Hello, helpful.
  • Reduced rates of breast and ovarian cancer in life overall.
  • Contraception support (don’t count on breastfeeding as a 100% contraception method!) and support in not having that next screaming baby faster than you want. However, can’t stress enough from my experience in medicine and life that you can never count on breastfeeding to prevent pregnancy.
  • 400-500 calories and a potentially speedier return to pre-pregnancy weight! I mean making milk for your baby all day is wondrous and burns off the equivalent of a 5-mile run. Nice.

Driving Under The Influence of Electronics: The New Law

Getting a DUI just got easier. Driving Under The Influence of Electronics (E-DUI) is real and will cost you as Washington State gets serious about reducing deaths from car accidents caused by distraction. The reason is clear: we know distraction from cell phone use increases risks of accidents over 20-fold and we know the habit of using a device has quickly become the norm. Here’s to hoping the new law helps us think of our cars as the sanctuaries they can be for those we cart around and for those we love. Of anything I’ve learned from researchers about vehicle safety and distraction it’s the reality that finger-wagging and telling-us-to-change type advice won’t affect our habits — we have to be motivated to change the culture of our car. We have to want to connect there or we have to be fearful of being fined. Since I made the podcast with Dr. Beth Ebel (embedded below), whenever I get in the car with my boys I think of it more like I think of time at the dinner table. And I love thinking about the car in that way. It’s so much easier to make sure I won’t pick up the phone…

The New E-DUI Law In Washington:

Tomorrow a new law signed by Governor Inslee bans holding hand-held devices, like cell phones, while driving (and even when you’re stopped at an intersection). The law makes it so drivers can only use their phones to call 911 or by using one finger to trigger a voice-activated application on bluetooth. In addition to a $136 ticket for your first offense and $234 for the second within 5 years, these citations will be reported to insurance companies. Learn more about the law on Washington’s Target Zero website. The reason is pretty clear — just as we were seeing the death rate fall from good seatbelt use and clamping down on DUIs, there has been a rise in accidents and deaths. Many believe this is in part due to the rapid rise of device distraction.

Under the new law you can’t even look at your phone at stop lights. Reason is, you lose awareness of situations around you and many accidents occur when pedestrians are struck by distracted drivers in intersections.

Data Driving The New DUI Laws:

  • Fatalities from distracted driving increased 32 percent from 2014 to 2015 in Washington.
  • 71 percent of distracted drivers engage in the most dangerous distraction, cell phone use behind the wheel
  • One out of four crashes involves cell phone use just prior to the crash.
  • At any given time, 2013 research has found that about 10% of people driving are actually using a device and half are texting! Anecdotally it only seems to be getting worse. I mean we look around and constantly we see people flying down the highway while trying to send messages.

The law is a big step in the right direction for avoiding injuries and death from distracted driving. We know that it’s hard for us all (!!) to keep the phone off or in the backseat. And we know the fear of tickets — the ones that take away money but the ones that also increase insurance premiums — may change behavior. And that’s the goal. Public service announcements scaring us about risk clearly are not enough and are clearly ineffective as use of devices in cars rages on.
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Chemicals In Macaroni And Cheese Explained

If you’re a parent whose child loves macaroni and cheese (and truly, it’s the rare child who doesn’t), you’ve most likely seen the NYT media blitz on chemicals found in popular, boxed mac-n-cheese brands sold in grocery stores. I’m going to break it down quick and simple. Here we go….

  1. The chemical detected in the mac and cheese were are called phthalates. Phthalates aren’t an added ingredient that companies are purposely using in their products. This isn’t an artificial ingredient, per se. It also isn’t something you avoid in your food when buying organic foods.
  2. Phthalates are chemical toxins that are used to make rigid plastics more flexible and less breakable. These plastics are used in processing plants and conveyor systems that our food and other ingredients travel THROUGH while being preserved and packaged. The phthalates can then leak from the plastics (tubing, conveyor belts, machinery) INTO our food or ingredients.
  3. Research links phthalates to possible genital abnormalities at birth and disruption of hormones, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems. Phthalate exposures during pregnancy can cause changes in estrogen and testosterone levels in fetuses. There isn’t a known “safe” amount of phthalates for our diets. So when we can reduce our exposure to them, we should.
  4. Almost all dairy products you consume contain phthalates. So it’s not just the mac-n-cheese that’s exposing us to phthalates. Milk, cheese, cottage cheese, string cheese, ice cream and other foods…any milk product contains them. Phthalates piggyback into our food and are stored in fat. That’s one of the reasons it’s smarter to drink low-fat dairy products over high-fat ones.
  5. We don’t know yet which brands the report surveyed and this work wasn’t published in a peer-reviewed journal. Some media outlets are reporting Kraft was included but I was unable to unearth which brands and what levels were found. To be safe, I’d assume most macaroni and cheese prepared products contain some level of phthalates because they all require processing.
  6. Buying organic mac-n-cheese isn’t saving you from phthalate exposure. Remember anything that’s been processed through tubing or machinery can have phthalates. Phthalates can also leave plastic products in our house (plastic food containers, plastic dishware, plastic surfaces) and enter our food, especially when heated. So the less we use plastic to store or transport our food the better!
  7. We don’t actually know what level of phthalates are safe for consumption so as the science and understanding of the risks evolve it’s best to think on diminishing exposures.

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What To Do With Bug Bites and Itchiness

It’s July so we’re officially in summertime, thank goodness. My prescription: warm and outdoor adventures for us all! Obviously if we take the Rx seriously, we’ll all be more likely to get bit. When it comes to bug bites, the most important thing to know for your child (and yourself) is how they will react. Some children get bit all over and hardly react while others will have enormous, and tremendously ITCHY welts all over their body. There truly are children who are mosquito-bite sensitive and children who are not. Some get bit and hardly react while others of us end up with welts in minutes.

In general, bug bites cause a mild irritation to the skin. However, sometimes a more allergic reaction results and persists, even for days causing real discomfort. In these scenarios, it’s safe to use anti-allergy medications (diphenhydramine, etc) for itchiness from bites. It’s also safe to use over-the-counter (OTC) hydrocortisone cream or ointment on bites that aren’t scratched open or raw.

Some tips on how you can help keep your children bug bite free or help them when they do get bit: Read full post »

Just ASK About Firearms

It’s national selfie day (??? an excuse for my millennial behavior) and it’s also Just ASK day (smart stuff), hence the image I snapped this morning. I spent the morning today at KING5 news making some TV segments encouraging us all to ask about firearms when we drop our children and teens off for playdates, sleepovers, camps, and fun. Although it seems awkward at first blush to ask how a firearm is stored at a home of someone you love or someone you hardly know for that matter, I’m convinced it’s time to make it the norm. Weird, I suppose, to ask something that may feel imposing especially when someone is graciously taking in your little rugrat for dinner or soccer or a sleepover or a trip to the beach…the reality is this: 9 out of 10 parents don’t mind being asked about firearms. And ensuring that our children can’t get their hands on firearms at the wrong time is something we all work on.

Just ASK about firearms in the home. Every time. Make sure if firearms are in the home they are stored unloaded and are separate from ammunition. Ideally, firearms should be in lock boxes and/or have trigger locks

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A Few Recommended Rules For Fidget Spinners

Fidget spinners are everywhere. The photo here was captured this morning on the way into school. That little blue wonder spinner showed up in our home without us even knowing it last week. My 8 year-old got it at the 2nd-grade market our school put on! And I’ve even heard about a set of savvy middle-school students in the midwest using a 3-D printer to make their own. Hello, New World of Toys and Toy-Making. This just a reminder that these fidget toys are often cheap and easy to get ahold of so parents may not even know when one’s safely tucked in a backpack of a school-aged child or teen.

I played with one for the first time this morning and lemme say this: I get the draw.

Spinners are here to stay, at least for the rest of this school year, and teachers/parents/schools are making up the rules as we go. But yesterday when I interviewed with TODAY.com about potential choking risks after a 10 year-old needed surgery to remove a piece of a similar spinner from her esophagus, and I later learned the (now, not confirmed story — urban legend aka “fake news?”) tale that a teacher sustained a serious eye injury when one spinner went flying and fell apart. Although the injury is likely theoretic I got to thinking about what to know and how we can parent with the latest craze. The Facebook shares on this story have gone viral with over 700,000 shares and 75,000 comments in the past few days (*update 5/22/17: Facebook link has since been taken down). Clearly, spinners are on many of our minds.

The choking events will hopefully be exceedingly rare, as will the injuries from fidget spinners, but we can think clearly about how to enjoy these silly little objects and not go bananas or have anyone get hurt. Read full post »

Quick Video Q & A on Vaccinations

BBC invited me to discuss vaccinations and help answer some popular questions parents have about them. View this short Q&A video on BBC where I share the following answers to these common questions:

  • Can vaccines cause autism? We don’t know what causes all of autism spectrum disorders but we do know that vaccinations do not lead to the development of autism. More info worth reading here on Autism and Vaccinations from Autism Science Foundation — a non-profit working to support families with autism spectrum disorders and the research that helps guide and empower improved prevention and treatment.
  • Is it safer to space out vaccines? It isn’t safer to space out vaccines. Not a single study that finds a delayed schedule is safer than one spaced out. No data, for example, that an MMR shot is safer at age 3 than at age 1. Why wait while measles outbreaks do continue? Waiting only increases overall risk.
  • Should I be worried about the chemicals in vaccines? We know more about the safety of vaccines than we do about some of the foods we eat. The ingredients and rigor around the science of vaccines is tight. See recent post with info about ingredients or this info and Q&A on ingredients in vaccinations.
  • Isn’t it my personal choice? When you get your child vaccinated on schedule you’re not only protecting your child’s health, you’re protecting your community’s health. And your own family’s.

You can also view a BBC story on vaccination hesitancy or listen to a recording of its radio story where they discuss areas with higher levels of families delaying or opting out. As a reminder, in the US about 9 in 10 families do follow recommendations to get their children vaccinated on-time, keeping us all safer. Magic in medicine…

Getting Out Of Town With Children: Anchors of Happiness

Spring has sprung (hurrah!) and summertime is oddly just a couple of months off. A co-worker reminded me this week that school is out in 2 months. What?

As the rituals of summer near I’m reminded of the power and value in creating memories that break the mold of routine. Trips, time away, adventure, and creating a sense that the world is truly as big as it is. This starts and gains value right from home at the kitchen counter…

Recently, I’ve seen a series of online parenting articles about how family vacations throughout childhood are “anchors of happiness.” That they make and enhance a child’s life. At first glance it seems like pressure. It’s just been Spring Break, or is this week for you, and the pressures of watching families on Facebook fly off to Aruba are real… But I think there is something more essential to talk about here. Not the need or want to plan a luxury vacation, but the pristine opportunity to think on and prioritize exploration with our children. Clearly children notice and in my heart I know it’s meaningful.

The simple exercise of moving around our city or county or state or country or continent to different places with our children, during breaks from school and work, is magic. From planning a trip with your children to taking an actual vacation, there are a lot of data driven benefits – enjoyment (joy!), memory-making, cultural exposure and simple protected time away from school and work together to reflect on what matters.

In one article I read about family-vacationing, I saw this:

  • Only 25% of kids say they talk to their parents about something of great importance to them in a weeks time

Ohhhhhh, no! I decided to vet the above data with my 10 year-old. Puffed up with great pride that just in the last week I’d brought up the temperature of space, talked about the implications of a recent political scandal, worked on his school project together and generally been a stimulating conversation partner and “master mom” I said, “do you think we talk about things of great importance every week?” He paused and said, “No, I don’t think so.”

OH, no. Gotta get out of Dodge… Read full post »

I Like The Film Alike, A lot

Many of us struggle knowing which pitch or tenor to take in balancing the responsibilities, rigors and rule-following of regular school and work-life with the need to extend boundaries to live with our children in poetic, artful ways. How and when to comply, and how and when and why we sometimes don’t want to. It’s ultimately tricky and nuanced, yet the opportunity to live in color is just so profound.

Life is precious and unpredictable.

Thing is, sometimes we just miss the moment with our children. Sometimes we really are too demanding, too rigid, perhaps too purposeful. At least I know I am and can be. When I realize I’ve been blunted or on-task in ways that separate me from my children’s mindfulness or creativity or I’ve stunted my children in any way, it can feel a tiny bit like despair. Like a big, juicy #momfail.

I must say, I like Alike, a lot. This sweet film embodies the pulse of the challenge in living mindfully and playfully with children and the immensity of its import in daily life. There is a moment in this film that feels as tremendous as the love we feel for our children in real life. I cried witnessing it.

Everyone is born creative. Creativity can be especially fluid and accessible during childhood (some experts and parents and teachers and artists, of course, worry we work creativity “out” of children as they grow with our schooling structure and rigidity). Thankfully, children often get to live days that make space for the creative process and the exploration and silliness so wonderful in being alive that we stop making space for as we “grow up.”

Although this beautiful short film doesn’t offer any answers it moved me immensely.

I’ve been reflecting on mistakes I’ve made (ohhhhhhh, parenting is so tough!) but it also brewed a sense of optimism in me. I saw a glimpse of the big huge opportunity illuminated in each new day that unfolds. Enjoy, enjoy!