SchoolFamilycom and Meal Makeover Moms Present Healthier Mealtime Choices—And a Special Offer

“Hey Mom, what’s for dinner?”

Deciding what to make for dinner is a challenge in many households with young children, especially on busy weeknights. With school the next day, kids need a nutritious evening meal to get through their evening homework, especially after vigorous sports activities and other extracurricular events.

But…what can you make for dinner that’s quick, nutritious, healthy (or at least healthier), and that’ll actually be eaten by the kids?

And it's not only dinner, of course. Getting kids to eat something for breakfast before flying out the door is critically important since healthy food fuels their ability to learn and focus. Offering them a sugary Pop-Tart with empty calories isn't the answer—even if that's the only thing they say they'll eat. 

School lunch is another matter. If your kids hate the gruel handed out in the school cafeteria (though more and more schools are offering attractive and nutritious fare these days), what can they take for lunch that's healthy, portable, and tasty? 

As part of SchoolFamily.com’s Recipe Share, we’ve partnered with the Meal Makeover Moms. The “Moms” are cookbook authors and registered dietitians Janice Newell Bissex, MS, RD, and Liz Weiss, MS, RD, and they’ve made it their mission to give traditional recipes a makeover by reducing calories, fat, sodium, and more, and yet still keeping the food tasty enough to win over the pickiest of young eaters.

Their latest cookbook, No Whine With Dinner, features 150 healthy, kid-tested, mom-approved recipes, and 50 amazing tips from readers for getting picky eaters to try new foods—especially vegetables.

One of my family's favorites so far (I'm making my way through the cookbook!) is the recipe for Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins. It's an easy recipe to make and I love the fact that it calls for whole wheat flour and wheat germ. If I'm really honest, I'll admit I especially love that despite the "healthy" ingredients, my food-finicky teenage daughter grabs one of these muffins in the morning for breakfast and enjoys another when she gets home from her after-school activities. Whole wheat flour? Wheat germ? These ingredients would typically elicit a "yuck!" from her.

Are you hungry yet? Good! Because in a special offer, SchoolFamily.com readers can purchase No Whine With Dinner at 30 percent off the list price—and get free shipping—by ordering the book here and using promo code FS2011.

For more on the Meal Makeover Moms, follow their weekly podcasts at Cooking With the Moms or their blog at The Moms' Blog.


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Paying Kids for Grades: Bribery or Good Investment?

“Hey kids: I’ll give you $50 for that A!”

Have you ever paid your kids for getting good grades?

It’s a controversial practice to some who argue that it’s akin to bribing kids for studying hard and getting A’s—something they should be doing on their own anyway.

To many parents, however, it’s a way to get their kids to focus on academics, work diligently, albeit by keeping their eyes on the prize—the cold, hard cash for each good mark.

So, how much is an A worth? Or a straight-A report card? It depends on the parents and the child.

For one New Jersey father, it’s worth a lot: the dad pays $100 to each of his sons for a report card with all A’s. And if the boys maintain A’s all year, they get $1,000. Each.

Before you jump in your car and head to the nearest ATM, keep in mind that not all kids are motivated by the dangling cash carrot.

Though it’s hard to image this not working for most American teenagers.

What about children with learning disabilities? SchoolFamily.com blogger Livia McCoy argues that it's not a fair practice for these kids because the effort they often put in on homework and tests isn't necessarily reflected in the grades they get.

What do you think about all this? Take our poll and let us know if you’ve ever paid your children for good grades.

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How To Discuss the Tragedy in Colorado With Your Children

Dear SchoolFamily.com readers,

With news of the shooting tragedy in Colorado, our hearts are heavy and our condolences and thoughts go out to all affected by this dreadful event.

One of the toughest things parents can face is how to talk with their children about events as horrific as this. Even before we’ve had a chance to right ourselves and react, sometimes our children—even very young kids—have learned the news from television, newspapers, and sites on the Internet.

To help you discuss this tragedy with your children, we're sharing this informative article from the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Talking to Children About Disasters.”

For children who’ve endured and/or are recovering from a trauma or recent tragedy, our article on “How to Help Your Children Deal With Grief,”offers suggestions from experts on children and grieving, which can help you process difficult feelings with your child. 

How have your children reacted to the news in Colorado? Have you found ways to help them cope and process this tragic event? Please share your thoughts with us, and other SchoolFamily.com readers, by commenting below.

Carol Brooks Ball, Editor, SchoolFamily.com


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Does Your Smartphone Double As a Baby Toy?

File this under What will they think of next?”

We all know that smartphones are hugely popular. (Some of us have them and wouldn’t be without them, Yours Truly included.) And we generally know that apps for said smartphones are plentiful, varied, quirky, helpful, and generally curious.

We’ve come up with our list of the top 26 apps for students, parents, and families. Why? Because these apps can make life easier. Not better, mind you; just easier.

That said, some apps are, well, simply over the top. Take Geico’s BroStache (allows you to speak via your smartphone with a “mustache”), and the Bowel Mover app, which tracks…yeah, you guessed it (though, come to think of it, this might be a good app for parents who are potty-training their toddlers!).


Take our poll: Does your baby or toddler find your smartphone irresistible?


But how about apps that turn your smartphone into child’s play—literally? Fisher-Price sells hugely popular apps (700K downloads+) that the toy giant calls “Apptivity” sets. The apps go hand-in-hand with hardware that protects your smartphone. The “Laugh & Learn Apptivity Case” for iPhones and iPods is for babies 6 months and older. The cases have handles and rattles, and they protect your smartphone (or iPod) from your baby’s drooling, teething, and misdials while she’s playing with it. For toddlers age 3 and up, there’s the “Kid-Tough Apptivity Case” for your iPhone or iPod Touch. This case comes with a clear screen that protects against your little guy’s sticky fingers (and spilled glasses of milk, we presume). It also has a hole so that your toddler can take photos with your smartphone’s camera.

Are these apps over the top? Giving babies expensive smartphones to play with? As moms, many of us relented at some point and let our babies play with our car keys (which were full of germs and just gross), until that one time when (some of us) went to take the keys back only to find that they were missing (dropped by baby many, many steps ago). And, sure, your baby is just as fascinated today by your smartphone. But downloading apps for your baby to play on the phone?

Am I just getting old? Or, instead, do I just think that my $300+ smartphone isn’t a toy...



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Mother Arrested For Cheering Graduating Daughter, But There's More To the Story

A mother who says all she did was cheer for her daughter as the young woman graduated from high school last Saturday was arrested during the commencement ceremony and charged with disorderly conduct.

Sounds like the mother’s crime was innocent enough, doesn’t it? Cheering on your child as she walks across the stage during commencement to receive her diploma? And then arrested for it?

As is typical, however, there appear to be two sides of the story.

Local police say they announced to those gathered for the South Florence High School graduation at the Florence Civic Center in South Carolina last weekend that shouting and/or screaming would not be tolerated, and warned that those who did so would be removed from the building.

In an interview with WPDE/CarolinaLive, the online site of a local news station, the mother, Shannon Cooper, said she yelled, “Yay, my baby made it, yes!” She then said, “How can I not cheer for my child?”

However, an online comment about the incident, posted below the story on the news station’s website, was written by a woman who says she was at the graduation and included this statement: “I was there and first let me say that at the beginning of the ceremony it was told to us that it was the students [sic] wishes that there be no cheering and they wanted this day to be about them.”

Another comment on the same story made by person who also said she was at the graduation, read in part: “…the news needs to be corrected [sic] they never said they would throw people out…The principal said exactly…The senior student body voted and it was agreed upon by them that they would like for this graduation to only be about the student [sic] and not their parents or families…If you do not follow these decisions you will be removed from the ceremony…”

While police wouldn't comment on Cooper's arrest, they told the news station that people who became disorderly while being removed from the building were arrested. Cooper’s graduating daughter, Iesha Cooper, 18, said she witnessed the whole thing. “That's all I can picture,” Iesha told the news station, “me crying, looking at the police van knowing my mother is in there.” The mother also said she was held in a police van outside the building for a long period before being taken to the station.

What do you think? Would you loudly cheer for your child during a graduation ceremony? (Perhaps you have!). What if you were warned beforehand that doing so would lead to your expulsion? Or, do you feel instead that a commencement ceremony is a solemn occasion, and that parents cheering and shouting to their graduating children is inappropriate at best and downright rude at worst? Please comment below and share your thoughts!

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Facebook: Okay For 13-Year-Olds and Younger?

Word leaked this week that Facebook may be lifting its policy banning kids 13 and younger from opening an account, adding to the social media titan’s already registered 900 million monthly users.

The accounts for kids 13 and younger would require parental supervision, possibly by linking to a parent’s Facebook account, and/or limiting who kids can “friend” without parental approval. Some, however, say this is meaningless since it’s estimated that 7.5 million preteens and ‘tweens already use the site.


POLL: Will you allow your kids age 13 and younger to open a Facebook account?


What do you think? Some parents say “no way!” Others argue that a Facebook account for a ‘tween is no different than any of the popular apps kids download on their computers and phones—and according to a 2010 Kaiser study, 69 percent of 11-14 year-olds have cell phones! 

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Teacher's "Catastrophe Award" to 3rd Grader Stuns, Angers Mother

If the teacher who recently presented an 8-year-old student with a special “Catastrophe Award,” which was delivered to the child in front of the child's entire 3rd grade class, thinks this was funny, I think the teacher needs some classes in appropriate humor. And appropriate behavior.

The teacher, one Mrs. Plowman, who teaches 3rd grade at the Desert Springs Academy in Arizona, gave the award to little Cassandra Garcia, for “the most excuses for not having homework.” The teacher signed the award with a smiley face and her name.

Using a different word, couldn't this be described as bullying?

Cassandra’s mother, Christina Valdez, didn’t see the humor in the award either. At first, Valdez and her daughter were confused, since Cassandra's homework folder was complete, and Valdez said she hadn't been notified by the teacher about any missing homework. But the mother's confusion quickly turned to anger when her daughter said she was humiliated after receiving the award in front of her classmates and all of them laughed at her. And that's when Christina Valdez, called the school’s principal.

Valdez told KGUN-TV in Tuscon that when she complained to the principal, “… she blew me off. She said it was a joke that was played and that the teachers joke around with the children.”

Some education experts interviewed by the TV station and asked to comment on the “award” agreed with Valdez—that this was no laughing matter and that any such negative award was detrimental, especially to a child that age.

Personally, I think this was appalling and an utterly unacceptable gaffe on the teacher’s part. What was she thinking? What do you think? Couldn't this qualify as bullying?


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First Lady's 'American Grown' Book Promotes Family, School Gardens

Do your kids dislike most vegetables and some fruits? If so, have you ever considered helping your children grow their own produce by seeding, watering, weeding, and then harvesting their own garden?

 First Lady Michelle Obama says that’s just what it takes to get many kids excited—yes, you read that correctly: excited—about eating fresh produce. Her new book, “American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America,” shows pages of colorful photos of vegetables and fruits planted, tended to, harvested, and eaten by schoolchildren.


Take Our Poll: Has your child been involved in cultivating a fruit/vegetable garden, either at your home or at school?


“When you grow your own vegetables and fruits, they taste really good,” Mrs. Obama told schoolchildren, who gathered at the White House in March for the 4th annual planting of the White House Kitchen Garden. “They taste better than a lot of stuff you’ll get in a grocery store, trust me.”

“My kids have done it,” she added, telling the children, “They’re not big fans of all vegetables, but if they help to work on it they’re much more excited about trying it out.”

During a promotional appearance this week on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” the First Lady demonstrated how easy it is to plant fruits and veggies from seed, accompanied by 5 children from Public School 107 in Brooklyn, NY. The school’s Sunshine Garden, which features produce grown in container gardens in the schoolyard, is featured in Mrs. Obama’s book.

P.S. 107 used a Lowe’s Toolbox grant, awarded through SchoolFamily.com’s sister site, PTOToday.com, to create the edible garden, and the school was also featured in a PTO Today magazine article on school gardening article in 2011.

Have you gardened with your kids? Has it helped raise their interest in—and consumption of—the produce they’ve grown? Any helpful hints you can share about the process for those who’d like to try it? And if you'd like some easy recipes to make with kids or recipes older kids can make themselves using your garden-fresh produce, check out SchoolFamily.com's Recipe Share.

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Should Your Child's School Have the Right to See Her Facebook Page?

Pam Broviak of Illinois made headlines recently when she blogged about how officials at her daughter’s school forced the middle-schooler to show them comments on her Facebook page last fall, allegedly because another student was overheard making comments about the girl’s sexual activity.

Vote in our poll

Some things in this story are confusing, and it’s more than odd—even inappropriate, perhaps—that Borviak blogged about the incident on a public works blog she and others use in their role as public works employees (Broviak’s page on Quora lists her as a civil engineer for an Illinois municipality). She says she decided to post on the blog because her daughter’s social media privacy violation is exemplary of the current debate about government and employer intrusion into employees’ social media accounts.

Nonetheless, what’s really at issue here is student privacy vis-à-vis school officials’ self-described need to know. Broviak says her daughter has told her that other students at her Illinois middle school often feel forced into showing their social media pages to school principals and others, when questioned. 

What do you think? Take our poll and cast your vote: Do school officials have a right to look at a student’s private social media sites?

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Bullied Gay Teen Defends Himself At School Using Stun Gun Mom Gave Him

Parents, what do you think about this story?

A young Indianapolis teenager, who is openly gay and has been repeatedly bullied at school, was given a stun gun by his mother to protect himself.  

And when the young man, Darnell “Dynasty” Young, age 17, was recently surrounded by a group of six bullies who threatened to beat him, he says he raised the stun and shot it up into the air to scare them off.

He was then reportedly handcuffed and has since been expelled from the school. He cannot re-enroll, according to the Indianapolis Star, until next January, meaning he misses completing the end of his junior year, and the beginning of his senior year.


POLL: Did this mother do the right thing?


Young’s mother, Chelisa Grimes, who appeared on CNN with her son, said she feels she did the right thing in giving her son the weapon to protect himself. Grimes said she wasn’t even aware that her son was being bullied until she was contacted by school officials. After that, when nothing was done about the bullying— she says when she complained about the continued bullying school officials told her that Young should be less “flamboyant”—she provided the gun to her son.

What would you have done in this situation? Has anything like this happened at your child's school?

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Farewell To Maurice Sendak, Author of "Where The Wild Things Are"

To borrow a phrase from a classic Beatle’s song that feels especially applicable, “I read the news today, oh boy…”

The news in this case is the passing of writer Maurice Sendak, the man who penned whimsical, wonderful children’s books, the most well known of which—“Where The Wild Things Are”—was required nightly reading in our home when my son was a little boy.

For the uninitiated, “Where The Wild Things Are” tells the story of young Max, who is sent to his room without dinner for speaking rudely to his mother. In a flourish of anger, Max dons his “wolf suit,” and decides to sail away, never to return. On his voyage, he lands at a strange place inhabited by “wild things”—giant, grotesquely–shaped creatures, which Sendak said he created based on the dubious characteristics of some of his loud, obnoxious relatives with big noses and bad teeth.

Max eventually returns home, leaving the bereft wild things who have crowned him their new king and are heartbroken to see him go. Once home, Max and his mother make peace, and she gives him his dinner, which is still warm.  

Sendak’s sensibilities about children made him realize that kids wouldn’t be frightened by the book—or the wild things—though many adults were concerned that they would be. The book was initially banned by many librarians.

I loved Sendak’s work, but mostly I loved reading about him and seeing him in the rare televised interviews he gave. He was a cantankerous and opinionated man with a soft spot for children (though he never had any of his own), and seemed to inherently know their wishes and wiles better than most parents.

Some of my family’s other favorites by Sendak include “The Nutshell Library,” a collection of four small books:  “Alligators All Around,” “Chicken Soup With Rice,” “One Was Johnny,” and “Pierre.” We also enjoyed “In the Night Kitchen,” though it was more fanciful, complex, and mystical than his others. It was also a banned book for a time.

Sendak’s illustrations, from earlier in his career, included another favorite family, the “Little Bear” series, written by Else Holmelund Minarik.

My personal favorite, however, was “Really Rosie,” a musical production based on Sendak’s "Nutshell"collection with music written and performed by Carole King. We used to watch a videotape of “Really Rosie” over and over, and I admit that on occasion, it was me urging the kids to watch it, not the other way around. How could I not, with lyrics like these, from Sendak’s story “Pierre,” about a small, nasty, indifferent little boy who didn’t care about anything, including being swallowed by a lion—or so he thought:


“They rushed the lion into town

The doctor shook him up and down

And when the lion gave a roar

Pierre fell out upon the floor

He rubbed his eyes and scratched his head

And laughed because he wasn't dead

His mother cried and held him tight

His father asked-Are you all right?

Pierre said—I am feeling fine

Please take me home, it's half past nine


The lion said—If you would care

To climb on me, I'll take you there

Then everyone looked at Pierre

Who shouted—Yes, indeed, I care!

The lion took them home to rest

And stayed on as a weekend guest

The moral of Pierre is: CARE!”


If you haven’t yet experienced Sendak’s illustrations and books, now’s the time to do so. Someday, your kids will thank you. Looking for other great books to read? This summer reading list will get you and your kids started.

Editor's note: The image used here is a tagged illustration from "Where The Wild Things Are,” which shows Max in his wolf suit creating a "wild rumpus" with one of the wild things. The image appears in Kelsey-Woodlawn, Saskatoon, SK, Canada and is reprinted with permission from WikimediaCommons.

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School Family Announces "Recipe Share"!

At SchoolFamily.com, we’ve got some exciting news…

We’re very pleased to announce the launch of Recipe Share, SchoolFamily.com’s new recipe section!

Looking for a great afterschool snack to made for—or with—your kids? Or how about one that older kids can make themselves? We’ve got ‘em.

Need some new ideas for your child’s school lunch box? We’ve got ‘em.

What about recipes for quick and easy weeknight meals for those evenings that seem completely taken up with kids’ afterschool activities? Or recipes for dinners that can be made ahead? We’ve got ‘em.

Crockpot recipes, recipes for those with food allergies, recipes for desserts, salads, pasta dinners and salads, dips, and side dishes? We’ve got ‘em all, plus some. In fact, we have more than 50 recipe categories from which you can choose to find just what you’re looking for!

And all of our recipes are printer-friendly!

Some of our recipes are from food bloggers you may already know, including weelicious.com and freshbaby.com. Others are from fairly new food bloggers—Organic Glory and Mummy’s Busy World.

And in an exclusive partnership, we have recipes from the Meal Makeover Moms. These two moms, who are both registered dietitians, take traditional recipes and make them over for better nutrition, without sacrificing taste! How about Healthier Hamburger Helper? Or Smiley Face Casserole? (See their lasagna makeover—Chock-Full-O-Veggies Lasagna—pictured above.) The Meal Makeover Moms section features dinner, afterschool and lunch box snacks, desserts, stews, and more.

But perhaps best of all, we welcome recipe submissions from you, our readers! Send us your family’s favorite recipes of all types—dinners to dips to desserts and more—and we’ll include them in our Recipe Share. Simply complete this easy online form, attach a photo of your completed dish (if you have one), and send it along to us! We’ll send you a link to your recipe once it’s posted!

Happy eating!

Carol Brooks Ball, editor



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Does Your Child's School Lunch Offer Beef Mixed With "Pink Slime"?

When ABC News ran a program earlier this month on the use of so-called “pink slime” in USDA-approved ground beef, it created an overnight panic, especially among parents who wondered if the beef by-product is used in their children’s school lunches.

 Turns out they were right to worry.

According to one report, the USDA’s National School Lunch Program, which includes ground beef mixed with “Lean Finely Textured Beef” (LFTB)—aka pink slime, provides approximately 20 percent of the meals served to American schoolchildren in both public and non-profit schools. States and school districts purchase the additional food needed for school lunches.

After the ABC report went viral on social media, a Houston mother who writes The Lunch Tray Blog launched a petition on Change.org, asking the USDA to stop the use of LFTB in its National School Lunch Program.

The petition has collected close to 250,000 signatures. More importantly, the public outcry by parents and others concerned about the beef consumed by American schoolchildren led the USDA to announce March 15 that it will offer school districts the ability to order beef products with—and without—LFTB this fall.

The statement from the federal agency read, “USDA only purchases products for the school lunch program that are safe, nutritious and affordable—including all products containing Lean Finely Textured Beef. However, due to customer demand, the department will be adjusting procurement specifications for the next school year so schools can have additional options in procuring ground beef products. USDA will provide schools with a choice to order product either with or without Lean Finely Textured Beef.”

As news about LFTB spread, many national grocery chains have come forward admitting that they sell ground beef mixed with LFTB, and many of the major chains have  announced that they'll no longer do so.

What exactly is so-called “pink slime” or LFTB? It’s the trimmings—also known as renderings—from large cuts of beef which are sliced off, “finely” processed in machines that separate the fat that’s attached, then heated to remove any remaining fat, and then treated with ammonia hydroxide.

 Sounds yummy, no?

 Incidentally, the man responsible for the term “pink slime” is Gerald Zirnstein, a former microbiologist at the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service. He reportedly came up with the term after touring one of four plants owned by Beef Products Inc., based in South Dakota—the producer of LFTB—and later told colleagues that he didn't consider the product to be beef. 

 Do you know if your school district or state uses ground beef mixed with LFTB? Will you try to find out? What’s your take on this whole "where's the beef?" controversy?

Editor's note: For healthy, nutritious school lunch and lunchbox ideas, visit our new SchoolFamily.com Recipe Share. Do you have a good recipe you'd be willing to share? Send it to us and we'll include it on our site!


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Parents Face New "Bully" Challenge As Film Released Without Rating

Editor's note: We first brought SchoolFamily.com readers news of the controversy surrounding the rating of "Bully," a new documentary being released this Friday. Here's an update on the very latest about the film.

Hollywood filmmaker Harvey Weinstein has carried through on his threat to release “Bully”—a documentary on bullying produced by his company— without a rating after butting heads with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) over the association’s “R” rating of the film.  

At issue is offensive language used in the film. During a bullying scene caught on camera, one student reportedly threatens another student, using the “F” word 6 times. This language, the MPAA has said, met its requirements for an “R” rating.

Weinstein, co-owner of The Weinstein Company (TWC) with his brother, appealed to the MPAA about the “R” rating earlier this year, requesting a “PG13” rating instead, but the appeal was denied. After that, Weinstein publicly threatened to release the film without a rating.

In turn, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), a membership organization for the nation’s theater owners, issued its own threat, warning Weinstein that if he released “Bully” without a rating, it would urge its members to give the film an NC-17 rating, which is even more restrictive than “R.”

John Fithian, president and CEO of NATO, wrote to Weinstein in February, warning him that, “if you decide to withdraw your support and participation in the rating system, and begin to release movies without ratings, I will have no choice but to encourage my theater owner members to treat unrated movies from The Weinstein Company in the same manner as they treat unrated movies from anyone else.

“In most cases,” Fithian’s letter continued, “that means enforcement as though the movies were rated NC-17 —where no one under the age of 18 can be admitted even with accompanying parents or guardians.”


Parents: What do you think of this latest news in the “Bully” controversy? If the unrated film is shown at local movie theaters, will you let your tweens and teens see it? Conversely, if local theater owners choose to rate the film NC-17, will you protest the ultra-restrictive rating? Please comment below and let us know. And follow the conversation on our SchoolFamily.com Facebook page.


“Bully” opens in New York and Los Angeles this Friday, March 30, and on Friday, April 13 in Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, and Minneapolis. TWC is holding a contest on the “Bully” website, inviting members of the public to request that the film be shown in their cit. Entrants click on “Demand it ©” and add their zip code. The top 10 cities, based on entrants, will see “Bully” and have a meet-and-greet with the director, Lee Hirsch.

There has been widespread support of the film, and the filmmaker’s demand that it receive a PG13 rating, among politicians, celebrities, and teens—one of whom created an online petition, which garnered close to 500,000 signatures. However many parents across the country remain torn about whether their children should see the film.

If theatre owners choose to follow NATO’s recommendation to rate the film NC-17, even fewer students will be allowed to see the film.

One major film chain—AMC Theaters—has already announced it will show the film unrated. AMC CEO Gerry Lopez reportedly said, “AMC will show this movie, and we invite our guests to engage in the dialogue its relevant message will inevitably provoke.

And according to one news report, a representative from The Weinstein Company said TWC doesn’t believe theatre owners will opt for the NC-17 rating.

"We believe theater owners everywhere will step up and do what's right for the benefit of all of the children out there who have been bullied or may have otherwise become bullies themselves," said Stephen Bruno, TWC’s president of marketing, adding that TWC will make the film available to schools and teachers across the country. 



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Parenting Regrets? I've Had A Few...

Do you have any regrets about your parenting?

I know I sure do. My kids, now 22 and almost-17, probably could provide a litany of things I did wrong or offenses I committed if they were given the opportunity. And that wouldn't include the things I personally regret—mainly sins of omission—that they'll never know about: the time I wish I had done this or I'd said that or I'd taken them here or brought them to see that or fed them this or exposed them to that...the list can feel endless.

That's why I'm conflicted about a new parenting book written by a pediatrician. A male pediatrician at that. (No snarky gender-ist stuff here; it's just that even the godfather of parenting in my kids' generation—world-famous pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton—admitted in a 1982 interview, that even though he was the parenting guru his wife did much of the child-rearing and parenting of their children: “... I was in on their infancy and early childhood, but I couldn't stand them as teenagers...I was lucky to have a wife, Chrissie, who really invested in raising kids. They turned out well.”)

Anyway, the new book's name alone gives me pause: No Regrets Parenting. In the book, reviewed here in Motherlode, author Dr. Harley Rotbar, offers myriad ways for parents to slow down and make the most of their parenting journey with their children. He does so with the reminder that, as parents, we have approximately 940 Saturdays with our kids, from their birth to their 18th birthday.

Seems so fleeting when you think of it that way, doesn't it?

Except not so much when you're in the middle of it. I remember rainy days with my son, then a toddler, spent wearing a makeshift cape (a beach towel) and dancing with him while singing countless versions of songs from Sesame Street, most memorably The Batty Bat, a song by the Count Dracula-like character, Count Von Count. It'd be fun for a few minutes but then became boring as hell and I'd find my mind wandering and thinking about what I'd be making for dinner that night or how much I was looking forward to my book group meeting that week when I could discuss thoughts! and ideas! and books! with other adults.

In other words, for many women—clearly not all—the hour-by-hour, day-to-day parenting of young children can be boring, dull, frustrating, and not very intellectually challenging. There, I've said it. So sue me.

The problem is, while the days pass slowly, the parenting years fly by. And that's where regrets tend to crop up. These days, when I see a mother with a little blond-haired imp of a boy, it takes my breath away—isn't that me and Brendan, my beautiful little boy with the gleam in his eye? Just yesterday? (If I'm lucky, the kid will then let out a glass-shattering whine about something he's being denied, and I feel better. For the moment.) Same for seeing a little blond-haired girl frolicking in the sand and waves at the beach, totally uninhibited and lost in play—isn't that my Caroline, my joyous little fairy-sprite? (BTW, that's her in the above photo, taken on a beach many years ago now.)

In a post on his companion No Regrets Parenting blog, Dr. Rotbar addresses parents whose children are grown and who wish they'd done things differently. They ask "Is it too late for me?", and he responds by arguing that "habits and patterns [in parents and kids] are NOT fixed in stone" and can be changed. He then offers involved-parenting ideas such as helping kids with their college applications and "learning their language," referring to Facebook, texting, etc. 

Most parents I know, myself included, are already doing this and not because we're trying to practice "no regrets parenting," but because we're, well, parents. And that's what we do.

In the end, I've found the only way to assuage the regrets I feel about parenting is to apply what I call thought-stopping, a behavior co-opted from cognitive therapy: When I feel especially regretful about something I did or didn't do, I replace that thought with the memory of something I DID do right. Or something I did consistently that made my kids laugh and smile and say, grinning, "My Mom's SO weird!"

My daughter reminded me of one such "thing" recently. We stopped into our local grocery store for a few items and while we were turning down the paper goods aisle, she smiled and said, "Mom, you ready?" Distracted, I looked at her wondering what she meant, and saw her mischievous grin as she held up a roll of paper towels. And not just any paper towels: a roll of Bounty, thick, BIG ROLL paper towels. She tossed the roll to me, turned, and ran down the length of the shopping aisle.

Holding the paper towel roll in one hand, and slapping it playfully into my other, I called, "You ready?" When she said yes, I cried, "Go deep, Carls!" and made a beautiful, Doug Flutie Hail Mary pass, sending that Bounty roll hurtling down the aisle, straight into her outstretched arms.

We then dissolved into paroxysms of laughter, and remembered our Grocery Shopping Paper Towel Toss tradition, which started with her brother when he was a toddler.

Parenting regrets? With apologies to Frank Sinatra, I've had a few...but then again, perhaps too few to mention.








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"Bully"—Documentary's Rating Creates Dilemma for Filmmakers, Parents, and Students

UPDATE: 03/12/12

Have you heard about “Bully”?

If you haven’t, you will. And then you can decide if you'll take your kids to see it. "Bully" is a documentary film produced by the Weinstein Co., which tells the stories of what really happens to children—and their families—as a result of relentless bullying.

Filmmakers followed three students who are bullying victims—Alex, 12, from Iowa; Kelby, 16, from Oklahoma; Ja’meya, 14, from Mississippi—over the course of the 2009/2010 school year. They also followed David and Tina Long from Georgia, parents of 17-year-old Tyler Long who ended his life after years of being bullied; and Kirk and Laura Smalley of Oklahoma, whose 11-year old son Ty took his own life after years of bullying abuse. The film follows Kirk as he starts Stand for the Silent, an anti-bullying program comprised of a series of silent vigils, which he hopes will draw attention to the bullying crisis in the U.S. and lead to anti-nationwide bullying legislation.

The film won’t be released until Friday, March 30, but it’s been in the news lately because of the “R” rating it was given by the Motion Picture Association of America—a rating that has infuriated producer Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein appealed the rating to the MPAA three weeks ago, but the organization refused to lower the rating to PG-13 due to the film’s harsh language—language that reportedly consists of 6 uses of the “F” word used during a bullying incident caught on film. What do these rating actually mean? According to the MPAA’s ratings site, an “R” rating means: “Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian.”A PG-13 rating means: “Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13.”



 SchoolFamily.com wants to hear from you!

Do you feel the film's rating should be changed? If the rating was PG-13 would you let your middle school and/or high school child see it? If the R rating stands, will you take your child to see the film?

Please share your thoughts with us by commenting below!


Numerous teen groups, non-profits organizations, and individual teens are lobbying the MPAA on Weinstein’s behalf, by collecting signatures, launching Facebook pages, releasing statements, and Tweeting about the film’s rating and why they want it changed to PG-13. Why? So that middle school and high school kids can go see the film. As any parent of a ‘tween or teen knows, attending a movie with Mom and Dad just isn’t cool. Perhaps more importantly, a PG-13 rating would mean the movie could be shown in schools. One high school student collected thousands of signatures and was invited to appear on the “Ellen DeGeneres Show” this week, where DeGeneres pledged her support to the ratings appeal and signed the petition herself. “I think it’s an important movie and I think it can save lives,” DeGeneres said.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper has also supported the film, featuring it on a recent episode on his show. Cooper is a longtime advocate of anti-bullying programs.   

In the meantime, Weinstein has announced that his company may consider releasing the film without a rating, effectively boycotting the MPAA. That, in turn, has infuriated theatre owners. In response to Weinstein’s statement, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) has warned Weinstein that it will urge its members to give the film an “NC-17” rating—“No One 17 and Under Admitted”—which is even more restrictive than the film’s current R rating.

Since many students who are learning disabled are often targets of cruel bullying, the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), a sponsor of the documentary, is joining the call for the rating change.

In an email sent to SchoolFamily.com, James Wendorf, executive director of the NCLD, had this to say about the film’s R-rating:

“[The] National Center for Learning Disabilities fully supports efforts to reduce the R rating currently assigned to the film ‘Bully’ and bring it to a broader audience. Bullying is nothing less than a crisis in this country, with 13 million American children waking up every morning fearing abuse from their peers.

“It is a fact NCLD knows all too well. Sixty percent of children with learning disabilities and other special needs say they have been seriously bullied, and that is why we joined with other special needs advocacy organizations to provide support for this vital film.

“Until parents understand this crisis and children and teens see and own the consequences of their behavior, there is little hope for improvement.”

UPDATE: 03/12/12, 10:52 A.M.: Due to the urging of Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) and other members of Congress, former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), now the president of the MPAA, will take part in a panel discussion this Thursday, March 15 in Washington, D.C., along with “Bully” producer Harvey Weinstein and director Lee Hirsch. The film will be shown to a group of teachers and principals invited from schools in the Washington area, followed by their participation in the panel discussion.

Tips for Parents on How to Prevent Bullying

The National Center for Learning Disabilities realizes that bullying involves not only the victim, but also the one doing the bullying, and those who witness the bullying but don’t do anything about it. These tips from the NCLD can help parents figure out what to do:

  • Stop bullying before it starts. Let everyone at your child’s school know that you are on the prowl for signs of bullying and that you expect everyone else to do the same. Preventing and stopping bullying is a shared responsibility, and one that is not voluntary. Ask to see the school-wide no-bullying policy and ask that the details regarding recognizing and reporting, consequences, and prevention activities be shared frequently with parents and faculty.
  • Use the word “bullying” with your child. Make sure they know what it means. They may not know that the hurtful behavior they are being forced to endure is wrong, mistaking it for “attention” or “acceptance” from peers. If your child is the one doing the bullying, help him to understand the negative impact it has on his status. And if your child is a bystander when bullying is taking place, help her to know what options she has—doing nothing not being one of them—without fear of being targeted herself.
  • Help your child know what to do. Assure him that he will not get in trouble. The perceived consequences of “tattling” could be keeping your child from sharing his bullying experiences. Help your child know the difference between “tattling” and “reporting an incident of bullying.” This is equally important for the children who are being victimized, those who are the aggressors, or those who are bystanders.
  • Know your rights and don’t be afraid to exercise them. The U.S. government, under both education and civil rights law, recognizes that bullying and harassment are forms of discrimination. Include a goal about bullying in your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP); ask about bullying at every parent teacher conference; and if bullying issues are not properly addressed, be prepared to file a formal complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

For more information on bullying, SchoolFamily.com has an entire section on bully awareness and prevention, with numerous articles and blog entries including what to do if you child is being bullied; tips about preventing cyberbullying; what to do if your child is the bully; and more. Readers may also benefit from reading Fast Facts on Bullying, produced by the Office for Civil Rights. 


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School District Signs Agreement to Prevent Bullying of Gay Teens

 A public school district in Minnesota made news this week when officials there ended a federal investigation, and a civil lawsuit filed by six teenage students, by agreeing to a series of changes that will make schools take notice and get involved when gay students are bullied.

 The New York Times article reported that over a 2-year period, the school district had nine students commit suicide after the teens were bullied because they were gay—or were perceived to be gay. Despite these tragedies, the school maintained a position of “neutrality,” whereby teachers had to be “neutral” on questions from students regarding sexual orientation. In other words, the teachers were prevented from being allowed to show support to, or prevent bullying of, students who identified themselves as gay or questioning their orientation.

 The new agreement was signed by officials with the Anoka-Hennepin School District and Department of Justice, the Department of Education, and the six students who sued the district.

 Tenets of the agreement include the following:

  • The district’s “neutrality” policy rescinded and replaced by a policy to “affirm the dignity and self-worth of students regardless of race, sexual orientation, disabilities, or other factors”
  • Strengthen ways to prevent, detect, and punish bullying based on gender or sexual orientation
  • Hire a full-time “harassment prevention” official
  • Increase availability of mental health counseling
  • Identify harassment “hot spots” in and outside of the middle and high schools

 According to the Times’ article, conservative Christian parents in the district who had formed a group called the Parent’s Action League in order to keep the neutrality policy, called the agreement a “travesty.”

 Does your school district have specific policies for preventing the bullying of gay students?  Are teachers allowed to answer students’ questions about sexual orientation?

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Great Kids' Books for Read Across America Day

 Read Across America Day, an annual program of the National Education Association (NEA), is Friday, March 2. Read Across America is a celebration of reading and a celebration of the birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel, more commonly known as Dr. Seuss.


At SchoolFamily.com, we're all about encouraging reading! Parents reading aloud to their children and kids reading by themselves are both proven ways to help them do better in school—and develop a lifelong love of reading. Reading should be celebrated and applauded—even for so-called "average" readers


Do you have a reluctant reader? Some kids will also be motivated by tracking their progress using our printable Reading Incentive Chart. For other tips on encouraging reading, check out our Building Reading Skills section.


The NEA  lists recommended books under “Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children.” And in honor of Read Across America, Voices From the Field—the official blog site of Save the Children—has posted a list of top books for children, by age, on their site in a series of posts called Love to Read. The books were chosen by Save the Children’s Early Childhood and Raising a Reader program leaders and specialists.


SchoolFamily.com is pleased to share this list with our readers. Note: The links below for each book are from online retailers. The books may also be found, however, at your local library. Not sure where the nearest library is? Do a library search through PublicLibraries.com, which lists all public libraries by state.



Mine! A Backpack Baby Story by Miriam Cohen


Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback


I Went Walking by Sue Williams


Flower Garden by Eve Bunting


Sail Away by Donald Crews


Nuts to You! By Lois Ehlert


Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert


All Fall Down by Helen Oxenbury


Pots and Pans by Anne Rockwell


Jungle Walk by Nancy Tafuri



Best Friends by Charlotte Labaronne


Mine! Mine! Mine! By Shelly Becker


Sharing How Kindness Grows by Fran Shaw


Sunshine & Storm by Elisabeth Jones


I Accept You as You Are! by David Parker


The Pout Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen


I’m in Charge of Me! by David Parker


I Love it When You Smile by Sam McBratney


I Love You All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas



Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney


Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo


Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan


The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan


Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner


The Stranger by Chris Van Allsburg


Number the Stars by Lois Lowry


Hatchet by Gary Paulsen


The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan


The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare


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School Shootings: Help Your Child Process Tragedy in the News

Our hearts and thoughts go out to the residents of Chardon, Ohio after the tragic shootings at Chardon High School on Monday, Feb. 27. As of this writing, three of the five teenage victims have succumbed to their injuries. TJ Lane, identified as the shooter, reportedly told police he’d been bullied at the school.


Tragedies like this raise myriad questions and can trigger grief reactions from children—and from parents as well. How should your handle your child’s confused feelings? How do you reassure your child that her school is safe (assuming you think it is safe)? Does her school have a strong anti-bullying program, and does it go far enough?


Perhaps the most pressing question for parents is how to help their child comprehend and interpret such tragic, frightening news. Our SchoolFamily.com experts say that parents should begin by managing, as much as possible, what their children see and read about the event in the media—on television, in newspapers, via the Internet, and on social media sites. While children may be reading at an advanced level, few are emotionally prepared to handle details of tragic and catastrophic events. Read more about this in Help Manage Anxiety About Current Events, on SchoolFamily.com. And regardless of the cause, parents can help their children handle overall anxiety by reading Help Kids Learn to Manage Stress.


What if your child is being bullied? Or—what if your child is the bully? Start by reading our articles on bullying prevention, which include information about preventing your child from being a bully’s victim, to teaching your child empathy.  To protect your child from online bullying known as cyberbullying, learn the red flags to watch for in this SchoolFamily.com guest blog post by bullying prevention expert Dr. Michele Borba.


If your suspect (or know) that your child is a bully, read the no-nonsense tips about what to do in this two-part guest blog post by Annie Fox, author, online educator, and host of Cruel’s Not Cool, an anti-bullying online forum.


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Should Principals Have Control of Students' "Off Campus" activity?

Most schools have rules for how students should behave while on school grounds, and many have a written code of behavior that students—and occasionally parents—are required to sign.


It's also long been the case that the off school-property behavior of students who hold leadership positions, play sports, or participate in extra-curricular clubs or organizations is held to a more rigorous standard. If the captain of the field hockey team is caught at a party where alcohol is present, for example, she is typically disciplined, often in the form of lost practice and game time.


However, many argue that legislators in Indiana have gone too far by voting to give school principals virtual 24/7 oversight of students and their activities.  A bill that received recent approval from the Indiana House of Representatives gives broad power to principals, allowing them to discipline any student for off-campus behavior that reflects badly on the school—in the principal's opinion.


Called the “Restoring School Discipline Act”—but referred to by some critics as the "Principal in Your Bedroom" bill—the legislation removes the “unlawful activity” clause, which is currently state law, thereby allowing principals to suspend or expel any student in grades K-12, for behavior or speech that could "reasonably be considered to be an interference with school purposes or an educational function," or when necessary to "restore order or protect persons on school property."


As vague as those conditions sound, the bill's sponsor, Republican State Rep. Eric Koch, insists the bill is ultimately about preventing cyber bullying (note that the term does not appear anywhere in the actual bill). “In limiting grounds for suspension and expulsion to only ‘unlawful’ conduct," Koch reportedly told a local newspaper, "current [state] law ties the hands of school officials to effectively deal with dangerous and disruptive behavior, including cyber bullying,”


Those against the bill, which must be approved by the Indiana Senate to become law, say in theory it could be used against students who speak out about something their principal deems detrimental to the school. Likewise, students who participate in an activity their principal feels isn't in keeping with the school's culture—say, a political rally; a particular summer job; even a student’s choice of attire outside of school—could be suspended or expelled.


Do you think this legislation goes too far? Once outside the school setting, do you think students should be beyond the purview of their school principal?


UPDATE: The bill has since been amended.  If it is approved by the Indiana Senate, a 14-member commission will be formed to study the issue further. However, the House must also approve the amended version.


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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?

Yes - 31.6%
Sometimes - 25.4%
No - 37.4%

Total votes: 4919
The voting for this poll has ended on: June 25, 2016