TIME Religion

Mending the Rift Between Obama and Catholics

67th Annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner
President Barack Obama, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney pray during the 67th Annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. New York Daily News—NY Daily News via Getty Images

The president's pro-family agenda, which promotes greater workplace flexibility, an increase in the minimum wage, affordable quality childcare and greater protections for pregnant workers, aligns perfectly with the Church’s rich tradition of social thought.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and President Barack Obama have had a rocky relationship over the past six years, with perhaps no issue more contentious than the Health and Human Services mandate, which has sparked the Bishops’ three “Fortnight for Freedom” campaigns. But President Obama’s recent speech at the White House Summit on Working Families provides a good opportunity for the two sides to turn the corner in the President’s final two years and work together on promoting an agenda that would benefit millions of American families.

If the Bishops hope to follow Pope Francis’ lead, fighting to undo the pressures and hardships that menace American families seems like an obvious next step. Pope Francis has constantly drawn attention to the impact of economic injustice on families, calling for changes that will give them greater economic security and more time for one another.

On both the left and the right, there is a growing recognition that families are facing intense pressures that are undermining family unity. Both Francis and Obama argue that no one should have to choose between dignified work and their family.

President Obama has responded by calling for a series of measures that will reduce that burden. He has proposed greater workplace flexibility, paid family leave, an increase in the minimum wage, increasing access to affordable quality childcare and greater protections for pregnant workers. All of these proposals align with the Catholic Church’s rich tradition of social thought and would help countless families across the country.

Obama even echoed a key teaching of the Church—one that Pope Francis has emphasized repeatedly—when he explained that “work gives us a sense of place and dignity.” Work allows people to contribute to the common good and use their gifts to participate in the creation of stronger communities and a better world. It can give people a sense of meaning and purpose.

Of course, people have dignity and worth whether they work or not. But this sense of worth and dignity is vital, and work allows many to have this sense and to live in a way that is compatible with that dignity. But it should not come at the cost of their family life.

President Obama noted that for many hourly workers, taking a few days off can result in them losing their jobs. But what happens when an aging parent needs assistance or a child needs help? Our responsibilities to our loved ones seem clear, but what is someone supposed to do when helping a family member risks creating an economic crisis in the family? If we value these family ties, we will work to eliminate such tragic choices.

And that also means working to increase the minimum wage. The Church has called for both a family wage and a living wage for decades upon decades. Church teaching demands that employers pay employees enough to ensure that their families have all of their needs met. There is a tendency to think of minimum wage workers as teenage kids looking to pick up some cash on the side, but many of these workers are trying to provide for their families. Progress must be made toward a living wage for these workers upon whom we all depend for our way of life.

President Obama noted that in 31 states, “decent childcare costs more than in-state tuition.” The scarcity and high costs of quality childcare have delayed my own academic and career progress, as I have chosen to serve as primary caretaker for my 15-month old daughter (which I find very fulfilling). My experience is far from uncommon, as many parents struggle to make difficult career choices, or worse, feel compelled to send their children to receive childcare that they know is not up to par.

While working at a think tank, editing, researching and care-taking has left me in a constant state of exhaustion. It has only been feasible because of the workplace flexibility I have in my chosen professions and because my boss is actually willing to implement the pro-family policies he promotes as a prominent Catholic political activist. But many do not have this type of workplace flexibility. We need companies to realize that these policies are not only about them doing the right thing for their workers, but actually result in higher productivity and lower turnover, as President Obama pointed out.

The leaders and members of the Church are the perfect partners in this push for economic justice and stronger families. From supporting the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to minimum wage increases to a paid family leave program, Catholics should take up the battle to provide American families with the flexibility, support and economic security they need to thrive in the 21st Century.

Robert Christian is the editor of Millennial, a PhD Candidate in Politics at The Catholic University of America, and a graduate fellow at the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies. He is a senior fellow at Democrats For Life of America.


HIV Did Not Stop Me From Having a Biological Child

Author Ben Banks with daughter Finley and wife Kasiah
Author Ben Banks with daughter Finley and wife Kasiah Rachel Taylor—Piedmont Photography/Palmyra, VA

Though I have been HIV-positive since childhood, it has always been my dream to have a family. Last year, my wife and I welcomed our biological daughter

On Monday, April 15, 2013, at 8:00 a.m., my life changed forever. My wife, Kasiah, and I welcomed our first child, a healthy girl named Finley Elizabeth Banks, into this world. She was perfect. But the journey to have a healthy, HIV-free biological child began many years before Finley’s birth.

In 1981, when I was two years old, I was diagnosed with Bilateral Wilms’ tumors, a cancer of the kidneys, which had also spread to both of my lungs. The prognosis was grim; treatment was aggressive. My tiny toddler body fought a battle that required 15 months of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgeries that required multiple blood transfusions.

Unknowingly, I was transfused with blood that infected me with HIV. Ten years later, having lived through a cancer-free childhood, doctors screened my blood during a routine oncology check-up. They discovered that I was HIV-positive.

In 1991, the epidemic was still raging, and very little was known about how HIV/AIDS infected and affected children. Pediatric treatment options were limited — AZT (the drug that drives the plot of Dallas Buyers Club) had only been approved for young patients the previous year.

Support from family and friends gave me the hope and strength I needed to fight every day and continue to plan for my future: graduate from high school and college, get married, and start a family. School required hard work and determination on my part, but starting a family would require unconditional love and support from another person, someone who could look past my HIV-positive diagnosis and see all of me.

That person was my best friend, Kasiah. We married in 2003. She believed in our future together, which included trusting that research would be developed to allow us to have a healthy, HIV-free biological child.

As we began to explore options, Kasiah and I were frustrated at the lack of family-planning data or information out there for serodiscordant couples like us, in which one partner is HIV-positive and the other is negative.

After endless telephone calls and consultations, we opted for sperm-washing and artificial insemination. Sperm washing is a technique commonly used to screen for genetic disorders, but the process is especially important for mixed-status couples who choose to have biological children. Doctors separate sperm from infected fluid, producing a virus-free sample (as with anything in medicine, the process does not 100% guarantee no transmission, and it is illegal in some states, but studies have shown its vast success).

After the sperm was washed, two samples were tested for HIV and both results were negative. This step was critical because we wanted to reduce the chances of horizontal (to the woman) or vertical (to the child) transmission of HIV as much as possible. And as mentors to younger HIV-positive children, adolescents, and young adults, we wanted to give the message of prevention.

Despite the now-wide research and documentation of prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT), there is still little dialogue around a father’s role in PMTCT. By not considering an HIV-positive male in terms of reproduction, a large portion of the HIV population is being ignored. We share our story and our daughter’s story to let other HIV-positive men know that the possibility of having a healthy, HIV-free family is very much a reality.

In the year we have loved Finley, we know what it means to be truly unselfish. Our hearts melt when we hear the words, “Ma-ma!” or “Da-da!” And we would not trade the sleepless nights, early wake-up calls, or dirty diapers for anything in the world.

Ben Banks is an HIV-positive Ambassador for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, which celebrate its 25th anniversary this week. He lives in Virginia with his family.

TIME health

Why Organic Is the Right Choice for Parents

STasker—Getty Images

Just in case you're undecided, we will make the case on why your kids should be eating organic

A poll out last week from the Organic Trade Association found a sharp decrease in parents who say price is a key factor limiting their organic purchases. “Parents in charge of the household budget recognize the benefits of organic,” said the trade group’s Laura Batcha. “And they’re willing to pay a little more to know that they are giving their families the highest-quality and most healthy products being offered in their local store.”

We can already hear the organic food naysayers: Highest quality? Healthy products? Hogwash — the organic industry just wants you buying more of its goods.

But the truth is choosing organic-certified foods — when you can and can afford to — is one of the best choices you can make for your children. We should know: as a mom of two girls and an author of books about sustainable food (Anna) and as a pediatrician and father of four (Alan), we have a handle on the research as well as firsthand experience.

We choose organic because we know, for example, that children fed an organic diet have much lower levels of metabolites of high-risk insecticides in their bodies. We also know that choosing organic food reduces the risk of exposure to toxic pesticides in our diet. The 2008–09 President’s Panel on Cancer report stated, “The entire U.S. population is exposed on a daily basis to numerous agricultural chemicals.” Many of these chemicals are known or suspected to cause cancer or disrupt our hormones, mimicking testosterone or estrogen, its authors continued. “Nearly 1,400 pesticides … registered by the Environmental Protection Agency for agricultural and nonagricultural uses … have been linked to brain/central nervous system, breast, colon, lung, ovarian cancers … as well as Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma” and more.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has also warned about the exposure to pesticides. “Children encounter pesticides daily and have unique susceptibilities to their potential toxicity,” it wrote in 2012, and “chronic health implications from both acute and chronic exposure are emerging.”

While we can’t limit all of our children’s exposures to toxins in the environment, we do have a say in the food they eat. And one of the best ways to limit their exposure to these chemicals is to choose an organic diet. Because of the persistence of pesticides in the environment, no food is 100% residue-free, but Chuck Benbrook of the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University has found that organic food has significantly lower pesticide residues than conventional food.

Choosing organic meat and dairy for your kids is also the best way to ensure that they’re not exposed to endocrine-disrupting chemicals like the synthetic hormones given to nonorganic livestock to speed growth and alter reproductive cycles. And choosing organic meat and dairy means your children are not fed meat that was raised on daily doses of antibiotics to speed growth, leading to dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Your kids will get more of the good stuff too. A recent study comparing organic and nonorganic dairy production, commissioned by the farming cooperative Organic Valley, found a medically significantly higher concentration of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids in organic products. “Organic Valley is proving what our farm families have known for a long time,” said George Siemon, a founding co-op member. “Not only is high-quality pasture and forage better for cows, it produces nutritionally superior whole milk.”

Organic food is a healthy choice for all of us but especially for kids. Infants and children are particularly vulnerable to chemicals, in part because their immune systems are still developing and in part because, pound for pound, they’re exposed to more chemical residues than adults. Another reason is that children and babies tend to eat a lot more of certain foods than adults — think bananas or apples.

The developing fetus in the womb is perhaps most vulnerable of all: three studies by scientists at Columbia University, the University of California, Berkeley, and Mount Sinai Hospital tracked women exposed to higher amounts of organophosphate pesticides while pregnant and found that once those children reached elementary-school age, they had IQs averaging several points below those of their peers.

We make the choice for organic not just for the health and safety of our own children but also for the health and safety of all children, especially to help protect the children of the people who grow and harvest our food. We know, for instance, that children born to women exposed to pesticides in agricultural fields or communities have lower IQs and other troubling health outcomes.

What about that 2012 Stanford study that purportedly found that organic food is no better for you than conventional food? The metastudy — or study of studies — was reported widely in the media to have found little evidence of health benefits from organic foods. While it found that conventional produce is five times more likely than organic to contain pesticide residues, the authors dismissed this conclusion based only on the total number of pesticide residues in food, not their toxicity. Critics of the study stressed that toxicity — the health risk posed by a particular residue — is what matters. According to Benbrook, an assessment of the same data set based on the known toxicity of residues reveals a 94% reduction in health risk from these pesticides among those who eat organic foods.

This summer, you can join with families across the country in heading out to farmers’ markets or supermarkets and seeking organic food, knowing that when we can and can afford to, organic is one of the best choices we can make for the health of our families.

Lappé is the co-founder of the Small Planet Institute and a nationally best-selling author, most recently of Diet for a Hot Planet. Greene is a leading pediatrician and author of Feeding Baby Green, among other books.


Yes, You Could Forget Your Kid in the Car—I Did

Flickr RF/Getty Images

Another sad story of a child dying from being left in a hot car should remind us of one thing: it could happen to any parent

“Oh my God, what a horrible parent. I would NEVER let that happen!”

This is a common refrain shouted across the Internet when summer inevitably brings a smattering of tragic stories involving young children who die after a parent forgets they’re in the car. This time it was 33-year-old Justin Ross Harris of Georgia, who apparently forgot to drop his 22-month-old son off at daycare on Wednesday, leaving him in the searing backseat of his SUV for seven hours while his dad was at work. Harris has been charged with murder.

Perhaps it’s human nature to automatically assign blame, or the simple power of denial in convincing yourself you would never forget your child – which is understandable. But it’s also inaccurate. I can tell you in brutal, intimate honesty, because it happened to me.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 25 kids every year die from similar incidents; this year, that count is already at 13. There is of course no stat on the number of kids who get forgotten, but then remembered in enough time to survive. If you have the emotional fortitude to read Gene Weingarten’s Pulitzer Prize-winning piece on the subject, you’ll see it happens to moms, dads, parents young and old.

I won’t sit here and tell you I’m a great parent, but I’m not a bad one. I love my kids and they are my world. I take great pains to make sure they are kept safe and out of harm’s way, and yet… I’m human. That’s what we are. Our perpetual capacity to make mistakes is innate, and should be reason not to judge.

Six years ago, when my oldest was born, I was his primary caregiver. I worked full time but my schedule was flexible, and my wife made most of the money. That meant I had the privilege of making him breakfast, getting him ready, and doing all the drop off/pick up from daycare. And I had my routine that went like clockwork every day.

Every day except Wednesday.

I had Wednesdays off, and one of my relatives was nice enough to come down for a few hours and help me out by watching Will. I used this time to run errands, go to the gym, and decompress from the standard pressure of raising a 10-month-old.

But on this specific Wednesday, she couldn’t come. And since errands wait for no man, I had to take Will with me to all the stores on my list. I remember feeling very grateful he fell asleep just before we left, and even stayed asleep as I transitioned him into the car seat. Then, just like every other hump day, my mind wandered to the litany of things I had to do and places I needed to be.

It was winter in Massachusetts, and temperatures were in the single digits. As I parked the car I was more intent on bracing myself for the arctic blast of cold air than anything else. I took a deep breath, pushed the door open, and hustled out into the deep freeze. As I got to the door of the grocery store—roughly 50 feet from the car—I kicked myself. I had forgotten my shopping list on the passenger seat.

Oh, and one other thing.

When I realized what else I had forgotten, I learned the true meaning of “panic attack.” I just stood there, paralyzed by a deeper fear than I have ever known. I could try to sugarcoat it by saying I was sleep-deprived and out of my normal routine—factual statements—but there was no denying another fact: I simply forgot about my son. If not for remembering the grocery list, there is a very good chance my boy would’ve been frozen to death upon my return.

I’m a writer. More specifically, I’m a parent blogger. That means I’ve detailed some very personal and often humiliating stories. Yet it wasn’t until yesterday that I told my wife this happened, and it’s taken six years to get the courage to post it publicly. The shame was just too great.

There are times when parents leave kids to die in cars because they’re doing drugs. With cases of clear neglect I have little difficulty joining the masses in summoning righteous anger and outrage. (And in Harris’s case, the investigation has not at this time been completed.) But when well-meaning parents have a tragic memory lapse that leads to a lifetime of guilt, shame, and blame, I can’t help but muster up some sympathy and recall that day six years ago.

The day a missing grocery list was the only thing that prevented me and my son from becoming a headline. And I’m willing to bet I’m not alone in the close-call department.


Aaron Gouveia is a husband, father of two boys, and writes for his site, The Daddy Files.

TIME Parenting

Yes, Mila Kunis, WE Are Pregnant

Mila Kunis is pregnant. And so is Ashton Kutcher. (Sort of.)
Mila Kunis is pregnant. And so is Ashton Kutcher. (Sort of.) Jon Kopaloff—FilmMagic

Maybe we can't physically carry and bear that baby, but we can—and do—share in the pitfalls and joys

The road to completing our family was fraught with four years of bad luck and emotional torment. So when we finally got a positive pregnancy test and then made it to the 12-week mark, you know what I shouted to anyone who would listen?


But according to Mila Kunis, the actress and ridiculously beautiful person who is having a child with Ashton Kutcher, my words were poorly chosen and out of bounds.

Kunis, in what was actually a really funny segment on Jimmy Kimmel Live, corrected the host when Kimmel said he and his wife are pregnant and expecting a child in February. Then she launched into a fake public service announcement.

“Hi, I’m Mila Kunis with a very special message for all you soon-to-be fathers. Stop saying, ‘We’re pregnant,’” she joked. “You’re not pregnant! Do you have to squeeze a watermelon-sized person out of your lady-hole? No. Are you crying alone in your car listening to a stupid Bette Midler song? No.”

Even though I’m someone who says, “We’re pregnant,” the bit made me laugh and I thought it was well done. I even posted it to Facebook with a message saying I disagreed with the premise, but had a good laugh.

And that’s when things got ugly.

Apparently some women are very touchy about the whole “We’re pregnant” thing. Comments like “WE aren’t carrying the baby, I am!” and “YOU aren’t going to have your most holy of orifices stretched, I am!” began arriving in droves. And those women are right.

Men cannot get pregnant. Men will never know what it’s like to endure morning sickness, lose control of our bladders (when we haven’t even been drinking), or have a miniature Jean-Claude Van Damme going all Bloodsport on our internal organs. Carrying and birthing a child is something only women have to endure, and the whole process is much harder on them than on us dads.

But that’s not what “we’re pregnant” means when I say it, and it’s certainly not how my wife interprets it. (I asked her.)

“We’re pregnant” means “We’re having a baby.” It means, “As a dad, I’m excited as hell.” It means, “This is actually happening.” But most importantly, when I say “We’re pregnant,” I’m letting everyone know that even though I’m not carrying the baby, I’m fully invested.

I’ll be at all the OB visits, I’ll read the baby books, and I won’t come near you with that smelly food that doesn’t even really smell but you think it smells so I’ll eat in the basement to avoid you vomiting for the 456th time.

Even though I didn’t go through the pains of pregnancy and childbirth, I was with my wife every step. Holding her hair back through the nausea, holding her hand through contractions, and getting her Kit-Kats and grapefruit (yes, seriously) when she had cravings.

Or, think of it this way:

While I’m not a professional athlete, I am a lifelong Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots fan. Fanatic, actually. I’m a crazy person with my sports. That means I sat through the dark years of the Sox and the even darker pre-2001 era of the Patriots. I invested money in the team via tickets and merchandise, I subscribed to the local cable channel that shows the baseball games, I brought them good fortune through a bevy of “lucky” trinkets that absolutely influenced the outcome of games, and I lived and died on every pitch and play.

So despite never donning a Sox jersey or strapping on football pads, guess what I said when my favorite teams won their respective championships?


Even though “We’re pregnant” is technically wrong because it ignores some biological impossibilities, my wife understands and appreciates the intent behind my words. Others might feel differently, and that’s fine, too. To each his and her own.

But during a time when more dads are stepping up and heeding the clarion call for added involvement, I’m not sure striking “We’re pregnant” from the expectant-parent vernacular sends the most productive message. If you have a supportive and doting partner, is this really the hill you want to die on while quibbling over semantics?

All I know is if that + sign ever appears on that magic stick again, my wife and I will happily announce: we are pregnant. And then I’ll stock up on Kit-Kats.

Aaron Gouveia is a husband, father of two boys, and writes for his site, The Daddy Files.


Good Parenting Skills: 7 Research-Backed Ways to Raise Kids Right

Oliver Rossi—Getty Images

I’ve posted about the research behind happy families and solid marriages, but what does science say about good parenting skills?

Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman do an excellent job of rounding up the latest research in their book, NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children.

Here are my highlights:

1) Praise Kids For Effort, Not Smarts

Praise kids for something they can easily control — the amount of effort they put in.

This teaches them to persist and that improvement is possible.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

“Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control,” she explains. “They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.” In follow-up interviews,Dweck discovered that those who think that innate intelligence is the key to success begin to discount the importance of effort.

But praising too often can be a problem.

If a child’s persistence is based only on rewards like praise; when the praise stops, the effort stops.

Best thing to do? Be like a slot machine. Praise intermittently.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

“The key is intermittent reinforcement,” says Cloninger. The brain has to learn that frustrating spells can be worked through. “A person who grows up getting too frequent rewards will not have persistence, because they’ll quit when the rewards disappear.”

2) Make Sure They Get Their Sleep

Losing an hour of sleep reduces your sixth-grader’s intelligence to that of a fourth-grader.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

The effect was indeed measurable—and sizeable. The performance gap caused by an hour’s difference in sleep was bigger than the gap between a normal fourth-grader and a normal sixth-grader. Which is another way of saying that a slightly-sleepy sixth-grader will perform in class like a mere fourth-grader. “A loss of one hour of sleep is equivalent to [the loss of] two years of cognitive maturation and development,” Sadeh explained.

If continued long enough, sleep issues can cause permanent problems. Teens surliness may actually be due to chronic sleep deprivation.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

A few scientists theorize that sleep problems during formative years can cause permanent changes in a child’s brain structure—damage that one can’t sleep off like a hangover. It’s even possible that many of the hallmark characteristics of being a tweener and teen—moodiness, depression, and even binge eating—are actually just symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation.

And staying up late on the weekends is problematic too. Weekend shift causes a drop of 7 IQ points — the equivalent of lead exposure.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

Every hour of weekend shift costs a child seven points on the test. Dr. Paul Suratt at the University of Virginia studied the impact of sleep problems on vocabulary test scores taken by elementary school students. He also found a seven-point reduction in scores. Seven points, Suratt notes, is significant: “Sleep disorders can impair children’s IQ as much as lead exposure.”

A study of over 3000 high school students showed a clear correlation between sleep and grades.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

Teens who received A’s averaged about fifteen more minutes sleep than the B students, who in turn averaged fifteen more minutes than the C’s, and so on. Wahlstrom’s data was an almost perfect replication of results from an earlier study of over 3,000 Rhode Island high schoolers by Brown’s Carskadon.

(More on good sleep here.)

3) How To Raise Honest Kids

No, you don’t know when your kid is lying. That’s your parental ego.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

Talwar has run hundreds of people through this test, and on the whole, their results are no better than chance. People simply cannot tell when kids are lying.

Kids want to please you. Tell them that the truth makes you happy – not just the right answer — and you’re more likely to get the truth.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

What really works is to tell the child, “I will not be upset with you if you peeked, and if you tell the truth, I will be really happy.” This is an offer of both immunity and a clear route back to good standing. Talwar explained this latest finding: “Young kids are lying to make you happy—trying to please you.” So telling kids that the truth will make a parent happy challenges the kid’s original thought that hearing good news—not the truth—is what will please the parent.

What’s a quick trick for getting your kid to be honest?

Say: “I’m about to ask you a question. But before I do that, will you promise to tell the truth?”

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

In Talwar’s peeking game, sometimes the researcher pauses the game with, “I’m about to ask you a question. But before I do that, will you promise to tell the truth?” (Yes, the child answers.) “Okay, did you peek at the toy when I was out of the room?” This promise cuts down lying by 25%.

4) Kids Need Rules

It’s a myth that being too strict causes rebellion and being permissive equals better behavior.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

Pushing a teen into rebellion by having too many rules was a sort of statistical myth. “That actually doesn’t happen,” remarked Darling… “Kids who go wild and get in trouble mostly have parents who don’t set rules or standards. Their parents are loving and accepting no matter what the kids do. But the kids take the lack of rules as a sign their parents don’t actually care—that their parent doesn’t really want this job of being the parent.”

Parents who set ground rules and consistently enforce them were also the parents who were the warmest.

And their children lied less than most kids.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

“Ironically, the type of parents who are actually most consistent in enforcing rules are the same parents who are most warm and have the most conversations with their kids,” Darling observed. They’ve set a few rules over certain key spheres of influence, and they’ve explained why the rules are there. They expect the child to obey them. Over life’s other spheres, they supported the child’s autonomy, allowing her freedom to make her own decisions. The kids of these parents lied the least. Rather than hiding twelve areas from their parents, they might be hiding as few as five.

That doesn’t mean you should be a Tiger Mom.

Parents that are too controlling = kids that are bored. And bored kids are the ones who drink and do drugs

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

Even the really busy kids could be bored, for two reasons. First, they were doing a lot of activities only because their parent signed them up—there was no intrinsic motivation. Second, they were so accustomed to their parents filling their free time that they didn’t know how to fill it on their own. “The more controlling the parent,” Caldwell explained, “the more likely a child is to experience boredom.” …The Mod Squad study did confirm Linda Caldwell’s hypothesis that teens turn to drinking and drugs because they’re bored in their free time.

5) Arguing With Teens Is Normal — And Healthy

Moderate conflict with teens produces better adjustment than none.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

University of Rochester’s Dr. Judith Smetana, a leader in the study of teen disclosure, confirms that, over the long term, “moderate conflict with parents [during adolescence] is associated with better adjustment than either no-conflict or frequent conflict.”

More than 3/4 of daughters felt arguments with their mother strengthened the relationship.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

But only 23% of the daughters felt that their arguments were destructive. Far more believed that fighting strengthened their relationship with their mother. “Their perception of the fighting was really sophisticated, far more than we anticipated for teenagers,” noted Holmes. “They saw fighting as a way to see their parents in a new way, as a result of hearing their mother’s point of view be articulated.”

6) Fighting In Front Of The Kids Can Be Good

Fighting with your spouse in front of the kids can be a good thing — if the children see the argument resolved in front of them.

Fighting and sending the kids away before it’s resolved — that’s what causes problems.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

In one study, a third of the children reacted aggressively after witnessing the staged conflict—they shouted, got angry, or punched a pillow. But in that same study, something else happened, which eliminated the aggressive reaction in all but 4% of the children. What was this magical thing? Letting the child witness not just the argument, but the resolution of the argument. When the videotape was stopped mid-argument, it had a very negative effect. But if the child was allowed to see the contention get worked out, it calmed him. “We varied the intensity of the arguments, and that didn’t matter,” recalled Cummings. “The arguments can become pretty intense, and yet if it’s resolved, kids are okay with it.” Most kids were just as happy at the conclusion of the session as they were when witnessing a friendly interaction between parents…

…being exposed to constructive marital conflict can actually be good for children—if it doesn’t escalate, insults are avoided, and the dispute is resolved with affection. This improves their sense of security, over time, and increases their prosocial behavior at school as rated by teachers. Cummings noted, “Resolution has to be sincere, not manipulated for their benefit—or they’ll see through it.” Kids learn a lesson in conflict resolution: the argument gives them an example of how to compromise and reconcile—a lesson lost for the child spared witnessing an argument.

7) A Gratitude Journal Works Magic

I’ve posted before about the incredible benefits of keeping a gratitude journal. It works for kids too.

Students who kept a gratitude journal were happier, more optimistic, and healthier.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

In one celebrated example, Dr. Robert Emmons, of the University of California at Davis, asked college students to keep a gratitude journal—over ten weeks, the undergrads listed five things that had happened in the last week which they were thankful for. The results were surprisingly powerful—the students who kept the gratitude journal were 25% happier, were more optimistic about the future, and got sick less often during the controlled trial. They even got more exercise.

What Next?

Here are three other research-backed posts that can help build a great family:

  1. How To Have A Happy Family – 7 Tips Backed By Research
  2. Recipe For A Happy Marriage: The 7 Scientific Secrets
  3. Parent myths: How much of what your parents told you was wrong?

For more helpful tips, join 45K+ other readers and get my free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME Parenting

Don’t Let Your Husband Be a Stay-At-Home Dad

Paul Bradbury—Getty Images/Caiaimage

Quitting your job to be a full-time parent is an equal-opportunity risk, though fathers opting out can sometimes be worse for families.

The socioeconomics of parenting are changing. The number of stay-at-home fathers in the past decade has doubled since the 1970s to about 550,000 men, and that figure is expected to grow, especially as more wives take on the breadwinning role in their marriages and the cost of childcare holds intolerable for many families.

I currently earn more than my husband and have, at times, romanticized over him supporting us as the primary caretaker in our growing family. What mother doesn’t enjoy coming home to a home-cooked meal, clean house and bathed child? And more dad involvement is never a bad thing. The stronger the relationship between father and child, the happier the family is, according to a joint study by Brigham Young University and Utah State University.

On the other hand, though, quitting your job to be a stay-at-home parent carries a number of potential risks. And when that parent is dad, the drawbacks can, in at least one case, be graver.

Just as one might hesitate to advocate for women to leave the workforce to become a stay-at-home mom, a similar case can go for men. What happens if dad wants back into the workforce later on? What happens if mom loses her job, faces a salary cut or is unable to work for a period of time due to an injury or other unexpected circumstance?

There’s no denying that childcare is one of the tallest expenses families face. The average annual cost of center-based care for a small child in the U.S. runs as high as $16,000 in states like Massachusetts, according to Child Care Aware of America’s 2013 report. For two children the annual expense can average as much as $28,600. These numbers can be much higher in metropolitan areas, rivaling the cost of sending a kid to college.

The mere economics of it all – especially if you have more than one child – can be enough to support the rationale that one parent should stop working to support life at home. And if you philosophically don’t believe in outsourced childcare to begin with, the decision to become a single-income family proves even more compelling.

With a baby soon on the way, my husband and I have crunched the numbers and learned that a quality day care facility in our Brooklyn neighborhood would run us about $500 to $600 a week. Meanwhile full-time at-home childcare – not including overtime – is more than $35,000 a year. For now, we’ve opted for the latter and have planned some serious spending cuts to make up for the monstrous expense. But add to our household a couple more kids down the road, perhaps a dog, a bigger home to accommodate, and the math would then likely favor designating my husband as Mr. Mom, still assuming our existing income disparity.

Even then, however, we’d rather outsource childcare for fear of the unknown. Is that crazy?

Perhaps not when you consider the facts of the matter. We know that women already pay a price for taking a leave of absence from the workforce. Sheryl Sandberg points out in her book Lean In that “women’s average annual earnings decrease by 20 percent if they are out of the workforce for just one year…30 percent after two to three years, which is the average amount of time professional women off-ramp from the workforce.”

Research suggests the penalty may even be greater for men who temporarily exit the workforce. One study found that dads who left work for even a short period of time to cater to domestic matters earned lower evaluations and more negative performance ratings at work than women who opted out.

Single-income families are also at a higher risk of financial collapse, as one might guess. Researchers at Hope College and Cornell University found that, “Not only are two wages often necessary to adequately provide for the needs of most families, dual-earner couples are less economically vulnerable than single-earner families, for whom a layoff can mean financial collapse.”

A single-income household can also result in more stress for her. As it stands, wives who earn more admit to feeling more pressure to “make it all work,” especially when it comes to the family’s finances. An academic survey I co-authored with Brad Klontz, a clinical psychologist, found that when she makes more she is significantly more likely to be the primary decision-maker on money matters and take charge of things like paying bills, budgeting, saving and planning for retirement. And a greater number of women who earn a bigger paycheck wish their partner or spouse would carry more of the financial burden in the relationship. And if he’s not making any money, where does this leave her?

There is a possible happy medium to this, as many stay-at-home moms have discovered: earn income from home as a part-time freelancer or entrepreneur while you commit to raising your family or, if possible, ask your employer about telecommuting a few days a week.

But even those options are easier said than done. Not everyone can find a way to make decent money from home given their area of expertise; juggling work and little ones in the same space can be harder than one expects; and telecommuting isn’t possibly for many.

When you consider the potential risks of not generating any money as a partner, however, earning an income is simply necessary. Not to mention, keeping your toe in the workforce is a way to still explore and satisfy other needs that go beyond that of Super Mom or Dad.

From WHEN SHE MAKES MORE: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women by Farnoosh Torabi. Reprinted by arrangement with Hudson Street Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC. Copyright © 2014 by Farnoosh Torabi.

TIME Parenting

20 Simple Secrets Of Happy Families – All Backed By Science

Where You Live Matters

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

People who are highly satisfied with their neighborhood are 25 percent more likely to be highly satisfied with their family life.

-Toth, Brown, and Xu 2002

Open Communication Is A Must

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

The less open the communication between adults and children, the more pessimistic the children are likely to be and the less likely the children are to feel secure in their family relationship. This is nearly doubly as significant in stepparent-children relationships.

- Al-Abbad 2001

Tell The Family Story

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Parents who frequently share stories of family history with their children produce higher levels of interest and concern for family members, and increase the likelihood of their children’s happiness as an adult by 5 percent.

- Leader 2001

Parents who are more honest and open with their children, more frequently disclosing stories about themselves and their feelings, increase their children’s feeling of connection to their parents by 31 percent, and increase the likelihood of their children enjoying a positive self-image by 17 percent.

- Baird 2002

(More on the value of telling family stories here.)

To Communicate Values To Kids, Focus On Closeness, Not Lectures

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Feelings of closeness and high levels of time spent together are three times as likely to produce similar values and political views in offspring as are a parental emphasis on those views.

- Buysse 2000

Like It Or Not, You Are A Role Model To Your Children

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Studies of young adults find that more than seven out of ten regularly measure themselves against their parents in terms of either their career or relationship status.

- Glasman 2002

To Be Happy With Your Family, Be Open To Change

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Studies focusing on the ability of people to maintain happiness as they age reveal that an openness to change in both family life and work life is associated with a 23 percent greater likelihood of maintaining high levels of life satisfaction.

- Crosnoe and Elder 2002

Studies of people who are characterized as rigid — extremely reluctant to accept change — show they are 39 percent less likely to communicate well with their families and 27 percent less likely to feel close to their family.

- Sayre 2001

We Love Those Who Show Love

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

People are 47 percent more likely to feel close to a family member who frequently expresses affection than to a family member who rarely expresses affection.

- Walther-Lee 1999

They Need You To Be Positive When Times Are Tough

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Even in the toughest times, when a person can think positively about the future they are capable of reducing the stress felt by their family members by as much as 60 percent.

- Atienza, Stephens, and Townsend 2002

History Beats Apology

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

For children, more than 80 percent of the basis for forgiving negative parental behavior is rooted in the pre-existing strength of the relationship rather than in the immediate aftermath of the behavior, such as the apology.

- Paleari, Regalia, and Fincham 2003

Try To Be Fair, Not Right

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

When there is conflict, the perception that you are generally fair is eight times more important than the perception that you are generally correct in maintaining the respect of family members.

- Montford 2002

The Secret To Work/Life Balance Is A Feeling Of Control

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Parents who balance work and family life find that they are 41 percent more likely to feel satisfied with their situation if they can see the pleasant aspects of the stress they experience — namely that their efforts are part of a full life of their own choosing.

- Jackson and Scharman 2002

Discussing Tough Subjects Pays Dividends Later

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Research on the frequency with which mothers discuss sensitive topics with their teenage daughters reveals that willingness to discuss sensitive topics increases the future closeness of the relationship by 36 percent.

- Silverberg, Koerner, Wallace, Jacobs, Lehman, and Raymond 2002

Happiness Is Determined By What You Think About Most

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

People who are happy with their lives and their family lives spend twice as much time thinking about the good parts of their lives as people who are not satisfied with their life or family life.

- Diener, Lucas, Oishi, and Suh 2002

(The things proven to make you happier are here.)

Family Rituals Matter

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Consistent family rituals encourage the social development of children and increase feelings of family cohesiveness by more than 17 percent.

- Eaker and Walters 2002

(More on how rituals make life better here.)

Kids That Pick Their Activities Enjoy School

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Children who regularly participate in structured extracurricular activities (including clubs and sports teams) of their own choosing are 24 percent more likely to report that they like going to school.

- Gilman 2001

Separate Your Work And Family Life

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

People who carry worries about their family to their work, or worries about their work to their family, are 32 percent less likely to be satisfied with their lives and 44 percent more likely to feel out of control than people who segment their thinking by keeping their work and family concerns separate.

- Sumer and Knight 2001

Coping With In-Laws Is Worth It

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Satisfaction with marriage is 13 percent more likely when friendly relationships are maintained with both sets of in-laws.

- Timmer and Veroff 2000

Fido Helps

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

People who feel their family is experiencing a lot of conflict are 22 percent more likely to feel hopeful about the situation if there is a pet in their life.

- Bussolari 2002

(What your pet says about your personality is here.)

Kids Need More Than Just Mom And Dad

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Studies of boys and girls find that the presence of a trusted nonparental adult increases feelings of support and life satisfaction by more than 30 percent.

- Colarossi 2001

(Bruce Feiler, author of The Secrets of Happy Families, presents some excellent research on why grandmoms are so important here.)

Anyone Can Have A Happy Family

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Researchers have found that a loving family life can be created among any group of people. Long-term studies comparing adopted children to children raised by their biological parents find little difference in the children’s feelings on family life, and no difference in their ability to enjoy good relationships with peers.

- Neiheiser 2001

What’s Next?

Here are three other research-backed posts that can help build a great family:

  1. How To Have A Happy Family – 7 Tips Backed By Research
  2. Recipe For A Happy Marriage: The 7 Scientific Secrets
  3. Good Parenting Skills: 7 Research-Backed Ways to Raise Kids Right

For more helpful tips, join 45K+ other readers and get my free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME The Weekend Read

Science Gave My Son the Gift of Sound

Alex, March 2006.
Alex, March 2006. Courtesy of Lydia Denworth

Cochlear implants have been controversial in Deaf culture — how would one change my son?

On a cold January night, I was making dinner while my three boys played in and around the kitchen. I heard my husband Mark’s key in the lock. Jake and Matthew, my two older sons, tore down the long, narrow hall toward the door. “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” they cried and flung themselves at Mark before he was all the way inside.

He was nearly two and he could say only ‘Mama,’ ‘Dada,’ ‘hello,’ and ‘up.’I turned and looked at Alex, my baby, who was 20 months old. He was still sitting on the kitchen floor, his back to the door, fully engaged in rolling a toy truck into a tower of blocks. A raw, sharp ache hit my gut. Taking a deep breath, I bent down, tapped Alex on the shoulder and, when he looked up, pointed at the pandemonium down the hall. His gaze followed my finger. When he spotted Mark, he leapt up and raced into his arms.

We had been worried about Alex for months. The day after he was born, four weeks early, in April 2003, a nurse appeared at my hospital bedside. I remember her blue scrubs and her bun and that, when she came in, I was watching the news reports from Baghdad, where Iraqis were throwing shoes at a statue of Saddam Hussein and people thought we had already won the war. The nurse told me Alex had failed a routine hearing test.

“His ears are full of mucus because he was early,” the nurse explained, “that’s probably all it is.” A few weeks later, when I took Alex back to the audiologist as instructed, he passed a test designed to uncover anything worse than mild hearing loss. Relieved, I put hearing out of my mind.

It wasn’t until that January night in the kitchen that Alex was totally and obviously unresponsive to sound. Within weeks, tests revealed a moderate to profound sensorineural hearing loss in both of Alex’s ears. That meant that the intricate and finely tuned cochleas in Alex’s ears weren’t conveying sound the way they should.

Nonetheless, he still had usable hearing. With hearing aids, there was every reason to think Alex could learn to speak and listen. We decided to make that our goal. He had a lot of catching up to do. He was nearly two and he could say only “Mama,” “Dada,” “hello,” and “up.”

A few months later we got a further unwelcome surprise: All of the hearing in Alex’s right ear was gone. He was now profoundly deaf in that ear. We had discovered in the intervening months that in addition to a congenital deformity of the inner ear called Mondini dysplasia, he had a progressive condition called Enlarged Vestibular Aqueduct (EVA). That meant a bang on the head or even a sudden change in pressure could cause further loss of hearing. It seemed likely to be only a matter of time before the left ear followed the right.

Suddenly Alex was a candidate for a cochlear implant. When we consulted a surgeon, he clipped several CT scan images of our son’s head up on the light board and tapped a file containing reports of Alex’s latest hearing tests and speech/language evaluations, which still put him very near the bottom compared to other children his age: He was in the sixth percentile for what he could understand and the eighth for what he could say.

“He is not getting what he needs from the hearing aids. His language is not developing the way we’d like,” the doctor said. Then he turned and looked directly at us. “We should implant him before he turns three.”

The Cochlear Countdown

A deadline? So there was now a countdown clock to spoken language ticking away in Alex’s head? What would happen when it reached zero? Alex’s third birthday was only a few months away.

‘Hot damn, I want to take this one home with me,’ the patient exclaimed.As the doctor explained that the age of three marked a critical juncture in the development of language, I began to truly understand that we were not just talking about Alex’s ears. We were talking about his brain.

When they were approved for adults in 1984 and children six years later, cochlear implants were the first device to partially restore a missing sense. How could it be possible to hear without a functioning cochlea? The cochlea is the hub, the O’Hare Airport, of normal hearing, where sound arrives, changes form, and travels out again. When acoustic energy is naturally translated into electrical signals, it produces patterns of activity in the 30,000 fibers of the auditory nerve that the brain ultimately interprets as sound. The more complex the sound, the more complex the pattern of activity. Hearing aids depend on the cochlea. They amplify sound and carry it through the ear to the brain, but only if enough functioning hair cells in the cochlea can transmit the sound to the auditory nerve. Most people with profound deafness have lost that capability. The big idea behind a cochlear implant is to fly direct, to bypass a damaged cochlea and deliver sound — in the form of an electrical signal — to the auditory nerve itself.

A cochlear implant. Doug Finger—The Gainesville Sun

To do that is like bolting a makeshift cochlea to the head and somehow extending its reach deep inside. A device that replicates the work done by the inner ear and creates electrical hearing instead of acoustic hearing requires three basic elements: a microphone to collect sounds; a package of electronics to process those sounds into electrical signals (a “processor”); and an array of electrodes to conduct the signal to the auditory nerve. The processor has to encode the sound it receives into an electrical message the brain can understand; it has to send instructions. For a long time, no one knew what those instructions should say. They could, frankly, have been in Morse code — an idea some researchers considered, since dots and dashes would be straightforward to program and constituted a language people had proven they could learn. By comparison, capturing the nuance and complexity of spoken language in an artificial set of instructions was like leaping straight from the telegraph to the Internet era.

It was such a daunting task that most of the leading auditory neurophysiologists in the 1960s and 1970s, when the idea was first explored in the United States, were convinced cochlear implants would never work. It took decades of work by teams of determined (even stubborn) researchers in the United States, Australia and Europe to solve the considerable engineering problems involved as well as the thorniest challenge: designing a processing program that worked well enough to allow users to discriminate speech. When they finally succeeded on that front, the difference was plain from the start.

“There are only a few times in a career in science when you get goose bumps,” Michael Dorman, a cochlear implant researcher at Arizona State University, once wrote. That’s what happened to him when, as part of a clinical trial, his patient Max Kennedy tried out the new program, which alternated electrodes and sent signals at a relatively high rate. Kennedy was being run through the usual set of word and sentence recognition tests. “Max’s responses [kept] coming up correct,” remembered Dorman. “Near the end of the test, everyone in the room was staring at the monitor, wondering if Max was going to get 100 percent correct on a difficult test of consonant identification. He came close, and at the end of the test, Max sat back, slapped the table in front of him, and said loudly, “Hot damn, I want to take this one home with me.”

A Cure or a Genocide?

So did I. The device sounded momentous and amazing to me — a common reaction for a hearing person. As Steve Parton, the father of one of the first children to receive an implant once put it, the fact that technology had been invented that could help the deaf hear seemed “a miracle of biblical proportions.”

I found cochlear implantation of children described as child abuse.Many in Deaf culture didn’t agree. As I began to investigate what a cochlear implant would mean for Alex, I spent a lot of time searching the Internet, and reading books and articles. I was disturbed by the depth of the divide I perceived in the deaf and hard of hearing community. There seemed to be a long history of disagreement over spoken versus visual language, and between those who saw deafness as a medical condition and those who saw it as an identity. The harshest words and the bitterest battles had come in the 1990s with the advent of the cochlear implant.

By the time I was thinking about this, in 2005, children had been receiving cochlear implants in the United States for 15 years. Though the worst of the enmity had died down, I felt as if I’d entered a city under ceasefire, where the inhabitants had put down their weapons but the unease was still palpable. A few years earlier, the National Association of the Deaf, for instance, had adjusted its official position on cochlear implants to very qualified support of the device as one choice among many. It wasn’t hard, however, to find the earlier version, in which they “deplored” the decision of hearing parents to implant their children. In other reports about the controversy, I found cochlear implantation of children described as “child abuse.”

No doubt those quotes had made it into the press coverage precisely because they were extreme and, therefore, attention-getting. But child abuse?! I just wanted to help my son. What charged waters were we wading into?

Cochlear implants arrived in the world just as the Deaf Civil Rights movement was flourishing. Like many minorities, the deaf had long found comfort in each other. They knew they had a “way of doing things” and that there was what they called a “deaf world.” Largely invisible to hearing people, it was a place where many average deaf people lived contented, fulfilling lives. No one had ever tried to name that world.

Beginning in the 1980s, however, deaf people, particularly in academia and the arts, “became more self-conscious, more deliberate, and more animated, in order to take their place on a larger, more public stage,” wrote Carol Padden and Tom Humphries, professors of communication at the University of California, San Diego, who are both deaf. They called that world Deaf culture in their influential 1988 book Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture. The capital “D” distinguished those who were culturally deaf from those who were audiologically deaf. “The traditional way of writing about Deaf people is to focus on the fact of their condition — that they do not hear — and to interpret all other aspects of their lives as consequences of this fact,” Padden and Humphries wrote. “Our goal . . is to write about Deaf people in a new and different way. . . Thinking about the linguistic richness uncovered in [work on sign language] has made us realize that the language has developed through the generations as part of an equally rich cultural heritage. It is this heritage — the culture of Deaf people — that we want to begin to portray.”

In this new way of thinking, deafness was not a disability but a difference. With new pride and confidence, and new respect for their own language, American Sign Language, the deaf community began to make itself heard. At Gallaudet University in 1988, students rose up to protest the appointment of a hearing president — and won. In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act ushered in new accommodations that made operating in the hearing world far easier. And technological revolutions like the spread of computers and the use of e-mail meant that a deaf person who once might have had to drive an hour to deliver a message to a friend in person (not knowing before setting out if the friend was even home), could now send that message in seconds from a keyboard.

In 1994, Greg Hlibok, one of the student leaders of the Gallaudet protests a few years earlier, declared in a speech: “From the time God made earth until today, this is probably the best time to be Deaf.”

Into the turbulence of nascent deaf civil rights dropped the cochlear implant.

A child with an early cochlear implant on Aug. 24, 1984. Glen Martin—Denver Post/Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration’s 1990 decision to approve cochlear implants for children as young as two galvanized Deaf culture advocates. They saw the prostheses as just another in a long line of medical fixes for deafness. None of the previous ideas had worked, and it wasn’t hard to find doctors and scientists who maintained that this wouldn’t work either — at least not well. Beyond the complaint that the potential benefits of implants were dubious and unproven, the Deaf community objected to the very premise that deaf people needed to be fixed at all. “I was upset,” Ted Supalla, a linguist who studies ASL at Georgetown University Medical Center, told me. “I never saw myself as deficient ever. The medical community was not able to see that we could possibly see ourselves as perfectly fine and normal just living our lives. To go so far as to put something technical in our brains, at the beginning, was a serious affront.”

The Deaf view was that late-deafened adults were old enough to understand their choice, had not grown up in Deaf culture, and already had spoken language. Young children who had been born deaf were different. The assumption was that cochlear implants would remove children from the Deaf world, thereby threatening the survival of that world. That led to complaints about “genocide” and the eradication of a minority group. The Deaf community felt ignored by the medical and scientific supporters of cochlear implants; many believed deaf children should have the opportunity to make the choice for themselves once they were old enough; still others felt the implant should be outlawed entirely. Tellingly, the ASL sign developed for “cochlear implant” was two fingers stabbed into the neck, vampire-style.

The medical community agreed that the stakes were different for children. “For kids, of course, what really counts is their language development,” says Richard Dowell, who today heads the University of Melbourne’s Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology but in the 1970s was part of an Australian team led by Graeme Clark that played a critical role in developing the modern-day cochlear implant. “You’re trying to give them good enough hearing to actually then use that to assist their language development as close to normal as possible. So the emphasis changes very, very much when you’re talking about kids.”

Implanted and improving

I picked Alex up and hugged him tight. ‘You did it,’ I said.By the time Alex was born, children were succeeding in developing language with cochlear implants in ever greater numbers. The devices didn’t work perfectly and they didn’t work for everyone, but the benefits could be profound. The access to sound afforded by cochlear implants could serve as a gateway to communication, to spoken language and then to literacy. For hearing children, the ability to break the sound of speech into its components parts — a skill known as phonological awareness — is the foundation for learning to read.

We wanted to give Alex a chance to use sound. In December 2005, four months before he turned three, he received a cochlear implant in his right ear and we dug into the hard work of practicing speaking and listening.

One year later, it was time to measure his progress. We went through the now familiar barrage of tests: flip charts of pictures to check his vocabulary (“point to the horse”), games in which Alex had to follow instructions (“put the purple arms on Mr. Potato Head”), exercises in which he had to repeat sentences or describe pictures. The speech pathologist would assess his understanding, his intelligibility, his general language development.

To avoid prolonging the suspense, the therapist who did the testing calculated his scores for me before we left the office and scribbled them on a yellow Post-It note. First, she wrote the raw scores, which didn’t mean anything to me. Underneath, she put the percentiles: where Alex fell compared to his same-aged peers. These were the scores that had been so stubbornly dismal the year before when Alex seemed stuck in single-digit percentiles.

Now, after 12 months of using the cochlear implant, the change was almost unbelievable. His expressive language had risen to the 63rd percentile and his receptive language to the 88th percentile. He was actually above age level on some measures. And that was compared to hearing children.

I stared at the Post-It note and then at the therapist.

“Oh my god!” was all I could say. I picked Alex up and hugged him tight.

“You did it,” I said.

Listening to Each Other

I was thrilled with his progress and with the cochlear implant. But I still wanted to reconcile my view of this technology with that of Deaf culture. Since those nights early on when I was trolling the Internet for information on hearing loss, Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., had loomed large as the center of Deaf culture, with what I presumed would be a correspondingly large number of cochlear implant haters. By the time I visited the campus in 2012, I no longer imagined I would be turned back at the front gates, but just the year before a survey had shown that only one-third of the student body believed hearing parents should be permitted to choose cochlear implants for their deaf children.

Only one-third of the student body believed hearing parents should be permitted to choose cochlear implants for their deaf children.“About fifteen years ago, during a panel discussion on cochlear implants, I raised this idea that in ten to fifteen years, Gallaudet is going to look different,” says Stephen Weiner, the university’s provost. “There was a lot of resistance. Now, especially the new generation, they don’t care anymore.” ASL is still the language of campus and presumably always will be, but Gallaudet does look different. The number of students with cochlear implants stands at 10 percent of undergraduates and 7 percent overall. In addition to more cochlear implants, there are more hearing students, mostly enrolled in graduate programs for interpreting and audiology.

“I want deaf students here to see everyone as their peers, whether they have a cochlear implant or are hard of hearing, can talk or can’t talk. I have friends who are oral. I have one rule: We’re not going to try to convert one another. We’re going to work together to improve the life of our people. The word ‘our’ is important. That’s what this place will be and must be. Otherwise, why bother?” Not everyone agrees with him, but Weiner enjoys the diversity of opinions.

At the end of our visit, he hopped up to shake my hand.

“I really want to thank you again for taking time to meet with me and making me feel so welcome,” I said.

“There are people here who were nervous about me talking to you,” he admitted. “I think it’s important to talk.”

So I made a confession of my own. “I was nervous about coming to Gallaudet as the parent of a child with a cochlear implant,” I said. “I didn’t know how I’d be treated.”

He smiled, reached up above his right ear, and flipped the coil of a cochlear implant off his head. I hadn’t realized it was there, hidden in his brown hair. Our entire conversation had been through an interpreter. He seemed pleased that he had managed to surprise me.

“I was one of the first culturally Deaf people to get one.”

Perhaps it’s not surprising that most of the people who talked to me at Gallaudet turned out to have a relatively favorable view of cochlear implants. When I met Irene Leigh, she was about to retire as chair of the psychology department after more than 20 years there. She doesn’t have an implant, but is among the Gallaudet professors who have devoted the most time to thinking about them.

She and sociology professor John Christiansen teamed up in the late 1990s to (gingerly) write a book about parent perspectives on cochlear implants for children; it was published in 2002. At that time, she says, “A good number of the parents labeled the Deaf community as being misinformed about the merits of cochlear implants and not understanding or respecting the parents’ perspective.” For their part, the Deaf community at Gallaudet was beginning to get used to the idea by then, but true supporters were few and far between.

In 2011, Leigh served as an editor with Raylene Paludneviciene of a follow-up book examining how perspectives had evolved. Culturally Deaf adults who had received implants were no longer viewed as automatic traitors, they wrote. Opposition to pediatric implants was “gradually giving way to a more nuanced view.” The new emphasis on bilingualism and biculturalism, says Leigh, is not so much a change as a continuing fight for validation. The goal of most in the community is to establish a path that allows implant users to still enjoy a Deaf identity. Leigh echoes the inclusive view of Steve Weiner when she says, “There are many ways of being deaf.”

Ted Supalla, the ASL scholar who was so upset by cochlear implants, had deaf parents and deaf brothers, a background that makes him “deaf of deaf” and accords him elite status in Deaf culture. Yet when we met, he had recently left the University of Rochester after many years there to move to Washington D.C. with his wife, the neuroscientist Elissa Newport. They were setting up a new lab not at Gallaudet but at Georgetown University Medical Center. Waving his hand out the window at the hospital buildings, Supalla acknowledged the unexpectedness of his new surroundings. “It’s odd that I find myself working in a medical community . . . It’s a real indication that times are different now.”

‘Deaf like me’

Alex will never experience deafness in quite the same way Ted Supalla does. And neither do the many deaf adults and children — some 320,000 of them worldwide — who have embraced cochlear implants gratefully.

But they are all still deaf. Alex operated more and more fluently in the hearing world as he got older, yet when he took off his processor and hearing aid, he could no longer hear me unless I spoke loudly within inches of his left ear.

We had said that Alex would still learn ASL — and we’d meant it, in a vague way.I never wanted us not to be able to communicate. Even if Alex might never need ASL, he might like to know it. And he might someday feel a need to know more deaf people. In the beginning, we had said that Alex would learn ASL, as a second language. And we’d meant it — in a vague, well-intentioned way. Though I used a handful of signs with him in the first few months, those had fallen away once he started to talk. I regretted letting sign language lapse. The year Alex was in kindergarten, an ASL tutor named Roni began coming to the house. She, too, was deaf and communicated only in ASL.

Through no fault of Roni’s, those lessons didn’t go so well. It was striking just how difficult it was for my three boys, who were then five, seven and 10, to pay visual attention, to adjust to the way of interacting that was required in order to sign. (Rule number one is to make eye contact.) Even Alex behaved like a thoroughly hearing child. It didn’t help that our lessons were at seven o’clock at night and the boys were tired. I spent more time each session reining them in than learning to sign. The low point came one night when Alex persisted in hanging upside down and backward off an armchair.

“I can see her,” he insisted.

And yet he was curious about the language. I could tell from the way he played with it between lessons. He decided to create his own version, which seemed to consist of opposite signs: YES was NO and so forth. After trying and failing to steer him right, I concluded that maybe experimenting with signs was a step in the right direction.

Even though we didn’t get all that far that spring, there were other benefits. At the last session, after I had resolved that one big group lesson in the evening was not the way to go, Alex did his usual clowning around and refusing to pay attention. But when it was time for Roni to leave, he gave her a powerful hug that surprised all of us.

“She’s deaf like me,” he announced.

Lydia Denworth is the author or I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey through the Science of Sound and Language (Dutton), from which this piece is adapted.

TIME Drugs

The Drinking Age Is Past Its Prime

The age-21 rule sets the U.S. apart from all advanced Western nations, and it has pushed kids toward pills and other antisocial behavior

The National Minimum Drinking Age Act, passed by Congress 30 years ago this July, is a gross violation of civil liberties and must be repealed. It is absurd and unjust that young Americans can vote, marry, enter contracts and serve in the military at 18 but cannot buy an alcoholic drink in a bar or restaurant. The age-21 rule sets the U.S. apart from all advanced Western nations and lumps it with small or repressive countries like Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

Congress was stampeded into this puritanical law by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who with all good intentions were wrongly intruding into an area of personal choice exactly as did the hymn-singing 19th century temperance crusaders, typified by Carrie Nation smashing beer barrels with her hatchet. Temperance fanaticism eventually triumphed and gave us 14 years of Prohibition. That in turn spawned the crime syndicates for booze smuggling, laying the groundwork for today’s global drug trade. Thanks a lot, Carrie!

Now that marijuana regulations have been liberalized in Colorado, it’s time to strike down this dictatorial national law. Government is not our nanny. The decrease in drunk-driving deaths in recent decades is at least partly attributable to more uniform seat-belt use and a strengthening of DWI penalties. Today, furthermore, there are many other causes of traffic accidents, such as the careless use of cell phones or prescription drugs like Ambien — implicated in the recent trial and acquittal of Kerry Kennedy for driving while impaired.

Learning how to drink responsibly is a basic lesson in growing up — as it is in wine-drinking France or in Germany, with its family-oriented beer gardens and festivals. Wine was built into my own Italian-American upbringing, where children were given sips of my grandfather’s homemade wine. This civilized practice descends from antiquity. Beer was a nourishing food in Egypt and Mesopotamia, and wine was identified with the life force in Greece and Rome: In vino veritas (In wine, truth). Wine as a sacred symbol of unity and regeneration remains in the Christian Communion service. Virginia Woolf wrote that wine with a fine meal lights a “subtle and subterranean glow, which is the rich yellow flame of rational intercourse.”

What this cruel 1984 law did is deprive young people of safe spaces where they could happily drink cheap beer, socialize, chat and flirt in a free but controlled public environment. Hence in the 1980s we immediately got the scourge of crude binge drinking at campus fraternity keg parties, cut off from the adult world. Women in that boorish free-for-all were suddenly fighting off date rape. Club drugs — ecstasy, methamphetamine, ketamine (a veterinary tranquilizer) — surged at raves for teenagers and on the gay male circuit scene.

Alcohol relaxes, facilitates interaction, inspires ideas and promotes humor and hilarity. Used in moderation, it is quickly flushed from the system, with excess punished by a hangover. But deadening pills, such as today’s massively overprescribed antidepressants, linger in body and brain and may have unrecognized long-term side effects. Those toxic chemicals, often manufactured by shadowy firms abroad, have been worrisomely present in a recent uptick of unexplained suicides and massacres. Half of the urban professional class in the U.S. seems doped on meds these days.

As a libertarian, I support the decriminalization of marijuana, but there are many problems with pot. From my observation, pot may be great for jazz musicians and Beat poets, but it saps energy and willpower and can produce physiological feminization in men. Also, it is difficult to measure the potency of plant-derived substances like pot. With brand-name beer or liquor, however, purchased doses have exactly the same strength and purity from one continent to another, with no fear of contamination by dangerous street additives like PCP.

Exhilaration, ecstasy and communal vision are the gifts of Dionysus, god of wine. Alcohol’s enhancement of direct face-to-face dialogue is precisely what is needed by today’s technologically agile generation, magically interconnected yet strangely isolated by social media. Clumsy hardcore sexting has sadly supplanted simple hanging out over a beer at a buzzing dive. By undermining the art of conversation, the age-21 law has also had a disastrous effect on our arts and letters, with their increasing dullness and mediocrity. This tyrannical infantilizing of young Americans must stop!

Paglia is the author of Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art From Egypt to Star Wars.

MORE: How to Drink Scotch

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