MONEY halloween

Here’s How to Turn Trick-or-Treat Candy Into Cold Hard Cash

dentures on top of candy
Aleksandar Mijatovic—Alamy

Hey kids, you know your parents aren't going to let you eat all of the candy hauled in on Halloween trick-or-treating rounds. So why not swap some of it for cash money?

The cash payoff isn’t the only reason kids might want to trade in candy soon after Halloween is over. Doing so also supports the troops overseas.

To participate in the annual program, called the Halloween Candy Buy Back, families should start by finding a participating nearby dentist’s office, via a search tool at the link or at the program’s Facebook page. There are thousands of participants around the country–in New Jersey, Ohio, California, and beyond. Chances are, there’s a poster up at your dentist’s office asking locals to join in its Candy Buy Back campaign.

While the particulars of each participating office may differ slightly, they generally all welcome unopened candy donations in the days right after Halloween, and they pay $1 per pound of candy dropped off, with a $5 maximum payout. Some also give treats or goodie bags for kids—toys, stickers, toothbrushes, sometimes pizza or local baked goods—as well as the chance to win iPods, gift cards, and other prizes. It softens the blow inherent in handing over the sweet and chocolatey fruits of one’s labor spent trick-or-treating.

The program was originally envisioned as a means to get massive quantities of Halloween candy “off the streets” and out of the bellies of America’s children, and the campaign truly caught fire when it partnered with Operation Gratitude, an organization that sends care packages to military veterans, new recruits, and most especially troops who are deployed overseas. Some 130+ million tons of candy has been collected over the years, and with the help of Halloween Candy Buy Back participants, Operation Gratitude was able to ship its one millionth care package last December.

As for the more mercenary kids out there—those who are trading candy in for cash at least as much as they are motivated to support the troops—they’re probably trying to figure out what candies weigh the most to maximize their payout.

MONEY Workplace

Why Millennials Should Get Used to Work-Life Imbalance

The work day used to be confined to a tidy eight-hour period. Today, digitally native millennials are expected to never truly "turn off," making it difficult for anyone to have a life outside of work.

The same technology enabling us to connect with people and get work done faster than ever before is also making for never-ending work days. Years ago, professionals had the luxury of confining their day’s work to an eight-hour chunk of time. After 5 p.m., they could focus on personal activities — it was time to go home to dinner or out to a movie, uninterrupted. Today, work’s demands are becoming more similar to parenting, in that they never truly “turn off.” If you only work eight set hours, you’ll fall behind, look like a slacker, or both.

One study found that 81% of U.S. employees check their work mail outside of work hours, including 55% who peek at their inboxes after 11 p.m. at night. While many professionals are now “on call” throughout the day, the expectations placed on millennials are especially high. As the first generation of digital natives, millennials are naturally gifted at managing this always-on lifestyle—and in some ways they prefer it, because of the work time flexibility it theoretically affords them—but at the same time they fear it is hurting their personal lives.

To examine how technology and millennials are affecting the modern-day workplace (and vice-versa), my company and Elance-oDesk.com commissioned a study released today called “The 2015 Millennial Majority Workforce.” In it, we found that nine out of ten millennials say that they can access information whenever and wherever they are, and that 73% are expected to be contactable at any time of day or night.

We also surveyed HR managers and found that, somewhat unsurprisingly, 82% said millennials are more technology adept than older generations. Because millennials use social media more than all other generations, they are the ones who are most pressured to manage a complete blending of their personal and professional lives. Millennials naturally feel like they have to respond to emails outside of the office in order to keep up with the demands of their jobs.

These expectations aren’t all bad, so long as they come with tradeoffs. Millennials tend to seek flexible work schedules so that they can deliver value to their employers whenever duty calls, while at the same time flex schedules hopefully give them time to fit in personal activities they enjoy. They seek companies that will enable them to work remotely so they can blend personal activities during the day, not just during the night or on weekends. This push for work flexibility and integration creates opportunities for impact and learning, both of which millennials want.

While millennials want flexible work hours so they can have fun even though they are always “on call,” the obvious downside is that they can never truly be away from work. As millennials grow older, and have more responsibilities like raising children, they’re learning that life can get increasingly complicated and overwhelming when the needs of their blurred personal and professional lives collide.

To cope, millennials must take matters into their own hands in the same way that entrepreneurs or freelancers do. They need to make a list of all of their work responsibilities and all the personal activities that they want or need to accomplish, and then focus on those each day. This way, it’s less about when, and where, they complete their work or personal activities and more that they actually complete them.

What’s more, professionals today need to get out of the mindset that they can have balance in an unbalanced world and seek to integrate their personal and professional interests so they are more fulfilled. At companies like Virgin and Netflix, workers get unlimited vacation days not just as a reward to them but to take into account that everyone is busy and needs time off. This open policy enables workers to take random breaks throughout the year when they need it most, yet it also exploits the fact that employees are still thinking about work on vacation.

Research from The White House proves that roughly half of companies offer full-time employees flexible work hours. Companies like Yahoo!, Best Buy and Reddit aren’t embracing flex hours because having employees who worked remotely didn’t work for them in the past. Instead of allowing for some flexibility, they decided completely against it, forcing all workers to be at the office each day. Of course, millennials, who desire to work remotely, are less inclined to work at these types of companies because they don’t support their personal life and work styles.

Technology today means that work no longer needs to be a place. The vast majority of what we do can be done from anywhere. However, many companies still don’t embrace flexible work. This outdated approach lends to millennials choosing alternate career paths — many would choose freelancing, for example. Our study found that 79% of millennials would consider “quitting their regular job” and “working for themselves” in the future, and 82% of millennials believe that technology has made it easier to start a business.

Regardless of what career path millennials pursue, the demands of work today and in the future mean it’s essential to get better at managing your day. Take time to consider personal and professionals goals on a daily basis. Figure out how to prioritize throughout your day, and forget about true work-life balance: Those days are over. But take heart that infinite work days bring with them infinite possibilities that weren’t there when we were locked behind a desk 9 to 5.

Dan Schawbel is a workplace expert, keynote speaker and the New York Times bestselling author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success and Me 2.0.

MONEY freebies

4 Bizarre Reasons Your Kids Might Not Be Trick-or-Treating on Halloween

kid in polar bear costume
Emma Kim—Getty Images

Free candy may not be in the cards for kids in your neck of the woods on Friday night—for odd reasons ranging from polar bears to high school football.

Strange things are known to happen around Halloween, and this season is no exception. Here are a few weird reasons your child might not be trick-or-treating on October 31 this year:

Polar Bears
The community of Arviat, on the Hudson Bay in far northern Canada, has decided it’s too dangerous for children to go trick-or-treating door to door because of the increased presence of polar bears in the area in late autumn. Kids are welcomed to visit the community hall instead on Halloween for face painting and a haunted house. Before assuming that one Halloween costume must be particularly popular up there, take note that no one in the area dresses in polar bear outfits because patrols on watch are instructed to scare bears off with rubber bullets. “Nobody dresses up as seals” either, one local political leader explained, because they’re what polar bears hunt and eat.

Alleged Cop Killer
Trick or treating has also been cancelled due to safety concerns in Barrett Township, Pa. In this instance, it’s because of worries about Eric Frein, who is suspected of killing one police officer and wounding another in a September ambush, and who is believed to be hiding in the woods outside town.

High School Football
This year, October 31 falls on a Friday—the day of the week that’s dominated by high school football in many parts of the country. To avoid a conflict, communities all over states including Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and New Mexico have rescheduled trick-or-treating to a day other than Friday. Most towns pushed up trick-or-treating to Thursday, October 30, but some have postponed it until Saturday—meaning trick-or-treating in November.

They’re Too Old
Apparently, the arrival of teens demanding candy at strangers’ doors was enough to scare communities around the U.S.—notably, several in and around Virginia Beach, Va.—to put an age limit on when kids are too old for trick-or-treating. In most cases, laws allow only children ages 12 and under to go door-to-door in costume begging for candy, and it’s a class four misdemeanor if you break the rules.

TIME Money

Yes, I Bring My Poor Children Trick-or-Treating in Your Rich Neighborhood

Halloween candy in basket
Getty Images

I am angry because the rich pass on all the resources possible to their children while depriving poor children of access

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

I know I’m late to the party, but I only just came upon that viral Dear Prudence letter about poor kids trick-or-treating in rich neighborhoods.

Dear Prudence,

I live in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country, but on one of the more “modest” streets—mostly doctors and lawyers and family business owners. (A few blocks away are billionaires, families with famous last names, media moguls, etc.) I have noticed that on Halloween, what seems like 75 percent of the trick-or-treaters are clearly not from this neighborhood. Kids arrive in overflowing cars from less fortunate areas. I feel this is inappropriate. Halloween isn’t a social service or a charity in which I have to buy candy for less fortunate children. Obviously this makes me feel like a terrible person, because what’s the big deal about making less fortunate kids happy on a holiday? But it just bugs me, because we already pay more than enough taxes toward actual social services. Should Halloween be a neighborhood activity, or is it legitimately a free-for-all in which people hunt down the best candy grounds for their kids?

—Halloween for the 99 Percent

Guess what? I am one of those “poor” parents who takes their children trick-or-treating in “rich” neighborhoods. I’ve done it for years, and I’ll be doing it again this Friday. Why? Well if you must know, we live in an area of town that is not set up for trick-or-treating so we have to travel regardless, and I happen to love taking long, beautiful walks through a wealthy neighborhood a mile or so away. But honestly, my reasons shouldn’t matter, because when I read this letter, I see one more desired boundary to circumscribe and trap poor children—to keep them in their “proper” places, the places they deserve.

My kindergartener attends a “poor” school. I’ve looked at the boundary map for her school, and it looks like someone went out of their way to piece all of the poor neighborhoods together while leaving out the wealthier ones. And guess what? Someone did. I researched the backstory, and it turns out that my daughter’s school boundaries were drawn in the midst of some pretty heavy advocacy by some wealthy neighborhoods to stay out. Because apparently my children aren’t good enough for them to send their children to school with.

And I am angry. I am angry because this is about resource hoarding. It’s about the rich passing on all the resources possible to their children while depriving poor children of access to equal resources, and it’s disgusting. We give all sorts of lip service to equality of opportunity in this country, but in actually our social mobility is abysmally low. It is difficult for the children of the rich to fall into poverty, and difficult for the children of the poor to get out. And it is not this way by accident—it is this way because this is how the system set up.

I’m not even angriest for my own children. My children, you see, are not poor-poor. They are graduate-student-poor. Graduate-student-poor is a sort of temporary poor that avoids much of the resource deprivation that accompanies being poor-poor. Other children are not so lucky. Other parents are stuck. It is for these children, and for these parents, that I am angriest.

My husband and I grew up in upper-middle class families. Our parents have college degrees and stable, well-paying jobs. Yet when my husband and I first married, we lived on very little. I learned what it was like to look through the food budget for something to cut or trim so that we could afford to have meat a few times a month. I learned what it was like to beg rides or figure out how to navigate convoluted bus routes because we did not have a car. Our children have been on Medicaid, and our daughter now attends a low-income school. I have learned a lot since my privileged upbringing.

Yet I have not experienced true poverty. Our family has always been there to help us if we really needed, and we have always known that our current state was temporary. Indeed, things are already looking up for us! Someday we will finish graduate school and move, and then be faced the question of choosing a school district. It will be tempting to choose the neighborhood with the best schools, and at that point we will likely have the means to do so. But then, that is what perpetuates the system—everyone grabs the most they can for their children, and at that point I will be in a position to grab more than others.

I can’t say for sure what I will do in the future until I live it. I hope I won’t forget my experience being graduate-student-poor. I hope I’ll live by my principles. I hope I’ll remember what it was like to stand at the checkout shuffling through WIC coupons and holding up everyone behind me, only to learn that I grabbed the wrong brand of grape juice. And I hope I’ll remember what it was to take my “poor” children trick-or-treating in a “rich” neighborhood.

I hope I’ll be part of the solution rather than becoming part of the problem.

Libby Anne is a blogger for Patheos.

Read more from Patheos:

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Humor

31 Days of Baby Halloween Costumes

This mom is dressing her child in a new costume each day until Halloween

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This article originally appeared on Lost at E Minor.

New York-based writer and mom Jessica Chavkin just can’t wait for Halloween. In fact to show her excitement, she’s counting down the days by dressing up her baby, Noah, in a different costume every day. “Since Halloween is my favorite holiday, and Noah is my favorite thing ever, we are celebrating by counting down with a new costume every day until the big day,” she says. “I hope that you are amused. I know we will be.”

As of writing, she’s already on Day 18 of the adorable series. So far she’s dressed up Noah into Tarzan, Charlie Brown, Waldo and even the Monopoly Man. You can check out updates from Jessica and Noah on their Instagram page.

(Via My Modern Met)

TIME relationships

Why You Need to Talk About Your Partner’s Credit Card Debt

couple-talking-credit-card-laptop
Getty Images

This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

The modern dating scene is tough — we know that all too well. Finding a great partner feels like hitting the jackpot, so you might be tempted to overlook certain serious red flags in the name of love. But, what if you’re ready to take the next step with your partner and discover that he or she is deep in credit card debt? This is an issue you definitely shouldn’t dismiss — money is one of the main reasons couples fight. Failing to address your partner’s debt before you move in together or get married could cause heartache down the road. So, should you move forward or hit pause? Here’s how to decide.

Consider The Why
Discuss your financial situations. It’s important to get to the bottom of why he or she is dealing with debt. Asking specific questions about how the balance was incurred will give you a better sense of your beloved’s overall level of financial responsibility.For instance, did your partner face a major emergency that they didn’t have the cash to cover? In this case, the debt can be chalked up to an expensive, one-time event. It doesn’t indicate a pattern of irresponsible financial behavior. But, if your partner carries credit card debt due to reckless spending, you should give this some thought. If you budget carefully and live within your means, you might have a hard time coupling up with someone who doesn’t share your values.

(MORE: Why I Don’t Feel Guilty About My Credit Card Debt Anymore)

Consider The How
Next step? Consider how your significant other is dealing with the shortfall to decide if the relationship is worth pursuing. Even if a mountain of credit card debt is the result of frivolous spending, your partner may have realized the blunder. If your mate is taking steps to pay off the balance — moving to a smaller apartment, going out less, taking on an extra job — count these as good signs. Everyone makes mistakes, and working hard to correct a financial misstep means your partner is trying to get on the right track.However, if he or she seems unconcerned about the debt and isn’t making an effort to pay it off, you should take a step back. Credit card debt is a serious financial burden, and your partner should be treating it as such. Ignoring a lingering balance could signal a lack of judgment when it comes to money.

(MORE: Do You Really Need A Credit Card?)

In The End, It All Depends — But Tips Help
Money is a highly personal and emotional topic, so only you can decide if your partner’s credit card debt is a deal-breaker. The important thing is to discuss the issue before taking a major step in your relationship, and keep the lines of communication open. This will help you assess the direction of your partnership and keep you informed about how your mate’s financial situation is evolving.If you want to help improve your partner’s credit card habits, consider sharing these tips: Keep a budget and track your spending — this will keep you from spending more than you can afford to pay off. Pay your bill in full by its due date — you’ll stay out of debt and keep your credit score healthy. Never use more than 30% of your available credit — this will help you achieve and maintain good credit. Read your monthly statement carefully — you’ll be able to spot fraud if it occurs.

The Takeaway
Understanding why your partner is in credit card debt and how he or she is dealing with it is an important step to take before getting serious. Consider it one more stepping stone on the road to finding “the one.”

(MORE: How to Keep Your Finances Safe After a Breakup)

MONEY Tourism

Price Hikes Up to 150% Are Planned for Your Favorite National Parks

Entrance sign near Big Oak Flat Entrance Station, Yosemite National Park.
Fred van Wijk—Alamy Entrance sign near Big Oak Flat Entrance Station, Yosemite National Park.

A proposal is on the table to hike prices of admission, annual passes, campsite reservations, and more at roughly 130 national parks and recreation areas.

A broad proposal from the National Parks Service (NPS) first exposed by the Denver Post could make visiting some of the country’s biggest and best national parks significantly more expensive as early as next summer. Admissions to popular national parks such as Yosemite, Mount Rainier, and Crater Lake are likely to see price hikes of 50%, while prices at some lesser-known gems like Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park might rise upwards of 150%. Price increases are also being proposed for annual passes, campsites, boating permits, and other services at dozens of park and recreations areas.

Before storming the parks service in protest, bear in mind that even if the price increases are accepted, our national parks would remain one of the world’s great vacation bargains. The current price of a seven-day pass for a vehicle and all of its occupants at Yosemite is $20, rising to $30 if the proposal is approved. To make its case that the increases are necessary and appropriate, the NPS noted:

The current park entrance fees have been in place since 1997, when a seven day pass was increased from $5 to $20 per vehicle. According to the U.S. Bureau of labor and Statistics, $20 in 1997 is equivalent to $29.64 in 2014. This fee change will allow Yosemite to maintain consistent revenue while adjusting accordingly for inflation.

Likewise, the price of admission at Great Sand Dunes would rise to $10 per person up from the current rate of just $3 (there’s no flat vehicle rate offered), while the cost of an annual pass would increase from $15 to $40.

Park visitors could start to see the price increases as early as next summer, and/or fees might be incrementally hiked over the next couple of years. One of the reasons cited for the proposed increases is that the NPS is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2016, and it wants to commemorate the centennial with parks and recreation areas looking their finest.

None of this is a done deal, however. The parks service is allowing the public to weigh in with comments over the next couple of weeks, and at least in theory the response could have an impact on how the proposed price increases play out. What’s especially complicated about the matter is that the average Joe is being asked to submit comments related to each park’s price hike individually; there is no central spot where people can respond to the general idea of raising prices across the board. There’s one spot where you can offer your opinion on price increases at Yosemite, for instance, another for the price increases at Washington’s Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, and so on. (The nightly cost of an individual campsite at the latter would go from $10 to $18, by the way.) The dates for open commenting and public meetings at each park are different as well. The commenting session at Yosemite began on Monday and stretches through November 20, and there’s a two-hour meeting open to the public on November 12, while comments for Lake Roosevelt can be made through October 31, and three meetings are being held in nearby state-owned facilities this week.

The superintendents of each park also have some authority to decide if and how price hikes go into effect, though a broad range of parks—including Mount Rainier and Olympic in Washington state, Rocky Mountain in Colorado, and Glacier in Montana—are expected to follow through on some if not all of the proposed increases. Jon Jarvis, the NPS director, noted in a memo that there will always be “significant public controversy” about any price increases for use of lands that we as a nation own. Yet he stated that the increases “will allow us to invest in the improvements necessary to provide the best possible park experience to our visitors.”

Surely, many park goers will be upset by the proposed increases, and it would be surprising if a majority—or even a significant minority—of those commenting on the proposals were voicing their approval of higher fees. For some perspective, Kurt Repanshek, who runs the National Parks Traveler blog, points out that admission to Yosemite cost $10 a century ago, so we are more than due for a price hike:

When you think of how inflation has treated park entrance fees — that $10 fee charged in 1915 equates to $230.74 in 2014 dollars — entrance to the parks under the existing pricing structure might literally be described as a steal.

TIME Education

TIME For Kids Releases New Classroom App

We are excited to share a dynamic teaching tool that combines current events with multimedia content

Can your 5-year-old distinguish between information provided by pictures and information provided by words? Is your 9-year-old able to explain how an author uses evidence to support a claim? Can your 12-year-old analyze the strength of a persuasive debate? These are just a few of the skills students are expected to master in today’s classrooms. It’s a challenging time for teachers, students, and parents. That is why we are thrilled to announce the launch of the TIME For Kids Classroom App. The app is a dynamic teaching tool that combines current events with multimedia content. It helps students in kindergarten through sixth grade acquire literacy skills and gives teachers the resources they need to help students achieve their goals.

This app is two years in the making: In research sessions and classroom visits, teachers told us they needed a tablet app that could deliver a wide range of tools and resources. They told us that

* The app had to provide authentic, informational text to accommodate learners at different skill levels, giving students a window on the world while building knowledge and vocabulary and complementing curriculum;

* Activities, maps, and charts had to be interactive, grabbing and holding kids’ attention;

* Features needed to encourage critical thinking. Text and videos had to spark class discussions and debate, and allow students to interact with their peers;

* The app had to supply teachers with resources, including planning guides and standards-aligned lessons;

* And teachers also needed an easy-to-access assessment tool to allow them to track student progress and pinpoint student needs.

One more thing: teachers insisted the app be fun, tapping into students’ curiosity and love of technology.

Our innovative solution to their requests is an app that has two separate views for each grade level‑one for teachers and the other for students. In the teacher view, Extra Teacher Content and Common Core State Standard tabs provide educators with top-notch reporting and photographs from time.com, standards-aligned lessons and assessment questions, easy access to student quiz results and progress reports. (Because we are committed to safeguarding student and educator privacy, TIME For Kids will not collect any personal information about students. Instead, we have devised a system that gives each teacher control of student pins and IDs. At the end of every school year, student assessment results will be deleted.)

In the student view, a variety of engaging stories explain complex issues, introduce real-world concerns, and explore topics that kids care about. For example, in this week’s app for grades 5 and 6, we informed readers about Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel Peace Prize, explained why volcanoes erupt, and presented a TFK Kid Reporter interview of student favorite, author Rick Riordan. Each week, students are presented with a debate issue or poll question. They can cast a vote and immediately see how other kids around the country feel about a topic. A recent example: 74% of students polled think kids should be allowed to bring their own devices to school, but fewer than 12% think 8-year-olds should own cell phones. Quizzes embedded in the app allow students to gain confidence by exploring the text and multimedia features for answers. The app has a read-aloud feature for the main story and for a lower-level version of that story. It also includes a Spanish-language translation. Most important: Every step of the way, students are encouraged to engage with each other and to enjoy reading, viewing, listening, participating, and learning.

We are committed to helping students become discerning, lifelong readers and to giving them a deeper, richer understanding of our country and the world. Much is asked of kids today. Much more will be demanded of them as they move on to college and the workforce. We hope the Time For Kids weekly classroom app will help smooth the way. The app is available free through December. We hope you will take a look at the samples of it in the iTunes education store and then encourage your children’s teachers to sign up for it at timeforkids.com/tfkapp.

MONEY Family

Toys R Us ‘Breaks Bad’ with New Crystal Meth Toys

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©AMC/courtesy Everett Collection At least one toy maker is dreaming of a Walter White Christmas.

Parents aren't happy that the toy store chain is selling drug dealer dolls, complete with bags of crystal meth and sacks of cash.

Susan Schrivjer, a mom from Fort Myers, Fla., was a fan of the award-winning AMC show Breaking Bad. “I thought it was a great show,” she told a local TV station recently. “It was riveting!”

Even so, she thinks it’s not such a great idea to sell action figures based on the show’s notorious crystal meth dealers Walter White and Jesse Pinkman in a store where the customer base is families with young children. So last week Schrivjer launched a Change.org petition criticizing Toys R Us for selling “a Breaking Bad doll, complete with a detachable sack of cash and a bag of meth, alongside children’s toys [as] a dangerous deviation from the [company’s] family friendly values.”

The petition, which asks Toys R Us to stop selling the dolls, had attracted signatures from more than 2,200 supporters as of Monday morning. The “Breaking Bad”-Toys R Us protest picked up extra steam after Schrivjer appeared on The Today Show this weekend, making her case that “anything to do with drugs” should not be sold in a toy store. She has no problem with the figures being sold by e-retailers and shops that are less likely to be frequented by children, such as adult novelty stores. (For what it’s worth, Breaking Bad figures are also sold by Barnes & Noble, Walmart, and other major retailers. Walmart even sells a pink Breaking Bad teddy bear.)

Toys R Us has released a statement clarifying that the Breaking Bad packaging “clearly notes that the items are intended for ages 15 and up” and that they’re only sold “in the adult action figure area of our stores.” Yet Today Show staffers found the drug dealer figures within arm’s reach of G.I. Joe dolls, Super Mario Brothers figures, and other products of obvious interest to kids. Schrivjer and her supporters are of the opinion that the Breaking Bad figures shouldn’t be sold anywhere in a toy store: “Its violent content and celebration of the drug trade make this collection unsuitable to be sold alongside Barbie dolls and Disney characters.”

The controversy pops up at a time when sales of traditional toys have been slumping—and therefore so have stores whose bread-and-butter is selling those traditional toys. With the exception of Lego, which has been on an amazingly awesome roll and recently became the largest toy company in the world, many iconic toy brands have been struggling. Mattel sales declined during the last year’s all-important fourth quarter (when winter holidays take place), and the company’s latest report shows that Barbie sales continue to dip. One of the biggest reasons cited for dismal sales is that children are increasingly drawn to electronics over traditional toys.

It’s understandable, then, that toy makers and toy stores have taken steps to sell more of what kids want today (video game and electronics sections at these stores have exploded), and also to try to expand their customer bases by manufacturing, marketing, and selling products that are for “more mature” folks. Hence, the September decision by Toys R Us to enter a global partnership with Claire’s, a jewelry and accessory brand favored by tween and teen girls—a demographic that hasn’t had much interest in shopping at Toys R Us of late. By the end of 2014, Claire’s shops will be set up within a dozen U.S. Toys R Us locations, and more are expected down the road.

The desire to woo older customers also provides some explanation for why the toy chain would be selling drug dealer dolls, as well as why it would have an “adult action figure area” to begin with.

Read next: Netflix Had a Pretty Awful Day

TIME Parenting

This Is How to Stalk Your Teenage Children Online

MEN, WOMEN, AND CHILDREN
Dale Robinette—Paramount Pictures. Jennifer Garner plays an intenet snooping mother in Paramount's Men, Women & Children

One mother comes clean

I knew I had to be very careful when choosing a fake online identity with which to stalk my kids. It needed to be somebody that my children would want to be friends with, but not close friends, somebody who might plausibly notice them, but they might not notice being noticed by.

That’s how I ended up becoming Clara Lemlich. She was a leader of a massive strike of female shirtwaist workers in New York City more than a century ago. Logically, a modern Clara would be interested in clothes and young women, exactly what both my teenagers are interested in.

It’s well-known that only loser teenagers befriend people who don’t already have friends so I rounded out Clara’s profile by prefriending a whole bunch of people I knew my kids (a 13 year old girl and 16 year old boy) would find cool. That noted labor organizer, Channing Tatum, for example.

Given Ms. Lemlich’s areas of expertise, it’s not weird or creepy or anything that my children might crop up on her radar. Well, perhaps it’s a little creepy. I mean, if I were their mother and I saw some random adult pretending to be a dead union activist looking at their photos on Instagram, I’d be alarmed. But I am their mother, so …..anyway, I digress.

My ruse made just enough sense that when Clara Lemlich started following my kids, she seemed both acceptable and ignorable; they took the bait. Online friends are after all, more desirable for their quantity than their quality. The only person my children do not want to add to their list of followers is me.

Surely, you’re saying, there’s some more upfront, reasonable, less sneaky way to do this. Experts recommend, for example, that you have all your children’s passwords and make sure that you have full access to all their social media sites. To which I say: bwahahahahaha. Good luck. You will never get ahead of your teenagers on nefarious uses of technology. I’ll wager young Rory Gates has already figured out at least one way to digitally outsmart his dad, Bill.

In the new movie Men, Women & Children, Jennifer Garner plays a mom trying to do exactly what those parenting gurus recommend. She has all her daughter’s passwords. She tracks her daughter on her iPhone. Her computer records every website the girl has visited, every text her phone receives and every person who texts her, just to make sure there are no predators. (Her daughter goes along with all of this, because her daughter is a completely fictional construct.)

I’m not worried about predators. I pity any poor perv who tries to get my kids off the couch. But like Garner’s character Patricia, I do worry that what the kids are posting might blow back on them later. As Patricia says: “our children will be the first generation whose lives have a searchable database.”

That’s why I felt I needed Clara Lemlich. The Internet is too vast and labyrinthine to be mapped. Parents can’t give their offspring a guidebook or a list of dangerous neighborhoods, even if they knew them. They can’t warn them ahead of time to avoid doing something that might later seem terrible. But this public vast world is also holdable in one hand; It’s as if their bus pass could allow them to time travel. And strip when they get there.

But once I had successfully Trojan horsed my way into my kids’s online lives, I found their cities somewhat lacking in drama. There were no fights to join. Their activities mostly consist of friends being excessively complimentary of each other and excessively unpleasant about strangers. It’s narcissistic but not dangerous. The biggest infraction my daughter seems to be guilty of is copyright infringement: she’s posting photos I took. Without attribution.

So I’m outing Clara Lemlich. Hi kids, it’s me. Isn’t this Instagram thing fun? Of course, they don’t follow me on social media, so they’ll never know.

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