TIME Family

The Government’s Role in Supporting Families 2.0

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Families have changed since the 1960's, but our policies surrounding families have not changed since then

You don’t need to be a demographic expert to know that the stereotypical nuclear family is no longer the norm; in fact, it is an artifact of a bygone era. Since 1960, the percentage of American households with a married couple raising their own children has dropped from 37 to 16 percent, while fewer than half of children today are living with heterosexual parents in their first marriage.

“Families are changing,” said Liza Mundy, the director of New America’s Breadwinning and Caregiving Program, and “will continue to change” in ways that reflect a greater sense of social and cultural freedom of choice. Meanwhile, however, “our social policies are still rooted in the ideas of 1960s.” Institutions of government need to evolve “to acknowledge the changes that have taken place in the family and to update and coordinate the social policies that serve families,” said Mundy at a recent New America event.

In other words, there’s a disconnect between today’s lived experience and today’s policies. So, she asked, how can government build effective social policy across a range of issues facing real-life multi-generational families—rather than cookie-cutter caricatures from the 1960s?

President Obama has attempted to answer that question with his recently released 2016 Budget, which aims to “help America’s hard-working families get ahead in a time of relentless economic and technological change.” Now, the question on the table for Mundy and her fellow discussants is: will the proposal – which includes efforts to expand access to childcare and early learning, workforce training, and tax credits – achieve that lofty goal?

One facet of the budget stood out for most of the panelists, and made them optimistic: its focus on collaboration across federal, state and local government agencies and institutions.

Johan Uvin, Acting Assistant Secretary in the Office of Career Technical and Adult Education in the Department of Education , singled out the Performance Partnership Pilot—in which tribal, city, state governments can pool resources to create holistic strategy to reach out to disconnected youth—as well as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which contains what he described as a “number of specific changes that I believe will lead to more holistic policy-making at the state and local levels.” Mary Alice McCarthy, a senior policy analyst for New America’s Higher Education Initiative, echoed Uvin’s optimism about programs in Obama’s budget that call for greater cooperation between the federal government and municipal or state governments.

Pointing specifically to three proposals from the Obama Budget—the Department of Education’s America’s College Promise program, the Department of Labor’s Registered Apprenticeship programs, and the Department of Commerce’s National Network of Manufacturing Innovation Institutes—McCarthy emphasized their collaborative nature. She praised the President’s budget proposal overall for posing this question: “Who else needs to be part of this conversation outside the federal government to build family-centered social policy?”

According to McCarthy, everyone needs to be at the table—workers, employers, and government. The National Network of Manufacturing Innovation Institutes, for example, is “building partnerships among businesses, educational institutions and local government agencies to support development of advanced manufacturing hubs” in cities where the “erosion of the manufacturing sector…has put a strain on families.” Having all these stakeholders in the conversation about social policy, said McCarthy, would reflect the interconnectedness of what real families need: affordable higher education, secure and predictable pathways into employment, and more good jobs.

These holistic approaches to policy resonated with Laura Bornfreund, deputy director of New America’s Early Education Initiative, who pointed to the President’s proposed expansion of Head Start, with its “whole-child focus,” and federal Pre-School Development Grants, which contain provisions that encourage states to provide full-day kindergarten as well. She also cited the Promise Neighborhoods, modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone, in which the Department of Education supports partnerships with local organizations and nonprofits to provide services and specifically seeks to “break down agency ‘silos’” to implement solutions to community challenges.

Justin King, policy director of the Asset Building Program, agreed that inter-agency cooperation is key to pushing forward the aspects of the President’s budget proposal that promote financial stability for families while modernizing government’s understanding of what a family is: “There’s a critical role for government to play in supporting household economic stability and supporting the ability [for families] to save across the big picture.” That role, said King, must include support—such as the Automatic IRA proposal—for low-income families to save money for emergencies and retirement. When it comes to giving families help to save, said King, “the effort is there, the will is there, the resources are there, but it’s just not always applied with care. And it’s not always targeted to the families that need the most help, that are striving for a better life.”

President Obama’s budget proposal may be fruitful fodder for discussion, but it’s still only a blueprint for the future. As Uvin put it, this budget is “an important vehicle for advancing ideas,” but “there are other things that we can do and need to do and that we have done.” He concluded that it’s “essential” for government to create “flexible” policies for families and to “engage external stakeholders from the get-go, so that the continuation of critical policy innovations is not exclusively dependent on whether there is the political leadership that is present to advance them.”

Having opened with a question, Mundy concluded with one as well: how do you make policy without privileging one kind of family? By focusing attention where the “opportunity gaps are greatest,” said Uvin, “from cradle to career.”

Jane Greenway Carr is an ACLS Public Fellow and Contributing Editor at New America. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

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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.

MONEY Sports

This Multi-Billion-Dollar Business Is Trying to Get Your Kid Hooked

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Mitch Diamond—Alamy

In the quest for higher and higher profits down the line, the indoctrination must start young with this business—which is probably not at all what you think.

It’s … baseball.

For American kids today, the idea that baseball is the national pastime holds true only in the past. The number of kids who play baseball fell 24% during the ’00s, and it has continued to decrease since.

Unsurprisingly, the percentage of kids who are fans of the sport has been on the decline as well. In an ESPN Sports Poll conducted last year, 18% of 12- to 17-year-old Americans described themselves as avid baseball fans. That’s the lowest it’s been since the survey started being conducted in 1995. It’s also the first time ever that baseball’s level of fanaticism among kids was matched by that of (gasp!) Major League Soccer. Four in ten, meanwhile, say they are diehard NFL fans.

Still, baseball executives say other sports have little to do with kids losing interest in baseball. “Today, the fastest growing activity among young people is nothing,” Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred recently said, rather bizarrely, in a Sports Illustrated for Kids interview. He quickly clarified that “being involved with electronics and non-sporting activities” is largely why baseball has become less popular with kids.

In any event, baseball has fallen so far off most American kids’ radar that the problem is being openly discussed around the league. Newly adopted rules meant to speed up the game are aimed at removing the lulls and making the game more exciting for all fans—but especially for young people, what with their nonexistent attention spans. Teams across the country are also pumping up promotions and freebies to new heights to woo the next generation of spectators.

“I think we all recognize that we can’t live by the long-held premise that a child will automatically fall in love with baseball,” Boston Red Sox senior adviser Charles Steinberg said to the Boston Globe in early March. “We have to recognize that we are one of many options.”

With that in mind, the website of every Major League Baseball team has a section devoted specifically to kids—where else would you learn fun factoids about the team mascot?—and teams also encourage children to sign up for their special kids club programs. Membership is often free, and comes with perks like team swag, baseball cards, and access to discounted or free ticket promotions.

The Red Sox program, dubbed Kids Nation, used to cost $30, but this season ownership decided to make membership free for fans 14 and under. Each member gets a free ticket to Fenway Park (with an adult ticket purchase, of course), plus a 10% discount on team merchandise and “Exclusive Kid Nation Email Newsletters.”

Other MLB teams with free basic membership for kids programs include the Chicago White Sox, New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Miami Marlins. The latter comes with buy-one, get-one-free tickets at select games—kids club members eat free at the ballpark at some games too.

Most teams try to upsell families on VIP kids club membership, which runs $20 and up and includes more perks and freebies. Other MLB franchises charge for all kids club memberships, though they don’t seem to be making money on the sales considering what’s in the package. For example, the Los Angeles Angels Junior Angels program costs $18 but comes with a voucher good for four tickets, plus a team shirt, socks, and shoelaces and a $5 gift card at the Angels Team Store. Meanwhile, the Seattle Mariners’ $15 kids club membership includes a team cap, cooler, activity book, and access to $1 tickets at select games.

Obviously, the short-term goal of these programs is to boost attendance and revenues for this season. Even though the programs may break even or lose money on the surface, they succeed in attracting more people out to the ballpark—and bringing them out more often—where they’ll undoubtedly fork over cash for parking, food, beverages, and souvenirs.

But wooing kids is hardly a short-term play. What baseball truly hopes is that kids programs and other child-centric marketing efforts help create lifelong fans who head out to the stadium, buy team merchandise, and watch on TV for decades to come. The idea is to hook them while they’re young with cheap tickets, free swag, face painting at games, and whatever else it takes. After all, few people wake up when they’re grownups and decide that they will suddenly become diehard fans of the Cincinnati Twins or San Diego Padres or whoever.

Data collected by the Red Sox indicates that people who went to games as children are nearly three times more likely than others to turn into “core” fans or at least go the ballpark a few times per season down the road. In his SI for Kids interview, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred agreed that it is absolutely essential to turn children on to baseball while they’re young: “Our research shows the two biggest determinants of fan avidity are did you play as a kid? And how old were you when your parents took you to the ballpark for the first time?”

TIME Parenting

7 Things Every Kid with Autism Wishes You Knew

Therapist with autistic boy
WILL & DENI MCINTYRE; Getty Images/Photo Researchers RM

April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day

Every kid is different. So is every individual with autism. But if you’re looking to connect with a child living with autism, Ellen Notbohm, author of Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew, and the mother of an autistic son, says keeping these things in mind can help.

My senses don’t work like yours. For a child living with autism, the sensory impressions of daily life—noises from machines, , the flickering of fluorescent lights, cooking smells— “can be downright painful,” Nothbohm writes. Remember, a world that seems unremarkable to you may be overwhelming to them.

I’m a concrete thinker. “Idioms, puns, nuances, inferences, metaphors, allusions and sarcasm are lost” on children with autism, Nothbohm writes. Instead, communicate with literal language.

I’m a visual thinker. Children with autism have a harder time absorbing spoken words. But they can study visual information until they really understand it. So “show me how to do something rather than just telling me,” Nothbohm writes. “Lots of patient practice helps me learn.”

I have many ways to communicate. Words are not always the best way for a child with autism to interact or convey his or her needs. “But be alert for body language, withdrawal, agitation, or other signs,” Nothbohm writes. “They’re there.”

Focus on what I can do, not what I can’t. Just like anyone else, it’s hard for children with autism to learn when they’re made to feel like they’re not measuring up. But “look for my strengths and you will find them,” Nothbohm writes. “There is more than one right way to do most things.”

Help me join in. Children with autism may seem as if they don’t want to participate in social activities. But in fact, they may just be unsure about how to join in. “Teach me how to play with others,” Nothbohm writes. “Encourage other children to invite me to play along. I might be delighted to be included.”

I’m more than my autism. “If you think of me as just one thing,” Nothbohm writes, “you run the danger of setting up expectations that may be too low.” The reality? “Neither you nor I yet know what I may be capable of.”

Every week TIME gathers up the best parenting stories in one handy newsletter. It’s free. Subscribe here.

TIME Family

I’m Raising My 3 Kids Overseas and It’s Not Always Easy

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Education Images—UIG via Getty Images Amsterdam, Netherlands

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

My daughter’s doctor once asked me, “Is it strange not to be able to understand what your own child is saying?” Yep, it is

It was a straightforward plan: take our 3- and 1-year-old to live in Europe, stay for a year, maybe two, and then return in time for the eldest to start school.

Six years later, we’re still here and have added a Dutch-born daughter into the mix.

Raising kids in a foreign country has been a fantastic adventure. It has stretched us out of our comfort zone, exposed us to new cultures and ways of living and has changed the way we view the world. On some days it has also been bloody hard work.

Picking up the new traditions of our adopted home has been a highlight of moving to the Netherlands. We’ve met Sinterklaas (Dutch Santa) and left our shoes in front of the fireplace with carrots for his horse Amerigo, waking up to find them packed with treats. We’ve draped ourselves in orange to join the neighborhood’s King’s Day celebrations and bought a three-wheeled box bike (bakfiets), loading it up daily with kids, school bags and shopping. The kids can hold a whole herring by the tail and expertly devour it. We’ve replaced ketchup with mayonnaise when ordering fries and have strong convictions about where the best pancakes can be found.

The real business of integrating into a nonnative English speaking culture however has not gone so smoothly. As a devout monolinguist (not by choice, but doomed by genetics), it blew my mind how quickly my kids picked up a second language. Three months at a Dutch school and they were rolling their r’s and doing all sorts of weird guttural stuff from the depths of their throats. They can chat with shopkeepers, make friends in the playground and, when feeling generous, even translate for me.

Learning Dutch has been great for the kids’ integration and is a fun party trick when we visit home, but it has permanently jeopardized my street cred with them. I am now the mom who doesn’t understand what her kids are saying, or the mom who sounds like an idiot when practicing her butchered Dutch. My daughter’s doctor once asked me, “Is it strange not to be able to understand what your own child is saying?” Yep, it is.

I try to convince my daughters that while my Dutch may be scrappy, at least my English is pretty good. But this holds little weight when we are surrounded by the most gifted linguists in Europe, with most Dutch people fluent in at least three languages.

A year after arriving, we moved into our sparsely furnished new home and I headed out to Ikea to rectify the situation with some Swedish DIY. Desperate for an hour of uninterrupted shopping, I set out to convince the woman in charge of the child-care facilities that my youngest was in fact 3 years old, the minimum age for admission. Meanwhile, my eldest was babbling away to her in Dutch.

The Ikea woman was getting increasingly irritated as I maintained that my daughter was three (“drie! drie!”) and she kept insisting she was two (“twee! twee!”). At last, thoroughly fed up, she pointed to my very chatty 5-year-old and announced, “Your daughter is telling me that her sister is 2.” Exposed by a 5-year-old. Ouch.

As a parent, I’m constantly striving to instill in my children a sense of belonging and self-confidence, which is tricky when you stand out and are acutely aware of it. I suspect that no one is paying as much attention to the foreigner as I think they are, yet I carry around the weight of feeling conspicuous whenever I open my mouth.

If I’m at the supermarket and I’ve forgotten my purse, I’m the English person who’s holding up the line (Americans, Canadians, Australians: we are all English people here). The last thing you want is for your kids to be aware of your discomfort, so living here as an outsider has been a huge learning curve in faking it, putting your shoulders back and getting on with it.

Some days I entertain myself with seeing how long I can go without drawing attention to my outsider status, but the Anglo giveaways are everywhere, even before I open my mouth. I may join in the peak-hour bike traffic to take the kids to school, but my kids are one of the very few wearing helmets. And when I get to school I’m the 5-ft. 5-in.brunette standing on my tiptoes trying to catch a glimpse of the class performance amongst the ridiculously tall Dutch parents and their golden locks.

The rationale behind choosing a Dutch school over the many international schools, apart from the language bonus, was to help the kids integrate into Dutch society. And it seems to have worked. They know the dance moves to the Dutch pop songs, have picked up the adorable Dutch sign for tasty (a sideward wave of their hand by their cheek while saying “lekker”) and request chocolate sprinkles in their sandwiches. At the same time they are in an environment where they will always be different.

The jury’s still out, but I suspect I’ve done the right thing by them. I may not be able to read in class or help with homework, but they feel part of the community around them and can switch between the local and expat worlds without missing a beat. This sense of belonging no matter where they are is something I hope they will always carry with them.

Out of the blue, my middle daughter recently announced, “We may not be the most well-behaved kids, mom, but I think we’re the most interesting.” I quickly agreed with the first half of the sentiment and she went on to explain, “All the kids in my class are from the Netherlands, but we’re from Australia and that makes us interesting.”

That may or may not be true, but I certainly like her view of the world.

Greener is an Australian writer living in the Netherlands. She wrote this article for xoJane.

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 Family

I Am About to Become a Stay-at-Home Parent and I’m Terrified

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

I’ve had a career I love for the past decade, but I’m giving it up to stay home with my kids

xojane

I am about to become a stay-at-home parent. I’m not going to write about the mommy wars, whether staying home is a “luxury,” the state of maternity/paternity leave in this country, etc. You guys are all smart and have read all those articles. This is just about how I feel about leaving the workforce after over a decade in my career.

For the past 10+ years, I’ve been working with people with developmental disabilities. I started out in college working at a preschool for kids with special needs. I had 8 little boys in my classroom and I loved them all.

After that, I worked my way through jobs at an autism clinic, a feeding disorders clinic (not to be confused with eating disorders), a day program for adults, and most recently, as a case manager for people receiving various services.

I’ve really enjoyed my career. I’ve learned a lot and become a fierce advocate for a person’s right to self-determination. I’ve learned just how hard it is for people to access needed services. I’ve met amazing people doing amazing things. And I have been proud of my career. I like the answer I’ve been able to give to the question “What do you do for a living?”

But that’s all about to change.

When I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, my husband Mike and I assumed we’d both work and send her to daycare. We couldn’t comfortably afford a daycare center, so we found an unlicensed neighbor-of-a-friend who watched a couple of other kids. I was a little uneasy about it, but figured it would be fine.

After Amelia was born, I completely changed my mind. I had some PPD going on, exacerbated by my body’s inability to make breast milk (that’s another whole article) and was in agony about going back to work.

Mike and I sat down and really looked at our finances. We realized that we would be spending all but $500 per month of his income on day care. So he got a job bartending a few nights a week and quit his old job exactly 2 weeks before my leave ended. I went back to work, supporting my husband and our tiny baby. Around this time, Mike also went back to school to finally finish the degree he had started in his early 20s.

But it never felt right.

I hated juggling work and parenting. Some people love it and are great at it. I’m just not one of those people. Mike is an amazing stay-at-home parent, but he’s a total extrovert and starts going a little loopy on days he can’t leave the house. I started resenting my job for taking me away from my baby, even if it was paying all our bills.

I had never considered being a stay-at-home parent before but once Amelia was born, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I knew the timing wasn’t right, though. It wasn’t fair for me to ask Mike to work full time and go to school full time. My job had the benefits and better pay. At the time, Mike staying home made the most sense. It wasn’t awful, and it served us well for a couple years.

Fast forward two years and we have another daughter, Violet, and Mike has finished school. We’re about to switch roles. He’s going to enter the workforce and I’m going to stay home with the girls.

This is not a purely financial decision. I want to do this. I’ve been begging to do this since I first laid eyes on Amelia. I’ve cried and agonized about this. And now that I’m getting what I want, I am terrified.

What if I screw this up? What if this is a giant mistake? What if I regret this decision? Mike has set the stay-at-home parenting bar pretty high — what if I can’t reach it? What if the other stay-at-home parents don’t like me?

A big part of my identity has always been my self-sufficiency and independence. I’m worried that I’m going to lose a chunk of that by not having my own income. I have always supported other women in doing what is right for their families, and this is what is right for my family right now. But I still find myself justifying it.

There are things about being a working parent I will really miss. There are definitely mornings when both girls are screaming that I am thankful I can retreat to the semi-quiet of my office. I don’t have to share my lunch. There are no bodily fluids to clean up. If I need to, I can put on headphones and space out for 5 minutes without worrying that someone will run out the door, flush something down the toilet, stab their baby sister with a pen, swan dive off the sofa onto the dog, etc.

But I want my daughters to learn that doing what is right looks different for every family. I want them to see that I have supported our family both by working and by staying home. I want them to know that sometimes getting what you want takes years of planning and work. That it’s okay to change your mind about how you see yourself and what you want.

Mostly I just want them to be happy. And I want Mike to be happy. And I want to be happy. Hopefully this is a way to make that happen. Wish us luck!

Kate Ferris wrote this article for xoJane.

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 Family

How to Create the Ultimate Easter Basket

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You can replace sugar-coated treats with stickers and cars to keep things much healthier

The Base

1. Replace the typical Easter basket with a small canvas storage container, so “the basket is actually functional and useful after the hunt,” says Joy Cho, founder of Oh Joy. Create a special handle by connecting colored ribbons to the container.

2. Pile all the goodies in a Kanken mini backpack, says Camille Styles, founder of Camille Styles Blog and author of Camille Styles Entertaining. It may seem a bit pricey, but “I love the idea of giving kids their Easter goodies in something they can use all year long,” she says.

3. Stuff a clear paint can full of craft supplies like pom-poms, paint, and pipe cleaners. It’s a fun, unique idea that’s perfect for a little artist, says Sherry Petersik, Richmond-based blogger and author of Young House Love.

4. Create an atypical Easter basket for a young gourmand: Fill a kid-sized chef hat with an apron, wooden play food, and age-appropriate kitchen items like cookie cutters, says Petersik.

The Fillers

1. Instead of plastic grass, fill your Easter basket with cotton balls. “This Easter basket filler is about as inexpensive as it gets,” says Styles. “Pull each ball apart until it gets wispy for a fun Peter Cottontail-inspired Easter basket.”

2. “Use seeded handmade paper cut into strips,” says Cho. “That way, afterwards, the kids can help you plant the seeds in your backyard or in a window pot and see a part of their Easter basket come to life!” Here’s how to make your own seed paper with recycled scrap paper you have lying around the house (or, save time by purchasing pre-made seed paper)!

Egg Alternatives

1. A fun alternative to the traditional way of coloring Easter eggs is to write messages and designs with a white crayon on the egg, and wait until after the kids find their Easter baskets to color them, says Ceci Johnson, founder and creative director of Ceci New York. Set up a table with prepared egg dye, so kids can dunk their eggs in to reveal hidden messages from the Easter Bunny.

2. “If you’re doing an egg hunt, larger seeds (like bean seeds—which grow quickly and easily) are fun to hide inside plastic eggs,” says Sarah Copeland, Real Simple Food Director and creator of the Edible Living blog. Her family calls them “magic beans,” like in Jack and the Beanstalk, to help get the kids excited. Plant the seeds as a family, and keep track of the plant’s progress throughout the spring.

3. For an edible alternative to eggs, use oval egg-shaped donut holes (make your own with a special baking pan, like this one) glazed in natural egg colors like robin’s egg blue, white glaze, or light milk chocolate glaze, says Peter Callahan, creative director of Peter Callahan Catering. You can nestle the donuts in a basket, wooden crate, or even on top of some wheat grass.

The Goodies

1. A favorite inedible idea of Joanna Goddard’s, creator of A Cup of Jo, is a Tattly temporary tattoo. The kids will love applying and showing off their “ink” and parents will love the fact that they wash off with just a little soap and water.

2. A fun, interactive book like Pat the Bunny or a unique wooden toy make the perfect basket fillers for a little one, says Tara Mandy, publisher of Stroller Traffic.

3. “Fill your baskets with miniature animals, bouncy balls, stickers, cars, and hair accessories,” says Johnson. “These treats will surely up the fun and is much healthier than filling [the kids] up with sugar-coated treats all day!”

4. Fill your kids’ basket with rolls of colored washi tape. “Kids love tape. And parents love tape that kids can use that doesn’t permanently stick to anything,” says Cho.

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

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TIME Parenting

How to Talk to Your Kids About Scary News Events

Cheyenne Glasgow—Getty Images/Flickr Select

"It can be scarier not to talk about them.”

We all want to protect our kids from the hard truths of life. Nobody wants to explain why the plane went down in the Alps, why that kid did what he did on that ISIS video, or the symptoms of Ebola.

But if our kids don’t learn to face bad news eventually, they can’t thrive. So how does a parent walk that line?

Richard Weissbourd, a child and family psychologist on the faculty of Harvard’s School of Education, and the author of The Parents We Mean To Be, says what a lot of parents already know: there’s no easy answer.

But that makes it even more important to talk with kids about tough realities, Weissbourd says. “Kids are thinking about these things anyway. They’re seeing things on the news, and overhearing the things adults are saying. So it can be scarier not to talk about them.”

And every kid is different, Weissbourd says: they “vary in levels of anxiety, and vulnerability.” With his own kids, Weissbourd shared tough truths based on “who they are, and what I felt they could emotionally manage.”

Still, there are some rules of thumb parents can follow.

At elementary age, fairy tales that may seem grim to parents actually work for kids because, Weissbourd says, “they’re trying to get some mastery over those really deep fears.” But kids that age are also concrete thinkers. So it’s good to start with concrete answers. And it’s all right not to have all the answers. According to Weissbourd, the real goal is just to have the conversation.

By the time kids reach middle school, they’ll have seen a lot of troubling things for themselves. But “sometimes they understand much more and sometimes much less than we think,” Weissbourd says. So it’s important at this stage for parents to listen. Hearing what kids are wrestling with, and how they’re trying to make sense of it, is key.

By high school, parents can begin to explore the deeper questions with kids, looking not just at immediate problems, but at the underlying reasons for them–and what they might be able to do to make a difference. According to Weissbourd, research shows that people deal best with problems when they “convert passivity into activity.”

So that’s actually the most powerful response to tough realities at any age, Weissbourd says: finding something we can do to make a difference.

For the best parenting stories and advice every week, sign up for TIME’s weekly parenting newsletter by clicking here.

TIME Parenting

How to Parent Like a Reporter

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Getty Images

Ask open-ended questions that get the source (your child) talking

Parenting articles are popping up everywhere. Everyone, it seems, has something to say about parenting.

On March 5, TIME.com published How to Parent Like an FBI Agent, but well before that there were stories describing helicopter parents, tiger moms, free-range parenting and so on.

Folks love to put labels on things–but parenting is a task many of us figure out as we go. One day I may be hovering over my kids, and the next I might be doing the opposite, so I can’t imagine that any parent is any one type all of the time. The nature of the job simply doesn’t lend itself to that level of certainty.

Just last week the child who had been giving my husband and me a hard time for the past few weeks suddenly became the easier one, while the other – who had given us no reason for concern for weeks – switched into high-maintenance mode again.

So in the spirit of these parenting “styles,” I present my own method: “How to parent like a reporter.” Loosely based on principles learned in Journalism 101, this is mostly for fun – but with practice and a little luck, these guidelines could lead you a better understanding of your child.

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Ask open-ended questions that get the source (your child) talking. Instead of questions like “How was school today?” – that can be answered with a simple yes, no, or O.K.– some better prompts might be, “What’s going on at the playground during recess?” or “What sort of things are kids fighting over in class?” Determine in advance what information you want to obtain, and craft a line of questioning that will get you there.

Ask follow-up questions. Who, what, when, where, how and why are particularly helpful to get more details or to get the subject to consider the matter more closely themselves.

Monitor social media accounts for tips and trends related to your source. For instance, search Instagram and Twitter with tags the kids and their friends may be using. I guarantee you will be both enlightened and shocked. If you aren’t sure what tags they use, ask them to tag something as a joke, and you’ll get a grasp of the pattern. They may not use the ones you think they are using, so try different combinations.

Observe interactions between the source and others to gain contextual information for follow-up questions or background. Listen closely when your child expresses concerns over trivial matters as well as large issues. Tune your ears to absorb the information as if you had to write down and explain the conversation to others. This technique will curb your daydreaming and the tendency to begin crafting your response in advance.

Be objective. Don’t throw your emotions into the conversation if it is unwarranted.

Don’t assume any details are correct. Confirm locations and chaperone details with an independent source.

Take lots of photos to document this moment in time. You never know when that one photo will tell the story better than written words.

Respect “off the record” details as confidential. Don’t share your source’s (child’s) private thoughts as fodder in conversations with friends, or you’ll lose that rapport.

Be prepared for the unpredictable. Parenting, just like covering breaking news, is a lot about reacting. Just as a reporter was not expecting a fire to ignite at that factory downtown, you may not be ready for your child to launch into questions about the birds and the bees on a Saturday morning. Take a breath, rely on what you know to be true, and figure out what you still need to know to properly inform and guide them.

Laura Stetser is a full-time reporter and mother of two school-age children. Get more parenting news by connecting with her on Facebook and Twitter @TheMomsBeat or via email at laura.stetser@catamaranmedia.com.

This article originally appeared on Shore News Today.

TIME Family

Now Mothers Have a Third Shift—on Facebook

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How do parents figure out what to post about their children on social media?

One evening while perusing Facebook, Christine encountered a profile with a public cover image that depicted her two-year-old son sitting in a pile of leaves. The profile belonged to Christine’s babysitter, and Christine hadn’t seen the picture before. (The names of parents in this article are pseudonyms.)

Initially, Christine felt uncomfortable. She told her husband, and they wondered what to do. Should they send the babysitter a Facebook Friend request? Talk to her directly about the photo?

Ultimately, they did nothing. They figured the babysitter posted the picture because she loved their son, and having a babysitter who cared about their child was more important to them than trying to control his presence on social media. Plus, Christine didn’t want the babysitter to think they were spying on her.

This exchange — the negotiation between parents, the consideration of a child’s digital footprint, and the time and effort that went into making this decision — illustrates the emergence of a “third shift” of work that parents take on to manage the online identities of their children. The concept extends sociologist Arlie Hochschild’s seminal work on family life, which described the “second shift” of homemaking work that occurs in addition to paid labor (the “first shift,” if you will). This “third shift,” which encompasses the work that goes into presenting family life on social media and other online platforms, extends debates about divisions of labor into the digital era.

Over the past two years, University of Michigan School of Information PhD student Tawfiq Ammari and I interviewed more than 100 mothers and fathers from around the country about their social media use. Working with professors Sarita Schoenebeck and Cliff Lampe, experts in social computing, our team discovered that while both parents participate in the third shift, mothers typically take the lead. Tensions emerge when one parent posts a picture that the other parent prefers not to be shared, or when extended family does the same.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we found that the task of managing family photos, a type of domestic labor that seeks to preserve memories of home life, typically falls to women. Our research suggests the same is true in this age of Facebook and Instagram, with mothers generally taking the initiative to negotiate sharing policies with partners, decide what pictures to share, and post them online. We call this work parental disclosure management.

Disclosure management is what you and I do when we think, “Do I really want to post this? Would I want my parent/boss/student/high school frenemy to see it?” For those who use social media often, these may be semi-conscious thoughts or reflexes. But layered beneath these questions lies a complex decision process where your brain weighs the benefits of posting with the potential drawbacks.

When parents go through this process, they’re often deciding to reveal information about themselves as well as their children, who might not be old enough to make or respond to that decision themselves. At its core, parenting requires making decisions on behalf of someone who doesn’t know how to do so herself. But throw the World Wide Web into the mix and you have information that spreads easily, is visible to a much broader audience, and is nearly impossible to control. If the Web resembles a megaphone, what do parents feel comfortable sharing with it?

We examined this question and learned that mothers and fathers share different types of pictures. Typically, mothers of young children post pictures that are cute, funny, depict a milestone, or show their children with family or friends. Many fathers, on the other hand, post pictures that showcase activities in which their children participate, especially athletics. Mothers of young children typically hesitate to post pictures that portray nudity or negativity (e.g., crying). Fathers are particularly wary of posting images of children, especially daughters, that could be interpreted as sexually suggestive.

And here, things get murky, because parents — however blindly or haphazardly — try to anticipate how others will respond to what they share. One father we interviewed avoided posting pictures of his daughter at gymnastics, where she wore tights. Another father said he wouldn’t share a picture of his ten-year-old daughter wearing too-short shorts or making a duck lip face. He nearly unfriended one of his Facebook friends after that friend made a sexually suggestive comment about a picture the father had posted of his daughter perched on one foot. Rather than take the picture down or cut off online contact with his friend, the father posted a sarcastic comment in response. He injected humor into the conversation while still signaling his disapproval of the friend’s inappropriate comment.

This father’s experience underscores the difficulty of trying to control the presentation of a child’s identity online. Parents can control their own actions, but not others’ actions or reactions. This lack of control online frustrates parents, just as it does in the classroom or on the playground, where they want to have say in what their child learns or how high she climbs on the jungle gym. According to the Pew Research Center, 57 percent of Facebook users with kids under age 18 strongly dislike when people share pictures of their children on Facebook without permission.

Rather than brood in silence about their frustrations, parents we spoke to used a variety of strategies to address them. Preventative approaches included e-mailing announcements to extended family about their preferences for sharing information about children online, using different social media sites than the ones they used for themselves to share information about children, or creating separate social media profiles for children. When problems did arise, parents typically decided to laugh them off, ignore them (like Christine did with the babysitter’s picture), or ask people directly to remove the images or information.

These are promising strategies. Yet this research reminds us that while the digital landscape offers new tools to share information, it presents parents and children with similar decision-making challenges as the analog world — difficulties that never have one-size-fits-all solutions. Parents tackle countless daily decisions that affect their children, and figuring out what to post on social media may feel trivial. But when parents decide what pictures of their children to share or how to describe their children’s mannerisms, they shape how the world views their children. Confidentiality becomes a real concern, especially when sharing information about taboo subjects, such as medical crises or mental health issues. These disclosures can help parents find social support, but they can also compromise the child’s privacy.

Parents may also disagree about how best to manage their children’s lives online. Divorce or separation can complicate efforts to negotiate sharing practices. One father’s ex-wife preferred not to share information about their child online, while he worried that he would never see pictures of their son except during in-person visits. Another father who was separated from his child’s mother could only see pictures through his father’s Facebook friendship with his ex-partner, since she unfriended him.

This third shift also poses challenges for children, who are destined to grow up and develop their own opinions and privacy preferences for social media engagement. Though it’s impossible to know what the social media terrain will look like in a generation, recent legislative actions seek to account for these children’s rights. One such California law known as the “eraser bill” requires websites to allow children under 18 to delete content they post. The movement to pass such measures indicates a growing public appetite to give minors greater autonomy and control over their digital footprints.

In addition to individual negotiations and government interventions, social platforms themselves can help families navigate third shift challenges. For example, the ability to create shared accounts on social media sites could help parents jointly control privacy settings or manage information. Parents could also use “silent tagging” which would store information in a profile that a child could eventually review and decide whether to share more widely online. Social media companies that are looking to the future would do well to integrate robust identity management features that help people respond to their already existing online life.

Today’s parents had the chance to shape their own digital footprints, while their children will inherit the digital footprints their parents create for them. As our social and economic lives increasingly intersect with digital technology, we must continue to study the scope and stakes of “third shift” labor for both parents and children.

Priya Kumar is a program associate with the Ranking Digital Rights project. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

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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 society

It’s Time We Stop Pretending That All Same-Sex Marriages Are Identical

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

Once again individual members of a minority group are forced to represent their entire collective

xojane

This article is a response to this piece in The Federalist.

In it, the author, Heather Barwick, says she is against same-sex marriage because, despite being raised in what she describes as a nurturing, loving home with two parents, and being left by a father who she describes as having no interest in her, she feels her mother deprived her of a relationship with a father by being married to another woman and that all children raised in same-sex homes are being hurt.

Heather addressed her letter to me as part of the gay community, so mine is addressed to her.

Her point of view comes from her growing up in a same-sex household and raising children in a heterosexual household. My response comes from being raised in a heterosexual household and raising a child in a same-sex household.

Heather,

First of all, I am sorry you are hurting. I am sorry you feel wronged and damaged by your upbringing. Your feelings are yours and thus are valid and no one can take that from you.

But I do have a problem with what you wrote, and as you said, “it might not be for the reasons that you think.”

You are against gay marriage. Fine.

I disagree with you strongly and think what you wrote is actively damaging to society; especially since you not only insult gay parents, but also single parents, adoptive parents, step parents, and parents of all orientations who use fertility treatments.

But my biggest problem is not your opinion. It is this: once again individual members of a minority group are forced to represent their entire collective.

You say, “Gay community, I am your daughter.”

No, you are not my daughter, Heather.

You can’t speak for my daughter any more than I can speak for your moms.

As a matter of fact, we’re close to the same age. Our kids will inherit the world we are both currently shaping.

But for some reason, you feel totally comfortable saying that you represent my child and your mother represents me. This is something minorities have to deal with all the time.

You are mad that your dad abandoned you. You blame your mom. Your mom is gay. I am gay. Thus, I am your mom.

If I follow your reasoning to it’s logical conclusion then it also applies to kids who have been hurt, or feel deprived and abandoned in the aftermath of straight relationships (which, by the way, happens in higher percentages than the kids of same-sex parents) which would mean traditional marriage should be banned. But you only want to talk about same-sex marriages, since that is your upbringing.

Since you like personal anecdotes, here is mine: I never met my biological father. This was my mother’s choice, not his, but it happened nonetheless. He has since passed away, so I also have no say in this. My mom married a man she fell in love with when I was three, he also raised me as his own until she died when I was 14. He then remarried (a woman) and the home became abusive and was damaging to me. I don’t need to get into details, but it was not the kind loving home that you describe with your mom and her wife.

Yet somehow, I never felt the need to ban all straight marriages because of it. I doubt anyone would ever propose that, because heterosexual marriage is the mainstream, and thus, each individual marriage, and parent, gets to be judged on their own merit.

This is something my wife and I have to deal with a lot. When it comes to our home and our family, we don’t have the luxury of being individuals, we are looked at to represent every lesbian home. It makes my wife angry. She wants to rage at the bigotry and the hate and violence. She has every right to. Change is often brought about by righteous anger. Being polite tends to create doormats.

I tend to handle things in a different way (because, gasp, my wife and I are different people despite both being lesbians). I try to live as what I call an “ambassador gay.” I want to mediate, to bridge the gap, to show how much we are alike, how normal and boring, and just like you I am.

For example, you and I are both moms and I bet our stories of being up at night feeding our infants and changing diapers would sound incredibly similar. I feel a lot of pressure to be the best mom, the best wife, the best person that I can be, not just for myself, but so that I can represent my community well. The reason I feel that pressure, is because of people like you who believe there is such thing as “people like me.” Like somehow every lesbian is just like me. Or every person of color is just like every other.

It’s the reason that when a film starring a woman tanks, Hollywood backs off, but John Carter can bomb without it leading to any shortage of testosterone fueled sci-fi films.

You are hurting and you have a right to voice your own opinion and point of view. Obviously, being raised in a same-sex home made you feel like you were deprived, despite the fact that you say it was a loving home. I am very glad that your husband is a good dad to your kids and you feel they want for nothing. I am sure it will be interesting for you to hear their take when they are grown.

But your experience is your experience and I would appreciate you leaving my daughter out of it and letting her speak for herself when she is old enough to have a voice.

My wife and I are going to make mistakes while raising her. Just like you are with your kids. There will be things that she hates about us and complains about us doing. Our hope is that these will be minor things and that in doing our best we will provide her with a foundation of love and support and some wisdom. She will definitely know that she was wanted, planned for and loved from the very beginning. That’s the best I can do as a parent.

Unlike you, I’m not the kind of person to make judgments about other people’s households. If I were, I’d be more worried about the hurt felt by kids raised in a home that actively belittles and campaigns against families that look different from their own. I’d be worried about a kid whose mother never outgrew the fantasy that somewhere out there exists a super parent who would have never disappointed her. And most of all I would be worried about the hurt caused to a kid who watched their mother project the feelings of rejection and hurt from a willfully absent father onto the person who stepped up and actually did the care giving and the loving.

But, I am not in your home, so I wouldn’t do that to you.

Amanda Deibert wrote this article for xoJane.

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.

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