TIME Parenting

For Marissa Mayer, Being a CEO Mom is Easier than Being a Non-CEO Mom

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Peter Kramer—NBC/Getty Images

Belinda Luscombe, an editor-at-large of TIME, writes about the science, economy and insanity of relationships—those conducted at home, work or in cyberspace. She's also the editor of the Time for Parents newsletter and was formerly the editor of the magazine's Culture section. Luscombe has worked at TIME since 1995, after moving to New York City from Sydney.

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, is pregnant with twins. While many important and prominent male leaders have twins (President George W. Bush for one) and nobody seems to think it’s big deal, this is different, partly because Mayer is a twin-carrying CEO, which is kind of rare, and partly because, for better or worse, mom CEOs are judged differently from dad CEOs.

Last time Mayer and her husband Zachary Bogue had a kid, speculation ran riot over whether she was taking too little time off or whether she would be able to spend enough time with her kid or whether Yahoo could be well-led by a new mom. Having twins, which, as any parent of multiples can tell you, is not like looking after two babies so much as carrying two buckets of eels with no bucket, so this news is likely to kick that kind of speculation into overdrive. How can she have enough bandwidth for all she needs to get done?

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But here’s the thing: Mayer is a CEO. Her essential job description is: get people to do stuff. And as CEO, she has oodles or practice at management and oodles of money and oodles of options. I recently interviewed YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, who’s a mother of five kids, aged from just months to 15 years. It’s her contention that being a CEO mom is way easier than being non-CEO mom. “The challenges for me were more when I got started,” says Wojcicki. “My nanny was my first employee; that’s a difficult person to manage. It’s more emotional than it is in the office.”

Wojcicki points out that not only do you have fewer resources and less cash when you’re starting out, you don’t have any management skills. “Now I have really good management skills partially which I have developed from being at work,” she says. “For work I have to delegate. At home I got better at finding people who could help me, so I can focus on the things that are important: the kids when they need me and the kids and their homework.”

Mayer has said she will treat this pregnancy and childbirth like the last one, meaning she won’t take much time off (last time she took two weeks). For her most recent child, Wojcicki has taken 14 of the 18 weeks of paid maternity leave that Google offers. (Yahoo offers 16 weeks.) These women don’t necessarily need to take so much time off, because they have the wherewithal to to have their kids needs’ taken care of when they go back to work. But those moms who are still on the lower rungs of the ladder have fewer choices. And some have little or no paid maternity leave so taking a lot of time off isn’t even an option.

“That’s when I think women are more likely to drop out of the workforce,” says Wojcicki, who has written publicly of the need for more paid parental leave. “When you’re earlier in your career, you have fewer resources and you’re paid less and you also don’t have any management skills. That was the time for me that was really hard.”

While companies such as Google have offered such options to their female workforce as egg freezing, or company subsidized shipping of breast milk from work trips, these are clearly amenities that enable moms to make their lives more like old school dads’ were: unencumbered by childrearing. They’re also much more about outsourcing the mechanics of having children and less about the soft skills, like helping kids process their day. A different approach would be to consider the skills and restrictions of parenthood as more of an asset and to encourage employees to use them for the benefit of the company.

Wojcicki, for example, says her desire to be home for dinner with her kids made it difficult for her in the beginning because she was more reluctant to go to evening events or travel as much. It’s one of the reasons, she believes why as the CEO of a site with a billion users, she has an unfamiliar name to most people. But that desire to cap her workday also helped her to prioritize and time-block ruthlessly. “I have to optimize that time I’m in the office and I have to focus on the highest priority things, the things that are really going to make a difference,” she says. “In some ways that’s helped me because it has aligned me with Google trying to do something very quickly.”

To be fair, some of the attention on CEO moms is warranted, because they’re the ones breaking new ground. Dad CEOs manage having kids the same way they’ve done it for decades; by leaving it their wives to organize it. No major upheaval going on there. But for a couple of generations there, most wealthy educated moms stayed home and raised kids. Now that they are becoming the bosses, it’s taking a while for the gears to shift. More companies are are starting to offer parental leave, for either gender, rather than just maternity leave, but only a teensy tiny proportion of wealthy educated dads opt to raise kids full time. It’s natural that we are more curious about how women are managing this transition.

But let’s make sure we aren’t forgetting the vast majority of women, for whom motherhood comes before the keys to the C-suite. Perhaps by the time Mayer and Bogue’s daughters are hitting the career track they can feel free to repopulate the planet at any point they choose.

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 Research

Your Kids Should Know About the Dangers of Drinking By Age 10, Doctors Say

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Kids should know about the dangers of alcohol before their first sip

Health care professionals should be talking to children about the risks of alcoholic drinks when they are as young as nine, according to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

“Surveys indicate that children start to think positively about alcohol between ages 9 and 13 years,” the AAP authors write in the report. “The more young people are exposed to alcohol advertising and marketing, the more likely they are to drink, and if they are already drinking, this exposure leads them to drink more. Therefore, it is very important to start talking to children about the dangers of drinking as early as 9 years of age.”

In the United States, alcohol is the substance most commonly abused by kids and adolescents. The new report says that 21% of young people say they had more than a sip of an alcoholic beverage before they were 13 years old, and 79% have tried alcoholic drinks by the time they were seniors in high school.

The study also found that 80% of adolescents say their parents are the biggest influence on whether they drink or not, which suggests parents have a role as well. “We must approach drinking in children, particularly binge drinking, differently than we do in adults,” said co author and pediatrician Dr. Lorena Siqueira, a member of the AAP Committee on Substance Abuse. “Given their lack of experience with alcohol and smaller bodies, children and adolescents can have serious consequences — including death — with their first episode of binge drinking.”

Other research reviewed by the AAP committee suggested that continued use of alcohol at a young age can hinder brain development, lead to alcohol-induced brain damage, and increase the risk of substance use problems later on. The AAP says every pediatrician should screen their adolescent patients for alcohol use during appointments and offer preventative messaging.

The report authors focused specifically on the risks of binge drinking, which is classified as three or more drinks in a two-hour period for girls between ages nine and 17. For boys it’s three or more drinks in two hours between age 9 to 13, four or more drinks for boys ages 14 to 15, and five or more drinks for boys ages 16 to 17. The authors note that drinking rates increase in high school with 36 to 50% of high school students drinking and 28% to 60% binge drinking.

MONEY Education

12 Big Back-to-School Trends Every Parent Should Know

Essential reading for the start of the school year.

The 2015-2016 school year is upon us. Are you ready? To get up to speed, take note of a dozen trends around the country that are having an impact on what students are wearing to school, when your child has to get up in the morning for the start of the school day, how much families must chip in for class supplies and school activities, which kids are most likely to be left behind inside and outside the classroom, and more.

  • Later School Starting Times

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    Aitor Diago—Getty Images

    The CDC and pediatricians are among the many who recommend later start times for schools in order to assure that kids get enough sleep. And slowly, schools seem to be getting the message. Three-quarters of high schools in the northern-latitude states of North Dakota and Alaska begin the day at 8:30 a.m. or later, and a trickling of schools in places like Yakima, Wash., and Denver, Colo., are joining their ranks this fall. States such as New Jersey have agreed to study the impact of later school start times as well. On the other hand, nationwide, more than 80% of public high schools still start the day before 8:30 a.m.

  • Growing Extracurricular Activity Gap

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    Over the past few decades, researchers have traced a trend they describe as “alarming”: The percentage of upper- and middle-class kids participating in the drama program, hobby clubs, and other non-athletic afterschool activities has steadily increased, while poor students have followed the opposite trajectory. In the early 1980s, participation in such activities was measured at 65% for low-income high school seniors and 73% for their wealthier counterparts. A decade later, the numbers shifted to 61% and 75%, respectively. By 2004, extracurricular participation rates for low-income seniors were down to 56%.

  • BYO Band-Aids

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    It’s not your imagination. Schools really are asking parents to buy more supplies to keep their kids’ classrooms stocked with the basics—everything from tissues to copy paper to Band-Aids. According to the annual Backpack Index from Huntington Bank, a family with three kids (one apiece in elementary, middle, and high school) can expect to pay more than $3,000 this year for school supplies and extracurricular activities. So much for the idea of a free education.

  • More and More Student Fees

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    It’s not just increasing school supply lists that are pinching parents. Families are also facing new or significantly higher fees for things like riding the bus or parking a car at school, and participating in sports and other programs. Some schools simply asked students to arrive on the first day with a $50 check to serve as payment for vague “activity fees.” School districts usually cite budget cuts as the reason fees must be instituted.

  • The Lunch Lady Goes Gourmet

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    Forget about Sloppy Joes. Increasingly, parents and school cafeterias are catering to the dietary restrictions and preferences of young people today, with more gluten-free, organic, and vegetarian options. The cuisine at some school cafeterias is growing increasingly sophisticated as well, serving everything from butternut squash ravioli to made-to-order smoothies, and featuring bistro-style breakfasts and carving stations.

  • Free Lunch for More Students

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    As of the 2012-2013 school year, 21.5 million kids in American schools received free or reduced-price lunch, as part of the federally funded National Lunch Program. In most cases, free or reduced-price lunches are provided based on the student’s household income levels falling within a certain limit. And the number of students eligible for free lunch is on the rise thanks to an increased income threshold, as well as the expansion of communities that can simply forget about the paperwork and provide free lunches to all students. When 40% of the local students qualify for free lunch, the entire school system becomes eligible, allowing vast student populations in parts of Michigan, Massachusetts, Oregon, Idaho, and beyond to get free lunch at school without any stigma, and regardless of their household income.

  • Back-to-School Spending Shrinks

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    Getty Images—iStockphoto

    Over the past decade, back-to-school spending has increased 42%, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). So the anticipated decrease in spending this season—estimated at an average of $630 per household, down from $669 last year—is perhaps more than anything else an indication that parents are realizing they’ve gone overboard in the past.

  • More School Uniforms

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    Getty Images—Getty Images

    One of the more interesting trends cited by the NRF for the 2015-2016 school year is that 28% of surveyed parents say their kids wear uniforms in school. That’s the highest rate ever in the poll’s history.

  • First-Day-of-School Fashion Stress

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    According to a survey conduced for Ebates.com, a coupon and cash-back shopping site, parents and teenagers are in agreement that the most stressful category of back-to-school shopping is clothing. In the comment section of the survey, parents lamented, “My son is so picky,” and explained that “Having to negotiate what [my daughter] can and cannot wear to school” is what makes shopping for school clothing so stressful. As for what stresses out teens about clothes shopping, the two top factors cited were “My parents can’t afford what I want” and “My parents don’t agree with what I want.” No wonder more schools are resorting to uniforms.

  • Common Core Backlash

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    The Common Core initiative seeks consistent educational standards throughout the country. That doesn’t sound like such a bad thing. But the Common Core and the standardized tests that come along with it have come under enormous criticism from conservatives and liberals alike. Many teachers and parents aren’t fans either, largely because the one-size-fits-all approach and the narrow focus on test preparation undermines the teacher’s ability to cater lessons to individual students, potentially leaving some kids in the lurch. Movements to opt out of Common Core tests have gained traction in New York, New Jersey, California, and Colorado, among other states, and according to a recent poll, the majority (54%) of public school parents say they oppose teachers using Common Core standards to set the agenda for what they teach.

  • Bye-Bye Lockers

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    Getty Images Laptops in school

    As more traditional books disappear from schools thanks to e-books and web-based learning, schools are finding that there is less need for the lockers that have lined school hallways for decades. The disappearing locker trend began several years ago and has picked up steam around the country since. And what are schools doing with the extra space once occupied by lockers? Some are installing laptop charging stations.

  • Nobody Knows How to Pay for College

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    It’s a good thing that many colleges offer heavily discounted tuition via grants, scholarships, and such. After all, the vast majority of Americans say they could not afford the full “sticker price” college tuition. According to a new poll conducted for the financial services firm Edward Jones, a whopping 83% said they couldn’t afford the full cost of college for themselves or a loved one. Even among well-off respondents earning $100,000 or more annually, only 37% said they could cover the entire cost of a college education.

MONEY kids

This Is How Much It Costs To Raise A Ballerina

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Nearly 50% more than the average cost of raising a child.

As any parent knows, raising children is expensive. According to the U.S.D.A., the cost of getting a kid born in 2013 to age 18 is around $250k.

But raising graceful little toe-touching, leotard-clad ballerina children—now, that’s a big ticket item.

According to a new analysis by FiveThirtyEight, raising a top-trained ballerina who begins to dance at age 3 could put you out more than $100,000 by the time he or she turns 18. This estimate takes into account 15 years of tuition and fees at a top-tier ballet school ($55,000); six summer intensives programs ($32,000); new pointe shoes every three months or so beginning in sixth grade ($29,000); and 15 years of tights and leotards ($2,000). And the author calls the final figure “conservative”—after all, your aspiring Misty Copeland won’t make it to lessons if the car’s out of gas.

FiveThirtyEight points out that the exorbitant cost of a quality ballet education is one of the major barriers to greater diversity and accessibility for lower-income families in the ballet world—causes that the actual Misty Copeland, the first black woman to become a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre, has been vocal about during her ascent as a ballerina.

But at nearly $120,000 a head, this estimate suggests top-tier ballet may be out of the hands of more than just minorities and low-earning Americans.

 

MONEY deals

2 Amazingly Simple Tips for Cheap and Lazy Back to School Shoppers

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Patrick T. Fallon—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Parents grasp the idea that only suckers pay full price.

Over the past decade, the amount of money parents spend during back-to-school shopping season has increased a hefty 42%, according to National Retail Federation data. But this year, parents seem to have hit their limit.

The average household with school-age kids expects to spend $630 during back-to-school season, down from $669 a year ago. Probably the most common way to save is by shopping strategically and snatching up good deals as they arise. Retailers like Office Depot, Staples, and Walmart roll out new promotions and discounts once a week, if not more frequently, and loss-leader deals like notebooks for 25¢ or even 1¢, potentially saving big bucks for families. Sales tax holidays offered around the country in July and August shave a few percent off the household back-to-school budget as well.

Here are two increasingly popular back-to-school saving strategies that require even less—perhaps no—effort on the behalf of parents.

Procrastinate. The number of parents who wait until after the school year has started to complete back-to-school shopping roundups is on the rise, and for good reason. According to a Deloitte survey, 31% of parents plan on doing some or all of their back-to-school shopping once their kids are already back in school. That represents a 5% increase over 2014.

To some extent, the increase appears to be part of a general trend of procrastination, laziness, and/or refusing to admit that summer is coming to a close. The National Retail Federation similarly noted a rise in parents saying they’ll shop at the last minute (one to two weeks before school), from 25% last year to over 30% this year.

But consciously or not, there’s some strategy behind the refusal to buy in advance: By doing so, not only do parents get to skip out on the chore of browsing weekly brochures and trying to figure out when to buy protractors, glue, and whatnot, but they also get to benefit from broad clearance sales. Around the time Labor Day hits, after all, retailers resort to deep discounting to empty the aisles of back-to-school items and make way for Halloween and (groan) Christmas merchandise.

Do nothing whatsoever. This “tactic” is even easier than procrastinating and buying everything on discount in one fell swoop after school starts. This approach—essentially doing zilch and getting by with what you already have on hand—is being embraced by more parents as well.

According to the same Deloitte research, since 2011 there has been a 13% increase in parents adopting the anti-consumer strategy: “Our household will reuse last year’s school items rather than buying new.”

Again, going this way yields the dual reward of a) requiring minimal effort; and b) saving money. It also plain makes a lot of sense, especially in light of the data noting that families have been spending more and more on back-to-school items—so, in theory at least, households should have quite a backlog of products to use, or reuse as it were. American households are generally pretty cluttered with stuff as well, and somewhere in the mix parents know there are probably more than enough perfectly good supplies and clothes for their kids to start the school year.

MONEY deals

The Back to School Item Every Student Needs Costs Just 1¢

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Load up for the school year soon.

When the school year starts, kids can probably get by with using old pencils, and even (the horror!) previously worn clothes. But if there’s one back-to-school staple that needs to be purchased freshly for a student to kick off the school year right, it’s the notebook. Several notebooks, ideally.

Because notebooks are such a necessary purchase around this time of year, retailers have been using them as “loss leaders”—the products that don’t pull in profits but that serve as magnets to draw in customers, who likely make other purchases while they’re shopping.

At Walgreens, for instance, basic one-subject (70-page) notebooks are on sale right now for 49¢.

That sounds like a pretty good deal until you realize that it’s twice as expensive as what a couple competitors are charging. Both Staples and Walmart are listing single-subject notebooks at a price of just 25¢ in brochures this week. Rite Aid, meanwhile, has a deal offering three single-subject notebooks for a total of 99¢.

As terrific as these promotional prices seem, a deal starting on Sunday blows them all away. As of August 16, single-subject store brand notebooks at Office Depot are knocked down to a mere 1¢ each.

Understandably enough, there is some fine print on the offer from Office Depot and the others. For the most part, these prices are only valid for in-store (not online) purchase. Supplies are limited, and, like Black Friday doorbuster deals, are prone to sell out, so act quickly. In the case of Office Depot, there is also a limit of three 1¢ notebooks per customer, and shoppers must rack up a bill of at least $5 to get the deal.

Bear in mind also that every retailer has a rotating list of insanely cheap loss-leader deals during the back-to-school season, and that there’s almost always a way to avoid paying full price. To keep your family’s school supply bill down to a minimum, play your cards right by strategically snatching up bargains as they arise—like, when glue is 50¢ and classic wooden rulers are marked down to 35¢. Both of those examples, by the way, are offered by Staples right now.

MONEY

Here’s How to Get Your Kid a Free Cookie This Week

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Getty Images/iStockphoto

Parents get something out of this too—kids have to promise to be good.

The jury is out on the wisdom (or foolishness) of paying children allowances and plying them with gifts and special privileges for doing basic chores and getting good grades—stuff they should be doing without expecting a reward.

Regardless, if you’re not opposed to bribing your child—or you simply love taking advantage of food freebies—you might want to consider participating in National Bribe Your Child Week.

The new event was created by the Great American Cookies chain, which is encouraging parents to make kids pledge in writing (download the form here) to do something good this week—say, brush their teeth or clean their rooms without being asked. In exchange for their promise of “pledging to help” in some which way, kids will be thanked (or bribed, as the company would have it) with a free regular chocolate chip cookie when presenting the form. The promotion runs through Saturday, August 15, so get your bribery contract in order soon.

Word to the wise: Get your kid to complete his or her end of the bargain before (not after) the free cookie has been consumed. There are roughly 300 Great American Cookies stores around the country, most located inside malls.

By the way, according to a survey of parents conducted for Great American Cookies, 94% said that they have rewarded (or bribed, if you will) kids for good behavior. And the top tasks handled by kids that have prompted rewards were getting good grades and finishing chores, named, respectively, by 60% and 66% of parents.

TIME Parenting

‘Free Range Parenting’ Too Often Leads to Child Neglect Investigations, Report Finds

Danielle and Alexander Meitiv Are Being Investigated For Letting Their Children Walk Home Alone From A Playground
The Washington Post—The Washington Post/Getty Images Danielle and Alexander Meitiv are being investigated by Child Protective Services for letting their children walk home alone from a playground. (Sammy Dallal--For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

"Parents are swept into the system and labeled at fault when they have made reasonable parenting decisions"

Charging responsible parents with child neglect when they encourage their kids to be independent diverts valuable resources away from true cases of child abuse and negligence, according to a new report.

The Family Defense Center, a Chicago nonprofit that advocates for justice in the child welfare system, said allegations of “inadequate supervision” often arise when children are left unattended for a short period of time, even when the kids are not really at risk and the parents have made a calculated parenting decision to allow them to be on their own. The report, which covered high-profile battles over “free range parenting” as well as lesser-known reports of child neglect, found that allegations of “inadequate supervision” can push responsible parents into the child welfare system, endangering their custody of their children and wasting valuable state resources.

“Parents are swept into the system and labeled at fault when they have made reasonable parenting decisions,” the report says. “Child welfare system resources are currently being devoted to the investigations of neglect allegations, such as inadequate supervision, where children are not at risk. This means fewer resources to investigate and indicate the serious cases of neglect or abuse.”

The report looked at instances where parents were “charged with neglect for common, everyday parental decisions, such as allowing their children to independently walk to parks, play outside, or remain inside a car while the parent runs an errand.”

One high-profile instance they point to is the Meitiv case, in which Maryland parents were charged with child neglect for allowing their two children, aged 10 and 6, to walk home from a local park during the day. The Meitivs were ultimately cleared in June, but their case has become a touchstone in the debate over what counts as a reasonable parenting decision and what is child neglect. Danielle Meitiv lauded the Family Defense Center’s report, praising them for focusing on “cases that didn’t get attention with families who suffered more than ours.”

“The report highlights the terrible irony that the very people who are charged with protecting children end up traumatizing them and their families far too often,” she told the Washington Post.

TIME Education

Meet the Mother-Daughter Team Set on Saving Cursive

It's not as loopy as it may sound

A mother-daughter team is fighting a battle that should inspire bands of ruler-wielding teachers to join them in the fray—and will lead others to accuse them of being out of touch with the modern student. Linda Shrewsbury and Prisca LeCroy want America’s future generations to learn cursive, and they’ve just finished publishing their first book on the subject, which Kickstarters gave them over $33,000 to design and produce.

It’s easy to make the argument that class time would be better spent teaching kids to type 80 words-per-minute (or to code for that matter). In this digital age, isn’t giving cursive pride of place in the curriculum the didactic equivalent of teaching teens to ride horses instead of drive cars? After all, the Common Core standards being adopted by states around the country don’t waste any space on laying out penmanship goals.

Courtesy Linda ShrewsburyLinda Shrewsbury, left, and her daughter Prisca LeCroy are on a mission to preserve cursive.

The ladies have plenty of retorts to this line of thinking. Chief among their scientific missiles are studies that show cursive fires up areas of the brain that tracing, typing or even printing letters does not. “They’re doing some studies that seem to suggest there’s something special about cursive,” says 34-year-old LeCroy, who was home-schooled by Shrewsbury before becoming an attorney and is now a full-time stay-at-home mom in Dallas.

Teaching kids old-fashioned penmanship, proponents like her argue, helps refine their fine motor skills and their visual cognition, while beefing up the lobes known to underline successful reading. One study found that students who handwrote rather than typed on writing assignments tended to write more and come up with more ideas.

Then there is the cultural ammunition. Only kids who can read cursive will make a jot of sense out of the original copy of the Constitution on display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.—where the two of them recently gave a presentation on this very topic. “Do we want them to actually have the capacity to be historians?” says LeCroy. “Or do we want them to be lemmings?” For Shrewsbury, cursive is a proud old vehicle for fostering artistry and individuality in people, as well as a line the ties us to the past.

“My strongest feeling about cursive is the idea you can capture individuality and personality in a signature and have it be preserved for generations,” says Shrewsbury, a 63-year-old who has taught government to students in Tulsa and English to students in Africa. “I think about the fact that I know the handwriting of members of my family. The idea of throwing away a tradition that powerful and simple makes no senses to me.”

Shrewsbury got started on this mission while volunteering to tutor a 23-year-old student named Josh in a local literacy program. He had learning difficulties, but as they bonded over improving his reading skills, he confessed to her that he had never learned cursive and wanted to be able to sign his name. While it might not make a difference in a legal sense whether one prints or loops their autograph on a contract, to him there was a sense of dignity that he was missing (and, it’s worth noting, printed signatures are easier to forge). So Shrewbury tried to figure out a simple way to teach him the letters and noticed patterns in how the letters are formed—four patterns to be exact: an oval, a loop, a swing and a mound.

These, for instance, are letters that are all formed using a move they call “over oval, back trace.” If you trace the movements, you’ll see what they mean:

CursiveLogic

Using these insights, Shrewsbury says she was able to get Josh writing in cursive in about 45 minutes. “I hear all around me that cursive takes too long to teach and is too hard to learn,” she says.

Unfortunately, TIME cannot reveal all their secrets because rather than tackle this issue through lawmaking—as many would-be saviors of cursive have—these ladies are trying to win the battle through business. The book on their method is called CursiveLogic, and in Shrewsbury’s dreams, these guides will sell like such hotcakes that she can eventually use the proceeds to start local education programs in Tulsa for African-American boys and men who, like Josh, “have fallen through the cracks” of the educational system.

The ladies aren’t arguing that teaching kids cursive should displace typing classes, but not be lost in the dust of progress. LeCroy says that with even the suggestion that it might have benefits—in an era when we’re making more things with pixels and fewer with our hands—cursive is a craft worth preserving. “Wouldn’t it be bad if a generation if kids didn’t learn it?” she says. “Why would we want to strip away that little bit of creativity?”

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Kids Are Unhappy With Their Bodies as Young as Age 8

TIME.com stock photos Weight Loss Health Exercise Scale
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

By age 14, 39% of the girls in the study said they had dieted in the last year

Boys and girls as young as age eight can experience dissatisfaction with their bodies that can predict their risk for eating disorders later in life.

A new U.K. study published in The British Journal of Psychiatry followed about 6,000 children until they were 14 years old and discovered a pattern of poor body image at a young age and eating disorder behaviors later on. The researchers found that at age eight, 5% of girls and 3% of boys were unhappy with their bodies. When the children reached age 14, 39% of the girls said they had dieted in the last year and 8% said they had binged. Among boys, 12% had dieted in the last year and 3.5% had binged.

“We were surprised about how body dissatisfaction at that young age tracked into eating disorder behaviors at 14 years,” says lead study author Nadia Micali, a senior lecturer and honorary consultant psychiatrist at the University College London Institute of Child Health.

Other factors seemed to influence a child’s body image and eating patterns; the study shows that nearly a fifth of girls reported feeling “quite a lot” or “a lot” of pressure from the media to lose weight. A mother’s history of anorexia, bulimia or both was also predictive of high levels of body dissatisfaction among girls and dieting behaviors among boys. The researchers also found that the among boys, high levels of body dissatisfaction and high BMI were linked to a higher prevalence of eating disorder thoughts and behaviors.

The researchers say the findings speak to a need for interventions early in life. High self-esteem was linked to lower levels of eating disorder behaviors, and the effect was stronger among boys. The researchers write that their findings suggest that some children might be more vulnerable to feeling pressure from media, family and peers than others.

Intervention won’t look the same for all children, Micali says. “The findings suggest that a blanket approach focusing on all adolescents or children might not be best, and that targeted prevention that focused on boys who are overweight/obese rather than all boys might be more useful,” says Micali. “I think that it is important that we adapt our interventions for younger children appropriately, as there is some evidence that for example ‘healthy eating’ classes that are not designed for younger children might be harmful, especially for those who do not have the cognitive ability to adequately process the information.”

More research is needed to understand the best approach. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), research is continuing to discover that eating disorders are highly complicated and can be caused by an interaction of genetic, biological, psychological and social factors.

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