TIME Parenting

Toyota Adds Minivan Feature Designed to Keep Kids Quiet in the Backseat

Just in time for summer road trips

The dawn of the minivan began in those halcyon days when vans were just that: large, unwieldy, and neither fashionable nor practical. They didn’t have the restrained elegance, beauty, or allure of, say, station wagons. Now over the last few decades, minivans have arguably become symbols of stability and family values – plus, the kids love the space for activities!

So if you’re in the market for a new minivan—and if the people you tote around in your backseat are usually unruly—Toyota has just announced a compelling feature for their newest iteration of the venerable Sienna. They call it Driver Easy Speak, and it’s a system intended to amplify the driver’s voice in the backseat via the vehicle’s own audio system “so parents don’t have to shout to passengers in the back,” according to Toyota, the Associated Press reports.

The feature will only appear in vans with Toyota’s premium audio option at the moment. For some parents, however, that might be a small price to pay to get their kids to buckle up and get to soccer practice on time. Plus, think of how much fun those kids will have with the system when they’re teens who let their friends bum rides! That in itself may be priceless.

TIME Parenting

How Overparenting Makes Kids Overweight

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Digital Vision.—Getty Images

A study found that maternal overprotectiveness increased the odds of children being overweight.

Maybe if we stopped calling it The Obesity Epidemic and started calling it The Fear Epidemic we could finally make a dent in the widening waistlines of our country’s kids.

A study just published in the journal PLOS One is the first to prove a link between helicopter parenting and obesity: Between ages 10 to 11, the researchers found, maternal overprotectiveness “was associated with a 13 percent increase in the odds of children being overweight or obese.”

This link makes intuitive sense. The fear of predators is part of what’s making kids fat, by keeping them inside, sedentary, and near the fridge. After all, most of us grew up on cookies and milk every day after school – whole milk! – and no one was worried about the big O. That’s because we’d walk home, eat, then run outside to play some more.

But today, to keep our kids “safe,” we drive them back and forth to school. “Arrival” and “dismissal” have morphed into “drop-off” and “pick-up.” Kids are delivered like FedEx packages. About 1 in 10 use their legs to get to school.

This intense oversight happens not just in neighborhoods riddled by crime and drugs, where a tight leash makes sense, but in areas parents deliberately chose because they wanted to raise their kids someplace nice and safe.

And yet, when are the kids taking advantage of all that nice safety? After school they’re either off to a supervised activity or they’re back home, never to venture out again, in part because of massive homework loads, in part because of endless electronic options, but also in great part because they are not allowed to go outside on their own. Their parents, even if one of them is at home, are afraid they’ll get abducted.

While the overprotectiveness study concentrated only on moms (in Australia, no less), we have become an entire generation afraid for our kids. Predator panic is not a minor part of the culture. ABC appointed Elizabeth Smart its special correspondent for missing children. It seems America’s got four main categories of stories: news, weather, sports — and kidnapping.

No wonder parents are terrified! I heard from one mom who was actually outside with her kids, reading while they played on the lawn, when a woman walked by shouting, “Put down that book! Don’t you realize your children could be snatched at any time?”

That is the exact fear of our era: If we take our eyes off our kids, even for a second, we will never see them again. Another mom wrote to tell me that, despite a twinge of trepidation, she decided to let her six-year-old walk four houses down to his friend. This was in a gated community, during the day.

The boy came back from his playdate happy as a clam (who can walk). But when this mom told other friends about her son’s big adventure – or what passes for a big adventure in 21st century America – one of them said, “Oh my goodness! You just kill me! Anything could have happened.”

Anything? That’s true. But the odds of “anything” being terrible are tiny. The U.S. crime rate today is lower than any time since the advent of color TV. That means any parents who grew up in the ‘70s, ‘80s or ‘90s were playing outside when the crime rate was higher than it is today. Yes, higher! Nobody called their parents negligent for letting them stay out till the streetlights came on. That was just a normal – and incidentally fat-defying – childhood. Today the number of children age 9 to 13 playing outside, unsupervised, in any given week, is 6 percent.

That’s ridiculously close to zero.

“It doesn’t take much to see that this generates a vicious cycle. Captivity breeds inactivity,” says Joshua Gans, a professor at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto and author of Parentonomics. “If you fear letting your kids loose outside, that is when the risk of obesity expands.”

But we can’t just blame fearful parents for keeping the kids cooped up. The government, which should be encouraging outdoor play, is busy doing the opposite. A man in suburban Pittsburgh dropped off his kids, age 6 and 9, at the park while he ran some errands. This sight was so unusual – children playing on their own – that a passerby called 911. The police came and charged the dad with two counts of child endangerment. This happened recently in D.C., too. And again in South Carolina, just last week. In fact, I hear about an incident like that almost weekly now.

Why is it endangerment to let your kids have fun and burn calories, but it’s not endangerment to keep them inside where they run the risk of getting fat and diabetic?

If we are going to be obsessed by a fear for our kids, let’s at least choose the right one.

Because in a panic, it’s impossible to think straight. That’s why I keep getting letters from parents who have been harassed or even ticketed by the authorities for letting their kids play outside, sometimes right next to their house. One mom got a visit from Child Protective Services because her children were playing in the rain! It has become a radical act to let kids play beyond the living room. This results in weird things, like one of the original public service announcements for Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign. It was almost guaranteed to make sure kids move less.

The spot shows a mom in her kitchen chopping healthy veggies (natch’), when her daughter leans over the banister and says, “Mom, can I have a dollar?” The mom sees her wallet right next to her on the counter but then gets a clever idea. “I think my purse is upstairs on the bed!” she tells the girl, who bolts up the stairs. When of course it isn’t there, the mom says to “Try the downstairs closet!” then the upstairs closet, etc., etc., with the girl running up and down until finally she spies the wallet in the kitchen. Then the ad reminds parents it’s our job to find ways to get kids moving.

No, it’s not! It has never been any parent’s job to come up with 365 days’ worth of clever ways to trick our kids into moving their limbs for an hour. It is simply our job to get our kids outside. In turn, it’s the government’s job not to criminalize, demonize or criticize parents who let their children play outside the way our parents did.

Until we all get over the idea that our kids need a security detail every time they leave the house, inside the house they’ll sit, getting older and wider. We are overprotecting them from incredibly unlikely crimes, while making them lots more likely to end up Santa-shaped.

If we are going to be obsessed by a fear for our kids, let’s at least choose the right one.

Lenore Skenazy is a public speaker and founder of the book and blog Free-Range kids. Her show “World’s Worst Mom” airs on Discovery/TLC international. This piece originally appeared at The Weekly Wonk.

TIME Crime

Parents Say Teen Committed Suicide Over Viral Bullying Video

The video posted to social media allegedly showed the boy masturbating

A San Diego couple says their 14-year-old son took his life after a video of him allegedly masturbating in a school bathroom went viral. The parents have filed a $1 million claim against the San Diego Unified School District, arguing that a teacher, an administrator and possibly other faculty members knew the boy was being bullied over the video and did nothing to stop it.

Matthew Burdette committed suicide on Nov. 29 over Thanksgiving break. The wrestler and water polo player left a suicide note that said he could no longer “handle school” and that he had “no friends,” according to the claim, which KGTV-TV Channel 10 in San Diego first acquired.

Burdette was kicked out of class at University City High School on Nov. 15 for eating sunflower seeds. The teacher did not tell him where to wait, so he went to the boys’ bathroom, according to the claim. Another student in the bathroom secretly videotaped Burdette in his stall, allegedly masturbating. The video was then posted to social networks like Snapchat and Vine.

“From the moment the video was posted, Matthew was mercilessly bullied, harassed and teased by students who had seen the video. This continued for the next two weeks,” the claim said. The parents say they did not learn about the video until after their son’s death.

TIME Parenting

Kids Value Success Over Caring Because Parents Do

The co-author of a new Harvard study reveals what parents can do to increase their children’s caring quotient

Last month a team from the Harvard Graduate School of Education issued a study—based on a survey of 10,000 middle and high school students—which showed that teenagers value achievement more than caring, in large part because they think their parents do. The authors described a “rhetoric/reality gap” in which parents and teachers say they prioritize caring, but kids are hearing something different.

The study drew quite a lot of attention—most of it focused on this key finding: Eighty percent of the students chose high achievement or happiness as their top priority. Only 20% picked caring for others.

I recently circled back to co-author Richard Weissbourd, a psychologist, co-director of Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project and a father of three, to explore what parents can do to increase their children’s caring quotient.

1. Given economic realities today, it seems understandable that parents are focused on their children’s success. And yet the underlying premise of your study is that focusing on success is a problem. Why is that?

We are not making the case that achievement and success are not important. It is “Success at what cost?” that we are concerned about. We are seeing a rise in depression, anxiety and drug use in kids, especially in affluent communities. And a big factor is the pressure to achieve.

These kids are strung out. We’re also troubled that achievement comes at the cost of caring for others. In life we always have to balance our concern for others with our concern for ourselves. If you are playing basketball, you have to pass the ball. If you are studying for a test, it is important at times to help a classmate. But we are moving too far in the direction of self-interest.

2. You and your colleagues have created a guide to help parents raise “ethical caring kids,” Your first suggestion is to “make caring a priority.” How would you advise parents to do this?

It begins early in kids’ lives. When you’re at the playground, it means tuning into other kids and encouraging your kid to do the same—to reach out to a child who doesn’t have anyone to play with, for example. Ask your kids to write thank you notes; require them to be respectful to you and other adults; don’t let them fudge their community service; make them honor their commitments (if they’ve RSVPed yes to a party, make them go even if something more preferable comes along). It is the quiet, subtle, daily, steady stream of messages that parents give their kids that matter.

3. You say parents should “provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude.” Can you explain?

Kids should pitch in as a part of everyday life and not expect to be rewarded. This means they should set or clear the table, do the dishes, pick up their clothes, take the garbage out. Save the rewards for uncommon acts of kindness, like helping a few neighbors dig their car out from the snow. Caring is like playing an instrument or a sport; you have to practice it all the time. That’s how it becomes deep in your bones—it’s how it becomes a part of who you are.

4. Kids naturally care about their family and friends, but you say parents need to expand “children’s circle of concern.” How do we do that?

It is harder for kids to care for people who are different from them: Boys may not care about girls. Privileged kids may not care about kids who are struggling. Kids may not care about people with disabilities. Teaching them to care for those who are vulnerable or marginalized is important in and of itself, and it also is the basis of justice. There are always opportunities to talk because these issues come up all the time—it’s about what’s on your radar. It’s not letting your kid treat the bus driver, or custodian or waitress as if they are invisible. It is the way in which you steer a conversation about the new kid at school, or point out an unkind act you witness on TV. It’s just noticing and having the conversation day to day.

5. You suggest that mom and dad each “be a strong moral role model and mentor,” for their children because kids learn by watching the actions of adults they respect. Can you elaborate?

One of the big pathways for kids to become moral people is that they want to be like their parents. Parents have to live these values—they can’t just espouse them. Teens especially have razor-sharp antenna toward hypocrisy; they are attuned to when we are not doing what we say. You have to be appreciative of the bus driver and the waitress. You have to help a neighbor. You have to not tell “white lies” a lot. And you need to listen to your kids and connect your beliefs and values to their moral questions. You also have to be willing to learn from them. Sometimes they are going to have a more mature moral understanding than you do. As parents we need to be able to admit our mistakes and talk about them. The goal is not to demonstrate that you are perfect. The goal is to demonstrate that you are an imperfect human being who is committed to becoming better.

6. Your final suggestion is that parents need to “guide children in managing destructive feelings.” What do you mean by that?

When parents around the country are asked how they help develop their kid’s morality, they usually talk about teaching kids right from wrong and core values. But the reality is that by the time kids are 5 or 6 years old, they usually know the values and have a general sense of right and wrong. The problem is that they sometimes have trouble managing their behavior when they feel angry or envious or ashamed or inferior or helpless. That’s what causes them to violate others. The key is to give kids a range of strategies to help them manage these difficult feelings—from teaching them to take a deep breath or a time out to learning how to ask for help from a trusted adult.

7. You and your colleague reported that 96% of parents from earlier studies say that developing moral character in children is “very important, if not essential,” but that 80% of the teenagers you surveyed said parents “are more concerned about achievement or happiness than caring for others.” Besides role modeling the right behaviors, what can parents do to make sure their kids are getting the message they mean to be sending?

Parents often tell kids, “The only thing that matters to me is that you are happy.” They are not saying, “The only thing that matters to me is that you are kind.” Changing course is about changing the steady stream of messages—verbal and otherwise—that parents are sending their kids. The truth is, our children’s moral development is much more under our control than their happiness.

8. The irony about your study is that although happiness is rated as more important than caring, most experts agree that caring leads to happiness. So should kids be more caring because it will make them happier?

I don’t think we should tell kids to be caring because it is going to make them happy. I think we should tell them to be caring because it is the right thing to do. But I also think that caring is going to make them happier in the long run, because when you are more empathetic, you have better relationships. And it is really deep relationships with people who you appreciate and who appreciate you that are perhaps our most important source of happiness in life.

I should also note that in our study,caring was ranked second by a high percentage of teens. Almost all kids say that caring is important to them. But it gets sidelined with all this pressure to achieve. It is evident that kids—and their parents—value caring. It just needs to be drawn out more. It needs to be prioritized. That is the encouraging part of this.

MONEY Careers

4 Reasons the Kardashian Moms Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About Working (and Neither Should You)

Kim Kardashian, Khloe Kardashian and Kourtney Kardashian
Kim, Khloe, and Kourtney Kardashian aren't your average working moms. Or are they? Omar Vega—Invision/AP

Even the Sisters K say leaving the kids behind to earn a living can be tough. Cheer up, Kim, Khloe, and Kourtney. Research finds there's an upside to balancing mommy duties with office demands.

Who knew I had something in common with the Kardashians? Surprise, surprise: The incredibly rich are not immune to working-mommy guilt.

While promoting their new kids’ clothing line on CNBC’s Closing Bell yesterday, Kim, Khloe, and Kourtney were asked to respond to the recent comments by PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi that women can’t have it all.

Whether or not you believe that what The Sisters K do actually counts as work—it certainly pays better than my job as an editor here at Money—their comments echo some of what I have heard from my fellow employed moms of the real world.

“There are so many times I just didn’t want to get up and work on something, I just wanted to be at home with my baby,” Kim said.

“I used to feel so guilty every time I left,” added Kourtney, who’s preggers with her third kid.

I guess this is proof that every working mom has had regret about leaving their child with a caregiver at some point or another. (Though if I had three, I would probably feel elated about going to work, not guilty.) But for those of us who are the family breadwinners and those of us who simply love our careers, we know we have to power through.

One way to beat back the guilt is to focus on the upside. And the good news is that there is a lot of research showing the benefits of being a mom who works (and this is not to vilify those who stay at home, who have the tougher job by my estimation). Remembering these four things helps me get through the tough mornings when my toddler breaks down in tears when I leave:

1. Working moms are healthier. A 2011 study from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro found that moms who work rate themselves in better health overall—more likely to say they feel “excellent”—than those who stay at home with their kids. This was confirmed by a 2012 paper from the University of Akron that looked at full-time working moms at age 40 who went back to work early on after having their children. These mamas reported higher levels of energy and mobility. I have to wonder, though, if either of these studies took into consideration what my husband and I have termed “daycare disease”—the family cold we pass between us from October to April.

2. Working moms are happier. Both the North Carolina and University of Akron studies showed that working moms exhibited fewer signs of depression than SAHMs. “Work is good for your health, both mentally and physically,” said Adrianne Frech, the lead researcher on the Akron study by way of explanation. “It gives women a sense of purpose, self-efficacy, control, and autonomy.” Additionally, a Gallup poll from 2012 found that moms who don’t work have higher levels of worry, depression, sadness, anger, and stress than those who do—which may speak to just how much harder that job really is.

But you don’t need a study to tell you that you’ll actually be happier if you’re doing something you like. I mean, just take it from an expert like Kim Kardashian: “You know, for me, and I think I can speak for my sisters, it makes us feel good when we are out working and we can provide something for our friends and products that, you know, we can’t find that we really want. And it just makes you feel productive.” Of course, a lot of this depends on being in the right job.

3. Your kids will not suffer for it. In a recent Pew study, 60% of Americans said children are better off when a parent stays home to focus on the family, but there’s a lot of data showing the opposite. Kids of working moms turn out okay—and possibly better depending on what research you’re looking at.

A 2010 review from the APA’s peer-reviewed Psychological Bulletin looked back at 50 years worth of studies on the children of working parents and found that those whose moms went back to work before the child turned three weren’t any more likely to exhibit behavioral or academic problems than those of moms who stayed at home. Among lower-income families, the kids actually did better on academic metrics. “Overall, I think this shows women who go back to work soon after they have their children should not be too concerned about the effects their employment has on their children’s long-term well-being,” said the study’s lead author, psychologist Rachel Lucas-Thompson.

Other recent research has shown similar results, including a 2014 study out of Boston College which found that kids of middle-class working moms are as well prepared for kindergarten as childen of moms who don’t work, and children of lower-income working moms are better prepared.

4. Your kids will still love you. For her 1999 book Ask the Children, Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute, interviewed 1,000 kids ages 8 to 18 and found that a mom’s work status wasn’t a factor in how the children assessed their parents. In fact, the relationship between the parent and child was more important than whether or not mommy went to a job.

Me, I’m reminded of this every day at around 6 p.m. While it’s awful to leave my kid in the morning—well, some mornings anyway—there’s nothing like the giant hug and sloppy kiss that’s waiting for me when I get home.

TIME Parenting

Even Super Hot Parents Who Only Make One Movie a Year Feel Guilty

70th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Arrivals
Actress Megan Fox arrives at the 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 13, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. (Jeff Vespa--WireImage) Jeff Vespa—WireImage

Working mom Megan Fox says she carries "a lot of guilt" about parenting her two young sons

If even Megan Fox feels guilty about parenting, let’s just give up now.

The Transformers star told Parenting magazine she never feels like she’s the perfect mom to sons Bodhi, 4 months, and Noah, almost 2, even though she’s cut her moviemaking down to one film per year.

As a mom it’s hard because I don’t feel like I’m ever giving either one of them 100% of my attention or 100% of myself, so I carry a lot of guilt. Do they each understand how special they are and how much I love them? And are they understanding that they’re unique? It’s hard to make each one feel like an individual when you have to raise them together and manage them together all of the time.

Fox said she has cut down on her hours on the set so she can spend more time with her boys, but feels it’s important to keep making movies so that she can support them in the future (next up is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, out in August.)

I’ve never been an extraordinarily ambitious girl or career-oriented, but especially once I got pregnant with my first son and now [having] my second, it’s so hard to be a working mom especially when your heart is not in your work, when your heart is with your family. I have to make one movie a year because I have to invest in their future and I have to be able to pay their way through college and be able to provide for them. I’m looking for movies that will shoot in Los Angeles, for projects where I’m part of an ensemble so I can shoot in and out in 10-20 days. It’s all about trying to spend as little time away from my kids as possible.

So she works 10-20 days a year and feels guilty? Gwyneth Paltrow knows how that is.

TIME Parenting

These Are the Most Stressed Kinds of Parents

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Albert Mollon—Flickr RF/Getty Images

Parents of teenagers and single parents are equally stressed, according to a survey

Being the parent of a teenager is just as stressful as being a single parent, at least according to a new survey. NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health teamed up to poll 2,505 Americans about their experiences with stress in the past month. The nationwide survey found that the following groups reported the most stress:

People with poor health (60% reported high stress)

Disabled people (45% reported high stress)

People with chronic illnesses (36% reported high stress)

People with income less than $20,000 (36% reported high stress)

People who experience dangerous work situations (36% reported high stress)

Single parents (35% reported high stress)

Parents of teens (35% reported high stress)

The stresses associated with single parenting seem fairly obvious: trying to juggle many responsibilities on your own. But why is raising teens particularly stressful? One reason could be the looming cost of college: problems with finances was the number two overall stressor after “too many responsibilities” on the heat map of stress.

TIME Breastfeeding Wars

What Starbucks Tells Employees About Breastfeeding Customers

PraxisPhotography—Getty Images/Flickr RF

A young male barista comes to the defense of a nursing mother winning accolades and some criticism as the story goes viral.

A Starbucks employee who defended a woman’s right to breastfeed in the coffee shop was not acting under instructions from head office, but on his own, according to the company.

In a sign of how supercharged the emotions have become about public nursing, a Canadian midwife’s tale of nursing her baby at a local Starbucks in Ottawa went a little viral in early July, getting picked up by news outlets around the globe. The story was, to many, a heartwarming one: after a woman complained to a young, male barista that another woman was breastfeeding without a modesty shield, the barista said he’d take care of it. However, instead of telling the nursing mom to cover up, he just brought her an extra coffee for having to deal with the unpleasantness.

This is not actually Starbucks’ official policy. In fact, Starbucks doesn’t have an official policy on breastfeeding, according to spokeswoman Laurel Harper. The cappu-chain does have an official policy about making customers feel welcome, Harper noted (several times). “We empower our local partners to reach a decision about how best to make a customer’s experience a positive one,” she says. (Starbucks calls its employees partners, because they all get stock in the company.) It was up to the employee to decide which customer in this case was going to have a less-positive experience.

The company also doesn’t have a policy on what to do if a customer comes and exposes different, less nourishing body parts, either, but does expect “partners” to be familiar with local law.

Not all of the reactions to the story, which was first picked up by woman behind the Canadian website PhD in Parenting, have been of the “Awww, good for him” type. For many people, public breastfeeding is akin to indecent exposure. They can’t understand why they have to be confronted by nudity. “I know it’s just life for the nursing mom, but seeing something partially exposed isn’t normal for everyone around them,” was one of the more moderate comments. “I’ve been in a few situations where I just happened to turn my head and my gaze caught sight of something I didn’t want (or mean) to see.” For others it’s an inoffensive as watching someone drink, say a Venti iced skinny hazelnut macchiato with an extra shot and no whip. It’s not their beverage of choice, but it’s not a big deal.

But perhaps because of the very primal urge mothers feel to feed their children, emotions run very high whenever the subject comes up and the right to breastfeed has become something of a cri de couer for mothers—and others—and Nurse-In protests are becoming more popular. One the most recent was at a Connecticut Friendly’s in June. If the actions of the young Starbucks “partner,”are any indication, the culture is tipping in the moms’ favor.

As for the 19-year-old barista in question, he hasn’t been named. Although you might be able to find him by looking for the mom in Ottawa with the biggest smile on her face and working back.

TIME Parenting

Study Finds Most Teens Sext Before They’re 18

A new study reveals that a far greater percentage of teens are sending explicit photos and texts at younger ages than previously thought. Here are tips for talking to your child about the consequences

If you’re a mom or dad and you learn that your child is sexting, that’s bound to set off alarms. But a new study reveals that the practice is quite common among teenagers, most of whom who think it’s no big deal. And that sets up an interesting dynamic in terms of how parents should handle the situation.

Researchers from Drexel University surveyed college students, asking them if they had ever sent or received “sexually explicit text messages or images” when they were under age 18. Fifty-four percent said yes—almost all of it in the context of a romantic relationship or as a means of flirting.

“We were shocked by the prevalence and the frequency of sexting among minors,” says David DeMatteo, an associate professor of psychology and law at Drexel and one of the study’s authors. He notes that previous studies have indicated the pervasiveness of sexting was much lower—around 20%.

DeMatteo believes that participants in the study may have been more honest because they were allowed to remain anonymous and were reporting on past behavior.

What’s more, while the authors defined sexting as sending or receiving “sexually explicit text messages with or without photographic images,” they allowed participants to define what “sexually explicit” meant to them. “A 13-year-old might consider a sext to be ‘I think your body is hot,’” DeMatteo explains. “Other messages were likely less gray, talking about sexual desire or activities and everything in between.”

Participants acknowledged sexting as young as 13, but the vast majority were 16 and 17 when they sexted. And very few reported negative consequences from their actions. Only 8%, for instance, said they endured humiliation or a tarnished reputation. To be sure, sexting can be used to exploit or intimidate—and there have been cases were teens have committed suicide as a result of such cyber-bullying. But fewer than 1% of respondents in the Drexel study reported being bullied as a result of sexting.

“We were struck by how many of those surveyed seem to think of sexting as a normal, standard way of interacting with their peers,” DeMatteo says.

All of which can make things tricky for parents, most of whom probably wish they simply didn’t have to deal with such an uncomfortable topic. Yet they should—ideally, as soon as a kid gets his or her first cellphone.

So, what do you say?

For younger teens, set a bright line. Tell them sexting is off limits—period. (For some families, this might be a real challenge, as indicated by another new study on the link between sexting and sex among middle schoolers.) Most of the time, those who are in middle school or even in ninth or 10th grade don’t have the experience to comprehend the impact that sexting can have.

“They do not understand how powerful it is—how other people might be aroused by seeing a provocative photo of them,” says Barbara Greenberg, a clinical psychologist in Fairfield County, Conn., with a focus on adolescents and families.

When it comes to older teens, however, recognize that sexting is often just a digital form of flirting. “It is the 2014 version of teens experimenting with their sexuality,” Greenberg says. “They are testing their level of appeal—something we have been doing for centuries.”

That said, you should make clear to your older kids that dangers exist. Remind them that anything they do online leaves a permanent record—one that may come back to haunt them later. What may seem funny or flirtatious in the moment may not feel the same way a few months down the road.

Remind them, too, that once they hit the send button, their words and images are out of their control. They can’t be confident that any sext will stay with the intended recipient. The Drexel study found that 26% of respondents reported that, as a minor, they had forwarded or shared a sext they’d received with a good friend, and 3% reported sharing it with a mere acquaintance.

It’s also important to tell your older kids that not all sexting is equal. If they’re going to insist on engaging in this activity, they should at least reserve their most explicit messages for those with whom they’re in a real relationship. Casual sexting, just like casual sex, is not a good idea.

Finally, be sure to tell your kids—younger or older—that sexting can have serious legal ramifications.

Most states do not have laws that govern sexting, so if a minor sends a nude or sexually explicit image to another minor, he or she can be charged under child pornography laws. (The Drexel study found that girls, in particular, are likely to sext photographs.) These statues typically carry severe punishments, including jail time and having to register as a sex offender. In the Drexel study, nearly two-thirds of respondents were not aware of this risk.

But many of those who were aware of the potential legal consequences modified their behavior. Indeed, one of the study’s central findings is that only 42% of those who were familiar with this threat had sexted as a minor, compared with 61% of their peers who weren’t clued in to the legal implications.

“Young people need to be educated about the consequences of sexting—legal, social and psychological,” DeMatteo says. “The more they hear the message, the more likely it will be to sink in.”

TIME Education

Why Pediatricians Are Prescribing Books

Temperature, Child
BSIP—UIG via Getty Images

Children under five years old see their doctor at least once a year, and the opinion of a physician often carries more weight with parents than that of a teacher or counselor.

Earlier this week, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement recommending story time with mom and dad start in infancy: parents should be reading to their children, the group says, from the first days of their lives.

Research shows that one-third of American children start kindergarten lacking the basic language skills they will need in order to learn to read, a deficit that can ripple through all the years of schooling to follow. Reading aloud is one of the best ways to build such skills, but surveys find that only about half of low-income parents in the U.S. are reading to their children every day. Scientists have repeatedly demonstrated that better-educated people live longer and have a lower risk of disease than their less-educated counterparts. It makes perfect sense, then, that many pediatricians are adding a new tool to their doctors’ kits: books.

There are hurdles, however, in the way of many parents taking this advice: they may not themselves be literate, for example. A study released earlier this month by the Stanford University School of Medicine reported that immigrant parents and parents with low education levels or low household incomes were less likely to read to their children. In addition, poor families may not have access to books. One study found that in low-income neighborhoods, only one book was available for every 300 children, while in middle-income neighborhoods the ratio was 13 books for each individual child. And many parents may know that they should be reading to their children each day, but find that work schedules and other household activities get in the way.

Pediatricians make ideal conduits for the message that reading is important. Ninety-six percent of children under five years old see their doctor at least once a year, and the opinion of a physician often carries more weight with parents than that of a teacher or counselor. Taking advantage of this privileged position, a growing number of pediatricians are “prescribing” books to their young patients at each visit (some of them even write out the directive to read on a prescribing pad).

Many are doing so under the auspices of an organization called Reach Out and Read, which was founded in 1989 by a group of doctors at Boston City Hospital (now called Boston Medical Center). Over the past 25 years, Reach Out and Read has trained thousands of primary care providers to speak with patients about the benefits of reading. They have distributed millions of books through these medical partners. Each enrolled child gets a new, age-appropriate book at every well-child visit, from six months to five years of age. That means they’ll start kindergarten with a home library of as many as 10 books—and these are often the only children’s books they own.

When working with parents who are unable to read themselves, doctors in the Reach Out and Read program demonstrate how they can page through a picture book with their children, making up their own stories as they go. And when counseling parents who say they’re too busy or too tired to engage in story time at the end of the day, some physicians read aloud a book to their young patients right in the consulting room, to demonstrate to parents how quickly book reading can be accomplished and how much their children enjoy it. In another literacy-promoting program, developmental specialists at the Langone Medical Center at New York University actually videotape parents reading to and playing with their children; then the parents and the specialist watch the video together, a practice that encourages parental self-reflection and self-improvement.

Researchers who have evaluated the effects of Reach Out and Read report that participating parents are up to four times more likely to read to their young children, and that their children enter kindergarten with larger vocabularies and stronger language skills. Interestingly, families who participate in Reach Out and Read are also more likely to show up for their doctors’ appointments: yet another way that health and learning can work together.

Annie Murphy Paul writes The Brilliant Blog and is the author of the forthcoming book Brilliant: The Science of How We Get Smarter.

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