TIME Parenting

How to Help Your Kids Keep Their Resolutions

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...and learn some persistence, darn it

New Year’s resolutions. We’ve all broken so many that they serve more as a punchline for jokes than a way to actually change.

But setting goals, and plugging away at them, is a crucial part of life. So we talked with Dr. Laura Markham, expert in child development and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, for tips on how to start conversations with kids that will help them set and meet their goals.
For all kids, Markham says it’s important to make sure we’re helping them meet their goals—not ours. “Parents have goals for kids,” she says. But meeting a goal always takes effort, and “if you’re trying something hard, you need to have some motivation to overcome. And that can’t just be to please parents.”

Parents can help elementary age kids start to think about their goals by having low-key conversations, Markham says. “Ask questions like, ‘What do you like doing? What do you like about your life?’” And listen, Markham adds. Often, kids will spontaneously express interest in anything from a sport to an instrument to helping pick up trash at the park.

By the time kids reach middle school, most of them already know what it’s like to miss a goal, Markham says. And it bothers them at least as much as it bothers their parents. So instead of focusing on what’s gone wrong, parents can help kids focus on what’s right, with questions like, “What am I good at? What is good in my life?” A focus on the positive, Markham says, can actually set kids up for more success. “People shift into a positive frame of mind when they feel they’ve been successful,” she says. “It allows us to rise to the situation and fight.”
High school kids are in a position to get practical. For older kids working towards a goal, “it can be worth noticing what got in your way,” Markham says. But parents can help them to stay practical even as they face tough realities: “Instead of beating yourself up about it, get the support you need to do it.” And think small, Markham advises, by breaking big goals down into manageable pieces, with questions like, “What’s gotten in my way? What support do I need to move forward? What’s the next step I can take?”

But setting a goal is only half the battle. What can a parent do when kids get discouraged?
Markham says the research shows that perseverance in children doesn’t come from a “get tough” approach. It comes from empathy. Kids of all ages are less likely to give up when they feel that someone listens and understands their feelings.

So at every age, acknowledging all the feelings kids have as they try, fail, and succeed, is key. In fact, giving them room to talk about how they feel may be just as important than strategizing the next step.

“Your job as a parent is to empathize and hold the light so kids can see the way out of the box they’re in,” Markham says. “You can never see the whole road, but you can see the next step to take. And whether it’s learning to play the violin, or feeding the hungry, when you take one small step, then you’ll be in a new place.”

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Here’s How to Trick Your Kids Into Thinking They’ve Stayed Up Until Midnight

With a little help from Netflix

Got children determined to stay up past their bedtimes on New Year’s Eve? You may be able to fool them into going to sleep at a reasonable hour thanks to Netflix.

In a recent study from Netflix and Wakefield research, 34% of parents admitted to celebrating the New Year early with their kids. To help these parents pull off this ruse in 2015, Netflix is offering a Madagascar-themed celebration video. King Julien the lemur leads a three-minute, animal-filled countdown to midnight. But since parents can play the video at any time, midnight can come a few hours early.

For those feeling guilty about tricking their offspring, just remember you convinced them a large bearded man brought them presents last week. And kids who otherwise would fall asleep before the ball drops can revel in their adulthood, while parents celebrate the real New Year with a glass of champagne in peace. Everybody wins.

But remember to change the clocks around your house if you pull this trick!

TIME Parenting

This New Year’s, I Resolve to Accept My Kids for Who They Are

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Claude Knobler is the author of the forthcoming book More Love (Less Panic): 7 Lessons I Learned About Life, Love, and Parenting After We Adopted Our Son from Ethiopia.

I've realized that we simply cannot turn our rambunctious adopted Ethiopian boy into a quiet, neurotic Jew, no matter how hard we try

More times than I care to count, I have been seduced into buying pocket size notebooks, leather bound journals and, God help me, the occasional fountain pen. I buy these things because of the reoccurring fantasy that I will finally make myself into the sort of person who writes profound insights onto perfect, clean sheets of paper, in beautiful script, alongside elegantly drawn sketches illustrating the details of my life.

It never works. Eventually I toss the mostly unused journal filled with illegible blather and stick figure drawings into the closet next to all the other notebooks I’ve bought. In the end there is just something about a clean slate that tends to defeat me.

Which brings me to the new year. So unblemished and filled with hope and promise. I hate it.

Not 2015, for which I have great hope. No, what I hate is the belief that human beings can be tinkered with by the force of our will. It’s not so bad when I’m thinking about what I’d like to change about myself. Yes, I would love to believe that this is the year I’ll finish Moby Dick, but I know myself pretty well at this point. I’m well aware that Moby Dick is my own personal great white whale since I’ve started it no less than 10 times without ever finishing. And so it is with all my bad habits, personal defects, and faults.

I find it useful to remind myself that change rarely results from gritting my teeth. And this is especially important to remember with regard to the people who surround me. You see, like so many parents, I harbor the not-so-secret belief that the best way to inspire my kids to change is to nag them.

I have three children, including my youngest son who we adopted from Africa when he was 5 years old. The fact that Nati and I didn’t speak the same language when he came home with me, and that he’d spent five years of his life living oceans away in a world beyond my understanding, gave me a pretty keen sense that people, adults and children change in their own ways and on their own schedules. If nothing else, trust me on this; you simply cannot turn a rambunctious 5-year-old Ethiopian boy into a quiet, neurotic Jew, no matter how hard you try. And so, though the new year is upon us, I will not insist that my youngest son vow to become neater, that my daughter resolve to give up needless worry, or that my eldest son become an earnest writer of “thank you” notes. I’ve already spent far too much of their lives believing that my job was to transfer qualities I deemed necessary into their brains, like a mad scientist in a 1950s horror movie. If my family and I spend all of 2015 with our personalities unaltered, I will be content. We are not perfect, and yet, I am perfectly fine with who we are.

Besides, I know that change does happen, but it is often unexpected, unplanned, and wholly out of my control. One way or the other, my family and I almost certainly will grow and improve this year, but we will do so in fits and starts and not under any self-imposed schedule. People are like that, I find. Indeed, if I’m not mistaken, this sort of change is what we mean when we talk about “grace”: unearned, undeserved, and the source of much of life’s joy.

And that’s fine. Because while I have never managed to fill an entire notebook with brilliant life-changing observations, written in flowing longhand, I have filled up hundreds of Post-It notes and pieces of scrap paper with all sorts unimpressive but wonderful things. I have written grocery lists for dinners I made my family and I have drawn lopsided-looking hearts on the bottom of birthday cards. I have written down directions to parties and reminders for school events. That is, in the end, what life is: sloppy and imperfect. The first day of the first month of the new year is but one of 365. My job is not to cajole, demand, and resolve myself, or my family, into perfection. It is, I believe, nothing more or less than to learn to enjoy the time we spend together as life slowly, and without our permission, teaches us all to grow and evolve.

Though it may not be worth writing about in any of the leather-bound journals cluttering my closet, I spent 2014 enjoying my imperfect family while procrastinating, eating gluten, and reading Facebook posts instead of Melville. I won’t resolve to do the same, but if it happens to work out that way, I won’t mind a bit.

Claude Knobler is the author of the forthcoming book More Love (Less Panic): 7 Lessons I Learned About Life, Love, and Parenting After We Adopted Our Son from Ethiopia.

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 Parenting

Tips for Every Age: How to Raise Grateful Kids

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How to talk to your kids without sounding preachy

The weeks after the holidays can feel like a big let down. After all the expectation—and stress—of the season, both parents and kids may feel a sense of disappointment after all the gifts are opened and the treats are eaten.

But is it possible to flip that script? Can parents encourage kids to stop thinking “what have we got to look forward to now?” and start concentrating on everything they’ve just enjoyed?

We talked with Christine Carter, director of the Greater Good Science Center Parenting Program at UCBerkeley, and author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, to get her practical tips on unleashing the power of gratitude.

The list of the benefits of gratitude is so long “it’s almost ridiculous,” Carter says. “People who are consciously practicing gratitude sleep better, have more energy, and feel more connected to other people.” One study has even proven that kidney function improves when people practice gratitude. And the good news is that it’s contagious. “If I’m feeling strong positive emotion, and I’m sharing that with somebody,” Carter explains, “those emotions spread person to person” through the whole family.

So how can parents get the gratitude conversation started? These are her tips, for any age.

Elementary school kids may be too young to think in terms of classic gratitude, which requires remembering something from the past. But “they understand what a good thing is,” Carter says. “Don’t worry about the time frame. Just ask them to name three good things about their day.” And no matter how old or a young a child, don’t correct them when they express gratitude. “Let them be grateful for whatever they’re grateful for.”

Middle school kids have often learned to be grateful for material things, because they’ve been trained in the etiquette of writing thank you-notes. So it’s good for parents to model being grateful for intangibles, like health and family, or a beautiful day. And as kids mature, questions about what they’re grateful for become more complicated, Carter says. If a parent asks, “what are you grateful for?” a child may feel burdened by everything they owe their parents. So non-verbal expressions can be helpful at this age, Carter suggests, like art projects that focus on gratitude. And parents can also help kids to focus on what they’re grateful for beyond the family, by helping them express words of appreciation about other people around them, with questions like, “What do you enjoy about your friends? Or your teachers?”

High school students can begin to think of gratitude in a much larger context. And context, Carter says, is actually key to gratitude. Relative to many other cultures, many children in the U.S. “live in tremendous abundance,” she points out. And that creates what researchers call an abundance paradox. “We’re much more likely to feel disappointed or even resentful when we don’t get what we want,” Carter explains, “than grateful when we do.” How to cut this knot? Studies have shown that “gratitude only arises naturally without cultivation under conditions of scarcity,” Carter says. So high school kids who have been exposed to scarcity, by doing activities like serving at a homeless shelter, will far more grateful than those who don’t.

And it turns out, sad old truth that it may be, the best way for all of us to feel grateful may be to give, rather than to get.

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Why You Should Friend Your Child on Facebook

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New research shows that connecting on multiple platforms can lead to a happier parent-child relationship

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

Move over, landlines—it’s time to embrace more modern forms of communication. New research published in Emerging Adulthood suggests that reaching out to your children through multiple platforms can ultimately lead to a better relationship.

Jennifer Schon, a doctoral candidate in communication studies at the University of Kansas, had previously studied how communication technologies improved friendships, and took those findings to hypothesize that it might have the same effect on parents and their adult children. She surveyed 367 young adults between 18 and 29 years to find out which platforms they used to connect with their parents, how often their parents used that technology, and how satisfied they were in their relationships with mom or dad. Communication technologies ranged from landlines to emails to social networks like Facebook and Snapchat.

(MORE: Why Do Children Lie, Cheat, and Steal?)

Adding just one additional mode of communication correlated to increased relationship quality and satisfaction, Schon found. Most reported using an average of three channels to communicate with parents—the most common being cell phone, text messaging, and email. Many parents also connected through landlines and social networking sites. For parents who already email, text, and call their children frequently, the occasional Facebook message might only serve to improve communication.

“A lot of parents might resist new technologies. They don’t see the point in them, or they seem like a lot of trouble,” Schon said in a statement. “But this study shows while it might take some work and learning, it would be worth it in the end if you are trying to have a good relationship with your adult child.”

(MORE: Mother-Daughter Relationships)

 

TIME Parenting

Kids Who Eat More Fast Food Get Worse Grades

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Study says the difference in grades may be as much as 20%.

Fast food is cheap, filling and of course, fast. That makes it a lifesaver for some parents. But it’s also incredibly unhealthy and now a new nationwide study suggests that eating a lot of it might be linked to kids doing badly in school.

Researchers at the Ohio State University (OSU) and University of Texas, Austin, found that the more frequently children reported eating fast food in fifth grade, the lower their improvement in reading, math, and science test scores by eighth grade.

The difference between the test scores of kids who didn’t eat any fast food and those who reported eating a lot was significant: 20%.

“There’s a lot of evidence that fast-food consumption is linked to childhood obesity, but the problems don’t end there,” said Kelly Purtell, lead author of the study and assistant professor of human sciences at (OSU). “Relying too much on fast food could hurt how well children do in the classroom.”

While eating a lot of fast food is oftentimes a marker for poverty, and poorer students generally don’t do as well on standardized tests for a whole battery of reasons, these results held steady even after researchers took into account other factors, including how much the kids exercised, how much TV they watched, the other food they ate, their family’s socioeconomic status and the characteristics of their neighborhood and school.

“We went as far as we could to control for and take into account all the known factors that could be involved in how well children did on these tests,” Purtell said.

The results, which are published online in the journal Clinical Pediatrics, used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort, a nationally representative study of 11,740 students who started school in the 1998-1999 school year.

The kids were tested in reading/literacy, mathematics and science in fifth as well as eighth grades, and also filled out a food consumption survey in fifth grade. Slightly more than half the kids reported eating fast food between one and three times in the previous week. Almost a third had had no fast food that week, while a full 10% reported having it every single day and 10% four to six times a week.

“We’re not saying that parents should never feed their children fast food, but these results suggest fast-food consumption should be limited as much as possible,” said Purtell, who added that while her study cannot prove that fast-food consumption caused the lower academic growth, she and her fellow authors are confident fast food explains some of the difference in achievement gains between fifth and eighth grade.

Previous studies have shown that fast food is low in such nutrients as iron that aid in cognitive development, which may explain some of the gap in learning. Moreover, diets high in fat and sugar, both of which fast food tends to have in abundance, have been shown to have a bad effect on immediate memory and learning processes.

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Just in Time for Your Family Gathering, the 4 Steps to a Good Apology

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Think about the their needs, and not yours

Apologies are on everyone’s mind these days, what with Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin at Sony groveling for sending racially-charged emails speculating on our President’s fave movies; Greenpeace International sniveling sorrowfully about defacing a sacred Peruvian site; and a Korean airline magnate begging forgiveness for his 40-year-old daughter’s flight-delaying macadamia-nut-based tantrum.

Thankfully, your own faux pas may never happen on quite so international a stage. But since it’s the holiday season—full of spiked-nog-infused lapses in judgment, gift-induced hurts, office party pitfalls, and inter-familial tensions—odds are good that you’ll have to apologize for something in the coming days. And as co-founder of SorryWatch, our nation’s premier web site for apology education, I’m here to tell you how to do it right.

HEALTH.COM 9 Signs You’re Headed for a Holiday Meltdown

Name your sin

In an initial statement, reported by the New York Times, the airline exec’s daughter said, “I seek forgiveness from those who were hurt by what I did”—but didn’t actually name what she did. You have to tell the person you’ve wronged exactly what you’re sorry for to prove that you truly understand your offense.

HEALTH.COM 19 Natural Remedies for Anxiety

Fully acknowledge that you screwed up

Amy Pascal said her emails were “not an accurate reflection of who I am.” Um, nope. If you said it (or wrote it in an email), you have to own it. No weasel-y “I was kidding” or “this was so unlike me” or “I never meant for you to find out.” Offer no excuses; step up and own what you did.

Along the same lines, apologize for your actions, not how they “may have seemed” or “might have looked.”Greenpeace International expressed regret that “we came across as careless and crass.” No, they werecareless and crass.

Make it about them, not you

Apologize in the way you think the other person would most prefer, whether that’s in person, in a phone call, or in an email—even if it’s awkward or inconvenient for you. Think about their needs and desires, not yours.

HEALTH.COM 18 Habits of the Happiest Families

Make reparations however you can

Pay for dry cleaning if you drunkenly tossed red wine all over your host, send flowers to your mom for calling her a meddling helicopter parent, or make a donation to your colleague’s favorite charity if she overheard you gossiping about her. And spell out what steps you’ll take to make certain that whatever you did will never happen again.

One last thing: Don’t ask for forgiveness. That’s the other person’s holiday gift to give.

HEALTH.COM 10 Nervous Habits That Hurt Your Health

This article originally appeared on Health.com

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For Success at School, Personality May Beat Brains

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Intelligence isn't everything, says new study

When it comes to success in school, being smart isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Personality may have a lot more to do with academic success than just sheer intelligence, according to a new study.

Arthur Poropat, a lecturer in psychology at Australia’s Griffith University conducted the largest ever review of personality and academic performance. Porporat found that an individual’s personality traits are better indicators of academic success than a high score on an intelligence test, for students at both high school and college. Specifically, he suggests, students who are conscientious, open and emotionally stable have the best likelihood of succeeding at their studies.

“Conscientiousness reflects things like making and carrying out plans, striving to achieve, and self-control, and is linked with a factor of childhood temperament called Effort Regulation,” says Porporat. “But I found that two other personality factors were also important: Openness (also called openness to experience and intellect), encompassing being imaginative, curious, and artistic; and Emotional Stability, covering calmness and emotional adjustment (as opposed to being anxious, fearful or unstable).”

Students who had those traits were able to compete more effectively in an academic setting. “A student with the most helpful personality will score a full grade higher than an average student in this regard,” says Porporat, whose results have been published in the journal Learning and Individual Differences. “In practical terms, the amount of effort students are prepared to put in, and where that effort is focused, is at least as important as whether the students are smart.” (Interestingly, Porporat published a separate report on elementary students and found the effects are even stronger, although intelligence has a much bigger impact in primary education.)

How did he arrive at this counterintuitive conclusion? “My research was actually a series of meta-analyses, using similar procedures to those used in medical research,” says Poropat. (Meta analysis is a process of analyzing a wide swath of results of other studies, and correcting for errors).

So far he has completed two analyses: the first included nearly 140 studies and over 70,000 participants, and the most recent, which he spent the last eight years working on, looked at 22 studies with 5,514 participants and focused on links between personality traits and academic performance in secondary education.

Porporat examined five distinct personality traits (conscientiousness, openness, agreeableness, emotional stability and extraversion) and found that conscientiousness and openness have the biggest influence on academic success. His results fall in line with similar work by well-regarded educationalists such as Paul Tough, who regards “grit” as the most important quality in a student.

Could this could mean that intelligence tests are not as useful as they’ve been made out to be? “Intelligence tests have always been closely linked with education and grades and therefore relied upon to predict who would do well,” Porporat says. “The impact of personality on study is genuinely surprising for educational researchers, and for anyone who thinks they did well at school because they are ‘smart.'”

So how do educators measure and cultivate these personality traits? Well, they can’t just ask students if they have them; Porporat found that self-assessment only was only about as useful for predicting university success as intelligence tests. But when he had people who knew the students well assess their personality traits, the results were nearly four times more accurate for predicting grades.

“What I found was that when someone who knows the student well provides the personality rating, the correlation with academic performance is much stronger than if the student rates their own personality,” said Porporat. “In the case of conscientiousness, it is nearly four times as strong, but the effect for emotional stability is comparatively greater. Apparently, students don’t rate their levels of anxiousness at all accurately— not exactly surprising but the consequence is important.”

In the classroom, this could mean that teachers can assess a student’s personality and match educational activities to their dispositions. Porporat believes that understanding how personality affects academic achievement is vital to helping students reach future success.

This is good news for many parents and students. While intelligence can’t be taught, per se, conscientiousness and openness can be learned. “Personality does change, and some educators have trained aspects of students’ conscientiousness and openness, leading to greater learning capacity,” said Porporat. “By contrast, there is little evidence that intelligence can be ‘taught,’ despite the popularity of brain-training apps.”

Don’t rule the intelligence test out completely however; Porporat admits that the best students will be both bright and conscientiousness, open and emotionally stable.

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Why Having Kids Won’t Fulfill You

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Jennifer Aniston, take note. You haven't failed as a woman if you don't have kids.

I was struck by the comments Jennifer Aniston made to Allure magazine this week about the badgering she gets on a topic that she finds painful: her lack of children. She tells the magazine: “I don’t like [the pressure] that people put on me, on women – that you’ve failed yourself as a female because you haven’t procreated. I don’t think it’s fair. You may not have a child come out of your vagina, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t mothering — dogs, friends, friends’ children.” For Aniston, 45, the topic is fraught with emotion. “Even saying it gets me a little tight in my throat,” she said.

I thought about Aniston’s comments—what many women in their early 40s without children are forced to feel—and then I thought about my own life. In some respects I’m Aniston’s exact opposite: I’m a 41-year-old mother of two who spent my entire adult life telling myself that children were my destiny. I did what society and my family expected, never questioning the choice. But sometimes I wonder how much of the blueprint of my life was drawn by me, and how much was sketched by experiences I had when I was way too young to be the architect of my own destiny.

For all intents and purposes, my mother was a single parent. My father left when I was twelve, but long before then my mother had taken over the head of the household role. She worked full-time as a waitress while my father flitted between different construction jobs. There always seemed to be an injury or a reason he wasn’t able to work. The image of him lying on our living room floor in front of our television is burned on my brain. He was there so much — diagonally and on his side with his head perched upon on his hand–I actually thought it was odd when I went to friends’ houses and their fathers weren’t in that prone position. I also found it odd that my friends’ parents shared a bedroom. My dad had taken up residence on the couch for so long, it seemed normal.

It was the obviously unhappy marriage that birthed the mantra my mother would repeat to me throughout my young life: “Do not depend on a man for anything.” That was followed closely by: “You and your sister are the best things I’ve ever done.” My mother made it clear that we were her reason for living. There was never a time I didn’t feel loved by my mother. But there was also a latent message that became clear after my father left: I am not alone because I have children. If it weren’t for you two I would be falling apart.

Before I hit adolescence, I decided that children were the only things that could fulfill me when I grew older.

“I’ve always wanted kids.” I don’t think I could possibly count the number of times in my life I have uttered those words. But, the same enthusiasm never escaped my lips when talking about marriage. I was never that girl who fantasized about her wedding day. So I skipped the marriage part, feeling like a renegade who was bucking the patriarchal confines of society.

It took five years for my partner and me to have a pregnancy that didn’t end in loss. After the third miscarriage, I began to panic: what if I really couldn’t have children? What would my life become? I was a bartender at the time that we were trying and my partner was a musician — we were in no way financially prepared for children. But the panic and fear that the narrative I had chosen for myself so many years earlier was not going to play out made me a woman consumed.

For five years we spent month after month trying for a child. The obsession I had with ovulation calendars and pregnancy tests only paused when a test came back positive, then the obsession switched to worrying about whether the pregnancy was going to last. I gave birth to a healthy baby boy in 2010, when I was thirty-eight. I was finally a mom.

My life changed — but only the daily tasks. I was still working full-time. Once we added a baby, the only difference was we now had no downtime. I was not a new person. I was the woman I had always been, I just added another label to my list of identifiers: friend, photographer, bartender, girlfriend, writer, mother. I reached the endgame, and nothing about myself had changed — save my ability to multitask.

My assumption that I was destined to be maternal made me never consider the idea that maybe I wasn’t. The possibility that I wasn’t actually hard-wired to mother never occurred to me until I looked into my child’s eyes for the first time and didn’t feel that thunderbolt everyone talks so much about. Those overwhelming feelings of love arrived eventually, but they certainly weren’t automatic.

Had we continued having infertility issues and not been able to conceive, I am certain that I would have felt that there was something “missing” from my life. But only because I believed the narrative my mother sold that children bring fulfillment. Since I’ve become a mother and seen that the essence of what makes me who I am has not changed, I’ve learned that nothing outside of you can fulfill you. Fulfillment is all about how you perceive the fullness or emptiness of your life. But how can a woman feel fulfilled if she’s constantly being told her life is empty without children? How can she ever feel certain she’s made the right decision if society is second-guessing her constantly?

There is nothing wrong or incomplete about building a life with a partner or alone, unburdened by the added stress of keeping another human being alive. This is something that men have always been allowed – women, not so much. A woman is constantly reminded of the ticking time bomb that is her biological clock. We don’t believe that a life without children is something a woman could possibly want. It’s why successful, wealthy women like Aniston are still asked the baby question every single time they sit down for an interview. Everyone is always looking for the latent sadness, the regret. What if it’s not there?

It’s been 40 years since the women’s liberation movement told us that just because we have a uterus, doesn’t mean we have to use it. We still don’t believe it. Whether we realize it or not, the necessity to tap into our maternal side is so wired into our being that we can’t escape it. If we could, there wouldn’t be debates about whether women could “have it all” or whether we were turning against our nature if we decide not to procreate.

I never questioned my desire to have children, because I didn’t have to; I took the well-traveled road. That desire is expected of me – it’s expected of all women. It took me decades to realize that the maternal drive I carried with me my entire adult life, the one that led me to try for five years to have children, may not have been a biological imperative at all. It may just have been a program that was placed into my psyche by the repeated mantras of a woman who was let down by a man and comforted by her children. That’s okay. I love my children and I’m happy about the experiences I’ve had and the paths that have led me to this place. But if this isn’t your place—whether you’re a famous movie star or not– you didn’t take a wrong turn.

 

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Study: What Kind of Car NOT To Buy a Teen Driver

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Old cars may be cheaper, but they have fewer safety features, says insurance study

Driving around in an old clunker is one of the teenage rites of passage. But in news that will no doubt gladden the hearts of car salesmen everywhere—and terrify parents—a new study suggests that parents might want to think of getting their young drivers a newer automobile for safety reasons.

The study delved deep into parents’ nightmares and analyzed all the teen driving deaths in data from the U.S. Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) for 2008 to 2012. In that time 2420 kids between the age of 15 and 17 died at the wheel of a car. The researchers, from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Virginia, ascertained the make, model and safety features of each car.

What they found was that almost half of the teen drivers killed on U.S. roads in that period were driving vehicles that were 11 or more years old, and thus often lacked certain safety features, like Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and airbags.

ESC is a relatively new technology that can detect when a vehicle is skidding and applies the brakes to help “steer” the vehicle where the driver intends to go and is especially useful in cases where the driver loses control–something that is more common among drivers who may have recently passed their driving test, say the researchers. According to the study, it can cut the risk of death in single vehicle crashes by around half and by 20% in crashes involving several vehicles.

Teens were also more likely to die in smaller vehicles. When comparing the teens with fatally injured drivers between the ages of 35 and 50, the researchers found that teens were significantly more likely to have been at the wheel of a small or mini car (29% vs 20%) or a mid-size (23% vs 16%), and less likely to have been driving a large pickup (10% vs 16%).

“Larger, heavier vehicles generally provide much better crash protection than smaller, lighter ones,” says the study.

All of this makes sense, because who wants to give their teen driver an expensive new car? And who wants to let them drive the family SUV or other big car? But the potential downside may be worth the risk to property.

The good news is that since 1996, far fewer teens are killed by road traffic accidents—or as road safety officials like to call them “road traffic collisions,” as part of raising awareness that these things are not really accidental; they have a cause and it’s usually human error. But teenagers still have about three times as many police-reported and fatal crashes as adults, when you take into account the distance they drive.

So when looking into buying your kid’s first car, says the study, it might be worth investing in something less vintage and more protective. That doesn’t mean it has to be expensive.”Parents may benefit from consumer information about vehicle choices that are both safe and economical,” says the study. So do your research. And shop around.

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