TIME Parenting

Everything You Know About Boys and Video Games Is Wrong

Here's what they really think about how women are portrayed on screen

Kids are fed up with Kate Upton.

When the ads for Game of War started showing up on my students’ phones last year—they haven’t stopped—many were annoyed. They hated that it was impossible to close the ad, forcing them instead to watch the video until the end. But what really irritated them was Ms. Upton, in a full-cleavage-baring white flowing dress. The ads are clearly effective for some, but the message is obvious: Game of War is a boys’ game, and Upton is the game’s mascot, walking through battles totally unscathed and doing nothing except looking pretty.

Action games with big battles like Game of War are incredibly exciting to kids. And kids I’ve worked with, both male and female, will put up with a lot to play exciting games. But it doesn’t mean they like the way women are portrayed. Yet the video game industry seems to base much of its game and character design on a few assumptions, among them that girls don’t play big action games, boys won’t play games with strong female characters, and male players like the sexual objectification of female characters.

You can guess what the results are: a gaming landscape that thrusts a hyper-sexualized depiction of women onto the phone, computer and TV screens of millions of boys and girls.

MORE What Boys Really Want

The issue of sexism in video games, long simmering, is sure to bubble up again during the Comic-Con convention this weekend in San Diego. (47% of attendees are expected to be women.) In collaboration with my colleagues, Charlie Kuhn and gaming expert Ashly Burch, we surveyed more than 1,400 middle and high school students from throughout the country last year. We asked them to tell us what they thought about gender representation in games, what games girls play, and more. Our survey was exploratory—we didn’t have the resources to conduct a thorough evaluation—but we believed it was an important issue to study and hope others will follow.

Here are three things we found that may surprise.

Boys believe female characters are treated too often as sex objects

47% of middle school boys agreed or strongly agreed, and 61% of high school boys agreed or strongly agreed. “If women are objectified like this it defeats the entire purpose of fighting,” Theo, an eighth-grader who loves playing Mortal Kombat, told us. “I would respect the [female] character more for having some dignity.”

Both boys and girls aren’t more likely to play a game based on the gender of the protagonist

70% of girls said it doesn’t matter and 78% of boys said it doesn’t matter. Interestingly, boys care less about playing as a male character as they age and girls care more about playing as a female one.

Girls play a variety of game genres

26% played first-person shooter games like Call of Duty and HALO, 36% played role-playing games like Skyrim and Grand Theft Auto, and 17% played sports games like FIFA and Madden. (19% did not play games, compared to 3% of boys.)

We also asked kids if they identified as “gamers.” Especially in light of the “Gamergate” controversy that erupted last year and revealed intense sexism among some self-identified gamers, would the young people who identified as gamers share any of these sentiments? But very few of our respondents knew what Gamergate was and they had very different responses from what one may expect: 55% of boys who identify as gamers think there should be more female heroes in games, and 57% believe that female characters are too often treated as sex objects.

This all matters because gaming has become an important part of our culture, and it’s sending the wrong message onto our boys’ and girls’ sceens. Our kids deserve better. And it’s what they want.

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of Masterminds and Wingmen (Harmony Books, 2013) as well as Queen Bees and Wannabes (Harmony Books, 2002)

TIME Parenting

How to Make Independence Day More Meaningful Next Year

hot dogs on plate
Greg Elms—Getty Images

Explain the holiday to your kids

From the way the Fourth of July gets celebrated today, a visitor from space might think it’s mostly in praise of fireworks and barbecue. If your weekend left you feeling vaguely like your kids may have missed the point of the holiday, it’s not too late to catch them up.

Elementary age kids, says Joanne Freeman, professor of History and American Studies at Yale, may be interested to think about how the Declaration of Independence was made. “People were thinking through a decision and then making a choice,” Freeman says. “They talked and listened to each other. That’s what’s supposed to be at the heart of the government.” Parents can get a conversation started by asking kids to think about what kind of problems they’d like to solve together—and what are the best ways to talk and listen to each other.

Middle school kids may be interested to know that there were actually many declarations of independence. Freeman points to Pauline Maier’s work in American Scripture, which revealed that groups across the colonies were debating independence and issuing their own statements and resolutions long before the declaration of independence we know today. Why is that important? Because independence was a process, and happened in community, says Freeman. “I want to make sure that people get beyond the idea of 30 guys in a room,” she says. “This was a colony-wide debate. Everyone was thinking and talking about it.” Parents can start a conversation by asking kids what kinds of topics their friends are currently debating, and encouraging them to share their own thoughts.

High school kids, Freeman says, can begin to think about how much work was left undone by the Declaration of Independence. It didn’t offer freedom to people living in slavery or to Native Americans. And in some states, women actually lost the right to vote as the Constitution was written. But, Freeman says, high school kids may also be inspired by the fact that “no one knew what was going on” during the Revolutionary period. Just like today, “they were scared about the outcome.” Knowing that can give kids hope that they’re capable of doing important things, despite the days when they feel uncertain about the future. Parents can open conversations by asking high school kids what changes they’d still like to see in the world, and what changes they might want to be a part of.

TIME Television

We Have to Go Back: Hope, Disappointment and Re-Watching Lost With My Kids

JOSH HOLLOWAY, TERRY O'QUINN, L. SCOTT CALDWELL, DANIEL DAE KIM, YUN JIN KIM, NAVEEN ANDREWS, DOMINIC MONAGHAN, MALCOLM DAVID KELLEY, HAROLD PERRINEAU, MATTHEW FOX, EVANGELINE LILLY, JORGE GARCIA, MAGGIE GRACE, EMILE DE RAVIN, IAN SOMERHALDER
Bob D'Amico—ABC The cast of the first season of Lost

I know the show might let them down in the end. That's all the more reason to watch.

The following article references plot points from Lost, so you may want to skip it if you haven’t watched yet. Though, come on, you’ve had five years now.

My two sons have heard my wife and I talk about Lost almost as long as they’ve been alive. It’s what we have in our house instead of religion. They knew the general premise; they had an ambient awareness of who Sawyer and Hurley are, like talked-about distant cousins they’d never met in person. But the show itself would have to wait until they were old enough.

This summer, we decided they’re old enough. We started a family binge of the show on Netflix–we’re still in season 1–and because I’m a glutton for public questioning of my parenting and aesthetic choices, I tweeted about it. Five years after it ended, mentioning Lost on social media is still like poking a stick at the smoke monster, and soon enough the (mostly good-natured) snark rolled in–more than one response along the lines of: “First five seasons only, or I’m calling Child Protective Services.”

Ha ha, and OK, I asked for it. But I’ll be honest: the thought, “But what about the ending?” did occur to me. I loved the finale, though I thought most of season 6 went, well, sideways with digressions and blind alleys. But regardless, I’m well aware that many Lost fans were, shall we say, not as pleased with the ending. (My wife was one of them; when we finally finish the series, the kids will have to choose a favorite parent once and for all.)

Was I being responsible? Wasn’t I, a professional TV-watcher who reviewed the show weekly for almost its entire run, supposed to look out for them? Despite one of the best pilots ever made, despite “Not Penny’s Boat” and the hatch and “The Constant,” was I leading them to be blindsided? Was I setting my kids up for bitterness, disappointment, betrayal?

I decided, of course, that I wanted to share Lost with them even though they might hate the ending. More to the point, I wanted to share it with them because they might hate the ending.

I’m not interested in relitigating the debate over that last scene in the chapel. (You can read my original review if you want; it more or less still reflects how I feel.) But I think there were really two arguments going on over the Lost finale. Only one was about whether it was glorious or terrible.The other was really about how art and stories work.

That argument went: Is the finale to a series its ending or its answer? Does a bad ending to a story retroactively overwrite the good? Is it possible for the end of a thing to be so terrible and heartbreaking that it would be better never to have experienced any of the joy and pleasure that led up to it?

I don’t really care how my kids come down on Lost‘s ending–but how they come down on that last question, I care about very much.

I get that finales carry a lot of weight: we have so many wishes and rooting interests hanging on them. They need to answer questions and provide closure, to move you and thrill you and ratify your view of the story and your notions of justice. They need to “stick the landing,” a phrase I sincerely wish no one had ever applied to a series finale, not just because it misrepresents art but because it misuses the metaphor. A gymnastics routine, after all, is scored on every element; a wobbly landing makes a 10 into a 9.9, not a 0.

That urge to hold up the “0” card once disappointed by a finale–screw you, Battlestar Galactica! go to hell, Sopranos!–feels like a philosophy of life, and a depressing, defensive one. It says: I will not be made a sucker. I will not be made to waste my time. I will not risk giving myself over to a story to find out, in the end, that I was “wrong.”

That’s no way to watch; it’s no way to live. Life is a succession of extended, serial experiences that start with a lot of promise but can always end badly. Marriages. Careers. A major league sports season ends with every team losing but one. Life itself is a multi-episode series that will eventually lead to a finale that you may find drawn out and unpleasant.

You can protect yourself from a lot of disappointments by not investing, but you lose a lot too. Some of my favorite shows ended on notes I found nigh-perfect (Friday Night Lights). Others, not so much (How I Met Your Mother). Plenty are in-between (I’m still sorting out my feelings about Mad Men‘s finale). But none of that negates a single thrill, laugh or wave of emotion I felt on the way there. None of that makes any of the experience that came before it any less worth having.

And Lost? Yeah, the sideways universe was a mess and the Drive Shaft / classical-piano concert in the finale is one of the goofiest things the show has ever done. But I’m putting my kids on the road to it anyway. Because I got to watch them see the show kick into mysterious gear with Locke’s healing at the end of “Walkabout.” I’ll get to share with them Desmond in the Hatch and every creepy Ben Linus-ism; “We have to go back!” and Desmond’s phone call to Penny; Hurley driving the VW microbus and Sawyer in a Dharma jumpsuit in the 1970s. They’ll get to experience every thrill and mind-twist that I did, they’ll get to pore over details and spin theories, and if they hate where it ends up–well, they’ll still have experienced it.

And if that’s so, then I hope they even learn something: the bad things in your life don’t negate the good ones. As Pixar’s Inside Out beautifully expressed, happiness is more than the avoidance of sadness. Your life is not an average of its heights and its disappointments; it is each of them, in themselves. It’s like Christian says in the finale: “All of this matters.” If they can come away with that, I don’t need them to agree with me about Lost.

Unless they end up ‘shipping Kate and Jack over Sawyer and Juliet. Then I’m writing them out of the will.

TIME Family

5 Tips for a Peaceful Family Vacation

family-outdoor-picnic
Getty Images

Get ready to enjoy your hot dog in peace

No trip is smooth sailing all the time. There are jellyfish stings. Bad weather. Bad moods. But with a few adjustments—some logistical, some attitudinal—you can at least set course in the right direction. Five experts weigh in on how to keep the storm clouds at bay.

For the most interesting and useful family news of the week, don’t forget to sign up for TIME’s parenting newsletter, by clicking here.

1. Make sacrifices.

My daughter, 29, and I travel a lot together. I finally figured how to make the most of it with less conflict: Do what you hate for love and shut up about it. My daughter is very adventurous, and I never leave my office. A few years ago, we went to Hawaii, and Francesca wanted to ride horses down into a volcano. I wanted to sit on the beach with an umbrella drink. But I forced myself to get on the horse and shut up. It was really, really steep, and I just closed my eyes. Afterwards, I got a lot of hugs and my daughter said, “I know you were really scared, and I love you forever for doing that.” What’s the goal of your life? For me, it’s to make the people I love happy and have a good time with them. —Lisa Scottoline

2. Eat in.

Restaurants can be stressful on vacation. You have to agree where to go and get a reservation or wait for a table. Plus, if you have little kids, they’re tired at the end of the day, so the meal isn’t pleasant anyway. It makes a big difference to rent a house or an apartment or at least get a hotel room with a kitchenette. Last summer, we got a beach house close enough to the ocean that we could even come back for lunch. (And my then three-year-old could have his usual, a cheese sandwich.) Many families have picky eaters—of all ages. A kitchen allows everyone to eat what he wants. And you save money. —Liz Borod Wright

3. Know your limits.

You have to go at the speed of the slowest common denominator. If that’s your toddler or your great-aunt, that’s how fast you’re going to go. You should head into the vacation knowing that. Be realistic. Say, “This is what we’re going to be able to accomplish.” And then give yourself ample time to do each activity and enjoy it. If you overshoot, you’re only going to end up frustrated. —Wendy Perrin

4. Escape each other.

On family vacations, people who don’t normally spend 24 hours a day together are suddenly doing just that. Plan breaks every three or four hours. Find time to read a book, or—even better—walk on the beach alone. Doing something physical will help reset your focus. And attention, parents of teenagers: They can make the entire family miserable if forced to stay close at all times. Give them some freedom. I remember that age. When we feel like we have to be together, we want to rebel. Once it’s not required, we want to stick around. —Jeannie Bertoli

5. Plan for late afternoon crankiness.

There’s always the point in the day when you’ve been to the beach but it’s not time for dinner yet. The kids want phones or iPads, you say no, and everyone’s upset. Have activities for that in-between time, even if it’s just a card game. On a recent trip, I created a scavenger hunt every day at 5 p.m. The kids had to follow clues, and the winner got a prize. Another evening I buried a box filled with candy in the sand. They had to search the whole beach for it, which was great, because it exhausted them and it took forever. Meanwhile, the adults watched with a cocktail. —Ali Wentworth

The Experts

  • Lisa Scottoline coauthored, with her daughter, Francesca Serritella, the essay collection Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat? She lives near Philadelphia.
  • Jeannie Bertoli, PH.D., is a relationship and divorce trainer. She lives in Los Angeles.
  • Liz Borod Wright is a blogger at Travelogged.com. She lives in New York City.
  • Ali Wentworth is an actress and a comedian and the author of Happily Ali After: And More Fairly True Tales. She lives in New York.
  • Wendy Perrin is TripAdvisor’s travel advocate. She lives in suburban New Jersey.

This article originally appeared on Real Simple

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TIME Parenting

Take It From Me: You Are Not Sure You Don’t Want Kids

Getty Images

Karol Markowicz is a writer in New York City.

Present you knows very little about what future you will desire

There has been an avalanche of writing lately from women who decided, often quite young, that they would never have children. What these women fail to realize is that they might change their minds. It’s not because they’re women, and it’s only partially because they’re young. The fact is, men and women of all ages understand very little about what will make them happy.

In his best-selling book Stumbling on Happiness psychologist Daniel Gilbert argues that we assume that what makes us happy today will make us happy in the future, too. We don’t imagine all of the things that may happen to us that could change our perspective. Present you knows very little definitively about what future you will desire.

I have some experience with being unable to predict what will make me happy. I was a serial monogamist in my 20’s despite knowing with great certainty that I would never be anyone’s wife or mother. I never aww’d at babies or daydreamed about my wedding. I pictured myself at 80, alone and fabulous in sequins and false eyelashes, smoking cigarettes at a hotel bar. Become one of those harried moms who yells at little Billy for smearing peanut butter on the wall? No, thanks. The thought of that kind of commitment kept me up at night. I just wanted to be free. I didn’t want that permanence. Tattoos and babies—neither were for me.

What happened next was entirely unoriginal. At 30, after ending a long-term relationship of 6 years with a really great guy because I couldn’t move forward, I found myself feeling something for my closest male friend of over a decade. Conveniently, he was feeling something for me at the same time. It was different than all of my previous relationships, and I was unprepared for how real it all got, and how quickly.

For one thing, we were already together all the time, so I couldn’t pull any of my tricks to keep him at arm’s-length like I’d done to others. There would be no offering to only see each other a few times a week and encouraging him to go spend time with his own friends. His friends were already my friends, too. And I didn’t want to push him anyway.

A few weeks into our relationship we were talking about marriage and children. For the first time ever, this was a conversation that excited me and didn’t make me nervous or uncomfortable. Less than a year later we were engaged, several months after that we were married, and 10 months after that our first baby was born. Our third child is on the way. The big regret is that we didn’t realize everything sooner: Who knows how many little Billys smearing peanut butter we could have had today.

Will a change of heart happen to everyone who makes the proclamation that I made that children were out of the question? Of course not. The “right guy” may have zero effect on a woman who has decided not to have children. There will be people who don’t want children today who won’t want children tomorrow. Humans have an endless capacity for change, and proclaiming something doesn’t mean it will happen. Before making irreversible decisions, we should try to remember that.

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

What to Tell Your Kids about Water Safety

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Jordan Siemens—Getty Images

Drowning is leading cause of accidental death for children

Summer means a lot of us will head for the water.

But when we do, says Tom Griffiths, founder of the Aquatic Safety Research Group, and former Director of Aquatics and Safety Officer for Athletics at Penn State University, we need to be alert. Because, depending on their age group, drowning is consistently the first or second leading cause of accidental death for children.

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Most of the wisdom of the past, Griffiths says, focused on paying close attention while kids are in the water. But no parent can be alert enough to fully protect a child. In fact, some cognitive psychologists have come to the conclusion that “lifeguarding is really an impossible task,” he says. A busy waterside, filled with lots of kids, is just “too much stimulus for the human brain.”

His solution?

At all ages, he says, kids should be in Coast-Guard approved life jackets–ones that fit. “No one has ever drowned in a properly fitting life jacket,” Griffiths says. So until they can pass a standard swim test, Griffiths says, kids should be wearing one.

And while parents may worry that kids will resist, his research shows that when pools offer life jackets, attendance actually goes up–probably because both parents and kids feel safer with the extra protection. Even more important, the number of water rescues plummets, by as much as 90%.

In elementary school, Griffiths says, parents should begin by helping kids view life jackets as a standard safety measure, “like buckling up a seatbelt, or wearing a helmet on a bike.” Having to wear a life jacket can also give kids an incentive to learn how to swim, according to Griffiths: “now the prize is they get out of their jacket.”

Middle school kids should be encouraged to do whatever it takes to get comfortable in the water, whether that’s formal swimming lessons, or just spending time in water sports or activities. But Griffiths also encourages parents to help kids avoid risky behavior in the water. One that’s especially popular, and dangerous, is breath-holding contests. Instead, parents can encourage kids to concentrate on breath control and relaxation.

High school kids may get overconfident, Griffiths says. Many teenagers overestimate how good they are at swimming, even though studies show that almost half of Americans can hardly swim at all. That kind of bravado is especially common under peer pressure. So parents can talk with kids about being realistic about their abilities. Another warning Griffiths suggests parents give to older kids: never dive until they know how deep the water is, because “95% of injuries resulting in paralysis are in less than 5 feet of water.”

The good news, according to Griffiths, is that, with the right strategies, “drowning is so easily preventable.” And as more and more parents rely on a combination of life jackets and swim lessons, he believes the rate will decrease even further.

TIME Parenting

5 Lessons I’ve Learned from People Who Stare at My Daughter

They probably don't intend to be rude or mean, so I've learned to give them grace, and to teach them

We knew after our 20-week ultrasound our soon-to-be daughter would have many health issues, but we pressed on.

There were many questions of if there was cleft palate or cleft lip, as well as if her eyes would be wider or nose flatter. We knew to prepare ourselves ahead of time for the questions and stares. We stared ourselves, getting familiar with the intricately woven fabric of her face. Her slightly slanted eyes were wider than most. Her small nose was open on one side due to her cleft palate. She has a wider set chin and neck.

But she was ours and she’s perfect, and we’d tell the world about her and we would be fearless in sharing and teaching others about our daughter.

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It was when I took her to our local hospital for labs with her home health nurse that the stares began. I distinctly remember a couple stepping in line in front of us at the admissions desk, acting as if we were invisible, which was hard to believe considering they looked right at us. As we left the admissions area, the same couple walked past my daughter in her stroller, decked out with a home ventilator, oxygen saturation monitor and numerous other pieces of equipment that made her life at home possible. They gave us a side-long disapproving glance.

I was shocked. I didn’t know what to say or think, but on the inside, I was fuming. Didn’t this couple know all people are created unique and different? That society has placed way too much emphasis on what is considered “normal” by simply judging one’s outward appearance?

I didn’t know what to say that day. And the truth is, I’m still not exactly sure what to say.

What I do know is I’m still struggling myself with what to say to others with disabilities. What I do know is on that particular day, my mama-bear instinct came out and I wanted to lecture this couple on appreciating the beauty in each and every person, regardless of their disability or uncommon features. I wanted to set them straight and tell them their behavior was unacceptable. I wanted to yell at the world for thinking there’s a right way and a wrong way as to how people should look. That it actually is okay to have a cleft lip that’s not fixed yet, and it’s on her to-do list — right behind open heart surgery.

jodie-gerling-daughter
Jodie Gerling

But over the last few months, as we’ve ventured out more with our delicate daughter, I’ve learned in the beginning that I felt a sense of entitlement. I thought I could tell someone their response to my daughter was wrong and set them straight on how to treat others. However, I’ve since learned some new life lessons as I navigate these new waters.

1. Give them grace.

Know they’ve probably never had many opportunities to interact with children like my daughter. Give them grace that they might not know what to say, or how to look, or if it’s okay to stare. Acknowledge they’re trying, even if it’s not quite what I want to hear. Then give them the grace to walk into an uncomfortable conversation in hopes of bringing comfort to them on this topic.

2. Forgive often.

In the beginning, I took offense to so many things, thinking no one understood. But that’s just it: many don’t understand. And that’s okay. We’re in this together to learn together. Our family doesn’t have this all down, and our family and friends are learning right beside us. Before we had our daughter, we were these people too. People are going to say the wrong things, especially at the wrong times, like after a long day of appointments. But most of the time, they don’t know what they’re saying is wrong, they’re just trying to show support. It’s true many people don’t understand our journey, but that just means it’s our joy to help them understand, not to be offended and shut them out.

3. Be willing to talk.

I’ve learned to be willing to open up and say to a stranger staring at my daughter, “Isn’t she beautiful? It’s okay to stare at beauty like that.” Then I smile and ask if they have questions or would like to talk about her. Be willing to be the one to open the door of communication. Often times others are too scared to ask questions for fear of offending.

We’d rather they say, “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to stare,” so we can say, “We want you to take in all of the beauty in her, not to look away as if to say she’s not worthy.”

4. Be ready to teach.

We have this bag we call the “Bunny Bag.” It has a big bunny stuffed animal in it, along with the book “Audrey Bunny” by Angie Smith, about a bunny with an imperfect heart, and a short picture book called “Mattie Breathes” by Tracie Loux, about what a tracheostomy is in children’s terms and concepts. We’ve lent them to friends and to our kiddos’ playmates so they can learn more about our kids’ little sister. We’re teaching our friends, and they’re teaching their friends. Nothing makes our hearts soar more than when our friends say, “Will you teach me about Chloe?”

5. Be courageous enough to keep on keeping on.

At times, we’ve wanted to shut ourselves in and not venture out anymore due to the many stares, the comments and the sidelong glances. But what does that solve? It doesn’t help teach. It doesn’t help our daughter to thrive and grow. It doesn’t encourage our other children that it’s OK to look different. So we keep on keeping on. We continue to share pictures of her and share her life with others.

jodie-gerling-family
Jodie Gerling

We don’t have it all figured out and we haven’t rehearsed some sort of speech to give each person who does a double take on our daughter. We’ve learned it’s not about feeling entitled to correct someone who says something wrong, but more about giving them grace and space to learn how to treat others with differences and disabilities. It’s more about gratitude for their desire to learn than it is about calling them out on the injustice of saying or doing the wrong thing.

Kindness goes a long way, and when it comes to teaching others about disabilities and differences, grace and kindness go much farther in the long road of changing the world’s view of what is considered normal.

This article originally appeared on The Mighty

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

MONEY Parenting

15 Financial Must Dos for Anyone Having a Baby

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Getty Images/Tetra images RF

That bundle of love is going to cost you plenty over a lifetime, so start planning now.

Preparing for parenthood isn’t just tiny clothes and heartwarming ultrasound photos; it involves a lot of financial preparation. This guide will lay out the most important financial tasks on your plate from pregnancy to baby’s first years, including:

  • Estimating your medical costs
  • Planning leave from your job
  • Budgeting for the new arrival

Some parenting preparations are best learned on the fly — how to effortlessly and painlessly change the messiest diapers, for instance. But the list of things to do before baby arrives and within his or her first several weeks is lengthy, so tackling certain tasks now is a smart idea.

Pre-Delivery Planning

1. Understand your health insurance and anticipate costs. Having a baby is expensive, even when you have health insurance. You should forecast your expected costs fairly early in the pregnancy. NerdWallet’s guide to making sense of your medical bills can help as you navigate prenatal care, labor and delivery, and the bills that will ultimately follow.

2. Plan for maternity/paternity leave. How much time you and your partner (if you have one) get off work and whether you’re paid during that period can significantly impact your household finances in the coming year. Understand your company’s policies and your state’s laws to get an accurate picture of how your maternity leave will affect your bottom line.

3. Draft your pre-baby budget. Once you know what you’ll be spending on out-of-pocket medical costs, understand how your income will be impacted in the coming months and have prepared a shopping list for your new addition, adjust your budget accordingly. Babies come with plenty of expenses, so set a limit on both necessary and optional buys (like that designer diaper bag or high-end stroller with the LCD control panel), and consider buying used to keep spending under control.

4. Plan your post-delivery budget. Recurring costs such as diapers, child care and extra food will change your household expenses for years to come. Plan for them now so you aren’t caught off guard.

5. Choose a pediatrician within your insurance network. Your baby’s first doctor appointment will come within her first week of life, so you’ll want to have a physician picked out. Talk to friends and family to get recommendations, call around to local clinics and ask to interview a pediatrician before you make your choice. In searching for the right doctor, don’t forget to double-check that he or she is within your insurance network. Ask the clinic, but verify by calling your insurance company so you’re not hit with unexpected out-of-network charges.

6. Start or check your emergency fund. If you don’t already have a “rainy day fund,” now’s the time to anticipate some emergencies. Kids are accident prone, and with the cost of raising a child there’s no telling if you’ll have the disposable income to pay for any unexpected expenses. Having at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses covered is a great place to start.

While in the Hospital

The main focus while you’re in the hospital is having a healthy baby. But there are a few loose ends that will need to be taken care of.

7. Order a birth certificate and Social Security card. Hospital staffers should provide you with the necessary paperwork to get your new child’s Social Security number and birth certificate. If they don’t or if you are having a home birth, contact your state’s office of vital records for the birth certificate and your local Social Security office to get a Social Security card.

Within Baby’s First 30 Days

8. Add your child to your health insurance. In most cases, you have 30 days from your child’s birth date to add him to an existing health insurance policy. In some employer-based plans, you have 60 days. Regardless, do it sooner rather than later, as you don’t want to be caught with a sick baby and no coverage.

9. Consider a life insurance policy on your child. No one expects the tragedy of losing a child, so many parents don’t plan for it. The rates are generally low because a child’s life insurance policy is used to cover funeral costs and little else. When it comes to covering children, a “term” policy that lasts until they are self-sufficient is the most popular choice.

10. Begin planning for child care. Finding the right day care or nanny can take weeks. Get started long before your maternity leave is over. You’ll need time to visit day care centers or interview nannies, as well as complete an application and approval process if required.

Beyond the First Month

You’ll be in this parenting role for years to come, so planning for the future is crucial. Estate planning is a big part of providing for your children, but it isn’t the only important forward-focused task to check off your list.

11. Adjust your beneficiaries. Assuming you already have life insurance for yourself or the main breadwinner in your household — and if you don’t, you should — you may want to add your child as a beneficiary. The same goes for your 401(k) and IRAs. However, keep in mind that you’ll need to make adjustments elsewhere to ensure when and how your child will have access to the money. A will and/or trust can accomplish this.

12. Disability insurance. You’re far more likely to need disability insurance than life insurance. Make sure you have the right amount of coverage — enough to meet your expenses if you’re out of work for several months. Remember, your monthly living expenses have gone up since the new addition.

13. Write or adjust your will. Tragic things happen and you want to ensure your child is taken care of in the event that one or both parents die. Designate a guardian so the courts don’t have to. Your will is only one part of estate planning, but it’s a good place to begin.

14. Keep funding your retirement. When a child arrives, it’s easy to forget your personal goals and long-term plans in light of this huge responsibility. Stay on top of your retirement plans so your child doesn’t have to support you in old age.

15. Save for his or her education. College is costly, but you can make it more manageable by starting to save early.

Adding a new member to your family comes with a lengthy list of responsibilities, so don’t try to do them all at once. Prioritize and tackle the most important items on your financial to-do list first. Because medical bills and insurance claims will be some of the first financial obligations you’ll encounter while expecting, start there. Move on to budgeting for pregnancy and the first several months of your baby’s life.

With 18 or more years until your little one leaves home, time would seem to be on your side. But — as the saying goes — blink and he’s grown. Now is the time to start taking the steps that will set your family up for financial success.

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TIME Parenting

How to Help Your Kid Make Friends This Summer

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Getty Images

Different ages require different approaches

Summer’s a time to make new friends – at camp, at the pool, on vacation.

And making good friends has big benefits, according to Fred Frankel, founder and former director of the Parenting and Children’s Friendship Program at UCLA, and author of Friends Forever: How Parents Can Help Their Kids Make and Keep Good Friends.

According to Frankel, “friends are unique in children’s lives, because [the relationship] is a choice. It’s a mutual choice. And it enhances self-esteem.” In fact, according to Frankel, friendship improves kids’ self esteem even more than self-esteem training. It also protects kids from bullying.

But making friends isn’t always easy, especially for boys, who Frankel says are three times more likely to struggle with forming friendships than girls, perhaps because boys tend to be more competitive, and less likely to help each other in social situations.

The good news?

Parents can help kids lay the foundation for good friendships in elementary school, Frankel says, simply by setting them up on play dates, and then paying attention: both to the other children, and their own. What parents learn by listening in can help them nurture their own kids’ social skills, and encourage friendships with other healthy kids. Frankel also suggests parents start conversations with kids about the social situation at school. “Instead of asking what did you learn,” he says, try “Who did you play with? What did you do?”

By middle school, kids start to cluster into groups. And some earlier friendships may change or fade away. That can be painful, Frankel says, but it’s important to let them go. And not to get too focused on being part of the ‘right’ group. “Wanting to join the popular group is a big mistake,” Frankel says. “They’re not necessarily nice kids, just dominant kids.” So if kids get too concerned with being part of a particular crowd, says Frankel, parents should help them to refocus on building individual relationships, which is where real friendships are formed.

High school kids connect with each other based on shared interests, which “give them something to talk about,” Frankel says. The important thing, according to Frankel, is to “develop the interest first.” If a kid tries to get into a group that is interested in something she doesn’t really like, she “won’t have anything to share,” says Frankel. Parents can help, not by encouraging kids to make friends, but by encouraging kids to develop interests. Once kids find something they really love to do, Frankel says, the friendships will form naturally.

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