Signs of the “Times”

One of my favorite sources, The Journal of the “New York Times,” published 4 separate articles this week of interest to this forum. Two on Sunday in the Region/New Jersey section and two today in the Science Times section were related to previous posts in this forum.

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The NJ section pieces were both about the lack of free play for our children, which I wrote about after the American Academy of Pediatrics published Dr. Kenneth Ginsberg’s wise treatise, “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds.” Michael Winerip’s Parenting column (“But When Is There Time to Be a Kid?“) discusses the trials and tribulations of how best to manage our children’s ever-expanding schedules. Regarding the societal pressures to get our kids involved in year-round sports and activities at earlier and earlier ages, Mr. Winerip laments, “We are parenting harder just to stay in the same place.” On the reverse side of the page, Debra Nussbaum reports on the loss of recess time in NJ schools (“Before Children Ask, ‘What’s Recess?’“). Dr. Rhonda Clements, past president of the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play, is quoted about the need to reverse this trend. As the article states:

“A survey of 15,000 school districts conducted in 1999 by Dr. Clements’s association found that 40 percent were either eliminating recess or cutting back on it or considering one or the other.” A recent Newsweek article (“Reading, Writing, Recess“) comments about how reducing free play activities during recess may be contributing to the obesity epidemic plaguing America. A current favorite aphorism is “you can’t put the toothpaste back into the tube,” but I really hope this is one case where we, as a community, can stop the madness, and slow down just a bit. I believe our kids are probably physically, spiritually, and emotionally disadvantaged compared to older generations, in this respect. I think if we used classroom time to introduce mind-body self-care concepts, like mindfulness and yoga, we’d all be much better off.

To compound this stressful situation, many parents are also coping with their infants’ sleeping woes. Dan Hurley’s column in today’s paper, “For Getting Baby to Sleep, Sticking to a Plan Is What Counts,” discusses the plethora of techniques we use to help our infants sleep through the night. “When will she sleep through the night?” is the most common question I get from new parents. We sometimes discuss co-sleeping, the practice of sharing the family bed with children, preferred by Dr. William Sears, an attachment-parenting guru. Other families prefer the “Ferber” method, popularized by neurologist Dr. Richard Ferber. I commented a year ago on these philosophies, and I still believe there’s no one solution for everyone. Luckily, a recent review in the journal “Sleep” backs me up. Dr. Jodi Mindell, psychology professor, and lead author as chair of a task force organized by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, finds that sticking to one method (regardless of which one) is the key to success. As noted in the Times: “Despite their apparent differences, most of the behavioral approaches… were supported by evidence that they resulted in infants and toddlers learning to fall asleep independently at bedtime and when they woke during the night. Of the 52 studies examined in the review, 49 showed positive results, with 82 percent of the infants and young children in the studies benefiting significantly.”

And finally, Michael Mason’s Consumer column (“The Energy-Drink Buzz Is Unmistakable. The Health Impact Is Unknown“) profiles Cocaine, a new drink sure to be popular with teenagers. One of many new “energy drinks,” Cocaine is purposely-named, according to entrepreneur James Kirby: “It was always the plan to let negative publicity move us forward. There is an enormous amount of competition out there.” That’s great. It’s bad enough kids are hanging out at Starbucks, ingesting enough caffeine to rev up a Hagrid-sized adult. Now they’re being influenced by big tobacco style marketing. The miniscule amounts of nutritional additives (amino acids, herbs) in these beverages are surely worthless, and they are certainly offset by the massive amounts of caffeine, sugar and preservatives. The health detriments of these drinks I’ve noted before, but of equal concern is the idea that kids will combine these stimulants with alcohol (already widely reported). Then, in addition to being intoxicated, they are so juiced that they overestimate their abilities, and feel fine driving, etc. – you get the picture. Next up? “Energy pills” – highly caffeinated tablets, enriched with some (undisclosed) amounts of vitamins and herbs marketed as “enhancing the caffeine effect.” Think I’m joking? Check out this PR release: “EQ Sends 50,000 Free Energy Drinks to Tired Troops. EQ, Inc. providing renewable energy to the Middle East by supplying troops with free caffeine.” The company is proud that it’s supplying our young men and women in the Armed Forces with poorly nutritious crap. Way to go. In case you’re wondering, excessive caffeine use (please note: I wrote “excessive” – I like a cup of coffee as much as any human alive) has been linked to cardiac arrhythmias, bleeding ulcers, endocrine disruption, cancer, osteoporosis, and reduced cognitive functioning. Life’s not hard enough for our troops?

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