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How would you feel if you came home to find your child torturing a cat or dog? What if it was a housefly, instead? Or perhaps a cockroach?
The idea of a child inflicting pain on a helpless creature (no matter how pesky it may be) should be disturbing to any parent—and many are unhappy with a Michigan-based company that’s encouraging children to act out sadistic experiments on insects.
Sold by Backyard Brains, RoboRoach is a kit that instructs kids to sand and, with a needle, puncture cockroaches’ thoraxes, before gluing electrodes throughout the body and attaching a battery pack to the roach’s back—all in an effort to control the roach’s movements with the help of a smartphone app. In essence, it turns a live being into a remote-control car.
I don’t believe that’s the sort of behaviour parents would like their children to demonstrate. Kids are often fascinated by insects, and it’s perfectly fine. But I would hope that most would encourage children to learn in a more compassionate fashion.
When I was little, I collected snails, which I kept in a recycled popcorn pail. Initially, I fed and cared for them, but eventually my neglect led to their demise. It was heartbreaking for me, and I was riddled with guilt and shame.
Both my child self and RoboRoach users inflicted harm on bugs. But what separates my act of destruction with what the RoboRoach kit aims to do is the underlying compassion or lack thereof. The connection between sadistic children or young adults and acts of violence toward humans later in life has been long established.
And we’re all familiar with how technology has taken bullying from the playground to the World Wide Web—and just how fatal that can be. Now we’re also supposed to worry about how it can lead to physical harm against nonhuman creatures, too? (For those who think no harm, no foul, studies have shown that cockroaches experience pain and exhibit social behaviour; they possess complex memory and learning, and have enough neural circuits for consciousness.)
Thankfully, Apple recently confirmed to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that it has rejected the RoboRoach app’s bid to be sold in its App Store; Google is in the process of making a decision on whether it will become available for Android users.
Here’s to inspiring a generation of compassionate children and a humane future.
Photo courtesy FlickrCC/Eric Lim Photography
Marketed-to-girls building toy GoldieBlox has been all over the Internet and today, CBC’s The Current.
GoldieBlox first hit my radar for its supposedly pink-aisle-busting ad [formerly] featuring a song by the Beastie Boys, and then for its lawsuit about being able to continue to use the Beastie Boys’ song, which it has now dropped. Newsflash: Girls should have building and engineering toys marketed to them too, and not just be stuck in the princess myth.
While as a mom to two boys I kind of want to grouse — where is the viral marketing campaign trying to get boys into important, social doll play? — I honestly am not that worked up about this particular product.
(Boy and girl play tea party…in 1904)
Kids learn through play. I agree that having a blue/boy section for toys and a pink/girl section for toys is totally problematic. I was raised in the ’70s on Free to Be You and Me and I hate that we are still having to have these discussions.
However, I don’t think that the problem is whether Lego Friends are too purple or GoldieBlox has too much princess sparkle. I think the real problem is that we as parents don’t cross the toy aisles often enough.
This hit me when my eldest son was getting close to 18 months old and starting to play more with toys. We went on a playdate and he was really into a baby doll. I realized I hadn’t actually bought him any dolls, and so I went on a search for one for him. All the dolls I found that were under about $25 and in my local mainstream toy stores were pink. I was pretty infuriated at the time that all the strollers and car seats and everything else were in the “pink aisles.” Where were the boy-oriented dolls?
Finally, I found a set of twin baby dolls where one was a girl and one was a boy and brought them home.
Noah played with them for a few weeks, and then figured out they were great projectiles down the stairs.
Here’s what I learned from all that:
1. If as a family you really believe in a particular toy, don’t wait for the right colour.
There was nothing stopping my 18-month-old from picking up a pink doll but me. And no, Lego doesn’t have to be pink for girls to get all the awesome benefits of playing with it. If you want your child to have a science toy, buy that child a science toy. That said…
2. Cultural messages start early, so make sure you are providing your own.
Boys may be more attracted to “boy toys” and girls may be more attracted to “girl toys” for a wide variety of reasons. But both girls and boys love attention from their parents, so sitting down and playing with them in a wide variety of ways is a pretty good way to introduce them to whatever it is you think they’re lacking.
3. Kids are going to have their own minds about it anyway.
Although I think marketers are thrilled to think that putting the right sparkle on a building toy will make it cool, in fact kids are going to want what they want. And yes, their peers are going to influence that — isn’t that how it worked when you were a kid? And so are ad campaigns. But ultimately, we are our kids’ parents and it’s up to us to support them in what they want — and also get them what we think they need.
That was kind of the original message about “William’s Doll” on Free to Be, You and Me anyway…William wanted a doll. His parents were the ones who wouldn’t buy it for him.
So what’s your take? Do kids naturally gravitate to toys based on gender? Have you got a pink or blue ghetto going at your house?
(Photo: Miami University Libraries, via Flickr Creative Commons)
Remember Maria Kang, the “What’s Your Excuse?” mom we posted about in October? She’s been banned from Facebook. You can read her version of the posts and events that led to her getting banned here in this post “I am banned from Facebook”.
After reading Kang’s version of events, and Jezebel’s take on it here, a few things are uncertain to me:
1. Why exactly is Kang banned? For hate speech? Is what she said hate speech?: “I woke up this morning to news stories about how overweight nearly obese women should be proud of their bodies (as they posed in lingerie). I think we should all accept how any healthy body through good nutrition and exercise manifests but I’m starting to get annoyed…”
2. Is she forever banned, temporarily banned (that seems to be the case) or is just her page banned?
3. Haven’t you, in fairness, seen worse on Facebook? Her opinion might be wrong or right or obnoxious or even hateful depending on how you look at it…but isn’t it just an opinion? It seems like someone (or many people) reported it as abusive, and thus it got taken down, but was that really necessary?
What do you think?
Each Thursday, I would like to be able to interview a kid.
I love getting a child’s perspective on the stories making headlines today.
I sat down with a 14 year old boy and asked him a few questions about one of the current news items on everyone’s mind…Rob Ford!
TS: Have you been following the Rob Ford saga?
14 yr old: Ya. Sometimes I talk about it at school with my friends.
TS: What do you think about the most recent news in which City Council further reduced him of his power?
14 yr old:I think it’s bullying and I don’t think it’s fair. I think he’s been making good choices for the city as mayor. I think his personal life and his public life should remain separate. He has made some dumb choices as a person. He’s human. People make mistakes.
TS: Do you think he should step down as mayor?
14 yr old:I think the people of Toronto should make that decision at next year’s election, not City Council.
TS: What would you like to see happen next?
14 yr old:I would like him to go away for a while, get the help he needs and then come back stronger.
With women and girls of all ages trying to emulate Kate Middleton, it’s clear the cultural desire to align ourselves with royalty is still alive today. But a controversial new ad campaign is attempting to combat this princess phenomenon, whereby girls grow up hoping to live the fairy-tale lives found in a Disney movie.
Kentucky-based ad agency Doe-Anderson recently created a series of posters for a Catholic all-girls preparatory school in Kentucky, encouraging teenage girls to abandon the socially engrained concept that men are our white knights.
Touted as “feminism from an unlikely source” by advertising mag Adweek, the Mercy Academy campaign features slogans including “Don’t wait for a prince,” “You’re not a princess” and “Life’s not a fairytale.”
Sound harsh? Maybe it is. But perhaps that’s exactly what’s needed to empower tomorrow’s women.
Growing up, I was only referred to as a “princess” by my father in a mocking manner. If I acted spoiled, he would throw the moniker—usually intended as a loving pet name—at me as a way of telling me I needed a reality check.
While many young girls around me considered “princess” to be a highly sought-after career objective and dressed the part on Halloween, I looked at the title as an insult rather than a compliment.
But like my peers who were princesses-in-the-making, I was also a Disney addict. Granted, I preferred Lady and the Tramp and Bambi over Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, but I watched those inherently sexist movies all the same.
Even though I now consider myself a feminist, I wasn’t immune to the subliminal messages brainwashing me into thinking I was doomed to live a miserable life unless I met my Prince Charming. No child is.
So maybe it’s time we sent some not-so-subliminal messages to the contrary, as sad as it may be that such action is at all necessary in this day and age.
But being Catholic myself, I find it refreshing to see a school such as this get behind a nontraditional message of female empowerment. Institutionalized religion and feminism don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
The intrinsically perfect prince persona is fictitious. So why wouldn’t we want to let our girls know the life of a princess isn’t attainable, even if Prince Henry is still, technically, a bachelor?
There’s a lot of talk about “teachable moments”, taking potentially difficult, embarrassing or awkward situations, and turning them round so we can learn from them and move forward.
As a parent, I’ve done that many, many times in the school yard, at the park, in movies, music, bookstores and the font of wealth, family holiday gatherings. Somehow the lessons always wrap up neat and tidy like an After School Special. Or Pillsbury cookies.
Now, I live and raise my kids in a little city called Toronto.
Have you heard of it? Apparently all the international media have. Even the Americans -we made Conan!
We have a…well, let’s call him “mayor”, with a…let’s call it “problem”. And in case you think your children don’t notice newspapers or pay attention to the news breaks on the radio in between the latest Katy Perry single on the way to hockey, here’s what my kids have taught me about the Rob Ford Scandal:
1) “You don’t have to know proper grammar to be mayor.”
2) “Red faced, sweaty people don’t look good on TV, and I wouldn’t trust him.”
3) “If you’re mayor, you shouldn’t be a liar.”
4) “The mayor is supposed to set a good example, like our school principal and our teachers, and he’s not. He’s letting the whole city down.”
5) “Bobbleheads are stupid.”
6) “Anyone who smokes and does drugs is a loser and a very, very bad man.”
7) “John Tory should have run.”
Toronto mayor Rob Ford is making the headlines for all the wrong reasons this week, as the infamous “Rob Ford crack video” (we don’t know what he was smoking) reappeared on the media horizon.
I want my kids to be engaged in civic life, right here in Toronto. But it’s increasingly hard to find a political role model for my sons. Here’s what I’d like them to take from this whole scandal:
1. Choose your friends wisely, because you’ll be lumped in with them
There’s a lot we don’t know about Rob Ford or his driver, Alexander Lisi, who has been charged with extortion, or about the men supposedly in this video with Mayor Ford, or any of the rest of it. But that does not stop people from judging Ford on his willingness to associate with people who seem to be involved in the drug trade.
2. Don’t do things at parties you don’t want on video
When I was a teenager, we did not carry cameras around with us. Which is good, because I was trying to learn the moonwalk. But my kids will have to think about these things, as well as manage their social media profiles. (Check out our piece on social media and the family.)
3. The truth still has value
A recent article on ethical parenting has me thinking a lot about the seemingly small choices we make every day with our kids. I caught myself telling a lie to get off the phone in front of my 8-year-old, and then realized the last thing I want is for him to start lying to me for convenience. Part of this story is that Rob Ford seems to have pointed the finger at journalists who were accurately reporting what they had seen. I hope my kids will learn to tell the truth, even when it’s inconvenient or embarrassing.
What are you talking about at your dinner table tonight?
Photo: Courtesy West Annex News via Flickr Commons
A Port Colborne, Ontario school made the news this month for its ban on Halloween costumes, which resulted in an online petition, Facebook page and parent-organized Halloween parade. My own son’s daycare, which is geared for the under-7 set, sent the following request: No skulls, skeletons or demons.
I enjoy Halloween, a lot. It’s a low-stress holiday that involves two of my favourite things: Dressing up, and candy. Although as you can see from the discussion right here on the blog, some moms step in about all the candy, and others don’t.
A long time ago I used to go all-out with the scariest house on the block, but these days I’m pretty pleased if we get home in time to catch the first round of kids trick-or-treating before dark. And I’ll admit that I think it is super-cute to see the kids so excited to wear their costumes to school.
When is the creepy mechanical skeleton too much?
At the same time, my son’s first year of trick-or-treating beyond the boundaries of our immediate neighbours led to nightmares after he came upon a house with a little mechanical skeleton in a cage that shrieked “help me!” We are not necessarily a family that shies away from a touch of the macabre, but that was a swift end to the fun for my little guy. I totally support my neighbours’ right to have a little scary person in a cage (err…fake person) but I did kind of wish there had been some way to flag their house before we walked up the sidewalk. Because Halloween is for little boys in firefighter costumes too!
Some people think the problem is that adults are trying to muscle in on kids’ fun. Other people think that kids are wimps these days. And pretty much no one I know thinks that a black-and-orange day at school is anything like a Halloween party, although one parent of my acquaintance said that she wished for a ban so she didn’t have to explain to her 14-year-old why her cheerleader costume needed about a metre more fabric.
What do you think? Should people tone down their love of gross scary things? Are costumes at school too much hassle?
Okay, so we all know that vaccination is a hot-button topic with those against it, vehemently so, and those for it, strong advocates. It’s hard to have a neutral discussion about vaccination even among all-vaccinating parents or all non-vaccinating parents.
That said, it’s a discussion that needs to happen. In 2010, there was a whooping cough outbreak in California, where nearly 10,000 cases were reported. 10,000!! Researchers say that clusters of families that decided against vaccinating their kids were most likely to be affected by the outbreak.
I don’t know about you, but whooping cough, or pertussis, is not something I ever want my kids to experience. That or any communicable disease really. And I wouldn’t want for them to be the ones to infect our whole community if they did catch something. For that reason, I vaccinate.
Of course there are risks associated with vaccinations. There are risks to everything. But surely the benefits to society at large must be worth something. Vaccines, along with clean water, are the most effective instruments in public health in human history. Naysayers like Jenny McCarthy have muddied the waters so much that such facts have become inconsequential.
For those parents who choose not to, that is their decision to make. It is something you really need to feel comfortable doing. However, I don’t think it’s responsible to not vaccinate over fears your child might develop autism. Or, to expect other parents to vaccinate their kids so you don’t have to. The reality is, we can get whooping cough, but there is still no solid evidence that there is any link between autism and immunizations. Specifically, it’s the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine that has been linked to autism so it’s unclear to me why anyone would then rule out all vaccinations based on that fear.
Ultimately, when it comes to your child’s health and that of other children, please don’t just listen to the squeakiest wheel. Or worse, please don’t let fear be your guide.