Thanks to the Internet, I know so much more about you that pisses me off

outrage catIt’s weird that people seem so overly sensitive these days when society is awash like never before in so many imaginative and opposing views and opinions; you’d think we’d have a much thicker skin towards outrageousness. Angry outrage towards individuals or groups may be justified in many cases but there are times where I do not find that justification compelling enough to boycott, shun, block or attack others (or support any of those actions). It’s become trendy to speak out against whom your community has labeled and promoted as “the enemy”. It’s part of crafting our reputation and identity.

Obvious to me is the tribal reaction to stuff on social media that then blows up even more via social media. Whether it be because of political candidate preference or reaction to ill-advised satirical commentary, it takes so little for us to unfriend people and never want anything to do with them again.

I’m beginning to think this social media thing has some serious drawbacks.

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Kids don’t “get” vaccinations

Yesterday, I took my 10 yr old to the doctor for a minor thing. On the way there, I mentioned to her that she would need to get the flu shot we have been delaying. Two of us in the house already got flu shots, two haven’t. It’s too easy to put it off. It’s hard to make yourself go to the pharmacy or clinic to get it done.

She freaked out. She hates needles, she tells me, stemming back to the story I once told her or that she may actually remember. When she was about 5, she got a total of 4 shots in one visit, two in each arm. It’s not the amount of vaccine, it was the stabs with needles. I thought that was too much. She was extremely stressed and I was angry at the doctor, whom I dropped, because that was a bit too much trauma for a toddler. Now she is afraid of needles. We’re over the time where she needs boosters every year. So, flu shots are a chore.

While waiting for the doctor, she BEGGED me to forget it. We could come back when she was ready, we could go someplace else to get it, just not today. Nope, it had to be done. People are dying from the flu and I had been remiss in not attending to this earlier. Her pleas were not going to sway me. But, sadly, my pleas were not swaying her. No matter how I tried to frame it, she would not resign herself to the shot. I told her it was quick, less painful than the bee stings she’d had in the past, and necessary. We all have to get it. One shot and she would be safer for the year, she wouldn’t come down with an illness that would mean days of suffering and discomfort, possibly worse. Nope, nothing could change her mind. She did not grasp the tradeoff at play.

The doctor noticed her panic and crying and asked what was wrong. I told her about the need for the vaccination. The doctor piped up “Oh, well, we have flu mist instead”. Joy erupted across my child’s face. The doctor explained this was a weakened virus, not dead like the vaccine. We all agreed that it would be a good choice since no one in the house was sick and asthma was not an issue.

I think I understand the basis of vaccines pretty well. A few months ago, I completed a free Coursera course on Vaccines taught by Dr. Paul Offit. I learned SO MUCH. I heartily recommend this for all parents and caregivers (when it’s offered again). It’s critical information. It’s also fascinating science, if you are interested. Did I mention FREE? Take advantage of this splendid gift from the world-wide web – a world-class physician expert explaining this to subject to you personally.

So, all is well. The flu mist was administered with smiles and relief. The child had caused me great consternation with her pleas and hyperventilation and threats of puking with fear.  She was well on her way to making herself sick with fear and worry about a needle prick that most of us think nothing of. We’ll have to work on getting over that. Vaccinations are a necessary part of life, your whole life. They are one, if not THE, most important advances in medicine ever. I feel privileged to understand their importance and be able to have such access to them. We have a good life, if harrowing at times.

Ask the Skeptic Mom: Drugs = bad

This is the first of a few posts I’m trying on parenting in a rational way, informed by science. It’s free of old wives tales, what your Mom used to tell you, and all the nonsense you find in online Mommy forums and supermarket women’s magazines. Things are complicated. The answer is not always easy and there is not one answer for everyone. But if Jenny McCarthy, an actress, can dish out advice just because she has been endowed with the holy “mommy instinct”, I can tell you about some of the things that worked for me with my kids. Maybe they are right for you too.

So, for whatever it’s worth (and I’m no expert), here goes.

Don’t do drugs. They are bad.

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Skeptic outreach: Talking to kids about the end of the world

This is a year of speaking “firsts” for me. I never did a panel. But my first workshop/panel went great (at TAM). I never talked to kids before but my trip to the local elementary school’s third grade with my bag of rock samples went splendidly.

Back in March, our local YMCA asked parents to volunteer to be guest speakers for their teen summer camp. I suppose most adults are called in to talk about their jobs or their hobbies, but I saw an opportunity to talk to kids about critical thinking. Specifically, about the 2012 Mayan apocalypse. My own daughter (13 at the time) had expressed curiosity about the Mayan calendar and the end of the world prediction. She revealed that lots of her friends believed in strange stuff she KNEW (from me) was nonsense, including the 2012 scenario. Kids get their information from media and their peers (who share even more media with them). They are influenced by what they see on TV. It shapes their idea of what is normal and accepted in our culture. I can hardly imagine other kids talking to their parents about paranormal and mystical topics and I shudder to think what information they might get in return. Not many families apply skepticism to their daily lives as openly as mine.

I could not pass up this outreach opportunity for a captive audience of just the right age (11-14).

What follows is some detail on how to do these kinds of talks just in case you ever get the opportunity to do one yourself. Even if it’s not about 2012, you can still talk to kids about how to think about psychics, ghosts, alternative medicine, whatever. THIS is the age you can make an impact. They are interested in knowing. What strikes them, they remember.

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Just get out there and do science

When I tell people what I do (geologist), most will say, “I’ve never met a geologist before. That’s so interesting.” While I don’t do what people probably imagine a geologist might do, the foundation is important. I still consider myself a scientist.

This report is about a study that says parents apparently want to encourage their kids in science but don’t feel they are equipped to do so. From Science Daily: Parents Need Help Encouraging their Kids in Science

I have never been asked to speak at my kids school. I never get asked to speak at community events. People don’t typically inquire at my workplace about meeting scientists or having them speak to groups. I’ve been asked to speak about specific issues, but not about a job in science. Therefore, I believe most people think they have never met a scientist but we are really all around them. It’s not some esoteric subject. It’s a shame that our culture has stereotyped scientists as the brainy, socially inept white male in a lab coat with unkempt hair. That’s really inaccurate.

Here is where TV can help.

I know. TV is bad. It mostly is. But shows like Mythbusters have made science into family fun time. There is no excuse for parents not to be introducing their kids from ages 4 and up to Mythbusters as a gateway into thinking about how the world works. That is science. So, for parents that feel sleepy at the thought of watching David Attenborough documentaries, cue up Mythbusters on the tube to watch and talk about together. Then, get outside and look for bugs, fly a kite, put Mentos in soda, count the birds, look at the stars, examine dirt with a magnifying glass, hike a nature trail, watch the clouds, collect things at the beach, plant seeds, start a rock collection, identify wildflowers… I could go on and on. Just get out there and observe the world. It’s not that hard.

Kids at the Funeral

Last month, my Grandma died. She was 94. We were very close. Even in her 80s, she would travel with my Dad to our house for visits and events. When she was in a nursing home, we visited her when we were in town and my young daughter, aged 6, would cavort around the nursing home saying ‘Hi’ to everyone and decorating Great-Grandmas room with pictures and decorations.

When she died, it was not a question between my husband and I that the kids would attend the funeral. It was their first funeral – the first time someone they were close to (their Great-Grandmother) had died. My older daughter, aged 11, expressed some nervousness. The little one had a nervous tummy on the trip there – always a sign she is apprehensive.

I prepared them for what they would see at the funeral home – telling them where the casket would be, that it would be open and that Great-Grandma would likely not look like they were used to seeing her. They didn’t have to go up to see if they didn’t want to. I went through what we would do there, how long we would stay and how they should act. I reminded them that this is a quiet place but they should be prepared to be greeted by relatives they didn’t remember and so they should try to be polite. There would be no running or playing.

Funerals and weddings are the way our spread-out families get together these days so the evening was a family reunion of sorts. My parents were thrilled to see their precious grandkids, dressed all pretty. Big hugs all around. The kids, surprisingly, did not hesitate to go to the casket. They were not disturbed. Then they sat down with us. It must have been boring for them but they paid attention and were cordial with visitors. The elder smiled at those amazed at how grown-up she was, the younger tolerated with a smile Aunt Sarah pinching her cheeks. To pass the time, they discovered mints in my purse, made a trip to the water cooler and drew pictures in a notebook. All the time, being quiet and respectful.

I was amazed that none of my other cousins with small children brought theirs along but chose to leave them with babysitters. This felt wrong on many levels. Mostly, it seemed disrespectful to Grandma. One remarked that her son was more interested in doing something with his friends. The point about this occasion was lost. Unknown to them, we are a nonreligious family. The kids don’t go to church. But, I could not imagine them missing this event, regardless of the religious tone. There are some things you are obligated to do.

The next day, they went to the church, the cemetery and then the dinner afterward. The younger was Miss Social Butterfly (and got pinched out of sheer cuteness again by Aunt Sarah). From my parents to my second cousins, I received compliments about how wonderful they looked and behaved. It seems as if good behavior from children shocked people. I was extraordinarily proud as they tried to follow along with the church service and did not fidget once.

It’s not that hard to model good behavior for children. You have to start early, keep firm rules and reward them. Rewards of praise and hugs are typically enough. They understand that.

My children now know what it’s like to attend a funeral and a church service. They were also exposed to the religious-themed language and ritual that in which we are rarely involved. I would say this was a critical learning event in their lives that they will remember for MANY reasons. Also, I learned how valuable this was as a social ritual for our immediate and extended families. Even though we are nonreligious, I felt no qualms that I decided to include my children in this important cultural event. It also meant a lot to others who were there to see respectful children who said a dignified goodbye to someone they loved.