‘The talk’ about how to deal with police

The act of scholastic disobenience was organized by Ines Anguiano, 16, a senior at Brooklyn Preparatory High School.Brooklyn Prep students walked out to protest (Photo: Caitlin Nolan, New York Daily News)

Eric Garner’s death — and a grand jury decision not to indict the police officer who choked him – is a call to action for some New York City high school students, reports WNYC.

“This can happen to any one of us,” said Christine Rodriguez, a 17-year-old senior at the Bushwick School for Social Justice. “I live in Bushwick, and on every block I see police cars. I worry about my friends, my peers, my family, strangers.”

Seventeen-year-old Malik James, who attends the Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice in Brooklyn, is part of a youth leadership group that looks into policy issues.

“As a young black male who’s part of the demographic of those affected,” he said he felt “something between anger and desperation.” His coping method was research.

James has been scouring the Internet to understand the facts of the Garner case, looking for some sensible explanation for the grand jury’s decision. He’s hoping to figure out “what is it that I don’t know, what is it that I still don’t understand about the case, why he cannot get an indictment.” So far, he has determined that the system offers too many protections to police officers and that prosecutors are too closely tied to the police department.

Democracy Prep Charter High in Harlem stresses citizenship. Students told WNYC their parents had given them “the talk” about how to deal with the police.

Eleventh grader Jeff Agyapong said his mother warned him not to challenge the police.

“When police approach you, no matter what, don’t say anything, follow their directions no matter what because your parents will come down to the precinct and everything will get straightened out peacefully,” he said. “The contradiction in the black society is ‘should I stand up for myself because I know I didn’t do anything wrong?’ or ‘should I follow what everyone wants me to do?'”

“I don’t think black communities should be teaching their black boys to be afraid of cops,” Jaylene Paula said. “If we’re passive in these cases, then this passivity is going to encourage what happened in Ferguson and what happened in Staten Island.”

The parents of 16-year-old Anthony Ayba said, “They just think right now you need to be safe, don’t worry about your rights, just make sure you’re alive.”

The septuplets turn 17

The world’s first surviving septuplets are now 17-year-old high school juniors. Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey are raising Kelsey, Alexis, Brandon, Natalie, Kenny Jr., Joel and Nathan, plus their older sister, Mikayla.

Teach gratitude by giving kids less

A Pick a Brick Wall at a Legos store.

Teach your kids to be grateful by giving them less, writes Jenn Choi in The Atlantic.

Tired of her kids’ picky, wasteful eating habits, she consulted Susan Roberts, author of My Kid Eats Everything. Children are less likely to help prepare food, set the table, clear and do dishes, says Roberts. They just sit there and expect to be fed. If the family eats out often, children get used to ordering what they want instead of eating what’s been cooked for the whole family.

Choi decided her eldest son, a 9-year-old, would make the July 4th cheeseburgers. He helped buy the ground beef,   then made the patties, grilled them on the barbecue and washed the dishes.

To teach her kids to value their toys, she took them to a Lego store. At the Pick A Brick Wall, they saw children “dumping handfuls of bricks into containers that customers could buy for a fixed price ($7.99 for the small and $14.99 for the large).”

I gave the kids two options: get the small container and not be questioned about its contents or the bigger container but only if they followed my lesson on being resourceful. I would pay for only one option. They chose the latter. So to gain the most value for our money, I asked them to snap a row of same-color bricks together and then carefully place them into the container. . . .

It was a laborious process, but her kids saw they could get a lot more bricks.

After all that hard work of stacking as many as 270 (1×4) bricks into that one container, they poured in their favorite pieces into the many gaps between the stacks. These were tiny translucent studs that they use as “treasures” when they play. Since then, my kids have become more enthusiastic about building and take better care of the bricks they own.

Now, they always go to their favorite bricks first, the ones they worked so hard to get.

And if they’re not grateful for their toys,Choi will pack them up and donate them to someone who will be.

We spent Thanksgiving in the Chicago suburbs with the granddaughters, who are used to getting what they want and own many toys. We gave the five-year-old her birthday present, a family trip to see a child’s version of The Wizard of Oz. They’ll visit us in California after Christmas. Maybe we’ll give them a day at the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose.

Texting parents helps preschoolers

A very cheap intervention — texting low-income parents with literacy tips — improved preschoolers’ language skills significantly in a Stanford study.

Half of the parents received thrice-weekly texts for eight months with messages like “By saying beginning word sounds, like ‘ttt’ in taco & tomato, you’re preparing your child 4 K,” or “Let your child hold the book. Ask what it is about. Follow the words with your finger as you read.”

. . . The other half of the parents received one text message every two weeks with simple information about kindergarten enrollment or vaccinations.

Parents who received the literacy texts were far more likely to report pointing out rhyming words or describing pictures in a book to their children than those who received the more general texts.

. . . And when the children were given tests of letter and sound recognition, those whose parents had received the literacy texts had scores that indicated they were about two to three months ahead of those children whose parents had received only the general information texts.

The program cost less than $1 per child because 80 percent of the families already had unlimited text messaging plans on their cellphones, notes the New York Times. “That compares to home visiting programs that can cost close to $10,000 per child and require that families devote a considerable amount of time during an intensive period.”

Liberal parenting gone wrong

A “diehard, bleeding-heart liberal,” Darlena Cunha has turned her twin daughters into tantrum-throwing brats, she writes in the Washington Post.

I’m sure there are plenty of liberal parents with more common sense and better behaved children. Surely, liberal need not mean wimp. But read on.

Cunha wants her girls, now 6, “to think critically, to fight for fairness and justice whenever they can. I want them to value equality above all else.”

Equality is the top value? Really? And what happens when one kid is fighting for fairness and justice, while the other is fighting for equality of results?

Cunha gave each girl the same number of gumballs, but one daughter lost some. She asked for more.

 “Now I have less and that’s not fair,” she moaned.

“But they’re my candy! It’s not my fault we lost some of hers!” the other one replied.

My solution — to put all the gumballs together in one bowl and  split them equally — was unacceptable to both. All afternoon, they threw tantrums, slammed doors, or tried to slyly outwit me, crumbling when I didn’t fall for it.

“How about we keep our own gumballs and I get an extra other kind of candy that she doesn’t get?” said one.

“Why am I being punished for her missing candy?” asked the other.

Three hours later, Cunha split the remaining gumballs equally, rewarding one daughter’s carelessness at the expense of the other.

Cunha wanted “strong, confident girls who are able to assess situations and logically thwart unequal systems.” At least for now, she has  “very dissatisfied girls who don’t know if their mother is their friend, their adversary or their keeper.”

My daughter wanted me to buy her candy but had not behaved well enough to warrant an extra treat.

“Mom,” my daughter said, “people without money need help, and people with money need to help them.”

“Yes, that’s right,” I said.

“Well, I don’t have money, and you do, so you need to help me and buy this.”

A perfectly well-reasoned, thought-out argument.

When the answer was still no, she tantrumed and screamed, and I had to drag her out of the store.

Cunha isn’t going to “go authoritarian,” but she plans to “teach the girls about priorities,” such as “why it’s more important to go to school than color in the mornings.”

I foresee more whining and tantrums ahead.

When my daughter was very young, I decided to raise her to be the sort of person I’d want to live with for 18 years. I did not want to live with a brat, so I made sure that whining, nagging and sulking would not work with me, ever. My daughter learned how to get a version of what she wanted — some of the time — by listening and proposing alternatives. She uses her excellent negotiating skills in her career.

Can schools build character?

“Performance character” strengths — qualities such as prudence and drive — lead to success in school and work, concludes a Brookings study, The Character Factor.

“Family income and maternal education are positively associated with higher levels of performance character strengths,” the study concludes. That is, the children of educated, middle-class mothers tend to be better at deferring gratification, working toward a long-term goal and persisting in the face of obstacles.

Brookings has posted essays on character and opportunity, such as Ross Thompson on how chronic adversity leads to self-regulatory problems.

Brookings researchers want policymakers to pay attention to the “cultivation” of character skills, notes Robert Pondiscio. What does that mean? “Character value-added measures?”

A figure in the report is headlined “Drive and Prudence Matter as Much as Book Smarts for HS Graduation” (“Book Smarts?” Seriously, Brookings?), but the bar graph clearly shows “high reading skills” matter a lot more.

“Schools need no additional reasons to short-shrift academics,” Pondiscio writes. Telling “fad-prone” educators that grit trumps academics “wouldn’t be prudent.”

Home alone

Children under the age of 12 shouldn’t be left home alone, according to the National SAFEKIDS Campaign.

Some states set a minimum age at which children can be left at home without supervision. It ranges from 6 in Kansas and 8 in Georgia and North Carolina to 12 in Colorado, Delaware and Mississippi and 14 in my home state of Illinois. (I started babysitting at 12, as I recall.)

Six seems young. Twelve or 14 is ridiculous.

How parents ruin Halloween

No trick-or-treating child ever has been “killed by a stranger’s poisoned candy,” says Lenore Skenazy in Three Ways Parents are Ruining Halloween.

What kids cost

The cost of raising a middle-class American child to age 18 will exceed $245,000 for a baby born in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That includes food, housing, childcare and education and other child-rearing expenses.

Then the college costs kick in.

The Onion itemizes some of the expenses:

$224.99: The same kind of shoes Dylan has
$75: Quick succession of turtles
$900: Better video games than ones at ex-husband’s house
$49: All-day park admission for less than two hours at zoo

And there’s more.

Many years ago, I told my daughter I was tracking my expenditures for her favorite baci di alassio cookies at the Italian bakery. If she ever wrote a tell-all, Mommy Dearest-style book about her horrible childhood and abusive mother, I’d present her with the bill with interest. Otherwise, I’d eat the costs. And some of the cookies. She’s now 33 and has not written a memoir. (How many women her age can say that?)

Into the big world


On her new blog, Love, Hope & Coffee, my stepdaughter Gina writes about “the start of letting go.” Her older daughter is now a kindergartner.

At “kindergarten curriculum night,” the literary specialist talked about “print concepts and phonemic awareness” and how their children soon will be “reading and writing at a level once reserved for second graders.”

I can’t believe all five-year-olds are prepared for what used to be first- and second-grade work.

At the kindergarten “meet and greet,” J says a shy hello to the teacher.

I feel a rush of pride and want to say, “Look, see, here she is!! My daughter, my superstar! Can’t you just tell from the way she said ‘hello’ that she is really smart and creative??”

In the next moment, J derails any hope of a pristine first impression when she begins to argue with her sister over whose turn it is to sit on the crayon stool a few feet away. . . . J pushes L off the stool in the swift, ruthless motion of an older sibling asserting her will. L’s head hits the floor and she wails, her cries piercing the stuffy air . . .

L is starting preschool. It will be easier than being a little sister.

On her first day of kindergarten, my daughter asked me to open the car door.

“Aren’t you going to say ‘little pig, little pig, let me come in’?” I asked.

“I’m in kindergarten now,” she replied.

And I sent her into the big wide world.