Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Children Can Take Defeat Much Better Than Parents by Dr. Alan Singer

Does every child deserve a trophy just for showing up? If a child enjoys sports but her team loses, should that negatively impact her self-esteem? This column was published in the Home News Tribune on 12/18/07 ...........and it's not just about sports.

In last month's column on parent rage, I described parents and coaches who pressure children into winning at youth sports, rather than letting them enjoy themselves and exercise. This column is devoted to a related topic — winning and self-esteem.

It seems that a significant number of parents these days are under the impression that if a child plays on a team that loses, the child will be hurt or distressed. And that will have a negative impact on the child's self-esteem. Overprotective parents, also known as helicopter parents for hovering above their children, might think that they can orchestrate their children's lives enough to always keep them happy and cheerful. I'll ask two questions: Is this really possible? And, is it beneficial for children?

No parent wants a child walking around thinking poorly of himself or herself. But losing a game in team competition does not make the child a "loser." It is a parent's responsibility to discuss this with the child. And children are resilient; they will survive nicely. Even if it were possible to protect your child from sadness, disappointment and frustration, isn't it a lousy way to prepare your child for the real world? When you set children free in the world expecting only joy and success, it is going to be hard for them to fend for themselves.

As parents, we have to think of our role in creating this monster. "Sports today mirror our heavy emphasis on individual achievement and hyper-competitiveness," explains Dr. Margaret Carlisle Duncan of the University of Wisconsin. "Parents can't help but reflect this," contends Bob Katz in the October 2000 Parent Magazine. "It applies undue pressure on children to expect them to achieve more and compete more while trying to protect them from failure at all costs."

Susanne Sievert, in an essay titled "It's Not Just How We Play That Matters" (Newsweek, March 19, 2001) observed, "I've noticed this trend a lot lately — adults refusing to let children fail at something. It's as if we grown-ups believe that kids are too fragile to handle defeat." Maybe it is a reflection of some adults' lack of ability to handle defeat.

A research study looked at mystery writers and their readers' self-esteem. At first, I thought it might be a spoof until I saw that it was written by Eric Nagourney for The New York Times Science Section. "A new study finds that people with low self-esteem don't seem to like it much when a story ends with a twist," he wrote. "In a whodunit, they like the who to be the person they suspected all along." Sorry, folks, but life is a bit of a mystery too, and it doesn't always turn out the way you want it to. Should whodunits with unexpected endings be required to have warning labels on the jacket covers?

Last, and most important, the children themselves know "that if everyone wins, winning isn't everything; in fact it's nothing," contends Mark Morgenstern in a November 2001 Child Magazine article. Are you familiar with "participation trophies"? Your child receives a trophy just for showing up, not a team shirt or a hat, but a trophy to show that everyone is a winner and to give kids a self-esteem boost. Some leagues are now stopping this practice.

"The trophy backlash is part of what many experts see as a broader reaction to a culture of coddling," explains Nancy Ann Jeffrey in a March 11, 2005, Wall Street Journal article. "Some educators and psychologists," she relates, "argue that recent moves designed in part to build kids' self-esteem, like giving partial credit for incorrect math answers at school, removes kids' incentive to push themselves."

I was surprised to read about a large-scale research study on this topic, done by Michigan State University professors Martha Ewing and Vern Seefelt. They asked 28,000 children ages 10 to 18 to rank their motivations for playing sports. Responses included having fun, learning skills, and being with friends. Winning a trophy did not even make the top 15.

Mark Morgenstern summed it up as follows, "We want our kids to do the best they can: to show up, to practice, to study, to try. If they triumph as a result, that's great. If they don't, and usually they won't, we'll give them a pep talk and a fortifying snack and send them out to try again. That's life. And they don't deserve a medal for it."

Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a Marriage Therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column at Dr. Singer's blog http://www.familythinking.com/ or e-mail DrAlanSinger@aol.com

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Parents Who Cheer to Win, Lose Spirit of Youth Sports by Dr. Alan Singer

With the school year in full swing, youth sports are also in high gear. But are our children really having as much fun in sports and getting the exercise that they should? If your children participate in sports, you'll want to read this column which the Home News Tribune printed on 11/7/07

Isn't the main goal of children participating in sports competitions that they get exercise and have fun? Yes, but the reality is quite different.

Of the 3,300 parents who responded to a February 2003 survey in Sporting Kid Magazine, 84 percent have witnessed violent parent behavior (shouting, berating, abusive language) toward children, coaches or officials at youth sporting events. And a surprising 80 percent have personally fallen victim to inappropriate behavior.

How much fun are kids having when a father yells at his 10-year-old son during a hockey game, "Nail him!" or a mother of a Pee Wee goal tender in Ontario, Canada, sues the team's coach for not giving the boy the ice time he was supposedly promised? Think back to the summer of 2000 when, to our horror, we read the story of two Reading, Mass., fathers who viciously fought each other after their children's practice hockey game, and one of them, Michael Costin, died.

Personally speaking, I remember a few years ago when my daughter was on her school's basketball team. As a young rookie on the team, my daughter did not get much playing time, because winning was clearly the main goal of the coach. After letting her warm the bench all afternoon, the coach decided to put my daughter in the game with 30 seconds left in the final period and her team trailing by two points. Another player fed her the ball; she shot the ball, but it bounced off the rim. The buzzer sounded and the game was over. I did my best to contain my emotions but, to put it mildly, I was seething. During the ride home in the car, my wife and I kept our thoughts and feelings to ourselves and let our daughter do the ventilating.

Another survey (August 2001) by Sports Illustrated for Kids received 3,000 responses from youngsters in the United States. Seventy-four percent had seen out-of-control adults at their games. The most common type of bad behavior was parents yelling at kids (37 percent) followed by parents yelling at coaches or officials (27 percent). When asked what emotions they felt when adults misbehaved at a game, most youths stated embarrassment, followed by disappointment, anger and then fear. An excellent resource for this information is the National Alliance for Youth Sports at http://www.nays.org/.

What's behind this outrageous behavior of dads and moms, often referred to as "parent rage"? And what are some communities doing to bring the situation under control? One reason for this behavior is that "many parents increasingly view winning as the primary goal in the game of life," explained Bob Katz in an October 2000 Parents Magazine essay. Many parents believe that success in youth sports will lead to college scholarships and even the magnificent rewards of a career in professional sports. Katz also said that some parents who act unsportsmanlike are former athletes or lifelong wannabes. He suggests, "They can't help fantasizing that if they could rewind the tape of their lives, the next time around, they'd practice harder and concentrate more. Now, through their children, a second chance has emerged and it's hard to treat a game as only a game."

Noteworthy: In August 2002, the New Jersey Legislature approved a law that permits a school board or youth sports team to ban the presence of any person at an event who engages in verbal or physical threats or abuse aimed at any student, coach, or parent, or initiates a fight or scuffle with any student, coach or parent.

Some of the remedies for this problem include: silent games where coaches and parents are prohibited from yelling, requiring parents to sign a code of conduct, and ejecting a Little League child rather than the parent from a game when the parent acts up.

Ninety percent of the parents in the Sporting Kid Magazine survey support a parent education program, and 75 percent believe it should be mandatory. In a 2001 New York Times article, Edward Wong described the approach in El Paso, Texas, where parents have to sit through a 3 1/2-hour class on appropriate fan behavior before their children can play in city-sponsored youth sports. Wong spoke with a soccer coach in Ohio who insisted, "The next step is to eliminate the fans altogether and just let the kids play the game."

This trend can be reversed if parents remove winning as the primary goal and emphasize the enjoyment and health benefits of competitive youth sports.

"Be Counted" columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column at Dr. Singer's blog http://www.familythinking.com/ or e-mail DrAlanSinger@aol.com. "Be Counted" columnists are members of the public.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Rx for Healthy Families: Eat Dinner Together by Dr. Alan Singer

Dinner with your Family, what's the big deal? It's actually quite a big deal and is very beneficial to your children and your entire family. Here's my column that the Home News published on 09/18/07. Please make a special effort to have dinner with your family on September 24th.

It's hard to believe that something that is so easy to do can be so good for you and your children: eating dinner together. A 2004 study of 4,746 children 11 to 18 years old, published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, found that frequent family meals were associated with lower risk of smoking, drinking and use of controlled substances such as marijuana. The same study found that teens who ate meals with their family had a lower incidence of depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, "Teens who have frequent family dinners are likelier to get better grades in school, and higher academic performance is associated with lower substance abuse risk."

Rising rates of childhood obesity are a well-known concern of many parents. In 2000, a research team at Harvard studied 16,000 children of nurses and found that children who eat with their parents tend to have healthier eating habits than those who rarely do. The study, published in the Archives of Family Medicine, found that children who had family meals were 1.5 times as likely to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day as those who seldom ate with parents. The authors of the study also noted that these children had healthier diets throughout the day.

Why is the family dinner such a positive experience? It is an established daily gathering where family members can talk, bond, benefit from stress-free time together, and enjoy each other's company. To maximize the positive experience, phones should not be answered and the television should be turned off.

More than a decade's worth of research by CASA (http://www.casacolumbia.org/) has led to several important findings. "Compared to teens that have five or more family dinners per week, those who have two or fewer are: more than twice as likely to have tried cigarettes, 1.5 times likelier to have tried alcohol, and twice as likely to have tried marijuana."

CASA's literature also states with regard to parental engagement: "Parents who have infrequent family dinners are: five times likelier to say they have a fair or poor relationship with their teen, 1.5 times likelier to say they know the parents of their teen's friends — not very well or not at all, and more than twice as likely to say they do not know the names of their teen's teachers."
Important CASA data shows that 58 percent of teens report having dinner with their families at least five times a week, which is up from 47 percent in 1998.

One specific project of CASA is "Family Day," which deserves our support (for our own good). You don"t need to pledge money, write letters to legislators, or attend a rally — just show up at your own dinner table next Monday (Sept. 24). Read more at http://www.casafamilyday.org/ and remember to keep the television off and let phone calls go to voice mail.

I wanted a New Jersey perspective on these national statistics, so I turned to my friend Bill and his e-mail address book of friends for a quick survey. Bill knows lots of people; he is what Malcolm Gladwell, in the book "Tipping Point", refers to as a "connector." Bill e-mailed his friends asking, "How many nights per week do you eat dinner with your family?" When I tallied the responses, and saw the average was 2.4, I called Bill for his comments.

"My reaction is bittersweet," Bill said, "since I'm glad to know that my own two dinners with my family each week is within the norm of my peer group. But the survey reflects the difficulty of young suburban professionals and business executives who struggle with balancing work and family."

When I asked Bill (who has three children under the age of 7) whether he sees his two dinners-per-week lifestyle changing, he replied: "I definitely do aspire to being at home for dinner more often. Where the rubber hits the road is when my kids become more independent and subject to out-of-home influences and I will surely be there more often." Lauding the importance of family dinners, Bill emphasized, "The home has got to be the hub for family life and communication — the dinner table is the center of the home." So, please put down this paper and write Monday, Sept. 24, on your calendar.

"Be Counted" columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column at Dr. Singer's blog http://www.familythinking.com/ or e-mail DrAlanSinger@aol.com

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Time With Grandparents Most Priceless of Gifts by Dr. Alan Singer

When Robin read my column on middle children, she related the "favoritism" of siblings to her parents' extravagant treatment of her nephew. This column appeared in the Home News Tribune on 08/22/07

Home News Tribune reader Robin e-mailed me with this comment: "After reading your column on middle children, and how they feel neglected because the oldest child and youngest child get so much attention, I want to point out to you that a grandchild creates an even bigger problem. I can't believe the attention that my parents have showered on my nieces and nephews. Can you imagine that my nephew received a $300 video iPod from my parents when the most expensive gift they ever got me as a child was $50?"

Robin makes an excellent point, which falls under the rubric of favoritism. It is detrimental to children, whether they are toddlers or adults, and it is harmful to children, whether it relates to their siblings or their nieces/nephews. The Babylonian Talmud poignantly describes the damage that can result from favoritism. Tractate Sabbath (10B) states, "It was because of what Jacob gave to Joseph in excess of his other sons, that his brothers became jealous of him." The Talmud concludes, "The matter resulted in our forefathers' descent into Egypt."

Don't expect this entire column to discuss favoritism, because it is not one of those issues that can be presented from two points of view. There is no formidable pro-favoritism lobby out there, and there is no scholarly research I know of that has tested favoritism's harm, using a control group. Parents who care about their children cannot make one of them the center of their universe, nor can they do that to a grandchild. Dr. William Doherty of the University of Minnesota explained to his own children, "In the solar system of our family, our marriage is the sun and the children are the planets, rather than the other way around."

I have chosen to use the remaining space here to discuss some important issues that face America's 56 million grandparents that came to light in a poll of 1,419 parents and 1,209 grandparents, which was conducted by Child magazine in December 2006. While it is encouraging to know that 80 percent of the nation's grandparents had visited or spoken with their grandchildren by phone in the past month, according to AARP, it is a bit disheartening to know that 62 percent of grandparents want more time with their grandchildren, and only 47 percent of parents would welcome the extra bonding time. Contact with grandparents is seen as a disruption of the weekly routine and the culprit appears to be overscheduling.

The author of the Child magazine article, Jessica Brown, quotes a grandfather named Doug, who lives 2 1/2 hours away from his son and grandchildren and complains, "I'd love to see my three grandchildren more often, but they have something to do every weekend, basketball, dancing, soccer, you name it." Sadly Doug adds, "The fault is with my son, not the kids, because he should be going out of his way to make time for visits."

With many households facing the dilemma of overscheduling, I'd like to pose these questions: Do parents believe that soccer is a more worthwhile use of their child's time than interaction with his/her extended family? Can the benefits of dancing compare to the priceless conveyance of values, affection, and history that occurs in multigenerational bonding with grandparents?

The survey indicates that the biggest obstacle to closeness is physical distance. Among the respondents, parents and grandparents lived an average of 235 miles from each other. Psychiatrist Arthur Kornhaber, M.D., encourages families to exchange photos and video mail to keep the emotional attachment going. "And if you need to save more money for visits to keep the generations close," he remarked, "consider it spiritual currency."

The Child magazine survey describes discipline as "a hot-button" issue. Brown states that when it comes to critiquing their child's parenting style, 36 percent of grandparents wish they didn't have to bite their tongues. Eighty-one percent of parents think grandparents applaud the tactics they use. In fact, however, only 63 percent of grandparents give their seal of approval.

Does the video iPod that began this column constitute spoiling? Brown indicates, "Only 34 percent of grandparents feel they spoil their grandkids more than the parents do. Instead, a surprising 56 percent of parents own up to playing the role of the chief spoiler." The article quotes Amy, whose mother-in-law brings her 4-year-old a present on each visit: "I understand her desire to do so, but I want my daughter to appreciate gifts, not expect them."

This column is dedicated to our first grandchild, David, born July 19.

"Be Counted" columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. He can be reached at DrAlanSinger@aol.com. He blogs at www.familythinking.com.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Newlyweds Focus on Fitting Kids Into the Family Picture by Dr. Alan Singer

Deciding when to have children and how many to have, are crtitical decisions that couples are faced with. Here's how I dealt with these topics in an essay that the Home News Tribune published on 07/24/07:

When Arlene, 24, and Jeffrey, 25, who are married for one year, made an appointment to see me, they were very specific about what they wanted to discuss. When is the right time to start having children? Is there an ideal number of children to have and an ideal space between children? There are no easy answers to these questions, but I gave them some guidance based on scientific research and personal experience.

Arlene will not wait until age 30 to have a child. "We want kids when we're younger," she explained, "but it seems like there is always justification for pushing it off. We're always busy; I am studying for a master's in speech pathology and Jeffrey is an IT (information technology) consultant. Based on that, it just gets delayed and delayed, which is not realistic."

They like to travel and feel they should delay having a child to vacation together. "To see the world and not dump our kids at the in-laws," Jeffrey explained, "We really enjoy quality time together. We love sitting and talking, and we are concerned that, once we have kids, it will be a lot harder to have that quality time for the two of us." Arlene adds, "A big concern."

My suggestions were twofold. Continue to seek quality time together. Having a child doesn't mean the end to togetherness. While there is considerable research showing that marital satisfaction decreases with the arrival of each child, it shouldn't become a self-fulfilling prophecy. They will have their quality time again, if they set it as a goal and if they establish a spouse-centered family and not a child-centered family. Second, take vacations now but save some exciting ones to experience as a family. Traveling with children can provide them with enriching experiences and expose them to new cultures and environments.

I assumed they would wait until Arlene finished her degree before having a child. But Arlene surprised Jeffrey by saying, "My career is not that important to me." Looking at Jeffrey, she added: "He was not expecting that; I chose speech therapy because I can make a decent salary working part time and I like to help people." Jeffrey wants her to have a second income so that all income for the family doesn't fall on his shoulders. "I'm in business," says Jeff, "and I remember from my Dad's business that you have good and bad years. I want Arlene's income as backup if I have business problems." Arlene stressed, "Even if he feels more secure by me having the degree, that's worth it."

When our discussion turned to family size, Arlene, who is an only child, said that her personality is geared to having things at home be very quiet. When she spends time with Jeffrey's sister and her three kids, she can't imagine being able to deal with that. Arlene: "I want more than one child, but the thought of three or four overwhelms me. My sister-in-law is so stressed that she can't even do her hair, and she has three terrific kids."

Jeffrey, who grew up with two siblings, wants three children minimum. I suggested it's unproductive for couples to decide their total family size as newlyweds for three reasons. First, fertility is only partially in the hands of the couple; they cannot know the future. Second, a better approach is to decide on each child one at a time, asking: "Are we ready to have a (another) child now?" Third, couples cannot predetermine how much they'll like parenthood; they can only know after experiencing it. After their first child reaches the age of 1, a couple can decide if parenting exceeded, met, or fell short of their expectations. Arlene thought that made more sense than having two kids just because most families have two kids. I also informed them that physicians urge couples to space children two years apart.

Jeffrey ended the session by saying: "We have the kind of marriage that if one of us is upset about something, I insist that we talk it out completely. And 99 percent of the time, we get it out of the way before we fall asleep, which works for us." Arlene concluded: "I'm not worried that Jeffrey will decide to push four kids on me, because he is very sensitive to how I feel about things. And how we relate to each other is more important than a specific number of kids."
In my opinion, this terrific couple will be great, loving parents.

Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer blogs at http://www.familythinking.com/ He is a marriage therapist in Highland Park and can be reached at DrAlanSinger@aol.com

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Prayer Shawl Envelops Me in Warm Memories of Family by Dr. Alan Singer

June is the time for weddings and this essay which the Home News printed on 06/20/07 is as personal as it gets. I describe the custom of using a Talis (prayer shawl) as a Chupa (wedding canopy).

June is the most popular month for weddings. Over the centuries, a custom evolved in Jewish communities to use a prayer shawl (tallis) as a wedding canopy (chupa). My in-laws gave me one shawl for weekdays and one for Sabbath. I attached my Sabbath shawl to the ceiling of our wedding canopy, knowing that the Sabbath and holidays would provide the best time for connection with family and tradition, like our wedding did. During our 30 years of marriage, I noticed my shawl getting a bit tattered and yellowed. Today's consumer culture would likely suggest that I purchase a new model. That won't happen, because I like the warmth and recollections of the real article.

The daily blessing on the shawl refers to protection and elevation. Until our wedding, it was my parents who were responsible to protect and elevate me; after that, it would be my wife.
My shawl surrounds me with memories. It reminds me of who stood under our canopy and witnessed our vows of commitment, especially my parents (of blessed memory) and the decades of watching their marriage.

My parents weren't keen on saying "I love you" in public to each other. But I remember them demonstrating it in little ways. The daily hello/goodbye kiss was important, as was the good-morning/night kiss. Dad checked on Mom's car daily: tires, oil, and wiper fluid; everything had to be safe. Mom would buy Dad record albums of opera music and tape it so he could listen in his car.

I marveled at how, despite their different upbringings, they enjoyed many activities together. Dad, a mechanical engineer, loved skiing, boating, and raising orchids. Mom, a teacher and pianist, was raised in the Midwest surrounded by fine arts and activism. Opera night in South Florida was a revered time that my parents enjoyed together in their front-row seats.
Mom was more emotional; Dad was more physical. She loved to read; he loved to build and repair things. Only after I was married, did I realize that their marriage didn't last despite their differences; rather it thrived because of them.

Concerning parenting skills, they were of one mind. That consistency has been a model for how my wife and I raise our four children. When I broke a rule and needed disciplining, I would receive a deep-voiced reprimand from my father, "Your mother and I do not approve of how you acted."

As a child, I was sad when a good friend and his mother left their home on my block and moved into the tall building on Parkview Point. That's when I first heard the d-word — divorce. That was in the '60s, when the divorce rate in the United States began to soar. I wondered how a family problem or argument could be so severe that parents would divorce, but then came the night of the flying dishes.

My father decided to help his friend Milton in a run for City Council in Miami Beach. For three weeks, he never came home until after midnight when everyone was asleep. Our family dinners continued, but it was Mom and her boys; we hardly saw Dad. (It's interesting that my parents knew the importance of the family dinner ritual back then.) My mother was fed up. She could not endure raising three sons by herself, so things got nasty. One night we awoke to the sound of Mom smashing dishes and yelling at Dad. My father convinced her to stop her tantrum by promising to resign from Milton's political campaign. Our house was quiet again, although in a state of disorder.

I couldn't sleep that night because I assumed the d-word was next and we would be moving to Parkview Point. But the next morning, Dad brought Mom coffee and checked the fluids in her car. He took his morning bike ride with his best friend Milton and resigned from his campaign. He apologized to Mom, kissed her goodbye and went to work. That day I learned what forgiveness means in a marriage.

These are some of the warm memories that envelop me as I wear the prayer shawl that was our wedding canopy. Five years ago, one of the fringes of my shawl tore off, rendering it unsuitable for use. I could have disposed of it but I realized that when something precious breaks, you don't toss it, you fix it. That's one more lesson my prayer shawl taught me about marriage. This column is dedicated to my son Noam and his new bride Rachel.

"Be Counted" columnist Dr. Alan Singer blogs at http://www.familythinking.com/ He is a marriage therapist in Highland Park and can be reached at DrAlanSinger@aol.com

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Lessons for Kids in Mistakes of Our Repentant Governor by Dr. Alan Singer

Governor Jon Corzine's near fatal accident prompted me to put together this piece on Safety for families which the Home News Tribune published on 5/16/07

Upon his release from the hospital, Gov. Jon S. Corzine remarked, "I set a very poor example for a lot of young people — a lot of people in general." He added, "I hope the state will forgive me, and I'll work very hard to set the right kind of example."

The Associated Press Gov. Jon S. Corzine uses crutches to walk down the steps at Drumthwacket in Princeton after returning to the duties of governor on May 7.His poor example is known to all: speeding at 91 mph on the Garden State Parkway, which endangered others, and not wearing a seat belt, which nearly cost him his life in the ensuing crash. The good that should emerge from this near-tragedy is that individuals and families will be more safety-conscious in the upcoming summer months.

According to the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), 18 percent of students in ninth through 12th grades "rarely or never wear seat belts" when riding in a car driven by someone else. Not only must parents set a good example by buckling up, they must use the proper car seat for a child, starting from a baby's first ride home from the hospital. Inappropriately restrained children are 3.5 times more likely to suffer a severe injury in a crash. And what is the excuse that parents usually give for not using a child safety seat? Because "their child does not like it." Unforgivable!

Equally unforgivable is leaving a child unattended in a car. One in five parents rarely or never lock their cars at home. In 2003, 36 children died in hot cars. Additionally, if a child is left alone in a car with the keys, he can start the car, slip the car into gear, and cause considerable damage to himself and others. Recommendation: Lock your car at all times and never leave a child in a car unattended, even for two minutes.

Here's some more safety advice:
Bicycles: Properly fitted helmets are 85 percent effective in reducing head injuries. This pertains to skates, scooters and skateboards as well. Isn't it a disturbing coincidence that 86 percent of students (grades 9-12) rarely or never wear bicycle helmets? (YRBS)
Sports: According to the U.S. Eye Injury Registry, 38 percent of all sports-related eye injuries result from baseball or softball. These sports are the main cause of facial injuries and eye injuries that can result in loss of vision. For $10, players can be equipped with a polycarbonate face guard on their batting helmets.

Pools: An adult must be within arm's length of a small child in a pool. And the adult must pay attention to the child. A small child can quickly drown in a kiddie pool, where the water is not even over the child's head. Swimming pool fences with self-latching gates are imperative for preventing pool drowning.

Sunburn: Millions of Americans get tans to improve their appearance, even though exposure to ultraviolet radiation is the most common cause of skin cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that 60,000 adults in the United States will be diagnosed with melanoma; approximately 7,700 will die from it this year. Pediatric melanoma is rapidly increasing as well. Parents must set a good example by using sunscreen (even on cloudy days), wearing sun-resistant clothing/hat, avoiding the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and never getting sunburn.

Last, is a topic that is dear to our hearts (and stomachs) — obesity. It is common knowledge that obesity rates in the United States have skyrocketed in the past 20 years. Children who tend to be sedentary, will burn less calories. Who bothers to go outside and play when 38 percent of ninth- through 12-graders watch three or more hours of TV on a school day (YRBS)? And what's on TV? Frequent advertisements for junk food and supersized portions.
Physical Activity is imperative for addressing the obesity epidemic. While 44 percent of students are trying to lose weight, a mere 28 percent of students attend physical education class daily (YRBS). And parents should make every effort to have dinner with their children each night. It is one of the best ways to set a good example for eating properly and to have quality conversation time, provided the television stays off.

One last point regarding Governor Corzine as a role model: Apologizing for mistakes that affect others does "set the right kind of example."

"Be Counted" columnist Dr. Alan M. Singer blogs at http://www.familythinking.com/. He is a marriage therapist in Highland Park and can be reached at DrAlanSinger@aol.com

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Couple Didn't Let Early Ruts Throw Marriage Off Course by Dr. Alan Singer

The Home News printed part 2 of my 60th Anniversary interview with the Levys on 04/17/07. See how intuitive they were to spot problems in their marriage early on and how they went about solving them.

Courtesy of Martin and Leah Levy In 1943, the couple posed for this photo in New York City.Last month, I described the 60-year marriage of the Levys, who shared their pearls of marital wisdom with me. They described how they met, and Leah stressed that spouses should express hurt, not anger. Among Martin's themes were: Don't take your wife for granted, and solve problems that you have with each other before going to sleep.

Our conversation took an interesting turn when Leah explained that she and Martin got married at a young age and that caused problems. Leah: "We had our ups and downs when our two kids were teenagers, so we decided to go to a marriage counselor, and he helped us a great deal. Years ago, you didn't think about divorce, but that's the first thing people do now. I have no idea why; you try to work things out."

Martin said he and Leah have strong characters and neither one backs down easily. They wanted a third party to be involved, and so they saw a marriage counselor for a year to learn ways to get along better. Their two children were happy about the counseling, because it helped the whole family. Martin: "We told our kids that we're having problems understanding one another, but we do not want a divorce and they accepted it." Leah, who still believes that the problems were due to immaturity, commented: "I don't think I handled the stress of family life so well. I had in-law problems, often due to things that I was oversensitive about. Looking back, it was silly, because my husband and I were often arguing about something my in-laws said or did.

When I asked Martin for an example of what caused their in-law-related fights he explained, "My parents lived a block away from us. My mother would watch out the window and tell my daughter Devora to come in and visit on her way home from school. My mother did not have the sense to call my wife, even after two hours went by. Leah would panic justifiably, and scream, "Where is my daughter? Where is my little girl?' "

I asked Martin why he didn't take his mother to task and tell her it was wrong to keep Devora in her home while not informing Leah. Martin: "In my family, if I were to criticize my mother, she would close up and not talk to me for a year, and you could never challenge my father. If you did, he'd cut you off, and stop talking to you. I'd tell Leah to ignore them; this is who they are and you're not going to change them." Leah inserts, "But I tried to change them."

"The most important thing our marriage counselor taught us," explained Leah, "is stick to the subject of your argument, and don't throw in 20 years of old topics. The whole idea of marriage is a partnership. Our counselor told us that there are times when it will be 80/20, and then it will turn around and be 20/80; it's never 50/50. He was a bright and sweet guy."

One last bit of wisdom from the Levys' 60-year marriage that is fundamental to raising children. "Children should be disciplined," Leah emphasizes, "and I don't mean you have to whip them. They must have order in their lives." (Martin inserts that there should be rules and regulations.) "And I know it's hard, but it's very important to sit down and have dinner together, which we did every night. We had discussions at dinner about what was bothering us. Our children could even complain about us, too, as long as it was done respectfully."

The values and wisdom of the Levys continue to be transmitted to the next generation. When their oldest grandson complimented his mother Devora on how supportive she was in resolving a problem that he experienced, he turned to his grandmother Leah and declared, "Why wouldn't my Mom be very helpful, when her mother is such a great mother?"

Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer blogs at http://www.familythinking.com/. He is a marriage therapist in Highland Park and can be reached at DrAlanSinger@aol.com.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Classroom of Monkey Bars and Slides

Jane Brody's writings in the NYTimes are always worthwhile. In this piece, she discusses "play" in modern times, where adults "help" children play, and how playgrounds have become so safe that they are boring. While I am one of those paranoid parents who gasped in the playground at each booboo, there is much merit in letting kids be kids at play and not manipulating or orchestrating their outdoor fun.

By JANE E. BRODY NY Times April 3, 2007

I remember fondly a joy-filled childhood in which we came home from school, gobbled down a snack and ran out to play until dark. We made up games, taught each other to roller skate and ride bicycles, ran and jumped, climbed and fell, fought and negotiated, and generally had lots of fun without adults telling us what to do.

In playgrounds, we climbed high slides, going up the ladder and the slide itself; soared on swings; swung from monkey bars; and seesawed, carefully balancing weight by moving up or down on the seat.

Play has taken on new forms in these “modern” times. Adults hover over preschoolers, “helping” them play nicely and preventing them from hurting themselves or others. For first graders and beyond, if they have any free time at all, most playgrounds have become so safe as to be utterly boring.

Unfettered playtime is more and more consumed, in school and at home, by academic programs, electronic media and games, and adult-organized activities at the expense of children’s physical, emotional and social development, say experts on play and its role in child development.

To read more of the article, please click on the title of this post.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Early Child Care Linked to Increases in Vocabulary, Problem Behaviors in 5th and 6th Grades

The media is buzzing about these latest results from the ongoing NIH study of 1,364 children. It is worth reading if you currently use child care. As you can see from the excerpt below, "Parenting quality was a much more important predictor of child development than was type, quantity, or quality, of child care" and I believe that is the key.

The most recent analysis of a long-term NIH-funded study found that children who received higher quality child care before entering kindergarten had better vocabulary scores in the fifth grade than did children who received lower quality care.

The study authors also found that the more time children spent in center-based care before kindergarten, the more likely their sixth grade teachers were to report such problem behaviors as "gets in many fights," "disobedient at school," and "argues a lot."

However, the researchers cautioned that the increase in vocabulary and problem behaviors was small, and that parenting quality was a much more important predictor of child development than was type, quantity, or quality, of child care. The study appears in the March/April 2007, issue of Child Development. Jay Belsky, Ph.D., Director of the Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues and Professor of Psychology at Birkbeck University of London, was the first author of the current article.

To read the entire NIH News release, click on the title of this blog post.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

60 Years of Wisdom in Couple's Advice by Dr. Alan Singer

I can't tell you how inspiring it was to interview the Levys for this essay that was published on 3/21/07 in the Home News Tribune.

To see this essay on the SmartMarriages website click here.

Martin and Leah Levy recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. I interviewed them to learn a thing or two. In their home, the photos are grouped demographically. Photos of their children are in one room, photos of their grandchildren are in another, and the great-grandchildren are in a third. Leah is very organized and explains, "My granddaughter told me I am "squared off' because everything goes in an exact place."

I would be doing you a disservice if I paraphrased or interpreted what they said. Instead, I'll just quote the wisdom that comes from the 60-year partnership of this beautiful couple.
Martin and Leah described how they met and dated. Leah: "My mother picked my husband out. After a date, we came home and I'd go to sleep. He would talk to my mother for hours."
Martin: "I would tell Leah's mother everything we did on the date; she was like a mother to me. How many boys have two mothers?"

Leah adds: "My mother knew Martin was the best for me. Now, at my age with my illness, he is the best person that could ever be born. He treats me like gold. When we started out, I took care of him because he worked night and day. Now he cares for me."

Martin describes dating to his grandchildren: "You look someone in the eyes. If someone talks to you and looks you straight in the face, you know that they have a certain amount of honesty. I ask about their mother, their father, how they deal with their grandparents, and I learn about their family attitude. Generally, family matters are a good mark. I want to know if they have a love and closeness to their family, if they honor their grandparents and if they feel that they are special."

Martin told his grandson, "You look for a human being — someone that when you wake up in the morning and you see her disheveled, she still looks beautiful to you. Each morning I wake up and say to my wife, "Good morning, Mrs. Levy' " He told his granddaughter, "One bad thing in the world is that people talk to each other but they're not saying what they really want to say. They talk around the truth because they're hiding their own (Leah inserts: inadequacies). As they talk to each other, they blink their eye, shake their head. Things are bothering them, but they don't say it."

What are the key ingredients of a good marriage? Leah: "When you express anger in a marriage, you're really hurt, not angry. I learned with my husband as we matured, that instead of saying, "I'm angry with you,' I tell him, "You know something? You really hurt me.' When you tell someone you're angry, he gets angry back at you. When you say, "You hurt me,' he asks why and you explain it. Anger is not good."

Leah also stressed the importance of showing appreciation to her husband by preparing for his return from work. "Each night I dressed up like we were going out to dinner," Leah explained. "I combed my hair and put on a nice dress. He came in the door to a nice dinner that I cooked. Martin told me that he could bring any of his co-workers home for dinner without notice, because I would have a meal on the table and look beautiful. It's necessary in a marriage for a woman to show her husband that he's important enough that she prepares for his nightly arrival."

Martin: "The most important thing in marriage is to remember that your wife is a person. Many men take their women for granted. You don't like to be ignored, don't ignore her. Pay attention, and show you're conscious of who she is and that she means a lot to you." Martin concluded, "I tell my grandchildren — you and your spouse are human beings and cannot ignore each other. If you have a problem, tell the other person and never go to sleep unless you solve whatever problem you have, because when you wake up, tomorrow starts a new day."

With such wisdom, I assumed that friends who knew about their anniversary would ask for marriage advice. "Not really," says Martin. "People ask me advice if their air conditioner or heat stops working, because I was in that business for many years."

Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer blogs at http://www.familythinking.com/. He is a marriage therapist in Highland Park and can be reached at DrAlanSinger@aol.com.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Despite 'Mommy Guilt' Time With Kids Increasing

Here is an excellent piece from today's Washington Post that describes the-Time With Children Study-that you can see below in my blog entry dated 3/12/07.

By Donna St. George Washington Post Staff Writer March 20, 2007

Cynthie Bush pulled on her coat and started to say goodbye. She and a friend were taking a night out -- three hours in all, for a quick dinner and a PTA event. It was not the kind of thing she did often, with two small children and a full-time job.

But before she could leave her Herndon home, her 4-year-old daughter began to cry for her. For a moment, Bush recalled, she wondered if she should cancel. Her days were already so full. She needed more hours with her children, not fewer. That whisper of worry and regret is familiar to a generation of mothers who juggle homework and housework, sports practice and dance lessons, in days that often include paid jobs and traffic-snarled commutes.

But for all the rush of modern life, recent research suggests that mothers are actually doing a better job than they may think, at least by historical standards. According to a University of Maryland study, today's mothers spend more hours focused on their children than their own mothers did 40 years ago, often imagined as the golden era of June Cleaver, television's ever-cheerful, cookie-baking mom.

In 1965, mothers spent 10.2 hours a week tending primarily to their children -- feeding them, reading with them or playing games, for example -- according to the study's analysis of detailed time diaries kept by thousands of Americans. That number dipped in the 1970s and 1980s, rose in the 1990s and now is higher than ever, at nearly 14.1 hours a week.

This is especially striking because it is at odds with how today's mothers view their own lives: Roughly half of those interviewed said they did not have enough time with their children.
"It's almost like it doesn't matter how much they do, they feel they do not do enough," said sociologist Suzanne M. Bianchi, the study's lead author.

"This is part of the burden of this generation of parents: enormously high expectations for how children develop, how they feel about themselves, how they achieve and how successful they are in the world," said William Doherty, a family studies professor at the University of Minnesota.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Parents Find Time to Spend with Kids Despite Work Pressures by Dr. Alan Singer

Reading a daily newspaper can be so depressing, don't you agree? Everything is bad for you. You can't even enjoy a guilt-free cup of coffee. But some recent research, on how parents manage to spend as much time with their children as 40 years ago, is very encouraging. So why don't we read more about it in the media? This essay was published in the Home News Tribune on 02/16/07.

New research gets copious media attention as trends come and go. Remember way back in the '80s when parents used to put their infants to sleep on their stomachs? Now in 2007, don't you dare! How about a decade ago, when large amounts of beta carotene could prevent cancer? Now in 2007, that's beta what? When a major myth is busted, why don't we hear about it at a level that matches the original media blitz?

The myth I want to focus on posits: If mothers work outside the home, children suffer because of less parent-child contact hours. To the contrary, researchers Suzanne Bianchi, John Robinson and Melissa Milkie found: "Parents are spending as much and perhaps more time interacting with their children today than parents in 1965, the heyday of the stay-at-home mother." The authors of this research have written a book titled "Changing Rhythms of American Family Life" and came to their myth-busting conclusion by analyzing four decades of time-diary surveys, where parents chronicle all of their daily activities.

"For married mothers," states Robert Pear (The New York Times, Oct. 17, 2006), "the time spent on child-care activities increased to an average of 12.9 hours a week in 2000, from 10.6 hours in 1965. For married fathers, the time spent on child care more than doubled, to 6.5 hours a week from 2.6 hours." How could their findings be correct? How can mothers who work more hours than ever before continue to spend as much time with their children as they did 40 years ago?

The authors explain, "By increasingly engaging in multitasking and incorporating their children in their own leisure activities, parents have deepened their time to circumvent the simple zero-sum trade-off between work and the other areas of their lives." Isn't it also counterintuitive to discover that mothers these days are getting as much sleep and leisure time as in earlier decades? One key factor that explains this paradox is that mothers are spending less time than their own mothers doing housework. Fathers have increased the time they spend on both domestic chores and fathering.

Referring to this research, Robert Pear continues, "Fathers have picked up some of the slack. Married fathers are spending more time on housework: an average of 9.7 hours a week in 2000, up from 4.4 hours in 1965." Lest I give you the impression that life is wonderful these days, there is clearly a downside to this good news. "Today's mothers feel more rushed," stress the authors, "as if they are doing everything at once, than their mothers did. This is common across all mothers, though more intense for those who are employed — especially when compared with fathers."

Nevertheless, why do I wish we would hear more media hoopla about this research study? Three reasons: First, this is a win-win situation for children. Parent-child contact hours are critical in child development. If these precious hours that parents and children spend together are stable and not declining, that is terrific. Second, it indicates that parents really care and are exerting themselves.

That brings me to my final point — resilience. Parents have been handed difficult circumstances (here we focused mainly on employment) and have landed on their feet. They have kept their eyes on the goal of secure and supportive family life and will not be deterred. That is a great accomplishment for parents of this generation, and it is also a great thing for their children to observe and internalize. It's good to know, that even though times have changed, the commitment of parents to their children has not.

Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a Marriage Therapist in Highland Park and can be reached at DrAlanSinger@aol.com He blogs at www.familythinking.com

Some Discover Greater Joy in Coping with Great Grief by Dr. Alan Singer

This essay was published in the Home News Tribune last year on 02/28/06. It is not your average marriage and family topic. In fact, it deals with the worst possible tragedy; having a child murdered. My college classmate Arnold Roth is featured here and in honor of his visit to the U.S. this week, I posted this to the blog. It is an article about resilience and determination in the face of tragic loss.

As a master's degree student, I studied women in their 80s who had lost middle-age children. My research revealed that whether one's child dies in infancy or as a grandparent, the loss is unnatural and catastrophic. When the unimaginable happens, what comfort can one give to the parents?

The Jewish ritual mourning process designates time periods for reflecting on the full life and accomplishments of the deceased, and through this process the mourner heals. This cannot apply in the same way for the death of a young child. A child preceding a parent in death is simply unnatural; children bury their parents and mourn for them, not the other way around.

In my research, I discovered that being surrounded by supportive family and friends is likely the most important factor in how a mourner copes with tragedy. Another important factor is whether the mourner is able to "ventilate," releasing the pain he or she feels inside. Level of activity also plays an important role in healing. Active mourners not only are productive, but they also provide themselves with a distraction from the sorrow.

Beyond these factors, however, I discovered that among the group of elderly women, those who dealt with mourning a child most successfully were those who had a goal or flag that gave them something to live for. In the final or "acceptance" stage of mourning, this flag became a symbol of pride and identity that gave each woman the strength to wake up in the morning. To Ida, her grandchildren were her reason for living. To Shirley, it was her religious convictions, and for Betty, her inspiration and motivation came from a myriad of craft-making hobbies.

During the current intifada in Israel, far too many parents have suffered the loss of a child. The situation is unspeakable; how are these parents to cope? I met two Israeli fathers who are mourning their children when I recently visited Israel. Boaz Shabo lost his wife and three sons who were murdered in Itamar, leaving him alone to raise four other children. Arnold Roth lost his precious Malki, aged 15, among the 15 murdered at Sbarro's in August 2001. As I listened to their stories, I mourned with them. And I noticed a pattern in their response to suffering.

I would not have been surprised to learn that Boaz Shabo, as head of the household and protector of his family, cried out for revenge and retaliation. Would he not have been justified in organizing a call to arms? Nor would I have been surprised had he withdrawn from society, even resorting to alcohol or drugs. Internalizing misery and grief is certainly a common response to tragedy. But Mr. Shabo picked himself up from the floor of mourning and became a builder of institutions. He now works tirelessly for Hakav Hamached, an organization that assists young cancer patients and other terminally ill children, as well as for the Children of Terror Foundation, which gives children that have lost family members a respite in summer camp.

Arnold Roth responded similarly. And perhaps I find his ability to rise beyond his pain the most moving because he and I were classmates in college 28 years ago. He moved to Israel with his family in 1988, and they all paid an exorbitant price for their commitment to the Jewish homeland. Nonetheless, he told me, he and his family have never regretted their decision to move to Israel.

Malki was a gifted musician who played the classical flute. A devoted sibling, she was deeply involved in the care of her blind and severely disabled sister, Haya Elisheva. In memory of their daughter, Arnold and his wife Frimmet founded Keren Malki (the Malki Foundation http://www.kerenmalki.org/), an organization that provides special equipment to both Israeli and Arab families who care for children with severe disabilities at home, as members of the nuclear family. Like Mr. Shabo, Arnold did not take "Revenge!" as his mantra; instead, he sought to make the world a better place for others.

And so the generally advisable cliche of "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade" is particularly poignant in Israel today. The motto becomes: "When life hands you unspeakable tragedy, lift yourself up and build anew." At a time when each of these fathers was near-broken from his own loss, he embarked upon Tikkun Olam, fixing the world. Perhaps this building is their goal or flag that helps them cope.

If you rearrange the letters of the Hebrew word for sadness, you create the word window, a source of light. Through pain, one can see into the distance. In grief, one can gain outstanding insight.

Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer blogs at www.familythinking.com and is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. He can be reached at DrAlanSinger@aol.com.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Family Size Tied to Brain Tumors, Study Suggests

Here is an interesting piece from the NYTimes Science section. You cannot jump to a conclusion from one study. But, there are important things to look for in research. Where was it published? Neurology...yes, not too shabby. Next, how big a sample size? 13,613 ....very respectable. I'll keep an eye out to see if any further work is published on this topic. In the meantime, I really like the last line that states, "This is a preliminary study and we are speculating that this is one of the possible interpretations of the association we found." That's a good way of saying that it looks interesting so far, stay tuned.

December 26, 2006 New York Times By NICHOLAS BAKALAR

The more siblings you have, the more likely you may be to develop a brain tumor, a new study reports. Researchers writing in the Dec. 12 issue of Neurology reviewed the records of 13,613 Swedish brain cancer patients and found that those with four or more siblings were almost twice as likely to develop a brain tumor as those with no siblings at all. The risk increased with the number of younger siblings and in children under 15, where it increased nearly four-fold for one type of tumor.

According to background information in the paper, the established risk factors for nervous system tumors are high doses of ionizing radiation, family history and some rare genetic syndromes. But these factors explain only a minority of brain cancers.
The authors suggest that infection may also be involved. Having large numbers of siblings increases the overall pool of infections, and children coming into close contact with one another share exposures to many infectious agents.

The associations persisted even after controlling for sex, age at diagnosis, parental history of cancer and socioeconomic status. The authors caution, however, that any conclusions about an infectious cause remain speculative because molecular studies have not identified a specific germ.

Dr. Andrea Altieri, the lead author, said the study did not prove that brain tumors were caused by infection or that living in a large family was in any way dangerous. “We are not suggesting that infection causes brain tumors,” said Dr. Altieri, an epidemiologist at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg. “This is a preliminary study, and we are speculating that this is one of the possible interpretations of the association we found.”

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Middle Child is a Bridge Between Siblings by Dr. Alan Singer

Here's what I wrote in the Home News Tribune on 01/11/07 when New Jersey Transit announced it's new double-decker trains. Night and day in the tri-state area, all you heard in the media was that the new trains eliminate those dreadful "middle" seats and it made me feel sorry for middle children, so I did some research and also got some insightful comments from brother and my daughter.

You no doubt are aware of the most exciting arrival in New Jersey for new millennium: New Jersey Transit's new double-decker trains! The enthusiasm is palpable. Last week, when I was New York-bound at 6:50 a.m. (and asleep) the conductor woke us up using the public-address system just so we could look out the window and see a westbound double-decker; a truly forgettable experience.

But the feature that is getting all the attention on the new trains is not safety or capacity. It is "No Middle Seats." Being in the middle is seemingly the bane of our existence, because commuters will end up sandwiched between two sumo wrestlers for an hour ride to or from work. As a family therapist and social science researcher for 30 years, I am sensitive to the unique and often misunderstood position of middle children, which is the topic of this column.

Why does the middle spot get such a bad rap? And with nicknames like "middleitis" and "middle child syndrome" it sounds like scientists are working around the clock to find a vaccination for this dreaded disease. Why do some people assume that since the oldest is independent and the youngest gets all the coddling, therefore the middle child must be neglected and dysfunctional?
In Frank Sulloway's book on birth order titled "Born to Rebel," he states: "The toughest minded individuals are first-borns. Youngest children hold their own ground because parents and sometimes other siblings intervene on behalf of the "baby' of the family. As a result of such tactical constraints, middle children do well to develop diplomatic skills and to cultivate coalitions with other siblings.

"Compared with other siblings," Sulloway indicates, "middle children are more flexible and favor compromise." An excellent example of an individual who favored nonviolent methods of political protest is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was the second of three children.

In order to uphold the high standards of this column, I contacted two distinguished experts in the field of middle children: my brother and my daughter. My middle brother Marc is the founding partner of SingerXenos Wealth Management in Miami. He asserts, "The positive benefit for middle children is they learn to be expert negotiators and navigators." Marc cleverly observes: "Middle children can find allies in either older siblings or younger siblings depending on the circumstances that best suit them at the time, which teaches them diplomatic skills. Middle children quickly learn to avoid mistakes that the less experienced older child may make." (Yikes that's me — the oldest brother.) He adds, "Middles also don't suffer from the "our youngest child is so cute so let's spoil him' syndrome." Thanks for the insight, bro.

My middle daughter Dee is a psychology major at Stern College in New York. She relates that her older sister assumes the role of peacemaker. "However, being that I am in the middle," commented Dee, "I sometimes feel like I'm a bridge between all the siblings and will often be the one to facilitate communication amongst the siblings."

Dee described a visit to her teacher's home when her teacher's baby dropped her pacifier on the floor. My daughter went to wash it off and the woman commented, "That's OK, you can just rub it off; by the third child you don't do that anymore." My daughter felt slighted. "Just because I was born third, I don't get clean pacifiers? What else didn't I get that I should have?" Dee believes that middle children often think in terms of "rights" or things they are entitled to. "Middles don't want to be cheated," she concludes, "and often may feel like they are since their position in the family is not as unique as the others."

What are we to learn from these experts? This is certainly not a disease or a syndrome. As with many other patterns of behavior, it may describe you but it shouldn't define you.

"Be Counted" columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park and can be reached at DrAlanSinger@aol.com.

Lifestyles, Child Rearing Differ Based on Politics by Dr. Alan Singer

Here is an essay I wrote in the Home News Tribune on 12/20/06 regarding the 2006 Elections. To see this essay on the SmartMarriages website click here.

Red States have higher divorce rates? Blue states have smaller families? Read on if that sounds intriguing.....

Consider two unusual political trends relating to marriage and children. Red states have higher divorce rates than democratic states and blue states have smaller families than republicans. What's behind these trends?

Divorce first: Wouldn't you think that California, the "left" side of the country with its free-spirited open-mindedness and "splitsville" movie stars, has a high divorce rate? Conversely, shouldn't Bible belt states like Arkansas and Mississippi, with their family values, have low divorce rates? Wrong on both accounts.

California has one of the lowest divorce rates and Mississippi and Arkansas two of the highest (Census Bureau). Pam Belluck of the New York Times observed: "The lowest divorce rates are largely in the blue states: the Northeast and the Upper Midwest. And the state with the lowest divorce rate (5.7 divorces per 1,000 married people) was Massachusetts, home to John Kerry and the Kennedys."

"The higher the educational level, higher the occupational level, higher the income, the less likely you are to divorce," said William V. D'Antonio, a sociologist at the Catholic University of America, noting that Massachusetts has the highest rate of high school and college completion. Kids who drop out of high school and get married very quickly suffer from the strains of not being emotionally mature and not having the income to help weather the difficulties of marriage," Belluck wrote.

I ran this question by several experts in the field. Dr. David Popenoe, of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, reiterated, "The more educated people found in the blue states have lower divorce rates and also lower fertility rates; for less educated people, it is the reverse."

Dr. William Doherty, professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota suggests, "The main issue for republicans and conservatives and evangelical Christians is that the discrepancy between their self-appraisals as the family values folks and the fact that being in those groups does not seem to convey any benefits for marital stability."
My thinking is that divorce is not an exclusively conservative nemesis and democrats have no reason to be smug. With the U.S. divorce rate hovering at 50 percent, we all have reason for serious concern.

"Larger social forces that fragment our marriages have far greater power than the teachings of conservative (or liberal) faith communities," Doherty said.
Atlanta psychiatrist Frank Pittman, from his 47 years of treating marriages, explains: "We know that Southern Baptists have the highest rate of divorce of any Christian group, perhaps because they believe that lusting in your heart is as big a deal as doing it in public. The more conservative that people are, the less tolerant they are of human frailties, their own or those of others."

Pittman concludes, "Marriage, to last, requires two imperfect people with compassion for one another's struggles and conservatives can't always do that."
Liberal baby blues is a different matter. David Brooks of the New York Times observed that birthrates are falling in Western Europe and many regions of the United States. People are marrying later and having fewer children. "You can see surprising political correlations," he said. "Bush (in 2004) carried the 19 states with the highest fertility rates. Kerry won the 16 states with the lowest rates."

Arthur Brooks of the Wall Street Journal emphasized, "Liberals have a big baby problem: They're not having enough of them, they haven't for a long time, and their pool of potential new voters is suffering as a result."

According to the 2004 General Social Survey, if you picked 100 unrelated politically liberal adults at random, you would find that they had between them 147 children. If you picked 100 conservatives, you would find 208 kids. That's a fertility gap of 41 percent.
What are some factors that influence family size? Philip Longman of USA Today shed some light on this: "In the USA, 47 percent of people who attend church weekly say their ideal family size is three or more children. By contrast, 27 percent of those who seldom attend church want that many kids.'

Religious observance is a good predictor of ideal family size as well as income, education and family-of-origin family size. Should liberals try to persuade each other to have more children for the sake of their ideology? Procreate for the cause? I don't think so. Many governments enduring declines in fertility institute pronatalist policies. Incentives may include child allowances, birth grants and paid maternity leave, and are meant to increase family size. While these policies do not guarantee that family size will increase, they are a guarantee of treating families in a manner that makes child-rearing less of a financial burden, which is a welcome benefit. Governments often want to increase family size to ensure that there are enough soldiers for a formidable army and enough workers to pay taxes for programs that sustain the elderly such as Social Security. I don't see families having significantly more children for the sake of the Motherland or for an ideology such as liberalism.

From my two decades of research in family size and more practically speaking, as the father of four children, I can say with full confidence: The primary reason a couple should have a (another) child is because they want to love, cherish and care for that child, not for the sake of any cause or ideology.

Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park and can be reached at DrAlanSinger@aol.com