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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Techno-Kids

Sitting at a recent school performance where my eight year old son was participating, I remarked at the amount of technology parents showed up armed with - digital video cameras, camera cell phones, digital still cameras - and we mused about being technologically-challenged. But the mom next to me was proud that her daughter (also age 8) was proficient at her cell phone, texting, iTunes, social networking, and all things high-tech. On the one hand, I felt woefully behind in keeping up with the Joneses and on the other, my brain was screaming "what does an 8 year old need a cell phone for?"

No doubt that kids today are far more technologically savvy than many of their parents. But is that always a good thing? News reports show that today's teens have taken on media as a "full time job", showing that kids age 13 to 18 spend more than 72 hours a week using electronic media. According to the report, 75 percent of teens spend at least 2 to 3 hours a day downloading or listening to music online and 68 percent of them have profiles on social networking outlets such as MySpace or Facebook. The Nielsen company assures us not to worry - teens are still engaged in "traditional" media such as watching TV and listening to the radio - in fact, television watching is up 6% in the past five years. None of this makes me feel any better as a parent, though.

Watching too much television has always been a concern of parents. We know that sedentary behavior is not good for our kids - or for us. But as a recent Time magazine report indicates, even television viewing is of great concern to children's health. Higher rates of tv-watching have correlated with higher blood pressure which, surprisingly, is not true for other inactivity such as playing video games or surfing the internet.

We have all heard reports about the radiation from cell phones being dangerous as well. According to Mercola.com, 20-60% of the radiation emitted from your cell phone is transferred to your head in use, exposing your brain to high levels of electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Even if you dispute the dangers of EMFs from your cell phone, ABC News has a whole host of reasons why your cell phone may not be good for your health - from transporting germs to causing accidents while driving or walking.

But what about social networking? Could it be unhealthy? Neuroscientists are starting to warn that social networking may actually be re-wiring children's brains to have shorter attention spans, an inability to empathize, and shaky self-identities. There is also a growing fear that we are creating a disconnect from the unpredictability and deepness of communication between human beings by promoting short snippets of chatter to fill our social time. Psychologist Aric Sigman also fears that social networking reduces our face-to-face contact with others which is essential to health and wellness. According to Dr. Sigman, more than 209 "socially-regulated" genes have been identified that are "involved in the immune system, cell proliferation, and responses to stress." These genes respond to social interaction and work to reduce inflammatory response or otherwise protect our health as a result of direct connection with real, live people.

Declining social interactions impact our health and the health of our communities, our towns, and ourselves. When we interact in person, we boost our immunity and gain value insights and lessons on human behavior. Technology has given us huge advantages and access to information but we need to balance it with personal time, an appreciation of nature, and time to connect, dream, and use our imaginations and creativity. Needless to say, my eight year old will not be getting a cell phone or a Facebook page anytime soon.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Nursing Our Future: The Video



This week we are inspired by how organically a project comes to be and how beautifully a community can come together and create a powerful statement about holistic living.

Just last week, an idea was born thanks to HMN Advisory Board member Linda Folden Palmer who forwarded along a link to a Herald Sun article about Generation-Y women being reluctant to nurse publicly. At the same time, I was chatting with HMN Celebrity Spokesperson Mayim Bialik about nursing and she shared with us a lovely photo of her nursing on the strip in Las Vegas. In a moment, an idea was conceived and a passion to show young women that nursing in public is normal came about. Within a few days, we began to receive dozens of photos from our Holistic Moms members showing them nursing their newborns, babies, toddlers, and children in high profile locations like the Eiffel Tower and Tavern of the Green to their local coffee shop or park. Another HMN member volunteered use of one of her piano compositions and HMN National Team member, Julie Wagner, put it all together in what became - in just one week's time - our Nursing Our Future video.

The response?
"Thanks so much for this gift to the world."

"Today I am in tears. It is a joy to watch HMN grow, and now you have created this video project which is so extraordinary. It has such an enormous impact. I love it. It is so moving."

"This is the MOST amazing video of breastfeeding I have ever seen!!! THANK YOU for making this and for putting the message so succinctly. I cried and feel so proud to be a Holistic Mom."

Women feel and care deeply about nursing. We want to nourish and nurture out babies until they no longer desire it. We want to nurse when our babies are hungry or need soothing, no matter where we are, who sees us, or what else is going on. We want to feel empowered and confident, and not to be given sideways glances or to be asked to cover up. We shouldn't need to - and don't have to. Nursing is normal, beautiful, and good for moms, babies, and the planet. If we can strengthen our pro-breastfeeding sentiment, we all win. It's time to let young women know the value of nursing, the power of nursing, and its importance. You can nurse in style, openly or discreetly, publicly and privately, with infants and older children, and be proud!

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this exciting project. We are honored to be able to share your breastfeeding images with the world and hope we can inspire more women to do so!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Getting Back on Track: Food and Influence

No matter what your political leanings, if you are a holistic parent you have reason to applaud recent efforts by the Obama Administration to refocus our attention on real food. First came the White House garden - a remarkable project spearheaded by the First Lady and designed to remind us of the value of natural, whole foods and the joys of getting back to the land. Simple acts of donating produce to local food banks and bringing in elementary school children for a lesson on nutrition may be written off as publicity stunts by critics. But, in fact, such actions make a bold statement about the power of individual efforts and how we can each produce change. Heads of State have been inspired by the garden and its message, as have gardeners and families across the country.

Now the Obamas are taking another step - this time toward ridding our school systems of junk food. According to the New York Times, the Obama Administration is introducing legislation to remove candy, soda, and other toxic foodstuffs from our educational institutions. With childhood obesity rates increasing from 6.5% in 1980 to more than 19% of children by 2008 according to the CDC, this is an important step in the right direction. Our schools should be committed to helping children learn and highly processed, artificial foods have no place in that commitment. A nutrient-deficient diet has been linked to host of learning problems, including ADD/ADHD, hyperactivity, and mood disorders. Recent studies are also finding a link between junk food diets and violence, yet another issue our schools battle to manage. And, just the other day, a new study was released indicating that soda consumption is correlated with increased risk of pancreatic cancer. Is this what we want to teach our children?

Not surprisingly, the American Beverage Association is opposed to the efforts but more shocking is that resistance is also coming from school administrators and parents. Schools earn money by promoting junk food within their buildings and both parents and administrators find a bit of twisted logic to explain how kids will miss out on programs and supplies if deprived of the things that rob their bodies of good health. Fortunately, some schools have already decided that the price to kids is simply not worth it and others have found healthier, greener options to raise money for school programs. One smart group of students in Florida protested an effort to sell candy and potato chips for a school trip after learning about their less than stellar nutritional profile in health class - a protest that resulted in a $16,000 donation from the widow of Robert Atkins, ensuring that their trip would be held.

As parents- and as the President - we need to set an example about the value and importance of real food for our kids and for our future. Love them or not, the Obamas are in a position of influence and thankfully they are throwing their weight behind a healthy and sustainable future.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Anger Management: Remove Plastics

Concerns over the risks of exposure to BPA (Bisphenol-A) have been escalating for some time, ranging from massive mainstream media attention to popular baby stores pulling products containing BPA from their shelves. BPA, a chemical used in plastics, managed to sneak into every aspect of our daily lives and environment in such forms as baby bottles and sippy cups, formula cans, canned food linings, water supply pipes, medical tubing, and even cash register receipts. This chemical, which enables plastics to be flexible, appears to be an insidious companion and has been linked to reproduction problems, heart disease, and diabetes as well as to developmental disorders among infants and hormone disruption. Despite years of claiming BPA is safe, the Food and Drug Administration is now looking to spend more than $30 million to research the effects of BPA in our food supply.

Now a new study by researchers at the University of North Carolina adds more fuel to the fire: their findings indicate that high levels of BPA exposure in baby girls is related to aggressive behaviors. The UNC study examined infant girls born to mothers with high levels of BPA during pregnancy. By age 2, the girls born to mothers with high levels of exposure "were more likely to have aggressive and hyperactive behaviors than children of women with lower BPA levels, especially if higher exposure was seen earlier in pregnancy."

How can you avoid BPA? Switch to stainless steel bottles for drinking and stay away from plastic water bottles, avoid using plastic baby bottles and sippy cups, do not purchase canned foods (chicken soup, ravioli, and baby formula have been shown to have particularly high levels of BPA), store your food in glass, stainless steel, or ceramic containers and not plastic ones, skip the receipts, and cleanse your home of toxic toys. And be sure to visit Bisphenol-A Free for even more information and guides to removing plastics from your household.