Have you ever wondered how social media companies like TikTok, YouTube and Instagram decide what content should be suggested for your viewing? Until recently, I never paid it any mind. That is until I found out about the disturbing content that is sent to young viewers. It’s fine if suggested videos are how to make the best cookies or look at these adorable puppies. It’s not so fine when “challenges” are suggested. Young children cannot decipher the risks in challenges like swallowing Tide pods or trying to blackout from strangling. Recently several children as young as 8 and 9 years old died from trying to replicate these videos on TikTok. Children (especially girls) are receiving suggestions for weight loss and negative body image messages.
Here’s what you can do:
1. Discuss the concept of an algorithm. When kids click on videos mindlessly they are sending a message to the social media company that they want to see more like that video. But sometimes the company tries slightly off topic videos and when the child clicks on that, the choices for future viewing are refined. Knowing how it works can lead to smarter clicking choices.
2. Go on your child’s social media with them. See what kinds of videos are coming up in the For You section. Have an open non-judgmental discussion about it. Ask your child how they feel about what they are seeing?
3. Discuss why people do challenges. Is it for likes? Is it for popularity? Is it for fun? Talk about the hidden dangers that might not be obvious. Ask your children to pause and resist impulsively jumping into a challenge.
4. Remind your children that they can always come to you to ask questions or if they have an issue. You will try very hard to calmly work through a problem or answer a question.
Pick up a copy of First Phone: A Child’s Guide to Digital Responsibility, Safety and Etiquette
This has been a pretty crappy year all around the globe. The Coronavirus swept in and ruined life for all of us. We’ve all missed a lot and suffered to more or less extent. When I look back on this year I will no doubt remember the frustrations, the tears and the stress of dealing with the unknown.
But the dread of being locked down for nine months isn’t the whole story. I want to remember that there were good times here. We found ways to keep busy and stay sane.
Here’s what I did for almost a year. I’ll warn you, there was a lot of television and screen time for all of us. I don’t care one bit. We are alive.
Top moment of 2020 quarantine:
Kristen Bell read my book, Ignore It!. Then she talked about it on the Today show with Jenna Bush Hager. Then she sent me kissy faces on Instagram. Thrilling doesn’t cover it. The thing is when this happened I was in a very low point. I just felt like I needed something good, and I said that to my friend Ellie. Then an hour later Kristen Bell posts something about my book. It felt like the universe was giving me what I needed at the time I really needed it. So thank you Kristen Bell.
I’m a podcast addict. These are just a few I liked from this last year. Warning…I lean toward investigative reporting with some serious topics.
Do No Harm: Not for everyone, but this is what happens when child protective services gets it very wrong. For any of my social work friends, I highly recommend.
Verified: The first season of this really stuck with me although I also liked season 2. It’s a podcast about what it means to be verified (spoiler: it doesn’t really mean safety).
You and Me Both with Hillary Clinton: I couldn’t love HRC more. Listening reminds me of what a smart, kind, funny and accomplished woman she is. She laughs so much, that’s my favorite thing.
Canary: About a woman who was sexually assaulted, the court case, the judge and a victim from the past.
Nice White Parents: Fascinating and depressing look at what happens when white parents try to “help” improve a school.
Even The Rich: Silly, fun 4-part podcasts about uber rich families like the Murdochs, Ted Kennedy, The Queen and Beyonce and Jay Z.
Meditative Story: There are many nights I wouldn’t have slept at all if it wasn’t for this podcast. It’s stories told quietly with nice music and some meditation at the end.
For Best podcast of all time with an update during Covid: In The Dark Season 2. Don’t google it. Just listen. Then tell me because I love to discuss it.
I am the slowest reader of all time. It’s so annoying. So, I typically read one book at bedtime (at a snail’s pace), and then I listen to one audio book. I love being read to and the audio books get me outside taking long walks. This year during quarantine I read more books than any other year. I guess there’s the upside to being locked down with nothing to do.
Here is what I read and a one sentence summary.
Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb –Funny and touching book about a Jewish grandma and her loving but critical relationship with her granddaughter. LOVED.
Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker – Fascinating and devastating true story about a family of 12 children in the 1970s where six of the boys were diagnosed with schizophrenia. LOVED.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell – Highly researched historical fiction about Shakespeare, his family, the plague, marriage grief and love. I LOVED this book until the last word.
Too Much and Never Enough by Mary Trump – An inside look at the family dynamics of the Trump family from Donald’s niece. LOVED.
We Walk: Life with Severe Autism by Amy S. Lutz – Smart, thoughtful essays written by the mother of a severely autistic child. She has a lot to say and many opinions that are different from the cultural norms. I really enjoyed this book.
This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel – Story of a family of five boys when the youngest decides at 5-years old that he wants to be a girl named Poppy. It is so nuanced and thoughtful. I LOVED this book and this little girl so much I named my puppy Poppy.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – Slow and steady telling of a family drama in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Very Good.
Born a Crime by Trever Noah – Memoir of Trever Noah’s youth growing up in South Africa. I enjoyed three quarters of this book.
Know My Name by Chanel Miller – horrifying story of the woman who was assaulted by Brock Turner and how she fought back in court. I listened to this audio read by the author. I have a hard time finishing due to the audio. But I found her Instagram account and I LOVE that.
On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming – A daughter looks into the brief disappearance of her mother in a small British town. Good not great but with some interesting family photos and details.
Adult Conversation by Brandy Ferner – Everything you may have felt about motherhood but couldn’t tell anyone, this book shows the real struggles of early parenting, marriage and how to find funny when nothing is funny. I actually laughed and cried. LOVED.
March (trilogy) by John Lewis – The true story (told in graphic novel) of how Congressman John Lewis and other brave people protested for civil rights in the 1960s. LOVED.
Me by Elton John – I’m an obsessive lover of all things Elton. So obviously I loved this memoir.
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makki – Set during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, this book details the lives of several people affected by the crisis. It’s told in alternating voices and I liked only one half of the duo telling the story. Meh.
The Knockout Queen by Rufi Thorpe – The complicated lives of two teens figuring out life. Liked.
My Life in France by Julia Child – This is a straightforward but lovely memoir of Julia’s time in Paris writing her epic Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Very Good if you like Julia.
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed – Written as an anonymous advice column these long responses to reader letter vary in interest. Meh
Favorite book I read last year that came out this year: Three Ring Circus by Jeff Pearlman
Currently Reading: The Friend by Sigrid Nunez – not my favorite.
Cooking and Baking
I love to cook but started really getting sick of my own food during so many days of eating at home. Here are a few of my favorites that I made over and over again. I lived by the NY Times cooking IG page and Smitten Kitchen.
Grape tomato kimchi – I can eat this entire bowl myself. Add cucumbers for even more deliciousness.
Best meatballs– I love this recipe because the meatballs are baked instead of pan fried. Easy and healthy.
Best chocolate chip cookies– I survived this quarantine by baking these cookies and sharing them with friends. I use salted butter, sprinkle some sea salt on top and use the highest quality chips. I promise these are the best cookies.
We don’t all like the same games. But we can all agree on Jackbox.TV. We have had so many laughs playing these games. We even bought a second pack.
The Great Outdoors
Living in California has afforded lots of safe opportunities to get out of the house. I have walked and hiked many miles and swam with fish and sea lions in the ocean. These activities 100% are the reason I didn’t snap on my family and we all still like each other.
Casey made friendship bracelets, Emmett felted a lot of little guys and I did some quilling which I hadn’t done in years. I also made a life-sized paper mache lady because when you have nothing to do and no where to go, you make giant paper mache people, right?
One of the saddest parts of the quarantine was saying goodbye to our beloved Norma the dog. We were all a bit lonelier for a few months. But then Poppy came to brighten our lives. She’s a mini Bernedoodle and she is a pain in the butt but also pure joy.
For much of the pandemic I could barely put two words together. But a few articles bubbled to the surface and I’m really proud of them.
“White Kids Are Using the N-Word at School!” How To Talk About Discrimination – I pitched this to Your Teen Magazine after my son and nephew talked to me about how kids use the N-word without a thought. This came out without much fanfare due to much more pressing issues in the country. Still, I worked hard on this and both kids also got a byline.
I watched so much television. It seems impossible I could have done anything else. But I promise I really did all the other things I already listed and also spent time with my kids. Here are a few of the highlights:
All of Grays Anatomy (I am so ashamed, there are 384 episodes)
All of Downton Abbey
All seasons of Somebody Feed Phil – Creator of Everybody Loves Raymond goes around the world eating and meeting the people.
The latest season of The Great British Baking show
Anne with an E – adaptation from Anne of Green Gables.
The Crown season 4
Lenox Hill – Follows 4 doctors at Lenox Hill Hospital (including my high school boyfriend). It’s amazing.
Virgin River – stupid but gorgeous nature and gossipy plot.
Indian Matchmaking – Just so much fun but unsatisfying in the end.
The Surgeon’s Cut – Kind of like Lenox Hill but different. Also great.
Next in Fashion – Like project runway but better plus I <3 Tan France.
The Queen’s Gambit – loved it all including the wallpaper
Challenger: The Final Flight – obviously about the Challenger and what lead up to the explosion.
Never Have I Ever – Sweet teen drama
The Octopus Teacher – man swims with and befriends an octopus. Nice if you like sea life.
Also, every 90-day Fiancé (because I have no shame) and Housewives of Salt Lake City (including my second cousin).
Favorite quarantine show hands down would be Voices of Fire. It’s like American Idol but for a gospel choir.
I’m writing to you because you are old enough to know the truth. Actually, you aren’t. You are innocent children who deserve a childhood without fears and nightmares. But the truth is unavoidable, and at this moment there is nothing else I can say. So here it is.
I cannot protect you from a gunman. Not at preschool. Not at a concert. Not even in temple. There is no amount of guns that can make you safe because those same guns will always find a way into the wrong hands. If someone wants to kill you while you are peacefully playing tag in the playground, I cannot help you. If you are having fun at a concert with your friends or enjoying the latest movie in the theater, I cannot protect you. You could get shot, and you might die.
My beautiful daughter, I can almost guarantee you will experience lots and lots of sexual harassment. You will have unwanted attention from strangers who will look at your body and sexualize it. You will probably have a boss who will discriminate against you because you are a female or while you are pregnant or after the birth of your beloved child. You may even be raped by a stranger, or worse, someone you know. And if you choose to speak up you may not be believed. You may lose everything in the process. There are people in powerful positions who will work to silence your voice. Even if you present the most compelling evidence and you are believed, sometimes nothing will change. Because lots of people don’t care.
I’d like to tell you that you get to make decisions about what happens to and in your body, but I can’t. The right to an abortion is a fragile one, and there’s a chance you may lose that right. Even if your life is at risk, you may not be able to have life-saving surgery because some will value your fetus more than you. Don’t think you can rely on contraception to avoid an unwanted pregnancy because that right may go away too. Depending on where you live or where you work you may not have access to an IUD or the pill. And you may not always have enough money for condoms. This makes me terribly sad, and I’m sorry.
My science-loving boy, I’d like to tell you that science and data matter. That people rely on high-quality research conducted by respected institutions around the world to make decisions about our planet. But that’s not always true. There are many people who look at widely accepted beliefs about climate change and deny the existence of overwhelming data. Some people will govern with the narrow focus of getting themselves reelected. They make the rules that we all have to live by. Your grandchildren may not have any water to drink or a dry place to build a house. I know it’s scary but that is already happening to many.
You have the right to vote and voting matters. You still have this right, but some will make it difficult to actually cast your ballot. People will change the rules at the last minute to favor their political party. They will try to minimize dissenting voices by making it difficult to vote by asking for identification or limiting voting hours or moving polling locations without notice. People will say every vote counts but sometimes it doesn’t. The popular vote can go to one candidate but an antiquated system will have the electoral college pick a different winner.
In these horrible times I wake up nearly every day with astonishing disappointment and pain. So it’s really hard to continue to pretend that these terrible things won’t happen here. I cannot look into your beautiful innocent eyes and say, “It can’t happen to you.” It can. It happened to school kids just like you in Miami and Newtown and Columbine. It happened in the supermarket in Kentucky and in a temple in Pittsburgh. It happened to a professor, just like me. The congressman in our district doesn’t believe in climate change. It’s all around you, and I can’t lie to you.
But in all of this painful uncertainty, there are some truths that might help you.
I will speak up to do my best to protect you. I’ll do this by fighting the school district or suing my employer for discrimination or by writing about injustice. Speaking up may not always change things but it will show people that I care and support them. That’s not nothing. If I see something that is hurting someone, I’ll say something. If I can right a wrong, I’ll do it. It will not always be easy. But that’s usually when it’s most important. I will do this for you and you must do it for others.
I will vote until my last breath. I still believe change can come. People sacrificed in significant ways to give us the right to vote. I’ll do what I can to protect that vote, and I’ll exercise my right in every single election.
I will create a home where everyone is welcome to Sunday dinner or Passover regardless of faith or race or sexuality. I’ll make Christmas dinner for our Christian friends or Iftar for the Muslim ones. Why? Because our lives are made better by people who are not exactly like us. I’ll teach you to be open-minded and have an open heart. I’ll be kind and generous whenever I can and sometimes when I think I can’t. I’ll show you that you can make a change in this world even if it’s just to one person. To that person, that might be the difference between life and death.
I will try to live my life to the fullest because bad things can happen. I can’t prevent a lot of the bad things I mentioned. But they are less painful when we live our truest best life. Go out and live your lives and enjoy it. We owe that to the people who have been lost.
I love you. I pray that’s enough to comfort you. Love, Mom
My friends Noel and Michelle and I like to celebrate our birthdays at the beach or out for lunch. This wasn’t possible so we put together a little social distance party for Michelle’ birthday this year.
My family, just like millions across the globe, has been in quarantine for 29 days. In the beginning I wrote a blog with a few suggestions for how parents can manage the time shuttered at home with kids. However, real life is a little different than aspiration. Here’s how it’s really been going at our house and what I’m doing to keep my head up.
I say yes to almost everything.Can I make a banana cake with peanut butter frosting? Can I take apart your old computer? Can I dye my hair? Can I shave it off?Can I watch more television? Can I play more video games? Yes, yes, yes. Yes, to anything that isn’t dangerous that can be construed as an activity or fun or relaxing or just time consuming.
I’ve lowered my expectations. My house isn’t clean. My kitchen is a disaster. A friend mentioned seeing a list of things to remember to clean around the house. I told her not to send me the list. I can’t handle more cleaning. The dishes pile up faster than I can blink. Staying above water is such a fine line. I’ve had to stop caring about the way my house typically looks. Letting go feels better than trying to live up to standards that feel not worth the effort right now.
Keeping my eyes on my own paper. I always tell parents to worry about what goes on in their own house and forget about how perfectly it all looks at the neighbor’s house. No one has it all together all the time. Now more than ever we have to remember this. We’ve all seen pictures on Instagram of gorgeous breads and perfectly cleaned linen closets. Some people are incredibly productive at this time. Others are hanging on by a thread. Some people are both. I can tell you no one is winning the quarantine. We are all just trying to survive.
Communicating the ugly feelings, to someone. I tend to keep things inside until I’ve had time to process and deal a bit. But this isn’t possible or even recommended when confined to quarters with other people during a traumatic experience. I’ve confided in friends and family when I’m on the edge. I also found a way to politely ask my husband for a little more support around the house when I need it. Talking and reaching out has helped me face another day with a little optimism.
I cry. Despite best efforts to keep it together, I cry. I cry for the people who are sick or caring for the sick. I cry because people are running out of food and money. I cry because children are learning a horrible new normal. I cry because there is no end in sight. I cry because I’m overwhelmed and lost sometimes. I cry because I miss my friends and family and my old life. I cry because so much we have been looking forward to has been cancelled. I cry because I’m helping no one. I cry and I don’t feel bad about it.
Sunlight on my face literally feels like having my battery recharged. I know myself. I need nature to brighten my outlook on just about everything. Sitting in my back yard listening to birds and seeing butterflies and flowers makes me happy. If something will make me happy right now, I do it.
I make plans. Having something to do makes each day slightly different, in a good way. I made a date to play the ukulele with our old piano teacher. I made plans to make croissants from scratch with my sister and a friend. I met up virtually with two of my editors for a chat. I made a birthday cake for a friend and dropped it off at her house (from a distance). These activities shaped my days and gave me a purpose that I need so desperately right now.
I soak up the special moments. Even during a horrible pandemic, there can be joy. One day I sewed masks at the dining room table with my daughter while we binged Love is Blind. It was a welcome break from the bleakness of this time. I picked up my phone to memorialize the moment so when I look back and remember how hard this was, I will also remember how special it was to be home with my kids.
I make soup. Soup comforts me. Yesterday I made my great grandmother’s cabbage soup. My mom gave me the instructions, but I wasn’t sure it would taste like my hers. It came out just like I remembered from my childhood. Last week I made Matzoh ball soup. The week before it was pumpkin lentil. It’s the little things that help us get through. For me, it’s making soup.
I don’t care about school. I truly couldn’t care less what homework my kids are doing. They do their work, or they don’t. I don’t check. I have teenagers so I know this may not be possible for all families. But it works for us. Here are more of my thoughts about parenting teens and school during the quarantine.
I take space when I need it. There are times when I cannot be around anyone or I will burst. I’m a person who loves people and also loves a little alone time. There is very little alone time and that can get to me. So when I need it, I excuse myself and go to my room. I watch the Shahs of Sunset or I play Ruzzle (play me, I’m CatherinePEA) or I listen to a podcast. After a short time I’m ready for people again.
I love having a show to watch with my kids. It’s not just fun to watch with them. These shows bring up important issues to discuss and provide lots of funny inside jokes. Despite the bad rap for screen time, watching shows brings us together and closer. There is no better time to start a series with many seasons. Here are some of my family favorites to watch.
100 Humans on Netflix Science and Nature – 13+ (16+ if squeamish about the idea of sperm being discussed vaguely)
A social experiment where 100 individuals are part of interactive research studies to understand complex sociological issues in a fun way. Every wonder which is the smarter sex? How does age impact ability? How does racial bias impact our decisions? There are so many questions 100 Humans works to answer. There are lots of methodological problems with the research but each study brings up interesting ideas about how we all operate and why. I promise this one will spark endless debate and conversation in the house.
Atypical on Netflix Family Drama, Autism, LGBT, College Life, High School – 13+ (15+ if worried about sex and relationships discussed)
Sam, an 18-year-old on the autism spectrum, decides it’s time to find a girlfriend, a journey that sets Sam’s mom on her own life-changing path as her son seeks more independence. This is a great family drama (like the movie “Parenthood”) with real-life themes for all families.
The Zoo on Animal Planet Science and Animals – Any age
The Zoo offers a unique behind the scenes look at The Bronx Zoo in New York City. This show is so much more than animals. They show their work on conservation, animal care, reproduction and more. It’s funny and sweet but also important.
This show is for people who like to bake, for those who like to eat and for those who cannot bake a thing. These British bakers are sweet, endearing, and they creating incredible edibles. Unlike many American shows, these competitors are all kind, help each other and are amateur bakers.
Cheer on Netflix Sports, Competition, College Life – Any Age
Cheer offers viewers an inside look into the lives of a highly competitive cheerleading team at a community college in Texas. You will come for the cheerleading (it’s an actual sport with highly skilled athletes), but you’ll stay for Jerry and La’Darius.
Gilmore Girls on Netflix Family Drama,College Life, High School – 13+
Cheesy but engaging mother-daughter drama about growing up, family and life.
The Good Place (from creator Michael Schur of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “Parks and Recreation”) is a comedy about what makes a good person. This show is so much more than that. Every episode incorporates ethics and interesting philosophical concepts. There is so much to discuss after each episode.
Battlebots on Discovery Science, Robotics, Competition, Smashing stuff up – 9+
BattleBots like a mashup of mixed martial arts and a monster truck battle. Two remote controlled robots are put into a bulletproof cage and let loose on each other until one bot dies. There are fireworks and head on collisions, loose wheels flying, flame throwers and screaming and laughter and … I could go on and on.
I came late to this party but glad I got there. This historical family drama follows the lives of the Crawley family and their servants in the family’s Edwardian country house. You will love them and hate them, then you will miss them.