Q&A: Keeping kids safe on social networking sites

I am not even going to pretend to know the answer to this question, but I thought I'd bring it up and see if we could come up with anything. It's actually a bunch of questions I've gotten from readers with children of different ages, but it all seems to be part of the same issue of keeping our kids safe on the internet.

I got a couple of questions about sites like Club Penguin, in which the kids create characters and their characters can interact with characters created by other players. My 6 1/2-year-old plays CP, and I have to say that it looks safe to me. The things the characters can say to each other are pretty locked down, and you can report other players for saying things they shouldn't.

Again, the real key seems to be keeping the computer in a common area so you can monitor what your kid is doing, and so your child knows you know what's going on. Talking a lot about what's OK and what's not helps, too. My son has clicked off games he's run into a few times because they had shooting or other things we've talked about not being appropriate for him.

The tougher questions I got were from moms of kids old enough to be on Myspace and Facebook. I'm not on Myspace, so I don't know all the intricacies, but it looks like it's easier to run into trouble there, but also easier for parents to monitor. Your page is just kind of out in the open so anyone can stumble on it and talk to you, but at the same time this means all your business is posted right there for your parents to see.

Facebook is trickier. In some ways it's way safer, because your profile is locked down (assuming you set your privacy settings!) so only people you add to your friends list can see anything about you. But there are also ways to communicate privately with other members on your friends list, so that there's no external evidence of that. One mom who wrote me said that she joined FB to monitor her child on it, and her child knows that and they're FB friends, and she regularly monitors her child's wall. I think that's excellent communication, BUT 1) her child could have her on "limited profile" so she doesn't see everything the child has posted, and 2) no one sees the private messages people send each other. (And, thinking about some private message conversations I've been party to,  well, yeah. There's all sorts of stuff you can't see by looking at people's walls.) So there's no way to know how much she's really seeing of what her daughter does on Facebook. As long as she understands that, it OK.

My 15-year-old cousin is on FB and I know I pop over there every other day just to make sure nothing untoward is happening on her wall (her parents aren't on FB so I feel like I need to watch out for her), but I also know there''s all kinds of stuff I can't see.

I think the trick, though, is that your kids know that you care. And that, yes, they can sneak around you and do stuff they're not supposed to (like we all did), but that you are there trying to keep them safe. The same mom who joined FB also has an agreement with her daughter, so her daughter has written down her usernames and passwords in a sealed envelope just in case her parents need them. That, I think, is an awesome level of trust, on both sides–that the child deserves privacy but her parents need to be able to protect her.

What do you guys think? I'd especially love to hear from parents with kids on social networking sites who are willing to talk about the process you went through with your kids to establish guidelines that respect kids' privacy but also adults' responsibility.

Baby carriers and back pain

Baby carriers do not need to hurt your back. If you're wearing them correctly, you'll feel the weight of the baby, but it shouldn't be so painful that you need to take pain meds. If you are feeling that much pain, you can Google the name of the carrier you have and the word "instructions" and someone somewhere will have posted photos of the correct way to wear that carrier. Or else try a different kind of carrier, because there is no perfect one, and maybe there's a better one for your body.

In general, the closer to you and higher up you can put your baby, the less pain and movement you'll have. If you're using a Bjorn or Bjorn-style carrier (which I don't actually recommend because I think other styles are far less painful, notably the Ergo if you like a constructed carrier or a wrap carrier if you like less construction), make sure the cross in the back crosses below your shoulder blades. It should be where your bra strap goes. Here's a really old post on different kinds of carriers.

Also, wearing your baby should be something you do because you want to. Not because it's "in fashion" or because Dr. Sears tells you to. Do it because babies who are worn tend to cry less, or because you like having your little one snuggled against you, or because your baby won't stop !@#$%-ing screaming if you put her down, or because your best friend walked all the baby weight off by wearing her baby, or because you can't deal with your stroller, or whatever. But let it be because you want to. Not because the lady at the grocery store or the women on the message board or the misogynist ad-writers at Motrin tell you you have to and then make fun of you for it.

You are the parent. You get to decide.

Also, seriously–Lucky Magazine? I read you because I want to get away from the "moms should do this and that" crap that bombards me every effing day in this country. All I want from you is to know whether ruching is in this fall and how to wear suede booties with a sweater dress and why shea butter is the miracle that's going to solve all my hair problems. I do not want misogynistic mommy drive-by ads in your pages. If you want to take ads from the hacks at Motrin (who apparently have never heard of a focus group), force them to give you ads about pain and *actual* fashion. They could have done a heck of an ad about stilettos and other painful shoes, but they chose the easy, inaccurate, bottom-feeding low-hanging fruit. Don't participate in the proliferation of mom-guilt on the hardworking women of the world. We get enough of it every day from people wearing Christmas sweaters. We want your magazine to be a safe space.

I think I'm going out to buy a big bottle of Advil tomorrow.

(Hey–if you're feeling carpal tunnel-type pain from lifting or carrying a baby or toddler, before you despair or get cortizone shots or dope yourself up on a pain reliver that starts with M that I'll never buy again, try homeopathy. Go to a health food store and plunk down $6 for a tube of pellets of Rhus Toxicodendron. Get 30x if they have them–if not get whatever dose they have. Take one under your tongue three times a day. If it's the proper remedy for your kind of pain, you should feel less inflammation and pain within three to four days. Keep taking until the pain is gone. If it isn't doing anything after four days, then it's the wrong remedy for you, so you can stop. Safe for breastfeeding, and no interactions with anything else! I had debilitating carpal tunnel from lifting my horse of a firstborn, and his pediatrician, who is also a homeopath, prescribed Rhus toxicodendron for me, and it worked like a charm. So I'm passing it on to you, the pain sufferers of the internet.)

Coming up from underground

I've been on a self-imposed media blackout for several days now, so Icould finish my first freelance project with no distractions. No
internet, no TV, not even a phone.

It's funny, you know. I leapt
headfirst into what feels like it's supposed to be my new life,
quitting my full-time job, without really thinking about what the
transition would be like. And I knew it was going to suck, because I'd
taken on what was essentially a full-time freelance project while I
still had fa full-time job to finish out. But I didn't realize how
fully I'd fallen out of my old freelance mentality, and how painful it
would be to shoehorn myself back into it.

As I see it, there were two big problems:

1) I just can't
stay up anymore like I used to be able to*. At about 10:30 pm, my mind
just shuts down. So trying to do anything substantive after the kids
were in bed was dicey at best.

2) I'm not used to producing content. My freelance job is producing
content (sort of educational in nature–the kind of thing you never
think about an actual human having written), and for the last 1 1/2
years I've been doing a full-time job that was mostly about talking to
people, fixing their problems, being the repository of knowledge (I do
have a freakish memory for details about clients), and teaching people
to do things. All of those things are process things. I can do two or
three at a time, and they all fit together and time can always expand
to do more of them.

But this freelance job is about producing actual content, on actual
topics, with actual things that are right and wrong, and ways things
have to be done. And I was completely out of practice with that.
Somehow, I thought that I was going to be able to think the content
into existence and have it magically appear in the right format. Or,
basically, that I could just show up and figure things out to solve
problems for people, like I do in every other task in my life.

Having worked on the freelance project for 60 of the previous 72 hours, I have discovered some things:

It's like riding a bike. If you could do something before, you can do
it again. Getting back into the zone may have felt like giving birth
again, but now that I'm here it's kind of fun.

b) It's one thing to a have a work ethic. It's another thing to
realize you're a single mom and you just quit your easy, comfortable
job and this is what's going to pay your rent and health insurance and
buy bagels for your kids. When you can't think anymore at 2:30 am, set
the alarm for 5:30 am, because Yes, We Can.

b.1) Hey–5:30! Wake up, switch laptop on, and jam on the work for
90 minutes in bed before the kids wake up. Dude. Who'd have thought?

I can only listen to '40s music for about four hours before I start to
go a little batty. I sequestered myself in a cafe near my house to just
slam through the work for two days straight, and they play a radio
station that calls itself "High Standards" that plays nothing but
singers and standards from the '40s and '50s. My previous time spent at
that cafe was in three hour increments, and the music seemed cozy and
fun. Who doesn't like a little Ella, you know? But after four hours,
and then six hours, and then ten hours, I really just wanted to stab
Jack Jones' eye out with a pencil. And what's with all the Ella? It
wouldn't kill you to play some Keely or June once in awhile, you
hackneyed dilettantes.

So now I'm pacing myself. Trying to work it out. Aiming for my life
goal for the next few months: No, no drama. No, no, no, no drama.

What's up with you all?

* Does that construction really make
sense from an elegance-of-language point of view? Shouldn't we be able
to say in American English "I just can't stay up anymore like I used to
could"? Or is it just me?

Tooth-losing rituals

The big news around here is that my older son (6 1/2) finally has a loose tooth.

He's not really enjoying it, since it's at the point at which it hurts and is hanging on by the root and it's making it hard for him to eat.

We started talking about the Tooth Fairy yesterday, so he knew to keep the tooth if it fell out at school. Then his dad and I got on the same page about exactly what the Tooth Fairy was going to leave (we'd decided on a dollar coin, although that may actually be low for Manhattan–I know a couple of kids who got five dollars! per tooth). They're at their dad's for the weekend, so the Tooth Fairy will probably come there. (Let's not talk about how sad it makes me not to be there for his first Tooth Fairy experience. Probably as sad as it made his dad not to watch him see the election results come in on Tuesday night. Divorce sucks.)

I love the Tooth Fairy, as it's all about myth and ritual. So I'd love to talk a little about what your own tooth-losing rituals are, if you're from someplace that doesn't have a Tooth Fairy or Tooth Fairy Equivalent (that would be a good name for an electronic music project, wouldn't it?). If you do come from a Tooth Fairy culture, do you do anything special?

Exhale, and Q&A: baby acne

Well. That was a significantly less traumatic process than it could have been. And the concession and acceptance speech were both amazing, and made me proud of my country.

So on to baby-related stuff. Anon wrote to ask if I knew how to get rid of baby acne.

As far as I know, baby acne is caused by all the hormones cycling out of the baby's system. Which means that there are going to be certain times when the hormones are surging more than others, and there's no real way to stop the acne except waiting it out.

There are definitely folk remedies that you can try. If nothing else, they'll give you something to do while you wait for the acne to go away on its own.

If you're breastfeeding, try squirting some on the affected area. (I just said "affected area" like I'm a medical person. Heh.) Breastmilk has antibiotic properties, and cures a number of random things, from rashes to pinkeye. Plus, it's free. So it's worth a shot.

If you're not nursing, or breastmilk doesn't do anything, you can try unfiltered, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar. Make sure you get the kind with the "mother" still in it (like Mrs. Braggs brand). Cut the vinegar with a little water, and dab it on.

Does anyone else have any harmless folk remedies for baby acne? If your child had it, when did it peak?

Terrible Tuesday

So I've been trying to keep my nose to the grindstone and eyes on the prize and all that stuff, but the election today in the US is freaking me out.

I'm just so scared of what's going to happen. Scared of getting my hopes up and then having them dashed. Scared of what people will do unfettered, and scared of what kinds of sabotage and institutional corruption can happen. Scared of watching the returns and seeing the states fill in the color I don't want to see. Scared that the winners won't be gracious and that the losers won't be respectful.

When I was in college, I noticed that when I got really anxious about something, my hands and fingers would start to ache. (It's what I imagine RA or another auto-immune illness feels like.) My hands have been aching on and off for the last week.

I'm setting this to auto-post at 4 am EST, so it's probably going to be another 20 hours before we know. Unless there's some nightmarish repeat of 2000, in which case my hands will probably fall right off.

Small consolation:

* Ben & Jerry's locations are giving a free scoop from 5-8 pm to people who have voted.

* Starbucks will give you a free cup of coffee if you come in after you vote and tell them who you voted for.

* If you live in NYC or Seattle, you can get a free adult toy from Babeland if you show you voted.

* This is an excellent chance to teach your kids some geography, and about how the electoral college works.

* By tomorrow it should all be over.


Please, no specifics. I think we all have the same fears, whether we're voting for Obama/Biden, McCain/Palin, or some other combo. Reports from voting sites would be fun, though.

Q&A: TIme change and its evil spawn

So now that those of us in North America and Europe are done with this fall time change, it's all starting to hit the fan. Some of the problems are kid-related: kids waking up too early, going to sleep too late, or just being all screwed up.

The solutions to those problems are, as with all things parenting, a choose-your-own-adventure. Some people just go cold turkey to the new ("new"?) time. So if your child has been going to bed at 8 pm (or 6:30 pm if you live in Seattle), even though 8 is 9 to the kid, keep them up until 8. After a week or so they'll adjust. Others bump the kid up to the new bedtime 10 minutes a night. So you'd start with 7:10 tonight, then 7:20 tomorrow night, etc. until the kid is going to bed at 8 by the weekend. Others will seize the opportunity and start putting the child to bed at 7.

If it's the morning that's particularly screwed up, you could try blackout shades, or "blackout shades": cardboard and/or aluminum foil over the windows.

The older I get, and the older my kids get, the more I find that the time change messes with me more than it does them. And it's not the time part, but the light part. For some reason, it doesn't much bother me how light or not it is when I wake up in the morning. But it makes me truly and seriously sad when it's so dark so early at night.

I've been trying to figure out how to deal with this, as it's an actual problem. And what I'm coming up with is trying to work things so that I can just coast through the hours that feel too dark to me (for me, now that daylight savings time is over, here at the eastern end of the time zone in NYC, that's about 5:30-7:30 pm). I'm going to do as much dinner prep ahead of time as possible, and make sure I have things all set up for the kids to go to bed, so I'm not doing any scrambling when it's time to get them down for the night.

Does anyone else have this issue? It almost feels like SAD (which I sometimes get a touch of, and which my aunt has seriously and has described to me). If so, how do you manage it? Does anyone else have the opposite problem, of being depressed by getting up in the dark? How do you cope?