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The Importance of Saying “Hi”

31 Mar

By Jim Castrataro

As I sit in my office on this beautiful winter day with a clear blue sky and a dusting of snow on all the trees I am reminded of just how great of a place New England is to raise a family.  With so much to do and see, the adventures of each day are only a short drive or walk away.  However, something is bothering me today.  You see, I just finished my walk to the coffee shop on campus and something that I have noticed over the years seemed to be exacerbated.  Not a single student on campus said “Hi” as we passed each other.  Even worse, most did not lift their head up as they walked, focused on the device in their hands.

I am fortunate to work in an arena where cell phones, iPads and other handheld technologies are not part of our day or, more importantly, our culture.   Although most kids do have a cell phone on them, they stay in their bags during the day.

So how do cell phones and saying “Hi” impact family health?  Well, I would argue this is a different type of family health, not the family health that involves doctors, dentists and nutritionists, but family health in terms of communication, love and companionship.

Young adolescents are constantly surrounded with the phrase “fundamentals.” I encourage you to work on your family health fundamentals and embrace the situations that bring these to the surface.  Although change is inevitable and the devices are a necessary part of our society, walking with our heads up and saying “Hi” cannot become a lost fundamental.  It is at the very core of our mental health and there is no better place to embrace this fundamental than with your family.

 

Jim Castrataro is the director of summer programs at Babson College.  His experience spans 16 years directing and consulting a variety of camp programs for thousands of children and young adults ranging from 5 to 18 years of age. 

Bonding with my Son through Minecraft

24 Mar

By Mark Cheverton

 

When we first bought my son the game Minecraft, I helped him load it on the computer, create his user name, Gameknight999, select his character appearance and off he went. At first, he played it on his own, but soon he was calling us into our office so that he could show us what he created—and it was pretty amazing.  He had built a gigantic castle, an obstacle course with moving parts, and even an entire underground village. His creations blew us away! As an engineer, anything that offers me a chance to build something sounds instantly intriguing. So I sat there with my son and let him teach me how to play Minecraft.  In no time at all, I bought a license for me to use and off we went into the digital realm together, building towers, fighting with zombies and dodging creepers.  And you know what I noticed right away? My son loved teaching me how to play the game: how to make zombie traps, how to use redstone, how to craft items, and so many other things. And the more he taught me, the more his self-esteem seemed to grow. I heard him telling his friend one day how he taught his father how to do things in the game, and he was proud, actually proud that he played Minecraft with his dad—wow!

He loved playing Minecraft so much that we bought a server for him the next Christmas. He spent months building things on his server: castles, bridges, underwater cities, factories, everything and anything his imagination could conceive. Next he brought in his friends from school and did some collaborative things and building gigantic structures that he designed. Again, great “teachable moments” arose as he struggled to work collaboratively with a couple of his 8 year-old friends. I was overwhelmed with how proud he was about his creations.

Well, one day, my son’s world came crashing down. Some other kids were able to get onto the server and destroyed everything that he’d built; “griefing” it, as the term is used in the gaming world.  They leveled everything to the ground, obliterating months of work.  The next time my son logged on, he saw his destroyed creations and was crushed. To make matters worse, these kids posted the video of their griefing his server on YouTube.

This was the ultimate “teachable moment,” to talk about cyber-bullying. That was when I came up with the idea of teaching my son through his favorite thing—Minecraft. I wrote a book called Invasion of the Overworld: A Minecraft Novel, to teach my son about cyber-bullying using his favorite game—a game that I came to understand as well as he did—as a backdrop. Through teaching my son about why kids bully, in the context of a game he understood, I think the lessons got driven home much harder than they would have otherwise.

Since the griefing episode, I have used video games to not only teach my son about bullies, but to teach him about other things as well. Branching out, I started looking for games that I could use to teach my son about problem solving. They helped me to teach him how to break down a problem into manageable parts and tackle them one at a time. This quickly led to a discussion on how he can do this with personal problems instead of mechanical ones. We had some great discussions about challenges I’d faced in my own life, and problems he’d faced, some of which I was hearing about for the first time, and this discussion came about because we were playing video games together.

It turns out that I am not the only one who has been using video games to teach lessons to my child. There has been a lot of research out there by respected universities on the benefits of parents playing computer games with their kids. Researchers from Arizona State University suggest that “Parents miss a huge opportunity when they walk away from playing video games with their kids.” They also echo my statement above that “Gaming with [your] children also offers parents countless ways to insert their own ‘teaching moment.’”  In addition, researchers at Brigham Young University studied 287 families, looking at how they play video games together and they found that girls between 11 to 16 years of age who played video games with a parent reported better behavior, more feelings of family closeness and less aggression than girls who played alone or with friends.

My son and I are still play Minecraft together, but we’ve also moved on to some game-making software and other games as well. Each of these platforms presents numerous opportunities for those “teachable moments” that we, as parents, crave. Playing these games with my son gives me the chance to talk with him about serious things without the ever-present eye roll and sighs. Try it, you might find what I found—that our kids are more incredible than we could ever imagine.

Mark Cheverton started playing Minecraft with his son as a way for them to bond together. His son’s experience with cyber-bullying led him to write Invasion of the Overworld: A Minecraft Novel. He is currently working on the sequel to it, Battle for the Nether. Cheverton has also written a children’s series, The Algae Voices of Azule. He lives in Albany, NY with his wife and son.To learn more about the author and his book, go to www.markcheverton.com.

Medications at Camp

10 Mar

By Jim Castrataro

Many parents struggle with the question of what to do about their children’s medications, specifically ADD and ADHD medications, during the summer months. Although I am not a doctor or medical expert, I can give you my perspective as a camp director and some simple steps to take to ensure your child has a fun-filled camp experience.

First, speak with the camp director to clarify the daily schedule and possibly identify the counselor who will be in direct contact with your child. Although many full-time camp directors have plenty of experience with children with ADD and ADHD, the camp counselor may only be 18 or 19 years old and sometimes even struggling with the same issues your 8- to 10-year-old may be having. This is not to say your child is not safe, but the level of experience can vary greatly from counselor to counselor.

Next, take into account the duration of the camp. Is it just a three- or four-day camp or a multi-week overnight camp? To put this in perspective, think about how long you worked with teachers, doctors and consultants to properly diagnose, work through issues and begin to process and create a workable solution for your child. The relatively short amount of time a counselor is in contact with campers makes it not only difficult for the counselors to learn the group’s dynamics, but individual issues, as well.

After speaking with the camp director there is still yet another level of expertise you can go to.  By law, each camp in the state of Massachusetts must have a health care consultant on staff to help the camp directors manage the many physical forms  and immunization documents. Although the health care consultant may not have immediate knowledge of your particular situation during your first call, he or she is there to help manage the medications and implement protocols. Furthermore, by HIPAA Privacy Act guidelines, the camp counselor will most likely not be aware of any of the medical issues of your child unless authorized by you, the parent or guardian. This granting of permission can be achieved through the health care consultant, and it is important that you are comfortable and in full knowledge of the camp’s written plan for your child.

From my perspective, parents of children with ADD and ADHD sometimes feel the physical activity offered in a summer camp setting may allow them to be a little more lenient with medications that reduce hyperactivity. I urge all parents to also understand the timespan and experience of those in direct contact is significantly reduced and it is important to look at both sides of the equation while implementing the appropriate plan of action.

 

Jim Castrataro is the director of summer programs at Babson College.  His experience spans 16 years directing and consulting a variety of camp programs for thousands of children and young adults ranging from 5 to 18 years of age. 

There Oughta be a Law

26 Dec

By Mary Alice Cookson

 

It may not be illegal to pat a pregnant woman’s stomach just because it’s cute and sticking out, but it’s clearly annoying. It also falls under some states’ harassment laws – if the woman decides to press charges, that is.

Such was the case of a pregnant woman in Pennsylvania who’d had enough of a man pawing her belly without her permission.

When I read about it in the news, it made me think of a time when I was nearly two weeks overdue with my firstborn. A stranger in the grocery store followed me out to my car regaling me with details about his wife’s C-section as I hurried away with my cart. Why do people assume it’s fair game to “overshare” their labor and delivery stories with expectant parents?!

Other potentially harassing behaviors: commenting on a pregnant woman’s size or guessing (especially when wrong) about how far along she is – saying something like, “Looks like you’re ready to give birth any minute” or “Are you sure you’re not having twins?” or “Haven’t you had that baby yet?” (as if she’s intentionally keeping that bowling ball inside of her).

But you don’t have to be pregnant to fall victim to annoying behaviors. Consider the following:

  • Being subject to other people’s cell phone conversations because they aren’t courteous enough to talk privately.
  • Driving behind someone who drives way under the speed limit but won’t allow you to pass.
  • Informing someone who’s “seat hopped” at a ballgame or theater performance that they’re in your seats and having them act indignant and storm off in a huff.
  • Having to sit next to that audience member who sings through the entire concert – as if you paid all that money to hear him sing!
  • Being on the receiving end of anyone behaving like any of the male characters in “Mad Men” – for example, the inappropriate use of the word “Sweetheart.”
  • Being kept waiting in a doctor’s waiting room for longer than a half an hour only to then be put in a cold exam room wearing nothing but a paper johnnie. (The tactic isn’t fooling anyone. Waiting is waiting, even if the time is split between two locales and dress ensembles.)
  • Having a big pile of cigarette butts on your lawn when nobody in your household smokes.
  • Someone remaking a classic movie you happen to like and doing it badly!

But getting back to that pregnant woman taking a stand – While I applaud her for speaking up for herself, wouldn’t it be much nicer if we didn’t have to resort to lawsuits to get people to recognize their unacceptable behavior? And even better – if we tried not to annoy each other in the first place?!

 

Mary Alice Cookson is the associate editor of Boston Parents Paper.