Research Parents Should Know About!

by: Angela Santomero | Filed under Kids, Parenting, Research Parents Should Know About!

The question woke me up at 4am last night, “Why am I so bothered, as a parent, that a 2nd grader went to see the Hunger Games movie yesterday?”


And then it came to me. It’s because of Teachers College, Columbia University.  Seriously.

I went into television because I didn’t like much of what was on tv for kids.  And so I studied the effects of media on kids.  And, the differences in which children perceive and understand the world is correlated to the way children understand media, What children perceive as “real” and what they perceive as “fantasy” is the main area of distinction.  Kids will model what cartoons do.  Cartoons!  And, if you ask a young child they will tell you that a cartoon is not real.  But then why do they often show some aggression after they watch cartoon violence?  It’s because the line is very blurred between reality and fantasy…and continues to be more and more unclear.

A movie, written from the point of view of a child, in a “realistic” yet futuristic setting, where you are literally surrounded by the story and enveloped into the world can create a strong emotional response among children.  And watching children killing children for survival could cause fear and worry into those kids who are not developmentally ready (prior to age 13, depending on the child).

Is that really entertainment?

I reached out to friend and colleague, Dr. Roberta Schomburg, PhD Early Childhood Professor at Carlow University and she says, “Giving children information that raises fears will, in the long run undermine children’s sense of security and trust that the world is a good place to be.”

To me, it’s basically the day that childhood is over.  And I remember that day.

Do you?

Send me in comments about when you watched or saw something you weren’t ready for.  Did you sleep with the lights on after the Thriller video?  Cry after seeing a particular movie in the theater? Did you view your world differently moving forward?

With all of the screen media (iPads, iTouch, iPhone, Kindle, laptops, etc.) inundating our childrens’ lives, just as many varied answers exist regarding the limitations for such media. The American Academy of Pediatrics tried to address these concerns and released a statement in October which received a somewhat lackluster response from some educators, researchers and media professionals. Well, the NAEYC & The Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning & Children’s Media joined forces releasing their most powerful statement on March 7, 2012, essentially stating that screen technology for young children should not be vilified.

The statement goes on to explain that “our world and technology are rapidly changing”, producing new powerful and imaginative tools, which are not going to (nor should they) leave us. While we must always pay strict attention to the quality of our content, it’s never been more important to educate society on how to properly utilize such tools to benefit our children.

As a creator of thought provoking, quality content for children, I’ve been living that message to inspire children for almost twenty years…so it’s nice to have such power supporting my beliefs.

It’s about education. Not pointing fingers.


[Read the full NAEYC/Fred Rogers statement here]

by: Angela Santomero | Filed under Parenting, Research Parents Should Know About!

This is the follow up in a 2 part series with Barbara R. Greenberg, Ph.D., professional consultant on teen issues & contributing expert psychologist for Mode Lifestyle.

Having seen a fair amount of problem drinking among my peers growing up, how can we assist so that they make better choices in those situations? If teens see their parents drinking at social events from time to time, does the teen mind translate this into improper modeling?

Seeing parents drinking responsibly from time to time translates into appropriate parental modeling. Allowing your teens to drink alcohol in your home is on the other hand not a good practice. It sends the message that underage drinking is acceptable. In fact, teens whose parents allow them to drink at home are doing them a major disservice. These teens are at increased risk to become binge drinkers. Parents need to send a clear message that underage drinking is risky and not lower the bar on that.

Let them know that if they are at a party where things are getting out of hand they can call you to pick them up. Encourage your teens & their friends to look out for one another. If one of their friends is in trouble from drinking excessively they should call for help. Finally, keep in mind that teens often sleep over friends’ homes when they want to drink so that they don’t need to face you when they’ve been drinking. Keep an eye on this. You may want to limit the frequency of sleepovers.

Some parents point to the fact that teens in Europe are allowed to drink and that these kids have a healthier attitude toward alcohol. Actually, this is a fallacy. These European countries also have problems with substance abuse.


Can you mention a common issue or two of teens, which might have been lessened if their parents approached it differently when the child was younger?

Teens often lie to their parents because they are afraid that if they are honest their parents will become judgmental, punish them harshly, or show disappointment. Their fears cause them to keep secrets and lie. If parents start, when their kids are young, to create a home atmosphere where their children can be open about their mistakes and errors in judgment then they set the stage for their children to develop into teens who are honest and forthcoming.

What are some of the biggest offenses that parents of teens commit?

1. Attempting to solve all of their teens’ problems for them. This sends the message that the teens are incapable and incompetent.

2. Forgetting that your teens mostly want you to listen, not fix things. Sometimes they just want you to be a sounding board.

3. Acting like a friend not a parent.  Your teens need you to be a nurturing authority figure who provides them with structure and limits. They won’t admit this but I can assure you that it is in fact the case. Hopefully both you and your teens have your own separate sets of friends.


[return to Feels like Teen Spirit – Part I ]

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by: Angela Santomero | Filed under Parenting, Research Parents Should Know About!

As a parent, even though my oldest daughter is in her tweens, I believe that I’ve had my fair share of angst. But when I talk to moms & dads of teens, I often detect some appeasement as they nod while listening to my stories. While I’m getting glimpses of it now, can the teen stage be that trying and if so, are there measures we can take now to “lessen” some of the future horror?

In Part 1 of a 2 part series, I spoke with Barbara R. Greenberg, Ph.D., professional consultant on teen issues & contributing expert psychologist for Mode Lifestyle, to get some related questions answered.

Do you feel that we have somewhat of an understanding of who our children will become as teens, when they are young?

I believe that we start understanding our children’s temperamental style when they’re young. This does not mean that behavior, attitudes, and reactions cannot change. It simply means that you begin to know what your child’s unique style is from an early age. During the teens our children face an entirely new set of challenges, pressures, and an onslaught of hormonal changes. These factors impact them greatly. Often parents ask me what happened to their child and who is this stranger disguised as a teen. I reassure them by telling them that it is the same person simply “wearing a new set of clothes.”

How does a parent balance the communication vs space issue with their teen?

Teens need both space to decompress and to sort out their own feelings and time to talk to their parents. The answer’s complicated. Here are some ideas:

1. Be mindful of timing. If your child looks preoccupied or a bit distressed then pay attention to these non-verbals & let your teen know that you are available to talk when s/he is ready. You want to respectful of your teen. This goes a long way.

2. When your teens arrives home don’t crowd them with an endless list of questions. Be gentle. Make casual & relaxed conversations. A statement like “Come sit with me” is more likely to get teens to talk than “How was the test?” followed by “How much homework do you have?” & “when are you going to clean your room?”

3. Teens prefer indirect requests for information rather than direct requests. This gives them a feeling of having some control over the rate at which they disclose information. Try “Did you recommend the movie?’ rather than “did your date drive carefully?’ Teens will answer the indirect questions and then start to spill and tell you about the information that you really want to know.

4. Listen & stay calm when they are talking to you. There’s not a single teen who will continue a conversation with a parent who interrupts & loses emotional control.

5. As long as you feel connected to them give them the space that they seem to need. If, on the other hand, you feel that they have begun to isolate completely from friends and family then you may want to talk to them to see if they are facing any major stressors. Again, try to do this calmly and non-judgmentally. This is not easy but it is necessary.

How should a parent best handle the situation when their teen is becoming involved with a clearly “troubled” teen?
The first thing to do is to find out what your teen likes and values about the “troubled teen.” Even troubled teens have redeeming qualities. Remember you don’t want to criticize friends too harshly because teens take this very personally. Ask your teen what s/he gets out of the relationship. Your teen may secretly want help getting out of the relationship.

If you are concerned that the “troubled teen” is negatively influencing your teen then you must monitor the friendship & help your child phase it out. This won’t be easy and Yes your teen may get angry. Keep in mind that you must be able to tolerate your teen’s anger. Your main concern is their safety.

Remember, that you are their parent NOT their friend.

[ Feels like Teen Spirit – Part 2 ]





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Funded by the CPB as part of its Ready to Learn initiative, SUPER WHY Reading Camps were held in over 100 communities as they built upon the success of the SUPER WHY television show. We are now opening up our signature early literacy curriculum to the community. Online teacher (or parent) tutorials are supplied offering tips and techniques for growing successful readers.

The reading camp is a 5 day interactive learning adventure which shows children the power of reading and motivates them to play with letters, sounds and words through a comprehensive curriculum. A  curriculum which has been developed by noted literacy experts. The activities offered through this curriculum reinforce knowledge through repetition and various forms of learning (i.e. art, music, movement, dance and games) and also utilize CD’s, DVDs, worksheets, and more. Literacy skills showed significant improvement (at the 95% significance level) for those who attended the camp thanks to SUPER WHY Reading Camp’s multimedia approach.

For more information or to download the actual curriculum, click here to go to

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by: Angela Santomero | Filed under Parenting, Research Parents Should Know About!

I’ve seen it plenty of times—and it’s never pretty. I’m talking about the all-too-common supermarket showdown that pits child against parent. I’ve watched as humbled parents throw up their hands in defeat, tossing their last-choice snack into the cart to quiet a toddler’s tantrum. You’ve likely witnessed a supermarket meltdown—or perhaps, you’ve even experienced one yourself.

Taking your kids or grandkids with you to the supermarket can offer more than its share of setbacks. With all of the flashy, colorful, and sugary options lining store shelves, your little one is likely to try to push the limits and persuade, plead and pressure you into buying products you wouldn’t ever dream of bringing home. On the flip side, when kids are involved in the grocery shopping process, they’re more likely to want to eat the foods you’ve both selected later on. Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re making the trip with any children in tow.

Just say no! Kids don’t fully understand the long-term consequences of unhealthy eating. It may be hard for you to say “No” in the moment, but consider this: Overweight teens often blame their parents for not setting stricter boundaries with regard to their childhood eating habits. It’s your job as a parent to be sensible and practical in the face of your child’s immediate desires. That being said, your child should feel they have some autonomy in the food selection process. So narrow down the options for your child by offering two OR three choices that you’re OK with, and then let your child decide which one they’d like.

Shop the ‘U,’ or the perimeter of the supermarket. The healthy options (fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, dairy) are located here, while the not-so-healthy (not to mention, more expensive) options are located in the center aisles.

Stick to the basics in the cereal aisle. One of the most treacherous spots in the supermarket is undoubtedly the cereal aisle. First, there are just so many options—it can be downright overwhelming. Second, it’s all too easy for your child to fall prey to the advertising strategies of shiny, colorful boxes laden with free toys inside. (In fact, the repeated exposure your child receives from television commercials can greatly impact their choices. Needless to say, limiting commercial exposure will make your life easier in the supermarket aisle.)

When you’re picking out a cereal, remember to look for choices with at least 3 grams of fiber and no more than 5 grams of sugar per 100 calories. And keep it simple—rely on basics like Cheerios, Shredded Wheat, Total or Kix. Raisin Bran is another good choice; note the sugar level is much higher—nearly 9 grams per 100 calories—mainly because of the naturally occurring sugar in the raisins. You can then tailor your cereal of choice to fit the tastes and preferences of each family member by letting them add dried fruit, nuts, or even mix with other cereals! This personalization and control over their choices gives them a sense of ownership and even pride, which can go a long way toward steering them to a path of lifelong healthy eating.

Avoid adult supermarket temptations.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that we, as adults, aren’t susceptible to temptations in the grocery store. Certainly you’ve debated with yourself over whether to toss a certain product into your cart or not. What prompts this “should I or shouldn’t I” debate? Instead of the sparkly bracelet in the cereal box, it may be clever marketing claims, special deals or strategically placed products. Speaking of strategically placed products, I swear those rich dark chocolate bars at the checkout aisle call my name quite often.

No need to fret though-everything in moderation. If I skip over the caramel and milk chocolate covered toffee candy bar and treat myself instead to a dark (not milk) chocolate bar once or twice a month, I won’t beat myself up. After all, the antioxidants are good for my cholesterol and it may lower my blood pressure. Just keep in mind, all of the rules above apply to ourselves as well.


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by: Angela Santomero | Filed under Parenting, Research Parents Should Know About!

As we’ve mentioned in an earlier post, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) is what Sesame Street’s all about these days. We know that kids start out with a burning desire to investigate and explore, so we need to keep that fire fueled. Dr. Rosemarie Truglio (VP of Research and Education at Sesame Street) couldn’t agree more and is assisting the viewers at home in understanding and discussing their investigations, observations, recording of information & other tools used by all scientists and engineers.

We, as parents, are integral within this process by making the learning exciting and by keeping our kids engaged in whatever they are involved with. So it goes without saying that for a parent to tell their child, “I was never any good at math” isn’t at all helpful. Learning needs to be exciting and not just in the classroom.

The tireless process at Sesame Street involves their writers & producers working so closely together to find that perfect balance of comedy and education. Balance is indeed everything…for all of us.

[See my interview with Dr. Rosemarie Truglio on The Parent Show at]

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by: Angela Santomero | Filed under Parenting, Research Parents Should Know About!

The words that pediatricians use to discuss weight and its effect on health with young patients and their parents can have a big impact on whether the message is heard. For instance, a recent study suggests that terms doctors use to motivate overweight adults to slim down don’t necessarily work for children.

Researchers from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, surveyed American parents of children between the ages of 2 and 18. They assessed parents’ perceptions of 10 common terms used to described excess body weight: extremely obese, high BMI, weight problem, unhealthy weight, weight, heavy, obese, overweight, chubby and fat. Parents were asked to indicate how much they perceived each term to be desirable, stigmatizing, blaming, or motivating to lose weight, using a five-point scale.

Not surprisingly, parents rated the terms “weight,” “unhealthy weight,” and “high BMI” as most desirable, least stigmatizing, least blaming, and most motivating for a child to lose weight. On the other hand, they rated “chubby,” “obese,” “extremely obese,” and “fat” as the opposite—the most undesirable, stigmatizing, blaming, and least motivating for a child to lose weight.

While the use of stigmatizing terms may tap into successful “scare tactics” for overweight adults, the use of such terms in conversations with children can have dangerous effects. It may cause them to avoid physical activity, to develop unhealthy eating habits and to suffer psychologically. Even more troublesome, the words a doctor uses can directly affect a parent’s response. For instance, when a doctor used words that were considered stigmatizing, parents were more likely to put their child on a strict diet, avoid future medical appointments or seek a new doctor. All of these things can obviously have harmful implications on a child’s health.

The researchers concluded that “using weight-based language that families find supportive and motivating, and by avoiding labels that instill stigma and shame, providers can help empower families in their efforts to improve health.” Should you ever feel uncomfortable with the way your child’s medical care is administered, you must talk to your doctor. If it’s not going in an appropriate direction, especially if it may affect the care your child receives, it’s due time to weigh your alternatives. Communication is key in any relationship.

Taking this message one step closer to home, you should never underestimate the power of your own words and the effect that it has on your children. If it’s offensive to you, it’s undoubtedly offensive to your kids. So, let’s be careful with the way in which we communicate. Put simply, it’s not about linguistics—it’s about respect.

Reference: Parental Perceptions of Weight Terminology – Puhl, Paterson, & Luedicke (2011)
by: Angela Santomero | Filed under Kids, Parenting, Research Parents Should Know About!

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) report came out last week reiteratin­g their 1999 stance that “babies (0-2 yrs old) should learn from play, not screens”.

The question isn’t whether we all agree that babies should play (who is going to be against play?), but how, in this day and age, do we use this informatio­n in our everyday lives? I crave informatio­n and I believe in well grounded research and advice from experts.

I want us parents to be as informed as possible so that we can see the educationa­l difference in content as we make our media choices for our children and our family. So, although it is not groundbrea­king, there is worthwhile informatio­n for us parents:

– No matter how persuasive the packaging is, it is not likely that a baby will go to Harvard because he watched a baby video. (Yup, they got me too. Hook, line and sinker)

Shut off the News: Background media is harmful to kids. Babies have been found to play less and adults interact less when the tv is on in the background­. (The news stresses me out, let alone what it would do to my kids…)

– What about my free half hour? Bring back the Playpen (to a certain degree)!   A safe play area with some stacking blocks?  What about sitting on the floor of the kitchen with a pot and a wooden spoon?  Everything in moderation, but a properly setup and tended playpen may be a pretty good alternativ­e to screen time for babies.

– Haven’t we proven that television can be educationa­l? Yes, for preschoole­rs, 2-5 years old, longitudinal studies have proven that curriculum based television programming can help them learn (hello, Blue’s Clues…Super Why!). But babies brains are different. They need to be developed enough to absorb the images and information in order to learn.


Read more on this topic from my friend and colleague, Dr Dan Anderson HERE

by: Angela Santomero | Filed under Research Parents Should Know About!

I spoke with renowned University of Massachusetts preschool media expert (and friend), Dr Daniel Anderson, to get his take on the AAP statement and the following is his response:


The AAP statement is now more evidence-based and moderate than the original 1999 recommendation.  My reaction to it is in four parts:  positive effects of video watching; negative effects of video watching; effects of background media; and effects of interactive media such as iPads.  I think each of these requires somewhat different consideration.

Positive effects: Sadly, there is very little evidence that infants and toddlers under two years learn much of anything that is useful from existing commercial videos.  There is one study that reports some word learning from many repeated exposures to a single video, but there are several more that find no learning.  That said, there are a number laboratory studies with experimental videos that do show infant learning under  certain circumstances.  Because these studies suggest that there may be some positive potential in educational video for infants, I think the AAP guideline should be periodically revisited.  We may eventually learn how to make infant videos that are valuable for development.

Negative effects: There are some studies that report a negative relationship of baby video viewing to aspects of cognitive and language development and sleep.  There are other studies that find no relationship or a positive relationship.  All of these studies are open to methodological criticism.  Overall, if the negative effects are real (but this is not yet certain), then it is appropriate that parents significantly limit their infants’ exposure to video before age two years.

Background media: The clearest evidence that is emerging is that television and other media in the background of the home have a deleterious impact on infants and toddlers.  Infant toy play is less sustained and less focused when there is adult or general audience programs on in the background.  Parent engagement with their infants is greatly reduced in quantity and quality when they are watching TV or when they are using their own mobile media.  Initial studies indicate that exposure to background media is associated with poorer cognitive and language development.

Interactive media: There has been and is continuing to be an exposive growth in babies’ use of interactive media, especially media devices with touch screens.  About 40% of the best selling apps are directed at preschoolers and infants.  There is no evidence at this time whether this is good, bad, or indifferent for infant development.  Unlike 1999, when there was equally little evidence about video, the AAP recognizes the lack of evidence on the value or danger of infant use of mobile devices.  Clearly, we need a lot more research on the impact of these devices, as well as on media more generally.


Professor Emeritus Daniel R. Anderson
Department of Psychology
University of Massachusetts


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