Kids and the Economy

November 25, 2008

index1Discouraging economic news is everywhere; nobody knows where the US economy is headed. These are incredibly complicated issues that few adults fully understand. How can we help our kids through these times? Whatever we can do to avoid transferring our own stress onto them is worth consideration.

Here’s my first suggestion:  Shield your kids from what’s happening.

Mitchell Rosen is a family therapist who recently posted on the importance of parents protecting kids from their own economic worries.  Here’s an excerpt:

Kids aren’t stupid; they can sense the anxiety in their parents’ voices.

What I tell the mothers and fathers is this: “If you are OK, you’re kids are going to be OK. If you panic, your kids will panic. What they need to hear is not how everything is rosy but rather they will always be provided for. They may not get an iPod for Christmas, the family home may be in foreclosure but mom and dad will make certain they have a roof over their heads and food in their bellies.” The family will be fine.

The children, however, don’t need to hear parents arguing when a bill comes or deciding which obligation to pay and which to put off. What they need to hear is that mom and dad are still in charge and they can continue being kids. Source

This makes good sense and is consistent with some advice a friend gave me last week.  Because we cannot control the stock market, we should limit the time we spend consuming bad news, following the daily ups and downs of the stock market, and tracking our own portfolios.  And he’s right.  Consumers who try to time stock market fluctuations usually sell low and buy high.

As parents, we have no control over these unfolding events, and our kids have even less.  I’m going to do whatever I can to shield my kids from the ups and downs.

Want to talk about this?  Visit Helping Kids in a Tough Economy on SchoolPulse.


How Cool is Spelling?

November 24, 2008

img_0094Doug Atchison introduced the spelling bee to pop culture when he released Akeelah and the Bee in 2006, a heart warming film about a girl from a predominantly black middle school in Los Angeles who defies the odds to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee (which I watch every year).  If you’ve never seen the movie, reserve a night to rent it with your kids.  You’ll be surprised at the drama that can be built around something as old school as the spelling bee.

img_0103Our town had its annual bee this Saturday.  Kids in grades 2-5 were invited to participate in teams of four, and a couple hundred signed up.  I was impressed by the enthusiasm on stage.  Most of the kids wore home made t-shirts and costumes, and they all came up with team names — Beeware, Killer Bees, Gentlemen Bees, Dictionary Divas, Lu-beez…  The most audacious name in the 4th grade competition was The Team Who Will Win.  And guess what – they won!

What impressed me even more was the the diversity of kids who participated.  One might assume that the field was limited to spelling savants who don’t get out much, but not at all!  There were spellers of every stripe at the bee.  Who knew spelling was so cool?

As the bee progressed and the words got more and more difficult, there was a buzz in the audience of, “How do they know these?” and “I’ve never even heard of that word.”  Perhaps the parents have grown dependent on spell check!  I know this one has.

Here’s a short clip to give you a flavor.  The word is ligature.

Applause for Corruption

November 21, 2008

Imagine my surprise when I read that Senator Ted Stevens received a standing ovation – yes, a standing ovation – following his farewell speech in the Senate today.  Shocking, especially when one thinks about the message it sends to our children.  Watch it yourself:

Here is a man who was convicted on seven counts of making false statements on Senate financial dislosure forms.

Prosecutors claimed that Stevens accepted $250,000 worth of gifts, primarily from now-defunct oil services company Veco Corp. and its former CEO, Bill Allen. Among the alleged gifts was the value of a home renovation project that transformed the senator’s Girdwood, Alaska, home from a quaint cabin to a sizeable house, a $2,700 massage chair and a Viking gas grill.  Source

Now I’m sure this man did a lot of great things for his state over the many years he served in the Senate.  And I’m sure he has a lot of close relationships after decades of service.  But what kind of message does the rest of the Senate send when it applauds a man convicted for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes?  And that’s just what they uncovered.  I’d be surprised if this was the only infraction of its kind.

I can’t stand government corruption – regardless of which party is involved – and I’m glad my kids aren’t quite old enough to pay attention to this kind of thing.  If they were, I would have to disabuse them of the idea that our leaders are honest and trustworthy.

Major Milestone

November 20, 2008

Today, for the first time in its young history, SchoolPulse generated revenue!

The dollars are certainly small, but why not?  We had designed in slots for banners, Google Adsense was incredibly easy to configure, and the ads relate well to the content they sit beside.  That’s the brilliant thing about contextual advertising – it is unintrusive and, when done well, adds value to the user experience.

We’ll have to print this out, frame it, and hang it on the wall the way bars and pizzerias display their first dollar of sales revenue!

Dads Rising

November 14, 2008

support-group-1We made a little history last night with the inaugural meeting of the Alcott Dads PTG Support Group.  To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time in the history of America that men have assembled with the explicit intention of being more active in their school’s parent-teacher organization!

In September, I posted about my observation that fathers, by definition, don’t get involved in parent groups.  [Disclaimer:  I generally don’t stereotype, but when it comes to parent groups the gender differences are so pronounced that it can’t be avoided.  Okay, back to the post.]  This is a real shame since 1) we know our wives would appreciate some help, and 2) there is an emerging body of evidence that active participation by fathers is good for kids (and boys in particular).  Check out expert John Badalament who shared his research in our town last week.

My theory is that most dads would like to be more active in their kids’ schools, but they’re not sure where to start.  That’s why I am promoting our Support Group.  People inevitably chuckle when they hear about it, and that’s okay.  We are putting a fun, social wrapper around a serious purpose.  Here’s what we’re doing:

This idea was conceived in August while having dinner with our PTG co-president (a mom, needless to say), and she has been supportive since day one.

I floated the idea at soccer fields, birthday parties and social events with all the Alcott dads I know. Without exception, every dad was enthusiastic about participating.

I invited all those dads to come to a local bar for our “inaugural meeting” and the PTG publicized it, too.  Last night 14 people showed up and had a great time
We spent about 20 minutes doing some formal business:  Approving a mission statement, a group symbol (the beer hammer – gotta make it fun, right?), and appointing a committee to carry out our first assignment from the PTG (construction of new sandwich boards).

I created a group on SchoolPulse to provide a hub for our activities.

    All in all, people had a good time and we’re going to meet every month on the first Thursday night.  I’m guessing we’ll have 20+ at our next meeting and some world class sandwich boards to show off!

    Interested in getting a support group going in your school?  I’m happy to help however I can.

    LinkedIn for Moms

    November 13, 2008

    LinkedIn stands apart from all the other big social networking names.  While it is built around networking in the purest sense, its value is the tangible benefit it provides its users in their day-to-day business lives.  Social networks that go beyond “social” offer compelling value.

    SchoolPulse is doing the same thing, but for a different audience.  We offer parents – especially mothers – the ability to streamline hectic schedules and simplify communication in their day-to-day family lives.  Moms in America shoulder the responsibility for shepherding their children through a maze of educational activities (academic, social, athletic, musical…) and more often than not, they get lost in that maze.  Think about all the information flows that mothers manage:  flyers coming home in back packs, emails and phone calls from troop leaders, coaches, faith-based organizations, conversations at school drop-off and pick-up… The list goes on and on.  Technologists call this “unstructured data” and it’s a bear to manage.  We think SchoolPulse is the best way to manage it.

    We just fielded a survey of some of our members, and here’s what we learned:

    • 39% spend 30 minutes or more every day organizing their kids’ activities
    • 73% have never used a social networking site
    • 47% rely on email to manage group calendars and events
    • 86% would recommend SchoolPulse to others

    These numbers add up to a huge opportunity to simplify life for parents, with the indirect but immensely important benefit of reducing stress on American kids.

    It took LinkedIn five years to become a household name in the business community.  Over the next five years, I want SchoolPulse to become a household name among American families.

    “How Much Do I Cost?”

    November 10, 2008

    Two unrelated stories with similar origins:

    #1:  My family and I were walking through a furniture store today and I overheard a boy (probably 9 years old) asking his father, “How much do I cost each week?”  The dad chuckled, but I couldn’t hear his reply.

    #2:  I was in a board meeting last week at which the company’s management presented a budget for 2009.  As we talked it through, we realized that none of us had the foggiest notion how much growth to expect next year.  And this from a company that doubled revenues in 2008 vs. 2007.

    What’s the common thread?  It’s the economy, and our kids know something big is amiss.  We have a bunch of friends in financial services; a couple have already been let go and the rest are understandably anxious.  At a dinner party on Saturday night a woman revealed that her husband’s dream of retiring five years from now would have to be pushed back at least 5-7 years.  I know two families looking at selling their houses to move into apartments.  Think their kids know what’s going on?  I bet they do.

    The angle that’s not getting much play is the impact on kids.  I posted recently on the stress that American kids are under – and that post had nothing to do with the economy!  Kids are perceptive and even the young ones are sure to understand that something big and bad has happened in the outside world.  It will be difficult for we parents to shield our conversations and concerns from our children.  I haven’t been through this kind of a crisis before, but I have three suggestions that may help protect our children from bearing the brunt of all this uncertainty:

    1. Listen closely.  If your child is stressed about the economy, she needs your help sorting through those concerns.  Don’t let your own anxiety eclipse your children’s fears or questions.
    2. Speak carefully.  The vocabulary of this crisis – liquidity, interest rates, mortgage backed securities – is foreign to our children.  If they ask, answer their questions in words they understand that won’t inflame their fears.
    3. Be patient.  We are never as patient when we are stressed.  Make an effort to maintain an even keel around the house.  Remember:  It’s not their fault, so don’t take it out on them.

    Our kids are depending on us more than ever.  Don’t add to their stress!