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Dr. Toy

Posted on May 18, 2009 at 8:00 am

Stevanne Auerbach is better known as “Dr. Toy,” and she and her website are great resources for parents on issues of toys and ply. Her book is Dr. Toy’s Smart Play: How To Raise A Child With a High PQ (Play Quotient), a guide not just to what toys are safe and appropriate but to what toys best engage the imagination and curiosity of children and how best to help them get the most fun — and the most learning — of the toys they get. Her website allows you to search by age and it also has information on green toys and on donating toys that have been outgrown. She even has a link to online directions for board games, to help settle disputes. Dr. Toy answers questions from parents on the site as well, a list of the all-time best toys, information about games, and guidelines in more than a dozen languages, so be sure to check it out.

The book is an indispensable guide for parents. The “work” of young children is play. It is through their imaginative play that they process their understanding of the world and learn everything from constructing a narrative to taking turns. The book has very useful information about guiding children to the kind of play they will find most satisfying and inspiring, play that will enable them to develop a sense of independence, mastery, and confidence. It has wise counsel on the pros and cons of gender-specific toys and information about toys for children with special needs and special talents. It has lists of the top 100 toys and the craft supplies that every family should have on hand every day. It is a welcome reminder of the importance of play for both children and their parents.

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Has ‘Pimp’ Become an Acceptable Term for Children?

Posted on May 12, 2009 at 10:00 am

“G-Force” is an upcoming PG-rated comedy from Disney about a crack team of super-agents who happen to be guinea pigs, assisted by a mole and a fly, with voice talent including Tracy Morgan and Steve Buscemi. The trailer makes it look like fairly harmless nonsense, though I winced a bit when the girl guinea pig dances to “don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me.” But what really made me pause was the line “pimp my ride.” Has that term become so thoroughly sanitized that it is now acceptable in a children’s film from Disney?

It is the nature of words and other elements of culture to move from the edge to the mainstream and that is often a very good thing; it is what keeps our culture vital, engaging, and challenging. The word “pimp” has expanded from its original meaning as a man who manages prostitutes. Last year, when a journalist used it to describe the way Hilary Clinton’s campaign was deploying her daughter Chelsea, however, the candidate’s response was more as a mother than a politician, saying “Nothing justifies the kind of debasing language that David Shuster used and no temporary suspension or half-hearted apology is sufficient.” The reporter and the network apologized unreservedly and whole-heartedly.

MTV’s television series “Pimp My Ride” has popularized the use of the term as a reference to tricking up something, making it more glamorous and show-offy (like the popular notion of the pimp lifestyle), and it is in that sense that the word is used in this film. But I was sorry to see both Disney and the MPAA find that it is appropriate language for a PG. I believe it is inappropriate language for children to hear and use and a troubling contribution to the coarsening of our culture and discourse.

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More Marketing of PG-13 Movies to Little Kids

Posted on May 9, 2009 at 6:00 pm

My friend Liz Perle has a wonderful piece at Common Sense Media about the latest efforts to market PG-13 movies to young children.

The first Transformers movie, which was rated PG-13 but lent its brand to Happy Meal toys aimed at kids 4-9. Too bad the adult meal didn’t come with a person to explain why the movie was a non-starter for kids that age.

Age-inappropriate targeting — arguably begun in 1992 when McDonald’s got scolded for pushing toys to kids for “Batman Returns” (rated PG-13 for violence) — has become a time-honored practice. This summer, the new PG-13 “Terminator Salvation” (whose predecessors were all rated R) ties in with Pizza Hut. Subway is shilling “Land of the Lost,” and Burger King backs “Star Trek,” “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” and “G.I. Joe.”

Children understandably expect that if there is a toy or game associated with a film, it is suitable for them to see. Parents need to be very clear that just because a movie is marketed to them is no reason to expect that they will be seeing it.

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Disney’s First African-American Princess

Posted on April 21, 2009 at 10:00 am

The Disney Princesses, each the star of her own movie, are now a team and something of a marketing juggernaut. They have transcended their individual stories and now appear together in a wide range of merchandise. And now Snow White (born a princess and married to a prince), Cinderella (married a prince), Little Mermaid Ariel (born a princess and married a prince), Belle (married a prince), and Sleeping Beauty (born a princess and married to a prince) will be joined by the first African-American princess, Tiana.

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Disney has had non-white female lead characters before — Mulan (not a princess or married to a prince), Jasmine (born a princess), and Pocahontas (a Native American equivalent to a princess). But Tiana is the first African-American to star in her own fairy tale movie, based on a combination of a traditional story, a recent novel, and Disney’s own magical transformation. According to The Washington Post’s Neely Tucker,

It draws inspiration from an 18th-century fairy tale from the British Isles, and “The Frog Princess,” a 2002 teen novel from Maryland writer E.D. Baker. Disney transferred the story to 1920s New Orleans and changed her name, race and almost everything else.

In the Disney version, Tiana is a young waitress and talented chef who dreams, like her father, of owning her own restaurant. She eventually kisses a frog and is transformed into one. She must journey into the dark bayou to get a magical cure from a good voodoo queen. She is aided by a goofy firefly and a trumpet-playing alligator. The frog turns out to be handsome Prince Naveen, from the far-off and fictional land of Maldonia.

The stills released by the studio show Tiana in full princess regalia: a powder-blue gown, tiara and hair in an elegant upsweep.

Tony Award winner Anika Noni Rose voices Tiana. Other parts are played by Oprah Winfrey, John Goodman, Terrence Howard and Keith David. The music is by Oscar winner (and New Orleans veteran) Randy Newman. It is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, the same team behind “Aladdin” and “The Little Mermaid.”

Tucker writes about the sensitivity involved in this image, as have all of the Disney heroines, which have been criticized for ethnic and gender concerns. At one time, he writes, the character was called Maddy, short for Madeline, but it sounded too much like “a slave name.” The love interest is of indeterminate race.

Prince Naveen, for the record, is neither white nor black, but portrayed with olive skin, dark hair and, need we state the obvious, a strong chin. The actor who plays him, Bruno Campos, hails from Brazil.

Tiana is a fantasy figure and so it is not surprising that she fits an idealized and doll-friendly image. But we have come a long way from the racially insensitive images in past films like “Dumbo,” “Peter Pan,” and “Song of the South.” I appreciate the care and yes, love, that have gone into creating this character and I am really pleased to have what appears to be a very strong and beautiful role model added to the princess line-up.

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‘Honey I Wrecked the Kids’ — Parenting Advice from Alyson Schafer

Posted on March 30, 2009 at 2:00 pm

One of parenthood’s toughest challenges is finding a way to communicate clearly with your children about our expectations and standards while also communicating our unconditional love and support. This is especially difficult when it comes to incentives and discipline. We want to reward without bribing them, punish without breaking their spirits. parents1.gif
Psychotherapist, author, and talk show expert Alyson Schafer has a new book called Honey, I Wrecked the Kids: When Yelling, Screaming, Threats, Bribes, Time-outs, Sticker Charts and Removing Privileges All Don’t Work that has some wise and practical advice for parents looking for ways to set standards without unnecessary conflict, especially those kids who are extra difficult because they are particularly oppositional or manipulative. Schafer describes the impact that our “toxic times” have on children, giving them messages that undermine parental rules.
mother child argument.jpgSchafer says that everyone has four basic needs: the need to feel connected, the need to feel capable, the need to feel counted (a meaningful contributor), and the need to feel courageous. To the extent that parents speak to these needs, they can guide behavior. And they can do this by recognizing the sources of bad behavior.

When I don’t feel connected — I will seek undue attention.

When I don’t feel capable — I will seek power over others.

When I don’t feel I count — I will seek revenge.

When I don’t feel courageous — I will seek to avoid.

Parents often “reward” bad behavior by giving the child more attention. Or they “reward” it by negotiating, giving the child more power. Schafer gives parents very specific guidelines for redirecting a child’s behavior and permitting natural consequences to determine the incentives and results of their good and bad decisions. This book will help tired, overwhelmed parents come up with new tools to improve not just behavior but the home atmosphere as well.
Parents, too, need to feel connected, capable, meaningful, and courageous, after all.
As an added bonus, you will also learn some great techniques for dealing with some of the more challenging adults in your life, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and family.
And don’t forget one of my all-time favorites: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

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