Yes, it’s hard to think about kids with cancer. But please don’t look away. (Here’s how you can help)

This essay was originally published in The Washington Post.  Additional pictures are posted on their website and also in a separate story published on The Huffington Post.

It’s 6:30 a.m. and the sun is starting to peek out over the horizon. I take another gulp of my coffee, and leave the keys with the valet outside the hospital. I check my camera, making sure I have a formatted memory card and fresh batteries in my flash.

As I grab my bag from the back seat, I can’t help but notice the mismatched socks, leftover granola wrappers, and wrinkled school fliers that litter my car. I take a deep breath, thankful that my kids’ seats are empty. I’m not at the hospital for them this morning. I’m there for 4-year-old Phoebe.

About four years ago, I started taking pictures of sick kids. I look for smiles in hospital rooms and look past IV poles in hopes of capturing the fleeting moments of carefree childhoods that exist alongside tragic diagnoses and crippling test results. I look for little hands grasping onto hospital beds as toddlers take their first steps in brightly decorated triage rooms. My heart skips a beat when I see an older sister smile at a younger sibling, knowing that siblings, too, suffer when their loved ones are sick.

Please don’t ask me why or how I do it. (If you insist on knowing, I will tell you that offering these pictures is nourishing to my soul.)

Please don’t tell me that it must be so sad. (Of course it is. But it’s also incredibly rewarding and beautiful.)

Instead, please ask me what you can do to help kids like Phoebe.

In the age of social media, it is easy to run across pictures and stories of kids facing devastating odds and feel helpless. As I stood by Phoebe’s bedside that day, I felt that way, too. Phoebe had been recently diagnosed with DIPG, an aggressive brain tumor. While there are treatments to improve her quality of life, the long-term prognosis is tragically grim.

Only 4 percent of all cancer funding is earmarked for childhood cancer research. And in the past 20 years, only three new pediatric cancer-specific drugs have been developed. This month, when you see pictures on Facebook reminding you that September is childhood cancer awareness month, please don’t just get sad. Get involved.

Here are four things you can do this month to help kids like Phoebe.

1. Call your representatives in Congress. Tell them that you care about cancer research legislation. Learn about federal cancer programs. Ask your representatives to participate in the Childhood Cancer Caucus, “a clearinghouse for information on pediatric cancer and a forum to aid Members of Congress in working together to address pediatric cancer.”

2. Participate in childhood cancer awareness and advocacy foundations. Give money if you’re able. Many organizations help cancer patients and survivors develop important allies in the fight against childhood cancer. As the St. Baldrick’s Foundation explains, “Childhood cancer drugs aren’t very profitable for pharmaceutical companies, which is why so few have been developed. But as a result of the childhood cancer community’s united advocacy efforts, the Creating Hope Act changed that, offering companies vouchers to expedite the development and approval of these drugs.”

3. What is your superpower? Medical providers offer the crucial life-changing support to children battling pediatric cancer. But consider if there is some special talent that you have to offer these families. Whether you are a great cook, a decent photographer or a gifted party planner, families can really benefit from your services.

4. If you know a family battling pediatric cancer (or other life-altering challenge), consider offering to help in specific, concrete ways. Helping doesn’t require a huge commitment or some unique talent. And while general offers to help are appreciated, it can be difficult for a family to ask you to help with a specific task. Instead, consider the daily things most families do – food shopping, cleaning, picking up dinner – and offer to complete that task. Or if you know something that the child really likes, consider creating opportunities for the child to have a magical experience during the days in between treatment. For example, kids who love animals might really like free tickets to a zoo, kids who adore cooking might be wowed by having a chance to cook with a talented chef. And parents who are completely and utterly exhausted might appreciate a pre-paid night out to dinner and a movie – child care included.

Last summer, I was asked to talk about my experiences working with chronically ill children and their families. And while I am a former litigator-turned-law professor, I struggled to find my voice. It wasn’t until the very end of the talk, when the parents of these children addressed the audience, that I finally heard the words I was hoping to say. Phoebe’s dad, Cole Dooley, a physician and the founder of Face Kids’ Cancer, stood up and addressed the crowd. “Please don’t feel sorry for me,” he pleaded. “Get angry. Get involved. Demand better funding for childhood cancer research.”

I want the world to see that these families are real, that they are local, and that most of all, these families need our help. This month, and always, please don’t just feel sorry for children battling pediatric cancer. Get mad at the realities these kids face. Then do something, because you can.

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NPR Feature, Readers Digest, and More. #sharenting

I was thrilled to be quoted in a recent NPR article, written by Tara Haelle.

Do Parents Invade Children’s Privacy When They Post Photos Online?

“[Stacey] Steinberg and Bahareh Keith, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Florida College of Medicine, say most children will likely never experience problems related to what their parents share, but a tension still exists between parents’ rights to share their experiences and their children’s rights to privacy.

‘We’re in no way trying to silence parents’ voices,’ Steinberg says. ‘At the same time, we recognize that children might have an interest in entering adulthood free to create their own digital footprint.'”

I was also quoted in a recent Reader’s Digest article, written by Stephanie Smith.

7 Things to Never Share About Your Children on Social Media

“‘Think of your kids as autonomous people who are entitled to protection not only from physical harm but intangible harm as well,’ says Stacey Steinberg, a legal skills professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law in Gainesville, Florida, and associate director for the Center on Children and Families.”

Our research has also been cited this month in numerous international publications, including The Irish Times, Europia Press,  Marie Claire Italy, Univision, O Globo, News World India, Knowing Asia , and more.

It has been an incredible honor to see my work reach such a broad audience. I am so grateful to the talented writers and editors who have featured my work.

‘Sharenting’ at the American Academy of Pediatrics Annual Conference

Dr. Bahareh Keith and I presented our abstract on children’s privacy last weekend at the American Academy of Pediatrics Annual Conference. It was an incredible experience. Like us, many members of the audience have grappled with balancing parental sharing with children’s privacy. It was wonderful to share our research with such thoughtful professionals.

We received a significant amount of press coverage during the event. Here is a small sampling of the news features discussing our work.

CNN – The do’s and don’ts of posting about your kids online [link] October, 2016

CBS News – Something to consider before posting about your kids [link] October, 2016

“’Online sharing offers many positive benefits to both parents and children and to communities as a whole, but this message is all about finding a balance,’” Steinberg told CBS News. “’A parent’s right to share and the benefits of sharing is very important and by exploring this we can find a way to allow families to connect online but also to respect children’s privacy.’”

Protecting Kids in the Age of Sharenting – Interview with The Atlantic’s Adrienne LaFrance

I was thrilled to speak with The Atlantic’s Adrienne LaFrance about children’s privacy on social media. We had a wonderful discussion. The following excerpt provides some of the highlights. Ms. LaFrance made many excellent points, and she summarized the issues so well in her article.

“Parents make value-based choices for their children all the time. A toddler may want to opt out of wearing any clothing whatsoever to the playground, but the grown-ups of the house make the kid put on pants and a T-shirt anyway.

Parents often tell their kids what to believe about God, and which football team to root for. Even infants are outfitted in tiny rompers that declare partisan political affiliations. There is no ‘bright line,’ Steinberg says, that dictates when and how it’s appropriate for parents to express themselves through their children. That’s part of why, especially in the United States, there’s enormous cultural deference to parents to do what they believe is right. Yet when identity-shaping decisions—made by parents, then distributed online in ways that ultimately remove parental control—are digitally preserved for years or longer, such decisions potentially get in the way of a child’s self-actualization.”

Sharenting: Children’s Privacy on Social Media | quoted in Slate

I had the pleasure of sharing my research with Slate this week. Here are some quotes from the article:

“Steinberg suggests a focus on providing guidance that helps parents think through the implications of sharing information about their kids online.

In a forthcoming article in the Emory Law Journal, she considers how a public health–based approach to behavior change could address these concerns. For example, health professionals have mounted campaigns to educate parents and the general public about ways to combat secondhand smoke exposure and sudden infant death syndrome. In the article, Steinberg provides a list of recommendations for parents, including the suggestion that parents ask their children before posting pictures online and give children “veto power” over information, photos, or videos they don’t want to be shared. Steinberg, who along with pediatrician Bahareh Keith will present on this topic at next month’s national conference of the American Academy of Pediatrics, believes doctors could be a good source for parents to turn to get advice about online sharing decisions.”

You can read the full article here.

Children’s Privacy on Social Media – Sharenting

I’ve written extensively about sharenting, or the practice of parents sharing about their children on social media. You can read my research here and my Washington Post essay here. You can also read my NY Times interview on the subject here.

I was interviewed by Redbook Magazine this week. Here are some highlights from the article:

“‘Most parents want to do the best for their kids, [but] when it comes to online sharing, there’s just not a lot of information out there — parents can be at a loss,'” she says. …

But while there may be a lack information, there’s an abundance of sharing from other parents. Steinberg says that a whopping 92 percent of 2-year-olds have a social media presence, and one-third of all kids appear on social media within the first twenty four hours of their lives. …

Steinberg pointed out that there are, indeed, lots of pluses to so-called ‘sharenting,’ such as how it can foster a sense of community.

‘I think that really, when we look at these issues, we’re going to have to find a way for society to value a parent’s right to share, and a child’s interest in privacy,’ Steinberg says.”

Rape Culture – Featured on NBC’s TODAY and the Washington Post

Last year, I wrote an essay with Dr. Jennifer Sager about parenting against rape culture for The Washington Post.  

We explained:

There is no way to inoculate our children from becoming victims or perpetrators of rape. But parents can help their children recognize and avoid the erroneous and harmful attitudes surrounding sex, power, control, and coercion. Teach children to respect their bodies, instincts, and emotions. At the same time, give them tools to recognize and respect the same thing in others. Perhaps by doing so, we can shift the dialog and begin to create a culture that fosters healthy boundaries and ends all forms sexual violence.

The essay was shared widely on social media this week, and we were interviewed on the topic by NBC’s TODAY. A link to the article, written by Allison Slater Tate, with our quotes on the topic can be viewed here.

“After the past week’s focus on the sexual assault case at Stanford, Steinberg said it is crucial that parents acknowledge that rape culture does exist and the part that parents can play in fighting it. ‘We owe it to our children to shift this culture,’ she said. ‘We all want our children to enter adulthood armed with the best tools to steer their life’s course.'”

Children’s Privacy on Social Media – Interview with The New York Times

On March 8, 2016, New York Times editor K.J. Dell’Antonia interviewed me regarding children’s privacy on social media. I’ve written a law review on this topic, forthcoming in the Emory Law Journal.

Read the full article here:

Don’t Post About Me on Social Media, Children Say

A few additional links to articles referring to this interview are here:

Women’s Day:

Kveller: Kids Wish Their Parents Would Stop Posting About Them on Social Media

Express: How the tables have turned: Kids now telling parents to ditch their phones

A draft of my forthcoming article, Children’s Privacy in the Age of Social Media, is available here. It will be published in the Emory Law Journal in Spring, 2017.

Parent Partnerships: A Better Way to Co-Parent – First published in the Washington Post

The essay first appeared in The Washington Post on March 8, 2016

As evidenced by many families I know, there are plenty of circumstances where children flourish in single-parent households and in family arrangements that involve active and engaged parents who live apart. When I worked as a child welfare attorney, however, I saw first-hand that this was not always the case.

Merle Weiner, a law professor at the University of Oregon, worries about the potential long-term harm to children in families where the parents are not supportive of, or cooperative with, one another.  Weiner suggests that the best way to prevent this harm is to encourage people to develop strong co-parenting relationships from the start. She calls this relationship a “parent-partnership.”

Children thrive when their parents work harmoniously to meet their needs. While laws establish each parent’s legal obligation to the child, they do not specify obligations between co-parents in the absence of a marriage. Weiner says that legal obligations should exist between the parents, as it is “the expectations of others that shape our identities and behavior, and the same would be true for parent-partners.”

Weiner proposes concrete legal obligations that would arise automatically between parents upon the birth or adoption of a child, but her recommendations also provide all parents (and potential parents) with guidelines they can consider now, regardless of whether these proposals are enacted as law.

The duties she suggests present a clear and much needed road map to help parents navigate their role as caregivers to their joint children. Her proposals offer tangible guidance for all parents — regardless of relationship status — and can improve cooperation, cohesiveness and collaboration in parenting and family life. By agreeing to these types of terms, parents would set the tone for their relationship and acknowledge that they are supposed to have a supportive family relationship throughout their offspring’s childhood.

Weiner proposes that parents should have the following core responsibilities to one another:

Obligation to give aid. When a spouse is in danger, most states have laws that require their partner to provide assistance. Weiner proposes that the same should apply to parent-partners.

Extension of abuse laws. Weiner recommends extending traditional domestic violence laws to protect to parent-partners. For example, her proposal includes allowing psychological abuse to qualify as grounds for obtaining a protection order. Additionally, she recommends that protection orders allow victims to have non-abusive contact with the other parent if the victim wants to. These obligations would be subject to any court order that would keep the parents apart or allocate custody to one parent over the other.

Counseling at the end of romantic relationships. Recognizing that many parent-partnerships begin as romantic relationships, Weiner proposes that counseling should be required when the romantic attachment ends, if one parent wants it but the other parent doesn’t. By encouraging such programs, Weiner “hopes that more parents would try programs that would help them reconcile or at least act like good friends at the end of the romantic relationship.” Parent-partners can agree, before there are even signs that a relationship is deteriorating, that counseling is in their child’s best interest, and therefore have a plan in place that recognizes this goal before the need arises.

Fair dealing when entering into contracts. Weiner proposes that parent-partners should be required to deal fairly with each other, in terms of creating contracts such as post-marital agreements, cohabitation agreements, etc. Under this plan, the parent-partner seeking enforcement of a contract would be required to demonstrate that both partners entered into the agreement fairly, without coercion and that it is fair.

Caring and sharing within the parent-partnership. Lastly, the obligations would recognize that one parent in a partnership often provides a substantial amount of the child and home care. Weiner suggests that parent-partners share equally in physical care responsibilities, and her proposal suggests that a parent who takes on a disproportionate share of this work should be entitled to compensation, to be enforced by the courts. Parent-partners could take steps to recognize the value of such contributions from the outset, perhaps by openly discussing this principle and incorporating it into daily life.

Weiner envisions that these core obligations will set a standard not only for how the law views co-parents, but also how co-parents view themselves. By acknowledging that the adults in a child’s life are intertwined in important ways, society can send an important message about the role partnership plays in the cycle of raising children.

While Weiner’s model specifically calls for system change through legal reform, children could benefit now if their parents adopted these principles — not because of a legal obligation, but because it is in the best interest of their children.

Star Wars vs NASA: The importance of the universe of a child’s imagination — First published in the Washington Post

This essay first appeared in The Washington Post.

Last month, my family embarked on a day trip to Kennedy Space Center. Since our house is currently experiencing somewhat of a Star Wars craze, our trip coincided with a week filled with Lightsaber battles, Starship Lego creations, and Crayola pictures depicting life from alternate universes. While my oldest child had no trouble differentiating the realities of our day trip to the Space Center from the imaginary world in the Star Wars movies, the task wasn’t easy for my younger children. After we watched the IMAX movie, Journey to Space, I did my best to explain the differences, but my efforts were lost on them. They stared at me with wide eyes glaring, shoulders back, and their jaws dropped low. I bought them Popsicles and decided not to push the issue.

Over the next two weeks, the kids asked many questions, trying to understand how space and interplanetary travel were real, but that Star Wars, Luke, and Darth Vader were only pretend characters in a movie. I think they now understand as much as they are developmentally able to process. And after our first awkward conversations, the kids seem fine with my short explanations.

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I really struggled to find the right words to help my kids differentiate fact from fiction during this process. This difficulty has led me to the following question: What is the role of imagination in child development, and how can I best help my children navigate between the pretend worlds that make up most of their imaginative lives, and the real worlds they must traverse each day?

Discussing the issue of imagination with the Wall Street Journal, Paul Harris, a professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education explained “there is evidence that imagination and role play appears to have a key role in helping children take someone else’s perspective.” These experiences give them practical experience to learn how to process social cues. Playing pretend, it turns out, helps children navigate through reality as well.

The Star Wars series is not unique in that within its story, parents have an opportunity to teach children valuable lessons. For our family, we’ve enjoyed the depth of discussions that seem to take the story line past the actual plot and towards conversations centered at the deeper issues contained in the films. These conversations have made their way past the imaginary world depicted in the movie and into our day to day lives. For example, some of Yoda’s words are fantastic to help kids visualize smart choices. My current favorite is an old Yoda quote from The Empire Strikes Back. In that movie, Yoda smartly reminds young Luke, “You will know the good from the bad when you are calm.”

The conversations in our home still often center around imaginary Starships and follow almost instantaneously by dreams of one day traveling to the moon. I’ve assisted in building my fair share of Lego battle fleets and I am getting quite good at drawing Darth Vader. I still can’t fully explain the nuanced differences between space travel in Star Wars and the awesomeness of NASA rockets. But I can help my children by asking questions and helping them seek out the truth themselves. In the great words of Yoda, “Truly wonderful the mind of a child is.”

Stacey Steinberg is a legal skills professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. She is also a lifestyle photographer and a mom. Follow Stacey on Twitter @sgsteinberg or view Stacey’s photography on Facebook.

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