It’s time to think about how your family records and stores memories

This essay first appeared at On Parenting from the Washington Post.

Do you like to gather around when family is together and look back through the old photo albums documenting childhood days? The corners of the books are frayed and the white pages have turned a shade between yellow and brown, but inside those pages exist the precious records of family life. Our parents printed 4 x 6 pictures and secured them with a clear sheet of plastic in the hope that one day we would look back through the albums, remembering the stories contained deep within the images. As we grew older, we pinned pictures to bulletin boards. These prints were our visual reminder of where we’d been and who we’d had at our side.

It’s always a good time to think about how your family records and stores important moments. Digital photography offers us new and better ways to share pictures with family and friends. But it also creates new challenges for families hoping to keep their memories organized. I’m a photographer, and admittedly I am a little obsessed with ensuring that my images will be relished both now and into the future. These simple tools offer me the confidence to know that if I’m ever looking for a photograph, I’ll know just where to find it.

Showcase your memories. Digital photography offers us the wonderful ability to keep an electronic record of our memories, but it does little to showcase our beautiful collections. Print your images regularly and share the photographs with your children. I like to print my favorite images and have them professionally framed. I also like to create canvases to share with the grandparents. I’ve printed my photographs on a variety of other items, like coasters and magnets. A few of my clients have even printed their photos onto credit cards! A unique way to hold on to a special photograph is to have it inspire a fine art portrait like these by Naava Katz​. I love seeing reminders of our family’s most special moments displayed throughout my day.

Make a photo album. While you might have albums in your iPhone, nothing compares to flipping through a book of family memories. Some families might enjoy printing images in the traditional manner and creating a photo album on their own. Others might want to take advantage of the convenience offered by photo-book creation websites. I use sites like MyPublisher and Blurb to help me create our family albums. I store my photos on SmugMug, and it has a special plug-in with both publishing websites. This makes photo-book creation a breeze. I transfer the pictures, and the programs fill in the pages in chronological order. This simple method ensures that I will find the time to print a photo book every year.

Do a privacy checkup on your social-media accounts. Keeping your family memories secure isn’t only about making sure you have easy access to your images. It’s also important to make sure that your images don’t end up in the wrong hands. This can happen more often than most parents think. Did you know that many images found on child pornography sharing sites were originally posted innocently on social media and family blogs? As I’ve researched and written about, parents can best protect their children’s digital footprint by being aware of the risks that online sharing presents. Once we understand the risks, we can enjoy the many benefits social media offers. On Facebook, I like to go through my privacy settings every few months and take stock of not only who can see my pictures but also the images I am tagged in by others. I delete older pictures from the sharing site that I no longer want online. I also post on Instagram, and I’ve chosen to set my account to private so that I can control who sees my images. Consider reviewing the privacy settings on your social-media accounts and adjust as necessary.

Back up your iPhone. And make a backup of your backup. Most of us would be crushed if we lost the precious memories tucked away in our electronic devices. Luckily, it is quite simple to back up your phone to the computer. But consider investing in an additional layer of protection. I upload my images to SmugMugand sometimes even back up my images on Dropbox. I also use an external hard drive to store my favorite images. This peace of mind is priceless when it comes to knowing that my images are safe and secure.

I don’t print my pictures with the same feverish drive as I once did. But I do still make every effort to ensure that my children will have the same physical reminders of their memories that I enjoy from my own early years. By having a system in place for organizing, sharing and saving your digital images, you can ensure that your family’s memories will be revisited for lifetimes to come.

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.

How to parent against rape culture (for one thing, start young) — First published in the Washington Post

co authored by Dr. Jennifer Sager, Ph.D.

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This post was first published in The Washington Post.

In the news, we’ve recently been bombarded with outrageous examples of male dominance, sexual control and coercion, and the objectification of women in very public forums. For example, a fraternity was recently suspended in Virginia after hanging a sign off their front porch that read, “Hope your baby girl is ready for a good time.”

On Facebook, an accused rapist wrote, “women are not people god just put them here for mans entertainment [sic].”

And Bill Cosby nonchalantly discussed his abuse of women in an interview surrounding his recent sex abuse scandal.

Rape Culture is a term coined to explain the very public and often pervasive attitudes in society that highlight coercion and control as central to a culture where sexual objectification exists. And while many parents discuss with older children and teens how to improve their safety in this culture, families are often silent about these issues during the early stages of childhood development. Yet it is during this crucial period that parents can give children the most effective tools to recognize these high risk attitudes in society.

By incorporating the following lessons into daily life, parents can empower their children to understand and regulate their emotions, responses, and reactions, and can teach their children to appreciate these same feelings in others.

1. Teach children that all emotions are important and should be respected. Children must be allowed to cry, to sulk, and to be disappointed. When we rescue children rapidly (with promises of candy or another present), we rob them of the opportunity to learn how to accept these feelings. By doing so, we also demonstrate that we, as the parents, are uncomfortable with our natural range of emotions.

2. When you say no, mean it and don’t backtrack. It’s well documented that inconsistent parenting can exacerbate a child’s behavior problems, but it also means the child does not develop the self-soothing skills needed to accept disappointment. In that same vein, allow your child to occasionally say no, and in those instances, allow your child to stand firm. When a younger child wants to play a game with her sister and the sister wants to play alone, it is tempting to require the older child to share with her younger sibling. But by doing so consistently, this teaches the older child that she needs to change her mind and ignore her own needs as she instead focuses on pleasing someone else. This also misses an opportunity to teach the younger child how to cope when things don’t go her way.

3. Allow children to backtrack. And when you backtrack (as parents inevitably will do), use it as a learning opportunity to teach children that we all have the right to change our minds. It may sound counter-intuitive, but think about it. Imagine packing everything up in the car, finally paying and getting into the ice skating rink, lacing up the skates, and hearing your child say “I don’t want to skate.” Our initial thought would probably be to feel exasperated. We might reasonably think, “I took all this time to get us here. You begged to come here! I paid for your skates. Last time you enjoyed it.” But 10 years from now, as parents, we hope that our daughter’s date respects her feelings if she changes her mind about sexual activity. If your child changes his or her mind about something, respect your child’s instincts and encourage your child to talk about these thoughts and feelings. In the end, your instruction as the parent must prevail, but use these scenarios as opportunities to foster your child’s intuition and to teach your child how to appropriately be heard and respected.

4. Recognize sexual objectification. Do not engage in body shaming. Learn to recognize instances when advertising makes a woman’s (or man’s) body into an object. Discuss this reality with your children and encourage them to think about people’s thoughts and feelings when they see images in the media and other outlets.

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.

School Discipline: Standing Up for All Children in the Public School System

Two kindergartners were sent to the principal’s office during their second week of school. One hit a little girl after she refused to share a toy. The other smacked a little boy after he cut to the front in the lunch line.

At the principal’s office, each child was asked what happened in their respective confrontations. Both admitted they used their hands, and both knew they were in the wrong. As would happen in many American schools, both boys were issued two-day suspensions.

One child, Bobby, had been removed from his parents’ care and lived with a foster family. The other child, Sam, lived with his parents, both college educated and involved at the school.

That evening, Bobby received a brief lecture from his foster mother. He was sent to his room early, and the next morning he spent the day at his social worker’s office, watching television and playing video games, as his foster mother could not take off work to stay home with him. A week after the incident, Bobby’s regular social worker received an official letter from the school board, notifying her that Bobby’s suspension was now a part of his educational record. Next year, his new teacher would learn of the incident before even meeting Bobby. If Bobby one day applied to a magnet program, the admissions committee would not only consider his grades but would also review his disciplinary record.

Sam’s parents also took a stern tone with him that night, refused his request for dessert and sent him to bed early. Later that evening, their anger shifted away from their son, and they became outraged at the school’s disciplinary policy.

How could a kindergartner, yet to have taken a spelling test or bring home a report card, now have a permanent disciplinary record?

How could a school system create a policy that sets young children up to face such serious consequences for developmentally normal early childhood behaviors?

The next morning, Sam’s father made an appointment to speak with the school’s principal. At the meeting, he acknowledged that his son was in the wrong. Sam’s father suggested other options, like not letting Sam attend the school’s ice cream social, asking that Sam meet with the guidance counselor, or requiring his son to stay inside during recess for a few days. The principal agreed to the father’s request. She decided to change Sam’s punishment. The principal tore up the suspension paperwork and instead required Sam to miss a week’s worth of recess and to meet with the guidance counselor during his classroom’s monthly ice cream party.

A young school boy is standing with a book bag and looking at school buses in the background.

Because of his father’s intervention, Sam no longer had a disciplinary record. His first grade teacher would never hear of the incident. If Sam applied to a magnet program, it would be as if it never even happened.

The dichotomy of Sam’s time-out and counseling compared to Bobby’s suspension and permanent record might seem appalling, but these sorts of inequities occur in schools across the country every day. Clearly, Sam benefited from his parents having the skills, time, and motivation to challenge the status quo. But not all children have the benefit of confident, involved parents to help them navigate in the public school system.

Generally, parental involvement in a child’s school life decreases behavioral problems and enhances student achievement. While children living with family members may benefit from their support, children in foster care are at a significant disadvantage due to the transitional nature of foster care and the large caseloads of social workers. In addition to the difficulties foster care workers confront, researchers at Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago found that, “foster parents and child welfare caseworkers alike often do not feel empowered or times are not available to advocate for a child to be reinstated in school or receive necessary services.”

While one might be quick to point the finger at Sam’s father for “giving him an easy way out,” it could be argued that a five-year-old is more likely to feel the weight of a missed ice cream party than a day home from school. Unlike suspensions, which do little to stop repeated episodes of misbehavior, effective behavioral modifications reduce referrals to administrator offices which benefits a child’s academic performance. Though a child might not mind missing a day of school, research shows that suspending children actually has lasting, harmful effects.

Early childhood is a time for children to develop their social skills and gain respect for the educational process. Frustrating this process, suspension stigmatizes a child and “may also delay or interfere with the process of identifying and addressing underlying issues, which may include disabilities or mental health issues.” Unlike counseling or the disappointment of missing recess, suspension does little to address the underlying problematic behavior, like hitting another child in response to a stressful situation.

Many organizations are stepping up efforts to help foster children succeed in school. Volunteer Guardian ad Litems and Court Appointed Special Advocates speak on behalf of children both in court and in the school system. Many states have created laws allowing for the appointment of special educational surrogates to represent foster children and other at-risk youth. Similarly, some school districts train community members to serve as both mentors and advocates for all at-risk students.

These are great bandages to solve the problem of inequity in our school systems, but the permanent solution must lie in changing the landscape of school discipline in public education. Sam’s father wasn’t wrong in advocating on behalf of his son. As a parent and child welfare attorney, I also advocate for my own children (both biological and court appointed) in the same individualized manner. However, I recognize that true change will come not as the result of advocacy for the select few. Perhaps we can all resolve to not only look out for our own when faced with an antiquated or unfair policy but instead take these opportunities to engage policymakers in a meaningful discussion that could improve the lives of all children in our public school system.

This post was previously published on the Huffington Post blog.

Stacey is a law professor, mom, photographer, and attorney ad litem. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Parenting in the Facebook Age: Should We Rethink How We Share? First published in the Washington Post

This essay was first published on the Washington Post.

As parents, we often question how parenting in the age of social media affects us. We worry that by constantly posting status updates, we aren’t living in the moment. We are warned not to compare ourselves to other parents in our news feed. I’m starting to wonder if we’ve been focusing too much on the impact social media has on our own lives and maybe we should focus instead on how social media affects the lives of our children.

Should we allow our children some control over their digital footprint?

As a children’s rights advocate, photographer and mom, this question haunts me. I bring it up when discussing child rearing with friends and family. I casually slide it into conversations with child welfare and constitutional law experts. I am fascinated by debates centered at the intersection of parent/child rights, an issue that is not limited to social media and online sharing. The law has tried to balance the competing interests of parents and their children for generations.

Where does a parent’s right to control the upbringing of the child end and a child’s right to some semblance of a private life begin?

As a mother, I am guilty of at times over-sharing even the most mundane of parenting experiences. My oldest son was born just a year before I signed up for my Facebook account. His life has been the highlight reel of my news feed and my news feed contains more milestones than I’ve written about in his baby book. My son’s images plaster the walls of my virtual cloud, a place he is only beginning to know even exists. But as my son enters an age where he can express an opinion about his digital footprint, I am starting to think about these issues a little deeper. Armed with a law degree and a passion for juvenile law, I can’t help but wonder if my social media habits will one day be outlined in legal casebooks and social science research.

HIPPA prohibits medical professionals from sharing personal information about patients without written consent. FERPA requires teachers and administrators to protect the privacy of a student’s educational records. Delinquency statutes protect some juvenile records from public disclosure. Societal norms encourage us to use restraint before publicly sharing personal information about our friends and family. But nothing stops a parent from sharing their children’s embarrassing or private stories with the virtual world.

Article 16 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Children grants children a right to privacy. The United States signed this document, but the U.S. is the only United Nations member country not to have ratified it. I am not saying that simply ratifying this document will (or should) grant a child control over their parent’s Facebook feed, but I wonder if we owe it to our children to think more about this issue.

Should we ask our older children for permission before posting their picture online? I recognize that children are unable to fully understand the consequences of over-sharing in the virtual world. As their parents, we have a responsibility to protect their online identity. When our children one day learn of the personal stories we’ve shared, will we find ourselves asking them for forgiveness?

As a photographer, I often feature families who have struggled through complex medical circumstances on my photography page. Recently, these stories were featured on The Huffington Post. I stand by my decision to publish thboyinfield (1 of 1)e images. These human experiences raise awareness for important social issues and help solicit funding for important medical research. When struggling families share openly, others similarly situated gain support and knowledge. Not only do families in similar circumstances benefit, but we all have the opportunity to deeply connect with one another and recognize the rich diversity in society.

In the 1800s, children were seen as the property of their parents. Since that time, we’ve learned so much about childhood development. Sometime between the birth of Facebook and the coming of age of my son, I’ve started thinking about myself as the protector of my children’s digital identity. I am still learning how to balance this role with my desire to share my own story.

Unlike parents of the future, I don’t have the benefit of research, data, or even case law to guide my decisions. This is the parenting issue of our generation and the conversation is only just beginning. As we think through these issues, perhaps we should invite our children to join in the discussion.

6 Things Great Dads Have Mastered – Appearing in The Washington Post

This essay was first published on the Washington Post.

I woke up this morning and watched the sun peek through the blinds. I realized my husband had already gotten out of bed. His familiar voice sang to our daughter, who was erupting in giggles down the hall. I took a deep breath and rolled over for just a few more moments of sleep. I knew I had a long day ahead of me, and I smiled at the beautiful sounds of fatherhood echoing from down the hall.

 Like almost 60% of American households, my husband and I both work outside the home. And while we both often feel stressed, rushed, and overwhelmed balancing home and work responsibilities, I am lucky we share in our family’s child rearing responsibilities. I’m not alone. Compared to 1965, fathers nationwide have almost tripled the amount of time they spend with their children. And the results of this quality time are evident in the research. Studies show that father-child contact decreases behavioral issues in children and increases a child’s cognitive well-being.
 
It’s not just the statistics that help me see the importance of the role of dads in family life. I see the benefits firsthand in my own home. In honor of Father’s Day, here are six things great dads have mastered.
 
1.      Great dads understand that caring for their children isn’t “babysitting.” It’s fatherhood. In fact, 46% of dads wish they could spend more time with their kids.
 
2.      Great dads respect their spouse’s contributions to the family. They recognize the value of both stay at home moms and working moms. Great dads also honor and encourage their significant other to achieve both their personal and professional goals.
 
3.      Great dads plan for the future. They prioritize saving for college over splurging on fast cars. They invest in bunk beds instead of motorcycles. Whenever possible, great dads consider the value of life insurance, retirement savings, and college funds. That said, great dads also see the value in family vacations and appreciate the pleasure of an occasional splurge.
 
4.      Great dads might not be able to attend every tea party, baseball game, and parent-teacher conference, but they know mom might not be able to attend every event either. Great dads are flexible and work with their spouse to share parental responsibilities.
 
5.      Great dads know that by being involved in their own children’s lives, their children are more likely to do the same for the next generation. University of Florida researchers Fogarty and Evans found that “fathers who recall a secure, loving relationship with both parents are more involved in the lives of their infants and more supportive to their wives.”
 
6.      Great dads don’t always live with their children’s mom, might parent with another great dad, and sometimes are single parents. Family structure doesn’t define a great dad. Being a loving, supportive, and involved father makes a dad great.
 
Thank you to all the fathers who get up early, go to bed late, and fill their days dancing to the beautiful beat of parenthood.

6 Tools to Help Protect Children from Sexual Abuse

Co-authored by Jennifer Sager, Ph.D.

Child welfare professionals were not surprised to learn that sexual abuse occurred in the Duggar home. With nineteen children (and counting), the odds suggested that at least a fifth of the children in the home would experience sexual abuse in their lifetime. The first sign of sexual abuse was a tragic occurrence. The multiple acts that followed were an outrage, and likely, those multiple acts could have been stopped
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When we (Stacey Steinberg, J.D. and Jennifer Sager, Ph.D.) introduce ourselves to teachers and other parents, questions about our careers and backgrounds often result in awkward pauses followed by intense conversation. As child advocates having working with both victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse, parents often ask us, “What can I do to keep my child safe?”

In light of the Duggar abuse scandal, protecting children from sexual abuse is on many parents’ minds. Avoiding all risk is unlikely, but there are steps parents can take to minimize their child’s risk of sexual abuse. These tools will also help children get help if victimization occurs.

    1. Accept that sexual abuse is prevalent. 1 in 662,000 children will become an Olympic athlete. 1 in 2,872 children will become a doctor. 1 out of every 4 girls and 1 out of every 6 boys will be sexually abused. Put down the STEM kit and stop obsessing about finding the perfect pair of running shoes. Realize that the best thing you can do to help your child succeed is prioritize his or her safety.
    2. Know that in about 93% of sexual abuse cases, the child knows the abuser. Stranger is not the real danger. The abuser is typically a family member, a babysitter, a coach, or a teacher. Although most of the abuse is done by men, females also sexually abuse. This is typically where parents get scared. “Who can I trust?” It’s important to evaluate everyone in your child’s life. And to continue to evaluate as time passes. There are some people who are attracted only to young children. There are some that will only be attracted once your child has hit puberty. Just because someone was safe, doesn’t mean they are always going to be safe.
    3. Name the body parts. Butt, vagina, vulva, penis. Using cute names tells children that those areas are funny and that you, as the parent, are uncomfortable talking about those parts of their body. Plus, it doesn’t help when a little girl tells her teacher “Uncle Johnny licked my cookie” when she means her vagina area. When we give a child proper vocabulary, we give her tools to get help when she needs it.
  1. Teach body awareness. When a child cries over a cut on his finger don’t say, “You are fine, don’t worry about it.” If we minimize his feelings, we teach the child that we know his body better than he does. Acknowledge his pain. When he cries, say, “that hurts, but it will get better.” Stop what you are doing and connect with the child, so that he knows you will listen when he needs you.
  2. Talk about body safety. When you are tickling your child and she says “stop,” stop. She might obviously want you to continue. She might even scoot her body over towards you. Say, “stop means stop. And no means no. When you are ready for me to tickle again, just ask.” Allow her to ask before continuing the tickling. This teaches a child that she is in control of her body.
  3. The last tip is a big one for us. Remove the word Secret from your child’s vocabulary. A Secret is something that is kept hidden forever. A Surprise is a gift or event, which is revealed at a certain time. It is always eventually told. Use words like Hidden, Mystery, Private, Surprise, Confidential, or Super Agent (instead of secret agent). There are no “good secrets” or “bad secrets.” Tell your children that families can have surprises, but no secrets.

The terrifying reality is that there isn’t a surefire way to protect your child from sexual abuse. Despite using all the tools, someone can still hurt your child. However, by being aware and talking to your child, you can help protect your child and decrease the risk of sexual abuse.

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To report child sexual abuse, call the National Child Sexual Abuse hotline at 1-866-FOR-LIGHT (866-367-5444) or for immediate help, dial 9-1-1.


The information contained in this article is for general knowledge and should not be a substitute for professional medical or legal advice.

To the Heroes Advocating on Behalf of Children

Dear Child Advocate,

I remember him as if we met yesterday. Johnny, not even six months old, sat on my lap and giggled as I finished getting together my court documents. I was a young attorney for Florida’s Department of Children and Families, learning how to navigate the complexities of child welfare. Johnny had bruises on his body, his runny nose had crusted over, and he was filthy. I wanted to drop everything and scrub away his despair.

Something in me changed that day.

Before becoming a law professor, before starting my photography business, before blogging, I had one “job” other than motherhood. I was a child welfare attorney, working alongside child advocates just like you. I worked with men and women who, on a daily basis, risked their own safety and sacrificed their own personal needs to protect abused and neglected children in my community. We worked as a team, but it was not until a social worker got sick and asked me to watch Johnny that I realized that while I led the fight in the courtroom, the real heroes led the fight on the ground.

The concerned citizen who calls in an abuse report. The social worker who brings a child to safety. The foster parent who answers phone calls in the middle of the night. The therapist who heals the broken heart. The doctor who fixes the broken bone. The nurse who provides nutrition to the neglected belly. The schoolteacher who provides continuity during a time of great upheaval. The volunteer who collects Christmas presents and advocates through philanthropic service. The adoptive parent who gives a child a forever home.

A social worker made the brave and necessary decision to remove Johnny from his parents earlier that morning. That evening, a foster mother would wash his tattered clothes. Tomorrow, a volunteer might agree to serve as his Guardian ad Litem.

I know caring for abused and neglected children is a thankless calling. Child welfare professionals only get attention when things go wrong. The day-to-day victories often go unnoticed.

Please remember that you change lives every single day. You see things most ‘regular people’ pretend don’t exist. You nurture broken hearts by day and fall asleep at night wishing only that you could have done more. You give everything you have to mend the pieces of shattered lives and then awaken the following morning to do it again.

Before going to court, I looked into Johnny’s big brown eyes. I felt the warmth of his skin and was touched by his beautiful gaze. He chewed on my suit jacket and smiled at me. And he broke my heart. Not just because his life was already harder than any I could imagine, and only in part because his future would likely be filled with challenges, but because I knew that as much as I wanted to save and protect Johnny, tomorrow another Johnny would need me, and I would have to shift my focus away from this precious life. I felt a weight on my shoulders and an ache in my heart. I gently placed Johnny on the blanket next to my desk and prepared his court documents.

That day, I provided comfort to Johnny. The following morning, I successfully advocated on his behalf. But by the following week, my focus shifted away from him. Another child needed my attention. Johnny’s life was no longer in my hands.

My favorite author, Brian Andreas, whimsically says, “Anyone can slay a dragon…but try waking up every morning & loving the world all over again. That’s what takes a real hero.” You are on the front lines slaying dragons every day. You go to bed each night like a warrior, and you wake up each morning ready to fight yet another battle.

Thank you for loving the world so much that you are willing to wake up tomorrow and protect yet another child, even at the expense of your own heartache. You are not only my hero, but you are a hero for all the Johnnys I’ve ever met.

With my deepest respect and gratitude,
Stacey

5 Truths About Parenting Generation Z

Born in the late seventies, I am either one of youngest members of Generation X or the very oldest of the Millennials. I entered my teenage years without an email account, and left for college without a cell phone. I had a beeper, and I remember the Gulf War. I was already an adult when the planes struck on 9/11, and dial-up internet was a thing of the past by the time I hit my junior year of college.

I’ve read a million parenting articles geared towards making sure our kids enjoy the perks we knew and loved during our coming of age, but what are the shared experiences that make up parenting a Generation Z kid? After consulting with parents and educators, I’ve created a list of five Generation Z truths I believe are universal.

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Set Up to Fail : High Stakes Testing in Public Schools

Imagine being a nine year old child. Picture yourself studying for a test, walking into class, feeling confident you prepared the best you could. How would you feel if after finishing the test you only understood half the questions? Would your confidence be shaken?

Over 1/3 of students failed Utah’s state required standardized assessment last year. Florida purchased questions for its standardized test (commonly called the “FSA”) from this seemingly flawed Utah test and many expect Florida will see similar results. Earlier this month, Florida legislators, recognizing the potential issues with the test, signed a bill promising not to hold back third graders who fail the FSA this year. However, elementary students had already walked away from testing a week earlier feeling inadequate and confused. High stakes testing sets a child up to fail.

Now picture yourself as a young schoolteacher. You are a recent graduate, excited to make a difference in the lives of young children. You want to work at a school close to your home, and, much to your surprise, that school is hiring! You apply and get the job. You familiarize yourself with the bonus and promotion structure and learn that financial incentives are closely tied to your students’ performance on standardized tests.

Even when a school employs hardworking teachers and has the support of parents and local business partners, some schools serve students that live in homes that fall below the poverty line. Research tells us that the number one indicator of how a child will perform on a standardized test is whether or not that child lives in poverty. Our flawed standardized testing model sets even the most talented teacher up to fail.

For a moment, walk in the shoes of a school administrator. You want to guide your teachers and provide a solid curriculum for the students enrolled in your district. However, states are purchasing required tests from large for-profit corporations. You are caught between trying to provide quality education to your students and maintaining the financial backing from the state to do so. Unfortunately, these goals are often mutually exclusive. High stakes testing sets up even the most altruistic school administrator up to fail.

Now take the perspective of a parent. You childproof your home. You vaccinate your child. You put your child in a car seat and you teach her the golden rule. After providing your child a foundation, you send her off to public school, dropping her off at the schoolhouse gate confident that the school system will be your key partner in her education. As the school’s partner, you plan to stay involved every step of the way.

But you soon find out that corporations, not teachers, created the tests your child will take.

You learn that the innovation and creativity you worked so diligently to harness during her first few years of life could be jeopardized by the “high-stakes” testing culture saturating her public school classroom.

You watch as important subjects like history, art, and music slowly drop from the curriculum as these subjects are not covered by the standardized test. 

You know your child needs an empathetic and patient teacher, yet you watch as teachers shift focus because of standardized testing standards. Assets like empathy and patience work against our best teachers who know their performance review will be based on how much and how quickly your child is able to learn.

Perhaps worst of all, your child takes her first standardized test and comes home reporting that she was required to sign a piece of paper promising not to talk to you about the test or the testing procedure itself.

High stakes testing sets parents up for failure, too.

This is the current climate of public education in our country. Students, teachers, and administrators know the system isn’t working. It’s not too late to fix it. Children desperately want to learn and succeed. Talented teachers are ready to provide comprehensive, engaging, and exciting lessons to their students. School administrators are eager to motivate and inspire their districts to use innovative and creative approaches in the classroom. Parents want to partner with their local public schools.

Teachers and administrators can’t fix the system alone. But parents and community members can help. “To make democracy work, we must be a nation of participants, not simply observers. One who does not vote has no right to complain.”  Louis L’Amour

Get involved. Write to your state and national legislatures. Let’s change course and set students, teachers, administrators, and parents up for success.

This post first appeared on The Huffington Post.

The views contained in this post are Stacey’s own and do not represent the views her employer.

 

5 Things Every Working Mom Needs to Hear

This essay originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

Moms, I know you are out there. Like me, I know you are trying to catch your breath as you race from work to daycare at 5:30, hoping your child isn’t the last to get picked up. I bet your stress melts away the moment you drop to your knees on the preschool room floor. I don’t think I am alone in feeling an overwhelming joy consume me as my child runs towards me, crashing into my outstretched, tired arms.

Do you also marvel at the dichotomy? At work, I feel efficient and productive. Yet this strength seems absent as I try to unpack lunch boxes, prepare dinner, and make meaningful eye contact during the short 90 minutes that exist between taking off my heels and putting the kids to bed. I struggle to hold it all together while watching my 4-year-old throw a tantrum on the living room floor. I worry that his meltdown is somehow my fault, that perhaps if I didn’t work so hard, if I spent less time away from him, maybe the tantrums would disappear from our lives.

I’ve been at this working motherhood thing for nine years. Nine years trying to balance the chaos and understand the emotions that come from constantly trying to navigate between two worlds. And as I enter this tenth year of motherhood, I am trying to accept one simple truth.

I. Am. Enough. You are, too. Say it with me: “I am enough.” Here are five things I remind myself of while trying to balance career and family. I hope this list comes in handy tonight as you simultaneously flip yet another load of laundry and mentally draft an email before collapsing into bed.

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A Roadmap Towards Work-Life Balance

Last week, I found myself at a coffee shop grading papers. I couldn’t help but overhear two young college students talk about career options and their dreams for work-life balance. It was so hard not to interject. There is so much I want to tell them. But where to begin?

I remember being in their shoes. A third year law student, I thought I knew so much. I wanted to feel passionate about work. I wanted to make a difference. I was sure I would make good money. And I was confident I would seamlessly transition into motherhood a few years down the road.

My confidence was misplaced. While I left law school armed with knowledge and enthusiasm, I had little in my arsenal to prepare me for the realities of balancing work and life.

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