Jeremy Olson writes about children and families, and is an overscheduled father of two. His blog tackles the best and worst of parenting, families, health and love. He wants to hear from you - what's going on in your house?
Minneapolis economist Rob Grunewald is known for the influential paper he co-authored a decade ago showing that public investments in structured early childhood education have enormous economic payoffs down the line. But on Tuesday, when he accepted an award for his advocacy of early childhood education, Grunewald took a tangent when he stressed the value of also getting children outside for more unstructured time to explore and create.
Citing a book called the Coyotes Guide to Connecting with Nature, Grunewald said children need more unstructured time outside to run and hide and explore and "play in the dirt."
"The outdoors is a natural classroom for childhood development. But children today ... don't get to spend enough time outdoors " said Grunewald, an economist from the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis. He received an award Tuesday from a local advocacy group known as the Start Early Funders Coalition for Children & Minnesota's Future. The event was held at the Science Museum of Minnesota.
Grunewald doesn't have children but said the value of getting kids outdoors was passed to him by his grandparents, who took him camping for days when he was only six years old. The Coyote book is filled with ways to explore the outdoors and play games that foster creativity and a connection to the natural world. (The ideas obviously differentiate from the structured time that many children experience outdoors through school and club sports.)
"When you get outdoors, there are so many sensory experiences that are available to you," he said.
This week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the ability to patent naturally-occurring DNA and genetic information could impact the decisions of individuals to receive the BRCA genetic tests for breast cancer risks, according to University of Minnesota experts.
The ruling ultimately prevented Myriad Genetics from holding exclusive rights to the genetic tests for the BRCA mutations that predict elevated risks of breast cancer. At least one competitor has already pledged to offer a competing test at a third of the price. That would bring the out-of-pocket cost from more than $3,000 to closer to $1,000.
Mary Ahrens, a genetic counseling expert at the U of M, said patients struggle with many issues when deciding whether to receive the genetic test, including the psychological consequences of knowing the result and the emotional hardship of spreading information about positive tests to relatives. But those difficult issues can be irrelevant for them until they know if health insurance is covering the cost.
"Lets put it this way," she said. "If an insurance company does not cover the cost, so the patient is out $4,000, that trumps everything."
Ahrens and the U's Dr. Richard King said insurance coverage is fairly broad for women who have already been diagnosed with breast cancer. Coverage remains variable of their relatives or of people with significant family histories of breast cancer.
If the out-of-pocket cost is slashed by half or more following this Supreme Court ruling, Ahrens said that could increase public interest in testing. She noted the cost is already greatly reduced (around $500) for relatives of women who have tested positive for a BRCA mutation.
"Once they identify what mutation in the family is associated with cancer," she said, "it's very easy to go in and test somebody for that mutation."
A key issue following the ruling will be whether insurance companies expand the conditions under which they cover testing for the BRCA mutations.
"Anything that is over a couple hundred dollars is expensive" for patients, Ahrens said. "The big issue is going to be insurance coverage."
A new Sesame Street production, with backing from the White House, is seeking to help preschool and grade-school children deal with the emotional trauma of having parents who are incarcerated. The new, national campaign has a local angle in that the Washington County jail will be an early test site and a University of Minnesota researcher will be studying whether it is effective.
The U's Rebecca Shlafer will conduct a comparative study of children entering the Washington County jail who view the Sesame DVD and other materials prior to seeing their incarcerated parents, and of children who don't. Shlafer said there has been little recognition until recently about the impact on young children of having parents who are incarcerated. They sometimes wonder if they are to blame, or feel badly because they might hear at school how only bad people ever end up in jail.
"Sometimes children in these circumstances have feeling of guilt like maybe this is their fault," said Shlafer, who was at the White House today for the announcement of the new campaign.
Creators from the New York-based Sesame Workshop hope the approachable Muppet-like characters in the materials will help children deal with the anxiety and stress of seeing their parents behind bars. The orange, pink and blue Muppet characters also remove any racial stigma from the issue for children.
Shlafer said the campaign will also provide helpful tips to parents and caregivers at home about how to talk honestly with their children about the issue.
"Caregivers actually will lie about where the incarcerated parent is," she said. "So grandma may say 'oh, mom's off at college' when actually she is at the Shakopee women's prison and will be for the next three years. One of the things that Sesame has done here is talk about (that) honesty is important in talking to your child about her parent's incarceration. It can be difficult, it can be scary, but here are some ways that you can approach this topic."
Children often suffer in many ways when a parent is incarcerated. The loss of family income often puts their families into poverty. Shlafer said there might be a link to recidivism, so it is important to help the children of incarcerated parents so they don't one day become criminals themselves.
Washington County Jail assistant administrator Roger Heinen said just entering a prison or jail can cause anxiety for young children, who have to put their belongings in lockers, then pass through metal detectors, then pass through metal doors only to see incarcerated parents through bulletproof glass. Heinen, whose own children watch Sesame Street, said it makes sense to use these lovable characters to help children deal with these hardships.
77 percent of parents believe they have talked with their kids about proper online behavior, according to a national survey, but only 44 percent of youth ages 10 to 23 would agree. Apparently, a lot of that sage advice against sexting and cyberbullying is going in one ear and out the other!
Maybe it's because I just imposed a no texting/snapchatting/calling rule on my son's baseball team of 11- and 12-year-old boys during practices and games, but this survey of more than 1,000 kids and 1,000 parents intrigued me. Do parents really know how much time their kids are committing to social media and online communications?
The youth in the survey (funded by software security provider McAfee) were much more aware than parents of the dangers of posting sensitive information such as their social security numbers or the identities of who they are dating. Yet they were still more likely to post this kind of information without their parents knowing it.
Seven in 10 surveyed kids admitted to hiding online activities from their parents through a variety of methods such as using password-protected mobile phones. Two-thirds of surveyed kids had posted photos of themselves online, but only half of their parents knew that. A third of youth posted intimate or sensitive personal details of themselves online but little more than one in 10 parents were aware of that type of online activity.
"The Internet may be altering the dynamics and outcomes of marriages itself," according a new study that found that a third of recently-married couples met online, and that couples who met online were more likely to be in happy, stable relationships.
Surveying 19,000 U.S. couples who married between 2005 and 2012, University of Chicago researchers learned that 35 percent of them met online. The next most likely place where spouses met was work -- at only 21.6 percent of offline dating locations and 14 percent of all locations.
Among offline meeting locations, spouses reported that the next most common ones were meeting through friends, at school, at a social gathering, through family, or at a bar or club.
Among online meeting locations, social networking sites such as Facebook and online dating sites such as eHarmony were most frequently used. The couples who met online tended to be middle-aged and make higher incomes, according to the study published this week in PNAS, a scientific journal.
More than 100 surveyed couples met on email and another 100 or so met due to comment's they posted on blog sites. (I can just see it, "janedog1345, your comments on Gov. Dayton's budget were so romantic. Let's meet for coffee!) And more than 200 met through multiplayer games such as World of Warcraft. ("Ah, Witchkiller849, the way you slayed that dragon was so wicked. How about dinner sometime?")
I joke, but the big finding from the study is that online meetups are more likely to produce happy, durable marriages. The rate of divorce or separation was slightly lower among the couples who met online (6 percent) versus those who met offline (7.7 percent).
The folks at eHarmony are probably doing cartwheels over this study, which showed it was the most frequently used of online dating sites and also produced one of the highest rates of marital satisfaction -- online or offline. Marital satisfaction rates were slightly lower among couples who met offline through blind dates, work or bars and slightly higher among couples who grew up together or met at social gatherings or places of worship.
Even a broken racquet string can be the catalyst to something meaningful. Varsity players from the powerhouse Blake and upstart Minneapolis Edison tennis teams discovered that when they met last week in an epic mismatch.
When an Edison player broke a string -- and didn't have a replacement racquet -- his Blake opponent loaned his extra racquet to prevent a forfeit. It was one of several examples of mutual respect that emerged during the meet, despite the competitive mismatch and whatever stereotypes existed among the players about their private school/inner city opponents, said Minneapolis Edison Coach Chad Forde.
At the end of the meet, the two teams gathered and celebrated with a "Bears-Tommies" combined chant, Forde said. But that was only the beginning. Blake captain Taylor Parr wanted to help his new friends from Edison -- some of the players couldn't afford racquets and were using old ones from phy ed storage -- by collecting 26 lightly used racquets from his teammates and donating them.
"The worst racquet we got from them was nicer than our best racquet," Forde said. "I know they're young, but I want them to know how much that truly means to an up-and-coming urban tennis team."
Forde's team had tripled in size to 25 players this spring, making the need for equipment great. The Edison players received the racquets in time for today's 4A singles sectional meet.
"I kind of warned them, 'you're going to see the ball go a lot farther than you expected,'" Forde said from the site of this morning's meet. "They're joking around with each other. If they hit a good shot, 'It's not really you! It’s the racquet!'"
Cool Things Kids Do is an occasional series on the extraordinary kids and teens in this community. Know of any kids doing amazing things, big or small? Email email@example.com.
Prior blogs from the series: