Category Archives: Entertainment

Do Violent Video Games Desensitize Our Sons to Actual Violence?

As the shootings in schools, malls, and other public places seem to be happening more and more frequently these days, parents are once again wondering if violent video games, especially the “first person shooter” games which allow the player to travel armed throughout the game and “kill” everyone in sight, contribute to actual gun violence. In the aftermath of these shootings we have often heard the profile of the shooter as a young man who spent a great deal of time holed up in his room playing these games. Are these games, which our children can play for hours, encouraging them to look for violent solutions?

For every study that suggests that there is some causal connection between video games and gun violence there is another which assures us there is none. And considering the millions of games like these sold annually in the US alone, if the connection was absolute the violence would be much more staggering than it is. But as a recent New York Times article found here notes, two new studies strongly suggest that when children play these games regularly over time they become less horrified by violent scenes and have less empathy for people who are affected by violence. A study conducted by Dr. Jeanne Brockmyer of the University of Toledo has determined that teens exposure to violent images over long periods of time can mute the areas of the brain responsible for empathy. And a study recently released by Canada’s Brock University has determined that long term exposure to images in violent video games can stunt a child’s “moral maturity” and take away a child’s ability to feel empathy for people who have been in violent situations in real life.

The natural question for parents of boys who play these games is: how much exposure to these games is too much? Is once a week for two hours a day ok, but three times a week too much? Even though none of the studies have been able to determine this, parents should keep a watchful eye over how much time their children are spending with these games. Common Sense Media (commonsense media.org) has a ratings system for video games that breaks down what will be found in the videos (e.g., violence, sex, language, etc.) and suggests an appropriate age for the players. They also have kids reviews and parents reviews of the game side by side, so that you can read what each generation thinks about it.

GCP readers, what rules do you have in your house about violent video games? Does hearing that continued playing of these games might reduce your sons’ capacity to empathize affect your interest in letting him play as much? If you play these games, how does that impact your feelings about your children playing them? Let us know.

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Filed under Ages 13-15, Ages 8-12, Entertainment

Reading Rainbow Kickstarter Campaign

Remember “Reading Rainbow”?

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That delightful children’s series which encouraged reading, hosted by LeVar Burton and aired on PBS from 1983-2009? Burton has just launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise one million dollars to create an online version to expand the program’s reach.

When Reading Rainbow went off the air in 2009 Burton bought the rights to the show and its name and created the company RRKidz, which produces a Reading Rainbow tablet app. The Kickstarter campaign is raising funds to expand on that app, making it available on the Web and updating it with special tools for teachers on a subscription basis.

The campaign has gotten off to a very impressive start: it has already exceeded its pledge goal, with 29,145 backers having already pledged over $1,295,000. With 34 more days to go on the campaign, the Reading Rainbow team is hoping to raise additional funds to meet more ambitious production goals.

Read more about Burton’s efforts here and check out the Kickstarter campaign here.

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Filed under Academics, Ages 0-5, Ages 8-12, Books, Entertainment

Hit the Road! Vacationing with Kids

As summer approaches, thoughts turn to family vacations. We at GCP love hitting the road with the kids, and have been doing so since they were tiny tots. Family vacations can provide some of the best times of your life. Whether it is a road trip of a few hours or a journey to another part of the world, introducing your children to different places and cultures at an early age helps hone their powers of observation and understanding, and gives them great memories of family fun.

Here are a few tips culled from a variety of sources (including our own GCP wisdom) to help make your family vacations into fun adventures:

1. Start with a Positive Attitude: Some parents refuse to consider taking their little ones on the road for fear that the children will be terrible travelers. One of the best ways to avoid this fear is to start traveling with them early, so that they grow up understanding how to behave on the road. Sure, you will have to plan long trips carefully and bring lots of fun activities to distract them on a lengthy trip. But be sure to believe in your children’s ability to be good travelers!!

2. Keep Them Busy On the Road: Bring lots of fun things on the road: books, toys, stickers, educational games, portable DVD and game players, books on tape, and music CDs to sing along with. Make age appropriate activity travel bags for each child. Be sure to include a few surprises in the bag. Save the bag for when the first signs of fidgeting appear.

3. Leave the Special Toy at Home: Rather than take the favorite bunny or lambie on the road, better to buy a special friend for the trip a few weeks before. Nothing threatens to spoil a trip more than discovering that Bunny didn’t make it out of the last hotel.

4. Bring the Medicine Cabinet: Be prepared for any emergency, big or small. Make a trip to the local drugstore and load up on everything you could possibly need for everything from a minor boo-boo to a major head or tummy upset. Here’s an unusual but useful tip: stick a packet of ground coffee in your bag. If the little one happens to throw up in an enclosed space (on the plane, in a car), coffee grounds mask the smell pretty quickly.

5. Plan Realistic and Flexible Days: Don’t try to fill every waking hour of a trip with activity, even if it is child friendly activity. Children tend to tire easily on the road, so take your cues on the length of the day from them. Maybe you won’t be able to hit every spot of interest in every port of call, but better to have a shorter day than have to drag a cranky little one around. And be prepared to make stops that your children request that you might not have included in the original itinerary. In the early days we visited more wax museums than I could ever have imagined (or wanted to imagine). But we had a blast, and still talk about those museums, so many years later!

You can take your sons and daughters on the road and have a great time! Start planning now.

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Filed under Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, Entertainment, Holidays, Parents, Resources

Tell Your Sons: Tech It Off — October 10th, 8-9pm

Diane Primo, founder and chairman of marketing company IntraLink Global and mother of three (a daughter and two sons), challenges us all to help our children thrive by encouraging them to Tech It Off–turn off all devices–for one hour, on October 10th, 2014, from 8-9pm.

Primo is greatly concerned that our children, our beloved Millennials, who
are consuming media for 18 hours a day, are stuck in a high-stress, constantly plugged-in, sleep and time-deprived culture. She worries that their addiction to their devices will limit their effectiveness, productivity, and growth, and may well ultimately block their ability to truly thrive.

Inspired by Arianna Huffington’s new book “Thrive”, which explains how we need to expand the definition of success beyond monetary or material measures to include empathy, compassion and caring, Primo wants us all to consider how we can help our technology-obsessed children understand the importance of having uninterrupted think-time, getting enough sleep, and caring about others. When will they have time to focus on these important values if they are plugged in and preoccupied for all of their waking hours?

Primo’s suggestion: Tech It Off. Devote one hour on a specific day, worldwide, to going tech-free. She wants us all to Tech It Off on October 10, 2014, from 8-9pm in every time zone. She acknowledges that asking our children to de-tech for just one hour is a baby step, but notes “Baby steps start the conversation”. If we start with this one hour, and help our children understand that stepping away from their devices for periods of time will help reduce their stress and restore balance to their lives, she believes, “this simple act can start to change their lives, and ours, for the better”.

Read Diane Primo’s challenge to Tech It Off in full here. We at GCP are big fans of this idea. What do you think? Can you, will you, encourage your sons and daughters to Tech it Off on October 10th, 2014??

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Filed under Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 8-12, Entertainment, Resources

Films to See: “American Promise” and “The African Americans”

American Promise: The PBS premiere of “American Promise” happened last night–did you see it? This is the documentary in which an African-American husband and wife filmmaking team chronicled their son and his friend’s journey from kindergarten through high school at a predominantly white private school in New York City. If you missed it, you can catch it tonight at 7pm online on OVEE here: http://bit.ly/1aZ7IDi. And you can see when it will air again on your local PBS channel here: http://on.fb.me/MrFxBk.

The companion book, “Promises Kept: Raising Black Boys to Succeed in School and in Life” is now available in bookstores and on amazon.com. This book is filled with important and practical information on raising and supporting our boys. You can also check out the American Promise website here and Facebook page here for more information about the film and the book.

The African Americans: PBS recently aired ” The African Americans: Many Rivers To Cross”, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s six-hour series which explores the evolution of African-Americans from the origins of slavery in Africa to present day. The entire series is now available on DVD. A great addition to our libraries, especially as we look for ways to enrich our children’s knowledge of our history.

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Filed under Entertainment, Films, Resources

November is Hip-Hop History Month

Did you know that November is Hip-Hop History month? Whether you are a huge fan, a mild enthusiast, or would prefer to hear anything else when your kids are controlling the music, you can’t deny that hip-hop has had a significant influence on modern culture. Harvard University’s Hip Hop Archive, which is devoted to the serious study of hip hop music and culture, has recently announced the establishment of the Nasir Jones Hiphop Fellowship. This fellowship, generously funded by an anonymous donor, is named for the rapper Nas, a lyrical poet who is a widely recognized leader of hip-hop’s “Knowledge is power” movement. You can read more about the Hip Hop Archive here. And as you may recall from an earlier GCP post, hip hop artist GZA from the Wu-Tang Clan has joined forces with educators to use hip-hop to encourage children’s interest in science. (“Hip Hop Science Teachers Spreading the Word”, November 18, 2012)

Check your local papers and local websites to see how Hip-Hop History Month is being celebrated in your town. Consider attending an event with your son or daughter (provided they are fans, of course). If you live in the NYC area, the New York Public Library is offering a series of events celebrating Hip-hop History Month that night be of interest:

Hip-Hop Education Think Tank III: Legacy Building – Cultivating a Global Cipher from the Streets to the Classroom

Hip-Hop History Workshop for Teens: B-Boy & B-Girl Dancing with Kwikstep and Rokafella

Hip-Hop History Workshop for Teens: DJing with DJ Wiz

Hip-Hop History Workshop for Teens: Graffiti/Aerosol Art with James Top

Whether or not you like the music, it is a good idea to know something about it, especially if your son or daughter is obsessed with the latest hip hop hits. A secret weapon to understanding current hip-hop music is Rap Genius. Rap Genius gives you annotated lyrics to all the latest songs. They call themselves “a hip-hop Wikipedia”. We at GCP call them a fast and easy way to figure out what the rappers are saying and what it means. Do you really want to know, you might ask? Yes. Gives you insight as to what your children are hearing and thinking about and enables you to determine whether they are mature enough to handle the material. And it actually gives you a better appreciation of the poetry behind some of the songs. Check it out, and enjoy Hip-Hop History Month!

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Filed under Entertainment, Holidays, Parents, Resources

Diversity Matters: American Promise and ISDN

Greetings GCP’ers! Today we focus on several opportunities to examine and explore the impact of race on our sons’ education.

American Promise: We hope by now you have heard about “American Promise”, the Sundance Grand Jury prize winning documentary which follows the journeys of two African-American boys and their families from kindergarten through high school graduation. (Check out our earlier post on this, “’American Promise’: A Work In Progress”, February 27, 2012) The film, which will be opening in theaters on October 18, provides a rare look into Black middle class life while exploring the common hopes and hurdles of parents navigating their children’s educational journeys. (It will also air on public television stations in 2014.) Husband and wife filmmakers Joe Brewster and Michéle Stephenson recently published an Op-Doc video (an Op-Ed piece on film) in the New York Times called “An Education in Equality”, a companion piece to their film, found here. Read and view their personal account of why and how they made this film.

In conjunction with the film the makers of “American Promise” have launched a national engagement campaign, working in partnership with trusted organizations around the country to mobilize young people, families and educators to identify ways that Americans can better support black boys’ social and emotional needs and encourage people to consider the role they play in advancing success for all children. Go to http://www.americanpromise.org for more information about this endeavor as well as the film’s release.

Independent School Diversity Network (ISDN): GCP‘s very first post featured the great work that Wendy Van Amson and Esther Hatch are doing with ISDN in New York City. (“What Parents Can Do: Wendy Van Amson”, February 7, 2011). ISDN is an alliance of parents and educators dedicated to developing and supporting diversity, equity and inclusion in school communities. It creates opportunities for interschool partnerships in the New York City area and provides parent support as well as student empowerment/leadership programming. This week ISDN is launching an exciting new parent group in NYC which promises to be interesting and informative called “Why Do We Need To Talk About Race?” This parent group will meet in the evening once a month starting Wednesday October 2 to focus on the following issues:

How do race and privilege affect children in school?
How can we address and focus on the issues of race in our communities as well as acknowledge the multiple identities of people of color?
Why are discussions about race important for ALL students?
How can parents work with their schools to create more inclusive communities for families?
How can parents best communicate with schools and become allies with educators in order to improve all students’ school experience?
How can we promote cultural competency in our communities?
How can parents support each other?

If you live in the NYC area and want to join this group, please go to www.isdnetwork.org for details and more information. If you live outside of the NYC area, consider organizing a parent group in your community to discuss these issues. The NYC parent group is structured following the principles of the “Undoing Racism” workshops offered nationally by The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. ISDN suggests that participating in a workshop is highly recommended if you would like to organize (or participate most effectively in) a parent group. You can find out more about these workshops and when one will be offered in your area by going to the institute’s website here. Parent groups like these are safe spaces to share experiences, and talk about the difficult and sometimes uncomfortable issues of race and privilege. If you decide to start a parent group, please let us know how it is going.

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Filed under Academics, Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, Entertainment, Films, Parents, Resources

7 Reasons You and Your Children Must Watch “The Watsons Go to Birmingham” on Friday, September 20th

GCP went to the movies last night, to see a screening of “The Watsons Go To Birmingham”, a movie based on the award-winning young adult novel written by Christopher Paul Curtis. We had high expectations, considering the source material, but we were blown away by how good it was. Engaging, entertaining, moving, made us laugh and cry (literally). In the spirit of Buzzfeed.com (a site that loves lists), here are 7 Reasons why you and your family must watch this movie tonight, Friday September 20th, when it premieres on the Hallmark Channel on at 8pm (EST):

1. It is a Superb Adaptation of a Wonderful Book. We often cringe when we hear that a favorite novel is going to film, as we fear that no movie can best our imaginations when we are enjoying a good read. But the director (Kenny Leon, recently heralded for his direction of “A Raisin in the Sun” on Broadway and television) and the writer (Tonya Lee Lewis) put those fears to rest with this movie. They bring the book to life in an engrossing and inviting way, so that whether you know the book inside and out or have never read it you will be equally charmed by the members of the Watson family and moved by their story.

2. It is Timely and Topical. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, Daniel and Wilona Watson decide to drive their three children from their home in Flint, Michigan to Mrs. Watson’s childhood home in Birmingham, Alabama in the summer of 1963. They head to Birmingham to spend time with Wilona’s mother, time which they hope will positively influence their oldest son Byron, who seems headed for serious trouble on the streets of Flint. We watch the Watsons struggle to adjust to being in the segregated South. Actual footage of marches, demonstrations and political speeches which happened during that time are interwoven throughout the story. As the nation focuses on the last 50 years of our civil rights movement, these images are particularly relevant, and seeing them gives us an opportunity to tell our children what we remember or heard from our relatives about this time period. The Hallmark Channel also offers an educator’s guide that parents can use to facilitate conversations about the film, which you can find here.

3. An 11 Year Old’s Birds-eye View of Southern Life in 1963 is Illuminating. The story of the Watsons and their summer in racially tense Birmingham is told from the viewpoint of Kenny Watson, the 11-year-old bookworm. From the moment you meet him you are happy to follow this nerdy, awkward, adorable, pesky, well-meaning youngster throughout the Watson’s adventures. His heart-warming and heart-breaking experiences in Birmingham give you a perspective not otherwise found in stories about the civil rights movement.

4. It is Great to See a Close Knit African-American family on Television. The Watsons are a loving nuclear family. We don’t often get to see a loving, happy, close-knit two parent African American family on the large or small screen. They exist in real life, and we need to see them on our screens.

5. You will Delight in the Sets and the Music. Whether you were around in the 60’s or just a fan of the ’60’s, you will certainly enjoy seeing the cars and costumes and hearing the music of the era. The Watson’s car, “The Brown Bomber”, is featured prominently in the film. Seeing this vintage auto (and one of its accessories) will be a hoot for you and your children.

6. The Watson Brothers Have a Realistic, Well Developed Relationship. The relationship between Kenny and his older brother Byron is rich and complicated in this film, and the actors do a terrific job conveying all of the complexities without letting us lose sight of the family’s closeness and the characters’ love for one another. Stereotypes are judiciously and successfully avoided. This gives parents and children watching an opportunity to have good and productive conversations about the characters’ relationship, and sibling relationships in general.

7. Bringing “The Watsons Go to Birmingham” to Television is a Story of Perseverance. It took producers Tonya Lewis Lee and Nikki Silver nine years to get this film produced and on the screen. Nine years. (More on that in our interview with Tonya Lewis Lee, coming soon.) But they kept the faith, got it done, and got it done well. Inspiration for us all.

Be sure to tune in 9/20 at 8pm(EST) on the Hallmark Channel!

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Filed under Entertainment, Films, Resources

Watch “The Big Brain Theory” on the Discovery Channel

Are you or your sons STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) enthusiasts? Do you want to be? Sounds like the new show “The Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius” premiering on the Discovery Channel tomorrow (May 1) is right up your alley. This show will feature an impossible sounding engineering challenge each week which teams of skilled contestants will attempt to solve. Each week the expert panel of judges will determine the winning team and eliminate a team member from the losing team. The ultimate winner will receive $50,000 and a year long contract to work at an award winning design firm.

The show is hosted by Kal Penn, most well known as an actor (the “Harold and Kumar” films and a regular on the tv series “House”) but whose resume also includes a recent two year stint as the Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and an adjunct professorship at the University of Pennsylvania. The regular and guest judges include experts in renewable energy and robotics as well as astronauts and inventors. The show follows the contestants (which include one young man with an awesome Afro) as they work on the various challenges and captures the tension, excitement and angst of their creative process.

The show’s website, found here, has a lot of interesting information about the show and its participants. It also includes some Brain Games which you and your children can try. Check it out, and make a note to check out the show’s debut with your children. It comes on fairly late (10pm Eastern Standard Time), so you might want to record it and watch it with them at a more convenient time. Let us know what you think!

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Tell Your Sons: College Educated Hip Hop Artists

The next time your son tells you he doesn’t need to study because he plans to be a rap star, you can tell him that he should follow in the footsteps of some well-known rappers who managed to do both. Here are some artists who have either graduated from or attended college. Some of these names may well surprise you.

College Graduates:

J.Cole: Graduated with honors from St. John’s University in New York City with a major in communications.

Ludacris: Graduated from Georgia State University with a major in music management.

Chuck D (Public Enemy): Graduated from Adelphi University with a degree in graphic design.

Attended College:

Two Chainz: Attended Alabama State University and played for their basketball team for one year. Transferred to Virginia State for his sophomore year. Not clear whether he graduated from Va. State, but rumor has him graduating from college with a 4.0 average. Whether this is truth or urban legend is hard to determine, but if there must be rumors, this is a good one.

Lil Wayne: Attended University of Houston, where he studied psychology. Currently takes classes online at the University of Phoenix.

Kanye West: Of course the creator of the albums “The College Dropout” “Late Registration” and “Graduation” went to college! He attended Chicago State University (where his mother was Chair of the English Department) and Columbia College in Chicago.

Sean Combs: Attended Howard University.

OK, for you non hip-hop loving parents, your homework is to familiarize yourself with the music of all of the artists above that you don’t know. You are likely to know the old school guys, like Chuck D and Ice Cube, and everyone talks about Lil Wayne, P.Diddy and Kanye West, but take a minute to check out their music, if you haven’t done so in a while. Also check out the newer guys. Why? Because hip hop is an international cultural phenomenon born in the U.S.A. that you should not ignore. You don’t have to love it, but since your children are growing up on it, you should pay some attention to it. (Also, you can really impress (or annoy) your sons with your newfound knowledge.) It is worth the investment of a few minutes of your time on youtube.com.

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Filed under Academics, Entertainment