Tag Archives: talking with kids

Media and Your Teen: Ask Them to Decide

The American Academy of Pediatrics has clear words for parents seeking advice about screen time limits for children. No screen time for kids under 2 and no more that 2 hours a day for kids over 2. Less is better and content matters.

While I find these guidelines challenging in my office and in my home, my mother would have had no trouble enforcing these guidelines with me – for most of my childhood we did not have a television. I remember mornings in junior high school as being rough. Not only those mornings too early, cold (N.Y. State in winter is COLD) but once I made it to school everyone around me was discussing last night’s episode of this or that show. I tried to look casual and preoccupied while they sounded so…. cool.

As a Pediatrician, I understand the social power that being up to date with the latest show, game  or video has. Being connected on each of the latest social media tools be they Instagram, Vine or Snapchat, matters on today’s Monday mornings.

However, I want my teens and my teen patients to turn off their screens more. I know that doing so will broaden their horizons and shrink their waistlines. They also on some level, get this. It is though, hard to translate advice and understanding into action. Teens especially do not like to accept rules made for them without their input and buy in. At my house I always begin change with a discussion around the dinner table. It is a perfect chance to ask and listen.
It is perhaps ironic that I found some words to inspire teens to turn off their screens from a recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy. They have just the right touch of inspirational simplicity that appeals to the Pinterest set:

Decide .

We are all going to die. We don’t get to decide where or when.

But we do get to decide how we are going to live. So do it.

Decide.

Is this the life you want to live? Is this the person you want to love?

Is this the best you can be? Can you be stronger, kinder, more compassionate?

Decide.

Breathe in, breathe out and decide.

When you put it this way, few kids would choose to spend their time in front of a screen. And definitely not the average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices that our kids are currently spending. Tonight at dinner, ask your kids to Decide. And then come up with a plan together for media use in your home.

For ideas about how to decrease your family’s media use read this blog post by Corinn Cross, MD or see the AAP parent’s web page healthychildren.org .

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Hoofing it to School “Old-Style”

Research is mounting; the evidence is weighing in on the side of the health benefits of having kids walk or bike to school. This is termed active school transportation or, AST. The benefit to our children of getting to school in an active way is clear: increased aerobic activity leading to healthier, leaner bodies. There are additional benefits to our environment of fewer cars and to our neighborhoods of greater social cohesion.

Even given that actively moving to school would make our kids healthier more and more kids are driven by parents every day. In 1970 42% of kids actively got to school. Today? Closer to 13%. Changing these numbers can change our kid’s health.

When asked why their kids are not actively getting to school parent express concern about street safety, weather and distance. I understand these concerns. As a mom of three kids I have driven miles (in small ant-like circles around town) carting my kids to school, music and sports practices. However, my kids for the most part ride their bikes to school. Their elementary school is a 6.5 mile round trip which my youngest asked to do on his bike first in fourth grade. To calm my maternal concern I spent a good deal of time traveling with him to teach the ways of the roads and bike lanes and equipped him with a cell phone much earlier than his sibs were given one. Even now, a few years later I worry about his journey – is he safe? is it too long is he cold or too hot? For the most part though, I know that encouraging him to ride helps him: his body is stronger and he is more mature.

Deciding to chauffeur less can seem challenging. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Consider starting a neighborhood “walking school bus.” Neighbors and friends can take turns walking groups of children from “bus stops” to school.
  • If you plan to have your child start biking spend some time teaching them the ways of the road. Then bike with them until you are convinced they are ready to roll solo.
  • Some parents fear that their children may be intentionally harmed by others as the child walks to and from school. To help protect your child read my post on safety around strangers.

Above all rules, the one I have been strictest about is the helmet rule. When on anything with wheels they have to wear a well-fitting helmet. And it has to be strapped! To enforce this rule I used the “it takes a village” concept and have told all of my friends to notify me if they see one of my kids without a helmet. The kids know that they will be fined $25 dollars for the first time and that fine will be doubled with each “offense.” Years of safe bike riding had gone by when last spring I got a text from a friend saying she just saw my child without a helmet. I quickly fired of a text:

You owe me $25.

I immediately got the answer:

Wait Mom! My helmet is broken!

He biked in 5 minutes later looking worried and holding his helmet – in nearly two pieces. He had fallen and it had saved his brain. Fine revoked.

Active school transportation is an important step towards a healthier community of children. It is worth trying for your child! In a commentary written for the journal Pediatrics Dr.s Liu and Mendoza sum this all up well:

We recognize the many societal changes that have led to more students being driven to school. As parents, we empathize with families who worry about dangerous streets, distracted drivers, and challenging weather conditions that give pause to even letter carriers. When viewed through the eyes of child health, AST is an ‘old school’ form of physical activity that more children should adopt to make the daily trek to and from school.

 

 

 

 

Veggie Pizza

In my post on eating dinner with my teens I owned up to sometimes cutting corners by ordering pizza for dinner. During a recent interview with the group Thriving Schools I also referred to surviving the work-kid juggle by ordering pizza. I was asked about the wisdom of these admissions. Perhaps @KPKiddoc should be putting a healthier face on her slice of life?

Let’s face it – pizza is everywhere. Hard to raise kids without pizza. Schools serve it often. Every soccer team party features pizza. And yes, tired working moms depend on it. Pizza can indeed be a nutritional nightmare. Given this and its ubiquitous nature, it is not surprising that I might be warned to appear more health conscious.

We want to feed our kids well. We are looking out for tips on how to do so; a google search of “is pizza healthy?” generates 132,000,000 responses. My answer is yes – it can be.  Here’s how:

Have just one or two pieces. One piece is more than enough for a small child; consider cutting it in half. Two pieces are sufficient, even for my athletic teens. At the dinner table discuss the concept of moderation with your kids.

Fill the rest of their plate with salad. 

Have a whole wheat crust. And definitely don’t “stuff” it.

Order or use less cheese. You can order extra cheese right? (don’t do it!) Turns out you can order less cheese also.

Skip the meat. Your kids will be happy with pizza – they don’t need to pepperoni to bribe them into eating it… just say no.

Add veggies. Same concept – kids like pizza enough that they usually will choke down some veggies with it. If not – that’s what the salad is for.

Skip the fast food restaurant version.

Make your own. Ok, not for a night when you are tired but – definitely a fun family project. Try this healthy recipe from 9-year-old Kayla Wayman of Montana.

Given that 93% of Americans eat pizza once a month, 3 billion pizzas are sold annually in the U.S. and 350 slices of pizza are eaten each second – it seems that our love affair with this meal is here to stay. Let’s just work to make it a healthier message for our kids.

In Napoli where love is king
When boy meets girl
Here’s what they sing

When the moon hits your eye
Like a big pizza pie, that’s amore

– Jack Brooks

Confessions of a Closet TV Diner

As we stood at my kitchen counter today my friend said

You ought to write about it. Makes you seem human, you know?

So in the spirit of self disclosure inspired by two recent articles by parents who admit their shortcomings, here I am doing the same. First John Sarrouf director of The Family Dinner Project, wrote about missing too many dinners with his family. Then fellow pediatrician Kathleen Berchelmann wrote about what happened when her daughter went to bed with an iPad.

Sometimes my kids and I eat dinner in front of the TV.

When I was a kid I watched very little TV. Except when I enjoyed summers with my grandparents. Then after spending the days outside, I spent the evenings watching TV. My grandmother was a well-educated, cultured Southern woman who believed in table manners and personal style (I spend a lot of time walking around with a book on my head for her.) So in retrospect, it surprises me that during those summer vacations we ate nearly every evening in front of the television. On a TV tray, with china and silver but while watching TV.

Hogan’s Heroes. Mash. Hee Haw (seriously.) The MacNeil/Lehrer Report. Lawrence Welk (they were my grandparents after all.) The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Watergate.

Was it wasted time? Dinners without conversation made therefore a loss? I think perhaps, not. Instead I remember that what we watched together united us around shared references. We had plenty to talk about after the shows were done.

So perhaps my friend was right when she told me to stop worrying. The occasional dinner in front of the television without attention to table manners and conversation won’t damage the kids.

As a pediatrician and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Communications and Media I am passionate about helping parents navigate their families’ use of media in a healthy way. I support the AAP’s recommendations that we turn off our screens as much as possible – especially at the dinner table. Dinners eaten together are important to me. Conversation a priority.

However, parenting is a messy business and we are indeed human. Parents need to forgive themselves errors – be they missing meals, giving kids iPads or eating dinners in front of a screen. TV dinners are certainly not ideal but perhaps my kids will benefit from my bending the rules occasionally. Perhaps we will have some incredible dinner conversations about what we watched. Goodness knows, How I Met Your Mother provides loads of teachable moments.

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Water to Wine

After spending an afternoon writing a brief article for work about how to discuss and prevent alcohol use in preteens I brought the topic up at dinner. The responses from the two preteens present were gratifying (whew!). I asked them why they think some kids try alcohol. The 11 y/o said simply “stupid peer pressure”. The 9 y/o said simply and emphatically “ew!”. The 14 y/o was not there but, the discussion reminded me of a similar chat we had with him years ago.

We were sitting around the dinner table with another couple and their child. The two boys were probably about 7. Somehow the topic of drinking alcohol came up and my son asked why grownups were allowed to drink but kids weren’t. This is a good question that your preteen may ask you if you open this topic up at the table tonight. The societal messages around drinking can be confusing for kids. We tell them they can’t drink until 21. However, many people seem to think that alcohol use in teens is better than drug use (this despite the scary statistics to the contrary). TV shows, movies and video games can make it look like everyone drinks. That night we explained to the kids that one reason kids are not allowed to drink is that young bodies do not metabolize alcohol the same way as adults. That it is much more dangerous for  a young child. The next morning, my son used this information to point out another mixed message in his world.

It was Sunday and although not always faithful church-goers, we went that morning. Early on in the service there was “discovery time” when the young children come forward for a brief lesson directed at their level from the minister. That morning it happened to be a talk about turning water to wine. The kids were captivated and fascinated when the minister poured plain water ceremoniously into a pitcher (with some powdered purple drink mix hidden on the bottom) and then poured out the “wine” into cups to share with the kids. My child gasped and gave me a mortified look from the front of the church. He then proceeded to run down the aisle, jump into my lap and rather loudly exclaim “He’s trying to kill me Mom”!

Indeed, society promotes alcohol to our children and they find many mixed messages around them but, ministers are usually not in the business of scaring small boys! Your preteen though, is still at an age where he believes in you and your abilities to teach him are miraculous; start talking tonight!

Hungry Caterpillars and Hungry Minds

The AAP decided recently to use the book The Very Hungry Caterpillar as a tool to promote healthy eating. Great idea! In fact so great it brings me back 7 years ago to a presentation I gave to my daughter’s preschool class. I used the food pyramid and The Very Hungry Caterpillar to explain healthy eating to that group of 3, 4 and 5 year olds.

You know the story right? That little guy starts off well, growing up eating lots of fruit. Then he branches out to the junk. Sausages, lollipops, cake, pie. Not surprisingly he gets a stomach ache which is only cured by a return to his prior plant-based diet. Since that preschool presentation I have time and again explained this story to my patients and given them the book (courtesy of fabulous Reach Out and Read).

When I heard about the AAP’s promotion I tweeted about it “This is great! I have used same book to teach nutrition for years!”. A fellow tweeter was surprised. His response (in 140 characters or less):

I can see the connection, but I would not have made it myself. Are the kids really open to understanding nutrition that young age?

Ah, yes. They are. Here is a little understood fact (one my mother understood well):  talk to children just as you would any other human and they rise to the occasion. If they don’t understand they will ask you. If you teach down to them they will tune you out and you will lose their respect.

This point came up again this week while I was in the locker room after a swim. We swimmers solve all the worlds problems in the locker room. I ask the vet about my “dog”. Folks ask me about their kids. The discussion Tuesday was how and when to have “The Talk”. My answer was simple: don’t. I suggested instead, that making sex ed a natural part of their upbringing week in and week out was far more effective. Don’t wait for a big talk at a time when you think they are ready or old enough. Have books to read together. Have books for them to look at alone. Talk early and, talk often. And that brings me back to the caterpillar: answer their questions as they ask them without worry for what material they are old enough to understand. Kids are curious sponges; ready to soak up whatever knowledge you are ready to offer them be about sex or caterpillars.

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Pink and Purple Circles

Promoting arts education is crucially important for our kids. Before I leave the background discussion of why I need to address one last point. Arts education is often taken to mean creating and performing art. Art history is also of value. This involves art criticism, the academic study of art with its stylistic and aesthetic context. It gives us the ability to understand the sublime that is art.

Briefly, three ideas for why the contextual study of art should be included in the standard arts education:

  • Understanding what influences the framework that art hangs on allows a more enjoyable connection with it. This is likely better explained with an example. My kids all went to a wonderful parent cooperative preschool. On my workdays there I loved being at the art table. Over the years I became increasingly impressed with the influence the children had on each other’s artistic styles. There might be three kids at the table painting away. One more would join in and start painting say, concentric pink and purple circles. Soon I would notice lots of use of pink and purple and lots of circles appearing across the table. Over time I worked with the teachers to form a yearly art exhibit where we hung the kids art on the fences in the school yard. It was grouped by period and context. It was a joy to see how the kids had developed together! This ripple effect or evolution of style is seen in our study of major schools of art. Artists influence each other and create an ongoing evolution of artistic style.
  • An understanding of the evolution of tastes in art generates acceptance of diversity. Artists through time have often been scorned when they challenged commonly accepted ideals with new approaches. They take a new approach that eventually becomes the accepted norm (think pink and purple circles). Seeing this progression as it has played out repeatedly through time can teach kids an acceptance of new thinking, new looks, innovative approaches. It can help them be less judgmental of differences in those around them.
  • Understanding the mechanics of creating art is valuable. Artists work hard. Really hard. They practice day in and day out in order to produce what can often appear simple. Have you ever looked at a modern painting and thought “I could do that”? Likely, you could not. Professional artwork requires both innate talent and earned skill. Understanding this can encourage and motivate a child in their own persistent efforts.

Art is more sublime when hung on a framework of understanding. You have more fun when you can see where the story behind the pink and purple circles. Then you might be motivated to go home and try some of your own.

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Minimalist Art Provoking Maximum Discussion

An article by Carol Vogel in yesterday’s New York Times brings me to focus here on item number one in The List. The article was a review of Glenn Ligon’s upcoming retrospective at the Whitney museum in NYC. Glenn Ligon is a modern painter and conceptual artist whose work focuses on his view and exploration of American history. There is much here to use as fodder for a dinnertime discussion with your kids.

First a bit of art history to set the stage with. His work seems to fall well into the broad category of Conceptual Art. This movement followed Abstract Expressionism (think Rothko and Pollock) and Pop Art (think Warhol). Ligon’s work seems heavily influenced by a Neo-Dadaist artist: Jasper Johns (think American flags and numbers), …and if all this is making your head spin either skip on through or, see the bottom of this post for examples of work by these artists. Conceptual Art is a cool ah, concept to talk with your kids about. It very simply put, is art that focuses on ideas rather than aesthetics. The Dadaist, Marcel Duchamp was amongst those setting the stage for conceptual art by leading us to question what art is exactly and to stretch our expectations of what art should be.

The work of art is always based on the two poles of the onlooker and the maker. Marcel Duchamp

Years later, Conceptual art began to look at the context and perception of words, objects and ideas. In Ligon’s work he often uses words or phrases from other people and reproduces them in ways that urge the viewer to look longer and harder at what has been said. Taking these words into a new frame or focus pushes us to contemplate their ideas as those outside our own experience bringing us possibly, to a new understanding.  As Ligon himself said:

You have to be a bit outside of something to see it

The New York Times article about his work is well titled: The Inside Story on Outsiderness. Look with your children at his art; doing so may move them towards that first item on our List: to widen their perspective and encourage cross-experience understanding. Glenn Ligon’s art is about important and challenging concepts developed in large part by his experience as an African-American gay man  and yet, is presented in ways that are approachable. Challenging but not crushing of a child’s interest. My friend described them as “minimalist art provoking maximum discussion”.

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Representative works discussed above:

Glenn Ligon "All traces of the Griffin I had been were wiped from existence" (inspired by words from The book "Black Like Me")
Jackson Pollock
Mark Rothko
Jasper Johns
Andy Warhol

The List

Here revisited, are the reasons I have gathered from family and friends for why children should be exposed to, taught about and encouraged to experiment with art. Art, in all its forms is of enormous value but, is being given short exposure by schools and parents often struggle with how to promote arts education at home. The list is a work in progress; please add to it on your own or, in the comments.

  1. Art exposure widens a child’s perspective, encourages acceptance of generational, cultural, social and geographic diversity. Art promotes cross-experience understanding.
  2. Knowing about art allows for a more enjoyable life-experience; allows you to feel socially connected and able to talk with people. This is an interesting point. It brings to mind the value of a liberal arts education being in part to generate well-rounded, broadly. exposed young adults who can interact with others on many levels.
  3. Art helps us remember history. Indeed, this was my point about art preserving our cultural heritage and collective memory. It preserves the past both in the physical sense but also in the ephemera of our thoughts and knowledge base.
  4. Art makes the world less plain. Yes certainly, there is this – the obvious but important view that art education allows an emphasis on the beauty that surrounds us. It helps us raise children who see that in life there is value in the simple moments.
  5. This ties into the next idea: “art makes me feel good”. Time spent learning about what makes us individually feel calm and “good” is increasingly important in this pressured world.
  6. Art can make “me feel different”. Yes, art can challenge us to stretch beyond feeling good. Kids can explore, confront and process the more difficult sides of life through art.
  7. Arts education sharpens critical thinking skills. Cassandra Whyte is credited with early work showing that artistic experiences develop creative and independent thought processes that are important throughout an individual’s lifetime.
  8. It teaches innovative thought
  9. And, teaches empathy and sensitivity to other’s experiences by exposing them to other world views, brings about a deeper understanding of the world.
  10. Teaching the arts nurtures skills (empathy, innovation, tolerance) that improve our kid’s future ability to work successfully in the global marketplace
  11. Art calms the soul and brings beauty to daily life.

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life – Pablo Picasso

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Preserve Arts Education; Preserve a Sense of Wonder.

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed. – Albert Einstein

My eldest is almost fifteen and is beginning the process of planning his high school and college “careers”. This proves to be a rather stress-inducing experience; apparently very different from the casual way I approached high school. Late the other night he admitted he was worried about choosing classes for the upcoming years. So, in the spirit of facing our fears we curled up together right then and went the through the high school graduation/college entrance requirements. The school had provided worksheets and lists which we dove into. Amongst scads of science, math, and language requirements I learned that of the 230 units required to graduate only 10 of those need to be in arts education.

This made me start thinking again about the lack of value we place on arts education and the consequence of this devaluing. This is evident in the currently proposed national budget; some members of the House of Representatives have proposed deep cuts or even total elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts. This represents a huge loss nationally. On a more local level our school systems face severe budget crises and are viewing arts education as expendable – Leaving it acceptable to require only 10 units out of 230 for a young person to graduate from high school and enter college.

What is the cost of this devaluing? Put differently – what is the value in teaching kids arts? We teach art and teach about art because doing so:

  • sharpens critical thinking skills. Cassandra Whyte is credited with early work showing that artistic experiences develop creative and independent thought processes that are important throughout an individual’s lifetime
  • teaches innovative thought
  • widens perspective, encourages acceptance of generational, cultural, social and geographic diversity
  • teaches empathy and sensitivity to other’s experiences by exposing them to other world views, brings about a deeper understanding of the world
  • Therefore, teaching the arts nurtures skills that improve our kid’s future ability to work successfully in the global marketplace
  • calm the soul and brings beauty to daily life

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life – Pablo Picasso

  • preserves our cultural history and heritage; preserves our collective memory

My son and I filled in the worksheet with lots of science, language and math. And art? Well, not so much. He moaned at my suggestion of various art classes let alone art history. His groaning made me realize that I had before me, fodder for another great dinnertime conversation. Tonight I am going to ask them why I talk so much about the arts. Why I drag them to museums? Why we have lots of paint, pastels and paper? Why are our walls covered with art? They may generate some new ideas from my list above. I’ll get back to you with them.

If you want to help promote arts education yes, of course generate your own dinner table conversation. You can also look at the work of the Americans for the Arts Action Fund.

Perfection. Pressure. Price.

I have tried hard to avoid adding to the general buzz surrounding the “Tiger Mother”. I resolved to stay out of the fray. Really I did. But, a convergence of discussions with reading a review of the book has pushed me into adding my thoughts to the collective. I’ll be brief.

Twice this week I have had conversations about girls feeling the pressure of attempting to be “perfect”. One girl was in tears telling me that she was trying hard in all she does (arts, sports, school) to literally be perfect. The pressure had brought her in to see me. The mother of another talked with relief about how her junior high aged girl was moving away from a friend who on the surface seemed so very “together” that her child had been feeling the strain of trying to keep up.

I had heard of the Tiger Mom; she sounded quite awful when I listened to the general hub bub. Then one day earlier this week I found myself stuck in a waiting room reading a review of her book in Time magazine. A review that was surprising. I tend to try to look at life from all sides and enjoyed finding through this review that perhaps the feline had some good ideas for raising children after all. Do I agree with them all? Well no, of course not. However, she has some powerful theories about the value of hard work and repetitive practice. I went home that evening and announced to my kiddos that from now on they were going to practice their instruments longer. Everyday. No more nice mom.

However what is clear to me about her child raising technique is that it is fraught with danger. The danger that comes when a child is held up to perfection as the yardstick by which they are being judged and by which they judge themselves. So the question becomes how to find the balance. How to push our children to work hard, really hard so that they become the best versions of themselves they can be, while also teaching them of unconditional love. For with this love comes an innate self-confidence and strength that will allow them to use their hard-won skills in creative and meaningful ways.

Perhaps we explain to them that perfection is not obtainable. It is defined individually and changes with the viewer’s perspective. That it does not actually exist. Nor would it be desirable if it were found. Our children need to accept that life is messy and people are complex. The friend who seems so together, so perfect, may have hidden flaws. The people we most enjoy being with, those that most fill us with joy, are often those that are flawed. Take one of my dearest friends. She is great looking, can make any item of clothing look like haute couture, is kind as the day is long, a great athlete and, a bit of a slob. Yes, a slob. But, we all love that about her. It makes it easier to be with her. Her house is great to be in – enter there and immediately relax for, while there you know what really matters the most to her: your friendship.

Our challenge as parents is to endorse maximum effort and to teach the embrace of the diverse, unexpected and messier parts of living life. How do we proceed? Perhaps by opening this dialog with our kids. Ask if perfection is a goal? Is “perfect” possible? At what cost? Let me know what you learn.

What is in a title? Or, Rapunzel Redux.

This weekend I went with my daughter to the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento and saw a work named Rapunzel #10. It was breathtaking and moving. Literally moving. It was a computer generated image of hanging flowers swinging in a computerized breeze positioned in a stairwell. As we walked up to begin our afternoon of art-looking, we were both taken by its beauty. So much so that at the end of the day, after lots of great art (and a yummy piece of cake and tea) we went back to Rapunzel. We sat in the stairwell, side by side quietly watching the flowers swing in the breeze.

The night before the two of us had gone to see the movie “Tangled” also a reference to the story of Rapunzel. This coincidence made me pay special attention to the title of our stairwell art and to ask her, when it comes to art, “what is in a name?” This question blossomed with the hanging flowers into a good discussion. My daughter noticed that in another equally notable exhibit we saw that day The Color of Light, that the painter named many of his paintings “Phenomena”-this or “Phenomena”-that. We started asking why? What was he asking us to pay attention to? With the installment Rapunzel #10 a placard asked us to consider the story of Rapunzel and the image’s relevance to addiction and child abduction in contemporary society.

Hmmm…I just wanted to enjoy the emotionally and literally moving flowers. I wanted to meditate on my own response and here was the artist jumping into my experience and demanding that I turn my thoughts elsewhere.

What is in those pesky names? Perhaps ask your kids at dinner tonight. Why do they think an artist leaves a work named “Untitled”. Why would they instead choose a powerful reference like “Rapunzel”? How does that change our experience? Perhaps – turn the question towards a book your child is reading: why did the author choose the title… can you come up with a different title? Or, look together at some art and discuss the names you find. In reference to the name of his work Women and Bird in the Night, Joan Miro in a rather satisfying explanation said:

It might be a dog, a woman, whatever. I don’t really care. Of course, while I am painting I see a woman or a bird in my mind, indeed very tangibly a woman or a bird. Afterward it’s up to you.

A Turkish artist, Ihsan Cemal Karaburçak, explained his very different approach of leaving works untitled:

I essentially do not give titles to my paintings. A landscape could portray any given place. What does it matter! A tree, a house, a mountain, a cloud, a flowerpot or an apple can be found at anytime, anywhere. The important thing is how it is tempered with, how it is interpreted and depicted. The object is only the means through which the artist reflects his inner world on a board or on a canvas. What matters is the inner world of the artist.

Or, create some art of your own and try coming up with names. You may of course end up choosing “Untitled”.

Jennifer Steinkamp‘s website has a video of one installment of Rapunzel.

Paul Jenkins is an abstract expressionist painter. This means that simplistically put his work is in the same general category of other artists I have written about here, Rothko and Pollock. You can see his Phenomena at his website.

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Dinnertime Art Continued: Art in the Moment

What do Jean-Michel Basquiat, Tino Sehgal and Andrew Goldsworthy have in common?

Well, I didn’t really expect you to get that one. But the answer to this question is one worth discussing (in the ongoing dinner-table conversation with your kids that I have by now stirred up).

Jean-Michel Basquiat was an American who began as a graffiti artist and developed into a respected painter of canvases hung in galleries and museums. I was fortunate this year to see an extensive retrospective of his work in a museum. His paintings have an Afro-Carribean influence and also show hints of the influence of other artists of his time. But, for the purposes of our conversation, think of him as a graffiti artist. Andrew Goldsworthy is a british sculptor who works primarily in the outdoors making site-specific and land art. He makes art created out of what he finds in nature. Breathtaking, monumental art made of icicles, twigs, leaves and piled rocks. Tino Sehgal is an artist who creates situations meant to move his audience, meant to make them think but – not meant to be preserved. His work occurs in museums but is not documented in anyway. I recently saw his work “This Progress” – an installation of progressive encounters with people who walked with me, asking me questions (“what is progress?” “is progress always good”) as I ascended the spiral at the Guggenheim museum in New York. While my memories are sharp, there is no image to link here for you to see.

The answer to my question is that all three men created in part, art meant to be temporary. Graffiti and land art are to more or less degree ephemeral in nature. Sehgal’s work is designed to be such. When you look at each of these art forms you find an unarguably appealing nature to them. Certainly Goldsworthy’s is the most widely approachable so, start there. What is it about the fleeting nature of his work that adds to its beauty?

I asked my children this tonight at dinner. I admit, the 15 y/o rolled his eye a bit but then, even he joined in the conversation. They all agree that Goldsworthy’s installments are “really cool” but we struggled with the question of what their impermanence adds to the art. Does its fleeting nature make it more precious and therefore simply more valued (volunteered by the 9 y/o)? Do the changes that occur as Goldsworthy’s sculptures are decayed by the forces of nature (tides, wind, heat) allow for our own interpretations; our own artistic input in how we see them? Do my memories of Seghals situations similarly add to the interpretation of his art? Questions of vandalism aside, I find something magical about the creation of a graffiti mural that will soon simply become a canvas for the next artist.

Is there something about art meant to be physically transitory that makes us pause and stretch our mind’s eye to really take it in? We are perhaps, encouraged to be really in the moment with this art that is by nature of the moment.

To start your own discussion at home try watching these two very different but equally moving videos: Goldsworthy in action and graffiti being created. Consider making some of your own art at home as Meg Schiffler and her son did described in her terrific blog post for the SFMOMA Andy Goldsworthy: Big Tears (Part 1) and A Gift to the Backyard (Part 2).

Is Graffiti ART?

This question has been often debated at my house. I like looking at well done graffiti. I enjoy thinking about graffiti on trains. The pairing of this art form (meant to be temporary and fleeting) painted on trains that move through time and space with their roving art exhibits can often be quite spectacular! nd yet, graffiti is often done in an illegal, defacing manner that is obviously, hard to support wholeheartedly.

You might open this discussion in your house by watching this video with your kids. There is much to talk about. The end project is striking in its beauty; the means to the end may be objectionable. What do your kids think?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/18/how-street-art-is-made-fr_n_810613.html

Is THAT art?

Perhaps now you have asked the kiddos at your dinner table “what IS art” and gathered them up to head off to a museum together to look at some art. When there you will surely find yourselves standing in front of something wondering “is THAT really art”? Often these thoughts challenge people when in front of “modern art”. I find they come to me just as often when with my mother in front of some byzantine or renaissance works with a lot of gilt…those thoughts I have learned, are better kept to myself! However, as parents convinced of the value of teaching our children about art, this question is one worth embracing and examining with our kids.

So what defines art? You will develop your own working definition. We worked over ours and have come up with a reasonable if slippery concept.

  • Art is created by an artist because it moves them emotionally or triggers them to think (ie: they use it to make a statement) or – art moves or intellectually stimulates the observer.

Whew. Let me try to explain by beginning with a discussion of Marcel Duchamp’s famous piece Fountain. Duchamp was a french artist who anonymously submitted a standard urinal albeit turned 90 degrees on it’s head and signed “R. Mutt 1917” to an art exhibition. The exhibition was held by the Society of Independent Artists (of which Duchamp was a board member) that had stated any work of art would be admitted to the show (very unlike exhibitions were usually run). Well, they did not know exactly what to do with Duchamp’s toilet. Was it art? History would later emphatically say yes. In fact 87 years later in 2004 a group of 500 art experts named it the most influential work of modern art of all time. You may ask “why on earth”? The answer lies in the concept that art is art if the artist says it is. Art is therefore in the eye of the artist. Duchamp was shifting the focus from the process of making art to the thoughts that it evokes. An editorial in defense of the urinal stated:

Whether [Duchamp] made the fountain with his own hands or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view – created a new thought for that object.

A new thought. That is what it became all about as modern art evolved. Art was shifted to be in the eye of the artist – to be about the thoughts they wanted to evoke. Hmmmm, interesting isn’t it?

But, then we, here around our dinner table asked about the viewer…isn’t art sometimes all about the viewer’s perspective? Of course! During one of our dinner-table art discussions it was pointed out that a machine, a car or plane for example, could move its viewer enough to be called art. I pointed out that the perception of everyday items was up for discussion in the movie American Beauty (of note: NOT a kids movie). In it there is a scene that perpetually sticks in my mind when one of the main characters films an ordinary plastic grocery bag caught in a swirling updraft of air. The humble bag becomes beautiful. Here, art is in the eye of the beholder.

Try these concepts of art out with your kids. Ask, for example, is a building art? Can graffiti be art? Is a well-muscled body art? Are tattoos?And when you are asked “is THAT art” the answer is likely yes it is! Or better put – “why might it be considered art”?

What IS art? Asking to stimulate creative thought in our children.

An article titled The Creativity Crisis published in Newsweek last year brings much to the discussion of why we should teach our children about art.

American creativity scores are falling…It is the scores of younger children in America—from kindergarten through sixth grade—for whom the decline is “most serious.”

The article explains the obvious importance of raising our children to be creative thinkers; the nation’s challenges will be better solved by leaders capable of creative thought. Approaches generated by creative minds and by those willing to listen to and build upon diverse ideas brought forth by others. Raising a generation of creative thinkers who enjoy and appreciate diversity seems an insurance policy for the success of our country.

Why has creativity dropped so significantly in the U.S.?

One likely culprit is the number of hours kids now spend in front of the TV and playing videogames rather than engaging in creative activities. Another is the lack of creativity development in our schools. In effect, it’s left to the luck of the draw who becomes creative: there’s no concerted effort to nurture the creativity of all children….American teachers warn there’s no room in the day for a creativity class. Kids are fortunate if they get an art class once or twice a week.

Focusing on art classes as the place where creativity is taught is certainly a bias.  It would be best to integrate creative thought into all points of learning. As parents, we can do much at home to stimulate and encourage creative thought. When asked a question by your child, pause before answering. Ask one back. Encourage your child to think of as many possible answers as possible. Use dinner time to ask questions of your own. Accepting this as a bias, art understanding and thought is a great place to start when teaching our children creativity and acceptance of diversity. It gives us a good place to begin as parents. I suggest you open a dinner conversation with this question:

What IS art?

I asked my family this about a year ago. We have returned to the discussion throughout during many meals with family and friends. The answers are varied and in themselves form a great discussion; they became more developed as the conversation went on:

  • something you see
  • with color and shape
  • has history
  • ages well and people appreciate it over time
  • evokes feeling
  • created
  • engages your senses
  • makes a statement; the artist is trying to say something
  • something beautiful

We felt that art can include many mediums. When I asked which I was given the following list: paint, sculpture (both stabiles and mobiles), music, film, architecture, TV, nature (both as art and as inspiration), food, clothing (my 9 y/o boy added armor), the human body and literature. The list may be endless.

This discussion brought me to ask next whether they considered specific works of art to be indeed, art. I challenged them with Marcel Duchamp’s urinal. Indeed, that in turn brings me to the next blog post idea:

Is THAT art?

“I’ll never be an artist!” or, how our talking about art at the dinner table started

This business of  teaching my three kids about art has several roots. I am most assuredly a frustrated artist. Frustrated mostly by lack of real talent. Frustrated partly by lack of time. So, without talent and time to make my own art I like to read about art, think about art and talk about art with anyone who will join in with me. It can be hard to find similarly obsessed partners but I was thrown a crumb of interest by my daughter years ago and have used it ever since as the cornerstone for a great ongoing family discussion. She was in preschool at the time. I found her in her bed feeling sad one evening and asked why?

“I’ll never be an artist” she said.

Why?

“Because my pictures never look like what they are supposed to look like”.

Now, she was in a fabulous, progressive parent cooperative preschool. One where part of the training of the participating parents was a lecture on how to encourage our budding artists.

“Never ask them what it is. Ask them to tell you about it!”

Even with this she still felt pressure. In her preschool world, enormous pressure. Her art did not look like what it was. Well! That was an easy one for me (the frustrated artist and college student of art history)! And, out spilled a nice lesson on abstract/modern art. Of how great, respected art often looked like…nothing much. I talked of Picasso, Rothko and Pollock. It was Pollock she grabbed onto as her own personal hero.

Why should you talk with your kids about art? Well for one thing, our schools can no longer afford to. With nationwide school budget struggles art has often been the first thing to be cut. If you don’t it,  teaching art may not be done at all. So, why do kids need art education in the first place? How about this? Study of art and the appreciation for the beauty in the world surrounding us has clearly been shown to improve student’s performance in school, especially for low-income students. But art education is important for all students:

At the heart of a solid education in the arts are the appreciation of beauty and the aesthetic qualities of our lives and society; the ability to communicate the ineffable through images, music and movement; and the appreciation of diverse cultural expressions“.

The quality of the art education left in schools varies. All too often our children are given a pen, crayon or brush with a blue print to follow. My eldest was corrected for using the wrong color for the leaves in his picture  – never mind the fact he is “color blind” – it was the “wrong color”, in other words, not green.

Years later when my youngest son was in kindergarten, Pollock came up again. It was art day (see what I’m saying? – just one day given to art….even in kindergarten, even in liberal California!), they were given paints, paper and set free. In a bit, his teacher came by, he smiled up at her and announced that he was painting a Jackson Pollock. She had the wisdom to smile back and say “tell me about it”.

So, readers, part of my goal here is to encourage you to talk about art with your kids. I know this is daunting. My closest friend is not much of an art enthusiast; through her I understand that this art business in no small task. Let’s try together. Let me help start the conversation in your home.

New Year’s Resolutions For Kids? Seriously?

A few days ago the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) parent education site Healthy Children published a list of New Year’s resolutions for kids. They ranged from “I will clean up my toys and put them where they belong” for preschoolers to “I will resist peer pressure to try drugs and alcohol” for teens. My first and lasting reaction was “Seriously? New Year’s resolutions for children?” You see, to me New Year’s resolutions have always smacked of being insecure and impetuous – certainly not traits I wish to instill in my children. While the first day of the year is a powerful time to sit back and take stock of one’s self, I would rather have my kids work on an ongoing and even basis to improve their actions. It seems making resolutions once a year sets one up for failure. Why not simply assess our path as we walk it?

Better perhaps, to explain my thinking by looking at my own past history with resolutions. As a teen and 20-something the resolutions I made were the usual ones: “I will lose 10 lbs” or “I will exercise everyday”. They to me conveyed a sense of dissatisfaction with myself or an insecurity that was only fed by the inevitable “falling off the wagon”. I mean really? Who exercises every day? Eventually I came to a comfortable place of completely swearing off New Years resolutions completely – no unrealistic goals and no inevitable failure to start the year off with. Much better! I have broken my no-resolutions-resolution a few times. Twice I resolved to stretch daily…and, you guessed it! I failed after about two weeks both times. Last year, I loudly resolved in front of my family to NOT answer anyone who was yelling to me from another room or part of the house. If they wanted to talk with me they would learn by my stubborn silence to come talk with me face-to-face. It has had mixed results. They still try to yell but I feel a sense of liberation as I ignore them!

Returning to the AAP’s list of children’s resolutions, instead of teaching our children that on one night a year we make personal goals I have a different idea. As parents let’s plan to make family dinners a priority and enjoy the discussions that bloom when we eat together. At those dinners talk about goals and actions. Work into our weekly lives self assessment and improvement. Children will learn more from looking together with us at specific daily examples (playground tussles, hallways taunts, forgotten homework) and answering our questions of “how can you do this better tomorrow?”. Taking self-improvement in small steps sets them up for success and a lifetime of being comfortable admitting their faults and failures and used to taking steps to “make it right” – every day, not just at New Year’s.

A few years ago a close friend at our yearly dinner party on New Year’s Eve announced that her resolution was to start a Facebook page! “What? Why?” We all asked with giggles around the table. She explained that she wanted to stay current, to see what all the hoopla was about and enjoy the fun. I realized her wisdom. The resolution did not show insecurity but rather strength, it was fun and humorous. It was certainly easy to stick to – we all know the addictive power of Facebook (I wonder did she resolve to spend less time on FB the next year?).

Now, having thoroughly dissed New Year’s resolutions here…It looks like I am starting a long thought-about blog. Is this perhaps my 2011 resolution made in the spirit of fun and exploration that my friend resolved to join Facebook?