Cyberbullying tops parents’ fears about kids’ health

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via Cyberbullying threat to kids, parents say, clarionledger.com

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Most parents never stop worrying about their kids. From the time when we first find out we’re going to become parents, there’s always something to think about, events to plan for, and many of those things keep us awake at night.

While the list of fears may change as our kids get older, they never go away. Initial worries about our kids’ health in the cradle give way to worries about their journey through adolescence and college, and then to concerns about their careers, families and their own children. Of course, for most parents, most of the things we spend time fretting over never come to pass. But that doesn’t stop us from worrying anyway.

Every year, the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan conducts a national survey to determine the things that make us parents toss and turn, producing a list of the top 10 fears of parents of kids from birth to age 18. And — predictably — that list of worries changes with the times. This year, the impact of social media and technology is making its effects felt, as two of the Top 10 parent fears (expressed by parents as something they’re “very concerned” about) are related to technology. Topping the list is bullying/cyberbullying, which more than six in 10 parents expressed as their top concern.

Of course, bullying is an age-old problem, but with smartphones and social media, just about every child is eventually going to encounter cyberbullying from one side or the other. This phenomenon has been linked to increasing suicides among teens, as well as heightened levels of anxiety and stress for many kids.

Being a teen is hard enough without having to worry about someone using social media to trash your reputation or spread hateful rumors. Cyberbullying is still being defined, but most experts agree it’s aggressive behavior that targets an individual using social media or other electronic communications. Given the ability of a single person to use social media to spread information quickly to lots of people, coupled with the emotional roller-coaster many teenagers experience as they progress through adolescence and the importance of reputation, it’s little wonder that it’s become a threat.

“Adults across the country recognized bullying, including cyberbullying, as the leading health problem for U.S. children,” noted Dr. Gary Freed, a Mott professor of pediatrics and the poll’s co-director.

Another tech-related fear of parents is internet safety, including the increasing danger for many kids whose online contacts may appear to be harmless acquaintances in online gaming or chat rooms, but are actually child predators or identity thieves. And concerns about “sexting” (the sending of intimate photos and sexually explicit content in text messages) are rising as well.

But technology (at least, directly) is just part of the picture of the things that make us worry. Parents are also agonizing over their kids’ health. Many parents expressed concern their kids are not eating healthy enough or getting enough exercise, and others worry also about the possibility their kids could fall victim to drugs or alcohol abuse. Also on the list were suicide and depression, teen pregnancy and stress in general.

When broken down by race, the survey produced some enlightening results. For example, while African-American parents expressed many of the same concerns as everyone else, their primary worry was their kids would fall victim to racial disparities and school violence.

Many parents worried about automobile accidents, and for parents of kids under 5, the fear of cancer and similar threats, although, Freed noted, “parents may have concerns about very serious conditions despite the small risk for them.”

If you’re among the parents concerned about cyberbullying, I recommend a great website called ConnectSafely.org. This site lists some common-sense responses to help stop cyberbullying, including some tips for parents on how to effectively address it with their children.

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FDA warns: Keep babies out of the sun

Baby-in-the-sun

Nashvilleparent.com

via FDA warns: Keep babies out of the sun, clarionledger.com

PDF: Babies in sun 1Babies in sun 2

In the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to visit Ukraine on numerous occasions to support the work of local churches. Most who visit Ukraine find it’s a vast, beautiful and hospitable country, with its Delta-rich soil and generous people.

During one July outing in which we were helping a local church hold a vacation Bible school, we conducted several activities outside. It was summer and a bit hot (just like an average late-spring day for any Mississippi native, but practically a heat wave for the locals).

I thought it was curious that most of the kids wouldn’t emerge from the shade of the trees to take part in activities in the bright sunshine. When I asked a translator, he told me that it’s because Ukrainian parents don’t believe it’s healthy for their kids get a lot of direct sun, so they train them to avoid sun exposure as much as possible. Internationally, this attitude is becoming more and more common, as many countries deal with high levels of UV radiation and awareness of skin cancer risk is growing.

Maybe they have a point. We know exposure to some direct sunlight is beneficial to a point and helps the body produce essential vitamins, as well as having a number of other proven health benefits. But being out in the sun for extended periods also carries its own risks in the form of sun-damaged skin, skin cancer, and eye problems. While the use of sunscreens and protective clothing has been shown to reduce the skin’s vulnerability to harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation, many health experts say it’s best to limit our exposure. And that goes double for smaller children.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently issued some new guidelines for sun exposure in younger kids, recommending that infants under 6 months old avoid sun exposure entirely. “The best approach is to keep infants under 6 months out of the sun,” noted FDA pediatrician Hari Cheryl Sachs, “and to particularly avoid exposure to the sun in the hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when ultraviolet rays are most intense.”

That may come as a shock to some parents, many of whom grew up in the sun. Sachs explained that, although sunscreens are fine for older kids and adults, babies’ skin (since it covers less surface area and is less mature) is likely to absorb the numerous chemicals contained in most sunscreen products, with unknown possible side effects.

In addition, she adds, babies can overheat faster than older kids and adults and can become dehydrated more easily.

“The best protection is to keep your baby in the shade, if possible,” she adds. “If there’s no natural shade, create your own with an umbrella or the canopy of the stroller.”

As for dressing your baby for a day in the sun, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends lightweight long pants, long-sleeved shirts and brimmed hats that shade the neck. Avoid baseball caps, which (while cute) don’t adequately protect the neck and ears.

Here are some of the FDA’s other tips:

  • Keep your baby in the shade as much as possible.
  • Consult your pediatrician before using any sunscreen on your baby.
  • Make sure your child wears clothing that covers and protects sensitive skin. Use common sense; if you hold the fabric against your hand and it’s so sheer you can see through it, it probably doesn’t offer enough protection.
  • Make sure your baby wears a hat that provides sufficient shade at all times.
  • Watch your baby carefully to make sure he or she doesn’t show warning signs of sunburn or dehydration. These include fussiness, redness, and excessive crying.
  • If your baby is becoming sunburned, get out of the sun right away and apply cold compresses to the affected areas.
  • Give your child formula or breast milk if you’re out in the sun for more than a few minutes. Don’t forget to use a cooler to store the liquids.

To read the FDA’s article in its entirety, visit http://bit.ly/2vu4FBS

Proposed smartphone ban for kids reignites debate

Smartphone – A Threat or a Life Savior for Kids

technews24h.com

via Proposed child smartphone ban reignites debate, clarionledger.com

PDF: Smartphones and kids

[Editor’s Note: Post has been updated to reflect accurate numbers of signatures being sought in the Colorado petition.]

Back in 2013, I posed a question to readers of this column: “Should young kids have their own cellphone?”

The answers back then were all over the map. Some readers said, “absolutely.” Others said, “absolutely not.” But most of the responses indicated something in between and reflected parents’ belief that it depended on their age and ability to be responsible with the technology. “Depends on the child” went the typical answer. “When they can pay for it” and “when they start driving,” said others.

In the four years since then, a lot has changed. Smartphones have almost completely eclipsed old-style cellphones in the marketplace, becoming much faster and accompanied by an explosion in the number of apps. Look around at any group of kids (of nearly any age) and most of them will have their eyes fixed on their device’s screen, their fingers a blur. They may be in a group, but they’re not interacting with each other — at least as they once did. In many ways, they’re just doing what all the rest of us are doing — leading distracted lives tethered to the ever-present devices.

Even toddlers are handed devices, often left to navigate cyberspace on their own. And just as those brains are developing, many are worried about the long-term effects. Furthermore, since the web is a virtual Wild West, children using the web unsupervised can be lured by predators, become the victim of cyberbullying and exposed to every type of pornography, violence and influence imaginable.

Many concerned parents have in recent years become alarmed at what they see as a vast, uncontrolled experiment on developing young minds, and some are turning their concern into political action. A group called Parents Against Underage Smartphones (PAUS) has had enough. The group has set its sights on Colorado, seeking to ban smartphone sales for kids under 13 in that state.

The group (www.pausamerica.com) aims to spread its message. “We are parents, grandparents, and concerned citizens standing together against the destructive force of easy nonstop internet access for children disguised as progress,” notes the group on its website. “We are willing to stand up and say what we all know in our hearts, that children do not need smartphones. There is very little benefit and so very much to be lost.”

The group’s Colorado measure has already gotten a lot of attention. The proposal aims to not only prohibit direct smartphone sales to kids 12 and under, but also requires retailers to collect information about who will use the phone. Retailers selling a phone to someone intending to hand it to an underage child will face a $500 fine for any infractions after the first one. Currently, the group is collecting signatures for a November 2018 ballot initiative, which will require just under 100,000 signatures.

Tim Farnum, a Denver-area anesthesiologist who founded the group, told the Coloradoan newspaper his goal is not to stop the use of technology, but to limit the potentially negative effects on developing brains. “Eventually kids are going to get phones and join the world, and I think we all know that, but little children, there’s just no good that comes from that,” he said, citing his own frustrations in dealing with his own kids’ phone usage.

The proposal has gotten a lot of response — both positive and negative. Some say it would constitute too much government intrusion in private life and would usurp parents’ authority in making such decisions. Others have pointed out that enforcement could be difficult, and that phones do have some positive benefits for kids.

Still, the initiative appears to have touched a nerve. A lot of parents worry about their kids’ smartphone use. Earlier this year, I wrote about how many teens are using their devices well into the night, disrupting their sleep patterns. Some in the tech world have gotten concerned, too. Back in April, Microsoft Founder Bill Gates told the London Mirror that he and his wife have a family policy prohibiting their kids from cellphone use until they turn 14, bans devices at the dinner table and limits his youngest daughter’s pre-bedtime screen usage.

Whether the group’s measure passes, they are growing. PAUS says it is expanding into 11 additional states and plans to start initiatives in those states soon.

Pool safety could stem child drownings

via Pool safety could stem child drownings, clarionledger.com

PDF: Pool drownings

For many, it’s a rite of summer. Having access to a swimming pool means the kids can have some way to spend the long, lazy summers. Here in the South, having a place to take a cool dip can be a blissful way to escape our notoriously hot weather.

But despite all the poolside fun, there is a dark side. Every year, hundreds of children drown in swimming pools across the country, and thousands more are injured in pool-related accidents. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 346 kids under the age of 15 died in 2014 (the latest year for which statistics are available).

The agency notes that accidental drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death among children aged 1-4, and the second-leading cause among kids 5-14. For the years 2014 through 2016, an average of 5,900 kids 15 or younger were treated for non-fatal drownings at hospital emergency rooms — most were under 5 years of age. More than two-thirds of drowning fatalities are boys, and the vast majority (86 percent) of fatal pool drownings occurred at backyard or apartment-complex pools.

Although grim, that report contains some good news: The number of drowning deaths among kids has actually decreased since 2010. “Despite the positive decline in numbers, there are still far too many children who drown each year in pools and spas across the country,” said Ann Marie Buerkle, acting chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. “Swimming should be fun and a great way for families to be active, so long as everyone knows how to pool safely.” (That’s not a misprint; the commission has been using the word “pool” as a verb for the purposes of its campaign.)

The Consumer Product Safety Commission and other agencies have stepped up their efforts to make people more aware of the dangers of pool drownings, and it appears to be having an effect. The commission’s “Pool Safely” campaign helps educate the public about pool safety and features an online “Pool Safely” pledge to identify your awareness level.

“Pool Safely” was started to help meet the requirements of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. Congress enacted the law after the 2002 drowning death of 7-year-old Graeme Baker (the granddaughter of former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker), who died after being held underwater by a strong suction device at the bottom of a hot tub.

Kids can get into trouble in swimming pools in many ways. Even when there are lots of people around, a drowning can occur without notice in a noisy pool. Some drownings occur when kids accidently fall in after getting too close, and others happen when kids get into water that’s too deep, or get snagged by some obstruction. Tragically, some kids drown even when adults are nearby, or sneak into a pool unobserved. Swim lessons can help, but there is no replacement for constant (and undistracted) supervision by adults trained in lifesaving and CPR, as well as some common-sense safety features such as enclosing the pool area with a fence.

“As a mother, grandmother and registered nurse, I raised my kids, and now my grandkids, with a respect for water,” Buerkle noted. “Constant supervision, along with four-sided fencing, knowing how to perform CPR and teaching children how to swim are all important steps to continuing the decline in child drownings.”

Here are some other things to remember, from the Consumer Product Safety Commission and other sources. Visit www.poolsafely.gov for more information:

  • Install a four-sided fence (at least 4 feet high) with a self-closing, self-latching gate around all pools and spas.
  • Install alarms around the pool area. A gate alarm and floating alarms can let you know if a person or pet falls in.
  • Don’t leave toys or flotation devices in the water. They can be an irresistible lure for children.
  • Designate a Water Watcher to supervise children at all times around the water. This person should not be reading, texting, drinking alcohol, using a smartphone or be otherwise distracted.
  • Learn how to swim and teach your child how to swim.
  • Learn how to perform CPR on children and adults.
  • Keep children away from pool drains, pipes and other openings to avoid entrapments.
  • Ensure any pool and spa you use has drain covers that comply with federal safety standards and, if you do not know, ask your pool service provider about safe drain covers.

Study: Teens losing sleep to mobile devices

Source: Study: Teens losing sleep to mobile devices

You may recall we recently reported that, while parents tended to worry about their children’s use of mobile devices, they were essentially blind to their own excessive usage of the devices. We parents often just don’t seem to have a very good handle on the issue of how our kids are using their phones and other devices.

The point has recently been made once again, as a new study in a British journal has illuminated a secret many teens are keeping. It seems the day’s texting, web surfing and gameplay are continuing well into the night for many, disrupting in the process much-needed sleep. Of course, it’s not entirely a new phenomenon: bookish teens have for decades covertly sneaked a copy of their favorite book under the covers and read with a flashlight while their parents blissfully slumbered down the hall, oblivious.

What’s new, of course, is that the little devices we carry with us constantly are powerful and even addictive. And such habits, while they may seem harmless, might actually have profound negative effects because they’re occurring at the very time teens need good sleep — and a lot of it.

In her Journal of Youth Studies article, Cardiff University Researcher Sally Power studied about 900 young people between 12 and 15. Subjects were asked whether they got up during the night to check their mobile devices. As many as one in five reported getting up regularly to check their email, text or social media accounts, and kids who admitted to nighttime usage were three times more likely to report feeling sleepy or excessively tired the next day.

“Our research shows that a small but significant number of children and young people say that they often go to school feeling tired — and these are the same young people who also have the lowest levels of well-being,” Power noted.

And there were gender differences as well: Power’s study found that, among younger subjects, more than a quarter of girls reported waking up to check their devices, while only about 15 percent of boys checked in during the night.

While the problem may seem like just a sleepy kid at breakfast, it may go deeper. The National Sleep Foundation reports teens need at least eight to 10 hours of quality sleep per night. Not getting enough sleep can cause a variety of problems, such as obesity, daytime sleepiness, lessened attention span and poor grades. Some researchers have connected the light from many devices with decreased levels of melatonin, a chemical emitted by the brain that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycles. And some types of light — such as the  bluish tints coming from device screens — are believed to be especially potent at suppressing melatonin.

Although Power stopped short at declaring the problem an “epidemic” or advocating a “prescribed” sleep period, she noted the research seems to confirm other research that found “significant and serious implications of the night-time use of social media for levels of tiredness and well-being.”

For parents interested in addressing this issue, the website Teensafe.com has some tips. Among them:

  • Consider a “Family Smartphone Contract.” Talk with your kids about your concerns over nighttime phone use and get them to sign a contract that they’ll abide by it. (This depends, of course, on trust.)
  • Control your Wi-Fi. Although it’s not a perfect solution (some phone features can work using the phone’s data plan), your home network controls might allow you to set specific time limits for general use, or even restrict sites — such as social media sites — at specified times.

It also might be a good idea to set a good example. Asking our teens to curb their phone usage has little impact if we set a double standard. Limiting our own usage at night not only can help us keep the moral high ground but also help us; we could all benefit from a better night’s sleep.

Could technology end hot-car deaths?

hotcar

etags.com

via Could technology end hot-car deaths?, clarionledger.com

PDF: hot-car-deaths

It’s been a particularly bad year for kids left in hot vehicles. Here in Mississippi alone, there have already been two high-profile cases in which parents forgot their little ones in the car, then went about their business — to tragic effect. The website KidsAndCars.org reports that 29 kids have died of heatstroke in the U.S. this year after being left in hot cars by parents or caregivers, and the number continues to climb.

While many parents shake their head in disbelief and doubt it could ever happen to them, the sobering truth is it could happen to anyone, under the right conditions. Few parents can claim to have a perfect record of knowing where their kids are every second, and most parents can tell a horror story about losing their child in a store, at an event, or just forgetting to check on them.

Every time there’s another case, the internet and media clamor with recriminations, suggestions and word of new techniques and technologies to help stop it from happening. But last week, a group of lawmakers announced their intention to force auto manufacturers to build preventive technology into their vehicles.

U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, Peter King, R-New York, and Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, introduced the Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seats Act (HOT CARS Act of 2016) on Thursday, which, if enacted, would require the U.S. secretary of transportation to issue a rule requiring all new passenger motor vehicles be equipped with a child safety alert system.

“Every year, dozens of children die when left in vehicles — one child every nine days,” Schakowsky noted. “These are horrible, preventable tragedies. The technology exists to prevent these deaths. You get a warning if you forget your keys in the ignition. You should get a warning if you forget your child in the back seat.”

Child-safety advocates were quick to praise the ruling. “I want to be very clear that this is not just a ‘seasonal’ problem,” Jackie Gillan, president of a group called Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said in a news release. “When summer ends, the problem will not end. These deaths are happening year round. This is a very reasonable and effective way to stop preventable, unnecessary injuries and deaths.”

The bill would require automakers to produce some kind of visual and/auditory alert to a child in a rear seat when the motor is turned off and instructs the secretary of transportation to issue a report to a Senate committee on the “feasibility of retrofitting existing passenger motor vehicles with technology to provide an alert that a child or unattended passenger remains in a rear-seating position after the vehicle motor is deactivated.”

Some automakers have already been working on the problem. Back in June, General Motors announced it would debut a new system on the 2017 GMC Acadia SUV, which will flash a visible and auditory warning on the speedometer if a back door has been opened and closed before the driver’s side door is opened. Similar systems are likely to follow in most vehicles. But no matter the technology, the best way to prevent such tragedies is awareness.

“We encourage individuals in all communities to take action if you see a child alone in a vehicle,” noted Amber Andreasen, director of KidsAndCars.org. “Try to find the driver of the vehicle, call 911 and if the child seems to be in imminent danger, break the window furthest away from the child to rescue them.”

“You can’t buy a vehicle today that doesn’t remind you to turn your headlights off, close the door, check your oil, all these things,” Andreasen added. “There’s dozens of reminders in vehicles. Why not one for a child?”

KidsAndCars has a list of safety tips for download at http://www.kidsandcars.org/files/2015/06/Heat-Stroke-Safety-Tips.pdf. Here are a few:

  • Never leave children alone in or around vehicles; not even for a minute.
  • “Look Before You Lock” — Get in the habit of always opening the back door to check the back seat before leaving your vehicle.
  • Create reminders to check your back seat. For example, putting your cellphone, purse or briefcase in the back seat will help you to remember.
  • Make sure your child’s daycare or preschool has strict policies about notifying you if your child has not arrived as scheduled, and keep your contact information up to date.
  • Keep vehicles locked at all times, even in driveways or garages (and ask your neighbors to do the same). Many kids get trapped in cars by opening doors of a parked vehicle.

How to keep roads from turning deadly

 

pedestrian-1

leftbankproject.com

via How to keep roads from turning deadly, clarionledger.com

As school has started back, Mississippi streets and roads are once again filled with parents eager to get their kids dropped off at school so they can go on to work or their daily activities. According to some statistics, about a quarter of morning traffic every school day is from people driving their kids to school. And that’s on top of a typical day’s traffic, with drivers plying the roads, their attention often distracted by a thousand things — not the least of which are the ever-present electronic devices that grab our attention.

If you’re a pedestrian (or cyclist) trying to navigate these challenging roads, it can be dangerous — even deadly. The Mississippi Department of Transportation sent out a news release this week, urging Magnolia State drivers to be extra careful around pedestrians, and urging pedestrians and cyclists to increase their awareness as well. An MDOT news release cited some sobering statistics: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a pedestrian dies every two hours nationwide, with people being injured every seven minutes in traffic crashes. In 2015, 63 pedestrians died after being struck by vehicles in Mississippi.

As part of its mission, MDOT pays attention to such statistics, and tries to help increase our awareness so we can make streets and intersections safer. One way they do this is through two programs called the Bicycle and Pedestrian Program and the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Program. “The Bicycle and Pedestrian Program provides many resources for those looking to walk or bike within the state from tour guides to information about laws,” notes the MDOT release. “SRTS promotes and enables children in kindergarten through 8th grade to choose safely walking or bicycling as their means of transportation to and from schools.”

You have probably seen the result of some of the great work being done by these programs. According to SRTS’ national website (www.saferoutesinfo.org/), Mississippi communities benefited from more than $12.2 million in federal SRTS funds from 2005 to 2012, doing things like funding the building of sidewalks, bike lanes and providing training and resources for law enforcement.

But no matter how many sidewalks and bike lanes we build, if drivers, pedestrians and cyclists don’t pay attention to each other, those efforts won’t help save lives. Here are a few tips from MDOT about things we need to keep in mind:

When walking:

  • Follow the rules of the road. Obey all signs and signals, and walk on sidewalks if provided.
  • Watch traffic carefully, remembering that danger can come from two (or more) directions. Keep an eye out for vehicles pulling up or exiting driveways. Don’t let your attention be distracted by devices.
  • Cross streets at crosswalks or intersections whenever possible. If a crosswalk or intersection is not available, locate a well-lit area where you have the best view of traffic, and wait for a gap in traffic that allows you enough time to safely cross.
  • Be visible at all times. Wear bright clothing during the day, and wear reflective materials or carry a flashlight at night.
  • Never assume a driver sees you. Make eye contact with drivers as they approach you to make sure you are seen.

For drivers:

  • Use extra caution when driving in hard-to-see conditions like nighttime and bad weather. Dawn and dusk are when it’s often hardest to see.
  • Remember the “3-foot” law (formally known as the John Paul Frerer Bicycle Safety Act); vehicle drivers are required by law to yield at least three feet to cyclists.
  • Slow down, and be prepared to stop when turning or otherwise entering a crosswalk.
  • Yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, and stop back far enough from the crosswalk to give other vehicles an opportunity to see the crossing pedestrians so they also will stop.
  • Never pass vehicles stopped at a crosswalk. (And, of course, NEVER pass a stopped school bus.)
  • Follow the speed limit, especially around people on the street; school zones and neighborhoods with children require extra attention and slower speeds.

Companies are cashing in on Zika fears

zika

Associated Press

via Companies are cashing in on Zika fears, clarionledger.com

PDF: Zika fears

Just a year ago, almost nobody outside of the epidemiology community had heard of Zika virus. But this summer, everybody knows about Zika as it has spread like wildfire across the globe. As panic has spread about this stubborn mosquito-borne virus, a multitude of companies have rushed to market with claims that their product can help keep you safe from Zika.

Health experts have warned that the Zika virus can sicken people with fever, rash, joint pain, red eyes and other symptoms. At special risk, though, are women who are pregnant or might soon be pregnant, because of the risk of having a baby born with microcephaly, a condition marked by an abnormally small head and incomplete brain development.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a number of bulletins about Zika, as the story develops. The CDC notes that the virus-carrying mosquitoes usually bite during the day, and the virus can be transmitted through sexual contact as well as mosquito bites. One Miami neighborhood has been identified as having Zika-carrying mosquitoes, and many countries have reported them as well.

It’s important not to overreact to Zika, but some people have begun panicking. That often means they will be more likely to buy any products that could possibly protect them from exposure. Such products have included wristbands, stickers, patches and other products ranging from the sensible to the ridiculous.

But this week, federal regulators have fired a warning shot across the bow of several companies that have been claiming effectiveness in fighting Zika. The Federal Trade Commission has sent letters to 10 companies that have been making Zika claims, warning them any such claims must be supported by scientific evidence. No companies were named in the FTC’s news release.

“It appears that some online marketers may be trying to take advantage of consumer concerns about the mosquito-borne virus,” the agency said in a statement. “The letters warn the recipients that Zika protection claims must be supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence in the form of well-controlled human clinical testing.”

Zika effectiveness claims can be problematic, the FTC went on, because only certain mosquito species carry Zika, and because even if the products do repel the mosquitoes, their effectiveness can be limited by how long the repellent lasts.

The letter warns that false claims can get companies in hot water for violations of the FTC Act, and requests they get back to the agency within 48 hours with details of their claims, the evidence supporting them, and how they will address known concerns.

It’s likely that more products will be coming to market soon, so it’s a good idea to check any claims thoroughly.

Here are some tips from the CDC for preventing mosquito bites:

Use insect repellent when outside. Products containing DEET, Picaridin, Oil of Lemon eucalyptus and others have proven effective in repelling mosquitoes. While other repellents may provide some protection, the CDC notes their effectiveness might not have been evaluated.

Protect your baby or child. Always keep your baby’s skin covered when outside, and cover the crib or stroller with mosquito netting.

Treat your clothing. The CDC recommends treating boots, pants, socks and tents with products containing permethrin. Some products can be bought that are pre-treated with permethrin.

Take steps to control mosquitoes. Especially after the wet summer we’ve had in many parts of Mississippi, there is a lot of standing water. Check around your property to see if there is standing water in containers (or even items such as old tires or birdbaths), and empty them. Check your home’s screens for tears and holes, and patch them.

It’s back to stores for back to school

636052213987446767-School-Supplies

Chris Todd, Clarion-Ledger

via It’s back to stores for back to school, clarionledger.com

PDF: The_Clarion-Ledger_State_20160730_A002_0

For the past several weeks, retailers have been gearing up for the onslaught of parents trying to make sure their kids are well-equipped for the school year. Well-prepared moms and dads who planned ahead will be sitting comfortably at home in the next few days happily sipping their sweet tea, while the rest of us plunge into the nightmarish stampede of parents desperately trying to find the right 3-by-5 cards or the correct brand of No. 2 pencils specified on their kids’ supply lists.

According to some retail experts, this back-to-school season should provide a much-needed infusion of cash, as financial worries have eased for some. According to a recent study by the National Retail Federation, K-12 and college shopping trips are expected to yield nearly $76 billion, well above last year’s $68 billion.

“Families are still looking for bargains, but there are signs that they are less worried about the economy than in the past,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Heading into the second half of the year, we are optimistic that overall economic growth and consumer spending will continue to improve as they did in the first two quarters of the year. We fully expect retailers to be aggressive with offering great deals both in stores and online for back-to-school shoppers. And retailers will keep a close eye on inventory levels as families spread out their shopping throughout the summer.”

The organization enlisted Prosper Insights and Analytics for the annual survey, which found that families with children in grades K-12 plan to spend an average of $673.57 on apparel and accessories, electronics, shoes and school supplies, up from last year’s $630.36 for a total of $27.3 billion, according to the survey. That’s almost a 10 percent increase over last year’s tally.

There is also expected to be a surge in spending, which coincides with states’ sales-tax holidays, in which consumers can avoid paying sales tax on certain items. Mississippi’s sales tax holiday is this weekend and allows tax-free sales of clothing and footwear up to $100.

The NRF notes that it has observed over the years that each year’s back-to-school spending follows a pattern, in which families typically splurge on supplies one year, followed by a year in which they avoid making larger purchases on more-durable items such as backpacks and computers. The pattern then repeats itself; this year is expected to be a “stock-up” cycle.

According to the survey, K-12 consumers plan to spend $9.54 billion on clothing (purchased by 95 percent), $8.27 billion on electronics such as computers or calculators (57 percent), $5.12 billion on shoes (94 percent) and $4.37 billion on school supplies such as notebooks, folders, pencils, backpacks and lunchboxes (96 percent). Parents say they will spend an average $235.39 on clothing, $204.06 on electronics, $126.35 on shoes and $107.76 on school supplies.

Even with the expected good performance, parents are still bullish on spending money and will be looking for sales. “The budget-conscious consumer is not forgetting about price, quality or value, and we continue to see this when it comes to back-to-school shopping,” Prosper Principal Analyst Pam Goodfellow said. “That is why many parents are taking advantage of shopping early, scouring ads and websites for the best deals, and taking advantage of free shipping with online purchases.”

Among other findings from the study:

More families are getting their shopping done early.  Nearly three-quarters of parents started their shopping several weeks ago, with the number of procrastinators down to about 22 percent.

More parents are shopping online. Nearly half of parents have shopped online for school supplies, or plan to. Still, most shoppers choose discount stores.

Older students = more expense. College students and families with children in college plan to spend an average of $888.71, according to the survey. “Whether it’s laptops for class or mini-fridges for the dorm, college simply costs more than the lower grades,” Shay said. “Some of these big-ticket items can last all four years, but when they need to be replaced it’s a bigger investment than pencils and lunchboxes. But retailers are ready to help students and parents alike stretch their dollars and make the investment in college pay off.”

For more on our back-to-school shopping plans, visit https://nrf.com/news/top-trends-2016-back-school-and-college-shopping.

Some uh-ohs with Pokemon GO

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theweek.com

via Some uh-ohs with Pokemon GO, clarionledger.com

PDF: The_Clarion-Ledger_State_20160718_A002_0

“Oh, wonderful,” I muttered to myself as I perused story after story about Pokemon GO. “Another way to keep people glued to their phone screens while they walk into open manholes and traffic.” And sure enough, this new game has exploded across the globe, reviving the moribund Pokemon brand and helping introduce a new generation to the devilishly cute cartoon creatures. If you see knots of people who appear to be wandering aimlessly around your neighborhood, transfixed by their phone screens and oblivious to all else around them, it could be Pokemon GO.

In case you’ve been on Pluto the past week and haven’t checked your newsfeed, Pokemon GO is an “augmented reality” game played through an app, a sort of scavenger hunt in which people visit a specific (real-world) location to find and “collect” Pokemon characters. The app will activate your phone’s camera feature when a Pokemon is “nearby”, superimposing the cartoon creatures on the image of a park bench, a monument, a landscape, or (disturbingly) inside people’s homes.

(For the uninitiated, “Pokemon” is a shortened form of “pocket monsters” and first became known a couple of decades ago as kids played Pokemon games on their Game Boy handheld consoles, watched Pokemon cartoons, and — of course — traded Pokemon cards.)

While it is laudable that the game is getting couch potatoes off their feet and involved in social interaction, the game has also created a slew of problems and concerns, ranging from players being targeted by crooks (even right here in central Mississippi), to users disrespecting somber sites, like Arlington National Cemetery, the Holocaust Museum and the 911 Memorial. It has also alarmed many people because the app is collecting personal data from cellphone users, including users’ birthdays, email addresses and physical location.

Here are a few of the concerns that have been raised, and although many users are young adults, the game is especially magnetic for kids and teens. The ever-reliable Consumer Reports published an article by Tercius Bufete, who along with many others has highlighted things parents should be concerned about:

  • It’s only free to a point. While the app is free to download, users can make in-app purchases up to $99.99. Also, the app uses constant location tracking, which can drive up your data usage, and since distracted kids can easily drop their devices as they hunt, it could result in broken devices requiring costly repairs. Before using the game, check the settings to ensure in-app purchases are controlled.
  • Stranger danger. The game encourages players to work with other people, which could be concerning because your kids might be interacting with strangers. An in-game feature called “Lure Module,” which attracts Pokemon to a “PokeStop” for 30 minutes, could be used to lure people to a place where they could be attacked or abducted. It would be a good idea to ensure your kids travel in groups of people you know, and never go alone.
  • Personal data could be compromised. The product requires you to register, and although the app does include a parental notice that they can request restrictions on personal data, it will also collect data on the user’s specific location, and keeps messages sent between players.
  • Trespassing. When the geocaching craze hit a few years ago, property owners raised concerns about people stomping across their property looking for hidden caches of “treasure” using GPS devices. Similarly, there have already been many cases of Pokemon GO users entering personal property while hunting for Pokemon characters. Users could easily wander into a dangerous construction site, for example, or be mistaken for thieves.
  • Personal injury. When your attention is glued to your phone screen while walking, you might easily stumble on a curb or obstacle, or into a busy street. Studies have shown that texting can change the way you walk, leading to potential injury and even death. Over the past several years, people have been killed as they used their mobile devices while walking.

While Pokemon GO is probably like a meteor that will burn brightly for a while, then be replaced by the next shiny object, it’s likely that it’s a harbinger of things to come, as the “digital” world merges with the “real” world. For parents, the task will be to ensure our kids are as safe and informed as we can make them as they live in the new realities to come.