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 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?


via Could technology end hot-car deaths?,

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 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 “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 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



via How to keep roads from turning deadly,

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 (, 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


Associated Press

via Companies are cashing in on Zika fears,

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


Chris Todd, Clarion-Ledger

via It’s back to stores for back to school,

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

Some uh-ohs with Pokemon GO


via Some uh-ohs with Pokemon GO,

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.

Baby monitors allow hackers, voyeurs into homes


via Moak: Baby monitors allow hackers, voyeurs into homes,, 1/27/2016

PDF: Baby monitors

New parents (and even experienced ones) spend a lot of time worrying about their babies. And with good reason; there are a lots of things to be worried about. You can’t be there 24/7 to watch your baby in the crib or as they play in their room, so technology came to the rescue a couple of decades ago with the introduction of the baby monitor.

At first, these were just pretty walkie-talkies, which allowed you to have a base unit in the baby’s room and a monitor elsewhere in the house to let you hear what was going on. Later came video monitors that provided real-time feed through Wi-Fi and made the feed available online. Now, you can keep an eye on your little one from your workstation anywhere.

But many parents might be lulled into a false sense of security when they use this technology; that feed might not be secure. Back in September, the trendy blog Fusion Network published an article revealing the results of security tests done on nine video monitors, and the results were not promising: eight of the nine monitors tested got an “F,” and Fusion awarded one a “D-minus.” It turns out that hacking into the monitors and hijacking the feed were child’s play for hackers.

All of this scrutiny comes after increasing reports of baby monitors being used to remotely spy on people, verbally abuse infants and bring embarrassing attention to the camera manufacturers (and highlight the problem) by posting live feeds from 1,000 baby monitors on unsecure websites. All this creepy activity has led to increased concern from parents and privacy advocates, who worry that the monitors could not only lead to sick voyeurism, but also could allow hackers a doorway into the home networks and lead to identity theft.

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission reported that it had tested five baby monitors to determine their level of security. They found two of the five didn’t encrypt the feed to make it more secure and only one required a complex password.

So, how can you protect your baby and your family from unwanted intrusion? The FTC’s Seena Gressin offered these tips:

  • Make the monitor’s security features a priority.When shopping for a baby monitor, look for ones that use strong security protocols to transmit audio and video feeds to your home wireless router and to the internet. WPA2 is a standard wireless security protocol for home routers. To protect the feed on the internet, make certain the monitor uses an industry standard encryption protocol, such as SSL or TLS. Check the package or contact the manufacturer to find out.
  • Use the monitor’s security features. Once you’ve purchased a monitor with good security features, use them! Keep the monitor’s software current and check its password settings to make certain it requires a password. Then, choose a strong password and enable the monitor’s security features so that it encrypts information transmitted via the internet.
  • Access the monitor securely. When accessing the monitor from a mobile device, confirm that your app is up-to-date and consider password-protecting your mobile device as well.

Other experts advise you consider unplugging the unit when it’s not actively being used, such as when no one is at home, and change the passwords often on your home’s Wi-Fi network as well.

Childhood drownings preventable


U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

via Moak: Childhood drownings preventable,, 1/20/2015

PDF: Bathtub

Link to Video But I was only gone for a moment…

As parents, there are few things that fill us with dread more than hearing about a child who has died from an accident. It’s not a conversation we like to have, but even in the age of instant information, hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear about a family grieving the loss or injury of a child — especially when that loss could have been prevented.

The average household is actually full of hazards for youngsters, ranging from fall hazards such as stairs and climbable furniture; poisons; strangling hazards; electricity; swallow-able objects and suffocation hazards, such as refrigerators and plastic bags. Anyone who’s been around toddlers knows they’re everywhere; pushing and pulling, tasting, opening and closing doors, and exploring their wonderful little world with all five senses. Keeping your kids safe is a big job. Thankfully, most of our kids make it through, but few parents can say their kids were 100 percent injury-free. (I know my brothers and I caused my parents to make quite a few panicked trips to the emergency room.)

In the past, I’ve written about some of these dangers: blind cords that can strangle, poisons lurking under the kitchen sink, furniture that can topple over onto kids, and leaving kids in hot cars. But a recent chilling video put out by the Consumer Product Safety Commission has been shining a light on the issue of childhood drownings.

But I was only gone for a moment… is hard to watch, even though it lasts just one minute. The shot is from the viewpoint of a child getting a bubble bath; it’s an idyllic and peaceful moment between mother and child, who can be heard cooing and babbling happily. Hearing the doorbell, the mom gets up to answer the door. In the next few seconds, the camera goes underwater, as mom comes back and cries out in alarm. I know I it made me cringe; it brought back the panicked memories of when my own kids were in danger.

The point is clear: Leaving your kids unattended in the tub (even for a short time) can be disastrous.

Recent statistics aren’t available, but we do know that, from 2006 to 2010, the CPSC reported 684 incidents involving children younger than 5. That means about 90 kids each year die from drowning, most in bathtubs or other large containers of water (including buckets and even toilets). CPSC statistics indicate most bathtub fatalities occurred when a caregiver or sibling left the room during a child’s bath. You may only intend to be away for a few seconds, but a child can easily drown in that time; besides, most of us really aren’t good at estimating how long we’ve been away; 5 minutes can fly by without us even realizing it.

Such videos provide some good — if painful — reminders of the vast responsibilities involved in helping keep your kids safe. So, it’s a good opportunity to remind ourselves — grandparents, this is for you, too — that awareness is your best friend when it comes to protecting small children.

But we’re not helpless when it comes to the danger of bathtub drowning. Here are a few tips, from the Kids Safety Network:

  • Always stay within an arm’s reach of your child when he or she is in or near the bathtub or toilet. If the doorbell or telephone rings, never leave your child alone or in the care of older children during bath time. Wrap your child in a towel and bring him or her with you.
  • If using a bathtub seat or supporting ring, constant adult supervision is still needed at all times. The seat can overturn or a baby may slip out into the water.
  • Put your cellphone away. Forget about all the other things that you have to do and give young children all of your attention when they are in the bathtub.
  • Once bath time is over, immediately drain the tub.
  • Keep toilet lids closed and use toilet seat locks to prevent drowning in the toilet. It’s also a good idea to keep doors to bathrooms and laundry rooms closed.
  • A bucket of water may seem like no big deal to you, but to a curious toddler, it’s an irresistible attraction. Do not leave a bucket containing even a small amount of liquid unattended. Toddlers are top heavy, which means they can easily fall headfirst into buckets and drown. After using a bucket, always empty and store it out of a child’s reach. Also don’t leave buckets outside where they can collect rainwater.
  • Learning CPR is always a good idea. It will give you great peace of mind, and in the process, you’ll learn a lot about how to be prepared for other life-threatening emergencies.

Finally, take a minute to watch the video “But I was only gone for a moment…,” It’s a reminder we all need to have.

Child safety seats give your kids a fighting chance

Originally published in, 9/17/2015.

When you get into your late-model vehicle, it’s arguably a safer environment than most other places you go. More than a century of innovation has made the automobile interior a cradle of safety. From the time you sit down and fasten your seatbelt, you and your passengers are cocooned with airbags, crash-absorbing frames and a plethora of fast-evolving electronic systems. Many vehicles are introducing devices to monitor your lane usage, watch your blind spots, and even alert you if you doze off while driving. In a few years, computers will be taking the driver’s seat, reducing the potential for human error and increasing the safety margin even more. Highways have gotten safer, too, with safety features such as rumble strips, visibility enhancements and crash barriers.

In the dawn of the automobile age, though, it was a different story. Early cars were deathtraps, with little attention paid to making the ride safe for occupants. According to Road and Track, more than a dozen automobile deaths had been reported before the 20th century even dawned. Crash fatalities increased steadily (to around 54,000 in 1972) until they began a sharp decline. Since then, the death rate has been dropping steadily. In 2013, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported 32,719 deaths. (There has been a sharp and alarming uptick this year, which some are blaming on driver distraction from cell phones and other devices.)

Today’s kids are safer in the car as well. When many of us were growing up, it wasn’t uncommon for kids to move around the car while it was moving, and seatbelts – if the car had them at all – were buried under the seat. But when we started finding and using those seat belts, then later with the introduction of child car seat, the ride became much safer. Even so, car crashes are still deadly for many kids. According to statistics supplied by the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT), Every 34 seconds, one child under age 13 is involved in a crash. In 2013 alone, 126,000 children under the age of 13 were injured as passengers in car crashes across the nation.

But, like any technology that requires human decision-making, child car seats must be used correctly if they’re to do their job. MDOT estimates that, in 2013, car safety seats that year saved 263 kids under the age of 5, but sadly, 637 kids died when they might have survived if they’d been in properly-installed car seats.

This week is Child Passenger Safety Week, a national observance which aims to educate people about proper use of child safety seats. MDOT offers the following tips:

  • Ensure that all passengers are correctly buckled—every time.
  • Children under age 13 should always ride in the back seat.
  • Follow car seat installation instructions to ensure that the car seat is installed correctly.
  • Consider the child’s age and weight when selecting which type of safety restraint is needed (rear-facing car seat, forward-facing car seat, booster seat, or seat belt).

Just so you know, Mississippi state law requires all kids under the age of 4 to be in some type of child restraint system, and mandates that kids 4 to 7 years old be placed in a booster seat until they’re at least 4’9” or weigh 65 pounds. Since there’s much confusion around how to properly use child safety seats, I asked SafeKids Mississippi for some tips. SafeKids Mississippi works with its global counterpart Safekids Worldwide to help prevent childhood injuries. A great brochure is at this link.  Among SafeKids’ recommendations:

  1. For kids 2 and under, always place the seat in a rear-facing position in the back seat.
  2. If your child is 3 or older and has outgrown the height and weight limits for the rear-facing seat, use the seat facing forward in the back seat, taking care to make sure all the straps are snug and the seat doesn’t move more than an inch.
  3. If the child is under 4’9” in height and has outgrown the height and weight limits of the front-facing seats, use a booster seat in the back seat. The seat belt should be snug, flat and comfortable.
  4. For kids over 4’9”, and have outgrown the booster seats, they should ride in the back seat with a seat belt until they are 13 years old.

Of course, everyone in the car should use a seat belt every time. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seat belts saved 62,468 lives from 2009 to 2013. Making sure you hear that “click” could be the most important decision you make today.

Students fall for fake Internet merchants, check scams

via Students fall for fake Internet merchants, check scams,, 9/16/2015

PDF: The_Clarion-Ledger_State_20150917_B001_1

With the halls of our schools filled with eager young minds ready to absorb all that knowledge (I’m an optimist, OK?), they are also likely to fall victim to scammers.

According to some statistics recently released by (operated by the National Consumers League or NCL), students are falling for promises of nonexistent or subpar online merchandise, schemes sending them checks to cash (which turn out to be forged) and other devious schemes.

The NCL statistics covered complaints filed the past 12 months. Almost three-quarters (71.9 percent) of complaints focused on dubious Internet merchandise schemes (48.7 percent) and fake check scams (23.2 percent). Among the most common complaints was that e-commerce sites advertised the availability of popular items — such as trendy athletic apparel — only to take money and never deliver (or worse yet, to serve as an entry point for identity theft).

The Internet merchandise scam category covers a wide variety of schemes designed to separate young people from their money, particularly for iPhones and game consoles. “Many complaints also focus on scams involving the sale of clothing, particular dubious online sneaker sales websites,” advises. “Vehicle and pet sales were also popular sources of complaints. Craigslist was frequently mentioned as the venue where younger consumers first spotted “deals” that turned out to be fraud.”

The site cautions young people to be careful on Craigslist, which has proven to be fertile ground for all types of scammers. Chief among these were fake check scams or phony job listings, including “mystery shopper” jobs. Also mentioned was, a popular site which links parents or caregivers to potential sitters for kids or the elderly, but can also harbor scammers waiting to pounce on young people eager to earn some baby-sitting money.

Here are some of’s recommendations:

Do a price-check for similar merchandise before trusting an unknown online retailer, especially one advertising on Craigslist. If the price listed is far below traditional online retailers (think Amazon, Best Buy, Zappos) for a piece of popular merchandise (such as wireless phones, game consoles, sneakers, or designer clothing), the “deal” could easily be a scam.

When looking for a job, a request to cash a check in a personal account is a huge red flag. Legitimate employers will want you to go through an interview process and check your references before entrusting you with a check worth hundreds or thousands of dollars. If your “boss” wants you to deposit a check and wire a portion back to her or someone else, it’s almost certainly a scam.

If you’re a parent of a teenager, experts say the best time to have “the talk” with your teen (no, not that one; the other one, about being safe on the Internet) is before they are actually exposed to it; the second best time is today. E-commerce is a virtual “wild, wild West,” a world in which borders are meaningless and thieves can lurk around every corner. Every day, Mississippians lose their hard-earned dollars to scammers. Our kids need to know the risks, and how to conduct themselves safely. is a great resource, which will educate you about what you need to know to have that talk with them.