Archive for the ‘Kids’ Category

What makes a bully? Part 2

Monday, February 8th, 2010

I reworked my recent blog entry a bit and submitted it to the Boston Herald for consideration as a letter to the editor and/or “As You Were Saying…” (which is what the Herald calls guest op-eds) column.  Here’s the letter they published today:

Good citizenship taught

The school my wife and I chose for our children stands out dramatically because the students, faculty and parents are nice to each other and happy to be there. This does not happen by chance; it is the result of a consciously designed, constantly maintained culture which emphasizes respect and empathy as the community’s most precious values.

That culture could not possibly be achieved through punishment and discipline. Rather, good citizenship is an essential component of the curriculum, in every class and every grade.

And therein lies the solution to bullying. Schools cannot merely teach our children not to be bad; we must teach them to be good.

Jonathan Kamens, Brighton

Here’s what I originally sent them: (more…)

What makes a bully?

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

bullyThe flood of news coverage about the suicide of Phoebe Prince has set me to thinking about what makes kids into bullies.

My children attend JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School.  Students at all academic levels are admitted to the school.  JCDS is less concerned about intellect than about whether the student, and his or her parents, are compatible with the school’s culture.

In the 6½ years I’ve had children at JCDS, only a few families have chosen to leave.  Some of those departures were due to academic needs the school could not fulfill, but others were because their kids simply didn’t fit in.

I’m sure many of you just cringed.  We all know what “didn’t fit in” means, right?  Kids that are brainy, nerdy, funny-looking, or too fat.  Kids who do their homework and care about getting good grades.  Kids who would rather play D&D than football.  Right?

Nope.  At JCDS, fitting in isn’t about any of those things.  Rather, it’s almost entirely about one thing and one thing only: treating others with respect.  Kids with an “attitude” just don’t fit in at JCDS.  What’s most interesting is that usually, their parents don’t either. (more…)

It’s MY desk, dammit!

Monday, December 28th, 2009

I share my home office with my kids, an unfortunate necessity in a house with five bedrooms, five children, and no dedicated office space (the “office” is actually one of the bedrooms).  All the kids are fully aware of the “never, ever touch anything on Daddy’s desk” rule, but apparently the stuff on my desk is just too tempting.  Who would have imagined that a roll of tape could be such a powerful influence for evil?  Needless to say, when something is missing, the kids often blame the disappearance on the mythical “not me.”

This morning, my oldest daughter, who at 11½ surely should know better, saw something interesting on my computer screen, which was visible because I was accessing it remotely from work (with Linux, when you connect to your desktop remotely, it is visible on the local monitor).  I watched with amazement from work as she moved my mouse around and opened several of my documents.

When I realized what was going on, I locked the screen.  To my even greater amazement, rather than this causing my daughter to come to her senses and realize that she wasn’t supposed to be touching my computer, she clicked the “Switch user…” button, thus breaking my remote connection and locking me out until I got home from work.  (I’ve since fixed my configuration so that I can’t be locked out like that again, but that’s not the main point of this story.)

This was the last straw.  No longer will I tolerate items mysteriously disappearing from my desk with none of the kids taking responsibility.  Thanks to the wonderful open-source software package Motion, the Webcam atop my monitor will now capture and save images of anyone who touches anything on my desk.  Busted!

What makes this interesting enough to be worth blogging about (in my opinion; yours, obviously, may differ!) is how I solved the problem of not filling up my disk with images of me using the computer.  I wrote this script, which is designed to be run as a GNOME startup application.  Whenever my screen is locked, it turns on the camera, and when the screen is unlocked and the camera is turned on, it prompts every 15 minutes to ask whether to turn it off (it prompts rather than always turning it off because I may be accessing the computer remotely and want the camera to remain on).

There are detailed comments at the top of the script explaining how it works and how to use it.  I’m posting it here on the off chance that it might prove useful to someone else.  Enjoy!

The newest additions to the Kamens family

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

And this is why we wouldn’t let anyone interview our daughter this summer…

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

Kids say the darnedest things

Friday, September 11th, 2009

Welcome to the Connecticut Science Center. Now go away!

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

(I just sent this letter to Matt Fleury, the president and CEO of the Connecticut Science Center.)

Mr. Fleury,

On Friday, August 21, my family and I were “stranded” in Hartford for the weekend.  We are observant Jews, and therefore riding in cars is forbidden to us during the Sabbath, from Friday evening through Saturday night.  We were on our way home from New Jersey to Boston on that day, and we realized as we drove through Hartford that because of unexpected traffic delays, we were not going to make it home in time for the Sabbath.  With less than an hour until the start of the Sabbath, we stopped in Hartford and started looking for a place to stay; we ended up at the downtown Marriott, right next door to the Science Center.

We are also forbidden from watching TV on the Sabbath, nor are we permitted to spend money or write.  Therefore, as you might imagine, finding a way to occupy our five children for the entire Sabbath in these unexpected surroundings was a substantial challenge.

On Saturday morning, desperate for something to do with the kids, we walked over to the Science Center, explained our situation to a member of your staff at the admissions desk, and asked if it would be possible, given our unusual and difficult predicament, to visit the Center without paying.  She called over a supervisor, to whom we explained the situation again.  The supervisor said that she could not let us in without paying “in fairness to our other guests who pay.”

Let me be blunt: That’s stupid, antithetical to your mission, and unlikely to help you to draw more visitors in the future.


Best movie for an 11-year-old girls’ slumber party?

Monday, July 6th, 2009

Later this summer, my soon-to-be-11 daughter will be having a sleepover party to celebrate her birthday.  My wife wisely points out that allowing the girls to choose what movie to watch is guaranteed to produce winners and losers, so we’re going to pick the movie in advance.  We’ve got some ideas, but I thought it would be fun to see what other people think.

The two most important rules are: (1) avoid movies that are so popular that most of the girls have probably already seen them; (2) avoid horror movies, because as grown-up as these girls think they are, we’d rather not be comforting terrified girls and calling their parents to come take them home in the middle of the night.

Also, given that our daughter is not exactly immersed in “mainstream” American teen culture, ix-nay on the sex and vulgarity with which many kids at this age seem to already be familiar.

What's the best movie for an 11-year-old girls' slumber party?

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Another installment of “Tales from the Playground”

Monday, May 18th, 2009

When we last left our intrepid hero, he was walking away from the swingset after failing to secure a turn there for his child….

From the swingset I returned to “home base,” the bench next to which I had left our wagon upon arriving at the park.  The wagon, with our coats and diaper bag in it, was gone.

I scanned the playground and found it about fifty feet away.  With a small child in it.  With our coats and diaper bags spread out on the ground next to it.

I walked over to the wagon.  “Please get out of our wagon.  It’s not yours, and it’s not nice to throw other people’s things on the ground.”

Silence.  A look like I’m an alien. (“How dare you tell me what to do?  You’re not my parent!  Oh, wait, my parents don’t tell me what to do either!”)

I tried again.  “Please get out of our wagon.  It’s not appropriate to use other people’s things without permission or throw their things on the ground.

Silence again, but this time he got out.  I loaded our things back into the wagon and pulled it back to where it belonged.

I have no idea where were the child’s parents were during all of this.

Today’s installment of “Tales from the Playground”

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

So, there I was at the playground on Saturday with the three younger kids (1.5, 4, 6).  I asked 1.5 if he wanted to swing in the baby swings and he gave me his customary affirmative grunt.  So we walked over to the swings, which were both occupied by babies whose mothers were immersed in conversation and occasionally giving them pushes.

I said to 1.5 loud enough for the two mothers to overhear: “When one of these babies is finished, then it’ll be our turn.”  Then I waited.  And waited.  And waited.

After a few minutes of waiting, I noticed that there were a few kids waiting for the big-kid swings, one of which was occupied by4.  “Aha!” I said to myself.  “Here’s an opportunity for me to make sure 4 does the right thing while sending a hint at the same time.”  So I called over to 4, “4, there are other kids waiting, and you need to give them a turn.  Three more minutes, and then you need to get off.”  She bargained for minutes and we settled on four more.  A couple of minutes later (what, you think a four-year-old can tell time?), I told her it was time for her to get off, and she calmly stopped swinging, got off the swing, and gave it to one of the kids who was waiting.

The mothers were seemingly oblivious.  I kept waiting, until several minutes later, one of the mothers turned to her baby in the swing and asked her if she wanted to get out.  The baby made it clear that she was going to throw a fit if the mother took her out, at which point the mother turned to me and said, “Sorry, but what can I do?  At this age, she knows what she wants, eh?”

I bit my tongue and choked back the answer I wanted to give: “Yes, lady, she knows what she wants, and she knows how to get it, too!  When you give a kid that age a choice about whether to do the right thing or be selfish, guess what?  She’s going to choose to be selfish!  It’s your job as a parent to teach her that sometimes she has to share, not to let her walk all over you by threatening to tantrum every time you try to make her do something.  How do you think she’s going to learn proper values if you don’t teach them to her?”

Instead of saying all that, I just smiled weakly and said nothing, and 1.5 and I walked away to find something else to do.