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Staff Editorials

Abductions, school shootings and other things that probably won’t happen

By Angela Reinhardt, staff writer
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    About a month ago my family attended a birthday party at one of those ultra-safe, ultra-modern (I’d argue ultra-boring) playgrounds where wood chips, recycled rubber padding and molded-plastic equipment should, in theory, keep parents’ minds at ease.    
    Still, the scene my husband and I encountered as we pulled into our parking space was indicative of what I witness almost daily as the parent of two elementary-school-age children --- skittish mothers and fathers rapidly administering hand sanitizer and not only watching their children play, but actually playing on the tot-sized equipment with them. (I’ll admit it made me chuckle thinking about moms and dads getting lodged in tubes designed for kids age 1-5).
    This park experience resurfaced for me last week when parents called for an increased police presence at Georgia schools, including Pickens, following two unrelated incidents in Dekalb and Cherokee counties where armed men were arrested on school property.
    Of course I was relieved that students left those campuses unharmed, but that was the end of it. I didn’t go home and tuck my children in extra tight that evening, or call their school the next day to make sure the front door was locked, or spearhead a committee that would inspect all birthday cupcakes for signs of suspicious paraphernalia because my children were in no more danger than they were the day before.
    Unfortunately, that’s not the end of it for a lot of today’s parents, who have all but turned into writhing balls of anxiety and paranoia when it comes to their kids. It’s good to be protective when there is a realistic threat, but parenting has gotten to the point that we are practically paralyzed over the perceived danger of “creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape,” as Lenore Skenazy, author of my new favorite laissez-faire parenting blog “Free-Range Kids,” puts it.
    We are worried to the point that we have stopped treating our children like the smart and capable people they are, and are instead operating on the notion that they are helpless masses who can’t do anything for themselves without the hovering, ever-watchful eye of an adult. This attitude robs children of self-confidence and independence while encouraging a dependency that leads to kids who don’t get their driver’s license until 19 and who don’t move out until 30.
    Last week I spoke with my dad about this editorial and he, like so many in his generation, reminisced about his own be-back-before-dark childhood. Dad and his friends would disappear for hours on end, playing in the woods or riding bikes in the streets with no supervision (and no cell phones to call home.)
    Try letting your child loose for too long now, or let them cross the road alone at too early and age or ride their bike to practice unsupervised. Chances are someone will call DFCS to report your negligent parenting.
    In all fairness, our irrational and ungrounded paranoia isn’t really parents’ fault. Abduction stories and school shootings get a grossly sensationalized and disproportionate amount of airplay because they produce good ratings. In effect, the media has taken rare events like these and made them seem much more common than they are. Over time this phenomenon has resulted in what Skenazy’s calls the “Worst-First Scenario,” in which parents make plans as though the worst possible outcome is going to happen.
    But the worst-case, the rouge school shooter or a black-clad abductor, hardly ever happens. Just look at the statistics. Since 1993, 184 children have died in school shootings, while 115 have been abducted each year by a stranger. (According to the U.S. Department of Justice nearly 800,000 children are reported missing each year, but nearly all of those are the result of a family issue or miscommunication.)
    Those numbers are dwarfed by the 6,683 children age 0-19 that died in automobile accidents in 2007, or the 1,665 that committed suicide that same year, threats most parents don’t pay much attention to.
    I am by no means an expert, but after seven years at motherhood I know this: You don’t have to worry to be a good parent. Teach them to take care of themselves without you and you and your child will be better off because of it.

FDA caution a benefit to health despite critics FDA caution a benefit to health despite critics who bemoan delays

    So you open up a bottle of a prescription drug your doctor prescribed to make you better. But as you’re about to pop that pill you hear yourself saying, “You should not take this drug if you are not able to stand up for 30 minutes. Call your doctor immediately if you feel dizzy, have new or worsening heart burn, severe headache, difficulty swallowing, have diarrhea, shortness of breath, or develop chest pain.”
    Oh, and don’t operate machinery either.
    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is tasked with protecting the public health by assuring the safety and security of human drugs, biological products, medical devices, and our nation’s food supply. Their website also states they are responsible for advancing the public health by helping to speed innovations that make medicines more effective, safer, and more affordable by helping the public get the accurate, science-based information they need to use medicines and foods to maintain and improve their health.
    In FDA speak that’s Uncle Sam telling us to be careful and exercise caution, just as warning labels on prescriptions remind us of a long list of potential hazards. But is Uncle Sam going too far and not letting new medicines that could have potential lifesaving effects for millions get past the hurdles of FDA approval?
    Some people believe the FDA imposes increasingly onerous trials on new drugs to insulate themselves from critics if something eventually goes wrong with the drug. These laborious trials, they say, prevent some promising therapies from being developed.
    But precaution is their job and we feel they are doing it well, protecting us from potential deadly effects if the drugs weren’t made to go through intense scrutiny before being mass marketed.
    It’s easy to have our heartstrings pulled when we hear of a child – or anyone – facing a terrible and painful disease for which there is currently no cure. It makes it worse when we hear there are  drugs currently being developed to help, yet aren’t approved by the FDA. However, any drug that is powerful enough to make a difference in patients’ lives is also powerful enough to do something that we don’t want it to do and didn’t expect it to do.         This is particularly important for medications that treat chronic problems. You don’t want to damage your liver while treating longstanding problems with your joints.
   There should be an agency out there – hence the FDA – looking out for us. After all, no amount of  gut-feelings nor internet searching can produce effective do-it-yourself research into new drugs.
       We need the caution of the organization and approvals for new drugs in the U.S. come faster than in Europe or Canada. According to Forbes, 77 percent of drugs are approved in the U.S. the first time around and review times here are shorter than in Europe.
    So the FDA is saying yes to new drugs at a rapid clip and studies into the drugs are needed to ensure our safety. It may take time, often just 6 months or less, but it is much-needed time to perform rigorous reviews and weigh the benefits and potential hazards of something new. We consider it a good thing for the FDA to temper enthusiastic companies with billions of dollars riding on its product against the health of the American people.
    While we always want everyone to be as healthy and pain-free as possible, rather than thinking of the FDA as a big speed bump in marketing new drugs, think of the organization as the people who make it their business to realize there are lives at stake on both ends of the drug-approval process.

Has happiness left the South?

    If a recent study of geotagged  internet postings (tweets) is true, the Duck Dynasty gang from A&E’s reality television show may be among the few who are happy in their state of Louisiana.
    Despite the Duck Commander patriarch’s book, joyfully named “Happy, Happy, Happy,” Louisiana, along with other deep-Southern states like Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, are apparently home to the unhappiest people in the nation.
    Geographically speaking the happiest folks live in Hawaii, Maine or one of the clusters of cities in sunny California or Colorado, according to a study by researchers at the University of Vermont.
    To find this out, researchers scored more than 10,000 words on a positive-negative scale and measured their frequency in millions of tweets across the country. What emerged showed significant regional variations in happiness.
    The most unhappy places, the ones we Southerners call home, include states that have high levels of poverty and the shortest life expectancies. That we can understand, but if we asked what makes us happy  likely responses would range from a new car, less body fat, a higher-paying job or winning the lottery.
    These things, however, are being shown to have less impact on our happiness than we may think. Researchers are now finding that our happiness depends less on external circumstances – like materialistic things – and more on our perceptions and experiences.
    Sure we need enough money to pay our bills and have a little left for extras, but we adjust our moods to match our life’s circumstances. So a person who makes $50,000 a year may be happier than someone who earns just $10,000, but Americans who earn $5 million per year are not much happier than those who earn $100,000 per year.
    To those of us in the smaller income brackets that may sound as far-fetched as money growing on trees, but the people who study this sort of thing say it’s true across the board.
    The happiest among us hands-down are those who contribute to the common good – and we have lots of people right here in Pickens County who do that every day through their volunteer efforts. Researchers say that happy people live in a great community and we think Pickens County, with its lack of crime and temperant weather, is a place anyone can find happiness.
    Perhaps those of us who find ourselves living in the “sadness belt,” as defined by the Vermont researchers, can change our ranking by “catching” the happy emotions of others. Let’s make a point to take on new challenges and fulfill our sense of purpose so the next time a study comes around trying to figure out who’s happy, we’ll put Pickens County on the same map as Asheville, North Carolina - the only Southern town to garner a  happiness button.
    Doing things for others makes us happy in a robust, satisfying way - more than the happy we feel when we eat that greasy McDonald’s hamburger. Not to say a perfectly-cooked Big Mac isn’t wonderful, but being compassionate to those around us promotes a different type of happiness - one that lasts much longer than a box of chocolates.
    To achieve happiness we don’t have to move to Hawaii or California, but simply focus on those things in life that bring true, long-term happiness, not fleeting moments of joy. Thinking of the past fondly; spending money on life experiences instead of material things, or smiling at someone when you walk by are just a few ways to find truer happiness.
    Putting friends and family first, too, is essential because the nature of our relationships count. Simple companionship like just hanging out or going to the movies together can make us happy.
    Besides, who says us Southerners aren’t happy? When we can grow beards like the guys from the Duck Dynasty clan who wouldn’t be happy?
    Tweet that, researchers.

Every dog should have its day

By Dan Pool, editor
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    After a few nights of howling and some lingering confusion on where the bathroom is located, the newest member of our household has settled in wonderfully.
    She gets along well with our other dogs, the neighbors and their dogs and has yet to chew up anything valuable.
    This dog came straight from the county shelter and, according to the inmate trustee who helped load her, she wouldn’t have been there much longer. One way or the other, her time was about up. The Pickens County shelter is not a no-kill shelter, nor can they afford to be with the space they have.
    I am a committed dog-liker, not a dog lover. I believe dogs are made to sleep either in the yard or the garage. (My wife, it should be noted, does not share this ideology.) Nor do I have any strong emotions when I see dogs running loose in rural areas.
    But a trip to the shelter tests my resolve. Seeing all those dogs and knowing that many, maybe even most, won’t be going to good homes is tough. What was particularly shocking when we picked up our new dog was the number of unique breeds represented in the shelter.
    I would have assumed that most of the animals in the shelter were strays, dogs found hungry and roaming or getting into trouble by searching for food in subdivisions. But this was not the case. There was an American Bulldog, a Rottweiler, a large white fluffy husky mix – all apparently given up by someone or some family. The large white dog’s kennel card said it had gotten too large for the owners.
    It’s a challenge for the animal shelter employees to care for the true strays they are called to pick-up, there is no reason for them to be further burdened by people who didn’t fully think through dog ownership when they picked out a new “man’s best friend.”
     A big exception here are the dogs that were strays that someone housed for a while and tried to keep before turning them over to the shelter -- at least they tried -- and when the dog found you, not the other way around, no one should be blamed because it didn’t work out.
    Animal Shelter Director Cindy Wilson said the majority of people who turn dogs into the shelter are very concerned for the animals and are trying to do the right thing for strays or the animals they are no longer able to care for. 
    I strongly encourage you to think long and hard about whether you are really ready to care for a four-legged beast “til death do you part” before you allow your heartstrings to be tugged by a cute dog you spot in a parking lot. Don’t take a dog home (or let your kids talk you into one) unless you have a real plan in place for where it will stay all day while you are at work and where it will sleep and who will look after it on the weekends if you are away.
    Similarly, picking out a puppy while living in an apartment and just hoping the owner “will be cool” isn’t going to end well.
    For those that are ready to add a furry member to your family, give the local shelter or Pickens Animal Rescue a chance to provide a loyal, caring companion.
    A few weeks ago in the Progress, local veterinarian Lyn Lewis pointed out the health advantages - and they are numerous - for adopting a mixed-breed.  Besides, everybody loves a mutt.
    But even if you are looking for a specific breed, check in with the shelter/PAR, you will be surprised by the wide range of critters they have.

“Learning” - It’s not just for the schoolhouse

    When we think of education, images of desks, Smartboards, tests, curriculum and teachers come to mind. While teachers and schools are certainly an invaluable part of our education, this school year we want to remind parents (and children) that learning is not relegated to active teaching environments such as the classroom.
    “Learning,” a term that has been all but hijacked by educational institutions, isn’t only about memorizing math problems or being able to recite every element on the periodic table. Learning is a process that happens all the time. It happens at home, on the ball field, it happens while you’re cleaning up a spilt cup of orange juice; Learning is a process by which we observe, absorb, ask critical questions, analyze, process, draw conclusions and apply our findings to other areas of our lives.
     But sadly we tend to compartmentalize --- A child’s education happens over there and the rest of their life happens over here. This attitude is a disservice to our kids and to our collective future. Students spend more time each day out of the classroom than in, and as soon as they leave campus they are berated with information and ideas, from television to music to family members and anything else that is part of their day.
    As parents we need to take advantage of these hours, which represent countless opportunities to educate our children outside of school. We need to actively expose our children to new experiences, new ideas and new people in the world, and we need to do it in a way that nourishes their sense of curiosity and critical thinking.
    Here are some things you can do to encourage your child to think outside of the textbook:
    Talk with them about things that you are interested in.
    Tell your children about things you think about during the day. Tell them about your interactions with people and how they make you feel. Tell them about your thoughts on current events. The simple act of sharing your thoughts will be stimulating for them and will create a bond between parent and child.
    Let them have their own opinion.
    Ask your kids how they feel about things going on in the world and do it so they don’t have fear of judgment or ridicule. This will make them feel like their opinions are valued and will foster more critical thinking and creative thought.
    Pursue your own hobbies
    It’s important to give your children attention, but when they see that you have interests of your own they will be more inclined to pursue their interests.
    Downplay the importance of winning
    Rather than offering continual rewards and making winning top priority, teach your children that there is more value in the thought and effort behind something. Too much emphasis on winning creates a mind that will be fearful of making mistakes and effort will only come when there is promise of a reward at the end.
    Teach your children about basic life skills
    This is a main element of the Montessori Method. Children are taught how to do household duties such as cleaning dishes, baking or cutting vegetables. Beyond children feeling empowered by being trusted to an “adult” task, children can learn valuable lessons from tasks that seem mundane. Cooking, for example, can teach a child measurements and health.
    Enrich with culture
    Take you children to places of cultural importance such as art galleries or museums; take them to see plays or to a busy downtown street or café and talk to them about the difference in lifestyles of people who live in rural areas versus those in the city.
     There are many other ways to make everyday an education in your child’s world. So as students enter public schools, private schools and homes schools for the first time this school year, remember that they are learning all the time; sometime deliberately, sometimes not. It’s our job as parents to make them realize this for themselves and inspire them to want to become active participants in their own education.