Back(pack) to the Future

Dear Mr. Dad: My daughter’s backpack is insanely heavy. I’ve mentioned this to her teachers and they say that textbooks aren’t used much at school and that students shouldn’t have to bring them in every day. But because my daughter spends half her time with me, and the other half with her mother, she’s worried that she’ll leave a book at the wrong house and won’t be able to do her homework. I get that, but I’m really worried that she’ll hurt herself. She doesn’t want a wheely backpack (says it’s not cool). How should we handle this?

A: You’re absolutely right to be worried about your daughter’s backpack. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are about 14,000 backpack-related injuries every year, 5,000 of which are bad enough to land the child in the emergency room. Most of those injuries involve muscles and the skeleton. But a study done by researchers at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering found that heavy backpacks can also cause short- and long-term nerve damage by pressing on the nerves that go through the head, neck, and shoulders.
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The Best National Parks for Family Trips

Dear Mr. Dad: My family hasn’t had a vacation in years—we haven’t been able to afford it. But we really need some time off. We’re thinking of doing a driving trip over the 2-week winter break. Can you suggest some affordable family-friendly places to visit?

A: Depending on where you live, there’s a good chance you won’t have to leave the state to find a super-low-cost, amazing vacation spot. I’m talking about our national parks, most of which offer a range of activities, from just plain fun to educational to knock-your-socks-off gorgeous hikes in nature. Whether you’re planning to spend your whole vacation in one place or want to explore several locations, the National Park Foundation (http://www.nationalparks.org/) and the National Park Service (http://www.nps.gov/) can help you find a park that suits your needs. But here are a few favorites, some of which were sent in by readers.
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When Should Bedwetting Stop?

Dear Mr. Dad: My 7-year old still wets his bed. He’s terribly embarrassed about it and doesn’t want to have sleepovers with friends—at our house or theirs. He seems really stressed about it, and the problem is getting worse with time. How common is it for a 7-year old to be wetting his bed at night? What could be causing it—is it something we’ve done or is he doing it to send us a message? And how can we help him to stay dry?

A: Let’s start with the easy stuff: Nighttime bedwetting is a lot more common than most people think. According to Steve Hodges, co-author of “It’s No Accident,” 20% of five year olds, 10% of 6-year olds, 7% of 8-year olds, and 5% of kids over 10 have occasional or frequent accidents at night.

Before we get into the causes and cures, it’s important to understand that bedwetting is rarely anyone’s fault, and it’s really unlikely that your son is doing it to get back at you. However, you could be making it worse if you’re shaming or punishing your son (more on that below). He already feels plenty of shame, and the toll it’s taking on his self-esteem could be what’s making the problem worse.
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When Nutrition Guidelines Backfire

Dear Mr. Dad. A few weeks ago you wrote that parents shouldn’t try to force kids to eat their vegetables because it could backfire. I see the logic in having only healthy foods around the house and letting the kids decide how much they want to eat. But what are we supposed to do when they’re at school? Is there some way to get cafeterias and snack bars to serve only healthy foods?

A: Great—and very tough—question. Yes, it’s possible to get schools to serve healthy foods. This past summer, I read a great article about lunches at one school in France, where all the food is locally sourced and prepared (including freshly baked bread every day), the menus are reviewed by a certified dietician, and the only beverage is water. Unfortunately, attempts to nudge American schools in that direction have been both heavy-handed and unsuccessful.
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Slingshot or Boomerang? Your Choice

Dear Mr. Dad: Our 15-year old son is still a few years away from college, but my wife and I are already thinking about when he’s going to move out and begin a life on his own. A number of our friends have kids who have already graduated from college and one after another, those kids are moving back home. We love our son and would be happy to have him visit anytime—or move back for a short time in case of emergency—but we really want him to be self-sufficient. What can we do now to make sure he can make it on his own out there?

A: The fact that you’re asking the question at all gives your son a better chance than other kids his age of thriving in the real world. Too many parents cross their fingers and hope for the best; you’re actually taking steps to make it happen. For everyone else, finger crossing and hoping aren’t terribly effective strategies.

A recent report from the Pew Research Center found that the percentage of young adults living at home has more than doubled over the past three decades or so. Back in 1980, about 11% of adults 20-34 spent some time living with their parents. Today, it’s nearly 30%. Young men are a bit more likely than young women to be sharing a roof with ma and pa.

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Sometimes Being “Good Enough” Is Plenty

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m a newly divorced single father. I hear a lot about how children in divorced families have all sorts of behavioral problems, do worse in school, abuse drugs, are depressed and anxious, and on and on. It’s scaring the heck out of me and makes me think that no matter what I do, my kids are doomed. I want to be an amazing dad and give my kids the best possible life. Isn’t there something I can do?

A: I get this question a lot and wish there was some way to get the media to quit portraying children in divorced families as self-destructive, failure-bombs waiting to explode. The reality is that kids whose parents have split (whether by divorce or the breakup of a never-married couple), can do just as well as any other kids. There are definitely some obstacles, but they can be overcome. Here are a few ideas that will help.
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