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Our children’s fingerprints are all over everything – on the mirror in the bathroom, the fridge we just cleaned, and in places we didn’t even think they could reach. I pretty much follow my kids around the house with a roll of paper towels and glass cleaner.


What if those adorable little smudges could help our schools become more secure and efficient?

Biometric technology – technology that uses our unique biological traits, such as fingerprints or retina scans – is popping up everywhere. It may even be on your child’s school-issued device or laptop right now.

Bayometric, a company that makes biometric verification technology, suggests that using biometrics can provide greater security, accuracy, and efficiency in schools. It’s an easy sell. Who wouldn’t want their child’s school to be safer and more efficient? Bayometric’s marketing materials play right into the worries many parents have about their children:

  • A bully could steal your child’s lunch card and eat her lunch.
  • Your child might forget his PIN and not have time to eat lunch.
  • If your child loses her lunch card, the delay it creates could prevent other children from having enough time to eat lunch.
  • Attendance cards can be lost – will your child be counted?
  • Proxy attendance isn’t always accurate, which creates a security risk.

By the time I was done reading Bayometric’s reasons why we need their technology in our schools, my anxious mama-mind was in full tilt. Had a bully ever stolen my child’s lunch card? Had he ever been overlooked during attendance taking? What if he didn’t have time to eat because someone forgot their lunch card? After taking some deep, cleansing breaths and watching a few cat videos, I was able to think calmly again.

Despite its supporters’ claims of extra security and increased efficiency, allowing our schools to use biometric technology could be a step in the wrong direction. Here are some reasons I found that dissuade me from the use of biometric technology in schools.

The laws around biometric data aren’t clear

Biometric data collection is serious business. When a government body wants our fingerprints or DNA, it must demonstrate a reason for that collection and it usually requires a court order. There’s a reason for that: biometric data consists of a small number of unique identifiers that is irreplaceable. If our data gets stolen, we can’t call a toll-free number and request a new set of fingerprints.

Voluntarily handing our child’s biometric information over to a private company is risky. Laws controlling how corporations use biometric data vary from state to state. Our data may be protected by some general privacy laws and guidelines, but biometric data is essentially uncharted territory. Where they exist, current laws lean in the direction of protecting our children’s data. This may not always be the case. Therefore, our children’s biometric identifiers, and the data associated with them, may not be as secure as we’d like.

Once you give it up, you have no control

In addition to laws, biometric data is also controlled by the contract between the technology provider and our child’s school. So, for example, there may be a clause in the contract that permits the corporation to sell our children’s lunch-buying habits to marketers in exchange for more favorable contract terms. There might be a provision permitting the school to disclose data to health insurance providers, which could have repercussions if your child has issues such as diabetes, ADHD, or allergies.

Even more worrisome: at the bottom of the contract, in very fine print, there may be a clause that permits the technology provider to modify the terms of how it uses the data collected at any time. While this sounds like a far-fetched conspiracy theory, consider that AncestryDNA did exactly this to its customers. It’s also not unreasonable to foresee that schools might determine that there is an efficiency advantage to linking school lunch purchases to food inventory needs. This kind of statistical data may seem innocuous at first, but remember that all of it is permanently tied back to our children’s identity.

As consumers and technology users, we routinely provide corporations with information about our purchasing habits. When we do, it’s typically by using email and a password or by connecting to our Facebook page. By using biometrics at the point of sale in the school cafeteria, we are permitting our children’s lunch purchases to be linked to them, specifically, as opposed to that data being linked to a disposable or replaceable identifier such as an email address.

We simply can’t be sure how the data collected might be used in the future. Once data is associated to our children’s fingerprints, there’s not much that can be done if laws change or information is stolen.

Your child might learn less

Data security is a huge concern. However, of even bigger concern are the opportunities to learn social and problem-solving skills that our children lose when their lunch purchases are automated. Using biometrics in the cafeteria deprives our children of opportunities to develop skills they’ll need for the rest of their lives.

Many of our students already use PINs and meal cards for buying lunch. When our children buy their lunch, they learn how to make a purchase appropriately by waiting their turn, moving their food safely down the lunch line, and then completing the transaction by interacting with the adult who takes their payment. They also have an opportunity to practice their manners in during social interactions.

Throughout their lives, our children will be required to keep track of their belongings and memorize small pieces of information. Keeping their lunch card safe or memorizing a PIN is a low-risk way to begin teaching those skills. When our child loses her card or forgets her PIN, she’ll learn problem-solving skills such as figuring out who to ask for help. Or, to use an example provided by Bayometrics, he may learn how to handle a bully who’s trying to steal his lunch money. We need to let our children try and fail. Making mistakes is the key to learning and developing resiliency.

In an increasingly digital world, teaching our children how to manage their personal information safely is an important job.

If this concerns you, here’s what to do

If you’re concerned about your school’s use of biometric technology, there are a few important things you can do.

  • Familiarize yourself with the data privacy laws in your state.
  • If you can, start attending school board meetings. If you can’t be there in person, meeting minutes are typically posted online or available by email. It’s always a good idea to stay abreast of school board goings-on, and with the rapid increase in technology use it’s doubly important.
  • If the school board has biometric technology on their agenda, write letters to your school board members and speak up at the meeting. Encourage other parents to join you.
  • If your school district is already on the path to bringing biometric technology into the district, request a copy of the contract and read it closely. The district may not want to provide a copy of the contract to you, so you may need to learn how to request public records in your state.
  • During school board election season, ask your candidates where they stand on biometric technology.

Don’t ever be afraid to advocate for your child by speaking up, writing letters, or making phone calls. If you have concerns about the use of your child’s biometric data, there is nothing wrong with being that parent and opting out of its use.

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When we consider all the skills our kids will need to succeed in the future, what comes to mind? Perhaps creativity, tech skills, or an excellent understanding of math might be at the top of many parents' lists. Social-emotional skills, like empathy, compassion, or the ability to understand another person's viewpoint may not be the ones you thought of right away, but deep down you know they matter.

We've all had those co-workers who didn't know how to listen to our ideas or friends who couldn't compromise with others. We know that in the work world and in our personal life, emotional skills are key to developing and maintaining healthy relationships.

If you are the parent of a toddler, you know that young children are inherently self-centered. It's not some faulty aspect of their character or a misstep of parenting skills. Young children simply do not have the brain maturity to consider another person's perspective or needs just yet—their brain physically is not ready to handle that kind of mental work.

However, child development research shows us that we can do a few things along the developmental path to help foster social-emotional skills in our kids. With a little help from us, our kids' brains can develop with meaningful connections that tune them into the feelings of others.

Here's how:

1. Treat others how you want your kids to treat others.

How we talk to our kids becomes their internal dialogue. We know from research that this goes for emotional skills as well. A recent study showed that when parents talk to their kids more about how other people might be feeling, the kids had better perspective-taking abilities—the ability to see a situation from another person's point of view.

This, of course, is the basis of many emotional skills, especially empathy. Just by talking about another person's feelings, kids begin to develop those crucial brain connections that help them develop empathy.

It's worth pointing out that very young children under ages 3-4 do not have the brain maturity to really understand another person's perspective. They lack a crucial skill that psychologists call Theory of Mind, meaning they can't understand the mind of another person.

However, our urgings and thoughtful phrasing to point out how another person might be feeling can only help them down this developmental path. Then, once their little brain matures, they will be in the habit of hearing and understanding the feelings of others.

2. Model positive emotional behavior in daily life.

It's probably not surprising to learn that how we react to our kids' feelings influences their emotional development. When your child gets upset, do you get angry or ruffled by their big emotions? We are all human, of course, so sometimes our kids' emotions are the exact triggers that fuel our big feelings, too. However, if we can remain the calm in the emotional storm for our kids, their development will benefit. Through modeling emotional regulation, over time our kids will learn how to self-regulate as well.

One study, in fact, showed that toddlers whose parents exhibited anger or over-reacted to tantrums were likely to have more tantrums and negative emotionality by the end of the study. However, the opposite dynamic can happen, too. Parents who model firm, but calm emotional regulation help their kids learn these skills as well.

3. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions.

Many times, we feel that one of our main jobs as a parent is to protect our children from the big, often overwhelming emotions of adults. For instance, we try not to break down crying or become red-faced with anger in front of our kids. It just feels too big for them to handle and perhaps not developmentally appropriate.

As they mature, however, older kids are able to handle a bit more discussion and expression of honest emotions. Have you noticed that kids usually pick up on the fact that you are upset even if you try to hide it? Kids are naturally curious and, many times, very sensitive to the emotional tenor at home. If they are developmentally ready, this can be a good time to have more discussions about emotions and how to handle them.

For example, my 9-year-old is playing a lot of baseball this summer and always wants me to pitch to him so he can practice batting. Now, I am not a very skilled player so my pitches often go off course or are too weak. He had gotten in the habit of correcting my pitching or (more likely) complaining about it every time we played.

After repeated experiences with this, I was not only annoyed but it also sort of hurt my feelings—so I finally told him how I felt. Guess what? His behavior at practice time changed dramatically! The mere fact of him realizing that his mom has feelings too really made him think about his words more carefully.

These types of interaction can become part of your "emotion coaching." It may sound silly but it can make a big impact for kids, especially as they grow older and are more able to really understand the emotional lesson. On some level, it's nice that our kids think we are superheroes, but it's also crucial that they understand that we are still human, with real feelings.

The magic of helping our kids develop empathy doesn't happen in well-planned lessons or elaborate activities. The real magic happens in the small, simple interactions and discussions we have with our kids each day.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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Sometimes it can feel like you never get a minute to even finish a thought—let alone a to-do list. When your day is packed with caretaking, your own needs get pushed back. So when you finally get to lie down at the end of the day, all those thoughts are waiting for you. While we haven't figured out the secret to keeping you from over-analyzing every.single.thing. (sorry, mama!), we do believe you must carve out time for you. Because that rest is just as important—and you've certainly earned it.

XO,

#TeamMotherly

PS: We spoke to Jessica Alba and she gave us the lowdown on why she stopped breastfeeding, and Nordstrom is having their anniversary sale until August 5th. Here's everything we want!

My Instagram feed has been full of pictures of friends that their kids to the beach. I get it, I like the beach a lot. But the forest and the mountains are my real loves.

The way the damp leaves smell in the morning. The peace of walking underneath a canopy of trees. The sound of firewood crackling at night. Sigh, heaven.

I also grew up camping with my family and have done some intense hiking, backpacking and search and rescue. So it's kind of in my blood—I wear my frostbite scars with honor.

So I couldn't wait to get my future kids out into nature (minus the frostbite). I had visions of us hiking to a stream, swimming and splashing all day, then cooking a big meal over a campfire as we sing songs and laugh.

Then, I actually became a parent. Of three kids, actually, all of whom are still very young… and a dog… and a husband who doesn't really like camping.

Despite the realization that it wouldn't be exactly as I planned, this summer we finally decided to take our first camping trip as a family.

Here is what I learned:

1. Set the bar low

I had to remind myself over and over again that this trip would not live up to my expectations. I know this sounds like a bummer way to start a trip, but it really helped. I have the tendency to over-plan and get really (really) excited about things. This is not a bad quality, but it can lend itself to disappointment when things don't go as hoped. I didn't want us to leave the trip feeling like it was a failure in any way.

This trip was a success, and a big moment for our family, no matter how it turned out.

Instead of forcing activities or memories, I forced myself to just… be. Not expecting the trip to be magical opened us up to appreciate the unexpected moments of magic as they occurred naturally, without being forced.

This got harder, of course, when our car got stuck in the mud (true story), and we had to wait three hours for AAA to arrive. But when our kids talk about the camping trip now they still squeal with delight as they recount the story of the tow truck coming. You're welcome (I guess)?

2. We made it really easy

I put my camping ego aside, and we took a lot of shortcuts on this first trip. We didn't stay in a tent but rented a barebones cabin instead. For dinner, we ordered a pizza. And we let the kids play on our phones for a little bit in the evening.

Those things didn't make for a truly authentic experience, but goodness, they really helped. I have started to realize that there is no shame in making things easy, especially when you have little kids. And they didn't know any different. As far as they are concerned, we hiked the Appalachian Trail and gathered all our own food from the earth.

This was a lazy camping trip, for sure—and that was exactly what we needed.

3. I over-prepped for safety so I could calm down

I have hiked and camped in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in February—this was not that. At any given moment on our trip, an ambulance could have easily reached us, and we were only a few minutes away from a hospital at any point. But it made me feel much better to know that we were safe and ready for anything that should happen.

We bought a first aid kit, a survival kit, too many flashlights and bottled water. I was really big on everyone wearing good footwear and teaching them how to walk carefully on uneven terrain.

We also used the opportunity to teach about other areas, like water safety. Rita Goldberg of the British Swim School recommends "[teaching kids] to avoid water hazards and to not approach a fountain, river, pool or lake without an adult's supervision and permission."

We also incorporated their "Water Watcher" program, which assigns a "badge of responsibility" to one adult at all times, who maintains a constant watch over the kids while they are near water.

These easy steps, that we decided on ahead of time, made me feel much more relaxed, and therefore better able to enjoy our time.

This trip took some emotional adjustments on my part. It wasn't glamorous, or particularly exciting. But that was exactly what it needed to be. Emily Glover wrote that "by getting away from the distractions of home and focusing on each other...we're reminded of what really matters."

We found that in the woods—together.

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