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The idea of the “bullshit detector” as a mindset that separates truth from fiction was coined by George Washington in 1782. Actually, that fact is bullshit, but I bet someone will retweet it.


Bullshit is all around us. Digital communication, perpetual advertising, the 24-hour news cycle, and social media allows BS to flow like never before. (Sorry for that image.)

Grownups (mostly) understand this, but unfortunately children are the most susceptible to BS. The consequences of having a weak BS detector are most serious for teenagers, who are wired to experiment and push boundaries.

I don’t mean to be dire. Most kids eventually learn to detect BS at some level. Education and experience teach kids how to make choices over time. But preemptively guiding your kids to develop a BS detector can do three things:

  1. Keep them from wasting time, money, and mental energy.
  2. Empower them to practice critical thinking early on (a necessary skill in our digital economy).
  3. Protect their sense of openness and wonder, by teaching them to constructively direct their attention.

What Bullshit Is

“Communication or actions viewed as deceiving, misleading, disingenuous, unfair or false.”

In his bestselling essay “On Bullshit,” retired Princeton philosophy professor Harry G. Frankfurt wrote that “bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.”

I found this useful definition of bullshit from Simon Hayes on Quora: “The key ingredient in all flavours of bullshit is the undisclosed agenda.”

Bullshit is intentional misdirection. Unlike pure lying, it often contains elements of truth, which better conceals the bullshitter’s agenda. Bullshitters are only concerned with their own advantage. They usually don’t mean to harm others, though that’s often a consequence of bullshit. And some bullshit is worse than others.

When to Introduce the Concept

Kids start knowing the difference between the truth and lying by age 3. This is also when they begin to become more cognitively aware of the consequences of lying. Many kids at this age have a very strong sense of fairness. (Anyone with young kids has heard the phrase “It’s not fair!” many, many times.)

At that age, kids are also exposed to the concepts of manipulation and trickery in their stories, fairy tales and cartoons. However, they might not connect the lessons in those fables with their own lives.

Therefore, they need a bit of guidance to develop their a baloney detector (in kid speak).

How to Help Your Kids Build a BS Detector

Questions Are The Most Powerful Tool

A requirement for BS detection is a habit of instinctively asking questions. The ability to “think in questions” is also necessary for critical thinking, and a key life skill.

The best way to get kids in the habit of questioning is by asking them open-ended questions:

  • “I wonder how they know that?”
  • “That seems incredible! Does that make sense to you?”
  • “I wonder why they chose to say that?”
  • “What do you think is really going on here?”
  • “What do you think ______ is hoping to get out of this ad, statement, etc?”

Don’t tell them that their answers are right or wrong. Engage in conversation. Keep it light. Over time, they’ll learn to constructively ask questions themselves – even when you’re not around.

Simply being able to ask questions (and at later stages of development, knowing how to formulate good questions) is the best way to discover that a bullshitter has an “undisclosed agenda” as mentioned above.

Use Teachable Moments

Respectfully pointing out BS when it occurs can help provide context for how it works. If your kids are young, point out examples of BS in the media, on product packaging, and in ads, rather than focusing on people who are full of bullshit.

Sometimes I’ll simply point out a TV ad that seems misleading.  I’ll say “What do you think this ad is selling?” Or “What do you think it really means?”

Building on the research element noted below, I might look up the sugar in a cereal featured in an ad on TV and ask “How can a cereal that’s more than half sugar claim it’s healthy, when we know that too much sugar is bad for our health?”

Fairytales, children’s stories, and cartoons also provide accesible teachable moments. The villains in these tales are often great bullshitters.

(BTW, giving a kid an allowance and making them use it also quickly attunes kids to marketing BS.)

Deploy Humor

There are two ways of using humor to build immunity to BS. The first is making fun of blatant, ridiculous examples of BS. The claims of almost any “As Seen on TV” product are a reliable target for this.

Joking around as a family also helps kids develop healthy perspective and skepticism. It also helps them appreciate the nuances of language – language being the chief weapon of bullshit.

Research Together

When some dubious claim comes along, be a positive role model and investigate it. This is practically a family game in my house.

A quick Google search is usually enough (though it’s possible to go down a rabbit hole, double and triple checking the information found on Wikipedia, etc.). The rule of thumb for quick research is to seek information from an unaffiliated source.

In some cases, however, the most fun way to verify a fact is by talking to a real person – a parent, grandparent, a family friend, or teacher. Simply saying, “Let’s ask your mom what she thinks” also sets a positive precedent for getting second opinions.

As They Get Older

As kids get older, you can start talking to them about some of the specific markers of BS in language and communication. Some of these include:

  • Friendliness without friendship – salespeople and politicians are the worst at this. When someone you don’t know fawns all over you, it’s almost certain they want something from you.
  • Vague language – so often the sign of bs.
  • Claims of authority without expertise
  • Claims without facts, or (more insidious) claims with unrelated facts

With older kids, you can also check out these great animations about critical thinking. They’re designed for kids aged 12 and up or so – but younger kids might like them too.

Older kids can also learn how to perform quality research.

Protecting Wonder

The first rule of BS is to expect it. It’s never too early to introduce the cliche that “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

But there’s a fear that in teaching kids to expect BS, they’ll grow up as cynical doubters or disengaged pessimists.

It’s important to guard kid’s openness and natural sense of wonder. I loathe the idea that, in anticipating bullshit (manipulation and insincerity), wonder might wither into unthinking skepticism.

However, my belief is that by having the understanding, practice, and confidence to question and think for themselves, they’ll have richer lives and remain wide-open to wonder.

Indeed, one of the greatest benefits of having a finely tuned bullshit detector is also having a a finely tuned detector for sincerity and gratitude.

Carl Sagan pondered this enigma. He wrote:

“If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you. You never learn anything new. You become a crotchety old person convinced that nonsense is ruling the world. (There is, of course, much data to support you.) But every now and then, maybe once in a hundred cases, a new idea turns out to be on the mark, valid and wonderful. If you are too much in the habit of being skeptical about everything, you are going to miss or resent it, and either way you will be standing in the way of understanding and progress.

On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish the useful as from the worthless ones. If all ideas have equal validity then you are lost, because then, it seems to me, no ideas have any validity at all.

Some ideas are better than others. The machinery for distinguishing them is an essential tool in dealing with the world and especially in dealing with the future. And it is precisely the mix of these two modes of thought that is central to the success of science.”

Swap the word “science” for “life” in that last sentence.

Our kids will be subjected to bullshit throughout their lives. At first, having a BS detector can help them make smarter choices at school, on the playground, and with their allowance at the store.

As they grow older, having a well-honed BS detector can help them kids make smarter choices with their health, finances, and in their work, community and romantic relationships.

*Warning

Some parents may not want to teach their kids to ask questions, think for themselves, and preemptively detect bullshit. That’s because someday the kids might call their parents on their bullshit. Understandable, perhaps. But this is the place to note that the most insidious source of bullshit comes from oneself.

Also, if you’re really good at this teaching your kids to understand bullshit, they probably won’t believe in Santa for very long.

Further reading:

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Unstructured play is play without predetermined rules of the game. There are no organized teams, uniforms, coaches or trainers. It is spontaneous, often made-up on the spot, and changeable as the day goes on. It is the kind of play you see when puppies chase each other around a yard in endless circles or a group of kids play for hours in a fort they created out of old packing boxes.

Unstructured play is fun—no question about it—but research also tells us that it is critically important for the development of children's bodies and brains.

One of the best ways to encourage unstructured play in young children is by providing open-ended toys, or toys that can be used multiple ways. People Toy Company knows all about that. Since 1977, they've created toys and products designed to naturally encourage developmental milestones—but to kids, it all just feels like play.

Here are five reasons why unstructured play is crucial for your children—

1. It changes brain structure in important ways

In a recent interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Sergio Pellis, Ph.D., an expert on the neuroscience of play noted that play actually changes the structure of the developing brain in important ways, strengthening the connections of the neurons (nerve cells) in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain considered to be the executive control center responsible for solving problems, making plans and regulating emotions.

Because unstructured play involves trying out different strategies without particular goals or serious consequences, children and other animals get to practice different activities during play and see what happens. When Dr. Pellis compared rats who played as pups with rats that did not, he found that although the play-deprived rats could perform the same actions, the play-experienced rats were able to react to their circumstances in a more flexible, fluid and swift fashion.

Their brains seemed more "plastic" and better able to rewire as they encountered new experiences.

Hod Lipson, a computer scientist at Cornell sums it up by saying the gift of play is that it teaches us how to deal with the unexpected—a critically important skill in today's uncertain world.

2. Play activates the entire neocortex

We now know that gene expression (whether a gene is active or not) is affected by many different things in our lives, including our environment and the activities we participate in. Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., a Professor at the University of Washington studied play in rats earning him the nickname of the "rat tickler."

He found that even a half hour of play affected the activity of many different genes and activated the outer part of the rats' brains known as the neocortex, the area of the brain used in higher functions such as thinking, language and spatial reasoning. We don't know for sure that this happens in humans, but some researchers believe that it probably does.

3. It teaches children to have positive interaction with others

It used to be thought that animal play was simply practice so that they could become more effective hunters. However, Dr. Panksepp's study of play in rats led him to the conclusion that play served an entirely different function: teaching young animals how to interact with others in positive ways. He believed that play helps build pro-social brains.

4. Children who play are often better students

The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child's social skills in the third grade. Dr. Pellis notes that "countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less."

5. Unstructured play gets kids moving

We all worry that our kids are getting too little physical activity as they spend large chunks of their time glued to their electronic devices with only their thumbs getting any exercise. Unstructured play, whether running around in the yard, climbing trees or playing on commercial play structures in schools or public parks, means moving the whole body around.

Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight and combats the development of Type 2 diabetes—a condition all too common in American children—by increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

It is tempting in today's busy world for parents and kids to fill every minute of their day with structured activities—ranging from Spanish classes before school to soccer and basketball practice after and a full range of special classes and camps on the weekends and summer vacation. We don't remember to carve out time for unstructured play, time for kids to get together with absolutely nothing planned and no particular goals in mind except having fun.

The growing body of research on the benefits of unstructured play suggests that perhaps we should rethink our priorities.

Not sure where to get started? Here are four People Toy Company products that encourage hours of unstructured play.

1. People Blocks Zoo Animals

These colorful, magnetic building blocks are perfect for encouraging unstructured play in children one year and beyond. The small pieces fit easily in the hands of smaller children, and older children will love creating their own shapes and designs with the magnetic pieces.

People Blocks Zoo Animals 17 Piece Set, People Toy Company, $34.99

BUY


This article was sponsored by People Toy Company. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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So many parents wish there was a way we could add more hours to the day. Unfortunately, we're stuck with just 24 of them, but we can try to make the most of the time we've got. One way more and more working mamas are maximizing the time we do have is by cutting out the commute and working from home.

It can add an hour or two back to your day, and (depending on your hours and circumstances) it can even make childcare arrangements easier. And with more big companies offering legit remote opportunities, it's easier than ever for parents to find these opportunities. As Motherly recently reported, Amazon is on a bit of a remote hiring spree ahead of the holiday season, and it's not the only one.

Williams-Sonoma is currently seeking Seasonal Customer Service Associates to work from home. It is looking for remote workers in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Phoenix, Reno, Tulsa, and near Raleigh, Columbus, Braselton, and Oklahoma City.

These work-from-home positions are part of Williams-Sonoma's plan to hire about 3,500 associates for its Customer Care Centers. The company says a "significant portion of positions" for the Customer Care Centers will be work-from-home. They're looking for remote workers who live no more than an hour and a half away from one of the Customer Care Centers as "on occasion our Work From Home associates must come to the Care Center for meetings and training with advanced notice," the company notes in the job postings.


The positions are very similar to what Amazon is looking for: Basically customer service reps who can take inbound calls to help shoppers with orders, returns and issues with finding products or deliveries of products. Williams-Sonoma is looking for people who can work 30 - 50 hours per week, and the pay is listed at $12 per hour.

Another perk is a 40% discount on most merchandise, which great because the Williams-Sonoma umbrella includes brands like Pottery Barn and West Elm as well.

Sounds like this could be a great gig for a mama with customer service skills and a high-speed internet connection.

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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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Plenty of modern motherhood paraphernalia was made to be seen—think breastfeeding pillows that seamlessly blend into living room decor or diaper bags that look like stylish purses. The breast pump though, usually isn't on that list.

It's traditionally been used in the privacy of our homes and hotel rooms in the best case scenarios, and in storage closets and restrooms in the worst circumstances. For a product that is very often used by mothers because they need to be in public spaces (like work and school), the breast pump lives a very private life.

Thankfully, some high profile moms are changing that by posting their pump pics on Instagram. These influential mamas aren't gonna hide while they pump, and may change the way the world (and product designers) see this necessary accessory.

1. Gail Simmons 

Top Chef's Gail Simmons looked amazing on the red carpet at the 2018 Emmys, but a few days after the award show the cookbook author, television host and new mama gave the world a sneak peek into her backstage experience. It wasn't all glam for Gail, who brought her pump and hands-free bra along on the big night.

We're thankful to these women for showing that breast pumps belong in public and in our Instagram feeds.

[Update, September 21, 2018: This post was originally published on May 31, 2018, but has been updated to include a recent Instagram post by Gail Simmons.]

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I was feeling off the other day. Something wasn't right, and I couldn't seem to put my finger on it or kick it for that matter. As the day progressed, it didn't get much better. It was a typical day for us, with the usual 2-year-old meltdowns and chaos that happens when you have two babies close in age.

Nothing was out of the norm, but I just wasn't feeling completely like myself. And right after getting my daughters to bed, when I was alone with my thoughts, the feelings intensified. Through the silence, I heard a soft and familiar voice criticizing my mothering, telling me "You don't do anything right." "You are failing your kids."

My anxiety was attacking me, knowing I am weakest on my own. But I knew what I needed to do. So I took out my phone and dialed, listening to the ringing on the other end.

Waiting for the person who always comforts me.

Who always makes everything better.

Who has the magic words when it comes to calming my soul.

"Hi." She answered the phone.

"Hi Mom," I said, as my voice cracked. I can mask my pain for everyone—but her.

"Everything is going to be okay," she reassured me from over the phone as I broke down to her. I hung up feeling so much better. Because—truly—there is nothing in this entire world like a mother's reassurance. I know that not everyone has this kind of relationship with her mother. That, I am indeed one of the lucky ones—but we can all hope to become this for our own children.

And you, mama, contract that magic right when you give birth.

This magic doesn't make you perfect and all-knowing. No, you don't have all the answers. No one has that. You just need to be you—your sweet baby's mama. That title comes with that last push or lift out of the womb. It could also come if your baby is handed over through adoption or surrogacy.

It doesn't matter the means, the magic comes the second your baby is placed into your arms. It comes with a force so strong it leaves a mark on your heart. It transforms you into a mother. You are enough just by being that person who opens her arms and accepts this baby as yours forever.

Your soft-skinned newborn is placed on your chest, shrieking, tears dripping down her cheeks and onto her pout. The little muscles in her chin trembling with such force, her face is on the verge of turning bright red. Then you cuddle her close and feed her. "Everything is going to be okay." She finds peace in the warmth of your body, her skin on your skin.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When your baby becomes a toddler, and he falls and gets his first scrape, screaming, because it's a new kind of painful sensation—an open wound. "Everything is going to be okay," you say to slow his tears and scoop him up into your arms. You clean that scratch out and apply Neosporin.

You put a Band-Aid on, sealed with a kiss, and wipe away his tears. You will always be there to pick him up when he falls—literally, now...and figuratively, in the future when he is grown.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When she goes to her first day of preschool, and you have to separate from each other. She cries as you hold your tears back, as you assure her, "Everything is going to be okay. Mommy always comes back." And of course, you do, and you hold onto those words yourself—repeating them to stay strong.

Because when you are together, everything is right again. You let her go because it's the right thing to do.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When he gets his heart broken for the first time, he will feel like the only person that truly knew him has abandoned him. He'll feel as if he will never find that again. He may not have the proper coping mechanisms yet to deal with that level of pain.

He comes to you in tears over losing the love of his life. You comfort him and assure him "Everything is going to be okay." Because you know this as fact because he is the love of your life. And, one day, if he has a child—he will feel the same way.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When life kicks her in the rear-end. When she is struggling to find her place in this wild world, feeling so alone. When she needs support. She doesn't ask you directly, but your mom intuition whispers to you, pulling on that mark on your heart, and so—you make the call.

"Everything is going to be okay," you say into the phone. The sky won't fall and Chicken Little will not witness the world ending because she can't figure it all out right this second. Finding her place in this world will take time, but it will happen. Right now, and for always, you are her safe place, her landing pad.

One day our babies may have babies of their own. When they are sad they will say, "Everything is going to be okay."

They will know that sometimes all our children need is reassurance from us—their safe place. Their soul-soother. Their heart.

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