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Pregnant? So Stress a Little!

Tuesday, June 6, 2006 11:00 AM

A little worry goes a long way, especially between weeks 24 and 32 of pregnancy. A study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore found that pregnant women who reported "moderate" levels of stress and anxiety during those weeks had babies who were more advanced in motor and mental skills by age 2.

Author Janet DiPietro notes that stress produces chemicals that influence organ and development growth. This also suggests that mothers who worry "may be the type of women who challenge or push themselves; they may in turn challenge/push their babies to develop faster," DiPietro told Reuters. She hopes the study helps moms stop "worrying about worrying."

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Summer Reading

While we're on the subject: Are you worried about a summertime slippage in your children's productive pursuits? A little literature will cure them of total brain drain. Here are several suggestions to get your children reading while they're out of school.

From the Houston Chronicle: Give your kids a book allowance, maybe in the form of a gift card; form a kids' book club and meet over ice cream to discuss the story.

From the Rocky Mountain News: a list of good books for small ones about beaches and gardens, for days when it's too hot or rainy to actually be in those places.

From the Indianapolis Star: Math and science are covered in school hours, but reading happens largely at home. "Children are heavily influenced by the vocabulary skills of their parents and by how often they observe their parents reading,"

From the Fort Worth Star Telegram: Boys like reading, but not always the fiction that their moms consider real reading. Although it's a broad generalization, it may ring true to many parents. Boys read for information and may crave the Guinness Book of World Records more than stories about relationships between people.

And from libraries all over: Go to the library. It's free, it's air-conditioned, and it's bound to have a good summer reading program.

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Reading for Boys

When it comes to reading, boys are in a special class. Studies show boys lag behind girls in reading skills, and a lack of success can turn some boys into a serious anti-readers.

But Parenting newsletter readers helped compile a list of books, comics and magazines that their boys love. Check the list, organized by age and interest. We also have collected helpful Web sites and a few tips from parents.

The list is still growing. What's it missing? You can send your boys' favorites to parenting@washingtonpost.com and I'll add them to the page.

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Discussion Transcript: How to Keep Kids Learning on Summer Vacation

Summer Reading: Junk Food for Girls

We all know summer reading is good for kids, but if your daughter is reading about sex, drugs, or alcohol, obsessing over body image, obsessing over trendy labels, back-stabbing friends and engaging in bald-faced consumerism, is it still good?

"The Notebook Girls" is a condensed version of an actual diary passed between four teenage girls at a prestigious New York high school.

The girls' casual references to drugs and sex have outraged some parents, and led literary agents, like Adam Chromy of Artists and Artisans Inc., to quit the young adult genre altogether, according to the London Independent. "I wasn't comfortable with the trend where the books were becoming more sexual and the authors were becoming younger or more scandalous to compete," Chromy said.

But Post book reviewer Suzanne D'Amato calls the diary entries "silly, prototypically teenage moments" but finds the book's overall real-life insights appealing. "Many entries are nevertheless mature and insightful, traversing 'You hooked up with him?!' terrain to tackle topics such as racism, sexism and sexual orientation."

Co-author Sophie Pollitt-Cohen said showing the notebooks to her parents was hard, but beneficial, she told the Daily Princetonian. Her father was the one who suggested they publish it.

"Ultimately, it made each of our families much more honest," she said. "We could now really communicate honestly and confide in our parents. How can you get advice if you're lying to them? So much more trust. It wasn't fun at the time. But I think it's been great."

Whether you like it or not, the take-home lesson: You ought to know what your teens are reading.

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Book 'Packages' for Girls

While the "Notebook Girls" are real, "The Gossip Girls" and other books in the serial teenage chick-lit genre are hot this summer, despite the plagiarism scandal surrounding "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed." Not only do they expand the boundaries on teen girl morality, these books about rich girls and the mean things they do to each other are platforms for marketers to sell their trendy products. The books are "packaged" as much as written by marketing companies that get publishers to buy ideas for novels aimed at teens and tweens.

Characters in these books form "an army of Prada-clad, champagne-drinking, oversexed teenagers," writes Christina Vanoverbeke of the East Valley, Ariz., Tribune.

"They are all about really rich girls who are really into clothes, money and guys," said Faith Hochhalter, who buys books for teens at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe. "And most of them are really mean."

One series, It Girl, a Gossip Girls spinoff, even includes a buying guide for the outfit on the cover model.

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Reading Teachers From Mars, Science Teachers From Venus

A male teacher is good for boys but bad for girls when it comes to middle-school reading, according to an economist at Swarthmore College.

One year with a male teacher would slash one third of the gender gap in reading among 13-year-olds, The Post's Richard Morin explains of the study. That's bad news for boys, because more than eight in 10 sixth- and eighth-grade reading and English teachers are women.

On the other hand, a year with a female teacher would help close the science and math gap for girls -- good news for girls, as most middle school science and math teachers are women.

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E-Mail Bag: Not Your Mother's Barbie

Last week's story on Hasbro ditching its plan to sell a line of dolls, based on the Hollywood burlesque-troupe-turned-pop-group Pussycat Dolls, brought a boatload of congratulatory e-mail from parents.

A letter-writing campaign by advocacy groups Dads and Daughters and Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood convinced the company that the band was "focused on a much older target than we had anticipated."

"The fact that toymakers didn't anticipate a backlash should tell us something," writes Susan Reeve of Tabernacle, N.J. "Parents, these toymakers believe, are just inconvenient fiduciary intermediaries.Only parents stand between kids and everyperversion under the sun."

"I seriously doubt the people being paid to make these decisions were put there because of their concern for children," writes Jan of Severna Park, Md.

"As a 20-year-old," writes Kelly of Oakton, Va., "I feel like I was the last generation of kids that was able to grow up without having 'sexiness' thrown in my face. There was nodemand for, and no need for, dolls that resembled today's (or yesterday's) sex symbols."

But at least one mother thinks parents need to relax a little. "I think it is a shame that people are so uptight about what their kids should or should not be exposed to," writes Kimberly of North Beach, Md. "Perhaps these uptight parents should just not allow their little girls to have these dolls instead of trying to be the toy judges for an entire society."

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