Social Media and Our Children – We Can Say No

In a recent video produced by Boston Children’s Museum, we explored parents’ concerns about the challenges of parenting in a fast-changing, complex world. Many of the parents expressed concern about their children’s social media usage. Of course, we want our children to be fully fluent with the technology they will have to utilize in our increasingly high-tech world, but does that include social media? While understanding that technology is a very important learning tool, we must also acknowledge the dangers of enabling our young kids to socialize online before they have practiced developing and maintaining real friendships and before they have explored their own identity and developed some resilience and maturity.

Parents are worried about their kids spending too much time on screens, feeling left out by their friends online or, even worse, being cyber-bullied. We worry that they may be enticed to grow up too fast, or take on an identity that is not their own in order to belong. We worry about their privacy and safety in a realm we cannot control. All these are issues that are very important to be aware of, to monitor, and to feel empowered to address. We need to rigorously protect our kids’ privacy and monitor their interactions on the web. Now, we also need to protect their data, which has become a very valuable commodity. Think about it – the habits of our daily lives –  what we buy, what we care about, what we do with our time –  are collected, analyzed, quantified and sold to eager marketers who use our information for a multitude of purposes. This is a fact of modern life that, to some extent, we have come to accept. But what about our children’s information?

In a Washington Post article of May 16th, Valerie Strauss states, “Whether you know it or not, there is a remarkable amount of personal information about children now being collected by schools and their vendors that is then shared with government agencies, for-profit companies and other entities, all without parent consent.” This information goes beyond a child’s name, address and age. It can include their test scores, health data, medical records, grades and even what they had for lunch in school. The information is often stored “in the cloud,” offering access in a realm that is very new and not carefully regulated.

Several years ago, Leonie Haimson and Rachael Stickland, raised the alarm and started the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy along with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Their important work is laid out in Strauss’s article. Their work led to the creation of the Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy, an indispensable collection of information and tips about how to ensure your child’s data privacy is protected at school.

But school isn’t the only place where our children’s information is available. In a recent Wall Street Journal Article (December 52017), journalists Betsy Morris and Deepa Seetharaman discuss Messenger Kids, the new Facebook messaging app for kids 6-12. This new app is designed to give young children an “on-ramp” to social media that can be controlled by parents. The way it works is this: the app is downloaded onto a phone or tablet and kids can message their friends, send videos, hold group chats, send stickers, etc. These are sent to a list of contacts that their parents have previously approved. Facebook insists that it will not use the app for advertising and parental control is inbuilt. Furthermore, they state that they are responding to parent demand. But, considering the ubiquitous practice of collecting data on our habits, friends, and interests, Messenger Kids feels like another way that companies can track us from the cradle to the grave. And, there’s an additional concern about young children using social media. Is it healthy for them? In the Washington Post article, Dr. Jenny Radesky, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan states, “When child usage becomes prolonged and immersive it can interrupt or displace other important activities such as reading, sleep or social interactions.” She also says that, “It’s the content of messaging – the unintentional slights, insults or oversharing – that I would want parents to be able to monitor.”

As parents, we need to resist the pressure on our kids to live many hours of the day on online. We can say no, or even “not now.” As hard as it is to resist their pleas to join in with their friends, it is harder to undo the harm that may be done by hurtful, and very public, social interactions. Of course, it is up to each individual parent to find their own path and there is no road map, which is the title of our video that I hope you will enjoy watching. Please let me know what your thoughts are on this tricky topic and let’s continue the conversation!


Personal Data Is Collected On Kids At School All The Time, Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, May 16, 2017

The Astonishing Amount of Data Being Collected About Your Children, Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, November 12, 2015

Parent Coalition for Student Privacy Toolkit

Should 6 Year Olds Be on Social Media? Wall Street Journal, December 5, 2017

NO ROAD MAP: Parenting in a Complex World (Produced by Boston Children’s Museum, Nov, 2017)


Martin’s Park – A Symbol of Joy, Friendship, and Peace for All

Photo credit – Clive Grainger, 2017

Today was a momentous day, as Bill, Denise, Jane and Henry Richard, Governor Charlie Baker, Mayor Martin Walsh and others, broke ground on Martin’s Park; soon to be a world-class, accessible City of Boston park and playground in the “back yard” of our Museum on Fort Point Channel. This park, dedicated to Martin Richard, the youngest victim of the Boston Marathon bombing, will be a symbol of all that is good in us – strength, resilience, love and fellowship. Martin’s vision of peace is the inspiration for this visionary place where all children and their families will play, have fun, and learn for years to come. And we need Martins’ vision now, more than ever!

In recent months, we have seen our civic discourse become increasingly divisive and destructive. While we, as Americans, may have views as diverse as our origins, we must all agree on one thing: hate and bigotry have no place in our society and we must do everything we can to stop it. In this context, the groundbreaking of Martin’s Park takes on a greater importance and urgency. For this park will be a symbol of peace and inclusiveness that reflects the noble aspirations of a family and a community.  It will forever inspire us to make a better world, a world in which every child can experience the exhilarating joy of play, discovery, and friendship. A park that will be a symbol for all, of the light and love that can emerge from darkness.  Edith Wharton once said, “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle, or the mirror that reflects it.”  Therefore this park will be, for all time, the brightly shimmering candle reflected in the mirror of thousands of children’s shining faces.

Please join me in celebrating this historic ground-breaking and its urgent message of peace and hope for our city, our state and our country.

With Liberty and Justice for All…

SONY DSCI invite you to join us for our month-long celebration of Black History Month. Boston Children’s Museum has been committed to welcoming and engaging all children and families for over 103 years, and has celebrated Black History Month for many decades.

And this is fitting, not only because of the Museum’s mission to warmly welcome children and families of all races, ethnicities, and religions, but because of the importance of the city of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to the struggle for equality and freedom and against segregation and discrimination. As told in the lovely book, The First Step, by Susan Goodman, who will visit the Museum during this month, the first step in desegregating schools took place right here in Boston when Benjamin Roberts filed a lawsuit on behalf of his little daughter who was barred from attending her neighborhood school because she was black (Roberts vs. City of Boston, 1848). In 1855, Boston became the first major US city to integrate its schools, and Senator Charles Sumner, a Boston lawyer and anti-slavery activist, filed a bill that made the Civil Rights Act into law in 1875, a law that led to the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954. Right here in the African Meeting House on Joy Street on Beacon Hill, Frederick Douglas made his impassioned speeches, and William Lloyd Garrison founded the New England Antislavery Society in 1832, and published The Liberator, an abolitionist newspaper, for 35 years. Continue reading

We Stand with You

Today we awoke to the horrible news of another mass shooting, the most deadly in American history. In the assault on a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, 49 innocent people were killed and over 50 wounded in an attack on a popular LGBTQ club celebrating both Pride Month and the Latino community.

Boston Children’s Museum is a place of joy and learning for all families, many of whom are members of the diverse communities of Boston and the Commonwealth. An attack on the LGBTQ and Latino communities is an attack on all of us, and we grieve for the families of those who senselessly lost their lives.

It was just three years ago that Boston suffered its own terror attack with the loss of three lives and the injury of many others. At that time, we arose as Boston Strong – the slogan that helped us come together and heal. But, just three years later, we see our community under duress, as hate crimes against the African American, Muslim, Jewish, Latino, LGBTQ and other minority communities persist. At the same time, Boston saw the senseless death of a young student, Raekwon Brown, at Jeremiah Burke High School in Dorchester last week. This promising junior lost his life in an attack just steps from the school.

As parents, teachers and citizens, how do we make sense of these heinous acts and how do we explain them to our children and students? How do we manage our outrage, our fear, and our confusion? I would like to suggest we channel these feelings of helplessness into action. Young children are learning at a fast rate and absorbing all that they see and hear. They also have an acute sense of what is right and wrong. During these critical impressionable years, we need to teach our children to understand differences, to recognize bias and hate, to learn to accept those different from themselves, and to stand up against bullies. We need to set them on a path that will lead to the development of healthy relationships, respect and compassion for those different than themselves, and a strong sense of community and citizenship. At the same time, we must also look deep into ourselves and uncover our own unconscious biases, addressing them in an open and transparent way, with humility and an eagerness to change our own behaviors and beliefs, so that we can stand against intolerance and bigotry.

At Boston Children’s Museum, we work hard to create community through our many cultural festivals, our MorningStar programs for kids with special needs, our Boston Black exhibit, our access programs and our outreach to Boston’s diverse communities. In the next few years we will increase our focus on teaching tolerance and combating bias and bullying. Below I have shared some resources that may help you to teach tolerance to your children and students.

In the wake of this past week’s terrible events, and those that came before, we pledge that Boston Children’s Museum will remain a place of peace and community, where all families are welcome to enjoy their time together in our rich, learning environment. We stand by the communities that have come under attack and we will stand by you in your efforts to raise healthy, happy children who will grow to become great citizens of our country and our world.

Resources for Teaching Tolerance:

Beyond the Golden Rule, a Teaching Tolerance Publication:

Anti-Defamation League, Anti-Bias Study Guides:

Anti-Bias Education, National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC):


Carole Charnow 6/12/16

Thank You, Mr. Mayor

BCM_Mayor_Menino4271Boston Children’s Museum is deeply saddened by the passing of Mayor Tom Menino. In his twenty years as Mayor he was a warm, familiar, personal presence in the lives of children and families across the city. He frequented Boston Children’s Museum where he was a regular attendee at our celebrations and events. He especially loved the annual Countdown to Kindergarten Festival every August, where he personally greeted the city’s incoming kindergarteners with a warm hug. His support of the Museum extended to his collaboration on our early childhood initiatives, education programs, and his help with our renovation and expansion in 2007. We will always remember his love and leadership of the city of Boston, evidenced by this quote from him: “I want to help people, help one individual a day. Just to make their life a little bit better.” He definitely accomplished this and so much more. Thank you, Mr. Mayor. We will miss you.

How Did I Do?: Reflections on parenting as my son leaves the nest

373804_294922787198631_711630545_nThis is our 100th Blog post.  In the 99 posts that preceded this one we’ve learned about developing a child’s creative confidence, tips on fathering, more inventive ways to play with our kids and make them healthier, and we’ve considered the challenges and opportunities facing parents in a fast changing world.

As I consider what topic would be worthy of our hundredth post, my mind wanders to my own son who is soon to leave home for college. As he waits for word on his applications I wonder, with some anxiety, whether he’ll get into the school of his choice. Whether he’ll thrive at college, stick it out, graduate, and then build a career, find a partner and grow up to be the man we believe he has the potential to be. Continue reading

Strengthening our Schools through the Arts

Boston Landmarks Orchestra Children's MuseumAs a young girl growing up in the vital and creative Detroit of the 1960s, and with parents who loved to explore the city, I was taken early to the Detroit Institute of Arts, the ballet and local theatres. As a public school student, we traveled by bus to the Detroit Symphony, the Detroit Historical Museum, and the Cranbrook Museums. We sculpted in art class and acted in theatre class. I met others who also loved words and music and painting. I dreamt of a career in the theater, and this year will celebrate 40 years in the arts.

In his Boston Globe Opinion of January 11th, writer John Garelick contends that Boston’s next superintendent should be an arts advocate. Arguing that “arts education is a necessity not a luxury,” Garelick points to the remarkable turnaround of Boston’s Orchard Gardens School in Roxbury, and how, under a new Principal dedicated to the arts, it went from one of the worst schools in the state to one of the best, with some of the top MCAS results in the Commonwealth. Continue reading

Talking To Children After Tragedy

Mom and sonWe are all in shock as we await news of the more than 100 victims of this unimaginable tragedy in Boston. Our hearts go out to you and your families, and we pray for your healing.

It can be difficult to make sense of events like this and to explain them to our children.  Some of you may be seeking information about how to talk with your children about tragedy. We wanted to share this informative blog post from the Boston Children’s Hospital Pediatric Health Blog written by Claire McCarthy, MD:

From all of us here at Boston Children’s Museum, we wish you and your families the best.

A Call to Action

Charnow Yogman

Dear Members of Congress,

We are writing to urge action to prevent another tragedy like Newtown and to encourage meaningful dialogue about how we can, in the words of the President, “protect our most precious resource, our children.”

As leaders of Boston Children’s Museum we are dedicated to the education, health and wellbeing of our children, and deplore the toll of violence on children and their families, be it from tragedies like Newtown or the daily violence witnessed in urban neighborhoods.

We know that these experiences of violence have deep and long lasting effects not only on those who have lost a loved one, but also on their extended families, neighbors and entire community. For children who witness violence first hand, the effects can impede their cognitive and emotional development; interrupting their ability to learn, grow and thrive. Continue reading

Governor’s Bold Vision Aligns With BCM’s Mission

Dad and DaughterI loved this quote from Governor Patrick’s speech on January 15th when he unveiled his proposed $550 million education package for FY14:

“Unless we ensure that all children have access to high-quality learning opportunities in their earliest years, when learning and achievement gaps begin to form, we will never reach our goal of all children reading proficiently by grade three.

This is not only about their social and economic future. It’s about ours.”

At Boston Children’s Museum, children between the ages of 0 and 5 years old have “high-quality learning opportunities” every day. And young children are not our only focus – we strive to serve parents, grandparents, extended family, nannies and babysitters, school groups, family childcare providers, child care centers and more. Why are these grownups important to us? Because they are responsible for their child’s learning during what neuroscientists now tell us is the most critical period in a child’s development. Continue reading