Parents of Toddlers – Perfect Your Ignoring Skills!

pouting-child-girlParents often find themselves in an internal debate between punishment and discipline, especially if they were raised in a fear-based environment that focused on punishment. Many parents today want to do this differently and raise their children in a more democratic environment. In doing so, the pendulum has swung far to the other side and some parents have given the locus of control over to their children. More on that topic another time.

I thought I would focus today on a very effective discipline strategy for your toddler – IGNORING. What I like most about this strategy is how easy it is. And it’s respectful. Over all I think ignoring is a positive way to discipline toddlers. First a few words about discipline. The goal of discipline is to teach children how to be responsible for themselves and how to cooperate with others. It’s our job to show them a different way to behave. As parents of toddlers you are quite familiar with inappropriate behaviors such as whining, teasing, mild crying, power plays, interrupting, begging for treats, arguing, swearing and temper tantrums. Though these behaviors usually are not dangerous to children or other people, I think we can all agree they can be very annoying and generally occur when we have the least resilience to respond with forethought.

The good news is that these behaviors can often be eliminated if they are systematically ignored. (Please note, if your child is hurting someone or is in danger, you can’t ignore that behavior.)

Steps to Remember:
 Avoid eye contact and discussion (and I do mean ALL discussion!) while ignoring.
 Physically move away from your child but stay in the room if possible.
 Be prepared for testing and she will test.
 Be consistent. If you ignore the whining today, ignore it tomorrow as well.
 Combine distractions with ignoring.
 Return your attention as soon as misbehavior stops.
 Give attention to your child’s positive behaviors.

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems
Ask your child at a calmer time if she would like to learn some other ways to handle frustration. Teach her to tell you in words how she feels instead of using an emotional display. Pay attention to ways you may be setting your child up to have a tantrum. Most kids don’t start off with a tantrum. You may be arguing, demanding, controlling, and fighting with her until she throws a tantrum in exasperation. Ask your child what she would like you to do when she is having a tantrum. Do this at a time when you can discuss it calmly. Give choices like, “Would you like a hug, or would you like me to just wait until you’re over it?”

If at any time you feel you need additional support don’t hesitate to contact me – the first phone consultation is free.

Parents, be proactive! Learn how to set appropriate boundaries before the crisis. Gain the confidence to Parent Well … every day!

Rethinking Family Meetings

I have a lot of respect for the folks at Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life at Berkeley. As you would expect they often report on the positive aspects of parenting. Summer can be a chaotic time without the school schedule. One way to help everyone feel grounded is to have a family meeting once a week. I’m a big fan of family meetings. If you are new to the concept check out the FAMILY MEETINGS PDF I give to my clients to help them get started.

Here’s a recent Greater Good article promoting family meetings by Christine Carter, Ph.D., Rethinking Family Meetings:

Every year I rethink our family meetings at the beginning of the summer, when all of our routines are changing anyway, and this June has been no different—except that I recently read Bruce Feiler’s The Secrets of Happy Families, which puts a big emphasis on family meetings. (read more here)

And a short video:  Rethinking Family Meetings.

Arrowsmith Program for Learning Disabilities

Have you heard about the Arrowsmith Program? Most parents haven’t. Arrowsmith was founded by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young in Toronto over 30 years ago. Barbara has been successfully changing lives of children and adults with Dyslexia, ADD and ADHD. How is this possible? In one word, Neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change.

Barbara’s personal story is one of perseverance. She had multiple learning challenges as a child. As an adult she figured out how to change her brain with cognitive exercises, and went on to identify 19 different areas in the brain that relate to learning. She then developed 19 cognitive exercises to strengthen each area, and in the 70’s opened the first Arrowsmith School in Toronto. Today there are schools throughout Canada, Australia and the US. You can read more about her amazing journey in The Woman Who Changed Her Brain: And Other Inspiring Stories of Pioneering Brain Transformation.

I was curious why I hadn’t heard about Arrowsmith before. If cognitive exercises can change the brain, why aren’t all schools using some form of cognitive training to help children with dyslexia, ADD and ADHD? And more importantly, why are we still spinning our wheels with a learning assisted classroom model when we could be changing brains and lives with a cognitive classroom model? The first time I saw a cognitive classroom in action I cried. I was crying for the years my son lost trying to play catch-up in public school. I was crying for all the shame and heartache I imagine he felt every day trying to do the work designed for a neuro-normal child.

Arrowsmith isn’t the only effective cognitive program. Other established programs include Fast ForWord, Cogmed and Lumosity. But Arrowsmith is the only comprehensive cognitive program that is taught in a cognitive classroom. I believe cognitive classrooms represent the future in Special Education. I see a world where neuroscience and education join together to create a shame-free, independent learning environment for our children who learn differently.

If, like me, you are curious about Arrowsmith and curious about whether the program could help your child, check out their website, visit a school in the states or Canada, talk with Arrowmsmith parents. The Arrowsmith parents I have talked with have convinced me that the program not only works but could change the life-long trajectory of their child. And what parent wouldn’t want that?

Author Madeline Levine on Her New Book and Defining Success for Our Kids

From Make it Better, a Chicago area magazine. Click here to see Madeline speak on child development.

The Ph.D. psychologist has spoken in the area “more times than she can count,” and countless North Shore parents have read her book “The Price of Privilege” (some can even quote from it!). The book, which explored why affluent kids have epidemic rates of emotional problems in adolescence, became a runaway bestseller.

Its broad success made Levine realize that it’s not just affluent parents who are anxious—it’s all parents. So, her new book, “Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success,” looks at how parents should define success for their kids, arguing that the current focus on grades and performances is misdirected.

Make It Better sat down with the sought-after expert to get her latest thoughts and advice.

What it is about our cultural moment that has caused all this stress on parents, which then translates to stress on kids?

We’re at a perfect storm right now. Technology has changed things way faster than we can evaluate it and study it. The other factor is the global economy. Parents have absolute fear that if their kids aren’t advantaged, they’re not going to be able to compete. And we’re focusing on the wrong things—content and metrics.

You’re one of the founders of Challenge Success, a research-based group at Stanford that promotes a healthier and more effective path to success in the 21st century. What do you think schools and parents should be focusing on?

I live in Marin County, and I’m at Stanford a lot, so I’m always talking to leaders in Silicon Valley. What they value is collaboration, motivation, grit, persistence and work ethic—much more than straight A’s. We’re still educating kids as if it were the industrial revolution. There should be more project-based learning. You should worry less about whether your child is the captain of the team, and more about whether he or she plays well with others.

Character is what we should be paying attention to. Instead, we’re sending kids to specialized camps and hiring tutors. The greatest thing that will give them a leg up is developing a sense of self and knowing who they are.

What do you think of the “Tiger Mother”?

The media had a field day with that book because it played to the American moms’ fear that they would never be able to keep up with the Chinese. Do I agree with a lot of what she has to say? No. I do like her idea that kids are tough and robust. But you can’t take other cultures out of context, and there are many different cultural approaches to parenting. These opinions should not be taken as fact. I’m interested in what science has to say.

You had polio as a child. How did that experience influence you?

It made me realize that life is really hard and unpredictable. One day, I was a perfectly healthy kid, and the next day I’m in a hospital surrounded by kids with iron lungs and stuff. That’s what life is. For most of us, life is really challenging. I have this really strong feeling about not adding to that. Why would we want to add to that by having kids sobbing because they got a B-? Or they got cut from the team and their father will never talk to them again? Or they didn’t get into the college their parents were hoping for? It feels like a very unfair thing to do to good kids who will have more than enough challenges to face, because that’s the way life is.

Sometimes our kids have to be unhappy. Sometimes they have to struggle. Those are gifts to kids, because they develop the kinds of coping skills they’re going to need in life. Some parents say, “They’ll pick those things up later.” They won’t.

How has your own parenting played a role in your work?

I originally got interested in how we treat kids with different abilities because I have three boys, and my youngest son didn’t get to graduate with anything on his gown. He was a hands-on kid and he used to work construction in the summers. He would wake up at 5:30 a.m. to make sandwiches for everyone on his crew, who were trying to support families on $12 an hour. It killed me that this kid who had so much generosity and kindness wasn’t recognized. There’s no generosity award—only a GPA award. But he did find an environment where his talents were valued. We lose so many kids to depression, drugs, indifference, or anger, because we have this narrow view of success. We absolutely have to open the tent and bring more kids in.

For more information about the book and her speaking schedule go to

Why We’re Getting The Homework Question Wrong

Homework was a constant struggle in our home. As a parent I felt obligated to make sure my children were doing their part to keep up with their school work and that included doing homework and turning it in on time. But when I think of the stress that homework added to our lives, I have to wonder if in the end it was worth it.

I have come to my own conclusion that it wasn’t. Most of the homework in my opinion was just busy work and kept my middle daughter up late into the night. For my son with learning challenges, homework was a joke. And after awhile he lost interest. No matter how long he worked he rarely completed an assignment on time. Even with his accommodations he still had homework expectations and that led to a lot of stress and frustration in our home.

Which is why I am a huge proponent of the documentary and grassroots movement, The Race to Nowhere. Vicki Abeles, the film’s director, has just written the article “Why We’re Getting the Homework Question Wrong” which appeared in the Washington Post. She has launched a national petition on ”which asks the National PTA to stand behind a set of national homework recommendations that would encourage schools to assign homework only when it advances try learning, encourages a child’s self-direction and curiosity, and promotes a healthy, balanced schedule”.

I agree with Vicki – I think it’s time to ramp up the conversation about homework. I encourage you to read Vicki’s article and if it resonates please share it with other parents.

Use this forum to share your thoughts – what do you think about homework? How does it affect the quality of your child’s life? Your home life? Do you think your school district has a policy that is working? Do you have any recommendations?

I look forward to the conversation,


The Power of Positive Thinking

By Esther Entin

Jan 19 2012, 2:04 PM ET

New research shows why coaches, teachers, parents, and other role models should consider modeling how to look on the bright side: it provides both emotional and physical benefits.

The power of positive thinking is touted in the popular press and the therapist’s office. Most adults understand that the way we think about a situation can change the way we experience it. But what about children? When and how do they learn about the connection between thoughts, feelings, and experiences?

Research has shown that this awareness evolves in early childhood and matures over many years. When children are three to four years old, they can identify emotions that occur in many typical situations. They know that birthday parties are happy times and scoldings are not. By the time they are five to six years old they have an increased awareness of the connection between thinking and feeling. By age seven many children understand that people can interpret the same situation in different ways.

A recent study investigated whether the developmental changes that take place between ages five to 10 would affect children’s knowledge of the effects of thinking positively, and whether this would in turn affect a child’s emotional response to a situation.

Ninety children were divided into three age groups: five- and six-, seven- and eight-, and nine- and 10-year-old kids. They were introduced to three pairs of characters who experienced a typically positive situation (getting a new pet), a negative situation (breaking an arm), and a neutral situation (meeting a new teacher).

One character within each pair had a positive thought that framed the event in a positive light, and one had a negative thought that framed the event in a negative light. For example, one character with a broken arm thought about having his friends sign his cast, while the other thought about how uncomfortable the cast was going to be.

The children were asked to report on each character’s feelings: How does the character feel right now? Why does the character feel that way? They were also asked to explain why one character felt better than or the same as another character. The children’s explanations were categorized as situation explanations, meaning that the situation caused the emotion, or mental state explanations, meaning that the characters’ thoughts, desires, or preferences were the reasons that the character felt an emotion.

Children in every age group predicted characters’ thinking positive as opposed to negative thoughts would have different emotions even though both characters experienced the same objective event, according to the study. The eight- to ten-year-old kids were more aware that reframing events either positively or negatively could affect a person’s emotional experience, but all the children, regardless of age, seemed to believe that when events were negative, thinking positively was not enough to make a person feel good.

“The strongest predictor of children’s knowledge about the benefits of positive thinking — besides age — was not the child’s own level of hope and optimism, but their parents,'” said Christi Bamford, assistant professor of psychology at Jacksonville University, who led the study when she was at the University of California, Davis.

The findings point to parents’ role in helping children learn how to use positive thinking to feel better when things get tough. Bamford notes: “…[P]arents should consider modeling how to look on the bright side.”

The researchers concluded that children as young as five years old had begun to develop the skills to understand how positive and negative reframing could change a person’s response to a situation. They suggest that training children to recognize the benefits of positive thinking and disadvantages of negative thinking may not only help children feel better emotionally during stressful life circumstances, but may also provide health benefits by decreasing the physical toll of stress. Parents, teachers, coaches, and others who teach and care for children can model positive reframing for children to help them learn this valuable life skill.

This article originally appeared on, an Atlantic partner site.

What if the Secret to Success is Failure?

by Paul Tough, NY Times Magazine, September 14, 2011


Dominic Randolph can seem a little out of place at Riverdale Country School — which is odd, because he’s the headmaster. Riverdale is one of New York City’s most prestigious private schools, with a 104-year-old campus that looks down grandly on Van Cortlandt Park from the top of a steep hill in the richest part of the Bronx. On the discussion boards of, worked-up moms from the Upper East Side argue over whether Riverdale sends enough seniors to Harvard, Yale and Princeton to be considered truly “TT” (top-tier, in UrbanBabyese), or whether it is more accurately labeled “2T” (second-tier), but it is, certainly, part of the city’s private-school elite, a place members of the establishment send their kids to learn to be members of the establishment. Tuition starts at $38,500 a year, and that’s for prekindergarten.

Randolph, by contrast, comes across as an iconoclast, a disrupter, even a bit of an eccentric. He dresses for work every day in a black suit with a narrow tie, and the outfit, plus his cool demeanor and sweep of graying hair, makes you wonder, when you first meet him, if he might have played sax in a ska band in the ’80s. (The English accent helps.) He is a big thinker, always chasing new ideas, and a conversation with him can feel like a one-man TED conference, dotted with references to the latest work by behavioral psychologists and management gurus and design theorists. When he became headmaster in 2007, he swapped offices with his secretary, giving her the reclusive inner sanctum where previous headmasters sat and remodeling the small outer reception area into his own open-concept work space, its walls covered with whiteboard paint on which he sketches ideas and slogans. One day when I visited, one wall was bare except for a white sheet of paper. On it was printed a single black question mark.

For the headmaster of an intensely competitive school, Randolph, who is 49, is surprisingly skeptical about many of the basic elements of a contemporary high-stakes American education. He did away with Advanced Placement classes in the high school soon after he arrived at Riverdale; he encourages his teachers to limit the homework they assign; and he says that the standardized tests that Riverdale and other private schools require for admission to kindergarten and to middle school are “a patently unfair system” because they evaluate students almost entirely by I.Q. “This push on tests,” he told me, “is missing out on some serious parts of what it means to be a successful human.”

The most critical missing piece, Randolph explained as we sat in his office last fall, is character — those essential traits of mind and habit that were drilled into him at boarding school in England and that also have deep roots in American history. “Whether it’s the pioneer in the Conestoga wagon or someone coming here in the 1920s from southern Italy, there was this idea in America that if you worked hard and you showed real grit, that you could be successful,” he said. “Strangely, we’ve now forgotten that. People who have an easy time of things, who get 800s on their SAT’s, I worry that those people get feedback that everything they’re doing is great. And I think as a result, we are actually setting them up for long-term failure. When that person suddenly has to face up to a difficult moment, then I think they’re screwed, to be honest. I don’t think they’ve grown the capacities to be able to handle that.”

Randolph has been pondering throughout his 23-year career as an educator the question of whether and how schools should impart good character. It has often felt like a lonely quest, but it has led him in some interesting directions. In the winter of 2005, Randolph read “Learned Optimism,” a book by Martin Seligman, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania who helped establish the Positive Psychology movement. Randolph found the book intriguing, and he arranged a meeting with the author. As it happened, on the morning that Randolph made the trip to Philadelphia, Seligman had scheduled a separate meeting with David Levin, the co-founder of the KIPP network of charter schools and the superintendent of the KIPP schools in New York City. Seligman decided he might as well combine the two meetings, and he invited Christopher Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, who was also visiting Penn that day, to join him and Randolph and Levin in his office for a freewheeling discussion of psychology and schooling.

Levin had also spent many years trying to figure out how to provide lessons in character to his students, who were almost all black or Latino and from low-income families. At the first KIPP school, in Houston, he and his co-founder, Michael Feinberg, filled the walls with slogans like “Work Hard” and “Be Nice” and “There Are No Shortcuts,” and they developed a system of rewards and demerits designed to train their students not only in fractions and algebra but also in perseverance and empathy. Like Randolph, Levin went to Seligman’s office expecting to talk about optimism. But Seligman surprised them both by pulling out a new and very different book, which he and Peterson had just finished: “Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification,” a scholarly, 800-page tome that weighed in at three and a half pounds. It was intended, according to the authors, as a “manual of the sanities,” an attempt to inaugurate what they described as a “science of good character.”

It was, in other words, exactly what Randolph and Levin had been looking for, separately, even if neither of them had quite known it. Seligman and Peterson consulted works from Aristotle to Confucius, from the Upanishads to the Torah, from the Boy Scout Handbook to profiles of Pokémon characters, and they settled on 24 character strengths common to all cultures and eras. The list included some we think of as traditional noble traits, like bravery, citizenship, fairness, wisdom and integrity; others that veer into the emotional realm, like love, humor, zest and appreciation of beauty; and still others that are more concerned with day-to-day human interactions: social intelligence (the ability to recognize interpersonal dynamics and adapt quickly to different social situations), kindness, self-regulation, gratitude. (read entire article)

Fast-Paced Cartoons Could Slow Children’s Problem Solving and Executive Function

By Paul Nyhan, Birth to Thrive Online

It’s not just about curbing the amount of time young children spend in front of the TV that matters … but monitoring what they watch. In fact, when it comes to children’s television programs, it turns out some shows may slow the executive functions of preschoolers, researchers reported today.

A new study found that when a group of four-year-old kids watched “SpongeBob SquarePants,” a famous fast-paced cartoon on Nickelodeon designed for older children, for only nine minutes, they did worse on problem solving, self regulation and other tests of executive function than a control group who played with crayons and markers. What’s perhaps even more interesting is that children who watched “Caillou,” a slower-paced show on PBS designed for preschoolers, performed as well as the control group, according to the study published by Pediatrics today.

While researchers could not identify what factors of the cartoons affected executive functions, “they speculate the combination of fantastical events and the fast pacing are responsible. They conclude that parents should be aware that watching similar television shows may immediately impair young children’s executive function,” a summary of the research said.

It was a relatively small study of 60 four-year-olds, but it’s an important step in the effort to understand the impact of rapidly evolving digital media on children.

The research definitely holds lessons for the early learning community, since another study released two years ago found preschool-age children in home-based daycare watched, on average, 2.4 hours of TV a day, compared to those in centers who sat in front of a television 0.4 hours.

With all of this television watching at many child care providers, perhaps TV use should be part of the licensing process, suggests Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a leading researcher on the subject.

“Quite honestly I think it should be a part of licensing,” Dr. Christakis, head of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Hospital, said during an interview.

Research has shown a high-quality early education can make a difference throughout a student’s lifetime, while “a low-quality education also makes a lifetime of difference,” Christakis said.

“…We know that the preschool brain is very much a work in progress,” Christakis added.

Check out Dr. Christakis’s commentary on “The Effects of Fast-Paced Cartoons.”


Get Teens’ Sleep Back on Track

By Karen Weintraub
USA Today

Though his junior year hasn’t yet started, Matt Brown, 15, is already back to waking up early enough to get to 6 a.m. football practice. His mother, Megan, sets her alarm for 5:20 a.m., too, so she can make sure he doesn’t sleep through his alarm — again.

It’s a familiar August battle against biology and habit, after a summer of relaxation and late bedtimes.

Getting back into the routine of waking up early is tough for everyone, but particularly for teens, whose bodies are wired for late nights, and who face the social pressures of after-hours texting and social networking.

Megan Brown, a stay-at-home mom in Darien, Conn., says she wondered briefly whether to “stop the fun” a few weeks ago and ease into the earlier wake-up. She opted instead for short-term suffering.

“We are very much the ‘stay up to 2 a.m., sleep ’til noon’ kind of people,” she says.
Tips for helping your kids get a good night’s sleep

Turn off all electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime. The light from electronics, including TVs, computers, phones and other devices, can make it harder to fall asleep. And the beeps from incoming messages can wake kids up or discourage them from heading to bed.

Set a bedtime, even for teens. Kids who know they are expected to get adequate sleep are more responsible about it. Limit after-dinner snacks, and don’t make kids do chores, like finally cleaning their rooms, just before bedtime.

Limit caffeine. Caffeine is OK in the morning, but caffeinated beverages within seven or eight hours of bedtime disrupt sleep quality and make falling asleep harder.

Transition slowly if possible. Getting up a few minutes earlier every few days for two weeks makes the transition from summer to school smoother. If it’s already too late, get on a regular schedule as quickly as possible and stick with it.

Don’t overcompensate. On weekends, one night of catch-up sleep is helpful, but a second night of going to bed and waking up hours later will start to reset the sleep schedule and make Monday morning that much harder.

Napping is OK as long as it’s consistent and not within six to eight hours of bedtime. Taking a two-hour nap after dinner and then trying to do homework will certainly interfere with a decent night’s sleep, and probably with the homework, too.

Research is now clear that sleep is important in myriad ways. Lack of sleep combined with genetic vulnerabilities can lead to heart disease, depression, a weakened immune system and obesity-related diabetes, says Mary Carskadon, a professor of psychiatry at Brown University and director of Chronobiology and Sleep Research at E.P. Bradley Hospital in Providence.

A good night’s sleep is also crucial for learning.

“It helps you to prepare to learn, and also to benefit from what you’ve learned in the day,” Carskadon says. “It’s the glue that keeps that information and sharpens it in your brain.”

But kids, particularly teens, still get too little sleep. With the hormonal changes of adolescence, body clocks shift later. The average teen can’t fall asleep until 11 p.m. or midnight — and when they need to wake up at 6 or 7 a.m., there’s no way they can get sleep they need, Carskadon and others say. While adults need seven to nine hours a night, elementary school kids should be in bed for roughly 10 hours, middle schoolers and high schoolers at least nine, she says.

Younger children generally don’t have as much trouble adjusting; they haven’t shifted as much during the summer, they still have enforceable bedtimes, they’re generally less addicted to social media, and elementary schools often start at 8 or 9, later than many high schools.

Susan Rausch, like many sleep experts, thinks it’s a terrible idea to start school so early in the morning, because it’s so counter to what teens need biologically.

“If we’re teaching to a test, I’m not sure why we’re not teaching to the biology,” says Rausch, medical director of the Sleep Center at Memorial, a lab and sleep clinic in Yakima, Wash.

Not all sleep problems are out of kids’ control, however.

Late-night texting, TV time and computer use also cut down on the quality and quantity of sleep. Rausch and others recommend turning off electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime to decompress, and removing the bright lights that can suppress levels of the hormone melatonin and make it harder to fall asleep.

And that catch-up sleep on weekends can make people sleepier, says Richard Seligman, medical director for Presbyterian Sleep Disorders Center in Albuquerque. The first night of extra sleep can help compensate for too-short nights during the week. But a second or third — as many will be tempted to do over Labor Day weekend — will throw off body clocks and make the next few days miserable, he says.

Matt and his sister Mary, 13, both have pretty good sleep patterns for busy teens. They have TVs in their rooms and they text on their phones, but their mom says they haven’t abused those privileges.

She says she freaked out recently when Matt came home from morning football practice with an energy drink. “That can’t be good for you,” she said. But she told him he could use the drinks until classes started.

And the end of lazy summer mornings isn’t the end of the world, she says.

“They’re psyched to get back to seeing their friends and a regular pattern,” she adds. “Summer’s been really, really fun, but it’s time to go back.”

The Kids Are Not All Right

Published: August 21, 2011

Vancouver, British Columbia

Ruth Gwily


WHEN I sit with my two teenagers, and they are a million miles away, absorbed by the titillating roil of online social life, the addictive pull of video games and virtual worlds, as they stare endlessly at video clips and digital pictures of themselves and their friends, it feels like something is wrong.

No doubt my parents felt similarly about the things I did as a kid, as did my grandparents about my parents’ childhood activities. But the issues confronting parents today can’t be dismissed as mere generational prejudices. There is reason to believe that childhood itself is now in crisis.

Throughout history, societies have struggled with how to deal with children and childhood. In the United States and elsewhere, a broad-based “child saving” movement emerged in the late 19th century to combat widespread child abuse in mines, mills and factories. By the early 20th century, the “century of the child,” as a prescient book published in 1909 called it, was in full throttle. Most modern states embraced the general idea that government had a duty to protect the health, education and welfare of children. Child labor was outlawed, as were the sale and marketing of tobacco, alcohol and pornography to children. Consumer protection laws were enacted to regulate product safety and advertising aimed at children.

By the middle of the century, childhood was a robustly protected legal category. In 1959, the United Nations issued its Declaration of the Rights of the Child. Children were now legal persons; the “best interests of the child” became a touchstone for legal reform.

But the 20th century also witnessed another momentous shift, one that would ultimately threaten the welfare of children: the rise of the for-profit corporation. Lawyers, policy makers and business lobbied successfully for various rights and entitlements traditionally connected, legally, with personhood. New laws recognized corporations as legal — albeit artificial — “persons,” granting them many of the same legal rights and privileges as human beings. In an eerie parallel with the child-protective efforts, “the best interests of the corporation” was soon introduced as a legal precept.

A clash between these two newly created legal entities — children and corporations — was, perhaps, inevitable. Century-of-the-child reformers sought to resolve conflicts in favor of children. But over the last 30 years there has been a dramatic reversal: corporate interests now prevail. Deregulation, privatization, weak enforcement of existing regulations and legal and political resistance to new regulations have eroded our ability, as a society, to protect children.

Childhood obesity mounts as junk food purveyors bombard children with advertising, even at school. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study reports that children spend more hours engaging with various electronic media — TV, games, videos and other online entertainments — than they spend in school. Much of what children watch involves violent, sexual imagery, and yet children’s media remain largely unregulated. Attempts to curb excesses — like California’s ban on the sale or rental of violent video games to minors — have been struck down by courts as free speech violations.

Another area of concern: we medicate increasing numbers of children with potentially harmful psychotropic drugs, a trend fueled in part by questionable and under-regulated pharmaceutical industry practices. In the early 2000s, for example, drug companies withheld data suggesting that such drugs were more dangerous and less effective for children and teenagers than parents had been led to believe. The law now requires “black box” warnings on those drugs’ labels, but regulators have done little more to protect children from sometimes unneeded and dangerous drug treatments.

Children today are also exposed to increasing quantities of toxic chemicals. We know that children, because their biological systems are still developing, are uniquely vulnerable to the dangers posed by many common chemical compounds. We also know that corporations often use such chemicals as key ingredients in children’s products, saturating their environments. Yet these chemicals remain in circulation, as current federal laws demand unreasonably high proof of harm before curbing a chemical’s use.

The challenge before us is to reignite the guiding ethos and practices of the century of the child. As Nelson Mandela has said, “there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” By that measure, our current failure to provide stronger protection of children in the face of corporate-caused harm reveals a sickness in our societal soul. The good news is that we can — and should — work as citizens, through democratic channels and institutions, to bring about change.

Joel Bakan, a law professor at the University of British Columbia, is the author of “Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Children.”

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on August 22, 2011, on page A19 of the New York edition with the headline: The Kids Are Not All Right.