What Is Stalkerware And How Does It Enable Abusers?

Have you ever been followed or tracked? Tormented, terrorized, or repeatedly harassed? If so, you may have been the victim of stalking. The act — which invokes fear and distress — affects millions. According to Stalking Awareness, it is estimated that 6 to 7.5 million Americans are stalked each year. But stalking can take many forms; stalkers don’t always approach you, or follow you. They don’t always call you, or leave unwanted messages, and not all stalkers are strangers. Sometimes, stalkers are spouses, partners, and parents — those we love most. What’s more, stalking isn’t always physical, it can be digital. Thanks to technology, “stalkerware” is taking on a life of its own.

Of course, you may be unfamiliar with the term. I was. But the concept is not new. Stalkerware is a program, app, tool, or device that allows you to spy on another’s private life. It helps you keep tabs on their whereabouts and/or online search activity. And while many of these programs are beneficial — “Find My,” for example, is an asset tracking product which allows you to locate your watch, phone, tablet, or other Apple device with the swipe of a finger (or push of a button) — these tools can be used with malintent.

Abusive or controlling partners can log in and find where you are 24/7, with the right credentials or previously granted access. They can see every place you visit, every space you exist in. And they can use that information to restrict your movements and/or restrain you. They can control you virtually, via digital abuse

What’s more, stalkerware against women is a particularly pervasive issue and can lead to violence on the part of the stalker. According to a 2017 report from the European Institute for Gender Equality, seven in 10 women in Europe who experienced cyberstalking also faced at least one form of physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner.

Here’s everything you need to know about stalkerware, and how you can protect yourself.

What is stalkerware?

As previously mentioned, stalkerware is software and/or hardware which is designed to track someone or thing. Most stalkerware is benign. It is designed to be of assistance to individuals, not hurtful or harmful. Apps which use your location, for example, typically do so in a helpful way. However, stalkerware can be (and is) used by abusers to monitor and track their victims. These applications are typically installed without the victim’s consent and run “in the background” so abusers can track their victims unnoticed.

“Stalkerware [is] typically set up on someone’s mobile phone without their knowledge or permission,” an article on TechRepublic explains. “Once installed, the app operates in stealth mode, so the user is unaware of its presence.” And these apps can track everything from audio and video to your location. Messages can also be accessed and read.

What forms of stalkerware are there?

There are several different types of stalkerware, including:

  • Software, like spyware or malware
  • Hardware, like Tile or Apple AirTag
  • Applications, like “Find My” and “mSpy”

Some programs give abusers access to your browsing history, phone records, and/or the ability to read your text messages in real time. Some let perpetrators find you using GPS, and some use the victim’s camera or microphone to listen to them and/or see their surroundings. These are usually installed secretly. They are successful because they are hidden.

How is stalkerware used — and why was it created?

While most “stalking” apps were created with good intentions — “FollowMee” and “Map My Run,” for example, were developed with safety in mind; they were created to protect runners, not harm them. But in the wrong hands, tracking-based software can be bad. 

“Stalkerware apps can be sold in app stores for legitimate uses, such as employer tracking, anti-theft, parental control, or family tracking,” an article on F-Secure reads. “Unfortunately… stalkerware apps are [also] used by different types of abusers. This could be the victim’s partner, their parent or a family member, a friend, or a colleague. Potential motivation to use these apps can be for example jealousy, overprotectiveness, control, abuse, and as the name suggests, stalking.”

How can you check your phone and/or device for stalkerware?

Because of the amount of devices out there — i.e. laptops, phones, watches, tablets, etc. — and the varied makes and brands, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. No one way to stop stalkerware exists, and that is why the problem persists. Stalkerware is not easy to identify or remove. However, you are not helpless or hopeless. Stalkerware can be discovered on any device, it just may take time. 

Review app permissions in your phone settings, as stalkerware apps will (typically) have broad permissions. Search for apps you don’t recognize — and if you find any, investigate them further. Check your browser history. To download stalkerware, abusers will have to visit certain sites, and if you suspect your phone or device has stalkerware on it, visit www.stopstalkerware.org. 

What can you do to protect your device — and yourself?

There are several things you can (and should) do to protect yourself, i.e., you should have a passcode or password on your device(s), one which you change frequently. You should keep your phone on your person at all times. Never lend it to anyone when you cannot see what they are doing. And, if you have an Android device, TechRepublic suggests downloading a cybersecurity solution, as these programs will notify and warn you if stalkerware is detected.

If you’re in a relationship where you feel trapped and afraid, reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the Coalition Against Stalkerware, and others — for help and hope. 

 

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How To Handle Dick Pics Like A Boss Babe

It took a pandemic for me to finally engage in social media. I joined Instagram last spring and instead of a neighbor coming by with a basket of muffins, here on Insta, I got welcomed by a dick pic. Thank you, kind sir.

While I was shocked, rattled even, I had been waiting for this, wishing for it to happen. I wanted someone to send me a dick pic so I could send them something very specific in return: a photo of a pile of poop. I read about a woman who did just this and when the guy responded, “WTF?” she said, “I thought we were in a competition of who could make the other more uncomfortable.” This was brilliant, in my view.

Unfortunately, I was on a man-fast and joked to a friend that I might have to start dating just so I would have the opportunity to apply this. Little did I know I could focus on business marketing and not miss out on a thing. We women are so privileged.

Some part of me already knew that IG had a dark underbelly. Still, I was caught off guard by what slid into my DMs. No matter how educated you are, there’s a wishful thinker within who wants to trust that people will conduct themselves respectfully. Because let’s face it: It’s one thing to wish for a dick pic in some oblique way, and another when you receive one from a virtual—pun intended—stranger.

Perhaps it was my weakness for dogs and hairy chests when “Paul Wilcox” wrote to me on IG. (All those years of watching “The Simpsons” should have left me better prepared. I mean, Wil Cocks?) Paul’s bio, “chasing enlightenment and sharing my journey”—coupled with an emoji of a man in lotus—threw off the scent of desperate dick. At least in retrospect.

I’d just finished asking Paul if he had been meditating to cope with COVID stress when the boner bomb arrived. Maybe he thought it was artistic? After all, it was in black and white.

In my mid-twenties, I worked at Good Vibrations in San Francisco, a worker-owned sex store known for its emphasis on education. Before healing from sexual abuse and gaining embodied boundaries, I made excuses for the assaults I experienced with customers. I was naïve and just wanted to help. Maybe his hand slipped, or he didn’t mean to brush my ass, I would tell myself.

It took an older colleague lecturing me about what was okay and not for me to stop minimizing my experience. Combined with the somatic practices I was doing with my therapist, Good Vibrations was boundary boot camp; my sex dojo. I obtained ninja skills. I could anticipate a hand coming towards me and step out of the way and keep talking confidently about cock rings as if nothing untoward had passed my way.

Even with all that training, I froze when Paul’s pecker arrived. I was stunned by how, with a single image, a connection that started off as sweet and carefree drove off a cliff and exploded in smoke. Thing was? I wasn’t prepared, and we women in the digital age need to be ready. You wouldn’t go skydiving without a chute, or expect to be able to hike the PCT in your socks, right? So here’s how to prime yourself for photos of the membrum virile:

1. Be Prepared

Always have an equally offensive or intimidating image handy. Options to consider: rotting produce, something disturbing you spotted on a city sidewalk, and the aftermath of a NYE in pretty much any bar bathroom.

2. Embrace Your Inner Sass

This is no time to be a good girl. A tongue lashing is the required response. Call on your disowned dominatrix alter-ego, unless you’re familiar with the dick pic sender and know for a fact that being shamed is his kink. In which case, silence is the great punisher.

Paul Wilcox apologized repeatedly, sent crying emojis, and said, “I’m losing my mind from being sheltered in place.” To which I said, “Guess what, buddy, we’re all sheltered in place. If I can manage to not send images of my butthole to my Instacart guy, so can everyone else.” All my meditating must be really paying off. Look at my self-control!

3. Get a Job That Trains You to Think on Your Feet

Consider a job as a bartender or the like, any gig where you regularly deal with drunk asshats and need to shut that shit down quickly.

As a 21-year-old, I worked as a cigarette girl at clubs in San Francisco. I was often approached by a short, balding guy flanked by busty blondes. One night they were clustered in a booth and called me over. The wormy guy bought a few cigars and while lipping one of them, opened his mouth into a big O and asked me to do the same. “Why, when you do it so well?” I shot right back. Priceless.

4. Put on Your Teaching Cap—and No, That is Not a Euphemism

When I get a dick pic, I think of all the women that have come before me and all that will come after me. It’s hard not to consider them. It’s like six degrees of dick. I zoom out into the cosmos and look down at the dick pic matrix and think, “What might put a kink in the thread connecting us all? Can my actions or educational words make a difference?” While I can’t speak for all women, with dick pic in hand, you become the chosen representative for your people.

“Unless someone has already chosen to be naked with you, assume your dick is not welcome,” I told the most recent offender. “People are already stressed out enough. Be kind, do not assault people with your junk, your impulses, or your assumptions about what they want.” This made me think of my 7th grade history teacher, who often lectured, “Assumptions make an ass out of you and me.” Wasn’t I too old for this?

When I was internet dating, younger men asked if I wanted them to send me a dick pic. According to them, there were bevies of women who insisted on one, though of course this could have been a lie to get me to participate. Their follow-up expression of relief could have also been a lie.

But maybe men genuinely feel pressured to participate in crossing their own boundaries and do yearn to be appreciated for more than what’s between their legs. The way politicians engage in texting their cocks, willy nilly, models a cavalier sharing of dick that I have a hard time imagining our forefathers doing (then again, they didn’t have iPhones). Dick pics may be the new casual currency of flirting, what offering a hanky used to be.

All of this calls to mind “The Five Love Languages,” which proposes the idea that people give what they want to receive: If someone feels loved by physical contact, they give physical contact, or, if they feel loved when someone gives them gifts, they’ll give presents too.

But maybe there are actually six languages, and genital shots are to these guys what hanging shelves is to you. In that case, you’d imagine the dick pics would get sent five years into a marriage; after all, the traditional gift for year five is wood.

If you are a woman who loves efficiency and wants to view the wares in advance, I get it. Or maybe you think there’s something wrong with you and you should want it. There’s no “right” desire here. The point is consent, timing, and consideration of both parties, the dicker and dickee.

In the meantime, I’m confident that whatever verbal witchery and truth telling I engage in will not prevent the dick pics from finding the people who want to receive them. And yet, our standing up to pixelated pricks might make a man hesitate before sending one in the future, especially if he craves more than the momentary thrill of being seen. If he actually wants human handling, keeping his cock under wraps usually has a more exciting pay-off for everyone involved. I mean, whatever happened to the art of anticipation?

I’m not proselytizing unwrapping a dick in a box for the first time on your wedding night, but, while I have gone through phases where sex was casual, dicks never came before laughter. I believe the baring and sharing of parts can be a gift. So perhaps the next time a random guy writes to you and says something super compelling like, “Hey, so would you like…?” ask him, “Wouldn’t you rather I initiate that, I don’t know, in person?”

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No, I’m Not Interested In Aging Gracefully

In sixth grade one of my friends commented on my nose — it’s always been a little too large for my face and it’s crooked like my dad’s. I also have his ears; they aren’t pinned back to my head, but rather stick out a bit. 

I have normal insecurities about myself just like everyone does, but I learned at a young age that even the people we think are the most attractive have things about them they don’t like — things that others don’t even notice.

So, in short, there are things about myself I kind of wish I could change, but I’m settled, I like myself, and I have no interest in changing my face.

However, there’s no way in bloody hell I am going to let myself age naturally and I’ll tell you why.

About six years ago I literally woke up one morning and I looked so tired. I noticed lots of lines forming around my eyes when I smiled, and had some lines creeping in around my lips.

I drank my water. I used all the face masks. I slept on my back. 

Nothing helped and every time I looked at myself in the mirror, or saw a picture of myself, I just kept thinking, “It doesn’t look like me!”

Suddenly, my outsides didn’t match my insides. Most of the time I felt pretty good, had energy, and yet when I looked in the mirror I looked like I was frowning.

It took me almost ten years to decide to get some Botox, but after I did it, I was so pleased with the results. Then I got those frown lines filled in and was so happy to see my familiar face looking back at me in the mirror.

I think of it like adding a heat serum to my hair, then straightening it. It always looks better when I do this than when I let it dry naturally because I have a lot of frizz in my hair.

My boyfriend continues to tell me I don’t need Botox or fillers, but I don’t do it for him, or anyone else for that matter. I do it for me — and I’ll keep doing it because it makes me feel fabulous.

And as soon as my hair started going gray, I noticed it was the same color as my scalp, which made it look like I didn’t have any hair in some places. I saw a picture of myself from the side before I started coloring and thought, so I’m going bald now, too?! I made an appointment with my hairdresser to get a color and she assured me I wasn’t losing clumps of hair, it was just the gray coming through.

After a color, I felt so much better and more like myself. 

I’m all for going gray if that’s what you want to do. I wish I could rock a nice silver but it doesn’t look good with my skin tone; it drags me down and makes me look dull and I’ll put color in my locks for as long as I want to because it makes me feel better. Not because I’m trying to keep up with a certain standard.

Doing these things — getting Botox, my frown lines filled, coloring my hair, and staying in shape — are things I want to do because it gives me pleasure to feel good about myself. When I feel better about the way I look, I have more energy and pep. When I have more energy, I take better care of myself. It’s like a cycle that continues in a loop and I’d rather walk around feeling like I look like the best version of me.

Whenever we find something that makes us feel good, look good, and feel more like ourselves, we keep doing it. Some might think things like Botox and coloring your hair are vain, or bowing to the patriarchy, and they don’t have any desire to partake. But that makes me happy, and for me, it’s the ultimate form of autonomy: I’m doing what I want, for myself, without need of anyone else’s approval. I don’t take into account other people’s pearl-clutching. I’m not ashamed to admit I’ll do certain things to make myself look younger and smoother.

If I was aging better, maybe I wouldn’t mess with it — but the truth is, my aging face bothers me, and there are things I can do about it. So I will.

If that means getting lines ironed out and coloring my hair so be it; it’s my body and my face.

I’m proud of my age — I’ll be 46 in a few months, and the point isn’t to try and look like my 25-year-old self. The point is to like how I look. Right now, that requires help from needles, my hairdresser, and lots of serums … and I’m not, nor will I ever be, sorry. 

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Is There Always Too Much To Do And Too Little Time? You May Be A Tidsoptimist

It’s 10:00 a.m. You have to be somewhere at 1:00 p.m. — that’s a three hour window. You figure it’ll take you about 30 minutes to get there. That leaves you with 2 1/2 hours. Plenty of time. You have to take a shower, do your makeup, and get dressed, but that’s no big deal. First you’ll just need to get dinner in the crockpot real quick — easy. You also have a load of laundry in the dryer that needs to be folded and put away, and you’ll need to switch another load from washer to dryer and start a third. That’ll only take a few minutes. You’ve got three slides to finish on your PowerPoint presentation, so you’ll knock those out real quick and check your email one more time, just in case. When you’re in there, you’ll find a few messages that need to be answered immediately, so you tackle those ASAP. Your eyes wander over to your phone and you notice you have 10 new text messages. Those notifications drive you bonkers, so you have to read and reply to those to get rid of that annoying red box. Shit! You have to leave in less than an hour and you haven’t even gotten in the shower yet. You’re running out of time!

Sound familiar? You might be a tidsoptimist.

What the hell is a tidsoptimist, you ask? Well, according to Wiktionary, a tidsoptimist is defined as “Someone who is optimistic about how much time they have (to prepare for something) who is therefore often late.”

Yeah, this feels like a personal attack, doesn’t it? Your happy-go-lucky attitude about how long it’s going to take to complete a task and the actual time it does take is not quite copacetic. I get it. You’re trying so hard. You really want to get it all done and you know deep down inside that you can if you try your very best. But it never quite happens, and you are always running late. Late to work. Late to meetings. Late to school pick up. This chronic lateness can take a toll on your mental health, and it can drive other people fucking nuts.

So what do you do? You can’t just drop everything to be on time. Maybe you just need to make some adjustments and incorporate some time management skills to help you be more on time. A little organization never hurt anyone. Besides, won’t it feel so great to have everything finished and not be rushing all the time? Give some of these simple tricks a try.

Write It Down

Sometimes you just need a visual to help map out your day. Having a tangible list, handwritten or printed, can help you to move through your day more efficiently. Check off the boxes. Not only will you have a tally of what is finished and what is due, you’ll have a sense of accomplishment every time you complete a task.

Stick To Your List

Don’t let yourself veer off task. If you stick to your list, you are taking control of the situation. Try not to add anything to the list, if you can help it. Sure, things will come up and adjustments will need to be made, but try not to overload yourself.

Cut Things From Your Schedule

There are undoubtedly things on your list that can be moved around. It isn’t necessary to water your plants five times a day and give your dog a bath before a big meeting. Eliminating smaller items can give you added minutes in your time budget.

Set An Alarm

Use your phone, your watch or a clock as an alarm. Set reminders for yourself throughout the day to keep you on task. If you tend to get distracted and end up falling behind, alarms give you a quick reality check of where you need to be.

Think About Other People

You are not perfect and no one expects you to be. But people do expect that you are courteous and timely. Your being late wastes other people’s time. Plus, it’s annoying. Sometimes you have to just realize that although answering that last email seems like a priority at the time, it’s not if you’re disrupting someone else’s schedule.

It is always great to be around someone with a positive attitude. Smiles are contagious and can make for a much more pleasant day. But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Being overly tidsoptomistic can lead to frustrations for you and others in your life who depend on you. Take a deep breath, assess the situation, and do your best to only take on what you can handle at the moment. And it may not be a bad idea to make your clock five minutes fast. You know, just in case.

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From A Speech Pathologist: The Worry About Screen Time Has Been Taken Too Far

If you’re a parent of young kids, you’re probably aware that screen time is a hot topic. Especially now, as we’re wrapping up one year of various degrees of lockdown, well-meaning advocates remind parents regularly that too much screen time is bad for your kids. Headlines highlight the increase in screen time that the pandemic has brought on, and experts “worry” about the effects on development. For me, as a speech-language pathologist and the mom of two preschool aged kids, I’m not sure that the debate around screen time deserves so much attention.

Why all the worry? There’s research that’s linked differences in white matter organization in the brain, those associated with language impairment, with increased screen exposure at young ages. There are trends between increased screen time and obesity. We know that environmental factors can impact brain development. So if that’s true, why wouldn’t I want to do everything in my power to protect my kids from even the most circumstantial possibility of very damaging effects of screen time?

Claims that screen time has a causal relationship with poor development puts unreasonable blame on parents. 

The impact of screen time on development is an amazingly complicated topic. And just like with every other amazingly complicated development topic, it’s incredibly hard to determine a causal link. Instead, most of what we learn highlights factors that are correlated with, or related to, development. In reality, it’s very often impossible to determine exactly what the underlying cause of developmental concerns or speech and language delay may be for any one individual. And there’s an implication in the messaging behind screen time that suggests that, by letting your kids zone out in front of the screen, you are ruining their brain.

There may be methodological concerns with studies that purport to examine relationships between screen usage and developmental measures. This is in part because the number of minutes in front of a screen is really very arbitrary in terms of understanding everything else that could impact development. What did the child do when they weren’t exposed to screen time? What were they watching and were caregivers present to help augment the experience with questions and comments? Is there some bias in data where external factors such as parent stress may be related to how much time a day a child is in front of a TV? Some research that’s tried to address these types of study limitations suggests that there is no long-term detrimental impact on individuals who had early screen time.

Parenting creates what often feels like a never-ending number of decisions to make on your child’s behalf and feeling confident that you’re making the best decisions to help your child grow and develop to reach their maximum potential is hard, especially when a child has special needs. Adding a layer of suggestion that actually your decisions may contribute to them having a disability is just downright terrifying. Isn’t nine months of guilt about drinking a daily cup of coffee during pregnancy enough? Do we really need to terrorize the parents of young kids by implying that their child’s problems may be due to parenting decisions made early on in development?

I think part of the reason for this type of conclusion comes from the fact that it’s very easy for one person to look at data and say, “sure, screen time is associated with poor developmental outcomes in X domain.” This isolated fact then gets blasted around the internet and social media. But we have to resist the urge to promote incomplete information about complicated topics. To every parent of a child with developmental challenges, it feels like a sucker punch. Because those parents are working double time trying to help their child improve their skills in areas of need. I know this as a professional who spends a lot of time talking with parents about their child’s development, and as a parent who has a child with speech and language impairment myself.

To this point, there is no evidence to my knowledge that would indicate that a child’s parent can cause a language impairment in any typical type of scenario of parent-child interaction. There are examples of cases of neglect and abuse that can lead to overall cognitive and language impairment. There is evidence that language stimulation can help spark children’s use of language.

However, to the best of our knowledge, children are essentially hard wired to learn speech and language skills. The process comes biologically preloaded and will essentially unfold naturally with the type of interactions that parents love to engage in with their babies and toddlers. For some children, this natural skill development is more challenging for any number of reasons—we know there are genetic forces at play for some variations of speech and language impairment (definitely runs in my family!), and there’s a vast array of neurological diversity that we’re only in the early stages of understanding that may influence how an individual child learns to “crack the code” of language. Parents, by letting their child watch TV shows or play games on a tablet, are unlikely to derail this biological process of language development and cause a language impairment.

Claims about negative impact from screen time imply that developmental concerns are “bad.”

darenwoodward/Getty

One of the more subtly negative effects of the arguments about screen time needing to be avoided or reduced to help promote development is an implied message that it’s “bad” to have lower scores on different types of developmental outcomes. What if instead, as a society, we accept those with different strengths and weaknesses?

If it is the case that kids who have more clocked hours of screen time have measurable differences in brain wiring—why is the reaction to this news that screen time is bad? Why are these differences in neural structure, even if they’re associated with differences in language processing, given any kind of value judgment? Differences in learning, language processing, speaking—these are unique and individual characteristics.

Individuals who struggle with processing or learning in one domain very often have incredible strengths in another. There’s been a great push in recent years to embrace neurodiversity and reject ableist messaging. Perhaps some kids who are strong visual processors, and potentially weak language processors, are drawn to screens because the visual image makes sense to them. Maybe we’re not measuring a negative effect of screens, but instead just capturing a naturally occurring phenomenon. Some people have language impairment. Some people learn better in modalities not traditionally used in mainstream education. Some people may really like videos and visual input.

In fact, technology brings immense opportunities to support learning, and may be particularly well-suited for visual learners. Skills like recall of parts of a story and verb learning have been supported by using well-designed, technology driven, screen delivered teaching or intervention. For some learners, the visual, video capable, and interactive nature of programs designed to be delivered via screen are helpful tools.

The debate about screen time doesn’t account for the ways we use mobile devices and technology to enhance our lives.

Peter Cade/Getty

Sometimes I feel like a lot of the debate around screen time stems from alarmist perspectives about the Downfall of Society. The argument isn’t just that screen time is bad, it’s that there’s a lost connection, a lost way of living, that kids tuned in to screens like zombies will never experience. I think this worry is a little extreme and it’s one that’s repeated over and over throughout history about various topics.

A personal example that comes to mind is a brunch with friends years ago, before any of us had kids. One friend was stuck at home, sick. The group of us who were there were texting her, talking with each other about the replies, and generally having a good time. A passer-by said something (presumably about us and so we could hear) to the effect of “it’s so sad how people are on their phones instead of talking to the people right in front of them.” I remember thinking that was sort of missing the point. We were using our phones to connect with each other even though we were all together in the same place. Plus, we were including someone who genuinely wasn’t able to be with us physically.

Every parent I know is trying to manage a thousand moving pieces and mobile technology can be a huge asset to feeling like you’re not a million steps behind. For some parents, myself included, the ability to be present with my children and also get a few tasks done for work on my phone helps me feel more connected with them—not less. Surveys that ask whether kids feel ignored by their parents when they use their phone may fail to ask extensive questions about other things parents do that make their kids feel ignored. My kids intermittently hate it when I cook meals, eat meals, vacuum, go outside to throw out the trash, read a magazine, want to go to bed early or sleep in late…basically anything I do when they want me to do something else. What’s important is that parents feel supported to be able to structure their day, work time and family time, in a way that makes sense for them so they have the energy to give their child some undivided attention.

Technology also offers us tools for encouraging language development and connecting with kids. My preschooler loves looking at pictures of things that we’ve done, and nothing gets him chattering more than seeing a photo of himself or his brother doing something fun. For a little one with emerging language skills, having pictured support to talk about what we did is a wonderful tool to help encourage talking. What may start out as me picking up my phone to check my email can grab his attention from a previous solo activity and send him over to engage. In this way, my use of tech actually helps increase the opportunities for connecting, weaved throughout the day.

Repeating blanket statements about the negative effects of screen time takes too much time away from talking about other things. 

Not acknowledging the nuances of technology usage and screen time among families creates a warped reality in which we are all apparently addicted to screens. If screens are “bad” always, then there’s less of an opportunity to talk about scenarios when screen time is or is not a cause for concern. We’re using our resources and energy in the wrong way.

Being buried in your phone while a child plays on a playground is potentially dangerous because you could miss an opportunity to save them from a fall. Texting while driving is dangerous. Making judgments about when to effectively accomplish work tasks on your phone as a parent, or letting your kids watch a show on a tablet while you make dinner or try to get some work done, is an issue of day planning—not safety. Some parents may struggle with addiction to the internet or their mobile device—those parents need support to understand and change their behavior and identify underlying issues that may be at play. If we resist the urge to label screens as universally “bad” and something that we need to continuously try to decrease usage of, then we can focus our efforts on embracing the good to enhance our lives and helping those who may truly be struggling due to unhealthy dependence on screen-delivered stimuli.

A never-ending barrage of the same anti-screen message doesn’t offer solutions—it just agitates with a tired threat of a problem. What if instead, we could just settle on a compromise, like screens are totally fine if you use them to improve your family’s life? In whatever way that means for you, the parent who knows your needs better than anyone else. Then, we could spend more time talking about meaningful solutions focused on helping kids communicate wants and needs effectively, supporting visual learners, and connecting more authentically with those who are important in our lives. Maybe those solutions will include screens and maybe they won’t, maybe they will for some but not for others, but does it really matter if they work?

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Pfizer & Moderna Vaccines Don’t Appear To Pose Serious Risk During Pregnancy

A new study shows that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are safe for pregnant women

As the vaccine rollout continue, the anti-vaxx community continues to spread misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine which is dangerous and prevents the world from ever controlling the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in a swift “Not today, Satan” move, a new study is showing that mRNA vaccines (which includes the Pfizer and Modern vaccines) are safe for pregnant women, which is a big deal since some pregnant people still have reservations against getting the vaccine.

A new study published Wednesday, April 21, 2021, in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that the Pfizer and Modern COVID-19 vaccines do not appear to pose any serious risk for pregnant people. This is especially good news considering a separate study just found that expectant mothers who get infected with COVID-19 can face serious side effects for them and their baby, including an increased risk for death.

“The risk of death for pregnant women with COVID-19 was 1.6%, which was 22 times higher than pregnant women who were not infected,” CNN reports on the new study which was published Thursday in JAMA Pediatrics.

This alarming news about COVID-19 and maternal health makes getting the vaccine that much more important.

As for the study about the mRNA vaccines, a total of 35,691 participants aged 16 to 54, who identified as pregnant, participated in the program. Their information was culled from self-submitted info they reported in the CDC’s V-safe smartphone-based surveillance system, as well as data from the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).

Researchers in this study followed a group of 3,958 pregnant participants (out of the 35,691) and found that the percentage of pregnancy-related adverse events (including miscarriages) was on par with the rates that the same incidents would occur if they sampled a group of 3,958 pregnant people that had not been vaccinated.

“Although not directly comparable, calculated proportions of adverse pregnancy and neonatal outcomes in persons vaccinated against Covid-19 who had a completed pregnancy were similar to incidences reported in studies involving pregnant women that were conducted before the Covid-19 pandemic,” the researched wrote.

Pregnant individuals did report more arm pain at the injection site than non-pregnant people, but the good news is that pregnant individuals reported less vaccine side effects like headache, muscle aches, chills and fever than their non-pregnant counter parts, and anyone who has gotten their second dose will tell you that if you can find any way to avoid the side-effects, do it.

Additionally, the CDC reports that the vaccines “are unlikely to pose a specific risk for people who are pregnant.” The main reason that pregnant people originally worried about the vaccine was generally because the initial vaccine trials did not include any pregnant people. However, many studies are underway regarding pregnancy and the vaccine and new data, like the study released Wednesday, spell great news for expecting parents who want the vaccine.

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My Unfortunate Last Name, And Why I Changed It

“Is your mom a prostitute?”

“Is your sister a whore?”

“Does your grandmother have sex with people for money?”

“Do you have sex with people for money?”

I hope you’ve enjoyed this small sampling of the creative, last-name-focused rejoinders I heard growing up. You’ve probably inferred, from their subtle and refined subtext, that my surname related to the world’s oldest profession. Boy, did it.

Hooker.

Yes, my last name until age 25 was Hooker — as in slang term for someone who engages in sexual acts for financial compensation. (Or other forms of compensation, like goods and equivalent services, I suppose, if the sex worker in question is open to bartering.)

Through my angry teenage research into the topic, I learned that as a last name, Hooker was Anglo-Saxon in origin and had existed for centuries. It was likely derived from agricultural workers who made or used a type of hook employed in medieval harvesting. The colloquial term “hooker,” however — though it had been around since the American Civil War — didn’t become widespread until Xaviera Hollander’s 1972 book, “The Happy Hooker.”

That means my father, who I can thank for this wonderful aspect of my childhood, didn’t face any teasing during his. When he was in school, “Hooker” didn’t mean anything other than a relatively uncommon last name.

It also meant that when my sister and I reached adolescence and wanted to change it, my dad didn’t understand. It wasn’t up for discussion. There were no counterarguments, lines of reasoning or rationales for keeping what was to us an intolerable array of scarlet letters — in his mind, changing our last name wasn’t an option.

The teasing began in earnest in middle school. That’s when our classmates learned what Hooker meant, and, auspiciously, when they were at their absolute meanest. My sister got it worse, being a girl, but she was confident and pretty and she dealt with it by existing above such foolishness (and, perhaps, taking solace in the knowledge she would one day acquire a different name through marriage). As for me — I was a chubby nerd. My options were 1) absorb it passively and cry myself to sleep each night, or 2) develop a sense of humor about it real goddamn quick.

Claudia Burlotti/Getty

“Is your mom a prostitute?” Yeah, but judging by those shoes you can’t afford her.

“Is your sister a whore?” Sorry, she doesn’t deal in tiny, prepubescent dicks.

“Does your grandmother have sex for money?” Why, considering a career in prostitution? I suggest getting some new clothes and a different face.

“Do you have sex for money?” Only with your mom, and only when you’re asleep.

Okay, I’ll admit, those weren’t exactly Chappellian zingers, but they were better than nothing. I learned quickly if I didn’t come back with something, the comments would never stop. And they would certainly never get more creative. The type of individual who will openly mock someone’s last name, it turns out, is also the type of individual who struggles with vocabulary, verbal reasoning and, in general, any form of cognition extending beyond three-word sentences. Boy named Hooker. Hooker funny word. Me mock boy.

Here is my nightmare middle school scenario. Except, unlike a nightmare, it actually happened. Repeatedly.

I sit down at my entirely too small, Mississippi public school desk — careful not to touch the stalactites of dehydrated gum underneath — engage in a bit of adolescent jabber with whoever’s nearby, and muster the appropriate folder and textbook for the class. An unfamiliar voice fills the room.

“Ms. Davis is out sick today,” a thirtysomething soccer mom with aggressively curled hair says. “I’m Ms. Johnson. Everyone quiet down so we can take roll.”

She glances down at her clipboard, and… time stops. Somewhere far below, in the furthest depths of Hell, the devil flips a coin.

“Anderson.”

“Here…”

My stomach drops. From somewhere, a great distance away, the vestige of Satan’s merry laughter echoes into my earholes. Ms. Johnson has opted to take roll by last name.

“Hallaway.”

“Here.”

“Holly.”

“Present.”

“Hooker…”

The word reverberates through the classroom like the voice of Hera, and all background noise — shifting bodies and shuffling papers and rasping whispers — ceases. Heat pushes into my head like mercury into a soon-to-shatter cartoon thermometer.

Here’s the thing. Everyone in this room knows my last name. When there’s a funny-sounding last name in your proximity, you remember it. Just like if there is a fully make-upped clown sitting in the booth next to yours at Chipotle, you know it. But knowing the funny last name, somewhere just outside your awareness, and hearing the funny last name projected into space are two different things.

For me, it was like being pelted with invisible spitballs from every direction at once.

This scenario occurred, on average, once a month. My memories are warped by embarrassment and anxiety, so I can’t even say for sure if anyone actually laughed. They probably didn’t. In my mind they all stand up and point, pubescent eyes filled with hormones and malice, and chant something hooker-themed at me while the teacher looks on, Dolores Umbridge-style, with sadistic approval.

I didn’t learn until much later in life that my mother, who grew up with the unhookerish last name Gagliano, threatened to divorce my father at one point when he refused to consider changing it. She saw how it affected us. The only person I knew who fully understood, however, aside from my sister, was my friend Matt. He grew up with the equally unfortunate last name Smelley (with our powers combined we became the unstoppable Smelley Hooker). He eventually changed his name around the same time I did, in his mid-twenties.

Do I regret growing up with an unfortunate last name? No. Mostly no. If I had grown up Brad Smith I would have undoubtedly developed into a more confident, but ultimately less interesting version of who I am now. I like my neuroses. We’ve become friends. Still, I take comfort in the fact that my own children, hypothetical though they currently are, will never know that particular set of emotional complications.

Given the litany of genetic time bombs they’ll surely inherit from me — a world-class propensity for cavities, to name just one — giving them a boring last name is the least I can do.

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Texting Is Not Ruining Language — It’s Evolving It

I’m old enough to remember the debate about whether or not it was appropriate to use the word “text” as a verb. “How are we supposed to conjugate it into the past tense?” we’d say, our voices laden with incredulity. “Say, ‘I texted’? That’s ridiculous.Merriam Webster records the first use of “text” as a verb in 1998. These days we bandy it about without a second thought.

Since the beginning of texting, some linguists have accused it of being the downfall of the English language. In a 2002 article in the Guardian, John Sutherland, a Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London, called texting “penmanship for illiterates” and referred to emojis as “face symbols.” He also predicted that texting was no more than a passing fad, sure to burn out after “a year or two (max).” “If you don’t text now,” he wrote, “it’s not worth learning: in a couple of years voice recognition systems will kick in.”

Ah, well, some articles age better than others, I suppose. I’m sure plenty of Sutherland’s other proclamations weren’t so completely dead wrong.

Language Evolves, And Texting Is Part Of That

Still, Sutherland’s hubris with regard to his ability to predict the evolution of language should serve as a warning to us all, especially those of us who have reached the age of using phrases like “kids these days”: criticism of how young people communicate tends to age very badly.

Gretchen McCulloch, author of “Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language” and co-host of the podcast “Lingthusiasm,” makes the case that texting is just another way to communicate, and is a natural part of our language evolution. She notes that texting has developed its own rules and conventions, but those conventions tend to be highly context-dependent: Older people text differently than younger people. We text friends differently than we text colleagues.

The underlying focus of the communication can be different, too. “The old rules are these top-down, ‘here’s how you use an apostrophe,’ ‘here’s how you use a semicolon’ type of thing,” McCulloch said in an interview with NPR. “The new rules are about: How are other people going to interpret your tone of voice? … The old rules are about using language to demonstrate intellectual superiority, and the new rules are about using language to create connection between people.”

Periods Are Aggressive. Apparently.

Last week, a friend of mine posted the following queery to Facebook: “Both of my teenagers agree that periods in text messages are ‘aggressive.’ Are they broken?” 228 comments later, there was no general consensus on whether periods are aggressive, but specific trends were clear: young people think adding a period is the text equivalent of a death stare. Older people are like, “But … punctuation. It’s the end of a sentence. Hello.”

I send enough texts throughout the day that I tend to side more with the whippersnappers on this one: I leave off periods, and when someone responds with a period I have to pause and consider context before I determine if the person is annoyed with me or just meticulous with punctuation.

McCulloch addressed the contentious period in her interview with NPR too. She said that it makes sense that as texting evolved, the period started to get left off. With formal writing, you need a formal break to mark the the separation between sentences. With texting, the separation is marked by hitting send. Adding a period is redundant.

So, to a young person, the text “awesome” is an exclamation of approval and excitement, whereas the text “Awesome.” might come across as sarcastic. (Think: “Ugh, awesome,” with an eyeroll.)

Texting Isn’t The Downfall Of Grammar, Either

In episode seven of her podcast, “Lingthusiasm,” McCulloch confronts the assertion that kids are ruining language, specifically with texting. One study that was published in 2012 claimed a correlation between the amount of time a kid spent texting and a decline in grammar skills. The media jumped on the study and published various articles parroting the results without actually analyzing the study’s methodologies. When linguists took a closer look at the study, they found that not only was the correlation statistically insignificant, but that it could also be attributed to grade level. And the kids (middle school-aged) were only required to take a 20-question test on grammar. The content of their writing — their ability to clearly articulate their ideas — wasn’t even considered.

According to McCulloch and multiple other studies, informal text speak is not a predictor of poor skills in formal writing. In fact, a 2010 study by M.A. Drouin from Indiana University–Purdue University found that students who texted more scored higher on grammar, spelling, and reading fluency tests.

Kids Are Expressing Themselves Through Writing More Than Ever Before

And doesn’t that makes sense? After all, kids are constantly writing. They’re literally expressing themselves via written word all the freaking time. Teens’ texts might be a hot mess in terms of punctuation and grammar, but that doesn’t mean they “can’t write.”

I write for a living, and the thumb-typed texts I peck out on my phone in personal correspondences differ massively from what I produce on my laptop. On my phone, where I text with my thumbs only, I ignore spelling errors, typos, and other grammar rules (my own and others’) — but only when I’m on my phone. If I’m typing a message on my computer keyboard, I automatically use punctuation, because in that case my fingers are used to including punctuation. My kids do the same. Their texting is a mess, but the writing they do for school assignments follows traditional spelling and grammar conventions appropriate to their grade level and sometimes beyond.

Texting Is Making Language Evolve Even Faster

The more connected we are, the faster language evolves. Every year, hundreds of words are added to Merriam Webster. Not only does our digital connectedness allow new words and phrases to spread with unprecedented quickness, but sites like Urban Dictionary allow older generations to catch on to slang phrases of younger generations and incorporate them into their own lexicon, thereby instantly stripping them of their coolness. (RIP, “on fleek.”)

Texting has become almost like a different language with its own expectations, shorthands, and implied meanings. In terms of the interpersonal sharing of ideas, it has no more or no less value than formal written English. It is a natural part of the evolution of one of the most distinctly human things we do — communicate with language. Our kids will surprise us with their ability to register-switch, or code-switch, between informal text-speak and the kind of language required to compose an essay for school. And they’ll surprise us with their limitless creativity for generating new words faster than we can keep up.

No cap.

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Igloo’s New Retro Collection Will Warm Your ’90s Loving Heart

The retro Igloo collection has over 20 items that bring back all your childhood memories

Igloo’s Retro Collection is the collection you need to have a true ’90s summer. The beloved brand announced a new line of coolers inspired by its Little Playmate collection from the ‘70s back in March, but it decided that wasn’t enough. The company added more ‘80s and ‘90s styles to the retro collection, so lots of generations can throw it all the way back.

“Inspired by ‘80s and ‘90s fashion, you’ll find everything from our true classics — like our Barrel of Fun and Picnic Basket we originally released in 1992 — to wearable newbies (like a totally rad fanny pack and duffel bag) that double as an old-school-cool fashion statement,” their website reads. Perusing the choices will remind you of childhood picnics and days at the community pool with your lunch safely packed away in one of these very coolers.

What family didn’t have this Igloo cooler?

“We’re taking you back to the ‘70s with the revival of the Little Playmate (with the OG side push-button design!),” the 7-quart cooler description reads. It comes in red, blue, purple, pink, and several other colors and holds nine cans inside for the low, low price of $29.99.

Igloocoolers.com

If you need something that fits enough for the whole family, check out this 25-quart Retro Picnic Basket Cooler for $49.99. It’s all kinds of memories wrapped up in five gorgeous colors with enough room for sandwiches, snacks, soda, and whatever else you need to keep cool while you’re on-the-go.

igloocoolers.com

You need a Barrel of Fun in your life to summon up memories of summer camp.

If you need something for a large batch of lemonade, fruit punch, or margaritas (they don’t call it a Barrel of Fun for nothing), check out this 2-gallon jug, which is “ready to party like it’s 1992.” This one comes in five colors as well and is available for $39.99.

igloocoolers.com

The collection now has more than 20 products including both hard and soft coolers, drink jugs, picnic baskets, lunch bags, backpacks, duffel bags, and even everyone’s favorite fanny packs. With colors like electric watermelon and aquamarine, you will be the envy of all your neighbors when you bust one of these puppies out at the neighborhood barbecue.

Your kids’ new lunch bag is your old lunch bag.

If you want your kid to also be turning heads at school, send them with this lunch bag, which holds everything they’ll need to get through the day. “The lightweight insulated liner helps keep contents cool. Plus, it’s antimicrobial and easy to wipe clean,” which is good news for parents. It’s adorable and sells for $19.99.

igloocoolers.com

There are tons of 5-star reviews, but this one commenter sums it up best: “I also am a hugely nostalgic person, so when I saw Igloo had this retro line, I couldn’t resist. It’s the perfect size to stash a few beverages & any other miscellaneous items you need to keep cool…Anyways, highly recommend, and gahhhh take me back to the simple days of soccer games & igloos at the beach.”

That says it all.

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Why We Should Be Practicing Soul-Care, Not Just Self-Care

Everyone knows the importance of self-care. The concept, which involves taking care of yourself so that you can be healthy, do your job, and support friends and loved ones is imperative to your overall well being. It is essential to living a long and fulfilled life. But there is more to self-care than wine spritzers and bubble baths — i.e., there is more to your mind, body, and being than nutrition, exercise, and fitness, and that is where soul-care comes in.

“Self-care is care of your physical body, but soul-care is me asking ‘How are you?’ and waiting long enough for your recent highs and lows to respond with a reflection of your insides,” Sarah Jakes Roberts — the author of “Woman Evolve: Break Up with Your Fears and Revolutionize Your Life” — tells Scary Mommy. It is listening to your feelings and responding carefully and thoughtfully. It is knowing your limitations and nurturing your needs. And it is asking yourself tough questions: the whos, whats, whens, wheres, and whys.

What is soul-care — and how does it differ from self-care?

Soul-care is the act of caring for and getting in touch with your spiritual and emotional self. Or, to put it another way, soul-care is a general restoration of your mental wellbeing. Those who practice soul-care take time to reflect inward. They make both a space and place to care for themselves. Those who practice soul-care nurture their inner child, loving him or her as they would their own little ones. And a major aspect of soul-care involves asking yourself tough questions. Those who practice this form of self-compassion and acceptance don’t just resign to their fate; they explore their feelings and get to the root of the problem. 

Self-care, on the other hand, is any thing you do to take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. It is the act of taking care of yourself so that you can be healthy, you can be well, you can do your job, you can help and care for others, and you can do all the things you need to and want to accomplish in a day.

How can we practice soul-care?

Many types of self-care are object- or action-based. Some individuals practice yoga or meditate; others work out or go on a long walk or run, and some individuals “treat” themselves to physical indulgences like massages, manicures, spa treatments, and pedicures. But Roberts tells Scary Mommy that soul-care involves looking inward. “While self-care is going to get your nails done, soul-care is asking yourself when you started biting your nails — and why,” Roberts says. It is understanding yourself at a deeper level.  

Why is soul-care so important?

While self-care is of the utmost importance, it’s all for naught if you’re not practicing soul-care. “Self-care is great for making sure you’re showing up in the world as your best,” Roberts tells Scary Mommy. “But soul-care allows you take a moment to determine how much you’ve grown in patience, knowledge, and empathy. It even allows you to examine opportunities where you could be doing better.”

Where should we start when it comes to practicing soul-care?

If you’re looking for a way to better care for yourself, mentally and emotionally, soul-care may be the answer. After all, you need to feed not just your mind and body but your spirit. But understanding and navigating the intricacies of soul-care can be tricky, particularly if you are new to the practice. Understanding your true feelings can be hard. So how can you incorporate soul-care into your life?

Well, you can read literature on soul-care; many books can help walk you through the process. Meditative practices can help you look inward, particularly guided meditations, and you can work with a life coach or therapist. Faith-based leaders are also great for general guidance, oversight, and support. Soul-care looks different for different people.

However it looks for you, in your quest to be your best self, don’t forget to do the work on your soul — because true happiness begins within.

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