The week's best parenting advice: November 24, 2020

Jessica Hullinger
Thanksgiving.
Illustrated | iStock
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1.

Bust out the kids table

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended against traveling for Thanksgiving. Still, many college kids are expected to head home for the holiday. What can parents do to prepare, and to stay safe? Start with "a frank and honest discussion with your student about their recent activities and potential for exposure," infectious disease expert Dr. David Cennimo tells Lifehacker. This will inform your risk assessment. If the kids do make it home, make sure to set strict rules for their visit: No indoor gatherings with old high school friends this year, please. Eat outside if possible, and if it's not, spread out and wear masks. "Families also may want to consider re-introducing the 'kids table' this year for students returning home or who are at in-person schools to keep them away from family members who are at high risk," Cennimo says. Finally, "if ever it were okay to pull the plug on a visit at the last minute, it is now." [Lifehacker]

2.

The case for keeping schools open

More and more schools across the country are responding to the pandemic by closing their doors and sending students home, much to the chagrin of parents. Is this the most sensible approach to controlling the pandemic? Not at all, says Nina Schwalbe, fellow at United Nations University International Institute of Global Health. The research tells us that "keeping students home is unnecessary," Schwalbe writes at The Atlantic. Data from various European countries shows that "child-to-child transmission in the classroom is uncommon, and children in school settings are not the primary transmitters of COVID-19 to adults." In fact, teachers and students appear less likely to catch the virus in school than they are out in the larger community. At the same time, closing schools means kids fall behind. "Keeping kids out of the classroom will make recovering from the pandemic harder in the long term, while not keeping us any safer in the near term," Schwalbe says. [The Atlantic]

3.

How to nurture virtual friendships

Researchers know that friendship can help promote learning in children. As KQED explains, "with a friend on hand, a child's tolerance for novelty and intellectual stretching tends to increase, while without one, engagement tends to decrease." How can educators help children nurture new friendships in a time of online learning? "Schools can thoughtfully pair families who already are a part of the community with new families, incorporating buddy programs, and host 'mix it up' virtual lunches to expand kids' peer groups," Phyllis Fagell, a school counselor in Washington, D.C., tells KQED. This might actually be easier online, since mingling with strangers in-person can be daunting. And just because school is virtual doesn't mean clubs and events have to vanish. "To promote cross-group friendships, schools can offer affinity groups, interest-based clubs, speakers, facilitated lunches, read-alouds, game or movie nights, and other structured, inclusive activities that give kids a reason to meet up online," Fagell says. [KQED Mindshift]

4.

TikTok's new parental controls

The short-form video app TikTok is hugely popular with teenagers: About 33 percent of its U.S. users are between the ages of 10 and 19. Its popularity "has forced parents to grapple with difficult questions around everything from privacy and bullying to how their kids can profit from the platform," writes Rishi Iyengar at CNN Business. If your kid has been begging for an account but you're nervous about their privacy, some good news: The app is rolling out new parental controls. Parents can now limit what content a teen can search for in the app, and control who can comment on their kids' videos and who can see what content they've liked. "Our aim is to strike a balance between safety and autonomy for teenagers as we work to create a safe and supportive place for self-expression," said Tracy Elizabeth, the company's head of global minor safety policy, and Alexandra Evans, its head of child safety public policy for Europe. [CNN Business]

5.

The chemicals in your car seat

Flame retardants are chemicals that help prevent objects from catching fire. But studies have linked some of them to health problems in animals, including cancer. They're loosely regulated, so they wind up in many household items, including kids' toys, clothes, and bedding, reports Liza Gross at NYT Parenting. In one study, Duke University chemist Heather Stapleton found "flame retardants in 80 percent of more than 100 tested products, including all car seats." They're also extremely common in sofas. But don't go throwing out your couch just yet. Not all flame retardants are dangerous — the formulations to watch out for contain chlorine, bromine, or phosphorous, Gross reports. And there are things you can do to help keep kids safe. "Children are mostly exposed through house dust," Gross says, so "experts recommend using a vacuum with a HEPA filter and washing kids' hands frequently." [NYT Parenting]