The week's best parenting advice: December 8, 2020

Jessica Hullinger
An hourglass.
Illustrated | iStock
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Is a gap year a good idea?

While there's light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, it's likely that coronavirus will continue to affect our lives well into the warmer months of 2021. Should high school seniors postpone their college plans or take a gap year until a more "normal" college experience is possible? It's complicated, says The Wall Street Journal: "At some schools, students who take time off may risk losing the chance to enroll whenever they like, and could have to resubmit financial aid applications the following academic year." But experts say some time off can be valuable if done with planning and intention. Teens could use the time to volunteer, gain work experience, or try micro-internships, which are shorter than traditional semester-long commitments. A year off "could give [teens] clarity, in terms of what their future can and should be," career coach Jill Tipograph tells the Journal. "Maybe they wouldn't have learned this until a few years out of college." [The Wall Street Journal]


A testing problem

A number of companies are rolling out rapid coronavirus tests to help curb the spread of COVID-19 in America. But The New York Times reports that several studies suggest some of these rapid tests may miss cases in young children. One study showed the Binax NOW test spotted nearly 97 percent of COVID cases in symptomatic adults, but just 78 percent in symptomatic people under 18. Worse still, this test identified just 64 percent of asymptomatic cases in children. Why? It could be that kids' immune systems make it harder to detect infections, or they simply harbor less of the virus than adults do. But whatever the reason, this testing discrepancy is a problem: "The government has already purchased millions of these tests and begun to distribute them to governors and vulnerable communities, encouraging their use in schools as screening tools," the Times reports, cautioning that, even if someone tests negative, they could still be infectious. [The New York Times]


Noodling around

Letting your kids be bored could help them be fulfilled in their careers, says Lenore Skenazy, who laments at Reason that children today don't have enough unorganized free time to just "noodle around." "So many people who have found an occupation or serious pastime they love were drawn to it at a young age," Skenazy writes. "This wasn't something they were doing for a grade or a trophy. It was just something they did either because it fascinated them." But without time to be bored, kids miss out on chances to indulge in imaginative play, experiment, invent, or just follow their curiosity. Skenazy calls for "decluttering" America's achievement-focused approach to childhood. "It's obviously fine for kids to have some social obligations," Skenazy says. "But they also need the freedom to goof around and get something started, whether it's a project, a ballgame, or business. That's how they come into their own." [Reason]


Well this is awkward

Few parents look forward to having an awkward conversation with their kids. But "Big talks," as Meghan Moravcik Walbert calls them at Lifehacker, are mostly unavoidable, so it's a good idea to have a playbook. She suggests planning ahead and arming yourself with age-appropriate answers to the more common queries (for example: "Where do babies come from?") and, if possible, having these talks in the car. "The lack of eye contact can make it easier for them to ask more open and honest questions," she says. If things are really tense, don't be afraid to say so. Acknowledging the awkwardness can help tone it down, and "your awkwardness gives you an extra opportunity to put words to your feelings, which is always a good thing to model." And end by making sure you've answered their question in a way they understand. Otherwise all that awkwardness will have been for naught. [Lifehacker]


The truth about 'sleeping through the night'

The question posed to new parents the most is usually this: "How is the baby sleeping?" And for good reason: Newborns are notoriously nocturnal, leaving parents exhausted. The common knowledge is that babies should start to "sleep through the night" around six months of age, and if they don't, something's up. But new research from McGill University and published in Sleep Medicine puts this myth to bed, so to speak. The study tracked 44 six-month-old babies over two weeks and found that sleep patterns vary wildly from baby to baby, but also from night to night for the same infant, Science Daily reports. Half of the babies in the study never even slept for eight consecutive hours over the two-week timeframe. "Parents are often exposed to a lot of contradictory information about infant sleep," says Marie-Helene Pennestri, assistant professor in the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology at McGill. "They shouldn't worry if their baby doesn't sleep through the night at a specific age because sleep patterns differ a lot in infancy." [Science Daily]