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Everything you need to know about bug spray ingredients

WING SZE TANG | posted Thursday, Aug 3rd, 2017

PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

Nothing kills our chill-out-in-nature vibe faster than becoming an all-you-can-eat buffet for mosquitos, ticks and other bloodsuckers. And beyond the maddening itchiness, insect bites can pass along serious disease too—even if you’re not somewhere tropical.

“While Canada does not have local transmission of insect-borne killers like malaria and dengue, there are infectious diseases spread by insects here that can ruin your summer,” says Dr. David Fisman, professor of epidemiology at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, pointing to West Nile virus (from infected mosquitoes) and Lyme disease (via deer ticks).

So how can you get bugs to buzz off without dousing your family’s skin in irritating chemicals? Here’s what you should know about insect repellents—the good, the bad and the useless.

muskol insect repellent and off! familycare insect repellent

TRY MUSKOL INSECT REPELLENT PUMP SPRAY, $9, WELL.CA, OR OFF! FAMILYCARE INSECT REPELLENT SMOOTH & DRY, $9, WALMART.CA

DEET
Invented for the US military in the ’40s, DEET still ranks most effective. In a study testing 16 bug repellents on particularly game volunteers, published in 2002 in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), DEET-based repellents fared best, giving “complete protection for the longest duration.” DEET’s side effects—some minor (skin/eye irritation), others scary (seizures and other neurological symptoms)—make a lot of people leery. But serious reactions are very rare; they’re typically linked to repeatedly applying way too much or ingesting it. Even the Environmental Working Group says, “DEET is generally safer than many people assume.”

care plus anti-insect spray

CARE PLUS ANTI-INSECT 20% ICARIDIN SPRAY, $14, MEC.CA

Picaridin (A.K.A. icaridin)
Harder to find than DEET but considered a solid alternative, picaridin is a synthetic ingredient approved by Health Canada in 2012. It’s similar to a compound found in the black pepper plant. Picaridin is thought to be almost as potent as DEET, without the same pitfalls: it doesn’t irritate the skin and eyes, it’s not stinky and it doesn’t come with a “potentially toxic” rep. In the US, where it’s been sold for longer than in Canada, a recent study found no reported cases of major side effects.

natrapel insect repellent

TRY NATRAPEL INSECT REPELLENT, $6, MEC.CA

Oil of lemon eucalyptus
If you want something botanically based, oil of lemon eucalyptus is pretty much the only option with serious scientific credibility. The ingredient’s active compound is p-menthane-3,8-diol (PMD); look for it on the label. Don’t confuse this ingredient with unrefined lemon eucalyptus essential oil—it’s not the same thing. A new study of 11 bug repellents, published this year in the Journal of Insect Science, ranked sprays with DEET and PMD as the most effective at keeping mosquitos at bay. Other research has found that oil of lemon eucalyptus is on par with low-concentration DEET (in other words, it doesn’t last as long as high-concentration DEET, but it still offers protection).

biteblocker extreme pump spray and citronella insect repellent spray

TRY BITEBLOCKER XTREME SPORTSMAN PUMP SPRAY, $8, HOMS.COM OR DRUIDE CITRONELLA INSECT REPELLENT SPRAY LOTION, $15, WELL.CA

Other plant oils (eg., soybean and citronella)
Despite being pitched as safer-for-you bug repellents, other plant oils provide protection that’s murky at best. Some might do the job for a short while (sometimes repelling for mere minutes)—if they work at all. An old NEJM study found that a soybean oil–based product curbed bites for about 1.5 hours. But a more recent study in the Journal of Insect Science observed that two natural bug sprays (one with soybean oil plus geraniol, and one with citronella) had “little or no” effect on deterring mosquitos. So if you’re relying on these ingredients? Use them where there’s no risk of catching anything serious.

Read more:

The best ways to protect your kids from bug bites this summer
Ask Dr. Dina: Are insect repellents with DEET safe for kids?
Myths and facts about mosquito bites

Pregnant doctor delivers baby just hours before giving birth herself

CHRISTINE SHEPHERD | posted Thursday, Aug 3rd, 2017

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PHOTO: WKYT

A pregnant OB/GYN in Frankfort, Kentucky is already claiming the title of supermom for helping deliver a baby just hours before giving birth herself. Amanda Hess was preparing to be induced when she discovered that a patient of hers, Leah Halliday Johnson, was also in labour at the same hospital.

Hess came to the rescue of fully dilated Johnson in the absence of her on-call doctor, who was on his way back to the hospital after leaving for a break. Hess and her husband heard Johnson’s screams and the mom-to-be knew she had to step in to help deliver the baby in distress with no time to spare.

“I just put on another gown to cover up my backside and put on some boots over my shoes to keep from getting any fluid and all that stuff on me, and went down to her room and I knew her,” said the doctor in an interview with WKYT, a Kentucky news station.

Johnson was relieved to see a familiar face and move the birthing process along. There was no stopping the expectant mother who was ready to push and meet her bundle of joy. A few hours after delivering Johnson’s baby, Hess gave birth to her own baby girl.

“I love doing what I do. I love taking care of mothers and babies,” said Hess. “Most doctors are always thinking of their patients, even when they’re a patient themselves.” A nice idea, but we think she’s probably being a bit too humble.

25 places every Canadian kid should see

JODY ROBBINS | posted Tuesday, Jun 27th, 2017

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PHOTO: JODY ROBBINS

If ever there was a year to travel in Canada with your family, this is it. We’re blessed with jaw-dropping landscapes, thrilling outdoor adventures and a trove of diverse cultural experiences. I should know—I’ve spent the past year criss-crossing the country in search of the top destinations for families for my book 25 Places in Canada Every Family Should Visit. So grab your suitcase, indulge your sense of adventure and start crushing on Canada.

Family climb at Via Ferrata at Sea to Sky Gondola

PHOTO: PAUL BRIDE

Squamish, British Columbia
Conveniently situated between Whistler and Vancouver, the outdoor recreation capital of Canada is the perfect spot for active families. Get your bearings on the Sea-to-Sky Gondola, where misty views of the Howe Sound and Coast Mountains will set your Instagram feed on fire. Amp up your adventure with a float down the river and count how many bald eagles you see. And don’t forget to put the Britannia Mine Museum on your trip to-do list. Here you can pan for real gold, make a blasting box go KABOOM! and rumble underground on a mine train. At the end of the day, disconnect at Sunwolf Resort, a rustic hideaway with cosy riverside cabins (and no TV).

Dad and daughter ride down the Mountain Coaster at Revelstoke in BC

PHOTO: IAN HOUGHTON

Revelstoke, British Columbia
Most people think of Revy as a serious ski destination along B.C.’s famed powder highway but, come summer, this mountain resort town morphs into one of Canada’s most invigorating family playgrounds. Fairytale figurines and B.C.’s tallest treehouse delight youngsters in the Enchanted Forest, while at SkyTrek Adventure Park a forest jungle gym lets children test their limits. And forget city rollercoasters! A new mountain coasterwhooshes down a steep slope, but at speeds you control. Nearby natural hot springs soothe sore muscles and are best visited right before afternoon nap time.

The Empress Hotel in Victoria BC

PHOTO: TOURISM BRITISH COLUMBIA

Victoria, British Columbia
You’d be hard pressed to find a city with more kid-pleasing attractions situated so closely together. The Inner Harbour is where it’s at with the Bug Zoo, Miniature World and the Royal B.C. Museum—all within walking distance. The Inner Harbour is also where complimentary Canada Day activities kick off June 21 through July 1. Mini marine biologists will relish hopping aboard a harbour ferry to spot wildlife such as orcas, sea lions and porpoises. Be sure to visit Oak Bay. At this seaside neighbourhood, you can wave at the friendly resident seals at the Marina (no feeding please!) before strolling over to a lovely independent book store and toy shop.

Father and daughter look out over Kalamaka Lake Provincial Park in Vernon BC

PHOTO: ROBB THOMPSON

Vernon, British Columbia
Less busy than the Okanagan region, Vernon also boasts a staggering number of orchards and is surrounded by three lakes, giving water-loving families plenty of recreational options. Like Canada, the O’Keefe Ranch turns 150 this year, and it’s worth a visit to see the rare Jacob Sheep, which can have six horns. You’ll find equally exotic animals at nearby Kangaroo Creek Farm. Go from farm to table with a stop at Davison Orchards, where little ones love riding the Johnny Popper train to pick their own fruits and veggies in the field.

Family rides their bikes along the Legacy Trail in Canmore, AB

PHOTO: JODY ROBBINS

Canmore, Alberta
Just minutes from the gates to Banff National Park, this mountain resort town sports all the wildlife and unspoiled wilderness you dream of, but with fewer crowds. Grassi Lakes is an easy day-hike that won’t tire out the tots. More ambitious families can rent bikes and cycle along the paved Legacy Trail all the way into Banff. Cool off with the locals by plunging into Quarry Lake, or opt for a condo with an outdoor pool. Canada Day is celebrated with a pancake breakfast and a sweet parade, where candy is tossed off floats into eager hands.

Child walks through the Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta

PHOTO: JODY ROBBINS

Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta
Canada’s own Jurassic Park lies two hours outside of Calgary. Amidst the hoodoos of the Canadian Badlands, petite palaeontologists dig deep into the prehistoric past on fossil safari tours. You could haul the tent and trailer, or make it easier on yourself and bed down in the Park’s safari-like comfort camping suites. Make your visit truly memorable by saddling up to the salon at the Patricia Hotel, where families are welcome every Sunday. On Canada Day, everyone flocks to the nearby village of Rosemary for a small-town celebration like no other.

Kids help carry some wood at the Ukrainian Heritage Cultural Village near Edmonton, AB

PHOTO: UKRAINIAN HERITAGE CULTURAL VILLAGE

Edmonton, Alberta
You’ll find much more than “the Mall” in Alberta’s capital city. (Athough Galaxyland is one of the world’s largest indoor amusement parks, so you may want to add West Edmonton Mall to your to-do list.) Outside the city, kids get an immersive glimpse into the past at Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village. Warning: kids love helping role-playing pioneers with their chores—behaviour not guaranteed to be replicated at home. Camp at nearby Elk Island National Park in a site already set up for you, just beware of the likelihood of encountering a bison traffic jam.

RCMP Sunset Retreat Ceremony in Regina, SK

PHOTO: GREG HUSZAR PHOTOGRAPHY VIA TOURISM SASKATCHEWAN

Regina, Saskatchewan
The Queen city is so quintessentially Canadian and crazy affordable, you’ll wonder why you didn’t visit sooner. Begin with a tour of the RCMP Heritage Centre to learn what it really takes to become a Mountie. After saluting the RCMP, go geocaching (catered by age group) in the Edwardian gardens at Government House. Then, take it indoors at the Saskatchewan Science Centre, a science museum loaded with awesome hands-on exhibits that costs a fraction of what they charge in larger cities. Got a sports fan in your brood? Introduce them to Rider Nation (and the fine art of watermelon hat carving) during a CFL game at Mosaic Stadium.

Family Camping in the Waskesiu Wilderness Region in SK

PHOTO: GREG HUSZAR PHOTOGRAPHY VIA TOURISM SASKATCHEWAN

Waskesiu Wilderness Region, Saskatchewan
You don’t need a time machine to imagine what Canada was like 150 years ago. Simply step into the boreal woodlands of the Waskesiu Wilderness Region in Northern Saskatchewan. Travel by horse-drawn wagon à la Little House on the Prairie to view Canada’s only free-ranging bison herd on their historic range, before settling into your tipi for the night. Or how about bedding down in a yurt, surrounded by forests, warm swimming lakes, hiking trails and organic gardens? Whatever you decide, you’ll find yourself immersed in a wilderness experience that harkens back to a bygone era.

Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, MB

PHOTO: CANADIAN MUSEUM OF HUMAN RIGHTS

Winnipeg, Manitoba
An under-the-radar family fun zone, Winnipeg is a city on the rise, especially with the opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Set on The Forks, this museum is no snoozer, with scavenger hunts and kid-appropriate exhibits that foster discussion. Also at The Forks, you’ll find Variety Heritage Adventure Park, home to a fantastic playground, children’s museum and thriving food market. Jet to the other side of town to play at the Streuber Children’s Garden, inspired by the board game Snakes and Ladders and nestled within Assiniboine Park. At Assiniboine Park Zoo, make a beeline for the Journey to Churchill exhibit, where the world’s most comprehensive northern species are on display.

A polar bear says hi to people in the Tundra Buggy in Churchill, MB

PHOTO: TRAVEL MANITOBA

Churchill, Manitoba
What kid wouldn’t be on board with taking an arctic safari? This northern Manitoba town is the polar bear capital of the world, and one of the few human settlements where you can observe these bears in the wild. Take a Tundra Buggy out on the sub-Arctic terrain to view polar bears, arctic fox and other northern creatures during summer and fall. From June to August, over 3,000 beluga whales make their way from Hudson Bay to the warmer waters of the Churchill River. Families can kayak or snorkel with these naturally curious creatures and experience the rush of a lifetime.

View of Parliament Hill from the bike path along the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, ON

PHOTO: JODY ROBBINS

Ottawa, Ontario
Forgot what you learned about Ottawa on your junior high field trip? There’s no better time for a refresher. Our nation’s capital is the epicentre of the Canada 150 celebrations, running all year long. Even if your kids say they hate museums, the ones in Ottawa will convince them otherwise. Best for youngsters are the Canadian Museum of Nature and the Canadian Children’s Museum, which resides inside the Canadian Museum of History. Rent bikes and pedal along the Rideau Canal, or get really wet at Calypso, the country’s largest themed waterpark. And on the big day itself, the festivities run into the night on Parliament Hill.

The White Water Walk in the Niagara Region of Ontario

PHOTO: NIAGARA PARKS COMMISSION

Niagara Region, Ontario
You know about the falls and hotel waterslides, but did you know this lush pocket of Ontario is considered the daffodil capital of North America? Revive your senses with a visit to Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens, where wee ones can burn off some energy in the 100-acre garden. Or, take a tranquil stroll in the rainforest environment of the Butterfly Conservatory. As spectacular as Niagara Falls is, the White Water Walk is better suited to families allergic to crowds. The 1,000-ft boardwalk that runs along the rapids is suitable for both toddlers and strollers, and is strewn with interesting factoids.

Camping Pods at Long Point Eco-Adventures in Norfolk County, ON

PHOTO: LONG POINT ECO-ADVENTURES

Long Point, Ontario
Craving the feeling of sand squishing beneath your toes? Instead of joining the hoards in cottage country to the north, head south to experience laid-back summer days punctuated by meandering bike rides and refreshing ice-cream breaks. Make your way to Long Point, a 40-kilometre sweep of golden sand anchoring the warm waters of Lake Erie. Rev up your holiday with a zip line or forest canopy tour. Best is staying overnight in one of Long Point Eco-Adventures‘s camping pods, which allow families to get comfortably close to nature without having to rough it.

Family encounters a deer at Parc Omega in Montebello, QC

PHOTO: PHIL TIFO

Montebello, Quebec
Looking for a restful rural retreat without sacrificing big-city pleasures? You’ll find a good mix in Montebello, a charming village chock-a-block full of gourmet shops and glamping options. Troop pleasers include tackling an aerial ropes course and trekking underground in the largest cave in the Canadian Shield. Animal lovers will want to cruise through Parc Oméga on an outdoor wildlife safari. At the Parc, you can feed deer directly from your vehicle and sleep overnight in a yurt or treehouse. Artisanal chocolatier ChocoMotiveoccupies Montebello’s historic train station and crafts high-quality treats that are worth bringing home as a souvenir (if they last that long).

Family looks out at the view in Saguenay, QC

PHOTO: CHARLES-DAVID ROBITAILLE

Saguenay, Quebec
Families looking for outdoor adventure should head straight to the dramatic Saguenay Fjord region. Village Vacances Petit-Saguenay is a Club Med-style family resort, where parents can participate in camp activities, too. Or perhaps you’d rather camp with caribou at Zoo Sauvage Saint Félicien? Kids over 14 can hang out with wolves at Aventuraid, while all ages can spend the night in a yurt next to the enclosure. Families won’t want to miss sea-kayaking along the fjord, where there’s a good chance you’ll come face-to-face with the resident beluga whales.

View of the Montreal skyline at sunset

PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

Montreal, Quebec
This city of 1.7 million is also celebrating an important milestone—375 years to be exact. Montrealers love their entertainment, and families do well catching oodles of free shows (think tightrope walkers and aerialists) during July’s Cirque Festival. Kids enjoy the thrill of being grossed out by all the creepy crawlies inside the Montreal Insectarium, and the nearby Biodome replicates the four ecosystems found in the Americas. For a rip-roaring good time, hop on board Saute Mouton. You’ll get drenched on this jet boating experience that leapfrogs over whitecaps in the St. Lawrence, but the littles love it.

Beluga whale in the waters near Tadoussac, QC

PHOTO: JEAN-PIERRE SYLVESTRE

Tadoussac, Quebec
We all know about the trade between the First Nations and European explorers, but few realize that this is where it all began. Considered one of the prettiest villages in Quebec, Tadoussac is the oldest European settlement in the province, established eight years before Quebec City. Check out Tadoussac Trading Post, one of oldest First Nations’ trading and archeological sites in Canada, before taking advantage of all the children’s programming at Hotel Tadoussac. The town is a prime spot for whale watching, so hop aboard a Zodiak to view some of the 13 species that call the St. Lawrence home.

Family takes pictures with the guards in Fredericton, NB

PHOTO: FREDERICTON TOURISM

Fredericton, New Brunswick
With a good mix of city and country pleasures, Atlantic Canada’s riverfront capital is an affordable escape (especially for seafood lovers). Science East and the Beaverbrook Art Gallery are tops for city slickers, while the Mactaquac Beaver Ponds offer accessible hiking and nature viewing just outside the city. The bombastic beats belted out during summer’s daily Changing of the Guard Ceremony provide a historical touch without being boring. And you can keep the patriotism running high after Canada Day by watching the pageantry of the The RCMP Musical Ride.

Shop fronts along a street in St. Andrews, NB

PHOTO: TOURISM NEW BRUNSWICK

St. Andrews, New Brunswick
Your quintessential seaside resort town, St. Andrews also sports one of the most fantastic outdoor playgrounds in the country. Engage the senses with a refreshing stroll through Kingsbrae Garden, a lush 27-acre paradise where children can plant their own flowers and play inside fancy playhouses. It’s worth the splurge to stay at The Algonquin Resort. Despite the external grandeur, it’s remarkably family-friendly, with a three-storey indoor water slide, 24-hour sundry shop and coin-operated washing machines. Experience a maritime kitchen party by heading into the Red Herring Pub, where children are welcome until 9 p.m.

Waterfront view of Lunenburg Nova Scotia in the fall

PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

Lunenburg, Nova Scotia
A contender for the prettiest town in the maritimes, Lunenburg is perhaps best known for building and launching Bluenose, Nova Scotia’s famous racing schooner. You can climb aboard Bluenose II in the harbour, or view it from The South Shore Fish Shack, while sampling fish and chips and (for the more adventurous) cod tongues. At the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, families can chat up a real seafaring ship captain and learn how to shuck a scallop. Those not squeamish should plunge their hands into the touch tank to get a closer feel for creatures of the sea.

Families march through Avonlea Village

PHOTO: JODY ROBBINS

Cavendish, PEI
The ultimate family playground, not only is Cavendish the home of Anne of Green Gables, but also four world-class golf courses. Both Avonlea Village and Green Gables Heritage Place (where the Haunted Woods and Lover’s Lane really exist!) are worthy stops for Anne fans. Kids won’t mind being stuck with dinner duty when they’re in charge of digging for it. Learn the finer points of clamming with Tranquility Cove Adventures, and you’ll be rewarded with a beach boil-up afterwards. Affordable lobster suppers can be found at community centers and churches throughout the region, but you can guarantee yours at New Glasgow Lobster Suppers.

Petty Harbour in St. John's, NL

PHOTO: JODY ROBBINS

St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador
With their unique time zone set 30 minutes ahead of Atlantic Daylight Time, your daybegins before the rest of North America. Setting time for centuries, the firing of the Noon Day Gun (a real cannon) at Signal Hill keeps busy families on schedule. Just outside the city, Cape Spear Lighthouse is a must-visit spot, as is the Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium, one of the few catch-and-release aquariums in the country. In the capital, stroll along Jellybean Row, admiring the candy-coloured Victorian homes as you lick an ice cream from Moo Moo’s. Lovely green spaces with outdoor pools can be found at both Bowring and Bannerman Park.

External view of a replica Viking dwelling at L' anse aux Meadows, Norstead Village, in Newfoundland, Canada

PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

Viking Trail, Newfoundland and Labrador
Way before John Cabot sailed in Canada, Vikings recorded landfalls in Western Newfoundland. Journey along the Viking Trail, where icebergs float off the coast and families step back in time, learning to live like these fierce Norse adventurers. You’ll want to spend significant time in Gros Morne National Park, especially hiking around the Tablelands Trail. The rust-coloured rocks make it seem as though you’re walking on Mars. The big draw is L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site. At this Viking village, children gather round the fire listening to Viking sagas and play warrior inside reconstructed sod huts.

Yukon
If your family likes wide-open spaces and deep forests populated by wildlife, the Land of the Midnight Sun is definitely for you. Long hours of daylight make summer stretch that much further. Take advantage of longer days by starting hikes such as the Spruce Beetle Trail mid to late afternoon. Got a Frozen fan on your hands? Over half the landscape in Kluane National Park and Reserve is permanently draped in snow and ice. Warm up with a dip in the thermal, mineral-rich waters of Takhini Hot Pools, an odourless hot spring with pristine camping spots nearby that offer spectacular views of the Northern Lights.

Read more:
Road trip Canada: Best routes for families
Why travelling with your kids is worth it
First-aid kit essentials for family travel

RECALL: Diono Canada recalls Diono Dreamliner travel bassinet

Today's Parent | posted Thursday, Jun 8th, 2017

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PHOTO: HEALTHYCANADIANS.GC.CA

Diono Canada has recalled their Diono Dreamliner travel bassinet after Health Canada determined that these bassinets do not meet the Cribs, Cradles and Bassinets Regulations in Canada.

The affected bassinets come in grey (model 71001) or teal (model 71002). They have a steel frame, a mattress, and fabric sides with large mesh panels for ventilation, as well as an adjustable hood with integrated insect net.

Approximately 1,853 units of the affected bassinets were sold in Canada between April 2016 and May 2017. The company has not received any reports of incidents or injuries in Canada.

What should you do?

If you have an affected bassinet, stop using it immediately and return it to Diono for a full refund, which will include the bassinet price, tax, and shipping cost. You can complete the return process through the Diono website or contact the company toll-free at 1-866-954-9786.

Read more:
RECALL: Graco recalls more than 26,000 car seats
RECALL: The Honest Company baby wipes recalled due to mould

Why we should be encouraging kids to talk about 13 Reasons Why

RACHEL GIESE | posted Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

PHOTO: BETH DUBBER/NETFLIX

Anyone who’s ever met preteens and teenagers knows that the quickest way to get them to do something is to tell them not to do it. Which is why cautions against the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why issued by some Canadian schools are so very misguided.

The Hamilton Wentworth District School Board has recommended that its staff not use the show as a teaching aid because of its “glamorization of suicidal behaviour and [depicting] negative portrayals of helping professionals.” And the principal at St. Vincent Elementary School in Edmonton recently sent home a letter telling parents that kids aren’t even allowed to mention the series on school property. (In New Zealand, the national ratings board has said that kids under 18 must watch with adult supervision.)

The series, which has the slick look of a teen soap, tells the story of a 17-year-old girl who kills herself and leaves behind 13 cassette recordings for people who she says drove her to take her own life. There is a graphic scene of her suicide, as well as scenes of rape.

13 Reasons Why has been available on Netflix for over a month. The company doesn’t release viewership numbers, so it’s not known how many kids have actually watched the show, but it has been the subject of more than 11 million tweets since its March 30 launch — the most tweeted about show of 2017 so far.

It’s futile to rail against the series, or ban it, or silence talk about it, or hope it will just go away. At this point, the most pressing question isn’t whether the series romanticizes suicide, or whether it may create a contagion among vulnerable kids, or whether schools should forbid students from discussing a TV show (though those are all important questions).

Rather the question should be this: Why are we so bad at talking to kids about subjects like sexual assault, trauma, mental illness and suicide in the first place?

None of these issues are new or unfamiliar, after all. There is an epidemic of suicidal behaviour among indigenous children in remote Canadian communities. Less than five years ago, Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd took their own lives after being sexually assaulted and harassed online. In 2011, Jamie Hubley, a gay 15-year-old in Ottawa, killed himself following years of relentless bullying.

Many, many teenagers know about these deaths; they’ve been covered widely in the news. And many, many teenagers are directly suffering themselves. The Canadian Institute for Health Information reports that between 2006 and 2016, emergency department visits by young people looking for help for substance abuse or a mental health issue went up 63 percent and hospitalizations by 67 percent. The rates of youth suicide in Canada are the third highest among industrialized nations. And about 70 percent of adults with mental health issues say they first experienced problems when they were kids.

Despite these stats, there’s not nearly enough support or treatment for children and teenagers with mental illnesses. In cities like Toronto, children can wait for several months to see a psychologist, psychiatrist or therapist. In smaller centres, it can take years. Shrinking budgets at school boards have meant that experts who could best identify signs of mental health troubles, people like school nurses and social workers and guidance counselors, have been either eliminated or stretched too thin.

Left to their own devices, parents often struggle to address heavy issues. One reason for that is the generalized stigma about mental illness, and parental fear and denial — how do you deal with the knowledge that your child has psychological troubles? And when these troubles hit, particularly if they relate to sex or drugs or alcohol, teenagers might not feel safe going to their parents or teachers for fear of judgment or punishment.

Even when kids do reach out, it’s not always easy for parents to distinguish what’s typical and what’s the sign of a serious problem. Set against the already tumultuous emotional sea of adolescence, their struggles can read as teenage moodiness — something they’ll grow out of. A few years back, gay activist and writer Dan Savage launched his It Gets Bettercampaign. That message is well-intentioned but the promise of a happier future doesn’t mean much to a kid who is desperate for help right now.

13 Reasons Why might spark awareness among some kids and it might be no good to others. But its popularity — and the accompanying flood of Twitter commentary — makes it clear that kids want to talk about mental health and suicide. Are we ready to listen?

PHOTO: BETH DUBBER/NETFLIX

6 simple ways to get a handle on your kids’ screen time

Bryan Borzykowski | posted Wednesday, Apr 19th, 2017

TP01_SS_LittleKid_Article

One morning last year, at 5 a.m., Patti Barnes woke to a strange rustling noise coming from the main floor of her house. She got out of bed to investigate. Downstairs, she made a startling discovery: Her then five-year-old was sneakily playing Minecraft on the family’s iPad.

Barnes couldn’t believe it. “I asked her what she was doing,” says the Vancouver mother of five. “And she told me this wasn’t her first time.” Then and there, Barnes began setting new rules for her kids’ screen time—the first of which was no tablets, TV or phones before school.

Managing screen time is becoming an increasingly difficult task for parents. Phones and tablets are always within arm’s reach, streaming services let you watch what you want when you want it, and even things we used to do at a table, like chess or arithmetic, can be done on a device.

“The amount of screen time tends to creep up on you slowly, and kids are very adept at noticing when you’re distracted,” says Barnes. “You’re busy working or there’s something else you need to do without being badgered every two minutes, so it’s easy to let screens be a babysitter.”

Even the American Academy of Pediatrics is revisiting its screen-time recommendations, acknowledging that we live in a world full of screens. Still, every hour your kid is watching TV or on an iPhone playing video games is an hour he’s not running outside, playing with friends or reading a book.

“If you spend time watching TV, then you’re cancelling out other parts of your day when your child could be enriched,” says Janice Heard, a paediatrician and member of the Canadian Paediatric Society’s public education advisory committee. So how can you get a handle on your kids’ screen time?

1. Budget it Edmonton mom Sharla Madsen allows her kids, ages seven and four, 45 minutes of tablet or Wii U a day and about half an hour of TV watching. They can bank those minutes if they don’t use them, which she says gives them a sense of control.

2. Cut it If you don’t want to be the screen police all week long, Heard suggests banning it altogether on school days. “It’s much easier to monitor screen time if there is none,” she says. You can always record movies or sports games and watch them on the weekend.

3. Move it Zoning out in front of Monster High is one thing, but playing an active video game, like Dance Dance Revolution, is different, says Heard (although it still shouldn’t replace outdoor activity). Things like chatting with family members via Skype and doing homework are also valid reasons to be in front of a monitor.

4. Compromise on it When coming up with limits, have a family meeting, suggests Heard, to ask for the kids’ input. When Madsen talked to her son about what would be an appropriate amount of time to spend on his tablet, she suggested 45 minutes, and he countered by asking for an extra 10 to 15 minutes on the weekend. “I made his day when I agreed,” she says.

5. Enforce it Once the rules are set, going cold turkey rather than slowly reducing screen time is better, says Heard, if only because it’s easier to enforce. However, you’ll need to think of things for your kids to do to fill the time, and expect to hear the inevitable “I’m bored.” (Which might just force them to figure out a way to have fun on their own.)

6. Schedule it Plan screen time for when you need them to be occupied, like when you’re making dinner. But be prepared to spend more time with your kids, too. “Parents often use the screen to babysit, so they’re going to have to adjust their own schedules,” Heard says.

Whatever rules you make, the hardest part is sticking to them, admits Barnes. The other big challenge is cutting back your own screen time. If you can’t put your phone away, then why would your kids? “Parents need to be the role models,” says Heard.

Expert tip
To further reduce your kids’ reliance on tech, set aside designated no-screen times, like during meals, says paediatrician Janice Heard. (This means no tablets or phones at the table for grown-ups, too.) Don’t let your kids eat snacks or meals in front of the TV.

A version of this article appeared in our January 2016 issue with the headline, “Zoned out,” p. 48.

One year later: What it was like going back to work after mat leave

Melanie Ng | posted Monday, Apr 17th, 2017

When I went on maternity leave, I set my out-of-office email at work to say that I’d be returning February 2017. At the time, those 12 months felt like an eternity. I figured once I got a handle on the whole baby thing, I’d have plenty of extra time to do all the things I’d been meaning to get around to for years—like finally organize the junk drawer and clean my home computer. Little did I know how far down “organizing” would fall on my list of priorities. I was far busier—and also having way more fun—than I ever imagined. The way my son, Josh, smiled at me after a nap, the strolls I’d take with other moms—all of it really—made me feel anxious and a little sad about returning to work.

One month left of mat leave
Somehow here I am, with only a month left. It’s really starting to hit me: This world I know and love is about to change, whether I’m ready or not. My baby is no longer a baby. He’s a walking, climbing, talking little boy, and it makes leaving him excruciatingly hard.

I’ve caught myself tearing up over the smallest things—when he giggles, when he comes in for a hug, even when he’s just sitting by himself playing with toys. This is easily the most emotional I’ve ever been, and the intensity has caught me completely off-guard. I know the clock is ticking and, even though we’ll have time together at the end of each day, it won’t be the same. I will no longer be his “person,” and that kills me.

One week until I return
Everything is an emotional trigger. There’s even a certain diaper commercial that makes me cry. Every. Single. Time. I don’t consider myself an emotional person, but I can’t seem to control it—at least when it comes to my little guy. I keeping thinking about all the “last times”: the last time I get to say “good morning” to his smiling face, the last time I get to chase him around the house after lunch, the last time we get to meet up with other moms for playdates.

Going back to a job I love is the only thing that’s holding me together. I know how lucky I am. I’ve plugged myself back in, touching base with my boss and answering work emails. I can’t wait to have adult talk again and be able to think about more than just naps and feeding schedules. Part of me is excited to have a piece of my old self back, but the other part is feeling overwhelmingly guilty.

Our nanny started this week. (Between my work hours and my husband’s travel for work, having a live-out nanny really is our only choice. But, thankfully, we found a wonderful woman who seemed to bond instantly with Josh during the interview.) I wanted a full week to show her around, walk her through Josh’s routine and, of course, go through my very detailed instructions.

Once we both feel comfortable, I decide it’s time to walk away and leave them together for a few hours. It sounds like a great idea—after all, I need new work clothes. But as I head for the door, I hear them upstairs in his nursery, giggling. It hits me: Soon, his love will be spread among more people. My share might not feel like enough. As I close the door behind me, tears stream down my face. At the mall, it feels like part of me is missing. I see mom after mom with their babies. I remember how I used to think “It’ll be nice when I don’t have to navigate through stores with this cumbersome stroller,” but all I want to do is look down and see my little sidekick.

First day back at work
Everyone told me that this would be the toughest day. They were right, but no one warned me of how gut-wrenching the night before would be. Just as I’m about to put Josh down in his crib, I realize that, for the first time in a year, I won’t be there when he wakes up. I squeeze him and whisper in his ear, “Mommy won’t be here in the morning, but it’ll be OK. We’ll be OK.” (I think I need to say those words out loud more for me than for him.) As expected, my sleep is horrible. I can’t stop thinking about how everything is about to change. I question if I am truly ready for it.  

It’s probably a good thing my work hours mean that I’m at the office well before most people’s alarm clocks go off. Leaving at 4 a.m., I don’t have to say goodbye to Josh this morning, which I know would be impossible. Doing my makeup and hair—a daily ritual that I was more than happy to part with this past year— feels like I am putting on a disguise. Walking back into the newsroom is overwhelming because, even though everything is so familiar, it feels foreign. I forget passwords and need reminders about how to use certain programs. I question myself a lot. Will I be able to pick up where I left off or will my year set me back in my career?

I spend a lot of time making the rounds, getting hugs and answering questions about how I am feeling. With a smile, I give the generic “It’s good to be back, but it’s hard leaving Josh” answer to most people. But when someone really looks me in the eye and asks how I am honestly feeling, that’s when I well up and speak the truth. My cry count for the day is about five. I thought I’d have one good one and be done with it, but it’s hard being away from Josh. My mind wanders often as I think about what he might be doing. Is he OK? Is he wondering where I am? I find solace in other moms at work. As my day comes to an end, one co-worker says to me, “You did it, Mama. It only gets easier from here.” I hope she’s right.

The end of my first week back
It’s Friday, and I survived. That has to be a good sign. I can honestly say that I am feeling more confident each day—confident in my ability to get back into “work mode” and that my sweet little boy will be fine without me.

I’m not going to lie: I’m tired. There is no downtime in my job—which is actually a blessing—but going from my full-time job to my other job of parenting an energetic one-year-old is exhausting. The juggle is well worth it but totally tiring. I wasn’t quite prepared for that part, and I’m in awe of all the other parents who make it look so easy. It’s great being back: collaborating with creative minds, learning new things, feeling that incredible adrenaline rush of doing live television. But the best part of my day, hands down, is coming home and hearing the sweetest word: mama.

Melanie Ng is an anchor and a reporter for Breakfast Television.

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