SOCIAL GOOD:  Interview with Christine Guthery, Founder of SPARK Kindness

SOCIAL GOOD: Interview with Christine Guthery, Founder of SPARK Kindness

SPARKSPARK = Successful, Positive, Authentic, Resilient, Kids

The moment you sit down with Christine Guthery, a funny transformation takes place, you find yourself swelling with optimism, self-confidence and personal-potential. It’s a gift Christine has, she simultaneously exudes these attributes and brings them out in others. She’s passionate about what she does and her enthusiasm has a way of igniting passion in others.

Christine is a lawyer by training but as the mother of three children (now ages 16, 9 and 7), she has discovered that her real calling is as a community activist and SPARK Kindness is community activism at its finest.

SPARK is the offshoot of a coalition called Parents against Bullying and Cyber-Bullying, which Christine founded in 2010, and its sister organization, the Metro-west [Boston] Anti-Bullying Coalition (ABC). The need for an anti-bullying coalition arose from a wide-spread, cyber-bullying incident at a local middle school, which impacted more than 90 students and their families in 2010.

Ironically, though neither Christine nor anyone in her family has ever been a victim of bullying, Christine is on a mission to prevent it. “Bullying is a social justice issue,” Christine says. “in order to rise above it, you have to be resilient, empowered, self-confident. I’m a lawyer by training and this idea of building resiliency inspires me. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. That’s my cause.”

“The definition of ‘bully’ used to be pretty straightforward. It was a label once reserved for kids, who were considered outliers or playground thugs, the type of kids who committed physical acts on their victims. But times have changed. Now it’s not just the kids who are insecure or outcast that are doing the bullying, rather it’s also the popular kids, both boys and girls, who are trying to reach the top of their social/athletic/academic pyramid that can be the perpetrators,” Christine says.

“Not too long ago,” Christine continues, “a slanderous note passed around at school could impact a whole class of students or even a school community but when the kids went home at the end of the day, they left the incident at school. Now, with the Internet and smart phones, [and thanks to social media sites like Facebook, MySpace and Instagram,] bullying incidents can enter the cyber-sphere and quickly go viral. Kids have no way of leaving an incident behind them,” explains Christine. “In fact, these days, a great deal of bullying occurs during out-of-school-time.”

Christine believes that genocide and ethnic-cleansing—such as the ones that have occurred in Darfur, South Sudan and Nazi Germany—is “bullying taken to extreme measures.” And it’s really this mindset, this deep desire to eradicate the cause at it’s root, that has given rise to SPARK Kindness. The evolution came in 2012, when Christine realized that just talking about bullying wasn’t making progress.

“For two years [2010 & 2011] I had been focusing on bullying and trying to understand it better,” she says, “but then I realized, what if we shifted the conversation away from the outcome (bullying) and toward the prevention (nurturing kindness and resiliency)? What if our efforts were proactive rather than reactive?”

She compares this shift in mindset with the approach of Western medicine, where the focus is on addressing the illness, not on maintaining and promoting wellness. “I was finding that just talking about bullying was disempowering,” Christine reflects. “When I focused on the positives of resilience, kindness and courage, I felt empowered. It was exactly like the emotion of ‘elevation’ or self-transcendence that psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, described in his 2012 TED talk,” she says. “In other words, when you witness someone doing something positive or altruistic, it inspires you to do something positive or altruistic. This is where SPARK Kindness came from, how can we build the community we want rather than just address the ills we want to avoid?”

The answer:

teach children not just about kindness and emotional self-awareness early on but how to be resilient and seek support when they are feeling insecure or are suffering. SPARK Kindness, ignite positive change in your community.

chirtine gutheryTo find out ways to SPARK Kindness in your own community, click the logo above or visit http://www.sparkkindness.org/.

This post summarizes an interview between SPARK Kindness founder, Christine Guthery and World Moms Blog Managing Editor, Kyla P’an. This is a World Moms Blog exclusive interview.

Kyla P'an (Portugal)

Kyla was born in suburban Philadelphia but spent most of her time growing up in New England. She took her first big, solo-trip at age 14, when she traveled to visit a friend on a small Greek island. Since then, travels have included: three months on the European rails, three years studying and working in Japan, and nine months taking the slow route back from Japan to the US when she was done. In addition to her work as Managing Editor of World Moms Network, Kyla is a freelance writer, copy editor, recovering triathlete and occasional blogger. Until recently, she and her husband resided outside of Boston, Massachusetts, where they were raising two spunky kids, two frisky cats, a snail, a fish and a snake. They now live outside of Lisbon, Portugal with two spunky teens and three frisky cats. You can read more about Kyla’s outlook on the world and parenting on her personal blogs, Growing Muses And Muses Where We Go

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MASSACHUSETTS, USA: The Mouse Trap

MASSACHUSETTS, USA: The Mouse Trap

mickeyAs parents determined to raise global citizens, my husband and I were reticent to channel financial resources toward a Disney-vacation rather than taking our children abroad for enrichment. But, there is something that stirs inside both of us when it comes to celebrating the ephemeral days of childhood that made us reconsider.

Here in the US, a visit to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida or Disneyland in Anaheim, California is a childhood hallmark. In fact, I have met parents, who began planning their Disney vacation the moment they found out they were pregnant with their first child.

And even though a Disney family-vacation can cost upwards of several thousand dollars (with hotels, park tickets and flights), it doesn’t necessarily mean that parents will wait until their children are old enough to fully enjoy the experience nor, in some cases, are even old enough to remember it; tots, barely able to toddle, are a common site at Disney theme parks. (more…)

Kyla P'an (Portugal)

Kyla was born in suburban Philadelphia but spent most of her time growing up in New England. She took her first big, solo-trip at age 14, when she traveled to visit a friend on a small Greek island. Since then, travels have included: three months on the European rails, three years studying and working in Japan, and nine months taking the slow route back from Japan to the US when she was done. In addition to her work as Managing Editor of World Moms Network, Kyla is a freelance writer, copy editor, recovering triathlete and occasional blogger. Until recently, she and her husband resided outside of Boston, Massachusetts, where they were raising two spunky kids, two frisky cats, a snail, a fish and a snake. They now live outside of Lisbon, Portugal with two spunky teens and three frisky cats. You can read more about Kyla’s outlook on the world and parenting on her personal blogs, Growing Muses And Muses Where We Go

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MASSACHUSETTS, USA: Blind (play) Dating

MASSACHUSETTS, USA: Blind (play) Dating

playdateLast week my 7-year-old daughter invited a friend over for a playdate after school. My daughter and this child aren’t close friends, in fact, they aren’t even in the same class at school but they did play on the same town soccer team last year and the child has invited my daughter over a few times—including to her 7th birthday party—so we were due to reciprocate.

This particular little girl comes from a family of four children. She lives nearby in a large house in a posh sub-division and with four kids in her home, they have a lot of toys and things to play with.

Furthermore, her mom is one of those Alpha moms, who runs various nominated volunteer positions at school and who always seems to have her stuff together: pressed and polished at morning drop-off and calm and controlled when you see her in the pick-up line at the end of the day. You know the sort. (more…)

Kyla P'an (Portugal)

Kyla was born in suburban Philadelphia but spent most of her time growing up in New England. She took her first big, solo-trip at age 14, when she traveled to visit a friend on a small Greek island. Since then, travels have included: three months on the European rails, three years studying and working in Japan, and nine months taking the slow route back from Japan to the US when she was done. In addition to her work as Managing Editor of World Moms Network, Kyla is a freelance writer, copy editor, recovering triathlete and occasional blogger. Until recently, she and her husband resided outside of Boston, Massachusetts, where they were raising two spunky kids, two frisky cats, a snail, a fish and a snake. They now live outside of Lisbon, Portugal with two spunky teens and three frisky cats. You can read more about Kyla’s outlook on the world and parenting on her personal blogs, Growing Muses And Muses Where We Go

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Massachussets, USA:  Traveling Like a European

Massachussets, USA: Traveling Like a European

bags

Our luggage for a three-week trip to Europe for a family of four

We just returned from a family trip to Europe. It was the first time we took our kids, ages 7 and 4, on an overseas vacation and we wanted to be sure to make the most of the experience. Right from the outset, we did two very un-American things: 1) we took more than two weeks off for the trip, and 2) we packed really, really light. For four people on a three-week vacation we took just three carry-ons and one back pack.

Possibly demanding even more attention than our travel itinerary, our luggage became a bit of an obsession for my husband.

When we decided to take my cousin and his wife up on their invitation to visit them in Poland, we wanted to be as economical as possible, both about getting to Europe and traveling within it. Thanks to my husband’s frequent cross-country business trips over the past two years and the added perk that his company’s European headquarters is in Cork, Ireland, we were able to cover three of our four tickets without spending a dime. We figured once we got to Ireland, like well-traveled Europeans, we’d rely on discount airlines to get us where we wanted to go.

The challenge became figuring out which carriers would get us where we wanted to go for the least amount of money. From Ireland, we wanted to get to Poland, and from Poland, we wanted to fly to London. Then from London, once more to Ireland, for our return flight home.

Ryanair, a notorious (and insidious), Irish, discount carrier was top on our list for cheap flights. Following a close second was Easy Jet.

Though Ryanair has incredibly low prices—we bought tickets from Cork, Ireland to Warsaw, Poland for US$70 per person—they also have ridiculously restrictive carry-on luggage requirements. This is how they are stated on the Ryanair website:

“Strictly one item of cabin baggage per passenger (excluding infants) weighing up to 10kg with maximum dimensions of 55cm x 40cm x 20cm is permitted. (handbag, briefcase, laptop, shop purchases, camera etc.) must be carried in your 1 permitted piece of cabin baggage.”

If your carry-on does NOT meet these requirements or fit in the miniature luggage cage positionedryanair by the Ryanair ticket counters and flight gates, then these are the penalties:

Extra/oversized cabin baggage will be refused at the boarding gate, or where available, placed in the hold of the aircraft for a fee of £60/€60. Fees are subject to VAT on Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and German domestic routes at applicable government rates. If you are unsure, check at the Bag Drop desk before going through security.

In other words, if your luggage doesn’t pass, at the gate you may be forced to pay as much as or more than your actual flight ticket to check the offending item.

I’m pretty sure Ryanair caters to the weekend travel crowd, whose weekend’s worth of necessities easily fall within these parameters but for a family of four on a European sojourn, the restrictions were crippling.

The restrictions caused two dilemmas for us. The first dilemma was that the standard size of all US carry-on suitcases exceeds Ryanair dimensions. In fact, after browsing multiple websites and purchasing and returning two, new carry-ons, we could not seem to find wheeled luggage small or light enough to fit their limitations. The second dilemma was that without wheels, our children were not old enough nor strong enough to carry their own luggage. Meaning that everything we needed for our three-week trip would have to be carried by my husband and me.

Armed with a tape measure and digital luggage scale, my husband became a man possessed by the Ryanair luggage restrictions.

Our packing list went from vacation-size to commando-style. Each of us was rationed: five tops (two long sleeve, three short), four bottoms (two pants, two shorts or skirts), seven under garments, three pairs of socks, two pairs of shoes, one sweater, a swimsuit and a travel-raincoat.

Added to this were toiletries, my husband’s laptop computer, business attire for the days he needed to put in at the Cork office (including a sports coat and a pair of dress shoes), entertainment items for the kids (foam-weight, modeling clay; travel journals; crayons; a travel game; a deck of cards; markers), a DSLR camera, and a tablet computer loaded with books, two movies and a variety of travel apps.

We divided these items among our backpack and three small bags, weighed and measured each one…twice. Then stood on our bathroom scale and weighed them again. When we were pretty confident that our luggage met the size and weight requirments—dictated most restrictively by Ryanair—my husband added a contingency plan, which involved wearing all of our heaviest and bulkiest clothing items on travel days.

We were determined to travel small, light-weight and efficient, just like our European counterparts.

So though Ryanair set the stage for our minimalist luggage, thankfully, we only flew one flight with them. In comparison, Easy Jet was a luxury liner with far less restrictive rules and the three other regional carriers we flew even allowed passengers to check items, free-of-charge.

Considering the stress that packing for our trip caused up front, in the end, it was a great lesson in minimalist travel:

  1. confined to a week’s worth of clothes, we were able to do laundry twice on our trip.
  2. With careful and clever planning, our clothing choices yielded 21 different wardrobe combinations, preventing us from looking like we had on the same outfits in the copious number of pictures we snapped.
  3. The time we spent in airports was significantly reduced by the lack of our need to wait at the luggage claim each time.
  4. And, perhaps most rewarding, we’d like to think we blended in with other European travelers, rather than sticking out like typical boisterous Americans on holiday.

This is an original post for World Moms Blog by our Managing Editor and mom of two in Massachusetts, Kyla P’an.

Photos credited to the author.

Kyla P'an (Portugal)

Kyla was born in suburban Philadelphia but spent most of her time growing up in New England. She took her first big, solo-trip at age 14, when she traveled to visit a friend on a small Greek island. Since then, travels have included: three months on the European rails, three years studying and working in Japan, and nine months taking the slow route back from Japan to the US when she was done. In addition to her work as Managing Editor of World Moms Network, Kyla is a freelance writer, copy editor, recovering triathlete and occasional blogger. Until recently, she and her husband resided outside of Boston, Massachusetts, where they were raising two spunky kids, two frisky cats, a snail, a fish and a snake. They now live outside of Lisbon, Portugal with two spunky teens and three frisky cats. You can read more about Kyla’s outlook on the world and parenting on her personal blogs, Growing Muses And Muses Where We Go

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MASSACHUSETTS, USA: Preparing Them for the Path

MASSACHUSETTS, USA: Preparing Them for the Path

ThePathNot long ago, I attended a parenting seminar featuring excellent keynote speakers and a number of child development specialists. The seminar must have impacted me more than I realized because this is the second time I find myself writing about sage wisdom imparted during it (the other time I brought it up was in this post).

A major topic of the keynote address centered on how US parents today are getting more involved with their children, sometimes to a detrimental degree.

Most US women of my generation, Gen X—as products of mothers that fought for equality and women’s rights back in the 1960’s—are more accomplished, both academically and professionally, than our fore-mothers. After obtaining college and often graduate school degrees (sometimes more than one), Gen X women go on to establish our financial independence in the workforce; and in many cases, then elect to leave the workforce in order to raise children.

This trend is called “Opting-Out” and it’s common in tony suburbs around the US. But it’s a trend with consequences. Women, who had achieved success professionally find themselves somewhat under-challenged domestically. Eager to apply their professional talents at home, many of these women turn child rearing into a second career. Though fathers are not as likely to Opt Out, some still do, leaving the mother as main bread winner. As a result, helicopter and over-bearing parenting has become ubiquitous; the outcome of which has yielded a population of coddled and unresilient kids.

I am not claiming this phenomenon endemic to the US but it’s certainly a growing concern. Perhaps this is why the message in the parenting seminar’s keynote address by Robert Evans resonated so much for me. He spoke about how today’s parents are so focused on their kids that they are willing to do everything for them: intervene at the slightest sign of trouble; help them with projects and homework the children should be responsible for; even criticize teachers and authority figures for treating their child unfairly. In essence, these parents are clearing life’s path of all obstacles and challenges that would help a child build character, resilience and stamina.

“Parents don’t need to prepare the path for their children…instead, they need to focus on preparing their children for The Path.”

– Bob Evans

Preparing our children for the path…what does that mean exactly? And where do we draw the line?

I would not label either my husband nor myself a helicopter parent—Drill Sargent, perhaps–but as a freelance writer with a flexible work schedule, I avail myself to my children and their school and activity schedules. I’m a room parent, active member of the Parent/Teacher Organization and volunteer for many roles at my children’s schools and extra-curricula. But I don’t think I over-do it.

At my daughter’s elementary school, there’s a rumour that the teachers have an acronym for the (mostly female) parents who should get out of the school and get a job. I don’t know what the acronym is and pray it’s never associated with my name but I can understand why it exists.

In parents’ defense, however, we can’t help feeling more protective and sometimes over-bearing about our kids. We want to be able to let go of their hands and let them find their own way but there are a lot more demons along the path now. Social media, for one, has rendered our lives  more public than ever before. I often find myself more concerned about the fall-out of a misstep on Facebook than a misstep in real life. Take for example the recent milestone our daughter achieved, which I was initially so proud of but ultimately never posted online about:

Our house is a half-mile away from our elementary school. To get there, you walk along a lovely open path along a ridge, down the hill across the soccer fields and arrive at the school. You can see the school from the top of our street. My children and I have been walking to school along this path, which we dubbed the Faery Path, for four years now. Recently, we allowed our independent 1st- grader to walk to school on her own. There are other kids in our neighborhood who also walk to school but none of them without a parent. For this reason, I got nervous about it.

I wasn’t nervous for our daughter, she’s a very capable and spunky 7-year-old, I was nervous for what others would think about my decision to let her walk alone; how they would judge my parenting style.

Later that day, when I picked my daughter up from school, she effervesced about how exciting it was to walk to school on her own and how responsible it made her feel. With heavy-heart, I informed her that it was the only time she would get to walk the path on her own for a while.

It’s just not how today’s parents are doing things.

How do you help prepare your children for the Path? Do you feel the judgement of others has a negative outcome on your child rearing decisions?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Senior Editor and mother of two, Kyla P’an.

The image used in this post is credited to Nina Mathew’s Photography. It holds a Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.

Kyla P'an (Portugal)

Kyla was born in suburban Philadelphia but spent most of her time growing up in New England. She took her first big, solo-trip at age 14, when she traveled to visit a friend on a small Greek island. Since then, travels have included: three months on the European rails, three years studying and working in Japan, and nine months taking the slow route back from Japan to the US when she was done. In addition to her work as Managing Editor of World Moms Network, Kyla is a freelance writer, copy editor, recovering triathlete and occasional blogger. Until recently, she and her husband resided outside of Boston, Massachusetts, where they were raising two spunky kids, two frisky cats, a snail, a fish and a snake. They now live outside of Lisbon, Portugal with two spunky teens and three frisky cats. You can read more about Kyla’s outlook on the world and parenting on her personal blogs, Growing Muses And Muses Where We Go

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