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LEGO Friends: Are these toys built on stereotypes?
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You've probably seen them by now: the TV commercials for "LEGO Friends," a new line of LEGO sets designed specifically for girls. And you've probably noticed that they don't look like the LEGO sets you've been playing with. For one, there's a lot of pink. The figures are less blocky shaped and more...curvaceous, and they have predetermined names like "Olivia" and "Emma." Also, the environments are places like a beauty shop, a beach cafe, and a design studio.

In other words, they're not all that different from popular girl-focused toys like Barbie and Bratz.

lego.jpgSome people think it's cool, that LEGO is selling something for older kids that's not centered around "Star Wars" or superheroes, and that they're finally paying attention to girls after years of marketing only to boys. A lot of people think it's not. As in, the settings are dumbed-down and stereotypically "feminine", like they're telling girls, "Here's all the pink stuff you're supposed to like and we decided a lot of things for you already. Go play!"

Two young women and members of the girl activist group SPARK, Bailey Shoemaker Richards and Stephanie Cole, feel so strongly that LEGO is sending the wrong message to young people that they started a petition on, urging the company to abandon the LEGO Friends line and change the way they market to both boys and girls. 

"The LEGO Friends line struck a nerve with me because it came from an unexpected place," Stephanie has said. "This was a brand that always stood for creativity, and now they are reaching out to girls in the most unoriginal way imaginable."

Here at IML, we'd like to know from you: What do you think? What was your reaction when you saw the LEGO Friends toys? Do you feel LEGO is making assumptions about what girls and boys want to play with, and how they want to play with it? Or are you glad they're creating LEGO sets that are more appealing to girls? Tell us on the What's On Your Mind page.


Reality TV: Is there such a thing?
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media.gifWhy do we watch reality TV? Is it because nothing is as dramatic and entertaining as real life? Does it reflect experiences we're actually having? Are we learning anything positive from it, or do we just like to spy on other people?

Reality TV has become more than just a trend in entertainment -- it's shaping up to be a whole extra genre that might be here to stay. Is that a good thing?

We were very interested to read the results of a recent survey from the Girl Scout Research Institute called "Real to Me: Girls and Reality TV," which picked the brains of tween and teen girls who regularly watch reality television shows, and those who don't watch them. Here's what they found out:

  • 86% of the girls think reality TV shows pit girls against one another in order to make things more "exciting".
  • Of the girls who watch reality TV shows, 78% said that "gossip is a normal part of a relationship between girls." Of the girls who don't watch reality TV, only 54% agreed with that statement.
  • Reality TV viewers are more likely than non-viewers to say "girls often have to compete for a guy's attention" (74% vs. 63%), and are happier when they're dating someone or have a boyfriend/significant other (49% vs. 28%).
  • Of the girls who watch reality TV, 74% said they spend a lot of time on their appearance, while only 42% of the girls who don't watch it said the same thing.
So does watching reality TV only have negative effects on us? Fortunately no -- there seem to be upsides too (besides the fun-to-watch part):

  • Most of the viewers describe themselves as "mature, a good influence, smart, funny, and outgoing."
  • They're more likely than girls who don't watch to aim for leadership in life (46% vs. 27%) and see themselves as role models for other girls (75% vs. 61%).
  • 68% of girls agree that reality shows "make me think I can achieve anything in life" and 48% agreed that they "help me realize there are people out there like me."
  • 75% of girls say that reality TV depicts people with different backgrounds and beliefs.
  • 62% of girls say that these types of shows have raised their awareness of social issues and causes.
What about you? Do you agree that reality TV shows offer tween viewers these positive and negative sides? Does the bad outweigh the good, or vice versa? Tell us what you think on our What's On Your Mind page, and we'd love to hear which reality TV shows, in your opinion, truly offer something of value to audiences.

In the end, we guess it's most important to remember that reality TV is not reality; if you watch it the way you might watch "fictional" television, it's easier to separate out the mixed messages. These shows might be created by other people, but what really matters is what you create out of them for yourself!

"Faces of Hope", and some thoughts, 10 years after 9/11
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We have not one but two big anniversaries coming up this weekend. The first, of course, is the 10th Anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The second is the anniversary of It's My Life.

That's right. IML was born right after these attacks happened 10 years ago. We had just gotten the news that we were getting funding to create this website for tweens, and were starting to plan it out, when that day happened. One year later, we created a section called September 11 to help IML'ers think about and talk about not just those events, but all the fears and feelings associated with them. Even though most of today's IML'ers don't remember 9/11/01, we think the information on those pages still holds some great advice, especially "Feeling Freaked Out," "Media Madness," and "Celebrate Diversity."

Faces Hope 10 Year.jpgAfter the attacks, a book called "Faces of Hope: Babies Born on 9/11" was published, featuring fifty babies -- one from each U.S. state -- who were busy being born on the same day the world changed for most of us. The author, Christine Pisera Naman, has revisited these now-tweens in her new book, "Faces of Hope: Ten Years Later." Christine shared some of her experiences creating the book as we all reflect on this anniversary.

IML: Besides their birth date, what do the kids in your book have in common? 

IMG_0228.JPGChristine: I think they have much in common.  They are all happy, energetic, full-of-life tweens. They have never lived in a time where 9/11 has not existed but yet they see our world as a hopeful, happy place, one in which they believe that they can make a difference. They are quite a diverse group with each one  coming  from one of the fifty states. They live different lives and lifestyles that have them spread out all over the United States but they remain linked by their birthday and its significance.
IML: What have most of the kids been told about the day they were born, and how did their families keep birthdays joyous while also being respectful?
Christine: Now that the kids are approaching ten years old, the families have now begun telling them a little bit more in detail about the events of September 11.  They know that it is a sad day in our history because innocent lives were lost.  They are aware of the plane crashes and the way in which the events unfolded.  I think that in regards to "knowing," they may be at slightly different levels but it is now a part of the history classes they participate in at school so they do have knowledge.

I think that birthdays are acknowledged two-fold by most families.  We celebrate the child and the great people they are becoming just as you would any child on their birthday. But I also think that the families set aside time to make sure that they respect the bigger picture by honoring and praying for those lost and their loved ones.

IML: Do you think these kids feel a "responsibility" to the world, or at least to those around them, because they were born on 9/11/01?
Christine: Personally, I don't know if they do but I would love it if my own son felt more of a responsibility to do good for the world because he was born on 9/11/01.
IML: The book is dedicated to Christina Taylor Green, who is featured posthumously after being one of the victims of the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona last January. What did you learn about Christina during the process of doing the book?
Christine: I learned that Christina was an amazing, beautiful, intelligent little girl.  She was gifted in so many ways and had so many interests that made her into the special child that she was.

IML: Many of today's 10-year-old's don't really understand what happened on that day and how it changed the world. Do you think it's important for kids to know that, or is it better to keep it in the past and focus on the present and future?
Christine: I think it's important for all children to know in a way that's appropriate to them what 9/11 was about.  It is a part of our history and they need to know about the tragic events. It is a good opportunity to teach them about the courage and goodness that came from that day. We can show and tell them that humanity banded together as one and stood up against adversity.

IML: Thank you, Christine! What a great way for us to recognize this day.

Now it's your turn: Tell us how you think the events of 9/11/01 changed the world!

"The right thing to do..."
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foulball.jpgHere's a story you may have seen on the news, especially if you're a baseball fan: A 12-year-old Arizona Diamondbacks fan named Ian McMillan catches a foul ball in his cap that a player tossed into the stands. He's really psyched for a few seconds, then he notices a younger boy who was also trying to get the ball, really disappointed and being comforted by his mom. Without seeming to even think about it, Ian runs down and hands the ball to the other kid.

What Ian didn't know is that his act of generosity was caught by TV cameras covering the game, and the announcers were blown away by it. The happy and grateful look on the younger boy's face, and the good feeling of having done something incredibly, randomly nice, was probably reward enough for Ian. But his kindness came back to him many times over; the announcers game him a baseball bat autographed by his fave player, Mark Upton, and the team invited him to come back and throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the next game.

When interviewed, Ian said he just thought it was "the right thing to do" to give the ball away, and the experience has taught him that "if you do good things, good things will happen to you."

We totally agree! (Thanks for the reminder, Ian!) You can watch more about the story and Ian's interview at ABC News. So now we want to know from you IML'ers: Have you ever done something simply because it was "the right thing to do"? Even if you didn't really want to or it meant giving something up for yourself? Tell us on our You Said It page!

One day + forever
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Last night's news about Osama bin Laden brings up some interesting things for us.

The most important, of course, is that a really, really bad guy has left the planet. Future crimes and violence and senseless deaths have hopefully been prevented. Families of terrorist victims can get feel some closure. Maybe now, for a short time anyway, the world will be a bit safer.

It's also a little coincidental because just days ago, an IML'er wrote to us to say that our section on 9/11 was totally outdated, because most of the tweens on our site are too young to remember it -- or may not have even been born yet! If that's you, then all this emotion surrounding Osama bin Laden may feel kind of weird. Obviously, it's not often that someone gets killed and millions rejoice (we hope it's once in a lifetime for all of us that there's a person who deserves that). But the events that changed the U.S. back in 2001 may just be something you read about in school or hear about from family members; maybe you feel like they don't affect you.

When we first started working on our "September 11th" section years ago -- it was around the 1st anniversary -- we really wanted the information to be "evergreen," meaning it would still be useful in the future. Looking at it now, we feel like we did that. We focused on the positive side of things and some of the advice, like the pages on tolerance and facing your fears, is important even unconnected to the terrorist attacks.

So today, we invite you to check out this section and maybe it will give you some better perspective on today's buzz:

Feeling Freaked Out
Maybe you're not afraid of new attacks, but this info applies to anything...especially natural disasters.

Media Madness
It seems like every week there's something upsetting that's all over our TV's, phones, and computers. Here's how to manage the blitz.

Celebrate Diversity
Oh, how we wish this would be beside the point 10 years after the attacks, but we're not sure it ever will be.

Sam and Harry's Story
If you want to know what it felt like to have your world really rocked by these events, meet Sam and Harry.

We DID update the You Said It page associated with this section; come on by and share your thoughts on how the world has changed since 9/11/01.

Asher, Billy, Seth, and Tyler
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asher.jpgIt's October 1. We're kind of glad September is over, because it was filled with news of four teen boys -- in Indiana, Texas, California, and New Jersey -- who committed suicide as a result of being bullied. It doesn't matter why they were bullied. These boys felt so much pain at the hands of their peers that they must have thought there was no way life could ever get better. That's a lot of pain, and it makes us hurt just to think about it.

We urge IML'ers to take a look at our Bullies section, even if you've read it before. We all need to remind ourselves of how our actions (and inactions) might affect other people. It's important to ask these questions:
Then please share your thoughts and experiences -- about these headlines, about bullying, about what you've done to get through it -- on our Bullies You Said It page.

We know things can change, and that change can start right away, and it can start with you and the people around you. There's power in compassion!

Checking In On Haiti, and Judith
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There is just so darn much news these days. It seems like something really big happens, and we hear about it constantly for a few days or, if it's particularly ginormous, a couple of weeks...and then something else grabs our attention. Sometimes it's hard to keep track of all the bad stuff. Oil spills. Kidnappings and murders. Celebrity deaths. And oh yeah, earthquakes.

It's hard to believe it's been almost 5 months since the earthquake in Haiti, which killed an estimated 230,000 people and made over 1 million homeless. It's all we heard about for a little while. And then other things went down, and we got distracted, and life went on. But the other day we thought about Haiti for some reason and wondered, "What's going on there?" Nobody's really talking about it anymore! We got curious and went looking for some updates, and found this great story from the UNICEF website which raised our spirits but also reminded us of how an entire country must be struggling together to survive.



Judith's story: In the face of grief, education brings hope in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 14 May 2010 - On the day of the quake, Ms. Lambert, our school director, sent us home early. I usually stayed after class to help clean the trash in the schoolyard. But that day, Ms. Lambert had heard that not far from our school a university teacher had been killed and there was fear of rioting. She insisted that we rush home and not linger on the streets.

Do you follow up on stories after they've faded from the headlines? What does it take for an event to really make an impression on your life and keep you from forgetting about it? It's interesting to think about, yes? For us, the Haiti earthquake stays with us because of the staggering number of children affected, and the percentage of those children who are the same age of IML'ers, trying to overcome incredible loss and heartbreak to get on with their lives and have a bright future. Go Judith!

Celeb Scoop: Sean Kingston
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sean_with_yogmascot.jpg2010 has been a big year so far for Sean Kingston. In February he turned 20, and in March his single "Eenie Meenie," recorded with some guy named Justin Bieber, became an instant hit.

What you may not know is that Sean also had the honor of being chosen one of five young artists to sing the theme song for the first-ever Youth Olympic Games to be held in Singapore this August!

Yes, you read that right: the Youth Olympic Games, which will bring together 5,000 athletes aged 14 - 18 from 205 countries to compete in 26 different sports. Do the math, and that adds up to one extremely cool event that's bound to be entertaining and inspiring. The Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games theme song, called "Everyone" debuted on June 1.

Recently, Sean spoke to IML about being part of the Youth Olympic Games and other highlights of his life right now.

IML: Hi Sean! So we understand that five singers were picked to sing the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games theme song, one for each continent symbolized by the Olympic rings. Can you tell us how you got involved?

Sean: I got a call from my manager that they wanted me to represent as a singer for North America. That's something big, and I was so excited to go down there and do it! It was so fun to see and connect with the other artists. We recorded the song, and it was just really crazy. You have singers from different countries on the song: a guy from the United Kingdom, and girls from Africa, Australia, and Malaysia. I'd never met any of them, but they're all artists who are big in their own countries. It was a great honor for me to represent the United States in this way.

(IML's note: The other artists are Steve Appleton, Jody Williams, Jessica Mauboy, and Tabitha Nauser.)

sean_themesong2.jpgIML: What was it like working with this variety of artists? Did everyone have different styles?

Sean: Definitely! Everybody had different voices and the way they each do their thing is really different. So for me to come through as a reggae artist with my type of tone in my voice, it was weird at first but we made it happen and I had a great time. It opened my eyes to different vocal styles.

IML: So you had some differences, but what were some things that the five of you had in common?

Sean: The main thing was that we're all young...Everybody was a teenager. We found ourselves talking about high school stuff we could all relate to. And we all write our own music, so we had that in common too. They were writing their own albums like me.

IML: Tell us about the song itself. Does it have a message?

Sean: Yes, a great message! The song is saying, anybody can do it. Not just in sports, but life in general. Rise up and come together. Have determination. Don't give up.

IML: What's your favorite Olympic sport?

Sean: I love track and field. I'm from Jamaica, so that comes naturally!

IML: Are there any sports you do personally?

Sean: In high school, I played football. But now I play basketball. I go to the gym, I shoot around. I'm a huge basketball fan. I'm really into the playoffs right now!

IML: It's great to have something like that. What do you feel basketball added to your life?

Sean: It helps me get in shape, definitely. It's a workout for me but it's also about having fun. I just want to get the ball in the hoop. I get to hang out with my friends when I'm playing. It helps me ease my mind from the music industry when I'm having fun on the court.

IML: Congrats on the success of  "Eenie Meenie." What was it like to collaborate with Justin?

Sean: It was definitely great to hook up with somebody I could really relate to. People do collaborations all the time, but to really connect with someone I have a relation to and who's a personal friend behind the scenes, that was great. Me and Justin have been cool for a long time. The relationship we have works in many ways. He's the new generation, the new thing. I was where he is a couple of years ago. I got in the game when I was 17 and I'm 20 now. I'm kind of like a big brother to him. To do that song together was definitely a magic moment. It was great and we had a lot of fun!

IML: Did you have any advice for him at this point in his career?

Sean: Basically I told him to stay humble. Stay positive and watch out for negative people around you.

Thumbnail image for seankingston.jpgIML: Great advice! What other artists do you plan to collaborate with?

Sean: I'm hooking up with Nicki Minaj. I'd love to do something with Taylor Swift. I'm just trying to connect with a lot of different artists. I'm basically trying to take this music thing to another level with the album I'm working on now. I'm trying different new sounds and different concepts.

IML: Now that you're 20, does it feel like this album is your first grown-up album?

Sean: Yeah. This is my grown up album. It's a stepping stone to a new Sean. I have to let people know to get ready for it because while I was a teenager, I was doing what I was doing because it was a part of me, and even though I'm still a fun kid and I'm not going to change to another genre, I'm going to take things to another level.

IML: We love to ask this next question because most IML'ers are going through it right now. What were you like in middle school?

Sean: I was always into music. I loved riding four wheelers and stuff like that. I had a little dirt bike and I loved riding it. I was and still am a huge gamer, really playing Playstation and XBox. And I used to love cartoons like Pokemon!

IML: It sounds like you were a pretty typical tween!

Sean: Yes, definitely!

IML: Thanks, Sean, and good luck with everything!

Sean: Thank you!

Here's some more info on the Youth Olympic Games:

  • Sean and his new pals will be performing "Everyone" at the opening ceremonies in Singapore on August 14, 2010 (hear the song and see the video below!). The games run from August 14-26, 2010.

  • The competition plans to include new formats like mixed gender grouping and mixed National Olympic Committee teams.

  • In addition to competing in their sports, the young teen athletes will also take part in a Culture and Education Program. The goal is to inspire youth around the world to embrace, embody and express the Olympic values of Excellence, Friendship and Respect.

  • You can visit to learn more about the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games!

And here's the official video for "Everyone"! It's really inspiring (and a great song too):

Greyson Chance...Was It By Chance?
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Surely you've seen the video by now. Almost 12 MILLION people have!

Oklahoma sixth-grader Greyson Chance sang "Paparazzi" for his school talent show but maybe he should have sung "Fame" instead...because that's what he's getting. Like, instantly. (Just add YouTube, mix, and ta-da!)

First of all, let us just say that Greyson's Lady Gaga cover is acoustic awesomeness indeed. This guy clearly has loads of talent. A sweet, funny, down-to-earth personality too, judging from his interview with Ellen Degeneres. We love his original songs "Stars" and "Broken Hearts" that you can also watch online. (We also love the wall of girls watching him in the video. You just know they're all quietly like, "OMG!!!!!")

But is there anything that sets Greyson apart from any one of the many, many gifted tweens out there who share their passion and performances with the world? Is Greyson just a kid who sang a song, put the video online, and somehow magically grabbed millions of views in a couple of weeks? Or is there something truly special about him, so special that nobody else doing a cool piano version of "Paparazzi" would ever make the same splash? What do you think?

There are a lot of people out there trying to figure out why one thing goes "viral" online and becomes a huge hit, while another thing doesn't. Maybe it just takes the right people discovering and sharing it; maybe you have to come up with the right thing at the right time. For instance, maybe Greyson's success is related to the fact that (1) Lady Gaga is fiery hot right now, (2) Justin Bieber, who he slightly resembles, is fiery hot right now, (3) "Glee" is fiery hot too so that any young person who sings their heart out and does it well will really strike a nerve, and (4) "American Idol" is NOT fiery hot this season and there haven't been any contestants to get people excited.

Greyson put his video online because he loves to perform and wanted to share his passion with the world. We hope that other young people will do the same for the same reasons, and not focus on the possibility of insta-fame. Here at IML we'll be searching the Web to bring you videos from young people that we find inspiring, and might be just as deserving as attention as Greyson's. And in the go, Greyson! Thank you for letting us enjoy your talents. You truly do rock!

The Gulf Coast Oil Disaster
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Hopefully you've heard about this big news story:

On April 30th, an explosion rocked an off-shore oil drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and causing the damaged well to leak oil into the ocean water. As of today, the oil is still leaking out, which means that the massive slick, which already covers thousands of square miles, will keep getting bigger. Despite cleanup efforts, most experts believe there's little chance of containing the oil before it reaches shore, meaning states like Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida could be in for an ecological and environmental disaster even worse than the one Alaska faced when the tanker Exxon Valdez dumped 11 million gallons into Prince William Sound in 1989. Yikes!

Why this matters:
Plants, animals, and people depend on the Gulf of Mexico for their lives. The oil gushing into the water could have devastating short- and long-term effects on things like:

oilspillfrog.jpg--Coral reefs
--Turtles and marine mammals
--Fish populations, and the jobs of fishermen
--Oyster beds, shrimp habitats, and the seafood industry
--Shore birds and their nesting sites
--Coastal wetlands, and the plants and animals in them
--Beach communities and the tourism industry

British Petroleum (BP), which runs the damaged oil well, is working to cap off the leak. But this process could take several weeks or even months, because the well is in very deep water. They've also said that they will pay for the clean-up of the spilled oil, but with the slick still growing, nobody really knows how long clean up will take or how much it will cost. In the meantime, the communities in the path of the slick are bracing themselves for the worst.

So what can we do about this? Here are some ideas:

Use less gas. Some people think that conservation doesn't help, but to us, it's simple math: The less we drive, the less gas we use, and the fewer oil wells need to be drilled. Try walking, riding your bike, taking a bus, or carpooling with other families. If we all make the change, the impact could be huge.

Donate. Money doesn't solve everything, but it sure comes in handy in a crisis like this and every little bit will help. Do you care about the birds and animals that this oil spill will affect? Try donating money to a wildlife conservation group in Louisiana or Florida.

Volunteer. The containment and clean-up effort in the gulf is going to take big money and high-tech equipment, But as the 1989 Alaska clean-up showed us, it will also take thousands of volunteers, each working to sift the oil from one small patch of beach. If you live near a shore community that is expected to get some of the spill, ask a parent if you can volunteer to help clean the beaches...even before the oil gets there. BP has said that the cleanup effort will be easier if the spill hits beaches that are free of garbage and other foreign debris.

The National Audubon Society has a Gulf Coast Oil Disaster Action Center page that includes more ways you can volunteer and help.

Help out at home. Even if you don't live in one of the states that will be directly affected by the spill, you can still help keep things clean and safe wherever you are. Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Use less energy, and use it wisely. Remember: it's not just about saving the environment. It's about saving OURSELVES, because the environment is where we all live!

For more information, check out IML's section on Green Living.