The East Bay’s Premier Magazine of Culture & Commerce

The East Bay’s Premier Magazine of Culture & Commerce

The Anti-Dr. Laura

The Anti-Dr. Laura

Nurse Rona Renner offers sane and sage advice for parents.

When a father got up in Nurse Rona Renner’s parenting class in the mid-1990s and said that he now knew why he had to stop beating his kids, Renner experienced a spine-tingling epiphany. A longtime nurse at Kaiser in Richmond, Renner knew she had to reach a wider audience. She turned to the radio airwaves where, first at KPFA and now on 98.1 KISS-FM, she can be heard every Sunday morning from 9 to 10 a.m. as the host of Childhood Matters. Funded in part by cigarette tax funds, the show allows Renner to draw on her 40 years of nursing experience as she interviews experts, dispenses sage advice and shags calls (there’s also a Spanish-language version of the show). Describing herself as the “Anti-Dr. Laura,” Nurse Rona’s mission is to turn parents into better parents. With my daughter’s back-to-school issues looming, I gave Nurse Rona a call for a pep talk.

Paul Kilduff: It’s back-to-school time and a lot of parents are giving their kids makeovers. Do we give in and buy everything they think they need to be hip?

Nurse Rona: That’s a complicated subject. When your child suggests that you spend a whole lot of money on a back-to-school re-do say to her or him, “Honey, we can buy a few basic things but you probably want to get into the school year first and spend the first few weeks seeing what you’re comfortable with and what the styles are.” Because what they’re showing you on TV, what Target is telling you or JC Penney’s is telling you, isn’t necessarily what you’re going to be happy wearing. We’ll re-visit what you need a month into school.” They go buy what the TV shows show them and then they come back and say, “Oh my God, my friend got all her stuff at the used clothes store and it’s really hip and really in.”

PK: Just a disclaimer here—Target and JC Penney are not currently Monthly advertisers, but that could change. What about school uniforms?

RR: I veer away from uniforms even though they solve a lot of problems of the disparity of who can buy the expensive shirt versus the non-expensive shirt, so I’m not against uniforms. But I also know that it’s nice for kids to have some creativity and wear what they’re comfortable in, to put on an outfit that they’re happy with. It’s up to us to set the limits and feel like we can say no to our kids around spending money. If we’re really going to change the backdrop of the values of our society we have to decrease the whole issue around greed and spending a lot of money on material things.

PK: Wow. Actually saying “no” to our kids—what a concept. Who does that these days? Certainly not Charles Barkley. How does it work?

RR: Here are the steps. You acknowledge what a child is saying. You say, “Yes, I know you would like that new jacket even though you have a nice jacket. I know it’s stylish. But actually I’m not going to spend money on that right now. I’ll certainly put it on your list of things you might like for your birthday, but we’re not buying it right now.” And it’s okay to say no.

PK: So, no big sermons in the shoe aisle at Target?

RR: Yeah. Instead of saying, “Oh, my God, I would never get that for you.” Don’t berate them for what they want. They’re bombarded on a regular basis with a culture that says buy more, buy more, give me, give me. So we shouldn’t be surprised that our kids are constantly asking for things.

PK: What about pointing out to kids that all the stuff they accumulate often ends up not being played with let alone taken out of the shrink-wrap? Is that coming down too hard?

RR: No. I think there’s a way to talk about the stuff they have and go through the books and find the ones that they no longer like or they’ve outgrown and bring them to the local pediatric office where they have a reach-out-and-read program for children who are not as fortunate. Get your kids involved in looking at what they have and making adjustments and then trying to show the values of generosity by considering giving away. But don’t force them to give away their favorite things.

PK: We talked about logos on clothing. The 25-year-old woman who wears hot pants with “Juicy” written across the butt is one thing, but what about when my 8-year-old daughter is encouraged to wear shorts with similarly placed messages? What’s wrong with this picture?

RR: This is a good opportunity for a parent to have a conversation about how the media is trying to over-sexualize children. So, you could say to your 8-year-old, “You know I find that in bad taste.”

PK: Or, are we just being prudish here?

RR: Oh no, no, no, no, no, no. How would you like your little girl wearing underwear that says “Juicy” on it? It makes you cringe.

PK: What about Aloha? Is that okay?

RR: My daughter in high school wore underwear that said “Crew” or something on her butt, but we’re talking about an 8-year-old or a 9-year-old. You stop and think, “Is this okay? Is it okay if my little girl wants to wear make-up and she’s 8? Is that okay with me?” Stop and think about it. “What am I teaching her?” And as for Dad, if you would say, “You know, I’m not comfortable with that—it sort of makes you seem like an object.” Depending on their age you can talk more about what you think, but I think you have to be willing and able to stick with your values and not be seduced by the media. Where else are we getting this stuff?

PK: But what do you do when your kid sees others wearing this stuff?

RR: That’s where sometimes the schools really help. It’s not like you have to wear a uniform but they can set some limits like you have to have shorts below a certain length and you have to have shirts that aren’t nothing tops with the mid-riff showing.

PK: And for boys, maybe pull your pants up? (At least while in class.)

RR: Right. It does help if the schools help the standard of dress. But you have to think to yourself if my kid said, “Can I have a cigarette, Dad?” and you said, “What?” And she said, “The other kids are smoking.”

PK: I would say, how about a doughnut?

RR: And then all the people against doughnuts would get on you. It’s not about being PC, it’s more about, “I understand you have friends whose parents allow it, but in our family we don’t.” And then they’ll do what they want outside of your sight but what you’re still doing is setting down the values and what you believe in. When you go help someone across the street who is having trouble, that’s what your child sees and they remember that. It’s not so much when you say to them, “Now be good” or “Be nice.”

PK: We got rid of cable TV thinking it would make TV less interesting for our daughter. But, now she watches Hannah Montana online and she’s become a fan of the over-the-air “George Lopez” show re-runs. I don’t really have a problem with it.

RR: I can’t tell you what’s right. The advice you want to be giving to people is to be aware of what the children are watching and to watch it with them, to see in fact, whether these are the messages you want your child to be getting day after day, week after week. If there was a stranger coming into your house saying the same things that George Lopez is saying would you let him stick around for dinner?

PK: I probably would. I would hang out with George Lopez. We share the same values.

RR: I didn’t always pay the kind of attention that I think I needed too. I remember letting my teens watch “Six Feet Under” with me.

PK: Shame on you. Can kids get by solely on a mac-and-cheese diet?

RR: They do manage to survive but the problem is that they may not be getting the nutrients that their little growing brains need and again, it’s up to us to take the time and think about what’s healthy for our kids. If you have the time to make a breakfast with some fruit and yogurt and maybe even cook them an egg once in a while or French Toast, it’s a wonderful way to start the morning. I think that if parents got up even 15 minutes earlier so that they could actually have breakfast with their kids it would be a very nice way to start the day.

PK: But what do you do with the kid who lays down the gauntlet and will only eat PB&Js for dinner?

RR: There are some sensitive children and they really do have a limited palate. You just keep introducing things at the table for everyone and you try and stretch that palate. You invite them to shop and cook with you. That sometimes shifts things for those kids. If they have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and an apple every lunchtime, it’s probably not such a bad thing. They’re getting their fats, their protein. Then there are times when you just say this is what we have for dinner and you put something in there that you think your child might like. If you don’t like it, I’ll put it away and if you’re hungry, come back and have it later.

I think it’s important not to have the child become the one dictating the family dinner. And it’s not saying, “You’ve got to eat everything on your plate.” It’s this middle ground in parenting that I think works really well, that you don’t put the child’s wishes at the center of everything but you consider their needs. And picky eaters really have trouble with certain textures and certain foods. If your kid wants sushi everyday and you don’t have a budget for that you’re not going to do that, but you’re going to consider what would they like and what kind of fruits and vegetables do they like and how can we make it kind of interesting and fun? And don’t forget for younger kids to put that little note in the lunchbox that has the little “Thinking about you, hope you’re having a good day. Love you” on it.

PK: Come on—that’s nothing but molly coddling, pure and simple.

RR: For younger ones. We don’t want to do it everyday. Every once in while as a surprise.

PK: All right. What about over-scheduling kids—can they opt out of sumo wrestling class?

RR: I think our kids are really overscheduled and although after-school classes can be really wonderful and enriching, I think that with the kids whose choice is to sit at home alone watching TV, I’d much rather have them being in an enrichment program. Parents, please step back and look and see what your child’s life is like because they need down time. They need down time to play, to dream, to read, to be outdoors, play with friends in an unstructured way. Creative unstructured play is essential to problem solving. It’s essential to brain development that children aren’t always being told how to do something and learning how to play soccer. Those things have their place, but there has to be a balance. Kids are no longer as creative when they don’t have time to explore their creativity.

PK: But with play dates, where is the unstructured play these days for kids? Everything’s scheduled. Where’s the opportunity for kids to create their own fun? Kids don’t do that anymore.

RR: We’re too afraid.

PK: Why are we so overprotective?

RR: We’re overprotective in part because of the media. Now there are some neighborhoods where it’s not safe for children to play outside therefore we need a rec center or a parent at home to supervise the play. But in neighborhoods that are relatively safe—and there are many of them—we should let kids play. This unstructured play time out in nature is really diminishing and there’s a detriment to our kids growing up. But the media and also the seduction of electronics such as video games and TV has sucked our kids inside.

PK: But, you’re part of the media.

RR: But we’re unusual though because we are a nonprofit and we get to decide what we put on the air for the hour and so we make choices not based on what’s commercial. So our funders are people like United Way, Kaiser, First Five, who all are doing amazing work trying to help parents understand what kids need. So, we’re using the media for good.

PK: You do a public affairs show on a commercial music station, but I could imagine you ramping up your profile on say a commercial talk station like KGO. Are you opposed to that?

RR: If they invited me, I would go on.

PK: Just so you know, there is an opening there. So, commercial media’s not evil?

RR: It’s not evil, it’s just that a lot of what they do is based on how much money they can make and so a lot of the programming is pushed by revenue so they might not have something on about parenting if they have a sports show that will bring in more revenue. I also think that we need to use the media for good. And there are lots of good programs on. There are programs that are enlightening.

PK: What do you think of Dr. Phil?

RR: I used to like him when he first started. The first year I thought he was really helping people a whole lot. I think he’s gone a little bit far looking for the most dramatic, sensationalist things and that’s what sells. Sex and violence sells. And so it is a bit challenging to get things on the media that aren’t so sensational. I’m not doing this to become famous. I’m doing this out of a place of service because I know how isolated parents feel. We had someone listen to our show and she said she left her husband because she heard the show on domestic violence and she realized the negative effect domestic violence is having on her daughter on our show and encouraged her to do what she needed to do. That’s why I do this.


Suggestions? E-mail Paul Kilduff at
The Kilduff File Archive


Age: 60

Astrological sign: Pisces


Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York

First “real” job: Cashier at Mays department store in Brooklyn (at age 15)

Favorite pizza topping:
In Brooklyn: cheese; in Berkeley: everything.

Mideast peace plan: 
Since “World Peace Begins at Home” my plan is for adults to use nonviolent conflict resolution skills at home and school, and peace will follow. Our children will then expect and embrace peace, and make it happen.

Web site:

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