Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

The Atlantic

Jean M. Twenge, September 2017

More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.

One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”

Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”

I’ve been researching generational differences for 25 years, starting when I was a 22-year-old doctoral student in psychology. Typically, the characteristics that come to define a generation appear gradually, and along a continuum. Beliefs and behaviors that were already rising simply continue to do so. Millennials, for instance, are a highly individualistic generation, but individualism had been increasing since the Baby Boomers turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. I had grown accustomed to line graphs of trends that looked like modest hills and valleys. Then I began studying Athena’s generation.

Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states. The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear. In all my analyses of generational data—some reaching back to the 1930s—I had never seen anything like it.

At first I presumed these might be blips, but the trends persisted, across several years and a series of national surveys. The changes weren’t just in degree, but in kind. The biggest difference between the Millennials and their predecessors was in how they viewed the world; teens today differ from the Millennials not just in their views but in how they spend their time. The experiences they have every day are radically different from those of the generation that came of age just a few years before them.

What happened in 2012 to cause such dramatic shifts in behavior? It was after the Great Recession, which officially lasted from 2007 to 2009 and had a starker effect on Millennials trying to find a place in a sputtering economy. But it was exactly the moment when the proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent.

The more I pored over yearly surveys of teen attitudes and behaviors, and the more I talked with young people like Athena, the clearer it became that theirs is a generation shaped by the smartphone and by the concomitant rise of social media. I call them iGen. Born between 1995 and 2012, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones, have an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the internet. The Millennials grew up with the web as well, but it wasn’t ever-present in their lives, at hand at all times, day and night. iGen’s oldest members were early adolescents when the iPhone was introduced, in 2007, and high-school students when the iPad entered the scene, in 2010. A 2017 survey of more than 5,000 American teens found that three out of four owned an iPhone.

The advent of the smartphone and its cousin the tablet was followed quickly by hand-wringing about the deleterious effects of “screen time.” But the impact of these devices has not been fully appreciated, and goes far beyond the usual concerns about curtailed attention spans. The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health. These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household. The trends appear among teens poor and rich; of every ethnic background; in cities, suburbs, and small towns. Where there are cell towers, there are teens living their lives on their smartphone.

To those of us who fondly recall a more analog adolescence, this may seem foreign and troubling. The aim of generational study, however, is not to succumb to nostalgia for the way things used to be; it’s to understand how they are now. Some generational changes are positive, some are negative, and many are both. More comfortable in their bedrooms than in a car or at a party, today’s teens are physically safer than teens have ever been. They’re markedly less likely to get into a car accident and, having less of a taste for alcohol than their predecessors, are less susceptible to drinking’s attendant ills.

Psychologically, however, they are more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.

Even when a seismic event—a war, a technological leap, a free concert in the mud—plays an outsize role in shaping a group of young people, no single factor ever defines a generation. Parenting styles continue to change, as do school curricula and culture, and these things matter. But the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.

In the early 1970s, the photographer Bill Yates shot a series of portraits at the Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink in Tampa, Florida. In one, a shirtless teen stands with a large bottle of peppermint schnapps stuck in the waistband of his jeans. In another, a boy who looks no older than 12 poses with a cigarette in his mouth. The rink was a place where kids could get away from their parents and inhabit a world of their own, a world where they could drink, smoke, and make out in the backs of their cars. In stark black-and-white, the adolescent Boomers gaze at Yates’s camera with the self-confidence born of making your own choices—even if, perhaps especially if, your parents wouldn’t think they were the right ones.

Fifteen years later, during my own teenage years as a member of Generation X, smoking had lost some of its romance, but independence was definitely still in. My friends and I plotted to get our driver’s license as soon as we could, making DMV appointments for the day we turned 16 and using our newfound freedom to escape the confines of our suburban neighborhood. Asked by our parents, “When will you be home?,” we replied, “When do I have to be?”

But the allure of independence, so powerful to previous generations, holds less sway over today’s teens, who are less likely to leave the house without their parents. The shift is stunning: 12th-graders in 2015 were going out less often than eighth-graders did as recently as 2009.

Today’s teens are also less likely to date. The initial stage of courtship, which Gen Xers called “liking” (as in “Ooh, he likes you!”), kids now call “talking”—an ironic choice for a generation that prefers texting to actual conversation. After two teens have “talked” for a while, they might start dating. But only about 56 percent of high-school seniors in 2015 went out on dates; for Boomers and Gen Xers, the number was about 85 percent.

The decline in dating tracks with a decline in sexual activity. The drop is the sharpest for ninth-graders, among whom the number of sexually active teens has been cut by almost 40 percent since 1991. The average teen now has had sex for the first time by the spring of 11th grade, a full year later than the average Gen Xer. Fewer teens having sex has contributed to what many see as one of the most positive youth trends in recent years: The teen birth rate hit an all-time low in 2016, down 67 percent since its modern peak, in 1991.

Even driving, a symbol of adolescent freedom inscribed in American popular culture, from Rebel Without a Cause to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, has lost its appeal for today’s teens. Nearly all Boomer high-school students had their driver’s license by the spring of their senior year; more than one in four teens today still lack one at the end of high school. For some, Mom and Dad are such good chauffeurs that there’s no urgent need to drive. “My parents drove me everywhere and never complained, so I always had rides,” a 21-year-old student in San Diego told me. “I didn’t get my license until my mom told me I had to because she could not keep driving me to school.” She finally got her license six months after her 18th birthday. In conversation after conversation, teens described getting their license as something to be nagged into by their parents—a notion that would have been unthinkable to previous generations.

Independence isn’t free—you need some money in your pocket to pay for gas, or for that bottle of schnapps. In earlier eras, kids worked in great numbers, eager to finance their freedom or prodded by their parents to learn the value of a dollar. But iGen teens aren’t working (or managing their own money) as much. In the late 1970s, 77 percent of high-school seniors worked for pay during the school year; by the mid-2010s, only 55 percent did. The number of eighth-graders who work for pay has been cut in half. These declines accelerated during the Great Recession, but teen employment has not bounced back, even though job availability has.

Of course, putting off the responsibilities of adulthood is not an iGen innovation. Gen Xers, in the 1990s, were the first to postpone the traditional markers of adulthood. Young Gen Xers were just about as likely to drive, drink alcohol, and date as young Boomers had been, and more likely to have sex and get pregnant as teens. But as they left their teenage years behind, Gen Xers married and started careers later than their Boomer predecessors had.

Gen X managed to stretch adolescence beyond all previous limits: Its members started becoming adults earlier and finished becoming adults later. Beginning with Millennials and continuing with iGen, adolescence is contracting again—but only because its onset is being delayed. Across a range of behaviors—drinking, dating, spending time unsupervised— 18-year-olds now act more like 15-year-olds used to, and 15-year-olds more like 13-year-olds. Childhood now stretches well into high school.

Why are today’s teens waiting longer to take on both the responsibilities and the pleasures of adulthood? Shifts in the economy, and parenting, certainly play a role. In an information economy that rewards higher education more than early work history, parents may be inclined to encourage their kids to stay home and study rather than to get a part-time job. Teens, in turn, seem to be content with this homebody arrangement—not because they’re so studious, but because their social life is lived on their phone. They don’t need to leave home to spend time with their friends.

If today’s teens were a generation of grinds, we’d see that in the data. But eighth-, 10th-, and 12th-graders in the 2010s actually spend less time on homework than Gen X teens did in the early 1990s. (High-school seniors headed for four-year colleges spend about the same amount of time on homework as their predecessors did.) The time that seniors spend on activities such as student clubs and sports and exercise has changed little in recent years. Combined with the decline in working for pay, this means iGen teens have more leisure time than Gen X teens did, not less.

So what are they doing with all that time? They are on their phone, in their room, alone and often distressed.

One of the ironies of iGen life is that despite spending far more time under the same roof as their parents, today’s teens can hardly be said to be closer to their mothers and fathers than their predecessors were. “I’ve seen my friends with their families—they don’t talk to them,” Athena told me. “They just say ‘Okay, okay, whatever’ while they’re on their phones. They don’t pay attention to their family.” Like her peers, Athena is an expert at tuning out her parents so she can focus on her phone. She spent much of her summer keeping up with friends, but nearly all of it was over text or Snapchat. “I’ve been on my phone more than I’ve been with actual people,” she said. “My bed has, like, an imprint of my body.”

In this, too, she is typical. The number of teens who get together with their friends nearly every day dropped by more than 40 percent from 2000 to 2015; the decline has been especially steep recently. It’s not only a matter of fewer kids partying; fewer kids are spending time simply hanging out. That’s something most teens used to do: nerds and jocks, poor kids and rich kids, C students and A students. The roller rink, the basketball court, the town pool, the local necking spot—they’ve all been replaced by virtual spaces accessed through apps and the web.

You might expect that teens spend so much time in these new spaces because it makes them happy, but most data suggest that it does not. The Monitoring the Future survey, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and designed to be nationally representative, has asked 12th-graders more than 1,000 questions every year since 1975 and queried eighth- and 10th-graders since 1991. The survey asks teens how happy they are and also how much of their leisure time they spend on various activities, including nonscreen activities such as in-person social interaction and exercise, and, in recent years, screen activities such as using social media, texting, and browsing the web. The results could not be clearer: Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy.

There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness. Eighth-graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56 percent more likely to say they’re unhappy than those who devote less time to social media. Admittedly, 10 hours a week is a lot. But those who spend six to nine hours a week on social media are still 47 percent more likely to say they are unhappy than those who use social media even less. The opposite is true of in-person interactions. Those who spend an above-average amount of time with their friends in person are 20 percent less likely to say they’re unhappy than those who hang out for a below-average amount of time.

If you were going to give advice for a happy adolescence based on this survey, it would be straightforward: Put down the phone, turn off the laptop, and do something—anything—that does not involve a screen. Of course, these analyses don’t unequivocally prove that screen time causes unhappiness; it’s possible that unhappy teens spend more time online. But recent research suggests that screen time, in particular social-media use, does indeed cause unhappiness. One study asked college students with a Facebook page to complete short surveys on their phone over the course of two weeks. They’d get a text message with a link five times a day, and report on their mood and how much they’d used Facebook. The more they’d used Facebook, the unhappier they felt, but feeling unhappy did not subsequently lead to more Facebook use.

Social-networking sites like Facebook promise to connect us to friends. But the portrait of iGen teens emerging from the data is one of a lonely, dislocated generation. Teens who visit social-networking sites every day but see their friends in person less frequently are the most likely to agree with the statements “A lot of times I feel lonely,” “I often feel left out of things,” and “I often wish I had more good friends.” Teens’ feelings of loneliness spiked in 2013 and have remained high since.

This doesn’t always mean that, on an individual level, kids who spend more time online are lonelier than kids who spend less time online. Teens who spend more time on social media also spend more time with their friends in person, on average—highly social teens are more social in both venues, and less social teens are less so. But at the generational level, when teens spend more time on smartphones and less time on in-person social interactions, loneliness is more common.

So is depression. Once again, the effect of screen activities is unmistakable: The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression. Eighth-graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27 percent, while those who play sports, go to religious services, or even do homework more than the average teen cut their risk significantly.

Teens who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, such as making a suicide plan. (That’s much more than the risk related to, say, watching TV.) One piece of data that indirectly but stunningly captures kids’ growing isolation, for good and for bad: Since 2007, the homicide rate among teens has declined, but the suicide rate has increased. As teens have started spending less time together, they have become less likely to kill one another, and more likely to kill themselves. In 2011, for the first time in 24 years, the teen suicide rate was higher than the teen homicide rate.

Depression and suicide have many causes; too much technology is clearly not the only one. And the teen suicide rate was even higher in the 1990s, long before smartphones existed. Then again, about four times as many Americans now take antidepressants, which are often effective in treating severe depression, the type most strongly linked to suicide.

What’s the connection between smartphones and the apparent psychological distress this generation is experiencing? For all their power to link kids day and night, social media also exacerbate the age-old teen concern about being left out. Today’s teens may go to fewer parties and spend less time together in person, but when they do congregate, they document their hangouts relentlessly—on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook. Those not invited to come along are keenly aware of it. Accordingly, the number of teens who feel left out has reached all-time highs across age groups. Like the increase in loneliness, the upswing in feeling left out has been swift and significant.

This trend has been especially steep among girls. Forty-eight percent more girls said they often felt left out in 2015 than in 2010, compared with 27 percent more boys. Girls use social media more often, giving them additional opportunities to feel excluded and lonely when they see their friends or classmates getting together without them. Social media levy a psychic tax on the teen doing the posting as well, as she anxiously awaits the affirmation of comments and likes. When Athena posts pictures to Instagram, she told me, “I’m nervous about what people think and are going to say. It sometimes bugs me when I don’t get a certain amount of likes on a picture.”

Girls have also borne the brunt of the rise in depressive symptoms among today’s teens. Boys’ depressive symptoms increased by 21 percent from 2012 to 2015, while girls’ increased by 50 percent—more than twice as much. The rise in suicide, too, is more pronounced among girls. Although the rate increased for both sexes, three times as many 12-to-14-year-old girls killed themselves in 2015 as in 2007, compared with twice as many boys. The suicide rate is still higher for boys, in part because they use more-lethal methods, but girls are beginning to close the gap.

These more dire consequences for teenage girls could also be rooted in the fact that they’re more likely to experience cyberbullying. Boys tend to bully one another physically, while girls are more likely to do so by undermining a victim’s social status or relationships. Social media give middle- and high-school girls a platform on which to carry out the style of aggression they favor, ostracizing and excluding other girls around the clock.

Social-media companies are of course aware of these problems, and to one degree or another have endeavored to prevent cyberbullying. But their various motivations are, to say the least, complex. A recently leaked Facebook document indicated that the company had been touting to advertisers its ability to determine teens’ emotional state based on their on-site behavior, and even to pinpoint “moments when young people need a confidence boost.” Facebook acknowledged that the document was real, but denied that it offers “tools to target people based on their emotional state.”

 

In july 2014, a 13-year-old girl in North Texas woke to the smell of something burning. Her phone had overheated and melted into the sheets. National news outlets picked up the story, stoking readers’ fears that their cellphone might spontaneously combust. To me, however, the flaming cellphone wasn’t the only surprising aspect of the story. Why, I wondered, would anyone sleep with her phone beside her in bed? It’s not as though you can surf the web while you’re sleeping. And who could slumber deeply inches from a buzzing phone?

Curious, I asked my undergraduate students at San Diego State University what they do with their phone while they sleep. Their answers were a profile in obsession. Nearly all slept with their phone, putting it under their pillow, on the mattress, or at the very least within arm’s reach of the bed. They checked social media right before they went to sleep, and reached for their phone as soon as they woke up in the morning (they had to—all of them used it as their alarm clock). Their phone was the last thing they saw before they went to sleep and the first thing they saw when they woke up. If they woke in the middle of the night, they often ended up looking at their phone. Some used the language of addiction. “I know I shouldn’t, but I just can’t help it,” one said about looking at her phone while in bed. Others saw their phone as an extension of their body—or even like a lover: “Having my phone closer to me while I’m sleeping is a comfort.”

It may be a comfort, but the smartphone is cutting into teens’ sleep: Many now sleep less than seven hours most nights. Sleep experts say that teens should get about nine hours of sleep a night; a teen who is getting less than seven hours a night is significantly sleep deprived. Fifty-seven percent more teens were sleep deprived in 2015 than in 1991. In just the four years from 2012 to 2015, 22 percent more teens failed to get seven hours of sleep.

The increase is suspiciously timed, once again starting around when most teens got a smartphone. Two national surveys show that teens who spend three or more hours a day on electronic devices are 28 percent more likely to get less than seven hours of sleep than those who spend fewer than three hours, and teens who visit social-media sites every day are 19 percent more likely to be sleep deprived. A meta-analysis of studies on electronic-device use among children found similar results: Children who use a media device right before bed are more likely to sleep less than they should, more likely to sleep poorly, and more than twice as likely to be sleepy during the day.

Electronic devices and social media seem to have an especially strong ability to disrupt sleep. Teens who read books and magazines more often than the average are actually slightly less likely to be sleep deprived—either reading lulls them to sleep, or they can put the book down at bedtime. Watching TV for several hours a day is only weakly linked to sleeping less. But the allure of the smartphone is often too much to resist.

Sleep deprivation is linked to myriad issues, including compromised thinking and reasoning, susceptibility to illness, weight gain, and high blood pressure. It also affects mood: People who don’t sleep enough are prone to depression and anxiety. Again, it’s difficult to trace the precise paths of causation. Smartphones could be causing lack of sleep, which leads to depression, or the phones could be causing depression, which leads to lack of sleep. Or some other factor could be causing both depression and sleep deprivation to rise. But the smartphone, its blue light glowing in the dark, is likely playing a nefarious role.

The correlations between depression and smartphone use are strong enough to suggest that more parents should be telling their kids to put down their phone. As the technology writer Nick Bilton has reported, it’s a policy some Silicon Valley executives follow. Even Steve Jobs limited his kids’ use of the devices he brought into the world.

What’s at stake isn’t just how kids experience adolescence. The constant presence of smartphones is likely to affect them well into adulthood. Among people who suffer an episode of depression, at least half become depressed again later in life. Adolescence is a key time for developing social skills; as teens spend less time with their friends face-to-face, they have fewer opportunities to practice them. In the next decade, we may see more adults who know just the right emoji for a situation, but not the right facial expression.

I realize that restricting technology might be an unrealistic demand to impose on a generation of kids so accustomed to being wired at all times. My three daughters were born in 2006, 2009, and 2012. They’re not yet old enough to display the traits of iGen teens, but I have already witnessed firsthand just how ingrained new media are in their young lives. I’ve observed my toddler, barely old enough to walk, confidently swiping her way through an iPad. I’ve experienced my 6-year-old asking for her own cellphone. I’ve overheard my 9-year-old discussing the latest app to sweep the fourth grade. Prying the phone out of our kids’ hands will be difficult, even more so than the quixotic efforts of my parents’ generation to get their kids to turn off MTV and get some fresh air. But more seems to be at stake in urging teens to use their phone responsibly, and there are benefits to be gained even if all we instill in our children is the importance of moderation. Significant effects on both mental health and sleep time appear after two or more hours a day on electronic devices. The average teen spends about two and a half hours a day on electronic devices. Some mild boundary-setting could keep kids from falling into harmful habits.

In my conversations with teens, I saw hopeful signs that kids themselves are beginning to link some of their troubles to their ever-present phone. Athena told me that when she does spend time with her friends in person, they are often looking at their device instead of at her. “I’m trying to talk to them about something, and they don’t actually look at my face,” she said. “They’re looking at their phone, or they’re looking at their Apple Watch.” “What does that feel like, when you’re trying to talk to somebody face-to-face and they’re not looking at you?,” I asked. “It kind of hurts,” she said. “It hurts. I know my parents’ generation didn’t do that. I could be talking about something super important to me, and they wouldn’t even be listening.”

Once, she told me, she was hanging out with a friend who was texting her boyfriend. “I was trying to talk to her about my family, and what was going on, and she was like, ‘Uh-huh, yeah, whatever.’ So I took her phone out of her hands and I threw it at my wall.”

I couldn’t help laughing. “You play volleyball,” I said. “Do you have a pretty good arm?” “Yep,” she replied.

A Man’s Job: Learning To Style Girls’ Hair, From Father To Father

WOSU Public Media

  SEP 14, 2017

At the Daddy Daughter Hair Factory, it’s O.K. if you know nothing about hair. None of the men here do.

But they’re all eager to learn.

“So we’re just gonna start off with some really easy stuff, just some basic haircare conversation,” Mike Sherron tells the assembled dads.

Sherron’s free class has a new location every month, and this time it’s in Grove City, where he lives. Each of the three dads here receive a kit to take home, with things like ponytail holders, hair brushes, and detangler.

Before they leave, though, the dads will walk through some of the basics of hair care.

“Every time you do wash it, we suggest you run conditioner through it as well,” Sherron says. “That way you make sure it starts in a good place.”

Sherron and his six-year-old daughter Adeline have been holding a monthly class around Ohio for about a year and a half.

“So my dad went through a divorce with my mom and he didn’t want me to come in school with my hair all crazy and messy,” Adeline says.

So Sherron started practicing.

Mike Sherron teaches a free class every month to fathers about how to take care of and style their daughters’ hair.
CREDIT ADORA NAMIGADDE / WOSU

“We were doing ponytails and basic three-strand braids. We were doing some French braid work,” Sherron says. “And a lot of it we learned by trying it, practicing it. YouTube has some amazing things.”

He’d then post pictures on Facebook. One day about two years ago, a friend showed Sherron a video of Phil Morgese and his daughter, who founded the Daddy Daughter Hair Factory.

So Sherron reached out to them. The organization had around six dads involved in teaching at the time.

Now Sherron says there are about 25.

“With the number of single dads these days, it becomes important that they be just as good in these opportunities,” he says.

That’s why Ian Parker showed up with his 5-year-old daughter Genevieve.

“Trying to do my daughter’s hair has always been challenging, especially not having someone else there to kind of coax me along,” Parker says. “So we’ve always been a kind of ponytail type group.”

Ian Parker, a single father, came to the class with his 5-year-old daughter Genevieve.
CREDIT ADORA NAMIGADDE / WOSU

But after an hour with Sherron, he can do a more advanced style.

“I like the fishtail braid here at the end,” Parker remarks. “That looks really cool.”

Ash Khanboubi is not a single dad; he came because his wife was tired of his argument that he couldn’t help with his daughter’s haircare because he couldn’t braid.

Today, as Sherron helps him along, Khanboubi’s been texting his wife pictures of their 3-year-old daughter Yasmeen’s stylized curly black locks.

“She was amazed at how fast I learned it,” Khanboubi says, laughing. “She said she didn’t know how to make a fishtail braid, so I guess I’m gonna have to teach my wife how to do that.”

Khanboubi said when he tells his dad and grandpa about the class, they’ll probably be surprised because it’s something they would have never thought to do.

Ash Khanboubi says he was encouraged, strongly, by his wife to learn how to style his daughter’s hair. Now he says he can teach his wife how to make a fishtail braid.
CREDIT ADORA NAMIGADDE / WOSU

“I take absolutely no alternatives into being part of my daughter’s life fully,” he says. “If that means I have to do things my father never did, then so be it. I want to learn everything that will allow me to have a full experience with my daughter and be part of her life.”

Sherron says his next class will be held in Chillicothe in October. He hopes to eventually bring in dads of different ethnicities to teach a broader range of hair care options.

For Teens Knee-Deep In Negativity, Reframing Thoughts Can Help

NPR

Teen Negativity art

Jenn Liv for NPR

“Why didn’t she text me back yet? She doesn’t like me anymore!”

“There’s no way I’m trying out for the team. I suck at basketball”

“It’s not fair that I have a curfew!”

Sound familiar? Parents of tweens and teens often shrug off such anxious and gloomy thinking as normal irritability and moodiness — because it is. Still, the beginning of a new school year, with all of the required adjustments, is a good time to consider just how closely the habit of negative, exaggerated “self-talk” can affect academic and social success, self-esteem and happiness.

Psychological research shows that what we think can have a powerful influence on how we feel emotionally and physically, and on how we behave. Research also shows that our harmful thinking patterns can be changed.

You may not be of much help when it comes to sharpening your son’s calculus skills. But during my 35-plus years of clinical practice it’s become clear to me that parents can play a huge role in helping their children to develop a critical life skill: the ability to take notice of their thoughts, to step back and view the bigger picture, and to decide how to act based on that more realistic perspective.

Taking heed of an alarmist or pessimistic inner voice is a universal experience. It has survival value; it often protects people from danger. And it’s often true that a worrying thought can act as a motivating force – to study, for example.

Still, the insecurities that adolescents feel as they undergo the multiple transitions necessary in growing up make them especially vulnerable to believing the worst. This tendency can lead to chronic anxiety, depression and anger, and can interfere with relationships and success in school.

Helping children grasp the importance of thinking more realistically may help protect them later when they make the huge transition to college. A 2016 survey by the American College Health Association of undergraduates at over 50 colleges and universities found that about 38 percent had felt so depressed at some time during the previous year that it was tough to function. Some 60 percent had experienced an episode of debilitating anxiety.

The power of thoughts to affect feelings and behavior is a foundational principle of cognitive behavioral therapy, which is the form of therapy that I practice. CBT teaches people how to recognize faulty negative self-talk, to notice how it makes them feel and act, and to challenge it. Parents can practice this skill themselves, and act as models as they guide their kids to question a thought by looking at the evidence for and against it.

If your child often seems withdrawn, sad or angry, you may be able to identify a problematic thinking pattern by listening closely. Here are four key styles of negative self-talk to listen for:

Catastrophizing. One common thought habit is the tendency to jump to the worst-case scenario (“What if I fail the test? I’m never going to get into college!”) Scanning constantly for disaster ahead acts as a huge contributor to anxiety. And catastrophizing often leads teens to avoid people or become reluctant to try new things.

Zooming in on the negative. Ruminating on a disappointment without taking into account the many positive and neutral aspects of one’s experience is often associated with sadness and depression. A missed soccer goal might overshadow everything else that happens one day – the lunch with friends, the good grade on a test, the hilarious TV show – and consume your high-schooler for days.

It’s not fair! Interpreting every letdown as a grave injustice – the “it’s not fair!” habit – often underlies teens’ anger and can harm friendships and family relationships.

I can’t! Reacting habitually to difficult situations or to new opportunities with “I can’t,” rather than “I can try,” leads to helplessness. Changing the thought to “I can try!” encourages problem-solving and a willingness to be proactive, to take positive action — both keys to being successful and resilient.

For parents, the idea is not to squelch the negative thought. Research has found that attempted “thought stopping” can actually make the idea stickier. Rather, you want your child to face the thought, thoroughly examine it and replace it with a more realistic and helpful perspective.

Questions that you might pose to carefully weigh the evidence include: “You had a group of friends at your old school and at camp – realistically, what are the chances you can’t make friends now? What actions can you take to reach out? What would you say to somebody else who worries about this?”

A helpful replacement thought might be: “It probably will take a few weeks to get to know people, but I’ve made friends before and there are things I can try. I can sign up for the photography or robotics club and meet people that way.”

More realistic and balanced thinking leads to positive action, which, in turn, tends to bolster confidence, enhance self-esteem and result in greater happiness.

Mary K. Alvord, Ph.D., is a psychologist and director of Alvord, Baker & Associates, LLC, in Rockville, Md. She is the co-author of Conquer Negative Thinking for Teens: A Workbook to Break the Nine Thought Habits That Are Holding You Back, as well as the audio recording Relaxation and Self-Regulation Techniques for Children and Teens.

The Science of Adolescent Sleep

Photo

CreditGetty Images

Why do children wake up early when they are young but want to stay in bed till noon as teenagers?

Experts say it’s biology. Adolescents’ bodies want to stay up late and sleep late, putting them out of sync with what their school schedules demand of them. So kids have trouble waking up, and they often find themselves feeling drowsy in morning algebra class.

But that chronic sleepiness can affect their health and well-being, their behavior, and even their safety; it becomes genuinely dangerous when sleepy teenagers get behind the wheel.

At a recent conference on adolescent sleep, health and school start times, at which I gave a brief keynote, several experts made compelling arguments supporting the idea that middle and high school start times should shift to 8:30 a.m. or later, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Brian Tefft, a senior researcher with the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, talked about “drowsy driving.” He cited an annual study that asks, “In the past 30 days how often have you driven when you were so tired that you had a hard time keeping your eyes open?” Over the past five years, on average, a quarter of the 16- to 18-year-old licensed drivers reported driving in that condition at least once, and 2 percent said fairly often or regularly.

The argument is that teenagers who face very early school start times are at risk of regular sleep deprivation. Driving after sleeping only four to five hours a night is associated with a similar crash risk as driving with an alcohol level at the legal limit. Sleeping less than four hours puts you at the same risk as driving with double the legal alcohol limit. (This is not only true for adolescents, but for all of us.)

Drowsy driving may not be the only risk that tired teenagers take. Wendy Troxel, a clinical psychologist and senior behavioral and social scientist at RAND, talked about the “adolescent health paradox,” that teenagers, who are in a developmental period of physical strength and resilience, face disproportionately high mortality rates. Unintentional injury (especially car crashes) is high on the list of causes, followed by homicide and suicide.

“The onset of new cases of depression skyrockets when kids become teens,” Dr. Troxel said. And we spend a great deal of time, money and energy on programs to prevent adolescent violence and suicide, to counsel against substance abuse and unsafe sex — and not always successfully. Given the vulnerability, and the dramatic changes happening with development, researchers are looking for other ways to support adolescent brains and general well-being. “Sleep loss problems are linked with brain areas that control emotional processes and risk taking,” she said. “Sleep problems and behavioral and mental health problems are linked.” (She recently gave a TED talk on why school should start later for teens.)

The vision of those who organized the conference, led by Dr. Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital and Jim Healy, a retired investment banker who is a parent activist in Greenwich, Conn., on this issue, was to bring together scientists, doctors and community members and address an audience that included school officials and legislators.

Dr. Daniel Buysse, professor of sleep medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the author of a 2014 article on sleep health, spoke about what regulates sleep. There’s a sleep drive that builds up according to how long you’ve been awake, he said, and then dissipates as you sleep. Your 24-hour rhythm and your level of arousal and engagement from moment to moment also regulate sleep.

“How are these things affected in adolescents?” he asked. Their sleep drive takes longer to build up than it did in childhood, he said. “They don’t reach that critical level of sleepiness till a later time at night.”

A student who could handle elementary school starting at 9 a.m. may have to contend with middle school starting at 8 a.m. just as social demands and his or her own sleep cycle shift later, putting development, biology, social connections and academic expectations into conflict.

The brain needs sleep to replenish energy sources, said Dr. Charles A. Czeisler, a professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Sleep is critical to maintain focus and alertness, to repair and maintain brain cells, to clear out toxic metabolites,” he said.

Dr. Mary Carskadon, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Alpert Medical School of Brown University, spoke about the variety of developmental alterations that take place in adolescence, from changes in the brain to different patterns in metabolism, and the ways that sleep patterns are affected. Those same children who were once eager early risers, she said, begin staying up later and become, as many parents know, hard to rouse in the morning.

“Some people don’t get it, that this is biology,” she told me. “Adolescent sleep delay is not just in human teenagers; it’s seen in other juvenile mammals.”

And when they do wake up and get to school, their brain function is not at its best. Amy R. Wolfson, a professor of psychology at Loyola University in Maryland, and the co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Infant, Child, and Adolescent Sleep and Behavior, said that high school students tend to perform better in courses that meet later in the day, and perform better on cognitive tests when they are given in the afternoon.

The adolescent response to chronic sleep loss may be to consume a great deal of caffeine, Dr. Troxel said, leading to a “tired but wired” state in which risk-taking becomes more likely, in a setting where adolescent biology is in conflict with academic expectations and school schedules.

The Value of a Mess

Slate

You should let your kids totally botch household chores from an early age.

Little girl mixing dough for a birthday cake.
Mom and Dad’s little helper.

Photo illustration by Juliana Jiménez. Photo by Thinkstock.

Excerpted from The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed by Jessica Lahey. Out now from HarperCollins Publishers.

A friend told me recently after she’d had a car accident that left her unscathed but chastened that in the midst of the crash, she’d realized she needed to make lists of all the small details her family would need to know if she was not there to take care of them. Her son needed to know that his soccer clothes had to go into the laundry  Sunday so he’d have what he needed for Monday’s practice. Her daughter needed to know which fabrics can go in the dryer and which cannot and what happens when wool sweaters sneak into the dryer by mistake. The kids should know how to fix the toilet when it clogs, and reset the water pressure tank after a power outage, and change a fuse, and winterize the lawn mower, and the million other things she’d taken care of herself rather than burden her kids with.

I pointed out that if she were to die in a car accident, the location of the reset lever on the water tank would be the least of her family’s worries, but I understood her point. She’d gotten a glimpse of just how paralyzed and incompetent her kids would be in her absence. When we don’t allow our children to participate in the business of running a household, they are quite helpless without us. Worse, we don’t expect competence from them, and when they do give household duties a shot, we swoop in, and we fix.

We swoop in after our kids make their beds and smooth out the lumps and bumps. We swoop in after they fold the laundry and straighten the misfolded towels. I’ve actually taken the sponge out of my son’s hands because he was making more of a mess of the milk he was supposed to be cleaning up. I understand the impulse to want things done better, or faster, or straighter. But what’s more important—that the dishes are immaculate, or that your child develops a sense of purpose and pride because he’s finally contributing in a real and valuable way to the family? That the bed is made without wrinkles, or that your child learns to make household tasks a part of his daily routine? All this swooping and fixing make for emotionally, intellectually, and socially handicapped children, unsure of their direction or purpose without an adult on hand to guide them.

Just because your child has never done the laundry, or loaded the dishwasher, does not mean she is not capable of doing just that. And kids want to feel capable. They are creative and resourceful, and even tasks that seem unmanageable due to limits of heights or dexterity can be accomplished with the aid of a step stool and simple directions. Those dishes that belong in the high cabinets above the counter? It took a half hour, but when my younger son was first assigned dishwasher duty at 6 or 7, he dragged a chair from the living room to reach the shelves. One by one, he put those plates away where they belonged. When I had asked him to “unload the dishwasher,” I’d forgotten about the high shelves but he’d figured a way around that obstacle himself. The look of pride he gave me when I said, “Wait—you did all of it? Even those plates?” was utterly gratifying. Failure has been a part of that process, of course. Since that first day, he has broken dishes in the process of learning how best to carry, stack, and load them, but who cares? I’d trade 10 broken plates for his smiles of competence and pride.

150911_FAM_Failure_cover

Explain to your children from an early age that you expect them to contribute to the running of the household. If they are older and have never been asked to contribute before, be honest. Cop to the fact that you failed yourself and have been underestimating their abilities all along. Set clear expectations, and hold your kids accountable when they don’t meet those expectations. If your daughter’s job is to clean up her place after meals and rinse the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, and she forgets, leave the dishes out. Explain to her that the once–easily-rinsable food dries over time, and it will be much harder to clean it off when she finally gets around to it, but the dishes will remain on the table, waiting for her to clean them up. Even if that dish sits on the table for two days, don’t nag or hover, and absolutely no swooping or fixing, but be present and help problem-solve. Be there to help if your son is not sure about a cycle setting on the washer or if something goes horribly awry with the fabric softener, but find something absorbing to do while he goes about the work. If you go behind your child’s back and redo the chore he has just finished to his satisfaction, even if it’s after he’s left the room, he’ll notice. You will be telling him through your actions not only that he is incompetent but that you will finish the job if he’s careless.

And no bribes or rewards of cash payment—those kinds of short-term incentives can be used to kick-start motivation but don’t work as a long-term strategy. When I praised my son for putting those plates away in the high cupboards, I was not praising him for taking on the task, because he knew I expected that of him. Rather, I was praising him for the extra effort, determination, and perseverance he showed when he hit a roadblock.

Even toddlers, with their diminutive hands and limited attention spans, can begin to explore their abilities and competence in shared household responsibilities. When dealing with younger children, be sure to make your expectations clear and age-appropriate. Communicate family participation as a privilege, or even a game, and toddlers can accomplish more than you might expect. Here are some examples of the kinds of tasks toddlers are capable of learning:

  • Put their dirty clothes in a basket or hamper.
  • Dress themselves with clothing that’s not too complicated.
  • Fold simple items of clothing or linens such as pillowcases or washcloths.
  • Put their clothes away in drawers.
  • Follow two- or three-step directions in order to complete tasks. (“Get your toothbrush, put toothpaste on it, brush your teeth.”)
  • Throw trash and recycling away in the proper place.
  • Put toys away in tubs and baskets when they are done playing with them.
  • Get out and put away their dishes as long as you arrange their cups and bowls on a low shelf.
  • Feed the dog or cat.

As children graduate from toddlerhood and move toward preschool, start teaching them how to manage more complicated duties. Kids between 3 and 5 are big fans of counting and sorting, so give them jobs around the house that encourage them to practice these skills while instilling responsibility. Ask them to put five books on that shelf, or ask them to count out five oranges and place them in a bag at the store. Kids this age are perfectly able to:

  • Make their bed.
  • Straighten their room.
  • Sort and categorize items, such as utensils in a drawer or socks in the laundry.
  • Water plants.
  • Clear their place at the table.
  • Learn to not freak out and cry about spills, but get a towel or sponge and clean them up by themselves.
  • Prepare their own snacks.

Children as young as 5 can understand and accept the consequences of their actions (and inaction) but only if they experience those consequences. Forgot to put her favorite DVD away in its case after she watched it? The next time she wants to watch that movie, don’t help her look for it in the pile of loose DVDs, and remind her why she can’t find it.

Between the ages of 6 and 11, children should grow more and more capable. They understand the concept of cause and effect and can predict that if the clothes don’t go into the laundry basket, they won’t get clean. If the dog does not get fed, she will be hungry. Capitalize on this understanding and help children see how being proactive around the house can lead to positive effects. At this point, kids are able to be responsible for all sorts of household tasks, such as:

  • Peeling and chopping vegetables. (Teach knife safety early, and always use a sharp knife, which is safer than a dull one.)
  • Laundry—all of it, from sorting to putting it away. Post a list on the washing machine and dryer after you’ve conducted the requisite one-on-one lessons in order to provide reminders for all the steps. One mom pointed out that dry-erase markers write and erase well on the side of washers and dryers, so she simply writes instructions on the appliance itself.
  • Replacing the toilet paper when it’s gone. Leave the direction the roll spins to your child’s discretion!
  • Setting and clearing the table.
  • Outdoor work such as raking leaves, weeding, and hauling wood.
  • Vacuuming and mopping floors.
  • Helping to plan and prepare grocery lists and meals.

As your child discovers her significance and purpose, she’s going to make a mess of things from time to time as she learns. Her contribution to the household is not simply an item on a checklist you post on the refrigerator but a process, an education. You know how to fold laundry just the way you like it folded; your daughter does not. Let her muck it up the first couple of times; let her brother get frustrated with her because his pants are inside out and damp because the dryer twisted the leg in a knot. Let her discover for herself that when she leaves the clothes in the dryer overnight, her favorite shirt becomes hopelessly wrinkled.

And it’s important that school-age kids plan and prepare their own lunches. They need to be disappointed in their own choices once in a while. They need to find out that when they pack yogurt under the ice pack rather than on top, it gets squished, and the entire lunch bag becomes a sticky, vanilla mess. They need to know what it feels like to clean that sticky lunch bag and avoid the same mistake next time. They need to discover all the small details, workarounds, and solutions we devise in order to avoid the million small disasters that plague ordinary, everyday obligations.

From 12 on up, I can’t think of many household duties beyond their abilities. The more competent teens I’ve talked to are responsible for:

  • Household repairs, such as painting, replacing light bulbs, and simple car maintenance.
  • Grocery shopping. (Given some teens’ quirky dietary habits, some parents provide pretty specific lists.)
  • Planning and preparing more complicated meals.
  • Caring for and teaching younger siblings about their roles in the household responsibilities.
  • Taking the dog to the vet for his shots.
  • Cleaning out the refrigerator.
  • Chopping kindling and firewood.
  • Clearing leaves out of the gutters.

It’s never too early—or too late—to teach children how to contribute and problem-solve under their own power. Despite all the protests to the contrary, kids want to play useful roles in their family’s success. As parents have slowly but systematically deprived them of those roles, we owe them the patience and time it takes to give that purpose and responsibility back. The contribution of your children to the daily work of keeping a house and running a family will not only be a boon to the family now, but your kids’ increased competence and sense of responsibility will set them apart from their more coddled peers when they head off to college or land their first jobs. They have had opportunities to fail, to mess up and fix their errors, and won’t be fazed by a misstep here and there as young adults.

Excerpted from The Gift of Failureby Jessica Lahey. Copyright © 2015 by Jessica Lahey. A Harper book, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Before You Study, Ask for Help

The Wall Street Journal

That’s one of several ways students can better prepare themselves for tests in the new school year

ILLUSTRATION: HANNA BARCZYK

What’s the best way to study for a test?

Many students will plunge into marathon study sessions this fall, rereading textbooks and highlighting their notes late into the night. The more effort the better, right?

Not so, new research shows. Students who excel at both classroom and standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT aren’t necessarily those who study longest. Instead, they study smart—planning ahead, quizzing themselves on the material and actively seeking out help when they don’t understand it.

Carl Wilke, a Tacoma, Wash., father of six children ages 4 to 22, sees the studying challenges that students face almost every school day. He coaches his children to pick out the main points in their notes rather than highlight everything, and to look for headings and words in bold type to find the big ideas in their textbooks.

Several months ago, his 18-year-old daughter Eileen tried to study for an advanced-placement exam. Eileen says she struggled with a practice test and realized that she didn’t know how to study. She asked her mother, Catherine, for help. Ms. Wilke sat with Eileen for two hours while Eileen used an answer guide for the test to explain why her answers were wrong on questions she’d missed, then discuss the correct ones. As they worked together, Eileen says, “I was teaching her while simultaneously teaching myself” the material—a study technique that enabled her to ace the test.

FIVE WAYS TO HONE YOUR STUDY SKILLS

  • Find out what the test will cover and the kinds of questions it will include.
  • Start at least a few days before the test to plan how and when you will study.
  • Identify helpful resources such as practice tests or instructors’ office hours to assist with material you don’t understand.
  • Practice recalling facts and concepts by quizzing yourself.
  • Limit study sessions to 45 minutes to increase your concentration and focus.

High-achieving students take charge of their own learning and ask for help when they’re stuck, according to a 2017 study of 414 college students. Students who performed better sought out extra study aids such as instructional videos on YouTube. Those who asked instructors for help during office hours were more likely to get A’s, but fewer than 1 in 5 students did so, says the study by Elena Bray Speth, an associate professor of biology, and Amanda Sebesta, a doctoral candidate, both at St. Louis University in Missouri.

That activist approach reflects what researchers call self-regulated learning: the capacity to track how well you’re doing in your classes and hold yourself accountable for reaching goals. College professors typically expect students to have mastered these skills by the time they arrive on campus as freshmen.

Many students, however, take a more passive approach to studying by rereading textbooks and highlighting notes—techniques that can give them a false sense of security, says Ned Johnson, founder of Prep Matters, a Bethesda, Md., test-preparation company. After students review the material several times, it starts to look familiar and they conclude, “Oh, I know that,” he says. But they may have only learned to recognize the material rather than storing it in memory, leaving them unable to recall it on a test, Mr. Johnson says.

Top students spend more time in retrieval practice, he says—quizzing themselves or each other, which forces them to recall facts and concepts just as they must do on tests. This leads to deeper learning, often in a shorter amount of time, a pattern researchers call the testing effect.

Students who formed study groups and quizzed each other weekly on material presented in class posted higher grades than those who used other study techniques, says a 2015 study of 144 students. At home, Mr. Johnson suggests making copies of teachers’ study questions and having students try to answer them as if they were taking a test. Taking practice tests for the SAT and the ACT is helpful not only in recalling facts and concepts, but in easing anxiety on testing day, he says.

Retrieval practice often works best when students practice recalling the facts at intervals of a few minutes to several days, research shows.

Studying in general tends to be more productive when it’s done in short segments of 45 minutes or so rather than over several hours, Mr. Johnson says. He sees a takeoff-and-landing effect at work: People tend to exert more energy right after a study session begins, and again when they know it’s about to end.

No one can pace their studying that way if they wait until the night before an exam to start. Students who plan ahead do better.

Students who completed a 15-minute online exercise 7 to 10 days before an exam that prompted them to anticipate what would be on the test, name the resources they’d use to study, and explain how and when they’d use them, had average scores one-third of a letter grade higher on the exam compared with students who didn’t do the exercise, according to a 2017 study of 361 college students led by Patricia Chen, a former Stanford University researcher and assistant professor of psychology at the National University of Singapore. One participant’s plan, for example, called for doing practice problems repeatedly until he no longer needed his notes to solve them—a highly effective strategy.

Many teachers in middle and high school try to teach good study habits, but the lessons often don’t stick unless students are highly motivated to try them—for example, when they’re afraid of getting a bad grade in class, or scoring poorly on high-stakes tests such as the ACT or SAT.

When her daughter Deja was still young, Christina Kirk began to encourage her to identify major concepts in her notes and use retrieval practice when she studied. When as a teenager Deja resisted being quizzed by her mother, Dr. Kirk asked an older cousin to serve as a study partner.

Dr. Kirk also encouraged Deja to invite one or two of her more studious friends to their Oklahoma City home so they could quiz each other. After the girls worked for a while, Dr. Kirk took them to the movies. “You have to give them something positive at the end, because they’re still kids,” she says.

Deja, now 18, still makes use of study groups in her college courses.

Want to Spy on Your Children? Call It Monitoring…and Get Their Blessing

The Wall Street Journal

New tools help parents track their children’s internet activity, but it’s bad to install them without their knowledge

As kids take to electronics at earlier ages, parents need to take a closer look at their internet use. A child plays with an iPhone at the SoHo Apple Store in New York in October 2015.
As kids take to electronics at earlier ages, parents need to take a closer look at their internet use. A child plays with an iPhone at the SoHo Apple Store in New York in October 2015. PHOTO: BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS

Parents, it’s OK—essential, even—to spy on your children’s internet use.

Children are getting smartphones, tablets and iPods at earlier ages, but that doesn’t mean they’re laying low in “ Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” Just peek at your child’s browsing history; sometimes elementary schoolers google like teenagers.

Even if children don’t get lost in the internet forest, they can develop bad habits that are hard to spot day-to-day. This is the Big Parental Concern: Are we ruining our children with screens? What’s the middle ground between no tech and an internet and app free-for-all

The built-in restrictions on iPhones and Android devices give parents the ability to lock down many functions and set content filters for media and web browsing. Still, they don’t tell parents anything.

So a whole industry has developed around monitoring devices, both at home and away. These services, which often borrow tools used by businesses for managing company-issued phones, have a lot to offer: GPS tracking, time limits, daily usage reports, bedtime blackouts and content filtering.

A whole industry has developed around monitoring use of mobile devices, both at home and away.
A whole industry has developed around monitoring use of mobile devices, both at home and away. PHOTO: SETH WENIG/ASSOCIATED PRESS

But add monitoring and you add to the ethical dilemma: Does keeping up with technology mean condemning our children to a parental police state? Before planting any virtual bugs, I sought absolution—or at least permission—from a leading parenting researcher.

“Monitoring is critically important for pre-adolescents and adolescents,” Alan E. Kazdin, professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University and director of the Yale Parenting Center, told me. “Risky behavior starts at that time.” With dangers ranging from violent videogames to pornography, you’d be tempted to keep children away from machines entirely, but “homework is all online, so you can’t say no to web browsers,” he says.

The Tools

Dr. Kazdin recommends ways to monitor children without feeling like a spy. But first, let’s talk about the tools.

Over the past year, we’ve seen an explosion of monitoring services that work anywhere, separating them from the networking products that have powered at-home parental internet controls. The services often use common elements: child-safe browsers, which funnel web traffic through servers to filter any naughty material; virtual private networks, which can filter all of a device’s traffic; and mobile device management, which gives control of certain functions to a remote IT manager—that is, the service. Parents get a web or app dashboard to control the settings.

Qustodio provides controls including web browsing filters, internet access time limits, app time limits and location tracking.
Qustodio provides controls including web browsing filters, internet access time limits, app time limits and location tracking. PHOTO: THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Android phones and tablets take to deep monitoring better thanApple Inc.’s AAPL 0.03% iOS devices, because Alphabet Inc.’sGOOGL -0.34% Google allows developers plenty of under-the-hood access, says Josh Gabel, co-founder and product lead for QustodioLLC ($55 and up a year). For both iOS and Android, Qustodio can provide web browsing filters, internet access time limits, app time limits and location tracking, but only Android devices get call and text monitoring, and a panic button that lets children send location information to trusted contacts.

Likewise, Symantec Corp.’s SYMC -0.40% Norton Family service($50 a year) provides location, web and search supervision to all platforms, and replaces the iPhone’s mobile Safari browser with its own child-proofed one. But only on Android can it offer time limits and monitoring of apps, social networks and text messages.

If you want this level of access, Android really is the way to go. Google even offers its own free Android parental control system, compatible with certain recent devices. Just note: While Amazon tablets run a version of Android, they aren’t typically compatible with these tools. Amazon offers its own limited monitoring tool at parents.amazon.com.

Circle Go provides parents with a breakdown of the amount of time children spend on different apps, and lets parents pause internet access, set bedtimes and adjust content filters. Its developers decided to keep Android and iOS features equal, and are rolling out a system for children to earn screen time by completing chores or hitting fitness goals.

Previously only offered as a $5-a-month add-on to Circle Media Inc.’s parental-control networking hardware, Circle Go will be relaunched as a stand-alone service before the end of 2017.

Circle Go, which will be relaunched as a stand-alone service before the end of the year, provides parents with a breakdown of time spent on different apps and lets them pause internet access, set bedtimes and adjust content filters.
Circle Go, which will be relaunched as a stand-alone service before the end of the year, provides parents with a breakdown of time spent on different apps and lets them pause internet access, set bedtimes and adjust content filters. PHOTO: CIRCLE MEDIA
The Flaws

The closed nature of iOS can cause problems. Norton Family and Qustodio let parents make all of the icons disappear from their children’s screens as an ultimate “shut off” move. (Turning off the internet alone won’t stop children from using many game apps.) But when the apps come back, iOS arranges them in alphabetical order, not as they were. I never wanted to flip that switch, because it would have been cruel after my children arranged their icons so carefully into tidy folders. Mr. Gabel says Qustodio will soon fix this; Symantec says it’s looking for potential workarounds.

And then there’s the matter of the management profile, which gives the service control of the device: The child can find and delete it. If you want to know whether anyone is spying on your own iPhone, go to Settings > General, then look for Device Management. If it’s there, tap it to see which profiles are installed. Just note: It’s commonly found on company-issued phones, for your mutual protection.

When Circle founder Jelani Memory recently remarried, he put his company’s Circle Go software on his 14-year-old stepdaughter’s phone. “She took it off in half an hour,” he says. He argues that while it’s always good to be open about monitoring, a child deleting the profile can stoke conversation.

“For us, it’s really important that kids don’t feel like they’re being stuck inside a prison cell,” Mr. Memory says, “and that the social contract is enforced not by the app itself but by the parent and child.”

But Mr. Gabel at Qustodio says he would prefer Apple allow parents to lock device management and VPN settings as part of the built-in restrictions. Apple declined to comment.

Spyware or Safety Net?

While no service I looked at offers a perfect solution, they do offer limited free trials or plans. (For Circle Go, wait until the stand-alone service launches.) There are other tools out there that may tackle your specific concerns, so ask friends and family for recommendations, too. Just steer clear of services promising deeper iOS surveillance in exchange for your Apple iCloud login. Aside from the obvious security concern, they might not actually work as advertised.

Dr. Kazdin doesn’t advocate any particular child-monitoring software, but he encourages keeping tabs on children…openly. That means getting their buy-in.

“You say, ‘Here’s the situation: I need to know what you’re doing, and you need your freedom. Help me come up with something we agree on,’ ” Dr. Kazdin says. It’s important to give children a feeling of choice, even if they don’t really have one, he adds.

But he also warned there may not be an easy solution once bad behavior comes to light. “That’s when you turn righteous, turn into a police officer,” which won’t help things, he says. “Punishment doesn’t change behavior.” That too, must be a negotiation: “ ‘If we find out you were doing this, what do you think would be a fair consequence?’ ”

Then Dr. Kazdin said the most consoling/frustrating thing: “The challenges for us as parents are like never before.”

Write to Wilson Rothman at Wilson.Rothman@wsj.com

Benefits – Why Sports Participation for Girls and Women

Women’s Sports Foundation

 

Sport has been one of the most important socio-cultural learning experiences for boys and men for many years. Those same benefits should be afforded our daughters. It is important for all of us to know that:

  • High school girls who play sports are less likely to be involved in an unintended pregnancy; more likely to get better grades in school and more likely to graduate than girls who do not play sports.
  • Girls and women who play sports have higher levels of confidence and self-esteem and lower levels of depression.
  • Girls and women who play sports have a more positive body image and experience higher states of psychological well-being than girls and women who do not play sports.

Access this link for more information.

 

How to Raise an American Adult

The Wall Street Journal

Many young Americans today are locked in perpetual adolescence. Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse on how he and his wife are encouraging their own children to become fully formed, independent grown-ups

We all know the noun adult. But I was perplexed last year to hear the new verb to adult. In social media, especially on Twitter and Instagram, it birthed a new hashtag: #adulting. As in: “Just paid this month’s bills on time #adulting,” or “Decided I couldn’t watch Netflix 8 hours straight and went to the grocery store instead #adulting.” It even got a nomination from the American Dialect Society for the most creative word of 2015.

“Adulting” is an ironic way to describe engaging in adult behaviors, like paying taxes or doing chores—the sort of mundane tasks that responsibility demands. To a growing number of Americans, acting like a grown-up seems like a kind of role-playing, a mode of behavior requiring humorous detachment.

Let me be clear: This isn’t an old man’s harrumph about “kids these days.” I still remember Doc Anderson standing in the street in 1988, yelling at me to slow down as I drove through his neighborhood in our small Nebraska town. I was 16 and couldn’t stand that guy. Years later, when I had children of my own, I returned to thank him. Maturation.

What’s new today is the drift toward perpetual adolescence. What’s new is seeing so much less difference now between 10-year-olds and young adults in their late teens and early 20s.

As many parents can attest, independent adulthood is no longer the norm for this generation. Data from the Pew Research Center show that we crossed a historic threshold last year: “For the first time in more than 130 years, adults ages 18 to 34 were slightly more likely to be living in their parents’ home than they were to be living with a spouse or partner in their own household.” Fully one-quarter of Americans between 25 and 29 live with a parent—compared with only 18% just over a decade ago.

A great many factors have contributed to this shift toward perpetual adolescence. The economy has something to do with it, of course—but social and cultural developments do too. The list of culprits includes our incredible wealth and the creature comforts to which our children are accustomed; our reluctance to expose young people to the demands of real work; and the hostage-taking hold that computers and mobile devices have on adolescent attention.

Our nation is in the midst of a collective coming-of-age crisis. Too many of our children simply don’t know what an adult is anymore—or how to become one. Perhaps more problematic, older generations have forgotten that we need to teach them. It’s our fault more than it’s theirs.

My wife, Melissa, and I have three children, ages 6 to 15. We don’t have any magic bullets to help them make the transition from dependence to self-sustaining adulthood—because there aren’t any. And we have zero desire to set our own family up as a model. We stumble and fall every day.

Sen. Sasse with his children.
Sen. Sasse with his children. PHOTO: RYAN NICHOLSON FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

But we have a shared theory of what we’re aiming to accomplish: We want our kids to arrive at adulthood as fully formed, vivacious, appealing, resilient, self-reliant, problem-solving souls who see themselves as called to love and serve their neighbors. Our approach is organized around five broad themes.

Resist consumption. Although we often fail at it, Melissa and I aim to imprint in our children the fact that need and want are words with particular and distinct meanings. When our 6-year-old son points to a toy at Target and says, “I need that,” we let him know that “need” actually has nothing to do with it. His survival doesn’t depend on securing that toy.

In a 2009 study called “Souls in Transition,” Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith and his colleagues focused on the spiritual attitudes and moral beliefs of 18- to 23-year-old “emerging adults.” They were distressed by what they discovered, especially about the centrality of consumption in the lives of young people. Well over half agreed that their “well-being can be measured by what they own, that buying more things would make them happier, and that they get a lot of pleasure simply from shopping and buying things.”

Maturity requires imagining life without material wealth.

But consumption is no route to long-term happiness, as a raft of studies by psychologists, neuroscientists and sociologists demonstrate. Part of learning to be an adult is figuring out that our real needs can be separated from the insistent call of our wants. Maturity requires imagining life without material wealth, resolving that we could be happy in such a state, and actually experiencing mild deprivation from time to time.

Parents can impart such lessons many ways. The occasional camping trip, off the grid, can teach the basic definition of shelter—and make the comforts of home look like the luxuries they are. You can shop differently too. One of our daughters is a serious runner, so we purchase high-quality shoes to protect her developing bones—but most of her other clothes come from hand-me-downs and secondhand shops.

We want our children to learn the habit of finding pleasure in the essentials of life and feeling gratitude for them. We’d like to think that, when they strike out on their own someday, they’ll have a clear sense of what they really need.

Embrace the pain of work. Many of the same social scientists highlighting the emptiness of consumption point to a very different key to happiness: meaningful work. Over the years, I’ve found that just about everyone interesting I’ve ever met possesses a strong work ethic, focused on doing even humble jobs well, and they typically learned it early in life. They usually have a passionate answer to the question: “What was the first really hard work you did as a kid?”

Character comes before credentials.

Suggesting that our children should have similar experiences seems countercultural today. Strenuous, unpleasant work seems harsh, potentially scarring. Worse, for middle-class parents hoping to get their children into selective colleges, it might interfere with the “enrichment” activities that impress admissions committees. But character comes before credentials. If our children are to become real adults, they need to know that difficult tasks are things to be conquered, not avoided.

Last year, we sent one daughter to spend a month working on a cattle ranch. She was 14 and surprisingly eager to get her hands dirty. We left her with little advice other than to make us proud by working hard, to ask for coaching and never to let her bosses hear her complain.

Once she settled in, she would send regular text messages about what she’d done that day. It was smelly, wet, demanding work, but she reveled in it: Got an orphaned baby girl to take her whole bottle. (Also got tons of nose slime & snot on my jeans.)

I don’t mean to suggest that there are no hard workers among young people now. But “work” is more than advancement in school. Our children need to appreciate not just the privilege they enjoy in being free from the demands of physical labor but also—especially—their own capacity to fix the messes that life will throw at them.

Start young: Send your 2-year-old to get your socks every morning. It creates a rhythm and pattern that can be easily upgraded to more complicated and “adult” tasks. Re-evaluate every service you’re paying for at home and ask if your children could do it instead. Mowing is a good example; household repairs count too. Babysit together. Make your children learn to change diapers.

Connect across generations. Today, young people’s lives are driven by one predominant fact: birth year. In person and online, teenagers hang out overwhelmingly with friends of the same year in school. Correspondingly, senior citizens live out their years in nursing homes where they interact mainly with their age peers.

A 2014 Boston Globe article neatly summarized much of the recent research on this question. One study found that, among Americans 60 and older, only a quarter had discussed anything important with anyone under 36 in the previous six months. And when relatives are excluded, the percentage drops to just 6%.

Adolescents acquire vital social skills by interacting with people outside their peer bubble.

This isolation is no way to raise responsible adults. The anthropologist Alice Schlegel, co-author of a classic study of 186 preindustrial cultures, concluded that age segregation is correlated “to antisocial behavior and to socialization for competitiveness and aggressiveness.” Social science confirms what parents know from watching older siblings care for younger ones: Adolescents acquire vital social skills by interacting with people outside their peer bubble.

There are many ways to make these connections. The simplest are activities like taking your children to bake cookies with an elderly neighbor or volunteering at a senior center. But the occasional visit isn’t enough. We need to encourage our children to build lasting connections—some degree of friendship and familiarity—with older people who aren’t members of the family.

Perspective is invaluable: It lets your children hear about previous eras, including those first hard jobs, and gives them a longer view of what it means to struggle with hardships and persevere.

Travel meaningfully. Decades ago, the historian Daniel Boorstin drew a distinction between the nobility of travel and what he saw as the boredom of touring, with its large groups and controlled itineraries. What he called “the lost art of travel” involved going out “in search of people, of adventure, of experience.”

When we travel this way, we subject ourselves to the vertigo that accompanies leaving familiar surroundings, customs, language and food. It’s especially valuable for adolescents. Like hard work, it makes them appreciate not just the comfort of their own lives but the satisfaction of trying new and difficult things. It also forces them to look at the material nature of their lives. Do I really need so much stuff when I feel freer away from it?

Children will obviously not all have the same experiences as they learn about travel. Some of us come from more outdoorsy families; others come from wealthier families that can afford the airfare to fly overseas. “Where” isn’t nearly as important as how.

The key is putting children into situations outside their comfort zone, seeing things they don’t ordinarily see. And when you’re done with your trip, don’t just return immediately to everyday life. Pause to summarize the experience and reflect on it.

The average American now reads only 19 minutes a day.

Become truly literate.Reading done well is not a passive activity like sitting in front of a screen. It requires attention, engagement and active questioning. Unfortunately, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American now reads only 19 minutes a day—and the younger you are, the less you read.

That our young people take so little interest in reading is sad, but not just for them. It also keeps them from growing into the sort of engaged, responsible citizens our republic needs. America’s founders understood literacy as a prerequisite for freedom and self-government, and we are paying the price today for failing to take that truth seriously.

The first step is to encourage them to become quantity readers. A friend introduced Melissa and me to a challenge called “The Century Club.” To be a member, you must read 100 books in a year. Quite a few people can read two solid books in a week, but knocking out almost two a week for an entire year is daunting.

With children, you have to start with light books to set them on the path to 100. But as they develop the habit of reading, you can add more challenging titles. Our children haven’t yet hit a hundred in a year, but it has become a healthy, behavior-shaping goal.

Quantity is important, but quality is the bigger, long-term goal. When our girls were not yet teens, we let them pick just over half of the books in their sequence. Now we have them propose a handful of books for us to select from, and if the books aren’t rigorous enough, we intervene more aggressively.

They’re pretty good about wanting to stretch themselves, but we’ve also steered them to especially important books that will help them not just to learn their place in the world but also to comprehend the riches of the traditions they’re inheriting.

What’s on that bookshelf? Other people’s broad headings will vary, but ours include God, the Greeks, Shakespeare, the American idea and markets.

These are just some of the ideas—the habits—that Melissa and I are developing with our children to ensure they won’t be paralyzed by the prospect of adulthood. Other parents will have their own ways of tackling the challenge, but it isn’t a duty that any of us can shirk. The country needs this broader conversation about reaching adulthood, especially in an era of lifelong job disruption.

The analogy that we’ve embraced for parental duty is teaching children to ride a bike. I’m a decidedly “no training wheels” guy. My method: pad them in coats and ski pants, set them off down a slightly declining street and run behind them straddling the back wheel. I gently knock them side to side in the shoulders as we move along, and at some point, they suddenly find their balance, mostly by accident. And then they can ride! It’s a life-changing moment.

Mr. Sasse, a former college president, is the junior U.S. senator from Nebraska. This essay is adapted from his new book, “The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis—and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance,” which will be published on May 16 by St. Martin’s Press.