How Too Much Screen Time Affects Kids’ Bodies And Brains

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It’s no longer controversial to suggest that humans and their smartphones aren’t always a healthy combination. Strong research has been coming in over the last several years, suggesting that looking at screens for hours a day can have some serious health and mental health consequences. Even some of the developers of these products have admitted guilt about their creations, and confessed that they don’t even let their kids use them. A couple of recent studies highlight the connection, and an infographic below expands on it.

One new study finds that time spent on screens is linked to not-so-great shifts in brain connectivity, while reading is linked to more beneficial changes. The researchers, from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, had families rate how much time their kids spent on screens (smartphones, tablets, computers, and TV) and how much time they spent reading actual books. The children’s brains were scanned, to assess how regions involved in language were connected, and it turned out that screen time was linked to poorer connectivity in areas that govern language and cognitive control. Reading, on the other hand, was linked to better connectivity in these regions.

Another recent study found that the brain chemistry of kids who fell into the category of smartphone or Internet addiction was different from that of non-addicted kids. In particular, changes were seen in the reward circuits of the brain, in the ratio of the neurotransmitter GABA to other neurotransmitters. (Interestingly, these changes generally reversed when the teens went through cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) for their addiction.) And other research has reported that cells in one of the reward areas of the brain, the nucleus accumbens, are activated when participants view Instagram pictures with more “likes,” which again suggests that social media use can tap into addiction pathways.

But what may be even more important than looking at the brain is looking at the behavior and the psychology of kids who use screens. Researcher Jean Twenge’s famous work has shown strong links between time spent on screens and depression and suicidality in teens. A recent study of hers reported that teens who spent more time on screens in the form of social media, internet, texting, and gaming thought about suicide a lot more than kids who didn’t: about 48% of those who spent five or more hours a day on their phones had thought about suicide or made plans for it, while 28% of the teens who spent only one hour per day on their phones. In fact, teens who spent more time doing sports, homework, socializing with friends in real life, and going to church had a lower risk for both depression and suicide.

“These increases in mental health issues among teens are very alarming,” said Twenge, who’s also the author of iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us, in a statement. “Teens are telling us they are struggling, and we need to take that very seriously.”

It can be tricky to tease apart the effects of screens on mental and physical health, but researchers are doing remarkably well. Below are some more of the effects that too much screen time seems to have on the developing body and brain.

WhatIsDryEye.com

Screen time’s concerning effects on kids’ brains. Courtesy WhatIsDryEye.com

 

Six Words You Should Say Today

handsfreemama, https://www.handsfreemama.com/2012/04/16/six-words-you-should-say-today/

By Rachel Macy Stafford

drowning out the inner critic #HFM

Very rarely does one sentence have immediate impact on me.

Very rarely does one sentence change the way I interact with my family.

But this one did. It was not from Henry Thoreau or some renowned child psychologist. It was a comment from kids themselves. And if I’ve learned anything on this “Hands Free” journey, it is that children are the true experts when it comes to “grasping what really matters.”

Here are the words that changed it all:

“… College athletes were asked what their parents said that made them feel great, that amplified their joy during and after a ballgame. Their overwhelming response: ‘I love to watch you play.’”

The life-changing sentence came at the beginning of an article entitled, “What Makes a Nightmare Sports Parent and What Makes a Great One” which described powerful insights gathered over three decades by Bruce E. Brown and Rob Miller of Proactive Coaching LLC. Although I finished reading the entire piece, my eyes went back and searched for that one particular sentence; the one that said, “I love to watch you play.”

I read it exactly five times. And then I attempted to remember all past verbal interactions I had with my kids at the conclusion of their extracurricular activities.

Upon completion of a swim meet, a music recital, a school musical, or even a Sunday afternoon soccer game, had I ever said, “I like to watch you play”?

I could think of many occasions when I encouraged, guided, complimented, and provided suggestions for improvement. Did that make me a nightmare sports parent? No, but maybe sometimes I said more than was needed.

By nature, I am a wordy person—wordy on phone messages (often getting cut off by that intrusive beep) and wordy in writing (Twitter is not my friend).

And although I have never really thought about, I’m pretty sure I’m wordy in my praise, too. I try not to criticize, but when I go into extensive detail about my child’s performance it could be misinterpreted as not being “good enough.”

Could I really just say “I love to watch you play” and leave it at that? And if I did, would my children stand there cluelessly at the next sporting event or musical performance because I had failed to provide all the “extra details” the time before?

Well, I would soon find out. As luck would have it, my 8 year old had a swim meet the day after I read the article.

Her first event was the 25 yard freestyle. At the sound of the buzzer, my daughter exploded off the blocks and effortlessly streamlined beneath the water for an unimaginable amount of time. Her sturdy arms, acting as propellers, emerged from the water driving her body forward at lightning speed. She hadn’t even made it halfway down the lane when I reached up to wipe away one small tear that formed in the corner of my eye.

Since my oldest daughter began swimming competitively two years ago, I have ALWAYS had this same reaction to her first strokes in the first heat. I cry and turn away so no one sees my blubbering reaction.

I cry not because she’s going to come in first.

I cry not because she’s a future Olympian or scholarship recipient.

I cry because she’s healthy; she’s strong; she’s capable.

And I cry because I love to watch her swim.

Oh my. Those six words …

I love to watch her swim.

I had always FELT that way—tearing up at every meet, but I hadn’t said it in so many words … or should I say, in so fewwords.

After the meet, my daughter and I stood in the locker room together, just the two of us. I wrapped a warm, dry towel around her shivering shoulders. And then I looked into her eyes and said, “I love to watch you swim. You glide so gracefully; you amaze me. I just love to watch you swim.”

Okay, so it wasn’t quite six words, but it was a huge reduction in what I normally would have said. And there was a reaction—a new reaction to my end of the meet “pep talk.”

My daughter slowly leaned into me, resting her damp head against my chest for several seconds, and expelled a heavy sigh.  And in doing so, I swear I could read her mind:

The pressure’s off. She just loves to watch me swim; that is all.

I knew I was onto something.

Several days later, my 5 year old daughter had ukulele practice. It was a big day for her. The colored dots that lined the neck of her instrument since she started playing almost two years ago, were going to be removed. Her instructor believed she was ready to play without the aid of the stickers.

After removing the small blue, yellow, and red circles, her instructor asked her to play the song she has been working on for months, Taylor Swift’s “Ours.”

With no hesitation, my daughter began strumming and singing. I watched as her fingers adeptly found their homes—no need for colorful stickers to guide them.

With a confident smile, my daughter belted out her favorite line, “Don’t you worry your pretty little mind; people throw rocks at things that shine …”

As her small, agile fingers maneuvered the strings with ease, I had to look away. My vision became blurred by the tears that formed. In fact, this emotional reaction happens every time she gets to that line of the song. Every. Single. Time.

I cry not because she has perfect pitch.

I cry not because she is a country music star in the making.

I cry because she is happy; she has a voice; and she is free.

And I cry because I love to watch her play.

I’ll be darned if I hadn’t told her this in so many words … or rather, in so few words.

My child and I exited the room upon the completion of her lesson. As we walked down the empty hallway, I knew what needed to be said.

I bent down, looking straight into the blue eyes sheltered behind pink spectacles and said, “I love to watch you play your ukulele. I love to hear you sing.”

It went against my grain to not elaborate, but I said nothing about the dots, nothing about the notes, and nothing about her pitch. This was a time to simply leave it at that.

My child’s face broke into her most glorious smile—the one that causes her eyes to scrunch up and become little slices of joy. And then she did something I didn’t expect. She threw herself against me, wrapped her arms tightly around my neck, and whispered, “Thank you, Mama.”

And in doing so, I swear I could read her mind:

The pressure’s off. She loves to hear me play; that is all.  

Given the overwhelmingly positive reactions of my daughters when presented with the short and sweet “I love to watch you play” remark, I knew I had a new mantra. Not that I would say it like a robot upon command or without reason, but I would say it when I FELT it—when tears come unexpectedly to my eyes or when suddenly I look down and see goosebumps on my arms.

Pretty soon I found myself saying things like:

“I love to watch you read.”

“I love to watch you swing across the monkey bars.”

“I love to watch you gently admire God’s smallest creatures.”

“I love to watch you love your baby cousin.”

I now know how important it is to say it—say it simply—in moments when I feel that heart palpitating kind of love that comes solely from watching another human being who I adore.

Now at this point, I could wrap up this story with a nice, tidy, Kleenex-required ending, but living “Hands Free” means taking it a step further, going outside the comfort zone.

And it struck me that there is one other person to which this new mantra could apply. It hit me when this person, donned with white bandage on his arm from giving blood, was hoisting a large trashbag as we cleaned the art room at a center for residents with autism.

I watched him, my husband, from the corner of the room where I was dusting shelves with my youngest child. Embarrassingly, I had to turn away so no one saw me tear up. In that moment, I reflected on other recent events where I had been going about my business and had to stop to take pause. Moments when I stopped to watch my husband in action simply to admire the loving person, the devoted husband, and caring father he is.

But had I ever told him in so few words?

It was time.

And since writing is much easier for me than speaking, I wrote my observations down. There were no long-winded paragraphs or flowery descriptions, just words of love, plain and simple:

I love watching you help our daughter learn to roller skate.

I love watching you teach her how to throw the football.

I love watching you help your employees in times of need or uncertainty.

I love watching you interact with your brother and sister.

I love watching you read side by side with our daughters.

I love watching you laugh.

I love watching you love our family.

I typed up his note and plan to give it to him when we have a quiet moment together this weekend. I don’t know what his reaction will be, but it doesn’t matter. I feel these things, so I should say these things.

When simply watching someone makes your heart feel as if it could explode right out of your chest, you really should let that person know.

It is as simple and lovely as that.

Why Teenagers Become ‘Allergic’ to Their Parents

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The arrival of spring is often prime time for hay fever, but adolescents seem to be able to develop an allergy to their parents, either intermittent or chronic, at any time of the year. This allergy usually has a sudden onset around age 13 and can last for months or, in some cases, years. While it’s no fun to become the parent who cannot order food or hum along to a song without irritating his or her own child, we’re better able to ride out this temporary adolescent affliction when we appreciate its causes.

Growing up involves becoming separate from our parents. This project often begins in early adolescence with an abrupt and powerful urge to distinguish oneself from the adults at home. It’s no small task for teenagers to detach from those who have superintended nearly every aspect of their lives so far.

As teenagers begin to disentangle from their folks, they inevitably sort a parent’s every behavior and predilection into one of two categories: those they reject, and those they intend to adopt. Unfortunately for the peace of the household, each of these categories creates its own problem for teenagers intent on establishing their individuality.

You may think nothing of wearing dated athletic shoes, but if your teenager doesn’t agree with your choice of footwear he may, at least for a while, find it unbearable. Why should it matter to him what’s on yourfeet? Because his identity is still interwoven with yours; until he’s had time to establish his own look, your style can cramp his.

Given this, you’d think that teenagers wouldn’t be allergic to the proclivities they share with their parents. But they are, precisely because the interests are mutual.

The son of a colleague stopped running with his dad once his membership on the cross-country team became the organizing force of his high school identity. The boy still ran, of course, but now with friends or alone. He could not, at least in the near term, feel separate from his father and still go out jogging with him.

In short, adults can find themselves in a season of parenting when nothing they do sits right with their teenagers.

While we wait for this season to pass, what should we do when our teenager can hardly stand how we operate our turn signals?

For starters, we might view it as a reassuring marker of normal development. While we know, intuitively, that our children will not always admire and enjoy us the way they often do when they are young, it’s easier to part with our pedestals when we remember that our adolescents’ new allergies herald the next chapter in our relationships with them.

From there, we can either ignore their annoyance or remind our children that they are free to be aggravated, but not rude. If necessary, we can gently point out that it won’t be long before they’ll be driving and operating the turn signals just as they please.

Finally, we can sometimes welcome teenage self-consciousness as an opportunity to connect. When I was growing up and a friend of mine’s allergy to his parents was at its absolute height, his mother would allow him to choose her outfit when they needed to attend school events together. Of course the case can be made against indulging adolescent hypersensitivities. But the case can also be made that eighth-grade orientation is already stressful enough. If wearing one sweater rather than another makes little difference to you, why not do what you can to ease your tween’s mind?

As for my colleague, he dearly missed going on runs with his son, just as many parents of adolescents long for the days when their preteen laughed at their jokes and happily came along on errands. We are rarely as ready to separate from our teenagers as they are ready to separate from us.

Even when you don’t take your child’s secession from your union personally, it still hurts. Having other interests and supportive relationships can help. Go out for coffee with friends whose teenagers also look at them askance and reassure your wife that she’s still got it, even if her dance moves do cause your ninth-grade daughter to break out in hives.

For teenagers whose allergies manifest as persistent disrespect, laying down some ground rules can help. A wise friend of mine tells her adolescent son that he can be friendly, polite, or clear about needing some time alone; insolence, however, is off the table. And though it’s painful to be treated as an irritant, holding a grudge can sour those unexpected moments when even the most reactive teenager welcomes our company.

Once teenagers have had time and space to establish their own skills, interests and tastes, their allergic response to their parents usually dies down. Plus, neurological development is on our side. As they age, adolescents’ evolving cognitive capacities allow them to think beyond seeing their parents only as being like, or unlike, how they themselves want to be.

Now they can sort what they see in us into categories that could not exist before. We can have bothersome quirks that our teenagers view as entirely our own; we can have characteristics they admire, but don’t care to cultivate. And our teenagers can embrace interests that they happen to share with us.

Teenagers’ allergies to their parents may make a brief return at moments when they want tight control of their personal brands — such as during college visits, or when highly regarded peers are nearby. But at some point you may be able to return to blowing goodbye kisses without causing your teenager anything more than mild discomfort. And your dance moves might even get a little long overdue respect, too.

What Parents Need to Know About Virtual Reality

As VR becomes reality for families, discover the potential and pitfalls of this impressive technology. By Caroline Knorr 
What Parents Need to Know About Virtual Reality

Everyone who’s tried it agrees: Virtual reality is mind-blowing. Once you strap on that headset, you truly believe you’re strolling on a Parisian street, careening on a roller coaster, or immersed in the human body exploring the inner workings of the esophagus. But for all its coolness — and its potential uses, from education to medicine — not a lot is known about how VR affects kids. Common Sense Media’s new report, Virtual Reality 101: What You Need to Know About Kids and VR, co-authored by the founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, offers a first-of-its-kind overview of the expanding uses for the technology and its potential effects on kids. Now that VR devices from inexpensive viewers to game consoles to full-scale gaming arcades are finally here — with lots more coming soon —  it’s a good idea to start thinking about how to manage VR when it comes knocking at your door.

Virtual reality can make you think and feel things you know aren’t real. Other media can give you the sense of “being there” — what’s called psychological presence — but not to the extent that VR can. This unique ability is what makes it so important to understand more about the short- and long-term effects of the technology on kids. Here are some of the key findings from the report:

  • Everything in VR is more intense. Because the brain processes virtual reality experiences similar to how it processes actual experiences, it can provoke feelings of fear, anxiety, disorientation — as well as joy and excitement. Also, VR characters may be more influential than characters kids see on TV — which can have positive or negative effects, depending on the message.
  • It has major potential — and serious downsides. VR at its best reveals new worlds and new perspectives that kids wouldn’t be able to experience in real life. At its worst, it exposes kids to intense and possibly inappropriate content that feels too “real.”
  • The long-term effects of VR on developing brains are unknown, which concerns both parents and the pros. Sixty percent of parents say they are at least “somewhat concerned” that their children will experience negative health effects while using VR. Experts advocate moderation and supervision.
  • As a teaching tool, the jury is still out on VR. Students are more enthusiastic about learning with VR than without it, but they aren’t necessarily learning more effectively.

Even though we don’t yet have all the answers to how VR affects kids, we know enough to consider some pros and cons. And whether kids are using VR through a mobile device like Google Cardboard (check out our editor’s picks of VR apps), on a console like the PlayStation VR, on a fully tricked-out desktop rig like the Oculus Rift, or at a mall arcade, these guidelines can help you keep any VR experience your kids have safe and fun.

Pay attention to age ratings. Check the recommended age on the headset package and don’t let younger kids use products designed for older kids. The minimum age isn’t based on medical proof of adverse effects on the brain and vision, but it’s the manufacturer’s best guess as to who the product is safest for.

Choose games wisely. Because the VR game experience can be more intense than that of regular games, it’s even more important to check reviews to make sure the gameplay, the content, and the subject matter are appropriate for your kid.

Keep it safe. A few precautions: Once you have the goggles on, orient yourself to the room by touching the walls; stick to short sessions until you know how you’re affected by VR; stay seated if possible; move furniture out of the way; and have a second person as a spotter.

Pay attention to feelings — both physical and emotional. If you’re feeling sick to your stomach, dizzy, drained, or sad, angry, or anxious — give it a rest for a while.

Talk about experiences. Since VR feels so real, it’s an excellent time to talk through what your kid has experienced in a game. Ask what it felt like, what the differences are between VR and regular games, and how VR helps you connect to other people’s experiences by putting you in someone else’s shoes.

Find opportunities; avoid pitfalls. Don’t let your kids play VR games that mimic experiences you wouldn’t want them to have in real life, such as using violent weapons. On the other hand, take advantage of VR that exposes kids to things they wouldn’t normally get to see, feel, and learn, such as visiting a foreign country.

Keep privacy in mind. Devices that can track your movements — including eye movements — could store that data for purposes that haven’t yet been invented.

What to Do if You Suspect Your Teen Is ‘Juuling’

If he’s Juuling, punishing your teen won’t solve the problem. Here’s what to do instead, according to a licensed child and adolescent therapist.

By KATIE HURLEY, LCSW

<p>What to Do if You Suspect Your Teen Is 'Juuling'</p>

Vladislav Perfilev / EyeEm/Getty Images

While middle school bathrooms have long been a hot spot for bullying and other secretive behavior, there’s a new threat lurking in the restrooms of our schools and keeping parents and teachers up at night: Juuling. Teens see the vaping trend as cool, harmless fun, and the pressure to try it is intense.

The Juul device, which is popular with teens partly because of its discreet design (it resembles a flash drive), is intended as a smoking alternative for adult cigarette smokers. However, with flavors like crème brulee, fruit medley, and mango, it’s no wonder Juuling draws a young audience. Juul has the added benefit of producing a smaller plume than other e-cigarettes, making it easy for teens to exhale into their sleeves and avoid getting caught.

Each Juulpod is approximately the equivalent of one pack of cigarettes and Juul does not currently offer nicotine-free flavors. While similar products on the market do offer vape juice without the added nicotine, Juul does not.

While your child’s school wages war on vaping inside their walls, you may wonder how you can stop your kids from trying it. Given that Juulpods are good for 200 puffs, even teens with restricted access to purchasing the devices can easily share with friends who have one. And here’s the thing: Warning your kids, and threatening them with punishments if they try Juuling, won’t make this problem disappear anytime soon. Instead, it’s essential that you talk openly and honestly with your kids about Juuling and vaping. Here’s how.

1. Resist the urge to freak out.

Teens respond to the emotional cues of their parents. If you begin a conversation in an angry, anxious, or accusatory manner, your teen is likely to respond by either shutting down or blowing up. These are difficult conversations to have and it’s perfectly natural for parents to feel anxious or overwhelmed by the subject matter, particularly if this is the first you’re hearing of it.

2. Ask questions and listen to what your teen says.

Keep your questions open-ended, since the goal is to find out what your teen knows about Juuling and vaping. You might say, “I just read an article about e-cigarettes that said Juul actually contains nicotine. Why are kids your age so into it?” Or, “Are the flavors really that great?” gives her an opening to say, “I tried it and thought it was gross,” or “I tried it and I thought it was cool.” You might get an eye roll or a sarcastic laugh about your apparent lack of knowledge, but this also gives your teen the opportunity to tell you about it. Take the time to listen—really listen—and avoid asking yes or no questions.

3. Don’t pretend to have all the answers.

Instead of blurting out the latest headlines on the matter, it’s better to admit what you do and don’t know. “Honest dialogue is the best way to keep conversation about addiction open and flowing,” says Jessica Lahey, New York Times bestselling author of The Gift of Failure. Additionally, being honest with your kids encourages them to be honest with you. “Studies show that kids who are lied to by their parents are, in turn, more likely to lie to their parents,” she adds.

4. Discuss the health hazards of Juuling.

Since Juuling and vaping are so new, we don’t know much about the long-term effects of inhaling nicotine vapor, says Lahey. “However, research does show that e-cigarette, including Juuling and vaping, is correlated with future cigarette use among teens,” she says. “We also know that nicotine is a highly addictive substance.”

Empower your teen to make healthy choices by asking him to highlight the pros and cons of Juuling. While “it’s fun” and “my friends are all doing it” might seem like good reasons to start, your teen probably understands that there are some compelling reasons to stop, as well. Questions like, “How will Juuling affect your ability to keep up on the field?” or “Do your friends who use Juul complain about feeling tired a lot?” trigger your teen to consider the potential pitfalls.

5. Share your concerns with your teen.

You can’t control every move your teen makes when she’s away from home, but you can talk openly about your concerns and state clear expectations. You might say something like, “Nicotine is very addictive and I expect that you will stay away from vaping, but I also know that it’s very difficult to avoid this stuff and I am here to help you however I can.”

6. If you discover that your teen is Juuling, keep your emotions in check.

While your knee-jerk reaction might be to search her phone, shut down communication with her peers, and tear about her room in pursuit of evidence, don’t. “Remember that when it comes to prying, searching, and snooping on your kids, you can never unsee the things you find or earn back the trust that’s lost,” says Lahey. “Juuling is, in the grand scheme, not terribly dangerous in and of itself, but it can lead to other habits and addictions that can be problematic. Talk to your kids about the places Juuling can lead, and then keep talking in the spirit of love, caring, and support for your children’s health and privacy.”

 

Your teen is faced with difficult choices every single day. The good news is that the more you discuss risky behaviors and acknowledge that your teens face these obstacles, the less likely your teens are to engage in these risks. Keep talking. It works.

Are Today’s Teenagers Smarter and Better Than We Think?

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Emma González, center, is among the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students leading the movement against gun violence. CreditChip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Today’s teenagers have been raised on cellphones and social media. Should we worry about them or just get out of their way?

A recent wave of student protests around the country has provided a close-up view of Generation Z in action, and many adults have been surprised. While there has been much hand-wringing about this cohort, also called iGen or the Post-Millennials, the stereotype of a disengaged, entitled and social-media-addicted generation doesn’t match the poised, media-savvy and inclusive young people leading the protests and gracing magazine covers.

There’s 18-year-old Emma González, whose shaved head, impassioned speeches and torn jeans have made her the iconic face of the #NeverAgain movement, which developed after the 17 shooting deaths in February at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Naomi Wadler, just 11, became an overnight sensation after confidently telling a national television audience she represented “African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper.” David Hogg, a high school senior at Stoneman Douglas, has weathered numerous personal attacks with the disciplined calm of a seasoned politician.

Sure, these kids could be outliers. But plenty of adolescent researchers believe they are not.

“I think we must contemplate that technology is having the exact opposite effect than we perceived,” said Julie Lythcott-Haims, the former dean of freshmen at Stanford University and author of “How to Raise an Adult.” “We see the negatives of not going outside, can’t look people in the eye, don’t have to go through the effort of making a phone call. There are ways we see the deficiencies that social media has offered, but there are obviously tremendous upsides and positives as well.”

“I am fascinated by the phenomenon we are seeing in front of us, and I don’t think it’s unique to these six or seven kids who have been the face of the Parkland adolescent cohort,” says Lisa Damour, an adolescent psychologist and author of “Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood.”

“They are so direct in their messaging. They are so clear. They seem unflappable.”

Dr. Damour, who has spent her career talking and listening to teenagers, said she believes the Parkland teens are showing the world the potential of their peer group. “Those of us who live with teenagers and are around them can see something that is different about this generation,” she said.

There is still much to learn about the postmillennial cohort — social scientists haven’t even agreed on when this generation begins, although there seems to be a consensus forming that the year 2000, give or take a few years, is a good place to start. But data collected from various health surveys already show that today’s teens are different from previous generations in many ways.

Many risky behaviors have dropped sharply among today’s teens. Cigarette smoking among teens is at a historic low since peaking in the mid 1990s. Alcohol use has also declined significantly — the number of teens who have used alcohol in the past 30 days is down by half since the 1990s. Teen pregnancy rates have hit historic lows, and teens over all are waiting longer to have sex than their parent’s generation. Teen driving fatalities are down about 64 percent since 1975. Some of that is attributed to safer cars, but teen crashes have declined between 10 and 30 percent in states with tiered licensing systems, and teen drunken driving has dropped while teen seatbelt use has increased.

While most health researchers celebrate these changes in teen health, some scientists think the trends suggest a lower level of maturity among today’s teens. Perhaps teens are safer simply because their reliance on social media and smartphone use means they are getting out less. In September, the journal Child Development published a study by Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, noting that there is a decline in a number of “adult” activities among today’s teens. In seven large, nationally representative surveys of eight million American adolescents from 1976 to 2016, fewer adolescents in recent years are having sex, dating, drinking alcohol, driving, working for pay and going out without their parents.

“The big picture is that they are taking longer to grow up,” said Dr. Twenge, whose latest book is “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.”

In an article in The Atlantic last fall titled “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?,” Dr. Twenge argued that teens are more comfortable in their bedrooms or on smartphones or social media than at a party. While they are physically safer than past generations as a result, rates of teen depression and suicide are on the rise. “It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades,” she wrote. “Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.”

But a number of social scientists and adolescent health researchers disagree with that conclusion. While teen depression and suicide rates are worrisome, there is no causal link to show those trends are the result of smartphones and social media. In fact, a literature review by Unicef researchers in December found that moderate use of digital technology tends to be beneficial for children’s mental well-being, while no use or too much use is associated with a “small negative impact.” The larger issues that affect a child’s well-being are family functioning, social dynamics at school and socio-economic conditions, the report concluded.

Don Tapscott, author of “Grown Up Digital,” said he believes today’s teenagers are better communicators than any previous generation. “They didn’t grow up being the passive recipients of somebody else’s broadcast,” he said. “They grew up being interactors and communicators. In the 1960s we had a generation gap. What we have today is a generation lap — they are lapping their parents on the digital track.”

The clinical psychologist Wendy Mogel interviewed groups of middle school and high school students around the country in 2015 and 2016 for her new book, “Voice Lessons for Parents: What to Say, How to Say It and When to Listen.” Dr. Mogel spoke with diverse kids from various regions and walks of life, but found herself consistently impressed by their thoughtfulness, how much they liked their parents, and how much they cared about the world around them.

“The press and general public like to see them as spoiled and not having to work hard for anything except grades and being very entitled,” Dr. Mogel said. “But they’re courageous, energetic, optimistic and really smart.”

Neil Howe, a historian whose books include “Millennials Rising,” said that unlike earlier generations, today’s teens have accepted the structures of society and have learned to work within those boundaries. “They’re very good at using rules to make their point, and they’re absolutely excellent at negotiating with their parents, and negotiating in a reasonable way about how to bend these rules in a way that will make them more effective and give them more space,” he said. “This is not a ‘throw the brick through the window and burn stuff down’ group of kids at all. They’re working very constructively, arm-in-arm with older people they trust, to make big institutions work better and make them stronger and more effective.”

Ms. Lythcott-Haims notes that the current crop of teenagers is the first generation to grow up with active shooter drills since kindergarten. “I think what we might have here is a generation that really defines itself by the markers of their childhoods,” she said. “In addition to being marked by these gun violence tragedies, they came to consciousness with a black man in the White House and smartphones in their hands.”

What does all this mean for the future of today’s teens? All of the researchers agreed there is still much more to learn about this cohort, but what we know so far is promising.

“We are in the process of distilling the data and discerning who they are, but I am excited,” said Ms. Lythcott-Haims. “We don’t know who they will be in their 20s, but already they have agency, the sense of your own existence, your own right to make decisions and your own responsibility for outcomes and consequences. That’s what we need to have to be mentally well. I think these folks could turn out not to be just leaders, but to be a generation that we look back on and end up calling one of the greatest.”

How Exercise Helps Reduce ADHD Symptoms

Health Central

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According to a number of recent studies, exercise, especially if it’s aerobic, can reduce symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Researchers are still working to identify the exact causes of ADHD, but it is generally thought to be caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain.

Scientists think that ADHD symptoms are caused by a deficiency in the chemicals norepinephrine and dopamine, which “play essential roles in thinking and attention,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Stimulant medications are effective because they increase these chemicals, therefore reducing ADHD symptoms and increasing an individual’s ability to focus. Exercise increases dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels in the brain, which means exercise can have the same effect on the brain as stimulant medications.

In recent years, a number of studies have backed up the idea that exercise helps decrease ADHD symptoms.

study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology in 2015 looked specifically at the effects of aerobic exercise on children with ADHD. Children were enrolled in a before-school exercise program for 12 weeks. Parents and teachers provided ratings of ADHD symptoms, including inattentionhyperactivity, and impulsivity as well as ratings for oppositional behavior, moodiness, and social interactions. At the end of the trial, researchers noted reduced impairment at school and at home. Betsy Hoza, the lead researcher believes the study showed that before-school exercise could be a way of managing ADHD symptoms.

study published in Current Psychiatry Reports indicated that sustained exercise programs benefited children with ADHD, specifically by enhancing neural growth and development, and improving cognitive and behavioral functioning. Executive functioning skills, which are often difficult for people with ADHD, were found to improve after exercise.

Another study assigned some students to a nine-month after school physical activity program. Other students were placed on a waitlist as a control group. The researchers found that students who actively participated in the physical activity program had better results on cognitive performance and had better brain function on tasks requiring executive function skills.

Dr. John Ratey, M.D., the author of “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain,” has advocated for exercise as a supplemental treatment for ADHD. Dr. Ratey discussed the study with Medscape Medical News and reported there have also been research in Taiwan and China supporting exercise for children with ADHD.

The study from China also found that balance training might be of benefit. Dr. Ratey explains that exercise increases dopamine and norepinephrine levels, which in turn decrease ADHD symptoms. “It also raises serotonin and all these other factors in the brain that really make for a nice recipe for an exercise pill, if we had such a thing,” Dr. Ratey said.

Besides improving cognitive functioning and executive functioning skills, exercise helps by:

  • Decreasing restless energy
  • Lowering stress levels
  • Improving concentration

In the studies, researchers mostly used aerobic exercises, such as running, cycling, and using elliptical machines, because this type of activity is known to increase the neurotransmitters in the brain.

Yoga might also help. In a review of studies, yoga was found to be effective as a supplemental or alternative therapy, with similar results as biofeedback or relaxation training for those with ADHD.

One of the major differences between exercise and medication in treating and managing ADHD symptoms is that the benefits from exercise are short-lived. It is recommended that a person continues to exercise to maintain benefits, and unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to stop what you are doing every hour or two to engage in aerobic exercise. However, building exercise into your everyday routine at a time that works for you can help to keep you consistent.

Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral TherapyEssential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.

Published On: Sept 19, 2017

Ten Reasons Middle Schoolers Don’t Need Social Media

Community Today

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1. Social media was not designed for children.

A tween’s underdeveloped frontal cortex can’t manage the distraction nor the temptations that come with social media use.

2. You can not teach the maturity that social media requires.
I hear parents say that they want to teach their child to use social media appropriately, but their midbrains are not developed yet. Like trying to make clothes fit that are way too big, children will use social media inappropriately until they are older and it fits them better.

3. Social media is an entertainment technology.
It does not make your child smarter or more prepared for real life or a future job.

4. It is not necessary for healthy social development.
It is entertainment attached to a marketing platform extracting personal information and preferences from your child, not to mention hours of their time and attention.

5. A tween’s “more is better” mentality is a dangerous match for social media.
Social media encourages them to overdo their friend connections like they tend to overdo other things in their lives. Does anyone have thousands of friends?

6. Social media is an addictive form of screen entertainment.
Like video game addiction, early use can set up future addiction patterns and habits.

7. Social media replaces learning the hard social “work” necessary for success.
The use of social media greatly lessens opportunities requiring children to practice dealing face-to-face with their peers, a skill they need to master to be successful in real life.

8. Social media can cause teens to lose connection with family.
They view “friends” as their foundation and since the brain is still being formed, they need healthy family attachment more than with their peers. It is just as important now as when they were preschoolers.

9. Social media use represents lost potential for teens.
The teen’s brain development is operating at peak performance for learning new things. Studies show that it is nearly impossible for them to balance it all and teens waste too much time and too much of their brain in a digital world.

10. Do any of us wish we had started earlier?

To Raise Resilient Kids, Be a Resilient Parent

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As parents, we want our children to be emotionally resilient — able to handle life’s ups and downs. But parents’ ability to foster resilience in our children hinges a great deal on our own emotional resilience.

“A parent’s resilience serves as a template for a child to see how to deal with challenges, how to understand their own emotions,” said Dr. Dan Siegel, author of “The Yes Brain,” which focuses on cultivating children’s resilience.

Yet for many parents, taking the temper tantrums and meltdowns in stride presents a challenge — especially if we have unrealistic expectations of what childhood is really all about.

“Part of it is this idea that we have that parenthood should be this amazing, blissful, perfect culmination of our hopes and dreams,” said Katherine Reynolds Lewis, author of the forthcoming book “The Good News About Bad Behavior.”

Ms. Lewis said that anger, tears and other outbursts are a natural part of any child’s development — what she calls “the messiness of childhood.”

But parents who are unable or unwilling to confront that messiness may view their child’s outbursts as a problem that urgently needs to be solved.

When that happens, Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist and editor of the site AhaParenting.com, said: “We ridicule kids, we blame them, we tell them it’s their own fault; we isolate them by sending them to their rooms.”

The nature of the parent’s response may vary, Dr. Markham said, but the message is the same — that anger, sadness or frustration are unacceptable.

This, Dr. Markham noted, is the opposite of resilience; instead, it’s a fragile rigidity that leaves both parent and child fearful that outsized emotions could shatter them.

In contrast to this fragility, parents who don’t flinch from the power of emotions like anger have a greater capacity to absorb challenging interactions with their children, said Dr. Siegel, who is executive director of the Mindsight Institute. And don’t worry if this kind of resilience doesn’t come naturally, he said — with practice, it gets easier.

Here are some tips for making those difficult interactions easier to absorb:

Take a Breath

To respond thoughtfully to our child’s outbursts, we have to first silence the alarm bells going off inside our head. Dr. Markham coaches parents to “hit the pause button” before taking any action, even in the face of a screaming child. In her research, Ms. Lewis learned that parents and children often synchronize their heart rates, breathing and other physiological functions, so calming ourselves down can have a measurable, physical effect on our child — not to mention on our own ability to face a situation calmly.

Let Emotions Happen

Resilience depends on an understanding that emotions — even those considered “negative,” like sadness, grief or anger — aren’t a problem to be fixed, but a natural consequence of being human. “The thing about emotions is that they don’t last forever; there’s a beginning, middle and end to all of them,” said Carla Naumburg, a clinical social worker and author of “Ready, Set, Breathe: Practicing Mindfulness With Your Children for Fewer Meltdowns and a More Peaceful Family.” More than that, allowing ourselves — and our children — to experience and express a full range of emotions is vital to our well-being. Dr. Markham noted that it is actually when we don’t express our emotions that we lose control of them — not the other way around.

Get Curious

So often as parents, we ask “why” questions about unwanted behavior (“Why can’t he remember to put his socks in the hamper?”). But Dr. Naumburg said that asking ourselves “Why am I responding this way?” may be a more useful question, especially when our buttons are getting pushed. “Notice what’s happening with you, and start to take responsibility for it,” Dr. Markham suggested.

Set Boundaries With Compassion

Establishing and holding the line on boundaries can lead to some of the most unpleasant moments in the parent-child relationship — but approaching those moments with compassion and kindness goes a long way toward keeping your blood pressure down. Dr. Markham and Dr. Naumburg suggested verbally acknowledging your child’s feelings and comforting him or her doesn’t have to mean giving in to their demands. “There are times when I will sit with my daughter in my lap, as she’s crying, and snuggle her as I’m saying ‘no’ to her,” Dr. Naumburg said. “She’s still crying, but we’re still connected.”

Examine Your Yeses and Nos

Susan Newman, a social psychologist and author of “The Book of No: 365 Ways To Say It and Mean It,” said parents should be especially mindful of the times you’re most likely to give in to your child’s outburst. “If you can recognize what triggers you to an automatic ‘yes,’ it’s time to step back and say, ‘Hold it a minute, why am I doing this?’” Dr. Newman suggested. “We’re living in this culture of ‘yes’ parenting,” Dr. Newman said, “and it’s easier to say yes than to deal with a child’s meltdown.” But parents can consider, “How will a ‘no’ help?” as a way to explore the reason for a particular boundary so that you and your child can better understand it.

Get Some Distance

When we identify closely with our children, or rely on them as a barometer of our own self-worth, we set ourselves up for disappointment (or worse) when things don’t go exactly as we planned. “Our egos are very tied up in our parenting,” said Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of “How to Raise an Adult.” Dr. Naumburg noted that this is partially informed by a cultural narrative that suggests that “If the kids are not O.K., then it’s because we parents have done something wrong.” As Ms. Lythcott-Haims put it, “If we can get a life, maybe our kids can have one too.”