Getting Kids Unhooked from Their Smartphones

Mindful

Setting guidelines around kids’ tech use starts with the habits and conscious choices of parents. Mark Bertin, MD, shares tips on how families can be mindful with their tech.

elena_fedorina/Adobe Stock

Kids and screen time cause considerable parental angst these days—and for good reason. Research shows children spend on average seven hours a day glued to computer, tablet, smartphone, or television screens. This reality has created such a stir that in the fall, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its decade-old recommendation on childhood screen time.

Far from a radical revision, the guideline newly suggests a little well-chosen time is fine starting near eighteen months, when used interactively with a care taker. Below eighteen months no time remains best, apart from maybe video conversations with grandparents. From two to five, an hour daily maximum is recommended, and for older kids, two hours total time tops, no different than before.

Why is screen time such a uniquely charged and challenging topic? Guidelines of this type are tough to implement in the real world. Kids don’t want to hear that outside of homework too much screen time actually impacts healthy development. However, since children lack mature executive function, cognitive skills required to manage life like a grown up,  wise decision-making around screens remains limited until they learn better. As strong a pull as children feel, healthy technology use relies on parents.

The Command Center of Life

Executive function is like the CEO of our lives. Anything regarding organization, planning, anticipating, focusing, and regulating behavior relies on executive function. Healthy development of executive function in early childhood has even been linked to life-longacademic and social success.

In large part, kids depend on parents to manage life while waiting for executive function to mature. Executive function represents the path toward complex problem solving and goal setting, and the ability to defer short term gratification for long term gain. The unsettling reality is that executive function doesn’t fully mature until around the age of thirty. That’s one reason kids and teens make not-so-smart decisions when it comes to social media. In a nutshell, even an independent-seeming teenager almost certainly lacks the full capacity to make long-sighted choices.

Immature executive function is a large part of what makes kids act like, well, kids. Around screens, think of it this way: Most adults have fully developed executive function and a strong ability to manage attention, prioritize, plan, and control impulses, and consider the future. They still struggle to keep phones and devices from becoming a distraction. What does that mean for the average child?

Because children lack the self-management capacities of a mature adult, they are particularly at risk when it comes to screens. For many, whatever feels best right now (I’m bored, where’s my tablet?) trumps health and well-being virtually every time. For teens immersed in their complex social world and drive for independence, volatile hormones and emotions create a perfect storm when joined with immature executive function and a smartphone. Sending naked selfies—hey, why not? The part of the brain responsible for reflection and foresight isn’t all grown up yet!

Putting Your Kids on a Media Diet

Like parents through the generations, our modern role is to love our kids, guide them, and teach them. Kids have always needed supervision, and there’s nothing unique about their fascination with technology. Parents before us managed a child’s behavior around driving, partying, curfews, and manners, and we now must keep track of technology, too. This means setting boundaries and giving them more independence as they earn it over time, not before.

Four Negative Impacts of Phone Addiction

Technology is a tool; it is not inherently good or bad. To keep it in a healthy place in our lives requires skillful use. Unlike passing trends that scared parents over the years, research shows poorly monitored screen time bluntly impacts kids for the worse. (Rock and roll was never shown to affect child development in any real way; it isn’t evil, as it turns out.) Well moderated activities may augment learning, but hundreds of studies show that when devices drive their own use, consequences follow. A few examples include:

  • Short- and long-term attention and executive function suffer. Laser-like attention towards a screen is an illusion; kids remain engaged because their attention constantly, actively shifts. That’s why it’s fun. Increased time in front of screens has been linked to long-term worsening of focus. Short-term use—like playing games on the school bus—has been linked to immediate decreases in executive function.
  • Sleep becomes disrupted. Studies show we all benefit from at least an hour without screens prior to bed. If you’re someone who falls asleep with the TV, you’re distracting yourself from restlessness but probably not helping yourself fall asleep.
  • Screen time can interfere with language, communication, and other forms of social engagement. Background television in homes has been linked to shorter social interactions. Even just having a phone on the table in a conversation has been shown disruptive. “Educational” DVDs used in one study not only failed to work—they caused language development to slow. Particularly in younger children, screen time should be an opportunity to engage, not disengage, with others.
  • Screen time breeds behavioral difficulties. One study showed nothing more than cutting inappropriate media content in preschool homes leads to better school behavior. In another, violent video games in teens were shown to decrease activity in parts of the brain that respond to violence. Of course, not every child playing video games gets swayed, but over any group of children there seems to be an influence.

Mindful Screen Management

Mindfulness means living life with more awareness and less reactive habit. For a parent, that means not trying for perfection but taking the time to monitor and readjust often. As children need our guidance around any other area of health, they need it with technology. If there’s one takeaway point around the entire body of technology research it is this: Strong parental involvement moderating screen time in and of itself correlates with academic, behavioral, and social success.

Strong parental involvement moderating screen time in and of itself correlates with academic, behavioral, and social success.

Staying involved means pushing back against mindless screen habits. The role screens play in life is driven by buckets of research and advertising dollars, an industry itching to make more and more money. Wherever technology helps, educates, or entertains in a balanced way, that’s perfect. When its use is driven by boredom, fear, or compulsion, mindfulness means pausing and redirecting our behavior.

Nothing much has changed through the years about how children develop or the role of parents. You wouldn’t let a child eat chocolate cake at every meal and you wouldn’t let them drive recklessly. By the same token, you can’t let them use screens without limits. Parenting in the digital age means the same thing as in the stone age: Children require affection, firm limit setting, and a mindful, aware, clear-sighted approach to guiding them, from sticks and stones through television and smartphones.

Six Ways to Be Mindful with Your Tech as a Family

Some basic family guidelines for screen time include …

  • Start with yourself. Children learn an awful lot just from watching their parents, and 70 percent of today’s kids feel their parents are on their screens too much. When you’re with your kids, try to put down your device and pay attention to your family. You are the first role model for screen use.
  • Parents decide how much. For all the debate about how much time is healthy, it comes down to parents prioritizing what they want to prioritize. Take a daily calendar, and fill in everything you value first. Start with bedtime, school hours, homework, reading, exercise, outdoor time, after-school activities, and down time for open-ended play. Whatever is left after that exercise is the maximum available time for screens, without exceeding the AAP guidelines. (An online tool to figure this out is available here). Another trick is to ask yourself: What percentage of unscheduled down time goes directly to a screen?

What percentage of unscheduled down time goes directly to a screen?

  • Parents decide when. Set guidelines around homework, meals, and a screen bedtime. Use allotted times wisely, scheduling so you can get what you need done around the house. Teach courtesy and manners too—meaning, when there’s an actual person around we pay attention to that person. One practice to stay engaged with others is taking a deep breath first when the phone rings or vibrates, pausing before deciding if it needs immediate attention.
  • Parents monitor content. The Internet can be an incredible, healthy, helpful source of information for curious kids. It also can expose them to much that is developmentally inappropriate. A handful of games may educate, plenty more clearly do not. Sites such as a Common Sense Media provide unbiased information for parents about what is age appropriate around various games, shows, and movies. Keep computers and screens out of bedrooms so you know what your kids are doing. Use content filters, teach healthy use, and keep an eye on overall habits. Aim to stay a wise, involved parent.
  • Remember that screens are a privilege, not a right. In generations past, kids used the family car responsibly and kept to curfew, or else there were consequences. Technology is no different. If children don’t follow family rules, there’s nothing wrong with a similar result—you’ve lost the privilege of your phone for the weekend. To disconnect for a time won’t destroy their social lives any more than getting grounded did all those years ago.
  • Make active choices. Awareness is the core of mindfulness, stepping from autopilot into active decision-making. For example, a trend has grown to give every middle school student a smartphone, although most parents realize how disruptive they often are at that age. Most experts think high school a better time for a smartphone, but the trend lives on. Around that choice or any other, pause, note what’s driving your experience, and then decide what you think best.
This article originally appeared on The Garrison Institute, one of Mindful’s partners. See the original article.

Decoding the Teenage Brain

Edutopia

New technologies are shedding light on what really makes adolescents tick—and providing clues on how we might reach them better.

January 31, 2019

 

A recent interview with British neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, the author of the 2018 book Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain, begins with a caveat.

“I think it’s important to know before we start that up until 20 years ago we really didn’t know that the brain changes at all after childhood,” she confides. “That’s what I was taught during my undergraduate degree. We now know that’s completely untrue.”

In matters of settled opinion, science has often found itself in the role of provocateur, even saboteur—prodding at conventional wisdoms until they yield unexpected truths, and sometimes toppling them entirely. The mysteries of celestial bodies, heredity, and mental illness have all undergone dramatic rethinking.

So it shouldn’t be entirely surprising that new technologies that allow us to peer into the brain as it processes information are driving a revolution in our understanding of human cognition. Images from fMRI machines, for example, reveal that the brain is less like a collection of discrete, specialized modules—one for speech and one for vision, the old model—and more like an integrated network of functions that support each other. Those same images show that cerebral networks undergo dramatic, global maturation well into our 20s.

The findings have cast doubt on many theories about adolescence. For too long, assertions about teenagers—from their purported irrationality to their apparent sense of invulnerability—have circulated widely and uncritically. The new research suggests that we have plenty of rethinking to do.

OF MICE AND MINORS

Adolescent rodents and adolescent humans are susceptible to peer pressure—and members of both species take risks at much higher rates when in the presence of companions their own age.

In a study conducted in 2005, neuroscientist Laurence Steinberg asked teenagers and adults to play a virtual driving game that tested their willingness to take risks as traffic lights turned from green to yellow to red. Participants were penalized when accidents occurred. Adolescents responded to the risks as well as adults did and performed about equally when playing alone. But in the presence of peers, risk-taking surged among the teenagers and young adults—risky driving increased threefold for 13- to 16-year-olds, and the number of crashes spiked—while remaining flat among adults.

Chart showing research on adolescent driving

Illustration by Leigh Wells

In driving games—and in life—adolescents operate a vehicle safely when alone. Around peers, though, everything changes.

A study involving mice and alcohol consumption reached a similar conclusion. That 2014 experiment exposed rodents of different ages to the equivalent of an open bar: They could drink alcohol at their leisure. The adolescent mice—those at the tender age of 4 to 5 weeks—drank about as often as adult mice when by themselves. But in the presence of other juveniles, they settled in for a bender, drinking 25 percent more of the time. There was no change in the drinking of adult mice.

These results aren’t just laboratory tricks. Using real crash data from 2007–10, a study published in 2012 found that the risk of death for teenagers driving alone increased by 44 percent per mile when traveling with one peer, and quadrupled with three peers in the car. By contrast, Blakemore writes, traveling companions are actually a “protective factor” for adults over 26, “who are less likely to crash if they have a passenger than if they’re alone.”

In a few recent experiments, peer pressure emerges as a measurable biological phenomenon, crossing over into the perceptible world like the first earthquake waves etched onto a seismograph. A 2013 study found that when human subjects were told that a peer was watching them, skin conductance readings—a measure of the electricity triggered by stress and arousal—were consistently higher in adolescents than in either adults or children. Brain scans administered at the same time revealed telltale flares of greater activity in key regions of the teenage brain linked to self-awareness and the ability to understand others.

It’s never been a question of feeling invulnerable—for teenagers, there’s just something about the presence of peers that is transfiguring. They understand the risks, and take them anyway.

A TELLING MISMATCH

A likely culprit in adolescent risk-taking is a brain network that stretches back deep into evolutionary history—the limbic system, the seat of primal instincts like fear, lust, hunger, and pleasure. “These are regions in the deep center of the brain,” explained Blakemore. ”They are much older, and we share these systems with a lot of other animals.”

In 2014, Blakemore and two colleagues gathered brain images of 33 people and plotted the growth rates of individual limbic systems over time. They also looked at another critical brain region: the prefrontal cortex.

Chart showing gray matter growth comparison in teenagers

Illustration by Leigh Wells

Adolescent brain scans reveal that reward systems mature well before inhibitory systems. That tends to confirm a major theory of teenage development.

The charts that resulted (above) show that limbic structures like the nucleus accumbens changed only modestly during adolescence while the prefrontal cortex experienced a dramatic shift in volume, shrinking and reorganizing as it pruned away unused synaptic connections. The upshot? The brain scans seem to indicate that the limbic system—the brain’s reward system—is mature and firing on all cylinders in teenagers, while the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for things like self-control, planning, and self-awareness, is still busy developing.

“One major theory of adolescent development is that there is a mismatch between these two systems,” Blakemore elaborated. “The limbic system, which gives you the rewarding feeling of taking risks, is structurally more developed before the prefrontal cortex, which stops you from taking risks.”

If that seems too neat to you, Blakemore agrees. “I wouldn’t discount social factors like changing schools,” she cautions, or “overlook individual differences in teenagers.”

Still, there’s plenty of evidence that the limbic system is hyperactive during adolescence. It’s not youthful irrationality or a flair for the dramatic at work; teenagers actually experience things like music, drugs, and the thrill of speed more powerfully than adults do. In his 2014 book Age of Opportunity: Lessons From the New Science of Adolescence, Steinberg draws a straight line to peer influence as well, noting that teenage peers “light up the same reward centers that are aroused by drugs, sex, food, and money.”

ALL NATURAL PLASTIC

It’s not all gloom and doom. The teenage years are “the last, great neuroplastic era in our lifetimes,” according to Steinberg, referring to the brain’s continued capacity for intellectual and emotional growth. The same emerging circuitry that makes teenagers vulnerable to risky behavior and mood swings also confers significant advantage on adolescent learners.

Chart depicting brain response in adolescent mice

Illustration by Leigh Wells

A snapshot of the rodent brain at a moment of learning: The young mouse’s brain reveals a more powerful learning response.

At the deep neural level, new information is written into the gray matter of the brain itself—expressed in structural changes to synapses, which, through repeated exposure, form increasingly durable webs of memory. A study conducted in 2002 provides a fascinating window into the brain at the very moment of learning. The chart above shows the electrical response in both adolescent and adult mice to a novel piece of information, represented by the red arrow. Like a bell struck more sharply, the brain of the adolescent mouse produces a more dramatic reply—and then sustains it for longer.

That’s good news—and a clear signal that the teenage brain is by nature more receptive to learning, says Frances Jensen in her 2015 book The Teenage Brain. Adolescent animals simply “show faster learning curves than adults,” and we retain the capacity to improve even fundamental attributes like our IQ well into our teenage years.

REACHING TEENAGERS IN CLASS

Take the direct approach: Talking to teenagers frankly about their brain development can provide useful context for their emotional worlds, and reset their expectations about their potential for continued intellectual growth. “We know that people like biological explanations. It’s true in neurological stroke patients—showing that the brain is plastic and can change and rehabilitate is really useful,” Blakemore said.

Explaining the role of the limbic system, the influence of peers, and the malleability of the teenage brain establishes a basis for students to better understand themselves and exert control over their emotional and academic lives. Blakemore insists there’s also a simple question of respect at stake: “They have a right to know,” she says emphatically. “It’s happening in their brains.”

Make good use of peer pressure: Peer pressure and social influence can be used for good, too. Smoking research shows, for example, that teens ignore warnings about the long-term health consequences of cigarettes, but respond to the social effects. It’s more convincing to remind teens that cigarettes “give you bad breath, or put younger children in danger,” said Blakemore. Teens “also respond to the idea that this is an adult industry that is exploiting them to make money. That has been shown to help for smoking and also for healthy eating.”

Schools are aware of many of these social dynamics, and have used teen leaders, social influencers, and appeals to fairness and justice to change behaviors around vapingbullying, and academic cheating.

Teach self-regulation: It’s not too late. The prefrontal cortex, which governs executive functions, is still developing and remains highly responsive to the environment and to training during adolescence. It stands to reason that explicitly teaching self-regulation, long-term planning, and empathy might have particular benefits for teenagers.

According to Steinberg, efforts to improve the self-regulation of teenagers “are far more likely to be effective in reducing risky behavior than are those that are limited to providing them with information about risky activities.” And social and emotional learning programs that show adolescents “how to regulate their emotions, manage stress, and consider other people’s feelings” can have positive effects on executive functions more generally, improving focus and self-discipline, and setting teenagers up for academic and professional success well beyond high school.

The author of this article is the chief content officer at Edutopia. You can follow him on Twitter @smerrill777.

The charts in this story were drawn by illustrator Leigh Wells, and adapted from studies by 1) Margo Gardner and Laurence Steinberg, 2005; 2) K.L. Mills, A.L. Goddings, L.S. Clasen, J.N. Giedd, and S.J. Blakemore, 2014; and 3) N.L. Schramm, R.E. Egli, and D.G. Winder, 2002, via Synapse magazine, courtesy of Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Link between social media and depression stronger in teen girls than boys, study says

CNN

I Ran 4 Experiments to Break My Social Media Addiction. Here’s What Worked.

Social media can connect us to new ideas, help us share our work, and allow previously unheard voices to influence culture. Yet it can also be a highly addictive time-sink if we’re not careful about our goals, purpose, and usage.

Over the last two years, I conducted four different experiments to monitor my own behavior, implementing trackers and blockers in order to better understand how social media usage affected my productivity. My goal was to see if by interrupting my daily behavior I could change my “default settings” and have more time for deep, focused work.

In the end, these four experiments opened my eyes about my relationship to social platforms, and taught me effective strategies to maximize the benefit of these social tools while limiting the downsides.

The first step was collecting data. Before beginning my experiments, I tracked my daily behavior to better understand where my time and energy was going, which gave me insight into what I could change to produce more satisfying deep work. I used RescueTime for tracking my computer usage, and Moment to track my cell phone behaviors.

Experiment #1: Complete Removal of Social Sites For 30 Days

My first experiment was a complete removal of all social aspects from my routine: no Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, or LinkedIn for 30 days. Leading up to it, I raised objections—“but I need Facebook for my work!”, my brain sputtered, in a testament to the addictive power of the apps.

I logged out of each site and deleted all the apps from my phone. Then, I used Freedom, a website blocking tool, to restrict the social sites from my browser and phone. Finally, I had my partner take over my phone and install parental restrictions on browser sites with a password unknown to me. (I wasn’t taking any chances.)

The Results. Once I decided to go all-in, it was surprisingly easier to do than expected. There was a relief in being offline and deciding, once and for all, to do it. Here’s what I learned:

  • There were a few technical hassles: Facebook, in particular, is embedded in a lot of other applications, which created a problem any a tool required Facebook as a login. Going forward, I’ll create email-based logins only (which is also better for security).
  • My book-reading skyrocketed. In a month, I read more books than I had in the combined three months prior. Whenever I craved a break, I turned to my Kindle, instead of social or news sites.
  • I used social sites a surprising amount for research and discovery—when I’m thinking of a person I want to connect with, or a project I want to follow-up on, I would quickly type the social site for ease. Not having access created more friction in the short-term, but didn’t ultimately delay the work I was doing. There was a tension between instant access and carving out boundaries for deeper creative work that I found useful, albeit annoying.

After the experiment was over, I went back to allowing myself unlimited social media access and continued to track my usage using RescueTime. With a fresh perspective after a month away, I was able to more clearly see a pattern emerge around how I used the various sites, both for better and for worse. My key finding was the marked difference in my behaviors across devices: My laptopwasn’t the biggest culprit for addictive behavior: when I was at my desk, working, I spent the majority of my time actually working. My phone was the biggest culprit for addictive behavior.

Further, it was very clearly time-based. My social media usage (or cravings) clearly spiked at certain times. Most of my bad habits were tied up in late-night tiredness, early-morning mindlessness, and craving “The Scroll” whenever I was tired. It also became fairly predictable that I wanted a mid-morning break (around 11am) and an afternoon break (around 3 or 4pm). By far, the worst time was late evening, after dinner, when my brain felt like complete mush.

By all-out blocking the social feeds for thirty days, I saw where in the day my tiredness emerged and when I wanted to use the platforms for research or actual connection.

Experiment #2: Carving Out Daily Time Blockers

I wanted to learn whether or not I could limit, but not eliminate, social media and have equally effective results. This next experiment involved a daily restriction on websites based on the known “tired times” I’d identified in the first experiment.

For two weeks, I limited social access during certain periods of the day using the blocking app like Freedom. I allowed social sites on my computer in the afternoons only — not in the mornings, or after dinner. I also blocked all news websites, television sites, and installed Newsfeed Eradicator for Facebook, a social plug-in that helps prevent the scrolling nature of the newsfeed.

Results: Keeping the mornings social-media and news free was a game changer. I got so much more done on my biggest projects by having dedicated focus hours, and also knowing that there was a scheduled break in my day coming up.

  • The long-term effects of this change became apparent by day four or five. In the mornings, if I succumbed to impulsivity (a quick check here, an Amazon purchase there, firing off a couple of emails), it was far more difficult for me to throttle back into the realm of deep work.
  • By carving out chunks of the day to focus on specific work projects (moving one big project forward before 11am), I radically improved my personal productivity.
  • Temptation was strong, but waned over time: by overcoming the biggest pull to check first thing in the morning, I was much more focused and clear throughout the rest of the morning.

This proved to be a very effective strategy for me. Time-based internet blockers helped me increase my productivity. But now the reverse question came up: instead of blocking out times when I’d never use social, what if I dedicated a particular slot of time to it?

Experiment #3: The Social “Happy Hour”

The next experiment I tried was dedicating a specific hour of my day completely for use on social sites. I set up a calendar invitation from 4-5pm: a “happy hour” at the end of the work day to connect, enjoy, and run across new people and ideas after nearly 12 hours of working or parenting.

Results: Creating a built-in stress relief hour where I know that I can slide into “social research and browsing” (“The Scroll”), helped me avoid temptation at other hours of the day. It was easier to replace a bad habit with a better one than to focus all my energy on eliminating the bad habit.

  • Strangely, consolidating all of my social media use into a single hour made it seem less exciting. I noticed that I’d be finished scrolling within 20 minutes, or 30 minutes on a long day. There’s only so much sustained reading and commenting that I can do.
  • I was much more efficient at responding to all of the requests that come my way—rather than have metered out conversations trickling through the day, I buckled down, opened up new browser tabs for each meaningful mention or request, and whipped through it.
  • My content creation went way down. Instead, I began to plan ahead with a loose Evernote file for social media status updates and things I wanted to share, and the 12-hour delay between composing and pressing “publish” gave me a better chance to reflect on whether instant-sharing was really still necessary.

The biggest insights were that (1) social media usage dripped throughout the day drains the energy and focus I have for writing and other work, and (2) that there’s something insidiously satisfying about pressing publish on a status update, and each time I do it, I get the dopamine hit of satisfaction and response. But each tiny posting saps energy, and that adds up.

Experiment #4: 24 Hours To Break the Cycle

One of my favorite methods for resetting my brain is taking a full weekend day without my phone or my laptop, an idea I originally got from Tiffany Shlain’s “tech shabbat.” Back when I used to train for triathlons and open-water swims, Saturdays were spent largely outdoors, and it’s rather difficult to spend time scrolling the web while biking or swimming. So I used Freedom and a mesh wifi network to block the internet from midnight on Friday evening until Saturday at 3pm from all of my machines.

Results. Having something to do—going on a hike, going to the beach, meeting friends for coffee—helps tremendously.

  • The hardest part is walking out the door without the phone. From there, the freedom begins. The best way to block the internet is to physically leave devices elsewhere.
  • On days when I stay inside, I set my Freedom App to a weekend schedule of “no social media or email” until 3pm on Saturdays. The mornings can be lazy and slow. I’m not a doctor, I’m not an emergency worker, and we can all make it through the day if I’m not on email at 6am on a Saturday morning. By the time 1pm rolls around, I’m usually so involved in some other activity that I don’t notice.
  • I found I needed to be flexible about this experiment. On days when I have article deadlines or want to work a few hours on the weekend, I’ll set parameters for how and when to log on to get a chunk of work done.

Today, even with kids (and no triathlons currently), I still notice the effect of taking a Saturday away each week to disrupt the pattern of connection. A day free of the Internet is a great way to do a pattern reset if you notice (as I have) personal productivity dips by Friday.

Shifting From Subtraction to Addition

By and large, my first experiments were based on control and elimination. Sometimes, instead of focusing on constriction and willpower, however, it’s actually a better strategy to focus on the thing I want more of: more reading, more unplugged time with my family, space to think. One of the reasons diets don’t work very well is because most of them focus what you restrict, rather than what you add. My later experiments opened my eyes to the power of addition: planning ahead for dedicated social time, or a Saturday spent outdoors.

Today, I use Freedom to block social websites and news in the mornings nearly every day. I deleted Facebook and email from my phone, I will manually re-install them from 4pm to 5pm and then delete them again (yes, daily). I take regular 24-hour breaks. And I track my usage with RescueTime, which sends me an alert when I’ve hit 45 minutes of total “distracting” time.

With social media, many of us want to reduce our consumption, but we miss an important piece of the puzzle: we’re craving something that we want, and we think that social media has a quick answer. These experiments helped me realize that at the heart of my cravings around the social internet are deep connections with friends, access to new ideas and information, or time to zone out and relax after a hard day. Each of these components can be satisfied with other things beyond social media, and more effectively. As with many tools, it’s not an all or nothing, good-versus-bad conversation. I will continue to experiment in the future, especially now that Apple has introduced it’s “Screen Time” feature. Just because the apps are available, doesn’t mean our current default behaviors are the best ways to use them or get what we want. By limiting my access to social sites, I created a pattern disrupt that allowed me to reach out to more friends, read more books, and go deeper into work that mattered.


Sarah K. Peck is an author and startup advisor based in New York City. She’s the founder and executive director of Startup Pregnant, a media company documenting the stories of women’s leadership across work and family, and host of the Startup Pregnant Podcast.

The Link Between August Birthdays and A.D.H.D.

A new study raises questions about age, maturity and overdiagnosis.

By Anupam B. JenaMichael Barnett and Timothy J. Layton

The authors are health policy researchers.

CreditJackie Ferrentino

The rate of diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder among children has nearly doubled in the past two decades. Rates of A.D.H.D. diagnoses also vary considerably across states, with nearly three times as many children getting the diagnosis in Kentucky (where one in five children are said to have the condition) as in Nevada. More than 5 percent of all children in the United States now take an A.D.H.D. medication. All this raises the question of whether the disease is being overdiagnosed.

Diagnosing A.D.H.D. is difficult. Unlike other childhood diseases — such as asthma, obesity and diabetes — the diagnosis of A.D.H.D. is inherently subjective and depends on the assessment of parents, school personnel and health care providers. For a child who is easily distracted, an assessment of normal, inattentive behavior by one could be a formal diagnosis of A.D.H.D. by another.

It turns out that although diagnosing A.D.H.D. requires a subjective interpretation of facts, the month in which a child is born can be a strong, objective predictor.

Most states have arbitrary cutoffs for kindergarten entry, with children who do not reach a given age by a certain date required to wait a year. In 18 states, children who will turn 5 before Sept. 1 can enter kindergarten in the year that they turn 5; children who will turn 5 after Sept. 1 must wait until the next year. So in states with Sept. 1 cutoffs, in any given class, August-born children will usually be the youngest and September-born children the oldest.

These arbitrary cutoffs have important implications for the diagnosis of A.D.H.D. In a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, we found that among several hundred thousand children who were born between 2007 and 2009 and followed until 2016, rates of A.D.H.D. diagnosis and treatment were 34 percent higher among children born in August than among children born in September in states with a Sept. 1 school entry-age cutoff. No such difference was found among children in states with different cutoff dates. The effects were largest among boys.

We believe these findings reveal just how subjective the diagnosis of A.D.H.D. can be. In any given class, inattentive behavior among younger, August-born children may be perceived, in some instances, to reflect symptom of A.D.H.D., rather than the relative immaturity that is biologically determined and to be expected among children who are nearly one year younger than September-born classmates.

The stakes of additional, potentially inappropriate diagnoses are high, particularly when diagnoses are accompanied by medical treatment, which has side effects. In cases where A.D.H.D. is appropriately diagnosed, we know that behavioral and medical treatments can improve concentration and school performance and other outcomes. And in these instances, the harms of medical treatments are, on average, outweighed by the benefits. But when the disease is improperly diagnosed, the clinical harms and dollar costs of treatment may not be met with commensurate benefits.

Image
A second-grade classroom in Minneapolis.CreditTim Gruber for The New York Times

Unlike other diseases such as asthma and diabetes, whose diagnosis is more objective and is not based on peer-to-peer comparisons, the diagnosis of A.D.H.D. appears heavily influenced by how children behave in school relative to peers and how those differences in behavior are interpreted by school personnel, parents and ultimately, physicians. Indeed, some evidence suggests that teachers and other school personnel are more likely than physicians or parents to first suggest that a child may have A.D.H.D.

Our findings aren’t new, but they suggest a continuing problem. Several older studies, both within and outside the United States, analyze rates of A.D.H.D. diagnosis among children born just before versus just after school entry-age cutoffs, similar in design to our study. Nearly all of these studies suggest that younger children within a grade are more likely to be diagnosed with A.D.H.D. than older children in the same grade. One study found that the relative age of a child in a class strongly affects teachers’ assessments of whether a child demonstrates A.D.H.D. symptoms but does not affect parents’ assessments, which suggests that many diagnoses may stem from teachers’ perceptions of students that are based on a child’s age relative to peers.

Our study, which uses recent data, tells us that the problem still exists and that it’s not small. Despite growing awareness that A.D.H.D. may be overdiagnosed and the fact that the medications used to treat it have serious side effects, something as arbitrary as the month a child is born still has a meaningful impact on the likelihood that the child is determined to have the condition.

At a minimum, physicians who frequently diagnose A.D.H.D. in children should be aware of these findings. A simple mental “adjustment” for whether a child is born in August may be sufficient to help physicians reduce overdiagnosis.

School personnel and parents should also be aware of how simple cognitive biases can creep into how important clinical decisions are made. Both our and previous findings suggest that parents of children who are young for their grade could reasonably question whether the initiation of medical treatment for A.D.H.D. should be delayed.

In his 2008 book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell describes the now well-known phenomenon that a disproportionate number of Canadian professional hockey players have birth dates in the beginning of the calendar year. This is explained by the Jan. 1 age eligibility cutoff for hockey programs in Canada, which leads to the oldest hockey players within an age-based division exceeding the age of the youngest players by nearly a year, conferring them a performance advantage. A similar phenomenon is true for A.D.H.D., where a child’s age relative to peers confers a markedly different rate of diagnosis and treatment, but the stakes are higher.

Anupam B. Jena is an associate professor at Harvard Medical School. Michael Barnett is an assistant professor at Harvard School of Public Health. Timothy J. Layton is an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.

Apps Stirring Up Trouble in Schools

This year’s hottest social media can fill the school day with drama and distraction. 
By Caroline Knorr 
Apps Stirring Up Trouble in Schools

Ask any middle or high school teacher what their biggest classroom challenge is, and it’s pretty much guaranteed they’ll say “cellphones.” Makes sense. Today, 95 percent of teens have access to a cellphone, and nearly half say they’re on them “constantly.” Putting aside for a moment the need to find solutions to this problem, inquiring minds want to know: What the heck is on kids’ phones that they can’t go an entire class without them?

Two words: killer apps. Specifically, the ones that play into the tween and teen brain’s need for stimulation and peer approval and its weakness for thinking through consequences — in other words, stuff that lets them gossip, socialize, play games, and — if they’re so inclined — not work too hard. These apps are designed to capture kids’ attention and hold it for as long as possible. (Learn about the tricks social media designers use to keep kids hooked.) And once an app gains critical mass (like, when every kid in school is on it), your social life takes a major hit if you don’t, for example, play Fortnite, keep up a Snapstreak, or stalk your crush on Find My Friends. And, honestly, it takes a pretty steadfast kid to resist tapping into the internet hive mind for answers to tough homework questions (especially when everyone else seems to be doing it).

No wonder teachers have such an uphill battle keeping tweens and teens focused in class. But you can help your student by discussing this issue at home. In fact, by simply being aware of some of the key apps that tend to stir up trouble in schools, whether due to social drama, distraction, or something worse — like cheating — you can start a conversation with your kid that could save them and the teacher a lot of headaches. And while you don’t have to know every single detail of all the popular apps, it helps to have an awareness of when, why, and how they’re being used and to help your kid manage their own use and that of their friends. Most teachers would probably agree that the internet has been a mostly positive aspect of the middle and high school years. But students, with the support of parents, need to use it responsibly. (Learn more ways to help kids manage their app use and stay focused in school.)

Check out some of the apps that can potentially stir up drama in schools this year:

Snapchat. The original disappearing-message app has metamorphosed into a megaportal for chatting, finding your friends on a map, sharing images, reading the news, watching videos, and much, much more. As one of the most important apps for teens, it takes up a significant portion of their day. One of those time-consuming activities that occupy students during the school day is Snapstreaks, which require users to trade snaps within a 24-hour period. The longest streaks number in the thousands of days — and some kids maintain streaks with multiple people.

Tik Tok – including musical.ly. What started as a lip-synching app is now a hugely popular, full-fledged video-sharing service. The ability to “go live” at any time — meaning to stream yourself live (yes, on the internet) — has added a whole ‘nother level to the time tweens and teens can spend dancing, singing, pranking, and performing skits to music or other recorded sounds. While much of the content is fine, a lot of it is extremely iffy for kids, and when you watch it, you can see plenty recorded during the school day.

Games such as Fortnite and HQ Live Trivia Game Show (HQ for short). Fortnite has all the hallmarks of being a teacher’s worst nightmare: It’s easy to play, highly social, and super compelling. The hugely popular survival game is played in short bursts (until you die — which is often), so it’s tailor-made for students trying to get a bit of fun in between lunch and algebra class. Some schools are banning the game, leading to knockoff versions that get around the school network’s blacklist. HQis the smash-hit trivia game that’s played for real prize money. Each 12-minute game is hosted live as hundreds of thousands of players log in to answer 12 multiple-choice questions on a wide variety of trivia topics. Games usually take place twice on weekdays and once on weekends (the company experiments with different airtimes to keep players on their toes). Sponsors including Nike and Warner Bros., and big jackpots timed with massive events such as the NBA finals, show that HQ is actively cultivating a young audience.

Homework helpers such as PhotomathSlader, and, of course, Google. What do you do if you’ve been goofing off all day, or just feverishly multitasking, and can’t finish your geometry problems? Look ’em up. Apps that supply all the answers are only a few taps away. And don’t even get us started on home assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Home, all of which can be programmed to provide tutor-like assistance.

People finders such as Find My Friends and Mappen. Kids love being in touch with their friends 24/7/365, and location apps make it easy to arrange get-togethers and make plans with your posse. But these apps have a dark side, too. Kids feel pressured to be “on” all the time, partly because of friends’ expectations that one should always be available. Stalking — either of your kid or by your kid — can be a major issue. And, riskiest of all, some location-aware apps encourage face-to-face meet-ups with strangers.

How Too Much Screen Time Affects Kids’ Bodies And Brains

Forbes

Shutterstock

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

 

How Exercise Helps Reduce ADHD Symptoms

Health Central

iStock-541272034.jpg
Credit: iStock

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

Tether Yourself: The Enlightening Talk Parents Aren’t Having Can Keep Teens from a Damaging Drift

Hands Free Mama

“I’ll take your hand when thunder roars
And I’ll hold you close, I’ll stay the course
I promise you from up above
That we’ll take what comes, take what comes, l
ove.”
-Imagine Dragons, Walking the Wire

We bought my daughter a smartphone when we moved to a large metropolitan area three years ago. She was participating in a massive year-round swimming program where we knew no one. Her dad and I decided it would be best for her to have a phone to communicate with us.

Over the years, we’ve implemented all the recommended parental restrictions, safe-search settings, and online safety guidelines. We’ve had on-going talks about cyber dangers like online bullying, predators, pornography, sexting, and what to do in each situation. But despite these protections, I’ve felt an unexplainable uneasiness about teens and smartphone consumption. I’ve continued to read extensively on the subject, finding an increasing number of articles on teen suicide as they relate to online bullying and social media use.

But recently, the uneasiness I’ve been feeling came to an all-time high and spurred me into action – a preventative action I’d not taken before.

In one heartbreaking week, I was contacted by two friends from previous places our family has lived. Each family has a daughter in the same grade as mine. These vibrant young ladies with whom my daughter played Legos and shared towels during swim meets are now harming themselves, hating themselves, the light dimming from their spirits right in front of their parents’ eyes.

Right after learning of their struggles, I read a sobering article on Time.com about an outgoing young lady named Nina who shocked everyone with an attempted suicide. The particular details of her story gave me great pause:

“After her attempted suicide and during her stay at a rehabilitation facility, Nina and her therapist identified body image insecurity as the foundation of her woe. ‘I was spending a lot of time stalking models on Instagram, and I worried a lot about how I looked,’ says Nina, who is now 17. She’d stay up late in her bedroom, looking at social media on her phone, and poor sleep—coupled with an eating disorder—gradually snowballed until suicide felt like her only option. ‘I didn’t totally want to be gone,’ she says. ‘I just wanted help and didn’t know how else to get it.’

Nina’s mom, Christine Langton, has a degree in public health and works at a children’s hospital. Despite her professional background, she says she was ‘completely caught off guard’ by her daughter’s suicide attempt. ‘Nina was funny, athletic, smart, personable . . . depression was just not on my radar,’ she says.

In hindsight, Langton says she wishes she had done more to moderate her daughter’s smartphone use. ‘It didn’t occur to me not to let her have the phone in her room at night,’ she says. ‘I just wasn’t thinking about the impact of the phone on her self-esteem or self-image until after everything happened.’”

Nina sounded a lot like my highly driven, very lovable, athletically-gifted brown-eyed girl.

And for the first time in three years, I knew exactly what I needed to do about the uneasiness I’d been feeling about her smartphone consumption.

I walked straight out of my bedroom and into my fourteen-year-old daughter’s room. I felt my heart racing at the importance of the conversation we were about to have. I found her stretched out on her bed, homework splayed across the bed. She was scrolling Instagram, as teens often do.

I sat down and told her about the two mothers who’d reached out to me for help. My daughter’s face fell as I told her about her former playmate who discovered her looks had been rated on Instagram. The painful comments she read about herself caused her to harm herself until she bled. She expressed hating herself so much that she no longer wanted to live.

I then read aloud the eye-opening statistics from a study by Jean Twenge, author of iGen, found in the same article as Nina’s story:

“Using data collected between 2010 and 2015 from more than 500,000 adolescents nationwide, study found kids who spent three hours or more a day on smartphones or other electronic devices were 34% more likely to suffer at least one suicide-related outcome—including feeling hopeless or seriously considering suicide—than kids who used devices two hours a day or less. Among kids who used electronic devices five or more hours a day, 48% had at least one suicide-related outcome.”

“I am worried,” I told my daughter truthfully. “And it my job to protect you,” I added.

My daughter assured me she had good friends, a sensible head on her shoulders, and would come to me if anything was wrong.

At that point, it would have been easy and convenient to end the conversation, have faith everything would be ok, and walk out of the room. At that point, I could have decided to take back the phone her father and I let her borrow so she wouldn’t be exposed to damaging influences. Instead, I chose to enlighten her with information that will benefit her for the rest of her life, especially a prosperous, happy life.

This is what I said to my daughter in letter form. It is my hope that others will say these words to those they love. If our teens can learn to tether themselves, there is hope. Their lives are too valuable to let drift … their lives are too valuable to let fade away.

Tether Yourself: An Awareness Strategy to Keep You from Drifting from Your Best Life  

Dear one, it is natural to go through difficult periods where you don’t feel like yourself … when you question your worth … when your purpose is not clear. During those times, I want to use this information to give yourself an unfiltered view of your beautiful worth and your extraordinary potential.

First, you need to know what is happening to your brain while on your device. Social media is known for creating algorithms to capture and manipulate our consumption. The goal is to achieve the highest amount of engagement possible. (source) There is even a term for this in Silicon Valley: Brain Hacking. It is having a negative impact on our mental health – especially susceptible are teenagers. Here’s why:

The teen brain isn’t done forming and the part of the brain that manages impulse control, empathy, judgment, and the ability to plan ahead are not fully developed. This means you’re more likely to see disturbing online content or have troubling encounters; it means you’re more likely to become distracted from the important tasks at hand; it means you’re more likely to become addicted to your device than adults. When you are addicted, you will experience distraction, fatigue, or irritability when you’re not on your phone. Teens who excessively use their phone are more prone to disrupted sleep, restlessness, stress and fatigue.(source)

So let’s think about this in terms of your life:

Each time the phone notifies you, you stop what you are doing—whether it’s homework or a job you have to do. What might take you one hour to do, will take you several, and it won’t be completed as well. The inability to focus will reflect in your grades and impact the job opportunities you have as you grow. Spending quality time with friends and family will be impacted by the need to check the phone, making you believe what is most important is on your phone when it is really the person in front of you.

Each time you scroll, you are being influenced by what you see on the screen. Your thoughts and beliefs about what your body should look like or what your life should look like are being shaped. The hidden influence of the internet can create a poor self-image, unrealistic comparisons, and harmful judgements – and you won’t even know it is happening.

But here’s how you take back control:

Awareness … you see, awareness changes everything. Awareness is your weapon against the hidden influences and damaging behaviors. While you are online, your mind, your thoughts, your core values are drifting to wherever tech companies want you to go. The remedy is to limit the time you spend drifting in the online world and tether yourself to real life. 

Tether yourself
To real people, real conversations, and real scenery.

Tether yourself
To furry animals, interesting books, good music, the great outdoors.

Tether yourself
To spatulas, hammers, cameras, paintbrushes, and yoga mats.

When your worth is in question … when you feel lost and alone … when you feel sad and can’t explain why, tether yourself to real life. Tether yourself to real people. Tether yourself to real love. And I will help you set limits because I know teens feel pressure to be available 24/7. But you need and deserve time to be alone with your thoughts, doing things you enjoy, without constant pressure and interruptions from the outside world. 

As you practice these self-regulation skills that will benefit you for life, I vow to do the same. I am here to set an example of a well-rounded life and to help you navigate this challenging territory. You can always hold on to me.

I love you,

Mom

*****

Once the talk ended, I had a few suggestions that would help her create a healthy relationship with technology. Much to my surprise, there was no pushback from my daughter when I suggested we order a proper alarm clock rather than use her phone as her alarm clock. There was no pushback when we talked about limiting phone use to a little time after school and then a little after nightly swim team practice. There was no pushback when I asked her to start charging her phone in a separate area of the house until morning and letting her friends know not to expect text responses after 9pm.

Almost instantly, I saw a difference. I noticed she was more present in main areas of the house, accepting our invitations to participate in games, cooking, and conversation. Her disposition was cheerful, more relaxed and fun-loving. She began taking walks outside with her music, often inviting me to go along. She was getting homework and household chores completed more efficiently.

I wondered if this motivation to limit phone usage would wear off, but it’s stayed consistent.

In fact, six weeks after our talk, there was a rare snowstorm in our area.  As big, fluffy flakes began to accumulate on the ground, my daughter’s best friend came over and they built a snowman, a fort, and played outside for hours. After making a pizza and watching a movie, they went back out to play some more. In a rare moment of sisterly love, my older daughter invited her little sister and her friends to a snowy mound. On the count of three, she directed them to all throw snow up into the air.

I watched the joyful sight in awe, my eyes filling with tears.

The date, December 8, was not lost on me. It was my father-in-law’s birthday. Ben would have been 68. He always did go BIG on birthdays and celebrations.

I shook my head in disbelief at this record-breaking snowfall in the south and the way in which my teenager was taking it all in.

I knew Ben had something to do with the joyful sight before my eyes.

I knew he had something to do with the urgency in which I talked to my daughter two months ago.

I knew he had something to do with the two words that continually ground me in the current moment and provide a life-enhancing goal for 2018: Tether yourself.

Whenever I sat with my father-in-law on those final days, I’d always reached for his hand. He’d always squeeze it tightly.

Tether yourself in love, his action seemed to say.

And now I say it to her, my beautiful brown-eyed girl.

Tether yourself, I say.

So you don’t drift away too soon
So you don’t forget your worth
So you don’t miss the moments that make life worth living

And now I say it to you, my friends.

Tether yourself in love.

It’s what we must do for ourselves.
It’s what we must do for our children.
It’s what we must do for each other.

The thought of picking up a device that will negatively influence our thoughts, our choices, our actions, and our future happiness is quite sobering.

Awareness is everything.

When we release what controls us, we are free to choose what matters most.

I choose what matters most.

My daughter’s life depends on it.

It’s too valuable to let drift away.

***********************************************************

Dear friends of the Hands Free Revolution, if you are not living a well-rounded, purposeful life because you’re buried beneath the weight of distractions, perfection, pressure, and productivity and need help creating new habits, please read my first book, HANDS FREE MAMA, a New York Times bestseller. If you are looking for a more interactive and supported journey to a present, peaceful, and positive life, please consider my new online course SOUL SHIFT that begins in mid-January. Each week, I will be sharing a painful truth from my life through video and then offering a small habit shift I used to begin a new, life-changing practice in my life. There will be daily intentions and exercises to create positive habits in the areas of: presence, perfection, self-worth, authenticity, self-forgiveness, self-care, and finding your purpose. Enter your email address here to be notified when the course opens for registration on January 8 at a discounted price.

Visual reminders have been greatly helpful to me on my journey to choose love and presence for myself and my beloveds. The cuffs, reminder bands, and leather wristbands in the Hands Free Shop are meant for this purpose. The thin silver YOU ARE ENOUGH cuff was so loved that there is now a thin silver ONLY LOVE TODAY cuff! The I Choose Love wristbandwas restocked (also available in pink).

Thank you for being part of this supportive community. I appreciate your presence and support. 

How Exercise Helps Reduce ADHD Symptoms

Healthcentral https://www.healthcentral.com/article/exercise-reduces-adhd-symptoms

iStock-541272034.jpg
Credit: iStock

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.