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We love them – convenience, immediacy, entertainment, the connections.
We hate them – inconvenience, constancy, anxiety, the dis-connections.
Tristan Harris, of Silicon Valley, had this to say about those devices that we have such a love/hate relationship with:
“Never before in history have a handful of people at a handful of technology companies shaped how a billion people think and feel every day…”
Really pretty scary when you think about it.
Are we being controlled by outside forces? Um-hmm….
I mean, what else do you check 150 times a day?
And we’re ADULTS!
At a media talk I gave recently, a dad mused, “I guess we have to get our phone use under control before we can expect our kids to manage theirs.”
When you pick up your phone, or give a phone to your child/tween/teen, you are handing them a device that has been specifically designed to be addictive…
These teens admitted that their phones had become their ‘drug of choice,’ spending more than 6-7 hours on them each day. Sure, that’s an extreme – that’s not you or your child…but, when you think about it, how much time do you lose when scrolling through Facebook? (which, by the way, has been designed to keep you scrolling…and scrolling…because as you scroll, Facebook is getting paid by advertisers…$$$$)
Our phones are THEIR MARKETING TOOL – and we’re lining THEIR pockets with a LOT of $$$$ every time we pick them up. Phones that are designed (with the help of neuroscientists and psychologists) to make us LINGER LONGER because the longer we linger, the more ad revenue Facebook is making.
This 60 Minutes interview with Tristan (a 13-minute clip) gives you a glimpse:
Tristan contends (and I think we’d all agree), phones – with their apps and other distractions – are “weakening our relationships with each other and destroying our kid’s ability to focus.”
Those teens that were addicted to their phones realized for the first time what it was like to be all alone, with themselves.They began to see the world in a new way and recognize themselves in a way that they never had!
Another compelling interview aired recently on NPR: “Irresistible By Design: Its No Accident You Can’t Stop Looking at the Screen” with Adam Alter.
He is the author of the book:
This is a bit of a tirade and as I write this, I wonder, what are you thinking?
Is it just: “Blah blah blah…here we go again….”
Or: “I know, I should be more thoughtful…but….”
…and the reasons and excuses go on…
The thing is, we’re adults.
We can make informed decisions – choosing to ignore the data….yet, we are fortunate enough to actually have a time to remember back to – when phones weren’t running our lives.
Our kids won’t have that.
Our kids are in this i-world and there is no going back.
BUT there is informed decision-making, including holding off on getting your kid a phone as long as possible; regulating your use in front of your kids; and talking about the addictive qualities of phones (age-appropriately) with your kids.
Scariest of all: we have NO CLUE how all of this will impact our kids when they are adults.
But, we need to worry when neuroscientists are designing the computer codes that run the phones – our brains have been hacked.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with your kids and phones, join us in the Boys Alive! Facebook group (and yes, I’m fully sensing the irony as I write that….)
“I guess I need to give up my phone if I don’t want him to learn that behavior from me. It’s not like I need it for work or anything. I’m just used to checking it,” a Dad mused with me recently.
If you have a child of any age, screen time is likely a hot-button issue – kind of an “all-consuming/addictive” topic!
There is no avoiding it with our kids – so we compromise, negotiate, and navigate until we make ourselves crazy – and our kids wear us down.
Holding off as long as possible is a worthwhile strategy. Still, what 2 year-old can’t swipe a screen? After all, they’ve been watching us and mimicking our movements from day one.
They whine at restaurants, so we hand them our phone.
They’re on the brink of meltdown at the grocery store, so we hand them our phone.
They plead and beg with us until we can’t stand it a moment longer, so we hand them our phone.
And so it begins. And you’re in deep.
It is scary that we are setting an example for behaviors that we actually have no idea where they will lead – how they will be impacted by them by the time they are our age!
1. Hold off as long as possible! They will never ask for LESS media.
2. Leave your phone off. Or, better yet, leave it at home. (I actually raised my kids to adulthood without having a phone in my pocket!)
3. Observe your own phone use – is it really necessary RIGHT NOW to scroll through your instagram?
4. Observe your children – or other people’s children – when the parent is on the phone. The looks of longing in those kid’s eyes is heartbreaking.
5. Delete apps that qualify as “time wasters.” If you can’t manage your own time on-screen, install an app that limits your time.
6. Keep track (there’s an app) of the time you do spend on screens. Research has proven that we generally UNDERestimate the amount of time we are on screens.
7. NATURE is the anti-venom for screens. Make sure you get out, look around, smell the air and feel the breeze every day – and leave your phone at home!
Educating yourself is your best defense!
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IS CLUTTER MAKING YOUR KID OVERWHELMED AND DISTRACTED?
by BOY TALK Guest Karen Raymond
“Our studies show that giving children too many toys or toys of the wrong types can actually be doing them harm. They get overwhelmed and cannot concentrate on any one thing long enough to learn from it,” ~Claire Lerner, L.C.S.W-C, Zero to Three
Kid STUFF has been a pretty popular topic swirling around me lately.
Here are a few things I have heard or read:
“Their room is a disaster!”
“My kid’s STUFF is everywhere! They never put away their toys when they are done playing with them.”
“They don’t respect nor do they take care of their belongings.”
Here are a few statistics:
The average size of an American home went up from 1,725 sq ft in 1983 to 2,598 sq ft in 2013.
However, the average size of an American family went down from 3.26 persons/family in 1983 to 3.12 persons/family in 2013.
Therefore, the average square footage per person in a home has increased from 529 sq ft to 832 sq ft. That is over 300 square feet of space more per person to put more STUFF in.
All given with the intention of providing variety and choices for our little ones and to encourage independence.
Yet, according to a British study published in The Telegraph, children probably play with just 5% or their toys!
And then we go back to the quote at the beginning of this post.
For children under the age of 5, they play less when they have more toys due to overwhelm, distraction, and inability to concentrate on one thing for the amount of time that it takes for them to learn from that toy. Let that marinate for a few minutes.
Their room is a disaster! – It’s huge and they have a ton of STUFF. They probably have a hard time finding anything and it’s probably completely overwhelming for them. Then they are told to “clean your room!” Where on earth should they start? We can’t even compare to when we were kids because I bet that most of you reading this did not have as much STUFF as your kids now have. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. Cleaning up for kids these days looks a whole lot different than it did for us when we were kids.
My kids never put away their toys when they are done playing with them! – Tons of toys = overwhelm and distraction. Especially if they are young, they probably go from one toy to the next as their senses are so overwhelmed they are unable to concentrate on any one toy for a long period of time. Therefore, a trail of toys are littering the living room. It’s a lot easier to put away their favorite doll, a book, and a toy car on the shelf than having to clean up all the toy food items that have been vomited all over the floor.
They don’t respect nor do they take care of their belongings – If there is a constant flow of STUFF coming in, it brings down the value of the STUFF. Basic economics, I guess. A simple case of supply and demand. Demand is high; supply is low; high value. Supply is high; the demand is low; the value is low. It’s as simple as that.
So, next time you start to feel your blood pressure rising in regards to the kid clutter, I invite you to take a pause and imagine yourself at their age but in their current situation.
And then imagine the possibilities of life if this particular issue were just eliminated from your lives.
You don’t feel the need to nag, the child doesn’t feel nagged.
What does life look like to you without you or your child having to deal with all that STUFF?
How does that feel in your body and your heart?
Perhaps you can do yourself and your child a favor by taking the steps to simplify their environment with them!
Learn more at: KEEP IT SIMPLE
You’re invited to join the conversation at our Boys Alive! Facebook group:
Watching the end of the Super Bowl, as grown men elatedly shared their full range of emotions by hugging, crying, bumping into and holding each other, I was saddened that this seems to be one of the few acceptable places for grown men to touch in a platonic way.
Unfortunately, sports is one of the very few “safe” places where men and boys can have physical contact — without fear of being called a sissy, a queer, or to be questioned about their sexual intentions.
Boys and men learn early that acceptable touch only belongs in sports or sexual pursuits. Early on, they lose the comfort of a parent’s hug, or a friend’s hand.
That’s when this old Girl Scout song came to mind:
“It’s the human touch in this world that counts. The touch of your hand in mine. It means far more to this fainting heart than shelter bread and wine. Shelter’s done when the night is ore and bread lasts only a day. But the touch of your hand and the sound of your voice live in my soul always.” (Originally a poem by Spencer Michael Free)
Touch not only makes us human, it enables us to survive and thrive.
You may recall hearing about orphanages in eastern Europe in the 1990’s, where children were warehoused and rarely touched. Babies often failed to thrive and those that did were plagued with developmental and behavioral issues – because of the lack of touch.
One scientist explained it, “Basically, they die from lack of love. When an infant falls below the threshold of physical affection needed to stimulate the production of growth hormone and the immune system, his body starts shutting down.”
If you took high school biology you may remember the famous experiments conducted in the 1960’s by Harry Harlow. Monkeys were given soft mother-substitutes who did not feed them, and wire-mesh mother-substitutes who did– the monkeys consistently returned to the soft mother-substitutes for nurturing – for touch.
We are born with the primal need to seek touch. Touch is comforting, stimulates brain growth and a strong immune system. Touch equals life!
Yet, we shut it down so early for boys – exceptionally so in western cultures.
In the Arab world and in China, it is common for grown men to hold hands. As Samir Khalaf from Lebanon said, “Holding hands is the warmest expression of affection between men. It’s a sign of solidarity and kinship.”
But we deny men and boys this connection.
Girls and women can touch in our culture, almost without question. Yet for boys and men there isn’t trust that they can touch platonically, explains Mark Greene, author of “How a Lack of Touch is Destroying Men.” He continues, “In American culture…we collectively suspect that, given the opportunity, men will revert to the sexual at a moment’s notice.”
It’s no surprise then that just when boys become isolated from friendly touch – they’re thrown into the world of sexualized touch – confusing as it may be. What if they could acceptably maintain their platonic connection to their friends and family at the same time?
Mark Greene explains that he finally discovered the importance of touch as a stay-at-home dad. He realized that the constant touch brought a “level of contentment and calm that had heretofore been missing in my life.” He continued, “You gain a fluency and confidence in touch that you will never loose. It is a gift to us men from our children that literally has the capacity to transform American culture.”
A friend explained that he didn’t hug until his mid-30’s, when a grown male friend hugged him – to his surprise – and discomfort. Fast forward 20 years and he is known as a hugger now. Men are loosening up around hugging a bit – as long as it is over quickly!
Finally, it is ironic that with a cultural ‘aversion’ to touching, we bring pets into retirement homes so the elderly can hold them and touch them. We let animals replace the human connection. Yet, what they crave more than any pet can give is the HUMAN TOUCH – the TOUCH OF YOUR HAND IN MINE.
Do you still hold hands with your son?
How are you encouraging him to stay connected to those around him in a platonic, friendly way? Can we manage a cultural shift in the way we look at boys and men touching each other? It seems a small way to be comforted and connected – off of the sports field.
Join Boys Alive! on Facebook for some virtual touch…
Pictures of kid’s messy rooms recently began appearing on my Facebook feed, no doubt in anticipation of the more toys to come. Living rooms, play rooms, bed rooms – all filled with heaps and heaps of STUFF.
Moms lamented, “I’ve given up on picking up toys.” “It drives me nuts!” “I’m constantly picking up his toys…” “My son’s room looks like a bomb went off!” “I’ve given up cleaning – it’s just going to get messy 5 minutes later.”
Imagine how stressful it is for our kids when they have to choose what to play with OR are being told to pick it up!
How would you feel to be told (over and over) to pick up your 20, or 50, or 70 things every day? (Add in some nagging and/or yelling for emphasis.)
No exaggeration! In Born to Buy, sociologist Juliet Schor reports that the average American child is given 70 toys per year. ….SEVENTY!
You’ve probably fantasized about gathering everything into black plastic garbage bags and sneaking them out to the curb in the middle of the night. But then…a picture of your sobbing child enters your head as he cries, “But that was special to me!”
After hearing me talk on this subject, a single dad decided to pack up and dispose of over half of his daughter’s toys. He anticipated her tantrum – but it never came. He saw a more relaxed child who was more deeply involved in her imaginative play.
“We downsized our whole lives and I couldn’t be happier!” said one Facebook Mom.
As a new influx of STUFF looms on the horizon at this gift-giving season, I turn to Kim John Payne of Simplicity Parenting, the voice of reason for de-cluttering and simplifying family life.
He describes the many occasions for which toys are now given – and it is easy to see how the total quickly reaches seventy!
Toys are no longer given for just one special occasion. Now, it is an avalanche – toys for grades, toys for behavior, toys just because, toys in fast-food restaurants, toys from grandparents, toys because “all my friends have one,” and toys for attending a birthday party (seriously? that trend needs to stop!).
Payne: “Too much stuff leads to too many choices, which leads to overwhelm and stress.”
Too much STUFF leads to overwhelm AND greed, entitlement, and unfocused, surface play.
Ask your child (whether 4 or 14) to name some toy brands. According to Juliet Schor, in Born to Buy, “Children recognize logos by 18 months, ask for products by brand name by 2 years, and by 3 1/2 years they believe that certain brands will reflect well on them as cool, strong, smart, etc. By first grade, they can come up with over 200 name brands.”
Reverse the trend – thumb your nose at the toy industry!
Back to Payne’s wisdom: “As you decrease the quantity of your child’s toys, you increase their attention and their capacity for deep, creative play.”
Children with too many choices, don’t know what to choose, so they tend to wander from thing to thing to thing without learning and practicing the art of becoming deeply involved with only one thing at a time.
Even as you decrease the quantity of toys, pay attention to the quality of the toy.
If you give a child a fire engine – bright, shiny red, with ladders and hoses – that toy can ONLY be a fire engine. Give him a block of wood – polished and sleek, with wheels or without – that block of wood can be ANYTHING – a space ship, a bulldozer, a train. You’ll see the fire engine quickly be relegated to “the pile” while the block of wood is played with again and again.
(photo courtesy of Bella Luna Toys)
The pile is massive and messy, your child pleads the case for every toy – “It’s special to me.”
Or, worse yet, you’re thinking, “Oh, I remember when he carried this around…when so-and-so gave it to him…or you love the item, too.” Be strong!
Set aside two or three hours when your child is out of the house. Yep, give them a heads-up about it but they don’t get to help. They can choose 2 or 3 special items but YOU decide the rest.
There is a list below to guide you.
Make a Keep Pile, a Goodwill Pile, and a Maybe Pile. Then halve the Keep and the Maybe Piles and halve them again. BE STRONG!
Payne suggests these criteria for saying good-bye to the STUFF and welcoming a simpler, less-cluttered, confusing, overwhelming, and stress-filled home.
Whether it is old or new, if it’s broken – it goes out. (No, you won’t ever getting around to fixing it.)
If he doesn’t play with anymore, he’s likely outgrown it – so Goodwill or gift it forward. If you’re waiting for him to ‘grow into it’ – pack it away until he does.
These are the toys that can only be one thing – like the fire engine mentioned above – and they’ve likely quickly gotten bored with it and moved onto other toys.
Those toys with a million pieces (many of which are lost), and that has broken yet again – out with it!
Seriously, how many stuffed animals does one child need?
Anything with flashing lights, annoying music, mechanical voices, and speed – they may give you a headache, but they give your child an adrenaline rush, which means you may be peeling him off the ceiling later.
Now is your chance to get rid of that toy Great-Aunt Martha gave him 2 years ago – it was weird then and it is still weird – say bye-bye.
As noted above, your child knows logos at a very early age. Advertisers know this too! They begin early, telling us how to have smarter, and even more beautiful children – don’t buy it!
Your son just had to have that latest somethin-somethin last year, “Everyone has one, Mom!” he pleaded until you caved. He’s probably already moved on from this toy and you won’t fall for the pleading again this year, right?
If you have to manage how it is played with, do yourself a favor and let it go!
After seeing this post, a mom posted this photo:
Boys are very visual, so hide the visual clutter in baskets and bins, or behind a curtain. He’ll be less likely to ‘tear into things’ and more able to focus on one thing at a time. Teach them the habit of putting one thing back before getting the next one out – yes, it is possible!
Tell friends and family exactly what you’d like your child to be gifted. Stop the birthday party favor madness! Guide grandparents and others to gift simple experiences rather than STUFF. For example, Grandma can gift ingredients for a favorite recipe to cook together.
YOU could be that mom who said she downsized and couldn’t be happier! It takes will-power and rolling up your sleeves. You’ll be calmer and your kids will be happier…that’s a promise!
There are 1500+ Moms plus ME waiting for YOU to join us in the Boys Alive! private Facebook group. We’re laughing, sharing, celebrating, and supporting each other through the good, the bad, and the ugly. We need you there!
CLICK HERE to join this amazing group of parents and teachers!
Think about it… how many times do you say NO to your boy – in a day, in an hour, in the next few minutes?
“No” might also be: “Stop” and “Don’t.”
I challenge you to make an honest assessment of yourself and note how many times you say no to your boy.
And his reaction to your no.
Then, find out how many times he is told no at school or day care.
And his reaction to their no.
How do you feel, as an adult, when another adult tells you no, or stop, or don’t?
Remember a time, as a child, that you were told no – how did it feel? where did it live in your body? what did it compel you to do next?
How do you feel, as a parent, when you tell your child no?
Don’t get me wrong, there are absolutely times when it is appropriate to say NO! and STOP! and DON’T!
When we over-use those words, they lose their power.
You want them to have full-power when your child is running out into the street.
So use these words sparingly!
I recently observed in a kindergarten play yard. Kids were active in the sandbox, on the swings, and generally running around. However, the boys were told no way more often than the girls. Granted, the boys were engaged in much more active play (because that’s how boys like to play).
For every no the teacher told them, I could see ways that their behavior could be a yes.
It can be challenging at first to see ways to make a no into a yes but when you understand the deep-seated, biological imperative for boys to play the way they do, you can begin to see clearly how to shift their play into ways that it could be a yes.
For instance, these boys were slashing at each other with some fern fronds, laughing and connecting in a physical way. Of course, we don’t want the boys pulling up the plants but they clearly needed a physical way to engage with each other. Pool noodles are a great way to play “sword fight” and of course you’ll monitor and set parameters on the play, right?
The biggest take-away is that you are saying YES to who he is and how he plays!
And he reads you loud and clear – and feels heard and accepted.
Ouch! That’s rough.
When your no-number goes down, you’ll see your son’s relief and joy go up!
Now, go spread the word (the YES word)!
And join us in the Boys Alive! Private Facebook Group – ask a question, offer support, enjoy an article, laugh and cry with us. We are stronger together!
Written by our Guest: Jennifer L. W. Fink of Building Boys.net
I think I pressured a boy into having sex with me.
I was 16 at the time. So was he. It was our first date — and my first date, ever — after weeks and months of talking in study hall and passing notes. We went to see a movie (Twins, with Arnold Schwarzenegger). He drove. He brought me home. He parked in my driveway and we kissed with the bright glare of the garage light shining in through the front window.
I didn’t say no, ever. I kissed back and I responded to every single thing he did and I lost my virginity right there, in the front seat of his car, despite the safe sex ad that had emanated from his radio.
A few days later, he passed me a note in the hallway: What happened should have never happened. There was more, but that’s the phrase that’s stuck in my head, even now, 30-some years later.
I was livid. What I thought was the beginning of a relationship was the end. I never spoke to the boy again. And for years, I was angry at him.
Then I had boys.
I started paying attention to the messages, overt and otherwise, that our society sends boys about sex.
And I realized this: The boy probably felt like he couldn’t stop. I mean, there he was, in a car, with a girl who wasn’t saying no. According to practically every message he’d probably ever received, he was obligated to go forward. I mean, c’mon. What kind of guy STOPS or SAYS NO if the girl is willing?
Boys Feel Pressured to Have Sex
A study published in 2014 found that 43 percent of high school boys and young college men had had an unwanted sexual experience and of those, 95 percent said a female acquaintance was the aggressor. According to one of the researchers, ” ‘unwanted seduction’ of young men by women is largely overlooked in existing academic research…[but is] a particularly pervasive form of sexual coercion in this study, as well as peer pressure and a victim’s own sense of an obligation.”
Translation: Boys are having sex because they feel pressure from girls, from their friends and from themselves.
I want to tell you that I didn’t come on to the boy in the car. I think I could tell you that. But another part of me thinks that I may have been the one to reach over and unzip his pants — not really because I wanted to have sex, but because I felt like that’s what was expected; because that seemed to be the next step. Of course, I didn’t tell him that. If that is indeed what I did — if I reached over and unzipped his pants — how could he not interpret that as anything other than a come-on? As pressure to perform?
Thirty-one percent of the boys in the research study said “they were verbally coerced [and] 26 percent described unwanted seduction by sexual behaviors.”
That figure should give anyone pause: nearly 1/3 of surveyed boys reported being the subject of unwanted sexual seduction.
I’m going to guess the real number might actually be higher.
Boys aren’t always keen on admitting that they’ve been the subject of unwanted sexual attention. How can they be, in a society that essentially tells them they should want (and welcome!) sex – all the time?
Helping Boys Say No (and Save Face)
Unfortunately, sexually aggressive behavior has become increasingly common in our society. One of the researchers involved in the study commented, “I really do believe that girls are more aggressive sexually today than they were ten years ago,” and I have no reason to doubt her. I’ve heard similar comments from educators, school administrators and parents.
The reality is that today’s boys are likely to find themselves the object of strong sexual attention. Some boys will welcome this attention. Some will not. Our job is to help boys learn how to handle this attention.
Step 1: Let boys know it’s OK to say no. Our boys are growing up in a culture that encourages sex. In many corners, having sex is associated with masculinity: If you have sex with women, you’re a man. If you don’t — especially if the offer is presented to you! — you are definitely less than a man.
Our boys need to know it’s OK to say no. Our children are not getting nuanced messages from pop culture, so they need to hear nuanced messages at home. Kids need to hear that sex is a way for people to show their love — but they also need to hear that it’s possible to love someone without having sex. They need to know that even two people who love each other sometimes choose not to have sex because one person is tired or just doesn’t feel like it.
Our boys need to know that their feelings matter too. We, as a society, spend so much time talking to our boys about girls’ right to consent that sometimes we forget to mention that their feelings matter too. We need to let our boys know that not wanting to is a perfectly OK reason to turn down sexual activity. We need to let our boys know that NO is always a perfectly acceptable answer, no matter what the reason.
Step 2: Talk about reasons to have sex. We spend a lot of time telling our kids why not to have sex. That’s important information that definitely should be part of the larger conversation of sex and sexual health. I’d argue, though, that we also need to talk about good reasons to have sex. Good reasons to have sex include being in a committed relationship, when both parties agree that they want to have sex. Good reasons do not include because she wanted to or because my friend did or everyone will laugh at me if they find out I said no.
Step 3: Talk about sexual aggression and pressure. Boys need to know what sexual aggression is before they can respond appropriately. Talk about the difference between flirting and sexual aggression. Point out examples on TV and in movies and videos. Reality shows, prime-time TV shows, and music videos include all kinds of examples of sexual aggression. Comment on those scenes. Ask your boys what they think. Ask about the girls they know — do the girls ever come on strong? How do the boys react? How do they feel?
Step 4: Intro white lies. In general, I believe in honesty. But my kids also know that I’m perfectly OK with lies that help them make good choices and save face. They know, for instance, that they can blame me for anything their friends want to do that they don’t want to do. (Invited to party where there’s drinking? It’s perfectly OK to say, “My mom won’t let me out that night!”)
Give boys some “outs” they can use in case of unwanted sexual attention. It’s OK to say, “I don’t want to” — but it’s also OK to say, “I gotta go now. My dad will go crazy if I’m not home in 10 minutes” or “I gotta keep my strength up for the game.” Help the boys in your life brainstorm some possible responses now, because it’s a lot easier to think straight when you’re not in a sexual situation.
Over 30 years later, I realize that the boy in the car with me was just as confused as I was. Neither one of us knew what we were doing. We probably both would have been happier if we’d simply watched the movie together; in hindsight, I don’t think either one of us really wanted to have sex. But we did, and it took me nearly 30 years to let go of the resulting anger and hurt and confusion.
I don’t want my sons — or anyone — to have sex because they feel like that’s what’s expected of them. I want them to know it’s OK to say no.
Educating yourself is your best defense!
Bundle #2 “He’s Growing Up – Quickly” includes more interviews on “the Birds and the Bees” and how to talk with your son about healthy sex – at any age.
CLICK HERE for podcast interview bundles with renowned experts on this topic and more:
Our guest on BOY TALK (#16), this article is written by Jennifer L. W. Fink of Building Boys.net
Do you know what emotional intelligence is and why it’s important?
Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and respond to emotions (yours, and others’) in healthy, productive ways. You’ve likely already noticed both high and low levels of emotional intelligence in action. Think about it: the friend who started ranting the minute a fellow driver shifts into their lane without proper signaling vs. the friend who responds to personal attacks with empathy and understanding. The kid who melts down when his team loses a game (and blames his teammates) vs. the kid who expresses disappointment in the loss, but doesn’t let if affect his interactions with his family for the rest of the night. Who might even spend some time thinking about what he can do to elevate his level of play so he can better help his team in the next game.
Right about now, you’re probably thinking of some pretty specific examples. You’re probably remembering all of the times your kids did not demonstrate emotional intelligence — and maybe even wondering if emotionally intelligent kids exist in reality, or are yet another Internet fantasy. Let me put your mind at ease: the above example of a kid who melts down after a loss was drawn directly from my life. From recent experience. And I expect to see the same scenario play out at least a few more times. The good news, though, is that emotional intelligence can be developed over time.
As you know, children do not come into this world with finely honed emotional intelligence. Infants cry — loudly — when you take something they want away from them. Toddlers routinely hit people who inhibit their actions, and throw temper tantrums because they can’t put both feet in the same shoe. As our kids get older, though, their ability to control their emotions improves. (When was the last time you saw a teenager lose it because he can’t get two feet into one shoe?)
A certain degree of emotional development comes with age and maturity, particularly if the child is surrounded by good role models. And some kids are naturally more empathetic and in-tune with their emotions than others are. But emotional intelligence isn’t something you either have or you don’t, and it’s not limited or predetermined by your genes or environment. Unlike IQ, which is relatively fixed, a person’s EQ, or Emotional Intelligence, can improve over time with intervention.
That’s important because emotional intelligence is linked to everything from interpersonal relationship satisfaction to job performance and career success. According to a study by Forbes, 90% of top career performers scored high in emotional intelligence, and those with a high degree of emotional intelligence earned an average of $29,000 more per year than those with a low degree of emotional intelligence. (Curious how your emotional intelligence stacks up? Try this online emotional intelligence test. It’s not designed for kids, but teens might enjoy it also.)
Boys, in particular, often struggle with emotional intelligence due to cultural norms that suggest it’s less-than-manly to acknowledge or admit emotions. (“Man up!” and “Big boys don’t cry!“) As a parent or educator, there’s a lot you can do to encourage and support the development of emotional intelligence. Here are some ideas and resources:
Acknowledge and name emotions. As adults, we often focus on the effect of a child’s emotions on us, rather than the child’s experience. (Think about it: when your child throws a tantrum in the parking lot, is your first reaction empathy for his frustration, or annoyance and embarrassment?) That’s partly because so many of us grew up learning to shun and avoid emotion, especially strong ones such as anger, sadness and frustration. (Think about this: How did your parents react when you were upset? Even now, do you acknowledge your unpleasant feelings, or try to push them away?)
You can hone a child’s emotional intelligence simply by acknowledging and naming emotions. Here’s what that might look like in action: Say you get some disappointing news at work, or via an email or phone call. Feel free to say, out loud and within your child’s ear shot, Ugh. This is so disappointing. If the washing machine breaks, instead of cursing or hiding your emotions, try saying something like, This is so frustrating! I’m really busy this week and I’m upset and overwhelmed because I’m not sure how I’ll find the time to deal with this. or Ugh! I was saving up money for a vacation, and now I’m sad and disappointed that we have to spend some of it to fix the washing machine. You can do the same thing when your child is upset: Wow, honey, you seem really angry right now.
Expand their emotional vocabulary. According to the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0, there are 5 basic emotions: happy, sad, angry, afraid and ashamed. But there are many gradations to those emotions. (Consider the difference between “pleased” and “elated” or “scared” and “terrified.” ) Talking about and using these words can help children better understand and recognize the range of emotional experience. This post includes some fun activities you can use to expand your child’s emotional vocabulary.
Got a tween? Use emojis to talk about emotions. Tweens and teens use these cartoons to express emotions all the time. (Parent tip: Work this one casually into conversation. No teen is going to want to sit down with their parents and do a point-and-name emoji exercise.)
Try the kids’ activities developed by the Emotional Intelligence Institute. This non-profit institute has developed a whole bunch of interactive activities that parents and teachers can use to develop kids’ emotional intelligence. Take a look, even if you don’t plan to use the activities verbatim. A quick glance at their Respect: Behavioral Word Study, for instance, will give you some ideas and talking points for future conversations with your kids.
Brainstorm alternate ways to handle tough situations. Instead of simply punishing your child for misbehavior, ask your child to think about other ways he could have handled the situation. For example, after your son has sat in timeout for hitting his brother (because his brother took his truck), ask your son what he could have done differently. Encourage him to think of two or more alternate responses. (And yes, crazy responses are OK, as long as he gets around to some realistic ones too.) Younger kids (and older ones) may need some prompting. Try something like, “What do you think would have happened if you walked away? If you asked him give it back to you?”
Developing emotional intelligence takes time, practice and lots of repetition — but the effort is well worth it.
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Our guest for BOY TALK (#16), Jennifer Fink of Building Boys shares this article:
Is your son struggling, in school or in life?
I’m willing to bet that at least 80% of you are nodding your heads right now. Either your son’s grades are not what they should be, or he’s disorganized, distracted, in trouble all the time and/or would rather play video games than go to school.
I hear these problems from parents of boys all the time. I hear it from friends, from readers and in various articles I read online and in print. What I also hear: parents blaming themselves and their sons.
The #1 thing you need to know about building boys is that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
The problems you are dealing with in your home and classroom are present in homes and classrooms throughout the world. Boys in America are struggling today. So are boys in Australia, the UK and elsewhere. You, and your boys, are not alone. Which leads me to…
Thing #2 you need to know about building boys: YOU AND YOUR BOY ARE NOT THE PROBLEM.
Listen, I know you’re not perfect. I’m sure you’ve made some mistakes dealing with the boys in your life; I know I have! (Just ask my boys.) But if you are reading this post, I am confident that you’re the kind of adult who cares deeply. You’re the kind of person who tries, each and everyday, to do the best you can for the boys in your life. So while you may not be perfect, you are not the problem. Whatever is happening is not your fault, no matter how strict or lenient you were with bedtime, screen time and overall discipline.
Your son isn’t at fault either. Yes, he may blow off his homework. Yes, his lack of attention in class may well contribute to his failing grades. And yes, he may be getting in trouble for how he chooses to treat his teachers and classmates. Your son, like you, is not perfect. But neither is he the root cause of the problem. Like all of us, he came into the world with an abundance of strengths and some weaknesses. Your son was not born a “bad person” or “problem child,” and I believe it’s highly unlikely that virtually all boys turn into trouble. What’s happening to your son is happening to many, many other boys, so whatever is happening cannot be entirely your son’s fault, no matter what he does or does not do.
Thing #3 you need to know about building boys: YOU AND YOUR BOY ARE ENOUGH.
Christina Tynan-Wood’s article, “How to Catch a Falling Son” will sound all -too familiar to most parents of boys. Tynan-Wood’s son, a high school sophomore, was failing in school, despite the fact that he was, by all accounts, a bright boy, and Tynan-Wood was desperate to help him. She reached out to noted author and boy guru Leonard Sax; he told her to move so she could enroll her son in an all-boys school. She reached out to Richard Whitmire, author of Why Boys Fail, who essentially told her that her early-teenage son had no hope of obtaining his dreams. Her son’s high school counselor suggested summer school courses. Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, author of The Homework Trap, suggested limiting homework.
Tynan-Wood developed a plan to help her son catch up, and using the limited-homework time technique, her son made progress. Tynan-Wood eventually found some solace and hope in a Connections Academy counselor who reassure her that her son’s future was not yet written, that many kids find success despite rough starts, especially when those kids have caring parents.
Yet Tynan-Wood writes:
As the parent of a struggling boy, though, it’s not always easy to feel so sanguine. Faced with so many disheartening statistics about failing boys, no parent can afford to sit back and have faith that their care will be enough to pull the kid through.
Those words break my heart. We have so commercialized and institutionalized parenting and education that our parents no longer feel capable of helping and supporting their children!
Years ago, as our oldest sons were nearing preschool age, I overheard one mom — whose 4-yr-old son was still home — say to another mom (whose son was enrolled in 4-yr-old preschool), “I’m sure you son is getting more at preschool than mine is at home.” As I wrote later, “Her comment stopped me cold. This was from a Mom who read to her children. Took them to community events. Was involved in our playgroup. Facilitated her children’s interests. Loved them deeply. And she really, truly believed that preschool was somehow better than her own mothering.”
The same thing is happening to parents who are raising boys. We are so concerned about them, and yet so many of us have simultaneously bought into the not-nearly-dimensional enough ideas of success that society continually feeds us. We believe that success requires good grades in school. We believe that college is the one true way to success. And we are somehow convinced that others — educators and experts — hold the solutions in their hands.
The result? We blame our boys and ourselves, instead of looking at the many ways our schools, societies and institutions are failing our boys. We then look to schools and experts for the solutions. We distrust ourselves and we distrust our boys, instead of doing the one thing we really need to do if we want our sons to succeed.
And what is that one thing?
You need to HAVE FAITH, in yourself and in your boy. You need to once again look at your boy with wonder in your heart; you need to see his strengths and gifts, the ones that were there when he was small and are ever-present to this day. You need to look past your son’s flaws and have faith that within him, he has everything he needs to succeed.
I can hear some of you objecting now: “but he doesn’t work!” “he’s lazy” “all he wants to do is play video games!” All of those things may be true, but it may also be true that he doesn’t work because no one’s ever given him the chance to work at what he really cares about. He might seem lazy because he’s been beaten down by life, because for a decade or longer, all he’s heard from people is that whatever he cares about is not worth caring about. He might play video games because he loves history. Because he loves games. Because he’s a budding storyteller, or because he’s subconsciously prepping for a career as a video game designer.
Let go of the negative judgment, and look at your son. Consciously push away thoughts of his failures, and recall the gifts and potential you saw in him when he was young.
At the same time, remember this: You know your boy better than almost anybody on the planet. You and your son are the true experts when it comes to what he wants and needs. As important as I believe it is to understand the issues facing boys today and to listen to and learn from others, ultimately, the only boy that matters is the one in front of you, and what he needs is, by definition, different than what every other boy needs.
Look at your boy.
Listen to your boy.
Support him and his needs and endeavors.
You will likely find yourself dealing with schools and institutions that don’t understand. Your son will likely be penalized for failing to do homework or for drawing giraffe poop. None of that matters. You cannot protect your boy from a society that fails to understand and appreciate his needs, and I can’t promise you that you or your son won’t be hurt or damaged by these assaults.
I can’t promise you that everything will turn out OK either.
What I can promise you this:
If you love and support your son, and keep the focus on him and his needs, and do your best to advocate for him and his needs, in spite of the conflicting advice you’re certain to hear, you’re doing right by your son.
You’re working to build boys.
You’re invited to join us in the Boys Alive! Private Facebook Group – ask a question, offer support, enjoy an article, laugh and cry with us. We are stronger together!
“He cried uncontrollably when I took it away…”
“I think he’s addicted…”
“We’re as bad as they are…”
“It takes my attention away for them…”
“I’m the only one that can change this…”
A mom and dad recently expressed concern for their 12 yo son in a Family Coaching session with me.
After a summer of not much to do, he seemed increasingly attached to his screen time. When dad threatened to take his ipad and ipod away, he had a monumental melt-down.
As we sifted through the behavior challenges, the developmental milestones, and the family and friends interactions of “Sam” – it became increasingly clear that yet another boy has been captivated by the allure of screens.
Sure, girls certainly spend a lot of time on screens, but true to their nature, they are more relational with their screen use – posting on instagram, snapchatting with friends, connecting and relating to others. Video games are not as much of a draw for girls because they don’t offer the relational benefits for girls. Most girls do not seek the constant action and competition that video games offer to boys.
Boys, on the other hand, are quite entranced with screens – and most often with gaming. They relate to their friends via games. They google and figure out all sorts of things – including how to uninstall your monitoring software (they love the challenge!). You do have monitoring software, right?
We interviewed Dr. Victoria Dunckley, an expert on interactive screen usage and the effects they are having on our kids on BOY TALK #12, part of a bundle of interviews all focusing on this theme.
She has identified and categorized the many effects of screen time in the patients coming to her as Electronic Screen Syndrome or ESS. It is, “a disorder of dysregulation. Because it is so stimulating, interactive screen-time shifts the nervous system into fight-or-flight mode.”
Signs and symptoms of ESS:
Typical signs and symptoms mimic chronic stress and sleep deprivation and can include:
That is a LONG – and very concerning – LIST… but there is more:
CERTAIN FACTORS increase the risk for ESS:
You may be thinking — well, he has a little of this and a little of that.
And aren’t all kids defiant at times?
Don’t all kids have melt-downs?
Sure, they do. But if you have a gut feeling that his behavior has changed or is extreme – its time to look at the amount of screen time he is consuming. Even small amounts of screen time can be too much.
In an interview with Boys Alive!, Dr. Dunckley explains how to implement a 4-week “screen-fast” with your family. The most heartening thing she said was that, for boys, a change in behavior and engagement shows up in the first week!
You may already be thinking that THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE!
You’ve already thought of all the reasons why a screen-fast can’t happen in your family:
All of those excuses (and more) are familiar to Carolyn, mom of 2 boys. She thought it would be impossible for them to give up screen time…until her son’s teacher reported that he was unable to focus and his behavior in kindergarten was becoming a problem.
Enter Dr. Dunckley and Carolyn was ready to try anything – including a 4-week screen-fast. She thought her boys would protest…and was surprised that they didn’t.
I urge you to consider YOUR screen usage first.
The mom and dad in my Family Coaching session quickly realized that THEY have to change their behavior first…
That THEY have to take a stand for family time from work-overlap and friends and family in the habit of texting at all hours.
That THEY have to model different behavior for their kids.
You can get your family back – Mom Carolyn is proof of that!
BOY TALK Podcasts have been called, “fantastic – experienced, thoughtful, relevant, progressive.” You’ve got support! Download these experts to your personal library:
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You won’t be ready for him to see it – and he won’t be ready either!
AND you can’t unsee it once you have seen it…
Sometimes even younger…like the mom who is outraged with Amazon because her 6 year old boy typed “realistic” into their search box – he was looking for a Batman cake topper. What he saw was not at all related, and was more realistic than any of us would like to think!
Unfortunately, just like this boy, as kids become more at ease in the on-line world, the average age will keep getting lower – and the chances for accidentally seeing something inappropriate keep getting higher.
Did you ever put him in the car without making sure his seatbelt was fastened?
His physical safety is a priority for you, always.
Now, with the prevalence of porn, you may be jeopardizing his physical, emotional, AND intellectual safety:
You might as well put him in a race car – unbuckled.
At the point when he sees porn, his lack of safety will be your responsibility – and perhaps your guilt, because HE WILL SEE IT…
And even if he hasn’t seen pornography as we think of it – do you think he isn’t noticing the latest Ralph Lauren commercial?
And even if he hasn’t seen pornography as we think of it – if he plays video games, he’s already been over-exposed to unrealistic images of bodies and the treatment of women.
Do your own research: note how often women’s bottoms are shown in his video game of choice. As Damon Beres writes in The Huffington Post, “Games often emphasize the rumps of female characters while male characters have their posteriors hidden.” (This may seem harmless. You may think, “Oh, he’s so young, he won’t notice.” Problem is – it begins to foster a culture of unrealistic expectations and views of women.)
Current statistics are:
Remember, the images he sees are not your father’s Penthouse or Playboy magazines.
The images he sees and hears will be in living color and very, very realistic.
He may be shocked AND he may also be very curious.
Most of all, he can’t ‘unsee’ what he’s already seen.
As Amy Lang of Birds and Bees and Kids, advises, you begin by having conversations – many conversations.
They will be short, awkward, and embarrassing — and even more so, the older your boy gets.
But just like you’d jump in front of a train to save your child, you’ve got to jump into these complex and awkward conversations – and be prepared to jump into them over and over again!
Amy says you must convey to them early and often: ”Sex is for adults, not for children. Just like alcohol and coffee.”
Yes, to our kids it is.
As an adult, you can make your own educated choices.
It is up to us to communicate to our children that pornography conveys an unrealistic view of a healthy sexual relationship between two loving adults.
Among other things, porn conveys unrealistic views and expectations about:
Above all, it can be highly addictive.
In the New Zealand Herald, ‘Nick’ tells his story of watching porn when he got his first laptop at age 15 and was soon watching it for up to two hours a day.
He said, “It quickly escalated and it was every day. What I was watching, it definitely got more extreme over a short period of time. There was nothing that would give me a kick. Normal stuff didn’t do anything anymore, so I had to get more and more extreme material. It was disturbing stuff that disturbed me.”
He went on to say that he had trouble being attracted to females as his sexuality was “completely wired towards porn.” Only after undergoing a 100-day porn-fast was he able to return to normal sexual relationships.
Let that serve as “worst-case” scenario for you.
You fasten their safety belts!
You put on your mama-bear-armor and your papa-bear-armor and you make it a priority to install parental controls and monitoring software on ALL devices.
You make sure his friend’s parent’s have done the same.
You educate yourself, you practice the conversations, and – above all, you remain calm, cool, and collected when he tells you about what he saw on his friend’s iphone the other day…
Educating yourself is your best defense!
Bundle #2 “He’s Growing Up – Quickly” includes the interviews, “The Birds & the Bees – How to Talk with Him about Sex and Healthy Sexuality” and “More Birds & Bees – How to Talk with Him about Pornography”
CLICK HERE for podcast interview bundles with renowned experts on this topic and more:
Ever have one of those “I QUIT” days? Me too! ADHD parenting frustration is common. Read on to learn what to do when you’re overwhelmed.
As the parent of an ADHD child, wanting to quit comes with the territory. Where’s that training manual? Who’s going to be your “big sister” or “big brother” to show you the ropes? And on top of that, you’re engaged in an unpopular activity. I mean, when there are still people debating whether ADHD even exists, you know you’ve got a tough road ahead.
Some days, it all comes to a head and floods your brain and your heart:
Hitting a wall is common. You are not alone. But things don’t have to stay this way forever and ever. There is help.
Let me share 3 tips with you that I use with my clients:
1. Remember that your negative thoughts are not facts, they’re judgments.
Parents with ADHD children can sink into believing that what we’re feeling today is the truth and that what we felt yesterday, despite proof of our competence and, even, greatness, does not count anymore. “I may have been a genius yesterday, but today I’m a loser and that’s the real truth. The other day was just a fluke.”
This isn’t true. It’s not the way life works. It’s not the way anyone’s life works.
Thoughts like these are negative judgments about ourselves. I teach my clients that instead of saying things like, “I don’t think I’ll ever have time to finish my project” or “I feel like a loser” (which isn’t really a feeling/emotion if you think about it!), tell the truth: “I judge that I won’t have time to finish my project, but I don’t know that for sure,” or “Right now I’m judging that I’m a loser, but I don’t know that for sure.”
Client Hanna was taught to be a perfectionist and, when she couldn’t be perfect (or even close) she sank into despair, repeating that she was a horrible parent, that she couldn’t do it anymore, that her ex-husband was right and he should take the kids. As an outsider to the situation I had the perspective she needed to remind her that 1) this was a pattern of behavior that happened whenever she hadn’t taken time to herself after dropping off the kids at school, and 2) I was here to help make things easier and that we could talk right then.
Over time, Hanna was able to develop skills to parent better and to manage her negative thoughts more effectively as well.
2. Find your champions
There are all kinds of online forums for parents of ADHD children. Parents chat about their struggles and other parents tell them to hang in there. That’s nice as far as it goes, but I worry that parents may grow dependent on the “struggle” paradigm. Who are the people that raise your spirits? Who uplifts you? Look among your friends and see who will boost your energy when you’re down. Likewise, there are people in our lives who discourage us. Don’t bother looking for approval from them. Make a list of those people who encourage you and those who discourage you. Buddy up to the encouragers and stay away from the discouragers.
We all need people we can count on to cheer us on. I know who mine are and I spend more time with them than with other people because I want a joyful life not a life of struggle. I’ve struggled for years and it’s just terrible. I’m good and overcoming my struggles but I don’t want to have to overcome stuff for the rest of my life. It’s exhausting! Where’s the fun?
Client Jake was struggling with his son, Bryan. He was a sweetheart but smart enough and curious enough to try all sorts of things, like lighting a can of Easy-Off oven spray on fire! I’ve been there – my brain wants to know “what if…” to my own detriment at times! One of Jake’s friends told him there was something wrong with Bryan, that he was a behavior problem and needed to be hospitalized! Jake was discouraged. Instead, I told him to “Bryan-proof” the house. You can’t take away an ADHD child’s curiosity but you can manage at, at least at home, by creating an environment that encourages only safe curiosity. While friends were ready to commit Bryan to one institution or another, I had a more uplifting solution. That’s what I do, as an ADHD family coach – I offer solutions that uplift and accommodate each individual family or client.
3. Don’t spend all your care and attention on others; treat yourself to some of your great love and kindness!
Those “I QUIT” messages come from anxiety, nerves, fear of the unknown. As such, treat yourself kindly not brutally. ADHD parents are some of the most compassionate people in the world. Also the fiercest! But, often, all that fierce compassion is directed toward protecting and supporting your ADHD child. How about directing it at supporting yourself? You deserve it!
When you’re around friends or family who are feeling nervous, confused, or fearful, you’re often the first one to uplift them, give them a hug, or reassure them that you’re not giving up on them. And yet, do you “hug” yourself? Somehow we think it’s frivolous to do things for ourselves when there are people who are “REALLY” suffering.
When you’re feeling anxious, it’s okay to say, “I’m working my butt off for this family, and I need a little time off!” Everyone will be happier (EVERYONE) if you take some time for yourself. A parent that nurtures his/her own sanity is a good example to set for the kiddos.
Client Sue learned to manage her resentment and overwhelm by blessing those people who were bugging her. She would say, “Bless him” or “Bless her” or “I should be more understanding.” I asked her, who’s blessing you? What if you say, “Bless me”? Or how about giving yourself that understanding that you offer to others? She started out blessing the other person and herself at the same time. Eventually, she was able to identify her moments of overwhelm, say, “Bless him/her,” AND go do something kind and nurturing for herself.
“I QUIT” moments are completely normal
These “I QUIT” moments are completely normal, and feeling overwhelmed is what happens when we attempt to do something or be something that we’ve never done or been before. It also happens when we have had a bad experience with the activity or thought. The brain IS elastic though. Your children may always have ADHD but you can change the way your brain deals with the ADHD. These three tips, when practiced on a regular basis, will help make ADHD parenting less frustrating and more manageable.
Copyright 2016 Margit Crane Luria. All Rights Reserved
Shelter: take refuge, take pause.
Talking with Rebecca and Steve on KXL 101 about yet another horrific tragedy as “Orlando” now takes on new meaning alongside of “San Bernardino,” “Sandy Hook,” and so many other tragedies that do not diminish in importance because they aren’t specifically named here.
WE MUST SHELTER…our children.
WE MUST SHELTER ourselves.
That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be shouting to the rooftops (or better, to our officials in Washington DC) that this kind of access to weapons-of-mass-destruction MUST STOP. No matter your political views, your rights-to-bear-arms views, there is no reason to allow purchase of assault rifles in this country. NO REASON.
So, we must first and foremost, shelter our children.
Turn off the radio. Turn off the TV.
Children under the age of 9 should have ZERO exposure to this type of tragedy. They’ll learn about the world soon enough. Meanwhile, they do not have the ability to understand:
Young children must be sheltered from these events as they do not have the brain power or emotional capacity to digest and process it. (Hardly, do we…)
Older children may have limited exposure to the event. Ideally, YOU make them aware of it. “Something really bad happened in Orlando and you may be hearing about it from your friends. Do you want to know more?” Some kids will choose not to. Honor that.
Some kids, like Rebecca’s 12 yo son, will be outraged, “Why do they do that…it is so mean! It’s awful!” Yes, it is awful and it is mean. Acknowledge their feelings…and be sensitive to just how much more they want to know and discuss…and resist feeling like you “should” explain further.
Now might be a good time to begin to sort out some bigger life questions, depending on the interest and sensitivity of your child:
However your conversation goes with your younger or older child, it is imperative that FIRST you reassure them that you are doing all that you can to make sure that they are safe.
SECOND, in the words of Mr. Rogers, “Look for the helpers.” There are always people helping.
There are always 1,000 kind deeds happening for every “mean and awful” event. Tell your kids about those. SHELTER them from the other.
And do yourself a favor, too… SHELTER yourself. Take refuge in some music, a good book, or a beautiful painting. You don’t have to hear the story 1,000 times, it doesn’t mean you aren’t honoring the victims any less.
And do we dare hope that maybe THIS will be the event that spurs action to eliminate these guns – forever.
Blessings on you and yours.
Dr. Victoria Dunckley will be our guest on the next BOY TALK. Save your seat for BOY TALK here.
Dr. Dunckley is the author of “Reset Your Child’s Brain, A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time.”
She shares this article from Psychology Today:
“Taken together, [studies show] internet addiction is associated with structural and functional changes in brain regions involving emotional processing, executive attention, decision making, and cognitivecontrol.” –research authors summarizing neuro-imaging findings in internet and gaming addiction (Lin & Zhou et al, 2012)
But what about kids who aren’t “addicted” per se? Addiction aside, a much broader concern that begs awareness is the risk that screen time is creating subtle damage even in children with “regular” exposure, considering that the average child clocks in more than seven hours a day (Rideout 2010). As a practitioner, I observe that many of the children I see suffer from sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep, and a hyperaroused nervous system, regardless of diagnosis—what I call electronic screen syndrome. These children are impulsive, moody, and can’t pay attention—much like the description in the quote above describing damage seen in scans.
Although many parents have a nagging sense that they should do more to limit screen-time, they often question whether there’s enough evidence to justify yanking coveted devices, rationalize that it’s “part of our kids’ culture,” or worry that others—such as a spouse—will undermine their efforts. Digest the information below, even though it might feel uncomfortable, and arm yourself with the truth about the potential damage screen time is capable of imparting—particularly in a young, still-developing brain.
Brain scan research findings in screen addiction:
Gray matter atrophy: Multiple studies have shown atrophy (shrinkage or loss of tissue volume) in gray matter areas (where “processing” occurs) in internet/gaming addiction (Zhou 2011, Yuan 2011, Weng 2013,and Weng 2012). Areas affected included the important frontal lobe, which governs executive functions, such as planning, planning, prioritizing, organizing, and impulse control (“getting stuff done”). Volume loss was also seen in the striatum, which is involved in reward pathways and the suppression of socially unacceptable impulses. A finding of particular concern was damage to an area known is the insula, which is involved in our capacity to develop empathy and compassion for others and our ability to integrate physical signals with emotion. Aside from the obvious link to violent behavior, these skills dictate the depth and quality of personal relationships.
Compromised white matter integrity: Research has also demonstrated loss of integrity to the brain’s white matter (Lin 2012, Yuan 2011, Hong 2013 and Weng 2013). “Spotty” white matter translates into loss of communication within the brain, including connections to and from various lobes of the same hemisphere, links between the right and left hemispheres, and paths between higher (cognitive) and lower (emotional and survival) brain centers. White matter also connects networks from the brain to the body and vice versa. Interrupted connections may slow down signals, “short-circuit” them, or cause them to be erratic (“misfire”).
Reduced cortical thickness: Hong and colleagues found reduced cortical (the outermost part of the brain) thickness in internet-addicted teen boys (Hong 2013), and Yuan et al found reduced cortical thickness in the frontal lobe of online gaming addicts (late adolescent males and females) correlated with impairment of a cognitive task (Yuan 2013).
Impaired cognitive functioning: Imaging studies have found less efficient information processing and reduced impulse inhibition (Dong & Devito 2013), increased sensitivity to rewards and insensitivity to loss (Dong & Devito 2013), and abnormal spontaneous brain activity associated with poor task performance (Yuan 2011).
Cravings and impaired dopamine function: Research on video games have shown dopamine (implicated in reward processing and addiction) is released during gaming (Koepp 1998 and Kuhn 2011) and that craving or urges for gaming produces brain changes that are similar to drug cravings (Ko 2009, Han 2011). Other findings in internet addiction include reduced numbers of dopamine receptors and transporters (Kim 2011and Hou 2012).
In short, excessive screen-time appears to impair brain structure and function. Much of the damage occurs in the brain’s frontal lobe, which undergoes massive changes from puberty until the mid-twenties. Frontal lobe development, in turn, largely determines success in every area of life—from sense of well-being to academic or career success to relationship skills. Use this research to strengthen your own parental position on screen management, and to convince others to do the same.
Is your house filled with TEEN STRESS?
The kind of STRESS that spills over into everything and everyone — leaving chaos, frustration, and dirty clothes in it’s wake?
Spring can be a stressful time of year for many teens — finishing up end-of-year projects, waiting for college admittance letters, and what about a DATE FOR THE PROM?
Stress comes in all shapes and sizes – some of it is actually good for us.
It gets us up and motivated to DO STUFF.
Some kids handle stress easily but others can be overcome with anxiety…
Indeed, Howard Hiton, a family therapist, recently commented that he’s seen an uptick in the number of teens and young men in their early 20’s coming in for help with issues around anxiety.
Signs of stress in teens:
anxiety, panic attacks, procrastination, neglecting responsibilities, overwhelm, negative thoughts, and changes in sleep.
Being a teen is stressful!
Being the PARENT of a teen is stressful, too!
You can alleviate some of your stress by understanding what is going on for your teen developmentally. I particularly like “Brainstorm, the power and purpose of the teenage brain” by Dr. Dan Siegel. Understanding leads to interest and curiosity, rather than just anxiety and stress.
Be Here Now
There is a lot in the popular press now about MINDFULNESS and the increased health benefits we can all experience when we learn to be in the present and thereby reducing our stress levels.
Teens have access to yoga, meditation, and on-line resources such as headspace.com – which has been called a “gym membership for the mind.”
Keeping stress in check is imperative for your teen – and you – and it can begin with parents monitoring what may be causing stress and trying to minimize it WITH THEM as much as possible.
Eating right, sleeping well, and getting exercise are also great stress relievers for all of us!
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The PEACE and COMFORT that comes from doing something so familiar, so embedded in us, is a feeling like no other.
It’s why we love the holidays so much. It’s why we insist that the same ornament goes on the tree in the same place every year, year after year.
As I return as “Chief Teacher” for Year NINE of an annual Potlatch gathering of 4th grade Oregon Waldorf students – 3 days in the woods culminating their Native American studies of the year – 178 kids! – I marvel at the familiarity of loading the same equipment in the car – the peace that I feel in my core. I remember smells, sights, glimpses of faces, music and conversation. It rolls around me like a warm blanket of comfort.
It also reminds me of the “muscle memory” of music I witnessed with my mom. She had a stroke in 2013 with speech aphasia – she could say plenty but the words were scrambled and didn’t make sense. She was often frustrated because she knew she wasn’t making sense and her understanding of what was being said was fully intact.
Enter “Amazing Grace.”
After she left the hospital and entered a rehabilitation center, I was eager (desperate) to get her outside and so we escaped as soon as, and as often as, possible. There was a big parking lot nearby and I’d push her in her wheelchair and we’d “talk” and take in the breezes…and I’d sing “Amazing Grace.” And though tentative at first, she soon found some “words” and some “tune” that was close enough. Hallelujah! Her muscle memory had survived…she could sing!
And so we sang.
The founder of Waldorf Education, Rudolf Steiner, talked about how what we bring to our little children – in word and deed – will affect our children over their lifetime – right down to the health of their internal organs. In 1919 that idea seemed a little far-fetched. Now, as with so many things Steiner, science is starting to verify. We do indeed have a muscle memory for early traumas…and early words and deeds.
How are you currently nourishing the old man or old woman your child will become?
Imagine – my grandma taught my mom so many nursery rhymes, silly childhood songs, and folk songs – that lived in her and even survived through her awful brain meltdown…so deep in her soul they were.
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“Baa Baa Black Sheep” and “The Alphabet Song” and “Home on the Range” live at a cellular level – who knew?!
The treasure lay dormant for so many years – opened briefly as children and grandchildren arrived but going back to sleep until this “memory muscle” was needed again.
This enduring treasure spans like a rainbow from childhood to old age.
Makes me wonder how lasting Pokemon, Minecraft, and the Frozen Princess will be? Do they also live deeply embedded in our muscle memory? Do we even want them to?!
Next time you are tempted to hand your child your phone or turn on a video for them, ask yourself, “How will this nourish him when he is an old man?” “How will this music/app/dvd or game sustain him in the end?”
It’s not only music, it’s those silly finger games we used to play, too.
With my mom’s right hand affected by the stroke, one of the games we loved was the simple game two people play – I call it “stack ’em” – you put your hand palm down on the table, other person puts their’s down on top of it, you put yours palm down, they put theirs palm down on top and you have a stack of four hands. Now pull the bottom one out and put it on top. Not as easy as it sounds (and especially not for mom!) but it alleviated many moments of boring wait time – no batteries or equipment needed.
If you really want to have an eternal imprint upon your children – upon their muscle memories – that they can call forth even after a traumatic brain event – it’s simple: sing “Twinkle Twinkle” with them.
Talking with Steve and Rebecca at KXL 101 about Teen Drivers:
Spring is in the air and many 15 year olds are just itching to get behind the wheel! While they may act like they know what they’re doing (after all – many of them have been ‘driving cars’ in video games for years!)…it is time for reality to meet the road.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently posted a study saying that teens really do listen to what you say – which can offer you some encouragement…
BUT more importantly, realize that they’ve been watching you drive for YEARS and learning from your driving style and habits. So if you’ve got young kids its time to assess what you’re teaching them through osmosis every time you climb into your mini-van.
Talking about safety and rules from a young age is imperative before they are ready to get behind the wheel. Make sure your teen is clear on your rules and the consequences for breaking them.
Teaching your teen to drive may not be the most relaxing thing you’ve ever done. If you aren’t comfortable practicing with your teen find someone who is. Start slow – 10 mph in a parking lot is just fine. Most important lesson going in? Be sure they know that when you say, “Brake!” that they know just what to do!
Driver’s Ed courses are held at Portland Public Schools but registration is through Portland Community College and tuition is $295 plus $5 in fees. Cost reduction is offered for students on SNAP with an official letter from the school.
www.pcc.edu/drive to register
“His best friend has moved on to other friends – shouldn’t he be worried about it?”
“He’s broken up with his girlfriend – he doesn’t seem to be sad about it at all.”
We worry when he doesn’t talk about his feelings or share what the events that SHOULD be a big deal in his life (at least we think so).
However, many boys (and men) don’t feel the need to share their deepest feelings all the time.
Sometimes, when big events have a big impact on YOU – you naturally think they should have a big impact on him, too – and they just don’t.
Females tend to process events, feelings, questions, decisions, and all the emotions and detail that go along with them verbally.
Females LOVE to talk about emotions and events – and then talk about them some more!
Females discover solutions as they talk, answer their own questions, along with getting a hit of oxytocin (that “feel good” hormone) in the process.
Males, on the other hand, often don’t want or need to process emotional events in detail.
In fact, the less they are required to talk about them, the better.
Males tend to process inwardly – they don’t need to talk about every detail.
Males tend to process while they are in motion – running or playing basketball, for example.
Of course, we want our boys to learn to be comfortable talking about their feelings. Absolutely!
It could help, however, to recognize that developing an emotional vocabulary and an understanding of feelings and processing and sharing them is a life-long process.
He will talk – eventually – and it may not be when you think he should.
In the car.
Watch for the opening and then make sure you’re available to listen!
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Guest Mom and Turn the Tide Parenting Coach Carolyn Colbert joined us for a recent BOY TALK interview. She reveals WHY she decided to take on the media/screen dragon and how she tamed it and brought sanity back to her family!
To save your seat for future BOY TALKs, go here.
Carolyn describes the beginning of her journey:
Have you ever read an article that seemed to jump off the page at you? As if the author has a sneak peek into your life and is speaking to you directly??
Written by psychiatrist Victoria Dunckley about the use of electronics:Screentime Is Making Kids Moody, Crazy, and Lazy; 6 Ways electronic screen time makes kids angry, depressed and unmotivated.
My interest turned to concern when I read “Children who are revved up and prone to rages, or (alternatively) apathetic have become disturbingly commonplace. Chronically irritable children are often in a state of abnormally high arousal, and may seem “wired and tired.” That is, they’re agitated but exhausted.”
“Because chronically high arousal levels impact memory and the ability to relate, these kids are also likely to struggle academically and socially. At some point, a child with these symptoms may be given a mental-health diagnosis such as major depression, bipolar disorder, or ADHD, and offered corresponding treatments, including therapy and medication. But often these treatments don’t work very well, and the downward spiral continues.”
My son’s kindergarten teacher mentioned ‘sensory disorder’ during our year-end conference, and we had tried a couple of programs to manage his “restlessness” with limited success. We even had an appointment with a child psychologist to get a formal diagnosis before entering first grade.
I ordered Dunckley’s book Reset Your Child’s Brain and read it in two nights (skipping the sections on teens). After checking nearly every box in the “problem areas of dysfunction & distress table”, I decided to implement her four-week plan, with the promise to “end meltdowns, raise grades, and boost social skills by reversing the effects of electronic screen-time”. An electronic fast to “allow the nervous system to reset.”
This is going to be a wild ride. I’m bracing myself for the worst. The next blog entries will be a daily account of our lives during the fast.
Grab a glass of wine and a front row seat to chaos.
Read the rest of Carolyn’s journey at her blog: http://blog.carolyncolbert.com/
With Steve and Rebecca on KXL 101.
Of course, it is something we never imagined we’d have to do!
Yet, the same strategies can apply to all the scary things that happen in life.
Mr. Fred Rogers said it best – and this is a great place to start with any aged child:
“Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
1. Emphasize the GOOD. Help children recognize who the helpers and the heroes are.
2. REDUCE their exposure to the bad. Do not allow young children to see images of mass shootings or disasters. Young children under the age of 9 years, can not make the distinction between what is real and what isn’t in media images. They also do not recognize the repeat-loop of those media images.
They may hear about it at school but reducing exposure at home means reducing fear and anxiety.
With older children, sit together and watch a limited amount of news coverage and then be ready to answer questions. If your child is sensitive, then skip watching anything visual!
3. Save adult discussions about these events for when children are not with you.
4. Answer any questions that may come up – only with as little information as needed.
Again, emphasize the good – emphasize the helpers, as Mr. Rogers would say.