Saturday, October 31, 2015

Why is Wheat Such A Problem in the Modern Diet?

Dear all,

Last week the canteen committee started its work again. It is amazing to listen to the conversations about food and how aware our food providers, Global Cafe, are of the dangers that lurk in the food industry. In our discussions it became clear that we need to ensure that all of our community is as aware as possible about the research that lies behind the decisions that we are making regarding food at ISHCMC. This article will be the first of many aimed at helping you as parents understand some of the dangers that exist regarding the everyday food that we take for granted. This article helps to support our move to reduce the amount of gluten in our cafeteria.
Wheat, which used to be considered a “staff of life,” in recent times, has become a dietary scourge for numerous men, women, and children. What happened, especially when there are so manyprocessed foods that contain wheat or wheat derivatives?
First and foremost, we ought to realize that wheat grown today is a hybridized version of heirloom wheat during the early 20th century. Einkorn [1], which probably was the oldest variety of wheat known and grown for thousands of years, has fallen out of favor even though it contains a lower percentage of gluten.
According to Tropical Traditions’ article, “Einkorn Ancient Grain,”
Since einkorn is such an ancient grain and the only known diploid classified variety of wheat still known to exist today, there has been considerable interest in the issue of gluten toxicity. One way of measuring gluten toxicity is by the gliadin to glutenin ratio, and einkorn has a much more favorable ratio than modern wheat varieties. Einkorn has a gliadin to glutenin ratio of 2:1 compared to 0.8:1 for durum and hard red wheat. While this lower gluten ratio may hold some promise for gluten intolerance disorders, it should be cautioned that einkorn DOES contain gluten, and so those desiring to avoid all gluten are NOT recommended to consume einkorn. [1]
Gliadin is another classification of proteins in grains, e.g., wheat, whereas glutenin is the major protein in wheat (47%). Gluten is an elastic-like protein remaining after the starches are washed away. Numerous vegetarian “meats” are made with “Seitan” [2].
As Tropical Traditions explains, “Einkorn has a gliadin to glutenin ratio of 2:1 compared to 0.8:1 for durum and hard red wheat. Old Ways Whole Grains Council says [3],
Different types of wheat have different numbers of chromosomes, and some studies show that the older wheats, with fewer chromosomes, tend to have lower levels of gliadins, the type of gluten proteins that seem to cause most sensitivities.
Einkorn, the oldest known type of wheat in our current food supply, has just 14 chromosomes, and is called a diploid wheat. Durum wheat (the kind most often used for pasta) and emmer are tetraploid wheats, with 28 chromosomes. Common wheat (used for most everything) and spelt have 42 chromosomes and are known as hexaploid wheats.Research shows that different tetraploid and hexaploid wheat varieties differ widely in gliadin levels, and it’s possible to select “individual genotypes with less Celiac Disease-immunogenic potential.”
Some heirloom wheat varieties grew very tall and were not manageable for industrial farming practices, so newer varieties were developed in the 1950s and 1960s by Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution.
He [Borlaug] pioneered new “improved” species of semi-dwarf wheat that, together with complimenting fertilizers and pesticides, increased yield spectacularly. This amazing new farming technology was propagated around the world by companies like Dupont and Monsanto, while mid-20th-century humanity applauded the end of hunger. [4]
So let’s reject the profound genetic changes in modern wheat, in favour of traditional species our bodies recognize. Let’s reject the chemical fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides of modern industrial farming in favour of organic farming and clean seed. [4]
That’s only half of the story regarding what’s happened to wheat!
So, what else goes on with wheat?
Shortly before harvesting wheat—about 3 days, farmers routinely spray the crop with Roundup® [5] since glyphosate—its main component—is considered to be a desiccant that enables a more evenly ripened crop harvest, plus less work for farmers, or so it’s been said.
Not only is wheat sprayed with Roundup® pre-harvest, so are the following crops: Oats, non-GMO canola, flax, peas, lentils, non-GMO soybeans, dry beans and sugar cane! So, it’s most important to buy, cook, and eat organically-grown grains, beans and lentils (legumes).
Even if the crops are not GMO, they still can be sprayed with Roundup®! Glyphosate, the main active ingredient, has been declared a Class 2B carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s IARC [6].
Wheat, when stored in grain silos, can be fumigated with toxins such as phosphine, chloropicrin, and methyl bromide. According to the University of Minnesota/Extension:
So fumigants are able to penetrate into places that are inaccessible to insecticide sprays or dusts.
All fumigants are poisons–highly toxic to humans and other warm-blooded animals, as well as to insects. Consequently, they are classified as Restricted Use Pesticides and in accordance with Minnesota State Pesticide Law can be applied only by certified and licensed fumigators. [7]
When wheat grain is milled into flour, there are other processes that further compromise the resulting flour, e.g., milling, removal of bran, fiber and germ, to leave a powder-like substance, the endosperm, which becomes flour, that is bleached and ‘enriched’ with added synthetic B vitamins and iron.
But that’s not where wheat’s tragic flour story ends.
The chemical Azodicarbonamide (ADA) [8] is added as a dough conditioner when wheat flour is made into various food products like breads, pastries, etc. As a matter of fact, there are close to 500 food items that contain ADA.
According to Dr. Edward F Group, DC, ND, founder of Global Healing Center, ADA can cause the following adverse health effects: Respiratory problems, skin irritant, disrupts the immune system, and is harmful to hormone function [8]. Personally, I imagine that it would negatively affect the gut microbiome and even cause digestive problems, e.g., heartburn. Additionally, ADA increases the gluten content in bread! That’s not what we need, especially with all the gut problems and gluten sensitivities occurring in so many folks recently.
Furthermore, ADA is banned in Europe and Australia! U.S. FDA and USDA, what gives with you, anyway? Why aren’t you banning ADA in the USA? Additionally, ADA is an industrial chemical used in the manufacture of yoga mats, shoe rubber and synthetic leather! Mmm, mmm, good!
To top off the above, ADA creates toxic byproducts when heated: Semicarbazide and ethyl carbamate.
Semicarbazide causes free radical damage to DNA [9] and damages human immune cells and DNA of animals [10]. So, what’s it doing in USA-made wheat products?
Would readers like to know which brands and products contain Azodicarbonamide? Well, here’s the list. Data provided by FoodEssentials as of 2/27/2014.
Wheat is just one example of how a natural food crop, which humans subsisted on for millennia, has been bastardized by modern chemistry and farming practices into becoming a bane to eaters.
The only way consumers can get relief is to:
1.     Purchase and eat only organically-grown foodstuffs.
2.     Boycott food purveyors who do not meet healthful standards and practices for the products they produce and sell.
3.     Complain in writing to federal and state agencies about toxins in the food supply.
4.     Support those who are taking steps to clean up the toxic mess food has become.
Bon app├ętit!
[9] Hirakawa K, Midorikawa K, Oikawa S, Kawanishi S. Carcinogenic semicarbazide induces sequence-specific DNA damage through the generation of reactive oxygen species and the derived organic radicals. Mutat Res. 2003 Apr 20;536(1-2):91-101
[10] Vlastos D, Moshou H, Epeoglou K. Evaluation of genotoxic effects of semicarbazide on cultured human lymphocytes and rat bone marrow. Food Chem Toxicol. 2010 Jan;48(1):209-14. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2009.10.002. Epub 2009 Oct 9.

What’s Wrong With Modern Wheat?

Friday, October 30, 2015

What should parents know about Tumblr?

Dear all,
Here is another article in the series from commonsense media that will help your keep up to date with your children's technology activities. Next week, Thursday November 5th we are holding our second commonsense Connecting with Families session. This session is about privacy and surveillance and will provide scope for conversations at home. I had an interesting conversation with my 6 year old son at the dinner table last night after he revealed that his latest trick in Mind-craft involved having another anonymous player helping him in his game. This led to an interesting discussion about inviting friends to our house to play; how this always involved asking permission, and that having a stranger playing with him on Mind craft was the same principle and that at his age we were not prepared to allow this to happen. We will be investigating this more closely as he expressed enjoyment at learning from another player and collaborating on line. Perhaps mum and dad are too cautious, but better to check things out and make a better informed decision.

Enjoy your weekend,

Tumblr is an unending streaming scrapbook of text, photos, videos, and audio clips. It pioneered the vibrant, graphic-rich, full-screen design that kids love (which is one reason Yahoo bought it for $1.1 billion 2013). And -- with more than a million blogs -- it remains one of the most popular places on the Web for creative types to design original pages, share cool things they discover, and follow others with similar interests. On Tumblr, the goal of many users is to be "reblogged" (as opposed to racking up likes, as with Instagram), which makes the service feel like a creative community bonded by shared interests -- and not a popularity contest.
Tumblr is unique because of the wide variety of content that users can post from their phones or computers. Not only can they text and post photos, they also can offer up quotes, links, music, voice messages, and videos. It all shows up on a member's page along with a stream of posts from people they're following. This ability to post instantaneously can be a risk for impulsive teens (or any teens, really), so if your kid likes Tumblr, it's a good idea to talk about thinking before you post.
The key concerns for parents are privacy and inappropriate content. Tumblr posts are public by default. Users also don't have to use their real names (in fact, Tumblr will assign you an interesting username if you don't create one yourself), so you can stay fairly anonymous. On the Web version, you can prevent people from finding you through your email address, but the app version doesn't offer that setting.
Plus, in all of Tumblr's creative self-expression, it's easy to find both mature content (which you can't filter) and "native advertising" -- ads designed to look like regular content.
As with any social-networking site, it's important to talk to your kids about what's OK to post and what should remain private. Also discuss what you can do if someone posts something inappropriate (for example, reporting that person for violating Tumblr's terms of service). And help your kid develop media-literacy skills by noticing how advertisers use a site's signature style to bury their messages.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Everything You Need to Know About the New SAT

The new SAT will soon arrive on a wave of bold promises. The College Board has said its redesigned admission test would contain “no more mysteries.” Instead of being a riddle to solve, it would correspond with high-school curriculums and better reflect what students have learned.

The pitch sounds good. But is it true?

In the spirit of good prep, let’s review what we know so far. The new SAT, which debuts in March, will look a lot different from the current version. Instead of three sections, there will be two: Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. Each will be scored on a 200-to-800 scale. There will no longer be a penalty for guessing, and the odds will be better (the number of possible answers will decrease from 5 to 4). The now-required essay will be optional.

The test draws heavily from the Common Core — math and reading benchmarks adopted by most states. Those standards emphasize evidence-based interpretations of texts, vocabulary used in college and careers, and depth-over-breadth math skills. And yes, although the exam will not be the mirror image of the ACT, the two are about to become much more similar.

The changes get mixed reviews. Some testing experts who’ve studied the College Board’s sample questions describe them as more relevant and less gimmicky. Others foresee problems, especially for those who struggle with reading.

“The new SAT will align better with what kids are learning in school,” said Ned Johnson, founder of PrepMatters, a test-preparation service in Bethesda, Md., and co-author of “Conquering the SAT.” “But if you haven’t gone to a school that’s prepared you well, the test isn’t going to serve you well.”

Although the SAT is evolving, not all of its stripes are changing. Test-taking savvy is still going to make a big difference when students pick up those No. 2 pencils. So let’s take a closer look at some of the changes — and why they matter.

First, the reading section won’t be so “recondite,” because obscure words like that are disappearing. The test will no longer ask students to complete sentences. Now they will have to derive the meaning of widely used words based on context. Test takers should expect to see words that can be used in different ways (“measured,” “disposed”). Instead of recalling a definition from vocabulary flash cards, they’ll have to read prose passages carefully to choose an answer.

How should students prepare? By reading often and diving into various kinds of texts, especially nonfiction, tutors say. That’s more a long-term strategy than a quick test-prep trick. Habitual reading can also help on the writing section, which will demand prolonged concentration. To answer questions about grammar, punctuation and usage, students will have to wade through extended passages relating to history, humanities and science.

What’s true of the writing section is true of the new SAT in general: There’s much more to read. “The most fundamental change is that there are many, many more words,” said Aaron Golumbfskie, education director for PrepMatters. “If you don’t read well and happily, this test isn’t going to be your friend.”

Even the math section will require more reading, with fewer questions based on equations and more word problems. Some prompts will present the same type of real-world situations that the Common Core emphasizes — “The recommended daily calcium intake for a 20-year-old is 1,000 milligrams (mg). One cup of milk contains 299 mg....” Mr. Golumbfskie describes the math section as “tighter in focus.” The current test covers a lot of ground, with a question or two on each topic; the new one will drill down into a few key areas. Geometry is fading out. Algebra is stepping up: Prepare for linear equations and inequalities, and systems of equations in two variables.

The addition of more-advanced math, such as trigonometry, means the test will cover material from a greater number of courses. That will make it more difficult for students to take the SAT early. Some questions will require knowledge of statistics, a course relatively few students take in high school. And because one math section will prohibit the use of a calculator, students who use them in class may want to practice tackling calculations with pencil and paper.

After getting through all that math, test takers who opt to write the essay will have a much different assignment than they do today. The prompts, which will look familiar to those who’ve taken Advanced Placement English, ask for a critical response to a specific argument. In: analysis. Out: writing about your personal experiences. For example: Read excerpts from a 1967 speech by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and explain how he used evidence, reasoning and/or stylistic elements to support his argument that American involvement in the Vietnam War was unjust.

As much as any other modification, the new essay captures the spirit of the new SAT, which underscores the importance of evidence. Questions throughout will require students to cite specific examples that support their answers. No longer can they get by on writing skills alone.
With all the new stuff to consider, it’s easy to forget about what’s not changing. At 3 hours 50 minutes (with the essay), the SAT is still a long, exhausting test. Besides measuring what students have learned, it will measure how they perform under pressure in a high-stakes situation — just like the old model.

Adam Ingersoll, a founder of Compass Education Group, a California test-prep service, said the College Board has made the SAT more resistant to the beat-the-test strategies his industry is known for teaching: “The mysteriousness of the test — they are actively trying to bleed that out.”

But maybe not completely. While poring over sample questions, Mr. Ingersoll spotted the same “trap doors” — questions designed to distract or confuse and to enhance the test’s difficulty — that he finds in the current version.

Colleges use the SAT to sort applicants, and a wide distribution of scores helps them do that. “You can’t have all students getting a 750,” Mr. Ingersoll said. “It needs to be a benchmark of students’ achievement, but that is at odds with selective colleges’ need to have a test that sorts and ranks. These quirks and trap doors make the test perform the way it needs to.”

So the big question burning up the web: Which version should I take? The answer could come down to timing. Students have just three more chances to take the current SAT — the last testing date is Jan. 23.

One advantage of sticking with the current version: It’s a known quantity, and plenty of review materials exist. Those who were happy with their PSAT scores might want to take the soon-to-be-old SAT, which would look familiar to them. “There’s not a test-prep tutor anywhere who could look a family in the eye and say, ‘We can do as good a job for you on the new SAT this year,’ ” Mr. Ingersoll said.

Most students take the SAT for the first time in spring of their junior year. Those who don’t want to rush might decide that the new test, though less familiar, fits their schedule better. But remember this: The first cohort to take the new SAT, in March, won’t get their scores until after the next test date, in May. That’s about double the current wait time.

The second question everyone is asking: Is the new test harder? No, several test preppers insist, though some students might stumble over the longer reading passages, the deeper dive into math and questions that require multiple steps to reach an answer. Those concerns could drive many students to take the old test — or the ACT.

Some expect that the new SAT will be even more challenging for the disadvantaged. By weaving more tightly into high-school curriculum, the test would seem to best serve students at high-performing schools, with the strong teachers who prepare them for state standards, as well as affluent students with access to test prep.

“There’s a new body style on the Chevrolet, but it has zero to do with performance — the engine’s the same,” said Jay Rosner, the Princeton Review Foundation’s executive director, who tutors low-income and underrepresented minority students. “It’s going to generate the same hierarchy of scores that exists now.”

Monday, October 26, 2015

How Can Adults Support Student Success Without Stressing Them Out?

Kids who go to elite private high schools enjoy lots of advantages. They have access to the most challenging academic classes at reputable institutions, with staffs that are well-equipped to help them prepare for college. Parents pay an average of $10,000 per year to ensure their kids this privilege.
And yet the rigor that these opportunities demand can come with an extra cost for the students themselves. A recent study surveyed and interviewed students at a handful of these high schools and found that about half of them are chronically stressed. The results aren’t surprising—between the homework required for Advanced Placement classes, sports practices, extracurricular activities like music and student government, and SAT prep, the fortunate kids who have access to these opportunities don’t have much downtime these days. These experiences can cause kids to burn out by the time they get to college, or to feel the psychological and physical effects of stress for much of their adult lives, says Marya Gwadz, a senior research scientist at the New York University College of Nursing.
The problem is that at least some of that academic pressure is warranted. It’s more competitive than ever to get into college, so it’s incumbent on students with the wherewithal to apply to the most competitive schools to present the strongest possible portfolio, and their parents and teachers push them to do so. These kids find different tactics for coping, sometimes in ways that aren’t healthy. So how can administrators and parents start to change the culture of stress while still pushing kids to reach their full potential?
At its most basic, stress is defined as any change or pressure in the environment. Most people think of stress as a bad thing, but in reality most people need some of it. “A little stress and in moderation can be helpful to high schoolers in so many ways. It motivates them to study, to do better. It helps push them,” says Mary Alvord, a psychologist specializing in teens based in Maryland. Adolescence is an important time to learn to deal with stress because teens can then deal with it better in college and in their adult lives.
But too much stress has many effects on the body and mind, Alvord says. In the short term it can cause anxiety; over long periods of time, elevated levels of stress hormones can degrade the immune system, cause heart problems, exacerbate respiratory and gastrointestinal issues, and bring on chronic anxiety and depression. That’s bad for anyone, but it can be especially bad for high schoolers: “Colleges are complaining that kids are disengaged, they’re dropping out, taking a long time to graduate. It’s not developmentally appropriate for them to work so hard,” says Gwadz, one of the authors of the recent study. And since everyone has a different psychological capacity for stress, it’s hard to know when a student is pushed to the point of degrading his or her health.
The study, published recently in the journal, Frontiers in Psychology, focused on students in two elite East Coast high schools, a population that has received surprisingly little research attention. The researchers surveyed and interviewed 128 students, teachers, and administrators about students’ stress levels and coping strategies. They found that 49 percent of students reported feeling “a great deal of stress” on a daily basis. Half reported doing three or more hours of homework per night, and 26 percent noted that they had been diagnosed with depression—over four times the national average of 6 percent.
Pinpointing where this stress is coming from is no easy task. “Students described that schoolwork, grades, and college admissions constituted their greatest sources of stress,” the study reads. But many students are only stressed about these things because they internalize pressures from parents, teachers, and peers. School culture undoubtedly plays a large role. “Indeed, chronic stress has been cited as the new ‘cultural currency’ in highly competitive private schools, where students often equate their schools’ level of rigor with the amount of stress experienced by its students,” the study authors write.
Importantly, chronic stress doesn’t just happen to privileged, wealthy kids—in fact, its effects are likely most pronounced on the upper and lower extremes of the socioeconomic ladder, says Bo Paulle, a sociology professor at the University of Amsterdam and author of Toxic Schools, which details Paulle’s years of field work in the South Bronx. But comparing stress levels at wealthy and high-poverty schools may prove to be an apples-to-oranges analysis because the causes are so different. “Schools are stressful at the bottom because of physical safety,” Paulle says, citing examples of dangerous scenarios to which some of the highest-poverty schools are prone: stabbings, gang activity, fights for perceived slights. And as a result the stress that these students experience is likely more intense—exponentially greater, Paulle estimates—and more woven into the fabric of their everyday lives than the stresses students experience at elite high schools. It’s hard to isolate the stressors at low-income schools from those outside of school, such as family issues or unstable living conditions. But even those parents who make their children’s education a top priority are often still powerless to prevent the stress that comes with the school environment. “Those parents don’t have economic or social resources to keep their kids out of these stressful schools,” Paulle says.
The stress that students experience at these schools may be more all-consuming than at the elite schools, but the way cope with it is surprisingly universal. “We learn a lot by modeling,” Alvord says—teens mimic de-stressing techniques of those they see around them and figure out what works. Hopefully, she adds, they’re lucky enough to see some healthy coping strategies, like exercise, meditation, listening to or playing music, planning busy days or weeks in advance, or talking about the issue with family or friends.
But if they’re less fortunate, or the chronic stress is too intense, they seek less healthy methods of coping with the pressure. Students in low-income communities struggle to find models of good stress-relief tactics around them, Paulle says. Many find themselves unequipped to talk about earlier traumas that may be affecting their behavior as teenagers; instead, even if they know better, they find themselves lashing out or totally shutting down. “We’re giving them nothing to actually cope with this, no constant relationships, and maybe one guidance counselor,” Paulle says. “And when I was in the Bronx, no one was talking about how your body constantly being on alert [the result of chronic stress] is going to alter your behavior.”
Another common way in which teens avoid the issue, no matter their income level, is in drugs or alcohol. In the study of the elite high schools, 38 percent of the students surveyed claimed that they had been drunk in the last month, though few noted that they had gotten in trouble for doing so. Past research shows that the numbers are pretty much the same for students in low-income schools. Starting substance use when a student is just maturing to adulthood can be particularly damaging, Gwadz says—it’s a quick fix to forget about the real problem at hand instead of dealing with it, and can also lead to addiction in the long term.
Though past studies have focused more on the psychology of stress, in the future, researchers studying student stress will likely incorporate information about biological aspects, measuring students’ stress-hormone levels to determine the most stressful factors, and even compare the physiology of stressed and non-stressed students in the same environment. But in the meantime, how do parents and teachers start to create the right kind of school environment for students, one in which the kids are preparing as best they can for college—and with the right amount of stress—but aren’t killing themselves in the process?
“That’s the million dollar question,” Gwadz says. Parents are often the first groupto be blamed for their kids’ stress, since many equate their children’s success with their own, or push their kids to go to an Ivy League college because the parents assume that will help them lead happier lives. But Gwadz thinks that blaming parents is a mistake—the issue is often bigger than just a family dynamic, and it’s hard to know what’s best for your kids.
Parents can still help their children cope, however. Alvord suggests that parents help their kids find balance, even in their most stressful periods, by encouraging them enjoy free moments and helping them find coping strategies that work for them. Sometimes, parents who address their children’s stress head-on find themselves rejiggering their family values, Gwadz says. Parents ask themselves: What is really the most important thing for my kid?
Ideally, the school culture would shift as well, though Paulle is not very optimistic about it. “School cultures reflect the greater competitive environment of global capitalism,” Paulle says. “Our current system is a warped manifestation of our general anxiety about downward social mobility and what it takes to move up.” But Paulle is more hopeful that equipping kids to learn better coping strategies will help them to thrive within a dysfunctional system.
Schools can help students achieve that by teaching them coping strategies as part of the curriculum, at both ends of the socioeconomic ladder. There are programs that do this, such as the Guiding Rage Into Power (GRIP) program piloted at San Quentin state prison in California. Programs like GRIP haven’t been tested in schools, nor modified to be culturally and developmentally appropriate for students, but researchers are starting figure out what kinds of adjustments would be necessary to do so. “The best thing we can do is really giving these kids the types of programs to teach them to cope, and integrating them front and center into the curricula along with insights from neurobiology,” Paulle says.

In some ways the most elegant solution is the one that is the most difficult to execute: letting students themselves learn to strike an equilibrium between stress and relaxation, especially when stress seems to be the more powerful force. “It comes down to balance,” Alvord says. “You can’t be ‘on’ 24/7. How can you allocate some time to an activity that can help relieve stress?” Sometimes those activities can look good on a college application, too—a student who plays recreational (not hyper-competitive) soccer for many years is moving to relieve stress and also shows college that she can persevere; clearing hiking trails can be relaxing and constitute community service hours that many kids need to graduate. Teens especially need to make time to sleep. “If you don’t sleep enough, your mood and performance are affected,” Alvord says—an easy fact to forget when students are staying up until 1 a.m. doing homework and getting up at 6 a.m. to go to school.
The authors of the Frontiers study didn’t write about any concrete solutions, either for the wealthy high-school students they studied or those in low-income communities. They hope to address them in future research; “The next step for us would be to develop more actionable strategies and policies, relying on experts, and helping schools interpret the data that we collect,” Gwadz says. “Everyone wants to know what the solution is.”
Paulle assumes that whatever solutions the researchers find will be implemented slowly. “Everyone’s got a role to play. We have to collectively reorient ourselves [towards addressing student stress] and slowly but surely use the insights into what actually works and determine how might it be best translated across different groups of students.”

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Replacing Screen time with green time

Dear all,

I thought this is a very appropriate article to post for you following a week vacation. It certainly made me reflect on my failings towards my son Kenneth following this week's vacation. unfortunately I had to work this vacation and consequently my son didn't get the green time that he should have to remain healthy and flourishing. Did you give your son's and daughters that necessary break from HCMC? Several of my colleagues have been concerned about the amount of time I work and spend in HCMC. They have created a get away schedule for me that I intend to follow. I am very grateful to them for their concern about me and my families well-being. As adults it is important that we reflect upon what is good for our children and make the effort to build that into our lifestyles.

There are some good links embedded in this article that are also worth reading.

Have a good week,
Photo: Replacing screen time with green time is good for kids
The keys to change are clear education about the benefits of nature exposure and reducing social and economic barriers to change. (Credit: Melissa Lem)
Melissa Lem is a Toronto family physician who also works in rural and remote communities across Canada. Much of her childhood was spent exploring the beautiful parks and green spaces of Ontario. She holds a faculty appointment with the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto, is a regular guest blogger on the environment and health for Evergreen, and enjoys being the resident medical expert on CBC television's lifestyle show Steven and Chris. Docs Talk asked Dr. Lem how contact with nature can affect child development.

Docs Talk: What are some of the problems you are seeing in children who don't have a strong connection to nature? How common are these kinds of health issues in children?

Dr. Lem: Time spent in nature is essential for healthy psychological and physical development in children. In fact, some researchers suggest that daily doses of "green time" can be used to prevent and treat many medical conditions.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder gets a lot of attention in the media and occurs in five to 10 per cent of Canadian children. Continuous immersion in urban environments can overstimulate youth with and without ADHD, leading to symptoms of inattention and impulsiveness. The substitution of active outdoor play with indoor sedentary behaviours is also a major culprit in weight gain and obesity, which affect one in four Canadian children. This is raising the childhood incidence of traditionally adult diseases like hypertension, diabetes and cholesterol issues.
Other ailments including myopia, asthma, depression and slower social and motor skills development have also been linked to reduced nature exposure.

Docs Talk: What kind of research has been in done in this area?

Dr. Lem: Green space exposure has a wealth of positive effects on pediatric health outcomes.
The existing research is impressive regarding mental health benefits. For example,ADHD symptoms improve significantly after children spend time in nature, with increased benefits seen in more green locations. Girls with greener views from their home windows score higher on measures of self-discipline. Also, depression and anxiety disorders are less prevalent in youth who have greater amounts of nature in their living environments.
Connection to nature also improves indicators of physical health. Studies show that children who spend more time outdoors and live closer to parks engage in more physical activity. It follows that proximity to green space significantly improves the likelihood that a child will maintain a healthy weight. What's more, regular childhood exposure to green space fosters increased preference for nature-based recreation. Natural settings are ideal for children to cultivate creativity and social skills as they enjoy their recommended one hour or more of unstructured playtime per day.

Docs Talk: What kind of activities do you recommend parents do with their children to help them connect with nature?

Dr. Lem: There are two major concepts to consider: role modelling and active involvement of the child. One of the most effective ways parents can strengthen their child's connection to nature is to minimize screen time and embrace green time themselves. The other is to promote a mix of both parent-supervised and independent outdoor play, which encourages children to form and build upon their own nature experiences.
Fun family activities can range from planting a garden to a weekend camping vacation in a provincial park. The backyard is a safe and stimulating place for younger children to explore green space. Encourage them to cloud watch, build a fort, collect stones or come up with their own nature-based games. Outdoor, environment-based volunteering can be an effective way for younger and older children to build self-esteem and strong family and peer relationships.

Docs Talk: What more needs to be done to convince parents, doctors and educators of the benefits of connecting children with nature?

Dr. Lem: It can be hard to see the forest — or the trees, for that matter — for adults who are accustomed to living in spaces defined by asphalt and concrete. The keys to change are clear education about the benefits of nature exposure and reducing social and economic barriers to change.
Doctors should remember to integrate counselling about screen time and outdoor activity into routine checkups. Nature prescriptions may also motivate children to increase their green time. If the pediatric obesity epidemic continues, scientists predict that this generation may be the first with a shorter life expectancy than their parents. This should be a huge wake-up call for all of us.
Author Richard Louv coined the term "nature deficit disorder" to describe the health issues linked to the modern divide between children and the outdoors. His award-winning book Last Child in the Woods is an important resource for parents and educators.

Docs Talk: What can we do to make our communities more "nature-friendly" for kids?

Dr. Lem: Our physical and cultural environments must be designed to allow children to benefit from natural settings during recreation and everyday life. Mixed-use residential areas with green corridors increase the likelihood that children will walk or bike to school and play. Protected urban green spaces have also been shown to reduce health inequalities between children from low- and high-income families. Communities can create natural playscapes that reflect the area's environmental heritage instead of building artificial playgrounds.
Changes in school and educational culture are also vital. Simple measures like planting trees and grass in sight of classroom windows can promote more effective learning. Green time ought to be incorporated into physical education, recess breaks and even regular class hours.
The importance of childhood nature access should be reflected in government policy, whether it be through bylaws mandating child-friendly green space in new urban development projects, tax credits for enrolling children in nature-based recreational programs or ensuring affordable family access to national parks. Now is the time to invest in communities that will raise healthy and resilient stewards of the environment.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Digital citizen week at commonsense media: Time to have the Talk

Dear all,

An area that I find many parents are fearful of addressing their children about is the internet. I believe this is because we see our sons and daughters as digital natives. This term was put forward by Marc Prensky in the early days of the 21st century and has invited much discussion, as it implied a gap between those who have grown up surrounded by technology and their parents and teachers who have not. I have to admit that at first I saw much truth in this argument but as the years have passed I now believe that just being surrounded by technology may make you a native but that doesn't necessarily mean that you know more than digital immigrants who are willing to learn.Yes, your sons and daughters may hear about the latest apps and trends first but that doesn't mean you can't keep up to date as well. As with many 21st century adolescent fads they pass quickly and are rarely analysed or investigated deeply by our children. I believe it is very possible for parents who are willing to spend time on sites like commonsense media to be able to engage their children in conversations about how and why they use technology and the internet.

Be brave, start to talk to your children about what they are doing on the internet.


It’s Time to Have “The Talk”
You don’t have to be an expert on texting, Instagram, Minecraft -- or whatever else your kids are into -- to have The Talk. Start by reading up on what's going on in your kids’ world (foryounger kids and older kids). Ask them to show you what they like online, and why. Make sure to listen :) Then, express a few basic expectations, with the understanding that this isn't a one-and-done kind of chat. Good luck (you’ll be fine)!
Here are the 5 basics to cover during The Talk:
Try to instill a sense of empathy in your kids. Remember: there’s someone else on the other side of the screen.
  • Younger kids: Treat others like you want to be treated -- and always follow a website’s rules for behavior. Ask: How do you see other kids behaving online? What are some nice things you’ve seen other kids do?
  • Older kids: Post constructive comments, and avoid getting into flame wars with trolls. Ask:What kind of positive behavior do you see online?
Talk about what’s OK for kids to share online and what’s not.
  • Younger kids: Get kids to think about safety without scaring them. Don’t share your name, address, school, age, etc. Ask: Why don’t we want strangers to know certain things about us or our family?
  • Older kids: Don’t broadcast your location, send photos to strangers, or share passwords with friends. Ask: What kind of information can be unsafe to share, and what’s fair game?
Just because it’s online doesn’t make it true. Not everybody is who they say they are.
  • Younger kids: Teach kids to be detectives. Ask: How can you tell whether something is true online? What are some signs that something might not be true?
  • Older kids: Use reputable sources. Learn to recognize red flags. Ask: How can you tell what’s a reliable source of information? What are some signs something’s a scam?
Think before you post. Use privacy settings.
  • Younger kids: Help kids understand what sharing something online means. Ask: Who can see what you’re doing or saying online?
  • Older kids: Encourage kids to pause before they act. Ask: What are some questions you can ask yourself before you share something online? Have you ever regretted something you’ve posted or said online?
If someone’s getting bullied or picked on, speak up, report it, or reach out.
  • Younger kids: Make sure kids know they can come to you for help. Teach them how to flag misbehavior. Ask: What would you do if you saw someone being mean online or in a game?
  • Older kids: Give kids tools to use in a crisis. Ask: If someone was being mean to you online, what would you want your friends to do? Do you know how to flag or report bullying on a social network or in a multiplayer game?
Download these tips. For more questions (and answers!), check out our Parent Concerns

This Is The #1 Mistake Parents Make When Arguing With Kids

Dear all,
This post comes from a blog by Eric Barker that I look forward to reading each week. It is always well researched and full of excellent links that give you a deeper understanding of the topic. I decided to share this week's post on Barking up the Wrong Tree because in this day and age our children always seem to hold all the cards when they discuss/ argue with us as parents. This post, gives us the adults, strategies that we can use to take control of our conversations with our children and hopefully move to a situation where there is a win/ win for all concerned. Remembering to follow these four strategies should make our children feel loved, listened to, and understood even when the answer is, No.
Have a good week,

How do you deal with out of control kids?

The authors of the bestseller How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk have some great ideas that can help any parent. It's really powerful, impressive advice.

But here's the odd thing: reading the book, I could have swore I had seen similar ideas before. And I had...

When I was interviewing and researching FBI hostage negotiators.

No, your 9-year-old Jimmy probably isn't committing serious acts of violence (except maybe against his sister) and your teenager Debbie probably isn't going barricade (except maybe in her room with the music on full blast) but many of the principles that are effective for dealing with terrorists, bank robbers and evildoers will also work with your children.

Seriously, these fundamental principles of communication can help you deal with anyone. So let's see what parenting experts and hostage negotiators can teach us, and how it can make for a more peaceful, happier home.

Most importantly, parents often make a mistake at the beginning of their arguments with kids that no hostage negotiator would ever make. And when a conversation starts badly, it's often downhill from there.

What's this error?

Don't Deny Their Feelings

The FBI has the bank surrounded. But the robbers have taken hostages. It's a tense standoff and the bad guys are demanding food be sent in. They say they're hungry.

The hostage negotiator lifts the phone and says, "Oh, stop it. You just ate. Quit complaining and just cut it out!"

Um, no. An FBI negotiator would never do that. But parents do it with their kids all the time. And the result is often more screaming, more tears, and more hysteria. What's the problem here?

Denying their feelings.

Now as a parent you can't be overly permissive and give a kid everything they want. But a hostage negotiator wouldn't do that either -- maybe the bad guys get the food when they ask for it and maybe they don't. But negotiators wouldn't say, "You're not hungry. Cut it out!"

Of course, parents have to deny actions ("No, Billy, we should not see what happens if we use the weedwacker in the living room.") But parents often take it a step further and deny what a child is feeling.

Human beings don't like this. I don't like this. You don't like this. What's the typical reaction when you tell an angry person to calm down? "I AM CALM!!!"

And that's an adult. Do you expect a kid to have more control over their emotions than a full grown person? I didn't think so.

(For more tips from FBI hostage negotiators on how to get what you want, click here.)

So what's the right way to start the conversation? Here's what parenting experts and hostage negotiators agree on...

1) Listen With Full Attention

The child is crying and you're at your breaking point. It's easy to reply with something like this:

From How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk:
  • “Your retainer can’t hurt that much. After all the money we’ve invested in your mouth, you’ll wear that thing whether you like it or not!”
  • “What are you talking about? You had a wonderful party— ice cream, birthday cake, balloons. Well, that’s the last party you’ll ever have!”
  • “You have no right to be mad at the coach. It’s your fault. You should have been on time.”
But denying their feelings like this typically escalates situations.

Think about arguments with your partner. They say, "I feel ignored." You reply with, "No, you're not." How well is that going to go? Exactly. And it's no different with kids. When people deny our feelings we naturally fight back.

So start with listening. You feel better when people listen to you and it's the same for kids.

From How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk:
...let someone really listen, let someone acknowledge my inner pain and give me a chance to talk more about what’s troubling me, and I begin to feel less upset, less confused, more able to cope with my feelings and my problem... The process is no different for our children. They too can help themselves if they have a listening ear and an empathic response.

And hostage negotiators agree. The FBI uses what they call the "behavioral change stairway." And listening is always the first step.

Former FBI Lead International Hostage Negotiator Chris Voss explains the power of listening:
If while you’re making your argument, the only time the other side is silent is because they’re thinking about their own argument, they’ve got a voice in their head that’s talking to them. They’re not listening to you. When they’re making their argument to you, you’re thinking about your argument, that’s the voice in your head that’s talking to you. So it’s very much like dealing with a schizophrenic. If your first objective in the negotiation, instead of making your argument, is to hear the other side out, that’s the only way you can quiet the voice in the other guy’s mind. But most people don’t do that. They don’t walk into a negotiation wanting to hear what the other side has to say. They walk into a negotiation wanting to make an argument. They don’t pay attention to emotions and they don’t listen.

(To learn the 4 new parenting tips that will make your kids awesome, click here.)

The term the FBI actually uses is "active listening." What's the active part? That brings us to step 2...

2) Acknowledge Their Feelings

"I know how you feel."

Don't say that. When people are emotional and hear, "I know how you feel" they think you're trying to shut them up. Or they snap back, "No, you don't."

Instead of saying you understand, show them you understand. It's the difference between someone saying to you, “I’m funny” vs. them making you laugh for 30 minutes straight.

So how do you do show them you're listening? FBI hostage negotiators use "paraphrasing." It's simple: repeat back to them what they said in your own words. From my interview with Chris Voss:
The idea is to really listen to what the other side is saying and feed it back to them. It’s kind of a discovery process for both sides. First of all, you’re trying to discover what’s important to them, and secondly, you’re trying to help them hear what they’re saying to find out if what they are saying makes sense to them.

Some parents might say, "But what my teenager is saying is crazy!"

You don't have to agree with the feelings but acknowledging them is what gets kids (or anyone) to say to themselves, “This person understands me.” And then they can start to see you as being on their side, which is the first step in resolving problems.

FBI behavioral expert Robin Dreeke explains:
The number one strategy I constantly keep in the forefront of my mind with everyone I talk to is non-judgmental validation. Seek someone else’s thoughts and opinions without judging them. People do not want to be judged in any thought or opinion that they have or in any action that they take. It doesn’t mean you agree with someone. Validation is taking the time to understand what their needs, wants, dreams and aspirations are.

But parents often don't do this. They launch immediately into advice and lecturing. Clinical psychologists say you can't do this when arguments are still heated.

And neuroscientists agree. When we deny people's feelings, the logical parts of their brain literally shut down.

From Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential:
When an argument starts, persuasion stops... So what happened in people’s brains when they saw information that contradicted their worldview in a charged political environment? As soon as they recognized the video clips as being in conflict with their worldview, the parts of the brain that handle reason and logic went dormant. And the parts of the brain that handle hostile attacks — the fight-or-flight response — lit up.

And there's another problem with immediately trying to resolve the argument with a lecture: you don't give your kid a chance to work the problem out themselves. And this is what, over the long term, we all want most for our children.

From How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk:
When we give children advice or instant solutions, we deprive them of the experience that comes from wrestling with their own problems.

Hostage negotiator Chris Voss says that when you demand people act a certain way, you threaten their autonomy -- and so they naturally resist. When you let them arrive at a solution on their own (or with gentle guiding) they're more likely to comply.

Now this doesn't mean that everything a child says is okay. You're still the parent, after all. When kids push the limits and say things like "I hate you!" it's alright to draw a line.

From How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk:
If “I hate you” upsets you, you might want to let your child know, “I didn’t like what I just heard. If you’re angry about something, tell it to me in another way. Then maybe I can be helpful.”

(To learn how to win every argument, click here.)

So you're letting them talk and you're actively listening. What's the first step in getting them to calm down?

3) Give Their Feelings A Name

"Labeling" is very powerful. Seeing a child's anger and simply saying, "Sounds like you're really angry" can actually make a big difference.

But parents are often reluctant to do this. The parenting experts explain:
Parents don’t usually give this kind of response, because they fear that by giving a name to the feeling they’ll make it worse. Just the opposite is true. The child who hears the words for what she is experiencing is deeply comforted. Someone has acknowledged her inner experience.

(Don't worry about using the wrong label. Trust me, they'll correct you. But it still shows you are trying to understand them.)

FBI hostage negotiators feel labeling is one of their most powerful techniques.

Via Crisis Negotiations, Fourth Edition: Managing Critical Incidents and Hostage Situations in Law Enforcement and Corrections:
A good use of emotional labeling would be “You sound pretty hurt about being left. It doesn’t seem fair.” because it recognizes the feelings without judging them. It is a good Additive Empathetic response because it identifies the hurt that underlies the anger the woman feels and adds the idea of justice to the actor’s message, an idea that can lead to other ways of getting justice. A poor response would be “You don’t need to feel that way. If he was messing around on you, he was not worth the energy.” It is judgmental. It tells the subject how not to feel. It minimizes the subject’s feelings, which are a major part of who she is. It is Subtractive Empathy.

And neuroscience research validates that merely putting a label on things helps calm the brain.

From The Upward Spiral: one fMRI study, appropriately titled “Putting Feelings into Words” participants viewed pictures of people with emotional facial expressions. Predictably, each participant’s amygdala activated to the emotions in the picture. But when they were asked to name the emotion, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activated and reduced the emotional amygdala reactivity. In other words, consciously recognizing the emotions reduced their impact.

(To learn the 4 rituals that neuroscience says will make you and your family happier, click here.)

So the shouting and crying have subsided a bit. What's the next step?

4) Ask Questions

With adults, clinical psychologist Al Bernstein recommends asking, “What would you like me to do?”
Once you get the person to stop yelling, you say, “What would you like me to do?” The person has to stop and think at that point. What you want is to move an angry situation toward the possibility of negotiating. You can do that by simply asking, “What would you like me to do?” It moves them from their dinosaur brain to their cortex, and then negotiating is possible.

FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss takes a similar approach, using a question to make sure you don't threaten their autonomy.

Now as a parent you know that you can't always give kids what they want. Sometimes all you can do is let them know that you understand and you're on their side.

But the mistake parents make is trying to be too logical. This gets away from feelings and turns things into an extended debate.

From How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk:
When children want something they can’t have, adults usually respond with logical explanations of why they can’t have it. Often, the harder we explain, the harder they protest. Sometimes just having someone understand how much you want something makes reality easier to bear.

After listening, acknowledging feelings and labeling, they'll be calmer. Often, that's all it takes to be able to reason with them.

But if it's still a struggle, you want to use this calm to find a way to discover and address the child's underlying emotional need ("I don't feel like you trust me") instead of logically denying unreasonable demands ("I want to stay out until 2AM.")

(To learn FBI behavioral techniques for how to get people to like you, click here.)

Okay, we've covered a bunch of good stuff. Let's round it all up and see how this can work for everyone in your life...

Sum Up

Here's what parenting specialists and FBI hostage negotiators say can help you deal with out of control kids:
  • Listen With Full Attention: Everyone needs to feel understood. The big mistake is thinking kids are any different.
  • Acknowledge Their Feelings: Paraphrase what they said. Don't say you understand, show them you do.
  • Give Their Feelings A Name: "Sounds like you feel this is unfair." It calms the brain.
  • Ask Questions: You want to resolve their underlying emotional needs, not get into a logical debate.
Certainly there are going to be situations where you don't always have the time (or the patience) to go through all the steps. It's not easy. But by listening and focusing on feelings you can make a big difference.

And these principles can work with everyone in your life. Most human needs and feelings are universal.

In fact, clinical psychologist Al Bernstein recommends talking to every angry person like they're a child:
People say to me all the time, “You mean I have to treat a grown-up like a three-year-old?” I say, “Yes, absolutely.”

Feelings are messy and so we avoid them. But when it comes to the ones we love we often forget that, in the end, feelings are really all that matter.