Sunday, December 11, 2016

How Do Parents Honor the Benefits of Digital Devices While Limiting Kids’ Use?

We live in a world of screens. And in this digital age — with so many devices and distraction — it’s one of the things parents worry about most: How much time should their kids spend staring at their phones and computers? What’s the right balance between privacy and self-discovery?

Research continues to provide some answers on how parents are navigating this world. Just today, for example, there’s a new study outthat looks at nearly 2,000 parents — who have kids ages 8 to 18. Among the most surprising findings: People with children spend, on average, 9 hours and 22 minutes per day in front of a screen: texting, tweeting, Googling, checking the weather.

And despite spending a big chunk of their day with a device, most parents — 78 percent — told the researchers that they are modeling good media habits for their kids.

The report’s biggest takeaway? Screen time isn’t going anywhere. So let’s talk about it.

“Media and technology are essential to family life and to childhood and adolescence, and therefore we have to get more on top of it, ” says Jim Steyer. He’s the president and CEO of Common Sense Media, an organization that focuses on kids, media and technology, and the group behind the new research.

In this blog’s 2 1/2 years running, some of our most popular posts have touched on parenting questions.

Recently, we gathered a group of about 20 parents to talk about some of these questions. With help from Generation Listen, the group at NPR that connects with listeners in person to talk about stories and ideas, we settled in on the couches at the Manhattan headquarters of the nonprofit think tank Data & Society.

We started the night with some observations from NPR Ed: We don’t think there’s ever been a generation of parents that’s been so thoughtful about what they’re doing, but also sometimes nervous and whipsawed by confusion and by different sources.

Some parents offered advice and experience, others just came with questions. And the conversation quickly zeroed in on issues related to screens: both kids with their screens, and parents’ own use of online and digital media.

Here are some of the highlights:

What to do at home about screen time

Jessica Millstone has an 11-year-old and a 5-year-old and works for an ed-tech company called

“One thing that we kind of started talking a little bit about is that, when you are using your screens, what are you not doing? … You just don’t spend as much time talking to another person. How do we really encourage face-to-face stuff in the adolescent and older teen years as this technology really permeates every aspect of life?”

(New recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest creating a “family media plan” that emphasizes balancing tech with other activities.)

Jim Steyer, from Common Sense Media, suggests setting aside certain times where everyone can put down the devices: like at the dinner table, or in bed.

“As a parent, you are your child’s most important role model,” says Steyer. “How you use media, how you use technology and how much you use it, is critically important.”

Amanda Lenhart has four daughters ages 4 to 21, and researches kids and technology. She gave an example of when her daughter had to turn in her phone before a camping trip, and how much she wound up enjoying the time unplugged. “I think some teens and young adults and kids may be longing for time away from the technology as much they long for time on it.”

(Here’s a research study that suggests even a short break from technology can improve teenagers’ ability to read others’ emotions.)

Many parents shared that they are seeing their kids being very creative with technology, and they want to encourage that, but they still have mixed feelings.

Elle Cole, a blogger and the mother of 7-year-old twins, said that recently, one of her daughters came to her and told her she wanted to start her own YouTube channel, making videos about building with Legos. “But I’m very protective of her because I also know the dangers. … When she said that, I was like, ‘Oh, no,’ because to me, that’s a world that’s not always real.”

What about privacy and safety online?

Amanda Lenhart (speaking from both her personal experience and her research): “I think that a lot of adolescents are really quite thoughtful about the kinds of information and things that they’re sharing online. They’re thinking a lot about it, they’re curating what they place up in digital space. And a lot of that is partly because they want their peers to see a particular version of themselves, but also that we as parents and teachers and administrators and adults tell them that we’re watching.”

(Student privacy concerns continue to grow. Software installed on school-owned computers is often designed to track kids even when they’re at home, which leads to privacy concerns, our reporting found.)

Adanna Dill is a blogger and shares a lot of information about her young children, ages 6 and 3, online.

“I felt like there was a need for diversity in the mom-blogging sphere. So I wanted to share content with people who looked like me and understood what I was going through, but I felt like I had to share a little bit more about myself and my family for them to connect with me. So I started, slowly but surely, sharing my kids, sharing a bit more about my family. And it’s good, because now parents email me and they say, ‘Oh, my daughter has hair like yours, and I’m learning how to do her hair because of you sharing different things.’ But at the same time, sometimes I don’t feel very comfortable, because I don’t know who these people are. … I want to grow my community, but at the same time I want to protect my family, and I just really don’t know who’s out there, so there are periods where I stop posting about my kids for a while.”

What are schools doing with all this digital media? Are schools helping get kids engaged in digital creating?

Jessica Millstone told us that, based on her work in schools, “I’ve seen a huge shift in teachers. Younger teachers have a more fluent use of technology, but it still really lags from where the kids are.

“I do see that in a lot of the schools that I visit and I work in, where it’s really difficult to get something innovative or experimental or just plain fun into the classroom, and teachers need that. They seek that. They need ways to engage kids that are digital natives and who really expect a kind of digital experience.

“There is this atmosphere of kind of lockdown against electronics that comes into play, where there’s just a real bias against it from the beginning. I think it’s going to have to come from parent demand in some way — like, I need this to be part of what they do, so appropriate use is scaffolded and modeled, so they can build and use all of these tools for their learning, as well as their entertainment and fun.

“At the same time, I think that the motivation for a lot of schools to keep technology out is to provide a space in a world of ubiquitous technology, where for a few hours you are only speaking to people face-to-face and you are interacting in a more non-technologically based, mediated way. And I fully respect that too. I do wish more schools had sort of an intentional balance [around digital media].”

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Why Mindfulness is so useful for Middle School Students

“Release” is the 2nd in our series of Mindful Shorts, and it focuses on stress and anxiety as experienced by middle school kids. 70% of middle school students today report feeling “stressed out” — an alarming figure, and a sign that something must be done to help kids manage the sense of overwhelm and frustration they experience so that they can blossom into young adults who are equipped to navigate their way through life's challenges in a positive, productive way. We hope this film in some small way helps not just kids, but everyone who suffers from the toxic effects of stress and anxiety.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Warning Sounded on Tech Disrupting Student Sleep

In this 2013 photo, Lewisville Texas High School student Holly Weston studies at home with her digital devices at hand. Officials at schools with programs that encourage students to use devices are now thinking about how to create the right screen-time balance for students.
In this 2013 photo, Lewisville Texas High School student Holly Weston studies at home with her digital devices at hand. Officials at schools with programs that encourage students to use devices are now thinking about how to create the right screen-time balance for students.
—Mark Graham for Education Week-File
Educators who promote the use of education technology are working harder to caution students and parents about the impact of digital devicesand the "blue light" they emit, which can disrupt student sleep patterns.
A recent meta-analysis by British researchers has brought renewed attention to the issue, calling increased use of mobile devices at bedtime a "major public-health concern" for children and teenagers.
As many schools and districts shift to 1-to-1 device programs, often allowing students to take those devices home each night, education leaders are looking for ways to incorporate warnings about the detrimental effects of mobile devices on sleep.
"When we hand out iPads, we suggest they aren't stored in the bedroom," said Lawrence J. Mussoline, the superintendent of the 13,000-student Downingtown, Pa., district, which features a 1-to-1 iPad program for 6th graders, who take the devices home at night. "We don't want them trying to get in the mindset to go to sleep at night and then popping open this screen which emits blue light."
Children who used a portable media device at bedtime were more than 40% more likely to report poor sleep quality.
Nearly three-fourths of children and 89 percent of adolescents have at least one device in their sleep environment, with most of them used near bedtime, according to the new research paper, "Association Between Portable Screen-Based Media Device Access or Use and Sleep Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis." The study was published Oct. 31 online by the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
The review of 20 recent studies covering four continents and more than 125,000 children found a "strong and consistent association between bedtime media-device use and inadequate sleep quantity, poor sleep quality, and excessive daytime sleepiness." Similar negative effects were found for children who had access to such devices, even if they did not use them before bedtime.

Finding the Right Balance

Patrick Larkin, the assistant superintendent of the 3,500-student Burlington, Mass., public schools, said his district is constantly thinking about how to create the right screen-time balance for students, both in and out of school. While the district is fully 1-to-1 with iPads, only students in grades 9-12 take the devices home.
"We are always clear that kids shouldn't be in front of a screen the majority of the day," he said. The new research, Larkin added, points to yet another reason why "kids shouldn't have the devices in their rooms."
Larkin recommends that parents set up a family charging station away from sleeping areas "to make sure kids are unplugged adequately before they go to bed," he said. "They shouldn't be in bed falling asleep while they're reading their Instagram."
However, that may be less of an issue for districts whose students take home laptops rather than tablets, Mussoline said. In his district, high school students are 1-to-1 with laptops—a bit more cumbersome to snuggle in bed with, he noted.
What the Research Says
A meta-analysis by British researchers that examined student sleep habits and mobile device use raised serious concerns about the impact of “blue light” on student sleep.
Among the researchers’ findings:
  • Children who used portable media devices at bedtime were about twice as likely to not sleep enough, compared with children who did not have access to a device.
  • Children who used a portable media device at bedtime were more than 40 percent more likely to report poor sleep quality than children who did not have access to a device.
  • There were also significantly increased odds of inadequate sleep quantity and poor sleep quality for children who had access to a media device near bedtime, even if they did not use it.
  • Children who had access to or used a portable media device at bedtime were more than twice as likely to demonstrate excessive daytime sleepiness than children without access to a device.
Mussoline also pointed out that many students aren't using their school-issued devices in bed, because nearly all have their own smartphones.
Districts, particularly those with 1-to-1 device programs, should incorporate some information about the impact on student sleep into digital-citizenship classes and training for parents, said Darri Stephens, the senior director of education content at Common Sense Education. The organization provides a digital-citizenship curriculumfor schools and districts as well as information for parents.
Within those programs, Stephens said, there are references to sleep and best-practices for how to balance device use.
"None of us adults grew up with these devices, so we're constantly urging parents to stay on top of the latest and greatest information," she said. "We want them to be cognizant about helping students find that healthy balance."

'Damaging Influence'

Schools and districts have already been focused on concerns about student sleep, but more so around school start times. Biological shifts during the teenage years drive the need for longer sleep periods and later wake times, research shows.
Students, parents, and some researchers also argue that teenage biology makes early-morning rising more difficult and many districts are seeing a push for later high school start times.
Sleep disturbances in childhood have been associated with other problems such as poor diet, sedentary behavior, obesity, reduced immunity, and substance abuse.
Previous studies have linked TVs, gaming consoles, and desktop computers to negative sleep outcomes. A major focus has been the effect of blue-light emissions, which can negatively affect humans' natural sleep patterns.
The new meta-analysis focuses on studies of "portable mobile and media devices" like smartphones. The researchers say they've found evidence that the devices present a new challenge to healthy sleep because they facilitate real-time, continuous psychological and physiological arousal and stimulation.
The study defines inadequate sleep quantity as less than 10 hours daily for children and less than nine hours daily for adolescents. Sleep quality is based on difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, as well as not being refreshed by sleep. Excessive daytime sleepiness is defined as "poor daytime functioning as a result of both sleep quantity and quality."
The researchers expressed particular concern about the effect on children's sleep because of schools' increasing shift to digital technology.

But adults need to take the same advice they're giving out to students, Mussoline of the Downingtown schools noted. Both he and Burlington's Larkin acknowledged that they keep their cellphones in their bedrooms at night. But both say their devices are powered down.
"Given the evolving technological landscape and the replacement of textbooks with media devices in schools, screen-based media-device access and use are likely to rise," the study says. "It is imperative that teachers, health-care professionals, parents, and children are educated about the damaging influence of device use on sleep."

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Eating Right Can Save the World

The endless cascade of nutritional information—about localism, vegetarianism, veganism, organic food, the environmental impact of eating meat, poultry, or fish, and more—makes the simple goal of a healthy, sustainable diet seem hopelessly complex. We talked to scientists, chefs, and farmers to get the ultimate rundown on how you should fuel up.

“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” That’s what the French lawyer Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who happened to have a deep love of gastronomy, wrote in 1825. A century later, a diet-hawking American nutritionist named Victor Lindlahr rendered it as: “You are what you eat.” I propose revising it further: Tell me what you eat and I will tell you how you impact the planet.
Most of us are aware that our food choices have environmental consequences. (Who hasn’t heard about the methane back draft from cows?) But when it comes to the specifics of why our decisions matter, we’re at a loss, bombarded with confusing choices in the grocery-store aisles about what to buy if we care about planetary health. Are organic fruits and vegetables really worth the higher prices, and are they better for the environment? If I’m a meat eater, should I opt for free-range, grass-fed beef? Is it OK to buy a pineapple flown in from Costa Rica, or should I eat only locally grown apples?
The science of food’s ecological footprint can be overwhelming, yet it’s important to understand it. For starters, in wealthy societies food consumption is estimated to account for 20 to 30 percent of the total footprint of a household. Feeding ourselves dominates our landscapes, using about half the ice-free land on earth. It sends us into the oceans, where we have fished nearly 90 percent of species to the brink or beyond. It affects all the planet’s natural systems, producing more than 30 percent of global greenhouse gases. Farming uses about 70 percent of our water and pollutes rivers with fertilizer and waste that in turn create vast coastal dead zones. The food on your plate touches everything."

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Not sure I will ever eat another gummy bear.

Many of us grew up enjoying gummy bears and gummy worms, and for some of us,
they're still a favorite treat - if that's you, we warn you that you may want to stop
reading now because what you're about to see is going to be a little, no VERY,
disturbing. In fact, the way most gum-based candy is made might scar you forever.

If you’ve ever had a vegetarian friend turn down a fruit snack or cup of Jello,
you probably learned that it’s because many of those products are made with gelatin.
Gelatin is a gelling agent. It's a yellowish, odorless, and nearly tasteless substance
that's made by prolonged boiling of skin, cartilage, and bones from animals.

Over eten - De weg van een snoepje from Eén on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Locker room talk as raised by Donald Trump

Dear all,
Political antics and poor role modeling can increase the need for proactive and thoughtful parenting of adolescents. The rhetoric of Donald Trump, magnified by the media, has highlighted this need more than ever because it has created the possibility that many boys will hear or witness his words and think they that this is the right way to behave. This article from Greater Good, out of the University of Southern California, Berkeley campus provides a guideline for parents on the need to address this topic and how to approach it.
I have taken out one Daily Show video because I found the humor distasteful as it focused on the "locker room" language which in itself was sexist. If youw ant to watch this 10 minute video the link to the full article is at the end.
Have a good weekend,

How to Talk with Boys about Trump’s Attitude Toward Women

By Jeremy Adam Smith | November 3, 2016 |
The GOP candidate's "locker-room talk" points to a problem that is bigger than one election. How can parents and teachers build a culture of consent and healthy communication? 
GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump has bragged about laying his hands to claim that he assaulted them. In the past and throughout the campaign, he has used raw and disrespectful language to describe women, including his opponent, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. When confronted about this language in the second presidential debate, Trump trivialized it as “locker-room talk.” 
My 12-year-old son overheard the “locker-room” statement as I watched the debate. “What are they talking about?” he asked. My heart sank and my mind went blank. I mumbled something, I don’t remember what. Then I rallied and said: “Donald Trump bragged about grabbing women without permission. He is not a good man.” To which my son said, “Yeah, he sucks.”

I have readily discussed Trump’s racial comments with my son, in part because he told me that he heard peers talking about them at school. Perhaps as a result, I get the distinct impression that my kids have come to think of Trump as a kind of American Voldemort. That’s fine with me. One survey of educators, published in April, found that Trump’s racial rhetoric triggered “fear” and “anxiety” in minority students. Worse, educators reported a rise in bullying against these students, sometimes using words heard in the campaign. I don’t want my boys to think that’s OK.
I don’t want them to think that about Trump’s sexual comments, either. And yet I’ve been extremely reluctant to discuss them with my son and stepson. Why? My middle-school boys are entering adolescence, so perhaps I’m experiencing fatherly jitters in confronting the fact that they are becoming sexual creatures. But the truth might be more complicated than that. Part of me fears that by drawing attention to Trump’s words I’ll be normalizing them. If I pretend Trump’s sexual attitudes don’t exist, then, an irrational part of me hopes, my boys will pretend with me.
I’m not alone. When I surveyed Facebook friends, almost all of them shared my ambivalence. Most assumed that their boys hadn’t heard the genital-grabbing comments. As one mother said, “My kids (both boys) are much more aware of Trump’s racist comments than sexist ones. Maybe they don’t hear us as parents talking about the p****-grabbing body-shaming as much as about the wall, deporting Muslims, etc.”
The trouble with this perspective: How is it that our boys could be so aware of Trump’s demeaning comments about, for example, Mexicans, but not about women?
It may have to do with the reluctance of children and parents to discuss sex with each other. If my own youth was any indication, most middle- and high-school boys would rather die than discuss sexual matters with their parents. Do you know what else I remember? A lot of very careless sexual talk with my friends, and all of us discovering pornography, often by the beds of our fathers. Who wants to discuss this stuff? It seems to me that we—both boys and parents—are participating in a conspiracy of silence, based mainly on embarrassment and shame.
Even if they’re not paying any attention to politics, most kids have smartphones by the time they finish middle school. That means they have access to whatever’s on the Internet, including pornography, and they likely encounter plenty of language that’s far worse than what the GOP candidate said. From this perspective, Trump is just a symptom. The challenge we face goes well beyond November 8, when Americans will pick either Trump or Clinton. The problem is cultural and psychological; we can’t defeat misogyny with one vote.
So what can parents and educators—especially men—do to stop the “Trump effect” on tween and teen boys, building a culture of sexual consent and open communication? It’s not enough, in my view, to simply say: Don’t do it, don’t denigrate women, don’t touch them without their permission. Our boys also need positive ideals to strive for—or at least some image of a man they are trying to become.
Here are some tips, submitted with a lot of humility, based on a combination of my personal experience and research.

1. Choose to speak with boys

Men should serve as an example to boys. This is a platitude, and a staple of articles like this one. And yet, in daily life, this advice can become remarkably tricky to put into practice.
The vast majority of fathers and male teachers will never commit sexual assault and would never, explicitly or implicitly, endorse the kind of behavior Trump does. Some think that’s enough. The trouble is that our children are surrounded by bad examples—and it is quite easy be silent in the face of words and actions like Trump’s. Many of us, I’m sure, just don’t know where to start when it comes time to speak up. We’re afraid of looking stupid.
My opinion? It’s more important to take an awkward stand (and risk teen ridicule) than to seem to take no stand at all. Our tweens and teens will learn about sexuality and violence. Our task is to prepare them for those lessons, as best we can. If the choice is between silence and a conversation, then I believe we need to pick conversation, every single time. That’s part of what it means to be an example, so that our boys will be more likely to speak up themselves, if confronted with words or behavior like Trump’s.
When my friend Chris—a health educator at a San Francisco public school—heard about the Access Hollywood video in which Trump bragged about grabbing women by the genitals, he didn’t wait: “I knew my 14-year-old son would probably see them skewering it the next night on Saturday Night Live.” So Chris texted him an article denouncing Trump’s comments, and added: “Remember that grabbing others—especially their breasts, butts or genitals—w/o consent is NEVER OK, and if you see someone doing that you should try to intervene.” Later, they talked about it in person, and then watched this clip from the Daily Show together.
This to me seems like a model response. Chris a) assumed his son would see it; b) immediately and unambiguously denounced the words and behavior; c) followed up the text with an in-person conversation; and d) engaged other media in the conversation, holding up positive examples alongside the negative one.
What if you hate Trump’s comments about women—but are voting for him anyway?
I think the first step is to admit that you face a real difficulty. It’s not that hard for me to imagine; I’ve voted for flawed candidates myself, because I supported their policies or felt that the other candidate was worse. It’s not my mission with this article to get anyone to change his vote. Here, I only ask this of us as men: Let’s not minimize the harm of words or behavior like Trump’s, when talking with our sons.

2. Speak with boys about pornography and consent

Trump’s comments about women are shocking because they seem pornographic.
There is no direct evidence that pornography fuels sexual violence—but sexual violence is pervasive in pornography, and it is routinely depicted in other corners of popular culture. Studies estimate that anywhere from one to two thirds of porn videos include aggressive physical acts, like spanking, choking, binding, gagging—or, yes, suddenly grabbing another person’s genitals, as Trump said he did.
These are images our boys will see, don’t doubt it for a second. Most research suggests that boys are first exposed to porn at age 11 or 12—which, as the father of two 12-year-old boys, I completely believe. Most of their peers have smartphones and unfettered access to the Internet. As they reach adolescence, they’re going to stumble across a lot of things they can’t un-see.
Speaking of which: What do you do in the bedroom? Many parents like to tie each other up, or so I’m told. Some might even break out the floggers and riding crops when they have a rare Saturday night to themselves. But there is a huge difference between what happens in real life and what happens in porn. There’s a critical element in the sex lives of kinky adults that is missing from most videos: The negotiation, trust, and consent that must accompany this kind of real-world sexual play.
One new study found that people who participate in BDSM (Bondage/Domination/Sado-Masochism) communities show “significantly lower levels of benevolent sexism, rape myth acceptance, and victim blaming” than did undergraduates or a group of random adults. This may seem paradoxical to some. BDSM scenes can appear, from the outside, to be forms of sexual assault, exploitation, or humiliation—and in pornography, all you see is what’s outside. What some might not understand, however, is that such scenes are (ideally) meticulously negotiated beforehand, and only unfold in conditions of trust among all parties.
That’s what boys need to hear about pornography. To be specific, as strange as this may sound: I think our teen boys need to hear what the BDSM community has to say—because otherwise they may only hear what porn has to say. In other words, they need to hear that sex is about consent and communication—it’s about what’s happening inside of us, not just about our appearances. If we’re not paying attention to feelings, our own and others’, we turn into Donald Trump.

3. Encourage sexual self-awareness and intentionality

Sexual communication often follows a script that is shaped by culturally defined roles for men and women. Men pursue, women draw them in. Sexually successful men are studs, but women are sluts.
There are biological forces that reduce our resistance to this script. Male or female, almost all of us know what it’s like to be in the grip of lust; especially when we’re young, that powerful shot of testosterone and dopamine can override our judgment and our ethics. In the heat of the moment, it just feels right to mindlessly obey unconscious impulses and stereotypes.
That’s why our sons (and daughters) need to hear this message: Stop sleepwalking, and wake up.
Respecting women isn’t about suppressing sexual desires and impulses; it’s about non-judgmentally cultivating awareness of them. If we know what’s driving us, we can take control of ourselves and we can consciously set new intentions. If your subconscious drive is to just get laid and you’re not aware of that, you may find yourself doing things that are emotionally destructive, or even criminal. If, on the other hand, you set the intention to connect with another human being, to get to know them, to make them happy, to give them pleasure—then you increase the likelihood that those things will happen.
I think, for most tween and teen boys, this is the place to start—to talk about our own intentions when it comes to sexual relationships, and to ask them to explore their own.
I’m talking about mindfulness, of course, or the beginnings of it.
To some, mindfulness has become a cliché, and yet every day, people destroy their own lives through the lack of it. I look at a man like Donald Trump and I see a man who is not self-aware. He acts, he doesn’t reflect. He speaks, without thinking about the impact of his words. In the Access Hollywoodaudio, he’s filled with lust, but it’s mechanical, foolish, dull. That’s not an example I want my boys to follow. Instead I want to ask them to be curious, creative, and caring.
How do I do that? I’m not sure, to be honest. As I try to help them grow, I have my own work to do. All I can do right now is try.

4. Speak out for an alternative sexual paradigm

One paradigm insists men can say what they want to women and put their hands on women whenever the “uncontrollable urge” strikes; the way for women to control men’s wild urges is by concealing their bodies. The boundary between “male” and “female” is rigidly demarcated and policed; everything depends on that, because otherwise how can you allocate the power? If the man denies doing “what every man does,” as Trump has, then of course he is believed, and his female accusers are denigrated as unattractive liars, or (if that doesn’t work) so sexy that the men just couldn’t control themselves. This attitude often goes hand-in-hand with the elevation of certain female body types, combined with disgust for women’s bodies generally.In my view, the debate about Trump’s sexual comments really pits two different paradigms against each other.
But there is another way of talking about sexuality. In this alternate paradigm, people of both sexes and all genders are asked to take responsibility for themselves and their desires. Men are not slaves to primal urges; women need to say what they want. “Yes” means yes and “no” means no. People do what they want with their own bodies and they control what happens to them. In this paradigm, you don’t shift blame from the more-powerful to the less-powerful. You don’t assume men have more rights (and fewer responsibilities) than women. You don’t even necessarily divide humans into “men” and “women”; you accept that people play with masculine and feminine traits, and can be whatever they want to be.
That’s my vision of a positive, healthy sexuality, but there are no utopias here. Just people doing their best. When we sit down to talk with our boys about women and sexuality, that’s what we need to bring to the table: our best.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Dear ISHCMC Parents,

I am often asked why we record the pollutions levels, stop outdoor play, bring the swimmers out of the pool, spend so much on air filtering machinery when other schools aren't doing the same, and it doesn't look as bad as China. Well the answer is very easy; we care about your sons and daughters health and the type of pollution in HCMC is the smallest particle pollution at PM 2.5 and is very dangerous. We are fortunate that the sun usually burns off this pollution by 10:00 am and the pollution figures drop to reasonable levels. However, ignoring the early morning pollution levels would be doing you a dis-service and research, such as that reported in this article from the UK , clearly shows that we should not be ignoring this threat to the health and well being of our children. Hence we are fortunate at ISHCMC that a large proportion of our school is now protected from this type of pollution.

"Tiny particles of air pollution can damage the inner lining of veins and arteries in young and healthy people, putting them at greater risk of heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure, according to new research.
Air pollution is thought to cause the premature deaths of about 40,000 people a year in the UK, with children and older people with medical conditions thought to be the most at risk.But the new study suggests that healthy people in their twenties are also being harmed by the particles.The World Health Organisation has warned that air pollution is “wreaking havoc on human health” amid rising scientific evidence about the dangers."

Thursday, October 20, 2016


Now that my kids are grown adults, I feel more comfortable teaching both parents and faculty the art of leading young people into healthy maturity. Like many parents, my experience raising my first child enabled me to relax a bit on my second child. We tend to obsess at the tiniest quirk in our first baby, and by child number three, we’re not as stressed. In fact, I just read this sequence and chuckled at its familiarity:
  • First child eats dirt. Parent calls the doctor immediately.
  • Second child eats dirt. Parent cleans out his mouth.
  • Third child eats dirt. Parents wonder if they really need to feed him lunch.
After careful reflection and gathering data, I now offer some recommendations on some common parental or faculty behaviors we must replace. I learned these over the years and these shifts have made all the difference in the world as I lead students.


1. Motivation: We must replace FEAR with WISDOM.
Our generation of parents are riddled with fear. We’re scared our kids won’t make the honor roll; they’ll get pregnant; they’ll get abducted, you name it. Even though research shows that “stranger abduction” only represents one-hundredth of one percent of all missing children, we fret like it happens in our town every day. School shootings scare us into keeping our kids close and in view at all times. Imagine the message this sends to our young: The world is evil! Don’t take any risks. Never trust anyone. It’s enough to produce the most anxious population of American teens to date. So here’s my question: what if we replaced motivating kids with feelings of fear with encouraging them by using words of wisdom. Simply offering logical wisdom for each decision completely reframes their attitude and stifles their inner fear. Let’s be rational, not emotional.
Fear-based Parent: You can’t walk to the mall! The traffic is horrible; you might get hit by a car and killed!
Wisdom-based Parent: You can walk to the mall if you’re with Ben or Collin. Be sure to look both ways before crossing the street. Text me when you get there.

2. Evaluation: We must replace a focus on GRADES with a focus on GROWTH.
I changed the way I spoke to my kids about their report cards when my daughter turned 12. Prior to that time, I was like most parents. If she made three A’s, two B’s and a D . . . I focused on the D. I talked to her about her weaknesses. It was not fun. Once I began gazing at her high grades and talking about what she liked about those classes, we both had a better attitude with which to conquer the D. Too often, we’re misguided and create stress in our children. We measure the wrong things. Our focus should be on strengths, not struggles: where are they growing and thriving? This is where they’ll likely spend time in their careers. Let’s obsess over growth, not grades.
Grade-obsessed Parent: Why didn’t you make all A’s? What’s this C doing on your report card? You’re not going to get that scholarship!
Growth-obsessed Parent: Let’s explore the subjects where you were strong. Wow—look how you’ve grown! I love how you’ve improved in science.

3. Schedules: We must replace CLUTTER with SIMPLICITY.
According to Dr. Robert Leahy, the average teen today has the same level of anxiety as a psychiatric patient did in the early 1950s. Stress levels have continued to climb for more than seventy years. This is absurd. Part of our problem is the complications we face daily. Noise. Screens. Busyness. Information. Pings. I believe humans are not hardwired to consume the volume of data we do each day. We need margins for our mental and emotional health. What if you became more intentional about clearing the calendar and creating space for unsupervised play or relaxation? What if you made your students choose one or two activities and not do them all? Research tells us that when our days have margins we actually develop empathy and creativity.
Cluttered-life Parent: Quick, suit up or we’ll be late for your soccer practice, piano lesson and karate match. Hurry, we don’t have time to mess around.
Simplified-life Parent: Let’s plan to participate in just one extra-curricular activity this fall. It will leave time for family, house chores and unscheduled fun.

4. Identity: We must replace UNCONTROLLABLES with CONTROLLABLES.
Stanford psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck taught me this. In her book, Mindset, she suggests we naturally tend to have a “fixed mindset.” We assume if we make a bad grade in math, we’re just not good at math. It’s a fixed fact. Or, we just aren’t good readers, or good communicators. She says we must cultivate a “growth mindset” in our students. We must treat our brains like a muscle that can grow. Then, parents and instructors must focus on encouraging variables that are in their control, not out of their control. Instead of flattering them for their beauty, we affirm their integrity, which is much more in their control. When we encourage controllable qualities, we empower our young to grow and encourage good priorities. What gets rewarded gets repeated.
Fixed-mindset Parent: You’re just not good at math; you just aren’t a natural student. Your sister is the smart one in the family.
Growth-mindset Parent: You may not be good at math . . . yet, but one day you will be. And I do appreciate your honesty and I love the empathy you show your friends.

5. Feedback: We must replace emphasizing BEHAVIOR with emphasizing BELIEF.
I recently met with a focus group of parents. While they were all very engaged in their role as moms and dads, one reality surfaced that surprised me. It was the level of anger they expressed toward their kids—short tempers, bursts of emotion, sometimes loud yelling. This tends to equate to punishing our children when they misbehave instead of disciplining them. We look backward and retaliate instead of looking forward and incentivizing better behavior. When offering feedback, my kids respond far better when I speak from “belief” in them. This means I convey the thought: “I know you’re better than what you just did.” When I correct students because I’m convinced they’re capable of more, I call out the best in them, rather than the worst. Too many kids are fragile and need us to get this one right.
Behavior-based Parent: I can’t believe you did that. What is wrong with you? You never get that task right!

Belief-based Parent: I’m giving you this feedback because I know you’re capable of exceeding my expectations. I’ve seen what you can do.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Can Mindfulness Help Parents and Preteens Have Better Relationships?

Can Mindfulness Help Parents and Preteens Have Better Relationships?

A new study combines training, brain scans, and reports from kids to understand the impact of mindfulness on parenting tweens.
Adolescence can be a stressful period for the parent-child relationship. Could mindfulness help? A new pilot study took an innovative approach to the problem, combining classes for both preteens and parents with brain scans of the parents and reports from their children on how mom or dad were doing.
Previous studies found that mindfulness practice can lessen stress, depression, and anxiety in parents of preschoolers and children with disabilities—and that mindful parenting is linked to more positive behavior in kids. This new study is the first to use neural imaging to see how mindfulness practice changes the brains of parents—and the results suggest that cultivating moment-to-moment awareness may help them to become calmer and more empathic with their children.
The study, led by Elliot T. Berkman of the University of Oregon, included 18 parent-and-child pairs; children ranged from age nine to 13. Each pair attended an eight-week Mindful Families Stress Reduction Course, which was an age-appropriate adaptation of the gold standard Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course designed by mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Importantly, these sessions did not involve any explicit parenting instruction. “It was purely just coming together and doing a variety of mindfulness exercises,” says Lisa May, first author of the study. “There’s a famous one where everybody gets a raisin and everybody looks at the raisin and contemplates it.”
The parents and children were also sent home with some guided meditation exercises that they could practice at home, such as an exercise that required focusing on brushing their teeth mindfully. Not all the families were very diligent about practicing outside the weekly course meetings, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “I think that that partly speaks to being a busy family and even makes the results more promising,” says May.
Before and after the course, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at the neural activity in the parents’ brains while they practiced mindful breathing and during a period when they were asked to let their minds wander. Parents and children also completed surveys before and after the course.
Overall, parents reported decreased stress and increased mindfulness after completing the course. And there was a relationship between the two—parents who increased the most on measures of mindfulness showed the largest decreases in stress. While the adolescents, overall, did not report a significant change in how positively they viewed their family relationship, there was a significant increase overall in children’s perceptions that their parents were paying attention to them (so-called parental monitoring).
When May and colleagues compared the brain activity patterns in the parents during the breathing task and the mind wandering task, they saw that the mindfulness activity led to more activation in brain regions known to be involved in attention—consistent with previous results looking at the effect of mindfulness on the brain.
“But what was surprising is when we looked at what changed in that comparison from before the intervention to after the intervention, we saw something completely different: we saw areas related to emotion processing,” says May. The regions that showed increased activity after completing the course included ones known to be involved in self-awareness (the precuneous and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex), emotional regulation (the lateral prefrontal cortex), and emotional awareness (mid-insula).
But perhaps the most intriguing finding in this study was that parents who had the most activation in a part of the brain involved in empathy and emotional regulation (the left anterior insula/inferior frontal gyrus) had children who perceived the greatest improvement in their parent-child relationship.
These results, while quite preliminary, suggest that simply completing this brief course with their kids changed the parents’ brains and possibly made them more empathetic and able to recognize and regulate their own emotions.
“The thing that really hit home for me about this is one of the big outcomes that we often see from mindfulness interventions: People report that they’re better able to be present with their own emotions,” says May. “For example, they might be better able to say, ‘Oh wow, I’m upset right now,’ and just observe that feeling instead of trying to distract themselves from it by eating cookies or watching TV.” Being able to be present with their own emotions, says May, can help parents to be present for the feelings of their children.
May stresses that it is important to take care when interpreting this small pilot study, particularly since it lacked a control group. It could be the benefits of this study came from something as simple as parents and adolescents spending quality time together each week.
“Parents often reported feeling a lot of benefit, and their children reported benefit, just from going to something alone with their parent once a week,” says May. “That in and of itself is wonderful. If we were to do a really tightly controlled design we might see that fewer of these effects were related to the mindfulness practice and more was it was just relationship building for parents and kids.”
May recommends that parents who are interested in mindfulness check out the book Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn or look into Kabat-Zinn’s guided audio meditations. While the jury is still out on whether mindfulness practice—by parents or parents and children together—has specific benefits for the parent-adolescent relationship, at the very least it is likely to lessen parental stress—which is no small thing!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

People v School System

Plenty of food for thought in this spoken poetry urging people to reflect upon their system of schooling. It does ask for comments afterwards.


This article is a simple reminder of a timeless truth:

“What gets rewarded gets repeated.”
My generation placed an emphasis on several priorities that I believe have backfired on our children. While the goals were well intentioned, they unwittingly manipulated our kids to value lower priorities over higher ones and to value the end, not the means. In fact, for too many high school and college students, the end justifies the means in almost every life context. We unwittingly taught our children to push for results without valuing the process.
Allow me to offer an example.

photo credit: 100_1603.jpg via photopin (license)

Too many parents have decided that getting into a great college should be the number one goal of a high school student. This priority led our students to do whatever it took to please Mom and Dad. The value turned into behavior:
  1. We pushed for higher scores on standardized tests.
  2. We paid for SAT prep at a special tutoring facility
  3. We prioritized academic success over everything.
I wonder if this is a misplaced priority. Our kids observe and listen to what we value, often taking their cues from our obsession with their performance:
  1. Kids find a way to appease their parents, even if it means buying papers.
  2. They figure out how to beat the system: high grades but low retention.
  3. They play a sport even if they’d rather do something else they enjoy more.
  4. They do the extra-curricular activity but deep down are miserable.
  5. They have higher rates of plagiarism than past generations.
From what I’ve read, this seems to have been a part of the problem with the rise in both youth anxiety and school cheating. Parents demand results; kids feel angst . . . and they cheat to cope with their inabilities. It’s become epidemic in some areas. Three out of four students in America admit to cheating in order to get through college.

A Statement That Stopped Me in My Tracks

These thoughts raced through my mind recently when I saw a sign hanging in public. The quote forced me to stop and think about what’s really important in life and what sustains our civilization. It simply said:
“We need to care less about whether our children are academically gifted and more about whether they sit with the lonely kid in the cafeteria.”
I quickly sped down memory lane, trying to remember what my wife and I had said to our children as they made their way through school. We certainly encouraged them to study hard and do their very best in each class. We also encouraged them, however, to focus on behaviors and outcomes that were in their control. We taught them: “You will become what you are becoming right now.”
Displaying empathy for marginalized kids was one of those behaviors we talked about more than once. It was also something we tried to practice, both with neighbors who lived close by and taking trips to serve the homeless at Safehouse Outreach in Atlanta. My son Jonathan has always been drawn to reach out to those on the fringes who appear lonely, unpopular, or unfriended. My daughter Bethany has always stuck up for the person who appears different or quirky. Now that they’re both in their twenties, I am as proud of these predispositions as I was their good grades. Classrooms can only teach so much. These are actions that forge your character. Watching my two adult children today—I am pleased that somehow the right priorities stuck.

So, I just want to ask you: What do you emphasize in your home or school? Is it simply hard skills like math or science, or is it something they may end up needing every time they meet someone new? What message do you send them with your affirmation or criticism? Let me remind you of a timeless principle—what gets rewarded gets repeated.