Sunday, May 28, 2017

Why is Your Teenager Acting So Weird? Let a Neurobiologist Explain

As far as the brain is concerned, the teenage years are a world unto themselves.
As an eminent neurobiologist and single mother of two teenaged boys, Dr. Frances Jensen had a front-row seat to the seemingly contradictory behavior that would allow her sons to ace a test at school yet still make lapses in judgment no sensible adult would. She wrote about these experiences, and the underlying biology that led to them, in her new book, co-authored with science journalist Amy Ellis Nutt, “The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults.”

The contradictions Jensen observed occur in part because our brains do not fully mature until we are in our mid- to late-20s, when the frontal lobe, which controls decision-making and risk-taking, develops.
Jensen recently spoke with Michael Krasny, the host of KQED’s Forum radio show, to explain how parents can better understand the biochemical imperatives that make their teens and young adults so emotional and unpredictable, as well as leaving them more vulnerable to addiction and mental disorders.
Here are some excerpts from Jensen’s answers on the show, edited for length and readability.

On the Unpredictable Behavior of Teens
Teenagers do have frontal lobes, which are the seat of our executive, adult-like functioning like impulse control, judgment and empathy. But the frontal lobes haven’t been connected with fast-acting connections yet. The brain actually connects regions from the back of the brain to the front, so the last place to have these fast-acting connections is the frontal lobe.
But there is another part of the brain that is fully active in adolescents, and that’s the limbic system. And that is the seat of risk, reward, impulsivity, sexual behavior and emotion.
So they are built to be novelty-seeking at this point in their lives. Their frontal lobe isn’t able to say, “That’s a bad idea, don’t do that.” That’s not happening to the extent it will in adulthood.
But while that is a weakness, there are strengths of the adolescent brain. Each region of the brain is more active in childhood and adolescence than it will be later in life. They are faster learners, they can build synapses faster.
They’re really like Ferraris with weak brakes. They’re learning machines, but they can learn good and bad things.

Teens’ Extreme Emotional Reactions
Why do they react like it’s an international incident when it’s something you consider a completely innocuous event?
Functional imaging studies have looked at children, adolescents and adults who are given the same emotional stressor, and the adolescents will light up the emotional center — the limbic system — twice as high as children or adults. So they are uniquely experiencing whatever it is as an international incident.
I think we need to remind ourselves that they’re experiencing emotion in Technicolor, whereas we’re experiencing it in black and white. And it makes you understand a bit more why they behave the way they do. Maybe you can count to 10 and not react. Back off and reapproach in a more organized way.

Teens’ Vulnerability to Addiction
Cannabis decreases your cells’ ability to build synapses, which you need for learning. And there’s more substrate for the drug to bind to. So for the same dose, it’s hanging around in teen brains to a greater extent — it might be around for four days in the brain.
Now that’s on a single-dose basis. And what’s quite concerning is the literature that’s starting to come out about chronic, daily cannabis use. That’s what we’re really concerned about. And there are some concerning studies that say your IQ’s going to drop permanently if you are exposed to chronic, daily cannabis through this adolescent window.
We need to think of this window as a very precious window. You need to mind your brain at this stage of your life, and it will mind you later… that’s what I tell adolescents when I am talking to them.
More and more studies are being done, now that it has been realized that the adolescent brain is a specific brain stage. I think parents should make it their business to stay on top of what this research is showing. Your kids are so not going to do what you say just because you tell them to do it… and if you have a few facts in hand, it can help to make you somewhat more credible.

The Impacts of Social Media
The building of the teenaged brain hasn’t changed in eons, but what has changed is the environment around our teens. Right now they’re being bombarded by an unprecedented amount of information. And they’re novelty-seeking. And where else are they going to get novelty? It’s all over the internet. We should have a conversation about the age-inappropriate things they can find on the internet, things that might cause stress. And the effects of social media: How does it feed peer pressure behavior?
It’s really a whole new day and they are really playing with fire -– the schoolyard pranks of yesteryear that are not the same anymore.
Teens are better learners, and stressful things will stay in their brains longer. There’s a conversation we have to have with them: How do you gate yourself with social media? Life is about trial and error, and there needs to be an opportunity for them to rehearse mistakes, including mistakes in the social media domain, before they make them themselves.
There’s a way to guide your child to make decisions independently rather than helicoptering over them.
On How ‘Real’ Teenage Love Is
It feels very real to the person in that moment. It’s bona fide emotion; it’s just not emotion that’s measured like it will be later in life, where you might say, ‘I’m attracted to this person, but there’s a lot of reasons why this may not be.’ It’s real but just feels unbridled. Teens have superheated limbic systems, so the emotional areas, the sexual incentive areas, are on.
When Medication is Appropriate
The onset of mental illness occurs in late teens, early adolescence. Schizophrenia, bipolar, depression, psychosis; they come in this window. And the reason for this is developmental. You need to have your prefrontal cortices at least partially connected in order to have the manifestation of these diseases that you might already have as a genetic predisposition. It’s a biological event.
We need to be aware that one in four people in our society have some form of mental illness, ranging from very mild anxiety to a major affective disorder. And 60 to 80 percent of these people are seeing this happen between the ages of 16 and 26. That is a fact. We need to keep our antennae up to determine: Is this just a moody kid? Or is this mental illness? As a parent, if you think your child is not taking an interest in their appearance, losing their appetite, really becoming more isolated, you need to make sure you’re part of your teen’s life and probe what’s going on.
Dr. Frances Jensen on the teenage brain, in 2015:

The Silent Tragedy Affecting Today’s Children

Here is my new blog post. I encourage every parent who cares about the future of his/her children to read it. I know that many would choose not to hear what I say in the article, but your children need you to hear this message. Even if you disagree with my perspective, please, just follow the recommendations at the end of the article. Once you see the positive changes in your child’s life, you will understand why I say what I say!”
— Victoria Prooday

The silent tragedy affecting today’s children

(and what to do with it)

Write here...
There is a silent tragedy developing right now, in our homes, and it concerns our most precious jewels - our children. Through my work with hundreds of children and families as an occupational therapist, I have witnessed this tragedy unfolding right in front of my eyes. Our children are in a devastating emotional state! Talk to teachers and professionals who have been working in the field for the last 15 years. You will hear concerns similar to mine. Moreover, in the past 15 years, researchers have been releasing alarming statistics on a sharp and steady increase in kids’ mental illness, which is now reaching epidemic proportions:

How much more evidence do we need before we wake up?

No, “increased diagnostics alone” is not the answer!
No, “they all are just born like this” is not the answer!
No, “it is all the school system’s fault” is not the answer!
Yes, as painful as it can be to admit, in many cases, WE, parents, are the answer to many of our kids’ struggles!
 It is scientifically proven that the brain has the capacity to rewire itself through the environment. Unfortunately, with the environment and parenting styles that we are providing to our children, we are rewiring their brains in a wrong direction and contributing to their challenges in everyday life.
Yes, there are and always have been children who are born with disabilities and despite their parents’ best efforts to provide them with a well-balanced environment and parenting, their children continue to struggle. These are NOT the children I am talking about here. 
I am talking about many others whose challenges are greatly shaped by the environmental factors that parents, with their greatest intentions, provide to their children. As I have seen in my practice, the moment parents change their perspective on parenting, these children change.   

What is wrong?

Today’s children are being deprived of the fundamentals of a healthy childhood, such as:
  • Emotionally available parents
  • Clearly defined limits and guidance
  • Responsibilities
  • Balanced nutrition and adequate sleep
  • Movement and outdoors
  • Creative play, social interaction, opportunities for unstructured times and boredom
Instead, children are being served with:
  • Digitally distracted parents
  • Indulgent parents who let kids “Rule the world”
  • Sense of entitlement rather than responsibility
  • Inadequate sleep and unbalanced nutrition
  • Sedentary indoor lifestyle
  • Endless stimulation, technological babysitters, instant gratification, and absence of dull moments
Could anyone imagine that it is possible to raise a healthy generation in such an unhealthy environment? Of course not! There are no shortcuts to parenting, and we can’t trick human nature. As we see, the outcomes are devastating. Our children pay for the loss of well-balanced childhood with their emotional well-being.

How to fix it?

If we want our children to grow into happy and healthy individuals, we have to wake up and go back to the basics. It is still possible! I know this because hundreds of my clients see positive changes in their kids’ emotional state within weeks (and in some cases, even days) of implementing these recommendations:
Set limits and remember that you are your child’s PARENT, not a friend
Offer kids well-balanced lifestyle filled with what kids NEED, not just what they WANT. Don’t be afraid to say “No!” to your kids if what they want is not what they need.

  • Provide nutritious food and limits snacks.
  • Spend one hour a day in green space: biking, hiking, fishing, watching birds/insects
  • Have a daily technology-free family dinner.
  • Play one board game a day. (List of family games)
  • Involve your child in one chore a day (folding laundry, tidying up toys, hanging clothes, unpacking groceries, setting the table etc)
  • Implement consistent sleep routine to ensure that your child gets lots of sleep in a technology-free bedroom
Teach responsibility and independence. Don’t over-protect them from small failures. It trains them the skills needed to overcome greater life’s challenges:
  • Don’t pack your child’s backpack, don’t carry her backpack, don’t bring to school his forgotten lunch box/agenda, and don’t peel a banana for a 5-year-old child. Teach them the skills rather than do it for them.
Teach delayed gratification and provide opportunities for “boredom” as boredom is the time when creativity awakens:
  • Don’t feel responsible for being your child’s entertainment crew.
  • Do not use technology as a cure for boredom.
  • Avoid using technology during meals, in cars, restaurants, malls. Use these moments as opportunities to train their brains to function under “boredom”
  • Help them create a “boredom first aid kit” with activity ideas for “I am bored” times.
Be emotionally available to connect with kids and teach them self-regulation and social skills:
  • Turn off your phones until kids are in bed to avoid digital distraction.
  • Become your child’s emotional coach. Teach them to recognize and deal with frustration and anger.
  • Teach greeting, turn taking, sharing, empathy, table manners, conversation skills,
  • Connect emotionally - Smile, hug, kiss, tickle, read, dance, jump, or crawl with your child.
We must make changes in our kids’ lives before this entire generation of children will be medicated! It is not too late yet, but soon it will be…

Victoria Prooday is a Registered Occupational Therapist, MSc OT (UofT), with extensive experience working with children, parents and teachers. While working with thousands of children and hundreds of teachers, Victoria is alarmed by the drastic decline in children’s social, emotional, and academic functioning and voices serious concerns regarding the future of the entire generation. Her mission is to educate parents about the negative impact of overuse of technology, decline in physical and creative play, emotionally disconnected and limitless parenting style on dysregulating children’s brain and making them less able to deal with real life challenges. She offers practical everyday solutions that have been proven to facilitate tremendous growth and change in children. Victoria is a founder and a clinical director of a multidisciplinary clinic for children with behavioral, attentional, social, emotional and academic challenges. Victoria holds a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy from the Medical School at University of Toronto and a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology and Health Science from York University.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Sleep is so important for our secondary students

Teens don't get enough sleep, and it's not because of Snapchat, social lives or hormones — it's because of public policy, says Wendy Troxel. Drawing from her experience as a sleep researcher, clinician and mother of a teenager, Troxel discusses how early school start times deprive adolescents of sleep during the time of their lives when they need it most. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Questioning university being the inevitable next step after school.

What is the value of a university degree? It is no longer the golden ticket to a successful career, but students continue to follow the well trodden path from high school into university, and are paying more and more for their university education every year. Jack Delosa explains how curriculum complacency in our universities, and the enduring expectation that university is the only way is leading to disheartened students, unemployed graduates and skill gaps in our workforce.

Potentially a dangerous person to introduce to any students, Jack Delosa dropped out of university, and never looked back. Without a degree behind him he’s gone on to become an entrepreneur, investor, best-selling author, and the founder and managing director of entrepreneurial educator, The Entourage. Jack is passionate about empowering and supporting budding entrepreneurs to follow his path by forging their own path.

5 Important Ways Moms Influence Kids

5 Important Ways Moms Influence Kids
Media has a huge influence on kids -- and as kids get older, the online world has an even tighter grip on them. You can see it in the way they imitate their favorite TV characters, pretend to be YouTube stars, or beg for T-shirts, backpacks, or comforters emblazoned with logos. But parents still have a huge influence. And moms play a major role in the development and nurturing of kids in a media-filled world. Here are five ways moms can have a positive impact on kids' (media and tech) lives:
Foster positive body image
Kids get lots of iffy messages about appearance from media. Whether your kid is watching sassy tween TV or scrolling through perfect Instagram photos, they're inundated with bikini pics and muscleman heroes. Not only can moms discuss these media images with kids, but they can choose to ban fat talk and body shaming entirely from their homes. Studies show that 
moms who criticize their own bodies can have a major impact on how kids feel about their own.
Insist on device-free dinner
Sure, more dads are in the kitchen than ever before, but 
moms remain the primary person in charge of getting dinner on the table. And that means they can set the tone for the meal -- including insisting that all devices are put away so that families can concentrate on each other. Studies show that sharing meals as a family can help everything from behavior to health.
Choose high-quality media
So often mom are the ones in charge of curating kids' media lives. And we can do a lot to steer kids -- especially little ones -- toward top-notch content, from selecting TV shows that foster 
empathy and other character-building skills for preschoolers to loading up the tablet with educational apps to keep kids busy -- and learning -- during road trips and more.
Stop texting and driving
While both parents drive kids around, it's often moms who spend the most time in the car with kids. And kids are watching when we pick up the phone for a quick text while cruising down the highway. Nix this habit immediately to 
set a good example for your future drivers. (Plus, it's super dangerous!)
Raise media-literate kids
Moms are responsible for the majority of shopping in most households. This means it's mom's job to negotiate with kids about which logos, phrases, and characters can appear on kids' T-shirts, backpacks, and more. While there's no shame in buying kids the occasional branded goodie, it's a good idea to help kids understand a little bit about how marketing works. Understanding how 
media companies make money by selling T-shirts can be one step in teaching kids media literacy.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Suicide and adolescences.

Dear Parents,

Do you know how hard it is growing up as an adolescent in the 21st century? The challenges that technology, social media, friendships, grade based school and examination systems, university entry and finding a job place on the merging generation are huge. Add to this the perceived responsibility for saving the world, creating world peace and ending poverty that many of Generation X and Z have assumed and it is no surprise that depression and anxiety have reached unprecedented levels amongst adolescents today. Many students are ill prepared for these challenges and perceived responsibilities because they have been cocooned from pressures by over active helicopter parents protecting them from failure, responsibility for their choices and decision making at younger ages.

I want to share with you two pieces of information that I think you need to be aware about so that you can support your daughters and sons. Firstly there is on Netflix a series entitled 13 Reason Why. This is about a teenager who committed suicide and left tapes about . Here is a good article from The Atlantic about '13 Reasons Why' and the controversy that it has sparked.

Secondly there is a new game/ challenge, Blue Whale, that is becoming popular and again focuses on suicide as the last challenge in  along series that include self harming. Here is a video about Blue Whale:

As you can see from the embedded articles and the video these two media forms are playing on a vulnerable area for many teenagers in our schools. Depression, anxiety leading to suicide is a major concern for teenagers in our ever changing world regardless of media popularizing it as an acceptable action. Here is a very good site from, the Jason Foundation, that provides information about teenage suicide, signs to recognize and common myths.

In his recent blog post on Growing Leaders, Tim Elmore provided the following questions that can be discussed with children/ students to help them with their thinking.

Questions to Discuss with Your Students

  1. How can people feel lonely when they are never alone and always connected?
  2. Why do kids often feel depressed as they post happy pics on social media?
  3. We know that life is always better than death. But why is that so?
  4. What enables a student to hide their loneliness or angst, and later surprise people with a suicide?
  5. When is it time to “give a friend space” and when must we intrude if we suspect someone is contemplating suicide?
  6. What drives a person over the line when they believe ending their life is better than pushing ahead with life?
  7. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, where should or could you go to get help?
    (Hint: make sure to mention: school counselors, parents, teachers, and administration.

The key is not to over dramatize the situation and to always ensure that your daughters and sons  know that they have someone they can talk to about anything that is troubling them before it becomes too much for them to cope with. Communication, openness and willingness to listen non judgmentally to your children as they grow up is essential for creating trusting relationships in the home that allow children to share their problems.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Why the educational experience needs to change

To prepare for the future, we need to shift from thinking about jobs and careers to thinking about challenges and problems, reports Alina Dizik.

When Jean-Philippe Michel, an Ottawa-based career coach, works with secondary school students, he doesn’t use the word profession. Neither does he focus on helping his young clients figure out what they want to be when they grow up—at least not directly.

For him, there's really no such thing as deciding on a profession to grow up into.

Rather than encouraging each person to choose a profession, say, architect or engineer, he works backwards from the skills that each student wants to acquire. So instead of saying, “I want to be a doctor”, he’ll aim to get students to talk about a goal, in this case “using empathy in a medical setting”.

Students today should focus on a collection of skills, rather than a particular profession, says Jean-Philippe Michel (Credit: Getty Images)

It might seem a bit esoteric, but the twist in language helps boil down real objectives. And sometimes those don’t jibe with a single profession or even the career choice you might have imagined wanting at the start. Instead, Michel says deciding the skills you want to use leads to a career that’s more targeted—and thus more likely to bring you satisfaction. It also might be less a job and more a set of projects and work situations that lead you from one thing to the next.

They need to shift from thinking about jobs and careers to think about challenges and problems

“They need to shift from thinking about jobs and careers to think about challenges and problems,” Michel says. Easier said than done for, say, Gen X or even older millennials, but it’s not so out of the realm of thinking for younger people, who are already narrowing down their university studies.