The holidays are a wonderful time of year. However, they often come with high personal expectations of buying the perfect gifts, participating in holiday parties and seeing family members not frequently seen. The prospect of facing the holidays can be daunting for everyone – and even more so for people who struggle with depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other mental health concerns.
As the holiday season is upon us, it is important to remember that you might not always be able to control what happens during the holidays but you can control your reaction to the events by managing your holiday expectations. We’d like to share five ways to keep your holiday expectations in check, from a blog written by Lucida Treatment Center.
How to Keep Your Holiday Expectations in Check
1. Don’t buy into idealized holiday notions. That holiday special where everyone is enjoying a “Hallmark moment,” singing carols in the softly falling snow? That’s a TV show. The snow is made out of plastic, and if you’re comparing your holidays to scripted ones with professional actors being directed on Hollywood sound stages, you’re setting yourself up for inevitable disappointment.
“When people are bombarded with commercials, greeting cards, and movies showing perfect families and friendships, they may start to question the quality of their own relationships,” said Adam K. Anderson, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, in an interview with Shape magazine. “This can make people feel lonely and less fulfilled.”
Life isn’t perfect, and holidays are part of life. Embrace their imperfections.
2. Be OK with celebrating your own way, even if it’s unconventional. One Thanksgiving, about fifteen years ago, I found myself all alone — just my dog and me — with no dinner invitation. Rather than feeling sorry for myself and spending the day drinking while watching football, I decided to take my dog for a hike in the mountains instead. We had a great time, and on the way home I stopped at a truck stop and had a turkey platter at the counter while enjoying an interesting conversation with the waitress stuck working that day. I now look back fondly on that day as one of the best Thanksgivings of my life. But it never would’ve happened if I hadn’t adjusted my expectations of what a “real” Thanksgiving was supposed to be.
3. Make it acceptable to limit the number of engagements you attend. Count yourself lucky if you’re invited to a lot of holiday celebrations. But holiday get-togethers can be time consuming, stressful and even terrifying if you suffer from social anxiety disorder. Decide how many events you can reasonably make and tolerate, and stick to that number rather than spreading yourself too thin. Ask yourself this: If a holiday celebration or tradition is causing you more stress than joy, is it really worth attending or keeping?
4. Know that it’s possible to enjoy the holidays without alcohol or drugs. “Taking the edge off” with a few drinks during the holiday season can quickly get out of hand. If you’re in recovery, it can be incredibly tempting to use alcohol or drugs when everyone else around you is using, too. And if you suffer from anxiety or depression, it’s tempting to turn to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate during the holidays. But the holidays can be endured and even enjoyed while sober. Millions of people do it every year, so why can’t you be one of them.
5, Don’t expect family members to be different because it’s the holidays. One of the biggest stressors during the holidays is getting together with family and quickly realizing why it is that you only see them during the holidays. But you can only be you, so let go of any preconceived notions of how you’d like them to be. That judgmental relative across the table making disparaging remarks about your lifestyle won’t be around forever, so do your best to enjoy their company and pass them the potatoes with a smile.
We hope you have an enjoyable holiday season. If your teen or young adult child is having a particularly difficult time around the holidays, or you feel as though their mental health condition is worsening, call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.
Is it possible for kids to play video games so much that it can actually change how their brain works? New research is showing that the influx of technology is affecting kids, and even adults, to the point of changing the way brain chemistry works. The following article, written by Cris Rowan, a pediatric occupational therapist, international speaker, and author of “Virtual Child” looks at how video games are rewiring children’s brains, and the scary physical and social repercussions that are happening because of this.
Gamer Brain – How video games are wiring your child’s brain for failure.
Meet Joe. Exhausted, Joe hauls himself out of bed after a night of gaming, following his Mom’s third attempt to get him up. If she’d just quit ragging on him, and let him sleep in. It’s not like school is this epic event that has to happen every day of the week. Missing a few days here and there is no big deal. She just doesn’t get it…gaming is everything for Joe, his whole life revolves around it. Gaming is where Joe can shine, where he’s cool, where he’s the Master of the universe. School sucks for Joe; it’s boring and stupid, and he really doesn’t understand why he needs to go. Joe can’t focus on anything at school, he’d so rather be gaming. Sometimes Joe games in his head in class, plans strategies for upping levels, designs his skins and weapons. School should really let him play video games, because gaming is where it’s at, not reading books and printing on paper. The future is gaming, and that’s what Joe’s going to be, a gamer who makes lots of money. Joe wishes his teacher could see how great he is when he’s gaming. He’s the King, and everyone else is merely his minions. He saves whole cities from destruction, kills the zombies and the bad guys; Joe rules the world when he’s gaming. Joe’s not good at anything at school, in fact Joe hates school.
Joe is a typical 10-year old boy who plays video games pretty much all of the time. He starts when he gets home from school, games through dinner and into the night, often until 3 or 4 in the morning. Lack of exercise and overstimulation from gaming, resulted in Joe being diagnosed with ADHD at age 6. Joe only misses school 1 day every other week, but is often late. While Joe’s parents are concerned about his gaming, and try to make him go to bed, Joe reacts with yelling at them and telling them they are mean and don’t understand how important gaming is to him. Joe’s parents are typical too in that they too are caught up in their own virtual worlds, Mom on Facebook and Second Life, and Dad into gaming, and really into porn. In their attachment to their own devices, Joe’s parents have detached from him and each other, resulting is pervasive family neglect. Joe’s family is termed a “virtual family”, where everyone is plugged in, zoned out and ignoring each other, and little else happens other than screens. While Joe’s parents manage to work, and make food appear from time to time, evenings and weekends are pretty much spent isolated from each other in separate rooms, everyone being entertained with their screens.
What Joe and his parents don’t understand is that their brains are being wired for high speed, for passivity and laziness, and for eventual failure on all counts. It won’t be long before Joe drops out of school, and one or both of his parents misses one day too much at work. Then Joe’s family will collapse, implode, require some sort of social service intervention that hasn’t been invented yet. Understanding what is going on in the bodies and brains of Joe’s family is key to vision their future path on this planet. The brain makes and rewires itself based on what is happening in its’ environment, and the body is a product of activity. If the brain and body are being stimulated by healthy activities including movement, touch, human connection, and nature, 4 critical factors that optimize development and learning, then brain/body development is diverse and varied, and responsive to a variety of daily challenges. When the brain is engaged in mindless entertainment and the body sedentary, the frontal lobes aren’t utilized and consequently atrophy from disuse. This “de-evolution” of the human brain and dissolution of the body from screen overuse, creates significant issues for Joe, impairing his physical, mental, social and cognitive development, and actually threatening Joe’s very existence.
Physically Joe is sedentary, unfit and obese, and likely will go on to develop diabetes. As gaming dramatically raises Joe’s adrenalin and blood pressure, it puts undue load on his heart, as does the stimulant meds Joe has been taking for his ADHD. Lack of sleep puts Joe at further risk for cardiovascular events including early heart attack and stroke. Mentally, with limited frontal lobe function, Joe is reactive and impulsive, acting without empathy or compassion for others. Socially Joe is aggressive, defensive, defiant and at times violent with his parents, peers and teachers, as gaming has wired his brain to view all situations as conflict. Due to sexualized content inherent in video games, Joe views girls and young women as sexual objects which he disrespects, denigrates and controls. Because Joe doesn’t go outside and play anymore, and really has no friends other than through gaming, his social skills are wholly lacking and deficient. Cognitively Joe’s limited ability to access his frontal lobes has negatively impacted his executive function, causing deficits in attention, memory, concentration, and inability to understand consequence to actions. In school, Joe cannot focus on or remember what the teacher is saying, is distracted by extraneous noise and visual stimulation, has little energy and is always sleepy, and simply cannot learn.
So how can we help the Joe’s of this world? How can we intervene when we see families like Joe’s going off the rails into virtual oblivion? First and foremost, families cannot do what they do not know. In this day and age of ubiquitous screen overuse, it is imperative that health and education professionals provide families with research based information on the negative impact of screens on the developing child. This information empowers parents and children to make healthy choices which will sustain, not destroy, their family. Read the Parent Unplug’in Brochure, and pass this important information onto your friends and family. We can work together to create sustainable futures for all children.
If you have a child who is struggling with video game overuse and needs help, call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC, at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss potential solutions.
It seems that to each generation of adults, the current generation of teens is far more daring than they were and much less prepared to handle “real” life. Now, with teens having access to prolific amounts of technology, adults are also concerned that the upcoming generation is also going to struggle with face to face communication skills. At Screenagers, they focus on what technology means for teenagers today. Recently, in their Tech Talk Tuesday, they focus on interpersonal communications, and how teachable of a skill it is. It’s up to us, as adults, to help teens practice these skills. Below is helpful information about communication from Dr. Delaney Ruston, Screenagers’ filmmaker.
Last week I was talking with a counselor at a high school who told me about how the students immediately go on their cell phones when they leave classrooms and enter the hallways, and that she was “…sure they are all losing their ability to communicate.” When people have said this to me, I think they are often surprised by my response which is:
“I can relate to your concerns—but let’s also think about Aunt Jane or Uncle Joe who didn’t grow up with much screen time but, boy, do they struggle with effective communication.”
However, I don’t mean to say that a preponderance of screen time is not impacting kids’ communication skills—I believe there surely are effects. Sadly, there is practically no published research that compares communication skills of today’s youth to those of youth in the past. I would love to see data for such things as frequency of eye contact, ability to confidently talk to people of all ages, and confidence in expressing uncomfortable thoughts and emotions.
I am a big believer that communication is a teachable skill. We can all learn more productive ways to handle in-person interactions. During my medicine residency, mentors taught me how to navigate a multitude of communication challenges—such as with people from different cultures and end of life discussions. I realized there was an entire science of communication and I was eager to learn more—so after my residency, I went on to do a Fellowship in Medical Ethics focusing specifically on doctor-patient communication.
Let’s use this week’s Tech Talk Tuesday time to discuss communication skills with our children or students. I want to share a communication tool that comes from a field of therapy, called DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), created by Marcia Linehan. It’s called DEAR, and it is great to use when anyone is about to ask for something that they are nervous about.
D = Describe the situation
E = Emotion you are feeling about the issue
A = Ask for what you want
R = Reiterate how it will benefit both of you if this can be worked out
My son, Chase and I talked today about DEAR, and he gave me an example of a friend he wants to try DEAR on this week. The friend is frequently off in the corner on his phone when the two of them are together. This is what Chase plans to do:
D = Describe to his friend that he sees him checking his phone much of the time they are together
E = Because of this Chase feels distant (the emotion) when they hang out
A = Ask him if they could try hanging out just one day with their phones entirely out of view
R = Reiterate that he thinks they would both have a better time together
How do we improve our face-to-face communication skills? Here are some questions to get the conversation started:
If you have a teen or young adult in your life who has poor interpersonal skills and needs help, call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC, at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss potential solutions.
Throughout time we have seen young men demonstrate “becoming a man” in a variety of ways; whether they went off to war, married their high school sweetheart and settled down to start a family, or left home and moved to college for the first time, historically boys actively sought out ways to become men and move on with their lives. However, we’re now seeing disturbing trends of boys “remaining directionless, devastated and scared children.” In the article below, written by Benjamin Hardy, a writer for Medium.com and a Ph.D. candidate, the concepts of male identity are explored. Hardy gives a list of ways the young men can make the transition into adulthood more smoothly and take charge of their lives.
10 Habits that Change Boys into Men by Benjamin Hardy
The demise of our culture will result from the demise of its men if something isn’t changed quickly. Far too many men remain directionless, devastated and scared children. Male suicide rate increased to three to four times higher than the female suicide rate. Men are twice as likely as women to become alcoholics. And males are far more likely to commit juvenile crime. Much has been said and written in recent years about the challenges of men and boys. A sampling of book titles includes:
A common theme is that men and boys have become increasingly confused about their identity and role in society. Kay Hymowitz, author of Manning Up, put it this way:
“It’s been an almost universal rule of civilization that whereas girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess, or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors of women and children; this was always their primary social role. Today, however, with women moving ahead in an advanced economy, provider husbands and fathers are now optional, and the character qualities men had needed to play their role — fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity — are obsolete and even a little embarrassing.”
It is the norm in Hollywood films, TV and cable shows, and even commercials to portray men as incompetent, immature, or self-absorbed. This underlying message has subtly and increasingly become the collective unconscious with devastating repercussions.
Academically, it is reported in the United States that:
Women deserve the increased success they are getting. They’ve been oppressed for far too long. They’re more motivated and effective than most men. And hopefully society will continue to allow them the increased equality they deserve.
However, this article’s focus is on helping the struggling and confused young man. Indeed, many young men have taken the adverse cues of society as an excuse to evade responsibility and never really grow up.
If you are a young man and you’re struggling, you are not alone. This article is intended to challenge you to rethink your entire approach to life. If applied, these habits will radically set you apart from the decaying norm.
Kids look to their parents for all the answers. When they become teenagers they know all the answers. Many never mature out of this stage and remain incredibly narcissistic, which is displayed in the following ways:
Moving beyond self-consciousness requires an increase in overall consciousness.
By heightening your level of consciousness, you’ll see the brilliance of humanity in general, be able to relate deeper with others, experience greater joy, and have enhanced ability to manifest the destiny of your choosing.
The following are ways to increase your level of consciousness:
There are a host of both positive and negative effects of playing video games. However, approximately 15 percent of American youth have an unhealthy addiction to video games. Another study reported that 31 percent of males and 13 percent of females have felt “addicted” to video games.
Naturally, boys have a strong need for accomplishment and challenge. Yet, studies suggest that some of the most popular video games are disengaging boys from real-world pursuits. Boys’ need for accomplishment is satisfied by “leveling up” in the game; so they don’t feel the need to go out into the world and solve real problems. Thus, society is not being served by their efforts.
Gaming often gets in the way of important relationships or meaningful life pursuits. 15 percent of divorces are filed by women because their husband prefers video games over them.
This point is particularly significant to me. I myself spent a large portion of my time in junior high and high school playing World of Warcraft. Literally thousands of hours logged-in and lost.
I see many of my high school friends and family members who are now in their late 20’s and 30’s continuing to play 4+ hours of video games per day — even when married with kids.
Playing video games is being touted as a “healthy” way to escape reality. Yet, one must ask: Is escaping reality (especially for extended periods of time) ever healthy?
The need for achievement and challenge can be accomplished in real life. You can “level-up” the real you while simultaneously solving social problems.
The industrial classroom model is killing our boys. It is not a healthy environment for them. Young boys need more physical stimulation.
The result is that many are improperly and lazily diagnosed with ADHD. Their natural characteristics, emotions, passions, and gifts are being curbed by medications.
Although it is not a popular notion, boys and girls are wired differently. Girls are often exclusively motivated by praise. They will perfect their handwriting just to have it noticed.
Boys on the other hand, are often motivated by tangible experiences that relate to real life. Thus, many boys see no point in having good handwriting if one day they will spend their time typing. They don’t care as much what other people think. They just want to be challenged.
Short and intensive learning spurts, followed by rigorous physical stimulation is a powerful and positive way for boys and men to learn. Rough-and-tumble play helps develop the frontal lobe of the brain, which is used to regulate behavior. Sadly, many public schools are removing gym class and recess, further exacerbating problems among boys.
In the recent book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, authors John J. Ratey and Eric Hagerman share some amazing science and stories. For instance, despite many schools removing gym-class from their curriculum, others have put more focus on it and found staggering results. When kids exercise in the morning, they learn far better.In fact, they improve in all areas of their lives. Human beings are holistic. Your brain, your emotions, your relationships, are all tied together.
If you’re living a sedentary life as a man, you’re not getting the needed stimulation you need. Research has found that males thrive in kinesthetic learning environments — learning through moving.
Intensive physical activity, like sprinting or heavy weight lifting (followed by extended rest periods) are a good outlet for men’s need of physical stimulation. Moreover, these intensive physical activities can activate healthy levels of testosterone which produce many positive effects — including:
Studies have found that healthy testosterone levels affect men’s cognitive performance, and can improve focus, motivation, and memory.
Interestingly, boys and girls experience pain differently. For boys, physical pain can be a stimulant fueling mental clarity. On the other hand, physical pain for girls can be a narcotic, making them feel hazy and confused.
I’ve seen this in myself. Some of my greatest insights have come while pushing myself to the extreme while doing yard work or while exercising. This phenomenon is also seen in endurance athletes who push themselves through pain for many hours at a time.
In his book, Boys Adrift, Dr. Leonard Sax explains that boys need — not want — to be responsible. If they are not needed, they don’t flourish.
Men step down if they’re not needed. And because of society’s message that men are no longer needed, many are staying in their parents basements.
Although most men will not go out of their way to take on challenges and responsibility, this is the very thing they should do if they want to thrive. Indeed, it is becoming common knowledge that perception is followed by physical experience in the form of self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe you will succeed, you often do.
If you set your sights high in life, you will achieve incredible things. In order to do this, you can no longer play the victim to circumstances. Blaming the world, your parents, school, or the challenges you’ve faced in life is not going to solve your problems. It’s going to keep you stuck and bitter.
Instead, take the time to imagine and mentally create your ideal life. Mental creation always precedes physical creation.
You have the inner power to create whatever life you want to achieve. All you have to do is spend the time creating that world with intention. Write down exactly what you want in life. Set your standards ridiculously high. Don’t hold anything back.
Read, rewrite, and reread your ambitions often. These will soon consume your subconscious mind creating new patterns in your brain. Eventually, you’ll manifest the world you’ve been creating in your head.
Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and every other religious and spiritual tradition strongly stress the significance of regular prayer. Although the form of practice may be different, the purpose is the same:
Prayer (and modifications such as meditation and gratitude journals) are regularly found to increase physical and mental well-being.
For me, I often combine prayer with journal writing as a form of meditation. I seek inspiration, direction, heightened perspective, and gratitude.
Scientifically supported benefits of prayer include:
People are often turned-off by prayer, believing it is a strictly “religious” practice. Even if organized religion is not your thing, you can still have a positive and healthy relationship with prayer.
You are who you surround yourself with. There’s no way around it. If you want to evolve past your current state, you need to remove yourself from the negative forces in your life. This will not be easy. Misery loves company.
However, when you decide to remove yourself from negative people — and instead surround yourself with people who uplift and inspire you — your life will dramatically improve.
Take the leap. Invite your friends to come along with you. If they don’t understand your needed evolution, kindly bid them a loving farewell.
“We’re supposed to believe that relationships tie people down, that they are the death knell for creativity and ambition. Nonsense.” — Ryan Holiday
With all the productivity and success advice going on in the world today, very little is written about the benefits of finding a spouse who supports you and makes you better.
It is quite rare for people to stay committed to anything or anyone these days. There are countless fatherless children. Many seek easy sexual prey followed by the internal pit of emptiness — too afraid to reveal and confront their true identity.
Research has found that committed relationships can reduce the chance of illness and increase the length of life. Other benefits of long-term commitment in relationships include:
“Choose your love, love your choice.” — Thomas Monson
I got married at age 24. I’ve never felt restrained by that decision, only liberated. Now 29, we have three foster children, what most would consider a huge blow to our freedom.
This could not be further from the truth in my experience. Instead, I’m challenged to become a better person every day. I’m challenged to think beyond my own needs and to learn patience, humility and love.
I would never make such monumental decisions, such as becoming a parent or getting married, without prayer, fasting, meditation, and journaling. When you’re in a state of clarity, you can follow your intuition and consistently make good decisions. As Malcom Gladwell expounds in “Blink,” snap decisions are often more accurate than well-thought-out ones.
Of course marriage isn’t easy. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But why choose the easy path? As a man, challenge and responsibility is precisely what is needed to thrive.
Ordinary people seek entertainment. Extraordinary people seek education and learning. We now live in a world where you no longer need to go to college (or high school) to become educated. At your fingertips is an unlimited and ever-increasingly well of information. You can become an expert at anything.
Many of the world’s most successful people attribute their success to a love for learning. They often read one or more books per week. With a few books, you can learn how to build wealth, healthy relationships, and the life of your dreams.
With more information and education, you will make better lifestyle choices. You’ll be less likely to have destructive addictions and make ignorant decisions.
You’ll be more likely to surround yourself with brilliant people, learn new languages and explore the world, come up with solutions to the world’s problems, and have passion and zest for life.
Stop gaming and start reading. The real world awaits. And it’s amazing.
“Don’t fail by default.” — Richard Paul Evans
Richard Paul Evans, the famous writer, often tells a story of being a shy high school kid. In one of his classes, he sat next to the girl of his dreams. He spent an entire year wishing he could work up the courage to ask her out. But he never ended up talking to her.
“Why would she be interested in a loser like me?” he would say to himself.
A few years later, at a high school reunion, they met and talked.
“I just have to ask: Why didn’t you ever ask me out?” she asked. “I always liked you and hoped you would talk to me.”
Evans was shocked.
He had been wrong that entire time and missed the opportunity he spent over a year dreaming about. In that moment, he determined to never fail by default again.
“If I’m going to fail, I’m going to fail big,” he has said. “If I fail, I’m going to fail after giving it everything I’ve got.”
Stop playing life small. Date people that seem absurdly out of your league. They’re not — only in your head.
Don’t be conservative in your career until you’re in your 40’s. There is little risk while you’re young, energetic, and motivated. Now is the time to take huge risks. Embrace rejection and failure. In turn, embrace enormous and unimaginable success.
You can have whatever life you choose. Don’t be afraid to dream big for yourself. Have the courage to seize that life and truly live, rather than only imagining living. The world needs you.
If you have a young man in your life who you feel needs help transitioning into adulthood call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC, at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss potential solutions.
Today’s youth frequently manage their relationships – both friendships and romantic relationships – through technology. The combination of adolescent hormones and freedom with technology has led to a pervasive “hook up” culture – where interactions are focused on quick physical intimacy. With teens looking at their screens constantly they aren’t spending time talking face to face and having the opportunity to pick up on facial cues, and learn from mistakes made like in times past.
The affects of this have been shown to be negative for girls. However, it is becoming more and more apparent that boys are also negatively affected by the “hook up” mentality. Abigail Pesta wrote the article below, which demonstrates the current trends and what we can do about it.
Boys also harmed by teen ‘hookup’ culture, experts say
By: Abigail Pesta
A 15-year-old girl sits in high school English class when a text message pops up on her cellphone. It’s from a boy sitting across the room. He hardly knows her, but he likes her. Here’s how he chooses to get that message across:
Him: “So, are you good at hooking up?”
Her: “Um idk. I don’t really think about that.”
Him: “Well, I want my d–k in your mouth? Will you at least be my girlfriend.”
It’s the kind of scenario that’s playing out among teens across America, illustrating an increasing confusion among boys about how to behave, experts say. In the casual-sex “hookup” culture, courtship happens by text and tweet. Boys send X-rated propositions to girls in class. Crude photos, even nude photos, play a role once reserved for the handwritten note saying, “Hey, I like you.”
According to new research, boys who engage in this kind of sexualized behavior say they have no intention to be hostile or demeaning — precisely the opposite. While they admit they are pushing limits, they also think they are simply courting. They describe it as “goofing around, flirting,” said Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist and school consultant who interviewed 1,000 students nationwide for her new book, “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age.”
How the hookup culture affects young people has long been debated and lamented, in books and blogs, among parents and teachers. A general consensus is that it harms girls, although some have argued that it empowers them. The effect on boys, however, is less often part of the discussion.
Conventional wisdom tends to oversimplify the situation to something along the lines of: Boys get to have sex, which is really all they want. They are seen as predators, and girls, their prey.
Reality is far more complex than this, in ways that can affect young men socially and emotionally well into adulthood, according to Steiner-Adair. It’s “insufficient, superficial and polarizing when boys simply get cast as aggressors and girls as victims,” she said. In her view, girls can certainly suffer negative consequences from the hookup culture. Her point is: Boys can, too. “It’s such a bad part of our culture to think that boys aren’t also harmed,” she says. “We are neglecting the emotional lives of boys.”
In interviews and focus groups, Steiner-Adair talked with boys and girls ages 4 to 18 at suburban public and private schools, with consent from parents and schools, about their relationships and influences. Kids from the fourth grade and up shared their private texts and Facebook posts, unveiling the dating landscape. In one case, a boy sent a naked snapshot of himself to his girlfriend, with a suggestive caption. The girl, who had never seen her boyfriend naked, was shocked, and said she felt the relationship had suddenly lost its innocence. “I was so mad about that,” she said. The girl’s reaction, in turn, surprised the boy. He really liked her. His behavior, said Steiner-Adair, was “aggressive in a way that boys don’t understand.”
Steiner-Adair also saw the string of texts between the 15-year-old girl in English class and her suitor. The girl described the conversation as “a stupid, disgusting exchange,” adding that it was “typical for the boys at our school.” Still, the girl became intrigued when the boy revealed in a subsequent note that he liked her. The girl wondered if she should tell him how his initial approach had offended her. Then she started to cry, questioning whether it was worth the effort.
Teenagers have never been known for their social grace. But this generation is navigating adolescence with a new digital tool kit — Facebook, Twitter — that has the unintended side effect of subtracting important social cues, according to Steiner-Adair. Nuance and body language are lost in translation.
She also noted the influence of online porn. Students across the country asked Steiner-Adair about graphic images they had seen. One boy said, “I don’t get it — why would a woman get turned on by being choked?” A girl asked her if it was normal to have anal sex.
Another boy showed her pornographic notes that two of his friends had secretly sent to a girl from his own Facebook page, including, “Your challenge is to go for weeks without d–ks in all four of your holes.” When the boy found out about the prank, he wasn’t upset, but amused. “This is just my friends being idiots, basically,” he said. “They were just trying to be funny.” Steiner-Adair asked why the exchange had turned so nasty and the boy said, “It didn’t turn nasty. That’s the norm for our generation.”
To be sure, some boys have always been crude. The new extremes, said Steiner-Adair, can be damaging. Boys don’t benefit, she said, from learning to be demeaning toward girls or to treat them as sexual objects. She said boys often expressed a desire for a deeper connection with girls, but felt confused about how to make it happen. They are “yearning for intimacy that goes beyond biology,” she said. “They just don’t know how to achieve it.”
Andrew Smiler, a developmental psychologist, agrees. He examined some 600 studies on masculinity, sex and relationships for his book “Challenging Casanova,” concluding that most young men are more motivated by love than sex. Pop culture helps spur the disconnect between what young men want and how they often act, he argues, citing as an example the show “Two and a Half Men.” “The jerk gets all the laugh lines,” he said. “The nice guy always looks like a sap.”
That theory is debated. Steven Rhoads, a professor who teaches a class on sex differences at the University of Virginia, said he analyzed decades worth of research on sexuality and biology for his book “Taking Sex Differences Seriously” to conclude that men and women are “hardwired” differently. Hookups have deeper psychological costs for women, he said, noting that anecdotes from his students back up the research: Female students often tell him they are hurt by casual sex in a way that male students are not. The boys don’t know it, he said, because the girls don’t want to tell them.
For boys and girls alike, crucial lessons in how to relate to each other are getting lost in the blizzard of tweets and texts, experts say. The cues kids would pick up from a live conversation — facial expressions, gestures — are absent from the arm’s-length communications that are now a fixture of growing up. The fast-paced technology also “deletes the pause” between impulse and action, said Steiner-Adair, who calls texting the “worst possible training ground” for developing mature relationships. Dan Slater, the author of “Love in the Time of Algorithms,” agrees. “You can manage an entire relationship with text messages,” he said, but that keeps some of the “messy relationship stuff” at bay. “That’s the stuff that helps people grow up,” he added.
The key to developing solid relationships lies partly in early education, said Steiner-Adair. To that end, some schools are launching classes focused on social and emotional issues, with teachers talking about gender, language, social media and healthy relationships.
Also critical, according to Steiner-Adair, is family time spent away from screens. In her research, teens often said their parents were embroiled in work or personal interests and simply not available. Some parents said they were intimidated by their children’s complaints and exploits, and didn’t want to seem ignorant or helpless. The heart of the matter for families, she said, is good old-fashioned talking — the kind you do face to face.
If you have a teen or young adult struggling to maintain healthy relationships and boundaries, call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC, at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss potential solutions.