News Reel

How do we help struggling students?

Throughout the United States students are struggling with mental health issues, which is unfortunately being demonstrated with school shootings, bullying and rising suicide rates. Educators and parents are grappling with what can be done for these students. Earlier this year Ashville Academy and the Hillside Center in Atlanta co-hosted a luncheon to discuss continual care for students to help administrative professionals and counselors understand the many options available to help this youth mental health crisis.

Tamara Ancona was asked to participate in the panel discussion and offered the perspective of an educational consultant and an expert opinion on the process families go through to get their student the right kind of help. Attendees walked away with a clearer understanding about options available, choosing the correct program and where students fit into the continuum of care.

If your school is interesting in hosting a similar discussion call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC, at (678) 297-0708 to schedule a time.

 

Digital Etiquette

Digit Etiquette

 

Etiquette is a word people typically associate with formal events or something their grandparents would have lectured about. However, with the rise of digital devices etiquette needs to be discussed more openly – namely digital etiquette. Screenagers focused on this very issue – how we can better employ digital etiquette around others and how we can teach our children the same skills. For their tips, please read below:

Our kids learn a lot about how to behave with other people by watching us. They see us listen instead of interrupt someone, smile at a cashier, embrace a friend. When we are often out in the social world with a cell phone in our hand, what are we teaching them about digital etiquette? For now, I am not talking about online interactions but rather person-to-person.

Etiquette sounds so prim and proper. If I could clarify more, it would be “nurturing relationships in the face of mobile technology.” But that is a bit long. How do we respect and give undivided attention to the people we are with when dopamine pumps (i.e. smartphones, tablets, etc.) are in our hands? It’s not easy, but I have some ideas to share.

When Everyone Has a Phone But You Don’t

Last week I gave a talk for a school district in Coppell, Texas. A girl about 12-years-old came to the microphone during the Q and A and said, “At my middle school kids can use their phone. We only get one break, and that is lunch. Well, all my friends are on their phones. I don’t have one, and I wish they would talk with me.”

My heart sank a bit but I smiled, and I asked her what she had tried. She didn’t have an answer so we brainstormed some ideas including asking her friends if they could try to put their phones away perhaps one day a week or for a time at the end of lunch.

I encourage parents to teach their children to put phones away when they are in a group of kids who do not have a phone. Maybe they won’t do it, but they are hearing from us what we think is a kind thing to do.

Give a Heads Up

If you are with someone and you decide you need to check your phone, a digital etiquette I love is to say something like “My apologies, (or heads up), but I have to check my phone for a second.” Or, something like “Can you excuse me, I just have to do this one thing quickly.”

Years ago I worked with my family to establish this etiquette so that when we are out together and someone has to check their phone, which we try not to do, we would give a quick heads up beforehand. I had a strong motivation to do this because when someone would turn to a phone, I never knew if they were planning on disappearing into their phone or if it was just for a quick thing. Not knowing meant I often snapped at them—and they didn’t like when I did that—and I didn’t like when I did that either.

Don’t get me wrong—we are not some family in the Jane Eyre novel constantly asking for permission, apologizing and sipping tea. We often don’t give warnings, but we are all aware of it, and we try to.

Keep Devices Off and Away for Meals

My family does not have devices out when we eat a meal together. The visual reminder of the device on the table can create pressure and desire to check messages and notifications and take our attention away from those right in front of us.

I have made sure to teach my teens about the benefits of putting phones away when they are at a table eating with friends. For example, they know how the presence of a phone at the table increases the chances that conversations will be more superficial. So now when they are with their friends, they can joke around about that study and in a subtle way impart this knowledge to their friends. I am not sure of the outcome, but I hope that this all results in more phones off tables and in pockets.

That said, a couple months ago my son told me that he and his friends had all put their phones in the middle of the table at dinner and if anyone checked their phone they would have to cover the bill.  He got this strategy from a teenager in Screenagers.  It was fun to know he put it into practice.

This week’s invite your family or students to talk about digital etiquette. Digital etiquette continues to be a new landscape, and often kids see things that we don’t consider. There can even be etiquette about sharing video game controllers. So many interactions happen around tech all the time. Here are some questions to get the conversation started:

  • Have you seen anyone be particularly respectful when it comes to tech and social situations?
  • What digital etiquette do you try to follow?
  • How do you feel when you are talking to someone, and they pull their phone out in the middle of your conversation?

If you have loved one who is struggling with their technology use call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Put Down that Phone

Cell phone

 

How often during the day do you ask your teen or young adult to put down their digital devices? Former professor Larry Clayton, has given recommendations in the article below on how to get teens or young adults to put down their phones and experience real life.

Did you know, or realize, that high school students spend about nine hours a day on digital media?

I didn’t spend nine hours a day on anything when I was in high school. Or in college for that matter, not even obsessing about being in college with a coed population after seven years in an all-boys prep school deprived of the normal interaction between the sexes.

This obsession with digital media has resulted in adverse mental, emotional, and physical health consequences. When on campus, I cannot help but observe and hear that just about everyone is glued to their cell phone, walking like zombies here and there. Their conversations can be totally inane.

“Hi, just got out of class.”

Just got out of class? I’m thinking.

“Well, am off to cross the street. Wazup?”

Who cares?

Even guys driving their 18-wheelers are on their cell phones, and when they weave into your lane as they look up a phone number you better move over.

Digital addiction is dangerous, not only for teenagers and college students, but for the rest of us trying to navigate the storms and shoals of life.

What’s going on here? The French appear to be ahead of us. Starting in September 2018, French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer has declared a total ban of mobile phone usage in primary and secondary schools. Blanquer said it’s a matter of “public health.”

Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, has established the first Center for Digital Wellness — it’s Wi-Fi free! –in the land.

Its founder, Sylvia Hart Frejd, the author of “The Digital Invasion,” summed up the reasoning behind this pioneering effort to deal with a national addiction.

“I like what technology is doing for us, but I don’t like what it is doing to us.”

The major implications of digital technology addiction were explored recently right here at the University of Alabama by Dr. Alan Blum, a professor at the College of Community Health Sciences, and Tomasz Gruchala, a Catherine J. Randall Research Scholar in the Honors College. Their findings, along with those of Frejd and others studying the addiction, are troubling.

After recounting all the good things that come of digital media, like instant access to information, GPS, online viewing of film, art, opera, etc. (our undergraduates are really into opera these days while having a brewsky on the Strip….) the adverse effects were described. Ugly. These are general categories:

— Decline in school performance

— Diminished attentiveness

— Physical and mental health problems

— Incivility

— Less satisfying relationships

On a more detailed level, an increase in narcissism among college students and a decrease in empathy, a higher risk for depression, anxiety, and stress, and, ironically, as Frejd describes it, “even in a hyper-connected generation, studies still show we are lonelier than ever before.”

Everybody is texting, connected, multitasking, and yet the end is loneliness and isolation, unable to deal in real-life situations.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal said true achievers were not multitaskers, but those who could block off the trash and focus on one or two elements at a time.

Let’s invite Frejd to UA for a conference and take some real steps to deal with this. Like any good student of a phenomenon, she has some suggestions for “digital wellness”:

1. IT’S NOT “I TWEET, THEREFORE I AM,” but think twice before you post, tweet, text, or upload it.

2. WATCH YOUR DIGITAL FOOTPRINTS, because they are permanent.

3. UNPLUG. Take a digital “fast” once a week or once a month

4. INVEST IN RELATIONSHIPS. Real people trump virtual ones

5. ESTABLISH DIGITAL BOUNDARIES. Limit when you use digital devices and how much time you spend on them (like, “I should be practicing my piano lesson rather than sitting in front of this computer typing.”)

6. FIND THINGS YOU ENJOY DOING IN REAL LIFE and do them.

7. GET OUTSIDE. Take walks, feel the sun, and breathe fresh air.

8. POWER DOWN AND GET SOME SLEEP. Your brain can’t thrive without it.

9. CULTIVATE YOUR “GODSPACE” DAILY. Take time to be still and know that He is God.

10. BE A GOOD STEWARD. Use technology for God’s glory.

I like the above, some of which I do better than others. I am glued to my computer far too long for my mental and physical health. I told my wife that I need to get that Harley like No. 6 recommends above. Now is the time!

If you have loved one who is struggling with their technology use call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Study: Rise in Marijuana Use During Pregnancy

cannabis-and-pregnancy-hero-3

A woman finding out she is pregnant is often a happy time, but can also bring a myriad of symptoms and side effects. Other mothers are always eager to share their tips and tricks to ease the discomforts that accompany this exciting time in life. The latest trend is using marijuana. A recent study, published in the JAMA journal and re-posted below, discusses the reasons for this and the drawbacks involved.

More pregnant women are turning to pot to ease such pregnancy symptoms as morning sickness and anxiety, according to a new study published in the journal JAMA.

For the seven-year study, nearly 300,000 California-based mothers-to-be, ages 12 and older, completed questionnaires about their marijuana use and took toxicology tests during their prenatal care visits.

The results: Marijuana use climbed from 4.2% to 7.1% from 2009 through 2016. And while marijuana use increased in every age group, the sharpest spike was among women younger than age 24.

Here’s a closer look at some of the findings:

  • In women younger than 18, pot use increased from 12.5 percent to almost 22 percent.
  • In women ages 18 to 24, marijuana use jumped from almost 10 percent to 19 percent.
  • In women ages 25 to 34, pot use rose from about 3 percent to about 5 percent.
  • In women older than 34, marijuana use increased from about 2 percent to about 3 percent.

Why More Pregnant Women Are Using Pot

Experts point to both legalization and increasing social acceptance as possible explanations.

“Think about marijuana use from their perspective, especially in Northern California,” Robyn Horsager-Boehrer, professor and chief of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas Southwestern’s William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital, told CNN.com. 

California legalized medical marijuana use in 1996, and on January 1, 2018, legalized recreational marijuana. “So I think the idea that use is rising is just because of the greater legal exposure to marijuana that women have today versus 20 years ago,” Dr. Horsager-Boehrer continued.

Why Pot and Pregnancy Don’t Mix
Legal or not, using pot during pregnancy is risky business. Many of the chemicals in marijuana, like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), could pass through a mother’s system to her baby. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that “women who are pregnant or contemplating pregnancy should be encouraged to discontinue marijuana use” and “to discontinue use of marijuana for medicinal purposes in favor of an alternative therapy.”

Research on the effects of marijuana use on developing babies is still ongoing and many women who use marijuana may also smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol or use other street drugs.

According to March of Dimes, studies have linked the following health effects with marijuana use during pregnancy:

  • Premature birth, or birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Low birth weight.
  • Anencephaly. This is a severe neural tube defect that causes missing major parts of the brain, skull and scalp. Babies with this condition do not survive long after birth.
  • Anemia, or lack of healthy red blood cells that carry oxygen to the baby’s body.
  • Problems with brain development.
  • Stillbirth, or when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

In addition, exposure to marijuana during pregnancy may cause problems for the baby after birth, including:

  • Withdrawal symptoms, like tremors (shakes) or long periods of crying.
  • Problems with sleeping.
  • Problems with behavior, memory, learning, problem solving, depression and paying attention.

Getting Help for Marijuana Abuse
If you use marijuana and are pregnant or considering pregnancy, we can work together to create a plan to help you live a happy and drug-free lifestyle. To learn more about our programs and services, call today: 305-595-7378.

If you have loved one who is struggling with their marijuana use call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

 

Are we Raising a Nation of Wimps? PART 2

The Eternal Umbilicus

It’s bad enough that today’s children are raised in a psychological hothouse where they are overmonitored and oversheltered. But that hothouse no longer has geographical or temporal boundaries. For that you can thank the cell phone. Even in college—or perhaps especially at college—students are typically in contact with their parents several times a day, reporting every flicker of experience. One long-distance call overheard on a recent cross-campus walk: “Hi, Mom. I just got an ice-cream cone; can you believe they put sprinkles on the bottom as well as on top?”

“Kids are constantly talking to parents,” laments Cornell student Kramer, which makes them perpetually homesick. Of course, they’re not telling the folks everything, notes Portmann. “They’re not calling their parents to say, ‘I really went wild last Friday at the frat house and now I might have chlamydia. Should I go to the student health center?'”

The perpetual access to parents infantilizes the young, keeping them in a permanent state of dependency. Whenever the slightest difficulty arises, “they’re constantly referring to their parents for guidance,” reports Kramer. They’re not learning how to manage for themselves.

Think of the cell phone as the eternal umbilicus. One of the ways we grow up is by internalizing an image of Mom and Dad and the values and advice they imparted over the early years. Then, whenever we find ourselves faced with uncertainty or difficulty, we call on that internalized image. We become, in a way, all the wise adults we’ve had the privilege to know. “But cell phones keep kids from figuring out what to do,” says Anderegg. “They’ve never internalized any images; all they’ve internalized is ‘call Mom or Dad.'”

Some psychologists think we have yet to recognize the full impact of the cell phone on child development, because its use is so new. Although there are far too many variables to establish clear causes and effects, Indiana’s Carducci believes that reliance on cell phones undermines the young by destroying the ability to plan ahead. “The first thing students do when they walk out the door of my classroom is flip open the cell phone. Ninety-five percent of the conversations go like this: ‘I just got out of class; I’ll see you in the library in five minutes.’ Absent the phone, you’d have to make arrangements ahead of time; you’d have to think ahead.”

Herein lies another possible pathway to depression. The ability to plan resides in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the executive branch of the brain. The PFC is a critical part of the self-regulation system, and it’s deeply implicated in depression, a disorder increasingly seen as caused or maintained by unregulated thought patterns—lack of intellectual rigor, if you will. Cognitive therapy owes its very effectiveness to the systematic application of critical thinking to emotional reactions. Further, it’s in the setting of goals and progress in working toward them, however mundane they are, that positive feelings are generated. From such everyday activity, resistance to depression is born.

What’s more, cell phones—along with the instant availability of cash and almost any consumer good your heart desires—promote fragility by weakening self-regulation. “You get used to things happening right away,” says Carducci. You not only want the pizza now, you generalize that expectation to other domains, like friendship and intimate relationships. You become frustrated and impatient easily. You become unwilling to work out problems. And so relationships fail—perhaps the single most powerful experience leading to depression.

From Scrutiny to Anxiety… and Beyond

The 1990s witnessed a landmark reversal in the traditional patterns of psychopathology. While rates of depression rise with advancing age among people over 40, they’re now increasing fastest among children, striking more children at younger and younger ages.

In his now-famous studies of how children’s temperaments play out, Harvard psychologist Jerome Kagan has shown unequivocally that what creates anxious children is parents hovering and protecting them from stressful experiences. About 20 percent of babies are born with a high-strung temperament. They can be spotted even in the womb; they have fast heartbeats. Their nervous systems are innately programmed to be overexcitable in response to stimulation, constantly sending out false alarms about what is dangerous.

As infants and children this group experiences stress in situations most kids find unthreatening, and they may go through childhood and even adulthood fearful of unfamiliar people and events, withdrawn and shy. At school age they become cautious, quiet and introverted. Left to their own devices they grow up shrinking from social encounters. They lack confidence around others. They’re easily influenced by others. They are sitting ducks for bullies. And they are on the path to depression.

While their innate reactivity seems to destine all these children for later anxiety disorders, things didn’t turn out that way. Between a touchy temperament in infancy and persistence of anxiety stand two highly significant things: parents. Kagan found to his surprise that the development of anxiety was scarcely inevitable despite apparent genetic programming. At age 2, none of the overexcitable infants wound up fearful if their parents backed off from hovering and allowed the children to find some comfortable level of accommodation to the world on their own. Those parents who overprotected their children—directly observed by conducting interviews in the home—brought out the worst in them.

A small percentage of children seem almost invulnerable to anxiety from the start. But the overwhelming majority of kids are somewhere in between. For them, overparenting can program the nervous system to create lifelong vulnerability to anxiety and depression.

There is in these studies a lesson for all parents. Those who allow their kids to find a way to deal with life’s day-to-day stresses by themselves are helping them develop resilienceand coping strategies. “Children need to be gently encouraged to take risks and learn that nothing terrible happens,” says Michael Liebowitz, clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and head of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic at New York State Psychiatric Institute. “They need gradual exposure to find that the world is not dangerous. Having overprotective parents is a risk factor for anxiety disorders because children do not have opportunities to master their innate shyness and become more comfortable in the world.” They never learn to dampen the pathways from perception to alarm reaction.

Hothouse parenting undermines children in other ways, too, says Anderegg. Being examined all the time makes children extremely self-conscious. As a result they get less communicative; scrutiny teaches them to bury their real feelings deeply. And most of all, self-consciousness removes the safety to be experimental and playful. “If every drawing is going to end up on your parents’ refrigerator, you’re not free to fool around, to goof up or make mistakes,” says Anderegg.

Parental hovering is why so many teenagers are so ironic, he notes. It’s a kind of detachment, “a way of hiding in plain sight. They just don’t want to be exposed to any more scrutiny.”

Parents are always so concerned about children having high self-esteem, he adds. “But when you cheat on their behalf to get them ahead of other children”—by pursuing accommodations and recommendations—you just completely corrode their sense of self. They feel ‘I couldn’t do this on my own.’ It robs them of their own sense of efficacy.” A child comes to think, “if I need every advantage I can get, then perhaps there is really something wrong with me.” A slam-dunk for depression.

Virginia’s Portmann feels the effects are even more pernicious; they weaken the whole fabric of society. He sees young people becoming weaker right before his eyes, more responsive to the herd, too eager to fit in—less assertive in the classroom, unwilling to disagree with their peers, afraid to question authority, more willing to conform to the expectations of those on the next rung of power above them.

Endless Adolescence

The end result of cheating childhood is to extend it forever. Despite all the parental pressure, and probably because of it, kids are pushing back—in their own way. They’re taking longer to grow up.

Adulthood no longer begins when adolescence ends, according to a recent report by University of Pennsylvania sociologist Frank F. Furstenberg and colleagues. There is, instead, a growing no-man’s-land of postadolescence from 20 to 30, which they dub “early adulthood.” Those in it look like adults but “haven’t become fully adult yet—traditionally defined as finishing school, landing a job with benefits, marrying and parenting—because they are not ready or perhaps not permitted to do so.”

Using the classic benchmarks of adulthood, 65 percent of males had reached adulthood by the age of 30 in 1960. By contrast, in 2000, only 31 percent had. Among women, 77 percent met the benchmarks of adulthood by age 30 in 1960. By 2000, the number had fallen to 46 percent.

Boom Boom Boomerang

Take away play from the front end of development and it finds a way onto the back end. A steady march of success through regimented childhood arranged and monitored by parents creates young adults who need time to explore themselves. “They often need a period in college or afterward to legitimately experiment—to be children,” says historian Stearns. “There’s decent historical evidence to suggest that societies that allow kids a few years of latitude and even moderate [rebellion] end up with healthier kids than societies that pretend such impulses don’t exist.”

Marriage is one benchmark of adulthood, but its antecedents extend well into childhood. “The precursor to marriage is dating, and the precursor to dating is playing,” says Carducci. The less time children spend in free play, the less socially competent they’ll be as adults. It’s in play that we learn give and take, the fundamental rhythm of all relationships. We learn how to read the feelings of others and how to negotiate conflicts. Taking the play out of childhood, he says, is bound to create a developmental lag, and he sees it clearly in the social patterns of today’s adolescents and young adults, who hang around in groups that are more typical of childhood. Not to be forgotten: The backdrop of continued high levels of divorce confuses kids already too fragile to take the huge risk of commitment.

Just Whose Shark Tank Is It Anyway?

The stressful world of cutthroat competition that parents see their kids facing may not even exist. Or it exists, but more in their mind than in reality—not quite a fiction, more like a distorting mirror. “Parents perceive the world as a terribly competitive place,” observes Anderegg. “And many of them project that onto their children when they’re the ones who live or work in a competitive environment. They then imagine that their children must be swimming in a big shark tank, too.”

“It’s hard to know what the world is going to look like 10 years from now,” says Elkind. “How best do you prepare kids for that? Parents think that earlier is better. That’s a natural intuition, but it happens to be wrong.”

What if parents have micromanaged their kids’ lives because they’ve hitched their measurement of success to a single event whose value to life and paycheck they have frantically overestimated? No one denies the Ivy League offers excellent learning experiences, but most educators know that some of the best programs exist at schools that don’t top the U.S. News and World Report list, and that with the right attitude—a willingness to be engaged by new ideas—it’s possible to get a meaningful education almost anywhere. Further, argues historian Stearns, there are ample openings for students at an array of colleges. “We have a competitive frenzy that frankly involves parents more than it involves kids themselves,” he observes, both as a father of eight and teacher of many. “Kids are more ambivalent about the college race than are parents.”

Yet the very process of application to select colleges undermines both the goal of education and the inherent strengths of young people. “It makes kids sneaky,” says Anderegg. Bending rules and calling in favors to give one’s kid a competitive edge is morally corrosive.

Like Stearns, he is alarmed that parents, pursuing disability diagnoses so that children can take untimed SATs, actually encourage kids to think of themselves as sickly and fragile. Colleges no longer know when SATs are untimed—but the kids know. “The kids know when you’re cheating on their behalf,” says Anderegg, “and it makes them feel terribly guilty. Sometimes they arrange to fail to right the scales. And when you cheat on their behalf, you completely undermine their sense of self-esteem. They feel they didn’t earn it on their own.”

In buying their children accommodations to assuage their own anxiety, parents are actually locking their kids into fragility. Says the suburban teacher: “Exams are a fact of life. They are anxiety-producing. The kids never learn how to cope with anxiety.”

Putting Worry in its Place

Children, however, are not the only ones who are harmed by hyperconcern. Vigilance is enormously taxing—and it’s taken all the fun out of parenting. “Parenting has in some measurable ways become less enjoyable than it used to be,” says Stearns. “I find parents less willing to indulge their children’s sense of time. So they either force-feed them or do things for them.”

Parents need to abandon the idea of perfection and give up some of the invasive control they’ve maintained over their children. The goal of parenting, Portmann reminds, is to raise an independent human being. Sooner or later, he says, most kids will be forced to confront their own mediocrity. Parents may find it easier to give up some control if they recognize they have exaggerated many of the dangers of childhood—although they have steadfastly ignored others, namely the removal of recess from schools and the ubiquity of video games that encourage aggression.

The childhood we’ve introduced to our children is very different from that in past eras, Epstein stresses. Children no longer work at young ages. They stay in school for longer periods of time and spend more time exclusively in the company of peers. Children are far less integrated into adult society than they used to be at every step of the way. We’ve introduced laws that give children many rights and protections—although we have allowed media and marketers to have free access.

In changing the nature of childhood, Stearns argues, we’ve introduced a tendency to assume that children can’t handle difficult situations. “Middle-class parents especially assume that if kids start getting into difficulty they need to rush in and do it for them, rather than let them flounder a bit and learn from it. I don’t mean we should abandon them,” he says, “but give them more credit for figuring things out.” And recognize that parents themselves have created many of the stresses and anxieties children are suffering from, without giving them tools to manage them.

While the adults are at it, they need to remember that one of the goals of higher education is to help young people develop the capacity to think for themselves.

Although we’re well on our way to making kids more fragile, no one thinks that kids and young adults are fundamentally more flawed than in previous generations. Maybe many will “recover” from diagnoses too liberally slapped on to them. In his own studies of 14 skills he has identified as essential for adulthood in American culture, from love to leadership, Epstein has found that “although teens don’t necessarily behave in a competent way, they have the potential to be every bit as competent and as incompetent as adults.”

Parental anxiety has its place. But the way things now stand, it’s not being applied wisely. We’re paying too much attention to too few kids—and in the end, the wrong kids. As with the girl whose parents bought her the Gestalt-defect diagnosis, resources are being expended for kids who don’t need them.

There are kids who are worth worrying about—kids in poverty, stresses Anderegg. “We focus so much on our own children,” says Elkind, “It’s time to begin caring about all children.”

If you have a child who is struggling with growing up call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.