What do techies know that we don’t?

The post I wrote yesterday about how our brains are being flooded with dopamine and how social media and screens are negatively affecting our health, reminded me of a blog post I wrote a few years ago about how the high tech geniuses in the Silicon Valley won’t allow their children to have any screen time at all. Zero. They obviously know something they aren’t telling the rest of us.

brother and sister showing off super powers
Robert and Kat showing off their super powers way before social media.

Here’s what I wrote about Silicon Valley parents a few years ago:

Talk about hypocrites. I read the strangest story about parents who live in the Silicon Valley. They refuse to let their kids see or touch iPhones or any screens of any nature. These are parents who work in the high tech world and themselves use the devices. While they are at work, they hire nannies to shield their kids from the heinous devices they work to create.

Then to even go further, they make nannies sign contracts that they will keep them away from screens. They also hire spies to snoop on their nannies at parks to make sure they don’t cheat and check their phones. Maybe it’s because they understand how miserable the phones are making their lives, that they want to keep their kids’ lives free from tech. Or maybe they know something we don’t about how unhealthy these screens are.

Here are a few excerpts from the article I read in sfgate called Silicon Valley Nannies are Phone Police for Kids:

SAN FRANCISCO — Silicon Valley parents are increasingly obsessed with keeping their children away from screens. Even a little screen time can be so deeply addictive, some parents believe, that it’s best if a child neither touches nor sees any of these glittering rectangles. These particular parents, after all, deeply understand their allure.

But it’s very hard for a working adult in the 21st century to live at home without looking at a phone. And so, as with many aspirations and ideals, it’s easier to hire someone to do this.

Enter the Silicon Valley nanny, who each day returns to the time before screens.

“Usually a day consists of me being allowed to take them to the park, introduce them to card games,” Jordin Altmann, 24, a nanny in San Jose, said of her charges. “Board games are huge.”

“Almost every parent I work for is very strong about the child not having any technical experience at all,” Altmann said. “In the last two years, it’s become a very big deal.”

From Cupertino to San Francisco, a growing consensus has emerged that screen time is bad for kids. It follows that these parents are now asking nannies to keep phones, tablets, computers and TVs off and hidden at all times. Some are even producing no-phone contracts, which guarantee zero unauthorized screen exposure, for their nannies to sign.

The fear of screens has reached the level of panic in Silicon Valley. Vigilantes now post photos to parenting message boards of possible nannies using cellphones near children. Which is to say, the very people building these glowing hyper-stimulating portals have become increasingly terrified of them. And it has put their nannies in a strange position.

“In the last year everything has changed,” said Shannon Zimmerman, a nanny in San Jose who works for families that ban screen time. “Parents are now much more aware of the tech they’re giving their kids. Now it’s like, ‘Oh no, reel it back, reel it back.’ Now the parents will say ‘No screen time at all.’”

The bright side is these parents do care about their kids. They want what is best for them. I wonder if they use their electronics while they are at home? Do they put away the iphones at dinner? Do the parents realize that their kids will model their behavior and learn most from what they do, not what they say?

brother and sister playing cowboy
My cowboys using their imaginations.

Do you think the Silicon Valley parents have known all along how dangerous and addictive screen time is? Or, is it a personal choice not to let their kids on screens? Are they wanting their kids to have the idealized life before computers? Do you or did you limit screen time for your kids?

Is it time for a digital detox?

early ipod
I remember when my kids’ only high tech device was this ipod to listen to music and the computer below that was not hooked up to the internet. They used disks with children’s activities for the Mac.
Bondi Blue Mac from 1998.

I was interviewed by a journalist last week for a survey about the state of American families. She reads my blog and interviewed me for a story a few years ago about parents hiring coaches to improve their parenting. You can read her article called Why some parents — including Prince Harry and his wife — are hiring parenting coaches HERE.

Last week, she asked me about major problems facing families today. I mentioned the rising costs to raise a family and also worries about the digital world, screen time and depression. I’ve read so many articles about how social media and screen time is causing depression and anxiety in our kids. The numbers are skyrocketing. Add that to the pandemic and kids literally had a year of isolation and not being with their peers.

Immediately after the interview, I ran across an article in the Wall Street Journal called: Digital Addictions Are Drowning Us in Dopamine. The article gives a scientific explanation for what is happening to our brains. I found it fascinating and thought I’d share it with you, too.

Here’s an excerpt:

Rising rates of depression and anxiety in wealthy countries like the U.S. may be a result of our brains getting hooked on the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure

By Anna Lembke, Wall Street Journal

—Dr. Lembke is a psychiatrist and professor at Stanford University. This essay is adapted from her new book “Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence,” which will be published on Aug. 24 by Dutton.

A patient of mine, a bright and thoughtful young man in his early 20s, came to see me for debilitating anxiety and depression. He had dropped out of college and was living with his parents. He was vaguely contemplating suicide. He was also playing videogames most of every day and late into every night.

Twenty years ago the first thing I would have done for a patient like this was prescribe an antidepressant. Today I recommended something altogether different: a dopamine fast. I suggested that he abstain from all screens, including videogames, for one month.

Over the course of my career as a psychiatrist, I have seen more and more patients who suffer from depression and anxiety, including otherwise healthy young people with loving families, elite education and relative wealth. Their problem isn’t trauma, social dislocation or poverty. It’s too much dopamine, a chemical produced in the brain that functions as a neurotransmitter, associated with feelings of pleasure and reward.

The article helped me understand the physical issues with screens that are affecting us — as much as the emotional problems with feeling left out, bullied, comparing yourself to the make-believe social media world. Although these issues with mental health affect mostly young people, I’m sure it’s not limited to their generation entirely.

To answer my own question, “Is it time for a digital detox?” I say yes. I’m trying to find little ways each day to put down the phone or other media and do something healthy. Whether it’s sitting outside listening and watching birds, or taking time to stretch, there are ways to make it a better day and improve mental health.

Here’s another excerpt:

As soon as dopamine is released, the brain adapts to it by reducing or “downregulating” the number of dopamine receptors that are stimulated. This causes the brain to level out by tipping to the side of pain, which is why pleasure is usually followed by a feeling of hangover or comedown. If we can wait long enough, that feeling passes and neutrality is restored. But there’s a natural tendency to counteract it by going back to the source of pleasure for another dose.

If we keep up this pattern for hours every day, over weeks or months, the brain’s set-point for pleasure changes. Now we need to keep playing games, not to feel pleasure but just to feel normal. As soon as we stop, we experience the universal symptoms of withdrawal from any addictive substance: anxiety, irritability, insomnia, dysphoria and mental preoccupation with using, otherwise known as craving.

red cardinal on bird feeder
I like to sit outside and enjoy listening to and watching birds.

What do you view as the major issues facing families today?

What are your thoughts about the physical and chemical changes in the brain causing an addiction to social media, screens, video games, etc.? Have you heard about this before or is it a new concept to you?

How much time do you spend on social media like facebook, pinterest or other news sites?

WSJ says Instagram is harmful for teens

I read an interesting article today about Instagram and teen girls called “Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Internal Documents Show.” Written by Georgia Wells, Jeff Horwitz and Deepa Seetharama for the Wall Street Journal, the article says that social media may become the youth generation’s tobacco companies.

Waffles the pug. Waffles has his own Instagram account wafflezworldwide.

You can read the entire article HERE.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” the researchers said in a March 2020 slide presentation posted to Facebook’s internal message board, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves.”

For the past three years, Facebook has been conducting studies into how its photo-sharing app affects its millions of young users. Repeatedly, the company’s researchers found that Instagram is harmful for a sizable percentage of them, most notably teenage girls.

“We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” said one slide from 2019, summarizing research about teen girls who experience the issues.

“Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” said another slide. “This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”

Among teens who reported suicidal thoughts, 13% of British users and 6% of American users traced the desire to kill themselves to Instagram, one presentation showed.

Isn’t this scary? I feel like someone’s unleashed Godzilla on the world. What will we know 10 or 20 years from now? Hopefully, we will move beyond social media and get back to in person interaction. I think if I were a parent of younger kids today, I wouldn’t let my kids have a smart phone, but stick with the flip phones or dumb phones. I didn’t get my kids smart phones until they were in high school.

Another thing I found troubling with this article is that Facebook has done internal studies for several years and they know Instagram has issues at its core. But they downplay them to the public. Our congress and senate have asked for Facebook’s studies and they do not comply with the requests.

Here’s more from the article:

In public, Facebook has consistently played down the app’s negative effects on teens, and hasn’t made its research public or available to academics or lawmakers who have asked for it.

“The research that we’ve seen is that using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental-health benefits,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at a congressional hearing in March 2021 when asked about children and mental health.

The features that Instagram identifies as most harmful to teens appear to be at the platform’s core.

The tendency to share only the best moments, a pressure to look perfect and an addictive product can send teens spiraling toward eating disorders, an unhealthy sense of their own bodies and depression, March 2020 internal research states. It warns that the Explore page, which serves users photos and videos curated by an algorithm, can send users deep into content that can be harmful.

“Aspects of Instagram exacerbate each other to create a perfect storm,” the research states.

What are your thoughts about Instagram and other social media? Do you spend much time with it? Do your kids or grandkids? Do you notice a change in how they feel after they use social media? I find I’m using it less and less.

You’re only as happy as your least happy child…

I got a call from my daughter today who was extremely upset. It tears at my heart. I don’t think our kids truly understand how our hearts hurt when they they are suffering. The call reminded me that I wrote about this years ago when my son was close to finishing his college years and was going through a rough time.

Now it’s my daughter’s turn. I hope I was helpful on the phone. I hope she gets through this period of her life where she’s facing hurdles. All I can do is listen. Hopefully, it’s enough that she knows I love her.

IMG_2339
My kids not wanting me to take their pic.

This is what I wrote five years ago:

“You’re only as happy as your least happy child.” I heard a friend say this recently. I do believe it’s true. When you see your kids happy, you’re happy, too. When they are smiling and proud of their accomplishments or in love, we feel thrilled for them.

On the flip side, when they’re struggling, we have an ache in our hearts.

My son had a horrific last week of college, but managed to get through it alive. I got several phone calls where he wasn’t sure if he’d make it. He had five papers to write, plus finals, and I doubt he slept much.

I kept telling him using a swim race analogy, “You’re under the flags. Keep going. You can do it.”

I also received relieved phone calls as each hurdle was overcome. Today, he’s coming home for a brief stop before he starts his new life. I’m a worrier and I’m wondering how is he sleeping? How is he going to drive a U-Haul trailer with his worldly possessions up to his new life? How will he survive on his own?

IMG_1895
The city pool where my kids swam club and I swim masters.

My daughter was home for a week and it was a pure joy for me. She got me out of bed at 4:50 a.m. and drove me to swim practice. I loved the beauty of the early morning and the shifting lights in the water as the sun rose. By the time we were done, I felt elated. It wasn’t even 7 a.m. and I felt like I had accomplished so much. I hope to continue on with the early morning practices, although I must admit I’m back to my noon routine today. At least I’m going. Right?

Besides swimming, we hiked at the Tram, went shopping, got pedicures, went out to lunch and hung out together. The constant activity was different than my normal quiet writing days.

IMG_2623
Hiking on Mt.San Jacinto, PS Tramway.

I love having my kids home. But, I’m proud they have their own lives and are ready to take on the world without me.

P.S. On the last morning, my daughter, husband and I took a walk. We noticed we had company. Olive the cat followed quietly a few feet behind us. We’d stop to look at her and she’d look the other way. Finally, we stopped several blocks away to admire an apricot standard poodle. Olive decided that was enough. She stopped for good. When we returned home, several miles later, Olive was nowhere to be found. I retraced our steps and called “Here kitty, kitty.” She leaped out of the bushes across the street from where we saw the poodle. She was terrified and confused. She wouldn’t let me touch her but after one pitiful “meow” she followed me. When she finally recognized our neighborhood, her tail went up and she jetted all the way to our house leaving me behind.

IMG_2592
Olive the cat.

What are your thoughts about “You’re only as happy as your least happy child?” Do you think it’s true? Have you experienced sadness because your child is upset or unhappy?

Is it genetics or performance pressure ?

swimmer with JO medal
My daughter with a Junior Olympic medal as a young teen.

Yesterday I wrote about Amy Osaka and her withdrawal from the French Open due to her taking care of her mental health. You can read that post here.

Immediately after I posted that story, I ran across a SwimSwam article about a swimmer retiring because of her mental health. I remember this swimmer because she was at the big meets in Southern California as one of the youngest, if not the youngest swimmer entered — and she was from Virginia! She was very fast, too. She held the national age group record for 11-12 years olds in the mile.

“Isabella Rongione announced the end of her competitive swimming career, opening up about her personal struggles and the need to put her mental health first.”

PAC-12 STANDOUT ISABELLA RONGIONE RETIRES, OPENS UP ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH
by Jared Anderson SWIMSWAM

Rongione shared the news in an Instagram post this week. Her last swim came in December of 2018, the month before Rongione says he was admitted to treatment following a suicide attempt.

“My mental health had to be the priority over the past couple years and I never was able to fully commit to getting back into the pool,” Rongione writes.

“To all those athletes dealing with mental health issues — make sure to take the time you need in order to heal yourself properly.”

There are many famous athletes who suffer from depression including Michael Phelps, Amy Osaka, Allison Schmitt (Olympic swimmer) and Serena Williams. You can read about 10 of these athletes here. I wonder if it’s genetics or the pressure with being an athlete at such a young age?

My daughter who was a swimmer at a high level (college scholarship athlete and high school All American) suffered from anxiety and then depression while swimming in college. She swam competitively from age five through 22 — when her shoulder gave up on her.

Looking back, we were such enthusiastic parents cheerleading her swim career along the way. It was exciting and took over a lot of our family’s life. Did we create an unsustainable path for her? What happens when the swim career, the center of her world and identity ends? Or in the case of someone like Amy Osaka or Isabella Rongione, is the pressure to perform too much?

Here’s a study published online from Cambridge University by Lynette Hughes and Gerard Leavey called Setting the bar: athletes and vulnerability to mental illness.

Risk factors for athletes

“Although moderate or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity is important in the prevention of and recovery from mental and physical health problems, when performed more intensely at ‘professional/elite’ levels, physical activity can compromise health. 1,5 Beyond the national prestige, fame and glory of Olympic success lies the darker side of overexposure to elite sport such as overtraining, injury, burnout, increased risk for sudden cardiac death and other non-cardiovascular conditions such as respiratory symptoms, iron deficiency, increased incidence of allergies, immunological suppression and infection, gastrointestinal symptoms, diabetes mellitus and eating disorders. 6

“Athletes may also be vulnerable to mental illness for several reasons. First, the social world of many organised elite sports is one that requires investments of time and energy, often resulting in a loss of personal autonomy and disempowerment for athletes. 7 The elite-sport environment can result in ‘identity-foreclosure’ leaving athletes few other avenues through which to shape and reflect personality. 7 High athletic identity has been linked to psychological distress when this function of identity is removed, and to overtraining and athlete burnout. 7 The latter conditions strongly correlate with affective disorders such as major depressive disorder.”

I also read that 30% of NCAA athletes report having depression. It could have only gotten worse this past year.

young swimmer getting medals from coach.
My daughter, age 5, receiving medals, ribbons and applause from her coach after a swim meet.

What are your thoughts about athletes and depression? Do you think it’s genetics? Performance pressure? Or both?

10 and unders relay team with medals at JOs
My daughter’s relay team after winning third place at Junior Olympics in Southern California.

Amy Osaka — did she make the right decision?

Waffles the pug
Waffles, my daughter’s emotional support animal, has given her much needed comfort this past year.

I read this piece about Amy Osaka today. I’ve seen her name in the news, but until this morning I hadn’t read the stories. What I gleaned, the 23-year-old tennis super star is suffering from mental health issues and doesn’t want to speak to the press. She knew she’d be fined, she was okay with that. But in the end, she decided to withdraw from the French Open. I was interested in Osaka’s story because depression and anxiety are not foreign in my family tree. Here’s more from the article:

“Mental difficulty can be mysterious, even to the sufferer. We’re also still amid a pandemic in which ordinary interactions with other people have been stifled, and routines and lives have been disrupted. If you’re doing OK, it’s tempting to think everyone else should be doing OK, too. That’s not the way it goes, however. A little bit of empathy can go a long way.”

Listening to Naomi Osaka
Sports are getting more attuned to mental health, but there’s still a long way to go
Wall Street Journal By Jason Gay
Updated June 2, 2021 8:44 am ET

“On the matter of Naomi Osaka and the French Open: I suspect a day will come when people will look back upon this moment and be mystified by how agitated it all got, how a player opting out of routine press conferences and deciding to leave a tournament because of concern about her own mental health became such a global uproar. I suspect there will be a time in the future when an athlete’s revelation of depression and anxiety—or anyone’s revelation of depression and anxiety—won’t launch a zillion casual diagnoses or judgments about an alleged lack of mettle.

“I think (I hope!) we’re going to reach a point that when a person says they’re in mental distress, we will just…listen.

“But we’re not there yet. 

“We’re not there yet because mental health in sports, like in many occupations and environments, remains a complicated, under-discussed subject, still wrapped in stigma and dated notions about toughness and “gutting it out.” We’re getting better, no doubt about it—more workplaces are offering mental-health resources for employees, and in sports, Osaka has been preceded by star athletes like Michael Phelps, Abby Wambach, DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love, who have openly discussed mental-health battles of their own. 

“It’s a work in progress, however. The awkward debate over Osaka’s departure signals that athletes and sports are still figuring this out. We’re not yet ready to nurture mental health in the way we do a pulled hamstring or badly sprained ankle.”

I read another article from the Wall Street Journal about how employers are trying to accommodate younger employees who are much more open about their mental health:

“Naomi Osaka did something this week that would be unthinkable in many workplaces. Citing her struggles with depression and social anxiety, she said she wouldn’t be able to carry out what some see as a key part of a professional tennis player’s job: talking to the press.

What Happens When Mental-Health Issues Get in the Way of Work
Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open is a public example of a private issue facing many companies By Te-Ping Chen
June 3, 2021 7:31 am ET

“The 23-year-old Ms. Osaka—the world’s highest-paid female athlete—isn’t a typical professional, nor is the French Open a traditional workplace. But Ms. Osaka’s openness about her mental-health struggles is a public example of private issues companies are increasingly facing as a young generation more candid about such challenges joins the workforce, employers say.

“Companies have been adjusting to meet employees’ needs with more mental-health support and services in recent years. Yet Ms. Osaka’s announcement and subsequent tournament withdrawal highlights an especially thorny question: How can an individual’s mental-health needs be accommodated when those needs affect the ability to do parts of the job?”

Waffles and my daughter at the beach
Waffles with my daughter at the beach last summer.

What are your thoughts about Amy Osaka? Should the tennis world have given her accommodations for her mental health? Or, did she make the correct decision to step back and take care of herself? Do you think employers should give accommodations to employees who are suffering from mental illness just as they would physical ailments?

I wrote a post a few years ago about the GOAT Michael Phelps and his struggles with depression after hearing him speak in the Palm Springs area. You can read that article here.


Study: 56% of young liberal women…

I ran across a study from Pew Research that showed that more than half of young liberal women are suffering from depression and anxiety. I wondered why? There’s been an epidemic in mental health issues for everyone due to the global pandemic. Women in general are hardest hit, but this one group is suffering more. In fact, I also learned that women suffer from depression and anxiety 40% more than men. That’s an issue for another story, but worth exploring more.

Katherine Finchy Park Palm Springs
Where I spent the year on my morning walks while sheltering in place.

I read about this phenomenon in Evie Magazine in an article by Elizabeth Condra:

Here’s What the Study Found

“The study in question — which, by the way, isn’t from a news source or media outlet but Pew Research for heaven’s sake — is, when all’s said and done, pretty damning. 

The study, which examined white liberals, moderates, and conservatives, both male and female, found that conservatives were far less likely to be diagnosed with mental health issues than those who identified as either liberal or even “very liberal.” What’s more, white women suffered the worst of all. White women, ages 18-29, who identified as liberal were given a mental health diagnosis from medical professionals at a rate of 56.3%, as compared to 28.4% in moderates and 27.3% in conservatives.

Interestingly enough, the study, which is titled Pew American Trends Panel: Wave 64, was dated March 2020 — over a year ago. Yet it took a Ph.D. candidate in political science posting about the study on Twitter for it to garner even a smidge of attention.

What I learned by reading the study and several articles about it is that young liberal women often focus on horrific things out of their control. The words used are “no agency.” They worry about climate change, poverty, rape culture, racial injustice, all the awful things in our world that they can’t fix. All worthy things to be concerned about, but it can be overwhelming, especially during a global pandemic.

To top that off, the algorithms of social media and news articles continue to feed more and more negative stories — if that’s what they’re reading.

The conservative young women do care about these issues, too, but tend to focus more on what they can control in their own lives. They also may not have such an overwhelmingly negative feed with their big tech algorithm. And they may have faith and practice their religion.

From the article: Zach Goldberg, the doctoral candidate in question, consolidated the study’s info in a set of visuals and posted them to a thread on Twitter. But it’s important to note that he clarified the following: “I didn’t write this thread to mock white liberals or their apparently disproportionate rates of mental illness (and you shouldn’t either). Rather, this is a question that’s underexplored and which may shed light on attitudinal differences towards various social policies.” 

This reminds me of advice I received at a writer’s conference from the great Ray Bradbury. He said “garbage in, garbage out.” He advised us to turn off the news altogether because they are selling soap and it’s overwhelmingly negative. He said to read a poem, essay and the Bible every day instead. I am a big believer in trying to stay positive and look at the bright side of things. I tease my husband that it’s because of my blood type “Be Positive” as opposed to his “Oh Negative.”

What are your thoughts about political beliefs and mental health? Do you believe there is a connection or not? Do you think social media plays a big role with the epidemic of depression and anxiety and why or why not?