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.

How many books on this list have you read?

I have never copied and posted something from Facebook on my blog before. But this popped up on a childhood friend’s page and I played. I enjoyed it and as readers and writers, I believe you might find it interesting, too.

In fact, I rarely even look at Facebook anymore. I don’t know why I did the other day, but I did. So here you go.

Anne of Green Gables early book cover
One of my favorite series.

The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books here. Want to play?

1 Pride and Prejudice- Jane Austen

2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien

3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling

5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

6 The Bible –

7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell

9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman

10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

11 Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare

15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier

16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien

17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulkes

18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger

19 The Time Traveler’s Wife-Audrey Niffenegger

20 Middlemarch – George Eliot

21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell

22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens

24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

25 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

26  Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis

34 Emma – Jane Austen

35 Persuasion – Jane Austen

36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis

37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres

39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne

41 Animal Farm – George Orwell

42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44 A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving

45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery

47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding

50 Atonement – Ian McEwan

51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel

52 Dune – Frank Herbert

53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime – Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

63 The Secret History – Donna Tart

64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold

65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac

67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy

68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville

71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens

72 Dracula – Bram Stoker

73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson

75 Ulysses – James Joyce

76 The Inferno – Dante (Have it downloaded)

77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome

78 Germinal – Emile Zola

79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray

80 Possession – AS Byatt

81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell-

83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker

84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton

91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Eupery

93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

94 Watership Down – Richard Adams

95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute

97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas

98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

100 Gaudy Night – Dorothy Sayersshared from Book Snoop Auctions

This list gave me ideas of what I’ve wanted to read but haven’t — yet. I scored 44. What is your score?

UPDATE: My son informed me the list is “BBC’s Top 100 Books You Need to Read Before You Die.” If you click on the link HERE you can check off the books and see where you stand compared to other readers.

Are we all equally gifted in math?

There’s a Facebook group I joined prior to our move called “Leaving California.” I think they have more than 50,000 members. I found the group helpful to learn from other people, what movers they hired, where they were moving to and why. Today I clicked on it out of habit and found an article called “In the Name of Equity, California Will Discourage Students Who Are Gifted at Math” by Robby Soave. The sub head states: “The new framework aims to keep everyone learning at the same level for as long as possible.” It’s from the website Reason, which until this morning I’ve never seen.

college graduate with pug wearing mortar boards
My daughter and Waffles at her college graduation.

Here’s an excerpt:

“California’s Department of Education is working on a new framework for K-12 mathematics that discourages gifted students from enrolling in accelerated classes that study advanced concepts like calculus.

“The draft of the framework is hundreds of pages long and covers a wide range of topics. But its overriding concern is inequity. The department is worried that too many students are sorted into different math tracks based on their natural abilities, which leads some to take calculus by their senior year of high school while others don’t make it past basic algebra. The department’s solution is to prohibit any sorting until high school, keeping gifted kids in the same classrooms as their less mathematically inclined peers until at least grade nine.

“The inequity of mathematics tracking in California can be undone through a coordinated approach in grades 6–12,” reads a January 2021 draft of the framework. “In summary, middle-school students are best served in heterogeneous classes.”

I understand that putting kids on certain tracks may have unintended consequences like getting stuck with fewer opportunities to learn. I do know that kids develop individually at different rates and sometimes someone may be slow in one subject only to have it click later on. However, I really disagree with this following paragraph:

“All students deserve powerful mathematics; we reject ideas of natural gifts and talents,” reads a bulletpoint in chapter one of the framework. “The belief that ‘I treat everyone the same’ is insufficient: Active efforts in mathematics teaching are required in order to counter the cultural forces that have led to and continue to perpetuate current inequities.”

My issue is the rejection of natural gifts and talents. As someone who wasn’t a whiz kid at math, I recognized kids with more talent. My son and daughter for example are both better at math and took more advanced classes than I did. I wasn’t horrible but I struggled in Physics and Trig.

The author of the article agrees with me and suggests more choice of more subjects as an answer:

“This approach is very bad. Contrary to what this guidance seems to suggest, math is not the end-all and be-all—and it’s certainly not something that all kids are equally capable of learning and enjoying. Some young people clearly excel at math, even at very early ages. Many schools offer advanced mathematics to a select group of students well before the high school level so that they can take calculus by their junior or senior year. It’s done this way for a reason: The students who like math (usually a minority) should have the opportunity to move on as rapidly as possible.”

For everyone else… well, advanced math just isn’t that important. It would be preferable for schools to offer students more choices, and offer them as early as possible. Teens who are eager readers should be able to study literature instead of math; young people who aren’t particularly adept at any academic discipline might pick up art, music, computers, or even trade skills. (Coding doesn’t need to be mandatory, but it could be an option.)

If equity in Math is the new standard of our public schools, I have some questions.

Do we recognize natural talent in athletics? Or does everyone get to make the varsity team?

Do you think students who are gifted in a subject should be held to the level of the entire class?

Should there be gifted classes? Should kids skip grades? What will be the end result of keeping everyone the same?

Does everyone need calculus and advanced math classes to be successful? Why or why not?

Taking a break from Facebook

pug with sad face

Waffles sad face.

I used to enjoy Facebook to catch up with friends from my small home town in Washington and other family members and friends around the country. I also like the memory feature where something I posted years ago pops up.

But lately, Facebook is driving me nuts. I get aggravated that so many people are using Facebook to gripe and complain. It’s a very depressing place to go on a daily basis –regardless of your political or religious beliefs. I get upset when I see misinformation being spread and I feel a need to correct it. This hasn’t earned me many heartwarming responses.

diving off the blocks

That’s me diving off the blocks in my first swim meet.

Yesterday morning, I made two decisions. First, I decided to go back to the pool. I joined a couple friends for lap swimming with new protocols in place. We got our temperatures checked, we entered and socially distanced as we soaked ourselves in the outdoor showers before walking with masks on to the far side of the pool. We swam for 45 minutes when the lifeguard blew the whistle and we exited, masks on once again. I struggled but managed to eke out 1,150 yards. Not bad for my first time in the city pool since shelter in place last March. I loved being back in the water. I was sharing an experience live with my real friends. Not looking at posts from Facebook friends.

The second decision I made was to take a vacation from Facebook. There’s enough stuff on the news that I don’t need to see my friends and friends of friends discussions over it. Hash and rehashed. So I’m on day two of life without FB and I’m not even tempted to peak. I won’t delete my account, I just will take a break for awhile. My blog posts will still automatically post there so my friends who follow me can see my posts. I can tell that I’m already in a better mood.

Now my daughter said to give up the news altogether. I’m not sure I can do that.

cat sitting next to flowers

Now I’ll have more time to spend with Olive the cat.

Have you ever decided to take a break from Facebook and how did it make you feel?

When is social media too much for teens?

In today’s COVID-19 world, social media is more important to our children than ever. We need to understand that they need it to keep in contact with friends they can’t see in person. But, we don’t want it to become harmful either.

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My daughter seeking a social media pic.

I’ve wondered for years how social media is affecting our teens, and I’m thankful we never had Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat when I was a kid. I’m also glad it wasn’t a thing when my kids were young. I remember MySpace was introduced when my kids were around middle school aged and a few kids in their Catholic school posted provocative pictures. It didn’t go over well, needless to say.

An article in The Baltimore Sun by Andrea K. Mcdaniels called, Parents’ concern: Is social media bad for teenagers? has quite a few experts and studies weighing in. They’ve found good and bad outcomes, but it seems to me the bad ones outweigh the good.

The list of problems with social media includes sleeping problems, depression, anxiety, eating disorders and suicide. Does anyone see a problem with this trend? I’ve written about my concerns about social media and how it affects on kids here.

Have you ever had a relaxing day at the beach and watched young teens posing for that perfect Instagram pic? It’s quite funny to watch from a distance. I mean who goes to the beach with perfect hair and makeup? Not me! I prefer a big hat, a ponytail and a good book, thank you very much.

 

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Mirage

Where I live, we had a phenomenon called Desert X, a series of outdoor art installations that appeared in the Spring. One I call “The Selfie House” in reality is called “Mirage.” It’s a house installed with mirrors inside and out. It attracts young women dressed in bizarre outfits with friends with the sole purpose of getting a huge volume of social media clicks. The Los Angeles Times wrote about Mirage here.

Here’s a snippet from the article “Parents’ concern: Is social media bad for teenagers?”

“A study published earlier this year by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine with support from the National Institutes of Health found that the more time young adults spent on social media, the more likely they were to have problems sleeping and to experience symptoms of depression.

“Another study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that the incidence of major depressive incidents has increased dramatically among teens, particularly among girls, and that cyber-bullying may be playing a role.

“At American University, researchers found a link between social media use and negative body image, which can lead to eating disorders.”

 

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Mirage, the selfie house. designed for Desert X.

As parents, what can we do to keep tabs on how social media is affecting our kids?

ONE
Delay when your kids get smartphones.

TWO
Keep an eye on what they’re posting.

THREE
Talk to your kids about how social media is creating issues for many kids.

FOUR
Be involved in your kids’ lives and pick up on cues if things seem off. Maybe social media is behind it.

What suggestions do you have to keep our kids safe from the bad effects of too much social media?

When do we cross the line posting pics of our kids?

 

kattowel

An example of a photo my daughter would not like me to post on Facebook.

 

Just to be perfectly clear, I post lots of photos of my kids. That said, I read an article this morning where an 18-year-old is suing her mom and dad for posting her life on Facebook. It will be enlightening to see if she wins her case. 

I’ve also read articles where it’s dangerous to post your young children’s photos on FB. Here’s an interesting read that explores the pros and cons of posting kids photos from the Wall Street Journal.

My daughter doesn’t like it when I post old photos of her on Facebook. I need to ask her approval before posting any pictures of her.

I’ve got some great old photos, too. I find them all sweet, funny, cute. She says friends on her swim team scour parents FB pages to find embarrassing photos to tweet.

katsmile 1

Christmas 1996. How could I possibly resist posting this?

My son blocked me from his FB, because I didn’t approve of things he was posting and made the mistake of telling him about it. Because I was blocked, I missed the post where he tried to give away our cat and got quite a few takers. You can read more about that here.

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Olive the kitten my son tried to give away online.

Isn’t it amazing how different our children’s lives are growing up with social media? We had a chance to escape the pressure of posting selfies, sushi and all the fun and smiles, all the time. We hung out at pizza parlors, long after our salads or slices were finished. We went to football games and dances in the small gym afterwards. We spent time together. We laughed and talked. When we weren’t face-to-face, we had an old-fashioned telephone and talked for hours. We also had downtime and privacy. Lots of it.

I wonder what is going to happen to our kids whose lives are on display? They don’t know anything else and even if we stop posting their pictures, they’ll do it on their own.

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