Every year, nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner. 1 in 3 adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a number that far exceeds other types of youth violence. 1 in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped or hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend. 1 in 4 high school girls have been victims of physical or sexual abuse. Approximately 70% of college students say they have been sexually coerced.
These are terrifying statistics. To learn more about why our teenagers are engaging in violent relationships, and how we can help them, I invited Ms. CarlLa Horton onto my blogtalk radio show.
Ms. Horton is the executive director of Hope’s Door, an organization in upper Westchester County that has been engaging with the issue of teen dating abuse since 1999. Back then, says Ms. Horton, her community did not even believe it was an issue. The national statistics, it was assumed, spoke to urban, impoverished areas, not to Westchester County. But when Hope’s Door surveyed the local teenagers, their findings mirrored the national statistics almost exactly: 1 in 5 girls were abused by partners in high school. 1 in 4 told no one, 1 in 4 told a parent, and 2 out of 3 told a peer. According to Ms. Horton, people continued to deny the problem until a string of high profile incidents in the area forced public opinion to shift. It is a well-established fact that domestic violence touches all communities, no matter where they happen to be located geographically or on the socio-economic scale. But when it comes to the teens in our own communities, the ones we remember from ballet class and Girl Scout camp, it is difficult to come to stomach the reality.
The reality is that 1 in 3 women worldwide will be physically or sexually abused in her lifetime. The reality is that our culture continues to perpetuate biases and stereotypes that demean women and girls, and these false beliefs cause intergenerational cycles of abuse in many households in our communities.
Hope’s Door reaches 7,000 to 8,000 teenagers annually, and is making some significant headway: The 25% of teens who would inform a parent back in 1999 is up to 42%, and those who would inform a peer are up to 86% from 60%. According to Ms. Horton, this is largely due to the STAR peer leadership program, which stands for Students Terminating Abusive Relationships. Since teenagers are much more likely to talk with each other than an adult, peer leadership programs have proven extremely effective.
That being said, we are far from solving the problem. As Ms. Horton pointed out, the numbers seem like good news, but they show that the majority of teenagers experiencing abuse do not go to an adult, and do not seek outside help. These programs have got to start much, much earlier, if we hope to eradicate the cultural forces at the heart of teen dating violence. In my opinion, we should begin teaching about healthy relationships in Pre-K, and should continue steadily into high school. Teaching our children how to build relationships based on equality, respect, and trust is absolutely essential to their wellbeing, and we as parents and community leaders need to advocate for programs in our public schools that address this.
One more thing: let’s bring men and boys to the table here. We teach our daughters many precautions against assault. Don’t walk alone at night. Never trust a stranger. Never put down your drink. But what do we teach our sons? We will never enjoy safe communities based on healthy relationships until men and women take equal responsibility in the effort to create them, and this means holding men and boys accountable.
If you or someone you know is experiencing teen dating violence, or any sort of domestic abuse, do not hesitate to call:
THE HOTLINE AT HOPE’S DOOR: 888 438 8700
This hotline is multilingual, multi-cultural, free, and completely confidential. You can call it at any hour of the day to receive support. They will hear what your concerns and issues are, help you evaluate your options, and connect you with more support should you need it. They want to empower you, to help you regain the autonomy and freedom that you’ve lost. Remember: love should never hurt. And if you are being hurt, you are not alone. There are a lot of folks ready to help, many of them survivors themselves. All you have to do is reach out.Posted in Blog Talk Radio | Tagged Dating Violence Hotline, Domestic Violence, Dr. Annie Abram, February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, Hope's Door, Love is Respect, Stop Teen Dating Violence | Leave a comment
This week on my blogtalk radio show, I wanted to continue learning about international sex trafficking, so I invited Helen Armstrong to talk with me about this and other forms of modern slavery. Ms. Armstrong has been involved in international human trafficking for many years. She has a degree in teaching from Harvard, and has worked as a teacher in Kenya for many years. Drawing on the experience of many frontline workers in the human trafficking industry, she wrote “Rebuilding Lives,” a manual on English and French, on the rehabilitation of those emerging from slavery around the world.
According to Ms. Armstrong, modern slavery is not too different from what it was 400 years ago. She defines slavery as profiting from another person over whom you have absolute control, who has been kidnapped and in some way violently coerced—physically or psychologically—into remaining in the situation. These criteria apply to all forms of slavery, of which there are many, but for the sake of our discussion, Ms. Armstrong said that sex trafficking and slavery are, basically, one and the same thing.
There are various ways that young women are forced or lured into sex trafficking, but here is one fact that everyone should know: 90% of the women who contacted the National Human Trafficking Resource Center here in the U.S. in 2013 were approached at or below age 13. By age 16, most had already been passed off to their third or fourth pimp. Many parents assume that children need not know about this issue until high school, if at all, which is simply not true. Ms. Armstrong strongly suggests that we speak to our girls about sex slavery as early as age 10 or 11, way before they hit puberty, because they are most vulnerable in middle school. This information helps shatter the misconception that sex slaves are somehow at fault. If a twelve-year-old is approached by a pimp outside of her school, what, exactly, did she do wrong? Pimps target vulnerable young girls who come from tough living situations and are eager to get out. Ms. Armstrong identified two characteristics of sex trafficking that are true the world over: false promises and violence. These young girls are promised a good job, an education, sometimes love, and they are so young that they lack the cognitive skills to understand the risk they are taking. These children are victims of a heinous crime, which also happens to also be a 32 billion dollar a year industry—second largest in the world, behind illegal drugs.
There are other forms of slavery occurring right here in our own communities. Of the 72,000 calls that came into the National Human Trafficking Resource Center in 2013, 27% of them were domestic workers isolated in households. Most of them were women who were not only trapped but also vulnerable to sexual exploitation. You can find slaves in America working in the construction, agriculture, and restaurant industries. Ms. Armstrong and I also discussed the permeable barrier between slavery and domestic violence: many women who suffer domestic abuse are, for all intents and purposes, slaves themselves. They have no control over their lives—no communication with the outside world or access to public places without their husbands.
There is some good news. We are closer than ever before to ending slavery. No economy depends on slavery, and it is illegal by universal consensus. The problem is that the laws are not enforced: governments turn a blind eye because those profiting from the industry are much more powerful than those enslaved by it. We can help end slavery simply by getting involved in local politics. To find out how to take action here in the United States, visit http://www.polarisproject.org, where we put out a summary every two weeks of state legislation that’s being debated.
Another tactic that Ms. Armstrong mentioned, which has been specifically helpful in nations like India where entire communities are enslaved, is to get the survivors to organize, to coalesce. Together, their voice has proved to have an impact. To learn more about international trafficking and to become an advocate for slaves worldwide, visit http://www.freetheslaves.net.
And if you or someone you know needs help, please call the Polaris Project right away: 1 888 3737 888
Let’s all help end slavery once and for all.
Slavery exists in the United States. In fact, it is thriving. Human trafficking and prostitution is a multi-billion dollar industry, second in revenue to illegal drugs, fueled by men who buy and sell the bodies of women and children. I invited Ms. Vednita Carter onto my blogtalk radio show to educate us about this issue. Ms. Carter is the founder and executive director of Breaking Free, an organization based in Minnesota that helps 400-500 women every year escape the horrific lifestyle of prostitution.
Our discussion shocked me. I had no idea how uninformed I was about an issue that is happening in my own community. Ms. Carter spoke about the misrepresentation of the industry that the media perpetuates with films such as Pretty Woman. Prostitution is not a prosperous lifestyle. It does not involve making good money or making love to kind, wealthy men.
Practically 100% of the women that Ms. Carter works with are chemically dependent. Ms. Carter sticks with the numbers that represent the women that she interacts personally, because there is a dearth of research on a national level, but here are some numbers that she can confirm: the average age of young girls being trafficked into the US is 12-14 years old. The youngest child that Ms. Carter is currently working with is 12 years old. According to Ms. Carter, the FBI has confirmed that young women who run away from home have an extremely high risk of being kidnapped or lured into prostitution within 24-48 hours of their disappearance. The cultural stereotype paints a “pimp” as a criminal in a slum, but according to Ms. Carter, this is completely inaccurate. Traffickers and pimps will prowl places that vulnerable young women are likely to appear alone.
One story Ms. Carter shared with us was about 2 sixteen year old girls who befriended a pair of young men—as young as 19 or 20—at the mall. They had lunch with them in the food court, were drugged, and woke up in a motel room, where they were forced to have sex with all the men that entered the room. One of them begged each man who came in to contact her family. She was trapped there for 6 months before someone finally called the authorities, who found fourteen young girls trapped at this motel.
100% of the women that Ms. Carter works with suffer from PTSD. Over half of them are homeless, and have nowhere to live except with their trafficker, pimp, or trick, who charge them for food and a place to sleep. It is difficult to prosecute pimps, because their prostitutes are too terrified to provide evidence. When she has experienced the violence of which her captor is capable—why would a woman risk her own life, as well as those of her loved ones, to come forth with evidence when there is no guarantee that he will be charged and no protection from his allies?
Another real shock to me was how commonly prostitution occurs at events like the Super Bowl. Any massive gathering of men—a doctor’s convention was one example Ms. Carter cited—attracts pimps, and this gets to the heart of the problem: we consider the pimp the criminal, but what about the “John?” As long as there is demand for prostitutes, the industry will thrive. Who are these men who purchase young girls for sex? Should they not be considered criminal? Prostitution is still considered “the oldest profession” in the world In reality, it is the oldest form of oppression. In the United States, prostitutes are expected to serve, on average, 15-20 men a day. Internationally, it is closer to 40. That is not a career. That is torture.
Immense progress has been made since Ms. Carter founded her organization in the ’80′s, when she could not even get churches to open their doors to these women. Now, she works with legislators. But there is a long way to go, specifically in the field of public awareness. Organizations like Breaking Free are trying to speak in schools so they can educate young girls about the dangers they face, but most school systems decline because often parents think that sex trafficking is not something their own daughters need worry about. They are very wrong. Let’s teach our daughters never to trust strange men, no matter how smooth they are. Just as importantly, let’s teach our sons to respect women. Purchasing a woman’s body is not acceptable. It is a heinous, violent crime.Posted in Blog Talk Radio | Tagged Breaking Free, Dr. Annie Abram, Human Trafficking, Modern Slavery, Prostitution, Sex Trafficking | Leave a comment
Few people know that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate out of all psychiatric disorders. Since many people with eating disorders die of related issues like organ failure or a heart attack, the actual statistic is almost certainly higher than the 20% mortality rate currently cited for anorexia nervosa. We should all be alarmed by this fact. Eating disorders are pervasive in our society, and treatment is extremely complex and difficult. I have experienced this firsthand in my own practice, and I am extremely interested in learning about what progress we have made in determining what causes these illnesses and how to best treat them. So, I invited Jamie D. Shumake, LMHC, the clinical supervisor at The Renfrew Center in Old Greenwich, CT, on my blogtalk radio show. The Renfrew Center is the largest and oldest eating disorder treatment program in the country, and its nationwide network of centers treats 1500-2000 patients at any given time.
My own experience is that many times, those seeking rehabilitation from an eating disorder do not actually want contact. They do not want to give up their symptoms because they are a protective mechanism that the patient very much needs. Family dynamics, societal expectations, peer groups—the potential sources of stress that trigger a patient’s protective instincts are numerous, and often multi-faceted. So many patients that show up for treatment don’t actually want it. How do you treat someone who doesn’t want treatment?
Mr. Shumake concurred that many patients do not actually want to be cured. He believes that eating disorders are among the most difficult psychiatric illnesses to treat, and establishing a therapeutic relationship with the patient has got to be the primary goal. Otherwise, it is extremely difficult to engage with the patient, because the disorder represents their ability to control a certain aspect of their life, and sending the message: “we will attack what protects you” is going to make any patient reluctant.
Over the past thirty years, a great deal of progress has been made in understanding the genesis of this disease. For example, anorexia nervosa and bulimia are now seen and treated as completely separate disorders. It is hard to believe that the first diagnosis occurred in 1684, and here we are in 2014, and still there is no one protocol, no one treatment, that has been proven most effective. Why? Well, Mr. Shumake said that the research points toward cognitive behavioral intervention and the Maudsley model—a family-centered model developed in the UK upon which The Renfrew Center protocol is based. Of course, it is very challenging, time-consuming, and expensive to conduct the type of robust, long-term research on which we could base treatment outcomes. Moreover, as the Renfew Center demonstrates, effective treatment must be greatly tailored to the individual.
The Renfew Center takes a comprehensive, family-based approach, because–like all psychiatric illnesses–eating disorders affect not just the individual, but also those close to them. Contrary to popular belief, when a patient recovers, a family’s equilibrium is threatened: the patient is often a scapegoat, their disease a great source of shame. Once treatment is well underway, family members must re-define their roles. That is why the Renfew Center treats whole families. They provide education, therapy, and a support system that lasts the rest of their lives (the Renfew Center has a very active alumni network). In the meantime, a team of specialists work together to create a comprehensive therapeutic intervention for the individual, including (but not limited to) cognitive therapy to help uncover the problems underneath the food issues and a nutritionist to educate the patient away from destructive stereotypes surrounding nutrition.
As Mr. Shumake pointed out, mental health is emerging from the shadows. We now see public service announcements about depression and schizophrenia. Hopefully eating disorders will be next. As the #1 killer among psychiatric illness, and it deserves our attention!
If you or a loved one may have an eating disorder and would like to seek further information, Mr. Shumake urges you to call 1 800 RENFREW at any time, where you can talk it over with an expert.Posted in Blog Talk Radio | Tagged Dr. Annie Abram, Eating Disorders, Jamie Shumake, Mental Illness, Renfrew | Leave a comment
The Common Core Curriculum — a national attempt to standardize school curriculum from Kindergarten through grade twelve — is a hot topic on national media circuits these days. When it comes to education, it can be difficult to glean the facts from the political commentary, so I invited Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews onto my radio show to clarify things for us. Mr. Mathews has been on staff at the Post for 43 years and is the author of 8 books, including Work Hard: Be Nice, which traces the birth and growth of the KIPP charter school network.
Mr. Mathews started off our conversation by stating that American schools have generally gotten better over the course of history. There are more people attending and succeeding in college than ever before; and the standard of living, like education levels, is at an all-time high. The problem is that our progress has plateaud. A new population of low-income students are entering our schools without demonstrating improvement. Mr. Mathews emphasized that the data is exceedingly clear: students from low-income families are just as smart as kids from wealthy suburbs. So why are they not succeeding, and how do we raise their achievement levels?
Mr. Mathews cited certain cultural forces as the main obstacle. There are some recent immigrant communities—Chinese and Vietnamese, for example—whose children rise quickly in school because their culture instills in them a burning desire to do well. In the African American community, which has experienced many generations of poverty, public school has not raised the standard of living, so the culture perpetuates an attitude that says: “I’m not going to put any effort into school.” Parents are too busy trying to make ends meet to support their children’s educational pursuits, and many would not know how to give that support anyway, since they themselves are not educated. According to Mr. Mathews, the KIPP charter school network has been the most successful in overcoming this complex, cultural trend. It raises kids at 20-30% efficiency rates up to 60-80%, the level of affluent suburbs. KIPP schools have extremely high expectations; as soon as students arrive, they are bombarded with the message: “You are going to college.” The school day is 9 hours long, which increases classroom time by 50% and allows teachers time to communicate about individual student progress. Perhaps most importantly, in Mr. Mathew’s opinion, KIPP principals have the power to hire and fire teachers, so they can build effective teams. If someone is not up to par, they are gone in a few months; in a regular public school, a poorly performing teacher takes 2-3 years to remove.
I asked Mr. Mathews about the public vs. charter school controversy. Aren’t some people against charter schools because they take funds away from public schools? Mr. Mathews says that is complete nonsense! Charter schools are public schools, and if a child switches from public to charter, then the public dollars follow that child: they are receiving the same free education from the state either way. There is a controversy over for-profit charters, but that is a different story.
Okay, so how does the Common Core Curriculum fit into this conversation? According to the data, says Mr. Mathews, new standards do not raise achievement levels. Higher standards of living, proficient teachers, and a better learning culture raise achievement levels. But, says Mr. Mathews, that doesn’t mean they won’t work. He knows many excellent teachers that support the new standards, and he trusts them. That seemed to be the bottom line for Mr. Mathews: we need excellent teachers, and we need to support them. Mr. Mathews interviewed thousands of excellent teachers and found that they are treated no differently than mediocre ones. This is a huge problem. We need to fix our flawed leadership structure so that it attracts and supports excellent teachers. We can all address this problem by shifting the cultural perspective of the profession. Let’s respect and support the teachers that do so much for our children! Thank a teacher today!Posted in Blog Talk Radio | Tagged Charter Schools, Common Core Curriculum, Dr. Annie Abram, Jay Mathews, School Achivement | Leave a comment
Here we are at the beginning of another year, many of us making familiar promises to ourselves about the great life changes that we’ll make this year. I invited Dr. Bader—a fellow psychoanalyst, writer and a political activist—onto my blogtalk radio show to talk about New Year’s resolutions and why they don’t work. He recently published an article in the Huffington Post on the subject, and I was thrilled that he agreed to join me this first week of 2014 to discuss his theory.
According to Dr. Bader, the basic reason that resolutions do not work is that our conscious intent to change does not take into account what is happening in our unconcious mind. As an example, Dr. Bader gave a pretty depressing statistic: the average dieter puts on 107% of the weight that they attempt to take off in a year’s time. Why is that? Well, there is obviously something pulling the average dieter away from her conscious intent. Most of us try a strategy, and when it doesn’t work, we simply try another strategy, only to fail again. Dr. Bader encourages us to step back and look at why, exactly, our bad habits keep coming back. There is a reason, and that reason is usually unconscious. To change a habit, one must make the unconscious conscious.
This is much easier said than done, of course. Dr. Bader suggests practicing mindfulness to uncover your unconscious motives. When you set an intent, do you feel a resistance? What is keeping you from feeling total “loyalty” to that new intent? Take over-eating, for example. At the root of many over-eating behavior is a feeling of disconnect. Until that emotion is made conscious and addressed, any intent to change the habit will not work. To borrow Dr. Bader’s metaphor, unconscious emotions are an underto tugging at us, making our conscious intent impossible to implement until we free ourselves from that invisible but powerful force.
Another huge obstacle is the shame we feel when we fail to change. There is such a cultural stigmatism against needing help and asking for it, so instead of acknowledging our inner lives, many of us tune out completely, then beat ourselves up for our consequent inability to change. This is a destructive cycle that leads to very low self-esteem. To uproot and release this deep shame, Dr. Bader reminds his clients that asking for help is a sign of strength, while floundering in the same, destructive patterns indicates weakness. For many of us, this is difficult to digest. We are so conditioned to think of failure as proof that there is something very wrong with us! Instead, we have to remember that failing does not make us failures. Failing is simply an indication that we are moving toward our goal.
Even when we are able to get past our shame and tune into the unconscious feelings that dictate our habits, we have another hurtle to jump: the fear of success, and the uncomfortable reality of achieving success and realizing it isn’t what we expected. Most of us don’t believe we resist success. A client who wanted to lose 90 pounds, for example, asserted that she would love to be skinny. She wasn’t afraid at all. But when she tuned in deeper, she found another fear: what if she does lose all this weight and people still don’t like her? People who do acquire what they desire often feel anxiety, guilt, and disappointment. What if people don’t like your new skin? What if loved ones resent you? Worst of all is the discovery that the change hasn’t “fixed you.” A job promotion will not make you feel like a complete and successful person. That is an internal state, and you have to delve into your irrational, unconscious emotions to change that state.
So for those of us who still want to follow through on those resolutions, does Dr. Bader have any advice? Well, he doesn’t believe in New Years resolutions—he thinks the fiction of yearly renewal sets us all up for failure. But he does recommend that you not look at your habits as the enemy. They are coping mechanisms—sometimes brilliant ones. You developed them for a reason. To change them, you must first understand them. So good luck, and Happy New Year!
The holiday season can be an especially difficult time for those of us with estranged family members. I invited Dr. Joshua Coleman, an expert in family estrangement, to offer some support and advice. Dr. Coleman is an author of four books: The Marriage Makeover: Finding Happiness in Imperfect Harmony (St. Martin’s Press); The Lazy Husband: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework (St. Martin’s Press); When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don’t Get Along (HarperCollins); and Married with Twins: Life, Love and the Pursuit of Marital Harmony.
What I love most about Dr. Coleman’s work is how much emphasis he places on empathy. He approaches the topic of estrangement with compassion for all involved, and he encourages parents to strive to do the same. Put simply, his message is to take responsibility when you feel you’ve done something to damage the relationship, and to have compassion for yourself and the other party. This is extremely important, because unless you can have compassion for yourself, you cannot have it for others.
But why do children become estranged from their parents in the first place? Dr. Coleman says that many of us assume that if a child completely cuts off a parent, the parent must have done something terribly wrong. This is not necessarily the case. Dr. Coleman talked about how divorce weakens parent-child relationships, even when the child has already entered adulthood. This occurs for many reasons. One parent might intentionally or unintentionally sabotage a child’s relationship with the other parent, or the child might create an alliance with a parent that they perceive as most hurt by the divorce.
Does this mean that parents should make every effort to save a marriage? Well, Dr. Coleman points out that we live in a culture that values individual happiness above all else. We therefore tend to understimate the importance of family systems and the damage that is done when we dismantle them. A lot of marriages end that are potentially viable. With kids involved, it is often worth the effort to work it out. Kids can—and sometimes do—successfully attach to step-parents and enjoy the benefits of a new, more stable family system, but in many cases, the opposite occurs. The child feels too conflicted or disloyal to attach to a step-parent and the family system remains incomplete. So when considering divorce, it is important to remember that it will have an inevitable and significant effect on your relationship with your kids. Personal wellbeing, while certainly important, is only part of the puzzle.
During the show, we heard from a woman who divorced her husband when her kids were teenagers, and she hadn’t spoken to her adult daughter in five years and had no idea what she did wrong. Sometimes she just wanted to throw in the towel! Dr. Coleman says that when you love your children more than anyone else and try your best to raise them well and then they reject you, the natural tendency is to jump ship. It is just too painful! But Dr. Coleman advises us to resist that temptation. If your child is a minor, you stay no matter what. If your child is an adult and has adamantly deflected all of your attempts at connection, maybe you fade away for six months or a year. Create a vacuum in which a new relationship might grow. Then, try again.
The important and difficult thing to remember is that even if you don’t understand your child’s complaint, even if you think they have wrongfully accused you, you must resist the temptation to defend yourself. If you say: “I did the best I could and you don’t appreciate what I’ve done for you,” you’ve lost your audience. Demand compassion won’t work. Instead, you have to offer empathy. Find the kernel of truth in your child’s complaint and acknowledge it. If you can’t, then say something along the lines of: “I don’t think I quite understand, but I’m sure you have a great reason for feeling how you are feeling, and we may have to have this conversation many times over the years before we feel okay again.” You will get much farther that way.
For many parents, that conversation is not even an option because their child has cut them off completely. Many times, their child will begin their own family without mending the break. Estranged grandparents are surprisingly typical. Dr. Coleman referenced an organization in Florida called Alienated Grandparents Anonymous that provides support for this growing demographic, which we discussed as a symptom of the massive transformation in our social institutions over the last forty years. This upheaval has included some crucial reform, like women’s liberation, for example. But the negative side is that our social institutions have eroded. When it comes to how we relate with family members, we are left figuring it out for ourselves. It can be confusing and frustrating. The most we can do is have compassion for one another as we find our way.Posted in Blog Talk Radio | Tagged Blog Talk Radio, Dr. Annie Abram, Dr. Joshua Coleman, Estranged Children, Estranged Families | Leave a comment
I was thrilled to welcome Dr. Diane Levin back to my blogtalk radio show today. Dr. Levin, a professor of early childhood education at Wheelock College in Boston, has devoted much of her career over the last thirty years to studying how media affects the way kids develop. Her ninth and newest book, Remote Controlled Childhood: Teaching Young Children in the Media Age, addresses the alarming issues arising as our children spend ever-increasing amounts of time in front of a screen consuming various types of media.
“Screen time,” as Dr. Levin calls it, is on the rise. Even within the last 5 years, there has been a significant increase in the amount of time that very young children spend interfacing with technology—whether it be on an iPad, iPhone, computer, or television. According to Dr. Levin, too much screen time can hinder a child’s development. Many parents don’t mind their child consuming media as long as it is educational. They are thinking about the content of the media—and yes, that is a very important conversation, especially considering the increasing quantities of harmful content available to our kids. (A large portion of adolescent boys have viewed pornography, says Dr. Levin). But that is only half the story. Dr. Levin speaks to the vessel of the media itself. The use of technology and screens influences the way that kids think about themselves and the world around them in a profound way that many of us are not aware of. “Screen time” is time that our children spend inside someone else’s program, where they follow rules and solve problems that are already laid out for them instead of seeking out problems of their own to solve. They are, in this sense, remote controlled—hence the title of the book.
So what are the effects of a remote controlled childhood? Dr. Levin has coined a few terms to talk about the symptoms that early childhood educators and parents across the country are witnessing. One of these terms is “Problem-solving Deficit Disorder,” which refers to a child’s ability and desire to seek out their own problems to solve, which is an essential skill developed through early childhood play. For example, a child might try to build the tallest building she can, and then knock it down in a specific way. He might create a fort out of three blankets and two chairs. To share an anecdote about Dr. Levin’s son, he might want to figure out how to draw a certain object, and search his house for models to help him figure it out. These activities involve children coming up with their own, unique ideas, which is essential to their cognitive development. Unfortunately, kids are spending less and less time learning to control and interact with the world around them and more time passively consuming and then imitating programs.
Another very alarming trend that Dr. Levin has created a term to describe is CDD: Compassionate Deficit Disorder. The time that kids spend in front of a screen is time that they are not learning how to relate to others. Just as importantly, kids who are placed in front of a screen when they need to calm down learn to look to outside sources for emotional regulation instead of learning to soothe themselves. Educators are witnessing these deficits on a national level. Many schools have banned recess because all the kids do at is fight with one another. Teachers have stopped allowing free time in class because children complain that they don’t know what to do with themselves. These are new problems, and it is essential that we, as parents, become aware of them and learn strategies to address them.
Luckily, Dr. Levin has some great suggestions. The most important thing is to stay connected to your kids, so that you can maintain an open conversation about their media consumption. Really talk to them about this issue, and if you say “no” to a certain game or show, explain why, and hear their side as well. If they think you’ll just say no to everything, they are less likely to come to you with questions when they inevitably stumble upon something confusing or new, like porn, and you want to keep that channel as open as possible. One good way to stay connected is to set aside one hour a week to put away all screens and have family fun time. Maybe you can develop an interest together, or find fun, seasonal activities to do. If you need some ideas, Dr. Levin recommends truceteachers.org. And lastly, Dr. Levin reminds us to look at ourselves. How do we use technology? When, if ever, do we put our phone down and give our children undivided attention? Next time your i-phone buzzes when you are mid-sentence, be aware of where you direct your eyes. Because little eyes are watching.
The holidays are fast approaching. For many of us, this means interacting with family members that are difficult to be around. So this week on my blogtalk radio show, Relationships Matter, I spoke with Dr. Ruth Nemzoff, author of Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2008) and Don’t Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws Into Family (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2012). She has some tips to help us diffuse the holiday tension, and maybe even build some new, meaningful relationships.
My first question was: What is the biggest mistake people make when it comes to holiday time with family? Dr. Nemzoff explained that family members tend to “freeze” one another. One way we do that is by placing expectations on our family members based on how they were last time we saw them. But a lot happens in a year. A family member who was content last year may be feeling down this year, and we need to respect that change. Another way we tend to “freeze” our family members is by placing them in the roles they used to play way back when. And while this can be very comforting—we all like to be loved in familiar ways—it can also be toxic and stifling.
Then of course there are the new romantic partners, the “quasi-family” members. They contribute to a new family composition, and accepting that composition is equivalent to honoring the growth of your family members. This is why Dr. Nemzoff warns people not to roll their eyes: it signifies that you are discounting someone. Try being curious about newcomers and forgiving of your differences. Not only will this provide you with a more peaceful holiday, but it is also an opportunity to learn about yourself. If someone rubs you the wrong way, notice it. Why does that trigger you?
Dr. Nemzoff gave some great tips about how to connect in situations like this. First off, find some common ground. If you want to ban all guns and your in-law owns a gun shop, open the conversation by asking if he supports any restrictions on guns. If he’s a hunter, he probably does. The bottom line, says Dr. Nemzoff, is that people are not stupid. There’s a reason that they think what they think. If you are open to learning from them, you are likely to have a pleasant interaction. The issue is when people value being right over making a connection. Standing on moral ground never works, and there’s rarely a “right” or a “wrong” answer anyway!
But what about extremely hurtful divisions? Say, for example, your in-laws are unhappy about your marriage. According to Dr. Nemzoff, politeness is key. Remember that this is not against you personally, but against what your in-laws have been taught their whole lives. This situation is extremely hurtful for you, but remember that they are hurting too. Don’t change yourself, but be open, and be patient. Families do change, but it takes a lot of time and a lot of shared experience. In the meantime, be the best version of you that you can be.
And what about the kids? Say your in-laws or your siblings raise kids very differently than you do. Dr. Nemzoff encourages us to remember that this a learning opportunity. It’s healthy for kids to experience different ways of doing things, and your being open teaches them to have open minds as well. Once they reach kindergarten, they understand that rules depend on place: they act differently at school than at home. Explain to them that Grandma’s house has different rules. At the same time, make sure that those rules are feasible. If your in-laws refuse to move their crystal china and instead demand that your two-year-old not touch it, well then, you may not want to spend time there for a few years.
The bottom line is that it takes two to tango, so you have some real power. Be in the moment, control your emotions, and don’t give up hope! Little acts of kindness can go a long way. That is, after all, what this season is all about.Posted in Blog Talk Radio | Tagged Difficult Relationships, Dr. Annie Abram, Dr. Ruth Nemzoff, Family, Holidays, Relationships, Relationships Matter | Leave a comment ← Older posts