April 2017

Modern Drug Dealer: Parents

By Dr. Dathan Paterno

Today’s adolescents are in a lamentable position: simultaneously the most connected generation in history, while devolving into a generation so disconnected, they languish in a morass of loneliness.

Modern technology contributes to this counterintuitive duality. On a superficial level, Millennials are profoundly connected; through cell phones and social media, they can communicate with anyone, anywhere. On a more profound level, however, the more time spent on this superficial highway, the more lost they become. They simply have not logged enough time practicing the intricacies of meaningful, intimate connection.

Parents are partly to blame. Many allow children to regularly spend hours per day on devices; whether due to laziness, being overwhelmed, believing children need to mirror their peers, or being addicted to electronic devices themselves, they inadvertently deprive their children of healthy boredom, creative outlets, and sufficient, genuine interpersonal interaction.

I’ve witnessed it with my own children. When allowed to bend their necks for hours over a phone or tablet, they detach from others—irritable zombies who look like they’re auditioning for the sequel to “Trainspotting”. When we unplug them—put aside their phones and other devices for extended periods—their sociability resurrects. They are more easygoing, which feeds their natural curiosity and search for relatedness.

Electronic media are highly addictive—they stimulate the same neurotransmitter as cocaine (dopamine). Millennials and their younger siblings might not have the internal warning system that shouts, “Too much! Put it away and go be with people!”

Parents are and always have been the primary agent of change in their child’s life. I implore parents to drastically limit access their children have to electronic devices. Just as a piece of heavy machinery like a car is magnificent and incredibly useful, a parent wouldn’t dream of allowing their child to play with it. Similarly, cell phones, tablets, and the like are amazing wonders of technology, but they are simply too dangerous for children. They cannot self-monitor, hold appropriate boundaries, or recognize the difference between deep and superficial connection.

A parent who establishes reasonable control without becoming unreasonably controlling is an Alpha parent. Electronic devices necessitate that parents take the mantle of authority, limit their use, and engineer time and connection with their child. Deep down, children crave this level of connection, far more than the kind that requires wi-fi.


Silence and the Need to Conceal

Researchers are always trying to unravel the mystery of our desperate need to conceal secrets. The silence that accompanies our need to conceal could even be more harmful than keeping actual secrets. Silence, of course is not what causes agony in the future; it is our perspective of the context in which such a secret developed. Ultimately, keeping secrets supports negative thoughts about others not being able to understand us. It gives the dark sense that we must go through it alone.

Barry Lubetkin, the founder and director of the Institute for Behavior Therapy explains, “Nearly every person has a million secrets they’re carrying around… They can be the silliest things, or they can be very significant”. Lubetkin elaborated that secrets come in a wide variety. Some secrets are kept originally as lingering effects of trauma, some secrets are about a shameful addiction, and some include our hopes and dreams we believe we cannot share with anyone. However, even those secrets are nothing compared to the secrets we keep even from ourselves. Lubetkin states: “The deepest secrets are the ones we don’t even directly acknowledge – even in our own diaries.” It’s easier to deceive others if we believe the lie we are telling.

Lubetkin points out that “A maddening duality characterized deep secrets: even undisclosed, they can harm us and those around us.” The trouble arises first with the anxiety of the unpredictability of the truth potentially getting out even, if you stay silent. Understandably, we keep secrets primarily because of shame and what others will think of us or because we are trying to avoid hurting someone. Sometimes it is even because we don’t want to stop doing a certain behavior that we know others would want us to stop if they found out.

Secrets affect mind and body. Consistently having to watch yourself in front of others to ensure that your secret is not exposed becomes very tiring and can become overwhelming. Michael Slepian of Columbia University, conducted a study to see what happens to people when preoccupied with a secret; he found out that those in the experiment group who were preoccupied by some type of personal secret felt “weighed down” during different tasks compared to the control group. In other words, keeping secrets leads to the depletion of mental resources, especially if the secret is trauma.

Dale Larson of Santa Clara University did a meta-analysis that uncovered the fact that “secretive people are more depressed, shame-prone, anxious, and sensitive to judgement.” Consistently experiencing the tension of wanting to tell someone while simultaneously keeping it concealing induces physical and physiological problems. To protect yourself from the harmful effects of keeping a potent secret, you must use your thoughts to process through the secret and categorize it to yourself as neutral rather than emotional.

You are the only person who can redefine yourself and your experiences. Take ownership of your secrets and understand that you do not necessarily have to share your secrets with the world; just don’t allow your secret to keep you powerless.

For more information: https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201703/unlocking-the-vault

Our Control May Be the Problem

It’s time to really rethink our education system and style. Why is it that we have revamped everything we do since the 1700’s except for the way we teach our young? Consistently, evidence-based research points out that our education system and pedagogy are far from optimal. Of course, any school system is far from perfect, but have you ever wondered what the school system really prepares our children for?

Peter Gray, Ph.D., research professor at Boston College and author of Free to Learn, explains that what we need is to give our children just a little bit of control back. School is not going to grant them autonomy and if we as parents don’t grant them a little freedom to have personal choice, they will grow up with anxiety and depression. As parents, we need to allow for our children to learn how to make decisions and stand on their own.

Children need to feel a sense of reasonable control over their lives. It is no wonder that there has been an eight-fold increase in reported cases of depression and anxiety than 50 years ago. Dr. Gray states that “the changes seem to have much more to do with the way young people view the world than with the way the world actually is.” Young people are ceasing to believe that they have any control over their lives.

It’s time to stop contributing to the anxiety our children endure. It’s time to stop forcing one style of education on children, whose learning styles are as unique as snowflakes and who require individualized education—not a cookie-cutter plan. Our children are the future and we are not even giving them a fair chance to prepare for what responsibilities lie ahead.

It’s time we stop being so harsh on the children that don’t fit in to the square cookie cutter shape like other children. Those are the kids that fall behind and eventually fall into deep depression because of consistent “under-performing”. Perhaps if we took a second to question why that child is under-performing instead of immediately settling for “My child is just not smart” or “This child must have a neurobiological disorder.”

The consistent pressure on children is what changed the focus for them from valuing things like having a good life philosophy to valuing what will gain them the most rewards or financial stability. Kids are growing up valuing material things instead of learning how to regulate their own emotions.

By allowing this system to remain, we become the reason that our children will grow up: compliant, anxious, depressed, and scared to try anything different. Fear is what our current education system breeds. Presently children do not have freedom to learn on their own, no opportunity to nurture their personal interests, and no time for the exploration of their desires. Can we really expect anything different?

We have another choice; we do not have to feel powerless and submit to current structures that have been put in place. There is another way. As Dr. Gray concludes, “we don’t need to drive kids crazy to educate them. Given freedom and opportunity, without coercion, young people educate themselves. They do so joyfully, and in the process develop intrinsic values, personal self-control, and emotional wellbeing.”


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Digital Demise

High-Strung from high-energy blue screens? In this technological age, our noses are consistently pressed up against some type of electronic device. Young and old, we have become consumed by the entertainment these devices provide. It’s time we consider the potential damaging effects our obsession will wreak.

Most of us have heard that the blue light that comes from your TV, phone, tablet, and computer produces very high energy that leads to eye fatigue and can eventually lead to loss of visual function. However, new research rolling out clarified that there are many more effects than originally predicted. What you may have not known is that a major effect of blue screen exposure is on the brain’s circadian system (biological clock) which links to external cues like those produced by technology.

Unfortunately, the link is not remotely positive. “Sleep and wakefulness aids have gone global…More than two hours of nighttime exposure to screens can negatively affect sleep onset and duration”, explains Emory University professor and author of Wild Nights, Benjamin Reiss.  Additionally, researchers from the Harvard Medical School explain in the Harvard Health Letter that “Blue wavelengths—which are beneficial during daylight hours because they boost attention, reaction times, and mood—seem to be the most disruptive at night.”

Furthermore, a study conducted by researchers at the Harvard Medical School slowly shifted the circadian rhythm schedule of ten participants. Their results showed that the participants began experiencing pre-diabetic states; this meant they had increased blood sugar levels and decreased levels of leptin (hormones that help you feel full). Awed by their own observations, they concluded that “[Blue-screens] may contribute to the causation of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.”

Our bodies were not designed to withstand this much exposure to technology. Be advised, be warned, be alert: your use of technological devices does not come cost free. You are paying a very high price every moment you remain glued to your digital device.

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Psychology Today April 2017


Resilience: Grow, Learn, and Overcome

When you are under pressure – do you bend or break? Do you adapt to change well? Do you have a strong internal locus of control? Do you have sufficient self-efficacy? The answers you have to these questions indicate how resilient you are.

Resilience is the Psychology term for tolerance—the ability to tolerate stress, assaults to the ego, psyche, one’s emotions. It’s essentially one’s emotional armor. It can be learned and developed through experiences that lead you to adapt and grow. To be resilient means that when tough situations present themselves, you are capable of bouncing back quickly and recapturing control.

Many people possess inadequate resilience; which is understandable when people have had little experience with difficult situations requiring change or perseverance. Resilience is like grit in a sense—having grit prepares you for being able to take responsibility and solve any issues at hand. A human without resilience is like a warrior with paper plated armor.

One of parents’ fundamental tasks is training their children to be competent and caring. It is important for parents to start nurturing resilience in their children at an early age; otherwise, in young adulthood, their children will not be able to manage the emotional roller coaster of daily life.

Dr. Peter Gray, a research professor at Boston College and author of Free to Learn and Psychology, shares his insight into recent resilience trends in young adults in a college setting. Dr. Gray reports that over the last five years, campus counseling centers are experiencing almost double the number of emergency calls and scheduled therapy appointments.

Recent studies show that in young adults, there has been an increase in mental health problems, corresponding to a decrease in resilience. Dr. Gray states that in addition to an increase in reported suicidal thoughts, “Rates of anxiety and depression among American college students have soared in the last decade, and many more students than in the past come to campus already on medication for such illnesses.”

Unfortunately, these findings surprise few. Millennials, in many cases, have had to bear helicopter parents and preplanned daily schedules from sun-up to sun-down. Children need to have to opportunity to explore play and be given myriad chances to solve their own problems and disputes. Getting in trouble and failing is a natural part of life; because no one is perfect, trying to achieve perfection is not worth the emotional turmoil that ensues.

Resilience comes from consistent perseverance—getting up even when things get difficult. Resilience means staying positive even during times of hardship. Continuously working on resilience will ultimately lead to a happier life. In the words of Elizabeth Edwards, “Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.”

For more information: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201509/declining-student-resilience-serious-problem-colleges

Cognitive Dissonance

Perhaps you have heard or read the term cognitive dissonance? Psychologist Leon Festinger used cognitive dissonance as a way to explain his theory of what people experience when they simultaneously hold two conflicting beliefs. Festinger observed that humans strive to achieve balance and consistency in our lives; when that balance seems awry, we create justifications for why we believe one thing and end up doing the opposite.

For example, you may not like to lie, but imagine someone you care about asking you to lie for them. Even though you believe that lying is wrong, you find yourself doing it, perhaps inexplicably at first. Now there is inconsistency between your beliefs and your behaviors. In order to rid yourself of the perception of inconsistency and the discomfort it brings, you either choose to believe the lie you are telling or you convince yourself that by lying you are helping your friend. This rationalizes the act, obviating your discomfort. It’s genius.

Shahram Heshmat, Ph.D., an associate professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Springfield with a Ph.D. in Managerial Economics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, suggests that “Cognitive dissonance results from a tension between a desire and a belief.” It is a struggle you experience – often through guilt. And of course, no one want to feel guilty; it is an uncomfortable feeling and to relieve the pressure we must convince ourselves that what we are doing (or did) is justifiable.

Additionally, Dr. Heshmat states that “our reasoning is biased by our desires and motivations.” Again, we do not want to feel bad about the actions or decisions that we made; therefore, we must find a way to relieve our discomfort without having to change our behavior.

Steven Stosny, Ph.D., the founder of CompassionPower in suburban Washington, DC. and author of recent book, Soar Above: How to Use the Most Profound Part of Your Brain under Any Kind of Stress, describes that “Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort of self-image colliding with reality. Such collisions are inevitable, as self-image tends to be based on values – what is most important to you – while behavior is routinely directed at short-term comfort, pleasure, and utilitarian goals.”

Cognitive dissonance can also be understood in the context of a romantic partner relationship. When, inevitably, your partner makes you feel bad, you may react by accusing them of being wrong or inconsiderate—otherwise why would they hurt you? However, when you are having trouble understanding someone’s behavior or actions, it is up to you to challenge yourself to understand them. Some see it as putting yourself in the other’s shoes and critically trying to understand the other person. The challenge is to reach genuine empathy, which will relieve cognitive dissonance.

Of course it would be much easier to just say “there is something wrong with my partner”, rather than trying to figure out or sympathize with why your partner hurt you or why your partner is behaving in a hurtful manner. Dr. Stosny explains that “Instead of asking what is wrong with your partner, ask, what in me is making it hard to be compassionate right now. The answer will almost always be guilt (I’ve hurt or neglected you), shame (I feel too inadequate), or fear (I’m afraid of your response).”


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Become a Better Communicator Through Mindful Listening

In order to become expert at communicating, you must ask yourself a very important question: Do you listen to understand or do you listen to respond? These are two completely different purposes that one must become consciously aware of about oneself.

Listening to understand focuses on the message the person with whom you are speaking is trying to make – without judgment. You consciously attempt to comprehend everything they are saying, asking follow up questions where points are unclear to you, all in an effort to truly understand them. Simply, you are present for what they are trying to communicate.

When you listen to respond – you hear bits and pieces of what someone is telling you while simultaneously forming your response – what you want to tell them or how you want to correct them. Listening to respond takes away your attention from the speaker – because you are so busy formulating a response for when they stop talking. This hinders your ability to understand what someone needs to communicate.

Mindful listening is not as easy as most people think – like most skills, it takes practice. Dr. Elizabeth Dorrance Hall is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Utah State University and director of the Family Communication and Relationships Lab, as well as author of Conscious Communication. She explains that “Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention and being open to the present moment…mindful listening then is about being fully present when interacting with others rather than thinking about your to-do list while your colleague is sharing about her weekend.”

We are all sometimes guilty of our thoughts wandering while others are speaking to us; however, it is up to us to make sure we rein in our thoughts so this doesn’t happen often. The ways to best make sure you are listening – and communicating to the other person that you are listening – is through non-verbal and verbal skills.

Mindful Listening Strategies:

  • Maintaining eye contact
  • Smiling
  • Matching body language
  • Matching tone
  • Nodding
  • Encouraging to express thoughts.
  • Follow up questions

If you practice these skills every time you have a conversation, you might begin to notice an improvement in your communication skills – since listening and talking are equal parts of communication. Ideally, friends, children, colleagues, and family will notice that you are more present with them and they will appreciate it.

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Reaching Your Goal of Increased Self-discipline

Self-discipline seems to be a huge struggle for us in today’s society. Everything is so easily obtained that most of the time we don’t even have to leave the comfort of our home to get anything. The downside is that we sometimes overdo things and hurt ourselves in the long run. The solution is to embrace the gift of self-discipline and change our habits. But how do we do this?

Amy Morin, a licensed psychotherapist, clinical social worker, college psychology instructor, and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, explains that “In reality, the only way to improve your self-discipline is through intentional, dedicated practice.” She offers six steps to achieving the self-discipline many of us long for and wish to obtain.

Six strategies to reaching your goal of increased self-discipline:

  1. Acknowledge Your Weaknesses: be honest with yourself and come clean about the things that are hard for you to do. That will be the first step to realizing those things that require a little work.
  2. Establish a Clear Plan: Simply acknowledging your weakness does not eliminate it. Having a solid plan puts you on a track to conquering that weakness.
  3. Remove Temptations When Necessary: “We’d all like to believe we have enough willpower to resist even the most alluring enticement, but it only takes a moment of weakness to convince ourselves to cave to temptation,” explains Looking at your past behavior as an indicator is always a great place to start – ultimately to pinpoint the pitfalls to avoid.
  4. Practice Tolerating Emotional Discomfort: You have to be prepared for the fact that change is initially uncomfortable; it will take some getting used to. Especially when you must stay away from your temptations, which will in due course increase your self-discipline.
  5. Visualize the Long-Term Rewards: Try to stay focused on the long term goal you have planned for yourself. Morin pushes the point that “Giving in to today’s temptations may make you feel happy now, but long-term happiness and contentment requires you to forgo immediate gratification.”
  6. Recover From Mistakes Effectively: This step may be hard for some; however, it is crucial. Recovering from mistakes means being able to forgive yourself and learn from your mistakes. Self-compassion is key when it comes to overcoming the downfalls and getting back on track.

With intention and dedication, you can build self-discipline and no longer be a slave to your inhibitions. Instead of feeling powerless—living a life fraught with dissatisfaction—remember  you can and will regain control of the life you want to live.

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