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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Technology and Teen Brains

In today’s society we use technology on a daily basis. We have phones, iPads, e-readers, hand-held devices, TV’s, and computer screens. We use these things to organize, inform and simplify our lives. 

And we have armed our children with that same convenience and soothed ourselves with the thought that we can be in constant contact with them. But is technology affecting them in a way we have not considered?

We all know and even discuss how teens problem solve with the frontal lobe of their brain. Research shows that the frontal lobe is undergoing a huge amount of change during the teen and mid-twenties years and those changes affect decision making for those brains.

Do we know how technology affects those same developing frontal lobes?

Research in one particular area, “screen time” is beginning to emerge and it important that as parents we include this information into our parenting strategies.

The following research sums it up succinctly:
“In short, excessive screen-time appears to impair brain structure and function. Much of the damage occurs in the brain’s frontal lobe, which undergoes massive changes from puberty until the mid-twenties. Frontal lobe development, in turn, largely determines success in every area of life—from sense of well-being to academic or career success to relationship skills. Use this research to strengthen your own parental position on screen management, and to convince others to do the same.”


Realistically we can’t just take the devices away that we now use on a constant basis. But we can be responsible about how and when to use them and we can develop a strategy for determining how much is too much. 

"In an NPR article, Digital Overload: Your Brain on Gadgets, Matt Richtel asks the question,  'What is the line right now when we go from a kind of technology nourishment to a kind of stepping backwards, to a kind of distraction — where instead of informing us, [technology] distracts us and impedes our productivity? There's growing evidence that that line is closer than we've imagined or acknowledged.

'He points to one study conducted at Stanford University, which showed that heavy multimedia users have trouble filtering out irrelevant information — and trouble focusing on tasks. Other research, he says, says that heavy video game playing may release dopamine, which is thought to be involved with addictive behaviors.

'When you check your information, when you get a buzz in your pocket, when you get a ring — you get what they call a dopamine squirt. You get a little rush of adrenaline," he says. "Well, guess what happens in its absence? You feel bored. You're conditioned by a neurological response: 'Check me check me check me check me.'

“Richtel says that research is ongoing, particularly into how heavy technology may fundamentally alter the frontal lobe during childhood, how addictive behavior can lead to poor decision-making and how the brain is rewired when it is constantly inundated with new information.”

We already know how the brain reacts when it becomes addicted to dopamine “squirts,”—it needs more. I posit that many of us are becoming dopamine junkies and we are offering up our children to be the same. 

Do we understand that we are creating addicts when we demand extended usage of electronic devices for school usage and then homework and video game play or social media interaction? 

As parents, it is our responsibility to implement solutions that allow our children a healthy life that has reasonable limits on electronics and screen time. 

1.      We must be vigilant in building into daily structure a “no interruption time” so they can focus on homework, reading/creative play, relaxation and physical activity.
2.      We need to have a serious discussion with our children on how interruptions affect their learning.
3.      Limit social media and/or game play. When we see our teens being more combative or secretive with regard to screen time, we need to adjust those limitations.
4.      Talk about dopamine “squirts” with your adolescent. Be honest and say that while we are on the cutting edge of technology, we don’t yet know all the implications of what that means for our brains.

Most likely if you’re a parent of a real live teen, you’ll have to repeat yourself on this topic. Take solace in that if you repeat it, you are doing it right.
So how can we increase our chances of being successful with this endeavor?

Implement it with ourselves first. Actions have always spoken louder than words.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


There wasn't much turbulence Sunday evening on my flight home. At least I didn't think so.

I stepped out of my seat and headed for the airplane lavatory (why do they call it that?). The sign said "Vacant" and I chuckled to myself that, "Yep, my mind feels pretty empty."

Every time I maneuver into these cramped tiny spaces called lavatories, I often think these things are meant for size 0 behinds and not mine!

But this time as I climbed in and slid the lock over, I realized "Vacant" really described my heart.

Yep. I just dropped my daughter off at college in a different state that requires a plane ride to visit. It's sort of an empty feeling, a feeling of change, a feeling of quiet disharmony. Sigh.

As the door latch clicked, I remembered a moment of sheer joy when my daughter looked so grown up standing in her dorm room, so bright-eyed and ready for this new challenge.

And I realize that I have a choice as well.

I can take her example, the one of enthusiasm and apply it to my "new" life.

I am robbed of my daughter's daily presence but not her excitement, and I can fill the empty moments with memories, hopes and the texts or face-times to come. I'll savor her stories and the true hope and promise that exudes from her. And I'll remember that I had a part in fostering those wonderful traits that drive her now.

She is in the right place for her. I know it. This is her time and I rest in the knowledge that she knows it too.

I could choose to be sad, to weep at the empty bed in her room while the crickets chirp their evening serenade, but what does that really buy me? It doesn't change a thing!

Instead I will choose to look to my daughter's example and look at this time as a way to know I am in the right place for me. I'll continue to be mom, even if from far away. God still has plans for me too. I will intentionally choose to look to those with the same enthusiasm as my daughter looks to hers. 

It reminds me that my heart's never really going to be vacant. No. I'll squeeze my never-been size 0 butt into this new life and slide the sign over to occupied...cause Lord knows that girl of mine has my heart.

Friday, August 21, 2015


This is it. The time you’ve been thinking about since your child was born.
 It’s what you’ve done. Burped, rocked, patted, cajoled, sang, reasoned, discussed, laughed, cried, yelled, hugged, listened, walked, drove, sighed, cheered, protected. And now here comes the big one…
No one tells you the intricate dance your heart does when it’s time to send your child to college. 
Worry filters through during the application process. Hope digs its way in during the acceptance letters. Sweet discernment bobs up and down during the selection process. Fright takes hold at the thought of paying for college. Excitement thrills at the mention of the future. Reality engulfs at the thought of just a few weeks before classes begin. And then comes the big one…
Time to say goodbye.
There’s no word, no greeting card, no outlet for that moment. It’s just, “We love you. Call us.”
“You’ve done your job,” friends tell you.
 “Let the beautiful bird fly!” others persuade. 
 “They’re ready,” family assures.
 “Congratulations!” someone reminds you.
 “It’s hard,” a friend whispers. 
 Yes. It’s hard. The family you’ve worked so hard to build, fought so hard to protect is changing…and it will never be the same again. 
 It’s exciting to see your baby grow into a blooming adult. It’s shocking to think that they won’t be sleeping in their bed, in your house, with your family. They won’t be sitting at the breakfast table, cranky because they didn’t get enough sleep, but they won’t be sitting at the dinner table laughing about their day. 
There’s a hole. In your heart. No...a chasm really.
And no one tells you this. 
Rob Lowe talks about sending his son off to college in an excerpt from his book Love Life. (You can find the article at Slate.) He says this:
“I have been emotionally blindsided. I know that this is a rite many have been through, that this is nothing unique. I know that this is all good news; my son will go to a great school, something we as a family have worked hard at for many years. I know that this is his finest hour. But looking at his suitcases on his bed, his New England Patriots post­ers on the wall, and his dog watching him pack, sends me out of the room to a hidden corner where I can’t stop crying.”
Yep. (Except the part about the NE Patriots...not in this Denver Bronco house...)
He sums up how he’s feeling with a great image when he writes, “I’m trying to remember when I felt like this before. Like an el­ephant is sitting on my chest, like my throat is so tight and constricted that I can feel its tendons, like my eyes are 100 percent water, spilling out at will, down pathways on my face that have been dry for as long as I can think of. I’m trying to remember: When was the last time my heart was breaking?”
Sums it up.
So why isn’t there a word for this?
The Latin root dolo means to "chop into shape, inflict blows." The Latin root doleo means "to grieve or suffer." The prefix con means "with." They come together to make the word:
Yes. Someone should wish me their condolences. But what about the good stuff? 
The Latin word congratulatus means "to wish joy", the prefix con we know.
Yes. We are joyful at the prospect of our children starting new lives. So I propose a new word: 
If you have a child going off to college, just know I understand how your heart is breaking. I understand the excitement you feel at their fresh start. 

And I wish you congratudolences.