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Social Media Isn’t Really Social

boy and electronicsA parent recently asked about ways to help her young teenagers connect better with other kids. Since middle school, it’s been harder for them to find and keep good buddies. It’s affecting their mood. They are at home more and tend to resort to screens to pass the time. Yet, like most kids, they think they’re “seeing their friends” and “talking with them everyday.” But they aren’t. Turns out, social media isn’t real socializing.

How do we know? Serious problems, related to social media, are now starting to show up in teens. It’s impacting twenty-somethings as well. They are having a very rough time finding and keeping real friends. They feel anxious when meeting new people. Forget dating. They use apps to try to connect, but most report it often results in hookups or endless rejections that lower their self-confidence.

These problems go beyond what is being reported in my office. It’s being talked about nationally. Research is mounting on just how bad heavy social media can be. The saddest part is that these wonderful, caring young people truly believe they are keeping up with and getting closer to friends. Yet, they report being lonely and hungry for real friends and partners and intimacy. By the time young adults leave for college, or take a gap year, or start work, they are far behind the curve socially.

The best way to handle this is to get your kids out of the house where they tend to be stuck on – and have greatest access to – screens. Push them out if you have to. It’s not the norm (developmentally speaking) that they are at home that much by mid to late middle school. They should be hanging with peers more, and in fact, they should be wanting to be with friends and not at home. That’s more the “healthy” norm. Any down time at home on screens isn’t “chilling,” it’s actually escaping and killing precious time and opportunities to gain social skills.

One mom I know makes her kids go to the library after school for an hour. They started to meet other kids there, get some homework done, and it’s blossomed into deeper relationships. Another teaches her kids to navigate on public transportation and has prepared them to go into town and have fun safe adventures in the city.  Another demands her kids work small jobs no matter what, and volunteer, so her kids get real experience dealing with real people in situations that they have to be friendly, polite, kind, and productive.

So – when you see your son or daughter today on the iPad, laptop, or smartphone, keep in mind all those minutes and hours add up to days and weeks and months lost experiencing interactions in real time with real people. Do them a major favor and get them outside and engaged in the real world.

Please contact Dr. Rao about reproducing any material found on these pages.

Don’t Be Afraid of The Dark

Recently in my office, a young girl told me she is fearful of sleeping in her own room. The reason? It’s dark! But she wants to try, so her mother wrote down what I told her, thinking it scared girlcould be a nice way to remind her each night not to be afraid.

There’s no reason to be scared…There’s nothing in the dark that’s not in the light. 

She laughed. She hadn’t thought about it that way.

We agreed she can put on a light if she wants and lower it each night to get used to the darkness.  Each step closer to sleeping in her own bed will make her feel empowered and confident.

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Are Mindfulness and Meditation the New Adderall and Prozac?

Little gets me excited in psychiatric literature… but this did: A Harvard MRI study of people practicing mindfulness-meditation techniques shows increased thickness in the gray matter of the brain’s cortex. The brain areas that got thicker involved attention and emotional regulation. Why is this so important? Those are the two most common complaints – the two most common justifications – for putting more and more children on medications. I hear it too, in my office everyday. He isn’t focusing, he’s too distracted, he’s behaviorally impulsive. She’s overwhelmed, and gets so worried and depressed.

So – stop for a moment (as you would in any mindfulness technique) and focus on this post. Don’t just click off and go into the next, and the next. Let this get absorbed. Let this sink in. It could change your life and your child’s life.

It’s time to get all kids practicing simple mind-body techniques. A few minutes everyday would do it. These techniques are easy to learn, they feel good and are cost-effective (don’t cost a dime), can improve physical health, and now, as studies are starting to show, improve brain, behavior, and emotional functions.

How simple? Start with taking a few breaths, close your eyes, or stare off onto something that pleases you. Think of nothing else. Hold onto that feeling as long as possible. You just experienced mindfulness!

So it’s time to get ahead of the curve. This is where the latest brain science is headed. There are enough studies emerging now to seriously consider these (often ancient) techniques as essential, like good nutrition, exercise, and getting enough sleep. These techniques are being taken more seriously as an effective alternative to the use of chemical psychiatric agents. As always, consult with physicians you trust before starting (or stopping) any prescribed medication. Get second opinions too. But, remember, medications aren’t the only – or necessarily the best – way to get the brain into a healthier state.

Modern life has eroded many of the basic rituals and behaviors that keep us sane and balanced. It’s time we brought them back! These include daily healthy physical movement, being outdoors more, securing moments to reflect and relax free of technology, and engage in positive (real) social contact instead of the often competitive and negative (virtual) contact we get exposed to on social media. Mindfulness and meditation are a part of these healthy life habits.

The promise here is profound, but real. Engage in daily practices and sound behaviors that keep you and your family on the road to health – and yes – happiness!

Please contact Dr. Rao about reproducing any material found on these pages.

Three Strikes, You’re Out!

iStock_000001605222SmallAn eight year old boy threw his helmet to the ground, twice, and stomped off the field. He’s done this before. In the past, his parents have made him apologize to his teammates and coaches. But this latest episode has them wondering if he should miss his next game, which is the last game of the season.

The answer is YES!

This youngster should lose the privilege. Letting him play again and again despite poor social behavior only gives him an unintentional stage and audience to keep making mistakes.  For whatever reasons, he just isn’t emotionally ready to play this team sport. But he will in time – when he develops greater self-control and management of his anger and frustrations. That comes with development. And what drives development? Repeat learning opportunities like this. Missing his last game and disappointing his teammates because of his bad choices: That’s what will drive better skills to the surface.


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Laser Tag: Proof that behavior management works!

Abstract of digital green light laser line

My nephew’s birthday party turned out to be a great example of the power of Behavior Management. It was my first time at laser tag, accompanied by fifteen screaming, eight-year-old boys.

We first entered a mysterious dark room with neon painted walls. An employee, a young man in his twenties, jumped onto a platform to address the kids. With a raised, but controlled authoritative voice, he announced The Rules. Those rules were printed behind him in large glowing letters. The rules were specific and pertained to playing safely and being respectful of others. He made the boys repeat the ten rules back to him – which they did with great enthusiasm.

This approach drew the boys in. They made sustained eye contact and repeated the rules word-for-word in unison like an army platoon. Next, the young man made the boys agree verbally to abide by the rules or else they’d be expelled from the game. No second chances. And not until everyone agreed, did he push a button that opened a second door allowing us all access to the large laser play area.

All the elements of good behavior management were in place. It worked like a charm. Even running through mazes and shooting laser guns, with music blaring, these active eight-year-olds held it together.

That’s the power of behavior management!

  1. Before entering a new situation, always review the rules.
  2. Sustain eye contact to make sure the rules are being completely attended to.
  3. When possible, print up the rules and have kids repeat them back, so there’s no confusion about expectations.
  4. State consequences clearly… you are removed if you don’t follow the rules.There are no warnings or second chances.
  5. Before anything starts, seal the deal. Make a contract. The deal can be sealed with a verbal agreement, a nod, or in this case, yelling with great enthusiasm.

My story doesn’t end there. After laser tag was over, things fell apart. I’m a psychologist and even I didn’t see it coming.

The kids filed into an adjacent private room with a long table decorated for the birthday party. Balloons were arranged in a wonderful centerpiece. Boxes of fresh pizza were stacked up ready to eat. A beautiful cake was decorated in a Star Wars theme.

Quickly, behavior started to deteriorate. One or two boys left their chairs and roamed around. One kid faked that he had to leave early so he could get his goodie bag before the others, then he showed his goodies off to other boys who started to demand they get their bags too. As soon as parents turned their backs to cut the cake, the balloons were grabbed, separated, and escaped up to the high ceiling. I saw one boy literally trying to climb a wall, and another pushing open an alarmed exit door. He told me he wanted to get outdoors to run. The noise level inside was greater than the crowded main lobby.

These were the same 15 boys who had done so well with laser guns only 5 minutes earlier! What happened? No rules were announced before they entered the party room. No expectations set. No consequences discussed. That made all the difference.

The lesson is this. Never expect kids (boys especially) to carry the rules in their heads from one activity to another, especially at this age. And it’s worth doing the work upfront if you want to have more productive fun and less stress.

Oh – one more thing – if you can, hire the guy at Laser Tag to set up your rules. He was amazing!

Please contact Dr. Rao about reproducing any material found on these pages.