Should you get your preschooler an ipad?

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I read a post earlier today from Common Sense Media regarding ipad’s or other tablets for kids. The question in the article is whether or not you should get one of these devices for your child. I didn’t have to think too long about this one. My answer is a resounding NO… The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees with me. They recommend ZERO hours per day of any screen time for kids ages 0-2 and ONE hour per day of screen time for kids ages 3-5. And you want to decide whether or not to buy your toddler an ipad?

As many of you know, I lecture extensively on the topic of technology and its affects on kids emotional intelligence, coping skills, focus and attention; how it’s delaying development, creating an epidemic of obesity and leading to a substantial increase in mental health problems. Oh, and I can’t forget the sleep deprivation part. I think most parents are aware of this stuff but they kind of fluff it off as being benign. In fact, at a recent lecture I presented I asked the audience of 200 fifth and sixth grade parents to raise their hands if they thought it was a good idea to allow their child to play the video game, Call of Duty. Not a single parent raised their hand. Then I asked them to raise their hand if their kid owned Call of Duty. Again, not a single hand rose. And here’s the kicker–roughly 70 percent of the parents in the audience have bought Call of Duty for their child and allow him/her to play it. Am I missing something here?
The fact is, the majority of people in this world go with the tide, including parents. They see what it is that everyone around them is doing and they make it ok in their mind. Yet somewhere inside they know it is not ok. It’s an adult peer pressure of sorts. This “going with the flow” mentality is known as the selective or social consciousness. We simply make most of our decisions not from sound morals and values but from what we see others around us doing. So in other words, the majority of parents out there are followers and guess what their children are becoming will be by the time they get to high school. Guess what all followers have in common that leaders don’t? That’s right, they do what everyone else is doing. And that is just downright dangerous when you’re a teenager.

So no, your pre-school child should not have an ipad. And no, none of your children, no matter what their age should ever be allowed to sit at a table in a restaurant and spend the entire time buried in a smartphone, ipad or similar device. And no, your child should never have any type of screen in his/her bedroom and should never have one of these devices in his/her hand when sitting in the back seat of your car. I see this everywhere I go and it is driving me nuts. Aside from the mental health issues and other issues I addressed earlier, all of this “virtual reality” is destroying “real world” families. The question I have for you is this – WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?

Parenting Children to be Leaders Instead of Followers

Do you feel pressured to sign your children up for lots of sports and activities so that they keep pace with the other kids, even though your gut tells you it’s too much? Do you fear they won’t measure up and succeed in this competitive world? Do you allow your children to spend too much time on smartphones and video game devices because that is how kids  communicate these days, and that depriving them of this will lead to social isolation? The reality is that all of these activities and devices that we provide our children have little to do with them and everything to do with us.  Here’s why.

We want our children tofit inbecause we fear that they won’t be happy and successful. Take a deep breath for moment and really think about this. Do you really want your children to “FIT IN”, to follow the crowd? Or, do you want them to be leaders? As parents we get sucked into the fitting-in trap and we may be setting-up our children to be future followers instead of future leaders.

Here are a few tips to help you raise children that are future leaders instead of followers.

Unplug the phone: Getting smart-phones for your children is the furthest thing from “smart.” You know how addictive these things are and how dangerous that world-wide-web is. So does it make sense to place these dangerous devices in your children’s hands? I understand that all of the other parents in the community are ok with it, but does that really make it ok? Wouldn’t you rather your child do things the safe way instead of societies way? If your children are among the few that don’t have smart phones then you’re already teaching them how to march to the beat of their own drum; to lead rather than follow. Their time to have a smart phone will come, there’s no need to rush it. And remember, this fear you have of your children being left behind is your fear, not theirs.

Limit the sports: Are your kid’s schedules jam-packed? Again, do you fear that they will fall behind and not be any good, and not have a social life? Again, these are fears, not facts. Here are the facts: If your child is on the football field practicing every night until 8:00, what he’s really missing out on is what he needs the most—time with you. You are your children’s teacher and mentor, and the only way you can teach them and guide them is if you are with them.

Rated M video games/Rated R Movies: Leaders play by the rules. Why? Because the rules are the rules. If you allow your children to play games and watch movies that aren’t age appropriate, what do you think that teaches them? It teaches them that it’s ok to break the rules, which is something leaders just don’t do. If you start playing by the rules your children will too.

In a nutshell, human beings tend do move with the crowd, to go with the flow. This is similar to the flock of birds in the sky or the school of fish in the sea. We unconsciously conform to the things that others around us are doing and we don’t even realize it. This is known as the collective consciousness or social conformity. Unless you start becoming more aware of this fact and pass it on to your children, your children will start to, well, follow the crowd. Here is a great clip from an old candid camera episode that will help you understand this more.

The Power of Personal Commitment

My week began with a 13-year-old boy, struggling to find the motivation to do his homework. He flat-out asked me, “How do I make the commitment to do my homework?” Next was a 22-year-old marijuana smoker who constantly makes excuses for not stopping, even though he knows it’s putting his life on pause. Finally there was the 28 year old who wanted to lose the weight she’d gained, but could not consistently find her way to the treadmill. The recurring theme at my private counseling practice last week—commitment.

What prompted me to write about the topic of commitment was my client who wanted to lose weight. She knew she needed to exercise more consistently, but just couldn’t get herself to do it. At the beginning of our session, we were talking about good habits versus bad habits, and she mentioned that it takes 66 days to form a new habit. That comment got me thinking, so towards the end of our session I revisited it. It got me thinking about my own level of exercise consistency.

Here was my issue. For the last fifteen years, I’ve been waking up at 5 a.m. and going to the gym five days a week. Over the last year something changed in me; I started hitting the snooze button and sleeping in more than I ever have, bringing my gym attendance down to four d
ays a week. So here’s what I did. I made a deal with my client. I told her that if she agrees to exercise for 66 straight days that I would do the same. She took the deal and we are now both committed to getting on track. And more importantly, we are both motivated.

What is a commitment?

In a nutshell, a commitment is a promise that you make to another person or to yourself. The good news is that most of us are excellent at keeping the promises we make to our friends, colleagues and family members but we are lousy at keeping the promises we make to ourselves. So how do you become good at staying committed to your goals, your personal promises? Here are a few tips:

  1. Make a deal: Let’s say you want to get into yoga, but you’ve been making excuses and still haven’t started. A good way to get going is to find a friend that also wants to start yoga. If you sign up together, you are more likely to attend, because you will feel obligated not to ditch your friend. The same holds true with starting a new diet or joining a gym.
  2. Look in the mirror: Look at yourself in the mirror and make a legitimate commitment to yourself as if you were making an important promise to your best friend. It’s as simple as that. It has to be real, though. In order for you to stay committed, you have to pack a big punch.
  3. Post It: Take a packet of post-its and write your specific goal on a bunch of them. Then stick them in places that you frequent, like the dashboard of your car, or the bathroom mirror, or the refrigerator. This is a good way of keeping your goal — your commitment — fresh in your mind. You are now more likely to act on that goal.
  4. Visualize: Practice 5- or 10-minute mediations each day for a week. The meditations must relate to your goal. For example, if you want to get on the exercise bike five times a week, visualize yourself doing so. The key to effective visualization is to attach a feeling to the things you’re visualizing. If weight loss is your goal, imagine the feeling you’d feel after you have lost the amount of weight you desire to lose. Really feel it. If doing your homework is your goal, imagine the feeling you’ll feel when your report card reads all A’s and B’s. Really feel it.

As of today, I have gone to the gym eight straight days. I plan on attaining the goal of 66 straight days.

Talk to me anytime about the power of personal commitment.

Kids are from Mars, Parents are from Venus

Why kids struggle to survive on Planet Earth and how parents are following in their path

It’s no wonder kids can’t cope in today’s world. They’re not living in it! If you were to hop in a spacecraft and land on Mars, do you think you’d be able to cope on that harsh planet? Of course not. Well, I’ve got news for you: countless kids are experiencing the same thing—from Planet Earth.

Total panic or total emptiness

Every week the problems are getting worse with kids. I know, because I see it firsthand. I’m on the front lines in the battle. As a school counselor by day and private practice therapist by night, I’m like the undercover cop that sees everything going on in a school of 1,200 students. I get to peer into their family life too, and it’s pretty scary from my view. If you were to shadow me for a few days, you’d see what I mean. I’m talking about one kid after another coming to my office in a state of total panic or total emptiness. The ones with the panic issues all have two things in common: they are good students that are pushed to excel academically, and they are addicted to their smartphones or laptops. The result—school-work procrastination and a malleable brain that is living most of its life on another planet called cyberspace, a place far from Earth.

The other types of kids, the empty ones, seem a lot like apocalyptic zombies. They stroll into my offices with very flat, monotone dispositions. They seem utterly clueless about everything that has to do with what it means to be human. And they have an excuse for every pearl of wisdom I provide them. Most of them are actually more intelligent than the over-anxious kids, but their report cards say otherwise. They find it impossible to connect the dots between working hard in school and future success. Like the over-anxious kids, their brains have also been programmed to live on planet cyberspace, far away from Earth. Their outcome? Failure and more depression.

What is really going on?

I hate to sound all doomy and gloomy, but I need to tell you the truth about what is really going on. As parents, we see only what we see – our own child’s life. We don’t see the other 1200 kids in their school and what their lives are like. Every day my colleagues ask me, “What is going on?” And I tell them the same thing I’m telling you. It’s the machines, the screens. They have become your children’s world, and the result is an inability to function on this foreign planet called Earth, much the same as you would experience if you tried to inhabit Mars. It just doesn’t work.

Parents want answers

When the school related problems surface for these kids, when their grades go down or they become school avoidant, the parents want answers and they come to the school administrators or counselors for the answers. They want to know what the school is doing wrong, and what the school is going to do to motivate their child or fix their anxiety. When I tell them that the key is in their hand – all they have to do is pull the cyber plug – they just don’t want to hear it. So instead, they bring their children to psychiatrists, pump them with drugs and come back to the school with accommodation demands, such as extra time for tests and assignments, or extensions for handing in late work. Of course it is the school’s duty to help the children, because their problems are not their fault, but why aren’t parents getting it? How are they not seeing what I’m explaining to them? What will it take for parents to finally, well, get it?

Do you have question about your technology-addicted child? Contact me anytime.

5 Tips for ‘Surviving Marriage’ with Your Spouse

Couples with strong relationships are excellent communicators because their style of communication has little to do with talking and everything to do with listening. When you feel heard, you feel respected and validated. It’s that simple and it goes both ways in a relationship. Couples whose marriages are struggling, like the ones on Surviving Marriage, lack this simple ingredient. Here’s why:

The problem most troubled marriages face:
No two people see things the same way, including you and your spouse, and this often leads to problems. For example, you might find it unfathomable that your partner hates a certain restaurant that you love or loves one that you hate. Or, maybe you and your spouse have different political views, and you just can’t understand how your spouse can see it that way. Whatever your differences are, over time they can turn into a battle between two forces (you and your spouse) attempting to sway the other to “my” way of thinking. You become fixated on your need to be right and your partner’s ludicrousness that your relationship becomes a competitive, stubborn battle that leads to one place—resentment. Neither you nor your spouse will lay down your sword. In fact, you’ll do anything just to prove that you are right, including destroying your marriage. All because you were too stubborn to listen to and respect your partners opinions and keep yours to yourself.
Here are a few tips to help you become a better communicator and possibly save your marriage before it is to late.
1. Zip It
Our natural reaction when we here something we don’t want to hear or something we disagree with is to become defensive. We immediately defend our opinion on the matter and will go to the ends of the earth to prove the other person wrong. Sound familiar? Have you ever done this to your spouse? If you have, try biting your tongue and swallowing your pride. It does a marriage good.
2. Apologize
Why is it so hard to say, “I’m sorry?” The inability to say these two simple words destroys so many marriages it’s sad. I find this absurd. If these words never leave your mouth I’d advise you to start practicing using them now. If it feels really hard for you to do this then that’s the sign that you need to do it.
3. Pick Your Battles
Do you become agitated when you have a disagreement with your spouse? If so, you need to stop this behavior. If you feel strongly about a particular matter tell your spouse that you respect his/her opinion on the matter but you respectfully disagree. You don’t need to prove why you are right and he/she is wrong. That will get you nowhere good. It’s all in the delivery.
4. Schedule some talk time
That’s right, in today’s technology driven world, there is less face-to-face communication between couples because they are too busy communicating with their phones and tablets. Take time every day to unplug and sit down with your spouse and actually talk. This is the miracle grow that every relationship must have.
5. Do a good deed
Everyone knows that when your spouse responds positively to something you’ve done unexpectedly, like putting the laundry away, that you want to do even more good deeds. So start doing some random, good deeds and you’ll start a whole new cycle of positive chemistry in your marriage.
There is no question that marriage takes work but you need to look it from a different angle. It’s not about what your spouse can do for you, it’s what you can do for your spouse. Commit yourself to what you can do better and I guarantee your marriage will be much healthier.

Alone or Lonely: Which One Are You?

All morning, I was looking forward to the pineapple fried rice. When my lunch buddy, Mike, told me that he wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t go to our favorite Friday Thai spot, I was a little disappointed. I don’t remember the last time we missed a Friday lunch at this place. So I had a decision to make. Should I go alone or should I do something else for lunch? The idea of a sit-down lunch by myself seemed a little strange, because it’s not something I normally do. As I thought about it a little harder, I said to myself, “why wouldn’t I go alone?” After all, I had been looking forward to the pineapple rice all morning, and I happen to enjoy my own company. Yes, I do like myself and could care less what other patrons might think of the poor guy (me) sitting alone with no friends. So I went.

As I sat at the table, I found myself quite tuned in to my thoughts. Although I missed Mike’s presence, I embraced the alone time. I very much enjoyed it.

It got me thinking about a topic that I discuss with many of my patients at my private counseling practice: the difference between aloneness and loneliness. The difference is quite extreme — here’s why. People who avoid idle, alone time fear being lonely. They don’t like the idea of having a front row seat to their thoughts. People who embrace alone time, on the other hand, enjoy the adventure and creativity that their thoughts can bring. It can be rather exciting for them, as it should be, because these are the people who literally attract the things they want into their lives.

Which type are you? Are you the type that looks at alone time from a perspective of loneliness or from a perspective of aloneness? If loneliness is your answer, here are some strategies that will help you to start embracing your time alone.  Doing so will help you to build a stronger relationship with yourself and will help you in the direction of your goals a lot faster.

  1. Have a meeting with yourself every day. That’s right. Make it a priority to have a 15-minute meeting with “you” every day. While you’re at it, really pay attention to your thoughts. What exactly are you thinking about? How are you feeling? Are your thoughts filled with worries or fears? Are your feelings down? If so, start replacing those thoughts with positive ones. Breathe in feelings that are abundant. The more you practice this, the quicker you will become it.
  2. Give thanks. During your alone time, steer your thinking. Start giving thanks for all of the wonderful things you have. Give thanks for your health, your family’s health, the home you live in, the car you drive, and the bed you sleep in. You get the picture. Creating a daily “attitude of gratitude” will literally have you loving yourself in no time.
  3. Meditate: Speaking of alone time! Meditation is the epitome of it. Have you ever closed your eyes for 15 minutes at a time in a quiet place for several consecutive days? Try it. Not only will you learn new things about yourself, but you’ll also discover who you actually are.
  4. Stretch: Take a few minutes to lightly stretch your body, and do it slowly. You can do this right from your desk. Not only does this help you to tune in to your physical body, it also help you tune in to your thoughts.  This is a great way of creating a balance of mind and body.
  5. Accept aloneness: The next time you have some serious downtime with basically nothing to do, don’t try to fill in the downtime with meaningless activities like Internet surfing or texting. Instead, embrace the boredom. Boredom time is probably the most mentally creative time there is. It is the Miracle-Gro of the mind.