Thursday, December 30, 2010

Stats on Teens and Sexting

In a nationally representative survey of those ages 12 to 17 conducted on landline and cell phones, the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project found the following

4% of cell owning teens ages 12 to 17 say they had sent sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images of themselves to someone else via text messaging.

15% of cell owning teens ages 12 to 17 say they have received sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images of someone they know by text messaging board their cell phone.

Older teens are much more likely to send and receive these images; 8% of 17-year-olds with cell phones had sent a sexually provocative image by text and 30% have received a nude or nearly nude image on their phone.

The teens who pay their own phone bills are more likely to send "sexts" --17% of teens who pay for all of the cost associated with their cell phones send sexually suggestive images via text. Only 3% of teens who do not pay for or only pay for a portion of the cost of cell phone send these messages.

The focus groups in this poll revealed there are three main scenarios for sexting: 1) exchange of images solely between two romantic partners; 2) exchanges between partners that are shared with others outside of their romantic relationship, and 3)exchanges between people who are not yet interrelationship, but where at least one of the participants hopes to be.

Teens who received sexually suggestive images on their cell phones are more likely to say they use the phone to entertain themselves when bored.

Parental role? Understanding that what seems to be a necessity of life, the "smart phone," can be a source of sexual acting out. Parents who do not check their child/teen's text messages or other electronic communication, run the risk of sexual content being transmitted to and from friends, acquaintances, and strangers.

It is therefore crucial for parents to decide if they are going to take active steps to determine how their teen's smart phone is being used. Relying on the good judgment of teen may be a serious mistake. Intruding into a teen's private communication certainly is problematic, as teens will resist and argue, perhaps rightly, that there communications are confidential or private. Parents must thus decide if they are willing to confront this issue directly and by doing so, incur conflict and debate with their teen. The alternative, which is to allow the teen to utilize their smart phone without any supervision, runs the serious risk of the transmission of sexual images and content.

Every family must make their own and determinations regarding the use of smart phones and texting. One alternative is to provide a teen with a phone that does not have texting or Internet capabilities.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Violent media can desensitize the minds of young males

According to a study published in the October 2010 edition of the journal of Social Cognitive and  Affective Neuroscience the more adolescent boys absorb violence in media throughg movies, television shows, and video games, the less sensitive certain areas of their brains become to these images. The area of the brain that is most affected is the frontal lobe which controls behavioral inhibition and aggression.

The frontal lobe is important for all forms of social problem-solving and this part of the brain is still developing through adolescence. In this study 22 boys, aged 14 to 17, watched a series of four-second segments of violent videos. The boys rated the degree of violence they saw in each clip. The boys responses were measured in two ways.The first method was skin conductance responses or sweat levels. The study reports  that people who are shown emotionally provocative pictures or videos have exaggerated sweat responses. The participant's brain were also scanned to measure blood flow in different areas of the brain, the idea being the more blood flow, the more active that part of the brain.

According to Jordan  Grafman, the lead researcher on this study, the subjects became desensitized over time to mild and moderate aggressive scenes. The subjects produced a lower amount of sweat and the brain activity in the frontal lob showed a decrease in activity. Given the adolescent brain is malleable, chronic exposure to violent imagery may shape the brain in a manner that can affect future behavior in the real world.

There is a debate within the field of brain development and video game exposure as to the degree to which video games actually influence human behavior. There is research that suggests the majority of teens who play video games have no adverse effects. There is also research that suggest there is a subgroup of teenagers who seem to be vulnerable to violent imagery, which is expressed in aggressive behavior. The working hypothesis is there is a subgroup of teens who have underlying psychological or psychiatric problems which creates a vulnerability to violence video games. In other words, the video games themselves may not be the defining issue but rather the vulnerability of each teen.

The bottom line conclusion from this study is that the brain of a teenager is malleable, the experiences that the brain takes in influences physical development in the brain, and there is a subgroup of teenagers who are more vulnerable to becoming aggressive or violent based on repeated exposure to violent images through movies and video games.

The  critical issue for parents, teachers, and mental health professionals is to identify teens who fall within this vulnerable subgroup of teens. If a clear identification is made, extreme caution should be exercised in terms of their access to violent films and video games. These teens would likely stand out by virtue of problems with mood regulation, socialization, conflict resolution, and substance abuse. The intersection of violent video games and underlying psychiatric/psychological problems may create a perfect storm for addictive behavior with video games and aggressive behavior in the real world.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The avergage gamer is 35, overweight, and depressed

In a study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, researchers found that the average video gamer is 35, overweight, and depressed. The study included 552 subjects from the Seattle-Tacoma area. Female video gamers reported a greater incidents of depression and overall lower health status than women who did not play video games.

Digital self medication? One interpretation of the findings is that women are using video games to medicate problems with their relationships, jobs, children. Researchers concluded that habitual use of video games  as a coping response may provide a genesis for obsessive-compulsive video gaming and addiction.

This article was posted on 8/18/09 by Susanne Choney.

What you need to know about media and children's health

Young people spend more time using media -- TV, movies, music, computers, cell phones, and video games -- than engaging in any other single activity except sleep!

The media that children use and create play a key role in the development of their growing sense of themselves, of their world, and how they will learn to interact with their world. For any given child the way media shapes their sense of self and the world depends on the content of the media they take in/integrate, as well as the child's age, the amount of media, and whether the use is active and critical.

Five C's for families: Guidelines for  shaping media's influence on your child or teen:

Control time: No more that 1 to 2 hours per day (max).
Content matters: All media are educational. Some teach accurate, healthful lessons, while others teach distorted and harmful lessons.
Context is important: Where, when, how, and why and WITH WHOM young poeple use media strongly influences whether the media enrich or harm children.
Critical thinking: Teaching children active, critical media use is essential for healthy development.
Create and model media mastery: What we feed children's minds is as important as what we feed their bodies. Teach children a healthy media diet and continually engage in a discussion about media rather than passively consuming media.

Monday, December 20, 2010

New research on the effects of the internet on mental health

Did you know women are now online more than men?

Did you know 50% of the people online lie about their age, weight, job, marital status and gender?

Did you know at least 20% of the people online will experience clear negative effects on the quality of their life?

Did you know 11% of the people online are compulsive or addicted?

Nearly 20% of the people online will encounter one or more of the following problems:

Personal neglect

Compulsive checking or "clicking"

Isolation and avoidance from friends, family, and coworkers

Loss of productivity at work or at home


Marital problems

Sexual addiction

Gambling of savings

Internet abuse in the workplace

Academic failure

Using the internet is not a problem for users who are online less than two hours a week. Heavy users are at risk when they are plugged in more than 18 hours a week. Currently, there is no official diagnosis for an addiction to the internet. The proposed disorder is called Internet Addiction d\Disorder or AID. The compulsive and potentially addicted user is online as much as 10 hours a day in non-work-related activity.

Am I addicted?

Do you feel better, more alive, more stimulated and more connected when you are online, chatting, or exploring the internet?

Are you spending more and more time online?

Are you concealing the amount of time you are online or gaming from friends, family, or coworkers?

Are you online when you should be taking care of work-related tasks, home related chores, or health-related activities?

When you are off-line do you feel  depressed, exhausted, agitated, and hyper-focused on getting back online?

Have you tried to reduce your time on the internet and can't ?

Are you forgetting to eat?

Are you neglecting sleep?

Are you neglecting personal hygiene?

What is the first step in reducing dependence/addiction to the Internet?

1) For a period of 10 days keep a "time log" of every minute you spend on the internet or on other electronic forms of entertainment such as video games or smartphone games.

2) For a period of 10 days keep a journal in which you carefully log/describe the feelings you have that precede getting on the internet,  while you are on the internet, and  after you get off of the internet.

3) At the end of this ten-day period, carefully review your time log and feelings journal. Calculate the total amount of time you are spending on the internet, video gaming, or utilizing a smartphone. After you have calculated the exact time you are spending online/gaming/texting you will then summarize the findings of your feelings journal. Take a piece of paper and create three columns. In column one write a summary of the feelings you have preceding your time on line. In column two write the feelings you experience while you are online. In column 3 describe the  feelings you experience when you are off-line or after you have disengaged from being on the net.

4) If it is clear to you that you have a problem and you are motivated to make changes, contact and mental health professional who is qualified to provide counseling in addiction to the internet and video gaming. There are many different ways to approach a problem with internet abuse and addiction and so you will need to talk to a variety of mental health professionals to determine what method is best for you.

For further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me directly by posting comments to this blog or email me at or call 310287-1640.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A great presentation on media and child health

Michael Rich MD, MPH has put together a great power point presentation entitled "Finding Huck Finn: Reclaiming Childhood from the River of Electronic Screens." Dr. Rich is a researcher at Harvard's Center on Media and Child Health. You can access his presentation by simply by conducting a google search using the tittle of his paper.

This presentation offers an incredible array of data on social media in the life of a child/teen and then offers practical solutions the cyber/gaming/TV dependence and addiction.

For example: research has shown that exposure to media violence contributes to anxiety, fears, nightmares and even post traumatic stress disorder! Media Violence also produces a gradual desentization to violence and increased aggression.

Did you know: 8 to 18 year olds use media 7 hours and 38 minutes per day on average -- plus another 1 hour and 35 minutes texting?

Did you know: 8 to 18 year olds in the United States spend one quarter of their media time using multiple media? With multitasking children/teens are exposed to 10:45 hours of media content per day!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Helping Teens With Cyber Addiction

Help for cyber and video dependence/addiction

Is your child/teen’s life controlled by electronic entertainment and electronic communication?
Is your child/teen progressing towards addiction to gaming, surfing the internet, YouTube, texting?

Signs of Electronic Entertainment Addiction

1.      Does your child/teen dedicate the vast majority (or all) of his recreational time to electronic entertainment? Are his grades and health suffering?

2.      Does your child/teen spend multiple hours per day texting, tweeting,  and/or posting on Facebook?

3.      Does your child/teen organize his schedule around specific television shows and/or internet events?

4.      Does your child/teen refuse to leave the house because of his preoccupation with a video game, posting on Facebook, surfing the net?

5.      Does your child/teen talk compulsively about electronic entertainment, including monologues about the minute details of a video game?

6.      Does your child/teen shun any type of physical recreation in favor of sitting in front of a computer or television monitor?

7.      Does your child/teen argue and complain whenever he is asked to turn off a video game system or the computer?

8.      Does your child/teen say he has friends at school, but spends every weekend alone, playing video games, surfing the internet, Facebooking?

9.      Does your child/teen complain that all activities are boring and useless, except for electronic entertainment?

10.  Does your child/teen confuse internet acquaintances with true friends?

11.  Does your child/teen lack any reasonable awareness of the amount of time he spends on electronic entertainment?

12.  Is you child/teen losing interest in school? Are grades slipping? Is your child becoming increasingly isolated?

What can parents do to free their child/teen from dependence on electronic entertainment?

Enroll your child/teen in an eight week group that focuses on the development of skills needed to END dependence on video games, internet surfing, YouTube, texting, and Facebook.

Goals of group

Developing self-awareness related to the amount of time spent on  electronic entertainment and communication.

Developing self-awareness of the social, psychological, and physical consequences of compulsive gaming, texting, surfing the net, Youtube.

Learning how to cope with boredom without resorting to electronic entertainment and communication.

Learning how to develop recreational alternatives to electronic entertainment (hobbies)

Learning how to cope with powerful emotions without resorting to video games, surfing the net, texting/posting.

Developing interest in interactive outdoor play and outdoor activities (as an alternative to indoor/solitary activities).

Developing a true social network of like-minded peers for recreation and support.

Groups meet after school and on weekends. Groups meet 1 time per week for 1.5 hours for a period of 8 weeks
Contact Christopher Mulligan LCSW for more information.