Thursday, May 24, 2012

Controlling Access to Technology: The Time Machine Approach

The “Time Machine” Approach.
As I have described in previous blogs, I view computer and video gaming to be a toxic form of stimulation for children and teens with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  Computers and gaming exacerbate the core deficits of ASD by reinforcing static and repetitive thinking. Thus, I believe it is critically important for parents to limit their ASD child/teen’s access to technology. The approach I recommend most I refer to as the Time Machine. As would follow from the name, the Time Machine approach involves rolling back the clock on the availability and use of technology in the home.

This approach involves a radical change in lifestyle that is based on a commitment to limiting access to technology, while simultaneously incorporating activities that expand cognitive, emotional, and social growth.

In the Time Machine approach the ASD child/teen has access to:
1)    one television
2)    one DVD player
3)    access to one desktop computer, referred to as the “work computer” (assuming the child/teen is required by their school to use a computer to complete homework).
4)   no technology is allowed in a child/teen’s bedroom at any time
The “work computer” has word processing, power point, and spreadsheet software. The work computer has a hard wired internet connection {no wireless internet}. The “work computer” has filtering software installed that prevents access to Facebook, MySpace, gaming websites, pornography, and any other cyber destination that is used for entertainment.

Ideally, the Time Machine household does not have:
1)    a videogame console
2)   I pad/tablet technology
3)   handheld devices/Nintendo DS
4)   or a “gaming” computer.

With respect to access to technology or “screen time,” the ASD child/teen has a maximum 30 minutes of television or DVD time Monday through Thursday after all homework and household chores have been completed.

A maximum of 60 minutes of screen time is available to the ASD child/teen Friday, Saturday, and Sunday after all homework and chores had been completed. Parents can designate one night per week as “movie night” – during this time the family selects a film collaboratively and watches the film together.
In families with siblings the Time Machine approach can be modified so that siblings have access to the Internet/social media, computer based games, and video games, provided that all technology is confined to one room that can be secured any time by closing and locking a door (den, family room, or parental bedroom). In this scenario, siblings are not allowed to have any form of technology in their bedroom, including laptops, tablet technology, and smart phones.

It is strongly recommended that siblings adhere to a similar entertainment screen time schedule as their ASD sibling. It is also strongly recommended that use of social media, Internet surfing, instant messaging on the computer, be considered part of their daily screen time allowance.

Obviously, this approach means siblings will have a dramatically reduced amount of screen time compared to their peers. The rationale for this approach is the amount of screen time currently consumed by typical teens – which according to the Kaiser Family Foundation exceeds 7.5 hours per day (10.5 hours when switch tasking is factored in) -- is excessive and leads to a variety of problems, not the least of which is the loss of the art of conversation, the loss of time for self-reflection, a sedentary lifestyle, weight gain, headaches, eye strain, and orthopedic problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

As would logically follow from the parameters that are in place for siblings, parents should make similar changes in their screen time consumption. Parents may have a computer in their bedroom that is hardwired to the Internet, a printer, and a television and DVD player. Clearly, it is best for parents to model healthy “online” and “offline” behavior -- which means a balanced and integrated lifestyle.

For many parents, the thought of significantly reducing their screen time is anxiety provoking and is generally met with various arguments focusing on why maintaining a Wi-Fi connection, tablet technology, Facebook accounts, and Internet research, is an essential and necessary part of family life in the 21st century.

Although it is certainly true technology has become woven deeply into the fabric of family life in the 21st century, it is by no means the case that our relationship to technology is leading to a more satisfying, happy, and productive family life. It is therefore recommended that parents try for a period of a minimum of 60 days a reduced “screen time diet” and a simultaneous commitment to expanding family time, outdoor activities, and involvement in a wide range of enrichment and recreational activities.

Given the current consumption of screen time and the reliance on technology for entertainment and communication, it has become very difficult for parents to remember what types of activities and events they were engaged in prior to the advent of multiple computers, gaming systems, tablets, smart phones, etc.
The following is a list of activities that parents can integrate into their daily lives: family dinners, family reading time, creating a family tree/genealogy, hiking, biking, fishing, renting a boat, listening to music, attending a live concert, drawing/painting, pottery/clay play,  going to museums, writing a play, creating a short film, photography, writing poetry, gardening, cooking, housecleaning, home repairs, animal care, volunteer activities/community service, craft activities, puzzles, board games, science experiments, astronomy, window shopping, food shopping, going to the beach/boogie boarding, swimming, bowling, camping, creating memory books/scrapbook, window shopping, picnics, water played/squirt guns/water balloons, involvement in local or global political movements, support of heal the bay/green groups, participating in homeless shelter food program.

The Toxic Relationship: Autism and Technology

The relationship between technology and autism
It is widely held that computer literacy skills are critically important for children, teens, and young adults diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (hereafter ASD). Parents of young children are informed by a wide variety of autism specialists that school achievement and achievement in the 21st century workplace is dependent upon mastering computer skills.

Although it is undeniable 21st century education and employment requires computer literacy skills, the importance of these skills in the lives of autistic individuals has been vastly overstated. More importantly, the cognitive, emotional, social and physical damage associated with the use of computers (and technology in general) is vastly understated or ignored altogether within the autism community.

Given the unemployment rates of ASD young adults in the United States (newest research reports unemployment at 50% to 75% ) who have grown up using computers since early childhood, it would seem that computers are not making a meaningful contribution to employment.

Although there are complex cultural, sociological, and economic reasons ASD young adults fail to obtain meaningful employment  I believe that daily interaction with computers specifically, and technology generally, plays a central role in blocking the development of the mental processes needed for successful employment.

Put in a different way, the interaction between the autistic mind and computer-based technology, video gaming, television, DVD-based entertainment, and handheld devices increases static and repetitive thinking, communication, and behavior, and thereby serves as an obstacle to the dynamic cognitive, social, and emotional demands of the 21st century. 
Why Technology is Toxic for the ASD Brain
If we consider the relationship between technology and the autistic mind, we can see how the attention that is consumed through engagement with technology --  whether it be computer database searches (“research” on areas of special interest), repetitively watching YouTube videos, eBay shopping, video gaming, or searching for pornography – blocks the brain’s capacity to develop new mental processes which, in turn, undermines the possibility of remediating deficits in the type of problem solving required to maintain employment: innovation, improvisation, collaboration, flexibility, grey area thinking, self-awareness, perspective taking, monitoring, and reflecting.

Ongoing use of computers, particularly Internet database searches and online gaming, produces intense and sustained states of pleasure, including euphoric experiences similar to the “high” associated with the use drugs.The autistic child/teen -- who often feels overwhelmed by the complexity of social interaction and experiences pervasive alienation from typical peers -- can use the computer to escape into an endless variety of cyber fantasy worlds.

Content consumers vs. content producers
Although the computer can be used to develop connections and create meaningful content and skills -- such as website building, blogging, posting poetry, uploading videos/short films and photo galleries, and engaging in political action   -- children/teens with ASD very rarely use the computer in any way except to reinforce rigid and inflexible neurological and experiential patterns.

Children, teens, and adults on the spectrum are content consumers rather than content producers and the content they consume is static, repetitive, limited in complexity and disconnected from the development of dynamic intelligence.
With the explosion of laptops, smart phones, handheld devices/Nintendo DS, and iPads many autistic spectrum children now have access to digital technology, including the Internet, beginning within the first months of life. The constant “techno” stimulation of the ASD brain has become so much a part of everyday life that its impact on thinking, attention and social-emotional functioning  has gone unnoticed by parents/caregivers and educators.

Whether the exposure to technology proves to be an environmental toxin for the ASD brain is a research question that has yet to be pursued. As noted above, it is difficult to imagine that the dramatic rise in children and teens diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder is unrelated to the dramatic rise in home based technology, particularly the use of the home computer.

If one were to sit down and design a form of environmental stimulation that would be toxic/damaging to the ASD brain by virtue of exacerbating the core neurological deficits of the ASD brain, that stimulation is 21st century technology: laptops/the home computer gaming, internet surfing, tablets, handheld gaming devices, and video gaming.

21st century technology successfully:
1)   increases social isolation
2)   combines pleasure with social isolation
3)   decreases the need to develop reciprocal conversation skills (and encourages monologues/lectures)
4)   decreases the need to read and react to non-verbal communication
5)   provides limitless opportunities for the acquisition of static information
6)   encourages static thinking (rote application of procedures/facts)
7)   eliminates the need to develop skills in innovation and improvisation
8)   decreases need to develop collaboration/teamwork skills
9)   decreases the need to develop conflict resolution and compromise strategies
10)                      eliminates the need to develop “grey area” thinking/”good enough” problem solving (problems with no “right” answer or problems with multiple “right” or “wrong” answers)
11)                      decreases the need to develop empathy and insight (mindsight)
12)                      serves as an obstacle to physical exercise and outdoor forms of recreation
13)                      increases involvement in fantasy and decreases opportunities for three dimensional problem solving and competencies
14)                      decreases opportunities for brain growth/neuroplasticity.

When discussing the dramatic rise in ASD diagnoses, I am often asked the question: “Where were these kids 30 or 40 years ago? Did they really exist? Did we simply not see these kids?” It is certain that the range of children diagnosed has expanded – from non-verbal, intellectually challenged, with poor behavioral regulation to hyper verbal, intellectually advanced, with average behavioral regulation.  Today, the children diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and/or high functioning autism have very different deficits/needs and thus we now have an expanded understanding of autism and what type of intervention is effective.

I think it is fair to say that 30 or 40 years ago the “high end” of the spectrum went largely unnoticed – perhaps they were described as shy, antisocial, odd, strange, eccentric, or “nerdy.” Because we now include children who have an abundance of language (but are poor communicators), may be intellectually advanced (but cannot think dynamically), and are often skilled at following rules (but lack resilience) the true incidence rate of autism may now be reflected in 1/88 statistic recently released by the CDC.

One thing is certain, three decades ago (and more) NO child was living inside their homes – isolated from their peers and community, sitting in front of a computer scrolling through facts/images, playing video games, looping through YouTube videos, or simply watching a scene in a DVD for hours on end.

Until such time that autism research focuses on the impact of technology on the developing ASD brain, it make sense to safeguard the ASD brain from high levels of technology exposure. Given the particular limitations and vulnerabilities of the ASD brain common sense clearly dictates that parents and educators should exercise great caution in the way in which ASD children and teens interact with any form of technology -- with computers at the top of the “toxic” list.

We need to carefully frame how ASD children/teens focus their attention so that they are able to experience emotional intimacy, feel a sense of belonging to a social community, achieve meaningful employment, and find a partner/spouse – rather than develop “techno” competencies. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Is the Internet hurting children?

By Chelsea Clinton and James P. Steyer, Special to CNN
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Mon May 21, 2012

Chelsea Clinton and James Steyer says there's evidence that the explosion of computer use has changed the way kids think.

  • Chelsea Clinton and James Steyer say we must ask: How are social media effecting kids?
  • They say explosion of online access for kids has opened Pandora's box of privacy issues
  • They say it's changed the way kids think, interact with others; discretion is abandoned
  • Writers: We need laws, norms, education to maximize benefit, minimize disasters of online use
Editor's note: Chelsea Clinton is a board member of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit advocacy organization focused on media and technology's effects on children and teens, and wrote the foreword to "Talking Back to Facebook." James P. Steyer is founder and CEO of Common Sense Media and the author of "Talking Back to Facebook."
(CNN) -- Amid the buzz over the Facebook IPO, the ever-evolving theories about how Twitter is reshaping our communications and speculation about where the next social media-enabled protest or revolution will occur, there is an important question we've largely ignored. What are the real effects of all this on the huge segment of the population most affected by social media themselves: our children and our teens?

The explosive growth of social media, smartphones and digital devices is transforming our kids' lives, in school and at home. Research tells us that even the youngest of our children are migrating online, using tablets and smartphones, downloading apps. Consumer Reports reported last year that more than 7.5 million American kids under the age of 13 have joined Facebook, which technically requires users to be 13 years old to open an account. No one has any idea of what all of this media and technology use will mean for our kids as they grow up.

By the time they're 2 years old, more than 90% of all American children have an online history. At 5, more than 50% regularly interact with a computer or tablet device, and by 7 or 8, many kids regularly play video games. Teenagers text an average of 3,400 times a month. The fact is, by middle school, our kids today are spending more time with media than with their parents or teachers, and the challenges are vast: from the millions of young people who regret by high school what they've already posted about themselves online to the widely documented rise in cyberbullying to the hypersexualization of female characters in video games.

These challenges also include traditional media and the phenomenon of "ratings creep" in the movies that our kids consume. Movies today -- even G-rated ones -- contain significantly more sex and violence, on average, than movies with the same rating 10 or 20 years ago.

The impact of heavy media and technology use on kids' social, emotional and cognitive development is only beginning to be studied, and the emergent results are serious. While the research is still in its early stages, it suggests that the Internet may actually be changing how our brains work. Too much hypertext and multimedia content has been linked in some kids to limited attention span, lower comprehension, poor focus, greater risk for depression and diminished long-term memory.
Our new world of digital immersion and multitasking has affected virtually everything from our thought processes and work habits to our capacity for linear thinking and how we feel about ourselves, our friends and even strangers. And it has all happened virtually overnight.

It goes without saying that digital media have also altered our fundamental notions of and respect for privacy. Young people now routinely post and share private, personal information and opinions on social media platforms without fully considering the potential consequences.

The immediacy of social media platforms, coupled with vulnerable youngsters who are socially inexperienced and not fully developed emotionally, can create a combustible mix. Kids often self-reveal before they reflect, and millions of kids say and do things they later regret. The permanence of what anyone posts online and the absence of an "eraser" button mean that the embarrassment and potential damage can last forever.

We urgently need a public conversation in our country among key stakeholders: parents, educators, technology innovators, policymakers and young people themselves. The dialogue must focus on the ways social media and technology enable our kids to give up their privacy before they fully understand what privacy is and why it's important to all of us. We should also discuss how social media can help empower kids to find their voice, find their purpose and potentially create the next technology revolution.All adults know that the teen years are a critical time for identity exploration and experimentation. Yet this important developmental phase can be dramatically twisted when that identity experimentation, however personal and private, appears permanently on one's digital record for all to see.

In the 1990s, as a reaction to an explosion of television programming of increasingly questionable quality for kids, Congress passed the Children's Television Act. There was universal recognition that given all the time kids were spending in front of the television, the nation had a collective responsibility to offer positive, educational programming with limited commercials. We are at, arguably, an even more important crossroads when it comes to digital media and technology.
Howard Gardner, a professor and researcher at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who developed the concept of multiple intelligences, calls kids' use of digital media and technology "epochal change." He compares the revolution in digital media to the invention of the printing press because of its extraordinary impact on the way we communicate, share information and interact with one another. As a society, we have no choice but to engage with this new reality and work to ensure that it affects our kids in healthy, responsible ways.

The promise of digital media to transform our lives in positive ways is enormous. If managed well, technology can improve our schools and education, deepen social connectedness, expand civic engagement and even help advance our democracy. But for these positive outcomes to occur, we as a society must confront the challenges endemic in our 24/7 digital world.
We need legislation, educational efforts and norms that reflect 21st-century realities to maximize the opportunities and minimize the risks for our kids. Only then will we be able to give them the safe, healthy childhood and adolescence they deserve.
Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Chelsea Clinton and James Steyer.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Social Networking Sites May Trigger Drug Relapse

Deborah Brauser

May 18, 2012 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) — Use of online social networking sites may trigger relapse in adolescents in substance abuse treatment programs, new research suggests.
A study presented here at the American Psychiatric Association's (APA's) 2012 Annual Meeting showed that almost 90% of the youth receiving treatment for drug addiction reported using social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. The majority also reported that exposure to "drug cues" posted on these sites made them want to use drugs themselves.
"These results tell us that these exposures may negatively impact treatment outcomes among adolescents," lead author David Tran, medical student at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California–Los Angeles (UCLA) and from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, told Medscape Medical News after a press briefing.
David Tran
"On the other side, the low rate of recovery-oriented content online suggests a missed opportunity for us to use the power of social media," said Tran.
He noted that the investigators hope to next look at implementing an online intervention at a substance abuse center, along with the usual treatment plan.
"We want to build a Facebook group to engage youth, bring in discussions, provide needed information, and increase the number of non–drug users in their social networks. Hopefully this will mitigate the online risks we found," he said.
Influence of Drug Cues
Social networks often include coworkers, family members, and friends — all of whom can exercise substantial influence, said Tran.
Although previous research has shown that online sites can influence use of illegal substances in adults, "exposures that may prompt relapse in adolescents" have not yet been assessed.
For this study, Tran and colleagues enrolled 37 youth between the ages of 12 and 18 years. All participants, who were in a substance abuse treatment program at an adolescent treatment center in a predominantly Latino section of East Los Angeles, received a 20-question questionnaire.
The survey included questions about demographics, drug of choice, use of online social networking sites, and exposures to drug-related cues while online.
Results showed that 89% of the participants reported using online social networking sites during treatment. Of these, 94% reported using Facebook.
Marijuana was the drug of choice for 88% of the adolescents. The next most common drugs of choice (in order of frequency of use) were ecstasy, inhalants, methamphetamine, and cocaine for the girls and ecstasy, cocaine, and inhalants/methamphetamine for the boys.
All of the girls and 88% of the boys reported that their friends on Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace use drugs.

In addition, 94% of the participants reported that their friends posted comments about drug-related content, whereas only 44% reported that they posted drug-related content themselves. Only 22% reported seeing postings from friends about recovery or drug education.
Seeing online postings that made the participants feel that they wanted to use drugs themselves were reported by 66% of the participants (77% of the girls, 53% of the boys).
Tran noted that he is looking forward to the next step of the study, which is building the Facebook group intervention.

"Cutting off Internet access or access to online social networking sites wouldn't really work. Kids will find a way to get online with their cell phones, at home, or at their schools," he said.
"So we want to take this opportunity to positively work with kids and empower them in a way that helps them to make healthy and educated decisions about their lives."
He reported that past research has shown that online social support through Alcoholics Anonymous groups increased treatment retention rates.

"We want kids to know that they can quit and there is support out there. For kids who are coming from underserved areas, the resources are lacking. So we want to look at the feasibility and sustainability of setting up these groups and training peer leaders/educators," said Tran.

Potential for Harm
"I think social media has tremendous potential to help. But from this study, we see that it also has potential to harm," press conference moderator Jeffrey Borenstein, MD, medical director of Holliswood Hospital in New York City and chair of the APA Council on Communications, told Medscape Medical News.
Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein
Dr. Borenstein, who was not involved with this research, said that "figuring out how to make use of social media in a positive way" can impact 2 key areas.
"One is with peer support, especially for treatment of chemical dependency. For our younger generation, who are used to interacting through Facebook, including peer support while making use of the technology has the potential to be really helpful."

He said that the other key area is in education, by explaining the risks of substance abuse through the technological methods adolescents already commonly use.
"That can make a big difference. And that's why I'm very excited about this study, which is an extraordinary work by somebody who is still in school. I'd say the future of our field is very bright," said Dr. Borenstein.

Sexting: A New Generation of Sexual Exploitation?

Sexting: A New Generation of Sexual Exploitation?

From Sexual Recovery Institute Blog

The reality that more teens are sexting than ever before isn’t exactly news, but experts and articles are suggesting a new dangerous angle to teens and sexting – the fact that the behavior may be contributing to thought patterns among a new generation of males who may be more likely to sexually exploit or use women as they become adults.

A recent article quotes Pat Craven, representing a non-profit organization for sexual abuse called Freedom Programme, in stating that sexting may be teaching younger males a false reality that it’s OK to abuse girls sexually or to exploit sexual images of them.Craven also mentions in the article that studies indicate girls as young as age 12 have been bullied or manipulated into sending or receiving sexual images via cell phones, and becoming increasingly viewed as objects for sex among teen males. Over time, experts fear, young girls will also come to view themselves as physical objects for sex.

The use of sexting photos for bullying or blackmail may be higher in schools than many people realize, and in many more areas than people acknowledge, says Craven. Additional impacts of the behavior are that teens are more sexually knowledgeable and more sexually active at ages much younger than previous generations, and certainly at younger ages than their parents. In one study, for example, nearly half of girls at age 14 or 15 who participated didn’t see the harm in sexting a photograph of themselves without a shirt.

Also alarming is a study result that nearly one-third of teen girls who have gotten a sexual photo or text message on their phone were completely unacquainted with the sender. These photos, warn experts, can easily be acquired by sexual predators or used as blackmail to coerce girls into sexual acts. They also note that parents may be severely unaware of their teens’ sexting behaviors or the dangers involved.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Jane M. Healy, Ph.D.

Meaningful learning -- the kind that will equip our children and our society for the uncertain challenges of the future -- occurs at the intersection of developmental readiness, curiosity, and significant subject matter. Yet many of today's youngsters, at all socioeconomic levels, are blocked from this goal by detours erected in our culture, schools, and homes. Fast-paced lifestyles, coupled with heavy media diets of visual immediacy, beget brains misfitted to traditional modes of academic learning. In a recent survey, teachers in both the United States and Europe reported overwhelmingly that today's students have shorter attention spans, are less able to reason analytically, to express ideas verbally, and to attend to complex problems. Meanwhile, school curricula modes of instruction do little to remedy the deficits by engaging either attention or curiosity. The result? A growing educational "crisis" of misfit between children and their schools.
Narrowing the gap between the school's demands and the "readiness" of the students' brains can be accomplished in two ways: changing the student and/or changing the classrooms. Both are possible. Let's start with the students.

Shaping the Malleable Mind

The brain's functioning -- and thus its "readiness" for any type of learning -- is shaped by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Genetic nature combines with prenatal nurture to endow the infant brain with a range of possibilities, but the environment after birth helps forge the neuronal connections that underlie later learning. Like a sculptor, the child's experience prunes away unneeded -- or unused -- synapses, while strengthening those patterns of connections that are repeatedly used. Thus habits of the mind may become, quite literally, structures of the brain. Although the susceptible cell groups comprise but a small proportion of total brain mass, they are critical to learning because they facilitate higher-level thinking, planning, and skills of mental organization so essential to self-directed and meaningful human learning.
While our understanding of this phenomenon of "neural plasticity," or malleability, of the growing brain is still rudimentary, several principles suggest themselves from the research. First, repeated experiences cause synaptic differences if they comprise a significant part of a child's mental life. For example, the brains of deaf children, or of those otherwise deprived of oral language experience, develop differently from those of hearing children because of differences in the dominant types of input to which they have responded. As yet no one has attempted to demonstrate less dramatic brain changes from a heavy diet of video and rushed, adult-directed activities or from immersion in thoughtful conversation and spontaneous creative play, but it is eminently possible that they exist. (Certainly, anecdotal information from teachers suggests that there has been a shift in information-processing abilities of children in recent years.)
Secondly, animal research and common sense converge on the notion that a brain which is actively involved and curious is likely to develop stronger connections than one which is merely a passive recipient of learning. Third, there appear to be critical, or at least "sensitive" periods in the course of development when certain neuron groups become particularly amenable to stimulation. If sufficient mental exercise is lacking, the related ability may be permanently degraded. This phenomenon has been demonstrated for basic aspects of human language development; very little is known, however, about its applicability to most human learning, particularly the higher-level skills (e.g., understanding of more complex syntax, abstract and analytic reasoning, self-generated attention) which may have sensitive periods well into adolescence. In today's world, these skills appear to be particularly endangered.
So, how do we change the children? First, we stop blaming them -- and their teachers. Parents, policy-makers, and the arbiters of popular culture are also part of the the problem. If we wish to retain the benefits of literate thought, we must educate parents, encourage more constructive uses of media, and set our priorities in every classroom to show children from the earliest years how to get ideas into words and to listen -- not only to peers and to adults, but also to the voice of an author. I would suggest that every home and every school institute a "curriculum" for listening and following sequential directions, as well as emphasizing the use of language to talk through problems, to plan behavior, and to reason analytically about such concepts as cause and effect. Deficits in these fundamental "habits of mind" cause not only academic but also social problems. Reading instruction should take a back seat until language foundations and skills of auditory analysis and comprehension are in place, lest reading become a meaningless exercise.
Someone must also take time to listen to the children, soften the frenetic scheduling of their lives, read to them, give them some quiet time to play, to ponder, to reflect, and to use the inner voice that mediates attention and problem-solving. Without adult models, children cannot shape their own brains around these intellectual habits which, in the long run, will be far more valuable to all concerned than a frantic march through content. The executive, or prefrontal, centers of the brain, which enable planning, follow-through, and controlled attention along with forms of abstract thought, develop throughout childhood and adolescence. We have a responsibility to children -- all children -- to demonstrate the habits of mental discipline and attention necessary to reflect on, utilize, and apply the information they learn. If the culture refuses to cooperate by providing models outside of school, we must add it to our academic curriculum -- even if it means sacrificing some of the data in the syllabus
Since each brain's developmental timetable is different, we must also disabuse ourselves of the notion that children can be made to learn on a set schedule. And, finally, we should recognize that whoever is minding the children is shaping our national intelligence -- and choose and reward these persons accordingly.

Expanding Minds for a New Century

Merely reinstating some of the mental habits of a bygone era will not suffice, however. We must also accept and capitalize on the fact that today's children come with new skills for a new century. The changes we observe in our children may, in fact, represent a cusp of change in human intelligence -- a progression into more immediate, visual, and three-dimensional forms of thought. Schools will need to accept the fact that lectures and "teacher talk," which commonly comprise approximately 90% of classroom discourse, must give way to more effective student involvement. Today's learners must become constructors of knowledge rather than passive recipients of information that even the least intelligent computer can handle more effectively. Many examples already exist in outstanding literature-based programs that turn students on to reading, writing, and oral communication, "hands-on" science and math curricula in which product takes a back seat to understanding of process; project-oriented, multidisciplinary social studies units; cooperative learning paradigms; multi-modal teaching; training of teachers in open-ended questioning.
Particularly exciting are curricular innovations in which the unlimited potential of visual thinking is used to complement language and linear analysis. Courses in critical viewing and effective use of visual media are examples; computer simulations requiring step-by-step progression to three-dimensional reasoning herald development of new skills which may eventually transcend the linear constraints of scientific method and even unite the talents of the two cerebral hemispheres in expanded modes of thought.
Traditional parameters of learning must be broadened, even redefined, not simply because of the changing priorities of future technologies, but also because of present realities. Our growing crisis in academic learning reflects societal neglect of the neural imperatives of childhood. We find an alienation of children's worlds -- and the mental habits engendered by them -- from the traditional culture of academia. Merely lamenting this fact, however, does not alter the reality or rebuild the brains. Nor does choking our young with more didacticism -- under the rubric of "competency" -- make them learn to think. In past decades we got away with insignificant subject matter and poor pedagogy because the culture dutifully sent us docile minds, well-endowed with the linguistic currency of academic learning. But our children today have been differently prepared, and, sophisticated consumers that they are, do not suffer drivel lightly -- nor should they.
Closing the gap between wayward synapses and intellectual imperatives will not be accomplished by low-level objectives, such as memorization and recapitulation of information. Human brains are not only capable of acquiring knowledge; they also hold the potential for wisdom. But wisdom has its own curriculum: conversation, thought, imagination, empathy, reflection. Youth who lack these "basics," who have forgotten how to ask the questions that may never have been asked, who cannot ponder what they have learned, are poorly equipped to become managers of our accelerating human enterprise.
The final lesson of neural plasticity is that a human brain, given good foundations, can continue to adapt and expand for a lifetime. Its vast synaptic potential at birth can bend itself around what is important of the "old" and still have room for new skills demanded by a new century. A well-nourished mind, well-grounded in the precursors of wisdom as well as of knowledge, will continue to grow, learn, develop -- as long as it responds to the prickling of curiosity. Perhaps this quality, above all, is the one we should strive to preserve in our children. With it, supported by language, thought, and imagination, minds of the future will shape themselves around new challenges -- whatever societal neglect of the neural imperatives of childhood may be. But if we continue to neglect either these foundations or the curiosity that sets them in motion, we will truly all be endangered.

About: Jane M. Healy
Dr. Jane Healy's first book, Your Child's Growing Mind, has in a few short years become a classic reference and guide for parents. Based on recent research in developmental neuropsychology, her book discusses the development of language, intelligence, and memory, along with academic skills.
It has been a major contribution in explaining the dangers of pushing academically demanding subjects down into the early years, when many children are not yet physically or psychologically able to cope with them. Her book, Endangered Minds: Why Children Don't Think and What We Can Do About It (recently revised and reissued), carries the theme even further, as she discusses other current pressures which may limit human development -- and what can be done about them.
Dr. Healy graduated from Smith College and received her master's degree from John Carroll University. She holds a doctorate in educational psychology from Case Western Reserve University, and has engaged in postdoctoral studies at Columbia Teachers' College and Boston Children's H

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Facebook Addiction Test?

'Facebook Addiction' test: Measure yourself to see if you’re hooked

Posted: May 09, 2012 8:07 AM PDT Updated: May 09, 2012 9:45 AM PDT
SAGINAW, MI (WNEM) - Are you addicted to Facebook? Researchers have developed a new tool to measure Facebook addiction: the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale.
The University of Bergen in Norway developed the scale. In its study, Facebook Addiction, it found that Facebook dependency produces symptoms similar to those seen in alcohol and substance addictions.
Andreassen's study shows that a scoring of "often" or "very often" on at least four of the six items may suggest you are addicted to Facebook.
The Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale is based on six criteria, where all items are scored on the following scale: (1) Very rarely, (2) Rarely, (3) Sometimes, (4) Often and (5) Very often.
Here are the six warning signs:
  • You spend a lot of time thinking about Facebook or planning use of Facebook.
  • You feel an urge to use Facebook more and more.
  • You use Facebook in order to forget about personal problems.
  • You have tried to cut down on the use of Facebook without success.
  • You become restless or troubled if you are prohibited from using Facebook.
  • You use Facebook so much that it has a negative impact on your job/studies
Responses of "often," or "very often" to at least four of the six questions qualified study participants as Facebook addicts.

A model for Healthy Sex from Wendy Maltz LCSW

From Wendy Maltz LCSW

Recovering from "porn sex'? Try the CERTS model for healthy sex

We believe that healthy sexuality requires that these five basic conditions be met:
Consent, Equality, Respect, Trust, and Safety
Let’s look at each of these conditions more closely:

CONSENT means you can freely and comfortably choose whether or not to engage in sexual activity. This means you are conscious, informed, and able to stop the activity at any time during the sexual contact.

EQUALITY means your sense of personal power is on an equal level with your partner. Neither of you dominates or intimidates the other.

RESPECT means you have positive regard for yourself and for your partner. You also feel respected by your partner based on how your partner is treating you.

TRUST means you trust your partner on physical and emotional levels. You accept each other’s needs and vulnerabilities and are able to respond to concerns with sensitivity.

SAFETY means you feel secure and safe within the sexual setting. You are comfortable with and assertive about where, when and how the sexual activity takes place. You feel safe from the possibility of negative consequences, such as unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infection, and physical injury.

Spending time together and engaging in lots of honest, open communication are good ways to make sure that the CERTS conditions are operating in your relationship. That’s why we often recommend you build a strong friendship with a partner first, before becoming lovers.

Meeting the CERTS conditions does not ensure that you’ll experience terrific sex, but it can help you feel secure knowing you’ve minimized the possibility of something bad resulting from your sexual experiences.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Tip of the week: Smart Video Gaming!'s tips for video game safety:

More than just fun 'n' games. They can be a social experience – in a single room or over the Internet. For some families, they can be a way to get together. They're also an evolving art form, like film. And research has shown that many games can be learning tools – for math, probability, economics, strategic thinking, negotiation, and other skills – which is why some educators use them in their classrooms.
Families that play together.... Parents, playing videogames with your kids is a great way to understand gaming and watch their interests and development. A common interest also makes for great family discussions and casual conversations.
Ratings are helpful. Pay attention to the Entertainment Software Rating Board’s videogame ratings at, both the age rating (like E for Everyone, T for Teen and M for Mature) and content descriptors (like “Suggestive Themes,” “Language” or “Violence”). Remember, some children can handle games rated above their age group, others can’t. Age ratings are guidelines – the final decision is up to you.
Preview the game. If after checking the ratings, you’re still not sure if a game is appropriate, there are a ton of resources you can consult on the Internet. and provide game reviews that are written specifically from a parent’s perspective.
Tweak the safety settings. All handheld devices and game consoles have helpful safety settings that families will want to go over together. Parental control options on gaming devices include: pre-approving friend requests to play online, controlling the types of games that can be played, disabling Internet access, and limiting the duration or time of day that a child can play.
Trash talk's a reality. It may not be pretty, some of it could be abusive, but it's not necessarily all bad. Just like there's trash talk on the football field, it happens in games and virtual worlds, too. Most games today can be played online, communicating with other players via text chat, talk, or Webcam video, Parents, check in on what happens in videogame play, but know that aggressive and “colorful” language isn’t necessarily hurtful. If your child is being harassed online, be sure he or she knows how to deal with it. Often players can block harassers or report them to the game’s publisher.
A balanced (activity) diet is good. What really isn't good is excessive gaming. Some gaming devices have password-protected settings that parents can use to limit how long and when kids can play. Tech controls can be very helpful, but a focus on values more than rules and talking with your kids are usually the best approach in parenting gamers and all online kids.
Don't hurt yourself! Be aware of how gaming affects players – from sleep patterns to repetitive stress injuries to the chance of hurting people or the furniture with those fast-moving controllers in gamers' hands. Eat, sleep, and take breaks (but don't eat too much)!
Consoles play more than games. Some videogame consoles can be used to watch DVDs, stream movies and other video content, surf the Web and communicate. Be aware of game devices' capabilities and their built-in parental controls. When gaming connects to the Net and gamer communities, all your family's regular online-safety rules should apply.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Filtering Software Used by Portland Schools!

Portland high schools take byte out of laptop use at home

District adding filtering software to block social networking, video streaming sites.

PORTLAND - Over the next two weeks, Portland's school district will install filtering software on laptops issued to high school students, in order to block access to pornography, social networking sites and video streaming sites when the laptops are at home.

Laptop controls

Should all Maine school districts install filtering software on district-issued laptops that controls content at students' homes as well as at school?
click image to enlarge
Fathia Elmi, a senior at Portland High School, uses a friend’s netbook computer at the Portland Public Library.
Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer
click image to enlarge

Additional Photos Below

Access to those sites is blocked now only at school, through the school network. The current filter doesn't work when laptops are off school property.
The district will install filtering software made by Sophos, an Internet security company based in Boston. The software will be downloaded automatically when students boot up their computers at school. Only when students get home will they discover that their lives have changed in a big way.
No longer will they have access to social networking sites like Facebook and video-streaming sites like Hulu and YouTube. Also blocked will be forums and news groups, games, dating sites, gambling sites and chat rooms.
Portland will be among Maine's first school districts to filter laptop computers used at home to such an extent, said Jeff Mao, learning technology policy director for the Maine Department of Education.
The change means students will use the computers for their intended purpose -- as educational tools -- and not a source of entertainment, said Peter Eglinton, chief operating officer for the district.
"Teachers will be happy with the change," he said. "Parents will likely be happy. Students will not be."
Indeed, when told the news last week, several Portland High School students were furious.
Eglinton said teachers will be able to allow access to sites that offer educational videos, such as those offered by Kahn Academy, a nonprofit with an extensive video library of courses.
Portland's high school students use Dell netbooks provided by the city. School officials plan to install the same filtering software next fall on the Apple MacBooks used by middle school students.
There are legal reasons behind the district's decision, Eglinton said. Schools that receive discounts for Internet access through federal so-called E-Rate funding are required to take steps like creating an Internet safety policy and filtering and blocking access to certain types of online content.
"To be compliant (with the law), we should be filtering at home," he said. "Now, we have the software and the ability to do it."
School officials will notify school employees, students and parents about the changes this week.
A districtwide filtering system can be difficult to manage because there is tension between teachers' need to have access to the best Internet tools and the capacity of the filtering software to maintain an accurate list of prohibited sites.
There is debate nationally about whether schools should integrate social media in the classrooms, said Rebecca Randall, vice president of education programs for Common Sense Media, based in San Francisco. She said she is not aware of any school district that has blocked access to social media sites from school computers that are used at home.
She said the debate over filtering policies can be summed up into two approaches: the "walled playground" or the "open sandbox."
Her organization advocates the latter approach, allowing broad access and teaching children how to safely navigate the Internet.
"Simply shielding students from social media is not going to stop them from seeing it," she said, because teenagers will have access to unfiltered Internet on home computers and other devices, such as smartphones and tablets. "We have a saying: 'You can't always cover kids' eyes. You have to teach them how to see it.' "
While federal law requires school districts to take measures such as creating an Internet safety policy and blocking sexually explicit content, there is no requirement that social media sites be blocked, said Doug Levin, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, based in Maryland.
He said school districts have a fair degree of discretion regarding which sites to block.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Education recently issued guidelines explaining that it is acceptable to allow social networking sites and video streaming, said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom.
While there is plenty of discussion about where school districts should draw the line, there is no debate that districts have the right to install filtering software on school equipment, she said.
The Portland school district is doing it without any discussion by the school board. Eglinton said many parents and teachers have told him they want the laptops to be filtered at home. It's an issue for teachers at Portland High School, he said, because students in certain parts of the building can get open Internet access from nearby businesses.
School board Chairwoman Kate Synder, the mother of a ninth-grader at Portland High, said that as a parent she favors the new restrictions, because they will help students stay focused on their schoolwork.
She said she never wanted her children to have television in their bedrooms. But thanks to streaming sites like Hulu and YouTube, laptop computers also function as television sets.
Snyder said the school district shouldn't give students equipment that makes it harder for parents to do their job, which is to help children stay focused on academics. She said the district has the right to filter the Internet.
"It's a school-issued laptop," she said. "If that's something that the student wants to do on their own time and on a family computer, that's OK."
The change's impact on students will depend on whether they have access to other computers at home. For many poor families, the school-issued laptop is the only computer in the house.
In interviews with Portland High students last week, those from middle-class families expressed various degrees of annoyance when told of the new filtering measures. A group of immigrant students reacted with anger.
"When we are at home, we need to have something else to look at besides homework," said Fatush Jama, a senior.
"Where can we go to share if we don't have Facebook?" asked Nateho Ahmen, a 17-year-old junior. "Who came up with this idea? We are going to have a long talk."
Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: