Want to Help Your Teens? Make Their Lives Predictable

Establishing consistent routines at home for your teen may generate pushback, but it could also set him or her up for future success.

Researchers at the University of Georgia found teens with more family routines during adolescence had higher rates of college enrollment and were less likely to use alcohol in young adulthood, among other positive outcomes.

The findings were published recently in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

“If we’re going to make a difference in our lives and in our family members’ lives, we have to make a difference in the everyday,” said lead author Allen Barton, an assistant research scientist at the Center from the Family Research and the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences. “Routines play an important role in making that happen.”

Researchers analyzed data collected from more than 500 rural African American teens beginning when they were 16 and continuing until they were 21.

The teens whose primary caregivers reported more family routines – such as regular meal times, consistent bedtimes and afterschool schedules – reported less alcohol use, greater self-control and emotional well-being and higher rates of college enrollment in young adulthood.

Researchers also analyzed biological samples from the teens and found that those with more family routines during adolescence showed lower levels of epinephrine, a stress hormone.

The benefits of family routines generally persisted even after the researchers took other factors into account such as levels of supportive parenting, household chaos and socioeconomic status.

Routine, consistency and predictability, the research suggested, are powerful influences on a teen’s life.

“We often lose sight of the mundane aspects of life, but if we can get control of the mundane or the everyday parts of life, then I think we can have a major impact on some bigger things,” Barton said. “These findings highlight how you structure your teen’s home environment really matters.”

The research has important implications for family-centered interventions, Barton said, including focusing more attention on increasing predictability and positive routines at home.

“The big takeaway is to help your child navigate the teen years, make their lives predictable,” Barton said. “There has been a lot of research about the importance of routines for healthy development with young kids. These results are some of the first to show that even with teens, it appears routines are similarly powerful.”

The paper, “The profundity of the everyday: Family routines in adolescence predict development in young adulthood,” is available at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1054139X18304130?via%3Dihub

Additional authors are Gene H. Brody, Tianyi Yu, Steven M. Kogan and Katherine B. Ehrlich from the University of Georgia and Edith Chen from Northwestern University.

The Joy of Giving Lasts Longer Than the Joy of Getting

The happiness we feel after a particular event or activity diminishes each time we experience that event, a phenomenon known as hedonic adaptation. But giving to others may be the exception to this rule, according to new research from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

In the paper, “People Are Slow to Adapt to the Warm Glow of Giving,” forthcoming in Psychological Science, Chicago Booth Associate Professor Ed O’Brien and Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management’s PhD candidate Samantha Kassirer found that participants’ happiness did not decline, or declined much slower, if they repeatedly bestowed gifts on others versus repeatedly receiving those same gifts themselves.

“If you want to sustain happiness over time, past research tells us that we need to take a break from what we’re currently consuming and experience something new. Our research reveals that the kind of thing may matter more than assumed: Repeated giving, even in identical ways to identical others, may continue to feel relatively fresh and relatively pleasurable the more that we do it,” O’Brien explains.

The researchers conducted two studies. In one experiment, university student participants received $5 every day for 5 days; they were required to spend the money on the exact same thing each time. The researchers randomly assigned participants to spend the money either on themselves or on someone else, such as by leaving money in a tip jar at the same café or making an online donation to the same charity every day. The participants reflected on their spending experience and overall happiness at the end of each day.

The data, from a total of 96 participants, showed a clear pattern: Participants started off with similar levels of self-reported happiness and those who spent money on themselves reported a steady decline in happiness over the 5-day period. But happiness did not seem to fade for those who gave their money to someone else. The joy from giving for the fifth time in a row was just as strong as it was at the start.

O’Brien and Kassirer then conducted a second experiment online, which allowed them to keep the tasks consistent across participants. In this experiment, 502 participants played 10 rounds of a word puzzle game. They won five cents per round, which they either kept or donated to a charity of their choice. After each round, participants disclosed the degree to which winning made them feel happy, elated, and joyful.

Again, the self-reported happiness of those who gave their winnings away declined far more slowly than did the happiness reported by those who kept their winnings.

Further analyses ruled out some potential alternative explanations, such as the possibility that participants who gave to others had to think longer and harder about what to give, which could promote higher happiness.

“We considered many such possibilities, and measured over a dozen of them,” says O’Brien. “None of them could explain our results; there were very few incidental differences between ‘get’ and ‘give’ conditions, and the key difference in happiness remained unchanged when controlling for these other variables in the analyses.”

Adaptation to happiness-inducing experiences can be functional to the extent that it motivates us to pursue and acquire new resources. Why doesn’t this also happen with the happiness we feel when we give?

The researchers note that when people focus on an outcome, such as getting paid, they can easily compare outcomes, which diminishes their sensitivity to each experience. When people focus on an action, such as donating to a charity, they may focus less on comparison and instead experience each act of giving as a unique happiness-inducing event.

We may also be slower to adapt to happiness generated by giving because giving to others helps us maintain our prosocial reputation, reinforcing our sense of social connection and belonging.

These findings raise some interesting questions for future research – for example, would these findings hold if people were giving or receiving larger amounts of money? Or to giving to friends versus strangers?

The researchers have also considered looking beyond giving or receiving monetary rewards, since prosocial behavior includes a wide range of experiences.

“Right now we’re testing repeated conversation and social experiences, which also may get better rather than worse over time,” O’Brien explains.

Why Facebook Is So Hard to Resist

Why is social media such a hard habit to break? Because it makes us feel good, said Michigan State University’s Allison Eden, assistant professor in the Department of Communication.

She and researchers from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands, conducted two studies of frequent and less frequent Facebook users.

They found even brief exposure to a Facebook-related image (logo, screenshot) can cause a pleasurable response in frequent social media users, which in turn might trigger social media cravings. The combination of pleasant feelings and cravings makes social media too difficult to resist.

Most likely, that’s because Facebook exposure is a learned response – such as when children learn misbehavior earns them attention or when dogs learn going to the bathroom outside earns them a treat – and learned responses are hard to break, Eden said.

“People are learning this reward feeling when they get to Facebook,” she said. “What we show with this study is that even with something as simple as the Facebook logo, seeing the Facebook wall of a friend or seeing anything associated with Facebook, is enough to bring that positive association back.”

In the first study, participants were exposed to a Facebook-related cue or a control picture, followed by a Chinese symbol. They were then asked to judge whether the symbol was pleasant or unpleasant. After being exposed to a Facebook-inspired image, heavy Facebook users rated the Chinese image as pleasant with greater consistency than less frequent users.

Then, in the second study, participants were given a survey to measure their cravings to use Facebook.

Because of giving in to temptation, people often struggle with feelings of guilt, Eden said. If they try to regulate Facebook usage and fail, they feel badly, so they turn to Facebook and feel badly again. It’s a cycle of self-regulatory failure, she said.

But, Eden says, the guilt is more damaging to the psyche than failing to control the media.

The solution could be to remove some of the cues from people’s environment, like, for example, removing the Facebook logo from a cell phone home screen.

“Media, including social media, is one of the most commonly failed goals to regulate,” Eden said. “People try to regulate themselves and they really have difficulty with it.”

The study is published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking. Co-researchers on the studies are Guido van Koningsbruggen and Tilo Hartmann, both from Vrije Universiteit, and Harm Veling from Radboud University Nijmegen.

Study Finds Pokemon Go Players Are Happier, Friendlier

Pokemon Go people are happy people. That’s the finding of media researchers from the University of Wisconsin–Madison who leapt to study the wildly popular mobile game shortly after its release in July 2016. Their work, newly published in the journal Media Psychology, shows that Pokemon Go users were more likely to be positive, friendly and physically active.

James Alex Bonus, a UW–Madison graduate student studying educational media, says he joined the throng playing the game when it was new, but was surprised by the mix of reactions in news coverage.

“There was plenty of negative press about distracted people trespassing and running into trees or walking into the street,” says Bonus. “But you also saw people really enjoying it, having a good time together outside.”

Pokemon Go creator Niantic now claims 65 million regular users and more than 650 million app downloads. Even in the first few weeks following release of the game — in which players “catch” wild, virtual Pokemon creatures lurking in places like parks and public buildings, and train them to do battle against one another — players were easy to pick out on sidewalks.

To Bonus and grad student collaborator Alanna Peebles, the immediately large pool of players presented an opportunity to capture the effects of augmented reality games — apps like Pokemon Go that make use of mobile technology to lay the playing field and rules over the real world.

“There’s this idea that playing games and being on your phone is a negative social experience that detracts from things, but there haven’t been many chances to ask large groups of players about their experiences,” Bonus says.

The researchers, including grad student Irene Sarmiento and communication arts Professor Marie-Louise Mares, surveyed about 400 people three weeks after the game was launched, asking questions about their emotional and social lives and levels of physical activity before segueing into Pokemon.

More than 40 percent of their respondents turned out to be Pokemon Go players, and those people were more likely to be exercising — walking briskly, at least — and more likely to be experiencing positive emotions and nostalgia.

“People told us about a variety of experiences with differential relationships to well-being,” Bonus says. “But, for the most part, the Pokemon Go players said more about positive things that were making them feel their life was more worthwhile, more satisfactory, and making them more resilient.”

They were also more social. Players were more likely than nonplayers to be making new friends and deepening old friendships.

“The more people were playing, the more they were engaging in behaviors that reflected making new connections — making Facebook friends, introducing themselves to someone new, exchanging phone numbers with someone, or spending more time with old friends and learning new things about them,” Bonus says.

Surprisingly, the survey respondents who showed more social anxiety were not less likely to be Pokemon Go players, even though aspects of the game encourage chance interactions with people (including strangers).

Results like that, that run counter to prevailing descriptions of gaming and researchers’ expectations, make Bonus all the more interested in studying new ways to interact with media.

“We don’t look at media this way that often, but maybe we should,” he says. “We often focus on media violence and aggression and hostility, but there are opportunities where media is contributing to good life experiences.”

How To Practice Your Faith At Work

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Whenever I am speaking to a group of business owners or corporate leaders I will encounter several kinds of stories of how their team members behave in a negative ways. I hear from managers and supervisors about poor time management, illicit use of funds, angry outbursts, false documentation, inappropriate behavior, and the list goes on. But one story that I am finding more common is how people of faith are behaving – or in most cases, how they are offensive and sometimes downright rude.

As a person of faith and a former pastor, I know this balance all too well. There have been plenty of times when my over-zealous, eager attitude to convert my friends has taken over as I make my stand for what I believe (or in most cases, what I stand against). In an effort to make my first impression strong – I have turned people away.

I remember one instance where I was so “out-loud” with my faith that I pushed my friend away only to hear her final words of, “I hope your god is happy with the way you live… you certainly know how to hurt people”.

To make matters worse, I couldn’t even see it until a mentor came to me and asked me a question about how I was treating people. I think he considered locking me up in a basement, but he cared enough to confront me. “Do you really believe that your passion for your faith is worth beating people up”? This trusted friend encouraged me to take a few days to have a personal encounter with God prayerfully consider how I handle the people in my life. His caring approach and questions led me to a revised view of interpersonal relationships.

Peter Mead wrote, “just because we feel strongly about our faith message doesn’t mean we should strong-arm our listeners, friends, or co-workers”. I was certainly doing that – and worse – I didn’t care.

From my prayer journal, I recall these 3 questions that came as a result of my time with God that day. Take this simple quiz to see if your faith message is toxic in your relationships:

1. When you share your faith are you aggressive and offending? How you are coming across will send your listeners closer or send them running. Carefully consider your words and your tone. Prayerfully ask questions with intent to listen. As you post on social media, be sensitive to what others might feel. Maybe you and I can be bolder about what we believe instead of what we are so strongly against.

2. When you are with others, do you become loud and obnoxious? It’s so tempting for some personalities to raise their voice when they encounter enthusiasm. Becoming full of conviction is not wrong just as long as we don’t become “shouty” in the process. Peter Mead says, “being known as the shouting preacher won’t help you on several levels”. As you work among other faiths, non-faith folks, and all kinds of people different than you, take the golden rule into effect: treat people with respect and genuine care.

3. Are you focused on your faith or is your faith focused? You might think these are one in the same but they are not. Focused on your faith is a presentation. This “putting on a show” attitude could be hurtful on several levels, especially in the work place where people around you may or may not know your whole personality. Are you faith focused? This is where faith drives a person to be quick to listen, slow to speak. Faith focused people first engage God to seek guidance on how to live their life. It is the mentality of “Lord, where do I go… send me” attitude.

After my mentor encouraged me to seek God about my relationships, I was changed. I felt as if I were a pain to be around; distracting people with my intensity, and not being loving and respectful. I felt specifically impressed to meet with each of my team members, neighbors, and friends to seek forgiveness in how I was treating them. I apologized with transparency and genuine care for the way I had made my faith seem over-zealous.

It would be great if everything turned out, but it didn’t. Sure, there were folks who were accepting and forgiving. But I lost a few connections too. My faith mismanagement created enemies and people who have kept me at a distance. I’m saddened by this and prayerfully hopeful for reconciliation at some point. It also makes me mindful of the principle of initial engagements: you only have one chance to make a good impression.

Social media: A Click Between Helpful and a Nasty Place

In late February, social media in New Zealand showed its bitchy side rather than outright bullying, but you have to ask which is worse. Blogs like these by Deborah Hill Cone and David Herkt (you might want to read to the end before you click those links) about NZ/Australian television personality Charlotte Dawson’s suicide demonstrated how easy it is to spit bile from your keyboard behind the anonymous veil of the internet.

Charlotte Dawson
Charlotte Dawson

The insidious side to nasty posts like these is that it’s nigh on impossible to voice dissent. In the virtual economy of click value, no matter what you may say on or about a post, be it positive or negative, you’ve already reinforced its writer or the site’s editor/owner by your mere presence on their site. You’re a “visit” and the more visits, the more popular the post and the higher their rating in the game of internet traffic.

From a behavioural psychology perspective, “reinforcement is a consequence that will strengthen an organism’s future behavior whenever that behavior is preceded by a specific antecedent stimulus (or cue to perform a learned behaviour” (Wikipedia). In other words, the more a post is visited, the more a writer or owner/editor is likely to publish another one because visits provide positive reinforcement (or reward) for writing.

Positive reinforcement may also include a comment saying, “Nice post,” or a Facebook Like etc. Reinforcement can also be negative (we’re now in the theory of operant conditioning, but don’t sweat the lingo). Negative reinforcement is where “the rate of a behavior increases because an aversive event or stimulus is removed or prevented from happening”. This is almost impossible in social media as the medium requires active involvement, whereas negative reinforcement requires a somewhat passive engagement (or stopping doing something to increase a behaviour).

The other side of operant conditioning is punishment, both positive and negative. Positive punishment “occurs when a response produces a stimulus and that responses decreases in probability in the future in similar circumstances.” In social media this may mean a “thumbs-down” on a blog post or a negative tweet. If the writer/editor/owner cares what you think, it may be constructive — otherwise it’s just more positive reinforcement by way of your visit plus everyone else’s who responds to your tweet.

Negative punishment, on the other hand, “occurs when a response produces the removal of a stimulus and that response decreases in probability in the future in similar circumstances.” This is, ironically, the hardest and most effective form of moderating unsavoury social media. It means removing the thumbs-downs and negative comments. Harder still it means resisting clicking on those links — we all want to gape at the awful things someone is saying — and sharing them. But its effective because it removes the visits that create such valuable virtual real estate.

It’s all very tricky because, often, we can’t tell the quality of a post by its title. What it takes though, I think, is a commitment to boycott sites that produce unsavoury content, no matter if they also produce good stuff. Just like you’d stop having a  beer with the nice guy who occasionally beats his wife. So I unfollowed @nzherald and @publicaddress after I first published this post, with a link to it as explanation.

When it comes down to it, it’s about recognising the troll and not feeding it.

Parenting Troubled Teens: Indications of their Cry for Help

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It can sometimes be difficult for parents to determine the difference between normal teenage mood swings and having a troubled teen. Therefore, it is imperative to learn which signs to look for to help you figure out if your teenager needs you to intervene or simply give them some space. Fortunately, most troubled teens will give several indicators if they need help due to emotional or even legal difficulties.

1. Emotional Issues

Every teenager will battle with the occasional emotional instability that accompanies hormonal changes and dealing with peer pressure. However, it is estimated that at least 4,600 teenagers commit suicide in the U.S. on an annual basis, and every parent needs to be aware that issues such as sleeping all of the time and changing hygiene habits can be indicators that something is seriously wrong.

Sadly, you cannot rely on your teen to openly discuss this problem with you, so you need to carefully monitor their behavior so that you can take steps to assist them if necessary. Keep in mind that they might be resistant to the idea of discussing their problems, but getting them to open up to someone they trust or a trained counselor can help improve their outlook on life.

2. Legal Issues 

There are several different things that can cause a teenager to get into legal trouble, including drug usage, shoplifting and drinking and driving. Therefore, you need to be involved enough to recognize the symptoms of all of these risky behaviors. For example, someone who has been abusing drugs or alcohol is likely to exhibit mood changes, dropping grades and a tendency to be more secretive than usual. Additionally, if your teen starts wearing clothing that you have never seen before, this could mean that they have started shoplifting.

Unfortunately, any illegal activity could easily cause your teenager to get into legal trouble. If this happens, you need to provide them with emotional and legal support, and it is critical to hire an experienced lawyer. As stated by Kevin W DeVore, a Minnesota criminal defense attorney experienced in juvenile law, “Achieving a favorable outcome and minimizing or avoiding consequences after you’ve been accused of a crime is possible, but you should have a knowledgeable and caring advocate protecting your rights and fighting for you.” Your attorney should have a firm understanding of how to represent your teen’s case so they will have a much better chance of getting an acquittal or the minimum possible penalties.

3. Health Issues 

Some troubled teens are simply struggling with an undiagnosed health issue that is impacting their ability to live a normal life. ADHD is a common problem that can prevent sufferers from properly focusing on their schoolwork, and it could also cause them to lash out in frustration. Due to this, if your teenager seems to be having a difficult time staying focused and completing tasks, you should definitely consider taking them to a doctor for a checkup.

As you can see, there are many issues that can impact your teen, and it is highly likely that they will try to hide these problems from you. Fortunately, you can still take action to help them as long as you pay close attention to all of the potential indicators of an issue such as declining grades, hygiene issues and secretive behavior. 

Is Compulsive Behavior the Same as Addiction?

There are tons of compulsive behaviors that people now refer to has addictions such as sex, gambling, shopping, internet, video games, eating, TV, cell-phones, pornography to name a few.  However, calling these behaviors addictions is a relatively new phenomenon.  Someone referring to themselves as a “sex addict” was virtually unheard of before the 1970’s.

Are these behavioral issues really addictions?

Is Compulsive Behavior the Same as Addiction The answer depends on how one defines an addiction. When speaking of addiction, substance abuse and dependence usually come to mind first. Determining if someone has a substance abuse problem typically depends on the presence of 3 criteria which consist of tolerance,withdrawal and continued use despite negative consequences.

Brain imaging studies have found that substance abusers respond differently to drug-related stimuli when compared to those without substance abuse issues. These studies have shown that addiction to drugs and alcohol is rooted in permanent changes to the brain.

However, when it comes to compulsive behaviors the answer is not so clear cut. Recently, a brain study of so-called “sex addicts” failed to show similar findings to those seen in substance abuse studies.  This calls into question whether compulsive behaviors related to sex, shopping, and gambling should be labeled as addictions. Articles have already piggy-backed off the study and poked fun at the idea that Tiger Woods and similar celebrities don’t have a “real excuse” for their identifying as sex-addicts any more.

We currently know that compulsive behaviors probably don’t develop in the brain the same way as drug addiction. However, we must exercise caution. Despite, this particular study showing no neurological link, we should not exclude the possibility that an undiscovered connection. It also doesn’t mean we should undermine the experiences of people dealing with these behavioral issues. There is no doubt that people with behavioral compulsions can suffer from extreme loss of functioning.

To assert the individuals have full control over their behavior because there is no discovered neurological link may be detrimental in accessing treatment. When a gambler spends more and more money (tolerance), has anxiety build up when not gambling (withdrawal) and loses their home (negative consequence), there is a clear lack of control and compromised choosing of behavior.  When looking at tolerance, withdrawal and negative consequences, these behavioral compulsions fit the definition of an addiction.

If people with compulsions for sex, shopping or gambling have similar loss of functioning to drug addicts, then why do we need to put them in a different category? Since it is unclear if these behaviors have the same biological basis as drug addiction, we don’t know that substance abuse interventions would be the best treatment for these problems.

If we assume that substance abuse and compulsive behaviors are the same, we risk missing biological components that may be specific to each disorder. As long as research continues in this area, a pathway for compulsive behavior problems could be discovered and provide direction about medications, therapy and specific brain regions involved.

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