Category Archives: Parenting

Do Violent Video Games Make Us Violent?

Do violent video games make people violent?  In the aftermath of the Aurora and Sandy Hook shootings, this question has once again become a hot-button issue in our society.  The reason we don’t have a definitive answer is because it’s hard to test scientifically.  You can’t take people who have played violent video games and those who haven’t, and then give them knives and guns and see what they’ll do. That’s not what we call ethical research. 

What we do know based on the studies that have been conducted is that violent video games increase aggressive thoughts, behaviors, and feelings, and elevate heart rate and blood pressure. In addition, kids who play a lot of violent games don’t have much interest in charity or helping others.  Yet, exposure to all kinds of violent media – not just video gamesincreases feelings of aggression and decreases feelings of empathy

In my opinion, I don’t think violent video games are the problem.  Taking them away isn’t going to stop people from shooting up schools and movie theaters.  There are always going to be psychopaths no matter what we do.  I think the more important issue lies in our society’s backward attitude towards parenting.  As I say over and over again, kids are more likely to be good kids when their parents are around. Sure they’ll experiment and do stupid stuff from time to time, but they’re going to be a lot better off if they live in a stable home with two happily married parents who they feel close to.  Although violent video games can contribute to kids acting nasty, they are not responsible for all the rudeness and nastiness we see in the world today. It evolves from kids not being surrounded by cohesive families and communities.  

A while back, I was watching a medical special about a 6-year-old kid in India who was born with the half-formed body of a twin attached to his abdomen.  He was taken to a hospital in New Delhi and a team of amazing surgeons removed the growth.  However, it wasn’t the medical feat that impressed me.  What struck me most was that when he came home, the entire village was outside with musical instruments and flags to welcome him back.  These impoverished people who don’t even have shoes, bathrooms, or air conditioning were all out there smiling and cheering for him.  I thought, “They may have virtually nothing, but at least they have intact families and a tight-knit community.”

Our kids, by and large, don’t have that.  As we all know from William Golding’s terrific book, Lord of the Flies, children who receive very little caring or involvement from their parents revert back to being monsters.  We need to realize that the problem is much bigger than violent video games – it’s how we’re raising our kids.

Helping Teens with Their Mental Health

Therapy doesn’t come without resistance, especially when you’re dealing with a teenager.  It can be very difficult to get a teen on board with therapy because there’s usually a lot of defensiveness.  I want to discuss a handful of reasons why teens resist treatment:

1. Social stigma.  Anything associated with therapy or mental health issues is a little bit of a taboo.  Kids worry about people pointing their fingers and saying they’re crazy. 

2. Rebelliousness.  No matter what you suggest, some kids will just go against you because you’re an authority figure to knock heads with. 

3. Poor insight.  Teenagers have a limited capacity to look at themselves honestly or realistically.  They often don’t understand how their behavior or problems are affecting them.

4. Fear.  They’re afraid of being “crazy,” that others will perceive them as such, or that they can’t get better.  They also may be scared to death of having to take a deeper look at themselves or their problems.

5. Embarrassment.  They’re embarrassed that they can’t straighten themselves out, and therefore, accepting help from others can be difficult.

6.    Facing their problems may be too painful or overwhelming. 

7. Misconceptions.  Most teens don’t know how psychotherapy works, and they’re worried about what will happen if they admit to things.  They don’t know that the therapist cannot give their parents the information (therapist-patient laws prohibit that, even with minors).

8. Concealment. They don’t want to admit that they’re hiding something – cutting, abusing drugs, etc.  

9. Holding on.  This is what my book, Bad Childhood – Good Life, is all about.  They’re holding on to the drugs or other habit.  They’ve become so dependent on a way of thinking and behaving that it has become their identity.  They’re scared to death of giving up their self-protective mechanism of hiding from reality because it means they will be stripped naked in their own mind, and that’s pretty scary. 

10. Unworthiness. Some kids get so beaten down and depressed that they don’t feel like they’re worth much or that anyone would care about them. 

So, those are some of the main reasons kids resist treatment.  But the question still remains: How do I get my child to attend therapy?

First off, don’t trap them.  For example, don’t say you’re going to the mall and then drop them off at a therapist’s office.  That doesn’t work well.  There are two really good techniques I have always suggested to parents:

1. Make it a team effort.  Say something like, “You know, you and I have been fighting a lot lately, and there’s just so little happiness in the house.  So, I’m thinking if you and I went into counseling together, maybe a therapist could help us sort all this stuff out and make things better.  You’ll be happier and you’ll be able to do all the things you used to enjoy and probably miss.  I’m not sure how to make things better myself, but a therapist could help us work it out.”  That way it’s not, “You wacked-out kid, I’m putting you in therapy because I can’t stand it anymore.”  Make it about how “we” – you and me – can’t figure it out and that you need to get somebody who can help. 
 
2. Make a definitive statement (e.g. “I’m going to schedule the appointment so we can sort it out together”) and then talk about it in the days before the appointment.  For example, say, “Are you a little nervous about the therapy?  Because I am.”  If you tell your kid that you’re having apprehension about the therapist saying you didn’t do everything right, they are going to look at you and think, “All right, this is more even-steven. It’s not only about me.”  The fact that you are both feeling discomfort will be comforting to them. 

When they start therapy, tell your child you want them to go to four sessions, and then after that, you, your child, and the therapist will discuss if there is more to do.  During the first session, your teen will usually be angry.  I remember I used to have so many kids come in to my office and just sit there and glare at me for an hour: “Is it over yet?!”…”Is it over yet?!”…  The second time they come in, there will typically be a little less anger and more movement toward talking about their pain.  At that point, a good therapist will say, “You know, last week you were pretty angry about having to be here, and I don’t blame you.”  The kid is immediately going to be surprised: “She doesn’t blame me?!”  Being forced to do something you really don’t want to do and open up to a stranger about very painful things (which you really don’t want to do), is hard.  However, a good therapist will make your teen feel like they’re not being forced to do any of that, and instead, simply help them be happier and figure out their parents better.  Slowly but surely, by the third and fourth sessions things will be less forced and more about reducing the pain. 

While your child is in therapy, the family has to be very supportive at home.  They should never ask what happened in therapy – that’s none of their darned business!  Instead, it should be all about subtle reinforcement (e.g. “You seem more creative and relaxed right now, and I think that’s wonderful”).  Remember: a hug and a kiss can go a long way.

Video: My Daughter Keeps Returning to Her Addict Husband

What can a parent do when an adult child chooses poorly, but creates a beautiful grandchild?  This grandmother doesn’t know what to do when her daughter keeps returning to her addict husband creating a destructive home life for her granddaughter.  You know I’ve got an opinion on this!  Watch:

Read the transcript.

Ten Small Changes to Be a Healthier and Happier Mom

Being a mom is tough.  I remember when my son was a baby, survival was the only thing on my mind.  Even though they’re cute and you love them to death, infants and toddlers can tire you out and even put you in a bad mood.  Here’s a list of 10 small changes you can make in order to be a healthier, happier mom:

1. Cut the caffeine.  Coffee might keep you going, but your caffeine addiction – yes it’s a chemical addiction – can dehydrate you (it makes you pee more) and cause you to feel jittery or anxious.  This is not a good thing when you’re already stressed out with a kid.  Have one, maybe two cups a day, but that’s it.  For the rest of the day, sip decaf, herbal teas, or just plain water.  That way, you’ll stay hydrated and energized.

2. Have sex.  A lot of new moms call my show complaining that they are too tired or don’t feel like having sex, as though it’s a terrible obligation or assignment.  However, with all the crazy hormonal changes you’re going through, sex might be just the solution.  Sex is therapeutic.  Orgasms release oxytocin, endorphins, and DHEA, which create positive emotions, release tension, improve mood, and give your immune system a boost. In addition, sex does wonders for that post-pregnancy belly pooch because it strengthens the pelvic floor and the lower abs.  Forget the apple – sex a day keeps the doctor away. 

3. Get sleep.  Sixty percent of moms say sleep is their primary challenge.  Are you having trouble falling asleep?  I suggest 10 minutes of yoga, prayer, or meditation before going to bed.  If you find it really hard to shut off your brain at night, keep a journal on your nightstand and before you go to sleep, jot down your to-do list for the next day. Anything that is worrying you, write it down. By getting it on paper, you can say to yourself, “It’s taken care of, now I can sleep.”

4. Eat breakfast.  It’s the first meal (you are “breaking the fast”), and it sets the tone for the rest of the day.  You need to put food in your belly within a half hour of waking up to rev up your metabolism and get your brain going.  Aim for a mix of protein and fiber, such as yogurt with fresh fruit or oatmeal with berries and almonds.

5. Don’t set unrealistic goals.  Don’t overload your brain with 40 million things you think you need to get done.  You won’t stick to what you can’t do.  For example, instead of looking at exercise in terms of weight-loss, approach it in terms of endurance.  When you start off, it may take you an hour to go around the neighborhood. A week later it may take 58 minutes, and then the next week 56 minutes, etc.  That kind of observation is better than stepping on a scale and getting demoralized.

6. Listen to music.  Just like Mother Laura has been saying for years, a recent scientific review published in the journal Nutrition reports that listening to music strengthens immunity, digestion, and pain perception, reduces the incidence of heart failure, and even improves recovery time after a strenuous workout. So, load up your iPod with the kind of music that makes you feel good.  For me, that’s Motown.  When the music comes on, my mind immediately goes blank and I’m just movin’. 

7. Cut out the packaged foods.  Eating any kind of food that can last a long time on the shelf makes you live a shorter amount of time.  Instead of packaged snacks, eat real food.  No antibiotics, hormones, chemicals, or added sugar.

8. Snack smart.  There are times when I get out a teaspoon of peanut butter, lay it in my mouth, and just let it melt (if you have to talk, I don’t recommend doing this).  It keeps my blood sugar up, and it’s a good source of protein.

9. Make your workouts work for you.  With little kids, you may not have time for a half hour or hour workout, but you can break it up into 5-10 minute increments throughout the day.  Or get up earlier.  When my son, Deryk, was little, I used to ride him around in a seat on my bicycle.  I rode him to the park and he’d play, and then we’d get back on the bike and go back.  I also took him to the mall. This worked great: like one of those wind-up toys, I’d set him down, face him in the direction I wanted him to go, and let go.  He would run forward and I would do my little shuffle run behind him.  It’s amazing how you can get exercise by doing simple things like this (of course you get tired and they don’t!).  You can get a good 20 minutes in just by chasing your kid around the mall (if they like to run in a straight line and you don’t take your eyes off them).

10. Stop stressing. Exercise, meditate, or do something fun with your husband.  Whether it’s sex or playing a board game, you need to have some fun before you go to bed.

How to Cure the Navel-Gazing Epidemic

Narcissism is one of the biggest dangers today, especially with kids.  Parents are doing everything they can to rescue their kids from their own laziness and failures.  They hand out trophies when they lose and tell them they’re wonderful no matter what.  However, the only thing they’re doing is fostering empty self-esteem.
Many people don’t realize there’s a big difference between wanting something and deserving it.  They think, “I deserve something because I want it,” as opposed to, “I deserve something because I earned it.”  And when it comes to self-esteem, their attitude is no different.
A lot of callers come on my show saying that the reason they make bad choices is because they have low self-esteem.  However, they have it backwards: it’s because they make poor choices that they lack esteem for themselves.  Self-respect requires effort.
About six months ago, a Pakistani girl named Malala Yousafzai was shot multiple times by a Taliban gunman on the way home from school because she stood up for women’s education.  She was taken to Britain and a brilliant team of surgeons saved her life.  Her face looks a bit numb and she has a hard time talking, but she can use her arms and walk.  This girl is a hero and inspiration to us all.  Why?  Because she earned it.  She bravely took a public stand in a region where it’s very dangerous to do so.

Self-respect doesn’t just happen by virtue of being born or because you’re breathing – you have to earn it by what you do.  I can’t believe that people actually expect themselves and their children to feel respect for themselves when they haven’t earned it.
So, how can we adjust this narcissistic attitude?

It all starts with the parents.  First off, I think every parent who allows their child to have their own personal, private Facebook or Twitter account is being negligent.  It gives kids a false sense of who they are in the world, and they have only one way to go from there – down and out.  According to a brilliant essay by Dr. Keith Ablow, Facebook introduces kids to a world of fantasy which artificially makes them feel special, mature, powerful, and important.  But ultimately the bubble bursts and the fake autobiography explodes.  They end up depressed and either kill themselves or someone else.

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/01/08/are-raising-generation-deluded-narcissists/?test=latestnews&intcmp=features#ixzz2HV6CQ8Tm

The rule also applies to television and cell phones.  Your kids should barely watch TV and only if you pick out the programs.  They shouldn’t have a cell phone, but if they do, it should be an old-style phone that only allows them to make calls (not text!) in case of an emergency.
In addition, parents need to cease being weenies and start being leaders in their homes.  Women have to stop dumping their kids in institutionalized day care so they can go off and “esteem themselves” by working.  Furthermore, there are too many unhappy and lonely children as a result of divorced parents who are either too bored or too invested in some new guy or gal to be giving and loving.  Not only does it destroy children’s homes, but it also opens the door for pedophiles who prey on neglected, lonely kids with inattentive parents.
Let’s make fewer excuses (e.g. “We’re too busy and tired,” “All the other kids are doing it,” “You can’t control it,” etc.), and parent more.