Left To Our Devices

Everyday Wisdom for Today’s World

A New On-Line Risk All Parents Need to Know About

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Whether educating children about cyberbullying or giving them explicit rules about on-line safety, parenting well in our screen-machine world requires stalwart dedication and on-going vigilance.     www.lefttoourdevices.com

But how do parents help children avoid an on-line risk that parents can’t

even imagine exists?

Consider the story of Elijah Ballard.

In 2012, Elijah was a sixth grader in St. Louis. He used his father’s Visa (with permission) to create a Steam account with the video game company Valve. He downloaded a copy of the popular first-person-shooter game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO). He says that at first, he didn’t care that much for the game.

In August 2013, he tried an updated version and was soon deeply immersed in it.

By early 2014, Elijah had become active in the virtual gambling available through the CSGO Lounge.

By the end of 2014, Elijah had moved to the emerging casino-style websites that were connected to the CSGO world.

By 2015, Elijah’s life had spiraled out of control. His parents could not understand what was happening.

By 2016 Elijah, now 16 years old, was in counseling and recovering from compulsive gambling. And, he was a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against Valve.

As his father said, “Elijah was 13. Who in his right mind would have thought he was compulsively gambling?” Grady Ballard, a dentist, thought that his son was just playing a video game that pitted terrorists against counter-terrorists.

But CSGO has become much more than just a game.

Shaun Assael is a member of the ESPN network’s Enterprise and Investigations Group. On 1/20/2017, he posted an ESPN article which describes Elijah’s journey.

How did Elijah, a vulnerable young teen, get sucked into online gambling so smoothly by playing CSGO?

In 2013, Valve issued a new version of CSGO called “The Arms Deal Update.” It only made a small change. It didn’t affect how the weapons of the game were used, or how the game was played. Now the players could buy distinctive covers for their weapons. The covers are called skins. No big deal, right?

Wrong. This small change, changed everything. The skins had “value” based on their rarity. Most had values of a few cents to a few dollars. But some were rare enough that they were valued at thousands of dollars. The way in which players “win” these skins is through a virtual slot machine, embedded in the game. Players were no longer playing Counter-Strike just as a war between terrorists and counter-terrorists. They were now gambling as well. And their status in the game was now partially determined by their “skill” as gamblers. Did the game become more popular?

Mr. Assael notes that: “Seven months after the arms update was unveiled in August 2013, Valve had 150,000 users playing it at once – a sixfold increase from a year earlier.”

Elijah’s father did not know that CSGO had morphed so that gambling was now an essential part of the game. Nor did he know that the culture and community surrounding CSGO and CSGO tournaments had morphed into the explosive growth of the newest form of online gambling.

Valve created and controls the virtual market where the players can buy, sell, and trade the skins. It is through a related website, CSGO Lounge, that players can use their skins to bet on teams in the CSGO tournaments. But this is all virtual betting. No real money changes hands.

So how did Elijah gain access to casino-style gambling sites that use real money?

There is a “side door” to the CSGO site that allows players to transfer their skins to connected but “unrelated” sites, sites with names like CSGO Jackpot and CSGO Lotto. On these sites, they can convert their skins to real money, and play casino games. Of the estimated $5 billion wagered using skins, about $3 billion was wagered after being converted to real money.

Elijah’s father did not know that there was an open doorway from playing CSGO to active participation in online casino games. Nor did he know there were no restrictions on who could walk through this doorway. It was just as open to a 13-year-old as it was to a 33-year-old.

But it actually gets worse. The casino sites related to eSports gambling are almost completely unregulated. Regulatory agencies are not even looking at eSports gambling. It is, as Mr. Assael notes, “a burgeoning Wild West of gambling.”

How big is CSGO now? In 2016, an average of 342,000 people were playing the game at the same time. But it’s not just the players. There are CSGO tournaments played around the world. The big ones can have million-dollar prize pools. These tournaments last several days, and often have over 100,000 people in attendance, watching live. And, they can have as many as 27 million streaming viewers watching the action. Many of these viewers don’t just watch; they gamble on the outcomes. It’s called eSports betting. In 2016, an estimated $5 billion was wagered using skins.

Elijah’s father said, “Elijah was 13. Who in his right mind would have thought he was compulsively gambling?”

Another way of saying this is: Who in his right mind would have thought that there was an open pathway from playing a video game into an unregulated world of online casino gambling, with enticement to gamble, that is open to children?

How many other children have already been sucked into this world? We don’t know. No one of responsibility and authority appears to be looking.

So that means parents must look to see what their kids are doing and playing on-line. One close look and the on-line risk will become apparent.

Please read Mr. Assael’s article. If you have friends that you think should know about this new on-line risk, please forward this blog to them. If you are connected to a PTA or a church/temple/mosque group that relates to children and teenagers, please share this with that group.

Together we can mount a global offensive to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and other “games” luring our children into the dark, sad world of the compulsive gambler.

Let’s get started!

Copyright 2017, Gloria DeGaetano

In Troubling Times I Make Quiche to Stay “Heliotropic”

Friday, February 3, 2017

If you’re a gardener, you probably know that heliotrophy means, “turning toward the light.” Plants do it as a matter of survival. (Greek Helios = sun, Greek trepein = turn). I first encountered the word in 2001 when I read Appreciative Inquiry: Rethinking Human Organization Toward a Positive Theory of Change, edited by David Cooperrider and his colleagues, pioneers in AI.

cheesy-broccoli-bacon-quiche

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a powerful framework for facilitating a positive change, either with others or within ourselves.

In developing PCI, after investigating several change process concepts, I decided to use Appreciative Inquiry within my Parent Coaching Model. Now after implementing it with hundreds of family support professionals that I trained to become PCI Certified Parent Coaches® and seeing the effective results with the parents I have personally worked with, and with the parents of the graduates of PCI, I am utterly convinced that turning to the light. especially during challenges is the only way to go.

On page 5 of Appreciative Inquiry: Rethinking Human Organization Toward a Positive Theory of Change, David Cooperrider and Dana Whitney write:

“Appreciative Inquiry is about the co-evolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them. In it’s broadest focus, it involves systemic discovery of what gives “life” to a living system, when it is most alive, most effective, and most capable…it assumes that every living system has untapped and rich and inspiring accounts of the positive. Link that energy…directly to any change agenda and changes never thought possible are suddenly and democratically mobilized.”

In these troubling times I invite you to explore Appreciative Inquiry (AI) in depth with that book and/or others. You will soon see AI has an outstanding 20-year plus track record for facilitating positive changes in many sectors.

  • What brings life to you, your family, your community?
  • And importantly, what brings you back to life when you are drained and depleted?

Here are three “light-boosters” I find helpful; maybe you will too:

We Always Have A Choice

Dr. Diane Dreher, best-selling author and member of Parent Coach International’s Advisory Board, reminds us that “no matter what happens, we always have a choice. As Viktor Frankl discovered, even in the horror of the Nazi concentration camps there was one thing the direst circumstances could not take away: his choice how to respond.”

I thought of a plaque I saw recently: “It’s only a thought, and a thought can be changed.” The one thing always under our control are our thoughts. And like Frankl, we can choose to change our thoughts—no matter what is happening outside of them. Dr Dreher points out that Frankl survived, went on to write the book that has inspired millions, Man’s Search for Meaning, “and developed Logotherapy to help people realize the importance of choices in their lives.”

We Can Choose What We Put in Our Brains

So many of my friends have recently told me they are taking a break from social media—they can’t stand the negativity any longer. I have done the same. And my husband I choose carefully when will tune into any TV news programs. We have to be in a certain mood. I know I have to feel as centered in my body as possible and take the news updates in small doses.

In her blog post, “How to Avoid Being Psychologically Destroyed by Your Newsfeed,” Ann Douglas, parenting educator, and author of Parenting Through the Storm suggests we remember there is a difference between being immersed and being informed.

We Can Do More From Our Souls

The best, and perhaps the easiest way, for me to stay positive is to create something that I am passionate about. One day it might be a quiche because I love experimenting with various quiche recipes, plus just the process of putting a quiche together beings me much comfort (Go figure!); another day it might be a blog to help parents use the political turmoil to enhance children’s thinking skills.

Turning toward the light means we use troubling times to draw out and deepen our creativity.

Moved from deep within us, we may surprise ourselves and do things we normally wouldn’t do. In speaking from and creating from our souls, we find more of our authentic voice, and that in turn affects others–authentically.

Robert Quinn, change process expert, points out, “When a person expresses something from the soul, we tend to listen. Their emotions open our hearts and their content engages our mind. This means that our own minds and hearts open and deep learning becomes possible. Listening may thus lead us to see the world in a new way. When we do, we become capable of acting in a new way.”

And that thought alone keeps me in the light.

 

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2017. All rights reserved.

 

Make a New Year Resolution Today: Throw Out Those Violent Video Games

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

video-game-images

I don’t think violent video games belong in a civilized society. Yes, I know this is an unpopular stance to be sure—if you are a parent of a teen, it’s an even more unpopular mindset. A 2015 Pew Research Center Study discovered 84% of teenage boys play video games, with about 95% of those games being violent.

Now, we aren’t talking about Three Stooges violence or even Terminator mayhem, we are talking about the most grotesque, most despicable, horrific violence that can be imagined.

Let’s get a perspective for a minute. In 1993 I was on the Advisory Board of Mothers Against Violence in America. (MAVA) I consulted on an educational video they produced about violent video games. At the time, one of the games, actually had the player setting African American men on fire and snickering as they were burning, “Smells like fried chicken,”

I am not making this up. This experience prompted me to write in 1999 and re-write in 2014, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against Violent TV, Movie and Video Game Violence (with Lt. Col. Dave Grossman). “Games” since the 90s have become even more hateful; horrifying.

Most folks think racism comes from lack of teaching children empathy, but you can’t teach empathy.

In reality, a child must first recognize self as an empathetic person before any teaching about empathy can “take.” Humans can’t learn empathy without experiencing ourselves as empathetic. Learning higher-level emotions like empathy, compassion, and generosity aren’t learned like algebra, geography, or chemistry.

Brain science clearly shows us that what children do most often, significantly shapes how children grow to see themselves. No amount of parental guidance about loving others and treating them fairly can easily counteract the racism reinforced hundreds of times in daily rehearsal during the developing years. Hate-mongering racist video games build a racist self-identity. They also build a domineering, bullying self-identity.

Which leads me to reason I decided to write this blog. Several weeks ago a teen shot herself in front of her parents, so despondent over cyber bullying because of her weight. A few days after hearing about this tragedy, a relative told me that one of her former students committed suicide and went on to tell me of the teen suicide epidemic in her area—mostly teen girls who have been relentlessly harassed by teen boys.

As youth, struggle with questions of “Who am I?” and “How do I relate to others?” violent video games give them a world in which it they have to choose: “Do I become a bully (dominator)?” or “Do I give up and be a victim?” There are no other alternatives. The youth, prone to aggression, or angry at his parents’ recent divorce, will relate to the dominator portrayed on the screen, making an active decision to perpetuate violence onto someone else. On the other hand, kids who feel out of control, hopeless and isolated, may move toward feeling helpless initially, only to revert to “dominator tactics” when seeking revenge for the bullying. Victims can easily turn into bullies, but usually not vice-versa. Victims live in a pressure-cooker of hate. As pressure builds up beyond the capacity to cope, there are only two outlets left for the victim—explosion (killing others in revenge,) or implosion (suicide).

Because the portrayal of dominator/victim relationships is so pervasive in violent video games, and because violent video games are now normalized entertainment for youth, there is an implicit social sanction for the violence of the dominator/victim relationship.

As youth grow into the dominator role, acting it out in peer groups, practicing it over and over with violent video games, bullying others starts to feel normal. There is a sense of rightness to the domination, a sense of I have the right to treat others this way. And, the victim also feels this implicit social sanction as a disempowerment. This is why makes it so difficult, even with help, to escape from the victim role in a social group, because the form of the relationship appears to be “normal” thanks to media violence portrayals.

Parents, teachers and authorities, individually and together, work hard to protect kids from the tide of bullying sweeping our country. And while a few victories have been achieved, bullying overall increases. All of their efforts are like firefighters trying to put out a fire, while someone else goes around and dumps gasoline on the hot spots. Video game violence is that gasoline. Until we recognize and address its influence on bullying, by modeling and sanctioning the dominator/victim relationship, it is unlikely that we will succeed in putting out the fire of bullying, raging in our schools today.

So where to begin? I believe parents will make positive differences and help schools make significant strides, if they throw out violent video games, not allowing their children or teens to play them in their homes.

A violent-video free home is one of the most important first steps to countering cyber bullying in our schools. And it’s so do-able!

If childhood and adolescence is a special time for helping kids grow to become their best selves, then violent video games have no place in their lives. Common Sense Media has developed a list of the current Top Ten Violent Video Games of 2016, along with more appropriate alternatives.

And you can always do your own search for “non-violent video games.” The interesting, healthy alternatives that come up may surprise you and delight your kids.

It’s sure worth the try.

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.

 

 

Our Brains, Our Backbone: When Experts’ Advice is Not Brain-Compatible for Our Youngsters

Monday, October 31, 2016

Last week the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated two of its policies regarding screen time for young children and for older children and teens. The doctors relaxed their guidelines for toddlers, making it not in alignment with brain science.parenting with brain science

Amending their previous caveat of no screen technology before the age of 2, they now recommend:

“For parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media, advise that they choose high-quality programming/apps and use them together with children, because this is how toddlers learn best. Letting children use media by themselves should be avoided.”

I believe young parents caught in the tech tsunami need clearer and more direct guidance. For instance, while it is certainly preferable when parents interact with their children while enjoying a high quality app or an educational program rather than youngsters using media on their own, it is not true that “toddlers learn best” that way. In the same policy statement, the doctors acknowledge:

“Children younger than 2 years need hands-on exploration and social interaction with trusted caregivers to develop their cognitive, language, motor, and social-emotional skills. Because of their immature symbolic, memory, and attentional skills, infants and toddlers cannot learn from traditional digital media as they do from interactions with caregivers, and they have difficulty transferring that knowledge to their 3-dimensional experience.”

If we truly understand the brain science and want to give toddlers the best start in life, we have to state firmly and clearly: “Dear American pediatricians, you got it wrong. Please re-instate your previous recommendation, at the very least.”

The Canadian Pediatric Society currently recommends no screen time (eg, TV, computer, electronic games) for youngsters under age 2. And French pediatricians concerned with obesity and the life-style trajectory that is set in the early years recommends no screens under the age of 3. The French also have stricter recommendations for older children than we Americans do:

  • No video games before age 6
  • No social Internet before age 9
  • No social media before age 12

The French doctors’ stair step guidelines make so much sense because they are in alignment with brain science.

 

These pediatricians recognize that children’s brains are in a process of development and help parents make better parenting decisions as a result.

From my research of the last 20 years, I believe that keeping kids away from video games as long as possible—ideally not until age 10 or 12—helps greatly in preventing video game and Internet addiction. “You can’t fool Mother Nature.” Developing human brains were designed to interact with the 3-D world. When the machines of a 2-D world replace our natural, at-home environment, our children and teens become de-humanized. Make no mistake about that. This pattern and process has inevitable outcomes—dire, tragic outcomes.

I do wish it were otherwise. But it isn’t. And now, the sad truth is: Troubles for families in our digital world only exacerbate when experts don’t do their jobs.

Consider the AAP’s opening statement in their new screen policy for young children:

“Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are now growing up in environments saturated with a variety of traditional and new technologies, which they are adopting at increasing rates.”

This statement has two major problems with it:

  1. While it is very true that infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are now growing up in environments saturated with a variety of traditional and new technologies—it is not true (and very misleading to say so) that “they are adopting these at increasing rates.” The reality is that their parents are allowing them access to the devices at increasing rates. Youngsters cannot adopt these. Adults adopt the new technologies for them.

This is an irresponsible statement—constructed, it seems to me, to avoid the truth and even to obfuscate. If the block you lived on had 10 liquor stores on it, you wouldn’t think: Oh I have to buy my toddler some whisky and get him to start drinking since he will be growing up surrounded by liquor stores. No, you would do everything in your power to prevent untimely exposure to liquor, teach about healthy choices as he grows, and only offer him a shot of whisky when his brain/mind body was ready to deal with it—as an adult. And if he had a genetic propensity to alcoholism, you might move your place of residence to healthier environs or do everything in your power to prevent him from taking one drop.

  1. The vast majority of young parents who are adopting the new technologies for their infants, toddlers, and preschoolers do not understand at all what havoc they are bringing to their youngsters’ developing brains. There are very few courageous souls who are “out there” telling it like it is. Dr. Victoria Dunkley is one of those courageous souls. As an integrative psychiatrist who noticed the negative effects of screen technologies on children and youth she worked with over a fifteen-year period, she has articulated the research, effects, and what to do about it in her outstanding book, Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time. (2015)

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Dr. Dunckley explains in detail what happens to children’s and teens’ brains and their sensory nervous systems with over-use of screens. She calls this ESS—Electronic Screen Syndrome and shows parents exactly what to do about it. If you are a parent of a child who is “out of sorts” in any way, I highly recommend you read her book and decide for yourself what actions to take.

With experts like Dr. Dunckley so rare, it’s getting to the point that we can no longer rely on experts to guide us. In my book, Parenting Well in a Media Age, I lay out 6 major challenges—unprecedented challenges—moms and dads encounter because the industry-generated culture has replaced the culture of people and honored traditions and ancestral values. This culture is a counterfeit one. It is a culture made up of mega-conglomerates who influence attitudes and behaviors on a massive scale, using manipulative measures to do so. I find it quite ironic that in an information age with all the information technology at our disposal, we cannot manage to grow children in alignment with what we know works for their most optimal development. Obesity, attention problems, hyper-activity, sensory integration problems, poor self-esteem, bullying, and childhood depression haunt us at every turn. Yet, the one thing parents can do—reduce screen time—to reduce—or even eliminate those problems entirely—is not made clear to parents.

I invite you to become the brains for your child’s developing brain. It’s not rocket science to understand the brain research and the reasons why young brains need to be protected from screen technologies. I encourage you to read Dr. Dunckley’s book and inform yourself. You must be the CEO of your child’s brain since their brains aren’t fully mature until about age 25. So until then, the decisions they make come from a still-developing brain. Think about that and then make the fundamental choice to become the brains for your children. With that fundamental choice in place your daily, tough decisions will be easier to make.

Then, make a second fundamental choice: To engage your backbone. Stay convicted. Your knowledge will only become your power if you have the courage to align your parenting with brain-compatible practices—no matter what.

Please contact me: info@gloriadegaetano.com. I have resources and practical tips I can send you that have worked for thousands of parents. You don’t have to be alone in all this.

I do believe we can create the world we want for our children if we use our brains and our backbone in the best interests of our children. What about you? What do you believe?

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.

 

 

Parents’ Place in the Land of the “Digital Native”

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Recently I was talking to a friend about a child being a digital native and she looked at me shocked, “Do they really use that term—digital native? That’s sick.”

Now this thirty-something gal is not living under a rock. Helping to raise her six year-old stepdaughter, she is up against all the parenting challenges of our day, just like every mom.

Because of that, and the fact that “digital native” is at least fifteen years old, I found it quite refreshing she hadn’t heard the term before our conversation.

I was also glad she brought up her negative opinion first. Although I have a strong objection to “digital native” too, I don’t usually bring up my concerns. Call me a coward. But over the past few years, I usually lose trying to convince others that the “digital native” designation is downright offensive.

Let me explain.teaching digital natives

Marc Prensky, a game designer with an MBA from Harvard, coined the term, “digital native” in 2001 to describe the new generation of humans growing up with all things digital. Everyone else, “digital immigrants” were visitors to this new land.

Prensky had a point. He cited compelling statistics. Students were spending fewer than 5,000 hours of their lives reading (assuming that reading refers to books only), but over 10,000 hours playing video games and 20,000 hours watching television. (Now remember this was fifteen years ago. Today kids, ages 8-18, spend an average of eight hours daily with small screens, amassing about 30,000 hours in this crucial ten year period of development.)

But equating time with screens means “He or she is a digital native,” misses the bigger picture.

Who says that and why? And what does it mean for families and schools when kids know more about modern communication devices than their parents? Are all parents over the age of 25 obsolete? Are we unknowingly at last living in Ray Bradbury’s The Veldt?

Explicating the issues in an comprehensive analysis of digital native issues, Professor Apostolos Koutropoulos of the University of Massachusetts writes:

“It is clear that in Prensky’s writings, as well as other digital native authors’ writings, that they expect that these statistics (screen time use) hold true across the board, regardless of your socioeconomic background and your country of origin. What’s clear is that the context isn’t really considered. Who is spending all this time playing video games? Prensky owns a video game company so it may be that what he sees every day is what he thinks of the norm, but that doesn’t mean that this norm is universal reality.”

Kouropoulos goes on to point out:

“Other overgeneralizations put forth by authors like Prensky, is that the digital natives prefer images over text, they prefer games over ‘serious work,’ they function best when networked, digital natives can’t pay attention (or they choose not to!), and finally digital natives have skills, with digital technologies, that they’ve perfected….Do those general skills transfer over to the academic side? Could I seamlessly take my skill of posting facebook updates and apply this to an academic context without the help of a more experienced ‘digital immigrant’”?

Other studies show that Koutropoulos’ concerns are warranted. “Most children’s everyday uses of the Internet are characterized not by spectacular forms of innovation and creativity, but by relatively mundane forms of information retrieval.”

Nothing is more important than parents being models and yes, even teachers, for their children in this digital world. Daily decisions parents make determine the quality of our social order now and in the future. This is not hyperbole, this is scientific fact. If we truly understand brain science, we must logically conclude that parents play the primary role in growing or damaging their children’s development—since they are making the primary decisions that will most significantly affect the child’s brain growth for 18 years and beyond. Healthy adults create a healthy society.

So given this baseline, how do parents accomplish optimal brain development for their kids when most of their peers and the industry culture, as well, tells them “digital natives” learn differently and need special handling since they know more than you about all thing digital?

Two Thoughts Come to Mind:

Maintain Our Primary Role as Models and Teachers

While most parents older than 25 will seek help from their kids with tech stuff, we can’t make the mistake of giving up our parental authority because kids know something about computers or social media that we don’t. Teaching our kids appropriate uses such as non-violent video game play and social media etiquette and net safety are parents’ responsibilities. A tech-savvy kid is no excuse for a peripheral parent.

Question the Industry Culture

When someone who owns a video game company makes a big deal about kids learning best from video games, then we may have what used to be called “conflict of interest” and “propaganda thinking” at work. Of course, kids can learn from video game playing. But what are they learning and how does what they learn transfer to other skills they will need and want as self-actualized adults? How does what they are learning make them a better person? Only loving parents can answer that.

It certainly also helps us maintain our place in the land of digital natives when we listen to our parental gut wisdom since it’s usually right on. Check out Marc Prensky’s latest 2016 “stand” on digital native. He is quoted as saying, “The most important thing to realize is that this (digital native term) is a metaphor. It’s not a distinction or a brand, it’s extremely fluid.”

But then, you knew that 15 years ago—didn’t you?

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.

References

Buckingham, D. (2006). Is there a digital generation? In D. Buckingham & R. Willett (Eds.), Digital generations: Children, young people and new media (pp. 1–13). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, p. 10.

Prensky, M. (2001a). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5) Retrieved from http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20- %20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Prensky, M. (2001b). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants: Do they really think different? On the Horizon, 9(6), 1-6. Retrieved from http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20- %20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part2.pdf

 

Parenting Your Deepest & Highest Expression

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Lately I have been pondering what the deepest expression of parenting would be—especially in our complex digital world. A few days ago, Ali Valdez co-owner of Sattva Yoga and an amazing teacher, person, and mom, told us in class, “Take it to your deepest expression.” She made me think/feel/sense…what is my deepest expression for each yoga posture? Am I pushing too hard? Not enough? And then who is the “my” that is expressing right now?

As class progressed, I experimented, finally deciding that my deepest yoga expression is best captured in three essential qualities; the degree of my intentionality, effort (with ease, as we say at PCI), and another quality—hard to describe—but I recognize it when I feel/sense it, as an inner alignment with my integrity.

Since that yoga class I had occasion to coach several moms and as I was listening to all they were doing and trying to do for their children and their families, I realized that they were indeed parenting from, and with, their “deepest expression.” parenting. parenting

Let’s see how intentionality, effort with ease, and alignment with integrity helped two moms make parenting decisions birthed from their core.

Certainly, when our parenting decisions come from our core, we can trust they will touch our children’s core as well.

“That’s absolutely, non-negotiable,” one mom told me as she explained her need to make family dinners, family time, as many nights as possible. Now challenged with sports practices and long working hours, she started thinking with the acumen of a General Patton, strategically planning what she will say, “No,” to in order to keep resolute with the “Yes” in her heart—making dinner with her children, talking with them over dinner, and enjoying an evening of fun time before bedtime.

I could relate. I grew up with plenty of chatter starting with the clatter of forks and spoons as we kids set the table, and ending with the washing and drying of dishes as we put everything away. During these two-three hours I learned so much chiming into conversations where my ideas were respected and considered important. I tried hard to do the same with my sons.

As I listened to this mom, I heard clearly her intention to make dinner time a priority, and as soon as I reflected her intention back to her, she started coming up with creative ideas. She exerted a lot of effort, yet there was ease about it all, too. Oh, yes, she knew this was going to be work to get everything arranged, but she didn’t mind. She was definitely parenting from her “deepest expression” and that anchored her in her values.

And although she knew she couldn’t have every night for family dinners, like she wanted, she realized that four nights a week kept her aligned with her integrity. That was enough to keep her going to make sure her family enjoyed time together, despite considerable obstacles.

Another mom had a struggle of a different sort. She longed for her thirteen-year-old son to stop playing violent video games. Because her husband thought games of torture, rape, and murder were “no big deal,” she was at her wit’s end to figure out what to do. In listening to her frustrations, I heard her deep desire to help her son learn healthier forms of amusement. In our discussion, she honed on her solid intention like a laser beam. From there, the hard work of figuring out what to do started.

Then the a-ha! She realized she wasn’t going to come up with “the answer” in our one-hour coaching session. This noble cause would take considerable effort, along with continuing dedication and perseverance. And she was all in. Her smile and shining eyes showed me there was going to be ease about all of this, despite the mountain ahead of her. She had made the fundamental decision to align with her integrity. It was downhill from here.

Moms and Dads know in their hearts what parenting from their deepest expression looks like.

The qualities of intention, effort with ease, and alignment with integrity may be something to observe. Or you may want to consider other qualities that you have cultivated over time that you know demonstrate you are truly parenting from your deepest expression.

However you approach this adventure, once you know what helps you deeply express and live from your highest (and deepest) values, you will have discovered an on-going treasure for your children and a safe harbor for yourself.

 

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.

 

Commodity Connectedness: What’s In It for You?

Monday, July 4, 2016

Commodity connectedness pervades relationships these days. A chance meeting with former colleague results in an exchange of business cards or a promise to “like” each other on Facebook. Did they talk about the kids? Creative pursuits? What’s important to each of them? Or only what they can get from one another?

A romantic dinner with a beloved can quickly turn into a tit-for-tat conversation—If you do the laundry on Tuesdays, I’ll take Patty to ballet on Thursdays. Did they express profound appreciation of the other in this exchange? Soul-stirring gratefulness?

We all fall into the trap of treating others like commodities. We view friends, loved ones, business associates as things to feed our incessant needs. How often we do this and how conscious we are of doing it matters. Often I don’t know I’m doing it. Experiencing being treated as a commodity, though, is easier to spot. Let’s start there.

A recent phone conversation from a former close associate whom I hadn’t heard from or talked to in years serves as an example. Delighted to hear from her, I asked her questions. I was sincerely interested in knowing what she was up to and how she had been. But then I realized she had called on something business related. That was that, nothing more. She never asked me a single question about myself—what I was up to or how I had been. A dead-give away of commodity connectedness: It’s all about what the person can do for you.

In fact, she ended the conversation with, “Good to hear your voice.” I felt like saying, if you ever want to hear my voice again, text me before you call, I won’t pick up so you can listen to my recorded voice until your heart’s content.”

As I feeler my hackles go up when a person is more interested in what I have to offer them rather than in me—who I am currently, what I’m up to today or this week’s goals or past year desires. If someone I know, or used to know ignores the me in our exchange, I start feeling like a garage sale or worse. I become that broken down rocking chair littering the sidewalk you put there free for the taking because it didn’t sell at the garage sale. And it’s lost all value to you. You can’t even muster up the energy to take it to the dump yourself.cl-antique-furniture

Now there I go, comparing myself to a commodity in order to make my point about how it feels to be a commodity–a de-valued commodity at that. Commodity connectedness lies deep in the psyche of each of us in our commodified culture.

My husband usually gets the brunt of my commodity connectedness thinking. A generous, thoughtful person, he is also practical. So that means my car always has gas in it and our pantry overflows with back-ups—just in case. Our household runs like a well-oiled machine thanks to him. So it’s easy for me to think of this kind man as a well-oiled machine, too. Yet that’s no excuse to do so. But I have to admit, at times, I have to work to remember, he’s a person, too.

When my kids got good grades or scored on the soccer field or basketball court, I mixed them up with their achievements. I got so excited for their wins I had to intentionally make sure I separated who they were from what they did.

And when they struggled, how easy it was to see them as problems. It’s wasn’t their behavior or their choices—it was them. When commodity connectedness took over, all parenting strategies I tried, no matter how aligned with best practices, failed miserably. How could they succeed, trying them out on things?

Yet, it’s only human to do this. Fear makes parents forget facts. Being gentle with ourselves when we slip into the commodity connectedness trap with our kids is hugely important. If we’re too hard on ourselves, ironically, we end up treating ourselves as commodities. God help us if parents ever become programmed robots who never error.

The good news: Since we’re human, we’re built for growth. We can observe and change course, adjusting to what works. I have seen Martin Buber’s concepts of I-It and I-Thou help a lot of parents. So much so, I included these in the Parent Coach Certification® Training Program so parent coaches can use them. Importantly, Buber distinguished two categories: relationships where the other becomes a thing and those where the other remains a sacred being.

Writing about these concepts in her book, The Joy of Feeling, Iona Marsaa Teeguarden, states:

“…what’s missing in the ‘thing orientation’ is a concern for what really matters, like love, beauty, life itself—and the life of the Self. Experiencing oneself as a commodity is the opposite of experiencing oneself. Paradoxically an antidote to alienation is having a sense of self, because that is what allows the experience of relatedness to others …” (pp. 208-209)

Relating to the essential self of the other is always the goal, whether child, spouse, or colleague. Cleaning house of people in our lives who seek to use us may be necessary for our own Thou-ness to thrive. But we need to give them plenty of chances first. Our culture normalizes the I-It orientation. Because of that, many people won’t have a clue they connect to you like a parasite.

But next time you’re talking with someone and you get that dilapidated-furniture-on-the-sidewalk-feeling, acknowledge it and adjust accordingly.

 

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.

 

 

Thoughts on Screen Addiction—40 Years Later

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Screen addiction worries me so I was excited to receive the April 1976 Psychology Today magazine I had ordered through Back Issues.

screen addiction

I leafed through “The Benefits of Boredom,” “Our Failing Reverence for Life, and “Guru Bawa and His Disciples: The Mind is in the Heart,” and there it was—what I was looking for: “The Frightening World of the TV Addict.”

George Gerbner then dean of the Annenberg School of Communication, at the University of Pennsylvania, and his colleague, Larry Gross, discovered that “heavy viewers,” who watch four or more hours of television daily, are more fearful, less trusting “of their fellow citizens” and see the world as a much meaner place than those who watch less TV. Dubbed, “the mean-world syndrome” their research broke new ground, demonstrating that adult perceptions and behaviors could be shaped by TV’s influence (Gerbner and Gross, 1976).

Heavy viewers have a hard time separating their world from the TV world. Sometimes that results in becoming a scary person, more aggressive or a more scared person, more fearful than one might have been without all that programming. Other times, TV can make seemingly sane people do bizarre things. If you ask those 250,000 adults who wrote and sent letters requesting medical advice from the fictional Dr. Marcus Welby why they would do such a thing, they may not be able to give you a reasonable answer. (You may be too young to remember the venerable man. Played by Robert Young of Father Knows Best fame; Dr. Welby embodied the heroic essence of “the good doctor.”)

Those youngsters who ran around lifting up sewer grates, looking for the Teenage Mutant Turtles, (Grossman and DeGaetano, 2014) have an excuse, after all, children’s brains aren’t fully developed and what is imagined in mind easily becomes real-life. But adults who actually take time to intentionally pen/type a letter to someone who doesn’t exist? (Back then the letters had to go through US mail and took more time and thought to construct and deliver than today’s three-line e-mail.) And yet…maybe these folks weren’t all crackers. Maybe they sincerely wished like mad that the good doctor would/could/if only exist?

Whatever the reasons adults can’t separate reality from fantasy, the fact that these things happen shows the power of the screen to influence. That was true in 1976 and it’s still true today, despite all the massive changes. 40 years ago, as the article points out, “Television, unlike theater or the movies, does not require leaving your home.” Today, of course, you carry all your favorite TV shows and movies with you, accessing them anyplace with Wi-Fi, which is just about anywhere.

40 years is a long time. 40 years can turn a toddler’s tantrum into a mid-life crisis. He’s gone from throwing red convertibles to buying one. 40 years mellows many turbulent teens into earnest moms—now arguing with their turbulent teens. A lot happens in 40 years. We aren’t the same people we were (unless of course, we are the Rolling Stones and we continue to live as if it still were 1976).

So while so much has changed in the technology world over the past 40 years, and we aren’t the same people we used to be 40 years ago, actually little has changed to prevent or eradicate screen addiction.

With the ease at which screens flitter through our lives and fill up our time, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that the average time spent with screens for today’s kids is 7.5 hours daily (Rideout, 2010). One out of eleven are addicted to video games—that’s at least three million kids whose lives revolve around video games (Grossman and DeGaetano, 2014).

The fours hours-a-day-1976 description of the “heavy viewer” now seems quaint by comparison, nostalgic even. And if we want to get technical—fours hours was the average time adults spent viewing. Children back then watched TV an average of 2-3 hours day.

Stephen King calls TV “the glass teat” and he has a point—these days media use begins in infancy.

On any given day in the US, 29% of babies under the age of 1 are watching TV and videos for an average of about 90 minutes. Twenty-three percent have a television in their bedroom (Linn, et. al., 2012). Time with screens increases rapidly in the early years. Between their first and second birthday, on any given day, 64% of babies and toddlers are watching TV and videos, averaging slightly over 2 hours. Thirty-six percent have a television in their bedroom (Linn, et. al. 2012). Many parents now offer their infants and toddlers their cell phones as a way to calm them; families dining out often are paying more attention to their digital devices instead of conversing with each other—as you probably observe everyday.

While we progress from toddler to mid-life; from being a teen to parenting a teen—in 40 years as a collective intelligence we haven’t figured out how to prevent screen addiction.

While the information necessary to make positive changes to prevent screen addiction exists, (tons of research; loads of best practices) it is not in the hands of enough parents. When children are on the “glass teat” more than they are doing things in real life, it demonstrates to me that the parents do not understand the negative consequences of too much screen time on developing brains. They don’t think that creating a habit of quieting youngsters with devices can result in a screen addiction a few years later. But once parents do understand the immense fragility of the young brain, they often need help to implement new parenting strategies in their day-to-day. (I will put in a shameless plug here: That is why I started parent coaching as an effective solution for helping parents align their parenting decisions with what’s best for optimal brain development. It works!)

I don’t want to be coaching parents ten or even five years from now because they lost their children in virtual reality. I hope in the future I don’t hear a mom or dad complaining, “Gloria, the holograms are taking over every nook and cranny of the house. What am I to do?”

I long for a high-tech world that we manage well and use for the highest and best purposes of humankind.

Who will create our a high-tech/deeply human world?

Your children will. Teach them to love the natural world, to be at home in the world of earth, sun, sky, breath and life. Teach them that the screen world is for new information to better the natural world; for entertainment—times to escape and have fun; for communication—to stay connected to those you care about and most of all, the screen world is for their creative expression—to design new forms that enhance the natural world and life and everyone’s life.

The screen world is never, ever, the only world.

Yes, teach them these things and your children will be care-full thinkers with the wisdom, will, and know-how to make sure in 2056 the real world on planet Earth is still livable, and most folks (your grown children included) choose it over the screen/virtual/holographic one.

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.

References

Gerbner, George and Gross, l. “The Scary World of TV’s Heavy Viewer.” Psychology Today, April 1976. Pp. 41-45.

Grossman, David and DeGaetano, G., Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A call against TV, movie, and video game violence. Random House. 2014.

King, Stephen. (2010) On Writing. Scribner, p. 148.

Linn, Susan, Ed.D, Almon, Joan, Levin, Diane, Ph.D. (2012) Facing the Screen Dilemma: Young children, technology and early childhood. The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood and the Alliance for Childhood.

Rideout, Victoria, Foehr, U., and Roberts, D. (2010) “Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year Olds.” Kaiser Family Foundation.

 

 

Talking with Teens Beyond Media Literacy

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Recently I had an opportunity to talk with some insightful teens beyond the traditional media literacy topics.

It all started when Brother Leroy Baylor contacted me to be a guest on his radio show for WHCR 90.3 FM—the voice of Harlem. I had enjoyed previous interviews with Brother Leroy with the release of both editions of Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill. A passionate advocate for youth, Brother Leroy is extremely knowledgeable about the link between violent video games and youth violence. It’s a pleasure to talk with like-minded souls who “get it.” And a great relief when I don’t have to defend my position on a radio interview. I can share the straight facts and have them both accepted and appreciated.

Knowing that we would have an energizing and interesting conversation, I readily accepted his invitation. But this time was going to be different from the other interviews, he explained. Fourteen and fifteen year-olds who are learning how to be radio hosts would question me. Brother Leroy went on to tell me about his new project with inner city youth—radio journalism for high school students. Impressive. (It’s hard to keep up with Brother Leroy, a father of five and grandfather of six who works tirelessly for youth in his community.)

On the call, my first host was a 14 year-old boy who came right to the point, “So, did you let your sons play violent video games?”

“OK, here we go,” I thought. “How to position this so I am not defensive and I don’t put him on the defensive as well?”

I first acknowledged that the games “back then” weren’t as violent as they are today, but that being said, I still restricted any violent ones. I also quickly added, my sons played violent games at friends’ houses anyway. When I caught them playing a game they brought home that was basically beating up other people, I played it with them—noting that it took no thinking at all to constantly punch someone, just excellent hand-eye coordination that luckily I have.

I also explained to my youth radio host that my junior-high sons quickly acknowledged that if mom can succeed at this violent game, surely they had better things to do. It wasn’t long before they were immersed in sports video games with a lot more strategy needed. They knew I couldn’t compete with them when actual skill was involved.

After I told this story, I felt the silence on the other end of the phone line. Like hearing water actually being absorbed by a sponge, I could tell my youth host was pondering what I had just said. Soaking in the information. He then quietly asked why I was so sure violent games were harmful.

I immediately went back to my experience of 1985 finding a seminal 22 year-old study on the dusty shelves of Suzzalo Library when I was teaching at the University of Washington. Completed in 1984, this longitudinal study by Leonard Eron and Althea Houseman from the University of Chicago stunned me when I first read it. Tracking kids from under age 8 to their adulthood, the researchers found that kids with a steady diet of TV violence in early childhood, became adults who were incarcerated for violent crimes and as adults were more likely to beat up their spouses or children. And their children then became more likely to become domestic abusers as well, and imprisoned for assault, even murder.

More silence while I heard the soaking in.

As the interview progressed I started channeling my inner high school teacher—communicating clear respect for the youth’s ideas while explaining my position with the assumption that it would be of interest to them.

And it was.

I included some media literacy ideas. One example is the ability to distinguish between gratuitous violence and sensitive portrayals of violence in which the viewer or the player aligned with the victim instead of the perpetrator. I gave the example of taking my underage sons to see Schindler’s List—a film that captures the horrific suffering of victims of the holocaust. I made a point to let my radio hosts knows that our family discussed this movie in detail afterward, comparing violent portrayals on the film and on video games—my sons had to consider whose side you are on in each venue.

While I covered a few media literacy ideas like this one, during the interview what struck me was that even more than the value of media literacy activities was the absolute need for providing a meta-level understanding to these curious, eager, and astute youth. For me, a meta-level framework includes two major pieces:

1.) The knowledge of how growing brains are more easily conditioned to feel satisfaction from violent media—the fact that brains aren’t considered mature until age 25 adds levels of complexity to human brain vulnerabilities when interfacing with screen technology.

2.) The extensive research—the fact that there are more studies showing media violence’s contribution to violent behaviors than there are studies linking smoking to lung cancer.

With my last youth host, an articulate, confident fourteen year-old girl, I spontaneously said, “You know, parents are so alone in all of this. Parenting with all the problems with screen technology is unprecedented—there has never been such daily parenting dilemmas as there are now. It’s really hard. Moms and dads are stressed and overwhelmed. Parents could use the help of teens like you and your friends, here—your leadership in sussing screen technology wisely could make big positive differences.”

She wholeheartedly agreed!

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.

Acting—It’s Really Child’s Play

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Academy Awards Sunday highlighted for me a reoccurring thought over the last few months—acting is really child’s play. And a lot of child’s play is actually acting.acting is child's play

Yet, ironically, little ones these days aren’t spending near enough time in imaginative play while a select few of adults in our society get paid exorbitant sums for doing just that!

We call them stars for a reason. Like our sun, the known world revolves around them. The lives of these well-paid imaginative players fascinate a lot of people; mass media makes a good living on that voyeurism. In fact, one could argue successfully that the culture of celebrity defines popular culture.

To be clear: I am not dismissing or diminishing movies at all. I understand what film and theater bring to a civilized society. I totally align with the merits of being moved by a profound performance. I was an actor myself, once—long ago in high school. Loved it so much as I teacher I always led the school’s drama department. Witnessing the amazing breakthroughs kids had when they tapped into their personal agency on that stage stunned me.

Becoming someone else so thoroughly led them back to themselves. Timid kids surprised themselves with the clarity of their voices; bullies settled down, delightfully discovering that their own business was much more interesting than their peers’ shortcomings. Well-respected athletes gave non-begrudging respect to the geeks; the geeks found fresh reasons for movement and physical stamina. Now I’m not saying my drama clubs were always a love fest—no, these were typical kids with all the teen angsts common today.

“But what I am saying is that by acting—experiencing child’s play—enriched their individual and collective lives. And, of course, mine.”

Participating in an array of generative imaginative experiences throughout childhood and adolescence is so essential to human development. There are mountains of research demonstrating the valuing of acting—from playing pretend as a three year; to acting “as if” as an adult needing a boost of courage before walking into that board room. Since the 1940s studies continue to show that children’s imaginative play builds cognitive functions, increases ability for self-regulation, and contributes greatly to overall healthy social and emotional development.

Recently we lost a pioneer who deeply understood all this. Bev Bos, a role model and mentor to me, worked tirelessly to help parents and the professionals who supported them, understand the immense value of child’s play. Because of her efforts thousands upon thousands of kids grew up with their creative imaginations in tact and engaged—becoming self-understanding people who understood others.

Acting, after all, is walking in another’s shoes. No one has to be paid a dime to do that well.

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.