Saturday, May 28, 2016

Daily Inspirational Quote – May 28, 2016

“If you are depressed,
You are living in the past.
If you are anxious,
You are living in the future.
If you are at peace,
You are living in the present.”

Not easy to follow this one is it? No matter how good our intentions, the past will persist in intruding and torment us with past mistakes, wrong decisions, etc. As if that wasn’t enough to stress us out, worries about the future keep us awake at night, constantly conjuring up various scenarios for disaster surrounding the things we have planned or hope for in our future, arghh! Ok, so the most sensible thing for me to do, is leave the past where it is as there is nothing I can do to change it so that’s sorted. There is also nothing I can do about the future as, hopefully, it will all work out as I have planned but, if not, well I will worry about that at the time. Now, regarding the present, this is something I can do something about and therefore I consciously choose to allow myself to live in peace, taking each day as it comes and dealing with it accordingly.


Friday, May 27, 2016

Intern Solves Paralysis Problem Moments Before Dog is Euthanized

A loving veterinary intern bought Ollie the Collie a second lease on life just minutes before the beloved pet was to be put down.

Falline Fate had watched a sudden downturn in her collie’s health,  until it became paralyzed and unable to walk or even stand. After a couple of days with no improvement, her family decided it would be best to end Ollie’s suffering.

As the dog was being prepped for euthanasia, the office intern was scratching him and found a tick behind Ollie’s ear–a parasite that contains a neurotoxin that sometimes can cause paralysis. The vet removed it and within just a few hours, Ollie was back on his feet.

“The next morning my mom opened the door and said, ‘Look at your doggie,’ and he comes walking up to me, and I’m barely awake, and he just smiled at me,” Fate told KPTV News.

The Top Countries Where People Feel Most Fulfilled: It Might Surprise You

Humanity doesn’t exactly have a long-running track record for being the most united or cohesive group of creatures on Earth, but a new survey has revealed just how similar we really are, in different corners of the world.

Global health care company Abbott asked 2 million people how they felt about true fulfillment—living life to the fullest—based on three questions:

1. What is the one thing in the world that makes you feel the most fulfilled?

2. If you think of a person whom you believe is living fully, why do you think they live life so well?

3. And what keeps you from living your life fully?

Quite a few interesting trends emerged.

A whopping 64% of the people said that success was home-made; doing well at work is secondary to a happy and successful home life. This foreshadowed how 32% said that family was the key to fulfillment, followed by 8% choosing “Giving”, and 7% pointing to “Health”.

Russia and Puerto Rico are the only two countries where “Music” was listed in the top four answers Australia and France named “Adventure” as the second highest factor for living fully.

Even though just seven percent said they needed health for a full life, when it came to their children, 41% chose it as the most important thing they wanted for their kids. 29% most wanted “Great Adventure” for their children.

Of all the respondents worldwide, the Chinese saw themselves as the most fulfilled. When asked how fulfilled they felt on a scale of 1-100, China scored the highest with 79.2.  Costa Rica rated themselves at 77.9, while Colombia was third highest at 76.2, and Mexico in fourth with 74.8.

With the global median clocking in at 68, the U.S citizens rated themselves even lower than the average, at 65.

Watch How 900 Ducks Protect Their Vineyard From Pests

It’s impossible for there to be a happier workforce than this army of ducks parading toward an easy meal.

The Vergenoedg Wine Estate in South Africa employs a massive bird flock of over 900 Indian Runner ducks to eat all the pests in their grape vineyard.

Tourists can watch the troupe eagerly speed towards the grape vines every morning, with anticipation for munching all the slugs, bugs, and snails – and it’s as clear as a glass of Chardonnay that they love their job.

A Simple Story Can Improve Students’ Grades in Science

By Kira M. Newman

According to a new study, reading about scientists’ struggles can help students who aren’t doing so well in science.

“Growing Up, Einstein saw his father struggle to provide for the family. Looking for work, Einstein’s father moved the family several times for different jobs. This meant that Einstein had to change schools more than once during his childhood. Moving between schools was very difficult. Einstein not only felt out of place, but it was also challenging for him to catch up to what his new class was working on.”
This story can’t be found in your regular science textbook, but maybe it should be: According to anew study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, reading stories about the struggles of famous scientists is more beneficial for students’ grades than reading about their achievements. The way we currently teach science—by focusing on great feats of knowledge by larger-than-life geniuses—may not be the best way to encourage students to pursue scientific careers.
Researchers at Columbia University and the University of Washington recruited just over 400 freshmen and sophomores at a low-income, mostly non-white high school. The students read stories about Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, or Michael Faraday, just 800 words centering on one of three themes:
  • “The Story of a Successful Scientist.” Similar to what you’d find in a regular science textbook, this story talked about the great discoveries the scientist made, like winning Nobel Prizes, publishing papers, or pioneering new fields of study.
  • “Trying Over and Over Again Even When You Fail.” This story focused on the scientist’s intellectual struggles, as they tried different experiments—and failed.
  • “Overcoming the Challenges in Your Life.” This tale focused on the scientist’s personal struggles, such as dealing with poverty and discrimination.
After six weeks, the researchers checked in with teachers to see how the students were doing in science class.
As it turned out, the students who had read about scientists’ struggles—whether intellectual or personal—now had higher grades than students who had read about achievements. These differences showed up among students who weren’t getting good grades to begin with, suggesting that this exercise may benefit those who need help the most.
The researchers initially thought that reading stories of struggle would transform the way students thought about intelligence and effort; instead of believing you have to be born with scientific genius, perhaps the stories would help them recognize the importance of persistence and hard work (an attitude called a “growth mindset”). But this didn’t seem to be the case: Students’ beliefs about intelligence and effort didn’t actually change during the course of the experiment.
But something else was going on. Students who had read the struggle stories felt more connected to the scientists than students who had read about their achievements. They found common ground in the scientists’ failures and internal struggles.
“We suspect that struggle stories revealed scientists’ vulnerability,” the researchers write, “which in turn creates a sense of connection between the students and scientists who are often viewed as being untouchable.” And that may make it easier to see them as role models.
A 2012 study in Taiwan found similar results: When students read about scientists’ struggles, they saw them as individuals (similar to themselves) who had to overcome obstacles; when they read about achievements, they saw scientists as special people with rare, innate talent. The students in this older study who read about struggles performed better on a task in the laboratory; the new study extends the findings to a real classroom setting.
By its very nature, science involves lots and lots of failure: coming up with hypotheses, testing them, and then starting all over again. It could be the case that the way we currently talk about scientists doesn’t honor that process—and may be hurting students. “Scientists are often portrayed as unusually smart, White males who solve problems without much effort or help from others,” the researchers explain.
The good news is that this experiment was quite simple—and easy to insert into curricula: An 800-word story—two double-spaced pages—can have a positive effect on students’ grades. If we want to educate a future generation of great scientists, we can start by changing the way we talk about the great scientists of the past.

Teachers Can Reduce Suspensions by Practicing Empathy

By Mariah Flynn

According to a new study, empathic discipline cuts suspension rates in half and improves student-teacher relationships.

In U.S. schools, disciplining with punishment is the norm. School suspension rates have nearly tripled in the last 30 years, with 11 percent of students suspended at some point in their school career. This happens even when the misbehavior is minor or non-violent and even though school suspension is linked to negative outcomes for students, both those suspended and their peers.
When students are misbehaving or disrupting class, it can be easy for even the most caring of teachers to fall into the trap of the quick fix: “You need to leave the classroom” and “It’s time to see the principal.”
What if teachers had an alternative strategy for dealing with student misbehavior—one that wasn’t punitive and was easy for them to implement in the middle of a busy classroom situation? What if they could apply a more empathic mindset, considering the student’s perspective and being sensitive to other issues that might be impacting the student’s decision to act out? How would this transform their disciplinary interactions with students, and how might that affect student behavior or student-teacher relationships?
A recent study out of Stanford University set out to answer some of these questions. This study found that adopting an empathic mindset and empathic discipline strategies strengthened student-teacher relationships, encouraged better behavior from students, and cut school suspension rates in half.
A diverse group of teachers from five middle schools in California completed two online modules that encouraged them to adopt an empathic mindset. The first module, administered halfway through the fall semester, discussed reasons for student misbehavior—the difficult social and biological changes of adolescence, for instance—and emphasized positive student-teacher relationships. Teachers were reminded that a safe, caring environment where students feel valued and respected is crucial for school success; this idea was supported by stories from students.
Finally, the educators were asked to generate ideas about how they could incorporate these concepts into their own classrooms. They responded in line with an empathic mindset, noting that their students were good and unique individuals deserving of love and respect.
The second module, completed two months later, was structured similarly to the first and reinforced the same concepts. “Students’ feelings about and behavior in school can and do improve when teachers successfully convey the care and respect students crave,” teachers were reminded. At this time, their students also completed a survey on school climate.
Compared to a control group (who completed an activity similar in form, but focused on using technology to promote learning), the students of teachers who participated in the empathic-mindset training were half as likely to be suspended that school year—at a rate of 4.8 percent rather than 9.6 percent—regardless of race, gender, or previous suspensions. Two months into the training, students who had been suspended before—who normally felt less respected by teachers than other students—ended up feeling just as respected when their teachers had undergone the training.
Clearly, students benefit when teachers adopt a more empathic mindset. But what does that look like on a daily basis? Here are some suggestions for cultivating an empathic mindset and practicing empathic discipline as an educator:

1. Reframe the questions you ask when a student misbehaves

When a student misbehaves, your knee-jerk reaction might be to say, “What’s wrong with you?” With an empathic mindset, the question might change to “What happened to you?” Understanding student experiences is one of the main components of empathic discipline; asking the question “What happened to you?” allows you to gather information about how their experiences shape their behavior. Additionally, reframing the question in this way keeps you from making a value judgment about a student, where you risk labeling them as a “troublemaker.”

2. To better connect with students, explore your shared identity

Even though humans (teachers!) are predisposed to kindness and empathy, one of the biggest barriers to connecting with others—like students—is group difference. We are less motivated to help those who are different from us; at times, it might feel like you are worlds apart from your adolescent students. However, considering shared experiences or identities can mitigate some of that difference.
One way to do this is by completing a Shared Identity practice. Think of a student with whom you have trouble connecting. Then, make a list of all of the things you have in common with this student. Maybe you both have dogs for pets, or both like reading graphic novels, or both care for family members at home. When you’re finished with your list, look it over and consider all the ways in which you’re connected. Cultivating an empathic mindset requires challenging the preconceptions we have about others and searching for the commonalities we share, as opposed to the differences.

3. Make empathy part of your school culture, starting with staff

If you’re an administrator, start by making sure your teachers know that they, too, are valued. Circle Forward suggests starting staff meetings with a “check in,” asking questions that highlight the humanity of your educators. For example, you might ask, “What is one rose and one thorn in your life right now?,” “What is something you’re looking forward to this week?,” or “Tell us what a high point of your week has been.” Make sure you’re encouraging everyone to stay present and listen to the responses intently. Revealing personal information about ourselves can be difficult, as can listening with intent, but these practices are vital to cultivating empathy. 

One major benefit of adopting an empathic approach to discipline is that it requires no new programs or policies. Schools saw great change in a short time after a quick and flexible online training. Teachers already have the tools and values required to implement this approach; they just need to cultivate a different mindset.

Daily Inspirational Quote - May 27, 2016

“As I de-clutter my life, I free myself to answer the calling of my soul.”

I don’t know about you but this certainly strikes a chord with me. It took me a lot of years to actually realize I needed to de-clutter my life, not just of material things, but old outdated beliefs/ideas and, to be honest, certain people too. I’m not saying it was easy, because it wasn’t, but a very gradual “weeding” process until bit by bit I began to feel less encumbered and weighed down. As this “weeding” progressed I began to experience a spiritual awakening which, as time has gone by, has brought me new friends, enlightening experiences, unending opportunities to learn more about what I feel is my calling, and a purpose to my life. It has taken me a while but I am gradually getting there and believe my soul has breathed a sigh of relief. If you haven’t already, why don’t you try “de-cluttering” and see what happens? I think you will be surprised by the results.


The Brightness of a Greyhound Journey

"Our new driver was a brisk lady, vigilant but amiable. As we hit the road again, she introduced herself over the speakers and set the rules for the journey. She spoke clearly from experience and I wondered what kinds of situations she'd had to handle in the past. 'If you smoke on my bus, I will let you go immediately. If you do alcohol or drugs on rest stops, that is where you'll stay. It will be twenty-four hours until the next bus. That is a veeery looong time.'" Traveler and writer Maria Jain shares this engaging account of a Greyhound bus journey gone awry. Her tale shines a light on the unexpected insight and goodness that's often just waiting to be discovered in the midst of what the world calls "inconvenience".

--by Maria Jain

"Only crack sellers, loonies and ex-convicts travel on the bus."

This summed up the main message I read on the internet while researching bus travel in the United States, in preparation for a road trip that I was embarking on with a friend.

Additionally: it is likely that the bus won’t show up. And if it does, it will break down.

Coming from a place where public transport is a norm, and going to a place 'built for cars' -- not even mentioning the many other biases reflected in the comments -- I decided to take the reviews with a huge pinch of salt and bought the bus tickets.

About a month later my friend and I were at the Minneapolis Greyhound terminal, catching the 6:45 AM bus to Rapid City. It was a direct connection that, according to the schedule, would take twelve hours.

As the bus rolled out of the city, our eyes scanned happily the open horizon bathed in the morning sun. Little did we know that this was the beginning of a twenty-hour odyssey.

An observation we made early on was that all the rest stops were at fast-food joints. What if there were farmers' markets sprinkled along bus routes? The apples we had packed for the trip came handy, and reminded us of the privilege of fresh produce.

Stretching my legs outside at one such rest stop, I spotted a torn sticker on a lone light pole. The message was still readable: Corporate Violence for Sale. Close by, a group of fellow passengers had gathered to chat, standing in a loose circle. Most of them were wearing grey outfits, and many carried mesh bags that exposed their meager contents.

"When I got out two years back, I was determined to make this the best time of my life", said a tall young man. His voice had an energetic sound.

About five hours into the trip, we reached Sioux Falls, pretty much on time. A change of drivers. All passengers had to get out and identify their luggage as it was taken out of the hold and checked back in. The sky released a few raindrops that refreshed the skin.

Our new driver was a brisk lady, vigilant but amiable. As we hit the road again, she introduced herself over the speakers and set the rules for the journey. She spoke clearly from experience and I wondered what kinds of experiences she had had to handle in the past.

"If you smoke on my bus, I will let you go immediately. If you do alcohol or drugs on rest stops, that is where you'll stay. It will be twenty-four hours until the next bus. That is a veeery looong time."

Looking at new passengers boarding the bus and queuing to find a seat, my eyes met those of a young child squeezed in between legs and bags. I smiled and waved at him. His face was serious, but he responded by showing me two fingers (his age, as I would learn in a while).

The child happened to get a seat right behind us, sitting on the lap of his great-grandmother. Some rows further back was his six-year-old sister with their grandmother. The four of them were traveling from Texas to Washington state.

As we began to connect, the child's presence brought so much joy: a playful little face peeking from between the seats, saying "e-e-pow" in toddler language. A soft hand sneaking to surprise me with a pat on my cheek. The smiling eyes as we played hide-and-seek by covering our faces in our palms.

I penned in my journal: Such an interesting ride. All us fellow passengers, sharing a parallel route for a moment on our life journeys -- this same space, each other's energy fields, oxygen and carbon dioxide, the rhythm of the bus against the highway.

Across the aisle, a man with greying hair was listening to music. He had boarded the bus with big gift-wrapped boxes which he had carefully placed in the overhead rack. "Knee Deep Funkadelic (1979)" was the title of a video on his tablet screen. I felt like snatching his earphone and tuning in.

About eight hours into the journey, we stopped at a service station in rural South Dakota. There, our driver noticed that the gas tank was leaking.

We first waited for some four hours for a mechanic whose unsurprising verdict was that the problem could not be fixed. We then set to wait for a replacement bus, for an undetermined time. I guess the "fortune in misfortune", as we say in Finland, was that at least we were not stranded on the roadside.

Passengers spread out and about the station. Many settled inside around the tables of the fast food joint. Some stood in the shade of the gas station back wall. A few others took a breather sitting on the grass bordering the asphalt expanse. The mood was one of frustration mixed with resignation.

The long delay was a serious problem for many. My friend and I, on the other hand, had the luxury of time in our hands with no real hurry to get anywhere. When a fellow passenger heard that we were from Finland and headed to Rapid City, he offered to give us a ride. He was from the city and had asked his wife to come pick him up. He explained that this was his first time taking the bus -- and the last. Eventually, we decided to stay and to instead let others share his ride. For us the unexpected kink on the road was an experience, and it felt like something we wanted to see through.

We spent most of our time with the children, the two-year-old and his sister. We were amazed how their grandmothers trusted us with them, letting us connect. We colored and doodled in my journal. Out of nowhere, fellow passengers brought us real coloring books and a box of crayons.

The children's cheerfulness amidst what could have been a cranky drag was exceptional. They were present and engaged in the simple activities of coloring, telling little stories, and laughing at silly things. The two-year-old had a surprisingly witty humor. When, close to 8 pm, I asked him if he was feeling sleepy, he laid down on my lap and pretended to be snoring. The little comedy got us all giggling.

The Funkadelic man had brought the gift boxes from the bus. He told us they were for a special friend he was traveling to meet Washington state. When I asked about the music he had been listening to, he introduced us to the Gap Band. His favorite song, he said, had come out when he first joined the military.

Close to midnight, the replacement bus arrived, after an eight-hour wait. For all this time, the driver had kept us informed the best she could. Her manner had been upbeat throughout.

A group of men took care of transferring everyone's luggage from the broken bus. Tired but also a bit cheery, we all formed a neat queue to get on the bus. The Funkadelic man ushered us to the start of the line so that we could be sure to get seats in the front.

“If you let me drive, I will not stop until Chicago”, said someone.

Thanks to over-effective air conditioning, it was very cold on the bus. Again, out of the blue, a fellow passenger from the back of the bus came to offer us a blanket. We declined, trying to wrap ourselves into our scarves. A while later, the Funkadelic man asked if we were cold and at that point, we admitted. He got up to cover us with his coat. My friend fell asleep. I stayed awake staring at the dark scenery rolling past behind the windows.

As we approached Rapid City, a fellow passenger (he, too, in a grey outfit) called us a taxi from his mobile so that we would not have to look for one at 2 am in a strange city.

When it was time for us to get off the bus, I reached across the aisle to shake hands with the Funkadelic man. I thanked him and told him that his kindness had inspired me to pay it forward. He leaned over to hug me and said: "I am from Texas". In that fleeting moment, I realised that whatever stereotypes I had held about Texas, they now crumbled.

Before leaving, I turned to look at the little child. He was sleeping peacefully on the seat, next to his great-grandmother.

In the coming weeks as we made our way towards California, the memories of the moments spent with perfect strangers continued to warm our hearts. They still do. I do not know who they were, I do not know where they were coming from and where they were going to -- I do not always even know where I myself am headed in life. Yet, the connections we shared brought a lot of good and kind in us to the surface. They proved the power of magic in the mundane.

May we always journey like this.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

What Adolescents Really Need from Parents

By Jill Suttie

In a Q&A, neuroscientist Ron Dahl explains how parents can help younger teens avoid depression and anxiety as they become more independent.

As a parent of adolescents, I’ve often worried about their health and happiness. They seem to be under a lot of social and academic pressure, suggesting they need more guidance from me to help them get through. But how can I support their independence and autonomy while making sure they don’t fall through the cracks or become depressed or anxious?
To find out more about how parents can best help their budding teenagers, I spoke with Ron Dahl, a neuroscientist and professor of human health and development at the University of California, Berkeley.
Dahl, one of the leading experts on adolescent development, has spent years studying depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders in adolescence, using intervention studies and, more recently, fMRI technology to increase our understanding of what’s going on. His findings have helped uncover the neural underpinnings of adolescence and have led to some interesting discoveries about the role of social supports in teen life. They point the way toward helping our young teens get what they truly need during this very risky yet exciting time of life.
Jill Suttie: Why do you think it’s important to do neuroscience research with young teens?
Ron Dahl: We don’t think that we’re doing primarily neuroscience research; we’re doing developmental science research, and an important dimension of teen development is their biology and how neural systems develop. That said, people have become overly enamored with brain science, and sometimes it’s naive. Ninety percent of what we’re going to learn from neuroscience, any really wise person would say anyway; but that other 10 percent matters. There are some things that are counterintuitive—that are unique insights—and the value of science is to provide those kinds of insights. Still, it should always be a two-way street; it should inform the real world. The teachers, the parents, the clinicians you’re dealing with should drive the science and vice versa.
JS: Speaking of counterintuitive, some of your research suggests that parents—maybe even more than peers—have an important role to play in helping prevent adolescent depression. How do parents affect their young teens?
RD: In that transition from childhood to adolescence—or early adolescence—both parents and peers are very important. In that 9- to 14-year-old range, kids become more interested in being admired and respected. We don’t know exactly what it is that kids become sensitive to, but it’s something about status, being accepted, belonging, being admired, and being valued that becomes more salient. And that makes sense. Anthropologists who study kids across a lot of different cultures will talk about how reputation effects become important in adolescence.
People think that for adolescents, it’s all about peers and peer groups; but it’s not only that. They care and value being admired by adults, too—caring teachers, coaches, and parents. Yes, there’s an increased salience around peers, but it’s not one or the other, and there are individual differences. For some kids at higher risk for anxiety or depression, it seems as if the parent role may be more dynamic and more important for longer. If they are struggling with issues of self-identity and where they fit in, it may be because those things are precarious for them, and a parent can provide extra scaffolding that helps them get through.
JS: But how do you get adolescents to listen to you, especially depressed adolescents?
RD: The principle is simple; but applying it is very, very challenging. One of the techniques I use ismotivational interviewing or motivational enhancement. What you’ve got to do is ask your adolescents a series of questions or get them to reflect with you a little bit, helping them identify something they want to do, and then giving them some approaches or ways to think about their situation. If we wait until things have unraveled to a large degree, coming in as a parent and trying to change them is really hard to do in these delicate ways. Staying involved and monitoring and building on your relationship can help promote autonomy in a way that actually brings you close.
JS: Your research has shown that adolescents need a lot of social support, and that this is reflected in their brain physiology. How do you explain the relationship between social support and physiological changes in the brain?
RD: First of all, there is no experience we have that doesn’t have some biological form. For example, we use a term—social evaluative threat—to talk about the fear one feels that someone’s going to evaluate you. More than for physical danger, social evaluative threat creates a powerful physiological response, because for much of human history, being accepted within the tribe was important for our survival.
Interestingly, even though the most dangerous thing we do in modern society is to drive 70 miles per hour down the Interstate, we don’t have much arousal in those situations. But stand up in front of people and tell something about yourself, and your arousal level will be really high. For adolescents, the intensity of emotion around being evaluated is even more remarkable. Neural systems evolved to make those assessments—to be extra vigilant in adolescence with respect to: Am I valued here? Do I fit in here? Do I belong?
What’s relevant about that for anxiety and depression is that depressed and anxious young people replay these questions over and over through rumination and worry. Think about an experience when you were in middle school where you made one tiny mistake—maybe you were misunderstood or someone disrespected you in some way or you felt embarrassed. Those experiences cause a powerful physiological response. And if you mentally replay the scenario over and over, each time the neural systems will fire and fire. The physiological correlates in the brain are just reflecting patterns of behavior and emotion that get activated in those situations.
JS: Knowing that adolescents are focused on social scrutiny, it seems that being able to manage one’s worried thoughts and emotions could be beneficial for navigating that successfully. What can parents do to help their teens this way?
RD: The feeling of being valued and competent, feeling good about ourselves, is shaped a little by what people tell us; but it’s shaped a lot by our experience of actually being competent. This is important, because sensitive parents have the right idea: They want to say the right thing and give their kids a message that they are good at something. But that may ring hollow if you’re telling your child he’s a good student and he gets a bad grade, or if you’re telling your child she’s a good athlete, but she doesn’t make the team.
What’s needed instead is a mastery curve experience—where your kids work at something, they struggle, but they get better and better at it. A mastery curve creates one of the most solid supports for adolescents, and it’s rewarding, too. It’s part of the reason why kids who won’t spend three hours a day doing anything else will spend 14 hours a day playing video games.
One thing we learned about helping kids with anxiety is that you can give them all the cognitive information in the world about how something’s not dangerous, and it will have no effect on their behavior. They need to learn through their own experiences—such as graded exposure, where they face something a little difficult, see they can handle it, then try something a bit harder still. Kids at this time of life naturally become bolder, more exploratory—even kids who are anxious become a littlemore sensation-seeking. This is an opportune time to help them find a path to mastery, through patterns of experience.
JS: How can parents support their kids in gaining mastery experiences?
RD: We developmental scientists tend to use the term scaffolding a lot. The idea is that parents provide support; but you only use scaffolding to the point that it’s needed. The art of weaning this away is where the action is. Anything that feels like a parent trying to direct a kid toward what they [the parents] think the adolescentshould do is likely to be counterproductive.
If you think about the need to be admired and valued, the implication of having some adult tell you what you should do makes you feel diminished. Even if 90 percent of what you say as a parent is useful information, what youth hear is the 10 percent that makes them feel incapable. The fact that they aren’t fully capable of making decisions themselves is beside the point [to them].
I love the quote by Maya Angelou: ‘People will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.’ I think that’s particularly true of kids this age. To feel expanded has tremendous salience. As soon as you catch them taking a positive step in the right direction, you’ve got to recognize it and admire it, and not step in and tell them, “You’re going in the wrong direction.” As you soon as you do that, you lose them.
At a practical level, you want to create a context that gives them a range of options and let them find something relatively prosocial and healthy to explore. Wise and well-resourced parents with insight do this intuitively. But, part of the problem with kids from disadvantaged backgrounds is that if they don’t happen to be good at the few things available to them at their school—the few sports, or whatever—they may fail to find a positive mastery curve experience. The opportunities may be really limited.
JS: What is the role of purpose in all of this?
RD: It fits in at the very heart. What gives you the feeling of an expanded sense of self is being able to contribute to something larger than yourself. Wise people have been writing about this long before neuroscience came along.
I often use the term “igniting passions” as part of what’s happening biologically as puberty sets in, and these ignited passions can be attached to various things—a particular activity, a particular person, falling in love for the first time. But it can also attach to a sense of purpose and meaning, and that’s a wonderfully positive framework for thinking about what’s happening in kids’ brains at this time.
JS: You’ve studied how kids handle peer rejection and found it’s important for parents to model calm behavior themselves in stressful situations. Do you think parental stress is a factor here?
RD: We humans tend to think that the content of our words is what’s most important, and we forget that the tone of voice and the feeling conveyed are really powerful signals. We can be saying exactly the right words and be conveying a message we’re not even aware of. This is particularly true of anxious kids, because they are particularly sensitive to this.
If you think about young kids, the most important cue about whether the environment is safe is the parent’s emotions. One thing we’ve learned from our work is that if you’re trying to push away the negative, you’re actually engaging and activating the negative. Trying not to be anxious or angry is not going to work. You’ve got to activate the positive. It’s not just about being calm.
That’s hard to do—you can’t fake it. Kids have good phony meters. But finding something you like about your child and what they did, and connecting to that and feeling good about that, or finding a source of gratitude to share, become important in preventing negative spirals. I think increasingly our models around depression are less about diminishing the negative and more about promoting the positive.