Tag Archives: Thinking Thursday

Electronic media: magic or madness?

I’m teaching EDUC 1000 Careers in Education at Minneapolis Community and Technical College right now, and last night the topic on the syllabus was 21st century learners and the media. We watched two videos on Youtube.  

One video talks about the importance of engaging kids using electronic media for the purpose of education. Kids are growing up with almost unbelievably more media knowledge and understanding than their parents did. The way that technology in the last ten years has changed the world can only be compared to the invention of movable type, the industrial revolution, and the protestant reformation.

The other video talks about how the brain develops and the power of media to influence the brain. Connections that wire together fire together, and if kids are getting a lot of screen time and not much face time, it significantly affects the neural pathways that get formed and reinforced. There is growing research linking childhood screen time to ADHD and obesity.

Recently I’ve been learning about how using computer technology in learning can help visual spatial learners, especially boys, increase their academic performance and learning effectiveness. The National Center on Media and the Family recommends no more than two hours of screen time per day. If a children is use technology in school, have a little computer or video-game time at home, and watch a T.V. show with Mom or Dad after their homework is done, they will almost certainly exceed that. And what if their homework also requires time on the computer?

I think there is certainly a difference between active screen time and passive screen time. Active screen time could include interacting with others on social media and doing research for school. Passive screen would be sitting and watching T.V. Video games are a different category, because the fast, high impact images and quick reactions required to play video games are very overstimulating to the brain and release stress-related chemicals like cortisol when they are played. I say that I THINK there’s a difference because I’ve not seen any research done on active vs passive media.

So what’s a person to do about their kids and screen time? Here are my thoughts in a nutshell:

  1. Most importantly, be present and engaged with your kids during screen time. Know what they’re doing and watching. Let them know what you’re doing and watching (with appropriate boundaries). Talk to them about what’s on the screen, and teach them to be smart and critical thinkers about what they see and do.
  2. Make sure there’s a balance of screen time, active play time, outdoor time, and face time with you. It won’t always be equal, but if we’re mindful of it, we can use our best judgment to manage it.
  3. Do family activities like playing games, telling stories, reading books, playing sports and getting out into nature. This helps kids learn to find enjoyment in non-screen activities.

My best advice is: Use media; don’t let it use you, and teach your kids to do the same.

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Posted by on September 16, 2010 in Present Moment Parenting


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Boy Smarts

I’m a really big fan of Barry MacDonald’s Boy Smarts. They just put out their May Newsletter, which you can get for free by signing up on his website. Below is a list of the topics included. Be sure to check it out.

DOES the threat of removing recess do more harm than good?

MOST teachers and parents come to recognize that disciplinary approaches based on coercion, threats, and punishments do little to help youth to internalize self-discipline and self-motivation.

EXTERNAL manipulations may at times appear to work for a short time, but they do not, in the long run, teach children to become caring, responsible, and ethical people who will act appropriately without external supervision or coercion.

STRATEGIES of external manipulation may even backfire, as kids learn to become master manipulators themselves.


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Real Boys or War Against Boys?

This turned into kind of a long book review, so I’m going to give a quick summary at the beginning. You only have to read the whole thing if you want all the details.

I’ve been reading two books:

  1. Real Boys by William Pollack
  2. The War Against Boys by Christina Hoff-Sommer

Pollack says many boys are sad, lonely, and confused because society tells us we should treat them like little men and raise them through a toughening process. This drives their true emotions underground and forces them to put on a tough, cheerful and confident mask, which ends up being very harmful. Only when we understand what boys are really experiencing can we help them learn to deal with issues.

Hoff-Sommers says that boys want to be tough and confident and treated like little men and that the real problem is that society is trying to raise boys to be like girls. If we would just let them be boys they would be better off. She identifies a systematic agenda to make education and child-rearing a form of non-surgical castration that is harmful to boys.

I think there’s truth in both books. I’ve seen first hand trends in parenting and education that are harmful to boys, but I think the answer looks much more like Pollack’s approach than Hoff-Sommer’s. Read on if you want to hear more.

Hoff-Sommer begins by presenting a pretty convincing argument. Her sources are very credible, and main point is that some of the more radical feminist leaders are promoting programs and policies that don’t simply stop at furthering the cause of girls and women. The go beyond promoting equality and the ability of girls and women to live and work up to their full potential. In fact, these “misguided feminists” (her words, not mine) actively demean, disadvantage, and discriminate against boys and just about anything that smell of masculinity or testosterone. They knowingly and unknowingly endorse practices, opinions, and perspectives that overtly and covertly harm boys. She explains that while the original motives of some in this movement were very good, it has developed into something that is contrary to the original positive intention. Rather than lifting up girls, they are putting down boys.

In Real Boys, William Pollack uses his own clinical experience and solid research to identify and address what he sees as a negative “myth of boyhood” in our culture that requires boys to detach from their caregivers and their feelings in order to be tough or what society would label a “real boy.” This disconnection results in repressed/unprocessed feelings, stunted emotional development, and sometimes psychological disorders. Pollack has treated boys who have been violent, bullies or antisocial in other ways as well as boys who are depressed and suicidal. In most of the cases he has discovered boys who are in distress emotionally and whose pain could be traced back to early trauma with toxic beliefs about what boys are supposed to be like. He goes further and says that while only some boys may exhibit pathological consequences, most boys suffer from the negative consequences of the myths of boyhood.

The conflict between these two books is that Hoff-Sommers argues that we need to stop trying to make boys act more like girls. If we do, then boys will be better off. As a culture, we don’t need to put up with boys acting inappropriately to girls, women, and each other, but we do need to let them relate to work, play, learning, and life in ways that are consistent with their biology. There’s nothing wrong with being stereotypically male. She thinks that people like Pollack are most likely trying to make boys be something that males naturally are not.

Pollack, on the other hand, would say that it’s great for boys to be authentically male, but that our society has developed an incorrect idea of what that is. To raise healthy, real boys, according to Pollack, we need to allow boys to develop the emotional intelligence that they are born with and express it with an authentically masculine style. There’s no need to force them to be artificially tough, jaded, cocky or chauvinistic.

To sum up, it is good that Hoff-Sommers raises awareness about some very scary, radical trends in feminist social activism (PLEASE NOTE, I AM NOT OPPOSED FEMINISM. RADICALISM IN GENERAL TENDS TO HAVE LESS THAN POSITIVE RESULTS, REGARDLESS OF HOW GOOD ITS FOUNDATION MIGHT BE) and education that are directly harmful to boys and indirectly harmful to girls as well. We shouldn’t stifle boy’s energy, creativity, and personhood to make classrooms more manageable, playgrounds “softer,” backyards quieter, or sports less competitive. For girls to achieve, they don’t need society to squash boys. This line of thinking maintains a low opinion of both boys and girls.

However, Pollack provides a much better path forward. Real boys are not destined to repeat a stereotypical “boys will be boys” pattern of behavior and repression. We can raise our sons to be true to themselves as well as authentic, healthy men by fostering emotional intelligence and debunking cultural myths of boyhood in a way that embraces all the wildness and wonder that naturally comes boys.

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Posted by on May 3, 2010 in Book Reviews


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Being the Angry Dad

I was talking with a friend about the effects of anger on kids. This is an important topic for me, because I have been the crabby daddy. When I saw the effects that my anger was having on my family, I knew something needed to change.

Most of us know what it’s like to get angry at our children once in a while. That’s just part of being a parent. In fact, many of us can remember times when our parents got angry with us. We can also probably remember times when we knew we “had it coming.” No, I’m not attempting to justify parents losing their temper. What I’m getting at is that most of us pushed our parent’s buttons a little bit to see what would happen, and most of us have also had our buttons pushed by our kids. That’s a  normal part of kids learning about boundaries and emotions.

However, there are some of us who also know what it’s like to live under a dark storm cloud of parental anger that’s always there and always threatening to burst into a full blown thunderstorm of raging tantrums. We’ve had to walk on egg shells to try to keep the wrath from coming, and we knew that no matter how careful we were, it would eventually come anyway. There are some of us who know the physical impact of out of control anger.

One parent told me, “I lose my temper once in a while, but even though I get angry a lot, it’s usually under control.” This statement hit me hard, because it’s how I used to try to fool myself into thinking that my anger was “under control.” I realized that, at least as far as the impact on my kids and my own health is concerned, it’s not possible for me to be “angry a lot” and still “under control.” Being angry a lot means that our anger is controlling us and hurting those around us, especially the ones we love.

Here’s what brain science tells us about anger and how it affects kids. When I’m angry at my son, he feels like it’s his fault. Even for older kids who rationally know better, this is true. When I get angry, even if it’s not directly at him, it creates a brain connection to fear, guilt, and shame. The more often I’m angry, the more that brain pathway is fired and reinforced until it becomes almost an automatic response. Kids will learn to cope with and compensate for this in different ways. Some will seem to do fine. Others will develop anxiety disorders, hesitating personalities, or even post-traumatic stress. Regardless of how well a child learns to cope, the negative brain highways are still there.

This is where I often hear people say, “Wait a minute! I don’t want my kid to grow up being a wimp. He needs to know that when he does certain things, it’s going to make people angry. And he needs to learn how to handle it when somebody get’s mad at him or he won’t be able to take it when his boss lays into him when he’s grown up.”

It’s true that kids need to understand the consequences of doing things that can make people upset. It’s also true that all people need to learn to deal with anger expressed by others. However, trying to teach emotional intelligence to our children by getting angry at them is like trying to slice thin deli meat with a chainsaw: It doesn’t doesn’t get the job done very well and makes a pretty big mess in the kitchen.

I go into some very powerful and effective ways to help kids gain emotional intelligence in another post. I’ll also explain very clearly what we can do to help repair the damage done by out of control anger. We can build positive brain superhighways that are so smooth and nice that the negative pathways created by our anger won’t get any traffic.

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Posted by on April 15, 2010 in Stories


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April Fools Tricks On Your Kids

If you haven’t come up with a fun April Fool’s joke to enjoy with your kids, don’t miss the chance. Click below to go to the Family Fun website where there’s plenty of quick, easy, funny ideas. It’s a great way to play with your kids.

Reeces Sneezes

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Posted by on April 1, 2010 in Present Moment Parenting


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