Tag Archives: children

Electromagnets and the Servings of Hope

So got the latest iPhone and accessories? That will definitely speed productivity and social connections. Do you have children who are electronically savvy with these devices? Depending on who is doing the research, there may be a mixed bag of OOOHS and OH NOOOs.

EMF1Here we explain. Most of our speedy, high tech devices are powered by Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs). Cindy Sage, MA, and Nancy Evans, BS explain in their handout prepared for a website called Healthy Schools in 2011 in detail the kinds of EMFs that we encounter everyday:

Extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF-EMF) are generated from appliances and other items that  use electricity (power frequency fields).

Radiofrequency (RF-EMF) is generated by wireless technologies such as cellular and cordless phones.

“Dirty electricity” is a term used to describe low kilohertz frequency fields that can be thought of as an unintentional RF pollutant on electrical wiring and into living space. Power is “dirty” or polluted when it contains the high frequency signals flowing through overloaded wires, and not just the clean 60 Hz power that’s created at the source.

We are all aware of the benefits of modernization and upgrading to the latest gadgetry. We are able to cram as much work/leisure/information as possible in the shortest amount of time. It improves productivity, increases quantity of life skills, and promotes connectivity only science fiction writers used to dream about.  Ironically (good or bad), in 2010 MIT neuroscientists have now shown they can influence those judgments by interfering with activity in a specific brain region — a finding that helps reveal how the brain constructs morality. The researchers, led by Rebecca Saxe, MIT assistant professor
of brain and cognitive sciences disrupted activity brain region known as the right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) by inducing a current in the brain using a magnetic field applied to the scalp.  The researchers used a noninvasive technique known as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to selectively interfere with brain activity in the right TPJ. The magnetic field applied to a small area of the skull creates weak electric currents that impede nearby brain cells’ ability to fire normally, but the effect is only temporary.

They found that the subjects’ ability to make moral judgments that require an understanding of other people’s intentions was impaired. The researchers believe that TMS interfered with subjects’ ability to interpret others’ intentions, forcing them to rely more on outcome information to make their judgments.

So EMFs literally can assist in changing our minds, literally. How about our health? And our young people’s development?

EMF2
A report commissioned by T-Mobile and Deutsche Telecom MobilNet GmbH prepared in 2000 reviews effects such as gene toxicity, cellular processes, effects on the immune system, central nervous system, hormone systems and connections with cancer and infertility. This was utilized by the Commonwealth Club of California’s Program on Health Effects of Cell Phones, Wireless Technologies & Electromagnetic Fields With Leading Experts in November 2010.

In their study, Dr Kerstin Hennies, Dr H.‐Peter Neitzke and Dr Hartmut Voigt in behalf of the Telecom companies found:

1. Given the results of the present epidemiological studies, it can be concluded that electromagnetic fields with frequencies in the mobile telecommunications range do play a role in the development of cancer. This is particularly notable for tumours of the central nervous system, for which there is only the one epidemiological study so far, examining the actual use of mobile phones.

2. Damaging effects on the immune system which can aid the development of illnesses as demonstrated higher secretions of stress hormones in humans.

3. Effects of high frequency electromagnetic fields on the central nervous system are proven for intensities well below the current guidelines.

4. The terms ‘electrosensitivity’ or ‘electromagnetic hypersensitivity’ describe disturbances of well‐being and impairments of health, such as they are suffered by certain sensitive people when working with or being in the presence of devices and equipment emitting electrical, magnetic or electromagnetic fields.

They also conclude: “A particular problem in this exposure group is posed by children and adolescents, not only because their organism is still developing and therefore particularly susceptible, but also because many cp-radiationadolescents have come to be the most regular users of mobile phones. Advertising towards this population group should be banned. Furthermore, particular efforts should be made to lower the exposures during calls. It would be recommendable to conduct (covert) advertising campaigns propagating the use of headsets. It would also be important to develop communications and advertising aiming at minimising the exposures created by carrying mobile phones in standby mode on the body.”

That was in 2000. That is not the case in 2015. Covert would not be the word for the in-your-hand ads aimed to the youngest demographic possible (e.g. no more teen data overages…hint hint). So what to do?

Here’s the practical, scientific approach recommended by experts: Use a corded phone (land line) as your regular telephone. If you need to use a cordless phone or cell phone, use a headset (wired only) whenever possible and/or use your phone on speakerphone. Text rather than talk. Keep your calls very brief, and hold your cell phone away from your head and body, especially when the phone is connecting your call. Children should not use cell phones or cordless phones. Studies show children have a five-fold risk of malignant brain tumors in a shorter time than adults. 

hope1The other recommendation? Healthy servings on Hope. The brain on hope supports a growing body of scientific evidence that points to the conclusion that optimism may be hardwired by evolution into the human brain. The science of optimism, once scorned as an intellectually suspect province of pep rallies and smiley faces, is opening a new window on the workings of human consciousness. What it shows could fuel a revolution in psychology, as the field comes to grips with accumulating evidence that our brains are constantly being shaped by the future.

Findings from a study  conducted a few years ago with prominent neuroscientist Elizabeth Phelps and Tali Sharot suggest that directing our thoughts of the future toward the positive is a result of our frontal cortex’s communicating with subcortical regions deep in our brain. The frontal cortex, a large area behind the forehead, is the most recently evolved part of the brain. It is larger in humans than in other primates and is critical for many complex human functions such as language and goal setting.

Using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner, the researchers recorded brain activity in volunteers as they imagined specific events that might occur to them in the future. Some of the events were desirable (a great date or winning a large sum of money), and some were undesirable (losing a wallet, ending a romantic relationship). The volunteers reported that their images of sought-after events were richer and more vivid than those of unwanted events.

This matched the enhanced activity observed in two critical regions of the brain: the amygdala, a small structure deep in the brain that is central to the processing of emotion, and the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC), an area of the frontal cortex that modulates emotion and motivation. The rACC acts like a traffic conductor, enhancing the flow of positive emotions and associations. The more optimistic a person was, the higher the activity in these regions was while imagining positive future events (relative to negative ones) and the stronger the connectivity between the two structures.

The positive physiological effects of hope are well-documented, most recently by CNN in 2013  in Jerome Groopman’s “The Anatomy of Hope,” where he writes: “Researchers are learning that a change in mind-set has the power to alter neurochemistry.”  His research also showed that during the course of illness, belief and expectation have an impact on the nervous system which, in turn, sets off a chain reaction that makes improvement and recovery more likely. Groopman observed that hope does not just involve a mind-to-body connection, but also a body-to-mind connection, where neural input about one’s physical condition serves as a moderator of positive and negative emotions.

hope2Shane Lopez, author of the new book “Making Hope Happen,” believes hope is the stuff of change, recovery and healing. Hope is half optimism, Lopez explains. The other half is the belief in the power that you can make it so.There is a profound difference between hoping and wishing, he continues. Wishing encourages passivity, whereas hope represents an active stance.

“Wishing is the fantasy that everything is going to turn out OK. Hoping is actually showing up for the hard work.”

And it is hard work to find moderation between technological use and traditional, generalist methods of living. A line needs to be drawn for generations after us to have a chance at a future before they can manipulate it, or else all the forward thinking and efficiency cramming we did in our heyday for them is mismatched and misaligned. Balancing between picking up a book with pages AND including one or two websites for research creates a nifty scale bridging the survival rate of the future and wisdom from longevity of the past.

Play, Just to Play

The computerized calendar shows grey dots everyday of the week. The day starts at 7:00 am and ends sometime around 9:00 pm; perhaps with 30 minutes for lunch, an hour for dinner and sometime in between it all for commutting from one obligation to the next. Sound familiar? This over-scheduled schedule not only belongs to adults, butBusy-Calendar-2 to many children as soon as their old enough to enter a school-type program. And ending around 9:00 pm may be a conservatitve estimate, especially for middle and high-school aged students. 9:00 is when some finally arrive home to begin their homework or are continuing to work on it because despite their best efforts it stillis not done. The best efforts may even include working with one, two perhaps three different tutors in one evening. What appeared to be parents encouraging natural talents in music or sports has given rise to a hyper-focus on areas of specialization and the building of child prodigies in the arts, athletics or academics. However, very little, if any, of these budding ‘careers’ are related to the child’s school day. Perhaps the long standing problem America faces with education has as much to do with poor schooling as it does with student burn-out. A burn-out that appears to be occuring much earlier and in more extreme ways than senioritis–perhaps now an obsolete term. This critical look at the extrememly scheduled, programmed and packed days of school aged children leaves one questing begging to be asked:  What ever happened to having time to play?

In the past two decades, what began as involvement in extracurriculular activities that have shifted into activities to keep children busy, out of the house or off the streets. It it challenging for working parents to be home when children are home or trust them to be able to watch thsemvles at home. Gone are the days of the latch-key kids. However, statisitics are showing that 3 out of 4 children who were involved in sports before first grade are bored, tired of and deciding to no longer participate in sports after middle school. David Elkind of Tufts University, believes that children are not simply bored, but burned out. Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld, author of The Overscheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap, he believes that there is a fine, yet undefined line, between having children involved in extracurricular activities and over scheduling. Rosenfeld believes children are bored not because they don’t have anything to do, but because they have never had to develop the skills to figure out to entertain themselves, given that their lives have been scheduled from waking to sleeping. Now add the conveiences and accessiblity to technology even commuting from school to soccer provides a quiet structured activity of games on an tablet or a movie playing on the backseat of the driver and passenger sides nicely crafted with headphones so everyone can be appeased.

Dr. Suniya S. Luthar believes that scheduling extracurriculars is the problem. Porblems arise when “…what parents want is over the top…When children feel that their parents disproportionately value personal successes (in today’s grades or tomorrow’s careers), far more than they value their personal decency and kindness, the children show elevated symptoms of depression and anxiety. Parents might think it’s okay to keep the pressure on because they eat dinner together and attend all their children’s athletic events and performances. But such positive gestures do not cancel out criticism.” Over-Scheduled or the New Norm?

According to kidshealth.org children may:

  • feel tired, anxious, or depressed
  • complain of headaches and stomachaches, which may be due to stress, missed meals, or lack of sleep
  • fall behind on their schoolwork, causing their grades to drop

Dr. Luthar adds substance abuse, truancy, anxiety among other internalizing behaviors to list or problems over-pressured face.

From a brain-based perspetive, these various symtpoms cause increase in cortisol or cause damage,  which impacts access to the pre-frontal cortext and the very necessary executive functioning skills that students rely on not only during their after-school activites but during their school day and in their social relationships.

All experts agree that the solution is NOT taking away all of the extracurriculuars, but finding a balance between them, school and downtime or the expectations surrouding the activiites. Children need unstrutured activity to allow their brains to not only rest, much like the necessity of sleep, but to have truly free time to play, which research shows helps develop the higher order thinking skills.

John Hamilton from NPR.org reports, “The experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain,” claims Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. “And without play experience, those neurons aren’t changed,” he says. It is those changes in the prefrontal cortex during childhood that help wire up the brain’s executive control center, which has a critical role in regulating emotions, making plans and solving problems, Pellis says. So play, he adds, is what prepares a young brain for life, love and even schoolwork. But to produce this sort of brain development, children need to engage in plenty of so-called free play, Pellis says. No coaches, no umpires, no rule books.”

This is the same part of the brain that children are unable to access due to sleep deprivation, stress, depression. The lack of

Pressure free play

play is not only impacting the devevelopment of these essential skills, but it is preventing them from having access.  Simultaneous to this occurance is the increase in acadamic expectations and demands because adolescents are graduating from high school unprepraed for the academic standards at a collegiate level. But is it that they are not ready or simply not capable because their brains were not given the time, opportunity to develop the skills necessary to be prepared for college? Is the solution as simple as, children will be able to do more by doing less?

A shift needs to take place somewhere; because more often than not incomplete homework accompanied with a parent note detailing a child’s inabiltiy to complete it due to three hour rehearshals after school, too many other assignments or they spent

4 hours on homework and were still unable to finish it. Or even worse, when six year olds express they have too much to do. Yet the shift cannot occur in a vacumn or simply exhange extracurriculars for screen time. Perhaps part of the solution is a cultural shift. A shift in what is determined important, worthy of time and essential. Currently the focus seems to be success, financial gain, fame, a full-schedule. Maybe it is time to realize family time, play and even boredom are critical not only to prevent burn-out before the age of thirteen, but to enable the upcoming generation to be developmentally ready to take on what the current generation will ineveitably leave behind.

Children (Both Big and Small) Learn What They Live

Children Learn What They Live


By Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.

If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.

If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.

If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.

Many children spend more waking time in the presence of their teachers, than their parents and caregivers.  Therefore, it may be a safe assumption that children growing up in the twenty-first century are learning what they live based on their school experience–their teachers–just as much (maybe some cases more) as they are from their caregivers.  While teachers have been taught about behavior management, best practices and given scripts for curriculums, not many are required to take college courses on developing executive functioning skills or more specifically character. Yet, they may be responsible for a large part of character development for the students they teach on daily basis.

In recent years, this is become quite obvious as there has been the push for character education to return to school curriculums and the creation of character report cards that grade children on the development of their character. This is a useful tool if character is being taught, modeled and monitored throughout the semester.

If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.

If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.

If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.

If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.

While the intent of these two movements are originating from different sources; they are sending a similar message: children today are not naturally developing and/or aware of their character. The former was in response to the increase in bullying and ostracization of students; the latter was the rude realization that while schools were producing high school graduates capable of earning a high school diploma and acceptance into college; these same students were not only struggling once they reached college, but were dropping out.

Enter Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth. Her research uncovered that grit and self-control are better predictors for academic achievement than IQ, socio-economic status (family income) among other factors. Her research states that “Grit is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals (Duckworth et al., 2007). Self-control is the voluntary regulation of behavioral, emotional, and attentional impulses in the presence of momentarily gratifying temptations or diversions (Duckworth & Seligman, 2005; Duckworth & Steinberg, in press). Her definitions for grit and self-control mirror two concepts found in executive function skills: goal-directed persistence and response inhibition. However, regardless of what they are called, the fact remains that these skills appear essential to success; yet adolescents today do not possess these traits upon graduation from high school and pay for it dearly. So some critical questions remain: Can anyone possess these characteristics or skills? How does one acquire them? Who is ultimately responsible for “teaching” them?

If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.

If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.

If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.

If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.

If viewed from an executive functioning perspective, the answer to the fist two questions is relatively straightforward. Yes, anyone can possess them; some people appear to demonstrate more natural strengths or abilities in particular skills than others, but strategies to strengthen or accommodate areas of weakness exist and yield successful outcomes. The last question is more difficult to answer.

If viewed from a character perspective, researchers and the U.S. Education System answer the first two questions in a similar fashion. Anyone is capable of possessing these characteristics. They are acquired through direct instruction, modeling, and life experience. They also offered a straightforward answer to the third question: it is the responsibility of both schools and parents to teach character.

What happens then, if teachers themselves have never been taught or simply demonstrate a weakness in the character traits they are expected to teach and model? Or what happens if parents and teachers view these skills through different lenses?

If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.

If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.

If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.

If children live with fairness, they learn justice.

Mostly likely, that is happening right now. Character traits like grit and self-control may or may not be taught in schools and in homes. If they are taught, perhaps they are taught differently which leads to children experiencing mixed-messages and putting a hybrid of the two into practice. This may work for some, but for others it leads to dropping or failing out of high school or college. The origins of character education are synonymous with an academic education. Character education changed in the 1960s and 1970s when the focus shifted to the process of making moral decisions versus the content of morality. It has now reemerged in the past decade most likely as a result of the publicized findings on college success rates of KIPP Academy students and theories as to why it was so low.

Yet, the re-introduction of the curriculum does not mean the mastery of skills by those expected to teach it. If teachers haven’t been taught, are never asked to self-reflect and evaluate their own areas of strength and weakness the result inevitably is they don’t know what they don’t know. So, how can they teach it?

The oversimplified truth is they can, just not effectively. It has been shown that children not only learn what they live, they live what they learn. Teachers are children all grown up; they too now live what they learned. And they can only be expected to teach what they have been taught. Maybe it is time to share the focus on how we teach our children with how we teach our teachers.

If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.

If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.

If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

The Balancing Act Homework and Extracurricular Lives in School-Aged Children

For every generation of parents who have school age children, there is a theme that binds parents from the past to present: either there is too much homework, or too many extracurricular activities. Modern life has sped up the pace incredibly, especially in metropolitan cities around the world, making the demands after the school day on the family become even more stressful.

And it isn’t actually an unusual complaint or observation from a parent. The perception that homework has increased in recent years is supported by the results of a research study from the University of Michigan in 2000. The Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan found that time spent on home study by 6- to 8-year-old children more than doubled between 1981 and 1997 (Hofferth & Sandberg, 2000). Their results found a 146% increase between 1981 and 1997 in the time that six- to eight-year-old children (generally in grades K-3) spent on home study. In 1981, time diaries that were used to record homework times indicated that primary-grade children spent an average of 52 minutes studying per week; this figure increased to 128 minutes per week in 1997 (Hofferth & Sandberg, 2000). The proportional increase seemed very large because the baseline measurement—time spent on study in 1981—was very small. Moreover, the ISR study found no substantial increase in home study time over the same period for nine to twelve-year-old children (generally third to sixth graders). Their average weekly home study time was 3:22 in 1981 and 3:41 in 1997— a difference that was not large enough to achieve statistical significance.(Hofferth & Sandberg, 2000)

homework

In 2003, The Journal of Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis published a study by Brian P. Gill and Steven L. Schlossman entitled,  “A Nation at Rest: The American Way of Homework.” The researchers found that the great majority of American children at all grade levels then spent less than one hour studying on a typical day—an amount that has not changed substantially in at least 20 years. High school students in the late 1940s and early 1950s studied no more than their counterparts did in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

Gill and Schlossman have also concluded that changes in educational opinion on homework over the last half century prior to 2003 have had little effect on student behavior, with only two notable exceptions: a temporary increase in homework time in the decade following Sputnik, and a new willingness in the two decades before the 2000’s to assign small amounts to primary-grade students. Does this signify then that homework is dictated by current events and/or standings of students when ranked side by side their peers from other countries?

As a standard, homework recommendations from the National Education Association conclude that, “The National PTA recommendations fall in line with general guidelines suggested by researcher Harris Cooper: 10-20 minutes per night in the first grade, and an additional 10 minutes per grade level thereafter (e.g., 20 minutes for second grade, 120 minutes for twelfth). High school students may sometimes do more, depending on what classes they take.”

They also cite that homework usually falls into one of three categories: practice, preparation, or extension; the purpose usually varies by grade. Individualized assignments that tap into students’ existing skills or interests can be motivating. At the elementary school level, homework can help students develop study skills and habits and can keep families informed about their child’s learning. At the secondary school level, student homework is associated with greater academic achievement. (Review of Educational Research, 2006).

The Review of Educational Research published a comprehensive survey of all the studies on homework and achievement performed between 1987 and 2003. A strong connection was found between the two particularly in high school. In elementary grades, homework helps youngsters establish healthy study habits and keeps parents connected to what their children are doing at school. Homework in high school also lead to higher scholastic success. However, more recently in 2014, a Stanford researcher found that too much homework can negatively affect kids, especially their lives away from school, where family, friends and activities matter. The researchers used survey data to examine perceptions about homework, student well-being and behavioral engagement in a sample of 4,317 students from 10 high-performing high schools in upper-middle-class California communities. Students in these schools average about 3.1 hours of homework each night.

Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education co-authored a study published in the Journal of Experimental Education with Mollie Galloway and Jerusha Conner, found that too much homework is associated with:

• Greater stress: 56 percent of the students considered homework a primary source of stress. Forty-three percent viewed tests as a primary stressor, while 33 percent put the pressure to get good grades in that category. Less than 1 percent of the students said homework was not a stressor.

• Reductions in health: In their open-ended answers, many students said their homework load led to sleep deprivation and other health problems. 

• Less time for friends, family and extracurricular pursuits: Both the survey data and student responses indicated that spending too much time on homework meant that students were “not meeting their developmental needs or cultivating other critical life skills,” according to the researchers. Students were more likely to drop activities, not see friends or family, and not pursue hobbies they enjoy.

In places where students attend high-performing schools, too much homework can reduce their time to foster skills in the area of personal responsibility, the researchers concluded. “Young people are spending more time alone,” they wrote, “which means less time for family and fewer opportunities to engage in their communities.”

too-much-paperwork-19481503

On the flipside, there are students who value time to engage in their interests and communities via extracurricular activities on top of homework. Participation in activities such as sports, clubs, private lessons, and religious activities enrich students’ lives by supporting social skills.  Several studies emphasize the benefits of extracurricular activities and homework, while others focus on the negative consequences of each. Overscheduled children may not have as much time to complete homework assignments, leading to a decline in academic achievement. According to the critics too much involvement in extracurricular activities takes away from time that could be spent studying or completing homework.  On the other hand there were many students who also felt forced or obligated to choose homework over developing other talents or skills.

A bit of history on the extracurricular path into student lives. Extracurricular activities began in the United States in the 19th century. At first they were just an additional part to the normal academic schedule for the year and usually had some practical or vocational interest that was included into the activities. The first extracurricular activities that were well known in schools started at Harvard and Yale University. They were literacy clubs that consisted of different debate clubs and Greek systems such as fraternities and sororities.

Students in American schools were the first to initiate athletic clubs which soon became popular while literacy clubs began to decline. Around the time of World War I, schools started adding clubs such as journalism, and newspaper. (Casinger, J. 2011) Now these clubs have become popular and many public high schools and grade schools have clubs for all interests. In the year 2010, about 1 in 4 students participated in academic clubs. (Miller, Zittleman, 2010).

To determine the relationship between extracurricular involvement and homework performance,  a research study was conducted by Rachel Johnson and Ryana Moulden entitled, “A Correlational Study of Extracurricular Involvement and Homework Performance of Third Grade Students.”  Data was collected in two third grade classes for the four-week study in two elementary schools. For the first two weeks, math homework scores were recorded, and the second two weeks, language arts homework scores were recorded. No significant correlation was found between the number of hours spent in extracurricular activities and math homework performance, however the results revealed a significant negative relationship between the number of hours spent in extracurricular activities and language arts homework performance.

In his article, “Extracurricular Activities,”  Fred C. Lunenburg states, “Extracurricular activities serve the same goals and functions as the required and elective courses in the curriculum. However, they provide experiences that are not included in formal courses of study. They allow students to apply the knowledge that they have learned in other classes and acquire concepts of democratic life.”(2010)  The positive effects that extracurricular activities have on students’ education are behavior, better grades, school completion, positive aspects to become successful adults, and a social aspect. Higher grades and positive attitudes towards school are secondary effects that extracurricular activities have on students. Self esteem can be a predictor of academic performance. Students who don’t like school won’t do as well as the students who do like school because they are not motivated to succeed. The students who don’t like school usually feel as though they are not succeeding or that they can succeed.

A study done by the United States Department of Education revealed that, “Students who participate in extracurricular activities are three times more likely to have a grade point average of a 3.0 or higher. This is higher than students who did not participate in extracurricular activities. This is regardless of their previous background or achievement.” Students that participate in extracurricular activities also showed positive changes in students self confidence, teacher perception, and greater confidence, and then developed positive school related adult attachments. Extracurricular activities increases a students connection to school, raises their self esteem, and positive social natures.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,241 adults (of whom 457 have school-aged children) surveyed online between June 11 and 17, 2014. With parents of K-12 students reporting their children spend an average of 38.4 hours per week on scheduled activities during the school year (including school time, extra-curricular school activities and other scheduled commitments), while maintaining an average of 19.1 hours of free time, this finds America’s school-aged children with a roughly 2:1 ratio of scheduled to free/leisure time.  Perhaps not surprisingly, parents whose children have 15 or more hours per week of combined extracurricular and other “scheduled” time are much more likely than those whose children have under 15 hours to report feeling pressured to put their child in activities that other children are doing (21% <15 hours, 36% 15+ hours). They are then also more likely to worry their child is “over-programmed” (18% and 35%, respectively).

sports-clip-art-01

At the end of the day, it is a balance between time and aptitude between homework and extracurricular activities, as both are a part of character and brain development for students. In the Harris Poll where some adults see a crowded calendar, others see the opportunity for new experiences, and nearly two-thirds of Americans (65%) wish they had the opportunity to have as many varied experiences as children do today. This sentiment is significantly stronger among those with school-aged children (73%) than among those without (62%).

The Powerful Necessity of TOUCH

Hugs communicate a lot more than you think
Hugs communicate a lot more than you think

If you live in a metropolitan area, chances are you have had the pleasure of using public transportation to get around. Buses or trains, or both, and the many others who accompany you in the journey to and from destinations. In these modes of transport, rush hour can get harrowing; packed like a can of sardines until it wouldn’t even matter if you had a bar to hold on to to maintain your balance. The sheer volume of people in your personal space is enough to keep you stuck wherever you are sitting or standing.

And if this is most human touch you experience per day, that may not be enough. Reason: our brains are wired to be touched.

University of Miami’s Touch Research Institute in early 2014 had done extensive research in the area of human touch.Their results have revealed that human touch has wide-ranging physical and emotional benefits for people of all age groups. In the Institute’s studies, they discovered touch lessened pain, improved pulmonary function, increased growth in infants, lowered blood glucose and improved immune function. Human touch is extremely important for all ages, but by the time children reach their teen years, they receive only half as much touching as they did when they were infants. Adults touch each other even less.

The researchers in Miami also found that touch with moderate pressure stimulates the vagus nerve which is responsible for slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure. This produces a state that is relaxed, less closed off, but more attentive. Even the Institute’s medical staff and students that received massages for 15 minutes a day over the course of a month were more accurate and took less time on math performance tests than their counterparts who did not receive massages, more proof that touch also decreases stress hormone function and boosts immune systems.

It is then no surprise to learn of evidence pointing to the levels of aggression and violence among children is related to lack of touching.

Cross species touch speak volumes
Cross species touch speak volumes

Touch Research Institute conducted two separate studies, one with French children and one with American children to determine the degree of touch they received from their parents in relation to displays of aggression. The researchers found that French children received more touching from parents and their peers and were less aggressive than their American counterparts. American children on the contrary had less physical interaction with their parents and tended to touch themselves more than they touched their peers (e.g. playing with hair).

And in 2009,  DePauw University psychologist Matthew Hertenstein studied the person’s ability to interpret emotional content via other non-verbal means with the sensory cortex.  Hertenstein had volunteers attempt to communicate a list of emotions to a blindfolded stranger solely through touch, of which many participants were apprehensive about the experiment. “This is a touch-phobic society,” he says. “We’re not used to touching strangers, or even our friends, necessarily.”

The result? They did touch, all for the benefit of science after all. The results suggest that for all our Pre-Frontal Cortex caution about touching, we are hard-wired with the capacity to send and receive emotional signals solely by touching, one of our sensory systems. Herenstein was surprised at the results, thinking that the results were going to be at a chance level of 25 percent. Instead, participants were able to clearly identify and communicate eight distinct emotions (anger, fear, disgust, love,gratitude, sympathy, happiness, and sadness)  all with accuracy rates as high as 78 percent.

Even for those who suffer from seizures can benefit from therapeutic touch.  Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) such as combining Acupuncture and Massage Therapy have been found to reduce seizures. Results from studies in China and Germany as per the College of Oriental Medicine have also proven to control abnormal brain activity that causes the seizures.

For the rest of us, average touch is relative. There is debate as to how many hugs one is required to receive per day to stay emotionally and mentally healthy — a range from 8-11 per day. And that is something we can all aim for, in spite of the speed we travel, the inconvenience of daily living, and the noise all around us.

Even they know...many hugs a day keeps one healthy!
Even they know…many hugs a day keeps one healthy!

Let’s have the animals teach us how it’s really done.

The University of Florida recently suggested that animals really wanted human contact after all. Lindsay Mehrkam, a University of Florida doctoral student in psychology with psychology professor Nicole Dorey have published a paper in the journal Zoo Biology that examined different types of enrichment preferences specifically in zoo-housed animals. 

For this study, the pair chose three tortoises at the Santa Fe Teaching Zoo in Gainesville, Florida named Larry, Moe and Curly. They were given four choices of keeper interaction: playing with a large rubber ball or under a water sprinkler, or having their shells scrubbed or necks rubbed. The zookeepers had used all of these amenities at least twice a month for several years at the zoo.

The inanimate object and the human were placed on opposite sides of the enclosure while the tortoises were released from the barn and had five minutes to make a choice. Consistently, they chose their human companion over the object!

Mehrkam said, “Not only did they prefer keeper interaction overall compared to the traditional forms of enrichment, but the individual tortoises had preferences for the kind of interaction they wanted. Larry and Curly like having their necks rubbed. Moe liked the shell scrubbing.”