Where are your kids getting their dopamine?

Our bodies and brains are wired to release a “feel good chemical” called dopamine when we eat, have sex, or exercise. We also get a dopamine release from creating something, accomplishing something or being in the flow state of learning.

Our culture has introduced many more dopamine producing activities to younger and younger children: Sugar, caffeine, TV, movies, porn, youtube, video games, social media, are all designed to flood massive amounts of dopamine into our systems. Our current culture seems to promote fun, excitement, productivity and keeping busy.

The problem is that our brains and bodies aren’t designed for this much dopamine. Some experts theorize this is one of the reasons we are seeing such a huge increase in ADHD, depression, anxiety, addictions and other brain centered differences.

Not everybody reacts the same way. I can’t get out of shopping malls and casinos fast enough but I have family members who come to life and love the dopamine release of shopping and gambling. When my kids were little, my daughter could be in a room with the TV on and barely notice, but the TV had a hypnotizing effect on my son that turned him into a zombie. We tend to gravitate towards things that give us these delicious hits of dopamine. When we get rewarded with dopamine, it motivates us to come back for more….and more….and more.

Can your kid sit in a room with her favorite sugary treat and not be tempted? If you take away the cookie or the ipad, does your son hyperfocus on the object until he gets his dopamine hit? Can your teenager sit with her phone nearby and not be tempted to check it? Every text alert or social media “like” is designed to release dopamine and create addiction.

When we don’t reward our brains with dopamine (by checking our phone or eating sugar, etc.) we can create anxiety and insomnia. But overtime, the flooding of dopamine in our systems creates addiction and increased feelings of depression.

So basically, the world our kids are growing up is a challenge to their mental health.

What can we do?

  1. We need to become really deliberate about where we get our dopamine and not just follow a “If it feels good, do it” mantra.
  2. Observe ourselves and our children closely to see where we might be flooding our systems with too much dopamine.
  3. Re-wire the brain BEFORE we become addicted and show signs of depression and anxiety.

I have a lot to say on this topic and invite you to join me for a FREE Webinar called,

“How Much is Too Much?” Screen time, Dopamine and Mental Well Being.

In the meantime, here are a few life hacks below to help you and your kids conquer this challenging culture.

  1. Establish a Streak – Middle School kids have discovered a dopamine hit from “maintaining streaks”, or seeing how many days in a row they can text friends about silly things. Instead, establish a streak of how many days in a row you made your bed, walked your dog, ate a vegetable. Mark it off on a calendar and celebrate your victory. Check out the app Calm and start a meditation streak.
  2. Create Something – When we can get immersed in a project, creative or not, it can give us a healthy dose of dopamine. Many of us think of art or music but for me, creating webinars, class content and writing blogs count. Encourage your kids to create a Rube Goldberg, a fort, or cooking project.
  3. Seek balance. Don’t let your kid play a video game WHILE also watching TV (choose one!). Turn off ALL alerts on their phones so they don’t hear “So & so posted a new video!” No cell phones while studying, or in the bedroom while sleeping. Buy an old fashioned alarm clock. Try allowing movies and video games only if interspersed with exercise. Save sugar for special occasions.
  4. Music! Turn music OFF on video games but turn it ON while your child is doing an activity you’d like to reward. Playing music shoot hoops outside or while they set or clear the table, might help them linger and want to do it more often.

Are smart phones good for teens? What parents need to know.

The introduction of smart phones to an entire generation of children has made some very significant changes that all parents should know about.

Are smart phones good for teens? Or are they causing significant problems?

Here’s some good news! 

The number of fatalities by car accidents involving teen drivers has dropped in half from 2005 – 2015.

Teen homicides have dropped about 40% since 2005.

In fact, mortality rate for teens is down 20% from 1999.

The number of sexually active teens has been cut by almost 40 percent since 1991.

The average teen now has had sex for the first time by the spring of 11th grade, a full year later than the average Gen Xer.

The teen birth rate hit an all-time low in 2016, down 67 percent since its modern peak, in 1991.

and some more changes…are they positive or concerning?

The percent of high school seniors who work during the school year has dropped 20%. The number of eighth graders who work for pay has dropped in half.

Only about 56 percent of high-school seniors in 2015 went out on dates; down 30% from previous generations. In fact 2015 seniors were going out less often than

eighth-graders did as recently as 2009.

The number of teens who get together with their friends nearly every day, dropped by more than 40 percent from 2000 to 2015; the decline has been especially steep recently.

Fifty-seven percent more teens were sleep deprived in 2015 than in 1991. In just the four years from 2012 to 2015, 22 percent more teens failed to get seven hours of sleep.

By the end of high school, more than one in four teens today still don’t have their driver’s license.

Forty-eight percent more girls said they often felt left out in 2015 than in 2010, compared with 27 percent more boys.

The more time eighth-graders spend on social media, the more likely they are to say they’re unhappy.

Here’s the big concern…

Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology and author of iGen, says, “It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades.”

For the first time in history, suicide is the second leading cause of death, closing in on car accidents.

Teens’ feelings of loneliness spiked in 2013 and have remained high since.

Boys’ depressive symptoms increased by 21 percent from 2012 to 2015, while girls’ increased by 50 percent—more than twice as much.

Teens who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, such as making a suicide plan. (That’s much more than the risk related to, say, watching TV.)

Three times as many 12-to-14-year-old girls killed themselves in 2015 as in 2007

 

Here’s what parents need to know about smart phones and depressed teens:

Smart phones seem to be playing the biggest role in these positive and negative changes. Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy.”

Here are Jean Twenge’s important findings, as published in the September 2017 article, “Has the smart phone destroyed a generation” of The Atlantic,

“If you were going to give advice for a happy adolescence based on this survey, it would be straightforward: Put down the phone, turn off the laptop, and do something—anything—that does not involve a screen. There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness.  The opposite is true of in-person interactions. Those who spend an above-average amount of time with their friends in person are 20 percent less likely to say they’re unhappy than those who hang out for a below-average amount of time.

The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression. Eighth-graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27 percent, while those who play sports, go to religious services, or even do homework more than the average teen cut their risk significantly.”

 

Why you aren’t taking action

You know what you want: a better career, a cleaner house, to set boundaries with the kids or make more money. So why is change so hard? Before you can make a change, you’ve got to see what’s keeping you stuck. What keeps you stuck is your thoughts. Your thoughts dictate your feelings and your feelings dictate how you act. The first step in making any change is to figure out the thoughts that are preventing you from making a permanent change. This starts with getting quiet and listening to ourselves.

For most of my clients, this is the hardest part. There’s a reason they stopped going inward in the first place. Inside your mind can be all sorts of dark and sordid stories about “the one time you made a fool of yourself and promised you would never do that again” or the very common belief, that “you aren’t worthy of good things.” Here are some of the most common characters that keeps us stuck.

Judgmental Janet – Our inner mean girl likes to be in charge. She says things like “you are stupid, fat, ugly, nobody’s going to love you, you’ll never be good enough, etc.” She’s judgmental and critical, “Nobody’s going to like if you _______” or “You know your going to fail so why try.”

Safety Sal  This voice wants us to play small and play it safe. “Just wait a little longer, your family needs you.” “Keep your head down and appreciate what you have.” “I don’t know what to do.” “I’m not sure” “The timings not right, I’ll wait until everything is ready.” “What if I’m wrong?” This voice is more subtle and sounds so innocent but the perfectionism keeps us stuck.

Critical Christine – “If my husband would just help out more” “If we just had more money….” “If my kids would leave me alone and my boss would stop calling, then….…”  Our inner wisdom tells us, “somethings not right, I don’t feel good” but Critical Christine thinks it has identified the problem and wants to fix it. She convinces us that if we could just change the other person, our job, our financial situation, our house, then the problem would go away. Blaming others feels better (temporarily) but keeps us stuck because we never recognize the real issue is our own thinking.

Whenever we try to make lasting change, these characters feel threatened. They know their days are numbered and they pull out all the stops to not lose power. Before we can start changing our actions, we’ve got to change our thinking and tame these inner wild beasts. Having an hour long coaching call each week expedites things and ensures the changes stick. But you can do it yourself by writing in a journal for at least 15 minutes a day.

We’ve got to take inventory of the thoughts in your head so just write them down, every day. Write down every excuse your mind comes up with about why writing in your journal is a stupid waste of time. How there are other more important things to do. How this is selfish and not working. Whatever negativity you hear, write it down and identify who is saying what. Change the names to fit your characters: Inner Mean Girl, Terry the Turtle (who hides in a shell), the drama queen, the inner perfectionist, etc.

In order to take action and make changes in your life, you’ll need to take inventory of who’s in charge and decide if that’s working for you. Every time you go outside your comfort zone, these characters get ready to pounce. Life Coaching is so effective because once you learn to tame these wild beasts, you take charge of your life and can create whatever changes you want to make.

Are you ready to tame your inner critic to make changes in your life?  Try a free discovery call at www.LifeCoachingforParents.com/work-with-me

Why trying to make your kids happy, will make you miserable.

Seek purpose, not pleasure

As parents, we all seem to want one thing: our kids to be happy. Sure, we want them to have good friends, good grades and a clean room, but the reason we want those things is because we believe it will lead to a happy life. There is a cultural paradigm that says “You can only be as happy as your least happy child.”

I’ve heard clients say to me, “I’m happy if my kids are happy.” or “When all three of my kids are happy, then I can relax.”

THIS IS NOT A GOOD PLAN!

Happiness is not a sustainable emotion. Humans are not wired to be happy all day, every day. In fact, humans normally operate at a 50/50 rate when it comes to positive or negative emotions. Sadness, loss, separation, anger, rejection and illness are all part of the human experience. When we label these things as bad, we cause unnecessary stress, anxiety and depression.

Our brains are wired to feel negative emotion, but we are also wired to seek pleasure. So when Facebook ads tell us that whiter teeth and chocolate truffles will make us happier, our brains think, “I need that.” When TV commercials tell us that there’s a pill to take if you feel uncomfortable in social situations, we believe something is wrong with us. Constantly seeking pleasure and avoiding natural, negative emotions is making Americans miserable. Between us wanting our kids to be happy, and the media implying happy is the only allowable emotion, what do we aim for?

What’s the goal for our lives, if not happiness?

Purpose, meaning and fulfillment is a kind of happiness that is longer lasting. It’s not about seeking pleasure, but about living life according to one’s values. When we engage fully in our activities and take action on the things that matter to us, we feel connected and aligned with our highest selves. Growth, meaning and forward momentum help us believe we are moving in a positive direction which is key to living a fulfilling life.

The sun didn’t shine in Seattle for three months last winter. The collective depression was subtle but it wasn’t until the day the sun came out that everyone noticed the contrast. Suddenly people were smiling, whistling, singing, SO HAPPY! It wasn’t the sunshine that made people happy, if so, Californians would have been giddy after 7 years of drought. It was the contrast. Californians react the same way when it rains! Seeing sunshine, after so many cloudy days, made Seattlelites stop and engage fully in the moment. It helped them be optimistic and think positively about the future months to come.

So think about giving your kids a contrasting experience to increase their ability to engage the moment. Nothing makes you appreciate a hot shower like a camping or backpacking for a few days. Sugar tastes so much sweeter after not eating it for a week.

Instead of indulging every item on your kid’s Christmas list this year, to try to make them happy, appreciate the joy and contrast in yearning for and not having. Anticipation & delayed gratification are human experiences that increase meaning.

You might be disappointed that the kids and teachers at school don’t treat your child they way you’d like, but try using these experiences as an opportunity for growth, purpose and to create a more meaningful future. It’s hard to teach your kids to appreciate good friends until they’ve had some bad experiences. We can help our kids think about how they want to treat people and believe the changes they make will help create a kinder world.

And most importantly parents, we’ve got to live it, to give it. Kids learn by imitation so we can’t expect them to live meaningful, fully engaged lives if we aren’t modeling how to do it. If you would like to feel like you are making positive forward progress and living according to your values, instead of getting stuck in the pleasure seeking cycle, schedule a free life coaching session today.

What’s the quickest way to ruin holiday festivities?

Do you know the one thing that will ruin your holiday faster than anything else? 

It’s not overcooking the turkey, heated political debates, or cranberry sauce on the carpet. The one thing that ruins holiday dinners is EXPECTATIONS. When you have visions of cinnamon scented candlelight over peaceful conversations with joyful children lingering over delicious cuisine, it’s a recipe for disaster!

Visions of perfection?

The reality is, Thanksgiving is not a holiday for most Moms. It’s everything we normally do: clean, cook, wash dishes, manage children, but with more people around and football on the TV. So how do we lower our expectations without feeling like a negative pessimist?

Keep it real….and have fun with the worst case scenario.

Before the holiday begins, get together with your family or friends and make a list of all the crazy shit that could possibly go down during a simple holiday dinner.

My moms going to subtly hint that I should lose weight.

I’ll become a frenetically crazy cleaning machine two hours before people arrive and my children and husband will hide from me.

Uncle John will show up early spouting the latest Fox News reports about “He who shall not be named”.

Aunt Jen brings appetizers but shows up late saying she got the wrong time, directions, or somehow makes it my fault.

The favorite football team loses and everyone’s in a funk.

My Dad asks my husband how much money he’s saving for retirement….again.

Grandma drinks too much and starts telling me that I’m over-parenting my kids….again.

I’ll be upset that I’m doing all the work, don’t get to relax, and I’ll take it out on my family.

My mother-in-law will tell me that I’m doing it wrong. Bonus points for every “it”.

Whatever you can think might happen, write down all your predictions and see how many things you get right. Compare notes with other families to see who had the worst holiday dinner, then take that Mom out to celebrate her win.

Holidays are like the world series of motherhood. They aren’t designed to be restful and relaxing for YOU. This is game time, expect the worst, hope for the best, and get to work. The closer you align your expectations with your reality, the more fun you will have.

If you have changed your holiday tradition to make it more fun for YOU, let me know!

Is your day full of hard work? Then claim the next day as “Mom gets to do whatever Mom wants day” and celebrate your holiday victory. When you take a day to yourself to play and relax, take a photo and share it on my Facebook page so we can take inspiration from each other!