Why Are More Parents Giving Their Kids Melatonin?

Between 2007 and 2012, melatonin use among children aged 4 to 17 rose significantly, according to the National Institutes of Health.

There are two times of the day many parents dread:
1 | The morning rush and,
2 | Bedtime.
Bedtime can be particularly challenging when your child struggles with insomnia. How can you help them? For some parents, the answer is melatonin.
Between 2007 and 2012, melatonin use among children aged 4 to 17 rose significantly, according to the National Institutes of Health, from 0.1 percent to 0.7 percent in that age group. Since this study was conducted, experts suspect the number of children on melatonin has risen even more.
Although there are no definitive statistics, Mohammed Jalloh, a pharmacist and spokesperson for the American Pharmacists Association, says, “I can definitely tell you that it is growing in usage, because people believe melatonin, like other dietary supplements, is all natural and something our body produces. More people have been asking about it.”
Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain’s pineal gland, and in other tissues in the body, which helps regulate the natural circadian (sleep and wake) cycle. Peak levels occur at night. Trivial amounts of melatonin are also found in foods such as meats, grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Up to 25 percent of healthy children, as well as up to 75 percent of children with neurodevelopmental or psychiatric conditions, experience difficulty with sleep. According to Dr. Judith Owens, director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital.
The gold standard used to be sedating children with antihistamines, like diphenhydramine or Benadryl. Today, more pediatricians and parents are choosing melatonin. “I think we have a little bit better evidence bases for the use of melatonin, particularly in the ADHD and autism spectrum populations,” says Owens.
What is causing the rise in usage? More children are experiencing sleep problems for a variety of reasons. Owens says oftentimes there is a mismatch between a child’s bedtime and their natural fall-asleep time. For others, typically older kids with ADHD, anxiety causes difficulties sleeping.
Some children also struggle with restless leg syndrome, acid reflux, and other ailments and illnesses. Screen time, however, seems to be the largest growing problem, second only to the lack of a regular bedtime routine, according to Owens. The blue light from TVs, iPads, and other electronics disrupts a child’s natural sleep rhythm.
Yet more children are staring at these sources of entertainment and education right up until bedtime. According to a recent study, 72 percent of all children and 89 percent of adolescents have at least one device in their sleep environment. A study in the journal “Pediatrics” found that children had trouble sleeping if they had screen time after 7 p.m. 
Blue light suppresses the production of melatonin more than any other type of light. Stressors that affect a child’s circadian clock, such as blue-light exposure, can have serious consequences. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic, linked to cognitive impairment and risk for injury.
According to Dr. Jodi Mindell, Associate Director at the Sleep Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and author of “Sleeping Through the Night: How Infants, Toddlers, and Their Parents Can Get a Good Night’s Sleep,” not getting enough sleep really affects every aspect of a child’s well-being and functioning. “Children who don’t get sufficient sleep at night, are more likely to be overactive and noncompliant, as well as being more withdrawn and anxious,” she said in an earlier interview.
If your child is experiencing insomnia, Owen says behavioral therapy should be used first or in conjunction with a sleep aid like melatonin, because a supplement alone will not address the underlying problem. “The vast majority of parents don’t want their kids on medication, but that is a quick solution to this problem where the behavior intervention is clearly more challenging,” says Owens.
Two critical questions for parents to ask before reaching for a sleep aid are:
1 | Did the pediatrician ask the right questions to get to the root cause or causes of the insomnia?
2 | What other kinds of behavioral strategies can I use in conjunction with melatonin to address the problem?
To encourage good sleep hygiene in children, the National Sleep Foundation recommends the following:

  • Napping during the day should be avoided
  • Appropriate dinnertime should be at least two hours before bedtime
  • Screen time (i.e., watching television, reading on an iPad or tablet, playing computer or video games) should be discontinued at least an hour before bedtime
  • Regular bedtime routine including routine sleep and wake-up times should be maintained
  • Children should sleep in their own beds
  • Sleep environment should be dark and quiet; room should not be too hot
  • Caffeine should be avoided

Have you used or are you currently using melatonin to help your child sleep? Share your experiences in the comments!
 

10 Habits That Change Boys Into Men

The demise of our culture will result from the demise of its men if something isn’t changed quickly. Far too many men remain directionless, devastated, and scared children.

The male suicide rate increased to three to four times higher than the female suicide rate. Men are twice as likely as women to become alcoholics, and males are far more likely to commit a juvenile crime.

Much has been said and written in recent years about the challenges of men and boys. A sampling of book titles includes:

A common theme is that men and boys have become increasingly confused about their identity and role in society. Kay Hymowitz, author of Manning Up, put it this way:

“It’s been an almost universal rule of civilization that whereas girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess, or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors of women and children; this was always their primary social role. Today, however, with women moving ahead in an advanced economy, provider husbands and fathers are now optional, and the character qualities men had needed to play their role — fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity — are obsolete and even a little embarrassing.”

Academically, it is reported in the United States that:

  • Girls outperform boys now at every level — from elementary school through graduate school.
  • By eighth grade, only 20 percent of boys are adept in writing and 24 percent adept in reading.
  • Young men’s SAT scores in 2011 were the lowest they’ve been in 40 years.
  • According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), boys are 30 percent more likely than girls to drop out of both high school and college.
  • In 2017, women will earn more than 60 percent of bachelor’s and more than 63 percent of master’s degrees.
  • Boys make up two-thirds of students in special education remedial programs.

Women deserve the increased success they are getting. They’ve been oppressed for far too long. They’re hungrier and more motivated than most men. And hopefully, society will continue to allow them the increased equality they deserve.

However, this article’s focus is on helping the struggling and confused young man. Indeed, many young men have taken the adverse cues of society as an excuse to evade responsibility and never really grow up.

If you are a young man and you’re struggling, you are not alone. This article is intended to challenge you to rethink your entire approach to life. If applied, these habits will radically set you apart from the decaying norm.

1 | Think Beyond Yourself

Kids look to their parents for all the answers. When they become teenagers they know all the answers. Many never mature out of this stage and remain incredibly narcissistic, which is displayed in the following ways:

  • Believing you are better than others
  • Exaggerating your talents or gifts
  • Expecting constant praise and admiration
  • Failure to recognize other people’s emotions or feelings
  • Expressing disdain for those who seem inferior
  • Trouble keeping healthy relationships
  • Acting as if you have nothing to learn

Moving beyond self-consciousness requires an increase in overall consciousness.

By heightening your level of consciousness, you’ll see the brilliance of humanity in general, be able to relate deeper with others, experience greater joy, and have enhanced ability to manifest the destiny of your choosing.

The following are ways to increase your level of consciousness:

  • Allow yourself to experience your feelings, rather than block them out. Meditation is a helpful way to do this. You experience your thoughts and feelings, learn from them, then let them go.
  • Let go of framing your idea of what should be and genuinely accept what is. The journey is the end, not simply a means to an end.
  • Identify the meaningless things to which you’ve assigned meaning. Happiness and security can never be experienced when dependent on the external — they can only be achieved internally.
  • Begin trusting your inner voice. If you feel a prompting to bring an umbrella with you, even when the weather report says the contrary, bring it.
  • Explore the world, experience new cultures, and have your paradigm shaken and reframed.
  • Question your own intentions and motivations.
  • Be humble about your own humanity.
  • Act with love, and become aware when you are not.

2 | Stop Playing Video Games

There are a host of both positive and negative effects of playing video games. However, approximately 15 percent of American youth have an unhealthy addiction to video games. Another study reported that 31 percent of males and 13 percent of females have felt “addicted” to video games.

Naturally, boys have a strong need for accomplishment and challenge. Yet, studies suggest that some of the most popular video games are disengaging boys from real-world pursuits. Boys’ need for accomplishment is satisfied by “leveling up” in the game; so they don’t feel the need to go out into the world and solve real problems. Thus, society is not being served by their efforts.

Gaming often gets in the way of important relationships or meaningful life pursuits. 15 percent of divorces are filed by women because their husbands prefer video games over them.

This point is particularly significant to me. I, myself, spent a large portion of my time in junior high and high school playing World of Warcraft. Literally, thousands of hours logged in and lost.

I see many of my high school friends and family members who are now in their late 20’s and 30’s continuing to play four-plus hours of video games per day – even when married with kids.

Playing video games is being touted as a “healthy” way to escape reality. Yet, one must ask: Is escaping reality (especially for extended periods of time) ever healthy?

The need for achievement and challenge can be accomplished in real life. You can “level-up” the real you while simultaneously solving social problems.

3 | Learn In Healthy Environments And Lay-Off The Meds

The industrial classroom model is killing our boys. It is not a healthy environment for them. Young boys need more physical stimulation.

The result is that many are improperly and lazily diagnosed with ADHD. Their natural characteristics, emotions, passions, and gifts are being curbed by medications.

Although it is not a popular notion, boys and girls are wired differently. Girls are often exclusively motivated by praise. They will perfect their handwriting just to have it noticed.

Boys on the other hand, are often motivated by tangible experiences that relate to real life. Thus, many boys see no point in having good handwriting if one day they will spend their time typing. They don’t care as much what other people think. They just want to be challenged.

4 | Get Intensive Physical Stimulation

Short and intensive learning spurts, followed by rigorous physical stimulation is a powerful and positive way for boys and men to learn. Rough-and-tumble play helps develop the frontal lobe of the brain, which is used to regulate behavior. Sadly, many public schools are removing gym class and recess, further exacerbating problems among boys.

In the recent book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, authors John J. Ratey and Eric Hagerman share some amazing science and stories. For instance, despite many schools removing gym-class from their curriculum, others have put more focus on it and found staggering results. When kids exercise in the morning, they learn far better. In fact, they improve in all areas of their lives. Human beings are holistic. Your brain, your emotions, your relationships, are all tied together.

If you’re living a sedentary life as a man, you’re not getting the needed stimulation you need. Research has found that males thrive in kinesthetic learning environments — learning through moving.

Healthy testosterone levels

Intensive physical activity, like sprinting or heavy weight lifting (followed by extended rest periods) is a good outlet for men’s need of physical stimulation. Moreover, these intensive physical activities can activate healthy levels of testosterone which produce many positive effects — including:

  • Fat loss
  • Muscle gain
  • Healthier bone density
  • Normalized blood pressure
  • Lower likelihood of obesity and heart attacks
  • Increased energy
  • More enjoyment of career and family
  • Feeling younger, stronger, sexier, and healthier
  • Healthy sex drive

Studies have found that healthy testosterone levels affect men’s cognitive performance, and can improve focus, motivation, and memory.

The need for physical pain

Interestingly, boys and girls experience pain differently. For boys, physical pain can be a stimulant fueling mental clarity. On the other hand, physical pain for girls can be a narcotic, making them feel hazy and confused.

I’ve seen this in myself. Some of my greatest insights have come while pushing myself to the extreme while doing yard work or while exercising. This phenomenon is also seen in endurance athletes who push themselves through pain for many hours at a time.

5 | Take Responsibility For Your Life And Set Your Standards High

In his book, Boys Adrift, Dr. Leonard Sax explains that boys need — not want — to be responsible. If they are not needed, they don’t flourish.

Men step down if they’re not needed, and because of society’s message that men are no longer needed, many are staying in their parents’ basements.

Although most men will not go out of their way to take on challenges and responsibility, this is the very thing they should do if they want to thrive. Indeed, it is becoming common knowledge that perception is followed by physical experience in the form of self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe you will succeed, you often do.

If you set your sights high in life, you will achieve incredible things. In order to do this, you can no longer play the victim to circumstances – blaming the world, your parents, school, or the challenges you’ve faced in life is not going to solve your problems. It’s going to keep you stuck and bitter.

Instead, take the time to imagine and mentally create your ideal life. Mental creation always precedes physical creation.

You have the inner power to create whatever life you want to achieve. All you have to do is spend the time creating that world with intention. Write down exactly what you want in life. Set your standards ridiculously high. Don’t hold anything back.

Read, rewrite, and reread your ambitions often. These will soon consume your subconscious mind creating new patterns in your brain. Eventually, you’ll manifest the world you’ve been creating in your head.

6 | Prayer, Meditation, And Journal Writing

Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and every other religious and spiritual tradition strongly stress the significance of regular prayer. Although the form of practice may be different, the purpose is the same

  • Gratitude
  • Inspiration
  • Self-realization
  • Deepened connection to God/existence
  • The improvement of humanity as a whole

Prayer (and modifications such as meditation and gratitude journals) are regularly found to increase physical and mental well-being.

For me, I often combine prayer with journal writing as a form of meditation. I seek inspiration, direction, heightened perspective, and gratitude.

Scientifically supported benefits of prayer include:

  • Improves self-control
  • Makes you nicer
  • Makes you more forgiving
  • Increases your trust
  • Offsets negative health effects of stress

People are often turned off by prayer, believing it is a strictly “religious” practice. Even if organized religion is not your thing, you can still have a positive and healthy relationship with prayer.

7 | Earn Good Friends

You are who you surround yourself with. There’s no way around it. If you want to evolve past your current state, you need to remove yourself from the negative forces in your life. This will not be easy. Misery loves company.

However, when you decide to remove yourself from negative people – and instead surround yourself with people who uplift and inspire you – your life will dramatically improve.

Take the leap. Invite your friends to come along with you. If they don’t understand your needed evolution, kindly bid them a loving farewell.

8 | Commit Fully To Someone

“We’re supposed to believe that relationships tie people down, that they are the death knell for creativity and ambition. Nonsense.” — Ryan Holiday

With all the productivity and success advice going on in the world today, very little is written about the benefits of finding a spouse who supports you and makes you better.

It is quite rare for people to stay committed to anything or anyone these days. There are countless fatherless children. Many seek easy sexual prey followed by the internal pit of emptiness — too afraid to reveal and confront their true identity.

Research has found that committed relationships can reduce the chance of illness and increase the length of life. Other benefits of long-term commitment in relationships include:

  • Greater sense of life satisfaction
  • Increased happiness
  • A host of practical benefits, such as shared assets and children
  • Less likely to engage substance-abuse
  • Decreased likelihood of depression and neglect of one’s health

“Choose your love, love your choice.” — Thomas Monson

I got married at age 24. I’ve never felt restrained by that decision, only liberated. Now 29, we have three foster children, what most would consider a huge blow to our freedom.

This could not be further from the truth in my experience. Instead, I’m challenged to become a better person every day. I’m challenged to think beyond my own needs and to learn patience, humility, and love.

I would never make such monumental decisions without prayer, fasting, meditation, and journaling. However, when you’re in a state of clarity, you can follow your intuition and consistently make good decisions. As Malcolm Gladwell expounds in “Blink,” snap decisions are often more accurate than well-thought-out ones.

Of course, marriage isn’t easy. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But why choose the easy path? As a man, challenge and responsibility are precisely what is needed to thrive.

9 | Fall In Love With Learning

Ordinary people seek entertainment. Extraordinary people seek education and learning. We now live in a world where you no longer need to go to college (or high school) to become educated. At your fingertips is an unlimited and ever-increasing well of information. You can become an expert at anything.

Many of the world’s most successful people attribute their success to a love of learning. They often read one or more books per week. With a few books, you can learn how to build wealth, healthy relationships, and the life of your dreams.

With more information and education, you will make better lifestyle choices. You’ll be less likely to have destructive addictions and make ignorant decisions.

You’ll be more likely to surround yourself with brilliant people, learn new languages and explore the world, come up with solutions to the world’s problems, and have passion and zest for life.

Stop gaming and start reading. The real world awaits. And it’s amazing.

10 | Take Bigger Risks

“Don’t fail by default.” — Richard Paul Evans

Richard Paul Evans, the famous writer, often tells a story of being a shy high school kid. In one of his classes, he sat next to the girl of his dreams. He spent an entire year wishing he could work up the courage to ask her out. But he never ended up talking to her.

“Why would she be interested in a loser like me?” he would say to himself.

A few years later, at a high school reunion, they met and talked.

“I just have to ask: Why didn’t you ever ask me out?” she asked. “I always liked you and hoped you would talk to me.”

Evans was shocked.

He had been wrong that entire time and missed the opportunity he spent over a year dreaming about. In that moment, he determined to never fail by default again.

“If I’m going to fail, I’m going to fail big,” he has said. “If I fail, I’m going to fail after giving it everything I’ve got.”

Stop playing life small. Date people that seem absurdly out of your league. They’re not — only in your head.

Don’t be conservative in your career until you’re in your 40’s. There is little risk while you’re young, energetic, and motivated. Now is the time to take huge risks. Embrace rejection and failure. In turn, embrace enormous and unimaginable success.

Conclusion

You can have whatever life you choose.

Don’t be afraid to dream big for yourself.

Have the courage to seize that life and truly live, rather than only imagining living.

The world needs you.

Call To Action

Are you proactive? If so, check out my 7-page checklist of the most effective morning activities.

Click here to get the checklist right now. (p.s. – good luck with the cold showers!)

This piece was originally published by the author on Medium

Six Reasons You Should Consider A Doula

Doulas are non-medical birth coaches or guides that help women and their partners achieve the kinds of births and first weeks they desire.

Doulas are non-medical birth coaches or guides that help women and their partners achieve the kinds of births they desire, and follow up during the postpartum period. A 2016 study in the journal Birth found that having a doula can reduce your chances of preterm birth and caesarean section
I absolutely credit my birth doulas with helping me achieve two natural, unmedicated births. But whether you want a natural birth, or you want the epidural started at the first hint of contractions, doulas are necessary because of the unexpected things that happen before, during and immediately after birth. Here’s a list of the real reasons you need a doula.

Medical issues during pregnancy

Pregnancy is difficult enough if everything goes according to plan, add in health complications and it can be even more challenging. Whether you struggle with debilitating morning sickness, hernias or preterm labor, doulas are a good source of information for coping with these challenges and creating a plan to help get you to term.  
Not only do they have practical experience with these pregnancy complications, but they are in touch with multiple providers in your community who can help alleviate symptoms. Midwives, chiropractors, acupuncturists, OB-GYNs and other specialists can all help you cope with pregnancy complications. Having an experienced guide can also help you make difficult decisions when you aren’t at your best.

Overdue pregnancy

My first son arrived two days after my due date, thus providing a timely ending to a relatively uncomplicated pregnancy. My daughter, however, was a different story. At 36 weeks I was one centimeter dilated and began having consistently spaced, intense contractions every day. This went on, and on, and on some more.  
At 41 weeks I was emotionally and physically exhausted and ready to throw in the towel. I had tried every conceivable trick to induce labor: pineapple, spicy food, evening primrose oil, yoga and all to no avail. The only thing more scary to me than a medical induction was continuing to labor for a good part of every day with no baby to show for it. My doula suggested I see a chiropractor she’d worked with for years just in case my daughter was in an awkward position that was preventing birth.  
Intensely skeptical, I booked an appointment for 10:00 a.m. the following day. The session lasted about thirty minutes and my daughter was born five hours later. Without my doula’s suggestion, I feel confident I would have ended up having a medically induced birth and very likely a C-section, both things I fought hard to avoid.

Your birth plan doesn’t work out

As scary as having the birth you planned can be, having the birth you didn’t plan is even more frightening. Women who hoped for C-sections but end up with unmedicated births because of a determined baby or delayed surgeon can be left feeling overwhelmed by the sensations of a birth they had not anticipated.  
Similarly, women desiring natural births who end up having emergency C-sections can feel totally terrified as they undergo a major surgical procedure with very little preparation. This is when a doula steps in to offer her expertise with managing fear, pain, disappointment and unrealized expectations. Having a guide to explain the process in real time can give you the information and emotional support you need to quickly adjust to changes in your birth plan.

Birth injuries

Whether you experience a severe tear during vaginal birth, have an episiotomy, or undergo a C-section, the recovery process can be painful and confusing after a birth injury or surgical procedure. Your doula can offer you information about healing and managing pain.  
The herbal sitz baths my doula recommended were crucial when I experienced a third-degree tear during my first birth. Doulas are also masters of various breastfeeding positions that can take the pressure off a C-section incision. If you find yourself really struggling, a postpartum doula can help with daily household chores and caring for your baby.

Postpartum depression

Whether your birth went according to plan or not, whether you’re a first-time mom or experienced mama, an estimated 11 to 20% of women who give birth will experience postpartum depression according to the Centers for Disease Control. Pediatricians sometimes include a screening during your baby’s well-child visits, but most women are discharged from the hospital with no follow-up until their six-week post birth check at the OB-GYN.  
If you feel yourself struggling once the week or so of baby blues has passed, your doula is an excellent resource. Once you’ve found a mental health professional to address the postpartum depression, a doula can help get you back on track. Sleep and self-care are major factors in postpartum depression, and both are in short supply after giving birth. Having someone to take the night-shift so you can get solid, uninterrupted sleep or to make a healthy dinner while you get a shower can be huge factors in relieving your depression.  

Breastfeeding support

I have yet to encounter a woman who felt breastfeeding was simple or intuitive. That’s where a doula comes in. If you’re able to successfully breastfeed there will be endless questions about milk supply, nipple pain, breast infections and healthy weight gain. Doulas can help with all these issues, and if the problem requires more expertise, they often have close working relationships with lactation consultants who can help.  
When you are unable to breastfeed, doulas can be just as important.  After giving birth to my son I struggled to breastfeed for weeks. I tried every position possible, used nipple shields, pumped before feedings, did skin-to-skin, all without success. As days turned to weeks without any improvement, my mood started to seriously deteriorate.
Operating on very little sleep and surging with hormones, all I wanted was to feed my baby. It took a long, tearful conversation with my doula to acknowledge that breastfeeding wasn’t going to work out before I could give myself permission to stop trying. She went on to help me work out a pumping schedule that allowed me to give my son breastmilk while saving my sanity and ending a frustrating cycle.
More information on finding a birth or postpartum doula 
More about postpartum depression and treatment 

According to Science, You Really Should Push Those Piano Lessons

There are evidence-based benefits of learning an instrument (and learning it early.)

My four-year-old son was James the train for Halloween.
Don’t know who James the train is? Well, neither did literally any other person that we met on Halloween. Let me clue you in. James is a friend of Thomas the Tank Engine – a popular character on a children’s program. In fact, my son loves Thomas so much that I recently used it to con him into learning part of the theme song on the piano.
That’s right. He has the first 10 notes of the theme song down and, already, my wife and I are planning our early retirement. We are pretty sure this was the sign we were waiting for that he is destined to be a prodigy/genius. Who cares if he’s still running into walls; he’s a genius I tell you. GENIUS!
In all seriousness, my bait-and-switch method of getting him to play the piano was very intentional. I am well aware of the cognitive benefits that learning an instrument can provide for my children. I’m also a firm believer, based on my own experience, that having a healthy passion, like a musical instrument, can help keep kids on the straight and narrow.

The Evidence-Based Benefits of Learning an Instrument (And Learning It Early)

It increases brain matter

 In a 2003 study by a Harvard neurologist, adult professional musicians were shown to have a higher level of gray matter volume in the motor, auditory, and visual-spatial regions of their brain than non-musicians. In a later study, the same neurologist demonstrated that positive structural brain changes take place in young children – average age of 6.3 years – after only 15 months of musical training.

It helps stave off the effect of aging on the brain

A 2011 study showed that having learned an instrument can slow the aging process on your brain. In the study, researchers divided 70 older adults – ages 60 to 83 – into three groups: those who had studied an instrument for more than ten years, those who had played for one to nine years, and those who had never learned an instrument.
Each group was then given a battery of neuropsychological tests. The group that had played an instrument for the longest scored the highest in testing on nonverbal memory recall, visuomotor speed and sequencing, and cognitive flexibility.
A 2012 study by the same researcher confirmed the findings of the 2011 study and also suggested that learning an instrument before the age of nine and studying that instrument for at least ten years results in the greatest benefits. Those who met these criteria in the study outperformed non-musicians in verbal working memory, verbal memory, verbal fluency, visuospatial, and planning functions.
Learning an instrument, especially early in life, and sticking with it has positive, long-lasting effects on your brain.

It helps keep kids on the straight and narrow

Another reason to learn an instrument is that you don’t end up in a van down by the river. Seriously, though, when I was in high-school, I was in marching band. Now, before you start making fun of me for being a nerd, I was on the drumline and I’m pretty sure that made me pretty cool. Like, way cool.
When I was in drumline, we spent hours a day together, practicing, goofing around, and eating. All those hours working and having fun together meant forging some pretty tight bonds. I didn’t want the validation or acceptance of the drinking or drug-using crowd. I had my gang and I loved it.
My life outside of school and drumline consisted of playing guitar in our church’s youth group. Yet again, music introduced me to some of my closest friends. I traveled to Africa, Hungary, and even to different churches in the states playing music with these dear friends.
Learning a musical instrument connected me to other musicians and kept me out of the wrong crowds.

To force or not to force?

You know what I’ve never heard an adult say? “I’m so glad my parents let me quit piano lessons.” Do you know what I’ve heard nearly every adult that was once taking piano lessons say? “I wish my parents would have made me stay with piano lessons.”
My son is only four. I don’t have any personal experience with the “joys” of forcing him to take musical instrument lessons. However, based on the evidence, I can’t help but think I’m going to want to essentially mandate that he take lessons of some instrument. It can even be one of his choosing.
And so, Parent.co readers, I turn to you. What has your experience been? Can we tell our kids – much like we do with chores – that they must practice an instrument without being resent-worthy Tiger parents?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.

16 Acts of Self-Care That Can Help Change the World

If you feel overwhelmed by the news, but also want to make a difference in your community, here are 16 ways to care for yourself while still making a difference.

Whether you were encouraged or dismayed by the results of the 2016 election, it is undeniable that our country has been in turmoil ever since.
With headline after headline declaring unprecedented and shocking news, I find myself vacillating between wanting to grab the nearest pitchfork and start marching, and wanting to bury my head in the sand until everything calms down.
Finding a balance between self-care and activism can be challenging. If you feel overwhelmed by the news, but also want to make a difference in your community, here are 16 ways to care for yourself while still making a difference:

1 | Call someone lonely

There are many people whose troubles will never make the front page, but who deserve our care as well. Reach out to someone you think might be in need of a call – a faraway friend who posts about her colicky baby on Facebook, or your college roommate whom you haven’t spoken to in years. Connecting will do your heart good, too.

2 | Bake a loaf of bread

Baking offers a sense of accomplishment, especially when you wonder if you can ever make a difference. Drop off some muffins, cookies, or an extra loaf of banana bread at a neighbor’s house. Enjoy the leftovers with a hot cup of tea.

3 | Call your members of Congress

This might not really qualify as self-care, but it’s certainly better than ranting on Facebook. You will feel better knowing that your opinions have been heard, and that your voice matters. The Capitol Hill switchboard phone number is (202) 224-3121.

4 | Hang a bird feeder outside your window

The birds will appreciate it, and you will have something to stare at other than your phone.

5 | Go to church, mosque, temple, or yoga

Church is where I first learned about issues like poverty and other social injustices. Finding places of worship or ritual not only feeds my soul, but reminds me of why I work for things I care about.
If you aren’t the church-going type, think about going anyway, or find another place of worship. Meeting someone who thinks differently than you could help build much needed bridges in our local communities and nationwide.

6 | Take a hike

Of course, a house of worship is not the only place to replenish your soul. When you take a walk outside, you’re less likely to ruminate on the negative. Plus, the more time you spend in nature, the more likely you are to value natural places and thus participate in conservation activities.  

7 | Attend a rally

If you are passionate about something, you can probably find a march or rally out there to support and galvanize your passion. Being part of a community with people who are willing to work for a cause can be energizing and affirming.

8 | Step away from the news

You don’t need to follow every detail of every story to be informed. When you realize that you aren’t learning anything new and are just fretting over headlines, it’s time to step away. Becoming overwhelmed and discouraged won’t help anyone.

9 | Don’t argue on social media

When was the last time you changed your mind about a topic because of what your cousin’s co-worker said to you in a Facebook thread? Probably never. And you won’t convince anyone either. Give yourself permission to skip the social media debates, even when you feel certain that you’re right.

10 | Order take out

If you feel particularly discouraged, take a night (or several) off from cooking. Skip the usual comfort foods, and try a new cuisine from a country you don’t know much about. Use it as an opportunity to expand your family’s palate and learn about a new part of the world with your kids.

11 | Watch a movie

If you need a pick-me-up, veg out in cartoon land with the family for a few hours. Picks like “WALL-E”, “Fern Gully”, “An American Tail”, and “Zootopia” are fun to watch and can help launch conversations with kids about immigration, caring for the earth, and diversity. Bonus: they all have happy endings.

12 | Plant a garden

When the ground thaws, think about planting your own version of a victory garden in your back yard. Not only will your hyper-local plot have a lower environmental impact than a trip to the grocery store, but you will get out in the sunshine and have the chance to work with your hands – two easy ways to boost your mood. If you end up with a bumper crop, donate it to your local food bank.

13 | Read a book

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of escapism, especially if it helps give you a new perspective on the world. For me, reading books on World War II has not only helped distract me from the 24/7 news cycle, but also inspired me to fight for what I believe in. Yes, “Harry Potter” works for this as well.

14 | Go shopping

Can a bit of retail therapy improve the world? It can if you shop at the right places. Buy a print from that local artist you like or snag on a new pair of earrings from a friend’s Etsy store. When the world is in turmoil, we need to support artists who help keep it beautiful.

15 | Eat chocolate

When all else fails, eat chocolate. And if you splurge a little extra on a fair trade bar, you can enjoy the melty goodness plus the fact you helped someone live a better life.

16 | Write it down

If you find that you can’t stop thinking about a pressing issue, put your feelings down on paper. It will help get things off your chest and out of your mind. If you’re brave and want to share your perspective, send those feelings to your local paper as a Letter to the Editor. Other people might appreciate reading your point of view.
If you find yourself jumping back and forth between wanting to fight as hard as you can to make the world a better place and wanting to take a long vacation on a planet that does not have cable news, try to find a middle ground. A little bit of self-care might go farther than you think.

Five Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Weaning

Weaning isn’t merely the cessation of breastfeeding, it’s a major shift in a complicated parent-child relationship.

Ah, the magic of breastfeeding. If you’re a nursing mother, and you’re anything like me, you probably read a whole bunch about breastfeeding before your first kiddo was born. I knew I wanted to breastfeed, and I knew I needed information, support, and encouragement.
I read, I talked with friends, I even grilled my own mother about her breastfeeding experience. All of that, especially talking to fellow breastfeeders, was incredibly helpful. From early issues of difficult latches to oversupply to teething and biting and eventually, the hilarious reality of nursing a giant toddler.
I always felt like I had the info that I needed. But there was one area that my breastfeeding education was sorely lacking: weaning. I mean, I knew that all children do, in fact, stop breastfeeding eventually. But I was incredibly hazy on the details, and I was woefully ill-prepared.
When my son surprised me and weaned himself, at about a year-and-a-half, I suddenly realized that there was this massive gap in my knowledge. I had decided, when he was a little under a year old, that I wasn’t in any rush to be done breastfeeding. I sort of vaguely intended to let him wean whenever he was ready, but I imagined that left to his own devices, that wouldn’t be for ages.
When my toddler quit the boob, I was left remembering the wistful look I had seen in other mothers’ eyes when they said, “oh yeah, my oldest stopped nursing before I was ready.” I naively imagined that they were describing some kind of vague regret, but plunged into the world of weaning, I found it was much much bigger than that. Weaning isn’t merely the cessation of breastfeeding, it’s a major shift in a complicated parent-child relationship. For me, it literally changed everything.
With all of the information out there, discussion of weaning is still surprisingly sparse. Maybe some parents want to keep their experiences private, (fair!). Maybe the folks who think weaning should happen by a certain age, and the folks who think weaning should be up to the child, are too busy promoting their own ideologies to talk about what weaning actually is. Whatever the reason, I think mothers who choose to breastfeed could probably use more information about weaning. I sure would have benefited from it.
Here are five things I wish I had known about weaning:

Weaning can happen really suddenly, even though that isn’t the norm

When my son stopped nursing, I did what any reasonable millennial mother would do, I googled it. Based on the circumstances, it was clear to me that my baby was on what is called a nursing strike. He was sick, and he was temporarily refusing to nurse, but I had every reason to believe he would return to his usual nursing routine very soon. Everything that I read was clear on the subject: weaning almost always happens very gradually, and therefore any time a kid suddenly stops nursing, it’s a strike.

Almost always means something different than always

Not wanting to wean my child before he was ready, I did everything in my power to end the strike, but the longer he went without nursing, the more okay he seemed. Eventually, I realized, if the strike went on forever, it wasn’t exactly a strike anymore, was it?
When he hadn’t nursed in about a week, I noticed that he no longer even seemed sad about it, he just wanted to play with his toy trucks and he didn’t want me and my boobs in his way.
I had imagined that either I would decide to wean him or I would have plenty of warning before he weaned himself. Sudden self-weaning might not be the norm, but just because something isn’t the norm is no guarantee that it won’t happen.

It can be both emotionally and physically hard on the mother

Fortunately, a friend tipped me off that post-weaning depression is a thing that can happen. I knew that I might get seriously down. I also knew that, as a mom who had suffered from postpartum depression, my odds of getting post-weaning depression were higher.
What I didn’t know, however, were the potential physical aspects of weaning. I had imagined that I would likely enter some kind of depressive period around weaning, but I thought it would all take place in my brain.
The cessation of breastfeeding was, for me, a whole-body experience. The hormonal change not only gave me a serious case of the blues, it also caused severe exhaustion, nausea, and even dizziness. Oh, and my boobs tingled and felt like pins and needles.
I felt gross all over. I found myself saying “I just have to lay down for a few minutes” several times a day. When I finally talked to other parents who were weaning, I confirmed that I wasn’t alone. Other people also felt so bad that they wondered if they were getting sick.

Sometimes you might feel rejected, and no amount of logic can help

Idealistically, I believe that the point of parenting is raising children to become happy, healthy, confident adults, and therefore I am thrilled to witness my child become more independent and self-sufficient. That’s what my brain thinks about parenting. What the brain thinks and what the heart thinks are often very different things.
When my son no longer wanted to nurse I felt heartbroken. I felt useless and completely rejected. I worried that my place in my family was suddenly gone. If I wasn’t the nursing mama, who was I?
Logically, I knew that I was still his mom and that we still had a special bond. Just because he was done with this one particular activity didn’t mean he was done with me. Logic couldn’t reach me when he was refusing to hug me.
Logic didn’t help when he pushed me away, shouting, “no no no no!” Logic wasn’t comforting when he only wanted to see his other parent at night and completely freaked out if I so much as walked into his room. Logic was useless to me.
The one thing that did help, though, was a friend who, while I was still clinging to hope that he might nurse again, offered me these somewhat pessimistic words of wisdom: “If it is the end, just think of it as the first time of many that he’ll break your heart.”
That’s the thing. Kids grow up. They stop needing us as much as they did before. It feels like rejection, and it sucks. Sometimes you can’t reason your way out of those feelings, you just have to accept that those feelings are part of the package you signed up for when you took on parenting.

It can be hard to find the support you need, but it’s not impossible

For whatever reason, people just seem to talk about weaning less than they do other aspects of breastfeeding. It was easy to find support as a nursing parent. If I wanted to talk about milk supply, or night feedings, or nursing in public, or pumping, it seemed like there was always a community of like-minded parents ready to share with me.
It was wonderful. The social spaces in which I accessed breastfeeding support were, by definition, pro-breastfeeding. Once I was no longer breastfeeding, I wasn’t sure where to turn. For the first time, I found myself feeling totally and completely alone. I was overwhelmed by the physical and emotional changes taking place, and I thought I had no one to talk to.
I did eventually find support. It just required me being willing to initiate those conversations. People didn’t freely offer up information and stories about weaning the same way they had with their breastfeeding. Once I made a point to put myself out there, however, it got easier.

In some ways,  weaning can feel like getting back to normal

The end of breastfeeding was extremely difficult for me, but there was an unexpected silver lining. After a couple of weeks, I realized I had started to feel… different. The feeling was oddly familiar, and then it hit me, I was starting to feel more like I did before I was pregnant.
I don’t feel exactly like I did pre-pregnancy and baby, becoming a mom has changed me in many ways. The realities of breastfeeding changed my life more than I realized. With its absence, I found myself slipping into older patterns.
In a way, it feels like waking up from a long trance. There’s no denying that the hormonal balance in my body and brain is different now. My days are no longer segmented into breastfeeding sessions. I have more time.
When I was nursing, there was constant physical touch. As an introvert, that was a lot to handle, even though it was also very snuggly and nice. Now that I’m the parent of an independent toddler, I no longer feel constantly “touched-out.” I can enjoy things like holding hands and cuddling again.
The end of the breastfeeding relationship can be bittersweet for many. It certainly was for me. In the end, I wish that I had talked about it more, and more frankly. I’m grateful for the people who were open with me about their own weaning experiences. I hope I can pay a little of that forward, and make it a little easier for someone else.

Unleash the Hidden Power of Laughing With Your Kids

Whether we are feeling anxious about current affairs or dealing with a health issue, laughter, believe it or not, can help us persevere.

Sometimes life can be tough. Whether we are feeling anxious about current affairs or dealing with a health issue, something as simple as laughter, believe it or not, can help us persevere.
As adults, we can get bogged down with our to-do lists and stresses of daily life, and forget how beautiful it is to let loose and have a good laugh. Unfortunately, most adults do not laugh enough. In fact, one study found that healthy children may laugh as much as 400 times per day, but adults only laugh 15 times per day.
We can learn so much from our children when it comes to being lighthearted. It is important to raise them in such a way that they will continue to experience fun and laughter throughout their lives. We can create a positive environment for them to grow up in by stopping once in a while to have a laughing fit together.
Laughter really is like medicine. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughing is one of the easiest ways for us to reduce stress and anxiety in our lives. Laughing transforms our body and mind in many amazing ways, boosting positive emotions.
When we laugh, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex of our brain is activated. This releases feel-good hormones called endorphins that allow us to experience pleasure and satisfaction. Laughing also reduced our stress response because the level of stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline), and dopamine are lowered.
We feel energized since we take in more oxygen-rich air when we laugh. Finally, laughing relaxes our muscles, which soothes tension from stress. In fact, a good laugh can leave your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes.
The muscles that help us smile also affect how we feel. When we use these muscles, we trigger a part of our brain that improves our mood. One particular research study involved having participants hold a pencil in one of three ways in order to get them to make certain facial expressions without telling them exactly what they were doing.
The first group held the pencil sideways in their mouths to force a smile. The second group stuck the pencil in lengthwise to force a frown. The last group, serving as the control group, held the pencil in their hands. Participants were then asked to watch cartoons and rate how funny there were to them.
The group with the sideways pencils (the “smiling” group) had higher funny ratings than the lengthwise group (the “frowning” group). The control group scored between the other two groups, demonstrating how smiling and laughing can really make a difference in how we perceive the world around us.
Researchers also found that facial expressions can reduce negative feelings like pain and sadness. In one study, researchers applied an uncomfortable heat to subjects’ arms and then instructed them to make either a relaxed face, an uncomfortable face, or a neutral face.
The results showed that the people who made a relaxed face experienced less pain than those who made an uncomfortable or neutral face. Smiling releases endorphins and serotonin, which are thought to reduce any pain we feel.   
Laughter can also change how we look at a situation. A silly moment can offer a healthy distraction from negative emotions like anger, guilt, and stress. It’s hard to feel bad when you’re cracking up! When faced with challenges, a lighthearted perspective helps us view such events as positive opportunities as opposed to threats.
Laughter builds resilience and the ability to adapt to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or stress. When children are resilient, they are braver, more curious, more adaptable, and more able to obtain happiness and success.
Resilience cushions us from mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. (Mayo Clinic 2015) Laughter plays a huge role in how we handle adversity by allowing us to escape from our problems for a little while. By teaching our kids to laugh even in times of pain, we are giving them a key tool that will help them be more resilient as they grow older.
Laughing with our kids is so special because it builds a bond with them. These joyous moments create a more uplifting environment at home. What’s really fun is that laughter tends to be contagious, so before you know it your whole house could be giggling up a storm.

So, how can we laugh more with our kids? Here are 10 ideas to get you rolling:

  • Start a laughing contest to see who can make the other person laugh first.
  • Play fun games like charades, Twister, Pictionary, and Headbanz.
  • Read joke books and websites, and then share your favorites with each other.
  • Create funny stories using Mad Libs or whisper down the lane.
  • Have a family talent show and see who comes up with the funniest routine.
  • Dress up in silly costumes.
  • Watch a comedy television show or movie together as a family.
  • Talk in a silly language like Pig Latin.
  • Keep a collection of funny quotes and pictures that you can bring out at any time to get everyone laughing.
  • Try laughter yoga with your kids. Created by Dr. Madan Katari in 1995 in Bombay, India, this yoga practice combines breathing exercises, yoga, stretching, and laughing. Look for resources like Laughter Friends and LiveStrong.com’s guide to teaching laughter yoga to children.

For more intriguing facts about laughter, check out this infographic by Happify.
 

A 5-Step Plan for Waiting to Catch Your Child's Stomach Bug

My son had bravely thrown up six times in five hours overnight. I knew from experience that I was next. I just didn’t know when.

I typed a cryptic message to my family on WhatsApp: “Writing in from the RED alert zone.” It started.
Then I detailed how my son had bravely thrown up six times in five hours overnight.
I knew from experience that I was next. I just didn’t know when. “It’s been two years since I last threw up,” I typed grimly. “Wish me luck.”
My aunts wisely canceled our family brunch scheduled for that weekend. I canceled a dinner with my friends and their kids, too, afraid to infect anyone else. My son complained about having to drink Pedialyte instead of milk and bounced right back to his chipper, active self.
Meanwhile, I kept our family in quarantine, and waited. I took a plaintive sip of Pedialyte, too, steeling myself for what was to come.
“No puke yet!” I wrote in my journal the first night. But I didn’t let hope creep in.
On the second day, I felt a little less sorry for myself and began to strategize.  

5-step plan for waiting out the inevitable

Step 1: Cleaning

Why not pre-clean the toilets? I wondered. If by some miracle, I was immune to this bug, I’d still have clean toilets. If I ended up hugging said toilets, at least they’d smell comfortingly sterile.
I got out the “heavy duty” cleaner – not the natural stuff – and went to work scrubbing and vacuuming around the bases. I will not pretend that this would have happened under friendlier circumstances.

Step 2: Nesting

I placed piles of folded towels down at the base of each now-pristine toilet, added a selection of favorite magazines, and even made the phone chargers handy for what promised to be my “home” of several hours in the near future. I knew my dog would be by my side when the time came, so I made sure to grab a towel for her to lay on, too.

Step 3: Carbo-loading

I tried starving myself the first day, not wanting to taint any food with the potential disgust that I would associate with it, after it came back up. By day two, this was no longer an option. Weak with hunger, I changed my approach to one of “least resistance.”
I would focus on eating only soft, starchy foods that would not be too hard on my system on the way out. Enter yummy warm rolls, oatmeal, soggy cereal, and lots of other things I normally balance with protein and vegetables.

Step 4: Entertainment planning

What, I asked myself, would I not mind watching between horrible, foreboding, episodes of retching? Between Netflix and YouTube, the options are endless, but it has to be something comforting that you don’t mind missing little bits of if you’re…busy. I decided on Season 2 of the Tom Hanks classic series, “Bosom Buddies”, and bookmarked the YouTube page on my phone.

Step 5: Researching vomit

I Googled “What is the most efficient position for vomiting” hoping to find some precise, yoga-like instructions on the quickest possible way to get it over with. Instead I found polite forums where people traded their best suggestions on vomiting techniques and wished each other the best.
I also found this great article from Wikihow: “How to Throw Up as Comfortably as Possible”. Just knowing that enough people are searching this to warrant a whole illustrated guide made me feel weirdly less isolated. Also, reading somewhat obvious tips like, “If you’re going to vomit, lean forward and take deep breaths. Try not to panic as you won’t be comfortable,” had the same soothing effect.
Finally, on the fourth night, it happened. I was relieved to watch six episodes of “Bosom Buddies”, huddled under a towel, next to my dog and my recently-cleaned toilet.
 

How to Help Your Kids Understand the Ugly Truth About Photoshop

We’re all bombarded with images of men and women – famous or not – who look perfect. It’s important to teach kids about the reality behind the images that surround them.

Walk past a supermarket checkout stand and you can’t help but see models and celebs in bikinis and slinky outfits plastered across magazine covers.
Tween favorites such as Taylor Swift and Beyoncé appear all over the internet in glamorous outfits with incredible hair and makeup. Ads on billboards, buses, and subways display long-legged models selling everything from liquor to lipstick.
We’re all bombarded with images of men and women – famous or not – who look perfect. Too perfect. And that’s thanks to photo editing, which, as many of us know, can eliminate a model’s pimples, make a celeb’s cellulite disappear, lengthen legs, slim waists, and erase wrinkles.

Pull back the curtain

But kids may not understand the powers of Photoshop. They see unrealistic bodies and faces and clothing, especially on folks they admire, and feel inadequate as a result. Several studies have shown that reading women’s fashion magazines or looking at images of models has a negative effect on women’s and girls’ self-esteem.
Even photos of friends on Instagram or Snapchat appear perfect, thanks to flattering filters and selfie-editing tools.
That’s why it’s important to teach kids about the reality behind the images that surround them. Empowering kids to see behind the photo spreads and advertisements can help combat the negative effects of these images.

Add your voice

The good news is, some kids – and even some celebrities – are talking back to the beauty and advertising industries and taking action to encourage more realistic images. Young people have asked magazines that cater to kids and teens, such as Seventeen, to do more photo spreads that don’t use Photoshop.
Glamour magazine opted out of Photoshop for its February 2017 issue. Some clothing companies, such as ModCloth, have agreed to not alter the images of models they use in their ads.
Celebrities (including Zendaya and Lena Dunham) have stepped up to show a more realistic image of themselves online and in photo shoots. In doing so, they help pull back the curtain on the amount of retouching that goes on in Hollywood and beyond.
Not sure how to approach this subject with your kid? Here are some ideas:

Do a reality check

Make sure kids know that almost every photo in magazines and advertisements has been altered. Show examples before and after photos of models and celebrities to underscore the stark difference between them. (My Pop Studio is a great site to help kids understand what goes on behind the scenes at magazines and other media outlets.)

Play “Spot the Photoshop”

See who can spot the retouching on any ads or photos you come across. Search online for “Photoshop fail” and you’ll come across some amazing examples of how poorly the tool can be used.

Talk about the disconnect

Plenty of celebrities have come out against being Photoshopped. Meghan Trainor explicitly calls it out in her song “All About That Bass” with the lyric “We know that s–t ain’t real.”
Ask your kids why they think the industry insists on putting out unrealistic images (it’s usually all about the money). What would they do as the photo editor of a magazine? Would they airbrush the models or let their so-called imperfections shine?

Connect the dots

Discuss the connection between fantasy images and the products being marketed. Talk about how photos are used to sell magazines, specific products, celebrities’ brands, and more.

Ask questions

Get kids to think about how images affect both male and female viewers, and how images can distort our ideas about what’s healthy or beautiful. What would your kids say to a friend who felt bad after looking at an unrealistic image? How might you encourage them to celebrate their inner qualities? What kinds of things can you do to make yourself feel good?

Look for backup

Help kids locate resources to take action. Find out how to sign or start petitions. Encourage kids to speak up about these images in their classrooms, through their social networks, and among friends. (Check out Common Sense Media’s list of sites that encourage social action.)

 This post was originally written by Sierra Filucci for Common Sense Media.

Navigating the Landmines of Emerging Sexuality

Consider these three ways to tweak your influence on kids’ developing sense of embodiment.

Part of health is sexual health. While there’s no one right way to express sexuality, it’s the seat of each person’s creative power, and creativity is what allows our species to problem-solve and thrive in a world of shifting circumstance.

It’s amazing so many parents fail to grasp this deep, obvious truth: our kids cannot grow to be their best selves (and certainly cannot have their best relationships) as long as we enable their sexual dysfunction.

What the hell am I talking about? In this case, by “sexual dysfunction” I’m not referring to the Viagra-type issue of certain organs failing to cooperate. I’m talking about when sexual drives translate into hurtful, manipulative, or predatory attitudes and actions, collectively perpetuating what’s called rape culture.

Rape culture commonly describes societies like ours where rape is prevalent, but it can also mean anywhere sexuality is weaponized as part of a quest for power. Rape is the obvious symptom, but not the only problem. People of any sex, gender or orientation perpetuate rape culture when they use sexuality to shame, control, or exploit others.

There is an organized effort to combat rape culture among students, but very little seems to change. Why do campus workshops on consent fail to solve the problem? Well, by the time kids raised in rape cultures reach college age, the violence has already been done. It may be subtle, accidental – but the damage is real: injury has been inflicted upon the young adult’s sense of value as an embodied being.

How does this happen? Well, modern American schools are phasing out recess, administering more tests, assigning more homework. The desire to move, play, and touch are treated as “inappropriate” signs of “restlessness.” Set schedules make it impossible for kids to honor (or even notice) their own bodily rhythms.

The constant message? Bodies are irrelevant. Ignore your body. Overpower your body. Shut down your senses and move inside your head.

You can imagine the damage of enforcing this message as a person’s body is changing, yet this is our cultural norm. Well-meaning parents, teachers, and coaches attempt to help kids growing into healthy, functional adults while also forcing them to halt or ignore involuntary physical developments and normal markers of maturation, like social and sexual curiosity. This generates shame, inner conflict, and teen angst.

When young sexual energy is stigmatized and repressed it can’t fully bloom – it comes out warped, politicized, embarrassed. Likewise, when intellectual reasoning is coerced prematurely, it’s not balanced with empathy and experience-based common sense. This combination turns adolescence into a landmine of mixed signals about how – and even whether – to grow up.

It’s no wonder that, upon graduating from an artificially dictated puberty, we get adults that aren’t very, well, mature.

Being out of sync with their own bodies interferes with their emotional intelligence. They become confused by their own urges and are compelled to rationalize them. Meanwhile, their empathy for other bodies and the emotions those bodies generate also becomes dulled. The concept of “other” remains an intellectual abstraction, something subject to mind games and rationalizations – the forerunners of physical violence.

These pseudo adults linger in a self-centered identity, never initiated into a collective one. Lacking the security to communicate honestly, they depend on alcohol and other gimmicks to navigate social risk.

This is a terrible backdrop for sexual awakening.

So how can we support kids in developing full health, including sexual and psycho-emotional health? Consider these three ways to tweak your influence on kids’ developing sense of embodiment:

Don’t shame discovery

It’s hard for adults to let kids take the lead on anything, but when it comes to their own bodies, we need to back off. You can still wipe boogers and tell them to take their hands out of their pants, but without humiliation or disgust. Teach them hygiene and manners without making them feel bad about asking questions or comparing parts.

Have “the talk” a lot

Don’t wait until your kid’s hormonal to have one big, awkward conversation. Take opportunities as they grow to explain consent, respect, privacy, and personal taste – topics that come up naturally through play and daily life. It’s important to present the concept of boundaries well before sexual development begins.

Don’t cut the cord

Mother Earth is our greater body, tying all bodies together. Don’t sever kids from nature. This goes for young adults, too. Let them get dirty, explore, and feel at home in their habitat, which will help them feel at home in their bodies. When physically grounded, they’re less likely to act out.

None of this will work without addressing your own hang-ups. Ask yourself how you belittle embodiment. By eating things that make you unwell? Bad-talking your figure? Hiding from cameras? Critiquing others for their weight, dating habits, or cosmetic choices?

Children notice these things, and consciously or not, they learn that physical selfhood is secondary at best, problematic at worst.

But it’s never too late to resolve to raise the whole child.