The Case for Boredom to Ignite Our Minds

We may assume that curing boredom is a good thing for all of us. But researchers fear that not being bored is the problem.

The demands of careers and parenting mean we’ve lost time to let our minds wander. There are always tasks that need to be handled.
Then there’s the other obvious way we cure boredom should it have a chance to strike: technology. Smartphones give us the opportunity to constantly engage with social media, games, news, or countless text threads. All of these serve as distractions that keep our minds from dealing with boredom for even a minute.
We may assume that curing boredom is a good thing for all of us. We’re not bored, the kids aren’t bored, we don’t have to listen to the kids complain about being bored, and everyone can grab their smartphones or tablets should boredom arise.
But researchers fear that not being bored is the problem.

Why we need boredom

Research shows that people will go to extremes to avoid sitting alone with their thoughts. Studies found that boredom can cause excessive drinking, gambling, and eating when we’re not hungry.
Fortunately, most of us don’t have to engage in these harmful activities to stave off boredom. Unfortunately, we turn to smartphones as a safe option when they are not.
According to studies used in author Manoush Zomorodi’s TED Talk, we now shift our attention every 45 seconds while working because technology makes it easy to do so. We also spend time checking our phones when we don’t even know what we’re looking for. Notifications constantly pop up, and we become Pavlovian in our responses to them, searching for them when they’re not even there just because we can see the phone.
A recent study showed that even having our smartphones in the room with us lowers our cognitive function.
Smartphones and the way we use them keep us from allowing ourselves to get bored, and that means we’re missing out. When bored, the brain goes into default mode. It’s in this mindset that we can reflect on our past and problem solve for our future.
When bored, we daydream, we create ideas, and we stick with a train of thought that can lead us to create. A study even found that participants asked to perform a boring task before solving a problem using creativity did a better job than those whose brains weren’t first prepared by boredom.

How to be bored in the technology age

Journalist Manoush Zomorodi launched a podcast in 2015 that challenged listeners to engage with technology responsibly and put some boredom back in their lives. It wasn’t a cold-turkey technology detox. Most of us have to use some form of technology for jobs or communication with others. Zomorodi launched her challenge to help people learn to do it responsibly.  She wanted participants to give themselves time during the day to free their minds from simply staring at a screen for no reason.
Her challenge led to a book that came out this year titled “Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self”.  It details how to engage responsibly with our phones while giving our brains the sacred time they need to be utterly bored.
Challenges include deleting our favorite apps from our phones or walking without a phone in our hands for an entire day. None of these challenges seem that hard until participants are forced to perform them.
That’s when many who signed up for the challenge on Manoush’s podcast realized they were addicted, though some had inklings of that before. It’s why they signed up in the first place. Most of us know we are missing time we used to have, time where our minds roamed and we used wonder and curiosity to cure our boredom. Our brains had room and time to develop ideas.
Children born into the smartphone age need to be trained to use technology responsibly because they will not remember having all that tech-free time. That longing we have to unplug will be foreign to kids who live electronically plugged in at all times.
Parents can set the example by using self-control and making technology work for their lives, but not take them over. In the process, they teach their kids the sacred practice of boredom.
These simple guidelines are a good start:

Keep the phone out of the bedroom

Let those boring moments before sleep get the creative juices flowing and preserve rest. Phones in the bedroom can cause sleep problems.

Go hands-free

When walking or driving, don’t hold a phone like it’s an extension of the body. Instead of focusing brain power on looking at the phone or wondering when it’s going to offer a notification, go hands-free and let the brain go into default mode.

Set times for engagement

Those in the technology development industry have no problem admitting they are creating a product, and they want it to be as addictive as possible. Manoush believes that it’s so hard to be bored because our technology is designed to draw us in.
To combat this, set up rules and times for engagement. Don’t let tech designers decide how and when you use technology.

The long-term payoff

Creativity was identified as a leadership competency that CEOs look for in employees. Creative people may be hard to find if we now live in a society that doesn’t value boredom. We are also living in a society full of people who feel guilty about the unhealthy relationships they have with their phones.
We can change the course, though, and raise a generation that benefits from technology while still using their minds to create and problem solve without distractions. We can have the conveniences that smartphones offer without the addiction or the brain drain they cause.
It’s as simple, and as difficult, as embracing boredom.

Car Seat Safety: We’re All Doing It Wrong

A car seat study has been making the rounds, giving new parents one more thing to panic about. But it’s possible the panic is misdirected.

You’ll probably never in your life drive as carefully as you do when taking an infant home from the hospital. Suddenly, the car seat you meticulously researched and spent an hour installing seems less safe than it did before.
In this case, you’re probably right, because according to an observational study published in the Journal of Pediatrics in 2016, 95 percent of infants taken home in car seats are “Unsafe from the Start.”
Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University investigated 291 mother-infant pairs as they were nearing discharge from newborn units. Child Passenger Safety technicians observed the caregivers as they installed the car seats and placed their newborns into them.
The technicians identified errors in almost 95 percent of the study population: 77 percent of caregivers made at least one installation error, such as improperly securing the car seat within the vehicle; 86 percent had at least one positioning error, such as not tightening the harness; 89 percent of the caregivers made at least one “critical error.”
This category of error, which the researchers based off the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration definitions, included positioning issues, like leaving the harness too loose (69 percent), using an incorrect harness slot (31 percent), or using a non-regulated product, like extra cushioning (21 percent). Critical misuses related to installation included car seats that could be moved more than one inch after installation (44 percent) or had an incorrect recline angle (41 percent).
The factor most associated with correct car seat use was working with a Child Passenger Safety technician before delivery. But even those caregivers had a serious error rate of 77 percent.
This study has been making the rounds on parenting websites, giving new parents one more thing to panic about. Although the results of the study suggest that better parent education is needed, here are three important questions to ask about car seat safety:

1 | If 95 percent of parents make car seat errors, are all our children unsafe?

The itemized list of issues caregivers commonly got wrong should alleviate some concern. For example, two of the errors – twisted harness belts and improperly positioned carseat carrier handles – are not likely to result in crash-related injury.
Even some of the misuses categorized as “serious” are not necessarily dangerous. For example, 35 percent of the participants left the harness retainer clip “too low.” Those harness clips, while frequently a source of social media shaming, are not meant to hold children. The clips are pre-crash positioning devices, designed to keep children’s shoulders in the right position before an accident occurs. It’s the harness buckles that keep kids in their seats.

2 | Given that these families were using car seats to take home their newborns, is it reasonable to assume that parents using car seats for the first time are more likely to make errors? Are experienced parents more likely to get it right?

According to this study, no. The researchers controlled for “parity” – that is, the number of pregnancies carried to term – and found that first-timers were slightly more likely to get it right than their more experienced counterparts. Women who had no previous births had a serious error rate of 89.6 percent. Women with two or more births had a serious error rate of 96.6 percent.
The sample size may be too small to draw any concrete conclusions about experience level and car seat misuse, but one explanation might be that the users with visible damage to their car seats or expired seats were among the experienced parents.
Parents preparing for a second (or third, or fourth…) child should pay close attention to car seat expiration dates and replace any car seat with any visible damage.

3 | Given that 77 percent of parents who seek help from trained professionals are still doing it wrong, are car seats too complicated to be used safely?

This study indicates that nearly all caregivers need better car seat instruction. But the results of the study should not in themselves be a cause for panic.
As it has been reported, the study seems to say that even most of parents with CPS training are doomed to misuse their car seats. But the study noticed a pattern in the CPS-trained parents. They were much more likely to make positioning errors than installation errors, suggesting that they had trouble applying the lessons they’d learned to their babies.
The study authors recommend better “postnatal collaboration,” so that parents – now with a live baby instead of a pretend one – get better practice with positioning. The reduction in error rate for caregivers with previous training suggests that Child Passenger Safety technicians embedded in hospitals could help increase safety.

What New Science Tell Us About Kids' Memory and What That Means for Parents

Your kid’s brain is not able to recall detail and stories of events in the same way that your adult brain is.

Have you ever asked your school-aged child what they did today and got a response “nothing” or “I can’t remember?” Or taken them on an amazing adventure or outing only to find they have little recall of the event just that evening? If you have goals of creating great memories for your children, as many parents do, this is a little frustrating to say the least. If you think it’s just your children, take heart – new research shows you’re not alone and that ongoing development in the brain in the school aged years is most likely responsible.
The study involved 70 children aged six to 14 years old and 33 young adults completing a memory test and MRI scans. The memory test looked at the participants’ ability to remember details or general characteristics. MRI scans compared the brain structures involved in these tasks for differences across age groups. It was previously thought that these structures matured before the teen years.
Rather than finding that performance on recall and memory for details was standard across all age groups, the researchers found that older participants did better. This also correlated with differences found in the brain scans between the age groups. Sections of the hippocampus responsible for memory formation, stabilization, retrieval, and separation of detail were found to continually develop across age. The MRI scans showed these structures did not stop maturing until sometime in adolescence.

What does that mean for parents?

If your child tells you they don’t know or can’t remember, accept it as true. Sometimes parents interpret these messages as “I don’t want to talk about it,” “I’m not ready to talk about it,” or that the child did not enjoy or appreciate an event. Instead, believe them. Your child’s brain is not able to recall detail and stories of events in the same way that your adult brain is. The structures for it to complete this process are just not there yet.
In the case of a pleasant event that you were part of it is helpful to retell the story with your children and look at photos from the event. This may help build your child’s memory of the event over time. Also, children very much enjoy storytelling and will often happily listen to your version of events. Many parenting experts promote the idea of retelling shared family stories. These shared family stories become part of the family culture and help promote a sense of connection and belonging.
When children lose things and are unable to recall their steps, as often happens in my home,  the developing brain is also likely to blame. Rather than interpreting this behavior as lazy or unhelpful, recognize that your child’s brain isn’t remembering the details and sequences like an adult brain. Wherever possible offer easy systems and support to prevent difficulty in finding items.
When children experience a distressing or traumatic event, recall of the detail of the event is often difficult. This is in part due to the impact of trauma but also a developing brain. It might be tempting to push for detail in your attempts to right things or get the correct help. This is problematic as children who want to please will sometimes report things that didn’t happen at all. Rather than pressing for detail, provide a safe, loving, and accepting presence, protect your child as necessary, and seek professional guidance on how to help your child best. Let your child know that you are okay with them not being able to fully explain and that you still love them no matter what happened.
Keep planning those wonderful events for your child. Your child may not recall those events in particular detail but often they will remember how they felt. When I ask adults in therapy about their childhood, I often find an emotional shift occurs as they talk about their family’s vacations or their parents’ support of their sporting activities. Even thought they don’t have a lot of verbal detail attached to the memories, their faces will light up as they discuss with warmth their emotional memory of childhood.
Most importantly, give your child and yourself time to grow with your child’s developing brain. Children generally want to please their parent, so if they don’t it is most often due to a skill deficit. One day they will recount a story in full detail. You may even find yourself wondering whether the story required such a long and detailed retelling.

All Parents Should Kick It Like Beckham 

Youth sports have become less about having a good time and getting exercise and more focused on competition. It’s time to bring some playfulness back.

This past week, soccer star David Beckham posted videos on his official Instagram account of him giving his six-year-old-daughter Harper her first “football lesson.” From the looks of it, she may have inherited some of his talent – Harper was a natural kicking the ball right to her father!
Beckham’s sweet post illustrates how playing sports with your children can have so many benefits. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, child psychologist and co-author of the recently released “Growing Friendships: A Kids’ Guide to Making and Keeping Friends” says, “Parents and children enjoying each other’s company is essential for child development. It’s the foundation of our relationships and the greatest joy of parenting. It can also be healing when kids are struggling in other areas.”
However, many parents today prefer to have their children involved in organized sports rather than just going outside and kicking a ball around. Kennedy-Moore understands why parents might want their children to learn about sports from professional coaches. She explains, “It is often easier on both kids and parents if someone else is in charge of teaching certain technical skills. Parents tend to fantasize about sharing our wisdom with our children, but criticism from a parent can be hard for kids to take, and they don’t always respond enthusiastically to our tips or suggestions.” Organized sports allow children to learn skills alongside peers with proper supervision.
But the de-emphasis on “just playing” in favor of organized sports involvement has a downside. Rick Wolff, WFAN Sports Radio personality and author of the forthcoming book “Secrets of Sports Psychology Revealed” says, “As caring parents, we of course want to do what we can for our child. In youth sports today that means private coaching, elite summer camps, travel teams, state of the art equipment, etc.”
Youth sports have become less about having a good time and getting exercise and more focused on competition. Wolff says, “Sports parents today understandably dream and fantasize that their little one will indeed be richly blessed with superior athletic talent as well as the inner drive to succeed in sports. And when our child scores a goal, or makes a basket, or gets a hit, that special moment of success only serves to reinforce parental dreams.”
The problem is that even the most talented, hard-working and determined child athletes are not destined to be sports superstars. “Sadly, for more than 96 percent of all high school varsity athletes, their playing days end when they finish high school,” says Wolff. “Very few athletes are good enough to play in college.”
Wolff adds, “Even worse, the element of fun was most likely lost somewhere along the way.” That sentiment was echoed by a poll from the National Alliance for Youth Sports that estimated around 70 percent of kids in the United States stop playing organized sports by the age of 13. The main reason for quitting was because “it’s just not fun anymore.”
Watching Beckham and his daughter play together is a great reminder that sports are supposed to be fun. Kicking around a ball in your yard or shooting hoops is a great way for parents and kids to spend time together. In fact, the best part of Beckham’s post was the caption (12 hearts with a soccer ball in the middle) and the big hug he gave his daughter at the end of the lesson. While all parents may not be able to teach their kids to “bend it like Beckham,” they can let their child know they love them and will always be “superstars” in their parents’ eyes.

What Is the Children’s Health Insurance Plan, and Why Does It Matter

Here is CHIP 101 – a brief overview of everything you need to know about this important program.

You might have seen the news that federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) expired at the end of September. But you might not be as familiar with what the program does, who it covers, or what this latest development means. So here is CHIP 101 – a brief overview of everything you need to know about this important program.

What is CHIP?

Congress created CHIP in 1997 with support from Republicans and Democrats. It gave states money to give insurance to children who are not eligible for Medicaid – the public health insurance program that covers low-income Americans. Since then, CHIP as been re-authorized in 2009 and 2015, but funding expired on September 30th of this year.
States can use the money they get from CHIP in two ways: either to pay for more kids to be on Medicaid, or to create a separate health insurance program. Some states use both approaches, enrolling lower income families in Medicaid and putting moderate income families on a separate program. About half the kids who benefit from CHIP funds are on Medicaid coverage.
Separate CHIP programs often go by their own names, like Florida KidCare or BadgerCare Plus in Wisconsin. So if you have a state program for children’s insurance, it’s likely funded through CHIP even if you haven’t heard it called that.

Who uses CHIP?

Nationwide, about nine million children receive their health insurance from CHIP funds – about one in every eight kids. In 20 states, pregnant women can also be covered through CHIP.
CHIP covers both low-income and moderate-income families under certain income limits. The limits are based on family size and a percentage of something called the federal poverty threshold. The federal poverty threshold is basically a number the federal government sets every year to determine who is living below the poverty line, and who is not. Eligibility for most state and federal programs is calculated based on a percentage of this number since families living above it may also benefit from the programs.
Each state can set their own upward-income limit for CHIP. The average nationwide is 255 percent of the federal poverty threshold. So for a single mom with two kids, this means having an income less than $52,000 a year. For a two parent, three kid family, it means having an income of less than $73,000 a year.
Because of CHIP, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), health insurance coverage for children is now at record high – 95 percent. Even though many of the families that benefit from CHIP are middle class, it has definitely helped expand insurance to kids who did not have it before.

So what does it mean that funding expired?

CHIP funding has already expired – meaning states are not getting any money for their programs from the federal government – but it doesn’t mean that kids are immediately booted off the program. States typically have a reserve of federal CHIP funds that can get them through the next few months. But 11 states estimate they will run out of funds before the end of the year, and 21 more, including Washington, D.C., are expecting their reserves to be tapped by March 2018.
Even if states run out of CHIP funds, they won’t be immediately shutting down their insurance programs. States who used CHIP funding to enroll kids in Medicaid must keep them in the program until 2019. The federal government basically agrees to pay for a certain percentage of the costs of Medicaid and CHIP. Under the old program, the federal government actually pays more per-kid for CHIP – even though those families tend to have higher incomes – because Congress wanted to give states an added incentive to expand coverage to those families. But with funding now expired, the state will have start paying a significantly higher percentage of the cost of covering CHIP kids because they won’t be receiving as much from the federal government.
Coverage for kids who are on separate CHIP programs is a bit more precarious. If funding runs out, states will be able to start capping or freezing enrollment, meaning some families who would have been eligible won’t be able to receive coverage. Worst case scenario, some states may be forced to shut down their programs altogether.
If CHIP programs close, some kids will be able to receive coverage through parents’ employer plans, but many will go without insurance altogether. Study after study shows that children do better when they have health insurance coverage. They have better health throughout their lives, are more likely to graduate from high school and college, and their families are less likely to go bankrupt.

What happens next?

The House and Senate are currently considering bills to extend funding for CHIP through 2022. These bill keeps up current funding levels through 2019, and then reduces it for the remaining years. The new bill would raise costs for high-income Medicare beneficiaries to offset the costs.

What can I do?

If you are concerned about your child’s access to insurance, contact your local state office for more information. They will be able to help you determine which type of plan you are on and if you will potentially be affected.
You can also contact your members of Congress to share your experience of using CHIP. In the past, the program has received support from both sides of the aisle, so representatives from both political parties will appreciate hearing your stories.

The Surprising Science of Dads in Pregnancy and Postpartum

Science has something to say about just how much influence dad has, whether he wants to or not, from the very beginning.

What comes to mind when you think about pregnancy, prenatal care, birth, and newborns?
It’s a blur of frequent checkups, peeing in a cup, peeing a lot in general, nausea, heartburn, crazy hormones, baby care, I’m so tired, and wow, why are diapers so expensive?
Most of these thoughts are centered on mom and baby. Rightfully so, as women are the actual vessels housing the little energy-sucking bundles of ever-loving joy and sacrificing body, brain, boobs, and bubbly drinks to grow them and care for them.
But where is dad in all this? His role goes way beyond being just a sperm donor and side spectator throughout the process.
Although we may recognize the importance of a father’s presence in raising kids, we often isolate the pregnancy and newborn time period as mom’s job. But science has something to say about just how much influence dad has, whether he wants to or not, from the very beginning.

Before pregnancy


It’s no secret: Today’s women are waiting longer to start families, due to factors like personal and career goals and advancements in reproductive medicine. So it would make sense that dads are getting older, too. Indeed, the typical man with a newborn is 3.5 years older than his counterpart four decades ago. The rate of new dads over 40 in particular has more than doubled.
Along with increasing age comes unexpected impacts on the family. It can take longer to get pregnant, and the risk of miscarriage is higher. There is also a higher chance of birth defects, genetic disorders, and psychological conditions in offspring. But there are big benefits, too, like financial stability and emotional preparedness, plus the possibility of producing smarter kids and the extended effect of increased lifespan for future generations.


We’ve also focused responsibility for smoking and drinking during pregnancy solely on the woman, but a man’s lifestyle habits have a surprising impact as well.
A study in International Journal of Epidemiology showed that children with a father who smoked earlier in life (but had quit prior to conception) had a more than three times higher chance of early-onset asthma than children whose father had never smoked.
A review by National Drug Research Institute found that men who drank 10 or more alcoholic drinks per week during preconception carried a two to five times increased risk of miscarriage. Additionally, paternal alcohol consumption was associated with a greater risk of negative outcomes for infants, including ventricle malformation, low birth weight, low gestational age, and even acute lymphoblastic leukaemia at high-level use.

During pregnancy

Symptoms and hormones and emotions, oh my!

Women may be the ones doing all the “hard work” but aren’t the only ones who suffer through a pregnancy.
Ever heard of sympathy pregnancy symptoms? Yeah, this is a real thing. It’s called couvade syndrome, defined as a phenomenon in which a male experiences symptoms of pregnancy during the time his partner or another woman he is particularly close to is pregnant. They may have weight gain, nausea, mood swings, fatigue, sleep loss, and other telltale symptoms.
Many men also have real hormonal changes during this time with a drop in testosterone and estradiol levels, as evidenced by a study published in American Journal of Human Biology.
So women aren’t the only hormonal hippos in the house! (Not sure if this is good or bad?)
Add to that all the pressure and stress associated with a new baby, and you have a recipe for a male version of prenatal depression. A study published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology reported that new depression in fathers was linked to a 38 percent increased risk of very preterm birth. That’s quite a significant number and indicates that a father’s health is important because it has spillover effects on the rest of the family.

After pregnancy

Dad depression

The underlying changes dads go through don’t end when the baby is born. The postpartum period, although supposedly a joyful new chapter in life, brings new challenges and stressors for both parents.
Postpartum depression is a hot topic these days, with an estimated one in seven new moms affected. Increased awareness is a good thing, as more moms are getting the help they need. But most don’t realize dads can feel the baby blues, too. Up to 10 percent of new fathers experience symptoms of depression, according to researchers at the University of Southern California.
An interesting study published in Hormones and Behavior revealed a link between a drop in testosterone and increased risk of paternal depression. On the other hand, men with high testosterone weren’t affected by depressive symptoms, but there was still an important family implication: Their mama partners were more likely to be depressed and reported more aggressive behavior coming from their man.
Clearly, dad’s hormones and emotional state affect mom and the family’s overall well-being. This is all very eye-opening in light of our current social views of pregnancy and medical care protocols focusing solely on mother and baby.
“We often think of motherhood as biologically driven because many mothers have biological connections to their babies through breastfeeding and pregnancy,” said Darby Saxbe, lead researcher. “We don’t usually think of fatherhood in the same biological terms.”

Remember the father factor

It’s clear that fathers have a huge impact biologically and emotionally through conception, pregnancy, and the postpartum period, but they are unfortunately very underserved in the medical community. Shouldn’t paternal education and care be part of the process?
We often expect men to just support their partners, but they may not have adequate support themselves even while suffering from hormonal imbalances. That is certainly something to think about!
The real question is, would the supposed-to-be-strong, nothing’s-wrong-with-me, manly man admit that he might need help?
What do you think? Share your thoughts below.

What I Learned From Being a Test Subject for the F.B.I.

I remember feeling like I should have tried to disguise my handwriting because now I was exposed. How could 10 sentences betray me so?

At the time, I was a college student looking for a quick and easy way to earn spending money. The canoe livery could only offer four hours a week; the cafeteria was gross, messy, and too much like actual work; tutoring – as in helping other students learn and understand stuff – was clearly out of my skill range. The only thing left was to be a test subject for the psychology department.   

Psychology experiment subjects were paid by the gig, not the hour, upon completion of each consigned study. Qualified applicants were chosen randomly out of a rotating applicant pool and made anywhere from $20 to $100, depending on the source of funding. If the university itself was footing the bill, it was likely to be a sleep deprivation or caffeine intake study designed by graduate students and would not pay very well. But if you managed to get picked for an externally funded experiment, sponsored by a food manufacturer or an advertising hub or the government, you got paid significantly more. My junior year, I landed a spot in a field research study conducted by the FBI, Detroit Division.

The FBI funded a grant to study the validity of graphoanalysis, and my university had been awarded that grant. There were no stipulations or exclusions regarding gender, age, race, or socioeconomic background. The only requirement was that you had to be able to “convey written thoughts by means of cursive.” Effectively, they were studying the admissibility of handwriting analyses in a court of law.

On day one of the study, 25 of us showed up to a designated classroom and wrote, in our best cursive penmanship, 10 sentences containing all 26 letters of the alphabet. They were inherently silly with the requisite “z” and “x,” but one in particular made us snicker: “Just drive quickly past the zealot’s home, and be extra sure no one is following you.”

The next time we met, many weeks later, we each received a sealed envelope with our name on it and the results of our handwriting analysis inside. We were instructed to open and read the report without looking at anyone else’s. We silently did as we were told. My report was a list of statements under the heading, “Sample-biased Summary,” and it looked something like this:

  • You are desperately insecure but don’t want people to know it.
  • You worry about disapproval from one parent in particular.
  • You frequently hate how you look.
  • You care what other people think to the point of altering your behavior.
  • You want to be famous for doing something important.
  • You have a secret from five years ago that you haven’t told anyone.
  • You currently love someone who doesn’t love you back in the same way.
  • You have gone to extreme/immoral/illegal means to give yourself an advantage over others in your peer group.
  • You often think you don’t deserve the credit you’re given and fear you aren’t as smart as those around you.

I remember feeling like I should have tried to disguise my handwriting because now I was exposed. How could 10 sentences betray me so? The lady in charge instructed us to assess our results and sign our names at the bottom if we felt they were entirely accurate. Then she asked to see a show of hands from those who signed. Everybody’s hand went up. Everybody thought his or her analysis was entirely accurate.

Then the lady told us to trade results with the person next to us. I traded with a girl who I recognized from freshman English. I read her results and they were, word for word, exactly the same as mine. The only difference between our two papers was the signature. We traded again with someone else, and then traded again. Same, same, same. The whole group had been issued identical reports.

When the lady was satisfied that she had sufficiently blown our minds, she said, “The Department of Justice thanks you for helping the FBI officially discredit the theory of holistic and integrative graphology by means of the Barnum Effect, which is a phenomenon where we interpret vague statements as specifically meaningful. So while the attributes on the list seemed to apply to you and you alone, they were actually generalized personality traits of all people your age. Your checks will be mailed immediately.”

In 1991, graphology was officially deemed a pseudo-science, and the practice was banned from use in any legal capacity. They already knew it was phony, they just had to prove it.

However, the 25 test subjects learned something we didn’t know, something that may have otherwise taken us years, if not decades, to learn. Everyone is desperately insecure, everyone hates how they look, everyone has secrets and feels slighted in love. Everyone has done things they’re ashamed of and feels they don’t deserve to be where they are.

The $100 I received for participating in this study is long gone but the invaluable insight I gained has been more useful than a room full of therapists: We’re all desperately insecure and think we’re ugly, Just admit it and move on.

What Can My Baby Hear? A Breakdown From Conception to Toddlerhood

Hearing is one sense that connects babies to us while they are still womb-side. So how exactly does their hearing develop?

From conception until birth, babies do not waste a single second in the construction of their squishy little bodies. Babies are amazing when you stop and think about it: Their whole being is literally formed from two cells, and parents celebrate that fact by counting 10 little toes and 10 little fingers.
As expectant parents, we wait (impatiently) for 40 long weeks to be able to tell our little bundle that they are loved, but the truth is they can hear those words long before we can hear any noise our babe makes. Hearing is one sense that connects them to us while they are still womb-side. So how exactly does a baby’s hearing develop?

In Utero

Before a baby can first hear, his entire hearing structure must first be created, and that process starts at the very beginning of pregnancy.

Week four of pregnancy

Even though mom-to-be may not even know she’s got a baby on board, baby is already busy at work. Baby is about the size of the period at the end of this sentence and the cells are beginning to assemble into their intended body parts. The cells that will form baby’s ears are printing up their blueprints.
If baby could hear this week, he’d hear your whoops of joy as you receive your BFP.

Week nine of pregnancy

Mama may be in the midst of morning all day sickness, but that doesn’t hamper baby’s development. Although the ears themselves have not sprouted, there are now visible indentations, which signify the groundbreaking – so to speak – for baby’s ears.
If baby could hear this week, he’d hear you tiredly ask “Pass the Saltines, please?”

Week 16-18 of pregnancy

Congratulations! Baby’s ears are officially working. His inner ear and all those accompanying bones are developed enough to hear those first few sounds. To be fair, your voice will sound more like an underwater megaphone than a crisp Bose speaker. As baby matures, however, his hearing will improve.

Week 24 of pregnancy

Some researchers note that babies’ heart rates increase when they hear their mother’s voice, which means baby is already paying attention to what you have to say.

Week 30+ of pregnancy

Studies indicate that babies who frequently hear the same lullaby during this time are later soothed by that same lullaby once they are born. Pretty cool!
Common phrases baby will hear during the third trimester: “When will he be here” and “I love you.”
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baby hearing sounds of their cry


Birth is many things and “loud” can be one of them. From the constant beeping of monitors to the incessant chatter between doctor and nurses to the moaning (okay, yelling) during the ring of fire, the world can be noisy when a baby first enters it. Two particular noises stand out among the rest.

1 | Baby’s own first cry

Not only do mothers everywhere rejoice at this cry, it is also the first time baby hears himself cry. Does it scare him? Or does it make him proud? We’ll never know but I like to think it’s a cry of relief that labor is over. Although, interestingly, some researchers connect that first cry to musical ability later in life.

2 | Mother’s voice

Studies show that the maternal voice is very soothing to baby – after all, it’s been his lullaby since, well, the very first second he could hear. Don’t feel bad, Dads. Dads come in a close second.
Popular phrases a baby hears at birth: “It’s a boy/girl!” “You’re beautiful!” and last but not least “I love you.”
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EMS baby earmuffs for protection from loud noise

Parent Co. partnered with Ems for Kids because they believe every parent should understand the intricacies of hearing development (and not be concerned when their kid starts flat out ignoring them).

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Just like a newborn’s eyesight, the hearing is working, but not at full power. After spending 40+ weeks floating in fluid, there’s still some residual fluid inside of a newborn’s middle ear, which can slightly – but temporarily – affect hearing. This is not unlike the hearing fuzziness we experience as adults when there’s pool water stuck in our ear. Add this to a brand new and slightly undeveloped hearing system and you begin to understand why “baby talk” is so popular: Babies respond better to sounds that are high pitched and exaggerated because they can hear those sounds better.
Other hearing milestones

  • Soothed by a familiar voice (two months)
  • Looks for the source of a noise (four months)
  • Imitates sounds they hear (six months)

Popular phrases a newborn hears: “Shhhh,” “Why aren’t you going to sleep,” “Please go to sleep,” and of course “I love you.”
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Baby hearing development water sounds


Welcome to toddlerhood – the land where having ears doesn’t mean they are actually used! Parents tend to focus on teaching busy tots to work on their listening skills. (Easier said than done, I know.) Dealing with a toddler who tunes you out can be infuriating, but it is a smidge easier to handle when you understand the reason for the tune out. Toddlers – who still have poor impulse control – are slowly developing their autonomy, and for some kids, that autonomy is manifests as ignorance to whatever you’re saying.
Common phrases a toddler might hear: “No,” “Don’t climb on that,” “I said no already,” “Come back here,” “Don’t eat that,” and of course “I love you.”

How to keep a toddler’s ears healthy

While the terrible twos may force us to focus on the listening aspect of ears, there are many other ways to help keep a tot’s ears physically healthy:

  • Prevent ear infections with extra hand washing during cold season
  • Protect your toddler from loud noises. Toddlers love exploring their big beautiful world. Part of those explorations may include concerts on the green and Fourth of July fireworks. But since their ears are susceptible to damage – and over a third of hearing loss cases are due to loud noises – be sure to bring Ems to functions where loud noises are anticipated. Have a baby in tow? Grab the Bubs Baby earmuffs.
  • Teach him not to stick objects like crayons and beans into his ears.

Whether your baby is still in utero building those budding ears or working hard to hold a conversation with you, the most important thing those little ears will ever hear are the sweet words of a parent: “I love you.”
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Parent Co. partnered with Ems for Kids because they believe every parent should understand the intricacies of hearing development (and not be concerned when their kid starts flat out ignoring them).

The Best Question to Ask When Interviewing a Pediatrician

The best question you can ask your child’s potential pediatrician has nothing to do with credentials or office policies.

As an expecting parent, one of your first big research projects is to choose a pediatrician.
You’ll probably start with logistics. Does the pediatrician accept your insurance? How long will it take to travel to the office? What are the office hours? Are there designated times of day for certain age groups? Are there separate waiting rooms for sick and well children? Are there weekend appointments for urgent care? What hospitals does the office admit to? Will your child see the same pediatrician each time, or are there multiple doctors? Is this an academic practice? If so, will your child be cared for by medical students and residents? Can you e-mail or call the pediatrician with questions?
You’ll want to ask about a prospective pediatrician’s credentials: where she trained, what accolades she has received, whether any disciplinary actions have been taken against her.
You may also want to know about the philosophy of the office. What are the pediatrician’s philosophies about breastfeeding and co-sleeping? Does the office have a specific vaccination policy that aligns with your own preferences?
These are all great questions. But you shouldn’t be asking them when interviewing a pediatrician.
All of these questions have clear, straightforward answers that you can find on your own. Want to know where the doctor trained? Check the American Academy of Pediatrics or American Board of Family Medicine databases. Want to know the office hours? Call the office or visit the pediatrician’s website.
Answering all of these questions before you interview a pediatrician will save those precious 10 minutes of time for questions you can’t find the answer to anywhere else.
The best question you can ask has nothing to do with credentials or office policies. It’s “what do you read?”

Why academic reading is important

According to a survey of American Academy of Pediatrics members, the average pediatrician read between 145 and 184 academic journal articles each year. The majority of those articles came from journals the pediatricians personally subscribed to.
All of that reading – a rate of about three articles per week – is important because the field of medicine is constantly changing. Those changes can mean that what was once considered true is untrue. What was once considered unsafe is now considered not just safe but helpful.
A survey conducted by the medical professional network Doximity found that 75 percent of physicians alter their practice because of something they read in medical literature at least every three months. For example, prior to 2015, pediatricians advised parents to wait to introduce peanuts to children until at least age three in order to prevent peanut allergy. The Learning Early about Peanut Allergy (LEAP) trial, the first results of which were published in 2015, found that early introduction of peanuts actually reduces the rate of peanut allergy. This finding has led pediatricians to completely reverse their earlier recommendations.

The big question

Academic reading is absolutely crucial to a strong medical practice. But because doctors are authority figures, it may feel awkward to ask a prospective pediatrician about her reading habits. That’s especially true if you do not have any medical training or do not know much about academic publishing.
It will help to remember that you’re not looking for a “right” answer. There isn’t a “right” academic journal to read, or a “right” number of academic journal articles to read. What you’re looking for is a sense that your prospective pediatrician keeps up with the changes in her field.
There are a lot of bad ways to ask a doctor about her reading. “Do you read academic journals?” is a terrible question, because it pins the interviewee between the clearly right (“yes”) and clearly wrong (“no”) answer. Asking this question is going to get you a “yes.” But even if it’s true, that “yes” won’t really teach you anything, because you won’t learn anything about what or how often your prospective pediatrician reads.
Likewise, you’ll want to avoid “what academic journals do you read?” The question is imprecise because you won’t know whether the pediatrician has a 20-year stack of unread Pediatrics issues collecting dust in a filing room or if she is meeting that three-article-per-week average.
Instead of asking about general reading practices, ask about a specific article. “What’s the last interesting academic article you read?”
Asking this question can tell you almost everything you need to know in order to choose a pediatrician. First, if your prospective doctor lights up and tells you about the latest research, you’ll know she has recently been keeping up with her field. If your candidate answers that she hasn’t read in years, or that she doesn’t trust anything she reads in the whole of academic medicine, you may want to move on to the next candidate. (Of course, you can interpret “read” broadly here. Many pediatricians keep up to date by listening to medical podcasts like PediaCast or Peds RAP.)
The second reason this question is so helpful is that it will tell you whether or not your doctor can describe a complex medical issue to you in plain language. Nearly every parenting website with advice for choosing a pediatrician asks you to think about rapport. BabyCenter notes that “only a face-to-face meeting will show you whether this doctor has the warmth, sensitivity, and professionalism you’re seeking.” The Bump encourages you to ask yourself “Did the communication feel natural? Was the doctor easy to understand?” A great test of rapport is whether or not the pediatrician can explain a recent academic journal article to you in terms you can understand. When that happens, you’ll know that, should your child ever be facing a complicated medical problem, you’ll be able to understand what the doctor is saying about it.

Two follow-up questions

If you’re feeling brave, you can follow up by asking your pediatrician to tell you about a time he changed his practice based on something he read.
The pediatrician’s answer will give you insight into that doctor’s position relative to new and contradictory information. Although we expect pediatricians to be experts in their fields, part of that expertise also requires them to be flexible in their practice. You’ll want to know that, if tomorrow a new study revolutionizes the way we think about childhood nutrition, your pediatrician will be on top of the changes.
Some parenting websites advise interviewers to ask prospective pediatricians about their health care philosophy. That is a great question, but it’s a huge question. Imagine if someone asked you that same question right after introducing herself. It would be nearly impossible to answer.
But you can gain insight into your pediatrician’s philosophy of practice with by asking what you should be reading. What books does she recommend for parents? What books would she steer you clear of, and why? What medical issue has been reported in the news lately that she thinks parents are overly concerned about? The answers to these questions will give you added insight into your pediatrician’s philosophy of care, far better than either huge questions about her overall philosophy or narrow questions about breastfeeding or vaccine policies.

13 Key Elements That Keep Your Sex Life Hopping

Great sex is not rocket science. In fact, many happy couples have these 13 things in common.

In an amazing book titled “The Normal Bar,” authors Chrisanna Northrup, Pepper Schwartz, and James Witte conducted an online study with 70,000 people in 24 countries. They were curious about what might be different about couples who said that they had a great sex life, compared to couples who said that they had a bad sex life. Even with the limitations of self-report data, there are some fascinating implications of their results.
One thing that’s very interesting to me is how their findings compare to the advice Esther Perel gives in her book “Mating in Captivity,” and in her clinical work in general, in which she assists couples in improving their sex life. Perel tells couples not to cuddle. She also believes that emotional connection will stand in the way of good erotic connection. This brings me to a key finding from the Normal Bar study.

Fact: Couples who have a great sex life everywhere on the planet are doing the same set of things.

Additionally, couples who do not have a great sex life everywhere on the planet are not doing these things.
Inspired by the Normal Bar study, as well as by my own research studies on more than 3,000 couples over four decades, I’ve identified 13 things all couples do who have an amazing sex life.

  • They say “I love you” every day and mean it
  • They kiss one another passionately for no reason
  • They give surprise romantic gifts
  • They know what turns their partners on and off erotically
  • They are physically affectionate, even in public
  • They keep playing and having fun together
  • They cuddle
  • They make sex a priority, not the last item of a long to-do list
  • They stay good friends
  • They can talk comfortably about their sex life
  • They have weekly dates
  • They take romantic vacations
  • They are mindful about turning toward

In short, they turn toward one another with love and affection to connect emotionally and physically. In the Normal Bar study, only six percent of non-cuddlers had a good sex life. So Perel’s intuition runs counter to international data. What is very clear from the Normal Bar study is that having a great sex life is not rocket science. It is not difficult.

Fact: Couples have a bad sex life everywhere on the planet.

The Sloan Center at UCLA studied 30 dual-career heterosexual couples in Los Angeles. These couples had young children. The researchers were like anthropologists – observing, tape-recording, and interviewing these couples. They discovered that most of these young couples:

  • Spend very little time together during a typical week
  • Become job-centered (him) and child-centered (her)
  • Talk mostly about their huge to-do lists
  • Seem to make everything else a priority other than their relationship
  • Drift apart and lead parallel lives
  • Are unintentional about turning toward one another

One researcher on this project told me it was his impression that these couples spent only about 35 minutes together every week in conversation, and most of their talk was about errands and tasks that they had to get done.
So, if we put these two studies together, what does it tell us? It says that couples should not avoid one another emotionally like Perel recommends, but instead follow the 13 very simple things that everyone on the planet does to make their sex lives great.
Emily Nagoski’s wonderful book “Come as You Are” talks about the dual process model of sex. In the model, each person has a sexual brake and a sexual accelerator. In some people the brake is more developed, and in some people the accelerator is more developed. It’s important to learn what for you and for your partner steps on that sex brake that says, “No, I’m not in the mood for lovemaking.”
It’s also important to learn what for you and for your partner steps on that accelerator, that says, “Oh yes, I’m in the mood for lovemaking.” We have a mobile app designed for this purpose. It consists of over 100 questions to ask a woman about her brake and accelerator, and over 100 questions to ask a man about his brake and accelerator. Those questions are also available as one of seven exercises in The Art and Science of Lovemaking video program.
Great sex is not rocket science. By being good friends, by being affectionate (yes, even cuddling), and by talking openly about sex, couples can build a thriving relationship inside and outside of the bedroom.
This article was originally published on the Gottman Relationship Blog. Over 40 years of research on thousands of couples has proven as simple fact: small things often can create big changes over time. Got a minute? Sign up for their Marriage Minute here