4 Parent Myths About College Admissions

But there’s a few general parent misperceptions swirling about that are worth correcting.

If you have a college-bound kid, I know you’re feeling it. The anxiety. The competition. The intensity. The bombardment of well-meaning but sometimes conflicting advice from other parents. I almost lost my mind trying to keep up with the list of do’s and don’ts of college admissions.
The fact is, requirements vary radically across campuses. Some schools focus on the SAT, some on the ACT, some on both. Some want stellar essays, some really don’t care.
But there’s a few general parent misperceptions swirling about that are worth correcting.

Colleges want “well-rounded” students

They still do. But colleges prefer students who are a combination of “angular” (focused in one area) and “well-rounded.” Translation: “passionate.”
As a general rule, incoming freshman should have a number of extracurriculars (but not a ridiculous amount) that are somewhat related.
“Beyond the most selective colleges, well-rounded students are still being told that they are welcome, but they are warned not to get involved in too many activities,“ writes Fred Thys in his Boston NPR piece, “‘Well-Rounded Versus Angular’: The Application Colleges Want To See.”
I pushed my daughter Taylor to join a variety of clubs in high school to fill in her glaringly thin college resume. But college admission offices were probably more interested in her obvious passion: kids.
She took four years of high school early education classes (which included being a teaching assistant at the onsite preschool), volunteered as a camp counselor for three years, joined Best Buddies to assist special needs students at events, and baby sat for countless families.
It’s a good idea to encourage your elementary and middle-school child to try out a variety of extracurriculars to get a feel for what they like and don’t like. But once they find a passion, encourage them to join clubs and activities that are at least loosely related (e.g., 4-H science + engineering club + robotics competitions).
“My perspective is that there has been a shift from, ‘We want a kid who is so well-rounded they check off 25 boxes,’ to ‘We want to know what you’re passionate about,’” said Stephanie Bode Ward, mother of a senior at the Boston Latin School.

Lots of advanced classes are a good idea

Of course kids need to be challenged. Lost potential is tragic and gifted kids can fall through the cracks. But advanced classes – the wrong ones or too many – can backfire.
“If you are truly interested in the subject, there’s a good teacher and you’re surrounded by other motivated students, then you’re probably going to have a good experience from taking a more advanced class,” explains Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education.
Pope reviewed more than 20 studies on advanced placement (AP) courses. “But if you’re pushed into it without good preparation and without a safety net in place at the school to help you if you get in over your head, then it may be more harmful than helpful.”
The second week of Taylor’s sophomore year in high school, she told me her AP American History was so ridiculously hard she guaranteed it would lower her GPA. So she dropped down to honors-level instead. Her work ethic has always been strong, so I knew she wasn’t just being lazy. She was being strategic to protect her GPA.
Encourage your kids to take advanced classes, but be sure they set themselves up to succeed. Trust their instincts. Feeling overwhelmed isn’t the same as being a slacker. An academic schedule that is unduly difficult might sabotage your child’s high school transcript, or worse, harm her emotional and physical well-being.
For some kids, taking all advanced or college-level classes is the right work load (if they don’t have a ton of after school activities). But for others, it’s a guaranteed recipe to lower their GPA and increase stress.
“Many high-achieving high school students are really stressed out,” says Pope. “They have a lot to do between extracurricular activities and homework and trying to get the sleep they need. They need to be prepared for what an AP course involves. The extra tests, extra homework, on top of an already demanding schedule, can be brutal. And a very low grade on your transcript from an AP course may hurt you more in the long run than not taking an AP in that subject at all.”

Skipping grades and starting college early is bad for kids

We all know children who skip a grade (or two). They leap frog over their peers and start college early. But is this a good idea? It depends.
“There are two sides to every coin,” says Susan Assouline, co-author on the report, “A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students”. “One side reveals that acceleration is the most effective intervention for students who are ready for challenge and advanced curriculum.
“The flip side isn’t as shiny. Students who are not challenged become disengaged from school and their joy of learning goes away. Skeptics would have us believe that acceleration is not good for students. They will have gaps in their knowledge, they won’t make any friends, they won’t be able to keep up, or it’s a very costly intervention. None of these reasons are substantiated by research; they are nothing more than excuses.”
Flash forward to what this means for college students, and it gets a little complicated.
A 2011 study out of Bocconi University found that younger college students did better than their older peers. The younger students were less socially active so researchers think they spent more time hitting the books. Good news, right? Well, yes and no.
The younger students got better grades, but earlier psychological studies suggest being the youngest in a group may slow the development of personality traits such as self-esteem and leadership.
Here’s how 16-year-old college freshman Petra describes her experience:
“In comparison to my educational experience, my social life dwindled through murky waters. After I had written my op-ed for my college paper (admitting her age), I felt as though all eyes were on me. I had many people come up to me while I was walking around campus, asking how I felt being younger than most, and if I felt the pressure to fit in more now than ever. Being asked that question made me feel intimidated. Because one of my greatest struggles has been fitting into the ‘crowd.’
“…By the end of my second semester, I no longer felt guilty about writing my article. I surrounded myself with people who encouraged me and accepted me for exactly who I was. Without the support of friends and family, I would certainly have not felt the enthusiasm and motivation to attend college this coming fall like I do now.”
The bottom line is that kids need to be challenged to a level that keeps them engaged. But when skipping grades translates into being the youngest in a college peer group, students may feel tremendous social pressure to act like someone they’re not – at least until they find their identity and footing.

Starting college “Undecided” is undesirable

My sense is high school kids today feel intense pressure to start college with a major and a career in mind. There’s a practical argument to support this. Colleges appreciate focused, passionate students.
Also, being “undecided” can get expensive. Dan Johnston, Regional Director of Pennsylvania’s Higher Education Assistance Agency thinks entering college without a major is a bad idea. Students might take too much time (and too much money) to figure what they want to do.
Johnston recommends kids explore careers during high school and occasionally audit college classes. This way they’ll be ready to declare a major as an incoming freshman.
But a 2011 study out of Western Kentucky University found that students who begin college without declaring a major (and choose within the first two years) have the best chance of graduating in four years. Students who waited until their junior year did the worst.
Researcher Matthew Foraker suggests this is because early undecided students took time to explore majors, gather information and choose a field that genuinely interested them. While students who declared a major right away might have done so based on poor or incomplete information, or parental pressure. Many then drop out.
So is there a compromise between declaring a major right away or being undecided for too long? Absolutely.
Incoming freshman can take the required general education classes alongside a variety of electives (this might mean taking one or two summer classes on campus or online). At the same time, they can strategically narrow down their interests. Being strategic means students complete several free or paid online career assessment tools and regularly meet with a campus career counselor.
After a couple years, most students get a pretty good idea of majors (and possibly minors) that genuinely interest them. From there, they’ll naturally narrow down related careers.
After my daughter finished her freshman year in college, three weeks into her summer job as a camp counselor she told me she wanted to drop her Education major. She was 100 percent sure she didn’t want to be an elementary school teacher anymore.
After she told me, I full-on panicked. I told Taylor she wasn’t allowed to graduate on the five-year plan. I told her she had better figure out a major where she could actually get a job.
I thought, she’s already behind.
But behind in what? Underclassman are supposed to explore what they like and don’t like. When I went to college, that was called going to college.
So I got a grip and told her it was okay and, in fact, better to decide now to switch majors. Students do it all the time. In fact, half of all high school graduates change majors by their sophomore year. It’s not the end of the world or a guaranteed pathway to delayed graduation.
There’s no question the college admissions process has become ridiculously intense. Parents and students lose sleep over it. But rest assured there’s a spot out there for your student. It might not be her first (or third) choice, but in time it will be the right choice.
The most elite schools aside, most colleges and universities simply want passionate kids with a track record of decent grades, a solid work ethic, and a mind open to exploring who they are, one day, meant to become.

7 Signs You're Parenting Right According to a Clinical Psychologist

In my work as a clinical psychologist, there are seven signs I see that tell me a child has an awesome parent.

Parents often worry that they are failing their kids. Modern parents hold themselves to higher standards as we guide our children to adulthood. It’s easy to get caught in a comparison trap with other parents or look for outwardly measurable signs of our success.
In my work as a clinical psychologist, there are seven signs I see that tell me a child has an awesome parent.

The seven signs of being an awesome parent

1 | Your child displays a range of emotions in front of you

Sometimes the timing of our child’s big emotions is difficult. We may not wish to see as much of the big emotions as we do, but your child’s ability to express anger, sadness, or fear in front of you is a good sign that she feels emotionally safe with you.
It worries me greatly when children hide their feelings from their parents. Often, this is a sign of big problems in the parent-child relationship. Avoid shutting down or distracting your child out of her feelings. Instead, pay attention and show appreciation for them.
“I can see from how you’re kicking the wall that you’re very angry. And you’re telling me this is because your sister won’t let you play.” This tells your child you can handle her feelings and you understand her perspective.

2 | Your child comes to you when hurt or facing a problem

I know that a parent is doing an awesome job when their child comes to them as a first port of call for their problems. This means you have provided a secure base that your child can return to when he needs help.
A good way to encourage this is to welcome your child with open arms and listen to his problems, even if small or the problem seems petty to you. This sets up the relationship to be open to communication about things that are difficult in your child’s life.

3 | Your child can discuss thoughts and feelings without fearing your reaction

This is a positive sign of an accepting, open, and flexible parent-child relationship. Some parents  unwittingly restrict communication with their child through their behavior, such as over-reacting to thoughts or feelings they don’t like or those that question their behavior as a parent.
Other parents appear so fragile to their children that they don’t want to burden their parent with their thoughts and feelings. I get concerned when parents say, “My child is my rock.” Parents are the rocks; children should never be their parent’s rock.
You can support this by accepting your child’s thoughts and feelings without making it be about who you are. If you need additional support for your feelings, do that with another adult – not with your child.

4 | Your feedback is non-critical and non-labeling

Awesome parents give non-critical feedback about behavior and avoid labels such as ‘bad’, ‘naughty’, ‘greedy’, and ‘lazy’.
If your child eats all the chocolate biscuits before anyone else has a chance to share them, an awesome parent focuses on the behavior: “You ate all the biscuits without sharing. It is important in our home that you share with your siblings. How do you think you could make this up to your family?”
This is very different from saying, “You greedy girl. Go to your room.”

5 | You encourage your child to pursue interests and talents

Pursuing interests and talents helps children feel a sense of mastery and achievement. It can positively engage children through the teen and young adult years, teaching persistence and helping protect against risk-taking behavior. It’s a wonderful thing to excel at something you love.
Sometimes, I see parents directing children’s interests to fulfil unmet dreams and needs of their own. When you force a child to excel for your own reasons, all sorts of things can go wrong, even when they look like they’re going right. This can set children up for feeling like a failure, feeling intense levels of pressure, and feeling controlled.
Also, if they fail and a narcissist parent’s ambition is behind it, children wear the burden of disappointing their parent on top of their own disappointment.

6 | You create boundaries on behavior to keep your child safe

Awesome parents guide their child’s behavior by setting considered boundaries and limits. Children without limits and boundaries often end up in a lot of trouble or lost.
Boundaries help children feel loved and valued, even if they don’t like the boundaries some of the time. Some examples of helpful limits include a bedtime routine, respectful language towards family members, and not permitting teens to attend parties where alcohol is supplied.

7 | You repair your mistakes

Being able to repair relationship ruptures with your child is a sign of being an awesome parent. If you yell, over-react, or call your child a name, it is important to repair that rupture with your child.
Talking with your child about how you wished you had handled the situation can help. Explaining that your big feelings got in the way of you being able to respond in the way you should have also helps.
Although it’s tempting to look for signs of successful parenting, such as reading levels, whether they eat the “right foods,” or win on the football field, successful parenting is about providing a secure base for your child. This creates a place from which your child can thrive. It consists of an ongoing lifelong relationship not contingent on external results, but rather on love, respect, and connection.
That’s what being an awesome parent all is about.

The Sneaky Science Behind Your Kid’s Tech Obsessions

Son won’t turn off his video game? Daughter obsessed with “likes” on Instagram? It may not be entirely their fault.

Son won’t turn off his video game? Daughter obsessed with “likes” on Instagram? It may not be entirely their fault.
Like the high-octane sugar in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and that irresistible chemical spice in Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, the ingredients in social media, video games, apps, and other digital products are carefully engineered to keep you coming back for more. While researchers are still trying to discover whether kids (and parents) can be addicted to technology, some computer scientists are revealing their secrets for keeping us hooked.
Resisting the urge to check your phone or shut down Netflix after another cliffhanger “Stranger Things” episode should be a simple matter of self-control. But according to so-called whistleblowers, such as Tristan Harris, a computer scientist who founded the Time Well Spent movement, and Adam Alter, author of “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked”, we humans are totally overpowered.
Features such as app notifications, autoplay – even “likes” and messages that self-destruct – are scientifically proven to compel us to watch/check in/respond right now or feel that we’re missing something really important.
Behind the apps, games, and social media, a whole crew of folks make it their job to make their products feel essential. Many of the techniques they use are ones outlined by experts in human behavior, including Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and BJ Fogg of Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab.
Harris argues that these methods “hijack” our own good judgment. Most teens care deeply about peer validation, for example. So it makes sense that friends’ feedback on social media – both the positive and the negative – would tug until you satisfy your curiosity.
You have a phone in your pocket, so why not check now? And now. And now?
More and more industry insiders, including some who designed these attention-claiming features, are coming forward to cry foul on digital manipulation, and even suggest ways companies can limit it.
In fact, it’s not just people who are going public. In 2017, a leaked Facebook internal memo showed how the social network can identify when teens feel “insecure,” “worthless,” and “need a confidence boost.” That’s not a problem “likes” can fix.
Until recently, big tech companies would only defend their products. Facebook, for one, says it polls users daily to gauge success of its features. But when mounting concerns led two Apple shareholders to ask the company to design solutions to potentially addicting technology, Apple said yes.
The shareholders also called for more research on the impact of technology use on young users. Such studies could help developers create what Tristan Harris calls “ethically designed” products with built-in features that cue us to give tech a rest.

There is a way to fight back now. Thanks to the folks who are calling out these methods, you can spot specific tricks and reflect on how they affect your thoughts and behavior. Remember: The other side wants to reduce the time between your thoughts and actions. Putting that pause in will help you resist your urges.
Below are some of the key features designed to keep their grips on you. Also check out some ideas you and your kids can use to resist temptation.


Most notable on Netflix and Facebook, autoplay is the feature that makes videos continue to stream even after they’re over. Tristan Harris calls this the “bottomless bowl” phenomenon. With a refilling bowl, people eat 73 percent more calories. Or they binge-watch way too many movies.

What to do

Autoplay is typically on by default, so you have to turn it off. The feature can usually be found in the app’s account Settings. Here’s how to turn it off in Netflix.


Studies show that push notifications – those little pings and prods you get to check your apps – are habit-forming.
Push notifications align an external trigger (the ping) with an internal trigger (a feeling of boredom, uncertainty, insecurity, etc.). Every app uses them, but some, such as Musical.ly and YouTube, have discovered that when notifications tells us to do something, such as “Watch Sally’s new video!” or “See who liked your post!”, we respond immediately.
These calls to action not only interrupt us, they cause stress.

What to do

Turn them off. Most devices have a Settings section where you can turn off notifications. You should also be able to turn off notifications in the app’s settings.

Snapchat’s Snapstreaks

A Snapstreak begins after two users send snaps (pictures) to each other for three days straight. You might think competition is the motivation behind Snapstreaks, but it’s more likely due to a psychological theory called the rule of reciprocation. Humans have a need to respond to a positive action with another positive action. Voilà, a Snapstreak is born.
Kids can become so obsessed with sustaining a streak that they give their friends access to their accounts when they’re unable to maintain their own streaks (which is actually a privacy risk). The rule is also at play with “like backs” – when you like someone’s post and ask them to like yours back to bolster your total number of likes.
Of course, companies exploit the rule of reciprocation, because more data points for them means more opportunities to understand their users and try to sell them stuff.

What to do

Help kids understand how companies like Snapchat are using their (positive) desire to be nice to their friends to get them to use their product more. If your kids’ streaks are getting out of control, try allowing one time per day that they can send snaps – for example, after they take out the garbage, clean their room, and finish their homework.
Finally, if your kids’ streaks are merely annoying and not harmful, you may need to ride out this phase until your kids go on to something new.


If you knew that Instagram updated your feed at precisely 3 p.m. every day, that’s when you’d check in, right? But that won’t keep you glued to your phone.
Instead, social media companies use what’s called “variable rewards.” This technique keeps us searching endlessly for our “prize,” such as who friended us, who liked our posts, and who updated their status.
Not coincidentally, this is also the method slot machines use to keep people pulling the lever. Since you never know what’s going to come up, you keep coming back for more.

What to do

Turn off app notifications, usually found in your phone’s Settings but also in the apps’ settings themselves. Schedule a timer to go off at a certain time every day and check your feeds then.

In-app purchases

Free games, such as Clash of Clans and Candy Crush, lure you in by promising cheap thrills, then offering in-app purchases that let you level up, buy currency to use in the game, and more. But the real sneaky stuff is how companies keep you playing, and buying.
The more you use the game and the more in-app purchases you make, the more companies learn about you. Thanks to games that connect to Facebook, they also know who your friends are. That lets them tailor specific products to you at the precise times you’re most likely to buy.

What to do

Spring for the full, paid version of games. They’re cheaper – and safer – in the long run.
Written by Caroline Knorr for Common Sense Media.

Calling all Kid Artists! Now's Your Chance to Doodle for Google

If you’ve got an artistic kid in grades K-12, you should know about Google’s annual Doodle contest.

For the last 10 years, Google has run a contest that is open to students in grades K through 12, in which the students are invited to create a doodle that may be featured as, “an interactive experience on Google.com.” In addition, they are eligible to win great scholarships and tech packages for their schools.
This year’s theme is, “What inspires me?” If your child is artistic, this is an amazing opportunity for them to get wide exposure by having their artwork displayed on Google.com. Students should create a doodle and describe what it is and how it represents something that inspires them.
Parents, teachers, non-profits, and after school programs may enter doodles on behalf of their students, but only one original per student may be submitted. Any medium may be used to create the doodle.
The winners will be in the following categories: State and Territory Winners, National Finalists, and the National Winner. The doodles will be judged on Artistic merit: Based on artistic skill, Creativity: Representation of the contest theme, use of the letters in the Google logo, and the unique approach to the doodle Theme communication: How well the contest theme is expressed in both the artwork and the written statement.
The contest is judged by grade groups (Grades K-3, Grades 4-5, Grades 6-7, Grades 8-9, Grades 10-12) by a panel of guest judges selected for each year.
The national winner will receive a behind-the-scenes experience with the Doodle team and a $30,000 college scholarship, a $50,000 Technology package for their school/non-profit organization, a trip to Google Headquarters in California, and Google hardware and swag.
The four national finalists who do not become the national winner will have their doodles featured on the Doodle 4 Google gallery and receive a $5,000 college scholarship, a trip to Google Headquarters in California, and Google hardware and swag.
State winners will have their doodles featured on the Doodle 4 Google gallery and receive Google Hardware, an assembly celebration at their school, and Google swag.
Once the entry period is closed and the judges have narrowed the field to the 53 best doodles, the public will be asked to vote online by selecting their favorite doodles, one from each grade group.
See previous winners here and apply here.

When Angst Comes to Visit

This is a submission in our monthly contest. January’s theme is “Wild.” Enter your own here!

Teen angst: a great phrase that uses onomatopoeia. As much as I like how it sounds, I hate the reality. With all those raging hormones, every teenager is bound to “lose it” at one time or another.

Add anxiety to that mix, and it’s a whole different beast. Sometimes it manifests in a meltdown of epic proportions, sometimes it’s silent, hidden demons. Teens learn to put a smile on their faces, to grin and bear it.

“How are you?” we ask.

“Fine,” they say with knots in their stomachs because, really, no one wants to talk about the tough stuff.

Hell, I don’t want to talk about the tough stuff! Anxiety is tough. It’s heartbreaking watching your child struggle with it.

To be clear, anxiety is not just feeling nervous before you take a test, talk on the phone, or go into a party by yourself. It’s constantly having excessive worry or fear strong enough to interfere with your daily life. It’s when you freak out over the length of time it takes someone to reply to your text, nervously going over all you might have done or said wrong. It’s checking and rechecking your work, whether or not the door is locked, or if your bed is clean. It’s wanting to go to a party and have fun but knowing your anxiety won’t let you, so you stay home.

It’s gut-wrenching seeing them grow up when they’d rather not, battle depression, or feel anxious because so much is hanging over their heads. It’s painful to watch as they literally climb in bed, fully clothed, and pull the blankets over their heads as their way to cope. They would rather not do homework for hours, they’d rather not tackle the college application process, and they’d rather not face what’s coming. They’d rather not “adult.”

As a mom, I’d rather not face that angst or my teen when she’s feeling the angst, but that’s not an option, obviously. Yesterday, everything was going along fine as it usually does – until it doesn’t. Being asked (or told) by her dad to swap out the laundry and start another load was kind of a bummer, but add in walking the dog and suddenly Kylie careened off an edge that I was unaware she was standing on.

To her credit, she did the laundry and took Brodie out. In fact, she even brought him home and took herself for a walk. That was a sensible choice, a good option for calming the beast. I was proud of her for trying that. Seeing her use different coping skills is heartening, especially when it works.

However, it didn’t work. The door slammed and feet stomped. There was some muttering. Clearly she was back and had brought the beast with her. My instinct was to immediately bring her a snack. She hadn’t had much to eat after the morning stack of pancakes. So down I go to the laundry room where she is grudgingly folding towels. I offer her Manchego cheese on bread with a drop of honey. She takes one look and says, “There’s rind. I’m not eating it.”

Okay. Right. Deep breath (me not her).

Not to be defeated, I go back up for beef jerky. She can’t refuse that (nor can our dog, by the way). Upon my return, Kylie was sitting on the floor leaning against the washing machine. She was gritting her teeth, clenching her jaw, and cracking her knuckles, but didn’t even realize it. Without a word, I plunked myself down next to her and silently held out the jerky. She took it, ate it, and grabbed another piece from my hand. I tasted success.

When I asked her if something had happened or if she was just in a bad mood, she declared life sucks. That’s kind of true for a teen, so I didn’t argue. I just asked whether it was life in general or school, homework, parents, college. Pretty much, yes. She was spinning her ring on her finger and I grabbed her hand. She held on, clinging as though I was the lifeline, the bridge between reality and that cacophony sounding in her head.

So we sat there on the floor, heads together; there wasn’t much I could do, so I let her vent. I started to disagree with the whole, “It’s not my job to get the dog out,” but managed to stop myself mid-sentence and went back to being quiet. It was a good decision. She railed on for a minute, about the dog, doing laundry, and folding towels, and then rolled her eyes about homework and college.

“I don’t want to go to college. I don’t want to grow up.” She looked sad, dejected, and tired. And she was, she said. Tired of adulting. I get that – I was tired of it too right then.

It’s hard to hear your child say they don’t like life, that they don’t want to grow up, and they are just over it all. It’s harder still – at least for me – to listen and not utter a word or try to convince her otherwise. But that’s what works for her. Sometimes that’s all it takes to chase the angst away.

We invited it in, but didn’t let it to stay for dinner so to speak. When our dinner was ready, I helped her up, turned her around three times – it’s our little thing we do to shake off the bad and call forth a new attitude – and held her hand as we went up to eat. We’d tamed the beast for the moment.

When dinner was over, we all curled up on the couch and started reading “Watership Down,” because sometimes it’s okay to not adult. Sometimes it’s okay to be taken care of. Sometimes, if you snuggle the teen, you can smother the angst. At least for a day.

Is an Emergency Department Visit Necessary? Probably Not as Often As You'd Think

Roughly half of children being seen in the emergency department don’t need to be there. How can you avoid being one of those parents?

There are many costs to using the emergency department for non-urgent care.
There’s the literal cost of care, given that emergency room visits generally have higher co-pays than clinic visits.
There are also plenty of figurative costs. Bringing your child to the emergency department when she does not have a serious illness or injury is likely to lead to a long wait, because she will be triaged behind the actual emergencies. After that long wait, you’re likely to receive an unsatisfying diagnosis and/or treatment: a Band-Aid for a cut, a directive to drink fluids for a run-of-the-mill cold, etc.
These experiences may erode your trust in the emergency department, especially when you receive the bill. It’s hard not to feel snubbed, like your child’s pain doesn’t matter, even when you are being told that your child is medically fine.
If you and your not-so-sick child are in the emergency department all night, both of you might miss out on a good night’s sleep, and, as a result, school and work tomorrow. While logging all that time in the waiting room, you and your child are also susceptible to hospital-acquired infections from all of the other sick patients.
Visiting an emergency department for a non-emergency can also have longer-range consequences. Taking a child to the emergency room for common ailments like ear infections can harm continuity of care, argues a recent review article in the The Journal of Pediatric Health Care.
When parents seek treatment for such issues at the ED, their children’s primary care providers (PCPs) might not receive valuable information about different illnesses. Without knowing how many ear infections or cases of strep throat a child has had, a PCP will not know whether or not to recommend interventions, like tympanostomy tubes or tonsillectomies.
All of these consequences focus on your child, but there are consequences for other people, too – including the truly sick children whose care may be delayed by overcrowded emergency departments or by overstretched hospital staff.
Given all of the negative consequences of bringing children to the emergency department for non-urgent conditions, it’s surprising that so many parents are doing it. A study of 31,076 emergency department visits from 33 different pediatric practices found that nearly half of those visits (47 percent) were classified as non-urgent by hospital staff. In other words, roughly half of children being seen in the emergency department did not need to be there.
Why are so many parents bringing their children with non-urgent conditions to the emergency department? How can you avoid being one of those parents?

It’s rarely a matter of life and death

The ED is for acute medical problems that may kill or maim if left untreated, which is why many hospitals around the country use the Emergency Severity Index to triage patients. The ESI’s triage algorithm is easy to read and worth parents’ time, because it shows exactly what a triage nurse or other healthcare professional will be asking when evaluating your child’s case.
The ESI flow chart begins with one easy question: “requires immediate life-saving intervention?” A “yes” answer leads to an ESI score of 1, and hasty attention in the ED.
A “no” answer leads to another set of questions. If the situation is not high-risk, the triage score will be somewhere between 3 and 5, depending on how many resources will be required to help a patient. If a patient does not require any resources (say, for a cold or flu), then the patient will be scored a 5. Many parents who bring their children to the ER for non-urgent categories will get a 4 or 5.

Why parents head to the ED

If their children are not at serious risk, why are so many parents heading to the ED?
One recent study found that parents’ tended to rate their children’s conditions more severely than medical professionals did. The hospital staff determined that of 381 visits, 298 (78.2 percent) were non-urgent cases.
In other words, just over two in 10 patients actually needed emergency care. However, almost 40 percent of parents asked to rate their children’s conditions reported that their children needed emergency care.
One explanation for overuse of pediatric emergency services is that parents, who are, on the whole, less experienced medical providers than doctors and nurses, are simply not good at evaluating whether or not a medical condition constitutes an emergency.
That explanation, however, fails to account for the nearly 40 percent of parents in the study who brought their children into the ED knowing that they had a non-urgent condition.
One way to better understand why parents bring their children to the emergency room is to simply ask them. Two different interview studies have done just that, questioning parents who took their children to the ED for non-urgent conditions. Both studies took place on weekdays during normal work hours, in order to determine why parents chose the emergency room over a PCP.
In the first study, researchers identified three main reasons for choosing the ED over the PCP. Some parents indicated that they chose the ED because their PCP recommended it, either after an in-person visit or after a phone call.
Another group of parents chose the ED because of problems with their PCPs, including impolite staff, confusing directions from the PCP, or even a PCP whose accent was confusing to parents. Parents also saw advantages to the ED, which was available for walk-ins and might be closer to home.
The second study found similar reasons for ED use, but went a step further in matching those reasons to parents’ health literacy. Researchers found that parents with lower health literacy tended to seek care for a diagnosis and treatment, while parents with average health literacy usually came to the ED with a diagnosis in mind but seeking reassurance from a trusted source.
Both groups feared “getting it right” when it came to their children’s diagnoses. In that sense, the ED operated as a space to reassure parents that they were providing good care to their children.
The most interesting finding of this second study was that all parents heard alarm bells over some symptoms. No matter how much health literacy they had, nearly all parents in the study panicked about fever. Parents feared ear damage, brain damage, and other consequences frequently misattributed to fever, and took their children to the ED even when it was not recommended by their children’s PCPs.

What’s the best way to keep your kids out of the ED?

Boost your own health literacy.
What’s clear from the interview studies is that parents with stronger health literacy are better assessors of risk, better able to distinguish between non-urgent, urgent, and life-threatening situations.

1 | Learn to identify true emergencies

You’ll probably know a true emergency in the unlucky case you see it, but if you need reminders, the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Healthy Children site for parents offers a useful list of situations that count as emergencies.
Although medical emergencies come from the whole alphabet, remembering just the Bs is a good start: behavior changes (like disorientation), bleeding, breathing problems, broken bones, burns, and button batteries (only if swallowed). All of those things will be considered high priority in an emergency department, because they are either life-threatening, high-risk, or causing severe pain.
When you’re on the fence about whether or not emergency care is right for the situation, your child might be better served by urgent care. Many lacerations, for example, are urgent but not life threatening, and therefore do not require a trip to the ER. In fact, they may be more quickly resolved at an urgent care center.
Some hospitals, like the Mayo Clinic, operate both emergency departments and urgent care centers, which makes it possible for parents who are unsure about the severity of a condition to be redirected by the hospital staff.
If you don’t have a combination ED and urgent care center near you, and aren’t sure which of the two to go to, check out Colorado Children’s Hospital’s helpful quiz to train you to distinguish between urgent and emergency situations. Actually, if you have time to take the quiz, you probably have an urgent care need and not an emergency.
Many other terrifying-looking medical issues, like a high fever in a child over three months old or even febrile seizure, do not require urgent care and can be handled through follow-up with your child’s PCP, which is why the next step is so crucial.

2 | Develop trust in your child’s primary care provider

Try to see the same PCP for all of your child’s well visits. Doing so can help you build trust in that person’s judgment, which you can lean on when making middle-of-the-night healthcare decisions.
Your child’s PCP is there to monitor your child’s health, but also to educate you about how best to care for him. Make sure you are receiving the resources you need, including, for example, information on urgent versus non-urgent situations.
Many PCPs operate phone services for health questions. These hotlines are different from the insurer hotlines you might call to find out about health coverage. Instead, these hotlines put you in touch with a healthcare professional, often a nurse, who will help you determine how serious your child’s health issue is. That person can also contact your PCP to get further advice about how to proceed.
If your pediatrician does not have a triage after-hours phone service, ask why not. If you don’t trust your primary care provider, get a new one.

3 | Ask what you’re buying with an emergency department visit…and where else you can buy that

The hardest part of deciding not to go to the emergency department with a sick or injured child is probably not a medical issue. It’s a philosophical one.
One possible explanation for the overuse of emergency departments for common childhood illnesses is that parents are seeking reassurance more than they are seeking medical care. Although training yourself to identify true emergencies, developing trust with your child’s PCP, and cultivating a list of after-hours resources will all help you make better decisions, what you need most is to develop trust in yourself as a parent.
If you review the above studies about the ages of children brought to the ED, you would notice a distinct drop-off after the first few years of life. That’s not because young children are necessarily any more vulnerable than preschoolers or kindergarteners. It’s because parents of one-year-olds don’t trust themselves to identify and resolve their children’s health problems.
For the first three months or so, no new parents know what they’re doing. This is also the time period when some issues, like fever, are considered emergencies. So you might choose to follow an informal three-month rule, erring on the side of caution and making frequent calls to your child’s PCP until you can start to separate urgent from non-urgent.
As you begin to learn these distinctions, and develop your health literacy, start to trust as much in yourself as in your child’s medical staff.

The Perfect Films For Your Next Mother/Tween Daughter Movie Night

Besides Nancy Drew, here are 10 new classics for moms and their tween daughters to watch together.

“Wanna watch ‘Nancy Drew’?” I asked my 11-year-old daughter as we settled in for a movie night. The film about a Titian-haired teen sleuth popped up as a recommendation on our streaming service.
“I know we’ve watched it before,” I continued. “But it’s good.” I recalled humor and adventure as teenage Nancy Drew solved crimes.
My tween rewarded me with a blank stare. She had no recollection of the PG-rated flick.
Huh. Maybe we had watched it longer ago than I thought. Quickly, I checked its date. 2007. That was shortly after my daughter was born. I vaguely remembered renting it on DVD, too. So it had been years since we watched it.
This got me thinking. What other “older” movies released before my daughter was a tween were worth watching now that she was a tween?
Besides Nancy Drew, here are 10 new classics for moms and their tween daughters to watch together. These movies resonate with tween-friendly themes such as friendship, creativity, resilience, and courage. My daughter and I have watched them and she approves of their inclusion in this list. As every family is different, I encourage parents to investigate if these movies are suitable for your tween by watching them beforehand or researching them further.

1 | The Princess Bride (1987)

Get swept away in the funny and sweet tale of Buttercup and Wesley, who cheat death and battle the bad guys to find love, true love. I can’t say enough about the witty script, which always makes me and my daughter laugh. I also appreciate that Robin Wright appears to wear no makeup in her role as Buttercup, sending the message that beauty is not based on eye shadow or lipstick.

2 | Soul Surfer (2011)

A surfer girl loses her arm to a shark. But thanks to her resilience, faith, and supportive family, she learns to be a surfer girl who just happened to lose an arm. My daughter and I were in awe that this movie is based on the true story of Bethany Hamilton.

3 | Enchanted (2007)

This Disney vehicle stars the delightful Amy Adams as an over-the-top cartoon princess who falls for Patrick Dempsey in modern-day New York City. I dig the creative combination of live action and animation while my daughter loves the musical scenes, especially the one in which urban creatures, like pigeons and rats, clean an apartment.

4 | Adventures in Babysitting (1987)

Elisabeth Shue plays 17-year-old Chris Parker in this adventure comedy. After getting dumped by her boyfriend, she takes a last-minute babysitting job and things go horribly and comically wrong. I admire Chris’ quick wit, heart, and pluck as she keeps her charges safe. My daughter finds the story likable and fast-moving.

5 | Legally Blonde (2001)

My first instinct is to hate this movie. It’s about a super cute sorority girl, after all. But the super cute sorority girl uses her savvy, kindness, and smarts to earn a law degree and respect from the peers that once looked down at her. The sorority girl is played by Reese Witherspoon, who I like to point out to my daughter is a successful actress, entrepreneur, and mother.

6 | The Princess Diaries (2001)

Anne Hathaway plays Mia, a gawky teen who learns she is a real-life princess. Mia stays true to her honest and approachable self while learning regal grace and manners from her grandma, the Queen of Genovia (Julie Andrews). My daughter likes the ugly duckling turns into a swan theme while I adore Julie Andrews’ performance.

7 | 13 Going on 30 (2004)

An awkward 13-year-old (Jennifer Garner) wishes to be popular and older. She gets her wish only to realize that she was her true self and knew her best friend when she was 13, not 30. If you are a Gen X mom like me, then you’ll enjoy the soundtrack laced with 80s hits. My tween delighted in the slumber party scene between 30-year-old Jenna and her new teenage friends.

8 | 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

Julia Stiles plays Kat, a cantankerous teen that no one likes. No one, that is, except high school bad boy Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger). I like that this romantic comedy is a modern-day interpretation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. My daughter likes that Kat is an interesting, different female protagonist.

9 | High School Musical (2006)

My 11-year-old had heard of this movie, of course, but had never seen it until recently. That’s when she became captivated by the foot-tapping ditties that tell the story of Troy and Gabriela, two teens who battle the odds to sing together in the (wait for it) high school musical. We found this movie sweet and entertaining.

10 | Dolphin Tale (2011)

This family drama stars Winter, a dolphin who tragically loses her tail. With the support of a lonely boy she befriends, Sawyer, and a new prosthetic tail, Winter learns to swim again. My daughter likes that this movie features a strong boy-girl friendship between Sawyer and his best friend, Hazel. I might like it because Hazel’s dad is played by the handsome Harry Connick, Jr.
There you have it, tween-friendly flicks to watch with your daughter. My hope is that you and your tween enjoy the romance, comedy or drama brimming from these 11 flicks. The time you spend watching these movies might just lay the foundation for successful, happy movie nights when your daughter becomes a teen, too.

How a Positive Relationship With Grandparents Can Shift Views of Aging

This recent study shows that the benefits extend beyond your child when they have a positive relationship with their grandparents.

Watching my children with their grandparents is one of my favorite parts of parenting. It was something I decided early on to foster because I could see that the grandparents felt almost as much love for my children as I did. They looked at them with a love and interest no other adults did. I wanted my children to have as many people in their life to look at them with adoration.
This recent study shows that the benefits extend beyond your child when they have a positive relationship with their grandparents. Published in the journal Child Development, the study investigated the relationship between grandparent contact and ageism. Children as young as three have been found to have prejudiced beliefs about older people. The current study wanted to investigate what, if any impact, grandparent relationship had on ageist views in children.
The study found that ageist stereotypes in children generally decrease around ages 10 to 12, and that children who say they have very good contact with their grandparents have the lowest levels of ageism. “The most important factor associated with ageist stereotypes was poor quality of contact with grandparents,” says lead researcher Allison Flamion. “We asked children to describe how they felt about seeing their grandparents. Those who felt unhappy were designated as having poor quality of contact. When it came to ageist views, we found that quality of contact mattered much more than frequency.”
1,151 children and adolescents ages seven to 16 from a range of socioeconomic statuses participated in the study. The researchers obtained children views’ about the elderly and getting old via questionnaires. Information about the health of the youths’ grandparents, how often the two generations met, and how the young people felt about their relationships with their grandparents was also collected.
The study found that opinions about ageing expressed by the children were mostly neutral or positive. Girls held less ageist views and had a more favorable view of their own ageing. The most prejudice was found in seven- to nine-year-olds and the least by 10- to 12-year-olds. This outcome is consistent with cognitive developmental theories. At the age of 10 perspectives taking skills build and this reduces prejudice in general. However, prejudice was also high in the 13- to 16-year-old age group.
Quality contact with grandparents was found to be the most important factor influencing youths’ views of the elderly. If children rated the contact as good or very good, defined in the study as feeling happy or very happy when they saw and shared with their grandparents, the children tended to have more favorable feelings toward the elderly than those who described the contact less positively. Meaningful contact with grandparents resulted in the most positive views and the most negative views of ageing.
Quality of contact mattered more than frequency of contact but frequency did have an effect. 10- to 12-year-olds who saw their grandparents at least once a week had the most favorable views toward the elderly. This is likely due to the multiplying effect of frequency with quality according to the researchers. Grandparent health also impacted on ageist views. Children with grandparents in poor health were more likely to hold ageist views than children with grandparents in better health.
“For many children, grandparents are their first and most frequent contact with older adults,” notes Stephane Adam, professor of psychology and co-author of the study. “Our findings point to the potential of grandparents to be part of intergenerational programs designed to prevent ageism. Next, we hope to explore what makes contacts with grandparents more rewarding for their grandchildren as well as the effects on children of living with or caring for their grandparents.”
When grandparents offer grandchildren a safe, loving and quality relationship, it seems the benefits extend beyond the child and the family relationship. Seeing grandparents more often can also help, but only when the relationship offered is a quality one. These important relationships can help shift views of ageing which is important in our society as people live and work longer.

The Sting of Being the Uninvited 

Doesn’t everyone know what that feels like, some personal version of Annie and the birthday non-invitation heard round the world?

My oldest daughter, 11 now, was waiting for me when I walked in the door from work. Before I had set my bag down, she was sobbing, her face crumpled under the stress of crying out whatever she had been holding in.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, a ticker tape of terrible images flashing through my head as I waited for her to catch her breath enough to be able to manage speech.
“A party,” she started, pausing to wipe her nose on her sleeve. “I’m not invited.”
And just like that, all the parenting badges and medals I had earned, all the honors of having birthed four children (and the last one on the bathroom floor), all the wisdom of more than a decade’s worth of dealing with every flavor of crisis that could come along and reduce one of the six of us to a messy pile of tears flew out of me in one long exhale.
Because right then, I was eight again, still convinced that a girl we’ll call Annie was my best friend. I knew it had to be truth because I’d proclaimed it as many times as anyone would indulge me to listen, and then I’d sealed the deal with those chunky best friend necklaces that together formed one heart.
I was awkward and unpopular and a little jacked up, but the weight of that half a heart against my chest comforted me. No matter what the world took from me, I always had Annie.
That is, of course, until I didn’t. Until I realized I never actually had had Annie at all. Come to think of it, she’d never worn her half of the interlocking heart necklace, and I’m certain I’d never heard her mention me as her best friend. Hell, I’m not sure I’d ever heard her mention me at all.
And she definitely forgot to mention me when she gave her mother the list of people she wanted to invite to her extra super special mega blowout birthday bash at the skate n’ place roller rink, because out of our entire third grade class, I was the only one not invited.
You can imagine the heartbreak.
So I stood there in my foyer, 30 years later and very much an adult, still in my adult heels and my adult coat, and trying my adult best to summon words to make everything better for the little love of my life who stood before me as brokenhearted as my sad unrequited necklace. But I couldn’t.
The ticker tape was back, except this time, it flashed ideas of what I should say here to fix it. “People are terrible” seemed harsh. “Never trust anyone” was likely a little too bleak. I had nothing, I realized.
Except that wasn’t exactly true either.
What I had was the sadness of a 30-year-old heartbreak that I could still feel if I closed my eyes, even though I had grown up to feel wholly loved. I knew there had to be a lesson in this, a teachable moment maybe, but I hadn’t found it yet. What I found was my compassion.
So I stepped out of my heels and the shadow of my past. I shed my coat and the weight of the grudge I might have still been carrying against Annie – not a bad one, like I was going to boil her bunny or send her a horse’s head, but more the kind where if I saw her in the grocery store and her hands were full and she needed to reach the good ice cream on the top shelf of the freezer, I would reach in for her and grab it and then run away cackling with it tucked under my arm.
I got down to where I could be eye level with my bleary-eyed girl. I wrapped her in my arms and rocked slow and said the two words I did know to be true: “I know. I know I know I know I know.”
Because didn’t I? Don’t you? Doesn’t everyone know what that feels like, some personal version of Annie and the birthday non-invitation heard round the world? Who would ever wish such pain on their kid?
It was later, after the sting of both our wounds had settled into a dull ache in the background and we had words again, when I asked her what she thought she could do to make things better. And I saw the lesson had been there all along.
“What can I do? Maybe nothing,” my daughter said, “at least not about the party. But I could try really hard to make sure I don’t ever make anyone else feel like that.”
That’s when Annie rushed right out of my heart once and for all. There just wasn’t any room left for her, what with all the love and gratitude swelling up in there.

How Smartphone Addiction Is Affecting Teens' Brains

A recent study found that being addicted to smartphones creates a chemical imbalance in the brain linked to depression and anxiety in young people.

Kids today are spending an exorbitant amount of time glued to their electronics. A 2015 survey published by Common Sense Media found that American teenagers (ages 13 to 18) averaged six and a half hours of screen time per day on social media and other activities like video games. In addition, a 2015 report from Pew Research Center found that 24 percent of teenagers ages 13 to 17 reported being online “almost constantly,” and that 73 percent had a smartphone or access to one.

Sadly, more teens are also starting to get addicted to their phones and other devices. There is even now a term – “nomophobia” – to describe people who can’t handle being away from their phone. One study found that 66 percent of people in the United Kingdom have some form of nomophobia.

With all of this excessive phone use, a group of neuroscientists wanted to find out if the exposure is damaging neurological health, especially in children and teens whose brains are still developing. The research team from Korea University in Seoul, South Korea, recently published a study that found that being addicted to smartphones creates a chemical imbalance in the brain linked to depression and anxiety in young people.

About 20 teens being treated for smartphone or internet addiction, half boys and half girls with an average age of 15, were recruited to participate in the study. First, researchers evaluated the seriousness of the teens’ addiction by looking at their productivity, feelings, social life, and daily routines. They noted that teens addicted to their phones had higher rates of anxiety, depression, impulse control problems, and sleep disorders than other teens their age.

Next, researchers used a technology called magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to track the movement of biochemicals in the teens’ brains. They looked at a chemical called gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) that’s involved in motor control and vision, and regulates brain function. Too much GABA may lead to anxiety.

They also observed levels of glutamate-glutamine (Glx), a neurotransmitter that causes the brain’s nerve cells to become excited. The amount of these chemicals that we have in our brains affects our emotions and cognitive ability. Thus addiction, anxiety, and depression can result when these chemicals are out of balance.

The amount of these two chemicals in the study participants clearly showed that the brain was altered from smartphone addiction. They saw how GABA slowed down their brain function, resulting in poorer attention and control. Therefore when people are too attached to their phone, they are essentially destroying their ability to focus. In addition, they noted how the addicted teenagers had significantly higher levels of anxiety, depression, insomnia, and impulsivity.

Finally, the teens went through a nine-week cognitive behavioral therapy program, which included mindfulness, to address their phone addiction. Interestingly, the levels of GABA to glutamate-glutamine normalized after the therapy.

Although the study was limited because of the small sample size used, the results are troubling. We can clearly see the connection between extensive phone use and negative changes to the brain. No matter what age our children are, we can start to think about how to break their reliance on phones and other electronics before they get too attached, or possibly even addicted.

Here are some ways to start:

  • Learn more about technology addiction and evaluate if your children are struggling. Consider taking this online quiz.
  • Seek professional help so they can undergo cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Introduce mindfulness to help break their tech habit.
  • Enforce tech use rules, such as putting gadgets away during dinner and homework time, and while driving.
  • Remove social media apps, like Facebook and Twitter, from their phone and only allow them to check those sites from their laptop.
  • Remove chimes from their phone so they are not constantly prompted to look at a new text or post as it arrives.
  • Forbid the use of electronics before bedtime, as this can disturb sleep patterns.
  • Help your children replace electronics with healthier activities like creative arts, meditating, exercise, and talking to people in person.

Being mindful of our teens’ tech habits will help them, and their brains, develop into adulthood.