Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Color Your Life- Color War 2017!

As you all know by now, Color War is here!!!  The anticipation (by the faculty) and the surprise (by the students) was palpable. The run to Party City last night to get the team colors is a yearly tradition loved or dreaded by parents.  Our middle schoolers arrived here this morning donning the color they were assigned.  

But, color can impact our overall lives, aside from this three day battle.  We draw with color. Coloring used to be just for kids.  In 2013, a Scottish illustrator, Johanna Brasford, came out with her first adult coloring book.  They initially printed 13,000 copies.  Today their worldwide sales is 13 million.  U.S. sales of coloring books in the United States, says Sarah Begley in Time Magazine, have jumped from 1 million in 2014 to 12 million in 2015.  Why are adults suddenly coloring?

Anecdotally, it has been seen to reduce anxiety and increase mindfulness. Dr. Nikki Martinez says that even the psychologist Dr. Carl Jung, founder of the school of analytical psychology, used to recommend  coloring to his patients as a way to access their subconscious and new “self- knowledge.” Some see it as an alternative to meditation and a relaxation technique used to achieve calm. “It can help the individual focus on the act of coloring intricate pictures for hours on end, vs. focusing on intrusive and troubling thoughts.”

Martinez also notes that coloring helps with anxiety and stress as it calms down our amygdalas- the part of the brain that controls our fight or flight response, keeping us in a “heightened state of worry, panic and hyper-vigilance when it is active.”  Coloring actually turns that response down and allows the brain go rest and relax.   Coloring also brings us back to simpler times of our childhood when we did not have so many responsibilities and we “could do something because we wanted to, for the pure joy of it.” She also notes the intellectual benefits of coloring as it utilizes the areas of the brain responsible for focus, concentration, problem solving and organizational skills.

Begley describes her own experience coloring as she got lost in the act. “In a world that’s constantly interrupted by the beeping and buzzing of notifications, I found myself getting pleasantly lost in the intricacy of the ornate pages.”  

Color also affects our state of mind in another way. Color has been found to impact one’s mood.  Chromology is the study of the psychology of color and is used in advertising, decoration and in fashion. Different emotions and even physical reactions have been found to be triggered by colors.  Red, for example, has been found to increase pulse, heart rate,and appetite and raises blood pressure. It is active and aggressive.  (I once mentioned in a shiur I gave that it is interesting to note that Eisav was “red”and ate a red soup. What was the color trying to convey?) If one recalls the movie Inside Out, Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness were each different colors.

Lindsey Gurson, in her article, “Color Has A Powerful Effect On Behavior, Researchers Assert,” shares that  “When children under detention at the San Bernardino County Probation Department in California become violent, they are put in an 8-foot by 4-foot cell with one distinctive feature - it is bubble gum pink. The children tend to relax, stop yelling and banging and often fall asleep within 10 minutes, said Paul E. Boccumini, director of clinical services for the department.”  In a study in Edmonton, Alberta, of interest to us as educators, “the walls of the schoolroom were changed from orange and white to royal and light blue. A gray carpet was installed in place of an orange rug. Finally, the fluorescent lights and diffuser panels were replaced with full-spectrum lighting. As a result, Professor Wohlfarth reported, the children's mean systolic blood pressure dropped from 120 to 100, or nearly 17 percent, The children were also better behaved and more attentive and less fidgety and aggressive, according to the teachers and independent observers. When the room was returned to its original design, however, the readings gradually increased and the children once again became rowdy, he said.”

We apparently parent by color as well. I actually came across a website called Family Colorworks where each member of the family discovers his/her “natural color” and what it represents about their interaction style and  their “needs, values, motives, stressors, and stress behaviors.”  (I know nothing about this website and am in no way recommending it). Then you choose what color your parent with- blue, green, orange or gold. For example, blue parents “value relationships, communication and understanding and their biggest stressor is conflict. They are intuitive, communicative and sensitive. I focus on others’ needs. I seek for balance. I enjoy nature, spiritual things, friends and family. I say, ‘I feel’ a lot and tend to use touch to communicate…”  

In Judaism we know that color also has meaning. In Sotah 17a, Rabbi Meir asks regarding the color techelet , "Why was the color blue chosen from all the other colors? Because the blue resembles the sea, the sea resembles the sky, and the sky resembles the Throne of Glory.”  There is something about color that inspires us.

So, as we engage in color war, we are trying to relay many lessons to our children, as we hope they learn something from the experience.  One color lesson we relay to them is “Sometimes you have to see people as a crayon.  They may not be your favorite color, but you need them to complete the picture.”  Color war is a lesson in working with others and making it work, even when the other may not be your particular friend.  

As parents, let us remember to pay attention to the spectrum of colors in our lives and to take some time to just color.

Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade  -Students discussed placing themselves in the role of teacher. If you were teacher, how would you expect students to act?

Seventh Grade-  The boys focused on a unit on foul language and the importance of watching what one says. The girls discussed social exclusion and gossip- forms of bullying.

Eighth Grade-  Student reflected on the “post holiday blues” that often stem from the materialism of the “holiday season.”  How does materialism affect us?

Sunday, January 1, 2017

"Mi Lashem Eilai"- Parents Unite!

Mi lashem eilai” “Whoever is for Hashem come with me,” was the rallying call of Matityahu to unite the Jewish people. The best way to stand up to the Syrian- Greeks- physically and spiritually- was to unite.  No matter what influences were surrounding the Jews, when they united they were able to triumph.
As parents, we are battling many negative influences that permeate the lives of our children each day. Whether from the media or from the overall culture in which we live, we often feel that as they enter the teenage years we are in battle. The problem is that we as parents do not unite enough.   
A few weeks ago, as you know,  we were privileged to host a parent workshop on the topic of setting boundaries and limits on our children’s technology use.  I know that I need not spend any more time on this topic, but there was an important realization that all of us parents who attended left with that night.  During one piece of the workshop, we broke into groups according to the ages of our children  to discuss rules that we think we should put into place in our homes when it comes to technology use.  We had the opportunity to hear some innovative ideas that others are already implementing. More importantly, we got the chance to see that we are all in the same boat and struggling with the same things.  We talked about the ages we had decided to give our kids phones.  We spoke about how much easier it would be if we were all implementing the same rules, (with some variation), across the board so that we need not be the only “mean parents.”  Wouldn’t it be amazing if before we gave our children phones we parents would have a meeting to discuss some across the board regulations that we can all implement?  How about for other rules like curfew?  Supervision at parties? There is strength in unity.  Just swapping ideas was supportive and helpful.  We had the chance to unite.  
The conversation should sound familiar.  
Your child: “Everyone else is going. Why can’t I?”
You: “I don’t care what ‘everyone else’ is doing. You can’t go.”
Your child: “Why are you so mean? You’re the only parent who isn’t letting!”
You can fill in the blank, but this is a common interchange between a child and parent in the middle school years and beyond.  Let me let you in on a little secret. Everyone is not going.  Not everyone’s parent is letting. And, you are not the only mean one.  The problem is we never unite so we do not know what the other parents are doing.
Over 20 years ago when I worked in a high school, a woman named Connie Greene, the Vice President for the Barnabas Health Behavioral Network Institute for Prevention, came to give a series of workshops in my school regarding parenting and substance abuse.  She would laugh if she knew that I remembered a comment she made.  She said (not exact words), “Parents, you need to band together and ‘plot.’ The kids are smarter than we are. They are banding together and ‘plotting’ already. You need to unite too.”  
We need to talk to other parents and not isolate ourselves. We need to investigate what others are doing, and band together.  There is strength in numbers.  At the time, when I was working in that school, we spoke of parents getting together to meet about rules for parties. Any parent that was part of that group or “pact” would be considered a safe place to send your child to for a party.  
On Thursday, we had a our Go Dark While The Candles Go Light challenge. We asked all middle schoolers and their parents to disconnect from their devices for dinner and one hour while the candles are lit.  How much easier it would be to set limits and disconnect if parents united and all agreed on doing so at certain times!
On Friday, if you have not heard already, our sixth graders had a mock bar/bat mitzvah where I got to play the role of the bat mitzvah girl and Mr. Steiner was the bar mitzvah boy. We had speeches, a montage, a buffet and dancing- all chances to implement the proper behavior they had learned about in Advisory during bar/bat mitzvah celebrations.  Let us not minimize how difficult the bar/bat mitzvah year is for our children.  Balancing schoolwork, social life, extracurriculars and a simcha every weekend (if not two).  And, on top of all that, when it is your own bar/bat mitzvah- all the preparation that needs to go into the big day which includes added pressure.  One topic that often comes up among parents of the bnei mitzvah is the above pressure.  Is the solution less parties? Shorter parties? Less demands on the child celebrating the simcha?  Parents often shmooze over lunch about solutions. How about if we parents united and come up with some solutions?  
“Whoever is for Hashem come with me,” was Matityahu’s rallying cry. “Whoever is for strengthening our teens and implementing good values come with me!” is the parent’s rallying cry.  Let us unite and support each other, and thereby strengthen our children.
Chag Sameach!

Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade- You read about our bar/bat mitzvah celebration above. Sixth graders were told that we were hosting  Aliza and Azi to celebrate their big days. Little did they know what the event truly was.  Before each event a rhyming introduction reminded them of the etiquette rules we learned in Advisory for proper behavior and decorum.  I even followed up with a thank you note- always proper!
Seventh Grade-  Students finished their unit Operation Respect with focusing on economic struggles can be found in the Jewish community as well.  As you know, their visit to the homeless shelter in Hackensack, where they sang, conversed with the residents and gave out hats and gloves, was inspirational!
Eighth Grade-   Students discussed the addictive nature of technology and the social and emotional impact it has.  

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Parents or Peers?

Last week Dr. Eli Shapiro joined us to discuss the parent’s role in managing technology in our home.  We came away with some practical strategies and even technology ideas like OurPact to manage their phones. We talked about how to make a contract with your child and some rules that make sense for our families.  But, there was one overarching theme that pervaded the evening. When planning the workshop with Dr. Shapiro he shared that implementing limits when it comes to technology is really all about parenting.  All parenting which works is prefaced by a relationship with one’s child. Dr. Shapiro asserted that the reason why his teenager is able to follow the rules set up in his family is because of the relationship they have and have developed with much hard work over the years.  

Dr. Shapiro surveyed students in local yeshivot and 52% of children reported that parents were the biggest influence on what they think is appropriate or inappropriate when using a cell phone or the internet.  This pattern has been seen in the research in the general population in  a variety of areas.  Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre in Australia released a report finding substantial benefits when parents and kids engage in intergenerational conversations about technology use. Parents continue to have a strong influence when it comes to being smart, safe, respectful and resilient online.  A Pew research study states,parents are the most often cited source of advice and the biggest influence on teens’ understanding of appropriate and inappropriate digital behavior.”

In a Kaiser Family  Foundation research study they found that nearly 80 percent of teenagers indicate that what their parents have told them and what their parents might think influence their decisions about sex and relationships. Despite the research, parents are still convinced that peers have more influence and they have very little influence on their children staying away from at-risk behaviors. A  report from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says more than one in five parents of teenagers believe they possess little influence over whether their child drinks alcohol or experiments with drugs and tobacco, they therefore do not speak to their children about substance use. When 67,000 Americans ages 12 and older were surveyed as part of the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health, teenagers who believe their parents would strongly disapprove of substance abuse were less likely than their peers to use them. Parents matter more than peers- what do you know?!

According to other research, parents matter more than schools!  An article by Anne Murphy Paul, in Time Magazine, “Why Parenting Is More Important Than Schools” reports on a study which indicates that “parental involvement matters more for performance than schools.” “ A study published earlier this month by researchers at North Carolina State University, Brigham Young University and the University of California-Irvine, for example, finds that parental involvement — checking homework, attending school meetings and events, discussing school activities at home — has a more powerful influence on students’ academic performance than anything about the school the students attend. Another study, published in the Review of Economics and Statistics, reports that the effort put forth by parents (reading stories aloud, meeting with teachers) has a bigger impact on their children’s educational achievement than the effort expended by either teachers or the students themselves. And a third study concludes that schools would have to increase their spending by more than $1,000 per pupil in order to achieve the same results that are gained with parental involvement.”

We at Yavneh Academy are not closing up shop, but it is a relief to see how much of an impact we as parents also have on academic progress.  Paul highlights that it is not just among the affluent parents who exercise “concerted cultivation of children.”  The research reveals that “parents, of all backgrounds, don’t need to buy expensive educational toys or digital devices for their kids in order to give them an edge. They don’t need to chauffeur their offspring to enrichment classes or test-prep courses. What they need to do with their children is much simpler: talk.”  

The research points to the impact of mathematical and spatial understanding from the type of language used at home. Vocabulary is clearly impacted.  Among middle schoolers particularly they found that parents play an important role in “academic socialization”  “setting expectations and making connections between current behavior and future goals (going to college, getting a good job).”   Parents truly matter and make an impact on all areas of life- even with teens! And.. even when they seem annoyed by what we are saying and do not seem to be listening.

For those who have been reading my column for some time, you will recognize that this is my opportunity to bring up my favorite Gemara regarding Yoseph, Yaakov and parenting. When Yoseph was in the house of Potiphar, far from home and his family, he faced the difficult situation of the wife of Potiphar. The Gemara in Sotah 36b describes, “It was taught in the School of R. Ishmael: That day was their feast-day, and they had all gone to their idolatrous temple; but she had pretended to be ill because she thought, I shall not have an opportunity like to-day for Joseph to associate with me. And she caught him by his garment, saying etc. At that moment his father's image came and appeared to him through the window and said: 'Joseph, your brothers will have their names inscribed upon the stones of the ephod and yours amongst theirs; is it your wish to have your name expunged from amongst theirs and be called an associate of harlots?' Immediately his bow abode in strength.”

Clearly Yoseph's father was far away in Canaan- how could he have seen the image of his father Yaakov in the window? That image of Yaakov that he saw was the voice in his head. Over and over he had heard his father say, “Good boys don't act that way. In our family, our values are...” And, of course, like any teenager, (Yoseph was just 17 when he went to Egypt), he said to his dad, “I know, I know- why do you keep on telling me the same thing?!” And, yet, Yaakov continued sending those messages. That is why, when faced with challenge to his morality, he heard that voice in his head.
So, when we have our frequent “talks” with our children they say to us, “I know, I know- enough already!” And, yet when they are faced with challenge, whether peer pressure to do the wrong thing or the temptation to engage in any at-risk behavior, or even the temptation to skip their homework, they will hear our voices in their head, and practically see our images before them reminding them of what they should do. At the end of the day, parental influence wins out!

Those of us who attended last week’s workshops ran home to implement some of the practical suggestions, but at the end of the day, the most important message we absorbed was to develop relationships with our children. To talk and talk and talk to them some more about what we hope for them, and the behaviors we expect from them. (And, of course, to listen as well!)  They actually do listen.  The research says so... even if they won’t admit it!  

Advisory Update:

Sixth Grade-  Students began to discuss the appropriate way to interact with teachers.

Seventh Grade- Continuing on the path to empathy and truly understanding the homeless- How expensive is it to live in America today?  

Eighth Grade- How as the digital lives we lead affected our lifestyle and quality of life?  Is there a need to disconnect sometimes?  (This leads up to our Go Dark While The Candles Go Light Evening on December 29.. Stay tuned).

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Technology Addiction- How Bad Is It For Our Teens?

In last week’s column I promised you a part 2, reviewing the data on media addiction.  (Have you RSVPed to our workshop yet?)  “Social networking is engineered to be as habit-forming as crack cocaine,” are the words found in a recent article in Computerworld  in 2015.  Common Sense Media spent some time this year conducting a research study and reviewing the literature on technology addiction, media use, and family media management, among other topics, in their report Technology Addiction: Concern, Controversy and Finding Balance..  

What is an addiction? In the report it describes what addiction is using a hypothetical teenager named Sue.  “... First Sue interacts with a ‘rewarding stimulus’ -something that stimulates or kicks into action, the brain’s ‘reward pathway.’  When the reward pathway is stimulated, it triggers the release of dopamine...a neurotransmitter, or a messenger chemical.   Dopamine tells the brain to pay attention: Something is about to happen.  It rewires the brain such that addicts need more of a given stimulus to get a desired effect....Sue’s brain heeds dopamine’s message, shifting into a state of wanting, expecting, and desiring pleasure...Over time, the brain adjusts and becomes less sensitive to dopamine.  She will need more of the rewarding stimulus to feel the same effect...Tolerance can lead to increased cravings for the rewarding stimulus…”    

The authors quote a 2011 study that through neuroimaging the brains of those identified with an internet addiction they noted that their images resemble those of substance abusers and pathological gamblers.  For example, the gray matter- associated with executive functioning, planning, decision making and impulse control is seen to be less dense in the brains of youths addicted to the internet.  (It is difficult to say which came first- does the addiction cause changes in the brain or those with different brain structures are more prone to the addiction?).  

In fact, withdrawal symptoms experienced by youth who are deprived of their technological devices is compared to those felt by drug addicts or smokers going “cold turkey,”  as reported by a study called “The World Unplugged” by Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change. Students ages 17-23 were asked to give up their media for one day, but were allowed to use landlines and read books.  Participants felt physical and mental distress, including panic, confusion and extreme isolation when they were forced to “unplug” for only one day.  They reported emotions such as “fretful, confuse, anxious, irritable, insecure, nervous, restless, crazy, addicted, panicked, jealous, angry, lonely, dependent, depressed, jittery and paranoid.”

Teens tend to be more prone to addiction. Why? The region in their brain responsible for decision making is more affected  and influenced by rewards than is the adult brain.  Additionally, the frontal lobe, which control decision making and impulsivity, is still developing. They are less able to set limits and stop themselves when it comes to media.

I wish to focus upon two specific areas of the body of the Common Sense Media report : the effects of multitasking and the impact on social well-being.  One common area faced by parents of teens is media multitasking.  A 2010 study of children 8-18 found that they were engaged in media multitasking for 29% of their overall media use time, “fitting over 10 hours of media use into 7.5 hours of their day.”  Another study of students in middle school through university found that they studied for fewer than six minutes before switching to “another technological distraction such as texting or social media.” In their own research study, Common Sense Media found that 51% of teens watched TV, 50% used social media and 60% texted while doing homework. (Sounds familiar?)  Most teens did not feel that the multitasking affected the quality of their work.

Does multitasking affect productivity?  Does it cause cognitive fatigue- a type mental exhaustion caused by the strain of switching between tasks and multiple trains of thought? Does it reduce work speed?  Multitasking also makes it more difficult to create memories that can be accurately retrieved later.  So, “When a student’s attention is distracted- for example by texting with friends while taking notes in class- the student may not properly mentally encode what the teacher has said. As a result, the student would have greater difficulty retrieving the memory on a test.” It does not seem that since these children were born into a generation of multi-taskers they are more adept at it.  There is also evidence that multitasking is a risk factor for depression and anxiety.

Another area of burgeoning research is on the impact of technology on social well-being.  Researchers have indicated that social media has impacted on the fact that  narcissism seems to be on the increase and empathy on the decline.  Some reasons for this might be the fact that when we interact with others through a screen we miss out on the visual, auditory and tactile  cues that we would receive in person. People also tend to be more aggressive or insensitive on-line than face to face.  Posting on social media involves self-promotion and talking about oneself, which logically may lead to higher levels of narcissism.  77% of teens feel they get distracted by devices and don’t pay attention when they get together.  Although there needs to be more research on the impact of technology on the social and emotional skills of children, there is some preliminary research indicating that girls 8-12 years old express that media multitasking was associated with “feeling judged, feeling stressed and having hurt feelings.”  

The Common Sense Media report spends the rest of its report sharing the recommendations for parents in finding balance and embracing quality media usage.  I am not going to share those with you as you will be able to find those answers at our Monday night parent workshop
Setting Boundaries and Balancing Technology
Use for your Child
Dr. Eli Shapiro
of the Digital Citizenship Project
Monday, December 12, 2016 at 7:30 P.M.
I look forward to seeing you all there!

Advisory Update:

Sixth Grade: Students began a unit on Bar/Bat Mitzvah etiquette and behavior.

Seventh Grade:  How do we often judge others by they way they look or seem to us, is a question students considered.

Eighth Grade: Why do good, was a question the students considered. How does it impact on one’s personal development even with any personal gain?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Technology Addiction And Teens- We're In This Together

In 2011, I heard about the phenomenon of Half- Shabbat and wrote about it in my blog. I actually had  heard about the  existence of this behavior some time before that. The first time I heard about it I could not imagine what it meant. Is it sort of like keeping 1 and ½ days of Yom Tov in Eretz Yisrael if you are American? Not quite.
It is when someone in public appears to keep all the laws of Shabbat,  goes to shul etc.,  except that he texts his other friends who are “half-Shabbat” observers on Shabbat or engages on social media use. This phenomenon exists in every stream of Orthodox Judaism from the east to the west coast.  Why does this happen? How could this happen? How could it be that  children growing up in Shomer Shabbat homes and going to Yeshivot all their lives could lose the meaning of  Shabbat?  What are we doing wrong?  I, personally, was devastated. (The focus of my blog then was how to make Shabbat more meaningful- still relevant today).

Fast-forwarding to years later, I wondered if this phenomenon was still as prevalent as it seemed to be then.  I imagine it is still out there.  Although I did not find any articles from 2016, in a  2014 article in Tablet by Shira Telushkin, called “Shabbat Is A Day Of Rest- But Does That Mean I Can’t Text My Friends,” Telushkin deems half- Shabbat as still widespread.  

“He is a typical Modern Orthodox teenager from Boston. He comes from a religious family, attends Maimonides High School during the year, and spends summers at a Modern Orthodox camp. He is well-versed in his community’s prohibitions against using technology on Shabbat, but sometimes, he told me, on Saturday afternoons he and his friends ‘get so bored.’ That’s when their cell phones come out, in the privacy of bedrooms or basements, away from parents and other community members.
‘In the future I would definitely like a day of rest without technology,’  said the teenager who, like most students I interviewed for this article, asked that his name not be used, as his parents don’t know he uses his phone—or turns on lights in his room, or writes in his notebook—on Shabbat. ‘It’s not healthy to be so obsessed with social media. It’s not a necessity, it’s not water, it’s not air.’ But for now, he has no plans to keep his phone off throughout Shabbat.”
Even this young boy admitted he is “obsessed with social media.”  It is an obsession.  A 2011 story in The Jewish Week claimed that  50% of Modern Orthodox teens keep half-Shabbat, although others maintained it is closer to 17%.  
I revisit this topic because, as Telushkin notes, half-Shabbat simply mirrors broader society where “teenagers are addicted to cellphones, they don’t know how to live without their devices, and the peer pressure to stay socially aware at all times is unbearable.” Although Telushkin maintains that she does not believe it is as common as those fear, she does quote a high school student who said she is “‘dying from the guilt’ of breaking Shabbat, but she can’t stop.”  Sounds like an addiction to me.
The reason why there is this addiction is clear.  Almost all teens have smartphones, and checking on social media and or texting can be “quick and discreet.” And, most sleep near their cellphones so they are aware of them all day. In the Jewish Week’s   2011 article they note that this addiction is painful for the adults as well, (aside from their having their own addiction).  “Rabbi Perton said his day school recently tried to enforce a ban on using cell phones during school hours, ‘When we did take away a phone,’ he said, ‘the amount of pain the student was in was literally unbearable. The parents would beg and scream because they were getting it at home from their kid and just wanted to end their own misery.  If the students and their parents lose their equilibrium when a phone is taken away for a week, can such a child stop on Shabbos?’ the rabbi asks.  ‘I hope so, but do not know.’”
Chani, interviewed in that article said she started texting on Shabbat because “I was just so bored on Shabbat- I had nothing to do.”  That boredom is a reason that sets in- similar to the high schooler’s comment above.
This “technology addiction” prompted a study by Common Sense Media, an organization  dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology.  They “ empower parents, teachers, and policymakers by providing unbiased information, trusted advice, and innovative tools to help them harness the power of media and technology as a positive force in all kids’ lives.” I’ve mentioned Common Sense Media before as they are my go to before I allow my children to watch any movie, tv show etc., as they rate each of them.  Additionally, they have educational information for parents and teachers related to technology.   
50% of teens feel they are addicted to their mobile devices, according to the Common Sense Media study.  59% of parents said their children were addicted.  80% of teens said they checked their phones hourly and 72% said they felt the need to immediately respond to texts and social networking messages.  36% of parents said they argued with their children daily about device use.  77% of parents feel their children get distracted by their devices and do not pay attention when they are together, at least a few times each week.  (Stay tuned to next week’s column when I speak more about the Common Sense Media survey).  
We know this addiction is not limited to children.  In fact the DSM-5, which establishes mental health disorders, listed “Internet Gaming Disorder” as a possible addition for a future DSM.  In summary, the diagnostic criteria for Internet Gaming Disorder include:
1.  Repetitive use of Internet-based games, often with other players, that leads to significant issues with functioning.  Five of the following criteria must be met within one year:
  1. Preoccupation or obsession with Internet games.
  2. Withdrawal symptoms when not playing Internet games.
  3. A buildup of tolerance–more time needs to be spent playing the games.
  4. The person has tried to stop or curb playing Internet games, but has failed to do so.
  5. The person has had a loss of interest in other life activities, such as hobbies.
  6. A person has had continued overuse of Internet games even with the knowledge of how much they impact a person’s life.
  7. The person lied to others about his or her Internet game usage.
  8. The person uses Internet games to relieve anxiety or guilt–it’s a way to escape.
  9. The person has lost or put at risk and opportunity or relationship because of Internet games.  
Although technology is not a drug, and therefore the addiction is not exactly “chemical,”  “addicts” can become withdrawn, lost and depressed.  Sergio Diazgranados, in his article on Technology addiction, points to that boredom as one reason why the addiction is on the rise. We are thirsting the stimulation that technology provides. We are also seeking an escape from the stress of real life.  
What we do know is that in a Common Sense Media survey of Americans ages 8-18, children report that outside of school and homework tweens (ages 8-12) spend almost six hours per day  and teens spend almost nine hours per day using media. “Some would point to the sheer number of hours as evidence of an addiction.”  
What might be the negative repercussions of this addiction?  My column next week will outline some of those impacts. If this week’s column does not yet entice you to attend our December 12th workshop on “Setting Boundaries And Balancing Technology Use For Your Child” presented by Dr. Eli Shaprio, I hope that next week’s column will convince you.
Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade: We began the unit “Hey Dude, That’s Rude” with discussion of some commonly accepted, yet difficult, etiquette rules.
Seventh Grade: What are the steps of empathy? Students were trained in empathy exercises.
Eighth Grade:  Students completed their “Self-evaluation” forms where they shared with administrators the activities and talents they have about which we might not know. We then discussed how the election, with a tone of disrespect, might have impacted on Americans and how are we doing at creating an atmosphere of respect in Yavneh Academy.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Antidote To Entitlement- Gratitude

Mark Twain once said, “The world owes you nothing. It was here first.”   His words target one perspective that often prevents us and our children from feeling gratitude- entitlement. As parenting coach James Lehman says, “The attitude of a child with a false sense of entitlement is, ‘I am, therefore give to me.’  It is imperative to challenge that false sense of entitlement. Why?  Because the entitlement prevents our children from  appreciating the value of hard work and the need to earn what they want. This is contrary to what they are presently thinking, according to Lehman, “You don’t need to do anything—everything will be given to you in life just because you’re you.”

Dr. David Pelcovitz points out that the name “Jew” -Yehudi comes from Yehuda which means to thank or express gratitude.  Jews are not called “Ivrim”- Hebrews or “Yisraelim”- Israelites. The name Yehudi indicates that the ability to be grateful is part of our genetic makeup.  Leah named her son Yehuda as she said, “This time, let me gratefully praise Hashem.”  Rashi comments that she was expressing, “I have taken more than my share, so now I need to give thanks.”  Dr. Pelcovitz points out that this is the opposite of entitlement.  “A Jew must acknowledge that he is a debtor who owes so much to his past; he is not a creditor to whom something is owed.  This attribute of gratitude is reflected is his name, his identity, and shapes his essential character- Yehudi.” One must recognize that he has received more than his share.  

Dr. Pelcovitz notes that one reality that leads to this entitlement is habituation.  We quickly become accustomed to “the most spectacular of gifts.” Related to this habituation is that research indicates that we tend to be less grateful to those who are closest to us.   It is, therefore,  not surprising that our teens display entitlement most with us.  Likewise, notes Dr. Pelcovitz, we feel entitled when it comes to our relationship with God as he quotes the work of Rabbeinu Bachya in Chovot HaLevavot,
People...grow up surrounded with a superabundance of Divine favors which they experience continuously, and to which they become so accustomed that they come to regard these as essential parts of their being, not to be removed or separated from themselves during the whole of their lives…They foolishly ignore the benefits the Creator has bestowed on them and do not consider the obligation of gratitude for Divine beneficence.”

Rabbi Dov Heller, in his article, “Mastering the Gratitude Attitude” also see this sense of entitlement as the culprit, preventing us from achieving gratitude.   “If you’re like me, you probably have a whole list of things you feel entitled to, and if you don’t get them, you feel cheated.  If you are unable to take a vacation or buy the home you’ve dreamed of, then life has robbed you of something you are entitled to!”   We feel that either life owes us something, or people owe us something or even God owes us something.  

But, this sense of entitlement is not reality, Heller continues. No one owes us anything.  Everything we receive in life is a gift.   “Eliminating entitlement from your life and embracing gratitude is spiritually and psychologically liberating...Once we understand that everything is a gift, we can begin to feel gratitude towards God, the source of all good, and grow closer to Him in an authentic and joyful way.”  Reminding ourselves that no one owes us anything is one way to combat entitlement.

Lehman adds that especially with teenagers, stressing these four truths is another way to combat entitlement:
  1. Money doesn’t come easily.
  2. People work hard to earn money; it’s part of life.
  3. If you want something, you need to work to earn it.
  4. You are not entitled to things you haven’t earned.
Lehman speaks about the importance of having children do chores around the house to earn money, rather than just receiving an allowance.

Some other truths to relay to our teens to combat entitlement are, as noted by  Mark Gregston in his article. “Teens Who Demand and Parents Who Don’t,”
  1. Stress the concept of “enough.”  Tell them when you think they have had enough.
  2. “Needs versus wants” - children don’t know the difference between what they truly need and what they would like.  They experience all needs with the same degree of intensity.  We need to clearly delineate the difference for them.
  3. Avoid Overcaring- when we do things for our children which they are capable of doing themselves it fosters entitlement.   
Gregston encourages us to state to our children, I owe you nothing, but I want to give you everything.”

Dr. Pelcovitz suggests another antidote to this entitlement and habituation- developing a habit of attention. By “consciously being mindful of how fortunate one’s condition is and how it could have been otherwise.”  At times, it is only when things go wrong we notice how good it is when things go right, states Gregg Krech when presenting his psychology of gratitude.  Keeping gratitude journals, or even having a daily discussion with your children, “What went well today?” are basic ways to attend to all that is good for which we need to be grateful.

Dr. Pelcovitz adds that prayer is another way to develop that habit of attention,   as one third of our prayers express the theme of gratitude.  The only part of the Amidah that cannot be relegated to the chazan is the “Modim” prayer. This forces us to personally articulate three times a day that we are fortunate and grateful.  As parents, we also model the habit of being grateful and expressing thanks to our children and our spouses by regularly doing so in front of our children.  

Despite the yearly Thanksgiving day, we live in a society which feeds the entitlement attitude, as Rabbi Heller points out.  “Compare the Bill of Rights, which focuses on our entitlements, to the Torah, which focuses on our responsibilities and obligations.”  In Judaism, every day is Thanksgiving, reminding us that nothing is coming to us. We need to earn it.

Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade-  Students continued our Organization unit with locker and bookbag organization systems, and discussion of how to organize the at-home workspace.

Seventh Grade-  Students engaged in “empathy exercises” and spoke about what it is like to step into the shoes of another.

Eighth Grade-  “What am I good at?” was a question that our 8th graders analyzed as they focused on their strengths and what made them unique.