For Parents

bullhornParents, you are more powerful than you think. You can limit exposure to violent media, practice non-violent dispute resolution, communicate with your children and stay involved in their lives.

Involving you in planning and implementation serves to reinforce the school health education process. It helps to broaden the relevance of the promoted behavior to all aspects of students’ lives at home, school and in the community.

Benefits of Involving Parents

The benefits of involving parents in health education are not confined to the early years…there are significant gains at all ages and grade levels.

Studies show that students are more likely to succeed when parents take an active interest in their children’s education. The Resources encourage parent participation by:

  • Educating you about school health models and the benefits.
  • Soliciting assistance from you in all aspects of delivering the service (e.g. special family projects, resource people and homework assignments).
  • Holding education sessions for parents on relevant health issues so you can speak knowledgeably to your teens.
  • Inviting participation on school planning and health-related committees.
  • Providing timely updates for you on the school website.


Living With Weapons of Mass Distraction

According to Raybon Kan, the digital age is helping to turn web content into a 24/7 addiction.

One of the questions Raybon Kan asks is are we merely going to stay home, evolve to become the shape of a couch and bitch about the speed of Wi-Fi? When did distraction become entertainment? Now, even while distracted, we crave another distraction. We scan a tablet while glancing at TV. Even in romantic scenarios where you personally, physically, feel the urge to merge, the distraction devices are there, on both people, like pistols for dueling.

The devices have changed us, the technology has seduced us, and we’ve been betrayed. The kids growing up today are unvaccinated from the devices. Theirs will be a future without eye contact. Despite all the journalism in the world, Facebook (and Twitter) gave us Trump. The machines have won. NZ Herald, 4 May 2017

New Territory

We are in new territory. Computers, tablets and smartphones are here to stay. Considering all of the conflicting advice will your teen turn out to be an internet-enhanced genius or a smartphone-addled addict? Or will such a distinction soon not exist anymore?

David Bickham, a research scientist at Harvard University’s Centre on Media and Child Health, has spent more than 20 years exploring how media, as an environmental factor, can influence children’s physical, mental and social development. He states that it is important to differentiate between general media use – just exposure to devices like tablets – (and) programs that are specifically designed for education.

The evidence, according to Bickham, shows convincingly that it’s not so much the exposure to a device that makes the difference, but it’s what you do with it and the content you’re exposed to. He cautions people to use media mindfully and it should never replace important parent-teen interactions. We are interpersonal beings and our information comes from our interactions with other people. The Weekend Australian, May 13-14, 2017: Inquirer section,

“Digital gain for a growing brain may not add up.” Suvi Mahonen

Screenagers (documentary)

The film Screenagers was made by Delaney Ruston, a filmmaker and physician, as she takes a journey to examine the way devices, social media and other types of electronics are impacting young people.  She uses her own experience with her children (12 and 14 yrs) as the central storyline.

The documentary is good for discussion amongst parents and between parents and their children. Delaney helps parents understand that they are not alone.

N.B. Kik, Yik Yak and Snapchat need to also be considered as making headlines.

FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) How many likes did I get?

Why does your daughter want and apparently need a Smartphone?

Social media is the site of digital drama including cyberbullying and girl meanness. It is the cause of hyper-stimulation, screen addiction and body image concerns. Teens spend an average of 6 ½ hours per day on screens, tweens more than 4 ½ hours. This is almost as much time as they spend sleeping.

Lindsay Sealey (author), who spent 15 years as an educationist and consultant, has come up with strategies for adults to help limit the risks of social media and model and cultivate connections with their daughters in her book Growing Strong Girls: Practical Tools to Cultivate Connection in the Pre-teen Years.

Missing In Action: Down the Digital Rabbit Hole

In 2013 clinical psychologist, consultant and author Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair explained that many American children’s first encounter with the digital world is when they notice their parents are missing in action. Parents use the excuse that “they are just checking.”

Technology becomes indispensable as youth migrate from the real world to the digital world – all day, every day they share hundreds of millions of photos on Instagram and billions of text messages. How can we put technology in its place and not on the night stand?


  • The Big Disconnect:  Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age” (award-winning) by Catherine Steiner-Adair
  •  “Full of Ourselves:  A Wellness Program to Advance Girl Power, Health and Leadership: An Eating Disorders Prevention Program That Works” by Lisa A. Sjostrom and Catherine Steiner-Adair.

According to research in the journal Paediatrics & Child Health, secure parent-child attachment is linked to:

  • Less high-risk behavior
  • Enhanced social and coping skills and
  • Fewer mental health problems

Technology ethics and conflict-of-interest rules

New school technologies have the potential to raise ethics issues. A teacher influences the promotion of classroom technology. Laptops, tablets, math-teaching sites, quiz apps, parent-teacher messenger apps etc. are broaching the comparison with the pharmaceutical industry’s hold on doctors. Are these evidence-based practices might be the question, or is it product promotion?


Brain Hacking

Welcome to the age of behavioral addiction – an age in which half the American population is addicted to at least one behavior. We obsess over our emails, Instagram likes and Facebook feeds; we binge on TV episodes and YouTube videos; we work longer hours each year; and we spend an average of three hours each day using our smart phones.

Smartphones are becoming the drug of choice for teens.

Silicon Valley is engineering phones, apps, social media to get users hooked and to shape thoughts, feelings and actions. The smartphone is a slot machine.

Companies are working hard to check in constantly and to make money. Brain hacking works by boosting fear, anxiety and loneliness. These are the by-products in this game to claim your attention at all costs.

Addiction is no accident. Brain hacking is the dopamine lab according to Tristan Harris, former Product Philosopher at Google until he quit in 2016. Harris studied how technology affects billions of people’s attention, wellbeing and behavior.

In January 2010 at an Apple event, Steve Jobs admitted that he refused to let his kids use the iPad. New York Times journalist Nick Bilton discovered that other tech giants imposed similar restrictions.


Irresistible Technology

In his book “Irresistible: The Rise Of Addictive Technology And The Business Of Keeping Us Hooked, Adam Alter explains how we can mitigate their most damaging effects on our well-being and the health and happiness of our children.

So many of today’s products are irresistible explains Alter, a professor of psychology and marketing at New York University. While these products are miraculous, they are tweaked over time by the companies that design them until they become almost impossible to resist. “Tech isn’t morally good or bad until it’s wielded by corporations that fashion it for mass consumption.” (Pg. 8) There is a long list of efficient and addictive tech “hooks.” The cost is significant.

Irresistible traces the rise of addictive behaviors, examining where they begin, who designs them, the psychological tricks that make them so compelling, and how to minimize dangerous behavior addiction as well as harnessing the same science for beneficial ends.

Developer Kevin Holesh designed an app called Moment, which tracks daily usage. Holesh discovered 88% of users were overusing their devices. Each month almost 100 hours was lost to checking email, texting, playing games, surfing the web, reading articles, checking bank balances, etc. Over the average lifetime, that amounts to a staggering eleven years. (Pg. 15)

Substance addictions and behavioral addictions are in many ways similar. They activate the same brain regions and they’re fueled by some of the same basic human needs. (Pg. 9) The key is to understand why behavioral addictions are so rampant, how they capitalize on human psychology, and how to defeat the addictions that hurt us, and harness the ones that help us. (Pg. 10)

Lisa Point, a social worker at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, works with teens who struggle with what she calls “problematic use” of their phones and technology. She recommends that parents find a middle ground and suggests things to make technology less tempting. “Things like not keeping their phones with them at night … Things like turning off alerts or putting their phones in airplane mode when they are studying … Anything that can help people focus.”

John Laprise suggests that the concern over the obsession teens have with their phones is misguided. He is a consulting scholar in internet policy and governance who has studied the history of technology. “I think we have to be cautious because with every new technology we have an accompanying moral panic – especially when it comes to children and teens.” Laprise suggests that smart phones help people build self-confidence and find a peer group online that can be supportive and helpful.
Ref: “The Disruptors” on The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti, CBC Radio.

Addicted to your phone?

Marketplace went to California to talk to an app developer about how companies keep us  hooked on our phones. The team also tracked a family’s device usage over several months and reveal the staggering results. Watch the episode online: Addicted to your phone?

Teens and Anxiety

Dr. Brian Goldman’s show White Coat, Black Art recently investigated teen anxiety in the episode The Age of Anxiety. Among other highlights Dr. Goldman includes author and psychologist Jean Twenge’s comments about the links between a kid’s smartphone and anxiety. She explains why today’s teenagers, those born after 1995, are reporting high levels of anxiety – far more than previous generations. The spike in suicide rates amongst teens is also highlighted.

Is There A Link Between Teen Suicide and Social Media?

Suicide rates for teens have risen between 2010 and 2015 after a nearly two decade decline according to data from the US federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Why the rates went up isn’t known but the rates among US teens occurred at the same time social media use surged. A new analysis suggests there could be a link. The study’s authors looked at CDC suicide reports from 2009-15 and the results of two surveys given to US high school students to measure attitudes, behaviours and interests. About half a million teens ages 13 to 18 were involved.

Researchers found that spending time away from the screen and engaging in social interaction, sports and exercise, doing homework, etc. was linked to having fewer depressive symptoms and suicide-related outcomes. “We need to stop thinking of smartphones as harmless,” said study author Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University. She stated that monitoring kids’ use of smartphones and social media is important and so is setting reasonable limits.

Dr. Victor Strasburger, a teen medicine specialist at the University of New Mexico, said that although the study only implies the connection between depression, teen suicides and social media, it shows the need for more research on new technology.  With its immediacy, anonymity and potential for bullying, social media have a unique potential of causing real harm. “Parents don’t really get that,” Strasburger said. provides a summary of the study’s data highlights.

Questions to ask to help get the right school fit

There are lots of choices but school selection can be tricky.

Here’s a checklist you might want to think about.

  1. What personality does your child have? Consider strengths, weaknesses, needs, and interests. What environment would suit your teen?
  2. What are your family values? Clarify this at the beginning.
  3. What practical considerations are there? Location and transport cost is important.
  4. What facilities are there? Is there a band program, a variety of clubs, dance and drama opportunities, and are there sports teams?
  5. What is the size of the school? Would your teen be happier in a smaller school?
  6. What are the academic results like? Along with academic results should come questions about sports, involvement in the arts and community projects?

Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape by Peggy Orenstein

y648A thought-provoking if occasionally hand-wringing investigation. (New York Times Review, March 23, 2016)

The author spoke over three years to more than 70 young women between the ages of 15 and 20 about their attitudes and early experiences with the full range of physical intimacy. Orenstein recommends that parents examine the messages they send regarding girls and sexuality. She states that it is very important to be clear and honest in approaching daughters about their own desires and their own pleasures.

The more frankly and fully teachers, parents and doctors talk about sexuality the more sex is normalized and integrated into everyday life, the more likely kids are to delay sexual activity and behave respectfully and ethically when they engage in sex.

There are useful lessons from the Netherlands where parents and teachers there talk to kids about sex including pleasure and consent, how to say no and yes. They even endorse in-home sleepovers versus sneaking around. This is not easy to do.

Are we experiencing an epidemic of kids whose expectations around sex have been warped from being raised on porn and concurrent lack of discussion about safe sex practices, consent and what a healthy relationship – sexual or otherwise –should look like? Do we want youth to feel shame and embarrassment instead of a lifelong ability to make better-informed decisions about their health and their bodies?

So, to really fix things we need bigger solutions.

Music Heals

21375267655_2cda964dec_bSo all I really want is for some 16 year-old kid who’s down and out to put on a song that I helped make and feel inspired to keep going and be happy.”
The Strumbellas frontman Simon Ward

Some line samples from “Spirits,” the first single on HOPE, the band’s new release:

I got spirits in my head and they won’t go.
And I think oh I’m lost and can’t be found.
But something inside has changed.
I just want to be alive while I’m here.
I don’t want to see another night lost inside a lonely life.

Dearly beloved: The death of our icons reminds us we better live now.

In those lonely years when it is easy to feel alienated music can get you on your feet again and back out into the callous, cliquey high school hallways, where we could enact the life lessons we had extracted from our music collection. “At the end of the day what really matters is the people we have around us, and the gestures that eke out some hope from tragedy and grief: someone to cry with over coffee or to hug us as we head out the door. And some music to put on when all seems lost”. Marsha Lederman, Globe and Mail.

Kids involved in music do better at learning

In 2013 Dr. Gottfried Schlaug, a recognized expert on music, neuroimaging and brain plasticity at Harvard Medical School, summarized the new research that suggested potential new roles for musical training. “Listening to and making music is not only an auditory experience, but it is a multisensory and motor experience. Making music over a long period of time can change the brain function and brain structure,” according to Dr Schlaug. The research found that music engages areas of the brain involved with paying attention, making predictions and updating existing knowledge – all critical aspects of learning. There is a positive relationship between music and learning. Geoff Johnson, retired superintendent of schools in the Times Colonist, June 28, 2016

Teenage Whirlwind

Our students face severe challenges such as:

  • Depression
  • Loneliness
  • Bullying
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Disordered eating

These are the signals given by youth when they feel overwhelmed.

Safeguard not only vulnerable youth, but also all youth.

Be proactive by adopting a system-wide approach that involves everyone in the navigation of complex issues.

Comments from experts

diversityWarning! Schools can damage your health. Alienation from school can impact behaviour. Traditional school health education is not sufficient to tackle promotion of healthy lifestyles. Changes have to be made to the school environment and ethos. There is a need to reach young people in their home and community setting. — Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health (first published online March, 2008), C. Smith, L. Moore and A Bauman.

Prevention/Intervention Strategies

Changing Directions, Changing Lives, the first mental health strategy for Canada developed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, was launched May 2012. As much as 70% of young adults reported that symptoms of mental health problems began in childhood. Early intervention through programs in schools for parents of young children would significantly avoid downstream costs. — David Goldbloom, Chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, senior medical advisor at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

Suicide: An urgent national problem in many countries

Canada’s public health crisis of suicides needs a funded mental health plan, according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal Editorial of September 06, 2016.

Suicide is the leading cause of death among the 15-35 age group, behind auto accidents. The CMAJ editors say that Canada needs a national suicide prevention strategy with concerted federal funds. Suicide rates declined in 21 developed countries with government-led prevention programs.

It takes a whole community approach.

The good news is that there is evidence that school-based programs can reduce suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. We need people to join together to tackle this issue and develop “youth sensitive” services based in the community. — Dr. Peter Szatmari, chief of the Child and Youth Mental Health Collaborative at SickKids, CAMH and the University of Toronto.

Something needs to be done.

Solution = A preventative, long-term developmental approach

Where to get help:

  • Kids Help Phone – phone 1 800 668 6868 or visit for Live Chat (online chat counseling)
  • Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention for warning signs if you are worried about someone’s risk of suicide
  •  – Fact sheets, resources, quizzes, worksheets, videos
    Mind check was created to help young people identify and understand distress they may be experiencing and to help them develop skills and strategies to manage mental health challenges. Recognizing signs early and finding ways to deal with them increases the chances of better long-term outcomes and mental wellness. Fraser Health in partnership with BC Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

Bullying – a culture of victimhood?

Although bullying is common, between one in four and one in three teenagers will be bullied at some point by some estimates. It is rarely devastating. The roots of adolescent suicide are complex but if there’s one common denominator, it isn’t bullying – it’s mental illness. Most bullying still happens the old-fashioned way, in person. The social panic over bullying has created a growing industry of experts and consultants to fight it.

Anti-bullying programs do more harm than good. Seokjin Jeon, a criminologist at the University of Texas, analyzed data collected from across the United States to assess the effectiveness of different programs. To his shock, he found that they didn’t work. In fact, they often made the problems worse by showing bullies new techniques and better ways to cover their trails.

Helen Guldberg, British child development expert, says that the term “bullying” is now so expansive that it’s become meaningless, e.g. the new Manitoba law which contains reference to “hurt feelings.” She argues that learning to deal with conflict, aggression, embarrassment, negative relationships and rejection is a crucial part of growing up. Increasingly interventionist parents are doing kids no favours. Guldberg says that the adults are creating a “culture of victimhood.

That’s not to say that adults shouldn’t intervene when they see kids behaving badly. But the anti-bullying industry’s done a lot of harm by playing down the resilience of ordinary children while selling a cruel simplistic cartoon of adolescent suicide. — Margaret Wente, Globe and Mail, October 29, 2013

A fragmented approach with small initiatives to prevent cyberbullying does not represent a comprehensive integrated response to the issue.

Growing Up Digital

Woman-using-smartphone-by-Johnny-Magrippis-Creative-CommonsRead this three part series on the ways new technology is impacting kids and teens: Growing up digital: How the Internet affects teen identity.

  • Part one: How digital culture is changing the way kids play
  • Part two: How digital screens are changing the way we read
  • Part three: How the Internet affects teen identity

Part three highlights:

  • Experts say the fact that many teens view their online and real-time identities as identical can be a recipe for disaster.
  • Then there is ‘digiphrenia’ which is the experience of trying to exist in more than one incarnation of yourself at the same time. There’s your Twitter profile, your Facebook profile, your email inbox.
  • What about dependency on the Internet? Teens would no more be out and about without a phone then they’d go without underwear.
  • Parents must be good digital role models. Treat devices at sleepovers the same as alcohol: Lock them up or put them out of sight. Parents can feel overwhelmed by technology challenges but, at the same time, “this is the age in which we are parenting.” Steiner-Adair

Beware the Slenderman

A digital bogeyman – the stuff of nightmares – has gained traction on the internet.

The Slenderman is an online faceless monster linked to real life crimes. “The fact that he is crowd-sourced really shows that the facelessness is what is so appealing because we can project our worst fear and we can also project what we need and what we want the most of that person” states Irene Taylor Brodsky, whose HBO documentary “Beware the Slenderman” explores the everywhere presence of the tall faceless internet ghoul.

Brodsky recommends that parents limit kid’s access to, and monitor use of, laptops, iPads and other devices. Her documentary looks at the psychology and social factors that led two 12 year-old girls to stab their friend.

Not only is the rise of the Slenderman myth online shown but also the neurological development of children, the pervasiveness of internet access, adolescent insecurity and mental illness.

Watch Out for Roblox

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection is warning parents following reports of sexually suggestive messages being sent through the popular Roblox children’s gaming environment. The centre suggests that before children start playing the game, parents explore it themselves first and possibly turn off the chat component.

Distressed Teens

 A large-scale study has been tracking teens in Ontario for the last 20 years.

One-third of students in the recent survey were found to have moderate to severe symptoms of psychological distress. The higher up the grades the worse the situation. “We are creating generations of kids who think life has to be stress-free. We have not been teaching them how to solve the problems causing the stress.” – Stan Kutcher, psychiatrist specialist in adolescent mental health, Dalhousie University

“Many stress-inducing factors are beyond the control of any mental-health strategy. However, early intervention and school-based education have worked before.” – Dr Robert Mann, senior scientist and co-lead of the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS)

Teens are the ‘canaries down the mine’ – they are the sentinels of what is wrong with families, communities and, through social media, society at large. Today’s disturbed teens are tomorrow’s statistics. How many more studies do we need before we put more resources into teen mental health? “ – Marshall Korenblum, chief psychiatrist, Hincks-Dellcrest Centre for Children and Families, Toronto

Digital Obesity: Failing at Health

textingA first-of-its kind study compares physical activity levels of children around the world. Active Healthy Kids Canada compared children and youth in 15 countries. Most developed countries received high grades for physical activity infrastructure and programs, but trailed at the back of the pack for overall physical activity levels and sedentary behavior.

One of the key statements is that kids are not playing with their free time. Their free time is being used primarily with screen time as opposed to active time. Canada has programs and infrastructure for physical activity and parents are paying for their children to participate. More than 90% of children over the age of 5 are not meeting a target of an hour a day of moderate to vigorous exercise.

This is the 21st century. Get with it.

phoneDoctors 2 parents: Limit kids’ tweeting, texting & keep smart phones, laptops out of the bedroom.

#goodluckwiththat. LOL teens will say.

Media use has been linked with violence, cyberbullying, school woes, obesity, aggression, lack of sleep… Are parents clueless about the impact of media? This is the question asked by Dr Victor Strasbuger, lead author of the new American Academy of Pediatrics policy. (Ref: Media and Children

The policy is aimed at all kids and expands the academy’s longstanding recommendations on banning televisions from bedrooms and limiting entertainment screen time to no more than two hours daily.

The policy statement cites a 2010 report that found that North American children aged 8 – 18 spend an average of more than 7 hours daily using some kind of entertainment media. Young people now spend more time on media than they do in school. Media is the leading activity for children and teenagers other than sleeping.

While there needs to be continuing concern about the harmful effects of the 24/7 domination of media culture, the policy statement recognizes the positive and pro-social effects of media.

What is a healthy social media diet?

kidsphonesEven though kids see themselves as experts and will scoff at advice, parents, educators and doctors should promote a healthy media diet that will lead to more limits and more government research on the effects of media.

This is the 21st century and we need to get with it. Time for a fundamental cultural shift toward full support for promotion of a healthy school community.


Does a super abundance of digital distractions require that we engineer a healthy media diet? Nielsen ratings reported that the average teenager sends and receives 4,000 test messages every month.

Dr. Douglas Gentile (Iowa State University), a leading authority on the effects of media on the brains of the young, states that there are consequences to a digital glut.

Some examples:

  • Babies who watch television, in particular, end up more likely to show attention deficit problems when they reach school age.
  • The more we read online, the shallower our reading becomes.
  • Deprivation of absence from media lessens the likelihood of daydreaming and solitude. These are vital parts of life that lead to original thinking.


Anthony Storr in “Solitudes” chronicles that true creativity can only prosper if we break the constant connectivity and are given the gift of aloneness. Solitude and empty spaces provide the capacity for reaching creative potential. The stakes are high if this is not done.

We need to give help to our teens so they can actually see how they use the Internet.

Where in the World is Absence?

Women-taking-a-selfie-photo-with-iPhone-by-Chris-Ford-Creative-CommonsAnother bold call for action

What are the unintended consequences of a wired world? In The End of Absence, author Michael Harris (Governor General Award winner) addresses the unintended consequences of a wired world and our relationship with the Internet as we turn on 24/7. Harris suggests that we have to be more thoughtful as we prepare for the future.

Some highlights from his far-ranging research and personal experience:

  • Techno-brain burnout (ping, ping, ping – Oh my, the importance of all those pings!).
  • By 2012 we were asking Google to help us find things more than a trillion times each year; we were sending one another 144 billion emails – every day.
  • In 2013 we “liked“ 4.5 billion items on Facebook every day.
  • Nielsen research shows that the average teenager now manages upward of four thousand text messages every month.
  • The tablet glows and we do not.
  • Studies show today’s youth are scoring 40% lower on empathy than earlier counterparts and have increased levels of narcissism.
  • What’s important is that we become responsible for the media diets of our children in a way that past generations never were – we need to engineer moments of absence for them.

In The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost In A World Of Constant Connection, Michael Harris does not recommend deleting the Internet from our lives. Rather he asserts it is our responsibility to insert moments of absence back into our lives.

Connected but Alone

Teen-on-phoneFacebook. Twitter. Second Life. “Smart” Phones. Robotic Pets. Robotic Lovers.

What don’t we use computers for?

Sherry Turkle, the director of MIT’s Initiative on Technology and Self, describes in her book Alone Together a population more at ease with technologies than with one another. She has spent 15 years exploring our lives on the digital terrain and she interviewed hundreds of children and adults.

Go to to watch Sherry Turkle’s March 2012 TED talk … Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less from Each Other.

We Need To Talk

ThreeTeens310Constant connection doesn’t mean real communication. Turkle’s new book praises the virtue of slow, meandering, face-to-face interaction. In Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, relationships are described as starting to slip into what researchers call an “absent presence.”

The author spent five years interviewing families, students, academics and employees and what became clear to her is that our love affair with screen time is getting us into serious interpersonal trouble. We need to put technology in its place.

The dodging of face time is creating a deep empathy gap: As we keep a firmer grip over our exchanges and our time, we reveal less of ourselves and attend less to one another.

Turkle recommends creating “sacred spaces” – declaring kitchens, dining tables, and cars screen-free zones. Weekly tech sabbaticals, device-free summer camps and retreats for “tech detoxing” are suggested. There is a need to change consumption practices.

“Technology makes us forget what we know about life,” says Turkle. “We’re at a moment in the culture where we are reminding ourselves of where we are.”

Time to Talk About Depression

The World Health Organization has identified depression as the leading cause of ill-health and disability world-wide. Latest figures from the organization estimated more than 300 million people were now living with depression – an 18% increase between 2005 and 2015.

The increasing prevalence of depression, documented by the U.S. National Survey on Drug Use and Health over the past several years, is steeper among girls than boys. Based on these annual surveys, depressive episodes appear to have spiked in the population between the ages of 12 and 20.

Dr. Ramin Mojtabai, a psychiatrist who is a professor in the department of mental health at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at John Hopkins and first author of the study, noted the increasing trend pattern was still seen in the study after adjustment for the prevalence of substance abuse. It wasn’t explained away by drug use or drinking, nor could it be accounted for by looking at household composition (two parents versus one parent versus no parents).

Dr. Benjamin Shain, Head of the division of child and adolescent psychology at NorthShore University Health System and lead author on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ clinical report on teen suicide and suicide attempts, states that when it comes to your child, in a sense statistics don’t matter, what matters is your particular child. Pay attention to the worry signs.

What to do according to Shain? Mostly listen. That should be 90% of the conversation. The other 10% of the time parents should not attempt to offer a solution but help the child problem solve.

Mojtabai suggests although more information is needed about the effects of child abuse and neglect, about screens and digital devices and cyberbullying, parents need to be aware of the risks.

Warning signs of teenage depression include

  • Mood changes such as persistent sadness or irritability
  • Changes in level of functioning such as school failure
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in activities that had been important
  • Different eating and sleeping patterns
  • Non-specific signs such as lack of energy, trouble concentrating, unexplained aches and pains

How severe do the symptoms seem and how persistent? Is it depression, could it be drugs, is the schoolwork too hard?

Action stations

Have a sit-down conversation with your child – what’s going on?

Talk with the teachers or visit a counselor or psychiatrist.

N.B. Substance abuse and depression go together.

There are no quick fixes. This is a “long and winding road” for teenagers and their family.

What are our approaches to mental health and what about the continuing stigma associated with mental illness? For a teen or anyone living with depression talking to a person that they trust is often the first step toward treatment and recovery.  Let’s talk and keep asking the right questions.

Less Mum and Dad

Maybe we’re not as good at parenting as we think. A new British study suggests that adults are lousy judges of their children’s health – a tiny fraction recognized clinical obesity in their youngsters, while fully 31 per cent underestimated their kids’ weight. Meantime, a study of Canadian kids found no link between the amount of time parents spent with them and emotional well-being (it’s the quality, not the quantity, of the time that matters, say researchers). More proof that our kids – sniff, sniff – could do with a little less mom and dad. In other words give them space.

Hunger Games: Food for Thought

Obesity rates soaring worldwide! burger

According to the most comprehensive global assessment ever conducted on obesity titled Global Burden of Disease Study 2013, the last 30 years has seen obesity rising everywhere in the world. Some of the most dramatic increases are being seen in children and adolescents.

“I think we can be doing better. Governments are quick to proclaim that they’re working on issues, but then if you dig in, not a whole lot is going on beyond declarations,” stated Dr. Mark Tremblay, Director of Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute.

Dr. Tremblay talks about how to tackle obesity: investing in a wide variety of public education campaigns, legislation, restrictions on promotion of unhealthy foods to children, along with other measures.

Obesity rates are gaining ground in developing countries. Contributing to the problem, just as in developed countries, is the:

  • Prevalence of unhealthy food
  • Marketing of high-fat and high-sugar foods to children
  • Lack of physical activity

Worldwide, 37% of adult males and 38% of adult females are overweight or obese. Among boys, 17% were overweight or obese in 1980 compared with 24% today. In 1980, 16% of girls were overweight or obese, compared with nearly 23% today.

There is work to be done.

5 Healthy Eating Tips

  1. Put utensils down.
  2. Take time to eat.
  3. Keep counters clean.
  4. Eat breakfast every morning.
  5. Never eat out of a package.

EDD – Exercise Deficit Disorder

The majority of American kids and adolescents have this so-called disorder.

Why cut gym classes from curriculum when childhood obesity rates have climbed every year since 1999?

Is exercise the miracle drug? Should we treat exercise as medicine?

Physical activity includes all movement – mowing the grass, raking leaves, washing the car.

Bones at risk

Inactive youths’ bones are at risk according to a new study published in Bone and Mineral Research. Teens who have a “couch potato” lifestyle risk having permanent negative effects on their bone health.

According to orthopedics professor Heather McKay of the University of British Columbia physical activity is critical for developing bone strength and density. 36% of the adult skeleton is developed during adolescence. The 4-year study looked at girls between ages 10 and 14 and boys between the ages of 12 and 16 measuring their bone development and monitoring their activity.

The 300 teen study found that only 43% of boys and 9% of girls were meeting the daily recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity and the amount of activity they participated in lessened as they got older. Their bone strength declined compared with active teens. Prof. McKay says that the findings signal concerns for the long-term health risks for youth. Physical activity is not only important for cardiovascular health but skeletal health as well. Bone health needs to be developed in childhood and adolescence.

McKay hopes that the current findings promote physical activity in children and youth and that the investment needs to happen now. What will happen as this generation ages?

Teen Zombie Syndrome

zombieTeen zombies walk among us and they can’t be cured! Problem behaviours related to sleep loss:

  1. More risk-taking.
  2. Less self-control (emotional volatility).
  3. Drop in school performance.
  4. Drop in school attendance.
  5. Neuron growth in the brain hampered – leads to decrease in memory (UBC 2010 study).
  6. Rise in incidence of depression.
  7. Weight gain.
  8. Skin problems.
  •  7.6% of teens get the recommended 9 – 10 hours of sleep.
  • 23.5% have 8 hours of sleep.
  • 38.7% are seriously sleep deprived at 6 or fewer hours per night.
  • Less than 8 hours is the average sleep on a school night.


A good resource: Depression Hurts Symptom Checklist – The checklist helps a person learn about depression symptoms, rates the symptoms impact on life and provides a basis for discussion with a doctor.

How Much Shut-Eye?

The latest sleep research recommendations from a panel of experts give parents fresh ammunition for when kids blame them for strict bedtimes. Guidelines for daily/nightly sleep duration:

  • 4 – 12 mths = 12 – 16 hrs including naps
  • 1 -2 yrs = 11 – 14 hrs including naps for 1 to 2 year olds
  • 3 – 5 yrs = 10 – 13hrs including naps
  • 6 – 12 yrs = 9 – 12hrs
  • 13 – 18 yrs = 8 – 10hrs

Adequate sleep is linked with improved attention, behavior, learning, mental and physical health at every age.

Insufficient sleep increases risks for obesity, diabetes, accidents and in teens, self-harm including suicidal thoughts and attempts. American Academy of Sleep Medicine

40% of Teen Boys Watch Porn: Study

computer boyMediaSmarts, a non-profit digital literacy organization, surveyed 5,436 young Canadian students across the country. They ranged in age from grades 4 to 11. Questions about sexuality were limited to students in grades 7 through 11.

The evidence showed a concerning pattern of teenaged boys seeking out pornography regularly. Accounts of “sexting” were also commonplace.

40% of the boys admitted to looking for porn online. There were a significant number whose viewing of porn was a frequent behavior. A third of boys were daily users. Boys are still developing their sexuality and their ideas of what is normal in sex and what is appropriate in relationships. What impact is heavy exposure to pornography having in these areas?

(Ref: MediaSmarts – other contents include online bullying, digital literacy skills, life online, teacher perspectives, games, resources, lesson plans)

A British survey published by Psychologies Magazine in 2010 found that 81% of 14-to-16-year-olds (regardless of gender) had looked at porn online at home, while 63% called it up on their phones; a third of them had seen sexual images online when they were 10 or younger.

“Pornography is instantly available and has permeated the culture to the point where its dominant messages about women, men, sex and power have permeated areas that we don’t think of as porn: advertising, film and television, “ says Michael Messner, a sociology and gender studies professor at the University of Southern California.


In a ‘raunch culture’ where most boys see online porn before they’re out of grade school, will they end up as disrespectful pigs? A new wave of educators seeks ways to build better men.

The Wiseguyz Program curriculum includes sessions on sexual diversity, fatherhood, emotional stress, sexual consent and conflict resolution, among many others.

“Boorish behavior goes in and out of style: We’re in on a bad swing right now … a more raunchy swing of the cycle” says Windsor’s Prof. Eleanor Maticka-Tyndale who holds the Canada Research Chair in social justice and sexual health.

There is work to be done.


For years Kiwi doctors and therapists have seen a surge in young men seeking help for erectile dysfunction which appears to have no physical cause.  Porn watching is a health issue and countries all over the world are now scrambling to deal with it. (Alison Mau, Sunday Star Times, April 16, 2017)

Canada’s Health Committee is looking at the public health effect of online violent and degrading sexually explicit material on children, women and men.

There is not much evidence on how to control the behaviour but there is a treatment industry that needs this to be a disease.  There is a dearth of evidence-based therapeutic literature. (Valerie Voon, MD,Ph.D, neuropsychiatrist, University of Cambridge)

Sex continues to be a difficult area to work in but it needs to be treated as a science just like any other field.  Nicole Prause, PhD, researcher in the department of psychiatry at University of California, Los Angeles.  (Monitor on Psychology, Vol. 45, No. 4, April 2014)

Teens Deserve a Voice

ladder-of-participationThere is no doubt we need to pay attention to the health of teens, individually and collectively.

A new report from the World Health Organization, entitled Health of the Worlds’ Adolescents: A Second Chance in the Second Decade, hopes to encourage that the teen voice be heard.

Teenagers face a host of health challenges that will affect them for the rest of their lives. The WHO report lists the top-10 causes of death in adolescence. The list suggests where the world should be investing its public health and health-promotion dollars:

  • Road traffic injuries
  • Suicide
  • Respiratory infections
  • Violence
  • Diarrhea
  • Drowning
  • Meningitis
  • Epilepsy
  • Endocrine, blood and immune disorders

In developed countries adolescent deaths are uncommon. However, teens take risks and make decisions about, for example, smoking, driving and sex that will have a life-long impact on their physical, mental and economic health. Conditions such as obesity and depression will impact teens’ health.

The report states that mental health issues are the main challenge for youth, regardless of where they live. Of the 10 leading causes of illness and disability – depression, road-traffic injuries, anemia, HIV/AIDS, self-harm, back and neck pain, diarrhea, anxiety disorders, asthma and lower respiratory infections – 3 are directly related to mental health. Also, the lack of reproductive rights continues to be an ongoing issue that faces teen girls.

There is no simple solution to any of these problems. To have a good return on any investment, the teenage voice needs to be heard and considered. Health initiatives need to include adolescents.

Dads: Get Engaged in Addressing Your Overall Health

Fathers Mental Health – This new website has been designed by two psychiatrists to help dads tackle mental health woes. The website acts as an information tool about services, products and research from around the world. The website provides an understanding and appreciation of the impact on children and families when a father is suffering from depression or other forms of anxiety.

Also check these websites:

It is estimated that 450 million people worldwide have mental health problems (WHO, 2001).

Children’s Mental Health

How to Instill GRIT in your kids

A 2012 Brigham Young University study looked at 325 families over a period of 4 years. The study found that fathers who practice “authoritative parenting” by granting kids autonomy, emphasizing accountability and explaining the reasons behind rules and children feeling love from their father, had kids who were more likely to see tasks through to completion and achieved better grades.

All parents who hope to instill GRIT in their children take note. (Ref: Teens and Transition: A Parent Guide, pg. 18, “Parent Types”)

Be part of Healthy by Nature to improve human health and well-being by increasing access to nature. Audio podcasts, videos and other resources are available on the website.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth is a clear, informative and entertaining review of the latest research on GRIT and how it can be developed. Research for the book took many years. Suggestions are made on how to develop grit and support grit in others. The author argues that effort is as important as talent and that it is just as vital to cultivate other strengths (e.g. humility, social intelligence and kindness) for success in life.

Anyone can learn to be gritty. Duckworth offers a four-step program and comments that having a great coach or teacher matters greatly. Duckworth’s TED talk has been viewed 8 million times so far… Try the Grit Scale.

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough outlines character traits key to success. Grit, curiosity, self-control, social intelligence, zest, optimism and gratitude are examples. Kids can develop a set of strengths over time by not only accepting failure but also by embracing it.

Parents play a powerful role in nurturing the character traits that foster success. The book illustrates the extremes of American childhood: for rich kids a safety net drawn so tight it’s a harness; for poor kids almost nothing to break their fall.

Value school health and follow this formula for success


The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self respect springs.

Joan Didion

In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.

Martin Luther King Jr.

It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest and best things you will ever do.

Comedian Stephen Fry