Loneliness has become an epidemic. One report suggests that 36% of all Americans felt “serious loneliness.” Worse, 61% of young adults feel “serious loneliness” (See Loneliness in America). That is bad news for a person’s physical and emotional health. Loneliness is worse for a person than obesity. Chronic loneliness is as bad for your health s smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It increases the risk of high blood pressure. It contributes to depression. (For more on the health risks of loneliness, see The Facts on Loneliness.) Fortunately, though, you can inoculate your family against chronic loneliness in at least 3 ways.
First, involve your family in social activities. Social activities provide opportunities to develop relationships and nurture social supports. Get involved with groups that give each family member a sense that people care for them. You might find supportive relationships and groups through involvement in community sports, clubs, a reading group or a “coffee klatch.” Church groups and youth groups provide another excellent avenue for developing relationships with caring people along with the opportunity to participate in meaningful activities that can reduce loneliness.
Second, teach your family to nurture relationships. Teaching the skills needed to nurture relationships begins in the home. You begin to teach the skill of nurturing relationships by practicing it within the family. Ask one another for assistance. Share emotions with one another. Allow yourself the vulnerability to ask for help and comfort. Take the risk of asking one another to do things together. Extend these skills toward trusted others outside the family. Develop family friends. Enjoy multi-family activities. Build your village.
Third, follow the advice of a recent Penn State study. Engage in meaningful and challenging activities, “flow” activities. These activities require skill and concentration. They are challenging and demand our full attention, but they are not impossible. When a “flow” activity come to an end, we are often surprised by how much time has passed. A recent Penn State study revealed that engaging in meaningful, enjoyable activities that require concentration and skill (AKA— “flow” activities) reduced loneliness. In fact, these “flow” activities were even more important to reducing loneliness than high levels of social support. You can help your children discover their flow activities through questions, trying various activities and interests “on for size,” observing, and listening. Some may find their “flow” in music. Others in writing, athletics, storytelling, cooking, or other skilled activities. One hint when seeking a “flow” activity though, watching television lacks the challenge and skill needed to create a “flow” experience, as does scrolling through social media. So just knock them off the list of potential “flow” experiences to help reduce loneliness and go right to the more challenging, skill-oriented experiences noted above.
Don’t let the epidemic of loneliness infect and grow in your family. Inoculate your children and your family against loneliness with a village, a model, and “flow” to protect them against chronic loneliness.
We all want our children to develop the ability to control their impulses, to practice “response inhibition” at the appropriate times. After all, good impulse control contributes to better academic success, goal achievement, occupational success, and social relationships. A study published in 2021 suggests an interesting way to help children gain impulse control that will last a lifetime-participation in physical exercise. There is an age caveat though.
Exercise in childhood (between 7- and 12-years of age) resulted in growth and connectivity in brain areas associated with response inhibition. Those changes produced greater response inhibition throughout the life span. However, exercise during adolescent years (12- to 18-years-old) did NOT impact the brain in ways that enhanced impulse control.
The bottom line? Get your 2- to 7-year-old active. Involve them in an activity like swimming, dance, gymnastics, martial arts, or some other sport like soccer, basketball, or baseball. Pick an activity they enjoy. You might even participate with them to reap the relationship benefits. They may not be a star and they may not stay involved forever. But even a single year of involvement will promote an active lifestyle and nurture brain development that will promote a lifetime of healthy impulse control.
You can encourage your children to learn their schoolwork (and anything else really) with these two surprising twists.
Give them a break. Neurobiologists have found that taking a break while learning and studying helps us retain the information for a longer period of time. Sure, cramming may get a person through the test (there is a time and place for that) but taking breaks while studying over time helps us retain the information longer. Why? Because reigniting the neural pathways that the novel information travels along after allowing them to lie dormant for a brief time seems to better “train” them for retention. This means encouraging your child to break up their study time with some breaks. What might they do during these breaks? See the next bullet for a wonderful research supported “break activity.”
Go for a swim or engage in some other familiar form of exercise.University of Delaware researchers taught 6- to 12-year-olds new words before engaging them in swimming, cross-fit training exercises, or completing coloring sheets. The children who swam were 13% more accurate in follow-up tests. And no wonder, “motor movement helps us encode (put into our memory) new words” by increasing Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a protein important for learning in the brain. The cross-fit training exercises did not help as much as swimming because the exercises were new to the children and so demanded more mental energy to complete properly. With that in mind, if you want your children to learn and remember what they are learning, let them engage in a familiar exercise, one that has become more automatic, after they study for a short time.
I’m going to suggest my daughters follow these two ideas in their own studies. They’re in college now, but I believe these two ideas will help them learn their material better too. What am I saying? I’m going to do this myself! I like to learn. And we can all learn more effectively when we take some breaks and do a little exercise. I think I’ll take a break now and go for a little walk. Enjoy.
You can promote your family’s happiness, well-being, and even their flourishing by building a healthy family environment. It sounds too simple…too good to be true, I know. But a survey study from the University of Otago in New Zealand confirms it. In this study, researchers collected data on the sleep habits, exercise habits, and dietary habits of 1,111 young adults. They found sleep quality to be the most important health behavior predicting mental health and well-being—more than sleep quantity, exercise, and diet. That’s not to say these other factors aren’t important. They are. For instance, sleep quantity impacted depressive symptoms and well-being. Interestingly, too little sleep (under 8 hours) AND too much sleep (over 18 hours) contributed to an increase in depressive symptoms and a decrease in well-being for young adults. That middle ground, 8-9.7 hours of sleep, seemed to be the sweet spot in giving the best results for mood and well-being. (For more on sleep and creating an environment to promote quality sleep, read Your Teen & the Importance of Sleep and The Enemy of Teen Sleep. The information can apply to all ages.)
Physical activity also had an impact on depressive symptoms and well-being (although not as significant an impact as sleep quality). In fact, previous studies have shown that even an hour of physical activity improves mood!
Finally, eating raw fruits and vegetables impacted mood and well-being. Once again, we have to aim for the sweet spot in fruit and vegetable consumption. Less than 2 servings OR more than 8 servings lowered well-being (but not depressive symptoms). The sweet spot for improving well-being through the consumption of raw fruits and vegetables fell at 4.8 servings a day. (Another study suggested 8 servings had the greatest impact.)
So, if you want your family to experience less depression and a greater sense of well-being, get a good night’s sleep, engage in some daily physical activity, and eat your vegetables and fruits. It is well worth it to see your children in a positive mood and feeling good.
Promote happiness in our families? I know I’d like to do that. How about you? Well, researchers in the UK may help us find an answer. They used smartphones to assess the happiness of “tens of thousands of individuals” engaged in various activities (39 specifically) at random times. Not surprisingly, the top activity contributing to happiness was “intimacy” and “making love.” Apparently, we enjoy intimate relationships (no surprise there). Our intimate relationships bring us happiness. That’s where we begin to promote happiness in our families…by building relationships.
The top 10 activities that brought people the greatest happiness in this study might be broadly sorted into three categories.
Outdoor activities like walking/hiking, hunting/fishing, gardening, birdwatching, and sports/exercising were noted to increase happiness. Each was in the top 10 activities promoting happiness.
A category I will call “artistic activities” also increased happiness. Artistic activities in the top 10 activities promoting happiness included theatre/dance/concert, museum/library, and singing. If we participate as an audience member in these activities, we often experience a sense of awe that can contribute to happiness. If we are a participant in the actual activity, we experience comradery and a potential syncing with other people.
Socialization activities contributed to happiness as well. This includes activities like talking/chatting/socializing and, of course, intimacy/making love. I would add a caveat. All the other activities listed in the top ten activities may easily involve socialization. We may engage in outdoor activities or artistic activities with other people. They may be activities that help us develop the intimacy that brings us happiness.
What does this mean for your family? You can increase your family happiness by engaging in outdoor activities and artistic activities together. Activities may range from fishing to going to the museum to singing together while gardening in the back yard. As you enjoy these various activities, socialize. Talk and chat. Enjoy one another’s company. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Now grab your spouse, your children, your parent…and get out there to nurture a happy family!
In searching for potential causes of this rapid increase in depression and suicidal rates among teens, researchers realized that cell phone ownership increased dramatically over the same time period. In 2012, about half of Americans owned a cell phone. By 2015, only 3 years later, 92% of teens and young adults owned one. This does not mean that cell phones cause depression, but an association between does exist between the two. Interestingly, this same research does not reveal a link between homework load, academic pressure, or financial problems and the rapid rise in depression and suicidal rates among teens even though it looked for such links (The Risk of Teen Depression and Suicide is Linked to Smartphone Use, Study Says). On the other hand, the study did reveal that:
13-18-year-olds who spend 3 or more hours a day on electronic devices are 35% more likely to exhibit a risk factor for suicide than those who spend only an hour or less on electronic devices,
13-18-year-olds who spend 5 hours or more a day on electronic devices are 71% more likely to have a risk factor for suicide than those who spend only an hour on electronic devices.
Fortunately, recognizing the link
between electronic devices and depression and suicide offers us a way to contain
the epidemic of depression and suicide rates among teens…not a complete cure,
but a way to reduce the spread of an epidemic robbing us of our teens. With that in mind, I offer four suggestions.
Limit screen time to 2 hours per day or less. Our teens have not developed the skills to manage the addictive nature of electronic devices. (Perhaps many of us as adults have not developed those skills yet either.) Limiting screen-time to 2 hours per day keeps a teen in the area NOT associated with an increase in depressive symptoms or suicidal behaviors. This may involve teaching our teens to limit time spent on social media, turn off alerts, not spend down-time watching videos, limit video game time, and check social media less often. (For more, consider The Burden of a Smartphone.)
Model limited use of electronic devices. We can’t expect our teens to use their devices less when they see us, their parents, wrapped up in our phones and devices. I thought I would never use electronic devices for 3 hours in a day. Surely, I was in the “safe zone.” Then Apple put “Screen Time” in the phone settings and my time usage started popping up. I discovered that I can easily average 3-4 hours per day on my smartphone! Clearly, I have to learn how to limit my time on the phone in order to model a healthy use of electronic devices to the children in my life. Do you?
Encourage non-screen activities like sports, outdoor play and exercise, face-to-face interactions, church, non-screen hobbies, and family games. Teach your teens to have fun without screens. Let them learn by experience that face-to-face interactions are more enjoyable than social media, “real-life games” are more enjoyable than “virtual games,” and hands-on hobbies more enjoyable than screen-time games.
Take a vacation from electronic devices. A study from UCLA noted that after only 5 days of a “device-free outdoor camp,” children performed better on tests for empathy than did a control group. Another study showed that a month without Facebook led to greater happiness. Take a vacation. Do it as a family and invest time previously spent on devices engaging in “real-time” interaction with one another and “real-life” experiences. (For more ideas, check out Don’t Let Them Take Over.)
We all have work to do in balancing
our lives in a world where electronic devices impinge more and more on our
daily lives. But the work we do to limit electronic devices in our lives and
the lives our family members,’ could save a life…maybe even the life of your teen!
“School’s out for summer!” I hear this familiar refrain from almost every student I meet. But, I also know from experience that many will begin to say the all-too-familiar phrase, “I’m bored,” in a matter of weeks. If you hear that phrase in your house, here are some summer boredom stoppers you might want to stock up on.
Art supplies. Make sure to keep a large supply of crayons, coloring books, paper, colored pencils, and water paints to get your children’s creative juices flowing. You might even like to get some clay and, for the super creative group, some “edible jello finger paints” for a snacky art supply.
Crafts and hobby supplies. This may include anything from magazines and newspapers for collages to Lego’s to model airplanes. Some children might enjoy a rainbow loom or perler beads. My daughter enjoys knitting. My niece photography. Help your children find the craft or hobby they enjoy. Then encourage their active pursuit of that hobby.
Passive toys.Passive toys are simple toys that require active engagement from your children. They often require imagination and some level of planning. For instance, Lego’s and building blocks are passive toys. So are packing boxes which can be made into a fort, a tunnel, a car, or an airplane depending on your children’s imagination and need. Matchbox cars and dolls are also passive toys. These toys encourage imagination, problem-solving, and learning. Keep many such passive toys in your home to beat summer boredom.
Books. Books are always a great option for beating boredom. They open doors to new worlds. They encourage empathy. They teach and heal (Books That Heal). Keep a variety of books on hand for your children.
Kitchen Band Instruments.Musical instruments are a great boredom buster. You can use empty tupperware filled with rice for shakers, pots and pans for drums, and spoons for rhythms. You might also try a “straw-boe” or simply purchase some fun percussion instruments from a local toy store. Of course, you can always give your children the opportunity to learn guitar, piano, ukulele, trumpet, clarinet, violin, or any other instrument of their choice. They are all wonderful boredom busters.
Imagination supplies. Imaginative play will “help your child be a head taller than himself.” Keep a supply of dress-up clothes, toy crowns, fake money, and other such supplies available for imaginative role playing. Your children might play teacher, superhero’s, prince and princess, or family. They might even write, produce, and perform their own play for you.
With these supplies your children will have a great time. All the while they will beat the boredom of the long days of summer.
Fathers, check this out—more proof of the significant difference you make in the lives of your children! Researchers from the University of New Castle followed 11,000 British men and woman for 30 years. They asked the parents of these men and woman how much quality time their father spent with them as children, activities like reading with them and organizing outings with them. They compared the level of a father’s quality involvement in their children’s lives with their lives as adults. The results suggest that the more involved a father was in their children’s early life, the higher the children’s IQ. In addition, children who experience greater father involvement were more socially mobile and upwardly mobile in their career. I love this quote from Dr. Daniel Nettle, the lead researcher:
“What was surprising about this research was the real sizeable difference in the progress of children who benefited from paternal interest and how 30 years later people whose dads were involved are more upwardly mobile.”
Fathers, you will leave a lasting legacy for your children, a legacy that will impact their educational life, social life, and career! Don’t squander that responsibility. Invest in your children. Spend time with them. Read to them. Enjoy activities with them. Have some good old fun with them. In so doing, you create a legacy, a “real sizeable difference” that will extend into your children’s adulthood
The bond between a father and daughter is precious relationship. The father-daughter relationship brings one of the greatest joys a father will experience. It also brings many benefits to his daughter. A woman who had the joy of a positive father-daughter relationship experiences greater confidence. She is more likely to graduate from college and enter into a higher paying job traditionally held by males. She is less likely to become sexually active as a teen or experience teen pregnancy. When she marries, a daughter of an involved father is more likely to experience an intimate, fulfilling, long-lasting, and satisfying relationship. We could go on listing the positive effects of strong father-daughter relationship—like a daughter’s decreased chance of depression and greater satisfaction with her appearance–but, knowing the benefits of a strong father-daughter bond is only the beginning. What we really need to know is how to develop that strong bond? What can a father do to create the kind of father-daughter relationship that will increase the chance of his daughter receiving all these benefits? A professor and former graduate student from Baylor University have answered this question! They asked 43 fathers and 43 daughters (who were not related by the way) to pinpoint crucial moments of change in their father-daughter relationships. Remarkably, the fathers and daughters agreed as to the most important turning point in their relationships. Engaging in shared activities was the number one turning point in their relationship. Shared activities allowed fathers and daughters to develop a closer, more intimate relationship. It allowed them to spend time together and share something meaningful to both of them. Shared activities added meaning and joy to their relationship. Shared activities include everything from working together to church functions to extra-curricular activities, traveling together, working on school projects, and, the biggest one, sports.
There it is. The way to build a strong father-daughter relationship is through shared activities. What are you waiting for? Get out there and get involved in your daughter’s life. Do some work around the house or in the yard together. Volunteer together. Coach her softball team. Play chess. Go hunting. Take a trip. Spend time with your daughter doing something you will both enjoy. You will cherish those times forever and she will reap the benefits into adulthood!
Sleep. I cannot seem to get enough of it, but get too much and I feel groggy, tired out, and lethargic…go figure. Still, sleep is a soothing balm of restoration after a long day. As adults, we need about 7.5-8 hours of sleep a day for “optimal functioning.” Our teens need closer to 8-9 hours of sleep per day for optimal functioning. I only mention this because I hear so many parents struggling with their teen and sleep. I often meet teens who exhibit symptoms of not getting enough sleep, symptoms like irritability, impatience, mood swings, and even feelings of depression. Sleep deprivation will also increase hyperactivity while decreasing impulse control and frustration tolerance…not a good combination when it comes to social interactions. If that is not enough, sleep deprivation impairs memory, concentration, and attention span, interfering with academic success. And, sleep deprivation slows reflexes and limits problem-solving, impairing sports’ performance. We need our sleep. Teens need their sleep. A lack of sleep interferes with academic performance, athletic performance, mood, and social interactions.
Unfortunately, several factors interfere with teens getting enough sleep. One is biological. Hormonal changes impact a teen’s biological clock, shifting their sleep/wake cycle by one to two hours. In other words, a teen’s desire to stay up late and “sleep in” actually reflects normal hormonal changes. Of course, school, sports involvement, social activities, and after-school activities also interfere with a teen getting a full 8-9 hours of sleep. Part of our responsibility as parents is to teach our teen to work around the obstacles to sleep and develop habits conducive to getting a good night’s sleep. Doing so will help them function to at their best…academically, athletically, socially, and personally. To help, here are 6 tips to teach your teen about sleep:
Create a good sleep environment in the bedroom. This means keeping the bedroom dark at night. Even lights from phones, TV’s, and other electronics can interfere with sleep. So, turn off the electronics. Avoid the habit of falling asleep to the TV or while texting. Turn off the lights and enjoy the darkness that facilitates sleep.
Turn off cell phones, TV’s, video games, and other stimulating activities at least an hour before bedtime. An aroused mind has difficulty falling asleep. So turn off stimulating devices and games an hour before bedtime.
Develop a consistent and relaxing bedtime routine. When you stop texting and gaming, take the next step in preparing for a good night’s rest…relax. Read a book. Listen to relaxing music. Have a small snack. Take a hot bath. Whatever your teen chooses to help them relax, work with them to develop a soothing routine to prepare for bed.
Do not overschedule. When life becomes too hectic, it becomes difficult to unwind…for adults and teens alike. Good sleep habits demand that we schedule some time to unwind each evening. This can be difficult in today’s fast paced world. To find a balance between activity and rest, each person needs to learn to prioritize and make choices. Each person, your teen included, has to decide which activities to participate in and which activities they will “let go.” We cannot do it all…a lesson we all need to learn in order to get a good night’s sleep.
On the other hand, an inactive teen will also experience difficulty getting a good night’s sleep. An appropriately active lifestyle promotes good sleep. Encourage your teen to participate in an activity. Promote some outdoor activity since daily sunlight helps stabilize the sleep cycle.
As you to teach these sleep habits to your teen, practice them yourself. There is no better teacher than a good model! Your teen will learn from your example.
Sleep is essential to life. Teaching your teen good sleep habits will help them achieve their full potential academically, athletically, socially, and personally. So, do them a favor and get to bed!