* JUULing – Vaping Gets a New Look

By Jordan Beach, MSW, Courier & Press, March 27, 2018 –

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are turning into a thing of the past.

I would love to tell you it’s because less people are using them and all forms of cigarette use are becoming obsolete, but that is not the case. The growing popularity of e-cigarettes has just taken on a new form called “JUULing,” which is a type of vape made by JUUL Labs.

According to the manufacturer’s website, its mission is to “eliminate cigarettes by offering existing adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes.”

The company says the product is not intended for minors. However, young people are using it, and medical experts are concerned about the health risks.

JUULing is essentially the same concept as vaping using an e-cigarette, but the device itself is much smaller and more discreet. The size and style can make it especially appealing to kids or others who might want to hide use of this product.

Like an e-cigarette, this device needs to be charged, but the difference is it can be easily plugged into a laptop or charged in a car using a USB port. Small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, the JUUL may easily be passed off as a flash drive and brought into homes and schools without the knowledge of adults.

Vaping flavors like fruit medley and crème brulee may also attract a younger market, though the manufacturer states that its products are not designed for anyone under the age of 21.

Outside of convenience stores, these products can also be purchased online through the manufacturer. There are steps to verify the buyer’s age and help prevent minors from making a purchase, but according to news reports, underage users are still finding ways to buy it online.

Using a JUUL has to be better than smoking traditional cigarettes, right? They are made without tar and some other well-known cancer-causing chemicals used to make cigarettes, but they are not harmless.

The manufacturer says one cartridge used for a JUUL contains as much nicotine as an entire pack of standard cigarettes. The American Academy of Pediatrics says nicotine is both highly addictive and toxic. Nicotine has been linked to nerve damage in developing teens. A newly published New York University School of Medicine study suggests nicotine delivered via e-cigarettes puts users at a higher risk for cancer and heart disease.

JUUL products are also expensive. A “starter pack” purchased online will cost just under $50. Each time you need more cartridges it will cost about $25 for a pack of four. This is not a cheap habit (or addiction).

Parents, it is important to educate yourself on the appearance of a JUUL so you know if your child has one with them.  Also, it is important to have conversations with your children about the dangers of these substances. When something doesn’t look dangerous or is advertised as a safe alternative, it is easy for teens to overlook the dangers that lie beneath the surface.

* Dropping Technology and Returning to the Great Outdoors

By Kelsey Weber, LSW, March 20, 2018 –

“Dinner’s ready, it’s time to come in.”  “But Mom, just five more minutes!”

Do you remember playing outside until dark, hearing your parents call for you to come home and not wanting to go inside?

Fast forward 20 years.  Does it seem as though your child is always inside watching TV, playing video games or accessing social media on their phone?

In the last two decades, childhood outdoor play has decreased while indoor play has increased. This has taken a toll mentally and physically on today’s youth.

Spending less time outdoors has contributed to a rise in childhood obesity and the decline of creativity, concentration and social skills.

The National Wildlife Federation states the average American child spends as little as 30 minutes in unstructured outdoor play each day and more than seven hours each day in front of a screen, compared to three hours a day in 1995.  In our expanding world of technology, it is extremely difficult for children to get away from electronics.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents monitor screen time for children ages 1-18 and never allow it to replace healthy activities – particularly sleep, social interaction and physical activity.

Too much screen time affects children in the following ways:

  • Children who consistently spend more than four hours per day on a screen are more likely to be overweight.
  • Children who watch violent TV shows or play violent video games are more likely to display aggressive behaviors or fear the world around them.
  • Children can be influenced by TV and video game characters that often display risky behaviors such as smoking and drinking.

So, what are the benefits of dropping technology and heading outside?

Evidence demonstrates the many benefits nature has on children’s psychological and physical well-being. Recent studies have shown the necessity of spending time outdoors to reduce stress, increase creativity, and improve physical health and concentration.

Children who play outside are smarter, happier, more attentive, and less anxious than children who spend more time indoors.  Play in nature includes, but is not limited to, these benefits:

  • Children build confidence by having less structure than most types of indoor play. Interacting in outdoor enivronments is limitless and allows children to choose how they treat and play in nature.
  • Nature promotes creativity and imagination by allowing children to interact meaningfully with their surroundings, which develops free thinking, creation of new activities, and viewing the world in different ways.
  • Children learn responsibility by taking care of living things and the environment that surrounds them.
  • Nature provides more stimulation than TV or video games due to the activation of more senses by being able to see, hear, smell, and touch the outdoors.
  • Nature helps increase physical activity.
  • Nature increases children’s ability to focus, which decreases the negative effects associated with ADHD.
  • Nature creates a sense of wonder. For example, a child can watch animals interacting and ask questions to learn and understand.
  • Nature reduces stress and fatigue. Having wide open spaces enables children to run and play while ignoring distractions, burning energy, and decreasing daily stressors that exhaust their brains.

Although your child may want screen time and it may sometimes be the easier approach, the benefits of nature outweigh any possible benefits of screen time.

So, what can parents do to help get their children off the couch and outside? Parents can take their kids on walks, encourage outdoor games with friends, limit screen time per day, plan regular times for outdoor play, create activities with family members, and much more.

“It’s not so much what children know about nature that’s important, as what happens to them when they are in nature.”- Unknown

* Binge-Watching and Your Brain

By Diane Braun, Courier & Press, March 13, 2018 –

We all know that sitting for long periods of time isn’t good for your body, but what does sitting in front of the television do to your brain?

A recent conversation with a colleague made me curious about this phenomenon called “binge-watching.”

Binge-watching is defined as watching between two and six episodes of the same TV show in one sitting. A recent Netflix survey found that 61 percent of about 1500 on-line respondents say they binge-watch regularly.

Why do we do it?  According to Robert F. Potter, PhD., director of the Institute for Communication Research at Indiana University, we do it for a few reasons:

  • Production companies encourage us by offering up the next episode as soon as the previous one ends.
  • Writers structure dramas with cliffhangers at the end of every episode.
  • We want to keep watching. Television captures our attention in more ways than one. Plots, subplots and dialogue require us to pay close attention to scene changes.  Our brain is hard-wired to monitor changes in our environment as a survival mechanism, so it’s hard for us to tear our eyes away.  As long as something’s moving onscreen, we’re watching.

Sitting still for long periods of time slows one’s circulation and metabolism, resulting in sluggishness.  At the same time, great TV shows with complicated storylines and complex characters can wear you out emotionally and mentally. Excessive TV watching has long been associated with health problems such as obesity and diabetes as well as mental health problems like depression.

Cliffhangers, on the other hand, leave us with a heightened sense of excitement.  If something positive happens afterward, the excitement may carry over into your real life and make it more intense.

Your emotional state at the end of a show is also affected by how you felt when you started it up.  Research shows that people who tried to forget about their anxieties by watching television had a 4 percent increased risk of developing insomnia.

This is similar to any addictive behavior, Potter says.  If you use something to help you escape from problems you almost always feel worse later.  Research shows that the longer you stay in the world of a TV show, the more it influences the way you see the real world.  A better strategy is to use TV as a reward for confronting and dealing with an issue.

Want to break the binge addiction? If you are addicted to hour-long dramas, watch one episode and then just 20 minutes of the next episode.  That will likely resolve the previous episode’s cliffhanger but won’t draw you in for the entire hour.

The world of Netflix and other streaming services is still relatively new.  More research is needed to understand the true effects of binge-watching on physical and mental health.  As this behavior continues to be a part of our culture, just remember to exercise some caution once one episode concludes and resist the urge to click that “next” button.

* Empathy is an Important Skill You Can Teach Your Kids

By Aisha Givens, LSW – March 6, 2018 –

Have you ever noticed that if someone in your general vicinity yawns it kicks off a series of yawns from all those in the immediate area?

Scientific studies have shown that yawning is a form of empathy. Depending upon your age and how close your relationship is, you may yawn because you empathize with them being tired; you may also smile when you see a friend’s happy smile or cry if you observe a loved one crying.

Empathy can be a biological function, but more than often it is a learned behavior.

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, empathy is the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another person.

Is it important to teach empathy to our children? The answer is yes. Research shows that empathetic children grow up to become more successful adults when compared to children who lack empathetic skills. Empathy helps us to influence and inspire others as well as better manage personal relationships and social networks.

But how do we impart empathetic skills to our children?  It may be easier than you think.

Here are three basic skills you can teach your child this week that would build their capacity towards empathy:

  1. Reduce or eliminate negative conversations about family, friends or strangers. Children will model your behavior and speak negatively or gossip about others if they hear you doing so. Instead, encourage your child to discuss or wonder about the feelings of people who are vulnerable or whom you may have spoken negatively about in the past.
  2. Provide an opportunity for your child to practice empathy. Hold a family meeting and provide your child with an opportunity to listen to others’ viewpoints while allowing the child to be heard and acknowledged in a non-judgmental and genuine environment.
  3. Educate your child about body language. If you notice them with their arms crossed, head down, a smile on their face, slumped shoulders or any other body language or posture, talk about it. i.e. “I’ve noticed you have your head down with your arms crossed. What’s going on?” or “Wow, your eyes are wide open with a huge grin on your face. What’s making you smile today?”

These are few very simple tips for helping your child or teen become more empathetic to others. Set your child up for success. Understanding the emotions and perspectives of others is foundational for building relationships and becoming a well-rounded and complete individual.