* 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.