Giving is Good For the Soul: Support a Charity

Give, Donate, CharityHelping others is essential to being a well-adjusted human being.  Some of us do it in our every day life, with simple acts of kindness, helping at the local food pantry, volunteering at our church, or participating in youth organizations.  There is something about helping others that adds to our own feeling of personal self-worth and connection to our community and the world around us.  Connection to others is not only an emotional experience, but a spiritual one, and we all need this kind of interaction, just like we need a hug and physical affection.

Those who only engage in “taking” and “one-upmanship” cannot be truly happy, as any relationship is a two-way street, and you cannot experience closeness and development of trust without reciprocal actions and feelings.  Although we all have times in life where we may have to focus on ourselves for one reason or another, it is healthy to practice being “others-focused”.  This doesn’t just benefit other people, but it benefits you as you feel like you are part of something bigger than yourself, and experience feelings of community and making a difference in other people’s lives.  If you haven’t previously participated in volunteerism or charitable efforts, this may be foreign ground to you, and you may not know where to start.  The key word here is PRACTICE.

First of all, I must agree that being more personally interactive will yield the most benefits, as this causes growth within yourself, and the effects are in real-time.  Serving others directly allows you to see how your participation is affecting people and your community.  If you can get out of your comfort zone and find somewhere locally to volunteer, it won’t take long before you question why you’ve never done something like this before, and make some new friends in the process!

Supporting charitable organizations financially can also be another way to practice giving of yourself.  Perhaps you’ve thought about doing this, but didn’t know where to start, or are wary of which organizations you can trust to be fiscally responsible.  Donating locally can be more personally rewarding, as you can see how your donations are improving your own community, and you may feel “safer” giving money to an organization where you can actually see results and believe there is more accountability.  At the same time, there are many regional, national and international organizations that greatly need and deserve our support!

If you would like to venture into supporting one of these, I have found a website that offers some essential information to assist you in determining which charity (or charities) you would like to give to.  Charity Navigator uses objective ratings to find charities you can trust and support.  Their listings offer organizational, financial, and contact information for each charity, rate each one by accountability and transparency, and even provide “expert advisories” for organizations that may have raised some red flags.  You can see the programs each organization offers and compare them to see which ones are more suitable regarding what efforts you would like to support.

Regardless of how you choose to start giving, I hope that you find it greatly rewarding, and experience personal growth as a result. It only takes one person to make a difference.

Kathy

To Love and Be Loved

Oscar Wilde once said “The consciousness of loving and being loved brings a warmth and richness to life that nothing else can bring.”

In contrast, the lack of causes a loneliness almost too painful to endure. We all desire to be loved at the depth by which we ourselves love others, accepted without conditions, without strings attached, right where we are…as we are.
I don’t know why some of us love without limits, giving and doing things for those we care about with such devotion and self-sacrifice that we almost destroy ourselves in the process. Perhaps we are striving…trying to trade things we can offer in return for love that we will never truly receive (unless we are blessed to meet the right person).

I know not everyone feels loved by their parents (or maybe only one of them), but I am convinced that God gave us a mother to come the closest to understanding what unconditional love feels like. Mine didn’t ever hug me or tell me she loved me, but even though I only had her for a very short time in my life, I knew she did. I miss her most of all. Knowing you are loved provides you with the strength to endure whatever you face.

I love my children more than life itself…literally don’t have the knowledge, strength, or resources to truly show them how much. Regardless of how I fail, I hope they never doubt that love, and even moreso, that God loves them exponentially more than I do.♡

11 Proven Ways to Lose Weight Without Diet or Exercise

Maintaining good hydration also supports healthy weight lossSticking to a conventional diet and exercise plan can be difficult.  However, there are several proven tips that can help you “mindlessly” eat fewer calories.  These are effective ways to reduce your weight, as well as to prevent weight gain in the future.  Here are 11 ways to lose weight without diet or exercise. All of them are based on science.

1. Chew Thoroughly and Slow Down

Your brain needs time to process that you’ve had enough to eat.

Chewing your food better makes you eat more slowly, which is associated with decreased food intake, increased fullness and smaller portions (123).

How quickly you finish your meals may also affect your weight.

A recent review of 23 observational studies reported that faster eaters are more likely to gain weight, compared to slower eaters (4).

Fast eaters are also much more likely to be obese. To get into the habit of eating more slowly, it may help to count how many times you chew each bite.

BOTTOM LINE:Eating your food slowly can help you feel more full with fewer calories. It is an easy way to lose weight and prevent weight gain.

2. Use Smaller Plates For Unhealthy Foods

The typical food plate is larger today than it was a few decades ago.

This is unfortunate, since using a smaller plate may help you eat less by making portions look larger.

At the same time, a bigger plate can make a serving look smaller, causing you to add more food (56).

You can use this to your advantage by serving healthy food on bigger plates and less healthy food on smaller plates.

BOTTOM LINE:Smaller plates can trick your brain into thinking you’re eating more than you actually are. Therefore, it’s smart to consume unhealthy foods from smaller plates, causing you to eat less.

3. Eat Plenty of Protein

Protein has powerful effects on appetite. It can increase the feeling of fullness, reduce hunger and help you eat fewer calories (7).

This may be because protein affects several hormones that play a role in hunger and fullness, including ghrelin and GLP-1 (8).

One study found that increasing protein intake from 15% to 30% of calories helped participants eat 441 fewer calories per day and lose 11 pounds in 12 weeks, without intentionally restricting anything (9).

If you currently eat a grain-based breakfast, then you may want to consider switching to a protein-rich option, such as eggs.

In one study, overweight or obese women who had eggs for breakfast ate fewer calories at lunch compared to those who ate a grain-based breakfast (10).

What’s more, they ended up eating fewer calories for the rest of the day and during the next 36 hours.

Some examples of protein-rich foods include chicken breasts, fish, Greek yogurt, lentils, quinoaand almonds.

BOTTOM LINE: Adding protein to your diet has been shown to cause “automatic” weight loss, without exercise or conscious calorie restriction.

4. Store Unhealthy Foods Out of Sight

Storing unhealthy foods where you can see them may increase hunger and cravings, causing you to eat more (11).

This is also linked to weight gain (12).

One recent study found that if high-calorie foods are more visible in the house, the residents are more likely to weigh more, compared to people who keep only a bowl of fruit visible (12).

Store unhealthy foods out of sight, such as in closets or cupboards, so that they are less likely to catch your eye when you’re hungry.

On the other hand, keep healthy foods visible on your counter tops and place them front and center in your fridge.

BOTTOM LINE:If you keep unhealthy foods on your counter, you are more likely to have an unplanned snack. This is also linked to increased weight and obesity. It’s better to keep healthy foods, like fruits, visible.

Eating fiber-rich foods may increase satiety, helping you feel fuller for longer.

Studies also indicate that a special kind of fiber, called viscous fiber, is particularly helpful for weight loss. It increases fullness and reduces food intake (13).

Viscous fiber forms a gel when it comes in contact with water. This gel increases the time it takes to absorb nutrients and slows down the emptying of the stomach (14).

Viscous fiber is only found in plant foods. Examples include beansoat cereals, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, oranges and flax seeds.

weight loss supplement called glucomannan is also very high in viscous fiber.

BOTTOM LINE:Viscous fiber is particularly helpful in reducing appetite and food intake. This fiber forms gel that slows down digestion.

 6. Drink Water Regularly

Drinking water can help you eat less and lose weight, especially if you drink it before a meal.

One study in adults found that drinking half a liter (17 oz) of water, about half an hour before meals, reduced hunger and helped them eat fewer calories (15).

Participants who drank water before a meal lost 44% more weight over a 12-week period, compared to those who did not.

If you replace calorie-loaded drinks — such as soda or juice — with water, you may experience an even greater effect (16).

BOTTOM LINE:Drinking water before meals may help you eat fewer calories. Replacing a sugary drink with water is particularly beneficial.

7. Serve Yourself Smaller Portions

Portion sizes have increased during the last few decades, especially at restaurants.

Larger portions encourage people to eat more, and have been linked to an increase in weight gain and obesity (1718192021).

One study in adults found that doubling the size of a dinner starter increased calorie intake by 30% (21).

Serving yourself just a little less might help you eat significantly less food. And you probably won’t even notice the difference.

BOTTOM LINE:Larger portion sizes have been linked to the obesity epidemic, and may encourage both children and adults to eat more food.

8. Eat Without Electronic Distractions

Paying attention to what you eat may help you eat fewer calories.

People who eat while they’re watching TV or playing computer games may lose track of how much they have eaten. This, in turn, can cause overeating.

One review article looked at the results of 24 studies, finding that people who were distracted at a meal ate about 10% more in that sitting (22).

However, not paying attention during a meal actually has an even greater influence on your intake later in the day. People who were distracted at a meal ate 25% more calories at later meals than people who were not distracted.

If you regularly consume meals watching TV or using your computer or smartphone, these extra calories can add up and have a massive impact on your weight in the long-term.

BOTTOM LINE:People who eat while distracted are more likely to overeat. Paying attention to your meals may help you eat less and lose weight.

9. Sleep Well and Avoid Stress

When it comes to health, sleep and stress are often neglected. But in fact, both can have powerful effects on your appetite and weight.

A lack of sleep may disrupt the appetite-regulating hormones leptin and ghrelin. Another hormone, called cortisol, becomes elevated when you’re stressed (23).

Having these hormones disrupted can increase your hunger and cravings for unhealthy food, leading to higher calorie intake (232425).

What’s more, chronic sleep deprivation and stress may increase your risk of several diseases, including type 2 diabetes and obesity (262728).

BOTTOM LINE:Poor sleep and excess stress may disrupt the levels of several important appetite-regulating hormones, causing you to eat more.

10. Eliminate Sugary Drinks

Added sugar may very well be the single worst ingredient in the diet today.

Sugary beverages, like soda, have been associated with an increased risk of many Western diseases (293031).

It’s very easy to take in massive amounts of excess calories from sugary drinks, because liquid calories don’t affect fullness like solid food does (323334).

Staying away from these beverages entirely can provide enormous long-term health benefits. However, note that you should not replace soda with fruit juice, as it can be just as high in sugar (3536).

Healthy beverages to drink instead include water, coffee and green tea.

BOTTOM LINE:Sugary drinks have been linked to an increased risk of weight gain and many diseases. The brain doesn’t register liquid calories like solid foods, making you eat more.

11. Serve Unhealthy Food on Red Plates

One weird trick is to use red plates to help you eat less. At least, this seems to work with unhealthy snack foods.

One study reported that volunteers ate fewer pretzels from red plates, compared to white or blue plates (37).

The explanation may be that we associate the color red with stop signals and other man-made warnings.

BOTTOM LINE:Red plates may help you eat less unhealthy snack foods. This may be because the color red triggers a stop reaction.

12. Anything Else?

There are many simple lifestyle habits that can help you lose weight, some of which have nothing to do with conventional diet or exercise plans.

You can use smaller plates, eat more slowly, drink water and avoid eating in front of the TV or computer. Prioritizing foods rich in protein and viscous fiber may also help.

However, I wouldn’t try all these things at once. Start to experiment with one tip for a while, and if that works well and is sustainable for you then try another one.

A few simple changes can have a massive impact over the long term.

The New Science of the Teenage Brain

Front Cover.inddMoody. Impulsive. Maddening. Why do teenagers act the way they do? Viewed through the eyes of evolution, their most exasperating traits may be the key to success as adults.

Although you know your teenager takes some chances, it can be a shock to hear about them.

One fine May morning not long ago my oldest son, 17 at the time, phoned to tell me that he had just spent a couple hours at the state police barracks. Apparently he had been driving “a little fast.” What, I asked, was “a little fast”? Turns out this product of my genes and loving care, the boy-man I had swaddled, coddled, cooed at, and then pushed and pulled to the brink of manhood, had been flying down the highway at 113 miles an hour.

“That’s more than a little fast,” I said.

He agreed. In fact, he sounded somber and contrite. He did not object when I told him he’d have to pay the fines and probably for a lawyer. He did not argue when I pointed out that if anything happens at that speed—a dog in the road, a blown tire, a sneeze—he dies. He was in fact almost irritatingly reasonable. He even proffered that the cop did the right thing in stopping him, for, as he put it, “We can’t all go around doing 113.”

He did, however, object to one thing. He didn’t like it that one of the several citations he received was for reckless driving.

“Well,” I huffed, sensing an opportunity to finally yell at him, “what would you call it?”

“It’s just not accurate,” he said calmly. “ ’Reckless’ sounds like you’re not paying attention. But I was. I made a deliberate point of doing this on an empty stretch of dry interstate, in broad daylight, with good sight lines and no traffic. I mean, I wasn’t just gunning the thing. I was driving.

“I guess that’s what I want you to know. If it makes you feel any better, I was really focused.”

Actually, it did make me feel better. That bothered me, for I didn’t understand why. Now I do.

My son’s high-speed adventure raised the question long asked by people who have pondered the class of humans we call teenagers: What on Earth was he doing? Parents often phrase this question more colorfully. Scientists put it more coolly. They ask, What can explain this behavior? But even that is just another way of wondering, What is wrong with these kids? Why do they act this way? The question passes judgment even as it inquires.

Through the ages, most answers have cited dark forces that uniquely affect the teen. Aristotle concluded more than 2,300 years ago that “the young are heated by Nature as drunken men by wine.” A shepherd in William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale wishes “there were no age between ten and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting.” His lament colors most modern scientific inquiries as well. G. Stanley Hall, who formalized adolescent studies with his 1904 Adolescence: Its Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion and Education, believed this period of “storm and stress” replicated earlier, less civilized stages of human development. Freud saw adolescence as an expression of torturous psychosexual conflict; Erik Erikson, as the most tumultuous of life’s several identity crises. Adolescence: always a problem.

Such thinking carried into the late 20th century, when researchers developed brain-imaging technology that enabled them to see the teen brain in enough detail to track both its physical development and its patterns of activity. These imaging tools offered a new way to ask the same question—What’s wrong with these kids?—and revealed an answer that surprised almost everyone. Our brains, it turned out, take much longer to develop than we had thought. This revelation suggested both a simplistic, unflattering explanation for teens’ maddening behavior—and a more complex, affirmative explanation as well.

The first full series of scans of the developing adolescent brain—a National Institutes of Health (NIH) project that studied over a hundred young people as they grew up during the 1990s—showed that our brains undergo a massive reorganization between our 12th and 25th years. The brain doesn’t actually grow very much during this period. It has already reached 90 percent of its full size by the time a person is six, and a thickening skull accounts for most head growth afterward. But as we move through adolescence, the brain undergoes extensive remodeling, resembling a network and wiring upgrade.

For starters, the brain’s axons—the long nerve fibers that neurons use to send signals to other neurons—become gradually more insulated with a fatty substance called myelin (the brain’s white matter), eventually boosting the axons’ transmission speed up to a hundred times. Meanwhile, dendrites, the branchlike extensions that neurons use to receive signals from nearby axons, grow twiggier, and the most heavily used synapses—the little chemical junctures across which axons and dendrites pass notes—grow richer and stronger. At the same time, synapses that see little use begin to wither. This synaptic pruning, as it is called, causes the brain’s cortex—the outer layer of gray matter where we do much of our conscious and complicated thinking—to become thinner but more efficient. Taken together, these changes make the entire brain a much faster and more sophisticated organ.

This process of maturation, once thought to be largely finished by elementary school, continues throughout adolescence. Imaging work done since the 1990s shows that these physical changes move in a slow wave from the brain’s rear to its front, from areas close to the brain stem that look after older and more behaviorally basic functions, such as vision, movement, and fundamental processing, to the evolutionarily newer and more complicated thinking areas up front. The corpus callosum, which connects the brain’s left and right hemispheres and carries traffic essential to many advanced brain functions, steadily thickens. Stronger links also develop between the hippocampus, a sort of memory directory, and frontal areas that set goals and weigh different agendas; as a result, we get better at integrating memory and experience into our decisions. At the same time, the frontal areas develop greater speed and richer connections, allowing us to generate and weigh far more variables and agendas than before.

When this development proceeds normally, we get better at balancing impulse, desire, goals, self-interest, rules, ethics, and even altruism, generating behavior that is more complex and, sometimes at least, more sensible. But at times, and especially at first, the brain does this work clumsily. It’s hard to get all those new cogs to mesh.

Beatriz Luna, a University of Pittsburgh professor of psychiatry who uses neuroimaging to study the teen brain, used a simple test that illustrates this learning curve. Luna scanned the brains of children, teens, and twentysomethings while they performed an antisaccade task, a sort of eyes-only video game where you have to stop yourself from looking at a suddenly appearing light. You view a screen on which the red crosshairs at the center occasionally disappear just as a light flickers elsewhere on the screen. Your instructions are to not look at the light and instead to look in the opposite direction. A sensor detects any eye movement. It’s a tough assignment, since flickering lights naturally draw our attention. To succeed, you must override both a normal impulse to attend to new information and curiosity about something forbidden. Brain geeks call this response inhibition.

Ten-year-olds stink at it, failing about 45 percent of the time. Teens do much better. In fact, by age 15 they can score as well as adults if they’re motivated, resisting temptation about 70 to 80 percent of the time. What Luna found most interesting, however, was not those scores. It was the brain scans she took while people took the test. Compared with adults, teens tended to make less use of brain regions that monitor performance, spot errors, plan, and stay focused—areas the adults seemed to bring online automatically. This let the adults use a variety of brain resources and better resist temptation, while the teens used those areas less often and more readily gave in to the impulse to look at the flickering light—just as they’re more likely to look away from the road to read a text message.

If offered an extra reward, however, teens showed they could push those executive regions to work harder, improving their scores. And by age 20, their brains respond to this task much as the adults’ do. Luna suspects the improvement comes as richer networks and faster connections make the executive region more effective.

These studies help explain why teens behave with such vexing inconsistency: beguiling at breakfast, disgusting at dinner; masterful on Monday, sleepwalking on Saturday. Along with lacking experience generally, they’re still learning to use their brain’s new networks. Stress, fatigue, or challenges can cause a misfire. Abigail Baird, a Vassar psychologist who studies teens, calls this neural gawkiness—an equivalent to the physical awkwardness teens sometimes display while mastering their growing bodies.

The slow and uneven developmental arc revealed by these imaging studies offers an alluringly pithy explanation for why teens may do stupid things like drive at 113 miles an hour, aggrieve their ancientry, and get people (or get gotten) with child: They act that way because their brains aren’t done! You can see it right there in the scans!

This view, as titles from the explosion of scientific papers and popular articles about the “teen brain” put it, presents adolescents as “works in progress” whose “immature brains” lead some to question whether they are in a state “akin to mental retardation.”

The story you’re reading right now, however, tells a different scientific tale about the teen brain. Over the past five years or so, even as the work-in-progress story spread into our culture, the discipline of adolescent brain studies learned to do some more-complex thinking of its own. A few researchers began to view recent brain and genetic findings in a brighter, more flattering light, one distinctly colored by evolutionary theory. The resulting account of the adolescent brain—call it the adaptive-adolescent story—casts the teen less as a rough draft than as an exquisitely sensitive, highly adaptable creature wired almost perfectly for the job of moving from the safety of home into the complicated world outside.

This view will likely sit better with teens. More important, it sits better with biology’s most fundamental principle, that of natural selection. Selection is hell on dysfunctional traits. If adolescence is essentially a collection of them—angst, idiocy, and haste; impulsiveness, selfishness, and reckless bumbling—then how did those traits survive selection? They couldn’t—not if they were the period’s most fundamental or consequential features.

The answer is that those troublesome traits don’t really characterize adolescence; they’re just what we notice most because they annoy us or put our children in danger. As B. J. Casey, a neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College who has spent nearly a decade applying brain and genetic studies to our understanding of adolescence, puts it, “We’re so used to seeing adolescence as a problem. But the more we learn about what really makes this period unique, the more adolescence starts to seem like a highly functional, even adaptive period. It’s exactly what you’d need to do the things you have to do then.”

To see past the distracting, dopey teenager and glimpse the adaptive adolescent within, we should look not at specific, sometimes startling, behaviors, such as skateboarding down stairways or dating fast company, but at the broader traits that underlie those acts.

Let’s start with the teen’s love of the thrill. We all like new and exciting things, but we never value them more highly than we do during adolescence. Here we hit a high in what behavioral scientists call sensation seeking: the hunt for the neural buzz, the jolt of the unusual or unexpected.

Seeking sensation isn’t necessarily impulsive. You might plan a sensation-seeking experience—a skydive or a fast drive—quite deliberately, as my son did. Impulsivity generally drops throughout life, starting at about age 10, but this love of the thrill peaks at around age 15. And although sensation seeking can lead to dangerous behaviors, it can also generate positive ones: The urge to meet more people, for instance, can create a wider circle of friends, which generally makes us healthier, happier, safer, and more successful.

This upside probably explains why an openness to the new, though it can sometimes kill the cat, remains a highlight of adolescent development. A love of novelty leads directly to useful experience. More broadly, the hunt for sensation provides the inspiration needed to “get you out of the house” and into new terrain, as Jay Giedd, a pioneering researcher in teen brain development at NIH, puts it.

Also peaking during adolescence (and perhaps aggrieving the ancientry the most) is risk-taking. We court risk more avidly as teens than at any other time. This shows reliably in the lab, where teens take more chances in controlled experiments involving everything from card games to simulated driving. And it shows in real life, where the period from roughly 15 to 25 brings peaks in all sorts of risky ventures and ugly outcomes. This age group dies of accidents of almost every sort (other than work accidents) at high rates. Most long-term drug or alcohol abuse starts during adolescence, and even people who later drink responsibly often drink too much as teens. Especially in cultures where teenage driving is common, this takes a gory toll: In the U.S., one in three teen deaths is from car crashes, many involving alcohol.

Are these kids just being stupid? That’s the conventional explanation: They’re not thinking, or by the work-in-progress model, their puny developing brains fail them.

Yet these explanations don’t hold up. As Laurence Steinberg, a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescence at Temple University, points out, even 14- to 17-year-olds—the biggest risk takers—use the same basic cognitive strategies that adults do, and they usually reason their way through problems just as well as adults. Contrary to popular belief, they also fully recognize they’re mortal. And, like adults, says Steinberg, “teens actually overestimate risk.”

So if teens think as well as adults do and recognize risk just as well, why do they take more chances? Here, as elsewhere, the problem lies less in what teens lack compared with adults than in what they have more of. Teens take more risks not because they don’t understand the dangers but because they weigh risk versus reward differently: In situations where risk can get them something they want, they value the reward more heavily than adults do.

A video game Steinberg uses draws this out nicely. In the game, you try to drive across town in as little time as possible. Along the way you encounter several traffic lights. As in real life, the traffic lights sometimes turn from green to yellow as you approach them, forcing a quick go-or-stop decision. You save time—and score more points—if you drive through before the light turns red. But if you try to drive through the red and don’t beat it, you lose even more time than you would have if you had stopped for it. Thus the game rewards you for taking a certain amount of risk but punishes you for taking too much.

When teens drive the course alone, in what Steinberg calls the emotionally “cool” situation of an empty room, they take risks at about the same rates that adults do. Add stakes that the teen cares about, however, and the situation changes. In this case Steinberg added friends: When he brought a teen’s friends into the room to watch, the teen would take twice as many risks, trying to gun it through lights he’d stopped for before. The adults, meanwhile, drove no differently with a friend watching.

To Steinberg, this shows clearly that risk-taking rises not from puny thinking but from a higher regard for reward.

“They didn’t take more chances because they suddenly downgraded the risk,” says Steinberg. “They did so because they gave more weight to the payoff.”

Researchers such as Steinberg and Casey believe this risk-friendly weighing of cost versus reward has been selected for because, over the course of human evolution, the willingness to take risks during this period of life has granted an adaptive edge. Succeeding often requires moving out of the home and into less secure situations. “The more you seek novelty and take risks,” says Baird, “the better you do.” This responsiveness to reward thus works like the desire for new sensation: It gets you out of the house and into new turf.

As Steinberg’s driving game suggests, teens respond strongly to social rewards. Physiology and evolutionary theory alike offer explanations for this tendency. Physiologically, adolescence brings a peak in the brain’s sensitivity to dopamine, a neurotransmitter that appears to prime and fire reward circuits and aids in learning patterns and making decisions. This helps explain the teen’s quickness of learning and extraordinary receptivity to reward—and his keen, sometimes melodramatic reaction to success as well as defeat.

The teen brain is similarly attuned to oxytocin, another neural hormone, which (among other things) makes social connections in particular more rewarding. The neural networks and dynamics associated with general reward and social interactions overlap heavily. Engage one, and you often engage the other. Engage them during adolescence, and you light a fire.

This helps explain another trait that marks adolescence: Teens prefer the company of those their own age more than ever before or after. At one level, this passion for same-age peers merely expresses in the social realm the teen’s general attraction to novelty: Teens offer teens far more novelty than familiar old family does.

Yet teens gravitate toward peers for another, more powerful reason: to invest in the future rather than the past. We enter a world made by our parents. But we will live most of our lives, and prosper (or not) in a world run and remade by our peers. Knowing, understanding, and building relationships with them bears critically on success. Socially savvy rats or monkeys, for instance, generally get the best nesting areas or territories, the most food and water, more allies, and more sex with better and fitter mates. And no species is more intricately and deeply social than humans are.

This supremely human characteristic makes peer relations not a sideshow but the main show. Some brain-scan studies, in fact, suggest that our brains react to peer exclusion much as they respond to threats to physical health or food supply. At a neural level, in other words, we perceive social rejection as a threat to existence. Knowing this might make it easier to abide the hysteria of a 13-year-old deceived by a friend or the gloom of a 15-year-old not invited to a party. These people! we lament. They react to social ups and downs as if their fates depended upon them! They’re right. They do.

Excitement, novelty, risk, the company of peers. These traits may seem to add up to nothing more than doing foolish new stuff with friends. Look deeper, however, and you see that these traits that define adolescence make us more adaptive, both as individuals and as a species. That’s doubtless why these traits, broadly defined, seem to show themselves in virtually all human cultures, modern or tribal. They may concentrate and express themselves more starkly in modern Western cultures, in which teens spend so much time with each other. But anthropologists have found that virtually all the world’s cultures recognize adolescence as a distinct period in which adolescents prefer novelty, excitement, and peers. This near-universal recognition sinks the notion that it’s a cultural construct.

Culture clearly shapes adolescence. It influences its expression and possibly its length. It can magnify its manifestations. Yet culture does not create adolescence. The period’s uniqueness rises from genes and developmental processes that have been selected for over thousands of generations because they play an amplified role during this key transitional period: producing a creature optimally primed to leave a safe home and move into unfamiliar territory.

The move outward from home is the most difficult thing that humans do, as well as the most critical—not just for individuals but for a species that has shown an unmatched ability to master challenging new environments. In scientific terms, teenagers can be a pain in the ass. But they are quite possibly the most fully, crucially adaptive human beings around. Without them, humanity might not have so readily spread across the globe.

This adaptive-adolescence view, however accurate, can be tricky to come to terms with—the more so for parents dealing with teens in their most trying, contrary, or flat-out scary moments. It’s reassuring to recast worrisome aspects as signs of an organism learning how to negotiate its surroundings. But natural selection swings a sharp edge, and the teen’s sloppier moments can bring unbearable consequences. We may not run the risk of being killed in ritualistic battles or being eaten by leopards, but drugs, drinking, driving, and crime take a mighty toll. My son lives, and thrives, sans car, at college. Some of his high school friends, however, died during their driving experiments. Our children wield their adaptive plasticity amid small but horrific risks.

We parents, of course, often stumble too, as we try to walk the blurry line between helping and hindering our kids as they adapt to adulthood. The United States spends about a billion dollars a year on programs to counsel adolescents on violence, gangs, suicide, sex, substance abuse, and other potential pitfalls. Few of them work.

Yet we can and do help. We can ward off some of the world’s worst hazards and nudge adolescents toward appropriate responses to the rest. Studies show that when parents engage and guide their teens with a light but steady hand, staying connected but allowing independence, their kids generally do much better in life. Adolescents want to learn primarily, but not entirely, from their friends. At some level and at some times (and it’s the parent’s job to spot when), the teen recognizes that the parent can offer certain kernels of wisdom—knowledge valued not because it comes from parental authority but because it comes from the parent’s own struggles to learn how the world turns. The teen rightly perceives that she must understand not just her parents’ world but also the one she is entering. Yet if allowed to, she can appreciate that her parents once faced the same problems and may remember a few things worth knowing.

Meanwhile, in times of doubt, take inspiration in one last distinction of the teen brain—a final key to both its clumsiness and its remarkable adaptability. This is the prolonged plasticity of those late-developing frontal areas as they slowly mature. As noted earlier, these areas are the last to lay down the fatty myelin insulation—the brain’s white matter—that speeds transmission. And at first glance this seems like bad news: If we need these areas for the complex task of entering the world, why aren’t they running at full speed when the challenges are most daunting?

The answer is that speed comes at the price of flexibility. While a myelin coating greatly accelerates an axon’s bandwidth, it also inhibits the growth of new branches from the axon. According to Douglas Fields, an NIH neuroscientist who has spent years studying myelin, “This makes the period when a brain area lays down myelin a sort of crucial period of learning—the wiring is getting upgraded, but once that’s done, it’s harder to change.”

The window in which experience can best rewire those connections is highly specific to each brain area. Thus the brain’s language centers acquire their insulation most heavily in the first 13 years, when a child is learning language. The completed insulation consolidates those gains—but makes further gains, such as second languages, far harder to come by.

So it is with the forebrain’s myelination during the late teens and early 20s. This delayed completion—a withholding of readiness—heightens flexibility just as we confront and enter the world that we will face as adults.

This long, slow, back-to-front developmental wave, completed only in the mid-20s, appears to be a uniquely human adaptation. It may be one of our most consequential. It can seem a bit crazy that we humans don’t wise up a bit earlier in life. But if we smartened up sooner, we’d end up dumber.

by David Dobbs

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Source:  http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/print/2011/10/teenage-brains/dobbs-text

Passive Aggressive Behavior is a Form of Domestic Abuse

86530432-56a25de65f9b58b7d0c9610eWhat do Passive Aggressive behavior and domestic abuse have in common? When someone hits you or yells at you, you know that you’ve been abused. It is obvious and easily identified. Covert abuse is subtle and veiled or disguised by actions that appear to be normal, at times loving and caring. The passive aggressive person is a master at covert abuse and, as a result, can be considered an abuser.

Passive aggressive behavior stems from an inability to express anger in a healthy way.

A person’s feelings may be so repressed that they don’t even realize they are angry or feeling resentment. A passive aggressive can drive people around them crazy and seem sincerely dismayed when confronted with their behavior. Due to their own lack of insight into their feelings, the passive aggressive often feels that others misunderstand them or, are holding them to unreasonable standards if they are confronted about their behavior.

Common Passive Aggressive Behaviors

Ambiguity: I think of the proverb, “Actions speak louder than words” when it comes to the passive aggressive and how ambiguous they can be. They rarely mean what they say or say what they mean. The best judge of how a passive aggressive feels about an issue is how they act. Normally they don’t act until after they’ve caused some kind of stress by their ambiguous way of communicating.

Forgetfulness: The passive aggressive avoids responsibility by “forgetting.” How convenient is that? There is no easier way to punish someone than forgetting that lunch date or your birthday or, better yet, an anniversary.

Blaming: They are never responsible for their actions. If you aren’t to blame then it is something that happened at work, the traffic on the way home or the slow clerk at the convenience store. The passive aggressive has no faults, it is everyone around them who has faults and that person must be punished for those faults.

Lack of Anger: The passive aggressive may never express healthy anger. There are some who are happy with whatever you want. On the outside anyway! The passive aggressive person may have been taught, as a child, that anger is unacceptable. Hence they go through life stuffing their anger, being accommodating and then sticking it to you in an under-handed way.

Fear of Dependency: From Scott Wetlzer, author of Living With The Passive Aggressive Man. “Unsure of his autonomy and afraid of being alone, he fights his dependency needs, usually by trying to control you. He wants you to think he doesn’t depend on you, but he binds himself closer than he cares to admit. Relationships can become battle grounds, where he can only claim victory if he denies his need for your support.”

Fear of Intimacy: The passive aggressive often can’t trust. Because of this, they guard themselves against becoming intimately attached to someone. A passive aggressive will have sex with you but they rarely make love to you. If they feel themselves becoming attached, they may punish you by withholding sex.

Obstructionism: Do you want something from your passive aggressive spouse? If so, get ready to wait for it or maybe even never get it. It is important to them that you don’t get your way. They will act as if giving you what you want is important to them but, rarely will they follow through with the giving. It is very confusing to have someone appear to want to give to you but never follow through. You can begin to feel as if you are asking too much which is exactly what they want to you to feel.

Victimization: The passive aggressive feels they are treated unfairly. If you get upset because he or she is constantly late, they take offense because; in their mind, it was someone else’s fault that they were late. He/she is always the innocent victim of your unreasonable expectations, an over-bearing boss or that slow clerk at the convenience store.

Procrastination: The passive aggressive person believes that deadlines are for everyone but them. They do things on their own time schedule and be damned anyone who expects differently from them.

The Passive Aggressive and You

The passive aggressive needs to have a relationship with someone who can be the object of his or her hostility. They need someone whose expectations and demands they can resist. The passive aggressive is usually attracted to co-dependents, people with low self-esteem and those who find it easy to make excuses for other people’s bad behaviors.

The biggest frustration in being in a relationship with a passive aggressive is that they never follow through on agreements and promises. They will dodge responsibility for anything in the relationship while at the same time making it look as if they are pulling their own weight and are a very loving partner. The sad thing is, you can be made to believe that you are loved and adored by a person who is completely unable to form an emotional connection with anyone.

The passive aggressive ignores problems in the relationship, sees things through their own skewed sense of reality and if forced to deal with the problems will completely withdraw from the relationship and you. They will deny all evidence of wrongdoing, distort what you know to be real to fit their own agenda, minimize or lie so that their version of what is real seems more logical. This is why divorcing a passive aggressive can and often does lead to a high conflict situation with long-term negative consequences for all involved.

The passive aggressive will say one thing, do another, and then deny ever saying the first thing. They don’t communicate their needs and wishes in a clear manner, expecting their spouse to read their mind and meet their needs. After all, if their spouse truly loved them he/she would just naturally know what they needed or wanted. The passive aggressive withholds information about how he/she feels, their ego is fragile and can’t take the slightest criticism so why let you know what they are thinking or feeling?

God forbid they disclose that information and you criticize them.

Confronting the Passive Aggressive

Beware, if you confront the passive aggressive they will most likely sulk, give you the silent treatment or completely walk away leaving you standing there to deal with the problem alone.

There are two reasons for confronting the passive aggressive. One, if done correctly you may be able to help them gain insight into the negative consequences of their behaviors. Two, even if that doesn’t happen, it will at least give you the opportunity to talk to him/her in a frank way about how his/her behavior affects you. If nothing else you can get a few things “off your chest.”

Below are 8 constructive ways to confront someone with passive aggressive behavior

  • Make your feelings the subject of the conversation and not their bad behaviors. Use “I” statements and not “you” statements. More than likely you will get a more productive response from the passive aggressive spouse if you make the communication about the marriage and how you are feeling.
  • Don’t attack their character. You may feel angry and want to strike out but, doing so will only cause the passive aggressive to withdraw and refuse to engage in communication.
  • Make sure you have privacy. This is only common sense. Do not call out your passive aggressive spouse in front of others.

Shaming someone never gets positive results.

  • Confront them about one behavior at a time, don’t bring up everything at once. You may have a laundry list of grievances but that doesn’t mean you have to communicate the entire list in one sitting. Remember, the passive aggressive fears conflict so, take it one grievance at a time to help them feel comfortable.
  • If they need to retreat from the conversation allow them to do it with dignity. Tell them you understand their need to leave the conversation but, before they do you’d like to agree on another date and time to continue discussing the topic.
  • Have a time limit, confrontation should not stretch on indefinitely.
  • If they try to turn the table on you, do not defend your need to have an adult conversation about your feelings. Having dealt with the passive aggressive you know that one of their main tactics is to try and turn the tables. Be on the lookout for that to happen and instead of becoming defensive insist that they stay on topic.
  • Be sure they understand that you care about what happens to them, that you love them and that you are not trying to control them. You are only trying to get to the bottom of your disagreements and make the relationship better.

Nothing is more important than helping the passive aggressive to feel safe in engaging in what they will view as a conflict.

Inside the Passive Aggressive’s Head

The passive aggressive has a real desire to connect with you emotionally but their fear of such a connection causes them to be obstructive and engage in self-destructive habits. They will be covert in their actions and it will only move them further from their desired relationship with you.

The passive aggressive never looks internally and examines their role in a relationship problem. They have to externalize it and blame others for having shortcomings. To accept that they have flaws would be tantamount to emotional self-destruction. They live in denial of their self-destructive behaviors, the consequences of those behaviors and the choices they make that causes others so much pain.

The passive aggressive objectifies the object of their desire. You are to be used as a means to an end. Your only value is to feed the passive aggressive’s emotional needs. You are not seen as a person with feelings and needs but as an extension of them. They care for you the way they care for a favorite chair. You are there for their comfort and pleasure and are of use as long as you fill their needs.

The passive aggressive wants the attention and attachment that comes with loving someone but fear losing their independence and sense of self to their spouse. They want love and attention but avoid it out of fear of it destroying them. You have to be kept at arm’s length and if there is an emotional attachment it is tenuous at best.

The only hope for change in the way they deal with relationship issues is if they are able to acknowledge their shortcomings and contributions to the marital problems. Facing childhood wounds, looking internally instead of externally to find the cause of problems in their life will help them form deeper emotional attachments with a higher sense of emotional safety.

By Cathy Meyer

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Source: https://www.liveabout.com/passive-aggressive-behavior-a-form-of-covert-abuse-1102402

Millenials

fragile_millennialsTheories abound offering explanations as to why many members of this younger generation seems less equipped to deal with conflict and are so easily “offended.” There is the coddling parents hypothesis. The social isolation hypothesis. The Machiavellian hypothesis.  And the triumph of feelings hypothesis, to name a few.

In a recent op-ed for Detroit News, millennial Kaylee McGhee offered an insightful explanation of her own:

“Millennials are in a constant contest to one-up each other in showing tolerance, and when anyone or anything stands in their way, they collapse into temper tantrums.

And the truth is, none of us should be surprised. My generation is a symptom of the society past generations have built — one characterized by immediate gratification, the breakdown of a moral code and the victim mentality. It’s the wreckage of past generations’ experiments with post-modern liberalism, and millennials are trying to wade through it.

Millennials are desperately searching for answers to questions they’re afraid to ask. And because our predecessors failed to defend the moral code that once provided clarity, my generation replaced it with the morality of political correctness. The result is the snowflake-ification of a generation.” (emphasis mine)

This is a sophisticated response, and it relates to the thesis of Alasdair MacIntyre’s seminal philosophical work After Virtue. In the book, the Notre Dame professor posits the theory that the Aristotelian moral framework that had existed in the West for over two thousand years was essentially destroyed during the Enlightenment, and efforts to unify it with a coherent Enlightenment philosophy failed, though philosophers failed to realize this.

The result was that man still largely practiced and observed traditional moral values for generations, but did so largely lacking any understanding of the ideas that underpinned these values.

MacIntyre, whose book was published in 1981 (the dawn of the Millennial Generation), concluded with an argument suggesting that man, almost entirely unbeknownst to him, had entered a dark age in which moral clarity and consensus were virtually impossible:

“If my account of our moral condition is correct [one characterized by moral incoherence and unsettlable moral disputes in the modern world], we ought to conclude that for some time now we too [like Ancient Rome] have reached [a] turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.”

 

Alas, St. Benedict has not yet appeared. The result is that possibly a majority of an entire generation, with the help of the state, is embracing a new system of values built on an entirely different, and very shaky, moral and philosophical foundation.

by Jon Miltimore

Source: http://www.intellectualtakeout.org/article/millennial-offers-true-reason-her-generation-so-fragile