The Child Mind BlogBrainstorm

  • Kids With Differences Face Outsized Challenges
    May 10, 2012 Lyn Pollard

    Last night I had the honor of attending a Speak Up for Kids talk, one of many that are taking place across the country in honor of Children's Mental Health Awareness week.  As a volunteer (and the parent of two kids with differences), I've been working with the Child Mind Institute and the Dallas Academy to both plan the event and to draw parents in my local community to it. 

    While the topic "A Parent's Guide to Bullying" drew parents and educators to the event, once we entered the Q&A session, the discussion quickly turned to our children with differences, who are often targeted by bullies. I was blown away by the honesty and reality of our discussion, and was reminded that I am not alone in this fight to provide my two children with an appropriate education in a safe learning environment.

    Parent after parent talked about how their child has been victimized, not just in the form of bullying, but by being denied appropriate accommodations and special education services on their child's public school campus.

    Dr Jen Crawley
    Dr. Jen Crawley at the Dallas Academy.

    One parent, a single mom and active military member, spoke through tears about how her extremely bright 7-year-old son is being "singled out" daily by his teacher due to his severe ADHD. He also has problems socializing, describes himself as "weird" and has been repeatedly bullied. Yet, after multiple meetings with both her campus and district administrators, she had not been provided with information about her child's rights under 504 or been informed about the possibility of an IDEA (special education) assessment to determine if her child is eligible for special services.

    Another parent, a former special education teacher, shared about how her 14-year-old son has been denied protection under IDEA. Despite having provided the school district with three separate doctor's reports stating that her son has Asperger's syndrome, her son's IDEA assessment showed that he "did not meet the eligibility criteria" for services. Also through tears this mom went on to describe how her son, a constant victim of bullying, ultimately "became the bully" when he began displaying aggressive behavior.  "What do I do?" she pleaded to our group, explaining that she has already pulled him out and had begun home-schooling.

    According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, kids with differences and special needs have a greater than 60% chance of being bullied. But, the statistic we don't hear is the one quantifying how many children in this country are not receiving the services they need for learning differences and special needs in our nation's schools, despite having both federal and state laws in place to protect them.

    I am hopeful that the Speak Up for Kids events will spark a larger conversation across our country about protecting our kids with differences.  However, it's going to take a lot more than talk to motivate our nation's leaders to address the concerns of parents who are begging for appropriate accommodations, services and protection for children who draw outside the lines, and are too often overlooked and underserved in our nation's schools.

    Perhaps the question is, when we speak up for kids, who is listening?

    Lyn Pollard, a mother and advocate, blogs at Different Doodles, among other outlets.

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  • Parenting in the Digital Age Tweetchat
    May 9, 2012 Child Mind Institute

    Yesterday, Dr. Ron Steingard was joined by Caroline Knorr, Parenting Editor of Common Sense Media for a tweet chat in honor of National Children's Mental Health Awareness Week. If you missed it, a partial transcript is below.

    #SpeakUpforKids Tweetchat 5/8

    Healthy parenting in the digital age with Dr. Ron Steingard and Caroline Knorr, Parenting Editor of Common Sense Media

    Storified by Child Mind Institute · Wed, May 09 2012 10:58:14

    Join us and @CommonSenseNews for #SpeakUpforKids Tweetchat TONIGHT 5/8 at 7PM ET: Parenting in the digital age. Ask q's at #CMIchatChild Mind Institute
    Join @ChildMindDotOrg & @CommonSenseNews Tue 5/8 @ 7pm EST a special Tweetchat about Raising Healthy Children in a Digital World. #CMIchatNAMI Massachusetts
    Looking forward to joining @CarolineKnorr and @ChildMindDotOrg @ 7pm EST to chat about raising healthy children in a digital world. #CMIchatCommon Sense Media
    Right now, @ChildMindDotOrg and @CommonSenseNews are hosting a tweetchat about parenting in the digital age. Tweet Q's w/hashtag #CMIchat!HuffPost Parents
    Welcome everyone to the Parenting 2.0 tweetchat: Parenting healthy children in the digital world. Who's here? #CMIchatChild Mind Institute
    Getting ready to join @childminddotorg for a chat about digital parenting. Join us! #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    Hi, this is Dr. Ron Steingard of the Child Mind Institute. Thank you for joining us. #CMIchatChild Mind Institute
    @ChildMindDotOrg We're here and happy to chat about one of our favorite topics! #cmichatCommon Sense Media
    We're here in #CMIchat, ready for an interesting discussion on parenting in the digital age. #CMIchatThe Balanced Mind
    Also looking forward to it! #CMIchat #cmichatKaitlin Bell Barnett
    Welcome everyone. We'll be throwing out some topics for discussion. Please feel free to chime in and ask questions. #CMIchatChild Mind Institute
    Q1: What are some of the aspects of social media that worry you the most? Do you talk to your kids about them? #CMIchatChild Mind Institute
    I worry that kids post things impulsively without thinking them through. #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    @ChildMindDotOrg Following @CarolineKnorr's answer, some social networking tips for parents -- written by her! #cmichatCommon Sense Media
    We're concerned that kids sub social media for real relationships.#CMIchatFreedom Institute
    @Freedom10022 That's a legit concern. What parents need to do is engage with kids so it isn't sub for social interaction #CMIchatChild Mind Institute
    @ChildMindDotOrg what do you think is the biggest challenge for our kids in the digital world? #CMIchatAutismWonderland
    @LaliQuin Biggest challenge is teaching kids to use social media in a safe way #CMIchatChild Mind Institute
    Kids definitely incorporate their online relationships into their "real" lives. #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    A lot of parents I've talked to worry that kids can't make real phone calls anymore because they only text. #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    @CarolineKnorr not only that but their spelling skills suffer as well. #CMIchatFreedom Institute
    And what do parents worry is lost if kids aren't making phone calls? Subtlety of tone/more sophisticated social skills? #cmichatKaitlin Bell Barnett
    @kbellbarnett What's absent is tone of voice and nuances of communication that are important as you develop. #CMIchatChild Mind Institute
    Teaching children the consequence of words--spoken and written #CMIchatBellybum Boutique
    We should set examples fur our kids. The way we interact with media is the way they will interact with media. #CMIchatChild Mind Institute
    @ChildMindDotOrg Absolutely agree! It's up to us as parents/educators to help kids navigate the online world safely/respectfully. #cmichatCommon Sense Media
    How about the way they would interact in media should reflect the way they should interact in person? #CMIchatBellybum Boutique
    @BellybumMom It should be respectful. It creates a shield of anonymity, but what is said online should be the same as in person. #CMIchatChild Mind Institute
    I totally agree that we are our media role models. I really have to fight to resist checking my email ... but I do try! #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    @CarolineKnorr so true. Must show your kids by example how to "unplug." #CMIchatMyMomShops
    I even think that you can get kids to play out their favorite video game characters or games in their pretend play. #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    What is the appropriate age for a child to have a Facebook account? My daughter is 12 going on 35 #CMIchatStellaMarieJK
    @StellaMarieJK Facebook says 13, but that is young. At that age, heavy parent involvement is key. #CMIchatChild Mind Institute
    12 going on 35. LOL Heavy parental involvement is definitely key. Kids also get social pressure to join facebook. #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    So many kids join facebook without their parents knowing. And many parents don't know the age is supposed to be 13. #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    She makes me feel 40 going on ancient. Do you have tips or tools that you can point me to? I worry about maintaining trust. #CMIchatStellaMarieJK
    How do I help my kids understand privacy? Thoughts and pics posted stick around. #cmichatJBeanWakeman
    Privacy issues are huge! There is personal privacy and consumer privacy. #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    As far as privacy goes, explain to kids that they are responsible for their own privacy and their online reputation. #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    @JBeanWakeman We have some tips for protecting personal privacy online - why it matters and what to do: #cmichatCommon Sense Media
    @ChildMindDotOrg @laliquin it is esp. a challenge for our kids to stay safe online bc they have harder time reading social cues. #CMIchatMyMomShops
    @mymomshops very much agree with this. #CMIchatThe Balanced Mind
    A1: I don't have children but when I do I will definite be monitoring their computer time #cmichatFi of Approach2link
    Explain to kids that they should "self-reflect before they self-reveal." #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    Trust is really a big issue, because think that their digital devices and their online accounts are sacred ground -- no parents. #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    #CMIchat FYI...FBI has a website that gives parents ideas how to keep their children safe onlineElise Ronan
    #CMIchat also check your state laws concerning cyber bullying and state Ed laws too. Every state Is diff.Elise Ronan
    Q2: Do you have worries about the amount of media kids consume? How do you set limits with your kids? #CMIchatChild Mind Institute
    We choose our battles, honestly.Often, for parents of kids with diagnoses, overconsumption of media is one we choose to just let go #CMIchatThe Balanced Mind
    @thebalancedmind totally agree! #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    @thebalancedmind Totally agree abt choosing battles- this one is often not worth fighting. #CMIchatMyMomShops
    it's key to set limits before your kids go online. I even set a timer for 30 minutes and when it rings, computer time is over. #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    Going back to the way online life and real life intersect -- sometimes this can be very healthy for kids. #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    It helps reinforce their social lives. But again, it's so important for parents to have a pretty good sense of what kids are doing. #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    I have to say my latest concern is that I've noticed kids get their news from YouTube. #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    Kids turn to YouTube for news and information -- and a lot of it is not age-appropriate. #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    @CarolineKnorr Nor is it necessarily accurate. #cmichatFreedom Institute
    @Freedom10022 good point. #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    So much that gets attention on youtube seems to be highly sexual. I want to be able to balance that with healthy messages for girls #cmichatStellaMarieJK
    @StellaMarieJK Agree that this is so important. #cmichatCommon Sense Media
    @ChildMindDotOrg I do love our iPad but we use it to help my son interact with us not as a babysitter :) #CMIchatAutismWonderland
    @LaliQuin Exactly! Use it to facilitate and not replace interaction. #CMIchatChild Mind Institute
    @ChildMindDotOrg the iPad has helped so much! It really brought out so much language & social interaction #CMIchatAutismWonderland
    @ChildMindDotOrg Do we know why an iPad is so engaging to a young mind as opposed to real play? #CMIchatFreedom Institute
    @ChildMindDotOrg The difficulty is just as reading & writing r important So is learning to navigat Technology. #CMIchatNaomi Perks
    @maybe2mrrow We agree. This type of education should be in every classroom; it's as important as learning ABC's! CC @CommonSenseEdu #cmichatCommon Sense Media
    The concern is that over-consumption turns into total immersion. It is impt to maintain time to interact and assist social dev. #CMIchatChild Mind Institute
    Agree that learning to navigate technology and developing a sense of responsibility are so essential for our kids. #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    @ChildMindDotOrg If there are concerns check out @CommonSenseEdu; free curriculum to address all these issues! #cmichatCommon Sense Media
    @kbellbarnett Funny that games/tv now feel nea-harmless compared to people-intensive, 24-7 online world full of unknown quantities #CMIchatThe Balanced Mind
    @kbellbarnett (Extra-firm ideally. But media consumption lower priority than education, health instability, etc. Forced to let go.) #CMIchatThe Balanced Mind
    @thebalancedmind Absolutely! What I was trying to express in previous tweet-sorry if not enough characters! #cmichatKaitlin Bell Barnett
    The social media world is just so overwhelming and nearly impossible to control, so we say, just try to "manage" it. #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    I think we need a dictionary for parents. this stuff has a language all its own and my daughter seems to know it already! #cmichatStellaMarieJK
    Q3: Has there been concerns in your family about peer pressure, body image issues and cyberbullying online? #CMIchatChild Mind Institute
    Pew study says 88% of social media-using teens have witnessed other people be mean or cruel on social network sites. #CMIchatChild Mind Institute
    And 15% of social media-using teens say they have been the target of online meanness. #CMIchatChild Mind Institute
    But teens are also reporting that they are more likely to stand up for a friend who is being bullied. #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    @childminddotorg can u please define "mean?" #CMIchatFreedom Institute
    @Freedom10022 they defined it as "cruel behavior" #CMIchatChild Mind Institute
    We urge parents to teach kids to "stand up, not stand by." #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    Does anyone feel there are benefits to technology and social media? #CMIchatChild Mind Institute
    Oh absolutely there are benefits. But we need to find the good stuff and help our kids use it responsibly. #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    65% of social media-using teens have had an experience on a social network site that made them feel good abt themselves. #CMIchatChild Mind Institute
    @ChildMindDotOrg Absolutely. The potential for connectivity, civic engagement, giving kids and people a real voice and platform. #cmichatJim Steyer
    @jimsteyer @ChildMindDotOrg excellent point. Adolescent advocacy is largely born from social media. #CMIchatFreedom Institute
    @ChildMindDotOrg Absolutely. In the purest sense, the world is smaller and its richness more accessible. #CMIchatFreedom Institute
    Canbe good place to model,try on "different self"; make growth possible for kids when "real life" is constricts.(idea of @sturkle) #CMIchatThe Balanced Mind
    (Pitfalls inherent in this. Emphasis still should be on knowing who kids are talking to, and what. Too much #ana, neg modeling.) #CMIchatThe Balanced Mind
    yes, kids get a lot out of social media, for sure. and learning to use it responsibly will help them all their lives. #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    I am probably just overwhelmed by the task ahead of me, but what's good? Do you have recommendations? #cmichatStellaMarieJK
    @StellaMarieJK recommendations for social media or specific programs? #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    @carolinekorr who or what she should follow. good games. activities on facebook that are good for teens but also fun. #cmichatStellaMarieJK
    Some video games, too, can help kids feel more empowered -- as they assume different characters. #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    Active games, too, like ones on the Kinect, Wii, and Move can help kids get more physically active and comfortable in their bodies. #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    @StellaMarieJK Visit our recommendations page -here's the one for apps: #cmichatCaroline Knorr
    Q4: How do you set rules about consumption? How do you enforce these rules when your kid is at school or at a friend's house? #CMIchatChild Mind Institute
    @ChildMindDotOrg Enforcing rules is tough when kids are away from you but here's some parent tips for that! #cmichatCommon Sense Media
    Thank you everyone who joined us today. Please visit for tips and tools on parenting. #CMIchatChild Mind Institute
    Thank you all! Good chat! #CMIchatThe Balanced Mind
    @ChildMindDotOrg thank you for raising awareness & for all that you do for our kids. #SpeakUpForKids #CMIchatAutismWonderland
    @ChildMindDotOrg Thanks for organizing this! So great to hear perspectives from so many. Great questions too. #cmichatCommon Sense Media
    Thank you all. Love the community these tools can bring! #CMIchatFreedom Institute
    @ChildMindDotOrg For those interested, our CEO @Jimsteyer published a book out today! Talking Back to Facebook. Great parent tips! #cmichatCommon Sense Media
    Just engaged in my first TweetChat. Holla! #CMIchatKathryn Hecht

    Also join us for: A live Facebook talk on Friday, May 11th with Dr. Melanie Fernandez presenting "The Difficult Child: Managing Behavior."

    View the full event details for more about the Tweetchat.

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  • Dr. Bubrick Speaks Up for Anxious Kids
    May 8, 2012 Harry Kimball

    Yesterday, as part of Speak Up for Kids, Dr. Jerry Bubrick gave a talk at the 92nd St. Y in New York, just as hundreds of other mental health professionals are doing nationwide. Dr. Bubrick, director of the Child Mind Institute's Anxiety and Mood Disorders Center, focused on the dos and don'ts of childhood anxiety disorders—how do we know when to intervene? And what's the best way to help a child who is in distress?

    Anxiety in children, whatever the cause or specific disorder, is a problem when it impairs a child's ability to do everyday things, when it is pervasive and out of proportion, when it is difficult for a child to recover from, and particularly when it leads to avoidance. Avoidance can be defined roughly as dramatic changes in habit or routine for the express purpose of skirting anxiety-provoking situations. While we want to temper the impairing effects of an anxiety disorder, Dr. Bubrick told the attendees, anxiety itself is not really the enemy.

    92 street Y "Anxiety is actually a good thing," Dr. Bubrick said. "It is protective and adaptive, and it helps us be successful. We don't ever want to 'cure' anxiety—we want to manage it." For parents, teachers, and professionals, that means first thinking about their own responses, and their desire to keep kids from suffering. A parent who shields a child from anxious situationswho enables avoidanceis perfectly understandable, said Dr. Bubrick. "There are good intentions there, but the whole idea of not allowing our kids to feel anxiety actually hurts them more than it helps them."

    Instead, continued Dr. Bubrick, adults need to encourage the development of more functional coping skills. "We don't want to eliminate the stress; we want to figure out ways to help kids cope with it. We want to reward them for trying to those things they are anxious about, rather than trying to pull them away from them." One way of encouraging this "engagement" with their anxiety is setting up a reward system that brings kids more frequently into distressing situations with continual support.

    "Jump into the water on a cold day, and you feel cold for awhile before you adjust," Dr. Bubrick said. "The same thing happens with anxiety. If we allow our kids to experience anxiety without pushing it away, without trying to avoid it, they actually learn how to adapt to it and overcome it."

    The audience included concerned parents, mental health professionals, and educators who all had questions for Dr. Bubrick covering a wide variety of subjects. Fretta Reitzes, director, of the 92nd Street Y Goldman Center for Youth & Family, said that the collaboration between professionals and parents and teachers is representative of the Y's mission and demonstrates why the Y and the Child Mind Institute are a "good fit." She is happy that we can all work together to "spread the word."

    You can help too! Please join us at our online events this week, and at another 92 Y talk this Thursday evening at 7:30. Dr. Steven Dickstein will address raising children in the digital age in "Parenting 2.0."

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  • Maurice Sendak Sails Away at 83
    May 8, 2012 Harry Kimball

    When we heard that Maurice Sendak died today, at 83, my first thought was of all those teenagers obsessed with The Hunger Games and the rest of the current crop of post-apocalyptic young adult fiction. Not because Sendak wrote young-adult fiction—he'd have been appalled at that thoughtbut because for so many of those kids, Sendak's weird and wooly Wild Things were their first taste of the fictional dark side. Sendak was stunningly and unapologetically tuned into children's desire, and, indeed need, to acknowledge the feelings that make their world more fraught than we'd like to remember. And still, Where the Wild Things Are appears immortal. Few books I know of so consistently span generations in their appeal.

    Where does that appeal come from? "There's a cruelty to childhood, there's an anger," Sendak told the AP in 2009. "And I did not want to reduce Max to the trite image of the good little boy that you find in too many books."

    Where the Wild Things AreIn an interview with Stephen Colbert that aired earlier this year, Sendak managed to further elucidate his philosophy between a surprising number of one-liners and dyspeptic glee. (I heartily suggest watching it, though a predilection for Colbert's style of satire is probably a prerequisite.) In response to a leading comment from the comedian on the "simple" task of being a child, Sendak says: "There is something in this country that is so opposed to understanding the complexity of children. It's quite amazing." We have to agree. In his weird and wonderful way, Sendak never stopped speaking up for kids.

    Margalit Fox, in the New York Times obituary for Sendak, writes that he portrayed "a luminous world, at once lovely and dreadful, suspended between wakefulness and dreaming. In so doing, he was able to convey both the propulsive abandon and the pervasive melancholy of children's interior lives." This doesn't mean that he encouraged sadness or carelessness. But he plumbed the depths of the childhood psyche and found a mirror to reflect it. His books have this message for children: "I understand." 

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  • Speak Up for Kids Live
    May 7, 2012 Child Mind Institute

    We kicked off National Mental Health Awareness Week today with a live Speak Up for Kids webinar on our Facebook page. More than 300 people around the globe tuned in to Dr. Kurtz's talk, "Is It ADHD or Just Inattention?"

    If you missed it, you can watch it below.

    Or click here to download the slides from the talk.


    Also join us for:

    • A live tweetchat on Tuesday, May 8th with Common Sense Media and our expert, Dr. Ron Steingard on "Parenting 2.0: Parenting in the Digital Age."
    • A live Facebook talk will also take place on Friday, May 11th with Dr. Melanie Fernandez. She will present "The Difficult Child:  Managing Behavior."  

    Visit us on Facebook at and watch the talk live on the day of the event.

    View the full event details and other Speak Up for Kids events.

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  • Junior Seau and the Future of Football
    May 4, 2012 Rachel Ehmke

    In some ways, the worst thing about Junior Seau's suicide earlier this week was put into words by former Giants linebacker Harry Carson: "When I heard it, I have to say in the past I would have been shocked. But I'm not shocked anymore."

    Seau was a beloved player, known for his passion and for being on the 1994 San Diego Chargers team that won the AFC championship. Along with mourning there is obvious speculation that Seau may be yet another casualty of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease linked to concussions and characterized by dementia and depression.

    Seau's suicide was chillingly reminiscent of fellow former NFL player Dave Duerson who, like Seau, shot himself in the chest. Duerson also left a note requesting that his brain be given to the NFL's brain bank for evaluation, and researchers later confirmed that Duerson was indeed suffering from CTE. Seau's family has agreed to have his brain studied, too.

    But the list of professional football players who have committed suicide is increasingly horrifying; Carson, who says he still suffers the effects of concussions he sustained during his career, cited Andre Waters and Ray Easterling, who killed himself on April 19.

    We may find that Seau was suffering from CTE at the time of his death, or we may find that he wasn't. His suicide is a tragedy either way. And the connection between the disease and football is well established, and shouldn't be ignored. We are able to help people suffering from depression, but we can't undo the brain damage once it has happened. This is why it's important for us to focus on the children in upcoming generations who will be playing football: let's make sure they inherit the sport but not the disease.

    For a great memorial of Junior Seau, check out Deadspin's story "The Night Junior Seau Picked Up A Marine Captain's Tab And Serenaded Bar Patrons With A Ukulele".

    For more about concussions, read What Parents Should Know About Concussions.

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  • Occupy May, Mental Health Month
    May 1, 2012 Harry Kimball

    Riding to work on a New York City bus this morning, I was surprised to hear an announcement over the PA system: "Due to the Occupy Wall Street and May Day protests, customers can expect service delays today. Please plan accordingly."

    Now, there are many different ways to feel about these protests. But my point isn't about the politics or taking sides. It's that economic realities and the financial crisis have sparked a serious national conversation, and today, May Day, people are going to be thinking about the issues, if only because of a traffic jam, or reminders like the one on my bus.

    But May is also Mental Health Awareness Month. And next week is devoted to the mental health of our kids. I couldn't help thinking that a national conversation needs to be sparked about that, too.

    I like to think the mental health of our kids isn't as controversial as Occupy Wall Street, and there's certainly no dichotomy like the 99% and the 1%—psychiatric and learning disorders are common in all income brackets and demographic groups. Helping kids is in everyone's interestnot just struggling children themselves and their beleaguered parentsbecause they are the future. But getting people to recognize the importance of early intervention for psychiatric illness is an uphill battle. Unfortunately, it's easier to blame parents for kids with disruptive behavior, to blame teachers for kids failing in schools, to write off kids as bad apples that can't be helped. When we do that the costs to the child, and to the rest of us, only climb.

    And still, when it comes to children's mental health, there are no announcements during the morning rush.

    Today, I saw about 100 people be reminded that there is an Occupy movement, that many working people in this country struggle to put food on the table, that some are taking the issue to the streets. I imagine that this was happening on buses around the city. Thousands of people today will at least consider their opinions.

    Wouldn't it be wonderful if tomorrow morning the PA crackled to life with a simple message? "If you see something, say something. And by the way, have you thought about mental health care in this country lately, particularly for kids? Don't worry, this shouldn't disrupt public transportationnot this year, at least."

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  • Hand Sanitizer: The New Zima?
    April 25, 2012 Harry Kimball

    Today, the Internet is "on fire" with stories about California teens getting drunk on hand sanitizer, a bellwether of what CBS News says "may be a fast-growing dangerous trend." We know of six teens who ended up in the emergency room with alcohol poisoning after drinking the stuff, and no wonder: it is 62% alcohol, much more potent than even hard liquor.

    We often hear about alarming trends in teen substance abuse. In the 80s and 90s, I remember hearing a lot about the dangers of mouthwash. Recently, we were inundated with stories about teens inserting tampons soaked in hard alcohol for an undetectable buzz. With all of these horror stories, it seems almost obvious that hand sanitizer would be next. In any case, these are all quite alarming, and for good reason—they are very well outside what we would consider normal or acceptable behavior for our children.

    And that is what is potentially harmful about this sort of story. As a society we like to pay attention to bizarre conduct on the part of a very few young people, at the same time that we turn a generally blind eye to the more widespread problem of "standard" teen drinking and the abuse of illicit drugs. The fact is that for many teens it is fairly easy to buy beer or marijuana or ecstasy. We should not let that fact escape us because of a sensational new "trend" that relies as much on media hype as on real world evidence for its existence.

    If you consider hand sanitizer a threat to your child, or something she might come in contact with as a drug of abuse, by all means have a frank conversation with her in the same way you would discuss alcohol, or marijuana. However, I cannot in good conscience ignore Gawker writer Caity Weaver's inspired rejoinder to the frenzy of attention and hand-waving that has accompanied this story: "If you are a parent who wants to prevent your teen from getting sloshed off Mr. Clean's Tears, the first thing you should do is make sure they are aware this even exists as an option in the first place."

    Just because this danger is likely inflated doesn't mean that the old stand-bys aren't still waiting for our kids. But at least parents can drop that old saw about the bridge. If your kid complains that everyone is doing something, ask him, "If everyone was drinking hand sanitizer, would you drink it, too?"

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  • Lady Gaga Says Pop Singers Don't Eat
    April 23, 2012 Rachel Ehmke

    Lady Gaga got a lot of negative attention from an irresponsible tweet last week. The pop star wrote, "Just killed back to back spin classes. Eating a salad dreaming of a cheeseburger #PopSingersDontEat #IWasBornThisWay."

    There are a few ways to look at this. The first is that it's interesting to see a celebrity admit the lengths to which she has to go to look the way she does. For a lot of people, being as stick-thin as Lady Gaga would be impossible without extreme dieting and exercise. It turns out this is also true for Gaga herself, which isn't surprising since she has spoken publicly about struggling with her weight in the past, saying she wanted to look like a ballet dancer but instead was a "voluptuous little Italian girl." Most celebrities don't discuss how hard they work to maintain Hollywood standards of beauty, and Gaga's candor could be considered refreshing.

    Could have been, that is, if her tweet hadn't made it sound so glamorous. Gaga knows that she is a role model for adolescents, and she is enormously influential—over 20 million people follow her on Twitter and many more received that tweet after the media picked it up. Hearing "pop singers don't eat" sends a very clear message to any kid who dreams of fame (which is probably most kids, at one time or another): Starving yourself goes with the territory. It's especially sad because Gaga is famous for being so spectacularly creative and disciplined, not because she's skinny. Her body isn't as interesting as the outrageous clothes she puts on top of it. You want a celebrity like her to inspire girls to pursue their own unique talents and interests, not the lowest possible body mass index.

    Of course, it's not just pop singers who aren't eating these days. Crash diets and "cleanses" are quickly becoming as casual as getting a manicure or having your hair done. The New York Times recently did a highly disturbing story about brides who go on radical diets before their weddings. One woman decides to use a feeding tube for eight days instead of eating before she goes shopping for her wedding gown. Seeing her gazing serenely off into space with a feeding tube going up her nose is shocking, but it's also sad. After all, she's not doing this by herself; she's just an extreme example of a culture that really believes nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. 

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  • Depression Is Mysterious. Treatment Isn't
    April 20, 2012 Harry Kimball

    In an intriguing New York Times article on antidepressant medications—whether and why the increasingly controversial SSRIs like Prozac actually workSiddhartha Mukherjee arrives at a key question, one that we have heard over and over. If you don't really know what causes depression, if you can't prove the theory, now under assault, that it's caused by low levels of serotonin, why would you treat it with these chemicals that raise serotonin levels? Mukherjee, an oncologist, gives the example of a cancer patient so despondent about her life-threatening illness that she cannot take care of herself and retreats ominously inwards. A psychiatrist prescribes her an antidepressant.

    "Any sane reader of this case would argue that a serotonin imbalance was not the initiating cause of Dorothy's depression," Mukherjee writes. "It was, quite evidently, the diagnosis of a fatal disease. Should we be searching for a chemical cause and cure when the provocation of grief is so apparent?"

    In fact Dorothy's mood does improve some on the antidepressant, despite her dire diagnosis. In the rest of the article, Mukherjee deftly explains a great deal about current thinking on depression. But the kernel of his argument, at least for me, is this analogy to Dorothy's situation:

    Pause for a moment, though, to consider the physiology of a heart attack. A heart attack can be set off by a variety of causeschronic high blood pressure or pathologically high levels of "bad" cholesterol or smoking. Yet aspirin is an effective treatment of a heart attack regardless of its antecedent cause. Why? Because a heart attack, however it might have been provoked, progresses through a common, final pathway.

    This sets the stage for an investigation of that "final pathway" of depression, which may or not lie deep in the brain with the hippocampus and the subcallosal cingulate. (I enthusiastically recommend the article.) But I couldn't help but fixate on the aspirin and the idea of the heart attack as a valid malady no matter the trigger. These days, the struggle over the validity of psychiatric diagnosis increasingly involves discounting a disorder because it is supposedly caused by bad parenting, or because symptoms are just "normal" reactions, or because we simply don't understand its origin. What if we just thought about real, significant impairment as cause enough to treat?

    It is more than likely that a better understanding of depression in the brain will lead to better treatments. And as Mukherjee explains, even if the serotonin hypothesis is wrong, the medications developed according to it have given us a much more detailed picture of the brain than before. But for people who suffer, it doesn't matter why they've gotten where they are—they are there, and they need help. For the time being, the tools we have to change mood, however the brain manufactures it, are evidence-based psychotherapies and antidepressant medications. Mukherjee quotes a professor of his: "Aspirin does not particularly care about your medical history."

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