Video Games, the Priming Effect, and Kids

A step in the right direction:  they are outside!

A step in the right direction: they are outside!

When my husband told me that video games are good for hand-eye coordination (and therefore improving his career skills), I figured he was just vying for a Wii (or was it an Xbox?  I’m pretty clueless on the difference).  I didn’t buy it, literally or figuratively.  Because I still can’t tie a sailor’s knot despite my hours of playing Pong and Pac Man back in-the-day.  And yet, yet, despite that skepticism on the positive value of playing video games, I allow my kids to have daily access to their iPods.  Is there guilt?  Yes.  Do I allow them more time than I intend?  Oh, yes.  Hypocrisy, which just spawns more guilt.

Great.  I’ve heard too much MInecraft lingo and just used the word spawn.

It being summer, ironically, my kids have gotten more gaming time than normal, even on those gorgeous early summer days when they should be outside running silly.  And I’ll admit, any time of year, it’s hard to take those nifty little  ‘i”-devices away, especially as my kids’ behavior tanks big-time when I do:  they get punchy, can’t transition to a different activity, and can’t seem to handle the “real” version of reality.

Which, of course, makes me want to toss those iPods into the trash, never to be seen again.

Which, of course, is ironic because only a few moments earlier I was basking in the time I had to write or make dinner without interruption.

So I find myself conflicted on the whole idea of video games and turned to Google.  I skimmed articles.  And read abstracts.  And was overwhelmed by the veritable wealth of info on the effects video games have on kids.  Some of it was down-to-earth and readable, some of it tabloid (think the UK’s Daily Mail) and the rest of it academic.  There are the benefits to playing video games, like development of hand-eye coordination (so my husband was being legit), perseverance and social skills (the last touted by parenting educator Roselind Wiseman…now that got my attention).  But there are also the negative aspects, such as increased sedentary lifestyle, decreased real-life social interaction and, you guessed it…violent behavior from playing violent video games.

We’ve all heard the (controversial) news that playing violent video games can cause aggressive behavior in kids, both in the short term as well as the long term.  There are a multitude of studies that support this conclusion.  However, there are also studies demonstrating that kids who engage in cooperative gaming are more altruistic in real-life interactions.  Both sets of studies and their results demonstrate the priming effect, which refers to a response made to a stimulus that is based on a prior experience.  As it applies to the playing of video games, this means that what an individual experiences virtually can influence real-life interactions.

So if my kid’s Minecraft character whacks a threatening villager during a stint of gaming, he may try to slug his brother if he thinks he’s being a jerk about, well, anything.  On the flip side, if a child is helping his sibling build a house during the same Minecraft stint, he may want to play checkers later with that same sister or brother.

Bazinga.

I’ve seen it with my own two eyes.  What happens on screen doesn’t seem to stay on screen and, at least in the short term, translates to reality.  Granted, my set of subjects is only three and our video games are limited but here are my observations.   If my kids get into a “fight” on Minecraft, they start slugging it out over books, legos, snacks, etc.  If they are truly working together to build a world on Minecraft, or trying to advance to the next level on, say, Cut the Rope, they can’t wait to make a restaurant out of old cardboard boxes and plastic toy food.  And just because my sons duked it out one day, they won’t necessarily do so the next:  they may happily be in cahoots planning a new “world” and duking in out with their sister.  It’s quite clear there aren’t certain set-in-stone pairings of my kids, the pairings fluctuate depending on the gaming experiences they have together.

The priming effect of video games has been the explanation for violent behaviors (think the perpetrators of the Columbine high school shootings a number of years ago) and given the extreme nature of that tragedy, that reasoning has been controversial.     However, research consistently supports that video game content influences kids’ behavior.  I now see it in my own kids.  Perhaps you see it in your own as well.  I used to think their challenging behavior after iPod time was the “letdown” after being engaged in screen time.  That may be partly true, and trying to find something new to do is frustrating at their age.  (but it is character building…another topic entirely.).  It is telling, though, that aggressive virtual behavior is followed by difficult behavior in other forms of play.

With the knowledge of the priming effect, where do we parents go from here?  Like most parenting conundrums, it’s not a cut-and-dried issue.  I do feel now that removing video games from my kids’ repertoire of play is an extreme solution, given there are many benefits to engaging the virtual world.  In addition to the academic and physical advantages, I saw the feud between my son and his brother’s friend end after all three boys cooperated on a Minecraft world.  Gaming actually brought peace to our household.  But how do we deal with the hurt feelings, anger and possible aggression after a video game has gone awry?  The key is, armed with the knowledge of the priming effect, we can understand why certain post-gaming behaviors occur.  And then set household rules for gaming accordingly.  We can limit time with video games to no more than an hour a day; with opportunities to “earn” more time.  Monitoring what types of games our kids’ are playing is also important, and even though most kids who play aggression-based video games don’t go on to a life of crime, observing age recommendations for all games is also key.

The bottom line in all I read was simple:  good parenting can make video gaming an overall positive experience for our kids.

Want more info?  Here’s an article will some comprehensive details on the pros and cons of video games:

http://www.raisesmartkid.com/3-to-6-years-old/4-articles/34-the-good-and-bad-effects-of-video-games

Why We Need to Read

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It’s summer.  The local library has reading programs for toddlers, high schoolers and everyone in between.  We parents know our kids should practice their reading skills for  cognitive development, vocabulary expansion, and fluency .  But the people who, believe it or not, study, the benefits of reading have much more to say about why not just our kids, but also adults, should indulge in a good read.  Real Simple published an article in 2014 about this very topic, just in time for those summer reading programs.  Some of the details may surprise you:

1)  Ahhh, Oohhmm.  Reading for just six minutes a day can be a real stress reliever, according to a study conducted by Mindlab Intelligent Insights.  Have a case of the Mondays (on any day)?  Pick up a page turner. Continue reading

Moms Get Your Mammos (With a Clarification)

A reader brought to my attention an error I made in my post Moms, Get Your Mammograms.  The letter you receive with your mammogram results should come from the imaging center where you had your mammogram done, not from your practitioner (physician, etc.) who ordered it.  That said, you may still receive a phone call or a letter from your physician’s office with the results.

I apologize for the mistake!

Hooray for Summer (Exclamation Point): Steps to a Successful Break (Question Mark)

A year ago, as the school year drew to an end, I wrote a post that received some flak.  In Hooray for Summer? (In retrospect, Horrors, It’s Summer! would have been a fun title…) I described the difficult transition for parents, myself wholeheartedly included, to having the kiddos home for three months.  I outlined my plan to keep us all from going crazy, which, it ends up, was a near-total flop.  Disappointing, to say the least…I needed a solid strategy because I was really not looking forward to the loss of (forgive me) my freedom.

But this year?  I am stoked for summer.  Cannot.  Wait.  We are going to have a blast.  I learned a lot from the failures of last year.  Plus my kids are a year older, with more specific interests.  We have lots to look forward to this summer, but before I get into our new-and-improved plan (hopefully resembling a jewel-encrusted flip-flop instead of a plain old crummy flop), here’s a summary of last year’s plan.  And what happened when we tried it out.  Because as some things work better for some kids than others, you may find our failures to be your successes. Continue reading

Moms, Get Your Mammograms

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Even though it is May, not October, when pink ribbons pervade everything everywhere, the topic of mammograms is still important.  Certainly to me, as May is my mammo month.  But breast cancer awareness should not be reserved for any singular time of year, it should be a regular, habitual occurrence.  (I don’t really think there should be specific cancer-awareness-months; every month should be all-cancers-awareness month, but now I’m off-topic).

It’s easy to think breast cancer affects “older women” and most often it does.  However, younger women are struck with the disease, too.  By younger women I mean mothers of young children…women in their 30’s and 40’s.  And these women aren’t anecdotal, faceless cases…they are friends, colleagues and fellow sorority sisters.  And if I know some of these women, chances are you do, too. Continue reading

Your Child Needs the HPV Vaccine

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A few years back I sat in a church basement with my parenting group and listened to a male OB-GYN describe how he discussed safe sex with his own kids.

Yes, that was a church basement.  Yes, that was a male gynecologist.  And the topic at that moment was, yes, kids and sex.

I hope I got your attention.  Because he sure got mine, especially as this seemed an unlikely and absurd senario.  But still, the topic was pertinent and this doctor’s message clear:  we as parents would be sorely amiss to assume our kids will honor abstinence at our request.   He rationalized that it is not “if” but “when” kids become sexually active (about a third of 16-year-olds are) and believed parents need to educate their children on the use of condoms and birth control pills.

But we as parents need some education as well.  A recent dialogue on Facebook prompted me to learn more about the HPV vaccine, which came into recommendation after I “retired” from medicine.  While some coming-of-age topics are pretty straightforward, such as “When can I get a credit card?” (age 35 seems about right), others…not so easy.  No one wants to consider their little girl (or boy) soon needing “protection.”  However, they likely will.  It is unrealistic to assume the opposite.  Before our kids seek methods of preventing pregnancy and STD’s on their own, we parents need to make an important decision for them in this regard.  And that is to vaccinate our children against HPV.

HPV (human papillomavirus) is the most common STD in the United States.  With over 40 subtypes, most sexually active persons will contract one or more strains during the course of their lives.  Really.  The good news is that 90 percent of infections resolve on their own, but it is the remaining 10 percent we need to be concerned about.  It is these more aggressive subtypes that can cause genital warts and cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus and penis.

So enter the HPV vaccines:  Cervarix, Gardasil and Gardasil 9.  And here’s what you need to know about protecting your child:

~Your child needs one of the Gardasil vaccines.  Cervarix only targets cervical cancer but the other two are approved for both girls and boys in the prevention of genital warts and the five cancers listed above.

~Your child should start the vaccine series at age 11 or 12.  This seems young, but there is a rationale.  The series of three shots (given over a period of six months) needs to be completed before your child is exposed to the HPV virus (in other words, before becoming sexually active) so a full immune response is attained.  In other words, the best protection against infections caused by HPV starts with the earliest possible vaccination.  So don’t put off starting the vaccine…studies have shown there is a better immune response in “tweens” than in young adults.  However:

~Your child should still get the HPV vaccine even if they are older than the recommended age.  Yes, the vaccine could be less effective but some protection is better than none at all.  All three HPV vaccines are approved for use in young women up to age 26 and in young men up to age 21 and can (and should) still be given even if your child is already sexually active.  

~The HPV vaccines are considered safe.  While there are possible side effects, such as pain and redness at the injection site, headache and fever, most vaccines can cause the same, temporary effects and these effects are easily remedied.  And a very small price to pay for protection against potentially life-threatening diseases.

~The HPV vaccines are effective.  Studies have shown a remarkable near-100 percent protection rate against precancerous cells and HPV 4 (the subtype that causes genital warts).  In fact, since 2006 there has been a 56 percent decrease in HPV infection in teenage girls.  Considering this in the light of less-than-ideal vaccination rates, this is quite promising.

~Don’t let your child become a statistic:

At any given time, one percent (or one of 100) adults has genital warts.

Each year, 9,300 men and 17,500 women have a cancer related to HPV.

The HPV vaccine has had a tough row to hoe.  No one likes to think about their child becoming sexually active too early, for the wrong reasons and against the values we have worked to help them internalize.  Which means whether or not to have children vaccinated with the HPV vaccination is often couched in a values debate:

“If I accept the series of shots for my child, that gives him or her license to have intercourse before the “right” time.”

The rebuttal is this:  no, protecting our children against serious illness is never the wrong decision.  In fact, providing our children with the HPV vaccine can open the door to further discussion about premarital sex, condoms and birth control pills and our family values and viewpoints on these topics.  These are difficult talks to have with our children, but as the vocal doctor who came to talk with my church-based parenting group said:  an honest, open dialogue is key to our children’s sexual health.  In fact:

It could save their lives.

Why I Won’t Homeschool My Kids

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A year ago, I wrote about whether or not to homeschool my older son and his brother and sister (How About Homeschooling? Part One and How About Homeschooling? Part Two).  In those posts, I described my concerns, thoughts and feelings and was pleased to receive some wonderful feedback from readers.  To all of you who shared your perspectives and positive experiences with educating your children at home, I thank you for providing food for thought.   But I knew my husband and I were going to need more information before making a decision…and that meant sending our kids back to public school the following year.  As school budget cuts would be creating larger fourth grade classes, we needed to find out if being in a  25 percent-larger section would affect our sensitive son’s ability to learn.

Well, that year has nearly passed.  Our question has been answered.  And much more about our school has been realized.  So our decision is this:

We won’t be homeschooling our kids.

It isn’t right for our family.  It works wonderfully for others and my hat goes off to them for making such a huge commitment.  Those families have their reasons and the wiring to make the home a classroom.  But homeschooling is not for us.  And here’s why: Continue reading

One Tough Mother

First Mothers' Day!  Not feeling so much tough as tired but very, very happy!

First Mothers’ Day! Not feeling so much tough as tired but these two little guys are totally worth it!

I didn’t plan it this way.  But two weeks ago I realized this post, which I drafted specifically for Mothers’ Day, would be PulseonParenting.com’s 100th.  Hitting the century mark with an entry honoring moms feels like good karma.  And I want you, all who have been reading PulseonParenting, to be a part of the good vibe.  Moms can handle most anything parenting throws their way…in fact, I’d put money on it that you all are Tough Mothers.  I’ll bet you have posted your most heroic, vulnerable, gross and/or hilarious maternal moments on Facebook or Twitter or your own blog.  But today consider sharing an example here, on PulseonParenting.  Or comment on PulseonParenting’s Facebook page.  Join moms from around the country in compiling “100 Tough Mother Moments” to honor Pulse’s big 1-0-0.  Share the moments that bind us moms together in a sisterhood like no other.  And invite your friends to do the same!

The following are examples of Tough Mother moments…some are my own, others belong to relatives, and perhaps some will resonate with you!  You may be One Tough Mother if: Continue reading

I’m Driving With Kids, Guess What’s In My Glovebox?

Now this is the ride we want on our next big adventure.  Barf bags a must!

Now this is the ride we want on our next big adventure. Barf bags a must!

This week:  a post on the lighter side inspired by a recent family road trip to California.  It was great fun and the kids did really well riding the 2,000-plus miles.  Which, pardon the pun, is a true milestone.  My kids are in grade school and at this wonderful age teachers send makeup work along and this helps pass the time.  It does so in theory, anyway.   Friends named Pixar, Mad Libs and Motel Swimming Pool were indispensable as my husband and I bribed the kids into getting homework done.  So in a nutshell, UN-caliber negotiations and movies and math got us from one destination to another with very little drama.

In January of 2014, I published I’m Flying With Kids, Guess What’s In My Quart Ziploc Bag?  Flying and driving seem like two very different propositions, but in many ways, doing either with kids involves much of the same process (homework bribes and in-flight videos).  There is crossover even in the smallest details, which can only be learned from experience.  And that is why it’s time for the sequel to I’m Flying With Kids.  So what do I keep in the glovebox on a road trip?

Stuff that I steal.

From the Friendly Skies, ironically.  Or from whatever airline can give us a “bargain” rate to take our brood to see the grandparents.  (Which is not so much a “bargain,” of course, and the reason we drove to California).  And why do I take stuff from airplanes?  Predictably my younger son goes so hard while on holiday and is so sleep-deprived, dehydrated and PUMPED UP that he spikes fevers and often barfs his brains out.  Then he collapses into a 13-hour sleep.  It’s a bit weird and scary but he pulls through every time, rarin’ to go by the time he wakes up.  Once on a trip to Colorado, he turned white as a sheet and we just managed to corral the sick in a torn plastic grocery bag that we happened to have in the van.  I was dressed up (a rare occurrence on a family trip) but managed to dump the semi-leaky bag in a nearby trash can without making a huge mess.

Whew.

Vowing from that day forward to always be prepared for car sickness..I started raiding airline seat pockets.   On our flight home from that Colorado trip, and on every flight since then, I take the all the little white bags.  Well, not all, only the five we are totally justified in swiping.  No beverage service?  No problem.  Those wax-coated gems are more than just compensation:  we use a ton of them when we are on the ground.  The Kayak.com airline-of-choice can come after me if they want but my defense is air-line tight:   At least my child hasn’t gotten ill on the upholstery of your terribly uncomfortable seats, which he could have done because those bags are pretty small.  Your upholstery or your barf bags, your choice.  

So there.

I steal other stuff, too.  I have sticky fingers when it comes to extra napkins and handi-wipes so we don’t have the kid-sized version all over the van’s windows.  Sometimes I take a few feet of toilet paper (don’t ask).  Straws and sporks are nice, too.

But the true windfall is those plastic-lined bags that self-seal.  Even though my son seems to have outgrown the car sickness I still keep a few bags in the van to ward off its return.  Call it insurance.

Some people need their AmEx.  We need barf bags.

And never leave home without them.

What to Expect When Your Son Starts Puberty

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When my husband and I learned we were expecting twin boys, I had two thoughts.  One was:

YES!  No weddings to pay for!

And the other was:

Whew.  I get out of doing “The Talk!”

With the former I “thought” too soon, as we now also have a daughter (wedding fund started).  With the latter, well, we’ll see.  Because when my older son, um, discovered himself at age three, I was giving him his bath.  Dad wasn’t even in the house.  That was the wake up call:  I knew I needed to be as knowledgeable about my boys’ pubertal changes as I do my daughter’s.  So Moms, here’s some info to help us all navigate our sons’ transition to adulthood: Continue reading