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Happiness is being socially connected

October 31, 2008 | The Main Dish | 2 comments

Network, network, network. Adults in the business world certainly know how important it is to stay connected to their colleagues and peers if they are to have successful careers, but did you know that the number and strength of our social connections are also very important for happiness?

The upshot of 50 years of happiness research is that the quantity and quality of a person's social connections—friendships, relationships with family members, closeness to neighbors, etc.—is so closely related to well-being and personal happiness the two can practically be equated. People with many friendships are less likely to experience sadness, loneliness, low self-esteem, and problems with eating and sleeping.

We live in a world where social media (like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and text messaging) make it easier to be "connected" to loads of people all the time. Many of us also live in a society that values privacy and independence over proximity and interdependence. Americans dream of country homes where they can go days without seeing any neighbors. Setting aside that happiness can come from establishing our connection to nature and monk-like training retreats, physical isolation is a recipe for loneliness—a particularly potent form of sadness. When it comes to happiness, teaching our kids to value and foster proximity and connection is a much better bet than a house with a long gravel driveway.

Robert Putnam wrote an interesting book, Bowling Alone, about how we Americans are becoming less and less connected to one another. As a parent, it makes me think about how we spend our time: if our happiness is best predicted by the quantity and quality of our relationships with others, how can we foster lots of strong relationships between our family and our communities? I often feel so busy—sometimes too busy to spend time with my friends. But then I think about what I'm modeling there: if I'm too busy for my friends, what DO I have time for? Little is more important for our over-all well-being than our relationships with other people.

When it comes to fostering social connections in kids, I see three arenas for discussion and development.

  1. The first is our family relationships—where it all starts—so in the coming weeks I'll blog about the importance of establishing secure caregiver-child attachments. Social and emotional intelligence is critical for forming strong relationships, and the parent-child bond is a great place to teach the emotional literacy that will lead to social intelligence.
  2. As kids get older, having the skills to negotiate and maintain relationships becomes important, and so I'll also be blogging about teaching kids how to successfully resolve conflicts. You might also want to check out some previous posts about gratitude and forgiveness. Having the skills we need to forgive can make or break a relationship, and people who consciously practice expressing gratitude and appreciation have stronger relationships.
  3. Finally, altruism—being kind to others, even strangers—creates deep and positive relationships, and so I'll be blogging more about teaching kindness in coming weeks as a part of this series about fostering strong relationships.

Until then, please post your stories. Where have your kids created their strongest bonds? What skills do they have that serve them particularly well in this arena?

Regarding point No. 2, above: Watch this video to learn how to teach kids to be grateful.

[Note: If you're reading this post via an email or RSS reader, you won't have access to its embedded video. Please click here to view the full article.]

© 2008 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

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How to Criticize Your Kids

October 15, 2008 | The Main Dish | 5 comments




I've spent a lot of time blogging about how we should praise our kids, but someone asked me the other day if there is a correct way to criticize them. Good question. Here are some ideas, a couple of which I gleaned from from A Nation of Wimps by Hara Estroff Marano (Broadway Books, 2008).

  1. If you feel disappointed in a child's performance, approach the topic constructively. First, ask them to evaluate their performance themselves with questions like, "Are you happy with how you did?" and "Is there anything you'll do differently next time?" Ask them why they feel the way they do, and what they learned. Ask if there is anything they need to reach their goals that they aren't currently getting. Perhaps they feel like they need a tutor, to have more regular family meals, or to make a plan to watch less TV.

  2. Make it clear that you see failure as an event, not an identity. If a child is disappointed in her performance or an outcome, empathize ("I can tell you are pretty upset about this") and then help her strategize about how she can make things go differently next time. Try to engage them in what we used to call "Failure Analysis" in the product development industry—the process of collecting and analyzing available data to figure out what happened, and how to prevent it from happening again. Failure analysis, by its very nature, is a way of embracing mistakes as a way to learn and grow. Leave the "I told you so" out of the discussion; this is the hardest thing ever for me. Just flows off the tongue for me to say things like, "I asked you a thousand times to put your homework folder in your backpack as soon as you were done instead of waiting until the morning." Better to ask about times when things worked out well: "Yesterday you remembered your homework. What did you do then that you didn't do today?" Teach kids that the way to do better next time is to understand which efforts pay off and which strategies work.

  3. Never express anger when children make mistakes, or imply that you love them less. Mistakes are just mistakes; while they might need to be dealt with, they are never grounds to withdraw love.

  4. Accept that sometimes second best is good enough, and communicate this.

  5. Empathize when children make mistakes – ask them how they feel and then repeat that back to them. For example: "I can tell you are really disappointed" or "It sounds like you felt really embarrassed." Don't just replay how bad it feels – get to the part where having a failure doesn't matter anymore: "It sounds like that was really hard at first but I'm glad to see that you can laugh at yourself now."

Okay, so those five things aren't really criticizing your kids – just constructive ways to react when you feel like criticizing. Do you think it is ever okay to out and out criticize your kids? If so, when and why?

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© 2008 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

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How much “screen time” is too much?

September 22, 2008 | The Main Dish | 28 comments


When I was pregnant with Fiona, my friends, all childless themselves, thought it would be funny to write an advice book for my husband and I. (No one knew that I would, ironically, go on to be someone who routinely gives parenting advice.) They each wrote entries about the things they thought their own parents did well. My buddy Scott—who happens to be smart, funny, AND kind—detailed all the ways that watching "too much TV" as a child has benefited him in later life. Though a knowledge of 1970's popular culture will only take you so far, I made a mental note to let my kids watch as much as they wanted.

But then I found out that you the American Academy of Pediatrics adamantly recommends that parents not let their children watch any TV until they are at least two years old, not even if the tired mommy really wants to take a shower. Being something of a rule-follower, Fiona didn't know the word for TV until her second birthday, when she promptly became a Sesame Street and Blues Clues junkie. I conveniently forgot about the AAP recommendation with Molly; it seemed too hard to cut TV out altogether.

Is that bad?

I certainly wasn't alone in letting my baby watch TV. American children spend 2 to 5 hours a day watching television, on average. 59% of children younger than two—who aren't supposed to be watching any—watch an average of 1.3 hours of television daily.

It turns out that a very large number of studies have reported harmful effects from children's television viewing, including worse performance in school, obesity, attention-span problems, aggression, sleep deprivation, requests for advertised foods, and eating fewer fruits and vegetables and more pizza, snack food, soda, and high-fat foods.

Even videos that claim to be beneficial—like the Baby Einstein video series—aren't good and may be bad. In one study, for example, for every hour per day spent watching such videos, children understood an average of six to eight fewer words than did those of the same age who did not watch them—a 17-percentile drop in vocabulary.

On the other hand, video games don't necessarily deserve their bad rap. They can be a great way to socialize and connect with friends (especially for boys). And video games can actually facilitate, rather than discourage, physical play. Boys who play sports video games, for example, are actually much more likely to play those games in real life—they use the video games to master new moves, and then they go out and practice in real life.

7 Things to Keep in Mind When the Electronic Babysitter is Getting a Lot of Play

  1. Television brings little or no benefits, but it replaces activities that do make kids happier, healthier, and smarter. The more kids watch TV, the less time they tend to spend with their parents and siblings, the less time they spend doing homework (for 7-12 year olds), and the less time they spend in creative play (especially in children younger than 5). For very young children (less than 3), time spent watching TV replaces activities children need for proper brain development, particularly interaction with their caregivers.

  2. On the other hand, research has shown that playing video games doesn't usually take time away from sports or other active pursuits, and that game-playing teens spend the same amount of time with family and friends as non-gamers.

  3. Those pediatricians are right: infants and toddlers under 2 should not have any screen time. Early television exposure is associated with problems like ADD and ADHD, and decreased intelligence later in childhood.

  4. Computer use by children under the age of three is also not recommended. However, some research shows that computer programs, when combined with activities that facilitate what the programs are trying to teach, can help 3- to 4-year-olds develop a range of skills, including long-term memory, manual dexterity and verbal skills.

  5. Not all screen time is equal. In our homes we should ban the 20% of videogames that are rated as too violent or sexual for kids. Research shows a strong link between violent video game play and aggressive feelings and behaviors; violent video games trigger a part of the brain that drives people to act aggressively. And violent video game play measurably decreases helpful behaviors. Similarly, watching violent programming on TV is associated with a decrease in fantasy play among preschoolers and an increase in children's aggressiveness.

  6. Parents who watch television with their children and reinforce the educational aspects of shows can improve the quality of the learning experience for their children. Unfortunately, most kids usually don't watch educational television with their parents – they watch general audience programs targeted to adults rather than children.

  7. Although 68% of American kids do have televisions in their rooms, children with a TV in their bedroom are 1.3 times more likely to be overweight (even when they are physically active and/or participate in team sports).

Looks like my friend Scott, who watched TV every waking moment of his childhood but whose brain developed just fine, is an outlier. Our best bet is to turn off the boob tube and send the kids out to play.

Related posts:

© 2008 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

Join the Campaign for 100,000 Happier Parents by signing this simple pledge.

Become a fan of Raising Happiness on Facebook.

Follow Christine Carter on Twitter

Subscribe to the Happiness Matters Podcast on iTunes.

Sign up for the Raising Happiness CLASS!

References:

Strasburger, VC. (2001). Children and TV advertising: nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Journal of developmental and behavioral pediatrics. 22(3). 185-7.

Committee on Communications. (2006) Children, Adolescents, and Advertising: Organizational Principles to Guide and Define the Child Health Care System and/or Improve the Health of All Children. Pediatrics. 118(6). 2563-2569.

Aachei-Mejia, AM. Longacre, MR. Gibson, JJ. Beach, ML. Titus-Ernstoff, LT. Dalton, MA. (2007). Children with a TV in their bedroom at higher risk for being overweight. International Journal of Obesity. 31. 644-651.

Vanderwater, E. Beickham, D. Lee, June. (2008) Time Well Spent? Relating television Use to Children's Free-Time Activities. Pediatrics. 117(2).

Zimmerman, F.J. Christakis, D.A. Meltzoff, A.N. (2007) Television and DVD/Video Viewing in Children Younger Than 2 Years. (REPRINTED) ARCH PEDIATR ADOLESC MED. 161. 473-479.

Christakis, D.A. Zimmerman, F.J. DiGiuseppe, D.L. McCarthy, C.A. (2004) Early Television Exposure and Subsequent Attentional Problems in Children. Pediatrics. 113. 708–713.

National Institute on Media and the Family. (2002). Fact Sheet Children And Advertising. Retrieved November 12, 2008, from http://www.mediafamily.org/facts/facts_childadv.shtml

Gantz, W. Schwartz, N. Angelini, J. Rideout, V. (2007). Food For Thought: Television food advertising to children in the United States. Retrieved November 12, 2008, from http://www.kff.org/entmedia/upload/7618.pdf

Christakis , B . Ebel , F . Rivara , F . Zimmerman. (2004). Television, video, and computer game usage in children under 11 years of age. The Journal of Pediatrics. 145(5) , Pages 652 - 656.

 
 
 
 
 
 

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