Tag Archives: Psychiatrist

Talking Trauma With Kids

As human beings, it seems we want to put off having talks about uncomfortable subjects for as long as possible.

I’m not sure it’s possible to put off talking about Sandy Hook elementary school for much longer. When I was at Amazing Elementary School, where I work as a tutor, on Monday, there was a lot of talk about the appalling events of Friday, when a sick man walked into an elementary school and killed 20 students, six teachers and staff and then died himself. This after having already killed his mother in the Newtown, Connecticut home they share.

The talk I was hearing didn’t come only from the teachers, worried about their young charges. The students had also heard about what happened.

I was asked several times what I knew about the incident, as if because I was an adult, I would know all there was to know about, well, everything. Yeah, elementary schoolers are still in that trusting phase. Which makes what happened at Sandy Hook all the worse.

Still, dudes, I think it’s something we need to discuss with our young dudes and dudettes. I know I want my kids to hear about my interpretation of what happened.

These kinds of things, no matter horrific and terrible they are, really are rare. Not rare enough, of course, but they’re not something that happens very often.

I want my kids to know, in general, what they need to do if something like this happens in their school. Hiding or running away from the crazy with the gun is a much better idea than running toward.

It’s the talks like this with younger kids, though, that will take the most effort on the part of parents to make sure they understand. They’re going to be completely weirded out that someone would kill kids their own age. The most important thing you can do, according to experts, is remain calm.

If you’re freaking out about the whole thing, there’s no way the kid will hear anything but your fear.

“You want to do it in an open-ended calm way, ‘this happened,’ ” said psychiatrist and NBC TODAY contributor Dr. Gail Saltzon on Saturday. “But stay calm, because children take their cues from you. If you’re hysterical, they won’t even hear the information, they’ll hear your emotion. You want to be listening to what they are concerned about.”

Be honest, “but don’t over-inform about details.”

No one is expecting you to know everything or be able to guarantee your child perfect safety from the scum-sucking weasels of the world, but you can be there to listen to your child.

Talk to her, give him reassurance. You can offer them love and arms to hug. Give them information about what happened, but don’t put adult fear into young lives. They get enough of that from the real world already.

— Richard

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Tattoo You

by Richard

Yesterday, I talked about an embarrassing time in my past when I asserted my manly manhood and independence by getting my ear pierced and then hiding that fact from my grandparents.

That raised the question, though, as to what age was too young for someone to get his or her ear pierced, another body area pierced, a tattoo?

That, dudes, is a knotty question and a lot of it depends on the parent. Actually, I’d say almost all of it depends on the parent. And the rest depends on just how rebellious the young dude or dudette really is.

In a lot of states, the legal limit for people deciding for themselves if they want a tattoo, piercing or other permanent body modification is the age of majority: 18 years. Something that was touched upon in a CNN story that went out last weekend.

Child development experts contacted by CNN agree with this age of majority for permanent body modification in young adults, but also assert age is but a number; maturity level is a much better parameter to go by.

Psychiatrist Daniel Bober, an assistant clinical professor in the Child Study Center at Yale University, says it helps to look at a child’s functioning in other areas of their life, such as school and peer relationships.

“The brain of a young person is still developing and they are less risk averse, more impulsive, and more likely to engage in risky behaviors,” says Bober. “This is because the last part of the brain to develop is the part that tells them to ‘put the brakes on’ before they do something potentially harmful and dangerous.”

Of course, that doesn’t count the parents. Some parents go ahead and pierce the ears of their just-born infants (some boys, but mostly girls) and think nothing of it. It’s just the way they do things. Which can get people into trouble, especially when they start talking about tattoos.

In June, Jerry Garrison, a Florida grandfather, lost custody of his 10-year-old grandson after allowing him to get a tattoo of his initials on his right leg. A “family tradition,” according to Garrison.

Under Florida law, a person younger than 16 years old cannot be tattooed except “for medical or dental reasons,” and anyone age 16 to 18 can be tattooed only with the consent of a parent or guardian.

That law was changed in January 2012; it had previously allowed tattooing under the age of 16 so long as the minor had parental consent.

To me, that’s the issue. Not whether or not the parents or the young dude or dudette want this procedure, but that it’s permanent. A tattoo just isn’t going to go away as you get older. It’s going to still be there, stretched out and faded, as you get older. Unless you pony up the big bucks for tattoo removal surgery, and that’s costly and not always successful.

Personally, I think folks should wait. Ear piercings I can see allowing before someone is 18 because you can always take the earring out. Body piercing and tattoos I’d say should wait until the person getting the procedure is at least 18. Sure they’re still too young to really make that decision because they are, after all, young and dumb. However, I think if they’re old enough to be asked to fight and die for our country, they’re old enough to decide if they want to look stupid as an old person because they’ve got a faded and stretched dragon tattoo bumping along on their stomach.

If it’s not possible to walk the procedure back, or at least make it disappear, I say you should have to wait. I know it’s horribly nanny statish of me, but it’s not like the tattoo parlor won’t be there when they turn 18. Let them wait. They’ve got the rest of their lives to regret it, so why start early?

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Freaky Friday: Mobile Therapy

by Richard

Smartphones have only been around for a very short time, and been ubiquitous for even less time, but it’s already reached the point that they’ve become clichés. Or at least parts of them.

Smartphones became so widely used because of their apps. Apps, for those living in media-free zones under large concentrations of post-metamorphic materials (under a rock), are tiny programs that do a certain specific thing. The apps are what make smartphones into computers in your palm.

What to know how to make the perfect cup of coffee? There’s an app for that. There’s an app for just about everything, it seems. Now, according to some mental health professionals, there will soon be apps for psychological issues like depression or anxiety.

The prospect of a therapy icon next to Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja is stirring as much dread as hope in some quarters. “We are built as human beings to figure out our place in the world, to construct a narrative in the context of a relationship that gives meaning to our lives,” said Dr. Andrew J. Gerber, a psychiatrist at Columbia University. “I would be wary of treatments that don’t allow for that.”

The upside is that well-designed apps could reach millions of people who lack the means or interest to engage in traditional therapy and need more than the pop mysticism, soothing thoughts or confidence boosters now in use.

“That is what makes the idea so promising,” said Richard McNally, a psychologist at Harvard whose lab recently completed a study of 338 people using a simple program accessible on their smartphones. “But there are big questions about how it could work, and how robust the effect really is.”

The smartphone study is looking at something called cognitive bias modification, which tries to break the brain of some bad habits that lead to psychological problems. Cognitive bias modification can be boiled down to a very simple plan: teach the brain to ignore the things that make you anxious.

Consider people with social anxiety, a kind of extreme shyness that can leave people breathless with dread. Studies have found that many who struggle with such anxiety fixate subconsciously on hostile faces in a crowd of people with mostly relaxed expressions, as if they see only the bad apples in a bushel of mostly good ones.

Modifying that bias — that is, reducing it — can interrupt the cascade of thoughts and feelings that normally follow, short-circuiting anxiety, lab studies suggest. In one commonly used program, for instance, people see two faces on the screen, one with a neutral expression and one looking hostile. The faces are stacked one atop the other, and a split-second later they disappear, and a single letter flashes on the screen, in either the top half or the bottom.

Users push a button to identify the letter, but this is meaningless; the object is to snap the eyes away from the part of the screen that showed the hostile face, conditioning the brain to ignore those bad apples. That’s all there is to it. Repeated practice, the researchers say, may train the eyes to automatically look away, or the frontal areas of the brain to exercise more top-down control.

Now, I’m not saying you should rush right out and begin searching for a Find Freud or Jumpin’ Jung app in the Android Marketplace, but this seems like it can’t help but be a good idea. The democratization of mental health care is fantastic. It won’t take the place of educated, caring men and women working individually with troubled dudes, but it’s not supposed to do that. It’s supposed to be a help, a band aid, we can apply to our damaged psyches while we search for the right doctor to implement the fix.


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