How to Raise a Good Human in a Digital World

Sierra Filucci Executive Editor, Parenting Content | Mom of two 

How to Raise a Good Human in a Digital World

As parents, we have many hopes for our kids. We want them to grow up to live happy, successful lives. We hope they’ll find love, maybe have kids of their own, and pursue their dreams. But at the bottom of all these wishes is the hope that our kid turns into a decent human being — someone who is kind, respectful, and honest.

How do you bolster these strengths as well as teach key skills such as teamwork, communication, and perseverance? For the most part, kids will learn these things by following your example and through experience gained at school and in their communities. But media is another entry point. Since movies, TV shows, books, video games, and social media are such a huge part of kids’ lives, it makes sense that kids can learn important lessons about character through media.

Here are some specific things you can do or say to reinforce character:

Watch sports.
Not only can watching sports with kids be a really fun way to bond over a favorite team or player, it can be a perfect opportunity to point out character strengths from teamwork to perseverance. After cheering over a big touchdown or basket, point out how important the linebackers or passers were to the score: Even though they don’t get all the attention, the team wouldn’t be successful without the admirable work of supporting players.

Share social media.
From Facebook and Instagram to YouTube, social media is ripe with character lessons. If you notice a post, photo, or video of something especially touching or beautiful, share it with your kid and comment on how much courage it took for the poster to share their story or creative expression. Discuss the risks involved with putting yourself out there and how important it is to take (reasonable) risks to be true to yourself, even though you might face criticism.

Expand your horizons.
Watching documentaries or movies about people who live very different lives can trigger empathy,compassion, and humility. During a family movie night, choose something out of the ordinary — a story about someone of a different race or religion, or about a community that’s less fortunate than yours, or a subculture with different values or beliefs than yours — and encourage discussion afterward.

Play video games together.
Gaming as a family offers the chance to practice teamwork, problem-solving, communication, and perseverance, while also having fun. Choose multiplayer games where gamers are required to work together to win. Model positive, respectful communication during the game (try “I need help over here” instead of “you idiot!”). If kids are trying over and over again to achieve a game goal, you can recognize their effort as well as their success.

Take a time-out.
Most households are abuzz as various mobile devices alert us to text messages or Instagram posts. But we can help teach our kids self-control by resisting the urge to respond immediately. Next time you hear a text message alert (and you know it’s nothing urgent), say out loud, “I don’t need to check that right now.” This lesson can work on social media, too. If you’re a Twitter or Facebook user and you see something that makes you mad, talk through with your kid why you don’t want to respond right away (“I might say something I regret because I’m upset” or “I’d rather tell my friend that this bothers me privately instead of publicly on Twitter”).

10 Truths Middle Schoolers Should Know

Huffington Post
Posted: 08/07/2015 
KARI KAMPAKIS

It’s rare to hear anyone say they loved middle school. Even people with positive memories never tout it as the best years of their life.

Simply put, it’s an awkward season. It’s a time of constant changes, social shake-ups, swinging emotions, and intense pressures. If I’ve learned anything from working with adolescent girls, it’s how hungry this age group is for comfort and reassurance. I hear it in their voices and see it in their eyes whenever I speak to a group, a look of searching and a longing to hear something — anything — to help them make sense of things.

Please tell me it gets better, their faces silently plead. Tell me this isn’t it.

Well, middle schoolers, I assure you that life picks up. There’s a bigger, more promising world beyond this rite of passage. In the meantime, I have 10 truths to center you. I hope they bring you peace and a little friendly guidance.

Truth #10: Today’s most awkward moments will be tomorrow’s funniest memories. Keep a sense of humor whenever possible.

Those braces on your teeth that collect food? That acne on your face that miracle creams can’t cure? That giddy rush you get when your crush walks by, and you can’t think, talk, or see straight? One day these things will be really funny! They’ll be the memories you rehash again and again with your siblings and oldest friends.

It takes time, but as you gain confidence, your awkward moments become fun to share. You’ll readily admit yours and laugh at the comedy and conversation that result.

Eventually you’ll have a dazzling smile, clear skin, and someone to love. Your current problems will have closure. So stay mindful of the big picture, and remember that even your worst experiences will pass.

Truth #9: You don’t want to peak in middle school (or high school or college, for that matter). The worst goal you can have is popularity. Because what often makes adolescents popular — running with the fast crowd, dominating your peers, living a superficial lifestyle — eventually leads to problems.

A truly successful person gets better with time. You go from being version 1.0 of yourself to version 2.0, 4.0, 6.0, and so on. But when you chase popularity, you peak early. You stop growing and improving because you’re stuck in instant gratification mode, looking for quick fixes to satisfy your needs.

Make it your goal to peak later in life. Make good choices that set you up for a bright future. If you’re not a superstar now, that’s OK. This simply means there are better things ahead as you continue to evolve and learn.

Truth #8: Technology makes it easier than ever to ruin relationships and reputations. We live in an age where people post everything online — feelings, emotions, and pictures. I love technology when it’s used wisely, but too often, it’s used impulsively. We let our fingers jump ahead of our brains, and within seconds, we can trigger hurt, misunderstandings, and serious issues.

So please, think twice before texting, emailing, or posting on social media. Cool off before giving someone a piece of your mind, venting, jumping to conclusions, reacting out of jealousy or anger, embarrassing someone, or sending an inappropriate photo. Use the Internet for good, not as a dumping ground.

And when you have an issue with a friend, call instead of sending texts. It’s easy to put in writing what you’d never say in person, or to interpret a message the wrong way, and the tension this adds to a relationship is hard to recover from.

Truth #7: Surrounding yourself with good company is imperative. There’s an old saying that’s particularly relevant to your age group: “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.”

Yes, you’re called to love everyone, but not everyone deserves a place in your innermost circle. Some people you love up close and personal, and others you love at arm’s length because inviting them into your life invites disaster.

Sooner or later, a bad influence will rub off. You’ll either make choices against your better judgment or wind up in a predicament. As a mom I know told her daughter, she once went out with a guy who was very sweet to her but also wild. She didn’t see the issue until they had their first date — and he took her to a drug dealer’s house.

She told her daughter, “Even though I was innocent, I would have gone to jail if the police had come. I was guilty by association just by being there.”

Good friends lift you up. They don’t put you in risky or compromising situations. To become the best version of yourself, you need friends who hold themselves to high standards and want you to reach your full potential, too.

Truth #6: What makes you different is what makes you great. Middle school is largely about conformity. I see this firsthand because I live near a middle school, and over time I’ve noticed how all the kids dress alike, walk alike, and act alike.

Meanwhile, at my children’s elementary school, I see authenticity and diverse personalities because the kids don’t yet know how to be anything but themselves. It saddens me to know that they, too, will eventually feel pressured to hide what makes them unique.

You’ll never influence the world by trying to be like everyone else in it. You’ll never find your calling by following the crowd. God made you different for a reason, and what sets you apart plays into His plan for you. So listen to that quiet voice inside you and remember yourself as a child. Cling to the passions you had in your early years, because they hold more answers than you know.

Truth #5: It’s OK not to have your life planned out. It’s OK if you haven’t discovered your “thing.” Chances are, you know kids with immense talent and drive. They’ve trained for years in their area of expertise, and they know exactly what they want in life.

Deep down you may be envious and uncomfortable, because you fear you’re getting left behind. You wonder why they have their act together — and you don’t.

But even the best-laid plans will face curveballs. Even the most driven kids will wind up on different paths from those they had originally envisioned. So if your future isn’t mapped out by ninth grade, take heart! You’re still young and have plenty of time to discover what you were born to do. Just set goals for yourself, use your gifts, and head in a good direction. Set a positive trajectory so that when you do discover your thing, you’re ready to soar.

Truth #4: Your uniform is not your identity. Labels are big in middle school, and there’s a confidence that comes from wearing a football jersey, cheerleader uniform, or other type of team attire.

But remember that having a uniform — or even designer clothes — doesn’t increase your worth. You’re special because of who you are, not what you put on your body or what you achieve.

Overnight you can lose your place on a team. You can lose your talents, your wardrobe, your relationships, even your Instagram account. But if you base your identity on the one thing you’ll never lose — God’s love — your foundation is unshakable. You’ll still be standing even if you lose every earthly trapping this world says is important.

Truth #3: Applause can be misleading. You can make a huge mistake and still get cheered on wildly. Through social media, popularity is now quantifiable. You can gauge your performance by how many “likes,” comments, and shares you get.

But remember, numbers alone can be misleading. To get the full picture, you need to measure numbers against the truth. The best applause to live for is the quiet peace inside you. What makes you feel good about yourself? What helps you rest easy at night? Criticizing someone to bring them down or make people laugh won’t bring you peace. Neither will watching someone else beat up on a kid as the crowd cheers him on.

You know the truth by how you feel deep down. And when you seek your applause from within, you don’t need the applause of public approval.

Truth #2: There’s a difference between helpful advice and criticism that holds you back. Be careful who you listen to. Some people want you to succeed. Others don’t. Develop a strong filter for whose words you take to heart — and whose words you ignore.

Some questions to ask yourself are: Do I trust this person? Are they respectable? Do they practice what they preach? Are they the kind of person I hope to become? Do they recognize my talent and potential and encourage me, or do they drag me down by harping on where I fall short?

How others talk to you influences how you talk to yourself. And since that voice in your head impacts your confidence, determination, and willingness to take risks, you want people in your life who speak the truth in love and always with your best interest in mind.

Truth #1: You’re AWESOME. Truly, you are. All these crazy changes are leading to something amazing. In the grand scheme of life, middle school is only a blip, so keep it in check. Have fun, dream big, and make good choices. One day you’ll look back and laugh at the absurdities of this stage, and, if you’re lucky, you’ll enjoy a lot of humor now.

This post originally appeared on karikampakis.com. Find Kari on Facebook or check out her new book for teen & tween girls, 10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know, released by Thomas Nelson.

Follow Kari Kubiszyn Kampakis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/KariKampakis

Why Kids Sext

The Atlantic

An inquiry into one recent scandal reveals how kids think about sexting—and what parents and police should do about it.
HANNA ROSIN, OCT 14 2014

All photos by Greg Kahn
It was late on a school night, so Jennifer’s kids were already asleep when she got a phone call from a friend of her 15-year-old daughter, Jasmine. “Jasmine is on a Web page and she’s naked.” Jennifer woke Jasmine, and throughout the night, the two of them kept getting texts from Jasmine’s friends with screenshots of the Instagram account. It looked like a porn site—shot after shot of naked girls—only these were real teens, not grown women in pigtails. Jennifer recognized some of them from Jasmine’s high school. And there, in the first row, was her daughter, “just standing there, with her arms down by her sides,” Jennifer told me. “There were all these girls with their butts cocked, making pouty lips, pushing their boobs up, doing porny shots, and you’re thinking, Where did they pick this up? And then there was Jasmine in a fuzzy picture looking awkward.” (The names of all the kids and parents in this story have been changed to protect their privacy.) You couldn’t easily identify her, because the picture was pretty dark, but the connection had been made anyway. “OMG no f‑ing way that’s Jasmine,” someone had commented under her picture. “Down lo ho,” someone else answered, meaning one who flies under the radar, because Jasmine was a straight‑A student who played sports and worked and volunteered and was generally a “goody-goody two shoes,” her mom said. She had long, silky hair and doe eyes and a sweet face that seemed destined for a Girl Scouts pamphlet, not an Instagram account where girls were called out as hos or thots (thot stands for “that ho over there”).

Into the Future
Technology’s Next Generation
That night, in March of this year, Jennifer tried to report the account to Instagram’s privacy-and-safety center, hoping it would get taken down. She asked several friends to fill out the “report violations” page too, but after a few hours, the account was still up. (Instagram’s help center recommends contacting local authorities in cases of serious abuse.) She considered calling 911, but this didn’t seem like that kind of emergency. So she waited until first thing the next morning and called a local deputy sheriff who serves as the school resource officer, and he passed the message on to his superior, Major Donald Lowe. Over the years, Lowe had gotten calls from irate parents whose daughters’ naked pictures had popped up on cellphones, usually sent around by an angry boyfriend after a breakup. But he immediately realized that this was a problem of a different order. Investigation into the Instagram account quickly revealed two other, similar accounts with slightly different names. Between them, the accounts included about 100 pictures, many of girls from the local high school, Louisa County High, in central Virginia. Some shots he later described to me as merely “inappropriate,” meaning girls “scantily clad in a bra and panties, maybe in a suggestive pose.” But some “really got us”—high-school girls masturbating, and then one picture showing a girl having sex with three boys at once.
Lowe has lived in Louisa County, or pretty close to it, for most of his life. The county is spread out and rural, but it is by no means small-town innocent. People there deal drugs and get caught up with gangs, and plenty of high-school girls end up pregnant. Usually Lowe can more or less classify types in his head—which kids from which families might end up in trouble after a drunken fight in the McDonald’s parking lot. But this time the cast of characters was baffling. He knew many of the girls in the photos, knew their parents. A few were 14, from the local middle school. They came from “all across the board,” Lowe says. “Every race, religion, social, and financial status in the town. Rich, poor, everyone. That’s what was most glaring and blaring about the situation. If she was a teenager with a phone, she was on there.” He knew some of the boys who had followed the Instagram accounts, too. Among them were kids with a lot to lose, including star athletes with scholarships to first-rate colleges.

The girls on the page came from “all across the board,” Lowe says. “Every race, religion, social, and financial status in the town … if she was a teenager with a phone, she was on there.”
It seemed to Lowe, in those early days, as if something had gone seriously wrong under his nose, and that’s how the media reported it: “Deputies Bust Massive Teen Sexting Ring in Louisa County,” one headline said. The word ring stuck out, as if an organized criminal gang had been pimping out girls at the school. The Instagram accounts were quickly taken down, and Louisa County High School was transformed into a crime scene, which it remained for the next month. Police cars sat parked at the school’s entrance, and inside, a few deputies who reported to Lowe began interviewing kids—starting with girls they recognized in the pictures and boys who had followed the accounts. Jasmine, who was a sophomore, was one of the first to be called in. She told them she’d originally sent the picture to a boy in 11th grade she’d known for a couple of years and really liked. They asked her whether she knew of anyone else at school who had nude pictures on their phone, and she told them she did. For the most part, the kids were “more than cooperative,” Lowe says. One person would give up 10 names. The next would give up five, and so on.

But pretty soon this got to be a problem. Within an hour, the deputies realized just how common the sharing of nude pictures was at the school. “The boys kept telling us, ‘It’s nothing unusual. It happens all the time,’ ” Lowe recalls. Every time someone they were interviewing mentioned another kid who might have naked pictures on his or her phone, they had to call that kid in for an interview. After just a couple of days, the deputies had filled multiple evidence bins with phones, and they couldn’t see an end to it. Fears of a cabal got replaced by a more mundane concern: what to do with “hundreds of damned phones. I told the deputies, ‘We got to draw the line somewhere or we’re going to end up talking to every teenager in the damned county!’ ” Nor did the problem stop at the county’s borders. Several boys, in an effort to convince Lowe that they hadn’t been doing anything rare or deviant, showed him that he could type the hashtag symbol (#) into Instagram followed by the name of pretty much any nearby county and then thots, and find a similar account.

Most of the girls on Instagram fell into the same category as Jasmine. They had sent a picture to their boyfriend, or to someone they wanted to be their boyfriend, and then he had sent it on to others. For the most part, they were embarrassed but not devastated, Lowe said. They felt betrayed, but few seemed all that surprised that their photos had been passed around. What seemed to mortify them most was having to talk about what they’d done with a “police officer outside their age group.” In some he sensed low self-esteem—for example, the girl who’d sent her naked picture to a boy, unsolicited: “It just showed up! I guess she was hot after him?” A handful of senior girls became indignant during the course of the interview. “This is my life and my body and I can do whatever I want with it,” or, “I don’t see any problem with it. I’m proud of my body,” Lowe remembers them saying. A few, as far as he could tell, had taken pictures especially for the Instagram accounts and had actively tried to get them posted. In the first couple of weeks of the investigation, Lowe’s characterization of the girls on Instagram morphed from “victims” to “I guess I’ll call them victims” to “they just fell into this category where they victimized themselves.”
Louisa County’s chief deputy sheriff, Donald Lowe,
had never seen a sexting case on this scale.
Lowe’s team explained to both the kids pictured on Instagram and the ones with photos on their phones the serious legal consequences of their actions. Possessing or sending a nude photo of a minor—even if it’s a photo of yourself—can be prosecuted as a felony under state child-porn laws. He explained that 10 years down the road they might be looking for a job or trying to join the military, or sitting with their families at church, and the pictures could wash back up; someone who had the pictures might even try to blackmail them. And yet the kids seemed strikingly blasé. “They’re just sitting there thinking, Wah, wah, wah,” Lowe said, turning his hands into flapping lips. “It’s not sinking in. Remember at that age, you think you’re invincible, and you’re going to do whatever the hell you want to do? We just couldn’t get them past that.”

After a week’s immersive education on the subject, Donald Lowe found himself just where the rest of the nation’s law-enforcement community—and much of the nation—is on the subject of teen sexting: totally confused. Were the girls being exploited? Or were they just experimenting? Was sexting harming the kids? And if so, why didn’t they seem to care? An older man with whom Lowe was acquainted stopped him at the grocery store to tell him, “That’s child porn, and you ought to lock those people up for a long time.” But Lowe didn’t want to charge kids “just for being stupid,” he told me later. “We don’t want to label them as child molesters.”

As soon as teenagers got cameraphones, they began using them to send nude selfies to one another, without thinking or caring that a naked picture of a minor, unleashed into the world, can set off explosions. And while adults send naked pictures too, of course, the speed with which teens have incorporated the practice into their mating rituals has taken society by surprise. I’d heard about the Louisa County sexting scandal in the news. It seemed like a good case study—the place is traditional but not isolated; it has annual beauty queens and football pageantry on a Friday Night Lights scale, and also many residents who work in Richmond, the state capital. I spent several weeks in and around the county this spring and summer talking to kids, parents, police officers, and lawmakers, trying to understand how officials sort through such a mess of a case. Maybe more important, I wanted to understand how teens themselves think about sexting—why they send naked pictures and what they hope to get in return; how much or how little sexting has to do with actual sex. My hope was to help figure out how parents and communities should respond. Because so often in sexting cases that go public, we adults inadvertently step into the role of Freddy Krueger, making teenage nightmares come true: We focus on all the wrong things; we overreact. Sometimes we create an even bigger disaster.
A school resource officer talks to students at Louisa County High School about the recent sexting scandal—and the swirl of rumors that it generated.
When I asked the kids from Louisa County High School, which has about 1,450 students, how many people they knew who had sexted, a lot of them answered “everyone.” (Throughout this article, I will use sexting to mean the transmission of provocative selfies you wouldn’t want your mother to see—not words, but pictures.) A few of the 30 or so kids I talked with said 80 percent or 60 percent, and no one said fewer than half. Kids, however, are known to exaggerate. Surveys on sexting have found pretty consistently that among kids in their upper teens, about a third have sexted, making the practice neither “universal” nor “vanishingly rare,” as Elizabeth Englander, a psychology professor at Bridgewater State University, writes, but common enough in a teenager’s life to be familiar. A recent study of seven public high schools in East Texas, for example, found that 28 percent of sophomores and juniors had sent a naked picture of themselves by text or e-mail, and 31 percent had asked someone to send one.

The general public was first forced to contemplate teen sexting in 2009, when a scandal in rural Pennsylvania’s Tunkhannock Area High School, similar to the school in Louisa County, made national news. By that point, the great majority of teens had cellphones—71 percent, almost the same percentage as adults. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl.com had just conducted the first public survey on sexting among teens and young adults, showing that, much to parents’ chagrin, the practice was fairly common. In the Pennsylvania case, the local district attorney threatened to bring child-pornography charges against girls who showed up in the pictures, which was widely considered overkill. It “makes as much sense as charging a kid who brings a squirt gun to school with possession of an unlicensed firearm,” wrote a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Lawmakers around the country began searching for a better alternative.

“What are you doing?” he texted. “I just got out of the shower and I’m about to go to sleep.” “Send me a picture, PLEASE.” She caved. She sent it over Snapchat and said he had to let it erase right away. He said he did.
“I really don’t like the word sexting,” says Michael Harmony, the commander of the southern-Virginia branch of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, which covers Louisa County. The term he makes his investigators use is self-production, which is law-enforcement-speak for when minors produce pictures of themselves that qualify as child porn. But changing the term doesn’t clarify much. Whether you call it self-production or sexting, it comes in too many forms to pin down. Harmony has dealt with a 13-year-old who posted her naked picture on MeetMe.com and had grown men show up at her house. He’s investigated a 17-year-old boy who blackmailed a girl into sending him naked pictures, and another boy who threatened to send out the naked pictures a girl had given him if she didn’t have sex with him. Lately, though, Harmony’s office has been flooded with cases like the one in Louisa County, generating bins filled with cellphones that his investigators have to go through one by one.

Since 2009, state legislatures have tried to help guide law enforcement by passing laws specifically addressing sexting. At least 20 states have passed such laws, most of which establish a series of relatively light penalties. In Florida, for example, a minor who is guilty of transmitting or distributing a nude photograph or video must pay a fine, complete community service, or attend a class on sexting. A second offense is a misdemeanor and a third is a felony. Where they’ve been passed, the new laws have helpfully taken ordinary teen sexting out of the realm of child pornography and provided prosecutors with a gentler alternative. But they have also created deeper cultural confusion, by codifying into law the idea that any kind of sexting between minors is a crime. For the most part, the laws do not concern themselves with whether a sext was voluntarily shared between two people who had been dating for a year or was sent under pressure: a sext is a sext. So as it stands now, in most states it is perfectly legal for two 16-year-olds to have sex. But if they take pictures, it’s a matter for the police.

Five years after the sexting scandal in Pennsylvania, cases still arise that betray shockingly little clarity about who should count as the perpetrator and who the victim. In another Pennsylvania case this year, two popular girls persuaded an autistic boy to share a picture of his penis with them, then forwarded the picture to a wide circle of schoolmates. The district attorney decided to go after the boy, according to Witold Walczak, the legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, which intervened in the case. A recent study published in Pediatrics broke down how police departments handle “youth-produced sexual images.” About two-thirds of the cases that have received police attention involved “aggravating circumstances,” meaning an adult was involved, or one teen had blackmailed or sexually abused another, or had “recklessly circulated” the image without the person’s consent. The remaining third were what the authors, who are associated with the Crimes Against Children Research Center, defined as having “no malicious elements”; those “may best be viewed as adolescent sexual experimentation.” Nonetheless, in 18 percent of those cases, police departments reported making an arrest.

Virginia is not one of the states that has passed specific teen-sexting laws, and so Major Lowe was looking, potentially, at hundreds of felonies. Every boy who had a photo on his phone, every girl who’d snapped one of herself—all could be prosecuted as felons and sex offenders. If Lowe made an arrest, the case would land with Rusty McGuire, the main prosecutor for Louisa County. McGuire wouldn’t talk with me about this situation specifically, but he expressed his concern more generally about nude pictures of minors landing in the wrong hands: “What do you do? Turn a blind eye? You’re letting teenagers incite the prurient interest of predators around the country,” fueling a demand that “can only be met by the actual abuse of real children.”

McGuire has successfully prosecuted several actual pedophiles over the years, including a local man who had posed as a teenage girl on Facebook and solicited young boys for sex, and another man—a trusted teacher—who had been part of a ring whose members offered up their own children to other members for sex. When he talks about the awful details of these crimes, it’s hard to get them out of your head. The Virginia legislature has long failed to pass a sexting law largely for fear of being soft on child porn, says Dave Albo, the chairman of the state Courts of Justice committee. Still, the absence of any obvious lesser alternative put Lowe in a difficult spot. “They’re not violent criminals,” he told me. “If these kids just made a dumb-ass mistake, we don’t want to ruin their future.”

Junior-varsity football players check their phones before a game.
“She’s a whore. I’ve totally heard that she’s a whore.”

That comment came quickly, from a senior girl whose style was generally more refined. “She” was Briana, a sophomore softball player who, in school lore, was the one who’d started all the trouble.

“I have to show you something.” Briana’s friend had stopped her between classes one day and showed her a picture on Instagram, the same morning Jennifer, Jasmine’s mom, contacted the police. It was a picture of a pair of breasts, and Briana, who is now a junior, recognized them as her own. Pretty much anyone at the high school would have. She was the only girl who had so many freckles going down her shoulders and arms, and it didn’t take too much imagination to guess where else. Briana went to a young teacher she trusted. “I said, ‘There’s this picture of me up on Instagram.’ ” The teacher informed the principal, who eventually called the police. No one at school knew that Jennifer had already reported the account that morning.

While police were calling kids into a makeshift interview room at the high school, one by one, a more unruly drama was unfolding in the hallways. Because the Instagram accounts had been up for only a short time, not everyone had seen them. Rumors spread about which girls had appeared in photos and what they’d been doing. One was supposedly making out with her sister (not true). Another was “messing with, like 10, 15 dudes” (also not true). A group of sociologists led by Elizabeth Armstrong has studied the class dynamics of the term slut as used by young college women. High-status women from affluent homes associate slut with women they call “trashy” and not “classy.” To women from working-class families, upper-class women are “rich bitches in sororities”—whom they also commonly think of as sluts. The girl who called Briana a whore is a potential future sorority-chapter president. She and several other more affluent students described everyone associated with the Instagram accounts to me as “ghetto,” which in this context had mild racial connotations but generally stands for “trashy” or “the lower crowd.” The role of ultimate, quintessential slut fell to a “redneck” girl who appeared on Instagram. In the post-sexting-scandal lore, she “supposedly slept with her brother” (surely not true).

To the elite girls, the girls on Instagram were sluts not necessarily because they were sleeping around but because of what they looked like or how they acted. “Let’s just say people have different body types,” one girl told me. Others, speaking about girls in the photos, said, “You obviously have a little too much confidence,” or just “Butter face” (as in: nice body, but her face … ). In their college study, Armstrong and her team identify this brand of sniping as a way girls police one another and establish a sort of moral superiority without denying themselves actual sex, and something similar seemed to be happening here. Well-off, popular girls were most certainly in the Instagram photos, but none would admit as much unless I knew otherwise. Briana was, in many ways, on the opposite end of the spectrum—she lacked that kind of standing, and, because she had gone to the principal, she was the girl most widely associated with the accounts, and therefore the main character in the morality tale that was being stitched together between classes.

I met Briana in early June, just after school had ended. She was in a summer program for geometry remediation because she’d gotten a C in math. She told me that she had ADD and took Adderall, and that she loved history but hated math with a passion. “I don’t know. I try hard. I’m just more into sports.” On the day we met, she wore a purple tank top and not-too-tight shorts, and her long hair was down. She had a sunburn on her shoulders that was bothering her a little. She told me she ran track and played volleyball and softball. Mostly she seemed nervous and eager to please—“No, ma’am.” “Yes, ma’am”—and to make me understand that she was not a bare-your-breasts kind of girl.

“Just let me see them, please?” She texted back, “No,” she told me. He was a junior, one year ahead of her. She didn’t consider him her boyfriend, just someone she talked with at school sometimes. Plus she felt “self-conscious.” Briana is tall and fit but doesn’t exude that sexy sheen some high-school girls do. He asked a dozen more times, in different ways, and one night the text came as she was getting out of the shower. “What are you doing?” he texted. “I just got out of the shower and I’m about to go to sleep.” “Send me a picture, PLEASE.” She caved. She sent it over Snapchat and said he had to let it erase right away. He said he did.
Cellphones confiscated at the high school filled
multiple evidence bins.
For days after the investigation began, Briana felt that people were staring at her, talking about her, blaming her for the fact that the high school seemed like a prison, or that they were being hauled into a police interview, or—worst of all—that they had to hide their phones or have them confiscated for God knows how long. “It was getting 10 times bigger,” she told me. “As each day went by, more phones were being taken. It all went really, really fast—way faster than I expected.” Sometimes her friends would tell her, “Hey, they were talking about you in second period.”

Briana was prepared for part of the reaction: that everyone would think “if I show my boobs then that means I would do anything.” But the worst part was “everyone calling me a snitch. Everybody, like, hated me because they knew I had told. It was so bad that I didn’t want to go to school.”

Briana and Jasmine are friends, and the day after the police arrived, Jasmine also wanted to stay home from school. She had sobbed and thrown up when she saw her photo on Instagram. But Jennifer wouldn’t let her stay home. In fact, she told her daughter she would be punished if she cried in school or showed in any way that she was upset: “They already got a piece of you,” Jennifer told her. “Don’t let them get any more.” So Jasmine stayed stone-faced, and nobody said a thing to her. The future sorority girl told me she’d caught Jasmine’s eye that first week and thought, “She must be thinking, You’ve seen me naked,” but she also noted that Jasmine didn’t betray anything. “She was just walking around the school as if nothing happened.”

Briana was not so lucky. The incident always seemed to be there, at school and at home. When she and her mother were watching TV and a romantic or sexual scene came on, her mother would leave the room. During arguments she’d say, “You have no reason to have an attitude after everything you’ve done.” One time, after her younger sister had misbehaved, her mom yelled, “Don’t end up like your sister!” while Briana stood close by. (Her mother later apologized.) Briana told me she has tried to make amends. She cleans up the kitchen every night after dinner, cleans the bathrooms. “Some days we’re okay, and some days I think it’s all she thinks about. She sent me a note: ‘I still think of you as my little girl.’ I understand where she’s coming from. But I’m not a little girl. I think she hasn’t accepted the fact that I’ve grown up yet.”

About a month after the investigation, Briana got into a fight with a boy on the bus. She was still “stressed out,” she said, and he kept singing a song she found annoying, and she asked him to please stop. He told her, “Nobody even wants you here” and called her a bitch, and she said, “I’m gonna beat the effing crap out of you,” and she hit him, and got suspended for three days. Those happened to be the days of softball tryouts, so she almost didn’t make the team. Then, when the coach did let her join the team, a teammate accused Briana of putting her college scholarship in jeopardy because her phone had been confiscated and maybe the school would rescind its offer. Briana used to babysit for one of the teacher’s kids, “but then his wife wouldn’t have anything to do with me.”

Studies on high-school kids’ general attitudes about sexting turn up what you’d expect—that is, the practice inspires a maddening, ancient, crude double standard. Researchers from the University of Michigan recently surveyed a few dozen teenagers in urban areas. Boys reported receiving sexts from girls “I know I can get it from” and said that sexting is “common only for girls with slut reputations.” But the boys also said that girls who don’t sext are “stuck up” or “prude.” The boys themselves, on the other hand, were largely immune from criticism, whether they sexted or not.

Sometimes in Louisa County, between interviews, I hung out with a group of 15-year-old boys who went to the library after school. They seemed like good kids who studied, played football, and occasionally got into fights, but no more than most boys. They’d watch videos of rappers from the area and talk about rumors in the rap world, like the one that the Chicago rapper Chief Keef, a rival of D.C.’s Shy Glizzy, had gotten a middle-school girl pregnant. They’d order and split a pizza to pass the time while waiting for their parents to leave work and pick them up. I started to think of them as the high school’s Greek chorus because, while I recognized much of what they said as 15-year-old-boy swagger—designed to impress me and each other, and not necessarily true—they still channeled the local sentiment. This is how one of them described his game to me: “A lot of girls, they stubborn, so you gotta work on them. You say, ‘I’m trying to get serious with you.’ You call them beautiful. You say, ‘You know I love you.’ You think about it at night, and then you wake up in the morning and you got a picture in your phone.”

“You wake up a happy man,” his friend said.

“Yeah, a new man.”

“Yeah, I’m the man.”

How do you feel about the girl after she sends it?, I asked.

“Super thots.”

“You can’t love those thots!”

“That’s right, you can’t love those hos.”

“Girls in Louisa are easy.”

And thus it was with Briana and her seducer: “He was a jerk. He didn’t talk to me anymore. And he just flirted with other girls.”

Louisa County teens, geographically spread out and chronically over scheduled, have relatively few opportunities to simply hang out with one another. Much of the high school’s social life takes place online.
Why do kids sext? One recent graduate told me that late at night, long after dinner and homework, her parents would watch TV and she would be in her room texting with her boyfriend. “You have a beautiful body,” he’d write. “Can I see it?” She knew it would be hard for him to ever really see it. She had a strict curfew and no driver’s license yet, and Louisa County is too spread out for kids to get anywhere on their own without a car.

“I live literally in the middle of nowhere,” the girl told me. “And this boy I dated lived like 30 minutes away. I didn’t have a car and my parents weren’t going to drop me off, so we didn’t have any alone time. Our only way of being alone was to do it over the phone. It was a way of kind of dating without getting in trouble. A way of being sexual without being sexual, you know? And it was his way of showing he liked me a lot and my way of saying I trusted him.”

In the Texas high-school study, boys and girls were equally likely to have sent a sext, but girls were much more likely to have been asked to—68 percent had been. Plenty of girls just laugh off the requests. When a boy asked Olivia, who graduated last year from Louisa County High, “What are you wearing?,” she told me she wrote back, “Stinky track shorts and my virginity rocks T-shirt.” A boy asked another student for a picture, so she sent him a smiling selfie. “I didn’t mean your face,” he wrote back, so she sent him one of her foot. But boys can be persistent—like, 20-or-30-texts-in-a-row persistent. “If we were in a dark room, what would we do?” “I won’t show it to anyone else.” “You’re only sending it to me.” “I’ll delete it right after.”

When surveyed, by far the most common reason kids give for sexting is that their boyfriend or girlfriend wanted the picture, and my interviews in Louisa County support that. In a study of 18-year-olds by Elizabeth Englander, 77 percent said the picture they sent caused no problems for them. The most common outcome of a sext, says Englander, is “nothing”: no loss, no gain. Most girls (70 percent) reported feeling some pressure to sext, but Englander singles out a distinct minority (12 percent) she calls the “pressured sexters,” who say they sexted only because they felt pressure. These girls are more vulnerable. They tend to start sexting at a younger age, and to sext because they think they can get a boyfriend, as opposed to because they already have one. They have a fantasy that “if they sext, the popular people will see them as daring and self-confident, and they could get a boyfriend they wouldn’t otherwise have gotten,” Englander says. But generally that doesn’t work out. Pressured sexters are much more apt to feel worse after sexting than other teens are—her interviews reveal them to be less self-confident about their bodies and less assured about their place in the social hierarchy after sending a sext.

One recent study found that young adults who engaged in sexting were more likely to report recent substance abuse and high-risk sexual behavior, like unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners. Another found exactly the opposite, that “sexting is not related to sexual risk behavior or psychological well-being.” In Englander’s study, many of the worrisome behaviors associated with sexting showed up more in those who had been pressured. They were more likely, for example, to engage in a practice researchers call self-cyberbullying, a disturbing phenomenon in which teens post mean things about themselves on social-media sites, usually to get sympathy or attention. Pressured sexters were also more likely to have had problems with sexual violence in dating.

A consistent finding is that sexting is a pretty good indicator of actual sexual activity. This year, researchers in Los Angeles published a study of middle-schoolers showing that those who sent sexts were 3.2 times more likely to be sexually active than those who didn’t. A story in the Los Angeles Times described the study as proof that “sexting is not a harmless activity.” But in fact the findings seem a little obvious. Since most kids who sext report doing so in the context of a relationship, it makes sense that sex and sexting would go together. As Amy Hasinoff, the author of the forthcoming book Sexting Panic: Rethinking Criminalization, Privacy, and Consent, points out, “Sexting is a form of sexual activity,” not a gateway to it.

But kids also sext, or ask for a sext, or gossip about sexting, for reasons only loosely related to sex. A recent New York Times story explored the practice of “vamping,” or staying up after midnight to check in with friends online. The kids in Louisa County, like kids everywhere, are chronically overscheduled. They stay late at school to play sports or to take part in other after-school activities, then go home and do their homework. Nighttime is the only time teens get to have intimate conversations and freely navigate their social world, argues Danah Boyd, the author of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. For the Louisa County kids, that means checking up on the latest drama on Twitter—“Anyone still awake?” is a common post-midnight tweet—and filling up their Instagram accounts, or asking a girl for a pic.

In the vast majority of cases, the picture lands only where it was meant to. Surveys consistently show that very few recipients share explicit selfies— without the sender’s consent. Englander’s surveys show that pictures resulting from pressure are much more likely to be shared, and that rarely ends well. In the worst-case scenario, the girl is devastated, and in rare instances takes drastic action. In 2008, Jessica Logan committed suicide after her nude photo circulated around her Ohio town, and there have been several similar suicide cases since then. A few people in Louisa County recalled the time a popular, pretty girl at school sent a picture to her boyfriend that he then sent out to his friends, and “by second period,” according to Olivia, “she was so upset that the guidance counselor had to send her home.” But mostly, even a picture that’s shared without consent travels between just two or three cellphones, and plays only a fleeting role in the drama of coming of age.

“The only reason to regret it is if you get caught,” one girl told me. And while getting caught—by parents, teachers, future employers—is no joke, police departments would still do well to remember that. Whether a sext qualifies as relatively safe sexual experimentation or a disaster often depends on who finds out about it. Marsha Levick, a co-founder of the nonprofit Juvenile Law Center, sees many cases where the police investigation does much more harm than the incident itself. “The rush to prosecute always baffles me,” she says. “It’s the exponential humiliation of these boys, or more often girls, in an official setting, knowing their photos will be shown to police officers and judges and probation officers. And the reality is, a lot of these officials are going to be men. That process itself is what’s traumatizing.”

As the new school year began, few people attended an evening community meeting on teen sexting held by Rusty McGuire, Louisa County’s main prosecutor.
About a month into the investigation, Donald Lowe concluded that the wide phone-collection campaign had added up to one massive distraction. Yes, the girls who appeared on Instagram had done something technically illegal by sending naked photos of themselves. But charging them for that crime didn’t make any sense. “They thought they were doing it privately,” he told me, reaching much the same conclusion as Levick. “We’re not helping them at all by labeling them at an early age.” Lowe recalled to me a girl in his own high-school class who had developed a reputation as “the county slut, and it took her years and years to overcome that.” These girls didn’t need their names in the paper to boot.

By June, Lowe had made the decision to wipe the photos off most of the phones and return them to the girls, and most of the boys, with a warning: “We don’t want to put anything on your record, but the next time we come around, we’re not going to be so nice about it.” He held on to a few phones and got search warrants for a few more, and began to focus on what seemed more like the actual crime: the posting of explicit photos without consent on Instagram.

Within the first day or two of the investigation, Lowe had developed a pretty good suspicion of who was behind that. A few of the boys he talked to—and a couple of girls as well—had told him they’d sent photos directly to boys who they thought had set up the accounts. A few others had sent them to a go-between, but still had a decent idea of who was setting up the accounts. The organizers had apparently spent weeks gathering photos. They said they would open the accounts only when they had a lot of pictures in hand, and that anyone who sent one in would be guaranteed access. Lowe wasn’t sure whether it was just a couple of boys working together or with a slightly larger group of accomplices. His investigators subpoenaed Instagram for the IP address of the accounts’ originating computer, but because of a technical aberration, that turned out to be inconclusive. He continued to search for other, solid evidence.

Lowe would not confirm to me the identity of the main suspects in the investigation, but according to some of the kids and parents, they are two brothers—one a student at the school, one a recent graduate. One was a troublemaker known for hitting people on the bus, and the other a popular kid. One was under 18 and the other over, meaning that if they were charged, they could be subject to very different legal treatment. The key would be to figure out their intent—were the boys trying to make porn available to adults, or was it a “me and my buddies want to collect a bunch of pictures” kind of deal?

Lowe strongly suspected the latter, that this was about “raging hormones and bragging.” Kids, after all, described the accounts to him, and to me, as “funny,” “just something to laugh at,” “just a bunch of friends sitting around having a laugh.” If that were true, at least for any minors involved, a child-porn charge seemed too “Big Brother” to Lowe, and he and the local prosecutor might want to come up with a lesser charge or even no charge at all, especially because the account had been closed down so quickly and had been seen by relatively few people, limiting potential harm. But largely because of community pressures, he had to consider the possibility that he’d just discovered “the tip of an iceberg of some organized-crime thing.”

In late July, rumors were spreading among parents that the boys who had set up the Instagram accounts might be part of a gang. There had been some prominent gang activity in the area lately, and one local crew had been involved in the shooting of a cop. Maybe these gangs were also involved in child trafficking; maybe they would use the young girls’ pictures as an advertisement to lure johns. There was no evidence at all that whoever was behind the accounts was part of a gang, or that local gangs were involved in sex trafficking. In fact the theory seemed pretty far-fetched. But the mere mention of it was enough for Lowe to say—or feel pressured to say—that he couldn’t “rule it out.” At the time of this writing, in mid-September, the investigation was ongoing.

Many teen-sexting cases are aggravated by vague fears of predation and pedophilia, at times creating irresistible momentum. But “the conjecture that the Internet or sexting has increased the number of molesters or their motivation to offend has not really been supported by the evidence,” says David Finkelhor, who runs the Crimes Against Children Research Center. In fact, all of the evidence suggests that child molesting and sex offenses in general have declined over the period in which sexting has become popular, Finkelhor says. His group analyzed seven major sources of data about violence against children and found large declines in sexual abuse of children since the early 1990s. From 2003 to 2011, a span that coincides almost exactly with the rise of sexting, sexual-victimization rates of minors declined by 25 percent. Finkelhor cites a handful of possible factors but, ironically, one is that kids have started to do their “risk taking” and “independence testing” online, which could minimize their exposure to actual violence and physical harm.

“The rush to prosecute always baffles me. It’s the exponential humiliation of these boys, or more often girls, in an official setting … That process itself is what’s traumatizing.”
Cases that turn up genuine signs of child pornography should of course be investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But child-porn laws are designed explicitly to protect children from adults. Cases involving only minors fall into a different category, and deserve entirely different labels and punishments—or no punishments. Getting these standards right is important, because the investigation itself causes its own trauma, because not every law-enforcement officer is as considered as Donald Lowe, and because something that a third of older teenagers do routinely shouldn’t remain a crime, much less a crime on the order of child porn.

Many legal-reform advocates say the key is to distinguish between voluntarily sharing a photo and having it shared without your consent. “We should draw the line between my daughter stupidly sending a photo of herself to her boyfriend and her boyfriend sending it to all his friends to humiliate her,” Levick, of the Juvenile Law Center, told Slate last year. “The first is stupid. The second is more troubling and should be criminal.” Levick’s group has been trying for years to get states to recognize the difference between sexting that’s part of normal sexual exploration and sexting that’s coercive or violates privacy.

And yet few lawmakers are willing to concede that naked pictures of teenagers, even if voluntarily shared, are in any way acceptable. As Levick says, “I think this is coming from grown‑ups who fear that their kids are doing things they don’t understand. The technology is both hyper-visible and invisible, and parents are spooked by it. So kids are finding what’s a normal part of adolescent experimentation being criminalized.”

In cases involving only minors, the poles at either end of the continuum of all that a sext can represent seem pretty clear. Uploading another minor’s naked picture to the Web, where anyone might eventually find it, should be a criminal act, though not one that should necessarily be prosecuted as child porn. Taking a selfie and sending it to someone who might be receptive to it, or receiving a selfie and keeping it, should not be criminal at all. What’s in between—such as forwarding a selfie to one or 10 friends without consent—is more difficult. In Louisa County, the deputies gave an especially stern lecture to the boys they sensed had solicited pictures so they could forward them on to friends, taking advantage of the vulnerability of certain girls. The nonconsensual sharing of pictures, even among just a few people, should probably count as a criminal act, as long as there is prosecutorial discretion. But even in these instances, the policing should, if possible, be left to teachers and parents, not to the actual police. Or in some cases to no one, because since when was any version of adolescent sexuality fair and free of pain?

Michael Harmony, the commander of the southern-Virginia branch of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, says that as teen sexting has become more pervasive, cases involving large numbers of kids have multiplied quickly.
Shortly before the police got involved in Louisa County, Ryan, a quiet junior known as a math whiz, received the picture of Briana’s breasts from a friend at the beginning of lunch. “Guess who ??? wht do u think?” Throughout the whole afternoon, he could not get the photo out of his head: the size and shape of the breasts—which he described, improbably, as floating “like the Nerf ball I once threw too far into the waves”—and also all the freckles, suggesting summer and romantic surprises. Ryan had only one other similar photo, which a generous friend had sent his way. But being out of that game, as he saw it, had its advantages. He was free of the never-ending status competition at school—who had a new picture, who had the most, who had one no one else could get—and could just let his imagination wander.

He waited until late at night, when his mom was watching TV, to look at the photo again. Seated on his bed, he pulled out his phone. The first thing he noticed was that his battery bar was red. Now there was the problem of finding the power cord, and stretching it as far as the center of the bed. He noticed a text from his coach—had he forgotten a practice? Was there some piece of equipment he had to remember to bring in the next day? Finally he pulled up the picture. He knew Briana; he’d helped her with math once. And he couldn’t get the image of the girl sitting in class, puzzling over a problem, out of his head. He suddenly felt guilty, and also—because he’d heard about some boys collecting photos for an Instagram account—a little afraid. He hesitated, and then deleted the picture and got up to retrieve his laptop. He opened the first free porn site that popped into his head and typed in milf. Immediately, dozens of images flirted for his attention. He considered one in the second row, but then scrolled down a little further to find a curvier type, although a few weeks later, when he was recounting the moment to me, he couldn’t remember any other details beyond “long brown hair” and “big boobs.”

Briana’s parents—and Briana herself—would probably be creeped out if they knew how this scene had played out. And most parents would be upset if they learned that a naked picture of their daughter had showed up on a boy’s phone, even if he did delete it. But that such a photo should come to light doesn’t mean the girl and the boy are having sex, or that the boy is a stalker, or that the photo is going to show up on the Web.

Outside of actual romantic relationships, sexts usually seem to play a very minimal role in anyone’s sex life. In Thy Neighbor’s Wife, Gay Talese’s 1981 book about the sexual revolution, a teenage boy spends hours looking at his favorite picture in a photographic-art magazine, treating the image with an archivist’s care. But the high-school boys I spoke with barely glance at the sexts they receive. They gloat inwardly or brag to friends; they store them in special apps or count them. But actual fantasies come from porn, freely and widely available on the Internet. “Guys would pile them up,” one girl who had graduated a year earlier told me, referring to sexts they’d gotten. “It was more of a baseball-card, showing-off kind of thing.” Olivia described it as “like when they were little boys, playing with Pokémon cards.”

So how should parents think about sexting, especially when their daughters are involved? The research suggests that if your child is sexting but not yet in high school, you should worry more. And that you should do the same if your daughter has no real relationship with the boy she’s sending sexts to, but is pursuing a relationship, or just responding to repeated requests for a photo. Sexts don’t create sexual dynamics; they reveal them. Parents should use the opportunity to find out what those dynamics are, lest they accidentally make things worse.

What bothered Jennifer, Jasmine’s mother, about her daughter’s picture was not that her little girl was all grown up. It was the awkwardness of her daughter’s pose, the fact that she had to be really talked into sending that photo. Jennifer fits no one’s image of a perfect mother. As a kid, she had done drugs and gotten into fights and had a baby at 15. But life experience has made her a very perceptive parent. Another one of her daughters, who is two years younger than Jasmine, “is rebellious as hell. If she sent a picture, it’s because she damn well wanted to. She’d be like, snap, snap, ‘This is me,’ all over the place. If she didn’t want to, she’d send a picture of a cat and say, ‘That’s the only pussy you’re gonna get!’ But this one”—meaning Jasmine—“she’s a pushover. She would do anything for anybody. Even with stupid things, like her sister asks her to fold the laundry even though she folded the last 20 loads, and she’ll say, ‘Sure.’ It infuriates me. Girl, stand up for yourself! You should do something because you want to do it, not because somebody pushed you into it.”

Danah Boyd, the author of It’s Complicated, often talks about social media as a window into the teenage world. A parent who reacts purely by scaling up the restrictions is missing a chance to know what’s actually going on with their child, to know things that in previous eras would have stayed hidden from them. In her talks, Boyd advises parents not to, for example, shut down accounts. Kids will just find ways to open new ones under names that have nothing to do with their real ones, that their parents could never track, or they will migrate to new platforms. (Many of the kids I met in Louisa County used inventive, inscrutable names for their Instagram accounts, names only their peers knew about.) Instead, parents should take a deep breath—even in the most uncomfortable scenarios—and ask questions. Kids can have a million motivations to send a naked picture of themselves, and unless you ask, you won’t know whether the one that was in their head seems more like reasonable experimentation or something else.

A recent review of 10 official sexting-education campaigns concluded that all of them erred on the side of what the researchers called “abstinence”—that is, advising teens not to sext at all. These tend to link sexting tightly to ruinous consequences, but that’s a problem, because ruination doesn’t normally follow the sending of a sext. “If we present it as inevitable, then we’ve lost our audience,” says Elizabeth Englander, who leads groups about sexting in middle and high schools, “because they know very well that in the vast majority of cases it doesn’t happen.” If you say otherwise, “then the kids know immediately that you don’t know anything.”

In the vast majority of cases, the picture lands only where it was meant to. But pictures sent as a result of pressure are much more likely to be shared, and that rarely ends well.
Instead, Englander eases kids into the dangers slowly. She usually starts out by talking about how in life, it’s sensible to avoid risk. You wear a seat belt even though the chances of a fatal crash are slim. This way, she says, the kids understand that she knows the risks of a picture getting out are rare, but they also understand that if it does get out, the effects on their social life and future could be catastrophic. She gets the kids talking about why they send the pictures, so she can narrow in on the more risky situations she has identified from her research—namely, ones involving lots of pressure and very little trust.

Teens in Louisa County, like teens everywhere, hear a lot about sex, but really know only a little about it. Briana’s Twitter feed is a mix of little-girl cute and grown-woman sexy: a fuzzy kitten, inspirational quotes from Athletes for Christ, an ass in a bow thong. Any senior at Louisa County High School can tick off the names of girls who got pregnant in the past year. But the kids in Louisa County are also part of a generation that’s seen teen pregnancy decline to a record low. Teens are waiting longer to have sex than they did in the recent past. The majority now report that their first sexual experience was with a steady partner. Given how inundated and unfazed they are by sexual imagery, perhaps the best hope is that one day, in the distant future, a naked picture of a girl might simply lose its power to humiliate.
Homecoming at Louisa County High
In late August, about two weeks after the new school year started, Rusty McGuire, the Louisa County prosecutor, gave an evening community presentation at the middle school about sexting. He cited statistics showing how popular it was and explained that under Virginia’s child-porn laws, it was a serious crime. However, he acknowledged that sternly explaining to kids that it’s illegal or has long-term consequences “isn’t working.” As an alternative, he suggested humor, and showed a campaign called “Give It a Ponder,” run by LG. The series involves the actor James Lipton pinning a beard on kids who are about to sext, so they pause for a sober second thought, and it is, indeed, pretty funny. But only about a dozen parents and kids were there to see it.

Instead, the entire community seemed to be outside on the vast fields near the high school and middle school, seduced by the Thursday-night pause before the first home football game of the season, which would take place the next night. The sun was dropping and taking the worst of the August heat. Little kids were kicking up dirt on the baseball field or practicing their cheerleading (“Time to get loud! Time to represent!”). Parents were leaning against their bumpers drinking water or soda, and teenagers were using their bodies in ways the parents could admire: slamming into tackling dummies at the final pregame practice, doing sumo squats, running around the track.

Briana was there; her volleyball team had just won its game in three sets. “New me, new life, gotta get my shit together,” she’d retweeted before the start of school. Her profile picture showed her in a bikini, but she was staying clear of trouble. So far she’d earned all A’s. Her mom was trusting her to get her learner’s permit and even asked her why she’d decided to go to homecoming with a friend instead of a boyfriend. (“That’s the last thing on my mind,” she’d replied.) Coming out of the gym after the game, she and her friends were as loud and boisterous as the football players who were psyching themselves up for the following night’s game. A mom came up and pinched her butt: “Good job, Bri!” Nearby, a boy and a girl from school were enacting an airport-worthy goodbye.

Briana and two teammates leaned into each other and took a picture. “Photobomb!” a boy yelled behind them, but they barely paid him any attention. It was just another picture, and this one was theirs.

Want to Ace That Test? Get the Right Kind of Sleep

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Jillian Dos Santos studies at her home in Columbia, Mo. In 2013, she <a href="http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/13/to-keep-teenagers-alert-schools-let-them-sleep-in/">successfully advocated for a later start times at her high school</a>.
Jillian Dos Santos studies at her home in Columbia, Mo. In 2013, she successfully advocated for a later start times at her high school.Credit Dan Gill for The New York Times

Sleep. Parents crave it, but children and especially teenagers, need it. When educators and policymakers debate the relationship between sleep schedules and school performance and — given the constraints of buses, sports and everything else that seem so much more important — what they should do about it, they miss an intimate biological fact: Sleep is learning, of a very specific kind. Scientists now argue that a primary purpose of sleep is learning consolidation, separating the signal from the noise and flagging what is most valuable.

School schedules change slowly, if at all, and the burden of helping teenagers get the sleep they need is squarely on parents. Can we help our children learn to exploit sleep as a learning tool (while getting enough of it)?

Absolutely. There is research suggesting that different kinds of sleep can aid different kinds of learning, and by teaching “sleep study skills,” we can let our teenagers enjoy the sense that they’re gaming the system.

Start with the basics.

Sleep isn’t merely rest or downtime; the brain comes out to play when head meets pillow. A full night’s sleep includes a large dose of several distinct brain states, including REM sleep – when the brain flares with activity and dreams – and the netherworld of deep sleep, when it whispers to itself in a language that is barely audible. Each of these states developed to handle one kind of job, so getting sleep isn’t just something you “should do” or need. It’s far more: It’s your best friend when you want to get really good at something you’ve been working on.

So you want to remember your Spanish vocabulary (or “How I Met Your Mother” trivia or Red Sox batting averages)?

Easy. Hit the hay at your regular time; don’t stay up late checking Instagram. Studies have found that the first half of the night contains the richest dose of so-called deep sleep — the knocked-out-cold variety — and this is when the brain consolidates facts and figures and new words. This is retention territory, and without it (if we stay up too late), we’re foggier the next day on those basic facts. I explained this to my daughter, Flora, who was up until 2 a.m. or later on many school nights, starting in high school. She ignored it, or seemed to. Learning Arabic is what turned her around, I think. She wants to be good at it, and having to learn not only a new vocabulary but also a completely different writing system is, in the beginning, all retention.

“I started going to bed earlier before the day of Arabic tests, partly for that reason,” Flora said (when reached by text). “But also, of course, I didn’t want to be tired.”

And you want to rip on the guitar, or on the court, right?

Just as the first half of a night’s sleep is rich with deep slumber, the second half is brimming with so-called Stage 2 sleep, the kind that consolidates motor memory, the stuff that aspiring musicians and athletes need. This is not an excuse to sleep through Period 1. Rather, it’s a reason not to roll out of bed too early and miss the body’s chance to refine all those skills learned while kicking a soccer ball off the garage or practicing dance moves.

For an older, teenage student, these two learning stages of sleep offer something more: a means of being tactical about sleep, before an important test or performance. If it’s a French test, then turn off the lights at your normal time, and get up early to study. If it’s a music recital, do the opposite: stay up a little later preparing, and sleep in to your normal time in the morning. If you’re going to burn the candle, it’s good to know which end to burn it on.

What about math tests? I hate those.

Math tests strain both memory (retention) and understanding (comprehension). This is where REM sleep, the dreaming kind, comes in. Studies find that REM is exceptionally good for deciphering hidden patterns, comprehension, and seeing a solution to a hard problem. If the test is mostly a memory challenge (multiplication tables, formulas), then go to sleep at the usual time and get up early for prep. But if it’s hard problems, then it’s REM you want. Stay up a little later and get the full dose of dream-rich sleep, which helps the brain see hidden patterns.

“Mom, I’m tired of studying – I’m going to have a nap.”

By all means. Napping is sleep too, and it’s a miniature version of a full night’s slumber. An hourlong nap typically contains deep sleep, REM and some Stage 2. One caution: napping can interfere with some children’s sleep schedule, and it’s important to make sure day sleep doesn’t scramble the full serving at night. But the central point is that a sensation of exhaustion during a period of work is the brain’s way of saying, “O.K., I’ve studied (or practiced), now it’s time to digest this material and finish the job.”

If a child can nap without losing a handle on his or her natural sleep rhythm, then let it happen.

The upshot is that, for any young student who wants to do better — in school, in sports, in music or even in the social whirl (yes, that’s learning too) — knowing the science of sleep will help them respect slumber for what it is: learning consolidation. Of the best and most natural kind.

Read more about sleep on Motherlode: On Sleep Research, My Children Didn’t Get the Memo; We Tell Kids to ‘Go to Sleep!’ We Need to Teach Them Why.; and ‘What Do Students Need Most? More Sleep.

I Refuse To Be Busy

The New York Times Motherlode Blog

If the road looks like this, it's time to slow down.If the road looks like this, it’s time to slow down.

I’m not busy.

Are you shocked? It feels almost wrong to say, in this moment when all my fellow parents reply to my “Hey, how’s it going?” with “Busy! Always busy!” and even fill in the same response for me: “How are you? Busy, I’m sure!”

But I’m not. I hate being busy. Busy implies a rushed sense of cheery urgency, a churning motion, a certain measure of impending chaos, all of which make me anxious. Busy is being in one place doing one thing with the nagging sense you that you ought to be somewhere else doing something different. I like to be calm. I like to have nothing in particular to do and nowhere in particular to be. And as often as I can — even when I’m dropping a child off here or there, or running an errand, or waving in the carpool line — I don’t think of myself as busy. I’m where I need to be, doing, for the most part, what I want to do.

I’ll throw in the necessary caveat that I am scarcely sitting around eating bonbons. (I’m not even sure I like bonbons.) I’m the working parent of four children. There are things going on, some days more than others, and there are things I need to do, many of which are not optional. But most of the time, “busy” is a choice, and it’s a choice I refuse to make.

We can’t control everything. For me, whether I go to meet with the school about one child’s Individualized Education Program is not a choice; taking another to the dentist is not a choice; dealing with my dented, rusting bumper is not a choice. But doing those things one a time, and not on a day with other deadlines or while trying to squeeze in one more meeting, email or phone call often is a choice. Not always, but often.

In her book “Overwhelmed,” Brigid Schulte looks at “Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time.” As she writes, some of what makes us (particularly as parents) overwhelmed is outside of our immediate control. Most of us can’t choose to live in a country that doesn’t actively make it more difficult to be both caregiver and breadwinner. We cannot just pick paid family leave and sick days, or work hours that align with school hours, or readily available and affordable day care or a society that encourages real leisure from a menu. But while we collectively work toward change, most of us individually can make at least a few changes — starting with admitting that we choose how we spend at least some of our time, and we choose whether to feel “busy” or not.

We, as parents, choose some of what makes us “busy.” We choose Kumon. We choose the yoga class that’s just far enough from an after-violin-lesson pick up that it’s a rush every single time. We choose to let one child do swimming and the other soccer, on the same afternoon. We choose to add in the stop at the dry cleaner and the ATM. And maybe those choices make us feel rushed and unhappy, and maybe they don’t.

At some point during the past year, I looked at our “busy schedule” of two working parents; both with big volunteer commitments during different seasons; and four children with school, homework and three hockey teams among them (along with a few other assorted things), and I thought “this is what we wanted.” And I looked at a few other activities, and I thought “this, we can do without.” We had a lot going on this winter, but it was all good stuff. They choose to play hockey over other options, and we choose to support that, and are lucky we can. I choose my volunteer commitment, and so does my husband, and we say no to other things; not “no, I don’t have time,” but “no, that’s not how I choose to use my time.” The result doesn’t feel busy. It feels happy. It feels good. And it feels even better now that the season is over, and we’ve said no to the sports and activities that aren’t passions, and are looking ahead to the rest of the school year without a single scheduled afternoon of the week.

Maybe you love that yoga class so much that it’s worth the anxious will-I-be-there-on-time drive to pick-up (and maybe you could declare that you’ll be five minutes late every single week, and ask for help). Maybe your family is passionate about Kumon. Or maybe “busy” is the way you like to be, and if that’s the case, truly you should revel in it.

But busy isn’t for me. Busy leaves me with my shoulders pulled up tight to my ears, yelling about every little thing and driving too fast on a road I don’t even want to be on. Busy isn’t right for my children, who like to get good and deep into every activity from Lego building to some insane repetitive game they play in the space between the kitchen island and the family room involving a tennis ball on a string, and who need a lot of unstructured time in which to do those things. Busy isn’t right for my oldest, who is hovering between that tennis ball on a string game (which he invented) and teenage life, and who asked me a few weeks ago if I thought he should play lacrosse this spring.

“Do you love lacrosse?” Not like hockey, he said. It’s O.K. It’s fun.

I asked him: Lacrosse or hanging out with your best friend all afternoon? Lacrosse or helping to build the fence around the garden? Lacrosse or hiking out back and watching the waterfall finally melt? Lacrosse or — let’s be honest — re-reading Harry Potter for the 10th time, and lying on your back on the floor throwing a ball in the air and daydreaming? You can play lacrosse. But if you do, that’s three afternoons a week plus weekends, so be sure lacrosse is really what you want to do with that time.

It wasn’t. Which is good, because I’m choosing to build that fence around the garden, and I’m going to need his help.

Follow KJ Dell’Antonia on Twitter at @KJDellAntonia or find her on Facebook and Google+.

Secrets of the ADHD Brain

ADDitude

Most people are neurologically equipped to determine what’s important and get motivated to do it, even when it doesn’t interest them. Then there are the rest of us, who have attention deficit.

 

Learn the secrets of the ADHD brain

ADHDers know that they are bright and clever, but they are never sure whether their abilities will show up when they need them.

ADHD is a confusing, contradictory, inconsistent, and frustrating condition. It is overwhelming to people who live with it every day. The diagnostic criteria that have been used for the last 40 years leave many people wondering whether they have the condition or not. Diagnosticians have long lists of symptoms to sort through and check off. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has 18 criteria, and other symptom lists cite as many as 100 traits.

Practitioners, including myself, have been trying to establish a simpler, clearer way to understand the impairments of ADHD. We have been looking for the “bright and shining line” that defines the condition, explains the source of impairments, and gives direction as to what to do about it.

My work for the last decade suggests that we have been missing something important about the fundamental nature of ADHD. I went back to the experts on the condition — the hundreds of people and their families I worked with who were diagnosed with it — to confirm my hypothesis. My goal was to look for the feature that everyone with ADHD has, and that neurotypical people don’t have.

I found it. It is the ADHD nervous system, a unique and special creation that regulates attention and emotions in different ways than the nervous system in those without the condition.

The ADHD Zone

Almost every one of my patients and their families want to drop the term Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, because it describes the opposite of what they experience every moment of their lives. It is hard to call something a disorder when it imparts many positives. ADHD is not a damaged or defective nervous system. It is a nervous system that works well using its own set of rules. Despite ADHD’s association with learning disabilities, most people with an ADHD nervous system have significantly higher-than-average IQs. They also use that higher IQ in different ways than neurotypical people. By the time most people with the condition reach high school, they are able to tackle problems that stump everyone else, and can jump to solutions that no one else saw.

The vast majority of adults with an ADHD nervous system are not overtly hyperactive. They are hyperactive internally.

Those with the condition don’t have a shortage of attention. They pay too much attention to everything. Most people with unmedicated ADHD have four or five things going on in their minds at once. The hallmark of the ADHD nervous system is not attention deficit, but inconsistent attention.

Everyone with ADHD knows that they can “get in the zone” at least four or five times a day. When they are in the zone, they have no impairments, and the executive function deficits they may have had before entering the zone disappear. ADHDers know that they are bright and clever, but they are never sure whether their abilities will show up when they need them. The fact that symptoms and impairments come and go throughout the day is the defining trait of ADHD. It makes the condition mystifying and frustrating.

People with ADHD primarily get in the zone by being interested in, or intrigued by, what they are doing. I call it an interest-based nervous system. Judgmental friends and family see this as being unreliable or self-serving. When friends say, “You can do the things you like,” they are describing the essence of the ADHD nervous system.

ADHD individuals also get in the zone when they are challenged or thrown into a competitive environment. Sometimes a new or novel task attracts their attention. Novelty is short-lived, though, and everything gets old after a while.

Most people with an ADHD nervous system can engage in tasks and access their abilities when the task is urgent — a do-or-die deadline, for instance. This is why procrastination is an almost universal impairment in people with ADHD. They want to get their work done, but they can’t get started until the task becomes interesting, challenging, or urgent.

How the Rest of the World Functions

The 90 percent of non-ADHD people in the world are referred to as “neurotypical.” It is not that they are “normal” or better. Their neurology is accepted and endorsed by the world. For people with a neurotypical nervous system, being interested in the task, or challenged, or finding the task novel or urgent is helpful, but it is not a prerequisite for doing it.

Neurotypical people use three different factors to decide what to do, how to get started on it, and to stick with it until it is completed:

1. the concept of importance (they think they should get it done).

2. the concept of secondary importance–they are motivated by the fact that their parents, teacher, boss, or someone they respect thinks the task is important to tackle and to complete.

3. the concept of rewards for doing a task and consequences/punishments for not doing it.

A person with an ADHD nervous system has never been able to use the idea of importance or rewards to start and do a task. They know what’s important, they like rewards, and they don’t like punishment. But for them, the things that motivate the rest of the world are merely nags.

The inability to use importance and rewards to get motivated has a lifelong impact on ADHDers’ lives:

How can those diagnosed with the condition choose between multiple options if they can’t use the concepts of importance and financial rewards to motivate them?

How can they make major decisions if the concepts of importance and rewards are neither helpful in making a decision nor a motivation to do what they choose? This understanding explains why none of the cognitive and behavioral therapies used to manage ADHD symptoms have a lasting benefit. Researchers view ADHD as stemming from a defective or deficit-based nervous system. I see ADHD stemming from a nervous system that works perfectly well by its own set of rules. Unfortunately, it does not work by any of the rules or techniques taught and encouraged in a neurotypical world. That’s why:

ADDers do not fit in the standard school system, which is built on repeating what someone else thinks is important and relevant.

ADDers do not flourish in the standard job that pays people to work on what someone else (namely, the boss) thinks is important.

ADDers are disorganized, because just about every organizational system out there is built on two things — prioritization and time management — that ADDers do not do well.

ADDers have a hard time choosing between alternatives, because everything has the same lack of importance. To them, all of the alternatives look the same.

People with an ADHD nervous system know that, if they get engaged with a task, they can do it. Far from being damaged goods, people with an ADHD nervous system are bright and clever. The main problem is that they were given a neurotypical owner’s manual at birth. It works for everyone else, not for them.

Don’t Turn ADHDers into Neurotypicals

The implications of this new understanding are vast. The first thing to do is for coaches, doctors, and professionals to stop trying to turn ADHD people into neurotypical people. The goal should be to intervene as early as possible, before the ADHD individual has beenfrustrated and demoralized by struggling in a neurotypical world, where the deck is stacked against him. A therapeutic approach that has a chance of working, when nothing else has, should have two pieces:

Level the neurologic playing field with medication, so that the ADHD individual has the attention span, impulse control, and ability to be calm on the inside. For most people, this requires two different medications. Stimulants improve an ADHDer’s day-to-day performance, helping him get things done. They are not effective at calming the internal hyperarousal that many with ADHD have. For those symptoms, the majority of people will benefit by adding one of the alpha agonist medications (clonidine/Kapvay or guanfacine/Intuniv) to the stimulant.

Medication, though, is not enough. A person can take the right medication at the right dose, but nothing will change if he still approaches tasks with neurotypical strategies.

The second piece of ADHD symptom management is to have an individual create his own ADHD owner’s manual. The generic owner’s manuals that have been written have been disappointing for people with the condition. Like everyone else, those with ADHD grow and mature over time. What interests and challenges someone at seven years old will not interest and challenge him at 27.

Write Your Own Rules

The ADHD owner’s manual has to be based on current successes. How do you get in the zone now? Under what circumstances do you succeed and thrive in your current life? Rather than focus on where you fall short, you need to identify how you get into the zoneand function at remarkable levels.

I usually suggest that my patients carry around a notepad or a tape recorder for a month to write down or explain how they get in the zone.

Is it because they are intrigued? If so, what, specifically, in the task or situation intrigues them? Is it because they feel competitive? If so, what in the “opponent” or situation brings up the competitive juices?

At the end of the month, most people have compiled 50 or 60 different techniques that they know work for them. When called on to perform and become engaged, they now understand how their nervous system works and which techniques are helpful.

I have seen these strategies work for many ADDers, because they stepped back and figured out the triggers they need to pull. This approach does not try to change people with an ADHD nervous system into neurotypical people (as if that were possible), but gives lifelong help because it builds on their strengths.

Doctor: ADHD Does Not Exist

Time

Dr. Richard Saul

March 14, 2014

Adderall
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Over the course of my career, I have found more than 20 conditions that can lead to symptoms of ADHD, each of which requires its own approach to treatment. Raising a generation of children — and now adults — who can’t live without stimulants is no solution

This Wednesday, an article in the New York Timesreported that from 2008 to 2012 the number of adults taking medications for ADHD increased by 53% and that among young American adults, it nearly doubled. While this is a staggering statistic and points to younger generations becoming frequently reliant on stimulants, frankly, I’m not too surprised. Over my 50-year career in behavioral neurology and treating patients with ADHD, it has been in the past decade that I have seen these diagnoses truly skyrocket. Every day my colleagues and I see more and more people coming in claiming they have trouble paying attention at school or work and diagnosing themselves with ADHD.

If someone finds it difficult to pay attention or feels somewhat hyperactive, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder has those symptoms right there in its name. It’s an easy catchall phrase that saves time for doctors to boot. But can we really lump all these people together? What if there are other things causing people to feel distracted? I don’t deny that we, as a population, are more distracted today than we ever were before. And I don’t deny that some of these patients who are distracted and impulsive need help. What I do deny is the generally accepted definition of ADHD, which is long overdue for an update. In short, I’ve come to believe based on decades of treating patients that ADHD — as currently defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and as understood in the public imagination — does not exist.

Allow me to explain what I mean.

Ever since 1937, when Dr. Charles Bradley discovered that children who displayed symptoms of attention deficit and hyperactivity responded well to Benzedrine, a stimulant, we have been thinking about this “disorder” in almost the same way. Soon after Bradley’s discovery, the medical community began labeling children with these symptoms as having minimal brain dysfunction, or MBD, and treating them with the stimulants Ritalin and Cylert. In the intervening years, the DSM changed the label numerous times, from hyperkinetic reaction of childhood (it wasn’t until 1980 that the DSM-III introduced a classification for adults with the condition) to the current label, ADHD. But regardless of the label, we have been giving patients different variants of stimulant medication to cover up the symptoms. You’d think that after decades of advancements in neuroscience, we would shift our thinking.

Today, the fifth edition of the DSM only requires one to exhibit five of 18 possible symptoms to qualify for an ADHD diagnosis. If you haven’t seen the list, look it up. It will probably bother you. How many of us can claim that we have difficulty with organization or a tendency to lose things; that we are frequently forgetful or distracted or fail to pay close attention to details? Under these subjective criteria, the entire U.S. population could potentially qualify. We’ve all had these moments, and in moderate amounts they’re a normal part of the human condition.

However, there are some instances in which attention symptoms are severe enough that patients truly need help. Over the course of my career, I have found more than 20 conditions that can lead to symptoms of ADHD, each of which requires its own approach to treatment. Among these are sleep disorders, undiagnosed vision and hearing problems, substance abuse (marijuana and alcohol in particular), iron deficiency, allergies (especially airborne and gluten intolerance), bipolar and major depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and even learning disabilities like dyslexia, to name a few. Anyone with these issues will fit the ADHD criteria outlined by the DSM, but stimulants are not the way to treat them.

What’s so bad about stimulants? you might wonder. They seem to help a lot of people, don’t they? The article in theTimes mentions that the “drugs can temper hallmark symptoms like severe inattention and hyperactivity but also carry risks like sleep deprivation, appetite suppression and, more rarely, addiction and hallucinations.” But this is only part of the picture.

First, addiction to stimulant medication is not rare; it is common. The drugs’ addictive qualities are obvious. We only need to observe the many patients who are forced to periodically increase their dosage if they want to concentrate. This is because the body stops producing the appropriate levels of neurotransmitters that ADHD meds replace — a trademark of addictive substances. I worry that a generation of Americans won’t be able to concentrate without this medication; Big Pharma is understandably not as concerned.

Second, there are many side effects to ADHD medication that most people are not aware of: increased anxiety, irritable or depressed mood, severe weight loss due to appetite suppression, and even potential for suicide. But there are also consequences that are even less well known. For example, many patients on stimulants report having erectile dysfunction when they are on the medication.

Third, stimulants work for many people in the short term, but for those with an underlying condition causing them to feel distracted, the drugs serve as Band-Aids at best, masking and sometimes exacerbating the source of the problem.

In my view, there are two types of people who are diagnosed with ADHD: those who exhibit a normal level of distraction and impulsiveness, and those who have another condition or disorder that requires individual treatment.

For my patients who are in the first category, I recommend that they eat right, exercise more often, get eight hours of quality sleep a night, minimize caffeine intake in the afternoon, monitor their cell-phone use while they’re working and, most important, do something they’re passionate about. Like many children who act out because they are not challenged enough in the classroom, adults whose jobs or class work are not personally fulfilling or who don’t engage in a meaningful hobby will understandably become bored, depressed and distracted. In addition, today’s rising standards are pressuring children and adults to perform better and longer at school and at work. I too often see patients who hope to excel on four hours of sleep a night with help from stimulants, but this is a dangerous, unhealthy and unsustainable way of living over the long term.

For my second group of patients with severe attention issues, I require a full evaluation to find the source of the problem. Usually, once the original condition is found and treated, the ADHD symptoms go away.

It’s time to rethink our understanding of this condition, offer more thorough diagnostic work and help people get the right treatment for attention deficit and hyperactivity.

Dr. Richard Saul is a behavioral neurologist practicing in the Chicago area. His book, ADHD Does Not Exist, is p