Your Phone vs. Your Heart

From The New York Times

 

CAN you remember the last time you were in a public space in America and didn’t notice that half the people around you were bent over a digital screen, thumbing a connection to somewhere else?

 

Kristian Hammerstad

 

Most of us are well aware of the convenience that instant electronic access provides. Less has been said about the costs. Research that my colleagues and I have just completed, to be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science, suggests that one measurable toll may be on our biological capacity to connect with other people.

Our ingrained habits change us. Neurons that fire together, wire together, neuroscientists like to say, reflecting the increasing evidence that experiences leave imprints on our neural pathways, a phenomenon called neuroplasticity. Any habit molds the very structure of your brain in ways that strengthen your proclivity for that habit.

Plasticity, the propensity to be shaped by experience, isn’t limited to the brain. You already know that when you lead a sedentary life, your muscles atrophy to diminish your physical strength. What you may not know is that your habits of social connection also leave their own physical imprint on you.

How much time do you typically spend with others? And when you do, how connected and attuned to them do you feel? Your answers to these simple questions may well reveal your biological capacity to connect.

My research team and I conducted a longitudinal field experiment on the effects of learning skills for cultivating warmer interpersonal connections in daily life. Half the participants, chosen at random, attended a six-week workshop on an ancient mind-training practice known as metta, or “lovingkindness,” that teaches participants to develop more warmth and tenderness toward themselves and others.

We discovered that the meditators not only felt more upbeat and socially connected; but they also altered a key part of their cardiovascular system called vagal tone. Scientists used to think vagal tone was largely stable, like your height in adulthood. Our data show that this part of you is plastic, too, and altered by your social habits.

To appreciate why this matters, here’s a quick anatomy lesson. Your brain is tied to your heart by your vagus nerve. Subtle variations in your heart rate reveal the strength of this brain-heart connection, and as such, heart-rate variability provides an index of your vagal tone.

By and large, the higher your vagal tone the better. It means your body is better able to regulate the internal systems that keep you healthy, like your cardiovascular, glucose and immune responses.

Beyond these health effects, the behavioral neuroscientist Stephen Porges has shown that vagal tone is central to things like facial expressivity and the ability to tune in to the frequency of the human voice. By increasing people’s vagal tone, we increase their capacity for connection, friendship and empathy.

In short, the more attuned to others you become, the healthier you become, and vice versa. This mutual influence also explains how a lack of positive social contact diminishes people. Your heart’s capacity for friendship also obeys the biological law of “use it or lose it.” If you don’t regularly exercise your ability to connect face to face, you’ll eventually find yourself lacking some of the basic biological capacity to do so.

The human body — and thereby our human potential — is far more plastic or amenable to change than most of us realize. The new field of social genomics, made possible by the sequencing of the human genome, tells us that the ways our and our children’s genes are expressed at the cellular level is plastic, too, responsive to habitual experiences and actions.

Work in social genomics reveals that our personal histories of social connection or loneliness, for instance, alter how our genes are expressed within the cells of our immune system. New parents may need to worry less about genetic testing and more about how their own actions — like texting while breast-feeding or otherwise paying more attention to their phone than their child — leave life-limiting fingerprints on their and their children’s gene expression.

When you share a smile or laugh with someone face to face, a discernible synchrony emerges between you, as your gestures and biochemistries, even your respective neural firings, come to mirror each other. It’s micro-moments like these, in which a wave of good feeling rolls through two brains and bodies at once, that build your capacity to empathize as well as to improve your health.

If you don’t regularly exercise this capacity, it withers. Lucky for us, connecting with others does good and feels good, and opportunities to do so abound.

So the next time you see a friend, or a child, spending too much of their day facing a screen, extend a hand and invite him back to the world of real social encounters. You’ll not only build up his health and empathic skills, but yours as well. Friends don’t let friends lose their capacity for humanity.

Barbara L. Fredrickson is a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and the author of “Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become.”

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Millennials Would Rather Ditch Car Than Smartphone Or Computer

The Huffington Post  |  By  Posted: 03/01/2013

Millennials Car Ownership

Millennials would rather give up driving than their smartphone or laptop, a surveycommissioned by the car rental company Zipcar finds.

Every other age group in the survey said losing their car would have the greatest negative impact on their life, except millennials. Thirty percent of people ages 18 to 34 said giving up their mobile phone would have the greatest negative impact on their life — two to nearly three times higher than any other age group in the survey. A plurality of young adults, 35 percent, identified their computer as the piece of technology they couldn’t live without.

More than any other age group, millennials said they make a conscious attempt to reduce the amount of time they drive by carpooling, taking public transportation, riding a bike or walking, according to the study. Millennials were more likely to communicate with friends online than to see them in person, and more likely to order online than to drive somewhere to buy something.

Zipcar surveyed 1,015 adults in December 2012, 303 of them between the ages of 18 and 34. Sure, Zipcar has a stake in promoting the sharing of cars over car ownership, but plenty of statistics support their survey’s findings.

There’s been a significant drop in teens even bothering to get a driver’s license [PDF]since 1980, according to the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute.

In 1985, 38 percent of all new cars were purchased by people age 21 to 34, but that fell to 27 percent in 2010, the Atlantic reported. Four out of five millennials said in the Zipcar survey that the high cost of gas, parking and maintenance has discouraged them from owning a car.

“What I have heard a lot is that the cost of getting licensed, purchasing, insuring, maintaining and fueling a car has become an impediment to use of a car. Prices have increased a fair bit since the mid 1980s for all facets of car ownership and operation,” UMTRI research professor Ray Bingham said in a 2011 publication of Research Review. “Cost pushes people to seek out transportation alternatives.”

Surveys of millennials by Ypulse found that young adults still like to drive, and still value the “freedom of the open road,” but that they are willing to give up owning a car because it “represents a huge responsibility.”

This may help explain why American car makers have turned to MTV for strategic advice on how to get more Generation Y customers, though so far their efforts have largely proven unsuccessful.

Children Use of Mobile Phones – Survey Results

To better understand the landscape for families and mobile phones, AT&T commissioned GfK for a national study with 1,000 parents and 500 children ages 8–17.

The study found that:

Kids start receiving mobile phones in grade school

  • Kids receive their first mobile phone, on average, at age 12.1.
  • Of the kids who have a mobile phone, 34% have a smartphone.

Mobile issues are very real for kids

  • More than half (53%) of kids report that they have ridden with someone who was texting and driving.
  • More than 1 in 5 kids (22%) say they’ve been bullied via a text message from another kid.
  • Almost half (46%) of kids ages 11–17 say they have a friend who has received a message or picture that their parents would not have liked because it was too sexual.

Kids are willing to accept rules

  • 90% of kids think it’s OK for parents to set rules on how kids can and cannot use the phone.
  • 66% of kids have rules at home about use of their phone; 92% of these kids think they are fair — and this is consistent across age groups and types of phone (i.e., mobile phone and smartphone).

… but aren’t necessarily getting them

  • Only 66% of kids say their parents have rules on how they can and cannot use their phone. Rules are much more common among younger kids.
  • 38% of kids say their parents have not talked to them about staying safe and secure when using the mobile phone.
  • 77% of kids age 8–11 and 74% of kids age 12–14 say they have rules, compared to only 58% of kids age 15–17.

Mobile phones are a kid’s go-to device

  • If kids had to choose one technology device for the rest of their lives, the majority say they would choose a mobile phone above all else — computer, television, tablet.
  • 75% of kids think their friends are addicted to phones.

Not all parents are using or are aware of the tools at their disposal

  • 62% of parents are concerned that they are not able to fully monitor everything their child is doing and seeing on the phone.
  • 2 out of 5 kids with a mobile phone say their parents have not talked to them about staying safe and secure when using the mobile phone.
  • 58% of parents say that their mobile phone provider offers tools or resources for parents to address issues like overages, safety, security and monitoring.

Parents’ Guide to Kids and Cell Phones

Parents’ Guide to Kids and Cell Phones

Everything You Need to Know Before You Buy Your Kid a Cell Phone.
 

These tips can help you:

  • Decide whether your kid is ready for a cell phone
  • Teach basic cell-phone safety
  • Explain responsible cell phone rules
  • Set limits

Advice & Answers

 

At some point, most of us decide that our kids are ready for a phone — so they can call when they get off the bus, need a ride, or just check in. That’s when you discover that it’s nearly impossible to find a phone with only the features you need — namely, the ability to receive and make phone calls.

Most phones — even basic models — are tiny handheld computers, with features that put a lot of power in little hands. Kids can take photos, text, access the Internet, watch YouTube, play games, download music … and even make calls.

Cell phones give kids access to the world in ways that you can’t predict. A little advanced preparation, including rules, guidance, and expectations, can go a long way toward protecting your kids.

What’s the right age to get my kid a cell phone?

Age isn’t as important as responsibility and maturity. If your kid can demonstrate both — by checking in with you at appointed times, following your rules, adhering to school guidelines, and handling the phone sensibly — then he or she may be ready. Here are a few questions to help you decide:

  • Do your children need to be in touch for safety reasons?
  • Would having easy access to friends benefit them for social reasons?
  • Can they adhere to limits you set for minutes talked and apps downloaded?
  • Will they use the text, photo, and video functions responsibly and not to embarrass or harass others?

Can I “just say no” to cell phones?

It’s not a tragedy to be the only kid at school without a phone. But there are very few public phones anymore. If there’s an emergency and you need to reach your kid, you’ll be kicking yourself for not having gotten him one. Maybe you just don’t want to buy into a tech-obsessed, always-connected culture. You can still pass along your values by modeling the tech habits you want your kids to pick up — without missing that emergency call.

What are the basic safety rules for cell phones?

Basic safety skills are essential for kids’ safety and privacy. Here are the areas kids will need to be responsible for, plus some best practices.

  • Texting
  • Calling
    • Verify the caller or texter. Don’t respond to numbers you don’t know.
    • Answer the phone when it’s Mom or Dad. Make sure your kid knows to answer when it’s YOU calling!
  • Cameras
    • Ask permission. Before you snap someone’s picture, take a video, or forward something, ask if it’s OK.
    • Don’t publicly embarrass people. Don’t post someone’s photo — especially unflattering ones — from your cell phone without permission.
  • Apps and downloads
    • Manage costs. Make sure your kids understand that they’re spending real money when they download apps, games, and music.
    • Use filters. Check your phone for parental controls that let you filter out age-inappropriate content, restrict downloads, and prevent in-app purchases.
  • Posting
    • Be selective — not impulsive. Make sure kids know to be very selective about what they post from their cell phone.
    • Be safe. Explain why they shouldn’t use location services.

What should I do if someone “sexts” my kid?

This can happen — even accidentally! Tell your kid to delete the photo and block the number. And if someone asks your kids to send them a “sext,” make sure your kids say no and tells you if they’re being pressured.

My kid’s friend texted an embarrassing photo of her to friends. What should I do?

She learned the hard way that kids can use cell phones to humiliate others by forwarding texts, photos, and other things that were thought to be private. First, explain that this is a form of cyberbullying. Next, talk to the other kid’s parents — and show them the evidence. Don’t accuse — but do make sure that you’re all on the same page about what’s appropriate behavior. Make sure your kids don’t retaliate, but do make sure they’re standing up for themselves and have supportive friends who will also stand up to bullies. Also consider discussing the matter with your kid’s school — the bully may actually be acting out due to other problems.

Is there anything I can do about the spam my kid’s phone gets?

Cell phone spam (unsolicited bulk messages) is a growing problem — and if kids click on these ads, they may be unwittingly giving away information or opting into a service. Call your cell phone company to report the problem; they may ask you to forward the spam to a specific number. Then, block the caller, either by using your phone’s settings or going through your carrier.

Should I buy parental controls from my wireless carrier?

There are pros and cons to purchasing these services, which let you do everything from filtering inappropriate content to blocking phone purchases to locating your kid on a map. The main “con” is cost. Some of these features can be expensive, and you may be able to find cheaper alternatives through the phone’s built-in settings or through third-party apps. But on the “pro” side is need. While we like to think our kids will be completely responsible, some kids will resist your rules. If your kid is risking safety, privacy, and money, it might be worth looking into these services.

Are smartphones OK for kids?

Kids love smartphones. And why not? They can play games, access the Internet, video chat — and do lots of other advanced activities. If you’re going to spring for a smartphone, get one that allows you to turn off features you don’t want your kids using (like the ability to purchase apps) and keep the ones that you’re OK with (like texting).

How do I keep tabs on my kids’ cell phone use without seeming intrusive?

Some parents say, “If I’m paying for it, I’m entitled to read my kids’ texts, check their call log, and know who their buddies are.” That’s valid, but kids consider these devices to be as personal as diaries, so tread cautiously. Spot checks are a good idea. You know your kid best. If you sense something isn’t right, spot check more often. Explain that your rules are for their safety and protection and that you need to be able to make sure they’re using their devices appropriately.

My kid seems addicted to her phone. What do I do?

Experts have compared cell-phone dependency to gambling. Every text, email, and update is like a “hit” you begin to crave. Hopefully, you’re just dealing with a compulsive habit that you can manage by structuring your kids’ time. Schedule time for the phone to be on and off, schedule activities where the cell phone can’t be used, and look into programs that block the phone from being used. If you suspect the problem is true addiction, talk to your pediatrician.

 

Original article

Should Cell Phones Go to Camp?

Should Cell Phones Go to Camp?

by Regan McMahon | May. 30, 2012 |

When your kid’s summer camp tells you to just pack the essentials — swim suit, sunscreen, sleeping bag — a cell phone is usually not on the list. In fact, it’s generally on the “What Not to Bring” list. But for parents, staying in touch with our kids feels essential, and some find it’s not so easy to break the habit.

A couple of summers ago, we sent our daughter to a two-week sleep-away surf camp in San Diego with a group of girls from her school. A few weeks before departure, the girls’ parents got together and someone brought up the camp’s no-cell-phone policy. One mom told how the previous year she snuck one into her daughter’s duffel bag anyway and the girl got busted and had her phone confiscated. But the woman bragged that she was going to do it again this year.

Apart from sending a dubious message that it’s OK to break the rules, the mom didn’t seem to understand the reasoning behind the rule.

As explained on the camp website, experience has shown that phone calls from home intensify homesickness: “One of the valued outcomes of camp is learning independence. Calls home would detract from that important goal. In rare circumstances, due to behavior or severe homesickness, our staff will contact you.” The statement adds that “cell phones cannot be with campers for security and privacy reasons.”

The camp also forbids bringing other electronics, such as MP3 players and electronic games, explaining, “Camp provides children a chance to live without electronic devices.”

But if the kids can unplug, why can’t we? Since we can all admit the cell phone is more for us than for them (kids aren’t the only ones with camp jitters), here are some tried and tested tips from recovering camp moms. You will get through it.

  • Remind yourself why your kid is going to camp. You’ve sent your son or daughter off for a new experience, and for a reason. Having your kids spend time with their fellow campers rather than texting friends back home will ensure a more valuable camp experience.
  • Dear Mom, connect the old fashioned way. You may miss hearing your kid’s voice, but nothing beats a letter from your sleep-away camper telling you about new friends and new experiences at camp. And for your kid, nothing beats a letter from home with news of familiar places and people, filled with expressions of love and “We miss you.” For parents of day campers, you can hear all about your kid’s exciting day when you’re together again — on the ride home or at the family dinner.
  • Seeing is believing. If you mainly want assurance that your kid’s having a good time, you may be able to see for yourself if your camp posts camper photos daily online. Our camp did, through a service called Bunk1.com. Ask if your camp offers a similar service, or suggest that they do.
  • If you’re on the fence, check the rule book. You’ll usually find cell phones on the “What Not to Bring” list. Abide by the rules, and if your kid has a problem and needs to get in touch, the camp will facilitate a phone call. You can always call the camp office or ask to speak to your kid’s counselor to ease your mind.

Original article