Monday, January 30, 2012

What’s Wrong with the Teenage Mind: AND What Can Be Done to Fix It?

Or...Another Reason Why That "This is Your Brain on Drugs" Campaign Didn't Work So Well.
Any of you remember this one? A memorable campaign but not a very successful one.

Actually, I  always liked this one best:

But, seriously, there’s almost nothing I love more than seeing some of my favorite people-- or ideas-- meet one another.  So imagine my excitement when I saw that the article my friend Chris mentioned to me on teenage brain development and the role of experience in shaping the mind in the Wall Street Journal. was written by Alison Gopnik--whose work on infant brains has been some of my favorite stuff for years! The piece was one of the Journal’s most emailed articles today, and for good reason—check it out:
Gopnik has a great handle on how to convey essential information in a way that is accessible and meaningful, and this article is a great example of that; especially striking since teen brain-research isn’t her real area of expertise (the infant brain is). But teenage brains are a mystery—and a pressing drama—for many of us, parents or not. Basically, she gets at a couple of key realities in this piece:

a)      Teenage brains are wired to experience greater “highs”: biologically, they find certain kinds of rewards much more rewarding than adult brains do.

b)      In contemporary Western culture, teenage brains do not get the same kind of learning or apprenticeship for adulthood that they have gotten in most traditional societies. What has kept adolescent risk taking from getting out of control has historically been the development of a control system (governed largely by the prefrontal cortex of the brain) by means of practicing adult tasks—from childhood. These days, adolescents get very little “training” in this regard. A real deficit emerges. As Gopnik puts it, “The experience of trying to achieve a real goal in real time in the real world is increasingly delayed, and the growth of the control system depends on just those experiences.”

c)       There is good news! Experience shapes the brain—and if by finding ways of giving adolescents more “apprenticeship” time and experience in key areas of adult life, there is hope that we can help them channel their tremendous intensity in ways that make them—and us—happier and healthier.  (And as other research also suggests that teens are much more afraid than adults of negative peer feedback, their might be a way of channeling both their reward and fear centers in productive directions… Nurtureshock’s chapter on “The Science of Teen Rebellion” connects to this in interesting ways.)  

Friday, January 27, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday: January 27, 2012

1)      Years ago, my husband’s friend Chris was talking about the challenges of parenthood and, especially, the difference kinds of stress this involves for mothers and fathers. He said something to the effect of “No matter what, we’ll be better fathers than our fathers were, and our wives won’t be as good mothers.” He didn’t mean it too seriously; he was mostly getting at the fact that our fathers didn’t generally spend as much time with us or do as much as contemporary fathers do; most of our mothers stayed at home and therefore got to be around more (making them feel less guilty about their child-rearing etc…). I couldn’t help but think of his comments when reading this inspired article my sister sent to me.  It’s really right on in so many ways:

2)      In this regard, I’m lucky in many ways that my mom WAS NOT a SAHM, and so there are a lot of things I don’t feel like I’m expected to do (like Christmas cards, for better or worse—my mom NEVER sent them).  But one thing we did do a lot of was COOK. And I’m grateful that we did. I find cooking so satisfying …on every level. These days, I’m really getting into the slow cooking thing, which I highly recommend. Makes you feel the whole “Domestic Goddess” thing that lovely Nigella Lawson talks about without extraordinary levels of cooking-stress.  I recently found a blog that makes it even better by posting cheap, tasty meals. Some of the recipes involve things my kids/husband would never touch, but there are some great ones, too. Like this—who doesn’t like a good (cheap, easy) marinara sauce?:

3)      This is the time of year I decide to do New Year’s resolutions. I love it: I get to combine my procrastination techniques with my desire to have real Lenten resolutions…That way, even though I am behind I get to feel like I’m ahead on things. This year, I’m enlisting the help of my husband (really!). We’ll see how that goes…

4)      When it comes to resolutions, I am rethinking my approach in many ways. I always tend to think first about resolutions in the external sense –losing 5 lbs. or getting things organized or what have you…But I’m realizing that I want resolutions that are about “bigger” things too—like the quality of the relationship I have with my kids. Have any of you changed your approach? I’d love to know how, and with what results…

5)      One thing I’ve been loving lately is the insane cuteness of my (older) kids with our newborn. Sadly, this got dramatically more complicated when I took my 2-year old son to the pediatrician’s yesterday for his well-child visit. I mentioned he hadn’t been feeling well and an hour later they diagnosed him with bronchiolistis/ RSV and told me I really needed to keep him away from our 10-day old daughter.   Plus, he has to do a nebulizer treatment 4 times a day. Not fun. 

6)      You Moms (especially those with a bunch of kids) What gift do you WISH you had received at your baby shower but didn’t think to ask for? I feel like there is a whole set of things you get with your first baby that you never use or at least never really NEED (diaper bags, for example), and then other stuff you never think about but really wish (especially when you’re on #5 or way past the shower phase, anyway) you had gotten. Me, I’m really wishing I had another (yes, another—we already had one for my husband) white noise machine

7)      I had a chat with a friend recently about ways of reducing the chaos of family life. My husband has his own version, which (while humbling) is also very good. His take? “Always look really stressed and overwhelmed when anyone comes by. That way, people are always offering to help out whenever they can.” I guess I’ve been (inadvertently) pulling that one off, since I have gotten a lot of offers lately. I am really lucky that I am in a parish/community with a lot of thoughtful, generous people!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Jury’s Still Out On Natural Childbirth….

I remember feeling very lucky when I had my first child that I had spoken with my about her childbirth experiences first. Several teaching points stand out from what she told me: 

1)      If you get an epidural for pain relief, the longest part of your labor is the window between the time you decide you want the epidural and the time you get it.
2)      The window for an epidural is not always open.
3)      If you feel intense rectal pressure, you’re probably about to have a baby.
These were useful things for me, since my eldest child was born about 20 minutes after we got to the hospital. (My husband felt very cheated on the birthing classes that we took together, since most of the advice we received was effectively useless.)  While in agony at home, I remember thinking that I would take ANY kind of pain relief anyone offered me if I could. After Cecilia was born, I remember some nurses saying “That’s the way to do it!” and laughing to myself that I hadn’t had a choice. After asking for an epidural with my second child and getting it only minutes before delivering, we kind of gave up on epidurals.  With my third, the option wasn’t there, but with my fourth, it was—and I rejected it.

Labor is brutal. There’s no getting around it. A friend with five kids said it’s like walking around knowing that sooner or later, you’re going to get shot. I think of it as a sort of battlefield equivalent for women. It used to be that you went into labor—like battle-- not knowing if you’d come back alive (or if the baby would make it, either). Nowadays, we’re blessed with a high degree of confidence that mom and baby WILL emerge relatively unscathed. For modern women, natural childbirth is more like a marathon—you may have to get somewhere 26 miles and 385 yards away but whether you’re going to suffer the pain of running that distance is another question. Me-self,  I’ve wondered about marathons ever since my husband did the NYC Marathon and I learned that runners are told never to run that whole distance when they’re training.  How can it be good for you when you’re not supposed to prepare for the distance during training? But I digress…

All this is prelude to the fact that with #5,  I got an epidural  that actually kicked in BEFORE the baby was born.  And a little bit of me feels like a failure—even though I have always rejected the idea of suffering through labor as being a critical decision in a mother’s life.  I’ve always thought  the health of the baby is the focal point and everything else is truly secondary.  This time ‘round, everything was a bit scarier for me since I was being induced for the first time (*and* my “Hynobabies” track wasn’t working..).  My husband, Colin, is very supportive while I’m in labor and it’s hard for him watching me in acute pain without being able to help. 
Honestly, it all went well. I delivered 20 minutes after the epidural started working (5-10 minutes of which we were waiting for my faithful husband to return from dealing with our car);  I didn’t need any stitches;  I felt good afterwards, and Genevieve is a healthy and happy 8-lb. baby (by far the biggest of my newborns).

At the same time, I do feel a certain nostalgia for that battlefield solidarity with the women of all time that going “natural” leaves you with….

Do you think I made the right choice? And how important is this choice, anyway? I'd love to know what you all think--and why. But for now, my focus on my beautiful, healthy, new girl.