All posts by Dr. Jim Taylor

Do You Spend Too Much Time on Your Smartphone?

A young-smartphone-usersslightly unsettling, article about new apps to help people track and monitor their smartphone use. Isn’t it ironic to spend time on your smartphone to learn how much time you spend on your smartphone.  But I digress.

Knowing how much time you spend on your smartphone, particularly for personal as opposed to work use, is important because recent studies have shown that high smartphone use is associated with increased stress and anxiety and more dissatisfaction with life.

Plus, all of that smartphone time incurs significant opportunity costs, meaning time spent staring at a screen is time not spent exercising, working, interacting with others directly, and doing other healthy activities.

Two questions for you. How much time do you spend on your smartphone? What other more life-affirming things could you do with that time?

From Good Skiing to Fast Skiing

cody9209I saw a very different Mikaela Shiffrin win (in a tie with Anna Fenninger) the first World Cup race of the 2014-15 season and claim her first World Cup GS victory. What I saw in Mikaela’s skiing was not good.

“What?,” you say, “She just won a World Cup race and you’re saying that it wasn’t good skiing.” Well, yes, but give me a little space to explain myself.

I have seen Mikaela train many times since her first year at Burke Mountain Academy when she was 13 years old. I also saw her train for several days in Loveland, CO last May while I was there working with another athlete. One thing that I have always been amazed at is how rock solid she is. I can’t remember her ever skiing out of a course (though I assume she has). Not only that, but I have rarely seen her even out of balance or make a major mistake (which, again, I assume she has).

Mikaela is obviously rip-roaring fast as a slalom skier, having won two World Cup globes in the discipline and Olympic and World Championship gold medals. At the same time, I think that, by her incredibly high standards, she was only doing, yes, you hear me say it again, “good skiing.”

Here is where the new and improved Mikaela arrived in Soelden. What I saw in her two GS runs was not good skiing, but fast skiing. She was stivoting all over the place, off balance constantly, and on the edge the entire run. It reminded me of what I consider to be one of the great GS races of all time, namely, Ted Ligety’s gold medal performance at the 2013 World Championships in Schladming, another two runs of stivoting and reckless abandon.

This shift in Mikaela’s skiing is why I think that, though she has dominated in slalom for the last two years, she may be even more dominant in slalom this winter if she makes the same transition in her GS from good skiing to fast skiing in slalom as well.

Good Skiing

This difference between good skiing and fast skiing is a huge distinction for me and one that I work with racers on constantly. Over my many years in ski racing, first as a racer and then as a sport psych consultant, I have seen many good skiers. They were technically and tactically sound and made really nice turns. These good skiers were solid and consistent. Only one problem. They weren’t usually on the podium. Why? Because they were more focused on skiing well than skiing fast.

Here’s the problem. Good skiing doesn’t necessarily translate into fast skiing. I’m on the hill with young racers constantly each winter and summer and I see a misguided emphasis on good skiing among both racers and coaches. Of course, solid technique and tactics are necessary to ski fast, but they are not sufficient. And, the last I checked, they don’t give style points in ski racing. All that matters is the time that accumulates between the start and the finish. You can have a beautiful run and be slow, and you can have a truly ugly run and be fast. In fact, thinking back to my racing days, the races in which I thought I had skied great were inevitably slow and the races where I hacked my way down the course were almost always fast.

Here’s how I think about good skiing:

  • Stable
  • Balanced
  • In control
  • Clean turns
  • Comfortable
  • Predictable
  • Programmed
  • Safe
  • Smooth
  • NOT FAST!

Fast Skiing

Fast skiers have a very different approach to racing. Good skiers focus on going around the gates during a race run. But fast skiers aren’t thinking about going around the gates. The Teds and Mikaelas of the World Cup are focused only on getting from the start to the finish as fast as they can. Of course, they do go around the gates because those are the rules, but that’s not what’s on their minds.

Here’s how I think about fast skiing:

  • On the edge
  • Ragged
  • Mistake ridden
  • Improvisational
  • Risky
  • Uncomfortable
  • FAST!

You look at Ted’s skiing year in and year out, and Mikaela’s performance in Soelden and you see many mistakes in which they lose time. But the reason they are making these mistakes is because they are going so fast! Any time that they lose from throwing down a massive stivot is more than offset by the time they gained before the stivot or mistake because they were going so darned fast.

Here’s the problem for many young racers. Fast skiing is inherently risky. Yes, the only way to ski fast is take massive risks. The downside is that, by the very nature of risks, they may not work out, resulting in a DNF or a massive mistake and a slow time.

Also, there is only one way to find out how fast you can ski, namely, by crossing the threshold and perhaps crashing and burning. Good skiing doesn’t allow that to happen; only fast skiing does. What makes the great ones great is their ability to find that threshold and then ski just inside of it consistently. Finding and staying just inside that line is a skill that takes practice and the willingness to fail and to get really uncomfortable until that which was uncomfortable becomes comfortable.

Yes, of course, continue to improve your technique and tactics. But don’t stop there. Once you’re feeling solid in those two areas and doing good skiing, set them aside and turn your attention to what ultimately matters most—fast skiing!—and let ‘er rip.

Over the winter, I will share with you many ways to make this shift from good skiing to fast skiing. But it starts with knowing the difference and changing your perspective and goal of what you want to do on skis which, for me, is to ski fast!

All my best to you racers, coaches, and parents this coming winter. Have fun and ski fast!

Your Favorite Music Enhances Your Workouts

BOSU PECHO Y TRICEPS WEBSITE #3A nice article in the New York Times describes research that confirmed what many of us already knew, namely, that listening to our favorite music during intense workouts increases our efforts.

Surprisingly, the research reported that music didn’t make the workouts any less unpleasant or bearable, just that people try harder.

It was not clear why this effect occurs, but I would offer several possibilities. First, music acts as a distraction from the discomfort of intense workouts enabling us to give a great effort and tolerate more pain. Second, music that we enjoy produces positive emotions, such as fun, excitement, inspiration, and pride, that release endorphins (our body’s natural relaxants and pain killers) that dull the pain and enable us to push harder.

5 Messages of Gratitude You Can Send Your Children

gratitudeIn my last post, I introduced you to power of gratitude in the lives of children and families. In this post, I will show you how gratitude can be communicated to your children through many conduits. That’ s a good thing because, maybe more than any other message, you’re going to have to send the message of gratitude frequently and seemingly forever before your children finally get the message. Though it’s easy to blame your children for not expressing appropriate gratitude, this apparent unwillingness to absorb the message of gratitude isn’t really your children’s fault. Young children are often not developmentally ready to move beyond their egocentrism and recognize the role that others play in their lives. In turn, older children are likely being bombarded by messages from popular culture and peers that stand in sharp contract to your messages of gratitude.

Sending messages of gratitude to your children can be sent in several ways.

First, you can talk to your children about what they should be grateful for. You can point out all that they have in their lives for which they can be thankful. You send messages about gratitude simply by discussing it with them and allowing them to process your words. They also think about and verbalize how they see gratitude. In this process, they will also experience emotions of empathy and caring that emerge from feeling gratitude. This internally directed experience with gratitude enables children to begin to embrace the power of gratitude.

Second, you can encourage your children to express gratitude to others who have helped them. This form of gratitude is even more powerful because it involves your children actually engaging in, rather than just thinking about, gratitude. When children express gratitude toward someone, they create a relationship with gratitude that offers both themselves and the recipients tremendous benefits. This externally directed experience with gratitude has the added impact of your children receiving reinforcing messages from the beneficiaries of their gratitude. Children not only generate their own emotions associated with gratitude, but also receive verbal and emotional messages about gratitude from the receivers that further bolsters the meaning and value of gratitude in their lives.

The most common way that children can express gratitude is to simply say “thank you” to those who helped them. But there are other, more powerful ways they can convey and experience gratitude. The idea of “pay it forward” is an active way in which children can honor through action the help they have received from others. Children who were, for example, consoled by a friend when they were sad can show gratitude toward that friend by, in turn, caring for another friend who is feeling blue. Additionally, one of the best ways to express gratitude to adults who give them enriching opportunities, for example, when parents provide their children with sports or music lessons, is for children to take full advantage of those opportunities.

Third, children receive powerful messages about gratitude when they are the recipients of gratitude. When they help other people and receive thanks in return, they experience first hand the positive influence they can have on others. Children can bask in the emotional reactions of those they help. When children respond to the gratitude with a “You are very welcome,” they affirm the value of the assistance they provided and the gratitude they received. They can also experience the wonderful feelings of satisfaction, joy, and pride in having helped others.

Fourth, you can reinforce the importance of gratitude and make your children feel darned proud of themselves by acknowledging their actions to others. For example, if a neighbor stops by just after your daughter helped you clean out the garage, you might say, “I really appreciated her help because it would have taken so much longer without her.” Of course, you don’t want brag about your children’s good deeds (e.g., “My son spent the weekend saving the world!,” said with self-congratulation), but a heart-felt and appropriately expressed acknowledgment to others for what your children have done can go a long way to teaching them about gratitude.

Finally, an underappreciated way to teach your children gratitude is for them to learn to express gratitude toward themselves. If your children can value what they have offer to themselves (“I did a nice thing sending that card to my grandma”), then they will be in a better position to have an appreciation for what they do for others and what others do for them. This “self-gratitude” can also contribute to your children’s development of self-esteem and self-respect because it requires that they recognize and hold in high regard who they are and what are capable of giving.

This blog post is excerpted from my third parenting book, Your Children are Listening: Nine Messages They Need to Hear from You (The Experiment Publishing, 2011).

Is E-Reading to Your Children Reading or Screen Time?

READING-master675If you have young children , the seduction of e-readers, tablets, and smartphones to distract, placate, or assuage them is strong. The tech industry has been selling the idea that early exposure to technology will benefit children educationally.

A big push has been encouraging parents to use e-readers rather than books when reading to them. It seems harmless enough, right? Reading is reading, which ever medium is used.

Yet, a recent New York Times article that reviews the research and professional wisdom on this topic suggests otherwise. I would say that a little screen time will do no harm to young children, but there is no real benefit either (despite the sales pitches from the tech industry). In fact, there is no scientific evidence that technology facilitates learning in children.

My concern is that technology becomes the go-to tool for families for entertainment masquerading as educational. For me, technology should be a tool, not a toy, and the exception, not the rule.

Think of it this way, when you expose your children to technology too much and too early, you are educating them, you’re medicating them.

The Destructive Bubble of Sports

CaptureIf you have a child involved in sports or are a fan of sports, whether high school, college, or pro, this New York Times article should be really unsettling to you.

Sports can be a wonderful world to instill healthy values, attitudes, and life skills. But, what has been spotlighted recently, from the Sayresville, NJ high school football team to Ray Rice, sports is also a Bizarro world in which talented athletes live in in a bubble where right and wrong are not understood, respect and responsibility has been replaced by rights and entitlement, and where money, fame, and power rule.

In what world are your children growing up in?

Be the Best Ski Racing Parent You Can Be: A Review

blogHey parents, are you ready for another roller coaster ride called a winter of ski racing ? Racers aren’t the only members of the ski racing community who experience the intense ups and downs of our sport; their parents do too.

The fact is that it’s hard being a ski racing parent. You invest your heart, soul, and a whole lot of money so your children can have a great experience in their ski racing and, let’s be realistic, have as much success as possible. This kind of investment of emotions, time, and money can cause some parents to go to the “dark side” and become albatrosses around their children’s necks rather than the wind beneath their wings.

Your goal is to be a source of support, confidence, and comfort to your children as they experience the inevitable highs and lows that are a normal part of ski racing. During the course of this winter, I will share with you some ideas I have about what it takes to be a good ski racing parent. But, to get you off to a good start, I would like to offer you a “refresher course” on being the best ski racing parent you can be. To that end, I’ve attached links to my articles from past years:

  1. Set healthy expectations and goals that focus on fun, effort, and long-term development.
  2. Know what your and your children’s a responsibilities are and make sure you’re doing your job and not theirs.
  3. Ensure that your young racers strive for excellence rather than perfection.
  4. Allow your children to fail, so they will learn from it and not fear it.
  5. Put your children in situations in which they will feel challenged not overmatched.
  6. Praise your children in ways that will foster real self-esteem and confidence.
  7. Raise children who are “successful achievers,” meaning they have self-esteem, ownership, and emotional mastery.
  8. Regardless of whether your children are so-called gifted or not, always focus on their effort.
  9. Be sensitive to how success impacts your young racers.
  10. Allow your children to experience disappointment and other less-pleasant emotions.

And if you are really ambitious, you can read all 155 of my articles on my Parents blog, all of which will help you to raise successful and happy children.

Now get out there and be the best ski racing parent you can be. Your children will thank you for it.

Gratitude Fuels Your Child’s Heart (and Your Own)

gratitudeOne of the most important—and often neglected—messages that you want your children to get early and often is the power of gratitude. Consider a simple “thank you.” Those two words offer a win-win for the sender and the receiver of the message. A surprising and robust finding in the growing body of research that has explored what leads to happiness is that gratitude increases our happiness. For example, when people express genuine, heartfelt gratitude to others, those senders say that they feel happier for several days. And how does the receiver of that gratitude feel? Darned good, of course, because they feel appreciated.

Yet, teaching children gratitude can feel like an impossible task these days. We live in a culture where a sense of entitlement is ubiquitous. There are daily media accounts of celebrities, professional athletes,  CEOs, and politicians who believe that they deserve everything that they receive and react to their riches, status, and fame with smugness and disdain, rather than gratitude. Advertising aimed at children tells them that it is their right to have what they want, how they want it, when they want it, and not be asked for anything in return. And research suggests that we are moving farther away from, rather than closer to, gratitude in young people; narcissism has risen significantly among college students in the past three decades. And a 2006 study of 200 celebrity actors, musicians, and comedians found that they were significantly more narcissistic than the average person, with reality-TV stars scoring the highest on narcissism.

How many times in your children’s lives have you done something for them and received no “thank you” in return? More times than you can count, in all likelihood. And how did you feel? Unappreciated? Perhaps a bit angry and resentful for your children not having acknowledged your efforts on their behalf? Less willing to help in the future? All very reasonable reactions to an absence of gratitude. And how many times, after you or someone else helps your children, have you asked them to say, “thank you?” I’m sure that if you had a dime for every time, you would be wealthy today. Though there is some evidence that gratitude, like other “pro-social” behaviors, is inborn, you wouldn’t know it from the struggle that just about every parent has in getting their children to express gratitude.

The Power of Gratitude

It’s easy to overlook gratitude because, for most people, its expressions are often knee-jerk reactions; most adults say “Thank you” without even thinking about it. Perhaps because there isn’t typically much thought behind gratitude, we take it for granted as both the sender and receiver. Yet, over the last decade, a expansive body of research has emerged demonstrating the extraordinary power that gratitude has on all aspects of our lives. For example, people who express gratitude have been found to be more happy, experience more positive emotions, have lower levels of depression and stress, and rate their relationships and lives as more fulfilling.

People who express gratitude are more accepting of themselves and others, say they have more purpose and control in their lives, and are able to deal with life transitions better. Grateful people also deal with life challenges better because they maintain a positive attitude, reach out for support from others, and focus on finding solutions rather than dwelling on the problems.

Social benefits accrued as well: People who are grateful are more empathic, able to take others’ perspectives, and generous, and more likely to help or support others. They also have stronger bonds to others. Most relevant here, children who regularly expressed gratitude are more optimistic about their families and schools.

There is also an emerging body of literature that has found that gratitude isn’t just psychological, but rather impacts us physiologically and neurologically. Gratitude appears to produce beneficial hormonal changes and boost the immune system.  And these benefits aren’t just a short-term effect. Ongoing practices in gratitude produce the repetition needed to wire the neural pathways that make it easier for children to override unhealthy thinking, emotions, and behaviors and experience positive physiology, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in the future.

In upcoming posts, I will explore ways in which you can help your children understand and embrace the power of gratitude in their lives.

This blog post is excerpted from my third parenting book, Your Children are Listening: Nine Messages They Need to Hear from You (The Experiment Publishing, 2011).

The Digital World is Full of Possibility and Worry

family (1)The Huffington Post recently asked me to write a blog post on the influence of technology on the lives of children, parents, and families in connection with the new film Men, Women and Children. The request inspired me to put my ideas on (digital) paper wearing both my professional and personal hats.

I come to the discussion of the impact of technology on our lives from two perspectives. I hold a Ph.D. in psychology, am the author of Raising Generation Tech: Prepare Your Children for Media-Fueled World, blog about the psychology of technology, and speak regularly to parents, educators, and young people about the impact of technology on their lives. As a professional at the nexus of technology and humanity, I see both the wonderful benefits technology has to offer and the grave concerns that it presents to every level of society.

I also come to this discussion as the father of two daughters (ages 9 and 7) who are growing up in a world in which technology has become a dominant presence in the lives of children and families. As a parent, I see how technology can open up a world of possibility for children. At the same time, I see how technology offers a veritable Pandora’s Box for young people fraught with unknown, unanticipated, and unintended consequences being realized every day in the Internet Age.

Let me preface this post with a declaration: I am not a Luddite or anti technology! In fact, I love technology, am a bit of a tech geek, and couldn’t do what I do without computers, smartphones, social media, and all of the amazing tools at our disposal in our digital world. As I share my thoughts about technology, I am not trying to Chicken Little—“The sky is falling!”—but rather Paul Revere—“The techies are coming!”—alerting and educating people about the technological invasion with which we are currently confronted. Admittedly, I tend to focus on the negatives of technology, but only because the positives are so obvious.

Let’s start with my professional side.

There are five things I believe about technology:

  • Technology is one of the most powerful forces in children’s lives today
  • Technology is neither good nor bad, but it is not neutral
  • Too early, too much, and unguided exposure to media will not prepare children for successful and happy lives
  • Children must develop a healthy relationship with technology to prosper
  • Parents are primarily responsible for the relationship that their children have with technology

There is strong evidence that technology is playing a increasingly central role in how children spend their time. An oft-quoted 2009 survey conducted by the Kaiser Foundation found that children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend, on average, more than 7.5 hours a day in front of a non-school-related screen. Given the busy lives children lead these days and the reality that there are only so many hours in a day, this statistic is almost unbelievable. And it’s not far fetched to assume that this number has grown in the last five years as technology has become even more deeply embedded in our lives.

There is no doubt that the digital world has much to offer children and families. The Internet provides an almost infinite universe of information that can inspire and educate. It can connect people across vast distances. The Internet can bring people together based on shared values, interests, and ideas. We have seen technology foment causes and movement, literally helping to change the world, mostly for the better. Technology had catalyzed collaboration, creativity, and innovation. And, in many ways, it has helped people to lead more productive and efficient lives.

But the digital world has a dark side as well. Cyberbullying, online pornography, privacy and anonymity, sexting, greater influence of an unhealthy popular culture, so-called multitasking, commercialism, the “quantification” of friends, shallowness of communications, and just plain bad manners.

And Internet addiction? For sure. Though the American Psychiatric Association decided not to designate Internet addiction as a psychiatric disorder, when it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it’s probably a duck. And this goes not only for children who are attached their screens, but also many parents who are playing with their smartphones when they should be watching and interacting with their children.

Now for my personal side as a father.

In my own neighborhood north of SF, I see most young people walking around with their phones in their hands as if it were a cyborg-like extension of their arm. I see groups of kids hanging out in parks, but not looking at or talking to each other. Rather, they have their eyes glued to the screens of their phones. Parents of our girls’ friends allow their children to have Facebook accounts before they are legally allowed to. Not long ago, my eldest daughter had a playdate at a friend’s house and her friend’s idea of fun was playing games on her new iPad while my daughter just stood their watching (suffice it to say, that was my daughter’s last playdate at her friend’s house).

My wife and I believe that the more connected our children will be to the Internet, the less connected they will be to us, other people, and the world around them. To that end, we have chosen to severely limit our daughters’ exposure to technology. We don’t have cable or satellite TV. Our girls aren’t allowed to use our smartphones (except to make calls), they can’t play on our computers, and they’ve only seen about ten movies in their lives (they appear to be one of only a handful of children in America who haven’t seen Frozen). My wife and I limit our own use of technology when we’re around our daughters. We also emphasize to our girls that technology is a tool, not a toy.

Our daughters also attend a Waldorf school that bucks the recent trend of early and frequent use of technology in schools by encouraging minimal exposure to media, so their educational experience reflect our values and sensibilities around technology. And we do our best to surround our family with like-minded people, so we can be confident that our daughters will be getting mostly healthy messages about technology from others in their immediate social world.

Certainly, when the time is right we will expand their experience with technology; we can’t keep them in a tech bubble forever (nor do we want to). The reality is that they are growing up in a media-dominated world and need to master the relevant tools. It doesn’t, however, require putting an smartphone, tablet, or computer in your child’s crib! The right time means that they have developed healthy attitudes toward technology and good decision-making skills. And, importantly, when technology hasn’t become their default when bored, playing, or just hanging out (as is the case with many children these days).

In the meantime, our family emphasizes unstructured time, creative play, art, sports, being outdoors, reading, music, and just plain hanging out as a family.

So those are my takes the role of technology in family’s lives wearing both my professional and parent hats. I will conclude this post with a few final thoughts.

First, of all the concerns surrounding excessive use of technology by children and adults, my greatest involves opportunity costs. If you’re not familiar with this phrase, it means that time spent using technology means time not spent doing other things that I believe are far more valuable and healthy, for example, being with family and friends, exercising, and studying. I have no problem with young people (and their parents) using technology—I use it plenty!—but it should be the exception, not the rule, to how they spend their time. In other words, it shouldn’t dominate your family’s lives.

Second, I’m not here to tell you how you should use technology in your family. That’s a decision that only you can make. What I will do, though, is make the following recommendations as you explore the role of technology in your children’s and family’s lives:

  • Be a role model for technology: Your children will likely adopt whatever relationship you have with media (and many parents these days are hopelessly addicted).
  • Stay connected (in the old-school sense) to your children by spending time with them and interacting with them directly rather than through technology.
  • Make deliberate choices, based on your family, priorities, and lifestyle, about which and how much technology is present in your family’s lives.
  • Talk to your children about technology and how it can impact them in ways both healthy and not.
  • Set limits and provide guidance in your children’s use of technology.
  • Most importantly, disconnect!: Have scheduled time when all of you must turn off your technology and live and enjoy life in the analog world.