Wednesday, November 2, 2016

"Anxiety, Depression and the American Adolescent"

The most recent Time Magazine cover brings the crisis of "Anxiety, Depression and the American Adolescent" to the forefront. We know there's a problem with technology, but what else? I asked myself this question as I traveled through out Southeast Asia earlier this year. I taught yoga to 300 Buddhist teenage nuns in Burma for a week with 3 other yoga teachers, and chronicled my travels in the On The Mat Yoga Blog.

The blog entry I did not write was about the contrast between American adolescents and the teenage girls I met and taught in Burma. Though these girls had relatively little in both material wealth and family, they were not depressed or anxious. The girls we taught were safe from many of the ills of Burmese society including the dangers of sex trafficking and undocumented citizenship for many were rescued from the Hill Tribes where families are broken apart by abuse, drugs and poverty. Many were still without their parents or siblings, still orphans, and yet they were content. Girls smiled, laughed and shared hugs without any trace of the depression and anxiety seen in America's teens.

I wondered if the why was spirituality. These girls live in an environment steeped in not only the traditions and doctrines of Buddhism, but a daily practice of meditation and chanting. They are given time each day to connect to a higher source in group unison, as well as individual silence. Though some may have found this laborious, tiring, and downright boring, as evidenced by the nodding heads, it still gave them the discipline and time to connect with their internal worlds.

I did not realize that there was science to support the importance of this internal connection until I read Lisa Miller's The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Lifelong Health and Thriving where she presents 15 years of empirical scientific research affirming the importance of a personal and natural spirituality in the prevention of depression, substance abuse and high risk behavior in adolescence. In her work as the head of Clinical Psychology at Columbia Teachers College, Miller found that teens with a developed spiritual core were 80% less likely to suffer from recurrent major depression, 60% less likely to abuse substances, and 70% less likely to engage in high risk behaviors, including unprotected sex for teen girls.

These findings will have major implications for the treatment of adolescent anxiety and depression, but there was no mention of this in the Time article. In addition, Miller’s work provides not only strategies for the prevention of mental illness in teens, but also the road map for increased thriving and contentment through the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood, a process that extends beyond the teen years. The difference between supporting and fostering this human trait could be the difference between a teen who struggles with mental health difficulties, or thrives through the ups and downs of adolescence with resiliency and trust that all will be well.

A greater question arises when one thinks about the number of college students who arrive their freshman year without the solidity of this spiritual core and are suffering from depression, substance abuse, high risk behavior, an eating disorder, cutting, or another mental health issues. Then what? The teen/young adult is in college, lacks parental support in the immediate vicinity and feels adrift in a lonely world. How might we consider their spirituality?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Parenting in the Age of Attention Snatchers

I can’t say enough about Lucy Jo Palladino’s new book, Parentingin the Age of Attention Snatchers: A Step-By-Step Guide to Balancing YourChild’s Use of Technology. This book should be in the hands of every parent from infancy to young adulthood. To date, this is the most comprehensive and practical guide for parents on how to help their children from a very young age learn to use their technology as opposed to having it use them. When children practice voluntary attention in their use of technology, they are building the neural pathways for attention and focus. When they allow digital devices to “snatch” their attention, they are building the neural pathways for involuntary attention. Voluntary attention is intentional, requires effort, is hard to sustain, and builds the pre-frontal cortex of the brain. The center of memory, focus and comprehension, among other strengths needed for success. Involuntary attention is effortless, is hard to stop, and builds the sensory cortex of the brain creating more reactivity, among other qualities that inhibit focus. 

I teach teens about technology awareness and mindfulness, helping them understand that the mindless use of technology stimulates their sympathetic nervous system, whereas mindfulness and meditation stimulate their parasympathetic nervous system. Until I read Palladino’s book, I did not consider the other ways to help teens develop sustained attention and focus. Parenting in the Age of the Attention Snatchers not only provides a comprehensive definition of voluntary attention and its characteristics juxtaposed again involuntary attention, it also provides concrete suggestions and solutions to the growing difficulty children and teens have paying attention.

I am working with teens preparing for the SAT and ACT college boards. I do not work with them on the academic aspect. Instead I help them train their brains to focus when they are studying, completing practice test, and taking the official tests. Asking students to maintain focus for over 3 hours is like asking runners to run a marathon without training. Lucy Jo’s outstanding book lays out the blueprint for instruction that I use.

I need to reiterate. This book belongs in the hands of every parent from infancy to young adulthood. I must say that I am practicing some of her suggestions with my own process of attention and focus, with technology and without.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Mindful Social Media for College Admission

Many high school students think a key component to their college admittance success involves hiding their Facebook and Instagram accounts with pseudonyms that mimic their true name. According to Josh Ochs who wrote Light, Bright and Polite: How to Use Social Media to Impress Colleges and FutureEmployers, this is not true. Ochs speaks to students and parents around the country about the best way to leverage social media to boost one’s college resume and application. Josh Ochs’ YouTube videos and blog entries can be found at his website Safe, Smart, and Social.

In Light, Bright and Polite, Ochs encourages teens to mindfully use their social media networks to their advantage. In a 6 minute YouTube “Use Instagram to Impress Colleges,” summarizes some of his key tips and points. A positive digital footprint with one’s real name fares much better with colleges than a missing one. College applicants are encouraged to shift their perspective. Rather than avoiding a negative digital footprint students are encouraged to intentionally create a positive one.

In his book Ochs claims, “When you are on established social media networks, you have a lot of places to post content that casts you in the best light. Use this place to showcase your talents, interests and abilities so that colleges can see you as an engaged and intelligent student who would make a great addition to their institution.”

So what does this mean for today’s teens? It means that they can begin preparing their college resume, as soon as they begin to use social media. Some key rules are:

1. Protect your online reputation
2. Think before you share.
3. Treat others as you would like to be treated.
4. Consider whether you want your profiles to be public or private.

In some ways, this highlights the importance of community service and service learning. It's not only what they do for their community but how they document the service. As students participate in different volunteer opportunities, including community service trips, they can intentionally showcase their contributions to society. Real life activities impress colleges. Some volunteer opportunities to consider:

1. Dog Shelters
2. Senior Citizen Center or Assisted Living
3. Overseas volunteer work
4. Habitat for Humanity
5. Red Cross of other blood donation facilities
6. Hospitals
7. Fundraising for non-political or overly dramatic causes.

And some more specific examples when posting photos and comments. 

1. Rather than posting a selfie with your lips puckered up, post a picture of a day volunteering with friends at one of the local charity events going on in your town.
2. Rather than posting a selfie with your best friends at a late night party, post a photo with your family, including your dog after a family hike.
3. Rather than criticizing the school coach who cut you from the team, congratulate those who made the team.

Some of these may seem forced, but this is what colleges are looking for when they check applicants' social media. They are looking for students who will represent their college in the college's best light, and these posts reflect on who one is and what type of students they will be at their college. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Can We "Hook" Teen Athletes on Mindfulness?

I spoke to a group of parents at Belmont Hill on Technology and Mindfulness in February, with this blurb in their parent newsletter:

Technology and Mindfulness Roundtable
With Guest Moderator, Susan Reynolds

Come learn about the ways technology contributes to your teens' quality of life, as both a useful tool and a mindless distraction. As Digital Immigrants parenting Digital Natives, we are the first generation forging this new territory. We need our own set of guidelines, our own Parenting Toolbox. In this interactive workshop, you will learn about the intricacies of the problems teens face, but also solutions including nuts and bolts suggestions for screen times, age appropriate boundaries, and family detox. The broader issues of mindfulness and role modeling will be woven into the discussion

The waiting list for the February date was so long, that they asked me to speak again this month, but I cannot claim any responsibility for this interest. I am not a known entity. I have not written a book, yet, like other speakers who have come to BH. The topic is hot, and it's not just about technology. I was surprised and excited about the group's interest in not only how to parent these digital natives, but how to introduce them to mindfulness. This has been my question as well. How do we "hook" the teens who need mindfulness more than ever, for so many reasons. Many teens know they are stressed, but they fear learning to meditate and be mindful is just going to be one more thing on their "To Do" list. Their desire to meditate and learn mindfulness practices has to be something they feel the "want" to do, not "should" do. In my last entry I questioned whether we needed Mindful SAT and ACT Test Prep.

At Belmont Hill, an all boys school, sports are an important part of the school culture. So how do sports contribute to the Technology Toolbox? One of the best ways sports deters the overuse of technology is because mobile phones are almost impossible to use on the athletic field, in the gym, on the dance stage or in the pool, and I said almost impossible. Then when I talked briefly about the research on the impact of meditation and yoga on athletic skill and performance, the audience wanted more information. I thought, "Perhaps I've found a hook." Parents can be role models for balanced technology use as well as mindfulness practices, but what about coaches and athletes? How can we encourage them to add mindfulness training to the skills and practices athletes are taught in high school? One of the best ways sports deters the overuse of technology is because mobile phones are almost impossible to use on the athletic field, in the gym, on the dance stage or in the pool, and I said

The first step is with the research and examples of famous coaches and players. Kobe Bryant has become a spokesperson for the value of mindfulness, and Phil Jackson says it helps the team focus on the breath and calm the mind, builds focus and attention. "When players practice what is known as mindfulness - simply paying attention to what's actually happening -not only do they play better and wine more, they also become more attuned with each other."  It helps them deal with difficulties and stressful situations not only during athletic feats, but in life. Sports themselves can provide the endorphin rush and physical outlet for this stress, but the mindfulness can to, as well as boost performance and enjoyment of the sport.

Chuck Person praises Phil Jackson when he says, “He teaches you how to find your way in the maze, in the chaos. You can always go back and find yourself with that breath. I’ve learned during anxious moments, since I have been here with the Lakers, that breath is very important to take to center yourself."

Peak flow experiences are a common goal in many types of performances, musical, athletic, and artistic. In the article, "Mindfulness for Athletes: The Secret to Better Performance?" the authors states, "While some degree of stress is normal in athletics, we need a way to moderate that stress. We also need to be able to resist internal and external distractions — anxiety, fear, a loud crowd, or even a distracting teammate — so that we can make good decisions in the moment."

Research on mindfulness and athletics is an emerging field that will continue to grow, just as other research on mindfulness has grown exponentially in the last few years. But research isn't enough to entice teen athletes to learn mindfulness, it most likely is going to need to come from coaches and captains of teams, and it doesn't need to require a lot of time. "They say that in sports, 90 percent of performance is mental." Isn't it time we devote some of this 90% to mindfulness? It could be 5 minutes before practices and games, as the effect is cumulative.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

What about Mindful SAT and ACT Test Prep?

Attention. Focus. Comprehension. These are skills and traits of a successful student. Daniel Goleman, the author of the national bestseller Emotional Intelligence and newest book Focus, claims attention and focus are the number one predictors of success, yet our digital world is rapidly creating conditions that make it much more difficult to focus each year. In the world of pings, notifications, emails, texts and likes, our attention is pulled from the very tasks we attempt to complete. Have any of you had a plan, sat down to do something at your computer or at your desk to complete a singular task, and all of a sudden minutes, hopefully not hours later, found yourself on a social media site or playing candy crush on your phone instead? I have. Why? Technology is addictive. As we use this technology our neural pathways are formulated to begin to crave this activity, so without awareness we can find ourselves some place online we did not intend to be.

Daniel Goleman himself talks about writing a blog entry, switching to the Internet to check a source, and 15 minutes later finding himself reading the about Congress on a news feed. What are we to do? In his book Focus, Goleman talks about three modes of attention. One is when people "daydream, waste hours cruising the Web or YouTube, and do the bare minimum required." This type of disengagement is typical of rote or undemanding tasks. Others find their attention in a "state neurobiologists call 'frazzle,'" where stress causes the amygdala in the brain to be stimulated which send the frazzled into fight, flight or freeze with an overdose of cortisol and adrenaline. In this state the pre-frontal cortext is overloaded causing one difficulty in accessing memory and abstract thinking. The ideal state is one of "full focus which creates a doorway into flow" but this state requires mindfulness training.

When we look at what we ask middle and high school students to do, some may begin to understand why they are stressed, distracted, or up until midnight completing homework. When we learn to attend, we can intentionally direct our thoughts and focus, but it's more than that. It isn't just when we meditate or are mindful in the moment. With consistent meditation we've actually changed our brains so that the neuro pathways are different.

If we think about the major tasks of junior year, it is not only academic, sports and extra curricular activities in school, they also include preparing for and taking the college boards, and many take both the SAT and the ACT to see which scores better represent their capabilities. When was the last time we, as adults, studied for these types of tests. Maybe some of us have had a mid-switch career and so took the GREs or LSATs, but I venture to guess most of us have not. It is grueling. The SAT is 4 hours long, and the preparation for it requires many different skills and tasks, tapping into different parts of the brain and different aptitudes.

Many students take test prep courses or hire private tutors to learn the ins and out of these tests, but I question how many students are trained for the focus and attention that is required during those 4 hours. When students are not in a position to check their phones for a text, take a break to watch a YouTube video or play a 3 minute game, there is research to support the fact that they may experience the anxiety of nomophobia. In addition, many students are very stressed about their performance on the test, fearful that they may not be able to go to the college of their choice if they do not achieve a certain score. This test requires mental skills that many are not taught, nor required to practice.

In a study at UCSB, post docs found that after 2 weeks of intense mindfulness training, GRE scores increased 16%. Even the researchers were surprised by these results. They are conducting further experiments. This has all types of implications for SAT and ACT Preparation. Many parents spend money on SAT and ACT prep, but how many parents pay for SAT and ACT Mindfulness Prep? Should we be?

I say yes, and it is why I'm beginning to offer Mindful Test Prep which is not meant to replace current prep but to augment it. After talking with Travis Minor of Open Door Tutoring and Test Prep, we agreed that Mindful Test Prep would help many students, especially those who find it difficult to focus when they are completing both their practice homework and attending during the actual tests. In addition mindfulness helps with text anxiety and distraction.

Please visit the Programs section on my website: to learn about the options for these programs. You may schedule an initial consultation to determine if this is right for your son or daughter. I am offering individual and small group sessions. After a mindful test prep session, students may spend time in "The Space" studying in a phone free environment. If there is enough interest, I will schedule a class during April vacation for students in town over April break.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

ABC Legacy Launch: What's It All About?

Welcome… It's so nice to see so many people here to learn about ABC Legacy and TextLess Live More. Hartley and Reed will speak first, and I will follow with more information about ABC Legacy, but first I’d like to give you a little history about my relationship with TextLess Live More. Some of you may know that I began researching teens, technology and mindfulness last winter after I attended Wisdom 2.0, a conference that brought the technology worlds and the mindfulness worlds together. At first one might think that these are polar opposites, but in many ways the mindful use of technology is the best use of technology.

When I began to research the issues and problems with technology, and by this I mean digital or Internet technology, I felt as if I fell into a rabbit hole of information, vast with many studies by doctoral and post-doctoral students, professors and experts. Nomophobia, Digital Dementia, Email Apnea and Partial Continuous Attention were just some of the new terms to describe the many problematic side effects of the overuse of these digital devices. Did you know we are the first generation of Digital Immigrants who are parenting Digital Natives. We can almost think of it as being in a strange new world, just like the parents in New York City on the Lower East side in the 1880s during the Industrial Revolution.

I learned of TextLess Live More on Facebook, a positive use of social media, and I felt as if I’d found the ideal model for solving society’s problems with not just teens and technology, but other issues. After I attended the Kick Off Assembly for TextLess Live More this fall, I knew I had found the model. Here was a group of students passionately working toward solving the problem with not only texting and driving, but they are sending a much needed message to their peers, to us, that we need to put our phones down, text less, and live more, mindfully, face to face, fully engaged in life with each other, not with our digital devices. Teens solving the teen issue with technology. What could be better, and they are doing it with Presence. Passion. And Purpose. I’m so happy to introduce two of the Members of the TextLess Live More Team, a brother and sister team, please give a warm welcome to Hartley and Reed Bingham.

Hartley and Reed Bingham shared the TextLess Live More story by first showing a video and relaying their personal story with Merritt Levitan, TextLess Live More and Merritt's Way. It takes 4 seconds to read a text. What we may not know is that on July 2, 2013, it took one driver 4 seconds to take his eyes off the road, read a text and kill a young biker, Merritt Levitan. Merritt's closest friends from childhood and Milton Academy seniors developed TextLess Live More to encourage other teens to put down their phones, engage face to face, and avoid the temptations to text and drive. They began this with TextLess Live More days, one day a month, but they have extended it with a larger message.  Although the TextLess Live More campaign is designed to prevent texting and driving, Hartley and Reed claim they want this movement to be bigger than that: “our goal is to decrease excessive phone-use and encourage people to focus on the interactions taking place right in front of them.” In essence, they hope to shift the culture away from the technologically driven communications and relationships to the more humane ones. It's not the abolition of technology, texting and digital devices, but the integration of them for a more present and aware existence. 

And now ABC Legacy. 

How do they connect? Rich and Anna Levitan, Merritt’s parents and I met, after Milton’s Kick Off Assembly, and we talked about ways to extend the TextLess Live More mission? How can we create programs that raise awareness of the negative side effects of too much technology and promote the benefits of mindfulness practices that actually train us to quiet the mind, calm this distractibility addiction, enjoy life in the moment more as well as use technology purposefully and mindfully. This is so important. This is not about not using technology. This is about a healthy use of technology.

At first I began with Live More, Tech less, T – E – C - H and as I developed this process I began to see that if we tech less, we need to replace that loss with something else. What about passion? Bear with me as I make the connection here.

CCHS has a requirement for 40 hours of community service. In 2007 when Brittany, my daughter, was a freshman, I began to notice that some students had an intrinsic passion for the service they were doing and who will be the same teens on college campuses become catalysts for change? How can we connect our passions to service? I began working with some of my former Fenn students who were juniors and seniors at CCHS at the time as I created the concept for ABC Legacy. The Alliance for Building Connections to Change, thus Catalysts for Change. We worked together to find role models to illustrate this concept. Ideally the 40 hours of required community service becomes an intrinsic internal passion that no longer feels like a requirement.

I worked with the Interact Club, the service club, at CCHS for the past two years on this issue, and last spring we presented this concept to graduating eighth graders to prepare them for the High School community service program. We will do that again this year.

Fast forward to today, and I’ve connected this idea Passion for Service to the concept of Live More, Tech Less with a process I am currently calling: Power Down to Power Up for Presence. Passion. And Purpose. How do we identify our passions? In Howard Thurman’s words, “Don’t ask for what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” How do we access this information deep inside us? How do we know what makes us come alive? We need to get space in our brain. Quiet contemplative time away from the noise and distraction of a rapidly busy life filled with constant information and the distraction from our digital devices and social media.  If we switch gears and power down in order to power up internally for connection to ourselves in the present moment, we might be able to find the answers to these questions. Who am I? What are my passions? What makes me come alive? ABC Legacy is developing three programs to do just this.

During February and April break as well as in the summer, students will have a chance to put their technology away for a few hours a day, learn mindfulness tools including yoga and meditation and begin to identify those passions. Then connect them to an individual purpose that could involve an impact project and/or community service.

Mornings or afternoons during these week-long breaks will become a springboard for further exploration.

Similarly, ABC Legacy will provide a structure and a space for Seniors to work on their Senior Projects with mentorship and a communal workspace in our Millennial Incubator. The model of Power Down to Power Up will be taught as students create their vision for their projects, and then carry them out. This could almost be thought of as Rivers and Revolutions Extension.

And this fall we will be offering an In the Gap program for college students choosing to delay or take a break from college and learn more about themselves. Students embark on their own Hero's Quest and ask the bigger existential questions "Who Am I?” and “Why Am I Doing What I’m Doing?" as they work together with other students. By taking the time to get to know themselves and their interests, they may have clearer intentions and purpose when they move into the next stage of their lives. This will be combined with time and opportunity to explore, volunteer, and intern in their world beyond Concord.

In the Gap teaches the process for Presence, Passion and Purpose. Opportunities to shadow professionals and work on projects in the Bradford Mill Community will be an integral part of the program.

We are in development with a September 2015 launch date, and there will be more specific information later this winter. At this time we are seeking students currently delaying college or taking a break who would like to attend focus groups and help develop and pilot the program.

At this time we are all happy to answer any questions you may have...

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Have Teens Become the Tool of their Tools?

As I pondered a talk on teens and technology, an article by Michael Mulligan, the headmaster of Thacher School in Ojai, CA came across my desk. In “The Three Most Important Questions you can ask Your Teenager” Mulligan sites William Deresiewicz book, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, and claims the following of the millennials:

“A large-scale survey found self-reports of emotional well being have fallen to the lowest levels in a 25 year study… fifty percent of college students report feelings of hopelessness; one-third reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult to function in the last twelve months… They are stressed-out, over-pressured; [they exhibit] toxic levels of fear, anxiety, depression, emptiness, aimlessness, and isolation."

If this is true, what role does technology play? Have our teens become the tool of their tools?

It’s quite fitting, actually, that we are sitting here in the Emerson room reflecting on the transcendentalists’ philosophy of life 160 years later. Yes. Mr. Thoreau. I dare say some of us, myself included, have become the tool of our tools. We have let technology use us. So, how do we turn this around and take ownership back? How do we use technology and then model this use to others: our colleagues, friends and family members including our children? How do we use technology mindfully and purposefully? First we identify the issues with technology, and it’s not all bad. I often say that one’s relationship to technology is like one’s relationship to food. Let’s cut out the excess white sugar and eat more of the kale of technology.

When I talk about the Millennials, I am talking about teens and youth in their 20s. Some call the Millennials Generation Y, but why do I talk this way about the Generations? Because our generations matter in relationship to technology. Gen Xers, born after the Baby Boomers, are a cusp generation. The Gen Xers are the digital immigrants who are parenting the digital natives. What? Yes. This is part of the difficulty we have parenting right now. Everything is new, even the lingo, and it’s happening at an exponential rate. We don’t have time to catch up because it’s happening so fast. There’s a new language, especially when we talk about Technology. And the Millennials, with Generation Z following right behind, are our digital natives

When we talk about technology, I’m talking about Internet technology. What happened when we went from atoms to bits, in Nicholas Negroponte’s words in Being Digital. I’m going to hold up these books and site passages from them, in analog because we absorb and retain more from a physical book than the same words online.  In addition, if one is reading later at night close to bedtime, the blue light emitted by digital devices has been known to contribute to sleep disturbances and in more extreme forms sleep disorders. 

You can immediately see where the talk could go when we start talking about using your digital devices in bed with you, and then sleeping with digital devices, for example, your cell phone, but I’m going to ask to hold off on that topic for a moment. We will return to it.

Can you remember the first time you went online? I can. It was in 1997. I was 35 years old with a 5 year old and a 3 month old. I am a digital immigrant. My daughters are digital natives. We are parenting in a whole new world. We have been parenting as we’ve been learning, just as if we’d moved to the lower East side of NYC in the late 1880s during the Industrial Revolution.

For those of you who don’t know me, I taught at Fenn from 1986 to 2003, bridging the analog and digital age of not only parenting, but teaching, too. I trained at the Shady Hill School with their philosophy of interdisciplinary teaching and brought it to Fenn. One of my passions is creating new and innovative curriculum so I was one of the first teachers to include CD Roms as part of the course material. I was an early adopter of technology in the classroom, and because of this I became a defacto Director of Academic Technology. Fenn hired a Director of Technology, but the school was not wired, so while Michael Lyman was wiring the school, Jerry Ward asked me to research and create Fenn’s first 1, 5 and 10 year technology plans.

Why is this story important? I don’t believe we can talk about parenting our teens and children about technology without looking at our own relationship to it. When I found the Internet, I found my brain. I am a non-linear thinker who can connect almost anything, as those who know me will attest. In 1997, I became addicted to the Internet. I had a major task before me, so this addiction served not only me, but the Fenn School very well because I created those technology plans, and in the process I began a fascinating pursuit of looking at the promise and perils of technology.  What happens when we move from atoms to bits, from an analog to a digital life? In Growing Up Digital: the Rise of the Net Generation, Don Tapscott wrote in 1997: “You know that the new technology is important for children but you worry about the dark side. You see the promise but you read all the horror stories and you wonder what is true. This is something very new, very unprecedented. We worry about our children,” and we are facing the same dichotomy today.

"Never before has there been a time when reflection on human nature is so important, particularly because of the power of technology. Misused, technology can isolate us, numbing our social and human tendencies while keeping us continuously occupied. Used affirmatively, it can be a powerful vehicle for allowing each of us to participate in the global community of people who wish to shift the destiny of our planet,” is a recent quotation from the Shambala Principle.

In February I attended Wisdom 2.0 whose mission in their words is to address the great challenge of our age: to not only live connected to one another through technology, but to do so in ways that are beneficial to our own well-being, effective in our work, and useful to the world. I went for two reasons. I was interested in how Wisdom 2.0 applied to today’s youth culture, and they had their first Wisdom 2.0 NextGen conference this past fall, and the other was to understand my own attachment/addiction to technology.

Immediately after returning from this conference, our assignment in my yoga training was to choose to live by one of the Yamas, one of the 5 principles of yogic philosophy and I chose non-hoarding, only using what you need, and I applied this to technology. As I began to research and chronicle my journey, I realized I had plenty of information for a blog “Confessions of a Tech Addicted Yogi.” I eventually changed the name to Teens and Technology as I began to focus my research specifically to teens.

So what did I learn? What were some of the main issues with technology? How does one know if technology is having a negative impact? These are some of the questions.

  1. Do you experience angst and panic when you can’t find your phone? (This could be Nomophobia
  2. Do you feel physical anxiety when you haven’t checked your phone in awhile? (This could be due to dopamine decrease)
  3. Do you use it right before you go to sleep ?(Compromised sleep/Sleep deprivation)
  4. How often do you check your phone during the day? (Some teens check it up to 150 times)
  5. How many different windows and APPS do you open in an hour while doing homework? (Myth of Multi-Tasking)
  6. How often do you leave one task for another? How long does it take you to come back to original task? (Rapid Task Switching)
  7. Do you Feel an intimacy with your device —  for example do you sleep with it, or check it in the middle of the night or when you first get out of bed. 
What role is technology playing ? All of these will contribute to a decreased physical and emotional sense of well being.

Have we become the tool of our tools?  Yes. And technology addiction is on the rise. In a study at Baylor University this past year, 60% of the students self-diagnosed their cell phone addiction, and the study found that girls spent 10 hours a day on their phones and boys spent 8 hours. These are alarming statistics.

A little known physical fact is that 80% of us hold our breath when we check email. Linda Stone, formerly of Apple and Microsoft Research coined the phrase email apnea when she researched and found that people inhale when they check email, but in the anticipation of what is to come, they neglect to exhale. Without the exhale our bodies shift into a high alert state of fight, flight or freeze. If one thinks about the Baylor Study findings, it means that college age Millennials are walking around in a state of non-breathing anticipation with an alert and frightened sympathetic nervous system for 8 to 10 hours a day. These physical conditions create anxiety and fear which is only augmented by Deresiewicz' findings.

Depression can be caused by Facebook and Instagram with a false reality that one's friends are happier and more popular than one based on the number of pictures tagged and posts liked. Aimlessness and lack of motivation can be blamed on the seductive and addictive nature of video games that are designed to entrap the user in a flood of dopamine hits, thus making it more difficult to put the game aside and complete schoolwork or go to a part time job.

Which leads us to Powering Down for Presence. Passion. And Purpose. 

When we power down or put our technology away we get some space. When we add a mindfulness practice to this we get even more time and space to think, synthesize, clarify and eventually listen to our intuition and create. Our creative voices come through so that we can identify our passions which can lead to purpose. With collaboration and planning we can go back to powering up to use the digital devices for good … until we get overloaded and jangly again.

Powering down is hard because we are so connected to our devices, so starting slowly with brief intervals of time is a good way to begin. It’s like building a muscle, but when one thinks about the cycle toward clarity, calm and reduced stress and anxiety, the rewards far outweigh the difficulties. How do we step away from the technology? Employ some strategies, but it requires mindfulness and a desire to change the reactivity. The first thing to do is recognize when you are having these addictive symptoms and apply a mindfulness practice such as STOP that I learned from Mary Ann Christie Burnside, a mindfulness meditation teacher sited on your handout.

Take a breath.
Observe your physical sensations, your emotions and your thoughts.
Proceed with a calmer, more aware mindset.

There are other ways to power down either as an individual or as a family. Tech breaks were created by Larry Rosen who wrote iDisorder. He claims it is so traumatic that we need to schedule 15 minute tech free time with one minute tech breaks when we can check out phones. Others suggest digital free zones like the dinner table, the bedrooms, and specific times when there is no technology for anyone in the family. This is important. As an adult/parent/teacher you need to walk the talk. You need to understand your own technology habits first before instructing younger generations.

Presence includes mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga. These are essential. Taking a walk in nature, solo without your phone, and going for a run without headphones. Your brain needs time to be quiet, in order to synthesize and learn. Boredom is good because the brain actually works harder when there is no input. This is when the brain retains, memorizes and synthesizes. In a UC Santa Barbara study, students spent 45 minutes a day meditating 4 times a week for 2 weeks. At the end of this time period, their GRE scores went up 16%. The brain wants space.

But there is more. It’s not just about powering down for presence. What if these moments of anxiety and despair are actually signifying another one of Thoreau’s famous quotations: “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”

If today's teens are lost, then perhaps they need to go on a modern day Hero's Quest and ask the existential questions: Who am I? Why am I doing what I’m doing? What would happen if students ideally came to know themselves through intrinsic interest and experience? What if we taught passion to purpose as a curriculum, and then once they knew a purpose, they could begin to think creatively about that purpose and move from idea to impact? What if we asked them how do you want to serve your world? And we want to know how it connects to your authenticity, your desire, and your compassion for humanity. But first you need to put your cell phone down. You need to look up and see your world. Live in the present moment. Face to face with your peers in order to discover what you love.

Howard Thurman states it a little differently, "Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive," and if one says, "I don't know what makes me come alive," then that is the first obstacle in the Homerian journey. The mission is to discover what you love to do. Or who you love. Julia Butterfly Hill joined a group to help save the Redwood trees, but when she climbed into Luna, she found her passion in Luna and began a brilliant career due to her love for Luna and the environment.

A recent slide show in the Huffington Post outlined 19 ways to unplug that could double as 19 ideas to test out what makes you come alive. The list is on your handout, but I’ll read a few. Get Lost in Your City. What do you discover about yourself? Where do you find yourself stopping and looking? Take an art class. Dig through childhood memorabilia and remember what you loved to do as a child. Write stream of consciousness and see what you say. Play a board game. Feed the ducks. All of these will bring a sense of presence and calm as you detach from technology, but what else can you learn? Was there an inkling of a passion? Can you test it out with purpose? Eventually you create a direction and a discipline to move from idea to impact, and ultimately you find meaning. And that meaning can be through using technology.

In the Dragonfly Effect: Quick, Effective, and Powerful Ways to Use Social Media to Drive Social ChangeJennifer Aaker writes, “In fact, the happiest people are those who have stopped chasing happiness and instead search for meaningfulness, a change in direction that leads to more sustainable happiness – the kind that enriches their lives, provides purpose, and creates impact.”

What if this is an opportunity to restructure the way we think about education and learning. What if it’s time we valued and promoted our teens’ quests to find themselves, to understand who they are, what they love, and why they do what they do?

What happens when depressed and anxious teens seek passion and purpose to make a difference in the world? Or in TS Eliot's words, "to Dare to Disturb their Universe?" I claim they find meaningfulness.   As a young man, the great philosopher William James went to Paris to study. He was extremely depressed and became suicidal, but he decided to make a wager suggested by a French philosopher. He would act every day for a moment as if the universe was full of purpose and meaning. At the end of this period, he had discovered so much meaning and purpose that he changed his life around. Thus, powering down for Presence + Passion + Purpose = Meaning.