Archive | Trends/Studies/Research

Worry Dolls: Why Grown Ups Need Them Too

Judith Warner has an interesting article in this weekend’s New York Times. It’s called “The Why Worry Generation” and it’s all about Gen-Y: the so-called “millennials” born between 1982 and 2002.

The thrust of the article is that even though these young people ought to be completely stressed out by the economic downturn, joblessness and high levels of debt they are confronting as they enter adulthood, they aren’t. They believe in themselves to the point that they are actually willing to wait for the right job to come along – one that’s fulfilling, not just pays the bills. And they believe that they are good enough to get it. In short: they just…don’t worry.

Warner bases her argument on a small group of  college grads with whom she conducted interviews. But her findings are borne out by a much larger study carried out by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press earlier this year. Pew also found the millennials to be remarkably hopeful and self-assured.

I read both articles and felt…anxious. Maybe it’s generational and maybe it’s just me. But I worry about everything. All the time.

I worry about money. I worry about my career. I worry about whether we’ll ever move back to the United States…or should. I worry about my kids: that they’ll be happy and well-adjusted and have lots of friends and never feel sad or lonely or excluded. I worry about my siblings. I worry about missing yoga. I worry about going to yoga. Sometimes I feel that even my worries have worries.

I have a lot of strategies for dealing with my worries. Sometimes I write them down in a little notebook. Sometimes I talk about them with my husband or my close friends or my life coach. Sometimes (she said, with a post-modern twist) I blog about them.

But by far the best remedy against my worries is a little tradition my daughter and I have started of late. As we were moving, I came upon a box of Guatemalan worry dolls that I’ve had for ages, dating back to when I lived in Central America many moons ago. If you haven’t seen worry dolls before, they are these tiny little dolls that come in a small, yellow wooden box. In the folk traditions of Guatemala, children are meant to tell a worry to each doll before they go to bed. In the morning – so the story goes – the children wake up and their worries are gone because the dolls have removed them.

Anyway, my daughter and I have built the worry dolls into our nighttime routine. Every night – just before she goes to sleep – we run through our joint worries, taking turns as we make our way through the dolls. What’s interesting  is how repetitive our worries are. My daughter always worries that she’ll “have a bad day” and “won’t like her lunch.” I always worry that I’ll “be stressed out” and “not get enough done.” Then we put the dolls in the box and close it with the lid.

It doesn’t always work. But there’s something deeply soothing about naming your worries out loud and then putting them in a box. It’s like a friend of mine who once cut out a picture of her ex-boyfriend and then stuck it in a bottle. The physical act of putting the proverbial “lid on it” really does help.

Added bonus? The whole process has reminded me of that great Dire Straits song “Why Worry.” Have a listen.

Happy Memorial Day.

Image: Worry Dolls by vintagecat via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Volunteerism, Fundraising And The New Politics Of The PTA

While reading the New York Times Motherlode blog the other day, I was struck by a piece about current trends in American education. Apparently, many public school districts in the United States are increasingly turning to parents in order to cover budgetary shortfalls.

In some cases, it’s the parent-teacher associations that are spearheading the movement to make up for things like teacher’s salaries and supplies when school boards can’t. In other cases, schools are making direct appeals to parents for monetary contributions, sometimes making them mandatory.

There’s a lot to say about this trend toward parent-funded public education in the United States: Is it appropriate? Is it enough? And — as many commenters on the Times post wondered aloud — what do you do in school districts where parents can’t afford or don’t have time for this sort of fundraising?

But as an American parent who’s lived abroad for nearly four years with two school-age children, what most caught my eye about this story is how utterly inconceivable it would be in the U.K., where I reside. I’ve done a ton of fundraising for my daughter’s school over the past four years. And it’s been an incredible eye-opener for me about the depths of cross-cultural differences between the U.S. and the U.K. on this front.
Read the rest of this story at www.PoliticsDaily.com

Image: 207/365 by ladybugbkt via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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Middle Aged Women Drinking Too Much

A new study in Britain has found that middle-aged women are drinking more than they did in their teens. As alcohol takes a rising toll on both health and health care in the United Kingdom, the British government struggles with what — if anything — it should do about this problem.

Today I’m over on PoliticsDaily.com talking about the health consequences of drinking to excess and how governments can respond.

Have a look…

*****

Over the weekend I was on PoliticsDaily.com talking about what a hung parliament might mean for governance in the U.K. Check it out!

Image: Alcohol! by lynda@dwc via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Are Computers Bad For Children?

Many parents have become hard-wired into thinking that computers are bad for children. But are they? New research suggests that it’s actually a mixed bag.

Yesterday, I was over on PoliticsDaily.com looking at this age-old, vexing parenting question in light of new research that tries to systematically estimate the effect of home computers on child and adolescent outcomes.

Have a look



Image: Macbook by Swansea Photographer via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Coping With Peanut Allergies: New Hope

There are plenty of things you don’t bargain for before you become a parent: just how little sleep you’ll actually get that first year (five years?)…just how inarticulate you’ll be the first time your kid asks you where babies come from (Um…that’s a really good question )…and – oh yeah – the fact that you’ll never go to a movie theatre again. (Hello, Netflix!)

I kind of knew all of those things were on the horizon. One thing I didn’t see coming was that my son would also arrive into this world allergic to more than 20 different foods, some of which might possibly kill him.

Today I’m over on PoliticsDaily.com talking about some new research on peanut allergies coming out of the UK and what it means for parents like me. Have a look

Image: 52 Weeks – Week 5 – Food Allergy and Intolerance Week (25th-29th January 2010) via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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RIP Frank McCourt: The Promise of Old Age

I was very saddened to hear that author Frank McCourt died yesterday at the age of 78. McCourt’s best-selling memoir of his poverty-striken childhood in Ireland – Angela’s Ashes – received the Pulitzer Prize in 1997 and stayed on the New York Times Best-Seller’s List for 117 weeks, including 23 at number 1.

But the most inspiring thing about McCourt was not just that he overcame an objectively “miserable childhood” – featuring an unemployed, alcoholic father, a life-threatening illness of his own and the death of several siblings – to achieve international literary recognition. What’s inspiring about McCourt is that he published this memoir when he was 66 years old.

I remember once reading an interview with McCourt back when the book first came out in which he admitted that while he’d sat down to tell his life’s story several times, it was only at age 66 that he finally found his voice.

And he’s not alone. Increasingly, old age seems to be a phase of life when people not only discover new talents or take on new hobbies (on that note, be sure to visit my favorite jokes website), but actually flourish professionally. I recently got an email from a friend who told me that her mother – a scientist  – who recently died felt that she’d done her best work in her sixties. Then there’s architect Frank Gehry who just celebrated his 80th birthday and is still going strong.

A recent study by the Pew Research center on aging in the United States found that most adults over age 50 feel at least 10 years younger than their actual age. Older adults also said they had experienced the negative aspects of aging — including illness, loneliness and financial difficulty — far less often than younger people anticipated.

As I begin to feel those creaky aches and pains and watch as both my kids crush me in Monopoly, it’s tempting to conclude that I’ve reached the beginning of the end. But people like Frank McCourt remind us all that there’s always more life ahead.

Thank goodness for that.

*****

If you’d like to hear my rant about that newest American rage – the all-pet airline – head on over to PoliticsDaily.com.

Image: Frank McCourt by Irish Philadelphia Photo Essay via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways to Reduce Insomnia

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

This week’s list was prompted by a new study showing that sleep loss in middle age is associated with high blood pressure. As a chronic insomniac, I figure this study just gives me one more reason to stay up at night worrying. But it also furnishes me with an excuse to pontificate about some of the more popular sleep aides out there:

1. Get a Mouthguard. If – like so many of us – you find that your night-time stress moves directly into your jaw, you might consider asking your dentist for a mouthguard. Yes, it may make you feel like Evander Holyfield. And, yes, as an old dentist of mine once said: “It ain’t exactly an aphrodesiac.” But if you’ve ever lain next to someone who grinds their teeth or – worse – woken up with a piercing pain in your own jaw, a mouthguard might be just the trick. (Insider tip: figure out if you are a clencher or a grinder. It may affect the design of your mouthguard.)

2. Wear an Eye Patch. These can be helpful for shutting out light that aggravates insomnia. But be sure to replace them frequently. Most eye patches use velcro to accommodate different head sizes. Over time, you may find that  most of your hair stays on the velcro rather than on your head. And some of us don’t have a lot to spare.

3. Employ a Noise Machine. Some people are big fans of background noise. You can listen to the soothing sounds of an ocean…birds chirping…or just plain “white noise.” But again, choose carefully. For the last several years, my husband and I have been using a portable air conditioner to cool our bedroom, which doesn’t have a window (we have a skylight instead). But said machine sputters, heaves and otherwise exerts itself throughout the night like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on steroids. If, like me, you’re prone to dreams about being chased, this doesn’t exactly lend itself to relaxation.

4. Take Ambien. Somewhat further up the food chain, you may need to resort to medication. I have no problem with this, although know that Ambien is often less effective when taken sequentially, rather than once in awhile. My own favorite Ambien story was the time I ran out of my own (5mg) pills and borrowed a friend’s 10mg pill. As the medication began to take effect and I got woozy, I freaked out and called 911. (Yes, you’re seeing a pattern here.) When the operator asked me how much I’d taken and I told her “10 mg,” she responded: “Call me when you’ve taken 100.” You know it’s bad when even the 911 folks are dissing you.

5. Move to France. Apparently, people in France sleep more than in any other industrialized country. Heavens knows why. Maybe it’s all that red wine.

Bonne nuit!

Image: B’s Mouthguard for Football by Axlotl via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Help! I've OD'd on Ibuprofen: Medicine and Social Media

There’s a new study out suggesting that more than 60% of Americans go on-line to get their health care information. Whereas in the past, they might have called a doctor, relative or good friend for advice, these days people are reading blogs, listening to podcasts or posting comments, often relying on user-generated information.

To be sure, there are downsides to this trend. Pressed for time, some people are likely to try to use social media as a way to avoid actually seeing a doctor. A friend of mine likes to joke that he now just takes a photograph and emails it to his doctor with the subject line: “It hurts here.”

Over-reliance on the internet can also lead to over-reactions. Try plugging the words “red rash children” into Google. It comes up with about 99 different potential causes, ranging from Leukemia to a minor skin irritation. Guess which one you’ll gravitate towards?

Then there was the time I thought I’d over-dosed on Ibuprofen. I’d been having trouble – again – with Piriformis Syndrome and lost track of how many pills I’d taken in one day. I leapt to the computer, Googled “Ibuprofen” and discovered that adults are only supposed to take something like 1600 mg a day. I’d already had at least 2000. My heart started racing and I frantically reached for the phone to call 999 (911). I was convinced that I was going to die. (Never mind that the dangerous side effects of Ibuprofen run to digestive – not coronary – matters.) By the time the ambulance arrived, the medics practically laughed in my face.

On the other hand, I think there are a lot of upsides to this trend as well. I’ve had friends use the internet to correctly identify serious illnesses whose symptoms had flummoxed their doctors.

In a thoughtful article in the New York Times last week, Pauline Chen (M.D.) talks about how blogs, Facebook and Twitter have been instrumental to her practice as a physician. Among other things, they’ve helped her and other doctors like her monitor patients, share information, widen illness support networks or just provide a quick word of encouragement.

And yet, ironically – as Chen notes – there are very few guidelines in this information age for doctors about how to use social media with their patients.

Call me crazy, but as long as we’re about to plunge in and try and totally re-configure our health care system, shouldn’t we be thinking of how social media might be used to further the goals of medicine? If nothing else, it’s free. Which is more than you can say about most things right now.

What do you think? How has social media shaped your experiences with medicine?

*****

Speaking of middle-aged technical blunders, the Onion has a hysterical article about the creation of after-work centers for the middle-aged. My favorite bit:

When not scheduling a Julia Roberts movie night or field trips to Gerald Ford’s birth site, the staff at The Den is busy showing patrons how to set up their AOL accounts and download MP3s of Sting’s latest album…

Image: P2090106 by Bright_Star via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Beam Me Up, Scotty: Are Sequels an Escape from Adulthood?

In case you haven’t heard, the summer movie season has officially begun.

Two weeks ago X-Men Origins: Wolverine opened. And last weekend Star Trek hit the Cineplexes.

Many of the current releases are either some version of a franchise, a re-make or an adaptation. And, for some, this trend is a veritable assault on adulthood.

Dennis Palumbo of Huffington Post bemoaned the current dearth of movies for adults, urging those of us who go in for more serious cinematic fare to “get off the couch” as it were (he’s also a psychotherapist). His point:  no one’s going to make movies for adults if we don’t actually go see them.

Another blogger, Lorrie Lynch, made a list of the serious Indie films coming out this summer and then wrote “Grown ups, read on.” (True confessions: I bookmarked the page post haste. I mean, c’mon. Atom Egoyan? In the summertime? Sign me up…)

I must say that I’m sympathetic to some of these concerns. The sight of grown men and women parading around theatres in their velour-insigniad Starship Enterprise tunics and Vulcan ears does give one pause. (For a particularly thoughtful review of the entire Star Trek franchise, read this article by Chicago Reader critic J.R. Jones. He argues that the original TV show was actually quite mature in its subject matter – with its mixed-gender, multiracial crew and Cold War overtones. Over time, however, the series – and movies it spawned – were dumbed down considerably to appeal to kids.)

But for me, the most interesting analysis of this trend was an article in the Washington Post by Hank Stuever examining the effect of  extreme fans (of the lightsaber bearing sort) on the making and marketing of these blockbuster-type movies.

The central question he asks – and I paraphrase here –  is why we feel compelled, as a society, to compulsively remake The Dukes of Hazard or our favorite books from fourth grade. Is it a lack of creativity? Nostalgia? Escape?

I don’t have an answer to that question. But as someone who’s quite prone to nostalgia myself, I can say that I, too, find it moving to revisit signature cultural artifacts – books, movies – from my childhood. I don’t necessarily need to don Lieutenant O’hura’s mini-dress in order to do so. But I understand the impulse.

So go ahead and beam me up, Scotty. But be warned: I’ll be looking for the Indie screening room on the Starship Enterprise when I get there.

Image: Trekkies by San Diego Shooter via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Smiles, Everyone! Smiles!: What Makes for a Happy Marriage?

The last few days have unleashed a torrent of reactions  to Elizabeth Edwards’ decision to go on Oprah and talk about her husband’s affair.

Some are outraged; some defend her; others are simply confused.

But the main reason that everyone is so fascinated by Elizabeth’s “coming out” is that until the advent of Rielle Hunter, we all thought that the Edwardses were incredibly happily married. That was, in fact, their “brand.”

So it’s worth asking: what makes for a happy marriage?

Gretchen Rubin had a lovely post earlier this week on The Happiness Project about meeting her husband. For her, the central mystery is how she and her husband  – who are perfectly suited to one another – fell in love before they knew each other at all?

One recent study suggests that the single best predictor of whether or not you’ll marry happily is – wait for it – how much you smile in photos when you’re younger. The implication, I suppose, is that happy people become happy partners. (I can just hear the Ricardo Montalban character from Fantasy Island in the background: “Smiles, Everyone. Smiles!”)

But what about a happy dynamic between spouses? What explains that?

There are lots of possible answers.

For Ayelet Waldman – of Bad Mother fame – it clearly has a lot to do with a good sex life.

A friend of mine here in London says that the key to his happy marriage is sharing the same “emotional temperature” with his wife.

I’ve always thought that happy marriages (or enduring partnerships) have a lot to do with shared interests – that both partners actually like to do the same things in their free time. That sounds pretty mundane, I know. But I’m always shocked at how many couples fall into some version of the “He likes the mountains; She likes the beach” dichotomy.

Perhaps the most egregious case was an old friend of mine whose husband’s idea of the ideal New Year’s Day was to watch four different football “bowls” on four different televisions (simultaneously). His wife, meanwhile, was busily re-reading George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss in the other room. (They’re now divorced).

In my own case, I realized that my husband and I were meant for each other when – on a recent vacation – he was re-reading Anne Frank’s Diary and I was reading Sophie’s Choice. I recognize that holocaust literature isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. But to me, it said a lot about why we’re well suited to one another.

How about you? What do you think makes for a happy long term marriage/partnership?

*****

Further to Tuesday’s post about whether or not there’s a relationship between young children growing up too fast and young adults growing up too slow, this blog – Slouching Towards Adulthood –  has one answer to that question.

Image: Bride and Groom by Sharon Goodyear via freedigitalphotos.net.

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