Monday, November 21, 2016

FYI: eye injury quiz

Let’s start off with a little FYI quiz:
What group is most likely to be seen by hospital emergency departments in the United States for chemical eye injuries?
  1. Men working in janitorial and building maintenance.
  2. Woman working in janitorial and building maintenance.
  3. Children under age 2
  4. College students

The answers is: children under the age of 2
Researchers published in the August 2016, JAMA Ophthalmology, reported that children under the age of 2 are at highest risk for ocular (eye) chemical injuries. Most injuries occur in the home.
Spray cleaning bottles, detergents, and cleansers are curiosities for inquisitive toddlers. Nail polish remover, alcohol based hand sanitizes, and vinegar can be damaging to the eye. 
Out in the garage, common items like gasoline, tire rim cleaner, laundry detergent, and plant fertilizers are potentially dangerous as well.
Keeping such items up and away from children is advised. 
The American Academy of Ophthalmology offers advice for preventing eye injury.

Please let me know what you think by clicking the “comments” below.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Sports are good for kids, but early specialization is problematic

I see kids in my office that are focused or pushed by their parents to be superstar athletes, academic savants, musical prodigies, or all three. One mom recently told me that without a football scholarship, her son, age 9, wouldn’t be able to pay for college. 
I advise parents to let sports be fun, good exercise, and a social activity. Every now and then this gets me growled at by a parent who reminds me that Tiger Woods started at age 4. 
AAP warns against sports specialization
Sports specialization is becoming more common, with kids being focused in one sport by well meaning parents or coaches. 
The report by the American Academy of Pediatrics notes:
The norm has become for children and adolescents to participate in organized sports driven by coaches and parents, often with different goals for the game than its young participants. It is also less common now to have a multisport athlete in middle or high school, because the norm has become for young athletes to specialize in a single sport at younger ages. There is increased pressure to participate at a high level, to specialize in 1 sport early, and to play year-round, often on multiple teams. 

Why not specialize in one sport?
If practice makes perfect, doesn’t it make sense that more practice in one sport gives a child the best chance at stardom, fame, and fortune?
But, there is a real concern that children that focus too early are more likely to have overuse injuries and emotional burnout. Often parents push their gifted athletes to perform so that the parents can get their personal needs met.
The AAP reports, “Young athletes who specialize too soon are at risk of physical, emotional, and social problems.”
The report includes a nine point “Guidance for the Pediatrician”, to help doctors discuss this issue with parents. Even if you are not a pediatrician I advise you to read this section:
Guidance for the Pediatrician, from AAP

When a pediatrician encounters athletes younger than 18 years who are considering specialization or have already specialized, the following guidance for the athlete, parents, and coaches can be helpful.

1. The primary focus of sports for young athletes should be to have fun and learn lifelong physical activity skills.

2. Participating in multiple sports, at least until puberty, decreases the chances of injuries, stress, and burnout in young athletes.

3. For most sports, specializing in a sport later (i.e., late adolescence) may lead to a higher chance of the young athlete accomplishing his or her athletic goals.

4. Early diversification and later specialization provides for a greater chance of lifetime sports involvement, lifetime physical fitness, and possibly elite participation.

5. If a young athlete has decided to specialize in a single sport, discussing his or her goals to determine whether they are appropriate and realistic is important. This discussion may involve helping the young athlete distinguish these goals from those of the parents and/or coaches.

6. It is important for parents to closely monitor the training and coaching environment of “elite” youth sports programs (Malina RM. Children and adolescents in the sport culture: the overwhelming majority to the select few. J Exerc Sci Fit. 2009;7(2 suppl):S1–S10) and be aware of best practices for their children’s sports.

7. Having at least a total of 3 months off throughout the year, in increments of 1 month, from their particular sport of interest will allow for athletes’ physical and psychological recovery. Young athletes can still remain active in other activities to meet physical activity guidelines during the time off.

8. Young athletes having at least 1 to 2 days off per week from their particular sport of interest can decrease the chance for injuries.

9. Closely monitoring young athletes who pursue intensive training for physical and psychological growth and maturation as well as nutritional status is an important parameter for health and well-being.

US Olympic Committee
The US Olympic Committee and others recommend the American Development Model:
The 5 stages they created include the following:
1. Discover, Learn, and Play (ages 0–12 years)
2. Develop and Challenge (ages 10–16 years)
3. Train and Compete (ages 13–19 years)
4. Excel for High Performance or Participate and Succeed (ages ≥15 years)
5. Mentor and Thrive (for Life)

[Team USA. American Development Model. Available at: Accessed December 15, 2015]

Overall I recommend focusing on your child’s needs and not pushing sports, but rather enjoying sports. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Denial or stigma keep many adults from getting help for depression

A study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine (8/2016) notes that:
Despite recent increased use of antidepressants in the United States, concerns persist that many adults with depression do not receive treatment, whereas others receive treatments that do not match their level of illness severity.

The study screened 46,000 Americans for depression finding that about 8 percent showed diagnosable symptoms. On follow-up, only 1 in 3 were getting treatment. 
The reasons for the gap in treatment were complicated. Some respondents avoided care because of stigma or denial. Others had limited access and/or lack of insurance. 
The researchers point out:
…critical treatment gaps persist, especially for racial / ethnic minorities, low income individuals, less educated adults, and uninsured people.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Teens Think e-Cigarettes Are Safe

Philip Copitch, Ph.D. – Author of Life's Laws For New Adults: Mastering Your Social I.Q.

In the October 2016 journal, Pediatrics, researchers evaluated the numbers from the 2012 and 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey. This cross-sectional survey of 6th to 12th grade students looked at how students perceived the harm and addictiveness of e-cigarettes. 
Inside the e-cigarette
It is documented that electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are now the most commonly used tobacco product by American youth.
E-cigarettes are battery powered devices that heat a liquid containing nicotine and often a flavoring. This warm vapor is inhaled.
Teens are unaware of the dangers of e-cigarettes. 
About 3 of every 4 students believed that e-cigarettes were less dangerous than paper and tobacco cigarettes. Just under half believed that e-cigarettes were less addictive than cigarettes. 
Read the research paper.
More information: E-cigarettes and Lung Health (American Lung Association)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A parent's worst fear, the death of their child.

Before I get started with this article let me give you a warning. This article is about an adult subject. I know a lot of young people read this website. This subject matter is not for the young or faint hearted.
I have been a family therapist for well over 30 years. In my experience the hardest pain for adults to deal with is the death of their child. For most parents it is simply gut wrenching and devastating.
On numerous occasions I have supported parents whose child died in a car accident involving alcohol, or who have died from a drug overdose. 
In these painful situations most families want to climb into a hole and hide (die). The pain is great and made even greater by the social embarrassment of the drugs in their young person’s life.
An important message
Below you will find the obituary of 24-year-old Molly Alice Parks. I have great respect for Molly’s parents who want to help others during their most painful loss.
Obituary for Molly Alice Parks
March 13, 1991 - April 16, 2015 
Manchester, New Hampshire | Age 24 

Loving Daughter, Sister, and Granddaughter

OLD ORCHARD BEACH- Molly Alice Parks, age 24, who most currently resided in Manchester, NH, passed away in Manchester on April 16, 2015 as the result of a heroin overdose.She was born in York, Maine on March 13, 1991, a daughter of Tom and Patti (Michaud) Parks.Molly graduated from Old Orchard Beach High School in 2009 and attended one year at SMCC until her addiction took over. Most recently, she was employed as a delivery driver for Portland Pie Co. in Manchester, NH. She enjoyed theater, fashion, reading – especially Harry Potter, and will always be remembered for fearless personality and her trademark red lipstick. Along Molly's journey through life, she made a lot of bad decisions including experimenting with drugs. She fought her addiction to heroin for at least five years and had experienced a near fatal overdose before. Molly's family truly loved her and tried to be as supportive as possible as she struggled with the heroin epidemic that has been so destructive to individuals and families in her age bracket.She is survived by her parents- Tom Parks and his wife Pat Noble of Saco and Patti Michaud Parks of Berlin, NH; sister- Kasey Parks of OOB; step siblings- Dustin and Delayna Denicourt of Biddeford; maternal grandparents- Rita and Raymond Michaud of Berlin, NH; paternal grandmother- Ruth Parks of OOB; and numerous aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, and a niece.If you have any loved one's who are fighting addiction, Molly's family asks that you do everything possible to be supportive, and guide them to rehabilitation before it is too late.Visitation will be held on Wednesday, April 22, from 4-8 PM at the Old Orchard Beach Funeral Home, 36 Portland Ave., Old Orchard Beach, ME 04064
Important contact numbers for you to have and share
If you or somebody you love is struggling with addiction, here are some resources to help you help them:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Helpline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) Always open 24/7
Mental health links of interest
List of common street drugs and what they look like

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

CDC Vaccine Recommendations for the 2016-2017 Influenza Season

On Septermber 15, 2016 the Center for Disease Control released their Vaccine Recommendations for the 2016-2017 Influenza Season.

CDC recommends that everyone aged 6 months or older receive an influenza vaccine every year, by the end of October if possible. However, CDC continues to recommend that influenza vaccination efforts continue as long as influenza viruses are circulating in the community. Significant seasonal influenza virus activity can continue into May, so vaccination later in the season can still provide benefit during most seasons.

Read the CDC Recommendations

Friday, September 9, 2016

FYI: Toys ‘R’ Us Recalls Pacifier Clips Due to Choking Hazard

Toys ‘R’ Us Recalls Pacifier Clips Due to Choking Hazard;

Sold Exclusively at Babies ‘R’ Us and Toys ‘R’ Us

Recall Summary

Name of Product: Babies ‘R’ Us pacifier clips

Hazard: The pacifier clip’s spring mechanism can break and release small parts, posing a choking hazard.

Remedy: Refund
Consumers should immediately take the recalled pacifier clips from babies and return the product to Babies ‘R’ Us or Toys ‘R’ Us for a refund.

Consumer Contact: Toys ‘R’ Us at 800-869-7787 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, or online at and click on Product Recalls for more information.

Recall Details

Units: About 53,000

Description: This recall involves Babies ‘R’ Us pacifier clips sold in an assortment of six colors and character designs, including a red monster, blue monster, monkey, giraffe, owl with one eye closed, and an owl with both eyes open. The pacifier clips have a circular plastic cover affixed to a metal spring clip and a fabric strip with snaps at the other end. The recalled pacifier clip assortment has model number 5F6237F and “®2014 Geoffrey, LLC” engraved on the back to the plastic cover.

Incidents/Injuries: The firm has received two reports of pacifier clips breaking. No injuries have been reported.
Sold exclusively at: Babies ‘R’ Us  and Toys ‘R’ Us stores nationwide from February 2015 through April 2016 for about $4.
Importer/Distributor: Toys ‘R’ Us Inc., of Wayne, N.J.
Manufactured in: China

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Slip of the tongue - Is it normal?

Dear Dr. Phil,
I am in tenth grade and an OK student. 
I find that I constantly make stupid mistakes when I speak. My mom says that I don’t do it that much and that everyone misspeaks. I use the wrong word, but it sounds like the right word to me. I am noticing it a lot and don’t want kids at school laughing at me.
Keith, Reno Nevada
Everyone makes word replacement mistakes
Keith, my heart goes out to you. It is hard being in high school. But, rest assured, tripping over your own tongue is simply a part of life. There are two major ways we do it, both normal and often funny. So, before I explain, please let me give you some advice. Allow yourself to laugh at yourself when you trip over your own tongue.
If you flub up on purpose, it is called a joke or a pun. I love puns. I love the way it makes my kids moan with embarrassment when I pun. Also, a good portion of my cartoons are puns. That little play on words that tickles the funny bone. So, when you trip up, go with it.
There are 2 common verbal mistakes that often cause snickering: malaprop and mondegreen.
A malaprop is a mistake we make when we accidentally replace a word or phase with one that sounds similar. Sometimes this turns out to be hilarious. 
Once, when I was a kid watching Archie Bunker in the TV show, "All in the Family", I almost wet my pants. Archie was upset about “Orthodox Jews” but he accidentally called them “Off-the-dock Jews.” This infuriated my mother, which made me laugh even harder. 
My mother disliked puns, seeing them as a form of low class humor. She, and people of her time, called malapropisms, dogberry’s, after the character in William Shakespeare’s play, "Much Ado About Nothing." A line I like from the play is when Constable Dogberry tells Governor Leonato, "Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons", when he meant to say, “apprehended two suspicious persons.” (Act 3, Scene V)
Malapropism gets its name from the the fictional Mrs. Malaprop, a character in Richard Sheridan's play, "The Rivals" (1775).
So, we have to laugh at malapropisms, they are part of the human condition. Take some solace in that they are not unique to you.
Mondegreens are words or phrases that we mishear. It can happen in normal conversation, and is very common when listening to songs.
If I am walking through the mall and someone yells, “Bill” it will get my attention. It sounds close to “Phil” so I might actually hear it as “Phil”. 
The word, mondegeen was coined by Sylvia Write in an essay entitled, "The Death of Lady Mondegreen” in Harper’s Magazine (1954).
Write gives an example of this, using Psalm 23:1-6 to illustrate her point:

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Is often heard as:

Surely Good Mrs. Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life…

One Christmas, when my oldest son was only 6, he was upset with his mother and me when we told him that he was messing up the words to Jingle Bells. He was positive the words were, 

Bells on bobtail ring
Making spirits cry

Bells on bobtail ring
Making spirits bright

This cartoon’s wording came from a similar conversation with my kids about “All of the other reindeer” from Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer, written by Johnny Marks.

We can all easily and often mishear or misspeak. 

Got a favorite mishear or misspeak? Leave it in the comment section. Thanks!

Monday, August 15, 2016

What is a preliminary study in psychology, and why do babies twitch while they sleep?

Mark Blumberg, Ph.D., of the University of Iowa, received a 5 million dollar MERIT Award from the National Institutes of Health for his work studying brain activity in young organisms. First, congrats to Dr. Blumberg, and second, I bring this up because of a press release I read this week from the University of Iowa (UI). 

What is preliminary research?
Preliminary research is where all good research starts. It is “pre”, before, more research is done. It is a starting point towards answering a question. But, just a starting point. It is the first few peer reviewed papers of many to come.
Dr. Blumberg said in the UI press release, “You would think that when animals are asleep, they’re not going to have that much brain activity, and then when they wake up, the activity will be really robust, because they’re awake,” he said. “You would think the brain would reflect the behavior. But we’ve seen exactly the opposite.”
With this observation and many questions about early development, Blumberg and his colleagues are looking into why babies twitch while they sleep. He first looked at baby rats, and now is doing observational studies of human babies with support from the Gates Foundation. 
Initially it was thought that babies twitched during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep due to dreaming. But Blumberg speculates that there is a developmental component, that sleep twitching may help the development of the infant’s nervous system. 
For example, infants that are learning to hold their heads up show more neck twitches than infants that have more control over their heads. The thought is that twitches help the growing nervous system test the electrical infrastructure and prepare for the next developmental achievement.  
“Preliminary” leads to press speculation
Further along in the press release we see clinical speculation. I bring this up not to bad mouth this researcher but as a warning to the reader. Often in press releases, and especially in the title of them, the study information is exaggerated into what is hoped to be found in the future. In this case we have this:

Blumberg’s research could be important in understanding neurodevelopment disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia.

The research could also be used to help people who have suffered from strokes or amputations to regain control of their nervous system as their brain restructures itself.

Please note, the research into baby twitching is being done, there is no research being conducted concerning autism, schizophrenia, strokes, or amputations.

I have talked with researchers that are surprised by the speculations made by university or corporate press releases. The writer of the press release, often not a scientist, hopes the press release will get circulated around the world by newspapers and bloggers. The goal of a press release is to get noticed and to shed a little light back on the university or corporation. 

So, keep a critical eye when reading press releases, or articles written based on press releases.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Why we blink is more complicated than we think

The basic explanation about why we blink is to keep our eyes moist and to wash away dirt with our tears. This is interesting but, it seems like people blink much more than we need to keep our eyes damp and clean.

Eye Tear Chart and Flow of Tears Chart

Japanese researchers reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, in 2013, that eye blinks allow the brain to momentarily process visual information. They explain:
The results suggest that eyeblinks are actively involved in the process of attentional disengagement during a cognitive behavior by momentarily activating the default-mode network while deactivating the dorsal attention network.

It seems that by packaging visual input into small data bursts, our brains can quickly transfer this input information to different parts of our brain to analyze it.
Science and magic
Way back in 1896, Joseph Jastrow wrote in Science his laboratory observations of how slight-of-hand experts trick our observations.  In the last 20 years or so, psychologists interested in how we perceive, have looked at how magicians can misdirect an audience, use banter to distract us, or give us mind puzzles to gently confuse us, so we miss visually what is happening right in front of our eyes. 
In April of 2016, in PeerJ, Richard J. Wiseman and Tamami Nakano took this type of eyeblinking/brain research one step further. Their basic question was: How does a magician use, knowingly or not, our eyeblinks to trick us? They wrote:
Given that blinking is associated with the relaxation of attention, these findings suggest that blinking plays an important role in the perception of magic, and that magicians may utilize blinking and the relaxation of attention to hide certain secret actions.

The research showed that the magicians did their slight-of-hand when the audience blinked, thus hiding the secret action. It seems magicians are able to trigger or anticipate when we will blink by using banter, mind puzzles, or boring misdirection. And, isn’t it interesting we as an audience participate and blink when the magician expects us to.
This is a fun and well implemented protocol done in the real world conditions of watching a magic trick.  Psychologists, magicians, as well as law enforcement, may need to look at the implications this has on how we humans perceive our world.  

Please let me know what you think by clicking the “comments” below.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

It is hard for toddlers to learn words in noisy rooms. Dah!

Today I read in the journal Child Development that toddlers have a hard time learning new words when the room is noisy.  My first response was, “Well, of course!” All kidding aside, the researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, did a good job with this study.

Most research of toddlers and learning is done in carefully organized laboratory conditions. This makes sense, the goal of the research is to test for one controlled change at a time. But, what Brianna McMillan (doctoral student) and her colleagues did, was test for learning in a more realistic environment. They pointed out:
Both younger (22- to 24-month-olds; n = 40) and older (28- to 30-month-olds; n = 40) toddlers successfully learned novel label–object pairings when target speech was 10 dB louder than background speech but not when the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) was 5 dB.

Most toddlers live and learn in the noisy, real world. The TV is on in the background, big sister is listening to music upstairs, or the radio is on in the car as mom and dad talk. Toddlers have the opportunity to learn words throughout their day.
Turn off the TV?
The findings show that it is best to teach toddlers new words in a calm environment. I am sure most parents know this. The implication of the study brings up that when a quiet space is not available, it may be detrimental to language growth. 
I have been a family therapist for 35 years. It is amazing to me how often parents fight me on “quiet time” in the house. I often suggest that during homework time, bath time, and bedtime, TV and radios should be turned off, allowing for easier communication between family members, and for personal thought time. I often hear, “We don’t really watch that much TV, we just keep it on for background noise.”
I suggest that limiting background noise is a good thing. 

Please let me know what you think by clicking the “comments” below.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Laundry Pods Still Dangerous for Children

Back in October 2012 I reported in this blog that colorful laundry detergent pods get the attention of young children. The pods do resemble candy to my adult eye, so I assume toddlers and young children might also see them as sweet treats.

Hospitalization 4 times more common
Hospitalization was 4 times more likely with detergent pods than liquid or powder detergent contact, according to a study in Injury Prevention.
The researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, reviewed 36,000 cases of children being treated in U.S. emergency rooms for exposure to laundry detergent during the years 2012 to 2014. 
The records showed that 26,000 children had contact with liquid or powdered detergent and almost 10,000 additional children were hurt by laundry pods.  Most of the children were treated for contact dermatitis (irritation, redness, itchy skin, burning of skin or eyes). But of note, children were much more likely to be poisoned if they got hold of the laundry pods.
The authors stated:
Poisoning (71.3%) was the most common diagnosis for pod detergent while contact dermatitis (72.2%) was most common for non-pod detergent. Hospitalization occurred in 12.5% of pod detergent cases and just 3.0% of non-pod cases. Compared with non-pod detergent, those exposed to pod detergent were 4 times as likely to be hospitalized.

Laundry detergent is dangerous
The warning here is clear. Laundry detergent is dangerous for the little ones and laundry pods are by far the most dangerous. 
In case of emergency call 911.
For more information on the dangers of laundry products please read: Laundry Product Poison and Prevention Info at They advise:
Prevent poisonings by storing laundry products out of sight and reach of children. Also, keep products in their original containers. Countless children (and adults!) have swallowed bleach from a cup, thinking it was water. Pouring bleach into a cup, then leaving it on the counter or washing machine, is an invitation to poisoning.
If a child gets into a laundry product, here's what to do:
  • If the product is in the eyes or on the skin, flush with running water for at least 15 minutes, then call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222. The poison specialist will ask a few questions about what happened and if there are any symptoms. Then, the specialist will tell you exactly what to do. Most of the time, the incident can be managed at home if you call Poison Control right away.
  • If the product is swallowed, give a small amount of water or milk. Then use the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool for guidance or call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222. Both resources can help with common scenarios like:
  • My child drank bleach (like Clorox). What should I do? Is it poisonous?My child bit a laundry pod (such as TidePods, all® mighty pacs®, Purex UltraPacks, Gain flings). Is it dangerous? Should I take him to the emergency room?
  • My child ate a fabric softener sheet or a dryer sheet (such as Bounce or Snuggle).
  • My child drank a fabric softener (such as Downy, Snuggle, Gain, Final Touch, Purex).
  • My child swallowed laundry detergent (for example, All, Tide, Purex, Arm & Hammer, Wisk, Sun, Oxi, Persil, Xtra, Cheer).
Pets too
FYI: It is a good idea to keep laundry supplies away from our pets too!

Please let me know what you think by clicking the “comments” below.