Author Archives: Lori Edelman

Talking about Trauma

Should you talk to your parent about your trauma?
Talking to your parents about your trauma can be a difficult decision. You may be hesitant to tell them because you’re not sure how they will react or if they will be able to help. Your parents are not entitled to know about your past trauma – however, you may gain additional support or closeness from telling them. Here are a few things to consider before making a decision.

How do you hope they will react?
What reaction are you hoping your parent(s) will have when learning about your childhood trauma? And how likely is that reaction based on what you know about your parents? Consider your parents’ emotional maturity, cultural/family traditions, and how they’ve previously reacted to challenging information.

What are you hoping to gain?
Think about why you want to talk to your parents. Are you looking for support and understanding? Are you hoping they can help you process the trauma and find healing? Do you want them to understand this part of your past? Are you asking them to distance themselves from your abuser? Consider what you’re hoping to gain and how likely you are to get that from your parents.

What do you stand to lose?
Safety should always be your number one priority. If you still live with your parents or rely on them for financial support, telling them about your childhood trauma might lead them to remove that support. Before taking action, weigh the risks and benefits of sharing your story. It’s okay for you to prioritize safety and security over transparency with your parents.

How to tell your parents about your trauma
Once you’ve decided to tell your parents about your childhood trauma, you may wonder how to have this conversation. If your parents don’t know that you experienced a traumatic event or events as a child, this news might come as a surprise to them.

Consider these tips as you get ready to broach the topic with them.
Make sure you’re really ready
The last thing you want is to have a rushed, impulsive, or emotional conversation with your parents. Make sure you’re emotionally ready to have the conversation and that you’ve given yourself enough time to prepare. If you’re currently working with a therapist, making a game plan together may be helpful before you decide to talk to your parents.

Choose the right time and place
There’s never a perfect time to have a difficult conversation like this, but try to pick a time and place where you and your parents can be relaxed and uninterrupted. This is not a conversation that should happen in the heat of the moment. Choose a time when you’re unlikely to be interrupted or have distractions take over. remember that this is not a one time conversation. You can initiate the conversation and then give everyone, including you, the space and time to reflect and process.

Call in support
A close friend, partner, trusted relative, and even a therapist can all be great support systems to have with you when you tell your parents about your childhood trauma. They can provide emotional support or physical support during what may be a difficult conversation. A therapist may also be able to step in if the conversation goes awry.

Stay with connection (if you have a safe relationship with the parent)
Tell your parents that you want to share this with them because you care about your relationship. Tell them what you’re hoping to gain from the conversation. For example, you might share that you want them to understand you better and support you, not pity you or try to fix things for you.

Be prepared for uncomfortable emotions
Your parents may have strong emotions when receiving this news. Anger, sadness, frustration, self-blame, and anxiety are all normal reactions to learning that their child experienced a traumatic event. Your parents are entitled to their emotions. You are not responsible for your parents’ emotions, and you should not feel guilty or obligated by their reaction.

Stick to your boundaries
Having strict boundaries on what you feel comfortable sharing with your parents is okay. Telling them that you experienced trauma as a child doesn’t mean you have to share every detail of that experience. If your parents ask you questions you’re uncomfortable answering, it’s okay to say that some aspects of this topic are off-limits.

Sample language to use when telling your parents about past trauma (please feel free to edit in your own words.)

I think it’s important for you to know about the things that have happened to me in my past. It’s affected me in ways you might not expect, and I think it’s important for you to understand why I’m the way I am.

I was sexually abused as a child. It was a traumatic experience that has stayed with me for my entire life. It’s something that I’ve struggled with a lot, and it’s something that I deal with on a regular basis.

I want you to know this because I want you to understand me. I don’t want you to see me as a victim because that’s not who I am. I’m a strong person, and I’ve overcome a lot in my life. But this experience has impacted the way I move about the world. The reason I’m telling you now is because I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and I think it’s been affecting my life in a lot of ways. I’m really hoping that talking to you about it will help me to start to heal.

Dogs and Stress

We’ve known for a while that dogs can be trained to sniff out seizures, infections, diabetes, extremely elevated blood pressure, and sometimes even cancer. Therapy dogs and service dogs can be trained to help people with movement and balance problems, panic attacks, PTSD, cognitive fogginess, (including getting up and going in the morning), poor attention and concentration, and executive functioning and memory loss.

A series of recent studies indicated that dogs are also responsive to the release of cortisol and adrenaline in humans, using their exceptional sense of smell, the human stress hormones. If you have a dog that is very attentive, or at least stays near you when you are not feeling well or having a bad day, they are not only showing the affection and loyalty they have for you, they FEEL you.

One patient who has a rigorous job with deadlines throughout the week reported that she can be sitting tensely in her home office and will look up to see her dog staring at her. Instead of sleeping, he monitors her. When she’s not doing well, suddenly, her dog will start panting I have heard this phenomenon from dozens of patients.

Dogs can smell your stress. And they know something is wrong.
Also read: Mindfulness in Fur.

On Psychology, culture, and juleps

Derby Day
Recently, my cultural heritage soul-sister the exceptional being Padma Lakshmi stated “to eat is political.” Everything that brings people together over food and libations has significance: context, connection, nurturance, nourishment, metacognition, tradition, ritual, and history.

The sharing of food is not a neutral act.

In fact, I believe that what we consume becomes our psychology.

The iconic Mint Julep originated in ancient Persia (Iran). It was used as both a beverage and a luxurious bath for imperial princesses, and was known as Gulab (Elixir of Roses). It was also prescribed for shortness of breath, gastrointestinal problems, and anxiety. The name Gulab morphed into Julab, and then Julep, and spread widely through Egypt, India, Turkey (the Byzantine Empire), and Rome. As it spread, the lush mint supplies in the Mediterranean increasingly replaced the rose petals in the delicious concoctions. Reportedly, Michaelangelo was so enamored of juleps that he imbibed every morning.

Juleps became increasingly popular in Colonial America in the 18th century, where they were initially made with high proof rum, brandy, honey, muddled mint, and fresh fruit. They were considered to be an upscale beverage because of the exorbitant price of rum and brandy. As British taxes on liquor increased, farmers started making an affordable whiskey from grain and corn, that was eventually called bourbon. Southern states had the fertile soil to make it possible.

Though initially created for financial reasons, bourbon quickly increased in popularity and prestige beyond the South. Currently, the liquor industry reports that bourbon pumps $9 billion per year into Kentucky’s economy alone.

Here’s to the Julep and the Derby, via the Middle East, India, Rome, and the American South. The psychology of libations. Related: Nine Reasons Why Cross Cultural Friendships Are Great for Your Brain.

On Coupling

Below is a portion of a couples’ questionnaire that I send people who are coming in for relationship counseling. Sometimes it’s to address moving in together, getting engaged/married, becoming parents, or even breaking up in an honorable fashion: the next step questions.

I love working with couples. There is a magic that happens when individuals decide to share their lives. It’s also hard work.

Usually, when I start working with a couple, I ask questions that are streamlined for their specific situation. This questionnaire is extremely baseline; I work with couples who are in different combinations and permutations of relationship; there is no formula.

Here are some of my questionnaire items to possibly discuss with your partner.

Children related questions

  • At this point in the relationship, you may already know the overall “will we or won’t we” as regards to raising a family. But digging a bit deeper into the topic can be a beneficial exercise, since it can reveal areas you might want to work through.
  • How many children do we want to have, and what’s our ideal timeline? Will we adopt?
  • Do we want to hire a babysitter or nanny? Will our children go to day care? Or will one of us stay home?
  • If yes to a parent staying home, how long before we return to work?
  • Will our children attend public or private schools? How important is this to each of us, and why?
  • How do we hope to parent our children? What are the values that we find most important as parents in raising children?
  • What will we do if our parenting styles or values conflict?
  • What role will our extended family play in our parenting?
  • How will we speak to our family members who may favor a different parenting style from what we hope to implement?
  • What will we do if one of our children/child has special needs or is diagnosed with learning or behavioral concerns?

Religion and faith related questions

  • Whether you’re devout, undecided, or somewhere in-between, religion and spirituality are typically a tough topic for couples to discuss on their own. You may also have your own faith based counseling that you would like to engage.
  • Secular couples counseling provides the opportunity to voice your desires and concerns by asking questions like:
  • How important is religion / faith to each of us?
  • How much influence do we want religion to play in our lives and our children’s lives?
  • Which religion will be taught and celebrated in the home or could different religions be celebrated?
  • Will we celebrate religious holidays? If so, to what extent? What will those holidays look like?
  • What are our core spiritual values as individuals and as a couple, and how do we see ourselves upholding them?
  • How can we handle any conflicts between our individual values?
  • What happens with our extended family situations if our religious values are not commensurate with theirs?

Money related questions

  • For many, living together/marriage marks the point at which income and finances may become a shared responsibility.  But it’s not always as easy as opening a joint bank account and calling it a day; you may also need to discuss the nitty gritties of the “f” word… finances:
  • How much do each of us expect to contribute to the household?
  • How much of our income will we spend on our own personal hobbies or interests?
  • How much of how income do each of us envision saving
  • Should we have a monthly budget? How will we set it and stick to it?
  • Do we want to combine our finances completely or keep some accounts separate?
  • How much debt do we have, and how much money do we have saved?
  • What will we do if we have an emergency expense or an unexpected loss of income?
  • How much do we plan to spend on shared interests, like vacations? If we plan to spend some of our money on a vacation, what type of vacation do each of us enjoy?
  • What is the importance of earning money to each of us?
  • How much is expected from each of us in terms of earning money for the family?
  • What happens when we have significant discrepancies in income?
  • What are the emotional reactions we have around money, earning, spending, saving?

Work and career questions

  • One person’s long hours is another person’s normal. Make sure you and your partner are on the same page about career expectations.
  • How much will each of us work?
  • Do we expect or want to make any significant career changes in the future?
  • How will we balance careers and childcare if we have children?
  • How can we support each other in our career goals?
  • How much sacrifice is each of us willing to endure for the other person’s career goals and the pursuit of success? What if one of us becomes unemployed or under employed?
  • What happens if one of us wants to pursue future goals that require time and any commitments such as advanced degrees?
  • How many hours per week does each person expect the other will be away from home (or working at home) in order to pursue career goals?
  • How will we negotiate future ambitions and endeavors, such as one of us wanting to start a business or go into self-employment
  • Questions related to where you want to settle, in the short and long-term. Whether you both want to move, or put down roots where you are, it’s great to touch base now.
  • Where do we want to settle down? Will we want to live in the city or in the suburbs?
  • What is our shared vision of the future? Are there any significant differences?

Sex related questions

  • It’s a tricky topic, but crucial to be honest about. After all, who better to discuss sex with than your partner? NOT talking about sex can become a habit that makes it harder to communicate in the bedroom.
  • How important is sex to each of us?
  • How much sex do each of us envision having every week?
  • How will we handle any problems in the bedroom down the line?
  • How is our current sex life going? Do either of us have any unmet sexual desires?
  • Are we monogamous in the longterm? What will we do if either of us is interested in changing our relationship model in the future?
  • What other forms of intimacy and romance are important to us?
  • Do we make time to be together as a couple or do our other responsibilities take over?
  • Are we able to talk about sex, from preferences to complaints?

Social lives questions

  • Every relationship needs a healthy balance between friends, family, career, self-time, and each other – what does yours look like?
  • How much socializing is important to each of us? How much time do we want to spend with each of our friends and family?
  • How important is maintaining friendships outside the marriage to each of us and to what extent should our attention and shared resources be devoted to these (e.g. weekend bachelor and bachelorette parties, girls’ night out, weddings, showers, visiting out of town friends, etc.)?
  • How close are each of us to our immediate and extended family members? How much time do each of us expect to spend with our families (alone and with one another)?
  • How comfortable do you feel about your partner having friends of the opposite gender?
  • What are the rules around social media and having online friendships with opposite gender connections?
  • How do we feel about time spent away from family that is spent with friends, individually and as a couple?
  • Do we have friends that we share, individual friends, or both? What happens if we don’t like our partners’ friends?

Vacations and holiday related questions

  • How do each of us envision spending our weekends? Where do we want to spend them?
  • How will time off, and holidays, be spent?
  • How much of our vacation time will be devoted to visiting family versus traveling together as a couple or family?
  • Do we have a bucket list of places that we both want to explore?
  • How much time and expenditure do we want to spend on holidays?

Conflict resolution and decision making questions

  • How do we resolve conflicts?
  • What communication style works well for us, and where do we struggle?
  • How can we effectively express difficult emotions like anger and sadness?
  • How will we make major life decisions together?
  • Where can we turn for support if we disagree about a big decision in the future?

Household responsibility questions

  • How do we divide up household duties?
  • Do we have any particular challenges around sharing a household?
  • Which tasks will (or does) each partner handle?

Personal history questions

  • What are our plans for combining our different backgrounds, whether racial, ethnic, cultural, socio-economic, or otherwise?
  • Do we expect any conflicts related to our different backgrounds?
  • How might we plan to resolve those potential conflicts?
  • How do we handle medical and mental health issues?
  • How do we feel about the health of each other and how to best be supportive If your partner is under the weather?
  • What happens if one or the other becomes physically or mentally disabled?

Also read Healing in Relationships: Imago Therapy for Communication.

Sleepy Nation

Microbursts of sleep refers to periods of sudden somnolence that last from a few to several seconds. People who experience these episodes may doze off without realizing it.
It can occur anywhere, such as at work, at school, or while watching TV. Episodes of microsleep can also happen while driving or operating machinery, which makes this a dangerous condition. People may fall asleep at a stoplight, in a restaurant, at the theater, or at a work meeting. In addition to the potential for serious physical harm to self or others, these bursts of sleep can cause embarrassment and secondary problems (hitting your head, work problems, falling on another person, dropping or breaking items).
Microbursts of sleep happen when parts of your brain are asleep and other parts remain awake.
Warning signs of an episode of microsleep include:
  • inability to keep eyes open
  • excessive yawning
  • body jerks and head bobs
  • constantly blinking or widening eyes to stay awake
  • sudden onset of severe fatigue
  • short REM latencies (entering REM sleep very quickly)
  • feeling foggy; not being able to concentrate on a task or conversation
  • making careless mistakes (inattention to detail)
  • slow processing speed and task completion
  • impaired fine motor skills
Why does our brain go into a shut down and reboot? The biggest culprit is sleep deprivation.
Causes can include:
  • medical concerns (sleep apnea, restless leg and movement disorders, perimenopause, chronic pain, frequent urination)
  • shift work: overnight schedules and changing hours make it difficult for our brains to adjust
  • circadian rhythms that are irregular. Even DST can affect sleep for days to weeks
  • medications: stimulants like Concerta and Adderall may result in fatigue and sleepiness when they ‘wear off’.  Others cause excessive sleepiness if not timed properly, including antihistamines and even melatonin
  • alcohol and substance abuse
  • anxiety/worry/depression
  • boredom: repetitive tasks; solitary work; long drives; excessive sitting
  • ‘revenge insomnia’ is the tendency to purposefully stay up late binge watching, scrolling, chatting, gaming, after working all day. It’s reclaiming ‘me time’ with a cost and can be beguiling for those who work long hours
What to do:
  • Address underlying medical issues. Sleep studies may also be required. A single study or examination may only reveal a partial picture.
  • Get enough sleep. Prioritize rest and listen to your body. The average adult becomes sleepy after being awake for about 7-8 hours. Even with formulas for how much you ‘should be sleeping,’ how you sleep is highly individualized. More more info read: Got Sleep.
  • Exercise and get daily sunlight during the day.
  • When you feel tired, don’t push yourself into continuing to work. You’re not getting much work done anyway. Reboot by resting and starting again later.
  • Reframe attitudes about resting. The old adages about ‘toughing it out’ are not helpful for our mental, cognitive, or physical health.
  • Sleep well before road trips or long tasks. If possible, drive with a passenger. Avoid driving at times when you naturally feel tired, such as times you’re normally asleep, near dusk, or during your post-lunch or afternoon lull. Stop often and get out of the car.
  • Talk to other people. Neuropsychological research shows that conversation and social interaction reduce sleepiness. One study also found that hearing your own name was more effective than other auditory input for attention during a vigilance test.
  • Don’t rely on loud music. Loud volume won’t do much to keep you awake while driving. Some research suggests that the brain may not be registering auditory inputs during periods of microsleep.
  • Caffeine helps a little. It takes a while to kick in and only provides a moderate effect for a couple of hours. You can also have a high tolerance if you frequently use caffeine.
  • Take movement breaks. Fidgeting, stretching, and moving keeps the mind more engaged. Take regular breaks and stretch if you are sitting for long periods of time.
  • Rest when you are tired.
  • Most importantly, work with your own circadian rhythms, schedule, and responsibilities as much as possible. These vary. Micro sleep is our brain trying to function and rest at the same time. Work with it, not against it.


Happy Doctors Day to all my friends, family, and colleagues. I’m so proud of all the work that you do and how difficult it is.

We are having a huge doctor shortage in this country which is getting worse, day by day. It takes me weeks and endless phone calls to find a primary care referral for my neuropsychology patients. All my experienced physicians are completely full and they work a lot. Doctors are not there ‘for the money.’ The amount of education, work, stress, hours, and student loans is immense.

I want to mention three superhero doctors in my life who influenced me as a child and young adult:

My uncle, Dr. Paul Fischer, is based in Augusta, GA, and has practiced family medicine for over 35 years. His first practice was a solo rural one in Weeping Water, Nebraska, where he worked with many indigenous American patients, with deep compassion and gentleness. He moved from there to the Medical College of Georgia where he was a professor of Family Medicine, considered to be the less glamorous sibling of the medical practices. While there, he published a controversial article in JAMA showing that children as young as 4 years old, routinely recognize “Old Joe” the Camel cigarette cartoon character. Smoking was commonplace in preteens and teens and highly addictive. His research led to a long legal battle with the tobacco industry. Let’s just say that they don’t play nice. Thanks to him, cartoon characters and cigarettes are no longer friends.

My uncle Dr. Teepu Siddique is the foremost scientist and neurologist in the world helping ALS patients. His team at Duke Medical Center was nominated for the Nobel prize in medicine, giving some hope to families affected by this terrible disease. I have to add that he gave me my first medical research job, and I can still run DNA in a centrifuge in my sleep.

He and his collaborators, including my friend, Dr. Alan Roses (RIP) kind of adopted me. We went out to many lunches at red lobster and talked about neurogenetics (I wasn’t joking when I said I’m a science geek). His team discovered the first known cause of ALS, linking mutations in the SOD1 gene to the disease, and developed the first models for ALS and ALS/dementia, now used by investigators all over the world. Over the years, Dr. Siddique’s research has pioneered additional causes and signatures for both familial and sporadic forms of the disease and paved the way for targeted treatments.

I saw my friend’s father pass away from ALS, and I am so grateful for advances in this area. Dr. Siddique is a professor in Feinberg’s Ken & Ruth Davee Department of Neurology, as well as the Departments of Cell and Developmental Biology and Pathology, Northwestern U.

My paternal aunt, Dr. Asma Qureshi Fischer, perfected pediatric ultrasound, a noninvasive neural-imaging procedure to detect severe neurological disorders in infants. She patiently allowed me to work in her office and participate in hospital rounds over several summers. If you are ever planning on having children, I would not recommend hanging out in obstetrics wards.

Most certainly, my family and many mentors and friends helped me fall in love with science and neuropsychology. We are complete nerds combined with an aching desire to heal.

Thank you to all the doctors out there.
We need you.

Ireland and India: on connection

In the center of the Irish county seat, Sligo, sits a statue of Rabindranath Tagore, gifted in 2015, commemorating the Nobel prize winning National Poet of India. In a country with only 50,000 citizens of South Asian descent, Tagore shared a connection with William Butler Yeats, the poetic voice of Ireland. Both poets were interested in the relationship of poetry, music, spirituality, the struggles of everyday life, connection, and anti-imperialism. They followed each other’s work, and finally met in London.

Across continents, their works served as moments of identity shared between the Colonized. I call it ‘Partition poetry.’ Notably, both poets won the Nobel prize, 10 years apart, Tagore in 1913 and Yeats a decade later, in 1923. Although far from ideal, as by default Ireland was both a colonizer and the colonized, their fascination with the work of the other is striking. And inspiring.

I ranted to the knave and fool,
But outgrew that school,
Fit audience found, but cannot rule my fanatic heart.
-Remorse for Intemperate Speech
(William Butler Yeats, 1931)

Freedom from fear is the freedom.
I claim for you!
Freedom from the insult of dwelling in a puppets’ world,
Where movements are started through brainless thoughts repeated through mindless habits.
(Rabindranath Tagore, 1913)

Beannachtai na Feile Padraig.

On Hyperfocus

People with ADHD have difficulty focusing. But many can also hyperfocus on things they’re very interested in. Parents come to me and say my kid can play Fortnite for eight hours, why can’t they focus on the three regular chores they have to do in a week?

The idea of hyperfocus can be confusing. How can a person who has trouble focusing on most things lose themselves in a video game, movie, series, sport, or craft project for hours? It might look like that person doesn’t really struggle with attention.

Hyperfocus is a common but sometimes confusing symptom of ADHD, is the ability to zero in intensely on an interesting project or activity for hours at a time. It is the opposite of distractibility, and it is common among both children and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

But actually having good focus requires two opposing elements. People need to be able to pay attention even if something isn’t that interesting. Many things are not interesting. And that is reality. Why do I have to sit through this meeting, take this class, work with this team, read this book, do such and such? Why the heck am I taking algebra or physics?

Secondly, they need to be able to not pay attention to something interesting, or something that’s bothering them (the biggest distractions are anxiety or sadness), when they need to focus on doing what they’re doing because it’s more interesting than what they’re being asked to do. Un-focusing and focusing. One of my clients reported that it’s like being in a tunnel, you only see one thing. Both good and bad.

The neuropsychology of hyperfocus.

Like distractibility, hyperfocus results from abnormally low levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is particularly active in the brain’s frontal lobes. This dopamine deficiency makes it hard to to take up boring tasks. Many of our life tasks can be mundane, repetitive, and frustrating.

So, what can we do? How can we harness the power of hyperfocus?

Mindfulness matters.
Focus can be combined with a mental health exercise: when you take out the trash, you can visualize an exorcism of anything nasty that happened over the week. I teach imagery, this is your chance to take out your accumulated trash.

Purpose matters. And Distraction helps.
I have a client who stands in a queue to pick up her kids after school for almost an hour. She loves them with heart and soul and wants them to be safe. In the meantime, I gave her a podcast that has appeal. Zoning out in the parking lot scrolling through social media was not making her very happy. Now she is stimulating her brain with a great podcast she rarely gets to fit into her busy life.

Practice matters.
Some of my teenagers have trouble with mindfulness and attention. Simple exercises can include, coming into a room, such as the kitchen. What do you see, what do you smell, what is the lighting? What do you hear. It pulls your attention back. And requires practice.

Timing and dosage.
Give yourself time you can play the heck out of the game that you love, watch the series that you are fascinated with, immerse yourself in the best book. Plan your binges. They don’t have to control you.
Also see, “On News Anxiety.”

Set external cues and reminders.
If you know you’re going to be lost in cyberspace, create multiple reminders. Set multiple alarms. Remember that we need to get up and move our bodies every 25 to 30 minutes.

Work with your own circadian rhythms.
If you work best in the morning with heightened alertness, do your toughest work then. If you’re tired in the afternoon, save that time for more rote tasks.

Engage with an accountability buddy.
This can be as simple as having a reminder that you need to get your stuff done, and then you can relax. Your buddy might say, we’re going to watch a great show tonight. Let’s get our work done.

Don’t set impossible standards.
Most people, optimally, cannot focus after 30 to 40 minutes, especially on complex tasks. Take a break. Regularly.

If there’s something that you really dislike doing, see if you can trade it off. We put off tasks that are aversive. I have a client who has sensitivity to washing dishes, it truly grosses her out, but she can do laundry and fold clothing like a luxury retail store. Ask your partner, child, roommate, colleague, to do things that you don’t love and vice versa.

School District Sues Social Media for Harm to Mental Health

As a clinical psychologist who frequently works with families, teens, and young adults, I have definitely seen some detrimental effects of social media, in particular TikTok.

In 2021 and 2022, F74, also known as Floor 74, was a TikTok trend that spread like wildfire and claimed to take you to a parallel dimension in your sleep. The purpose of the “challenge” was to survive your trip to another dimension, as failure to do so meant a person would be stranded forever in the parallel dimension. You would wake up, and everyone you loved would be gone. Teenagers, already notoriously bad sleepers, were coming to my office with severe anxiety, fear, and insomnia. They were convinced that something bad would happen if they fell asleep. These were honor roll students at some of the top private schools and school districts in Washington, DC, and they were scared to go to sleep.

Earlier this month, 1/18/23, a landmark lawsuit was filed which alleges that the Seattle school district and its students have been harmed by social media’s negative effects on youth mental health, academic performance, and daily functioning. It could lead to sweeping changes in the industry. Read more: As Seattle schools sue social media companies, legal experts split on potential impact

Seattle Public Schools alleges that the social media companies cited, which include Meta, Google, Snapchat, and ByteDance, the company behind TikTok, designed their platforms intentionally to grow their younger audience bases and exploit the psychology and neurophysiology of their child/adolescent users into spending more and more time on their platforms, according to the complaint filed earlier this month.

There is skepticism that such cases, this being the first of its kind initiated by a huge school system, will be dismissed in court. After all, people do not sue online gambling or pornography websites for their addictions. However, child development and neuropsychological research may prove otherwise.

In the late eighties, Augusta, Georgia family medicine researcher, professor, and physician, Dr. Paul Fischer, first implicated Camel cigarettes, the product of RJ Reynolds tobacco, for their advertising campaign using cartoon depictions of Joe Camel, as holding great appeal for children and teenagers.

In December 1991, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study in which young children were asked to match brand logos with products. The study showed that for children who were age six, 91.3% matched Joe Camel with Camel cigarettes, nearly the same amount who matched the Disney Channel logo with Mickey Mouse. In the same JAMA volume, another study was published comparing how well Joe Camel was recognized among high school students versus adults over age 21. The study concluded that high school students were more likely to recognize Joe Camel (97.7% vs 72.2%), understand the product being advertised (97.5% vs. 67%), and identity the Camel brand (93.6% vs 57.7%). The research also noted that Camel’s share of smokers under 18 had risen from 0.5% to 32.8% during the cartoon character’s campaign over three years, indicating that it was particularly effective at reaching younger smokers-to-be. After years of expensive legal wrangling funded by the powerful tobacco lobby, RJ Reynolds removed the Joe Camel campaign. [Disclosure, Paul Fischer, MD is my paternal uncle]. See: Joe Camel Cartoons.

The child/adolescent brain, unlike adult brains, is continuing to develop executive functioning: problem-solving, analyzing, self-monitoring, planning and organizing, impulse control, and metacognition skills well into their twenties. As such, decision-making and influence is different for children and teens, when compared to adults. Overuse of social media platforms has a different effect on the developing neural pathways of children and adolescents than it does on adult brains. Whatever the legal outcome(s), recognition that children/teens are not mini-adults is crucial.  Also see: The Dangers of Mini Me.

Black History and Psychology: Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark and Dr. Kenneth Clark

Andrea Harris Smith is the granddaughter of Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Phipps Clark, the renowned clinical psychologists and educators whose research with African American children was central to arguments that led to the 1954 Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court decision to desegregate public schools. She lives not far from my office, Northwest Washington DC, where the playgrounds are regularly filled with women of color, exchanging stories and mindfully watching their young ones: Nannies of every nationality.

Ms. Smith, the mother of a biracial child, writes, “the playground is a perfect container for the dynamics of belonging and isolation, conscious or unconscious.”

Ms. Smith’s grandparents designed a study commonly known in developmental psychology textbooks as “the doll test”, in which they used four dolls, male and female, identical except for color, to test children’s racial perceptions. Black and white dolls were presented to children to help determine their preferences and sense of self. Most of the children preferred the white dolls to the Black ones. They said the Black dolls were “bad” and the white dolls looked most like them, reflecting not how they actually looked but how they wanted to be. The white dolls were also described as more likable and more attractive.

The findings helped the Supreme Court to conclude that segregation was detrimental to the self-esteem and mental health of both Black and white children. The Doctors Clark founded Northside Center for Child Development in Harlem; a community clinic for children and families that supports behavioral, mental and educational health. It was one of the first centers of its kind, founded over 70 years ago, and still in operation today. The contributions they made in psychology continue to influence psychologists, families, students, professors, advocates, researchers, and lawmakers.

Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark, who personally faced incredible hurdles throughout her life and educational and professional career stated: “This is probably one of the most dangerous things facing mankind today:  A use and training of intelligence excluding moral sensitivity.“

Also read, “A Tribute to Psychologist De. Mamie Phipps Clark.”

Embolden Psychology

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

Thank you for contacting us.