Parent Success Tip: 2 Steps to Drug Free Kids

Parenting is a tough job.  Every parent wants to raise successful, healthy kids but there are so many challenges.  And now, as states begin legalizing marijuana, our children are faced with even moreshutterstock_29603572 pressures that make staying drug-free, alcohol-free, and tobacco-free harder.

The good news is that new research shows that two simple parenting strategies can help you raise kids who are much more likely to stay clean and sober.

1.  Don’t Play Favorites.

The study showed that kids who felt that they were less favored by their parents than a sibling were about twice as likely as the favorite child to use drugs, alcohol and cigarettes.  Researchers encourage parents to go the extra mile to spend time with the child they have more difficulty getting along with.  Putting more energy into your relationship with your harder-to-relate-to child can help you build the rapport you need to guide your child to a healthy adulthood.  Remember, God gives us the kids we need, the kids who have the best chance of making us change and grow the way God needs us to.  If you have a child who is harder for you to get along with, put the extra time in and welcome the growth that comes.

2.  Engage

The study also found that there was an even greater  likelihood that the less-favored child would abuse drugs, alcohol, or tobacco when the family, itself,  was considered “disengaged.”   Family life has to be more than a collection of individuals living under the same roof and sharing a data plan.  Make sure you are taking the time as parents to create rituals of connection; regularly scheduled appointments for your family to gather for work, play, meaningful talk, and prayer.  The more you create and nurture these daily and weekly rituals of connection, the more engaged and healthy your family will be!   Establishing family rituals helps you claim your place as the “domestic church” and allows God’s grace to flow more freely in your family life as you take regular time to learn about the gift God is giving you through each other.

Taken together, avoiding favoritism and increasing family connection through rituals can help give your kids the extra boost they need to resist a host of evils, including drug and alcohol use.

For more tips on raising great, healthy, godly kids, check out Parenting with Grace:  The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.

The Serotonin Myth Continued: What You Need To Know About Depression

A few weeks back, I reported on a new study that pounded yet another nail in the coffin of the theory that depression is caused by low serotonin.   You can read that original post here as well as the follow shutterstock_217156765up post wherein I responded to a question from a reader asking if I was trying to say that people who suffered with depression were to blame for their struggles (short answer:  no.)

Over at PsychCentral, one of the most popular psychology news portals on the web, the director, Dr. John Grohol has an excellent piece summarizing the growing case against the low serotonin theory of depression.  He writes….

Back in 2005, Lacasse and Leo pointed out in the journal PLOS Medicine that there was a huge disconnect between what we knew about serotonin’s role in depression from the medical research, and what pharmaceutical advertisements were claiming we knew:

Regarding SSRIs, there is a growing body of medical literature casting doubt on the serotonin hypothesis, and this body is not reflected in the consumer advertisements. In particular, many SSRI advertisements continue to claim that the mechanism of action of SSRIs is that of correcting a chemical imbalance, such as a paroxetine advertisement, which states, “With continued treatment, Paxil can help restore the balance of serotonin…” [22].

Yet […] there is no such thing as a scientifically established correct “balance” of serotonin. The take-home message for consumers viewing SSRI advertisements is probably that SSRIs work by normalizing neurotransmitters that have gone awry. This was a hopeful notion 30 years ago, but is not an accurate reflection of present-day scientific evidence.

New research that we reported on last month confirms the role of serotonin in depression is not well-understood. In that mice study, removing the stuff in the brain that creates serotonin2 did not create a bunch of depressed mice.

Other research confirms it’s not as simple as a serotonin deficit. As Whitaker (2010) noted, the 1976 Asbert study is still relevant. Asbert looked at levels of a metabolized result of serotonin (something called 5-HIAA) in spinal fluid. If low-levels of serotonin cause depression, then all people suffering from depression should have significantly lower levels of 5-HIAA in their spinal fluid than people without depression.

What Asbert found, however, wasn’t a clean result. In fact, it clearly shows how complicated depression as a disease process is. In both groups of people studied — both a depression group and a control group — about 50 percent had “regular” levels of 5-HIAA, about 25 percent had really low levels, and another 25 percent had really high levels.

If serotonin were really an important part of the picture in depression, we’d expect that group to look significantly different than the control group. In this study, at least, the two groups looked largely the same.

As we said back in 2007, serotonin may play some small, not-yet-well-understood role in depression. But if it does, it looks nothing like the simplistic “low levels of serotonin cause depression” hypothesis that was all the rage ten to twenty years ago.  READ MORE.

Of course, none of this means that depression medication can’t be helpful but only, as I reported before, that it should never be the first course of treatment for depression. Research shows that meds are best when they play a supportive role to therapy.   Meds alone do not represent the best standard of care for treating depression.  If you are on medication for depression but not currently in counseling, talk to your doctor about getting a referral to a therapist in your area, or contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about you can benefit from our Catholic-integrated, telephone counseling practice.  Let us help you find effective, faithful solutions to the tough emotional challenges you are facing.

Your Marriage IS Worth Saving–And YOU Can Save It.

When Divorce is Not an Option: How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Everlasting Love is a book for couples who want to know what it takes to get their marriage back on track. Solo spouses candivorceoption
also use the book to hea
l a marriage even if his or her mate isn’t interested in working on the relationship.

I look at the latest research that reveals 8 Habits  that healthy couples exhibit that all couples need to cultivate and show readers, step-by-step how to develop those healthy marriage habits in the their relationship. An extensive quiz helps readers figure out where to start working and lots of case examples help readers see how workable the plan is.

Here are some of the topics I address…

-Eight marriage-friendly habits that couples in healthy relationships exhibit
-How to identify those areas of your marriage that require the most attention
-What to do when you feel your spouse is out to get you
-Simple ways to integrate prayer into the life of your marriage
-How to make God part of healing your marriage
-How your mind handles feelings and emotions and what you can do about it
-Tips for keeping your conversations focused on solutions instead of emotions
-How to see each your spouse’s faults as opportunities for you to grow in holiness.

I hope you’ll find it helpful. Please spread the word. The need is great. 

Pre-Order Your Copy TODAY!

Cardinal Kasper and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Idea (and A Better Solution–If I Do Say So Myself)

In preparation for the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, many people of good will are floating a lot of different ideas about how the Church should approach various challenges like annulments. (To alexander-300x300read my own previous writings on the annulment issue, including my recommendations for improving the annulment process, go here, here, and here.)

Cardinal Kasper, former President for the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, recently waded into the debate with his own suggestion about how to handle the annulment issue.

Before I share his proposal and offer a critique of what I understand the Cardinal to be suggesting, let me say that my post, despite my cheeky headline (with apologies to Judith Viorst), is, in no way, meant to suggest that the Cardinal or anyone else who supports his idea is anything less than a truly faithful son of the Church.  I believe he, and America magazine–which recently endorsed his proposal–truly do have the best interest of couples in mind. I also think that we all agree that the annulment process, as it is currently explained and practiced, is an unmitigated disaster and is in desperate need of significant reform.   Nevertheless, their good intentions don’t mean that Cardinal Kasper’s proposal isn’t a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad, idea.

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Idea

Here is the Cardinal’s proposal, as described by America.

 If a Catholic who is divorced and civilly remarried, without a decree of nullity, “repents of his failure to fulfill what he promised before God, his partner and the church in the first marriage, and carries out as well as possible his new duties and does what he can for the Christian education of his children and has a serious desire for the sacraments, which he needs for strength in his difficult situation, can we after a time of new orientation and stabilization deny absolution and forgiveness?”

The Problem

First, the question of forgiveness is misleading.  OF COURSE we should never deny a person forgiveness.  Mercy absolutely needs to be generously extended in every way we can.  But mercy can’t be properly administered if we aren’t clear about the problem we’re being merciful about.  Cardinal Kasper’s suggestion errs because it considers the challenge of normalizing the second marriage as the primary problem but it ignores the real problem, which is that the first marriage is still valid and any attempt at a subsequent marriage is adultery.  Jesus himself says so (Matt 19:9).  No matter how sorry I am, I can’t repent of adultery by going home and committing more adultery–even if my adultery is “orientated and stabilized.”

Cheap Grace

America makes the point of saying that Cardinal Kasper’s suggestion does not challenge the indissolubility of marriage, but that’s exactly what it does!  How can you affirm the indissolubility of marriage by using confession to sweep the first marriage under the rug just to make nice about the second marriage?  That’s not mercy.  That’s cheap grace and it’s offensive on too many levels to count.   Cardinal Kasper’s idea–well-intentioned as it may be–does little but pay lip service to the indissolubility of marriage.

Pastoral Malpractice

Further, I would respectfully suggest that Cardinal Kasper makes the common and tragic error  of divorcing pastoral theology from soteriology.  As pastoral theologian, Andrew Purves argues, you simply can’t have an authentic pastoral theology without a healthy soteriological sensibility.   In other words, in the rush to be merciful, it is too easy to throw the call to transformation, to metanoia, under the bus.  In doing so, you do exactly what Pope Benedict counseled against in Caritas et Veritate, reducing love and mercy to mere sentimentality by fudging essential truths.

A Counter-Proposal

Nevertheless, the current situation is a real problem that needs to be solved.  Here is my counter-proposal (which I explain in somewhat more depth in the links I posted above).

1.  Stop requiring civil divorce before hearing an annulment case.  This is an administrative policy, not a requirement of canon law and frankly,  it imposes an undue burden on couples out of a   bureaucratically chickensh*t desire to kowtow to lawyers who worry–absurdly, I might add–about exposing the Church to alienation of affection lawsuits.  All this practice does is put couples in a bind and  make the Church look petty, redundant, and mean by forcing the couple to drag things up that should have been dealt with on the front end of the process.  Require couples to seek annulments first –before divorce–except in cases of documented domestic violence.  This will enable couples to get the Church’s help and counsel early on instead of forcing couples to handle things for themselves and then asking the Church to function like some kind of ex post facto spiritual “fixer.”

2.  Insist, no, require, that all couples who get civilly divorced without the benefit of #1 above to submit to the annulment process as soon as possible to remain in good standing with the Church.  Don’t say, “It’s up to you if you want to.”  Require it and explain the requirement as an attempt on the part of the Church to provide pastoral support to those who are struggling with the aftermath of divorce.    Again, failing to do so forces people to handle the worst aspects of divorce without any formal support or counsel from the Church. Requiring people to go through annulment asap after a civil divorce gives the Church every chance to find ways to support the faithful who are struggling through this painful time.  Plus, doing this prevents people from waiting until they start to date to begin looking into the process ex post facto  and ending up with the problem I described in the last sentence of point #1 above.

3.  Allow annulments for those who were demonstrably poorly formed in the faith or the Catholic understanding of marriage.  It is unjust to hold people accountable for promises they made in ignorance.  The Church requires consent for a sacrament, but you can’t consent to something you are ignorant of.  Instead we should be putting the responsibility where it belongs–on the Church and its ministers–not the poor couples who have no idea what they’re agreeing to because no one told them in the first place.  If the Church fails to properly form couples, let the failure of those marriages be on the Church not the couple.

I genuinely believe these solutions would be a vast improvement over the current process.  I thing that they would address Cardinal Kasper’s concerns about placing mercy at the center of the process while simultaneously respecting–in an authentic way–the indissolubility of marriage.

Of course, this is just my modest counter-proposal.  What do you think?  Post your thoughts in the comments below!

Shocking Study: Autism May Be Curable if Treated Much Earlier

Shocking new study from UC-Davis offers potential hope for a cure for autism.

Treatment at the earliest age when autism spectrum disorder is detectable — in infants as young as 6 months old — significantly reduces symptoms so that by age 3 most who received the therapyshutterstock_215227429 had neither autism nor delay, a research study has found.

Early identification crucial

Children diagnosed with autism typically receive early intervention beginning at 3 to 4 years, six to eight times later than the children who participated in the study. But the earliest symptoms of autism may be present before the child’s first birthday. Infancy is the time when children first learn social interaction and communication, so autism researchers and parents of children with the condition have been working to identify autism and begin intervention sooner.

Effective autism treatment relies on early detection so that a child can begin therapy as soon as possible, to prevent or mitigate the full onset of symptoms and sometimes severe and lifelong disability.

“We were very fortunate to have this treatment available for the affected infants identified through our study,” said Ozonoff, who directs the MIND Institute’s Infant Sibling Study, an early detection project that follows babies at risk for autism or ADHD from birth through age 3.

“We want to make referrals for early intervention as soon as there are signs that a baby might be developing autism,” Ozonoff said. “In most parts of the country and the world, services that address autism-specific developmental skills are just not available for infants this young.”

Of the seven babies in the study, four were part of the Infant Sibling Study. In addition to these four, the other three children were referred by community parents. The treatment group was compared with four other groups of children that included:

  • High-risk children with older siblings with autism who did not develop autism
  • Low-risk children who were the younger siblings of typically developing children
  • Infants who developed autism by the age of 3
  • Children who also had early autism symptoms but chose to receive treatment at an older age

Treatment based on Early Start Denver Model

The treatment was based on the highly successful Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) intervention developed by Rogers and her colleague, Geraldine Dawson, professor of psychiatry, psychology and pediatrics at Duke University in North Carolina. ESDM is usually provided in the home by trained therapists and parents during natural play and daily routines.

Parents were coached to concentrate their interactions on supporting their infants’ individualized developmental needs and interests, and embedded these practices into all of their play and caretaking, focusing on creating pleasurable social routines to increase their children’s opportunities for learning. Parents were encouraged to follow their infants’ interests and subtle cues and gauge activities in ways that optimized their child’s attention and engagement. The intervention focused on increasing:

  • Infant attention to parent faces and voices
  • Parent-child interactions that attract infants’ attention, bringing smiles and delight to both
  • Parent imitation of infant sounds and intentional actions
  • Parent use of toys to support, rather than compete with, the child’s social attention

The treatment sessions included:

  • Greeting and parent progress sharing
  • A warm-up period of parent play, followed by discussion of the activity and intervention goals
  • Discussion of a new topic, using a parent manual
  • Parents interacting in a typical daily routine with their child while fostering social engagement, communication and appropriate play, with coaching from therapists
  • Parents practicing the approach with their child across one or two additional home routines with toys or caregiving activities

Autism scores lowered by 18 to 36 months

All of the participants who received treatment were between 6 and 15 months old, lived within a one-hour drive of the MIND Institute, and came from families where English was the primary language. They had normal vision and hearing and no significant medical conditions. All received assessments prior to their participation and at multiple points throughout the study. The treatment group of seven children received scores on the Autism Observation Scale for Infants (AOSI) and the Infant-Toddler Checklist that indicated they were highly symptomatic and at risk of developing ASD. Their symptoms also elicited clinical concern from professors Rogers and Ozonoff.

The study measured the children’s and parents’ responses to the intervention. Treatment began immediately after enrollment and consisted of 12 one-hour sessions with infant and parent. It was followed by a six-week maintenance period with biweekly visits, and follow-up assessments at 24 and 36 months. The treatment sessions focused on parent-child interactions during typical daily life and provided parent coaching as needed to increase infant attention, communication, early language development, play and social engagement.

The children who received the intervention had significantly more autism symptoms at 9 months, but significantly lower autism severity scores at 18- to 36-months of age, when compared with a small group of similarly symptomatic infants who did not receive the therapy. Overall, the children who received the intervention had less impairment in terms of autism diagnosis, and language and development delays than either of the other affected groups.   READ MORE

4 Ways Religious Teens Are Healthier Than Non-Believing Kids

New research adds to the body of evidence showing that adolescents who embrace their faith have a much lower risk of (1) drug and alcohol abuse, (2) promiscuity, and (3) narcissism and an shutterstock_148364144
increased degree of (4) “prosocial” (i.e., friendly, socially conscious) behavior when compared to their non-practicing peers.

Study findings, which support a growing body of research, suggest that young people who connect to a “higher power” may feel a greater sense of purpose and are less likely to be bothered by feelings of not fitting in, said researcher Byron Johnson, Ph.D., co-director of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion.

Researchers used four measures: alcohol or drug use, craving for alcohol or drugs; prosocial behaviors (service to others); and self-centered or narcissistic behavior. Forty percent of youths who entered treatments as agnostic or atheist identified themselves as spiritual or religious at discharge, which correlated with a decreased likelihood of testing positive for alcohol and drugs.

“Daily spiritual experiences” such as prayer or worship also were associated with “a greater likelihood of sexual abstinence, increased prosocial behaviors and reduced narcissistic behaviors,” researchers wrote.  READ MORE.

If you’d like to discover ways to raise healthy, faithful kids, check out Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids and Beyond the Birds and the Bees:  Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids.

When a (Spiritual) Father Leads

A post at Catholic Exchange by my associate at the Pastoral Solutions Institute, Dave McClow.

So how does a diocese get 12,000 to consecrate themselves to Mary to deepen their friendship with Christ?  Certainly the answer is through the Holy Spirit!  But he always works through people.  It was our spiritual father that led, but in a theologically appropriate “detail,” the diocesan-wide consecration was suggested by a woman!  So it all starts with a woman in the diocese named Ida List, a youth minister who also works for Lighthouse Catholic Media who felt called to ask Bishop Rhoades about doing the consecration diocese-wide.  READ MORE

Belief Beats Genes: Study Reveals Shocking Truth About Reaching Your Goals

Simply telling people that hard work is more important than genetics causes positive changes in the brain and may make them willing to try harder, a study shows. “Giving people messages shutterstock_173393477that encourage learning and motivation may promote more efficient performance,” said the lead investigator. “In contrast, telling people that intelligence is genetically fixed may inadvertently hamper learning.”

Telling people…that hard work trumps genes causes instant changes in the brain and may make them more willing to strive for success, indicates a new study from Michigan State University.

The findings suggest the human brain is more receptive to the message that intelligence comes from the environment, regardless of whether it’s true.  And this simple message, said lead investigator Hans Schroder, may ultimately prompt us to work harder.

“Giving people messages that encourage learning and motivation may promote more efficient performance,” said Schroder,  “In contrast, telling people that intelligence is genetically fixed may inadvertently hamper learning.”  READ MORE

This study, obviously, has wide-reaching significance for our ability to both accomplish our goals in life and overcome adversity.  It is also why I argued, the other day, that attributing depression, anxiety and other emotional problems primarily to “chemical imbalances”–besides not being strictly accurate–is actually detrimental to the well-being of the person struggling with these disorders.  The fact is, as St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us, “Grace builds on nature.”  The more we believe we can accomplish, the more we tend to accomplish–even in areas where nature might lead us to think differently if we let it.

The bottom line?  Don’t be afraid to believe in the amazing things God wants to accomplish in your life.  The more you believe in God’s grace and your good effort, the more likely it is that you can become your best self in every area of your life!   If you’d like more support in achieving your goals and overcoming the challenges that stand in your way, check out the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s Tele-Counseling Practice (740-266-6461).  Let us help you discover how to get everything God wants to give you in your marriage, family, or personal/emotional life!

2 Critical Ways Healthy Relationships Help You THRIVE!

Everyone knows that having healthy relationships promote well being, but how, exactly do they do that?  A new study looks at how, exactly, relationships promote well-being. shutterstock_214596574

Yesterday I posted the 5 factors that researchers say constitute thriving;  that is, living a deeply satisfying, meaningful, healthy and abundant life.  This latest research finds that relationships promote thriving in two important ways.   According to the study…

The first important function of relationships is to support thriving through adversity, not only by buffering individuals from negative effects of stress, but also by enabling them to flourish either because of or in spite of their circumstances. “Relationships serve an important function of not simply helping people return to baseline, but helping them to thrive by exceeding prior baseline levels of functioning,” explains lead researcher Brooke Feeney.

The second important function of relationships is to support thriving in the absence of adversity by promoting full participation in life opportunities for exploration, growth, and personal achievement. Supportive relationships help people thrive in this context by enabling them to embrace and pursue opportunities that enhance positive well-being, broaden and build resources, and foster a sense of purpose and meaning in life.   Read More

So having healthy relationships promotes thriving both by providing the support and encouragement that helps people grow stronger in times of adversity and by challenging people to take advantage of enriching experiences that facilitate growth and personal development when things are going well.

Do your relationships help you thrive?  To discover more ways you can have the kinds of relationships the enable you to live a more abundant life, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute (740-266-6461 and learn more about our Catholic Tele-Counseling Practice today!