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The NPR show All Things Considered interviewed Dr. Jean Twenge on August 7, 2017, on how smart phones are making kids unhappy.  Dr. Twenge noted that the iGen generation (a term she has coined), those born between 1995 and 2012, are unhappy in part due to smartphones.  According to Dr. Twenge, the iGen are on the brink of a major mental health crisis.  At first glance, this seems to be confined to the iGen, but it can be applied to all generations that use smartphones and social media in general.  People do not spend as much time face to face.  There is a lack of interpersonal communication.  The iGen may not know how to interact interpersonally and when confronted with the opportunity to do so, some fail miserably.  Going to college for the first time for an iGen may be a prime example of how interpersonal skills are necessary for forming lasting friendships and combating loneliness.  Moving into the dorm, having a roommate for the first time, joining a fraternity/sorority or club, interacting in the dining hall, going to class where discussion is necessary, all of these things require social skills.

It feels counterintuitive that social media would increase loneliness. But after considering it and reading Dr. Twenge’s interview, it makes complete sense.  Social media only seems to be either self-aggrandizing or negative towards others. Social media posts seem either narcissistic or bullying.  Things are said on social media that would never be stated face to face.  Things are said through texts that are misinterpreted.  Relationships are assumed because you are “friends” on Facebook.  It’s like a constant high school reunion online.

Dr. Twenge said, “Given that using social media for more hours is linked to more loneliness, and that smartphones were used by the majority of Americans around 2012, and that’s the same time loneliness increases, that’s very suspicious. You can’t absolutely prove causation, but by a bunch of different studies, there’s this connection between spending a lot of time on social media and feeling lonely.”

It’s the classic chicken or egg scenario: are people lonely because of social media use or are they lonely and turn to social media?  Either way, the end result is the same, loneliness.

A recent article from  CNN speaks to hand held screen time and speech delays.  Many of us are guilty of using iPads and iPhones as distractors for children.  Many of us use them as a distractor for ourselves.  How many times have you been out at a restaurant, having a lovely meal, and your spouse (or you) spend a significant amount of time on your phone?  Guilty as charged.

Now it seems that the devices are causing harm to young children in the form of speech delays.  A new study found “that the more time children between the ages of six months and two years spent using handheld screens such as smartphones, tablets and electronic games, the more likely they were to experience speech delays.”  This is the first study of its kind.

Parents may be versed in screen time as it pertains to computers, video games, and television.  It is of note that now handheld devices are included in this group for screen time.  It seems obvious, but nevertheless, is worth contemplating.  It may be hard to quantify handheld device screen time because it has become such a reflexive response to use them.

Perhaps we all could learn from this study and track how much time is spent on our devices.  It could be very eye opening and perhaps a bit dismaying.

By now, everyone has heard about the shooting of Philando Castile on July 6, 2016, by a police officer in St. Paul.  By now, everyone knows the outcome of the trial: Officer Yanez was acquitted of all charges on June 16, 2017.  He was also fired the same day of the acquittal.

But this blog post isn’t about that. It is about a mother who witnessed and video taped the event. It is about the child who was in the back seat of the car. It is about the child who was silent during the entire incident.  It about a child, Dae’Anna, who was in survival mode at the age of four.

Diamond Reynold’s, Dae’Anna’s mother, said that she had taught her daughter to remain calm.  In a September 10, 2016 article in the Washington Post, Eli Saslow wrote, “Diamond had taught her daughter to react that way. They had been practicing what Diamond called “survival skills” since before her daughter turned 2. Duck at the sound of gunfire. Make yourself small whenever you feel threatened. Never touch guns or needles. The more scared you are, the less noise you should make. These were some of the lessons Diamond had passed along from one generation to the next, and her daughter had learned them well.”

When I was 4, in 1968, the lessons being taught to me were something akin to:  say please and thank you, don’t talk to strangers, wash your hands, be nice to your friends, respect your elders.  The biggest risk that I remember was possible razor blades in apples at Halloween.  There was no talk of ducking to the sound of gunfire and making yourself small.  There was no talk about guns or needles.

No one should have to endure what DaeAnna and her mother, Diamond, did on that day in July.  No one should witness a loved one being shot and killed, especially a child.  I wonder what the long term effects of witnessing such a brutal shooting will have on DaeAnna?  Only time will tell.

It’s all too common to associate mass shooters with the disenfranchised individual or a terroristic act.  While these are true associations, another association is that shooters have a history of aggression and violence toward women.  A Washington Post article written by Nancy Leong about the shooting of Republicans while they practiced baseball discusses this issue and points out a number of mass shooters that had a history of violence against women.  Ms. Leong analyzes mass shootings from 2009-2016 and, “concluded that at least 54 percent of mass shootings — or 85 out of 156 incidents — involved a current or former intimate partner or family member as a victim. Other research has found that those who abuse their domestic partners are also more likely to abuse children and animals, and that 68 percent of men in a sample of batterers exhibited other “problem behaviors,” such as fights, previous arrests or drunken driving.”

Domestic violence is not taken seriously.  It is not seen as a predictor of future violent behavior.   Leong writes, “A mass shooting tends to trigger passionate arguments about gun control and mental health services; discussion of how to respond to domestic violence often doesn’t even come up.”

Until the issue of domestic violence is discussed openly and honestly without stigmatization, positive changes cannot be expected to occur.

There have been many myths regarding fatherhood throughout time.  In an Washington Post article written by Paul Raeburn, he speaks about a Supreme Court decision that , “struck down a law that treated unwed mothers and fathers differently when granting citizenship to their children born outside the United States — the requirements for fathers were stiffer. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, authoring a majority opinion joined by five other justices, wrote that the law was based on gender stereotypes that violated the notion of equal protection. The law implied “that unwed fathers care little about, indeed are strangers to, their children.”

In light of this Supreme Court decision, Raeburn writes about the myths of fatherhood that seem to endure.  Until we can get past the myths, fathers will never gain ground on being treated as equals when it comes to parenting.

Dr. Alissa Sherry recently testified in the Alex Jones and Kelly Jones custody case. Her testimony was highlighted on a number of national and local news media sites including the Huffington Post, The Daily Beast , and the Austin American Statesman . High profile custody cases can be particularly difficult and expensive cases to litigate. They tend to draw a lot of media attention as has been seen in the custody battle of celebrities like Brad Pitt and Angelina JolieAlec Baldwin and Kim Basinger,  and Charlie Sheen and Brooke Mueller/Denise Richards.

However, while such cases draw a lot of public interest, many of the issues found in high profile custody cases are similar to custody cases that do not garner such media attention.  Issues like substance abuse, mental instability, child abuse, and parental alienation are common themes in high conflict custody battles. At the end of the day, celebrities are not much different than the average person who finds themselves embroiled in one of these family law matters. Yet, the public interest in these cases can sensationalize their stories to make their situations sound unique to only the rich and famous.

Dr. Alissa Sherry will be part of a panel presentation in Traverse City, Michigan discussing the legal and psychological issues surrounding the concept of parental alienation. It is being hosted by the Grand Traverse-Leelanau-Antrim Bar Association and will be held on May 24, 2017 at 11am.

She will be presenting along with Judge Melanie D. Stanton, Probate/Family Division Judge-Grand Traverse, and attorney Ashish S. Joshi, Ann Arbor, MI.  It is an honor for Dr. Sherry to be on the panel with these two accomplished professionals.

In an effort to reduce our carbon footprint, the Legal Consensus team will be working remotely at times. Because we are working remotely we have decided to downsize the physical space. You can find us at 4000 Medical Parkway, Suite 205, Austin, TX 78756. We are located near Central Market and have plenty of parking. We are also conveniently located near the 803 Metro Rapid Bus route. Here is a great article if you are interested in reducing your carbon footprint.

25+ Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

This month, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson has faced some tough scrutiny over her decision to to jail a mentally ill rape victim in an effort to insure her testimony against her rapist. Three issues come to mind when considering the facts surrounding this decision. First, the fact that jail appears to be the only available option to keep an innocent, vulnerable individual safe should be a real concern for everyone in society. Second, there appears to be a fundamental lack of empathy by the DA’s office regarding the victim in this case. It is possible the victim’s mental illness is at the core of lack of empathy, as fear and misunderstanding of mental illness tend to cause people to objectify people with mental illness and treat them less humanely. Finally, despite the post-Cosby conversation about rape victims, there remains a suspiciousness and mistrust of rape victims’ intentions and motives. Just last week, Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky asked for a transfer from criminal to civil court duty following outcries by activists who thought the 6-month sentence he imposed on a rapist was too lenient. The victim in this case was unconscious and the rapist was chased down by observers indicating that he knew what he was doing was wrong. In each of these cases, pinpointing where the disconnect lies in the institutional understanding of the rape victim experience is multifaceted, culturally, and historically informed. However, the media’s efforts to bring these stories to the public for scrutiny is a step in the right direction.

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