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The Courage, Timing, & Privilege of Speaking Out

The Misinformation, Smear Campaigns, and Harassment of Family Court Personnel in the Age of Social Media and Hate

I am moved to post the following account of recent events in which my professional ethics were called into question by a reporter, who was likely influenced by angry, vindictive individuals who did not get their desired outcome in family court.  Forensic psychologists who conduct evaluations for family court are aware that some examinees suffer from severe personality disorders. Hallmarks of such personality profiles are deficits in judgment and impulse control, as well as the externalization of blame. As a result, it is common for these individuals to lash out at the forensic professionals who evaluate them, as well as judges, other mental health professionals, opposing counsel, and sometimes even their own attorneys.

In my case, a number of these individuals began to organize about 7 years ago and start a campaign of attacks on me through social media, frivolous lawsuits and board complaints, and outlandish and paranoid accusations of criminal conspiracies in an attempt to discredit me by whatever means possible. An individual I had never met, motivated by these groups’ defamatory social media statements, wrote someone needed to “teach that cunt a lesson,” one of the men associated with this group had been overheard to say I “should be raped,” and still another women suggested a murder-suicide might be a way to rid the world of me.

My mistake when this harassment began was to ignore these angry voices. Having conducted their psychological evaluations, I understand their behaviors match a certain psychological profile and my desire has been to stay above the fray and focus on the needs of the court so they can perform their primary function: protecting children.

However, when a seasoned, but non-science and non-legal-oriented, journalist, freelancing for an organization I admire and support, The Marshall Project, came to me with a narrative and point of view seemingly developed over time by listening to these individuals, I realized, belatedly, the importance of making sure that she and all who look at our nation’s family court system with a much-needed critical eye, understand the realities of working in that system, particularly with high conflict families.

Here, then, is my story – not unique, but one I’ve been living through for some time.

Dr. Alissa Sherry

 

First, let me explain for the non-clinicians who read this, what I do. I am a psychologist who works in the court system, often referred to as a forensic psychologist. My job is to research and write honest, in-depth, scientific analyses of individual personalities using objective methodology, in accordance with my professional ethics, training, and 15 years of experience.

I am frequently appointed by the court to analyze high conflict families. High conflict families are enormously complex and are most simply understood as families who struggle to handle minor disputes in a civilized manner. Their children are often put, sometimes intentionally, in the middle of these battles and judges seek my advice in making decisions about the best interests of these children. My responsibility is to the court and to the vulnerable children to whom the judges have a legal duty to protect. I take that responsibility very seriously. I have an ethical and legal duty to follow the evidence and not hold back on what I find.

Although every one of my examinees signs an acknowledgement that they understand my duty to the court, many are very upset when their disruptive, angry, vindictive behavior is exposed. I get it. I get it not only because I have conducted hundreds of evaluations on these types of personalities, but also because I published research about personality disorders for much of my academic career. In extreme cases, the lack of insight and externalization of blame can be quite profound.

I am not the only professional to have been the target of these hate groups. Across the country, these parents have formed so-called “watchdog advocacy groups” who claim to be fighting for family court reform, but whose sole purpose is actually to defame, harass, stalk and attempt to ruin the careers of court appointed evaluators in retaliation for having been held accountable for their behavior affecting their children. Many evaluators have chosen to abandon the field, decimating the resources at the court’s disposal. This outcome highlights the inherent hypocrisy of these groups: it is not reform they are after, but to rid the system of the very scientifically driven approaches that brought their insidious child abuse into the light of day.

The reporter I mentioned above was apparently influenced into thinking that I do not believe victims of domestic violence,  and instead, seek to remove children from domestic violence victims and place them with domestic violence perpetrators. Because this reporter has no experience reporting on the intricacies of high conflict family law, she was unaware that some of these parents weaponize allegations of domestic violence, as well as allegations of the physical and sexual abuse of their children, to disparage a loving parent, and distract from their own agenda to insert a wedge between that loving parent and his/her access to their children. Because this reporter has no experience with me, she was also unaware of the numerous cases in which I have given testimony to the court supporting the limiting of contact between a child and an abusive parent when such allegations have been factually supported and/or substantiated. This reporter had no way of knowing that some of these offenders are members of these same “advocacy” groups. I suppose it is much more salacious to believe I am a “child molester by-proxy”, a made-up term used by these groups to suggest I intentionally and maliciously place children with child molesters, and in this case, spouse abusers, towards what end, I cannot begin to fathom.

What this reporter, and most people do not know about me, is that I spent a year of postdoctoral fellowship working with victims of domestic violence. I conducted research for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) research on domestic violence and PTSD in inner-city Atlanta at the Emory University School of Medicine. I did this work under the supervision of Nadine Kaslow, Ph.D., ABPP, past president of the American Psychological Association, just one of her dozens of professional accomplishments. When I see domestic violence, whether it is physical, emotional, financial, or sexual, I take it extremely seriously, as do most forensic psychologists.

The #MeToo movement, like many social movements aimed at rooting out injustice, had to make an overcorrection before it found its rightful tone. It has moved from “Believe women” to “Listen to women.” This rightful tone is an acknowledgement of the many factors affecting allegations that prove not to be true, including unintentional and honest misremembering and misidentification. Moreover, this realigned understanding of abuse and assault claims acknowledges the extremely small percentage of intentional false allegations motivated by well-understood, vindictive, and even psychopathic personalities that many professionals have become familiar with in their work as forensic psychologists. To think these personalities exist only in a prison population is a misinformed understanding of not only complex maladaptive personalities, but also of our criminal justice system and the factors that contribute to incarceration. The reality is, these personalities are quite common in high conflict family law.

So, I do listen to women. As a feminist and former Associate Director for the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, I am not only extremely attentive to women’s issues, but I am also aware of research that shows fathers are just as capable as mothers of providing the love, care and healthy attachment a child needs to thrive. That is why I listen to men, too. If we really want to talk about gender equality, we must also have the conversation that acknowledges that women, too, can be perpetrators of domestic violence and that men have their own social barriers to reporting it. To “believe,” based solely on the sex of the accuser, does not further gender equality one inch forward.

Furthermore, if we really want to talk about domestic violence, we must talk also about its synonymity with power, domination, and control. That maladaptive need for power is not just sought by men, it is also sought by women. It looks different, it sounds different, but it exists and is alive and well in high conflict family law often in the form of emotionally manipulating a child to reject the other parent. While this type of manipulation is not relegated solely to women, it is a unique way women are able to exercise the power, domination, and control synonymous with domestic violence, a fact acknowledged by peer reviewed psychological literature.

This is not the first reporter to have approached me about one of these cases. I tell all reporters I cannot talk to them without a release of information signed by the examinee and usually the reporter goes away, I assume because their informant realizes that once the reporter has access to the entire story, no story will be written. I did the same in this case and it took the reporter 18 months to get a release signed –  18 months during which time I can only assume the informant was shaping and reshaping her narrative to the reporter with no threat of being discredited. When the reporter finally reached out to me after the release was signed, I was asked a series of “fact checking” questions that were full of misinformation and distortion. The reporter would not allow me to speak off the record and would not allow me to be any kind of source for her story. It was clear, the only way I could affect any chance of an accurate narrative about me making its way into the piece was to risk being quoted and those quotes being completely taken out of context to support a narrative the reporter had invested 18 months of time and work into.

Upon careful consideration and the advice of several trusted professionals, I decided to speak anyway. It was time for this harassment, not only of me, but of my profession and of the court, to be confronted and if it meant I was going to be the sacrificial lamb, so be it. The Marshall Project’s mission statement says it “seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system.” It is an important and timely mission and it is imperative their journalists understand the contextual intricacies of the complicated legal matters they cover. This is why I have decided to speak out here, so journalists have access to resources other than homemade Youtube videos made to look like some kind of expose’ talk show. Any voyeur can search my name online and find all kinds of defamatory statements about me. What the reader may not realize is because of my confidentiality obligations, I am not permitted to defend myself online or in any public forum against the specific defamatory statements made by the people I have evaluated. Given that, I understand how a biased, but ill-informed judgment could be formed about me.

Research has found that less than 1% of all custody litigants end up in an office like mine. As conflict goes, they are the highest of the high conflict cases. In addition, they can only get to my office with a court appointment from a judge, meaning the court has seen enough to know that the problems causing this conflict are likely being driven by some kind of mental illness and are likely harming the children involved. This has led some of these hate groups masquerading as advocacy groups to make outlandish claims of racketeering (a criminal term I had to look up the first time I saw my name associated with it), suggesting that either judges receive financial kickbacks from evaluators, or evaluators receive them from judges or something along those lines. Frankly, I do not fully understand the accusation because its foundation is so blatantly paranoid and cognitively disjointed. However, it is notable that these organizations believe this kickback scheme is so pervasive, it is operating all across the country, not just with me and not just in Travis County, Texas. It would be laughable if it weren’t aimed at a system that exists to protect the most vulnerable members of our society.

There is little disagreement that family court systems around the country lack the resources to handle the volume of cases judges are assigned. The courts, overwhelmed as they are, often have neither the time, nor the training to make effective decisions in some of these high conflict cases without court appointed forensic experts. Ironically, these high conflict cases often have numerous court hearings, contributing to the court’s already overwhelmed docket. It is not a perfect system, but it is the system we have. If legislators had the will to commit resources to the family court system, I have no doubt we could create a better one, but the limitations of our current system rarely lie in the hard working efforts of our judges who commit their lives and careers to public service or their court appointed experts who literally risk their lives and safety to help children caught in the middle of these toxic families.

High conflict family law is unlike anything the average person, or the average journalist can fathom. As part of my work, I have seen women intentionally coach small children to accuse their fathers of sexual abuse, a crime that could put a father in prison for a minimum of 25 years in the state of Texas. I have seen men use their wealth to retain and conflict out every high conflict lawyer in town in order to handicap their wives and force them into unfair and demeaning settlements. I have seen evidence of mail tampering; false police statements; abducting and hiding children in foreign countries; faking a beloved family member’s death; secretly terminating Medicaid services for a profoundly special needs child; use of recording devices, tracking devices, and key stroke devices to surveil the ex-partner or child; badgering a child into making false statements; making a middle school aged child so terrified of a parent the child wet himself in open court while talking to the judge; manipulating children to take the stand, just feet away, against a parent who loves them; cyberstalking; getting unethical lawyers to intimidate expert witnesses into recanting their opinions; self-inflicting wounds to set up an ex-partner for assault; evidence tampering; creating fake Craigslist ads to suggest an ex was soliciting sex online; tampering with home surveillance footage to make it look like a mother had neglected her infant for 12 straight hours; using religion to manipulate children to fear the other parent; and trapping unsuspecting men into marriage by lying about birth control or intentionally getting pregnant. Domestic violence isn’t just men beating their wives. The behaviors I have described above are those of both men and women, and they are every bit a part of a campaign of domestic violence and terrorism against an ex-partner.

The type of personalities that do these sorts of things do not hesitate to co-opt the narratives of actual domestic violence or sexual abuse survivors in order to manipulate others’ impressions of them, including the impressions of journalists. By and large, the majority of these cases involve socio-economically advantaged, largely (but not exclusively) white families who have had multiple opportunities to have their cases heard by judges and in some cases, a jury of their peers[1]. They spend tens of thousands and sometimes millions of dollars on litigation fees. I am unaware of any case where a parent in one of these privileged cases has had their due process rights infringed upon, meaning, they had every opportunity to bring whatever evidence or witness to testify as a part of that process. Given those facts, circulating conspiracy theories about racketeering and out of control custody evaluators is about the only play they have left.

As I said above, the biggest mistake I made in this process was failing to address the harassment when it started. I just wanted to focus my energy on the children and families that needed my undivided attention and not get pulled into this ridiculous circus. But I now realize that ignoring this cancer actually did the opposite. I failed to do my part to raise awareness of these terrorist groups that, without push back, cripple our family court system. However, I am transitioning out of court appointments to focus on other aspects of my career and I find myself at a time in my career and at an age where it feels more important to speak out on behalf of others, than just defend myself.

If a journalist needs any corroborating evidence of my reputation and work ethic, I might point her or him to the more than 200 court appointments, comprising over 400 forensic psychological evaluations, I have been asked to conduct by judges in Central Texas. I would also point to the other 150 cases where attorneys have hired me to consult with them on these complex family issues, as well as the fact that no disciplinary action has ever been taken by my board against me, despite these “advocacy groups’” repeated efforts to slander me to my board at public hearings and other avenues afforded to them by law. It should be noted licensing boards exist to protect the public against the unethical conduct of professionals. They do not exist to protect me or other psychologists. These facts alone should speak for themselves with regard to my reputation, integrity, and professionalism.

But for now, I am speaking out to protect other court appointed professionals who do this work and to protect a system that has, on the whole, protected and helped thousands of children entrusted to its care and judgment. My silence has perpetuated the problem and for that, I apologize to my family law community. But I will be silent no more. I will be writing more about this issue in the months to come in order to do my part to educate the public, and to protect other forensic evaluators who continue to be brave enough to do this work, the ethical attorneys who work to protect the children and ex-partners from these individuals, as well as the judges who must make incredibly difficult decisions on a daily basis about child welfare and safety. I welcome any constructive questions or comments from our community that you might want me to address as I continue to write about these important child welfare issues.

[1] Texas is the only state that allows jury trials in child custody litigation.

Reporting Sexual Assault: Combating Stigma and Empowering Survivors

The #MeToo movement has led to an increase in the reporting of prior sexual assault and harassment. Many of these reports have been for assaults occurring years earlier. Time lapses between offense and report vary, but when victims do report, they rarely report to law enforcement. Connie Chung’s recent revelation of an assault that took place 50 years ago is an example of this. The reasons sexual assault victims choose not to report or delay their reporting are numerous, but include victim blaming, shame, guilt, exposure of their private life, not wanting to hurt their family or the perpetrator’s family, fear of retaliation, denial, and many more. The increased reporting of sexual assault has shed some light on what professionals refer to as the dark figure of crime, or the crimes that are unreported to authorities. The decision to report a sexual assault should be one made by the victim. However, as we have seen time and time again, delays in reporting are often used by perpetrators “prove” it never happened, casting doubt on the victim’s credibility, reinforcing the reasons the victim stayed silent, and further contributing to sexual assault’s place as the dark figure of crime.

The purpose of this post is to help victims of sexual assault combat this societal bias and provide supportive suggestions to sexual assault victims. Perhaps one might be found useful, perhaps several, but as the pervasiveness of sexual assault has become more apparent, useful tools that give power to the victim’s experience are needed.

  • Considering documenting the incident as soon as possible in a way that will be seen as credible later. This might be something as easy as sending an email to oneself or to a trusted friend. Such a statement could also be signed in front of a notary without fear of it being reported. Be as objective, but as descriptive as possible in the documentation including time, place, descriptions of clothing and behavior, and context (date, acquaintance, etc).
  • Save important physical evidence such as the clothes you wore, phone records, GPS information, or photographs with time stamps of any injuries.
  • Tell a trusted friend and ask the friend to document the event for you.
  • Confide in a doctor, therapist, lawyer, or other professional. Documentation in a medical record is seen as more reliable than the reports of friends or relatives and professionals are required by law to keep your records confidential until you give them permission to release them. Ask the professional to include specific details of your report.
  • Consider calling a rape/sexual support hotline. They can provide information on services and support for victims of sexual assault. Some organizations offer victims support as they navigate the legal system and decide on the best course of action such as whether to submit to a physical forensic evaluation or report the incident to law enforcement. The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) has operators available 24-hours a day and also provide a live chatfeature as well.
  • Be familiar with local resources and make sure your minor children, both boys and girls, have this information available as often children are afraid to even tell their parents when they have been assaulted, particularly if the perpetrator is someone known to them, a romantic partner, or if the teen was doing something a parent would not have otherwise approved of. For example, Austin is fortunate to have the SAFE Alliancewith the 24-hour hotline 512-267-SAFE (7233). The SAFE Alliance provides advice, support, and even a free confidential medical forensic exam at SAFE’s Eloise’s House for survivors of sexual assault.
  • Find an online chat room or Facebook group to get support from others who have been through the same experience.

For too long, the norm has been to stay silent and suffer alone. Victims may not always feel like it is in their best interest to report an incident immediately following. However, a sense of empowerment can strike at any time in a victim’s life and having the information you need when that moment comes can be comforting when you are ready.

Expert Testimony and The Daubert Standard of Admissibility

Expert opinions must meet the Daubert Standard of admissibility in Texas courtrooms. As such, opinions must be scientifically valid and relevant to the facts of the case. When considering whether expert opinion meets the Daubert standard, a judge must consider whether the technique or method presented has been tested and subjected to peer review, the rate of error involved in the scientific methodology, and the general acceptance among the scientific community. The “Daubert Standard” stems from the 1993 case of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals. In that case, it was argued that an anti-nausea drug, Bendectin, caused birth defects and limb deformities in the infants of women who consumed the drug while pregnant. Various experts, both scientists and doctors, testified about the science behind these limb abnormalities secondary to Bendectin exposure.

Judges have wide discretion in the admissibility of expert testimony, particularly in family law. Prior to the Daubert Standard was the Frye Standard. Many states still use Frye as the standard for admissibility. Frye focused on science that was generally accepted by the scientific community. However, Daubert refines Frye and raises the standard by requiring evidence of reliability, validity, and error rate – important concepts in scientific research.

Most therapeutic interventions do not meet the Daubert Standard. That does not mean that such therapy approaches are not effective for therapy patients. What it does mean is that therapy is a process oriented-exercise, but not prediction-oriented. The nature of admissible, forensic social science evidence suggests that the method of scientific analysis can predict human behavior on some level. It is inappropriate for therapists engaged in treatment with a client to opine about custody, visitation, or proximate cause of injury (as examples) for those clients. If an attorney suspects a therapist may be called to give such opinions without having conducted a forensic assessment, the attorney should consider a Daubert challenge. During a Daubert challenge, the attorney should press an expert witness to provide the court with the information needed to satisfy the prongs of the Daubert Standard (peer review, error rate, and general acceptance). This does not mean that therapists cannot provide valuable evidence. If an attorney wishes to call a therapist as an expert, it is important to keep in mind that therapists are technically “fact” witnesses, not expert witnesses. They can testify to diagnosis, prognosis, treatment plans, treatment compliance, and what was discussed in sessions. What is inappropriate with regards to the Daubert Standard is any predictions that a therapist might make from this information.

In family law, judges often err on the side of hearing as much information as possible in order to assess the best interest of a child, who are some of our most vulnerable citizens. However, as an attorney, being clear about what constitutes scientific admissibility can help you know what witnesses to call, what to ask them, and how to prepare for therapist testimony that might go beyond what the law intended.

What Cognitive Science Can Tell Us about Jury Decision Making

What Cognitive Science Can Tell Us about Jury Decision Making

July 20, 2018, Live Webcast

Texas MCLE Course Number: 174021850 (up to 1.00 hr)

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Presented by: UT Law CLE

Visit them on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook

A studio webcast that I did earlier this month discussed how jury decision-making may be impacted by both unconscious biases and cognitive science.

What makes a bigger impression on a jury—your opening statement or closing argument? What causes jurors to conform to the pressures of others and can voir dire mitigate these effects? How do leading questions affect jury verdicts?

The 1-hour recording will be available here with the opportunity to earn CLE credit in TX and CA!

Cognitive Science is the interdisciplinary study of the mind. In psychology, it is the study of attention, language use, memory, perception, problem solving, reasoning and thinking. A major area of Cognitive Science is the area of bias. We are naturally drawn to details that confirm our own existing beliefs and, similar to that, we tend to not notice the flaws in ourselves as easily as we notice the flaws in other people.

We will also fill in the gaps of our understanding if we don’t feel like we have enough information or meaning to make a decision. This is where relying on stereotypes comes in to play – an easy, but inaccurate way, to understand a group you may otherwise be unfamiliar with. We can unintentionally think favorable towards groups and people we are familiar with versus those we might not understand or know. Both of these tendencies have a great deal to do with the underlying biases around racism, sexism, homophobia, and similar biases against other groups.

Our memory has limits. It is changeable over time because we edit and reinforce some memories after the fact. We tend to
discard specific information in order to form generalities. Knowing that everyone’s brain operates this way, it is up to the litigator to do some of this work for the jury and frame your case in ways they will digest. Knowing jury members will edit and
reinforce memories after they have heard them, the power of repetition of certain key facts is important.

For more on the effects of Cognitive Science, stay tuned for our published recording on this discussion.

How Psychology Can Expand the #MeToo Movement

With the #MeToo movement still at the forefront of today’s conversation, psychology can help further the movement and inspire change, especially with the topic of victim blaming and who is more likely to take part in this.

metoo

Victim blaming as defined here is “a devaluing act where the victim of a crime, an accident, or any type of abusive maltreatment is held as wholly or partially responsible for the wrongful conduct committed against them.

Many women and men speaking out about their rape experience face the backlash of victim blaming, which can deter others from speaking their own truths. Psychologists have done a variety of experiments testing victim blaming and the situations and people who are most likely to conform to this belief.

One fairly recent study conducted by Amy Rose Grubb and Julie Harrower found that the gender of the observer, the type of rape, and perceived similarity to the victim play major roles in victim blaming in relation to rape cases.

In this particular study, it found that males are much more likely to victim blame in relation to their female counterpart. Making men more aware of the detriments of rape on victims and the abundance of problems it causes, which can include self-harm, STI’s, substance abuse, dissociation, eating disorders, unwanted pregnancy, sleep disorders, suicide, depression, flash blacks, and PTSD, can shed light on the aftermath of rape and minimize victim blaming from occurring.

Rape is categorized into acquaintance rape and stranger rape, in which victim blaming is much more prevalent in one than the other. It is much more likely that a victim will be blamed if they know their attacker, which is considered date rape, rather than a stranger being the attacker where the attacker is almost always to blame.

To change this major problem, society as a whole needs to know that many victims do not speak out if they were raped by someone they know because of victim blaming, which leads to the majority of unknown rape cases and leaves attackers unpunished.

Rape is rape no matter if the attacker is known by the victim or not. No means no. These victims should not have to hide in fear of society judging or blaming them. The last factor that determines victim blaming is perceived similarity to the victim. This means that a person who sees many similarities, not just gender, is less likely to blame the victim because they want to minimize their chances of something like that happening to them. They defer the blame as a way of protecting themselves rather than actually thinking that the victim is not to blame. It’s a harmful way to think and should be noted.

Even though the victim is not being blamed by people similar to oneself, others may not feel the same and still blame the victim. People should think more about the victim as an individual person who has been harmed through a traumatic event therefore shouldn’t carry any blame rather than trying to calm one’s own conscience by deflecting the blame.

Overall, this shows that psychology can help to benefit the #MeToo movement and spread valuable information to society, which hopefully mitigates victim blaming by significantly reducing rape as a whole.

Bree Bahn

Intern and guest writer

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Social Media Use Linked to Increased Loneliness for iGen

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.

Link between hand held screen time and speech delays

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.

How much can a child endure?

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.

Mass shooters and domestic violence:  History and statistics do not lie

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.