News Stories

Baby Poison

Using the television as a babysitter is a BAD idea: The more TV a 2-year-old toddler watches, the more likely it is that they will do badly at school or be unhealthy years later, at age 10.

A study of 1,300 children found that the negative effects on older children increased with every hour of TV they had watched as toddlers. The TV-raised kids even ate more junk food! 11% of the two-year-olds and 23% of four-year-olds studied watched more than the recommended maximum of 2 hours of TV a day.

BBC News quotes researcher Linda Pagani as saying, "High levels of TV consumption during this period can lead to future unhealthy habits. Although we expected the impact of early TV viewing to disappear after seven and a half years of childhood, the fact that negative outcomes remained is quite daunting."

And what happens when these kids become teenagers? Alas, we can't blame their risky behavior on TV--there are biological reasons behind the poor decisions of teenagers. But Mom is on the case!

Previous studies have found that teenagers tend to be more sensitive to rewards than either children or adults. Psychologist Russell Poldrack thinks their brain systems are what cause them to have urges towards rash behavior. He says, "Our results raise the hypothesis that these risky behaviors, such as experimenting with drugs or having unsafe sex, are actually driven by over [by] activity in the dopamine system, which appears to be the final pathway to all addictions." Dopamine is known to be important for the motivation to seek rewards. In other words, for teens, the rewards are worth any risks.

But previous research has also shown that the dopamine system in the brain is directly responsive to prediction errors, so they eventually learn, just like we all do. As Poldrack says, "Learning seems to rely on prediction error because if the world is exactly as you expected it to be, there is nothing new to learn."

Thank goodness they have Mother Love to protect them, and it turns out they can get that love over the telephone: Even if you can't get a physical hug from your Mom, a simple phone call from her can calm your frayed nerves by sparking the release of the powerful stress-quelling hormone oxytocin.

When biological anthropologist Leslie Seltzer tested a group of young girls, she found that "the children who got to interact with their mothers had virtually the same hormonal response, whether they interacted in person or over the phone." The oxytocin engendered by hearing their mother's voice washed away the stress-making hormone cortisol.

Seltzer says, "It was understood that oxytocin release in the context of social bonding usually required physical contact, but it's clear from these results that a mother's voice can have the same effect as a hug, even if they're not standing there."

The girls' levels of oxytocin, often called the "love hormone" and strongly associated with emotional bonding, rose enough to wash away the stress-making cortisol hormone.

Psychologist Seth Pollak says, "For years I've seen students leaving exams and the first thing they do is pull out their cell phone and make a call. I used to think, 'How could those over-attentive, helicopter parents encourage that?' But now? Maybe it's a quick and dirty way to feel better. It's not pop psychology or psychobabble."

So go on, give Mom a call! And give that mother of all edge websites--unknowncountry.com--a little love too: You can keep us going for less than a latte a WEEK. That's right, less than $12 gets you a 3-month subscription. So what are you waiting for? Subscribe today!

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Art credit: Dreamstime.com

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