Consider a “Digital Diet” for Your Family


As tablets, smartphones and other personal technology devices play an increasingly dominant role in all of our lives, finding a good balance seems to be a tricky endeavor in many American households. Both parents and teens log more than five hours a day on their devices (outside of work and school), often during family dinners and while spending leisure time together. Many people also use these devices for hours each day with earbuds or headphones.

Finding balance is critical for many reasons, including children’s communication health. Dedicated time for verbal exchange— listening, talking, reading and interacting face-to-face —is essential for young children’s speech and language development. It is critical that time spent alone with devices (even on educational apps!) does not take away from time for interaction with parents. This “talk time” is also a precursor for reading, academic and social success. The benefits extend to older children as well, whose brains are still developing throughout the teen years, as well as family relationships.

Too much time on digital devices doesn’t just negatively impact communication health and academic success, it also has an effect on physical health. There has been a tremendous increase in hearing loss among children recently. Noise-induced hearing loss is a preventable problem, but once it occurs, it is irreversible. Earbud and headphone misuse can be especially problematic.

May is Better Hearing & Speech Month, a great time for technology-dependent families to introduce some better habits. (The exception being for children who require assistive devices to communicate.) A recent survey from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) showed that once parents and teens learn more about the potential negative effects of tech overuse, they are willing to change their habits. Being mindful of balance is also key as we approach summer, when increased leisure time often means even more tech time for kids. Here are some “digital diet” tips from ASHA:

  1. Create a family technology plan—together. An agreed-upon set of rules is a good way to keep everyone on track. Schedule regular check-ins to determine whether you’re actually substituting tech time with more quality time together. Surprisingly, most teens whose parents set rules agree that the rules are fair—and parents report they work.
  1. Designate tech-free zones in the home. The kitchen, bedrooms, the family room…there may be one place in your home that you can keep devices out of, as a general rule. This helps with the temptation to constantly check your phone or jump at the sound of every incoming notification. It makes a difference to even have 30 minutes free from tech distractions.
  1. Talk instead of text, when possible. Texting offers tremendous convenience for parents to get in touch with their kids. But texting is not a replacement for verbal exchange. Tone, facial expressions and other nonverbal signals are just some of the ways in which texting falls short (and no, emojis don’t do the trick). Try to avoid texting your child when both of you are at home, as a start.
  1. Resist overreliance on technology to pacify boredom. Technology is an easy way to keep even the youngest children entertained. However, the best opportunities for conversation, learning and bonding are often found in situations that may be viewed as boring, such as while running errands or on a long car trip.
  1. Always practice safe listening, especially when using earbuds or headphones. Teach kids to keep the volume down (a good guide is half volume) and to take listening breaks. These are messages kids need to “hear” from their parents.

Remember, if you ever have concerns about your child’s hearing or speech/language skills, consult a certified audiologist or speech-language pathologist.

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Jaynee A. Handelsman, PhD, CCC-A is a pediatric audiologist and the 2016 ASHA president.


3 Steps Forward for Our Children’s Mental Health

shutterstock_75904627It is always an exciting time when children head back to school. They are excited to see old friends and make new ones, and everyone loves getting a fresh start with a clean slate each year.

I raised four children myself and often think back to the day my younger daughter began first grade. I remember how worried she was about going off to school that first day. I asked her why she was so upset, and she cried, “Because I don’t know how to do any first-grade work yet!” I said, “But that’s what first grade is for—to teach you how to do first-grade work.” “Oh,” she replied after a pause, and headed out the door to catch the bus.

Most of our children’s anxieties are just that easy to resolve. They are real but relatively minor, and it takes a little listening, a reassuring response and some modest encouragement to get them out the door and on their way.

At Mental Health America, we can help. We offer a set of Back-to-School surveys, fact sheets, tips and other materials that can help children and parents navigate almost any challenge that they will face.

But sometimes, we need more than that. My son was starting fifth grade the same day my daughter started first, and he eagerly and happily left the house, looking forward to the school year. Despite his enthusiasm and optimism, he began displaying serious signs of mental illness before the school year was over. He attempted suicide, was then hospitalized and eventually diagnosed with a serious mental illness. It’s not really possible to predict which child will have a serious mental health problem and which one will turn out to have nothing more than a passing concern. We hope any issues our children will face will be minor, but it’s a good idea to plan our strategy in case they turn out not to be.

Let’s take three steps forward to give all of our children the best chance for success in school and in life:

  1. Treat mental health problems as seriously as we do every other health issue. Believe it or not, half of all mental illnesses emerge by the age of 14. These are not small anxieties that pass on their own, like the one that my six-year-old daughter had. These can be significant illnesses, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and even psychosis. It is critical that you respond to mental health concerns quickly because that can make all the difference in restoring a child’s health and well-being.
  1. Understand that “mental illness” is not just one condition. Identifying the correct condition early is the key to developing the right plan to treat it. At Mental Health America, we have created a website,, with simple, easy-to-use screening tools to determine whether that low mood is a sign of depression, or that worry over homework and grades is a sign of anxiety, or whether changes in sleeping, bathing and eating patterns is a sign of something more serious. These tools won’t make a diagnosis for you, but they will give you either the reassurance that what you’re experiencing is typical or the information you need to follow up with professionals.
  1. Follow-up. Parents and teachers should talk together about how to meet the needs of children who do experience or live with mental illnesses, including whether special education or other services might be necessary. And they should always include a child’s clinicians in any discussion of how to meet those child’s needs in school and at home.

This made all the difference for me when my son was in the fifth grade. Despite all he went through, he managed to get through the school year successfully. As for my daughter, she aced first grade and was all set for second grade the following year!

Paul Gionfriddo is president and CEO of Mental Health America. He is also the author of “Losing Tim: How Our Health and Education Systems Failed My Son with Schizophrenia” (Columbia University Press, 2014).

For Children Living with Diabetes, Heading Back to School is a Team Effort

iStock_000008132646XSmallIt’s back to school month and everyone is gearing up for another school year by shopping for clothes and school supplies. However, for parents of children living with diabetes, back to school season involves more in-depth planning with school officials. Diabetes management is 24/7—it doesn’t take a break when a child boards the school bus. Federal and state laws help to ensure these needs are met at school and school personnel must be prepared.

After my daughter, Devin, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, I made it my job to advocate on behalf of her and all children with diabetes. In 1999, the first successful school diabetes care legislation passed in the Virginia General Assembly, which resulted in improved standards of care for students with diabetes in many other states. Now, 30 states meet the American Diabetes Association’s requirement of our three Safe at School tenets:

  • School staff administering insulin
  • School staff managing glucagon
  • Capable students being allowed to self-manage their diabetes

Since going through school and college, Devin has become an advocate of her own. She recently began working as a registered nurse (RN) at a Northern Virginia hospital. After her own experience in the school system, she was inspired to become a role model for others affected by diabetes. Her school nurses set a great example and were knowledgeable about her diabetes, understood all her needs and were supportive of self-management at an early grade.

Devin understands that supporting someone with diabetes is a team effort which includes parents, teachers and nurses. Thankfully, the American Diabetes Association offers training resources for non-medical school staff.

To give these parents peace of mind knowing their children’s diabetes needs are met, the Association started the Safe at School campaign. Launched in 2004, the campaign helps parents ensure their children with diabetes are medically safe in the classroom and during school activities. The program also offers guidance for overcoming obstacles and discrimination when things don’t go according to plan.

Things have come a long way since Devin was a little girl. With proper planning and resources, children with diabetes can take advantage of all of the same school opportunities as their peers.

As you prepare your child with diabetes for the new school year, think about the following:

  • Plan out care before school starts
  • Approach the school with the spirit of cooperation
  • Make sure there are plenty of diabetes supplies available
  • Confirm all contact information with school administration
  • Update your child’s 504 plan (templates available in English and Spanish)

If you’re interested in learning about various state legislations concerning children with diabetes and schools, read about Safe at School victories. You can also help or stay informed by becoming a diabetes advocate to help fight for your child’s rights.

For more info about the Safe at School campaign and to learn how you can help keep your child with diabetes medically safe, visit or call 1 (800)-DIABETES for help.

Crystal Jackson is the mother of a daughter, Devin, living with Type 1 diabetes and is the director of Safe at School for the American Diabetes Association. She is also a former PTA officer with Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia.

Going to the Pool or Beach? Water Safety Tips for You and Your Family

shutterstock_65179048Summer is almost here and a trip to the beach, lake or pool is always fun for everyone. Even if your child knows how to swim, there are hazards associated with pools, spas, lakes and the beach. A child can drown quickly and quietly. Take some steps to keep it safe.

Drowning occurs both when adults are not present—when a child has left the house unnoticed and slipped into the pool and when an adult is present but has been distracted momentarily. If a child is missing, look for him or her in the pool or spa first.

  1. Never leave a child unattended in a pool or spa and always watch your child when he or she is in or near water. Never take for granted that someone is watching a child. Even if you are at the beach or a pool with friends or a caregiver, be sure to always watch your child near or in water.
  2. Be sure there is constant supervision planned when your child is visiting someone else’s pool. Find out who is supervising and be sure someone will be there at all times. Whether you are at your own home, visiting a home with a pool or spa, or your child is taking a trip to a beach with another family, be sure there is planned supervision at all times.Beware of rip currents. These currents don’t pull you under the water; they actually carry you out so far you can’t back. They can occur at any beach with waves, even the Great Lakes. You won’t be able to see or identify rip currents yourself, so talk to the Lifeguard on duty and check for posted signs and warning flags at the beach. Before you leave for the beach check the latest National Weather Service forecast for local beach conditions.
  3. Select a safe area to swim. If you are swimming in a lake or river, find an area that has good water quality and safe natural conditions. Avoid murky water, plant life, strong currents, and unexpected drop offs.
  4. If you have a choice, choose a beach, pool, or lake that is manned by trained lifeguards. Even if trained lifeguards are present, you still need to remain vigilant and at your child’s side
  5. A flotation device is not necessarily a safety device. In fact, some flotation devices can give you and your child a false sense of security. Your child should only wear a life vest that is U.S. Coast-Guard approved. Inflatable devices such as rafts and toys can lose air, shift positions, or slip out from underneath your child. Remember, a flotation device is not a substitute for your close supervision.
  6. Keep children away from pool drains, pipes and other openings to avoid entrapments. Make sure the pool, spa or hot tub you are using has drains with compliant drain covers.  All drains should have anti-entrapment/anti-entanglement covers.  These covers are designed to keep your child’s hair from getting tangled in the drain. Check the drains on hotel pools or any other pool your child uses. If the drains are flat or uncovered, don’t let your children use the pool. Take extra precaution and make sure that loose items such as long hair, clothing or jewelry are not dangling when swimming in a pool or sitting in a spa.
  7. Make sure your pool is equipped with a Safety Vacuum Release System (SVRS) – a device that will automatically shut off a pump if a blockage is detected—or any other automatic shut-off systems in your own pool or spa. Whoever is supervising should also know where the pool or spa pump switch is and know how to turn it off. Be sure the location of the electrical cut-off switch for the pool or spa pump is plainly marked. If someone becomes entrapped, turn off the pump immediately.
  8. Have a telephone close by when you or your family is using a pool or spa.

The proper precaution ahead of time and during your swim outing will ensure you have a safe, fun day with your family and friends. Help spread the word about pool, spa and swim safety. For additional safety information, safety alerts and recalls go to   Pass it on and save a life!

Jamie Schaefer-Wilson is the executive director at The Safety Institute.

Youth Leading the Way: An American Tradition

Photo 2 for BlogIn the coming weeks, we’ll see a new generation of youth graduate and move into higher education classrooms and the workforce. But at this nostalgic and celebratory time of year, how are we helping to ensure we’re building a healthy, high-achieving generation of youth to follow? At GENYOUth, the organization I’m proud to lead, we view youth themselves as the solution to the current challenges of health and wellness in schools and communities.

Kids taking responsibility for big social change is virtually a “great American tradition.” Youth-led solutions to our nation’s biggest problems are embedded in our DNA. And whether we’re talking about getting seat-belt laws passed, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18, or evangelizing anti-smoking and anti-bullying messages, it’s all part of the grand continuum of youth leading the way. In the face of the ongoing obesity crisis and the accompanying crisis in physical inactivity in this country, we’re simply entering the latest chapter in an ongoing and inspiring saga of empowered youth making things happen.

GENYOUth and its partners, like the PTA, are working to provide ongoing and sustainable solutions to the challenges of improving nutrition and providing greater opportunities for physical activity in schools, at home, and beyond.

We are already seeing the impact of the youth voice through programs such as Fuel Up to Play 60 and AdVenture Capital. Because of these programs more than 13 million students are eating healthier, 16 million are more active, and we’ve enabled youth entrepreneurs to successfully implement their ideas to get their schools and communities to embrace healthier lifestyles.

The hard realities are in front of us – nearly three-quarters of our youth do not get the recommended daily exercise or proper nutrition each day, and the costs of childhood obesity remain almost inestimable – with the latest figures having a projected impact of $200 billion per year; expected to rise to $350 billion by 2025. The implications are far reaching for education and schools, families, communities, the healthcare system, unemployment, job growth, government services, and productivity overall. Ensuring that youth have the power, the potential, and the permission to create healthful environments that increase their chances for success in school and in life is more critical now than ever.

LRT Report - Characteristics to Successful Youth Led Initiatives

What youth say are the necessary characteristics to successful youth-led initiatives.

We already know empowering youth can be as simple as listening to them — and that when youth are actively engaged in a problem, the outcomes are better. But we also know that:

  • When it comes to reforms in education and public health, youth are an enormously underused resource for community change.
  • Young people who are involved in working for change receive inarguable benefits — and organizations and communities benefit as well.
  • Theorists and commentators who work with youth are actively calling for increased youth involvement in public affairs – noting the positive impact youth inevitably have on civic issues.
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Click to download

I invite you to learn more by accessing a copy of our latest report ‘Empowering Youth: Students as Change-Agents for Schools and Communities’ here. Furthermore, I encourage you to connect with us on a local level and see how program like Fuel Up to Play 60 are being activated in your communities and how together we can help embrace and support youth empowerment and its vital and necessary role in creating healthier generations of Americans.

You can follow GENYOUth on Twitter at @GENYOUthNow, or Fuel Up to Play 60 at @FUTP60.

Alexis Glick is the CEO of GENYOUth. Founded through an unprecedented public-private partnership with National Dairy Council (NDC) and the National Football League (NFL), and committed to child health and wellness, GENYOUth brings leaders in health, education, government and business together in a movement to help America’s youth achieve a healthier future. Learn more information on GENYOUth.


The Call That Changed My Life: A Mother Shares Her Meningitis Story

SheriPurdyWatching your child fight for her life is the worst possible experience a parent could ever have. It was by far the worst time in my life.

My name is Sheri Purdy. You may know my daughter, Amy Purdy, a world class snowboarder, Paralympic®* medalist, philanthropist, and – just last year – a runner-up on “Dancing with the Stars®**.” Today, Amy is a thriving and accomplished young woman, but when she was only 19, she contracted meningococcal meningitis and almost didn’t make it. It changed our lives forever.

I remember it was a summer day when Amy came home from work early and said she wasn’t feeling well and was extremely tired. That night, Amy had a temperature of 101 with typical flu-like symptoms. The next morning, thinking it was just the flu, I had left to meet my husband out of town. Just a few hours later I received a phone call from a hospital saying Amy might not make it through the night.

It took about 72 hours to get the diagnosis, because it takes that long for the culture to come back. The doctors gave her many antibiotics because they didn’t know what they were dealing with. Her life was so fragile. Minute by minute we were just holding our breath, praying. After receiving the diagnosis that Amy had meningococcal meningitis, it was so shocking and we were all in disbelief. It was hard to believe that what started out to seem like the flu had progressed so quickly.

Amy was in the hospital for about two and a half months, including five days during which she was in an induced coma. She lost her spleen, kidney function, and hearing in her left ear. Due to the septic shock she developed, Amy ended up losing both of her legs below the knees.

While not all meningococcal meningitis patients’ stories are as extreme as Amy’s, we feel blessed to have our daughter. In 1999, when Amy got meningococcal meningitis, no vaccines for this disease were widely recommended. Since then, I have become very educated on the topic and want everyone to know the following:

  • Early symptoms of meningococcal meningitis can be misinterpreted as the flu[i]
  • 1 in 10 of those who develop meningococcal disease will die[ii]
  • There are five common forms of bacteria that cause meningococcal meningitis – A, B, C, W and Y[iii]
  • Until 2014, there was no vaccine to help protect against invasive meningococcal group B disease in the United States, which accounts for approximately 40% of all cases[iv]

Moms take the health of their families very seriously, which is why I wanted to share our story – so that it will spark a conversation between you, your child and a healthcare professional. I encourage each of you to learn more about how to help protect your adolescent and young adult children from meningococcal meningitis by talking to a healthcare provider or by going to and pledging to do so.

[i] Mayo Clinic. Diseases and conditions: meningitis. Accessed February 11, 2015.

[ii] Cohn AC, MacNeil JR, Harrison LH, et al. Changes in Neisseria meningitidis disease epidemiology in the United States, 1998-2007: implications for prevention of meningococcal disease. Clin Infect Dis. 2010;50(2):184-191.

[iii] Pinto VB, Burden R, Wagner A, Moran EE, Lee C. The Development of an Experimental Multiple Serogroups Vaccine for Neisseria meningitidis. PLoS ONE. 2013; 8(11):1-10.

[iv] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Active Bacterial Core Surveillance (ABCs) Report Emerging Infections Program Network – Neisseria meningitidis, 2012. Accessed February 11, 2015.

Sheri Purdy is a meningitis activist and mother of world-class snowboarder and meningococcal meningitis survivor Amy Purdy. Sheri and Amy have launched Take Action Against Meningitis with Pfizer to help educate about meningococcal meningitis. For each pledge, Pfizer will donate $1 – up to $20,000 – to Adaptive Action Sports, the not-for-profit organization Amy co-founded to help young people, wounded veterans and adults with permanent physical disabilities get involved in action sports.