It doesn't matter where I am working--from Houston to Nashville, San Antonio to Bel-Air, Bloomfield Hills to Chandler--everyone is wondering the same things.
"How do I get my kids off their devices?"
“Why would she say something like that online?"
"Why is she posting 34 duck faced selfies?"
"Why does he act so poorly after playing his video games?"
Twelve years ago, when smartphones rolled out, I set out to understand what the rage was, what was the draw, and how to manage it all. As a teacher and school administrator, I needed to understand all the technologies to remain relevant and current. As my own children grow up, my passion for research on digital technology only increases.
Now, as I travel the country to speak on this topic and host trainings in my local Arizona communities, digital research is growing, especially from a brain-based viewpoint, and none too soon as kids head back to school this month and next. Now is a great time for parents and educators to reset, reboot, and realign expectations. In our Gurian Institute trainings, we provide educators and parents with simple and actionable steps. Here are a few nuggets that can move the needle in your quest to help your children safely use digital technologies this year.
Be in the Know
If it is on their device, it should be on yours You can use mechanisms like Family Share Approval from your carrier to approve app downloads and purchases as well as allow each child their own Apple ID and password so you can monitor their every move. Without these mechanisms, there is no way to truly know what kids are doing online and within the apps and messaging services.
Simple apps like OurPact, Circle By Disney, and ScreenTime allow you to monitor and filter content and restrict by the hour which child can access what.
Websites like safesmartsocial.com and Commonsensemedia.org allow you to keep up with the latest and greatest apps.
You can also easily turn off your kids’ online access and router to your home remotely--for instance, from your date night at a restaurant.
Talk Weekly with your Children about Their Social Media Platforms
Have a “tech talk Tuesday dinner” where everyone shares something brave, kind, crazy, disrespectful from their news feeds. This allows you and your family to discuss your family’s values and guiding principles. When the use of a platform or technology does not align with your family’s guiding principles, changes can be made.
Raising digi-kids is not for the faint of heart. It starts with adults teaching and modeling good digital behavior. This may mean you must unplug, too, during dinner and on other occasions so that family time remains sacred.
Central Charging Station
Unplug your family and children at a reasonable hour.
Research shows our children are often not getting good sleep due to their cumulative time on devices. Many kids sleep with devices under their pillow. This addiction to a blue light device has drastic consequences on their brain development, mood regulation and cognitive ability the next day.
The central charging station should notbe in a child’s bedroom. If it is in yours, it should be away from your head. Phones and devices should be in the OFF position.
Good sleep=healthy kids.
Control the Controllable
As children meander the uncharted waters of tween and teen-hood, parents are forced to monitor and supervise social media platforms andtake control of gaming. It is rarely a good thing for a child’s brain to play an hour of video games on a school night. You can control video game use because you own everything in the home.
You can also control when to give a child a phone. At the Gurian Institute, we suggest 13 or 14 as the appropriate age for a smart phone. Bill Gates gave his children their phones at 14. These ages are better for cell phone use than any earlier period.
Remember, underdeveloped brains are double agents: they can pretend to be okay when they are really in distress, so above all else, be vigilant. The attached article is one family's story of how easy it was to miss the mark.
If you would like to host or sponsor a morning coffee-and-learn or evening parent night on digital life, please contact us. Together we can make a difference.
A blog by Michael Gurian, August 16, 2017
On the day Google software engineer James Damore was fired for writing a Memo about Google’s diversity programs that went viral, my daughter Davita, 24, shot me a quick text: “Dad, I can’t believe they fired the guy. That was the wrong move.” We met the next day and talked at length. The conversation was a wonderful blend of perspectives from a young millennial woman and a baby boomer man. Our conversation kept coming back to this point: Isn’t it time our culture and its businesses used science to solve gender issues rather than just ideological conformity?
For anyone who hasn’t followed this: Damore wrote a brief treatise on Google’s gender policies. His position was a moderate one, agreeing that there are gender gaps and calling for continued study and policy advancement to help women, but also suggesting that gender science, not just ideology, would help deal with the gaps effectively. Science, he argued, can bring more women in because it can help workplaces like Google make jobs more attractive to the various ways that women approach their work—some of those ways show difference from male approaches.
Let me say before I continue: I do not work at Google so I won’t speak for them; there may be other issues regarding the firing that I don’t know about. I should also disclose that I spoke at Google ten years ago. I think Google is a powerful culture-changer, and I generally support the company and believe in its platform. So, what I say in this blog is said with those caveats. I will stick with what I know well: gender science.
This science is crucial to this conversation because Damore based much of his Memo on it. Both Davita and I wished he had footnoted his research—this might have helped him make his case more strongly--but the research he refers to is available to anyone who wants to pursue it. A quick and detailed way to validate the science would be to use Leadership and the Sexes (2008) and its endnotes. My later books update the endnotes further and you can also go to the website, www.michaelgurian.com/Research where you’ll find references to more than 1,000 primary studies. You can also get books by neurobiologists such as Louann Brizendine (The Female Brain, The Male Brain), and, you can go onto Google and/or Google Scholar to get further references.
In Leadership and the Sexes, my co-author, Barbara Annis, and I report our collective four decades of studying the effects of sex/gender differences on workplace productivity, job choice, leadership advancement, management styles, and corporate profit. We identified multiple factors in tech and engineering gender gaps, including factors that grow from all three areas of human development—nature, nurture, and culture. Our research—and that of many others in our field—specifically calls for an end to the single concept (gender bias) approach to gender issues. There simply is no single cause for gender gaps; rather, gender gaps exist for multiple reasons.
In his Memo, Damore tried to make this point and his firing is reminiscent of what happened to Larry Summers, the president of Harvard University more than a decade ago, when he asked his academic community to expand its study of gender gaps in STEM to include all diverse areas of potential research, including neuro-biology. His call to push beyond ideological conformity to a multi-systems approach led to his termination and I felt for him and I feel for Damore. I also feel for academic institutions like Harvard and tech giants like Google. No one here is malicious; everyone is protective. Even Damore and Summers, who are accused of harming women by calling for expanded thinking, can see what Barbara Annis and other women have seen: ideological conformity is paralyzing real change for women.
The two firings hinge on the ideological concept that “gender differences” are really “gender stereotypes.” But Damore and Summers were right: thousands of studies show clear and significant sex/gender differences between males and females. This science of gender difference does not show every female and male on the gender spectrum to be different in the same exact way; rather, it shows gender trait difference. Gender trait difference does not grow from culture-based stereotypes—they are facts and they appear in all cultures and races.
They are factual because the X and Y chromosomes carry different chromosome markers for female and male, thus the female and male brain develop differently in utero and then in life. Transgender males and females have proven this recently as they report carrying gender trait neurobiological differences in conflict with their sexual anatomy. Whether one is cisgender or transgender, nearly every human being senses gender trait difference instinctively. Gender science has proven the differences over the last thirty years using brain scans, hormonal analysis, and psycho-cultural integration models.
With this knowledge in tow, a university or corporate hierarchy that posits the non-existence of gender trait difference is far behind the available science. It is like those people who claim evolution doesn’t exist or that climate change is a hoax. One can make those arguments ideologically, but that won’t stop evolution from continuing its growth patterns nor the earth from getting more climatologically volatile.
In the recent case, Google fell into the ideological trap for the same reason so many others do--in a non-scientific way of trying to protect women. Google execs confirmed that they were in this trap by explaining that Damore was being fired because his discussion of neuro-biological differences between women and men constituted gender stereotypes that were felt to be hostile by some of his female and male coworkers. Because Alphabet/Google, like every workplace, has a non-hostility policy, its executives felt that they needed to fire Damore.
The anti-science bias in this explanation has two faces, both well-meaning but both untrue. First, the science of gender difference is not gender stereotyping but, in fact, real, as the sources above will prove to any executive or person who studies them. Second, even if someone felt like that gender trait difference constituted untrue gender stereotypes, there is no hostility in the science. Hostility is, by its very nature, a violent attack on a person or group. Damore was not hostile nor violent; he was measured and scientifically accurate. Similarly, Larry Summers was not hostile, nor were Barbara Annis, my coauthor and I, in Leadership and the Sexes.
Even more stunning, in my view, is the fact that ideological conformity using hostility as its battering ram often biases itself into doing the very gender stereotyping it is trying to protect women from! This happens unconsciously and takes over a corporate culture. Without realizing it, the corporation stereotypes women as so fragile they can’t be involved in either free speech or, even more interesting, scientific discussion. Institutions that keep this kind of gender stereotyping alive and well think they are protecting women from scientific discussion that might seem unsafe to them but miss the fact that this kind of ideological conformity utterly disempowers women. Obviously, if a woman faces a hostile work environment, she should be able to change that environment. But talking about gender trait difference does not rise to the standard of a hostile work environment.
Tech companies are wrestling with fewer women in their workplaces by conforming ideologically to a very limited single-option framework (unfair gender bias) that is not solving the problem. These companies want to have more women in them (which is a wonderful thing) but they are asserting "gender stereotypes" as the ultimate harm. This assertion is just too thin to do the job. Google’s code of conduct, which was used as the reason for Damore’s firing, says “workers are expected to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias, and unlawful discrimination.” In what way does talking about science and gender trait difference do any of these things?
I hope you will give feedback to corporations and colleges that science is the right tool to use when talking about sex and gender. I hope you can help advance our social conversation toward hard science—neuro-biology and neuro-psychology—so that these sciences can become integrated into our shared desire to advance more women in more STEM fields.
Fortunately, we already know this approach works on behalf of women. In Leadership and the Sexes, you’ll see our reports of corporations such as Deloitte & Touche that succeeded by training their personnel not just in gender sensitivity but in gender trait differences. They found that workers who come into the workplace believing male and female brains think alike end up making big mistakes with one another. Similarly, workplace and corporate systems that don’t account for sex/gender neuro-biological difference create workplaces that don’t work for many women and some men.
When, however, the workplaces integrate gender trait difference into their programming they improve workplace productivity as well as recruitment and advancement of women. Beyond Deloitte and Touch, a number of banks are training personnel in how women and men invest differently; save money differently; have different approaches to buying and selling; and even plan for retirement differently. In fact, when I have spoken at Fortune 500 corporations across the business spectrum—technology, financial services, government--there are few people in the room who don’t intuitively agree that women and men are different. In these training rooms and meetings most people agree we should talk about it.
So, let’s do that. Here’s a list of the multiple variables we need to discuss and develop policy to deal with if we are to fully look at gender disparities in workplaces:
Until we allow for conversation about all seven of these together, and until we alter social policies to deal with all of them, we will continue to see significant gender disparities and they will continue to cut both ways--against females in some cases and against males in others. They will also affect races and ethnic groups differently. While pretending there are simple fixes for situations in the human condition that were never simple, we will use science for every other human innovation—medicine, technological advancement, human psychology—but not gender in the workplace.
Ultimately, the question our corporate leader must ask is: “Do I really believe human life is a dance between hostile men and fragile women?” If we think it is, we will keep firing the Summers and Damores of this world, and we will keep the culture conversation simplistic, not rigorous. But if we can come forward into the new millennium and accept complexity, we will move our corporate life toward more science and less ideological conformity.
Not just Deloitte and others in business, but the parenting and education sectors are already doing this, too. Millions of people nationwide are calling on school districts to incorporate gender science into their programming. Schools are changing to realize that boys and girls learn differently. Teachers are receiving training in gender trait difference and gender spectrum applications. In schools that do this training, grades go up, test scores rise, student behavior improves, and STEM and literacy gaps begin to close.
Similarly, the courts have already accepted the science of gender difference. When Sears, Roebuck & Co. was sued over gender imbalances in their workplace, “the court accepted expert testimony that men and women have different interests on average,” attorney Hans Bader recently reported, “and that women tend to be more risk averse. In EEOC v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., the Circuit court upheld the district court’s conclusion that “interest alone can account for the [gender workforce] disparities computed under EEOC’s analysis.”
Albert Einstein said, “Science should not be left to the scientists.” Science is owned by all of us. Let’s encourage corporations to use science alongside ideology. Let’s give the corporations three years of training in the science of gender differences and then see which works best—ideological bias or scientific training. Science will prove itself useful to us, and more women like my own daughters, Davita and Gabrielle, will advance to live as they want to live in the occupations they want and need. I believe this approach will be seen by future generations as the most empowering for women.
Dr. Gurian and Katey McPherson, the Executive Director of The Gurian Institute, have spent the last 6 months working with the Tempe Union High School District on taking a keen look at their social emotional learning initiatives and practices. TUHSD hosted Dr. Gurian for a keynote in February of this year for 1,000 faculty members and staff, as well as parents. They will continue the momentum of this training for a generous number of their teaching faculty and staff, including security, counseling, and classified staff. Tempe Union High School District recognizes the need for trusted adults to understand the inner workings of the teen brain, their learning styles, and the many needs that arise during these most formative years. Through a grant from the Governor's Office For Youth, Faith, and Family, parents will also receive this much needed information and evidence-based programming through evening town halls and forums.
By Michael Gurian
One of the most hidden and destructive stressors on our boys is the mass of neurotoxins they absorb through food, drink, and other environmental sources—aluminum, artificial sweeteners, sugars and flours that may harm them, junk food, pesticides and other pollutants. I believe this issue is one of the least known yet most destructive to males—and to society as a whole.
Until the Industrial Revolution, our sons ate and drank foods and beverages that were natural to their environment—what was grown around them. These fit, for the most part, their gene expression because its genetic makeup and the boy’s genetic makeup were both natural. While a specific boy could be allergic to a particular food or drink, a boy’s life overall was a nature, nurture, culture collaboration.
Since the Industrial Revolution, and especially in the last fifty years, our children are ingesting artificial chemicals unnatural to their genetic template. These are synthetic toxins that can disrupt male gene expression and brain development. These synthetics can come in a food or drink, lead in paint or pipes (as the beleaguered city of Flint, Michigan has discovered), inhaled air polluted by chemicals, or chemicals in plastics, fertilizer and cologne. Each or all of them can traumatize genetic templates for motivation-pathway development and maturation-activity in the mid and upper brain. This science has come to us over the last twenty years from studies in many of the seventy two industrialized countries.
In one set of studies reported in Scientific American, scientists analyzed 150 billion bits of genomic data from human tissues and cells from brain, heart, bone and blood in multiple countries. “Myriad control switches help to arbitrate how genes get expressed in different cells and tissues,” Dina Fine Maron, who reported the research, wrote in 2015, “and those switches are often triggered by maternal diet, toxic exposures, and many other environmental factors. To begin to understand what drives these complex epigenetic effects, scientists…located the switches by analyzing specific chemical modifications on the DNA and the proteins that it wraps around. Then researchers took data comparing individuals who have specific biological traits with those who do not to see which traits are associated with which switches.” Healthy maturation (physical, reproductive, cognitive, emotional, relational), requires the switching on or off of certain proteins in certain cells and tissues.
Unfortunately, if your son eats or imbibes neurotoxins found in plastics, fertilizer, foods and beverages--often called “industrial toxins--the switches needed for full maturation of cells and brain tissue may either not turn on or get turned off. A new meta-study published in The Lancet Neurology revealed that a primary reason for brain disorders connected to immature male brain development are, indeed, these “under-regulated industrial chemicals and pesticides, in addition to exposure to heavy metals” which directly invade gene expression and have become a “major factor in the dramatic rise of neurodevelopmental disorders in children.”
Dr. Philippe Grandjean is the co-author of both the Lancet study and Only One Chance: How Environmental Pollution Impairs Brain Development – and How to Protect the Brains of the Next Generation. He told the Huffington Post, “The world is facing a ‘silent pandemic’ of ‘chemical brain drain’. We have an ethical duty to protect the next generation, in particular, the next generation’s brains.” Dr. Grandjean and study co-author Dr. Philip Landrigan note that since 2006, when they first published their results, things are getting even worse as the list of “confirmed developmental neurotoxins doubled in ten years. At the top of the list of culprits: pesticides.” Pesticides, though helpful in keeping insects away from crops, are harmful to the brains of children—and they touch nearly everything our children eat and drink.
So does plastic, which includes the estrogen-mimicking endocrine disruptors in potentially dangerous chemicals plychlorinate biphenyla and bisphenol A. While the endocrine disruptors are good for making greater financial profit off cows and crops, unfortunately, the endocrine disruptors also keep many of our boys’ neural switches off when they should be on and on when they should be off. For at least a decade we have known that these neurotoxins were affecting girls toward early puberty and greater obesity (invading girls’ natural menses and endocrinology) but more recently scientists have come to realize their potential effects on American boys.
It’s impossible to say that every single boy’s gene expression will be negatively affected by these chemicals. However, millions of boys will be, and your son may be among them. The interaction of the chemicals in food or fertilizer with his human cells may harm him at a hormonal and, therefore, cellular level. As the endocrine disrupting hormones attach to specific receptors in his body, they initiate a complex chain of events that impede cellular development and function.
Think of each hormone inside each cell as an artist at work—a sculptor who chisels at a blob of rock to create a Rodin statue. Natural gene expression, excited and assisted in a natural environment, is that chiseling, that sculpting, that art. Endocrine disruptors interfere with the artistic process because the disrupter can erase a natural function in some moments and in others, alter an action of cells completely. As the disruptor attaches to its unique receptor, it launches a different set of events in body and brain than what was naturally intended for this boy. We don’t end up with Rodin’s The Thinker—we end up with an unfinished statue without arm, knee, feet, hands, eyes, or other essential parts of the body, i.e. cells that are unfinished.
One of the ways male maturation and motivation diminishes in this sculpting process hides in the profound effects the disruptors have on male and female reproductive functioning. It is possible that before your child was born, the disruptors may have lowered dad’s sperm motility and already affected reproductive cells in mom’s ovaries. In part because neurotoxins alter parents’ phenotype in both the sperm and the egg, many brain disorders such as autism, anorexia/bulimia, and ADD/ADHD can be linked back to these neurotoxin/sperm and egg issues.
Testosterone, Undermotivation, and Neuro-Toxins
Male depression, too (including undermotivation on the one hand and violence on the other), can be linked to neurotoxins that affect the Y chromosome’s gene expression specifically. We began to see this link about thirty years ago. One of the first studies to focus on the problem came from the New England Research Institute in which Dr. Thomas Travison and colleagues noted a 1 – 2 percent decrease in testosterone levels among men. “Male serum testosterone levels appear to vary by generation, even after age is taken into account,” said Dr. Travison. “This suggests that some factor other than age may be contributing to the observed declines in testosterone over time.”
From this starting point, he continued to conduct research on males and discovered that endocrine disruption in neurotoxins lowered baseline testosterone levels in some males. Over the decades, the 1 – 2 percent annual decrease in male serum testosterone level has grown, by 2016, to what physician and neurologist Leonard Sax has called “a dangerous decline.” Sax has noted that male testosterone baseline levels are now 30 – 40 percent lower than an average male in the 1970s.
Researchers in the U.S., Denmark, and Finland confirm Dr. Sax’s math. They recently published their findings in Physiological Reviews.
“We are at a tipping point," warned Dr. Niels E. Skakkebaek from the Department of Growth and Reproduction (EDMaRC) at Rigshospitalet and the University of Copenhagen. “There is no doubt that environmental factors are playing a role. Many of the male reproductive problems could be due to damage to the testes during embryonic development. While the reproductive problems could arise from genetic changes, recent evidence suggests that most often they are related to environmental exposures.”
Recent studies published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism have corroborated Dr. Travison’s, Sax’s, and the EDMaRC findings. Dr. Shalender Bhasin of the Boston Medical Center revealed: “The data in this study are important because they provide independent support for the concerns raised earlier about the reproductive health of males….It would be unwise to dismiss these reports as mere statistical aberrations because of the potential threat these trends…pose to the survival of the human race and other living residents of our planet."
While our popular culture often condemns high testosterone as dysfunctional, calling it “testosterone poisoning” or “toxic masculinity,” and while high testosterone has indeed been linked to high risk-taking that can end up dangerous for individuals or groups, we’ve missed the fact that chronically low testosterone is equally or more dangerous because it is directly linked to male depression, which is a direct cause of both male violence and male under-motivation and immaturity. With too little testosterone in our cells, male body, biochemical, and neural development is at risk. Artificially low testosterone levels are harming sperm and egg, and killing our sons and daughters. Neurotoxins invade male development at unprecedented rates today, and we must work together to end this unnatural social trend.
How Do I Know If MY Son Has Been Affected?
One way to know if any of this might affect your son is to check the three primary markers for male health--physical health, cognitive health, and social-emotional development. If your son is having trouble in any of these three areas, you may have very good reason to protect his growing body and brain by getting him off of plastics and thus saving him from the BPA; giving him organic food, thus saving him from the fertilizer that carries the endocrine disruptors; taking soft drinks out of his diet thus saving him from the excess sugar, sweeteners, and endocrine disruptors in the chemicals in pop; and teaching him “neurotoxin literacy” so that he can become a citizen scientist on his own behalf throughout the rest of his life.
All these new family habits can also help girls. I am tailoring this research to help you protect your daughters in THE MINDS OF GIRLS, which will be published in January 2018. I will also blog about this issue for girls later in the year. Right now, for your sons, there is much more about this in SAVING OUR SONS, which you can access HERE.
Protecting our children from neurotoxins and helping schools and other social institutions to take neurotoxins seriously is, I believe, one of our most sacred duties today as parents. We live in a new world. It has new toxins in it, and we must be vigilant.
By Katey McPherson