College Debt Worries Start Much Too Young

Student-loan-debt1When I came of age in the mid-1970s, worry about college debt was nonexistent, because, of course, college costs were much, much lower. I was told when I was a kid that I would have to pay every penny of college costs by myself, but I didn’t really think much about how that would happen. I worked throughout high school and saved a fair amount. I continued to work part time during college and worked full time during breaks. I lived on ramen and tuna (it was also much cheaper then!) and figured it out. I did have to drop out for a year because I was broke, but otherwise made it through in five years with only a few hundred dollars in a loan at the end that I paid off in a short amount of time. (It was at 11.9% interest and from my parents, so I couldn’t shirk on that debt!) Through it all I don’t remember worrying more than a normal amount about tuition bills, and usually just right before the start of each semester.

Certainly, things are much different now in terms of college costs. But as a psychotherapist, I am also seeing a big difference in how this awareness of college expenses is affecting today’s children — and at very young ages.

I am now regularly seeing middle school-aged pre-teens with very high levels of stated anxiety about how they are going to pay for college. Yes, middle school.

They have chronic insomnia from worrying about studying enough and getting a good grade in algebra in 8th grade so they can get into the advanced algebra class in 9th grade so they can get into the AP trig classes in 11th and 12th grades so they can put all these good grades and advanced classes on their college applications and get into a good college and get a good scholarship. Whew! All because they worry about how expensive college will be. They are four or five years from even stepping foot onto a college campus as a student and they are actively, consciously worrying about this pyramid of plans.

This makes them put huge pressure on themselves to not even get one B on one minor quiz. I was an over-achiever in high school, but I certainly didn’t sweat a B and not for those reasons.

I see many high-achieving teens coming in with insomnia, worry, panic attacks on test days, headaches, stomachaches, over-focus on grades and fear of failure issues. Times sure have changed! When I was in high school it was “super un-cool” to get good grades or care about your college career.

Today peer pressure exists related to competition for grades, college application spots and scholarships starting even in junior high. Where we applied for college in the fall of our senior year, students now start junior year with the application process underway and college tours often completed. Students now know exactly what GPA and ACT score it will take to get into which university, and they know what all their classmates scores are and where they are applying. I had no such awareness when I was 16 and I’m not sure anyone even talked about these details.

Now, I certainly can’t fix the high cost of college tuition, but clearly this level of anxiety is not healthy for kids. The self-criticism they are experiencing internally with each B grade is setting them up for emotional difficulties that might be labeled as “anxiety” or “depression.” (False labels, but that’s another topic!)

Parents need to address this issue directly, it appears, to reassure their children that either money will be saved for them for college or that it will be addressed at the appropriate time. Teaching kids some mindfulness meditation and self-calming skills would also be in order. Parents need to make it very clear that they love and accept their children regardless of grades, college acceptance or career choice. Parents can certainly not over-focus on grades themselves by constantly checking the on-line grade reporting apps.

We need to get kids’ minds off worry and back into learning for learning’s sake. And back into being kids, not over-pressured junior adults.

Could Plastics Be Causing ADHD? Along with Asthma, Breast Cancer and More?


A scientific paper to be presented April 8 at a medical conference shows that high levels of a plastic-softening chemical called phthalate in the blood may be linked to inattention and hyperactivity behaviors in children.

The researchers tested blood levels in unexposed children and in children who spent time in a hospital PICU and had one to 12 medical tubes inserted. They found a “clear match between previously hospitalized children’s long-term neurocognitive test results and their individual exposure to the phthalate DEHP during intensive care.” DEHP levels were not detectable in healthy children, but were “sky-high” — up to 18 times higher — in hospitalized children.

What does this mean for your child who may never have been seriously ill?

Perhaps plastic products all around your family could be causing or worsening your child’s problems with focus, distractibility, irritability and high energy levels. (Now, I also would not discount the effect of certain styles of parenting, lack of exercise, over-exposure to technology, developmental trauma, and lack of secure emotional attachment as causes of ADHD. Addressing these in a clinical setting can significantly improve a child’s behaviors.)

Phthalates are added to plastics such as PVC to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity. Plasticizers contribute 10-60% of the total weight of plasticized products.

Most Americans tested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have metabolites of multiple phthalates in their urine.

Besides being found in medical catheters and blood transfusion devices, phthalates are found in a huge number of products including in the coatings of pharmaceutical pills and nutritional supplements! Fatty foods such as milk, butter, and meats are a major source. Other sources are:

  • shower curtains
  • mini blinds
  • wallpaper
  • vinyl upholstery
  • adhesives
  • food containers (especially coded “3” for recycling)
  • plastic food wrap
  • cleaning materials
  • plastic packaging
  • personal-care products such as perfume, eye shadow, shampoo, moisturizer, nail polish, liquid soap, and hair spray
  • insecticides
  • vinyl floor tiles
  • plastic plumbing pipes
  • adhesives and glues
  • waxes
  • printing inks and coatings
  • textiles
  • building caulk
  • paint pigments

Prior to 1999 phthalates were even used in baby pacifiers, rattles and teethers.

Even infant lotion, infant powder, and infant shampoo have been associated with increased infant urine concentrations of phthalate metabolites. Phthalates are not stable, so they can be in the air, water, or food. They can be inhaled from dust in homes that contains phthalates and this is linked to higher levels of asthma and allergies in children.

Phthalates have long been associated with changes in hormone levels, birth defects including lower cognitive performance, and cancer.

Women may be at higher risk for potential adverse health effects, including breast cancer, due to increased cosmetic use.

There may also be a link between the obesity epidemic and endocrine disruption and metabolic interference caused by plastic products.

It is becoming increasingly clear that reducing the number of plastics in your home is important for the physical and emotional health of children and adults.

Here are more tips and a helpful chart of plastics to avoid.

The NIH has a comprehensive website for many types of toxins.


Fear and Its Effect on Relationships

IMG_1273 (1)


Fear isn’t just about physical danger. Emotional fear can look a lot like anger. But relationships do not thrive in anger or fear.

People who behave with fear, generate fear in others. People who behave with love, generate love in others.

Think about your relationships. Is there someone (…you?) who is behaving with fear? What are the effects of that behavior?

Healthy relationships are built on emotional safety, honesty and trust. Does your shame and fear cause you to punish those in your life for expressing emotional honesty? Will they continue to be honest with you if they fear your response? Emotional intimacy will suffer as they pull away from you and your shame-based and fear-based tactics.

Parents:  If you are yelling and shaming your children, you are generating fear in them. If your children yell, are oppositional and harm others, if is clear proof they are learning in an environment of fear not love.

If you function in a fearful mode, ask yourself: What are you afraid of? Rejection and abandonment? Exposing vulnerability and weakness? Failure and self-doubt? Shame and guilt?

What would happen if you loved yourself instead of got angry at yourself? What if you completely accepted yourself and others, rather than reacted with shame, fear and anger?


The Correct Way to Interview Donald Trump or Argue with Any Difficult Person

Watching a journalist interview Donald Trump is a lesson in psychology, regardless of your political viewpoint. Trump exhibits a complete lack of accountability for his behaviors, the key attribute of what I call “Other-Blamers” in my new “Self-Acceptance Psychology.” Because he is filled with self-shame and feelings of inadequacy, he has learned to develop some successful ways of managing (avoiding) additional shame.

One tactic of Other-Blamers is what I like to call “zigzag” arguing — a visual description that helps people recognize it when it shows up.

Other-Blamers like Trump have great difficulty admitting they are wrong or acquiescing to any fault. So when challenged with an irrefutable fact, they change the subject. They zig-zag to Topic 2 with such speed, ease and poise that the questioner is often pulled unwittingly right along in this scheme. Suddenly the argument is about Topic 2, rather than Topic 1. Success for the Other-Blamer! He gets to distract from his real misbehavior and escapes from the shaming experience of being held accountable. Sometimes this zigzagging can go on for dozens of topics.

I am amazed at the number of national journalists who do not recognize this behavior and do not immediately stop the zig and address it:  “No, we’re not going to talk about Topic 2. I asked you about Topic 1. Why did you do Topic 1?” And when Trump or any Other-Blamer inevitably changes the topic again, the questioner should doggedly but calmly return to Topic 1 and point out the zigzag behavior directly: “I notice you changed the subject — again. It seems you are uncomfortable addressing Topic 1. We need to address Topic 1, so that’s what you’re going to do.”

Many submissive, placating people come into therapy feeling they are “crazy” and taking on all the fault for relationship problems. These “Self-Blamers” are clearly in relationship with an “Other-Blamer” who blames, makes excuses for his behavior, deflects, denies, and zigzags, to the point where the partner loses a sense of reality and starts to assume she is the one who is incorrect, at fault, and even a bit nuts.

I personally experienced this deflect and distract style of arguing hundreds of times with my second husband, so I know it can be quite confusing. I was left emotionally exhausted and bewildered after many arguments, and my Self-Blaming patterns became more entrenched. My father and sister also have excellent skills at Other-Blaming and zigzag arguing, so I experienced this behavior throughout my childhood and early adulthood.

As I have experienced, the lack of any factual basis to their arguments does not stop Other-Blamers. This can be disturbing to many people who do like to base their arguments on some sort of reality! Don’t be unhinged by the lies.  Recognize that this lack of factual basis is exactly the problem — and then address it.

In therapy, I educate the Self-Blamers on the behavior of the Other-Blamer, especially the tactic of zigzag arguing. It takes mindfulness, calm and self-discipline not to get pulled down the rabbit hole of zigzag arguing. But it can be very productive — although the Other-Blamer will not like it one bit. That strategy has served him very well throughout his life and he will not enjoy being called out on his behavior.

As is proven on TV news on a daily basis, Trump behaves this way very, very frequently. But I suspect he also behaves this way in personal and business relationships. His extreme feelings of inadequacy mean that he is unable and unwilling to be humble, accountable, and admit fault, even when the facts all say he is wrong.

The key to fixing this behavior is to develop self-acceptance, so that you can tolerate shame in a healthy manner without Other-Blaming tactics.