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A Psychologist's Thoughts on Clinical Practice, Behavior, and Life

The Alleged Harm of Tablet and Video Game Involvement

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal "Why Kids From No-Screen Homes Sometimes Go Screen Crazy" referred to the alleged harm of tablet watching and video game play. Yet these are both not "bad" but are heavily obsessive-compulsive (an obsession is a repeated thought, a compulsion a repeated activity), which is the mind's innate healthy means of reducing anxiety. So when a child or adult engages in them excessively, it is either because they are troubled or that social contact makes them anxious. Remedying these requires psychotherapy to eliminate their pain. And research has found that video games, no matter now awful their content, do not increase a child's aggression since children do distinguish reality from fantasy.


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Teaching Reading in the Failing Public Schools

An article in the June 23, 2023 issue of The Wall Street Journal ("Phonics finally Gets Its Due in New York. It took the city's education bureaucracy 20 years to recognize that the Success Academy approach works") described the shocking failure of the public school's ability to teach reading. Yet the blame is not theirs alone since if parents read first to and then with their toddlers, almost all children would be reading simple books by the time they entered kindergarten. And if all parents explained their directives (apart from emergency situations) rather than saying, "Do it because I say so," their cognitive development would be further enhanced since not providing explanation depresses the development of both the capacity for abstract thinking and of intrinsic motivation ("motivation which is inherent in information processing and action," as the noted psychologist, Joseph McVicker Hunt, stated in his 1960s paper). Hunt's work was a major influence in beginning the Head Start program. Learning and its love begin at home. Sadly, these no-cost education remedies are far from universal.

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Student Violence Against Teachers Is Increasing

An article in the June 3, 2023 issue of The Wall Street Journal ("'There Were Fists Everywhere.' Violence Against Teachers Is on the Rise") detailed the increased student violence against teachers. In one Nevada school district there were three dozen criminal battery assaults against teachers thus far this year. Yet the needed remedy is known and should be applauded by teachers, parents, and students. While youthful acting-out behavior varies in significance by age with a very young child's hitting often reflecting simple immaturity while a teenager's indicates serious developmental issue, the remedy is the same: having a comprehensive psychological assessment to determine the degree of psychopathology present and providing effective intervention.

But these cannot substitute for having school principals who won't tolerate such behavior and make this clear; and mandating legal consequences for assault. Having sufficient security staff is critical too. Several years ago there was public outrage after an assaulting teenager was pepper sprayed by police as they restrained him in school. Yet, as I then wrote, the benefit of this police action was that no one was hurt.
Learning and teaching cannot succeed where the safety of all is not assured. Nor should teachers be expected to be hostage to student rage.

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The Shame of America's Schools

Recent news stories have detailed the shocking inadequacies of public school students in many American cities with single-digit percentages of graduating high school seniors achieving only grade-level scores on arithmetic and reading evaluation tests. Having treated many teachers I can't help thinking that the major problem in student achievement reflects less teacher inadequecy than that of the school's administration: inadequate, undemanding principals and rules forbidding proper action against bullying and emotionally disturbed students. But the behavior of parents too: were parents to first read to and then with their toddlers and, apart from emergency situations, to explain parental demands rather than say, "Do it because I say so," which depresses the development of the capacity for abstract thinking, most children would be reading simple books by kindergarten. Math is different since if earlier steps are missed, a child will continually fall behind. I've known very smart children to have problems with math so something may be wrong with how it's taught. Nuff said.

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The Posibble Lingering Effects Of Childhood Medical Treatments

A moving story by Leigh Kamping-Carder in the April 29, 2023 issue of The Wall Street Journal ("My Heart Defect Was Repaired by Age 4. But Was I Cured?") described her life after three childhood cardiac surgeries, aroused several thoughts.


A child's mind is immature and, when provided treatment, often blames their parents and the doctor for their discomfort, being unable to grasp its need. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms can develop which indicate that the mind's capacity to cope with stress has been exceeded. Which can happen to anyone with any stress whether a soldier, child, or adult. They may have nightmares or become overly sensitive to noises or change of temperature.


Autism and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which the reporter indicates are potential sequelae of early life medical treatment, have other origins entirely. Autism is vastly mis-diagnosed and has nothing to do with medical procedures, vaccination, air-pollution or whatever other fantasy is popularly believed. Rather, it derives from severely deficient early parenting which the infant senses and tries to avoid by becoming independent but inevitably fails, then turning from the world as self-protection. This was well understood by psychologists since the 1980s but is resisted by widespread public and doctor ignorance of child psychological development abetted by undeserved parental feelings of guilt.


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is perhaps the most unsophisticated mental health diagnosis of the past two-hundred-years, its symptoms being identical to anxiety and depression which can be present in any medical or psychological disorder. Its predecessors are the "mental restlessness" of seventeenth-century England medicine and the Minimal Brain Dysfunction (MBD) of early twentieth-century USA practice when it was depicted by a Harvard psychiatrist as being such nonsense that only a doctor with a minimal brain dysfunction would use it



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Becoming An Adult

The difference between the adult's and the child's view of life is that an adult is able to question it. When a child, you don't question if your world is good or bad because if you decide it is bad, that for whatever reason your parents are not nice people, you are questioning your existence which depends on their benevolence. Only when an adult and have your own life, can you can question their nature. But this conclusion is not always true since I have known youngsters who decided their parents were crazy before entering high school. Then deciding to trust only their own judgment and to make independent decisions. But these youth also had an outsider, a loving relative or a trusted teacher, to guide and encourage them. Lacking this, atrocious criminal acts may occur, committed by long smoldering and enraged, suicidal adults who lacked the critically important "good-enough" parenting experience as a child from which the basic ego capacities and personality develop. 

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Sleepovers Are Now a Battleground

An article about sleepovers in the March 30, 2023 issue of The Wall Street Journal ("Sleepovers Are Now a Battleground - Parents split on slumber parties, once a rite of passage — 'I've had parents ask me if we have a water filter'") aroused reader comment. Having long treated children, I've gained insight into this parent dilemma. What it comes down to is knowing your child's and your comfort with sleepovers, and how well the other parents are known. Which can be tricky when parents feel the need to interrogate them about the presence of animals, the storage of guns, and potential allergic substances. For a parent to be concerned about real potential dangers is not "helicopter parenting." I've heard of life-threatening allergic reactions which would terrify even the least risk-averse parent and remember as a child visiting a friend's home and his pointing a gun at me (a real not toy gun). Contrary to popular belief, sleepovers are not needed for a child's healthy personality development. Not until they're adult and it's with a potential mate, of course. Nuff said.

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The Unspoken "Elephant in the Room" Afflicting American Society

If all parents read first to and then with their toddlers, almost all children would be reading simple books by kindergarten. And, apart from emergency situations, their parents never said to them, "Do it because I say so," but rather gave explanation,  their adult functioning would be better too since the former depresses the development of the capacity for abstract thinking as psychologists have long known. The lack of a "good-enough" parenting is the unspoken, politically incorrect, "Elephant in the Room," that explains most inadequate academic and work performance.

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Screen Time and Child Development

An article in the February 25, 2023 of The Wall Street Journal ("Why I'm Not Writing About Kids and Screen Time Anymore - The next phase of research on screen use will focus on family dynamics") referred to a Harvard study which found no relationship between a child's screen time and their language development.

There is widespread ignorance of child psychological development among the public and doctors too. The human mind has an innate ability to induct the grammatical structure of language which is why a child born in Germany comes to speak German and a child born in France comes to speak French. Similarly, if first read to and then with by their parent(s) as a toddler, almost all children will induct the nature of reading and be able to read simple books by kindergarten. Unfortunately, this sound parenting practice isn't universal. Another critical parenting behavior is, apart from a true emergency situation, to never say "Do it because I say so" to a child but rather to explain parental requests since the former depresses the development of the capacity for abstract thinking as psychologists have known since the 1960s.

Regarding "screen time": this obsessive-compulsive activity (an obsession is a continually repeated thought while a compulsion is a continually repeated physical activity) is often an attempt by both youth and adults to reduce their anxiety, the mind's obsessive-compulsive ego defense being one of its most effective and developmentally mature ways of doing so. Nuff said.

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Children and Reading

Children have the genetically ingrained capacity to induct the grammar of their native language. Thus does a child born in Germany naturally learn to speak German and a child born in Italy naturally learn to speak Italian. This has been known by psychologists for many years. Similarly, the brain has the ingrained capacity to induct the nature of reading, but only if the child is first read to and then with by a parent when they are a toddler. Given this interaction, most children will be reading simple books by the time they begin kindergarten. While the public education system is generally poor at teaching children with difficulties, attempting to paper-over their inadequacies with trumpeted pronouncements, teachers cannot be expected to take the place of children who have failed to receive the "good-enough" parenting that is the birthright of all children. Thus many children are unable to read and unready to learn, or even cognizant of basic courtesy as teachers complain. Nuff said.

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