The Teen Brain

By: Sarah Raskin-

Professor of Neuroscience at Trinity College

I am sure you are already convinced that moderate sports and exercise are good for your child’s health.  If you are like me, I always thought, okay they should do a sport to have fun, learn some great lessons and keep their bodies healthy, but that’s separate from the things we do to help them succeed in school.  Music lessons help with math, right, but sports?  But it turns out, exercise may also be good for your child’s brain.

The adolescent years are a time of big changes in the brain.  So maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that exercise also changes the brain.  Teens who do aerobic exercise show increases in some parts of the brain compared to those that are sedentary.  These are the parts of the brain associated with learning and memory.  Several studies with adolescence have shown that moderate aerobic exercise leads to better ability to learn new information and to stay focused in school.

These findings have also been applied to younger children.  Children that are physically fit show better academic performance, better self-control, and larger brain structures. And one study was even able to predict which kids would perform better on a memory task in one year based on their current fitness level.  So think about this-if your child’s brain doesn’t get that boost early on, it may never fully catch up.

Here’s a fun one.  Memory improves even more if you are exercising while learning—this might be a hard sell for our overworked teachers to implement, but you could try it at home, walking on a treadmill or using a stationary bike.

So if your child plays a sport, next time you feel exhausted thinking about the week’s schedule, or putting out cash for new running shoes or cleats, remember helping your teen get exercise is like helping your child with homework!  If your child does not play a sport, encourage her/him to start slow and think of an hour of exercise as an hour of getting homework done (and wear that helmet if bicycling).

And don’t forget your child’s brain also needs a healthy breakfast and even teens need at least 8 ½ hours of sleep!

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A Win For All Our Girls

A Win For All Our Girls

By Sally Wallace Lynch visit her blog at http://sallywallacelynch.blogspot.com

University of North Carolina killed it last night at Villanova, stealing the national championship title right from the favored University of Maryland, literally upsetting the expectant Maryland fans. We traveled as a family to see the game, visit my sister who lives close by, and enjoy the long weekend away from routine. The game play alone kept us all on the edge of our seats, entertaining and inspiring, but I watched the game with more than a UNC win on my mind.

The word that kept popping up for me was “opportunity.”

I sat next to my sister, six years my senior, and we kept repeating how amazing it was to witness the powerful athleticism in these young women, fostered at such a young age in a world that had befriended athletics in women only recently in history. Certainly, in our youth, we had not witnessed such an explosion of enthusiasm with girls in sports.

“How lucky these girls are!” she kept exclaiming.

Just as we had seen the movie “Girl Rising,” and walked away wishing our girls could value their education as a privilege in a world where so many girls would literally cut off their toes to learn to read, I walked away from the game wanting to impress upon all of our girls how awesome to have communities that foster excellence in girls’ athletics. Watching these young women maximize their athletic potential out there at the Villanova Stadium, I remembered begging my dad if I could try out for Little League baseball when I was about ten years old. I had spent endless hours watching my brother from the stands and fielding his hits in the front yard. I was eager to play.

I can still hear the no. “Girls don’t play baseball,” my dad repeated.

Finally, my friend Lizzy, and I suited up and insisted it wasn’t fair that Ted could play baseball, but we couldn’t. The powers in charge finally said, “OK,” and let us try out. Nervous, surrounded by boys laughing at us, I remember how the coaches sabotaged us. One threw a catcher’s mask my way and told me to catch. I put it on, but it was too big. I could hear him in the distance laughing as I tried adjusting it so I could see, but every time I kneeled to catch the ball, the mask would fall and block my sight. It just needed tightening, but no one helped me get it right. Instead, the ball soared into my face every time, and, with the smash against my face there were resounding chuckles around me.

Needless to say, I didn’t make the Little League team my brother did, but the saddest part is that I never believed in myself enough to keep at it until I did make it. At that time, I needed someone else to believe in me, but there weren’t any people in that small town who believed enough in a girl who wanted to play baseball. Not even one person to fix my mask.

I have no regrets, because I didn’t have big dreams to play for the Red Sox, but I will never forget feeling alone and frustrated by the lack of support on that day trying out for Little League.

Fast forward a few years (well, maybe more than a few).

These young women playing in last night’s lax championship game, with the support of parents and coaches dedicated to their success, maximized their athletic potential. They played an amazing game because people in their lives along the way believed enough in them to foster athletic success in girls.

Congratulations, UNC.

But, also, congratulations to every person who helps foster our girls towards their greatest potential, be it in education or athletics or whatever empowers them.

Let the winning of our girls keep happening here in our own communities, but also all around the world.

A girl’s win is a win for the world.

Stay Hydrated

Stay Hydrated
I know it hasn’t been easy to drink water lately-especially in the Northeast where we have been having winter one day, fall the next with spring thrown in there every now and then. But as I tell my kids every morning, “drink at least one whole entire water bottle today.”  Especially on a day like today when it is warm, sticky, and rainy.
Water is essential for everything,  not just when you are playing sports. According to Dr. Michael Picco of the Mayo Clinic, “drinking water during or after a meal actually aids digestion. Water and other liquids help break down food so that your body can absorb the nutrients.” So drink water before you eat, during a meal, and after you eat.
It is also important to drink water while you are exercising and make sure you get a little salt in there for electrolyte balance. This is key especially for kids who often go from one practice to the next. But when should you drink a “sports drink” instead of water?
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, “you should drink an electrolyte replacement drink when you are engaged in vigorous, intense physical activity like running, soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, hockey, basketball games, etc.
So when you are thinking about what your kids should eat or drink think about how much they are going to sweat.

“Huh? What?”

“Huh? What?”
by: just a mom
Tonight I caught myself being a hypocrite. I was peering over the top of my iphone while I was texting something with one hand and stirring a pot of sauce with another hand trying to get the kids ready for sports while yelling at them to get away from the screens. My son said, “but mom, you’re looking at a screen.” That said it all. He was right. I do spend a considerable amount of time completely distracted by a screen. Usually I am doing something productive, at least that is what I tell myself, but in reality I could shorten the screen time significantly. I’m a traditionalist, at least I still read books on paper not a screen, but it is really the overall concept of undivided attention that is being lost. I realize this now.
My husband and I have been lamenting the fact that my kids spend an extraordinary amount of time with a screen in front of their face but now I realize so do we. So unless we make the necessary changes ourselves how can we expect the kids to? They need down time and so do we, but we need to find more constructive ways to spend our down time, ways that don’t involve watching a screen. SOmetimes it takes a great deal of effort to round everyone up to go to a game or a concert but it’s worth it. When the weather is nice we often take a walk after dinner or play a neighborhood game of soccer. (Sometimes the parents even have more fun than the kids.) Oh, don’t get me wrong my kids grumble, and at times my husband does as well, but we pretty much always end up having fun.
I have friends who spend their summers at a remote village in the Canadian Rockies with no access to screens of any kind. They are simply enjoying the great outdoors and living a rustic existence. I could never do it, I’m not the camping type but I see the beauty in it and I can’t help but wonder-is there a happy medium?

Eat Together-It Makes A Difference

Eat Together-It Makes A Difference

by: just a mom

A busier than busy friend of mine sent me an email yesterday that I can’t stop thinking about, he said, “Had an absolutely crazy week at work and with the kids, lots of great things happening but what I am most proud of is we actually sat down as a family and had dinner 5 nights this week.” I found this impressive given his schedule and the schedules of his wife and 3 children. But, he recognizes what we all know, eating together matters. According to thefamilydinnerproject.org “Over the past 15 years researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time: sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members. Recent studies link regular family dinners with many behaviors that parents pray for: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Studies also indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience. The icing on the cake is that regular family meals also lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents.”

We live in a world today that is moving so quickly. Our children know more at 8 than some of us knew at 18. So, it is more important than ever to stay connected to them. They need to know they have a base, somewhere they can relax, let their guard down and share. This will make them more confident in who they are and ultimately help equip them to go out into the world. So when you are looking at your overwhelming calendar of events for the week, make sure you pencil in a few meals, they will be the most important connections you all make.

Coaching matters!

by Steve Boyle

I estimate that I’ve probably coached – in some capacity – over 20,000 kids in numerous towns, cities and states- literally from coast to coast.   Teams, clinics, camps – be it track and field, cross-country, basketball, soccer, field hockey, lacrosse – no matter the sport – coaching is coaching.  It is building relationships with kids (and sometimes their families) in a way that is genuinely meaningful and then getting them uncomfortable enough to actually challenge themselves in ways they didn’t think possible.

Before I did all this coaching – I did an awful lot of playing.  Growing up it was primarily soccer, baseball and basketball. In high school I dropped baseball for track and field.  Finally in college I had the blessing and curse of having 3 different head coaches and 11 different assistants for 1 sport  in my 4 years at Manhattan (as a future coach it was a blessing- as a player it was a bit of a nightmare).

Having been an assistant coach on a number of levels – I’ve learned a lot from “being under” other coaches.   But what’s amazing is that of the 100s I’ve probably worked with – when I do a quick recall of all of them – only a few snapshots pop to my head.  And the common denominator – the ones that pop in first – were all positive.  They all believed in me. They all built a relationship with me first, made me feel like I genuinely mattered and then went about the business of teaching me how to play that particular game.

By being a coach – I’ve chosen to have the incredible privilege and responsibility of changing young people’s lives – and to be honest at times it’s daunting.   As imperfect beings – sometimes we goof. Despite our best intentions we don’t treat everyone equally, we make mistakes in judgment, we let our personal sense of competition get the best of us.  But – it’s in these times that we reflect on those errors -and we respond to them in meaningful ways- that we can do our best teaching – our best relationship building – or mending.  Kids want to be valued by their coach regardless of their role on the team.

Of the 20,000 plus – I hope that at least some of them – when they do the recall of their athletic lives- will have me pop into their head as someone who made them feel valued.  Moving forward – all I can do is continually try to improve and hope that the 20,000 to come will continue to give me the opportunity to help them grow through the medium of athletics.  And I hope that as I mentor younger coaches they come to realize that winning and losing takes care of itself if the focus of your coaching is integrity and relationship building.  And that when you do make a mistake – how you handle that mistake may be the greatest lesson you give your kids.  After all – Coaching matters!

Thinking about Mother’s Day

Thinking about Mother’s Day
by: Just a mom
So today my sister asked me what I was doing for mother’s day this year. Mother’s Day is one of those days that deep down you really want to be special but it’s  just another day. We should be honoring the work of moms every day right? When my kids were younger we would get dressed up and go to a fancy brunch. But as the kids get older, the job of motherhood becomes more demanding. Yes I said it more demanding. Seems impossible when you are eating, sleeping, breathing baby, but it is demanding in a different way.
So for Mother’s Day this year, I told my sister I was doing what I’ve been doing for the past 5 years, going from one sporting event to the next. I tried to fight it in the beginning, thinking men must be creating the sports schedules, who else would have sports on Mother’s Day. Then I tried embracing it and getting together with friends for a BBQ after a baseball game. Now, well, it’s just too busy. We have 3 games on Mother’s Day this year and we have to try and squeeze in the other Sunday obligations. So I guess I’m hoping for a cup of coffee in bed before we head out onto the playing fields. But, as I took a sip of wine I smiled at my sister and told her simply, I’m doing what a mother does on Mother’s Day.

Today I was Inspired

By: Just a mom
I often think this generation is growing up way to fast. Kids can find an answer to any question they can dream of with just a few touches of a screen. They live their lives electronically and sometimes I think that leads to a lack of empathy and emotion. Things can lack meaning when they are filtered by a screen. I took my children to see the movie “42” and their response thrilled me. They saw what it means to have heart, to never give up. They saw what it means to be a true hero. We had great discussions about heroes today and the heroes of my youth. While we were floating on the raw emotion of the movie and engaging in vivid conversations about heroes, an example of evil penetrated the safe little bubble we live in. Our hometown was under attack. Reality was in our faces and the ease with which these horrors were carried out were again traced back to technology.  I was wondering what was happening to all of the heroes? I couldn’t help but question, Are people becoming dehumanized?
Just as I found myself in a major funk-feeling dismal about my children’s future I caught a glimpse of kindness that brought me back to reality. I realized my theory about youth was nothing more than a gross generalization. This weekend I witnessed first hand that heroes do exist. Maybe they don’t get their names in lights or plastered over the Internet because well, as a culture we are way to obsessed with the negative. But rest assured heroes live among us. And the ones I found go to the local high schools and carry baseball bats, lacrosse sticks, and instruments. These busy teens, who I wrongly assumed were too detached to care, took time out of their jam-packed schedules to inspire young children.
I attended the Hall-Conard Lacrosse game which was preceded by a youth lacrosse clinic run by Hall and Conard JV players. Young girls 6,7,8, were in awe of the varisty players who took time out to talk to them and encourage them. When the youth players took the field next to the variety teams, proudly waving signs they made to cheer on their favorite players, you could see the look in their eyes-“maybe I too could be an Elish or an Alannah?
I was riding the wave or excitement for young girls and how bright the future is for them when I realized it is just as bright for boys. As I turned the corner of Troutbrook and Asylum I witnessed High School baseball players were volunteering their time, and enthusiasm for baseball. They were running a clinic, working with Little League baseball players, and they were having fun. The young boys and the teens were having a great time playing baseball together.
Isn’t that what it’s all about after all?

Is being a taxi driver worth it?

By: Just a mom
I just received an email from a friend in Texas who was lamenting the fact that this is her son’s last season in Little League. “We all feel a little melancholy. It exciting to see him move to the next level if he can but it means he is growing up,” she shared. “Gone are the lazy Sunday afternoons when kids and dog sat watching for what seemed like hours.”
As we cart our kids all over the state for games and practices, we wake them at all hours and put them to bed well past their bedtimes, we have to take a time to enjoy the moment. So many days I find myself yelling, “Do you have your water bottle, where are your cleats?, Come on we have to go…” and we rush out of the house in a frustratingly mad dash to the next event. Lately though, I find myself stopping for just a second, a second I really don’t have mind you, a second I should be rushing the next kid to the next thing. But, I force myself to stop and look at the determination on my son’d face while he is up at bat. Or the joy is my daughter’s eyes when she finally manages to catch the lacrosse ball. Because when it comes right down to it, these are the moments that matter. Not every kid will play in college, in fact they may not even play in High School but it is the sense of accomplishment and pride they feel in themselves that will guide them throughout life. And those are the moments that fill a Mother’s heart.

Role Models

By: Just a mom
As parents we often feel our child’s pain or anxiety. If they are anxious about a test or a big game we become anxious as well. But all too often we project our own worries on our kids. We worry- are they are going to make the travel team- and they going to score a goal- will they miss the basket when the pressure is on? We run them from one practice to another hoping to give them the advantage. We sign them up for clinics and personal training sessions to improve their shooting, their hitting, their stick skills. But is that what they really want? Or do they just want to have fun? We don’t know unless we ask them
Sometimes we have to take a step back and instead of reacting to what happens at a game, what the coach says, or the umpire calls, we have to take a moment to see how our child reacts. Typically kids will let it roll off their backs. However, when they notice parents getting worked up, kids take that as a cue to get equally agitated. It is important to remember that we are the adults and our patience should be paramount. We are role models for our children and while we never want them to be hurt or upset we must remember that it is how they deal with the ups and downs of that will make them successful. We should do all we can to maximize their opportunities and experiences, as long as we talk to our kids and make sure it is what they want and not what we need.