Snorkeling Sensory Peace

Senses were our gateway to fully enjoying each present moment during our pre-Christmas family vacation to Puerto Morales, Riviera Maya, Mexico. The 100 degree difference in temperature was our first clue that something was different. We left -20, and arrived to 80+ with high humidity. Once at our resort the children discovered coconut ice cream, fresh lemonade, and could still get the hamburgers they loved. Brightly colored flowers, deep blue sea and lazily waving trees and thatched roofs helped us enter a wonderful peace.

My personal sensory smorgasbord awaited in our snorkeling excursion. It brought a brand new kind of peace, helping me overcome the panic I experienced the last  time I donned the mask several years ago. Amancio, our tour guide, noticed my less-than-elegant attempts to manage my life vest, flippers, mask and mouthpiece and took me on as a special project. He recommended that I use the vest as a raft instead of being strangled by it. He put a film of toothpaste—yes toothpaste!—on the inside surface of my swim mask to prevent the fogging that messed me up the last time. He suggested that I just hold on—eventually I relaxed my death grip–and he towed me around the beautiful inlet. I would have missed the colorful fish along the way without his pointing them out. Entire schools of fish swam just beneath us. I reached out to touch them, but they slipped out of reach.

When I relaxed enough to rest in the water, face down and ears in the water, a new sort of tranquility wrapped around my body and spirit. Interesting that most of my body was still above water, but my senses took in only the underwater world. I was able to inhale peace and exhale joy. The experience reminded me of the central role of senses in our existence. Stress melted away when I heard and felt only the unhurried world under the water’s surface. I did “run the tape” to save the experience to recall during future meditations at home.

We also snorkeled in an ancient cave, with only natural light through the cave’s ceiling. Again, unusual sights, sounds and sensations filled my brain and spirit with unusual gifts that I was able to bring home with me. Amancio helped me overcome my apprehesion to again put my face with mask and mouthpiece into the water. My fear melted away as I entered the soothing world below me. He photographed the moment, and our driver photobombed the event. What a blessing this trip was for me.  I thank God for this gift!

Teen Brains: What’s Going On Up There?

College girls napping

Parenting teens tests most parents’ determination to give them what they need—not just what they want. We hope to provide practical tips to help you along the way in this most important—but very challenging responsibility. Hang in there!

Our Teens Need:

  • Respectful communication with parents and with other adults
  • Clear and consistent boundaries, consequences and follow through
  • Practice dealing with the consequences of their own choices
  • Opportunities to explore and create their unique identity
  • Enough rest to allow their brains to mature
  • Healthy nutrition
  • Peer friendships
  • Physical activity, preferably in nature
  • To know we love them and believe in them

The View from Here

How do we keep them in clothes? In food? They are growing so fast! The dramatic physical changes we see are only a sign of huge reconstruction going on inside. Think of the tree we see on a hill. It wouldn’t be able to stand tall without a complex and deep network of roots that are underground, out of sight. The same holds true for the brain.

The changes in the teen brain show up as behavior and relationship changes. The kind, respectful child we love may vanish, only to be replaced by someone we struggle to understand. “What have we done? How can this be?”  Not to worry, it’s only a reflection of normal teen development. Stay the course, keep the door open for communication, let them know they are loved, maintain expectations, boundaries, consequences, and hang on for the ride. It will get better—eventually.

Brain Basics

We all come with 100 billion brain cells as original equipment. Each one has up to 10,000 connections, but less than 25% of them are connected at birth. The child’s interpretation of experiences and interaction with parents and caregivers determine which cells actually connect with others.

Brain as an Ice Cream Cone?

David J. Linden, PhD, John Hopkins University neuroscientist compares the three parts of the brain and their assignments to an ice cream cone. (Readers’ Digest article by Kimberly Hiss “The Beautiful Life of Your Brain” Sept 2014, pp 78-79)

  1. At the top of the spine, we find the “bottom scoop” or brainstem. That part of the brain takes care of survival tasks like circulation, breathing, heartbeat, etc.
  2. The “middle scoop” is the midbrain which processes emotions and creates memory. The “amygdala” issues an “all system’s alert” shifting gears from thinking to feeling when it senses danger is near.
  3. The “top scoop” is the cortex. When we think of the brain, we visualize this folded surface. Thinking and specific jobs are assigned to particular places in the cortex. The front part of the cortex, or prefrontal cortex (PFC) provides self-control and what some call “executive function.”

The PFC is the last part of the brain to be fully developed, making parents wonder “What were they thinking?!” Truth is, most teens are working with only part of the equipment they need to carefully consider choices and consequences. They need boundaries, consequences, and communication with parents and other adults to head off their sometimes impulsive behavior.  Kids also need to find their own identity at the same time. No wonder why teens and parents experience conflict.

Building Blocks

Let’s look at the brain as an electrical system with several parts processing information from our senses.

  • First, our eyes, ears, skin, muscles, tongue and nose bring messages from our world into brain cell branches or dendrites.
  • They then pass the electrical message on to the neuron the central part of the Brain Cell.
  • A cable or axon then carries the information on to the next cell. The axon is protected like an electrical cord with a blanket of fat called myelin, made from omega 3 fats from foods we eat. Myelin makes the message “zip” onto the next brain cell much faster than it would without the protective coating. Myelination or wrapping it with this fat layer is the last stage of development. Until that is finished, teen’s thinking often appears—and is—“scattered”. Researchers have determined this process is incomplete until mid-twenties or later. That should clear up some things.
  • Neurotransmitters enter the gap or synapse between dendrites, acting on the impulse before it reaches its next destination. Some speed the message along, while others slow it down.

What’s Going on up There?

Living with a teen can feel a bit like revisiting their “terrible twos”—only with a bigger world and higher stakes. That’s because some of the processes are the same. The brain goes through phases of blossoming—creating huge numbers of new dendrites—and pruning clearing away the connections that haven’t been strengthened through repeated use.  The use-it-or-lose-it principal is at work. The unused and unsaved connections are removed to make room for more complex structures. It’s a good thing!

Vulnerable Brains

Huge changes going on in a teen’s brain make them particularly vulnerable to hazards. Fortunately, athletic organizations have responded to research by ramping up screening and precautions to protect players from concussions.  Alcohol, tobacco and drugs also present significant threats to kids’ developing brains. Research shows that damage to the brain can last a lifetime.

Online resources provide more information:

http://www.drugfree.org/why-do-teens-act-this-way/

http://www.eauclairewi.gov/departments/health-department/alcohol-tobacco-and-other-drug-use/start-talking

David Walsh, psychologist and bestselling author of “Why Do They Act That Way?” helps parents struggling with their teens. He told one dad, “When you feel like taking the wind out of his sails, it is a better idea to take your sails out of his wind.”  (Why Do They Act That Way? p 47, Free Press – 2004)

Parenting teens is not for the faint of heart! Hang in there—this too shall pass. Just love them.

This is an adaptation of an article written by Sandra Stanton for the Chippewa Falls Teen Brain Summit,  first published in the Chippewa Herald, June 9, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trust in Kauai – Zip lining.

Living my zip line dream on our Hawaiian vacation taught me to trust.

Living my zip line dream on our Hawaiian vacation taught me to trust.

Zipline Solo photo

“Just keep walking until there’s nothing under you, then sit down and enjoy the ride” I waited ‘til last in line,  grabbed the strap with both hands, took a deep breath and walked off the platform at 10,000’. A hundred shades of green, mountain peaks, ponds and waterfalls lay below me, but I was too busy trying to steer and land feet first to notice them on that first run. Bundy told us later that was the highest point on Hawaii’s garden island– Kauai. I was zip lining! Whoo Hoo!

The gear felt surprisingly heavy at first, but I was thankful for every ounce when it carried me. “Keep your hands off the cable! Only hold the strap, not the metal clip above it. Just relax into the harness. It will hold you.” Bundy told us. “Steer with your knuckles. Turn them toward your knees. Feel the tension like steering into a slide when driving on icy roads.” Good advice, but how do they know about icy roads in Hawaii?

My word for 2014 is Trust. What a way to push off for the year! Letting go at those heights? Yes, I was shaky, and grabbed the strap as if my life depended on it– well, it did. But that strap and harness would hold even when I let go. My energy was better spent enjoying the view and the experience.  That’s my take away for my Trust year.

The first run was the shortest. They got longer, lower, and more fun when I remembered to exhale and relax into the ride.

We had a great group—lots of laughter and encouragement. The young couple always made perfect landings; experience was with them. Margaret and Bill from South Bend and I took photos of each other, soon to be shared between us. Jean and Walter quickly picked up the steering strategy.

John knew what to expect because he had done the same runs a few years earlier with his daughter. While we waited for the shuttle, he honored me by sharing their story. She would have been with him again, had she not passed a few months ago. This time he dropped a lock of her hair on her favorite run. My heart goes out to their family.

Randy was our strong and very upbeat Hawaiian “catcher”. I panicked on my first run when I came into the platform backwards, but soon learned he “had my back”.  Trust feels great. I felt no more fear, just exhilaration at actually being there and fulfilling my dream.

By the fourth run, I let go of one hand, and finally drank in the breathtaking view. Steering didn’t matter anymore. I wanted to remember this first zip line experience. My husband chose the ground tour so he could get some great photos, which we are enjoying now. I hope we will come back and zip line together. Now to Hang Loose for the rest of 2014.