It’s confirmed: Our Kids are Being Turned into Heroin Junkies

One of the advantages of tabletop gaming is that you are a) required to interact with other humans in person when playing a multi-player game and b) looking at something that is not a screen, does not change upon command, and does not have a universe’s worth of information on it. As someone who has played at least 10,000 hours of video gaming, I know just how fun-and addicting-games can be. Even now, as I try to work to a schedule and get a lot done with my internet access (blog posts, social media, writing books, answering e-mail, working on some game concepts) it’s FREAKING HARD not to want to get the answer to a question or to want to know what’s going on in the outside world.

The fact is, nearly all of us are now carry symptoms of ADHD (which includes those of us to either have ADD or ADHD or suffer from recognized neurological disorders that go along with ADHD and OCD), especially around electronic devises. We are now obsessed with what the internet has given us. This weekend, I spoke to some incredible people at TempleCon and I’m going to share their thoughts with you, because it made me stop to think. My one regret was not being able to record these talks, because we should all be thinking about the issues discussed. Specifically, we talked about technology and its benefits/ negatives.

Anyways, as I’ve said before, there is going to be a serious problem in this country if people are turning away from reading and social activities and instead become slaves to their smartphones, eagerly awaiting the next social media like or approval from strangers. Yes, kids prefer print to e-books, and yes, the tabletop industry has grown 7 consecutive years and was worth about $850 as of 2015. But the total video game market is $100 BILLION and that’s mostly electronic games.

So here to confirm what Captain Friedman has been saying, is the mainstream media. Normally I’d clip the article, but this is so good that I’m reposting the entire thing, including the original link:

http://nypost.com/2016/08/27/its-digital-heroin-how-screens-turn-kids-into-psychotic-junkies/

 

It’s ‘digital heroin’: How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies

Susan* bought her 6-year-old son John an iPad when he was in first grade. “I thought ‘why not let him get a jump on things?’ ” she told me during a therapy session. John’s school had begun using the devices with younger and younger grades—and his technology teacher had raved about their educational benefits—so Susan wanted to do what was best for her sandy-haired boy who loved reading and playing baseball.

She started letting John play different educational games on his iPad. Eventually, he discovered Minecraft, which the technology teacher assured her was “just like electronic Lego.” Remembering how much fun she had as a child building and playing with the interlocking plastic blocks, Susan let her son Minecraft his afternoons away.

Still, Susan couldn’t deny she was seeing changes in John. He started getting more and more focused on his game and losing interest in baseball and reading while refusing to do his chores. Some mornings he would wake up and tell her that he could see the cube shapes in his dreams.At first, Susan was quite pleased. John seemed engaged in creative play as he explored the cube-world of the game. She did notice that the game wasn’t quite like the Legos that she remembered—after all, she didn’t have to kill animals and find rare minerals to survive and get to the next level with her beloved old game. But John did seem to really like playing and the school even had a Minecraft club, so how bad could it be?

Although that concerned her, she thought her son might just be exhibiting an active imagination. As his behavior continued to deteriorate, she tried to take the game away but John threw temper tantrums. His outbursts were so severe that she gave in, still rationalizing to herself over and over again that “it’s educational.”

Then, one night, she realized that something was seriously wrong.

“I walked into his room to check on him. He was supposed to be sleeping—and I was just so frightened…”

We now know that those iPads, smart phones and Xboxes are a form of digital drug.

She found him sitting up in his bed staring wide-eyed, his bloodshot eyes looking into the distance as his glowing iPad lay next to him. He seemed to be in a trance. Beside herself with panic, Susan had to shake the boy repeatedly to snap him out of it. Distraught, she could not understand how her once-healthy and happy little boy had become so addicted to the game that he wound up in a catatonic stupor.

There’s a reason that the most tech-cautious parents are tech designers and engineers. Steve Jobs was a notoriously low-tech parent. Silicon Valley tech executives and engineers enroll their kids in no-tech Waldorf Schools. Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page went to no-tech Montessori Schools, as did Amazon creator Jeff Bezos and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.

Many parents intuitively understand that ubiquitous glowing screens are having a negative effect on kids. We see the aggressive temper tantrums when the devices are taken away and the wandering attention spans when children are not perpetually stimulated by their hyper-arousing devices. Worse, we see children that become bored, apathetic, uninteresting and uninterested when not plugged in.

But it’s even worse than we think.

We now know that those iPads, smart phones and Xboxes are a form of digital drug. Recent brain imaging research is showing that they affect the brain’s frontal cortex—which controls executive functioning, including impulse control—in exactly the same way that cocaine does. Technology is so hyper-arousing that it raises dopamine levels—the feel-good neurotransmitter most involved in the addiction dynamic—as much as sex.

This addictive effect is why Dr. Peter Whybrow, Director of Neuroscience at UCLA calls screens “electronic cocaine” and Chinese researchers call them “digital heroin.” In fact, Dr. Andrew Doan, the Head of Addiction Research for the Pentagon and the U.S. Navy—who has been researching video game addiction—calls video games and screen technologies “digital pharmakeia” (Greek for drug).

That’s right—your kid’s brain on Minecraft looks like a brain on drugs. No wonder we have a hard time peeling kids from their screens and find our little ones agitated when their screen time is interrupted. In addition, hundreds of clinical studies show that screens increase depression, anxiety, and aggression and can even lead to psychotic-like features where the video gamer loses touch with reality.

In my clinical work with over a 1,000 teens over the past 15 years, I have found the old axiom of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” to be especially true when it comes to tech addiction. Once a kid has crossed the line into true tech addiction, treatment can be very difficult. Indeed, I have found it easier to treat heroin and crystal meth addicts than lost-in-the-matrix video gamers or Facebook-dependent social media addicts.

That’s right—your kid’s brain on Minecraft looks like a brain on drugs.

According to a 2013 Policy Statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics, 8- to 10 year-olds spend 8 hours a day with various digital media while teenagers spend 11 hours in front of screens. One in three kids are using tablets or smartphones before they can talk. Meanwhile, the handbook of “Internet Addiction” by Dr. Kimberly Young states that 18 percent of college-age internet users in the U.S. suffer from tech addiction.

Once a person crosses over the line into full-blown addiction — drug, digital or otherwise — they need to detox before any other kind of therapy can have any chance of being effective. With tech, that means a full digital detox—no computers, no smartphones, no tablets. The extreme digital detox even eliminates television. The prescribed amount of time is four to six weeks; that’s the amount of time that is usually required for a hyper-aroused nervous system to reset itself. But that’s no easy task in our current tech-filled society where screens are ubiquitous. A person can live without drugs or alcohol; with tech addiction, digital temptations are everywhere.

So how do we keep our children from crossing this line? It’s not easy.

The key is to prevent your 4, 5 or 8-year-old from getting hooked on screens to begin with. That means Lego instead of Minecraft; books instead of iPads; nature and sports instead of TV. If you have to, demand that your child’s school not give them a tablet or Chromebook until they are at least 10 years old (others recommend 12).

Have honest discussions with your child about why you are limiting their screen access. Eat dinner with your children without any electronic devices at the table—just as Steve Jobs used to have tech-free dinners with his kids. Don’t fall victim to “Distracted Parent Syndrome” —as we know from Social Learning Theory, “monkey see, monkey do.”

When I speak to my 9-year-old twin boys, I have honest conversations with them about why we don’t want them having tablets or playing video games. I explain to them that some kids like playing with their devices so much, that they have a hard time stopping or controlling how much they play. I’ve helped them to understand that if they get caught up with screens and Minecraft like some of their friends have, that other parts of their lives may suffer: they may not want to play baseball as much; not read books as often; be less interested in science and nature projects; become more disconnected from their real-world friends. Amazingly, they don’t need much convincing as they’ve seen first-hand the changes that some of their little friends have undergone as a result of their excessive screen time.

Modal Trigger

Developmental psychologists understand that children’s healthy development involves social interaction, creative imaginative play and an engagement with the real, natural world. Unfortunately, the immersive and addictive world of screens dampens and stunts those developmental processes.

We also know that kids are more prone to addictive escape if they feel alone, alienated, purposeless and bored. Thus the solution is often to help kids to connect to meaningful real life experiences and flesh and blood relationships. The engaged child tethered to creative activities and connected to his or her family is less likely to escape into the digital fantasy world. Yet even if a child has the best and most loving support, he or she could fall into the Matrix once they engage with hypnotic screens and experience their addicting effect. After all, about one in 10 people are predisposed towards addictive tendencies.

In the end, my client Susan removed John’s tablet, but recovery was an uphill battle with many bumps and setbacks along the way.

Four years later, after much support and reinforcement, John is doing much better today. He has learned to use a desktop computer in a healthier way, and has gotten some sense of balance back in his life: he’s playing on a baseball team and has several close friends in his middle school. But his mother is still vigilant and remains a positive and proactive force with his tech usage because, as with any addiction, relapse can sneak up in moments of weakness. Making sure that he has healthy outlets, no computer in his bedroom and a nightly tech-free dinner at the dinner table are all part of the solution.

I’ve seen this everywhere: Parents, particularly both single-parent homes and where both parents work, provide the child with an electronic device to keep him/her busy while Mommy and Daddy work. The problem is, the device provides the unsuspecting child with all kinds of stimuli that trigger strong feelings of attachment to the device. Soon the child is obsessed with getting stimulated by the games, and the parents begin to wonder why their child loses interest in sports and playtime. The obvious thing is, if you cannot take time off to be with your child, is to routinely replace the electronics with books, puzzles, board games (or card games) or some other simply, non-electronic hobby. Yet this kind of common-sense is lacking in our society, among other things that are seriously wrong. We need to get away from the obsessive nature of the internet and return to our roots- recognizing that while our ancestors did live short and rather horrible lives, they did at least not have to worry about what someone in the next village over said about them on Facebook.

 

The decline in serious reading continues thanks to profiteering

hooked app

The Atlantic points out what we’ve known for a long time: Many students graduate unable to write coherent sentences or make a logical argument using writing. After all, why write when you can just text or Snap?

“In “The Writing Revolution,” Peg Tyre traces the problems at one troubled New York high school to a simple fact: The students couldn’t write coherent sentences. In 2009 New Dorp High made a radical change. Instead of trying to engage students through memoir exercises and creative assignments, the school required them to write expository essays and learn the fundamentals of grammar. Within two years, the school’s pass rates for the English Regents test and the global-history exam were soaring. The school’s drop-out rate — 40 percent in 2006 — has fallen to 20 percent.

The experiment suggests that the trend toward teaching creative writing was hurting American students. In a debate about Tyre’s story, we asked a range of experts, from policymakers to Freedom Writers founder Erin Gruwell, to share their thoughts on Tyre’s story.

So we can all safely agree that a lot of children are simply not writing well enough to function in the workplace. We don’t mean write fiction novels; we mean do enough to hold a good-paying job.

So we would assume the solution is for businesspeople to take a chance on returning us to learning the basics, right?

Nope.

New app offers ‘books for the Snapchat generation’

“Umm…why do u have Claires phone?”

“Well if u must know i sat down on this park bench to read”

“And sat right on someone’s phone. Claire’s I’m guessing”

“What r u reading?”

That’s an excerpt from a book meant to be read on an iPhone or Apple Watch. It’s available on an app that launched this week called Hooked.

Prerna Gupta describes her app as “books for the Snapchat generation.”

Hooked will feature short fiction for young-adult readers. Gupta said that 80% of young-adult novels are read digitally. So the teen-set seemed like the most natural audience.

Each book will be roughly 1,000 words and is designed to be read in about five minutes. The stories will be told entirely through dialogue and read like texts. Messages show up on screen when readers click “Next.”

“Epistolary literature is nothing new,” she said. “Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ is one of my favorite books and the story is told entirely through letters.”

Gupta, who envisions the app as being like “Twitter for fiction,” turned to some of the top MFA programs to recruit alumni writers.

“We listed that we had paid creative writing opportunities and the response was overwhelming,” Gupta said.

While she wouldn’t disclose actual figures, Gupta said pay varied by story but was very “competitive.”

Initially, the app will only feature content from screened contributors. However, eventually users will be able to submit content of their own.

The app is free to download and features one free story a day. Readers can unlock more stories with the subscription service. A week of unlimited stories costs $2.99. A month is $7.99 and a year is $39.99.

There are currently over 200 stories and Gupta said they add more every day.

Stories are broken into categories such as “Dark & Stormy,” “Primal Terror,” and “Love as Deep.” There’s even a section called “Telepathic” that is “hand-picked” by Hooked editors to “blow ur mind.”

If you were able to stop pounding your computer in anger at the sleaziness of this app, then you should take note: sorry, improving literacy is NOT THE GOAL of these business ventures. Pandering to people’s already-short attention spans is not going to make kids smarter. I don’t think too many of us think the problem is that we have TOO MUCH serious thinking in this world.

There is no such thing as a 1,000 word “book.” Even flash fiction, the shortest form of long-form fiction there is, is 1,200 word limit. It’s okay to promote short stories, but you not get any meaningful text if you write a cell phone-style story.

Think about the last time you read a deep, profound fiction story in less than 1,000 words. The kind of story which makes you think. Yeah, I can’t either. If you want to Tweet a flash fiction piece, go right ahead. There’s nothing wrong with it. But these people ought not to act as though they are contributing to improved literacy.

What this appears to be is rich people preying on poor, aspiring writers by promising them what the internet generally will not do for them-pay them for their work. Toss up work you can write in 5 minutes, and you will get paid for it. Who among you wouldn’t take that offer? Unfortunately, you will end up so desperate to make any money you will do what you have to do to get attention, even if that means writing nonsense for the occasional money, distracting you from focusing on more serious efforts. What, you thought you’d rake in six figures writing flash fiction?

This is how Silk Road merchants made so much money: whoever controls the distribution controls everything. How else do you think social media companies make so much money without providing any content? Because they are great at getting you to give away your content for free, because they convince your customers that anything you write or post has no value at all. If you don’t agree to give away everything for free, customers will just go with whoever will. Essentially, you have no choice, whether you want to or not.*

*disclosure. Many people’s thoughts really ARE worth nothing. Ouch.

They then go to people uninterested in reading and, rather than promote a way to encourage learning, they seek to make a profit off exploiting people. This is no different than the trashy Reality TV and “pop music” industry where profanity and shallowness are celebrated and encouraged. The people running the shows and those who act in them get rich, but they leave behind a lot of impressionable young people who are less able to think deeply or do anything but curse or act dumb to be “cool”.

I know those who run these types of industries will make the usual claim that “hey, at least people are reading.” But in all honesty, encouraging shallow reading of other people’s texts is not an improvement. If anything, it teaches people to have “twitter thoughts”: anything which can’t be explained in 140 characters isn’t worth understanding. This attitude already has ruined political debates. This is not a case of a problem that need solving. This is a case of a married couple seeing $$$ and figuring out how to exploit that.

Most likely this app will fail within 2 years, though the market will decide that. I just can’t see too many people shelling out $40 a year for a blast of shallow short stories when you can already read flash fiction on the web for free (or at least for less). What we need is for business to create new ways to improve learning and literacy, so people will not just read, but understand what they read so they will become thinkers. I have seen far too many business people exploit this gap by pandering to the lowest-common denominator in our media. Pardon the language, but we need to call out these BS artists who are not helping us with the problem.

Image from CNN Money.

Book Review: Percy Jackson, the All American-Greek God-kid

The Last Olympian " Signed "

For my first book review at the rebranded site Bradan’s World, I want to focus on a hyper popular book which already has so many purchases I doubt Rick Riordan gives a darn if I steer a few more his way. But here is a review for his last book, The Last Olympian.

Where I got it from: I picked up the copy from an indie thrift store, and they just had the last book in the series. I guess I got there before the other fan finished book four.

Scoring: As you know, I give 0, 1, or 2 points for plot, style, editing, book cover, and intangibles. Book Cover replaces belivability, which is hard to be precise about. Instead, I’ll put that towards intangibles. Every review has some spoilers, so read at your own risk.

Plot: You may need to pick up books 1-4 to figure out everything that happened, but Rick’s writing is good enough that I got the plot without needing to go back. At this point, Percy Jackson, the son of Poseidon, is trying to figure out a way to stop Kronos, Lord of Time, from destroying Olympus where the Gods are. Apparently Greek Gods looove Manhattan and so this is where Mount Olympus is, along with the last half of the novel. After a losing battle with Kronos, who is using the body of Luke Castellan to do his bidding, Percy goes to camp Half-Blood to regroup. He and his friends eventually go to Manhattan where a dark battle is brewing. It’s up to Percy and his outmanned friends to stop a very powerful army, led by Kronos, at the feet of Olympus.

I will judge this book as a standalone, and I can see why it hit the bestseller’s list. It’s really good, the plot makes sense, even if the ending is not quite as dramatic as I would like. 2/2

Style: This is where Rick’s writing stands out from every other kid’s book I’ve seen. It’s really funny. The entire thing is a comedy, but he does a great job at making the dramatic scenes dramatic when he needs to. At times his serious parts were weak because of all the jokes, but no complaints with his writing. 2/2

Editing: I am generally lenient with minor spelling, punctuation, or grammar errors. If you are an indie author or small publisher, I give a lot of leeway. For a traditionally published dude? Not so much. I found a few typos and punctuation errors. Not enough to ruin the story, but come on, Disney. 1.5/2

Book Cover: I loved the cover of the reprint edition, which is the one I have. So much so, I wanted to find John Rocco (Riordan’s cover artists) and ask how much he charged to do a book cover for a comparable novel. 2/2

Intangibles: This is the “emotional” pitch of the book or other factors. Familiar readers know that if you make me cry or feel something in my stomach, you will hit the bestseller’s list. I want to lock that in as a fact.

This book needed to be a little darker towards the end. While the plot and the romantic angle did work, it just came up short. Much as I hate giving halfsies, I have to. 1.5/2

Overall: 9/10 Only a little too much out-of-place humor and a few typos missed by editors from a big publisher kept this from being a solid 10/10. But this book is really, really good. It’s unique (enough), creative, and fun. I can get why kids love it, and I’m sure a fairly high number of adults loved the book and the series too. Good job Rick.

Be one of over 35 million and buy a copy of his book:

At Amazon

at B&N

Have English Books Lost their Flare?

I found this article and I didn’t even think about this issue. If you write books in the English language, are you prepared to lose your place to novels written in other languages?

“It’s the calm before the storm for Barcelona-based French agent Véronique Kirchhoff, who has 70 meetings spread over four days at the upcoming Bologna Children’s Book Fair. And that doesn’t include her French and Spanish clients who she sees independently from the fair. A one-woman show, Kirchhoff has been running her literary agency, which specializes in illustrated children’s books, for seven years, the last three of which have been from Barcelona. She is quick to point out that, “I’m not a French agent selling worldwide, I’m an agent from everywhere selling everywhere. Otherwise I couldn’t make a living.”

Later…

“There is another change Kirchhoff has noticed recently at the Bologna Book Fair where she has a stand in the English-speaking halls.

“There are more and more stands from publishers I’ve never seen before from all around the world. More people are going to Asian, French, Italian, Portuguese or Eastern European stands and the English stands are not as busy. The English are losing their supremacy in terms of selling rights because others have books that are so much more interesting. It’s a question of creativity. People are tired of the same style coming from Anglo-Saxon countries. In the texts as well, I see more narrative in other books. English books are sweeter, but so what? What publishers want is an original story.”

As far as digital books are concerned, “we were told digital is the next big thing. It’s definitely growing in fiction but this is not happening at all in illustrated children’s books. As agents we are asked to grant ebook rights, but publishers usually don’t use them. Now I only grant ebook rights if the publisher can tell me how they can use them. So the market hasn’t developed as was announced—it might, but I don’t think so. Most e-books for children are not books but games. You give a child an iPad in a car during a trip, but you give a child a book before he goes to bed.”

Kirchhoff is upbeat about the future: “I think the children’s book market is coming back to life and I can’t explain why. Although pop ups (novelties) are a harder sell because manufacturing prices keep rising, there is an amazing revival of storyboard books that began one or two years ago. I’m selling picture books really well. There is a focus on beautiful illustrations. A lot of my fellow agents say the same thing. I’m super happy because it was very hard there for a while…”

First off, this isn’t a surprise. There are very few things with global popularity. Only a select few books can have mass appear worldwide. Just because you have a novel in ten languages doesn’t mean it will have equal appeal everywhere. It’s only reasonable that each country has its own local celebrities and local literary culture. Why get a foreigner’s book when you may have your own version from a local person who speaks your language and knows your culture?

However, does this mean foreign book-buyers will turn away from English-language books. I hope not. Because if they do, I’m going to be in trouble, particularly with books aimed at kids and teens (debut YA novel expected Fall 2015). Granted, I won’t focus immediately on foreign-language sales right away, but it’s something to keep in mind.

It’s interesting how children’s books are making a comeback even though the number of new kids born every years has been in overall decline for a long time. Of course, we need to separate “Young Adult” Novels with a huge adult following from kid’s picture or middle-grade books.

B&B: English-language books are still in vogue, but it is true there’s been a lot of repetitiveness coming from the market. It’s far easier to publish a book which is a different take on an already successful idea rather than explore or experiment with new concepts.

This brings us to the next allegation: There are not enough books aimed at children from diverse (read: non-Caucasian) backgrounds. Is this a legitimate problem? Or just griping from people who can’t “make it”? I’ll explore this topic very soon.

Why Should I Get Married? Is Marriage Obsolete?

“Should I get married?” This is one of the questions raging around our single society now with no end in sight.

I am in the prime marriage age group of 25-34. This is the time when most of my friends start-gasp- getting engaged or actually married. This is the time when not only family, but friends, have begun asking things like:

“Sooo…what’s new?” (Translation: Any dates?)

“Sooo..are you bringing anyone to the wedding/hangout?” (Translation: Any dates?)

variant: “Soo…how many people are coming?” (Translation: Any dates?)

my answer: ranges from “I just haven’t found ‘The One’ yet to ‘just me’.” What else am I supposed to do? I have heard all the reasons both for and against getting married. I want to talk about the economic forecasts for our society if more and more people people stay single and/or childless.

Today’s article is brought to you by the American Enterprise Institute’s Nicholas Eberstadt. (bold emphasis mine and article slightly truncated):

“All around the world today, pre-existing family patterns are being upended by a revolutionary new force: the seemingly unstoppable quest for convenience by adults demanding ever-greater autonomy. We can think of this as another triumph of consumer sovereignty, which has at last brought rational choice and elective affinities into a bastion heretofore governed by traditions and duties—many of them onerous. Thanks to this revolution, it is perhaps easier than ever before to free oneself from the burdens that would otherwise be imposed by spouses, children, relatives or significant others with whom one shares a hearth.

Yet in infancy and childhood and then again much later, in feebleness or senescence, people need more from others. Whatever else we may be, we are all manifestly inconvenient at the start and end of life. Thus the recasting of the family puts it on a collision course with the inescapable inconvenience of the human condition itself—portending outcomes and risks we have scarcely begun to consider.

As of 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just over 40% of babies in the U.S. were born outside marriage, and for 2014 the Census Bureau estimated that 27% of all children (and 22% of “White” children) lived in a fatherless home. But the opt-out from the old family norm is even more advanced than these figures suggest. A 2011 study by two Census researchers reckoned that just 59% of all American children (and 65% of “Anglo” or non-Hispanic white children) lived with married and biological parents as of 2009. Unless there is a change in this “revealed preference” against married unions that include children, within the foreseeable future American children who reside with their married birthparents will be in the minority.

Now consider Europe, where the revolution in the family has gained still more ground. European demographers even have an elegant name for the phenomenon: They call it the Second Demographic Transition (the First being the shift from high birth rates and death rates to low ones that began in Europe in the early industrial era and by now encompasses almost every society). In the schema of the Second Demographic Transition, long, stable marriages are out, and divorce or separation are in, along with serial cohabitation and increasingly contingent liaisons. Not surprisingly, this new environment of perennially conditional, no-fault unions was also seen as ushering in an era of more or less permanent sub-replacement fertility.

Europe has also seen a surge in “child-free” adults—voluntary childlessness. The proportion of childless 40-something women is one in five for Sweden and Switzerland, and one in four for Italy. In Berlin and in the German city-state of Hamburg, it’s nearly one in three, and rising swiftly. Europe’s most rapidly growing family type is the one-person household: the home not only child-free, but partner- and relative-free as well. In Western Europe, nearly one home in three (32%) is already a one-person unit, while in autonomy-prizing Denmark the number exceeds 45%. The rise of the one-person home coincides with population aging. But it is not primarily driven by the graying of European society, at least thus far: Over twice as many Danes under 65 are living alone as those over 65.

Lest one suspect that there is something about this phenomenon that is culturally specific to Western countries, we have Japan, whose fabled “Asian family values” are now largely a thing of the past. Contemporary Japanese women have lifestyle options that were unthinkable for their grandmothers, including divorce, separation, cohabitation and remaining single. Japanese women are availing themselves of these new choices.

Much the same has been taking place around East and Southeast Asia for at least a generation. From South Korea to Singapore, China is rimmed by countries where marriage is being postponed or, increasingly, forgone; where networks of extended kin are withering due to extreme sub-replacement fertility; and where childlessness is on the rise.

Thus far the Chinese mainland has been conspicuously resistant to these trends. Yet according to the 2011 Hong Kong census, 22% of the Chinese territory’s women in their late 30s were unmarried—almost the same as for Japan. Further, over 30% of Hong Kong’s women in their early 40s are childless, more than doubling in 15 years. Similar, albeit somewhat less accentuated, tendencies are reported in Taiwan.

America, Europe and the highly modernized reaches of East and Southeast Asia are affluent and “globalized.” But the undoing of previously accepted family arrangements is also under way in seemingly traditional low-income societies—Muslim-majority societies in particular. Although it has attracted strangely little attention, a flight from marriage within the Arab world is in process, led by masses of women who wish to bend or break the rules of family life to which their mothers had submitted.

According to the U.N. Population Division’s “World Marriage Data 2012,” the proportion of never-married women in their late 30s was higher in Morocco in 2004 than in the U.S. in 2009 (18% vs. 16%). By the same token, the percentage of single women in their early 40s was higher in Lebanon in 2007 than in Italy in 2010 (22% vs. 18%). And nearly 32% of Libyan women in their late 30s were unmarried in 2006—20 times the percentage barely two decades earlier, even higher than for Denmark in 2011 (29%).

Our world-wide flight from family constitutes a significant international victory for self-actualization over self-sacrifice, and might even be said to mark a new chapter in humanity’s conscious pursuit of happiness. But these voluntary changes also have unintended consequences. The deleterious impact on the hardly inconsequential numbers of children disadvantaged by the flight from the family is already plain enough. So too the damaging role of divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing in exacerbating income disparities and wealth gaps—for society as a whole, but especially for children. Yes, children are resilient and all that. But the flight from family most assuredly comes at the expense of the vulnerable young.

That same flight also has unforgiving implications for the vulnerable old. With America’s baby boomers reaching retirement, and a world-wide “gray wave” around the corner, we are about to learn the meaning of those implications firsthand.

In the decades ahead, ever more care and support for seniors will be required, especially for the growing contingent among the elderly who will be victims of dementia, or are childless and socially isolated. Remember, a longevity revolution is also under way. Yet by some cruel cosmic irony, family structures and family members will be less capable, and perhaps also less willing, to provide that care and support than ever before.

That contradiction promises to frame an overarching social problem, not just in so-called developed countries but throughout the world. It is far from clear that humanity is prepared to cope with the consequences of its impending family deficit, with increasing independence for those traditionally most dependent on others—i.e., the young and old. Public policies are the obvious candidate for the task. But as the past century of social policy has demonstrated, government is a highly imperfect substitute for family—and a very expensive one.”

Marriage doesn’t seem to be treated as a big deal anymore, except Same-Sex Marriage (which I believe, once fully legalized in all 50 states, will be treated like straight marriage in every way), and while I have many more friends who have or would tie the not than those who haven’t or would not, there are many people I suspect won’t go for it. And of course even among those who are married, many are choosing to not have kids or limit themselves- why isn’t the point of this blog, except that from an economic standpoint a gray wave means more need for services for seniors but fewer workers able to provide. Japan is the future of what will happen to American in about 25 years. Already my home state of Delaware is slowly aging. 25% of residents in Sussex County are seniors and that number grows as retirees move in and young people move away.

Then there’s the cultural mentality: Girlfriends and wives are referred to as a “ball and chain” who keep guys like me from having sex and achieving our dreams because they nag all day. For women, men are either perceived by the media as pathetic, useless losers who need their wives/girlfriends to save them, or absent/unimportant altogether. Then there’s an entire legion of women complaining that a lot of guys would honestly just rather play video games and eat Hot Pockets than get a job and have a serious relationship, leaving guys like me surrounded by a whole culture of Pick Up Artists and those seeking Tinder-style hookups. And yes some women are just as bad as any of these guys.

Now most of us guys are not Christian Grey-billionaires with hardcore sexual fantasies (another definition of ‘ball and chain’ if I ever needed one) but, fantasy fiction aside, I want to hear what you think: Does marriage still matter? Am I weird if I still think it does? Or is it much better to stay single than have one’s life ruined by divorce?

note: this article also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, published February 23, 2015:

Survey Shows Fewer Children Reading for Pleasure and Why This is a Bad Thing

Scholastic Books and YouGov conducted a poll asking 2,558 parents and children on how often the children read for pleasure and the results are not good. The report is long but I picked the results which I think are most important and in some cases most troubling.

Problem 1: Roughly 54% of children ages 0-5 are read to at home 5-7 days a week. But only 34% of kids 6-8 have their parents read to them as frequently, and this drops to 17% for kids 9-11.

Some will say the kids don’t want to be with their parents. WRONG! 83% of the kids surveyed said they “loved” or “liked” when parents read to them, and 40% said they wished their parents had continued reading aloud to them. Given the high number of children who like the quality time with their parents, why do so many parents stop when the child turns six?

Schools have a huge influence on reading for pleasure but few schools really set aside time to do this. I remember being in school and getting reading assignments. Most of the books weren’t that interesting though there were some times when I was able to read in class. 52% of children surveyed said reading in school is one of their favorite parts of the day but only 33% of children have this option available.

For children from low-income homes, 61% said they read for fun mostly in school or equally at school and at home, while 32% of kids ages 6–17 from the highest-income homes say the same.

Problem 2: boys do not read as often as girls. Some of this is perceived to be genetics (girls and women are usually better at reading and writing and verbal language) but I will venture that many books just don’t appeal to boys as much as girls. Note the decline from 2010 to 2014 for both boys and girls, but especially boys:

Problem 3: More time on screens means less time reading. Screen time is increasing

 OK so what we conclude? There is a huge drop-off by parents both a) reading to kids past age 6 and b) parents themselves reading a lot. Now 5-7 nights a week might be tough for most people so I won’t go so far as to say that’s the gold standard. But let’s agree at least 2 nights a week, and at least 2 nights a week with kids, would probably help most children (especially those disinclined to read on their own).

It should not be a surprise that kids whose parents are more involved and who go to schools where literacy is encouraged are more likely to do better in school and in life. We know many children, particularly children in lower-income households, are unlikely to have one of those factors, let alone both, and thus reading for pleasure declines. One graph I did not feature shows a decline for children from wealthier backgrounds also don’t read as much, perhaps spending too much time on screens.

Here is a graph from the Annie E. Casey Foundation on reading proficiency for 4th graders. The Foundation has long-term data on their website showing the correlation between children who cannot read proficiently by the end of 3rd grade and those most likely to end up incarcerated.

Saturday is National Readathon Day #timetoread. With no football on I’ll make sure to read at least one chapter of something. I will have a special post for Saturday on this topic and the book I will read.

  • Last Call: Most children read books by print rather than e-books.

read the full survey here