TIME Parenting

ADHD in Adulthood: To Prepare for a New Baby, I Had to Prepare My Mental Health

The author with his son Jack.
The author with his son Jack. Courtesy Timothy Denevi

Soon enough we’ll find ourselves short on sleep and patience—in anticipation I’ve been trying to make the necessary preparations

This fall I’m expecting the birth of my second child, a daughter. Over the past months she’s grown from the size of a kumquat, to the size of a banana, and recently achieved the esteemed gradation of cabbage. From what I can tell the final step is cantaloupe—and then, having triumphed through the full prenatal catalog of produce, Sylvia Denevi, the newest member of our family, will be here.

For now the focus is on preparation. My wife and I live in a suburb of Washington, D.C., with our seven-year-old son, Jack. Together we’ve begun to make the expected adjustments. The guest room is now a nursery. The garage has been searched and reorganized, its assortment of baby gear emerging again like relics from a previous life.

I see my preparation for Sylvia’s arrival as love: the first opportunity I have to tell her I love her, that she’s precious to me, that I’ll do whatever it takes to be the best father I can be. I’ve also been taking the steps to prepare myself, within the context of mental health, for the change that’s about to come.

Growing up in the 1980s and 90s, I was part of the first generation of Americans to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder. There was never really a question of whether or not I had ADHD, and after years of being the most active, over-sensitive, and impulsive person in the room—after a childhood of psychiatric and psychological treatments, some of which helped, others making things worse—I graduated from college and entered the workforce, at which point my personality no longer seemed as exaggerated and out-of-whack as it had once been. In the end I figured that whatever ADHD was, it was a part of the past.

That understanding changed when Jack was born. At the time I was 27. All at once I found myself surrounded by an enormous amount of conflict—the same kind I used to experience, growing up, when my behavior would drive the people around me crazy. It was uncanny: my wife would say something, and I’d overreact, and she’d say something else, and then I’d be shouting, and glaring, and shouting again. We argued constantly over the new demands: diaper changes, midnight feedings, who got to take a midday nap and who had to do the grocery shopping. Soon enough our lives began to resemble a ledger. I did this and you didn’t do that. My time is just as important than yours! You want to go to the gym for an hour but I can’t play softball tomorrow night? Instead of finding a way to share the new amount of work that was required of us, we spent hours fighting.

My wife is a scientist, thoughtful and logical, traits that have always fit well with my more energetic demeanor, and up until Jack was born our relationship was steady. But now it seemed as if our personalities had switched; at the end the day she’d be yelling at me and I’d turn sullen and depressed.

I felt overwhelmed. Like I couldn’t do the simplest things. It was as if I was underwater, gazing up toward a normal reality—one in which every other new parent seemed to deal well enough—while I was the abnormal one, a failure, once again a problem for the people who loved me. It was the most distant I’d felt from my wife since we’d been together.

“You’ve never been like this,” she told me. And while there were other variables involved—we’d moved across the country right after Jack was born, were at precarious points in our careers, and didn’t have extended family around to help—it was clear that if I didn’t act soon I’d run the risk of damaging my relationship with my family in a way that couldn’t easily be undone.

Eventually I went to see my family doctor, and then a psychiatrist. When I explained my moodiness and agitation they said the same thing: ADHD, even in adulthood, tends to make you much more sensitive than other people to your surrounding environment. If you’re constantly feeling restless and impulsive, you might react to demands in a disproportionate way—and there are few things more destabilizing than the birth of a child.

There wasn’t one thing I could do to magically make things better, they told me—that’s not how mental illness works. Instead, they recommended a series of steps. For the first time I started exercising regularly; I paid careful attention to my sleeping and eating habits; I even went on a low dosage of Adderall, which helped to make everything seem less drastic and overwhelming.

Eventually things improved, but not right away. It was a genuinely hard stretch for my wife and I—part of the reason, no doubt, we’ve waited a while to have another baby. But now, seven years later, as the summer turns to fall and Sylvia continues in her ascension through an aisle at the grocery store, we can take solace in the fact that we both have a much better idea of the changes to expect.

Soon enough we’ll find ourselves short on sleep. And time. And stamina. I’ll be less resilient in terms of mood and patience. In anticipation I’ve been trying to make the necessary preparations.

I started psychotherapy, visiting a psychologist regularly both by myself and with my wife. I’ve set up my exercise schedule with an emphasis on cardiovascular activities like running and tennis, the most beneficial to mental health. I’m trying to cut down on social events and alcohol—two things I very much enjoy. And I find myself making observations about my own sleeping and eating that are usually directed at seven-year-olds: Do you really think it’s a smart decision to start another television show this close to bedtime? If you’re sweating and your stomach already hurts, maybe that fifth piece of pizza isn’t the best decision…

I’ve also talked with my psychiatrist about the possibility of making a medication adjustment. (I hate being on medication anyway, and prefer to take as low as dose as possible.) The Adderall I’m on is the instant-release kind; my current approach is to take it ahead of time when I know I’m about to find myself in situations that are especially overwhelming or agitating—a birthday party for one of Jack’s friends at Chuck E. Cheese; driving through an unfamiliar snarl of D.C. traffic—but what happens when the foresight necessary for such an approach is already eroded by a lack of sleep and/or a screaming infant? I can try a time-release version, or a new medication.

One of the most difficult aspects of mental illness, especially within the context of parenthood, is finding a way, when it comes to your life and its influence on the people you love, to do more good than harm. In the end you can’t possibly predict what’s really coming: the moment in the future that will dislodge you from the balance you’ve worked so hard to achieve. It might be a random calamity, or one you’ve personally brought about. But the incredible truth is that it’s already on the way. And against such a prospect, what good can something like a therapist or exercise or a low-dosage pyschostimulant actually do?

This isn’t to dismiss the idea of effort. In fact it’s the opposite: imagining all the things that could go wrong or right for my family, I can’t help but find solace in action. I’m lucky that there are steps I can take, and that often enough they do tend to help. What matters is the act itself: an expression of love for the most important people in my life. After all, there are many ways to show how you feel; is it so terrible that one of mine happens to take the form of self-preparedness?

A few weeks ago, when Jack was looking through the toys in his closet and trying to guess which, if any, his future sister might enjoy, he turned to me and said, “Daddy, I have a question.”

I could tell by the line of his mouth that it was something he’d been considering for a while. “Yeah?”

“What do you think Sylvia will be like?”

Briefly the image of a pumpkin with very long eyelashes flashed into my mind, but in the next instant was something outside the parameters of size and shape: an emotion similar enough to anticipation. “A little like you,” I said. “And like Mommy. A little like me, too, I think.”

He nodded.

“That’s the exciting part,” I added. “Whoever she’s going to be, she’ll be herself.”

Hyper, by Timothy Denevi Courtesy Simon & Schuster

Timothy Denevi is the author of Hyper: A Personal History of ADHD, out this week from Simon & Schuster. He received his MFA in nonfiction from the University of Iowa. He lives near Washington, DC and teaches in the MFA program at George Mason University, where he’s a visiting writer.

TIME

A Tale of Two 9-Year-Olds: The One on the Playground, and the One With an Uzi

An UZI assault pistol
An UZI assault pistol Terry Ashe—Getty Images

You should be absolutely terrified that a 9-year-old’s constitutional right to fire an Uzi trumps your right to decide at what age your kids can play at the park unsupervised

Parents who allow their 9-year-old to play unsupervised at a playground can be arrested, but handing a nine-year-old an Uzi is perfectly acceptable.

Unfortunately, that’s not hyperbole. It’s just the sad state of affairs in which we find ourselves, after a 9-year-old New Jersey girl accidentally shot and killed her instructor at a firing range in Arizona. The girl’s parents paid for her to fire a fully automatic machine gun, but she lost control of the weapon and shot her instructor, Charles Vacca, killing the military veteran.

The chilling ordeal was caught on tape, courtesy of the girl’s parents, but Arizona police officials have said no charges will be filed or arrests made. The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office concluded the incident was an “industrial accident,” and have contacted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to investigate, according to published reports.

Let’s compare that to a story from earlier this summer, regarding a different 9-year-old, one in South Carolina.

Debra Harrell is a working mother who faces a common problem for parents when school lets out for the summer: finding affordable child care. The McDonald’s employee couldn’t afford to have someone watch her 9-year-old daughter, so the girl was playing on her laptop in the restaurant during her mother’s shifts. However, when that laptop was stolen from their home, Harrell armed her daughter with a cell phone in case of an emergency and let her go unsupervised to an area playground. Another parent noticed the girl there alone and contacted the police, at which point Harrell was arrested and charged with child neglect. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years behind bars.

Is anyone else absolutely scared to death of the horrendous message we’re sending to parents?

Regarding the incident in Arizona, we’re talking about two parents who willingly paid $200 to put a fully automatic weapon in the hands of their 9-year-old daughter. This poor girl, who should’ve been learning to shoot with a .22 rifle or some other weapon she could handle (if indeed she had to learn to fire a gun) was given an Uzi capable of firing up to 600 rounds per minute—creating a recoil difficult for some adults to handle.

And the scariest part? The firing range has a minimum age of eight years old to fire such weapons – one year younger than the girl who is now surely scarred for life. The terrible judgment of the New Jersey parents (combined with the operators of the firing range to allow kids that young to fire Uzis) directly contributed to a man’s death. That stands in stark contrast to Harrell’s troubles in South Carolina.

Instead of a loaded weapon, Harrell armed her daughter with a phone, and sent her to a playground with lots of other kids and adults. The only shooting that took place was the cool water from a splash pad and some hoops on the basketball courts. There were even volunteers who came by the playground with free snacks. While perhaps not ideal since Harrell was at work, she sent her daughter to a family-friendly place with an environment geared toward fun and summertime frivolity. The same kind of place I routinely rode my bike to at the age of nine.

Yet Harrell is the one arrested. Who lost her job. Who spent 17 days in jail, temporarily lost custody of her daughter, and faces 10 years in prison.

So, when considering charges for the neglect of a child, playgrounds seem to be a greater threat in the eyes of the law than guns. And that is a travesty.

Wherever you fall in this country’s ongoing debate about guns and gun control, this should upset you. It should infuriate you. It should alert you to our disturbingly warped gun culture, and should be more than enough proof that change is desperately needed. And parents, let me state this unequivocally: It is never acceptable to let your 9-year-old fire an Uzi. Never. Under any circumstances.

Harrell’s detractors claim someone could’ve kidnapped her daughter at the playground, which is true. But while there is a low risk of child abduction at a public playground in broad daylight, it pales in comparison to the risks involved with letting a 9-year-old fire a machine gun. So please stop referencing the 2nd amendment, because I’m certain our Founding Fathers weren’t contemplating the benefits of letting children fire hundreds of rounds per minute when they drafted the right to bear arms.

If you’re a parent, you should be absolutely terrified that a 9-year-old’s constitutional right to fire an Uzi trumps your right to decide at what age your kids can play at the park unsupervised.

Something has to change. Now.

Aaron Gouveia is a husband, father of two boys, and writes for his site, The Daddy Files.

TIME viral

Little Boy Finds The Idea of His Mom Being Pregnant Simply “Exasperating” in Adorable Video

"What were you thinking?!"

Typically when parents break the news to their children that they are going to be big brothers or sisters, it goes over really well or really badly.

A mother named Shanee Gibson Hart of Fort Lewis, Washington, posted a video on Facebook and YouTube describing the moment she told her son Tré and daughter that they are going to have a new sibling, and the news sends her son off on a tirade that would make Gordon Ramsey blush.

“What were you thinking?!” he wails. “It’s too much! This makes no sense!”

Turns out that the kid is not preaching from a replacement level fertility platform, it’s just that he’s really worried his mom and dad will replace him. “You have two babies! You keep loving them forever not having another baby!” Tré yells from the back seat. His mother assures him that his parents will love him and his little sister forever, which temporarily calms the kid.

The détente is broken, though, when his mother points out that his baby sister looks happy about the news and the boy realizes he has a very important question to ask: Pointing his finger at his mom, he demands to know, “What kind of baby is it?”

His mother patiently talks him down, and the boy finally concedes that the baby can exist, but only on one condition: “Buy me some earplugs.”

MORE: Here’s The World’s Fastest Dog on Two Paws

MORE: This Lamb Bouncing Gleefully Down a Hallway Will Remind You That Everything’s Gonna Be Okay

TIME Parenting

Maybe Orphanages Aren’t So Bad After All, Study Says

ranplett—Getty Images/Vetta

Author of biggest study to date says the institutions have been unfairly stigmatized

Orphanages, as we all know from Charles Dickens, studies of kids from former Eastern Bloc countries and the musical Annie, are bad for children. Except, as a few studies are now beginning to find, when they’re not. The latest study looked at children from five not-so-wealthy countries in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa over the course of three years and found that being in an institution did not necessarily make them much worse off.

Whether or not orphanages are a viable solution for children with no homes is no small issue. According to the most recent figures from UNICEF, there were more than 132 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean in 2005. That’s a scary number — more than the entire population of Britain and Italy combined — and figuring out the best way to look after that many vulnerable beings is a problem of significant complexity.

Even the definition of “orphan” is complicated. Not all of those 132 million-plus kids had lost both parents; closer to 13 million are what UNICEF calls “double orphans.” And 95% of all orphans, single or double, were over the age of five. So while the mental image of an orphan is of an abandoned baby in a basket, the reality is quite different.

There’s a reasonably heated debate over the best way to look after kids with no homes to go to. Studies out of Romania and Russia have found that kids raised in orphanages were vastly worse off than kids raised by foster families. A slew of studies suggest that children who were institutionalized as babies are much worse off than those who were not and that these effects remain through to adulthood.

But the new study, led by Kathryn Whetten, a Duke professor of public policy and director of the Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research (CHPIR), and published by PLOSone, is the largest and most geographically and culturally diverse study of its kind. It followed 1,300 kids, aged six to 15 who were in institutions and 1,400 kids who were in family care in Cambodia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya and Tanzania. Researchers kept watch on such measures as the kids’ physical health, emotional difficulties, growth, learning ability and memory.

And it concluded that closing down all the orphanages — now sometimes known in more fancy circles as residential educational facilities — and finding other options for the 2 million kids currently living in such institutions would be a significant setback in addressing the issue.

“Our findings put less significance on the residential setting as a means to account for either positive or negative child well-being over time,” Whetten said. Much more important is the kind of country, neighborhood or community the child lives in, and, even more crucially, the kind of kid he or she is. Age, gender, existing emotional and nutritional status, and what kind of life each child has had so far have a lot more impact on that child’s fate than whether or not she or he was raised in a group setting.

Whetten, who first released similar findings from a different cross-sectional study in 2009, believes orphanages have been unfairly stigmatized by studies that have focused in on the dire institutions in Romania and Russia. Many of them rely on data from the Bucharest Early Intervention project, which tracks kids from the notoriously bad Romanian orphanages of the Ceausescu era. “This is reminiscent of what happened to mental health facilities in the U.S. in the 1980s,” she says. “We have taken findings from some of the most emotionally and socially deprived orphanages and are assuming that those outcomes would hold true for all group homes. An analogy that a colleague used yesterday was that it is like if we were evaluating whether to send our daughter to a summer camp and, to make our decision, we examined data from a girls prison camp.”

Indeed while Whetten’s study focused in on less wealthy countries, she believes there are implications for America, especially with the foster care system in such crisis. “In the U.S. there is a movement to see long-term residential care as detrimental to all children and that only when no other options are available do we place children in residential care and with the condition that they stay for as little time as possible,” she says. “Yet many of the residential centers here in the U.S. provide family-like care with long-term caregivers/parents who are continuously trained and supported in how to raise children who have experienced significant chaos and trauma in their lives. The children have family meals and can consider the children in the unit to be like siblings.”

While the study does not go so far as to recommend a whole-scale return to the practice of sending orphaned kids off to institutions, Whetten does think they should be one of a menu of solutions, and chosen when it suits the kid. “We need to evaluate each child individually to see where they will best thrive given the available options,” she says. “For example, if a child has four siblings and they would be broken apart if placed in families, but can stay together in a good group home, the group home may be best for all of them. All children deserve a loving family, and the family can look different depending on the situation.”

TIME Parenting

How Couples Play With Dolls Predicts Their Parenting Style, Study Says

Infant training
Heidi van der Westhuizen—Getty Images

Five minutes of play can indicate how parents will work together

Correction appended at 8:45 p.m. ET

An interesting new study suggests that people might be able to predict how well a couple will adjust to being new parents by the way they play with dolls together.

Being parents often throws otherwise seemingly happy couples for a loop. (See: Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig in Friends With Kids.) The stresses of having to monitor a new human 24/7, the triangulation of the relationship and the differences in parenting styles can make home life much more of a hard slog.

But it can be hard to predict what stresses will surface within couples before the child is actually born. So researchers at the Ohio State University videotaped almost 200 dual-earner couples playing with a “doll” — actually pajamas filled with 7 lb. of rice and a green fabric head attached — that they were told represented the child they were about to have. Nine months or so later, after the child was born, they videotaped the couples interacting with their actual baby and compared the two.

They found that the way couples interacted with each other around their baby — known as co-parenting — looked a lot like the way the couples interacted with each other around the doll. Spouses who said encouraging things to each other and cooperated as they interacted with the doll were also observed doing so with their actual child. Spouses who said things like, “You’re not going to hold the real baby like that are you?”, were critical after the real child was born. Couples who shared time with the doll in the study were similarly sharing responsibility for the real baby.

It’s generally accepted that effective co-parenting is linked with happier and healthier kids. It’s also linked happier married couples and longer marriages.

One of the authors of the study, which appeared in the August 2014 issue of the Journal of Family Psychology, said she was surprised by how striking the similarities were. “Even though I believe that the co-parenting relationship begins to develop prior to a child’s birth, I had to see it for myself to be convinced,” said Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, a professor of human sciences at the Ohio State University. “It still amazes me that five minutes of play with a doll can predict co-parenting behavior with the real infant one year later.”

The doll-playing experiment was developed in Switzerland and has a fancy name — Lausanne Trilogue Play — but has rarely been used to study parenting in the U.S. “I think it really provides a unique opportunity to watch families develop from the earliest stages,” Schoppe-Sullivan said.

Parents who participated in the study tended to be a little better educated — and not weirded out by pretending rice-filled pajamas were babies — so the study was not nationally representative. But interestingly, the authors found that the inability to co-parent was not an outcome of being unhappily married. As part of the study, each couple filled out a questionnaire about their marital satisfaction. And the researchers also watched couples interacting without babies, or baby-like objects. “The co-parenting and couple relationships are not the same,” Schoppe-Sullivan said.

The researchers suggested that early intervention for couples with co-parenting issues may make for a smoother transition to parenthood and head off some family fracturing.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the name of a movie with Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig.

TIME Crime

Parents Turn Teen Daughter into Police After Finding Naked Cellphone Photos

The mother says she was concerned for her daughter's future

The parents of a 13-year-old Virginia girl turned their daughter over to police after finding nude photos on her phone, the Dinwiddie County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Friday.

“Looking through the phone and the tablet we did find sexual pictures, conversations that were very inappropriate for her age,” the girl’s mother told a local television station.

The mother said she is particularly concerned about whether the people she shared photos with were adults. The sheriff’s office declined to provide details about the investigation, but confirmed that it was looking into whether adults were involved.

“We believe them to be 17-18ish… Definitely older than her,” the mother told the local CBS affiliate.

The mother said she turned her daughter over to authorities out of concern for her daughter’s future.

“We did this now to protect her for now and in the future, because this could get worse,” she said. “She could be taken.”

TIME Parenting

Art or Porn: When Does Posting Nude Photos of a Toddler Cross the Line?

Wyatt Neumann's daughter
Wyatt Neumann's daughter Wyatt Neumann

Maybe there's something slightly tragic to be said about the Internet having conditioned us all to look at things through smut-colored glasses

If you follow any parents on Instagram or Facebook, you’ve seen something like the snapshot Wyatt Neumann posted last year. His 2-year-old daughter, Stella, completely naked, jumps on an unmade motel bed, joy blooming across her face.

You may have even posted a photo just like it of your own kid. Chances are, though, you didn’t get comments like the ones Neumann did: “This guy is a class A d–k.” Or this one: “PEDOS CAN EASILY FIND THESE PICTURES AND JACK OFF TO THEM.”

Or maybe you shared a snapshot of your little one, frolicking outside, lifting her dress — in that unselfconscious way every toddler does. Neumann, a professional photographer, posted these and more on Instagram. Many of the ensuing comments were profanity-laced. One said: “I want to puke. The nude photos are gross and disturbing.”

These photos, and more like them, are the centerpieces of Neumann’s latest solo show at the Safari gallery in Soho, New York, which runs through the end of the week. Titled “I Feel Sorry For Your Children,” the exhibit documents a 12-day road trip he took with Stella last year, from Zion National Park to New York City. He accompanies each photo with his original Instagram caption — usually with the hashtag #dadlife — and a comment from a complete stranger. It is an extreme iteration of the more judgmental and moralistic strains we encounter in modern parenting.

And yet, the photos raise an interesting question about how much we share about our kids on social media. Neumann happens to be an award-winning fine art photographer with commercial clients like Reebok and Visa. But you wouldn’t necessarily have that context if you were to stumble upon his photos online somewhere for the first time. Pictures like the one of his daughter sitting between his legs in a bathtub might trigger a twinge of discomfort for the candidness and intimacy they capture. It’s a beautiful image, but does it belong in a public venue frequented by perverts and prudes alike? Here’s where I land: However uncomfortable a given photo may make me feel, I would be even less comfortable telling someone they can’t post it.

The roadtrip photos — Stella in her carseat; Stella using a portable training potty at a roadside pitstop; Stella eating barbeque — were first posted to his Instagram account. His friend Claire Bidwell Smith, author of the best-selling memoir “The Rules of Inheritance,” told her own Instagram followers to check them out. From there the images made their way to the online message board Get Off My Internets.

And then came the hate: Parenting trolls descended with a vengeance, flagging so many of his pictures that his account was suspended mid-roadtrip — 6,000 photos gone — but not before flooding his posts and inbox with hate speech and insults.

It was clearly too much for some to stomach. I wonder if these people — protected by the anonymity the Internet provides — would have been less quick to assault the parent’s character if it was Stella’s mother who posted the photos. And maybe there is something slightly tragic to be said about the Internet having conditioned us all to look at things through smut-colored glasses. “The Internet is for porn,” goes the famous line from the Tony-winning musical Avenue Q–and most of the time I’m the last person to complain about it. But there are multiple references to pedophiles in the Instagram comments to his photos. In the worst instances, commenters have accused Neumann of trading in kiddie porn.

“What they wanted me to do was stop posting photos,” he told me at his exhibit which opened last month. “They wanted to take away my ability to do that. The more this conservative, puritanical, fundamentalist ideology starts to permeate our culture [the more] it’s compressing our ability to express ourselves. Rather than retreat, I pushed forward and turned it into a beautiful art show.”

Anyone with a child has hundreds of these kinds of snapshots on a smartphone. I do. We all have our own rules about how much we’ll share of our kids’ lives online. I certainly don’t post any photos of mine undressed or, for that matter, doing anything I think they’d find compromising in the future. But they’re older than Stella. When they were younger I might have shared a bathtub shot or two, or one of them copping a potty-training squat. Harmless stuff. But even then, it would have most likely been on Facebook where at least I am given the illusion that I can control who has access to the pictures.

These days, whenever I take a photo of my kids, ages 6 and 9, they invariably say “Don’t put that on Facebook!” or “Let me choose the filter before you put it on Instagram.” I let them call the shots, most of the time.

Neumann, whose own father died before he could get to know him, errs on the side of openness. He’s creating an archive for his kids and who am I to judge him for sharing it? “I was raised on a hippie commune,” he says. “I grew up naked. My life with my father is something I lived through in photos. I got to know him through the artifacts he left.”

It’s painfully obvious that Neumann not only loves his children, but is also a present, involved and nurturing father. Author Bidwell Smith thought she had made that point when she shared her friend’s pictures.

“People box parenthood into such a small realm of what we’re supposed to be with our children,” she told me. “Wyatt blows that up. His work is brilliant and gorgeous–the way he captures childhood in this fleeting way. Kids are free and magical and not inhibited by the cultural boundaries we all are. It made me sad that that distinction wasn’t made in their minds.”

The photos he shares of Stella are striking in their intimacy and universality. His wife, Jena Cordova, told me that she would feel lucky to have one such picture from her own childhood; Stella and her older brother Takota have thousands. (I am granted an interview with Stella, but she is feeling shy and buries her face into her Dad’s neck. Also, there is a smartphone nearby streaming cartoons.)

Like the comic who says what everyone is thinking but too scared to utter out loud, Neumann makes photographs of his kids as timeless as they are personal: his daughter looking tired, his daughter ecstatic, sultry, bored, human.

“It’s very confusing to me,” says Cordova. “Even when I didn’t have children, my mind wouldn’t have gone there. It makes me sad for a lot of people that it would even cross their minds.”

In that respect Neumann’s photos are something of a Rorschach test: You see in them what you want to see. I see a doting dad who happens to be a photographer with a killer eye — and, yes, a desire to share. Haters, as they say on the Internet and playgrounds everywhere, are gonna hate.

TIME Family

Why Access to Screens Is Lowering Kids’ Social Skills

Brothers Watching TV
Chris Stein—Getty Images

Kids read emotions better after being deprived of electronic media

People have long suspected that there’s a cost to all this digital data all the time, right at our fingertips. Now there’s a study out of UCLA that might prove those digital skeptics right. In the study, kids who were deprived of screens for five days got much better at reading people’s emotions than kids who continued their normal screen-filled lives.

The California research team’s findings, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior this month tries to analyze the impact digital media has on humans’ ability to communicate face-to-face.

As an experiment, 51 sixth graders from a public school in Southern California were sent to outdoor education camp, spending five whole days completely deprived of TV, phone and Internet. Contrary to the kids’ expectations, they survived just fine and actually had genuine fun.

The first pool of kids was then compared to another group of 54 sixth graders from the same school who had not yet attended the camp, but had spent the previous five days with their normal amount of screen time.

Both sets of students were given photos of people expressing emotions—sadness, anger, joy, anxiety and so on, before the camp and after the camp. Both sets of students were also shown video of people interacting and displaying emotions. The students who had been to camp got much better at discerning how the people in the photos and the videos were feeling after that five day period. They scored much higher at recognizing non-verbal emotional cues (facial expressions, body language, gestures) than they had before the camp, while the scores of the students who had not been deprived of screens did not change at all.

With online training courses being used for almost everything now, this new study may give teachers, parents and administrators pause on such widespread use of digital media in education. “Many people are looking at the benefits of digital media in education, and not many are looking at the costs,” said Patricia M. Greenfield, a distinguished professor of psychology at UCLA and senior author of the study. “Decreased sensitivity to emotional cues is one of the costs—understanding the emotions of other people. The displacement of in-person social interaction by screen interaction seems to be reducing social skills.”

Lead author Yalda T. Uhls, a senior researcher with the Children’s Digital Media Center, said she hopes that people won’t merely take away the idea that all screens are bad, but that face-to-face time for young people is an important part of the socialization process.

According to a survey given to the study’s participants, the kids spent an average of four-and-a-half hours texting, watching television and playing video games during a single typical school day. According to Uhls, this is on the low end–many children and teenagers spend more than seven-and-a-half-hours a day interacting with a screen of some sort. And when interacting with a screen, they aren’t interacting with a human.

“You can’t learn non-verbal emotional cues from a screen in the way you can learn it from face-to-face communication,” Uhls said.

TIME Parenting

Millennials Are Selfish and Entitled, and Helicopter Parents Are to Blame

Parent Child Climbing
Peter Lourenco—Flickr RF/Getty Images

There are more overprotective moms and dads at a time when children are actually safer than ever

It’s natural to resent younger Americans — they’re younger! — but we’re on the verge of a new generation gap that may make the nasty old fights between baby boomers and their “Greatest Generation” parents look like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Seventy-one percent of American adults think of 18-to-29-year-olds — millennials, basically — as “selfish,” and 65% of us think of them as “entitled.” That’s according to the latest Reason-Rupe Poll, a quarterly survey of 1,000 representative adult Americans.

If millennials are self-absorbed little monsters who expect the world to come to them and for their parents to clean up their rooms well into their 20s, we’ve got no one to blame but ourselves — especially the moms and dads among us.

Indeed, the same poll documents the ridiculous level of kid-coddling that has now become the new normal. More than two-thirds of us think there ought to be a law that kids as old as 9 should be supervised while playing at a public park, which helps explain (though not justify) the arrest of a South Carolina mother who let her phone-enabled daughter play in a busy park while she worked at a nearby McDonald’s. We think on average that kids should be 10 years old before they “are allowed to play in the front yard unsupervised.” Unless you live on a traffic island or a war zone, that’s just nuts.

It gets worse: We think that our precious bundles of joy should be 12 before they can wait alone in a car for five minutes on a cool day or walk to school without an adult, and that they should be 13 before they can be trusted to stay home alone. You’d think that kids raised on Baby Einstein DVDs should be a little more advanced than that.

Curiously, this sort of ridiculous hyperprotectiveness is playing out against a backdrop in which children are safer than ever. Students reporting bullying is one-third of what it was 20 years ago, and according to a study in JAMA Pediatrics, the past decade has seen massive declines in exposure to violence for kids. Out of 50 trends studied, summarize the authors, “there were 27 significant declines and no significant increases between 2003 and 2011. Declines were particularly large for assault victimization, bullying, and sexual victimization. There were also significant declines in the perpetration of violence and property crime.”

There are surely many causes for the mainstreaming of helicopter parenting. Kids cost a hell of a lot to raise. The U.S. Department of Agriculture figures a child born in 2013 will set back middle-income parents about $245,000 up to age 17 (and that’s before college bills kick in). We’re having fewer children, so we’re putting fewer eggs in a smaller basket, so to speak. According to the Reason-Rupe poll, only 27% of adults thought the media were overestimating threats to the day-to-day safety of children, suggesting that 73% of us are suckers for sensationalistic news coverage that distorts reality (62% of us erroneously think that today’s youth face greater dangers than previous generations). More kids are in institutional settings — whether preschool or school itself — at earlier ages, so maybe parents just assume someone will always be on call.

But whatever the reasons for our insistence that we childproof the world around us, this way madness lies. From King Lear to Mildred Pierce, classic literature (and basic common sense) suggests that coddling kids is no way to raise thriving, much less grateful, offspring. Indeed, quite the opposite. And with 58% of millennials calling themselves “entitled” and more than 70% saying they are “selfish,” older Americans may soon be learning that lesson the hard way.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser