TIME Addiction

Here’s Who’s Most Likely To Black Out While Drinking

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Getty Images

Blacking out, or getting so drunk that you can’t remember anything that happened the night before, is all too common among underage drinkers, according to a new study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

In the study, Marc Schuckit, professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego, and his colleagues looked at data on 1,402 drinking teenagers in England when they were 15, 16, 18 and 19. They discovered that by the time the teens reached 19, 90% of them had drank so much they experienced a blackout. About half of them had blacked out multiple times.

More than half of people reported having a blackout at every year of follow-up.

Teens who blacked out while drinking tended to be female—likely because they weigh less and have less body water to dilute the alcohol—to smoke, have sensation-seeking and impulsive behaviors, lack conscientiousness and have friends who also drank or used other substances. “It’s not as if a blackout in these kids was an isolated phenomenon,” says Schuckit. “Blackouts are unfortunately often considered to be a funny thing as opposed to dangerous. I am not sure the average person realizes the dangers associated with blackouts.”

A blackout can occur when someone drinks well over their limit. Alcohol is considered a depressant, and when the dose is high enough, depressants are known to impair memory acquisition. When someone blacks out, it means that while they appear to be awake, alert and intoxicated, their brain is actually not making long-term memories of what’s happening. If a person experiencing a blackout is asked what happened to them just 10 minutes ago, they will have no idea.

There are very few, if any, longitudinal studies that have looked at the impact of blacking out on the brain, but experts guess that it isn’t good. High blood alcohol levels are known to cause memory problems later in life, and blacking out is an indicator of drinking too much. Some people may hit that point with fewer drinks than others, and it’s possible that some have a genetically predisposed sensitivity to alcohol’s effects—but blacking out always means you’ve drank too much.

For young people, that behavior concerns experts. “When you really get drunk, literature shows you are opening yourself up to a huge number of problems,” says Schuckit, citing a greater likelihood of getting into accidents and fights, or doing things that one may later regret, including sex.

The study looked at British students, and prior data suggests that they drink more than American students. Still, Schuckit says it should be taken more seriously among young drinkers everywhere.

Read next: This is What Alcohol Does to Your Sleep

MONEY Kids and Money

Trouble Talking to Kids About Money? Try This Book Instead

parents trying to talk to teenage daughter
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A new book hopes to impart important money lessons in just a few words and pictures

Talking to your kids about money is never easy. We have so many financial taboos and insecurities that many parents would rather skip it—just like their parents likely did with them. If that sounds like you, maybe a new easy-to-digest money guide written for teens can be part of your answer.

As a parent, you have to do something. Kids today will come of age and ultimately retire in a vastly less secure financial world. Their keys to long-term success will have little to do with the traditional pensions and Social Security benefits that may be a big part of your own retirement calculus. For them, saving early and building their own safety net is the only sure solution.

Most parents get that. After all, adults have seen first-hand the long-running switch from defined benefit to defined contribution plans that took flight in the 1980s. Yet only in the last 15 years have we really begun to grasp how much this change has undermined retirement security. Now, more parents are having the money talk with their kids. Still, many say they find it easier to talk about sex or drugs than finances.

The big challenge of our day, as it relates to the financial security of young people, is getting them thinking about their financial future now while they have 40 or 50 years to let their savings compound. But saving is only one piece of the puzzle. Young people need to protect their identity and their credit score—two relatively recent considerations. Many of them are also committed to making a difference through giving, which is an uplifting trait of younger generations. Yet they are prone to scams and don’t know how to vet a charity.

In OMG: The Official Money Guide for Teenagers, authors Susan and Michael Beacham tackle these and other basics in a breezy, colorful, cleverly illustrated booklet meant to hold a teen’s attention. The whole thing can be read in an hour. I’m not convinced the YouTube generation will latch on to any written material on this subject. And while the authors do a nice job of keeping things simple, they just can’t avoid eye-glazing terms like “liquidity” and “principal.”

But they make a solid effort to hold a teen’s interest through a handful of “awkward money moments,” which illustrate how poor money management can lead to embarrassing outcomes like their debit card being declined in front of friends or having to wear last year’s team uniform because they spent all their money at the mall. “Kids are very social and money is a big part of that social experience,” says Susan Beacham. “No teen wants to feel awkward, which is why we chose this word. If they read nothing else but these segments they will be ahead of the game.”

The Beachams are co-founders of Money Savvy Generation, a youth financial education website. They have a long history in personal finance and created the Money Savvy Pig, a bank with separate compartments for saving, spending, donating, and investing. In OMG, they tackle budgets, saving, investing, plastic, identity theft, giving, and insurance.

A new money guide for young people seems to pop up every few years. So it’s not like this hasn’t been tried before. Earlier titles include Money Sense for Kids from Barron’s and The Everything Kids Money Book by Brette McWhorter Sember. But most often this subject is geared at parents, offering ways to teach their kids about money. Dave Ramsey’s Smart Money Smart Kids came out last spring and due out early next year is The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who are Grounded, Generous and Smart About Money from New York Times personal finance columnist Ron Lieber.

In a nod to how tough it can be to get teens to read a book about money, Beacham suggests a parent or grandparent ask them to read OMG, and offer them an incentive like a gift card after completing the chapter on “ways to pay” or a cash bonus after reading the chapter on budgets and setting one up. “Make reading the book a bit like a treasure hunt,” she says. That just might make having the money talk easier too.

 

 

 

TIME Research

Why People Text And Drive Even When They Know It’s Dangerous

texting while driving
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75% of drivers surveyed admit to texting while driving

If you’ve turned on the TV or glanced up at a billboard lately, you know that texting while driving is a bad idea. Celebrities are lending their names to public awareness campaigns, and more than 40 states have banned the practice. A new study surveyed 1,000 drivers and found that 98% of those who text everyday and drive frequently say the practice is dangerous. Still, nearly 75% say they do it anyway.

“There’s a huge discrepancy between attitude and behavior,” says David Greenfield, a University of Connecticut Medical School professor who led the study. “There’s that schism between what we believe and then what we do.”

The lure of text messages is actually a lot like the appeal of slot machines, Greenfield explains: both can be difficult compulsions to overcome for some people. The buzz of an incoming text message causes the release of dopamine in the brain, which generates excitement, Greenfield says. If the message turns out to be from someone appealing, even more dopamine is released.

Curbing this compulsion could take years for the text-obsessed, and doing so might resemble efforts to stop drunk driving, Greenfield says. People need to realize they’re part of the problem before they change their behavior, he adds.

“In order to really include oneself in a group that has a problem with texting and driving, they have to admit their own fallibility, and we’re loath to do that,” Greenfield said.

Multiple public awareness campaigns have taken to the airwaves and internet to target the practice, but it’s unclear how effective they are, given that the public seems to be largely aware of the issue. There might be more actionable solutions in the very near future, however. AT&T, which sponsored Greenfield’s study as part of its “It Can Wait Campaign,” has an app that switches on when a person is driving more than 15 mph and silences incoming text message alerts.

Read next: Why Siri Is the Worst Backseat Driver

TIME relationships

Why Parents Let Kids Watch More Movies With Sex and Violence

Girl in Movie Theater Eating Popcorn
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They're getting desensitized, study suggests

If you’ve felt like PG-13 movies have gotten more violent lately, you’re right. A new study published in the journal Pediatrics reports that violent scenes are now more common, with gun violence tripling in movies since 1985. Sex scenes in R-rated movies are up, too.

One possible reason: the more parents watch movies filled with sex and violence, the less they appear to care about the age of children watching them, too, the study suggests.

Annenberg Public Policy Center researchers screened several movie clips in succession for 1,000 parents of pre-teens and teens, asking them what they thought was an appropriate minimum age for their child to watch the movie. The more movie clips the parents watched, the more lax they became about who should watch the film.

At first, the parents rated violent scenes appropriate for kids at age 16.9 on average, and sex scenes appropriate for kids starting at age 17.2. But by the end of the study, those thresholds had dropped. Parents thought kids ages 13.9 could watch the violent scenes and kids aged 14 could watch the sex scenes.

Outside of the lab, parents have input in how movies are rated. Several members on the board of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the group that rates movies, have children, the study says. Researchers think that the increase in sex and violence may actually be due to parents becoming desensitized to the scenes. This, the authors conclude, “may contribute to the increasing acceptance of both types of content by both parents and the raters employed by the film industry.”

TIME Sex

Parents and Teens Aren’t Embarrassed by the Sex Talk Anymore

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But there's still a lot more conversations that need to happen, according to new data shared exclusively with TIME

Adolescence is an entirely new beast in the era of high-speed Internet and smartphones. People have never been so easy to chat with nor has content been so easy to download–and that adds a new layer to the parental ritual of having “the talk.” But new data shows that while parents and young people are perfectly willing to chat about sex, they may not be doing it as often as they should.

Planned Parenthood and and New York University’s Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,663 pairs of parents and their children, ages 9-21, to get a sense of how American families of all backgrounds are communicating about sex and healthy relationships. What the inquiry found was that eight out of 10 young people have talked to their parents about sexuality. Among those pairs, about half of the parents said they started having the talk with their kids by age 10 and 80% initiated the conversation by age 13.

While a high majority of parents (80%) talked to their kids about sexuality beyond the basics, like peer pressure and how to stay safe online, responses also revealed that they weren’t doing it all that frequently. Over 20% of parents said they’d never talked to their 15-21-year-olds about strategies for saying no to sex, birth control methods, or where to get accurate sexual health information, and over 30% hadn’t talked to their kids about where to get reproductive health services.

“The great news is that parents and teens are talking about these topics,” says Leslie Kantor, vice president of education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Most parents and their children report starting these conversations before the age of 14, and they are talking about topics like peer pressure, puberty and staying safe online. The bad news is that people don’t necessarily have a lot of conversations, so [it] doesn’t become ongoing.”

Although most parents and young people said they didn’t feel embarrassed to talk about sex, nor felt they needed to rely on schools to do it, sometimes parents weren’t very clear about their stance on virginity. For instance, 61% of parents want young people to wait to have sex until they can handle the responsibility (45% advocated waiting for marriage), but only 52% of parents talked to their kids about sexual values, regardless of their beliefs.

Experts suggest that starting the conversation may be the trickiest part. “Young people are dealing with some different contexts than in the past,” says Kantor, citing the pervasiveness of social media. “When was I was growing up, I couldn’t meet up with someone by meeting them on a game online. These things didn’t used to happen.”

Kantor says parents are learning to deal with circumstances they never experienced themselves, and therefore feel like they can’t keep up, or don’t really know where to start when it comes to sexuality in the digital age.

Sometimes, using the same technologies can be the best way to ensure positive learning opportunities–an idea Planned Parenthood has adopted. If young people are getting a lot of sex education from the media other online sources—more than 75% of primetime programming contains sexual content—then parents and educators can harness that for the good.

Planned Parenthood has set up chat and text sex education programs that allow young people to chat in realtime with a PP staffer about everything from STD to morning-after pill questions. In September alone, there were 10,974 conversations, and since the launch in May this year, there have been a total of 393,174. The organization also has an Awkward or Not app that takes young people through an online quiz that gives them the chance to send their parents a text to start a conversation about dating and sex.

“We are very committed to ensuring that parents are the primary sex educators of their own kids,” says Kantor. “Use TV as an opportunity. Even if the show is sending a terrible message, it gives you a chance to get in there with something else. For example, asking, ”Is this what people look like at your school? Not everyone is size two.'”

Ultimately, 90% of parents surveyed said they think that sex ed should be taught in both middle school and high school, which is telling in a country where abstinence-only education is still a mainstay and often sex ed is reserved to a brief health or gym class period—or in some places is entirely non-existent. There’s a lot of incomplete or incorrect information out there when it comes to sexuality, and if parents and young people really don’t feel that embarrassed to have these conversations, then it’s time to break the ice.

Read next: How Nudity Became the New Normal

TIME

Parents, Unite! No Apple Watch for Kids

The new Apple Watch is displayed during an Apple special event at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts on Sept. 9, 2014 in Cupertino, Calif.
The new Apple Watch is displayed during an Apple special event at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts on Sept. 9, 2014 in Cupertino, Calif. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

You know it’s coming. While the sensible majority of parents has already decided the new $350 Apple Watch is too pricey, fancy, and much for a child, some kid with a generous grandma and a knack for ruining everything will turn up at middle school wearing one. She’ll flash the candy-colored apps, shoot the breeze with Siri, and show everyone her heartbeat in real time on the teeny-tiny, supershiny screen. It’s going to look so cool. Our kids may be irreparably dazzled. When this happens, what’s our plan? We’re going to need a plan.

First, we will point out to our older kids that they (probably) already have a perfectly good cell phone that makes calls, sends texts, and yes, tells time. It may even have GPS, WiFi, a browser, FaceTime calling—depending on your house rules and, perhaps, your generous grandma situation. No matter what the phone’s functionality, it will be easier to see and use on the phone they already have than on a wristwatch. That’s right, after fretting and setting limits on the amount of time our tweens and teens spend staring into the phone, we now may have to concede that their current phone is completely awesome. (And be thankful they keep it in their book bags some of the time instead of on their wrists all of the time.)

Next—and let’s just put our foot down and make this the final point, end of discussion—we say “Three. Hundred. Fifty. Dollars.” Don’t bother pointing out that use of an Apple Watch is only possible with an iPhone, so that the wearer must actually own both devices. Refrain from adding that it would be a great tragedy to lose such an expensive item at the park or in the locker room. Not necessary. He’s not going to lose it, because he’s not going to get it.

It seems to me that some of the functions that garnered the Apple Watch a standing ovation during its introduction on September 9 might be downright dangerous in the hands of kids. The constant biometric feedback regarding your activity level and fitness is a major feat of personal technology. But how might a young girl whose body image is in flux react to this information overload? Constant feedback of any kind could be a nightmare for kids with attention-deficit issues. Even the most focused among us may have to adjust to being “tapped” on the wrist by a watch every time we get a message, call, or hand-drawn picture from a friend’s watch. Kids who already have trouble concentrating might completely lose it.

That’s the plan, and I hope you’re in. Between us, though, and let’s whisper now: Could there be any upside to getting a kid this watch? Certainly, one could follow a kid’s whereabouts and stay in contact by calls and messages, but most of that is already possible with a phone. What about the kid whose imagination is set alight by new technology, who wants to understand everything about the latest developments in the digital world? We all know kids who outsmart us on our own smart phones, seemingly by pure intuition, and are experts on how digital devices work. If these kids are the inventors of tomorrow, maybe there’s a case to be made for letting them experience the Apple Watch up close. However, I’d say such kids might benefit from being allowed limited access to a grown-up’s Apple Watch, just to see how it works.

Most kids wouldn’t dare to ask for a $350.00 watch, and I hope that mine has the good sense to be among them. Perhaps she will remember the undercurrent of tension in our home while, for a full 48 hours, her smart phone was sealed in a jar of dry rice, recovering from having been “splashed at the sink”—a euphemism for “submerged in the bathtub,” I’m pretty sure. The pressure of keeping an even more expensive device from damage or loss just might be too much.

A year or two from now, when the newness of Apple Watch has worn off and the price has come down, maybe your kid will have saved up enough money to buy his own. By then, of course, there will be some new and more insidious gizmo in the spotlight, Apple Contact Lenses or Apple BrainChip. Let’s stick to the plan: No, you cannot have that because you don’t need it. Yes, please show me how mine works.

TIME Viral Videos

Teens React to the Nintendo Entertainment System in Hilarious Video

Starring Game of Thrones' Maisie Williams

Grab your controllers, because the latest installment of The Fine Bros. web series, “Teens React” introduces the raised-on-Wii kids of today what the past generation had to use to play Legend of Zelda.

The games themselves stumped some of the new players. While the tech-savvy teens had all heard of Super Mario Bros., thanks to the fact that it had been released for the Nintendo DS, Dragon Warrior 3 elicited confusion across the board, from “No, but it sounds rad!” to “No, I don’t LARP.”

The players were left to their own devices to figure out how to insert the seemingly giant cartridge into the console, but when trouble struck, the film makers instructed them on the fine art of blowing on the game cartridge. The teens were then allowed to play the first round of Super Mario Bros. and they all struggled to use the controller (“This is the least comfortable controller ever!”) while trying to collect coins and being chased by evil mushrooms (“I literally died the first time”) and gawking at the old-school graphics (“I feel like I’m in Wreck-It Ralph!”)

After getting versed in the history of the NES, the teens did take a moment to offer their respect to the classic console, thanking the little gray box for introducing the world at large to the joys of at-home gaming.

While the teens may have found the exercise slightly humiliating, the more insightful ones knew that it was pure karma. “I always make fun of my dad for not knowing how to use stuff,” noted one dejected teen. “Now he’s going to be watching this.”

MORE: Little By Little, Violent Video Games Make Us More Aggressive

MORE: Watch Kids React in Utter Bemusement at the Sight of an Old Computer

TIME apps

Teenage Kid Ignoring Your Calls? There’s an App for That

iphone teenager
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The "Ignore No More" application locks teens Android phones until they call mom or dad back

A New York mom got so sick of her teen kids ignoring her calls she created an app so they couldn’t.

Sharon Standifir, the creator of the “Ignore No More” smartphone application, told CBS New York that after repeatedly having her calls to her teens go unanswered, she researched how to develop an application that would shut their phones down until they called her back.

And so, that’s what she created after working with developers for months. The $1.99 app, which is currently only available for download on Android phones, allows parents lock their kids’ phones from a separate device, forcing them to call a list of select numbers (including 911) in order to gain access to the device.

“No calls to friends, no text, no games, notta’ until they call you back. When they do, you can unlock their phone if you choose to do so,” reads the application’s website. “How’s that for parental control?”

 

TIME Sex

This Sex-Ed Book Is Way Too Sexy, Parents Complain

Sex Spelled in Alphabet Blocks
Corbis

Teaches ninth-graders about masturbation, like they've never heard of it before

California parents are complaining that a new sex-education book for ninth-graders has way too much hot, naked sex in it.

The Fremont school board voted to replace a 10-year-old sex-ed book with a new book, titled Your Health Today, which includes details about things like foreplay, masturbation and bondage.

Some parents are not happy about it. Almost 2,000 of them have signed a petition to remove the book from schools, but the school district says it has no intention of pulling it.

“There’s a section that tells you how to talk to your prospective partners about your sexual history,” parent Asfia Ahmed told the San Jose Mercury News. “I am a very liberal person, and, in spite of that, I still find the book shocking.” Other parents were appalled to find mentions of ropes, handcuffs and sex toys.

School-board president Lara Calvert-York said that despite parental objections, it’s better to educate teens early, before they become sexually active. “Ninth grade is the last time when we have an opportunity to help educate our students on how to be physically and emotionally safe,” she told the Mercury News.

[San Jose Mercury News]

 

TIME politics

Marijuana Should Be Legal, but …

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Nepalese Marijuana Getty Images

We must treat drug use for what it is: a health, not a criminal, issue

Yes, it’s harmful, and yes, it should be legalized.

It’s not often that the White House responds directly to a newspaper op-ed, as it did last week when the New York Times editorial board published its opinion that the federal government should repeal the ban on the production, sale and use of marijuana. The Office of National Drug Control Policy swiftly responded, reiterating its stand that it “continues to oppose” legalization.

The editorial board listed sound arguments, including the social costs of prohibition. However, the board was remiss when it effectively brushed aside what it acknowledged are the “legitimate concerns” about marijuana’s impact on the development of adolescent brains. Even supporters of legalization, of which I’m one, must not underestimate those concerns. The ONDCP was right when it said, in its response to the Times, “policymakers shouldn’t ignore the basic scientific fact that marijuana is addictive and marijuana use has harmful consequences.”

Some proponents of legalization maintain that marijuana is harmless, but it isn’t — especially when it comes to kids. Indeed, I’ve spoken to many supporters of legalization. They don’t want their children using marijuana any more than those opposed to legalization do.

A body of research shows that marijuana causes structural and functional changes in the developing brains of adolescents. By stunting communication between brain regions, it impairs high-level thinking. There’s evidence that it impacts memory, too, and, for a small minority of kids, can trigger latent mental illnesses like schizophrenia. Also, marijuana users are more likely to suffer from clinical depression than others, though, as Ty S. Schepis, assistant professor of psychology at Texas State University, notes, “It’s unknown if pot causes depression; it may be that depressed people smoke pot.” What is known is that the often stated contention that no one gets addicted to pot is contradicted by the fact that an estimated 9% do. I once visited an adolescent treatment center where most patients between 14 and 20 were there because of an addiction exclusively to pot — anyone who says that marijuana isn’t addictive should talk to these kids. Indeed, in spite of a basketball net outside and other recreational facilities, it wasn’t summer camp; those kids had all suffered devastating consequences from their pot smoking, and most had tried to stop but couldn’t.

There are more reasons to worry that regular pot smoking could significantly impact a child’s life. The drug may cause something called amotivational syndrome, and adolescents who regularly smoke are less likely to have learned to deal with their emotions, to weather disappointments and to work through difficult times in relationships. In a number of studies, long-term marijuana users reported poorer outcomes on a variety of life satisfaction and achievement measures, including educational attainment, than nonusers.

If marijuana impedes kids’ biological and emotional development, why should it be made legal, especially when there’s evidence that legalization may increase the number of kids who try pot in the first place? First, the assumption of an uptick in use doesn’t take into account countermeasures that can and should be put into place. (Following the model of alcohol, the Times advocates a prohibition of sales to people under 21, but that ignores the research that shows that the period of adolescent brain development doesn’t end until the mid-20s.) Science-based regulations must be put in place and enforced. Next, education and other prevention strategies must accompany legalization, and they should be paid for by the savings and revenue that would come with legalization. Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron calculated that if marijuana were legalized, the government would save $7.7 billion annually in law-enforcement costs, and it could bring in an additional $6.2 billion a year if pot were taxed at rates similar to alcohol and tobacco. That’s $13.9 billion per year that could, and should, be earmarked to prevention campaigns, as well as treatment for those who become addicted.

The fact is, the illegal status of marijuana hasn’t stopped millions of kids from smoking it every day, and it may stop many from seeking help. No one should be arrested for smoking pot. Children should be educated and, if problems develop, immediately treated so they don’t escalate. People who are arrested for drug use are likely to descend into more use. Think about it. Take a child who does what so many kids do these days: she’s with friends, someone hands her a joint, and she tries it. Now she’s broken the law. If her use escalates and she winds up in the criminal-justice system, she’s entered one of the highest-risk groups for addiction. Kids punished for using are under great stress, which increases their risk. If they’re expelled from school or lose a job, their prospects are fewer. This recipe creates not only more drug use, but more dangerous use.

Until we become more effective in our prevention efforts, many kids are going to try pot. Some will smoke a lot, and some will become addicted. We must have a new conversation with them, treating drug use for what it is: a health, not a criminal, issue. We must legalize marijuana and take the decision to use or not out of the realm of morality and judgment. We communicate the message that bad kids use drugs, good kids don’t. But as a pediatrician I know put it: these aren’t bad kids; they’re our kids. We mustn’t stigmatize. Instead, we must educate and nurture them, and build their resilience so they grow up safety and healthily.

David Sheff’s latest book is Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy, the follow-up to his New York Times No. 1 best seller, Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction. Follow him on Twitter @david_sheff.

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