Bowing Out of Group Texts
It’s a common digital dilemma: annoying group texts you didn’t ask to join. While there’s no shame in preferring your phone not blow up with multiple texts about dinner plans during your morning meeting, bowing out gracefully can be tricky. “It’s annoying, but it’s rude to call out the rudeness of others,” says Daniel Buccino, a Johns Hopkins expert in civility. Most of the time, you’re roped into group texts without actually opting in—often with people you might not know too well. In these cases, Buccino says, “it’s always right to be polite. Sometimes the polite thing to do is to just endure it and ignore it.” Switch your phone to silent until the barrage ends.
Other times, you may want to intervene, Buccino says. If you can’t attend the dinner in question, simply say, “Sorry can’t make it! Can you take me off the text? Hope you have fun.” Similarly, if most of the conversation isn’t relevant to you, be direct and honest and ask for a separate text or call about anything that specifically needs your attention. When all else fails, says Buccino, it’s OK to ghost.
Dealing With Doctor Phobia
If you’re having a hard time convincing a loved one to visit the doctor, Colleen Christmas has some advice. First, “try to understand their perspective,” says Christmas, a geriatric physician at Johns Hopkins. You might think your mom is just being stubborn, but she may be harboring some real concerns.
If she’s worried about insurance coverage, offer to help verify she has the right referrals. If there’s anxiety about seeing a new doc, offer to go with her to the appointment for support. If she’s already seen her primary care practitioner but the problem persists, stress the fact that a specialist can help. Also, make sure she understands your perspective— what you’re concerned about and why you think checking in with a doctor is the right move.
“If that’s not particularly effective, the next step would be to try and understand the patient’s overall goals and frame the doctor’s visit as a way that helps to meet them,” Christmas says.
For example, if your greatuncle Ted isn’t interested in more medication in the remaining years of his life, make it a goal to help him address with his physician the possibility of using alternative remedies. “There’s a lot that doctors can offer older patients who may not want further tests or surgeries,” Christmas explains. Work to find a goal that everyone can agree on.
Not So Precious Juuls
Most parents would be concerned to find a pack of cigarettes or a tin of chewing tobacco in their teen’s room. But they might be overlooking one of the most popular ways that kids are using nicotine.
A Juul is a sleek, compact device—about the size and shape of a thumb drive—that delivers a heady hit of nicotine. Originally intended to help smokers quit, the miniature vaporizers have become wildly popular with teens who stash them in pockets and pencil cases and puff them between classes and before sports practice.
“Juul seems to have come out of nowhere,” says Ryan David Kennedy, an assistant professor in the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
While the device’s ads are aimed at adults, search for the term on Instagram and you’ll find tens of thousands of posts depicting teens Juuling or doing tricks, like blowing rings of vapor.
Only people over 18 are legally allowed to purchase Juuls, like other nicotine vaporizers, but many teens buy the device, and the flavored nicotine pods that refill them, from classmates or other secondary sellers. Those flavors, which include mango and crème brûlée, appeal to teens with their mix of sweetness and sophistication.
While Juuling releases fewer carcinogens than smoking tobacco, it’s far from a harmless habit, Kennedy says. The nicotine in Juuls is treated with a chemical process that speeds its delivery to the brain. “You don’t want to introduce a drug like nicotine to a brain that’s still developing,” he says. Early and frequent exposure can lead to problems with mood and attention as well as increased risk of lifelong addiction.
Kennedy is studying how other countries regulate e-cigarettes to minimize the chance of teen use, such as limiting the placement of ads. He recommends that parents talk about the hazards with their kids—as he does with his own teenage sons.
“These devices are regulated as a tobacco product, but they’re essentially a drug delivery device,” he says. “I don’t know that kids fully understand that they contain nicotine.”
Is Your Child a Mouth-Breather?
Oh, sure your kid might play video games with his mouth agape, gobsmacked at the cool graphics. But if he tends to keep his mouth ajar when he’s not playing Fortnite, it could mean that he’s breathing out of his mouth instead of through his nose, which is not a normal condition.
“It’s a very common complaint,” says David Tunkel, a pediatric otolaryngologist at Johns Hopkins. “Often the concern is that it’s a symptom of a more global problem, such as allergies; large adenoids, which can restrict air; a recurring infection; or structural problem in the nose.” Those maladies, in turn, can cause issues for kids at night, including restless sleep, severe snoring, or in extreme cases, sleep apnea.
If left unchecked, chronic mouth-breathing over the course of years may influence the shape of a child’s face as he or she grows, and also cause improperly aligned teeth, high palates, or gummy smiles. Restless sleep can affect a child’s attention, academic performance, and physical growth, so severe snoring or gasping at night should be addressed right away.
So how do you tell if your kid is a chronic mouth-breather?
“Severity and duration are everything,” Tunkel says. “The average child has a cold five times a year. What I ask people is, Do the symptoms go away when the cold goes away? If they answer that their child always mouth-breathes or snores, then they need an evaluation.”
Easing Test Anxiety
Test anxiety is that feeling of uneasiness before, during, or after an exam and to some extent it’s normal, says Alexis Rhames, a Johns Hopkins education expert and school mental health counselor. But when a child is irritable, can’t concentrate, or fixates on the clock instead of exam questions, performance suffers. “Parents can really step in and help kids, not just by making them study more but also by having a positive attitude and affirming them,” Rhames says.
In addition to encouraging kids to build their confidence, parents can help kids by doing practice tests or helping them study in chunks to make the task seem more manageable. Find a study method that works for your child. Are flashcards effective? Ask your child’s teacher for ideas. You can even try some meditation techniques. Before test day, try practicing deep breathing together—it’s good for both kids and parents. And make sure he or she gets enough sleep. “I really believe that when it comes to tests,” Rhames says, “it’s a matter of the mind.”
Does your dog rush to your side when you’re upset? The answer is probably a big, slobbery yes.
“Dogs have been by the side of humans for tens of thousands of years, and they’ve learned to read our social cues,” says Emily Sanford, a graduate student in Psychological and Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins University.
To prove the heartfelt hunch that dogs will hurry to do something about their owners’ emotional distress, Sanford’s team at Macalester College, where she studied as an undergrad, worked with 34 dogs of various breeds and sizes and their humans. While sitting behind a clear door held shut with magnets, owners were asked to either hum “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” or cry. Dogs that opened the door when they heard their owner crying opened it three times faster than dogs whose owners were humming.
During the task, the researchers also measured the dogs’ stress levels and found that pets that were able to push through the door to “rescue” their owners showed less stress: They were upset by the crying but not too upset to act. The dogs that didn’t push open the door? It seems they cared too much and were too stressed by the crying to do anything.
“We found dogs not only sense what their owners are feeling, but if a dog knows a way to help them, they’ll go through barriers to provide help to them,” says Sanford, whose research was published in the journal Learning & Behavior. “Every dog owner has a story about coming home from a long day, sitting down for a cry, and the dog’s right there, licking their face. In a way, this is the science behind that.”
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