Keeping Teen Brains Safe

Image by Luke Maxwell

I have a disconcerting memory from when I was in my early twenties: I was reading an article in a magazine about how the adolescent brain is still changing and developing longer than most people realize. The article had an example which showed a photo of a woman. According to the article, adolescents saw anger while adults saw fear. I stared and stared at the photo but could not see fear instead of anger—even knowing what it was!

I was startled into realizing that no matter what stage of life I was in at the moment, my brain was not done yet. Was that a relief that any mistakes were the fault of not-full-adulthood? Or should I second guess all my decisions now? I decided not to worry about it, shrugged and put it out of my still-developing mind. Continue reading Keeping Teen Brains Safe

ConnectiCon: A Much Needed Break From Reality

Image By Lilianna Angel Maxwell

What a bunch of weirdos.

I can’t say I was in a good frame of mind when I went to ConnectiCon last weekend, but I certainly came home in one.

My family and I travel to Connecticut each year to this multi-genre convention of fandom and fun.  I was dragged there by a friend and enjoyed myself so much that I started dragging my own people with me. In the past ten years, I’ve only missed one. This year I took my two teenagers, plus one of my daughter’s friends. We stayed at the family of a friend’s house, camping in their backyard. (I utilized all the tips I suggested in a previous post to go to a con on the cheap.) At this point, the kids and I meet up with over a dozen people each year we attend—and always meet new friends, too.

So why the negative start? I had just spent a stressful week in the “real” world, and had a lot of work to catch up on. Going away for the weekend seemed like just one more item on my to-do list, and I wasn’t in the mood to cosplay, interview celebrities, or participate in discussions. When I walked into the con, I looked around and had a very negative attitude.

Then I realized that I go to these things all the time. I’m a weirdo!

For a split second I was dismayed. Did other people judge me that way? And then the atmosphere of ConnectiCon started seeping in: the relief of expressing something you love, the joy at seeing friends, the happiness at being yourself in an accepting little universe even if only for the weekend, and the fun of sharing it all with my kids. Who the hell cares if people judge me for being a geek! And I certainly will not start doing it to others. After that, the weekend was a blast. So what did my family and I do at ConnectCon? Lots!

Image By Rebecca Angel

The best part is seeing our fellow geeky friends. I had thought one of my best friends in the world (the same person who brought me that first year) couldn’t make it, but then he did! We watched the FMV Contest (Fan Made Videos) together. I try to pick the ones that really match the music with what’s going on. There was a superb one that used a Bjork song…and I didn’t write it down… and I can’t find a list on the website…

Image By Rebecca Angel

My son played Magic for most of the weekend. Although he had a great time, he felt like he had been at a party and only talked with one person. Next year, he said, he’d try to branch out in his activities more.

Image By Rebecca Angel
Image By Rebecca Angel

My daughter and her friend cosplayed on Saturday: Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games, and Chihiro Ogino from Spirited Away.  

We danced, danced on Friday, but I let my daughter and her friend dance on their own Saturday (my feet hurt by the evening—old lady is me.) They said it was lots of fun. They wanted to go to Tea Time, but were unable to get in. It’s a popular panel! Yay for tea!

Several of us went to see the 18+ Art Fight. This is where two teams of cartoonists are given random words/phrases from a spinning wheel and have to draw on a huge board. The artists (and words) change every five minutes, while a host chats with the audience, and makes comments and jokes about the art being made. Although the format is well-done, the 18+ excuse only led to frat-house humor. One of my group said he had seen their regular show, and with more random words/phrases, there was more creativity and less penis jokes. After fifteen minutes of the extreme sex humor, we got bored and left…

Image By Rebecca Angel

…to find a spot to see the fireworks! ConnectiCon coincided with the River Festival in Hartford, and Saturday night had a great show (complete with a beautiful full moon.) We decided to go outside the con to see them, but quickly returned after the fireworks were over. We missed the happy vibe of geeks, even for just an hour.

Image By Rebecca Angel

I enjoyed walking around the Artist’s Alley, bought some new comics, and chatted with artists, including this young girl and her proud mom:

Image By Rebecca Angel
Image By Rebecca Angel
Image By Rebecca Angel

I met other geeky families attending:

Image By Rebecca Angel

My daughter bought me an adorable Loki t-shirt. Yay! And I played LOTS of games (I’ll make a separate post about my favorites.) We saw the panel with Janet Varney, the voice actress for Legend of Korra. She was very entertaining, and even got some calls from other actors from the series to answer fan questions.

Oh, and the cosplay, the cosplay, the cosplay. I had been debating about this, but the She-Ra costume stayed home—maybe next time. Instead of my lame photos, check out this video by Beat Down Boogie of some of the fantastic work people do on their costumes.

This weirdo can’t wait till ConnectiCon 2015!

Hands-Free Is Just As Bad! Distracted While Driving

AAAAAAH! Teenagers driving! Image by Rebecca Angel

“People often don’t readily accept science that angers or inconveniences them.”

That is a quote from sociologist Clifford Nass of Stanford University in the August 24th issue of Science News that featured a story on why science is constantly showing that talking on a phone (texting, holding, or hands-free) while driving is dangerous, and why the average person doesn’t want to hear it.  As a parent of a kid learning how to drive this is troubling to me.

According to the article, studies as early as 1997 have shown that we CAN’T multi-task, and this includes having a conversation with a disembodied voice, and paying attention to our own driving. The human brain toggles back and forth between things, and for some reason, having a phone conversation takes a lot of our brain’s attention, regardless if the phone is in your hand or not. Some researchers believe we make a mental picture of the person on the phone, constantly altering this picture as they talk, to recreate a real-life interaction. This takes away from our being fully present as a driver. Talking with someone in the car does not pose the same distraction.

The worst part is that people don’t notice how badly they are driving.

According to the data, people will do stupid things on the road while talking on the phone, but not even notice it. This is called “metacognitive awareness.” They get home and think they were driving just fine, so why change? The only wake-up call is when an accident happens and then it’s too late. Most driving trips are boring and uneventful so people fail to understand how they are upping their risk of hurting themselves and others while talking on the phone.

“Jeffrey Coben, an emergency room physician at West Virginia University in Morgantown, has seen the results of plenty of car accidents. He says injuries seldem occur because of chance events, such as equipment failure or lightning strikes. ‘Vehicle injuries are not accidents. They are predictable and preventable,’ he says. ‘Every crash is an interaction between an individual operation of the vehicle and the environment it’s in.’ The more distractions involved, he says, the greater the risk.”

The article is filled with interesting and eye-opening studies showing how poorly people are attentive while distracted by talking on the phone. My kid can’t even have the radio on while keeping track of everything she needs to on the road. Will she get more comfortable driving to start having more and more distractions in the car? Of course. But she better never talk on the phone. I made her read this article, and you should have your kids do the same. And you too!