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Yellowbrick Blog

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Social Unrest and Parenting Teenagers

By Michael Losoff, PhD
Staff Psychologist
Director of Adolescent Services

We are all struggling to absorb the intense and frightening social unrest that has erupted following the brutal killing of George Floyd, exposing again painful and deeply unsettling inequalities and injustices that bubble below the surface of our civil life. There are two elements of this circumstance to which we as parents can attune in understanding our teenagers’ responses and helping them navigate the turbulent waters. The first is recognizing that rebellion and fighting unfairness lie at the core of teen emotional life. The second is finding a way to provide guidance and assistance, even as we ourselves may feel uncertain and anxious.

Continue reading Social Unrest and Parenting Teenagers
Parents and Teenagers

Navigating quarantine with your teenager

By Bryn Jessup, PhD
Director, Family Services & Systems,

In Illinois, the governor’s stay-at-home order has meant that you and your teenager are probably spending more time at home than you used to, maybe more than you even thought possible. Your teenager has become better acquainted than ever with their phone, their screens and their game systems … with social media and all the usual platforms for communicating with friends and others … and, for better and for worse, with the other members of their own family. Especially with you!

All this togetherness gets complicated and even crazy-making at times. Understanding better what our teenagers are going through can point the way to helping them manage their stress levels and protect your own sanity in the process.

  • Compared with their younger selves, most teenagers want to spend more time with peers, doing more kinds of self-directed activities with friends, and cultivating interests and activities that set them apart from other members of their family.

Extensive research in adolescent development reveals it to be a time of significant brain development particularly in those areas of the brain responsible for directed action and decision-making, including the prefrontal cortex (Giedd, 2015; Siegel, 2014). At the same time, there is a strong developmental push to establish greater independence and autonomy in the context of family relationships, especially with parents (Arnett, 2009). Add to these developments the activation of teenage endocrine systems that in turn heighten emotional experience and reactivity. Research confirms what you may know as parents: older teenagers actually experience emotions more intensely than do children and adults (Sapolsky, 2017). Taken together, these developmental trends mean that most teenagers are strongly disposed to make decisions and take action in the service of keenly felt needs for greater independence, separation and autonomy.

Continue reading Navigating quarantine with your teenager
Negativity Makes You Sick

Can Negativity Make You Sick?

All the worry and fear about the coronavirus may make you wonder if a positive or negative outlook can have a significant effect on your health. The answer is positively yes. Three decades of scientific research shows that a positive outlook can help you stay healthier, recover more quickly if you do get sick, and live longer, than a negative perspective. An optimistic, hopeful attitude, even against the odds, is correlated with lower mortality, improved immune function, and recovery from serious illnesses including cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, HIV/AIDS, autoimmune disease, and type 2 diabetes (see reviews by Humphrey, 2004; Rasmussen, Scheier, and Greenhouse, 2009; Wilson, Woody and Kiecolt-Glaser, 2018).

Decades of empirical research in the field of Positive Psychology (Seligman, 2011) shows convincingly that a hopeful, positive outlook can prevent the onset of serious illness in those at risk and improve the chances of recovery and survival for those who already have a serious,life-threatening disease (Steptoe, 2019). The converse is also true. Stress, depression,pessimism and a negative outlook are associated with increased inflammation, poorer response to vaccines, risk of a wide spectrum of diseases, poorer chances of recovery,and greater mortality (Wilson, Woody and Kiecolt-Glaser, 2018).

Continue reading Can Negativity Make You Sick?

Paradigm Shift and Youth

By Michael Losoff, PhD
Staff Psychologist, Director of Adolescent Services 

A book that has had a vivid impact on me, even though I first encountered it in the 1980’s, is Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In it, he talks about moments in history when the view of the world changes in a deep and fundamental way. He talks about these moments as representing a paradigm shift—a fundamental change in approach and in our underlying assumptions. We are living through such a shift right now – the way we see and understand and approach the world will never be the same. Our very reality is in the process of change. Our lives are upended.

Who can help us live in a space of such great uncertainty, when we look at the world with which we are familiar one moment and then blink, only to see a fundamentally different world? Who will walk alongside us (at a distance of six feet!) through such a turbulent time? Who will model for us how to be flexible?

Young people.

Wait, seriously, young people?

Continue reading Paradigm Shift and Youth
Online Learning At Home

Online as Effective as Classroom Learning

Tracey Reaves, M.A.
Coordinator of Adolescent Education and Clinical Services

Are you afraid that school closures from COVID-19 are going to harm you or your child academically? You don’t need to worry.  Research shows that online high school and college classes are at least as effective as classroom-based learning. In fact, web-based instruction can be even better at engaging students in active, not passive, learning.  David Pritchard of MIT concludes, “The amount learned is somewhat greater than in the traditional lecture-based course.” 

David Pritchard was the lead author on a 2014 international study conducted by MIT, Harvard and China’s Tsinghua University, in the “International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning.” They found that online learning is effective for every student regardless of each individual’s amount of class preparation, skill, and engagement level. Pritchard summarized the findings, “(online) classes really can teach at least as effectively as traditional classroom courses…regardless of how much preparation and knowledge students start out with.” Students are engaging and interacting in productive ways. Including video conferencing programs can break classes into small groups just as easily, if not better, than in the traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms.

Continue reading Online as Effective as Classroom Learning
Stepping Into the Unknown

Stepping into the Unknown

By Stephanie Benson
Neuroscience Associate, Yellowbrick

The Virus is here and it’s changing the world.  We are in uncharted territory. Fear spreads like wildfire. Trust me I know fear very well. It is easy to say, be calm. It’s easy to tell someone that things are going to be OK. Words mean nothing when you are living in the fear of unknown. When emotional overload meets fear of breakdown and persistent illness the overall feeling in the air is panic. Reading this may seem somewhat annoying as you feel the world’s safety net collapsing. How could any words or anyone understand the fear of walking in the unknown. Many of us are scared. Many of us are anxious.

Continue reading Stepping into the Unknown
Humans are the most experience-dependent species that has ever existed on the planet.

Humans are the most experience-dependent species that has ever existed on the planet.

Our brain depends on its experiences to build itself.

Our genes lay a blueprint, but they actually only contain a microscopic amount of information compared with the trillions of connections and bits of information that end up actually building and shaping the human brain.

Let me give you an example:

Close your left eye and hold your left index finger a few inches from your nose.
Take your right index finger and hold it directly behind your left finger, a couple inches away. Make sure you center the fingers so you can only see your left one.
Now switch having only one eye open at a time.
You should see your fingers in different positions.

What’s happening is each eye is seeing a completely different view of the world. Your brain fuses the images together – this is called ‘stereoscopic vision’.   It’s what allows us to see depth perception, to see in 3D. Continue reading Humans are the most experience-dependent species that has ever existed on the planet.



By Marc Sandrolini, MD

E-cigarette use, commonly known as vaping, gained rapid popularity after hitting the US market in 2007. Vaping was originally believed to provide a safe alternative to cigarettes and a new way to overcome nicotine addiction. But with increased popularity, there has come increased concern about benefits and safety of vaping.

A vaporizer is a hand-held device that uses a heating coil to create a vapor that is inhaled by the user. The liquid, or “juice,” used to create the vapor typically contains nicotine along with propylene glycol, glycerin, and flavorings. The liquid can be modified by include cannabis, CBD oil or other additives. Vaporizers are available in different forms, including e-cigarettes, vape pens and e-hookahs.

How popular is vaping? The annual Monitoring the Future survey, funded by the University of Michigan, found that more than 25% of high school seniors have vaped in the past month, and more than 40% of these students have tried vaping at least once. (1). The survey reported that in 2015, e-cigarette use surpassed the use of tobacco cigarettes (2).

There has been growing concerns about the safety of vaping. In the past year, a number of vaping-related deaths and injuries came to light. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that as of December 2019, vaping has been directly related to 54 deaths and over 2000 severe lung injuries in the United States (3).

Most of these cases affected people who have modified their vaping devices or have used black-market liquids. Of particular concern are vaping products that contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), one of the intoxicating chemicals in cannabis. The CDC identified vitamin E acetate as a possible culprit in these injuries. Vitamin E acetate is a thickening agent used in THC vaping products, and it was found in the lung fluid of many of the people who died or were injured. The CDC currently recommends that people avoid vaping products that contain THC or products that come from uncertain sources, such as friends or online dealers.

There has also been concern about flavored vaping products. In January 2020, the federal government banned fruit- and mint-flavored vaping products. This ban grew out of a concern that the flavored products made vaping more enticing to children and adolescents.

Even though vaping appears to have fewer dangerous chemicals than cigarettes, when used as recommended, much is still not known about vaping, including the full range of chemicals created by the vaporizing process, and the impact of long-term use. Nicotine is a highly addictive substance regardless of the source, and vaping nicotine appears to be just as addicting as smoking it. There is not yet evidence that vaping is an effective or safe way to kick a cigarette habit.



  1. Monitoring the Future survey. https://psychnews.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.pn.2019.11b14).
  2. http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/data/14data.html#2014data-cigs.
  3. https://psychnews.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.pn.2019.11b14
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/severe-lung-disease.html

Psychiatric Hospitalization & Safety: Inpatient, or In the Patient?

David Baron, MD

A recent article in the LA Times “How to Reduce Suicides on the Psychiatric Ward” offered a perspective on how to “keep patients on inpatient units safe.”  This blog, and alternative perspective, is derived from 30 years as a practicing psychiatrist and currently Medical Director of Yellowbrick, a national psychiatric treatment center for adolescents and emerging adults in Evanston, Illinois.

The subject of suicide is complicated, so I will address three points:

  1. Reported numbers of suicide attempts and suicides that take place on inpatient psychiatric units are likely an underestimate
  2. While much can be done to reduce inpatient suicides, there is also compelling reason to sadly conclude they cannot be entirely prevented
  3. This is because popular, and to a large extent professional, beliefs about where safety originates, are both skewed and incorrect.

In the Joint Commission article quoted by the LA Times, from November 2018, 48.5 to 64.9 suicides on inpatient units annually in the US between 2014 and 2015 were estimated.  A prior study about five years ago estimated 1850 per year. Clearly these cannot both be correct, especially with a known increase in suicides over the last decade. Reporting of suicide by hospitals is voluntary; there is no agency with authority to require this information. Continue reading Psychiatric Hospitalization & Safety: Inpatient, or In the Patient?

The Brain On Porn

An article published 12/29/2019 in Neuroscience News highlights the concerns generated by the prevalence of pornography viewing. According to statistics published by the major site, PornHub, over 33.5 billion site visits occurred during 2018 alone. Pornhub reports 70% of users are men and 70% of U.S. adults ages 18-30 visit a porn site at least once a week. Given that this is also the window of brain maturation into adulthood, research has focused on what if any brain changes are associated with porn use. A 2014 JAMA article by Kuhn and Gallinat was among the first to sound the alarm regarding maladaptive changes in those areas of the brain regulating sexual arousal, reward seeking, novelty seeking and compulsive behavior patterns.

Continue reading The Brain On Porn

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