Facebook Users—Is Your Brain In The “Machine Zone?”

According to a story on, Facebook, Twitter and other social media users can spend hours scrolling through newsfeeds or flipping through friends’ pictures. And some experts believe that these users may fall into a mental state similar to those who play slot machines.

It’s called the “machine zone,” where the very repetition of the spinning disks soothes gamblers.

Atlantic columnist Alex Madrigal says “The machine zone is anti-social, and it’s characterized by a lack of human connection. You might be looking at people when you look through photos, but your interactions with their digital presences are mechanical, repetitive, and reinforced by computerized feedback.”

Here’s another interesting item on social networking.  As you may have heard, several studies have shown that Facebook can undermine people’s happiness because of the way it showcases other people’s idealized lives.

But some experts believe that Instagram—with it’s almost exclusive focus on pictures—may be even more damaging.

Cataline Toma, with the Communications Department at the University of Wisconsin says: “You spend so much time creating flattering, idealized images of yourself, sorting through hundreds of images for that one perfect picture, but you don’t necessarily grasp that everybody else is spending a lot of time doing the same thing,”

And Hanna Krasnova, of Humboldt University in Berlin, adds, “You get more explicit and implicit cues of people being happy, rich and successful from a photo than from a status update. A photo can very powerfully provoke immediate social comparison, and that can trigger feelings of inferiority.”

As I’ve mentioned before, the Bible has a different perspective.  It reminds us that “man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7).

I’m Bill Maier for Shine.FM.

Listen to today’s audio here.

Hot Chocolate May Be Good For Your Brain?

I have some great health news for you—hot chocolate may be good for your brain!

According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, a new study has found that hot chocolate may help improve brain health and thinking skills—particularly in older people.

The researchers looked at older people who had reduced blood flow to their brains and had performed poorly on a memory and reasoning test.  They had them drink two cups of cocoa a day for 30 days and then tested them again.  After drinking the hot chocolate for a month, they found significant improvement in their mental functioning.

In addition to the memory and reasoning tests, the researchers used ultrasound to indirectly measure the blood flow to the elderly people’s brains, as well as an MRI to examine their white matter — the nerve fibers that connect different parts of the brain.

At the end of the 30 days, the team found that drinking hot chocolate benefited only the people who had poor brain functioning to begin with.  Those individuals showed an 8% improvement in blood flow and a roughly 1 minute faster reaction time on the memory test.

There was barely any improvement among those who started out with normal blood flow and cognitive skills.

Although the study results may tempt you to add chocolate to your diet, the lead researcher notes that food intake was strictly regulated to offset the extra fat and sugar in hot chocolate.

For people seeking to keep their brains healthy, she recommends something already known to improve brain function: exercise.

I’m Bill Maier for Shine.FM.

Listen to today’s audio here.

What Type of Child is More Likely to Become Addicted to Video Games?

Are certain kids more likely to become addicted to video games than others?  The answer is YES, according to new research.

HealthDay is reporting on a new study that found that boys with ADHD or autism are more at risk for addictive video game use.

Experts said they aren’t surprised by the findings.

Dr. Andrew Adesman, is chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York.  He says “Boys with ADHD and boys on the autism spectrum both have difficulties relating with peers.  Video games provide a diversion that doesn’t require interaction with peers or siblings.”

In the U.S., it’s estimated that between 3 to 7 percent of school-age children have ADHD.  About one in 88 children has an autism spectrum disorder.

This can range from mild, as in Asperger syndrome to full-blown autism with severely limited communication skills.  Boys are far more likely than girls to have either diagnosis.

One of the common features of autism is a repetitive interest in a restricted number of activities. This may be directly related to problematic video game use, according to the University of Missouri researchers that conducted the study.

The most common symptoms of ADHD — inattention and hyperactivity — may also relate to addictive game use.  A previous study showed that when youngsters with ADHD started medication for their condition, their video game use went down.

The study doesn’t specify how much time spent gaming qualifies as “problematic,” but the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than an hour or two of total screen time daily—including television.

They also say parents should make sure the content of that screen time has some kind of educational value.

I’m Bill Maier for Shine.FM.

Listen to today’s audio here.

Shine Family Expert

The New Face Of Heroin Use In The US

Heroin is illegal drug that is typically associated with desperate junkies on the street.  But according to a story on, the death of 31-year-old Glee star Cory Monteith from an accidental overdose of heroin and alcohol is shining a new spotlight on the type of person who actually uses the drug.

Dr. Richard Clark, the director of toxicology at the University of California San Diego Medical Center says this:  “I deal with drug users every day.  The stereotypical user on the street?  That’s the past as far as heroin use in the U.S. is concerned.  Lots of people are using it these days—kids, teenagers, white-collar workers.”

In 2012, the government reported an 80% increase in first-time usage of herion use among teens.  Heroin is now cheaper and more plentiful than it’s ever been.

And as the government has begun to crack down on prescription drug abuse more forcefully, heroin has become an alternative.

On a more positive note, teens who are connected with their parents on social networks feel closer to them in real life. That’s according to a new study out of Brigham Young University.

Researchers found that half of teens have “friended” their parents online, with 20% saying they interact with them online every day.  BYU professor Sarah Coyne says “It’s bidirectional…as we have experiences in new media, it strengthens bonds that are already there.

Dr. Coyne cautions, “You don’t want these results to get overblown to say, ‘If you friend your kid on Facebook, you’re suddenly going to have a great relationship.’ It’s just one tool in an arsenal that parents have to connect with their teens.”

For more great tips on connecting with your teens, go to and click on “Parenting”

I’m Bill Maier for Shine.FM.

Listen to today’s audio here.

Shine Family Expert

Older TV Sets & Toddlers—A Deadly Combination

If you have a toddler in your family, there’s a danger lurking in your home you need to know about.

Every year in America, more than 17,000 children are treated in emergency rooms when a television falls on them.

The Chicago Tribune is reporting on a new study from the American Academy of Pediatrics.  It found that the rate of kids hurt from TVs tipping over has nearly doubled in the past two decades.

The study was prompted in part by a rash of TV-related deaths in the Chicago area, and it found that kids aged 5 and under were the most at risk.  Injuries included concussions, lacerations and traumatic brain injuries.

Dr. Gary Smith, the study’s lead author and president of the Child Injury Prevention Alliance, hopes that the findings will serve as a wakeup call for parents.

Dr. Smith says “A home with a TV that is not anchored is not a safe home for a young child.

He points out that in a span of less than four months in 2011 and 2012, falling TVs killed four Chicago-area children and injured a fifth.

The study found that as newer TVs make their way into a home, the older ones are sometimes relegated to dressers and other unsafe locations.

Flat-screen TVs can also be dangerous, according to the study. They are much lighter than older TVs, and combined with their less bulky design, they are easier to tip over.

Safety advocates say the study reinforces the message that all TVs, regardless of type, should be anchored.

I’m Bill Maier for Shine.FM.

Listen to today’s audio here.

Shine Family Expert

Does Calorie Information On Restaurant Menus Cause People To Eat Better?

When you order food at a restaurant, would you make different choices if there was calorie info on the menu?  The answer might surprise you.

HealthDay is reporting a new study done by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University.  It found that making general calorie consumption guidelines available to restaurant customers doesn’t change their eating habits.

As you may know, a number of cities and states are now mandating that chain restaurants post calorie info on menus or menu boards.  But some government types think that’s not enough—they believe restaurants should also post guidelines for daily calorie intake—or even how many calories we should consume per meal.

Researcher Dr. Julie Downs decided to test that theory, and she says “We found it didn’t help at all.”

Currently, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle – as well as the entire states of California and Oregon require calorie labeling.  And soon we may see that across the country, as part of the federal health care reform act.

The study found that providing calorie guidance did NOT seem to help consumers make better use of calorie labeling.  It also failed to prompt a drop in the total number of calories informed patrons purchased.

Instead, those who received daily or per-meal calorie guidance chose to eat slightly more calories, not fewer.

Dr. Downs speculates that people see the calorie recommendations and compare them to the number of calories in a given item.  The number of calories in the one item seems low, so they actually get a bigger dish and add side items to it.  As a result, they go over the recommended guidelines for one meal.

For more on healthy food consumption guidelines, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website at

I’m Bill Maier for Shine.FM.

Listen to today’s audio here.

Shine Family Expert

Setting A Good Example When It Comes To Texting & Driving

Do you have teenage drivers at home?  If so, do you ask them to live by different rules than you do?

Telling your kid about the danger of texting and driving won’t do any good if you pick up your smartphone while cruising down the freeway.

Research shows that starting at about age 11 or 12, your child begins paying attention to your driving habits and noting consciously or subconsciously all the things you do.

According to research by Liberty Mutual Insurance, 91% of kids have seen their parents talking on a cellphone while driving,

88 percent have observed their parents speeding.  And 59 percent said their parents have sent text messages while driving!

If you’re part of that 59 percent, could I encourage you to prayerfully consider the message you are sending to your kids?

How do you like that photo of yourself on Facebook?  Would you believe more than FOUR OUT OF TEN women have enhanced pictures of themselves before posting them online?

Researchers say digital photos are making women more camera-shy than ever, with mounting pressures to look good when the images are shared on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Eight in ten women say having their photo taken and then uploaded on to a social network makes them more anxious about their looks than speaking in public, going on a first date or going to a job interview!

As you consider that story, remember these words from 1 Samuel 16:7: The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

I’m Bill Maier for Shine.FM.

Listen to today’s audio here.

Shine Family Expert

How Much Sleep Your Kids Need & How To Set A Consistent Bedtime

Dear Dr. Bill,

We haven’t been consistent with the bedtime for our children, ages 8, 6, and 4.  We would like to implement a more consistent schedule.  How many hours do my children need to sleep?  And do you have any tips on improving bedtime?


Dear Robin,

Last week I mentioned new research on how lack of sleep and inconsistent bedtimes may negatively impact a child’s learning.

Here are some recommendations on sleep from the American Academy of Pediatrics:  Your four-year old needs 12 hours of sleep per night.  Your 6 year old should get 10-11 hours of sleep, and your 8 year old should get 9-10 hours.

Also get your kids to bed EARLY.  One of the mistakes parents make is putting their kids to bed too late at night.

Often that’s because one or both parents are working during the day, and they want to spend time interacting with their kids during the evening hours.

If that limits the amount of time you or your husband are able to play with them in the evening, the solution is for you to come home earlier, NOT put them to bed later.

You should also know that kids fight sleep when they’re over-tired.  That seems counter-intuitive…we think, “Hey, if they’re really tired, they should fall asleep easier.”  But an exhausted child is fussy and cranky, and often has more difficulty falling asleep.

You should also have a regular bedtime routine.  This could be a bath, followed by a story and bedtime prayers.  The goal is to help your children slowly wind down and get ready for sleep.   If you try to put them down right after they’ve been engaged in active play, their adrenaline will be pumping and it will be difficult for them to fall asleep.  The same goes for watching TV just before bed.

Thanks for writing, Robin.  If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” tab on the Family Expert page.

Listen to today’s audio here.

Shine Family Expert

Could Your Pastor Be Struggling With Depression?

Could your pastor be struggling with depression?  A new study has found that pastors are especially susceptible to depression, but are hesitant to ask for help.

According to Baptist Press, research shows that almost 70% of pastors have experienced symptoms related to depression.  Katie Swafford is the director of a regional Baptist Counseling program and she believes there are a variety of reasons for the problem.

Katie says “It could be long hours, periods of high stress, family issues or the emotional toll of serving. They’re susceptible to the same pressures as the rest of us.”

Perhaps this story will prompt you to pray for your pastor this week or send him a note of encouragement.

In other faith news, evangelist Luis Palau has been spreading the gospel in a country that is sometimes hostile to Christians.  Over 45,000 people attended a youth festival hosted by Rev. Palau in Venezuela.

He asked those at the festival to open their heart to hope.  He told the young people, “If each of you gives your life to Christ, you will have the security of knowing that the power of God will be upon your life.”

Evangelical Christians represent 15 percent of Venezuela’s 29 million people.  In recent years, those Christians have suffered from political and social injustices, causing young adults to revolt against their government.

Palau told the teenagers, “I know that you are enduring a difficult moment.  But I don’t want you to despair because Jesus Christ is not dead, he is alive and he is here in Venezuela.”

And here’s some REALLY good news–Over 4,000 young people dedicated their lives to Christ at the festival!

I’m Bill Maier for Shine.FM.

Listen to today’s audio here.

Shine Family Expert

Americans Are Exercising More, But It’s Not Making A Dent in Our Nation’s Epidemic Of OBESITY

Americans are exercising more, but it hasn’t made a dent into the epidemic of obesity in this country.  LA Times writer Noam Levey is reporting on new research on physical fitness in the US, and he says the news is mixed.

In more than two-thirds of the nation’s counties, men and women became more physically active over the last 10 years.

Women made the most progress, with a 5% increase in the number of females who got sufficient exercise each week.  The number of guys who increased their level of fitness went up just one percent.

But researchers at the University of Washington say these improvements haven’t done much to reduce obesity.  In fact obesity rates for men and women fell in just nine counties.

Dr. Christopher Murray, lead author of the study, says : “To tackle obesity, we need to do this. But we probably also need to do more. … Just counting on physical activity is not going to be the solution.”

Today, more than one-third of U.S. adults and approximately 17% of children are clinically obese.  Many health experts believe that changing diet may do more to bring those numbers down than increasing exercise.

A separate paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, identifies poor diet as the No. 1 factor contributing to America’s poor health compared to other industrialized nations.

In fact, Americans living in Appalachia now have shorter live-spans than people in Vietnam, Yemen and Sudan.

By the way, for this study, researchers defined sufficient physical activity as 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week.

For some great advice on exercise and eating healthy, go to the American Heart Association’s website at

I’m Bill Maier for Shine.FM.

Listen to today’s audio here.

Shine Family Expert