People Faking Disabilities to Ride With Their Pets

Travel blogger Alyssa Ramos, 27, is preparing for a holiday trip to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and she has her system down. In addition to one wheelie, she has a carrying bag for her 7-pound Pomeranian — Oscar de la Ramos — and a knapsack filled with toys and treats to keep his ears from popping. Unlike other dogs that are only allowed to travel zipped in bags and stowed under a seat, Oscar is Ramos’ emotional support animal, which allows him to cuddle with her during takeoff.

Ramos is among the growing number of travelers who have had pets — dogs, pigs and even miniature horses — deemed “necessary” to their emotional well-being, a classification that falls under the Air Carrier Access Act. Originally meant for those who could barely function without the support of an animal, it is now broadly used by people who enjoy the comfort of their pets.

“A guy had a miniature horse, which didn’t fit comfortably in the back, so he was put in first class,” says Eric Lipp, executive director of Open Doors Organization, an advocacy group for people traveling with disabilities. “The airline made the horse wear these little shoes so it didn’t scuff the plane, but it pooped all over and the other first-class travelers weren’t happy.”

Travelers with actual disabilities and those who feel inconvenienced by the voyaging creatures seated among plane passengers are increasingly angry that the system is being gamed and that doctor’s letters can be purchased on the Internet.

“The people who really need support animals despise people who fake it,’’ says Lipp. “I call it ‘the Paris Hilton effect,’ where people want to take their cute little dogs everywhere.”

Some pet owners feel that high prices and a stressful travel environment justify bending the rules a bit.

“I first applied for support papers online to avoid the airline pet fee,” Ramos, who lives in Los Angeles, admits. “But I had just gotten into a motorcycle accident and had emotional stress, so my regular doctor wound up writing me a letter.”

For a pet to be classified as an emotional support animal, an owner needs a note from a licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker. Entrepreneurial types have caught on to the business opportunity of providing such notes; countless sites now provide emotional support vests and necessary letters for fees ranging from $59 to $200. Airlines are usually very compliant, because fines for refusing legitimate support animals can run as high as $150,000.

“The more people are learning about this, the more they are trying to take advantage of the system. We are helping the ones we think need it,’’ says Steven Laroid, 27, who lives in Midtown and founded the website

His site has seven licensed psychologists who evaluate applicants via Skype and, for $179, provide letters for those they deem in need of support animals. Laroid says he gets about 200 requests per month, an increase of 25 percent since he founded the site in 2013, and that doctors approve about 45 percent of requests.

Behavioral psychologist Dr. Steve Josephson is all for emotional support animals: “This is a safe, side effect-free way to get people to overcome their anxiety.’’

But the wildlife can get wild. Last December, a woman had to deplane a US Airways flight when her potbellied pig became disruptive.

“A man once insisted that his emotional support monkey needed an emotional support bird,’’ says Lipp. “We have seen multiple people want bunny rabbits. One woman said she needed five of them, and the airline finally let her keep one in the cabin and waived the fee for the others, but made them ride in cargo.”

Before arachnids and reptiles were outlawed as emotional support animals in 2008, Lipp says, “We had a woman who had an emotional support tarantula, and I actually believed her. She had a lot of anxiety over takeoffs and landings, and tarantulas require a lot of focus, which took her mind off the problem, but it terrified passengers.”

Jason Clampet, co-founder of the travel site Skift, says pretending to be emotionally disabled is selfish. “This is a work-around for people who are self-centered and don’t want to pay a fee and are willing to lie.’’

Travel site Inspired Citizen founder Anthony Berklich believes that travelers who bend the rules a bit feel justified.

“[Emotional service animals] are a wonderful service that airlines allow,” he says, “and consumers who are being nickeled and dimed for every little thing don’t feel badly about getting through the system.”

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OnDecember 7, 2015, posted in: Latest News by

Teens spend “mind boggling” number of hours connected.

(CNN)You probably won’t be surprised to hear that a new report found that teens and tweens spend a lot of time watching TV, videos and movies, playing video games, reading, listening to music and checking social media, but you might be somewhat shocked (I was!) by just how much time.

On any given day, teens in the United States spend about nine hours using media for their enjoyment, according to the report by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit focused on helping children, parents and educators navigate the world of media and technology.

Let’s just put nine hours in context for a second. That’s more time than teens typically spend sleeping, and more time than they spend with their parents and teachers. And the nine hours does not include time spent using media at school or for their homework.

Tweens, identified as children 8 to 12, spend about six hours, on average, consuming media, the report found.

“I think the sheer volume of media technology that kids are exposed to on a daily basis is mind-boggling,” said James Steyer, chief executive officer and founder of Common Sense Media, in an interview.

“It just shows you that these kids live in this massive 24/7 digital media technology world, and it’s shaping every aspect of their life. They spend far more time with media technology than any other thing in their life. This is the dominant intermediary in their life.”

The report, the first large-scale study to explore tweens and teens’ use of the full range of media, according to Common Sense Media, is based on a national sample of more than 2,600 young people ages 8 to 18.

When it comes to consuming media on screens, including laptops. smartphones and tablets, teens, on average, spend more than six and a half hours on screens and tweens more than four and a half hours, the report found.

“I just think that it should be a complete wake-up call to every parent, educator, policymaker, business person (and) tech industry person that the reshaping of our media tech landscape is first and foremost affecting young people’s lives and reshaping childhood and adolescence,” said Steyer, who’s most recent book is “Talking Back to Facebook: The Common Sense Guide to Raising Kids in the Digital Age.”

Here are a few more eye-opening highlights about the media habits of Generation Z, according to the report:

No. 1: What’s wrong with multitasking?

If teens are, on average, spending nine hours a day consuming media, it’s not such a surprise they’re often doing it while doing their homework. Half of teens say they “often” or “sometimes” use social media or watch TV while doing their homework. Some 60% say they text and more than 75% say they listen to music while working on schoolwork at home.

And of the kids who multitask, most don’t think it effects the quality of their work. Nearly two-thirds say watching TV or texting makes no difference and more than 50% feel the same way when it comes to social media.

“Teenagers think that multitasking during homework doesn’t affect their ability to learn and … we know it does,” said Steyer, citing studies such as one at Stanford,which found dramatic differences in cognitive control and the ability to process information between heavy media multitaskers and light media multitaskers.

“It’s completely obvious that you can’t multitask and be as effective and competent.”

No. 2: Boys choose Xbox, Girls Instagram

There are definite gender differences when it comes to media habits of teens and tweens.

Some 62% of teen boys say they enjoy playing video games “a lot” versus 20% of girls. When it comes to using social media, 44% of teen girls say they enjoy it “a lot” versus 29% for boys. Girls, on average, spend about 40 minutes more on social networks than boys, with girls spending about an hour and a half a day on social media and boys a little under an hour.

“I definitely think it shows that girls use media and technology today for more social interaction and boys are much more likely to be gamers, including addicted gamers,” said Steyer of Common Sense Media. “There are real differences between boys and girls so that’s a message to parents and educators, you have to be aware of the differences.”

No. 3: The digital equality gap is real

While ours kids are growing up in a 24/7 digital world, children in lower income households have less access to technology than kids from wealthier families. Only 54% of teens in households making less than $35,000 a year have a laptop in their home versus 92% of teens in households making $100,000 a year or more.

“There’s an access gap that whether you like the impact of media or technology on our kids’ lives and there are pros and cons, the truth is poor kids have far less access than wealthy kids do and that’s just wrong especially when Internet platforms and digital platforms are so key to everything from school to getting a job to connecting with other people,” said Steyer. “So closing the digital inequality gap is a huge public-policy issue.”

No. 4: Guess what? TV and music still tops

Despite all the new media tweens and teens have at their disposal — everything from Instagram to YouTube to Xbox, tweens and teens still rank watching TV and listening to music as the activities they enjoy “a lot” and do every day, ahead of playing video games and mobile games, watching online videos and using social media. In fact, only 10% of teens ranked social media as their favorite activity.

“I think the bottom line there is it’s a utility now,” said Steyer referring to social media. “Increasingly kids are realizing that Facebook and Instagram and SnapChat, they go there and … they feel they have to go there but they don’t love it and that’s good. In my opinion, that’s good.”

No. 5: ‘It’s a mobile world’

Consider these stats: 53% of tweens — kids 8 to 12 — have their own tablet (my kids will try to use this as ammunition to get a tablet of their own!), and 67% of teens have their own smartphones. Mobile devices account for 41% of all screen time for tweens and 46% for teens.

“It’s a mobile world so these kids live on mobile platforms,” said Steyer. “I mean if you look at the numbers, it’s clear that you have this clear transformation of teens and tweens’ lives through digital and mobile platforms.”

The implications of this digital transformation are huge for tweens and teens, educators, policymakers and parents. For one, living and communicating via mobile devices gets in the way of empathy, said Steyer.

Texting is so much less empathetic than having a conversation in person and looking somebody in the eye and having physical or at least a verbal presence with them, he said.

Add in the issues of digital addiction and the attention and distraction implications that come with mobile devices, and “empathy is really, really under siege,” he said.

“That’s a huge issue in terms of society and human relationships and how young people are evolving in a social, emotional context.” he added, saying more research is needed.

Common Sense Media’s next study, due out next year, is about the impact of digital addiction and distraction.


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OnNovember 3, 2015, posted in: Latest News by

Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD


In the United States, at least 9% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and are taking pharmaceutical medications. In France, the percentage of kids diagnosed and medicated for ADHD is less than .5%. How come the epidemic of ADHD—which has become firmly established in the United States—has almost completely passed over children in France?

Is ADHD a biological-neurological disorder? Surprisingly, the answer to this question depends on whether you live in France or in the United States. In the United States, child psychiatrists consider ADHD to be a biological disorder with biological causes. The preferred treatment is also biological–psycho stimulant medications such as Ritalin and Adderall.

French child psychiatrists, on the other hand, view ADHD as a medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes. Instead of treating children’s focusing and behavioral problems with drugs, French doctors prefer to look for the underlying issue that is causing the child distress—not in the child’s brain but in the child’s social context. They then choose to treat the underlying social context problem with psychotherapy or family counseling. This is a very different way of seeing things from the American tendency to attribute all symptoms to a biological dysfunction such as a chemical imbalance in the child’s brain.


French child psychiatrists don’t use the same system of classification of childhood emotional problems as American psychiatrists. They do not use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM.  According to Sociologist Manuel Vallee, the French Federation of Psychiatry developed an alternative classification system as a resistance to the influence of the DSM-3. This alternative was the CFTMEA (Classification Française des Troubles Mentaux de L’Enfant et de L’Adolescent), first released in 1983, and updated in 1988 and 2000. The focus of CFTMEA is on identifying and addressing the underlying psychosocial causes of children’s symptoms, not on finding the best pharmacological bandaids with which to mask symptoms.

To the extent that French clinicians are successful at finding and repairing what has gone awry in the child’s social context, fewer children qualify for the ADHD diagnosis. Moreover, the definition of ADHD is not as broad as in the American system, which, in my view, tends to “pathologize” much of what is normal childhood behavior. The DSM specifically does not consider underlying causes. It thus leads clinicians to give the ADHD diagnosis to a much larger number of symptomatic children, while also encouraging them to treat those children with pharmaceuticals.

The French holistic, psychosocial approach also allows for considering nutritional causes for ADHD-type symptoms—specifically the fact that the behavior of some children is worsened after eating foods with artificial colors, certain preservatives, and/or allergens. Clinicians who work with troubled children in this country—not to mention parents of many ADHD kids—are well aware that dietary interventions can sometimes help a child’s problem. In the United States, the strict focus on pharmaceutical treatment of ADHD, however, encourages clinicians to ignore the influence of dietary factors on children’s behavior.

And then, of course, there are the vastly different philosophies of child-rearing in the United States and France. These divergent philosophies could account for why French children are generally better-behaved than their American counterparts. Pamela Druckerman highlights the divergent parenting styles in her recent book, Bringing up Bébé. I believe her insights are relevant to a discussion of why French children are not diagnosed with ADHD in anything like the numbers we are seeing in the United States.

From the time their children are born, French parents provide them with a firm cadre—the word means “frame” or “structure.” Children are not allowed, for example, to snack whenever they want. Mealtimes are at four specific times of the day. French children learn to wait patiently for meals, rather than eating snack foods whenever they feel like it. French babies, too, are expected to conform to limits set by parents and not by their crying selves. French parents let their babies “cry it out” (for no more than a few minutes of course) if they are not sleeping through the night at the age of four months.

French parents, Druckerman observes, love their children just as much as American parents. They give them piano lessons, take them to sports practice, and encourage them to make the most of their talents. But French parents have a different philosophy of discipline. Consistently enforced limits, in the French view, make children feel safe and secure. Clear limits, they believe, actually make a child feel happier and safer—something that is congruent with my own experience as both a therapist and a parent. Finally, French parents believe that hearing the word “no” rescues children from the “tyranny of their own desires.” And spanking, when used judiciously, is not considered child abuse in France. (Author’s note: I am not personally in favor of spanking children).

As a therapist who works with children, it makes perfect sense to me that French children don’t need medications to control their behavior because they learn self-control early in their lives. The children grow up in families in which the rules are well-understood, and a clear family hierarchy is firmly in place. In French families, as Druckerman describes them, parents are firmly in charge of their kids—instead of the American family style, in which the situation is all too often vice versa.


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OnJanuary 22, 2015, posted in: Latest News by