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As a therapist, here are the three rules I give my sons to combat toxic behavior

If it makes you angry, research it.

toxic masculinity; rules; boys; boy mom
Photo by Shawnee D on Unsplash

As a therapist, here are three rules I give my sons.

Most parents aim to raise good humans no matter their gender, but sometimes society comes in and muddies the water a bit. You can't turn on a device without reading words like "gentle parenting" or "toxic masculinity." A wild guess tells me that most people don't want to raise boys that grow up to fall into the category of toxic masculinity, but there don't seem to be many instructions on how to prevent it.

I won't pretend that I have all the answers and I don't want this to read as a humble brag because kids have a way of nevering like they never did before when we dare to say, "my child would never." It's just science. Well, maybe not science, but definitely an anecdotal observation.


What I can tell you is the things I've been doing to help combat the temptations of toxic masculinity. I have three boys, two of whom are teenagers, and while I would never say never, I can say they have been praised by teachers and authority figures. I've also been asked what I do differently, so I figured I'd share.

I'll admit, it's a little hard for me to pinpoint because I've instilled these messages in my boys since their birth, so they're not things I give much thought to anymore. But to identify what I do differently, I enlisted the help of my sons and, lucky for me and hopefully you, they gave me a list of three key differences they notice.

1. If it shocks you or makes you angry, research it.

If there's one thing that tends to make people more empathetic humans it's education. A lot of times people react emotionally when they hear something they don't believe or that's upsetting. Instead of stewing in the anger and digging their heels in, my boys know how to research whatever the issue is using nonbiased phrases.

Four young people sitting on bridge over of body of water.Photo by Sammie Chaffin on Unsplash

An example of this is when my 14-year-old shocked the snot out of me by saying that most women falsely accuse men of assault. This was really upsetting to him to "know" because, of course, he didn't want to be falsely accused of anything. I didn't get upset, I only asked where he got the information and empathized how hearing that could make him feel. Once we got the feelings out of the way, I pointed him to Google and showed him what reputable sites looked like. We even talked about using Google Scholar.

Education makes things less scary and helps people unlearn myths or give context to inflammatory information they read on the internet.

2. Everyone experiences every emotion. Feel them, express them and talk it out.

Boys can experience other emotions outside of anger and happiness. I encourage my kids to name their emotions and to express them, whether it's at me because I've messed up or just in general. Once the feeling is named and expressed, let's get down to whatever the underlying emotion was. Sometimes it turns out to be disappointment and not sadness, or embarrassment, not anger.

If we can name the actual feeling, we can talk it out. They can find ways to address the issue that caused the feeling or take responsibility if it's something they did. Walking them through the whole process takes practice but it's worth it in the end because then they can effectively express their feelings to peers, partners or teachers all while remaining respectful.

Young man wearing brown jacket sitting near gray link fencePhoto by Eliott Reyna on Unsplash
3. Speak up even when it's hard.

Speaking up covers a lot of ground. It's not just about calling out injustices when they see them. When I talk to my sons about using their voices, we talk about consent and what it looks like to properly ask for affirmative consent. It also covers speaking up when you witness inappropriate behaviors toward girls and vice versa.

When my 17-year-old was in middle school, he had instances where this lesson came in handy. On one occasion, the school bus was being loaded at the end of the day and after my son took his seat, he noticed two boys grabbing at a girl's behind as she told them to stop. He spoke up then informed the bus driver and principal of what happened.

While these three "rules" are helpful in combating toxic masculinity, they're also helpful to teach all children. Kids are influenced by what they see outside of their homes and on the internet, and if parents can be the counterbalance, we can all put good humans out into the world.

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Scientists tested 3 popular bottled water brands for nanoplastics using new tech, and yikes

The results were alarming—an average of 240,000 nanoplastics per 1 liter bottle—but what does it mean for our health?

Suzy Hazelwood/Canva

Columbia University researchers tested bottled water for nanoplastics and found hundreds of thousands of them.

Evian, Fiji, Voss, SmartWater, Aquafina, Dasani—it's impressive how many brands we have for something humans have been consuming for millennia. Despite years of studies showing that bottled water is no safer to drink than tap water, Americans are more consuming more bottled water than ever, to the tune of billions of dollars in bottled water sales.

People cite convenience and taste in addition to perceived safety for reasons they prefer bottle to tap, but the fear factor surrounding tap water is still a driving force. It doesn't help when emergencies like floods cause tap water contamination or when investigations reveal issues with lead pipes in some communities, but municipal water supplies are tested regularly, and in the vast majority of the U.S., you can safely grab a glass of water from a tap.

And now, a new study on nanoplastics found in three popular bottled water brands is throwing more data into the bottled vs. tap water choice.

Researchers from Columbia University used a new laser-guided technology to detect nanoplastics that had previously evaded detection due to their miniscule size. The new technology can detect, count and analyze and chemical structure of nanoparticles, and they found seven different major types of plastic: polyamide, polypropylene, polyethylene, polymethyl methacrylate, polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene, and polyethylene terephthalate.

In contrast to a 2018 study that found around 300 plastic particles in an average liter of bottled water, the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in January of 2024 found 240,000 nanoplastic particles per liter bottle on average between the three brands studied. (The name of the brands were not indicated in the study.)

As opposed to microplastics, nanoplastics are too small to be seen by microscope. Their size is exactly why experts are concerned about them, as they are small enough to invade human cells and potentially disrupt cellular processes.

“Micro and nanoplastics have been found in the human placenta at this point. They’ve been found in human lung tissues. They’ve been found in human feces; they’ve been found in human blood,” study coauthor Phoebe Stapleton, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Rutgers University’s Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy told CNN Health,

We know that nanoplastics are making their way into our bodies. We just don't have enough research yet on what that means for our health, and we still have more questions than answers. How many nanoplastics does it take to do damage and/or cause disease? What kinds of damage or disease might they cause? Is whatever effect they might have cumulative? We simply don't have answers to these questions yet.

That's not to say there's no cause for concern. We do know that certain levels of microplastic exposure have been shown to adversely affect the viability of cells. Nanoplastics are even smaller—does that mean they are more likely to cause cellular damage? Science is still working that out.

According to Dr. Sara Benedé of the Spanish National Research Council’s Institute of Food Science Research, it's not just the plastics themselves that might cause damage, but what they may bring along with them. “[Microparticles and nanoparticles] have the ability to bind all kinds of compounds when they come into contact with fluids, thus acting as carriers of all kinds of substances including environmental pollutants, toxins, antibiotics, or microorganisms,” Dr. Benedé told Medical News Today.

Where is this plastic in water coming from? This study focused on bottled water, which is almost always packaged in plastic. The filters used to filter the water before bottling are also frequently made from plastic.

Is it possible that some of these nanoplastics were already present in the water from their original sources? Again, research is always evolving on this front, but microplastics have been detected in lakes, streams and other freshwater sources, so it's not a big stretch to imagine that nanoplastics may be making their way into freshwater ecosystems as well. However, microplastics are found at much higher levels in bottled water than tap water, so it's also not a stretch to assume that most of the nanoplastics are likely coming from the bottling process and packaging rather than from freshwater sources.

The reality is, though, we simply don't know yet.

“Based on other studies we expected most of the microplastics in bottled water would come from leakage of the plastic bottle itself, which is typically made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic,” lead author Naixin Qian, a doctoral student in chemistry at Columbia University, told CNN Health. “However, we found there’s actually many diverse types of plastics in a bottle of water, and that different plastic types have different size distributions. The PET particles were larger, while others were down to 200 nanometers, which is much, much smaller.”

We need to drink water, and we need to drink safe water. At this point, we have plenty of environmental reasons for avoiding bottled water unless absolutely necessary and opting for tap water instead. Even if there's still more research to be done, the presence of hundreds of thousands of nanoplastics in bottled water might just be another reason to make the switch.

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Watching David's face during the scene change is sheer delight, as her confused look proves that she has no clue what is about to happen.

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Surgeons prepared to separate 3-year-old conjoined twins in Brazil using virtual reality.

The things human beings have figured out how to do boggles the mind sometimes, especially in the realm of medicine.

It wasn't terribly long ago that people with a severe injury had to liquor up, bite a stick, have a body part sewn up or sawed off and hope for the best. (Sorry for the visual, but it's true.) The discoveries of antibiotics and anesthesia alone have completely revolutionized human existence, but we've gone well beyond that with what our best surgeons can accomplish.

Surgeries can range from fairly simple to incredibly complex, but few surgeries are more complicated than separating conjoined twins with combined major organs. That's why the recent surgical separation of conjoined twin boys with fused brains in Brazil is so incredible.

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