Dr. Delaney Ruston – It is Spring Break for many students and their families. It’s not a normal Spring Break, that’s for sure. Breaks are all relative at this point. There is no question that a plethora of challenges still abound in our lives, schools, and society at large.
Over the past year, I have been flooded so often by feelings of compassion. Recently I have been reflecting on the books and podcasts — from the far past to the present — that have influenced me in terms of the human condition and empathy.
Today I share some of the podcasts and books that came to my mind that are particularly timely and can inspire compassion and insight in your home. Several of the books are just for adults and older teens, but a couple of them are for younger ones. The podcasts can be shared with nearly everyone in a family. Here they are, and I would love to hear from you about any of them.
For our family, podcasts and family car trips have been a perfect match. In case you are driving somewhere or have some moments to cuddle on the couch together after dinner, here a few that I recommend.
Taken for Granted
Season 4, Episode 3 Jane Goodall Leadership Lessons from Primates (Great for kids about 8 and up)
I always enjoy listening to Adam Grant, and this episode with Jane Goodall is great since so many youth love animals. This episode provides a side door into discussing social dynamics at school, which, as in-person school time expands these days, is increasing. Hearing how chimps behave socially and how that relates to us as humans is fascinating. And by the way, I couldn’t agree more with what Goodall says about how traits that are traditionally considered female can help improve all of our social lives — in schools, work, and beyond.
Short & Curly (Great for kids about 7 and up)
This podcast has been around for years, and the episodes vary in style. For example, some include people acting out characters, and many include kids talking. Plus, this show has the added benefit of being from abroad — it’s Australian.
The show’s description calls it a “fun-filled ethics podcast for kids and their parents, with questions and ideas to really get you thinking. It asks curly questions about animals, technology, school, pop culture and the future.”
You might consider this episode, Is Stealing Music or Jokes Really Stealing? “If a comedian comes up with a joke, you see it on YouTube and then start telling all your friends, is that stealing. If you take a small sound or beat from a song you love and then use it in a whole new piece of music you’ve created, is that stealing?”
Or how about this one, Should Robots Replace Humans?
Planet Money (Great for kids about 8 and up)
Planet Money always has an upbeat, fun vibe that resonates with young people. The Socialism 101 episode gives an engaging synopsis of the history of economics over the centuries. This short episode sheds light on some reasons behind inequalities we face today as well as solutions workplaces have tried to prevent such inequalities. I believe that anytime we make space to discuss inequalities and injustices, we foster empathy in our kids.
This American Life
The issues raised in this multipart episode provide the ingredients for deep discussion about schooling in our country — and talk about timely.
How do we face the fact that there is so much inequality in our society and schools? What is the role of standardized testing?
For me, this episode hits me at a very emotional level — in part because of the way that standardized testing has had such a negative footprint on my sense of self. I have never performed well on those types of tests. Do I want them to be done away with? Yep. Yet maybe you disagree? What do your kids think? Other incredibly important topics are shared in this podcast and are worth the time.
One key caveat. The show shares a study about the odds of having a high-paying job given what type of college a student attends. HOWEVER, I want all kids to know that such stats have a lot to do with MANY other factors than just the type of college one goes to. (If you want a more rounded view on this topic, I recommend reading the book Self Driven Child.)
I am sure that you know of my podcast by now, which is all about exploring strategies for raising screen-wise and tech-balanced youth. Most episodes are geared for parents, kids, and teens to listen to and thus spark common ground for inspired conversations.
One that is particularly dear to me is the episode on sleep called New Science On Sleep, Our Kids And What To Do. It happens to be the most listened-to episode of all of them.
Books for older teens and adults
Kitchen Table Wisdom Rachel Naomi Remin, MD
I remember like it was yesterday sitting around a large table in a seminar in discussion with Rachel Naomi Remin, MD, during my medical residency. I was wide-eyed hearing her share stories from her perspective as a doctor and as a patient.
I have so enjoyed her books, particularly Kitchen Table Wisdom, which is chock-full of wisdom and filled me up with comforting compassion.
Here is part of the description: “Often Doctors have front-row seat on life. When a physician is also a master storyteller and has a personal 60-year history of chronic illness, we get to share a profound experience of life up close and personal. “Everybody is a story,” writes Dr. Remen in her introduction. … Despite the awesome powers of technology many of us still do not live very well. We may need to listen to one another’s stories again.”
(And if you like this book, check out her sequel, My Grandfather’s Blessings).
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (Anne Fadiman)
This is one of my all-time favorite books. Fadiman’s writing is so gripping I could barely put the book down. I have been recommending this book to others for many years. You don’t have to be in medicine to be utterly moved by this fascinating story and all the dilemmas it raises.
“When three-month-old Lia Lee Arrived at the county hospital emergency room in Merced, California, a chain of events was set in motion from which neither she nor her parents nor her doctors would ever recover. Lia’s parents…were part of a large Hmong community in Merced, refugees from the CIA-run “Quiet War” in Laos. … Lia’s pediatricians, Neil Ernst and his wife, Peggy Philip, cleaved …to another tradition: that of Western medicine.”
What transpires in this book can open one’s heart to the many cross-cultural challenges that happen in our complex world.
Educated by Tara Westover
My daughter Tessa, age 19, read Educated in two days, she suggested it to me. I cried probably five times while reading it. My son and husband also read and loved the book. Sometimes crying can be cathartic, but of course, you might not want anything like that right now.
“Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.”
Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness by Ethan Kross
I just read this book this month and enjoyed the polished writing and all the pertinent science. Kross has been a researcher on our inner critic for years, including well-cited studies on the ways social media can impact self-talk.
As a person who has lived with a high level of negative self-talk and has spent years learning ways to train my brain into more soothing self-talk, this book gave me new ideas to add to my repertoire.
Meanwhile, there are lots of ideas in this book that can help in your parenting. For example, if you have younger kids, and they are struggling with, say, putting on their shoes when you asked them, you can try saying, “How would Batman do that? ” You may be impressed with how your child responds. This is called the “Batman Effect.”
A bonus is that this book is filled with many “brain hacks” that you can share with your kids and teens, and everyone in the house can experiment with trying them.
Parenting in the Screen Age: A Guide for Calm Conversations (by me, Delaney Ruston).
You probably know I have a book out, but just in case not, I include it here. It took a long time to write and I have been so happy to hear from people who tell me how much it has helped them, particularly now during COVID.
There are two chapters particularly pertinent to building empathy; one is called Challenging Conversations, and the other is called Fostering Human Bonds.
On April 7th, I host a Chapter Club that all are invited to join in on. I will be talking about the chapter called Sleep, so mark your calendar. Please sign up here.
Books to share with kids
Invisible Enemies: Stories of Infectious Disease by Jeanette Farrell
This book was written for readers age 12 to 18, but it’s awesome as an adult who wants to know more about themselves or want a book to read to their younger kids, say 7 and up. This book shares short stories about the history of fighting infectious diseases — overcoming some, such as Smallpox — and learning to decrease the impact of other diseases, such as cholera and Leprosy.
Invisible Allies: Microbes That Shape Our Lives by Jeanette Farrell
This is another book my family has thoroughly enjoyed by Farrell. It was also written for young readers but works for many ages.