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Extracts from the Journals relating to Children, Youth and Families - in the fields of health, substance abuse, education, psychology, science ...

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31 MAY

How self-regulation can help young people overcome setbacks

Failing an exam at school, getting rejected for a job or being screamed at by your teacher or superior are only a few examples of situations that may cause despair, disappointment or a sense of failure. Unfortunately, such set-backs are part of anyone's life and can start early on. However, dealing with adversity throughout a lifetime is a reality that some seem to be managing better than others.

Where some give-up or crumble at the sight of a difficulty, others have levels of resilience that allow them to persevere and to stay calm under pressure. This often gives them the cutting edge to draw onto their resources and to readjust as needed while a less resilient person may become emotional, panic and lose control. What makes the difference?

First of all, resilience is an acquired skill rather than a fixed character trait. This means that it can be learned and involves working on behaviours, thoughts and actions. This may be easier said than done, especially when it comes to young people that are at high-risk of social exclusion. How can resilience be acquired effectively?

In a recent study entitled "Relationship between Resilience and Self-regulation: A Study of Spanish Youth at Risk of Social Exclusion" published in Frontiers in Psychology, Professor Raquel Artuch-Garde from the Universidad Internacional de La Rioja (UNIR) in Spain analysed whether self-regulation would be a good predictor of resilience. They looked at 365 Spanish students aged 15-21 years, who are marked by academic failure, and who, without the necessary qualifications, find access to the job market later on very much restricted.

"We wondered whether these students would survive better in the system if they were prepared to overcome adversity. The research shows the relationship between two essential non-cognitive skills: resilience and self-regulation that are equally or even more important than cognitive aspects in the educational process of students at risk of social exclusion." says Professor Artuch-Garde.

In fact, the relationship was significant as learning from mistakes was a major predictor of resilience, in particular coping and confidence, tenacity and adaptation as well as tolerance to negative situations. The study shows that helping these young people to bounce-back from adversities by acquiring self-regulation skills such as setting goals and adjusting their path after a misstep, equips them better to do well in school and in life.

The results according to Professor Artuch-Garde illustrate "the importance of working on students' strengths that go beyond the academic or technical areas and which help them to cope positively with the adverse situations that they encounter in their lives."

She further concludes "By working on self-regulation skill of students at risk, we encourage their resilient capacity to build an optimistic life plan and to persevere, which in turn reduces drop-out rates that lead to social exclusion."

29 May 2017


29 MAY

IPads 'help improve young pupils' skills'

Young children's maths, English and communication skills improve if they use iPads in school on a regular basis.

That is one of the key findings of the most in-depth research of its kind ever carried out in Northern Ireland.

The study – Mobile Devices in Early Learning – was carried out over two years and involved about 650 pupils in five Belfast primary schools and five nursery schools. Schools which took part were in some of the most deprived areas of the city.

They were each supplied with sets of iPads for nursery, primary one, primary two and primary three classes. Researchers from Stranmillis University College then assessed how pupils, parents, principals and teachers used them over the course of two years.

Among their key findings were that:

IPads helped young children to be more motivated and engaged in class, said Dr Colette Gray from Stranmillis, who was one of the study's authors.

"It's not a panacea or the holy grail, but is another method to reach children who might otherwise underachieve," she said. "For many children it does seem like a playful learning activity. Children, even if working alone, would talk to each others or talk to the teacher. There was actually an increase in communication in the classroom, which we didn't initially anticipate."

The five primary schools which received ipads and took part in the study were Black Mountain PS, Donegal Road PS, Gaelscoil na Móna, Holy Trinity PS and Elmgrove PS.

The primary three teacher at Elmgrove PS, Hannah Maxwell, said that using iPads had helped to engage many of her pupils. "We don't replace pen and paper with the iPad," she said. "It's all about having a balance between using the iPad and using old school methods. They're using different methods and trying different things to learn. It does take planning but the benefits are shown at the end of it."

The principal of Elmgrove, Jayne Jeffers, said using iPads had improved many pupils' academic performance. "We have found that attainment has increased in a lot of areas because the children are more engaged," she said. "We have a duty as a school to prepare children for their future and that includes digital learning. We have two nursery units and the children are using iPads there right the way up to P7. We are situated in inner east Belfast and there would be a lot of deprivation in the local area, but we're trying to give them every advantage we can."

The study also found that although some teachers were initially nervous, many had developed their own confidence by using iPads extensively in class. There were concerns, however, that parents needed to know more about the safe use of technology if young children were using one outside school.

By Robbie Meredith

24 May 2017


26 MAY

City life tough on teens' mental health

City life seems to take a toll on the adolescent mind, new research suggests.

The study included more than 2,000 18-year-olds in England and Wales who were interviewed about psychotic experiences (such as hearing voices and feeling extremely paranoid) since age 12.

The research team from King's College London and Duke University found that teens raised in large cities were over 40 percent more likely to report psychotic experiences than those who grew up in rural areas.

"These findings highlight the importance of early, preventative strategies for reducing psychosis risk and suggests that adolescents living in threatening neighborhoods within cities should be made a priority," said study co-senior author Helen Fisher. She is from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King's College.

"If we intervene early enough – for example by offering psychological therapies and support to help them cope better with stressful experiences – we could reduce young people's risk for developing psychosis and other mental health problems further down the line," Fisher said in a King's College news release.

Poor neighborhood conditions and crime were major factors in this increased risk, the study authors said.

Among teens who grew up in the worst neighborhoods and who had been victims of violent crimes, 62 percent reported psychotic experiences. That rate was nearly three times higher than among teens who lived in better neighborhoods and had not experienced violent crime (21 percent).

Probable reasons why teens in large cities are at increased risk for psychosis include a heightened biological response to stress, which can affect dopamine in the brain, the researchers suggested. Excess dopamine is believed to be a factor in psychotic illnesses, such as schizophrenia.

It's also possible that teens raised in bad neighborhoods could develop distorted mental responses, such as becoming excessively aware of potential threats and having a negative view of others' intentions, which could lead to paranoia, according to the report.

About 70 percent of adults with mental health problems experience the first signs of trouble during adolescence, the study authors pointed out.

Another one of the researchers stressed the importance of understanding how urban environments shape young minds.

"As increasing numbers of young people around the world are living in cities, there is a growing need to improve our understanding of how both built and social features of urban settings are supporting and challenging young people's mental health," said study co-senior author Candice Odgers, a professor at Duke University, in Durham, N.C.

The study was published May 22 in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin.

By Robert Preidt

23 May 2017


24 MAY

How to talk to children about terrorist attacks

News of a terrorist attack is always frightening, but for parents there is the added dilemma of what to say to their children.

Should I shield them from the news? Is it best just to turn the television off? Will the images they see traumatise them? Or should I tell my children exactly what's happened?

Talk about the news

The advice from professionals is that talking about these issues is better than avoiding them.

Consultant clinical psychologist Emma Citron, who specialises in children and trauma, says families should not shy away from talking about the tragic events in Manchester. "Give children basic facts, tell them what it is they want to know, ask them what they would like to know and then give them access to that," she says. "Support them and comfort them and be there for them, hug them, cry with them if they're crying, just respond to how they're responding emotionally. Take the lead from them – we need to know what it is they want answers to."

Should I turn off the television?

While turning off the television and radio might be a natural protective instinct, Dr Bernadka Dubicka from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, says shielding children from traumatic events in the news isn't practical in today's society.

"Parents can't shield children from these events completely," she says. "The reality is that children and young people are bombarded by 24/7 news."

Dr Dubicka says the most important thing is for parents to be there and to try to help their children manage their emotions. Trying to hide the news isn't helpful because they'll hear about it elsewhere and parents won't then be there to take them through it."

'Avoid nasty details'

While it's important to talk about the news, parents should avoid unnecessary detail, adds Ms Citron.

"Avoid nasty details, there's no need for them, they're unnecessary. You don't want to be describing the scene, describing the bloodshed, describing what it looked like, showing them images – I would be avoiding all of that, because that can traumatise the child."

Ms Citron also advises parents to be firm with older children about how much they read on the internet.

"Tell your young person not to go scouring the internet for all the inside stories, it's just not necessary - we need to protect our young people as well."

Helpful phrases

Ms Citron says parents should take the lead from their children in how the conversation develops, but should try to include as many calm and reassuring phrases as possible.

"General comments like, 'This is a very rare occurrence', 'It's absolutely awful, but thank goodness it's extremely rare', and 'Security is going to be tightened even more', are really reassuring. We don't want our children feeling afraid to go out, we don't want them not to grow up to lead normal, happy, healthy, well-adjusted lives."

If faced with the question, "Could this happen again, mummy?", Ms Citron recommends telling the truth, but also giving children lots of reassurance about their normal, everyday activities.

"I would be saying, 'Of course it could' – and don't lie about that – 'But it's very unlikely, these are very, very rare events and we are sure the police are going to up security even more. 'It'll be absolutely fine to still go to your football or your netball, it'll be absolutely fine to still go on your scout camp', or whatever it is they do. 'We have to to carry on living our lives in a normal way and not be cowed by these bad people.'"

Will teachers talk about events?

The scale of the Manchester attack and the possibility that affected schools might postpone exams, means the subject will be an inevitable topic of conversation in schools.

"I'd be surprised if schools weren't giving pupils a chance to talk about the attack," says Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. "If students want to talk, teachers will let them ask questions and they will be talking to them about how they can look at appropriate, reliable sources for information."

Mr Barton says schools will also be working hard to emphasise a sense of community cohesion.

"Schools will be wanting to emphasise the sense of community and shared values – they'll be using every opportunity to celebrate what they have in their own community."

But, in his 15-year experience as a head teacher, he says schools will be keeping a "business as usual" approach in the wake of this attack, unless they are directly affected. "Routines are important and can carry people through – they keep a sense of calm purpose."

How would I know if my child was traumatised?

The signs of trauma depend very much on the individual, however, symptoms to watch for include:

If you are concerned about your child and think he or she is traumatised by events in the news, you can approach your GP.

If the problems go on, the doctor may suggest accessing some extra help from the local child and adolescent mental health service (Camhs).

But parents should try not to be overly anxious, as Dr Dubicka says: "The vast majority of young people will cope with this and will be OK."

By Katherine Sellgren

23 May 2017


22 MAY

Five reasons teens sext

According to Pew Research Center, 88 percent of teens have access to cellular devices, and 90 percent of those teens text. In fact, on an average day, a teen sends and receives around 30 texts. Texting is a fast way for teens to communicate and express themselves verbally and non-verbally (using emoticons). Not only are teens using phones to express themselves socially, but some are using them to express themselves sexually – by sexting, or sending sexually explicit photos.

Prior to smartphones, teens’ sexual expression was more discreet. Thanks to modern technology, youth have a whole host of ways to sexually connect with one another, and that includes sexting.

Although the exact number of youth who sext is unknown, research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health reported 7 percent of teens have sent or shown someone sexual pictures of themselves, in which they were nude or almost nude. Another study published in the Journal of Pediatrics estimated approximately 20 to 25 percent of American teens engage in sexting. Other reports estimate the proportion of teens who sext falls between 15 to 28 percent, with numbers increasing after youth enter college. Regardless of whether it's closer to 7 percent or 25 percent, it's clear teens often don’t think about the consequences of those risque photos landing in the wrong hands.

Many teens couldn't imagine that their beloved would share that intimate picture with anyone, let alone friends. By sexting, teens run the risk of having their image leaked, with devastating consequences. So why on earth would teens sext? Here are a few reasons:

Curiosity: By nature, teens are sexually curious, but that curiosity may come at a steep price. According to a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, teens who sext are at an increased risk of becoming sexually active a year later. Aside from physical consequences, there may be legal ones for sexting that involves minors, depending on their state of residence. Some states have adopted sexting laws that are specific to teens who consensually sext. These penalties can come in the form of community service, fines, counseling or detention. Other states prohibit the sending of nude pictures and consider it under the category of child pornography; that's a hefty charge for a teen to have to register as a sex offender for life.

Peer pressure: Make no mistake, peer pressure is real, and it can sway a teen to do the unthinkable. Just recently, I had a teen ask me how to handle a situation in which her friends were pressuring her to sext. She went on to explain that these were her only friends, and if she didn’t sext, she may lose them forever. As an outsider, it’s easy to tell her to walk away from those friends. But in the adolescent world, peer acceptance is everything. The idea of being alone can cause teens to cave and go against their better judgment.

To express love: There’s nothing quite like the experience and excitement of a first love. To an infatuated teen, love trumps logic, and that's just what happens when a teen sexts. Teens get so wrapped up in the emotional arousal, they often forget that sext can end up being shared online for all to see.

Obliviousness to the consequences: This isn’t just an excuse. There is actually scientific evidence to back up the claim that often teens simply aren't thinking about what bad things could happen when they sext. There's a special part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex (also known as the CEO of the brain) that is responsible for problem-solving, impulse control and weighing options. This part of the brain is still in its prime stage of development in adolescents. According to an article in the Journal of Adolescent Health, the prefrontal cortex isn’t fully mature until a person is in their early to mid-20s. So, while we expect teens to know better, the fact is that there are some physiological reasons why they don’t.

Sexting is safer than sex: However, as research shows, sexting can lead to sex. So, it’s a road to wanting and trying more risque things. If those photos get out, they can be shared around school, or worse yet – go viral or end up on a porn site. Many teens may convince themselves that their online activity is private, but in truth, there is no such thing as "online privacy," and there never will be. One split-second decision can lead to a lifetime of regret.

Teens often forget their phone is a direct line to the virtual world, a world full of hidden dangers. In order to protect teens, we need to have open and candid conversations about misusing their phone for sexual purposes. Just as we talk with our kids about drugs, sex and bullying, we should spend time speaking with them about the risks associated with sexting.

One way to help prompt these conversations is by using hypothetical situations addressing specific sexting scenarios. For example, “What would you do if...” questions provide an opportunity for teens to work through complex dilemmas. Additionally, allowing teens to flip the scenario and to ask us, “What would you do if...” questions helps them see how we come up with solutions to tough problems.

Lastly, we need to monitor online behavior. While teens value their privacy, their safety is also important. When it comes to teen sexting, prevention is a much better strategy than trying to do damage control.

By Raychelle Cassada Lohmann

18 May 2017


19 MAY


Printed books still draw youth in the digital era

Data from a collaborative one-year pilot study between Deakin and Murdoch Universities has uncovered some surprising findings about the recreational reading habits of teenagers.

"We found that digital platforms are not very motivating. Both regular readers and reluctant readers agreed that paper books are preferred, as they find them more engaging," said lead researcher Dr Leonie Rutherford, a senior lecturer in writing and literature with Deakin University's School of Communication. 

The interdisciplinary team of seven researchers focussed on how and where print books, eBooks and other long-form digital texts (2000+ words) were accessed by 550 adolescents aged 10-18, from Victoria and Western Australia.

The data showed that 70 per cent of participants read at least weekly for pleasure and 50 per cent read for at least 15 minutes each day.

The study also uncovered factors that may influence reading material decisions, in addition to age, gender, parents' education level, and place of residence.

"Research shows there is an association between reading for pleasure, achievement in school subjects, and post-school vocational outcomes, regardless of family socio-economic positioning and education level. So we need to find out how to motivate recreational reading," Dr Rutherford said.

The research is informing discussions with book industry professionals and educators around Australia, with data from the pilot study presented to stakeholders at a symposium late last year.

Stakeholders included members of the State Libraries of Victoria, Western Australia and the Northern Territory; the Australian Publishers' Association; the Australian Booksellers' Association; the Australian Association of Teaching of English; School Libraries' Association; the Commissioner for Children and Young People; the Australian Library and Information Association; and the Victorian and Western Australian State Departments of Education.

"Key themes that we discussed at the symposium included: the finding that attendance of book-related events didn't prove influential for increasing readership; that adolescence is a key period for establishing social habits like reading for maintenance in adult life; and that family was quite instrumental in reading behaviour, both via habits and availability of texts in the home," Dr Rutherford said.

The research is informing discussions with book industry professionals and educators around Australia, with data from the pilot study presented to stakeholders at a symposium late last year.

Dr Rutherford said the reading culture surrounding young people influences their motivation to read. That means role modelling and support for school libraries, in terms of building the collection and integrating use of the service, could have a significant impact on the reading habits of young people.

"Finding a text they can relate to appears to be motivating, and builds engagement and reading behaviour," she added. "Our data indicated a key reason why teens were not reading was because of difficulty choosing what to read."

"We hope to build on the pilot study by gathering further, comprehensive data from 2000-3000 Year 7 to 12 students from every state in Australia to indicate trends that more broadly represent Australian teen reading."

18 May 2017

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17 MAY

More than 1.2 million adolescents die each year, report says

Every day, more than 3,000 adolescents die across the world – that's 1.2 million each year. But they don't have to: Most of these deaths are preventable, according to a new report from the World Health Organization.

Though the largest cause of death in 10- to 19-year-olds was road injury in 2015, when age, sex and region were accounted for, the leading causes of death shifted, reports CNN. Most adolescent deaths are happening in Southeast Asia and Africa.

Overall, road injury was the most common cause of death in adolescent boys, ages 15 to 19. Pregnancy complications like sepsis and obstructed labor were the biggest cause of death in girls ages 15 to 19. In low- and middle-income African countries, communicable illnesses like HIV/AIDS and meningitis were larger culprits of adolescent death. For girls ages 10 to 14, lower respiratory infections like pneumonia were the leading killers.

"Adolescents have been entirely absent from national health plans for decades," Dr, Flavia Bustreo, assistant director-general at the World Health Organization, said in a statement. "Relatively small investments focused on adolescents now will not only result in healthy and empowered adults who thrive and contribute positively to their communities, but it will also result in healthier future generations, yielding enormous returns."

The third leading cause of death for adolescents worldwide in 2015 was suicide and accidental death from self-harm. Self-harm was also the second leading cause of death in older adolescent girls and the second or leading cause of death for European and Southeast Asian adolescents. These details come on the heels of Netflix's hit series "13 Reasons Why," which has spurred controversy over whether it glorifies teen suicide.

The road to reducing these premature deaths is manifold. Parents, families and communities all play a vital role , according to Dr. Anthony Costello, director of maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health at the World Health Organization.

"Adolescents are very vulnerable," Dr. Sonia Saxena, a primary care expert at Imperial College London, told CNN. She was not a part of the report. "That transition needs support ... and when adolescents don't have that support, you get risky behavior."

The World Health Organization also notes that while the majority of these deaths could be stopped, adolescents who lack proper nutrition, who have mental health disorders or are grappling with substance abuse may not always have access to care. This could be because it either isn't available or they don't know it exists.

Reducing adolescent deaths could include everything from better seat-belt laws and more comprehensive sexual education.

By David Oliver

16 May 2017


15 MAY

'Walking a mile in their shoes' may be hazardous to your health

When it comes to empathy, the idiom that suggests "walking a mile in their shoes" turns out to be problematic advice, according to new research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

"That's because there are two routes to empathy and one of them is more personally distressing and upsetting than the other," says Michael Poulin, an associate professor in the University at Buffalo Department of Psychology and co-author of the study led by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Anneke E.K. Buffone, who was a PhD student at UB when the research was conducted.

The findings, based on stress physiology measures, add a new and previously unexplored dimension to understanding how choosing a path to empathy can affect a helper's health and well-being. The study's conclusions provide important insights into areas ranging from training doctors to raising children.

The routes to empathy Poulin mentions diverge at the point of the helper's perspective. The two may sound similar, but actually turn out to be quite different in terms of how they affect the person who is trying to help another.

One approach observes and infers how someone feels. This is imagine-other perspective-taking (IOPT). The other way to empathize is for helpers to put themselves into someone else's situation, the imagined "walking a mile" scenario. This is imagine-self perspective-taking (ISPT).

"You can think about another person's feelings without taking those feelings upon yourself (IOPT)," says Poulin. "But I begin to feel sad once I go down the mental pathway of putting myself into the place of someone who is feeling sad (ISPT).

"I think sometimes we all avoid engaging in empathy for others who are suffering partially because taking on someone else's burdens (ISPT) could be unpleasant. On the other hand, it seems a much better way to proceed is if it's possible to show empathy simply by acknowledging another person's feelings without it being aversive (IOPT)."

Some previous research has tried to get at the question of stress relative to IOPT and ISPT by asking people to report how they felt after a helping behavior. But the current study breaks new ground by examining the effects of perspective taking while someone is engaged in helping behavior.

"I have some degree of uncertainty about how well people are parsing out the distinction when reporting how much they were feeling for themselves versus the other person," says Poulin. That uncertainty motivated the current study's design, which measured a cardiovascular response that reliably indicates the difference between feeling personally anxious or not.

"When we are feeling threatened or anxious, some peripheral blood vessels constrict making it harder for the heart to pump blood through the body," says Poulin. "We can detect this in the lab and what we found is that people who engaged in ISPT had greater levels of this threat response compared to people who engaged in IOPT."

This conclusion could be especially useful in the context of medical professions, like doctors and nurses, especially in areas with high rates of burnout, according to Poulin.

"Many of these professionals see so much pain and suffering that it eventually affects their careers," he says. "That might be the result of habitually engaging in ISPT. They put themselves in their patients' shoes. "Maybe we can train doctors and nurses to engage in IOPT so they can continue to be empathetic toward their patients without that empathy creating a burden."

He says this applies as well to teachers and students, social workers and clients. "In fact, now that we're transitioning to such a service economy, it's nearly everybody: technical support, complaint hotline operators, restaurant servers."

Parents might even consider the study's finding when thinking about how they speaking to their children in certain circumstances. "Rather than saying to a child, 'How would you feel if that were done to you?' maybe we should be saying, 'Think about how that person is feeling'."

11 May 2017

 Source:University at Buffalo


12 MAY

Childhood bullying linked to health risks in adulthood

Childhood bullying may lead to long-lasting health consequences, impacting psychosocial risk factors for cardiovascular health well into adulthood, according to a study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The unique study tracked a diverse group of over 300 American men from first grade through their early thirties and the findings indicate that being a victim of bullying and being a bully were both linked to negative outcomes in adulthood.

The study, led by psychology researcher Karen A. Matthews of the University of Pittsburgh, showed that men who were bullies during childhood were more likely to smoke cigarettes and use marijuana, to experience stressful circumstances, and to be aggressive and hostile at follow-up more than 20 years later. Men who were bullied as children, on the other hand, tended to have more financial difficulties, felt more unfairly treated by others, and were less optimistic about their future two decades later.

These outcomes are especially critical, the researchers note, because they put the men at higher risk for poor health, including serious cardiovascular issues, later in life.

"The long term effects of bullying involvement are important to establish," says Matthews. "Most research on bullying is based on addressing mental health outcomes, but we wished to examine the potential impact of involvement in bullying on physical health and psychosocial risk factors for poor physical health."

Previous research has linked psychosocial risk factors like stress, anger, and hostility to increased risk of health problems such as heart attacks, stroke, and high blood pressure. Because bullying leads to stressful interpersonal interactions for both the perpetrators and targets, Matthews and colleagues hypothesized that both bullies and bullying victims might be at higher risk of negative health outcomes related to stress.

The research team recruited participants from the Pittsburgh Youth Study, a longitudinal study of 500 boys enrolled in Pittsburgh public schools in 1987 and 1988, when the boys were in the first grade. More than half of the boys in the original study were Black and nearly 60% of the boys' families received public financial assistance such as food stamps.

Along with regular assessments on psychosocial, behavioral, and biological risk factors for poor health, researchers collected data from children, parents, and teachers on bullying behavior when the participants were 10 to 12 years old.

Matthews and colleagues successfully recruited over 300 of the original study participants to complete questionnaires on psychosocial health factors such as stress levels, health history, diet and exercise, and socioeconomic status. Around 260 of the men came into the lab for blood draws, cardiovascular and inflammation assessments, and height and weight measurements.

Unexpectedly, neither bullying nor being bullied in childhood was related to inflammation or metabolic syndrome in adulthood. However, both childhood bullies and bullying victims had increased psychosocial risk factors for poor physical health.

The boys who engaged in more bullying in childhood tended to be more aggressive and were more likely to smoke in adulthood, risk factors for cardiovascular disease and other life-threatening diseases.

The boys with higher scores for being bullied tended to have lower incomes, more financial difficulties, and more stressful life experiences. They also perceived more unfair treatment relative to their peers. These outcomes are also related to risk for cardiovascular disease.

"The childhood bullies were still aggressive as adults and victims of bullies were still feeling like they were treated unfairly as adults," Matthews explained. "Both groups had a lot of stress in their adult lives – so the impact of childhood bullying lasts a long time!"

The effects of bullying were fairly similar for both Black and White men, as well as those participants who came from low socioeconomic status families.

Matthews and colleagues anticipate that both bullies and their victims may be at greater risk for poor physical health, including cardiovascular-disease events, over the long term. But they caution that many participants in the original study could not participate in this follow-up study because they were either deceased or incarcerated, which may have affected the results in unknown ways.

The findings suggest that identifying children who are at risk for involvement in bullying and intervening early on may yield long-term psychosocial and even physical health benefits that last into adulthood.

Materials provided by Association for Psychological Science

9 May 2017


10 MAY

Helping children through music therapy

One of the most heart-breaking things we, as adults, witness is the suffering of children. We see a television advertisement showing an abused or sickly child and send them whatever money we can spare; we donate old clothes, toys and books to shelters and hospitals; we even volunteer our time to organisations that help children in need. But what about the children close to us? The ones we rarely realise are suffering. How can we help them? When my autistic son went to nursery, I realised that music therapy is a versatile treatment that could help him.

Stabilising moods

When a child has an inability to convey expression, no matter what the reason behind it, he or she feels frustration, self-loathing and intolerance. In 1958, Paul Nordoff and Clive Robbins devised a therapy for children grounded in the belief that everyone, no matter their age or circumstance, can respond to music. They found that music therapy offered a way to help children express their thoughts and feelings in a way that doesn’t require words. Through this self-expression, their moods stabilise, their frustrations decrease and they build on their communication, self-esteem and social skills.

Building trust

The techniques used in music therapy vary depending on the need of the child. Singing helps children develop articulation and breath control but choosing an instrument, such as a guitar, can help them refine motor skills and coordination. Not only can both these methods help them relieve stress and frustration, but spending as little as 30 minutes a day with them playing something such as a musical ‘call and response’ can build on the relationship between you and your child and increase trust and intimacy. Music therapist, Stuart Wood, points out in his work, The Performance of Community Music Therapy, that through music therapy, children with conditions such as autism are found to have significantly more and longer periods of eye contact than with those in other types of therapy.

Similarly, composing helps a child to understand their own feels and express themselves, while listening to music helps to develop cognitive skills and encourages a child to pay attention. This was proven in a 2015 study where Dr. Marisa López-Teijón found that foetuses can, as early on as 16 weeks, open and close their mouths and move their tongues in time to music playing outside the belly, almost as if they are singing. She explained that these vocalisation movements helps to stimulate language when they are born.

Nordoff and Robbins’ work included building a music centred climate in schools across the United Kingdom and their charity runs music therapy centres and projects nationwide. Some nurseries and schools now even have ‘sensory rooms’ available on site. These are rooms devoted to developing the child’s senses through music, lights and objects that have an interesting feel to them. They help to create a safe, calm atmosphere and facilitate social skills and communication between adults and children. Imagine what the introduction of music therapy at home, in fostering settings and in other parts of the community can achieve.

By Jenny Holt

April 2017



Child’s play is good for all of us

If all of the children who currently are sedentary started exercising every day, societies could save enormous amounts of money in the coming decades and have healthier citizens as a whole, according to a remarkable new study. In the United States alone, we could expect to save more than $120 billion every year in health care and associated expenses.

The study is the first to use sophisticated computer simulations to arrive at a literal and sobering societal price tag for allowing our children to be sedentary.

Inactivity is, of course, widespread among young people today. Recent research shows that in the United States and Europe, physical activity tends to peak at about age 7 for both boys and girls and tail off continually throughout adolescence. More than two-thirds of children in the United States rarely exercise at all.

The immediate health consequences for inactive children and their families are worrisome. Childhood obesity, which is linked to lack of exercise, is common, as is the incidence of Type 2 diabetes and other health problems related to being overweight among children as young as 6.

But the long-term financial costs of inactivity in the young, both for them and society as a whole, have never been quantified.

So for the new study, which was published this week in Health Affairs, researchers with the Global Obesity Prevention Center at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and other institutions decided to create a bogglingly complex computer model of what the future could look like if we do or do not get more of our children moving.

The researchers began by gathering as much public data as is currently available about the health, weight and physical activity patterns of all 31.7 million American children now aged 8 to 11, using large-scale databases from the Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other groups.

The researchers fed this information into a computerized modeling program that created an electronic avatar for every American child today. In line with reality, two-thirds of these children were programmed to rarely exercise and many were overweight or obese.

The scientists then had the simulated children grow up. Using estimations about how calorie intake and activity patterns affect body weight, the program changed each virtual child’s body day-by-day and year-by-year into adulthood. Most became increasingly overweight.

As the simulated children became adults, the scientists then modeled each one’s health, based on obesity-associated risks for heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer, and also the probable financial price of dealing with those diseases (adjusted for future inflation), both in terms of direct expenses for hospitalizations, drugs and so on, and lost productivity because of someone’s being ill.

The results were staggering. According to the computer model, the costs of today’s 8- to 11-year-olds being inactive and consequently overweight would be almost $3 trillion in medical expenses and lost productivity every year once the children reached adulthood and for decades until their deaths.

But when the researchers tweaked children’s activity levels within their model, the numbers began to look quite different. If they presumed that, in an imaginary America, half of all children exercised vigorously for about 25 minutes three times a week, such as during active recess or sports or, more ambitiously, ran around and moved for at least an hour every day, which is the amount of youth exercise recommended by the C.D.C., their virtual lives were transformed.

Most obviously, the incidence of childhood obesity fell by more than 4 percent, a change that resonated throughout the simulated children’s lives and society. There were about half a million fewer cases of adult-onset heart disease, diabetes, cancer and strokes in this simulation, and the society-wide costs associated with these illnesses dropped by about $32 billion every year if the children romped about for 25 minutes three times per week and by almost $37 billion if they moved for an hour every day.

The impacts were even more substantial when the researchers assumed that 100 percent of the children who are now sedentary got regular exercise.

In this scenario, the annual total costs during adulthood from obesity-associated medical expenses and lost productivity plummeted by about $62 billion when children were active three times a week and by more than $120 billion every year when all of the virtual children played and moved for at least an hour each day.

The implication of these numbers is that all of us, including people who are not parents, have selfish reasons to be concerned about childhood inactivity, says Bruce Lee, the director of the Global Obesity Prevention Program at Johns Hopkins and lead author of the study.

“We all will share the costs” of future medical treatments and lost work time among children who move too little now, he says.

Of course, this was a computer model and not a time machine, he says. It can provide predictions but not certainties. The simulations also relied on broad generalizations about how physical activity affects body weight and health, with the presumption being that more movement leads to less weight, which might not be true for all young people.

Still, this peek into our possible future strongly suggests that we should find ways now to encourage more children to move, Dr. Lee says. Show this study to school administrators who are mulling curtailing recess and physical education classes, he suggests. Talk to local planning authorities about more playing fields and parks. And if you are a parent, take your child for a bike ride, swim or jog.

By Gretchen Reynolds

3 May 2017



Parents' use of emotional feeding increases emotional eating in school-age children

Emotional eating – eating when you feel sad or upset or in response to another negative mood – is not uncommon in children and adolescents, but why youth eat emotionally has been unclear. Now a new longitudinal study from Norway has found that school-age children whose parents fed them more to soothe their negative feelings were more likely to eat emotionally later on. The reverse was also found to be the case, with parents of children who were more easily soothed by food being more likely to feed them for emotional reasons.

The findings come from researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, King's College London, University College London, and the University of Leeds. They appear in the journal Child Development.

"Understanding where emotional eating comes from is important because such behavior can increase the risk for being overweight and developing eating disorders," according to the study's lead author, Silje Steinsbekk, associate professor of psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. "If we can find out what influences the development of emotional eating in young children, parents can be given helpful advice about how to prevent it."

When children eat to soothe their negative feelings, their food tends to be high in calories (e.g., sweets) so they consume more calories. If they emotionally overeat often, they are also more likely to be overweight. Emotional eating is also tied to the development of later eating disorders (e.g., bulimia and binge eating). This study sought to determine why children eat emotionally and is the first research to consider the issue in school-age children.

Researchers examined emotional feeding and eating in a representative group of 801 Norwegian 4-year-olds, looking at these issues again at ages 6, 8, and 10. They sought to determine whether parents involved in the study (mostly mothers) shaped their children's later behavior by offering food to make them feel better when they were upset (emotional feeding), and whether parents whose children were easily soothed by food (those who calmed when given food) were more likely to offer them more food for comfort at a subsequent time. Parents were asked to complete questionnaires describing their children's emotional eating and temperament (how easily they became upset, how well they could control their emotions), as well as their own emotional feeding. Approximately 65% of the children displayed some emotional eating.

The study found that young children whose parents offered them food for comfort at ages 4 and 6 had more emotional eating at ages 8 and 10. But the reverse was also true: Parents whose children were more easily comforted with food were more likely to offer them food to soothe them (i.e., to engage in emotional feeding). Thus, emotional feeding increased emotional eating, and emotional eating increased emotional feeding. The findings held even after accounting for children's body-mass index and initial levels of feeding and eating.

Moreover, higher levels of negative affectivity (i.e., becoming angry or upset more easily) at age 4 increased children's risk for emotional eating and feeding at age 6. And this contributed to the bidirectional relation between emotional feeding and emotional eating.

"We know that children who are more easily upset and have more difficulty controlling their emotions are more likely to eat emotionally than calmer children, perhaps because they experience more negative emotions and eating helps them calm down," notes Lars Wichstrøm, professor of psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, who coauthored the study. "Our research adds to this knowledge by showing that children who are more easily upset are at highest risk for becoming emotional eaters."

The authors suggest that instead of offering children food to soothe them when they are sad or upset, parents and other caregivers try to calm youngsters by talking, offering a hug, or soothing in ways that don't involve food. "Food may work to calm a child, but the downside is teaching children to rely on food to deal with negative emotions, which can have negative consequences in the long run," adds Steinsbekk.

The authors caution that because the study was conducted in Norway, which has a relatively homogenous and well-educated population, the findings should not be generalized to more diverse populations or to cultures with other feeding and eating practices without further study.

25 April 2017

Society for Research in Child Development



Parents' mobile use harms family life, say secondary pupils

An overuse of mobile phones by parents disrupts family life, according to a survey of secondary pupils.

More than a third of 2,000 11 to 18-year-olds who responded to a poll said they had asked their parents to stop checking their devices. And 14% said their parents were online at meal times, although 95% of 3,000 parents, polled separately, denied it.

The research was carried out by Digital Awareness UK and the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference.

Among the pupils:

Of pupils who had asked their parents to put down their phones, 46% said their parents took no notice while 44% felt upset and ignored.

Despite this, only a minority of parents (10%) believed their mobile use was a concern for their children – although almost half (43%) felt they spent too much of their own time online:

Research last year by DAUK and HMC showed almost half of secondary pupils were checking their mobile phones after they had gone to bed, amid warnings that they were arriving at school tired and unable to concentrate.

According to the new research, almost three-quarters of pupils (72%) said they were online between three and 10 hours a day – but for 11% this could rise to 15 hours at weekends and holidays and 3% said it could reach 20 hours.

And children's greatest worry about their own online use was lack of sleep, with 47% highlighting it as a major concern. But among parents, only 10% worried about children's time online leading to sleep deprivation.

Mike Buchanan, headmaster of Ashford School in Kent and chairman of the HMC, which represents leading private schools, said it was time for parents, teachers and pupils "to rewrite the rulebook" on mobile devices, which "have become an integral part of life at school, work and play".

"Our poll shows that children are aware of many of the risks associated with overuse of technology but they need the adults in their lives to set clear boundaries and role model sensible behaviour. To achieve this, we need to join up the dots between school and home and give consistent advice," said Mr Buchanan.

'Wake-up call'

Emma Robertson, co-founder of DAUK, said too few parents knew how long their children were online, particularly at night, "or what they are actually doing online".

"We hope these findings will be a wake-up call for families and motivate them to have serious conversations about the safe and healthy use of technology," she said.

The research comes ahead of the HMC's spring conference, which will explore new ways of working between schools and families in both the state and independent sectors.

Parents and pupils at a leading academy chain, which runs both state and private schools in England, were invited to take part in the research earlier this month.

23 April 2017

By Judith Burns


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