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Other Journals

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

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30 MAY

CANADA

Babies born to teen mothers in Manitoba’s child-welfare system more likely to be placed in care, study shows

Teen mothers in Manitoba who were in protective care when they gave birth were seven times more likely to have their child taken into care before the age of two, compared with adolescent mothers who were not in care, according to a new study, published on Tuesday.

The odds were greatest during the first week of the infant’s life, when mothers in care were 11 times more likely to lose custody of their child.

These findings, published in the journal Pediatrics, build on previous research that has shown that mothers who were in care are more likely to lose custody of their children.

“The objective of this study, essentially, was to start to put some numbers to how often this cycle occurs,” says lead author Elizabeth Wall-Wieler, a doctoral candidate at the University of Manitoba’s department of community health sciences.

The study examined data for two groups, the first consisting of 576 teen mothers in Manitoba, who were in the care of child-protection services when they gave birth to their first child, and the second consisting of nearly 5,370 teen mothers in the province who were not in care when they gave birth to their first child.

Ms. Wall-Wieler says she and her team did not have the information to compare the intervention of child-welfare services for Indigenous against non-Indigenous young mothers among their sample population. However, in Manitoba, around 90 per cent of children and teenagers in foster care are Indigenous.

According to 2016 government data, Indigenous children account for less than 8 per cent of the total population of children ages 14 and under across the country, yet make up 52 per cent of the number of children in foster care. Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott has described the disproportionate number of Indigenous children in care as a "humanitarian crisis.” Meanwhile, many, including Beaverhouse First Nations Chief Marcia Brown Martel, have referred to the situation as the “millennium scoop,” an extension of the Sixties Scoop, which involved the large-scale removal of Indigenous children to be placed with non-Indigenous families starting from the 1950s into the 80s.

Ashley Bach, director for B.C. at the non-profit organization Youth In Care Canada, has experienced and seen this cycle first hand.

Within days of her birth, Ms. Bach, now 23, was taken away from her biological mother and placed into foster care. Ms. Bach’s grandmother was also removed from her family as a child and placed into the residential-school system. And Ms. Bach’s biological mother, a member of Mishkeegogamang First Nation, was placed into foster care in Ontario, and ran away, winding up in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. While in B.C., she gave birth to Ms. Bach.

Ms. Bach’s foster family, which eventually adopted her, fostered a total of more than 30 other children, all of them First Nations, Inuit or Métis. Almost all had been taken into care at birth, she says, and almost all had biological parents who had also been in the child-welfare system.

Ms. Bach characterizes her upbringing as generally positive. “At the same time, I always wonder what could have been if there had been supports in place for my (biological) mom,” she says.

Ms. Wall-Wieler explains adolescent mothers who are in care themselves may be more likely to lose custody of their children because they are under surveillance and social workers are often scrutinizing their parenting. Many teen mothers who are not in the child-welfare system have more resources, such as financial support or help with parenting from their biological families, she says, whereas adolescent mothers in care lack these supports.

She adds there is also a disconnect between the views of adolescent mothers in care and social workers. In the study, she and her team cite research from 2002 that found case workers tended to believe the best way to end the cycle of involvement was to take the children of teen mothers into protective custody. By contrast, teen mothers saw this as a continuation of their trauma and a continuation of the cycle.

Beyond more obvious important measures such as providing housing and financial assistance, social networks are critical for young, and often single, mothers, Ms. Wall-Wieler says, adding they also may need help building strong bonds with their children to maintain custody of them. She says these mothers often lack the role models that others have when developing relationships with their own children.

She and her team also call for adolescent mothers and their children to be placed together whenever possible.

Sophia Ali, executive director of the non-profit counselling centre Aulneau Renewal Centre in Winnipeg, says many of the families with whom her organization works that are involved in the child-welfare system face multiple challenges, including poverty.

“When those barriers continue, then how can a cycle really end?” she says.

Aulneau Renewal Centre runs a pilot program called the Dragonfly Reunification Program, aimed at preparing families to be reunited with children in care. Within the program, therapists and parent coaches work to help parents recognize and address their children’s cues and to develop stronger relationships.

Ms. Bach says the system of determining which children are at risk also needs to be changed, since it is stacked against Indigenous people and those in poverty. For example, policies like “birth alert,” which identifies expectant mothers who are deemed “high risk,” can unfairly target Indigenous women based on racist and colonialist views, she says. This stems from beliefs that Indigenous people are not capable of taking care of their own children, she says. She also suggests hospital staff and those identifying “high-risk” mothers should receive training to address these inherent biases.

By Wendy Leung

29 May 2018 

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28 MAY

USA

The role of race in police contact among homeless youth

More than 1.7 million U.S. youth experience homelessness each year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Homeless youth are at an increased risk of being stopped by police and arrested, yet it is unclear if this interaction is related to race. A new longitudinal study examined the likelihood of homeless youth of different races being harassed and arrested by police. The study found that non-White homeless youth are more likely than White homeless youth to report police harassment and arrest, but that elements of living on the street – including increased visibility and prior experiences with harassment – offset racial disparities.

The study, by researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), appears in Justice Quarterly, the journal of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences.

"Racial minorities are disproportionately represented among homeless youth and youth who are arrested, but research on how race and homelessness combine to shape the risk of police contact has been sparse," says Jerreed D. Ivanich, Ph.D. student at UNL, the lead author. "By looking at these two together, our study contributes to how we understand homelessness and the role of race in shaping youth's contact with the criminal justice system."

Researchers sought to determine the extent to which race shapes police contact within a population whose members share a marginalized, stigmatized, and criminalized identity. By and large, homeless youth often have increased access to and motivation for engaging in deviant or criminal behavior.

The study used data from the Midwest Longitudinal Study of Homeless Adolescents, which looked at 428 homeless and runaway youth ages 16 to 19 from small to medium-sized urban areas in eight cities in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska. Most of the adolescents were White (59%), about a fifth were Black (22%), and the remaining youth represented other races and ethnicities. The adolescents, who had the option of being interviewed every three months from 2000 to 2003, lived in shelters, on the street, or in independent arrangements such as with friends because they had run away, been pushed out by family, or drifted away from their families' homes. At the end of the study, 197 youth had been interviewed and 60 youth had completed all 13 interviews.

The study found that non-White homeless adolescents were more likely to be harassed by police than White homeless adolescents, which the authors suggest is in line with expectations because minority youth in the United States are generally more likely to be viewed with suspicion and stopped by police. But White homeless youth who lived on the street or in abandoned buildings – that is, youth who were more visible and subject to policing strategies that criminalize homelessness – were just as likely as non-White homeless youth to report being harassed by police, the study found.

The study also found that non-White homeless youth were more likely than White homeless youth to be arrested. But White homeless youth who reported police harassment in the past were just as likely as all non-White homeless youth to be arrested, the researchers found.

Taken together, the findings suggest that the increased visibility that comes with living on the street and experiencing prior police harassment among homeless youth may set in motion subsequent events that culminate in arrest, the study concluded.

"Homeless youth are criminalized in their living environments, and these experiences lead to increased and prolonged interaction with the criminal justice system, which likely embeds them further in a jail-to-street-to-jail cycle," explains Tara D. Warner, assistant professor of sociology at UNL and faculty affiliate at the Nebraska Center for Justice Research, who co-authored the article. "In light of longstanding patterns of racial disparities in criminal justice experiences, such a cycle may actually unfold quite similarly for White and non-White homeless youth."

23 May 2017

Source: Crime and Justice Research Alliance 

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25 MAY

The brain structures of transgender teens align with their gender identity, according to a new study

One of the most common, misguided arguments that internet trolls have used to invalidate the experiences of trans people is suggesting that being trans isn't "biologically" possible. While everyday people and science alike have debunked this transphobic myth over and over again, new research is now putting that faulty logic to rest even further. According to a new study, the brain structures of transgender teenagers are aligned with their gender identity, rather than the gender they were assigned at birth.

The research was presented on May 22 at the 20th European Congress of Endocrinology and published in Endocrine Abstracts. Over the course of the study, 160 transgender children and teens experiencing gender dysphoria – a term used to describe the psychological distress some people feel when the gender they were assigned at birth doesn’t match their gender identity – underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. The scans monitored and analyzed brain activity in study participants. Diffusion tensor imaging was also used to measure levels of gray matter versus white matter in the brains of the trans teens. The study then compared these scans to brain scans of teens who did not report experiencing gender dysphoria.

The researchers found that the brains of transgender girls closely resembled those of cisgender girls, and the brains of trans boys closely resembled those of cisgender boys. In other words, the MRI scans confirmed that the study participants were experiencing gender dysphoria, as they reported – which, when many adolescents and youth with gender dysphoria are dismissed because they might 'grow out of it', is big news.

Of course, this study doesn't take into the account that people experiencing gender dysphoria may not identify with a binary gender like male or female, while their dysphoria is still valid. (Moreover, biological "proof" isn't necessary to validate a transgender person's experience.) And though a common experience in the trans community, it’s important to note that not every transgender person experiences gender dysphoria. More research, with a larger sample size, is needed to understand how gender identity may be expressed in the brain.

That being said, this study presents important information that may help teenagers experiencing gender dysphoria. A recent study conducted at the University of Minnesota estimated that three percent of teenagers in ninth through eleventh grade identify as either transgender or nonbinary. Many professionals believe that the distress of gender dysphoria can be worsened (or outright caused) by discrimination, transphobia, stigma, and lack of acceptance. As The Trevor Project reported, a national survey found that 40 percent of transgender adults have attempted suicide at least once in their lifetime; 92 percent of those adults reported that they had attempted suicide before the age of twenty-five.

Other studies have indicated similar findings that point to the fact that the brains of people experiencing gender dysphoria demonstrate differences compared to the brains of people who identify as cisgender. If further research is able to confirm this connection, it may be able to help support transgender teens earlier in life by increasing access to medical intervention. On the other hand, however, in a world where transphobia continues to put transgender folks in harm's way, it's important to consider the potential ramifications of this technology, as well as the potential ramifications of science that continues to enforce a gender binary.

The study’s findings reflect what trans and nonbinary folks have long been expressing, and it comes as a reminder to simply believe transgender people when they share their experiences. While this research is an interesting development in our ongoing understanding of gender, it's important to consider that that understanding is continuing to evolve every day.

By Kyli Rodriguez-Cayro

23 May 2018 

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23 MAY

CANADA

Early-onset cannabis use linked to further drug abuse problems

What a difference a year or two can make: If you started smoking marijuana at the start of your teens, your risk of having a drug abuse problem by age 28 is 68 per cent, but if you started smoking between 15 and 17 your risk drops to 44 per cent, according to a new study by Université de Montréal researchers.

All the more reason, they say, to educate kids early, in primary school, about the risks of starting pot smoking, especially now that the potency is much greater than it was in decades past and that public acceptance is being spurred by legalization in jurisdictions such as Canada.

"The odds of developing any drug abuse symptoms by age 28 were reduced by 31 per cent for each year of delayed onset of cannabis use in adolescence," the researchers at UdeM's Department of Psychology, School of Psychoeducation and the CHU Saint-Justine Hospital Research Centre found.

Their study was publishedApril 22 in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.

Percentage nearly tripled

According to a 2011 study by University of Waterloo researchers in the journal Addictive Behaviors, 10 per cent of Canadian adolescents consumed cannabis in Grade 8. By Grade 12, that percentage nearly tripled to 29 per cent. Early-onset cannabis use has been linked to further drug abuse problems later in life.

The new study, done by UdM doctoral student Charlie Rioux under the supervision of professors Natalie Castellanos-Ryan and Jean Séguin, shows just how much.

The researchers looked at data for 1,030 boys in the Montreal Longitudinal and Experimental Study of white francophones from some of the city's impoverished neighbourhoods begun in the early 1980s. Every year between ages 13 and 17, the boys were asked if they had consumed cannabis at all in the previous year.

At 17, and again at 20 and 28, they were asked not only whether they consumed cannabis, but also other drugs, including hallucinogens, cocaine, amphetamines, barbiturates, tranquilizers, heroin and inhalants. Then the data were correlated with the age at which they started using cannabis.

Double the chance if frequent use

The results confirmed the researchers' suspicions: the younger they started, the more likely the boys had a drug problem later as young men. This is partly explained by the frequency with which they consumed cannabis and other drugs, but those who started before age 15 were at higher risk regardless of how often they consumed.

"The odds of developing any drug abuse symptoms by age 28 were non-significant if cannabis use had its onset at ages 15 to 17, but were significant and almost doubled each year if onset was before age 15," the study says. Even if those who start smoking cannabis at 17 years were at lower risk, frequent users (20 or more times a year) at age 17 had almost double the chance of abuse by age 28 than occasional users.

And that may be underestimating the problem, the researchers say.

"Notably, considering that the potency of cannabis products increased over the last two decades and that [inthis study] adolescent cannabis use was assessed from 1991 to 1995, it is possible that the higher content of ?-9-tetrahydrocannabinol in the cannabis available today would be associated with higher rates of drug abuse symptoms."

Gangs, thievery, drinking

The researchers also found that the earlier that boys were involved in gangs, drank alcohol, got into fights, stole or vandalized property, the earlier they used cannabis and the higher their odds of having drug abuse issues by 28. Those who started drinking at 17 also were at higher risk of having an alcohol problem at 28.

The finding that starting pot smoking between ages 13 and 15 increases the odds of developing a drug problem later on makes it all the more important to prevent or reducing cannabis use as early as possible, the researchers say.

"It may be important to implement these programs by the end of elementary school to prevent early onset of cannabis use," said Rioux. "Since peer influence and delinquency were identified as early risk factors for earlier cannabis onset and adult drug abuse, targeting these risk factors in prevention programs may be important, especially since prevention strategies working on the motivators of substance use have been shown to be effective."

Source: University of Montreal

21 May 2018

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21 MAY 

UK

Transgender children 'face discrimination' within social care system

Poor understanding of childhood gender dysphoria among social workers and a lack of specialist training on the issues has resulted in transgender children and their families suffering discrimination within the child protection system, a study has found.

A report commissioned by the Department for Education found that there is a significant lack of transgender-specific social work research, but the available evidence suggests transgender people "commonly report having poor experiences within social and care settings".

"More specifically, evidence suggests childhood gender dysphoria remains poorly understood by social workers, resulting in transgender people experiencing discrimination," the report states. "Transgender people therefore report significant gaps in services."

The report calls for better training of social workers on transgender issues and for leadership on the issue from the Department for Education and chief social workers. It also calls for improved visibility and inclusion of transgender people in the social work profession.

Examples of discrimination highlighted in the report include some social workers labelling parental support of gender variance as abuse, failing to recognise risks associated with an unsupportive home environment, and making uniformed judgments around the acceptance of gender variance.

However, the report adds that these findings, based on interviews with stakeholders including representatives of child and family social work teams across 10 councils, were offset with examples of more positive experiences.

Some social workers were found to be playing a key role in family mediation, being a key resource of information, facilitating treatment pathways and support, tackling local discrimination and generally ensuring that the interests of gender-variant children and young people are best promoted.

"On the basis of the range and diversity of views and experiences collected it seems likely that child and family social workers' knowledge of transgender issues is very mixed.

"Whereas some child and family social workers would seem to have minimal awareness of transgender issues, others operate within pockets of expertise, characterised by specialised knowledge and good practice.

"In line with this, child and family social workers' education and training in regard to transgender issues is likely variable, yet largely deficient.

"As a result, very few social workers would seem to have specific education or training in relation to transgender issues, at qualifying or post-qualifying level. Of those that do, there would seem to be a tendency for transgender issues to be subsumed under the LGBT umbrella, resulting in a lack of specificity in education."

The report concludes that transgender awareness is an area in need of development within the child and family social work profession, with the evidence indicating a demand for additional training materials.

By Neil Puffett

18 May 2018

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18 MAY

Dealing with a child's entry anxiety into adolescence

The transition out of childhood into early adolescence (around ages 9 – 13) is often not an easy one for a child or for parents because adolescence begins with mutual loss.

However, I believe this transition is harder on the child than on the parents because the entry into adolescence can create considerable anxiety on multiple counts.

The hardship of transition

For example, although the young person knows on some level that she or he doesn’t want to be defined and treated as just a “little child” anymore, there is discomfort with this dissatisfaction, creating a troubling uncertainty about what redefinition to seek.

In addition, departure from childhood proceeds on two scary fronts. There is ‘departure’ in the form of detachment from childhood and parents that creates more distance and separation for independence to grow. And there is ‘departure’ in the form of differentiation from childhood and parents that creates more contrast with historical definition for expression of individuality to grow. To the degree that parents restrain this growing independence, there can be more conflict. To the degree that parents dislike this growing individuality, there can be more criticism.

“How much will starting to act more grown up strain my old relationship with parents?” is often the unstated but worrisome adolescent question. And when disappointment or displeasure by parents at some early adolescent change is experienced, the girl or boy, who used to pride themselves on making parents proud, can get emotionally jammed by anxiety at falling away from their traditional approval. Further, fearing challenges ahead can compound matters, like facing more push and shove in peer relationships for social standing.

Now entry anxiety can be experienced but is often indirectly expressed at home, or before school, or at school. This anxiety can be given emotional expression (touchiness and moodiness), social expression (withdrawal and distance), even physical expression (in the form of unexplained aches or pains or upsets or nervous behaviors), all testifying to significant anxiety going on.

Often, it seems those young people who are an only or eldest child (only for a while) can have the hardest adjustment entering adolescence. Both are usually closely attached and highly identified with parents and so detachment and differentiation can be scary to do. And both are “trial child” for first-time parents who are struggling with how much to hold on and how much to let go, and what to expect now.

These parents can be firmly wed to childhood expectations and so find adjusting them (their predictions, ambitions, and conditions) to fit the changing reality of their redefining teenager challenging to do. However, failure to do so can cause the developmentally changing adolescent to feel like a disappointment in parental eyes, as if parents are saying: "You used to be such a great kid; what happened to you?"

When parents believe their child is anxiously stuck in transition out of childhood into early adolescence, there several topics often worth discussing:

Managing change

“Life is change and change is hard and you are going through an important change now as you start separating from childhood to begin the growing up years. Change upsets and resets the terms of our existence all our lives taking us from an old to new, same to different, familiar to unknown state of things. While this causes loss of what you have to let go or give up, it also creates exciting possibilities for new growth because the other side of loss is freedom. There is freedom from old restraints and freedom for new opportunities. So let’s talk about what you miss and also what you can be looking forward to. And please remember that no matter how you change, our love for you remains the same.”

Talking unhappiness out

“If you act out unhappiness, like behaving sad or scared or angry about it, you can often make it worse by increasing your sense of injury or threat or feeling wronged. Talking about unhappiness, however, allows you to share what is going on, get supportive listening so you do not have bear the suffering alone, and maybe come up with some ideas for making the unhappiness better. When you are unhappy, that is a good time to find someone who cares about you to communicate with. Please know that we are always here to listen when you’re feeling down or you are going through a hard time, as sometimes you are bound to be.”

Treating specific as symbolic

“If your head hurts or your stomach hurts or your body feels upset on a regular basis, in addition to going to the doctor, let’s talk about what else in your life might be troubling you too. The pain or upset can also be connected to other unhappy things. Can we talk about where else in your life, at home or at your new school you might be hurting too? Suffering in one part of our life can often point out suffering in another. Physical pain can often represent other pains this way. It’s usually a good idea when our body is regularly hurting to ask ourselves if some larger unhappiness is going on. Talking about this can usually help.”

If after a month, repeated parental help does not avail or is not accepted, and the signs of anxiety persist, consider getting the child some short-term counseling. Resisting adolescent change suggests that the growing-up years are ready to begin.

By Carl E. Pickhardt

14 May 2018

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16 MAY

Attentive adults increase children's ability to empathize

For human beings to function socially, they need to be able to perceive, understand, and talk about others' mental states, such as beliefs, desires and intentions. There is no consensus among researchers as to when children develop this ability. Previous research indicates that it emerges around the age of four, but research at Lund University in Sweden shows that children can demonstrate this ability earlier – within social situations that they experience together with an engaged adult.

With her colleagues, developmental psychologist Elia Psouni has studied the simplest form of this ability: children's understanding that other people may have a false belief about something – because they lack information. As part of the study, children 33-to-54 months old were asked to predict what would happen next in an illustrated story that was suddenly interrupted. The researchers studied whether the children's ability to predict that the main figure in the story would make a "wrong move," since he held a false belief, would be affected by them hearing the story alone, in the company of an adult occupied with something else, or with an adult engaged in the story together with the child.

In two experiments, the children were shown a film developed by the researchers, about little Maxi whose father moves his favorite toy (an airplane) while Maxi is playing outdoors. When Maxi later on returns indoors and wants to fetch his plane, the film freezes, and the test-leader asks the child where he or she thinks Maxi will look for the airplane. In a third experiment, the children were read to from a picture book with the same story and illustrations, developed by the researchers, in which the last page was torn out.

Commonly, children under the age of four would respond that Maxi would look for the plane where it currently is, despite the fact that Maxi has no way of knowing that the airplane has been moved from its original location. However, in the Lund studies, even among the youngest children who heard the story together with an engaged adult (test-leader), there were impressively many who correctly predicted what would happen.

"Many children correctly detected and told us about Maxi's false belief, i.e. that Maxi would look for the plane where he actually left it. Surprisingly, these children did not remember the story as a whole better than other children, but specifically noticed and mentioned the fact that daddy moved the toy when Maxi was not there, indicating that they paid closer attention to this particular feature of the story," says Elia Psouni.

It is well known among researchers that children as young as two show some understanding for another person's perspective through their spontaneous actions, for example when small children are tricked, or help others look for things. On the other hand, young children do not seem to understand what they understand, and cannot explain the reasoning behind these spontaneous actions. The Lund studies now show that children can perceive, understand and reason about other people's perspectives earlier than previously thought.

"Small children's early understanding of perspective thus seems to require that they 'share perspectives' with someone else – focusing on the same information at the same time," says Elia Psouni.

Interestingly, the studies showed that children who attended to the story on their own (watching the film or being read to) and children with an adult present but unengaged in the story failed in making the correct prediction equally often.

"Being in the same room as the child is not enough. It is the active engagement of the adult together with the child that makes the difference," says Elia Psouni.

In a new experiment, the researchers are now focusing on how children look at the film/book pictures in a particular way when they look together with an engaged adult. They are also exploring the newly developed methods' potential for use in practice, for example in pre-schools.

"This basic ability to understand that other people have their own beliefs, desires and intentions, as in the story of Maxi, is fundamental for children's development of broader social skills and critical thinking. Strengthening today's children in both of these perspectives is essential," concludes Elia Psouni.

15 May 2018

Source: Lund University, Sweden 

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14 MAY

USA

'Can You Hear Us Now?' book on bullying written by children for children

When it comes to bullying, many children can probably write a book on the subject. And so they did.

The recently released "Can You Hear Us Now" tackles topics such as bullying and learning how to be happy. Twenty-six children ages 5-12 each contributed an essay accompanied by a vibrant illustration. Author come from five different states and represent five different nationalities, with several calling the South Bay home. 16-year-old Anahi Gomez of Gardena illustrated the cover.

The project was compiled by life coach and multi-published children and young adult book author Joanne Veeck, whose background also includes the research and practice of Positive Psychology.

Veeck had the idea for the project when speaking to a group of mostly high schoolers after one of her "Happy Hour" workshops. After sharing happiness tips with the teens, she learned a younger, seventh grade student told his teacher he was so depressed he "didn't want to live anymore.” He wished he could have attended the seminar.

That was a tipping point for Veeck. She started including younger children.

“I had to somehow reach the children before they got to the point of despair," said Veeck. "I wanted to create a book that was fun and entertaining to read, but at the same time, one that had a clear message of how to become your best self, find happiness and success at school, and help wipe-out bullying. I couldn't think of a better way to get the message out than through the kids themselves."

And so Veeck searched for the children to write it, through social media, large email groups, schools and clubs.

“In the beginning, it was a bit challenging. I could tell most people were really confused because the idea was so foreign. Nothing like this has ever been done before," said Veeck.

Once word got out and parents and youth leaders understood her vision, Veeck said she received more child authors and illustrators than she could accommodate.

“What surprised me with each one was their genuine, honest, heart-warming, and overall profound wisdom for their young ages," said Veeck.

In the beginning, some of the children were shy about opening up. Veeck conducted many of the interviews over FaceTime. By the end, most didn't want the conversations to end.

"Kids want to be heard and listened to, and believe me, they have a lot to say,” she stresses.

Veeck still has children asking when the next book will come out so they can be a part of the project. She notes that all the authors are extremely proud to be a part of the project.

"Can You Hear Us Now" is important work, said Veeck, because each author put his or her heart and soul into helping peers positively change their thoughts, words, and behavior for lasting happiness.

"It is a proven fact that happiness can be taught,” she said. “My hope for our children has and will always be that one day, as much importance will placed on emotional education as there is on reading and writing.”

By Genie Davis

10 May 2018 

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11 MAY

The pros and cons of youth sports aren’t only physical

Against a backdrop of increasing childhood obesity, the physical benefits of sports participation are clear. Kids today need to move more, and being on a team or involved in a sport is a great way to stay healthy. But there’s also been more discussion of the physical risks (link is external) that children face in sports, and with good reason. As a nation, we are coming to terms with the epidemic of knee (soccer and track), shoulder (tennis and baseball), and head (football) injuries related to specific sports. What’s talked about less often are the psychological risks and benefits related to youth sports.

While teaching “Sociology of Sport” at Northwestern University (a Big 10, Division 1 school), I did the research and heard from hundreds of students. Here are six risks and six benefits that should be considered when helping kids navigate the world of sport.

Six psychological risks of youth sports

Self-esteem is tied to sport performance. Who your child is as a person shouldn’t be tied closely to the ability to hit home runs or score touchdowns. If it is, that’s a guaranteed set-up for feelings of failure and low self-esteem. Most young athletes feel great when they win, but it’s how they handle loss that defines their long-term character. Remind your sporty kid that she’s always a winner in your book, even if she loses.

Coaches who demoralize and bully. There are more wonderful coaches than those who do damage, but it would be naïve to expect all coaches to have your child’s psychological interests at heart. Too often, a win-at-all-costs mentality devastates young athletes. Be on the lookout for behaviors that humiliate your child. Does the coach rant and rave at games? Call out and embarrass players? The best coaches inspire through positive reinforcement and role modeling, not harassment and bullying.

Delusions that sport will provide college scholarships. Too many parents believe that their child is destined to receive a Division 1 college scholarship. This is akin to playing the lottery: Don’t bank on it. Putting all your eggs in the sports basket is misguided and dangerous for your child’s emotional well-being. In addition to the statistical improbability, there is a strong chance that an athlete will face a sport-ending injury or simply burn out. Make sure that your athlete has other interests and doesn’t believe that sports are the only route to success.

Strained relationships with over-invested parents. Have you ever said “we won” after your child’s game or match? Don’t do it. Too many parents become over-invested in their children’s athletic pursuits, which can lead to unconscious behaviors that will hurt young athletes. I’ve seen parents scream and berate their children for missing a goal or not winning a race. Love and affection should never be tied to athletic performance. In fact, children need you most when they fail to perform well.

Unhealthy performance pressure. Sports psychologists are in high demand because parents, coaches, teams and schools put undue pressure on young athletes to perform well every time they step on the field, court, or track. Remember, they’re children, not professional athletes. As a mom to five competitive tennis players, I understand the inclination to demand more, but kids are kids. Some days they will miss every serve just because, and other days they will look like they’re destined for greatness. Work with them to maintain perspective and understand that it’s only a game.

Inappropriate feelings of superiority. Our society’s obsession with sports puts a premium on athletes and athleticism, which can imbue young athletes with an inflated sense of self. Schools and towns may even afford young athletes privileges and leeway that other students don’t receive. There are too many instances of successful athletes who thought they were above the law or the norms of a school. Parents need to be vigilant for signs that their young athletes lacks humility and empathy. It’s up to us to make sure that sports don’t bring out the worst in our children.

Six psychological benefits of youth sports

The ability to take criticism and work collaboratively. To help young athletes improve, coaches must point out mistakes and faulty technique. Learning to handle this feedback establishes a foundation for adult skill-building and collaboration. In addition, with their team and coaches, athletes learn the give-and-take of working together and managing conflict. Research suggests that athletic girls become women who are better equipped than their non-athletic counterparts to handle criticism and stress. Effective coaching and competition can help build internal resources that will serve kids well into adulthood.

Self-esteem and efficacy. Skill-building in sport enhances self-esteem, which carries over into other areas of life. Going from not being able to make a basket to rarely missing a foul shot can boost a young person’s ego. Gaining efficacy in one arena, especially when helped by a coach or a parent, demonstrates that listening and practicing yield positive results. This self-awareness helps young athletes make an invaluable connection between their goals and effort.

Acquisition of a work ethic. Sports require effort and commitment, both traits that serve us well in adulthood. I’ve seen how my children apply the aptitude for hard work and effort that they acquired in athletics to almost everything they do in their lives, from hobbies to academic assignments. Excelling in sport is all about the work we expend, which sets up an excellent foundation for long-term success.

Positive body image. Our contemporary addiction to social media and adulation of seemingly “perfect”-looking people can wreak havoc on children’s body image. While not always a perfect antidote, sports can make young athletes feel proud of their bodies and what those bodies can do. Serena Williams shared that she was ashamed of her athletic frame until she won a Grand Slam and understood that her success was tied to her very strong body. Female athletes in particular have been shown to benefit from positive feelings about their bodies, regardless of whether they conform to society’s very rigid standards of female beauty.

Resilience. Too many tweens and teens are unable to handle the rigors of school. They are easily overwhelmed and crumble when they do poorly in a class. In fact, parents often protect their children from defeat by fiercely advocating for them, doing their homework, and even asking teachers to change poor grades. Overprotection undermines the development of resilience. Youth sports provide a nice balance, since parents can’t protect athletes from defeat and hardship. It’s good for your kids to learn how to both lose and win.

Self-regulation, organization, and time management. Combining sports and school requires an ability to self-regulate. Getting to practice on time with the proper equipment helps student-athletes learn to organize themselves and say no to other activities, such as video games, social media, and excessive socializing. Learning when to say no is a great skill to carry over to adulthood. Many Northwestern athletes shared with me that they actually got better grades during their regular season because they were forced to take a more organized approach to their schoolwork.

As parents and caregivers, we should all be aware of the psychological risks that come with sport participation while reinforcing the positives. Sports are supposed to be fun. When it stops being fun and has the potential to hurt your child, it’s time to shift gears and reevaluate. However, if your young athlete is having fun, the rewards can last a lifetime.

By Marika Lindholm

5 May 2018

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9 MAY

 Why play should be a priority for children

Writer and child development specialist Joseph Chilton Pearce got it right when he said, “Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.” The joyful, non-literal and non-goal-directed activity of play has long been known to foster creativity, intellectual development and emotional maturity.

When children have free time to engage in non-structured, self-directed and pleasurable activities with each other, they learn to associate pleasurable emotions with social interactions and they practice the social skills necessary in life.

What happens when a child is deprived of play? In the late 1960s, a team of researchers led by Stuart Brown of the Baylor University School of Medicine studied the childhoods of 26 murderers. They expected to find childhood abuse and trauma as likely causes of anger and violence. What they found instead was play deprivation.

A dramatic example was Charles Whitman, who in 1966 climbed the clock tower at the University of Texas and systematically shot and killed 17 people and wounded 30. Family and neighbors reported that Whitman’s father brought him up in a military style, under extreme discipline, and never allowed him to play with other children. The researchers found variations on this pattern repeated in virtually all 26 killers.

It would be an oversimplification to say that lack of play opportunities is the sole cause of such violence. But professor Brown was so impressed by these findings that he pursued this line of research, founded the U.S. National Institute for Play, catalogued findings on over 6,000 violent criminals over a period of 40 years, and then, in 2009, published his book "Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul."

In some war-torn and poverty-stricken areas of the world, it is almost impossible for children to have the opportunity to play. A tragic consequence of this may be a generation of play-deprived children growing up predisposed to become violent and fanatical adults. But on the brighter side, there are many moving examples of children finding ways to play even in refugee camps where disease and starvation are rampant.

Founded in 2007, the British-based Flying Seagull Project comprised of several thousand volunteers visits refugee camps as well as hospitals and some of the world’s worst slums to bring clowning and playfulness to happiness-deprived children. These volunteers may very well be making a huge contribution to children’s lives and to the prospects of a peaceful future by engendering a spirit of playfulness and joy in such places.

But, sadly, there is reason to be concerned that milder forms of play deprivation may be taking their toll right here in our own country. What factors are contributing to a reduction in free play time? First, our ambitions for our children may be leading to an overly organized scheduling of children’s lives.

Second, safety concerns have reduced children’s ability to explore. American computer scientist, writer, educator and inventor Gever Tulley has founded The Brightworks School, a “tinkering school” in California. He describes it as a place that children love, but that some parents find a bit too risky for their taste. Tulley’s book "50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do" has gotten some rave reviews, but also criticism from those who believe he’s crossed the line and is promoting dangerous behaviors. Nevertheless, he has a point.

The drive to play is wired into the animal kingdom. A video that recently went viral shows a huge adult bear approaching a tethered sled dog with a clear intention of having the dog for lunch. The predatory stare of a hungry animal was clearly apparent in her approach. But when the dog began to prance around playfully, the bear soon accepted the invitation and the two of them playfully roughhoused for about half an hour. This incident suggests that the need for play is so powerful that it sometimes overrides basic survival instincts.

But most animals lose much of their need for play when they become adults. Humans, however, retain a desire for playful activity throughout life. Professor Brown asserts that the opposite of play is not work, but depression.

If we are feeling play-deprived, professor Brown suggests that we revive our taste for play by remembering those play activities that we loved as children. These will be different for each of us. So take a look back and then work on finding ways to revive some elements of what gave you such joy back then and bring them into your life today.

By Dr. Victor Garlock

8 May 2018

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7 MAY

Communication difficulties linked to increased risk of self-harm and suicidal behavior

Children who have difficulties with social communication have a higher risk of self-harm with suicidal intent by the age of 16 years compared to those without, reports a new study published in the May 2018 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP). The study was designed to understand whether characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorders in childhood are linked with suicidal thoughts, plans and self-harm at 16 years.

Children with autism spectrum disorders often have difficulties in social communication and recent research suggests that suicidality is under-recognized in this population. However, until now, community-based studies on suicidal thoughts and behaviors among children with symptoms of Autism have been limited. Factors that could explain the risk of suicide in this population, such as depression, have also not been studied.

Researchers analysed data on 5,031 adolescents from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), to assess whether there were any associations between Autism-like traits (social communication, pragmatic language, sociability, repetitive behavior) and the risk of suicidal self-harm, and suicidal thoughts and plans by the age of 16 years. Depression in early adolescence at 12 years of age was considered as a possible explanatory mechanism.

"Our study suggests that children who have difficulties with social communication are at higher risk for suicidal ideation and behavior in late adolescence," said Dr. Iryna Culpin, Senior Research Associate in the Bristol Medical School (PHS). "Depressive symptoms in early adolescence partially explain this association.

The researchers found that children with difficulties in social communication had a higher risk of suicidal self-harm, suicidal thoughts and suicide plans by the age of 16 years as compared to those without such difficulties. There was no evidence for an association between a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders and suicidal behaviors, but the sample was not large enough to definitively rule out such an association.

The team found that approximately a third of the association between social communication difficulties and suicidal self-harm was explained by depression in early adolescence.

"Future studies should focus on identifying other changeable mechanisms to develop preventative interventions for autistic people," Dr. Culpin concluded.

1 May 2018

Source: Elsevier

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4 MAY

New research shows that children with autism are able to create imaginary friends

Playing with an imaginary companion (IC) helps children learn essential social skills such as empathy with other people. It is often believed that autistic youngsters are incapable of creating pretend play pals – a further hindrance to their development of emotional understanding.

But now a project headed by a University of Huddersfield researcher confirms that children diagnosed with autism are able to create and play with ICs. Further research is to be conducted and could eventually help to develop new therapies.

The current findings – based on data collected in the USA and the UK – are reported in a new article for which the lead author is Dr Paige Davis, who lectures in psychology at the University of Huddersfield. Imaginary companions are one of her key specialities.

The research described in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders by Dr Davis and her three co-authors is based on evidence gathered from 215 questionnaires completed by approximately equal numbers of parents of children with typical development (TD) and of children diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).

The findings do indicate that fewer children with ASD create an imaginary companion – 16.2 per cent as opposed to 42 per cent of TD youngsters. Also children with autism began playing with their ICs at a significantly later age and were proportionately more likely to play with a "personified object" such as a stuffed toy or doll.

But the argument of the new article from Dr Davis is that while there is a quantitative difference between the developments of ICs between the two categories of children, there is no difference in the quality of the play.

The article includes examples of some of the imaginary companions created by children with autism whose parents took part in the project. They include Ghosty Bubble, an invisible bubble person who slept on a bubble bed next to the child; Mikey, an invisible Ninja who lived in a sewer; and Pretend Ada, an invisible version of a real school pal who played with the child when she needed a friend.

"The finding that children diagnosed with ASD even spontaneously create such imaginary companions refutes existing beliefs that they are not imagining in the same way as typically developing children," said Dr Davis.

"Imaginary companions are special because they are social in nature and children with autism have issues with social development and communication. So if you are actually creating a mind for an imaginary person you are involving yourself in a range of social activities that the autism diagnosis itself would say you couldn't do."

Dr Davis argues that if children with ASD are showing the same positive social developments as TD youngsters from the creation of ICs, then that could have implications for future intervention and lead to new therapies based on the imagination.

Her collaborators on the research and co-authors of the article were Elizabeth Meins of the University of York, Haley Simon of Drexel University in Philadelphia, USA, and Diana Robins of the AJ Drexel Autism Institute in Philadelphia. The article – titled Imaginary Companions in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder – describes the research methodology and the findings in detail.

Now there are plans for further research into the benefits of imaginary companions to typically developing children and whether the same applies to autistic youngsters.

2 May 2018

Source: University of Huddersfield

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2 MAY

USA

How music can help your child learn better

Jenny Paulson-Krueger, former director of the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra, figured she was on to something in her early years as a school teacher. Krueger had her students listen to classical music. They spent lots of time dancing and singing to other styles.

After a few sessions, the students were spelling Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Mozart, Brahms and the names of other famous composers. They were in the second grade.

“You can’t phonetically spell any of those,” said Paulson-Krueger. “They did it. What I learned from those kids was they were wide open. They were sponges. If they can do that with Tchaikovsky, they can do it with goat, dog, cat and figure all that out.”

The discovery led Krueger to create the Acadiana Symphony’s Do-Re-ME! program and underscored lessons of musicians and teachers – music helps children learn. The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), a not-for-profit music advocacy group, backs the premise.

NAMM cites numerous studies with findings that include:

• Children who study music tend to have larger vocabularies and more advanced reading skills that students who don’t take music lessons
• Students in high-quality music programs score higher on reading and spelling tests
• Music students scored 17 percent higher in mathematics than children in schools without a music program, and 33 percent higher in math than students in a deficient choral program.
• Everyday listening skills are stronger in musically-trained children than in those without music training. Those skills are closely tied to the ability to perceive speech in a noisy background, pay attention, and keep sounds in memory.

Suzanne Anderson, who owns First Octave Piano Studio in Youngsville, has witnessed those findings.

“Math is a matter of patterns,” said Anderson, a music teacher for 15 years. "Music is a lot of patterns. We teach them to recognize the patterns. So if you can recognize patterns in music, and the rhythm and timing, you’re going to be able to recognize the patterns in math.”

A thinking child

More than 4,000 students have participated in the ASO and the Conservatory of Music’s Do-Re-ME!, which begins its seventh year in the fall. Based at Truman Early Childhood Learning Center in Lafayette, the program lets young students sing and dance with jump ropes, rhythm sticks, hula hoops and other items.

The fun and games open a door to more learning.

“They’re not just singing, dancing and playing instruments,” said Jennifer Tassin, the symphony’s former education director, in a video interview on the ASO’s web site. “They’re also learning nursery rhymes, the history thereof, science, social studies and math through one lesson.

“We’re seeing more of a holistic, thinking child. They’re educated, not only in terms of music and the arts. But they’re also getting educated in math, science and reading. That creates a holistic thinker, one who is able to pull in English language arts in their math lessons and see those cross connections.

“If they’re able to do that young, they’ll continue to do that through their middle school and high school educations.”

Baby-rocking rhythms

Anderson agrees that starting children in music at an early age is key. She recently became a certified teacher in Musikgarten, a commercial program that teaches child development through movement and music activities.

Parents are encouraged to use recordings, shakers and scarves that reinforce lessons from the teacher. Children, from newborn to age 4, can participate.

“We have rocking songs where the moms can rock the babies,” said Anderson. “They’re feeling the rhythm, in their whole, entire bodies, are you’re rocking them. So it instills the rhythm and when they get older, that translates into something else. We add to it as they get older. Each thing gets a little more complicated.”

Anderson said the childhood connections to music can last a lifetime.

“Children are about language and music is a language. The ears on a child are fully formed before they’re born. Even at that point, they’re using sound and learning sound from the environment around them.

“Sound and music is a language that’s going to be forever. It’s a communications thing between all people.”

By Herman Fuselier

30 April 2018 

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