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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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After school program gets kids outdoors

Childhood has generally moved indoors over the past two decades and tech time has largely taken over, leaving kids disconnected from nature and physical activity. That’s according to ongoing research, which indicates children and teens between ages eight and 18 spend an average of seven hours a day playing video games, going online, on cellphones and watching television.

At the Town of Banff, the community services department is trying to combat this trend by offering a new after school program that gets kids outside to play called Into The Wild.

Officials say the fear is not only that tech time is replacing physical and imaginative play, but that it also may be diminishing development of social skills and is being linked to behavioural problems.

Colin Harris, the Town of Banff’s child and youth program coordinator, said this trend has implications for children’s healthy development, noting science says children need regular time in nature to reach their full potential.

“The approach at the Town is that we want to offer after-school care for parents in the community who need it, but we wanted to create more environmental, outdoor nature-based programming” he said. “Beyond that, we’re also trying to move the needle a little bit in providing a response to the amount of technology our kids are growing up with.”

The Into the Wild program is an outdoor, nature-based program for Grades 1-6.

Tracking, learning to cook, crafting and developing outdoor skills are all elements in fostering and building child relationship to the outdoors. It’s led by staff who specialize in outdoor and environmental education.

Banff resident Chris Lamothe, who has lived in Banff for about 10 years, signed his seven-year-old son Louis up for the program, somewhat reluctantly at first when the indoor program was already full.

“Knowing what the weather can be like, we were worried with the cold in winter and about having a kid outside for three hours,” he said. “When we filled out the permission form, it mentioned do you allow your kids to play with matches, use knives. We were intrigued and thought, ‘let’s give this a shot.’ ”

The decision has more than paid off.

Lamothe said his son loves to play in forts, roll in mud by the river, cook bannock or make stew and soups – just some of the many activities he does as part of the outdoor program.

“Every time we come to pick him up, he has the biggest grin on his face and he’s always happy. We have to pry him away from it at the end,” said Lamothe. “It beats sitting in front of the television. Kids at that age have so much energy and need to be outside.”

Harris said the more time kids spend outside, the better their academic performance, the more social they are, the more independent and creative they become. On the flip side, he said, research says the more time kids spend on a computer or social media, generally the more depressed they will be and the more anxiety and loneliness they will feel.

“I think Into The Wild is a response to that, in part,” said Harris. “We know the benefits of kids getting outside and being in nature, but I think we’re also trying to, in part, set them up for success by saying here are things you can enjoy doing that don’t involve technology.”

Harris said some parents perceive outdoor programs to be risky, noting it’s cold in winter, kids play by the river or in the forest, but he said a healthy degree of risk, along with free and unstructured play, is fundamental to healthy development emotionally and physically.

“I’m not saying there’s no risk, but I think some parents have that fear of being in a national park where there are animals, or just letting kids go free-range outside of their house,” he said. “I think what’s difficult, though, is a lot of parents won’t bat an eyelash about their kid being on an iPad for two hours, and yet the research is saying that is where the real risk is. It’s not in playing outside, it’s in that screen time they’re having.”

Harris again points to the research, showing kids spend about seven or eight hours in front of screens daily, which does include school hours too.

“What else are they doing in their day? It doesn’t leave a lot of time for sleep, play or social connections,” he said.

By Cathy Ellis

26 October 2017



Liar, liar: How to help kids recognise fake news

Young people get a huge amount of their news from social media feeds, where false, exaggerated or sponsored content is often prevalent. With the right tools, caregivers can give kids the knowledge they need to assess credible information for themselves.

Being able to identify the trustworthiness of information is an important concern for everyone. Yet the sheer volume of material online and the speed at which it travels has made this an increasingly challenging task. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook provide a loudspeaker to anyone who can attract followers, no matter what their message or content.

Fake news has the power to normalise prejudices, to dictate us-versus-them mentalities and even, in extreme cases, to justify and encourage violence.

We have become obsessed with getting kids off their devices at the expense of developing their understanding of the online world. This is not about surveillance, but rather about having open conversations that empower children to understand and assess the usefulness of information for themselves.

Young people are growing up in a world where distributing large volumes of misinformation online has become a subtle yet powerful art. It’s no surprise then that research published in 2016 by Stanford University suggests kids ‘may focus more on the content of social media posts than on their sources’.

For example, of 203 middle school students surveyed as part of the report, more than 80 per cent thought a native ad on the news website Slate labelled ‘sponsored content’ was a real news story. A majority of high school students questioned by the researchers didn’t recognise and explain the significance of the blue checkmark on a verified Fox News Facebook account.

With the amount of content we see in a busy day, it’s possible that these subtleties are being lost on many adults as well.

Minimising the harm of fake news

Helping young people navigate online spaces requires better skills in verifying what is true and what isn’t. Here are five questions to start the conversation with children.

Find an online post that you consider to be fake news and talk with the child about it. Shape your conversation around these questions:

Clues for children to use

Detecting fake news can be like a ‘spot the difference’ game. These questions are clues for kids that a source may be dodgy:

Get to know the rules

Many social media sites are now also cracking down on the spread of fake news. Showing kids the restrictions these sites are imposing on their users will help them get a rounded understanding of the problem.

For example, asking kids to read the rules by which Reddit will remove content from r/news is a good starting point. Facebook also offers Tips to Spot False News, suggesting readers check that other sources are reporting similar facts and that they look out for weird formatting, among other hints.

Growing up in a world of fake news doesn’t have to be a heavy burden for kids. Rather, it requires extra support from adults to help them understand and navigate the digital world.

Our goal should be not only to help children survive this complicated online world, but to equip them with the knowledge they need to flourish in it.

By Joanne Orlando

20 October 2017




Self-harm among girls aged 13 to 16 rose by 68% in three years, study finds

Self-harm reported to GPs among teenage girls under the age of 17 in the UK increased by 68% over just three years, research has revealed.

The study also found that self-harm among young people aged 10-19 was three times more common among girls than boys, with those who self-harmed at much greater risk of suicide than those who did not.

“One of the big messages here is that self-harm is complex – it is about schools, it is about families, it is about health professionals [and] teachers all working together trying to tackle the problem,” said Nav Kapur, professor of psychiatry and population health at the University of Manchester, and a co-author of the study.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, Kapur and colleagues describe how they looked at data from 674 GP practices across the UK to explore the rates of self-harm among 10-19 year-olds.

The results reveal that annually between 2001 and 2014, on average across 10- to 19-year-olds, 37.4 girls per 10,000 and just over 12 boys per 10,000 reported their first episode of self-harm. Repeat episodes of self-harm were more common among girls.

The study also found self-harming to be more common among children and teenagers living in deprived areas. Such youngsters were less likely to be referred to mental health services within 12 months of their first incident than those in more affluent areas.

Further analysis using additional data revealed that youngsters who self-harmed were about nine times more likely to die an unnatural death than those who did not, 17 times more likely to die from suicide, and 34 times more likely to die from acute alcohol or drug poisoning.

Strikingly, the team found that, while the incidence of self-harm remained fairly constant between 2001 and 2014 among boys aged 10 to 19, as well as among girls aged 10 to 12, and 17 and older, incidence of reported self-harm among girls aged 13-16 increased 68% between 2011 and 2014.

The findings chime with data from the NHS that recently showed a jump in hospital admissions following self-harm among girls under the age of 17.

However, Dr Praveetha Patalay from the University of Liverpool, who was not involved in the latest study, said that other research based on surveys of youngsters had not shown such increases.

“It is possible that the higher rates in this study reflect better identification, and more young people seeking treatment from GPs and/or higher severity of the self-harming behaviours compared to previous years,” she said.

The authors admit that girls in their early-to-mid teenage years might be more likely than boys to talk to a doctor, and might be more likely to be asked about self-harm. But, they add, it is unlikely that such factors alone explain the rise in reports of self-harm among 13- to 16-year-old girls.

 “If it was [just down to] greater awareness, then you would expect to see it in girls aged 10-12 and girls aged 17-19,” said Kapur.

While Kapur says it is unclear what is behind the apparent rise, previous research has suggested a growing number of young women are experiencing mental health problems, with contributing factors including worries about appearance. The rise of social media, and online content around self-harming could also play a role, noted the team.

“That is the early period of adolescence where young people are changing most rapidly [and it is] perhaps the most stressful,” said Kapur. “We need to take [this rise] seriously and do something about it,” he said, pointing out that only half of people who present to health services as a result of self-harm get a proper assessment from a mental health professional.

Patalay agreed that the findings of the latest study are cause for concern. “The inequalities in access to specialist treatment uncovered by this research and the poor prognosis for these young people highlights the need for greater resources to help support young people and improve access to treatment,” she said.

By Nicola Davis

18 October 2017 




 Study: Foster care youth more likely to be chronic offenders

Children and youth in foster care are 2.5 times more likely to continue a pattern of chronic offending between adolescence and emerging adulthood than those not in care, according to a forthcoming study.

The Canadian study, to be published in the November-December issue of the Journal of Criminal Justice, found that children and youth in Canadian foster care began offending earlier, spent more time incarcerated, and committed offenses at a frequency that was 1.5 times greater than young people who did not experience foster care.

Children and Youth in Care (CYIC) averaged a significantly greater number of convictions for violent offenses than non-CYIC youths, said the study, conducted by Raymond R. Corrado, Evan C. McCuish, and Jennifer Yang of Simon Fraser University’s School of Criminology in Vancouver.

By age 23, the total number of violent convictions incurred by CYIC youths represented about 24 percent of all convictions incurred.

More specifically, when compared to male non-CYIC, male CYIC were at a 2.55 higher odds of being in the chronic offending group. However, females in foster care were not associated with offending pattern.

The direct correlation between CYIC and chronic offending was found after controlling for other risk factors such as demographic characteristics, family problems, school behavior problems and negative self-identity.

Foster-care youth also spent more time incarcerated than peers who came from more traditional home environments.

They “may be more likely to be convicted of an offense, or once convicted, be given a greater number of conditions while on probation and thus more likely to be convicted of administrative offenses,” according to the researchers.

A common belief is that CYIC enter foster care because of their deviant behavior; however, the authors cited a 2015 United Kingdom study showing that only 5% of children had entered care due to their own behavior or disability, while 61% had entered due to abuse or neglect.

Secure placement and strong, long-lasting relationships with a foster parent can divert a child from criminal behavior, according to the British study. However, between 20% and 50% of foster care placements in England during 2015 were disrupted.

The Simon Fraser University report used data from the Incarcerated Serious and Violent Young Offender Study in the province of British Columbia, Canada, which has been ongoing since 1998. The data consists of one cohort interviewed between 1998 and 2003 as well as a second cohort interviewed between 2005 and 2011.

This current study focused on a sample of 364 participants – 309 males and 55 females – who were followed into emerging adulthood, defined as between the ages of 18 and 23.

Offending was measured using the British Columbia Corrections’ computerized system, Corrections Network (CORNET). Criminal convictions were coded for the entire sample from ages 12 to 23. The average number of charges for this sample which resulted in convictions between those ages was 17.60.

According to the researchers, “early interventions specifically targeting the needs of CYIC in the transition to adulthood may be warranted, given their over-representation in the justice system and the associated financial and societal costs, due to their likelihood of continued chronic offending.”

By TCR Staff

20 October 2017 




Outdoor play boosts children’s performance in class, says new study

Although outdoor play for children may be more prevalent during summer, spending free time outside can particularly benefit a child’s development when pursued year-round. For parents and educators, hours spent outside shouldn’t be seen as a detraction from time that could be spent on schoolwork. Rather, outdoor play should be recognized not just as a treat reserved for summertime, but as a full-time staple of healthy development throughout the school year.

In addition to its more commonly known health benefits, outdoor play in childhood is also associated with many soft skills that are important for school success, such as executive functioning. Executive functioning is defined as a set of mental processes that enable us to plan, prioritize, focus attention, filter distractions, and more. These skills are important assets for learning in preschool, elementary school, and beyond.

A recent study from Norway looked at the associations between time spent outdoors during child care and executive functioning. Among children ages 4 through 7, those who spent more time outside during child care performed better on an executive function assessment and showed fewer inattention-hyperactivity symptoms. Further, numerous studies have found that playful engagement with nature in kids under age 12 was linked with improved mental health and emotional regulation. (“Playful engagement” consists of open-ended, child-directed experiences such as free play, exploration, and child-initiated learning, in contrast to externally directed activities, such as school gardening projects and adult-led field trips).

Consistent findings

These findings were consistent among both children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and those without diagnosed ADHD. As many parents and teachers know, these soft skills are important players in children’s classroom success.

Through the opportunities it affords for unstructured play and exploration, time spent outside also allows children to develop self-directed control, such as decision-making and planning skills. A 2014 study looked specifically at the benefits of unstructured play in children ages 6 to 7 – voluntary leisure activities without formal rules or direction from adults (both indoors and out). It found that time spent in less-structured activities was associated with higher scores on a task that measured children’s abilities to plan and strategize to reach a goal without adult guidance.

The association remained even when controlling for age, verbal ability, and household income. The authors felt this was likely due to the fact that unstructured play like camping, biking, and swimming allows children to explore, and to practice setting and accomplishing tasks on their own. These executive functioning skills are helpful for students as they learn to plan and prioritize schoolwork with less guidance from parents and teachers.

As we progress through another school year, let’s hope for a year of academic success and learning that occurs both inside the classroom and outside in nature.

By Monica Arkin

10 October 2017 



Unraveling the teenage mind

An interview with "Born to Be Wild" author Jess Shatkin.

Why adolescents do the things they do has perplexed ex-adolescents for many generations. Over the years a number of theories have emerged to explain everything from the incredibly foolish yet funny things we can view in movies and YouTube videos to the horrible tragedies we hear about all too often.

For those looking for some answers, a great new source is "Born to Be Wild: Why Teens Take Risk and How We Can Help Keep Them Safe" by child psychiatrist Jess Shatkin, a professor at the New York University Child Study Center and host of the SiriusXM radio show “About Our Kids.”

The first part of the book outlines some of the core drivers of an adolescent brain. In these chapters, Shatkin offers lucid arguments that dispel many of the popular myths about adolescence (a period that, when it comes to the brain, extends well into one's 20s for most people). No, actually, teens don’t think that they are invincible and often, in fact, have a heightened sense of danger. And some of those risky choices that adolescents often go for while adults pass, they can stem from a teen actually spending more mental energy “weighing the odds” than the typical grown-up.

Shatkin conceptualizes many of the prevailing forces that exert influence in adolescence, such as the intense need to be with groups, not to a “brain in progress” model of development but rather as an evolutionarily selected strategy that, at least in the past, made a lot of sense. Lest readers think, however, that such a premise is a going to be a rationalization to just let “teens be teens,” rest assured that Shatkin, through his extensive clinical experience, understands full well the negative and sometimes deadly consequences that can result from risky actions and poor decision making. Thus, the final chapters of the book are devoted to appreciating but certainly not excusing adolescent behavior, while offering practical strategies that parents, schools, and mental health clinicians can take to improve their relationships with teens and help them navigate this wonderful but challenging part of their life safely.

The writing style of this book is friendly, conversational, and non-judgmental. Shatkin very deftly blends his experience as an academic, a practicing physician, and a father into the text. He can discuss the negative impact of too much screen time on a developing brain while also being sympathetic to so many of us who struggle mightily with this issue. At the end of the book, I marveled over how the vast amount of scientific knowledge that was conveyed went down so easily.

Reading "Born to Be Wild" also sparked some questions which I put to the author. His replies are as follows:

Q. In the book you are open about the fact that, as an adolescent, you were not someone who managed to avoid making decisions that you now think may not have been the greatest. How did that personal experience color your approach with the book and your approach to adolescent patients?

A: We learn in all sorts of ways, and one of the most important ways we learn as adolescents is by experiencing the world. Sometimes, this means taking risks, and as I say in the book, not all risk-taking is bad. Some risks are great to take, like trying out for the football team like I did my first year of high school. I was eventually able to channel my risk-taking behavior away from fast cars and drugs and alcohol and into intellectual rigor and physical fitness. And I found, in fact, that studying hard and then asserting my ideas in front of others, or training to run a fast mile, was plenty risky. That took a lot of perseverance and courage. So, with my patients, and with my two teens at home, I try to help them see that risk-taking isn’t just about climbing an electrical tower; it’s also about working hard and asserting yourself, and that’s extremely satisfying and much healthier in the long run.

Q. There is often this notion that adolescents almost need to experience a phase of taking more risks as a prerequisite to later adult functioning. Do you think that is true?

A: I think that some risk-taking is to be expected. As I said, it’s part of how we learn about the world. But remember that not all risk-taking is thrill-seeking, and I don’t see thrill-seeking risk as a prerequisite for everyone’s normal development. Some people don’t take many risks and do just fine. For example, we know that if you don’t try marijuana by the time you’re around 26, there’s almost no chance you’ll ever try marijuana. Marijuana use is a risk factor for all sorts of negative outcomes like other substance use and mood and anxiety disorders, so in this case, avoiding the risk of drug use seems to be just fine. But for those of us who do seek thrills, one approach is for parents and teachers to channel that tendency by providing “safe” risks; things like skateboarding, skydiving, mountain climbing, mountain biking, roller coasters, and go-carting might work for the thrill-seekers among us now and again. But also, camping in the woods; that can be a pretty thrilling risk. I’ve been camping with my wife and kids and had bears come within feet of our tent – that was a really risky moment and very exciting. Or playing in the school band or acting in a play – those too are risky choices that teach us a lot about how to be more successful adults and have real elements of associated thrill. I’d like to see us provide more support to our schools to present kids with exciting and thrill-seeking opportunities for development that are still safe. That’s a lot of what extracurricular activities like sports and theater arts are all about.

Q. There are some indications that teens today are making less risky decisions than in the past? Binge drinking, teen pregnancy, smoking rates are all down. Some people see this is as real progress and others as a warning sign that kids are spending too much time on smartphones and not enough time engaged in the real world. How do you see this?

A: I honestly think it’s too early to say anything meaningful about these trends, which are just a few years old and don’t hold in every area. For example, while it’s true that cigarette smoking has come down a few percentage points, electronic cigarette use has more than quadrupled in the past few years. So, in this case, we might just be seeing a substitution in risk behavior. In the case of teen pregnancy and binge drinking, the changes to date are blips on the radar. Ten percent of high school girls are still forced to have sexual intercourse and 51 percent of Latina teens get pregnant. Binge drinking rates also remain unacceptably high; over 20 percent of high school students have binge drunk in the past two weeks. So, while I applaud any movement of the needle in the direction of safety, at this point, it’s impossible to say if it has anything to do with parents, society, or just the ebb and flow of small changes that occur now and again. If any of these reductions hold in place in the coming years, I would be surprised if they would be due to kids staying inside and playing computer games. If anything, the data we have on video gaming suggests that they may encourage even more risky behavior by contributing to less prefrontal control over emotional brain systems. In other words, I believe that we still have a long way to go and that any of the potentially small changes witnessed to date are either happenstance or suggest that we’re headed down an equally risky path.

For those of you looking a non-preachy, highly readable but reliable source of information about how the adolescent brain works and how we best interact with those brains, "Born to Be Wild" is not to be missed.

By David Rettew

13 October 2017 




Five essential steps to support the next generation of children in care

Since the publicity about the death of Baby P, care applications have more than doubled to record levels for modern times.

The reasons for this surge are numerous. Risk aversion was a strong factor in the years immediately after the Baby P case. Judges made new case law to tighten up on what they saw as drift in voluntary care, and this brought more cases into court.

The extra focus, including in Ofsted inspections, led to better reviewing practice and calling time on unsatisfactory levels of emotional harm and neglect for vulnerable children – these are the two types of poor parenting that explain the bulk of the increase.

Years of austerity have also led to early help being less available, with families coming to attention too late to be helped to step back from the edge of care. The child population has been increasing by a small percentage every year.

What matters most, though, is how these various factors intersect at the local level. Local decision-making about thresholds and about what happens to children on the edge of care varies dramatically; regional variations are widening.

This year the rise has levelled off, probably because there is no big new national driver to restoke the upward trend. It may also be because historic cases have, for the most part, been reviewed.

There are two alternative scenarios for the sector. First, that councils have prioritised child protection and children in care services and will continue to do so, including continued cross-subsidising from other local services.

In this scenario, children’s social care will continue as one of the main public protection duties of the local state. There is a lot of success to build on. We deal with cases much quicker than nearly all our international neighbours. We foster three in four children in care, whereas in most countries the majority of children are only given residential options.

More children do well in our care system than was the case historically. And all bar a handful of the children who come into care through the courts meet the criteria for needing to be in care.

The other scenario has children’s social care being given the same priority, while facing a financial cliffedge. The underlying assumption is that government will intervene just before the point of service collapse to protect minimum standards in any particular area or region.

In truth, any intervention and investment would have to begin well before a collapse, given the lead-in time necessary to make an impact on recruitment and service provision is between one and three years, if handled well. It is probably an unlikely scenario, given current public policy preoccupations.

All of us working in children’s social care have a responsibility to ensure the system is harmonised with the demographic, social and economic changes in society. Here is the service mix I think essential for every local system to support the next generation of children in care and those on the edge of care:

1. A local service to disrupt the repeated removal of children from the same parent (one in four care applications), and with six in 10 of these parents having been abused or neglected themselves and four in 10 having been in care, to stem inter-generational harm and to promote reversibility.
2. A local care enterers’ service, working with young people on the edge of care to try to halt the rising numbers of adolescents in the care population.
3. A local therapeutic support service to meet the needs of the growing number of children and young people who require help to recover from trauma experienced at home.
4. Workforce development to build the competent, proud and supported care workforce of the future. This work is “emotional labour” and those providing it need help too.
5. A local care system redesign to put more capacity on the frontline and to re-position child protection services and the care system as one of the major public health issues of our time.

Most services, whether successful or failing, are best understood and acted on locally by partners working together.

A good national framework supports self-improvement programmes – whether local, regional or national – by updating policy and legislation to keep pace with social trends. Certain service developments could be mandatory where the evidence base is compelling; and some services can only be scoped and developed on a national basis, such as secure accommodation.

The numbers of children in care are likely to stay high for a generation at least, hence the need for a “new deal” to future-proof services for the most vulnerable children in the country.

By Anthony Douglas

12 October 2017

Anthony Douglas is chief executive of Cafcass, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service




Two robots to provide mental health help to northern Saskatchewan youth

Medical professionals in southern Saskatchewan are hoping to make youth mental health care more accessible for patients in the province's northern communities – and they think robots are part of the answer.

The robots, or Remote Presence Technology (RPT), work similarly to a Skype or FaceTime application, where both parties can see and hear each other in real-time.

"There's a true epidemic in terms of suicide in youth, especially in First Nations communities in the north – six times more than the rate of youth in the south," said Dr. Ivar Mendez, the head of the department of surgery at University of Saskatchewan.

"They may have an initial assessment but then they go back to their communities without a followup."

Unlike basic smartphone applications, the units are outfitted with what Mendez calls "ears," which direct the top portion (or "head") of the robot towards the person speaking.

The physician using the robot remotely can also control where it goes, whether it's down the hall to another patient's room or in a patient's home.

The units can connect to diagnostic equipment like a stethoscope and ultrasonography.

Less travel for patients

The new RPT units will be added to six others in the northern part of the province. Officials are assessing communities now and will place the robots based on need.

"Our hope is in the future that each community in northern Saskatchewan will have its own," said Mendez.

Last year, six young women in northern Saskatchewan communities died by suicide, and prompted calls for action by the FSIN, First Nations chiefs, and parents within those communities.

The situation is often referred to as a crisis.

Before the units, many children had to travel several hours from their home communities to tertiary medical centres for follow-ups. The introduction of new communication technologies could have an effect on this practice.

"We can take care of these children in their own communities 64 per cent of the time," said Mendez.

Sometimes patients from the North have to use medical taxis, and may be seated with others who are ill and not feeling well. When they get to Saskatoon or Regina, further issues crop up.

"Sixty-five per cent or more speak a language other than English as a first language," said Dr. Veronica McKinney, director of Northern Medical Services.

"They don't necessarily feel they can ask questions, they feel uncomfortable, and they just want to get out of here. Sometimes they're here just for a 15-minute appointment," she said.

Tool for retention

The RPT units will not replace physicians in the North, according to McKinney and Mendez.

"When there's no other alternative, no other real person there, the system provides that important access," said Mendez.

Some northern communities don't have 24-hour access to a physician, and sometimes nurses are left with little support.

"We don't have psychiatrists who can practise in a small community because they might not be able to have a practice in a community of 1,000 people."

The units will be manned by existing psychiatrists on staff in the province.

They may also increase retention and recruitment rates for nurses in northern communities.

"Nurses want to go where they have the robots because they know they will have help from physicians in real-time," said Mendez.

By Bridget Yard

10 October 2017  



For traumatized children, an offer of help from the Muppets

Cookie Monster is all wound up. The Count has him hold up his furry blue fingers, count them (of course), and blow on each one in turn as if he were blowing out a birthday candle. Afterward, Cookie declares, in his familiar growly voice, that he feels much better.

"Hey! Me feel terrific! Me calm. Me relaxed."

You won't be catching this scene on HBO or PBS. It's part of a special initiative called Sesame Street in Communities. Free materials, including videos, books and games, will be released today to help parents and caregivers, in turn, help young children cope with traumatic experiences.

The science of adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs for short, is beginning to transform education and social services. ACEs include poverty, abuse and neglect, domestic violence, divorce, and mental illness or substance abuse on the part of a caregiver.

A new analysis of the 2016 National Survey of Children's Health, released today, shows that nearly half of American children experience at least one of these adversities, and 1 in 5 have had at least two. Research shows that growing up with more ACEs negatively affects children's development, education, and even later in life, chronic disease and longevity. But children's brains are also resilient, and they can recover with the right kind of responsive care.

Sesame is better known for teaching preschoolers letters and numbers. But those familiar furry characters are also taking on tougher topics, says Jeanette Betancourt of Sesame Workshop. In the past two years, Sesame in Communities has addressed the incarceration of a parent and bereavement, partnering with local organizations to share directly with families affected.

The new trauma material focuses on simple coping skills for what many in the field call "big feelings" – like anger, anxiety and sadness. The goal, says Betancourt, "is to provide positive ways to connect children and the adults around them regardless of what the situation is."

In one short video, Big Bird imagines himself in his comfy, cozy nest. In another, Rosita, a green monster Muppet, punches a pillow to let out her anger. Sesame's human characters, Alan and Sophia, play the roles of nurturing, encouraging adults. Sophia tells Rosita, "It's OK to let your feelings out. There are safe ways to let your feelings out."

Ann Thomas is CEO of The Children's Place in Kansas City. It's a full-day therapeutic program for children who, on average, have experienced five traumatic events before the age of 6. "They've had some really hard starts in life," she says. "That does impact their development."

Thomas consulted on the new material, even visiting the set when the Muppets were filming. She applauds the focus on skills to manage emotion, rather than having Muppets delve into what caused the emotions. This mirrors the course of treatment for children moving beyond trauma.

"Teaching these coping skills first, creating a sense of safety, consistency and predictability – that is the No. 1 step," she says. "It doesn't matter if it was sexual abuse or a house fire. You're scared, you're not trusting, you're not sleeping."

Though the videos speak directly to children, Thomas thinks they can also help adults. "I think one of the biggest values of this material is as a bridge for adults to take grownup issues and put them in developmentally appropriate words to help children heal," she says.

This is a skill that even the most well-intentioned grandparent, teacher or foster parent may not have. "When it's your child, you don't want them to hurt," she says. "Sometimes we want to say, 'get over it.' It's hard to be with a child in that pain."

She notes that it can be comforting in itself for children to see familiar characters dealing with these emotions. Traumatic experiences are sadly common, but not much talked about in most kids' media.

"When it's done by Sesame it gives it credibility," she says. "If Sesame is doing it you're not alone."

Therapists at her organization, The Children's Place, will share the videos with families in the hope that caregivers will follow the lead of characters like the Count, find the words to reassure children feeling big feelings, and teach them how to create their own safe places.

By Anya Kamenetz

6 October 2017 



Poor body image makes girls less assertive and risks health, study finds

A majority of girls with low body esteem will skip meals and avoid seeing friends and family, participating in extra-curricular activities or seeing a doctor, a large survey has found.

The research, based on interviews with 5,165 girls aged 10 to 17 in 14 countries, also found that more than half of girls with low body esteem struggle to be assertive.

The survey, carried out by Edelman Intelligence for the 2017 Dove Global Girls Beauty and Confidence Report, found that only 46% of girls globally had high body esteem, while the figure was even lower in the UK (39%). Of the countries included, only China and Japan fared worse.

The co-author Phillippa Diedrichs, associate professor from the Centre for Appearance Research, University of the West of England, said: “These findings indicate that, despite valiant efforts, body image remains an issue for girls not only in the UK, but globally, too. We still have an enormous amount of work to do in helping girls develop the resilience they need to overcome the impact of beauty and appearance pressures.

“We also need to change the social and cultural environment directly so that girls are not judged on their looks and are not held back from getting a seat at whatever table they want, be it in the boardroom, or in parliament, because of body image concerns.”

Seven in 10 girls (nine out of 10 in the UK) with low body esteem told the researchers they stopped themselves from eating or otherwise put their health at risk. Eight out of 10 (nine out of 10 in the UK) said they avoided seeing friends and family or trying out for a team or club.

In each case, the figure among girls with high body esteem was much lower. The report concludes that higher levels of body esteem have a lasting impact on a girl’s confidence, resilience and life satisfaction. Girls with low body esteem are more likely to succumb to beauty and appearance pressures, withdraw from “fundamental life-building activities” and fail to reach their potential, it says.

It found that girls with low body esteem feel particular pressure from photographs of beautiful girls or women in magazines but the majority of girls acknowledge that they present unrealistic aspirations. Seven in 10 of all girls surveyed understood that images were altered or airbrushed and the same proportion agreed that very few women looked like those on screen.

Social media has come under scrutiny for its impact on girls’ body image in recent years but the Dove report suggests its effect is mixed.

While social media users were more likely to feel pressure to look a certain way than those who did not use the likes of Instagram and YouTube, half of girls (four out of 10 in the UK) said they felt more confident interacting with people online.

The co-author Jess Weiner, adjunct professor at the University of Southern California Annenberg school of journalism, said that, despite trolls and cyberbullying, girls were “harnessing the power of social media to democratise the beauty narrative … and flooding the space with their diverse stories and images”.

The authors identified reasons for hope in the fact that seven out of 10 girls said too much importance was placed on beauty as a source of happiness. Eight out of 10 said every girl had something beautiful about them.

They recommend educating girls to minimise the effects of low body esteem and providing diverse narratives in the media. Weiner said: “We need a curriculum focused on media literacy that can help girls identify and actively combat the negative gender stereotypes, violence, and hypersexualisation they encounter on screen.”

The other countries featured in the report, chosen for their diversity of culture and tradition around beauty, were Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and Turkey.

By Haroon Siddique

5 October 2017




Growing social media backlash among young people, survey shows

Almost two-thirds of schoolchildren would not mind if social media had never been invented, a survey has indicated.

The study provides evidence of a growing backlash among young people disillusioned with the negative aspects of the technology, such as online abuse and fake news.

As well as the 63% who would not care if it did not exist, even more pupils (71%) said they had taken temporary digital detoxes to escape social media.

The survey of about 5,000 students at independent and state schools in England was commissioned by Digital Awareness UK and the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), which represents the headteachers of independent schools around the world.

Many respondents indicated that social media was having a negative impact on their emotional wellbeing.

A total of 57% said they had received abusive comments online, 56% admitted to being on the edge of addiction and 52% said social media made them feel less confident about how they look or how interesting their life is.

While more than 60% believed friends showed a “fake version” of themselves on social media, 85% of pupils questioned denied they were guilty of that themselves.

The feedback was not all negative, with students identifying memes, filters/lenses and storytelling features, such as Snapchat Stories, among the things they like about social media.

Asked to recommend improvements, students urged less advertising (71%), less fake news (61%), more creative content (55%) and greater privacy (49%).

One in three of those surveyed said they would like to see social media provide more opportunities to earn income.

At Benenden, a private boarding school for girls in Kent, pupils recently undertook a voluntary three-day social media blackout when they handed over their phones.

The school’s headmistress, Samantha Price, said the survey results chimed with her experience of Benenden’s “phone fast”.

“In the run-up I was worried about how the girls would cope, but afterwards they were wondering what all the fuss had been about and said we should do it again but for even longer next time, which I found incredibly reassuring,” she said.

“When young people have time away from social media they see and feel the benefits: they sleep better, concentrate and therefore learn better and feel better. Of course, social media and the internet are not the enemy – there are enormous positives to them – but it is a matter of finding the right balance, and all schools should be working hard to help children to achieve that balance.”

Charlotte Robertson, the co-founder of Digital Awareness UK, said: “We speak to thousands of students on a daily basis about safe internet use and while it’s a matter of concern to see the emotional impact social media is having on young people’s health and wellbeing, it’s encouraging to see that they are also employing smart strategies such as digital detoxing to take control of their social media use.

“Social media allows us to be creative, connected, to campaign for things we believe in, to become entrepreneurs. It’s a platform that should be celebrated and if online abuse or fake news stops it from flourishing we all lose.

“This research is a real wake-up call for all of us working in social media to ensure that we listen to the needs of young people, who will ultimately dictate the direction in which the industry moves.”

Chris King, HMC’s chairman and headmaster of Leicester grammar school, said: “The findings of this poll may surprise teachers and parents but it will help them understand the pressures young people feel in the digital age.

“It is fascinating to see the first indications of a rebellion against social media and reminds us that they may need help to take breaks from its constant demands. The respondents also had clear advice to social networks about the need to consider the quality and trustworthiness of their content.

“Schools will be able to use these insights to help pupils live comfortably and safely online and use good judgment when using social media.”

The survey, which was launched at the HMC’s annual conference in Belfast, was carried out in September among students at state-funded and independent schools in England.

Most of the responses came from students in years nine, 10 and 11.

Press Association

5 October 2017



Self-esteem in kids: Lavish praise is not the answer, warmth is

Who am I and what is my place in the world? Children are born without an answer to these pressing questions. As they grow up, though, they start to formulate answers seemingly effortlessly. Within a few years, they recognise themselves in the mirror, refer to themselves by their own name, evaluate themselves through the eyes of others and understand their standing in a social group.

Research by Christina Starmans from the University of Toronto shows that even toddlers have an idea of what it means to have a 'self'. Young children see the self as something that is unique to a person, separate from the body, stable over time, and located within the head, behind the eyes. Research by Andrei Cimpian (New York University) and his colleagues shows that even toddlers have the cognitive ability to form self-worth (i.e., how satisfied they are with themselves as individuals).

Social relationships

Over time, pronounced individual differences arise in children's self-concept. Some children like themselves, whereas others feel negatively about themselves. Some children see themselves as superior and deserving special treatment, whereas others consider themselves to be on an equal plane with others. Some children believe they can grow and build their abilities, whereas others believe their abilities are fixed and unchangeable. Where do these individual differences come from? What leads children to see themselves the way they do? 'Surprisingly little is known about the origins of children's self-concept', says Brummelman. 'It is important that we shed more light on this important subject. With this collection of articles, our aim is to showcase emerging research on this subject.'

'What these articles reveal is that children form their self-concept, at least in part, based on their social relationships', Brummelman continues. For example, research by Michelle Harris (University of California) and her team shows that children develop higher self-esteem when they receive warmth from their parents. Warm parents show an interest in their children's activities and share joy with them, which makes children feel noticed and valued. Brummelman's own research shows that children may develop lower self-esteem and sometimes even narcissism when their parents give them lots of extremely positive, inflated praise, such as 'Wow, you did incredibly well! Such inflated praise may give children a sense of grandiosity but at the same time also make them worry about falling short of the standards set for them.


Previous research has shown the importance of having a growth mindset – the belief that you can develop your skills through effort and education. Children with a growth mindset are eager to take on challenges, persist when the going gets tough, and see failure as opportunities for growth. In a theoretical article, Kyla Haimovitz and Carol Dweck (Stanford University) describe how parents can foster a growth mindset by praising children for effort instead of ability (for example, 'You worked so hard!') and by teaching children that failure isn't harmful but actually benefits learning and growth. Parents can encourage children to ask themselves: why did I get such a low grade, and what can I do differently in future?

All 10 articles in the special section study various dimensions of children's self-concept, including self-esteem, self-compassion, mindsets and self-perceived ability. 'What these articles show is that children construct their self-concept based on the social relationships they have, the feedback they receive, the social comparisons they make, and the cultural values they endorse. This underlines the deeply social nature of children's self-concept', says Brummelman.

28 September 2017

Journal Reference:
Eddie Brummelman, Sander Thomaes. How Children Construct Views of Themselves: A Social-Developmental Perspective. Child Development, 2017

Source: University of Amsterdam



The importance of attachment

I have recently worked with several cases in which children and families were dealing with the effects of attachment issues. Attachment is the deep connection established between a child and caregiver that profoundly affects their development and ability to express emotions and develop relationships. The attachments we form early on critically impact our entire lives. If we form healthy and consistent bonds, healthy attachments most often continue. When a child misses that window of opportunity, attachment issues may result. Attachment issues begin after birth and within the first four years of life. Children with attachment issues desire love and acceptance. They just do not have the cognitive tools to reach that attachment with others. Their brains sabotage the very thing people with attachment issues want and need the most – love and acceptance.

A child who has not bonded early in life will have a hard time accepting love. But you can help them learn to accept your love with time, consistency and repetition. Trust and security come from seeing loving actions, hearing reassuring words, and feeling comforted over and over again. Children with attachment disorders often act like younger children, both socially and emotionally. You may need to treat them as such, using more non-verbal methods of soothing and comforting. Children with attachment issues may not know what they are feeling or how to ask for what they need. Reinforce the idea that all feelings are OK and show them healthy ways to express their emotions. Make time to give your child your full, focused attention in ways that feel comfortable to them. It may seem hard to drop everything, eliminate distractions, and just be in the moment, but quality time together provides a great opportunity for your child to open up to you and feel your focused attention and care.

Children with attachment issues have difficulty connecting to others and managing their own emotions. This results in a lack of trust and self-worth, a fear of getting close to anyone, anger, and a need to be in control. A child with attachment issues feels unsafe and alone. They keep their guard up to protect themselves, but it also prevents them from accepting love and support. It is essential to build up your child’s sense of security. You can accomplish this by establishing clear expectations and rules of behavior, and by responding consistently so your child knows what to expect when he or she acts a certain way and knows that no matter what happens, you can be counted on. Remember that “bad” behavior means that your child does not know how to handle what he or she is feeling and needs your help. By staying calm, you show your child that the feeling is manageable.

As a “parent” of a child with insecure attachment my experience has been that it can be exhausting, frustrating, and emotionally trying. It is hard to put your best parenting foot forward without the reassurance of a loving connection with your child. Sometimes you may wonder if your efforts are worth it, but be assured that they are. With time, patience, and concerted effort, attachment disorders can be repaired. The key is to remain calm, yet firm as you interact with your child. This will teach your child that they are safe and can trust you. A child with an attachment disorder is already experiencing a great deal of stress, so it is imperative that you evaluate and manage your own stress levels before trying to help your child with theirs. This reinforces your consistency and love, and will help your child develop a trust.

“A person who never learned to trust confuses intensity with intimacy, obsession with care, and control with security.”—Patrick Carnes, psychiatrist

By Brenda-Lee Duarte

1 October 2017


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