Pursuit of Happiness May Actually Make Us Unhappy!

The relentless pursuit of happiness–when defined as the experience of pleasure or positive feelings–may be doing us more harm than good. Researchers have found that  this sort of happiness does less to improve our  important  physical health than the type of well-being that comes from engaging in meaningful activity, termed “eudaimonic well-being.” “Eudaimonia” is a Greek word associated with Aristotle and often mistranslated as “happiness”—which has contributed to misunderstandings about what happiness is. Some experts say Aristotle meant “well-being” when he wrote that humans can attain eudaimonia by fulfilling their potential.

Before the world wars, psychologists were interested in the study of psychological health in addition to psychological illness. The intense needs of populations adversely affected by war, meant that most research dollars that were available were available for the study of psychological illness.  Now, “positive psychology” is a rapidly growing area of science once again.

Positive psychologists study “happiness”, “resilience” and human strengths. Some of their research  suggests that people who focus on living with a sense of purpose as they age are more likely to remain cognitively intact, have better mental health and even live longer than people who focus on achieving feelings of happiness.

In fact, in some cases, too much focus on feeling happy can actually lead to feeling less happy, researchers say.

The pleasure that comes with, say, a good meal, an entertaining movie or an important win for one’s sports team—a feeling called “hedonic well-being”—tends to be short-term and fleeting. Raising children, volunteering or going to medical school may be less pleasurable day to day. But these pursuits give a sense of fulfillment, of being the best one can be, particularly in the long run.

Today, the goal of understanding happiness and well-being, beyond philosophical interest, is part of a broad inquiry into aging and why some people avoid early death and disease. Psychologists investigating eudaimonic versus hedonic types of happiness over the past five to 10 years have looked at each type’s unique effects on physical and psychological health.

For instance, symptoms of depression, paranoia and psychopathology have increased among generations of American college students from 1938 to 2007, according to a statistical review published in 2010 in Clinical Psychology Review. Researchers at San Diego State University who conducted the analysis pointed to increasing cultural emphasis in the U.S. on materialism and status, which emphasize hedonic happiness, and decreasing attention to “community” and “meaning” in life, as possible explanations.

Since 1995, Dr. Carol Ryff,  professor and director of the Institute on Aging at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. and her Wisconsin team have been studying some 7,000 individuals and examining factors that influence health and well-being from middle age through old age in a study called MIDUS, or the Mid-Life in the U.S. National Study of Americans, funded by the National Institute on Aging. Eudaimonic well-being “reduces the bite” of risk factors normally associated with disease like low education level, using biological measures, according to their recently published findings on a subset of study participants.

Illustration by J.D. King

Source: Pew Research Center, Social and Demographic Trends Project

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Participants with low education level and greater eudaimonic well-being had lower levels of interleukin-6, an inflammatory marker of disease associated with cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease, than those with lower eudaimonic well-being, even after taking hedonic well-being into account. The work was published in the journal Health Psychology.

David Bennett, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and his colleagues showed that eudaimonic well-being conferred benefits related to Alzheimer’s. Over a seven-year period, those reporting a lesser sense of purpose in life were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease compared with those reporting greater purpose in life, according to an analysis published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry. The study involved 950 individuals with a mean age of about 80 at the start of the study.

In a separate analysis of the same group of subjects, researchers have found those with greater purpose in life were less likely to be impaired in carrying out living and mobility functions, like housekeeping, managing money and walking up or down stairs. And over a five-year period they were significantly less likely to die—by some 57%— than those with low purpose in life.

The link persisted even after researchers took into account variables that could be related to well-being and happiness, such as depressive symptoms, neuroticism, medical conditions and income.

Evidence suggests that HOW a person confronts life’s challenges can have a lot to do with HOW a person feels in terms of their health and happiness.

There is some evidence that people high in eudaimonic well-being process emotional information differently than those who are low in it. Brain-imaging studies indicate people with high eudaimonic well-being tend to use the pre-frontal cortex more than people with lower eudaimonic well-being, says Cariem van Reekum, researcher at the Centre for Integrative Neuroscience and Neurodynamics at the University of Reading in the U.K. The pre-frontal cortex is important to higher-order thinking, including goal-setting, language and memory.

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It could be that people with high eudaimonic well-being are good at reappraising situations and using the brain more actively to see the positives, Dr. van Reekum says. They may think, “This event is difficult but I can do it,” she says. Rather than running away from a difficult situation, they see it as challenging.

The two types of well-being aren’t necessarily at odds, and there is overlap. Striving to live a meaningful life or to do good work should bring about feelings of happiness, of course. But people who primarily seek extrinsic rewards, such as money or status, often aren’t as happy, says Richard Ryan, professor of psychology, psychiatry and education at the University of Rochester.

Simply engaging in activities that are likely to promote eudaimonic well-being, such as helping others, doesn’t seem to yield a psychological benefit if people feel pressured to do them, according to a study Dr. Ryan and a colleague published last year in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology..

There’s nothing wrong with trying to feel happy, psychologists say. Happy people tend to be more sociable and energetic, which may lead them to engage in meaningful activities. And for someone who is chronically angry or depressed, the goal should be to help this person feel happier, says Ed Diener, a retired professor at the University of Illinois who advises pollster Gallup, Inc., on well-being and positive psychology.

Surveys have shown the typical person usually feels more positive than neutral, yet it isn’t clear he or she needs to be any happier, Dr. Diener says. But there is such a thing as too much focus on happiness. Ruminating too much about oneself can become a vicious cycle.

Being happy doesn’t mean feeling elated all the time. Deep stress is bad, but the “I don’t have enough time” stress that many people feel while balancing work, family and other demands may not be so bad. THe important thing is to focus on relationships with people you care about, and to do work that you love.

Words: How you talk to your children can hurt or help them

The emotional abuse of harsh words, spoken thoughtlessly, can lead a child feeling berated, belittled, demoralized. The impact this has on a child’s emotional development is insidious. A child’s spirit can be destroyed, and they may lose any positive sense of self. Emotional abuse destroy’s a child’s ability to feel loveable, to love himself or herself, and has a negative effect on a child’s ability to care for and get along with others. Emotional abuse increases self-destructive and antisocial behavior. Emotional abuse has been linked to eating disorders, promiscuity and suicide.

None of us is perfect, and many of us can recall a time when we’ve lost our self-control, and said something hurtful and demoralizing to our children, over something minor. We might say things like: “You clumsy idiot! You can’t do anything right!”

When words like these are repeated often enough, the child’s sense of self-esteem plummets and he or she begins to agree with his parents’ assessment of him: he or she really is dumb, a jerk, an idiot, a moron. The child begins to learn that love is not without conditions. And since it seems impossible to meet his or her parent’s expectations, the child becomes satisfied with settling for the “loser” role.

In too many homes today, the lights are on but no one is there. People are home but not home. Inattentive and verbally abusive parents are producing children who seem normal but are not what they should be, what they could have been.

There are studies that demonstrate that this abusive, humiliating and demeaning parenting behavior is  transmitted from generation to generation, meaning that adults who had abusive parents tend to parent their own children the same way. This pattern will continue until a parent is willing to change their behaviors, change the dynamics, and find a way to interact differently with their own children. They must be willing to see and acknowledge that they are saying and doing to their children.

To change this pattern, treatment often requires treating the parent and the child, helping the parent feel respected and empowered, and allowing them to change the ways they respond to their child.
The problem of verbal abuse is REAL, and COMMON, but difficult to document, and, therefore, difficult to intervene to prevent. Certain stressors can increase the problem of verbal abuse, job loss, marital problems, financial concerns. Often, adults attempt to cope with these stressors using alcohol and other drugs, but this tends to make matters worse. Parents then lose their inhibitions, and may say terrible things to their children that they later regret.

How can you be sure your words build up rather than destroy your children?

† Guard your vocabulary. There are some words that people in a family should never say to each other. Words like stupid, dummy, jerk, idiot, worthless and freak have no place between parents and their children.

† Avoid absolute statements such as “You never . . . ” Or “You always . . . ” Have a sense of good manners with your family. This doesn’t mean that you must avoid all conflict or that you can’t set limits.

† Separate the child’s actions from the child. Instead of responding to a tantrum with a barrage of abusive language, let him know that you love him — but not his actions, which are unacceptable.

† When things happen that can set off an explosion, take time out. Wait. And then wait some more. When you hold your tongue until the heat of the moment has passed, it’s a lot easier to respond with love rather than anger.

† Be available. Be willing to stop and peek in on your child’s world. He or she will feel more valuable because of it. Don’t start interrogating the minute the child walks in the door.

Wait until you’re relaxed and instead of probing about his day, why not share your day? Instead of accusing, compliment. Instead of insisting, be silent.

† Active listening refers to a kind of listening and a response that does not judge, ridicule or order. And the more we listen without judging, the more we help our children to accept their feelings, we improve their problem-solving ability and increase their willingness to listen to us.

† Teach by example. Let your kids hear you acknowledge your mistakes. Risk being humble. Dare to say, “I’m sorry” to your children when appropriate. Apologizing reveals that the truth is larger than your ego and their feelings are more important than your pride.

If you can accept yourself in spite of your limitations, all the while working to be the best you can be, you’ve gone a long way to help your kids value themselves.

Based on the work of Jean Guarino, free-lance writer.

“Gay Parenting” Study Draws Criticism

By  (@carrie_gann) , ABC News Medical Unit

June 11, 2012

A new study finds that adult children of parents in same-sex relationships fare worse socially, psychologically and physically than people raised in other family arrangements.

Critics call the study deeply flawed, saying the results don’t accurately describe — or even measure — any children raised in stable households with two same-sex parents.

The study surveyed nearly 3,000 U.S. adults, ages 18 to 39, about their upbringing and their lives today, asking questions about factors such as income, relationship stability, mental health and history of sexual abuse. Of the 3,000 respondents, 73 reported that their father had engaged in a same-sex relationship and 163 reported that their mother had done so.

People who reported that their mother or father had a same-sex relationship at some point were different than children raised by their biological, still-married parents in 25 of the study’s 40 measures. And most of the time, they fared worse. The children of parents who at some point had a same-sex partner were more likely to be on welfare, have a history of depression, have less education and report a history of sexual abuse, the study found.

The study was published Sunday in the journal Social Science Research. It was funded by the Witherspoon Institute and the Bradley Foundation, groups that are “commonly known for their support of conservative causes,” though the organizations played no role in the design and analysis of the report, the study said.

Mark Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of the report, said the study was not intended as a political statement, but simply tried to answer the question of whether children of parents with same-sex relationships are different. He said the study also isn’t designed to prove that family structure causes poor health.

“I’m not claiming that gay and lesbian adults are bad parents. This is not a parenting study,” Regnerus said. “What this shows is that there’s lots of diversity.”

Regardless, the study touches a raw nerve at a time of heated political battles over gay marriage and same-sex parenting. Both supporters and critics of the study claim to have science on their side.

Regnerus said the study is the largest to date of a random, nationally representative sample of young adults in the United States who report that at least one parent had a same-sex romantic relationship. The study included 919 adults raised by their biological, still-married parents and more than 800 who came from single-parent families, as well as children of divorced parents, stepparents and adopted families. But just a fraction of the respondents, 1.7 percent, said their mother or father had a same-sex relationship.

Patrick Fagan, director of the Marriage and Religion Institute, part of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group, said Regnerus’s study is the most comprehensive to date of the differences between same-sex and heterosexual parents and highlights the instability of same-sex relationships, a negative circumstance for children.

“The instability of the coupling is the really big finding that I think is debate-altering,” he said.

But critics say that’s precisely what the study does not show.

“This study doesn’t really have anything to do with same-sex families of today,” said Dr. Jenna Saul, a Wisconsin-based child and adolescent psychiatrist.

The study is a snapshot of a particular moment in history. The youngest people in the survey turned 18 in 2011 and the oldest did so in 1990, growing up in a time when social support for gay lifestyles, particularly those involving children, was less established. In 2000, the U.S. Census counted nearly 170,000 households headed by gay or lesbian parents of children under age 18. In fact, only two of the respondents reported living with their mother or father and a same-sex partner for their entire childhood.

“I’d be interested in seeing this study redone in 20 years with the more intact same-sex families we see now,” Saul said.

Gary Gates, who studies the LGBT population at UCLA’s Williams Institute, said the study offers no clear conclusions about the relationship between parents’ sexual orientation and a child’s wellbeing. Instead, the results say more about the role of instability in childhood.

“To determine whether a parental same-sex relationship affects a child’s outcome, it is critical to know the length of these relationships, and whether the same-sex partners were actually living with, and parenting, the child for any length of time. The study does not assess this,” Gates said.

Other studies have found that children raised by same-sex parents are not different from children of heterosexual couples. The American Psychological Association, the Child Welfare League of America and other organizations have issued public support for same-sex parenting.

Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, an advocacy group for gay and lesbian families, said the study has no effect on the “overwhelming body of research” that has found that children of same-sex couples do as well as those of heterosexual parents.

“It is clear that families are stronger and more stable when they can stay together,” she said. “That means what we should be doing is supporting policies that make it easier for gay and lesbian families to stay together.”

Regnerus said he has no opinion on whether the study supports or refutes the benefits of condoning same-sex marriages and parenting.

“This study really can’t answer any political questions,” he said.

Editor’s note: The original headline of this story was changed in order to reflect the nature of the piece.

Though these comments by Dr. Jenna didn’t make it into the copy of the article, they are very poignant and important:

1.The best determinant for children faring well is to have caregivers who are nurturing, attuned, and capable of healthy attachments.
2. The study looked at a population of people the majority of whom spent less than 3 years residing within same sex families; this tells us more about blended families than it tells us about children being “raised” in a same-sex household.

Attachment Parenting: Dr. Jenna on WBAI Radio.

Mr. Luciano interviewed Dr. Saul and Dr. Susan Markel, author of What Your Pediatrician Doesn’t Know Can Hurt Your Child to discuss a recent Time Magazine article that celebrated the 20th anniversary of Dr. William Sears’ The Baby Book in which he championed a concept of parenting called “Attachment Parenting”.

Dr. Markel and Dr. Saul emphasized that “Attachment Parenting” is a way of parenting such that children feel confident and self-assured, and that this does NOT involve meeting a child’s every whim.

During the interview, Dr. Saul discussed that parenting should not be about mothers feeling guilty for failing to maintain constant proximity to their children, and instead parents should be thinking about the importance of being attuned to their children when they ARE with their children.

Attunement involves a parent being responsive to an infant’s and child’s moods and emotions. Well-attuned parents detect what their babies are feeling and reflect those emotions back in their facial expressions, voices, and other behavior. Attunement can play an important role in helping children to recognize and regulate their own feelings.

Listen to the Archived show here

drsears

Dr. Sears, is the father of eight children as well as the author of over 30 books on childcare. He is Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine. He is also a medical and parenting consultant for BabyTalk and Parenting magazines and the pediatrician on the website Parenting.com.

luciano-f04lo_med

Felipe Luciano is one of the most dynamic Latino public figures in the United States of the late twentieth- and early twenty-first centuries. His eloquence, vision, and passion for issues of social justice are extraordinary and reminiscent of the oratory talent of civil rights leaders of the 1960s

Dr. Jenna Speaks to the Weaknesses of a Same Sex Parenting Study

By  (@carrie_gann) , ABC News Medical Unit

June 11, 2012

A new study finds that adult children of parents in same-sex relationships fare worse socially, psychologically and physically than people raised in other family arrangements.

Critics call the study deeply flawed, saying the results don’t accurately describe — or even measure — any children raised in stable households with two same-sex parents.

The study surveyed nearly 3,000 U.S. adults, ages 18 to 39, about their upbringing and their lives today, asking questions about factors such as income, relationship stability, mental health and history of sexual abuse. Of the 3,000 respondents, 73 reported that their father had engaged in a same-sex relationship and 163 reported that their mother had done so.

People who reported that their mother or father had a same-sex relationship at some point were different than children raised by their biological, still-married parents in 25 of the study’s 40 measures. And most of the time, they fared worse. The children of parents who at some point had a same-sex partner were more likely to be on welfare, have a history of depression, have less education and report a history of sexual abuse, the study found.

The study was published Sunday in the journal Social Science Research. It was funded by the Witherspoon Institute and the Bradley Foundation, groups that are “commonly known for their support of conservative causes,” though the organizations played no role in the design and analysis of the report, the study said.

Mark Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of the report, said the study was not intended as a political statement, but simply tried to answer the question of whether children of parents with same-sex relationships are different. He said the study also isn’t designed to prove that family structure causes poor health.

“I’m not claiming that gay and lesbian adults are bad parents. This is not a parenting study,” Regnerus said. “What this shows is that there’s lots of diversity.”

Regardless, the study touches a raw nerve at a time of heated political battles over gay marriage and same-sex parenting. Both supporters and critics of the study claim to have science on their side.

Regnerus said the study is the largest to date of a random, nationally representative sample of young adults in the United States who report that at least one parent had a same-sex romantic relationship. The study included 919 adults raised by their biological, still-married parents and more than 800 who came from single-parent families, as well as children of divorced parents, stepparents and adopted families. But just a fraction of the respondents, 1.7 percent, said their mother or father had a same-sex relationship.

Patrick Fagan, director of the Marriage and Religion Institute, part of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group, said Regnerus’s study is the most comprehensive to date of the differences between same-sex and heterosexual parents and highlights the instability of same-sex relationships, a negative circumstance for children.

“The instability of the coupling is the really big finding that I think is debate-altering,” he said.

But critics say that’s precisely what the study does not show.

“This study doesn’t really have anything to do with same-sex families of today,” said Dr. Jenna Saul, a Wisconsin-based child and adolescent psychiatrist.

The study is a snapshot of a particular moment in history. The youngest people in the survey turned 18 in 2011 and the oldest did so in 1990, growing up in a time when social support for gay lifestyles, particularly those involving children, was less established. In 2000, the U.S. Census counted nearly 170,000 households headed by gay or lesbian parents of children under age 18. In fact, only two of the  respondents reported living with their mother or father and a same-sex partner for their entire childhood.

“I’d be interested in seeing this study redone in 20 years with the more intact same-sex families we see now,” Saul said.

Gary Gates, who studies the LGBT population at UCLA’s Williams Institute, said the study offers no clear conclusions about the relationship between parents’ sexual orientation and a child’s wellbeing. Instead, the results say more about the role of instability in childhood.

“To determine whether a parental same-sex relationship affects a child’s outcome, it is critical to know the length of these relationships, and whether the same-sex partners were actually living with, and parenting, the child for any length of time. The study does not assess this,” Gates said.

Other studies have found that children raised by same-sex parents are not different from children of heterosexual couples. The American Psychological Association, the Child Welfare League of America and other organizations have issued public support for same-sex parenting.

Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, an advocacy group for gay and lesbian families, said the study has no effect on the “overwhelming body of research” that has found that children of same-sex couples do as well as those of heterosexual parents.

“It is clear that families are stronger and more stable when they can stay together,” she said. “That means what we should be doing is supporting policies that make it easier for gay and lesbian families to stay together.”

Regnerus said he has no opinion on whether the study supports or refutes the benefits of condoning same-sex marriages and parenting.

“This study really can’t answer any political questions,” he said.

Editor’s note: The original headline of this story was changed in order to reflect the nature of the piece.

7-12 Year Old Girls: Calls From Mom Relieve Stress

It may surprise many, but for girls 7-12 years old, a call from Mom can relieve –YES, RELIEVE–Stress!

Biological anthropologist Leslie Seltzer of University of Wisconsin-Madison, tested a group of 7- to 12-year-old girls. She had them give an impromptu speech and solve a series of math problems in front of a panel of strangers. These tasks increased two measures of stress; increases in their heart rates and level of cortisol were detected.
Once stressed:

  • One-third of the girls were comforted in person by their mothers – specifically with hugs, an arm around the shoulders and the like.
  • One-third were left to watch an emotion-neutral 75-minute video.
  • The final third spoke to their mothers on the phone.

Whether in person or by phone, the children who interacted with their mothers had the same hormonal responses:

  • Oxytocin increased
  • Cortisol decreased

Oxytocin, often called the “love hormone” is strongly associated with emotional attachment. This hormone rose significantly in the girls who had physical or over-the-phone contact with their mothers.

The stress-marking hormone, cortisol declined. It can be difficult to find ways to reduce cortisol, and to increase oxytocin. So the fact that a phone call can do this is quite remarkable.

Prior to this study, it was believed that the release of oxytocin in response to social attachment required physical contact. This study demonstrates that just hearing a mother’s voice can have the same effect.  The anxiety-relieving qualities of oxytocin persists for several hours afterward, with low levels of cortisol even by the time the children go home.

The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B , and support hypotheses about how males and females respond differently to stress.

  • Confronted with a threat, males may be more likely to choose between fight and flight.
  • A female with offspring in tow or slowed by pregnancy, however, may not be able to run, or defend oneself without endangering themselves and their child. Instead, females may use touch, or a soothing voice to deal with stressors.  In response to either, oxytocin is released, and stress is reduced in females. This may strengthen the bond between individuals while doing so.

Clinically, this may explain why girls this age frequently call their mothers when their mothers are gone. But can it also explain their propensity to text? Seltzer is now looking at the impact of text messaging on the levels of oxytocin! She also hopes to see other scientists conduct similar studies in other animals.

That First Uncomfortable Sex Question

This article by Laura Scholes, in which she interviews Dr. Jenna, appeared first on http://www.greatschools.org

Just when the tantrums have subsided and you think it’s safe to take your child on an extended shopping trip again, don’t be surprised if you encounter another land mine in the checkout line.

“Mommy, how did the baby get into that lady’s tummy?” your five-year-old asks in a loud voice, pointing at the very pregnant woman in front of you.

As unnerving as such questions often are for parents, they’re completely normal. “In preschool, kids start noticing and asking questions about how mom and dad have different body parts,” says Jenna Saul, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Auburndale, WI. “Then, by the time they turn five, the curiosity about body parts turns into a preoccupation with where babies come from.”

At my own house, the conversation began even earlier. At two, my daughter spotted a scar on my stomach, and I fumbled my way through a TMI explanation of a C-section: my first sex talk fail.

That first (uncomfortable) sex question

Whether the first sex question happens in private or very much in public, it catches almost every parent off guard.

Katrina Alcorn, an Oakland, CA, blogger, says she never worried about the “sex talk.”

“I didn’t think it would be a big deal,” says Alcorn, who has three children. “I’m progressive. I’m body positive. I’ll make sure my kids know what they need to know.”

Then, in the car one day, Alcorn’s second grade daughter announced that she wanted to marry a girl because she didn’t want to die in childbirth.

“I was just floored,” Alcorn says. “But I tried to gather my thoughts and address her concerns one by one. I said, first of all, it’s really rare that people die in childbirth, and I don’t think that would happen  to you. Second of all, it’s fine if you want to marry a girl, and you don’t have to decide now. Finally, you can adopt a baby whether you’re with a boy or a girl.”

Alcorn was proud of herself for dealing with her daughter’s questions with such aplomb — but in the end her child got the last word. “She said, ‘I still want to marry a girl because I think kissing boys is gross and anyway, I don’t want to have sex.’ I couldn’t believe the sex talk snuck up on me without me being prepared for it!”

Why you should talk sooner rather than later

Although teenagers today are waiting longer to have sex, research shows that 13 percent have had sex by age 15, and by their 19th birthday, seven in 10 teens have had intercourse. And because young adults are not marrying until their mid-20s, on average, this means they’re at increased risk for unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

So even though talking to your young child — preschool to fifth grade — about sex may seem premature, it’s actually the ideal time to do it. As your child enters her tweens and teens and becomes self-conscious about her body and about personal matters in general, it will become increasingly difficult to raise the issue. Take advantage of this window of opportunity to create a foundation of openness and honesty with your child.

“This stuff is very hard and complicated to talk about, but for me it is a health issue,” says Robie H. Harris, a former teacher and now celebrated author of a series of children’s books about sex and the body, including It’s Perfectly Normal, and Who Has What. “I write these books because I feel that this is part of life, and it’s okay to wonder about it. It’s important not just to kids’ physical health, but also to their emotional health.”

Not one talk, but many

Most experts agree that “the talk” really isn’t a talk anymore, but an ongoing conversation, one that starts much earlier than it did even a few decades ago.

“Limiting your child’s education about sex to a single talk produces an atmosphere of shame,” says Wendla A. Schwartz, M.D., a child and adolescent psychiatrist and medical director of Solutions Psychiatric Associates in Los Gatos, CA. “Children will definitely ask, and if a parent has in his mind that a five-year-old isn’t ready for ‘the talk,’ then he gets flustered and says, ‘Go ask your mother,’ and then the mother gets flustered. Kids are great at detecting discomfort, so by the time ‘the talk’ comes around at puberty, they’ve got the idea that sex is shameful and bad, and that’s going to stick with them forever.”

Instead, make it an ongoing, low-key dialogue between you and your child that begins when they are very young and goes on throughout their tween and teenage years.

What to say, how to say it

When it comes to sex, the best strategy is to let your child lead the discussion, rather than giving her a full-blown, lengthy presentation.

“In the very early ages, parents need to focus their efforts on really listening to their children and answering their questions truthfully,” says Saul. “At first, using the child’s own language to describe body parts is a good way to make kids comfortable; then you can teach them the actual names — penis, vagina, womb — as it becomes appropriate.”

Schwartz agrees that parents should let kids take the lead. “The best approach with all kids is to only answer the question they ask,” she says. “One of the really beautiful things about young children is that they’re incredibly inquisitive. They have such a tremendous level of curiosity that you really don’t have to worry that they’re going to forget to ask. As they’re ready for the information, they will probe for it.”

So when the questions start coming, give as brief and as honest an answer as you can and know that when they’ve learned enough, they’ll tune out — and that’s fine. Be prepared by having some age-appropriate books on hand before your child starts asking questions. Robie Harris recommends reading through the books by yourself first, to make sure you agree with the information and the way it’s presented. Books can help neutralize a charged topic; they also give your child the opportunity to do additional research on her own.

Kids are resilient

Don’t worry if you flub the sex conversation the first time — or even the second.

“We all make mistakes,” says Schwartz, who has stumbled on the topic of sex with her own kids. “Don’t freak out if you don’t get things right. Remember: over the years you’ll get plenty of chances to  ‘practice’ giving good information. Besides, lucky for us, kids are amazingly resilient.”

To see the article where it originally appeared, go to:

Few Teens with Hypomania Will Become Manic

According to a soon-to-be-published study in the Journal of Affective Disorders, Swedish researchers concluded that only a small proportion of depressed adolescents with hypomanic episodes will develop bipolar disorder in adulthood.

The study participants came from a community-based sample of 2300 adolescents who were screened for depression and hypomania between 1991 and 1993.

  • Of these, 64 individuals aged 16-17 years who screened positive for symptoms  of depression and lifetime hypomania spectrum symptoms participated in follow up interviews after an average of 14 years.
  • Only six of the 64 individuals experienced another hypomanic episode, or an episode or mania, by the age of 30-33 years.

Author Paaren Aivar, with Uppsala University, and his co authors, thus concluded that

“maintenance or prophylactic treatment does not seem warranted for [youth who have experienced a hypomanic episode].”

Of the group of 2300 adolescents who screened  positive for depressive symptoms, 90 also screened positive for full syndromal hypomania lasting more than 4 days (n=40 [1.7%]), brief-episode hypomania lasting less than 4 days (n=18 [0.8%]), or subsyndromal hypomania (n=32 [1.4%]), and 64 of the 90 adolescents participated in follow-up interviews after an average of 14 years.

  • Only  four (6%) of the participants interviewed at follow-up reported at least one episode of hypomania in adulthood
  • Only  two (3%) reported at least one episode of mania.
  • 38 (59%) met criteria for major depression at follow-up.

Aivar et al  further conclude:

“…a significant number of adolescents initially diagnosed with full-syndrome, brief-episode, and subsyndromal hypomania did not develop bipolar disorder as adults. However, a substantial proportion reported major depression later in life.”

This is consistent with previous findings that suggest that youth with mood symptoms in childhood and adolescent continue to be most at risk for developing major depression, and not bipolar disorder, as adults.

The researchers echo what many clinicians have attempted to explain to frustrated and confused parents for many  years; that we continue to have very little ability to recognize youths at risk of developing bipolar disorder.

Dr. Aivar et al  conclude  that long-term prophylactic pharmacological treatment in children with hypomania spectrum disorder   is not warranted.

The risks of psychopharmacologic treatment to prevent the development of bipolar disorder outweigh the potential benefits for youth, even if they have been diagnosed with full-syndrome of hypomania.

J Affect Disord 2012; Advance online publication

Sexting, Teens, and the Law

More and more schools are being challenged to deal with “sexting”  by their students. “Sexting” is the sending of sexually suggestive photos and messages by a cell phone. Some schools have depended on the legal system to manage these issues.

In the fall of 2008, the Tunkhannock Area School District in Pennsylvania discovered the (nude and seminude) images of 8 female students on the phones of several male students who were exchanging the images. School officials confiscated the phones, and turned them over to the district attorney to investigate.

The district attorney wrote to parents of at least 16 students–those who owned the confiscated phones and those who appeared in the photos,  and threatened to prosecute the students on child pornography charges. If the students enrolled in an education program covering sexual harassment, sexual violence and related issues, he said, they would not be charged.

The parents of three girls refused to enroll their daughters. The parents of one girl, who was photographed speaking on a phone in a white bra, said she was simply being a “goof ball.” Another girl was seen in a towel, looking like she had gotten out of the shower.

The parents sought a temporary restraining order to block the district attorney from bringing criminal charges against their daughters, and the court granted the order. The cases against two of the girls were dropped, and the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Philadelphia, has upheld the lower court. The third student’s constitutional  claims are anticipated to succeeed.

The girls’ parents asserted their constitutional right to parental autonomy and their child’s First Amendment right against compelled speech (since the students in the antitexting program were required to write about how their actions were wrong). The appeals court ruled that the prosecutor’s threat to bring charges would be retaliation for the exercise of constitutional rights.

It is important that schools work to maintain an appropriate learning environment, but we need to help school officials identify ways to work with the youth that attend their schools, without resorting so quickly to criminalizing  misbehavior.

Media In Children And Adolescents, Media Reviews | Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Consulting

Ashley Judd Slaps Media in the Face for Speculation Over Her ‘Puffy’ Appearance

THIS EDITORIAL first appeared at The Daily Beast athttp://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/04/09/ashley-judd-slaps-media-in-the-face-for-speculation-over-her-puffy-appearance.html

editorial@thedailybeast.com.

Ashley Judd’s ‘puffy’ appearance sparked a viral media frenzy. But, the actress writes, the conversation is really a misogynistic assault on all women.

The Conversation about women’s bodies exists largely outside of us, while it is also directed at (and marketed to) us, and used to define and control us. The Conversation about women happens everywhere, publicly and privately. We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification. Our voices, our personhood, our potential, and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted.

As an actor and woman who, at times, avails herself of the media, I am painfully aware of the conversation about women’s bodies, and it frequently migrates to my own body. I know this, even though my personal practice is to ignore what is written about me. I do not, for example, read interviews I do with news outlets. I hold that it is none of my business what people think of me. I arrived at this belief after first, when I began working as an actor 18 years ago, reading everything. I evolved into selecting only the “good” pieces to read. Over time, I matured into the understanding that good and bad are equally fanciful interpretations. I do not want to give my power, my self-esteem, or my autonomy, to any person, place, or thing outside myself. I thus abstain from all media about myself. The only thing that matters is how I feel about myself, my personal integrity, and my relationship with my Creator. Of course, it’s wonderful to be held in esteem and fond regard by family, friends, and community, but a central part of my spiritual practice is letting go of otheration. And casting one’s lot with the public is dangerous and self-destructive, and I value myself too much to do that.

 

However, the recent speculation and accusations in March feel different, and my colleagues and friends encouraged me to know what was being said. Consequently, I choose to address it because the conversation was pointedly nasty, gendered, and misogynistic and embodies what all girls and women in our culture, to a greater or lesser degree, endure every day, in ways both outrageous and subtle. The assault on our body image, the hypersexualization of girls and women and subsequent degradation of our sexuality as we walk through the decades, and the general incessant objectification is what this conversation allegedly about my face is really about.

A brief analysis demonstrates that the following “conclusions” were all made on the exact same day, March 20, about the exact same woman (me), looking the exact same way, based on the exact same television appearance. The following examples are real, and come from a variety of (so-called!) legitimate news outlets (such as HuffPo, MSNBC, etc.), tabloid press, and social media:

One: When I am sick for more than a month and on medication (multiple rounds of steroids), the accusation is that because my face looks puffy, I have “clearly had work done,” with otherwise credible reporters with great bravo “identifying” precisely the procedures I allegedly have had done.

Two: When my skin is nearly flawless, and at age 43, I do not yet have visible wrinkles that can be seen on television, I have had “work done,” with media outlets bolstered by consulting with plastic surgeons I have never met who “conclude” what procedures I have “clearly” had. (Notice that this is a “back-handed compliment,” too—I look so good! It simply cannot possibly be real!)

Three: When my 2012 face looks different than it did when I filmed Double Jeopardy in 1998, I am accused of having “messed up” my face (polite language here, the F word is being used more often), with a passionate lament that “Ashley has lost her familiar beauty audiences loved her for.”

Four: When I have gained weight, going from my usual size two/four to a six/eight after a lazy six months of not exercising, and that weight gain shows in my face and arms, I am a “cow” and a “pig” and I “better watch out” because my husband “is looking for his second wife.” (Did you catch how this one engenders competition and fear between women? How it also suggests that my husband values me based only on my physical appearance? Classic sexism. We won’t even address how extraordinary it is that a size eight would be heckled as “fat.”)

Ashley Judd on her new show “Missing”

Five: In perhaps the coup de grace, when I am acting in a dramatic scene in Missing—the plot stating I am emotionally distressed and have been awake and on the run for days—viewers remarks ranged from “What the f–k did she do to her face?” to cautionary gloating, “Ladies, look at the work!” Footage from “Missing” obviously dates prior to March, and the remarks about how I look while playing a character powerfully illustrate the contagious and vicious nature of the conversation. The accusations and lies, introduced to the public, now apply to me as a woman across space and time; to me as any woman and to me as every woman.

That women are joining in the ongoing disassembling of my appearance is salient. Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times—I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.

A case in point is that this conversation was initially promulgated largely by women; a sad and disturbing fact. (That they are professional friends of mine, and know my character and values, is an additional betrayal.)

That the conversation about my face was initially promulgated largely by women is a sad and disturbing fact.

News outlets with whom I do serious work, such as publishing op-eds about preventing HIV, empowering poor youth worldwide, and conflict mineral mining in Democratic Republic of Congo, all ran this “story” without checking with my office first for verification, or offering me the dignity of the opportunity to comment. It’s an indictment of them that they would even consider the content printable, and that they, too, without using time-honored journalistic standards, would perpetuate with un-edifying delight such blatantly gendered, ageist, and mean-spirited content.

Ashley Judd responds to her critics on ‘Nightly News.’

I hope the sharing of my thoughts can generate a new conversation: Why was a puffy face cause for such a conversation in the first place? How, and why, did people participate? If not in the conversation about me, in parallel ones about women in your sphere? What is the gloating about? What is the condemnation about? What is the self-righteous alleged “all knowing” stance of the media about? How does this symbolize constraints on girls and women, and encroach on our right to be simply as we are, at any given moment? How can we as individuals in our private lives make adjustments that support us in shedding unconscious actions, internalized beliefs, and fears about our worthiness, that perpetuate such meanness? What can we do as families, as groups of friends? Is what girls and women can do different from what boys and men can do? What does this have to do with how women are treated in the workplace?

I ask especially how we can leverage strong female-to-female alliances to confront and change that there is no winning here as women. It doesn’t actually matter if we are aging naturally, or resorting to surgical assistance. We experience brutal criticism. The dialogue is constructed so that our bodies are a source of speculation, ridicule, and invalidation, as if they belong to others—and in my case, to the actual public. (I am also aware that inevitably some will comment that because I am a creative person, I have abdicated my right to a distinction between my public and private selves, an additional, albeit related, track of highly distorted thinking that will have to be addressed at another time).

If this conversation about me is going to be had, I will do my part to insist that it is a feminist one, because it has been misogynistic from the start. Who makes the fantastic leap from being sick, or gaining some weight over the winter, to a conclusion of plastic surgery? Our culture, that’s who. The insanity has to stop, because as focused on me as it appears to have been, it is about all girls and women. In fact, it’s about boys and men, too, who are equally objectified and ridiculed, according to heteronormative definitions of masculinity that deny the full and dynamic range of their personhood. It affects each and every one of us, in multiple and nefarious ways: our self-image, how we show up in our relationships and at work, our sense of our worth, value, and potential as human beings. Join in—and help change—the Conversation.

  • Ashley Judd is a prolific actress, who will next be seen in ABC’s new midseason show, Missing. Judd most recently appeared in Dolphin Tale alongside Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick Jr. and Kris Kristofferson.
  • Judd is also on the board of directors for PSI (Population Services International), which she joined in 2004 after serving as Global Ambassador for PSI’s HIV education and prevention program, YouthAIDS since 2002.  Judd has visited PSI programs in Thailand, Cambodia, Madagascar, Kenya, South Africa, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, India, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In her work, she witnesses the lives of the exploited and poor to help educated the world about the reality of global poverty and bring solutions to the devastating effects of social injustice and gender inequality.
  • Judd was the subject of three award-winning documentaries aired in more than 150 countries worldwide on VH1, The Discovery Channel and The National Geographic Channel.  In her role as PSI board member, Judd has graced the covers of countless magazines and been the subject of newspaper and television interviews bringing vital awareness to issues closest to her heart, gender inequality and poverty alleviation.
  • Judd has visited legislators on Capitol Hill, addressed the General Assembly of the UN on the scourge human trafficking, spoke at the National Press Club, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the protection of vulnerable women from violence, sexual abuse and HIV and, most recently served as an expert panelist at Clinton Global Initiative to discuss the issue of safe water and the empowerment of girls in the developing world.
  • Recently, Judd has come on board as a spokesperson for organizations Defenders for Wildlife and The Sierra Club providing her time and voice to advocate against practices of aerial wolf hunting (Defenders for Wildlife) and mountaintop removal coal mining (The Sierra Club).
  • She resides in Tennessee and Scotland with her husband, the international racing star Dario Franchitti.  They have 8 beloved pets and enjoy a quiet, rural life.

How to report suicidal content/threats on Facebook

by American Foundation for Suicide Prevention February 15, 2011 at 11:16am ·

Facebook Help: How do I help someone who has posted suicidal content on the site?

If you have encountered a direct threat of suicide on Facebook, please immediately contact law enforcement.

You can submit reports of suicidal content to Facebook by clicking:

http://www.facebook.com/help/?search=suicidal#!/help/contact.php?show_form=suicidal_content

For reports in the United States, we also recommend that you contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a 24/7 hotline, at 1.800.273.TALK (8255). If possible, please encourage the user who posted the content to contact the Lifeline as well.  You can view a list of suicide prevention hotlines in other countries by visiting http://www.befrienders.org and choosing from the dropdown menu at the top of the page.

We encourage you to learn about how to identify and respond to warning signs of suicidal behavior online at the following address: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/WhatifSomeoneIKnowNeedsHelp.aspx

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

  • Lifeline wants people to report to Facebook first, as Facebook has the ability to provide identifying information and the process is faster if they can report all info to the Lifeline at that time.
  • Facebook works with the Lifeline once the content is reported.
  • (If it is international, then Facebook works with the appropriate international organization.)
  • Facebook receives the notification, then provides the Lifeline with all information about the user. Unfortunately, Lifeline cannot comment on the process from Facebook’s end but believes that given Facebook’s  sensitivity to suicide risk and knowing that their safety team works on the weekends, the Lifeline believes that the process is pretty quick and that it is the most efficient and quickest method for a user to receive help.

Many teens enjoy keeping in touch with their friends on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, but there are both risks and benefits to the use of these sites.  Overuse/Misuse of social media has been linked to mental health issues including depression and eating disorders.

Now, a  report from the American Academy of Pediatrics describes a new phenomenon called “Facebook depression,” in which children and teenagers spend an inordinate amount of time on social networking sites, then develop symptoms of depression.

Facebook depression is UNCOMMON–most children benefit from the use of facebook because they are able to maintain ties with friends and feel a connection with their community, according to Scott Campbell, an assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan.

Heavy use of  Facebook can have serious consequences, so it’s important that parents are aware of their children’s media use, as well as remaining aware of their social lives away from the computer.

 

Dr. Michael Brody, Chair of the Media Committee for the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and who was involved with the American Academy of Pediatrics report,  notes that relationships with peers become critical during adolescence, and that Facebook facilitates social engagement with friends.  “Kids become are very competitive, and kids want to be chosen,” said Dr. Brody.  Since facebook allows adolescents to see the number of friends their peers have, some youth may perceive that they are not as popular if they have fewer facebook “friends”. They may also perceive by reading the status updates of their facebook “friends” that they are not having as much fun as their peers. “I think the idea of envy and jealousy becomes very magnified through this medium,” says Brody.

Dr. Brody points out that causation is not suggested by the study.  The evidence does not suggest that Facebook leads to depression. It could be that certain adolescents who are already depressed are prone to spending too much time online, Brody said.

The study is consistent with previous findings of internet use–that depression and loneliness are associated with extremely heavy users of the internet–and also linked with a much lower rate of OFFLINE social connections.

 

Humans are social creatures, and studies have continued to demonstrate that having a healthy “social rhythm” is protective against mood disorders. It is important to engage with other people in real, offline, socially interactive ways.

Dr. Brody advises that parents encourage their children to engage in a variety of activities, and this can facilitate a healthy social rhythm:

I think kids who have a balanced life, who do schoolwork, who do after-school activities, who are in teams, who are in clubs, who do community service have a much lesser chance of becoming depressed

Read the original article by Rachael Rettner, here:  http://www.myhealthnewsdaily.com/facebook-depression-rare-but-serious-side-effect-of-social-networking–1318/

March 1, 2011

The recent suicide of a student in suburban Washington, D.C., after being suspended from school has sparked a fierce debate on disciplinary policies.

Angry parents say “zero tolerance” rules are too harsh on kids. And a recent report by a Philadelphia youth advocacy group says “zero tolerance” policies are particularly harmful to minority students.

But administrators and teachers argue that strict rules are necessary to keep students safe.

In Tell Me More’s weekly parenting conversation, host Michel Martin discusses the issue with regular moms contributor Dani Tucker, Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak and Wisconsin child psychiatrist Dr. Jenna Saul.

In contrast to years past, pop stars like Justin Bieber are far more in touch with their fans thanks to Facebook and Twitter. In social media, obsessive followers can cultivate a false, and often dangerous, sense of intimacy that has led to incidents of erratic behavior, like this week’s cyber death threats aimed at Bieber’s girlfriend. This is an issue that is serious, and should be taken seriously.

”Where are the parents? Who is trying to g

Parents must help their children use technology and media responsibly. Parents must remind children taht it is important to be kind and civil to other people–even if they are dating the teen idol the teen is in love with. Bieber is rumored to be dating Selena Gomez, and recent photos of the two of them together resulted in death threats sent to Gomez by Bieber fans on Twitter.

The parents of the teen stars must also step up here; they need to balance the promotion and publicity of their children with the need for their children to have some privacy about their personal lives.  While it is fun for Bieber’s fans to receive ”tweets” from him, it can be difficult for a 10 year old to realize that the updates probably come from a PR team, and are not a personal, intimate communication between Bieber and the fan.  These “tweets” can produce a sense of intimacy and involvement in Bieber’s private life–such that they feel entitled to feel slighted by Gomez’ more special relationship.

The parents of these adoring fans that need to take notice. We need to guide our children in the appropriate use of media. We need to guide our children in how they communicate with others. we need to guide our children in relating to others in a way that is polite, appropriate, and even empathic–and not threatening.

Celebrity obsession has been treated in children before; in fact, Dr. Ravitz had a patient who was obsessed with Bam Margera, famous skateboarder and ‘Jackass’ personality. After addressing the issue, it was clear the reason for the obsession was rooted in self-esteem issues and family relations

Caregivers of youth who are really struggling in their relationships with teen idols must be alert to obsessions that go beyond healthy. It is developmentally normal to look for people outside of our family to idolize–to look to for values, and for how to dress, what to like. This is a part of separating from our parents, and trying to develop autonomy as individuals. But if a youth is struggling wtih feeling excluded, is struggling socially with peers, or is struggling with self-esteem, the normal interests in teen idols can become more intensely obsessive, and there may be underlying issues to address for the child that warrant mental health intervention.

Social media has only begun to dictate the way people communicate with each other. Although the issue is something to take notice of, the ugly language and death threats online shouldn’t be confused with the norm.

Alan Ravitz, MD, MS  Senior Director of Forensic Psychiatry; Senior Pediatric Psychopharmacologist
Child Mind Institute

Parents of tweenage girls, Twitterers, trend-watchers—and the rest of the world, probably—know all about Justin Bieber, the 16-year-old pop sensation who appears to have sprung fully-formed from the Canadian heartland to take America by storm. And those with more than a passing interest and access to the Internet likely know that the teen star has been linked to the latest in a string of young women, the singer Selena Gomez, who is 18. Recently, the Web was aflutter over pictures of the two on a Caribbean vacation, apparently locking lips. Innocent fun, right? Free of consequences? Not when the “Beliebers” get you in their sights.

In fact, the combination of “Bieber fever” and Twitter has turned lethal—at least verbally, as some fans have actually issued death threats targeted at Gomez. And while the anonymity of the Internet cloaks the age of these posters, they are likely young girls and adolescents. Take your pick of shocking posts:

  • “@selenagomez I’ll kiII you I swear on GOD!!!!”
  • “@selenagomez stay away from Justin ped0phile, retard wait i’m gonna kiII ya in the night underneath your smelly bed”
  • “@selenagomez whore cancer whore..like i’mm kiII myself cuz i saw you and Justin kissing well thankyou Selena thankyou now i’m kiIILing myself”

Death threats? Slurs? Suicidal language? Why would our children type these things? Sadly, it’s another side-effect of the culture of the Web: Just like teens bully their peers even more viciously online than in real life because the consequences aren’t immediately apparent, children and adolescents in the virtual world are quicker and more outrageous in their anger or despair when faced with a setback.  The stream-of-consciousness spewing of raw feeling has, unfortunately, become accepted as a form of authenticity. As if the immediacy of the emotion somehow excuses the virulence of what’s being expressed.

Which leads to a another disturbing question: How did our kids get so deeply invested in Justin Bieber’s love life? Don’t they know he doesn’t sing just for them?

Girls today can get incredibly wrapped up in relationships that in reality are nothing but fiction. This is nothing new, of course—mention Sinatra, Elvis, the Beatles, David Cassidy, Michael Jackson, New Kids on the Block, the Backstreet Boys, and any number of women of every age will recall a youthful infatuation bordering on obsession. And yet today it is different—young fans have a much stronger illusion of access to their idols, who communicate “directly” to them on their smartphones and iPads via social media. A youngster could be forgiven for thinking that Justin Bieber is, in this virtual universe, reciprocating her affections.

This is just what Bieber’s media machine is after. An astute reader of the Huffington Post points out that in some countries in Asia, like South Korea, male pop stars are forbidden from having public romantic relationships to preserve the fiction for their young female fans—and thus pad the bottom line. This fiction can be dangerous—sure enough, at a Bieber concert in Australia last year a number of young fans were crushed in the rush to be near the stage and their virtual beau in the flesh. But the more pervasive danger is emotional—as evidenced by the virulent outpouring following the Gomez flap. And it’s especially worrying because these obsessions are less and less visible to parents.

The days of posters, magazines, and massive CD collections are gone, all disappeared inside the computer, or even the device in a kid’s pocket. Endless calls that used to tie up the phone are now silent text messages. And with this increased access—that Bieber has to his fans, that they have to him, that our children have to the wider community on the Web—the harmless, if hysterical, crushes of the past now spur open talk of murder and suicide. Another HuffPo commenter makes light of the phenomenon—in the ’80s and early ’90s, she writes, “we didn’t have ‘THE INTERNET,’ we had AOL! It was way too slow for us to be totally outraged on the Internet.” This joke contains a fairly substantial kernel of truth: The Web is not just a forum, a new method of communication; it amplifies raw emotions, passing rages, and their consequences.

Bieber’s mother is reportedly upset with him about the pictures. We don’t need to be angry with our kids, but we need to teach them that the rules they know to follow don’t magically disappear when they’re in front of a keyboard and a screen. We understand that these Beliebers on Twitter probably don’t truly feel murderous or suicidal; they’re indulging in adolescent exaggeration, and if we heard them say it we would probably hear it that way. But these kinds of remarks read very differently in print—you just can’t tell online. And remember that when 18-year-old Tyler Clementi killed himself last year, following a heartless prank, he left this message on Facebook: “jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”

Knowing the difference between real pain and teen exaggeration is key to monitoring our kids’ emotional lives in this digital age, and the only way to do that is to know your child. Be tuned in to her moods; talk to her about her music and her crushes. You want to understand how powerful her interest is, gauge how emotionally involved she is, and know when she’s suffering—even if the object of her affections is someone she’s never met. It’s not easy; not a lot of parenting in the 2.0 world is. But this is her life. You want to be there for her, even if it seems too silly to be serious. A broken heart is a broken heart, even on the Web.

THE FOLLOWING Comes from CAMPAIGN FOR A COMMERCIAL_FREE CHILDHOOD:

McDonald’s Happy Meal’s latest  toy giveaway for preschool boys features eight Marvel comic action figures.  One, The Human Torch, is a man engulfed in flames. Another, The Thing, menacingly roars “IT’S CLOBBERIN’ TIME!” at the press of a button.

Tell McDonald’s its toys are pressing your buttons:  “No time is clobberin’ time for  preschoolers.”

It’s bad enough that McDonald’s relentlessly uses junk toys to sell children on junk food.  It’s awful that this giveaway continues the troubling trend of fast food restaurants promoting toys linked to violent PG-13 movies. And it’s terrible that McDonald’s, the leading distributor of toys in the United States, relentlessly perpetuates the worst gendered stereotypes with its Happy Meal giveaways.  During the current promotion boys get violent action figures with their burgers and fries, while girls are offered cutesy animals that, bizarrely, come with handbags.

But now, for preschool boys, a so-called happy meal at McDonald’s features the horrifying spectacle of a man on fire and a menacing figure that explicitly spurs them to violence.

The fast food giant claims that “getting a toy is just one part of a fun, family experience at McDonald’s.”

If clobberin’ time is McDonald’s idea of family fun, it’s time to steer clear of the Golden Arches.

Tell McDonald’s: No Clobberin’ Time for Preschoolers.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood Reclaiming Childhood from Corporate Marketers

  • 40% of 3-month-old babies are regular viewers of screen media[1]
  • Preschoolers spend an average of 32 hours a week outside of classrooms engaged with screens?[2]
  • 36% of center-based child-care programs include TV, for an average of 1.2 hours a day
  • 70% of home-based child-care programs include TV for an average of 3.4 hours per day?[3]
  • Excessive screen time for children is linked to negative outcomes such as childhood obesity[4] and poor school performance?[5][6]

This week, we have an important opportunity to help reverse these troubling trends.

  • The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is updating its position statement on Technology and Young Children for the first time in 14 years and has issued a call for public comments.
  • Because NAEYC is the nation’s premier professional organization for early childhood educators, the statement will have a profound effect on young children’s media use both in and out of classrooms.

Today, CCFC sent a letter signed by 70 leading early childhood educators, pediatricians, and child development experts urging NAEYC to join the American Academy of Pediatrics and the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity in taking a strong stand for limiting screen time in the lives of young children.

  • The letter includes a list of research-based recommendations CCFC hopes the NAEYC will adopt, including that young children have little or no exposure to screen technologies in child-care, preschool or kindergarten settings.
  • You can read the CCFC letter here.
  • To submit your own thoughts or support CCFC’s recommendations, please visit http://www.naeyc.org/positionstatements/tech.
  • Be sure to indicate if you’re a NAEYC member, an early childhood educator, or a parent of a young child.  And feel free to use CCFC’s core recommendations as a basis for your comment.

CCFC urges NAEYC to:

Recommend that children have little or no exposure to screen technology in child-care, preschool, and kindergarten settings.

Expand the focus of its position statement to include children younger than 3 and recommend that child-care settings for infants and toddlers be completely screen free.

Endorse the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity of no screen time for children under the age of 2 and limited screen time for older children.

Review the research on children and technology with a critical eye, asking who funded it and whether any reported gains can also be achieved through hands-on experiences proven to be beneficial to children, without the potentially negative consequences associated with screen media.

We realize the comment process is a little more work than signing your name to a pre-written letter, but we hope you’ll take the time.  Reducing young children’s screen time is an important step toward a commercial-free childhood.

[1] Zimmerman, F., Christakis, D. & Meltzoff, A. (2007). Television and DVD/video viewing in children younger than 2 years. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 161(5), 473-479.
[2] The Nielsen Company (2009). TV viewing among kids at an eight-year high. Retrieved July 19, 2010 from http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/media_entertainment/tv-viewing-among-kids-at-an-eight-year-high/
[3] Christakis, D. (2009). Preschool-aged children’s television viewing in child care settings. Pediatrics, 124(6), 1627-1632.
[4] Jordan, A., Kramer-Golinkoff, E., & Strasburger V. (2008). Do the media cause obesity and eating disorders?Adolescent Medicine State of the Art Review, 19(3), 431- 449.
[5] Sharif, I. & Sargent, J. D. (1996). Association between television, movie, and video game exposure and school performance. Pediatrics, 118(4), 1061-1070.
[6] Shin, N. (2004). Exploring pathways from television to academic achievement in school age childen. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 165(4), 367-382.

May 29, 2010

‘Kate Plus 8′ – Kids on reality TV facing more scrutiny

For the past three years, viewers have watched the Gosselin children grow up on “John & Kate Plus 8″ on the Maryland-based cable channel TLC. Cameras rolled as they went on vacation, as they ripped opened Christmas presents and even as they got ready for bed.

But as the children return to television next week in a new series “Kate Plus 8,” the use of kids like the Gosselins in reality TV shows is coming under greater scrutiny from lawmakers and mental health experts. Psychiatrists and child advocates say the shows can invade a child’s privacy and confuse a child’s sense of identity.

Reflecting that concern, a state lawmaker plans to introduce a bill this week to strengthen child labor laws in Pennsylvania, where “Kate Plus Eight” is filmed.

“Kids in these kinds of shows are not having a childhood, and you don’t have to be a scientist to know what’s going to happen to some of them as they get older,” says Dr. Michael Brody, a Silver Spring psychiatrist and chairman of the Television and Media Committee of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. “It can be a real dissater for them.”

Pennsylvania state Rep. Thomas Murt, the Republican sponsor of the bill, says he got involved in the issue after seeing a documentary on former child stars. In April after receiving complaints from constituents about the filming of “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” Murt held hearings on Pennsylvania’s child labor laws to gauge how well they protect young performers.

“The hearing revealed some very, very serious concerns about this issue,” Murt says. “We discovered there were really no on-set advocates for child entertainers in Pennsylvania. The code as it stands doesn’t require that. Another thing the hearing revealed is that one of the reality programs had actually filmed children being toilet trained. … This was alarming, and something we thought should absolutely be prohibited.”

Beyond issues of privacy and boundaries, reality TV is seen as being potentially dangerous to young child performers because of the very way it manipulates their own realities.

“Just doing retakes, where they stage a scene and then reshoot it again because something went wrong, really screws up a kid’s sense of reality,” Brody says.

Murt says members of his committee were told of a staged scene in which the Gosselin children were told it was Christmas so that the producers could get film of “the children coming downstairs in their pajamas, opening presents” and looking excited.

“They had been told that it was Christmas, and they were filmed opening their presents — being excited, of course, as any innocent child would be,” he says. “And then they were told later on, well, no, it’s not really Christmas.

“You can’t behave normally with cameras and sound systems all around you,” says Paul Peterson, who played Donna Reed’s son in the popular 1960s family comedy “The Donna Reed Show” on ABC. Peterson now runs the California-based foundation A Minor Consideration, founded to provide support for current and former child performers.

“Cameras alter behavior. Just think back to what you felt like when your dad pulled out the Super 8 [home movie camera]. … Or imagine being an adolescent and just trying to fit in and then being confronted with an image of your potty training. You don’t control those images.”

Peterson says for him, the “core issue is consent.” As he sees it, “Children do not have the power to disobey — nor do they understand the full consequences of their participation.

In some cases, the consequences can shape the rest of their lives, as the obituary of child sitcom star Gary Coleman, who died Friday at 42, served to remind readers this weekend. Coleman said he tried to take his life twice with an overdose of sleeping pills.

TLC, the cable channel most heavily involved in showing reality TV programs featuring children, declined to be interviewed. But in an interview last year, TLC president Eileen O’Neill stressed the “opportunities” that being in the show offered the Gosselins — chances to travel and experience new adventures.

Annabelle McDonald, executive producer of WeTV’s “Raising Sextuplets,” says the most important factor for her is that Bryan and Jenny Masche, parents of the six children in the show, are in control.

“I am always checking in with them asking if everything is going OK,” McDonald says. “They have to be comfortable with everything — comfortable with us being there, comfortable with the people on the set.”

McDonald says she and the crew try to be “supersensitive to the needs of the kids,” shooting only one five-day week out of a month.

“We pace it so we’re not there all the time,” she says. “When we are there, it is their routine, and we’re just following it. … We try not to disrupt their routine. When it’s nap time, it’s nap time.

According to McDonald, the parents “see the show as a way to document their childhood — they love that it’s being documented.”

Child psychiatrist Dr. Jenna Saul-Kuntz says that any examination of childhood and the potential effects of media documentation of it should start with the Dionne quintuplets, five identical girls born in rural Canada in 1934.

“We have to take a look at what happened to those quintuplets, because I think it more accurately reflects what’s going on with these reality TV shows than what would be reflected even by child stars [in scripted series],” Saul-Kuntz says. “I say that because I think acting in a fake setting as a child star on TV is different from being in a reality TV setting where the cameras are always running [in the real setting of their lives].

Shortly after their birth in the pre-TV era, the Dionne girls were put on public display at a nursery, were photographed endlessly and became the models for best-selling dolls. Ultimately, they came to believe that the experience ruined their lives.

“Multiple births should not be confused with entertainment, nor should they be an opportunity to sell products,” the three surviving Dionne sisters wrote in an open letter published in 1997 in Time magazine. “We sincerely hope a lesson will be learned from examining how our lives were forever altered by our childhood experience.”

Murt believes we can learn from such examples, and can do better by the kids of reality TV.

“Reality TV is not 100 percent reality, let’s face it,” he says. “The producers know what kind of show they want to film, and they create it. And you know what? That’s not against the law. But my concern as a policy-maker is to make sure that the kids who participate are protected. … If we can get that, it’s a start.”

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

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