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


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


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

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 at

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:!/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 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:

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:–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 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.


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
  • 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
[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.”

What a phenomenal difference a few small changes have made for! With the help of Ryan Reagles, at MTN marketing in Sheboygan, the site is easier than ever to navigate, has updated checklists and disorders information, and blogs with RSS feeds!  A special thanks to Ryan for all he has done to teach me and help me provide a better online experience to patients and their families, other providers, and educators.

I welcome any feedback an input that is not SPAM!

Suicide Pact : Dr Saul and Dr Garbarino Testify

Issues of social immaturity and isolation, combined with romantic images from vampire novels, allegedly led a then-16-year-old boy to attempt suicide with a classmate, doctors testified Monday.

And, doctors concluded, the juvenile court system should be the venue to deal with the teen, who is facing an attempted murder charge in adult court for the alleged suicide pact.

“This is not a conventional crime,” said Dr. James Garbarino, a Loyola University professor who has written nearly two dozen books about child development, trauma and youth violence. Garbarino met with the teen in February, weeks before his 17th birthday.

“This is a mental health crisis that almost coincidentally involved criminal behavior,” Garbarino said. “Two troubled kids formed a suicide pact and were intent on implementing the plan, which was not directed at attacking people outside that little delusional system.”

Suicide pact

The boy was charged in December after reportedly telling police he and a 16-year-old girl made a mutual suicide pact. The boy led his father to the Hooker Lake boat launch, where the father found the girl bleeding Nov. 17 and called police.

“She said all I had to do was guide her hand,” the boy said, allegedly adding that he “took the knife and cut across her wrist. I then took the knife and cut my left wrist.” Both teens survived.

Under Wisconsin law, anyone over age 10 accused of a homicide-related offense can be charged automatically as an adult. But, as part of the reverse waiver process, the boy’s attorneys have the right to ask the court to consider hearing the case in juvenile court.

Juvenile court recommended

As part of a reverse waiver hearing that will continue in July, Garbarino testified Thursday that prosecuting the boy in adult court would not likely deter others and would not be in the boy’s best interests.

“This seems like such a, to use the term, no-brainer,” said Garbarino, who advocated for prosecuting the case in juvenile court. “It would be a travesty to do anything else.”

Dr. Jenna Saul, a child and adolescent psychiatrist from Wisconsin Rapids, echoed Garbarino’s conclusions. She also met with the boy in February.

In their testimony for the defense, both doctors described the boy as socially naive, young for his age and drawn in by the opportunity to love and be loved.

‘Utter infatuation’

Garbarino talked about the boy’s “utter infatuation” with the girl, as well as how taken the boy was with romantic vampire literature.

Saul said the boy spent his life trying to please others, even at the expense of disregarding himself, particularly after the girl said she could no longer bear the pain of living.

“He’s willing to do anything for other people,” Saul said. “So, he’s particularly vulnerable to being willing to be this self-sacrificing. … He wanted to help. He wanted to, in some way, take away the hurt for her. She came up with a solution: I need to die,” Saul said. “And he did not want her to have to die alone.”

Did not seek help

His pattern of not seeking help — from dealing with feelings about his parents’ separation to not asking for help after his special education services were withdrawn and his grades declined — also played a role.

Saul came to that conclusion after she asked the boy what he might have done differently, if he faced this situation again.

“His answer was he would have made sure he had met (the girl) when it was years before. … So, they could have been together, and she wouldn’t have had to suffer,” Saul said.

“It was astounding. He wasn’t asking for help. That wasn’t part of his repertoire, even after going through this.”

That indicated a need for mental health treatment, not incarceration, the doctors said.

The teen is out of jail on bond, under supervision from his parents.

Why Do Young Children Kill?

All states wrestle with how to protect society from children who kill while making sure they get the rehabilitation they need, and ensuring  justice for victims’ families.

The most effective rehabilitation comes from juvenile programs where young children receive therapy in a positive environment and behavioral interventions aimed at increasing empathy, self-management, and self-regulation.

In adult prison, the emphasis is on punishment. More vocational and academic programs have been added, but not every young adult prisoner takes advantage of them. Juveniles don’t do well in prison, and they certainly cannot be expected to benefit from being placed with adults with criminal thinking. Instead, in prison, they are placed in an environment where criminal thinking tends to be the social norm.

Nationally, 10 percent of all murders are committed by juveniles, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. That’s about 1,043 murders a

year. More younger children are committing increasingly violent crimes. The irony is younger children have a better chance of being rehabilitated because they stay under juvenile control longer, so that therapeutic interventions and supervision continues.Most of the time violent juveniles are transferred to adult court and tried as adults. If convicted, they remain in a juvenile detention center until they are 19, and then they are transferred to the adult prison to serve the remainder of their sentence. If one happens to be tried as a juvenile and is convicted, he serves his entire sentence in a juvenile detention center and is freed by the time he turns 19.

Experts say violent crime among  juveniles is down nationally. And when it happens, we know what treatments can be effective. What works is one-on-one and group therapy and empowering a child through academic and vocational classes. What doesn’t work is Scared Straight programs and boot camps. In fact, they actually have been shown to have negative effects.

Still, for many of these kids, their time in youth facilities is not long enough to reverse a lifetime of letdowns from the adults in their lives. Nationally, 40 percent of first-time offenders return to juvenile court.

Violence toward others peaks in adolescent years, but a violent adolescent doesn’t necessarily become a violent adult. Some two-thirds to three-

quarters of violent youths grow out of it and become more self-controlled. This, coupled with the efforts to rehabilitate in the juvenile justice system, is why some

ay trying children as adults is no benefit to society.

New York State will spend  $170 million this year on 21 juvenile facilities, employing more than 2,000 employees to oversee fewer than 700 children.

The facilities are disastrously mismanaged, and as many as 80 percent of the young men who serve time end up committing more crimes within a few years of their release.

Low-risk youths — those found guilty of crimes like shoplifting, trespassing and petty theft — should be sent to community-based programs that do a much better job of rehabilitation and are only $15, 000 per youth per year, instead of $220,000 per year in the state juvenile facilities.  For youth whose families can follow through on recommendations, multisystemic therapy is a less expensive and more efficient intervention. Multisystemic therapy keeps children in their family’s homes, in their communities.

Decades of research show that keeping young offenders locked up far from their families is a sure way of turning them into career criminals. Preliminary data collected by the New York City juvenile justice system suggests that recidivism for children handled through the city’s largest community-based program, Juvenile Justice Initiative, could be lower than 20 percent. This program provides intensive counseling and services to the family, to help parents better manage the child’s behavior.

The Juvenile Justice initiative, and similar nonprofit programs have helped the city cut the number of youths it sends upstate by more than 60 percent since 2002. These programs have reduced the number of children in state facilities  from more than 2,300 in 2000 to about 680 today.

Gladys Carrión, the commissioner of the state’s Office of Children and Family Services, has closed several unneeded facilities in the last three years, with a struggle. The politically powerful unions that represent juvenile facility workers are fighting to keep facilities open no matter what the cost to children or the state.

The unions succeeded in passing a law in 2006 that requires the state to give one year’s notice to workers before closing any juvenile facility. In January the state ordered the closure of the Tryon boys’ facility in upstate Fulton County. The facility — which gained national notoriety after a mentally ill 15-year-old boy died there in 2006 — has been empty of children since June. It still has a staff of 80 people working there and will only officially shut down in January 2012.

Juvenile Justice Priorities: Improving Access to Legal Services, Improving JJ Outcomes

Attorney General Eric Holder  Spoke at the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. ~ Monday, March 7, 2011

He noted that the Association of Counties, and the Department of Justice have common goals, of doing more and more to serve our citizens while resources diminish. He identified two specific priorities for the Justice Department:

“how we can improve the effectiveness of our juvenile justice system, and how we’re going to ensure that every American can access the legal services they need and deserve.”

He noted that “one of the most important lessons I learned as a federal prosecutor, as a judge, as a United States Attorney, as Deputy Attorney General, as Attorney General – and, above all, as a father of three children: that the work of protecting, assisting, and empowering our young people could not be more urgent.   “

He noted that:

  • The nation’s juvenile justice system is in need of change, that it doesn’t spend resources as wisely as it should, and does not improve as many lives as it could.
  • Although African-American youth make up 16 percent of the overall youth population, they make up more than half of the juvenile population arrested for committing a violent crime.
  • Abused and neglected children are 11 times more likely than their non-abused and non-neglected peers to be arrested for criminal behavior.
  • That so many of those who enter our juvenile justice system either can’t afford – or do not know to ask for – access to legal guidance.
  • Some youth even plead guilty to criminal offenses without the advice of a lawyer.
  • Even though many of those who are incarcerated enter the juvenile justice system for non-violent offences, they often emerge violent – or, at the very least – traumatized.
  • A scientific review of nine “Scared Straight” programs around the country showed that children ordered into these programs are nearly 30 percent more likely to offend than youths who are not.
  • In another study, 12 percent of the adjudicated youth in state-operated and large locally or privately operated juvenile facilities reported experiencing at least one incident of sexual victimization while incarcerated.

“A recent Utah Youth Suicide Study reported that young victims of suicide had nearly a seven in ten chance of an association with the juvenile justice system, calling us to question whether the current system is improving lives – or devastating them.”


  • Each year, 100,000 young people exit formal custody.   And some of them have nowhere to go.   Too many of these young people return to unstable homes – or end up in shelters, on the streets, or in other potentially dangerous, or violent, situations.   And many are not welcomed back to their community school and struggle to find educational opportunities.
  • Within a year of reentry, one study found that only 30 percent of previously incarcerated youth are involved in either school or work.   The unfortunate fact is that many end up in our jails and prisons.

Robert Kennedy believed that the link between justice and children could never be broken without compromising our founding ideals – and our most sacred principles.   He was right.

Mr. Holder noted that justice in the juvenile system is a moral issue that makes good fiscal sense:

  • “How we treat our children answers the question of who we are as a nation.”
  • “Better serving our young people makes good economic sense by keeping them out of over-stressed and under-funded corrections facilities and saving precious law enforcement resources.”

Mr. Holder advised that we

  • Broaden our approach to juvenile justice and ensure that sound research and respected analysis are a part of our decision-making process”.
  • Transition from a prosecution-and-punishment model to a prevention-and-intervention paradigm.  Adopt  a comprehensive plan of action that engages law-enforcement partners, medical professionals, social services providers, lawyers, parents, teachers, coaches, mentors, and community leaders.

Mr. Holder talked about the success of the Safe Start Program, and  the launch of the Defending Childhood Initiative – the federal government’s most comprehensive effort ever to address and overcome the crisis of childhood exposure to violence, that President Obama pledged $25 million to this initiative in his budget proposal.

Mr. Holder talked about alternatives to juvenile justice involvement for youths involved in minor offenses.

  • He mentioned specifically, the Civil Citations program in Miami-Dade County where youth who commit minor misdemeanors are  referred to targeted interventions aimed at reducing delinquent behavior and providing positive social outlets instead of arresting them and placing them in the juvenile justice system.  This program has reduced recidivism to 3 percent  and arrests by 30 percent for youth that participate in the program.

In addition to his emphasis on intervention and prevention over punishment, Mr. Holder also addressed the failure of our justice system to provide juveniles (as well as adults) with access to legal services.

According to The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s Survey of Youth in Residential Placement :

  • Only one half of young people in detention facilities have a lawyer.
  • In many jurisdictions, youth are encouraged – whether explicitly or implicitly – to waive their right to counsel.
  • When juveniles assert their right to have a lawyer, court-appointed lawyers often enter the picture too late.
  • Across the country, too many public defender officers are underfunded and understaffed

Mr. Holder discussed his Department’s new Access to Justice Initiative:

  • An office established in an effort to ensure that quality legal representation is available, affordable, and accessible to all Americans.
  • Includes an agenda to help counties face the “impossible choice between funding critical health and human services or upholding core Constitutional rights.”

The  Office of Justice Programs is also working to implement solutions for indigent defense and juvenile justice reform by:

  • Establishing the Indigent Defense Hiring Project
  • Working with the National Juvenile Defender Center to establish a National Fellowship Program for law school graduates to become public defenders for three years.