Join our mailing list!

Divorced, deceased parents linked to kids' smoking and drinking

Posted: Mon, 10/17/2016 - 09:49
By Susan Scutti, CNN
Children who experience the loss of a parent are more likely to smoke and drink by age 11, a study finds
Boys are more likely than girls to drink and smoke by age 11, regardless of their family circumstance
(CNN)We know that parents have a profound influence on their child's life, and increasingly, scientific research is connecting the dots between attention or neglect and behavior.
Children who experience the loss of a father or mother early in life are more likely to smoke and drink before they hit their teens, a new study of English families found. This association between parental absence and risky behavior in childhood occurred no matter whether the cause was death, separation or divorce.
In fact, preteens with an absent parent were more than twice as likely to smoke and drink, the researchers discovered. They defined parental absence as the loss of a biological parent before a child reached age 7.
"We know from previous research that people may take up risky health behaviors as a coping strategy or as a form of self-medication, to help them cope with stressful situations," noted Rebecca Lacey, an author of the study and a senior research associate at University College London.
Possible evidence of the link between parental absence and behavior comes from an unlikely source from across the pond: President Obama.
In a new MTV documentary, "Prescription for Change: Ending America's Opioid Crisis," Obama reveals his past drug use: "When I was a teenager, I used drugs, I drank, I pretty much tried whatever was out there, but I was in Hawaii, and it was a pretty relaxed place. I was lucky that I did not get addicted except to cigarettes, which took me a long time to kick."
Notably, Obama's parents divorced around his 3rd birthday, within the parental absence time frame defined by Lacey and her colleagues.
Based on her findings, Lacey says, early life assistance provided to children with an absent parent may help prevent substance use, which might set a pattern and lead to poor fitness later in life.
"Health behaviors established earlier in life are known to track into adulthood," Lacey and her co-authors wrote in their study, published Monday in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.
Thousands of children studied over time
The research team examined data from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, which records health data for thousands of children born between 2000 and 2002. Among the goals of the study is to collect information on fathers' involvement in children's care and development. After a first survey of the children at 9 months old, surveys collected information for each child at ages 3, 5, 7 and 11 years old.
Overall, the researchers examined the records of nearly 11,000 children. Of these thousands of children, more than a quarter had experienced the absence of a biological parent by age 7.
During their age-11 survey, the children were asked whether they had ever smoked cigarettes or drunk alcohol. Those who had tried booze also answered whether they'd had enough to feel drunk.
Today's teen troubles: Sex, drugs and texting on the go
How today's teens are putting themselves at risk
The results to the smoking question would soothe the nerves of most parents: The overwhelming majority of preteens said they had not smoked. However, 11-year-old boys were more likely than girls to have tried cigarettes: 3.6% versus 1.9%.
Drinking was much more common among the 11-year-olds. Here again, the boys outnumbered the girls, with one in seven boys reporting that they'd tried alcohol, compared with one in 10 of the girls. Of the preteens who tried drinking, nearly twice as many boys (12%) said they'd had enough to feel drunk, compared with slightly less than 7% of the girls.
Lacey and her colleagues calculated that preteens who had experienced parental absence before the age of 7 were more than twice as likely to have taken up smoking and 46% more likely to have started drinking.
Although the boys were more likely to have reported smoking or drinking, they weren't any more likely than girls to have reported smoking or drinking as a consequence of parental absence, explained Lacey.
Is death more significant than divorce?
One interesting datapoint in the study showed that kids whose parent had died were less likely to have tried alcohol by the age of 11; however, those who had tried it were more than 12 times as likely to get drunk than kids with absent parents due to separation or divorce.
"We need to be a little bit cautious about overinterpreting this result," Lacey said, since the sample population contained very few children who had experienced parental death.
Join the conversation
See the latest news and share your comments with CNN Health on Facebook and Twitter.
Overall, Lacey and her colleagues believe that a range of factors -- including less parental supervision and unhealthy coping mechanisms on the part of the kids -- may contribute to the association between parental absence and risk behaviors.
Mitch Prinstein, a professor and the director of clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, believes the study covers "an extraordinarily important topic."
"The rate of health risk behaviors like smoking and consumption of alcohol is a serious concern, not just in the UK but in many nations, especially here in the US," said Prinstein, who was not an author of the study. Prinstein added that anything to help us understand which kids are at risk at the earliest age "deserves our attention."
Other adults can make a difference
Though it's "exciting," Prinstein noted that the study had one weakness in that the researchers could not control for factors such as parental depression or physical illness. As a result, no one can say whether a parent's absence was the cause of a child's risky behavior or whether other factors, such as a parent's depression, might have played a more direct role.
"All studies have limitations, of course, so this is not to suggest this (research) is not an important contribution," he said, adding that previous research suggests parental neglect can be a factor leading to risky behavior in children. Though the study focuses on children in the UK, Prinstein also believes the results "might not be culturally bound" and so probably apply to American families.
Father figures, in your corner
Father figures in your corner
Still, Prinstein cautions against misinterpreting the results since past studies revealed that "aunts, uncles, grandparents, coaches, members of the neighborhood community can serve a very important role for kids."
Someone who is not in the "formal role of a parent" can still have a "dramatic" and positive influence in the life of a child, he said, and they may even help a child resist peers who have begun to experiment with substances.
Prinstein concluded, "I would hate for anyone to feel stigmatized that what they're providing for a child is not OK if they are offering that child access to other adults, like grandparents and aunts and uncles -- because we know that is very helpful."

Why school should start later in the day

Posted: Tue, 09/20/2016 - 14:00

Rise and shine

Lisa L. Lewis

Each fall, groggy teenagers resign themselves to another year of fighting their body clocks so they can get to class on time. It’s well known that teens who don’t get at least eight hours of sleep a night face a slew of problems. That’s why both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control recommend shifting middle- and high-school start times to 8:30 a.m. or later. Yet during the 2011-12 school year — the most recent statistics available — only 17.7 % of the nation’s public middle, high and combined schools met the 8:30 a.m. guideline, and nearly 40% started before 8 a.m. In California, the average start time was 8:07 a.m.

Many districts are reluctant to change their schedules because they see the shift as too expensive and disruptive. But that’s short-sighted. In the long run, a later start could actually save schools money — and benefit society at large.

Later start times can mean less missed school — absences dropped 15% in Bonneville County, Idaho, after it instituted such a change, according to a 2014 Children’s National Medical Center report. In states such as California where state funding for schools is tied to attendance, it follows that later start times could translate into extra dollars. Megan Reilly, chief financial officer for the Los Angeles Unified School District, has estimated that boosting attendance by just 1% districtwide would bring in an additional $40 million per year.

Repeated studies also show that when the school day starts later and teens get more sleep, both grades and standardized test scores go up. A Colby College economist, Finley Edwards, found that a one-hour delay in start time increased math test and reading test scores by three percentile points. Even more striking, the lowest-scoring students showed the biggest jumps.

Compared to other strategies for boosting performance, delaying the start of the school day is easy and efficient. Teny M. Shapiro, an economist at Santa Clara University, estimates that a one-hour change produces the same benefit as shrinking class size by one-third or replacing a teacher in the 50th percentile of effectiveness with one in the 84th percentile.

Another potential problem schools commonly raise is that later start times would lead to kids missing classes at the end of the day in order to attend sporting events, or that athletic participation rates would decline. There may be something to these concerns; but on the other hand, there’s reason to believe more sleep would result in fewer student injuries — and, in turn, fewer missed hours in class and on the field.

Student athletes who get enough sleep are far less likely to get injured. In a 2012 study of Los Angeles middle- and high-school athletes, researchers found that getting less than eight hours of sleep was the strongest predictor of injury. Two-thirds of the athletes who didn’t meet this threshold got injured.

Another study, in North Carolina, showed that more than a quarter of injured high-school athletes missed at least one week of playing time. While less than 20% of the injuries required emergency room treatment, according to the North Carolina study, the costs were still significant: the researchers found that even the minor injuries added up to nearly $1 million a year in medical costs.

But sleepy teens aren’t just a problem in school. When they get behind the wheel, they contribute to what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calls the “extreme danger” of drowsy driving, which has an estimated annual societal cost of $109 billion. “Teens and young adults are involved in more than half of all drowsy driving crashes annually,” notes Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Assn. Beyond the obvious safety concerns, there’s a corresponding hike in car insurance premiums, with a 2013 study by finding that Californians’ rates jump an average of 62% after just one claim.

Again, later school start times have been shown to improve the situation. In Lexington, Ky., teen car crashes for 17- and 18-year-olds dropped 16.5% in the two years following a start-time shift; during the same period, the accident rate for this age group increased 7.8% elsewhere in the state.

As if all of this weren’t enough, teens who don’t get enough sleep are more at risk for drug and alcohol use, depression and suicide. The title of a 2014 report in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence says it all: “Sleepless in Fairfax: The Difference One More Hour of Sleep Can Make for Teen Hopelessness, Suicidal Ideation, and Substance Use.”

In the first half of the 20th century, school started later. Districts implemented early starts for efficiency and cost-cutting reasons; tiered bus systems, for instance, led to staggered start times for elementary, middle and high schools — with high schools starting first. At the time, the risks of teen sleep deprivation were not widely known. Schools don’t have that excuse anymore.

If schools go ahead and shift their start times, they may have to change bus schedules or alter team practice schedules. But that’s nothing in comparison to what they’d gain.

Lisa L. Lewis lives in Redlands, where high school starts at 7:30 a.m. Her last piece for the Los Angeles Times was on school lockdowns.


Are you raising nice kids? A Harvard psychologist gives 5 ways to raise them to be kind

Posted: Tue, 08/09/2016 - 15:28



5 strategies to raise moral, kind children


Play Video2:02
Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist with the graduate school of education, and the Making Caring Common Project have come up with recommendations about how to raise children to become caring, respectful and responsible adults. (The Washington Post)

Earlier this year, I wrote about teaching empathy, and whether you are a parent who does so. The idea behind it is from Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist with the graduate school of education, who runs the Making Caring Common project, aimed to help teach kids to be kind.

I know, you’d think they are or that parents are teaching that themselves, right? Not so, according to a new study released by the group. (Chat with Weissbourd here.)

About 80 percent of the youth in the study said their parents were more concerned with their achievement or happiness than whether they cared for others. The interviewees were also three times more likely to agree that “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”

Weissbourd and his cohorts have come up with recommendations about how to raise children to become caring, respectful and responsible adults. Why is this important? Because if we want our children to be moral people, we have to, well, raise them that way.

“Children are not born simply good or bad and we should never give up on them. They need adults who will help them become caring, respectful, and responsible for their communities at every stage of their childhood,” the researchers write.

The five strategies to raise moral, caring children, according to Making Caring Common:

1. Make caring for others a priority 

Why? Parents tend to prioritize their children’s happiness and achievements over their children’s concern for others. But children need to learn to balance their needs with the needs of others, whether it’s passing the ball to a teammate or deciding to stand up for friend who is being bullied.
How? Children need to hear from parents that caring for others is a top priority. A big part of that is holding children to high ethical expectations, such as honoring their commitments, even if it makes them unhappy. For example, before kids quit a sports team, band, or a friendship, we should ask them to consider their obligations to the group or the friend and encourage them to work out problems before quitting.
Try this
• Instead of saying to your kids: “The most important thing is that you’re happy,” say “The most important thing is that you’re kind.”
• Make sure that your older children always address others respectfully, even when they’re tired, distracted, or angry.
• Emphasize caring when you interact with other key adults in your children’s lives. For example, ask teachers whether your children are good community members at school.

2. Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude
Why? It’s never too late to become a good person, but it won’t happen on its own. Children need to practice caring for others and expressing gratitude for those who care for them and contribute to others’ lives. Studies show that people who are in the habit of expressing gratitude are more likely to be helpful, generous, compassionate, and forgiving—and they’re also more likely to be happy and healthy.
How? Learning to be caring is like learning to play a sport or an instrument. Daily repetition—whether it’s a helping a friend with homework, pitching in around the house, or having a classroom job—make caring second nature and develop and hone youth’s caregiving capacities. Learning gratitude similarly involves regularly practicing it.
Try this
• Don’t reward your child for every act of helpfulness, such as clearing the dinner table. We should expect our kids to help around the house, with siblings, and with neighbors and only reward uncommon acts of kindness.
• Talk to your child about caring and uncaring acts they see on television and about acts of justice and injustice they might witness or hear about in the news.
• Make gratitude a daily ritual at dinnertime, bedtime, in the car, or on the subway. Express thanks for those who contribute to us and others in large and small ways.

3. Expand your child’s circle of concern.
Why? Almost all children care about a small circle of their families and friends. Our challenge is help our children learn to care about someone outside that circle, such as the new kid in class, someone who doesn’t speak their language, the school custodian, or someone who lives in a distant country.
How? Children need to learn to zoom in, by listening closely and attending to those in their immediate circle, and to zoom out, by taking in the big picture and considering the many perspectives of the people they interact with daily, including those who are vulnerable. They also need to consider how their
decisions, such as quitting a sports team or a band, can ripple out and harm various members of their communities. Especially in our more global world, children need to develop concern for people who live in very different cultures and communities than their own.
Try this
• Make sure your children are friendly and grateful with all the people in their daily lives, such as a bus driver or a waitress.
• Encourage children to care for those who are vulnerable. Give children some simple ideas for stepping into the “caring and courage zone,” like comforting a classmate who was teased.
• Use a newspaper or TV story to encourage your child to think about hardships faced by children in another country.

4. Be a strong moral role model and mentor.
Why? Children learn ethical values by watching the actions of adults they respect. They also learn values by thinking through ethical dilemmas with adults, e.g. “Should I invite a new neighbor to my birthday party when my best friend doesn’t like her?”
How? Being a moral role model and mentor means that we need to practice honesty, fairness, and caring ourselves. But it doesn’t mean being perfect all the time. For our children to respect and trust us, we need to acknowledge our mistakes and flaws. We also need to respect children’s thinking and listen
to their perspectives, demonstrating to them how we want them to engage others.
Try this:
• Model caring for others by doing community service at least once a month. Even better, do this service with your child.
• Give your child an ethical dilemma at dinner or ask your child about dilemmas they’ve faced.

5. Guide children in managing destructive feelings
Why? Often the ability to care for others is overwhelmed by anger, shame, envy, or other negative feelings.
How? We need to teach children that all feelings are okay, but some ways of dealing with them are not helpful. Children need our help learning to cope with these feelings in productive ways.
Try this
Here’s a simple way to teach your kids to calm down: ask your child to stop, take a deep breath through the nose and exhale through the mouth, and count to five. Practice when your child is calm. Then, when you see her getting upset, remind her about the steps and do them with her. After a while she’ll start to do it on her own so that she can express her feelings in a helpful and appropriate way.


3 Simple Ways to Keep Kids Safe in Summer Crowds

Posted: Thu, 07/14/2016 - 16:36



PHOTO: Children take part in a race at the Bournemouth Marathon Festival in Dorset, England, Oct. 3, 2015.Alamy

WATCH Keeping Your Kids Safe in Large Crowds

Amusement parks, fireworks displays and beaches are all part of summer fun. They're also full of crowds. Keeping track of the kids can be challenging so here are three simple ideas for keeping the kids safe in crowds this summer:

1. Liquid Band Aid -- no need to save it for bruises and cuts. Simply write your phone number on your child's arm, for example, and cover it with liquid band aid to keep it from rubbing off. That way if your child gets separated from you, a good Samaritan can reach you easily and quickly. Cost: $7.

2. Glow Sticks -- The kids will love them, and they're an easy way to spot your kids once the sun goes down. Necklaces, bracelet or both -- a simple and fun way to spot your kids easily in the dark. Cost: $10 for 50 on Amazon.

3. Bright-colored clothing -- It's been common wisdom to put bright clothes on the kids, but it's something adults should be doing too. Your child will be able to spot you more quickly in a crowd if you're wearing a neon green T-shirt rather than a white tank top. Be sure to play the "What am I Wearing" game before you leave the house -- this goes for all family members. And if you can, snap a photo before leaving. Hopefully it'll only be used for fond memories, but just in case someone looking for your child needs a description, you'll have a same-day snap to share. Cost: Free.


5-decade study reveals fallout from spanking kids

Posted: Thu, 05/19/2016 - 12:06



Spanking a child leads to bad behaviors, not the better manners some parents may think a smack on the bottom will elicit, a new study suggests.

Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan analyzed 75 studies involving more than 150,000 children that spanned 50 years.

"This is a wide swath of children and the findings are incredibly consistent," study author Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff told CBS News. "This shows there is a correlation between spanking and negative outcomes and absolutely no correlation between spanking and positive outcomes."

Spanking doesn't make kids behave better right away and it leads to worse behavior in the long run, said Gershoff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin. And spanked kids are more likely to be aggressive and antisocial.

"The irony is that many parents spank when their kids are aggressive. So the child thinks you can use spanking to get what you want - kids learn that," she said.

Even though some may think spanking is an antiquated parenting technique at this point in time - over the past decade or two, parenting books have touted a gentler, kinder parenting technique involving positive reinforcement - Gershoff said spanking still goes on in lots of households.

"There's research showing that by the time most kids get to high school, at least 85 percent have been spanked. So, most kids are being spanked," said Gershoff.

They may not be spanked as often as, say, their parents' generation was paddled, "or with objects," said Gershoff, but spanking is alive and well.

Dr. David Pollack, a pediatrician with several of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's primary care locations in the Philadelphia area, told CBS News he even witnesses parents spank. "I may, on rare occasion, actually see it happen in my office, where most parents are trying to be on their best behaviors."

The episodes trigger family discussion about discipline alternatives, he said.

Some people spank because they were spanked - it's passed down from generation to generation, Gershoff said. Others may do it because their religious background suggests it's okay.

"To make ourselves feel better about it, we use spanking as a euphemism, but it's still hitting. There's no way to define spanking without using the word hitting," said Gershoff.

The study, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, looked specifically at spanking alone versus lumping in all forms of physical punishment.

"Our analysis focuses on what most Americans would recognize as spanking and not on potentially abusive behaviors," explained Gershoff.

They defined spanking as an open-handed hit on the behind or extremities, and reported that it was linked with 13 out of 17 outcomes -- all negative -- including defying parents, acting aggressive, and exhibiting mental health problems and cognitive difficulties.

The healthy approach is to discipline and to emphasize the positive, said Gershoff. "It's not one single technique. It's a host of behaviors parents should do. They involve the relationship between a parent and child and rewarding the child when they do the right thing."

She said, "People think if you don't spank you're a pushover, but you can be a firm parent with high expectations for children. You don't have to hit them to show you have power."

CHOP's Pollack said, "Discipline is derived from the word 'disciple' or teacher, and our goal is to teach kids right from wrong, to have them always engage with others in a positive and productive way, to live by the golden rule."

Parents should be role models, he said. They should behave as they would wish their kids to behave.

"Our society is becoming increasingly violent and angry; we should try to do everything possible to minimize that culture around our children," he said.