Wednesday, April 30th, 2014
A growing number of young survivors of genocides in Rwanda and other nations are connecting as “artificial families” as a way to cope with and process all they’ve been through. CNN has more:
On a grassy knoll behind an office block, Jean Claude Nkusi is giving his 24 children a talking to. “Study hard everyone,” he says. “If you work hard you can improve your life and make it better.”
This isn’t your typical family. Nkusi is 23. None of his “children” share his DNA. In fact, the only thing linking them is that they’re all genocide survivors — ethnic Rwandan Tutsis who lost their families in the 1994 violence that killed 800,000 people.
Creating “artificial families” to help young genocide survivors cope is the brainchild of an organization called the Association for Student Genocide Survivors (AERG). Originally founded by 12 University of Rwanda students in 1996, they’ve expanded to 43,397 university and high school students from across the tiny east-central African country today.
AERG initially creates families from members based on the secondary school or university they attend, after which the newly-formed family meet to democratically elect a willing father and mother from among their ranks. Though they don’t all live together, they do help each other out financially and attempt to pool their resources.
In the University of Rwanda’s College of Education alone there are 21 such families, with hundreds more being set up across the country.
“(We) Rwandans, we used to have big families but during the genocide many people were killed,” says Daniel Tuyizere, AERG’s second vice coordinator at the University of Rwanda.
“To fight against that, we have to build artificial families so that we can go back to the way we were,” he adds. “That’s why you can find a father with 25 children — it’s because of that, it’s because of history.”
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Monday, March 31st, 2014
A study 42 years in the making found more than it was searching for, data reveals. Researchers set out to record the cognitive abilities of low-income children starting from infancy. One group was given full-time day care, meals, and stimulating activities while the other group was given nothing besides baby formula. And while the study organizers were expecting to connect children’s intellect with financial hardships (which they did), they also observed a relationship between those hardships and the overall health of the kids as they entered adulthood. More from The New York Times:
In 1972, researchers in North Carolina started following two groups of babies from poor families. In the first group, the children were given full-time day care up to age 5 that included most of their daily meals, talking, games and other stimulating activities. The other group, aside from baby formula, got nothing. The scientists were testing whether the special treatment would lead to better cognitive abilities in the long run.
Forty-two years later, the researchers found something that they had not expected to see: The group that got care was far healthier, with sharply lower rates of high blood pressure and obesity, and higher levels of so-called good cholesterol.
The study, which was published in the journal Science on Thursday, is part of a growing body of scientific evidence that hardship in early childhood has lifelong health implications. But it goes further than outlining the problem, offering evidence that a particular policy might prevent it.
“This tells us that adversity matters and it does affect adult health,” said James Heckman, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago who led the data analysis. “But it also shows us that we can do something about it, that poverty is not just a hopeless condition.”
The findings come amid a political push by the Obama administration for government-funded preschool for 4-year-olds. But a growing number of experts, Professor Heckman among them, say they believe that more effective public programs would start far earlier — in infancy, for example, because that is when many of the skills needed to take control of one’s life and become a successful adult are acquired.
The study in Science drew its data from the Carolina Abecedarian Project, in which about 100 infants from low-income families in North Carolina were followed from early infancy to their mid-30s. The project is well known in the world of social science because of its design: The infants were randomly assigned to one group or the other, allowing researchers to isolate the effects of the program. Such designs are the gold standard in medical research, but are rarely used in investigations that influence domestic social policy.
The researchers had already answered their original question about cognitive development: whether the treated children would, for example, be less likely to fail in school. The answer was yes. Over all, the participants’ abilities as infants were about the same, but by age 3 they had diverged. By age 30, those in the group given special care were four times as likely to have graduated from college.
“Forty years ago, it was all about cognition,” Professor Heckman said. “But it turned out that when you expand these capabilities — not only cognitive but social and emotional — one of the effects is better health. Nobody thought about that at the time.”…
What can you expect from your growing toddler? Take our Toddler Nutrition Quiz to find out!
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Thursday, March 20th, 2014
Kids who get a large amount of screen time–that is, time in front of television, video game, tablet, or other portable electronic devices–may be more likely to report poorer levels of overall well-being, and higher levels of family dysfunction than kids who get less screen time, according to a new study conducted by Australian researchers. Reuters reports:
Based on data for more than 3600 children in eight European countries, researchers found that family functioning and emotional wellbeing were especially linked to changes in the amount of time kids spent in front of screens.
The study’s lead author said they can’t say what factors may be behind the associations. “We really need to do a little bit more digging in this area before we can answer some of the basic questions,” Trina Hinkley told Reuters Health.
Hinkley is a research fellow at the Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research at Deakin University in Melbourne….
….For the new study, researchers from the Identification and Prevention of Dietary- and Lifestyle-Induced Health Effects in Children and Infants Consortium analyzed data on kids who were between two and six years of age when they entered the study between September 2007 and June 2008.
At that time, the parents completed questionnaires about their children’s media use and wellbeing – including the child’s emotional and peer problems, self-esteem and family and social functioning. Parents answered another questionnaire two years later.
Overall, the researchers found that for social and peer-related measures, screen time had no effect. But for each additional hour or so of screen time parents reported, a child’s risk of emotional and family problems rose up to two-fold.
“We found that family functioning and emotional problems did seem to have some association with electronic media, but the others didn’t show any association at all,” Hinkley said.
Linda Pagani, who was not involved in the new study but has researched screen time among children, cautioned that there may be other explanations behind some of the results. “It could be that families who used screen time more were families who weren’t functioning that well to begin with,” she said.
Recent research has also linked screen time with childhood weight gain, and suggested that screen usage during meals may have negative effects on family relationships.
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Tuesday, January 28th, 2014
Young children who have close relationships with older siblings may have an easier time developing good vocabularies. This is only one way in which healthy sibling relationships may help influence the development of younger siblings, according to new research published in the journal Pediatrics. More from Reuters:
How older children interact with their siblings is tied to the younger children’s development, Canadian researchers found.
“The idea is that here is this effect of being in a large family where you don’t get that many resources, but if you get an older sibling that’s really attuned to your needs that would be a modifying effect,” Jennifer Jenkins told Reuters Health.
Jenkins is the study’s senior author and the Atkinson Chair of Early Child Development and Education at the University of Toronto.
Previous research had found that children from large families tend to score lower on vocabulary, IQ and other academic tests, compared to those from smaller families.
“That’s been pretty well examined that the larger the family, the less good the child’s skill in language and IQ,” Jenkins said. “It’s really thought of as a resource dilution.”
For example, if a couple has a second child, the attention they spent on their first child will then be split among both kids.
She cautioned that whatever effect a large family may have on a child is small, however.
To see whether an older sibling can possibly fill in for some of that diluted attention, the researchers used data from an existing trial that included families from Toronto with 385 young children who had a sibling at least four years older.
Mothers and older siblings were scored on how they interacted with the younger child.
For example, the researchers scored whether the older sibling or mother were sensitive to the younger sibling’s abilities and gave positive feedback.
The younger sibling’s vocabulary was also tested by having the child point to an object’s picture after its named was said out loud.
The researchers found that children with many siblings tended to score lower on the vocabulary test, compared to those who had smaller families.
Children from large families whose older siblings scored higher during the interaction, however, tended to score higher on the test than those whose older brother or sister scored lower during the interaction.
The association between an older sibling’s so-called cognitive sensitivity and the younger child’s score remained strong even when the researchers also accounted for traits that might have influenced the results, such as gender and age.
While the overall association may be small, Jenkins said many traits that are associated with similar cognitive delays are of a similar size.
“It’s multiple and multiple accumulating influences,” she said. “I think all of these small influences are worth paying attention to.”
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Wednesday, November 27th, 2013
The American family is more diverse than ever–even compared to the changing landscape of the past few years with a rise in same-sex marriages, adoptions, and trans-racial families–according to researchers who follow census data on family structure. More from The New York Times:
“This churning, this turnover in our intimate partnerships is creating complex families on a scale we’ve not seen before,” said Andrew J. Cherlin, a professor of public policy at Johns Hopkins University. “It’s a mistake to think this is the endpoint of enormous change. We are still very much in the midst of it.”
Yet for all the restless shape-shifting of the American family, researchers who comb through census, survey and historical data and conduct field studies of ordinary home life have identified a number of key emerging themes.
Families, they say, are becoming more socially egalitarian over all, even as economic disparities widen. Families are more ethnically, racially, religiously and stylistically diverse than half a generation ago — than even half a year ago.
In increasing numbers, blacks marry whites, atheists marry Baptists, men marry men and women women, Democrats marry Republicans and start talk shows. Good friends join forces as part of the “voluntary kin” movement, sharing medical directives, wills, even adopting one another legally.
Single people live alone and proudly consider themselves families of one — more generous and civic-minded than so-called “greedy marrieds.”
“There are really good studies showing that single people are more likely than married couples to be in touch with friends, neighbors, siblings and parents,” said Bella DePaulo, author of “Singled Out” and a visiting professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
But that doesn’t mean they’ll be single forever. “There are not just more types of families and living arrangements than there used to be,” said Stephanie Coontz, author of the coming book “Intimate Revolutions,” and a social historian at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. “Most people will move through several different types over the course of their lives.”
At the same time, the old-fashioned family plan of stably married parents residing with their children remains a source of considerable power in America — but one that is increasingly seen as out of reach to all but the educated elite.
“We’re seeing a class divide not only between the haves and the have-nots, but between the I do’s and the I do nots,” Dr. Coontz said. Those who are enjoying the perks of a good marriage “wouldn’t stand for any other kind,” she said, while those who would benefit most from marital stability “are the ones least likely to have the resources to sustain it.”
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