Wednesday, December 4th, 2013
American teenagers are continuing to slip in the rankings of high school achievement internationally, according to the results of the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). Americans were found to be roughly average in science and reading, but below the international average in math. NBC News has more:
Vietnam, which had its students take part in the exam for the first time, had a higher average score in math and science than the United States. Students in Shanghai — China’s largest city with upwards of 20 million people — ranked best in the world, according to the test results. Students in East Asian countries and provinces came out on top, nabbing seven of the top 10 places across all three subjects.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan characterized the flat scores as a “picture of educational stagnation.”
“We must invest in early education, raise academic standards, make college affordable, and do more to recruit and retain top-notch educators,” Duncan said.
Roughly half a million students in 65 nations and educational systems representing 80 percent of the global economy took part in the 2012 edition of PISA, which is coordinated by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD.
The numbers are even more sobering when compared among only the 34 OECD countries. The United States ranked 26th in math — trailing nations such as the Slovakia, Portugal and Russia.
The exam, which has been administered every three years to 15-year-olds, is designed to gauge how students use the material they have learned inside and outside the classroom to solve problems.
U.S. scores on the PISA have stayed relatively flat since testing began in 2000. And meanwhile, students in countries like Ireland and Poland have demonstrated marked improvement — even surpassing U.S. students, according to the results.
Top Talkers: Teenagers are making no progress on international achievement exams, the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment results show. Jon Meacham, Julie Pace and Mike Barnicle discuss.
“It’s hard to get excited about standing still while others around you are improving, so I don’t want to be too positive,” Jack Buckley, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, told the Associated Press.
Image: Students taking a test, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, November 27th, 2013
Parents, particularly the parents of teenagers, are not as aware and vocal about the dangerous effects of prolonged exposure to loud music, according to a new study conducted by researchers at Penn State University. As a result, teens are at elevated risk of long-term hearing problems. More from Reuters:
One in eight American kids and teenagers – or more than 5 million – has a type of hearing loss that usually stems from overexposure to loud noises, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Parents can help prevent much of that hearing loss, the researchers said.
For the new study, they collected Internet survey responses from more than 700 parents of teenage children.
Almost 70 percent of the parents had not spoken with their child about noise exposure, mainly because they thought the actual risk of hearing damage was low.
But almost an equal number reported being willing to limit time listening to music and access to other excessively noisy situations to protect their teenager’s hearing, according to results published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.
On the whole, parents seemed willing to take steps to protect their kids, but often underestimated the risks of too much loud music.
“I think it just means that we have work to do in terms of raising awareness,” Sekhar said.
More educated parents and those with younger teens were most likely to be willing to take precautions with their kids, like limiting music time, limiting access to noisy situations or insisting on protective measures like earplugs.
Image: Teenager listening to loud music, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, November 14th, 2013
Children who experience traumatic events including health problems in the family, family structure like divorce or inconsistent caregiving, or physical or emotional abuse are more likely to struggle with their weight when they become teenagers, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics. More from Reuters:
“I felt like I was seeing a lot of children who had experienced stress early in their lives later gain weight pretty rapidly” Dr. Julie Lumeng at the University of Michigan Medical School told Reuters Health.
“There has been quite a bit of research looking at stress in the lives of adults leading to weight gain, but it has not been studied as much in children,” said Lumeng, who led the new study.
“We did this particular study because it looked at simply ‘events’ that had occurred in children’s lives and then asked mothers to rate the events in terms of how much of an impact they had,” Lumeng said.
The researchers used data from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development.
The mothers of 848 children enrolled in the study completed surveys when their children were 4, 9 and 11 years old. They were asked if any of 71 different life events had occurred during the previous year, and they rated the impact of the event on a scale from -3 (extremely negative) to zero (no effect) to +3 (extremely positive).
Four categories of negative life events were studied: health problems in the family; work, school or financial stability; emotional aspects of family relationships; and family structure, routine and caregiving.
The kids’ height and weight were measured at age 15. Teens with a BMI above the 85th percentile for age and gender based on CDC growth charts were defined as being overweight.
Of the 848 children, 260 were considered overweight and 488 were not. Thirty percent of the overweight children had experienced a significant number of negative life events, compared to 22 percent of the non-overweight children.
Experiencing many negative life events was tied to a nearly 50 percent higher risk of being overweight, versus no negative events.
The associations were strongest for negative events related to family physical or mental health, among children of obese mothers and among children who waited longer for food, the researchers report in the journal Pediatrics.
Image: Overweight teen, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, November 13th, 2013
Teenagers–especially heterosexual teens–who are either bullied or who are both bullies and victims of bullying are more likely to exhibit risky sexual behaviors, a new Boston University study has found. More from Reuters:
“Some previous research has found that aggression and sexual risk-taking are related, so it was not entirely surprising that bullies and bully-victims reported more sexual risk-taking than their peers,” Melissa K. Holt said.
What’s more, some research has found that kids and teens cope with being bullied by using drugs or alcohol, for instance. Acting out sexually may be another way young people respond to bullying, Holt told Reuters Health.
She led the research at the Boston University School of Education.
The study included almost 9,000 high school students from 24 schools who completed a survey about bullying and sexual behavior. “Risky sex” was defined as casual sex and sex while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
About 80 percent of the students said they had not bullied other kids or been bullied themselves.
Seven percent of those teens reported ever having casual sex with someone they had just met or didn’t know very well. And 12 percent said they had had sex under the influence.
The numbers were similar for students who said they had been bullied, but hadn’t bullied others.
But among the six percent of kids who claimed to have acted as bullies, one quarter had engaged in casual sex and just over a third said they’d had sex while drunk or high.
Another six percent of students said they had both acted as bullies and been the victims of bulling. Of those teens, 20 percent had had casual sex and 23 percent reported having sex under the influence.
The researchers accounted for other childhood experiences that might lead to sexual risk-taking, but the link to bullying remained.
Image: Bully, via Shutterstock
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Child Health, New Research, Parenting News
Friday, October 18th, 2013
Even though parents teach children to consider others’ feelings and be kind starting in toddlerhood, the most important cognitive skills associated with empathy are still developing well into adolescence–later for boys than girls, according to a new six-year study published in the journal Developmental Psychology. More from The Wall Street Journal:
In adolescence, critical social skills that are needed to feel concern for other people and understand how they think are undergoing major changes. Adolescence has long been known as prime time for developing cognitive skills for self-control, or executive function.
“Cognitive empathy,” or the mental ability to take others’ perspective, begins rising steadily in girls at age 13, according to a six-year study published recently in Developmental Psychology. But boys don’t begin until age 15 to show gains in perspective-taking, which helps in problem-solving and avoiding conflict.
Adolescent males actually show a temporary decline, between ages 13 and 16, in a related skill—affective empathy, or the ability to recognize and respond to others’ feelings, according to the study, co-authored by Jolien van der Graaff, a doctoral candidate in the Research Centre Adolescent Development at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Fortunately, the boys’ sensitivity recovers in the late teens. Girls’ affective empathy remains relatively high and stable through adolescence.
The riptides are often noticeable to parents. Susan Burkinshaw has tried to cultivate empathy in her two teenage sons, 16 and 18, since they were toddlers, encouraging them to think about others’ feelings. Yet one “went through a period in eighth grade where he was just a bear to deal with. He always had an attitude,” says Ms. Burkinshaw, of Germantown, Md. “Then as quickly as it came on, it turned back off again.”
The findings reflect a major expansion in researchers’ understanding of cognitive growth during adolescence, according to a 2012 research review co-authored by Ronald Dahl, a professor of public health at the University of California at Berkeley. Researchers used to believe that both forms of empathy were fully formed during childhood.
Now, it’s clear that “the brain regions that support social cognition, which helps us understand and interact with others successfully, continue to change dramatically” in the teens, says Jennifer Pfeifer, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Preliminary research in her lab also suggests cognitive empathy rises in teens. The discoveries serve as a new lens for exploring such teen behaviors as bullying and drug abuse.
Image: Teen friends, via Shutterstock
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