Posts Tagged ‘ violence ’

Violence at Home Can Cause Kids Future Health Problems

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Children who witness violence at home, including a parent’s incarceration, physical abuse, or violent death may develop a genetic “marker” that puts them at higher risk of developing a range of health problems later in life.  Obesity, heart disease, and diabetes may be more likely to develop, along with psychological issues like depression and anxiety, according to new research published in the journal Pediatrics.  More from The Wall Street Journal:

The study’s lead author, Tulane professor Stacy Drury, took a closer look at a genetic marker that’s been linked with negative health outcomes later in life: the length of a person’s telomeres.

Telomeres are DNA elements that cap the ends of chromosomes, and they become shorter when cells divide and age. But shorter telomere lengths have also been associated with stress-related diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

The study surveyed and tested the DNA of 80 kids between the ages of 5 and 15 in New Orleans; those who had experienced more family-related violence at home were found to have shorter telomeres.

“The more adverse childhood events you have when you’re little, the greater the risk of pretty much any health condition when you get older,” Drury said in an interview. “That’s a biological type of scar that happens when you’re a kid.”

The new research adds to a growing body of information about the physical as well as emotional effects of violence on children–although at least one study has found that today’s kids are exposed to less violent crime than they were a decade ago.

Image: Sad boy, via Shutterstock

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‘Slenderman’ Stabbing a Worrying Tale for Parents

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Parents who are following the story of two 12-year-old girls who allegedly stabbed a friend multiple times in an attempt to please a fictitious  character named Slenderman are wrestling with questions about when kids learn to separate fantasy from reality, and how parents can keep track of their children’s online activities.  More from CNN.com:

Police said the girls told them they attacked their friend on Saturday to win favor with Slenderman, a make-believe online character the girls said they learned about on a site called Creepypasta Wiki, which is filled with horror stories.

Children of all ages are consumed with fantasy in books and movies such as “Harry Potter, “Twilight” and “The Vampire Diaries,” and don’t seem to have a problem making the distinction between what’s real and what’s not. But a story like this makes any parent wonder: Whoa, maybe my kid doesn’t get it?

Mary Ellen Cavanagh of Ahwatukee, Arizona, mom to an almost 14-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son, said she sees the line between fantasy and reality “thinning drastically among our youth.”

“I worry about it with my own daughter and her friends,” Cavanagh said on Facebook, adding that her daughter and her friends enjoy relatively innocent fantasy shows on television and online. Still, she worries that their “obsession” could shift to a “more violent genre at any moment.”

“I think today’s generation has been desensitized by the various forms of media, and we as parents (myself included) have done a piss-poor job giving them proper guidance,” Cavanagh said.

Professor Jacqueline Woolley of the University of Texas at Austin’s department of psychology studies children’s thinking and their ability to make distinctions between fantasy and reality.

She has found that by the age of 2½, children understand the categories of what’s real and what’s not, and over time, they use cues to fit things like unicorns, ghosts and Santa Claus into the real and not real boxes.

By age 12, the age of the girls in question in this case, Woolley said, she believes children should have as good an ability to differentiate fantasy from reality as adults.

“I don’t think that a 12-year-old is deficient or is qualitatively different from an adult in their ability to differentiate fantasy from reality, so I don’t think they’re lacking any basic ability to make that distinction at age 12,” she said.

Woolley did suggest, adding that she was purely speculating, that the fact that the frontal lobe of the brain is not fully developed until age 25 could be relevant in this case. The frontal lobe controls what’s called executive functions, which include impulse control and planning in the sense of anticipating all the different aspects of an outcome.

“It may be kind of an inability to hold the potential consequences and reality in mind at the same time as you’re holding potential consequences within your fantasy world in mind, whereas possibly an adult could sort of manage thinking about the consequences of both of those worlds at the same time,” she said.

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Setting Limits on Technology
Setting Limits on Technology
Setting Limits on Technology

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Kids Exposed to Less Violence, Study Finds

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Despite ongoing concerns about a violent culture and its affect on America’s youth, a new study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics has found that kids today may actually be exposed to less violent crime today than a decade ago.  More from Time.com:

Mass shootings and severe cyberbullying cases have peppered the news over the past few years, suggesting that as a species, we’re getting more brutal, not less. But many researchers agree this is a common misconception. In actuality, violence is on the decline, and a new study published today in the journal JAMA Pediatrics finds that kids’ exposure to violence in particular has dropped significantly.

The researchers analyzed surveys of over 10,000 kids and caregivers in 2003, 2008 and 2011, and found that nationwide there were major drops in assaults involving weapons and injuries; assaults by peers and siblings; physical and emotional bullying; and sexual victimization. While acknowledging that it’s possible the children surveyed were not all entirely forthcoming — for kids under 10, the parent stayed on the phone during the conversation; the rest were passed the phone by a parent — researchers think that overall, respondents told the truth about their exposure to violence. “We probably have an undercount,” says study author David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center. “But the important thing for studying trends is that we have no reason to think that the undercounting is responsible for any of the trend findings.”

And the new results are consistent with other evidence that shows child maltreatment is dropping. The National Crime Victimization Survey, considered the nation’s premier source of information on criminal victimization, shows kids’ exposure to violent crime has fallen since 2008. Sexual abuse is also down, as are police reports of crime and homicide.

The researchers of the JAMA Pediatrics study have a few theories as to why. One is that the dissemination of violence prevention and intervention strategies, like school programs targeting bullying and dating violence, has been effective. Another, perhaps more surprising theory, is that the growing use of psychiatric medication among youth and adults has tamped down their aggression. And of course, there’s a theory that increased use of technology has resulted in less face-to-face violent confrontations.

There’s some contradictory evidence, though, too — for instance the data showing a rise in hospital-treated abusive-head-trauma cases from 2007 to 2009, and evidence that real-life bullying is still more prevalent than cyberbullying. “Claims by the media and researchers that cyberbullying has increased dramatically … are largely exaggerated,” researcher Dan Olweus, a psychologist at the University of Bergen, Norway, said in a statement.

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Violent TV, Video Game Viewing Linked to Gene

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Children who engage in a lot of violent video game play and television viewing may be driven by genetics, according to new research conducted with Dutch children and published in the Journal of Communication.

The parents noted how much violent TV programming their children, aged 5-9, viewed, as well as how often they played violent video games. DNA samples collected at the children’s birth were then analyzed to determine whether they have a certain gene variant. The researchers found that children who had the specific variation of the serotonin-transporter gene on average consumed more violent media and displayed more ADHD-related behavior than those who did not have the genetic marker.

The researchers noted that the link is subtle, and other factors, chiefly the parenting environment children are growing up in, may be at play.  However, other research has found links between genetic factors and the overall amount of media children are likely to consume.  And this new study is the first to isolate the type of media–violent content–being consumed in light of genetic factors.  So the scientists called for further research.

“Our results indicate that children’s violent media use is partly influenced by genetic factors. This could mean that children with this gene variant are more likely to seek out stimulating activities, such as violent television viewing and video game playing,” said [researcher Sanne] Nikkelen in a statement. “It is important to study the relationship between media use and ADHD-related behaviors because children who show increased ADHD-related behaviors often face peer and academic difficulties and are at increased risk for substance abuse. Examining factors that may contribute to the development of these behaviors is essential.”

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Obama Administration: End ‘Zero Tolerance’ School Policies

Friday, January 10th, 2014

“Zero tolerance” policies in schools, while well-intentioned, are often ineffective and overly zealous, and they create a school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately affects minority students, the Obama administration said this week in a set of new guidelines.  The guidelines urge schools to abandon “zero tolerance” policies in favor of alternate methods of deescalating classroom conflicts before they become violent and dangerous.  More from PBS.org:

The wide-ranging series of guidelines issued Wednesday in essence tells schools that they must adhere to the principle of fairness and equity in student discipline or face strong action if they don’t. The American Civil Liberties Union called the recommendations “ground-breaking.”

“A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal’s office, not in a police precinct,” Attorney General Eric Holder said.

Holder said the problem often stems from well intentioned “zero-tolerance” policies that too often inject the criminal justice system into the resolution of problems. Zero-tolerance policies, a tool that became popular in the 1990s, often spell out uniform and swift punishment for offenses such as truancy, smoking or carrying a weapon. Violators can lose classroom time or become saddled with a criminal record.

Police have become a more common presence in American schools since the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999.

The administration said research suggests the racial disparities in how students are disciplined are not explained by more frequent or more serious misbehavior by students of color.

“In our investigations, we have found cases where African-American students were disciplined more harshly and more frequently because of their race than similarly situated white students,” the Justice and Education departments said in a letter to school districts. “In short, racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem.”

Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of the School Superintendents Association, acknowledged that students of color were being suspended and expelled in disproportionate numbers.

In American schools, black students without disabilities were more than three times as likely as whites to be expelled or suspended, according to government civil rights data collection from 2011-2012. Although black students made up 15 percent of students in the data collection, they made up more than a third of students suspended once, 44 percent of those suspended more than once and more than a third of students expelled.

More than half of students involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement were Hispanic or black, according to the data.

Domenech said his organization will work to educate members about the recommendations. “Superintendents recognize that out-of-school suspension is outdated and not in line with 21st-century education,” he said.

Image: Prison bars, via Shutterstock

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