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Friday, December 6th, 2013
As we mark the one year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting, it is a salient time to consider the substantial public health challenges that were raised by that tragedy – and that still remain. Three are most prominent.
School safety is an ever-present concern. Although no school can eliminate the potential for a tragedy, strides are being made at many schools across the country to put into place practices and technologies to keep children as safe as possible. It has been suggested that 90% of school systems have made some type of concrete change to improve school safety in response to the Sandy Hook tragedy. Lock down drills have become a reality for children, practiced with the regularity and acceptance of a fire drill. Teachers and administrators are trained to know how to react in the event of an attack and how to best try to secure the safety of their students.
Some schools have video surveillance systems in place that are monitored for potentially suspicious activity. Schools may have changed their policies concerning entry at different times of the day. And at some schools there is a police presence or security guards in place. Yet these types of changes will undoubtedly need to be evaluated, and potentially evolve over time. It does appear, however, that that sad and startling day at Sandy Hook Elementary promoted a nearly universal awareness that no school can be assumed to be safe – and that every school needs to take a comprehensive approach to trying to best ensure their students’ safety.
Gun control – always a polarizing topic – remains a hotly contested issue in the aftermath of Sandy Hook. There have been some actions to promote gun control in some states, and some reactions to ensure gun owner’s rights in other states. As the swinging pendulum of gun control plays out across the country – evidenced by the current swirl of debate surrounding how access to firearms should be regulated – what remains most clear is that we are no where close to coming up with a focused effort to reduce the likelihood of someone with a gun entering a school and killing children and adults. Most influential – and sobering and inspiring – has been the efforts of Sandy Hook parents to promote a ‘cultural change campaign’ to properly orient our attention on violence prevention, particularly gun violence aimed at our children. It is hoped that this effort will inspire a change in our collective mindset that will do away with the philosophical rhetoric about the pros and cons of gun control and gun rights and focus instead on ways to prevent gun violence from permeating our schools.
Mental health remains another core public health issue that has been illuminated by the Sandy Hook massacre. We have yet to get a good handle – at the most public level – on the burdens faced by those with mental illness, the importance of properly recognizing and treating those who suffer, and the myths and realities about the risk posed to society by some individuals. What can be stated with confidence is that despite the substantial progress made over the last few decades in the identification and treatment of mental illness, we simply need much more support for research and intervention.
This unfortunately comes at a time when our national finances are such that research funding has been cut dramatically over the last few years. We just witnessed a government shutdown that kept scientists away from doing their work. Deciphering the inner workings of the brain, the effects of genes on development, and the impact of a multitude of environmental factors that convey risk for mental illness is a task of extraordinary complexity. Bringing sustainable, evidence-based interventions to those in the population who need them is a daunting undertaking. Until we grasp how important this effort is, and embrace how much financial support it will take, we may find ourselves wondering and debating if a future shooting could have been prevented via advances in knowledge and practice.
Although these three public health challenges remain, it is good to know that they are at least not being dismissed or are fading away. We may eventually look back on that horrific day at Sandy Hook Elementary as a turning point and catalyst for making real and sustainable progress in our efforts to keep children safe in school.
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Sandy Hook via Shutterstock.com
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Joe Biden Answers Your Gun Safety Questions
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Thursday, October 31st, 2013
Many proponents of the arts have contended that participation in childhood has many benefits which extend past the arts. A new study by researchers at Michigan State University adds to this argument by providing evidence that arts and crafts in childhood promote innovation in adulthood, particularly as an entrepreneur.
The researchers studied the professional trajectories of students majoring in STEM (science, technology, education, math) between 1990 and 1995. These graduates were much more likely than the average adult to participate in a wide variety of arts in childhood, including music and visual arts. Furthermore, childhood exposure to specific areas – such as photography – was predictive of future innovation (e.g., obtaining a patent). And persistence mattered – those who had sustained experiences in the arts were more innovative as measured by a number of indicators (e.g., patents, businesses created, professional publications).
While cause and effect is always slippery in these types of studies, it’s becoming clear that the processes that are encouraged in the arts in childhood – what the research team refers to as “out of the box” thinking skills that pull on imagination and creation – carry over to many different fields. So as we debate the utility of emphasizing (or even preserving) the arts in childhood, it continues to be important to remember that the arts promote what we most want for our kids – innovation and success.
Art Projects via Shutterstock.com
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Monday, October 28th, 2013
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued new guidelines on kids’ screen time – some of which will become incorporated in the well-child visit with a pediatrician. Here’s a breakdown of the key things to know:
Why Issue New Guidelines Now? It’s been over a decade since the AAP issued formal guidelines – so the current “2-hour” limit on screen time is quite dated. As noted in the AAP report, media use is a “dominant” force in kids lives. School-age kids may be spending 8 or more hours looking at a screen – teens might spend close to 11 hours a day. Some of this is productive time, some of it should be avoided. Thus, new guidelines are offered to help parents regulate screen time and give their kids a platform for making good choices to use screen time wisely.
What Are The Two Key Issues For Parents? Pediatricians will be counseled to ask parents two questions during well visits:
- How much recreational screen time does your child or teenager consume daily?
- Is there a television set or Internet-connected device in the child’s bedroom?
Let’s start with “recreational screen time.” It’s acknowledged that kids now use screen time for a variety of purposes – including educational ones. So rather than have an arbitrary number of total “screen time” hours as a guideline, the purpose here is to regulate and limit recreational time. Here the less than 2 hour rule will apply, which is more than reasonable. Kids need to spend time doing other things – like moving their bodies. Trying to cap recreational screen time is realistic and sensible.
The issue of screen time in a kid’s bedroom follows the same principle. Clearly some kids are doing homework in their room and will be using a computer. The point here is to develop some consistent and good practices – especially establishing a rule for turning off the electronics well before bedtime. Using technology is not a good way for kids to unwind and prepare for sleep – and we know that many kids do not get enough sleep. So while having screens in bedrooms – especially with mobile devices – may be common (though not necessarily endorsed), using them right up to bedtime should not be a common practice.
What About Babies? The AAP still does not love the idea of babies staring at screens. Nearly any professional who studies babies will tell you that they need to look at faces, hear voices, and interact with people a lot. This is not going to happen if parents are preoccupied with their mobile device while baby plays with a tablet. So the bottom line is to discourage (not ban) screen time for babies – specifically kids under 2 years of age. It may be added as a corollary that interactive time with baby is more than highly encouraged.
How Do You Make All This Happen? Pediatricians will suggest making a family home use plan for all media, keeping these recommendations in mind. This is a very solid idea, given how much time many of us spend with technology, especially mobile devices that become omnipresent. It will be important to come up with a realistic and enforceable plan for your family and your kids that considers the when and where and how of screen time – including a plan for becoming familiar with and monitoring the content of what your kids are watching. Having some type of plan – and these sensible suggestions to follow – can help parents proactively manage screen time at a time when it is, indeed, “dominant” in our society.
What career will your kiddo have? Take our quiz and find out! Plus, check out our 10 favorite apps for preschoolers.
Baby With Laptop via Shutterstock.com
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American Academy of Pediatrics, babies and technology, Health, iPad, Kids Health, mobile devices, screen time for kids, teens and technology, TV | Categories:
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Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013
I can’t decide – have we become desensitized to school shootings?
Yes, the recent school shooting in Nevada certainly received its share of coverage. And it will continue to do so. But the story is staying the same:
- There’s a kid in school with a gun
- Kids got shot
- A hero teacher dies
- The shooter dies
Schools have certainly improved security across the country. School personnel have been trained to respond to a shooter. Law enforcement officials are trained to respond very quickly and decisively. These are all necessary steps forward.
But … we still hear about a kid in school with a gun. We are still reacting to a kid in school with a gun. It’s time we start trying to really figure out how kids are getting their hands on guns in the first place – and really do something about that.
Because the unfortunate reality is that we are going to hear again, much sooner than we would want to, about a kid in school with a gun, in a town where no one thought that would ever happen.
Pistol Gun and Bullets via Shutterstock.com
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Thursday, October 17th, 2013
What do Chuck Todd (NBC) and Larry Page (Google) have in common? They are both successful – and they are both musicians. This point was made by Joanne Lipman – co-author of “Strings Attached: One Tough Teacher and the Gift of Great Expectations” – in an Op-Ed for the New York Times. She provides a nice summary of the role that music played in the lives of a number of very successful people.
While these stories may seem anecdotal, the argument is that they are not coincidental. Lipman highlights a number of skills that music can cultivate. Some that resonate with me include:
- Creatively focusing on right now and what’s next: musicians have to hit their notes in the moment and know what’s coming up next and be prepared to hit – and perhaps create – the notes that will follow
- Collaborating on a bigger goal: if you are playing together you need to figure out how you all sound good together. Even when the Beatles stopped getting along personally they could make their songs sound fabulous
- Creatively fusing ideas: music involves sounds and timing and feeling and the synergistic merger that takes raw elements and creates something that’s more than the sum of the parts (not to mention the connection with lyrics and dance to name a few others)
- Seeing the result of effort: you continue to play music, you get better at it – a very tangible life lesson
These are just some of the benefits. There is a long-standing interest in the links between music and math – some of which have been confirmed by research. This is an area waiting to emerge, as I anticipate seeing in the future breakthrough research that illuminates in greater detail the underlying neurodevelopmental processes that connect music and math.
While many school districts consider cutting music because of budgetary constraints, there is accumulating evidence that music matters more than we might think during childhood. Whether you read stories about how music played an important role in the childhood of many people’s lives, or look at pictures of how key brain areas light up when processing music, it’s hard to not see the primary role of music. As Keith Richards pointed out in his autobiography Life, we all follow the rhythm of the beat of the heart. Turns out that that beat connects in many fundamental ways with the workings of the brain.
Find fun, educational musical instruments at Shop Parents. Or find out how your kid’s talents may become her future career.
Australian Stamp Featuring Keith Richards via Shutterstock.com
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