The debate circulates periodically in the parenting world – is it better to be an only child, or to grow up with siblings? Research findings will be cherry picked to support whatever position is endorsed. Personal experience will be cited. But as someone who has observed families – lots of families, all across the country – in many settings (research and clinical), I have a very simple answer to the question of which is better:
Now, of course there are plenty of unique features to being an only child, or being a sibling. But there is so much variation out there it seems absurd to me to claim that, structurally, being an only child versus having siblings is inherently preferable. And I’m not inclined to be swayed by trends in certain studies that point to small statistical effects. Only children are not “spoiled” unless a parent spoils them. There are plenty of “spoiled” children who have siblings. Growing up with a sibling can set a platform for the most intimate and long-lasting relationship a person may have. Then again, there are siblings who can’t stand each other. Some kids who don’t have siblings wish they did – and others grow up fine without one. Come up with any scenario and you can find someone who fits the profile – and someone who doesn’t.
Let’s face it, what really mattes is how a child is brought up – whether there is only one, or more than one, child in a household.
Raising an only child has unique demands. Raising more than one child does as well. But in either case, there’s either good parenting, or not so good parenting – or put another way, a healthy family climate or one that is problematic. That’s the big effect you will see in the data that will tell you plenty about a child – and what kind of person they become.
Plus: Are you ready for another child? Take our quiz and find out!
Sesame Street Lessons: Brothers and Sisters
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Early diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) offers the promise of early intervention – with the premise being the earlier, the better. New research suggests that we may be on the horizon of finding signs of ASD in the first 6 months of life. Here’s the breakdown of why this study – which examined attention to eyes in infants as a predictor of a diagnosis of ASD in toddlerhood – is so important.
Why Is This Study Design Powerful? This study – which builds on substantial prior research on eye contact in ASD – uses a powerful longitudinal design to search for the early signs of ASD in infants, including some at high risk (babies of older siblings with ASD). These design features give confidence in the results – the sampling frame goes from early infancy through the typical age of first diagnosis of ASD, and the high-risk component ensures enough cases to draw meaningful conclusions. And the construct of interest – attention to eyes – has been well-studied, is theoretically grounded, and can be measured with precision.
Why Are The Findings Provocative? Two reasons. First, while ASD (or the risk, or liability, to develop ASD) is assumed to be present at birth, early signs of ASD have been elusive. This study offers hope that by detecting a lack of attention to eyes in the first 6 months of life may offer one potentially powerful screen for risk for ASD. But there’s more. An especially novel finding is that infants later diagnosed with ASD started out in life attending to eyes – but that that ability declined over time. This may eventually be a clue in terms of underlying brain mechanisms – and it also suggests that if these fundamental mechanisms are “in tact” at birth and then decline, perhaps there is even more room for change with very early intervention. Either way, a strong signal of risk in the first 6 months of life may be translated – perhaps rapidly – into very early intervention strategies.
What’s The Take-Home Message? Parents have been encouraged to be mindful of some of the signals of risk for ASD in the early years – including 7 early signs of ASD. Although this study has not yet led to formal recommendations for parents, it does suggest how important face-to-face interaction is during infancy – and also highlights that parents should be vigilant about seeing how their baby reacts when eye contact is expected. The way a baby looks at the human face changes a lot over the first year in life – but the constant is that they spend a lot of time looking at it. The suggesting from this new research is that babies at risk for ASD show a decrease in their interest in the face during infancy. If this is happening, it is certainly worth bringing to the attention of a pediatrician, who will be positioned to look for other developmental milestones and indicators.
What’s The Future? Research studies are especially influential if they give a glimpse into the future. Here the hope is that a screening protocol can be developed to route infants into very early intervention – a developmental time that may hold promise for a lot of plasticity and response to intervention. Bear in mind that some of the most exciting findings to date about intervention – based on application of the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) – demonstrated that one of the results of intensive intervention is changing the brain response to the human face, with normative patterns of brain activity achieved in some cases. Starting that process in infancy might lead to even more effective intervention programs for ASD.
Video Showing Early Signs of Autism
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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.
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The new guidelines on screen time offered by the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) take as a premise that media use is “dominant” in kids’ lives. A new report issued by Common Sense Media provides detailed survey data which certainly supports this claim. Vicky Rideout, who directed the research, suggests that we are seeing an extraordinary growth in media use in general over the past two years – driven in particular by mobile devices. Consider some of these key findings as reported by Common Sense Media:
• In 2013, 75% of kids have access to mobile devices at home, up from 52%.
• Smartphones are still the most common device (63%, up from 41%), but tablet ownership is 5 times higher (8% to 40%).
• The number of kids who’ve used mobile devices has nearly doubled (38% to 72%); and average daily use of mobile devices has tripled, from 5 to 15 minutes a day.
• As many little babies and one-year-olds have used smartphones or tablets today as all kids under eight had done just two years ago (38%).
So what can we learn from these data – and what can parents do to make sure they are providing good guidance for their kids? Caroline Knorr, Parenting Editor at Common Sense Media, shared these insights and suggestions:
The report shows that families love mobile devices. There has been a five-fold increase in ownership of tablet devices since 2011. That means choosing high-quality, age-appropriate apps is more important than ever. Don’t treat app downloads as an impulse purchase – do your research to find the best ones that will really engage your kids in learning, thinking, and other skills. Common Sense Media offers reviews and ratings for parents – and while there are tons of apps in the app store, only a handful earn Common Sense Media’s four and five star ratings.Here’s a link to our Preschool Prep app reccommended list:
Kids really love mobile devices. Almost twice as many children have used mobile media compared to two years ago. That means it’s easier for parents to enjoy media WITH their kids — anywhere they are — instead of plopping them down in front of a stationary computer and not knowing what they’re doing. Take advantage of mobile device’s flexibility in allowing positive media experiences to happen with your kids where ever you happen to be. But along with that there’s a responsibility to make sure that kids aren’t OVER-using screens (and that you aren’t relying on devices as a babysitter, say in the car or in restaurants). Remember to balance kids’ days with a variety of experiences that promote healthy development. Allow them to develop the skills to self-soothe, be patient, and not have to be entertained 24/7. Here’s a link to Learn to Read apps:
TV is still king and families love to “time-shift.” Kids love TV – in fact, it is the dominant delivery system for educational content. Take advantage of “time-shifting” functions like your DVR, On Demand, and even streaming shows. Dig through the vast amount of offerings to find entertaining, educational shows – including all of the older shows you may have enjoyed as a kid and are offered by a lot of these services. These allow parents to make quality choices mindfully – rather than just letting one TV show flow into the next – and expose kids to a wider variety of content. They also allow you to reduce kids’ exposure to commercials. Here’s a link to classic streaming TV shows: http://www.commonsensemedia.org/tv-lists/classic-streaming-tv-shows
Overall, parents should really think hard about these data, and develop a systematic approach to monitoring and structuring their kids’ screen time. Resources like Common Sense Media can offer a variety of tools to support that.
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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.
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