Category Archives: At home

Just don’t be a helicopter parent

We’ve seen before that being a tiger mom is not a good idea. But being a helicopter parent isn’t a good idea neither. A new study suggests that children with overcontrolling parents may later struggle to adjust in school and social environments.

From the press release:

“Our research showed that children with helicopter parents may be less able to deal with the challenging demands of growing up, especially with navigating the complex school environment,” said Nicole B. Perry, PhD, from the University of Minnesota, and lead author of the study. “Children who cannot regulate their emotions and behavior effectively are more likely to act out in the classroom, to have a harder time making friends and to struggle in school.”

Children rely on caregivers for guidance and understanding of their emotions. They need parents who are sensitive to their needs, who recognize when they are capable of managing a situation and who will guide them when emotional situations become too challenging. This helps children develop the ability to handle challenging situations on their own as they grow up, and leads to better mental and physical health, healthier social relationships and academic success. Managing emotions and behavior are fundamental skills that all children need to learn and overcontrolling parenting can limits those opportunities, according to Perry.

The researchers followed the same 422 children over the course of eight years and assessed them at ages 2, 5 and 10, as part of a study of social and emotional development. Children in the study were predominantly white and African-American and from economically diverse backgrounds. Data were collected from observations of parent-child interactions, teacher-reported responses and self-reports from the 10-year-olds.

During the observations, the research team asked the parents and children to play as they would at home.

“Helicopter parenting behavior we saw included parents constantly guiding their child by telling him or her what to play with, how to play with a toy, how to clean up after playtime and being too strict or demanding,” said Perry. “The kids reacted in a variety of ways. Some became defiant, others were apathetic and some showed frustration.”

Overcontrolling parenting when a child was 2 was associated with poorer emotional and behavioral regulation at age 5, the researchers found. Conversely, the greater a child’s emotional regulation at age 5, the less likely he or she was to have emotional problems and the more likely he or she was to have better social skills and be more productive in school at age 10. Similarly, by age 10, children with better impulse control were less likely to experience emotional and social problems and were more likely to do better in school.

“Children who developed the ability to effectively calm themselves during distressing situations and to conduct themselves appropriately had an easier time adjusting to the increasingly difficult demands of preadolescent school environments,” said Perry. “Our findings underscore the importance of educating often well-intentioned parents about supporting children’s autonomy with handling emotional challenges.”

Perry suggested that parents can help their children learn to control their emotions and behavior by talking with them about how to understand their feelings and by explaining what behaviors may result from feeling certain emotions, as well as the consequences of different responses. Then parents can help their children identify positive coping strategies, like deep breathing, listening to music, coloring or retreating to a quiet space.

“Parents can also set good examples for their children by using positive coping strategies to manage their own emotions and behavior when upset,” said Perry.

Abstract of the study:

We examined longitudinal associations across an 8-year time span between overcontrolling parenting during toddlerhood, self-regulation during early childhood, and social, emotional, and academic adjustment in preadolescence (N 422). Overcontrolling parenting, emotion regulation (ER), and inhibitory control (IC) were observed in the laboratory; preadolescent adjustment was teacher-reported and child self-reported. Results from path analysis indicated that overcontrolling parenting at age 2 was associated negatively with ER and IC at age 5, which, in turn, were associated with more child-reported emotional and school problems, fewer teacher-reported social skills, and less teacher-reported academic productivity at age 10. These effects held even when controlling for prior levels of adjustment at age 5, suggesting that ER and IC in early childhood may be associated with increases and decreases in social, emotional, and academic functioning from childhood to preadolescence. Finally, indirect effects from overcontrolling parenting at age 2 to preadolescent outcomes at age 10 were significant, both through IC and ER at age 5. These results support the notion that parenting during toddlerhood is associated with child adjustment into adolescence through its relation with early developing self-regulatory skills.

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What can parents do to stimulate the IQ of their children?

The saved-you-a-click answer: not that much, but do read on.

This week there was the news of the drop of the average IQ aka the reverse Flynn-effect. The big insight of this new study was that this isn’t probably due to genetics, but rather due to the environment. So, if the environment can affect this IQ – besides the obvious genetic element – what can we do as a parent? This new study tries to answer this question by looking at children that were adopted to control for genetic confounding, but the answer is sobering: parenting has a marginal and inconsistent influence on offspring IQ.

So if we combine the insights of both studies we learn:

  • the environment is important related to the Flynn-effect and
  • family and parenting characteristics are not significant contributors to variation in IQ scores.

Well, than we have to look further to education, media, …

Abstract of the study:

The association between family/parenting and offspring IQ remains the matter of debate because of threats related to genetic confounding. The current study is designed to shed some light on this association by examining the influence of parenting influences on adolescent and young adult IQ scores. To do so, a nationally representative sample of youth is analyzed along with a sample of adoptees. The sample of adoptees is able to more fully control for genetic confounding. The results of the study revealed that there is only a marginal and inconsistent influence of parenting on offspring IQ in adolescence and young adulthood. These weak associations were detected in both the nationally representative sample and the adoptee subsample. Sensitivity analyses that focused only on monozygotic twins also revealed no consistent associations between parenting/family measures and verbal intelligence. Taken together, the results of these statistical models indicate that family and parenting characteristics are not significant contributors to variation in IQ scores. The implications of this study are discussed in relation to research examining the effects of family/parenting on offspring IQ scores.

 

 

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The indirect consequences of urban violence on learning

Be warned, this could be a depressing read as this new study suggests that children who attend school with many kids from violent neighborhoods can earn significantly lower test scores than peers with classmates from safer areas. You read it correctly, even if those kids themselves aren’t living in these violent neighborhoods. But do be warned, I can sum several possible explanations for this correlation. And no, giving up on children is not, I repeat, not an option.

From the press release:

Children who attend school with many kids from violent neighborhoods can earn significantly lower test scores than peers with classmates from safer areas, according to a new Johns Hopkins University study.

In schools where more kids have a high exposure to violence, the study found, their classmates score as much as 10 percent lower on annual standardized math and reading tests. The findings, which demonstrate how urban violence and school choice programs can work together to spread “collateral damage,” appear today in the journal Sociology of Education.

“Exposure to neighborhood violence has a much bigger impact that we think it does,” said the lead author, Johns Hopkins sociologist Julia Burdick-Will. “It seeps into places that you don’t expect. It can affect an entire school and how it’s able to function.”

Burdick-Will studied students who attended Chicago Public Schools from 2002 to 2010, analyzing administrative data from the school system, crime statistics from the Chicago Police Department and school surveys from the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research. She looked at five cohorts of students who were freshmen between the fall of 2002 and 2006, and followed each student for up to four years.

She found high school students in Chicago public schools experience, on average, about 70 violent crimes a year within a few blocks of their homes. Children with high levels of exposure to violence, however, often experienced double that.

The crimes included homicides, sexual assaults, aggregated and simple batteries, aggravated and simple assaults, and robberies.

About half of the students studied were African American and about a third were Hispanic. Schools with students who experienced high levels of neighborhood violence, however, were more than 94 percent African American.

Because Chicago offers students the option of attending school anywhere in the city, students often commute to schools across town. Students from nearly every neighborhood attend nearly every school. This means that the experience of violence that Chicago students face where they live does not necessarily remain in their neighborhood, but is taken with them all over the city where they attend school.

Previous research shows that children living in violent neighborhoods experience trauma that makes them more difficult to teach and is related to an increased likelihood of high school dropout and low test scores as well as depression, attention problems, and discipline issues, says Burdick-Will. What hasn’t been studied in the past is that students who are in the same classes as these children also don’t learn as well, scoring as much as 10 percent lower on annual tests, she found.

It’s possible these effects build over time, she says.

“This is just one year — we don’t know what the cumulative effects are,” Burdick-Will said. “If you score 10 percent lower in just one year, you’re that much less prepared for the next year. Ten percent less growth in a year is a pretty big deal.”

Chicago’s crime rates are comparable to those in Baltimore, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Houston and Miami, and it is possible that schools in those cities have similar issues, Burdick-Will says.

“Dealing with urban violence has ripple effects we’re only starting to understand,” she said. “We can’t think about violence as something happening to kids in an isolated part of the city where I don’t live. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. High crime rates may be concentrated in specific areas, but their effects can be felt in schools all over the city.”

Abstract of the study:

Research shows that exposure to local neighborhood violence is associated with students’ behavior and engagement in the classroom. Given the social nature of schooling, these symptoms not only affect individual students but have the potential to spill over and influence their classmates’ learning, as well. In this study, I use detailed administrative data from five complete cohorts of students in the Chicago Public Schools (2002 to 2010), crime data from the Chicago Police Department, and school-level surveys conducted by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research to assess the strength of this peer effect. The estimated negative relationship between peer exposure to neighborhood violent crime and individual achievement is substantial and remains after adjusting for other peer characteristics and student fixed effects. Surveys suggest these results are related to trust, discipline, and safety concerns in cohorts with larger proportions of students from violent neighborhoods.

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Sleep disturbances in girls associated with more difficulties staying awake in and out of school

We’ve known for some time now that we all sleep less than a decade ago and that our children often nowadays don’t sleep enough. This new study describes that there are maybedifferences related to gender. I wasn’t able to read the study because it’s something that was presented at a conference last week.

From the press release:

Preliminary results of a recent study show that teen girls reported a higher degree of interference of daytime sleepiness on multiple aspects of their school and personal activities than boys.

The study examined whether teen boys and girls report similar negative impact of sleep disturbances on their daytime functioning.

“What was most surprising is the fact that teenage girls reported a higher degree of interference of daytime sleepiness than teenage boys on multiple aspects of their school and personal activities,” said co-author Pascale Gaudreault, who is completing her doctoral degree in clinical neuropsychology under the supervision of principal investigator Dr. Geneviève Forest at the Université du Québec en Outaouais in Gatineau, Québec, Canada. “For example, teenage girls have reported missing school significantly more often than teenage boys due to tiredness, as well as reported having lower motivation in school due to a poor sleep quality.”

731 adolescents (311 boys; 420 girls; ages 13 to 17.5 years; grades 9-11) completed a questionnaire about sleep and daytime functioning. Questions were answered on a seven-point Likert scale (1=never; 7=often). Gender differences were assessed using t-tests.

Study results show that teenage girls reported more difficulties staying awake during class in the morning, during class in the afternoon, and during homework hours than boys. They also reported feeling too tired to do activities with their friends, missing school because of being too tired, feeling less motivated in school because of their poor sleep, and taking naps during weekends more often than boys. However, there was no gender difference when it came to using coffee or energy drinks to compensate for daytime sleepiness or for falling asleep in class.

“These results suggest that teenage girls may be more vulnerable than teenage boys when it comes to the negative impacts of adolescence’s sleep changes,” said Gaudreault.

The research abstract was published recently in an online supplement of the journal Sleep and will be presented Tuesday, June 5, in Baltimore at SLEEP 2018, the 32nd annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC (APSS), which is a joint venture of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society.

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The child’s ability to self-regulate is a critical element in childhood language and literacy development

Yes, it’s a good idea to read bedtime stories to your children, but for the development of language and literacy, it’s not enough. The question for me remains: is it something you can help your children with as this longitudinal study is showing a correlation rather than showing a clear causal relation:

 

  • Self-regulation development was associated with language and literacy skills.
  • Earlier self-regulation was associated with higher skills and earlier development.

 

From the press release:

Research from Michigan State University found that a child’s ability to self-regulate is a critical element in childhood language and literacy development, and that the earlier they can hone these skills, the faster language and literacy skills develop leading to better skills in the long run.

“Self-regulation is an umbrella term to define children’s abilities to keep information in their working memories, pay attention to tasks and even to inhibit behaviors that might prevent them from accomplishing tasks,” said Lori Skibbe, associate professor in the human development and family studies department and lead author of the study.

Through her research, Skibbe found that children who could self-regulate earlier had higher language and learning skills through at least second grade.

“We’ve known that there is a relationship between self-regulation and language and literacy, but our work shows that there is a lasting impact. The early advantage of self-regulation means children are learning these critical language and literacy skills earlier and faster, which sets the stage for developing additional skills earlier as well,” Skibbe said.

Skibbe and her research team assessed 351 children twice a year from preschool to second grade, on both self-regulation and on language and literacy.

When assessing self-regulation, the children were asked to play a game that required them to follow prompts from the researchers.

“We asked them to touch their heads, shoulders, knees and toes, similar to the childhood ‘Simon Says’ game,” Skibbe said. “Then, we reversed or mixed the commands to see who could follow based on the instructions they retained.”

When assessing academic development, Skibbe looked at four language and literacy skills: comprehension; vocabulary; early decoding, or the ability to identify letters of the alphabet and read short words; and phonological awareness, or understanding the sound structure of language.

Some children are biologically predisposed to develop self-regulation skills earlier, Skibbe said, but there are things parents can do to help them in their development.

“By nature, humans are not effective multitaskers, and children need time where they focus on only one thing,” she said.

“Parents need to be aware of how their children can regulate their own behavior based on what’s going on around them. Parents can structure their home environment and routines in ways that support children,” Skibbe said. A full night of sleep, playing games with children and having time without distractions in the background are things you might not think help language and literacy development, but they do.”

Abstract of the study:

Previous research has established that higher levels of behavioral self-regulation are associated with higher levels of language and literacy. In this study, we take a more developmental perspective by considering how trajectories of self-regulation development (early, intermediate, late) predict the way literacy and language skills develop from preschool through second grade. Children (n = 351) were assessed twice per year for up to four years on indicators of decoding, reading comprehension, phonological awareness, and vocabulary. Using non-linear growth curve models, we found that children who demonstrated self-regulation earlier had higher language and literacy skills throughout preschool to second grade. More specifically, earlier self-regulation trajectories were associated with both higher levels and earlier development of both decoding and reading comprehension, but not faster development. Children with early self-regulation trajectories developed phonological awareness earlier than those with late self-regulation trajectories. Finally, children with early self-regulation trajectories had higher levels of vocabulary than children with intermediate trajectories, but did not differ on the rate or timing of vocabulary development. Findings point to the enduring and interconnected nature of self-regulation and children’s language and literacy development.

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The importance of language at an early age for academic success in other areas such as math, literacy,…

Lately there has been some discussion if the infamous word gap is as big as said in the original research. Still this new study shows the importance of language at an early age for other academic domains. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise, still it will may well be for some.

In short:

  • Growth curve models revealed strong within-domain—but few cross-domain—predictions.
  • Language skills predicted academic outcomes the most broadly across domains.
  • In general, lower baseline skills at school entry predicted greater gains over time.
  • Higher kindergarten language predicted larger gains in reading from grades 1 to 3 and 3 to 5.
  • Examining multiple readiness domains together is critical for practical application.

The fourth element gives hope, at the same time it shouldn’t – again – be so surprising.

From the press release (with the awkward concept of “kindergarten readiness” included):

Research shows that the more skills children bring with them to kindergarten – in basic math, reading, even friendship and cooperation – the more likely they will succeed in those same areas in school. Hence, “kindergarten readiness” is the goal of many preschool programs, and a motivator for many parents.

Now it’s time to add language to that mix of skills, says a new University of Washington-led study. Not only does a child’s use of vocabulary and grammar predict future proficiency with the spoken and written word, but it also affects performance in other subject areas.

Language, in other words, supports academic and social success, says Amy Pace, an assistant professor in the UW Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences.

“A lot of other research focuses on math, science and literacy, and they don’t even consider that language could be playing a role,” she said. “But really, it emerges as a strong predictor across subject areas. Why do kids succeed in math, for example? Part of it could be having a strong math vocabulary.”

The study was the first to look at a comprehensive set of school readiness skills and to try to determine which, of all of them, is the most solid predictor of a child’s later success. Language — the ability to fluidly learn words and to string them together into sentences — was the hands-down winner, said co-author Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, director of the Infant Language Laboratory at Temple University.

For this study, published online April 30 in Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Pace and her colleagues from Temple University, the University of Delaware and the University of North Carolina examined longitudinal data from more than 1,200 children in the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development’s Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. That study used several measures of academic and social skills at specific ages and grade levels, including evaluations upon entry to kindergarten and in grades 1, 3 and 5.

While there is considerable research on how children develop specific skills over time, much of that research is focused on patterns of learning within a single subject area, like math or reading. Researchers in the UW study wanted to determine whether there are relationships between skills when considered in combination, and to think about how these combined abilities might predict gains, or growth, above what might be expected based on the skills the child demonstrates when they first enter a kindergarten classroom. The team analyzed academic and behavioral assessments, assigned standardized scores and looked at how scores correlated in grades 1, 3, and 5. Growth curve modeling allowed the team to look at children’s levels of performance across time and investigate rates of change at specific times in elementary school.

Researchers found that of the skills and milestones evaluated – social/emotional, attention, health, reading, math and language – only language skills, when a child entered school, predicted his or her performance both within that subject area and most others (math, reading and social skills) from first through fifth grade. Reading ability in kindergarten predicted reading, math and language skills later on; and math proficiency correlated with math and reading performance over time.

People often confuse language with literacy, Pace said. Reading skills include the ability to decode letter and sound combinations to pronounce words, and to comprehend word meanings and contexts. Language is the ability to deploy those words and use complex syntax and grammar to communicate in speech and writing. And that’s why it has such potential to affect other areas of development, Pace said. At a time when so much focus is on math and science education, it is language that deserves attention, too.

“It provides a foundation for social interaction. If you’re stronger in language, you will be able to communicate with peers and teachers,” she said. “Language also relates to executive functioning, the ability to understand and follow through on the four-step directions from the teacher. And it helps solve problems in math and science, because understanding terminology and abstract concepts relies on a knowledge of language.”

For example, language ability at school entry not only predicted language proficiency through fifth grade as expected, but it also predicted growth in literacy between grades 1 and 3, and a similar amount of growth between grades 3 and 5. In effect, language gave children a boost to help them learn more than researchers might have predicted based on the children’s performance at school entry.

Measuring the impact of one skill on another, in addition to measuring growth in the same skill, provides more of a “whole child” perspective, Pace said. A child who enters school with little exposure to number sense or spatial concepts but with strong social skills may benefit from that emotional buffer. “If we look at just a very narrow slice of a child’s ability, it may be predictive of ability in that area, but it’s not necessarily a good prognosticator of what’s to come overall for that child,” she said.

Researchers expected to find that the effects of kindergarten readiness would wear off by third grade, the time when elementary school curriculum transitions from introducing foundational skills to helping students apply those skills as they delve deeper into content areas. But according to the study, children’s performance in kindergarten continues to predict their performance in grades three through five. This was consistent for multiple skill areas, including language, math and reading, and suggests that bolstering children’s development in those first five years is essential for long-term academic success.

A few findings merit further study, Pace added, especially as they relate to educational policy. For example, children who entered kindergarten with higher levels of skills appeared to make fewer developmental and academic gains than those children who started at lower levels. That is consistent with other research, but, Pace said, it’s worth examining how to better serve high-performing students.

The study also represents an opportunity to rethink what skills are considered measures of kindergarten-readiness, she said.

“Language ability at school entry consistently emerges as an important predictor of student outcomes. This may be why the first three to five years are so critical for future academic and social development,” Pace said. “It is the child’s earliest, high-quality interactions with parents, teachers and caregivers that promote a strong communication foundation – and this foundation goes on to serve as the bedrock for future language and learning.”

Abstract of the study:

Children’s skill levels in language, mathematics, literacy, self-regulation, and social–emotional adjustment at kindergarten entry are believed to play an important role in determining school success through their long-term association with academic and social skills in primary and secondary education. Hence, children’s school readiness is a national priority. To date, there is some evidence that specific individual school readiness skills relate to specific outcomes, but much of that research has not addressed concerns regarding generalization due to the high levels of correlations among the school readiness skills. The interrelationships among school readiness domains and patterns of skill acquisition – during the first three years of primary education in which basic skills are the focus and in the later years of primary or secondary education when higher-order skills are the focus – have not been explored adequately. Using the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development dataset (n = 1364), this research conducted growth curve analyses to examine a comprehensive set of readiness indicators in kindergarten and identify which domains were stronger predictors of academic and social trajectories through grade 3 and from grades 3 to 5. Results highlight the importance of examining multiple school readiness domains simultaneously rather than separately, and moving beyond outcomes (skill levels) at a particular grade to consider which kindergarten skills predict gains over time (skill acquisition) both within- and across-domains. Empirical and methodological implications are considered for educational research, policy, and practice.

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Boys who start smoking pot before 15 are much more likely to have a drug problem at 28

What a difference a year or two can make? Well, regarding cannabis-use quite a lot according to to a new study by Université de Montréal researchers: if you started smoking marijuana at the start of your teens, your risk of having a drug abuse problem by age 28 is 68 per cent, but if you started smoking between 15 and 17 your risk drops to 44 per cent.

There is still some caution regarding the study. While they controlled for a lot of different elements, it is still rather a correlation than causal proof. Also the use of a longitudinal sample is great and relevant, but the sample was limited to boys of low socioeconomic status.

From the press release:

“The odds of developing any drug abuse symptoms by age 28 were reduced by 31 per cent for each year of delayed onset of cannabis use in adolescence,” the researchers at UdeM’s Department of Psychology, School of Psychoeducation and the CHU Saint-Justine Hospital Research Centre found.

Their study was publishedApril 22 in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.

Percentage nearly tripled

According to a 2011 study by University of Waterloo researchers in the journal Addictive Behaviors, 10 per cent of Canadian adolescents consumed cannabis in Grade 8. By Grade 12, that percentage nearly tripled to 29 per cent. Early-onset cannabis use has been linked to further drug abuse problems later in life.

The new study, done by UdM doctoral student Charlie Rioux under the supervision of professors Natalie Castellanos-Ryan and Jean Séguin, shows just how much.

The researchers looked at data for 1,030 boys in the Montreal Longitudinal and Experimental Study of white francophones from some of the city’s impoverished neighbourhoods begun in the early 1980s. Every year between ages 13 and 17, the boys were asked if they had consumed cannabis at all in the previous year.

At 17, and again at 20 and 28, they were asked not only whether they consumed cannabis, but also other drugs, including hallucinogens, cocaine, amphetamines, barbiturates, tranquilizers, heroin and inhalants. Then the data were correlated with the age at which they started using cannabis.

Double the chance if frequent use

The results confirmed the researchers’ suspicions: the younger they started, the more likely the boys had a drug problem later as young men. This is partly explained by the frequency with which they consumed cannabis and other drugs, but those who started before age 15 were at higher risk regardless of how often they consumed.

“The odds of developing any drug abuse symptoms by age 28 were non-significant if cannabis use had its onset at ages 15 to 17, but were significant and almost doubled each year if onset was before age 15,” the study says. Even if those who start smoking cannabis at 17 years were at lower risk, frequent users (20 or more times a year) at age 17 had almost double the chance of abuse by age 28 than occasional users.

And that may be underestimating the problem, the researchers say.

“Notably, considering that the potency of cannabis products increased over the last two decades and that [inthis study] adolescent cannabis use was assessed from 1991 to 1995, it is possible that the higher content of Δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol in the cannabis available today would be associated with higher rates of drug abuse symptoms.”

Gangs, thievery, drinking

The researchers also found that the earlier that boys were involved in gangs, drank alcohol, got into fights, stole or vandalized property, the earlier they used cannabis and the higher their odds of having drug abuse issues by 28. Those who started drinking at 17 also were at higher risk of having an alcohol problem at 28.

The finding that starting pot smoking between ages 13 and 15 increases the odds of developing a drug problem later on makes it all the more important to prevent or reducing cannabis use as early as possible, the researchers say.

“It may be important to implement these programs by the end of elementary school to prevent early onset of cannabis use,” said Rioux. “Since peer influence and delinquency were identified as early risk factors for earlier cannabis onset and adult drug abuse, targeting these risk factors in prevention programs may be important, especially since prevention strategies working on the motivators of substance use have been shown to be effective.”

Abstract of the study:

The present study examined 1) whether the associations between cannabis use (CU) age of onset and drug abuse by 28 y remain when controlling for risk factors in childhood, adolescence and early adulthood; and 2) the developmental pathways from early risk factors to drug abuse problems. Participants from a longitudinal sample of boys of low socioeconomic status (N = 1,030) were followed from 6 to 28 y. We examined the self-reported CU onset between the ages of 13 and 17 y and drug abuse symptoms by 28 y. The odds of developing any drug abuse symptoms by 28 y were reduced by 31% for each year of delayed CU onset (OR = 0.69). Cannabis, alcohol and other drug frequency at 17 y mediated this association. Still, even when taking that frequency of use into account, adolescents who started using cannabis before 15 y were at a higher risk of developing drug abuse symptoms by age 28 y. Significant indirect effects were found from early adolescent delinquency and affiliation with deviant friends to drug abuse symptoms at 28 y through CU age of onset and substance use frequency at 17 y. The results suggest more clearly than before that prevention programs should aim at delaying CU onset to prevent or reduce drug abuse in adulthood. Furthermore, prevention programs targeting delinquency and/or affiliation with deviant friends in childhood or early adolescence could indirectly reduce substance abuse in adulthood without addressing substance use specifically.

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How to help your kid with homework (and how not)

There was earlier research on how (not) to help your children with their homework (check this meta-analysis), but this new study looks at another aspect of possible consequences of parental help with homework. And while all homework assistance presumably aims at helping the child, not all types of parental help lead to equally positive outcomes…

The results in short:

  • Mother’s homework assistance was related to child’s task persistence.
  • Autonomy granting was related to exhibiting higher levels of task persistence.
  • Help was related to exhibiting less task-persistent behavior.
  • Child’s task persistence contributed on mothers’ homework assistance.

From the press release:

Researchers in the longitudinal First Steps Study found that the more opportunities for autonomous work the mother offered the child, the more task-persistent the child’s behaviour. In other words, the child later worked persistently on his or her school assignments, which encouraged mothers to offer more and more opportunities for autonomous working.

However, when the mother provided assistance by concretely helping the child, the less task-persistent the child’s later behaviour. This, in turn, made mothers offer more and more help. These associations between different types of maternal homework assistance and the child’s task-persistent behaviour remained even after the child’s skill level was controlled for.

“One possible explanation is that when the mother gives her child an opportunity to do homework autonomously, the mother also sends out a message that she believes in the child’s skills and capabilities. This, in turn, makes the child believe in him- or herself, and in his or her skills and capabilities,” Associate Professor Jaana Viljaranta from the University of Eastern Finland explains.

Similarly, concrete homework assistance — especially if not requested by the child — may send out a message that the mother doesn’t believe in the child’s ability to do his or her homework.

Homework assistance should consider the child’s needs

The findings also indicate that task-persistence is a mediating factor between different types of maternal homework assistance and the child’s academic performance. This helps us to understand some earlier findings on how some types of maternal homework assistance predict better academic performance than others. When the mother offers the child an opportunity for autonomous working, the child will work persistently, which leads to better development of skills. If, however, the mother’s homework assistance involves plenty of concrete help, the child will work less persistently, leading to poorer development of skills.

“It is important for parents to take the child’s needs into consideration when offering homework assistance. Of course, parents should offer concrete help when their child clearly needs it. However, concrete help is not something that should be made automatically available in every situation — only when needed,” Viljaranta says.

The First Steps Study is an extensive longitudinal study carried out by the University of Jyväskylä, the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Turku. The study examines student learning and motivation among approximately 2,000 children from kindergarten onwards. Children currently participating in the study are in secondary education.

Abstract of the study:

The present study used a sample of 365 children to investigate the longitudinal associations between maternal homework assistance (i.e., help, monitoring, and autonomy granting) and children’s task-persistent behavior in learning situations from grade 2 to grade 4 of elementary school. Also, the extent to which task-persistent behavior plays a role in the links between parental homework assistance and children’s academic performance was examined. The results showed that the more autonomy granting mothers reported, the more task-persistent behavior children exhibited; and more task-persistent behavior children exhibited, the more autonomy their mothers granted. In contrast, the more mothers helped their children, the less task-persistent behavior was reported, and the less task-persistent behavior children exhibited, the more mothers tried to help and monitor their children later on. Additionally, some evidence was found supporting the role of task-persistent behavior in the relation between maternal homework assistance and academic performance.

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Another study about the importance of books for learning

Reading is key – even in these digital times – and a new study shows again that providing free children’s books in low-income neighborhoods, combined with supportive adults who encourage reading, can boost children’s literacy and learning opportunities. For the project free book vending machines were used. I found this video about it:

From the press release (bold by me):

 An innovative book distribution program that provides free children’s books in low-income neighborhoods, combined with supportive adults who encourage reading, can boost children’s literacy and learning opportunities, finds a new study by NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

“Both physical and psychological proximity to books matter when it comes to children’s early literacy skills,” said Susan B. Neuman, professor of childhood and literacy education at NYU Steinhardt and the study’s lead author. “Children need access to books in their neighborhoods, as well as adults who create an environment that inspires reading.”

Reading aloud to children has been touted by experts as a key to developing skills early in life that translate to later academic success. In fact, a 2014 position statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics called for parents to read aloud to their infants starting from birth.

At the heart of these recommendations is the assumption that all children have the opportunity to learn from a selection of high quality, age-appropriate books. However, a recent NYU Steinhardt study of three major cities shows that access to books remains a significant barrier to reading with children; many poor neighborhoods were found to be “book deserts,” or communities with limited to no access to children’s books.

Other prior research shows that creating both physical and psychological proximity to books helps get them into the hands of children. For example, creating reading corners in classrooms that are accessible and attractive encourages children to engage with books. From a psychological perspective, people help shape the setting for a child’s literacy development through, for instance, reading to children or engaging them in rich dialogue around books.

The current study, funded by JetBlue and published in the journal Urban Education, examines a community-wide effort to promote greater access to books through a book distribution program in neighborhoods identified as “book deserts.” Four low-income neighborhoods – three in Detroit and one in Washington, D.C. – received with vending machines that dispensed free children’s books over the summer months, a time when children traditionally have less access to books.

The vending machines held children’s books, provided by Random House Children’s Books, in slots arranged by age ranges. Similar to a snack machine, an individual could review the selections, press a button, and a book would be dispensed free of charge. Book titles were selected to reflect a variety of genres, including fiction and nonfiction, as well as multicultural themes and authors. Selections changed every two weeks to encourage people to return to the machine.

The study was designed to capture how, why, and in what ways these machines were used. Neuman and her coauthor, Jillian Knapczyk, used several measures to examine how greater access to books and adult support for book reading functioned within these communities.

The researchers studied the vending machine sites, the traffic patterns around them, and conducted brief interviews with individuals using the machines. They also assessed children’s school readiness skills before the vending machines were installed and again at the end of the summer, and had parents complete questionnaires. They sought to determine the influence of adult support on children – for instance, children who visited the vending machines with a teacher and independently visited with their parents or grandparents were identified as receiving high adult support.

The researchers found that providing greater access through close physical proximity to books and greater adult support for book reading enhanced children’s opportunities to learn.

Throughout the summer, the vending machines were heavily used, distributing more than 64,000 books over the eight-week period – 26,200 to unique, one-time users and 38,235 to return users. Often two or three books were selected in a single visit.

“Our study provides a vivid counterpoint to the view that low-income parents are less inclined and less interested in their children’s early education. This study challenges that view and provides an alternative scenario, recognizing that providing access to resources — reaching families where they are — and encouraging adult support may be a key enabler toward enhancing parent engagement and children’s early literacy development,” Neuman said.

Children who had the highest adult support – visiting a machine with both a parent and with a teacher from the childcare center – seemed to thrive and slightly gain throughout the summer. They saw a boost in their school readiness skills, and were able to recognize more book titles (suggesting greater exposure to books) than other children with less adult support.

In analyzing traffic patterns, the researchers found that an average of 180 people passed by a vending machine over a two-hour period, suggesting that the machines were highly visible. Despite the sizable traffic flow, not all passersby took advantage of the machines: 60 percent used them, while 40 percent did not.

Interviews revealed that those who used the machines enjoyed reading, and appreciated the opportunity to have books more accessible in the community. Parents and grandparents were highly influential in encouraging children to select books. Those who didn’t select a book most often cited a lack of interest in reading. In other words, the physical proximity of books did not convert non-readers into readers, and changes in the environment alone may not be enough to motivate those who do not enjoy reading.

Our findings suggest that only having one side of the equation – access to books or adult support – is insufficient. Rather, both are necessary. Without access to books, one cannot read to children; without adult supports, children cannot be read to,” said Neuman.

JetBlue’s Soar with Reading program has donated nearly $3 million worth of books to children in need, including in the communities where this study was conducted.

Abstract of the study:

This study examines a community-wide effort to promote greater access to books through the mechanisms of physical and psychological proximity. It addresses the seasonal summer slide through an innovative book distribution program in neighborhoods identified as book deserts. Four low-income neighborhoods were provided with vending machines used to dispense free children’s books over the summer months. Within a design research framework, the study was designed to capture how, why, and in what ways these machines were used in communities. Results indicated that providing greater access through close physical proximity to books and greater adult support enhanced children’s opportunities to learn.

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How come young children seem to run around all day without getting tired? They are athletes!

Our children are getting a little bit older than the children in this study, but I do recognize the phenomenon. Just try to follow what a young kid does for a couple of hours and you will understand it’s literally breath taking.

But now researchers have discovered how young children seem to run around all day without getting tired: their muscles resist fatigue and recover in the same way as elite endurance athletes. Even better: children also recover very quickly from high-intensity exercise — even faster than well-trained adult endurance athletes

From the press release:

“During many physical tasks, children might tire earlier than adults because they have limited cardiovascular capability, tend to adopt less-efficient movement patterns and need to take more steps to move a given distance. Our research shows children have overcome some of these limitations through the development of fatigue-resistant muscles and the ability to recover very quickly from high-intensity exercise,” say Sébastien Ratel, Associate Professor in Exercise Physiology who completed this study at the Université Clermont Auvergne, France, and co-author Anthony Blazevich, Professor in Biomechanics at Edith Cowan University, Australia.

Previous research has shown that children do not tire as quickly as untrained adults during physical tasks. Ratel and Blazevich suggested the energy profiles of children could be comparable to endurance athletes, but there was no evidence to prove this until now.

The researchers asked three different groups — 8-12 year-old boys and adults of two different fitness levels — to perform cycling tasks. The boys and untrained adults were not participants in regular vigorous physical activity. In contrast the last group, the endurance athletes, were national-level competitors at triathlons or long-distance running and cycling.

Each group was assessed for the body’s two different ways of producing energy. The first, aerobic, uses oxygen from the blood. The second, anaerobic, doesn’t use oxygen and produces acidosis and lactate (often known by the incorrect term, lactic acid), which may cause muscle fatigue. The participants’ heart-rate, oxygen levels and lactate-removal rates were checked after the cycling tasks to see how quickly they recovered.

In all tests, the children outperformed the untrained adults.

“We found the children used more of their aerobic metabolism and were therefore less tired during the high-intensity physical activities,” says Ratel. “They also recovered very quickly — even faster than the well-trained adult endurance athletes — as demonstrated by their faster heart-rate recovery and ability to remove blood lactate.”

“This may explain why children seem to have the ability to play and play and play, long after adults have become tired.”

Ratel and Blazevich explain the significance of their findings. “Many parents ask about the best way to develop their child’s athletic potential. Our study shows that muscle endurance is often very good in children, so it might be better to focus on other areas of fitness such as their sports technique, sprint speed or muscle strength. This may help to optimize physical training in children, so that they perform better and enjoy sports more.”

Ratel continues, “With the rise in diseases related to physical inactivity, it is helpful to understand the physiological changes with growth that might contribute to the risk of disease. Our research indicates that aerobic fitness, at least at the muscle level, decreases significantly as children move into adulthood — which is around the time increases in diseases such as diabetes occur.

“It will be interesting in future research to determine whether the muscular changes we have observed are directly related to disease risk. At least, our results might provide motivation for practitioners to maintain muscle fitness as children grow up; it seems that being a child might be healthy for us.”

Abstract of the study:

The aim of this study was to determine whether prepubertal children are metabolically comparable to well-trained adult endurance athletes and if this translates into similar fatigue rates during high-intensity exercise in both populations. On two different occasions, 12 prepubertal boys (10.5 ± 1.1 y), 12 untrained men (21.2 ± 1.5 y), and 13 endurance male athletes (21.5 ± 2.7 y) completed an incremental test to determine the power output at VO2max (PVO2max) and a Wingate test to evaluate the maximal anaerobic power (Pmax) and relative decrement in power output (i.e., the fatigue index, FI). Furthermore, oxygen uptake (VO2), heart rate (HR), and capillary blood lactate concentration ([La]) were measured to determine (i) the net aerobic contribution at 5-s intervals during the Wingate test, and (ii) the post-exercise recovery kinetics of VO2, HR, and [La]. The Pmax-to-PVO2max ratio was not significantly different between children (1.9 ± 0.5) and endurance athletes (2.1 ± 0.2) but lower than untrained men (3.2 ± 0.3, p < 0.001 for both). The relative energy contribution derived from oxidative metabolism was also similar in children and endurance athletes but greater than untrained men over the second half of the Wingate test (p < 0.001 for both). Furthermore, the post-exercise recovery kinetics of VO2, HR, and [La] in children and endurance athletes were faster than those of untrained men. Finally, FI was comparable between children and endurance athletes (−35.2 ± 9.6 vs. −41.8 ± 9.4%, respectively) but lower than untrained men (−51.8 ± 4.1%, p < 0.01). To conclude, prepubertal children were observed to be metabolically comparable to well-trained adult endurance athletes, and were thus less fatigable during high-intensity exercise than untrained adults.

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