Social Distancing & Long-Term Childhood Development
This period of social distancing is hard for people of all ages, but this can be especially true of children—especially older children and teenagers.
Younger children may miss time with their friends but can still get the basic of social structure from parents and siblings at home. But in social situations and among peer groups, older children learn to navigate the complexity of interactions: an important life skill. And the longer that social distancing continues, the more that older kids will likely be longing for interactions with peers.
For younger children, friendships are often borne out of proximity. As children get older, they start to be more selective with friendships and focus on things like shared interests while they learn about trust and what makes relationships healthy. These years are important because they are precursors to adulthood.
Kids will likely bounce back if social distancing lasts only for a few months, according to most experts. Since many children can socialize virtually through devices, they will still have some connection (even though there’s no complete replacement for in-person interactions).
However, if this stretches on for longer, there could be some negative impact. This is true for people of all ages, not just children, but the formative years of adolescence are important for all sorts of skills.
Parents can help their children during social distancing by encouraging exercise, setting reasonable and consistent boundaries with device time while still allowing time to connect with their friends, and being patient in giving them space when they need it. With ongoing support and understanding, parents can help their children navigate these unprecedented times.
Teens and Screen Time, Sugar Consumption
Researchers from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario recently looked at the connection between teenagers spending time on screens (television, tablet, computer, or smartphone) and overconsumption of sugary or caffeinated drinks. For the study, which was published in the journal PLOS ONE, they looked at 32,418 American Students in eighth or tenth grade.
The recent data shows that overall consumption of caffeine among teenagers is actually trending down in recent years, but that teenagers who report using electronics frequently are drinking more energy drinks, soda, and coffee.
The study showed that over 27 percent of teens consumed more than the recommended amount of sugar and 21 percent drank too much caffeine. Boys seemed to drink more caffeine than girls. Further, an extra hour of television per day was linked to a 28 percent higher changes of exceeding the World Health Organization’s caffeine consumption recommendations, while each extra hour of social media was associated with an increased consumption of sugar. Video games were only marginally linked to caffeine consumption.
These drinks often contain sugar or artificial sweeteners, and are linked to greater risk of obesity, dental problems, and diabetes. Caffeine itself can lead to nausea, high blood pressure, and headaches.
Using screens for school work was not linked to greater consumption, however. The researchers suggest that informing teens of the danger of overconsumption and setting limits on sugary beverages and screen time could help to minimize risk.
Exercise & Wellness Apps as Resources for Young People
A new study performed at the University of Birmingham, and published in the journal Learning, Media and Technology, indicates that young people are apt at judging which health apps are relevant to their age and needs, as well as source relevant digital content.
The study looked at 245 individuals ranging in age from 13 to 18 years across the United Kingdom. About one third of participants were active users of apps and devices that are related to wellness, diet, and exercise.
The researchers found that while peers, parents, and schools had some influence over the apps and devices that were used, most participants were able to disregard content that did not apply to them without influence. They also adapted to the apps with a high level of understanding. When the participants abandoned an app early, it was often because the app was tailored to the needs of adults.
The published research states that young people are “critical participants” of digital health technology. Study leader Dr. Victoria Goodyear, from the University of Birmingham’s School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences, mentioned that there are over 160,000 health-related apps available. However, most of these are designed for adults to use.
This study challenges the broad assumption that technology for young people is harmful. With health-related apps, health education among young people can be enhanced. The study also demonstrates how we can learn from the way young people use digital health technology to make it more engaging and appealing to all users.
Warm-Up Routine Could Reduce Childhood Soccer Injuries
Sports scientists at the University of Basel recently conducted a study demonstrating that the use of a warm-up program designed specifically for children was able to decrease the odds of a player suffering from an injury. In fact, the odds were decreased by half. The study was published in Sports Medicine.
The warm-up routine that the scientists looked at is about 20 minutes long. It was created by an international team of experts with the intention of lowering injury risk. The warm-up exercises are meant to be performed before taking the field and consist of exercises for leg and feet stability, exercises for body and trunk stability, and one exercise for falling techniques.
This warm-up program, called “11+ Kids,” has five different levels to accommodate players of different ages and abilities.
To perform the study, the research team recruited 3,895 soccer players between the ages of 7 and 13 years, located in four different European countries. Researchers found that when players performed the warm-up routine before regular soccer training, overall injury instances fell by 48 percent. Reports of serious injury fell by as much as 74 percent when compared to a group that did not do the warm-up routine.
The focus of a warm-up routine for young soccer players is important, because childhood soccer injuries are different from soccer injuries suffered by teenagers and adults. For example, children are more likely to suffer from injuries to the upper extremities or broken bones when compared with older players. With specialized warm-ups, even once or twice a week can make a difference in preventing injuries.
Children & Holiday Safety
With the arrival of the holidays, the American Academy of Pediatrics is making sure that parents know the best ways to be safe when it comes to children and holiday decorations. While it can be tempting to overwhelm your senses with candles and colorful string lights, it’s important to make child safety a priority just like any other time of year. Avoid fire risks and other safety hazards by understanding what to look for.
If you use an artificial tree, make sure that is labeled as fire-resistant. Any decorations placed on the tree should be labeled the same way. Avoid placing the tree by a heat source, such as a portable heater, furnace, or radiator.
If you opt for a live tree, make sure that it is fresh. When you are choosing a tree, gently shake it to see if needles fall to the ground. If there are a lot of needles that fall off of the tree, it is already starting to dry out and isn’t fresh. Once you get your fresh tree home, make sure that the stand is always filled with water.
For your indoor lights on the tree, test each string and make sure all bulbs are working and that there are no loose connections or broken sockets. For outdoor lights, check that they are certified for outdoor use. Hang these lights up with hooks or insulated staples, and only plug them in to circuits with ground fault circuit interrupters to prevent shocks.
If you light candles in your home for the season, keep an eye on them. Do not leave them unattended, or go to bed with candles still burning. Never place a candle flame near the tree.
If you have small children, avoid breakable or sharp holiday decorations altogether. If the decorations have small or removable parts, keep them out of reach of children who could choke on them.
There are many plants that look festive, but can actually be dangerous. Jerusalmen cherry, holly berry, and mistletoe berries are actually poisonous if they are ingested.
What to Avoid in the Waiting Room
When you take your child to the doctor, you likely notice the toys, books, and stuffed animals that are made available to make the waiting room time pass more easily. However, a reminder from the American Academy of Pediatrics indicates that you may want to consider avoiding these items or bringing toys and books from home for your child to play with while waiting.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, doctors’ offices and urgent care centers should have the same strict infection control standards as hospitals do in order to prevent the spread of germs. This can involve the following:
- Visual reminders posted around the office for patients and families to cover their nose and mouth with their elbow instead of their hand if sneezing
- Visual reminders to properly dispose of facial tissues
- Access to facial masks and alcohol-based hand sanitizers
- Avoiding stuffed animals, which are more difficult to clean and can harbor germs
Medical professionals and families alike can also protect themselves by getting the annual flu vaccination along with other scheduled vaccines.
Doctors’ offices should also separate healthy and sick children in the waiting room, if possible, and watch patients as they come in so that these distinctions can be enforced. There isn’t a need to expose a child with an infection to another child who is only there for a physical.
Tips for Waiting Rooms
Every patient is familiar with the concept of having to wait at the doctor’s office, but there are steps you can take to keep your child engaged without unnecessary germ exposure. Try bringing a book from home with thick board pages that can easily be sanitized. You can also bring other easy-to-clean items such as puzzles, blocks, and markers. Leave stuffed animals at home or in the car—they can provide comfort later without absorbing germs into the fur inside the waiting room.
Make sure you take advantage of hand sanitizing stations and remind your child to play with the items you bring from home. Together, parents and medical professionals can keep germs contained at the doctor’s office.
FDA Emphasizes Danger of Sleep Positioners
A recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) news release emphasizes that infants should only be put to sleep on their backs on a cleared, firm surface with no use of sleep positioners.
Sleep positioners, also referred to as anti-roll supports or nests, can be dangerous. These products are most commonly formed by two raised pillows attached to a mat designed to hold babies six months old or younger. These products claim that by placing the baby to sleep on the mat, the positioner will keep the baby in a specific position throughout sleep.
However, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that sleeping near soft objects like pillows, toys, and positioners increases the risk of suffocation and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Each year, about 4,000 infants die unexpectedly while sleeping.
The FDA explained that some infants have been found in dangerous positions next to a positioner, and others have died after being put to sleep with these products (usually due to suffocation). The FDA regulates products that claim to treat, cure, or prevent a condition or disease. Some positioner companies claim that the products help to prevent SIDS, but the FDA indicates that it has never cleared a sleep positioner that makes these claims.
Companies making positioners that were previously approved after claiming to reduce flat head syndrome and gastroesophageal reflux disease have been asked to stop marketing these items because the risks outweigh any potential benefits.
Parents are encouraged to talk to their baby’s doctor about safe sleep approaches.
A Look at Violent Neighborhoods & Test Scores
In previous studies, it has been determined that kids living in violent neighborhoods often perform poorly on tests. Researchers at Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy recently looked at why in an attempt to explain this link and why it occurs.
The study, which was published in the journal Child Development, showed that the violent crime affected children’s sleep patterns, which increases levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
Jenni Heissel, the study’s lead author, noted that sleep and cortisol are connected to the brain’s ability to learn and then perform academic tasks. By affecting quality of sleep, violent crime could find its way into affecting academic performance.
The researchers looked at the stress hormones and sleep patterns of 82 students, ranging from ages 11 to 18 years. The students attended different public schools in a Midwest city. The data showed that the day after a violent crime in the neighborhood, the students’ cortisol levels rose.
As a result, children in disadvantaged neighborhoods could face extra challenges academically. This data does not mean that children in more violent, inner-city neighborhoods cannot be successful in school. However, it helps pave the way for schools to implement techniques for helping students cope with stressful events.
Study Looks at Vitamin D and Reducing Colds
A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that contrary to popular belief, a higher dosage of vitamin D may not actually help to protect children from colds during the winter months.
Dr. Jonathon Maguire, the study’s leader and a pediatrician at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, indicated that the study’s findings “do not support the routine use of high-dose vitamin D supplementation for the prevention of wintertime upper respiratory tract infections among healthy children.”
For years, it has been thought that taking vitamin D can help to prevent or reduce respiratory tract infections in children. For the study, the researchers gave a standard dose of vitamin D drops (400 IU a day) to 350 healthy toddlers. A second group of 350 healthy toddlers received a higher dose of vitamin D (2,000 IU a day). The drops were taken from fall of one year until spring of the following calendar year.
The researchers found that the children with the higher dose of vitamin D have an average of 1.97 colds over the winter months, while the children with the lower dose had an average of 1.91 colds over the winter. According to Dr. Maguire, this difference is not statistically significant.
However, this study did not look at children of other ages, or with different dosing regimens. Additionally, children with underlying health problems were not studied. Vitamin D may still have value in these additional scenarios. Above all, proper hygiene remains the best way to minimize risk of respiratory infections.
Could Fever in Pregnancy Contribute to Autism?
A recent study published in Molecular Psychiatry suggests that any type of fever during pregnancy can increase the risk of a child developing an autism spectrum disorder later in life.
The study’s data showed that one episode of a fever in the second trimester could increase autism risk by 40 percent. Several instances of fever after the first trimester could increase the risk threefold. Nearly 100,000 children born in Norway between 1999 and 2009 were studied. Nearly 600 of the children were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
The study’s lead researcher, Dr. Mady Hornig (associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health) stated that the risk of a child developing autism due to a fever in utero is low. For the majority of pregnant women who develop a fever during pregnancy, autism is not present in their child. In fact, fever is quite common during pregnancy and the majority of children born do not have autism.
It’s also important to note that while there may be an association, this does not mean that the fever causes autism in any instance. It is unknown what the association is between fever during pregnancy in autism, though some researchers speculate that it could involve the body’s reaction to infection and brain development. Dr. Hornig also indicated that there are likely many contributing factors to autism.
Communication Problems & Autism: New Study
New research is showing that children with autism spectrum disorders are not throwing more tantrums due to an inability to communicate.
Although language and speech problems are common in cases of autism—even with some children unable to speak clearly or at all—researchers found that children on the autism spectrum who have clear speech and communication abilities have just as many tantrum outbursts as children who do not.
The study’s lead researcher, Dr. Cheryl Tierney, points out that a common misperception is that children with autism have more tantrum outbursts due to trouble communicating with others, primarily caregivers. This contributes to a belief that teaching speech and language will help to improve negative behaviors. However, the researchers found that a very small percentage of temper tantrums are actually due to communication issues.
The study itself looked at 240 children on the autism spectrum, ages 15 months to 6 years old. The researchers studied the connection between language ability and tantrum frequency, and also looked at IQ scores. In the end, IQ and speech shortcomings accounted for less than 3 percent of tantrums that occurred.
More research is needed to determine what causes these outbursts, but the researchers suggest that low tolerance for frustration and trouble regulating mood could be contributing factors. Meanwhile, working with a behavior analysts could help children with autism to have flexibility and learn how to have their needs met.
The Link Between Smartphone Use and Mental Health
If you are concerned about how much time your child spends with screens, you are not alone. Electronic device usage has increased—in fact, a 2015 study showed that most babies had used electronic devices before two years of age.
New research published in the journal Child Development indicates that children who are at risk of mental health problems are at an increased risk of attention and disruptive behavior problems when they spend a lot of time with digital technology.
For the study, researchers reviewed previous studies and also gave smartphones to 151 children (between 11 and 15 years of age). The participants were from poor neighborhoods in the United States and were considered to be at risk for mental health problems. The smartphones would beep three times a day for a month, prompting the participants to answer questions about how they were feeling. Through this process, the researchers were able to track how symptoms and moods changed in accordance with how often the smartphones were being used.
On average, the participants spent about 2.3 hours a day on digital technology devices and sent an average of 41 text messages per day. When the technology was used more frequently, more symptoms of conduct disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder were reported.
However, a positive benefit was also uncovered. Researchers discovered that when children sent more text messages in a day, they were also less depressed and anxious. However, there is still very little known about the effects that electronic usage has on mental health and development.
Candice Odgers, co-author of the study and professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, stated that the study findings indicate that using technology excessively can amplify problems that already exist. And while the internet can provide a place for connections and education, there are also risks like cyberbullying.
Odgers points to recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which suggests that parents place limits on media time for children.
Childhood Development: Chores & Responsibilities
Most children are capable of doing some type of chores. By middle childhood, children are able to keep their rooms clean. Even younger children in the preschool and toddler years can help straighten and clean areas, and help with smaller tasks like putting away clean laundry. In addition to being potentially convenient for the caregiver that cleans the rest of the home, expecting your child to complete some chores and responsibilities places him in charge of his own belongings and living area.
Giving your child responsibilities around the house provides her with a sense of self-worth. By placing her in charge of keeping her room clean, she learns responsibility for her living area and belongings. This sense of responsibility can also extend elsewhere, to other chores, schoolwork, and her personal life as she gets older.
Once your child is placed in charge of keeping his room clean, it is especially important to his health that he stays on top of his responsibility. That’s because dust is a trigger of health issues like allergies and asthma, and accumulates in carpet and fabrics. If your child doesn’t keep his room clean, it can eventually become a place that is unhealthy for sleeping and playing.
The responsibility of keeping his room clean also gives your child a sense of pride in his belongings since he is in charge of their care. Additionally, offering your child an allowance for completing chores can help to teach him about money management.
If you assign your child the task completing certain responsibilities and chores, make sure to set realistic expectations for its cleanliness and how often you want him to do chores in general. Set reasonable and consistent consequences if he doesn’t follow through, and offer positive comments when he succeeds so that he can learn the value of work in a positive way. Finally, be a role model by keeping your own areas clean, and demonstrate the value of organization and structure.