Ron Huxley Humor: OK, I am not a fan of this kind of discipline tactics but I did find it very humorous.
Youths have turned their noses up at a woodland drink and drugs den after it was spread with pig dung. iddlesbrough Council came up with the cheap but effective method of combating anti-social behaviour in woods at Coulby Newham.
It said residents had complained about young people smoking drugs in the area and, although there is a slight smell from the pig manure, locals ”would much rather have a pong than a bong”.
Elderly people nearby had been upset by youngsters congregating in the woodland between Willowbank and Stainton Way to drink and smoke.
Council staff thinned out the trees so the area was more visible from paths, then spread a thick layer of pig manure to deter the youngsters.
A council spokesman said: ”Following complaints, an inspection of the area revealed it was being used to drink alcohol and take drugs, as paraphernalia known as bongs were found.”
VIEWED superficially, the part of youth that the psychologist Jean Piaget called middle childhood looks tame and uneventful, a quiet patch of road on the otherwise hairpin highway to adulthood.
Said to begin around 5 or 6, when toddlerhood has ended and even the most protractedly breast-fed children have been weaned, and to end when the teen years commence, middle childhood certainly lacks the physical flamboyance of the epochs fore and aft: no gotcha cuteness of babydom, no secondary sexual billboards of pubescence.
Yet as new findings from neuroscience, evolutionary biology, paleontology and anthropology make clear, middle childhood is anything but a bland placeholder. To the contrary, it is a time of great cognitive creativity and ambition, when the brain has pretty much reached its adult size and can focus on threading together its private intranet service — on forging, organizing, amplifying and annotating the tens of billions of synaptic connections that allow brain cells and brain domains to communicate.
Subsidizing the deft frenzy of brain maturation is a distinctive endocrinological event called adrenarche (a-DREN-ar-kee), when the adrenal glands that sit like tricornered hats atop the kidneys begin pumping out powerful hormones known to affect the brain, most notably the androgen dihydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA. Researchers have only begun to understand adrenarche in any detail, but they see it as a signature feature of middle childhood every bit as important as the more familiar gonadal reveille that follows a few years later.
Middle childhood is when the parts of the brain most closely associated with being human finally come online: our ability to control our impulses, to reason, to focus, to plan for the future.
Young children may know something about death and see monsters lurking under every bed, but only in middle childhood is the brain capable of practicing so-called terror management, of accepting one’s inevitable mortality or at least pushing thoughts of it aside.
Other researchers studying the fossil record suggest that a prolonged middle childhood is a fairly recent development in human evolution, a luxury of unfolding that our cousins the Neanderthals did not seem to share. Still others have analyzed attitudes toward middle childhood historically and cross-culturally. The researchers have found that virtually every group examined recognizes middle childhood as a developmental watershed, when children emerge from the shadows of dependency and start taking their place in the wider world.
Much of the new work on middle childhood was described in a recent special issue of the journal Human Nature. As a research topic, “middle childhood has been very much overlooked until recently,” said David Lancy, an anthropologist at Utah State University and a contributor to the special issue. “Which makes it all the more exciting to participate in the field today.”
The anatomy of middle childhood can be subtle. Adult teeth start growing in, allowing children to diversify their diet beyond the mashed potatoes and parentally dissected Salisbury steak stage. The growth of the skeleton, by contrast, slows from the vertiginous pace of early childhood, and though there is a mild growth spurt at age 6 or 7, as well as a bit of chubbying up during the so-called adiposity rebound of middle childhood, much of the remaining skeletal growth awaits the superspurt of puberty.
“Adulthood is defined by being skeletally as well as sexually mature,” said Jennifer Thompson of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “A girl may have her first period at 11 or 12, but her pelvis doesn’t finish growing until about the age of 18.”
The 18-year time frame of human juvenility far exceeds that seen in any other great ape, Dr. Thompson said. Chimpanzees, for example, are fully formed by age 12. With her colleague Andrew J. Nelson of the University of Western Ontario, Dr. Thompson analyzed fossil specimens from Neanderthals, Homo erectus and other early hominids, and concluded that their growth pattern was more like that of a chimpanzee than a modern human: By age 12 or 14, they had reached adult size.
Life for Neanderthals was nasty and short, Dr. Thompson said, and Neanderthal children had to get big fast, which is why they hurtled through adolescence at the equivalent of today’s chapter-book age. Our extreme form of dilated childhood didn’t appear until the advent of modern Homo sapiens roughly 150,000 years ago, Dr. Thompson said, when adults began living long enough to ease pressure on the young to hurry up and breed.
And what an essential luxury item middle childhood has proved to be. “It’s consistent across societies,” Benjamin Campbell, an anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee said. “In middle childhood, kids start making sense.”
Parental expectations rise accordingly. “Kids can do something now,” said Dr. Campbell, who edited the special issue. “They can do tasks. They have economic value.”
Boys are given goats to herd and messages to deliver. They hunt and fish. Girls weave, haul water, grind corn, chop firewood, serve as part-time mothers to their younger siblings; a serious share of baby care in the world is performed by girls not yet in their teens.
Workloads and expectations vary substantially from one culture to the next. Karen Kramer and Russell Greaves of Harvard compared the average number of hours that girls in 16 different traditional cultures devoted each day to “subsistence” tasks apart from child care. Girls of the Ariaal pastoralists in northern Kenya worked the hardest, putting in 9.6 hours daily. Agriculturalist girls in Nepal worked 7.5 hours a day.
Then you come to the more laid-back lives of the foragers. The researchers focused on the Pumé, a foraging group in west-central Venezuela, where preadolescent girls do almost nothing. They forage less than an hour a day, significantly less than their brothers, and are very inefficient in what little they do. They prefer hanging out at the campsite. “Pumé girls spend their time socializing, talking and laughing with their friends, beading and resting,” Dr. Kramer said.
But most cultures mark the beginning of middle childhood with some new responsibility. Kwoma children of Papua New Guinea are given their own garden plots to cultivate. Berber girls of northern Africa vie to prove their worth by preparing entire family meals unassisted.
In the Ituri forest of Central Africa, Mbuti boys strive to kill their first “real animal,” for which they will be honored through ritualized facial scarring. And in the United States, children enter elementary school, for which they will be honored through ritualized gold starring.
In middle childhood, the brain is at its peak for learning, organized enough to attempt mastery yet still fluid, elastic, neuronally gymnastic. Children have lost the clumsiness of toddlerhood and can become physically gymnastic, too, and start practicing their fine motor skills. And because they are still smaller than adults, they can grow adept at a skill like, say, spear-tossing, without fear of threatening the resident men.
Middle childhood is the time to make sense and make friends. “This is the period when kids move out of the family context and into the neighborhood context,” Dr. Campbell said.
The all-important theory of mind arises: the awareness that other people have minds, plans and desires of their own. Children become obsessed with social groups and divide along gender lines, girls playing with girls, boys with boys. They have an avid appetite for learning the local social rules, whether of games, slang, style or behavior. They are keenly attuned to questions of fairness and justice and instantly notice those grabbing more than their share.
The mental and kinesthetic pliancy of middle childhood can be traced at least in part to adrenarche, researchers said, when signals from the pea-size pituitary at the base of the brain prod the adrenal glands to unleash their hormonal largess. Adrenal hormones like DHEA are potent antioxidants and neuroprotectants, Dr. Campbell said, and may well be critical to keeping neurons and their dendritic connections youthfully spry.
Evidence also suggests that the adrenal hormones divert glucose in the brain to foster the maturation of the insula and anterior cingulate cortex, brain regions vital to interpreting social and emotional cues.
In middle childhood, the brain is open for suggestions. What do I need to know? What do I want to know? Well, you could take up piano, chess or juggling, learn another language or how to ski. Or you could go outside and play with your friends. If you learn to play fair, friends will always be there.
Ron Huxley Reacts: I was intrigued by this topic of this article by the New York Times as middle childhood doesn’t get much press. I am not much on “evolutionary” talk but if you can get by that, you will find this a very enlightening post on the 6 to 12 year old child.
Anatomy Of A Tantrum
Source: YouTube (by permission), iStockphoto.com
Children’s temper tantrums are widely seen as many things: the cause of profound helplessness among parents; a source of dread for airline passengers stuck next to a young family; a nightmare for teachers. But until recently, they had not been considered a legitimate subject for science.
Now research suggests that, beneath all the screams and kicking and shouting, lies a phenomenon that is entirely amenable to scientific dissection. Tantrums turn out to have a pattern and rhythm to them. Once understood, researchers say, this pattern can help parents, teachers and even hapless bystanders respond more effectively to temper tantrums — and help clinicians tell the difference between ordinary tantrums, which are a normal part of a child’s development, and those that may be warning signals of an underlying disorder.
The key to a new theory of tantrums lies in a detailed analysis of the sounds that toddlers make during tantrums. In a new paper published in the journal Emotion, scientists found that different toddler sounds – or “vocalizations” – emerge and fade in a definite rhythm in the course of a tantrum.
“We have the most quantitative theory of tantrums that has ever been developed in the history of humankind,” said study co-author Michael Potegal of the University of Minnesota, half in jest and half seriously.
The first challenge was to collect tantrum sounds, says co-author James A. Green of the University of Connecticut.
“We developed a onesie that toddlers can wear that has a high-quality wireless microphone sewn into it,” Green said. “Parents put this onesie on the child and press a go button.”
The wireless microphone fed into a recorder that ran for several hours. If the toddler had a meltdown during that period, the researchers obtained a high-quality audio recording. Over time, Green and Potegal said they collected more than a hundred tantrums in high-fidelity audio.
The scientists then analyzed the audio. They found that different tantrum sounds had very distinct audio signatures. When the sounds were laid down on a graph, the researchers found that different sounds emerged and faded in a definite pattern. Unsurprisingly, sounds like yelling and screaming usually came together.
“Screaming and yelling and kicking often go together,” Potegal said. “Throwing things and pulling and pushing things tend to go together. Combinations of crying, whining, falling to the floor and seeking comfort — and these also hang together.”
But where one age-old theory of tantrums might suggest that meltdowns begin in anger (yells and screams) and end in sadness (cries and whimpers), Potegal found that the two emotions were more deeply intertwined.
“The impression that tantrums have two stages is incorrect,” Potegal said. “In fact, the anger and the sadness are more or less simultaneous.”
Understanding that tantrums have a rhythm can not only help parents know when to intervene, but also give them a sense of control.
Green and Potegal found that sad sounds tended to occur throughout tantrums. Superimposed on them were sharp peaks of yelling and screaming: anger.
The trick in getting a tantrum to end as soon as possible, Potegal said, was to get the child past the peaks of anger. Once the child was past being angry, what was left was sadness, and sad children reach out for comfort. The quickest way past the anger, the scientists said, was to do nothing. Of course, that isn’t easy for parents or caregivers to do.
“When I’m advising people about anger, I say, ‘There’s an anger trap,”’ Potegal said.
Even asking questions can prolong the anger — and the tantrum.
That’s what parents Noemi and David Doudna of Sunnyvale, Calif., found. Their daughter Katrina once had a meltdown at dinnertime because she wanted to sit at one corner of the dining table. Problem was, the table didn’t have any corners – it was round. When David Doudna asked Katrina where she wanted to sit, the tantrum only intensified.
“You know, when children are at the peak of anger and they’re screaming and they’re kicking, probably asking questions might prolong that period of anger,” said Green. “It’s difficult for them to process information. And to respond to a question that the parent is asking them may be just adding more information into the system than they can really cope with.”
In a video of the tantrum that Noemi Doudna posted on YouTube, Katrina’s tantrum intensified to screaming, followed by the child throwing herself to the floor and pushing a chair against a wall.
“Tantrums tend to often have this flow where the buildup is often quite quick to a peak of anger,” Green said.
Understanding that tantrums have a rhythm can not only help parents know when to intervene, but also give them a sense of control, Green said.
That’s because, when looked at scientifically, tantrums are no different than thunderstorms or other natural phenomena. Studying them as scientific subjects rather than experiencing them like parents can cause the tantrums to stop feeling traumatic and even become interesting.
“When we’re walking down the street or see a child having a tantrum, I comment on the child’s technique,” Potegal said. “[I] mutter to my family, ‘Good data,’ and they all laugh.”
Noemi Doudna said she now looks back on Katrina’s tantrums and sees the humor in them.
Katrina often demanded things that made no sense in the course of tantrums, Noemi Doudna said. She once said, “‘I don’t want my feet. Take my feet off. I don’t want my feet. I don’t want my feet!’”
When nothing calmed the child down, Noemi Doudna added, “I once teased her — which turned out to be a big mistake — I once said, ‘Well, OK, let’s go get some scissors and take care of your feet.’”
Her daughter’s response, Noemi Doudna recalled, was a shriek: “Nooooo!!”
Ron Huxley’s Reaction: I enjoyed this story on several levels: 1. It helps parents normalize a very frustrating behavior problem and informs them that the best thing they can do is “nothing.” I would add that “nothing” doesn’t mean no empathy. Sit with the child and make sure they don’t hurt themselves accidently but don’t give them any extra attention either. This makes it worse. 2. It links the emotional connection between anger and sadness. Anger is a very irrational behavior that is pure emotional brain with no logic. Anger pushes others away. Sadness draws them closer and is usually what underlies the harsher, more energetic emotion of anger.
OK, one more point: 3. A child’s nervous system is literally trained by an empathic but non-attention getting response to a child’s tantrum. The cause of tantrums is an undeveloped nervous system that requires external input to develop regulation and self-control. That is the job of the parents. Have fun :)
Parenting is one of the toughest jobs around. Guiding children in today’s world takes a huge amount of physical and emotional energy. Parenting is a lively dance involving the interplay between the child’s style and the parent’s approach and responses.
What is Temperament?
Children are born with their natural style of interacting with or reacting to people, places, and things—their temperament. In the late 1950s, temperament research began with the work of Alexander Thomas, Stella Chess, and associates. The New York Longitudinal Study identified nine temperament characteristics or traits. The researchers found that these nine traits were present at birth and continued to influence development in important ways throughout life. By observing a child’s responses to everyday situations, the researchers could assess these temperaments. Temperament is stable and differs from personality, which is a combination of temperament and life experiences, although the two terms are often used interchangeably.
Since the 1950s, many scientific studies of temperament have continued to show that children’s health and development are influenced by temperament. We all know children who are much more challenging to deal with than other children, starting at birth. The realization that many behavioral tendencies are inborn—and not the result of bad parenting—is perhaps one of the most important insights parents gain from learning more about temperament.
The examination of a child’s temperament generally occurs when the child’s behavior is difficult. Clinicians use a series of interviews, observations, and questionnaires that measure the nine temperament traits using a spectrum (scale) indicating mild to intense responses or reactions. By understanding temperament, the parent can work with the child rather than trying to change his or her inborn traits. The nine temperament traits and an explanation of the dimensions are given below.
- Activity: Is the child always moving and doing something OR does he or she have a more relaxed style?
- Rhythmicity: Is the child regular in his or her eating and sleeping habits OR somewhat haphazard?
- Approach/withdrawal: Does he or she “never meet a stranger” OR tend to shy away from new people or things?
- Adaptability: Can the child adjust to changes in routines or plans easily or does he or she resist transitions?
- Intensity: Does he or she react strongly to situations, either positive or negative, OR does he or she react calmly and quietly?
- Mood: Does the child often express a negative outlook OR is he or she generally a positive person? Does his or her mood shift frequently OR is he or she usually even-tempered?s
- Persistence and attention span: Does the child give up as soon as a problem arises with a task OR does he or she keep on trying? Can he or she stick with an activity a long time OR does his or her mind tend to wander?
- Distractibility: Is the child easily distracted from what he or she is doing OR can he or she shut out external distractions and stay with the current activity?
- Sensory threshold: Is he or she bothered by external stimuli such as loud noises, bright lights, or food textures OR does he or she tend to ignore them?
These traits combine to form three basic types of temperaments. Approximately 65 percent of all children fit one of three patterns. Forty percent of children are generally regarded as “easy or flexible,” 10 percent are regarded as “difficult, active, or feisty,” and the final 15 percent are regarded as “slow to warm up or cautious.” The other 35 percent of children are a combination of these patterns. By understanding these patterns, parents can tailor their parenting approach in such areas as expectations, encouragement, and discipline to suit the child’s unique needs.
- Easy or flexible children are generally calm, happy, regular in sleeping and eating habits, adaptable, and not easily upset. Because of their easy style, parents need to set aside special times to talk about the child’s frustrations and hurts because he or she won’t demand or ask for it. This intentional communication will be necessary to strengthen your relationship and find out what your child is thinking and feeling.
- Difficult, active, or feisty children are often fussy, irregular in feeding and sleeping habits, fearful of new people and situations, easily upset by noise and commotion, high strung, and intense in their reactions. Providing areas for vigorous play to work off stored up energy and frustrations with some freedom of choice allow these children to be successful. Preparing these children for activity changes and using redirection will help these children transition (move or change) from one place to another.
- Slow to warm up or cautious children are relatively inactive and fussy, tend to withdraw or to react negatively to new situations, but their reactions gradually become more positive with continuous exposure. Sticking to a routine and your word, along with allowing ample time to establish relationships in new situations, are necessary to allow independence to unfold.
Most children have some level of intensity on several temperament traits, but one dimension will usually dominate. Refrain from using negative labels such as “cry baby,” “worrywart,” or “lazy.” The child’s abilities to develop and behave in acceptable ways are greatly determined by the adults in their lives trying to identify, recognize, and respond to his or her unique temperament. By doing so, the adults can alter or adjust their parenting methods to be a positive guide in their child’s natural way of responding to the world.
Parenting with Temperament in Focus
Parents also need to get a clear picture of their own temperament traits and pinpoint areas in which conflicts with their child arise due to temperament clashing. When there is temperament friction between parent and child, it is more reasonable to expect that the parent will make the first move to adapt. When a parent or caregiver understands the child’s temperament, he or she can organize the environment so that “goodness of fit” happens.
Here are principles to keep in mind as you strive to achieve this fit.
- Be aware of your child’s temperament and respect his or her uniqueness without comparing him or her to others or trying to change your child’s basic temperament. Be aware of your own temperament and adjust your natural responses when they clash with your child’s responses.
- Communicate. Explain decisions and motives. Listen to the child’s points of view and encourage teamwork on generating solutions.
- Set limits to help your child develop self-control. Respect opinions but remain firm on important limits.
- Be a good role model because children learn by imitation.
- Enjoy the dance.
This match between the child’s temperament and the demands or expectations of his or her environment (family, school, childcare setting) greatly improves relationships. Parents who are tuned into their child’s temperament and who can recognize their child’s strengths will find life more enjoyable. It will be a dynamic dance that will last a lifetime.
Goodman, R., & Gurian, A. (1999). Parenting styles/children’s temperaments: The match. New York University Child Study Center, AboutOurKids.org.
Graham, J. (2001). Temperament. University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Bulletin #4358.
Olson, M. (1996, Spring/Summer). Ten keys to unlocking temperament. Arizona State University Research Magazine.
Turecki, S. (1985). The difficult child. New York: Bantam Books.
Ron Huxley’s Remembers: Many years ago, when I first started teaching parenting education, I used a video by Stella Chess called “Flexible, Fearful and Feisty”. It was one of my favorite parenting tools. Parents loved it as well because it was an easy way to understand how one child could be so different from the other. I loved it because it separated pathological from normal behavior. At times parents fought with children who were just like them and at other times needed the balance that another temperament brought to the relationship. Tell us how you have dealt with temperamental differences in your family?
Exposure to Intimate Partner Violence, Peer Relations, and Risk for Internalizing Behaviors
A Prospective Longitudinal Study
- 1John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York
- 2Columbia University, New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York
- Miriam K. Ehrensaft, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, 445 West 59th street, New York, NY 10019 Email: email@example.com
The present study examines the quality of peer relations as a mediator between exposure to IPV (intimate partner violence) and internalizing behaviors in a sample of 129 preadolescents and adolescents (ages 10-18), who were interviewed via telephone as part of a multigenerational, prospective, longitudinal study. Relational victimization is also examined as a moderator of IPV exposure on internalizing behaviors. Results demonstrate a significant association of exposure to severe IPV and internalizing behaviors. Relational victimization is found to moderate the effects of exposure to severe IPV on internalizing behaviors. The present findings suggest that the effects of exposure to IPV had a particularly important effect on the risk for internalizing problems if the adolescent also experienced relational victimization. Conversely, the receipt of prosocial behaviors buffer against the effects of IPV exposure on internalizing symptoms in teen girls.
Ron Huxley Relates: This study simply backs up our belief that witnessing domestic violence has a negative effect on children. This article focuses specifically on teens and how one’s peer group can help to buffer those negative effects. Apparently, teen girls have reduced effects when they have a strong peer network. Perhaps all that texting is good for them? OK, maybe that goes to far but it does support another belief that group therapy, formally or informally, can help our adolescents who have been victimized in this way.
Ron Huxley’s Reaction: A recent journal article reported that mom’s multitask more than dad’s and they find the entire experience more negative than do fathers. This could be because they do most of the work around the home, as the article implies, than do dad’s. I wouldn’t like it either if I was the one doing all the work either! The article gives some very simple advice: Dad’s need to help out more. Unfortunately, like most simple advice there is more complexity behind it, like social rewards or more flexible work hours. In our home it was do whatever you could whenever you could and this way, no one got resentful that the other parent wasn’t doing their part.
How do you divide the parenting/household responsibilities? Are dad’s really just slackers when it comes to parenting duties? Share your thoughts by clicking the reply button.
Trauma can shatter peoples’ world assumptions. In the process of rebuilding an assumptive world people often report ways in which they change positively. It is becoming increasingly important to integrate this idea into trauma work. To help do this my colleagues and I have developed a new self-report psychometric tool - the Psychological Well-Being Post-Traumatic Changes Questionnaire (PWB-PTCQ) with which to assess positive changes following trauma.
To illustrate, a sample six items are shown below.
Read each statement below and rate how you have changed as a result of the trauma.
5 = much more so now
4 = A bit more so now
3 = I feel the same about this as before
2 - A bit less so now
1 = Much less so now
1. I like myself____
2. I have confidence in my opinions____
3. I have a sense of purpose in life____
4. I have strong and close relationships in my life____
5. I feel I am in control of my life____
6. I am open to new experiences that challenge me____
Responses to these statements provide an opportunity for people to reflect on how they have changed.
Did you score over 3 on any of the items?
Can you think of think of one or two examples in your life that illustrate these changes?
Are there things you can do in the coming weeks that will help you build on and strengthen these changes?
Clinicians will also find the new tool useful as it allows them to bridge their traditional concerns of psychological suffering with the new psychology of posttraumatic growth. The full scale is 18 items so it is not too time consuming and can be used alongside traditional measures of PTSD.
This is not the first such measure of positive changes to have been developed. But there is a difference.
Those of us who study positive changes following adversity are sometimes criticised for offering an unrealistically optimistic view of the world. I don’t think this is true as the literature makes it clear that change can also be in a negative direction. But the critics may be right that this needed to be more fairly recognised in our measurement tools.
At any single point in time people will have changed in either negative or positive ways.
But existing measures do not offer the opportunity for people to say how they have changed in a negative direction as well as in a positive direction.
Thus, an important and novel aspect of this new instrument is that it recognises that people may also experience themselves as having changed in negative ways.
Did you score under 3 on any of the items?
If you scored under 3 on one or more of the items, is this causing you considerable problems at home or at work? Is it leading to significant difficulties with family, friends or colleagues? Have you tried dealing with the problems already, maybe through reading self-help or talking to others? If so, it may be appropriate to seek professional advice.
So as well as giving indications of how people may grow following trauma the PWB-PTCQ can also help people understand the ways in which they need to look after themselves better or flag up areas in which they might need professional help.
The full questionnaire is described in my new book, What Doesn’t Kill Us: The New Psychology of Posttraumatic Growth http://www.whatdoesntkillus.com.
But the book does not go into full technical detail on its psychometric development. For those who do want to learn more the research paper describing the development of the new tool is now available online in the journal Psychological Trauma http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2011-17454-001/
In the paper we describe the logic behind the questionnaire, its advantages and the research showing its reliability and validity.
I hope this work will interest people. I am always eager to meet new research collaborators - there is so much more yet to be done in this field - so if this new tool does spark some interest in you to use in your own research or clinic please do get in touch.
Ron Huxley’s Reaction: It is good to see a “strength-based” approach to trauma. Trauma has many negative impacts in someones life but it is not destiny. Many people do become stronger and more resilient following a traumatic event. How would score yourself on the measures listed above?
Dec. 5 (Bloomberg) — Teenagers who were abused as young children show changes in their brains that put them at risk for behavioral problems in adulthood, according to research from Yale University.
Brain scans of adolescents who suffered physical abuse and neglect showed differences in the part that controls executive function — mental processes such as planning, organizing and focusing on details — according to a study in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. Changes were also seen in brain areas that regulate emotions and impulses, the study said.
About 3.7 million U.S. children are assessed for child abuse or neglect each year, but the number may be higher as many cases don’t come to the attention of professionals, the authors said. The research, which evaluated teenagers who hadn’t been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, suggests abuse or neglect victims be monitored to reduce the risk of disorders like depression and addiction, researchers said.
“What these findings show is that experiences that people have early in life can really subsequently and fundamentally alter the way their brain develops,” said Philip Fisher, who wrote an accompanying editorial in the journal. “These kids, in spite of the fact that they didn’t have actual disorders, have the potential to be very vulnerable for problems over the course of their development.”
Human brains continue to develop through early adulthood, particularly the area that regulates emotions and executive function, said Fisher, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Oregon and a senior scientist at the Oregon Social Learning Center in Eugene, in a Dec. 2 telephone interview.
The study included 42 kids ages 12 to 17 who didn’t have a psychiatric diagnosis. The researchers used questionnaires to determine if the children suffered from physical abuse, physical neglect, emotional abuse, emotional neglect and sexual abuse. They then took images of their brains using MRI.
Scans showed that girls were more likely to have differences in brain areas related to emotional processing, making them more vulnerable to mood disorders like depression, while boys had changes to areas for impulse control, which could make them more vulnerable to drug and alcohol addictions, said study author Hilary Blumberg, an associate professor of psychiatry and diagnostic radiology in the Child Study Center at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut.
Brain alterations occurred in both adolescents who suffered abuse as well as neglect, the research found. The study didn’t show distinct patterns in the brains of children who were sexually abused, although Blumberg said that may be because the number of children who were sexually abused was small.
“It was very important to see the findings with regard to neglect,” Blumberg said in a Dec. 2 interview. “That was an area that had been little studied.”
Researchers are continuing to follow these teens to see if they develop behavior problems like depression or substance abuse and to understand why some may develop issues while others don’t, she said.
—Editors: Angela Zimm, Bruce Rule
To contact the reporter on this story: Nicole Ostrow in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at email@example.com
Ron Huxley’s Reaction: The information in this blog post is not new to anyone working with abused and neglected children. What is interesting is that it is posted on a very well respected business site. This tells me that the mainstream is beginning to get a clue about a very serious problem that might result in funding to help. To be really effective, we have to attack this issue “before” it gets to a crisis level and cost us more in the form of juvenile justice and mental health programs. Let’s work with the families to prevent the abuse and neglect from happening in the first place!
I have been noticing this term “broken families” pop up a lot recently in various professional writings and parent blogs. Each time I read it, I shudder. The underlying connotation is that a family that has undergone a divorce, death, adoption, abuse, etc. is somehow broken and unrepairable. It is a fatal diagnosis that leaves families without hope. I know, I know, it’s just language but words do have power. They percolate in the brain and become belief systems and self identifying references. The more we hear the word, the more we start to belive them and then we start to give up.
When someone witnesses a teenager with substance abuse issues, for example, people will comment: “You know they come from a broken family”. Everyone who goes through foster care, adoption, or experiences a divorce is going to have mental issues, right? Wrong. Many families deal with teenage substance abuse, not just nontraditional families. While it is possible that children of divorce may act out in antisocial ways, this doesn’t mean that all children of divorce will have issues in life that impair them. The same is true for adopted children or someone in a foster home or raised by a grandparent.
I am not denying that families do suffer from going through experiences like divorce or death or adoption. Loss is central to each of these things but that should not be a life-sentence resulting in mental and relational problems. Life is full of suffering. The focus here needs to be on how to help others cope. How can we learn from those who survive and thrive and teach it to everyone. I take affront at these comments and attitudes because they assume a dark, gloomy fate just because they have undergone a loss. That is just one path.
A recent national study on foster care and adoption in the child welfare system listed that 48% of children, in the system, have significant behavior problems. At first glance, that feels devastating but what about the other 52% that don’t? Who studies them? What makes them more of a survivor, better able to cope, more reselient? Let’s see those studies. Perhaps we could learn some useful tools to help us build strong families.
My challenge is too guard our language. This means we have to closely guard the thoughts that produce them too. We have to start looking at loss for what it is, a painful experience and not as destiny. To counter these negative connotations, try identifying the strengths of families and individuals in them. What have they done well that we can build upon? What new words can we use to describe them and assume their inevitable success in life?
I welcome your thoughts on this subject…