Concussions In Young Athletes Remain A Mystery

The Huffington Post

AP  |  By By LAURAN NEERGAARD  10/30/2013

WASHINGTON (AP) — No one knows how often the youngest athletes suffer concussions. It’s not clear if better headgear is the answer, and it’s not just a risk in football.

A new report reveals big gaps in what is known about the risk of concussion in youth sports, especially for athletes who suit up before high school.

The Institute of Medicine and National Research Council on Wednesday called for a national system to track sports-related concussions and start answering those questions.

Despite a decade of increasing awareness of the seriousness of concussions, the panel found young athletes still face a “culture of resistance” to reporting the injury and staying on the sidelines until it’s healed.

“Concussion is an injury that needs to be taken seriously. If an athlete has a torn ACL on the field, you don’t expect him to tape it up and play,” said IOM committee chairman Dr. Robert Graham, who directs the Aligning Forces for Quality national program office at George Washington University.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” Graham added.

But the panel found evidence, including testimony from a player accused by teammates of wimping out, that athletic programs’ attention to concussions varies.

Reports of sports concussions are on the rise, amid headlines about former professional players who suffered long-term impairment after repeated blows. Recent guidelines make clear that anyone suspected of having a concussion should be taken out of play immediately and not allowed back until cleared by a trained professional.

Although millions of U.S. children and teens play school or community sports, it’s not clear how many suffer concussions, in part because many go undiagnosed.

But Wednesday’s report said among people 19 and younger, 250,000 were treated in emergency rooms for concussions and other sports- or recreation-related brain injuries in 2009, up from 150,000 in 2001.

Rates vary by sport.

For male athletes in high school and college, concussion rates are highest for football, ice hockey, lacrosse and wrestling. For females, soccer, lacrosse and basketball head the list. Women’s ice hockey has one of the highest reported concussion rates at the college level.

College and high school sports injuries are tracked, but there’s no similar data to know how often younger children get concussions, whether on school teams or in community leagues, the IOM panel said.

“One thing that parents question is, ‘Well, should I let my son or daughter play this sport they’re asking me to play?'” said sports injury specialist Dawn Comstock of the University of Colorado, who reviewed the report. “If we don’t have that type of data on the national level, it’s very difficult” to know.

Could safety gear prevent kids’ concussions?

Some equipment ads make that claim. But there’s little scientific evidence that current sports helmet designs or other gear, such as face masks or headbands for soccer, really reduce the risk, the panel cautioned.

Still, it stressed that youngsters should wear helmets and other sport-appropriate safety gear, because they guard against other injuries, including skull fractures and face injuries.

“Parents deserve to know how safe their children’s safety equipment really is,” said Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., who is pushing legislation to curb false advertising and encourage improvements to sports equipment standards.

“While we can’t reduce every risk, we should do everything we can to stop misleading advertising that gives parents a false sense of security.”

The report found that every state except Mississippi has passed a concussion law since Washington started the trend in 2009, prompted by a 13-year-old who suffered permanent disability after returning to a football game despite a concussion.

The laws address such things as criteria for removal from play and standards for return-to-play decisions, but the report said most are in the early stages of being implemented.

It’s not always easy to spot a concussion — symptoms might not be obvious right away — yet most young athletes practice and play without routine access to a professional trained to check them, the panel said. That can leave the decision to bench players up to coaches and parents.

That’s especially true before high school and in community leagues, said Tamara Valovich McLeod with the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, which long has pushed for concussion education.

Without training, people may not realize you can have a concussion without losing consciousness, or that you can still have symptoms despite a clean CT scan, she said.

Typically, youth athletes recover from a concussion within two weeks. But in 10 percent to 20 percent of cases, symptoms can persist for weeks, months, occasionally even longer, the report found. A second blow before full recovery is especially dangerous.

Nor is the concern only about physical activity.

The American Academy of Pediatrics this week said teachers may need to ease students back into learning after a concussion.

There’s increasing evidence that too much mental activity can prolong recovery, too. Sensitivity to light, headaches or memory difficulties may require breaks or extra time on assignments when the student returns to class, the pediatricians’ policy says.

The IOM report also said:

—Youths who’ve already had a concussion are at higher risk for subsequent ones.

—Calls for a “hit count” to limit the number of head impacts in a week or a season make sense, but there’s no evidence to say what that number should be.

—Sports officials should examine if there are age-specific rules to make play safer, such as Canadian youth hockey’s no-checking rule for the youngest players.

But the report shouldn’t scare parents into pulling their kids out of sports, injury expert Comstock stressed.

“The positives of sports as a physical activity still far outweigh the negatives,” she said. “We just need to make it as safe as possible.”

Docs to parents: Limit kids’ texts, tweets, online

 

AP News

Oct 28, 10:19 AM (ET)

By LINDSEY TANNER

 

(AP) In this Oct. 24, 2013 photo, Amy Risinger, right, watches her son Mark Risinger, 16, at their home…
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CHICAGO (AP) – Doctors 2 parents: Limit kids’ tweeting, texting & keep smartphones, laptops out of bedrooms. (hash)goodluckwiththat.

The recommendations are bound to prompt eye-rolling and LOLs from many teens but an influential pediatricians group says parents need to know that unrestricted media use can have serious consequences.

It’s been linked with violence, cyberbullying, school woes, obesity, lack of sleep and a host of other problems. It’s not a major cause of these troubles, but “many parents are clueless” about the profound impact media exposure can have on their children, said Dr. Victor Strasburger, lead author of the new American Academy of Pediatrics policy

“This is the 21st century and they need to get with it,” said Strasburger, a University of New Mexico adolescent medicine specialist.

Under the new policy, those two hours include using the Internet for entertainment, including Facebook, Twitter, TV and movies; online homework is an exception.The policy is aimed at all kids, including those who use smartphones, computers and other Internet-connected devices. It expands the academy’s longstanding recommendations on banning televisions from children’s and teens’ bedrooms and limiting entertainment screen time to no more than two hours daily.

The policy statement cites a 2010 report that found U.S. children aged 8 to 18 spend an average of more than seven hours daily using some kind of entertainment media. Many kids now watch TV online and many send text messages from their bedrooms after “lights out,” including sexually explicit images by cellphone or Internet, yet few parents set rules about media use, the policy says.

“I guarantee you that if you have a 14-year-old boy and he has an Internet connection in his bedroom, he is looking at pornography,” Strasburger said.

The policy notes that three-quarters of kids aged 12 to 17 own cellphones; nearly all teens send text messages, and many younger kids have phones giving them online access.

(AP) In this Oct. 24, 2013 photo, Mark Risinger, 16, checks his Facebook page on his computer as his…
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“Young people now spend more time with media than they do in school – it is the leading activity for children and teenagers other than sleeping” the policy says.

Mark Risinger, 16, of Glenview, Ill., is allowed to use his smartphone and laptop in his room, and says he spends about four hours daily on the Internet doing homework, using Facebook and YouTube and watching movies.

He said a two-hour Internet time limit “would be catastrophic” and that kids won’t follow the advice, “they’ll just find a way to get around it.”

Strasburger said he realizes many kids will scoff at advice from pediatricians – or any adults.

“After all, they’re the experts! We’re media-Neanderthals to them,” he said. But he said he hopes it will lead to more limits from parents and schools, and more government research on the effects of media.

(AP) In this Oct. 24, 2013 photo, Mark Risinger, 16, checks his smartphone at home in Glenview, Ill….
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The policy was published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics. It comes two weeks after police arrested two Florida girls accused of bullying a classmate who committed suicide. Police say one of the girls recently boasted online about the bullying and the local sheriff questioned why the suspects’ parents hadn’t restricted their Internet use.

Mark’s mom, Amy Risinger, said she agrees with restricting kids’ time on social media but that deciding on other media limits should be up to parents.

“I think some children have a greater maturity level and you don’t need to be quite as strict with them,” said Risinger, who runs a communications consulting firm.

Her 12-year-old has sneaked a laptop into bed a few times and ended up groggy in the morning, “so that’s why the rules are now in place, that that device needs to be in mom and dad’s room before he goes to bed.”

Sara Gorr, a San Francisco sales director and mother of girls, ages 13 and 15, said she welcomes the academy’s recommendations.

Her girls weren’t allowed to watch the family’s lone TV until a few years ago. The younger one has a tablet, and the older one has a computer and smartphone, and they’re told not to use them after 9 p.m.

“There needs to be more awareness,” Gorr said. “Kids are getting way too much computer time. It’s bad for their socialization, it’s overstimulating, it’s numbing them.”

Is There an App for That?

Harvard Magazine

THE LOST GENERATION. The Greatest Generation. Generation X. And now…the App Generation.

“Are kids growing up in the digital age really different?” asks Howard Gardner, Hobbs professor of cognition and education. Six years ago, he and then-student Katie Davis, Ed.D. ’11 (now an assistant professor at the University of Washington) set out to explore the question, and in their new book, The App Generation: How Today’s Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World (Yale), they argue that the answer is unambiguously yes.

“This is a generation that expects and wants to have applications,” says Gardner. Applications, more commonly known as apps, are shortcuts designed for accomplishing specific tasks. They’re ubiquitous, powerful, and strongly structured, and the authors argue that they’re changing the way we think. “Young people growing up in our time are not only immersed in apps,” they write, “they’ve come to think of the world as an ensemble of apps, to see their lives as a string of ordered apps, or perhaps, in many cases, a single, extended, cradle-to-grave app.”

The app mindset, they say, motivates youth to seek direct, quick, easy solutions—the kinds of answers an app would provide—and to shy away from questions, whether or large or small, when there’s no “app for that.” In a wide-ranging cultural critique, the authors identify myriad resulting effects loosely structured around three of the stages of psychosocial development proposed by Gardner’s mentor Erik Erikson in 1950—here called identity, intimacy, and imagination.

They investigated the first two themes primarily through interviews with adolescents and focus groups of adults who work with teens. In terms of identity, Gardner and Davis argue that youth today are polished and packaged, in line with the cool, suave look of online profiles. In “Reflecting on Your Life” sessions with Harvard freshmen (see “The Most Important Course,” May-June 2011, page 56), Gardner writes, he encountered students “with their lives all mapped out—a super-app.” But the external polish often hides deep-seated anxiety, outwardly expressed as a need for approval. In their conversations with camp counselors and teachers, Gardner and Davis were repeatedly told that youth today are risk-averse; the app generation, said one focus group participant, is “scared to death.”

In exploring intimacy, Gardner and Davis saw repeated signs of greater isolation. Although social media can enhance friendships and family relationships, digital media can give the impression of closeness while promoting only shallow connections. Online relationships are often conducted at arm’s length, allowing youth to avoid the deeper emotional investment and vulnerability of more complicated, in-person relationships. (This emotional distance can also facilitate racist and sexist language that would be unacceptable in person.)

The book’s most unexpected results come from its study of imagination. Prompted by Gardner’s curiosity about how his high-school literary magazine might have changed in the 50 years since he was editor, the authors examined hundreds of samples of adolescent visual art and fiction between 1990 and 2010. Using a blind coding scheme to measure changes in topics such as subject, composition, and narrative flow, the authors concluded that graphic art has become more imaginative and diverse in the past 20 years, whereas creative writing has shown the opposite trend.

Though they acknowledged that all of their work is correlative, not causative, they speculated that the difference may reflect the emergence of online communities like deviantART and tools like Photoshop that increase amateur engagement with graphic media; in contrast, instant messaging and texting have largely supplanted more formal, written communications. The authors suggest that digital tools promote what they call “middle c” creativity, between the “little c” creativity of everyday problem-solving and the “Big C” of groundbreaking achievements. Though software may lower the bar for creative engagement, they write, users may never move beyond the tools’ inherent limitations.

“When do things that are optional become blinkers on how we see the world?” asks Gardner. He and Davis argue that people can be app-enabled, using apps as tools to eliminate tedious tasks and catalyze new forms of exploration, or app-dependent, relying heavily on the available tools as a substitute for skill and reflection. And the authors argue that automation itself is a dual-edged sword. “Who decides what is important?” they write. “And where do we draw the line between an operation”—using a GPS to navigate to Boston’s North End, for instance—“and the content on which the operation is carried out?”—orienting oneself in the city. Gardner points out that many of today’s teens have never been lost, either literally or metaphorically, and that many don’t even see the point of a “random walk,” an experience that he argues can build independence and resilience.

Apps are here to stay, the authors make clear, and the question now is how to make use of them in a productive, creative way. As an educator, Gardner favors what he calls a “constructivist” approach to learning—in which knowledge is acquired through exploration—and he believes that apps, by shortcutting discovery, can diminish this engagement with the world. Before downloading an app, he says, people should ask themselves what they would do without it: if they had to obtain directions or contact a friend, for instance, without a smartphone. “Even though a well-demonstrated toy or well-designed app has its virtues,” he and Davis write, “there is also virtue—and even reward—in figuring out things for yourself on your own time, in your own way.”

Brains, Brains, Brains! How the Mind of a Middle Schooler Works

Edutopia

OCTOBER 24, 2013

Image credit: Veer

In honor of October’s most awesome of holidays, I am going to begin a three-part series about the gentlemen zombie’s choice of cuisine: the ‘tween brain. However, I need to be frank. I’m not going to be able to teach you deeply about the ‘tween brain here. I’m not a neurologist. What I am going to do is make an argument, hopefully a darn good one, as to why you should educate yourself further about it.

Imagine that this is the CliffNotes of ‘tween brain research, but your research should not stop at this because, frankly, the more you know about how they learn, the more you can pass on to them the secrets of how they process and embed knowledge. In the end, this leads to greater achievement.

The following is an edited excerpt from my book on middle schoolers: ‘Tween Crayons and Curfews: Tips for Middle School Teachers. The chapter goes into more detail about how the tween brain works, but I thought I’d encapsulate it in this series of posts. So, in honor of Halloween, I present, The ‘Tween Brain.

What are ‘tweens most interested in? Please circle the correct response:

 

A. ancient history between the years of 400 BC and 1400 AD

B. how to write a literary analysis essay on the theme of Number the Stars

C. the definition of the term “quadratic equation”

D. themselves

Answer: D. It should come as no surprise that the most intriguing topic to a middle schooler is middle schoolers. I can’t blame them. Their bodies are changing. Their priorities are changing. Their identities are mutating as fast as their bone structure, and they want to know about where they are going to land after their morphing is done, both mentally and physically. More importantly, they want to know how what we teach relates to them, not as people, but as tweens.

Tapping into ‘Tweens

Look at it this way: your teaching every year is like a narrative, and …if the A-story is the standards-based content, then the B-story is the tween-based content, and there is a huge difference between a middle-school classroom run by a teacher who takes on this added curriculum and a middle-school classroom that doesn’t. It’s the difference between silver and gray.

So when I realized this, I began to become a hobbyist in what a ‘tween was and what made them tick. I began infusing my own professional development with brain research on how the ‘tween brain works. I mean, if my job is to teach to it, I felt I should know more about it.

Therefore, my class became focused on not just what to learn, but how best to learn it. It became a class that taught students that they could, through using certain strategies, leave my classroom with greater intelligence than when they entered it, because they could control their own depth of learning.

It’s this concept of “control” that’s so fascinating to middle schoolers. For in every other aspect of their lives they are out of control. They wake up with different faces than the ones they went to sleep with, marked by zits while they slept. They don’t drive but they want to go places. They can’t get a worker’s permit, but they need cash. Meanwhile, many adults tell them that they are too old for this but not old enough for that; so to realize that there is something that they can control, their own level of learning, is empowering. It’s empowering for them to feel their level of intellect is in their hands and isn’t a hand they were just dealt at birth. It’s also empowering for the teachers to know that any student they get in the fall can have the ability to grow by the spring. All is takes is teaching ‘tweens about what makes them tick and how they can tick better.

Changing Perspectives

The best resource I’ve found for brain research in regard to education is by Judy Willis. A neurologist turned teacher, Willis makes understanding all this stuff really relatable to the classroom. One of the most important points she makes is that people are not born at a certain intelligence level and stay that way. Intelligence is not gifted at birth, unalterable; and when students realize that they can alter their brain, it is absolutely empowering.

This myth that the brain is unalterable feeds into the insecure world of a middle schooler. To take from them that false burden of “that’s just the way it is,” is liberating. Anything you can do to help a ‘tween feel more secure in their abilities and possibilities will potentially improve their achievement in your classroom. Anything you can do to make a ‘tween feel more in control becomes a powerful tool for you and for them.

For this machine that is their brain is a tool, and it is one that, while it came to them from the factory all nice and new, can still be modified and souped up.

The ‘tween brain is different developmentally than that of the elementary students and of the high schooler, and it must be treated as such. Even though we teach to the standards, our lessons should still reflect the existing solid science that proves how the brain learns best at this stage of development. If we want what we teach to be embedded into long-term memory instead of being discarded from short-term memory, we need to create lessons that send it to the area of the brain reserved for long term use.

For my next post, I will define some key phrases you should know about the ‘tween brain and follow a memorized fact as it travels from point A to point B. And in the third post, I will offer some advice on activities to embed knowledge more deeply into the fickle and easily distracted middle school noggin.

What have you discovered about the middle schooler’s mind? Please share your experiences and expertise with us in the comment section below.

The Not-So-Hidden Cause Behind the A.D.H.D. Epidemic

The New York Times

Illustration by Oliver Munday
By MAGGIE KOERTH-BAKER
Published: October 15, 2013 

Between the fall of 2011 and the spring of 2012, people across the United States suddenly found themselves unable to get their hands on A.D.H.D. medication. Low-dose generics were particularly in short supply. There were several factors contributing to the shortage, but the main cause was that supply was suddenly being outpaced by demand.

The number of diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder has ballooned over the past few decades. Before the early 1990s, fewer than 5 percent of school-age kids were thought to have A.D.H.D. Earlier this year, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that 11 percent of children ages 4 to 17 had at some point received the diagnosis — and that doesn’t even include first-time diagnoses in adults. (Full disclosure: I’m one of them.)

That amounts to millions of extra people receiving regular doses of stimulant drugs to keep neurological symptoms in check. For a lot of us, the diagnosis and subsequent treatments — both behavioral and pharmaceutical — have proved helpful. But still: Where did we all come from? Were that many Americans always pathologically hyperactive and unable to focus, and only now are getting the treatment they need?

Probably not. Of the 6.4 million kids who have been given diagnoses of A.D.H.D., a large percentage are unlikely to have any kind of physiological difference that would make them more distractible than the average non-A.D.H.D. kid. It’s also doubtful that biological or environmental changes are making physiological differences more prevalent. Instead, the rapid increase in people with A.D.H.D. probably has more to do with sociological factors — changes in the way we school our children, in the way we interact with doctors and in what we expect from our kids.

Which is not to say that A.D.H.D. is a made-up disorder. In fact, there’s compelling evidence that it has a strong genetic basis. Scientists often study twins to examine whether certain behaviors and traits are inborn. They do this by comparing identical twins (who share almost 100 percent of the same genes) with fraternal twins (who share about half their genes). If a disorder has a genetic basis, then identical twins will be more likely to share it than fraternal twins. In 2010, researchers at Michigan State University analyzed 22 different studies of twins and found that the traits of hyperactivity and inattentiveness were highly inheritable. Numerous brain-imaging studies have also shown distinct differences between the brains of people given diagnoses of A.D.H.D. and those not — including evidence that some with A.D.H.D. may have fewer receptors in certain regions for the chemical messenger dopamine, which would impair the brain’s ability to function in top form.

None of that research yet translates into an objective diagnostic approach, however. Before I received my diagnosis, I spent multiple sessions with a psychologist who interviewed me and my husband, took a health history from my doctor and administered several intelligence tests. That’s not the norm, though, and not only because I was given my diagnosis as an adult. Most children are given the diagnosis on the basis of a short visit with their pediatrician. In fact, the diagnosis can be as simple as prescribing Ritalin to a child and telling the parents to see if it helps improve their school performance.

This lack of rigor leaves room for plenty of diagnoses that are based on something other than biology. Case in point: The beginning of A.D.H.D. as an “epidemic” corresponds with a couple of important policy changes that incentivized diagnosis. The incorporation of A.D.H.D. under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act in 1991 — and a subsequent overhaul of the Food and Drug Administration in 1997 that allowed drug companies to more easily market directly to the public — were hugely influential, according to Adam Rafalovich, a sociologist at Pacific University in Oregon. For the first time, the diagnosis came with an upside — access to tutors, for instance, and time allowances on standardized tests. By the late 1990s, as more parents and teachers became aware that A.D.H.D. existed, and that there were drugs to treat it, the diagnosis became increasingly normalized, until it was viewed by many as just another part of the experience of childhood.

Stephen Hinshaw, a professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley, has found another telling correlation. Hinshaw was struck by the disorder’s uneven geographical distribution. In 2007, 15.6 percent of kids between the ages of 4 and 17 in North Carolina had at some point received an A.D.H.D. diagnosis. In California, that number was 6.2 percent. This disparity between the two states is representative of big differences, generally speaking, in the rates of diagnosis between the South and West. Even after Hinshaw’s team accounted for differences like race and income, they still found that kids in North Carolina were nearly twice as likely to be given diagnoses of A.D.H.D. as those in California.

Hinshaw, as well as sociologists like Rafalovich and Peter Conrad of Brandeis University, argues that such numbers are evidence of sociological influences on the rise in A.D.H.D. diagnoses. In trying to narrow down what those influences might be, Hinshaw evaluated differences between diagnostic tools, types of health insurance, cultural values and public perceptions of mental illness. Nothing seemed to explain the difference — until he looked at educational policies.

The No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush, was the first federal effort to link school financing to standardized-test performance. But various states had been slowly rolling out similar policies for the last three decades. North Carolina was one of the first to adopt such a program; California was one of the last. The correlations between the implementation of these laws and the rates of A.D.H.D. diagnosis matched on a regional scale as well. When Hinshaw compared the rollout of these school policies with incidences of A.D.H.D., he found that when a state passed laws punishing or rewarding schools for their standardized-test scores, A.D.H.D. diagnoses in that state would increase not long afterward. Nationwide, the rates of A.D.H.D. diagnosis increased by 22 percent in the first four years after No Child Left Behind was implemented.

To be clear: Those are correlations, not causal links. But A.D.H.D., education policies, disability protections and advertising freedoms all appear to wink suggestively at one another. From parents’ and teachers’ perspectives, the diagnosis is considered a success if the medication improves kids’ ability to perform on tests and calms them down enough so that they’re not a distraction to others. (In some school districts, an A.D.H.D. diagnosis also results in that child’s test score being removed from the school’s official average.) Writ large, Hinshaw says, these incentives conspire to boost the diagnosis of the disorder, regardless of its biological prevalence.

Rates of A.D.H.D. diagnosis also vary widely from country to country. In 2003, when nearly 8 percent of American kids had been given a diagnosis of A.D.H.D., only about 2 percent of children in Britain had. According to the British National Health Service, the estimate of kids affected by A.D.H.D. there is now as high as 5 percent. Why would Britain have such a comparatively low incidence of the disorder? But also, why is that incidence on the rise?

Conrad says both questions are linked to the different ways our societies define disorders. In the United States, we base those definitions on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (D.S.M.), while Europeans have historically used the International Classification of Diseases (I.C.D.). “The I.C.D. has much stricter guidelines for diagnosis,” Conrad says. “But, for a variety of reasons, the D.S.M. has become more widely used in more places.” Conrad, who’s currently researching the spread of A.D.H.D. diagnosis rates, believes that America is essentially exporting the D.S.M. definition and the medicalized response to it. A result, he says, is that “now we see higher and higher prevalence rates outside the United States.”

According to Joel Nigg, professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health and Science University, this is part of a broader trend in America: the medicalization of traits that previous generations might have dealt with in other ways. Schools used to punish kids who wouldn’t sit still. Today we tend to see those kids as needing therapy and medicine. When people don’t fit in, we react by giving their behavior a label, either medicalizing it, criminalizing it or moralizing it, Nigg says.

For some kids, getting medicine might be a better outcome than being labeled a troublemaker. But of course there are also downsides, especially when there are so many incentives encouraging overdiagnosis. Medicalization can hurt people just as much as moralizing can. Not so long ago, homosexuality was officially considered a mental illness. And in a remarkable bit of societal blindness, the diagnosis of drapetomania was used to explain why black slaves would want to escape to freedom.

Today many sociologists and neuroscientists believe that regardless of A.D.H.D.’s biological basis, the explosion in rates of diagnosis is caused by sociological factors — especially ones related to education and the changing expectations we have for kids. During the same 30 years when A.D.H.D. diagnoses increased, American childhood drastically changed. Even at the grade-school level, kids now have more homework, less recess and a lot less unstructured free time to relax and play. It’s easy to look at that situation and speculate how “A.D.H.D.” might have become a convenient societal catchall for what happens when kids are expected to be miniature adults. High-stakes standardized testing, increased competition for slots in top colleges, a less-and-less accommodating economy for those who don’t get into colleges but can no longer depend on the existence of blue-collar jobs — all of these are expressed through policy changes and cultural expectations, but they may also manifest themselves in more troubling ways — in the rising number of kids whose behavior has become pathologized.

Maggie Koerth-Baker is science editor at BoingBoing.net and author of “Before the Lights Go Out,” on the future of energy production and consumption.

Black Boys Have an Easier Time Fitting In at Suburban Schools Than Black Girls

The Atlantic

Minority young men are considered by their white peers to be cool and tough; minority young women, on the other hand, are stereotyped as “ghetto” and “loud.”
[IMAGE DESCRIPTION]
Ted S. Warren/AP Photo

Though I’m sure my name was a hint, I happen to be black. My parents are West African (Mali and Senegal to be exact), and I was born and raised in France. When I was 13, my family and I moved to a suburban community outside of Atlanta. The school I attended, though relatively diverse for Georgia, was majority white. I had an easy time there. I made friends quickly, a lot of them white. To this day, more than ten years later, my friend circle is still very much white, populated by the people I met at my mostly-white high school, or at my mostly-white university, or in my mostly-white neighborhood. I have always attributed my ability to fit into both multicultural and white environments to my personality and my immigrant’s need to adapt to whatever environment I’m in.

But recent research published in the American Sociological Association’sSociology of Education journal shows that my gender (male) was one of the determinative factors in the relative ease of my social integration. In an articlepublished last year, Megan M. Holland, a professor at the University of Buffalo and a recent Harvard Ph.D., studied the social impact of a desegregation program on the minority students who were being bussed to a predominantly white high school in suburban Boston. She found that minority boys, because of stereotypes about their supposed athleticism and “coolness,” fit in better than minority girls because the school gave the boys better opportunities to interact with white students. Minority boys participated in sports and non-academic activities at much higher rates. Over the course of her study, she concluded that structural factors in the school as well as racial narratives about minority males resulted in increased social rewards for the boys, while those same factors contributed to the isolation of girls in the diversity program.

Another study looked at a similar program, called Diversify. Conducted by Simone Ispa-Landa at Northwestern University, it showed how gender politics and gender performance impacted the way the minority students were seen at the school. The study shows that “as a group, the Diversify boys were welcomed in suburban social cliques, even as they were constrained to enacting race and gender in narrow ways.” Diversify girls, on the other hand, “were stereotyped as ‘ghetto’ and ‘loud’”—behavior that, when exhibited by the boys in the program, was socially rewarded. Another finding from her study was that because of the gender dynamics present at the school—the need to conform to prevalent male dominance in the school—“neither the white suburban boys nor the black Diversify boys were interested in dating” the minority girls. The girls reported being seen by boys at their schools as “aggressive” and not having the “Barbie doll” look. The boys felt that dating the white girls was “easier” because they “can’t handle the black girls.”

The black boys in Ispa-Landa’s study found themselves in peculiar situations in which they would play into stereotypes of black males as being cool or athletic by seeming “street-smart.” At the same time, though, they would work to subvert those racial expectations by code-switching both their speech and mannerisms to put their white classmates at ease. Many of the boys reported feeling safer and freer at the suburban school, as they would not be considered “tough” at their own schools. It was only in the context of the suburban school that their blackness conferred social power. In order to maintain that social dominance, the boys engaged in racial performance, getting into show fights with each other to appear tough and using rough, street language around their friends.

In the case of the girls, the urban signifiers that gave the boys so much social acceptance, were held against them. While the boys could wear hip-hop clothing, the girls were seen as “ghetto” for doing the same. While the boys could display a certain amount of aggression, the girls felt they were penalized for doing so. Ispa-Landa, in an interview, expressed surprise at “how much of a consensus there was among the girls about their place in the school.” She also found that overall, the girls who participated in diversity programs paid a social cost because they “failed to embody characteristics of femininity” that would have valorized them in the school hierarchy. They also felt excluded from the sports and activities that gave girls in those high schools a higher social status, such as cheerleading and Model U.N., because most activities ended too late for the parents of minority girls. Holland notes that minority parents were much more protective of the girls; they expressed no worries about the boys staying late, or over at friend’s houses.

Once minority women leave high school and college, they are shown to continue to struggle with social integration, even as they achieve higher educational outcomes and, in certain locales, higher incomes than minority men. Though, as presaged by high-school sexual politics, they were still three times less likelythan black men to marry outside of their race.

For the second time in as many sessions, the Supreme Court heard a case about affirmative action last Tuesday. Following last year’s Fisher v. Texas non-decision, the court will now be deciding whether states can ban the consideration of race in college admissions through ballot initiatives as the Michigan did in 2006. Based on the tenor of the oral arguments, some court watchers have predicted that the court’s conservative majority will now take the opportunity to further limit the use of affirmative action in admissions across the nation. As Garrett Epps noted last week, it is nearly impossible to have a measured conversation about affirmative action, an issue that splits even the most ardent liberals. However, there appears to be a general consensus that minority populations benefit from these programs. But very rarely do commentators stop to consider the diversity of that minority population, and even fewer consider what impact affirmative actions programs have on the disparate, intersecting groups who participate in them.

A couple of months ago, Ebony.com editor Jamilah Lemieux started the Twitter hashtag #blackpowerisforblackmen to discuss the little-talked about but deeply-felt existence of black male privilege. Tweets like “#blackpowerisforblackmenbecause the Black men’s problems are the community’s problems” and “#blackpowerisforblackmen bc although black women played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement, we’re only told about MLK&other blk men” speak to a history of minimizing of the experience of black women. The hashtag, which attracted no small amount of blowback from black males, revealed the dilemma that many black women face: having to combat both racism and sexism. Like the research about the diversity programs, the conversation showed that what we sometimes instinctively think of as “the black experience” is complicated by gender. The ostensible purpose of affirmative action is to increase the presence of minorities in colleges and universities. But as the Supreme Court considers further limiting the scope of such programs, it is important to remember that unless cultural expectations about race and gender change, full educational integration will remain a pipe dream.

Here’s What A Constantly Plugged-In Life Is Doing To Kids’ Bodies

The Huffington Post


Infographic by Alissa Scheller for The Huffington Post.

If it seems like your kids are constantly plugged in, tapping away on their iPhones, obsessively gaming and SnapChatting way more than they’re actually … chat-chatting — well, that’s because they are. It’s estimated that children ages 8 to 18 spend an average of seven hours a day behind screens; teens send an average of 3,417 text messages each month; and 97 percent of adolescents have at least one electronic device in their bedrooms.

What’s just as scary as how much time kids spend on screens is the effect it can have on their health. Their backs and wrists are sore, their sleep is disrupted and their attention spans are diminished.

While it would be impossible to rid your kids’ lives of technology completely — and you wouldn’t want to, because of its many joys and benefits — parents can take a few measures to help prevent its negative mental and physical side effects.

Here are some ways screens may be harming your kids’ bodies and what you can do about it:

They’re Hunched Over, And Their Necks And Upper Backs Are Sore

The human body’s natural position is an erect posture with a little bit of lordosis (inward curve) in the neck and a bit of kyphosis (round curve) in the upper back. A person sitting at in front of a computer is likely to have rounded shoulders and forward head posture, which puts a strain on the muscles and joints, causing soreness and fatigue.

What To Do: Dr. Sherilyn Driscoll, a doctor of pediatric physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Mayo Clinic Children’s Center, recommends that parents be conscious of ergonomics when kids are at their computers: It should be on a desk with the keyboard at hand level, there should be a supportive backrest, and kids should try to maintain an upright position.

They’re Less Active

Research has linked childhood obesity to too much screen time. In a recent study, 61 percent of obese boys and 63 percent of obese girls reported watching television for two or more hours each day. Studies have also suggested that TV viewing habits in childhood can predict obesity risk in adulthood.

What To Do: According to government guidelines, kids and teens should get at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day at least three times a week to increase strength and develop strong muscles.

Their Fingers And Wrists Are Suffering

Wrist and finger pain is common in kids who play video games. A study (done by a kid!) found that children were 50 percent more likely to experience pain for every hour they spent gaming. Dr. Eric Ruderman, an associate professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, said video game playing may be harmful for children’s developing muscles and tendons.

Too much texting can also lead to soreness and cramping in the fingers, known as “text claw.” According to a 2012 Nielsen report, the average teen sends 3,417 texts a month, which is about seven an hour. Ouch.

What To Do: Ruderman says parents need to limit game time: Two hours per day is too much for a 7- or 8-year-old. Additionally,HuffPost Healthy Living has put together a comprehensive guide to alleviate pain from smartphone use that you can share with your teen.

Their Sight Could Be Affected

Teens’ constant use of electronics at home and at school is taking a toll on their eyes, according to David Epley, a pediatric ophthalmologist in Kirkland, Wash., and a spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Whenever someone spends time in front of a screen their “blink rate” goes down, which can lead to dry, itchy eyes and eye strain. While teens’ eyes can get used to screens, Epley said, damage can develop over time and even cause myopia, or nearsightedness.

What To Do: The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that a computer user shift focus away from a screen every 20 minutes and take 20 seconds to look at something that is at least 20 feet away. “This gets you blinking again,” Epley said. “And restores moisture to the surface of the eye.”

Their Sleep Is Disrupted

According to a 2010 Pew Study, 4 out of 5 teenagers sleep with their cell phones on and near their beds. And they’re not just using phones as alarms; another study found that teens send an average of 34 texts a night after getting into bed.

Teens’ sleep can be disrupted by screens because the bright lights that glow from the devices “wakes up the brain,” Michael Decker, a sleep specialist and associate professor at Case Western School of Nursing, told The Huffington Post. The light can confuse the brain since our circadian pacemaker does not differentiate between the sun and a computer screen. “Teens are getting this bright light and it’s making them go to bed later and want to sleep later,” said Decker, “but they can’t deal with the sleep loss.” Not getting enough sleep has a psychological effect on teens, and can lead to irritability and poor social skills. Memory is also negatively affected, which in turn can diminish academic performance.

What To Do: The National Sleep Foundation recommends that teenagers get 9.25 hours of sleep each night (although for some kids, 8.5 hours is enough). Dr. Suzanne Phillips suggests discussing a nighttime plan with your kids -– either phones off after 11 p.m., or requiring them to charge it in another room overnight.

They’re Losing A Little Bit Of Hearing

One in 5 teens has experienced hearing loss — a number that’s increased in recent years. Though it hasn’t been proven, experts suggest loud music coming from digital music players could be to blame. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Personal music players, such as MP3 players, can cause lasting hearing loss if you turn the volume up high enough to mask the sound of other loud noises, such as those from a lawn mower.”

What To Do: The Associated Press points out that parents can set the maximum volume on their kids’ iPods and lock it with a code.

Their Brains Are … Different

Breathe out. There is no hard evidence to suggest that technology is rotting your kids’ brains. Sure, screens can be harmful: Today’steens are more distractedsocial media can contribute to psychological problems; and most obviously, they can’t read maps.

But there are also benefits to growing up with technology. Dr. Larry Rosen, author of Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration andThe Way They Learnsays that social media can help teens find their identity in the world. A recent study found that interactive tools did help kids learn. Toddlers who interacted with the screen picked up concepts and words faster.

While experts on both sides of the issue have strong opinions, most agree that moderation is key. And as parents, one must look at one’s own screen habits and remember that the kids are watching. “Kids do not need our undivided attention all day long, but they do in those real-life moments of talking and reading and doing the hard work of parenting — dealing with meltdowns, teaching them how to pick up their clothes,” Catherine Steiner-Adair, author of The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Agetold The Huffington Post.

So, moms and dads, it’s time to walk away from the computer, put the phone down and enjoy your kids face to face.
(After you share this article with your friends.)

Is Music the Key to Success?

The New York Times

By JOANNE LIPMAN
Published: October 12, 2013

CONDOLEEZZA RICE trained to be a concert pianist. Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, was a professional clarinet and saxophone player. The hedge fund billionaire Bruce Kovner is a pianist who took classes at Juilliard.

Multiple studies link music study to academic achievement. But what is it about serious music training that seems to correlate with outsize success in other fields?

The connection isn’t a coincidence. I know because I asked. I put the question to top-flight professionals in industries from tech to finance to media, all of whom had serious (if often little-known) past lives as musicians. Almost all made a connection between their music training and their professional achievements.

The phenomenon extends beyond the math-music association. Strikingly, many high achievers told me music opened up the pathways to creative thinking. And their experiences suggest that music training sharpens other qualities: Collaboration. The ability to listen. A way of thinking that weaves together disparate ideas. The power to focus on the present and the future simultaneously.

Will your school music program turn your kid into a Paul Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft (guitar)? Or a Woody Allen (clarinet)? Probably not. These are singular achievers. But the way these and other visionaries I spoke to process music is intriguing. As is the way many of them apply music’s lessons of focus and discipline into new ways of thinking and communicating — even problem solving.

Look carefully and you’ll find musicians at the top of almost any industry. Woody Allen performs weekly with a jazz band. The television broadcaster Paula Zahn (cello) and the NBC chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd (French horn) attended college on music scholarships; NBC’s Andrea Mitchell trained to become a professional violinist. Both Microsoft’s Mr. Allen and the venture capitalist Roger McNamee have rock bands. Larry Page, a co-founder of Google, played saxophone in high school. Steven Spielberg is a clarinetist and son of a pianist. The former World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn has played cello at Carnegie Hall.

“It’s not a coincidence,” says Mr. Greenspan, who gave up jazz clarinet but still dabbles at the baby grand in his living room. “I can tell you as a statistician, the probability that that is mere chance is extremely small.” The cautious former Fed chief adds, “That’s all that you can judge about the facts. The crucial question is: why does that connection exist?”

Paul Allen offers an answer. He says music “reinforces your confidence in the ability to create.” Mr. Allen began playing the violin at age 7 and switched to the guitar as a teenager. Even in the early days of Microsoft, he would pick up his guitar at the end of marathon days of programming. The music was the emotional analog to his day job, with each channeling a different type of creative impulse. In both, he says, “something is pushing you to look beyond what currently exists and express yourself in a new way.”

Mr. Todd says there is a connection between years of practice and competition and what he calls the “drive for perfection.” The veteran advertising executive Steve Hayden credits his background as a cellist for his most famous work, the Apple “1984” commercial depicting rebellion against a dictator. “I was thinking of Stravinsky when I came up with that idea,” he says. He adds that his cello performance background helps him work collaboratively: “Ensemble playing trains you, quite literally, to play well with others, to know when to solo and when to follow.”

For many of the high achievers I spoke with, music functions as a “hidden language,” as Mr. Wolfensohn calls it, one that enhances the ability to connect disparate or even contradictory ideas. When he ran the World Bank, Mr. Wolfensohn traveled to more than 100 countries, often taking in local performances (and occasionally joining in on a borrowed cello), which helped him understand “the culture of people, as distinct from their balance sheet.”

It’s in that context that the much-discussed connection between math and music resonates most. Both are at heart modes of expression. Bruce Kovner, the founder of the hedge fund Caxton Associates and chairman of the board of Juilliard, says he sees similarities between his piano playing and investing strategy; as he says, both “relate to pattern recognition, and some people extend these paradigms across different senses.”

Mr. Kovner and the concert pianist Robert Taub both describe a sort of synesthesia — they perceive patterns in a three-dimensional way. Mr. Taub, who gained fame for his Beethoven recordings and has since founded a music software company, MuseAmi, says that when he performs, he can “visualize all of the notes and their interrelationships,” a skill that translates intellectually into making “multiple connections in multiple spheres.”

For others I spoke to, their passion for music is more notable than their talent. Woody Allen told me bluntly, “I’m not an accomplished musician. I get total traction from the fact that I’m in movies.”

Mr. Allen sees music as a diversion, unconnected to his day job. He likens himself to “a weekend tennis player who comes in once a week to play. I don’t have a particularly good ear at all or a particularly good sense of timing. In comedy, I’ve got a good instinct for rhythm. In music, I don’t, really.”

Still, he practices the clarinet at least half an hour every day, because wind players will lose their embouchure (mouth position) if they don’t: “If you want to play at all you have to practice. I have to practice every single day to be as bad as I am.” He performs regularly, even touring internationally with his New Orleans jazz band. “I never thought I would be playing in concert halls of the world to 5,000, 6,000 people,” he says. “I will say, quite unexpectedly, it enriched my life tremendously.”

Music provides balance, explains Mr. Wolfensohn, who began cello lessons as an adult. “You aren’t trying to win any races or be the leader of this or the leader of that. You’re enjoying it because of the satisfaction and joy you get out of music, which is totally unrelated to your professional status.”

For Roger McNamee, whose Elevation Partners is perhaps best known for its early investment in Facebook, “music and technology have converged,” he says. He became expert on Facebook by using it to promote his band, Moonalice, and now is focusing on video by live-streaming its concerts. He says musicians and top professionals share “the almost desperate need to dive deep.” This capacity to obsess seems to unite top performers in music and other fields.

Ms. Zahn remembers spending up to four hours a day “holed up in cramped practice rooms trying to master a phrase” on her cello. Mr. Todd, now 41, recounted in detail the solo audition at age 17 when he got the second-highest mark rather than the highest mark — though he still was principal horn in Florida’s All-State Orchestra.

“I’ve always believed the reason I’ve gotten ahead is by outworking other people,” he says. It’s a skill learned by “playing that solo one more time, working on that one little section one more time,” and it translates into “working on something over and over again, or double-checking or triple-checking.” He adds, “There’s nothing like music to teach you that eventually if you work hard enough, it does get better. You see the results.”

That’s an observation worth remembering at a time when music as a serious pursuit — and music education — is in decline in this country.

Consider the qualities these high achievers say music has sharpened: collaboration, creativity, discipline and the capacity to reconcile conflicting ideas. All are qualities notably absent from public life. Music may not make you a genius, or rich, or even a better person. But it helps train you to think differently, to process different points of view — and most important, to take pleasure in listening.

Joanne Lipman is a co-author, with Melanie Kupchynsky, of the book “Strings Attached: One Tough Teacher and the Gift of Great Expectations.”

Losing Is Good For You

The New York Times

By ASHLEY MERRYMAN
Published: September 24, 2013 

LOS ANGELES — AS children return to school this fall and sign up for a new year’s worth of extracurricular activities, parents should keep one question in mind. Whether your kid loves Little League or gymnastics, ask the program organizers this: “Which kids get awards?” If the answer is, “Everybody gets a trophy,” find another program.

Trophies were once rare things — sterling silver loving cups bought from jewelry stores for truly special occasions. But in the 1960s, they began to be mass-produced, marketed in catalogs to teachers and coaches, and sold in sporting-goods stores.

Today, participation trophies and prizes are almost a given, as children are constantly assured that they are winners. One Maryland summer program gives awards every day — and the “day” is one hour long. In Southern California, a regional branch of the American Youth Soccer Organization hands out roughly 3,500 awards each season — each player gets one, while around a third get two. Nationally, A.Y.S.O. local branches typically spend as much as 12 percent of their yearly budgets on trophies.

It adds up: trophy and award sales are now an estimated $3 billion-a-year industry in the United States and Canada.

Po Bronson and I have spent years reporting on the effects of praise and rewards on kids. The science is clear. Awards can be powerful motivators, but nonstop recognition does not inspire children to succeed. Instead, it can cause them to underachieve.

Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, found that kids respond positively to praise; they enjoy hearing that they’re talented, smart and so on. But after such praise of their innate abilities, they collapse at the first experience of difficulty. Demoralized by their failure, they say they’d rather cheat than risk failing again.

In recent eye-tracking experiments by the researchers Bradley Morris and Shannon Zentall, kids were asked to draw pictures. Those who heard praise suggesting they had an innate talent were then twice as fixated on mistakes they’d made in their pictures.

By age 4 or 5, children aren’t fooled by all the trophies. They are surprisingly accurate in identifying who excels and who struggles. Those who are outperformed know it and give up, while those who do well feel cheated when they aren’t recognized for their accomplishments. They, too, may give up.

It turns out that, once kids have some proficiency in a task, the excitement and uncertainty of real competition may become the activity’s very appeal.

If children know they will automatically get an award, what is the impetus for improvement? Why bother learning problem-solving skills, when there are never obstacles to begin with?

If I were a baseball coach, I would announce at the first meeting that there would be only three awards: Best Overall, Most Improved and Best Sportsmanship. Then I’d hand the kids a list of things they’d have to do to earn one of those trophies. They would know from the get-go that excellence, improvement, character and persistence were valued.

It’s accepted that, before punishing children, we must consider their individual levels of cognitive and emotional development. Then we monitor them, changing our approach if there’s a negative outcome. However, when it comes to rewards, people argue that kids must be treated identically: everyone must always win. That is misguided. And there are negative outcomes. Not just for specific children, but for society as a whole.

In June, an Oklahoma Little League canceled participation trophies because of a budget shortfall. A furious parent complained to a local reporter, “My children look forward to their trophy as much as playing the game.” That’s exactly the problem, says Jean Twenge, author of “Generation Me.”

Having studied recent increases in narcissism and entitlement among college students, she warns that when living rooms are filled with participation trophies, it’s part of a larger cultural message: to succeed, you just have to show up. In college, those who’ve grown up receiving endless awards do the requisite work, but don’t see the need to do it well. In the office, they still believe that attendance is all it takes to get a promotion.

In life, “you’re going to lose more often than you win, even if you’re good at something,” Ms. Twenge told me. “You’ve got to get used to that to keep going.”

When children make mistakes, our job should not be to spin those losses into decorated victories. Instead, our job is to help kids overcome setbacks, to help them see that progress over time is more important than a particular win or loss, and to help them graciously congratulate the child who succeeded when they failed. To do that, we need to refuse all the meaningless plastic and tin destined for landfills. We have to stop letting the Trophy-Industrial Complex run our children’s lives.

This school year, let’s fight for a kid’s right to lose.

Ashley Merryman is the author, with Po Bronson, of “NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children” and “Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing.”

Ethical Parenting

New York Magazine

By Lisa Miller

October 6, 2013

Disclaimer: We actually have no idea who these kids are, or what advantages their parents might have finagled for them, if any. But we’re sure that nothing in the captions in this picture is true.

(Photo: Brian Shumway/Gallery Stock)

 

Imagine this ­scenario: It’s a Tuesday evening and you’re just home from work, still panting from the subway ride, when you determine without doubt that your fourth-grader has lice. The teeny pale eggs, they could be dandruff, but they’re not; ugh, dozens of them, everywhere, clinging to the silky hairs, and all you can think is, Not tonight.

 

Having been through this before, you know that the only way to help arrest a schoolwide epidemic is to spend hours, three at least, dealing with the vermin right now—combing, vacuuming, washing, drying—not including the inter-spousal fighting and the hysterical kid meltdown that invariably accompanies such an outbreak. Which puts bedtime conservatively somewhere around 11 p.m.

 

 

And tonight, of all nights, you just can’t afford the drama. You can’t. Because tomorrow is the ELA, the statewide ­reading-and-writing test whose scores in this crucial year will help to determine your kid’s middle-school placement, and sending her into the exam emotionally wrung out and insufficiently rested is not an option. It is not.

 

 

So here is what you do. You pretend that you didn’t see what you saw, that the lice don’t exist. You fill your child’s mind with calm, positive, and confident test-taking thoughts as you put her to bed early. That you are potentially contaminating 26 other children in her class—costing their families untold hours of anguish and lost work, and thousands of dollars in dry cleaning—by sending your lice-ridden kid to school creates a gnawing sensation in your gut, but this is not a sufficient deterrent. The lice can wait, and the test cannot; in a contest between your kid’s near-term success and her classmates’ longer-term (and let’s face it, uncertain) pain, your kid wins. Besides, you tell yourself, layering rationale upon rationale, one of them gave it to her.

 

 

But your child is no fool. She knows she has lice, and she knows what tomorrow is. For her, the takeaway goes something like this: Always be kind and considerate of others, except in those cases where consideration impedes your own self-interest or convenience. Then, take care of yourself.

 

 

Parenthood, like war, is a state in which it’s impossible to be moral. Worse, the moral weakness of parents is always on display, for children bear witness to their incessant ethical hairsplitting. It may be delicious fun to tut-tut over the corrupt child-rearing customs (and to pity the progeny) of the aggressively rising class: the mother who, according to Urban Baby legend, slept with the admissions officer (with her husband’s consent!) to get her child into the Ivy League, or the one who sued an Upper East Side preschool for ­insufficiently preparing her 4-year-old for a ­private-school test. But such Schadenfreude elides a more difficult existential truth, which is that ever since Noah installed his own three sons upon the ark and left the rest of the world to drown, protecting and privileging one’s own kids at the expense of other people has been the name of the game. It’s what parents do.

 

 

Every hour, it seems, a parent is given the opportunity to choose between her child and a greater good, and in those moments the primal parental impulse can be overpowering. “If some science-fiction sorcerer came to me with a button,” writes the philosopher Stephen Asma in his 2012 book Against Fairness, “and said I could save my son’s life by pressing it but then (cue the dissonant music) ten strangers would die somewhere … I’d have my finger down on it before he finished his cryptic challenge.”

 

 

So while the kiddie race to the top among the most competitive people may elicit the most grotesque behaviors, the fact is that all kinds of parents seize advantage for their kids when they can. (Jeff Zucker’s 15-year-old son somehow found his way onto the advisory board of Cory Booker’s tech start-up. If you could rustle up something similarly high-flying for your kid, wouldn’t you be tempted?) In fact, the very state of being a parent obscures clear ethical reasoning, creating blinders, explains the Duke University dishonesty expert Dan Ariely, “as to what’s moral and not moral.” The same person who would never lie on his own résumé may lie on his kid’s school application and feel that “they’re doing something for a good cause, that they’re actually being altruistic.”

 

 

Why else would an otherwise conscientious couple decide to hold their perfectly normal kid back a year, except that she’ll be that much older than the other kids in the class and thus that much better at sitting still during tests? Why else does a father volunteer to coach Little League and then put his son in the cleanup spot? Why else do parents do their children’s homework night after night, except that they fear that without the “help,” the kids would fail or falter or fall behind? Parents instruct their children to “get what they get and don’t get upset”—and then they beg and bribe the adults in their children’s lives, haranguing teachers for better grades and theater directors for bigger parts and clergy for “the best” assignment in the soup kitchen, and they curry favor (they hope) with foil-wrapped bottles or hard-to-get tickets at Christmastime. In the interest of giving kids “a leg up,” ­parents will do almost anything: They’ll call friends on the board; they’ll pull strings to procure internships; they’ll invite the coach over for dinner; they’ll claim strong adherence to a religion or an ethnic identity that is, in fact, weak; they’ll fake recommendation letters; they’ll neutralize their child’s competition for a spot on the hockey team by whispering something about someone’s alcohol use; and they’ll administer the occasional misbegotten tablet of Adderall. The ­ultimate litmus test in New York City is this one: How many good people do you know who have lied about their address to get their kids into the better public school? And are you more or less sympathetic if that person is a hedge-fund manager or his nanny?

 

Parenthood means you cannot possibly behave as though society’s rules and norms apply equally to all. Anthony Gray, who runs the Institute for Global Ethics in Maine, says the most difficult moral choices are those in which a person is faced with “two or more legitimate rights in dynamic tension.” On the one hand, there are your child’s health, résumé, self-esteem, and future opportunity, and on the other, there are other people’s children, the rules of a community, and the need for your own child to learn hard lessons about self-sufficiency, responsibility, struggle, honesty, and failure. “It is good, it is right, to want your child to do well in school and to get into a competitive college and launch their life into adulthood. It’s right to help your kids with homework,” explains Gray, parsing the dilemma. “It’s also right to teach your child the importance of truthfulness. And to avoid direct conflicts of interest.” A decision-making process is taught at the institute that Gray calls “reflective reasoning,” which religious people might call “discernment,” a tuning in to one’s conscience to discover the higher right and then summoning what he calls moral courage to act accordingly. But when an entire culture is clamoring to get theirs, that clear, small voice can be difficult to hear.

 

 

“It’s the opposite of the free-rider problem,” the Swarthmore psychologist Barry Schwartz explains: If everybody recycles, then you can be the one person who doesn’t, and you still benefit from all the recycling that goes on. But if everybody is occupied full time making sure their kid wins and other kids lose, then taking the high road doesn’t serve you at all. “It’s a corrupt system, and your opting out won’t change it. You gain nothing, and you lose a lot.”

 

 

Though invariably proud of their children, parents are not always so proud of themselves. I know a man who does SAT tutoring for the children of Manhattan’s private-school elite, charging families $22,000 per child per year, and every time he meets a new client, he says, the mother sheepishly pulls him aside in the foyer and says, “We’re not like this.” We’re not the kind of people who spend tens of thousands of dollars on tutoring, except here we are doing it. (Because of rampant prepping, the Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York recently announced it was ceasing to recommend the ERB, the standardized test, as a valid measure of preparedness for kindergarten.)

 

 

Jason Stephens is an associate professor of educational psychology at the ­University of Connecticut who studies cheating among adolescents and is interested in what he calls the “judgment-action gap”: why high-school students cheat, even when they know it’s wrong. Parents, he says, are displaying a similar disconnect, seizing advantage for their children while discounting the gnawing feeling in their gut. It’s like a drug addiction, Stephens says. Each infraction may, in itself, be relatively small, but the effects are cumulative. “It’s a culture,” says Stephens. “It’s not hard to see how parents can justify this behavior—they’re just prioritizing other values and goals, the child’s well-being over the greater good. It means more to me that they get the leg up than if I have to lie a little bit. Now that I’ve done the wrong thing, I have to not feel guilty. I don’t want to run around feeling like a shmuck. I rationalize it, I justify it, I diffuse my responsibility. Hey, it’s not my fault, this is a cultural thing.” As when watching a parent drink three glasses of wine at dinner, a child begins to regard this behavior as ordinary, and then, Stephens says, “it comes to define who they are.”

 

 

Most parents don’t think of themselves as the kind of people who prize winning above all. Most hope to teach their kids what used to be called “good values,” which a previous generation learned in scouts or church: kindness and compassion, respect and responsibility, to “do unto others” and be grateful for small things. But how are children supposed to learn honesty and fairness when the parents are yelling at the coach to give Johnny more playing time? Or wrangling behind the scenes to get Susie into a particular day care? Put another way: By advantaging kids at every turn, are parents, in fact, laming them? Are they (we, for I have a 9-year-old daughter) raising children they may not ultimately want as colleagues, neighbors, or friends? “You can preach and you can preach,” says Audrey Kindred, director of family programming at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, “you can tell and you can tell, but we all learn primarily by example. There is something about what we’re not intending that seeps through much stronger than what we are intending.” My father told me not to smoke, and then he stole my cigarettes and smoked them himself: I was a smoker for nearly 25 years.

 

Meet Anna Blum, 18 years old and every parent’s fantasy. In conversation, she is earnest, thoughtful, articulate, conscientious. She just graduated from Fieldston with honors grades and is now at Vassar, where she hopes to major in film studies. While in high school, she co-edited the Fieldston News, scored high on her SATs, and spent the summer interning at a nonprofit. Anna has her own website, where she posts the films she’s made and the poems she’s written and where she cites as role models Andy Warhol—and her own mother.

 

But Anna worries that she and her peers are a little bit lost when it comes to sorting right from wrong. When a friend told her, for example, that she took Adderall to enhance her performance on the SATs, she was, initially, shocked. “I’ll say, ‘That’s really wrong.’ And then I think, I had a very expensive SAT tutor. I haven’t done Adderall, but it’s sort of hard to see where the line is.”

 

 

The parents of her peers have one main goal, says Anna, which is to get their kids into a good college. And the two-track ethical system they teach follows from there. “The culture among parents is they say this is right and this is wrong,” Anna explains, but at the same time the parents always defend their own behavior as right.

 

 

Anna frets about what she and her friends will do when college is over and they’re forced to navigate real life. Everyone says you can’t get through medical school without using prescription drugs to stay awake. Everyone says a liberal-arts degree will make you unemployable unless you pull strings. “Once that becomes normal, baseline, that’s a shift we should be avoiding at all costs. If you weren’t raised a certain way, you have zero chance of making this work. To know that there’s one specific route to go down and it’s a really upsetting route, it’s very frightening to me.”

 

 

All the data show a generation far less ethical than their parents. According to a 2009 survey by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, 51 percent of people age 17 or under agree that to get ahead, a person must lie or cheat, compared with 18 ­percent of people ages 25 to 40. Two years later, in another ­Josephson survey, 57 ­percent of ­high-schoolers agreed that “in the real world, successful people do what they have to do to win, even if others consider it cheating.” Younger people are likelier than their elders to lie to parents, spouses, and bosses and to keep the change if a cashier makes an error in their favor.

 

 

But what Anna’s talking about is something slipperier than blatant cheating, a cut below sneaking answers into an exam, a hazy space where right and wrong seem porous. According to research by Denise Pope at Challenge Success, a nonprofit founded at Stanford, 95 percent of ­eleventh- and twelfth-graders say they have cheated in the past year, and a huge percentage of high-schoolers think that certain kinds of cheating are no big deal. Sixty-six percent, for example, say that receiving unpermitted help on an assignment is either not cheating or is cheating so unimportant that it barely counts. (Could this be payback for all those nights when you caved and helped your kid fill in the blanks on her math-facts drills?) Fifty-two percent say that copying a couple of sentences from someone else’s work is a trivial thing.

 

 

There’s lots of room to wiggle here. Especially when the transgressions get you where you want to be. Justifications are easier when the result of questionable behavior is the yearned-for A or the starring role or field position. “I don’t think they see their parents’ maneuvering as wrong. They assume that’s what it means to be in school,” a private-middle-school teacher told me. Watching their parents pull strings and bend rules on their behalf can prepare the kids for a vision of success in which winning is a zero-sum game, she says. “They learn how you do backdoor deals. How you do the meeting before the meeting and the meeting after the meeting.” They are invested in the way things are, an unequal system in which they are on top.

 

 

Social psychologists have demonstrated that rich people are likelier than poorer ones to lie, cheat, and disregard traffic rules and, more recently, that they are likelier to believe that social status is a matter of merit. (A study published in August in the Personality and Social Psychology bulletin showed that the wealthier a person is, the more he or she will agree with the following statement: “I honestly feel I’m just more deserving than other people.”) So while all parents may ruthlessly put their children ahead of others, the children of affluent parents may be likelier to believe that ends justify means. A Harvard grad who was implicated in the university’s 2012 cheating scandal (in which scores of students submitted similar or verbatim answers on a take-home final) complained to Businessweek about the inconvenience of having to cooperate with the university’s ongoing investigation. “Dragging us into this … now, when we have financial obligations and jobs, seems very unfair.”

 

I spoke at length to an administrator at a prestigious private school who talked about the damage done to children’s sense of self when their parents (overtly or covertly) contradict a school’s purpose and values. At good schools, for example, the college counselors know the kids. They know the colleges. They compile lists of prospective schools with the kids’ best interests at heart. But the parents, unsatisfied, hire a private college counselor, who makes a different list of schools—along with different things the kid needs to do to get in. And the child is put in an impossible position of having to pretend to want both things. “You’re asking the child not to passively accept this, but to actively talk out of two sides of his mouth. This goes to a kid’s core identity. Who am I? How am I representing myself?,” this administrator says. “And the result is a kind of cynicism. There’s nothing like cynicism to prevent an authentic development of self. It’s the ultimate defense against meaning and purpose.”

 

 

But the kids who learn the lesson of cynicism may in fact suffer less than those who don’t. What parents are really telling children with their constant intervening is that there’s no way for them to succeed on their own, says Harold Koplewicz, a founder of the Child Mind Institute. “The message to the kid is, You aren’t good enough.” He compares these parents to “fixers,” who illicitly manipulate outcomes for their clients. In their effort to build their children’s success, parents may actually be short-circuiting their self-esteem, and stunting their self-efficacy, making them unable to tell the difference between the things they can accomplish in the world, with the application of hard work and native ability, and the things they cannot. Jason Stevens is somewhat blunter. A fixing parent can make a child, he says, “crippled. Or entitled. Or both.”

 

 

Here’s my excuse, and I presume it’s yours, too. It’s tough out there. The future is uncertain, and no one knows what skills kids will need to get by in war or warming or economic collapse. The accoutrements of middle-class stability and comfort feel like they’re slipping away, even to those of us living smack in the middle of them.

 

 

The urge to ferociously protect kids in an environment of scarce resources is not a modern impulse but an animal one. Bonobos are some of the most openhearted creatures on Earth. They care for one another’s children; they have sex all the time. But chimpanzees, to whom bonobos are closely related, are venal: They’re hierarchical, aggressive, and mean. A chimp mother will, when it suits her, kill another mother’s child. The difference is scarcity. Bonobos live in a region of the Congo where there’s always enough to eat. Chimps live in regions where food is seasonal, and competition for it is fierce. Humans are primates, too.

 

 

But in unexpected places, a countermovement may be gathering strength, led by people who understand that humans can—and do—rise above their animal instincts. And the agents of this backlash are most often not brave parents but their more stubbornly idealistic children. “I know kids,” says Pope, “who are absolutely mortified when their parents cheat the system. They’re embarrassed and ashamed.”

 

 

I know a young man who, on moral grounds, steadfastly refused to enlist the help of an SAT tutor or indeed do any test prep during his overheated senior fall at a private school whose name you know. The college-application system is broken and corrupt, the kid said. “I could sense around me this horrible stress and this defeated feeling,” he told me. “The more prep you take, the more tutoring you do, the better your scores. It seemed like a gross system. I didn’t want what I was doing to be determined by it. I didn’t want to play their game. I wanted to play my game.”

 

 

For a season, his parents walked a tightrope strung between loving support of their son’s moral stance and perpetual anxiety that he was throwing his life away. At least, the father advised, make a virtue of your stand and explain to the admissions officers your objections to this ­process. “He said if I have a better way of doing it, I better damn well show that I do.” But the kid refused to do that, too. “My parents are wonderful people, and they knew that this was a big moment in my life,” he recalls. “They were honest about their anxiety and the situation we were all in together.”

 

 

Does this story have a happy ending? The kid didn’t get into any college and lived at home, working, until it was time to apply again. (At which point he still blew off SAT prep, feeling that the test he’d already taken was preparation enough.) But he learned something about himself, which was that he really did want to go to college, and now he’s happily studying classics at a school not in the U.S. News top 50, composing electronic music that would blow your mind.