5 Ways to Help Teens Manage Anxiety About the Coronavirus

Adults can help by making sure adolescents don’t overestimate the dangers or underestimate their ability to protect themselves.

Credit…Getty Images
Lisa Damour

By Lisa Damour

  • March 11, 2020
    • 20

People of all ages are concerned about the spread of the coronavirus, and teenagers, as a group, tend to experience emotions especially intensely. If you are raising, teaching or otherwise caring for an adolescent who is feeling very nervous about it, here are five things you can do.

Anxiety can be healthy. But not all adolescents, or adults, know that it typically acts as a useful and protective emotion. Accordingly, teenagers sometimes fear that their heightened nerves signal the onset of a full-blown anxiety disorder. They become worried about the fact that they are worried.

Adults can help young people appreciate that healthy anxiety has a purpose: It alerts us to potential threats and helps us move toward safety. “Feeling some anxiety,” we might say calmly, “makes sense right now. You’re having the right reaction to the emerging news about the coronavirus.”

From there, we can encourage teenagers to channel their discomfort into useful action, such as learning about and following the recommended health guidelines.

ADVERTISEMENTContinue reading the main story

For psychologists, anxiety is unhealthy only when it occurs in the absence of a threat — when there is nothing to be worried about at all — or when it reaches heights that are grossly out of proportion to the threat involved, such as when a teenager experiences a panic attack over a minor quiz. We can help adolescents keep their worries about the coronavirus at an appropriate level by making sure they don’t overestimate the dangers or underestimate their ability to protect themselves from those dangers.

Latest Updates: Coronavirus Outbreak

See more updatesMore live coverage: MarketsU.S.New York

Toward this end, we might say, “Right now, the health risk from coronavirus is very low for most Americans.” To this we can add, “And there’s a lot you can do to lower your risk even further: Keep your hands clean and away from your face, avoid anyone who might be coughing or sneezing and protect your immune system by getting enough sleep.”

During difficult times, research suggests that teenagers feel better when they turn their attention to supporting others. After a 2006 flood destroyed a small town in southern Poland, one study found that the teenagers who provided the highest levels of social support to fellow flood victims were the ones who went on to express the most confidence about their ability to face challenges in their own lives.

Knowing this, we can remind teenagers that we wash our hands and follow other health recommendations not only to protect ourselves, but also to help to ease the strain on local medical systems. Along the same lines, adults can note that making personal sacrifices — such as postponing a vacation or staying home if we’re not feeling well — helps to reduce the chance of carrying illness into our own communities. If you are stocking up on groceries in case of being asked to self-quarantine, take the opportunity to talk to your kids about the challenges faced by people in need and consider donating nonperishables to a local food bank.

When we fixate on dangers, anxiety grows, and when we turn our attention elsewhere, it shrinks. That said, it might be hard for some teenagers not to obsess about Covid-19 given that the topic pervades headlines and social media, and that concerns about disease spread have been closing schools and causing the cancellation of long-scheduled events.

ADVERTISEMENTContinue reading the main story

Further, the constant availability of fresh information about the coronavirus may spur some teenagers (and adults) to compulsively check for news updates. This, however, may offer little emotional relief. Research shows that obtaining clear information about a potential threat helps people feel better, but ambiguous information does nothing to reduce anxiety or the urge to seek reassurance. Remind them not to rely on rumors or unreliable sources.

So long as the updates remain vague, teenagers who are feeling highly anxious about Covid-19 should be encouraged to take a break from seeking, or even accidentally encountering, information about the virus. For example, we might ask teenagers to consider scaling back how often they check their phones for information updates, or to trust that we’ll share any significant news should it arrive. Similarly, we might encourage finding distractions, such as doing their homework or watching a favorite show, while shielding themselves from digital intrusions.

Anxious parents are more likely to have anxious teenagers. This research finding has many possible explanations, but here’s one: young people look to adults for cues about how nervous or relaxed they should be when encountering something new. Wittingly or not, parents are sometimes fearful in a way that puts their children on edge.

Teenagers can tell when adults are saying one thing and feeling another. Offering reassuring words won’t do much good when our own anxiety is riding high. And being worn thin by tension leaves us less able to comfort teenagers and young adults who feel upset about missing events or enjoying spring on their college campuses.

Before trying to support a fretful teenager, tense adults should take steps to calm their own nerves. To do so, they can use the same strategies outlined above.

Modeling a level-headed response is the best way to keep anxiety from getting the better of our teenagers as we all find our way through this new and uncertain challenge.

Graduates of girls’ schools report higher science self-confidence than their co-educated peers.

High School (recent graduates): Fostering Academic and Social Engagement: An Investigation into the Effects of All-Girls Education in the Transition to University

Principal Investigator: Dr. Tiffani A. Riggers-Piehl, Assistant Professor of Higher Education at University of Missouri, Kansas City

Published in December 2018
Fostering Academic and Social Engagement: An Investigation into the Effects of All-Girls Education in the Transition to University focuses a lens on how graduates of all-girls schools today compare to female graduates of coed schools in terms of their academic characteristics and readiness for university. Drawing data from the well-known Freshman Survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California, Los Angeles, the researchers used multilevel analyses to separate the effect of an all-girls education from other influences including socioeconomic differences, race/ethnicity, parent education, and the characteristics of the high schools attended. The data reveals a consistent portrait of girls’ school graduates who are more engaged academically and socially than their coeducated peers.

In summary, the researchers concluded that when compared to their female peers at coed schools, girls’ school graduates:

  • Have stronger academic skills
  • Are more academically engaged
  • Demonstrate higher science self-confidence
  • Display higher levels of cultural competency
  • Express stronger community involvement
  • Exhibit increased political engagement

What to Ask When Your Kid Brings Home a School-Issued Laptop

There are no silly questions when it comes to the technology your kid will be learning on. By Caroline Knorr 
What to Ask When Your Kid Brings Home a School-Issued Laptop

Good news, folks: You can cross off pencils and paper from your back-to-school shopping list. School-issued laptops and tablets are steadily replacing workbooks and practice packets. Yes, it’s exciting: a shiny new device kids get all to themselves; software that adapts to their level; and a much-reduced chance of mysteriously missing homework. But you may have mixed feelings — and lots of questions — about managing the device in your home (which probably already has a bunch of screens).

Schools handing out devices will almost certainly send home an information package with rules (called an acceptable use policy, or AUP) for the device’s use, including what the device can be used for and the consequences for misuse. But it’s up to you to figure out how this new device is used at home. Teachers and even other parents can help you work out any challenges you may face. Here are some common questions parents have when kids bring a device home from school.

What will the school device be used for?
Schools have a number of online learning options. Those that implement a 1-to-1 program(meaning every student receives their own device) should have a well-thought-through plan for how these devices will be used in the classroom and for homework. They may assign a few apps or implement an entire curriculum. Depending on whether your school chooses a little or a lot of technology, your kid may be using the device only for lessons and practice work or following specifically sequenced modules for, say, an entire language arts or math class. Some schools simply use the devices to interact on a shared platform, such as Google Classroom (which you can read more about on our educator’s site), for group collaboration, and writing and turning in papers.

If you don’t understand what the devices are being used for in school or at home, make sure to bring these questions to back-to-school night or contact the teachers or administrators individually. If you don’t get satisfactory answers, bring your questions to the PTA or the wider community.

How much time should my kid be spending on the device for homework?
Are students expected to do all their homework on the device, do only some of their homework, or use only a few apps? The answer will give you a good idea of how much time your kid should be devoting to online and offline work. Just as in pre-device days, teachers generally use grade level as a guide for how much homework to assign. If you think your kid is spending too much time on the device for homework, check in with the teacher to better understand his or her expectations.

One of the advantages of online work is that it can track how a student is doing. Some apps time kid’s sessions, which gives teachers feedback on an individual student’s proficiency — even on individual problems. If you have that data, you can get a gauge of whether your kid is on track, stuck on something, or possibly dillydallying. If your kid is consistently taking more time than the teacher recommends, keep an eye on their progress to determine if it’s the homework itself or if they’re watching YouTube videos, playing Fortnite, or chatting in another browser window.

How much time will my kid be spending on the device at school?
When school-issued devices become a part of your kid’s life, it can add up to a lot of screen time. How teachers use the devices at school can be fairly individual. Find out if the teacher plans to have students using devices a little, a lot, or somewhere in between. If the 1-to-1 program is a school-wide initiative, students may use them more. If the devices are unique to your kid’s class or grade, they may be used for a more specific purpose. Some teachers use technology to supplement other work — so just a portion of a class is device-based. Some teachers take advantage of technology’s data processing and only use it for quizzes and tests. Knowing approximately how much time — and for what purpose — your kid is using a device during the day can help you better manage their overall screen time and make sure it’s balanced with physical activity, face-to-face conversations, and fresh air.

What apps is my kid using — and why?
It’s perfectly reasonable to ask what apps are on the device, how they were selected, and what the learning purpose is. There’s a huge range of educational appswebsites, and games available, and teachers may use a variety of ways to find the ones that will really benefit kids’ learning. Some teachers have a lot of latitude in choosing software. Some teachers must use a particular platform. Some teachers attend trainings to learn about new software or even how to implement programs in the classroom. Teachers also share tips and ideas about educational apps with each other online. During a discussion of the apps kids will be using is a good time to ask the teacher about his or her own philosophy about technology in learning.

Are there parental controls or filters on the laptop — or can I install them?
When kids use the school’s Wi-Fi during the school day, the network is filtered, meaning they can’t access inappropriate content such as pornography, information about illicit substances, and even games. But when they come home, unless you have filters on your home network, the gates to the internet are open. You probably won’t be able to download parental controls (or any other software) onto the device (administrators typically disable that capability).

Depending on your existing rules and systems around internet use, you may want to visually monitor what your kid is doing on the device, install filters on your home network, or step in only if you think there’s a problem. Your internet service provider may offer filters, as well as other features, either free or at an additional cost. There are also software programs, such as OpenDNS, that allow you to add filters to your home network. Before your kid begins using the school-issued device, you should review the school’s rules (often you both will need to sign a form saying you did this) and make sure your kid understands your expectations around safety, privacy, and responsible online behavior. Also, be aware that filters sometimes catch too much, preventing your kid from visiting legitimate research sites, and kids can also sometimes figure out ways to get around the filters.

Does the device track student data — at home?
You may have heard about schools keeping tabs on students at home, but that’s extremely rare. No one should be spying on your kid through the device. However, educational apps do track user data to tailor the learning experience to the individual user; anything more than that indicates a poor privacy policy. And teachers may have a dashboard that uses data to report how a student is performing. Also, aside from the apps your kid uses, the teacher may use social media to post photos and other class updates. If so, find out how student privacy will be protected. In all cases, any information that’s collected should be for educational purposes, and companies should not be able to use or make money from student data. (See our student privacy resources for teachers.)

Ask for information on the school’s student privacy policy, including whether they vet the privacy policies of the apps they assign to make sure they’re not over-collecting data. (Learn more about Common Sense’s student privacy initiative.)

Can my kid download anything on the device?
An administrator usually disables download capabilities so nothing can be installed except the learning tools. However, your kid may still be able to play games, chat, and use social media on the device’s web browser, since those services don’t require a download. The device is the school’s property, and anything you put on it — including photos — may violate the AUP, so check the rules. And if your kid has their own device at home, you may want to reserve the school device only for homework.

My kid never gets off his device, and when I ask him to, he says he’s doing homework. What can I do?
No matter what comes home from the school, your house equals your rules. That means you can still establish screen-free times and zones like dinnertime and the bedroom. You can make rules about when devices get shut down at night and where they’re charged (outside of kids’ bedrooms!). And if you think your kid is doing more than homework on his device, you can discuss the downsides of multitasking and your expectations around what the school device is being used for. If you’re still struggling, bring your concerns to the school — you can talk to individual teachers, administrators, or other parents to find solutions.

With Hair Bows and Chores, YouTube Youth Take On Mean Girls

Photo

JoJo Siwa, wearing her signature hair bows, has millions of YouTube views to her credit.CreditRyan Henriksen for The New York Times

Thirteen-year-old JoJo Siwa rolled up to school in a souped-up vintage car with a giant pink bow plastered on the grill. Inside the car, with her blond hair tightly pulled into a side ponytail and wrapped in a pastel yellow bow, she sang to her mother, “I don’t really care about what they say,” while a group of mean girls wearing not-so-pastel clothes snickered from a bench. (We know they’re mean girls because the words “mean girls” are displayed on the screen next to them.)

“Don’t let the haters get their way,” JoJo’s mother, also clad in yellow pastel, told her.

No worries. The new young teenage heroine of suburban America showed no fear. After winning a rowdy dance battle in her video “Boomerang,” which has gotten over 200 million views on YouTube, JoJo places a purple bow on the lead mean girl. Everyone becomes best friends.

JoJo Siwa – BOOMERANG (Official Video) Video by Its JoJo Siwa

Unlike the red, oversize scrunchie Heather Chandler wore in “Heathers,” which was a symbol of power and authoritarianism, the bow worn by JoJo is a symbol of confidence: believing in yourself and, more important, being nice to others.

Thirteen-year-old girls aren’t generally known for their oversize bows these days, but JoJo isn’t your typical teenager. She just signed a multiplatform deal with Nickelodeon, which includes consumer products, original programming, social media, live events and music.

Photo

JoJo performing during the 2016 Nickelodeon HALO Awards. CreditMichael Loccisano/Getty Images

Since June, JoJo’s Bows — made by H.E.R. Accessories, a licensee of JoJo’s — have been among the top sellers at Claire’s, the store popular among the middle-school set, according to Hind Palmer, Claire’s global brand marketing and public relations director.

“I can’t believe it’s a hair bow that’s doing this,” said Jennifer Roth Saad, the creative director of H.E.R. “I’ve never seen something like this.”

JoJo said in a phone interview that she had worn a side ponytail with a bow since she was 4, and she has worn it through most of her career, which includes stints on “Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition” and “Dance Moms.” But recently, she has become well known to her 2.7 million YouTube subscribers for wearing a bow and being goofy by showing videos of her sick in bed, getting ready in the morning and playing pranks on another YouTube star.

“I’m 13, and I like being 13,” said JoJo, who divides her time between Omaha and Los Angeles. “A lot of people my age try to act 16. But just be your age. There’s always time to grow older. You can never grow younger.”

Indeed.

In Britain, where JoJo’s bows are even more successful than they are in the United States, the head teacher of a school in Bury banned the bows because they were distracting, while another school, in Long Eaton, permitted the bows so long as they conformed to dress code colors.

Photo

The 13-year-old is part of a growing group of girls who are documenting routine behaviors and activities online for audiences nearing and in their early teenage years. CreditRyan Henriksen for The New York Times

Shauna Pomerantz, a sociology professor at Brock University in Ontario and an author of “Smart Girls: Success, School and the Myth of Post-Feminism,” said school administrators had historically policed girls for wearing skirts that were too short or having exposed bra straps, not for an accessory reminiscent of the 1950s. “JoJo stands for being nice,” she said. “And the bow is a representation of JoJo. Ultimately the goal of that video is to suggest that meanness isn’t cool, and niceness is cool.”

In a world where parents of children ages 8 to 14 have long been concerned about hypersexualized clothing, early puberty and overly sophisticated media messages, JoJo is part of a growing group of girls documenting routine, age-appropriate behaviors and activities such as being nice, doing their chores, divulging what’s in their backpacks, making dresses out of garbage bags and working to pay for their own clothes.

The 12-year-old competitive gymnast Annie LeBlanc, a.k.a. Acroanna, has had a YouTube channel since she was 3. On her channel, which as been viewed a combined 174 million times, Annie documents herself making slime blindfolded and investigates what’s in her purse. But mostly she appears on her family’s channel, Bratayley, where 3.9 million subscribers follow her, her parents, her 8-year-old sister, Hayley (who also has her own channel), as well as archival footage of her brother Caleb, who died two years ago at age 13 of a heart condition. There are Bratayley sponsorship deals, Bratayley merchandise and a more recent invitation for Annie to participate in Nike’s Young Athletes program, which, naturally, was documented on Bratayley.

Many popular videos made by girls in the pre- and early teenage years live on nine connected YouTube channels. Seven Super Girls, the most successful of these channels, has over six million subscribers and its videos have been viewed a combined 6.9 billion times. Each channel — others are called Seven Cool Tweens, Seven Awesome Kids and Seven Twinkling Tweens — is run with more efficiency than some professional media sites: Each girl is responsible for making a video on a specific day of the week. (Annie was on Seven Awesome Kids from 2010 to 2011.) They follow a set of guidelines that include weekly themes, and precludes them from giving their surnames and location.

The SAKs channels, as they are known, were started in 2008 by seven families in Britain who, in the early days of YouTube, wanted to make sure their children were making family-appropriate content. The only remaining parent of that original partnership is Ian Rylett, who is currently in charge of the SAKs operation.

Photo

JoJo’s Bows have been among the top sellers at Claire’s, the store popular among the middle school set, according to a company spokeswoman. CreditRyan Henriksen for The New York Times

Mr. Rylett, who lives in Leeds, said producing the channels was essentially his full-time job. He and a team of six others take care of copyright issues, create sponsorship deals, come up with weekly themes, monitor the channels and arrange meet and greets. The tickets for a 1,000-seat event that is coming up in Orlando, Fla., are selling for $30 each.

Mr. Rylett receives an income from the channels, as do some of the girls. The girls own their own content, he said, but they have not signed contracts.

Alexis, a 12-year-old from Southern California whose parents wanted her surname withheld for privacy reasons, has made close to 200 videos for Seven Cool Tweens and Seven Awesome Kids over the past three years. Alexis wears her reddish-brown hair in a braid, no makeup and braces. Her bedroom isn’t catalog perfect. Her most popular videos revolve around silly antics like pranking family members (which received 23.2 million views), making a mess of herself and her outfit before the school dance and getting grounded for life. The appeal? “Kids want to watch kids,” Alexis said in a phone interview.

Emily (a screen name), 12, of Seven Awesome Kids is home-schooled in Southern California. Some of her most popular videos — she writes and edits them herself over two days — include walking through a mysterious forest and finding an angel potion. “She’s a little Stanley Kubrick, controlling everything,” said her father, Tim Gould.

While Alexis has received money from the SAKs channel (though she has not been involved in sponsorship deals), Emily has not received money, their parents said.

“They’re free to leave whenever they want,” Mr. Rylett said. “They can take their content with them. When they do get older, it is quite common for them to look back and say, ‘Eww.’”

The parents seemed ambivalent about the arrangement — knowing that allowing their children to have an online identity comes with risks of harassment or worse — but they don’t want to stop their daughters from dreaming of becoming a director or an editor or a writer. Or a television star.

Yet this YouTube activity, even depicting wholesome activities, is disconcerting for Emily Long, the director of communications and development at the Lamp, a media-based literary group. “It’s troublesome to me when I see this being celebrated as the herald of what our young girls should aspire to,” Ms. Long said. “That you, too, can go from being a YouTube star to having your own deal on Nickelodeon.”

She would like to see girls being recognized for more thoughtful content, she said, such as that of Marley Dias, 12, who started the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign last year after recognizing a scarcity of black-girl protagonists.

“If I had a 13-year-old,” Ms. Long said, “I would push her toward someone like Marley Dias instead of JoJo. But Marley Dias doesn’t sell giant hair bows. Marley Dias sells social justice and social causes and writing and nerd culture. And there’s plenty to market there.”

AP Classes – Good or Bad?

Here’s a former college professor and high school AP teacher’s negative take on the value of Advanced Placement courses.  Most US high schools offer many AP courses, which generally require a greater level of effort for success and often help kids opt-out of intro level college courses.  What’s your opinion on the value of AP classes?

AP Classes Are a Scam, The Atlantic

The College Board earns over half of all its revenues from the courses—and, in an uncertain environment, students keep being suckered.

Charles Dharapak / AP
JOHN TIERNEY OCT 13, 2012
Fraudulent schemes come in all shapes and sizes. To work, they typically wear a patina of respectability. That’s the case with Advanced Placement courses, one of the great frauds currently perpetrated on American high-school students.

That’s a pretty strong claim, right? You bet. But why not be straightforward when discussing a scam the scale and audacity of which would raise Bernie Madoff’s eyebrows?

The miscellany of AP courses offered in U.S. high schools under the imprimatur of the College Board probably started with good intentions. The idea, going back to the 1950s, was to offer college-level courses and exams to high-school students. The courses allegedly provide students the kind of rigorous academic experience they will encounter in college as well as an opportunity to earn college credit for the work.

Sounds pretty good. And every year, millions of high-school students enroll in the courses that are offered in 39 different subjects. They do so at an annual growth rate almost ten times the yearly percentage increase in the number of high school graduates. If there weren’t something good about AP, would participation in the AP offerings be so high?

Interestingly, the evidence providing the clearest positive argument for AP participation is that high performance in AP courses correlates with better college grades and higher graduation rates, especially in science courses. But that’s faint praise. It’s the same as saying that students who do best in high school will do better in college and are more likely to graduate.

My beef with AP courses isn’t novel. The program has a bountiful supply of critics, many of them in the popular press (see here and here), and many increasingly coming from academia as well (see here). The criticisms comport, in every particular, with my own experience of having taught an AP American Government and Politics course for ten years.

  • AP courses are not, in fact, remotely equivalent to the college-level courses they are said to approximate. Before teaching in a high school, I taught for almost 25 years at the college level, and almost every one of those years my responsibilities included some equivalent of an introductory American government course. The high-school AP course didn’t begin to hold a candle to any of my college courses. My colleagues said the same was true in their subjects.
  • The traditional monetary argument for AP courses — that they can enable an ambitious and hardworking student to avoid a semester or even a year of college tuition through the early accumulation of credits — often no longer holds. Increasingly, students don’t receive college credit for high scores on AP courses; they simply are allowed to opt out of the introductory sequence in a major. And more and more students say that’s a bad idea, and that they’re better off taking their department’s courses.
  • The scourge of AP courses has spread into more and more high schools across the country, and the number of students taking these courses is growing by leaps and bounds. Studies show that increasing numbers of the students who take them are marginal at best, resulting in growing failure rates on the exams. The school where I taught essentially had an open-admissions policy for almost all its AP courses. I would say that two thirds of the students taking my class each year did not belong there. And they dragged down the course for the students who did.
  • Despite the rapidly growing enrollments in AP courses, large percentages of minority students are essentially left out of the AP game. And so, in this as in so many other ways, they are at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to college admissions.
  • The AP program imposes “substantial opportunity costs” on non-AP students in the form of what a school gives up in order to offer AP courses, which often enjoy smaller class sizes and some of the better teachers. Schools have to increase the sizes of their non-AP classes, shift strong teachers away from non-AP classes, and do away with non-AP course offerings, such as “honors” courses. These opportunity costs are real in every school, but they’re of special concern in low-income school districts.
  • To me, the most serious count against Advanced Placement courses is that the AP curriculum leads to rigid stultification — a kind of mindless genuflection to a prescribed plan of study that squelches creativity and free inquiry. The courses cover too much material and do so too quickly and superficially. In short, AP courses are a forced march through a preordained subject, leaving no time for a high-school teacher to take her or his students down some path of mutual interest. The AP classroom is where intellectual curiosity goes to die.

In short, somewhere along the way over the past half-century, the AP idea got corrupted.

Many critics lay the blame on the College Board itself, a huge “non-profit” organization that operates like a big business. The College Board earns over half of all its revenues from its Advanced Placement program — more than all its other revenue streams (SATs, SAT subject tests, PSATs) combined. The College Board’s profits for 2009, the most recent year for which records were available, were 8.6 percent of revenue, which would be respectable even for a for-profit corporation. “When a non-profit company is earning those profits, something is wrong,” says Americans for Educational Testing Reform. (The AETR’s “report card” on the College Board awards a grade of D and cites numerous “areas of misconduct” by the College Board.)

It’s clear the College Board has the mentality of a voracious corporation, charging $89 a shot for an exam to millions of students who have no business taking it.

The college admissions process today is a total crapshoot. At least for the most competitive colleges, nobody in the applicant pool has any certainty anymore as to what will secure admission. In the face of that uncertainty, one rational form of behavior is to take the shotgun approach, blasting away at the admissions committee with every weapon in the student’s armory: multiple AP courses, ridiculous amounts of extracurricular activity, and do-gooder volunteer work rivaling Mother Teresa’s.

Lots of guidance counselors will advise families and students that a rational alternative is to opt out of that race. Concentrate on one or two things. Excel at them. I agree.

But it shouldn’t be the customer’s responsibility to stop a scam. The customer buys into it because the con artist is so skillful and the world is so uncertain.  The only way to stop the College Boards of the world is to expose them. Tell people to be wary.

So, students and parents: beware.

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.”

Preventing Childhood Obesity: How To Help Kids Shed Weight By Changing Home Routines

The Huffington Post

Posted: 09/09/2013

Preventing Childhood Obesity

By: Christopher Wanjek,

Doctors may have found a way to simultaneously work on several major health problems facing U.S. children: obesity, too much TV, too little sleep and chaotic mealtimes. Maybe you can guess where this one is going.

A team of researchers in the United States and Canada has developed an approach to help low-income children lose weight by reducing the kids’ television viewing time, increasing their sleep time, and encouraging their families to eat dinner together at consistent times.

This is the first home-based intervention that has attempted to reduce obesity rates by changing household behavior, instead of focusing on diet or exercise, the researchers said. The study appears today (Sept. 9) in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. [10 Ways to Promote Kids’ Healthy Eating Habits]

Health starts at home

Childhood obesity has more than doubled, and tripled among adolescents, over the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Approximately 17 percent of U.S. children are obese. The problem is particularly acute among African Americans, Latinos, and children in low-income families.

While the underlying cause of obesity is obvious — more calories are consumed than expended — gaining excess weight is too easy, and losing weight is clearly difficult, or the obesity epidemic would have been solved by now, said Aaron Carroll, a pediatric obesity expert at Indiana University School of Medicine not associated with the new study.

A holistic lifestyle change might be a better way to approach obesity, Carroll said.

“Rather than drill down to a specific eating or exercise change, creating a healthier household may be a better way not only to improve weight, but overall physical and mental health as well,” Carroll wrote in an editorial accompanying they study in the journal.

Ongoing research has suggested that four household routines are associated with healthy weight for children: getting regular and adequate sleep; eating meals together as a family; limiting television viewing; and having no TV in the room where the child sleeps. A 2010 study published in the journal Pediatrics found that preschool-age children in households with these four routines had a rate of obesity 40 percent lower than that of children whose homes had none of these routines.

Improving habits

Now, a team led by Dr. Elsie Taveras, of Harvard Medical School in Boston, and Jess Haines, of the University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada, has successfully introduced these healthy habits in the homes of low-income families in the Boston area.

The team enrolled 121 families with overweight children, whose homes had TVs in the room where the children slept. Among them, 59 families were assigned to a control group – they received information via the mail over the next six months about healthy household habits. The other 62 families received in-home counseling about these healthy habits.

Children in the intervention group increased their sleep by a half hour per day, reduced their TV viewing by one hour per day, and decreased their body mass index (BMI) by 20 percent. Meanwhile, children in the control group saw a small decrease in sleep and a 20 percent increase in BMI.

The biggest limitation of this intervention approach, however, could be its expense. The researchers hired and trained four bilingual health educators, who conducted four visits and four phone calls to the families. On a nationwide scale, this could constitute a costly means to get children to lose weight.

Noting cost as one possible limitation, Sarah Anderson, associate professor of Epidemiology at The Ohio State University College of Public Health in Columbus, who was the lead author on the 2010 Pediatrics study identifying healthy home habits, remained optimistic.

“This study shows the potential that these household routines may have for childhood obesity prevention,” Anderson told LiveScience. “It is possible that household routines are most effective in promoting children’s healthy weight when combined with a warm and responsive style of parent-child interaction.”

The social support that came from the repeated, one-on-one contact between researchers and parents may be important, Anderson said.

The researchers noted that the intervention was not successful in getting parents to remove the TVs from the rooms where children slept. However, the researchers speculated that the reason was that, for 80 percent of the families, the children slept in the same room as their parents, and the parents were unwilling to surrender their own TV.

Christopher Wanjek is the author of a new novel, “Hey, Einstein!“, a comical nature-versus-nurture tale about raising clones of Albert Einstein in less-than-ideal settings. His column, Bad Medicine, appears regularly on LiveScience.

For Best Results, Create a Partnership with Your Child’s Teachers

From the Huffington Post

Kyle Redford

Teacher, Marin Country Day School and Education Editor, Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity

When You Want To Fire Your Child’s Teacher

Posted: 06/05/2013

As the mother of a dyslexic son, I cannot count the number of times I’ve found myself crazy upset when my child would report feeling hurt or shamed or unfairly treated by a teacher. When teachers speak damaging words or make unfair decisions about our children, it can spur us into impassioned action. In most cases, action is good. But the nature of that action matters. It matters a lot.

Parents of children with complicated learning profiles frequently tell me stories of their children being incorrectly labeled lazy, careless or unintelligent. Hoping to leverage my teacher perspective, they ask for advice about how to respond to decisions they perceive as unfair. Often these conflicts are further complicated by their child’s retreat from school and loss of general confidence. The upset parent’s sense of urgency and frustration is understandable. However, after many years teaching I can say with certainty that venting at or sending snarky emails to a teacher — or, worse yet, taking frustrations to an administrator before talking directly to the teacher — is a mistake. At best, those responses will be ineffective. At worst, they can damage the very important relationship between teacher and student. Even when a teacher appears insensitive or disengaged, it is always in your child’s best interest to assume a teacher’s good intentions and channel your frustration into designing ways to support your child and teacher in the classroom. Here are six things you should do:

1. Advocate.

When a child first reports a problem with a teacher, try to assess the issue and see if there is a way to help them solve the misunderstanding or upsetting situation directly with that teacher. After hearing your child’s problem, consider asking the child to talk to his or her teacher about it. Children may need your help planning, practicing and previewing potential teacher responses. In particular, children in the early grades may need help communicating with their teachers about problems and/or challenges in the classroom. However, students are never too young to take their issues directly to their teachers.

Teachers are much more likely to extend assistance to a child who asks for it. When a child talks with his or her teacher, it gives the teacher an opportunity to better understand that child’s experience. Additionally, the child will be communicating that he or she is trying and cares about his or her work. Teachers will typically move mountains to help a student who makes an effort to talk to them. Through direct conversation, your child will be engaging the teacher on a personal level, and therefore a teacher will be more likely to employ a greater variety of measures to help him or her succeed.

2. Report.

You are the only one who knows if your child is staying up late to get work done, not having time to pursue other interests, or melting down out of frustration or humiliation. Don’t hide this information. Teachers can’t make adjustments if they don’t know the whole picture. Consider sending a nonjudgmental email or placing a phone call to let the teacher know what it looks like at home. Giving teachers a glimpse of what kind of adult support is required outside class also helps them adjust workload expectations. Let teachers know if your child requires books read aloud, papers transcribed or any other kind of heavy parental involvement.

3. Inquire.

As in conflicts of any kind, there are two sides. Before expressing any concerns, it is best to lead with curiosity when you speak to the teacher. Ask questions about your child’s situation before drawing any conclusions. It is likely that you will learn important information by listening and communicating respect for the teacher.

4. Recognize.

Teaching students with learning challenges is usually more labor-intensive. Anyone who denies this is probably being evasive. For example, dyslexic students can be challenging when their deficits require ongoing adjustments and accommodations in a regular classroom. But this difficulty is not necessarily due to the child’s lack of work ethic or intellectual curiosity — or an inability to understand the concepts. A teacher might have to identify how to teach spelling differently or help your child find adapted spelling strategies. In writing-intensive classes, a teacher may have to become your student’s scribe, figure out a way to get him or her composing on a keyboard or make adjustments related to time.

However, teachers (including myself) frequently say that students with learning challenges are some of the most satisfying students to teach. Having students who learn differently in one’s class also acts as a litmus test for best practices. Every student benefits from lessons that break concepts into smaller parts, connect to big ideas and have objectives that are transparent and thoroughly outlined. Students with learning differences cause teachers to reflect more deeply. Teachers have to wrestle with important questions like: “What am I really trying to teach with this activity?” They also have to distinguish between the skills they are asking the students to apply (i.e. handwriting or spelling) vs. skills that the activity intends to assess (i.e. inquiry skills or comprehension of information). Teachers frequently report that struggling students push them to improve and evolve their teaching practices.

5. Appreciate.

Teachers are human. A little appreciation goes a long way. Remembering to acknowledge special things they do for your child makes them much more likely to go out of their way again. Even if you feel like something is an entitlement or a basic expectation, resist communicating that. Showing appreciation for the teacher and exhibiting awareness that your child is not the only student in the class will go a long way toward establishing understanding. Teachers who feel appreciated are much more likely to put in the extra time and effort that may be critical to your child’s academic success.

6. Collaborate.

When possible, offer support that will make the teacher’s job easier: gather information, help your child stay organized, provide a supportive environment for homework and support school policies and classroom rules. These actions will extend support to your child’s teacher while building invaluable goodwill.

Finally, a confession: as much as I care about all my students, I still possess blind spots and occasionally I make decisions that unintentionally cause them distress. Therefore, I need and welcome thoughtful feedback from parents and students in my class. Next time you find yourself strategizing about how to fire your child’s flawed teacher, consider exploring ways to strengthen the partnership between home and school instead. Your child will be much better served.