12 New Year’s Resolutions For Happier Families

From The New York Times, Motherlode Blog

By KJ DELL’ANTONIA

As I wrote around this time a year ago, I love making New Year’s resolutions. For me, it’s a moment to take stock of where I am, and where I want to be, and of all the things I’ve said I hoped to do and have or haven’t done — and why. The resolutions I fail at are always the ones I didn’t really want to keep.

This year, for the first time, I hope to gather my family and persuade them to talk about what we did and didn’t do well as a family this year, and to make a family resolution: Who do we want to be together in 2013? (My husband will say that he wants us to be a family that does not make New Year’s resolutions.)

In that spirit, I asked authors I admire to offer one single resolution to help shape a happier family life in the year ahead.
Brené Brown, author of “Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection”: One intention our family is setting for 2013 is to make more art. It doesn’t matter if it’s more photography, more painting, experimenting in the kitchen, or building the LEGO Death Star (which is our family project right now). I want to create together. It keeps us connected and spiritually grounded.

Andrew and Caitlin Friedman, authors of “Family, Inc.: Take a meeting with your partner or family. Spending just 30 minutes a week on our to-do list, schedule and brainstorming bigger decisions really helped us take control of the chaos that is working parenthood.

Po Bronson, co-author of “NurtureShock” and the forthcoming “Top Dog” (January 2013): Our resolution in our family is pretty simple: argue less, talk more. Even though in “NurtureShock” we wrote that arguing is the opposite of lying, and it is, there’s a lot of arguing that’s just about arguing, and we hope for less of it.

Ashley Merryman, co-author of “NurtureShock” and the forthcoming “Top Dog” (January 2013): This year, I want to sit less. You can read that as “need to exercise” – true enough – but sitting also means I’m spending too much time online, watching too much TV, and so on. Instead, I want to do more meaningful things with people I care about.

Bruce Feiler, “This Life” columnist for Sunday Styles and author of “Walking the Bible”, “Abraham” and “The Secrets of Happy Families” (coming in February): Bribe more creatively (fewer direct rewards for good behavior; more unanticipated praise and surprise adventures). Celebrate more fully (worry less about bad moments; make more of the good). Play more often.

Madeline Levine, author of “Teach Your Children Well”: I resolve to lead with my ears and not my mouth. I’ve yet to meet a child who feels like they’ve been listened to too much.

Asha Dornfest, founder of Parent Hacks and co-author of “Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less”: Embrace the idea of course correction. When faced with a parenting decision, briefly survey your options then make the best choice you can, knowing you can recalculate your route to the destination as the situation — and your family — changes.

Christine Koh, founder of Boston Mamas and co-author of “Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less”: Strive for a less frantic family calendar in 2013 by finding your “Goldilocks level of busy.” Review the last couple of months of your family calendar and identify how many events or activities made your weeks feel too crazy, too slow or just right. Shoot for the “just right” number each week.

Gretchen Rubin, author of “The Happiness Project” and “Happier at Home”: It’s easy to fall into the bad habit of barely looking up from games, homework, books or devices when family members come and go. For that reason, in my family, we made a group resolution to “give warm greetings and farewells.” This habit is surprisingly easy to acquire — it doesn’t take any extra time, energy or money — and it makes a real difference to the atmosphere of home.

Rivka Caroline, author of “From Frazzled to Focused” (@SoBeOrganized): Keep adding to your “to-don’t” list. As frustrating as it is, there just isn’t time for everything. Every “to-don’t” makes room for a “to-do.”

Laura Vanderkam, author of “What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend”: Think about how you want to spend your downtime. Weekends, evenings and vacations can be opportunities for adventure, but we often lose them in front of the TV because we fail to plan. In 2013, make a bucket list of the fun you want to have as a family — then get those ideas on the calendar.

Michelle Cove, author of “I Love Mondays, and Other Confessions from Devoted Working Moms”: The next time you’re about to apologize to anyone — children, colleagues — ask yourself if you’ve really done anything wrong. Too often, we moms apologize by default.

For Young Latino Readers, an Image is Missing

Jessica Kourkounis for The New York Times

Third-grade students at Bayard Taylor Elementary in Philadelphia. Educators say children need more familiar images.

By
Published: December 4, 2012, The New York Times

PHILADELPHIA — Like many of his third-grade classmates, Mario Cortez-Pacheco likes reading the “Magic Tree House” series, about a brother and a sister who take adventurous trips back in time. He also loves the popular “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” graphic novels.

Jessica Kourkounis for The New York Times

 

At Bayard Taylor Elementary in Philadelphia, three-quarters of the students are Hispanic. But Mario, 8, has noticed something about these and many of the other books he encounters in his classroom at Bayard Taylor Elementary here: most of the main characters are white. “I see a lot of people that don’t have a lot of color,” he said.

Hispanic students now make up nearly a quarter of the nation’s public school enrollment, according to an analysis of census data by the Pew Hispanic Center, and are the fastest-growing segment of the school population. Yet nonwhite Latino children seldom see themselves in books written for young readers. (Dora the Explorer, who began as a cartoon character, is an outlier.)

Education experts and teachers who work with large Latino populations say that the lack of familiar images could be an obstacle as young readers work to build stamina and deepen their understanding of story elements like character motivation.

While there are exceptions, including books by Julia Alvarez, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Alma Flor Ada and Gary Soto, what is available is “not finding its way into classrooms,” said Patricia Enciso, an associate professor at Ohio State University. Books commonly read by elementary school children — those with human characters rather than talking animals or wizards — include the Junie B. Jones, Cam Jansen, Judy Moody, Stink and Big Nate series, all of which feature a white protagonist. An occasional African-American, Asian or Hispanic character may pop up in a supporting role, but these books depict a predominantly white, suburban milieu.

“Kids do have a different kind of connection when they see a character that looks like them or they experience a plot or a theme that relates to something they’ve experienced in their lives,” said Jane Fleming, an assistant professor at the Erikson Institute, a graduate school in early childhood development in Chicago.

She and Sandy Ruvalcaba Carrillo, an elementary school teacher in Chicago who works with students who speak languages other than English at home, reviewed 250 book series aimed at second to fourth graders and found just two that featured a Latino main character.

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education, which compiles statistics about the race of authors and characters in children’s books published each year, found that in 2011, just over 3 percent of the 3,400 books reviewed were written by or about Latinos, a proportion that has not changed much in a decade.

As schools across the country implement the Common Core — national standards for what students should learn in English and math — many teachers are questioning whether nonwhite students are seeing themselves reflected in their reading.

For the early elementary grades, lists of suggested books contain some written by African-American authors about black characters, but few by Latino writers or featuring Hispanic characters. Now, in response to concerns registered by the Southern Poverty Law Center and others, the architects of the Common Core are developing a more diverse supplemental list. “We have really taken a careful look, and really think there is a problem,” said Susan Pimentel, one of the lead writers of the standards for English language and literacy. “We are determined to make this right.”

Black, Asian and American Indian children similarly must dig deep into bookshelves to find characters who look like them. Latino children who speak Spanish at home and arrive at school with little exposure to books in English face particular challenges. A new study being released next week by pediatricians and sociologists at the University of California shows that Latino children start school seven months behind their white peers, on average, in oral language and preliteracy skills.

“Their oral language use is going to be quite different from what they encounter in their books,” said Catherine E. Snow, a professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. “So what might seem like simple and accessible text for a standard English speaker might be puzzling for such kids.”

Hispanic children have historically underperformed non-Hispanic whites in American schools. According to 2011 data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a set of exams administered by the Department of Education, 18 percent of Hispanic fourth graders were proficient in reading, compared with 44 percent of white fourth graders.

Research on a direct link between cultural relevance in books and reading achievement at young ages is so far scant. And few academics or classroom teachers would argue that Latino children should read books only about Hispanic characters or families. But their relative absence troubles some education advocates.

“If all they read is Judy Blume or characters in the “Magic Treehouse” series who are white and go on adventures,” said Mariana Souto-Manning, an associate professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College, “they start thinking of their language or practices or familiar places and values as not belonging in school.”

At Bayard Taylor Elementary in Philadelphia, a school where three-quarters of the students are Latino, Kimberly Blake, a third-grade bilingual teacher, said she struggles to find books about Latino children that are “about normal, everyday people.” The few that are available tend to focus on stereotypes of migrant workers or on special holidays. “Our students look the way they look every single day of the year,” Ms. Blake said, “not just on Cinco de Mayo or Puerto Rican Day.”

On a recent morning, Ms. Blake read from “Amelia’s Road” by Linda Jacobs Altman, about a daughter of migrant workers. Of all the children sitting cross-legged on the rug, only Mario said that his mother had worked on farms.

Publishers say they want to find more works by Hispanic authors, and in some cases they insert Latino characters in new titles. When Simon & Schuster commissioned writers to develop a new series, “The Cupcake Diaries,” it cast one character, Mia, as a Latino girl. “We were conscious of making one of the characters Hispanic,” said Valerie Garfield, a vice president in the children’s division, “and doing it in a way that girls could identify with, but not in a way that calls it out.”

In some respects, textbook publishers like Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt are ahead of trade publishers. Houghton Mifflin, which publishes reading textbooks, allocates exactly 18.6 percent of its content to works featuring Latino characters. The company says that percentage reflects student demographics.

Students should be able “to see themselves in a high-quality text,” said Jeff Byrd, senior product manager for reading at Houghton Mifflin.

But Latino education advocates and authors say they do not want schools to resort to tokenism. “My skin crawls a little when this literature is introduced because people are being righteous,” said Ms. Alvarez, the author of the “Tia Lola” series, as well as “Return to Sender.” “It should be as natural reading about these characters as white characters,” she said.

At Bayard Taylor, another third-grade teacher, Kate Cornell, said that she would love to explore more options featuring Hispanic characters. “It would be more helpful as a teacher,” she said, “to have these go-to books where I can say ‘I think you are going to like this book. This book reminds me of you.’ ”

When They’re Grown, the Real Pain Begins

Katherine Streeter

By SUSAN ENGEL

Published: November 28, 2012, The New York Times

When I was 24 years old, I brought my firstborn son, 3-week-old Jacob, to my childhood home on the Eastern End of Long Island to meet his grandparents. When I arrived, an old family friend and neighbor, Cora Stevens, happened to be sitting in my parents’ kitchen. Cora, a mother to five grown children and grandmother to seven, grabbed tiny Jake, put her face right up to his and started speaking loud baby talk to him. Then, as she bounced him on her knee, she turned to me and said, “When they’re little they sit on your lap; when they’re big they sit on your heart.”

Oh, how right she was. Now that Jake is 28, and his brothers are 25 and 19, I can say without a doubt that this is way harder than having little kids. When my children were growing up, I groped my way through stormy nights, chaotic dinner hours, endless mess, nail-biting basketball games, tortured term papers, bad dates and the agony of college admissions. During all those wild ups and downs in the back of my head was the calming thought: once my children get into college, my work will be done. In retrospect, having little kids was a breeze. As long as you hugged them a lot and made good food, things seemed to be, for the most part, O.K. You could fix many problems, and distract them from others. Your home could be a haven from all that might be painful and difficult in the world beyond.

All of that changes when they are grown. They fall in love, break their hearts, apply for jobs, leave or lose the jobs, choose new homes, can’t pay the rent for those new homes and question their choice of profession. They forge their way, all just outside of your helping reach. Then, when bad things happen, they need you like crazy, but you discover that the kind of help you’ve spent 25 years learning how to give is no longer helpful.

Last year, one of my sons went through a series of devastating setbacks. Almost everything bad that could happen to a young person happened to him. He had a catastrophic accident at work that permanently damaged one of his fingers. He will never use it again, though almost everything he loves to do requires the precise and flexible use of his hands. He endured a devastating break-up with a longtime girlfriend. And he got fired from a job he cared about, without any warning or rationale. He seemed just about as broken as a young man can be.

I too had been through a tough year — my brother killed himself, one of my best friends died a slow death from cancer, and I had a serious setback in my work life. But all of that was mild compared to the agony of watching my handsome, vigorous son kicked to the ground. I didn’t know how to help him, and I didn’t know how to handle my own nearly unbearable feeling of pain. I wanted to be by his side constantly, I wanted to go out and hurt those who had hurt him, arrange new work for him, bring beautiful women to my home (where he had come to live) and yet I wanted to get as far away as possible, just to avoid the pain his pain was causing me.

During those difficult months, I kept telling people that I wasn’t cut out to be the parent of adult children. I felt my kids were facing disappointments and mistakes that I couldn’t help them solve and pain they were unlikely to outgrow.

I longed for help. I thought of starting a support group for parents of adult children. At first I hesitated because I thought everyone else’s kids were happily married, toiling away successfully at new jobs, working to do well in graduate school. Talking to others might just make me feel worse. Then I began to hear that others — the butcher, my neighbor, my oldest friend — were feeling a similar sense of anguish. Who knew? It was like staring at one of those three-d patterns in a drawing, which emerges when you hold the page at a certain distance. Suddenly I could see the uncertainty and worry that all the parents of grown children around me were feeling. Even so, I didn’t start the group. Between my work, and the time spent Skyping and phoning my sons about their problems, who had time for a support group?

Just when I thought I couldn’t take one more moment of it, Jake surprised me. He was on the phone, describing a crisis in his graduate studies. As usual, my first response was a palpitating heart and sick stomach. A plan of action began to take shape in my head. I started explaining how he should respond to the terrible graduate adviser. I wanted to ask if he was taking notes on my good advice. But I didn’t have a chance. He cut me off. “Mom,” he said, “when I tell you what’s wrong, I don’t want you to tell me how to fix it, and I don’t want you to tell me it’s not as bad as I think. I just want your sympathy.” I was stunned. Sympathy? That’s all he wanted? I could do that.

Last year I told my closest friend about the son whose romance was beginning to crumble: “I don’t know whether to hope he works it out with her, or ends it.” My friend, with two grown children of her own, looked at me calmly and said, “Don’t hope for anything.”

It’s now one year after all the terribleness. My son’s life is 100 times better than it was before all of his setbacks. He has a terrific new job, is seeing a lovely young woman, has bought himself a spiffy new truck, and just recently came in in the top group of an Ironman triathalon. His bounce is back. It turns out he’s as resilient as rubber, and as strong as an ox, inside and out. For now, I’m going to skip the support group. My new parenting plan is to buy a few books on Zen Buddhism.

Susan Engel is senior lecturer in psychology and director of the Program in Teaching at Williams College. She is the author of four books, most recently, “Red Flags or Red Herrings: Predicting Who Your Child Will Become” (Simon and Schuster, 2010).

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Cuddle Your Kid!

Cuddle Your Kid!

A New York Times Op Ed article By

AS the presidential candidates debate how to strengthen America, maybe they can learn from rats.

A McGill University neurologist, Michael Meaney, noticed that some of the mother rats he worked with spent a great deal of time licking and grooming their babies. Other rat moms were much less cuddly.

This natural variation had long-term consequences. Meaney’s team found that when the rats grew up, those that had been licked and groomed did better at finding their way through mazes.

They were more social and curious. They even lived longer.

Meaney’s team dissected adult rats and found that licking led to differences in brain anatomy, so that rats that had been licked more were better able to control stress responses.

So, could the human version of licking and grooming — hugging and kissing babies, and reading to them — fortify our offspring and even our society as well?

One University of Minnesota study that began in the 1970s followed 267 children of first-time low-income mothers for nearly four decades. It found that whether a child received supportive parenting in the first few years of life was at least as good a predictor as I.Q. of whether he or she would graduate from high school.

This may illuminate one way that poverty replicates itself from generation to generation. Children in poor households grow up under constant stress, disproportionately raised by young, single mothers also under tremendous stress, and the result may be brain architecture that makes it harder for the children to thrive at school or succeed in the work force.

Yet the cycle can be broken, and the implication is that the most cost-effective way to address poverty isn’t necessarily housing vouchers or welfare initiatives or prison-building. Rather, it may be early childhood education and parenting programs.

Scholars like James Heckman of the University of Chicago and Dr. Jack Shonkoff of Harvard have pioneered this field, and decades of fascinating research is now wonderfully assembled in Paul Tough’s important new book, “How Children Succeed.” Long may this book dwell on the best-seller lists!

As Tough suggests, the evidence is mounting that conservatives are right about some fundamental issues relating to poverty. For starters, we can’t talk just about welfare or tax policy but must also consider culture and character.

“There is no antipoverty tool we can provide for disadvantaged young people that will be more valuable,” Tough writes, than grit, resilience, perseverance and optimism.

Yet conservatives sometimes mistakenly see that as the end of the conversation.

“This science suggests a very different reality,” Tough writes. “It says that the character strengths that matter so much to young people’s success are not innate; they don’t appear in us magically, as a result of good luck or good genes. And they are not simply a choice. They are rooted in brain chemistry, and they are molded, in measurable and predictable ways, by the environment in which kids grow up. That means the rest of us — society as a whole — can do an enormous amount to influence their development.”

Here’s an example: the Nurse-Family Partnership, one of my favorite groups fighting poverty in America. It sends nurses on regular visits to at-risk first-time moms, from pregnancy until the child turns 2. The nurses warn about alcohol or drug abuse and encourage habits of attentive parenting, like reading to the child. The results are stunning: at age 15, these children are less than half as likely to have been arrested as kids from similar circumstances who were not enrolled.

Maybe we’re beginning to crack the code of how to chip away at so many of America’s domestic problems. Tough cites evidence that while toxic stress or unsupportive parenting damages the prefrontal cortex in infancy, this damage can often be undone at least through adolescence.

He tells the story of Kewauna Lerma, a girl from Chicago who started high school with a C- average and an arrest. Then a group called OneGoal, which has emerged out of this wave of research, began to work with Kewauna and nurtured her ambitions and talents.

President Obama and Mitt Romney, listen up: Kewauna’s story underscores that strengthening our nation means investing not only in warships but also in America’s children.

On a practice ACT standardized test, Kewauna scored in the bottom 1 percentile. Yet she began to focus on schoolwork, and her grades and test results soared. In her senior year of high school, she didn’t have a grade lower than an A-.

She made it to college, where her toughest class was biology and the professor used words that Kewauna didn’t understand. So she sat in the front row and after class asked the professor what each word meant. Kewauna was short on money, and once when she ran out of cash she didn’t eat for two days. But in biology, she earned an A+.

Early Music Lessons Have Longtime Benefits

Early Music Lessons Have Longtime Benefits

By PERRI KLASS, M.D.

When children learn to play a musical instrument, they strengthen a range of auditory skills. Recent studies suggest that these benefits extend all through life, at least for those who continue to be engaged with music.

But a study published last month is the first to show that music lessons in childhood may lead to changes in the brain that persist years after the lessons stop.

Researchers at Northwestern University recorded the auditory brainstem responses of college students — that is to say, their electrical brain waves — in response to complex sounds. The group of students who reported musical training in childhood had more robust responses — their brains were better able to pick out essential elements, like pitch, in the complex sounds when they were tested. And this was true even if the lessons had ended years ago.

Indeed, scientists are puzzling out the connections between musical training in childhood and language-based learning — for instance, reading. Learning to play an instrument may confer some unexpected benefits, recent studies suggest.

We aren’t talking here about the “Mozart effect,” the claim that listening to classical music can improve people’s performance on tests. Instead, these are studies of the effects of active engagement and discipline. This kind of musical training improves the brain’s ability to discern the components of sound — the pitch, the timing and the timbre.

“To learn to read, you need to have good working memory, the ability to disambiguate speech sounds, make sound-to-meaning connections,” said Professor Nina Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University. “Each one of these things really seems to be strengthened with active engagement in playing a musical instrument.”

Skill in appreciating the subtle qualities of sound, even against a complicated and noisy background, turns out to be important not just for a child learning to understand speech and written language, but also for an elderly person struggling with hearing loss.

In a study of those who do keep playing, published this summer, researchers found that as musicians age, they experience the same decline in peripheral hearing, the functioning of the nerves in their ears, as nonmusicians. But older musicians preserve the brain functions, the central auditory processing skills that can help you understand speech against the background of a noisy environment.

“We often refer to the ‘cocktail party’ problem — or imagine going to a restaurant where a lot of people are talking,” said Dr. Claude Alain, assistant director of the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto and one of the authors of the study. “The older adults who are musically trained perform better on speech in noise tests — it involves the brain rather than the peripheral hearing system.”

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, are approaching the soundscape from a different point of view, studying the genetics of absolute, or perfect, pitch, that ability to identify any tone. Dr. Jane Gitschier, a professor of medicine and pediatrics who directs the study there, and her colleagues are trying to tease out both the genetics and the effects of early training.

“The immediate question we’ve been trying to get to is what are the variants in people’s genomes that could predispose an individual to have absolute pitch,” she said. “The hypothesis, further, is that those variants will then manifest as absolute pitch with the input of early musical training.”

Indeed, almost everyone who qualifies as having truly absolute pitch turns out to have had musical training in childhood (you can take the test and volunteer for the study at http://perfectpitch.ucsf.edu/study/).

Alexandra Parbery-Clark, a doctoral candidate in Dr. Kraus’s lab and one of the authors of a paper published this year on auditory working memory and music, was originally trained as a concert pianist. Her desire to go back to graduate school and study the brain, she told me, grew out of teaching at a French school for musically talented children, and observing the ways that musical training affected other kinds of learning.

“If you get a kid who is maybe 3 or 4 years old and you’re teaching them to attend, they’re not only working on their auditory skills but also working on their attention skills and their memory skills — which can translate into scholastic learning,” she said.

Now Ms. Parbery-Clark and her colleagues can look at recordings of the brain’s electrical detection of sounds, and they can see the musically trained brains producing different — and stronger — responses. “Now I have more proof, tangible proof, music is really doing something,” she told me. “One of my lab mates can look at the computer and say, ‘Oh, you’re recording from a musician!’ ”

Many of the researchers in this area are themselves musicians interested in the plasticity of the brain and the effects of musical education on brain waves, which mirror the stimulus sounds. “This is a response that actually reflects the acoustic elements of sound that we know carry meaning,” Professor Kraus said.

There’s a fascination — and even a certain heady delight — in learning what the brain can do, and in drawing out the many effects of the combination of stimulation, application, practice and auditory exercise that musical education provides. But the researchers all caution that there is no one best way to apply these findings.

Different instruments, different teaching methods, different regimens — families need to find what appeals to the individual child and what works for the family, since a big piece of this should be about pleasure and mastery. Children should enjoy themselves, and their lessons. Parents need to care about music, not slot it in as a therapeutic tool.

“We want music to be recognized for what it can be in a person’s life, not necessarily, ‘Oh, we want you to have better cognitive skills, so we’re going to put you in music,’ ” Ms. Parbery-Clark said. “Music is great, music is fantastic, music is social — let them enjoy it for what it really is.”

Original article

“Raising Successful Children”

An interesting opinion article from the New York Times on August 4, 2012
 
By MADELINE LEVINE

PHRASES like “tiger mom” and “helicopter parent” have made their way into everyday language. But does overparenting hurt, or help?

While parents who are clearly and embarrassingly inappropriate come in for ridicule, many of us find ourselves drawn to the idea that with just a bit more parental elbow grease, we might turn out children with great talents and assured futures. Is there really anything wrong with a kind of “overparenting lite”?

Parental involvement has a long and rich history of being studied. Decades of studies, many of them by Diana Baumrind, a clinical and developmental psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, have found that the optimal parent is one who is involved and responsive, who sets high expectations but respects her child’s autonomy. These “authoritative parents” appear to hit the sweet spot of parental involvement and generally raise children who do better academically, psychologically and socially than children whose parents are either permissive and less involved, or controlling and more involved. Why is this particular parenting style so successful, and what does it tell us about overparenting?

For one thing, authoritative parents actually help cultivate motivation in their children. Carol Dweck, a social and developmental psychologist at Stanford University, has done research that indicates why authoritative parents raise more motivated, and thus more successful, children.

In a typical experiment, Dr. Dweck takes young children into a room and asks them to solve a simple puzzle. Most do so with little difficulty. But then Dr. Dweck tells some, but not all, of the kids how very bright and capable they are. As it turns out, the children who are not told they’re smart are more motivated to tackle increasingly difficult puzzles. They also exhibit higher levels of confidence and show greater overall progress in puzzle-solving.

This may seem counterintuitive, but praising children’s talents and abilities seems to rattle their confidence. Tackling more difficult puzzles carries the risk of losing one’s status as “smart” and deprives kids of the thrill of choosing to work simply for its own sake, regardless of outcomes. Dr. Dweck’s work aligns nicely with that of Dr. Baumrind, who also found that reasonably supporting a child’s autonomy and limiting interference results in better academic and emotional outcomes.

Their research confirms what I’ve seen in more than 25 years of clinical work, treating children in Marin County, an affluent suburb of San Francisco. The happiest, most successful children have parents who do not do for them what they are capable of doing, or almost capable of doing; and their parents do not do things for them that satisfy their own needs rather than the needs of the child.

The central task of growing up is to develop a sense of self that is autonomous, confident and generally in accord with reality. If you treat your walking toddler as if she can’t walk, you diminish her confidence and distort reality. Ditto nightly “reviews” of homework, repetitive phone calls to “just check if you’re O.K.” and “editing” (read: writing) your child’s college application essay.

Once your child is capable of doing something, congratulate yourself on a job well done and move on. Continued, unnecessary intervention makes your child feel bad about himself (if he’s young) or angry at you (if he’s a teenager).

But isn’t it a parent’s job to help with those things that are just beyond your child’s reach? Why is it overparenting to do for your child what he or she is almost capable of?

Think back to when your toddler learned to walk. She would take a weaving step or two, collapse and immediately look to you for your reaction. You were in thrall to those early attempts and would do everything possible to encourage her to get up again. You certainly didn’t chastise her for failing or utter dire predictions about flipping burgers for the rest of her life if she fell again. You were present, alert and available to guide if necessary. But you didn’t pick her up every time.

You knew she had to get it wrong many times before she could get it right.

HANGING back and allowing children to make mistakes is one of the greatest challenges of parenting. It’s easier when they’re young — tolerating a stumbling toddler is far different from allowing a preteenager to meet her friends at the mall. The potential mistakes carry greater risks, and part of being a parent is minimizing risk for our children.

What kinds of risks should we tolerate? If there’s a predator loose in the neighborhood, your daughter doesn’t get to go to the mall. But under normal circumstances an 11-year-old girl is quite capable of taking care of herself for a few hours in the company of her friends. She may forget a package, overpay for an item or forget that she was supposed to call home at noon. Mastery of the world is an expanding geography for our kids, for toddlers, it’s the backyard; for preteens, the neighborhood, for teens the wider world. But it is in the small daily risks — the taller slide, the bike ride around the block, the invitation extended to a new classmate — that growth takes place. In this gray area of just beyond the comfortable is where resilience is born.

So if children are able to live with mistakes and even failing, why does it drive us crazy? So many parents have said to me, “I can’t stand to see my child unhappy.” If you can’t stand to see your child unhappy, you are in the wrong business. The small challenges that start in infancy (the first whimper that doesn’t bring you running) present the opportunity for “successful failures,” that is, failures your child can live with and grow from. To rush in too quickly, to shield them, to deprive them of those challenges is to deprive them of the tools they will need to handle the inevitable, difficult, challenging and sometimes devastating demands of life.

While doing things for your child unnecessarily or prematurely can reduce motivation and increase dependency, it is the inability to maintain parental boundaries that most damages child development. When we do things for our children out of our own needs rather than theirs, it forces them to circumvent the most critical task of childhood: to develop a robust sense of self.

There is an important distinction between good and bad parental involvement. For example, a young child doesn’t want to sit and do his math homework. Good parents insist on compliance, not because they need their child to be a perfect student but because the child needs to learn the fundamentals of math and develop a good work ethic. Compare this with the parent who spends weeks “helping” his or her child fill out college applications with the clear expectation that if they both work hard enough, a “gotta get into” school is a certainty. (While most of my parent patients have graduated from college, it is always a telltale sign of overparenting when they talk about how “we’re applying to Columbia.”)

In both situations parents are using control, in the first case behavioral (sit down, do your math) and in the second psychological (“we’re applying.”) It is psychological control that carries with it a textbook’s worth of damage to a child’s developing identity. If pushing, direction, motivation and reward always come from the outside, the child never has the opportunity to craft an inside. Having tutors prep your anxious 3-year-old for a preschool interview because all your friends’ children are going to this particular school or pushing your exhausted child to take one more advanced-placement course because it will ensure her spot as class valedictorian is not involved parenting but toxic overparenting aimed at meeting the parents’ need for status or affirmation and not the child’s needs.

So how do parents find the courage to discard the malpractice of overparenting? It’s hard to swim upstream, to resist peer pressure. But we must remember that children thrive best in an environment that is reliable, available, consistent and noninterfering.

A loving parent is warm, willing to set limits and unwilling to breach a child’s psychological boundaries by invoking shame or guilt. Parents must acknowledge their own anxiety. Your job is to know your child well enough to make a good call about whether he can manage a particular situation. Will you stay up worrying? Probably, but the child’s job is to grow, yours is to control your anxiety so it doesn’t get in the way of his reasonable moves toward autonomy.

Parents also have to be clear about their own values. Children watch us closely. If you want your children to be able to stand up for their values, you have to do the same. If you believe that a summer spent reading, taking creek walks and playing is better than a specialized camp, then stick to your guns. Parents also have to make sure their own lives are fulfilling. There is no parent more vulnerable to the excesses of overparenting than an unhappy parent. One of the most important things we do for our children is to present them with a version of adult life that is appealing and worth striving for.

Madeline Levine is a clinician, consultant and the author, most recently, of “Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success.”

Should Parents Monitor the Internet Activity of Children?

‘Big Brother’? No, It’s Parents

Kevin Moloney for The New York Times

Jill Ross and Stephan Reckie have three children. Ms. Ross has subscribed to updates on her daughter’s online video channel.

By
Published: June 25, 2012
 

When her children were ready to have laptops of their own, Jill Ross bought software that would keep an eye on where they went online. One day it offered her a real surprise. She discovered that her 16-year-old daughter had set up her own video channel.  Using the camera on her laptop, sometimes in her bedroom, she and a friend were recording mundane teenage banter and broadcasting it on YouTube for the whole world to see.

For Ms. Ross, who lives outside Denver, it was a window into her daughter’s mind and an emblem of the strange new hurdles of modern-day parenting. She did not mention it to her daughter; she just subscribed to the channel’s updates. The daughter said nothing either; she just let Mom keep watching.

“It’s a matter of knowing your kids,” Ms. Ross said of her discovery.

Parents can now use an array of tools to keep up with the digital lives of their children, raising new quandaries. Is surveillance the best way to protect children? Or should parents trust them to share if they are scared or bewildered by something online?

The answers are as varied as parents themselves. Still, the anxieties of parenting in the digital age have spawned a mini-industry, as start-ups and established companies market new tools to track where children go online, who they meet there and what they do. Because children are glued to smartphones, the technology can allow parents to track their physical whereabouts and even monitor their driving speed.

If, a few years ago, the emphasis was on blocking children from going to inappropriate sites on the family computer, today’s technologies promise to embed Mom and Dad — and occasionally Grandma — inside every device that children are using, and gather intelligence on them wherever they go.

A smartphone application alerts Dad if his son is texting while driving. An online service helps parents keep tabs on every chat, post and photo that floats across their children’s Facebook pages. And another scans the Web in case a child decides to try a new social network that the grown-ups have not even heard of yet.

The spread of cellphones and tablets in the hands of children has complicated matters, giving rise to applications that attract the young and worry parents. Earlier this month, for instance, came revelations that an app designed for flirting, called Skout, had led to three sexual assault cases involving children across the country. Even on Facebook, studies have repeatedly shown, there are plenty of children younger than 13, the minimum age for members, and many of them join with help and supervision from their parents.

The average American family uses five Internet-enabled devices at home, including smartphones, a recent survey by Cox Communications and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found, while barely one in five parents uses parental controls on those devices.

In Richmond, Va., Mary Cofield, 62, is one of the careful ones. She struck a deal with her 15-year-old granddaughter last year. The girl was offered an Android phone with full Internet privileges, so long as Grandma could monitor her every move.

“My theory is, you’ve got to be in the game to help them know what’s wrong and what’s right,” she said. “Keeping them from it is not going to work. You can either be out there with them in the game — or they’ll be out there without you.”

Ms. Cofield, a retired government tax agent who runs an online travel business, chose a tool called uKnowKids.com, which combs the granddaughter’s Facebook page and text messages. UKnowKids sends her alerts about inappropriate language. It also offers Ms. Cofield a dashboard of the child’s digital activities, including what she says on Twitter, whom she texts and what photos she is tagged in on Facebook. It translates teenage slang into plain English she can understand: “WUD” is shorthand for “What are you doing?” Ms. Cofield checks it daily.

Often, she says, she gleans when the girl is having trouble with a boy, or when there is conflict among friends. Most often, Ms. Cofield knows to keep her mouth shut. “Being privy to that information and not using it is also difficult,” she confessed. “If I did that, she would definitely go underground. I would be hopping on her every day.”

Surveys, including by the Pew Research Center, have found that two-thirds of parents check their children’s digital footprints and nearly 40 percent follow them on Facebook and Twitter. But the Pew study suggests that this monitoring is also likely to lead to arguments between parent and child.

What’s more, technology is at least as nimble as adolescents, and neither parents nor the technology they buy can always read a teenager’s mind. Sometimes children deactivate their Facebook accounts except at night, when they know their parents are not likely to be logging on. They roll over to new sites, often using pseudonyms. Very often they speak in code designed to stump parents.

Danah Boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft Research who studies American youth online, offered the example of a teenage girl who was growing increasingly frustrated with her mother’s leaving comments on everything she posted on Facebook. Once, when she was feeling particularly low, she posted the song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

Her mother took it literally, which is what the girl had wanted. Her friends, however, read it for what it was: The girl was sad, and her post was meant to be ironic.

Technology companies now market tools for parents of children at every age group. The next version of Apple’s mobile operating system will offer a single-app mode so a parent can lock a toddler into one activity on an iPad.

Security companies like Symantec and Trend Micro offer computer software that detects when a child tries to visit a blocked Web site or creates a new social network account. Infoglide, based in Austin, Tex., whose bread and butter is making antifraud software, recently introduced a tool called MinorMonitor, which like UKnowKids mines children’s Facebook pages for signs of trouble.

Independent measurements of the market for family safety tools are hard to come by, and most companies do not release sales information. But that the market is large — and growing — is evident in two things: every security company and cellphone carrier is pitching such products, and start-ups in this field are popping up every month.

Symantec says it added a million new subscribers to its Norton Online Family service last year.

A text message application for the iPhone called textPlus allows Kyle Reed of Golden, Colo., to be copied on every text message his teenage son sends his girlfriend. “I feel torn a little bit. It’s kind of an invasion of privacy,” he said. “But he’s 13. I want to protect him.”

Dan Sherman of Jackson, N.J., is what you might call the alpha monitor of his children’s digital lives, which is not surprising considering that he works in computer security.

At home, he has installed a filter that blocks pornographic sites and software that tracks Web visits. He has set parental controls on the iPhones of his 8- and 13-year-old daughters so they cannot download applications. Access to the app store on the 8-year-old’s Kindle Fire is protected with a password. And the older daughter’s Facebook account is tracked by MinorMonitor, which alerts Mr. Sherman if there are references to bullying or alcohol.

Does he worry that his daughters think he does not trust them? Mr. Sherman says they should learn that they will be monitored throughout their lives: “It’s not any different from any employer.”

The older daughter, Alexis, said that for now, at least, she does not mind the monitoring. She feels safer for it, she says, “like I’m being watched over.”

She also knows that it affects what she posts for public consumption. Recently, for example, she was tempted to rail on Facebook against a friend who had spread rumors about her, but she checked herself when she thought about what her mother might say. “Having your parents monitor makes you think twice about what you put,” Alexis said.

Ms. Ross, of Colorado, once had a tool that disabled Internet access in the house after a certain number of hours. But her children kept turning it off. Now another program helps her keep an eye on how much time they spend online, so if one of her three girls complains that she does not have time for homework, Ms. Ross need only say: “Want me to tell you how much time you spent on Facebook this week?”

Last Christmas, one of Ms. Ross’s friends, Lynn Schofield Clark, gave her 11-year-old daughter a disabled iPhone on which to listen to music. The child brightly said that a friend at school had showed her how to download an app that let her send text messages and make calls — which is not what her parents had in mind.

Ms. Clark, who has written a book about parenting styles and technology called “The Parent App,” says she was relieved her child had confided in her. She hopes she will continue to confide, so she does not have to track everything her daughter does online. “It’s too easy to get involved in surveillance,” Ms. Clark said. “That undermines our influence as parents. Kids interpret that as a lack of trust.”

Original article

Prescription Pills Abused for Better Grades

Image: Dodi Sklar and her ninth-grade son, Jonathan

Lisa Wiltse for The New York Times

“Now I have to worry about this, too? Really? This shouldn’t be what they need to do to get where they want to,” said Dodi Sklar, after listening to her ninth-grade son, Jonathan, describe how some classmates abuse stimulants.
By ALAN SCHWARZ

 

He steered into the high school parking lot, clicked off the ignition and scanned the scraps of his recent weeks. Crinkled chip bags on the dashboard. Soda cups at his feet. And on the passenger seat, a rumpled SAT practice book whose owner had been told since fourth grade he was headed to the Ivy League. Pencils up in 20 minutes.

The boy exhaled. Before opening the car door, he recalled recently, he twisted open a capsule of orange powder and arranged it in a neat line on the armrest. He leaned over, closed one nostril and snorted it.

Throughout the parking lot, he said, eight of his friends did the same thing.

The drug was not cocaine or heroin, but Adderall, an amphetamine prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder that the boy said he and his friends routinely shared to study late into the night, focus during tests and ultimately get the grades worthy of their prestigious high school in an affluent suburb of New York City. The drug did more than just jolt them awake for the 8 a.m. SAT; it gave them a tunnel focus tailor-made for the marathon of tests long known to make or break college applications.

“Everyone in school either has a prescription or has a friend who does,” the boy said.

At high schools across the United States, pressure over grades and competition for college admissions are encouraging students to abuse prescription stimulants, according to interviews with students, parents and doctors. Pills that have been a staple in some college and graduate school circles are going from rare to routine in many academically competitive high schools, where teenagers say they get them from friends, buy them from student dealers or fake symptoms to their parents and doctors to get prescriptions.

Of the more than 200 students, school officials, parents and others contacted for this article, about 40 agreed to share their experiences. Most students spoke on the condition that they be identified by only a first or middle name, or not at all, out of concern for their college prospects or their school systems’ reputations — and their own.

“It’s throughout all the private schools here,” said DeAnsin Parker, a New York psychologist who treats many adolescents from affluent neighborhoods like the Upper East Side. “It’s not as if there is one school where this is the culture. This is the culture.”

Observed Gary Boggs, a special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration, “We’re seeing it all across the United States.”

The D.E.A. lists prescription stimulants like Adderall and Vyvanse (amphetamines) and Ritalin and Focalin (methylphenidates) as Class 2 controlled substances — the same as cocaine and morphine — because they rank among the most addictive substances that have a medical use. (By comparison, the long-abused anti-anxiety drug Valium is in the lower Class 4.) So they carry high legal risks, too, as few teenagers appreciate that merely giving a friend an Adderall or Vyvanse pill is the same as selling it and can be prosecuted as a felony.

While these medicines tend to calm people with A.D.H.D., those without the disorder find that just one pill can jolt them with the energy and focus to push through all-night homework binges and stay awake during exams afterward. “It’s like it does your work for you,” said William, a recent graduate of the Birch Wathen Lenox School on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

But abuse of prescription stimulants can lead to depression and mood swings (from sleep deprivation), heart irregularities and acute exhaustion or psychosis during withdrawal, doctors say. Little is known about the long-term effects of abuse of stimulants among the young. Drug counselors say that for some teenagers, the pills eventually become an entry to the abuse of painkillers and sleep aids.

“Once you break the seal on using pills, or any of that stuff, it’s not scary anymore — especially when you’re getting A’s,” said the boy who snorted Adderall in the parking lot. He spoke from the couch of his drug counselor, detailing how he later became addicted to the painkiller Percocet and eventually heroin.

Paul L. Hokemeyer, a family therapist at Caron Treatment Centers in Manhattan, said: “Children have prefrontal cortexes that are not fully developed, and we’re changing the chemistry of the brain. That’s what these drugs do. It’s one thing if you have a real deficiency — the medicine is really important to those people — but not if your deficiency is not getting into Brown.”

The number of prescriptions for A.D.H.D. medications dispensed for young people ages 10 to 19 has risen 26 percent since 2007, to almost 21 million yearly, according to IMS Health, a health care information company — a number that experts estimate corresponds to more than two million individuals. But there is no reliable research on how many high school students take stimulants as a study aid. Doctors and teenagers from more than 15 schools across the nation with high academic standards estimated that the portion of students who do so ranges from 15 percent to 40 percent.

“They’re the A students, sometimes the B students, who are trying to get good grades,” said one senior at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, a Philadelphia suburb, who said he makes hundreds of dollars a week selling prescription drugs, usually priced at $5 to $20 per pill, to classmates as young as freshmen. “They’re the quote-unquote good kids, basically.”

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“A Generation Hobbled by the Soaring Cost of College”

A Generation Hobbled by the Soaring Cost of College

Photographs by Ruth Fremson/The New York Times and Ty William Wright for The New York Times

Taking on debt has become a central part of the college experience for many students.

By and
Published: May 12, 2012

ADA, Ohio — Kelsey Griffith graduates on Sunday from Ohio Northern University. To start paying off her $120,000 in student debt, she is already working two restaurant jobs and will soon give up her apartment here to live with her parents. Her mother, who co-signed on the loans, is taking out a life insurance policy on her daughter.

“If anything ever happened, God forbid, that is my debt also,” said Ms. Griffith’s mother, Marlene Griffith.

Ms. Griffith, 23, wouldn’t seem a perfect financial fit for a college that costs nearly $50,000 a year. Her father, a paramedic, and mother, a preschool teacher, have modest incomes, and she has four sisters. But when she visited Ohio Northern, she was won over by faculty and admissions staff members who urge students to pursue their dreams rather than obsess on the sticker price.

“As an 18-year-old, it sounded like a good fit to me, and the school really sold it,” said Ms. Griffith, a marketing major. “I knew a private school would cost a lot of money. But when I graduate, I’m going to owe like $900 a month. No one told me that.”

With more than $1 trillion in student loans outstanding in this country, crippling debt is no longer confined to dropouts from for-profit colleges or graduate students who owe on many years of education, some of the overextended debtors in years past. Now nearly everyone pursuing a bachelor’s degree is borrowing. As prices soar, a college degree statistically remains a good lifetime investment, but it often comes with an unprecedented financial burden.

Ninety-four percent of students who earn a bachelor’s degree borrow to pay for higher education — up from 45 percent in 1993, according to an analysis by The New York Times of the latest data from the Department of Education. This includes loans from the federal government, private lenders and relatives.

For all borrowers, the average debt in 2011 was $23,300, with 10 percent owing more than $54,000 and 3 percent more than $100,000, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports. Average debt for bachelor degree graduates who took out loans ranges from under $10,000 at elite schools like Princeton and Williams College, which have plenty of wealthy students and enormous endowments, to nearly $50,000 at some private colleges with less affluent students and less financial aid.

Here at Ohio Northern, recent graduates with bachelor’s degrees are among the most indebted of any college in the country, and statewide, graduates of Ohio’s more than 200 colleges and universities carry some of the highest average debt in the country, according to data reported by the colleges and compiled by an educational advocacy group. The current balance of federal student loans nationwide is $902 billion, with an additional $140 billion or so in private student loans.

“If one is not thinking about where this is headed over the next two or three years, you are just completely missing the warning signs,” said Rajeev V. Date, deputy director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the federal watchdog created after the financial crisis.

Mr. Date likened excessive student borrowing to risky mortgages. And as with the housing bubble before the economic collapse, the extraordinary growth in student loans has caught many by surprise. But its roots are in fact deep, and the cast of contributing characters — including college marketing officers, state lawmakers wielding a budget ax and wide-eyed students and families — has been enabled by a basic economic dynamic: an insatiable demand for a college education, at almost any price, and plenty of easy-to-secure loans, primarily from the federal government.

The roots of the borrowing binge date to the 1980s, when tuition for four-year colleges began to rise faster than family incomes. In the 1990s, for-profit colleges boomed by spending heavily on marketing and recruiting. Despite some ethical lapses and fraud, enrollment more than doubled in the last decade and Wall Street swooned over the stocks. Roughly 11 percent of college students now attend for-profit colleges, and they receive about a quarter of federal student loans and grants.

In the last decade, even as enrollment at state colleges and universities has grown, some states have cut spending for higher education and many others have not allocated enough money to keep pace with the growing student body. That trend has accelerated as state budgets have shrunk because of the recent financial crisis and the unpopularity of tax increases.

Nationally, state and local spending per college student, adjusted for inflation, reached a 25-year low this year, jeopardizing the long-held conviction that state-subsidized higher education is an affordable steppingstone for the lower and middle classes. All the while, the cost of tuition and fees has continued to increase faster than the rate of inflation, faster even than medical spending. If the trends continue through 2016, the average cost of a public college will have more than doubled in just 15 years, according to the Department of Education.

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“The Benefits of Weight Training for Children”

The New York Times

 

Phys Ed: The Benefits of Weight Training for Children

By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS

November 24, 2010

Trisha Cluck/Getty Images

Back in the 1970s, researchers in Japan studied child laborers and discovered that, among their many misfortunes, the juvenile workers tended to be abnormally short. Physical labor, the researchers concluded, with its hours of lifting and moving heavy weights, had stunted the children’s growth. Somewhat improbably, from that scientific finding and other similar reports, as well as from anecdotes and accreting myth, many people came to believe “that children and adolescents should not” practice weight training, said Avery Faigenbaum, a professor of exercise science at the College of New Jersey. That idea retains a sturdy hold in the popular imagination. As a recent position paper on the topic of children and resistance training points out, many parents, coaches and pediatricians remain convinced that weight training by children will “result in short stature, epiphyseal plate” — or growth plate — “damage, lack of strength increases due to a lack of testosterone and a variety of safety issues.”

 

Kids, in other words, many of us believe, won’t get stronger by lifting weights and will probably hurt themselves. But a major new review just published in Pediatrics, together with a growing body of other scientific reports, suggest that, in fact, weight training can be not only safe for young people, it can also be beneficial, even essential.

In the Pediatrics review, researchers with the Institute of Training Science and Sports Informatics in Cologne, Germany, analyzed 60 years’ worth of studies of children and weightlifting. The studies covered boys and girls from age 6 to 18. The researchers found that, almost without exception, children and adolescents benefited from weight training. They grew stronger. Older children, particularly teenagers, tended to add more strength than younger ones, as would be expected, but the difference was not enormous. Over all, strength gains were “linear,” the researchers found. They didn’t spike wildly after puberty for boys or girls, even though boys at that age are awash in testosterone, the sex hormone known to increase muscle mass in adults. That was something of a surprise. On the other hand, a reliable if predictable factor was consistency. Young people of any age who participated in resistance training at least twice a week for a month or more showed greater strength gains than those who worked out only once a week or for shorter periods.

Over all, the researchers concluded, “regardless of maturational age, children generally seem to be capable of increasing muscular strength.”

That finding, which busts one of the most pervasive myths about resistance training for young people — that they won’t actually get stronger — is in accord with the results and opinions of most researchers who have studied the subject. “We’ve worked with kindergartners, having them just use balloons and dowels” as strength training tools, “and found that they developed strength increases,” said Dr. Faigenbaum, a widely acknowledged expert on the topic of youth strength training. (His most recent book is in fact titled “Youth Strength Training.”)

But interestingly, young people do not generally add muscular power in quite the same way as adults. They rarely pack on bulk. Adults, particularly men but also women, typically add muscle mass when they start weight training, a process known as muscular hypertrophy (or, less technically, getting buff). Youths do not add as much or sometimes any obvious muscle mass as a result of strength training, which is one of the reasons many people thought they did not grow stronger. Their strength gains seem generally to involve “neurological” changes, Dr. Faigenbaum said. Their nervous systems and muscles start interacting more efficiently. A few small studies have shown that children develop a significant increase in motor-unit activation within their muscles after weight training. A motor unit consists of a single neuron and all of the muscle cells that it controls. When more motor units fire, a muscle contracts more efficiently. So, in essence, strength training in children seems to liberate the innate strength of the muscle, to activate the power that has been in abeyance, unused.

And that fact, from both a physiological and philosophical standpoint, is perhaps why strength training for children is so important, a growing chorus of experts says. “We are urban dwellers stuck in hunter-gatherer bodies,” said Lyle Micheli, M.D., the director of sports medicine at Children’s Hospital Boston and professor of orthopedic surgery at Harvard University, as well as a co-author, with Dr. Faigenbaum, of the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s 2009 position paper about children and resistance training. “That’s true for children as well as adults. There was a time when children ‘weight trained’ by carrying milk pails and helping around the farm. Now few children, even young athletes, get sufficient activity” to fully strengthen their muscles, tendons and other tissues. “If a kid sits in class or in front of a screen for hours and then you throw them out onto the soccer field or basketball court, they don’t have the tissue strength to withstand the forces involved in their sports. That can contribute to injury.”

Consequently, many experts say, by strength training, young athletes can reduce their risk of injury, not the reverse. “The scientific literature is quite clear that strength training is safe for young people, if it’s properly supervised,” Dr. Faigenbaum says. “It will not stunt growth or lead to growth-plate injuries. That doesn’t mean young people should be allowed to go down into the basement and lift Dad’s weights by themselves. That’s when you see accidents.” The most common, he added, involve injuries to the hands and feet. “Unsupervised kids drop weights on their toes or pinch their fingers in the machines,” he said.

In fact, the ideal weight-training program for many children need not involve weights at all. “The body doesn’t know the difference between a weight machine, a medicine ball, an elastic band and your own body weight,” Dr. Faigenbaum said. In his own work with local schools, he often leads physical-education class warm-ups that involve passing a medicine ball (usually a “1 kilogram ball for elementary-school-age children” and heavier ones for teenagers) or holding a broomstick to teach lunges safely. He has the kids hop, skip and leap on one leg. They do some push-ups, perhaps one-handed on a medicine ball for older kids. (For specifics about creating strength-training programs for young athletes of various ages, including teenagers, and avoiding injury, visit strongkid.com, a Web site set up by Dr. Faigenbaum, or the Children’s Hospital Boston sports medicine site.)

As for the ideal age to start weight training, Dr. Faigenbaum said: “Any age is a good age. But there does seem to be something special about the time from about age 7 to 12. The nervous system is very plastic. The kids are very eager. It seems to be an ideal time to hard-wire strength gains and movement patterns.” And if you structure a program right, he added, “it can be so much fun that it never occurs to the kids that they’re getting quote-unquote ‘strength training’ at all.”

Original article

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