Entries in Child Development (15)


The Right Way to 'Bribe' Your Kids?

Courtesy Fuchs family(LAS VEGAS) -- When Las Vegas entrepreneur Lana Fuchs wants her kids to get straight A’s, she might offer them VIP tickets to the Grammys or throw them a $1 million party, or even have world-famous designers come to her home for a customized shopping spree.

In short, she bribes her children. But is that such a bad thing?

As president and CEO of Billionaire Mafia Enterprises, a fashion lifestyle brand and record label, Fuchs can pretty much afford any lavish treats her children desire, but she insists that they work hard. “They say bribing, I say rewarding,” Fuchs said. She believes this tactic validates the behavior she’d like to see and therefore motivates her children to do better and to set higher goals and expectations for themselves.

But rewarding children for performance could be a big mistake, according to psychologist and parenting expert Dr. Phil McGraw.

“Rewards are clearly better than punishment in terms of shaping a child’s behavior,” says McGraw. “But you have to be careful because if the rewards get too big, too lavish, then you actually wind up undermining their internal motivation.”

Not everyone agrees. Although many parents are far less wealthy than the Fuchs clan, recent studies have shown that many parents admit to giving their children some kind of incentive for good grades and good behavior -- for instance, allowing them an extra 30 minutes on the computer or staying up past bedtime. An economist at the University of Chicago has found that certain types of bribery are more effective than others.

“We all want our kids to do better in school, so we think of different incentives to use on them,” said John List, an economics professor. “Look, the government wants us to buy a green car or a car that uses less fuel, so they give us incentives or subsidies to buy fuel efficient cars. What I’m advocating is giving people incentives to behave in a way that we want them to behave.”

List conducts experiments with students at a local middle school. He takes a group of underachieving students and offers them $20 to perform better on a test.

“We tell them if you perform well on this test, you can keep the $20, and if you do not perform well, we will take the $20 back from you,” List said. “What we find time and time again is that when you give someone a reward that they care about and threaten to take it back, they will then work harder on that task.”

So maybe bribing isn’t all that bad after all. Still, most experts agree that true rewards come from praise and encouragement. As Fuchs puts it, perhaps praise is enough “but my children get praise, love, affection and gifts.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Toddlers Give In to Peer Pressure, Too?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Parents often warn teens as they reach junior high and high school about the negative effects of peer pressure.  But should parents start worrying about peer pressure earlier?  A new study suggests that even toddlers give in to the influence of their peers.

Researchers reported that 2-year-olds are more likely influenced to copy the actions of three other toddlers than if they saw the same actions carried out by just one other toddler, HealthDay reports.

Study author Daniel Haun, of the Max Planck Institutes of Evolutionary Anthropology and Psycholinguistics in Germany and the Netherlands commented in a release for the journal Current Biology, which also published Haun's findings, that very few people think of children this young as influenced by the majority.  "Parents and teachers should be aware of these dynamics in children's peer interactions," Haun said.

The researchers also found, according to Health Day, similarities for social learning between humans and chimps.  While chimpanzees tend to follow the group, orangutans do not.

But sensitivity to peer pressure does not always have to be negative, Haun pointed out.

"The tendency to acquire the behaviors of the majority has been posited as key to the transmission of relatively safe, reliable and productive behavioral strategies," he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio 


New Autism Definition Could Exclude Many

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Proposed changes to the definition of autism might make it much harder for a person to be diagnosed with the disorder. The change would likely slow the rapidly increasing rate of autism diagnoses but also spark fears that some children with autism would no longer fit its definition, excluding them from services and treatments they depend on.

A panel of experts from the American Psychiatric Association re-evaluating the definition currently published in the “bible” of psychiatry, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is used to determine treatment, insurance coverage and access to services for a variety of mental illnesses.

That definition includes a number of disorders under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorder, including autism disorder, Asperger’s disorder and  pervasive development disorder not otherwise specified, which usually includes people who don’t fit neatly into the other categories of autism. Currently, people must show at least six out of 12 possible behaviors to be diagnosed as autistic.

According to a report published Wednesday in the New York Times, proposed changes to the definition for the new DSM edition, slated to be published next year, would exclude Asperger’s and PDDNOS and consolidate autism diagnoses under a narrower category of autism. The person would have to show three deficits in social interaction and communication and two repetitive behaviors, a stricter set of criteria.

Many autism experts support the proposed changes, saying they will make it far easier to diagnose autism.

Experts say the changes will probably also arrest the rate of autism diagnoses, which have been rising sharply in recent years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 110 children in the U.S. has autism under the old definition.

Dr. Fred Volkmar, director of the Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine, led a team of researchers who analyzed data from a 1994 study testing the criteria used in the current edition of DSM. According to a statement from Yale University, the researchers found that half of the people diagnosed with autism in that trial would no longer merit a diagnosis under the new proposed criteria.

In the statement, Dr. Volkmar emphasized that these preliminary findings suggest that, “only the most cognitively able” would be excluded from an autism diagnosis.

Lori Warner, director of the Hope Center for Autism at Beaumont Children’s Hospital Center in Royal Oak, Mich., told ABC News that these cognitively able, "high-functioning" autistic people still require a number of treatment and support services.

If patients lose their diagnosis status, they might not be able to get the treatments and services provided for autistic patients and their families, which often require a diagnosis to qualify for insurance coverage, special education and other assistance.

“Really, in a lot of states, you need that diagnosis in order to have treatment covered. If you don’t have that diagnosis, you’re going to try to pay out of pocket or you have no access to these services,” Warner said. “It could be devastating for a lot of families.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Bigger Brains in Certain Types of Autism, Study Finds

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(DAVIS, Calif.) -- A new study adds to an increasing amount of evidence suggesting a link between brain size and autism.

Researchers at the Mind Institute at the University of California at Davis have found that children with a certain type of autism, called regressive autism, generally have larger brains than children without the disorder, and for kids with early onset autism.

A number of recent studies have found a link between brain size and autism, confirming suspicions long held by many autism experts that the disorder is linked to neurological growth and development. But the authors of this latest study, David G. Amaral and Christine Wu Nordahl, say their findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicate that the causes of autism may vary among children with different types of the disorder.

The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to study the brains of 180 children, ages 2 to 4, and analyzed the records of head circumference taken throughout the life of each child. Of those children, 61 had regressive autism, a form of  autism in which children seem to develop normally until about 18 to 24 months, when they begin to lose the language and social skills they’d already acquired. Of the study’s remaining children, 53 had early onset autism and 66 did not have autism at all.

The researchers found that boys with regressive autism had six percent more brain volume than their peers who didn’t have autism at all; the brains of boys with early onset autism were similar in size to the brains of non-autistic children.

Amaral said the findings shed light on the complexity of autism and its many subgroups, which he and his colleagues are trying to understand through a long-term study of autistic children. He said that only about 10 percent of the children in the current study had larger brains.

"There’s enormous heterogeneity in the disorder, and there’s a lot of kids with characteristics that overlap with kids who develop normally,” Amaral said. “This study confirms the idea that big brains are one scenario of autism, but it’s not the only scenario.”

Adding even more complexity to their findings, the researchers found that brain size differences seemed to be tied to gender. All the autistic girls in the study, even those with regressive autism, showed no difference in brain size than their non-autistic peers.

Autism is four times more likely to occur in boys than in girls, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but scientists know very little about the neurological underpinnings of this gender difference.

The study adds to a growing chorus of research suggesting that abnormal brain growth plays a crucial part of the development of autism.

“It’s important to remember that not all kids with autism have the same form of brain pathology,” Nordahl said. “We need to keep looking for these different subgroups of autism so we can better target our treatments for the disorder.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Prenatal Exposure to BPA Might Affect Children's Behavior Later

BananaStock/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- A new study in this week's Pediatrics medical journal suggests that prenatal exposure to bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in many products, including food and beverage containers, is linked to behavioral and emotional problems in 3-year-old children.

Some environmental and child health experts say the findings support the argument that BPA is harmful to children's development, a position that has been under debate for the past several years.

In the study, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cincinnati Children's Medical Center, and several other institutions measured BPA levels in the urine of 244 women at different times during their pregnancies and in the urine of their children at one, two and three years of age.

They found BPA in more than 97 percent of the urine samples, and discovered an association between BPA exposure and subsequent behavioral problems.

"The results of this study suggest that gestational BPA exposure might be associated with anxious, depressive and hyperactive behaviors related to impaired behavioral regulation at three years of age," wrote the authors, led by Joe Braun, a research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

The effects were especially strong among girls.

Despite the findings, the authors urge caution in their interpretation.

"There is considerable debate regarding the toxicity of low-level BPA exposure, and the findings presented here warrant additional research," they wrote

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Kids Under 2 Should Not Watch TV, Experts Say

Hemera/Thinkstock(ELK GROVE VILLAGE, Ill.) -- Kids under 2 years old should not be in front of the tube: instead they should be encouraged to talk and play, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced Tuesday.

There is no scientific evidence that shows TV viewing in young children offers any benefit in early development, the AAP announced.  In fact, studies have shown that TV can cause sleep problems in children, the country’s largest organization of pediatricians noted.  The new policy statement will be published in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics.

But a recent survey found that 90 percent of parents said their children watch some sort of screen from electronic media.

“There have been studies that have looked at developmental health effects of TV in children, including language delays and disruptive sleep,” Dr. Ari Brown, a pediatrician and lead author of the guidelines, told ABC News. “Unstructured play time has been proven to be beneficial for critical thinking skills that kids need for life, so this is time better spent.”

Brown noted that children under 2 years old do not have the mental ability to understand the content and context within TV shows, even those that claim to have educational benefits.

“It’s entertaining,” Brown said . “People of all ages are drawn to screens.  But it’s not educational for kids that age.”

The AAP guidelines are no different from recommendations from 1999, which also discouraged TV viewing in kids under 2.  But this year, the association also made recommendations in regards to parents’ viewing habits.

“We addressed what we call second-hand TV,” Brown said. “This is when a child is playing in a room with the TV on.  It’s distracting for the child and the parent, so we recommend that if you want to watch your shows, try to watch them later when children are asleep.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Family Dinners Linked to Less Risky Behavior in Teens

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Family meals are getting another big thumbs-up Thursday, this time thanks to a new study examining the link between dinnertime and lower rates of risky behavior in teenagers.

"Family meals are the strongest factor that we've come across in any activity that families do," said William Doherty, a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota. "It really tops them all as a predictor and contributor of a wide range of positive behavior."

Compared to teens who ate with their families five to seven times a week, teenagers who had fewer than three family dinners a week were almost four times more likely to try tobacco, more than twice as likely to use alcohol and 2.5 times more likely to use marijuana, according to new information released by Columbia University's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.

Doherty, who did not take part in the study, said family dinners conveyed a sense of belonging, gave teenagers security and stability, and provided them and their parents an opportunity to communicate.

"So much of the rest of the day, kids, especially teens, are spending with their peers by themselves," Doherty said. "They have a chance for talking and connecting at family dinners."

Three-quarters of teens who reported having dinner with their family at least once a week said the interaction and the togetherness were the best part of the meal. Those who spent seven hours or less per week with their parents were twice as likely to use alcohol and twice as likely to say they expected to try drugs, compared with teens who spent 21 hours or more per week with their parents.

Previous studies have shown that family meals have many benefits.

Female adolescents who ate family dinners at least most days were less likely to initiate purging, binge-eating and frequent dieting. Children who ate breakfast with their families at least four times a week were more likely to consume fruit and vegetables.

And findings have revealed that by making family dinner a priority, families with teenagers might enhance child-parent communication and ultimately promote healthy adolescent development.

Doherty had this advice for parents and caregivers who have given up on family dinners: Start on a Sunday night.

"I recommend starting one a week. The more you do it, the better," he said. "One is better than zero. It's quality, not quantity."

Doherty urged families to turn the television off, put all cellphones away and for parents not to use the sit-down meal as an opportunity to nag or scold.

"Make it a connecting meal. It's the quality of the connecting. Just try to have a good conversation," he said. "Don't grill them about their grades."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Nickelodeon Responds to 'SpongeBob' Claiming Harm to Preschoolers

Thos Robinson/Getty Images for Nickelodeon(NEW YORK) -- A senior vice president for Nickelodeon is calling foul on a new study out Monday that suggests preschoolers’ attention spans are hindered from watching certain cartoons such as SpongeBob SquarePants.

In an interview with Nightline, Jane Gould, the senior vice president of Consumer Insights for Nickelodeon/MTVN Kids and Family Group, said the study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, didn’t include enough kids in its sample size and that SpongeBob wasn’t an appropriate choice.

The researchers, led by University of Virginia psychologist Angeline Lillard, randomly assigned 60 4-year-olds to three activities: drawing freely with markers for nine minutes; watching a slower-paced, PBS cartoon for that time; or watching SpongeBob SquarePants. Researchers said they chose SpongeBob for its frenetic pace: The show switches scenes on average every 11 seconds, as compared with the PBS cartoon, which switched only twice a minute.

“It made me scratch my head and feel confused,” Gould said. “I couldn’t understand the logic of including a program like SpongeBob, which is expressly designed to entertain 6-to-11-year-olds and have that program be compared to a slow-paced educational program for preschoolers. SpongeBob is not designed to educate preschoolers. It’s designed to entertain kids.”

Gould added that the kids who did participate were not from ”a diverse enough background to represent the country.”

After watching the programs, the preschoolers were asked to do four different “executive function” tasks that test cognitive capability and impulse control, such as counting backwards, solving puzzles, and delaying gratification by waiting to eat a tasty snack until told to do so. Compared with those who were drawing and those watching PBS, the SpongeBob kids performed significantly worse on the tasks, the researchers said.

“When you look at what was shown to them, they saw nine minutes of a program,” Gould said. “There wasn’t even closure offered to the children who saw the program.”

She added that another bias in the study was that researchers polled parents about their children’s behavior before their kids participated.

“What really surprised me was that these researchers asked parents first to report back on their kids, and answer whether their kids, in essence, have a normal or ordinary attention span,” Gould continued. “You are going to find very few parents who are going to say, ‘You know what, I don’t think my kid has a good attention span.’”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Are Babies Born Anxious or Is Anxiety Thrust Upon Them?

Goodshoot/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- Parents often say their child’s personality was apparent from Day One, but can adult personality really be predicted from the way a baby behaves while still in diapers?

That was the question researchers investigated in a study published Tuesday in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Researchers followed 135 children from infancy through early adulthood and found that, for boys at least, being a fussy, reactive infant in the first few months of life was associated with a stronger neurological reaction to unfamiliar faces at age 18 -- a reaction researchers believe signals a propensity toward social anxiety and possibly depression later on.

When the study subjects were four months old, researchers evaluated whether they were “high reactive,” meaning they fussed and cried when presented with loud noises or unfamiliar smells, or “low reactive,” meaning they didn’t react in this fearful or agitated manner when presented with new stimuli. Researchers suspected that the “high reactive” infants would continue to have a negative response to unfamiliar stimuli up through adulthood, though as adults, this fear of the unfamiliar might manifest as social anxiety, generalized anxiety or depression.

They found that this was true to an extent among the boys in their group: When shown unfamiliar faces, the boys that had been high-reactive infants tended to have stronger responses in the part of the brain that processes threat and novelty when compared to subjects who had been less fussy as infants.

"The idea is that when these kids walk into a room of strangers, their brains respond more,” Dr. Carl Schwartz, the Massachusetts General Hospital psychiatrist who led the study, told ABC News.  They are interpreting the situation as a threat, whereas an extrovert wouldn’t, he says. “These are the kids who are afraid to raise their hands in class, who don’t date in high school,” Schwartz says.

"I would never want to say that this is deterministic,” he adds.  It’s not that someone with a reactive temperament is doomed to be anxious or introverted, but these results suggest that it might be harder for a reactive infant to grow up into an “extreme extrovert” because there is something happening early on that affects how their brains react, he says.

In the past few decades, psychologists have started to pay more attention to the disposition babies express very early on in life, and how temperament may serve as a window into a child’s future personality and mental health.

But looking at only the temperament may take the “nature” side of the equation too far,  Jerry Aldridge, a professor of early childhood education at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told

While the temperament may be inborn, says Aldridge, it’s how that temperament is nurtured, or not nurtured, that determines whether a fearful infant might grow up into an anxious adult.

"The link between early temperament and propensity to psychological disorder later in life has a lot to do with the environment. Children whose environment supports their temperaments do better than those whose environment causes a ‘badness of fit’ between the child and the environment,” he says.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Is It Mom's Fault When Sons Turn Delinquent?

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Are teenage boys delinquent because they don't have a close relationship with their mothers, or does a child's character determine how easy it is for a parent to foster warmth and closeness? Is it anyone's fault?

A new longitudinal study published this week in the journal Child Development suggests that mother-son bonds are critical in determining a boy's behavior as a teenager.

Both the study and a new film -- We Need to Talk About Kevin -- raise questions about which comes first: the inability of a mother to show warmth toward the child or the child's inability to bond with the parent.

Reseachers say it's not anyone's fault, but the relationship is critical to the child's healthy development.

The study was conducted at Wayne State University, Oklahoma State University, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Montreal and the University of Oregon. It was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The study concluded that the biggest influence on future delinquency was extended conflict -- "arguing and fighting and it feels like you are struggling" -- after the child starts school and then grows into adolescence.

"Continued conflict, long after the child is 5, is the highest predictor of delinquency," according to lead author Christopher Trentacosta, an assistant professor of psychology at Wayne State University. "Continuing to have conflict -- that matters."

The study evokes the theme of the new film, We Need to Talk About Kevin, which drew stellar reviews at the Cannes Film Festival this year. Tilda Swinton plays a mother whose unusually difficult son tests the limits of her love and eventually grows into a psychotic teenager.

In the study, researchers looked at the development of the quality of the mother-son relationship between the ages of 5 and 15, paying particular attention to parental warmth and conflict. They followed 265 families as part of the Pitt Mother and Child Project in Pittsburgh, which examined vulnerability and resilience in low-income boys.

In each pair of mother and son, scientists evaluated where the family lived, the mother's relationship with her husband or partner, the quality of her parenting and the child's temperament. Other variables were the boys' behavior, their relationship with friends and their "sense of morality" during the teen years.

Boys who were difficult as toddlers had lower levels of closeness with their mothers over time. And when mothers had positive relationships with their romantic partners, the boys stayed closer and fared better.

How a teen related to his mother also reflected better relationships with best friends in adolescence.

The study concluded that "rather than remaining static, parent-child relationships during middle childhood and adolescence are characterized by transformations and realignment."

Scientists say the warmth of the parent-child relationship may stabilize during middle childhood, then turn sour during the early teen years before improving in the late teens. Often, children, as they grow older, experience conflict with their mothers, which subsides before typical rebellion sets in during the teen years. That, too, wanes in late teens.

As teens approach their 20s, they tend to have fewer confrontations with their mothers, according to Trentacosta. "Speculation is that kids are better able to manage themselves and their behavior and don't have as many temper tantrums," he said. "There is a myth out there that conflict increases in adolescence. The overall frequency of conflict and how often you feel like you are struggling is more often when the child is 5 than at 12."

How the relationship between mother and son changes can affect boys' behavior when they become teens, according to researchers.

In a subset of the group of study participants -- fewer than 10 percent -- boys and their mothers reported consistently high levels of conflict that didn't dissipate after they grew older. For them, those conflicts spelled trouble.

But Dr. Alan Kazdin, director of the Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic, said these study results have to be "parsed very carefully."

"Mothers may bond and attach better with a child who is less deviant, more cooperative, more affectionate and more like them," he said. "It's the other way around -- having a wonderful child leads to better outcomes."

Kazdin said that although this study confirms the importance of warmth and closeness, if the findings are misinterpreted, "it's just another way to put pressure on mom."

Many factors go into raising a healthy child, according to Kazdin, including parenting practices, genetics and environmental influences.

"People should not be alarmed if they have a bad relationship with a child," he said. "Of course, a good relationship is always better. But talk to them, listen to them and be comforting. If you don't have a good relationship, it's not that you blew it. Maybe it's the character of your child that made it difficult."

Conversely, establishing a good relationship with the child is "no guarantee to prevent delinquency," he said.

Kazdin noted that Yale has been working on changing parent-child interactions to prevent violent behavior, including improving communication.

"Parents get discouraged when they see their teens don't want anything to do with them, but that's totally false," he said. "Kids want to talk with their parents about drugs and sex, not with their peers, but the parents aren't approachable."

Trentacosta said his study took into consideration a child's temperament in measurements taken when the boys were 18 months and 24 months old.

"We found among the boys different temperaments predicted elevated levels of conflict and also predicted less warmth," he said. "There was a lot of arguing and fighting. Moms felt less closeness and warmth."

Trentacosta agrees that the findings are "more nuanced" than just whether or not the mother and son have a "good or bad relationship."

"It wasn't so much the parenting behavior, but more about how the parents perceived that aspect of their relationship," he said.

He said the study may have positive implications for prevention and intervention, addressing conflict in the parent-child relationship in family-focused programs with the ultimate goal of reducing delinquent behavior.

"Like all things, you shouldn't put it on the kid or on the parent, what matters most is the relationship," said Trentacosta. "If you want to prevent the kid from delinquency, [the parent and the child] need to do something different. The two could work on their relationship, especially at an early age."

The study findings encourage parents to pay attention to conflict early and to get help.

"Maybe you seek out more interaction therapy focused on the relationship," he said. "There are a lot of great treatment approaches working with the child and the parent together in a room to learn how to manage their conflict and to interact in a healthier and happier way.

"It's nobody's fault," he said. "You need to pay attention to the relationship."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio