Entries in Preschoolers (4)


Violent Cartoons Linked to Sleep Problems in Preschoolers

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SEATTLE) -- Swapping Batman for Big Bird could help young kids sleep better, a new study found.

The study of sleep habits among 565 preschool-age children found that those who tuned in to age-appropriate educational programs were less likely to have sleep problems than those who watched sparring superheroes or slapstick scenes meant for slightly older kids.

"Content that's funny for older kids can be too violent for really young children," said study author Michelle Garrison from the Seattle Children's Research Institute, adding that even Bugs Bunny is "too much" for kids younger than 6.  "We really don't want them exposed to any violence at all."

Previous studies in children have linked violent videos to disrupted sleep, raising the risk of behavioral and emotional problems.  To test whether reducing exposure to violent media could improve sleep, Garrison and colleagues ran a clinical trial.  The treatment: Curious George, Dora the Explorer and Sesame Street.

"That kind of media content really models good social skills, like empathy, cooperation and problem solving," Garrison said.  "And we found that taking steps to reduce violent media produced tangible and sustained effects on sleep."

The study, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, adds to mounting evidence that screen time -- and screen content -- can negatively impact sleep.  How exactly? The jury's still out.

"There are so many possible pathways," said Garrison, theorizing that kids exposed to less violence may find it easier to fall asleep or have fewer nightmares.  "But trying to reduce media violence is an important goal for all families.  And the good news is: There's lots of great, healthy content out there for preschool children, a lot of positive options."

Garrison recommends checking for information about media violence.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Preschool Mouths: Dental Disaster Zones

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Preschoolers across the country are increasingly getting fillings and extractions for extensive dental decay, sometimes requiring surgery and general anesthesia in an operating room, pediatric dentists report.

The trend, seen in families both rich and poor, points to neglect driven by several factors. Despite decades of emphasis on eliminating tooth decay with fluoride toothpastes and frequent brushing, many parents aren’t getting the message that dental care begins when a child’s first tooth comes in, and that a child should be brushing with fluoride by age 2.

Parents of all income levels indulge young children in too many sugary snacks and sippy cups filled with sugar-laden fruit juices, dentists say. Too often, they put toddlers to bed with a bottle of juice or milk. Saliva levels go down overnight, making the mouth even more acidic and allowing sugars in the drinks to eat into tooth enamel for hours at a time.

As a result, dentists are fighting more aggressively to counter the resulting decay, often treating cavities in baby teeth before the bad bacteria can spread elsewhere in the body or harm the adult teeth forming below them in the jaw.

“The myth has been for years, these are just baby teeth, they’re just going to fall out anyway,” said Dr. Amr Moursi, chairman of pediatric dentistry at NYU’s College of Dentistry. Moursi said the need for dental operating rooms at NYU exceeds the supply, forcing dentists to compete with cardiac surgeons and neurosurgeons for operating room time, and forcing patients to wait three to six months to have their dental surgeries scheduled. In addition, he said, it’s hard to find pediatric dentists with operating room privileges, which further squeezes the ability to treat children in need.

“There’s not enough operating rooms in the country equipped to do dental work,” he said.

Severe neglect of a child’s oral health most often occurs among poor families “trying to make ends meet, pay the rent; it’s not a high priority,” Moursi said. However, dentists also are seeing a troublesome trend of lax parenting among more well-off mothers and fathers who don’t enforce brushing-after-meals rules.

As parenting styles have shifted, there has been evidence of changes that “sometimes include a de-emphasis on oral health or anything that the child doesn’t necessarily want, whether that’s bath time, or practicing the piano, or eating their vegetables,” Moursi said. “That’s when we have the conversation: You’re the parent and it’s in their best interest. We give them some techniques to make it easier.”

Just Tuesday morning, Dr. Jonathan D. Shenkin, a pediatric dentist in Augusta, Maine, found six small cavities between the teeth of a 4-year-old girl during her first-ever appointment with a dentist. The child should have been seen by her first birthday. The girl’s mother was at a loss to account for all the decay in her daughter’s mouth, telling Shenkin that she thought she had her children doing everything right: “We don’t drink soda. They brush their teeth twice a day.”

But when he asked if the family uses fluoride toothpaste, she responded that they had just started to use it.

“Brushing with fluoride toothpaste is the most important thing you can do,” he said. Next, parents must pay attention to what their children eat and drink. Numerous well-intentioned parents tell him they only give their children “all natural” products, thinking those somehow are better for their dental health. However, many fruit juices contain just as much sugar as sodas, he said.

Although dentists prefer to spend their time on prevention, a parent’s decision to wait until a child is in pre-school before making a dental appointment is too late to prevent tooth decay that already may have begun, Shenkin said. “The kids coming into our offices at this age already have it at this point. There’s no way to turn back.”

“The goal should always be to treat in the office if possible,” Shenkin said. “The last resort should be going into the operating room under general anesthesia.”

By and large, the children going to the operating room tend to be lower-income children, he said. “When we talk about tooth decay, 80 percent of the disease is in 20 percent of the population…usually the lowest income population. The need for anesthesia disproportionately affects the Medicaid population.”

Although there aren’t good statistics establishing the extent of preschoolers requiring extensive dental work, Moursi said he’s seen a dramatic rise in the number of children with “really severe decay” warranting operating room treatment.

During an interview, he said he’d just received a phone call from an NYU pediatric dental resident who had examined a 4-year-old with several cavities, including one that had caused major facial swelling. “The infection had gone through the tooth, down into the surrounding bone of the jaw and spread up into the face under the eye,” Moursi said.

The child was going to be treated with powerful antibiotics, but might still require a trip to the operating room to extract the tooth, he said. In rare cases, such dental infections can spread to the brain, or into the heart and lungs, he said.

“When you have a 6-month wait to get into the O.R. and they’re all 3-year-olds, we know we have a problem,” Moursi said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Should Preschoolers Take Ritalin and Other Stimulants?

Comstock/Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has been steadily on the rise in the past few decades, and so has the use of drugs to treat it. But now even younger children might be considered prime targets for prescriptions of the drugs, an idea that is sparking persistent concerns about the long-term effects of giving stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall to children.

“We don’t have enough information to know the long-term effects of these medications on young developing brains,” said Rahil Briggs, director of Healthy Steps program at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. “Young brains are like a sponge, they’ll soak up anything. Serious medication of this sort might affect them disproportionately as well.”

A September survey published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that use of stimulant medications to treat ADHD had risen in the past 15 years, and the number of children between 13 and 18 taking the drugs had risen 6.5 percent each year since 1996.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidelines last week recommending that children as young as 4 should be screened for ADHD. The guidelines also endorsed prescribing ADHD medications such as Ritalin for preschool-aged kids who have moderate to severe symptoms and who don’t seem to benefit from behavioral therapy.

The use of methylphenidate, the active ingredient in ADHD drugs such as Ritalin and Concerta, in preschool-aged kids is an off-label use of the drug because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the drug only for children 6 and older.

The idea of giving powerful stimulants to young children gives many parents and pediatricians pause. But the American Academy of Pediatrics’ new guidelines are particularly cautious when it comes to recommending drugs for preschoolers.

For preschoolers who do wind up taking the drugs, scientists know fairly little about how the medications affect them. Only one large study, conducted by the National Institutes of Mental Health, has investigated how these drugs affect preschool-aged kids. The Preschool ADHD Treatment Study looked at 303 kids between 3 and 5 being treated for ADHD. If behavioral interventions failed, the children took daily doses of methylphenidate.

The study’s results showed that preschoolers who took the drug didn’t benefit from it as much as older children do, and they were also more likely to experience adverse side effects. One out of 10 kids who took the drug had to drop out of the study because the drug’s side effects were so intolerable.

Despite these results, some experts note that medication can offer relief to parents and children for whom all other approaches have failed.

“ADHD is common disorder that can lead to significant impairment,” said Dr. Chris Kratochvil, professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “The concern is that if clinicians don’t take the time to really evaluate the child or don’t understand what ADHD would look like in a preschool child, that might lead to inappropriate use of these medications.”

Ultimately, child development experts say parents and doctors should always take a cautious approach when it comes to prescribing ADHD drugs for young children.

“It’s got to be the very last solution we turn to after exhausting everything else that we know works really well,” Montefiore’s Briggs said.

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

ABC News Radio