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Protecting the Child, Preserving the Family, and Honoring Life

Welcome to the Blog page of the American College of Pediatricians.  Each issue of the Blog is intended to assist parents, encourage children, and enrich the family.  Read our most recent issue below, and scroll to the bottom of this page to read earlier issues.

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The Increase of Teenage Abstinence

One of the false but pervasive ideas that is often spread in our society by popular media is the idea that some harmful behaviors cannot be avoided, so we might as well do them. Often people have the same ideas about sexual activity. Some adults push for education that doesn’t endorse abstinence because they assume that most teenagers won’t be able to avoid it.

Valerie Huber, the president of Ascend (formerly called the Abstinence Education Association) explained how many people simply assume that most teenagers have sex. She reports how one blogger at Yale University’s School of Public Health casually declared, “Teens have sex. Deal with it.”

But surprisingly teens are less likely to have sex than they were 25 years ago. The 2015 Centers for Disease Control research update shows that 6 in 10 of teenagers have never had sex.  That shows an increase of 28% since 1991.  

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5 Ways to Keep Your Baby Safe from SIDS #SIDSAwarenessMonth

When you bring your sweet little one home from the hospital, you can’t help but think of all the potential stored up in that tiny body. Your baby could grow up to have a family of their own, to help thousands, to really make a difference in the world!

But for some babies, that potential is cut off all too soon.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, affects thousands of families each year (1). And what’s worse is that these deaths are sudden, and often unexplainable.  

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A Positive Outlook on ADHD

In my opinion, ADHD is a terrible term. As I see it, ADHD is neither a disorder, nor is there a deficit of attention. I see ADHD as a trait, not a disability. When it is managed properly, it can become a huge asset in one’s life.”- Edward M. Hallowell, M.D.

The author of the quote above, Dr. Edward M. Hallowell has written several books about ADHD. His expertise comes from years and years of research, working with clients, as well as having ADHD and dyslexia himself. He has a unique perspective on ADHD as something that can be managed appropriately and even be a benefit. But can this disorder, which has become so widely prevalent, really be an asset in someone’s life? Well, we can certainly say that there are many successful people who have ADHD.

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Helping Your Child Deal with Bullying

Few things are more painful for a parent than to learn that their child is being bullied at school, especially when there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to stop it. Bullying involves aggressive, negative behavior in a patterned manner over time toward an individual of weaker power. It may take many forms:

  • Physical, such as hitting, pushing, kicking, or spitting
  • Verbal, such as negative name-calling, derogatory comments or descriptions
  • Social, such as deliberate isolation, or exclusion
  • Written, such as hand-written notes or electronic messages
  • Electronic displays, such as texting or posting pictures with negative messages on public websites

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Playing with Your Child

Play has developmental value

Research has repeatedly shown that play has numerous developmental benefits for children. Children “practice” the concepts they learn through their play. It is delightful to see children focus on a block or science activity for hours as they learn about how things work. Other reasons for play include:

  • Children learn math skills, literacy, and build their vocabulary through play.
  • Play can be vehicle through which they explore an idea that is mysterious, frightening, or troubling to them in a safe, imaginary setting. Doing so reduces stress and prepares children to cope with things emotionally.
  • Active play, especially when outdoors, builds strength and physical coordination and helps prevent obesity. (1)

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Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development

From an early age, many children are interested in talking about right and wrong. They learn that good is rewarded in society and that “bad guys” are punished. However, explaining to inquisitive children why something is right and okay and why some things are simply morally wrong can be difficult. It may take adjusting the explanation to their “level” of reasoning. They may see rules as the unchangeable authority because disobeying them will lead to punishment. Other children may have a keen sense of what is “nice” or “not nice” and how to treat other people with kindness.

The American psychologist, and former professor at Harvard, Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987) sought to discover how it is that children develop and mature in moral reasoning skills. When it comes to understanding children’s moral behavior, it may be beneficial to consider how children view right and wrong according to Kohlberg’s theory. His research on the motivations behind moral decisions is widely published and discussed among psychologists and developmentalists today. 

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Online Computer Game and Video Game Addictions

 

Computer games–sometimes children just can’t seem to get enough of them. But could this fascination with each new, eye-catching, and highly detailed game become a problem or even a serious addiction for our children?

Video and computer games have only been around for the past three decades, and much research is still needed to understand all the implications for child and adult health and wellbeing. Sensational stories, such as a 28-year-old man in South Korea who died after attempting to play the game StarCraft for 50 hours straight in an internet café, as well as the experiences of many concerned parents, have pushed researchers to learn whether video game play and online gaming can develop into a diagnosable addiction.

The jury is still out on whether professionals will define video game addiction as a “real” addiction, on the same level as addictions to drugs, alcohol, and gambling. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders- 5th edition (DSM- 5) includes “internet gaming disorder” in the appendix, but says that it is a “condition warranting more clinical research and experience before it” can be included as a formal disorder.

But to parents and spouses of those who display addiction-related symptoms in relation to video/online games, there is often no question that an addiction has taken hold of their loved one.

In particular, online games that are Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG’s), such as World of War Craft and EverQuest, can lead to addiction and other issues because of their virtual social network quality. “Compared to players of arcade, console, or offline computer games, Smyth (2007) reported that those who play MMORPGs excessively have worse health, worse sleep quality, greater difficulty in socializing in real-life, and worse academic performance” (Berenuy, et. al, 2013).

The official diagnostic symptoms for gambling addictions are often used as a basis for defining the symptoms of internet gaming addiction, as gambling is a non-substance addiction, built on behaviors that influence chemical release patterns in the brain.

Symptoms given by those that define internet addiction, and those who describe themselves as having been addicted, include:

  • Tolerance- needing increasing amounts of time spent on gaming to maintain the desired emotional effect.
  • Unsuccessful attempts to stop or take an extended break.  
  • Withdrawal symptoms that include a change in typical personality, such as anger, aggression, and possibly violence. Moodiness and irritability if unable to play.
  • Repeated use of games to escape from stress, loneliness, family problems, depression, low self-esteem, etc.
  • Neglecting to sleep, eat, or take care of one’s basic needs in order to play a game.
  • Threatened or lost relationships, job, or educational opportunities because of the drive to play online or video games.
  • Lying to therapists or family members to hide game play or to be able to play more,
  • Spending excessive money on online games, stealing money to spend on games.
  • Preoccupation with video games or online games for much of the day, when not playing them.

It is important to recognize that playing video games a lot and being highly invested in them is different from being addicted. The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction here.

Many parents have reached out for help to professional therapists and support groups because of a child whose life seems to have been completely lost to electronic games. Supportive resources for individuals dealing with a gaming addiction and their family and loved ones include:

  • Online-Gamers Anonymous®, a non-profit organization created by a mother, whose son committed suicide as a direct result from an online game addiction. Online forums are available for parents, those seeking recovery, and professionals.
  • The Center for Internet Addiction– created by psychologist, Dr. Kimberly Young who has spent over 20 years researching internet addiction, and is the author of several articles and books about internet addiction.

Excessive time spent on the internet or playing video games is not healthy for the overall well-being of our children, may impair interpersonal skills, and may lead to unrealistic relationship realities. Some youth today are truly addicted to social media, online gaming, or other apps.

The following tips can help parents prevent their children from experiencing internet and video game addictions.

  • Enforce internet, video game and screen time limits from early ages.
  • Actively encourage real-life activities that help develop crucial interpersonal skills for success in life.
  • Watch for signs of addiction such as your children becoming agitated when they are denied access to the internet or permission to play video games
  • Do not allow cell phones, computers, tablets, or other internet-enabled devices in bedrooms, especially at night.
  • Consider “unplugging” the whole family from screens periodically.
  • Limit your own use of digital media to set a good example, including turning off smartphones and computers during family meals and avoiding texting while driving.

If your child is experiencing detrimental effects due to compulsive or excessive electronic gaming, set limits on your child’s internet use and be consistent, and seek the help of a counselor or therapist with experience in electronic addictions. These pages from the above-mentioned resources and others offer advice from parents who have experienced similar situations:


Other References:

American Society of Addiction Medicine Board of Directors, (2011). Quality and practice: Definition of addiction. Retrieved from: https://www.asam.org/quality-practice/definition-of-addiction.

Beranuy, M., Carbonell, X. x., & Griffiths, M. (2013). A Qualitative Analysis of Online Gaming Addicts in Treatment. International Journal of Mental Health & Addiction11(2), 149-161.

Tichelaar, K. (Jun. 27, 2017). Dopamine and its effects on the brain. Retrieved from: http://blog.smartrecovery.org/2017/06/27/dopamines-role-in-addiction/

Young, K. (2009). Understanding Online Gaming Addiction and Treatment Issues for Adolescents. American Journal of Family Therapy, 37(5), 355-372. doi. 10.1080/01926180902942191.

Young, K., Addiction to MMORPG’s: Symptoms and treatment. Retrieved from: http://www.netaddiction.com/articles/addiction_to_mmorpgs.pdf.

Young, K. (2014). Net negotiations: What every parent should know about controlling their child’s use of technology. [Kindle version] Retrieved from www.amazon.com.

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Laughter: Nature’s Medicine for Family Relationships

 

Finding ways to laugh through the hard times builds resilience and relationships in a family. The effects of laughter are both immediate and lasting for people of all ages.

A few weekends ago I visited some of my husband’s family I had never met before to attend the funeral of his aunt. Emotions were still fresh from my husband’s mother passing away two years before, and now her twin had passed away from cancer at a relatively young age as well. It was a hard time. After the funeral, we stayed at another aunt’s home and spent the afternoon and evening after the funeral sitting around with relatives telling stories, catching up, laughing, and talking. As we sat there, the family reminisced about the funny quirks of the two sisters who had passed away:  family stories, puns, riddles- you name it. What a stark contrast was this scene from the funeral tears and heavy hearts. I was amazed at how this family used a thriving sense of humor to cope with a difficult time. Humor can be powerful.

Laughter is Medicine for the Body and Mind

  • Laughter releases stress-relieving hormones into the body and reduces tension.
  • Laughter reduces the chances of having depression. Laughing a lot releases endorphins and improves mood.
  • It helps with breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate, and reduces calories
  • Some research connects laughter and humor to strengthening immunity and the body’s ability to deal with pain.
  • Laughter can increase self-esteem and confidence, improve creativity and thinking skills, and helps you feel in control of a situation. Research on families and married couples show that those with stronger, happier relationships laugh more with each other.

How to Strengthen Your Family’s Funny Bone

“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.”- Victor Borge

    • “Mutual respect, love, and trust allow family members to share and create humor” (Wilcox, “Humor in the Family”). Laugh at things that everyone finds funny. Jokes aimed at criticizing someone or to manipulate someone else are detrimental to the environment of the home.
  • Be willing to laugh at your own mistakes. Doing so will show your children an example of dealing with failings with a good attitude, compassion, and kindness. Teach them to not take themselves so seriously.
    • With your young children, learn to be spontaneous, playful, and silly. Collect funny books and movies. Teach them when jokes are funny and when they might hurt feelings and are not okay.
  • Families usually are aware of what other family members are sensitive about. When telling funny stories and making witty remarks, jabs at other family members can cause lasting pain, even if they pretend to laugh. Nurture a sense of trust by not sharing other’s personal things without permission.
  • Choose to see the humor in a situation. Life will inevitably get overwhelming at times. Sometimes it is a choice between responding with tears or with laughter. Laughter relieves tension and makes things psychologically more bearable.
  • Share memories of humorous moments. Keep a journal of funny things. These will be delightfully amusing to read over later. Family inside jokes and shared stories form powerful bonds.
  • Learn about the differences in sense of humor in your spouse and other family members. One joke that is dull to you, might throw someone else into fits of giggles.

“A marriage [or a family] without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs — jolted by every pebble in the road.”- Henry Ward Beecher

And for an added bonus- some of my favorite family jokes:

“If you have trouble getting your children’s attention, just sit down and look comfortable.”

A little girl asked her Mom, “Where do humans come from?” Her mom answered, “God made Adam and Eve and they had children and that’s who we all descend from.” A few days later the girl asked her dad the same question. Her dad answered, “Many years ago there were monkeys from which people evolved.” The confused girl returned to her mother and said, “Mom, how is it possible that you told me the people were created by God, and Dad said people evolved from monkeys?” Her mom answered, “Well, dear, it’s very simple: I told you about my side of the family, and your father told you about his.”

“I was watching the game at my parents’ home and I asked for something to eat. My dad said, “Go ahead and eat some of the peanuts in the bowl beside the chair. I ended up eating them all and as I was leaving I said that I was sorry and would replace them. That’s when dad said, “Ever since I lost my teeth, all I can do is suck the chocolate off them.”


References

Gavin, M. (Jun 2015), Encouraging your child’s sense of humor. Retrieved from: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/child-humor.html

Mayo Clinic Staff. (Apr. 21, 2016). Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke. Healthy Lifestyle.  Retrieved from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456.

Schwartz, J. (2017). The gift is humor. In Healthy Communication. Retrieved from: http://centerforparentingeducation.org/library-of-articles/healthy-communication/the-gift-is-humor/

Wallen, D., 9 surprising benefits of laughter you need to know. Retrieved from: http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/9-surprising-benefits-laughter-you-need-know.html.

Wilcox, B. Humor in the family. In Marriage and Families. Retrieved from: http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1048&context=marriageandfamilies

Yim, J. (2016). Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical Review. The Tohoku Journal Of Experimental Medicine239(3), 243-249. doi:10.1620/tjem.239.243.

https://www.ajokeaday.com/categories/family-jokes

http://www.grandparents.com/food-and-leisure/entertainment-and-books/family-jokes

Image obtained from www.pixabay.com.

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Resources for Parents and Families of Autistic Children – Supporting Parents and Families with an Autistic Child (pt. 2)

Part 2: Resources for Parents and Families of Autistic Children

The information for this article is taken from a qualitative research study and report by Stephanie Williamson. The research focused on the coping strategies of 12 different mothers who had between one and three children with autism. Mothers, who are often the main caretakers of their child with autism, usually experience high amounts of chronic stress, and are often obligated to learn a new and different way of life in raising a child with autism. Both parents coping with the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may struggle with the loss of previous expectations they had for their child’s future and the worries about how things will work out in planning for a possibly very different future. Many parents with a child who has autism find that their greatest support comes from activities with extended family, support from a spouse and other relatives, as well as understanding and helpful friends. Having professional resources through the school, community, and private programs also make a big difference.

What do Parents of Autistic Children Find Helpful from Others?

  • Life as a parent of a child with autism is often extremely hectic, unpredictable, and without breaks. Parents caring for an autistic child appreciate hands-on help. Offering to trade babysitting or watching their other children so they can take their child with autism to therapy are great ways to lend a hand.
  • Avoid offering unsolicited advice about what remedies they should try; instead, offer a listening ear. Parents may not have time to cope with more ideas at once than the ones they are already trying.
  • Get to know the child with autism. Behind the disorder, they are an individual who you will likely come to love and enjoy.
  • Be understanding. Parenting a child with autism requires parents to sometimes do things that may not be understood by others. A child with autism may not understand about staying safe and not running into the street, may have difficulty controlling bodily functions, and will not understand what is socially acceptable. They can act impulsively and do things that endanger themselves. Others in the community can avoid being judgmental of a family dealing with these behaviors, and realize that they are not caused by a lack of appropriate parenting.  

Resources for Parents

Mothers who participated in the aforementioned study, emphasized that receiving a diagnosis of autism can be a lengthy process, but it is essential to have in order to begin getting help. One mother said, “Get the diagnosis. Do whatever you have to do to fight it… Because once you have that, the doors open… the diagnosis I think has helped us the most.”

The available community resources for children with autism may vary between different locations in the United States. Additionally, many therapy and support programs can be found through a child’s school.

More than likely, a parent with a child with ASD wouldn’t even have time to read all this information! But you can pass on the message by offering a helping hand for children with a unique and special life.


References

Autism Society (2016) What is autism. Retrieved from: http://www.autism-society.org/what-is/causes/

Autism Speaks Inc. (Apr. 26, 2017). Autism and health: a special report by autism speaks. Retrieved from: https://www.autismspeaks.org/science/science-news/autism-and-health-special-report-autism-speaks

Williamson, S.A, (2009) Approaching autism: a qualitative review of maternal and familial adaptation among families of children with autism. In All Theses and Dissertations. Retrieved from: http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2872&context=etd

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What is Autism – Supporting Parents and Families with an Autistic Child (pt. 1)

Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a developmental disability that effects millions of children and their families. Many of us are familiar with autism from children that we knew growing up, neighbors and relatives, or from characters in movies, books, or TV. Families that have a child with autism know that there is often a lack of understanding from others on what autism really is. The experience of having a child with autism is usually a huge source or stress to parents and siblings in the child’s family. The purpose of this collection of articles (parts one and two) is to share some useful information about autism, raise awareness of how to support parents and families who have a child with autism, and to share some helpful resources to these parents.

Part One: What is Autism?

In 2016, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued the newest report, showing that the rate for children with autism in the United States is 1 child in every 68 births. Boys are 4 ½ times more likely to have autism than girls. Children with autism grow, learn, and have individual interests like other children, but they think in a different way. Some are “high functioning” and may have regular or high intelligence, but lack the ability to communicate, understand social cues, and express themselves like other people. Others are lower functioning and exhibit delays in intelligence. The CDC estimates that a third of children with autism also have an intellectual disability, based on available data.

Autism is referred to as a “spectrum disorder”, because autism affects individual children in a wide variety of ways and different levels of severity. One child with autism may display very different behaviors and symptoms from another child. Many children with ASD have very focused interests and may “obsess” over a certain activity or topic. They can be very friendly and loving, or they may not show any interest in interacting with people at all. Individuals with ASD often have a hard time understanding sarcasm. The symptoms of autism are usually apparent before the age of three. The earlier autism is diagnosed, the more a child can benefit from early intervention and treatment. Some early signs of autism in a young child are:

  • Significantly delayed speech, or a loss of speech skills that were previously developed.
  • Lack of interest in social relationships, difficulty with social interaction, lack of eye contact.
  • Self-stimulatory behavior or repetitive behaviors, such as rocking back and forth or walking in circles.
  • Increase in tantrums, discomfort with sensory processing- extra sensitivity to sight, sound, and smells.

For a guide to typical developmental milestones for infants and young children, visit https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/index.html.

Diagnosis of autism should be thoroughly completed by a medical team if there is a suspicion that autism is present. A delay in a certain area of development does not necessarily mean a child has autism, rather several screening tests are used to determine diagnosis.

Children with autism are more likely to also suffer from other health problems such as: sleep irregularity, anxiety, epilepsy, difficulty with eating, ADHD, depression, and gastrointestinal problems.

There is no known single cause for why autism occurs. Research is being done investigating the genetics, environmental substances, problems during pregnancy, and other possible factors behind autism. Brain scans show that there are abnormalities in the brains of children with autism that are not present in normal brains.

Because autism is so varied for different children and families, finding the right treatment for an individual child is varied as well. Children with autism can grow and enjoy life and become contributing, unique members of society, especially when they receive the right help. Early intervention, community support programs, and speech and occupational therapy are common therapy providers. School-age children with autism usually receive an Individual Education Plan (IEP) to set goals for their developmental needs, and may participate in regular classrooms with special supports or in a special education classroom. There are special private schools, which are specific for children with autism, as well.

See Part 2 of this article for guidelines in helping parents with children with autism and finding resources for support.


References

Autism Society (2016) What is autism. Retrieved from:http: //www.autism-society.org/what-is/causes/

Autism Speaks Inc. (Apr. 26, 2017). Autism and health: a special report by autism speaks. Retrieved from: https://www.autismspeaks.org/science/science-news/autism-and-health-special-report-autism-speaks

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Dec. 5, 2016). Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/addm.html

Williamson, S.A, (2009) Approaching autism: a qualitative review of maternal and familial adaptation among families of children with autism. In All Theses and Dissertations. Retrieved from: http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2872&context=etd

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