Early Intervention Can Improve Low-Income Children’s Cognitive Skills and Academic Achievement

July 2, 2020

From a categorical perspective, children who live in poverty tend to perform worse in school than do children from privileged and nurtured backgrounds. In the early 1900s, researchers leaned towards biology and maturation as their main lens of child development claimed that these differences were caused by cognitive deficits. By the 1960s, this position began to decrease as health professionals began to recognize the important effect the environment can have on an individual. Although this idea was considered somewhat speculative at the time, it began to prove its ground as it revealed that early attention to physical and psychological development could improve cognitive ability.

The implementation of this research leads to the development of the federal Head Start program. The reasoning behind it was to have poor children start on an “equal footing” with wealthier classmates to promote a better chance of succeeding in school and avoiding poverty in adulthood. Additionally, the program seeks to involve the family and the community that composes the child-rearing environment. Studies show a variety of results that promote both disadvantages and advantages. The idea that some of the advantages the Head Start program may disappear through elementary school is proven by some research investigations. On the other hand, other research studies demonstrate lasting benefits in areas of school achievement and adjustment.

Since the origin of the federal Head Start program in 1965, the program has provided significant results and tangible outcomes. Approximately 20 million children and their families have participated in the program in the past and about one million are enrolled each year. But besides its practical application, the Head Start has served as a platform from which research on early intervention has proliferated. This initiative has also led to the development of other services that focus on family support and parenthood education intending to promote a nurtured environment for the upcoming generations.

 

Link to article: https://www.apa.org/research/action/early

COVID-19: Lest We Forget The Children

June 19, 2020

In “My Turn: Let’s not forget the children during pandemic”, Cynthia García Coll paints a picture of generational upheaval for the world’s youth during and after COVID-19.

From routine changes to family death, children are facing multiple traumas in rapid succession due to the pandemic. In addition to these bigger issues, the every day needs of children aren’t being attended to normally due to parental stress and working from home. Playing, helping with schoolwork, engaging in emotionally sensitive conversations, and more are all seeing a deficit.  Disparities in education are also making themselves known, especially for families who have limited or no internet access.

These issues also disproportionately affect children of color. García Coll reports more than 60% of Hispanics and 44% of African Americans in low-income households are experiencing underemployment or unemployment. There’s also been an increase in hate crimes during the pandemic.

One thing has been made clear by García Coll: if we don’t focus serious resources and attention on our nation’s and world’s children, this pandemic could scar their generation for the rest of their lives. The impact of course is unavoidable with an event of this magnitude, but it is up to communities and parents to ensure children are being attended to emotionally, physically, and educationally as much as possible.

read more here

Violence in the Media – Psychologists Study TV and Video Game Violence for Potential Harmful Effects

April 30, 2020

Since TV was first introduced, parents, teachers, politicians, and mental health professionals have wanted to understand the impact of television, particularly focusing on children. Psychologists tend to refer to Bandura’s work in the 1970s on social learning and the tendency of learning as influenced by modeling and exposition. Upon years of study and assessment the National Institute of Mental Health came up with some major effects related to the exposition of violence including: (1) reduced sensitivity to pain and suffering of others, (2) increase fearfulness of the world, and (3) increased aggressive behavior towards others. Complementary research studies have also found that children who watch many hours of violence on TV tend to be more aggressive as teenagers and adults. These findings don’t necessarily imply that exposition to violence is a cause of aggressive behavior, but rather recognize it as a factor that may contribute to aggressive conduct.

 

Leaving TV aside, it’s important to consider how the video game realm contributes to violence as it doesn’t just limit itself to present violence, but to engage the user in virtual violent behaviors. Before addressing the subject of video games and violence, I think it’s important to recognize that according to statistics, approximately 97% of adolescents (ages 12-17) play videogames. This is interesting as it shows how almost every single adolescent is exposed to video games. It becomes more fascinating to note that the most popular videogames like Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto embrace violence or violent behaviors as their main objective. If we take 97% of adolescents and add it to the popular violent games we obtain interesting data that may lean towards violent videogames as a cause of aggressive behaviors.

 

According to new research studies conducted by psychologists, evidence in research suggests that exposure to violent videogames is a causal risk factor that can lead to aggressive behavior, aggressive affect, and decreased empathy and prosocial behaviors. Another research study proposes the idea that children are also influenced by other variables like mental health and family life. Children who are already at risk in these settings may be more likely to play violent video games. Although this data is compelling, it would be somewhat premature to conclude that violent video games are the cause of aggressive behavior.  I would limit myself to say that violent videogames may be one of the causes of violent behaviors or conducts. To reach further conclusions, more research studies have to be considered. As for parents, I would advise close monitoring of what their adolescent children are exposed to in both TV and videogames. Personally, I would also consider the idea of monitoring the environment these adolescents are in as a negative influence enhanced by a violent videogame that may lead to negative outcomes.

Link to article: https://www.apa.org/research/action/protect

Promoting Awareness of Children’s Mental Health Issues

April 9, 2020

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), approximately one out of every five children in America has a recognizable mental health disorder. Said mental health problems are associated with negative outcomes that can increase the possibility of engaging in substance abuse, justice involvement, economic struggles, physical health problems, and in some cases attempts against life.

Studies show that many children and adolescents lack access to essential mental health and substance abuse treatments. Less than half of children with mental health issues get proper treatment and services to help them manage their issues. This number is estimated to be only about one out of every five children. In perspective, this means that about 80% of children with mental disorders remain unattended; a situation that is enhanced by an unchanging system that doesn’t provide them with the correct tools to help them address their mental health.  The effects of untreated mental health among children and youth don’t only affect the young person and their families, but also society and the nation as a whole. In my opinion, the mental health crisis is an important issue that can’t remain unsolved. Actions against its prevalence must be taken.

This brings me to ask what we as society, caregivers, and educators can do to effectively address the mental health crisis the American nation is facing. For starters, we have to begin by recognizing mental health to be as important as physical health. Stigmas and aversion towards mental health must be thrown out the window as this issue deserves recognition and most importantly action. Secondly, we must accept that children’s development of social, emotional, and behavioral well-being is important to their overall health. Additionally, we have to improve the efforts that promote the early recognition of mental health. In this same line of thought, we must also motivate effective practices to treat and prevent mental health in our youth. The effectiveness with which mental health is handled is a key element to reduce its prevalence in our youth. Lastly, we must use programs that suit each child’s particular needs and situations. As we know, every child’s needs and ideals are different and must be handled as so. Taking these five points into consideration is the first step to effectively manage the mental health crisis our youth is currently facing. It is our job as society to take further steps to effectively handle mental health and to commit to actions that will eventually decrease the prevalence of said disorders.  

 

Link to article: https://www.apa.org/advocacy/health/children

New Program For Parents of Anxious Children

April 7, 2020

How does a parent help a child with anxiety move through the world? Researchers have discovered that being overly accommodating in reaction to anxious children’s fears can actually harm them more than help them. Overly accommodating and protective parental reactions have lead to worsening anxiety in children, and even more debilitating anxiety symptoms in adolescence and adulthood.

Researchers at Yale’s Child Center and Yale’s Dr Eli Lebowitz came up with the SPACE Program, “Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions”. It offers an alternative approach to treating anxiety disorders than medication and traditional cognitive behavioral therapy, and has been found to be equally as effective as CBT in trials. SPACE works by reducing over accommodating behavior in parents and instead replacing it with validating behavior that expresses understanding for a child’s fears, but still pushes them out of their comfort zone enough to grow. When parents feel more secure and that signal is passed to their children, children are more likely to feel less anxious and more willing to branch out. SPACE is an exciting development in the psychology world for those who’ve struggled to find helpful treatment for childhood anxiety in the past!

Read more about SPACE at Psychology Today

Behavior in High School Predicts Income and Occupational Success Later in Life

March 28, 2020

Research shows how being a responsible student, maintaining an interest in school, and having good reading and writing skills are not just limited to contributing to a students’ success in high school but could also be a predictor of educational and occupational success in years to come. According to researchers, said success is due to specific behaviors that have been present in high school which can then have a long-lasting effect on one’s later life, regardless of IQ and parental incomes. This idea highlights the importance of education and how it can not only benefit a particular individual but a collective society.

This investigation was based on collections and analysis of data from over 300,000 high school students in 1960, along with follow up data from 81,000 of those students 11 years later and 2,000 of them 50 years later. The qualities that made a good student in High School, for instance, responsibility, interest in school, and reading and writing skills, were all significantly associated with greater educational attainment and better and prestigious jobs both 11 years and 50 years after high school. Further analysis suggested that the importance of specific characteristics seen during high school were key predictors of success at a later point in life. “This study highlights the possibility that certain behaviors at crucial periods could have long-term consequences for a person’s life” – the researcher said.

Upon analysis, the idea that behaviors in early life could be predictors of success is effortlessly understandable. This study provides key evidence that highlights the importance of the education system and society. On another thought, it’s important to state the article presented above evaluates this idea in terms of education and life success in the future. However, I believe this same idea can be applied to bad behaviors and habits that can be translated from early life to adulthood. This means that the education system and society are not the only factors to consider, as parenting and appropriate education in the foundations of home can also contribute to better social outcomes in the future.

Link to article: https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2018/02/high-school-behavior

 

Adolescence and Ambivalence Growing Up

December 5, 2019

Ambivalence is defined as the motivational inconsistency between simultaneously desiring and not desiring to make a given choice. In other words, ambivalence could be interpreted as a state of immediate confusion in which two contrasting or opposite ideas are being considered or evaluated. From a psychology standpoint, ambivalence can be a very complicated mindset to handle because it demands mixed evaluations, desires, or perspectives influenced by many confounding variables. With the idea of ambivalence in mind, it would be interesting to analyze it not just in a person, but in a particular stage or phase of life; more specifically, during adolescence.

Adolescence is full of many important decisions that will probably influence or shape the rest of the person’s life. Among some examples, the decision of choosing a group of friends, a particular clothing style, or even college may lead to great ambivalence in adolescents. Taking probably the most significant example, the decision of going to college stands out as one of the most important. This decision brings with its other implications like choosing what university or college to attend to or the debate of staying home and going abroad. These situations may bring emotional loads of stress and occasional differences in moods, which affect both the adolescent and the people around him. This then leads me to discuss the interactions that adolescents and parents have.

Adolescent and parent interactions tend to be more stressful and emotional in comparison to children and parent interactions. The adolescent tends to lean towards ideas of detachment and independence, as well as differences of expression. From the point of view of the adolescent growth may be seen as a process of not just managing differences or outweighing ideas but learning from mistakes and identifying what works best. Although ambivalence may seem to be a negative response, it is to be accepted and utilized as a part of the development process which will help shape the future ahead. From my personal perspective, it’s important for parents to acknowledge that they were once in that same situation and attempting to understand the adolescent and helping him/her would be ideal.

Link to article: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/surviving-your-childs-adolescence/201809/adolescence-and-ambivalence-growing

How Do We Develop Morality?

There are many theories on how children develop their sense of right and wrong. One of the most prominent of these theories is by psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg. 

Kohlberg developed different theorized stages of morality that changed as children grew and developed. He tested these theories using the “Heinz Dilemma”, where a man’s wife has cancer and only a single drug may save her. A local pharmacist discovered the drug, and can make it for $200. However, he sells it for $2,000. The woman’s husband, Heinz, is only able to gather $1,000 to purchase the drug from the pharmacist. The pharmacist wouldn’t negotiate. So, Heinz breaks into the pharmacy in the night and steals the drug to cure his sick wife. Kohlberg then asked the children, “Should Heinz have done that?” The answers the children gave weren’t so much judged as right or wrong, but why they believed so. From here Kohlberg developed his stages of morality:

  1. Preconventional Stage of Morality

This stage is the one most often exercised by younger children, though it can be used by people throughout the lifespan. In this stage, people view rules as important above all else. They believe morality is about avoiding punishment. So, kids at this stage may say what Heinz did was wrong because he broke the law by stealing.

  1. Conventional Stage of Morality

This stage is present in older children, but like the preconventional stage of morality, it can be used by older people as well. This stage mostly focuses on conformity. People in this stage judge morality and their actions based on whether or not people would be mad at them, whether or not an act is “nice”, or if an action is “normal” or not. Since people in this stage try to think more of society as a whole and not just the self, they may say that it’s not nice to steal from the pharmacist since he may need the money to care for his own family, and law and order should be maintained, authority respected. 

  1. Postconventional Stage of Morality

This stage is where people focus in on abstract reasoning and universal principles of ethics. These ideas may not conform to laws and generally held beliefs in society. For example, someone may say stealing the drug is right because it’s unethical to profit off the sick and dying for personal gain. 

There are many criticisms of Kohlbrg’s theory. His sample was biased toward white, middle-class male children. Psychologists such as Carol Gilligan observed that more often, women remained in the third stage of development, as they were generally more concerned with the well-being of others and social relationships. People also say that there’s a difference between knowing what to do versus our actions. Even if someone thinks it’s right to steal the drug, that may not actually be their course of action due to fear of consequences, etc. 

Morality is a complicated concept, as is figuring out how we develop morality as we grow up. Kohlberg’s theory is just one of many ways to begin thinking about it.

Read more here

How Does Father Involvement Impact Children’s GPA?

October 25, 2019

The article, “How Does Father Involvement Impact Children’s GPA” describes how father figures can have an impact in the academic life of children. According to statistics on housework and the distribution of these, the involvement of fathers in children’s lives has slowly increased in recent years. This represents a positive outcome, as the author shows how previous research witholds evidence on how essential father figures are for children’s academic futures. Moreover, evidence shows that the presence of a father positively affects children in many other areas of life: “fathers who are more involved tend to have children who are psychologically, cognitively, and physically healthier”.

With the idea that a positive parent-child relationship is beneficial in mind, I propose the contrasting idea of an absent father in a child’s life. The article presents information that explains how fathers who don’t share the same household with their children find it challenging to remain involved in the children’s lives and therefore negatively impact their academic success. This may be due to external factors that may or may not have to be directly related with the children. No matter what the case is its effects extend and has repercussions on the children’s life. Going beyond presenting facts and statistics that explain the involvement of fathers I think it’s important to suggest the following question: What can a father do in such a case in which they have less contact with their children? The article offers advice like for example: frequently texting the child, knowing what they are up to, and having an idea of their academic calendar/progress.

There is small room to doubt that the father figure in a child’s life is excruciatingly important. Contemplating this fact, an involved father is more likely to have a positive impact on a child’s academic future. Naturally, this equation can be established the other way around. The absence of a father may have negative ramifications on a child’s educational future. This article calls fathers to contemplate, analyze, and evaluate the time investments with their children. Whether changes should be made, or things should stay the same is the father’s responsibility to acknowledge it.

 

Link to article: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/its-all-about-the-dads/201906/how-does-father-involvement-impact-childrens-gpa

What Makes a Popular Kid, Popular?

October 17, 2019

The concept of popularity is something that adolescents are keenly aware of. Popularity influences the social pecking order as long as kids are in school. Teenagers are well aware of the difference between being popular and being well-liked, and how the two sometimes aren’t interchangeable. So what is being popular, if not being well liked? Researchers have found that there are three types of popularity among teenagers: being feared, being loved, and being both feared and loved. The popular teens in the “loved” group maintain their status through kindness, and cooperation. The “feared” teens maintain their status through aggression and coercion. However, the third group, “feared and loved”, are aggressive in protecting their status and interacting with others, but are able to make amends and play nice when they need to. This group was found to be the one ranked most popular among their peers. Looks like “Mean Girls” got it right. 

Read the Science Daily article here.