Category Archives: Social issues

Good eating habits as a way of preventing obesity and eating disorders

Back-to-school time involves changes in just about everything: schedules, homework, sports, family time—even eating. Being rushed in the mornings makes having a decent, healthy breakfast a challenge. Families have to decide if kids will take lunch or buy the school lunch. Then comes the evening meal with people going in different directions, and often little time to prepare or eat a meal together. It’s no wonder that healthy eating and family time often take a back seat to homework, sports, and other activities.

As we all know by now, obesity among children and teens in our country is a widespread problem, and eating disorders (EDs) are also more common than before.

An article published last week on the website of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) discusses how the same attitudes and habits can lead to both obesity and EDs. According to one study, dieting can actually be a precursor to obesity and EDs. Dieting “was associated with a twofold increased risk of becoming overweight and a 1.5-fold increased risk of binge eating…  Another study found that normal weight girls who dieted in ninth grade were three times more likely to be overweight in 12th grade compared with non-dieters.”

In addition to dieting as a cause, “weight talk”—no matter how well-intentioned—and “weight teasing” can lead to EDs and obesity.  “Weight talk, or comments made by family members about their own weight or to the child to encourage weight loss, has been linked to both overweight and EDs. Teasing children about their weight also has been associated with the development of overweight, binge eating and extreme weight-control behaviors in girls and overweight status in boys. Body dissatisfaction is a known risk factor for both obesity and EDs.”

So, how does a parent help a child be satisfied with her or his body? How do you encourage your teen toward a healthy relationship with food? “Adolescents who are more satisfied with their bodies report parental and peer attitudes that encourage healthful eating and exercise to be fit, rather than dieting.”

The article contains recommendations for pediatricians, and that guidance also applies to parents:

  • “Discourage dieting, skipping of meals or use of diet pills to lose weight. The focus should be on a healthy lifestyle rather than on weight.
  • Encourage more frequent family meals, which provide an opportunity to model healthy food choices and provide time for teenagers and parents to interact.
  • Promote a positive body image among adolescents. Body dissatisfaction should not be used as a reason to lose weight.
  • Encourage families not to talk about weight but rather to talk about healthy eating and being active to stay healthy.
  • Carefully monitor weight loss in an adolescent who is obese or overweight to ensure the teen does not develop the medical complications of semi-starvation.”

Don’t forget family meals. Though your children and teens may roll their eyes, the time spent together around the table is a time to connect over healthy food and discussions about topics great and small. Turn off the television and cell phones (including yours!) and enjoy each other’s company. It will make all of you healthier.

© 2016, MBS Writing Services

Talking to children after a tragedy

The recent shooting in Orlando leaves every parent—and anyone who cares about children and teens—in the position of wondering what to say and how to say it. You are reeling from the news, and you want to protect the children you love from being hurt by it.

There is no perfect way to handle tragedy with youngsters, but here are a few basic guidelines. All of the quoted information below comes from an article you may want to read in its entirety, from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

  • “No matter what age or developmental stage the child is, parents can start by asking a child what they’ve already heard. Most children will have heard something, no matter how old they are. After you ask them what they’ve heard, ask what questions they have.”
  • “In general, it is best to share basic information with children, not graphic details, or unnecessary details about tragic circumstances. Children and adults alike want to be able to understand enough so they know what’s going on. Graphic information and images should be avoided.”
  • “Keep young children away from repetitive graphic images and sounds that may appear on television, radio, social media, computers, etc.”
  • “With older children, if you do want them to watch the news, record it ahead of time. That allows you to preview it and evaluate its contents before you sit down with them to watch it. Then, as you watch it with them, you can stop, pause, and have a discussion when you need to.”
  • “Today, most older children will have access to the news and graphic images through social media and other applications right from their cell phone. You need to be aware of what’s out there and take steps in advance to talk to children about what they might hear or see.”
  • “The reality is that even children as young as 4 years old will hear about major crisis events. It’s best that they hear about it from a parent or caregiver, as opposed to another child or in the media…

The underlying message for a parent to convey is, ‘It’s okay if these things bother you. We are here to support each other.’”

  • What if you have an older child or teen? “After asking your child what they have heard and if they have questions about what occurred during a school shooting, community bombing, natural disaster, or even a disaster in an international country, a parent can say something such as: ‘Yes. In [Orlando, Florida]’ (and here you might need to give some context, depending on whether it’s nearby or far away, for example, ‘That’s a city/state that’s pretty far from/close to here’), there was disaster and many people were hurt. The police and the government are doing their jobs so they can try to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.’”

If your child seems to be overwhelmed with anxiety after a tragedy, and that feeling doesn’t get better with time, talk to your pediatrician. You may also request our office to refer you to a counselor who specializes in working with children or teens. Signs that they are having trouble coping include problems with sleeping or eating (too much or too little); physical symptoms such as tiredness, headaches, digestive issues; or behavioral changes.

It is only natural to be upset when a tragedy occurs. Every adult feels that way, and so do children and youth. If you haven’t had a conversation with them about it, today is a good time for that discussion.

© 2016, MBS Writing Services, all rights reserved

Marijuana, the safe drug? Think again.

Now that laws in some states (though not in Kentucky) are easing in regard to marijuana possession and usage, some teens and adults believe it must be a harmless drug.

Not so, especially for teens.

Marijuana, according to an article by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), affects many aspects of a young person’s mental, physical and emotional health, and it’s certainly addictive.

For someone who smokes or ingests marijuana regularly, clear thinking and good judgment are often affected.  This can cause school work (and grades) to falter, and can lead to bad decision-making.  The AAP states that marijuana users are more likely to engage in “unwanted or unprotected sex” because their judgment is impaired.  Also, “Those who drive or take other risks after smoking marijuana are much more likely to be injured or killed.”

According to the same article, because teens are still growing and developing, marijuana usage “can lead to a wide range of serious health problems, including heart and lung damage, cancer, mental health problems, and addiction. Depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia occur more often in marijuana users.”

How to prevent addiction to marijuana and other drugs in your teen?

  • Educate.  Make sure you know about drug usage and its signs, and educate your teenager.  When you see someone else acting irresponsibly, or hear about a situation of driving under the influence, initiate a calm discussion.
  • Monitor.  Don’t assume your child will never try drugs.  Marijuana, say teens, isn’t that hard to come by.  Watch for signs.  Pay attention to the people your kids hang out with.
  • Be an example.  Don’t abuse drugs or alcohol.  Make sure illegal drugs have no place in your home.
  • Get help.  Make sure your teen sees a counselor if needed—not just if she is using drugs, but for any emotional or educational issues.  This is a serious concern and outside help is sometimes needed.
  • Be aware.  If you think your child could be using drugs, you may contact our office for a drug screen.

Your teen needs you to keep an eye on his total well-being, and that includes making sure he stays away from addictive substances.

© 2014 MBS Writing Services, all rights reserved.

Back in School, Part 4: Friends

While you are worrying about your child’s academic year, he is probably more concerned about friends.  Honestly, he has a point.  While academic skills are an important part to future success and happiness, so are the social skills that help us make and keep friends.

Children at a very young age are usually too self-centered to have friends.  This isn’t their fault; it is just a normal developmental stage.  If you watch a couple of toddlers on a play date, they will usually engage in what is called “parallel play,” meaning they play side-by-side, but not really together.  Even so, you can start to teach them to share, not to grab toys away, etc.

By school age, most children want friends, whether it is just one or many.  Good social skills are learned from parents, teachers and peers.  Here are some behaviors you can teach your kids that will serve them in school and throughout their lives.

  • Kindness.  Use kind words and tones around the house.  Don’t allow your children to be unkind to their siblings, to pets or to adults.  Everyone responds positively to kindness, and no one likes a bully.
  • Politeness.  (See our post on manners.)
  • Assertiveness.  You don’t want your child to be aggressive toward others, but you want her to be able to assert her opinions and express her feelings without being overbearing.  This takes practice, and it can be something you encourage through conversation, questions, and even role playing.  For example, “What will you say if your friend wants to play kickball and you’d rather swing?”  They can learn from you the give-and-take of good relationships.
  • Meeting and greeting.  Teach your youngster to introduce himself and to ask questions about another person.  They can learn to shake hands, make eye contact, smile.
  • Listening.  Hearing what another person has to say is as important as expressing your opinion.

Here’s a really nice FREE online resource entitled 101 Ways to Teach Social Skills to Children.  While the games and activities are designed for groups, many of them can be adapted for use within the family—a fun way to learn appropriate ways of behaving in different settings.

Every school in Scott County has a counselor who can observe behavioral issues both in and out of the classroom, and who can meet with your child and/or other students if needed.

A final word:  pay attention to the friendships your child/teen is forming.  Get to know his friends and their parents.  Make sure their behavior isn’t out of line with what you expect from your own kids.

The friendships we form in childhood and adolescence may or may not last a lifetime.  But they teach us skills and behaviors that are timeless.

© 2014 MBS Writing Services, all rights reserved

Manners? Yes, please.

Summertime is easy—so they say.  It can also be an easier time to remind children and teens about good manners.  Hopefully, you will have more times of relaxed conversation when you aren’t trying to juggle homework, school and extracurricular schedules all at once.

Manners are important because they remind us of the value of every human being.  Saying please and thank you is respectful, whether those words are spoken to someone in the family, a teacher or coach, or a complete stranger.  Being helpful ingrains kindness in the helper and encourages it in the recipient and observer.

What are age appropriate manners?

  • Ages 2—5.  Teach children to say please and thank you at the right times.  Children at this age usually love to help people, so encourage that tendency.  At the playground, they can help a younger child, with supervision.  At home, they can learn to pass the potatoes.  When meeting someone, they can shake hands and learn to answer questions that are asked.
  • Ages 5—7.  As the child develops physically and emotionally, so should their moral growth be progressing.  Teach good phone manners by practicing in a game.  Have a “manners night” once a week at the supper table, where everyone has to speak politely and initiate good conversation.  Give a small reward at the end of the meal for the person who showed the best manners.
  • Older children.  Learning to smile and maintain eye contact during a conversation is important as children grow.  They can learn to ask people about themselves, and to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate questions.  Your suppertime conversations can engage their imaginations and teach them how to talk to other people.
  • Teens.  When our children mature into teens, they often become less receptive to their parents’ helpful instructions on manners, but that doesn’t mean you can let them off the hook.  By now they should know your standards, and you should be able to witness them using their manners at home and elsewhere.  Teens who are mannerly, you may tell them, will likely advance at school and work because others respond positively to our good behavior.

Perhaps the main thing to remember about teaching manners to your children is this: be an example.  Use please and thank you when you remind them about their chores.  Treat your spouse and other adults and youngsters with respect.

If you are often cross with them, they will reflect that attitude back to you and to others.  But if you treat them and others kindly, they will learn to mimic that behavior, both consciously and unconsciously.

Expect good manners from your children and that is likely what you will get.

© 2014, MBS Writing Services, all rights reserved

Screen time for computers and games

A couple of weeks ago we dealt with content of video games here.  If you missed it, check out that important information about monitoring what your kids are playing.  It’s also important to supervise all computer screen time.

Make sure all the computers to which your youngster has access are in open places in the house.  Search the browser history at regular intervals, and make sure you have his passwords for all social media accounts so you can check that activity.  Let him know ahead of time that this is one of the rules for the privilege of using the computer and smart phone.  Take a look at texts and other accounts on her phone, and remind her of safety rules:

  • Never give out personal information online or over the phone.
  • Never assume that someone you “meet” online is giving you accurate information, and never arrange to meet such a person face to face.
  • If you get concerned about someone contacting you, tell your parent without fear of judgment.
  • Never use your phone or computer for pornography (especially child pornography, which is illegal), sexting (a form of pornography), sending any inappropriate information, or for hurting or bullying someone else.  If you receive such content inform a parent or teacher immediately.

In addition to content, you should be aware of time.  Screen time of any kind (television, movies, computer, video games) means fewer hours are available for physical activity, face-to-face interaction, reading and homework.  Screen time isn’t necessarily bad in itself, but you should monitor the amount of time.

The American Academy of Pediatrics gives great advice about video games in this online article, including the recommendation to limit video game time to one hour per day.  The same goes for other types of screen time.  If your teen or child is spending much more time than that in front of a screen (unless, of course, it’s for school), engage him in conversation about what other activities might take the place of some gaming hours.  Allow her to choose from a list of fun ways to spend her time.

  • Reading.  If your children don’t like to read, read to or with them.  Pick an age-appropriate book and take turns reading pages or chapters.  Bedtime is great for this.
  • Physical activity.  One of the problems of screen time is its sedentary nature.  Inactivity leads to weight gain and all sorts of accompanying health issues.  Get your youngster involved in a team or individual sport.  Go walking or swimming.  Shoot hoops in the driveway or play catch in the backyard.
  • Board games.  Remember Candy Land?  Connect Four?  Pictionary?  Games are widely available and great fun.  They afford great opportunities for interaction, and for learning life skills like winning, losing, and cooperation.
  • Face time.  Not the phone app, the real face time.  Find something you and your teen can share and enjoy:  cooking, eating, hiking, stamp collecting, whatever works for you.  Time invested is time well-spent.  You will reap the rewards in getting to know your child better, and they will reap the rewards in knowing you.
  • Channel that interest in computers to online learning games, or learning video games.  Check out learning games on Amazon, or try one of the websites like Adapted Mind, where you can get a 30 day free trial of games for grades 1-6 (if you continue on with membership there’s a monthly fee).

 

Bottom line:  be in charge of what your children do, even if they aren’t always in favor of your monitoring and limits.  It’s your job, and you are aiding in their full development.

 

© 2014, MBS Writing Services, all rights reserved

Video games—pay attention to what your kids are playing

As technology increases at home and school, video games have increased in number.  Each year they become more realistic-looking and exciting.  But they are also often violent, and may contain language and themes inappropriate for your youngster.

Playing video games has benefits, to be certain. They help young people learn eye-hand coordination and computer skills, things they will need to keep up in the modern world.

But there are down sides, too.  Big ones.  Questions and concerns about content top the list, but you should also be aware that many online games require the sharing of personal information and location.

First, content.  The debate continues regarding whether or not violent video games encourage violent behavior.  Opinions abound, but the bottom line is that you should monitor and decide what your child or teen can or cannot play.  In addition to violence, language and themes may often be too adult.

  • Understand ratings.  The ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) rates virtually all video games in terms of content, age-appropriateness, and interactive elements (including whether or not location and other information is shared).  All three of these areas are important.
  • Content and age-appropriateness.  The ESRB website has a great video and also written language to help you understand ratings and how they define words such as “animated blood” and “adult humor.”  The basic content and age ratings are:
    • Early Childhood;
    • Everyone;
    • Teen (13 and up);
    • Mature (17 and up);
    • Adults only.
    • Pay attention!  Games rated “Mature” have truly adult themes (sex, violence, language) and are simply NOT appropriate for younger ages.  Even those with a rating of “Teen” may surprise you with their level of violence and tasteless language.
    • PREVIEW.  Learn about games before you buy.  This website at Common Sense Media is a great source of information.  If your youngster is asking for a particular game, look for the title here to see some screen shots and other details.
    • Interactive elements.  If you are concerned about private information being shared, or worry your child or teen might be connecting (accidentally or purposefully) with people you don’t know, READ THIS.

One important note about violence.  Whether or not your teen or child plays violent video games, you should pay attention if he exhibits violent behavior.  If she is violent with you or other family members, with schoolmates or with animals, talk to your pediatrician about finding a counselor.

Bottom line:  know what your child is doing, watching, playing.  Video games are fun, but you need to be aware of content and privacy.

© 2014, MBS Writing Services, all rights reserved

 

Gun safety

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), 44 million homes in the U.S. have at least one gun.  In this season when your youngster may be visiting in homes of friends and relatives, or even spying for hidden stashes of gifts, it’s a good time to review gun safety.

  • If you own a gun, it needs to be unobtainable for a young person, not just out of sight.  Children, even the very young, have an incredible knack for finding hidden things.  A three-year-old, for example, found a gun hidden between his parents’ mattress and box springs.  Guns should be unloaded and locked away in a cabinet for that purpose (preferably one that doesn’t have a glass or other see-through door).  Ammunition should be kept in a separate, also locked, location.
  • Talk.  Tell your children about the dangers of guns.  Be clear about rules and firm about what privileges will be taken away if they break those rules.
  • Ask.  If your child or teen is going to someone else’s home, ask whether or not that home has guns and, if so, how they are stored.
  • Don’t assume.  Children are inquisitive; teens want to fit in.  If they see a gun, no matter how well they know your rules, they are likely to want to touch it and play with it.
  • Also, don’t assume that your child would never choose to be violent toward herself or that he would never choose to harm others.  Young people, no matter how good the parenting and how delightful the child, often make bad judgments, especially in the heat of a moment.  In addition, mental illnesses such as depression can surface at nearly any age.
  • Some more statistics from the AAP:  A gun kept in the home triples the risk of homicide.  The risk of suicide is 5 times more likely if a gun is kept in the home.

 

For more information from the AAP, check out this link or this video.

 

Remember, safety is a huge part of staying healthy.

artwork by Corinne

artwork by Corinne

 

© 2013, MBS Writing Services, all rights reserved

Bullying

It’s always been hard to be a kid—trying to fit in, wanting to have friends.  Perhaps it’s harder now than ever.  When you encounter a bully, feeling as though you don’t fit in can be especially painful.

Bullies can be male or female, young children or teens.  Their own low self esteem makes them want to put other kids down.  Bullying almost always happens out of view of adults, including teachers.  But you can encourage your child to report to you (or to a teacher or counselor) incidents of bullying they experience or witness.  Occasionally ask if they know someone who is picked on.  Rehearse with them things they might say if they are bullied, or if they witness bullying.  Antagonizing a bully, or entering a physical altercation, is unadvised, especially since they tend to choose victims who are smaller and physically weaker.

What if your child is the bully?  Studies show that early intervention can help bullies overcome their need to induce fear in others.  If intervention doesn’t happen, though, the bully has a far greater risk of not learning how to be successful in work or relationships.

By far the best article we’ve seen on bullying is this one from The American Academy of Pediatrics.  It gives extremely helpful advice about how to help your child survive bullying and develop appropriate social skills.

Teach your child to make friends, and they’ll forever be grateful.

Artwork by Josh

Artwork by Josh

 

© 2013 MBS Writing Services, all rights reserved