1. Study suggests mindfulness may help mothers cope with stress when their babies have a heart condition

    November 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia press release:

    Mindfulness may offer an active coping mechanism for mothers faced with the stress of having a newborn diagnosed with congenital heart disease (CHD). Mindfulness, which aims to increase a person’s awareness and acceptance of daily experiences, is currently used in a variety of healthcare settings as a potentially effective skill for stress reduction, emotion, affect and attention regulation.

    A team of nurse-researchers from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Penn Nursing) published a study in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing in which they gathered perspectives on coping mechanisms from focus groups with 14 mothers of critically ill infants, and explored the feasibility of mindfulness as a stress-reduction technique.

    “Mothers of infants with complex congenital heart disease are exposed to increased stress, which has been associated with numerous adverse outcomes,” said Barbara Medoff-Cooper, PhD, RN FAAN, principal investigator and nurse scientist in the Cardiac Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and at Penn Nursing. “The coping mechanisms these mothers use critically impacts the family’s adaptation to the illness, and most likely infant outcomes as well.”

    “Thus far, parental interventions in the CICU generally are informative or educational, aiming to increase parental abilities to actively manage the caretaking demands of an infant with CHD,” said Nadya Golfenshtein, PhD, RN, lead author of the study and a researcher at Penn Nursing. “Mindfulness can be a helpful tool that assists mothers during an incredibly stressful time for them, and for their family by allowing them to pause and be present in the moment rather than wishing something different was happening or worrying about tomorrow.”

    The researchers collected data during focus groups between July 2015 and March 2016. The sessions included a short introduction to mindfulness as a stress reduction intervention, led by a moderator who is a psychotherapist experienced in group formats.

    “In the study, mothers described the post-diagnostic period, surgery and the cardiac intensive care unit stay as extremely stressful,” said Amy J. Lisanti, PhD, RN, CCNS, CCRN-K, nurse researcher at CHOP and NRSA postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. “Many expressed concerns regarding the post-discharge period when they would need to independently handle their infant’s condition. Their increased stress often led them to feel out of control, lethargic and not like themselves. They acknowledged the importance of stress reduction, recognizing that relief from stress could help them sleep better, recharge energy, focus and think clearly.”

    After experiencing a brief guided session of mindfulness in a focus group, one mother said, “Most meditation is about clear your mind and lose focus, but this is to focus on now. I think it works for me, I was never able to do the clear mind thing. This is more accessible to me.” Another noted, “This is something I’m doing for myself, remembering I’m part of this too. Sometimes you are on autopilot, making sure everyone else is ok. Yes, this is a moment when I’m doing something for myself.”

    The mothers agreed that mindfulness should start early, preferably immediately after the prenatal CHD diagnosis. That way, they felt, that they would have time to learn and practice the skill by the time the baby is born. There was also a general agreement that the worst time to begin the practice is around surgery, as that is an overwhelming time and mothers are too busy to learn a new skill. The mothers preferred engaging in mindfulness in a private, quiet room as the sounds of the CICU stress them and may prevent them from relaxing.

    “We hope to design a program that draws from these findings and more research on mindfulness meditation is needed in a larger cohort of mothers,” added Golfenshtein.


  2. Study suggests younger siblings impacted more by parental favouritism

    November 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Brigham Young University press release:

    A new study by BYU School of Family Life assistant professor Alex Jensen revealed that the perception of favoritism may have more effect on a child-parent relationship than was previously considered.

    Specifically, Jensen found that favoritism is linked more to younger siblings’ parent-child relationships than with the older siblings’. If the younger sibling feels like they’re the favorite and the parents agree, their relationship is strengthened. If they don’t feel like the favorite and the parents agree with that, the opposite happens. Surprisingly with older siblings, whether they feel favored or not, it has no major impact on the relationship.

    What could be the reason behind this difference? Jensen says social comparison — one sibling comparing himself to the other — is the culprit.

    “It’s not that first-borns don’t ever think about their siblings and themselves in reference to them,” Jensen said. “It’s just not as active of a part of their daily life. My guess is it’s probably rarer that parents will say to an older sibling, ‘Why can’t you be more like your younger sibling?’ It’s more likely to happen the other way around.”

    The data in the study were collected from a longitudinal study with more than 300 families, each with two teenage children.

    To measure levels of favoritism, researchers looked at responses from both the children and their parents. The children were asked what their relationship with their parents is like while their parents were asked how much warmth and conflict they experienced with their children. They found that children, on average, have more warmth and more conflict with their mothers, but the rates of change in relationship for both mother and father were similar.

    The study looked at families with two children, but Jensen believes that the data would show similar results for larger families as well.

    “If you had to ask me, ‘Do we see the same thing with the second born and third born?’ I think probably so,” Jensen said. “The youngest kid looks up to everybody, the next youngest kid looks up to everyone older than them, and it just kind of goes up the line.”

    While parents may think treating their children equally is the best way to mitigate any negative effects, Jensen says this is not the case.

    When parents are more loving and they’re more supportive and consistent with all of the kids, the favoritism tends to not matter as much,” Jensen said. “Some parents feel like ‘I need to treat them the same.’ What I would say is ‘No you need to treat them fairly, but not equally.’ If you focus on it being okay to treat them differently because they’re different people and have different needs, that’s OK.”

    The study was published in the Journal of Adolescence. Susan M. McHale, a professor at The Pennsylvania State University, was the coauthor.


  3. Study suggests childhood spankings can lead to adult mental health problems

    by Ashley

    From the University of Michigan press release:

    Getting spanked as a child can lead to a host of mental health problems in adulthood, say University of Michigan researchers.

    A new study by Andrew Grogan-Kaylor and Shawna Lee, both U-M associate professors of social work, and colleagues indicates the violence caused by spanking can lead adults to feel depressed, attempt suicide, drink at moderate-to-heavy levels or use illegal drugs.

    “Placing spanking in a similar category to physical/emotional abuse experiences would increase our understanding of these adult mental health problems,” Grogan-Kaylor said.

    Spanking is defined as using physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain, but not injury, to correct or control the youth’s behavior.

    Researchers note that given that both spanking and physical abuse involves the use of force and infliction of pain, as well as being linked with similar mental health outcomes, it raises the question of whether spanking should be considered an adverse childhood experience. This involves abuse, neglect and household dysfunction, which includes divorce and an incarcerated relative.

    The study used data from the CDC-Kaiser ACE study, which sampled more than 8,300 people, ranging in age from 19 to 97 years. Study participants completed self-reports while seeking routine health checks at an outpatient clinic.

    They were asked about how often they were spanked in their first 18 years, their household background and if an adult inflicted physical abuse (push, grab, slap or shoved) or emotional abuse (insulted or cursed).

    In the study sample, nearly 55 percent of respondents reported being spanked. Men were more likely to experience childhood spanking than women. Compared to white respondents, minority respondents — other than Asians — were more likely to report being spanked.

    Those reporting exposure to spanking had increased odds of depression and other mental health problems, the study showed.

    Author Tracie Afifi, associate professor at the University of Manitoba, says that it’s important to prevent not just child maltreatment, but also harsh parenting before it occurs.

    “This can be achieved by promoting evidence-based parenting programs and policies designed to prevent early adversities, and associated risk factors,” said Lee, who is also a faculty associate at the U-M Institute for Social Research. “Prevention should be a critical direction for public health initiatives to take.”


  4. Study suggests removing digital devices from the bedroom can improve sleep for children, teens

    November 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Penn State press release:

    Removing electronic media from the bedroom and encouraging a calming bedtime routine are among recommendations Penn State researchers outline in a recent manuscript on digital media and sleep in childhood and adolescence.

    The manuscript appears in the first-ever special supplement on this topic in Pediatrics and is based on previous studies that suggest the use of digital devices before bedtime leads to insufficient sleep.

    The recommendations, for clinicians and parents, are:

      • 1. Make sleep a priority by talking with family members about the importance of sleep and healthy sleep expectations;

    2. Encourage a bedtime routine that includes calming activities and avoids electronic media use;

    3. Encourage families to remove all electronic devices from their child or teen’s bedroom, including TVs, video games, computers, tablets and cell phones;

    4. Talk with family members about the negative consequences of bright light in the evening on sleep; and

    5. If a child or adolescent is exhibiting mood or behavioral problems, consider insufficient sleep as a contributing factor.

    “Recent reviews of scientific literature reveal that the vast majority of studies find evidence for an adverse association between screen-based media consumption and sleep health, primarily delayed bedtimes and reduced total sleep duration,” said Orfeu Buxton, associate professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State and an author on the manuscript.

    The reasons behind this adverse association likely include time spent on screens replacing time spent sleeping; mental stimulation from media content; and the effects of light interrupting sleep cycles, according to the researchers.

    Buxton and other researchers are further exploring this topic. They are working to understand if media use affects the timing and duration of sleep among children and adolescents; the role of parenting and family practices; the links between screen time and sleep quality and tiredness; and the influence of light on circadian physiology and sleep health among children and adolescents.


  5. Study suggests babies can use context to look for things

    November 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Brown University press release:

    Just six months into the world, babies already have the capacity to learn, remember and use contextual cues in a scene to guide their search for objects of interest, such as faces, a new Brown University study shows.

    “It was pretty surprising to find that 6-month-olds were capable of this memory-guided attention,” said lead author Kristen Tummeltshammer, a postdoctoral scholar at Brown. “We didn’t expect them to be so successful so young.”

    In the experiment described in Developmental Science, babies showed steady improvement in finding faces in repeated scenes, but didn’t get any quicker or more accurate in finding faces in new scenes. Senior author Dima Amso, an associate professor in Brown’s Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences, said the finding that infants can recognize and exploit patterns of context provides important new insights into typical and possibly atypical brain development.

    “What that means is that they are efficient in using the structure in their environment to maximize attentional resources on the one hand and to reduce uncertainty and distraction on the other,” Amso said. “A critical question in our lab has been whether infants at risk for neurodevelopmental disorders, especially autism spectrum disorders, have differences in the way that they process visual information, and whether this would impact future learning and attention. These data lay the developmental groundwork for asking whether there are differences in using previously learned visual information to guide future learning and attention across various neurodevelopmental populations.”

    Find the face

    To make the findings, Tummeltshammer and Amso invited 46 healthy, full-term infants, either 6 or 10 months old, to their lab to play a little game of finding faces. Seated on a parent’s lap, the babies simply had to watch a screen as they were presented with a series of arrangements of four colored shapes. In each arrangement, the shapes would turn around with one revealing a face. An eye-tracking system would measure where the baby looked.

    Eventually the babies would always look at the face, especially because after two seconds, the face would become animate and say words like “peekaboo.” In all, each baby saw 48 arrangements over eight minutes, with little breaks to watch clips of Elmo from “Sesame Street.” That, Tummeltshammer said, was to help keep them (and maybe their parents) engaged and happy.

    The trick of the experiment is that while half the time the shape arrangements were randomly scrambled and the face could be revealed anywhere, the other half of the time the same arrangements were repeated, meaning a baby could learn from that context to predict where to look for the face. In this way, the babies beheld faces both in novel and repeated contexts. If babies could notice the repeated context pattern, remember it and put it to use, they should be quicker and more accurate in finding the face when it came up in that kind of scene again.

    By several measures reported in the study, the babies demonstrated that capacity clearly. For example, as they saw more scenes, babies consistently reduced the amount of time it took to find the face in repeated-context scenes, but not in new-context scenes. Also they became better at ignoring non-face shapes in repeated-context scenes as they went along, but didn’t show that same improvement in new-context scenes.

    Babies even learned to anticipate where the faces would be on the screen based on their experiences in the experiment.

    Tummeltshammer said there was little difference between the 6-month-olds and the 10-month-olds, suggesting that the skill is already developed at the younger age.

    In new research, Tummeltshammer said, she and Amso plan to experiment with more realistic scenes. After all, babies rarely need to look for faces among cleanly defined abstract shapes. A more real-world challenge for a baby, for instance, might be finding a parent’s familiar and comforting face across a holiday dinner table.

    But even from this simpler experimental setting, the ability is clearly established.

    “We think of babies as being quite reactive in how they spread their attention,” Tummeltshammer said. “This helps us recognize that they are actually quite proactive. They are able to use recent memory and to extract what’s common in an environment as a shortcut to be able to locate things quickly.”

    A James S. McDonnell Scholar Award and the National Institutes of Health (1-F32-MH108278-01) funded the research.


  6. Study suggests teens don’t just think about themselves

    by Ashley

    From the University of Leiden press release:

    Parents often see that when their sweet, socially-minded children become adolescents they change into selfish ‘hotel guests’ who think only of themselves. But adolescents become increasingly better at weighing up one another’s interests. This discovery has been made by development psychologist Rosa Meuwese. PhD defence 31 October.

    ‘Adolescents don’t have a great reputation in terms of their social behaviour,’ Meuwese says. ‘You often hear parents say that their sweet, socially-minded children turn into selfish, lazy hotel guests who only think of me, myself & I. But out of sight of their parents, adolescents learn a lot about social behaviour from their peers.’ That may not be much of a consolation for their parents, but if they have a better understanding of the purpose of these social experiences in the development of the adolescent brain, it can help them to trust in the social journey of discovery that their adolescent children are undergoing.

    Carefully weighing up

    Meuwese looked at how the social brain of adolescents develops in their relations with their peers. She used four different methods to study the development of prosocial — socially desirable — behaviour in adolescents: she studied their behaviour, brain structure, brain function and the quality of their friendships. She had around a thousand school pupils in the Leiden area play a betting game on the computer. The participants could choose: one euro for yourself and one euro for someone else, or a distribution that was in some cases more social and in others less social. The experiment showed that young people’s choices are governed less by a set norm but that they weigh up the situation increasingly carefully. ‘Unlike what many parents see in their children, adolescents do consider the interests of others,’ Meuwese concludes.

    Winning for your friend

    Another thirty pupils played a betting game while being monitored in an MRI scanner. The participants could choose heads or tails and win or lose for themselves and a friend. ‘We first asked all the children who in their class they liked, and who they didn’t like. We also asked them who their best friend was.’ Meuwese expected to see more brain activity in the reward area of the brains of children who were popular with their classmates when they win money for a friend. ‘That appears to be a sign of being prosocial.’ Instead, she found a different connection: children who were not liked by so many of their classmates and who were sensitive to reward, showed greater activity in the reward centre when they won for themselves. ‘That’s a logical outcome, but we hadn’t expected it to be so strong.’

    Social brain development

    During their social development, adolescents become better at weighing up their own interests against those of someone else. Their social skills don’t decline, but are rather refined through interaction with their peers. Meuwese saw in adolescents with a lot of friends, or very good friends — she refers to that as a high friendship quality — that the social brain develops more rapidly. The social brain develops with increasing age. ‘But a favourable social environment, such as a good friendship, may have a positive effect.’ Meuwese believes that children and young people should receive much more training in social skills. ‘It would be useful to teach psychology at secondary school. It would give adolescents a better insight into the impact of their decisions on other people, which would have a positive effect on their friendships and consequently on their social development.’


  7. Study looks at how family and friends affect drinking behaviour in young people

    November 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Research Society on Alcoholism press release:

    The etiology (i.e., underlying causes) of a behavior, such as alcohol drinking, can change during adolescence and young adulthood. Prior alcohol research has shown that, in general: shared/common environment influences are strongest in early adolescence, declining in strength until young adulthood; unique environmental influences are moderate, but stable, during adolescence and young adulthood; and genetic influences are weakest during early adolescence, steadily increasing in strength until young adulthood. This study examined the relations between genetic and environmental etiologies of alcohol use and the influence of peer use, parental autonomy granting, and maternal closeness on this behavior.

    Researchers analyzed the first three waves of data collected during the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health for 2,447 twin and sibling pairs (30% male pairs, 32% female pairs, 38% opposite sex pairs) ranging in age from 13 to 27 years. Wave 1 was collected from 1994 to 1995, Wave 2 from 1995 to 1996, and Wave 3 from 2001 to 2002.

    Results supported previous findings showing that genetic and environmental influences on alcohol use change during adolescence and young adulthood. In addition to genetic and environmental influences that were common to these age groups, there were genetic and environmental influences that were important only during adolescence. Friends’ drinking behavior was a more pervasive influence on adolescents’ drinking than parenting practices. The authors suggested that interventions and prevention programs geared toward reducing alcohol use in younger populations could benefit from a focus on peer influence.


  8. Study suggests depressed fathers risk not getting help

    November 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Lund University press release:

    Postnatal depression among new mothers is a well-known phenomenon. Knowledge about depression in new fathers, however, is more limited. A new study from Lund University in Sweden shows that depression among new fathers may be more common than previously believed. There is also a major risk that it remains undetected using today’s screening instruments, and that fathers do not receive the help they need.

    Detecting depression in new parents is crucial — not only for their own sake but also because depressed parents often become less perceptive to the needs of their child, particularly if the child cries a lot. Babies of depressed parents tend to receive less stimulation which, eventually, could lead to slower development. In some cases, depression may lead to neglect of the child or inappropriately forceful behaviors.

    “These behaviours are not unusual — depression does not only involve major suffering for the parent, but also a risk for the child,” says Elia Psouni, associate professor of developmental psychology and co-author of the study, together with psychologists Johan Agebjörn and Hanne Linder.

    All new mothers are screened for depression, and an estimated 10-12 per cent of women are affected during their first year after giving birth. Fathers, however, are not screened, but previous international studies claim that the proportion of depressed fathers amounts to just over 8 per cent.

    The study of 447 new fathers showed that the established method of detecting depression (EPDS, Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale) works poorly on men.

    “This means that current statistics may not tell the whole truth when it comes to depression in new fathers,” says Elia Psouni. “The screening method does not capture symptoms which are particularly common in men, such as irritation, restlessness, low stress tolerance, and lack of self-control.”

    Although one-third of the depressed fathers in the study had thoughts of hurting themselves, very few were in contact with the healthcare system. Among those who were classified being moderately to severely depressed, 83 per cent had not shared their suffering with anyone. Although difficult to know, the corresponding figure for new mothers is believed to be 20-50 per cent.

    “Telling people you feel depressed is taboo; as a new parent, you are expected to be happy. On top of that, previous research has shown that men are often reluctant to seeking help for mental health issues, especially depression; therefore it’s doubtful that they would reveal their suffering to a paediatric nurse,” says Elia Psouni.

    Elia Psouni, Johan Agebjörn and Hanne Linder hope that their study will lead to improved screening methods in accordance with their suggestions, delivered so that it can reach all fathers. The method they developed, which combines questions from EPDS and GMDS (Gotland Male Depression Scale), proved to be well-suited for capturing dads with multiple symptoms of depression.

    When it comes to screening depression in fathers, Elia Psouni thinks that the period to consider should be longer than the 12 months currently applied in studies of new mothers.

    “Among dads, depression is common even at the end of the first year, which may be due to the fact that they rarely get help, but there may be other explanations. Whatever the reason, it is important to monitor dads’ wellbeing as their part of the parental leave usually occurs towards the end of the child’s first year of life.”


  9. Study points to the value of acknowledging adolescents’ perspectives

    October 27, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Research in Child Development press release:

    Across very different cultures — Ghana and the United States — when parents acknowledge the perspectives of their adolescent children and encourage them to express themselves, the youths have a stronger sense of self-worth, intrinsic motivation, and engagement, and also have less depression. Yet having the latitude to make decisions appears to function differently in the two cultures, with positive outcomes for youths in the United States but not in Ghana.

    Those are the conclusions of a new study by researchers at Clark University that looked at approaches to parenting teenagers in the two countries. The study appears in the journal Child Development.

    “A parenting approach that allows teens to feel they are being heard has been linked to youths being happier, more self-motivated, and more confident,” explains Kristine N. Marbell-Pierre, head of guidance and counseling at Ghana International School, who was at Clark University when she led the study. “This type of parenting is considered western in its approach and there have been questions about its benefit in nonwestern, more hierarchical cultures that place greater emphasis on respect for and obedience to elders by children and youths. In our study, helping adolescents feel that their perspective mattered was helpful to youths — in both Ghana and the United States — while the role of decision making and choice differed between the two cultures.”

    The researchers examined responses to questionnaires filled out by 401 adolescents in seventh and eighth grades; 245 were from the United States and 156 were from Ghana. Teens answered questions about the extent to which their parents acknowledged their point of view and allowed them to make decisions, have choices, and express their opinions. Questionnaires also assessed the extent to which adolescents perceived their parents as controlling their behavior, as well as adolescents’ academic motivation, sense of self-worth, level of depression, and perception of themselves as independent from their parents or as a unit with their parents.

    The study found that parenting approaches that encouraged students to express themselves and acknowledged their points of view boosted youths’ self-motivation, engagement in school, and self-worth, and decreased their levels of depression in both countries. Allowing adolescents to make decisions and have choices was associated with positive outcomes only in the United States. This difference in the effects of who makes decisions and of choice was in part due to how adolescents viewed themselves, the authors found: Those who saw themselves as independent felt that being allowed to make decisions supported their autonomy, while this was not the case for youths who perceived themselves as more a part of the family unit.

    “Our study resolves conflicting findings from previous studies,” says Wendy Grolnick, professor of psychology at Clark University, who coauthored the study. “It suggests that supporting adolescents’ sense of agency is universally beneficial, but how this support is given may not necessarily look the same across cultures.”

    The authors caution that while there are cultural differences overall between Ghana and the United States with respect to factors such as the extent to which autonomy is fostered in youths, there are also important variations across families within each culture that contribute to patterns for subgroups and individuals.

    The findings have implications for how parents in different cultures can support positive development in their adolescents, suggest the authors. While some forms of support appear to function similarly across cultures, others appear to be culture-specific. Practitioners who work with parents should consider cultural differences as they recommend specific parenting strategies.


  10. Study suggests parents have an even greater impact on the well-being of young people than expected

    October 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Academy of Finland press release:

    According to a recent study, parental support for the autonomy of young people promotes the well-being of the latter in all major educational transitions: from primary to lower secondary school, from basic education to upper secondary school, and from upper secondary school to university. Professor Katariina Salmela-Aro points out that autonomy support provided by mothers and fathers prevented depression during all three transitions and increased the self-esteem of youths in the final two transitions. The study was performed with funding from the Academy of Finland.

    The relevance of the result increased with the age of the young person in question. “In the past, it was thought that parents only play an important role during childhood, but this research demonstrates their importance during adolescence and even young adulthood,” says Salmela-Aro.

    For a long period, the importance of self-regulation only was highlighted with regard to well-being and success in life. However, the new results indicate that people have a strong and interactive, regulative effect on each other’s well-being. Parenting affects youngsters’ well-being, but the well-being of young people also affects that of their parents. Young people play a greater role in affecting parental support than previously thought: when youths begin to do less well, parents provide less support for their autonomy.

    “However, from the perspective of young peoples’ well-being, it would be important for parents to provide more support in such cases, because autonomy support has been shown to reduce depression,” emphasises Salmela-Aro.

    The study was completed with the help of the LEAD project under the Future of Learning, Knowledge and Skills Academy programme and the Mind the Gap cross-disciplinary study under the Human Mind Academy programme. Corresponding studies have generally been performed as cross-sectional research. Around 2,000 Finnish young people, whose educational paths and well-being were investigated by the researchers during all educational transitions, participated in the study.