1. Study suggests smartphone addiction creates imbalance in brain

    December 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Radiological Society of North America press release:

    Researchers have found an imbalance in the brain chemistry of young people addicted to smartphones and the internet, according to a study presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).


  2. Study suggests teens get more sleep when school starts later

    December 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Penn State press release:

    A later school start time could mean teens are more likely to get adequate amounts of sleep, according to Penn State researchers.

    In a national study of urban teenagers, researchers found that high school start times after 8:30 a.m. increased the likelihood that teens obtained the minimum recommended amount of sleep, benefiting their overall health and well being.

    “Teens starting school at 8:30 a.m. or later were the only group with an average time in bed permitting eight hours of sleep, the minimum recommended by expert consensus,” said lead author Orfeu Buxton, associate professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State. “Later school start times were associated with later wake times in our large, diverse sample.”

    Buxton and colleagues report their findings Dec. 1 in Sleep Health, the Journal of the National Sleep Foundation, which devoted an entire special issue to the topic.

    Teens with the earliest high school start times — 7:00-7:29 a.m. — obtained 46 minutes less time in bed on average compared with teens with high school start times at 8:30 a.m. or later.

    School start times after 8:30 a.m. were associated with increased time in bed, extending morning sleep by 27-57 minutes compared to those teens with earlier school start times.

    A common argument against later school start times is an assumption that teens will just stay up later.

    “The presumption is if you let kids start school later they will simply go to sleep later and still not get enough sleep,” Buxton said. “But that’s a hypothetical scenario. There wasn’t data to back that up.”

    While researchers did find that teens with the earliest school start times were going to bed earlier than those with 8:30 a.m. or later, the teens with earlier start times still did not get the recommended amount of sleep. Only those teens with schools that had a start time of 8:30 a.m. or later actually got the recommended amount of sleep, Buxton said.

    One theory is that, despite going to bed earlier than their peers, teens with the earliest school start times didn’t get enough sleep possibly due to anticipation of an early wake time the following morning, according to Buxton.

    In addition, the investigators considered other research that looked at teens’ “sleep debt,” where teens make up for lost sleep on non-school days, leading them to wake up consistently and significantly later than those on school days.

    Both anticipation and sleep debt can misalign teens’ circadian clocks from expected early wake timing on school days, interfering with having consistent sleep.

    Four hundred and thirteen teenagers completed an online daily diary each evening, beginning after 7 p.m., during seven consecutive days, including school days and non-school days during both the academic year and the summer, which was defined as September through May and June through August, respectively.

    From each diary entry, researchers looked at the participants’ reports of the previous night’s bedtime, the time the teen woke up in the morning, whether or not the teen went to school, and the school start times.

    Data collection included daily diary data from a subsample of the parent study, the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, which follows a longitudinal birth cohort of children born between 1998 and 2000 in 20 United States cities.


  3. Study suggests smartphone addiction creates imbalance in brain

    December 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Radiological Society of North America press release:

    Researchers have found an imbalance in the brain chemistry of young people addicted to smartphones and the internet, according to a study presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

    According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 46 percent of Americans say they could not live without their smartphones. While this sentiment is clearly hyperbole, more and more people are becoming increasingly dependent on smartphones and other portable electronic devices for news, information, games, and even the occasional phone call.

    Along with a growing concern that young people, in particular, may be spending too much time staring into their phones instead of interacting with others, come questions as to the immediate effects on the brain and the possible long-term consequences of such habits.

    Hyung Suk Seo, M.D., professor of neuroradiology at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea, and colleagues used magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to gain unique insight into the brains of smartphone- and internet-addicted teenagers. MRS is a type of MRI that measures the brain’s chemical composition.

    The study involved 19 young people (mean age 15.5, 9 males) diagnosed with internet or smartphone addiction and 19 gender- and age-matched healthy controls. Twelve of the addicted youth received nine weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy, modified from a cognitive therapy program for gaming addiction, as part of the study.

    Researchers used standardized internet and smartphone addiction tests to measure the severity of internet addiction. Questions focused on the extent to which internet and smartphone use affects daily routines, social life, productivity, sleeping patterns and feelings.

    “The higher the score, the more severe the addiction,” Dr. Seo said.

    Dr. Seo reported that the addicted teenagers had significantly higher scores in depression, anxiety, insomnia severity and impulsivity.

    The researchers performed MRS exams on the addicted youth prior to and following behavioral therapy and a single MRS study on the control patients to measure levels of gamma aminobutyric acid, or GABA, a neurotransmitter in the brain that inhibits or slows down brain signals, and glutamate-glutamine (Glx), a neurotransmitter that causes neurons to become more electrically excited. Previous studies have found GABA to be involved in vision and motor control and the regulation of various brain functions, including anxiety.

    The results of the MRS revealed that, compared to the healthy controls, the ratio of GABA to Glx was significantly increased in the anterior cingulate cortex of smartphone- and internet-addicted youth prior to therapy.

    Dr. Seo said the ratios of GABA to creatine and GABA to glutamate were significantly correlated to clinical scales of internet and smartphone addictions, depression and anxiety.

    Having too much GABA can result in a number of side effects, including drowsiness and anxiety.

    More study is needed to understand the clinical implications of the findings, but Dr. Seo believes that increased GABA in the anterior cingulate gyrus in internet and smartphone addiction may be related to the functional loss of integration and regulation of processing in the cognitive and emotional neural network.

    The good news is GABA to Glx ratios in the addicted youth significantly decreased or normalized after cognitive behavioral therapy.

    “The increased GABA levels and disrupted balance between GABA and glutamate in the anterior cingulate cortex may contribute to our understanding the pathophysiology of and treatment for addictions,” Dr. Seo said.


  4. Study links teenage depression to father’s depression

    November 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University College London press release:

    Adolescents whose fathers have depressive symptoms are more likely to experience symptoms of depression themselves, finds a new study led by UCL researchers.

    While the link between mothers’ depression and depression in their children is well-established, the new Lancet Psychiatry study is the first to find an association between depression in fathers and their teenaged children, independent of whether the mother has depression, in a large sample in the general population. The effects of fathers’ and mothers’ depression on their children’s symptoms were similar in magnitude.

    “There’s a common misconception that mothers are more responsible for their children’s mental health, while fathers are less influential — we found that the link between parent and teen depression is not related to gender,” said the study’s lead author, Dr Gemma Lewis (UCL Psychiatry).

    “Family-focused interventions to prevent depression often focus more on mothers, but our findings suggest we should be just as focused on fathers,” she said.

    The researchers drew on two large longitudinal studies of children: Growing up in Ireland, and the Millennium Cohort Study in England and Wales, using data from 6070 and 7768 families from the two studies, respectively. Parental depressive symptoms were assessed using a questionnaire when the children were 9 and 7 years old in the two cohorts, and then adolescent depressive symptoms were assessed when the children were 13 and 14 years old. The study samples were population-based, meaning they included people who experienced symptoms of depression but had not sought treatment.

    After adjusting for confounding factors such as maternal depression, family income and parental alcohol use, the researchers found that for every 3-point (one standard deviation) increase on the Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (MFQ; a commonly-used measure of depressive symptoms) on the part of fathers, there was an associated 0.2-point increase in the adolescent’s MFQ score. The findings were replicated in both independent study samples.

    Incidence of depression increases markedly at the beginning of adolescence, so the researchers say that understanding the risk factors at that age can be key to preventing depression later in life.

    “Men are less likely to seek treatment for depression. If you’re a father who hasn’t sought treatment for your depression, it could have an impact on your child. We hope that our findings could encourage men who experience depressive symptoms to speak to their doctor about it,” said Dr Lewis.

    Previous studies have shown links between paternal depression and poor behavioural and emotional outcomes in their children, but no large study in the general population (as opposed to a clinical population) has looked at the link with adolescent depression while taking into account maternal depression as well.

    “The mental health of both parents should be a priority for preventing depression among adolescents. There has been far too much emphasis on mothers but fathers are important as well,” said the study’s senior author, Professor Glyn Lewis (UCL Psychiatry).


  5. Study looks at mental health risks of too much screen time

    November 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the San Diego State University press release:

    Increased time spent in front of a screen — in the form of computers, cell phones and tablets — might have contributed to an uptick in symptoms of depression and suicide-related behaviors and thoughts in American young people, especially girls, according to a new study by San Diego State University professor of psychology Jean Twenge. The findings point to the need for parents to monitor how much time their children are spending in front of media screens.

    “These increases in mental health issues among teens are very alarming,” Twenge said. “Teens are telling us they are struggling, and we need to take that very seriously.”

    Twenge, along with SDSU graduate student Gabrielle Martin and colleagues Thomas Joiner and Megan Rogers at Florida State University, looked at questionnaire data from more than 500,000 U.S. teens found in two anonymous, nationally representative surveys that have been conducted since 1991. They also looked at data suicide statistics kept by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    They found that the suicide rate for girls aged 13-18 increased by 65 percent between 2010 and 2015, and the number of girls experiencing so-called suicide-related outcomes — feeling hopeless, thinking about suicide, planning for suicide or attempting suicide — rose by 12 percent. The number of teen girls reporting symptoms of severe depression increased by 58 percent.

    “When I first saw these sudden increases in mental health issues, I wasn’t sure what was causing them,” said Twenge, author of iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — And Completely Unprepared for Adulthood. “But these same surveys ask teens how they spend their leisure time, and between 2010 and 2015, teens increasingly spent more time with screens and less time on other activities. That was by far the largest change in their lives during this five-year period, and it’s not a good formula for mental health.”

    The researchers returned to the data and looked to see if there was a statistical correlation between screen-time and depressive symptoms and suicide-related outcomes. They found that 48 percent of teens who spent five or more hours per day on electronic devices reported at least one suicide-related outcome, compared to only 28 percent of those who spent less than an hour a day on devices. Depressive symptoms were more common in teens who spent a lot of time on their devices, as well.

    The findings fit with previous studies that have linked spending more time on social media to unhappiness.

    On the positive side, the researchers found that spending time away from screen and engaging in in-person social interaction, sports and exercise, doing homework, attending religious services, etc., was linked to having fewer depressive symptoms and suicide-related outcomes. The researchers reported their findings today in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.

    While economic struggles are generally thought to be linked to depression and suicide, the U.S. economy was improving between 2010 and 2015, so that is unlikely to be the primary driver of these increases, Twenge noted.

    “Although we can’t say for sure that the growing use of smartphones caused the increase in mental health issues, that was by far the biggest change in teens’ lives between 2010 and 2015,” she said.

    The good news? You don’t have to totally give up on electronic devices to lower your risk for depression and suicide-relayed outcomes. Twenge said that limiting screen-time to one or two hours per day would statistically fall into the safe zone for device usage.


  6. 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.


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

    November 7, 2017 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.’


  8. Study links afterschool program environments to academic confidence and skills

    November 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the New York University press release:

    Afterschool programs with positive, responsive, and organized environments can have academic benefits for students, finds a new study by NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

    Young people growing up in urban, low-income communities spend significant time in publicly funded afterschool programs. Unlike schools, which grow increasingly segregated and involve more individual instruction as children grow older, afterschool programs are spaces where instructors, often similar to the students in age and background, can facilitate diverse, productive interactions that help youth reach social and academic goals.

    “Because of their unique position at the juncture of school, neighborhood, and home, afterschool programs may be particularly important for youth on a path toward school disengagement or risky behaviors,” said study author Elise Cappella, associate professor of applied psychology at NYU Steinhardt and director of NYU’s Institute of Human Development and Social Change.

    Given the potential of afterschool programs to support youth in urban, low-income communities, the researchers examined the role that the afterschool classroom environment plays in terms of academic outcomes for youth with and without social and behavioral difficulties.

    The researchers used data gathered from five afterschool programs run by a single nonprofit. The 256 youth studied, ranging from third through eighth grade, were predominantly Latino and African-American.

    In both the fall and spring, the researchers collected three types of academic outcome measures from youth and staff, including reading skills, youth perceptions of their academic abilities, and academic engagement. They also conducted observations in the fall to measure the extent to which afterschool classrooms were positive, responsive, and organized, looking for factors such as supportive relationships between youth and adults, student engagement in activities, and chaos in the classroom.

    The researchers found that a positive afterschool environment – one with good social dynamics, responsive instruction, and behavior managementpredicted stronger academic skills and youth perceptions of their academic abilities across one year.

    The association between a positive environment and improvement in academic skills was magnified for students with social and behavioral difficulties, while students without these difficulties saw a greater boost in their perceptions of their own academic abilities. No significant link was found between the classroom environment in the fall and students’ academic engagement in the spring; however, in classrooms with more positive environments, youth with social and behavioral problems were more academically engaged.

    “Afterschool classrooms observed to be positive, responsive, and organized had youth with greater academic skill development over the school year. With youth in our study averaging an oral reading fluency below the 30th percentile in national norms, the potential boost may be critical,” Cappella said. “In terms of academic self-concept, one’s confidence as a learner and identity as a student grows increasingly important as children approach and enter early adolescence.”

    The researchers urge the education community to consider the role of afterschool classrooms and instructors in promoting supportive interactions and advancing academic outcomes for at-risk youth during this important transition to adolescence.


  9. Study examines prevalence of ‘digital’ self-harm in youth

    November 2, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Florida Atlantic University press release:

    Adolescents harming themselves with cuts, scratches or burns has gained a lot of attention over the years not just because of the physical damage and internal turmoil, but also because it has been linked to suicide. More recently, a new form of self-harm in youth has emerged and is cause for concern, warns a researcher and bullying expert from Florida Atlantic University.

    The behavior: “digital self-harm,” “self-trolling,” or “self-cyberbullying,” where adolescents post, send or share mean things about themselves anonymously online. The concern: it is happening at alarming rates and could be a cry for help.

    A new FAU study is the first to examine the extent of this behavior and is the most comprehensive investigation of this understudied problem.

    “The idea that someone would cyberbully themselves first gained public attention with the tragic suicide of 14-year-old Hannah Smith in 2013 after she anonymously sent herself hurtful messages on a social media platform just weeks before she took her own life,” said Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., study author, a professor in FAU’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice in the College for Design and Social Inquiry, and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center. “We knew we had to study this empirically, and I was stunned to discover that about 1 in 20 middle- and high-school-age students have bullied themselves online. This finding was totally unexpected, even though I’ve been studying cyberbullying for almost 15 years.”

    Hinduja and his collaborator from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Justin W. Patchin, Ph.D., recently published results of their study in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

    They used a nationally representative sample of 5,593 middle and high school students between the ages of 12 and 17 years old living in the United States to find out how many youth participated in digital self-harm, as well as their motivations for such behavior. They also examined if certain correlates of offline self-harm also applied to digital forms of self-harm.

    Results of the study show that nearly 6 percent of the teens reported that they had anonymously posted something mean about themselves online. Among these, about half (51.3 percent) said they did it just once, about one-third (35.5 percent) said they did it a few times, while 13.2 percent said they had done it many times.

    Boys were more likely to participate in this behavior (7 percent) compared to girls (5 percent). Their reasons, however, varied dramatically. Boys described their behavior as a joke or a way to get attention while girls said they did it because they were depressed or psychologically hurt. This finding is especially worrisome for the researchers as there may be more of a possibility that this behavior among girls leads to attempted or completed suicide.

    To ascertain motivations behind the behavior, the researchers included an open-ended question asking respondents to tell them why they had engaged in digital self-harm. Most comments centered around certain themes: self-hate; attention seeking; depressive symptoms; feeling suicidal; to be funny; and to see if anyone would react. Qualitative data from the study showed that many who had participated in digital self-harm were looking for a response.

    Age and race of the respondents did not differentiate participation in digital self-harm, but other factors did. Teens who identified as non-heterosexual were three times more likely to bully themselves online. In addition, victims of cyberbullying were nearly 12 times as likely to have cyberbullied themselves compared to those who were not victims. Those who reported using drugs or participating in deviance, had depressive symptoms, or had previously engaged in self-harm behaviors offline were all significantly more likely to have engaged in digital self-harm.

    “Prior research has shown that self-harm and depression are linked to increased risk for suicide and so, like physical self-harm and depression, we need to closely look at the possibility that digital self-harm behaviors might precede suicide attempts,” said Hinduja. “We need to refrain from demonizing those who bully, and come to terms with the troubling fact that in certain cases the aggressor and target may be one and the same. What is more, their self-cyberbullying behavior may indicate a deep need for social and clinical support.”


  10. Study suggests more teens than ever aren’t getting enough sleep

    October 27, 2017 by Ashley

    From the San Diego State University press release:

    If you’re a young person who can’t seem to get enough sleep, you’re not alone: A new study led by San Diego State University Professor of Psychology Jean Twenge finds that adolescents today are sleeping fewer hours per night than older generations. One possible reason? Young people are trading their sleep for smartphone time.

    Most sleep experts agree that adolescents need 9 hours of sleep each night to be engaged and productive students; less than 7 hours is considered to be insufficient sleep. A peek into any bleary-eyed classroom in the country will tell you that many youths are sleep-deprived, but it’s unclear whether young people today are in fact sleeping less.

    To find out, Twenge, along with psychologist Zlatan Krizan and graduate student Garrett Hisler — both at Iowa State University in Ames — examined data from two long-running, nationally representative, government-funded surveys of more than 360,000 teenagers. The Monitoring the Future survey asked U.S. students in the 8th, 10th and 12th grades how frequently they got at least 7 hours of sleep, while the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System survey asked 9th-12th-grade students how many hours of sleep they got on an average school night.

    Combining and analyzing data from both surveys, the researchers found that about 40% of adolescents in 2015 slept less than 7 hours a night, which is 58% more than in 1991 and 17% more than in 2009.

    Delving further into the data, the researchers learned that the more time young people reported spending online, the less sleep they got. Teens who spent 5 hours a day online were 50% more likely to not sleep enough than their peers who only spent an hour online each day.

    Beginning around 2009, smartphone use skyrocketed, which Twenge believes might be responsible for the 17% bump between 2009 and 2015 in the number of students sleeping 7 hours or less. Not only might teens be using their phones when they would otherwise be sleeping, the authors note, but previous research suggests the light wavelengths emitted by smartphones and tablets can interfere with the body’s natural sleep-wake rhythm. The researchers reported their findings in the journal Sleep Medicine.

    “Teens’ sleep began to shorten just as the majority started using smartphones,” said Twenge, author of iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — And Completely Unprepared for Adulthood. “It’s a very suspicious pattern.”

    Students might compensate for that lack of sleep by dozing off during daytime hours, adds Krizan.

    “Our body is going to try to meet its sleep needs, which means sleep is going to interfere or shove its nose in other spheres of our lives,” he said. “Teens may catch up with naps on the weekend or they may start falling asleep at school.”

    For many, smartphones and tablets are an indispensable part of everyday life, so they key is moderation, Twenge stresses. Limiting usage to 2 hours a day should leave enough time for proper sleep, she says. And that’s valuable advice for young and old alike.

    “Given the importance of sleep for both physical and mental health, both teens and adults should consider whether their smartphone use is interfering with their sleep,” she says. “It’s particularly important not to use screen devices right before bed, as they might interfere with falling asleep.”