Booster Shots

Oddities, musings and news from the health world

Category: parenting

Parenting style influences teen drinking patterns, researchers say

June 24, 2010 |  6:00 am

Teenagers alcohol parenting Some parents assume that teenagers will drink alcohol and there is little they can do to prevent it. Research does indicate that parenting has little effect on whether kids decide to try alcohol. But parenting attitudes and actions can make a big difference in how much and how often a teenager drinks.

Researchers at Brigham Young University surveyed 5,000 adolescents about their drinking habits and their relationship with their parents. They found the kids least prone to heavy drinking had parents who scored high on accountability (knowing where their kids were and with whom) and warmth. Having so-called "indulgent" parents, who were low on accountability and high on warmth, nearly tripled the risk of the teen participating in heavy drinking. The study also found that "strict" parents -- high on accountability and low on warmth -- more than doubled their teen's risk of heavy drinking. These results were apparent even when researchers controlled for other influences, such as peer pressure, religious and economic background.

"Authoritative parents tend to be highly demanding and highly responsive," the authors wrote. "They monitor their children closely and provide high levels of support and warmth. Our data suggest that peer encouragement to drink might have less impact when parents are both highly supportive and highly attentive."

The study is published in the July issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Lee Romney  /  Los Angeles Times

Lesbian parents have very well-adjusted kids, study finds

June 8, 2010 |  6:38 pm

Crib Some people might be surprised by the latest research on children of lesbian parents, published in the journal Pediatrics. But perhaps they should give it more thought. 

This was the objective of researchers at the University of California and the University of Amsterdam:

To document the psychological adjustment of adolescents who were conceived through donor insemination by lesbian mothers who enrolled before these offspring were born in the largest, longest running, prospective, longitudinal study of same-sex–parented families.

This was the conclusion:

The [National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study] adolescents are well-adjusted, demonstrating more competencies and fewer behavioral problems than their peers in the normative American population.

Here's a WebMD story with author Nanette Gartrelle explaining the positive results. "These are not accidental children," she points out. And that's just for starters. 

Read the full lesbian parenting study here.

-- Tami Dennis

Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

Divorce rates no higher among parents of children with autism, study finds

May 20, 2010 | 12:42 pm

Having a child with autism can strain even the strongest marriage, but parents of autistic children may be no more likely to divorce than other parents, according to a new study. The study, presented this week at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Philadelphia, debunks a belief held by some that the divorce rate is higher -- as great as 80% -- among parents with autistic children. Researchers from the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore looked at data on 77,911 children age 3 to 17 who were part of the National Survey of Children's Health.

They found that 64% of children with an autism spectrum disorder were part of a family with two married biological or adoptive parents, compared with 65.2% of children who did not have autism. After controlling for children who had a co-diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder, children with autism had a slightly greater chance than children without autism of living with two married parents.

This isn't to say that having an autistic child doesn't cause stress in a marriage. "While there are indeed stressors in parenting a child with autism, it doesn't necessarily result in the family breaking up more often than would occur in another family," said Brian Freedman, lead author of the study, in a new release. Freedman, clinical director of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, added, "I would hope this research drives home the importance of providing support to these families, and letting them know that their relationships can survive these stressors. We should continue to provide training for parents so that they can work through the stressors in their relationship to keep their family together and have a successful marriage."

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times

Improving child health depends on healthy relationships

May 3, 2010 |  1:39 pm

Child Behavioral and emotional problems are seen in increasingly younger children, and at least some of these children are diagnosed with mental disorders and prescribed psychotropic drugs to control their symptoms. But this medical approach may overlook a common cause of disruptive child behaviors: parenting.

An editorial in Monday's issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine calls on health experts to consider the importance of caregiver relationships in the physical and mental development of children. The editorial is part of a theme issue focusing on child health in early life and outside influences, including caregiving, television, maternal use of antidepressants and nicotine, and exposure to trauma.

In their commentary, Dr. David Rubin and Kathleen Noonan, an attorney, both with the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, note that misbehaving children are easily labeled with depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, conduct disorder or other diagnosable mental illnesses that often lead to drug therapies instead of shining a light on the roots of the behavior problem, which may exist in the child's relationship to his or her parents, foster parents or other caregivers.

"Missing from the discussion is that at the heart of many of these disruptive behaviors are the biological effects of failed relationships, failed attachment, and multiple traumatic disruptions," the authors wrote.

Instead of psychiatric diagnoses and medications, therapies could focus on relationships. They note that an intervention called Parent-Child Interaction Therapy is promising but not widely available.

Supporting secure and functional caregiver relationships could have a huge impact on child health and, they said, "lead to the sustained changes in the brain that will promote resiliency in children."

-- Shari Roan 

Photo credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Let the snacking backlash begin! (Please?)

January 20, 2010 |  3:51 pm

Cookies Perhaps someone -- one brave soul committed to the cause -- just needs to take a stand. Doctors? Public health officials? Pfft. What kind of credibility do they have? They're not the ones doling out the snacks. A mom is what's called for here.

And parent Jennifer Steinhauer writes in today's New York Times:

"When it comes to American boys and girls, snacks seem both mandatory and constant. Apparently, we have collectively decided as a culture that it is impossible for children to take part in any activity without simultaneously shoving something into their pie holes." Read the full story.

Columnist Sarah Smiley wrote in a similar vein on last summer:

"After-game snacks are no longer about hydration; they were about one-upping the sorry mother who brought the kids raisins the week before." Read more.

Then she got warmed up. There's this from her follow-up column:

"Conflict ensues when on the baseball field being a 'good parent' is paradoxically defined as making sure that no one feels discomfort, whether it be hunger pain, the 'pain' of sitting on the bench and waiting your turn, or not being picked to play first base. The children naturally want to feel good and have a reward. We as parents have unfortunately catered to them." Read more

Perhaps this is how attitudes change. A mom here, a mom there. ... (Sorry, dads, I realize that you too bring snacks and that you too could draw a line in the snacking sand, but the other moms are not going to follow your example in this matter. They'll just figure you didn't know better.)

In the matter of full disclosure, let it be known that I'm not completely without bias in this matter. Having once carried approximately 20 bananas to a girl's softball game for the post-play, coach-talk, snack-fest -- and having returned home with approximately 20 bananas -- I'm looking for any moral support I can get.

And quite obviously, I'm not the one to lead the revolution. I now take cookies, pleaded-for by the kid whose mom once took bananas. (Sure, the cookies make the kids happy -- and, as a bonus, tweak the other moms -- but the guilt ...)
If you can stand to look at any more stats on kids and obesity, here they are.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Maybe some kids used up this many calories -- and then some -- and need to have their blood sugar spiked just to have the energy to make it home for dinner. But I doubt it. ... I watched the game. ... Credit: Daniel Acker / Bloomberg


Have a kid and lower your blood pressure, researchers say

January 14, 2010 |  5:15 pm

The next time your little one dumps a cup of coffee into your laptop keyboard, keep this in mind: A new study finds that having children may be linked to having lower blood pressure.

Kvlehanc Researchers from Brigham Young University, the University of Utah and Cal State Long Beach took ambulatory blood pressure readings of 198 married men and women, aged 20 to 68, over one 24-hour period. About 70% of the couples had children of various ages.

The subjects wore blood pressure monitors that took readings at random intervals during the day, including while they were sleeping, giving researchers a good idea of daily blood pressure highs and lows.

Overall, parents scored 4.5 points lower than those without kids in systolic blood pressure (the top number that measures when the heart is contracting), and 3 points lower in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number that measures the heart at rest, in between heartbeats). Among women, the spread was even greater: Women with children showed a 12-point difference in systolic pressure and a 7-point difference in diastolic pressure compared with their counterparts without children.

The researchers arrived at these numbers after accounting for such variables as age, body mass, exercise, being employed, and smoking. They note that although the study took blood pressure readings only once, other studies have shown the benefits of parenthood, including a higher sense of self-esteem from giving to others. On the flip side, studies have also shown that being a caregiver is associated with high levels of stress and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

"While caring for children may include daily hassles, deriving a sense of meaning and purpose from life's stress has been shown to be associated with better health outcomes," said lead researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad, via a news release. Holt-Lunstad is in the department of psychology at BYU.

The study appeared recently in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

-Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Maria J. Avila / Associated Press

Most parents stay together after child's death

January 5, 2010 |  7:00 am

It’s hard to imagine a bigger strain on a marriage than the loss of a child to cancer. Conventional wisdom holds that such tragedies increase the risk of divorce, but a new study says that isn’t so.

Holdinghands Researchers from the Division of Clinical Cancer Epidemiology at Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm tracked down 442 Swedish parents who had lost a son or daughter to cancer before the age of 25. Four to nine years after the loss, 74% of the parents were still married to or living with the child’s other parent.

To serve as controls, the researchers also found 452 parents with living children of the same age, sex and region of residence as the ones who died of cancer. Among those parents, 68% of their relationships were still intact.

Statistical analysis revealed that the bereaved mothers and fathers were 10% more likely to remain with their co-parents compared with the controls. The difference was statistically significant. The results were published today in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

There’s little doubt that caring for a terminally ill child causes great psychological distress and marital strain. But previous studies that examined how families cope with the loss of a child have had mixed findings when it comes to divorce. Based on these Swedish results, the researchers conclude that, at the very least, “parents who have lost a child to cancer are not more likely to separate than others.”

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Contrary to popular belief, marriages can survive the loss of a child to cancer. Credit: Robert K. Yosay / The (Youngstown, Ohio) Vindicator

On the playground, it’s not the fall -- it’s the landing

December 14, 2009 |  5:13 pm

Parents eyeballing public playground hazards may first look to the infamous monkey bars, perilously high above the earth.

They have reason to fear. “You see monkey bar injuries and monkey bar injuries and monkey bar injuries,” pediatric orthopedic surgeon Andrew W. Howard said of his line of work.

What they may not look at is the ground itself. In a study published today in PLoS Medicine, Howard and his fellow researchers documented the playground injuries at 37 elementary schools in Toronto. They found that children who fell from a height onto a wood chip surface were nearly five times more likely to sustain an arm fracture than children who fell onto granite sand.

Both surfaces meet school safety standards, Howard said, but what gives granite sand the edge is each surface’s sliding friction. When a person falls, the surgeon pointed out, the hand usually hits the ground before the body does, which could force the arm to bend beyond the load it can carry. But granite sand allows the hand to slide a little bit, saving the arm from a nasty break.

The study took advantage of a playground safety overhaul that the Toronto School District Board was going through at the time – so no other surfaces, such as those made from recycled rubber, were examined.

But of the 5,900 fracture-related hospitalizations that happen as a result of a playground fall in the United States, the study observes, 3,900 to 4,700 could be prevented if they had occurred on granite sand surfaces.

Time to level all the playgrounds in America?

“I don’t think we need to call the gravel trucks tomorrow,” Howard said in an interview. “But in a gradual enlightened way we should be using sand under playground whenever possible as the falling surface.”

If you feel like seeing if your child’s playground is up to standard, here’s a safety checklist courtesy of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

-- Amina Khan

Have you heard of the choking game?

December 14, 2009 | 11:22 am
It goes by many names: "black out," "space monkey," "fainting game." Participants – teenagers, mostly, it seems – play it by cutting off oxygen to the brain. They use belts, neckties, other types of binding – or a friend's helping hands – to induce a "natural high." 

Yet, say authors of a paper published in the January issue of Pediatrics, of the 163 Ohio physicians who responded to a survey, only 111 (68.1%) said they had heard of the game – mostly through popular media sources. Of those who knew about it, only 7.6% reported having a patient who they suspected was
 playing the choking game.

That’s a seriously low level of awareness, says Nancy E. Bass, one of the authors of the paper. "The choking game may not be as prevalent as other [risky behaviors] like drugs, but the issue is it can result in death," Bass said, adding, "It’s becoming more prevalent ... if you have an asphyxia related death, it's difficult to know whether it's unintentional."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed media reports and counted 82 deaths between 1995 and 2007 that were likely the result of the choking game. It's an indication that physicians simply may not be trained to recognize the warning signs, from strange bruises to bloodshot eyes.

Bass said she hopes the paper will encourage physicians – particularly those in pediatric practice and emergency room training – to include the choking game in their general-advice discussions with teenagers, which includes such topics as smoking, balanced diets, school performance and alcohol use.

For a personal account, here's Sandy Banks' 2005 story of a family dealing with the aftermath of a likely choking game-related death. Here's a CDC fact sheet on the choking game and its warning signs.

-- Amina Khan

Parents: Get the sex talk over with

December 9, 2009 |  4:25 pm
If you’re thinking about talking to your child about sex, you could be too late. Kids appear to be engaging in sexual activity much earlier than they have in the past – but today’s parent hasn’t gotten with the program.

In a new study published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics, more than 40% of teens surveyed said they had had intercourse before discussing key issues with their parents. Such issues included sexually transmitted diseases, how to use a condom, and what to do if your partner refuses to use a condom. Boys had the talk even later than girls. Parental talks for both genders were still behind the times, though – which is troubling, given that medical professionals are recommending early and frequent STD screening for young women within a year of having sex for the first time.

For the reluctant parent, a handy primer from Planned Parenthood on discussing birds and bees with your child. 

-- Amina Khan


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