Thursday, January 31, 2008

Television and Violence by Connect with Kids

I think when people play video games and people watch videos and they see violence a lot, it just becomes natural to them and it just doesn't seem bad anymore, and it really is.”

– Donovan, 15

New research about the influence of media violence on children may offer a startling new way to predict who will grow up to be a violent adult: find out how much violence on television and in the movies children watched when they were 6, 8 or 10 years old.

When they watch television, movies and video games, Benford and his buddies are impressed by the violence.

“I just think it’s pretty cool -- blow up somebody,” says Benford, 16.

“Just stuck him on a hook and it came through the stomach,” says Seth, 15.

“And his guts go everywhere,” says Benford.

How powerful is media violence? Researchers at the University of Michigan have been tracking more than 800 children for more than 40 years. They started in 1960 and they found that the more young children were exposed to media violence, the more likely they were to end up as violent adults. In fact, media violence was a better predictor of later crime and violence than poverty, substance abuse or even abusive parents.

“Television is on in the average American home about eight hours a day. At the same time, people are engaged in what we call interpersonal familial conversations with one another for about four minutes a day. So where are they getting their messages? Clearly they’re getting their messages from the media,” says Art Silverblatt, PhD, professor of communications.

Experts say the message is that violence is normal.

“They become desensitized to aggression and violence. And I think that the more they’re exposed to it as well, the more they’re likely to use that form of behavior to solve problems,” says Jennifer Kelly, Ph.D., psychologist.

“I think when people play video games and people watch videos and they see violence a lot, it just becomes natural to them and it just doesn’t seem bad anymore, and it really is,” says Donovan, 15.

Experts say parents can’t eliminate all media violence in a child’s life, but they can use a violent scene to teach kids about the reality of it.

“Talk about what you think happened to that person’s family … the mourning that occurred and how the parents or somebody else’s life could be changed as a result of this aggressive violent act,” says Kelly.

Tips for Parents

Advice from the National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF):

Limit game-playing time to no more than one hour per day.

Play with your child to become familiar with the games.

Provide alternative ways for your child to spend time.

Require that homework and jobs be done first; use video game playing as a reward.
Do not put a video game set in a child’s room where he/she can shut the door and isolate himself/herself.

Talk about the content of the games.

Ask your video store to require parental approval before a violently rated video game can be rented by children.

When buying video games for your child, it is important to purchase games targeted to his/her age group. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rates every video and computer game for age appropriateness (located on the front of the packaging) and, when appropriate, labels games with content descriptions. The ESRB’s current rating standard is as follows:

EC – Early Childhood (3 and older)
E – Everyone (6 and older)
E10+ – Everyone (10 and older)
T – Teens (13 and older)
M – Mature audiences (17 and older)
AO – Adults Only
RP – Rating Pending

Talk to other parents. Find out which games other parents like and dislike, as well as which games they let your child play when he/she visits their house. This is a good way to learn about the games that your child enjoys and those that other parents approve of, and to let other parents know which games you do not want your child playing. (ESRB)

Know your child. Different children handle situations differently. Regardless of age, if your child becomes aggressive or unsettled after playing violent video games, don’t buy games with violence in them. Likewise, if your child likes playing games with characters that look like him/her, purchase games with characters that fit the bill. (ESRB)


National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF)
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Sue Scheff: Teen Stress by Connect with Kids

“Depression and anxiety are closely related. And so you can have kids that stop wanting to be involved in things and they spend more and more time in their room and less and less time out playing, cultivating friends -- those are all warning signs.”

– Dr. Nancy McGarrah, Ph.D., psychologist

Who is more stressed out: a parent who has to work hard to pay the bills and raise a family, or a teenager who has to go to school and learn? You may have correctly guessed the answer; still, to some it may come as a surprise.

Recent polls report that 75 percent of adults are stressed or worried about money, family troubles and problems with their boss. But there is a group even more stressed out: kids.

“You know everyone talks about stress and there is a lot of stress,” says Marcus, 16.

“Something you’re always going to have to deal with; it’s never going to go away,” says Andrew, 17.

According to a new Associated Press/MTV poll, 85 percent of teens say they feel stressed. Almost half the boys and a third of the girls say the pressure is there almost every day. Their biggest worry is school.

“Sometimes it’s going to be really stressful because you’re going to get down to the end one night and you’ve got a test the next day and a paper due but you know you have to do it,” says C.T., 17.

Experts say a little stress can energize and motivate a child, but too much has another name: anxiety. And that can be de-motivating.

“Depression and anxiety are closely related. And so you can have kids that stop wanting to be involved in things and they spend more and more time in their room and less and less time out playing, cultivating friends -- those are all warning signs,” says Dr. Nancy McGarrah, Ph.D., psychologist.

Experts say parents can help by offering a careful balance of expectations.

“The most important thing is that you don’t underestimate nor do you overestimate your expectations of your child’s performance,” says Dr. Sherwood Smith, Ph.D., psychologist.

Which is no easy task for parents, he says. Still, his next advice may be a little easier.

“Let your child know that regardless of their level of success, you love and you value that child,” says Smith.

According to the poll, school and studies was ranked the number one stressor by a third of all teens. Fourteen percent said their job was number one; 11 percent said family caused the most amount of stress in their life.

Tips for Parents

Pressure that is too intense or lasts too long, or troubles that are shouldered alone, can cause people to feel stress overload. Here are some of the things that can overwhelm the body's ability to cope if they continue for a long time: (Nemours Foundation)

Being bullied or exposed to violence or injury

Relationship stress, family conflicts, or the heavy emotions that can accompany a broken heart or the death of a loved one

Ongoing problems with schoolwork related to a learning disability or other problems, such as ADHD (usually once the problem is recognized and the person is given the right learning support the stress disappears)

Crammed schedules, not having enough time to rest and relax, and always being on the go

The most helpful method of dealing with stress is learning how to manage the stress that comes with any new challenge, good or bad. Stress-management skills work best when they're used regularly, not just when the pressure's on. (Nemours Foundation)
Knowing how to "de-stress" and doing it when things are relatively calm can help you get through challenging circumstances that may arise. Here are some things that can help keep stress under control: (Nemours Foundation)

Take a stand against over-scheduling. If you're feeling stretched, consider cutting out an activity or two, opting for just the ones that are most important to you.
Be realistic. Don't try to be perfect -- no one is. Expecting others to be perfect can add to your stress level, too (not to mention put a lot of pressure on them!) If you need help with something, such as schoolwork, ask for it.

Get a good night's sleep. Getting enough sleep helps keep your body and mind in top shape, making you better equipped to deal with any negative stressors. Because the biological "sleep clock" shifts during adolescence, many teens prefer staying up a little later at night and sleeping a little later in the morning. But if you stay up late and still need to get up early for school, you may not get all the hours of sleep you need.

Learn to relax. The body's natural antidote to stress is called the relaxation response. It's your body's opposite of stress, and it creates a sense of well-being and calm. The chemical benefits of the relaxation response can be activated simply by relaxing. You can help trigger the relaxation response by learning simple breathing exercises and then using them when you're caught up in stressful situations.

Treat your body well. Experts agree that getting regular exercise helps people manage stress. (Excessive or compulsive exercise can contribute to stress, though, so as in all things, use moderation.) Eat well to help your body get the right fuel to function at its best. It's easy when you're stressed out to eat on the run or eat junk food or fast food. But under stressful conditions, the body needs its vitamins and minerals more than ever.


Nemours Foundation

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Kids Still Using Drugs by Connect with Kids

“It was just the thing, and everybody’s smoking and parties and raves and all kinds of … drugs.”

– Ebony, high school student

The billions of dollars spent on the war against drugs may have increased awareness and saved lives in this country, but the totalnumber of kids who use tobacco, alcohol and drugs is still staggering. A new Federal report showing how many kids begin experimenting every day is startling.

Every single day in America, 8,000 teenagers have their first drink; 4,000 try their first cigarette. More than 3,600 smoke marijuana for the first time, and 4,000 are introduced to inhalants, cocaine, methamphetamine and other drugs.

That’s just today; at midnight the count begins all over again.

“For a lot of kids, it’s just the opening up of adolescence. Suddenly they have money; they have disposable income. They have new peer groups that they are trying to measure up to,” says Armando Corpus, drug treatment counselor.

Ebony Marie was one teen trying to measure up.

“It was just the thing, and everybody’s smoking and parties and raves and all kinds of drugs,” says White.

At 13, Ebony started smoking cigarettes and then moved on to marijuana, alcohol, cocaine, and finally, methamphetamines. Within a few months she was a drug addict.

“I am [a drug addict] and I know I am because I love drugs,” says Ebony.

Experts say that a teen’s first experience with drugs or alcohol makes the decision to use drugs again a lot easier.

“There is a line that you cross, at least psychologically, that this is something I do; at least, this is something I experiment with,” says Corpus.

He says too many parents surrender to the philosophy that teen experimentation is inevitable, and then they are surprised.

“I can’t tell you how many parents I’ve come across who say, ‘All I knew was that he was smoking marijuana once in a while. I didn’t know he was doing cocaine. I didn’t know he was doing methamphetamine,’” says Corpus.

Now in recovery, Ebony has been off drugs for several months. She hopes forever.

“Because it doesn’t get you anywhere but jails, institutions and death,” says Ebony.

Tips for Parents

To help prevent your child from using illegal substances or turning to prescription drugs to get high, it's a good idea to begin discussing substance abuse with your child at an early age, and continue openly communicating about the issues as your child grows. (Nemours Foundation)

Take advantage of "teachable moments." If you and your child see a character on TV or in a movie who is smoking or using an illegal substance, talk to your child about what smoking and substance abuse does to a person's body, mind, life. (Nemours Foundation)

When your child becomes a teenager, you can address the issue in a more direct way. Talk about both the more immediate and the long-term health effects of substance abuse and tell your child where you stand. (Nemours Foundation)

If you suspect that your child may be abusing prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medicines or painkillers, it's a good idea to: (Nemours Foundation)

Lock your medicine cabinet, or keep medicines that could potentially be abused in a less accessible place.

Avoid stockpiling medicines. Having too many at your teen's disposal could make abusing them more tempting.

Keep track of how much is in each container in your medicine cabinet.
Keep an eye out not only for traditional-looking cough and cold remedies in your teen's room, but also strange-looking tablets.

Monitor your child's Internet usage. Be on the lookout for suspicious websites and emails that seem to be promoting the abuse of drugs, both legal and illegal.
It's also important to provide a warm and open environment at home where your child is encouraged to talk about feelings, and knows that he or she can bring you tricky questions and concerns without fear of judgment and punishment. (Nemours Foundation)


Nemours Foundation