Tag Archives: child development

American Graduate, American Dropout

I don’t know how many of you educators were able to catch parts of PBS’ ‘American Graduate‘ series this year. It’s a great series that’s focused on the major issues of (mostly public) education in America, including urban versus rural education struggles, mentoring and counseling, adolescent health issues like substance use and sexual activity, ensuring that we’re serving the needs of immigrant students, social and economic class issues and how they impact opportunity and subsequently achievement (measured most commonly as high school graduation) and what’s behind some of the alarming and rising rates of dropping out across the country.

The latter three issues were behind a documentary that I was featured in and that aired in September. It was pioneered by a group of teen filmmakers at an organization based in Brooklyn called Reel Works, a group with a great mission that I encourage you to check out. If you want more background on the piece, check out the PBS brief before the video, which also includes a great interview with some of the teen filmmakers. Hope you find it interesting!

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Filed under Child Development and Child Health, Education, Health Behavior, Media

Is Media Use Slowing Kids Down Intellectually?

A couple interesting studies recently came out that I thought were clearly linked with implications for the development of our younger generations. I recently wrote a post for The 2×2 Project that discusses the impact of media use on the mental health of teens, so I thought this was fairly pertinent.

The first study showed how much the U.S. economy loses to social media use every year. Take a guess at what that amount is.

10 billion bucks? Nope.

100 billion? Not even close.

500 billion? Still no.

According to Mashable’s summary via LearnStuff, social media costs the U.S. economy $650 billion. Check out the infographic they put together:

I’m someone who is generally really torn about social media. I have a blog and am active on Twitter, though along with my Facebook profile I use these all primarily for semi-professional purposes. ‘Semi’ in the sense that they aren’t part of my job, but I use them to promote interesting finds or essays related to my field of public health; I’ve found the sites to be remarkably helpful in communicating important points and connecting with wider audiences compared to different – usually more traditional – media channels. I use social media heavily to promote work being done in my fellowship – my own and other fellows’ – and it unquestionably has helped us reach researchers and organizations it would have been otherwise very difficult to do.

That being said, I am also fairly hesitant about social media given that I don’t particularly like my personal life broadcast across channels, so I have to be pretty meticulous about what and how I use the mediums. I think it can be enormously helpful for children who have difficulty communicating and making connections; I also find that it can feel almost more isolating than no communication at all since it emphasizes and underscores that real interpersonal interaction isn’t exactly happening. So, I’m clearly torn.

The second study, by the great group Common Sense Media, addresses the concerns of teachers and educators that the various kinds and amount of time kids are using media at home is impacting the quality of their classroom work and engagement. 71% of teachers said that they think media use is hurting kids’ attention spans in school, 59% said that it’s impacting the students’ ability to communicate face to face, and 58% have said that the media use is impacting kids’ writing skills – and not in a good way.

Given that the LearnStuff infographic shows that 97% of college students are daily Facebook users, it seems that these symptoms have the potential to get worse at increasingly younger ages, and that by the time kids who grew up in this media-rich environment are in college…well, who knows. And 60% of people visit social media sites at work (something I found most interesting? that more people are on LinkedIn than Twitter), which are obviously impacting work in the sense that they are taking away from productivity or activities related to the job – unless the job is one that incorporates social media, as many jobs increasingly are. Not to be a doomsday reporter, but I do think the implications for these studies are very real.

Thoughts? Come chat on Twitter.

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Filed under Child Development and Child Health, Education, Media, Pop Culture, Technology

Body Judgments Begin…Pretty Close to Birth

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written – I took six weeks off to finish my dissertation and prepare for its defense (I passed!), and to take a bit of a breather after all that required writing! But what better way to start a new month than with a new post?

One of the many reasons I went to graduate school to study adolescent female and women’s health was because I wanted to gain a better understanding of why women and girls develop disordered eating behaviors, what makes them worse, and most importantly, how to prevent them. And more and more studies are telling us what many researchers, clinicians, and patients themselves have been telling us for years.

A few recent studies in particular that have been published in the past few weeks highlight these issues well. One new study out of UCLA has again proven that strong self-perception is key to the prevention of risky behaviors in teen girls. The results of this study showed that overweight girls who had high body satisfaction and who were happy with their size and shape were less likely to engage in a range of unhealthy and disordered eating behaviors like fasting, skipping meals, and self-induced vomiting. And more importantly, the study also showed that these girls had lower rates of anxiety and depression, which are so disturbingly common among girls with burgeoning eating disorders.

And the best thing about the study’s results was the discussion that these public health experts, dieticians, and professors had, in which they emphasized that for effective, healthy weight-loss interventions for teens who may need to lose weight for real medical reasons (preventing the onset of diabetes or hypertension and increasing cardiovascular health, for example), these programs need to be rooted in positive self-esteem and the enhancement of self-image. When you feel better about yourself, you want to keep taking care of yourself. You are also more likely to want to share yourself with others, and creating positive social networks increases the likelihood that people will have supporters pushing them to stay healthy as well as a community that makes them feel worthwhile, appreciated, and worth the kind of self-care that diet and exercise changes require.

So why do companies, organizations, media outlets, and other vocal critics keep harping on the idea that shame, insults, and bullying will help people lose weight? To me, the root of this problem lies in the misguided thought that anyone else’s weight is anyone else’s business. It isn’t.

Another recent study has unfortunately shown something I find really upsetting. Preschoolers - remember, that’s ages 2-5 – show negative perceptions of overweight children. The way this study was conducted involved an adult reading four different stories to a group of children, in which one character was ‘nice’ and the other was ‘mean.’ They then showed the children pictures of one overweight figure and one normal weight figure, and asked them to select which one was the ‘nice’ character from the story and which was the ‘mean’ character. Nearly half of all students said that in all four stories, the overweight figure was selected as the ‘mean’ one. Mind you, these figures had no faces. No physical expressions. One was just bigger than the other. And because of that, the children thought they were meaner.

I mean…whoa. Ages 2-5 are in the early developmental stages, when children are absorbing and processing and incredible amount of information - verbally, visually, and physically – and learning how to reason. We do not need judgments about others’ weight getting ingrained at this age, creating perceptions that are very difficult to change. Of course, this one study bears repeating, and should incorporate additional measures of exploring these outcomes; nonetheless, these results are troubling.

Of course, this study begs the revisiting of one of my most pressing points on this blog. Weight, just like food, is not a characteristic that is inherent in measures of good versus evil. That’s very dangerous territory to traverse – once one allows weight to dictate the assessment of whether or not someone is not only of value and worth (societally speaking, this already happens, when overweight people are ignored, more easily dismissed, not taken as seriously), but whether or not they are actually truly ‘bad’ or ‘mean’ or capable of certain sins because they are overweight, one’s morality becomes game for critics. I also always remain shocked at some critics’ short-sightedness in this relam – if you yourself gain weight in the future – something which may happen for a variety of reasons – are you readily willing to take on the label of weakness, ‘meanness’, gluttony? The impassioned rhetoric around the blaming and shaming of overweight people is so starkly in need of an infusion of compassion.

What this shows is that children are inundated with messages, both direct and indirect, from so many different sources at such a young age, that the idea of being overweight is coded as bad in so many ways, that it seems nearly inescapable. To me, this means we have to keep making intense efforts to combat these messages, because we are climbing one steep hill.

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Filed under Child Development and Child Health, Disordered Eating, Health Education, Mental Health

Thanks, KMart

…for making sure I didn’t actually take a few days off this holiday week!

What a charming little undergarment you were planning on selling to the masses this Black Friday:

Courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald

Every 7 year-old girl needs a thong (like, I could end the sentence there!), an article of clothing designed for the sole purpose of sexually exciting others, that also broadcasts to the world that they’re diggin’ for gold before they’re even old enough to have a checking account of their own.

The perfect holiday gift for your first grader. The message that baring their buns will be rewarded with a wealthy partner. Cheers! And happy holidaze.

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Filed under Advertising, Child Development and Child Health, Feminism, Sexism

The Girl Effect Impact

I’m lucky – I have conscientious friends. People who are invested in their communities both immediate and global; people who care deeply about education, human rights, and child development; individuals who believe firmly in these principles. I’m grateful for that, and grateful that they remain open to hearing about violations of these principles and what can be done to work towards eradicating circumstances that allow these inequities to thrive. Which is what I’m doing here.

By now, many of you have likely heard of The Girl Effect. The Novo and Nike foundations, partnering with the Coalition for Adolescent Girls and the UN Foundation, started the Girl Effect a few years ago, and since the movement started they’ve garnered a healthy following on Twitter, Facebook, and via non-profits and educational institutions. One of the organization’s most essential functions is raising awareness – they do this through their profiles of young girls around the world, their easy to understand presentation of facts and country profiles, and the way they create a storyline of cause-and-effect that shows us how the subjugation of girls is multi-faceted and interconnected.

Statistics can be powerful. If there’s one thing I’ve learned working in both public health and education, it’s that statistics can redirect money and help gain political endorsements; they can garner media attention and can heave weight behind opinions. But they can also leave people cold, and can create some emotional distance between the problem and one’s understanding and relation to it. This is where I think the real impact and power of the Girl Effect comes in.

I’d encourage my readers to do two things. First, check out the basic information the organization offers – the nuts and bolts, the facts and outlines. Then head over to the videos page and pick a profile of any one of the girls. Watch it a few times, to see if the second or third time you catch something you missed the first time. Instead of focusing on the fact that girls who do not attend secondary school in India are nearly 70% more likely to be married as children, focus on Anita or Sanchita and what they’re actually saying to you. The fact that in Chad, Guinea, Mali, and Niger half of all adolescent give birth before 18 – and that girls who give birth before age 15 are fives times more likely to die in childbirth – is a frightening statistic – one big enough to think that the problem is too overwhelming, too all encompassing, too massive and systemic to be solved or challenged. So instead, watch the interviews with Kidan, Shumi and Addis. Hear them describe the internal changes they went thorough when they pushed against the status quo, the familial and community influences they have had as they developed despite monumental odds stacked against them.

Lastly, I’d invite you to check out the connect/mobilize page – see what small contribution you can make, while keeping in mind the profile of the girl you just watched. Focus on the element you found most meaningful. The seconds you felt most connected to her, the point at which you most admired her. Think about that moment when you feel overwhelmed by the statistics, think of that emotional response if you feel overwhelmed by the task at hand. Move to change one step at a time, with that feeling as your guide.

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Filed under Child Development and Child Health, Education, Feminism, Public Health, Sexism

JC Penney Doesn’t Think You’ll be Very Smart. But you ARE Pretty!

I’m sure some of you have come across a picture of the t-shirt that JC Penney recently pulled from their website and for which they received a healthy dose of criticism and bewilderment. In case you missed it, take a gander below:

A picture of the unraveling of years of work, courtesy of JC Penney

On sale for girls between the ages of 7 and 16, we have a (100% cotton!) long-sleeve that says “I’m too pretty to do homework, so my brother has to do it for me.”

While I generally believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt, I find the trail of despair leading up to this travesty of childhood romping wear to be filled with too many witnesses to feel that this was done in error. Which, in turn, means that a lot of people at JC Penney thought this was funny.

This offense hits a lot of home runs - making ‘pretty’ and ‘intelligent’ mutually exclusive descriptions; saying that apparently being pretty is so exhausting and life-encompassing that homework just can’t be attended to (this particularly just doesn’t seem like a smart pic for a 6 year-old – if pretty is this exhausting, she’ll be burned out by 10); not-so-subtly prioritizing those batted eyes over brain activity; and, for the grand finale, adding that since being pretty is a lady’s job, the man has to pick up the slack in the smarts department. That’s a lot of manipulation for one t-shirt. You can be pretty but not also smart, being pretty takes a lot of work (doesn’t come naturally), pretty is prioritized and therefore takes precedence over being smart anyway, the boys can be the brains.

Taking a cursory glance over JC Penney’s other shirts, while the one above remains in a league of its own there are others that transgress the principles of healthy development. T-shirts that say “I’m a nerd” or “I love nerds” are the only ones in which the models are wearing  square-framed glasses; shirts that insert unnecessary interjections that should probably not be emphasized in written form, that say “Love is, like, forever”; and a shirt that shows a heart with a jagged line through it saying “if you break it, you buy it.” I didn’t know that a 10 year-old’s affection was for sale, much less that there was an insistence of ownership by the 10 year-old herself after she’d been emotionally trampled on.

Major retailers’ primary goal is profit – which means that while I’m not surprised that they aren’t particularly concerned with the social impact of their clothing, I do find it interesting that JCP thought these kind of dated gender messages would bring in the cash.

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Filed under Child Development and Child Health, Defining Gender, Education, Feminism, Pop Culture, Sexism

“Top Girl” Doesn’t Actually Help Girls Get Anywhere

I’m always on the lookout for games, books, toys, and stories that an aid in the education, emboldening, social-awareness, and positive development of children and young adults. And as someone who usually finds it impossible to not look at things through a gendered lens, I am frequently concerned with the discrepancy between what I see actually advertised to young girls and boys and what I think is actually appropriate for young girls and boys.

A new game has just been released by CrowdStar, called “Top Girl.” This is how TechCrunch described the game:

“Top Girl is a mobile role-playing game that allows players to create a fashionable avatar and then climb up the fashion social ladder, collecting money by doing modeling jobs, buying new outfits, and going to clubs.

The core gameplay is around the modeling job, where as you work more, you earn coins and cash and are able to buy better clothes.”

Here’s the advert image:

Photo via TechCrunch

I mean, I started cringing before I even finished reading the first sentence. We just recently discussed how the repitition of images and gaming constructs can impact the development of children and their self-perceptions, and we are now confronted with another representation of not only a strict, but a damaging gender role  being touted as “female-focused.”

Why does “female-focused” mean fashion and social-climbing to these developers? Why is clubbing, the latest trends, social hierarchy, and physical appearance being touted as what it means to be definitively female even in virtual worlds? It isn’t enough that mere media imagery feeds girls the idea of a limited definition of beauty and implies that others’ perceptions of them will be based on how closely they align with this definition? We have to take it further, with the “female-focused” game we offer them telling them that the best way to get attention (and affection) is by booking modeling gigs that can push you into what they present as the only relevant social world – one of wealth and fame – which will give you money to buy the hottest outfits, which will also allow you entry into the latest clubs, where hopefully your latest fashions will be admired by all, garnering you more modeling gigs, which will make you more money, pushing you up even higher on the social ladder until you reach the pinnacle of success?

Money is what matters in this virtual world, and the best way to get it is not through intellectual prowess, dedication to a sport, writing a book, finding a cure, coming up with an innovative tech idea. It’s through pictures of your face and body. The girls aren’t engaging in the creative process of designing clothing, which would make the game more innovative and actually push these girls to have a unique style of their own – what if they did this instead? Bought virtual fabrics and textiles, and created a design empire? Because otherwise, I’m not sure I want to know what the “winner” of this social game looks like, do you?

Perhaps the silver lining is that this game might teach girls about managing money and understand a budget. You think? And how about you follow me on Twitter so you can see what else I’m dishing.

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Filed under Child Development and Child Health, Defining Gender, Feminism, Media, Pop Culture