December 13, 2013

When a Date is a Threat — Violent Romance

A disturbing number of teenagers experience physical violence in their dating relationships, a situation that can lead not only to physical injury, but depression, eating disorders, academic problems and other harms.

As discussed on, a recent study published in the Journal of School Violence reported that 1 in 10 U.S. high-school students reported being hit or otherwise physically harmed by a dating partner within the last year.

The incidence of being hit, slapped or otherwise physically hurt was nearly equal between males and females who participated in the survey. But there were racial differences: There was a statistically significant increased rate of dating-violence among blacks (nearly 13 in 100) and multiracial youths (about 12 in 100) compared with whites and Asians (8 in 100) or Hispanics youth (about 1 in 10).

The study analyzed data from 100,901 students who participated in the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System survey (YRBSS) from 1999 to 2011. It concluded that more than 9 in 100 U.S. high school students have been "hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose" by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the last year, a rate that has not changed significantly in the last 12 years despite efforts to curb dating violence in the last decade.

The researchers, from Boston University’s School of Public Health (BUSPH), called the incidence of youth hurt by dating partners a serious public health concern because its consequences can include depression, eating disorders, injury and in the most severe cases, death.

"While 9 percent may sound low, this figure puts dating violence on par with many of the other public health issues that we tend to view as serious problems, such as obesity, frequent cigarette smoking or driving after drinking," Emily Rothman, associate professor of community health sciences at BUSPH, said in a news release. "The real concern here is that the rate has not gone down at all in the past 12 years, while the rate of physical fighting with peers has decreased significantly.

"That means that whatever headway we have made in reducing youth violence does not extend to people in dating or sexual relationships."

Malcolm Astley, the father of one girl who was murdered by her boyfriend, said parents, teachers, school counselors and legislators must grasp the extent of the problem of dating abuse and address it. The risk is most extreme during break-ups, and it’s up to adults to help kids understand and handle their feelings.

Which, like bullying, speaks to the necessity of parents knowing what’s going on in their childrens’ lives, even if the kids resist. It can be a matter of life and death.

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June 26, 2012

Poll Sends Clear Message to Presidential Candidates about Child Health Issues

It’s election season, and there is no shortage of either polls or opinions. A recent national survey by the University of Michigan’s National Poll on Children’s Health found that a majority of adults agree on four major issues they want the presidential candidates to address.

More than 2,100 adults were surveyed, and were asked to select the single most important child health issue from 24 common health concerns. These priorities represented more than half of all responses, and crossed party and ethnic lines:

Because many adult health problems often are seeded in childhood—obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression—the need for early intervention is acute, and is a matter of public policy.
To see the full report, link here.

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December 20, 2011

Adults Are Worrying More than Kids Are Sexting

We’ve all heard stories about the unthinking transmission of sexually explicit material via telephone texts. We’ve even been a bystander to the more notorious episodes (two words: Anthony Weiner).

But when the willing participants in such naughty trafficking are children, there is less smirking and more worrying.

But a recent study in the journal Pediatrics concluded that kids don’t text sex stuff as much as conventional thought suggests.

“Sexting”—sending or receiving risqué or even explicit photos or videos on a cellphone—is legally fraught when it involves a minor. It’s a criminal offense. It’s child pornography.

Researcher Kimberly J. Mitchell co-authored two studies in Pediatrics, one of which estimates that in 2008-2009, police in the U.S. investigated 3,500-some cases of sexual images sent by adolescents. In 1 of 3 of those cases, an adult received them.

But there doesn’t appear to be an epidemic of kids sending naked photos of themselves to here, there and everywhere, including the Internet. As a story on noted, youth sexting isn’t as common as earlier polls indicated.

A 2008 survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that 1 in 5 teens has sent or posted online nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves. Mitchell and her colleagues got much smaller numbers in a 2010 national survey. According to phone interviews with more than 1,500 children 10 to 17 years old, only 2.5 in 100 had appeared in or produced nude or nearly nude photos or videos. And only 1 in 100 did so if only sexually explicit material -- naked breasts, genitals or rear ends -- was included. Around 6 or 7 in 100 adolescents said they'd received such images or videos.

"Overall, our results are actually quite reassuring," Mitchell told Reuters. "With any sort of new technology that kids become involved in there is a tendency to become easily alarmed. What we are instead seeing is that sexting may just make some forms of sexual behavior more visible to adults."

Her advice to parents is to make sure their kids understand the legal risks (being busted for transmitting child porn) and the digital risk of Internet exposure. If someone is a sexting recipient, delete the text immediate and certainly don’t redistribute it.

A spokesman for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy was gratified by the study’s finding, but also a bit skeptical. Bill Albert told Reuters the numbers didn’t surprise him because researchers surveyed younger kids as well as teenagers. As he pointed out, "I wonder if teens are being as truthful as they might be. … It's a good opportunity to sit down with your kid and talk about it."

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November 7, 2011

The Enablers of Child Sexual Abuse

It's always disturbing to hear about an adult taking away a child's innocence through inappropriate sexual contact. But even more disturbing is when bystanders look the other way and let the offender repeat the abuse against other children.

The perpetrator has no moral excuse, of course, but at least has the partial explanation of some deep-seated mental illness. The bystanders have neither excuse nor explanation for their own dereliction of duty.

Although this is a story that has played out in multiple settings in recent years, seemingly wherever adults and children come into regular content, today's story comes from Penn State, where Jerry Sandusky, the retired assistant football coach, is the alleged perpetrator, and the university's athletic director, Tim Curley, and vice president for finance Gary Schultz, are the not-so-innocent bystanders.

Curley and Schultz received a report from a graduate assistant who saw Sandusky raping a 10-year-old in the locker room on a Saturday night. This happened in 2002, and the only concrete action to happen to Sandusky then was the loss of his locker room keys. Neither Curley nor Schultz brought in any police agency to investigate. Now they are under indictment for their cover-up along with Sandusky.

You can read the grand jury's report on these troubling allegations here.

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July 19, 2008

Bullies and Bullied Both At Risk of Suicide

Tara Parker-Pope discusses a new Yale School of Medicine review of research on bullying from 13 different countries, published in the International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health.

The review came up with a new finding: there is a link between being a bully and being suicidal. It was previously known that the victims of bullies had a higher risk of suicide than others, but now it seems that the tormentors are also at risk.

From the article:

Compared to other kids, a child who bullies may be at two to nine times higher risk for suicide, according to the study. Girl bullies appear to be at highest risk. Some researchers have also found a “dose-response” relationship, showing that those who bully more frequently are at highest risk for suicide.

While the studies showed an association with bullying and suicide, it wasn’t clear whether the behavior actually increases risk for suicide or whether kids already at risk for suicide are more likely to become bullies or their victims. The researchers noted that most of the studies failed to take into account the influence of factors like gender, psychiatric problems and a history of suicide attempts.

Please read the full article and the comments section, which is full of people who have been bullied discussing how they were brushed off by parents and teachers and other authority figures as over-sensitive or cowardly. Many of the comments are interesting and insightful in their analysis of what bullying does to children's mental health.

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April 4, 2008

CDC: 1 in 43 American Babies Abused or Neglected

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a new report showing that 1 in 43 babies under the age of 1 in the U.S. have been neglected or abused.

From the linked article:

Ileana Arias, who leads injury-prevention efforts at the centers, said, “The findings do demonstrate a clear pattern of early neglect and physical abuse that is largely preventable.”

Because this is the first data looking at babies to age 1, it is unclear whether abuse is increasing or decreasing, said a centers epidemiologist, Rebecca Leeb.

The report said 905,000 American children of all ages were victims of maltreatment in 2006. Maltreatment is the third-leading cause of death of American children under 3, Ms. Arias said.

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