You have probably heard that this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition will be graced by Barbie. This collaboration between a company that markets a toy with a body that is impossible to achieve to young girls and a company that objectifies women’s bodies is evidence that the media’s portrayal of women is still a huge problem. As I have heard and seen more about this, I am pleased to know that many groups are speaking out against the current edition and recognizing the likely implications for how young girls… and boys… perceive themselves and what it means to be female. I am also disturbed by the recent statement Mattel released in response to the criticism. Senior Vice President of Marketing for North America, Lisa McKnight reportedly stated “We’re always challenging ourselves to think differently about Barbie and how we can continue to keep her relevant” (Elliot, 2014). In my opinion, making Barbie irrelevant is the best outcome for our future generations of girls.
The Sesame Street Workshop is not afraid to talk about the difficult issues young children face. In the past, Sesame Street has talked about death (Big Bird talked about the death of Mr. Hooper in 1983), discussed fear about tragic events like the September 2011 attacks, and included Abby Cadabby, a character whose parents are divorced.
Recently The Sesame Street Workshop decided to tackle another tough issue that many children face – the incarceration of a parent. Parental Incarceration is a significant event for any child and causes major disruptions to the entire family unit. In addition to the loss of the parental figure, families often have to function without the income the incarcerated parent previously provided and may have additional costs associated with the handling of the incarcerated parent’s case. I applaud Sesame Street for their decision to add a character that is dealing with an incarcerated parent to the cast. Alex, whose dad is in jail, has not appeared on the show, but the Sesame Street Workshop website provides videos and other materials that can be used to help children and their families deal with the thoughts and feelings experienced by children when a parent is incarcerated. I encourage Sesame Street to make Alex a regular character on the show. For more information about Sesame Street’s resources check out the Sesame Street Website http://www.sesamestreet.org/parents/topicsandactivities/toolkits/incarceration#0
And see the following story on the Today Show http://www.today.com/moms/sesame-street-creates-first-muppet-have-parent-jail-6C10345061
Here is a link to more information about helping young children deal with traumatic events.
It has taken me several days to emerge from the shock I experienced when I heard about the tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday. I cannot imagine the grief that each family feels as they mourn the loss of their loved ones. My affiliation with elementary schools began with my mother, who was a full time kindergarten teacher for 30+ years and continues to substitute in elementary schools to this day. I think the aspect of this tragedy that is affected me the most, is the loss of innocence and certain safety. No child, especially a young child, should have to question their security while at school.
In my field, we spend a lot of time examining the obstacles that many children face as they try to learn and master academic and life skills. Although poverty, unstable home environments, unpredictability in physiological and psychological/ emotional care are all important factors that can have a negative impact on a child’s ability to succeed, somehow this event seems worse. I suppose it is because not every child has to worry about living in poverty, or an unstable home environment, or unpredictability of care… but now EVERY CHILD has to go to school knowing that this can happen. I know there is great political divide in this country regarding gun control and mental health treatment. I have some thoughts on these topics, but for now I am uniting with all Americans to say… WE HAVE TO COME TOGETHER AND DO SOMETHING! If we can address some of the issues that contribute to these events and reduce future occurrences… we can leave future generations with a more peaceful country and world.
I also want to make sure all caretakers of young children realize the importance of talking to your children and addressing their fears and questions while sheltering young children as much as possible from the media coverage of these events. Often, young children have difficulty understanding that the repeated clips of the event are just that. Instead, young children may think that the event keeps happening over and over again each time they see the footage. The most important ideas to communicate to children are: it is okay to have feelings about this and there is no wrong feeling, it is okay to ask questions and talk about what happened, and they are safe.
The best way to determine what your children are ready to talk about is to ask what they know or have heard about the event and what questions they have. Remember to be age appropriate but honest with children – that includes discussion of death. Sometimes, we want to use metaphors for death like: “He is in a really deep sleep that he can’t wake up from” or “She is in a place where we can’t touch her” in an effort to protect our children. Young children may misunderstand these metaphors and be afraid to go to sleep or allow a parent to leave the room.
Finally, be aware that children sometimes cope with stressful events by regressing and engaging in behaviors they did when younger, including having toileting accidents, wanting to be held or sleep in a parent’s bed, sucking a thumb, sleeping with a blanket or toy they haven’t needed for a while, even playing with toys they have outgrown.
A recent study has found a relation between teens participation in the Arts and higher self-reported rates of depression. This is an interesting article that includes a good explanation for the possible nature of the link - and is careful to state that NO CAUSAL RELATION has been found; but I worry about the headline being mis-interpreted by the media and general public. Headlines such as “Teens Involved in Arts Activities Report More Depressive Symptoms than Teens Not Involved in the Arts, Research Finds” (Young, 2012) tend to get attention but few people will go beyond the headline and read the article about this study. The correlational study finding could easily be mistaken for a for a finding of a causal connection. This is an example of a story that can do real damage if not communicated properly. I would hate for parents, educators, and administrators to make the decision to take experiences with the Arts away from adolescents based on this misleading headline.
On Saturday, the American Psychiatric Association approved the newest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, commonly known by its initials: DSM (see link above). The DSM V includes some changes that I will be following closely. The new disorder called Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD) has been talked about in the past as a diagnosis that distinguishes children with behavioral outbursts or temper tantrums from children who have extreme disruptive behavior as part of a Bipolar diagnosis. Some recent backlash to DMDD has come from parents who worry that a tantruming toddler or preschooler could receive this diagnosis, but this concern is premature. Part of the diagnostic criteria for DMDD will undoubtable include age (i.e. only school-age children are eligible). TEMPER TANTRUMS ARE STILL A NORMAL PART OF EARLY DEVELOPMENT DURING THE TODDLER AND PRESCHOOL YEARS.
Another area of great interest is the diagnostic category of Autism. Although there has been controversy, the decision to redefine Aspergers as a form of Autism and formerly include it in the Autistic Spectrum represents a conceptualization that has existed in the field for a long time. This change should not result in individuals who received a diagnosis of Aspergers no longer being eligible for treatment and insurance coverage of this treatment as these individuals will now meet the criteria for a milder form of Autism. On the contrary, the diagnosis of Autism carries weight that Aspergers does not. In public school, an Autism diagnosis is recognized and thus qualifies a child for special services and learning plans; but an Aperger’s diagnosis is not recognized as an eligible diagnosis in some school systems.
These and the other changes are not without controversy. In February 2012, Monitor on Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association, included an open letter from members of Division 32 (Society for Humanistic Psychology) that raised concerns about the proposed changes - specifically the impact of diagnosis thresholds, new disorders, and the quality of scientific evidence supporting some of the new and revised diagnoses on vulnerable populations including children and older adults (Clay, 2012). The American Psychological Association also called upon the American Psychiatric Association to consider the impact of these changes on children, the elderly, and other sensitive populations (Clay, 2012). The American Psychiatric Association DSM-5 Task Force did aknowledge these concerns in a published reply, and hopefully accounted for the ramifications of these changes in the DSM-V. I see some evidence of careful consideration of these issues in the Task Force’s response to the Division 32 concerns (http://www.dsm5.org/Newsroom/Documents/Society%20Humanistic%20Psych%20Response_012712%20final.pdf).
The publication of the DSM-V does not come out until May 2013. I am optimistic that this edition will allow clinicians to recognize behavior and symptoms that are indicative of disorders from behavior that does not qualify as a part of a disorder and determine the appropriate interventions.
The story in the news this morning about Karen Kllein, a bus monitor near Rochester NY, being taunted and spoken to in a derrogatory manner is the latest evidence of how pervasive the problem of relational aggression is in today’s society. Verbal assaults can be more harmful than physically hurting some one. No one deserves this treatment and too often the targets of bullying are forced to endure these taunts with very little recourse. Ms. Klein described the pain she felt in this situation and she is an adult with presumably more emotional resources to handle such situations. Very often when a child is the target of bullying, he or she must try to deal with such experiences without the benefit of a matured brain and socio-emotional resources. Imagine the impact that this episode would have on a child who endures it not just for 10 minutes at a time but for the entire school day. (For a first hand account of the experience of being bullied, you can read “Please Stop Laughing At Me” by Jodee Blanco).
What upset me the most is that Ms. Klein said she did not report this incident (and at least one earlier incident) because she didn’t think anything would be done. Unfortunately, this is also a common experience of those who are the targets of realtional aggression - reporting it often does little good because without evidence nothing can be done. We have to realize that “kids will be kids” is no longer an acceptable explanation for any malicious behavior - including name calling and teasing. It is also illogical to use the fact that some of us were also bullied as children as rationnale for not taking these situation seriously. If you burned your hand touching the stove when you were a child, would you allow your child to be near the stove with the risk of being burned just because you experienced it and survived? Of course not.
We need to educate children about the impact thier taunting has on the victim.There is plenty of research linking bullying and other forms of relational aggression to long term (sometimes life long) negative outcomes such as poor academic performance, psychological disorders, and low self-esteem. And here is another important finding: these negative outcomes extend to the bullies too!
Let’s move past outrage that this happened and move towards making the school environment an emotionally safe place for everybody - students, teachers, administration, and support staff!