This NY Times article does a nice job summarizing recent research findings, which run counter to the prevailing wisdom when it comes to study habits. I particularly like the section that addresses a multi-modal study style, in which various distinct, but related, areas are studied during an individual study session, as opposed to lengthy periods of study focused on one topic. As the article notes, athletes and musicians have figured this out long ago, so why haven't students? Worth a read, especially if you have kids, are a teacher of some sort, or are in school yourself.
Interesting article here that reviews research into the assessment of ADHD. The article covers the details, with the main concern being that the youngest children in early grades are being excessively diagnosed (and subsequently medicated) due to comparisons with the older students in the class. Given there is no biological marker for ADHD, and the diagnosis requires the symptoms be present in at least two settings, teachers are often asked to provide their observations of children in the classroom. The difficulty can be when the youngest child in a class such as kindergarten or first grade is compared against the other children, who are older and thus more developed, in terms of attention, impulsivity, etc., the very areas of concern with respect to ADHD. From the article:
According to Elder's study, the youngest kindergartners were 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than the oldest children in the same grade. Similarly, when that group of classmates reached the fifth and eighth grades, the youngest were more than twice as likely to be prescribed stimulants.
The article does not mention gender, but this can also be a factor. If someone compares a just-turned five year old boy against a six-year old girl, they may well appear to be from different planets when it comes to the diagnostic issues related to attention and behavior. However, these comparisons are not appropriate; the evaluator should be examining the child in the context of other children at a similar developmental stage. As adults, the groups are often distinguished by decade. In children, however, differences of as little as three months can have a significant impact. Clinically, it would make sense to consider ADHD only if the youngest of a class were displaying symptoms of ADHD relative to the other younger students, not the class as a whole.
Interestingly, I read somewhere a theory that older boys do well in school, relative to their younger classmates, for an indirectly related reason - sports. Athletic prowess is of particular importance in the perception of a boy's success in school, and at early ages, older boys tend to have a natural biological advantage; they are not only likely to be bigger, stronger, etc., but also more coordinated, and able to focus longer. It would be interesting to examine how the early athletic success afforded the older boys in second, third, fourth grade, etc. relative to the youngest boys of each class (who are, at times a year or more younger, depending on various admission factors), shapes their later attitude towards sports. I would imagine it would be hard to develop a dominating athletic mentality at age 18, when things have evened out (maybe the student is even bigger than his peers), but during those early years, that student was always the least athletic, simply because they were younger and lagged behind their classmates during those early, formative years. Who knows?
Maybe that's what accounts, at least partially, for some of these college and pro athletes who, by all accounts, have "all the physical tools," but simply can't manage to dominate, despite the physical advantages; maybe in their head, they are still smaller than everyone else...David Robinson comes to mind. A late bloomer anyway, he seems like a wonderful guy, with many intellectual and artistic interests. But that's just it - I wonder if he would have truly dominated the NBA if he had developed a Jordanesque attitude, and I wonder if he would have done just that, if he'd been kicking everyone's butt in basketball since an early age. A less well-rounded individual, but a more dominating NBA career. I'm guessing, since he attended Navy, he wasn't the dominating presence in high school his later physique suggested, and in the NBA, he had a really good career, but not what was expected (just ask Bill Simmons). As much as anything, David Robinson didn't dominate more because of his mental approach to the game; clearly, it wasn't his physical skills. Was he a younger guy in class growing up? I don't know, but I'm guessing going from 6'7' to 7'1" after high school hurt his ability to play center in the NBA - he simply wasn't able to develop a center's mentality early enough. Okay, how did I get from ADHD in kindergarten to David Robinson? Oh, that's right - maybe being the smallest guy on the team from the age of 6-12 sours you on sports, or at least impacts your self-view, even when you eventually turn out to be just as big and strong as everyone else.
For that matter, going back to the original article, how much does being diagnosed impact one's self-view related to academics, if you are behind simply because you are the youngest in the class? Interesting stuff...
Chris Anderson wrote this post about the third anniversary of Geekdad. I've linked to more than a few of their articles, recommendations, etc. over the years, and Anderson's book The Long Tail is one of my favorite reads over the last 3-4 years. I actually have a review of the book fully written: however, it is on my old netbook, which has suffered an untimely demise. At some point, I may make an effort to recover several of my writings off of the hard drive, but that moment has not yet arrived.
I should also note Anderson has been involved with Wired magazine (and Geekdad is associated with them), and a Geekdad book is pending release in May, which looks to be full of great ideas for parents and kids to complete.
In the meantime, happy anniversary, and keep up the good work!
I like this article simply because, like many others I've linked to, it documents the important role adequate sleep plays in the overall functioning of people. In this case, the researchers examined the rates of depression and suicidal thinking among teens whose bedtimes were set either 10 pm and earlier, or 12 am and later. The two groups differed in both rates of depression and suicidal thinking, with those sleeping more showing better mood functioning. From the article:
Lead author James E. Gangwisch, PhD, assistant professor at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, N.Y., said that the results strengthen the argument that short sleep duration could play a role in the etiology of depression.
"Our results are consistent with the theory that inadequate sleep is a risk factor for depression, working with other risk and protective factors through multiple possible causal pathways to the development of this mood disorder," said Gangwisch. "Adequate quality sleep could therefore be a preventative measure against depression and a treatment for depression."
Some other data:
Seven percent of participants (1,050) were found to have depression using the Centers for Epidemiologic Study-Depression Scale, and 13 percent (2,038) reported that they seriously thought about committing suicide during the past 12 months. Depression and suicidal ideation were associated with later parental set bedtime, shorter sleep duration, self-perception of not getting enough sleep, female sex, older age and lower self-perception of how much parents care.
The article does not go into detail regarding whether other variables were controlled, such as whether parents who set earlier bed times (which the article suggested was the primary method ensuring the most sleep) also engaged in other activities that might also reduce the risk of depression. However, the accumulating data seems pretty clear: better sleep means better functioning. I don't doubt this applies to teens who typically require more sleep than an adult anyway (nine hours per night is recommended).
What I've encountered more than a few times since becoming a parent are other parents who indicate they've had difficulty getting their kids to adhere to bed time schedules. These are not adolescents we are talking about; we are talking about kids as young as three or four. In terms of the other variables I wondered about before, this would be one of them. If a parent can't instill (for whatever reason) a habit of going to bed at a healthy, reasonable hour when their kids are young, getting an adolescent to comply with bed time rules will be exponentially more difficult. On the other hand, there may also be variables associated with the compliance on the part of the kids. Lots of fodder for further research!
Interesting study here about the potential relationship between the sleeping patterns of four and five-years olds and hyperactivity, depression, and anxiety. What the article doesn’t address is the “Chicken/Egg” conundrum; are some kids having trouble because they aren’t napping, or are they having trouble napping because they are experiencing depression, anxiety, and hyperactivity? The researchers also acknowledge that sleep patterns can be very individualized in terms of needs, so the idea that a child is automatically at risk due to a lack of napping is not accurate. Here is one quick excerpt from the article:
Results indicate that children between the ages of 4 and 5 who did not take daytime naps were reported by their parents to exhibit higher levels of hyperactivity, anxiety and depression than children who continued to nap at this age.
On the flip side, I’ve noted repeatedly my belief that sleep is an important factor in overall well-being; it stands to reason that adequate sleep is at least as important for children. In addition, it seems like many parents are allowing children to stay up later into the evening than when I was a lad, which may place additional importance on napping as a way for children to get enough sleep. Clearly, more research would need to be done examining different sleeping patterns in order to come to more definitive conclusions (i.e. if a five-year old gets 12 hours of sleep at night, is that the equivalent of a child who sleep 10 hours at night, and also takes a nap?). Still and all, any article that highlights the necessity of getting adequate shut-eye is fine by me.
Not much new information in this article, but it does serve as a stark reminder that child abuse has significant implications for many victims. Childrens' cognitive processing skills are more rudimentary than that of adults, and so when significant events impact them, they are more vulnerable to developing rigid schemas with respect to themselves, other people, and the world around them. In general, rigid thinking isn't all that healthy, and child abuse certainly contributes to the development of rigid thinking patterns - thus the ongoing impact, even later in life. One point to remember is that individuals with histories of child abuse will experience mental health issues more strongly than if they hadn't been abused. From the article:
The impact of child abuse already is known to increase the risk of suicide, however the literature about other characteristics of depressed victims of child abuse is scarce. Although the findings of the Mayo study do not confirm causality, the information stresses the importance of more aggressive approaches from the public health perspective to prevent child abuse. "A history of child abuse makes most psychiatric illnesses worse," according to Magdalena Romanowicz, M.D., lead author of the study. "We found that it significantly impacts the wide range of characteristics of depressed inpatients including increased risk of suicide attempt, substance abuse, as well as earlier onset of mental illness and more psychiatric hospitalizations. This new information serves as a reminder of the importance of child abuse prevention from a public health perspective.
Clinicians need to factor this information into their assessments, and consider the ramifications of a client's childhood history. Very often individuals who present as "resistant to therapy" are simply having a more difficult time with treatment due to issues like a history of child abuse, which complicates the therapeutic process. In addition, many clinicians do not adequately assess for trauma histories (to include child abuse, but also other traumatic incidents as well), due to 1) discomfort with the topic (this stuff can be a bear to talk about in therapy); 2) inadequate questioning (many individuals will not disclose this information when only one or two vague questions are asked about "trauma"); and 3) a lack of recognition of the importance of this issue to treatment. If a person does "get stuck" in therapy due to undisclosed issues related to an abuse history, this often reinforces negative self-perceptions the individual has of him or herself (i.e. "I can't do anything right"), which is not the case, but appears so to the individual. Bottom line - many people do figure out ways to cope or recover from an abuse history; however, if a person is struggling as a result of an abuse history, and is in treatment as a result, the issues present as a result of that history need to be addressed.
Here’s an interesting article regarding the importance of timing when it comes to learning to read. The article discusses how, in the past, researchers have found different patterns of reading in different studies, for which there was no explanation, at least until now. This article discusses the finding that when a child learns a word is important in terms of that child’s later reading pattern. From the article:
She said: “Children read differently from adults, but as they grow older, they develop the same reading patterns. When adults read words they learned when they were younger, they recognize them faster and more accurately than those they learned later in life.”
Talk about yet another incentive to get your kids reading early! The more words they are able to instinctualize early, the less effort they expend on those same words as adults. What I mean by instinctualize (not a real word, I know) is that, like learning to read music, one doesn’t need to “think” about the word (or note), they instinctually know it, through repetition and use. Also similar, it seems, to many physical activities. This makes intuitive sense, and I’m surprised this data point wasn’t controlled for in the past. Seems the bottom line is that learning words earlier allows for improved reading later on, in part due to the ability to internalize the definitions, and therefore read more efficiently.
This article discusses the recent finding that infants born to mothers with depression exhibit sleep difficulties as soon as two weeks after birth. This finding, though preliminary (this initial research only had 18 subjects) is important, in that early sleep difficulties are associated with the later development of early-onset depression. From the article:
Results indicate that infants born to mothers with depression had significant sleep disturbances compared to low-risk infants; the high-risk group had an hour longer nocturnal sleep latency, shorter sleep episodes and lower sleep efficiency than infants who were born to mothers without depression. Although average sleep time in a 24 hours did not differ by risk group at eight two or four weeks, nocturnal total sleep time was 97 minutes longer in the low-risk group at both recording periods. High-risk infants also had significantly more daytime sleep episodes of a shorter average duration.
The article also discusses the potential reversibility of these sleep difficulties as a way of potentially reducing or eliminating the later development of depression. I've posted several articles regarding the importance of sleep, and the assocation of sleep problems with other issues, and it is no surprise that sleep problems at infancy is associated with later mood difficulties. Hopefully further research will allow for early detection and intervention.
This article reviews research set to be published next year (why the wait?), which indicates that for many intelligent kids, particularly boys, the pressure is on to underachieve, lest they be bullied. Further (and obvious as well), the poorer the school performs, the more pressure there is to dumb yourself down. From the article:
The study, to be published in the Sociological Review next year, shows how difficult it is for children, particularly boys, to be clever and popular. Boys risk being assaulted in some schools for being high-achievers. To conform and escape alienation, clever boys told researchers they may "try to fall behind" or "dumb down".
This particular study was conducted in England, but I have little doubt that these issues are at least as problematic in American schools. I remember this kind of garbage when I was a kid, though I also remember it was worse at certain schools I attended than at others. I can recall cringing on days when honor roll was posted, just waiting for the forthcoming abuse; I can only imagine what it's like today, 20+ years later.
I don't work with kids, so I'm not sure what the current thinking is at schools with respect to strategies to deal with this. I do suspect that for many parents who rank school as a prime issue in terms of where to live, paying for private school, etc., it is the culture of achievement (or lack thereof) that is at least as important as the quality of teachers, class opportunities, etc. that factors into their decision. Pressure to underachieve is just depressing, and if you've got a bright kid, it must be so frustrating to consider underachievement might be socially reinforced. Again, not sure what the current thinking is on this, but I'm assuming there are efforts to address this sort of thing.
Here’s an interesting article summing up recent research into the precursors of adolescent depression. For boys, it’s primarily anxiety, but with girls, it’s anxiety as well as antisocial behavior. Surprisingly, early depression did not predict later depression as much as these other warning signs. From the article:
"Anti-social behavior has typically been viewed as a big problem among boys, so it tends to be ignored among girls. Boys with early anti-social behavior typically go on to show more anti-social behavior while girls may turn inward with symptoms, morphing into other mental health problems such as depression eating disorders, anxiety and suicidal behavior during adolescence ," said James Mazza, a UW professor of educational psychology and lead author of the new study. He is currently serving as the past president of the American Association of Suicidology.
"When all the risk factors were analyzed, anti-social behavior and anxiety were the most predictive of later depression. It just may be that they are more prevalent in the early elementary school years than depression." He noted that depression and anxiety share a number of symptoms.
A couple of quick observations. First, it is a general trend that women display high incidences of “inward” mental health difficulties (e.g. depression, anxiety) while men tend to have higher incidences of “outward” mental health diagnoses (i.e. antisocial personality disorder). Interesting how the antisocial stuff continues to develop in boys, but with the girls, the focus shifts once adolescence is reached.
Also, this research again confirms the link between early anxiety and later depression, which I wrote about here. Again, if you are a parent or professional, please do not discount anxiety in kids: anxious kids grow up to be depressed adults, which is not a good thing. Nip these types of problems early, when the symptoms are more manageable, and a whole lot of discomfort and misery can be avoided.
What is also interesting about this study is that it demonstrates that children have some insight into their moods - the authors indicated the kids were able to successfully communicate their difficulties with the help of questionnaires. This is a good thing, insofar as we don’t have to rely solely on the observations of parents, teachers, and others. What this also means is that we need to take kids seriously - obviously, an over-reaction to the occasional stressor is one thing, but if a child is communicating regular discomfort with worry, it is worth it to examine it further.