Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Nurture Assumption

In her 1998 book,The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, author Judith Rich Harris discussed how parents played a smaller role than originally thought in how their children turn out. She postulates that genes and peers are the most important influences on kid's lives and as a psychologist, I have to say that from what I have seen, this can sometimes be true. Have you ever wondered how you can have one kid who is so calm and good-natured and another who is hell on wheels? Well, you're not alone.

Many of the parents of my young patients spend years wondering what went wrong with the child they loved and nurtured who later turned out to be a vandal, cheat, scoundrel, or worse. They rack their brains trying to find the lack of love or nurturance on their part that led to their little darling ending up in legal trouble. I sometimes have to just say, "You know, it's not your fault." I think that if parents would read the Nurture Assumption, they might understand more about how heredity and the peers one picks play a heavy role in how the kids turn out and quit blaming themselves so much. It would be time better spent trying to surround a child with peers who are good role models.

Now Ms. Harris has another book that comes out next week, No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality, in which she tackles the question, "Why do twins who grow up together have different personalities?" They have the same genes, same parents, so what makes them different? The book description at Amazon sounds fascinating:

Her solution is a startlingly original one: the first completely new theory of personality since Freud's. Based on a principle of evolutionary psychology—the idea that the human mind is a toolbox of special-purpose devices—Harris's theory explains how attributes we all have in common can make us different.

This is the story of a scientific quest, but it is also the personal story of a courageous and innovative woman who refused to be satisfied with "what everyone knows is true."

Here is a question and answer session with Ms. Harris at Gene Expression. I can't wait to read her book and find out more.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Mental Health Blogging

Dr. Sanity has a round-up of posts from the Psychosphere. If you want a laugh, be sure and check out G.M. Roper's post on surgery jokes or just go by and wish him well--he just had surgery for lung cancer and is still laughing.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Throw the Book at Her

I have no sympathy for this woman--I say, she should get the same punishment she set the men up for. Read it and tell me what you think.

Update: Why is it that hypocritical women like those at the Feministe Blog always use girls being abused in Islamic countries to make a point about the "mistreatment" of women in the US and yet, when you call for anything to be done, such as freeing the Iraqi people--women included--they suddenly turn a deaf ear and start preaching the virtues of peace and the sins of President Bush?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Podcast on the Avian Flu with Senator Bill Frist and CPAC Bloggers

Have you given any thought to an outbreak of the Avian Flu? I didn't take it too seriously until doing some research and talking today to Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist. This is an important podcast for all Americans as Senator Frist talks about the threat to the US, what private citizens can do to prepare and the problems with developing a vaccine. I must warn you, our audio was not the best, as we have construction workers digging up the phone lines in our neighborhood, but please listen anyway to this important interview.

We also have "on the fly" interviews with bloggers and others of interest at the CPAC conference--the list includes Little Miss Attila, Lashawn Barber, Joel Miller, Ana Marie Cox (ex-Wonkette), The American Mind, Chris Nolan, Americans for Rice, and Muslims for Bush.

You can listen here (no ipod is necessary) or go to iTunes--please subscribe to boost us in the rankings. We are now #6 in Talk Radio. Thanks!

Oh, and if you want a low-bandwidth version for dialup, it's here!

As always, any comments and suggestions are welcome!

Daycare, Social Skills and Cognitive Development

A number of readers have emailed me to comment on the recent studies on the pitfalls of daycare on the development of children. One such British article points out that nurseries harm small children--Note that these daycares are run as part of a government involved program:

Steve Biddulph, whose books have sold more than 4m copies worldwide, says that instead of subsidising nurseries, which do a “second-rate” job, the government should put in place policies to enable mothers to stay at home with their babies. The advice signals a reversal of views for Biddulph, an Australian with more than 20 years’ experience as a therapist, whose previous bestsellers
include Raising Boys and Raising Girls.

In his new book Biddulph will admit he has changed his mind because of growing evidence of increased aggression, antisocial behaviour and other problems among children who have spent a large part of their infancy being cared for away from home.

He argues that such children may have problems developing close relationships later.

In another Canadian study on Quebec's Universal Childcare Program, the researchers found that the children in universal daycare were worse off on every measure when compared to other children, which included fighting more and being aggressive(Hat Tip to J W Well's blog for pointing out this study).

My instincts tell me that something is amiss in these studies--they both look at other countries with subsidized/government-involved childcare. I wonder how government involvement and the quality of caregiving play a part in the negative outcomes of these studies? What about American daycares that are private--what do those outcomes look like? I took a look at a recent study in the American Psychologist this month that summarizes findings from the National Institute of Child Health and the Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development.

Briefly, the study recruited participants from hospitals in various states and compared children who had exclusive maternal care with children who experienced at least some child care (with others or in a daycare center) on a variety of developmental outcomes. The researchers also examined child-care characteristics and included only children observed in their child-care setting. What did they find?

In the maternal vs. child-care kids, use of child care was not significantly related to cognitive outcomes at 15, 36,or 54 months or to social or peer outcomes at any age. Not surprisingly, the quality of the child care was important. Children in the study who experienced higher quality child care scored modestly higher on all cognitive measures, most ratings of social outcomes, and some peer outcomes. Now for the bad news--in comparing kids with high and low hours of child care per week--caregivers tended to report more problem behaviors and fewer social skills at 54 months when children had more hours of child care. Those with center care compared to those without center care had better cognitive and language outcomes and more positive peer interactions but lower ratings of social skills by the caregiver and more problem behaviors at 36 months.

So, what does this mean? Child-care quality (sensitive and responsive caregiving as well as cognitive and language stimulation) is important! And if you decide to use a daycare, research the place very thoroughly and make sure the caregivers are attentive to your child and talk to him or her. Pop in unexpectedly and see how the place runs when no one is really watching.

Quantity of child care--hours per week--is a predictor of social functioning as children who spent more time in child care displayed more negative behavior at 54 months. So, perhaps limiting some hours in day care centers for very young children may be a possibility if one of the parents can put in more time until the child is older. But, in this study, exclusive maternal care was not related to better or worse outcomes for children--so overall, children may not be worse off.

I am concerned with the problem behaviors displayed by some kids with full time child care experiences--the reason is that in elementary school, some may be harder to manange and the other children may try to imitate them and increase problems in the classroom. My advice would be to get to know the personality of your child. For my daughter, fewer social skills was not a problem, but if you have a child who is more aggressive, temperamental or hard to control, it might be better to restrict the number of hours in daycare. Overall, there are no easy solutions to the child care problem and each family will have to decide what is right for them until further research can clarify some of these issues.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Jason Foundation

The Jason Foundation is a private charity dedicated to educating the public on youth and suicide. Phil Fulmer, our football coach at the University of Tennessee, became involved with the foundation after the death of Jason Flatt, a young athlete:

Jason Flatt: 3/20/81 – 7/16/97
In 1997, The Jason Foundation was founded in response to a family and friends loss of Jason Flatt - Age 16 - to the tragedy of youth suicide. JFI’s mission is to provide information, tools, and resources to confront the “silent epidemic” and prevent the tragedy of youth suicide.

Jason's father found him the day he killed himself:

Jason was my youngest son. He was an average 16-year old. He got mostly B’s on his report card, and he loved sports. Especially football. He was active in a youth group and he had a lot of friends. Jason was the one who was always up for going places and trying new things. From all son loved life.

But on July 16, 1997, he placed a .38 caliber pistol to his head and pulled the trigger. I was the one who opened the door to his room and stumbled over his body. Believe me when I say, there are no words to describe that kind of pain.

I helped with a news segment on Volunteer TV in Knoxville which aired tonight to help the Knoxville area become more aware of youth suicide--I wish they would have mentioned more about the high rate of boy's suicides but at least they are pushing the idea that youth suicide is a concern. Here is a short print version of the segment.

Update: Video of this segment on teen suicide is now up. Click here and then again to the left where you see a red camera icon.

Monday, February 13, 2006

PC Alternative Weeklies

Do you have a PC alternative weekly paper in your area? We do here in Knoxville--it's called the Metro Pulse and while it can sometimes have some articles of interest to me, I have pretty much given up on reading it. Why? The tone of the paper has gotten steadily more PC over the past few years and I am frequently confronted with insulting and belittling editorials and features that paint suburbanites as bourgeois capitalists, Americans as rubes, and criminals as just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. For example, in a cover feature on Greg Thompson, an African American male who murdered an innocent woman, the Metro Pulse had a cover story entitled "Not Crazy Enough."

The story reports that Greg Thompson is psychotic but the state says he's sane enough to execute. I have no issue with the paper discussing the death penalty but in addition to implying that this murderer was in the wrong place at the wrong time, they paint his victim's innocence as almost the reason that the all-white jury gave him the death penalty. The victim, Brenda Lane, was a newlywed, church secretary, soloist in the church choir and the 1982 Outstanding Woman of Bedford County. Thompson forced Lane at knifepoint from a Wal-mart parking lot to a soybean field where, "on impulse," he stabbed her with a rusty knife, stole her car and left her to die. The lawmen who found her say they can remember the horror on her face when they found her body. Where in the hell does "wrong place at the wrong time" come into play in that gruesome senario? I guess if you are African American and you kill a white woman with a church going impeccable background, you should be found innocent just based on the bourgeois credentials of your victim.

And if I thought the Metro Pulse was PC, it looks fair and balanced compared to the Critical Moment, an alternative weekly in Ann Arbor, Michigan. On the back of a recent issue that a reader sent me, there is a large stenciled template (done by this outfit) of Tookie Williams, the four-time murderer on the back page with a caption, "No More Death Penalty" and "No More Prisons."

Huh, "no more prisons?" What do you propose we do with murderers, thieves, and crooks? or to use language you can understand, what do you propose we do with the CEO's of Enron, etc.? Send a social worker to their house to help them feel the pain for what they did?"

I could go on with various weeklies and the propaganda they spout (and I accept their right to put such nonsense out there) but I don't have to like it or read it. Do you have an alternative weekly in your neck of the woods that you read or ignore? Let me know or provide a link in the comment section so we can see what other gems are out there to keep us enlightened on the shortcomings of capitalism, the war, suburban life, our terrible prison systems that entrap murderers and thieves, and American Imperialism.

Raising Nonviolent Girls

Kudos to Child magazine for having a small but worthwhile blurb about how to raise a nonviolent girl. The blurb mentions the work of James Garbarino, author of See Jane Hit : Why Girls Are Growing More Violent and What We Can Do About It,a new book coming out this week. Girls are getting meaner and Garbarino, professor of psychology at Loyola University Chicago, says that "positive social changes are behind the emerging aggressiveness." "Girls today are taught to communicate their feelings rather than bottle them up and feel victimized, and are encouraged to express themselves physically in sports. While these are positive developments, they can have negative side effects", says Dr. Garbarino who offers these violence-prevention tips:

Treat girls equally. Research has shown that boys who are taught the boundaries of being physically aggressive are less violent. Through roughhousing and playing sports, parents can also teach girls ways to be aggressive that aren't harmful to themselves or others. Explain to them that "it's okay to be aggressive during soccer, but you can't punch people in the nose or pull their hair. You have to follow the rules."

Develop character. Teach your child to identify her emotions and recognize how others feel. Remind her that while it's okay to speak up for herself, it's never okay to hurt others with words.

Limit exposure to violence. Protect kids from the violence shown in the media. In recent years, TV shows and video games have been flooded with female action stars--which can send the wrong message.

Well, I don't agree fully with all of these points--unlike Dr. Garbarino, I do not think it has been that positive a social change for girls to be told they are victims who have to communicate every feeling of displeasure. If you see yourself as a victim, it is easy to believe you cannot hurt others, even when you punch, hit and verbally abuse people. I think that some exposure to aggressive video games can be okay--but it would be best if the star is not seen as a hero who is cruel to others and rewarded. But, on a positive note, maybe parents and society will take heed from Garbarino's book and quit it with the "You Go Girl" culture. Because, sometimes, convincing a girl that she is a victim and that her only recourse is to spit venom can backfire into her becoming a full-grown bully--or the next Maureen Dowd.