Stopping Mean Talk

by James Lehman,MSW


We all know that a sense of humor is vital. Kids learn humor from their parents, their peers, their teachers, and from T.V. They absorb it and take it all in and then they experiment. One of the things with which they experiment is how they talk to their parents. When they’re feeling hostile, lonely, depressed, or upset, one of the things they try to do is give a smart answer or sarcastic joke. There’s so much of this type of behavior on T.V. One guy says something and the other guy gives a rude response. It’s very much a part of our culture. Kids learn to mimic that kind of communication from an early age because they think it’s cool.

Kids also have peers around them using sarcastic and mean language. They pick up on that because they’re afraid that they’re going to be the next target. Often, children manage by using that humor themselves. It’s similar to a child who’s afraid of being bullied—so he becomes a bully himself. Much of this reaction and attitude is fear-based. I personally think it’s good for parents to adopt a philosophy of, “This is our home and this is the way we talk to each other. I don’t care what your friends said at school. I don’t care what your brother said in the parking lot. I’m telling you, in this home, this is how we talk to each other.” Lay that out for your kids so they understand that there’s an “inside” and an “outside.” Kids often don’t really comprehend the concept of there being an inside, which is your home, and an outside, which is the world. I think you can explain this to your child by saying, “When you’re inside, you have to follow certain rules and expectations. That’s your responsibility. If not, there will be consequences. If you’re outside, and you get yourself into trouble, then we’ll deal with that when the time comes. But at home, this is the way you need to act.”

How to Respond to: “I Was Just Kidding!”
When your child responds to your reprimand or someone being upset with “I was just kidding,” I think you should say, “What you’re saying is hurtful. I need you to stop.” If he doesn’t stop, give him a consequence. I think an effective one is to take away two hours of phone or computer time (or whatever it is your child values) and build up from there. You can set it up by saying, “If you’re able to talk in a nice way to people for the next two hours, you get your phone back.”

If your child lies and then says, “I was kidding,” you can say, “Well, you’re going to get consequences for that lie. Don’t kid about the truth.”

Young Kids:
When your child is young, up until the age of six or so, you can just correct them when they’re joking in an inappropriate way. The kind of thing you would say to a young child is, “We don’t joke by saying hurtful things. And that was hurtful.”  If your child says it again, you should go ahead and give him a consequence. If your younger child uses a curse word, I also teach parents to say, “That’s a hurtful word. Don’t say it.” That way, you’re setting those limits and training him from an early age.

When kids are in early adolescence, they may develop a much more challenging way of talking to you. At that age, they’re testing adult authority and they’re pushing limits. One of the ways they push the limits is through speech. Simply put, they want to see what they can get away with. I think parents have to be very, very responsive to that. If you let your child get away with a hurtful remark once, even if they’re “joking,” watch out—it’s much harder to deal with once they turn it into a habit.

I think if your child says something inappropriate and then he says he’s only kidding, you have to make it clear that it’s not going to fly. You can say, “We don’t kid that way. If you say hurtful things when you’re kidding, you’re going to be held responsible for them. There’s no excuse for verbal abuse.”

If you’re not sure if what your child is saying is hurtful, I think you should ask him point blank, “What did you just say?”  Speak very seriously, so your child knows you’re listening. If his comment is not way off-color or hurtful, you can say, “Oh, all right, that is funny.”  But if it is, I think you should say, “Listen, that’s a hurtful thing to say and it’s not funny. You know what we said about joking in a mean way.” And then give him a consequence.

Is this kind of behavior part of adolescence?  Absolutely. So is calling a parent by their first name instead of “Mom” and “Dad.”  These are all ways your child tests you and challenges your authority. Personally, I think it’s important to be called “Mom” and “Dad” because that’s your role as a parent. Think of it this way: your child doesn’t know how to relate to Tommy and Betty—he knows how to relate to Mom and Dad. Your title as a parent gives you authority and status. Kids will often try to test the limits by taking away your title, but I think it’s a mistake to go along with that.

Talk to Your Child about the Difference between Joking and Hurtful Language
I think it’s a good idea to talk to your child about the difference between joking and being hurtful—especially if you’re going to start calling them out on their language. Call them into the room and say, “That was a hurtful way to say what you said, and I don’t like it. Can you think of a different way to say it?”

Also, catch your child when they’re being good. If they make a funny joke, say, “See, that was really funny and appropriate. I really appreciate that.” Whenever you can, catch your child being good.

If you have a child who’s gotten a lot of attention and laughs for being smart alecky and wisecracking in a hurtful way and you want to put a stop to it, I also think you need to talk to them about what they’re doing. Sit down with your child when things are going well—not when there’s a crisis or when he’s angry. If your child is sitting in the living room, sit down next to him. I would tell him that you’ve decided that you find certain things offensive and you want to talk to him about it. And then you say, “The jokes that you make, even though you say you’re only kidding, are really hurtful. And as of today, you have to stop being hurtful and sarcastic to others. If you don’t, you’re going to be held responsible for that.” Give your child room to discuss what you’ve just told him by saying, “Do you have any questions? Would you like an example? Do you understand what I mean?”  Give examples. Write some things down ahead of time.

I recommend that whenever you talk with your child, write down what you want to say on an index card in simple sentences so you don’t get distracted. If he’s resistant or explosive, you can say, “All right, well you have no video game privileges until you’re ready to talk about this.”

I know some parents have children with behavioral or social problems who have learned to use humor to deflect or compensate for their lack of social or problem-solving skills. I’ve met many kids like that, and I was that kind of child myself. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter to you why he does it. That’s like saying, “He steals because he doesn’t have anything.” Or, “He lies because he’s afraid.” That doesn’t matter; it’s an excuse. Instead, we stop the behavior. We challenge it, we teach our kids other things, and we eliminate it— with no excuses.

Online/Texting Lingo

In an attempt to help parents better monitor their children’s online/texting activity, the following list of abbreviations and acronyms is provided by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children:


14AA41 one for all and all for one

1-D-R I wonder

121 one to one

143 I love you

411 information

4ever forever

86 over

AAF as a friend

AAK alive and kicking

AAMOF as a matter of fact

AAR at any rate

AAS alive and smiling

AATK always at the keyboard

ABT2 about to

AFAIK as far as I know

AFK away from keyboard

AFN that’s all for now

AKA also known as

AISI as I see it

ARE acronym-rich environment

ALOL actually laughing out loud

AND any day now

AOTA all of the above

ASAP as soon as possible

A/S/L? age, sex, location

A/S/L/M/H? age, sex, location, music, hobbies

AYSOS are you stupid or something

AYTMTB and you are telling me this because

B4 before

B4N bye for now

BAG busting a gut

BAK back at the keyboard

BBBG bye bye be good

BBIAB be back in a bit

BBIAF be back in a few

BBIAS be back in a sec

BBL be back later

BBML be back much later

BBN bye bye now

BBS be back soon

BBSL be back sooner or later

BCNU I’ll be seeing you

BD big deal

BEG big evil grin

BF boyfriend

BFF best friends forever

BFN bye for now

BG big grin

BIOYN blow it out your nose

BKA better known as

BL belly laughing

BR best regards

BRB be right back

BRH Be Right Here

BRT be right there

BTA but then again

BTHOOM beats the heck out of me

Btw between you and me

BTW by the way

BWL bursting with laughter

BWO black/white/other

BWTHDIK but what the heck do I know

BYKT but you knew that

CB chat brat

C&G chuckle & grin

CID crying in disgrace

CMF count my fingers

CNP continued (in my) next post

CP chat post

CRBT crying real big tears

CRTLA can’t remember the three letter acronym

CSG chuckle, snicker, grin

CSL can’t stop laughing

CU see you

CUL or CUL8ER see you later

CUNS see you in school

CUOL see you online

CUZ because

CWYL chat with you later

CYA see ya

CY calm yourself

CYL see you later

CYO see you online

CYT see you tomorrow

DBEYR don’t believe everything you read

DEGT don’t even go there

DETI don’t even think about it

DF dear friend

DGA don’t go anywhere

DGT don’t go there

DH dear Hubby

DHYB don’t Hold Your Breath

DIKU do I know you?

DIY do it yourself

DKDC don’t know don’t care

DL dead link

DLTBBB don’t let the bed bugs bite

DLTM don’t lie to me

DMI don’t mention it

DNC does not compute

DQMOT don’t quote me on this

DUST did you see that

DYFM dude you fascinate me

DYJHIW don’t you just hate it when

E123 easy as 123

EAK eating at Keyboard

EG evil grin

EL evil Laugh

EM? excuse me?

EMA what is your E-mail address

EMFBI excuse me for butting in

EOM end of message

EOT end of thread

EZ easy

F2F face to face

FAQ frequently asked question(s)

FAWC for anyone who cares

FC fingers crossed

FISH first in, still here

FITB fill in the blanks

FMTYEWTK far more than you ever wanted to know

FOAF friend of a friend

FOCL falling off chair laughing

FOFL falling on floor laughing

FOMCL falling off my chair laughing

FTBOMH from the bottom of my heart

FUBAR fouled up beyond all repairs

FUD fear, uncertainty, and doubt

FWIW for what it’s worth

FYI for your information

GA go aheadw

GAL get a life

GD&R grinning, ducking, & running

GF girlfriend

GFN gone for now

GGOH got to get out of here

GIWIST gee, I wish I’d said that

GL good luck

GMBO giggling my butt off

GMTA great minds think alike

GOL giggling out loud

GR&D grinning, running, and ducking

GR got to run

GRRRR growling

GTR got to run

GTRM going to read mail

GTSY glad to see you

H&K hug and kiss

HA hello again

HAGD have a good day

HAGD have a great day

HAGN have a good night

HB hurry back

HHIS hanging head in shame

HTH hope this helps

HHO1/2K ha ha only half kidding

HHOK ha ha only joking

HHOS ha ha only being serious

IAC in any case

IAE in any event

IANAC I am not a crook

IANAL I am not a lawyer (but)

IB I’m back

IBTD I beg to differ

IC I see

ICBW I could be wrong

ID10T idiot

IDGI I don’t get it

IDK I don’t know

IDKY I don’t know you

IDTS I don’t think so

IFAB I found a bug

IGTP I get the point

IHA I hate acronyms

IHAIM I have another instant message

IHNO I have no opinion

IIRC if I remember correctly

IIWM if it were me

ILU I love you

IM instant message

IMHO in my humble opinion

IMing chatting with someone online

IMNSHO in my not so humble opinion

IMO in my opinion

IMS I am sorry

INMP it’s not my problem

IOH i’m outta here

IOW in other words

IPN I’m posting naked

IRL in real life

ISS I said so

IWALU I will always love you

IYKWIMAITYD if you know what I mean and I think you do

IYKWIM if you know what I mean

IYO in your opinion

IYSS if you say so

IYSWIM if you see what I mean

J/C just checking

JAS just a sec

JBOD just a bunch of disks

JIC just in case

JK just kidding

JM2C just my two cents

JMO just my opinion

JT just teasing

JTLYK just to let you know

JW just wondering

K okay

KEWL cool

KFY kiss for you

KIR keep it real

KIT keep in touch

KOC kiss on cheek

KOL kiss on lips

KWIM know what I mean?

L2M listening to music

L8R later

LD later, dude

LDR long distance relationship

LHM lord help me

LHU lord help us

LLTA lots and lots of thunderous applause

LMIRL let’s meet in real life

LMSO laughing my socks off

LOL laughing out loud

LSV language, sex, violence

LSHMBB laughing so hard my belly is bouncing

LSHMBH laughing so hard my belly hurts

LTM laugh to myself

LTNS long time, no see

LTR long term relationship

LTS laughing to self

LULAB love you like a brother

LULAS love you like a sister

LUWAMH love you with all my heart

LY love you

LYL love you lots

M/F male or female

M8 mate or mates

MA mature audience

MHBFY my heart bleeds for you

MIHAP may I have your attention please

MKOP my kind of place

MOOS member of the opposite sex

MOSS member of same sex

MOTOS member of the opposite sex

MSG message

MTF more to follow

MTFBWY may the force be with you

MUSM miss you so much

N1 nice one

N2M not to mention

NADT not a darn thing

NAZ name, address, zip

NBD no big deal

N-E-1 ER anyone here?

NE1 anyone

N-E-1 anyone

NG new game

NIMBY not in my back yard

NM never mind

NOYB not of your business

NP nosy parents

N/P no problem

NRN no reply necessary

NTK nice to know

NT no thanks

NUFF enough said

NW no way!

OBTW oh by the way

OF old fart

OIC oh I see

OL old lady

OLL online love

OM old man

OMDB over my dead body

OMG oh my god

ONNA oh no, not again

OT off topic

OTF off the floor

OTH off the hook

OTOH on the other hand

OTP On the phone

OTTOMH off the top of my head

OTW on the way

P2P peer to peer

P911 my parents are coming!

PA parent alert

PAL parents are listening

PANB parents are nearby

PANS pretty awesome new stuff

PAW parents are watching

PDA public display of affection

PDS please don’t shoot

Peeps people

PIR parent in room

PLZ please

PM private message

PMJI pardon me for jumping in

PMFJIB pardon me for jumping in but….

PMP peed my pants

PO piss off

POAHF put on a happy face

POS parent over shoulder

POTS plain old telephone service

POV point of view

PPL people

PU that stinks

P-ZA pizza

QL quit laughing

QSL reply

QSO conversation

QT cutie

R&R rest and relaxation

R/t real time

RBAY right back at ya

RBTL read between the lines

RL real life

RLF real life friend

RMLB read my lips baby

RMMM read my mail man

ROL raffing out loud

ROFL rolling on floor laughing

ROTFL rolling on the floor laughing

RPG role playing games

RSN real soon now

RTBS reason to be single

RTFM read the flipping manual

RU are you?

RUMORF are you male or female?

RUUP4IT are you up for it?

RX regards

S4L spam for life

SCNR sorry, could not resist

SED said enough darling

SEP somebody’s else’s problem

SETE smiling ear to ear

SF surfer friendly

SFETE smiling from ear to ear

SFX sound effects

SH same here

SHCOON shoot hot coffee out of nose

SHID slaps head in disgust

SITD still in the dark

SLIRK smart little rich kid

SMAIM send me an instant message

SMEM send me an E-mail

SN screen name

SNERT snot nosed egotistical rude teenager

SO significant other

SOHF sense of humor failure

SOMY sick of me yet?

SOT short of time

SOTMG short of time, must go

SPST same place same time

STR8 straight

STW search the web

STYS speak to you soon

SU shut up

SUP or WU what’s up

SUYF shut up you fool

SWAK sealed with a kiss

SWALK sealed with a loving kiss

SWDY so what do you think?

SWL screaming with laughter

SYL see you later

SYS see you soon

TA thanks again

TAFN that’s all for now

TAS taking a shower

TAW teachers are watching

TCOB taking care of business

TCOY take care of yourself

TFH thread from hell

TFX traffic

TGIF thank God it’s Friday

THX thanks

TIA thanks in advance

TIAIL I think I am in love

TIC tongue in cheek

TILII tell it like it is

TLK2UL8R talk to you later

TM trust me

TMI too much information

TNT ‘till next time

TOM tomorrow

TOPCA ‘til our paths cross again

TOT tons of time

TOY thinking of you

TPS that’s pretty stupid

TPTB the powers that be

TRDMF tears running down my face

TTFN ta ta for now

TTG time to go

TTT thought that too

TTTT these things take time

TTYL talk to you later

TU thank you

TWHAB this won’t hurt a bit

TWIWI that was interesting wasn’t it?

TYVM thank you very much

U-L? you will?

UV unpleasant visual

UW you’re welcome

VBG very big grin

VBS very big smile

VEG very evil grin

VSF very sad face

WAD without a doubt

WAI what an idiot

WB welcome back or write back

WC welcome

WC who cares?

WDALYIC who died and left you in charge?

WDYS what did you say?

WDYT what do you think?

W/E whatever

WEG wicked evil grin

WEU what’s eating you?

WFM works for me

WIBNI wouldn’t it be nice if

WT? what the or who the

WTG way to go

WTGP want to go private?

WTH what/who the heck

WUF where are you from?

WWJD what would Jesus do?

WWY where were you?

WYCM will you call me?

WYRN what’s your real name?

WYSIWYG what you see is what you get

WYSLPG what you see looks pretty good

X-1-10 exciting

XME excuse me

XOXO hugs and kisses

YAA yet another acronym

YBS you’ll be sorry

YDKM you don’t know me

YG young gentleman

YGBK you gotta be kiddin’

YHM you have mail

YKW? you know what?

YNK you never know

YL young lady

YM young man

YOYO you’re on your own

YR yeah right

YSYD yeah, sure you do

YS you stinker

YTTT you telling the truth?

YVW you’re very welcome

YWIA you’re welcome in advance

YW you’re Welcome

YYSSW yeah, yeah, sure, sure, whatever

ZZ Sleeping, Bored, Tired

Understanding what Parental Alienation Syndrome Is

From an early age, Anne was taught by her mother to fear her father. Behind his back, her mom warned that he was unpredictable and dangerous; any time he’d invite her to do anything—a walk in the woods, a trip to the art store—she would craft an excuse not to go. “I was under the impression that he was crazy, that at any moment he could just pop and do something violent to hurt me,” says Anne, who prefers that only her middle name be used to guard her family’s privacy. Typical of a phenomenon some mental-health experts now label “parental alienation,” her view of him became so negative, she says, that her mother persuaded her to lie during a custody hearing when the couple divorced. Then 14, she told the judge that her dad was physically abusive. Was he? “No,” she says. “But I was convinced that he would [be].” After her mother won custody, Anne all but severed contact with her father for years.

Click here to find out more!

If a growing faction of the mental-health community has its way, Anne’s experience will one day soon be an actual diagnosis. The concept of parental alienation, which is highly controversial, is being described as one in which children strongly attach to one parent and reject the other in the false belief that he or she is bad or dangerous. “It’s heartbreaking,” says William Bernet, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, “to have your 10-year-old suddenly, in a matter of weeks, go from loving you and hiking with you…to saying you’re a horrible, ugly person.” These aren’t kids who simply prefer one parent over the other, he says. That’s normal. These kids doggedly resist contact with a parent, sometimes permanently, out of an irrational hate or fear.

Bernet is leading an effort to add “parental alienation” to the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the American Psychiatric Association’s “bible” of diagnoses, scheduled for 2012. He and some 50 contributing authors from 10 countries will make their case in the American Journal of Family Therapy early next year. Inclusion, says Bernet, would spur insurance coverage, stimulate more systematic research, lend credence to a charge of parental alienation in court, and raise the odds that children would get timely treatment.

But many experts balk at labeling the phenomenon an official disorder. “I really get concerned about spreading the definition of mental illness too wide,” says Elissa Benedek, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Ann Arbor, Mich., and a past president of the APA. There’s no question in her mind that kids become alienated from a loving parent in many divorces with little or no justification, and she’s seen plenty of kids kick and scream all the way to the car when visitation is enforced. But, she says, “this is not a mentally ill child.”

The phenomenon has been described for many decades, but it became a cause célèbre in 1985, when Richard Gardner, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, coined the term “parental alienation syndrome.” As more dads fought fiercely for joint custody, he observed a surge in the number of children suffering from a distinct cluster of symptoms, including a “campaign of denigration” against one parent that sometimes included a false sex-abuse accusation and automatic parroting of the other parent’s views.

But sound research supporting a medical label is scant, critics say. The American Psychological Association has issued a statement that “there is no evidence within the psychological literature of a diagnosable parental alienation syndrome.” What’s more, concern has grown that “PAS” could be invoked by an abusive parent to gain rights to a child who has good reason to refuse contact, says Janet Johnston, a clinical sociologist and justice studies professor at San Jose State University who has studied parental alienation. In teens, she notes, parental rejection might be a developmentally normal response. Anecdotal reports have surfaced that some kids labeled as “alienated” have become suicidal when courts have ordered a change of custody to the “hated” parent, she says.

In any case, divorcing parents should be aware that hostilities may seriously harm the kids. Sometimes manipulation is blatant, as with parents who conceal phone calls, gifts, or letters, then use the “lack of contact” as proof that the other parent doesn’t love the child. Sometimes the influence is more subtle (“I’m sure nothing bad will happen to you at Mommy’s house”) or even unintentional (“I’ve put a cellphone in your suitcase. Call when everyone’s asleep to tell me you’re OK”). It’s important to shield kids from harmful communication, says Richard Warshak, a clinical professor of psychology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and author of Divorce Poison. If something potentially upsetting about an ex must be conveyed, he advises imagining how you would have handled the conversation while happily married; how would you have explained Mom’s depression, say?

“The long-term implications [of alienation] are pretty severe,” says Amy Baker, director of research at the Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection in New York and a contributing author of Bernet’s proposal. In a study culminating in a 2007 book, Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome, she interviewed 40 “survivors” and found that many were depressed, guilt ridden, and filled with self-loathing. Kids develop identity through relationships with both their parents, she says. When they are told one is no good, they believe, “I’m half no good.”

Now 23, divorced, and a parent herself, Anne has recognized only recently that she was manipulated, that her long-held view of her father isn’t accurate. They live 2,000 miles apart but now try to speak daily. “I’ve missed out on a great friendship with my dad,” she says. “It hurts.”

source: Lindsay Lyon

Borderline Personality in Teens

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a complex psychiatric disorder characterized by unstable personal relationships, intense anger, feelings of emptiness, and fears of abandonment. The most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR) allows BPD to be diagnosed in adolescents when maladaptive traits have been present for at least 1 year, are persistent and all-encompassing, and are not likely to be limited to a developmental stage or an episode of an Axis I disorder. However, the personality of adolescents is still developing; therefore, the diagnosis of BPD should be made with great care in this population.

Borderline pathology in children refers to a syndrome characterized by a combination of disruptive behavioral problems, mood and anxiety symptoms, and cognitive symptoms. Follow-up studies of these children show that they have a tendency to develop a wide range of personality disorders, not just BPD. Although borderline pathology in childhood is not necessarily a precursor to BPD in adulthood, evidence suggests that both have strikingly similar risk factors, which may indicate a common etiology. These risk factors include family environments characterized by trauma, neglect, and/or separation; exposure to sexual and physical abuse; and serious parental psychopathology, such as antisocial personality disorder and substance abuse.

Characteristics of BPD

Adolescents with BPD have disturbed thinking patterns and always seem to be in crisis. They can be rational and calm one moment, and then explode into inappropriate anger in response to some perceived rejection or criticism the next. The disorder occurs in all races, is prevalent in females (female-to-male ratios as high as 4:1), and typically presents by late adolescence.[4] Signs and symptoms of BPD may include significant fear of real or imagined abandonment; intense and unstable relationships that vacillate between extreme idealization and devaluation; markedly and persistently unstable self-image; significant and potentially self-damaging impulsivity (spending, sex, binge eating, gambling, substance abuse, and reckless driving); repeated suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats; self-mutilation (carving, burning, cutting, branding, picking and pulling at skin and hair, biting, and excessive tattooing and body piercing); affective instability and significant reactivity of mood (intense dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety that lasts for a few hours or days); persistent feelings of emptiness; inappropriate anger or trouble controlling anger; and temporary, stress-related severe dissociative symptoms or paranoid ideation.[1]

Comorbidities are common with BPD. These disorders, which include mood disorders, substance-related disorders, eating disorders (notably, bulimia), posttraumatic stress disorder, other anxiety disorders, dissociative identity disorder, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, can complicate both diagnosis and treatment. Depression is particularly common in patients with BPD. Other personality disorders have also been documented as comorbid with BPD. A study of 138 adolescents and 117 adults with BPD showed a significant occurrence of schizotypal and passive-aggressive personality disorders in the adolescent group and antisocial personality disorder in the adult group. The researchers suggested that BPD may represent a more diffuse range of psychopathology in adolescents than adults, because adults had comorbidity only with another Cluster B disorder, whereas adolescent comorbidity encompassed aspects of Clusters A and C. (A brief explanation of the clustering system in personality disorders is available at the National Mental Health Association Web site.

Treatment Issues

Due to the complex nature of this disorder, therapists should consider the following when developing a treatment plan:

  • Chronic depression: Depression results from ongoing feelings of abandonment. Although the depression of BPD is intense and pervasive, the NPP must rule out major depression or consider it as a comorbid disorder.
  • Inability to be alone: Chronic fear of abandonment also leads to these adolescents having little tolerance for being alone. This results in a constant search for companionship, no matter how unsatisfying.
  • Clinging and distancing: Relationships tend to be disruptive due to the adolescents’ alternating clinging and distancing behaviors. When clinging, they may exhibit dependent, helpless, childlike behaviors. They over-idealize the person they want to spend all their time with, constantly seeking that person out for reassurance. When they cannot be with their chosen person, they exhibit acting-out behaviors, such as temper tantrums and self-mutilation. Distancing is characterized by anger, hostility, and devaluation, usually arising from discomfort with closeness.
  • Splitting: Splitting arises from the adolescents’ inability to achieve object constancy and is the primary defense mechanism in BPD. They view all people, including themselves, as either all good or all bad. If the therapist is supportive, the therapist will be idealized.
  • Manipulation: Separation fears are so intense that these adolescents become masters of manipulation. They will do just about anything to achieve relief from their separation anxiety, but their most common ploy is to play one individual against another.
  • Self-destructive behaviors: Self-mutilation is characteristic of BPD. The behaviors are typically manipulative gestures, but some acts can prove fatal. Suicide attempts are not uncommon and usually take place in relatively safe places, such as swallowing pills at home while reporting the deed to another person on the telephone. Other self-destructive behaviors include cutting and burning (eraser burns, a burn like lesion resulting from rubbing the skin with a pencil eraser, are common in adolescents).
  • Impulsivity: Poor impulse control can lead to substance abuse, binge eating, reckless driving, sexual promiscuity, excessive spending, or gambling. These behaviors can occur in response to real or perceived abandonment.


Treatment studies on adolescents with BPD are virtually nonexistent. Although treatments effective in adults would be expected to be efficacious, research that demonstrates this efficacy is needed. Overall, treatment planning should address BPD, as well as any existing comorbid disorders, and must be flexible to respond to the changing characteristics of the adolescent over time. The therapist, adolescent, and family need to realize that treatment will take an extended amount of time.

Psychotherapy is the primary treatment of BPD. Extensive therapy is required to attain and maintain lasting improvement in their personality, interpersonal problems, and overall functioning. Long-term dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) appears to be the most effective. DBT is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that focuses on coping skills, so patients learn to better control their emotions and behaviors. This may be complemented with symptomatic psychopharmacology to address affective instability, impulsivity, psychotic-like symptoms, and self-destructive behavior. Psychoanalytic/psychodynamic therapies have also proven effective.

Therapists can use guidelines on the treatment of BPD from the American Academy of Psychiatry, although they need to realize that these recommendations are not adolescent-specific:

  • Consider the treatment setting to ensure that outpatient treatment is warranted over hospitalization:
    • Partial hospitalization — dangerous impulsive behavior, deteriorating clinical picture, complex comorbidities, symptoms unresponsive to outpatient therapy;
    • Brief inpatient hospitalization — serious suicidal ideation or attempt, imminent danger to others, symptoms unresponsive to partial hospitalization; and
    • Extended inpatient hospitalization — persistent suicidal ideation, nonadherence to other therapies, life-threatening comorbid Axis I disorder, continued risk of assaultive behavior, severe symptoms that interfere with living.
  • Establish a strong therapeutic alliance that includes empathic validation of the patient’s suffering and experience.
  • Coordinate and collaborate with the treatment team. Be aware of and manage splitting problems, and assist the adolescent in integrating both positive and negative aspects of self and others.
  • Provide education to the adolescent and the family on BPD.
  • Manage intense feelings produced by both the patient and the therapist. The use of supervision and consultation is strongly recommended.
  • Help patient take responsibility for his/her own actions, and promote reflective rather than impulsive behaviors.
  • Consider pharmacologic treatment for selected symptoms, but realize that data are lacking on their use with adolescents, and be aware of the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) warning on suicidality in children and adolescents treated with antidepressants:
    • Affective symptoms: Initially treat with a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), the treatment of choice for disinhibited anger occurring with affective symptoms. Mood stabilizers (lithium, valproate, and carbamazepine) are a second-line or augmentation treatment.
    • Impulsive behaviors: SSRIs are the treatment of choice. Valproate, carbamazepine, and atypical neuroleptics are also used, despite limited data.
    • Cognitive-perceptual symptoms: Low-dose neuroleptics are the treatment of choice, but clozapine may be useful for patients with severe, refractory psychotic-like symptoms.
  • Treat substance abuse. Drug counseling may be warranted.
  • Address violent and antisocial behaviors. Monitor carefully for impulsive and violent behavior because these are hard to predict. Address abandonment and rejection issues. Arrange for appropriate coverage when away; carefully communicate this to the adolescent; and document it. Take action to protect self and others if the patient makes threats.
  • Address trauma and posttraumatic issues and dissociative (depersonalization, derealization, and loss of reality testing) features.
  • Explore and address psychosocial stressors. Most adolescents with BPD are very sensitive to psychosocial stressors, particularly interpersonal ones.
  • Consider cultural factors. Avoid cultural bias related to sexual behavior, emotional expression, and impulsivity.

Managing adolescents with BPD can be challenging at best. But with careful planning, collaboration, and supervision, psychotherapy can assist these adolescents in reaching their optimal potential.

source: Mary E. Muscari, PhD

Avoidant Personality Disorder

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), avoidant personality disorder (APD) is characterized by a pervasive pattern of social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, and hypersensitivity to negative evaluation. Children who meet the criteria for APD are often described as being extremely shy, inhibited in new situations, and fearful of disapproval and social rejection. The degree of the symptoms and impairment is well beyond the trait of shyness that is present in as many as 40% of the population. Similar to other personality disorders, the condition becomes a major component of a person’s overall character and a central theme in an individual’s pattern of relating to others. Like other personality disorders, the diagnosis is rarely made in individuals younger than 18 years, even if the criteria are met. The literature regarding childhood APD is extremely limited. More information is known about social phobia (also known as social anxiety disorder) in children, which has many overlapping features with APD.   border=  border=  border=


APD is closely linked to a person’s temperament. Approximately 10% of toddlers have been found to be habitually fearful and withdrawn when exposed to new people and situations. This trait appears to be stable over time. Social anxiety is hypothesized to involve the amygdala and other areas of the brain’s limbic system, which, in affected individuals, is postulated to have a lower threshold of arousal and a more pronounced response when activated. Dysregulation in the brain’s dopamine system has also been found to be associated with adult social anxiety disorder.


United States

The frequency of APD in children is unknown because current psychiatric practice is to avoid labeling children and adolescents with personality disorders and to describe their traits instead. However, in the adult general population, the prevalence is estimated to be 2.1–2.6%.2  Among adults receiving outpatient psychiatry treatment, the rate of APD is reported to be 14.7%.


The international frequency has not been studied in children, although a twin study of young adults found an APD rate of 1.4% in men and 2.5% in women.


  • School refusal and poor performance: As many as one third of children who refuse to go to school may have significant social anxiety.
  • Conduct problems and oppositional behavior: Many children with severe social anxiety refuse to participate in social activities and may have behavioral outbursts or panic attacks when placed in a social situation.
  • Poor peer relations: Patients with APD often have few friends and often refuse social overtures as children, behavior patterns that persist through adolescence and adulthood.
  • Lack of involvement in social and nonsocial activities: Patients with APD demonstrate lower levels of participation in athletics, extracurricular activities, and hobbies than children with depression or other personality disorders.


APD is estimated to be equally common in males and females.


APD is not usually diagnosed in individuals younger than 18 years; however, most patients report an onset in childhood or adolescence, and many report continued social anxiety throughout their lives.



  • Avoidant personality disorder (APD) is a clinical diagnosis based on history provided by the child and caretakers combined with direct behavioral observation and mental status examination. According to the DSM-IV, criteria for diagnosis of APD in adults are met when a patient exhibits 4 or more of the behaviors below. No formal modification has been made for children. However, physicians should use caution when applying DSM-IV criteria, because over diagnosis is a risk in adolescents.
    • Avoids occupational activities that involve significant interpersonal contact because of fears of criticism, disapproval, or rejection (For children, the DSM-IV reference to occupational activities can apply to school. Children with APD often have marked difficulty, especially with new classes, presentations in front of the class, and less-structured times such as recess or lunch.)
    • Is unwilling to get involved with people unless certain of being liked
    • Shows restraint within intimate relationships because of the fear of being shamed or ridiculed
    • Is preoccupied with being criticized or rejected in social situations
    • Is inhibited in new interpersonal situations because of feelings of inadequacy
    • Views self as socially inept, personally unappealing, or inferior to others
    • Is unusually reluctant to take personal risks or to engage in any new activities because they may prove embarrassing
  • In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Primary Care, Child and Adolescent Version (DSM-PC), the diagnosis of APD is not used; however, social phobia is mentioned.
  • For patients with a suspected diagnosis of APD, evaluating for the presence of other psychiatric disorders, particularly major depression, substance abuse, and other anxiety disorders, is extremely important. The possibility that a fear of involvement with people is based on a history of child abuse and neglect should be investigated.
  • Because social anxiety disorders are often found in other family members, a family psychiatric history is beneficial. Treatment of parents and caretakers for their own psychiatric conditions may improve the outcome in the referred child.
  • Unlike milder forms of developmental shyness, children with APD or social anxiety disorder do not easily adjust to people in new situations.


  • No specific physical examination findings are associated with APD.
  • Assess the patient’s hearing acuity as part of a general screening.
  • ADP may be more common in patients who have disfiguring physical conditions or limiting chronic illnesses.
  • There may be an association between APD and motor impairment in children.
  • In adults, a link has been found between APD and obesity.


  • The exact cause of APD is unknown.
  • The disorder may be related to temperamental factors that are inherited. Specifically, various anxiety disorders in childhood and adolescence have been associated with a temperament characterized by behavioral inhibition, including features of being shy, fearful, and withdrawn in new situations. Components of this temperament have been identified in infants as young as 4 months.
  • Genetic factors have been hypothesized to cause APD and social phobia because both conditions are found more frequently in certain families. A recent twin study of Norwegian young adults found a 35% genetic effect for APD; the majority (83%) of these genes are also related to other personality disorders.3
  • Environmental factors also play in role in APD. Parenting behaviors, such as low parental affection or nurturing, were associated with an elevated risk of APD when these children reached adulthood.4
  • Retrospective studies of adults with APD report high levels of childhood emotional abuse (61%).5 However, physical abuse may be more closely linked with a diagnosis of another personality disorder or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • A multifactorial model of causation is likely, with genetic and environmental factors interacting from infancy in various combinations.


Author: David C Rettew, MD, Director, Pediatric Psychiatry Clinic, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics, University of Vermont College of Medicine

Parenting-A Job Description

Mother, Mom, Mommy, Mama, Ma
Father, Dad, Daddy, Dada, Pa, Pop


Long term, team players needed, for challenging
permanent work in an often chaotic environment.
Candidates must possess excellent communication
and organizational skills and be willing to work
variable hours, which will include evenings and weekends
and frequent 24 hour shifts on call.

Some overnight travel required, including trips to primitive camping
sites on rainy weekends and endless sports tournaments in far away cities! Travel expenses not reimbursed. Extensive courier duties also required.


The rest of your life.

Must be willing to be hated, at least temporarily, until someone needs $5.
Must be willing to bite tongue repeatedly.

Also, must possess the physical stamina of a pack mule and be able to go from zero to 60 mph in three seconds flat in case, this time, the screams from the backyard are not someone just crying wolf.

Must be willing to face stimulating technical challenges, such as small gadget repair, mysteriously sluggish toilets and stuck zippers.

Must screen phone calls, maintain calendars and coordinate production
of multiple homework projects. Must have ability to plan and organize social gatherings for clients of all ages and mental outlooks.

Must be willing to be indispensable one minute, an embarrassment the next.
Must handle assembly and product safety testing of a half million cheap, plastic toys, and battery operated devices.

Must always hope for the best but be prepared for the worst.
Must assume final, complete accountability for the quality of the end product.
Responsibilities also include floor maintenance and janitorial work throughout the facility.


Your job is to remain in the same position for years, without complaining, constantly retraining and updating your skills, so that those in your charge can ultimately surpass you.


None required (unfortunately).
On-the-job training offered on a continually exhausting basis.


Get this! You pay them! Offering frequent raises and bonuses…
A balloon payment is due when they turn 18 because of the
assumption that college will help them become financially independent.
When you die, you give them whatever is left.
The oddest thing about this reverse-salary scheme is that
you actually enjoy it and wish you could only do more.


While no health or dental insurance, no pension, no tuition reimbursement, no paid holidays and no stock options are offered;
this job supplies limitless opportunities for personal growth, unconditional love, and free hugs and kisses for life if you play your cards right!

Treating Headaches in Children with Hypnosis

Self-hypnosis training is an effective treatment for chronic recurrent headaches in children and adolescents, new research points out.

Advantages of self-hypnosis over pharmacotherapy in treating headaches include lower cost and the absence of side effects, according to the report in The Journal of Pediatrics for June, 2007. A number of studies have shown self-hypnosis to be a useful treatment for headaches in pediatric populations, but most have included small patient numbers.

In the present retrospective study, Dr. Daniel P. Kohen, from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and Dr. Robert Zajac, from Glencoe Regional Health Services, also in Minnesota, assessed the outcomes of 178 consecutive youths who were taught self-hypnosis to manage their headaches. At baseline, the mean subject age was 11 years old. Data from 81 girls and 63 boys were available for analysis.

The subjects were trained in self-hypnosis within 3 to 4 visits. In addition to being taught how to induce and intensify the hypnotic state, the subjects were given a choice of therapeutic hypnotic suggestions, such as “when you have a headache, let yourself imagine you are somewhere where you never have a headache, and go there.” The subjects were instructed to practice self-hypnosis at home 2 to 3 times per day.

Headache severity, frequency, and duration were assessed before, during, and after learning self-hypnosis, the report indicates.

Self-hypnosis training was associated with a drop in headache frequency from 4.5 to 1.4 per week, a fall in average intensity (12-point scale) from 10.3 to 4.7, and reduction in average duration from 23.6 to 3.0 hours (p < 0.01 for all). No side effects were seen with the intervention. Headache intensity was reduced more in children and adolescents who receive a self-hypnosis audiotape to facilitate training vs those who did not.

“Many families today are increasingly interested in complementary or alternative therapies not only for adults but also for their children,” the authors point out. “With appropriate scientific inquiry we are beginning to add validity to the mind-body connection in mainstream pediatric healthcare.”

Still, the researchers acknowledge that “prospective study and long-term follow-up of patients learning self-hypnosis for headaches or other ailments is clearly needed.”

source:J Pediatr. 2007;150:635-639.

The Stress of Attending School

Call it pressure. Call it great expectations. Whatever its name the result is the same: school stress.

It starts as soon as kindergarten. It turns play into competitive sport. It turns the joy of learning into a struggle to excel. It turns friends into social connections and charitable acts into a line on a resume.

In his 31 years of teaching, Richard L. Hall, PhD, has never seen a more stressful time. Hall is assistant headmaster of Atlanta’s Lovett School, which enrolls some 1,500 students from pre-kindergarten through high school. “It can be overwhelming,. Students are put in a position of feeling they just must not stop. They are not given a sense of support. They are put in an environment where they are not accepted for themselves but only for what they are going to achieve. All this builds stress.”

Stress and Distress

Stress itself is not a bad thing, says child psychologist Brenda Bryant, PhD, professor of human development at University of California, Davis.

“You are not really truly alive without stress,” she tells WebMD. “Being challenged makes you learn new things and keeps your brain functioning. In all the major theories of learning, there is stress. But if stress is really interfering with development, that is a problem. Sometimes with too much stress kids get immobilized.”

It’s a fine line for a parent to walk. On the one hand, a child needs age-appropriate limits and guidance. On the other hand, parents often refuse to let the learning process run its course.

“We don’t need to apply pressure to get kids to perform,” says Karen DeBord, PhD, a child development specialist for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. “Building on children’s inner motivations is most important. Instead of paying kids a dollar for an ‘A,’ tell them how proud you are of them — and say, ‘aren’t you proud of yourself?’ If they perform only for our reward, that is not the greatest thing to teach them. That makes them like the people who come to work just for the money, and always complain about the job. Who could be more of a drag to be around?”

Hall says it’s just not fair for parents to demand higher standard for their kids than they themselves face. “Parents are too often very preoccupied with seeing their children succeed and intolerant of anything other than excellence,” he says. “We as schools and we as parents need to remind ourselves that sustained excellence is not natural. It is not how we, ourselves, operate.”

If a child is incapacitated by stress, it may be necessary for the family to seek professional help from a child psychologist or child psychiatrist. But with stress as with so much else, prevention is the key.

Preventing School Stress: The Bottom Line

Here’s everything you need to know about keeping healthy stress from becoming distress:

  • Spend time with your children.
  • Give your kids a stable home environment. Negotiate home rules — including consequences for rule breaking — and stick to these rules.
  • Don’t just talk to your kids. Communicate with them. When children misbehave — and they will — try to understand their behavior instead of merely punishing it.

“Listen to your young person,” Hall says. “Acknowledge and accept his or her needs. Know that school is a long-term process. One immediate success or failure is not going to determine a child’s life. Growth will happen. We parents can and must learn to accept that growth — and the fact that it is going to be unpredictable. What we can do is show constant love and support and presence. That is the most important message: that we are there, and that we love them and support them.”

Part of this support is setting up a daily routine.

“Routines are good. They help alleviate stress,” DeBord says. “Establishing a regular bedtime, get-up time, and bath time is important at any age. It also helps kids learn to develop routines themselves. Family meetings are important. At the beginning of school, set a weekly time to regroup and to talk about what’s going on and how it will work: who gets the shower first, what time to set the alarm clocks for. Give everybody a chance to talk.”

Communication also means helping kids learn from their mistakes. Bryant advises letting kids know that you will help them solve the problems that can lead to misbehaving. “When kids come to expect only punishment, they are not going to tell you what they’re doing. There is a balance between setting limits, being open to communicating, and punishment. Limits are different than punishment. I am all for setting limits, but punishment is too often used because parents don’t recognize the stress that kids are under. They don’t want to [misbehave], but they [don’t yet know] how to maintain friendships and relationships with parents despite the [peer] pressure,” she says.

Stress means different things at different ages. Here’s a rundown on how stress affects children in elementary, middle, and high school.

Elementary School

Elementary-school kids haven’t fully learned self-control. They are still honing their social skills. They’re learning how to make friends, how to handle aggression, how to control their urges and emotions. If their teachers and parents don’t treat these as normal developmental milestones, they can turn into sources of stress.

Signs of elementary-school stress include:

  • Fears and nightmares. “It’s not the thing they fear but the fact that they are more fearful,” Bryant says. Stomachaches and headaches. These kinds of complaints show that kids are stressed. “Parents are right in thinking that there is something more to it than a physical illness,” Bryant says. “But it is not that the kid is just making it up. They may want to avoid something, but they are really feeling it. It may be their way of trying to cope with too much stress.”
  • Negativism and lying. “One way of dealing with this is accepting the lie without exaggerating it as a problem,” Bryant advises. “Say, ‘It would be nice if that were the case.’ You give them credit for a good idea. That can be very effective. The parent doesn’t accept the lie and doesn’t reject the child’s feelings. It keeps the parent and child in conversation. You recognized where the lie came from — the child really wishes it were true.”
  • Withdrawal, regressive behavior, or excessive shyness. Know your child’s temperament. Not all children mature at the same pace. Some children are slow to accept new things. “If you know your child angers more easily or gets more aggressive or upset than other children, help them find some kind of outlet,” DeBord suggests. If your child needs to move after school, suggest an after-dinner bike ride. If he or she requires something calming, suggest listening to music.

“When you tuck your kids into bed, or at bath time, whenever there is a one-on-one time, use open ended questions and to listen,” says DeBord. Kids need something concrete. Instead of saying, ‘What did you do today?’ ask about lunch, or what story they heard, or which friend they played with today. Say, ‘Tell me where you played. Were there balls and equipment? Did you play in groups?”

Middle School

Middle-school children are passing through the doorway to adolescence. By all accounts it is a very difficult period. With so much changing, middle-school children may feel frustrated by their inability to handle situations they used to handle with ease.

“The transition to middle school is where the peer dynamics change entirely. Quite often it is a very abrupt change,” Bryant says. “It can be pretty painful. In junior high, there must be a debriefing time. Our kids come home really stressed and we need to talk them down. It is a time to listen, to say, ‘Yes, it is really rough and that is hard to deal with.’ Give them that you hear their pain, and they are safe at home and don’t have to come home to parents giving them grief.”

If that sounds simple, don’t be fooled. It’s still important to set limits. The key is patience. “With teens, it is like pulling teeth to get them to talk. They just want to talk to friends,” DeBord notes. “Finding time to talk with teens may mean going to the mall with them. Or lying down on the pillow next to them at bedtime. Find times when they can open up. Figure out how to open those conversations.”

Bryant says it’s a myth that teens can’t have good relationships with their parents. Both she and DeBord insist that it’s crucial for adolescents to be able to talk with adults. “What they will want to talk about will surprise you,” DeBord says. “It is heavy stuff — family problems, sexuality, world peace. It could be that what’s weighing on their minds is much heavier than what we think they want to discuss.”

Teens are desperate to maintain good relationships with their peers — but they also don’t want to goof up, Bryant says. “Stay with it in a kind, supportive way,” she advises. “Express confidence that they can still carry their load at home. There is no quick, easy solution. Parenting in adolescence is more time-consuming than in elementary school. They need us there with clear boundaries. They need our lives to be stable and, to them, even boring. It says to them, ‘As you go have your adventures, we are stable here.'”

High School

A major problem for many high-school students is their parent’s single-minded devotion to getting them accepted by what their parents consider the best college. “High-school students are very conscious of the need to present a profile to prospective colleges,” Hall says. “They are told this by their counselors, by teachers, by their parents. It is a very intense focus. It is not just having good grades but it is taking part in significant extracurricular activities and even community service.”

As in younger children, this stress can show up in poor grades and contrary behaviors. Older teens also often respond to stress by developing eating disorders or problems with alcohol/drug abuse. Know the signs and be prepared to address them.

“Look for a change in grade status, in attendance, tardiness, lack of responsiveness in the classroom or at home,” says Hall. “Look for withdrawal into solitude or into one single contrary activity such as adopting strange music or a strange culture. Look for overuse or indulgence in the Internet, especially inordinate time spent in chat rooms. Any way a student might withdraw from normal exchange and enjoyment of other people can signal a problem.”

The solution? “As simple and trite as this may sound, we don’t spend enough time being with and loving our children,” Hall says. As teens get older, parents become coaches rather than directors. The basics of communication, presence, and structure still apply. This is very important, especially as teens get their drivers’ licenses and can go places you don’t know about. A parent must give up some control — which means that monitoring the child is more important than ever.

“When they are little we hope we have taught them to choose the right sock color. When they are older, we hope we have raised them to make decisions on how to be safe,” DeBord says. “Teens are risk takers. As parents, our job is to monitor where they are and who they are with — not in a hovering sense, but by checking in. There is a set checking-in time. And you still do have parameters on times they are coming in. This should take place on more of an adult level: you tell them where you are, and they tell you.”

By Daniel J. DeNoon  & Michael W. Smith, MD

Get kids to turn off the TV

Parents now have science to back them up when they say, “Turn off the TV. It’s a school night.”

Middle school students who watch TV or play video games during the week do worse in school than those who don’t, a new study finds, but weekend viewing and gaming doesn’t affect school performance much.

“On weekdays, the more they watched, the worse they did,” said study co-author Dr. Iman Sharif of Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx, N.Y. “They could watch a lot on weekends and it didn’t seem to correlate with doing worse in school.”

Children whose parents allowed them to watch R-rated movies also did worse in class, and for boys, that effect was especially strong.

The findings are based on a survey of 4,500 students in 15 New Hampshire and Vermont middle schools. The study appears in the October issue of Pediatrics.

The study didn’t look at grades or test scores, relying instead on students’ own rating of their performance from “excellent” to “below average.”

Sharif said other studies had shown that students generally inflate their actual school performance when asked. But because both good and bad students overrate their performance, she said, self-reporting is reliable.

Researchers took into account the possible effect of different parenting styles as reported by the students, and they still found weekday TV viewing, video game playing and R-rated movie-watching harmful.

The researchers didn’t speculate on why boys might be more affected by R-rated movies than girls. But Douglas Gentile, who does similar research at Iowa State University, said boys might be watching more violent R-rated movies that make them more aggressive. The aggression may lead to poor school performance, said Gentile, who was not involved in the new study.

“This study should hammer home to parents that this is really serious,” Gentile said. “One question all parents are going to be faced with [from their children] is, ‘Can I have a TV in my bedroom?’ There’s a simple two-letter answer for that.”

Previous studies have found links between the ability to learn and TV watching, including a study that found that children with TVs in their bedrooms scored about eight points lower on math and language arts tests than children without bedroom TVs.

source: The Associated Press

Distractions during Homework

By Chris Gaither

Time was, homework meant hunkering down in the library or a quiet study carrel. Today, instead of seeking to minimize distractions while studying, a majority of children are embracing them, according to a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll. Among respondents who had homework, 53% of children ages 12 to 17 said they did at least one other thing while studying, compared with 25% of adults ages 18 to 24, the poll found.

The youngest poll respondents did the most juggling. Twenty-one percent of the 839 respondents ages 12 to 17 who were polled said they generally kept busy with at least three tasks in addition to their assignments. Girls ages 15 to 17 were the busiest: 59% said they liked to do at least one thing in addition to homework, and 27% said they liked to do at least three other things.

Kids’ fondness for multi-tasking is raising concerns among psychologists and educators. They worry that students are taking longer to complete their assignments while absorbing less information than they would if they were focusing solely on schoolwork. Some scientists fear that multi-tasking could even stunt the development of adolescent brains. The ability to give up instant gratification in favor of long-term goals, for example, is largely controlled by the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s “executive center.” That’s the same area of the brain that, among other things, determines correct social behavior and steers attention from one task to another.

“In kids, the prefrontal cortex is still developing,” said Jordan Grafman, chief of the cognitive neuroscience section at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of the National Institutes of Health. “Developing strength in one’s ability to stall immediate gratification is part of growing up.” But repeatedly choosing video games or instant messages from friends over homework could hinder that, Grafman said. Additionally, multi-tasking can prevent students from learning subjects in great depth, which is a process that stimulates reasoning, analysis and foresight.

Ulla Foehr, who surveyed teens on media consumption for a Kaiser Family Foundation study released last year while she was a Stanford University doctoral student, notes that multi-tasking is not a new phenomenon. For decades, some kids have studied to music or while watching TV. But the computer’s role as both an educational tool and a means for diversion, all wrapped in the same package, increases the allure of doing several things at once. AOL, for example, on Thursday released a search engine to help with homework, but it also offers plenty of time wasters, including instant messaging and video clips.

“The computer really fosters it. It makes it hard not to multi-task,” Foehr said. “It’s the availability, combined with the innate desire to take a break. For teens, it’s really driven by the social needs, the need to connect with their peers.” Distraction isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, the poll found. More than 2 in 5 respondents ages 12 to 17 said they preferred to focus completely on their homework and didn’t multi-task at all.

Among those in that same age group who did other things while studying, many reported relatively passive diversions. Eighty-four percent said they listened to music as a side activity, 47% watched TV and 22% watched a movie. But teenage respondents also enjoyed multi-tasking with things that required active participation, the poll found, including talking on the phone (32%), going on the Internet (21%), instant messaging (15%), sending or reading e-mail (13%), text messaging (13%) and playing a video game (6%).

Many teenagers and their parents believe that this generation is simply better at performing simultaneous tasks, because they do it so often. To watch a child study biology while cruising, chatting with five buddies on AOL Instant Messenger and listening to the TV drone in the background is to begin to suspect that today’s youngsters must have sharper focus than previous generations. But David Walsh, a psychologist and president of the Minneapolis-based National Institute on Media and the Family, said, “That’s more wishful thinking than reality.” To single out kids who are pulling down good grades despite multiple diversions misses the point, he said.

“The question is not whether they’re doing fine. Some kids are very bright. The question is could they be doing better if they weren’t constantly shifting back and forth,” said Walsh, whose book “No: Why Kids — of All Ages — Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It” will be published by Free Press in January.

Research has shown that, with practice, people can improve how often and when to shift focus to other tasks most efficiently, and they can sharpen their ability to visually scan between windows open on a computer screen. But decades of experiments on adults have proved that performance suffers when people try to multi-task.

A recent experiment at UCLA suggests that being distracted also changes how we remember information. Researchers there asked subjects, who were in their 20s, to divide cards into two categories based on the shapes displayed. They then had to do it again, this time while keeping count of the high-pitched beeps played through headphones. When asked questions about the task learned while counting beeps, the subjects had a much harder time recalling the details of their work or extrapolating based on what they learned. That’s because the distracted learning relied on a different part of the brain than the focused learning, UCLA scientists said.

“What it might suggest is that if you learn these things while you’re distracted, then your ability to generalize that knowledge might not be as good,” said Russell Poldrack, an associate professor of psychology. “Even if you can learn under multi-tasking, it can change how you learn.”

Many scientists say there’s little evidence to suggest that today’s children are any different from yesterday’s, though it’s not a settled question. “Are kids going to have brains that are fundamentally different in the ways they multi-task?” Poldrack asked. “It’s certainly a possibility. There’s going to be some interesting science to be done on that down the road.”
source: LA Times