Monthly Archives: April 2011

Sexy Kids

About a month ago, my mother called me and asked, “Have you seen that show about toddlers and beauty pageants?”  She was referring to the TLC show Toddlers & Tiaras.  My mother, a retired teacher and nanny for infant twins, was completely appalled by the entire thing. Last weekend,  I went to a kids ice skating performance (year end recital type thing for skating) and was shocked  by the sexiness of some of the girls’ outfits.  There were 6- to 8-year-old girls wearing extremely short boy shorts and tight v-neck tank tops.   Just last week, LZ Granderson wrote an article titled Parents, Don’t Dress Your Girls like Tramps for begging parents to stop buying such provocative clothing for their little girls.  Kids are wearing clothes with “juicy” written on their bottoms, Abercrombie & Fitch came out with a “push-up bikini for young girls, and the Halloween costume options for Tween girls are insane!  Besides clothing, kids- especially girls- are playing with increasingly sexualized dolls and toys (Bratz dolls are just one example).

This isn’t a topic that just parents and media personalities are talking about and taking seriously.  The American Psychological Association has created a task force to address the issues related to the Sexualization of Girls.   In 2007, the task force came out with a report that talks about the consequences of the sexualization of girls, including cognitive, emotional, and heath consequences as well as those related to sexuality, attitudes, and society as a whole.  They also include a series of recommendations for research, practice, education, and public policy. Common Sense Media wrote an article titled “Too Sexy Too Soon” that provides great tips to parents to help them deal with a marketing environment that is promoting these sexualized images.

The biggest take home point is that parents need to get involved.  When your kids are younger it’s a little easier because you have more control.  As a parent you are largely in charge of buying their clothes, you can set standards for what they watch on TV and access on the Internet, and you can heavily influence what toys they play with at home.  Help your child to appreciate other qualities in people like intelligence or kindness rather than focusing on beauty.  Remember the post Kids Are Always Watching– well they are, so make sure you model appropriate behavior for your kids by recognizing other children and parents for qualities beyond beauty.  For example, if you are at the park and another little girl has a very cute outfit on, refrain from commenting on her clothes or how cute she looks.  Maybe she got off the swing and let your child have a turn, comment to your daughter how nice the little girl was acting by sharing her swing.

When kids are older it is a little harder.  There is peer pressure from classmates and friends, the need to fit in, and the constant bombardment of marketing and media messages about how girls (and boys for that matter) should look.  Talk to your older children about the messages they are seeing on TV, in magazines, on the Internet (and maybe even at home).  Here is a great video that quickly provides examples of the images that are being portrayed to our young children about beauty. This video can act as a conversations starter! Talk about the ways in which people in the media may look different than they do in real life- for example digital techniques like airbrushing, etc. Here is a great Dove video that demonstrates what happens between when a model walks in the door for a photo shoot and the final project.

CommonSense Media provides Recommendation lists for a variety of media contents for kids and specifically has a list of Positive Role Model TV programs for Girls.  Sadly the list is not very impressive, but it is a start.

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Invest In Children

Recently there has been considerable discussion about the economic benefits of investing in young children.  USA Today, Science Daily, PBS News Hour, the New York Times and others have all reported recently on the importance of putting our money (as a society) where it counts- with young children.  Most of these articles and discussions focus on the impact of intervention programs that are generally created for preschooler aged-children with the goal of helping low income children.  Some examples of well-run, successful intervention programs are: the Perry Preschool Program, the Carolina Abecedarian Project, the Child-Parent Center Program, and the Harlem Children’s Zone.

Most recently researchers from the University of Minnesota in collaboration with the Chicago Public Schools published a study of the Cost-Benefit Analysis of Chicago’s Child-Parent Center Early Education Program.  The articles in USA Today, Science DailyPBS News Hour sum up the study quite nicely.  The basic take home point from the study was that early intervention programs, specifically the Child-Parent Center Early Education Program, are beneficial not only because kids that attend these programs do better in school, careers, and life in general, but also society as a whole benefits economically.  Yep, our return on investment is up to 18% for this program!

Obviously this is great news.  But it seems that no one is talking about the parents… Yes, in most of these programs parents select to participate and to some extent the parents who select into such programs are likely different in some ways than parents that don’t select to participate (for example, maybe they are more involved/interested in their children’s education).  Sure, that can have an impact on the findings.  But what I think is more interesting is the benefits of these programs directly on the parents and their relationships with their children and their child’s education.

The Child-Parent Center program has parent in the name-it’s clearly a focus of the program!  The program requires parents to participate and be actively involved in their child’s education, by volunteering at school events or classroom activities, etc. They are required to be involved with the program at least 1/2 day per week.  This program also offers parents resources and training.  They have a “parent room” next to the child’s classroom that is staffed by a full-time parent-resource teacher who among other responsibilities works to improve parent-child interaction. (Click here for a complete description of the Parent part of this program).

This dedication to helping parents parent is crucial and one that gets swept under the rug in many of the reviews of such programs.  Many of the programs mentioned above have some sort of parenting component.  These programs recognize the importance of involving the parent and providing them with materials to be the best parents they can.  It just seems that the parenting portion of these programs is something that all parents could benefit from and I wish that more preschools or child-care centers (federally funded or not) would implement similar programs as well.

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Happily Ever After

Lots of kids grow up watching Disney movies of princesses kissing a frog, marrying her prince, and living happily ever after.  All of the Disney movies I can think of end there.  That’s the happily ever after- marriage (to a prince of course!).  Well what about the kids?  Disney should do a Beauty and the Beast Part II or a Sleeping Beauty 19 kids and Counting- we need to see what happens when kids come from these “happily ever after” marriages, right?

Well the good news is that research has done that for us- sort of.  A new report that just came out by ChildTrends found that quality of parents’ marriages is positively associated with child and family outcomes.  Not too shocking, huh?  Happy parents make happy families- Cinderella and Prince Charming would have well-behaved, well-adjusted children that are great communicators with their parents.  Well research has shown this before, but mostly for well-educated and higher socioeconomic status (SES aka richer) families.  The nice thing about the ChildTrends study is they are showing these same findings across all types of families. The findings that happier families have children with better child development outcomes holds regardless of the child’s gender or age, regardless of the family type (married or cohabiting) , race and ethnicity (white, black, Hispanic) parent education, family income, or immigrant status.  So rich or poor, Black or White, college degree or not,  parents who report that they are “completely happy” or “very happy” in their marriage have children who show higher levels of social competence (e.g., respect for teachers), school engagement (e.g., caring about doing well in school), better abilities to control externalizing behavior (e.g., bullying, arguing, etc).  So make your marriage a happy one for both you and your kids! It’s a win win for everyone!  Here is a nice article about 5 Things Super Happy Couples Do Everyday.


To read the Report Brief click here and then under Resources: Research Briefs click on the  Parental Relationship Quality and Child Outcomes across Subgroups link for the PDF.

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As a daycare teacher I felt like I spent all day everyday telling young kids to “share”.  Sharing is an important skill for children to learn and one that takes repeated practice and reminders and time before young children begin to grasp the concept.   Beyond practice and reminders, young children actually need time to develop a sense of theory of mind-the idea that other people have feelings/intentions/thoughts that are different from the child’s own.  (Eventually I will post on Theory of Mind).  Sharing is a tough lesson to learn and while most adults understand the concept, sharing can be hard for people of all ages.

Since this is a blog for parents, I thought that I would post about a study that was presented at SRCD about the importance of parents SHARING the responsibilities of parenting.  Unfortunately, most research still focuses on the mom as the primary caregiver to the child but in general findings can be reversed and still be accurate for both parents.

Clearly marriage and relationships are never easy and when you add in children and the amount of love, time, and attention they need parental relationships can go down the tubes faster than you can imagine which can have negative effects on the kids. I’m not a marriage expert so I will quit there on the marriage talk.  But, like everything in life, sharing the workload makes it easier-and that goes for child care at home as well! And when parents share the workload this can have positive impacts on the child.

A study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine examined the relationships between father’s  involvement (with child care and household labor) with mother’s and infants’ behaviors.  When fathers are more involved in household and childcare responsibilities, mothers tend to have higher leves of sensitivity when they interact with their infant.  Infant behaviors seem to be influenced by parenting.  When fathers are more involved their infants show more positive behaviors.

While this study is slightly more complicated, the take home message is that it is important for fathers (or whomever is non-primary caregiver for the child) to be involved in childcare and household responsibilities, both for the sake of the marriage and the young child’s development and behavior.

Books on sharing parenting responsibilities:

Parenting Together: Men and Women Sharing the Care of Their Children by Diane Ehrensaft

How to Avoid the Mommy Trap: A Roadmap for Sharing the Parenting and Making it Work By Julie Shield


Ly, A. R., Lucas-Thompson, R., Goldberg, W.A., Glynn, L. M., Sandman, C. A., & Davis, E. P. (March, 2011).  When mommy feels daddy shares the care: Links between marital equality, maternal sensitivity, & infant behavior.  Poster presented at the Society for Research on Child Development, Montreal, CA.

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Video Chat

The other day I video-chatted with a friend’s daughters.  At first, the older daughter (age 5) thought it was cool to see me and talk to me, but then she quickly preferred to look at herself making funny faces in the camera.  Her sister (age 21 months), really loved the video chat and came right up to the computer and said, “hi”.  She lost interest after a few minutes but she clearly understood that she was speaking to me and came back over to say good-bye before we got off.  It seemed clear that even though this was her first video chat experience and she was less than 2 years old, she understood the concept that I was real and was speaking and interacting with her through the computer.

New research is beginning to examine video chatting and it seems that it is a new fast growing phenomenon especially with very young children.  Parents in Washington, DC use video chat to introduce their new babies to their grandparents in New Zealand.  Sisters (one in New York one in Chicago) use video chat to let their infant sons see each other.  Mom’s watch their children on live video feeds at their daycares.  And toddlers in child care use video chat to stay in touch with a former student who recently moved out of the country. Video chat is popular and it’s changing the way adults communicate and the ways infants and toddlers understand screens and 2D presentations.

Most research has shown that until children are about 2.5 years old learn better from a live demonstration compared to a video demonstration1.  That means, if I wanted to teach a young child to stack blocks in a certain way, it would be easier for the child to learn if I was sitting in the room with him teaching him how to stack the blocks than if I showed him a video of me stacking the blocks. But learning from a video chat seems to be entirely different from learning from other screens.  In a study recently presented at SRCD, 24- and 30-month old children learned words from video chats and live demonstrations  better than children that watched a video that presented the new words.  So why can children learn from video chat but not from a video?

It seems the true interaction that occurs during a live video chat is more “real” and acts in many of the same ways as a live interaction.  The person on the screen can ask questions, pause for answers, point to different objects, just like they can in “real life.”  On a TV show or video, even in programs like Dora the Explorer where they producers tried to create an interactive feel (Dora will ask a question to the audience and stop and wait for a response), young children still struggle to learn. So, for young children all screens are not the same.  Learning from a video screen in which live interaction can occur, like on video chat, is much easier for young children than learning from even a computer than has only programmed responses.

Not only can young children learn from these video chat experiences, research has demonstrated that relationships can actually be maintained through such video chat sessions (even with children as young as 17 months old)3.   A study conducted in Australia demonstrated that children were much more comfortable in a room alone when their mother was present on a live video chat than when they were entirely alone in the room without the mother3 similarly children were more comfortable in the room alone when their mother was on video chat than when she was on a speaker phone4. Results from these studies suggest that video chats may offer both learning and emotional development opportunities for very young children and that they can be used to keep children in contact with family members that live far away.


1Anderson, D. A., & Pempek, T. A. (2005).  Television and very young children.  American Behavioral Scientist, 48, 505-522.

2Roseberry, S., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Richie, R., & Golinkoff, R. M. (April 2011).  Blicking through video chats: Contingent interactions help toddlers learn language.  Poster presented at the Society for Research on Child Development, Montreal, CA

3Tarasuik, J., Galligan, R., & Kaufman, J. (April 2011).  Maintaining familial relationships via video communication. Poster presented at the Society for Research on Child Development, Montreal, CA

4Tarasuik, J., & Kaufman, J. (April 2011).  Almost like being there: Social interactions via video link between parents and young children. Paper presented at the Society for Research on Child Development, Montreal, CA

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The Society for Research in Child Development is an organization that began in the 1920’s to stimulate research related to child development.  Today there are nearly 6000 members of this organization, including researchers, pediatricians, psychologists, neuroscientists, educators, etc.  According to their website, “The purposes of the Society are to promote multidisciplinary research in the field of human development, to foster the exchange of information among scientists and other professionals of various disciplines, and to encourage applications of research findings.”

Every other year, members of SRCD meet and present current research on child development. This year the conference was in Montreal, Canada and after 4 days I have LOTS of wonderful new child development research to report on!  Some topics from this years conference include:

The Importance of Play

Infant Word Learning from Video Chat

Differences in Attention to Television and Live Demonstrations by Autistic and Typically Developing Toddlers

The Role of Fathers

Parent Practices To Support Children’s Learning

Effects of Parenting Programs

How Mothers’ Knowledge Influences Parenting Practices

Baby Video Viewing and the Quantity and Quality of Parent Language

Learning Vocabulary From Shared Book Reading

Baby Signing Videos and Infant Learning

Stay tuned!



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