Adults can make holidays extra special by focusing on kids’ health & well-being

spanking-187x300Kids can be a major part of what makes the holidays special. But if a house full of the little darlings hasn’t already driven the grown-ups around them to total distraction, parents, grandparents, and uncles, aunties may want to consider a few ways to ensure youngsters stay healthy and wise in the days ahead, including:

Spare the rod so children don’t get spoiled

If the kids get naughty during the winter break, their parents might find themselves agreeing with a controversial view: Two-thirds of Americans, when asked in surveys, say that misbehaving children younger than 7 need a “good, hard spanking” on occasion when they’re very bad.

But the Wall Street Journal, examining recent research on this parenting practice — made illegal in more than 50 other nations — reports that spanking doesn’t improve kid’s behavior, it only adds to later problems. The newspaper cites a 2016 meta-analysis, a scrutiny of five decades of validated and published research on this topic, that found that spanking can lead to more serious acting out and mental health problems.

Earlier studies, however, had a weakness: Many were observational and couldn’t be controlled with rigor — experts couldn’t, for example, get one group of parents to hit their kids and compare them to another set of youngsters who weren’t spanked.

Researchers at the University of Texas now have analyzed data on 12,000 youngsters, pairing information on those who were spanked at age 5 with others who weren’t and examining almost 40 factors on their adjustments as they progressed from kindergarten to the eighth grade. “Our findings suggest that spanking is not an effective technique and actually makes children’s behavior worse not better,” says Elizabeth T. Gershoff, a psychological scientist and lead author on the study.

The American Pediatric Society and the American Psychological Association both frown on spanking. But just look at the online comments on the Association Psychological Science website about the UT study and it’s clear that grown-ups have strong views on the right ways to raise kids. These aren’t always rooted in scientific research. But maybe a key way to avoid spanking kids is to defuse negative conduct in other ways …

Curb the sugar, get youngsters moving

Candy-Cane-Classic-182x300Experts have sounded the alarms with greater urgency that Americans should slash their sugar intake. But as the Washington Post has just reminded:

Nutritional experts don’t suggest that you abandon the sugar that occurs naturally in fresh and frozen fruit. Rather, they’re talking about the stuff that you add to cookie dough or sprinkle onto your morning oatmeal. Sugar has many forms (high-fructose corn syrup, maltose, dextrose, maple syrup, brown sugar, molasses, raw sugar and honey, among others), but it’s still sugar. Manufacturers put it in countless processed foods, including soda, packaged cereals, ice cream, pastries, candy, flavored yogurt, granola bars and dried fruits. It’s also added to such products as salad dressings, ketchup and pasta sauces.

Does that sound like an exact recipe list for seasonal food favorites, especially for treats served to the kids and that may make them hyper during the holidays? Well, as the newspaper has further reported:

Eating too much sugar contributes to numerous health problems, including weight gain, Type 2 diabetes, dental caries, metabolic syndrome and heart disease, and even indirectly to cancer because of certain cancers’ relationship to obesity. It also can keep you from consuming healthier things. ‘Kids who are drinking sugar-sweetened beverages aren’t drinking milk,’ [a Mayo Clinic expert] says.

Health officials warn that excess consumption of cheap, empty calories — especially from eating high-sugar foods — is a major contributor to childhood obesity. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says that 17 percent of American kids (12.7 million youngsters) weigh too much. The problem worsens over time: The prevalence of obesity was 8.9 percent among 2- to 5-year-olds compared with 17.5 percent of 6- to 11-year-olds and 20.5 percent of 12- to 19-year-olds.

Although over-use can be its own problem, too many youngsters not only eat badly, they also get too little exercise to the detriment of their health. Why not get the kids off the couch, dressed and geared up appropriately for the weather, and outdoors for healthful activities during their school vacation?

Aww, mom. And aww, dad. That may curtail youngsters’ time with electronic devices with screens — and that, too, may be beneficial, particularly with exercise and obesity: As Dr. David Hill, chair, American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media and a researcher at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill, told Reuters news service: When youngsters’ screen time “goes down, so does” their weight. There may be other issues, too …

phonekids-300x202Adult supervision needed for kids’ devices and social media use

Many youngsters got shiny new electronics as holiday gifts. Grown-ups may want, right from the start, to set boundaries and limits on their use for youngsters’ physical and mental health.

The California Health Department, for example, surprised many in the Golden State by issuing new guidelines on cell phones, recommending that users keep them away from their head and body as much as possible to minimize exposure to tiny amounts of radiation (radio frequency waves) the devices emit.

Although medical scientists continue to tussle over the risks that cell phones may pose, California officials said they prefer to err on the side of caution. They said that they have concerns for cumulative and long-term possible harms that youngsters may experience with ubiquitous cell phones. Young people keep them on near or on their bodies almost 24/7 and may be exposed to them for much longer spans in their lives, say, as compared with older adults.

E-devices are coming under greater fire, of course, for mental health problems they may worsen in the young. Teen-agers can abuse smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers, tapping with them into risky online content and unhealthy reliance on various kinds of social media. Experts worry that too many teens lack the maturity, experience, and sophistication to avoid becoming alienated or bullied online. They may be cyber-connected but socially and personally isolated in the real world. This can add to woes they already may have with depression or suicide. Youngsters need grown-up help in navigating this brave new high-tech world.

Parents these days have their hands full in keeping food on the table and their households together, labor that often requires moms and dads both to work long hours. It may be tempting to enjoy family time by suspending house rules during the holidays. But the increased seasonal time together, including with the setting and enforcement of common sense bounds, may benefit kids and their parents, because grown-ups get a rare chance to see up close what their youngsters may be up to and into, including unhealthful eating, exercise, lack of sleep, and over-use of electronics. These behaviors and practices can be gently corrected for the good.

The small stuff adds up — including, as California officials have done with smart phones, erring on the side of caution. In my practice, I see the harms that patients suffer from dangerous and defective devices, including those that emit harmful radiation. Many parents may not recall that not that long ago wrist watches were required wearables, and their makers pioneered a way, so their customers could read the time night or day. They hired young women to paint watch faces — with radium paint. This ended when the workers began to suffer horrible diseases, including cancers. Watch wearers didn’t experience similar high levels of harm but collectors are still reminded to be cautious with antique watches with glowing faces.

By the way, grown-ups filled with the seasonal spirit also just might want to act in American children’s interest by lighting up their elected representatives about their actions, or lack of them, on some key health care matters.

The GOP-controlled Congress lit out of town without re-upping the Children’s Health Insurance Program, aka CHIPs. It provides 9 million or so youngsters in poor or working-poor families with vital health coverage, and states may be forced in January to cut off medical care and services to 2 million previously insured youngsters when CHIPs funding runs out. It’s unacceptable that lawmakers can’t do more than agree on a bipartisan basis that this program is good and deserves support. But in their haste to give more than $1 trillion in tax cuts, mostly to big corporations and the wealthy, GOP members of Congress claimed they couldn’t find the time or money for CHIPs.

That same short-sightedness also has left millions of young “dreamers” in immigration limbo, because Congress won’t step up and resolve the status of these young people. They were born elsewhere but brought to this country and raised here by their parents. Hard numbers are difficult to come by. But advocates note that many of these hard-working and talented young people play key roles in health care, and, if allowed to do so, would do even more.

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