Parents’ Incarceration Can Have Long-Lasting Impact on Kids’ Health

Young adults who had a parent incarcerated during their childhood are more likely to skip needed healthcare, smoke cigarettes, engage in risky sexual behaviors and abuse alcohol and drugs, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics.

The findings show that young adults (aged 24-32) whose mothers — as opposed to fathers — had been incarcerated during their childhood were twice as likely to go to the emergency department for medical care rather than to a primary care clinic.

Those whose mothers had been incarcerated were also twice as likely to have sex in exchange for money, while those whose fathers had been incarcerated were 2.5 times more likely to use intravenous drugs.

“The United States has the highest incarceration rates in the world. With the climbing number of parents, especially mothers, who are incarcerated, our study calls attention to the invisible victims — their children,” said lead author Nia Heard-Garris, M.D., M.Sc., a pediatrician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Instructor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“We shed light on how much the incarceration of a mother versus father influences the health behaviors of children into adulthood.”

The research team looked at national survey data of more than 13,000 young adults (ages 24-32), and found that 10 percent have had a parent incarcerated during their childhood. Participants were on average 10 years old the first time their parent was incarcerated.

Young black adults had a much higher prevalence of parental incarceration. While black participants represented less than 15 percent of the young adults surveyed, they accounted for roughly 34 percent of those with history of an incarcerated mother and 23 percent with history of an incarcerated father.

“This data points out that children are the invisible victims of mass incarceration, and our country has not thought about the indirect costs,” said co-author Dr. Tyler Winkelman from University of Minnesota Medical School. “This study is another step in understanding the impact of our criminal justice systems.”

Prior studies have shown that people with a history of parental incarceration have greater rates of asthma, HIV/AIDS, learning delays, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It’s possible that because these young adults are more likely to forgo medical care and engage in unhealthy behaviors, they are at higher risk to develop these physical and mental health conditions,” Heard-Garris said.

“By pinpointing the specific health-harming behaviors that these young adults demonstrate, this study may be a stepping stone towards seeking more precise ways to mitigate the health risks these young adults face. Hopefully, future studies will teach us how to prevent, screen for, and target negative health behaviors prior to adulthood.”

The researchers emphasize that more research will be necessary to identify specific barriers to healthcare, targeting this population’s under-utilization of care.

“When we see results like this, our tendency is to want to immediately jump to action to remedy the impacts,” said Winkelman. “But before implementing interventions, we need to understand the unintended consequences to acting without careful thought.”

The study findings have a broad impact, as more than 5 million children in the United States have had a parent in jail or prison.

Source: University of Minnesota Medical School


Support from Female Co-Workers Can Empower Moms to Breastfeed

Emotional support from female co-workers plays a major role in whether or not new moms choose to keep breastfeeding after returning to work, according to a new study by researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) and Texas Christian University (TCU).

The study is the first to focus specifically on the effect female co-workers have on colleagues who want to continue breastfeeding by pumping milk at work.

The findings, published in the journal Health Communication, show that the more support women received from their colleagues, the more empowered they felt to continue breastfeeding. In fact, support from coworkers had an even stronger effect than support from partners, family or friends.

“In order to empower women to reach their goals and to continue breastfeeding, it’s critical to motivate all co-workers by offering verbal encouragement and practical help,” said Dr. Joanne Goldbort, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing at MSU, who collaborated with lead author Dr. Jie Zhuang at TCU.

According to Zhuang, people may assume that women in the workplace automatically encourage one another, but that often may not be the case.

The study involved 500 working mothers. Of these, 81 individuals reported they had never breastfed, and 80 had stopped breastfeeding before returning to work. Of those who continued breastfeeding after returning to work, more than half chose to give it up between the first and sixth month.

While the specific reasons for stopping weren’t tracked in the study, it did measure the women’s thoughts and feelings around co-worker perception and stigma, as well as how uncomfortable they felt about pumping milk at work.

Overall, the findings suggest that the act of simply returning to work played a major role in a woman’s decision to quit breastfeeding but that receiving colleague support was very influential for those who continued.

The study also found that more than a quarter of the women who originally decided to breastfeed made the decision because their place of employment created a helpful environment, such as providing a place to pump.

In addition, around 15 percent of the participants chose to continue breastfeeding after returning to work because they had co-workers or supervisors who directly motivated them to do so.

Goldbort indicated that multiple factors could play into why co-worker support is viewed as equally important, if not more important, to working moms.

“One factor could be that simply spending the majority of their time during the day with co-workers necessitates more support for breastfeeding success,” she said.

“In the workplace, a breastfeeding woman’s dependence on this is higher because she has to work collegially with co-workers, gain their support to assist with the times she’s away from her desk, and ultimately try to lessen the ‘you get a break and I don’t’ stigma.”

The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest exclusive breastfeeding for the first six to 12 months and then continuing with supplementary feeding of solid foods up to two years of age or longer. Yet the number of moms who choose to continue to breastfeed remains lower than these recommendations.

Recently, the Trump Administration opposed the World Health Assembly’s resolution to promote the use of breast milk over formula. But years of research has shown that breastfeeding has significant nutritional benefits for babies and their development. It also has many advantages for the mother.

“If women know that co-workers and supervisors will support them in their breastfeeding efforts, it can make a big difference,” Goldbort said. “It really takes a village to breastfeed a baby.”

Source: Michigan State University



How Busy People Bolster Their Bonds with Their Partners

You have a demanding career that requires a lot of your time and energy. So does your spouse. Maybe one of you—or both—travels for work. Maybe you’re also parents, and you also like to golf, practice yoga, take painting classes or play soccer, which you do separately.

It’s cliché, but true: Many days you’re two ships passing in the night.

But that doesn’t mean that your relationship has to suffer. You can find ways to reconnect and even strengthen your bond. Here’s how other individuals, who too live busy lives, do just that.

They have date nights and days. “I believe that the best way to stay connected in your marriage is through consistent and intentional action, and you should never underestimate the power of planned spontaneity,” said Anna Osborn, LMFT, a psychotherapist who owns a group private practice in Sacramento. She has a recurring monthly reminder in her calendar to have date nights with her husband. As parents to 6-year-old boy/girl twins, she and her husband, the branch manager of a security company, have their hands full.

Date nights also are crucial for Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW, and her husband. Hanks owns a therapy practice with two locations in Utah. Her husband is a CFO for a real estate company, and has a volunteer job at their church, which takes about 10 hours each week. Together they have four children, ages 11 to 27, three of whom live at home and take music lessons and play sports.

“We go out one or both of the weekend nights to dinner and a movie, a play, or concert and have fun together. Sometimes we go out alone, and sometimes we go out with friends,” Hanks said.

Healthcare attorney Lori Mihalich-Levin, JD, and her husband Jason Levin, a career coach, also have morning and middle-of-the-day dates. For instance, one year, while their now 5- and 7-year-old sons were at daycare, they celebrated Valentine’s Day with breakfast at a French restaurant. This year they savored a romantic lunch at a local seafood spot.

They are strategic about the day to day. Mihalich-Levin and her husband have a weekly meeting every Saturday night “to consolidate the chaos in our lives and take care of the administrative stuff all at once.” During the week, they put anything important into a “Saturday basket,” such as bills, forms, field trip permission slips. Then they address anything that’s inside the basket during their meeting.

They also talk about who will step in each day if the kids get sick. They map out their schedule for the rest of the week and month. And they share their favorite “mindful moments,” which inspires them to focus on the good in life.

They delve deeper. Every other Friday night psychotherapist Chris Kingman and his wife, a social worker, get a sitter for their 5- and 2-year-old daughters. This is their time to “work on the relationship, to discuss hard stuff, to review family finances, to process complex challenges, to check in, to give and get support, etc.,” said Kingman, LCSW, who specializes in individual, couples and group therapy.

They take each other’s needs seriously. One way Kingman and his wife care for each other’s emotional needs is by giving sincere compliments about specific behaviors. Which he noted is “very good for the soul of the relationship as we all have the (emotional) need to be ‘seen’ for the ways in which we are good, kind, productive, helpful, etc.”

Also, when one of them is upset, the other provides support by listening and comforting. Plus, they both regularly acknowledge how exhausting family life can be, and check in to make sure each partner has had enough alone time—and help out if they haven’t.

They have small, sweet rituals. Every morning, Osborn and her husband talk about one challenge that each of them will face during that day. Then when they see each other in the evening, they make sure to discuss how they’re doing and how it went.

Hanks and her husband always hug and kiss each other when one of them is leaving and when they see each other again.

Mihalich-Levin and Levin eat breakfast and dinner with their boys almost every day, “something we’ve really prioritized.” Mihalich-Levin’s husband also picks her up at the metro after work, which gives them some time together before picking up the kids.

They prioritize compassion. Kingman and his wife have a key mantra in their relationship: “compassion and boundaries.” That is, they practice compassion with their own flaws and with each other’s flaws, while also remaining accountable. For instance, Kingman tends to act like an absent-minded professor. “It can be quite annoying for [my wife], but rather than be critical, she accepts that it’s an involuntary response of mine to the overwhelm of everyday life…So she will point it out and let me know it doesn’t feel good to her when I’m ‘checking out,’ but without attacking or shaming my bad habits.”

They plan for the future (in a fun way). Twice a year Mihalich-Levin and her husband have annual planning and retreat days. We “map out longer-term goals and plans, and take a little time for ourselves—massages, anyone?” she said.

For instance, they mark off the days school will be closed and figure out who will stay home and what their backup childcare will be. They outline family visits and a big vacation. They also explore three powerful questions: one thing they’re proud of; a mistake they made and what they learned; and one story they’re relinquishing before the new year.

(You can learn more on Mihalich-Levin‘s excellent website Mindful Return, which helps moms and dads traverse the uncertain terrain of working parenthood.)

Having a healthy, close relationship amid a hectic, responsibility-filled life is absolutely possible. The key is to be thoughtful about it. Plan for it, and get creative. Think of your time together as vital and precious. Because it is.

Distracted While Parenting? Here’s How to Be More Attentive

Distractions are part of parenting when you so much to do. However, it is the level of distraction that matters.

The post Distracted While Parenting? Here’s How to Be More Attentive appeared first on The Gottman Institute.

Why Consistency in Parenting Isn’t Always Best

Parents are often told that consistency is the key to successful parenting, especially in the areas of children’s bed times, expectations about behavior, and discipline. I agree with the first two: most of us benefit from a consistent bed time and sleep pattern, and it’s really helpful for children if they know what their parents’ expectations about behavior are. However, the last one, I’m not so sure.

As a therapist and a mum, I’ve read a lot of parenting books, watched a lot of programs, and been to a lot of parenting workshops, and consistency is always promoted, especially in relation to discipline.

When professionals talk about consistency and discipline, they often suggest that parents:

  • Have a set of family rules about acceptable behaviors,
  • Apply a consequence any time children break the rules, and
  • Act quickly when applying consequences.

This might seem fairly straight-forward, but … what if a child has good reason for breaking the rules? What if applying consequences doesn’t actually teach children to behave differently, but instead to not get caught next time? What if the consequence isn’t understood by the child? And, what if a child doesn’t accept the consequence?

Children are smaller, younger, and less experienced than us, but they’re not stupid, and they have reasons for behaving in the ways they do — even if we don’t understand or agree with those reasons. As parents, we have a responsibility to keep our children safe, and to teach them (that’s what the word “discipline” actually means, “to teach”), but we don’t have a responsibility to confuse, shame, or hurt our children in the name of consistency.

I wonder what would happen if next time your child broke the rules, you approached the situation from a position of curiosity, and encouraged your child to share their perspective about what had happened and why? And only after this, you decided what, if any, consequence was needed.  

So, how do parents actually do this?

After a family rule has been broken, parents can encourage their child to have a conversation with them by using an empathic opening statement. This lets the child know what is going to be talked about, and invites them to share their views and experience.  

For example: I know you love Fluffy the kitten so much, it’s hard for you to share him with your brother without fighting.

Parents can continue the discussion by asking their child open-ended questions, repeating back to their child what they’ve said (but in different words), and leaving time for their child to think about what’s been said. For example:

So you felt he’d already had a really long turn with Fluffy, and it was time for your turn?

How do you think Fluffy felt being caught up in the middle of you and your brother?

Once parents have heard and understood their child’s perspective and reasons for the rule-breaking behavior, they can then decide what needs to happen next — which may or may not involve applying a consequence.

Here’s an example from my own family …  

Our daughter loves being on the iPad, but we have rules about how much time she is allowed to be on it, and when she uses apps like YouTube she needs to be supervised. One day, our daughter decided she was going to use the iPad and go on YouTube without supervision. She knows the rules, but she did it anyway.

I found her behavior frustrating, but instead of immediately confiscating the iPad and banning her from YouTube (which was my initial thought), I sat down and asked why she was on YouTube unsupervised. It turned out she’d asked her Dad many times that day to play with her, but he’d been busy. Eventually, she thought she’d just quietly entertain herself without bothering anyone else. Yes, she broke the rules, but it wasn’t to annoy us or hurt us, and I could understand where she was coming from.

The thing is, she’s not allowed on YouTube unsupervised for her own safety, but it occurred to me when we were talking that:

  • She’s only young, and she probably doesn’t appreciate how unsafe the internet can be,
  • A lot of her friends are allowed on YouTube unsupervised, so it probably seems unfair that she isn’t, and
  • In the grand scheme of things, her infraction wasn’t awful, but it also wasn’t okay.

With this in mind, I talked with her in more detail about internet safety, and our responsibility as parents to keep her safe, even if that makes us unpopular with her. I also empathized with her situation, and asked her what we could do to avoid a repeat of this situation in the future?

We decided that although she couldn’t watch videos on YouTube unsupervised, she could record her own videos that could maybe go up on a private YouTube channel in the future. We also downloaded a few more apps that she can use on the iPad without supervision. In the end, I decided she didn’t need a consequence for breaking the rules because we’d already achieved the goal of having her learn from her behavior.

Parenting can be difficult at the best of times, and trying to teach children to abide by the rules isn’t always fun, but it is necessary. To avoid it becoming a battleground, maintaining a focus on the definition of discipline (that is, “to learn”) can be helpful, especially when combined with parents’ own knowledge about their children’s personalities, experiences, and needs. If as parents we must be consistent in this area, let it be in relation to our own thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and in responding to our children with respect and kindness during these tricky times.

Parents with Severe Childhood Trauma More Likely to Have Kids with Behavior Issues

Parents who faced severe trauma and stress in their own childhood are more likely to see  behavioral health problems in their children, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics.

The childhood hardships included in the study were as follows: divorce or separation of parents; death of or estrangement from a parent; emotional, physical or sexual abuse; witnessing violence in the home; exposure to substance abuse in the household or parental mental illness.

The findings reveal that the children of parents who themselves had four or more adverse childhood experiences were at double the risk of having attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and were four times more likely to have mental health problems. In addition, a mother’s childhood experiences had a stronger adverse effect on a child’s behavioral health than the father’s experiences.

“Previous research has looked at childhood trauma as a risk factor for later physical and mental health problems in adulthood, but this is the first research to show that the long-term behavioral health harms of childhood adversity extend across generations from parent to child,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Adam Schickedanz.

Schickedanz is a pediatrician and health services researcher and assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Parents who lived through adverse childhood experiences were also more likely to report higher levels of aggravation as parents and to experience mental health problems, the researchers found. Yet these mental health and attitude factors only explained about a quarter of the association to their child’s elevated behavioral health risks.

The remainder of how the parent’s negative childhood experiences are transmitted to their child’s behavior needs further study.

The research adds to the growing evidence supporting standardized assessment of parents for adverse childhood experiences during their child’s pediatric health visits.

“If we can identify these children who are at a higher risk, we can connect them to services that might reduce their risk or prevent behavioral health problems,” Schickedanz said.

For the study, the team analyzed data from a national survey showing information from four generations of American families. This included information from parents about whether they were abused, neglected or exposed to other family stressors or maltreatment while growing up, and information on their children’s behavior problems and medical diagnoses of attention deficit disorder.

With this data, the researchers were able to find strong links between the parents’ adversity histories and their children’s behavioral health problems, while controlling for factors such as family poverty and education level.

The next step for researchers is to look at how resilience factors, such as the support of mentors or teachers, could counteract the harms of childhood traumas, Schickedanz said.

Source: University of California- Los Angeles Health Sciences


Postpartum Anxiety: How to Get the Support You Need When You Are Feeling Overwhelmed

There is tremendous social and cultural hype around the joys, excitement, and wonder of pregnancy, birth, and raising children. Baby showers, parenting classes, and the array of pre-birth activities often convey the implicit and explicit message to parents-to-be that having kids is exclusively a magical albeit stressful experience.

This mythology does us a grave disservice by creating the sense that there is something shameful or abnormal about postpartum depression and/or anxiety. The truth is, negative emotional postpartum experiences are very common and tragically underreported as new mothers in particular often feel they should be nothing but glowing and ecstatic.

The Mommy Wars, a competition amongst women to excel at being new mothers, have created a disturbing dynamic in which women often feel afraid to admit they need help, are overwhelmed, or are struggling. Women in particular — and men as well — may feel obligated to “put on a good face” or “act like” they are doing well when they are in fact not. Many fear judgement from friends who are parents or from family members.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that in the United States, the prevalence of postpartum depression and anxiety is as high as 1 in 5 women in some states. Postpartum depression and anxiety affects women regardless of age, race, ethnicity, number of pregnancies, or prior mental health issues. These feelings can arise days, weeks, and months after birth, and may last years. Stress, anxiety, sleeplessness, hormonal changes, and the emotional intensity of pregnancy, childbirth, and bringing home an infant are all significant influences on postpartum mood issues, and feeling sad, anxious, and overwhelmed is by no means a sign that a new parent is somehow failing to rise to the task.  

Postpartum depression and anxiety can range from mild to severe. Symptoms include feeling sad, anxious, nervous, weepy, blue, angry, and lonely — among others. Severe symptoms may include thoughts of harming oneself or the child. If you or someone you know is at risk for harming themselves or their child, immediately contact your local crisis support hotline or 911.

Getting help for postpartum mood difficulties like depression and anxiety is important for the health and wellness of families. Recognizing and accepting that one is feeling overwhelmed is the first step on the long road of parenting in which eventually, parents are ultimately supported by many other people when it comes to their children and parenting … family, teachers, coaches, counselors, and clergy, to name a few.

Initially reaching out is often the hardest part of asking for help when it comes to being an overwhelmed parent, whether it’s your first time or your fourth. If you’re having difficulty asking your support system for what you need (and maybe you’re even having a difficult time identifying what it is that would be helpful to you) try the Third Person Test. This is when you imagine what you would want a friend to say to you to ask for help if they needed it and were struggling to ask. Sometimes, imagining that the situation isn’t our own frees us up from the harsh self-judgements we tend to levy on ourselves but that we wouldn’t dream of when it comes to someone else.

Your medical professionals can be tremendously helpful when it comes to accessing the resources you need. Obstetricians, pediatricians, and even your family Primary Care Provider all have extensive experience supporting families through postpartum mood disturbances, and they can direct you to reputable, reliable, professional organizations and service providers to address your families’ specific needs. Postpartum Support International or PSI for example is a trusted organization for the education and support of new moms and their families surrounding the entire perinatal period.

There are also compassionate, specialty counselors available to help new parents navigate these difficult feelings while engaging in this important new journey. These counselors can support you with practical skills and strategies for addressing the challenges that arise. Faith organizations and hospital systems frequently offer a wide variety of emotional and practical support services, including educational forums, support groups, peer groups, and links to other ancillary services that help new parents feel less overwhelmed by their exhaustive new responsibilities.

If you’re having difficulty getting the kind of support you need from your partner, friends, or family members, a counselor specifically trained in perinatal mental health can offer you practical advice for getting these important individuals on board in ways that are meaningful to you. Counselors often are excellent at providing communication training so that the individual can more successfully convey what it is they are needing to those who are in a position to provide it.

Having children can be a remarkably rewarding experience, but more often than not, it also comes with real anxieties about the infinite questions surrounding parenting. Give yourself, your child, and your family the gift of helping you through postpartum depression and anxiety by seeking and accessing the support you need.

Boosting Folic Acid May Lead to Less Risk of Severe Mental Illness

Fortifying grain-based foods with folic acid — instituted in the U.S. in the 1990s to prevent neural tube defects in infants — may also reduce the incidence of severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia that initially appear in young adulthood, according to new research.

In a study comparing brain images of school-aged youths born just before the fortification mandate to those of young people born afterwards, a Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) research team found that increased in utero folic acid exposure was associated with changes in later brain development. These brain changes predicted a reduced risk for symptoms of psychosis, according to the scientists.

“Severe mental illnesses such as autism and schizophrenia that strike children and young adults are devastating and chronic and, at present, have no known prevention or cure,” said Joshua Roffman, M.D., M.MSc., of the MGH Department of Psychiatry and senior author of the study.

“These illnesses are thought to start in the womb, so it makes sense to focus our efforts there. If even a fraction of these cases could be prevented through a benign and readily available intervention during pregnancy, it could be as transformative for psychiatry as vaccines have been for infectious disease or fluoridation for dentistry.”

Folic acid is known to reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida, in which the spinal column does not completely close around the spinal cord, which can lead to severe disabilities. Taking folic acid supplements is recommended for women who may become pregnant since neural tube defects can develop before a pregnancy is recognized.

Folic acid fortification of the food supply was mandated in 1996 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to protect against risks.

The measure led to a rapid doubling of blood levels of folate — the nutrient category including folic acid — in U.S. women and a reduced incidence of spina bifida nationwide, according to the researchers.

Poor maternal nutrition during pregnancy has been shown to increase subsequent risks for conditions like schizophrenia in children. Recent long-term studies in several countries, including the U.S., have found links between prenatal folic acid consumption with an approximately 50 percent reduction in children’s risk for autism.

But none of these observations included biological evidence that could support a cause-and-effect relationship between prenatal folic acid exposure and the development of these psychiatric disorders, according to the researchers of the new study.

In seeking such evidence, the researchers took advantage of the “natural experiment” provided by the rapid U.S. implementation of folic acid fortification over two years, from 1996 to 1998.

The team reviewed two sets of brain images taken when children and adolescents born from 1993 to 2001 were ages 8 to 18.

One set consisted of normal brain images taken at MGH as part of the clinical care of 292 patients; another set included images from 861 participants in the Philadelphia Neurodevelopmental Cohort, a study that included assessment of psychiatric symptoms, including those associated with psychotic disorders.

Both of those groups were divided according to probable prenatal exposure to folic acid — those born before July 1, 1996, when fortification began, those born after July 1, 1998, when implementation was complete, and those born in the intervening two years, for whom exposure would have been intermediate.

A third set of images reflected 217 participants in a multi-site National Institutes Health (NIH) study, all ages 8 to 18 when imaged, but born before folic acid fortification was instituted.

Images from both the MGH and Philadelphia cohorts revealed that young people born after full implementation of folic acid fortification had different patterns of cortical maturation compared with participants born before the program began, the researchers report.

These differences were characterized by significantly thicker brain tissue and delayed thinning of the cerebral cortex in regions associated with schizophrenia.

The cortical thickness of those born during the rollout period was intermediate between the two other groups.

While a thinning of the cerebral cortex in school-aged children is a normal part of brain maturation — probably associated with processes like the elimination of unnecessary connections between neurons — previous studies have associated early and accelerated cortical thinning with autism and with symptoms of psychosis, the researchers noted.

Data on psychiatric symptoms available from the Philadelphia cohort revealed that the delayed cortical thinning seen in fully folic-acid-exposed participants was associated with a significantly reduced risk of symptoms of psychosis.

Images from the NIH cohort, which was not exposed to folic acid fortification, found no evidence of the delayed cortical thinning seen in the folic-acid-exposed participants from the other two groups. That supports the association between prenatal folic acid exposure and delayed cortical thinning, the researchers said.

“While our results link prenatal exposure to folic acid fortification with changes in cortical development and with a reduced risk of psychotic spectrum symptoms, they cannot directly link folic acid exposure to reduced schizophrenia risk, since the typical age of onset for that disorder is in the early 20s. But since such symptoms in youth are on the same continuum as schizophrenia, the results hold some promise for schizophrenia prevention,” Roffman said.

“The oldest participants in our study are now approaching the age of greatest risk for several psychiatric disorders — also including bipolar disorder and depression — so it will be of great interest to see whether exposure does have an effect on the incidence of these disorders,” he said. “Future research should also look at how actual maternal folate levels relate to postnatal brain development and the risk of subsequent serious mental illness.”

“While 81 countries currently fortify their food supply with folic acid, more than half the world’s population remains without such exposure,” he continued.

“Conclusively demonstrating that prenatal folic acid could have benefits for brain health beyond its well-established effects on spinal bifida prevention might help tip the balance toward implementing fortification in countries that have not yet adopted it.”

The study was published in JAMA Psychiatry.

Source: Massachusetts General Hospital

Most Moms of Juvenile Offenders Don’t Lose Hope for Son’s Future

Mothers overwhelmingly want what is best for their children. But what happens to a mother’s hopes and dreams for her son when he is charged as a juvenile offender?

A new study finds that, overall, a mother’s aspirations for her son remain the same after his offense. But if he continues to stay in trouble with the law, her expectations that those aspirations will become a reality tend to decrease. This was particularly true for mothers of younger offenders.

“Mothers who were a part of this study had uniformly high aspirations for their sons — as in, what they hope and dream that their sons will achieve,” said Dr. Caitlin Cavanagh, assistant professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University (MSU). “What changed, however, were their expectations of the feasibility of those achievements.”

The study findings are published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence.

Many studies have focused on how parents influence their children in an academic setting by sharing aspirations and expectations, Cavanagh explained, but little has been studied as it relates to juvenile justice.

For the study, Cavanagh interviewed more than 300 first-time juvenile offenders and their mothers over a course of 36 months. The mother-son pairs were mostly non-white and living in the metropolitan areas of Philadelphia, New Orleans and Orange County, Calif. The sons’ offenses were low- to moderate-level crimes, such as theft, assault and vandalism.

To identify the mothers’ aspiration levels for their sons, or what they wished for their sons’ futures, Cavanagh asked the mothers several questions, including how important it was for them to see their sons graduate from high school, get married, find a good job, etc.

When talking to mothers about expectations, or what they thought was likely for their sons to achieve later in life, Cavanagh also asked how likely the moms believed that these goals would be met.

The mothers were interviewed right after their sons’ arrests and again a few years later to see whether their expectations had changed if their sons continued to break the law.

“What was especially interesting was that of the 317 mothers we interviewed, zero said ‘unimportant’ when it came to their aspirations for sons. In spite of their run-ins with the law, it was still very important to mothers to see their sons thrive,” Cavanagh said.

“Although their aspirations stayed the same, their expectations that those aspirations would become reality decreased in response to continued delinquency.”

The findings were more distinct for moms of younger offenders. For example, a mother of a 13-year-old offender has lower expectations for her son than a mom with an older teenage boy.

“For younger offenders, mothers’ expectations decreased more rapidly in response to continued delinquency than for older offenders. This could be because mothers worry that the doors will close on opportunities for their sons when they are breaking the law so young,” Cavanagh said. “If you have the ‘bad kid’ reputation early on, it’s hard to erase.”

Among the moms surveyed, those who came from lower socioeconomic backgrounds had greater aspirations for their sons than the better-off mothers.

“Goals related to upward mobility may be more salient for lower-income mothers, who may want their sons to ‘get ahead’ and change the circumstances in which they were raised,” Cavanagh said.

Source: Michigan State University


​How Parents Can Navigate Oppositional Defiant Disorder

It’s normal for teens to act out. They are growing up after all and with that comes an increased need for more independence and autonomy as they approach adulthood. They will test limits, argue with their parents and sometimes get into trouble.

However, sometimes there might be more going on than normal teen rebelliousness. If you notice that your teenage son or daughter seems defiant, uncooperative and is hostile towards you, their siblings, peers, teachers and others in authority, they might have a type of behavior disorder known as Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).

What Exactly Is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

ODD is often first diagnosed in childhood. In order to be diagnosed, the child has to have had consistent occurrences of at least four of the following behaviors for about 6 months:

  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Actively defying adults or refusing to comply with rules or requests made by authority figures
  • Constantly arguing with adults
  • Persistent stubbornness and resistance to receiving correction or direction from adults or peers
  • Deliberately doing things to upset or annoy other people
  • Failing to accept blame for their misdeeds
  • Blaming others for their own misbehavior or mistakes
  • Being touchy and frequently picking fights with others
  • Always angry and resentful
  • Being unkind, vindictive, malicious or spiteful

Although researchers are still not sure what causes ODD in some children they believe that it might stem from two things:

  1. A failure by a child to properly learn how to be independent of the parents or people they are attached to during the toddler years.
  2. Negative reinforcement methods used by authority figures. Instead of developing healthy ways to deal with their emotions, such children learn to use tantrums, anger, verbal abuse and other negative behavior to get attention or a desired reaction from their parents or those around them.

How Is ODD Diagnosed And What Treatment Options Are There?

Once you notice any of the symptoms above in your teen, it is advisable to seek diagnosis right away as early treatment can help avert future problems. A qualified mental health practitioner or therapist should be able to observe your teen, talk to you about their behavior and in some cases, conduct some mental health tests before coming up with a diagnosis.

After the ODD diagnosis is made, your mental health care provider might recommend one of the following treatments:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy. Through this, your teen will learn how to identify and replace negative feelings, thoughts and behaviors with positive ones. Cognitive-behavioral therapy will also teach better communication and problem-solving skills along with emotional management.
  • Peer group therapy. Interacting with other troubled teens might foster better interpersonal and social skills in your teen.
  • Family therapy. ODD is often a family affair and this therapy helps the entire family improve their communication skills in order to have healthier interactions.
  • Medication. While medicines aren’t commonly used to treat ODD, your teen might require them if they have other co-existing conditions such as anxiety, depression etc.

Ways To Navigate ODD

ODD often takes its toll on the entire family and left unchecked, it can greatly interfere with your family’s interaction. Here are ways to navigate ODD in a healthy way:

  1. Seek appropriate help for your teen as soon as possible. This way, they will receive treatment early on forestalling any future problems. Additionally, ensure you adhere to the treatment regimen, go for all family sessions if they’re required and be as supportive as you can, even if it seems your efforts are unappreciated.
  2. Be patient with your child. There’s nothing easy about living with a teen with ODD. However, learning how to manage and handle your own frustrations and anger can go a long way towards calming situations that threaten to get out of hand. Take time out to center yourself during heated moments and remind yourself that your teen’s behavior comes from the disorder and isn’t really who they are.
  3. Have boundaries but retain some flexibility. ODD teens can have a tendency towards verbal abuse and violence, especially when they don’t get their way. This calls for the establishment of strong, healthy boundaries on your part. You need to know or set your boundaries, communicate this with your teen and discuss the consequences for crossing them. At the same time, give your teen freedom to let off steam as the pressure to meet all your expectations can sometimes cause them to act out. So balance your strictness with some freedom.
  4. Know when to escalate issues. Teens with ODD have volatile behavior, making it hard to know when to seek help. You should call your teen’s mental healthcare practitioner immediately if your teen starts hallucinating, hearing voices that others don’t hear, feels out of control or is unable to sleep for a length of time. Also, call 911 if your teen has suicidal thoughts complete with a plan and the means to carry it out.
  5. Be there for your other kids. Your other children can feel sidelined and ignored since all your attention is often focused on the troubled teen. Ensure you spend time with your other kids to reassure them that you still care. Additionally, take steps to make sure that they don’t become victims of their sibling’s volatile behavior.
  6. Have your own support system. Raising a teen with ODD is stressful and you can quickly get overwhelmed. Reaching out to other parents in a similar situation gives you a support system to lean on. Talking to your extended family and friends can also be helpful.

While raising a teen with ODD can feel like an uphill battle, with the right assistance and treatment they can grow into mature, emotionally-balanced adults.


Oppositional Defiant Disorder- Infographic. Retrieved from

What is CBT? (2017). Society of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology. Retrieved from

Abraham, K. When ODD Kids, Entitlement Mentality and Verbal Abuse Collide. Retrieved from

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