What does my parenting have to do with how I behaved as a child?

By Anita M. Schimizzi, Ph.D.

There are many things that shape who we are as parents and Raudino and colleagues say that childhood behavior is one of them.  In their study of parents that had been followed in a longitudinal study since birth, they found that conduct problems (behaviors like aggression and defiance of authority) mattered a whole lot in how they parented years later.

Conduct problems are no small potatoes.  Raudino et al. reported that 10% of all kids have conduct problems and half of all child mental health referrals are due to this issue.  Several studies have looked at outcomes for kids with conduct problems and have found increased risk for issues such as adult antisocial personality disorder, social troubles, parenting difficulties, and intimate partner violence.

Radino’s study looked specifically at parenting and intimate partnership.  I will focus mostly on parenting for this post.  The authors used data from New Zealand’s Christchurch Health and Development Study, a thirty-year longitudinal study that looked at a number of variables at birth, four months, 1 year, annually up to age 16, and at ages 18, 21, 25, and 30.  Over 300 parents (133 fathers, 204 mothers) participated in Raudino’s study.

Using data from the participants at ages 7, 8, and 9, the investigators looked at conduct issues reported by parents and teachers.  The participants were placed into one of four groups based on the severity of conduct disturbance (group 1 = 1st to 50th percentile, group 2 = 51st to 80th percentile, group 3 = 81st to 95th percentile, and group 4 = 96th to 100th percentile).  And then at age 30, when the participants were parents, they completed interviews and observations in order to gather information on their parenting and intimate partner relationships.  For the purposes of this post, I will focus primarily on parenting findings.

Very briefly, increased severity in childhood conduct problems was associated with lower intimate relationship satisfaction and investment, as well as increased intimate relationship conflict, ambivalence, and violence. 

Parenting outcomes revealed that the more severe the childhood conduct problems, the less warm and sensitive the participants were toward their children.  These parents also tended to be less equipped to effectively manage their children’s behavior and more over-reactive, punitive, and lax and/or inconsistent in their guidance of their children.  After controlling for a variety of factors, such as the participants’ family background, gender, education level, and emotional problems, all of these parenting  findings held true with the exception of lax/inconsistent parenting.

What we can take away from this study is more support for the body of research that suggests that early conduct problems can have very lasting effects, well into adulthood.  And as with many issues, early intervention and prevention may be key.  For example, equipping parents and teachers to effectively manage childhood misconduct, increasing children’s coping and social skills, and providing support throughout the developmental stages (including adulthood/parenthood) to children with increased levels of conduct problems can all be good ways to attempt to decrease negative outcomes for this group of children.  And, by extension, these interventions may just help the next generation from developing the same behavior patterns that our participants had.  Thanks for reading Anita

Source: Raudino, A., Woodward, L., Fergusson, D., & Horwood, L. (2011). Childhood Conduct Problems Are Associated with Increased Partnership and Parenting Difficulties in Adulthood Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology DOI: 10.1007/s10802-011-9565-8

HPV vaccines and teen sexuality

By Nestor Lopez-Duran PhD

Some brief thoughts on an issue I will be covering more intensively during the next few weeks. This week the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended that boys between the ages 9 to 26 be vaccinated against the HPV virus. This created a storm of controversy among some parents and politicians who are concerned that this vaccine can increase sexual activity among teens.

HPV infection is the most common sexually transmitted disease and is responsible for a significant number of cancers in women and men. HPV however, is highly preventable if individuals are vaccinated before they become sexually active. Thus, CDC believes that comprehensive vaccination against HPV before teens become sexually active can drastically reduce cancer rates and thus save thousands of lives.

Yet in the USA less than 1/3 of teen girls have been fully vaccinated against HPV, which is significantly below the level necessary to make a real impact on HPV rates. This number is worth repeating: less than 1/3 of girls in the USA are vaccinated against a highly preventable virus that is responsible for the death of thousands of women and men each year.

Why are these vaccination rates so low?

A number of studies have identified the factors that keep parents from vaccinating their kids.

In sum, the most common factors are:

1. The concern that vaccination could promote adolescent sexual activity.
2. The belief that vaccinations are too costly.
3. The belief that their teens are not at risk because they are not sexually active and thus should not get vaccinated.
4. The concern that vaccines are too risky.

Next week I will address these four issues and will present a number of research findings regarding these concerns. But in sum, there is no evidence supporting these concerns and the potential risks are not enough to outweigh the potentially life-saving benefits of this vaccine. Nestor.


Brewer, N. T., Fazekas, K. I. (2007). Predictors of HPV vaccine acceptability: a theory-informed, systematic review. Preventive Medicine, 45(2-3), 107–114.
Davis, K., Dickman, E. D., Ferris, D., Dias, J. K. (2004). Human papillomavirus vaccine acceptability among parents of 10-to 15-year-old adolescents. Journal of lower genital tract disease, 8(3), 188.
Fazekas, K. I., Brewer, N. T., Smith, J. S. (2008). HPV vaccine acceptability in a rural Southern area. Journal of Women’s Health, 17(4), 539–548.
Zimet, G. D., Liddon, N., Rosenthal, S. L., Lazcano-Ponce, E., Allen, B. (2006). Psychosocial aspects of vaccine acceptability. Vaccine, 24, S201–S209.
Zimet, G. D., Mays, R. M., Winston, Y., Kee, R., Dickes, J., Su, L. (2000). Acceptability of human papillomavirus immunization. Journal of Women’s Health Gender-Based Medicine, 9(1), 47–50.

Maternal and Child ADHD: Implications for Parenting

By Anita M. Schimizzi, Ph.D.

We know that there is a genetic component to ADHD.  If Sally has ADHD, then she is more likely than her peers without ADHD to have a close relative with it, too.  When it comes to mothers of children with ADHD, it is estimated that 17% have it themselves.  And we also know that maternal ADHD can have a serious impact on parenting, such as higher rates of over-reactivity and poor problem solving.   So what can be done to influence these outcomes so children and parents alike with ADHD have more positive family experiences? 

In a recent study in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, Chronis-Tuscano and colleagues looked at parent and child outcomes after mothers of children with ADHD attended a brief parent training program.  The results revealed a critical piece of information.  Mothers with higher ADHD symptoms saw less progress in their children following parent training and this finding appeared to be due to negative parenting holding steady.  Behaviors such as making negative commands (e.g., “Cut that out!) and critical statements (e.g., “You’re an idiot.”), as well as negative touching (e.g., hitting), fell into the category of negative parenting.

In all, 70 mother-child dyads from diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds were included.  While mothers did not have to have an ADHD diagnosis to participate in the study, it was predicted that they would have more symptoms related to ADHD than mothers in the general population.  And they did.

Mothers attended a 5-session course created from a longer evidence-based training program for parents of children with ADHD and disruptive behavior disorders.  The researchers gathered data on maternal ADHD (14% met criteria for a formal diagnosis of ADHD) and child ADHD symptoms, child behavior outcomes, and parenting behaviors using both parent and teacher questionnaires and observations. 

Overall, the children’s reported disruptive behaviors went down significantly across environments after completion of the parent training; however, the higher the maternal ADHD symptoms, the less improvement in behaviors that mothers reported in their children from pre- to post-parent training. 

In terms of parenting behaviors, maternal ADHD predicted less improvement in the areas of involvement and inconsistent discipline.  It also predicted less improvement from pre- to post-training in negative parenting during observations of play and homework time, as well as making repeated commands before allowing a child enough time to respond to the first command.

Here is an important piece of information.  We see that maternal ADHD predicted lower levels of improvement across a variety of areas.  The researchers examined this finding more closely to discover that negative parenting (and not positive parenting) was the critical link between maternal ADHD and child outcomes.  That is, it appears that the mothers with ADHD saw less improvement in their child’s disruptive behavior after parent training because their negative parenting did not significantly improve.  Further, mothers in the study who were able to decrease their negative parenting saw more improvement in their child’s behavior.

Think about this.  In moments of impulsivity, which are common with ADHD, it can be very difficult to rein in behaviors before acting.  So if mothers with ADHD can receive interventions that harness impulsivity better, giving them time to think before acting, might we also see a drop in negative parenting and a subsequent improvement in child outcomes?

What we can gather from this study is that efforts in improving negative parenting in mothers with ADHD are going to be critical to the behavioral success of children who also have ADHD.  And just as in children with ADHD, psychoeducation, prosocial skill-building, medication, self-monitoring, and a host of other options to address ADHD and improve relationships can be considered in mothers with ADHD.  Most importantly, mothers with ADHD will likely be best served by considering all available options and finding those that feel right for them. 

To all of the clinicians out there treating children with ADHD, the high rate of maternal ADHD that accompanies these children is worthy of exploration and intervention.  You just may find a key to improving the functioning of entire families.

Thanks for reading.  -Anita

Source: Chronis-Tuscano, A., O’Brien, K., Johnston, C., Jones, H., Clarke, T., Raggi, V., Rooney, M., Diaz, Y., Pian, J., & Seymour, K. (2011). The Relation Between Maternal ADHD Symptoms & Improvement in Child Behavior Following Brief Behavioral Parent Training is Mediated by Change in Negative Parenting Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 39 (7), 1047-1057 DOI: 10.1007/s10802-011-9518-2

A Little Control Goes a Long Way: Why and How to Use Forced Choice With Your Child

By Anita M. Schimizzi, Ph.D.

In a previous post on time-out, I mentioned the technique of forced choice.  Reader feedback tells me that this topic is a good one to cover on its own.  So without further ado, here you go.

Why Use Forced Choice

First, let’s talk first about why it is important to give children choices.  Perhaps it’s easiest to start with someone you know very well: You.  Think about how it feels to have your power stripped from you, to feel that you have no say in a matter that’s important to you.  For children, most matters do feel pretty important.  And, let’s face it, kids get told many, many times a day what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.  While having a parent as a guide can feel quite comforting, having a parent with all of the control can feel pretty terrible and sometimes downright infuriating.

Kids need an opportunity to gain a sense of control by having a say, to make mistakes, and to learn from their decisions in a supportive context.  (Refer back to the natural consequences post for more on this.)  Giving choices allows for all three to occur.  It’s simply more empowering to be a decision-maker rather than a passive participant in your life.  Looking back at Diana Baumrind’s seminal 1960’s research on parenting styles, she and several others (e.g., Maccoby & Martin) since that time found that those that use an authoritative style had some pretty positive outcomes with their children.  In a nutshell, this style provides structure within a democracy.  That is, parents set the stage with rules, expectations, and guidance while allowing their children healthy decision-making opportunities.  And when their kids mess up, they are typically met with a supportive style rather than a punitive one so their kids can worry more about learning from mistakes than hiding them from their parents.  They can then apply this knowledge moving forward as they are presented with more opportunities for decision-making.

Contrast that with an authoritarian style where mom and dad are more like drill sergeants that dictate so much of their child’s existence that the child has difficulty building the capacity to make his own good choices.  And then there is the permissive parenting style where kids have so much freedom that they can easily tend toward being the kids that grown-ups refer to as out-of-control.  Finally, we have the neglecting/uninvolved parenting style that is as its name suggests and these kids typically struggle with a host of problems such as depression, aggression, and poor self-control.  And this brings me back to the authoritative parenting style and, more specifically, the technique of forced choice that falls under the umbrella of authoritative parenting.

So we talked about some of the benefits of forced choice already, such as helping kids feel empowered and safe to make and learn from mistakes.  An added bonus is that it can get parent and child unstuck during power struggles.  A tense situation can be easily defused when a parent can think of some good solutions to the problem at hand and then offer the child a choice of these solutions.  For example, let’s say that the morning is rushed and you’re afraid that you’ll be late for work and your child late for school.  You toss some clothes on your child’s bed and tell her to get dressed.  She yells that she doesn’t like that outfit.  You have the option of pressing on by telling the child to put on the clothes anyway OR you can take the opportunity to quickly say something like this: “Sometimes there are clothes that I don’t feel like wearing on some days, too.  Would you like to wear your flower dress or your frog outfit today?”  The five seconds that you spend giving your child a choice can easily save you five minutes of power struggling with her.

How to Use Forced Choice

While there are times when choices simply cannot be offered, as in circumstances where safety is truly at risk, there are many times during the day where an opportunity to make a choice can be easy to give.  Here are some guidelines for offering a forced choice:

1.)    For very young children (e.g., preschoolers and beginning elementary kids), it is typically easiest to offer two choices.  For older children and adolescents, more choices can be offered if you sense that your child can handle them.

2.)    Any choice offered needs to be one that you genuinely support.  For example, giving your child a choice to do homework now or in the morning when you know that doing it in the morning will likely cause a lot of stress on your child as well as you may not be a good idea.  Offering the choice of doing homework now or right after dinner may work better for all involved.

3.)    If a child is given the list of choices and refuses to make a decision, you can offer something like the following statement: “I have given you your choices, but you are not telling me which one you want.  I will give you one more minute to think about it and tell me.  If you don’t, then I’ll make the decision.”  Most frequently, this results in the child seizing control of the situation by making a choice.  If he doesn’t, then it’s important to follow through with what you said and make the decision for him.  True, you may get a tantrum out of the deal, but that’s better than your child learning that your word will not be kept.

4.)    Sometimes kids have great ideas for choices and deserve to be heard.  For example, you may give the option of wearing a coat to the store or putting it on the seat in the car.  The child may make the suggestion of putting the coat in his bag and putting it in the car.  Times like these warrant comments like this: “Wow!  I didn’t think of that one.  That sounds perfectly reasonable to me.  Let’s head out.”

5.)    As I mentioned in the time-out post, forced choice is perfectly acceptable to use during times of misbehavior.  For example, a tantrum at the grocery store can be met with the following: “You can continue to yell and we’ll go home now or you can use a calm voice while we’re in the store and we’ll keep shopping.”  Of course, you have to be willing to leave the store immediately if the tantrum continues.

6.)    When the child has made a decision from the choices available and things don’t work out very well, an opportunity for talking about the outcome has presented itself and should be taken.  For example, let’s say that you gave your child the option of taking a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in his school lunch or taking yogurt.  He chose the yogurt but ended up hungry much earlier than usual.  A situation like this could be met with something along the lines of, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that you got so hungry at school.  I’m wondering if there is something else that you could choose for your lunch that would fill you up for longer.”  This statement is a whole lot different from “You were the one that chose the yogurt so those are the breaks.”  Remember, we want our kids to feel safe to come to us with their concerns as well as empowered to make good decisions for themselves.

As always, thanks for reading.  -Anita

This post is sponsored by The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Get your degree in psychology.


Baumrind, D. (1966). Effects of Authoritative Parental Control on Child Behavior, Child Development, 37(4), 887-907.

Baumrind, D. (1967). Child Care Practices Anteceding Three Patterns of Preschool Behavior. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 75(1), 43-88.

Maccoby, E. E., & Martin, J. A. (1983). Socialization in the Context of the Family: Parent–child Interaction. In P. H. Mussen (Ed.) & E. M. Hetherington (Vol. Ed.), Handbook of Child Psychology: Vol. 4. Socialization, Personality, and Social Development (4th ed., pp. 1-101). New York: Wiley.

A Look at Bullying Prevention and Outcomes: The KiVa Program

By Anita M. Schimizzi, Ph.D.

I went to school with a guy that could be described as one of the most socially awkward human beings I have ever encountered. He had a strange walk and funny hair, talked to himself, pretended to talk in German, and had not a single friend. I don’t think that he went through so much as an hour during school without being relentlessly teased and tormented by students, and I don’t remember a single teacher or peer stepping in to do a thing about it. To this day, I wonder what happened to that guy. And I wonder what a difference it could have made in his life if bullying prevention efforts had been made.

It has not been that long that bullying has been taken seriously even though we have known for a long time that it can be destructive and sometimes very dangerous. There are now solid efforts being made to not only understand it but to change its course and to help victims and perpetrators alike.

The Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology recently published a study that takes a look at the KiVa Anti-Bullying Program, a Finnish program that sets itself apart from other programs because it addresses a critical piece that perpetuates bullying: group involvement. When witnesses either encourage or seem indifferent to the bullying it gives the bully more power and keeps the process going. The KiVa Program aims to teach kids how important their role in bullying is and teaches skills that help students defend victims. Research thus far on the program suggests that it has a positive impact on reducing bullying.

A little more on the KiVa Program: KiVa works on improving anti-bullying attitudes as well as empowering students to defend victims through skill-building and education.  It involves 20 hours of activities such as discussion, group work, films, role-playing, and computer exercises.  It also includes specific interventions for real cases of bullying at the schools where victims and bullies come together for discussions mediated by school staff and teachers.  An interesting component to this process requires victims to identify other students who could be allies and these students are then recruited to assist in stopping the bullying. 

Williford and colleagues looked at a specific set of outcomes from the KiVa Program: depression, anxiety, and peer perceptions. Why are these outcomes important? Being bullied has been linked to internalizing problems so if bullying is reduced students might feel better. Also, empowering students to reduce bullying can potentially improve peer perceptions. And if you feel more positive about your peers, then perhaps you won’t be so willing to stand by or cheer as these same peers are bullied.

The researchers studied data from almost 8,000 students attending 4th-6th grade at 78 schools.  Approximately half of the classrooms at these schools underwent the KiVa program and the other half served as a control group.  They collected data at three points over the course of two academic years (May 07, December 07-January 08, and May 08) to look at changes over time.   

The researchers compared peer-reported victimization, depression, anxiety, and peer perceptions for the KiVa group with the control group.  While reports of victimization were equal at the first data collection, they became statistically different at subsequent data collections with the KiVa group reporting continual decreases in victimization.

There were not significant findings for group differences in depression, which the authors attribute to an inadequate measure of depression as well as participants being younger than the age during which depression usually begins. 

Anxiety decreased in both groups.  While the groups reported similar levels of anxiety at the first data collection, however, the KiVa group decreased more and was statistically different from the comparison group at the third data collection.  The authors state that the intervention may have created a more positive social climate where fear of being bullied went down and anxiety went down along with it.  Also, the program incorporated important social skills and confidence-building components that could have potentially reduced anxiety.

Interestingly, peer perceptions went down overall in both the intervention group and the control group (although the KiVa group went down less and was significantly different from the control group by the end of the study), which the authors argue is likely related to the phase of development of the students.  At this age, peer perceptions are complex at best and shift quickly. 

Finally, the authors looked at reports of victimization over time and found that the greater the drop in perceived victimization, the more that anxiety, depression, and peer perceptions all improved. 

When I think back to the guy at my school, I have regrets for my role (or non-role, if you will) in preventing his victimization.  Had I been given the tools to help create a better outcome, I don’t know that I would have used them, but at least I would have had them and could have made an informed decision.  A big takeaway from KiVa is that as a culture, we must make bullying unacceptable and we must equip ourselves and our children with the skills and confidence necessary to be an active part of the solution.  There is no such thing as not being a part of the problem if we are doing nothing.

If you’d like to read more on bullying, please refer to Nestor’s previous posts on the topic. And if you’d like to learn more about the KiVa program please visit the program website.  Thanks for reading, Anita

Source: Williford A, Boulton A, Noland B, Little TD, Kärnä A, & Salmivalli C (2011). Effects of the KiVa Anti-bullying Program on Adolescents Depression, Anxiety, and Perception of Peers. Journal of abnormal child psychology PMID: 21822630

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Give SpongeBob a break!

By Nestor Lopez-Duran PhD

This morning I turned on the news and found this headline: Pediatricians group finds fault with SpongeBob published by Reuters. In the article, the Reuters reporter states:

And Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics will take aim at the 12-year-old Nickelodeon show, reporting a study that concludes the fast-paced show, and others like it, arent good for children.

From the title and the content of the news article, you could conclude that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is taking a position against the cartoon. I was initially shocked and wanted to see why the AAP would take such as drastic policy statement. After all, the AAP only takes positions on issues that have been extensively studied, such as their position against corporal punishment.

But I rapidly realized that the AAP was not taking any position against SpongeBob at all, and that the AP article was entirely misleading (most likely because the reporter may not know how the AAP publication process works).

At issue is a small study that will be published this week in the journal Pediatrics, which is the main journal of the AAP. The AAP PR office sent a press release this weekend about the study, just as they do about many of the studies to be published this week. Such a press release is simply an attempt to get publicity for the journal but does not at any level imply that the AAP itself endorses the results of the study as conclusive.

Let me explain, the journal Pediatrics simply publishes the results of carefully conducted studies that are supposed to advance our knowledge of an issue. Then scientists can review the study and try to replicate it or improve it. That is, other scientists try to conduct the same experiment and try to get the same results. In many cases the findings are replicated and we can start to draw some narrow conclusions about the issue, but in many, many cases the findings are not replicated.

I have not read this specific study because it has not been provided to scientists yet (I hate that the AAP provides information of studies to journalists before it gives it to the scientific community). But from another AP report, it seems that the authors compared 4-year-old kids who completed 3 tasks: 1. Watch Spongebob for 9 minutes. 2. watch another slower-paced cartoon, or 3. draw pictures. After this experiment, the kids completed a task of inhibitory control, in which they had to wait before they could eat candy.

The results suggested that those who watched Spongebob were more impulsive (aka ate the candy sooner) than the kids in the other two groups. I may make additional comments about this study once I read it, but this is not entirely surprising given that SpongeBob is fast-paced and would increase physiological arousal, which in turn will decrease inhibitory control. I am surprised that the comparison group was not an active one, such as having the kids run around or make jumping jacks. In such a case, I would predict that the kids doing exercise would also have difficulty waiting for the candy and would perform similarly to the kids watching SpongeBob. Would you then conclude that exercise is bad for kids?

Despite the medias sensationalistic statements, it seems that the conclusions by the authors were pretty appropriate. They stated to the AP that the study suggests that parents should not have young kids watch SpongeBob or any other fast-paced TV show immediately before they need to do activities that require concentration, such as going to preschool or kindergarten. This makes sense, just as it makes sense that kids should not be running around before going to bed.

So the issue is not really about SpongeBob, but about the simple phenomenon that  excitement can reduce inhibitory control.

I say, give SpongeBob a break.

Cheers, Nestor.

Help yourself to help your child: Maternal depression and child trauma

By Nestor Lopez-Duran PhD

During case consultation meetings at most child psychotherapy clinics, a therapist presents a case and seeks recommendations from other clinicians. The clinicians discuss the specifics of the case and then offer suggestions that could benefit the child. I remember the first year I started attending these case conferences how surprised I was at how often the recommendation was for parents to also receive their own individual therapy. Sometimes the recommendation was simply intended to provide stressed parents with some resources that could benefit them. But often the parents were struggling with symptoms themselves and the group believed that addressing the parental symptoms would also help the child. The assumption was simple: children respond better to interventions if their parents are not struggling with psychological difficulties themselves.

Last night I read an interesting article just published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology that provides some scientific support for such assumption. The article reported the findings of a study that examined the effectiveness of two different child therapies for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Specifically, the study compared an intervention called Trauma-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TB-CBT) against a similar intervention called Trauma Based Cognitive Therapy (TB-CT) (For my clinician readers, the TB-CT did not involve exposure).

I was not surprised at all at the fact that both interventions were very effective in reducing PTSD and other similar symptoms. What was most surprising is how much parents impacted the effectiveness of the intervention.

Specifically, maternal depression significantly impacted the effectiveness of the intervention among kids who presented with severe PTSD symptoms. See this graph:

That line reflects kids whose parents had low levels of depression.  You can see based on that line that the PTSD symptoms at the end of the treatment were very low regardless of whether the kids had severe or non-severe PTSD symptoms at the start of the intervention.  That is, after the intervention, most kids, whether they had severe or non-severe PTSD at the start of the treatment, had low levels of PTSD symptoms. In sum, the therapy worked.

However, the solid line reflects the kids whose mothers had high levels of depression. As you can see, the PTSD symptoms at the end of the treatment were really high for those kids who had severe symptoms of PTSD at the start of the intervention. That is, the therapy did not work for kids who had severe symptoms of depression at the start of treatment if their mothers were also depressed.

For clinicians and parents the implications are the same. It is extremely important that parents and clinicians pay attention to parental depression when dealing with a child who has been traumatized. Parents should know that it is common for them to feel many symptoms of depression when their child has experienced trauma. But in such cases, it is important for the parent to receive help for their own symptoms in order to help their child recover from the trauma.

Cheers, Nestor.

The reference: Nixon, R., Sterk, J., Pearce, A. (2011). A Randomized Trial of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Cognitive Therapy for Children with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Following Single-Incident Trauma Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology DOI: 10.1007/s10802-011-9566-7

Spillover Between Teens’ Conflict with Family and Friends

By Anita M. Schimizzi, Ph.D.

Parents of teens probably know this all too well. A conflict at home can mean sending your teen out the door in a funk, which can spur negative interactions outside of the home. Conversely, teens can come in the door having had a conflict with a friend and that means anyone in his or her path is in for it, too. This dynamic is what a recent study in the journal Child Development studied.

Chung and colleagues set out to examine whether or not there was spillover between conflict with parents/family and conflict with peers. As one may guess, the researchers found that when teens had a conflict with a parent or other family member they were more likely to report having a conflict with a peer, and vice versa. They referred to this phenomenon as “spillover”.

The authors discuss spillover in the context of a “transmission of negative emotions” and an extreme and negative quality that can color the adolescent emotional experience. Teens simply experience emotions with an intensity that is specific to being a teenager. With all of the changes that teens go through (remember puberty?), it would make sense that they would experience some fierce emotions.

The authors collected daily diary entries for two weeks from over 500 ninth-grade males and females from diverse backgrounds. Study participants reported on family and peer conflict, as well as emotional distress. Because the entries were subjective, the results certainly need to be interpreted within the framework of perception. That is, the diaries were the information that the teens reported to be their experiences. Asking someone else could have potentially offered different information.

In each situation of conflict, same predicted same at the highest rates. In other words, peer conflict predicted peer conflict more than family conflict predicted it. Conversely, family conflict predicted family conflict at a higher rate than peer conflict predicted it.

Although the effects were smaller, family conflict still significantly predicted same-day and next-day peer conflict. Interestingly, it also significantly predicted peer conflict two days later. Now that’s some spillover! Peer conflict significantly predicted same-day and next-day family conflict. Effects were stronger for girls than for boys and girls reported the experience of arguing with family members as being more stressful than arguing with peers.

Nobody suggests that parenting a teen is a walk in the park. On the contrary, it is a challenging time for both parent and teen and brings with it a host of trying situations unique to this phase of life. While parents can’t be there to keep peer conflict from happening, they do have some control over parent-teen conflict. And improving parent-teen conflict, according to this study, may have the added bonus of improving teen conflict with peers.

So what can parents of teens do to bring down the conflict at home? Oftentimes, learning how to talk about tough (or even not so tough) topics in a different way can make an amazing difference. I know, I know. Teens are especially clever at knowing exactly which buttons to push to make your face turn purple and your voice raise an octave or two. If you’d like to, in turn, be clever by learning some new ways to defuse these situations and make them productive rather than meet them with conflict, I definitely recommend Faber and Mazlish’s book “How to Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk”. It’s chock full of different techniques and strategies that both parents and teens can use to increase respect and decrease conflict while helping teens become more responsible individuals. Enjoy! -Anita

Source: Chung GH, Flook L, & Fuligni AJ (2011). Reciprocal Associations Between Family and Peer Conflict in Adolescents Daily Lives. Child development PMID: 21793820

Maternal Depression and Child Psychopathology: A Two-Way Street

By Anita M. Schimizzi, Ph.D.

Weve had a lot of research come out on the effects of maternal depression on children.  We know that these kids have higher rates of social, emotional, and mental health issues.  Well, the Journal of Abnormal Psychology recently published a study that looks at the arrow going the other way.  That is, it looks at the effect that child psychopathology has on moms in terms of depression and child-related stress.  What they found was that the street runs both ways between maternal and child mental health.

Raposa and colleagues (2011) looked at data from a large pool of mother-child pairs that had been followed for a pregnancy study.  Information was collected on the pairs during pregnancy to child age five and at child age 15 and 20.  This data was collected from well-known standardized interviews, meaning that they were both reliable and valid in collecting information on certain mental health-related topics.  The researchers looked at maternal depression, child psychopathology, child-related stress, and demographic information. 

The authors were specifically interested in looking at the impact of youth (age 15 and 20) psychopathology on mothers so they controlled for youth gender, SES, and maternal depression prior to age 15.  The results indicated that, indeed, maternal depression could be predicted by having a youth with a history of mental health diagnoses both at the time the youth was 15 and 20 years of age.   

In looking at child-related stress, the number of past child mental health diagnoses significantly predicted a higher number of acute stressors for mothers as well as more chronic stress in the mother-child relationship at age 15.  These increased levels of maternal stress and mother-child relationship stress at age 15 then predicted higher levels of maternal depression when the youth were 20 years old. 

Looking more closely at the data, the authors found that it was the chronic stress in the mother-child relationship and the child-related acute stressors that were the linchpins between child psychopathology and maternal depression.  The stress is what fueled the fires between mother and child mental health.  Going one step further, the researchers found that youth with a history of more than one diagnosis as well as youth that had externalizing disorders (e.g., conduct disorder) had the highest number of child-related stressors and the highest levels of mother-child stress.  Again, all of the findings held up when other potentially stressful variables, such as economic worries and past maternal depression, were controlled for.

So what does this study teach us?  While maternal depression has been found to have negative effects on children, children’s history of mental health problems also has negative effects on maternal depression.  Most importantly, the stress that the child’s poor mental health history brings to the mother’s plate and the mother-child relationship seems to be the key to understand and address.

Tackling the stress can be both overwhelming and complex, making support a must and professional intervention highly recommended.  I know that for some parents that hear the words “parent education”, an image of some know-it-all that tells you how you’re screwing up comes to mind.  On the contrary, parent education sessions can be a lifeline and a source of empowerment for parents.  They can be a place where parents realize that they are not alone in their struggles and gain much-needed support, where they can learn more information on their children’s diagnoses and difficulties, where they can troubleshoot ways to manage trying situations, structure daily living to bring down the stress, and create more positive interactions with their children.  In addition, family and individual therapy can be other tools that can help improve the mother-child relationship as well as the well-being of the entire family. 

Having a child with psychopathology can be a huge challenge.  Managing that challenge in the midst of high levels of parent-child stress and your own depression is a whopper that nobody should have to tackle alone.  Best wishes to all of the moms out there that are facing these challenges.  -Anita

Source: Raposa, E., Hammen, C., & Brennan, P. (2011). Effects of Child Psychopathology on Maternal Depression: The Mediating Role of Child-Related Acute and Chronic Stressors Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology DOI: 10.1007/s10802-011-9536-0

Kids nowadays get away with everything! Has parenting really changed?

By Nestor Lopez-Duran PhD

I always find it amusing when people talk nostalgically about the good old days when arguing that todays generation is out of control. Todays kids are so violent When I was a kid I would have never gotten away with that!, I hear often. The argument is that todays youth are out of control because parents do not parent anymore and parental expectations have declined. But is this really true?

Let us for a moment bypass the important question of whether kids today are worse than previous kids, because it is actually a complicated issue. For example, although there is some evidence of increasing parental-perceived conduct problems and youth incarceration during the last 50 years, there are many possible explanations that suggest that actual conduct may not be that different. For example, increasing parenting expectations may result in todays parents reporting their kids as worse than they were themselves even though the actual behavior is similar. Likewise, increased policing and stronger drug enforcement can result in greater incarcerations, which makes it look like todays kids are getting in trouble more often when it fact they are just simply getting caught more often.

But again, lets assume that todays kids are truly getting in trouble more often than previous kids. Is this the result of worse parenting? Has parenting really changed during the last decades?

The Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology just published a study that examined parenting changes among thousands of parents of 16-year-old teens in 1986 and fairly similar parents in 2006.

I will focus here on two specific questions. First, have parenting practices changed from 1986 to 2006? Second, are the perceived increases in conduct problems the result of changes in parenting?

Lets tackle the first question. Below are the scores of parental expectations and behaviors in the two years of the study.

As you can see when comparing the 1986 to the 2006 columns, the study suggests that as compared to the 1986 parents, 2006 parents have greater expectations in relation to going to school, doing homework, being polite, telling parents where they will be going, etc. In addition, 2006 parents are more likely to monitor their teens as compared to 1986 parents.

These results do not suggest that todays parents are more permissive or relaxed than parents in 1986. In fact, they seem to report having higher expectations and monitoring their kids more than parents did 25 years ago.

The authors of the study also examined whether any changes in conduct problems between the 1986 and the 2006 teens could be due to parenting changes. The results were actually surprising. The answer was yes, but not in the way you think. The authors found that changes in parenting practices from 1986 to 2006 actually made an impact on teens behavior: they seemed to have decreased the amount of conduct problems.

But how could parenting changes in the last 30 years have reduced the conduct problems among kids if conduct problems among kids apparently got worse? That is, if teens got worse, how is it that parenting made it better? The authors argue that parenting changes made the problem less worse: Yes, kids appear to be having more conduct problems, but these problems would be even worse if parents had not changed since 1986.

The authors conclude:

The findings of this study do not support the view that a population-wide ‘decline’ in quality of parenting has led to an increase in youth antisocial behavior. As anticipated, lower levels of parental control and responsiveness were strongly associated with risk for conduct problems; longitudinal analyses for the first cohort also showed that they predicted future risk of adult crime (supplementary Table 3). However, as noted, quality of parenting appears if anything to have improved and these changes may have been protective. Models suggested that increases over time in conduct problems might have been greater had it not been for observed changes in parental control and responsiveness.

So this study seems to conclude that parenting is not responsible for the high levels of conduct problems observed in todays youth.

The reference:
Collishaw, S., Gardner, F., Maughan, B., Scott, J., & Pickles, A. (2011). Do Historical Changes in Parent–Child Relationships Explain Increases in Youth Conduct Problems? Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology DOI: 10.1007/s10802-011-9543-1