Monthly Archives: March 2017

Inactive teens risk lower bone strength

Inactivity is causing a lack of bone strength in vital teen developmental years, according to latest research. 

Despite boys having larger and stronger bones when compared to girls, the research found boys who spent more time on the couch than running, jumping or playing sports had lower bone strength to those who were active on a regular basis.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia in Canada studied a group of teens over the key four-year developmental/pubescent period (10-14 for girls and 12-16 for boys), finding a gap between those who participated in 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activities daily and those who got less than 30 minutes per day.

Lead author Leigh Gabel said the study found teens that were generally less active had weaker bones.

“Bone strength is critical for preventing fractures,” Ms Gabel said.

“Kids who are sitting around are not loading their bones in ways that promote bone strength,” she said.

She said the four year window studied by researchers was critical for teen bone development, when more than 30 per cent of the human skeleton was formed and bone was particularly responsive to physical activity.

A 2014 longitudinal study of bone health among teens by the University of Iowa had similar outcomes; finding as teens aged their physical activity levels diminished which impacted on their overall bone strength.

Participants in the study were tracked from 5-17 years of age, with researchers measuring physical activity levels and bone strength, density and size at certain intervals as the group aged.

Researchers found that during childhood less than six per cent of girls were highly active on average and by their late teens most had become completely inactive.

Boys also generally became less active as they developed – but did get more exercise on a daily basis in comparison to girls participating in the study.

Boys nearly halved their rate of activity level by the end of the study, with five year olds measuring about 60-65 minutes per day and those at 17 clocking only 36 minutes on average per day.

Researchers also found that the children who were most active throughout their childhood and the study had the strongest, most dense bones at the completion of the 12-year study period.

As a result, they recommended parents encouraged lots of physical activity in childhood to maximize bone strength in adolescent years when activity tapered and beyond to adulthood.

University of British Columbia researcher Ms Gabel said the challenge of getting teens up and moving was not difficult. Physical activity undertaken by teens to meet daily requirements did not have to come in the form of structured activity and short bursts of activity added up to meet daily requirements – dancing at home, walking the dog, playing a game with friends in the park – all constituted activities which added to strengthening their bones.

“The bottom line is that children and youth need to step away from the couch and move to build the foundation for lifelong bone health,” she added.




New ABC show confronts bullying

Bullying can take boys to the edge, gripped by emotional scars that parents may not be able to see.

It can have devastating consequences, when children or teens feel they have limited ability to get passed the continuous, unrelenting pressure and abuse being bullied may entail.

There has been a number of positive anti-bullying programs take shape over recent years, paving the way for kids to “look out” for one another and take on the mantra “bullying, no way!”

Former Olympian and world champion swimmer Ian Thorpe has taken to Australian television in his own effort to confront bullying among students in Queensland schools.

Thorpe says he was bullied by some of his teachers when he returned to his south west Sydney school as a world champion at his chosen sport at age 15 – leaving him feeling unsure of himself and his goals.

The Olympic gold medallist has teamed up with ABC TV to produce the Bully Project, focusing on Queensland teens aged 14-18 years who are experiencing bullying; aiming to stop the harassment and embarrassment bullying has on their lives.

The Bully Project is confronting to watch at times, arming victims with hidden cameras to highlight what these young people are enduring on a daily basis at the hands of their bully/bullies.

One student featured dropped out of his schooling before appearing on the program, too scared to face his bullies and their constant ridicule.

However, with the help of intervention by support staff and a psychologist, the boy was looking forward to returning to school again, with the support of his family and friends – both of whom were initially unaware of how bad the bullying was.

The ABC production has partnered with ReachOut Australia – a mental health service – to assist those featured and audience members to access help, advice and support in regard to bullying issues.

With the most recent Australian statistics showing one in four young people are bullied on a regular basis, the most effected those in Year 5 (10-11 years) followed by Year 8 students (13-14 years), the Bully Project may be another avenue providing an initial step for victims to voice their struggles with bullying to parents, family members or friends (according to the Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study).

Children and adolescents are often very successful at hiding the shameful and debilitating effects bullying has on them.

The covert way in which some bullies inflict pain can make it very difficult for parents to realise what is happening to their child.

Most victims just want the bullying to stop without drawing much or any attention to the fact it is happening. The Raising Children Network offers parents some signs to look out for if they think their child is being bullied;

– Refusing to go to school or making excuses to get out of school
– Being unhappy, angry or anxious before or after school
– Becoming isolated from others – friends and family members, sporting groups etc
– Having unexplained injuries
– Starting to not to care about school or perform to the best of their ability
– Coming home from school with damaged or missing belongings
– Having trouble sleeping
– Regularly complaining of stress-related ailments – headaches, stomach aches etc
– Seeming low in self-esteem and confidence

The Bully Project airs on the ABC Tuesdays at 8.30pm or anytime on iView.

Young people can turn to from anywhere at any time for free self-help tools, information, and a peer support forum.

National 24/7 crisis phone support is also available from Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800.

Risky teen behaviour is more than brain wiring

Having a brain wired to take risks does not excuse extreme risk-taking behavior in teens, according to latest research.

It is well-documented that the area of the brain responsible for thrill seeking in teen brains matures sooner than the area in charge of rational decision making.

However, recent research involving 5000 adolescents from across the globe has found a risk-prone brain does not necessarily mean teens are not able to control their behaviour.

Context is key.

The research, published in the journal Developmental Science, found adolescents from the 11 different countries (including the Americas, Europe and Asia) studied had similar risk-prone brains but there were dramatic variations in actual risk taking behaviour among teens depending on other factors.

The lead author of the study Dr Laurence Steinberg told the New York Times the context in which adolescents grew up made significant differences to reckless actions among those studied.

“… the context in which kids grow up must matter a great deal… adolescent recklessness isn’t the inevitable byproduct of the period’s biology,” Dr Steinberg said.

“Just because something is rooted in biology doesn’t mean that it’s not malleable and that there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said.

He added there was a belief stemming from the research that teens growing up in countries where risk-taking was low among adolescents were encouraged to use self-control from a young age and led a “structured” life without much “unstructured” time to get themselves into trouble with reckless behaviour.

“… in China we are finding that adolescents are at a time of heightened sensation seeking, but they don’t engage in the high rates of drug use, unprotected sex and recklessness that we see in America and Western Europe.”

He said cultural values and available opportunities for risk-taking were strong reasons for disparities among countries studied.

“While many Americans see individual autonomy as a cherished aspect of our national identity, granting lots of freedom may not be the best way to keep teenagers safe.”

He said the research showed parents needed to monitor teenagers’ activities and encourage self-regulation.

Is technology destroying boys’ ability to develop empathy?

Empathy is a skill which boys learn – like any other. It is based on emotional literacy, learning to understand their own and others’ emotions and reactions to situations – feeling what others are feeling.

Many researchers blame the rise of our tech-driven society for the downfall of empathy. Kids are not seeing adults show empathy via text messages or emails and therefore, struggle to understand how to show it themselves.

Cue educational psychologist Dr Michele Borba’s book “Unselfie: Why empathetic kids succeed in our All-About-Me-World” about the importance of empathy, why kids are struggling to build and show it and how to help children learn how to develop it.

Empathy in its most basic form is the ability to put you in someone else’s shoes – to see and try to comprehend their perspective of a situation. It is a vital skill for young people to learn, enabling them to connect with others on an emotional level, to be involved and help someone selflessly. In our world of online bullying, mental health issues and disconnection of face-to-face conversations, parents need to make an effort to teach their kids the importance of “old fashioned” communication in relation to developing empathetic skill.

Dr Borba says there are many reasons why kids of today struggle to develop empathy and emotional literacy;

  • Expectations of genders differ: stereotypical views of men and boys lead to the belief boys should not express their emotions – as it shows weakness. Girls tend to be better at developing emotional literacy because they are encouraged to speak about emotions more than boys.
  • Too “plugged in”: a key to developing emotional literacy is face-to-face communication. One-way interactions with technology do not give children opportunities to view expressions, reactions and feelings of others – via facial expressions, body language, voice volume and tone etc.
  • Too “distracted”: by technology, work, other family members or commitments. Parents struggle to maximise one-on-one face-to-face time with their children because of other happenings.

Dr Borba says society as a whole has devalued empathy in recent years and as a result empathetic skills have “plummeted”, with self-promotion and self-branding leading the demise among young people.

However, she takes a hands-on approach to tackling the problem – offering readers her nine basic habits throughout the book to help children navigate ethical challenges and emotional “minefields” in their lives.

The first four are developed in young children as fundamentals of empathy skills, including; emotional literacy (understanding their own and others’ feelings), moral identity (developing their own values and idea of integrity), perspective (putting themselves in others’ shoes), and moral imagination (using art and media as sources of positive inspiration).

Though focusing on the impact technology and our wired world has on the development of empathy in children, it is not the only cause of concern raised in Dr Borba’s book.

She also sees the changing nature and demands of everyday life of families as reasoning behind the “seismic shift” in skill development. From longer work hours to media coverage of horrific world events – these factors influence parents’ ability to model empathy to their children and teach them “how to be kind to others”.