Monthly Archives: May 2017

Boys lag in self-regulating skills in early years: new study

Self-regulating behaviour is the key to successful learning in the early years of education and girls are continuing to outperform boys in this landscape according to new research from Queensland University of Technology.

Researchers looked at gender differences in academic outcomes and the relationship between these outcomes and classroom behaviours in their study “Gender differences in early literacy and mathematics achievement and self-regulatory behaviours in the first year of school”.

They found girls were “more likely than boys to stay on task, pay attention, be organised and flexible, be eager to learn and be independent in their learning behaviours, reflective of self-regulation”, according to teacher ratings.

“The gender differences prior to school competence suggest that girls are entering school better equipped for learning and with better self-regulatory behaviours than boys which enable them to take greater advantage of the school-based learning environment.”

Researchers Sue Walker and Donna Berthelsen used data from the Growing Up in Australia: the longitudinal study of Australian children study. Their research used existing longitudinal data on Australian children to extend previous research on the topic by exploring gender differences in literacy and mathematics prior to and in the early years of schooling, investigating gender differences in self-regulatory and problem behaviours, and the extent to which children’s literacy and mathematical achievement can be predicted by self-regulatory behaviours.

Speaking to Teacher Magazine, Ms Walker said the most important finding during the research was the difference between boys and girls in language and literacy which seemed to be clearly predicted by behaviour differences.

“So, better self-regulatory skills predicted stronger academic achievement in language and literacy, and the girls were doing better because they had more of these self-regulatory skills, “she said.

She said the findings presented key implications for teachers, to be aware of their potential to make a difference in young children’s learning experiences and to focus on developing children’s self-regulation skills in the classroom.

“..obviously there are individual differences in self-regulation when children come to school – not only gender differences, but there are socioeconomic differences and there are individual temperamental differences in children’s ability to regulate their behaviour.”

“But the wonderful thing about self-regulation is that it is changeable. So, teachers can make a difference in terms of helping children develop their ability to regulate their behaviour in the classroom.”


Fathers’ workloads continue to impact kids

A third of Australian children aged 11-13 years say their fathers work too much, a new study led by Australian National University has found.

The study, which observed around 3,000 fathers and their children as part of the ‘Growing Up in Australia’ study, also found that one third of children did not always enjoy time with their dads.

Lead researcher Professor Lyndall Strazdins said fathers’ long hours on the job, including regular night and weekend work and difficulties getting time off work, contributed to their children’s perceptions.

“Australia’s work culture and social norms are making it hard for dads to be the fathers they want to be,” said Professor Strazdins from the ANU Research School of Population Health.

“More than half of fathers reported missing family events because of work, while a fifth described their family time as more pressured and less fun due to their jobs, and these were problems their children shared.”

Research shows that, on average across the Australian population, fathers spend more time at paid work than mothers, who take on more care and domestic responsibilities.

Professor Strazdins said nearly half of fathers worked more than 44 hours a week.

“Fathers are more likely than mothers to report work-life challenges,” she said.

“Our research has shown that people who work more than 39 hours per week are putting their health at risk, and we have also shown that expectations to work long hours are a problem for gender equality.

“Workplaces still assume men are more devoted to their jobs than women and so they expect men to work longer hours, but this creates dilemmas for fathers.”

About 40 per cent of fathers regularly worked at night and on weekends, and felt they could not easily change their work hours, Professor Strazdins said.

“Our research shows that although kids really value the work that their parents do, whether it’s at home, in the office or elsewhere, they also have views about how long is too long to work,” Professor Strazdins said.

“While nearly one in eight children wished their father did not work, most kids understand that dad needs to work.”

Professor Strazdins said many children accommodated to their fathers’ work hours.

“They try to be good and try to solve the time constraints of his work schedule to ensure they have a positive relationship with their dads,” Professor Strazdins said.

“We delude ourselves that what happens in fathers’ workplaces is somehow separate from children’s lives. Time with their fathers is a problem for many children, it’s not just an issue for adults and the economy.”

ANU conducted the research with the Australian Institute of Family Studies and the WZB Social Science Institute in Berlin.

The research paper, ‘Long Hours and Longings: Australian Children’s Views of Fathers’ Work and Family Time’, is published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

This week is National Family Week.


Being left out is more than just child’s play

Making “life-long” friends in the playground one minute then being left out the next is usually brushed off as part of growing up, but new research has shown being rejected is far more complicated than first thought.

New research from Spain has gained insight from the “rejecters” of friends in the schoolyard to get a better understanding of why some children are left out by peers and others ostracized for many years of schooling.

Previous research has looked at the behaviour of the child being alienated in the playground, blaming rejection on their behaviour. However, this research avenue has failed to portray why an aggressive child could also be popular among classmates – leading researchers to question whether bad behaviour among those rejected is a consequence of rejection rather than an initial reason for it.

Spain’s Jaume I University Department of Developmental, Educational and Social Psychology Professor Francisco Juan Garcia Bacete said the research found the rejected child’s behaviour “did not lead indirectly or inevitably to rejection.”

“Instead, what leads to rejection are the rejecters’ interpretations of the child’s behaviour, and whether they think it will have a negative impact on themselves or their social group,” Prof. Bacete said.

Researchers used methods to collate their data which relied on categories for comparison determined by responses to questions by the 5-7 year olds involved in the study.

“The theory starts from the reasons provided by the children and, by constantly comparing them, categories emerge that explain differences between the motives for rejection – rather than forcing the data to be grouped under preconceived headings, we let the data speak for itself.”

“Most of the reasons could be grouped under what the rejected child does, says or tries, such as aggression, dominance, problematic social and school behaviours, and disturbance of wellbeing.

However, we also noticed that these reasons came with context – specifically, which classmates or groups were involved in the rejection and the frequency it happened.”

He said the research provided a framework to build strategies to deal with rejection among children.

“This research highlights the importance of teaching children how to be aware of and tackle negative reputations, stereotypes and prejudices, as well as understanding the consequences of their behaviour on themselves and others. Positive relationships should be encouraged – you should respect others, not just your friends.”


Boys vulnerable to body image pressures

It’s a well-worn movie storyline – a scrawny, picked-on anti-hero is transformed into a muscle-bound champion, often through some fantastical gift like a secret serum. It is hard to imagine a better advertisement for using dangerous steroids to build up muscles.

But how much should we worry about the messages being sent to boys by the skinny-kid-cum-super-heroes of this world? After all, boys don’t care much about how their bodies look. Or do they?

A new Australian study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, has for the first time shown that body dissatisfaction isn’t just dangerous for girls. When young and teenage boys start worrying too much about how they look it is just as damaging to their quality of life.

And while girls report significantly higher rates of body dissatisfaction, just over half boys in the study of 1,666 school children reported some body dissatisfaction.

“When boys are unhappy with their bodies it impairs their quality of life to an equal degree as it does for girls,” says lead researcher on the study, University of Melbourne psychologist Dr Scott Griffiths.

The finding comes at a time of emerging evidence that men are increasingly suffering from body dissatisfaction, as highlighted by the alarming growth in steroid use in Australia. It suggests that boys could also be increasingly at risk and Dr Griffiths says the research should be a wake up call for parents and health services.

“There is this inaccurate perception that boys just don’t care about their body image, and it is a common perception especially among older health professionals and among fathers who grew up in a different time when perhaps body image was less important for men.”

“While the burden of body dissatisfaction clearly falls disproportionately on women, research shows that it is increasingly becoming a problem for men. And while we don’t have data on whether it is an increasing problem or not among for boys, we can say that when body image is a problem for boys they are no less affected than girls.”

He says that given the potential dangers, both psychological and physical, we urgently need to develop interventions aimed at boys in the same way we tailor interventions to build self esteem among girls.

The research was based on data from 1,666 school children aged between 12-18 from the Australian Capital Territory who filled out surveys in supervised school environments. Of these 531 were boys and 1,135 were girls. The surveys used established psychological tests for body image, eating disorders and quality of life.

Girls reported higher levels of body dissatisfaction and diminished quality of life with 81.6 per cent of girls reporting some dissatisfaction. But the number of boys reporting some dissatisfaction was also significant at 55.7 per cent. And once the effect of eating disorders is stripped out, those boys who were suffering from body dissatisfaction reported diminished quality of life equivalent with that reported by girls.

Dr Griffiths says it was important to strip out eating disorders because body dissatisfaction among boys will often centre on wanting to be more muscled, rather than, as it is for girls, being thin.

Dr Griffiths says the results suggest that body dissatisfaction is a health problem in its own right rather than simply a risk factor for eating disorders.

“Health professionals should explore and potentially treat body dissatisfaction even when there is no associated or underlying medical condition,” he says.

Rising steroid use a warning

The research on adolescents follows research published last year by Dr Griffiths and colleagues on comparing body dissatisfaction and quality of life across men and women. The research covered over 2,000 people, almost half of which were men, and the results were the similar to that found in the later adolescent survey.

There is also evidence that body dissatisfaction is becoming more widespread among men. The use of muscle-building steroids for example has grown rapidly. In 2010 steroids accounted for just 2 per cent of all injection users, but by 2014 had grown to 7 per cent nationally, and over 10 per cent in New South Wales and Queensland. Since 2011, steroids have been the number one most commonly injected drug amongst new injection drug users.

Such increasing steroid use is evidence of potentially rising rates of muscle dysmorphia. This is where someone becomes obsessed with becoming more muscled because they see themselves as puny. It is the opposite of anorexia where people become obsessed with losing weight because they fear they are too fat.

“We have a steroid epidemic,” says Dr Griffiths. “It is the canary in the coal mine telling us that we are missing the fact that body dissatisfaction is a significant problem among men.”

And men are also increasingly suffering eating disorders. Between 1998 and 2008 extreme dieting and purging grew more rapidly among males than it did among females.

“Australia is the first country where we find this happening and it would suggest that in the future, unless trends change, men and women will reach parity,” he says.

What is driving this change?

Dr Griffiths says it is hard to be definitive but the increasing glorification of muscled men in the media is at least partly to blame. But he speculates that it may be a consequence of a crisis in what it means to be masculine given improving gender equality.

“In the past men had different pathways for projecting their masculinity. They could establish themselves as the breadwinner or as the protector. But that is no longer so much the case because there is increasing parity between the genders. Women are increasingly seen as breadwinners and protectors too.

“So if you are a man and want to project your masculinity in a way that is socially acceptable and doesn’t stigmatise genders, then you can put on big muscles.”

Whether female or male, Dr Griffiths says the problem is that people and society tend to focus on how people look, and the reality is that this is unlikely to change.

“People will always worry about how they look, the key is to not worry too much. One way to do that is encourage people and society to focus more on what someone can do – their skills and capacities – rather than what they look like. We need to be careful that we stress the importance of function over form, not the other way around.”

Dr Griffith’s co-authors on the study are Dr Stuart B. Murray of University of California, San Francisco; Caroline Bentley, Kassandra Gratwick-Sarll and Dr Carmel Harrison all at Australian National University, and Dr Jonathan M. Mond at Macquarie University and Western Sydney University.

This article was first published on Pursuit. Read the original article.

By Andrew Trounson, University of Melbourne