Let’s fight (the bad guys): Do superheroes teach kids good or evil?

Everyone loves a good superhero story. Superheroes have been a fixture in American pop culture for decades, but in the past 10-15 years we’ve witnessed a resurgence of superhero mania. Between movies, TV shows, toys, and even national conventions, the superhero fever is real. Given that superhero stories are characterized by themes of fighting against evil, defending others, and promoting justice, many parents encourage their children’s engagement in superhero media, even as early as preschool.…

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The benefits of multilingual education

This November, California voters will vote on Prop 58 (also called Prop 58-LEARN [Language Education, Acquisition, and Readiness Now]; Senate Bill 1174). This bill, introduced by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), will bring back California parents’ option to choose multilingual education for their children. I will be upfront and disclose that—as a researcher of bilingual children’s language and cognitive development—I am fully in support of this bill. But my goal for writing this post is…

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Understanding Bullying: Facts vs. Fiction

At 10:00 P.M. every night, I receive an email update from Google Alerts listing all the news articles from the day containing the word “bully”. Some of these are inspiring stories of victims who have spoken up and made a difference, others are heartbreaking accounts of bully-related suicides. What strikes me about many of these news stories is that they oftentimes perpetuate certain myths of bullying. Although some components of bullying may seem easily explained…

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Light it up!

From Empire State Building to the Sydney Opera House, iconic landmarks around the world are shining blue at night in honor of the sixth annual United Nations-sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day. “Light It Up Blue” is a global-initiative lead by Autism Speaks and spans throughout April as part of Autism Awareness Month. There is no doubt that the general public is aware of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The topic of autism has been covered in…

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Please Mind the (Language) Gap

As a general rule of development, the progression of skills usually improve overtime. However, language learning is one domain where the abilities of infants far exceeds that of adults. Research examining young children’s early processing of language have provided insight into timing and environmental contexts that promote linguistic development. Prior to 6 months, infants possess a universal perceptual ability to distinguish phonetic units of all languages. Over the following 6 months, infants become more and…

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Solving the problem of adverse childhood stress

Recently an article in the New York Times caught my eye. It was about something called “toxic stress” and its effect on children. Exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACE), like abuse, neglect, and domestic violence, has long term impacts on a child’s psychological and physical well-being. These negative experiences can induce what researchers at the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University call a “toxic stress response”. Before I go much further into what…

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ADHD Medication and Risk for Later Alcohol and Drug Use

Many parents have to make difficult choices about how to help their children with an ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) diagnosis. Two treatments have been proven in well-designed and carefully controlled research studies to be effective: behavioral management (also known as parent training) and medication (typically Ritatin or Adderall). Medication treatment has raised concerns about whether the use of medication to treat ADHD may be either a “gateway” for future substance use (e.g., ever trying…

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Psychology Classics: Guns and Dolls –– The Bobo Studies

This post is part of our ongoing series exploring classic experiments and theories in the history of psychological research. Over the last few decades, an ongoing debate has emerged between parents, psychologists, and the media: Do violent video games and movies cause children to become more violent? This is a question that has gained more urgency with the advent of hyper-realistic violence in games and movies, and it is a question that gets revisited every time a…

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Scientific Support for Same-Sex Parents

An article was published today in the Huffington Post, titled “Romney: ‘Some Gays Are Actually Having Children. It’s Not Right on Paper. It’s Not Right in Fact.’” The article reviews a Boston Globe piece from yesterday in which some of Romney’s actions as governor of Massachusetts indicate his antipathy towards gay marriage. In particular, the article criticizes the fact that Romney refused to allow the Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records and Statistics to revise birth…

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The Politics of Eating and Exercising: Are We Getting It Right?

Eat healthier. Exercise. Our culture is currently full of messages telling us to change our habits, to turn us into a leaner, healthier society. While these messages are easier said than done, they’re perfectly warranted: The Centers for Disease Control reports that childhood obesity has tripled since the 1970s. So what can we do to fight childhood obesity? According to Kristen Harrison and other researchers in the Division of Nutrition Sciences at the University of…

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How We See Food

I’m not a great cook, but I know what I like. Or do I? Research from Brian Wansink and colleagues may challenge our ideas about how we think of food. How do we behave at buffets? Can a clever name really encourage us to eat something ordinary? Will placement of food at a cafeteria really make a difference?

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How Self-Regulation Works

Self-regulation is an extremely important skill to develop.  In fact, as I am writing this post, with no outside person or institution forcing me to do, on a vacation day when it is sunny outside, I am demonstrating formidable self-regulation.  I believe that teaching children, and adults, how to self-regulate is one of the best things we can teach them.  Too often, we mommy-regulate (i.e helicopter parenting) and children don’t learn the essential skills they…

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How do ethnic and family identities affect adolescents in immigrant families?

In recent decades, the United States has seen a dramatic rise in immigration from Latin American and Asian countries, which has raised questions (and staunch political opinions) about how immigration policies affect everyday life for U.S. citizens.  However, equally important questions concern how living in America affects the immigrant families themselves.  What exactly is life like for immigrant families in America?  Specifically, how do youth in immigrant families adapt to life in a new country?  Do they…

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How Food Companies Market to Children Online

Keeping children eating healthy foods is one of the most important things one can do as a parent.  And one of the most difficult.  It’s probably no surprise that most food companies market directly to children, spending $1.6 billion a year to do so.  In fact, in 2006 the Institute of Medicine concluded that food marketing is a contributor to America’s problem with childhood obesity.  Research indicates that the average preschool child sees 3 ads…

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Sexting: Should adolescents be expelled?

This post was first published on parenting in the digital age. Phones are being used by teens for sexual exploration via the exchange of sexually suggestive content (sexting).  Sexting includes explicit text, and nude or semi-nude personal pictures or videos captured on a cell phone or digital camera and sent via personal texts, emails, and instant messages. (Uhls et al, 2011).   Pew research in 2009 found that 4% of adolescents report sending sexts while 15%…

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