7 Troubling Youth Trends in the News

Michele Borba January 2, 2011 Comments Off on 7 Troubling Youth Trends in the News


REALITY CHECK TIME: Bullying, depression, eating disorders, ADHD, stress, early puberty onset, plastic surgery and Botox are all on increase and in younger kids.

Here is my pick of the top troubling child and teen trends, the research that shows why we better keep a closer eye on our kids, and what parents, educators and child-advocators can do to raise healthier, happier, less-stressed kids and turn these disturbing issues around.

Let’s face, it, parenting is the toughest role we’ll ever have. Staying educated about what’s happening in our children’s lives is key. This year I reported on the TODAY show, Dr. Phil, Dateline, The Doctors and NBC Brian Williams over 100 child development studies and late-breaking news about children, teens and parenting. Here is my pick of Seven Troubling Child and Teen tTends 10 (in no particular order) from those reports that I feel every parent, educator and child advocate should know. As a researcher I’ve learned that such trends generally only increase, so don’t expect these to disappear in 2011. I’ve also provided a link to a past blog I’ve written that offers research-based solutions to each problem.

These are our children we’re talking out! These reports are disturbing. But all of these problems have proven solutions. Yes, there are no easy fixes, but so be it. It’s up to us to turn these trends around so more of our youth have the chance to turn out emotionally, physically, cognitively and morally strong.

Prevention is crucial. Early intervention is critical. We have serious work to do. Let’s get busy!

Here are the top seven troubling youth trends of 2010:

Troubling Trend 1: Bullying, cyberbullying, bullycide increase

Bullying is a learned and violent behavior, and it is on the rise with our kids according to an NBC Nightly News report:

2010 reports found that one third of middle and high school students were bullied during the school year.

Previous studies estimated the figure as one in seven students.

Make no mistake: Bullying is a cruel, intentional act that is usually repeated, and can have serious impact on our children. Repeated bullying can cause severe emotional harm, and can be so serious that some school-age victims have committed suicide. The term, “Bullycide” is now used for children targeted by bullies. So what to do?

This fall I reported to Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News that studies show that bystanders can do far more than just watch.Peers can reduce the audience that a bully craves, mobilize the compassion of witnesses to step in, support the victim, and be a positive influence in curbing a bullying episode. In fact, (when bystanders intervene correctly) studies find student bystanders can cut bullying more than half the time and within 10 seconds.

The key is that students must have the right guidance so they know when to step in, be taught how skills that offer the right kind of help, and know when to get aid. I worked with NBC’s Dateline’s on a special entitled, “The Perils of Parenting” and taught middle school students–when bullying peaks–specific bystander strategies. I developed bystander techniques after reviewing hundreds of research articles on the “Bystander Effect” and have trained hundreds of educators in how to use them with students. The moment that one twelve-year old girl stepped in and spoke up to a boy to stop bullying another child was extraordinary.  She was calm, compassionate, courageous and glorious and used every one of the six bystander skills.

Let’s wise up:  Reports show bullying is increasing and at earlier ages. Bullying can be prevented and minimized. We’ve passed bills, created zero-tolerance strategies and implemented one-time “Stop Bullying” assemblies. Such approaches do NOT stop bullying. The missing pieces that research says do work to reduce peer cruelty: 1. Create caring school climates; 2. Educate all stakeholders in bullying; 3. Nurture our children’s empathy at younger ages; 4. Teach children bystander skills, and RESPOND WHEN WE SEE OUR CHILDREN ENGAGED IN CRUEL ACTS. All stakeholders must be involved in “bully-prevention” and all must be visible.

Not one more victim! Enough!

Source: Hawkins, D. L., Pepler, D. J., & Craig, W. (2001). Naturalistic Observations of Peer Interventions in Bullying.Social Development, 10(4): 512-527.

Troubling Trend 2: Eating disorders rise in younger girls and boys

“An eating disorder? Impossible!” “Not my daughter! She’s so young!”

Well, what about your son?

Disbelief is usually our first response when we read the headlines about anorexia, bulimia and binging. But the fact is troubling 2010 reports show that tthe disease now has no boundaries: male or female, young or old, urban or rural, Catholic or Jewish, black or white. And the rates are only increasing in our youth.

Eating disorders among children and adolescents appear to be on the rise, especially among younger kids.

A report published online last year in Pediatrics estimates that 0.5% of adolescent girls in the U.S. have anorexia and 1% to 2% meet the criteria for bulimia.

The study also finds that more boys and more children younger than 12 are being diagnosed with eating disorders.

Make no mistake: the consequences are very serious and can be life threatening. Not only is  a child with eating disorders at risk for a stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, and sleep apnea, but also depression. Anorexia increases a child’s risk of premature death by more than 12 times the expected rate. Over 1000 girls die each year from complications.

Know the signs of an eating disorder! If you suspect your child has an eating disorder, get help ASAP from only a trained and credentialed mental health professional!

Troubling Trend 3: Depression identified in younger children

Preschoolers? Depressed? Impossible! Well, don’t be too sure. I reported on The Doctors this year a stirring report that should concern us all.A recent study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, found that depression in young children is real and can be identified as young as two years of age.  The diagnosis, though rare, is becoming more acceptable in child psychiatry. Though once thought to be an  impossible ailment for young children, longitudinal studies conducted by Joan Luby, a psychiatrist at  Washington University at St. Louis, proved otherwise.

But what could possibly cause young children to be depressed?

Dr. Luby found that depression most common in children whose mothers also suffered from the disease or other mood disorders. Experiencing a traumatic event, such as the death of a parent or physical or sexual abuse, is another reason. Child psychiatrists point out another contributor: childhood depression-like adult depression-is often brought on by changes in brain chemistry.

Those early years are especially crucial for chemical changes in brain, which is why diagnosis and early treatment is so critical. But knowing how to spot depression signs in a young child is challenging. The diagnosis is tricky because the child has limited verbal skills and can’t express his feelings and sorrow and symptoms can be easily misinterpreted as just a “bad day.” Get help!

Troubling Trend 4: Kid stress mounts

Stressed-out kidYou may think that you’re shielding your children from your worries, but a 2010 report released by the American Psychological Association shoed we’re not doing such a good job of trying to cover up stress.

The report found that 91 percent of 1,136 young people ages 8-17 surveyed cite ways they know parents are stressed, largely by their behavior. The survey, conducted by Harris Interactive online in August 2010,reveals that our kids are watching and what they are see and hear in our behavior isn’t all for their best: 34 percent of kids say parents yell; 30 percent say parents argue with other people in the household and 18 percent say parents are too busy or “don’t have time for me.”

Ouch! But here is the real clincher:

The survey [Source: American Psychological Association published by Frank Pompa, USA TODAY] revealed how our kids feel when we are stressed: Sad (39%); Worried (39%); Frustrated (31%); Annoyed (24%); Helpless (21%); It does not bother me (14%); Angry (13%); Scared (13%); Alone (8%)

Yes, stress is inevitable, but the trick is making sure kids know healthy ways to handle it. And we better! Studies show that depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and drinking are all increasing in youth and stress is often a trigger. Data released from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America may help you realize the urgency of putting a lid on our own stress. The survey results on 3287 teens in grades nine through twelve revealed:

  • More than two-thirds of teen girls admit using drugs to help them cope with stress at home
  • Research found alcohol and marijuana use increasing in boys and girls alike
  • Half of the girls said that drugs help them forget their troubles
  • Teens state a key reason for drug and alcohol use is as a way to “escape for a short period of time”

The solution to this one should be a no-brainer: Teach kids stress reducers. Better yet: Use those stress busters as a family! If you know your family needs to be calmer then take the Family Vow of Yellibacy? I dare ya!

Troubling Trend 5: ADHD on rise (or more diagnosis)

Studies in the past found that less than eight percent of kids had been diagnosed with ADHD, but that number is now on the rise.

A government survey released this year finds that one in ten children in the United States have ADHD (or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)

Most researchers attribute the rise to growing awareness and better screening of children. Other theories include: too much sugar in our children’s diets, poor diets, sleep deprivation, fast-paced images of television or computer screens in younger-aged children, food additives, overscheduled lives, and stress (to name a few). And then another reason: misdiagnosis or over-diagnosis.

There is a difference between ADD and ADHD (I know…I know… labels and abbreviations, but it’s critical to be aware of those labels). And there is also a clear difference is what ADHD looks like age by age. If your child does have a serious attention deficit you will want to get help for your child–and the sooner the better. (I taught special education for years and watched countless children suffer from low self-esteem and school failure because they didn’t get the right help soon enough). That’s why it is critical that you know the real signs of true ADHD) and that you receive that diagnosis only from a medical professional with the right credentials and trained in child development.

Troubling Trend 6: Puberty onset earlier

Ongoing research continues to show that many girls now begin puberty at younger ages.. .and as early as age seven or eight.

Over a decade ago, Marcia Herman-Giddes, a pediatrician and now professor at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health, noticed many young girls in grades one to five were showing public hair and breast development,” In her words, “It seemed like there were too many, too young,” and launched a major national study involving 225 clinicians and over 17,0000 girls to prove her hypothesis. Her famous paper published in Pediatrics found that our kids are growing up faster. Study highlights show:

Average age onset menstruation is hitting girls four years earlier

15 percent of seven years olds and almost half of eight years olds are now developing breasts or pubic hair

Rate of early onset doubled for seven year old white girls

Comprehensive data is still not in for boys, but studies reveal that they are reaching their adult heights at younger ages, suggesting they too are maturing earlier as well. There’s no doubt about it: our today’s kids are growing up faster in many ways. Rising rates of obesity may be to blame. (Watch your diets!)

The key here is to beware of the trend, get educated so you can educate your child, and start those “talks” earlier. Keep in mind that though our daughters’ physical development may be accelerating, their emotional maturity is still behind. Let’s not push too fast, too soon. Please!

Troubling Trend 7: Teens getting Botox

Botox is the brand name for botulinum toxin. When injected cosmetically in small, diluted doses, it weakens muscles, causing a “youthful effect. But data shows for the past few years, teen girls have caught the “I want to look younger” craze as well with more teens begging parents for injections (around $300-500 per treatment).

The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (who christened the craze, the “Teen Toxing Trend”) reported that almost 4000 more Botox procedures were performed on teens 18 and under in 2009 than in 2008. But even more teens used Botox in 2010. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons has reported a small increase in patients 13 to 19 during the same time frame.

According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, more than 36,800 cosmetic surgery procedures were performed on Americans 18 and under last year. News stories reveal that many teens are now asking for breast implants–a 24 percent increase since 2002–as a Sweet 16 or high school graduation present.

Imagine that!

I hope you’re as concerned – okay outraged – about this trend as I. But my concern for our younger female gender goes beyond this “feel-the-need for Botox” craze. The increase in teen plastic surgery is also increasing. I find it more than a mere coincidence that we are also seeing a rise in depression, eating disorders, binge drinking, stress, and low self-esteem in young girls at the same time

So what’s going on? Most experts-myself included-agree that it’s due to continual negative messages we’re feeding our girls that happiness comes from the outside (being a particular dress size, getting Botox injections, wearing designer labels, getting liposuction or breast implants. And those messages are robbing our daughters of a sorely missed and critical needed notion that real happiness comes from the inside and appear to be “working.” I voiced my scorn to a reporter on the New York Times. What to do? Let’s beware of our own modeling (“I just have to lose weight!” “I need to have Botox!” and start using strategies that raise our daughters from the INSIDE out!

Bottom line: Stay educated! Tune into your child and their friends. And if you suspect your child may have a problem, get help! The two words I hear most often from parents that disturb me most are: “If only.”

Dr. Michele Borba, Parenting Expert

For more late-breaking news on youth trends, updates on research and proven parenting solutions subscribe to my blog feed, Dr. Michele Borba’s Reality Check, follow me on twitter at Michele Borba or refer to my latest book by Jossey-Bass, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries as well as 22 other parenting and educational publications.