NY Senate Proposal Gives Teens Agency in Vaccine Decisions

Public health officials and advocates have long decried studies which link vaccines and autism. For background on the troubling impacts that vaccine conspiracies have on children’s health, see CHIL’s blog post from last month. Recently in New York, one student with measles infected at least 21 others with the disease, reigniting vaccine campaigns. Advocates have been encouraging everyone to get vaccinated and discrediting the arguments of their anti-vaccination opponents.

Moreover, relevant industries beyond the field of public health are getting involved. Amazon, for example, is halting the sale of books which back autism cures and falsehoods about vaccines. New York lawmakers, too, are getting involved by proposing a bill which would allow teenagers to obtain vaccinations without parental consent.

If passed, the legislation would stipulate that minors over 14 years old may be given vaccines and boosters for prevention of diseases like mumps, diphtheria, influenza, hepatitis B, and more. Proponents say at 14, teens are mature enough to make vaccination decisions for themselves and may even be better at identifying vaccines misinformation often circulated on online platforms. This is an important measure for minors with parents prejudiced against vaccines, and also for those without active adult figures in their lives.

While supporters recognize parents have certain authority over decisions impacting their children’s health care, the decision to get vaccinated extends beyond an individual child’s health. That is, unvaccinated children put both themselves and others in their communities at risk for infection. Those ineligible for vaccines due to special medical circumstances become particularly vulnerable when more and more people around them remain unvaccinated by choice. Proposals like this one utilize our legal system to prioritize broader public health goals for people of all ages.

Gun violence & its connection to children’s health

Last month, on the massacre’s 1-year anniversary, America remembered and mourned the horrific shooting in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school. The Guardian reports, however, that a new gun violence nonprofit is working to ensure gun violence awareness is covered more than just one day a year.

SinceParkland.org, as the organization’s name suggests, shares the narratives of all children and teen victims of gun violence that have occurred since the tragedy at Parkland. The group reports that since February 14, 2018, the date of the Parkland shooting, guns have killed over 1,200 American kids and teenagers. While the events that led to these tragedies vary—some incidents were acts of domestic violence, while others were accidents—SinceParkland.org focuses on showcasing the lives of victims rather than the details of their deaths.

Projects like SinceParkland.org demonstrate that gun violence in America is not a handful of isolated  events, but in fact an everyday problem. Guns pose obvious and immediate threats to life which, in America, know no bounds. Shootings have happened across our nation’s parks, malls, and schools. As if this weren’t abhorrent enough, in addition to putting entire lives in danger, gun violence has further consequences on the psychological health of students who feel at risk.

In Washington DC, for example, guns killed 13 minors last year alone. Programs like TraRon’s Center provide opportunity for kids to use art and therapy to cope with trauma associated with gun violence. Many kids in the program report difficulty sleeping, and some struggle with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Nationwide, however, only 1 in 5 kids with mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders receive appropriate health care for those challenges. This ratio could be even worse in low-income areas where affordable health care is less common and gun violence more frequent.

The issue of gun violence and its relation to children’s health is multifaceted. TraRon’s Center and other similar initiatives are exposing this complicated relationship: gun violence is not just a crime issue, it’s a public health issue and a children’s health issue.

New education models cater to STEAM fields

Schools across the country are constantly integrating new technology into their curriculum--for example, Smart Boards in every class, tablets for every student, or computer science courses. The New York Times recently published an article on the Brooklyn STEAM Center (an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics), a New York City public school that is trying out a novel education structure where students learn real-world tech skills necessary for STEAM fields. The Center is located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a hub for over 400 tech and manufacturing companies.

High schools select students to attend the STEAM Center, and the large majority are students of color from underprivileged backgrounds. The Center looks like a start-up—there are conference rooms, recording studios, ample white boards, and even a teaching kitchen. As one of only two schools in New York City located in a workplace setting, students learn by taking hands-on approach in a curriculum designed largely by industry experts.

This modern model is a new form of vocational schooling that allows students who otherwise may not have had opportunities to learn in the ever-growing STEAM field. The center emphasizes literacy in the modern tech world, complemented by soft skills like timeliness, responding to emails, teamwork, and networking.

The Brooklyn STEAM Center is one of the first of its kind; however, there is a growing movement supporting better STEAM preparation for teens.  For instance, Amazon started their own “Future Engineer Program,” which gives grants to qualifying high schools to implement better computer science education. They are specifically targeting schools “in lower-income communities and in states that have made computer science education a clear priority.”

For now, the students’ opinions reflected in the NYT piece are all positive--similar to the those who designed the curriculum, the students see their STEAM Center education as preparing them for survival in real-world industry. Nonetheless, this movement has not come without some reservations. While these programs seem promising for improving economic mobility for disadvantaged students, critics worry they set kids on a career track too early, at worst driving students away from a college education. It is imperative STEAM vocational education continues to prioritize students’ needs first, rather than those of employers. Regularly collecting feedback from students can help with this, as well as examining the medium-to-long term trajectories of alumni as programs age.

Winter activity ideas for kids…that you haven’t already done!

With winter weather disrupting school from Seattle to North Carolina in the past couple weeks, kids may be going  stir-crazy. You may have worn out the classic snow-time activities—baking, sledding, forts, etc.—by this time of year. What are ways to keep kids active and engaged in the final stretch of the cold season? We’ve compiled a list of several novel, health-minded activities to try out.

1.    Kids yoga: a great way to keep children moving indoors! There are plenty of simple poses that can stretch muscles, challenge balance, and introduce concepts like mindfulness mindfulness.

2.    Snow painting: this art activity will get kids’ creative juices flowing, allowing them to express their thoughts while taking advantage of the winter snow! The instructions call for spray bottles, cold water, and powder paint, but note that the powder paint can be easily substituted with food coloring.

3.    Learn about your family tree: if you’re a parent and you’ve got a master tree, pull it out and tell some stories! Even better, call up some relatives and have them share things they remember! If you don’t have access to a pre-made tree, help your child make their own. It’s never too early for kids to learn about where they came from and their family’s background.

4.    Make maple syrup snow candy: the health and wellness benefits of this one are more questionable, but this easy activity can help kids learn a bit of chemistry as they interact with snow and the outdoors! With some fresh snow and maple syrup, this treat is a special way to satisfy your child’s (and your own!) sweet tooth.

Vaccines: Back in the Spotlight

A blog such as ours that focuses on children’s health can’t neglect discussing vaccinations. This is especially true given the fact that diseases that were once effectively eliminated are re-emerging as major threats to children’s health. The New York Times has reported on an outbreak of measles - a disease that has the potential for deadly and debilitating complications - in a suburb of Portland, Oregon. Oregon has one of the most flexible policies that allow parents to opt out of vaccinating their children for various reasons.

All states allow parents to opt out for medical reasons, and most also permit religious reasons. However, the states that allow exemptions for “personal” or “philosophical” reasons leave room for debunked conspiracy theories to threaten the health of children in schools or public places. The NYT reports that multiple studies published in multiple leading medical journals have proven that there is no link between vaccines and conditions like autism, even among children who might be at higher risk of having the disorder (e.g. children with a sibling with autism.)

The question of vaccination is probably unique in that its benefits may not be immediately obvious. After all, an infant receiving multiple vaccinations according to the widely-approved schedule will not seem to be at obvious risk for those diseases. However, as children grow and encounter new environments, it is essential that they are well-equipped to thrive in them.  

Vaccine science has come so far since the first inoculation of a patient against a form of smallpox. In the present day, to make outbreaks of preventable disease “the new normal” (as one doctor put it) would be a huge step backward for medicine and for society’s commitment to children’s well-being.

Telemedicine and children’s health: what you need to know

Children’s Health defines telemedicine as “the use of technology to exchange medical information among providers.” The innovation allows for doctors to discuss patients and their cases together from any two or more places in the country, using video and other electronic communication. Telemedicine is especially promising given rural access to healthcare in the U.S.—and internationally—is often limited. Where there are healthcare facilities, they may lack specialization in areas like pediatric care or mental health.

Several large hospitals in Dallas, Philadelphia, Boston, and soon northern California have integrated telemedicine into their practices. Early studies show patients consider telehealth visits as equal or better than in-person visits, and there is high potential for improving children’s health in particular. For example, teens who see certain mental health physicians throughout high school can continue receiving care from the same familiar face if they move away for college. Another opportunity for telemedicine involves connecting physicians with school nurses, which can hugely benefit diabetic students.

Of course, with any new health technology, there are challenges. Insurance coverage is an ongoing struggle for health innovations in the U.S. and telemedicine is no different. However, in the past two years, legislatures in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have been working to pass bills requiring insurers to reimburse remote telemedicine care.

Other struggles represent fundamental limitations in telemedicine intervention. Physicians may miss key elements of a patient’s condition when communicating through a screen. For certain diagnoses, patients may have to travel to specialized care centers anyway. Moreover, telemedicine brings up questions of data security and potential privacy breaches with medical data. Finally, telemedicine may bring an incomprehensive quick-fix and/or false sense of resolution to the broader issue of poor rural healthcare access.

For now, telemedicine is offering innovative options for children and teens who need to see their doctors remotely. As more and more hospitals adapt to this new technology, CHIL encourages patients take advantage telemedicine, while continuing to be mindful of its limitations.

How should the epidemic of e-cigarettes among teens be addressed? Health experts weigh in

On December 18th, the Surgeon General announced an advisory on e-cigarette use. In it, he called the rise in popularity of products like Juul an epidemic. Juul and its competitors in the e-cigarette industry have come under fire for potential health risks their products impose on users (largely teens). E-cigarettes contain addictive levels of nicotine, yet they appeal to youth with kid-friendly flavors in ways regular cigarettes often do not, presenting a unique challenge for public health experts.

In an interview with the chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, U.S. News covered various efforts to reduce the use of e-cigarettes. Experts have drawn many ideas from successful policies with traditional tobacco products, like taxation. Experiences with conventional cigarettes have taught us that price is important: where cigarettes cost more, people smoke less. When it comes to youth, who generally have a lower incomes than adults, a tax-induced price hike could be even more effective. Other time-tested interventions include smoke-free indoor air policies and reducing flavors with “blatant appeal to children.”

The medical officer also noted how regular cigarettes were once marketed as sexy, like Juul and its new technology are attractive to kids today. Yet social acceptance of cigarettes has reversed as cigarette health threats were exposed—the same change in norms could be possible with e-cigarette consumption.  

Other health experts caution against conflating traditional cigarettes with e-cigarettes. After all, there are notable differences between the two: the amount of nicotine in e-cigarettes varies widely; current laws allow e-cigarettes in many areas where traditional cigarettes are prohibited; and, unlike traditional cigarettes, users can stop and restart “smoking” e-cigarettes (e-cigarettes “burn” using a battery rather than flame, meaning users take take single puffs at a time rather than committing to an entire cigarette).  Mirroring e-cigarette policy with traditional cigarette policy in ways that fails to account for these differences could render the new interventions ineffective.

Ultimately, more research is needed on the health risks e-cigarettes impose on teens before effective interventions will be made possible on a nationwide level.

Tips for creating reading-friendly spaces

Reading benefits kids (and adults!) in countless ways. Depending on the age, books help children and teens with things like: developing a foundation of language; forming social skills and speaking skills; learning about their world; increasing vocabulary; and improving familiarity with different types of literature. Moreover, literacy and education are directly correlated to health outcomes. By developing reading habits as early as possible, you can establish healthy habits of lifelong reading. CHIL has compiled the following tips for creating a reading-friendly space, applicable for whether the space be your home, your classroom, or any other place you frequently spend time.

  • Have a variety of different reading materials and/or media available. This can be anything from magazines to audio books to comics. By having different options available, you and/or kids you care for are bound to be excited by at least one of them!

  • Have books handy. Keep them in the living room, near the toys, or on the bedside table. Make them as accessible as possible.

  • Make a special, inviting reading place. Do this by ensuring the area has good lighting and is comfortable and enjoyable to sit in for extended periods of time. Consider limiting the technology and screens available in the space, if possible. Instrumental music can also add to a calming, cozy reading environment.

  • Have materials handy that encourage creativity, in case you want to write a piece of your own, or your child wants to draw out a book’s storyline!

Creating a positive reading environment can do wonders in nudging kids and teens to read more. As many across the country are beginning their extended winter breaks from school, consider what small changes can be made to facilitate reading-friendly spaces during the holidays!

Easy, nutritious, and kid-friendly snacks to make this holiday season!

With the holiday season in full swing this time of the year, it can be easy for sugary snacks to add up in the meals children eat while they are home during winter break, or while families cook holiday meals as part of tradition. We have highlighted 3 recipes below, curated by the San Juan Unified School District in California, that can be healthier alternatives for kids to snack on or make with their families during the holidays. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have also posted easy, nutritious recipes on their website that can be great for cooking during the holidays, including a blueberry muffin recipe we highlighted in our blog earlier this year. With that, happy eating and happy cooking!


  • Makes 2 servings (1 cup per serving).

  • Prep time: 5 minutes

  • Ingredients

    • 1 cup seedless grapes

    • ½ cup frozen cherries

    • ½ cup unsweetened frozen strawberries

    • ½ cup orange slices

    • ½ cup banana slices

  • Preparation

    • 1. Combine all ingredients in a blender container. Blend until mixture is smooth.

    • 2. Pour into glasses and serve.

  • Tip: For a thicker consistency, freeze grapes before blending ingredients. To freeze grapes, rinse, dry, and spread grapes in a single layer on a cake pan or pie pan. Cover and freeze 1½ to 2 hours until completely frozen.

  • Nutrition information per serving:

    • Calories 187, Carbohydrate 48 g, Dietary Fiber 5 g, Protein 2 g, Total Fat 0 g, Saturated Fat 0 g, Trans Fat 0 g, Cholesterol 0 mg, Sodium 4 mg

  • Recipe Courtesy of the California Table Grape Commission


  • Makes 4 servings (½ pita pocket per serving).

  • Prep time: 10 minutes

  • Cook time: 10 seconds

  • Ingredients

    • 2 medium whole wheat pita pockets

    • ¼ cup reduced fat chunky peanut butter

    • ½ apple, cored and thinly sliced

    • ½ banana, thinly sliced

    • ½ fresh peach, thinly sliced

  • Preparation

    • 1. Cut pitas in half to make 4 pockets and warm in the microwave for about 10 seconds to make them more flexible.

    • 2. Carefully open each pocket and spread a thin layer of peanut butter on the inside walls.

    • 3. Fill with a combination of apple, banana, and peach slices. Serve at room temperature.

  • Nutrition information per serving:

    • Calories 180, Carbohydrate 26 g, Dietary Fiber 4 g, Protein 7 g, Total Fat 7 g, Saturated Fat 1 g, Trans Fat 0 g, Cholesterol 0 mg, Sodium 217 mg


  • Makes 6 servings (¼ cup per serving).

  • Prep time: 30 minutes

  • Ingredients

    • 2 medium pears, peeled, cored, and cut into small chunks

    • ½ mango, peeled, seeded, and cut into small chunks

    • 1 ⁄3 cup finely chopped yellow bell pepper

    • 1 ⁄3 cup finely chopped red bell pepper

    • ¼ cup finely chopped red onion

    • 1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped

    • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro

    • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil lime juice to taste salt to taste

  • Preparation

    • 1. Mix all ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate in a covered container for at least 30 minutes or up to 3 hours before serving.

    • 2. Serve with tortilla chips, quesadillas, or something else!

  • Nutrition information per serving:

    • Calories 65, Carbohydrate 13 g, Dietary Fiber 3 g, Protein 1 g, Total Fat 2 g, Saturated Fat 0 g, Trans Fat 0g. Cholesterol 0 mg, Sodium 100 mg

  • Recipe courtesy of the California Pear Advisory Board

Kid-friendly places in NYC to volunteer this holiday season

The holidays are upon us, and opportunities to volunteer are plentiful! Volunteering is valuable for countless reasons, both for the beneficiaries and for those giving their time and energy to causes. First, people in need are receiving help they otherwise may not have had. Second, people who give experience community bonding and togetherness. Third—and this one is particularly relevant for children with long winter breaks from school—it’s a wonderful, productive pastime that can teach us all about the value of community engagement!

From a big list of volunteer opportunities in New York, we have highlighted a couple ones that are especially good for kids—those with little helping hands to teenagers:

  • The Bowery Mission: this group serves the hungry and homeless. Volunteers can aid in preparing and serving meals, and teens and adults can even mentor youth!

  • Greenpoint Church Dinner and Food Pantry: at Greenpoint, community dinners are held every Wednesday. Volunteers are need for a variety of roles, including cooking—a great activity for kids! Children over 5 are welcome.

  • City Meals on Wheels: this organization prepares and serves meals to the elderly of NYC. In addition to providing food, City Meals on Wheels also has holiday card program where volunteers can make and send cards to the elderly, which can double as a great craft for kids!

Note that there are many other places to volunteer in the coming month, and most places have year-round volunteer programming, too! If you’re not local to NYC, most opportunities are easy to find online or in your local newspaper. They often include activity details, so you can easily pick out which ones are best for bringing kids along, or for teenagers to try on their own.

Community engagement benefits everyone—help yourself and your children by helping others this holiday season!

Gene editing: Is it ethically sound?

When we think about the rise of medical technology, especially when it comes to advancing the health and wellbeing of our world’s children, we almost immediately think of the positives. New methods to fight against cancer for sick children. The race to cure HIV/AIDS. Medical imaging improvements to better detect human disease. However, a recent topic within the arena of medical technology has caused immense controversy and debate in recent years: gene editing.

Recently, a researcher in China claimed to successfully conduct gene editing on two twin baby girls.The researcher claims to have involved seven different families in the gene editing process during fertility treatment, with the twins being the first to have been born. The researcher states that he is not attempting to change or alter existing genes or inherited diseases, but rather only inputting a trait that would help prevent or “resist” HIV infection.

Although the idea of gene editing or “genome editing” is certainly interesting due to its novelty, the researcher’s claims brought a wide range of criticism and doubts within the scientific community. Gene editing is in fact banned in 40 countries, including the U.S. Concerns of safety are also rampant--for instance, there is concern for incorrectly editing a non-targeted gene, causing reverberating and unintentional effects for the genome (or the entire set of genes in a living organism). In addition, in spite of the large advances in genetics science in the last century, there is insufficient  research to show how the editing of certain singular genes can impact the expression of or interaction with other genes. Some experts also call gene editing as “human experimentation”, while others claim the “justifiability” of gene editing when it comes to resisting major healthcare threats such as HIV, in this researcher’s case.

When it comes to research on humans, three ethical principles are expected to be universally followed, as per the Belmont Report: respect for persons, beneficence, and justice. The justice component involves “fairness in distribution” of research’s benefits. There is some concern of whether gene editing will only be accessible to those that can afford such technology. This may lead to further gaps in equity for children and adults alike, while also potentially creating new “classes” of people based on their genome modifications.

Although this researcher’s experimentation in China is part of a larger debate on the ethics of gene editing, one thing is for certain: advances in science and research must be monitored, regulated, and evaluated so harm is minimized and the potential benefits are maximized for individuals.

This Thanksgiving, get the kids in the kitchen!

Cooking is one of the easiest and most fun ways to engage children. It also opens up a door to talk about health, as well as healthy ingredients and meals! Thanksgiving is an excellent opportunity to bring kids to the kitchen and get them excited about cooking—not to mention, an extra set of hands can be a real help, and spending quality time with friends and family can bring an uplifting sense of togetherness! CHIL has compiled a set of helpful tips below to help you and your children get the most out of cooking together.

1. Use this chance to explain the benefits of things like eating a balanced diet, getting your vitamins, and drinking water.

2. Holiday meal prep is a great time to get kids excited about the importance of wholesome and fresh ingredients! Even if you’re making a not-so-healthy Thanksgiving classic, like jello or cheesy mashed potatoes, emphasize the ingredients that are healthy—like the fresh fruit you’re adding in, or the fiber in the skin of the potatoes.

3. Be aware of safety hazards, turn it into an opportunity for a safety lesson on knifes, hot or flaming surfaces, and oven precautions like wearing mitts. Encourage kids to ask you questions if they have them and let you know if they need help.

4. Even with tip the last tip in mind, don’t forget to have fun! Let kids see how cooking can be an enjoyable part of your lifestyle that is healthy, too. Instilling cooking habits early on can encourage kids to choose fresh over packaged and processed alternatives in the long-run.

5. Finally, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, encourage kids to take time to appreciate what you’ve all made and all the hard work from the many hands that made it possible—from farm to table!

Looking for kid-friendly recipes? The New York Times has complied 55 excellent dishes in their “Kids in the Kitchen” collection. The pureed carrot soup particularly would make a nice appetizer for the holiday! Happy cooking and happy Thanksgiving!

Midterm election round-up: Highlights & implications in healthcare

A number of historic “firsts” came with the Midterm election occurring last Tuesday, November 6th. The first Native American women, the youngest woman, and the first Muslim women were elected to Congress, and the first female governors in Maine and South Dakota and the first openly gay governor in the U.S. were also elected, among other “firsts”. There will also be more than 100 women in the U.S. House of Representatives, a new record. In addition to the expanding diversity of candidates running for office and being elected, this election also brought historic “firsts” in healthcare. We have listed below some of the various health-related highlights of last Tuesday, as well as its implications in the local and federal level. Specifically, what issues do voters care about, and what do they mean for the future of healthcare and policymaking in this country?

  • At preliminary exit polls during Tuesday’s elections, 41% of surveyed voters noted that healthcare is a top issue they are concerned about. In addition, CNBC reports that ~70% of voters, regardless of party affiliation, indicated that the “U.S. healthcare system needs ‘major changes’”. The weight voters put on healthcare may make it an important future point of discussion in Congress as well as in local and state legislatures.

  • With a Democrat majority in the House of Representatives, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and/or cuts to Medicaid will probably not be heavily challenged for repeal in Congress.

  • Utah, Nebraska, and Idaho passed ballot measures to expand Medicare in their states. This could mean that over 300,000 low-income individuals in all three states will be eligible to gain health insurance coverage through Medicaid. Only 14 states have not expanded Medicaid thus far in the U.S.

  • Alabama and West Virginia voters passed measures to “ban abortion in their state constitutions”. Both states also have laws that ban abortion; however, these measures technically cannot be implemented due to the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. According to the decision, it is unconstitutional for state laws to ban abortion.

Check out some more health-care related highlights from the 2018 Midterm election here!

Emotional Mindfulness Exercise for Kids: Body Mapping

Kids are constantly experiencing new emotions. Learning how to appropriately cope with and express them is easy to overlook, but very important. Internalizing negative feelings can be unhealthy and can contribute to harmful behavior, even if a child is not acting out. A psychoeducation tool called ‘body mapping can useful for encouraging kids to reflect on their emotions, and we’ll will take you through some of the how-to’s below!

The goal of the body map is to visualize emotional responses in order to become acquainted with them and reduce confusion about them. Note that it may be helpful for an adult mentor to complete the exercise alongside the child as an example.

  1. Start with having children draw an outline of their bodies on unlined paper. This can be life-size if you have larger sheet paper available, or just a standard piece.

  2. Pick an emotion or an event that will be the focus of the exercise (i.e. “think of a time when you felt angry”). If you are working with older kids who can better understand abstract activities, you can also allow them to choose the focus (“when ___ happened, think about how you felt”).

  3. Have children to draw on their face the emotion selected (or the emotion(s) associated with the event). It is useful to have different drawing tools/colors available!

  4. Have children jot down the other words they associate with the emotion.

  5. Have children reflect on how this emotion felt in their body (i.e. “did you feel this emotion in your stomach? In your heart? Did your neck tense up? Did your breathing change?”), and then have them express that bodily reaction on their outline. Encourage kids to get creative—perhaps they may draw a tornado in their stomachs, firecrackers near their heads, etc. Having diverse material like stickers, watercolors, or patterned paper and scissors may help them get ideas flowing.

  6. Ask children what kind of thoughts they have or had when they feel/were feeling this way. Have them write these down as thought bubbles around their depiction.

  7. When kids are finished with their maps, allow some time for them to share the different aspects of their maps. What did they include and why did they choose to represent it that way? Be mindful that not everyone may be comfortable sharing their map as their art may be personal, and that is okay. You may also encourage kids, when sharing, to discuss how they address their responses (i.e. “how do you cope with your heart beating fast when you’re angry? How do you calm your heart?”)

Many variations of this exercise are possible. For example, body mapping additionally has been used as tool to aid kids specifically in overcoming trauma (physical or emotional). Ultimately, body mapping can be an informative and cathartic method to take abstract emotions and get them down on paper in a way that facilitates meaningful and expressive conversation—something that can be particularly challenging for young ones.

An update on transgender rights and policy change

We recently wrote a blog post in August about how anti-discrimination federal rules that required insurance plans to cover preventive services for transgender and gender non-conforming youth were in discussion to be removed. Further reports of potential federal policy change have been discussed since then, that will affect millions of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals in the U.S.

Just last week, the Justice Department informed the Supreme Court that employers can discriminate against their employees based on their gender identity. A recent report also states that the Department of Health and Human Services is considering defining gender as, according to the New York Times, a “biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth”. In the past, “sex” was understood to be defined on the basis of chromosomal makeup, while gender was defined by the individual in how they choose to identify. However, experts repeatedly state how the terms gender and sex are not interchangeable, and how both are not necessarily defined by biology. Both sex and gender are non-binary and can be modified, which the proposed definition fails to address.

These proposed policy changes have been part of a string of federal actions that have affected many transgender and gender non-conforming Americans, who comprise about 1.4 million of the U.S. population. For instance, guidelines that “protected transgender students who wanted to use bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity” were removed in February 2017, thus effectively discarding reported cases of discrimination in educational environments by gender expansive children and youth.

Among these alterations in practice, the recently federal policy proposals and changes in defining ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ have reverberating effects beyond the federal level. CNN reports how changes in the definition may exclude many transgender and gender non-conforming Americans from seeking civil rights protections when discriminated against. In addition, many gender expansive youth and their families feel anxious and unsure of how such a policy change will affect name and gender changes on birth certificates and other ID documents, and subsequently their identity at school, work, or other legal and social institutions. With these recent federal proposals, many civil rights groups are hoping to challenge how the U.S. stands on discrimination against gender diverse individuals.

Talking to kids about #MeToo

2018 has been dubbed the year of #MeToo. People of all backgrounds, ages, and gender identities have come forward with their stories of sexual harassment and assault, demanding perpetrators’ behaviors no longer be tolerated. Not only has this changed the way Americans think about sexual health and consent, it’s exposed the emotional trauma and long-term damages to well-being that frequently follow sexual misconduct. The hashtag has spread over social media platforms, reaching audiences of many ages. What is the younger generation to make of it all?

Some adolescents, as survivors of sexual misconduct or crimes, consider themselves a part of the movement. Teenage femmes have spoken out to tell their own stories and to support their friends. High-profile cases like the recent Kavanaugh hearings, which involved alleged misconduct in high school, may have been familiar to them. What role do adult figures play in addressing #MeToo with teenagers, as well as with younger children trying to digest the adult conversations around them?

NPR asked experts in sexual health education, and we’ve synthesized them below:

1)   It’s adults’ job to give them information— kids learn about sexual health somewhere, and it’s best if that somewhere is from a willing and knowledgeable adult. Use #MeToo as a teachable moment!

2)   It’s not too soon— even for parents or educators of elementary-aged children where explicit conversations around sexual health are not appropriate, consent can be a habit encouraged in kids from the get-go. Instilling healthy behaviors in kids is critical as it can impact their actions in the long-run.

3)   Be “askable”— kids should feel comfortable approaching adults with their uncomfortable questions. Mentors bringing up tough topics themselves can set an example of the conversations their okay having. Adults who can’t fulfill this role should ensure another older figure can.

4)   Talk with potential perpetrators, not just survivors— #MeToo has been about supporting victims, but also about raising a new generation who respect consent in a way their predecessors never learned. In other words, not only should young kids be given the tools they need to express themselves if there is a problem, they should also be taught how to cope with being told “no.”

It’s National Dental Hygiene Month!

We couldn’t let October go by without talking about National Dental Hygiene Month! We want to discuss this topic because most news-related articles and our blog posts relate to body health, however there is rarely a focus on oral health. Oral hygiene is just as important as body hygiene, with the Mayo Clinic even calling oral health “a window to your overall health.” Poor oral health is linked to various conditions such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease. The relationship goes both ways: diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s and HIV/AIDS can cause problems or exhibit symptoms in your oral cavity, while poor oral hygiene can also lead to serious conditions like heart infections or giving birth prematurely for pregnant women.

Good oral health is important for everyone! Although there are multiple ways to maintain good overall oral health, such as regularly seeing the dentist, flossing daily, eating healthy, or not smoking, we want to focus this blog post on how to brush your teeth properly. You are supposed to brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice daily, but do you know the proper technique for brushing your teeth? Here are some pointers to remember.

  • Make sure you are brushing with a 45-degree angle to where your gums meet your teeth.

  • When you brush your teeth, use “tooth-wide” strokes. Brush the front teeth, back teeth, and the “chewing surface”, which is the part of your teeth you use to bite and chew food!

  • It is important to keep your gums healthy as well! Brush along the gum line with gentle strokes.

  • Brush the backside of your front teeth with “up-and-down” strokes.

  • Remember to brush your tongue at the end! This can help your breath stay fresh and take out any remaining food particles in your mouth.

The ADA has also released some tips on motivating kids to brush their teeth. Check it out here!

Tips to help teens get more sleep!

Research indicates how teenagers need an average of 9 hours of daily sleep; however, the average American teen reports sleeping around 7 hours daily. A recent NPR article reported on how varied and unpredictable schedules, in addition to stress from school and social activities, can cause teens to have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up. In addition, over fifty-percent of parents believe that their children’s constant use of electronic devices causes sleep problems. Although electronic devices may contribute to the issue, experts suggest that parents should listen and speak to their kids about other barriers to getting good sleep, and how the family can address them. On NPR, researchers Sarah Clark and Mary Carskadon suggest a number of tips on how to improve sleep quality. CHIL has pulled some other tips from various clinics and online resources that can hopefully help you too!

  • Try to keep the same daily wake-up time: Try also having the same bedtime! When you have consistency in your schedule, it helps set a sleep-wake cycle in your body. Even on weekends, try not to deviate from your schedule by more than an hour.  

  • Exercise helps!: When you exercise, your body tends to get better quality sleep and longer sleep. Exercise helps increase the amount of time you spend in deep sleep, which is a sleep phase that helps improve immunity and manage stress. Also, when you exercise and use a lot of energy earlier in the day, your body feels ready to go to sleep by nighttime. The benefits can be even greater when exercise is a regular part of your schedule!

  • Time management is key: School can be stressful, especially with what feels like never-ending work. Experts suggest to section your work into chunks of time during the whole day, such as the extra time you have between two classes or the time you have before a meeting. This may help with efficiency and finishing your work before your bedtime.

  • Do not nap too late in the day: Napping after 5:00pm makes it harder to fall asleep or stay asleep at night. Also, make sure that your naps are short! Long naps can have you feeling groggy while waking up, or affect your sleep quality at night.

Let us know if you have any additional tips you would like to share!

Disaster & child health in the wake of Hurricane Florence

Hurricane Florence hit the shores of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia a little less than two weeks ago. While the storm has passed, the damages are daunting. Recovery from the disaster will take immense efforts in certain areas, given some homes and businesses experienced massive flooding. But the hurricane didn’t just impact  physical infrastructure—amidst recovery conversations, it’s important to bear in mind the toll natural disaster takes on mental health and emotional well-being as well.

In a recent Atlantic interview, Shannon Self-Brown, the chair of health policy and behavioral science at Georgia State University’s School of Public Health, explained children are particularly at risk of developing lasting emotional trauma from natural disasters because they might not be old enough to understand why the event happened specifically to them. Studying the impacts of Hurricane Katrina, She and her colleagues found that 71% of the 426 children were resilient, showing no signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) like hyperarousal or reexperiencing the event in their heads. 25% of kids showed temporary signs of PTSD, meaning the symptoms went away within 2 years, and the remaining 4% of kids studied had signs of chronic PTSD. Unsurprisingly, increased exposure to the hurricane correlated with worse PTSD outcomes. Good social support, on the other hand, correlated with more resiliency.

But establishing good social support—meaning an active and strong peer group—after a natural disaster can prove challenging for families that have been displaced. Often, by encouraging experience-sharing and establishing routines, this is where educators can play a role, even for children who have had to change schools.

In applying other aspects of her research to the present aftermath of Hurricane Florence, Self-Brown recommended opening up a dialogue with kids about the disaster and what happened. This can be done in a number of ways, like coming up with a song, drawing a picture, writing a story, or having a simple conversation. If behavioral changes are occurring in children under the age of 4, Self-Brown notes caretakers should self-evaluate for stress of their own. Toddlers repeatedly acting up can be an indication they sense Mom isn’t doing okay.

The stress of dealing with an unexpected disaster cannot be overstated. Family upheaval affects even the youngest family members, who don’t necessarily understand the nitty gritty of, say, insurance coverage. Other resources for coping with hurricane recovery can be found on the National Child Traumatic Stress Network’s website, and more general information is posted on affected states’ department of human and health services websites.

Are toddlers more similar to adults than we realize?

The Millennial generation has inspired a number of names over the years, from Generation Y to Trophy Kids. The term ‘Trophy Kids’ comes from a common conception that millennials are spoiled, entitled, and seek acknowledgment as “winners” from a young age just for participating in an activity. Many older generations believe that children should only be rewarded for achieving a goal through hard work, and that kids will not learn this value if they are awarded medals for “just showing up” every time. In contrast to this belief, recent research shows that children from a young age may not favor all types of “winners”, but rather individuals that “win” using appropriate means.   

A recent article in NPR describes how young children are similar to adults in that they notice social ranks. In the 1970s, research at daycare centers showed how young children form social hierarchies as early as 18 months old. New research from Harvard and University of California, Irvine demonstrates how toddlers specifically favor “winners” that are dominant yet win fairly.

In one study, toddlers were shown two scenarios in which two puppets crossed a stage to opposite sides and bumped into each other mid-way. In the first scenario, when both puppets bump into each other, one puppet yields and allows the other puppet to pass to reach its goal on the opposite side of the stage. In the second scenario, when both puppets bump into each other, one puppet pushes the other one out of the way and continues moving to the other side of the stage. Toddlers tended to favor the puppet that “won” the scenario when the other puppet gave way. The toddlers did not prefer the puppet that “won” by using force to push the other puppet out of the way.

The research described above provides evidence on how most individuals, toddlers and adults alike do not favor bullies or people who put others down in order to achieve success. One scientist hypothesized that as we created communities and adapted to living with other humans thousands of years ago, the way we socially interact may have become wired in us. Who knew that toddlers could be just like adults!