Halfway through the school year, Maria** became aware that her daughter Sam** wasn’t being invited to her friends’ houses anymore.
“I talked to her about her friends and why they weren’t meeting up. Eventually, she told me that they didn’t get on anymore. I found out that her old friends were excluding her.
“For example, when she bumped into them in the street, one of the girls said directly to her, ‘This is the one we’re not talking to anymore’.
“They were also really nasty in the playground. They left her standing on her own. She was still trying to be friends with them but they just ignored her. She was very upset.
“Then I witnessed an incident one Saturday afternoon.
“Two of her old friends phoned her. They asked her if she’d started her periods. She said it was none of their business, but they kept her on the phone. She wasn’t strong enough to end the conversation.
“They were laughing and shouting, ‘We want to know, we want to know’. I was standing next to her, and felt disgusted. I felt really sorry for Sam. Afterwards, I thought of calling one of the girls’ mums, but I decided not to because I thought it might make things worse.
“I was very upset because I used to spend a lot of time with these girls, but now they didn’t think my daughter was good enough for them.
“I was worried about Sam because I thought it must be horrible to believe you’ve got really good friends and then they suddenly turn against you.
How Sam got Help with Bullying
“I told Sam that she should talk to Nicole, a learning mentor at her school. I knew that Sam liked Nicole, whose role was to sort out this kind of issue.
“Soon after, Nicole contacted me. Both she and Sam’s form teacher had noticed that Sam was being bullied.
“I found out that she wasn’t only being bullied by this group. Sam is half-Polish, and another girl was calling her a ‘Polish sket’ in class.
“The school intervened quickly. They cracked down on the racist comments and the use of the insult ‘sket’. After that, the problem with that particular girl was completely resolved.
“Nicole, the learning mentor, also set up a friendship group to understand the dynamic in this circle of girls who’d all moved up from primary school together. She asked the bullies and a few other pupils to talk together about friendship, boyfriends, fashion, puberty and growing up. A lot was revealed.
“It seems that Sam’s primary school (*elementary school) friends got to know other girls at secondary school (*middle school) and became more interested in fashion, make-up and boyfriends. Because Sam was more childlike, they didn’t want her in their group anymore. She wasn’t cool enough.
“Sam was different. I think that’s often what bullying is based on. She has her own style and doesn’t follow everyone else.
“Nicole had several chats with Sam, and helped to strengthen Sam’s self-esteem. When she was picked on, Sam used to get quite upset and would try to defend herself, but now she’s able to ignore it.
“When I spoke to Sam about the meetings with Nicole, I could see that things were improving. At home, I explained to her that friendships change, and primary school (*elementary school) friends don’t necessarily stay friends for life. I didn’t want to suggest that Sam was the victim because that can make you feel weaker.
“Sam has finally found a new set of friends and is really happy with them. She’s become more confident, and she no longer tries to be friends with girls who don’t want to be friends with her.”
**The names in this article have been changed.
Bullying: Information and Support for Parents
To find out more about how you can help your child if they’ve been bullied, read Bullying: advice for parents.
Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.
Dr Victoria Grandage, Consultant Hematologist at the Children and Young People’s Cancer Service at University College London, describes the signs and symptoms of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, also known as A.L.L. She and the mother of a young former patient, Josh, talk about the treatment and experience of ALL; a cancer that, thankfully, has a high cure rate in children. Click on the picture below to go to the NHS YouTube channel to watch the video.
Editor’s Note: Video Highlights
- Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia or ALL is a form of cancer of the blood
- For reasons we do not yet fully understand, immature cells in the bone marrow – lymphocytes or lymphoblasts – rapidly build up and crowd out the normal bone marrow cells
- Some of the symptoms of ALL include:
- Anemia: tiredness, shortness of breath, lethargy
- Infections, high fevers, maybe mouth ulcers
- Bleeding, bruising and rashes
- Enlargement of some lymph nodes around the neck or in the groin
- Enlargement of the liver and spleen
- Bone pain (a prominent symptom)
“When Josh was about two and a half, he went back to crawling rather than walking. He’d say his legs were too sore to walk and he’d crawl around for the first half hour or so (after getting up) and then start walking after that.” Josh’s Mom, Angela
- Initial treatment, before a diagnosis has been confirmed, is supportive to address the above symptoms and can include fluids for hydration, antibiotics, and possibly a blood transfusion
- Treatment of the leukemia itself involves chemotherapy, a broad term for many different drugs that may be given in tablet form, as injections, or directly into the blood stream as IV infusions
- Some ALL chemotherapy drugs are also given via a lumbar puncture
- Side effects of the chemotherapy include nausea, tiredness, and hair loss
- Treatment begins with acute therapy – for Josh this lasted 9 months – and is followed by maintenance treatment for a couple of years
- Josh’s total treatment lasted three years
- The majority of children with ALL go into remission – and 75%-80% of those are cured
- Further intensified treatment, including a stem cell transplant, may be required for children who do not go into remission
You may have friends who are taller, heavier and more muscular than you. We all grow and develop at different rates. Lots of boys don’t reach their adult weight until they are over 18.
You can check whether you’re a healthy weight by using our healthy weight calculator. If you are underweight, your GP (*pediatrician), practice nurse or school nurse can give you help and advice.
There may be an underlying medical cause for your low weight that needs to be checked out. Gut problems like coeliac disease, for example, can make people lose weight.
Read about other medical problems that can cause unexplained weight loss.
Or perhaps you haven’t been eating a healthy, balanced diet.
Whatever the situation, if you’re concerned about your weight or your diet, the best thing to do is tell someone. There’s a lot that can be done to help.
Why Being a Healthy Weight Matters
Being underweight can leave you with no energy and affect your immune system, meaning you could pick up colds and other infections more easily.
If your diet is poor, you may also be missing out on vitamins and minerals you need to grow and develop.
The good news is that, with a little help, you can gradually gain weight until you get to a weight that is healthy for your height and age.
Healthy Diet for Teen Boys
It’s important that you gain weight in a healthy way. Try not to go for chocolate, cakes, fizzy drinks and other foods high in fat or sugar. Eating these types of foods too often is likely to increase your body fat, rather than building strong bones and muscles.
Instead, aim to eat three meals and three snacks a day. You should be having:
- Plenty of starchy carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes (choose wholegrain versions or potatoes with their skins on if you can)
- At least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables a day
- Some meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein
- Some milk and dairy food
We all need some fat in our diet, but it’s important to keep an eye on the amount and type of fat we’re eating. Try to cut down on the amount of saturated fat you eat – that’s the fat found in sausages, salami, pies, hard cheese, cream, butter, cakes and biscuits.
Cut down on sugary foods, such as chocolate, sweets, cakes, biscuits and sugary soft drinks.
Strength training can also help to build strong muscles and bones. Find out how to increase your strength and flexibility.
Boost Your Calories
To bump up your energy intake in a healthy way, try these tips:
- Make time for breakfast. Try porridge made with semi-skimmed (*1% or 2% milk) milk and sprinkle some chopped fruit or raisins on top. Or how about eggs on toast with some grilled tomatoes or mushrooms?
- Crumpets, bananas or unsalted nuts all make good snacks.
- A jacket (*baked) potato with baked beans or tuna on top makes a healthy lunch and contains both energy-rich carbohydrates and protein. Adding cheese will provide calcium.
- Try yoghurts and milky puddings, such as rice pudding.
- Have a healthy snack before bed. Cereal with semi-skimmed milk is a good choice (choose a cereal that is lower in sugar), or some toast.
Teen Boys and Eating Disorders
Sometimes there can be other issues that stop you from eating a healthy diet.
If you feel anxious when you think about food, or you feel you may be using control over food to help you cope with stress, low self-esteem or a difficult time at home or school, then you may have an eating disorder.
People with eating disorders often say they feel that their eating habits help them keep control of their lives. But that’s an illusion: it’s not them who are in control, but the eating disorder.
If you feel you may have an eating disorder, help is available.
Tell someone: ideally your parents, guardians or another adult you trust.
The eating disorders charity b-eat has a Youthline, where you can get advice.
Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.
If your child is asking questions about sex, they’re ready for truthful answers. It’s never too early to start talking about it – find out how to go about it.
Young children are naturally curious about their bodies and other people. By answering any questions they ask, you can help them understand their bodies, their feelings and other people’s feelings. This is a good basis for open and honest communication about sex and relationships, growing up and going through puberty.
Talking to children about sex won’t make them go out and do it. Evidence shows that children whose parents talk about sex openly start having sex at a later stage and are more likely to use contraception.
How Much Should I Tell My Child About Sex?
You don’t have to go into detail. A short, simple answer might be enough. For example, if your three-year-old asks why she hasn’t got a penis like her brother, you could tell her that boys have penises on the outside and girls have vaginas on the inside. This could be enough to satisfy her curiosity.
Work out exactly what your child wants to know. For example, if they ask a question, such as “Where do babies come from?”, identify what they’re asking. Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be.
You could answer by saying: “Babies grow in a woman’s tummy, and when they’re ready they come out into the world”. This might be enough.
If not, your child’s follow-up question could be, “How does the baby get in there?” You could answer, “A man puts a seed in there”. Or your child may ask, “How does the baby get out?” You could answer, “It comes out through a special passage in the woman’s body called a vagina”.
What do Children Need to Know About Sex?
They need to know that it’s OK to talk about sex and relationships, and that you’re happy to talk about it. They’ll learn this through your tone and manner when you talk about sex, so try to treat sex as a normal, everyday subject.
Beyond sex, your child needs to know the following main topics:
- The changes to expect during puberty – find out more about girls’ bodies and boys’ bodies
- How babies are made
- How pregnancy happens and how contraception can prevent it – find out more about getting pregnant
- Safer sex and how to use condoms to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Where they can get information and advice about sex and relationships – find out more about getting contraception
- Sexuality, and that it’s OK to be gay
Girls need to know about periods before they’re around 10 years old, and boys need to know about the changes they can expect before they’re around 12. There’s no reason for girls and boys not to learn the same things. For example, boys can learn about periods, and girls can learn about erections.
If your child is approaching the age where they need to know about puberty or sex and relationships, but they’re not asking questions about it, use everyday situations to lead to the conversation. For example, you could talk about a story in a TV programme, or bring up periods when you see sanitary pads in a shop.
Tell your child that they’re growing up, there will be some changes that happen to everyone and you want to let them know what to expect.
Why Your Child Should Know About Sex
Children need to know about sex, pregnancy, contraception and safer sex before they start any sexual activity. This is so they will know what to think about, such as safer sex and not doing anything they don’t want to do. This way, they can make decisions that are right for them when the time comes.
Most young people in the UK don’t have sex until they’re at least 16. Those who have sex before that age will need to know how to look after themselves.
Everyone needs to know about safer sex, whether they’re straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual. Women can pass STIs on to women and men can pass STIs on to men. For more information, see sexual health for women who have sex with women and for men who have sex with men.
Have an Answer Ready For Awkward Situations
No matter how open you are about sex, there will be times when you need a quick answer to deal with awkward questions, for example, in the supermarket queue or on a bus.
Say something like, “That’s a good question. I’d like to talk about that when we get home”, or “That’s a good question, but we need to talk about it in private”. Make sure you remember to talk about it later.
Read a useful leaflet on talking to your child about sex and relationships (PDF, 1.54Mb).
To find out where to get more information on sex, relationships, contraception and STIs, see Who can I go to for advice?
Course on Talking About Sex and Relationships for Parents
Researchers from Coventry University have designed an online course to help parents talk with their children about sex and relationships.
Parents can choose three modules covering the importance of communication and skills and timing for how they talk with their child.
Advice and examples are given for children aged 5 to 10, and also for tweens and teens.
Check out the course: Besavvy About Having Difficult Conversations.
“Watching TV for three hours a day will not harm your children”, The Independent reports. However, The Daily Express contradicts this, saying “Too much television turns children into monsters”. In this case, The Independent is closer to the truth.
It has long been said that too much TV or video games could be bad for children. The study reported in the news set out to discover whether there is any truth in this belief.
It was a large UK study, tracking children aged from five to seven years of age, to see what – if any – effect TV viewing and video game playing had on their behaviour, attention span, emotions and peer relationships.
- Researchers found that regularly watching three hours a day was linked to a tiny increase in ‘conduct problems’ (essentially ‘being naughty’) after adjusting for many factors. This was just one of many outcomes the researchers examined. There was no evidence that TV viewing affected other issues, including hyperactivity, emotions and peer relationships.
- Interestingly, there was also no association between time spent playing video games and any emotional or behavioural problems.
Unfortunately, this research can’t conclusively tell us if there’s a link between watching TV and psychological and behavioural problems. From these limited results, it seems that any such link is likely to be small. Other influences are very likely to play a more significant role in children’s developing emotions and behaviour.
How much TV should my child watch?
Unlike some other countries, including the US, there is no official UK recommendation on how much TV a child should watch. (Editor’s Note: click here for US screen time guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics)
A common sense approach suggests ‘everything in moderation’. Many programmes aimed at children are now designed to be stimulating or educational, so you may want to think about what programmes your kids watch, as well as how much. However, other activities such as regular exercise, playing with others, and reading are also important to their development.
Where did the story come from?
The study was carried out by researchers from the Medical Research Council/SCO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at the University of Glasgow. It was funded by the UK Medical Research Council.
The media reported this story from two opposing angles, with headlines either suggesting that watching TV does not harm children (The Independent, and BBC News), or concentrating on the small increase in conduct problems and suggesting that TV watching is linked to behavioural problems or that children are naughtier (The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail).
While a case could be made that the Telegraph and Mail’s headlines are accurate at face value – there was a very small increase in naughty behaviour – the tone of their headlines are not really a fair reflection of the findings of the study. However, the Daily Express claim that TV turns ‘kids into monsters’ is totally inaccurate.
What kind of research was this?
This was a cohort study. It aimed to determine whether there was a link between the amount of time spent watching TV and playing computer games at five years of age, and changes in psychosocial adjustment at seven years of age.
Cohort studies are the ideal study design for this type of research, although they cannot show causation. For example, in this study we cannot be sure that TV watching causes the increase in conduct problem score, as it could be that other factors, called confounders, are responsible for the link.
What did the research involve?
Mothers of 11,014 children in the UK Millennium Cohort study (a study of a sample of children born between September 2000 and January 2002) were asked questions about their children’s behaviour.
They were asked the typical time during term-time spent watching television and playing electronic games when children were five years of age. This was categorised into:
- Less than one hour per day
- Between one and less than three hours
- Three hours to less than five hours
- Between five hours and less than seven hours
- Seven hours or more per day
Using the ‘Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire’, when children were five and seven years of age, researchers assessed:
- Conduct problems
- Emotional symptoms
- Peer relationship problems
- Prosocial behaviour (helpful behaviour)
The researchers collected information on maternal characteristics, family characteristics and family functioning (potential confounding factors), including:
- Mother’s ethnicity, education, employment, and physical and mental health
- Family’s household income
- Family composition
- Warmth and conflict in the mother-child relationship at three years of age – as assessed by interview
- Frequency of parent-child joint activities at five years of age
- “Household chaos” – a psychological term used to describe how chaotic or not daily life in the house tends to be in terms of issues such as sticking to set routines, household noise and how crowded the house is
The researchers also collected information on the child’s characteristics at five years of age, including:
- Cognitive development (assessed by the researchers)
- Whether they had a long-term illness or disability (reported by the mother)
- Sleeping difficulties
- The amount of physical activity they performed
- Negative attitudes at school
The researchers then looked to see if there was an association between time spent watching television and playing electronic games and psychosocial problems, after adjusting for maternal characteristics, family characteristics and functioning, and child characteristics.
What were the basic results?
Almost two-thirds of children in this study watched between one hour and three hours of TV per day aged five years old, with 15% watching more than three hours of TV and very few children (<2%) watching no TV. The majority of children played computer games for less than one hour per day, with 23% of children playing for one hour or more.
Initially, the researchers found that exposure to either TV or games for three hours or more was associated with an increase in all problems, and three hours or more of TV with reduced prosocial behaviour. However, after maternal and family characteristics, child characteristics and family functioning were adjusted for, the researchers found that:
- Watching TV for three hours or more per day at five years of age, compared to watching television for under an hour, predicted a 0.13 point increase (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.03 to 0.24) in conduct problems at seven years of age (after adjusting for the amount of time spent playing computer games).
- No association between time spent watching TV and emotional symptoms, peer relationship problems, hyperactivity/inattention and prosocial behaviour was found.
- The amount of time spent playing electronic games was not associated with any emotional or behaviour problems.
- When television watching and time spent playing electronic games were considered together, it was again found that three hours or more per day of screen time was associated with a 0.14 point increase (95% CI 0.05 to 0.24) in conduct problems compared to scores for those who watched less than an hour, but that screen time was not associated with emotional symptoms, peer relationship problems, hyperactivity/inattention or prosocial behaviour.
- There was no evidence that screen time had different effects on boys and girls.
The researchers report that the relationships remain the same when current (at age seven years) screen time was adjusted for.
How did the researchers interpret the results?
The researchers concluded that “TV but not electronic games predicted a small increase in conduct problems. Screen time did not predict other aspects of psychosocial adjustment.” The researchers go on to add that further work is required to establish the cause of these relationships.
This large UK cohort study has found that watching TV for three hours or more daily at five years predicted a small increase in conduct problems between the ages of five and seven years compared to watching TV for under an hour (0.13 point increase, on average). However, the time spent watching TV was not linked to hyperactivity/inattention, emotional symptoms, peer relationship problems, or prosocial behaviour.
The time spent playing electronic games was not associated with any emotional or behavioural problems.
Strengths of this study include the fact that it was large and well designed. It also accounted for many of the potential “confounding” factors (although there may still be others that weren’t accounted for), and examined TV/video/DVD watching (considered passive activities) and playing computer games (active activities) separately, which many previous studies have failed to do.
However, this study does have a significant limitation in that it relied on the mother’s reporting of both watching TV or playing computer games, and the child’s emotional and behavioural problems.
Although increased television watching was associated with an increase conduct problem score, it is not known whether the minimal point increases in average score for this sample between the ages of five and seven would actually make any noticeable difference to an individual child’s overall functioning and behaviour.
The study also suggests that family characteristics and functioning, and child characteristics also play an important role in the development of emotional and behavioural problems and that it may not be down to TV viewing alone.
Adjusting for confounders such as family composition, mother-child relationship and child’s activity levels had a significant effect on the initial results. This arguably suggests that these types of factors may have a considerable influence on how a child develops, rather than TV watching.
Given the lack of significant associations found between TV viewing and game playing and child psychosocial problems, no conclusive answers can be drawn from this study alone.
Further work is required to examine the child and family characteristics which could be targeted to improve outcomes.
“Watching TV for three hours a day will not harm your children”, The Independent reports. However, The Daily Express contradicts this, saying “Too much television turns children into monsters”. In this case.
Links to Headlines
- Watching TV for three hours a day will not harm your children, parents told. The Independent, March 26 2013
- TV time ‘does not breed badly behaved children’. BBC News, March 26 2013
- Too much television turns children into monsters, British study finds. Daily Express, March 26 2013
- More than three hours of TV ‘makes youngsters naughtier by the age of seven’. Daily Mail, March 26 2013
- Television link to behaviour problems in young children. The Daily Telegraph, March 25 2013
Links to Science
- Parkes A, Sweeting H, Wight D, Henderson M. Do television and electronic games predict children’s psychosocial adjustment? Longitudinal research using the UK Millennium Cohort Study. Archives of Disease in Childhood. Published online March 25 2013
A learning disability affects the way a person learns new things in any area of life, not just at school. Find out how a learning disability can affect someone, and where you can find support.
A learning disability affects the way a person understands information and how they communicate. Around 1.5m people in the UK have one. This means they can have difficulty:
- Understanding new or complex information
- Learning new skills
- Coping independently
It is thought that up to 350,000 people have severe learning disabilities. This figure is increasing.
A learning disability can be mild, moderate or severe. Some people with a mild learning disability can talk easily and look after themselves, but take a bit longer than usual to learn new skills. Others may not be able to communicate at all and have more than one disability (see Profound and multiple learning disability, below).
A learning disability is not the same as a learning difficulty or mental illness. Consultant paediatrician Dr Martin Ward Platt says: “It can be very confusing,” he says, pointing out that the term “learning difficulties” is used by some people to cover the whole range of learning disabilities.
“It is easy to give the impression, by using a term like ‘learning difficulties’, that a child has less of a disability than they really do,” says Dr Ward Platt.
Some children with learning disabilities grow up to be quite independent, while others need help with everyday tasks, such as washing or getting dressed, for their whole lives. It depends on their abilities.
Sources of Support for Learning Disabilities
Some learning disabilities are diagnosed at birth, such as Down’s syndrome. Others might not be discovered until the child is old enough to talk or walk.
Once your child is diagnosed with a learning disability, your GP (*pediatrician or family doctor) can refer you for any specialist support you may need. You’ll begin to get to know the team of professionals who will be involved in your child’s care.
Support from professionals – including GPs, paediatricians, speech and language therapists, physiotherapists and educational and clinical psychologists – is available to help individuals live as full and independent a life as possible.
What Causes Learning Disabilities?
A learning disability happens when a person’s brain development is affected, either before they are born, during their birth or in early childhood.
Several factors can affect brain development, including:
- The mother becoming ill in pregnancy
- Problems during the birth that stop enough oxygen getting to the brain
- The unborn baby developing certain genes
- The parents passing certain genes to the unborn baby that make having a learning disability more likely (known as inherited learning disability)
- Illness, such as meningitis, or injury in early childhood
Sometimes there is no known cause for a learning disability.
Some conditions are associated with having a learning disability, such as cerebral palsy. This is because people with these conditions are more likely to have one.
Everyone with Down’s syndrome, for example, has some kind of learning disability, and so do many people with cerebral palsy. People with autism may also have learning disabilities, and around 30% of people with epilepsy have a learning disability.
Profound and Multiple Learning Disability (PMLD)
A diagnosis of a profound and multiple learning disability (PMLD) is used when a child has more than one disability, with the most significant being a learning disability.
Many children diagnosed with PMLD will also have a sensory or physical disability, complex health needs, or mental health difficulties. People with PMLD need a carer or carers to help them with most areas of everyday life, such as eating, washing and going to the toilet.
If you are looking after a child or adult with PMLD, you can find help and support in Care and support.
Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.