APA Resolution Supporting Marriage Equality

Yesterday the American Psychological Association passed a resolution supporting full marriage equality for same-sex couples by a unanimous vote of 157-0. Although the full text of the resolution is not yet available, the APA has supported same-sex marriage for several years, always citing peer-reviewed research to support their views. This quote from The Examiner is an excerpt from the proceedings of the 2010 annual convention (held last year during the California Prop 8 battle):

Research has shown that marriage provides substantial psychological and physical health benefits due to the moral, economic and social support extended to married couples. Conversely, recent empirical evidence has illustrated the harmful psychological effect of policies restricting marriage rights for same-sex couples. Additionally, children raised by same-sex couples have been shown to be on par with the children of opposite-sex couples in their psychological adjustment, cognitive abilities and social functioning.

APA has been a strong advocate for full equal rights for LGBT people for nearly 35 years, based on the social science research on sexual orientation. APA has supported legal benefits for same-sex couples since 1997 and civil marriage for same-sex couples since 2004. APA has adopted policy statements, lobbied Congress in opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act and the Federal Marriage Amendment, and filed amicus briefs supporting same-sex marriage in legal cases in Oregon, Washington, New Jersey, New York (three times), Maryland, Connecticut, Iowa, and California. In California, the APA brief was cited by the state Supreme Court when it ruled that same-sex marriage was legal in May 2008.

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Evidence for Multiple Pathways to Sexual Orientation

Social scientists have long debated the “true” nature of sexual orientation. In the past, this debate has been characterized as another example of the classic battle of nature vs. nurture/biology vs. society. Today, most acknowledge that a simplistic this or that explanation doesn’t fly for most things and likely doesn’t rightly characterize sexual orientation, either. Over the past decade or so, psychologists have begun gathering evidence indicating that there are likely multiple pathways to sexual orientation; for instance, some may be attracted to people of the same-sex because of something in their biology, others because of their social environment.

A recent study by Diamond and Wallen in the April issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior (“Sexual Minority Women’s Sexual Motivation Around the Time of Ovulation”) found evidence supporting a multiple pathways perspective in women’s sexual orientation. Continue reading

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% report receiving them.  The report also found that there was no difference in the amount of sexts sent or received even when parents checked their children’s cell phones.  Thus, kids seem to do it, even if they know their parents may see the photos!

Yet even adults, elected officials such as Anthony Weiner, have made these kind of boneheaded moves.  And so far, he is claiming that he won’t resign.  In this environment where everyone has access to this tool and thus bad (or stupid) behavior is easily documented and passed on to many others, should youth be punished? Continue reading

Child development outcomes with same-sex parents

In November 2010, the Pew Research Center released results of a poll that showed that 43% of people agreed with the statement that gay or lesbian couples raising children are bad for society, 41% believe that it doesn’t make a difference, and only 12% saying that they believed it was good for society.

The authors of this paper, a meta-analysis of a number of studies on same-sex parenting, would hope to convince more people to move from a neutral or non-supportive stance to having a positive view by gaining a more accurate idea of the similarities and differences between children raised with a different-sex parents and those raised with same-sex parents.
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Race to Nowhere

A documentary called Race To Nowhere is making its way around the schools in my neighborhood.  The film was made by a mother who was disturbed by the amount of homework that schools were assigning, as she felt her children were focusing too much on homework and not enough on play.  This has been a discussion that has been going on for the last few years in the education world, in addition to other conversations about parents over-scheduling their children.

While in theory I agree with many of these notions, I wondered what the evidence says.  I found a study that summarized research done over 6 years, from 1997-2003.  In an examination of the trends shown in 69 studies, the researchers found evidence that academic achievement was positively correlated with homework, especially in the upper grades.  However, after one to two hours a night, the correlation no longer exists.  Another study examined a variety of factors about what best predicts academic achievement (measured by grades), and found that it was NOT IQ, high school, school attendance, hours watching TV or hours spent doing homework. Instead the most important predictor was self-discipline (e.g., able to delay gratification and self-regulate).

After the movie, parents posed questions that offered many ideas and thoughts, from abolishing homework, realizing not every child is meant for college, to changing the way schools grade, test, and evaluate students.  These ideas all have merit, and I believe some of these kinds of changes should be considered.  But self-regulation, as well as persistence, are crucial skills that are somehow being missed in these discussions.
I believe that it is important for all adults to allow children to take risks and fail and to then teach children to pick themselves back up once they do, these are the kinds of practices our children need to learn.  As they learn how to pick themselves back up after failure and to try again at the task, children will learn that much success comes from effort and hard work, and ideally will learn the practices and self-regulatory skills that can make them feel competent and become successful learners.
originally posted on parentinginthedigitalage.com

Pre-Maternity Leave Requested!

The upcoming article by Christine Dunkel Schetter outlines a number of difficulties that may negatively impact the infant’s birth weight and duration of the pregnancy. The sources of stressors outlined in the article are broad, including financial stressors, problems in ones romantic relationships, family responsibilities, employment conditions, and pregnancy-related concerns. Both episodic and chronic stressors appear to have such a strong negative impact on the infant’s development and health. This may put parents in a difficult position, as many parents may want to take on extra work in preparation for a maternity leave or get the house in order for the new arrival. This may not necessary be stressful for all people, but it is likely that general concerns about pregnancy coupled with extra work in the home and in one’s career can add up to be quite a stressful experience. Women have made tremendous gains in establishing work outside of the home, which has led to increased commitments to one’s career and many women hold positions of power within their work organization. Focus on these roles during pregnancy may lead to increased stressors – and perhaps could be detrimental to the health of the developing infant.

While I am not suggesting that the solution is for women to cease all activities during pregnancy, it is clear that stress reduction should be a goal. From a policy perspective, it would be ideal for the pregnancy period to be treated more generously by employers. This crucial time in infant development appears to have gone largely overlooked in terms of legal intervention providing a standard for individuals during this phase. We applaud countries and companies that provide generous programs for mothers (and fathers) following the birth of a child. Many U.S. organizations have programs to support employees who are parents with maternity or paternity leave (although many do not), but rarely is the same level of focus placed on pre-birth care. It appears that the nine months prior to the birth merit consideration in terms of workload reduction.

I fear, though, that if such a movement were to happen, women would lose as well as gain. Potential “reasonable” arguments could be made against hiring women based on the potential loss of productivity both during and after pregnancy. Employers may understandably want the most productive workforce available, and hiring practices may further result in biases against female employees. Treating women differently, even while pregnant, may subtly reinforce the stereotype that women are weak. This issue appears complex, although merits much further consideration and discussion. In lieu of a complete overall of employment regulations, perhaps stress reduction or group therapy could be emphasized an essential pregnancy companion. Group therapy targeting pregnancy anxiety may be a worthwhile public health initiative, especially in high-risk groups.

Raising an academically motivated child

Children who are motivated on their own to do well in school is a dream of almost every parent. Fortunately, whether a child is intrinsically motivated to do well academically is not purely genetic or based on socioeconomic factors. This means that parents can purposefully contribute to the development of academic intrinsic motivation, or AIM for short, despite not having the highest IQ themselves or extra money to spend.

First of all, high academic motivation and intellectual giftedness aren’t the same thing, but they are related (read about it here). AIM refers to a drive to learn and do activities for their own sake. The reward is simply the pleasure that comes from learning, gaining mastery of the task at hand, and being challenged. On the other hand, being intellectually gifted usually refers to those who are smarter than average, measured by an IQ of 130 or above. It’s easy to see the possible connection between AIM and being smart: acting upon a greater desire to learn might lead to an IQ increase, although maybe not always to genius levels.

How can AIM be fostered? As part of the Fullerton Longitudinal Study, Gottfried and colleagues examined the influence of socioeconomic status and home environment factors on the levels of AIM in children from ages 8-13. You can read the paper here. (Here’s a later paper showing that AIM becomes increasingly stable throughout adolescence, so the factors that go into the development of AIM have long-term significance.) This study is notable because of the low attrition rate of their participants over the years and also because of the comprehensiveness of the measures taken.

At age 8, data was collected about the socioeconomic status of each child’s family, including information about parental education, professions, and marital status. These 96 families represented a wide range of socioeconomic status, from white collar professionals to semi-skilled workers. Additionally, information on the home environment was collected to determine how cognitively stimulating it was, which included information on the amount of parental involvement and educational opportunities.

Here are some specific examples of observations taken or questions asked to determine the level of cognitive stimulation:

  • Does the parent arrange for the child to visit the library at least once a month?
  • Is the child encouraged to have hobbies?
  • Is the TV often left on, or is it watched judiciously?
  • Does anyone in the family like art, literature, and/or music?
  • Does the child have access to a computer at home?
  • Does the child have access to at least two pieces of playground equipment?
  • How much education does the parent expect their child to receive?

AIM was measured by examining factors such as the child’s persistence, curiosity, enjoyment of learning, and desire for skill mastery in different academic subjects, including math, reading, and science.

The authors found that even while controlling for socioeconomic status, the children’s AIM levels at ages 9, 10, and 13 were directly affected by the home environment. That is, if the home environment was more cognitively stimulating no matter the socioeconomic status, children were more likely to have higher levels of AIM. (The children weren’t assessed at ages 11 or 12.)

Obviously, there are many factors that can make a home cognitively stimulating. This is great news because even those parents without the resources to take their kids on vacations, give them piano lessons, or buy a computer can still contribute to the development of AIM. The possibilities are endless: reading to them at the library, attending free cultural events held by the community and discussing them afterward, encouraging them to play sports or develop other hobbies, and not allowing TV to be a babysitter are a few examples. Neither do parents need to be exceptionally smart to implement these activities.

By the way, it’s been demonstrated that using external rewards (like money) to motivate children to do well is much less effective at fostering AIM development than simply encouraging internal motivation with parental involvement (another paper by the same group). So if coercion with money or presents still sounds like an easier option, it isn’t the optimal one.

While many factors outside of parental control probably go into child development, it’s reassuring to have evidence that affluence or social status aren’t always the determining factors. Informing parents of ways to facilitate AIM would be well worth the effort.