Are video games associated with depression in preadolescents?

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Written by Marie-Eve Dubios

Well, it sure sounds that way according to a recent study conducted at the University of Texas Health Science Center. While there is a wealth of research showing how exposure to violent video games leads to increases in aggressive behaviours, the study conducted by Dr. Susan Toladero and her colleagues (2014) was among the first to show that preadolescents who are exposed to violent video games for more than 2 hours per day are also at risk of becoming depressed.

Why would that be? There’s a few reasons for that, in my opinion. A big part of this is that spending more than two hours per day playing violent video games cuts into time for positive interactions with friends, which are crucial at that age. Indeed, social isolation is an important contributing in the vicious cycle that is depression. Once a person becomes socially isolated and spends long periods of time playing video games or engaging with social media, they are likely becoming increasingly sedentary…which is bad news since reduced sleep and lack of exercise also contribute to risk for depression.

What can be done, then, especially when talking about those video games is such a big part of a child’s social interactions?

  1. Placing limits on the number of hours of screen time, especially for violent games. Indeed, the same study showed that symptoms of depression were not increased when children played less than two hours of nonviolent games per day.
  2. Encouraging physical activity: not only does it keep us fit, but it makes our brain release endorphin’s, which make us happy.
  3. Encouraging interaction with peers outside of video games.

For most children and adolescents, these small tweaks will be sufficient to decrease their risk of depression. However, if you find yourself struggling with encouraging your child or teenager to make these changes, or if they experience more severe symptoms (decreased interest in activities, lack of pleasure, difficulties to concentrate, low energy and poor self-esteem), it may be best to look for professional help. Depression tends to have a chronic course, with more symptoms and recurring episodes only increasing the risk for future bouts of depression. Getting help early not only helps in reducing this risk, but also in giving children and teenagers the tools they need to take care of themselves.

5 Tips to promote well-being in siblings of children with disabilities (Part 2)

Talk - Sibling of Autism
If your child’s disability is affecting the time and attention their siblings are getting, acknowledge that.

This is Part 2 of our 10-Part blog series about the challenges and experiences of the siblings of kids with a diagnosis. Be sure to check back for future posts in the series. 

Read all posts from this series: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

As Jess expressed it in her blog post yesterday, growing up as a sibling of a child with disabilities is not always easy. Whether it is because their life is arranged around their sibling’s appointments, because they get bullied at school as a result of a sibling with a disability, or because they worry about their family’s well-being, we know that these children are at a greater risk of developing a range of emotional and behavioural problems than those raised with typically developing children. No matter whether these problems arise out of feelings of jealousy over the sibling being ‘allowed’ to misbehave when they’re not, or worry over their family’s situation, they are important to acknowledge. A recent study (Vermaes et al., 2013) showed that siblings of children with chronic health problems were at an increased risk of developing internalizing problems like anxiety and depression.

By now, you’re probably thinking ‘Well, that’s really the last thing I need to add on my plate!’. Thankfully though, there are some fairly simple ways to make things easier for your typically developing children-without you feeling even more overwhelmed than you already are:

  1. Be open about the unfairness of the situation. If your child’s disability is affecting the time and attention their siblings are getting, acknowledge that. The goal here is not to make the child with a disability feel bad for the situation, but rather to let the typically developing child know that you recognize they have needs too. [click to tweet]
  2. Create ‘special time’ with each child. ‘Special time’ is time dedicated from one parent alone with only one child. The time commitment here does not need to be particularly long: even only 5 minutes per day would suffice- as long as it is clear during that time that children will not be competing for your attention. [click to tweet]
  3. Let your typically developing child know that it’s okay to have negative feelings towards their siblings from time to time. What they are feeling is normal, and you do not love them any less because of it. [click to tweet]
  4. Make sure your child has a safe place to share these feelings. For those children who feel uncomfortable discussing their feelings with their parents, a sibling group may be helpful. It’s a great way to meet other youth going through similar things. Even if the time spent in the group isn’t always spent discussing the experience of having a sibling with a disability, it feels nice to know that others feel the same way you are and won’t judge you for it.  [click to tweet]
  5. Sometimes, siblings need their own special time where they feel free to talk about their feelings with an adult outside the family. If the child is not experiencing severe difficulties, trying to set up a Big Brother or Big Sister might be a good idea. However, sometimes, professional help is needed. The important part is that your child finds someone they can connect and share their feelings with. [click to tweet]

Check back next Wednesday for How I learned about my brother’s autism diagnosis (Part 3) or as Jess would call it, the Donkey Conversation!

5 Tips to keep your children strong in the face of terrorism

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Written by Marie-Eve Dubois

This week, we’ve been surprised and shocked by brutal and violent attacks against Canadian military. On Monday, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was rammed over and killed, only 20 minutes away from my hometown, where one of my uncle is a military. On Wednesday, Cpl Nathan Cirillo was shot in front the National War Memorial in Ottawa. Needless to say, these attacks have hit close to home. As Canadians, this is not a reality we are used to- we live in a peaceful and safe country, right?

Now that our reality has changed and that these attacks are all we hear about on TV, one important question for many parents is: ‘Should I talk about this with my children? How?’ While it may seem tempting not to talk about this topic for fear that it will make children worry, this approach is one that may actually backfire. Remember that having a child keep their anxious feelings to themselves will be more damaging then having an open discussion about it. And ultimately, if they don’t hear about it from you, they will hear about it elsewhere (school, friends, etc.).

Here are a few steps if you’re wondering about how to have this discussion:

  1. Ask your children what they have heard about the events. It is not unusual for news to get distorted-think Chinese telephone. You want to make sure the information your child has is accurate. [click to tweet]
  2. Explore what is confusing, scary or troublesome for your child. Once information has entered our brain, we can interpret it in numerous ways. [click to tweet]
  3. Validate your child’s emotions. It is normal to be shocked and scared. Telling a child not to worry won’t make it better. [click to tweet]
  4. Examine what your child is making of that information and those feelings. Is your child paralyzed by fear? Does he have unrealistic ideas about what could happen? If so, try to deconstruct those thoughts. [click to tweet]
  5. Be ready to answer questions and address fears for a little while. New issues and concerns may appear over time as a child mulls over the events, develops an understanding of what has happened and what it implies. [click to tweet]

Keep in mind that these strategies should be adapted to each child’s developmental level. Also, each child will respond differently to these types of events, depending on their personality. Children who have a tendency to be anxious may react more strongly to these types of events.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims. In the face of terrorism, let’s stay strong.