Children’s Health

Teens with upbeat friends may have better emotional health

Nandini Mani, MD
Nandini Mani, MD, Contributing Editor

Generations of parents have worried about their kids having friends who are a “bad influence.” But what about friends who are a good influence? Recent research suggests that teens whose friends are emotionally healthy are less likely to suffer from depression, and that such friends can help improve the mood of teens who show signs of depression. This study is one of several in an emerging area of research on the relationship between our social networks and our health and well-being.

Beyond the 2-hour screen rule: 10 tips for parenting in the digital age

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

You may have heard of the “2-hour rule,” a guideline from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that states children should get no more than 2 hours of “screen time” a day (and none at all for those under age 2). But given the sheer amount of handheld devices available today, not to mention the increasing need for children to use technology to do homework and talk with their friends, does the rule still apply? Recently, the AAP released 10 tips to help parents navigate the digital age. We’ve explained them all here.

Teaching gratitude this holiday season – and all year long

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Whether this time of year brings gift-giving rituals in your household or not, it’s a good reminder to practice the “skill” of gratitude. Even young children can learn to focus on what they have instead of what they lack. Practicing gratitude is more than a social grace. Research suggests it can help your child build resilience and it is associated with greater happiness in life. Dr. Claire McCarthy shares her tips for helping your child cultivate the skill of gratitude.

Many babies and toddlers use mobile devices every day

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

You’ve probably seen parents handing a smartphone or tablet to their young children to entertain them when they need to be quiet or patient. A recent study confirms what you’ve probably suspected: that most children use mobile devices every day. But widespread use of these devices cuts into time that kids could spend interacting with adults, which is crucial for brain development. The next time you’re tempted to hand over the smartphone, try a quick game instead.

Is it ADHD—or Autism?

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism can resemble each other. In fact, it can be difficult to tell the two conditions apart, which can lead to delays in the correct diagnosis — and therefore missed opportunities for treatment. If your child is diagnosed with ADHD, ask your pediatrician about testing for autism as well. The earlier a child with autism receives treatment, the better the outcome he or she will have.

Overweight children are at risk for heart disease as adults

Nandini Mani, MD
Nandini Mani, MD, Contributing Editor

In a recent study of nearly 9,000 overweight and obese children and teens, doctors found that these young people had concerning blood pressure readings and worrisome cholesterol and blood sugar levels. In adults, such test results suggest a much higher risk for heart disease — so they are of particularly great concern in children. The good news is that with help and support, kids can lose weight — the results are a healthier, happier childhood and a greater chance of a healthier, longer adult life.

Why some parents don’t follow the “safe sleep” recommendations for babies

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

The very thought of losing a baby to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is terrifying. Safer sleeping practices for infants have greatly reduced the number of babies lost to SIDS, but many parents are unclear on the reasons behind these recommendations and therefore often don’t follow them. The safest way to put your baby to bed is: on the back; in a crib, minus blankets, bumpers, and stuffed animals; and with a pacifier. Another critical factor is maintaining a smoke-free home and family.

Looking for Autism

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Statistics show that one out of every 68 children in the United States meets the criteria for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). What these figures don’t show is that early intervention and treatment can make a huge difference in the lives of these children and their families. Routine well-child visits are important to monitor health and growth, but they also provide an opportunity to keep an eye on a child’s development. While most children do not have ASD, and some kids are just “late bloomers,” others may show signs of any number of developmental challenges or delays — all of which benefit from therapies at home or at school. Of course, all children benefit from mindful observation of their development and advice and support from their pediatricians, should concerns arise.

Edible marijuana — a half-baked idea?

Patrick J. Skerrett, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Health

Marijuana-laced brownies have long been a way to get high. Now a new generation of “food companies” is taking the concept of edible marijuana in a somewhat scary new direction: marijuana-laced foods that mimic popular candies. These sweets could pose a danger to children, warns a Perspective article in today’s New England Journal of Medicine. From a marketing perspective, it’s a cute concept to sell Buddahfingers that look like Butterfingers, Rasta Reese’s that mimic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, or Pot Tarts that resemble Pop-Tarts. But the availability of edible marijuana products has led to an increase in emergency visits to hospitals because of kids accidentally eating edible marijuana products and in marijuana-related calls to poison and drug hotlines.

Children who eat peanuts at an early age may prevent peanut allergies

Gregory Curfman, MD
Gregory Curfman, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Publications

Peanut allergies can cause severe and sometimes deadly allergic reactions. A new study holds out the possibility that peanuts themselves may prevent peanut allergies. An international team asked parents of infants who were prone to a peanut allergy to give their children a peanut-based snack called Bamba or peanut butter three times a week until age five. The parents of another group of peanut allergy-prone infants were asked to make sure their children didn’t eat any peanuts, peanut butter, or other peanut-based products until age five. The results were surprising and dramatic. A peanut allergy developed in 1.9% of children who ate Bamba or peanut butter, compared with 13.7% of those who didn’t eat peanuts. This new work suggests that preventing peanut allergies may be a possibility in the near future.