TIME Parenting

How News Coverage of the Boston Marathon Manhunt Affected Local Kids

Explosions At 117th Boston Marathon
Women and children are evacuated from the scene on Boylston Street after two explosions went off near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. Bill Greene—Boston Globe/Getty Images

You may not be surprised to learn that children who attended the 2013 Boston Marathon were six times more likely than non-attendees to suffer from PTSD. Given the carnage and panic wrought by the bombs, which caused 3 deaths and 264 injuries, you’d expect more trauma symptoms from those on the scene. But a new study reports that kids who had up-close views of the ensuing manhunt were just as likely to suffer PTSD as those with near exposure to the bombing. And kids who may not have had first-hand experience of either—well, the more news coverage they watched, the more mental health disturbances they suffered.

The study, published online June 2 in Pediatrics, surveyed 460 parents of children who lived within 25 miles of the marathon or of Watertown, where the manhunt took place. They were asked about their children’s experiences during the week of the attack and about their psychological and social functioning in the following six months. The investigators, led by psychologist Jonathan Comer, formerly of Boston University and now at Florida International University, were interested in the impact both of the bombing and of its ripple effects afterward. They also wanted to measure both PTSD and less severe mental health issues such as conduct and peer problems, hyperactivity and inattention. Interestingly, they found an even stronger link between broad mental health problems among the kids with dramatic exposure to the manhunt (hearing shots, having their house searched, for example) than among kids with similar sensory experience of the bombing itself.

The investigators also measured both the time the children spent glued to the set and whether parents had tried to limit their news viewing. Overall, the kids watched an average of 1.5 hours of attack coverage and more than 20% watched for over three hours. “Two thirds of the parents did not attempt to restrict their children’s viewing at all,” Comer says. “Yet we saw after Oklahoma City and 911 that TV exposure can have negative mental health effects on children, both near and far.”

Experts on children and media tend to agree that restricting children’s media exposure to violent events is critical. Casey Jordan, a criminologist and justice professor at Western Connecticut State University, says that adults can put in context the sensationalism of media coverage designed to create a sense of danger. But children generally cannot. “The best rule,” he says, “is TURN IT OFF unless you really have a suspect on the lam in your neighborhood.” Just get the basic facts, he suggests, and do so by Internet if possible.

Parents can help their children through these scary times by speaking to them honestly but calmly about what is happening and letting them express their reactions and fears. “It’s important to reassure them that they are safe,” says psychologist Daniel J. Flannery, who directs the Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education at Case Western Reserve University. “Explain,” he says, “that the event was very unusual, and sometimes bad people do bad things but not everybody is like that. Their sense of normalcy has been taken away from them, and they need to get that back. “

Calm matters, agrees Jordan. “Do not go off on a tangent about ‘those people’ or a rant about who is to blame,” he says. “Children are sponges, they will learn from parents’ own reaction to crime and chaos, and absorb all the fall-out from what they hear and see.”

This new study suggests that parents be alert to changes in their kids even months after—and miles away from—a violent incident. Are they eating or sleeping less—or more? Are they more withdrawn or anxious, acting out at school or with friends? The children may not have been personally involved in the traumatic event, suggests this research, but they may still be suffering trauma. “The reach of terror and associated fear,” write the authors, “is not confined to the boundaries of an attack itself.”

TIME Research

Eating Your Feelings? Your Mom Might Be to Blame

A new study finds that women with an insecure attachment to their mothers are likelier to have kids with unhealthy eating habits.
A new study finds that women with an insecure attachment to their mothers are likelier to have kids with unhealthy eating habits. Catherine MacBride—Getty Images

Mothers' relationships with their own moms can lead to parenting styles that could cause their kids to be obese

The U.S. is in the midst of a baby obesity epidemic. A quarter of our 2 to 5-year-olds are now overweight, according to a study published in JAMA in 2012, and a child’s obesity at age 5 is a strong predictor that they will be obese as adults. Increasingly, experts are expanding their efforts beyond eat-your-veggies programs to target family relationships that may contribute to unhealthy eating. A new study just out suggests that a mom’s relationship with her own mother may be a key factor in whether the youngest generation becomes obese.

The study by University of Illinois researchers, published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, found that women (or primary caregivers) with an insecure attachment to their mothers are likelier to have kids with unhealthy eating habits and who are overweight or obese.

The researchers gave in-depth questionnaires to nearly 500 primary caregivers of 2½ to 3½-year-olds, probing their close adult relationships (that is, their attachment style), how they handled their children’s negative emotions, how and when they fed their kids, the frequency and quality of family meals, and their children’s TV viewing habits.

When parents are unresponsive or inconsistent to our needs as small children, we grow up with what psychologists call an “insecure attachment style” and have more trouble dealing with the distress of our own children, explains lead author Kelly Bost, a professor of human development and family studies at the University of Illinois. Such a parent might respond to a 3-year-old sobbing that little Sophie hurt her feelings with a dismissal or denial: “You don’t need to cry about it,” or “You’re not sad.”

When parents punish or dismiss their children’s sadness or anger, says Bost, the kids don’t learn how to handle or “regulate” their own difficult feelings. “These responses,” says Bost, “are related to emotional feeding practices like giving children food when they’re upset but not hungry, or pressuring them to eat and clean their plates.”

The study also showed that dismissing a child’s sad or angry feelings was linked to fewer family mealtimes and more TV viewing, as well as to more comfort feeding. Bost suggests that insecure mothers may become more easily overwhelmed and plant their kids in front of the TV when they can’t cope.

Other scholars caution that this study shows only an association between insecure attachment and children’s obesity, rather than proving that it’s a cause. But, says Joseph Skelton, a professor of pediatrics at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, in highlighting the importance of family relationships, this research surveys the right territory. “We see this quite often in our obesity program, Brenner FIT, [a pediatric weight-management program at Brenner Children’s Hospital], Skelton says. It isn’t just about what food is being served or how much TV is being allowed, but the quality of parent-child interaction really influences the child, both short and long-term.”

Another caution with this type of research “is not to let it devolve into mother blaming,” says Miriam Liss, a psychology professor at the University of Mary Washington.

Blaming moms is not at all the point, says Bost. The aim is to help moms to parent better in order to reduce their children’s unhealthy eating. For example, she says, “We can give parents practical tips on how to respond to their kids’ distress based on age, and how to manage their own distress while dealing with their kids.” Parents can also be helped with planning for family meals, she says, including teaching them what to expect from their kids at different ages. For example, she says, “When kids are 2½, don’t expect them to sit at the table for more than 15 minutes.”

Whether a mother’s insecurity causes her child to become fat or is linked to unhealthy weight in other ways, improving the parent-child relationship has got to be a step in the right direction.

TIME sleep

Sleep’s Best-Kept Secret: A Treatment for Insomnia That’s Not a Pill

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Getty Images/PhotoAlto

Why behavior therapy isn't used more, and what your smartphone can do about that

Do you toss and turn for hours before falling asleep? Or go to bed early but still wake up tired? Or keep waking up during the night? Then you’re among the more than 20% of people in the U.S. who suffer from a sleeping disorder like insomnia and your doctor is probably prescribing sleeping pills to help you doze through the night.

That’s despite the fact that the gold standard for treating sleep disturbances, recommended by the National Institutes of Health and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBTI). CBTI, which focuses on changing behaviors that can contribute to poor sleep, has been shown to work long-term while sleeping medications tend to lose effectiveness after a few weeks (sleep medications may, however, be prescribed initially along with CBTI).

So why are pills the most common solution? Convenience, for one. Even if you’re willing to seek out a sleep experts who is qualified to give CBTI, you may not find one near you. Despite the epidemic of sleep disorders and their impact on health, there are only a few hundred sleep experts in the whole country.

MORE: A Sleeping Pill Without The Sleepy Head?

Doctors may also be unaware of the therapy. “I do not think many doctors know about CBTI,” says Rachel Manber, professor of psychiatry and behavorial sciences at Stanford University Medical Center. “Some provide sleep hygiene recommendations. However, like dental hygiene, sleep hygiene is best thought of as preventive rather than treatment.” These include sleeping in a dark room, sticking to regular bed times, and avoiding caffeine and exercise before bedtime.

If you did find your way to a sleep clinic expert, you would have an extensive interview about your medical history and sleep problems and fill out a detailed sleep diary for two weeks, then return for treatment. If that information points to a medical problem like sleep apnea, then you would have to spend at least one night sleeping in a lab, hooked up to a multitude of sensors that monitor your respiration, heart rate, and sleep level measured by an EEG . Then, after these recordings help to diagnose your sleep issues, you would start treatments with a therapist to develop habits that condition you to sleep better at bedtime and improve your quality of sleep, by helping you to turn down stressful thoughts and avoid things around you that interfere with good sleep.

Most CBTI treatments take four to six weeks to be fully effective, which helps to explain why it pales in comparison to the immediate, if not long-lasting, benefit of sleeping pills. But now, Israeli scientists have come up with a way to potentially streamline the therapy for some by bypassing the sleep lab and delivering the treatment via smartphone.

MORE: What Dreams Are Made Of: Understanding Why We Dream (About Sex and Other Things)

SleepRate is an app that helps people who can’t or won’t go to a sleep clinic to generate, in DIY fashion, the same kind of information that all the monitors do to help sleep experts design the right behavioral therapy for patients. Anda Baharav, SleepRate’s founder and a former researcher at the Medical Physics Department at Tel Aviv University says this product can detect sleep disturbances by mathematically defining the connection between sleep, heart rate and respiration. They have combined their diagnostic method with a smartphone adaptation of a Stanford University proprietary CBTI treatment to bring CBTI to more people with sleep disorders. Anyone with an iPhone or certain other smartphones can download the app kit for $99, which comes with the sleep plan and a heart-rate monitor worn across the chest.

Here’s how it works. You sleep in your own bed for five nights with the chest belt and app on, and you also record how you feel subjectively about your sleep and alertness before you start the program, and then again every evening and morning for the five days of the assessment. The app keeps track of all the information in a sleep diary, and provides the results from the previous night’s sleep in an easy-to-read graphic. which the user can see and learn how long it takes to reach stable sleep, how many times you wake during the night, the sequence of your sleep stages throughout the night and how much quality sleep you get. Your phone’s microphone will also record noises around you and identify which ones wake you up. “If you’re used to living in New York City, for example,” Baharav says, “the traffic and sirens may not wake you, but your fridge banging on at 4 a.m. might.” So your sleep plan might include a service call from your appliance company—or a new fridge.

MORE: Less Sleep Linked To Alzheimer’s Disease

After the five-night assessment, you get a personalized sleep plan based on your particular sleep issues. The plan guides users about when to go to bed and when to wake up, suggests exercises to help them unwind and forget about the day’s worries, and even outlines how to spend buffer times, or the one to two hours before bed when it helps to do routine, unexciting things such as taking a bath, listening to music, or reading (but no thrillers). Based on the information you entered, for example, your smartphone screen will alert you about when to start your buffer time activity, with something like a cartoon of someone sitting quietly on a sofa with the instruction: Start Buffer Zone.

The suggestions are offered sequentially over four to six weeks to give you time to learn the new behaviors. If you don’t reach a goal, you try again, and when you achieve your goal, such as getting out of bed at the same time for several days in a row, the program provides a new target. You can also pull up your sleep data at any time to see patterns and trends. And the app reminds you what not to do as well: No! Don’t take a nap now.

While there are other such user-friendly CBTI kits available, Shelby Harris, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program, Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, says SleepRate is “more comprehensive since it also takes into account medical causes for insomnia.” Because there is a shortage of qualified CBTI practitioners, she sees such apps as viable and welcome first-line efforts for helping people with insomnia. If the programs don’t help, she says, then patients can see a sleep specialist.

And what about people who don’t have a diagnosable sleep disorder but are simply sleep deprived? Could such a program, for example, help parents of babies and young children to find more good quality sleep? Baharav says that’s coming soon. Stay tuned.

TIME psychology

How to Find out Anything from Anyone

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Henrik S¿rensen / Photographer Henrik Sorensen

A former intelligence officer shares interrogation tips for getting people to spill on first dates and their salaries

Wish you knew whether the wisecracking guy in the next cubicle got a raise this year? Or whether that stylish woman sipping wine on your first date wants to have kids? Bet you’d like to know whether your nanny really takes the baby outside everyday per your instructions. Well, a new book by an army intelligence interrogator could help you get the answers to your most pressing questions.

“Find Out Anything from Anyone, Anytime: Secrets of Calculated Questioning From a Veteran Interrogator” by James O. Pyle and Maryann Karinch won’t help you force a hostile to reveal state secrets, but it does suggest ways to turn someone who’s on the fence into spilling what you want to know.

“There are two things people will not give you for free: money and information,” says Pyle, who plied his craft in the U.S. Army, the Army Intelligence Center and School and the Joint Intelligence of the Pentagon. He explains in the book that the key to pulling out information lies in things like the “control” question, in which you ask something to which you already know the answer to find out whether the person is “lying, uninformed, and/or not paying attention,” he says. Then there’s the “persistent” question in which you ask the same thing in different ways to “explore all facets of the desired information.”

But the most important thing to remember is that there’s nothing better at clamming people up than an interrogation. So try not to make it obvious that you’re pumping someone for information, but “have a conversation with information in it,” he says. That means offering up stuff about yourself and showing curiosity and interest in what the other person is saying.

Here’s how this army intelligence expert would help you get an answer in these typical scenarios:

Does a first date want kids?

This is a delicate subject to broach on a first date, and a direct question could scare off many people. Generally, the best approach is to say something about yourself and watch the other person’s reaction. If you want to know, for example, whether he’s been married, you might say that you have been and then watch the response you get. “The eyes are the big tellers,” Pyle says. “Do they say Ohmygosh? Is there a pull back?” Compare that to how the other person looks when talking about non-personal or non-emotional subjects.

For the kid question, he suggests using the “third party” approach. If there’s a child anywhere nearby, you might comment, “Wow, look at that cute kid.” The answer might not be definitive, but you will get very suggestive clues from “I guess, but they don’t belong in fancy restaurants,” versus “I have two little girls and I sure miss them.”

Is my co-worker making more than me?

Asking right out about another person’s salary can seem intrusive, even aggressive. But starting a conversation—and including some sly flattery—might work wonders. “If I was half as good as you are,” you might say, “I’d be earning twice what I’m making.” If your target bites, she might offer something you can build on, such as, “Oh, I’m not making all that much.” Then you could counter with a really high figure. “Oh, you must be making at least X grand.” That’s likely to be met with a disclaimer, “Oh, no, not that much.” Then, Pyle suggests you guess a way-low figure, and she’ll probably respond, “Oh, more than that.” At this point, she may just tell you. But even if she doesn’t, you’ll have a pretty good idea of the answer.

Does the nanny follow my instructions for taking care of my child?

This is a tricky situation. If your nanny did not follow your instructions to take baby Lindsey out, for example, she’ll be very reluctant to tell you. This is where it comes in handy to know the different kinds of questions. Don’t ask a question that produces a yes or no reply, Pyle says. Instead, you might ask these other kinds of questions, always in a conversational way. Ask for a narrative. “How was your walk today? Where did you go? What did you do?” People who want to cover something, according to FBI narrative analysis, tend to minimize and dismiss: “Fine. Just walked around and came back.”
If that’s the response you get, dig in. What time did you go out? What did you see? Who did you meet? If want to check her truthfulness, you can summarize what she’s said and either leave something out or add something in. If she doesn’t catch it and correct you, that’s a sign she may be lying. Also, if you catch her in a contradiction, you can question her further. And if you think she’s just getting flustered, you can relax the tension by asking her a non-pertinent question like “Oh, that smells good; what did you make for dinner?” Then after a while, you can return to the questions you want answered.

What’s the state of my elderly parents finances and how much will I have to pitch in if they need long term care?

Many elderly people are extremely private about their money and won’t tell their kids how much they’ve got, where it is, or whether they’ve signed any documents to allow access in an emergency. For this situation, Pyle advises a different strategy. “Make an appeal,” he says. Express your love and gratitude to them, bring up an example like the neighbor who had a stroke but whose rehab was delayed because she hadn’t given anyone her power of attorney. Then, say, ” I want to ask you some questions, not because I’m nosy, but so you can tell me how I can help you if you need it. ” Then just launch into your questions.

“It’s a disarming approach,” Pyle says. “If they don’t buy it, then ask, “Why can’t we talk about this? Why else?” That may get a useful dialogue going.

In any situation, Pyle says, from asking your 5-year-old what he ate for lunch at school to asking a prisoner of war what he was doing on that road, persistence tends to pay off. He suggests you just keep asking, “What else?” until they say, That’s all.” Most of all, start a conversation in which people want to tell you what you want to know — and likely won’t even realize they’re revealing anything. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink,” he says, adding. “But if you make ‘em thirsty, they’ll drink by themselves.”

TIME sleep

What Dreams Are Made Of: Understanding Why We Dream (About Sex and Other Things)

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Getty Images/Brand X—Getty Images/Brand X

Do they predict the future or simply rehash the past?

By figuring out why we dream, researchers are hoping to nail down what the nightly cavalcade of images and events means.

Ever since Sigmund Freud published his controversial theories about the meaning of dreams in 1900, we have been fascinated with the jumble of experiences we seem to live through while we slumber. Freud was convinced that dreams represent some unfulfilled desires or hoped-for wishes, while later investigators saw a more pragmatic quality to them, as reflection of waking life. None of these theories, however, have had the benefit of much in the way of solid, objective data.

At least, until now. Two new developments in research — brain imaging and big data — may offer some stronger answers. More detailed and timely snapshots of the brain at work, combined with the information researchers amassed about dreams from experiments in sleep labs, is gradually peeling away the mystery of dreams, and revealing their meaning.

From a strictly biological standpoint, scientists have learned much about the physiological process of dreaming, which occurs primarily in REM sleep. “During dreaming,” says Patrick McNamara, a neurologist at Boston University School of Medicine and the graduate school of Northcentral University in Prescott Valley, Ariz., “the limbic part of the brain—the emotional part—gets highly activated while the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex, the executive part of the brain, is under-activated. So the kind of cognitions we experience during dreams are highly emotional, visually vivid, but often illogical, disconnected and sometimes bizarre.” That suggests that our dreams may have some role in emotional stability.

MORE: What Do Your Dreams Mean? Here’s How You Can Decode Them

That does not necessarily mean, most dream researchers believe, that dreams are random expressions of emotion or devoid of some intellectual meaning. While some scientists maintain that dream patterns are strictly the result of how different neurons in the brain are firing, Deirdre Barrett, a psychologist and dream researcher at Harvard Medical School, believes they represent something more. “I think it’s a fallacy that knowing brain action negates a subjective, psychological meaning any more than it does for waking thought. I think dreams are thinking in a different biochemical state.”

Defining that state, not to mention understanding the rules under which that universe operates, however, is a challenge. It may represent a complex interplay between emotional and cognitive information, says McNamara, so that dreams serve to help our brains process emotional memories and integrate them into our long-term memories. And because traumatic events are associated with higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, they can cause nightmares. Researchers believe that excessive amounts of cortisol can impair the interaction between the hippocampus and the amygdala, the two main brain systems that integrate memory. “The memories don’t get integrated,” he says, “but just sit around. In post traumatic stress disorder, they get re-experienced over and over.”

In fact, from sleep studies in which people were exposed to images, learning tasks or other experiences immediately before they dozed off and then examined when they awakened, many scientists believe that dreams can help us rehearse for challenges or threats we anticipate—emotionally, cognitively and even physiologically. In our dreams we may try out different scenarios to deal with what’s coming up. Although much of the evidence for this is anecdotal, McNamara says, someone practicing piano or playing video games in waking life may start to do the same while dreaming. People solving a puzzle or studying a foreign language, he adds, can have breakthroughs with dreams that go beyond the perceptions that simply taking a break from the problem can produce.

MORE: Wish Fulfillment? No. But Dreams Do Have Meaning

And now, Barrett says, brain imaging holds the promise of being able to help scientists “see” what until now could only be reported by subjective, possibly inaccurately recalled, dream accounts. For example, in research with rats trained to run through mazes to get rewards, investigators were able to record neuron activity in sleeping rats and determined that the rats were running the same mazes in their dreams.

In other experiments with humans, scientists monitored volunteers who slept inside an fMRI scanner while hooked up to EEG electrodes that measured brain wave activity. When the EEG indicated they were dreaming, the participants were awakened and asked what images they had seen in their dreams. The investigators were later able to match certain patterns of brain activity to certain images for each person. “There’s a crude correspondence between the brain scan and the image. “From the scan, you can guess it’s an animal with four legs,” says Barrett. Despite the primitive state of this dream decoding, the ability to actually glean content from a dream is getting closer.

Mining big data bases of reported dreams holds another kind of promise. Until now, researchers have been working on relatively small samples of dream accounts, usually fewer than 200 per study. But new dream websites and smartphone apps like DreamBoard and Dreamscloud are encouraging thousands of people to report their dreams into larger repositories so researchers can finally answer their most urgent questions. McNamara, for example, is excited to study dreams from different countries to see whether there are cultural differences in what people’s brains do when they aren’t awake.

The data bases also provide an opportunity to investigate the intriguing but under-studied realm of sex dreams. Until recently, says McNamara, they represented only 10% of reported dreams, likely because people are not eager to share this type of content with researchers in white lab coats. But self-reporting via the apps and websites, despite its potential biases, may provide more information on these types of dreams. “This is a wide open area crying for investigation,” he says.

MORE: When My Baby Dreams: Imagining a Newborn’s Fantasy World

McNamara is also eager to study individuals’ dreams over time to observe differences and changes in emotional tone, colors, words and other significant patterns and connect these to events in their lives. That would bring him closer to answering whether dreams are, in fact, prophetic — it might be possible, for example, that certain kinds of dreams precede getting the flu, or that other other dreams are more associated with happier events.

Such investigations could also reveal more about less welcome dreams, such as nightmares, and potentially lead to ways to control or avoid them. Barrett plans to mine the new database to study how often nightmares occur, and how they relate to an individual’s trauma or a family history of anxiety disorder. One of her first projects will involve the dream data from DreamBoard.com, which has accumulated 165,000 dreams over the last two years. Because Dreamboard has coded the dreams by the gender, colors, emotions (joy, anxiety, anger) and the number and categories of people in a dream, Barrett says she can identify basic patterns.

We already know, she says, that women dream equally about men and women while men’s dreams are two-thirds populated by men. Research so far also shows that men’s dreams may show slightly more anger and physical aggression while women’s display a bit more sadness and verbal hostility. Interpreting what these differences mean, however, will require deeper studies.

What’s been discovered so far, however, suggests that such studies could reveal an enormous amount about what role dreams play in our lives, and how important they are for biological, psychological or social reasons. With this research, McNamara believes, scientists can find out if what shrinks have been saying for years is true — that reflecting on our dreams is useful and can give us insight into ourselves. Psychologists say so, and many people think so. But this research, he says, gives us the potential to know.

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