TIME Education

How Classroom Curriculum Can Impact Children’s Friendships

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Simply placing children with and without disabilities in the same classroom will not guarantee peer acceptance or friendships

Friendship is often described as a major outcome of early childhood inclusive classrooms that support all children, irrespective of their abilities.

Friendships provide children with joy, laughter and comfort. They may also prevent later bullying and support smoother transitions into kindergarten for children with a range of disabilities. Friendships are considered a vital developmental milestone for all children.

Yet, developing close relationships may be difficult for some children. This is especially true for children who enter school without well-developed social-emotional skills. About 40% of children with disabilities, for example, enter kindergarten without developing age-appropriate skills in this area.

So, what impact does curriculum have on the development of friendships for children with disabilities? And how can teachers help nurture these friendships?

Investigating the impact of curriculum

To answer these questions, we conducted a study that included 110 kindergarteners, 26 of whom had disabilities, within six classrooms across a Midwest and a New England state.

This study took place as part of another longer-term research project in which teachers were randomly assigned to use either a “disability-awareness curriculum” or a modified science curriculum.

In our study, curricula included similar components of class-wide book readings and teacher-led discussions, “cooperative learning groups” (a teaching strategy that brings together groups of students with different abilities), and a classroom lending library to promote shared reading at home.

These curricula were chosen because they were alike in some ways. Both allowed teachers to focus discussions on similarities between the book content and kindergarteners. And both could include the three core components (ie, book reading, cooperative groups, and home literacy).

What we found surprised us. The number of close friendships among children with disabilities significantly increased in classrooms where the science curriculum was implemented.

Examining the results more closely

Implementation of the two curricula was designed to create similar opportunities for interactions between children with and without disabilities.

In their classrooms, children participated in similar activities: they were read books and encouraged to participate in discussions either about disability or science-related topics. Each week, children were able to take one of the books home that was read to them at school.

However, the cooperative learning groups were designed differently. In the cooperative learning groups for the science curriculum, children focused on science activities that were more outcome-orientated (eg, making bird nests, measuring worms).

In the cooperative learning groups for the disability-awareness curriculum, children participated in play-based activities with open-ended materials and toys (eg, farm animals and a barn, pretend kitchen set and food).

Our observations of children’s play during the cooperative learning groups suggest that participating children with disabilities may not have had the skills needed to fully engage in the group’s play.

For example, some children struggled to enter into ongoing play. During one such activity, a child was playing with a “pretend cash register” and another child with a disability wanted a turn with it. The child asked his peer if he could play with it. However, the peer said no.

In response, the child repeated his same question again and again, receiving the same response from his peer. The child with a disability did not have a broad repertoire of social or play skills to try other strategies such as asking if he might have a turn when the peer was done, or if he could trade roles with the peer (eg, become the cashier and suggest the peer become a shopper).

It seems that cooperative play is an area in which advanced or higher-level skills are needed to be successful. These skills include sharing materials, assisting peers, entering into ongoing play or offering a storyline for imaginative play.

The results from this study on friendships suggest that without these skills, children’s contributions to play may have been less successful, and peers may have viewed children with disabilities as less than ideal play partners.

In comparison, the science experiences such as making bird nests together, painting group posters with each child’s handprints on them and measuring the length of worms may have provided children with outcome-oriented tasks and the support needed to participate in ways similar to peers.

A shared activity with a common goal may have provided the structure that some children with disabilities needed to successfully participate alongside peers. In this arrangement, peers may have viewed classmates with disabilities as competent contributors to the group task.

Taken together, this could have been the reason for the increase in close classroom friendships for children with disabilities who participated in the science curriculum.

What can we learn from this?

First, there has been a lot of discussion focused on how play is no longer a valued part of kindergarten education in the United States. Also, kindergarten schedules leave very little room for play or for supporting the development of social-emotional skills.

Our results provide support for creating opportunities for children to learn through playful interactions. These findings also acknowledge that some children may enter school with limited social-emotional and play skills that are needed to form friendships. These children need teacher support and repeated classroom opportunities to master those skills.

Second, the debate of whether kindergarten classes should have either an academic or social focus must stop.

We believe that the structure of the science-based cooperative learning groups in our study may have served an important role in supporting the development of close friendships, especially for children with disabilities.

We also believe that social-emotional skill development, and the development of friendships, can occur across the school day depending on how teachers structure their classroom environment and schedule, and support learning outcomes.

What can teachers do?

Early childhood teachers can support the development of friendships by the way they structure activities in their classroom.

For example, teachers can purposefully place more social children next to quieter children during group activities. They can pair children who already have a budding relationship to do an activity together, or they can create activities in which small groups of children can interact while completing a project together.

Teachers can support the development of social skills through large and small group instruction. Also, teachers can provide individualized social skill instruction based on student needs, and on an individual basis as necessary.

Inclusive classrooms are a trend increasing in the United States. Teaching children how to share, how to handle anger and conflict, how to express their emotions and how to enter into ongoing play situations are all important skills for young children to learn. Some children might need more support than others to develop these skills.

Simply placing children with and without disabilities in the same classroom will not guarantee peer acceptance or friendships.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation

The Conversation

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

2 Things That Lead to a Happy Life, Backed By Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

I’ve posted a number of times about two nearly-lifelong studies: the Terman Study (covered in The Longevity Project) and the Grant Study (covered in Triumphs of Experience.)

While different in some respects, both followed a sample of people from youth until death and provided insights into what makes for a happy life.

What two big ideas do they both strongly agree on?

 

1) A Happy Childhood Matters More Than You Think

The Grant Study found being happy when you’re old is tied to having had a warm childhood:

Vaillant concludes that a loving childhood is one of the best predictors of mid and late-life riches: “We found that contentment in the late seventies was not even suggestively associated with parental social class or even the man’s own income. What it was significantly associated with was warmth of childhood environment, and it was very significantly associated with a man’s closeness to his father.”

The Terman Study realized that “Parental divorce during childhood was the single strongest social predictor of early death.”

Via The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study:

The long-term health effects of parental divorce were often devastating— it was indeed a risky circumstance that changed the pathways of many of the young Terman participants. Children from divorced families died almost five years earlier on average than children from intact families. Parental divorce, not parental death, was the risk. In fact, parental divorce during childhood was the single strongest social predictor of early death, many years into the future.

Sadly, our own childhoods are not something we can change, but this is something to keep in mind if you are or will be raising kids.

2) Relationships are the Most Important Thing

What was the Terman study’s most important recommendation for a longer life?

…connecting with and helping others is more important than obsessing over a rigorous exercise program.

Read that sentence again. It wasn’t receiving help from others, it was giving it:

Via The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study:

We figured that if a Terman participant sincerely felt that he or she had friends and relatives to count on when having a hard time then that person would be healthier. Those who felt very loved and cared for, we predicted, would live the longest. Surprise: our prediction was wrong… Beyond social network size, the clearest benefit of social relationships came from helping others. Those who helped their friends and neighbors, advising and caring for others, tended to live to old age.

The Grant Study found that “the capacity to love and be loved was the single strength most clearly associated with subjective well-being at age eighty.”

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

Vaillant’s insight came from his seminal work on the Grant Study, an almost seventy-year (and ongoing) longitudinal investigation of the developmental trajectories of Harvard College graduates. (This study is also referred to as the Harvard Study.) In a study led by Derek Isaacowitz, we found that the capacity to love and be loved was the single strength most clearly associated with subjective well-being at age eighty.

“Vaillant was asked, ‘What have you learned from the Grant Study men?’ Vaillant’s response: ‘That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.‘”

Vaillant’s other main interest is the power of relationships. “It is social aptitude,” he writes, “not intellectual brilliance or parental social class, that leads to successful aging.” Warm connections are necessary—and if not found in a mother or father, they can come from siblings, uncles, friends, mentors. The men’s relationships at age 47, he found, predicted late-life adjustment better than any other variable, except defenses. Good sibling relationships seem especially powerful: 93 percent of the men who were thriving at age 65 had been close to a brother or sister when younger. In an interview in the March 2008 newsletter to the Grant Study subjects, Vaillant was asked, “What have you learned from the Grant Study men?” Vaillant’s response: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”

The Grant Study realized there was a single yes/no question that could predict whether someone would be alive and happy at age 80:

“Is there someone in your life whom you would feel comfortable phoning at four in the morning to tell your troubles to?”

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

Is there someone in your life whom you would feel comfortable phoning at four in the morning to tell your troubles to? If your answer is yes, you will likely live longer than someone whose answer is no. For George Vaillant, the Harvard psychiatrist who discovered this fact, the master strength is the capacity to be loved.

More on the Terman study here. More on the Grant Study here.

Join over 195,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Parenting

Why I Hate Gratuitous Childhood Graduations

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

"It’s not noteworthy that your kid is officially a middle schooler; it’s expected"

xojane

When I was a child, I remember passing from one grade to the next. Sometimes it was eventful. At other times, it was anti-climatic, but that is the nature of being a child. Graduation was something that seemed far off in the distance, somewhere otherworldly even, because when you are a child, you can’t possibly imagine the day that your life will be in your own hands—and your primary education is done. That was the significance of graduation back then.

Today, it seems like children are graduating from everything under the sun, from nursery school to eighth grade. As a parent, I’m watching and rolling my eyes. Who are these “graduations” for, anyway? I don’t want to send my child the message that each and every step in their winding path is one where we need to stop, drop and celebrate. Sure, life is grand, but if you ask me, we need to be a little more comfortable with the mediocre and mundane.

Don’t get me wrong, becoming a parent is a joyful experience in many ways; watching my child hit milestones is filled with wonder. Many times my husband and I are looking at one another saying, “Can you believe she did that?!” But not all milestones are created equal—in fact, some milestones are just plain made up. That is precisely how I feel about the creation of the preschool, kindergarten, fifth grade and eighth grade graduations. And I’m dreading it.

When I was a kid, the school year just ended. Maybe we had a pizza party, or a small family or in-class celebration, but that was it. Graduation, in my opinion, is something that happens when you truly accomplish something—and if you ask me, passing a grade that you are expecting to pass as a child is not worthy of a graduation.

I know that some parents will poo-poo me, or call me a bad sport because they think it’s cute to put their kids in little graduation caps and gowns, but hear me out. Making every occasion one that is ceremony-worthy can start to send the wrong message. We seem to state to our kids that everything they do is so special and that they should be constantly doted over. The real world isn’t going to celebrate our children every time they do what is expected of them.

While I understand that childhood is “special,” some parents need to come to grips with the fact that childhood isn’t a dress rehearsal—it’s real life—and we’re setting the foundation for our children for them to come up in the world. It’s not noteworthy that your kid is officially a middle schooler; it’s expected. It’s not a rite of passage to put on a cap and gown every time you switch schools; it’s called growing up.

I believe that graduation is a significant marker of completion. Graduation from high school signifies the ability to be in control of your life and destiny, and you have a choice whether to continue on in your education. College graduation is yet another milestone where your world is once again expanded and new opportunities become available to you. Those are significant, cap-and-gown-worthy moments. But why should our children ever care about that when by the time they reach their high school graduation, they have already participated in up to four “graduations?”

All this faux-graduation business really does is cheapen the experiences that were once really special and meaningful.

The worst part in all of this is that as a parent, you are basically forced to participate. Because as much as I truly think it’s awful that I will have to play along in these ceremonies, I’m not about to be the parent who tells my kid we’re not doing the thing all her peers are doing. That would only create trauma where it doesn’t need to exist.

I don’t know how I will handle it, ultimately. Should I explain to my child that this graduation is really just some silly game of dress up? Do I say nothing? It’s hard to know exactly how I’ll react. The simple truth is I don’t want to participate at all. So I’m appealing to parents to come to their senses.

Stop this insanity of endless graduations in the most elaborate of make-believe set ups. As a parent, I spend a lot of time playing make-believe, as a good parent should. In playgroup, we collectively spend time making things magical for our children, and it’s great. But sometimes, as is the case with these types of trumped up celebratory moments, it’s not the children we’re putting on a ruse for, it’s ourselves, and to pretend otherwise is just ridiculous.

Basically, in the end, we adults in the room are making our children get all gussied up for a graduation ceremony so that we can feel good. Our children would never know the difference, and—like we were at their age—would be completely satisfied with a pizza, some ice cream and a movie to mark the end of the school year.

Do your children a favor and request that these graduations end because they are fake, serve no purpose, and mostly, I don’t want to attend them.

Billie Criswell wrote this article for xoJane.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Research

Sexual Violence Against Children Is a Worldwide Problem, Study Says

New surveys show many victims do not receive help

Sexual violence against children is a global problem — and few receive supportive services exist for its victims, according to recent data released from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday.

The new numbers show at least 25% of females and 10% of males report experiencing a form of sexual violence as a child. The results come from Violence Against Children Surveys that were conducted between 2007 and 2013 among men and women ages 18 to 24 in Swaziland, Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Haiti and Cambodia. The findings are published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The surveys asked about childhood sexual violence experienced before individuals turned 18. Sexual violence was defined as unwanted touching, unwanted attempted sex, pressured or coerced sex and forced sex. Girls were more likely to be victims of completed acts of unwanted sex than boys.

Among the seven countries surveyed, Cambodia had the lowest rates of reported sexual violence against girls and boys, at 4.4% and 5.6% respectively. Swaziland had the highest rates of reported sexual violence against girls, at 37.6%. Zimbabwe had the second highest rate for girls at 32.5%. Haiti had the most similar rates among both genders.

The study authors report that high levels of sexual violence experienced in children — and low levels of support afterward — can cause a cascade of lifelong struggles, including unwanted pregnancy, depression and disease. “Experiencing trauma as a child can contribute to biologic changes, such as altered hormonal responses as well as mental illness, such as depression, or other psychological changes like poor social relations and low self-esteem, all of which elevate risk for developing chronic diseases,” the study authors write.

The research has limitations, including the possibility that recall might be imperfect among those surveyed and the fact that some people in the study may not have disclosed their experiences. Still, the researchers note that understanding the prevalence of sexual violence can help in the formation of interventions for various countries.

TIME movies

Vin Diesel Spent His Childhood in an Artists’ Commune

Scott Garfield—Universal

But his old stomping ground of the West Village was a lot grittier back then

For a guy whose career has been built on the impressive circumference of his biceps, speed of his drawl and pack of his punch, Vin Diesel’s childhood was surprisingly artistic. He grew up surrounded by painters, writers and performers in the first ever federally supported housing complex specifically for artists.

Westbeth, located in New York City’s West Village, is a cluster of old industrial buildings that formerly housed Bell Laboratories. The building has a quite a history: it was where the first talking movie, TV broadcast, and binary computer were demonstrated. But Bell Labs moved out and in 1970, was replaced by 383 units of loft-style affordable housing and studio space for artists designed by a young Richard Meier.

To live in one of the apartments, potential residents had to prove they were both poor and working artists. (Their art was judged by a committee.) As a result, the place was crawling with creativity. The dance pioneer Merce Cunningham had studio space there, Miles Davis played at a friend’s apartment at Westbeth, and photographer Diane Arbus lived there—and, alas, died there, when she committed suicide in 1971.

Mark Vincent, as Diesel was then known, grew up there with his twin brother Paul, because his stepfather (he never knew his biological dad) was an avant-garde theater director, who later worked in TV and film education. His mom, Diesel says, was an astrologer. “It was an artist community, everyone was expressing themselves,” says Diesel, who is profiled in TIME this week. “Great painters, poets, sculptors, musicians and thespians all lived in this building. It was kind of a mecca for artists. What a magical place for a young artist to grow up in.”

Other kids who grew up in the building remember Diesel, or Mark Vincent as he was then known, being the kind of brotherly big dog that he plays in the Furious 7, the latest in The Fast and the Furious series. He would scurry around the former industrial complex with a gang of other little kids, getting into mischief. “He was definitely one of the ringleaders or alphas,” says Adam Davidson, a financial journalist who also grew up in the complex “I was younger and Mark would encourage us to go to parts of the building that were a little scary.”

Not surprisingly, the place was fantastically progressive. Davidson remember being shocked when he got to college in the ’80s to discover interracial marriage and homosexuality were frowned on in some circles. Equally unsurprisingly, families who moved into the complex rarely moved out. The once-gritty industrial neighborhood is now one of Manhattan’s swankiest. And yep, Diesel’s parents still live there.

TIME Research

A Rough Childhood Can Literally Age You Says a New Study

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Researchers say childhood adversity and psychiatric disorders may be linked to cellular changes that cause aging

Childhood trauma and psychiatric conditions may cause individuals to experience accelerated aging, according to research published last week.

In a study featured in Biological Psychiatry, scientists say they may have found evidence to suggest there is a link between aging at the cellular level and trauma or stress disorders.

To complete the study, researchers recruited 299 adults and separated them into different groups based on their experiences with childhood adversity, depression, anxiety or substance abuse.

The participants then had their DNA analyzed to study the lengths of their telomeres and any alterations to mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Telomere shortening and higher mtDNA content can serve as a yardstick to measure cellular aging.

“Results of the study show childhood adversity and lifetime psychopathology were each associated with shorter telomeres and higher mtDNA content,” read the report.

These effects were seen particularly in adults who had battled with major depression and anxiety disorders, along with parental loss or childhood maltreatment.

“Identifying the changes that occur at a cellular level due to these psychosocial factors allows us to understand the causes of these poor health conditions and possibly the overall aging process,” said Audrey Tyrka, associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University.

[Science Daily]

TIME Family

I Can’t Get Back the Thanksgivings of My Childhood and That Is OK

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I learned that food cooked with love definitely tastes better than food that isn’t

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This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of whipped potatoes with sautéed onions. I haven’t actually had them at a holiday meal in about two decades, but that is the dish that tugs at my heart when I think about Thanksgivings past.

Our day-to-day was tumultuous when I was a kid and we weren’t the sort of family where food brought us all together. Instead, reheated macaroni from three nights ago was often on the menu — and if it smelled or tasted a little funny, we ate it anyway. My dad would show up highly intoxicated midway through the meal and complain. Sometimes he’d make himself something to eat before passing out, but most times he didn’t. He usually had just enough energy to criticize my mother’s lack of culinary skills and my brother and I learned to just keep eating with our eyes on the television as dishes and pans banged around the kitchen.

But Thanksgiving was different — we spent it with my mother’s sister’s family. My father never came with us and I didn’t have to ask why. There was plenty of food and all of it fresh. The table was set lavishly with linens and glasses, a far cry from the paper napkins and plastic tumblers we had at home. My aunt and uncle weren’t wealthy but they were generous and loved to celebrate holidays with those they held dear. The rest of the year they were the paper napkin and plastic tumbler sort, but Thanksgiving was special and sacred and deserved cloth napkins. My mother could have never pulled off a dinner like this. It would have required weeks of work just to find the dining room table under the mountains of junk.

My uncle and I shared a bond in the kitchen. I’d stand and watch as he went from counter to stove to refrigerator and back again, simultaneously preparing various dishes. Everything was timed perfectly and he had a schedule to keep, yet he never hesitated to teach as he went so that I could maybe host the traditional Thanksgiving dinner someday. I learned the invaluable lesson that you can always add more of an ingredient and never take away, so never pour with a heavy hand. I learned that you have to be patient with food; it is art and it cannot be rushed. I learned that food cooked with love definitely tastes better than food that isn’t.

But the mashed potatoes were always my favorite part. He whipped them with the electric beater while adding the perfect ratio of cream and real butter. Just when they were at the tip of perfection, he’d add in the sautéed onions. They always came out just right and, topped with his signature pan gravy, they were heavenly. He knew I loved them and even if it’s not true, I liked to think he kept making them because I loved them and he loved me.

Thanksgiving dinners were special, a respite from daily life. They were a time to love and feel loved. I thought maybe this was what most families had year round and I was happy to catch a glimpse of it.

Life marches on though. Families change over time until we look back and everything is different.

My father left when I was ten and I no longer hoped he could clean up and make it to a holiday meal. My mother was stricken with multiple sclerosis and as she lost her mobility over the years, getting her wheelchair into her sister’s second floor apartment became unmanageable. I started spending holidays with my future husband’s family and my brother did the same with the family of his future wife. The strain of my mother’s illness from a chronic, degenerative and ultimately fatal disease was felt by all of us. Tempers flared and we backed away from one another. My grandparents died, my aunt and uncle moved away.

None of this happened all at once. Little by little, inch by inch, the distances grew. It seemed someone would always say next year, for sure, we’ll get back to the old way, all of us together. But those who left didn’t come back. And things kept changing.

I tried to recreate the big family dinner several times, looking to recapture the magic of the ones I remembered. The meals were nice with scads of relatives seated elbow to elbow at tables too small to accommodate them, laughing and eating piles of food. The feelings I had weren’t the same as the ones I had in my younger years. I couldn’t recreate it no matter what I did.

So I stopped trying. Our Thanksgiving dinners are smaller now but we still share our table with family and friends. I’m grateful when my son eats with us, despite his food aversions and flair for dramatics surrounding his pickiness. I whip the potatoes, but I don’t add the sautéed onions because no one would eat them except me and that’s just fine.

As I cook, I take a quiet minute and remember those holidays from decades ago. I can’t get them back but I can remember fondly the love and how good it felt to be together when the rest of the year wasn’t so happy. I can think about my grandfather standing on chairs trying to take candid photos of people eating. I remember my grandmother laughing so hard that she’d cry when, during the annual after-dinner board game, she’d accidentally answer an entire round of Scattergories in French instead of English. I am careful not to use a heavy hand with the cream or the butter or any other ingredient because, like memories, you can always add more.

I still cook food with love.

Even though those seated at the table aren’t the same, we’re making new memories ever year that we gather together. Expecting the magic and wonder of youth is a fool’s errand, and there’s no way to bring back those lost. Some fences are far too damaged to mend and sometimes the holidays mean acceptance that we won’t ever again be with those we’ve held dear.

There is significant pressure, I think, for Thanksgiving to be so many things. Now, I work to appreciate it for what it is — and also for what it isn’t, for what it could have been but might never be. I’m happy with what we have, even if it’s not what I ever expected.

Michelle Longo is a writer living in New Jersey.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Out There

Powerful Photos of Child Sex Abuse Survivors

Photographer Lorena Ros survived sexual abuse, now her newest project highlights the strength and dignity of other survivors.

Lorena Ros, a Spain-based photojournalist, has been documenting abuse of power in various countries around the world. Her first book, Unspoken, a testimony in pictures and words of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, brings her home to a widespread human tragedy that has rarely been photographed.


In the car, on our way to the train-station, my aunt asked me if I had mentioned anything to my mother about the ‘incident…’ I was shocked. It was something that had remained unspoken for years and I had blocked it out of my mind. My uncle and my aunt were afraid that “the secret” was about to be revealed to the family and they were trying to persuade me to be silent – as I had been for the last 30 years…

It was the summer of 2000 – a bomb was about to go off in my life, a bomb that would forever change my relationship with my family, relationships within the family itself and, of course, the rest of my life.

Five years later, I was selected as a participant of the World Press Master class and asked to develop an essay around the concept “Ordinary”. I decided to photograph survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, starting with my own city. Over the years I had focused on stories related to “the abuse of power”- it was a recurrent subject -In my stories I was seeking the truth; there was a story that was very close to us and widespread and yet hardly documented – it was very much a taboo subject.

In 2008, Raquel’s photograph was part of an exhibit in Barcelona (she was abused by her father for years, her mother never believed her and she was forced to leave home.) Raquel hadn’t spoken to her mother in years but invited her for coffee that evening. And without telling her where they were going, brought her to the exhibition. When Raquel’s mother saw and heard other similar stories, it changed both their lives for ever.

As I begun my work on child sex abuse, what first struck me was how vulnerable and fearless my subjects were. Opening their lives, talking about it, was the only way, I realized to fight child sexual abuse.

As I met more and more ‘survivors’, I felt that my essay on ‘Ordinary,’ could, should be a longer-term project, perhaps even a book. Through bearing witness, I was also telling my own story – something which I had never done publicly.

It has been an eight-year journey of growth both as a photographer and as a woman. A journey of self-discovery. Through the survivors I’ve photographed, I found the courage to confront my own ghosts and tell my own story. I realized that I was not alone. It was my life and my work coming together. It has been an often a painful exercise in honesty, a cathartic process of knowing who I am; to understand why I was drawn to the subjects I was drawn to over the years.

In many ways, Unspoken, my first book has helped me to understand Who I am? Why I take pictures and why I do it well.


Lorena Ros is a photojournalist whose work has appeared in Newsweek, El Pais And The Sunday Times Magazine, among others. Unspoken is available now.


TIME Parenting

Maybe Orphanages Aren’t So Bad After All, Study Says

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Author of biggest study to date says the institutions have been unfairly stigmatized

Orphanages, as we all know from Charles Dickens, studies of kids from former Eastern Bloc countries and the musical Annie, are bad for children. Except, as a few studies are now beginning to find, when they’re not. The latest study looked at children from five not-so-wealthy countries in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa over the course of three years and found that being in an institution did not necessarily make them much worse off.

Whether or not orphanages are a viable solution for children with no homes is no small issue. According to the most recent figures from UNICEF, there were more than 132 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean in 2005. That’s a scary number — more than the entire population of Britain and Italy combined — and figuring out the best way to look after that many vulnerable beings is a problem of significant complexity.

Even the definition of “orphan” is complicated. Not all of those 132 million-plus kids had lost both parents; closer to 13 million are what UNICEF calls “double orphans.” And 95% of all orphans, single or double, were over the age of five. So while the mental image of an orphan is of an abandoned baby in a basket, the reality is quite different.

There’s a reasonably heated debate over the best way to look after kids with no homes to go to. Studies out of Romania and Russia have found that kids raised in orphanages were vastly worse off than kids raised by foster families. A slew of studies suggest that children who were institutionalized as babies are much worse off than those who were not and that these effects remain through to adulthood.

But the new study, led by Kathryn Whetten, a Duke professor of public policy and director of the Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research (CHPIR), and published by PLOSone, is the largest and most geographically and culturally diverse study of its kind. It followed 1,300 kids, aged six to 15 who were in institutions and 1,400 kids who were in family care in Cambodia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya and Tanzania. Researchers kept watch on such measures as the kids’ physical health, emotional difficulties, growth, learning ability and memory.

And it concluded that closing down all the orphanages — now sometimes known in more fancy circles as residential educational facilities — and finding other options for the 2 million kids currently living in such institutions would be a significant setback in addressing the issue.

“Our findings put less significance on the residential setting as a means to account for either positive or negative child well-being over time,” Whetten said. Much more important is the kind of country, neighborhood or community the child lives in, and, even more crucially, the kind of kid he or she is. Age, gender, existing emotional and nutritional status, and what kind of life each child has had so far have a lot more impact on that child’s fate than whether or not she or he was raised in a group setting.

Whetten, who first released similar findings from a different cross-sectional study in 2009, believes orphanages have been unfairly stigmatized by studies that have focused in on the dire institutions in Romania and Russia. Many of them rely on data from the Bucharest Early Intervention project, which tracks kids from the notoriously bad Romanian orphanages of the Ceausescu era. “This is reminiscent of what happened to mental health facilities in the U.S. in the 1980s,” she says. “We have taken findings from some of the most emotionally and socially deprived orphanages and are assuming that those outcomes would hold true for all group homes. An analogy that a colleague used yesterday was that it is like if we were evaluating whether to send our daughter to a summer camp and, to make our decision, we examined data from a girls prison camp.”

Indeed while Whetten’s study focused in on less wealthy countries, she believes there are implications for America, especially with the foster care system in such crisis. “In the U.S. there is a movement to see long-term residential care as detrimental to all children and that only when no other options are available do we place children in residential care and with the condition that they stay for as little time as possible,” she says. “Yet many of the residential centers here in the U.S. provide family-like care with long-term caregivers/parents who are continuously trained and supported in how to raise children who have experienced significant chaos and trauma in their lives. The children have family meals and can consider the children in the unit to be like siblings.”

While the study does not go so far as to recommend a whole-scale return to the practice of sending orphaned kids off to institutions, Whetten does think they should be one of a menu of solutions, and chosen when it suits the kid. “We need to evaluate each child individually to see where they will best thrive given the available options,” she says. “For example, if a child has four siblings and they would be broken apart if placed in families, but can stay together in a good group home, the group home may be best for all of them. All children deserve a loving family, and the family can look different depending on the situation.”

TIME Children

Sweet Simplicity: Blowing Soap Bubbles for the Very First Time

Photos by LIFE's Gjon Mili of a young girl playing with soap bubbles for the first time capture so many aspects of childhood: the wonder, the innocence, the simplicity.

Think back to childhood. What comes to mind? Many of the memories are likely of “firsts”: your first snowfall, your first ballgame . . . even your first bubble. It was something special, wasn’t it? Something you created, with the wave of a wand or a simple exhalation of breath—something that shimmered with color and somehow, incredibly, floated right before your eyes? The photographs here, made by LIFE’s Gjon Mili, distill so many aspects of childhood: the wonder, the innocence, the simplicity.

When LIFE shared these photographs with its readers in 1941, the magazine wrote:

All the excitement of a great childhood occasion is captured in these pictures of little Celestine Jay Ku blowing her first soap bubbles. . . . Celestine took to bubble-blowing quickly and enthusiastically. She bounced with glee when Mili blew on the bubble-pipe to show her how to do it.

Far from merely evoking nostalgia for childhood, Mili’s pictures evoke an earlier time, before the Digital Age, when most children played with the most rudimentary of toys, or fashioned playthings from household objects and their imaginations. Today, when toddlers can manipulate smart phones and tablets before they’re able to utter coherent sentences—a reality that, we admit, says an awful lot about the powerfully intuitive design of some digital devices—Celestine’s unfeigned delight is a reminder that, sometimes, the simplest joys are the most profound, and enduring.

Celestine Jay Ku reacts as a soap bubble bursts above her, 1941.
Gjon Mili—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Katie Yee is a native New Yorker, an undergraduate studying Literature and Psychology at Bennington College, and an editorial assistant at Tweed’s Magazine of Literature & Art.

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