kids

  1. How much sleep does your teen really need?

    Look at all the research on kids and sleep, and two things become clear quickly:

    1) Kids don't need as much as most of us think they do, and
    2) They're still not getting enough anyway.

    One new study looked at 37 sleep guidelines for kids issued since 1897 along with more than 200 studies on how much nightly sleep kids have actually gotten during that time and found a few surprises.

    The number of recommended hours of sleep has decreased over the years, and no matter what those hours are or how much they've decreased, kids always manage to get an average of 37 minutes less.

    Anyone who's ever sent a kid to bed at 8:00 in hopes he or she might actually arrive there by 8:30 (or even 8:37) knows how that is.

    And even a century ago, people blamed technology for all those sleep-avoiding kids, according to the study published in the journal Pediatrics.

    Once upon a time, it was that newfangled lightbulb. Today, it's all the digital entertainment options kids have literally at their fingertips: videogames, text messages, music downloads and probably a few things we adults don't even know about.

    It's bad news for many kids because too little sleep has been linked to any number of physical and mental issues in people of all ages -- and in kids in particular, poor sleep has been connected to everything from obesity to low test scores.

    But surprisingly, the sleep guidelines that have been issued over the years have been based on little to no actual science.

    And while no one's saying kids should be allowed to play videogames until dawn, a new look at data on 1,724 primary and secondary school students across the country finds that kids between 16 and 18 years old actually do better on less sleep.

    Federal guidelines call for nine hours a night, but researchers found the kids with the highest test scores actually got around seven.

    Younger kids, on the other hand, needed a little more: Between nine and 9.5 hours a night for 10-year-olds and between eight and 8.5 hours a night when they reach the age of 12, according to the study in Eastern Economics Journal.

    Of course, research is one thing -- but people are different. Some need more, some need less. If the child or grandchild in your life is tired all the time, they're obviously not getting what they need.

    And if they're not studying when they're awake, then even perfect sleep habits won't boost the grades.

  2. Playgrounds are too safe

    No one likes seeing a little kid fall or get hurt -- especially when it's your own child.

    I'm sure many parents would bubble wrap their little ones before sending them out if they could, and some practically do these days.

    But they don't really need that protection -- because playgrounds have gotten so safe and dull that kids no longer have a chance to engage in the types of mildly risky play that's such an important part of development.

    And a recent report in the New York Times shows how children who never get a chance to run those risks could grow up to be anxious adults.

    One researcher who spent time watching kids play in three countries even divided the risks of play into categories: heights, speed, dangerous tools, dangerous elements like water, rough play, and wandering off alone.

    Dr. Ellen Sandseter, a professor of psychology at Queen Maud University in Norway, told the Times that children experience each of those dangers in small-but-increasing doses -- like a kid who will climb a little higher each time he attempts the jungle gym.

    It's a way of getting over fears and learning independence -- and it's actually similar to steps shrinks use to help adults overcome many fears.

    Even an injury won't stop that process: One study, for example, found that kids hurt in a fall before the age of 9 are actually less likely to be afraid of heights later on than kids who never fall.

    But today's playgrounds don't have many heights to fall from -- my guess is that in addition to angry parents and screaming kids, parks departments are afraid of lawsuits.

    It might be too late to turn back the clock on playgrounds -- the liability issues alone mean we'll never see any with the risks of yesteryear.

    But it's not too late to let your children and grandchildren take their own risks within reason -- so don't be afraid to peel back the bubble wrap every now and then.

    And don't be afraid of the usual falls, slips, trips, bumps, bruises and even the occasional broken bone -- because getting hurt from time to time is actually good for them.

  3. Caffeine and kids don't mix

    One study found that kids who have too much caffeine are staying up well into the night, when their growing bodies should be at rest.
  4. Who says kids won't eat healthy?

    One of the biggest challenges of raising children is getting them to eat right.
  5. FDA rewards drug maker's bad behavior

    The FDA has just approved the antidepressant Lexapro for use in kids.

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