Kids’ Smoking Influences May Change Over Time

Kids’ Smoking Influences May Change Over Time

Last Updated: April 28, 2013, Doctor’s Lounge

 

 

Friends’ cigarette use a bigger factor in middle school than in high school, research shows

 

 

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Friends’ cigarette use a bigger factor in middle school than in high school, research shows. 

 

SUNDAY, April 28 (HealthDay News) — Peer pressure to smoke may be more influential for kids in middle school than for older students, a new study reports.

Although their friends’ smoking behavior may hold less sway for teens over time, researchers said parents seem to remain influential over their children’s smoking behavior throughout high school. They suggested that smoking intervention programs focused on peer pressure to smoke would be more effective for students in middle (or junior high) school than high school, and parents could provide another possible anti-smoking strategy.

Based on previous research that looked at social development, “we thought friends would have more influence on cigarette use during high school than junior high school,” study author Yue Liao, a student with the Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, said in a university news release.

“But what we found was friends have greater influence during junior high school than high school. We think the reason may be that friends’ cigarette use behavior may have a stronger influence on youth who start smoking at a younger age,” Liao continued. “During high school, cigarette use might represent the maintenance of behavior rather than a result of peer influence.”

For the study, the researchers examined information on about 1,000 teens involved in the Midwestern Prevention Project, the longest-running substance use prevention, randomized controlled trial in the United States. Randomized controlled studies are considered the gold-standard for research.

The students were first questioned in the seventh grade when they were 11 years old. They were reassessed after six months, and then once every year until they were in the 12th grade.

The participants were asked how many of their close friends and parents (or two important adults in their lives) smoked cigarettes. The students were also asked how many cigarettes they had smoked in the past month. Over the course of the study, the influence of the students’ friends and parents was analyzed to determine if it changed as the students got older.

The investigators found that kids’ smoking behavior is significantly affected by the habits of their peers and their parents in both middle school and high school. The influence of friends, however, is stronger in middle school. Although parents’ influence started to decrease in the final two years of high school, it did not change between middle school and high school.

Among students in grades 9 and 10, girls were more affected by their friends’ smoking behavior than boys, the researchers noted. As they advanced to 10th and 12th grades, however, friends and parents had less influence on girls. Meanwhile, boys at this age were increasingly swayed by their friends’ smoking habits.

“Boys tend to foster friendship by engaging in shared behaviors, whereas girls are more focused on emotional sharing,” Liao explained. “So, it is possible that boys are adopting their friends’ risky behaviors, like smoking, as the groups grow together over time.”

The study authors concluded their findings could aid in the development of teen anti-smoking programs.

“We observed a big dip in friends’ effect on smoking behavior from eighth to ninth grade. Thus, the first year of high school represents an opportunity for interventions to counteract peer influence and to continue to target parents as their behavior remains influential through the end of high school,” Liao said in the news release. “In addition, teaching students refusal skills during junior high school could be effective in decreasing cigarette use at the beginning of high school. Programs could also promote positive parenting skills to protect children from deviant peer influence.”

The researchers noted that more research is needed to explore the influence of siblings on teen smoking.

The study was published in the April 12 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about teen smoking.

 

SOURCE: University of Southern California, news release, April 12, 2013

ADHD – Diagnosing the Wrong Deficit

An opinion piece from The New York Times

Shannon Freshwater

IN the spring of 2010, a new patient came to see me to find out if he had attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. He had all the classic symptoms: procrastination, forgetfulness, a propensity to lose things and, of course, the inability to pay attention consistently. But one thing was unusual. His symptoms had started only two years earlier, when he was 31.

Though I treat a lot of adults for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, the presentation of this case was a violation of an important diagnostic criterion: symptoms must date back to childhood. It turned out he first started having these problems the month he began his most recent job, one that required him to rise at 5 a.m., despite the fact that he was a night owl.

The patient didn’t have A.D.H.D., I realized, but a chronic sleep deficit. I suggested some techniques to help him fall asleep at night, like relaxing for 90 minutes before getting in bed at 10 p.m. If necessary, he could take a small amount of melatonin. When he returned to see me two weeks later, his symptoms were almost gone. I suggested he call if they recurred. I never heard from him again.

Many theories are thrown around to explain the rise in the diagnosis and treatment of A.D.H.D. in children and adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 percent of school-age children have now received a diagnosis of the condition. I don’t doubt that many people do, in fact, have A.D.H.D.; I regularly diagnose and treat it in adults. But what if a substantial proportion of cases are really sleep disorders in disguise?

For some people — especially children — sleep deprivation does not necessarily cause lethargy; instead they become hyperactive and unfocused. Researchers and reporters are increasingly seeing connections between dysfunctional sleep and what looks like A.D.H.D., but those links are taking a long time to be understood by parents and doctors.

We all get less sleep than we used to. The number of adults who reported sleeping fewer than seven hours each night went from some 2 percent in 1960 to more than 35 percent in 2011. Sleep is even more crucial for children, who need delta sleep — the deep, rejuvenating, slow-wave kind — for proper growth and development. Yet today’s youngsters sleep more than an hour less than they did a hundred years ago. And for all ages, contemporary daytime activities — marked by nonstop 14-hour schedules and inescapable melatonin-inhibiting iDevices — often impair sleep. It might just be a coincidence, but this sleep-restricting lifestyle began getting more extreme in the 1990s, the decade with the explosion in A.D.H.D. diagnoses.

A number of studies have shown that a huge proportion of children with an A.D.H.D. diagnosis also have sleep-disordered breathing like apnea or snoring, restless leg syndrome or non-restorative sleep, in which delta sleep is frequently interrupted.

One study, published in 2004 in the journal Sleep, looked at 34 children with A.D.H.D. Every one of them showed a deficit of delta sleep, compared with only a handful of the 32 control subjects.

A 2006 study in the journal Pediatrics showed something similar, from the perspective of a surgery clinic. This study included 105 children between ages 5 and 12. Seventy-eight of them were scheduled to have their tonsils removed because they had problems breathing in their sleep, while 27 children scheduled for other operations served as a control group. Researchers measured the participants’ sleep patterns and tested for hyperactivity and inattentiveness, consistent with standard protocols for validating an A.D.H.D. diagnosis.

Of the 78 children getting the tonsillectomies, 28 percent were found to have A.D.H.D., compared with only 7 percent of the control group.

Even more stunning was what the study’s authors found a year after the surgeries, when they followed up with the children. A full half of the original A.D.H.D. group who received tonsillectomies — 11 of 22 children — no longer met the criteria for the condition. In other words, what had appeared to be A.D.H.D. had been resolved by treating a sleeping problem.

But it’s also possible that A.D.H.D.-like symptoms can persist even after a sleeping problem is resolved. Consider a long-term study of more than 11,000 children in Britain published last year, also in Pediatrics. Mothers were asked about symptoms of sleep-disordered breathing in their infants when they were 6 months old. Then, when the children were 4 and 7 years old, the mothers completed a behavioral questionnaire to gauge their children’s levels of inattention, hyperactivity, anxiety, depression and problems with peers, conduct and social skills.

The study found that children who suffered from sleep-disordered breathing in infancy were more likely to have behavioral difficulties later in life — they were 20 to 60 percent more likely to have behavioral problems at age 4, and 40 to 100 percent more likely to have such problems at age 7. Interestingly, these problems occurred even if the disordered breathing had abated, implying that an infant breathing problem might cause some kind of potentially irreversible neurological injury.

CLEARLY there is more going on in the nocturnal lives of our children than any of us have realized. Typically, we see and diagnose only their downstream, daytime symptoms.

There has been less research into sleep and A.D.H.D. outside of childhood. But a team from Massachusetts General Hospital found, in one of the only studies of its kind, that sleep dysfunction in adults with A.D.H.D. closely mimics the sleep dysfunction in children with A.D.H.D.

There is also some promising research being done on sleep in adults, relating to focus, memory and cognitive performance. A study published in February in the journal Nature Neuroscience found that the amount of delta sleep in seniors correlates with performance on memory tests. And a study published three years ago in Sleep found that while subjects who were deprived of sleep didn’t necessarily report feeling sleepier, their cognitive performance declined in proportion to their sleep deprivation and continued to worsen over five nights of sleep restriction.

As it happens, “moves about excessively during sleep” was once listed as a symptom of attention-deficit disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. That version of the manual, published in 1980, was the first to name the disorder. When the term A.D.H.D., reflecting the addition of hyperactivity, appeared in 1987, the diagnostic criteria no longer included trouble sleeping. The authors said there was not enough evidence to support keeping it in.

But what if doctors, before diagnosing A.D.H.D. in their patients, did have to find evidence of a sleep disorder? Psychiatric researchers typically don’t have access to the equipment or expertise needed to evaluate sleep issues. It’s tricky to ask patients to keep sleep logs or to send them for expensive overnight sleep studies, which can involve complicated equipment like surface electrodes to measure brain and muscle activity; abdominal belts to record breathing; “pulse oximeters” to measure blood oxygen levels; even snore microphones. (And getting a sleep study approved by an insurance company is by no means guaranteed.) As it stands, A.D.H.D. can be diagnosed with only an office interview.

Sometimes my patients have resisted my referrals for sleep testing, since everything they have read (often through direct-to-consumer marketing by drug companies) identifies A.D.H.D. as the culprit. People don’t like to hear that they may have a different, stranger-sounding problem that can’t be fixed with a pill — though this often changes once patients see the results of their sleep studies.

Beyond my day job, I have a personal interest in A.D.H.D. and sleep disorders. Beginning in college and for nearly a decade, I struggled with profound cognitive lethargy and difficulty focusing, a daily nap habit and weekend sleep addiction. I got through my medical school exams only by the grace of good memorization skills and the fact that ephedra was still a legal supplement.

I was misdiagnosed with various maladies, including A.D.H.D. Then I underwent two sleep studies and, finally, was found to have an atypical form of narcolepsy. This was a shock to me, because I had never fallen asleep while eating or talking. But, it turned out, over 40 percent of my night was spent in REM sleep — or “dreaming sleep,” which normally occurs only intermittently throughout the night — while just 5 percent was spent in delta sleep, the rejuvenating kind. I was sleeping 8 to 10 hours a night, but I still had a profound delta sleep deficit.

It took some trial and error, but with the proper treatment, my cognitive problems came to an end. Today I eat well and respect my unique sleep needs instead of trying to suppress them. I also take two medications: a stimulant for narcolepsy and, at bedtime, an S.N.R.I. (or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor) antidepressant — an off-label treatment that curtails REM sleep and helps increase delta sleep. Now I wake up without an alarm, and my daytime focus is remarkably improved. My recovery has been amazing (though my wife would argue that weekend mornings are still tough — she picks up the slack with our two kids).

Attention-deficit problems are far from the only reasons to take our lack of quality sleep seriously. Laboratory animals die when they are deprived of delta sleep. Chronic delta sleep deficits in humans are implicated in many diseases, including depression, heart disease, hypertension, obesity, chronic pain, diabetes and cancer, not to mention thousands of fatigue-related car accidents each year.

Sleep disorders are so prevalent that every internist, pediatrician and psychiatrist should routinely screen for them. And we need far more research into this issue. Every year billions of dollars are poured into researching cancer, depression and heart disease, but how much money goes into sleep?

The National Institutes of Health will spend only $240 million on sleep research this year. One of the problems is that the research establishment exists as mini-fiefdoms — money given to one sector, like cardiology or psychiatry, rarely makes it into another, like sleep medicine, even if they are intimately connected.

But we can’t wait any longer to pay attention to the connection between delta sleep and A.D.H.D. If you’re not already convinced, consider the drug clonidine. It started life as a hypertension treatment, but has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat A.D.H.D. Studies show that when it is taken only at bedtime, symptoms improve during the day. For psychiatrists, it is one of these “oh-we-don’t-know-how-it-works” drugs. But here is a little-known fact about clonidine: it can be a potent delta sleep enhancer.

Vatsal G. Thakkar is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the N.Y.U. School of Medicine.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on April 28, 2013, on page SR1 of the New York edition with the headline: Diagnosing The Wrong Deficit.

A Presidential Pat for Young Scientists

The New York Times

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

The president helped Payton Karr, left, and Kiona Elliot of Oakland Park, Fla., with their bicycle-powered water filtration system.

By ASHLEY SOUTHALL
Published: April 22, 2013

Praising the work of young scientists and inventors at the third White House Science FairPresident Obama on Monday announced a broad plan to create and expand federal and private-sector initiatives designed to encourage children to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

After browsing the 30 or so projects on display in the White House’s public rooms and the East Garden, Mr. Obama said he was committed to giving students the resources they need to pursue education in the disciplines, collectively known as STEM. Earlier, the White House announced efforts aimed at increasing participation in those fields, particularly among female and minority students, as well as those from low-income and military families.

“This is not the time to gut investments that keep our businesses on the cutting edge, that keep our economy humming, that improve the quality of our lives,” Mr. Obama told an audience in the East Room that included 100 students from 40 states, business leaders and science-minded celebrities, among them Bill Nye, the television host and science educator, and LeVar Burton, who appeared in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

“This is the time to reach a level of research and development that we haven’t seen since the height of the space race,” he said.

According to a summary in his 2014 budget request, Mr. Obama has designated $180 million for programs to increase opportunities for participation in STEM programs, from kindergarten through graduate school, for groups historically underrepresented in those fields.

An additional $265 million would be directed to support networks of school districts, universities, science agencies, museums, businesses and other educational entities focused on STEM education, and to finance the creation of a corps of master teachers. Of that, $80 million would go toward furthering the president’s goal of adding 100,000 math and science teachers over a decade.

The White House is promoting the programs as part of an “all hands on deck” effort that includes an AmeriCorps program that places volunteers in STEM-focused nonprofit organizations; a summer camp for children to design and build projects; a corporate mentorship program; and the expansion of a program to increase access to Advanced Placement courses for students in military families.

In an effort to reach more low-income students, AmeriCorps plans to place 50 volunteers in For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, or First, a nonprofit organization that sponsors robotics competitions and technology challenges. Technology companies including SanDisk and Cisco have formed the US2020 mentoring campaign with the goal of having at least 20 percent of the firms’ employees spending at least 20 hours a year mentoring or teaching by 2020.

This summer, the Maker Education Initiative will host Makers Corps for students to design and build projects that are personally meaningful.

Among the projects on display at the White House were a cloud computing program that improves cancer detection; a fully functional prosthetic arm that costs only $250 to build; an emergency water sanitation system powered by a bicycle; video game designs, which were included at the fair for the first time; and a robot shaped like an Etch A Sketch that paints with watercolors.

Sylvia Todd, 11, a sixth-grader from Auburn, Calif., who built the robot, explained to Mr. Obama and, later, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that her project had been inspired by similar robots displayed at an earlier competition.

“Everyone was using pens and pencils, and I just wanted to get really creative,” she said.

Afterward, Sylvia summed up her experience: “mind-boggling.”

A version of this article appeared in print on April 23, 2013, on page A11 of the New York edition

Should You Be Facebook Friends with Your Teen?

An Article by Dr. Roni Sandler Cohen-Sandler
These days, as more and more adults are finding their way on social media (some even before their young children or tweens), families are facing increasing dilemmas. If your kids are now on Facebook, you may well be grappling with the issue of whether to be Facebook friends with them, or its corollary, whether to accept friend requests from your teens’ pals. To gather more information about this subject, I consulted experts—that is, millennials in their twenties. After much discussion, I learned what might motivate parents—and sometimes teens—to be Facebook friends as well as a multitude of advantages, disadvantages, and complications of doing so. It behooves all adults to consider the issues extremely thoughtfully before either friending (i.e., asking to be Facebook friends with) or accepting friend requests from our own teens and, above all, their peers.

Your Kid Wants to Friend YOU?

Although this might surprise you, some teens and tweens who in real life shun conversation with their mothers and fathers actually do friend request their parents. These kids are not desperate to tally up more Facebook friends; one possibility is that they’re in the habit of friending everyone and haven’t specifically excluded their parents. Given how differently friendship is defined on Facebook, this might inspire you to have a discussion with your teen about what constitutes a friend and why it’s important to be discriminating about one’s friends online. While being Facebook friends isn’t the same as being real life friends, it isn’t nothing, either; online friends may have the opportunity to see your teens’ information, including who their friends are, and to write on their walls and send them posts that others might see.

If your teen sends you a friend request, it might also be because Facebook offers a vehicle for greater connection, perhaps more easily or comfortably than face-to-face communication. It’s the same reason why many families send texts or emails for things that are hard to say in person. Maybe your son just wants you to be aware of what music he’s listening to or your daughter is interested in showing you what her friends are writing on her wall. Of course, you don’t need to be Facebook friends with your kids to see this; you can simply ask them to log in to their accounts and show you what’s on the screen themselves. But by giving you the right to see whatever information is out there, it can be a way to get desired validation or earn your trust. Also, consider the possibility that your teen may also want to use the Book to monitor what you`re up to; the access granted on Facebook can be a two-way street.

Why You Want to Friend Your Kid

If being Facebook friends with your teen is your idea—perhaps even a requirement for your son or daughter to sign up for their own account—it’s wise to think carefully about your motivations. What are you hoping to accomplish? Here are some of parents’ most common goals:

• Keeping tabs on your teens’ connections
• Monitoring their social activities
• Being cool
• Showing how much you care about them
• Getting external validation from other Facebook users
• Joining the younger generation
• Learning more about the Book to better advise your teens how to use it responsibly

For divorced parents, Facebook can be a great way to remain an active part of kids’ lives by posting or viewing photos and videos on each other’s walls. Although many teens would be horrified, as they mature into young adulthood apparently the stigma of family pictures gradually fades and even takes on greater cache.

Potential Implications

• Increases trust. Facebook is a porthole through which you can view your teen’s social life, if they allow you. Especially during high school, when presumably teens are given a longer leash, you can allay some of your fears about their greater autonomy by learning more about what they’re doing. It’s also more compelling to see their social life in photos as opposed to merely hearing about it. When it comes to the adolescent social world, a picture may in fact be worth a thousand words (unless information is misconstrued—see below).

• Provides proof. If called upon, Facebook can provide evidence of kids’ whereabouts; the tags on their own and their friends’ photos are stamped with where they are, the name of the people they are socializing with, and the date and time when events took place. (Note: According to my experts, however, this is not foolproof, as tags may be faked by kids who know their parents will be checking.)

• Exposes lies. On the other hand, access to Facebook pages can backfire. When kids try to deceive you—say, by denying they attended a forbidden concert or house party, Facebook can just as easily expose their lies. Then you have to be prepared to deal with the fallout, which may include shattered trust and its effects on your relationship with your teen.

• Illuminates potential problems. Being Facebook friends with your teen gives you the chance to see suggestive or inappropriate posts and tags—and, therefore, to address them immediately. Chances are, if you believe something inappropriate or illegal was going on, other people will too. If your teen protests that photos are innocent, it’s important to point out that their teachers, coaches, and friends’ parents also can get the wrong impression. The burden of privacy should be on your teen; they must learn to limit certain people’s access to their Facebook (e.g., excluding them from seeing photos). You’re thereby teaching critical lessons that can save your teen from later embarrassment or worse when future employers Google them.

What About Friending Your Teens’ Friends?

Here is where issues get much thornier. In my view, the biggest concern is whether friending your kids’ friends intrudes upon natural boundaries and therefore interferes with their social development. As they separate and individuate from their families during adolescence, teens’ peer relationships become increasingly important. When you were a teen, you probably spent hours chatting with friends on the phone or hanging out in someone’s basement, where you carved out your own social world away from the prying eyes of adults. Facebook, with its goal of facilitating connections, makes it harder to maintain boundaries between adults and teens (and also between adults’ personal and business worlds, but that is another story). Consider these issues before accepting friend requests from your teens’ peers:

• Are you really friends? On Facebook, the term friend is used to describe all contacts. But ask yourself if you are friends with your child`s friend in real life. Chances are, the answer is no. If you wouldn’t phone or text your teen’s buddy, being Facebook friends might violate that same boundary. Reading what your children’s friends post to their walls is not all that different from your parents picking up the home telephone when you were a teen and joining your conversations with your friends.

• Awkwardness—or worse—can ensue. When Facebook friends cross generational and/or gender lines, lines of propriety may become blurred. For example, a father becoming Facebook friends with his teen daughter’s best girlfriend could well be seen as inappropriate, make people uncomfortable, or cause teens to declare, “That’s just weird” or “Creepy!” Plus, what if your teen has a falling out with the friend? Are you obligated to unfriend her? And if you do, what meaning would that have? You could also create an awkward situation for your teens if you friend request one of their friends who is unsure about accepting, doesn’t want to accept, or even feels obligated to accept. That teen could become uncomfortable about coming over to your house—either while your friend request is dangling or after making a decision about it.

• Everybody knows. Whatever you do on Facebook, realize that everyone knows. Unless you change the default setting, all Facebook users can see who your friends are. Imagine how you would feel if everyone could see the entire Contacts folder on your computer or cell phone.

• What to do with info? When you’re Facebook friends with your kids’ friends, you may see something on one of their pages that concerns or even alarms you. You’re then in the position of struggling with what to do about it. Is this something you should tell the child’s parents? Do you keep quiet? How will this affect your relationship with your own teen? Knowledge you gain unwittingly on Facebook can become an unwelcome burden.

• If in doubt… While some parents automatically accept friend requests for fear of hurting teens’ feelings, first consider the implications. If in doubt, discuss your dilemma with your teens. They may have wise advice. You can turn down friend requests from your teens’ peers politely simply by saying you have a policy against it, but look forward to talking to them whenever they visit your home.

Consider This

As you’re weighing the pros and cons of Facebook friending your teen, there are several other important considerations. You may jeopardize your relationship—and for good reason. For teens Facebook feels private because they can choose whom they friend and don’t friend as well as whose access to their posts and photos they limit. This gives them a much desired sense of control. Parents becoming Facebook friends with them is an intrusion into their social world. Think about how you behave while chauffeuring a carload of teens. As you drive, you probably remain quiet because you respect their right to have a conversation amongst themselves. Plus, you know that butting in would put a screeching halt to your chance of learning anything.

The same courtesy and common sense could well be applied to Facebook. Asking to see your son’s profile or inviting your daughter to show you wherever she’s tagged in her friends’ photos are much like politely knocking on their bedroom doors before entering—whether or not their friends are over. (Note: An exception might be requiring teen to show you their allegedly inappropriate photos on Facebook that another parent alerted you to…)

In addition, because the parental generation is usually less savvy than our teens about social media, we should proceed cautiously to avoid making grave mistakes. Facebook makes it all too easy for us to embarrass ourselves; constantly changing rules and privacy settings are notoriously difficult to keep up with, even for the most avid users. Unless you’re a Facebook expert, you may not realize you’re making decisions that place you at risk for potentially awkward—and often irreparable—errors. Since one of the main roles of parenting is teaching kids to use technology responsibly, you’ll definitely want to avoid this unfortunate possibility.

_________________________________________

So recognize what you do and don’t know about Facebook. Your teens are probably more knowledgeable about some things, such as knowing how to create separate classes of friends with different privacy settings, how to untag photos, and how to turn on the setting that allows photos to be tagged only after they are reviewed and approved. You might ask them to teach you these valuable skills. But you know things, too, which enable you to be helpful to your teens. For example, you know it’s important for kids to think carefully about whom they friend—and, just as important, whose friend requests they shouldn’t accept. You know to question whether, if they do accept certain people’s friend requests, they should adjust their settings to limit access to their pages (e.g., “Your teachers? Tutors? Future employers? Grandma?”). You know how to help kids evaluate which posts or pictures could be misconstrued or damaging. In the end, partnering with your teens to use Facebook sensibly may be wiser than being Facebook friends with them.

 

Student Election Sparks Gender Equality Debate

An interesting article about student elections at Andover.  We are proud that 45 seventh grade girls are currently running for student council office – a great sign that the girls see themselves as leaders, and that they are interested in serving and improving our school.

Evan McGlinn for The New York Times

Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., began admitting girls in 1973. More Photos »

By 
Published: April 11, 2013

ANDOVER, Mass. — When the elite Phillips Academy here went coed in 1973, some worried that women would quickly take over this venerable institution, the alma mater of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Samuel Morse and Humphrey Bogart, not to mention both Presidents George Bush.

Evan McGlinn for The New York Times

Clark Perkins, 17, left, and Junius Onome Williams, 16, won the vote.More Photos »

In short order, the number of girls in the student ranks did roughly equal the number of boys. The faculty today is more than half female. And until her retirement last summer, the head of school was a woman, for nearly two decades.

And yet some of the young women — and men —   at the 235-year-old prep school feel that Andover, as it is commonly called, has yet to achieve true gender equality. They expressed this concern several weeks ago in a letter to the student newspaper, The Phillipian, and like a match to dry tinder, it set off a raging debate that engulfed the campus.

The proximate cause of concern was the election, held Wednesday, for the top student position, called school president. Since 1973, only four girls have been elected, most recently in 2003. (The other top student position, that of editor in chief of the newspaper, has had nine girls and 33 boys.)

The letter writers said this was an embarrassment, especially at a school considered so progressive. The paucity of girls in high-profile positions, they said, leaves younger students with few role models and discourages them from even trying for the top.

But the broader concern involved age-old questions of whether men and women could ever achieve equality, the nature of sexism and the nature of a meritocracy, which Andover very much purports to be.

“Right off the bat, it’s not a meritocracy for girls,” said Maia Hirschler, 19, a senior from New York City. “They’re starting behind because we don’t associate leadership qualities with them.”

John G. Palfrey Jr., the headmaster, said in an interview that Andover was only a reflection of other schools and society at large as it grappled with these issues. “We do not live in a post-gender, post-race, post-class society,” he said. “Girls have not had equal access to top leadership positions.”

In an attempt to improve the chances of electing a girl president this year, the school dropped the single presidency in favor of two co-presidents.

Many more girls did enter the race, all with boy partners. Other teams were made up of two boys. Over the last several weeks, the finalists were winnowed down to one girl/boy team and one all-boy team.

Both teams said the race became ugly in ways they had not expected. Clark Perkins, 17, from Fairfield, Conn., and Junius Onome Williams, 16, from Newark, said they felt attacked for simply being boys.

“We had to grapple with this on a political level but also a moral and personal level,” said Mr. Williams, who said he aspires to become secretary general of the United Nations. “We had to ask ourselves, ‘Am I doing an injustice to the female members of this school?’ ”

They decided they were not and said they would “not apologize for not filling a gender-balance quota.” Mr. Williams, who is black, noted that gender was only one demographic category. “Since 1973 there have been only four females, but African-Americans have been admitted since 1865, and we’ve had only three black presidents,” he said.

Mr. Williams and Mr. Perkins faced Farris Peale, 17, of Seattle, and Ben Yi, 18, of South Korea

Ms. Peale said that she had been Mr. Williams’ campaign manager — until he chose to run with Mr. Perkins. “He picked a boy and I got mad, so I decided to run myself,” she said. “Junius picked Clark because he thought he would appeal most to girls who think he’s cute, and to jocks.”

Mr. Perkins took offense at this suggestion, saying that he and Mr. Williams ran together based on their previous student council experience and leadership qualities.

After the votes were counted Wednesday night, the boys won (the tally was not made public). Mr. Perkins said they hoped to heal the rift in the student body.

“We are committed to ensuring that the voices and perspectives of all students — regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation, nationality, or any other factor of identity — are heard,” he said. “For the past few months, bitter divisions have torn us apart. During our presidency, we will host a series of campuswide forums discussing gender equity in student leadership.”

Ms. Peale said she was disappointed but did not see the outcome as setting back the cause, only making it more urgent.

“This can be used as momentum to get a girl in office next year,” she said. “Fewer girls try to get ahead because of a mentality in our culture that says boys have better leadership skills. But you have to put yourself out there.”

On the afternoon of the vote, a warm spring day, many students were outside, some tossing a Frisbee, others sitting around on the manicured lawns.

One group of boys said they had tried not to factor gender into their votes. Daniel Feeny, 16, from California, said that he voted for Mr. Perkins because he was a natural leader and that he would not vote for a girl just because she was a girl.

“I find it shocking that this is still an issue,” he said, noting that his mother and three older sisters were all “strong feminists.” “I’ve grown up with feminist values,” he said. “It’s surprising to me to get here and see women say they are still treated unfairly.”

His group of friends agreed that the person elected president usually has stage presence and is entertaining, and they concluded that perhaps girls have to be more serious in order to be taken seriously, which makes them less electable.

Girls who were interviewed were far more galvanized about the matter. They said that previous generations of women had broken down important legal barriers, but today’s struggle was against a less overt sexism that was embedded in cultural attitudes.

“The access has been achieved, but the equality in terms of roles has not,” said Jing Qu, 18, a senior from Illinois. “Girls are scared to be overly ambitious because they’re scared of the potential backlash.”

When girls strive for equality, several of them said, the boys feel threatened and as if they are being put down.

“There have been moments of feminism here, but it hasn’t taken root,” said M. J. Engel, 17, a senior from Wisconsin who ran for president last year and lost. “Now we’re in this moment again when feminism has receded and we’re back to a boys’ school in terms of student leadership.”

This has firmed her resolve, and that of her friends, to give the younger girls all the encouragement they can before they graduate.

“To use Sheryl Sandberg’s words, we’re going to ‘lean in,’ ” Ms. Engel said. “For us, that means push in.”

<nyt_correction_bottom>

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 12, 2013

 

An earlier version of this article misstated the most recent year that a girl was elected school president of Phillips Academy. It was 2003, not 2004. The article also misstated the number of teams in a recent election for school president that were made up of two boys. There were more than one. And the article also incorrectly stated that only young women sent a letter about gender equality to the student newspaper. Young men signed it as well.

 

A version of this article appeared in print on April 12, 2013, on page A12 of the New York edition with the headline: School Vote Stirs Debate On Girls As Leaders.

Talking to Kids About the Boston Marathon Bombing

From The Today Show

The Boston Marathon bombing will represent a tragic and terrifying childhood milestone for a generation of kids born after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, or too young to remember them. How can parents help kids cope — even as we’re struggling with our own fears? Psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz, as well as child psychologist Dr. Jennifer Hartstein, offered these tips on TODAY:

  • First, tell your children what happened. Even if they’ve heard the news or seen video — and in this day and age they probably have seen it all on someone’s iPhone by now — they still need to hear it from you. “They are not necessarily getting the correct facts,” Saltz said. “Kids tend to be kind of hysterical and dramatic about things and that leaves your kid afraid. Give them the basics in a calm and reassuring manner. They’re going to take their emotional cue from you.”
  • Be age-appropriate and don’t over-inform them. For instance, if they haven’t heard that an 8-year-old was among the victims, that”s not a detail you need to offer, Saltz said. Give them the basics, then let them tell you how much they want to know, she said: “Let them ask you questions.”
  • Tell kids a simple message: “We’re going to be OK.” What kids want most is to be reassured by parents that they and their family are safe, Saltz said. She recommends saying, “This was a terrible thing, but we’re OK, and we’re going to go on from here.”
  • Monitor your kids and know when to step in. It’s perfectly normal if your child had nightmares about the bombing last night, or if it happens tonight. If strong fears persist, that’s something for parents to address. “If this is happening two weeks from now and they won’t go to school and they won’t leave your side, it really might be time to go seek some sort of professional help” to help kids cope, Hartstein said.
  • Just be there. After a tragedy like this is a good time for family time. Hang out together. Give them a chance to ask questions. “Just be there, let them simply talk and vent and feel loved and supported,” Saltz said.
  • Limit media exposure. TODAY’s Al Roker acknowledged this may sound strange coming from a TODAY host, but he said one of the first things he did was to turn off the TV in his house. (The youngest of his three children is 10.) That’s the right thing to do, Saltz said, because kids need to get their messages from you — and repeatedly viewing images and videos of the bomb blast can be traumatic, especially for younger children who may think it’s happening over and over again. “You have to limit it,” Saltz said, “because what they see visually impacts them so much more.”
  • But don’t try to impose a media blackout. Sure, it’s tempting to try to shield your kids from learning about a horrible event like this. But it won’t work and it will leave kids feeling more worried, Hartstein said: “Our impulse might be to hide it from them, but the fact is they’re going to walk into a pizza place and the TV’s on and they’re going to see it. Be there to answer any questions.”
  • Return to normal. It’s hard when you yourself might want to stay glued to the TV or computer for updates, or may not feel like going out. But getting back to your family’s normal routine sends the strongest message to kids that things are OK. “That’s going to be important for everyone in Boston,” Saltz said, “but wherever you are, get back to the normal business of living, and that includes going to public events and sporting events. That will be the most reassuring.”

Click here for more advice on how to talk to children, including guidelines by age.