1). Sexual Assault by Fellow Students: 17,000 Reports in 4 Years, AP Investigation Finds!
A new investigation by the Associated Press reveals troubling cases of sexual assault committed by and against students. The report also found that most teachers did not know the assaults were happening on their watch. One young man, Chaz Wing of Brunswick, Maine shared his story with the AP. Chaz Wing was 12 when they came after him. The classmates who tormented him were children, too, entering the age of pimples and cracking voices. Eventually, he swore under oath, the boys raped him and left him bleeding, the culmination of a year of harassment. Though Chaz repeatedly told teachers and administrators about insults and physical attacks, he didn’t report being sexually assaulted until a year later, launching a long legal fight over whether his school had done enough to protect him. Chaz’s saga is more than a tale of escalating bullying. Across the U.S., thousands of students have been sexually assaulted, by other students, in high schools, junior highs and even elementary schools — a hidden horror educators have long been warned not to ignore. Relying on state education records, supplemented by federal crime data, a yearlong investigation by The Associated Press uncovered roughly 17,000 official reports of sex assaults by students over a four-year period, from fall 2011 to spring 2015. Though that figure represents the most complete tally yet of sexual assaults among the nation’s 50 million K-12 students, it does not fully capture the problem because such attacks are greatly under-reported, some states don’t track them and those that do vary widely in how they classify and catalog sexual violence. A number of academic estimates range sharply higher.
2). Young Love & Understanding Middle School Relationships!
Spring has sprung and love is in the air – even if you’re in middle school. But should it be? If you’re the parent of a middle schooler and the topic of dating has come up, it probably left you fretting over questions like these:
– What does dating so young say about my child’s personality in the long run?
– What if my child starts on a path toward physical intimacy? What if he or she isn’t mature enough to know how to say no?
– What if the emotional side of dating scars my child or sets them up for future bad relationships?
– What if my child gets a bad reputation for dating early?
– What if this is just the first of many steps my child is taking in the opposite direction from me?
I’m using the words “child” and “dating” in the same sentence and it’s freaking some of you out. One of the biggest complexities of dating in middle school is that these are still kids we’re talking about; however, they’re kids caught between two worlds – not little children anymore, but not yet teenagers. They vacillate between the pull of both worlds, sometimes wanting to stay home and play with their toys and other times eager to announce a coveted relationship status on their Instagram bios. Making the situation more complex is that we’re talking about a term without a universal definition. What does it even mean to be “dating”? Maybe you envision kids skipping class to fool around in the woods. Maybe your child envisions texting with someone they’re too afraid to talk to in the hallway at school. It’s hard to have rules around an area that is so undefined. So, define it. Define it with your child. Before you freak out, calmly ask, “What does it mean to date someone at your age?” You might be surprised and relieved at their answer. Then it’s time to tell them what you’re okay with and where you have hard limits. Be brave enough to have hard conversations about physical and emotional intimacy and reputation and anything else that concerns you. And remember to have this conversation in a way that respects their need to feel grown up with your need to protect them. Keeping a neutral expression while you talk will help tremendously.
Also, this may help. While you have a web of questions in your head about young dating, most of the decisions I see middle schoolers make relate back to just one question: What kind of person do I want to be? This isn’t a philosophical question. It’s a very concrete litmus test for daily, minute-by-minute decisions. Do I want to be the kind of person who likes Chance the Rapper or Bruno Mars? Who wears Vans or Nikes? Who eats meat or goes vegetarian? What will each and every decision say about who I am to the people around me?
3). Emojis, Streaks, Stories, and Scores: What Parents Need to Know About Snapchat
“My son has 30 to 40 Snapchat Streaks. Is that normal? And, also, what are Snapchat Streaks?”
The mom sitting in my office was like a lot of parents whose children are on Snapchat. She knew he was spending a lot of time on his phone, but she had very little idea about what he was doing. She had once tried to download the app to figure out how to use it, but gave up after ten minutes when it didn’t seem intuitive. Even though she knew he was sending Snaps, posting to his Stories, and maintaining 30 to 40 streaks, she didn’t know what any of that meant. Given that he had so many Snapchat Streaks, I knew her son likely spent over 30 minutes each day on the app. For users under 25 years of age, this is typical, as users within this demographic spent on average more than 30 minutes on the app each day according to usage metrics taken during October to December 2016. Founded in 2011 by several Stanford students, Snapchat’s parent company, Snap Inc. recently celebrated a successful IPO, and is incredibly popular among today’s dream demographic of 13- to 24-year-olds. Among teens and young adults, Snapchat is popular because it understands what teens want in the social media world; fun, quick, and casual interactions. Teens tell me they send Snaps to friends while walking to class, and it feels like a more casual form of messaging. For many parents and more established educators, Snapchat seems less intuitive (and kids like it that way!). But there are some key things for parents and educators to know:
There’s no denying the rapid growth of Snapchat, which currently has around 160 million active daily users. Users send approximately 2.5 billion photos, messages, and videos every day – and the average user opens the app nearly 18 times per day. On Snapchat, users can send Snaps (photos, videos, and/or text) directly to others on their friends’ list, or post photos or videos to their Snapchat Story for others to view.
There’s a reason why teens love Snapchat – it is not just quick and fun to use, users feel as though they can share their own Story and cultivate their own ever-changing online presence without pressure to be perfect. The key is that nothing seems to stick around for very long. Snaps – the short-hand term given for these photos and messages sent to friends – seem to “disappear” within seconds of getting opened (though nothing really disappears), and their ephemeral nature makes many users feel like Snapchat allows them to express their real selves. The seeming lack of permanence makes users more comfortable to send a Snap or post to their Stories without over-thinking it. Photos and videos posted on Stories go away after 24 hours, encouraging users to constantly post new content while also feeling less pressure to over-curate their postings.
Another reason users love Snapchat is that there is no search feature, so they can’t search for others’ postings. Why is this important? Because there is no underlying competition to see how many likes a photo received or how many followers another user has. And it is not just teenagers who love to Snap. According to comScore, over 75 percent of users with smartphones use Snapchat monthly, making it a popular social networking tool for young adults as well. Parents should be aware that although Snapchat requires users to be 13 years old as per COPPA (“Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act”) laws, users self-report their ages – so younger kids can (and do) use the app.
There’s a seduction to casual messaging.
A 16-year-old high school junior explained it this way, “It’s a lot easier and more casual to send someone a Snap or add them to your friend list on Snapchat then it is to send someone a text.” She, like many of her classmates, see Snaps as a casual way of saying hello to friends, or making sure they don’t, as one high school junior boy explained, “forget about you.” Part of Snapchat’s brilliance is how it has gamified messaging. Though Snaps seem to disappear after a certain number of seconds, users can send creative snaps by applying features to their snaps, such as adding a regional or holiday background, using the facial recognition software to apply animated facial filters (a popular one is what students in my office call “the dog filter”) and even face swap with another person that’s in the Snap with them. These features create a fun way of checking in with friends. But the casualness and gamification can come at a cost. Younger users might act impulsively and post things on their Stories that they would likely not share publicly, not recognizing how easily a screenshot can capture a post and be shared widely. Even parents who think they are in the know might not be. One 16-year-old high school sophomore explained that she blocks her parents, brother, and cross country coaches from seeing her Stories, and that they are unaware they have been blocked. Be reassured (or forewarned), nothing really ever fully disappears on Snapchat. Over the past several years, the company has put a number of parameters in place, including a law enforcement guide, to discourage cyberbullying and inappropriate content.
There are underlying friendship dynamics that make things complicated.
In a world where tweens and teens can feel as though likes and comments are a measure of popularity, teens have mentioned how much they like that Snaps don’t receive public likes or mentions. There’s also no search feature to look at and discover others’ postings, so it seems like a more intimate, casual way of communicating. Still, the underlying social dynamics (and confusion) are real. For instance, Snapchat Streaks can contribute to what I call “friendship bloat.” Snapstreaks are formed when two users send each other at least one Snap a day – and the Snap is broken if someone doesn’t respond to a Snap within a 24 hour period. One high school sophomore girl told me she had a 279 day Snapstreak with a girl she met freshman year who she is no longer friends with, but both of them have kept the streak going.
Snapstreaks are likely the most brilliantly addictive feature for teens – I’ve had several students voluntarily delete all apps off their phone (including Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube) in an attempt to minimize distractions, but they refuse to delete Snapchat because they don’t want to be the one to break their Streaks. In a quiet, insidious way, Snapstreaks have made it impossible for most active teen users to go a single day without using the app. From a time and energy perspective, Snapstreaks can add up – some teens become efficient and send the same Snap to all their Streaks, and others personalize. Either way, it quickly adds up to a whole lot of minutes.
It’s all about emojis.
It’s not just Snaps, Stories, and Streaks that have gamified communication as we know it. Snapchat also uses emojis to track users messaging habits with their friends, and different emojis represent different levels of Snap interaction. For example. a smirk indicates that the user is your best friend (signified by number of Snaps sent to them) but that the best friends status isn’t reciprocated – as in, they are sending someone else more Snaps. Complicated. The fire emoji signifies a Snapstreak, and a red heart signifies being one another’s best friend for at least two weeks. These emojis indicate how much interaction the users have between each other, signifying how much of a “best friend” the users are to each other. The emoji situation can be precarious – because they can change or disappear over time based on your relationship to them and their relationship to you, and can disappear altogether if users don’t maintain communication.
For those users who are motivated by points and numbers, Snapchat scores create another incentive to engage. Snapchat scores are determined by adding up the total number of Snaps sent out and received by the user, and the number can be found right below a user’s screen name. The more active the user, the higher the score. As a note, scores can only be seen between two Snapchat users who have added one another as friends. So, if a user follows a celebrity or another other person who doesn’t add them back, the user will only be able to see their screen name and not their score.
And what about those spectacles?
One of the more recent updates are Snapchat Spectacles, which have recently become more widely available for purchase. The special sunglasses light up when they are in use, and users can tap the side to take photos, capture videos, and send Snaps. Using the sunglasses allows users to send Snaps that quite literally capture their own worldview.
In the end, Snapchat is simply a messaging tool that teens and young adults use to communicate, and parents need to take the time to learn and understand their children’s new language of socialization. If your kids are on Snapchat, you should be too. I encourage parents to download the app and put their kids in the driver’s seat and ask them to show you their favorite features. If they refuse to do so, you can always do what teenagers do to learn more about how to use something – search online and watch videos.
4). 5 Ways to Help Kids Build Healthy Relationships
Here comes Valentine’s Day, the one day in the year that REALLY calls attention to whether you are “single” or “in a relationship.” Teenagers are pretty much past the valentine card exchange that used to be an indication of how popular you were. Thank goodness most classrooms today insist that any student giving out valentines must give them to every student in the class. That’s a step in the right direction, but what about middle and high school where most of this “relationship status” stuff begins? At that level, we often see candy grams or flowers that kids can order in school before the big day, and have them delivered to their favorite people during the school day. Each class period, students wait with bated breath for the student-delivery-person to show up at the door, wondering if they will be one of the lucky ones to be graced with a lollipop, carnation or rose. Some will float out the door, and others will sink lower and lower as the day goes on and their name is not called. At the college level, it’s all about the bouquets of roses and other beautiful flowers, or the hearts of chocolates, or the jewelry items. All of those items are nice, but I find myself wondering about the feelings and emotions that go along with them, and what you have to do to get that acknowledgement. Here are five tips to help kids find the best relationships they can, not just on Valentine’s Day, but every day of their lives.
Throughout my life, being a kid and working with kids as an educator and therapist, I’ve found myself wonderingwhy people get into bad relationships.. One key commonality of a bad relationship is the fact that most are willing to turn themselves into pretzels to please the other person. I still distinctly remember the “popular” girls from high school that were always in a relationship (although it was the same group of guys that just seemed to rotate from girl to girl). I couldn’t help but notice that most of them seemed miserable when they were in a relationship. Personally, I thought the guys were rude and obnoxious. I couldn’t understand why these girls, who were smart, pretty, outgoing, and so personable, would put up with the way they were treated. What happened to these capable young women when faced with these guys? I remember going to my ten year high school reunion, and the guys who wouldn’t “lower themselves” to speak to me in high school STILL thought they were too good to talk with me 10 years later. That was the last reunion I went to; I have too much self-respect to put up with nonsense like that. And you should be sure to tell your kids that they shouldn’t be a pretzel either.
Show It’s Ok To Go Solo
I’ve also found myself wondering about why people are willing to believe that a bad relationship is better than no relationship. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve encouraged kids (and adults) to let the individuals in their lives who don’t think they are wonderful go. What do they add to your life? Why are you turning yourself into a pretzel to please this person? If someone doesn’t appreciate you for who you are, cut them loose; they aren’t worth it. Sounds like good, reasonable advice. But it’s hard to follow if you don’t believe in yourself and/or have others who believe the same. And, as our kids grow and develop, how many of them are at the point where they have a strong sense of self, love themselves for who they are, and are comfortable in their own skin and being their own best friend? As parents, it’s our job to encourage and enhance our children’s sense of self.
Support Diversity & Inclusion
From the time our kids are little, it’s critical that we (as grown-ups) get it right out of our heads that there is an “in” group and “out” group. If we don’t model and stand up for equality and appreciation of diversity, our kids will suffer. EVERY human being has something valuable to offer. The word “different” means that and only that…”different.” There’s no value hidden in that word unless we put it there. If you see value differences among your friends or the friends of your child, that’s on you…and it will not have a good outcome for either you or your child. I ran the Brownie troop for my daughter’s grade level, and most of the girls lived in the same neighborhood. The moms actually told me to drop one little girl because “she didn’t fit.” I was appalled. These moms, who never offered to help with the Troop, had definite value feelings about who should be in it. I made it very clear to them that this little girl had every right to be in the Brownie Troop; if they didn’t like it, they could either take over the Troop, take their daughter out, or just deal with it. They dealt with it and never crossed me again. EVERYONE has value, and we have to instill that into our kids. If you see your child leaving one or several children out of activities, call them on it and let them know it’s not ok. Emphasize the value of everyone. Expand their circle of friends and activities to form several groups of friends. It’s great to have school friends, neighborhood friends, church friends, Scout friends, sports friends, activities friends. Expanding the circle honors the differences and it lowers the possibility of having “no friends” if one or more friends withdraws.
Let Your Kids Have a Say
It’s also important for our kids to have a voice. We want to encourage them to express what they are thinking and feeling and, through our listening and hearing, we validate those thoughts and emotions as being ok. This doesn’t mean that the kids run the show; it means that they should have a say in things that relate to their life. Having a say doesn’t equate to having their way. It means that they have the right to express themselves openly and honestly; however, in doing so, they will also learn that others have opinions that may differ from theirs. Learning how to navigate those discussions is an important learning block. As they get older, having the ability to speak their minds is very important. Being able to present an opposing viewpoint, having an opinion, being able to say “no” and mean it…all of that helps form an independent self. Allow your child to make choices based upon their interests and goals. This isn’t about YOU; it’s about your kid. Don’t try to live vicariously through your child’s activities. Support them, and enjoy their activities for what they can contribute. They don’t have to be the star. If they are having fun, that’s all that matters. I remember watching a parent at their kid’s soccer game. This parent just rode the living daylights out of the kid, screaming and yelling corrections all throughout the game. Finally, as the child ran by, he looked at his parent and screamed, “Shut Up!” I have to admit…I kind of loved it. And I totally understood that kid at that moment. Remember what Thumper told Bambi…”if you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” The same is true of choices regarding goals. This may be course choices, post-secondary options, and career options. I’ve sat through far too many meetings with parents who choose for their children and then, a few months later when the child isn’t doing well, the parent wants to know what to do about it. My son asked me if I’d rather he was an art teacher or a comedian. I looked at him and said, “I don’t care what you decide to do as long as you are happy and able to support yourself.” The latter part of that sentence got him thinking. Let your kid be him/herself.
Encourage Them To Be Their Own Person
As your kids get older, pay attention to the relationships they have with boyfriends AND girlfriends. Do they seem happy? When in a relationship, are they changing interests, attitudes, styles, behaviors? Do those changes seem related to the people with whom they are in a relationship? When people begin to change to please another, that’s a bad sign. It’s a sign of control, and control issues can lead to no good. We want to encourage, and witness, our children being their own person. Healthy relationships require open and honest communication, a balance of power, mutual respect, and the understanding that each individual is a valuable and capable person. It’s not about just having a relationship, even if conditions aren’t the best. The foundation is having a solid, loving relationship with yourself, first. If you don’t love or like yourself, no one else can fill that void. So let’s encourage and validate our kids to be themselves first and foremost. Let’s guide, model, and cheer them on to be their very best selves for Number One. The rest will fall into place.
5). Little Girls Doubt That Women Can Be Brilliant, Study Shows
How ambitious or motivated your daughters are may have to do with whether they believe they can be brilliant. A recent study by the American Associate for the Advancement of Science found that girls as young as six and seven-years-old do not associate brilliance with women. The research suggests that gender stereotypes play a role in girls’ perceptions of themselves and women, and can lead many girls to step back from demanding majors, taking a toll on their future careers. In the first part of the study, girls and boys were told a story about a person who is “really, really smart,” a child’s idea of brilliance, and then asked to identify that person among the photos of two women and two men. The people in the photos were dressed professionally, looked the same age and appeared equally happy. At 5, both boys and girls tended to associate brilliance with their own gender, meaning that most girls chose women and most boys chose men. But as they became older and began attending school, children apparently began endorsing gender stereotypes. At 6 and 7, girls were “significantly less likely” to pick women. The results were similar when the kids were shown photos of children. Interestingly, when asked to select children who look like they do well in school, as opposed to being smart, girls tended to pick girls, which means that their perceptions of brilliance are not based on academic performance.
6). Youth Survey Finds Post-Election Spike in Bullying, Harassment
A new report is showing a “troubling” trend for youth in America following the 2016 presidential election. LGBTQ-rights organization Human Rights Campaign surveyed more than 50,000 young people about their personal experiences of bullying and harassment and found 70 percent of them reported that they have witnessed some form of bullying or harassment during or since the election. 63 percent of respondents said that the incidents were sexually motivated, while 70 percent said that the harassment was racially or ethnically motivated. Before the election, more than half of the youth said that they thought about the election every day.
The HRC report laying out the survey results included a number of anonymous write-in responses from youth across the country. An 18-year-old student from Illinois, whose name was not published to protect her privacy, described her experience witnessing harassment motivated by bias: “People on my school’s bus were talking badly about the LGBT community and Black people, as well as a specific male-identifying friend of mine who wore heels, calling him a ‘tranny’ and ‘f-ggot’ and ‘n-word.’ They also related it to the election, stating that Trump is going to help so that ‘the f-ggots in the locker rooms can’t be there to be pedophiles and stare at us.'” Eliza Byard, executive director of LGBTQ youth advocacy organization GLSEN, said the results of HRC’s report should “make all adults ashamed.”
7). 5 Ways to Get Your Kids Back into the School Routine
The holiday break may seem like a short time out of school for kids who have been working hard all fall semester, but we know that two weeks off is just enough time for kids to kick their academic routines to the curb. The days of going to bed late, sleeping in, spending time with family and loved ones with no homework are coming to an abrupt end once classes start again. Getting kids back into their school routines can seem like a big challenge, but Parent Toolkit expert Michelle Icard and Tim Tinnesz, the Head of School at St. Timothy’s School in Raleigh, North Carolina, have five tips for helping to get your child back on track.
1. Restart the School Routine Early
One of the simplest ways to get back into the groove with school is to restart the routine early. Tim Tinnesz says that it’s important to reestablish old routines a few days before your child actually has to return to school. “During the break, the routines of school are in the distant past. It’s always best not to end the vacation at 10 o’clock the night before school starts. Give yourself some wiggle room before school starts, even if that means practicing.”
He also mentions that kids thrive from routines and they often seek them out. “Children are kind of programmed quickly to seek out and establish routines and habits. So, a week or two off for Christmas break what the child is doing is picking up new routines and habits, even though to an adult there’s not much routine to it. The routines and habits of school are things of the distant past so it is important to reestablish some routines and habits before that child goes back to school. Some of the ways that you can practice getting your child back into the swing are by putting out their clothes the night before, setting reminders on their phone, and by creating visual reminders for them. By practicing these skills during the holiday, you can reinforce some good routines for when school restarts. If your kid has a hard time deciding what he or she wants to wear to school, carve out time after dinner to select what they want to wear. It is also helpful to utilize the technology your child has. If they are always on their phones but are forgetful, have them set reminders for an assignment or other activities that they might otherwise forget. For visual learners, design calendars and poster boards with to do lists and reminders so they can see what they need to complete.
2. Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Time off from daily routines can make it challenging for anyone to return to their regular schedule and that it is why it’s important to have empathy, says Michelle Icard. “Having empathy is key. Offer a chance to push the reset button. Don’t talk about it as if it’s a negative thing. Have a tone of excitement! Don’t set the tone that ’it’s time to buckle down.’ Don’t talk about it as if it’s a negative thing. Talk about it as if this is a chance for you to have the kind of experience that you want to have because anything is possible.” Just like adults, many kids are juggling a lot of information in their brains, so remember to be fair and empathetic to your child as he or she returns to business as usual.
3. Remember Your Kids’ Challenges
“You know your kid best. Think in advance about what are going to be the biggest hang-ups for them. Is it going to be that they’re going to sleep through their alarm or are they going to have a book bag lost because they haven’t thought about it over the break? If your kid is a heavy sleeper, make sure the alarm is set the night before, whether you set it for them or they do it themselves. If your child has a hard time staying organized, go over what’s in his or her backpack a few days ahead of time to make sure that they have pencils, paper and know where their backpack is on the morning they return to school. Icard says kids want to know that their parents want them to do well and support them, and that’s why it’s important for you to know and understand how children receive support from you. “Parents tend to harp on what their worries are, but no one wants to go into a new term with that burden on their shoulders, so try to give them a fresh start,” says Icard.
4. Trust the Teachers
While getting your kids back into the swing of things requires preparation before they return to school, remember that their teachers are also there to help them. “Teachers have toolkits and bags of tricks with years of experience with dozens or even hundreds of children,” says Tinnesz. Remember that partnering with teachers creates a support system for everyone. “Teachers are our partners in this process with great sets of skills that help children during these transitions.” Parents often forget how tenacious their children are. Yes, some kids are more reluctant to get out of the car on the first day back to school or may even cry, but once the kid enters the classroom they will get back into the swing, especially if there is a qualified adult anticipating their arrival. “Children are remarkably resilient and far more resilient than most of us adults. It’s important for us to remember how quick they are to bounce back and be happy again. Context is really important for parents to remember,” says Tinnesz.
5. Lastly, Remember That You’ve Got This
We know this last piece of advice isn’t a tip, but it is a reminder that it has only been a short holiday break. You and your child have made it halfway through the school year and you will both make it through the new term. In the words of Icard and Tinnesz, a little preparation during the break itself will go a long way toward ensuring that the transition back to school goes smoothly.
8). Just One Hour a Day on Social Media Makes Teens Miserable
New research shows the potential harm for teens by even a small amount of time spent on social media. It is important for young people to be challenged to put down their phones and so that they’re not constantly comparing themselves to others. Social media sites help us stay connected, but for younger teens, the cost of online connectivity can be steep. A recent report, “Social Media Use and Children’s Wellbeing,” published by IZA Institute of Labor Economics, found that kids between 10 and 15 who spend as little as one hour a day chatting on social networks are overall less content.
An Hour a Day Keeps Happiness Away
“Spending one hour a day chatting on social networks reduces the probability of being completely satisfied with life overall by approximately 14 percentage points,” the study’s authors wrote in the paper’s conclusion. The research, which was conducted from 2010 through 2014 and surveyed British households, was partially an effort to “contribute to wider debates about the socioeconomic consequences of the internet and digital technologies.” Issues of cyberbullying, an increase in social comparisons, and a decrease in real-life, face-to-face activities were cited in the study as theories explaining “why extensive social media use may have a negative effect on children’s well-being.”
9). Anxiety, Irritability May be First Warning of Depression in Kids
An early warning sign of depression in teenagers may not be sadness, but rather anxious and even irritable behavior, British researchers reported Wednesday. They found that the children of parents with major depression often gave clues not only in the form of anxiety, but also with angry, resentful behavior. Such clues are important for flagging parents, teachers and doctors to the risk of major depression, which can disable adolescents just as they’re starting life. And it’s the leading cause of suicide, which is itself a major cause of death for children and teenagers. “Major depressive disorder is a leading global cause of lifelong disability. The incidence markedly rises during mid-adolescence,” Frances Rice, of Cardiff University in Britain, and colleagues wrote. “Even when the onset of depression is in adult life, many of its contributing risk factors begin during childhood, highlighting the importance of understanding the etiology of early-onset major depressive disorder,” they added in their report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Psychiatry. “The most common major risk factor for early-onset major depressive disorder is depression in a parent.” The Cardiff team followed 337 families in which one parent, usually the mother, had major depression. Depression can be genetic, so the children were considered to have some risk. It can be hard to study depression in families. The disorder itself can make people hard to reach or unable to answer surveys. And conditions that can fuel depression — unemployment, uncertainty and instability — make it hard to follow families consistently. The Cardiff team was able to follow the families for four years, regularly interviewing parents and children. Over those four years, 20 children developed major depression, on average at age 14. The team used standard definitions of depression, which requires the patients to have at least five symptoms, including persistent low mood, irritability and loss of interest in normal activities.