The University Record, April 3, 1995

Researchers present findings at child development meeting

Researchers present findings at child development meeting

By Diane Swanbrow
News and Information Services

Several U-M researchers presented their latest research findings on children from infancy to late adolescence at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, held March 30—April 2 in Indianapolis.

The research projects included:

  • Friends of the opposite sex: In grade school, girls play with girls, boys play with boys and the twain seldom meet. Only 21 of 723 third- and fourth-graders studied by psychologist Jeffrey Parker and colleagues said their best friends were members of the opposite sex. These children did less well academically and were less popular with peers than all but one other group of classmates&emdash;children who said they had no friends at all. Another 60 children had friends of both genders. "These kids were like peer leaders in some ways," Parksr says. "They were somewhat iconoclastic, but they had high self-esteem and were well-regarded socially and academically. Because cross-sex friendships are so unusual in childhood, we tend to think they're unhealthy." But another school of thought suggests that more cross-gender friendships in childhood will lead to better long-term communication between males and females.

  • What teen-age boys have in common with middle-aged women: Women usually have larger social networks than do men of the same age, according to psychologist Toni Antonucci. Teen-age boys are the exception, with 10 people in their circle of friends, compared with only 8 for teen-age girls. Mid-life women have the fullest social lives of any group, with an average of 12 people in their social network compared with 10 for mid-life men. Antonucci's findings are based on a random sample of 1,703 Detroit-area residents between the ages of 8 and 93. While a growing body of research documents the positive effects of social relations, Antonucci finds that for mid-life women, already stretched thin juggling family and job, a large social circle may be too much of a good thing. "The more people women have in their inner circle," she says, "the unhappier they tend to be."

  • To live at home or not to live at home: For young adults, that isn't really the question, according to psychologists Connie Flanagan and Eric Anderman. They studied 192 college students who lived at home with mom and dad while others their age were getting their first taste of adult independence in campus apartments or dorms. Some of the students who lived at home had more psychological problems than others, they found. What the maladjusted undergrads had in common was that their parents had pressured them to live at home and allowed them very little autonomy and independence. "These parents gave their sons and daughters very little breathing space," Flanagan says. Undergrads who lived at home because they wanted to, for reasons that included convenience and money, and who came and went pretty much as they pleased, were much better adjusted psychologically, even though their parents may have wanted them to move out.

  • The war within the family: More than three million U.S. children growing up in violent homes are at high risk of developing an array of behavior disorders and psychological effects, from elevated levels of anxiety and stress to depression and low self-esteem. But psychologist Sandra Graham-Bermann reports that children who have a positive relationship with a friend, sibling, relative or teacher do better than children who are isolated, trapped within the war-zone that is their family. "In the war within the family, the injuries are many, and they're psychological as well as physical," says Graham-Bermann, who chaired an SRCD symposium on the impact of domestic violence on children and parenting. "Emotional abuse, coercion and various kinds of stress often accompany physical violence."

  • Graham-Bermann recently received a $400,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Injury Prevention to study the effectiveness of a 10-week intervention program she developed for battered mothers and their children.
  • Who's been sleeping in the family bed? Japanese children and African American children are more than three times as likely to sleep with their parents as white American children ages six months to four years, according to pediatrician Betsy Lozoff, director of the Center for Human Growth and Development. Lozoff and colleagues conducted cross-cultural studies of co-sleeping and other sleep practices among families with young children in the United States, Italy and Japan. They found that 58 percent of the Japanese and African American children studied slept with their parents three or more nights a week, compared with 42 percent of the Italians, 19 percent of the white U.S. children overall and just 16 percent of white children who were breast-fed for six months or more. Lozoff and colleagues believe these differences in sleep practices reflect the varying emphases different cultures place on independence vs. interpersonal connectedness.