June 8, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers! Research confirms what parents already know: Lullabys really do put children to sleep. A glimpse into the lives of LBGTQ teens’ shows that they are immeasurably better than decades past, but still at grave risk for suicidal feelings. And mental health support is coming for all children in New Orleans schools.

Also in this edition, a look at a riveting New York Times Magazine story about public housing in Vienna (who knew?) that rivals the best apartment complexes in the United States and is open to people whose incomes range from poor to upper-middle class. Imagine raising your kids in a place where you’re paying little more than 3% of your income on housing. Plus: Parakeets and parental stress.

“A lullaby really can work magic. Science tells us why and how,” NPR reports

NPR reporter Selena Simmons-Duffin still uses lullabies to soothe her 8 year old to sleep—because they work. “Sleep, sleep, sleepyhead. Sleep, sleep, snuggle in your bed. I will keep you safe and warm so sleep, sleep, sleepyhead,” she sang, putting her daughter to sleep in just 90 seconds. “It makes me feel like I have a superpower,” Simmons-Duffin said. If it’s not a superpower, it’s definitely a parental super tool. “If you think of a child’s thoughts as racing and the mother or whoever comes in and sings slowly, rhythmically, it’s going to slow their thoughts and then basically they’re going to lull themselves into sleep,” said Tiffany Field, a researcher on the pediatrics faculty at the University of Miami. 

Parents don’t even have to be very good singers or musicians for lullabies to work; Field pointed to intriguing studies on music and sleep conducted on prematurely born infants who listened to Mozart and their mother’s singing, plus a control group that was not exposed to any music. “What they found was that the mothers’ lullabies were more soothing to the infants,” Field said. “They slept better, but they also showed a lot of the effects of decreased heart rate and respiration, better feeding, which probably explains why they had fewer days in the neonatal intensive care unit and their mothers’ anxiety was reduced.”

Other studies found that babies even preferred lullabies to other music when sung in languages they couldn’t understand. Sam Mehr, who studies the psychology of music at the University of Auckland, said that it’s likely because infants can sense when a song is intended specifically for their comfort. “The fact that you’re singing a lullaby when the baby’s upset, you’re not doing some other thing like that – the baby can tell that you’re doing only that,” Mehr said.

A glimpse into the everyday lives of LGBTQ teens in America

In some ways, it’s a easier being an LGBTQ teen today than it was thirty years ago. In the most practical sense, just going to school isn’t as much of a universal burden. High schools in every region across the country host dances where students arrive with dates of the same gender, more places offer gender neutral bathrooms for nonbinary people, and more youth openly identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or otherwise queer. “This is what young people teach us: Change can happen as quickly as a generation,” University of Texas sociologist Stephen T. Russell told the New York Times

It’s hardly all rainbows, though. “The moment we’re in is so scary in terms of the mental health crisis,” Russell said. While acceptance has grown, a number of conservative states are now pushing laws that suggest being gay is something to keep secret and harassing school librarians for carrying books involving gay themes; in Florida, an elementary school teacher was investigated for showing an animated Disney movie with a gay character. LGBTQ youth show higher rates of mental health challenges than their heterosexual peers. Data from the CDC shows that 70 percent of gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth say they experience persistent sadness, and one in five attempted suicide within the past 12 months—a rate four times that of their heterosexual peers. 

The CDC doesn’t currently track mental health data for trans youth, but recent data from the Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth, reports that nearly half of trans youth considered suicide in the past year. Further, the LA Times reports that dozens of anti-trans laws have been passed across multiple states this year. “It’s stuff that teenagers shouldn’t have to be worrying about on top of all the other stuff we already have to worry about,” Reese Whisnant, a 2023 graduate of Topeka High in Kansas, told the New York Times. “Being queer and being happy about it is something that’s so normal.”

In New Orleans, mental health support will soon be available to all public school students

The City of New Orleans is putting a sizable chunk of its remaining American Rescue Plan dollars toward mental health services for students in New Orleans public schools: $10 million dollars will be distributed over the next three years to expand the ThriveKids Student Wellness Program to reach 100,000 students in 160 schools across Louisiana’s Orleans and Jefferson parishes. The program currently serves 45,000 students in 80 schools, mostly in Jefferson Parish, NOLA.com reports. “If we want a healthy city and we want to grow our economy, we need to educate our children. And to educate our children, they need to be in school, and to be in school they need to be healthy,” said Greg Feirn, CEO of LCMC Health, the parent of Children’s Hospital New Orleans, which runs the program. “That’s what this is all about.”

NOLA public school superintendent Avis Williams said students’ well-being is a top priority and is optimistic about the outcome. “It will have a significant impact on the mental as well as the physical well-being of our scholars,” she said, “and that’s all needed as our scholars navigate our community and deal with the violence within our community.”

In other news…

What if our public housing was as beautiful, safe and affordable as Vienna’s, where 80% of the city’s residents qualify for it? Visit this exquisitely written and photographed story, a tour de force from the New York Times Magazine called “Imagine a Renter’s Utopia. It Might Look Like Vienna.

With high mortgages and soaring rents in many parts of the US, just imagine the mental health benefits of paying little more than 3% of your income on housing — public or limited profit housing for residents diverse in both ethnicity and income and that typically offers swimming pools, artwork and beautiful courtyard parks and playgrounds as big as two football fields combined where your children can play all day. Some immigrant residents recall incidents of racism, but felt that their overall housing experience was good. As the story’s author Francesca Mari says, “Once you have a [Vienna public housing] contract, it never expires…Housing expense has been a staggering burden for so many of us, for so long that it’s hard to even contemplate what it would mean to have it recede in our minds.” (We may explore the story further in our Monday newsletter, so stay tuned.)

Parrots tend to do everything together, but when kept as single pets, they show signs of isolation and loneliness. So, scientists taught them how to video call one another. Researchers from Northeastern University, the University of Glasgow, and MIT report that pet parrots who learned to initiate video calls with one another showed evidence of positive experiences, reported Smithsonian Magazine. They even forged new friendships. “Some would sing, some would play around and go upside down, others would want to show another bird their toys,” researcher Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas said. (A MindSite News editor with parakeets says mirrors will also work in a pinch, but it’s best to look for a companion budgie.)

Parenting can be stressful, so don’t make it harder on yourself by helicoptering. While children need support, Fatherly reports that being a heavy-handed parent inhibits children’s self-determination, including necessary coping and organizational  skills to function as adults. “Finding balance is key,” said infant attachment expert Susan Woodhouse of Leigh University CARE lab, who urges parents not to stress out over every developmental milestone. “The more relaxed you are, the better. If you’re anxious, that’s anxiety-provoking. The less worried you are about being an exceptional parent, the more exceptional you can be.”

Speaking of parental stress, how can we deal with parental burnout? UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center encourages us to first accept that raising children can be super hard. In this first-person essay, author Kendra Wilde gives six tips that helped her get through her post=pandemic burnout and exhaustion. Among them: Make an effort to be the very best parent you can be, but accept your personal limitations. Your limits are where ‘it takes a village’ checks in; the old adage exists for a reason. 

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. Services are free and available 24/7.

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Type of work:

Courtney Wise Randolph is a native Detroiter and freelance writer. She is the host of COVID Diaries: Stories of Resilience, a 2020 project between WDET and Documenting Detroit which won an Edward R. Murrow...