For Short Kids, No Lack of Self-Esteem

MONDAY Aug. 17, 2009 -- For parents who worry that their short child will be psychologically damaged from merciless teasing, a new study provides reassurance that there will likely be no lasting effects from any exposure to short jokes.

The study, which appears in the September issue of Pediatrics, found that short children reported being teased only slightly more than their peers, but such teasing didn't appear to affect their popularity or relationships with other children. And, short children were no more likely than their peers to have symptoms of depression.

"The gist of our study is that parents and pediatricians should be reassured by this," said study author Dr. Joyce Lee, an assistant professor in pediatric endocrinology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. "For kids below the 10th percentile [on standardized growth charts], there didn't seem to be any significant outcomes in terms of popularity or in peer victimization reported by the teachers."

Lee and her colleagues undertook this study because many parents are concerned when their children fail to grow at a similar pace to their peers. Once medical conditions have been ruled out, parents often worry that being significantly shorter than other children the same age will have lasting social or psychological effects on their youngsters, according to the study.

This concern may prompt parents to ask that their children be given growth hormones, even when not medically indicated.

Lee's study included 712 sixth-graders who were part of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development's Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. The data included information from both teachers' and children's perceptions of peer victimization or teasing. It also included measures of depression, optimism, popularity and social support from peers.

According to Lee, the researchers found there were really no differences between short children and taller ones. The one factor where shorter children scored slightly higher was in the self-report of peer victimization. However, the teachers indicated no difference in peer victimization.

Lee said that teachers might miss out on some of the teasing, or that children might focus more on teasing. Also, short children may feel as if they're being picked on solely because of their height. The good news, however, is that even with slightly higher levels of reported teasing, the shorter kids were still just as popular and had support from their peers, and didn't appear depressed or less optimistic due to taunts.

As children get older, say in seventh or eighth grade, young teens may have a harder time if they're smaller, Lee said. "Adolescence is a particular time when you have a lot of differences in growth, and one might predict it would be a little more difficult time if you're of short stature," she noted.

Dr. Jennifer Helmcamp, a pediatrician at Scott & White Healthcare in Temple, Texas, said she thought the new study "is a very helpful article for parents. It shows that even when teased, all children pretty much come out the same for levels of popularity, acceptance by peers and behavioral problems."

Helmcamp explained that there are three types of short stature: familial, constitutional and systemic. Familial is the height passed down by your parents. If both parents are short, then it's likely the child will be too. Constitutional is when kids are late-bloomers, and they may not get a significant growth spurt until the end of high school. Systemic is when there are medical reasons for short stature, and these often can be treated, she said.

"If you've got familial or constitutional short stature, you can be reassured that social outcomes will be on par," Helmcamp said.

If you're at all concerned about your child's height, Helmcamp said you should discuss it with your child's pediatrician, who can let you know whether or not your child needs further evaluation.

More information

Learn more about possible causes of short stature from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Posted: August 2009


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