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Hot & Healthy April: Grilled Chicken Breast with Avocado Salsa

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Hot & Healthy April: Grilled Chicken Breast with Avocado Salsa

Let the avocado salsa sit for a while to add flavor

We’ve finally made it to summer again. After all the classes, projects and finals, why not relax by making yourself a nice meal? Okay so for a lot of you this doesn’t sound relaxing, but maybe tuck this recipe aside and make it sometime after you de-stress. It’s a great meal to kick off summer.

Unlike last month’s dish, I did this one all by myself and I didn’t screw anything up. That means it’s pretty easy, because even after months of cooking food I’m still not the greatest. But if you can chop things up and grill some chicken, you will be just fine.

The ingredients you need are:

1 cup halved grape tomatoes

1/2 cup vertically sliced red onion

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

3/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 avocados, peeled and diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped

2 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce

2 teaspoons dark brown sugar

4 chicken breasts

Just a word of warning before you chop anything: do not, I repeat, DO NOT chop jalapeños without some sort of glove on. Jalapeño oil stays on your fingers for a very long time and I ended up getting it in my eyes. The CIA could invent a new form of torture called “jalapeño contacts,” I’m telling you. So do your best to avoid that issue all together.

That being said, the first part is easy. Combine the first nine ingredients into a large bowl and mix them up. Let this sit for a while so you get the best possible flavoring.

Grill the chicken breasts while coating them with the soy sauce-brown sugar mixture.

Next, mix together the soy sauce and the brown sugar until the brown sugar is dissolved. Put the chicken breasts on the grill and brush them with the soy sauce-brown sugar mixture as they cook. I used a George Foreman-type grill to grill my chicken breasts, but I’m sure cooking them on a real grill would be better (even though the George Foreman is a lean mean fat-reducing grilling machine, but whatever). I ended up making more of the sauce and adding it to the chicken, just to add more flavor.When those are grilled, you’re done! It’s really that easy, and this meal turns out to be healthy and tastes really fresh.I ended up making this meal for a bunch of my best friends, and I have to say that food tastes better with people you love. More than anything else while writing this column, I’ve learned that cooking isn’t all about making something delicious, but about the joy that is created when you finally finish cooking a dish, the laughter that comes when you fail and the conversation that happens over a good plate of food. So have a good summer MSU, and thanks for great times, bad dishes, good friends and good food.

Bon appetit!

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The Controversy Behind “Tiger Moms”

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The Controversy Behind “Tiger Moms”

By Courtney Rivette

What are your favorite memories about being a kid? Attending sleepovers, having play dates, being in a school play, chilling out with TV or computer games? Yale professor Amy Chua’s children were allowed to do none of these things. A self-proclaimed “Tiger Mom,” Chua has written a memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, that has brought extreme parenting styles into the public eye.

Chua has received much criticism for her extreme Chinese parenting approach where she pushed her children to be the best. Her children couldn’t choose their own extracurricular activities, get any grade less than an “A,” not be the number one student in every subject except gym and drama or play any instrument other than the piano or violin. Despite the long list of banned activities, Chua’s children grew up to be successful – one of her daughters was recently admitted to Harvard.

As the book continues to fuel controversy throughout the nation, an MSU professor is researching the effects of strict parenting styles on mental health.

Photo Credit: Jenna Chabot

Desiree Boalian Qin, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, has been researching the effects of different parenting styles on Chinese-American students as compared to their white counterparts, and has found that Chinese-American students often suffer from mental health problems.

Qin’s Research

Qin’s research was conducted in a variety of high achieving and prestigious high schools located on the East Coast using a mixed-method study of surveys and in-depth interviews. The study included both Asian-American and European-American students.

“They all do very well educationally, but we do find that when parents pester their kids a lot and when they have a lot of conflicts at home about education, then children feel more alienated from their parents,” Qin said. “That in turn will lead to higher levels of depression and lower levels of self-esteem and more anxiety reported by the Chinese students.”

Qin said she was surprised to learn that education created conflicts between some of the students and parents in the schools she studied.

“They already beat 90 percent of their peers to get into the school, they were already the best students, high achieving, doing great, and I was surprised that education was such a big conflict and issue at home,” Qin said. “In general, students in these schools sleep four or five hours a night and each time they get their GPA they calculate it to the tenth decimal point. There is so much competition in the school and so much stress. It is such a pressure cooker environment – they get pressure from their parents and from their teachers.”

Qin’s work was modeled on the idea of the “model minority”, a term that refers to a minority – ethnic, racial, or religious – whose members achieve a higher degree of success than the population average. Success is typically measured in income, education, and related factors such as low crime rate and high family stability. In the United States, the model minority is often associated with the Asian culture and its high educational achievement.

“A lot of these kids, Chinese American and other Asian American kids, their mental health is ignored because we focus so much on their achievement,” Qin said. “There is this façade that everything is going well; they are performing so well educationally, therefore, everything at home and their mental health must be great too. It is assumed that if you are doing well academically then you must be feeling good, and in my own research I find that is not always the case.”

Qin & Chua’s Ideas on Parenting

Despite connections drawn by the media between Chua’s book and Qin’s research, Qin said that they really don’t relate.

“My research has nothing to do with professor Chua’s book,” Qin said. “I’m sure she is a brilliant law professor, but the book is purely anecdotal about one mother raising two children. It is not research or based on anything scientific, therefore, it is very difficult to challenge.”

Qin was born in a small village in northern China and and came to the United States when she was 24 years old. She did her doctorate studies at Harvard Graduate School of Education and did two years of post-doctoral work at New York University and Columbia. She began working at MSU in 2006.

Qin received both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in English from Heilongjiang University in China. She often tutored students on the side and noticed students struggling with a wide spectrum of negative emotions, including sadness, anxiety, anger, depression and guilt.

“I felt at the time there was a psychological struggle, although there wasn’t a lot of research or counselors and psychologists working with youth in China during that time,” Qin said. “I think that really led me to my interest in working with youth and families and working with mental health.”

Western vs. Chinese Parenting

Chua’s book has sparked debate about the positive and negative effects of both “Chinese” and “Western” parenting.  Loosely defined, Western parents are said to be more lenient and relaxed in their parenting methods whereas Chinese parents are said to be more strict and demanding of academic success.  Chua and Qin, both Chinese mothers, have differing views on the subject.

“In a lot of ways it is impossible to categorize ‘Western parenting’ and ‘Chinese parenting’ because parenting varies so much and depends on a variety of factors,” Qin said. “I’m a mother of two girls, and parenting is one of the hardest things I have ever done – you have to be consistent, and it takes a lot of work. I think all parents are in the same boat in that we all want the same things for our children, and I do think that the debate or controversy generated by Amy Chua’s book at least got us to talk about parenting.”

According to a Time magazine interview, Chua said that Western parents are often more concerned with their children’s “psyches and self-esteem” whereas Chinese immigrant parents “assume strength rather than fragility” in their children.

“It’s much less deferring to the child’s wishes,” Chua said in the interview. “The westerners want to respect their child’s individuality and to pursue their passion and to provide positive reinforcement. The Chinese are much more comfortable overriding their children’s preferences.”

Qin agrees the Chinese parents usually do have higher expectations for their children.

“I think that if you look at research, Chinese parents generally have higher expectations than other parents,” Qin said. “But, I know plenty of Chinese parents who are very lenient and very democratic, and I have also known many American parents who are very strict, very involved, and really expecting a lot from their kids.”

Qin worries that some people will look to the book as a parenting guide when they see that Chua’s oldest daughter was accepted to Harvard. She said she hope that it doesn’t encourage parents to push their children to be successful regardless of the costs.

“I think some of the findings from our research projects do send a cautionary note against this whole idea that you can push your child to succeed academically at all costs, and encouraging parents to do that,” Qin said. “I think that can be misleading and very damaging for children and their mental health.”

Nan Ma, a first-year business graduate student from China has seen the negative effects that Qin describes – she has a friend in China who suffered from mental health problems which Ma believes are a result of strict parenting.

“She is a very outstanding student, very successful academically and she got the number one position in the national entrance examination,” Ma said.

The entrance exam is an extremely difficult and competitive test that all Chinese students planning to enroll in college must take. Ma said that many students spend all of their time studying for the test, and then find themselves lost when they get to the university level because learning is structured in a different way.

“She enrolled in the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which is a very hard school for mainland students to get into,” Ma said. “She suffered from mental health problems during her first year in the university and dropped out. This included a suicide attempt.”

Ma said she has an idea of what led to the all of the stress.

“I know her father is a university teacher and he is very smart, but didn’t achieve all of the accomplishments he wanted,” Ma said. “I think he put all of his expectations on her. Her father is very strict and he prevented her from having contact with friends or having social events. She really didn’t have many friends.”

Although Qin’s research is based only on Chinese-American immigrant parents, Ma said that tiger parents are common in China.

“The style of the tiger mom is very common in China, but it is just an extreme example and not all parents behave like that,” Ma said. “It is true that parents usually have very high expectations of their children. Normally parents live a very hard life themselves and they give everything to their children; they want their children to pay them back with their academic success.”

Chinese students spend more time in school than American students, Ma said. She described her school day starting at 5:30 a.m. and ending around 9:30 p.m. with short breaks for lunch and dinner throughout the day. She said the atmosphere was much different when she went to college in China and when she came to America.

Ma grew up in East China, between Beijing and Shanghai. She said she grew up in a “relatively loose environment.”

“My parents are also university professors and they have very high expectations for me, but they never pushed me,” she said.

When it came time to choose a college major, Ma said her parents let her decide what she wanted.

“My mom is an accounting professor and she wanted me to choose economics or accounting as my major,” Ma explained. “She thought it was a better major to find a job or future career and also said she could help me. But, I liked journalism at that time and they didn’t push me. I still chose journalism.

“Some parents won’t let their children make their own choices,” she added.

Qin had similar things to say regarding students from Chinese families entering college.

“They get to college, they are doing something their parents want them to do, they are in a major their parents chose for them and they may not be that interested or passionate about it,” Qin said.

The Future

The results of Qin’s research suggest that both Chinese and Western parents have room to improve in the area of mental health. Qin said she wants to make parents, teachers, counselors and other school staff members aware of challenges kids face, particularly those with immigrant backgrounds.

“Instead of just saying ‘Okay, they are really great, we don’t need to do anything to help them,’ I think my work is trying to say ‘No, even though these kids are high achieving they still need support,’” Qin said. “There are things the school can do to support the kids better and there are things that parents can do better to really pay more attention to their mental health.”

The results of Qin’s research will be published later this year and she already has ideas for what she wants to do next.

“I look forward to doing this type of study in Asia, in China, and in other places looking at high achieving kids, their mental health, and parenting,” she said.

Ma also has ideas for her future parenting methods.

“I definitely won’t be a tiger mom,” Ma said. “I think my personality is quite easy-going and I think if I have kids they should be very independent. I would tell them what are relatively good study methods for them to get better scores, but I won’t push them.”

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High School Relationships Surviving College

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High School Relationships Surviving College

Unless you’re watching one of the “Twilight” movies or listening to a Taylor Swift song, you probably think the idea of having a very serious relationship while in high school is only slightly less realistic than having one in middle school.

Even less realistic is the idea of taking a high school relationship and transitioning into college. Many people claim that by the time you take your fist mid-term exam in college, your high school relationship will be over. Wanting to meet new people and try new things are often the motivations behind these break ups.

Not all love is lost for college relationships. There are college students that believe it can work and have made it work.

Kelcie Ebbitt and boyfriend Jeff Cain.

Elementary education senior Kelcie Ebbitt has been with her high school sweetheart, Jeff Cain, for almost four years. Ebbitt said that the transition to college didn’t hurt their relationship; it strengthened it.

“If anything, college has given us more opportunity to get to know each other,” she said. “We have come so far since high school, and staying strong has never been an issue for the two of us. We have been able to support each other through things such as changing majors, not getting or getting jobs and just generally experiencing life together.”

Cain, a physics and materials science and engineering senior, said that it was easier to maintain his relationship while in college in comparison to high school.

“The freedom that comes with college translated to more freedom in our relationship,” said Cain. “We can see each other whenever we want to and for however long we want to.”

One thing to keep in mind is that Ebbitt and Cain both go to the same college, which is a very important factor in maintaining their relationship and a luxury that many college relationships don’t have.

“Distance can be an issue depending on the newness of the relationship and whether the couple has established intimacies and commitments,” said Dennis Martell, health education services coordinator for Olin Health Center. “Before, you were able to see this person everyday, and now you may be lucky to see him/her once a month.”

Martell said trying to find a balance between academics, new friends, old friends, a partner, family and extracurricular activities is only part of the difficulty of this type of transition.

Martell, who has expertise in student health issues such as student wellness, student transition to college and sexual behavior, said distance between couples can potentially cause relationship-ending problems.

Jenna Otting and her boyfriend Scott.

Jenna Otting, a communications junior with a specialization in public relations and health promotions, is familiar with the problems that Martell described. She has been with her boyfriend, Scott, for nearly three years; however, her boyfriend is a full year in college below her and he goes to a college a few hours away.

“My boyfriend and I do not attend the same college,” said Otting. “I think this makes a big impact because when we went to the same high school, we were able to hang out almost every day. It’s really strange to switch so suddenly to seeing each other once a month.”

Martell said that many people transitioning into college relationships face obstacles because the experience is different than what they’re used to at home. “The individual going to college tends to be going through many transitions that tend to impact relationships that existed before they chose to go,” Martell said. He/she may not have the same views, beliefs, values, thoughts or opinions as before. This can cause conflict with the other partner.”

Even with these obstacles, Otting remained optimistic.

“This isn’t always a bad thing,” said Otting. “It gives you space and helps you meet new people by you not always having one another to fall back on. It also forces you to make an effort which reinforces that you truly care about one another. If you are committed enough to your relationship and stay positive, it can work out just fine.”

Martell said that while relationship experts don’t exactly know what makes a relationship last, what they do know and believe is that overall relationships that can endure tremendous transitions have something going for them and usually will last longer.

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