In late October, a study five years in the making was unveiled at the New Orleans American Academy of Pediatrics Nation Conference.
The study, based in the Borderland, was the brainchild of Dr. Marie Leiner, a research associate professor at the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine.
The study unveiled disturbing patterns in children without a history of psychosocial or behavioral problems. In El Paso, Hispanic children who lived in poverty didn’t see a change between 2007-2010, but children in Mexico exhibited significant increases in social problems, rule-breaking and aggressive behavior.
For more than a decade Dr. Leiner has thrown herself into research focusing on violence. Her work isn’t just about research, it’s about searching for answers following her own family's touch with violence.
In 1999, Leiner’s soon-to-be son-in-law was murdered by two teenagers. According to news reports in Albuquerque, N.M., the teens killed two men in an apartment because they wanted to take a car for a ride.
“I think instead of being completely depressed, I decided I would dedicate many years of my life to understand why children become violent,” said Leiner.
Leiner doesn’t just say she wants to create change; she walks the walk, too. She’s created a cartoon series that is used in day cares in El Paso, Mexico and Brazil. The cartoons follow a character named Didi. When Didi sees something bad happening, she becomes a superhero, stopping the story and allowing adults to discuss issues raised by the story.
The books, and DVDs that accompany them, raise many issues. Stories are short and meant to apply directly to issues children are having: hitting each other, screaming, talking back to adults.
Leiner gives demonstrations all over the El Paso community to teach people how to use her books. They’re made available through grants by WorkForce Solutions of the Rio Grande Valley and Kohl’s Cares for Kids, both of whom given Leiner grant money. The books, and DVDs, are made for daycares and parents.
Parents and daycare supervisors have reached out to Leiner in person, and in writing. She has dozens of stories about children who’ve become their own crusaders, even yelling Super Didi’s signature catch phrase: “Wait a minute, wait a minute!!!” each time they see issues in their own lives.
“That’s good because they’re taking the actions on of the hero in this case,” said Leiner.
Leiner is quick to say her work won’t stop trends of violence in children, however, it’s one tools she’s glad to have worked on.
When her soon-to-be son-in-law died in 1999, the most shocking part to her was the age of the men responsible. She said they looked like any other children. Now she’s making an effort to stop other families from dealing with the same realization.
“You are never the same,” said Leiner. “My family has never been the same, but from something so negative came something so positive.”
Those interested in obtaining a copy of Leiner's educational books for day care centers, or parents, should contact the Center of Excellence for Neurosciences. It's part of Texas Tech's Paul L. Foster School of Medicine.