upset teen

By Davi Stein-Kiley, Director of Social Work, Courier & Press, Nov. 24, 2015 –

His face was determined, discouraged. He had written a letter saying goodbye to his family, telling them how much he loved them. He had given his dog a hug and said goodbye. He was ready, he said.

He had dyed his jet-black hair blonde and adopted the habit of frequent porn usage,  which infuriated his parents and was hard for him to quit. He lied and stole money. His parents were confused and frustrated, trying to provide love and limits but not gaining any ground.

He was 16, and he had had enough of this life. In the midst of all the conflict, he decided suicide was his best option.

His parents found the note and brought him to the agency I worked for. I asked him what would help him know if life was worth living. He was puzzled but answered, “When things go right.” I asked, “What will tell you when things are going right?”

We sat quietly for a time just listening to our breathing, and the air hung heavily. We spoke of happier times in his life — when he was smaller, when he got his dog, when he and his family went on vacations. We talked about his dreams of owning a motorcycle and having children of his own.

He shared that he felt closed off from his family. He admitted most of that was his own doing. He wanted something different but wasn’t sure where to begin.

When teens struggle, adults can grow weary of finding the right support. In this case, the parents sought outside counseling.

Teens often experiment with risk-taking behaviors — drug and alcohol use, early sexual activity, porn use. Risky choices can yield pain and embarrassment, and many teens prematurely decide suicide is the best way out. This is both tragic and preventable.

We want to keep young people from becoming isolated, lonely and depressed. Parents and caregivers should watch for signs that indicate it’s time for help.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) identified strong risk factors for teen suicide as depression, alcohol or drug abuse and aggressive, disruptive behaviors. Ninety percent of individuals who attempt suicide have either depression or substance abuse diagnoses.

One in five teens will seriously think about committing suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Additional factors include family loss, divorce adjustment, dating violence, history of physical or sexual abuse, unplanned pregnancy, sexual orientation confusion and bullying at school.

Suicidal teens often feel hopeless and rejected. They are very vulnerable when there has been a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, an intense argument with parents or some form of humiliation such as not making the team or poor grades. These issues are often hard to uncover, and often professional assistance is needed for a deeper dive into these waters with teens.

Feelings of anger and resentment and the inability to see beyond a temporary situation often lead to suicidal attempts, according to the National Mental Health Association.

What can we do? If any of the concerns listed here resonate with your family, seek assistance right away. Your teen may not be excited about going to a professional, but it sends a message that you are concerned and care. Find time to listen and help teens get counseling when they are discouraged and down. Often the presence of a neutral adult family friend or mentor can provide much-needed listening when times are tense.

When we met again, he said, “I must have really scared you. I didn’t really want to die; I just wasn’t sure what to do.”

Need help with your teen? Visit and look for a Youth First Social Worker at your school. Call 1-800-273-8255, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, for additional help.

Child meditating

By Amy Steele, Courier & Press, Nov. 17, 2015 –

There are so many things to teach our kids; sometimes it can be overwhelming. One sure thing in life is that it won’t always be easy. So one of the best things to teach them is how to cope when things are hard or don’t go their way. We won’t always be there to fix things for them. It is important that they learn healthy ways to cope when life gets hard.

Labeling feelings such as sad, mad, happy, scared, worried, etc. and talking to someone about those feelings is a very valuable way of coping. This skill is useful when children are having trouble with appropriate ways to handle their anger, worry, fear, anxiety or sadness.

If a child can state how they feel and have a loving, trusted adult validate and accept that feeling — even by just saying, “You feel sad” — it goes a long way in helping a child cope in a healthy manner.

Another important coping skill is teaching children appropriate ways to let their feelings out. We see daily in our society that people do not know healthy ways to release anger. Instead they turn to violence, retaliation or even taking it out on themselves or innocent people.

Others choose to “stuff” or repress their feelings, which is not a healthy way to deal with feelings either. Talking writing and drawing about feelings; punching a pillow and exercising are just a few healthy ways to get emotions out.

Mindfulness skills (intentionally living with awareness in the present moment) and relaxation skills (ways to calm down when worked up over feelings such as anger, anxiety, fear, sadness, hyperactivity or worry) are great coping skills.

In mindfulness the child only needs to experience right now, not what they wish was different about the past or their excitement, worries or fears about the future. This can be freeing for a stressed mind and body.

Through relaxation techniques children can focus on their breathing and slow it down by blowing bubbles, closing their eyes and imagining with all 5 senses a place where they feel happy, safe, carefree and relaxed. There are apps online that can guide children and adults through peaceful music or guided talks to calm their mind, quiet their thoughts, and slow their breath.

These techniques can be excellent bedtime routines or can be used anytime. With practice, children and adults alike can call on these peaceful feelings during the day when they feel overwhelmed.

Positive affirmations are statements children say over and over to keep their mind on track, motivated and moving in the right direction. Children can repeat things like, “I can do this,” “I am capable,” “This isn’t so bad,” “I am strong enough,” “I am good enough” or “I have gotten through worse.” Dory’s well known mantra from the Finding Nemo movie, “Just keep swimming,” is also a good one. Thinking positively is a great way to cope.

Coping skills are so important in the daily challenge of growing up. When practiced and applied often they can be life changing. If they are already a part of a child’s automatic skill set when real hardship and difficult challenges occur, they can be lifesaving!

Mother and son

By Jacob Jewell, College Student Volunteer, Courier & Press, Nov. 10, 2015 –

Over the last several months, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to grow up. Mom was right: it’s not always going to be easy.

I distinctly remember when she first told me this. I was 14 years old and dismissed her with a special kind of certainty that is incredibly rare outside of adolescence.

“No, no, no,” I thought. “The world’s problems will not affect me. I have foresight.” Reassuring myself, I added, “Good things happen to good people, especially those who help themselves.” Oh boy, did I have it all figured out.

A lot has changed for me since then, both circumstantially and perceptually. Last February, just after beginning my second semester away at college, I started having seizures, stemming from a relatively small, noncancerous tumor in the temporal lobe of my brain.

Dog lovers everywhere have told me not to worry about it. Their dogs have epilepsy, and they are fine. Whew.

Since the tumor is noncancerous and isn’t presently growing, right now it is more of an inconvenience than anything devastating. When I first got the news of the tumor, however, there were several unknowns surrounding the related prognosis. Needless to say, I was pretty shocked.

I’m fine now, but this was an incredibly eye-opening experience for me, considering that it could have happened to anyone and been far worse.

On top of that, I realized that everyone will have to face something equally scary or worse involving themselves or a loved one. These things are an unnerving consequence of life. Everyone will face an obstacle at some point in life and need somebody to lean on, whether he or she is a friend, relative or fellow community member.

This understanding is beautifully unifying, bringing together people of all groups. It necessitates philanthropy by emphasizing the genuine interdependence of our community.

No one can stand alone in the face of life’s varied, adverse circumstances. As a people, we are all in this together, and our ability to understand, articulate, and act on our unified causes is one of the defining characteristics of being human, of occupying a society.

Being an active community member is about understanding that roles do change. People fall on hard times. At their best, people take when they need to and give back when they can. They are united in their philanthropic causes and understanding that anyone can be down on their luck — an idea that had once, not that long ago, honestly and embarrassingly evaded me.

Furthermore, being an active community member is about giving energy back into your community, all with the shared ability to use these communal resources, tools and programs since the need to do so can suddenly arise for anyone.

This unity makes community organizations like Youth First invaluable since such groups plug young children and teenagers into strong social networks to help them deal with the speed bumps that pepper life throughout its course.

From a young age, the children of this network receive foundational lessons to last a lifetime, gaining wisdom along the way. The positive role models of such organizations teach our city’s youth the importance of reciprocal giving and judicious taking, the art that builds a strong community.

Kate's Keep Trying Mom Picture

By Parri Black, Courier & Press, Nov. 3, 2015 –

We’ve all had one of those days when nothing goes right and everything goes wrong.

My niece — the mother of three children ages 2, 4 and 6 — had “one of those days” this summer, but thankfully, it ended with some profound words of wisdom.

It was the first day of summer, a time to relax, or so she thought. No rushing around to get ready and dash out the door to school, day care and work.

However, this moment of bliss quickly turned into a series of trying events, lengthy work-related phone calls and simultaneous knocks at the door, all the while Mom was still in her pajamas and trying to keep the kids entertained.

Then the toddler locked herself in the house while everyone else was outside, so Dad had to come home and save the day, but it wasn’t over yet.

This same adorable child decided to throw an hour long temper tantrum because she was dressed in the “wrong clothes” to walk the dog.

Just before bedtime, the sensitive big sister came to the rescue with an amazing gift for her frazzled mom.

She created a masterpiece with magic markers, a sign simply reading: “Keep Trying Mom.”

This 6-year-old’s sweet gesture illustrates how well she has already grasped at least two important life skills.

The first is the power of persistence, or as the proverb says, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.”

There’s a reason why tenacity is the theme of many children’s books such as “The Little Engine That Could.” Now often referred to as “grit,” this is one of the characteristics that can predict success in school and in life.

Another vital social skill is the one that motivated her message in the first place — empathy. She could tell mom needed some encouragement after a very bad day.

With the words “Keep Trying Mom,” she was also communicating how much she cared. Researchers say children as young as one or two can demonstrate empathy by acting in a caring way toward others.

Good parents start instilling these life lessons early, not only by what they say but also by what they do. Children need love and limits, a home environment that provides discipline and guidance with a healthy dose of understanding and kindness.

Studies have linked the lack of empathy in children to bullying and other disruptive behaviors as well as juvenile delinquency, so it’s a very important skill to cultivate.

Caring, compassionate parents usually raise caring, compassionate children, but teachers and mentors can also help children practice and develop their concern for others.

Friends recently shared a great example of empathy turned into action when their middle school daughter noticed a fellow student who had few friends and low self-esteem.

On her own, she decided to help by quietly sending a daily text message to her classmate. They were positive affirmations like,”Your new shoes are cute,” or “Great job on your science project.”

She sent a text every day without fail for months, a simple act of compassion that buoyed the spirits of another child.

When my friends later learned about their daughter’s initiative, they were amazed, grateful and no doubt, proud.

Just as parents encourage empathy in their kids, kindhearted children can also inspire compassion in adults.