By Vicki Kirkman, LCSW, LCAC – Feb. 25, 2020

Everywhere you look you see people with their heads down staring at a bright screen, often consumed with the endless communication, information and entertainment that an electronic device provides.  Cell phones, tablets, smart watches and computers are everywhere! 

Kids and teenagers growing up in this digital age are learning how to use technology at a huge rate of speed.  When used appropriately, there are so many positive benefits that come with technology and using social media.  There are also many risks and potential harmful consequences to social media use.

The Oxford Reference defines social media as “websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.”  There are many social media platforms that teenagers use, but some of the most popular among that age group include Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, Tik Tok and Twitter. Facebook, Skype, Pinterest, Vine and Linked In are other popular social media sites that people of various age groups use.

One of the best benefits of social media is it allows people to easily stay connected through messaging, video chats or photographs.  It can provide opportunities to meet people from all areas of the world without even leaving the comfort of your own home.  Social media also provides so many platforms to express feelings, thoughts and opinions. It’s a great way to explore and learn more about various interests and stay informed about current events. Social media and technology can help someone develop or discover a community or support network too.

Along with the benefits of social media, risks and negative consequences can arise.  Too much social media use can result in lower interaction with family, friends, or co-workers.  Exposure to inappropriate content like violence and pornography is highly possible without the use of monitoring and parental control applications.  Inappropriate behavior such as bullying, slander, or sending/posting risky pictures can happen because a social media user has a false sense of security behind the screen.  Often people don’t consider that their digital footprint can last forever. 

Lack of sleep or interrupted sleep is another negative side effect of too much social media use.  Some people report feeling anxious or depressed after using social media. Pictures and stories often depict someone’s “best of the best” or “highlight reel.”  The pressure to keep posts engaging, picture-perfect and time-worthy can add to feelings of anxiety.  It is easy to start comparing your life to someone else’s digital life and feel down or not good enough. 

Young people have the ability to be in contact with friends all the time, thus leaving them with a sense of no privacy and “too connected” with peers.  Despite the constant ability to stay in contact, they can also feel lonely at the same time. Due to apps that share your location or show if a message has been read, it can be apparent if someone is ignoring or not including you.

Listed below are some good reminders about using social media and technology responsibly to make the most of the positive benefits it can offer.

  • Develop and tend to your real life relationships and experiences.
  • Take an honest self-assessment of your use. How much are you using social media and why?
  • Be yourself and be nice!
  • Set limits and take breaks. For example, no posting during homework time, shut phone off or keep in another room during sleeping hours, make “technology free” rules with peers and family members.
  • Don’t share your passwords with friends.
  • Learn about privacy settings and review them often.
  • Utilize social reporting policies and sites.
  • Always think before you post.
  • If you’re a parent, monitor and set limits for your children and teen’s social media use, have honest conversations about the benefits and risks, and model appropriate social media and technology use yourself.

By Teresa Mercer, LCSW, LCAC – Feb. 18, 2020

At some point most of us have probably lost some or all of our self-control. It may have involved our emotions, shopping, eating, or even something as simple as the urge to pop bubble wrap lying around.

Losing self-control can create a lot of problems with relationships, the legal system, the workplace, health, the school system, etc. While many of us learn from these experiences, there are some who will continue to have problems.

Think about how you learned self-control. Was it modeled from your home environment, social environment, or did you just instinctively know how to obtain and maintain self-control? It’s probably a combination of all three.

This fast-paced world and its ever-changing technology raises the concern that our youth are growing up with too many conveniences and instant gratification. This leads to lack of self-control. As a school social worker, I have talked with many young people over the years that can’t manage their emotions appropriately when they do not have their cell phone or get their game systems taken away.

Self-control is required in many aspects of life. It can also be achieved through various techniques.

Of course the first way to teach children self-control is to model it. Children of any age are watching and learning from us all the time, so self-awareness and regulating your emotions and behaviors is important.

Engage in activities that require a lot of patience and determination. Think about trying yoga or meditation. Both encompass the physical, emotional, spiritual and mental self. Mindfulness techniques also teach self-control. You can practice mindfulness just about anywhere at any time, by yourself or with someone else.

Mindfulness practice involves paying attention to and focusing on the present moment – and only the activity of the present moment, such as your breathing. This can be practiced at work or in the classroom.

Some games that promote self-control are the blinking game and charades. You probably remember the blinking game from childhood.  Sit across from your child and stare into each other’s eyes. The first one to blink loses the game.

People of all ages are tempted at times to do things they are specifically instructed not to do. Charades is another game to play. The person who is doing the acting out of the word must stay in control and not blurt out the word. It’s hard to keep quiet and not get frustrated when the other players are not guessing the correct word, especially for a child/young person. This is a great way to practice self-control. Children can also learn controlled breathing by blowing bubbles slowly.

Finally, learning effective ways to manage anger and other low moods is beneficial to everyone. Teaching children to express their feelings, listening to them, being non-judgmental and respecting their feelings only increases their skills in self-control.

Remember, it’s important to model the behavior you want from your child. You can only encourage and develop effective self-control skills in your child if you are demonstrating the same skills.

By Jenna Kruse, LSW – Feb. 11, 2020

Each day after school you may ask your child, “How was your day at school?” Most parents are met with a response similar to, “It was fine.” You may continue to ask questions to try to find out what happened during the day to create this mood, but instead of sharing, your child may become frustrated and shut down.

This is a scenario that many parents know all too well. As a parent trying to engage in positive conversation with your child, it is very easy to take these short, frustrated responses personally.

The next step may be to ask your child’s teacher if they are acting out at school. When asked, the teacher may respond, “No, your child does very well all day and is very pleasant,” which leaves you even more puzzled as the parent experiencing these difficult afternoons.

Consider this: A typical day for an adult might include waking up early, getting ready for work, working all day, engaging in relationships with coworkers and family, answering questions, helping others…the list goes on and on. Students often experience the same challenges throughout the day. At school students are met with rules, expectations, and routine. They are also expected to focus intently, answer questions and make difficult decisions all day.

The difference between the adult and child, however, is the coping skills used to help face these daily demands. Most adults have positive coping skills that help them. Kids don’t always have those skills yet.

The following are simple ways parents can help their children conquer their afternoon struggles.

  1. Encouragement Over Questioning – After exerting much thought and energy, even some adults need silence after a long day of work. Children are no different. Offering a smile and an encouraging phrase such as, “I hope you had a great day” or “I’m happy to see you” instead of a string of questions helps children feel more relaxed. It is also important that parents become comfortable giving the child space and saving questions for dinner or after the child has had time to decompress from their day.
  • Brain Break – Allow your student a break between school and homework time. Students are often overstimulated from the school day. By providing students a break to color, listen to music, play outside or do a craft, they are able to relax their brain and body before they are asked to complete more work. A consistent homework routine also helps students know what is expected and decreases the chance they will argue when it is homework time.
  • Afternoon Snack – Provide your student with a healthy and nutritious snack after school. Some students eat lunch as early as 10:50 am. After exerting considerable energy all day students are often very hungry after school. Having a snack prepared helps you avoid them being “hangry” and sets you up for a more positive afternoon with your child.

By supporting your student in these ways you are fostering positive coping skills and routine, which are tools that will aid your student in their school years and beyond.

By Jennifer Kurtz, LCSW – Feb. 4, 2020

Prior to working as a Youth First Social Worker I worked with the homeless for 7 years. I helped men, women, and children who were living in cars, hotels, shelters, or with family or friends in overcrowded homes. 

While this is not healthy for an adult, it can have an even bigger impact on a child. When I say childhood trauma you may think of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. There are many other types of trauma that can occur, such as witnessing violence or going hungry.

Trauma can also be caused by a child’s separation from a loved adult due to alcohol or drug use, incarceration, or mental or physical illness. Even witnessing physical violence or devastation left by a natural disaster on television can cause trauma to a child. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative (NCSTI) reports that more than two-thirds of children experience at least one traumatic event by the age of 16. 

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network reports that children between the ages of 3 to 6 who are exposed to trauma may:

  • Have difficulty focusing or learning in school
  • Be unable to trust others or make friends
  • Show poor skill development
  • Lack self-confidence
  • Experience stomach aches or headaches. 

These difficulties in elementary school have the potential to effect children into their teen and adult years, repeating the cycle onto their own children.

How, as parents and caregivers, can we help our children? The Child Mind Institute encourages the following tips to help children after a traumatic event:

  • Remain calm
  • Allow children to ask questions
  • Give them your full attention and listen well
  • Acknowledge how the child is feeling
  • Share information about what happened
  • Encourage children to be children (to play and take part in activities)
  • Understand that children may cope in different ways
  • Help children relax with breathing exercises
  • Watch for signs of trauma and know when to seek help
  • Take care of yourself

This website offers more in-depth tips to help children recover in a healthy way, and it gives advice for children in different age groups:  https://childmind.org/guide/helping-children-cope-traumatic-event/.

The National Survey of Children’s Health found that children who have family to help them build resilience respond well to stress. Resilience can be built through having caregivers who believe in a child’s future, teaching children to calm themselves and regulate their emotions, being involved in the community, and having social connections.

The comfort and support of a parent or caregiver can help a child through a traumatic event, make them feel safe, and help them recover in a healthy way that will benefit them their entire life. A child can also get a lot of support and guidance from their school’s Youth First Social Worker or another mental health professional. Do not hesitate to ask for help if it’s needed.