By Angel Wagner, LSW

Whether we remember them fondly or not, many of us would agree that our teenage years had their share of challenging moments. While teenagers are going through the adventure of figuring out who they are and who they want to become, their bodies are going through physical changes that can be overwhelming for some teens. 

Teenagers regularly compare themselves to others to try to fit in. Therefore, they are often social media’s best “customers.” Constant comparison to their peers and social media influencers can create insecurities as teens try to attain the “perfect” body or the “perfect” lifestyle. This lowers a teen’s self-esteem exponentially and can lead to drastic habits like extreme diets and overexercising. You can help your teen practice body positivity to help them realize the “perfect body” is the body they live in now.

As stated before, teenagers practically live on social media. One of the more popular platforms for this age group is Instagram, which consists of individuals posting pictures and sharing their life online. Many of these photos can be photoshopped and tagged with lines such as #beachbody, #skinnylegend, or #thinspiration.

There are dark sides to many social media websites where eating disorders such as anorexia are depicted as something to strive for. However, many social media platforms have lighter sides too. There are many influencers who don’t photoshop themselves to fit the mold of what an influencer is supposed to look like. They proudly show who they are with tags such as #bodypositivity, #beautifullife, and #anti-diet. These influencers strive to show others there is much more to life than a perfect beach body.

The influence of media isn’t just in our phones. It’s everywhere. When in line at the grocery store there are magazines detailing how celebrities drop weight for a role in a movie, or how influencers use supplements to look “perfect” for the red carpet. Be conscious of what your teen is reading and encourage them to read body positive content.

Whether you realize it or not, you are your teen’s biggest influence. Growing up in a home filled with negative self-talk will have your teen looking at themselves in an unflattering light. Use body positivity yourself to model for your teen. Help them focus on the great qualities and talents they possess instead of dwelling on the negative messages of social media and Hollywood.

And finally, make a point to tell your teen how proud you are of them and the person they are becoming. Help them realize that extreme change isn’t needed. Who they already are is perfect.

Support Youth First by purchasing half pot raffle tickets now! The winner will be drawn on September 5, 2021. Raffle tickets can be purchased from Youth First staff and board members, at the Youth First office Monday through Friday 8am to 12pm, or by filling out the contact form here.

By Shannon Loehrlein, LCSW

Most parents are familiar with sleep-related issues in infants and toddlers. Developmentally, it is normal for babies to wake up every few hours. Toddlers can also struggle with sleep issues – especially while toilet training.

Overall, most sleep-related issues dissipate as children grow older. But what happens when a child who is normally an excellent sleeper begins having issues during elementary school?

Recently, we have been working through sleep issues with our 8-year-old. I first contacted our pediatrician for advice, who told us it is common for elementary school aged kids to have trouble sleeping. She explained that at this age kids start to understand more about the world around them and can become prone to anxieties and worries, which can play out prior to going to bed. 

Kids at this age may start to have more vivid nightmares. A recurring nightmare our daughter mentioned was someone breaking into the house. Fears such as these can be common, especially when they see frightening themes introduced on television. It’s important to monitor screen time to make sure your child is watching age-appropriate content.

One of the tips our pediatrician recommended was developing a behavior reward system. She recommended giving our daughter a “hall pass.” She was allowed to use this hall pass to get out of bed three times each night, but after that she would have a consequence.

Another tip for parents is to talk to your child about potential underlying issues. Ask your child if they are worried, scared, or having nightmares. In our case, we discovered that we had the most issues on Monday before school or before a big event our daughter was nervous about.

Talk to your children about ways to cope with their worries. We kept some Pop-It toys by her bed and taught her some breathing exercises to help her calm down when worried. It is also important to normalize your child’s feelings. I told my daughter it is normal to worry about unfamiliar situations and shared that I feel these emotions too. The point is to help your child feel less alone by explaining that even adults struggle with these things.  

The most important aspect of sleep training is to establish a consistent bedtime routine. Most parents will give their child a bath, read a book, and put their child to bed. It is also important to limit technology use. When our daughter watched television or played on her tablet before bed, she had more trouble sleeping. 

If you decide to initiate a consequence based on their behavior, make sure you follow through. I, like many parents, sometimes have trouble with this. When you are exhausted it can be hard to follow through with negative consequences, but your child will learn they can continue negative behaviors if you don’t follow through.

Lastly, know that this phase will pass, just like when you had an infant that only slept for an hour at a time at night. It may have felt like it would never end, but it did. This too shall pass.

By Audrey Bowlds, LSW

Going back to school can be stressful for children in many ways, especially as we continue to deal with the pandemic and its aftereffects.

A child diagnosed with a mental or physical illness may also struggle returning to school more than their peers. Whether your child is new to their school or returning, making new friends can be hard.

One way to make sure your child is ready for the many social interactions they will have throughout the school year is to model positive social behaviors. Children are constantly watching and observing what their parents/guardians do, say, and how they react to positive and negative situations.

These behaviors can shape children into the adults they will be in the future and helps them develop skills to handle their own situations. Using positive social behaviors in front of your children with friends, family, or even the cashier at the grocery store can help your child learn social skills.

According to Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., there are evidence-based strategies to help children make friends:

  1. Help children regulate their own negative emotions. When your child can regulate their own negative emotions by noticing and naming what they feel, they can better express their feelings with others in a healthy and calm way.
  1. Teach understanding. Emphasize the importance of listening to the emotions and perspectives of others. When your child understands these emotions and perspectives, they can learn to be empathetic towards others.
  1. Practice cooperation and acceptance. Knowing how to handle introductions and participating in conversations is a key component to your child starting a positive friendship. It is important that your child is capable of cooperation, negotiation, and compromise while interacting with peers, as well as accepting others’ mistakes, apologizing, and making amends.

Parents can also help their child learn positive social skills by showing them warmth and respect, and not controlling the child through fear, punishment, or manipulation of the child’s feelings. It is important to be your child’s emotional coach and nurture their ability to empathize.

Providing a secure social environment for your child is a great way to prevent social anxiety when they speak to peers. Host social activities that encourage cooperation with others while showing your children how to handle awkward social situations that might occur. Lastly, it is important to monitor your child’s social life without becoming too controlling, especially as they get older.

Sometimes children have trouble making friends even after following these tips. Reaching out or having your child reach out to other support systems such as their Youth First Social Worker, counselor, or teacher can be extra helpful in learning positive social skills and forming lasting friendships.

By Valorie Dassel, LCSW, LCAC

The transition from elementary or middle school to high school can come with a wave of emotions for both students and parents. Often there is excitement surrounding the new environment, both socially and academically. Anxiety is also commonly experienced among incoming freshmen.

These anxieties often stem from social and academic changes. Opportunities for change can increase a sense of self and positively affect academics. As parents, it is important to nurture our teenager’s development during this transition.

Parents should talk with their teen about academic expectations before high school begins. Discuss ways to practice useful organizational strategies, develop time management skills, and maintain good study habits. If elementary or middle school has been easy for a teen, they may begin high school with a relaxed attitude toward grades. If high school proves to be academically challenging for them, the teen may have a more difficult transition.

Priorities for a teenager can be difficult to navigate. Students may want to do well academically, but new social opportunities can interfere with academic success. During this developmental stage, friends become just as important to the teen as their family.

When teens are faced with the choice of doing their homework or hanging out with friends, they may opt for the more immediate and “fun” reward of socializing. Parents can lend support by encouraging set study times and monitoring assignments being turned in on time through the school’s website.

High school includes social adjustments as well. Typically, incoming freshman are coming from a middle school where they knew exactly where they fit in amidst the study body. The transition to high school offers exciting opportunities for most. For the student who has desired different or more friendships in elementary or middle school, they have a chance to reinvent and develop better relationships.

Throughout freshman year, social groups tend to go through many transitions. With a larger student body, there is greater opportunity to find friends who share similar interests and values. Parents should encourage involvement in activities to promote social connectedness. Spending time constructively makes it less likely the teen will be involved in negative social behaviors.

If the social adjustment is not what your teen expected, they could be struggling with feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Open communication during this time is crucial. Help your teen brainstorm which peers they have something in common with. Work with them on how to initiate conversations and suggest non-intimidating ways to “hang out” outside of school to nurture friendships. This will give them the skills necessary to work through their social difficulties.

The transition to high school offers many exciting opportunities. There are also going to be difficulties on this journey. Maintaining an open and positive relationship and communication between parent and teen will make it easier on the entire family.