By Nolan Miller, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

Throughout the school year, kids are constantly learning new material and building upon their strengths. Even after the first day jitters dissipate and students settle into a routine, new academic and social stressors can emerge that cause anxiety for students. As a parent you want the best for your child, and the teacher wants the best for their student.

Teachers can’t always perceive when a student is having a rough day or is struggling with something socially. Parents are more likely to notice if their child is coming home upset or just seems off. The only way to help fix the situation is with communication. This could be as simple as talking to your child at home to see what is going on and reaching out to their teacher to express your concerns.

Communication between the school and parents is vital to a child’s success. If a student is struggling with a subject, a teacher can relay that information to their parent to start a plan towards improvement. If a student is stressed and upset about something going on at home, letting their teacher know they are having a rough day can allow the teacher to be on the lookout. Building that trust with the teacher, as well as the school, can allow your child to find success.

Good communication starts from day one on Meet the Teacher Night. It is important to understand how to contact your child’s teacher and to be aware of the expectations your child will have in the classroom. Make sure the school always has up-to-date contact information for you. This is vital, not only to keep you as a parent in the loop, but to keep your child safe if emergencies occur.

Another way to keep communication flowing is to volunteer when you can. Many schools allow parents to come in and tutor or help a teacher with extra work that needs to be completed. This will allow you to be a part of your child’s life while they are going to school and help you understand what goes on from day to day.

One of the last ways that you can get involved at your child’s school would be to join the PTO. Parent Teacher Organizations can serve as extensions of the staff and help strengthen the bond between parents, teachers, administration, and your community as a whole. 

Understanding what your child does on a day-to-day basis avoids any miscommunication between schools and parents. Working as a team is best and will help our students find success.

Giving Tuesday is a day of global generosity. Whether it is time, money, or advocacy, Giving Tuesday inspires us to give back to the causes close to our hearts.

What a wonderful opportunity to celebrate Youth First’s programs and services and the positive impact they have on over 50,000 students across Indiana!

Learn more about Giving Tuesday at givingtuesday.org. You can make a donation to Youth First at our Donate Page at youthfirstinc.org/donate.

By Beth Greene, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

Teens often use social media to socialize. Although the internet is an amazing tool for our children, that reality is that it can also negatively affect their mental health and safety.

It is very important that parents stay up to date on the apps their child is using, set clear expectations for internet usage, and be aware of who their children are socializing with on social media.

Over the past five years, Snapchat has emerged as a platform ripe for bullying and online predators. Bullies will create groups or make stories on their profile to display embarrassing photos, make fun of, degrade, spread rumors, and threaten their victims.

Pictures and messages directly sent to a user immediately disappear after the message is viewed, and if someone posts on his or her story, it only stays up for only 24 hours. This can make it very difficult to gather evidence when students report issues to adults.

Although pictures and messages appear to vanish, they never actually go away within the app. It should be noted that if a crime has taken place, such as death threats or potential contact with a sexual predator, law enforcement can gain access to Snapchat accounts with a warrant.

Another concerning Snapchat feature is the “Snap Map,” which displays a user’s location to their snapchat contacts. To disable this feature, an account user must go into settings to “ghost” themselves so their friends cannot see their location. If you do not “ghost” yourself, anyone on your friends list can always see your exact location. When you get into a car and drive, Snapchat will even show your friends your movements in real time.

If a Snapchat account is not private, that account can receive messages and pictures from any stranger. Even if the account is private, Snapchat has a points system set up to give more points to users with the most friends, along with other creative ways to earn points. This encourages children to accept friend requests from strangers to gain points.

Because of these features, children become victims of unsolicited inappropriate images from child predators who have easy access to our children through this app. These predators can create an online relationship with a child to exploit them and gain access to their location.

Recently Snapchat has added its first parental control called “Family Center.” To use this feature, both parent and child must have a Snapchat account and both users must accept the request to use the Family Center feature. This feature allows parents to see who is on their child’s friend list, see whom they have communicated with most often in the past seven days, and it allows parents to report concerning accounts to Snapchat’s Safety Team.

Overall, Snapchat is currently one of the most used social media apps by teens, but it continues to maintain unsafe features. Inform your children that what they post on Snapchat never goes away and that law enforcement can get a warrant for other users’ accounts if your child falls victim to an online crime. Set clear expectations for internet/social media use and talk to your child about internet safety.

By Haley Droste, MSW, LCSW

We’ve all heard it at some point: “That child needs to be spanked,” or “My parents did (insert punishment here), and I turned out fine.” Each generation has made significant changes in parenting style for a couple of reasons. One, when you know better, you should do better. Two, the world has changed, not only for adults, but also for children.

We’re navigating a completely different world now than our grandparents or even our parents did. I’ll be the first to say there are some “old school” parenting techniques that should be here to stay. Family dinners are a great example of a tried-and-true way to connect with your loved ones, but even those are drastically different than the ones our parents sat through with their parents. Gone are the days of “children should be seen and not heard,” making way for the dining room table being a place to connect with all family members discussing the highs and lows of the day.

At the core of parenting is a deep desire to raise happy, healthy, well-balanced children. At times, the power struggle between parents and their children can seem overwhelming. There must be a delicate balance between fostering an environment that allows children to feel and express their emotions while also establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries.

The most important things parents can do is model healthy boundaries and take care of their own mental health. Teach your children it’s okay to take a deep breath and have a minute to themselves instead of responding while angry.

A good way to model this is handling your child calmly when they throw a fit. Instead of yelling at them and sending them to their room, explain that they need to go to their room until they’re able to communicate their needs without yelling at you. It isn’t a punishment, there isn’t a time limit involved, and they’re able to take time to decide when they’re back in control of their emotions. You’re also teaching them that speaking to someone in a disrespectful manner is unacceptable behavior.

Parenting in a gentle or respectful manner gets a reputation of not providing adequate boundaries and allowing children to run wild with their words and actions. This could not be further from the truth. When done correctly, this style of parenting sets firm boundaries about what is allowed and what is not.

Raising resilient children starts with respecting their feelings and teaching them how to communicate in a healthy way. Respecting our children’s boundaries teaches them how to respect others. In short, setting clear, respectful boundaries with your kids sets them up for success in the future. It allows them the time and the space to explore their emotions and grow in their relationships. There is nothing weak about choosing growth.

Sometimes it feels unnatural to talk about our feelings or discuss our mistakes when handling situations with our children, but in doing this we can confidently send them into the world as more well-rounded, loving individuals.

By Jennifer Kramer, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.

I once had a student say to me, “I thought death only happens to people when they get old.” What a world that would be, where everyone got to live long, happy lives.

The reality is that loss is very much part of life. Grief is an experience all people will have, and it is something we all must learn. 

I think about my own life before the age of 18. I lost a great-grandmother at age six as well as our next-door neighbor. In middle school, my grandmother passed from cancer in my home. A friend my age passed away in high school in a car accident. As a school social worker, I realize these experiences shaped so much of how I help students handle loss. As much as we would like to shield kids from the heartbreak of grief, our goal should be to help them move through it.

Sometimes we forget that our children are exposed to the concept of death at a very young age. Many Disney movies center on the loss of an important family member: Coco, Encanto, Frozen, The Lion King, and Moana, just to name a few.

These movies all show different ways individuals and families heal after a loss. Watching these movies and starting conversations with your children about loss (even if your family hasn’t experienced this) can help them understand loss and be empathetic to others who may be experiencing feelings of grief.

We hear a lot about the stages of grief, but what are they? The stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. There is no order in which a person should grieve. In fact, it is not uncommon for a person to be in one stage for a moment, move to another, and back again. Children go through the same stages of grief that adults do, but it may look different. It is not uncommon for a child to go from crying to playing in a matter of minutes. 

Where children move through the same stages as adults, they will most likely express themselves in very different ways. The website verywellfamily.com discusses different ways a child may grieve, including new academic problems, anxiety, behavioral reactions, changes in play, clinginess, developmental regression, difficulty concentrating, feelings of abandonment, guilt, or sleeping problems.

Changes in play may look like action figures, dolls or stuffed animals dying during play and then coming back to life. Your child may also blame themselves for the death of the loved one. Young children can sense the feelings of their parents and may become more irritable, and slightly older elementary age children may revert to crawling or baby talk. 

It is important to talk to children on their level. Answer the questions they ask, but don’t divulge too much information.   

Be understanding that these behaviors are normal. Be supportive of your children. Show them love and give them the space and time to feel their feelings. It is also a good idea to ask for help if you feel you need it yourself.

J