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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 Katherine Baker, LCSW – Dec. 31, 2019

As the year closes and a new one begins, many people focus on improving their health and well-being. Being human in a world filled with drama and losses can be exhausting. 

All too often human sleep patterns are out of sync, causing many of us to be exhausted, grumpy, and on edge.  Not only are children and teenagers affected by the lack of sleep; it has become a human condition affecting everyone. 

Most people can thrive, however, by following these basic tips to help in their day-to-day functioning:

1.  Remember to focus on a sleep routine. Have a set bedtime for yourself and try to stick with it as much as possible. Your brain and body will thank you.

2.  Remember to set limits on social media. Take a social media break from all of your devices one or two times a month. Try it for two hours and work your way up to longer periods of time.  Again, your brain and body will thank you. Besides lack of sleep, the use of social media and the stress and anxiety it is causing impacts our society in numerous negative ways. Think about how your life is affected by your use of social media.

3.  Remember, you are responsible for your day.  You are responsible for how you feel and what you do; nobody else is.  You are in charge of your life!

4.  Remember, everybody doesn’t have to love you or even like you.  If someone does not approve of you, it will still be okay.

5.  Remember, it is important to try.  Even when faced with difficult tasks, it is better to try than to avoid them. You may not be able to do everything, but you can do something. Find your talents.

6.  Remember that you can be flexible. There is more than one way to do something.  Everybody has ideas that are worthwhile. Some may make more sense to you than others, but everyone’s ideas are important. Listen and consider the options.

7.  Remember, other people are capable.  You can’t solve other people’s problems as if they were your own. They are capable and can solve their own problems. You can show care and concern and be of some help, but you can’t – and shouldn’t – do everything for them. 

Start the new year by getting enough sleep, taking charge of your day, demonstrating flexibility and giving your best. Only take on what you are capable of handling. You will soon see a difference in your outlook and stress levels!

To be held tonight, Monday, October 21st, 6:00-8:00 pm
Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library, 200 S. E. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Browning Room

Youth First, Inc. is hosting a town hall forum to increase community awareness on the effects social media has on the teen brain, especially when it pertains to substance use and its consequences. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2018, 95% of teens reported they have a smartphone or access to one and 45% said they are online “almost constantly.”
Moderator Dennis Jon Bailey, WIKY Morning Show DJ, will guide a panel of local experts to provide insight to parents, youth workers, and other adults who want to know how social media is impacting substance use.
Panelists:
o Dr. James Schroeder, PhD, HSPP – Vice President of the Psychology Program, Evansville Easterseals Rehabilitation Center
o Lieutenant Monty Guenin – Commander, Vanderburgh County Drug Task Force, Evansville Police Dept.
o Brittnie Hughes – Social Emotional Learning Specialist (SELS), Department of Neuroeducation, Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation
o Katie Omohundro, MSW, LCSW – Youth First School Social Worker, Vanderburgh County
o Lisa Hutcheson, MEd – Vice President for Policy and Programs, Mental Health America of Indiana & Director, Indiana Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking (ICRUD)
Local teens will share the ins and outs of the most popular apps such as SnapChat, Instagram, and TikTok, along with advice about how adults can keep children and teens safe while online.

By Jenna Kruse, MSW – July 9, 2019

Technology has become a large part of our society; we depend on it to learn, inform, and connect with others daily. However, it can have negative effects as well.         

Most of us probably know a young child who watches YouTube regularly. How often do we stop to watch and closely monitor what is on the screen?

A growing trend with children on YouTube is the fascination of watching other children play with toys. There is a countless supply of these videos, such as, “Surprise Eggs” and “Finger Family” which each have hundreds of thousands of views.

YouTube also added an auto play feature which allows similar videos to stream one after the other, continuously. Kids are then exposed far beyond their initial search and are soon plagued by this technology.

Parents across the country can attest to the fighting and tantrums thrown when the tablets, phones, or iPads are taken away from the children because they are so entranced by the videos.

Social media is another black hole, typically for older children. Teens can be subjected to cyber bullying, stranger danger, identity theft, phishing, and sexual exploitation.

Apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, Whisper, Twitter, and YouTube can all be dangerous for teens if used incorrectly. Many teens have several accounts, some of which include “ghost accounts” which are used to hide from their parents.

Children are being sexualized by photos of celebrities and are taught that appearance is what matters most. Pressure is put on both girls and boys to look a certain way and “likes” and “follows” become addictive for young teen brains. Children can feel they need to post sexy photos and say extreme things just for more attention.

Now that we know some of the problems with technology, let’s try to avoid them. We need to help and support our children by closely monitoring what they are doing online.

This can include having clear rules for children regarding social media, checking the web browser regularly, activating privacy settings and parental controls on devices, and installing anti-virus hardware on your computer.

Talking openly to your children is the best way to ensure that they know the harms of the internet and social media. These may be uncomfortable topics, but they are very important for their safety. It is much better to have these conversations before a situation occurs rather than after.

There are many safety apps which help parents monitor and control their children’s online usage. These apps include but are not limited to, Netnanny, Mammabear, SafeKidsPro, Social Shield, WebWatcher, MyMobileWatchDog, Teensafe, and Phonesheriff. Each app is unique in what it helps control, so find the one that will work best for your family.

By Amanda Jo Haney, MSW – June 4, 2019

In our modern society, social media is one of the most common ways we communicate with one another. This is true for adults and children.

With summer break starting, many children will find even more time than usual to spend on their phones, tablets, or computers. Often times they are communicating through social media apps. Do we know who they are talking to? Do they really know?

As parents, our main goal is to keep our children safe and healthy. This applies to both physical and emotional health.

One important way to help them stay safe while using social media is to monitor their usage. Just like when our children spend time with their friends in real life, we need to know what they are doing and who they are talking to through social media platforms.  

While it is important to give our children some freedom, we still need to know that they are being safe and following the social media rules we set for them. Giving them clear rules and consequences for their misuse will help them continue to use social media in a positive manner.

Teach them social media safety habits. While it is ideal to share this information with them before they get on social media for the first time, that might be difficult. These rules and safety measures will be valuable at any time.

According to www.connectsafely.org/social-web-tips-for-teens/, some of the things children (of any age) can do to stay safe online are as follows:

1. Be your own person. Never pretend to be someone that you are not. Be who you really are and you will attract the people who will become your real friends.

2. Be nice. Don’t say mean things just because you can hide behind a screen. Your words hurt the same as if you would say them to the person’s face.

3. Think about what you post. Remember that once it is out there it is out there for everyone!

4. Do not add people you don’t know on social media accounts. Having friends and followers is fun but can be dangerous when they are strangers.

5. Never send inappropriate pictures or engage in sexual conversations with peers or strangers. Never. Never. Never.

ALSO – NEVER GIVE OUT YOUR ADDRESS ON SOCIAL MEDIA! Don’t even tell anyone you don’t know what city you live in or what school you go to. Don’t post photos that show your school or give any information about where you live. Try to be as vague as possible about where you live.

If we stress the importance of these rules and safety habits and reinforce them with a consistent reward/consequence system, we can help our children stay safe online. This also will give us some peace of mind when trusting our kids with the responsibility and privilege of using social media.

To be held Tuesday, January 22nd, 6:00 – 8:00 pm

Crossroads Christian Church Chapel, 10800 Lincoln Ave., Newburgh, IN

Youth First, Inc., Warrick County Cares, and Evansville Christian Schools (ECS) are joining to begin a discussion about the pros, cons and effects of social media on our children and youth.  According to the Pew Research Center, in 2018, 95 percent of teens report they have a smartphone or access to one and 45 percent say they are online “almost constantly.” 

Moderator Gretchen Muchnick, (ECS School Board Member, FC Tucker Emge Realty VP of Marketing, & WFIE News Personality), will guide a panel of local experts to provide insight to parents, youth workers and other adults who want to know how social media and screen time are impacting our children and teens.    

Panelists:

  • David McClary, ECS Campus Principal (grades 8 – 11)
  • Mark Wickersham, ECSCampus Principal (grades 6 – 7)
  • Officer Dale Naylor, Warrick County Reserve Deputy Officer
  • Laura Keys, Youth First Director of Social Work
  • Dr. James Schroeder, VP of Psychology, Evansville Easterseals Rehabilitation Center
  • ECS Students – Kira Johnson, Junior, and Berkeley Neikirk, Sophomore


Local teens will share the ins and outs of the most popular apps such as SnapChat, Instagram, and Omegle, and how adults can keep children and teens safe while online.

The media is invited to attend.

By Megan Lottes, LSW, Nov. 5, 2018 –

You don’t have to look very far these days to find a preteen or teen glued to their phone texting and scrolling through social media.

Like many things, social media has advantages and disadvantages. It breaks down geographical barriers, allows us to stay connected to family and friends all over the globe, and facilitates communication.

Unfortunately, however, it has also taken a toll on today’s youth.

For most teens and preteens, it is difficult to remember living in a world without technology.  They cannot imagine a world without the internet, which allows them to use apps and social media.

According to the website psycom.net, the average age that kids get their first cellphone is 10 years old, with nearly 40 percent of kids having a social media account by age eleven.

Today’s kids feel the need to constantly share everything they experience.  For them, responses to their online posts, such as “likes” and comments, are taken very seriously.

As they scroll through various social media apps, they see unrealistic standards of beauty and materialistic possessions. They start to compare their lives to others. Because of what is seen on social media, preteens and teens may alter their appearance, engage in negative behaviors, and accept risky social media challenges to gain attention in the form of “likes,” comments, and number of followers.

Research reported on childmind.org, as well as many other sources, shows that heavy social media use has been linked to increased depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem among kids. It prevents the development of some social skills and direct communication skills.

Preteens and teens spend more time connecting on social media instead of building social skills and having conversations in person; therefore, they are not learning how to read body language, facial expressions, or vocal infections.

Social media may also become a major distraction and lead to lack of sleep and poor academic performance. If technology use is unmonitored, kids may stay up late without their parents realizing they are not asleep. Ultimately, it is difficult for kids to unplug from technology at all times of the day.

So what can parents or caregivers do to help?

  1. Conduct some research. Whether it is by talking to teachers, talking to other parents or doing your own research, find out what the most popular apps are and how they are used.
  2. Establish technology-free zones in your home, such as the dinner table, and technology-free times such as before bed. Collect phones, tablets, and computers before bedtime.
  3. Don’t always trust the pictures kids post. Just because your child posts a lot of smiling “selfies” might not mean that your child is truly happy. Social media tends to be a “highlight reel,” displaying mostly the positive aspects of kids’ lives. Always check in with them to see how they are really doing.
  4. Last but not least, encourage your kids to talk to you and let them know it’s safe to talk to you. Let them know you love them and how proud you are of them – unfiltered and unedited.

By Marge Gianopoulos, Sept. 5, 2018 –

According to the Pew Research Center, 95 percent of teens currently report they have a smartphone or access to one; 45 percent say they are online “almost constantly.”

Since the advent of MySpace (Does anyone even remember that one?) and then Facebook, social media has become the primary way for teens to connect with their peers, friends and family.

In a 2014 Pew survey, 24 percent of teens stated they are online “almost constantly.”  In just four years the percent of teens using social media “constantly” has almost doubled.

Social media has been infused in our teens’ lives and apparently it’s here to stay.  Several years ago the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation started using tablets, and this year Warrick County high school students began using them as well.  Between the use of smartphones, computers, tablets, and gaming systems, how much screen time is considered healthy?

On Monday, September 10th, from 5:30–7:30 pm, Indiana Youth Institute, Youth First, Inc., Warrick County Cares, and Warrick County School Corporation will provide some insight for parents, youth workers and other adults who want to know how social media and screen time are impacting our teens.

Dennis Jon Bailey, WIKY Morning Show DJ, will conduct a panel discussion on the pros, cons and effects of social media and screen time.  The panel is made up of area professionals who have contact with youth and see firsthand how social media is affecting teens’ health (physical and mental) and academics.

The panel includes Warrick County School Administrators Ashlee Bruggenschmidt, Abbie Redman and Josh Susott; Warrick County Sheriff Deputy and School Resource Officer Mike Dietsch; Youth First Director of Social Work Laura Keys; Youth First School Social Worker Terra Clark; Warrick County Deputy Prosecutor Parker Trulock; and Vice President of the Psychology Program at Evansville Easterseals Rehabilitation Center, Dr. James Schroeder.

As a Pediatric Psychologist, Dr. Schroeder has conducted extensive research on screen time and the impact of social media on our youth and often writes for the Evansville Courier.  You can access his articles at http://james-schroeder.com.

In addition to the panel discussion, the real experts, local teens, will be available to show adults how to navigate the most popular social media apps such as SnapChat, Instagram, and Musical.ly.  Each of these apps will have a table where adults can learn from the teens. Teens will share the ins-and-outs of the app, explain privacy settings and demonstrate how adults can keep children and teens safe while online.

Youth in a Digital World: Pros, Cons and Effects of Social Media, will take place from 5:30-7:30 pm on September 10th at the Newburgh Chandler Public Libraries, 4111 Lakeshore Dr., Newburgh, and light snacks will be served.  Registration is required, as space is limited.   Register at https://warrickcoywc091018.eventbrite.com.

By Youth First Staff – July 17, 2018 –

Bullying is not a new problem. Children, parents, teachers, and other school staff have always dealt with incidents on the playground or name-calling on the bus, but these days bullying no longer ends with the school day.

Technology provides many positive benefits in our personal lives and educational system. Cyberbullying, however, is one negative outgrowth of 24/7 connectivity.

The term cyberbullying is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “the electronic posting of mean-spirited messages about a person, often done anonymously.”

With social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter and the ability to share photos and videos via social media and text, it’s almost impossible to keep up with the rapid growth of cyberbullying.

According to the DoSomething.org, at least 43% of American teens have been bullied online, and 1 in 4 has had it happen more than once.  Seventy percent of students report seeing frequent bullying online. Girls are about twice as likely as boys to be victims and perpetrators of cyberbullying.

Victims of cyberbullying experience low self-esteem, increased use of drugs or alcohol, poor academic achievement, and anxiety or an unwillingness to attend school (stopcyberbullying.gov).

Because these acts do not typically happen on school grounds, it can be difficult for schools to intervene.  Parents must play a key role in educating children about acceptable uses of technology and what to do if they encounter cyberbullying.

Start by being involved in your child’s online life.  Know passwords, “friend” or “follow” them on social media sites, and look at websites your child frequents.

Educate children on how to use the internet safely and establish firm consequences if they abuse technological privileges.  Encourage children to protect passwords and avoid sharing them with peers (not even their best friends) or in public places. Make sure they don’t post any personal information on the internet such as a phone number, address, or even their favorite place to socialize.

Due to the fear of losing access to technology, only 1 in 10 students report telling their parents when they have been cyberbullied. It is important for children to feel comfortable coming to parents with this type of information.

Start by educating kids on what they should do if they encounter cyberbullying.  The website stopcyberbullying.org promotes the “stop, block, and tell” strategy.  Parents can easily share the following steps with their children:

1. Stop: Immediately stop interacting with a peer who is cyberbullying.  Encourage them to not respond to the peer in any way.

2. Block: Block the cyberbully from continuing to communicate.  Make sure children know how to block someone from their social networking sites or other technology.

3. Tell: As soon as they encounter a bully of any kind, children should tell their parents. Parents should remain calm, listen carefully, and involve the child in decisions about what to do next.

The next steps may be as simple as blocking a phone number or as involved as talking with your child’s school about the offense. Refrain from contacting the parents or guardians of the bully. They may become defensive and may not be receptive to your thoughts.

Sometimes just offering your child moral support is enough, but don’t hesitate to inform and involve others in order to put a stop to cyberbullying for good.

By Tiffany Harper, LCSW, Courier & Press, July 11, 2017 –

When people think of bullying, they often picture physical bullying, such as knocking books out of someone’s hands, tripping them  or intimidating them.  Bullying can also take other forms, however.

Social bullying, also known as relational aggression, is a form of bullying that has grown with the boom of social media and cell phones.  It is relational in nature and causes harm by damaging someone’s social status.  It is often done covertly to avoid detection by adults.

Examples of social bullying are:

  • Posting about someone on social media, directly or indirectly naming the victim
  • Texting rude or negative comments
  • Excluding someone from a peer group
  • Refusing to allow a peer to sit with one’s group
  • Convincing others not to be friends with a peer
  • Starting and/or spreading rumors
  • Indirect communication directed at a peer such as eye rolling, laughing

This type of bullying is more common in females and can start as early as kindergarten. Today’s society has displayed social bullying as entertainment in movies such as “Mean Girls,” where it is glorified but then neatly resolved in the end. This does not usually happen in real life.

Victims can struggle emotionally with negative effects, including depression, social anxiety, hostility and low self-esteem.  There can be large shifts in one’s social network, as this type of bullying often results in loss of friends.  This can be devastating to a young person, as their focus shifts from family to friends during adolescence.

If you find your child in a situation like this, be aware that the innate desire to protect your child could cause you to act quickly and impulsively and ask questions later.  Since it is important to develop and maintain an open and trusting relationship with your child, it is imperative to react slowly and carefully. Whether you found out about your child’s bullying on your own or your child opened up, your response can be instrumental in getting them to talk further.

Listening with empathy is the  first  step.  Allow your child to tell you what has been going on and try to ask any questions you have with controlled emotion.  Avoid placing blame or giving your perspective right away.