Tag Archive for: YouthFirst2023

By Heidi Mikac, Youth First, Inc.

Many of us are guilty of overusing social media and ignoring its negative impact on our mental health. Before our eyes are even adjusted to the morning light, most of us squint at our bright rectangular screens to check social media sites or text messages to make sure we didn’t miss anything. As a Youth First Social Worker in a school building, I see the consequences of social media overuse and misuse every day in both my students and myself. 

When I was in middle school, I remember the dreaded dial-up modem. It would take a painful amount of time to get on the internet, and it would make that irritating sound that made my ears bleed. No sooner than I was able to get onto my computer game, my sister would make a phone call to her boyfriend and knock me off the internet.

Now, students can look up anything in a matter of seconds. Middle school aged kids crave validation and admiration from their peers. The way they seek that nowadays is through social media. When I went to school, I would seek it through writing and theater. I used to enjoy hanging out with my friends outside riding our bicycles (or those totally rad Razor scooters!).

When I ask most of my middle school clients what their plans are for the weekend, most of them tell me that they will be watching YouTube or scrolling through social media. Several studies have shown that the overuse of social media (especially in children) is contributing to self-esteem issues and depression.

Cyberbullying has contributed to these issues in a larger way than we can imagine. It is easy for kids and teens to digitally harass someone they don’t like at school from the safety of their bedrooms – or sometimes even the classroom.

There have been many occasions when I’ve had to deal with students who are taunting each other through social media sites or their school email during class. It seems some kids are hyper-focused on their social life, and it’s causing them to neglect their academic work. In my observation, this is contributing to a rise in serious school disciplinary actions, such as in-school suspensions, suspensions, and even expulsion.

So, is it worth allowing kids to have phones? I know there may be some gasps when I suggest that maybe unlimited access to phones and social media does more harm than good. Many parents are concerned that they won’t be able to directly contact their child without a cell phone, which is understandable. However, being a nineties kid, I can tell you that I survived not having constant contact with my parents via cell phone.

When I was a kid, being without a cell phone (or internet) forced me to go outside with my friends, exercise, and avoid drama. Although cell phones may now be a necessary part of our children’s’ lives, it’s important to find a balance between the connections children make in the digital world and those they make in the real world.

By Ashley Underwood, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.

How does one describe a traumatic event? Traumatic is defined as “emotionally disturbing or distressing,” which can vary from person to person, so that question has many answers.

“Adverse Childhood Experience” is a term that refers to various forms of trauma individuals may experience in childhood. This includes experiencing violence, abuse or neglect, witnessing violence in the home or community, having a family member attempt or die by suicide, growing up in a household with substance use problems or mental health problems, or instability due to parental separation or incarcerated family members.

According to the CDC, about 61% of adults surveyed across 25 states reported they had experienced at least one type of ACE before age 18, and nearly 1 in 6 reported they had experienced four or more types of ACEs.

There is a direct link between ACEs and physical health. Unfortunately, for each adverse child experience, there is an increased risk of chronic health issues. Center for Youth Wellness shares that those individuals experiencing 4 or more ACEs are associated with significantly increased risk for 7 out of 10 leading adult causes of death, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, COPD, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and suicide.

There is also significant detriment that can occur to a child’s brain when experiencing that amount of stress. Experiencing ACEs can impact attention span, memory, stress response, immune system, emotion regulation, decision making skills, and overall learning. We see many of these issues in the school setting on a daily basis, and sadly, it is related to the amount of trauma our children have experienced.

What can we do to help? Prevention is key. The CDC recommends the following six strategies for helping to prevent ACEs:

  • Strengthen economic support for families. This includes churches, community organizations, and non-profits helping with financial distress as well as employers providing adequate pay, time off, and benefits for employees.
  • Promote social norms that protect against violence and adversity. Work to create safe spaces for children and adults to talk about mental health challenges and reinforce the motto, “See something, say something” for children in regards to acts of violence, bullying, abuse, etc.
  • Ensure a strong start for children. This can include funding early education programs for families with affordable options, as well as increasing in-home learning options for parents.
  • Teach skills. Allow programs in schools that promote and teach emotional regulation, conflict resolution, social skills, and boundaries.
  • Connect youth to caring adults and activities. “Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story.” -Josh Shipp

Get kids involved in mentoring programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters, encourage teachers to put them in leadership roles at school, have them join after school activities like choir, intramurals, or scouting.

  • Intervene to lessen immediate and long-term harms. Educate the public on ACEs, the risk factors, and the support available including treatment options, resource assistance, and organizations that promote these things.

Let’s do our part! For more information about the ACEs, check out https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/index.html