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.

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

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation is investing in mental health support for Indiana youth. The organization has awarded a gift of $100,000 per year for three years to Youth First, Inc. to strengthen the mental health and well-being of Indiana students.

The award was celebrated with a check presentation on Monday, October 24, during the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation’s School Board meeting. Representatives from Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation and Youth First were in attendance, as well as EVSC Superintendent Dr. David Smith and the EVSC School Board.

This significant gift from Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation, along with funding from other sources, will enable Youth First to provide school-based social work services and prevention programs in their 12-county footprint, which includes Daviess, Dubois, Gibson, Lawrence, Martin, Morgan, Orange, Perry, Pike, Posey, Vanderburgh, and Warrick counties.

“The Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation strives to improve the health of humanity by addressing health inequalities and strengthening communities across Indiana. We continue to work with our local community partners across Indiana, including Youth First, to provide meaningful solutions to achieve better health and to advance health equity,” said Ginny France, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s Community Relations Representative. “We are grateful to have worked with Youth First for many years supporting local youth through a variety of programs, and once again we are honored to come together to expand resources to support the mental health and well-being of Indiana students.”

Youth First President & CEO Parri Black stated, “Our kids and families are dealing with greater stress and more challenges than ever. That’s why it’s so important to have easily accessed, skilled mental health support in school buildings, where students, parents and teachers can take full advantage of it. We are grateful for the multi-year partnership with Anthem to prevent addiction and strengthen lives.”

Youth First partners with 110 schools across 12 Indiana counties to embed skilled social workers, where they become specialized mentors for students and prevention coaches for parents and teachers. Youth First Social Workers build caring relationships, promote healthy choices, foster readiness for positive change, and boost resiliency along with other valuable life skills. There are 32 Youth First Social Workers serving 32 schools in the EVSC.

By Amy Steele, MSW, LCSW, LAC, RPT

Telling children “no” can be a difficult task for parents and caregivers. Many parents shy away from saying no, and some will do anything to keep a child from becoming upset. When adults fail to set consistent limits, children miss out on developing the important mental health and life skills they need to succeed.

Children who don’t have rules tend to feel out of control and experience anxiety.  Kids are comforted knowing adults are taking care of things and helping them stay in control. Boundaries and limits help children feel more secure, and following rules makes their lives more predictable, especially when they know what the outcome will be when they follow the rules.

Experiencing consequences when rules are broken lets kids know that the adults in their lives are not going to allow certain behaviors. This can build trust and shows children that you are reliable, you mean what you say, and you will follow through on your word. Using consistency when limit setting indicates you will also be consistent in other areas where they depend on you, lessening their anxieties.

Avoiding limits to prevent a tantrum or an argument sets our kids up for failure in the long run. If children don’t learn how to feel and cope with feelings at a young age, they will spend their life trying to avoid these feelings. If they learn at an early age that feelings are okay, even ones we don’t like, then they learn coping skills that help them make choices that result in more positive outcomes.

Children need parents to set limits on what is appropriate to keep them safe, healthy, and rested. This allows them to be prepared to achieve their goals in life and become happy, healthy, contributing members of their community. Parents must decide to teach and model positive and healthy ways to handle negative feelings, otherwise life (society, social media, video games, peers) will teach them instead.

What a gift it is to teach a child that life is full of choices. If they make a choice that isn’t the right one there are consequences, but with love and guidance, life goes on and they can do better next time.

By Abby Betz, LSW, Youth First Inc.

“I hear congratulations are in order!” If you are currently expecting or recently had a baby, you are most likely still experiencing the joys of welcoming a new child to your life.

Although bringing home a new baby is a joyous time, it can also be a challenge for parents. Adding another child to the family is a big transition. The dynamic of the entire family changes when a new baby arrives, which can cause stress and be traumatic for some kids. 

For some children, the integration of a new baby into the family can trigger some big feelings and emotional crises. A child’s transition to becoming an older sibling must be handled with compassion and empathy to preserve the child’s sense of security and self-worth. It is key for parents to provide reassurance and love to all of their children.

It is completely normal for children to feel jealous toward a new baby. Children are being asked to adjust to the shift in the amount of attention they receive from parents, and this may also trigger feelings of grief or loss. That child is no longer the center of mom or dad’s attention and affection, and these feelings can be difficult for some children to navigate.

It is important to address any feelings of abandonment a child may feel by letting them be part of the process. For example, it would be beneficial to explain to young children when and why Mommy will be away at the hospital so it is easier for them to accept when it is time for the baby to come home.  

It is best to start preparing children for the new arrival of a baby before the arrival. The goal is to help children feel a sense of connection with the baby and to become enthusiastic about its arrival. Some strategies that may be helpful include validating your child’s feelings, whether the feelings are happy or unhappy, about a new baby. If you acknowledge their frustration, children will not feel the need to suppress their feelings, which can cause problematic behaviors.

Offering children one-on-one time with each parent is vital for helping them feel special and valued. Enlisting help from other family members or friends your children have a special bond with can also be helpful. Focus on things that have not changed within the family and maintain traditions that have already been established to help strengthen your child’s sense of belonging.

Moreover, if your child does not automatically bond with a new baby, it is important not to pressure the child into a relationship and let this happen organically. By doing so, the relationship which is fostered between your child and the new sibling will be one of genuine love. 

By Jenna Kruse, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

Over the last decade, there has been a boom in technology advancement and an increase in screen time for both adults and children. As a result, there has also been a noticeable increase in stress, anxiety, and depression.

According to The Very Well Family, the average amount of time American children spend on a device is four to six hours per day. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one hour a day for children ages two to five and no screen time for children under eighteen months.

The benefits of limiting screen time for your child would include, but are not limited to: improved sleep habits, better focus and brain function, increased academic success, decrease in obesity, better vision, and lower risk of anxiety and depression.

As we all know, limiting screen time is easier said than done in a society where we are so connected on social media, Zoom, and FaceTime. Beyond communication, we also use our devices frequently for entertainment.

The following are specific strategies for setting screen time limits at home:

  1. Set your daily limit and stick to it. Doing this establishes clear rules for your child. This will be difficult at first, but after a short time your child will learn what to expect. Try your best not to give in to bargaining and tantrums from your child, as this will become a learned skill to acquire more time on their device.
  1. Do not allow your child to have any electronic devices in their bedroom. Children who have devices in their bedroom get less quality sleep and are more tempted to use their device. Set a “bedtime” for your child’s device each night. Have your children plug their device into the charger in a designated space outside their bedroom at a specific time. Set clear boundaries and expectations.
  1. Monitor the content your child is taking in and sending out. Children are impulsive and can click on links that allow access to information they should not be receiving. Your child’s device is your device. Monitor the texts they are sending and receiving; this will allow for teachable moments and discussions as needed.
  1. Create “phone free spaces.” This boundary ensures that balance is found and that time on a device is not taking away from personal connections. This could look like setting all devices on airplane mode during family dinner or family game night.

Studies show that new habits generally take a week to a month to form, but once changes are made, it does not take long to notice improvements. Your child’s healthy future will be worth every tantrum, bargaining session, or disagreement over your new boundaries to decrease screen time.

Technology can be a very positive thing as it allows for learning and connection. Allowing your child to use a device is okay, but help your child find a healthy balance.

By Ashley Hale, LCSW

“Nobody likes me.”  “I hate school.” “Something is wrong with me.”  “I don’t care about anything.”

As a school social worker, these are common sentiments I hear when talking with students. I think it is safe to say we all sometimes struggle with negative thoughts, but these thoughts are becoming more prevalent in our homes and schools, especially with teens. 

The teen years can be difficult, as a lot of changes, new responsibilities, and expectations emerge. Helping our teens navigate these changes and emotions is challenging, but vital.   

How can we positively influence how teens feel about themselves without so much pushback? It’s important to understand that teens desire privacy, space, and independence as a normal part of their development. This makes it more challenging for parents and caregivers to get them to open up to have genuine conversations. 

Here are some tips to help facilitate meaningful conversations with your teen and promote a positive self-image:

  1. Be authentic. Teens can detect when someone is not being authentic, and this is the key to creating the respect and rapport necessary to build a positive relationship. I highly encourage you to learn about the teenage brain. This will help you gain insight into their thought processes and empathize with their experiences.  
  1. Let them know you care by listening. Sometimes we worry so much about what we are going to say that we forget to open our ears. Listen to your teen while also showing positive regard. Be present in conversations and follow through with your commitments. Put your phone down, nod, and make eye contact. Most teens are more likely to share when they feel less pressure for details and are more in control of the conversation. Watch their mood and body language. Verbalize that you can see this is a hard situation for them. Let them know they don’t have to explain everything right now, but you are there for them when they’re ready. Tell them you love them and show physical affection with hugs if they are okay with that.  
  1. Ask them what they need. Most often, teens don’t want a lecture, they want to be heard. Active listening will open the door. Ask them regularly about their day with specific questions that you change up. Examples: “What was the hardest part of your day?” “What is your favorite class right now and why?” Point out specific skills and strengths. Focus more on providing praise than criticism.  
  1. Don’t avoid the hard conversations. Conversations about sexual health, gender, relationships, consent, drugs and alcohol, and other challenging conversations are hard, but they are essential.  
  1. Take a deep breath before you respond. It’s not uncommon for the things teens share with you to trigger worry, anxiety, and the desire to fix it for them. This often causes us to over respond. Responding with a lecture is likely to shut the conversation down. Note your internal thoughts, take a deep breath, and think about what you needed when you were their age. It is okay to say something like, “I love you. I don’t quite understand this right now, but we can figure it out together. What can I do to help right now?”

Remember, teens will make mistakes. It’s how they learn. Talking to teens can be challenging and takes a lot of patience, but it is worth the effort. You will build a strong rapport and will help them create a positive self-image during the process.  

CenterPoint Energy Foundation is investing in Indiana youth. The organization has awarded $100,000 to Youth First, Inc. to strengthen the mental health and well-being of students at Delaware Elementary School and Glenwood Leadership Academy in the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation (EVSC).

This significant gift from CenterPoint Energy Foundation, along with funding from other sources, will enable Youth First to provide school-based social work services and prevention programs at Delaware and Glenwood.

Speaking at a check presentation at Glenwood on October 6, Amanda Schmitt, CenterPoint Foundation President, stated: “This gift is part of our commitment to seeing communities thrive and seeing students reach their potential. As you all know, the last two years have been really difficult and I am so honored to partner with organizations like Youth First to ensure the last two years don’t define the next ten years. We want to make sure our students at Delaware and Glenwood continue to succeed and learn.”

Dr. David Smith, Superintendent of the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation, remarked, “CenterPoint is investing in the communities they serve so we can write our own future, rather than being defined by the past. There’s nothing more noble or worthy than investing in our youth to help them have a better life.”

Glenwood Principal Angela Oliver said, “Here at Glenwood, we believe in growing the whole child. We’re very committed to making sure our students are socially, emotionally and mentally healthy. We know our students can’t learn on the academic front until all of those other needs are met, so it’s a high priority for us. Youth First Social Worker Tiffany Austin has been here for 10 years and has created relationships and trust with our families. When they need something, they know our school is the hub of the community and they can call the office and ask to speak to Mrs. Austin to help meet some of those extra needs beyond academics. She is the face of GLA (Glenwood Leadership Academy).”

Youth First is addressing the growing need for mental health support in school buildings, partnering with 110 schools across 12 Indiana counties to embed skilled social workers, where they become specialized mentors for students and prevention coaches for parents and teachers. Youth First Social Workers build caring relationships, promote healthy choices, foster readiness for positive change, and boost resiliency along with other valuable life skills.