By Rachel Haug, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.

Adolescence represents a critical period of self-exploration. The teen years are when many factors contributing to lifelong well-being are developed. As a parent, it is important to be aware of what is affecting your child’s well-being and know how to direct them to a positive sense of purpose and self-respect.

Well-being refers to a person’s state of being comfortable, healthy, and happy. A person’s well-being shapes their quality of life; it is where they find value and what they ultimately see as good. In adolescence, happiness is often learned and can be linked to three key categories: connecting with others, getting active, and giving back. As a parent, you can play an active role in your child’s well-being by encouraging them to take action in each of the following categories.


Adolescents will always seek connection on some level, no matter how big or small in scale, and the way they connect with others influences their sense of well-being. It is vitally important for our children to be mindful of the types of connections they are making. “We become like the people we surround ourselves with” is a quote I often use with students to help them think about the influence their friendships have on their lives.

You can also play a part in your child’s connection with others through having conversations about the importance of positive connections and modeling what it looks like to have healthy relationships with others.

Getting Active

Our bodies are designed to move and move they must! Studies suggest that moderate exercise is not just good for the body but improves mental health as well. Researchers concluded that 45 minutes of exercise a week could show signs of mental health improvements. The activities that showed the most substantial improvements in adolescents were team sports, cycling and aerobics, or other gym activities. You can help your child get active by encouraging them to join a sports team or after school program or starting a running or exercise club with their friends. This could promote mental wellness and assist them in forming more positive connections with others.

Giving Back

We want our children to cultivate a drive to contribute to their community. Beyond that, when adolescents are raised to care about giving, they are also more likely to have fulfilling lives. There are opportunities in every community to serve. Many opportunities to give back exist in daily life and are not just connected to formal programs. Your adolescent’s school may also be a great place to start. Examples include tutoring students in need or joining a club to improve the school environment.

As we raise our adolescents to improve the world, we will build stronger communities where people care for and about each other. Our children in turn develop a more positive sense of well-being and their opportunities to make impactful change, both personally and among others, are endless.

By Valorie Dassel, MSW, LCSW, LCAC, Youth First, Inc.

As parents, we just want our children to be successful and happy. We hope they will be honest, hardworking, and motivated to create healthy work and personal lives. The truth is that the material world will never provide this happiness. True happiness comes from intrinsic self-worth. 

Self-worth is the internal sense of being good enough and worthy of love and belonging from others. While many facets of life and spirituality influence the development of self-worth, part of how an individual defines this worth comes from their achievements.  

These days we often hear comments that teenagers lack motivation. They are often called a “lazy generation.” Of course, the influences of the world we live in have impacted our youth. The pandemic, social media distractions, and culture shifts have taken a toll on young people. However, as parents we must take some ownership and invest in developing our youth to get beyond these hardships.

Helping our teens envision the long-term benefits of working hard to achieve their best is a great place to start. Teaching them how to prioritize their responsibilities and still make time for fun and friends is fundamental.

Allow your teen to fail and use these difficulties to help shape their resiliency and work ethic. There is a wise saying: “When you make a choice, you are choosing the consequences.” Innately in our parent hearts, we want to keep our children from making mistakes. However, these personal dilemmas are often opportunities for personal growth. As parents, we must find a healthy boundary to allow kids to experience failure while also supporting and guiding them. 

Encouraging our children to be able to receive helpful criticism through honest self-assessment is a great way to build their self-esteem. This is best taught through modeling. You can practice modeling by verbalizing situations when you dealt with criticism and talking through the honest parts of the criticism without defense and using rational thought. This skill will address the inclination of some youth to make excuses, which can stunt their personal growth and self-esteem. 

Responsibility fosters confidence in teens to try new things and set goals. When these goals are achieved, their esteem grows and the intrinsic reward results in increased happiness. The internal results of these accomplishments are happiness and life satisfaction.  

These positive character traits translate into teens’ personal relationships, professional lives, and self-worth. Our teenagers are faced with a completely different world than we encountered as teens. The importance of instilling them with positive character traits that previous generations found important has not changed. 

Our youth of today are amazing individuals who still need their parents, communities, and leaders to believe in them guide them, and be open to the new ways they approach the world, while instilling the valued character traits of generations past.

By Melinda Johnson, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.

We often hear the word “coping” in conversation, but what does it really mean? People often think coping skills are learned in therapy, but we all cope from day to day- some of us are just better than others. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Coping is defined as the thoughts and behaviors mobilized to manage internal and external stressful situations.”

Coping looks different for everyone. Here are a few of my preferred ways of coping with stressful situations in a healthy way. 

  1. Reframing and challenging negative thoughts. Reframing is looking at negative thoughts or situations from a more positive perspective. It’s important to remember that our initial reaction isn’t always the most accurate and that thoughts aren’t facts. For example, maybe you have a big presentation at work approaching or your student has a big test. Instead of saying, “I’m such a nervous wreck, I can’t possibly do this,” try “I’m really nervous right now, but I’m going to be brave and look at what I need to prepare to feel ready.”
  1. Go outside. Studies have shown that being outside has significantly improved both physical and mental health. This doesn’t have to be a strenuous hike through the woods. It can be sitting on your porch for ten minutes, taking a small walk around the block, going to the park to enjoy the swings, digging in the garden, or even taking a few minutes to do some birdwatching. 
  1. Breathing exercises. Breathing is something we often don’t pay attention to because our brain does this automatically. Focusing on your breathing is effective because it helps decrease the flight-or-fight response that your body triggers when it notices increased stress or danger.
  1. Try writing or journaling. Writing can help get out thoughts that otherwise feel jumbled or disorganized. I often hear “I don’t know how to start.” There’s no best formula, but journaling prompts are relatively easy to find online. Writing has also been shown to help express feelings that we otherwise have difficulty articulating. 
  1. Listen to music. Have a favorite band or song? Music easily affects our emotions and is a good way to regulate how you’re feeling. 

Don’t feel connected to any of these? That’s okay. It doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can build into your day to day to help manage emotions more effectively. Maybe you can draw or paint, read a book, go for a run, lift weights, have a conversation with a friend, put together a puzzle, or snuggle with your pet.

We want to learn how to deal with emotions rather than be scared or ignore them. As adults, it’s important to learn how to manage emotions so our children know it’s okay to experience them and find effective ways to manage them too.

By Jordan Nonte, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

We’ve all felt sad at some point in our lives, we’ve all felt anxious, but at what point do these emotions go from normal to disruptive? You may be wondering why anxiety and depression often get lumped together. How are these two related?

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, half of all people diagnosed with depression will also be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent of mental illnesses in the US, affecting 40 million adults, while 17 million suffer from depression. Anxiety and depression are very treatable, but only about a third of people seek treatment.

So when should you seek treatment for anxiety or depression? And what is anxiety and depression? Typically, anxiety is defined as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or uneasiness, possibly due to an uncertain event or outcome. This is a completely normal response, especially before participating in events such as a big test, sports game, or public speaking. This feeling becomes an issue when the worry is disproportionate to the situation at hand or is unnecessarily present.

Some affected by anxiety may be obsessively worrying about an event or idea that is utterly unrealistic, such as a loved one being in danger at that very moment. It is then, when the feeling becomes a constant despite the truth about reality, that it is no longer helpful—but problematic to daily living.

Depression, on the other hand, is typically defined as persistent sadness. Symptoms may include decreased mood, difficulty sleeping, lack of energy, loss of interest in hobbies/pleasurable activities, feelings of hopelessness, guilt, irritability, difficulty focusing, or suicidal ideation. Anyone at any age can be depressed, and not everyone will experience all the same symptoms.

Some risk factors of depression include family history of depression, traumatic life events, stress, or a major life change such as giving birth or the passing of a loved one. This feeling of sadness may become problematic when a person feels as though they cannot complete their regular daily tasks at work, school, or home. They may struggle just to take care of themselves every day, and have trouble finding motivation to eat, shower, or brush their teeth to name a few.

If you think you may be suffering from anxiety or depression, what should you do? Do not hesitate to call your family physician. Your doctor will want to assess your physical and mental symptoms before deciding on some treatment options. Some people may also experience physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, heart palpitations, chest pain, and headaches that can be linked to anxiety or depression.

Some treatments may include psychotherapy, medication, relaxation techniques, or self-help practices. It’s important to get help early to decrease the chances of thoughts of self-harm or suicide. Just remember, you are not alone, and there are many options for treatment. Start feeling like you again!

By Megan Shake, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

Food. We all need it and can’t live without it. It’s what brings us together whether it’s a family dinner, a holiday, a work pitch-in, or a party. However, for families with food allergies, a shared meal can lead to stress, anxiety, and even fear.

Unless you or someone you know has a food allergy, you may not realize the true impact allergies can have on the child and their family. Statistics show that one in every 13 kids has a food allergy, and every 3 minutes a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room.

While there are foods known to be top allergens, any food can be an allergen. The one thing that all food allergies have in common is that they all have the potential to be life threatening. There is no way to predict if a reaction will be mild or severe, and how someone reacts once does not predict future reactions.

So, what is it like for a child who has a food allergy? It can look different for everyone. It can mean eating anywhere outside of their home is challenging. Between snacks brought into school and meals served in the cafeteria, the child has to be careful of what is eaten at school. It can also mean eating at home before attending an event or reviewing a menu and calling to ask about ingredients before going to a restaurant.

There are things people can do to help those affected feel safer and more at ease. If someone in your life has an allergy, know what the person is allergic to and remember it.

Read food labels. Not all foods label allergens separately so reading a food label means reading the whole ingredient list to see if an allergen is listed. Also be on the lookout for the “may contain” label. Some people eat foods with these labels while others strictly avoid those foods.

Understand cross contamination. Not only does this include being aware of “may contain” labels, but it also means understanding how to put certain practices into place when preparing a meal or eating. Wiping down counter spaces after using certain ingredients or using separate utensils when cooking are great starting points.

Know potential symptoms of an allergic reaction. This could include hives, nausea, vomiting, coughing, wheezing, itching, and swelling. Also know the plan for the child if any of these symptoms were to occur. For example, an allergic reaction may mean giving Benadryl or could mean administering an Epi Pen and going to the hospital. 

Lastly, go out of your way and prepare food that is considered safe for those with allergies.  Ask questions and double check. It’s such a relief for a family to get to their destination and realize there is food that is allergy-friendly. Yes, it’s a lot of extra work, but I promise the child and their family will appreciate it more than you know!

By Chelsea Pfister, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

In today’s hustle and bustle, our society is keen on focusing on our never-ending to-do lists, as well as the other roles and responsibilities that scatter our lives. With hectic schedules during the school year, inflation at an all-time high, and post-COVID protocols still around, parents might wonder what steps they can take to seize these moments of opportunity with their children and maximize their children’s success.

Below, parents can find several tips on how to strengthen bonds with their children and maximize their children’s success.

  1. Words of affirmation. Getting into the routine of giving words of affirmation to your child is a great way to seize the opportunity for connection. Practice this by saying things such as “I love you” or “You are doing so well.” This is important even on challenging days. In fact, when parent-child disagreements occur, this is a more important time than ever to express your love to your child.
  1. Share values and beliefs. Talk with your children about your values and beliefs. It is important to allow your child to ask questions and to answer them honestly. The more frequently these teachings are reinforced, the deeper the understanding your child will have of expectations within the home. 
  1. Allow children to help you. Sometimes, parents can miss forging these closer relationships with their children by not allowing them to help with household chores and various tasks. Examples of this include helping with organization around the house, cooking meals, and even grocery shopping. Children that experience this autonomy and feel as if their voice is heard can have higher self-esteem and closer relationships.
  1. Eat meals as a family. Families that eat dinner together have closer relationships and better communication with one another. Utilizing mealtime to discuss each other’s day can be a great way to open communication lines and engage in family time. Some parents even make a fun tradition out of it; for example, having each person share one positive thing they accomplished that day. Remember to keep conversations positive and avoid using this time for confrontation or discipline.
  1. Seek out one-on-one opportunities often. Make time for individual experiences with your child (Or, if you have more than one child, make time for individual time with each of them). This does not have to be an extended period of time; rather, taking small moments throughout the week to engage in small tasks with children individually can make them feel important, and can help forge those family connections.
  1. Practice your own self-care. This is perhaps the most important tip on the list. As important as it is to be mindful to optimize positive connections with our children, it’s also incredibly important to take care of yourself as a parent. Take moments of opportunity to nourish yourself by doing things that you enjoy and that fulfill you. Remember, it is a marathon – not a sprint!

Chelsea Pfister, MSW, LSW, is a Youth First Social Worker at North Posey High School and North Posey Jr. High in Posey County. Youth First, Inc. is a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families, providing 83 Master’s level social workers and prevention programs to 117 schools in 13 Indiana counties. Over 60,000 youth and families per year are served by Youth First’s school social work and after school programs that promote mental health, prevent substance misuse, and maximize student success. To learn more about Youth First, visit or call 812-421-8336.

Join us to strengthen kids! A local tradition continues, as this year’s 21st Annual Passport to Adventure Benefit Auction will be held online from April 10 – April 22. New auction items are being added daily, so check back often!

Register to bid and browse auction items here.

By Jayme Waddell, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

There is not a person around who is going say being a parent is easy. It is often a balancing act. We want kids to be self-sufficient, while also providing all the help we can. We want confident children, but they should also be humble.

Sometimes we focus so much on the strong and confident attributes we are trying to instill in our children that we forget some of the other very important traits they will need as they grow: empathy and conflict resolution skills. It might feel strange to put these two things together, but being able to feel empathy towards others will directly affect how they resolve conflict.  

As we build kids into strong, confident future leaders, we need to remember that leaders are also good listeners. Good leaders are also kind, can take criticism from others with grace, and can communicate their feelings in a healthy way. So how do we teach our kids skills like empathy and conflict resolution? 

Step 1: Modeling – The best thing we can do is model these behaviors for our children. When you’re out to eat at a busy restaurant and you feel the service is less than stellar, you can model empathy by making positive comments about how hard the people around you are working or how they might be short staffed.

There are also many opportunities to model patience for your child. When your child is arguing with a sibling, try to help them navigate their feelings. Ask them listen to each other, validate how each of them is feeling during their time to speak, and encourage positive solutions. Our children are great at generating creative ways to solve their own problems when given the opportunity.

Step 2: Look for teachable moments – These could be real life situations, or you could take time to talk through how they would handle situations in a book you’re reading together. Encourage them to think about how the characters might be feeling and why (creating the opportunity for them to be empathetic). Ask about what they might do if they were in that situation and what the results of those decisions might be. 

Step 3: Use “I” Messages – Communicate your own feelings with your child to help them learn how to communicate their feelings in the same way. I-messages sound like “I feel sad when you don’t let me play with you, will you please include me next time?” Helping your child learn how to use this type of phrasing at home and with their peers teaches them how to communicate in a non-combative way and encourages others to hear them without becoming defensive.  

Teaching our children these skills help empower them to have difficult conversations while building healthy and strong relationships. It is possible to have strong kids who are also kind and empathetic. These are the types of skills that help grow future leaders.  

By Deena Bodine, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.

Parenting presents many rewards and challenges. Watching our children grow into teenagers who are working to manage demands, grow more independent, and build interpersonal relationships is one of those rewarding experiences. 

During the adolescent years, our teens are likely to experience milestones, including an interest in more romantic relationships as well as developing a deeper capacity for sharing in relationships that are more intimate. We, as parents, can be caught off guard when our child experiences heartbreak.  

As adults, we may look back fondly on memories of our first love, or we may cringe while remembering what we thought was love. Our children’s experiences can often evoke responses from us rooted in our own personal experiences. At times, it can be challenging to know how to best support and encourage our children. Heartbreak is no exception. 

First, our initial response in this situation should be to listen to our child. Listening allows our child to explore and process their thoughts and feelings without interference. This can be a challenge for us because we have spent so much of their lives offering suggestions and advice. 

Second, we should validate their feelings. Heartbreak is an example of grief and loss, and with that may come feelings of sadness, anger, and guilt—not unlike those emotions experienced with the death of a loved one. Validation involves tuning into your child, acknowledging their feelings without ignoring, dismissing, or judging.  

Following a breakup, it can be common to distance yourself from others. While it can be beneficial for your teen to take time for themselves, it is also important for teens to stay connected. Discuss finding a balance between taking time for themselves and connecting with others. 

Keeping busy with activities your teen enjoys can do wonders for the healing process. While it may be a challenge for your teen to avoid their ex, especially if they attend the same school or have the same circle of friends, encourage your teen to set healthy boundaries. This includes online too. Encourage your teen to practice healthy social media habits and limit posting or commenting online regarding their relationship. They may choose to limit messaging or online interactions with their ex as well. 

Lastly, assist your teen in maintaining their routine as much as possible. Check on their health habits, including sleep and staying active. Encourage your teen to talk with family and friends who can support them. Help your teen recognize the positives of a breakup, which include learning more about themselves as well as what they want (or don’t want) in future relationships. 

If your teen is struggling to move on following a breakup, or if feeling unsafe in any way, it is important to advocate for help on their behalf. Encourage your teen to talk to someone they trust. If these feelings are affecting daily life, stopping them from doing things they enjoy, or have lasted longer than a couple of weeks, it may be beneficial for your teen to talk with their physician or a counselor. 

By Brittney Cameron, MSW, Youth First, Inc.

One of the most difficult parts of parenting is managing your child’s behavior. Behavior management is crucial because we want to raise kids who know how to act and behave appropriately, both at home and in social settings.

So how do you manage your child’s behavior? Do you find yourself constantly yelling at your child to call out their misbehavior? Are you often losing your temper and feel like you are already overwhelmed? If you want to see a change in your child’s behavior, you may want to reconsider your approach. This is where positive reinforcement comes in. 

Positive reinforcement is a parenting technique that is used to encourage obedience and teach desired behavior without the use of punishment, threat, abuse, shame, or humiliation. The long-term benefits of positive reinforcement establish a positive impact on the child’s long-term behavior.

Negative reinforcement can instill anxiety and fear that may result in long-term negative impacts on a child’s self worth. Some of the important benefits of positive reinforcement make your child feel loved, develop your child’s self-esteem, and boost your confidence as a parent!

Here are some examples of positive reinforcement that you can practice with your child.

  1. Encourage your child to clean up by offering praise right when it happens. As you see them start to pick up their toys, offer verbal praise for them starting the effort by saying something like, “I like how hard you are working to put your toys away.”
  2. If mealtimes are a battle, reinforce your child taking a bite of food even if they do not eat the entire thing. Try to stray away from bribing your child with dessert.
  3. Instead of nagging your child 20 times to brush their teeth, reinforce the steps leading up to the teeth brushing. If you explain that it is time for your child to brush their teeth and they start moving toward the bathroom, you can verbally praise them for starting the process.
  4. When you see your child independently starting their homework, you can use verbal positive reinforcement to encourage them to continue. Focus on the process of doing the homework itself rather than on how your child does on the homework.
  5. Similarly to how you approach homework, when your child does well on a test you want to praise the effort. This reinforces the idea that hard work is to be celebrated.
  6. Sometimes kids can be timid about trying something new. To encourage them, praise your child’s effort. Rather than saying, “You played so well!” you can say, “I know how scary it can be to do something new. I like how you tried this even though you were scared.”

Positive reinforcement may take some practice, but once you start using the technique of praising the process rather than the outcome, it can be hugely beneficial to your children and will strengthen your relationship.