By Youth First – December 10, 2018

Sometimes the demands of this busy season can override the inherent joy, allowing stress to be an unwelcome guest at the table.

Here are some tips to help reduce stress and appreciate the upcoming holidays.

Put first things first. In the words of Dr. Redford  Williams,  director of Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Duke University, “ The holidays are supposed to be about kindness and  generosity and people most often neglect to extend these courtesies to those who need them the most – themselves.”

Remember the advice of airlines when “in the event of loss of cabin pressure,” adults are told to put on their oxygen masks first and then help their children. As parents, this may sound counterintuitive, but if you’re not breathing, you can’t help anyone else.

Healthy self-care allows us to handle those bumps in the road that are inevitable for us all.

Set a realistic budget. The cost of food and gifts seems to have grown faster than Jack’s proverbial beanstalk. Decide how much you can spend and stick to it.

Refrain from trying to buy the happiness of others, especially children. Those same children may try to convince you otherwise, but is that the message you want to instill?

Large families may opt for a gift exchange. Just decide what works best for your family. Overspending during the holidays could result in a post-holiday financial crisis, which is not a stress-free way to start the New Year.

Accept help. This is not a time to “out-Martha” Martha Stewart. Just think of the shopping, cleaning, baking, and entertaining this season. Remember, Martha has help and lots of it. All family members can help with shopping and cleaning, according to their age and abilities.

If Aunt Jane wants to contribute her famous horseradish-chocolate chip Jell-O mold, accept graciously. It may not be what you had planned, but it will make her feel appreciated and valued. Isn’t that what we would all like?

Just say no. Avoid over-committing your time when you know you are over-scheduled. Not speaking up can allow feelings of resentment, being overwhelmed, and being out of sorts.

If you’re thinking:  “They should know how busy I am!” Surprise! No one, outside of Cinderella’s fairy godmother, can discern our wishes or read our minds.

Similarly, no one can support and participate in every project, no matter how worthy. Schools, churches, and charities can all benefit from our time, talent, and treasure, but it’s up to us to choose what we can reasonably support.

Remain open to the joy of the season. Enjoy the first snowfall, the innocence of a kindergarten Christmas program, the gathering of family and friends around the dining table, or the sweet sounds of a church choir. All of these and more are available to us if we allow it.

In the words of those accidental philosophers, the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need.” Peace and joy are gifts of the season, freely given.

By Ellen Dippel, MSW, December 3, 2018 –

Technology gives us access to information at the speed of light and communication with others in an instant.  People can order their groceries, do all of their banking, and even take a college-level class – all with just a smart phone.

There is an application for virtually anything and everything on a smart phone.  These applications can help increase productivity and efficiency for both parents and students, give access to games for children, and serve as a tool to share ideas across the world.

Technology has helped the world greatly advance, but are these technological advancements also hindering creativity and imagination?

Technology such as television, tablets, and video games are becoming more and more popular for young children and teens. Screen time includes time spent on phones, televisions, tablets, and other electronic devices.

Children and adults alike can waste hours scrolling through phones and playing games without even realizing it. Unfortunately, spending time in front of a screen is becoming a go-to activity.

It is suggested that children younger than 18 months have no screen time, and no child should have more than two hours of screen time per day.

Screen time is replacing the development of creativity and imagination in children and adolescents.

Much of a child’s imagination and creativity is expressed through play, which develops problem-solving and critical thinking skills.  Children are able to come up with alternative ways of doing things when they explore the world through play-time activities.

There are many activities that parents can encourage to help promote creative and imaginative play, including the following:

  1. Spending time outdoors offers children the opportunity to discover and explore the world around them. Nature supplies many natural toys, tools, and canvases such as rocks, sticks, mud, and sand. Children can also participate in sports activities as a healthy alternative to screen time.
  2. Art activities encourage children to express themselves through a variety of media. Clay, paint, and other artistic media require concentration to develop. Creating a work of art gives the child a sense of accomplishment after making a unique creation.
  3. Role play different situations with your child. Encourage your child to play house, teacher, doctor, store, etc. Role play can help your child learn and develop verbal and social skills.
  4. Limit screen time for your child. Screen time does not require any real physical or mental strength. Limiting screen time encourages children to participate in creative or imaginative play activity that stretches their mind and body.

Encourage your child to develop their imagination and creativity through play. Monitor their screen time and set a good example by limiting your own screen time. Play with them and have conversations with them. Children and adults alike can benefit from enjoying other activities that engage the mind and body.

By Dawn Tedrow, LCSW, November 29, 2018 –

My son perfected his excuses for missing homework around sixth grade, and for some reason it became my problem.  That’s a strange thing for a parent to say, but I really felt as though teachers were accusing me of not being an adequate parent because I couldn’t ensure my child completed his homework at home.

This created a dynamic between the teachers and me, allowing my son to step back and play his games while I hashed it out with school.  Everyone was working harder for his success, and he had manipulated me into believing he was the victim.  It was toward the end of his eighth-grade year that I admitted defeat, and finally realized the problem was ME.

I was not listening to the information given to me by the teacher, because in my head, I was being told “You are a bad parent” – and it was hurtful.  The tone of my voice when talking about the teacher became negative, and my son fueled this.  He even went to school and told his teachers, “My mom doesn’t like you, and it makes her mad when you call her.”  I was my own worst enemy.

Taking a look at how I responded to teacher concerns was a big help for me.  Instead of taking the information as a personal attack, I reminded myself the teacher was attempting to form a positive alliance to determine why he was not turning in homework.  I hadn’t taught my son to be accountable and take responsibility for his actions.

Here are some suggestions for teaching this skill:

  1. Model positive communication with the teacher, and encourage the same from your child. When your child begins making negative statements about their teacher, redirect them to think about things they like about the teacher.
  2. Practice appropriate responses. There is an appropriate time and way to let the teacher know your child needs help or you don’t agree with a decision.
  3. Help your child see things from another’s point of view. This is particularly helpful for students who believe their teacher doesn’t like them.
  4. Do not make excuses for your child. Teach them to own their mistakes.  Everyone makes mistakes, and it’s alright.  Teach your child to admit their mistakes, then think of ways to prevent it from happening again.
  5. Encourage your child to process their feelings appropriately. It is perfectly normal to become upset, but it isn’t appropriate to throw a fit in the classroom.  Practice ways your child can excuse themselves from the classroom in order to calm down.  Discourage yelling, throwing things, slamming the door, and calling names.
  6. Be prepared to side with the teacher. Your natural instinct is to protect your child, so this is difficult for many parents.  It may be necessary to take 24 hours to think about information and decide how to respond to the situation.  Your child needs to know you support them, but you must also respect the teacher.  It is your responsibility to help mold your child into a successful member of society who treats others with respect.  This is a skill that will be used in college, jobs, and future relationships.
  7. Set clear expectations. Sit down with your child and write clear consequences for their actions.  For example:  Student is told he will lose cell phone for 24 hours if he has missing homework.
  8. Follow through. It is very important to always follow through with consequences.  There is no negotiation.  If you don’t follow through with consequences every single time, then behavior will continue to escalate.

It may not be the easiest thing to do as a parent, but it’s worth it. Holding kids accountable for their actions will help mold them into successful, responsible adults.

By Kacie Shipman, LSW, Nov. 21, 2018 –

The holidays are coming, and many people have special family traditions they enjoy observing this time of year.

Family traditions hold values and beliefs that are passed down from one generation to the next. Traditions help children feel a sense of belonging and consistency in their family.

Identity is often found in the traditions and values of our families. These traditions can be very simple, such as eating dinner together at the table or watching a movie together every Friday. They are activities that take place in a consistent manner and show the importance of togetherness.

Family traditions help bond families together, as they link generations. Children that have traditions implemented into their lives are found to be more resilient and well-adjusted. Traditions can teach children values about religion, heritage, and culture.

In an article by Bill and Kate McKay titled “Fatherhood, Relationships, and Families,” they state, “Researchers have found that family traditions and rituals can provide comfort and security to children, even if a main source of their stress originates from within the family itself.”

It is also important to keep things positive during the time of bonding. Be intentional in setting aside time, such as during dinner, to keep the conversation positive and upbeat. The greatest source of bonding occurs during times of high emotions.

Establishing a family game night is a great opportunity for many laughs and positive interactions (as well as stress relief). By establishing routines, you are showing your children that quality time with them is important.

Consistency of family traditions is especially important during challenging times, such as moving to a new area, parents’ divorce, or the loss of a loved one. Grief is often a time when families bond through rituals, such as taking flowers or special items to the burial grounds or planting trees or flowers in memory of their loved one. Creating a traditional way to remember those who have passed away can help in the grieving process.

Volunteering is another tradition that many families take part in together. Working together opens up important conversations regarding personal views on helping others. It also provides children with important life lessons, while spending important time bonding as a family. Identifying your values and what is important to you can be a good start in brainstorming ideas for new traditions to implement into your family.

Family traditions often occur during holidays and special events, but they can be implemented into routines throughout the year. Even if your children are grudgingly participating in your traditional events, they will someday appreciate the effort that was put into them.

You are giving your children so much more than the activity itself; you are passing on family values and life lessons. When you are observing your family traditions this year, remember there is a deeper meaning you are instilling in and providing for your children.

By Vicki Kirkman, LCSW, LCAC, Nov. 15, 2018 –

Imagine the following scene: There are bright balloons, a delicious cake and a room full of happy friends celebrating your child’s birthday.  As each of the birthday gifts is unwrapped, you hold your breath and wait for your child to say, “Thank you!”

It can be so disheartening when those words aren’t said without a reminder or “the look” from mom or dad.

Expressing gratitude doesn’t necessarily come naturally to young children.  It is normal and developmentally appropriate for younger children to be focused on themselves during their early years.

However, as children grow and their world becomes bigger, their ability to appreciate others and show gratitude becomes larger. Parents can help build their children’s awareness of gratefulness and teach them to demonstrate a grateful attitude. Listed below are some helpful tips.

  • Teach your child the simple but important practice of saying “please” and “thank you.”
  • Don’t miss an opportunity to catch your child doing something thoughtful! Acknowledge and praise what they did. Your kind words will set a good example for your child to use toward someone else.
  • Model your own gratefulness. Children will notice when their parent is grateful for a beautiful day, a door being held open, or a thoughtful gift from a friend.
  • Make it a daily or weekly habit to discuss what you are grateful for as a family. During dinner, in the car or before bed are great times to talk. Have each family member share one or two things they are thankful for and why. To begin the conversation it might be helpful to say, “What or who are you thankful for at home, school, or in the community?”
  • Foster experiences that allow children to help others. Volunteering at a food bank or animal shelter are great opportunities. Developing a list of random acts of kindness to check off together would be a fun way to teach children how good it feels to help others. Encourage your kids to identify the emotions they experience (happy, proud, helpful, nice, etc.).
  • Identify “helpers” with your child. Talk about the role of police, firefighters, military, teachers, and doctors. Discuss how each helper is valuable and do something to show gratitude toward them.  A simple note of appreciation or delivering cookies is a great way to say thank you!
  • Focus on sharing experiences instead of buying materialistic items. Leave the phone on the charger, turn off the television and enjoy the company of family. Use compliments and praise the strengths of each family member.
  • Get children involved in purchases. When your child wants the newest toy or electronic item, offer the opportunity to earn it by completing more chores or saving money to go toward the purchase.  The memory of working for it will hopefully create better maintenance of the item and a sense of ownership.
  • Engage older teens in discussions about world events. They are old enough to have their own thoughts and opinions about big issues that are happening. Talking about what is important to them and how it shapes their view on the world can be a great lesson in gratitude.

Start early and offer many opportunities to help children express and practice gratitude.  Teaching children how to express gratitude is a skill that will help them throughout their life!

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 Jordan Beach, LSW, Oct 31, 2018 –

Before having children I seriously undervalued the saying, “It takes a village.”  I had serious doubts that someone else could possibly know what was best for my child.

Once that baby came home, however, it became increasingly clear at an alarmingly fast rate that raising this child was going to take a team effort.  As a mom I want to believe that I can singlehandedly handle all of the stressors that are thrown my way. But truthfully it does take a village, and finding your village early is important.

American society sometimes gives fathers a bad reputation, like they are incompetent or don’t know what is best for their babies, but that is simply not true.  Most dads are capable and willing to play an essential role in caring for their children.

Actually, when both parents are involved in the child’s life and sharing the load it is best for everyone involved.

As an infant this helps the child form a healthy attachment to both parents. As the child gets older it allows them to see the strength of their team and understand the importance of their support system.

It’s especially important for parents to communicate early about what beliefs and morals they want to instill in their child. It is also important to decide on a discipline style when your child is still very young.

As your child gets older and starts to challenge the rules parents have laid out, the parents will find more success in changing negative behavior if they share a discipline approach. It’s especially important not to undermine the discipline techniques or strategies of the other parent in front of the child. This gives the impression the child does not need to take discipline from one parent as seriously as the other.

If we’re being honest, it takes more than just the parents to raise a child. It is important to have outside support. Sometimes this will look like extended family or friends.

The role that these people will play in your child’s life is also important. This extended support network can offer you relief as a parent, and they may also have the opportunity to teach your child things that you may not be able to.

As your child grows, so does their village. Often times we underestimate the impact of daycare workers and teachers as part of our village, but these are people who are helping shape the daily lives of our children. Outside of educating our children, they’re also teaching them empathy, teamwork and showing them copious amounts of love while you’re away.

Truthfully, you can never have enough positive role models for your children. It’s good to be picky about the people you surround your child with, but know that allowing more people into their lives allows them to feel more love. It gives them more opportunities to grow and allows you to take a step back and be grateful for the support and love in your own life.

Each morning children in our community get ready for school, and most of them pack a backpack…a backpack filled with notebooks, folders, pencils, markers – all of the tools they need to have a successful school day.

But as children head out the door, they may also be carrying a backpack you CAN’T see…

By Diane Braun, Project Manager, Oct. 24, 2018 –

Red Ribbon Week is the oldest and largest drug prevention program in the nation, reaching millions of young people each year.  This year’s event will take place October 23-31.

According to the Red Ribbon Week website, this event is an ideal way for people and communities to unite and take a visible stand against drugs.

Red Ribbon Week was started when drug traffickers in Mexico City murdered DEA agent Kiki Camarena in 1985.  This began the continuing tradition of displaying red ribbons as a symbol of intolerance toward the use of drugs.  The mission of the Red Ribbon Campaign is to present a unified and visible commitment towards the creation of a Drug-Free America.

National Family Partnership is the sponsor of this annual celebration. They are helping citizens across the country come together to keep children, families and communities safe, healthy and drug-free, through parent training, networking and sponsoring events.

With over thirty annual events having taken place, you might ask, “Is Red Ribbon Week effective?”  According to Peggy Sapp, President of National Family Partnership, consider the following:

  • Red Ribbon Week is an environmental strategy, which means it doesn’t just affect a small group but usually goes beyond schools, churches and other groups into the broader community.
  • Red Ribbon Week is designed to be an awareness campaign that gets information to the general public about the dangers of drug use.
  • Red Ribbon Week is designed to get people talking to other people and working on activities that will help rebuild a sense of community and common purpose.
  • Red Ribbon Week is designed to help parents and schools deliver an effective drug prevention curriculum.
  • Red Ribbon Week is designed to create critical mass, which is necessary to reduce destructive social norms/behaviors and promote positive social norms/behaviors.
  • Red Ribbon Week is designed to be positive and fun, two things necessary to maintain good mental health.

Schools can benefit from curriculum available on the official Red Ribbon Week website, www.redribbon.org.  Incorporating substance use prevention education into daily classes such as health is an ideal way to bring awareness to students and promote prevention.

Parents should also access the website for great ideas about talking to children of any age about the dangers of substance use.  Children of parents who talk to their teens regularly about drugs are 42 percent less likely to use drugs than those who don’t; however, only 25 percent of teens report having these conversations.

Alcohol and other forms of drug abuse in this country have reached epidemic stages, and it is imperative that visible, unified prevention education efforts by community members be launched to eliminate the demand for drugs.

Please join Youth First this week as we promote the importance of prevention and educating our children, families and communities about the dangers of substance use.

By Grace Wilson, Program Coordinator, Oct. 16, 2018 –

The conversation around marijuana is a hot topic in our society these days.  Most folks seem to choose one side or the other and not many fall in the middle.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), marijuana is the most used illegal drug in the United States with 36.7 million users (youth and adult) in the past year. This number is alarming because not everyone is aware of the physical and mental health risks, especially on our youth.

In a 2014 study, it was reported by Lancet Psychiatry that teens who smoke marijuana daily are 60 percent less likely to graduate from high school or college than those who never use. They were also seven times more likely to attempt suicide.

A human brain is not fully developed until the age of 25. When marijuana use is started at an early age, there will be damaging effects to the long-term cognitive abilities of that individual.

Marijuana has many damaging effects on the brain. It can affect the parts of your brain responsible for memory, learning, decision making, emotions, reaction times, and attention. These effects could look different in each person. Different factors can come into play, including the potency of the marijuana, how often it is used, if other substances were used along with it, and at what age the individual began using marijuana.

Many people believe marijuana use can calm anxiety and relax an individual, but frequent and heavy use can actually bring on more feelings of anxiety or paranoia.

What are some of the other risks of using marijuana?  First, marijuana is addictive.  According to the CDC, about 1 in 10 marijuana users will become addicted. That number rises to 1 in 6 if they began using before the age of 18.

Some signs of addiction can include unsuccessful efforts to quit using, giving up activities with friends or family because of marijuana, and continuing to use even though it has caused problems with work, school, and home life.

Marijuana also elevates the heart rate, causing it to work even harder. This is especially the case if other substances are used along with marijuana.  It can also cause respiratory problems, including chronic cough. While marijuana use has not been found as a direct link to cancer, many marijuana smokers also use cigarettes, which do cause cancer.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 71 percent of high school seniors do not view regular marijuana use as being harmful, but 64.7 percent say they disapprove of regular marijuana use.  Now is the time to start the conversation with your child around marijuana.

Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  1. Do your research on the topic and know how marijuana will affect your child’s health.
  2. Find a comfortable setting to have the conversation.
  3. Keep an open mind–your child will be less receptive if they feel judged.
  4. Stay positive and don’t use scare tactics, as they are counter-productive.
  5. Don’t lecture; keep the conversation flowing freely between the two of you.

Stay involved in your children’s lives by keeping the conversation open, and let them know they can come to you without fear or judgment. This can make a world of difference when having a discussion about marijuana use with your children.