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.

By Salita Brown, Oct. 19, 2018 –

Addiction…overdose…death…all of these serious consequences have become synonymous with opioid use.

Opioids are very powerful drugs that have received a lot of news coverage lately. However, through all of the coverage, the reason opioids have become so addictive has gotten lost.

So, what exactly is an opioid?  Why are people addicted to them?  According to the Mayo Clinic website, mayoclinic.org, an opioid is a broad group of pain-relieving drugs that work by interacting with the opioid receptors in your brain cells, meaning an opioid can temporarily control your brain.

Opioids trigger the brain to release a signal that lessons your perception of pain and increases your feeling of pleasure. This feeling of pleasure, though temporary, has led to repeated overdoses. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) currently reports 46 people die every day from opioid-related overdoses.

This crisis is one that everyone can help combat, even if you think it does not affect you directly. One of the easiest methods to combat this problem is proper disposal of unused medications.  All unused/expired medications become quite dangerous when found by the wrong person. This is especially dangerous when medications find their way into the hands of a child.

In order to help prevent this issue, it’s best to get those medications out of your home. You might think you need to go to your medicine cabinet and flush those unused pills down the toilet or maybe throw them directly into the trash. You are not entirely wrong, but both of those disposal methods require a couple more steps in order to be effective.

So, what exactly are the proper means for disposing of your expired or unused prescriptions? One option is to bring the unwanted medications to an authorized collector.  An authorized collector will simply take the medications, with no questions asked, and properly dispose of them for you. To find an authorized collector near you, please call the DEA Office of Diversion Control at 1-800-882-9539.

Another option is to flush your unused medications down the toilet. However, before you rush to flush all of your medications, please be advised that not all medicines are recommended for flushing. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a list of medicines approved for flushing that can be found by checking their website at www.fda.gov.  If your medication is not on the approved list, you can always take it to an authorized collector or utilize the next option.

The final disposal option is to throw the medications in the trash. Proper trash disposal requires that the medication is mixed, not crushed, with an inedible substance and closed firmly in a container or plastic bag. If you choose to dispose of the medication in its original pill bottle, it is recommended to scratch off or remove any identifying labels.

Now that you know the proper method for disposing of those unused prescriptions, take time to rid your home of them in a safe manner.  Proper prescription medication disposal may not solve the opioid crisis, but it certainly will not worsen it. If anything, safe-proofing your home for your loved ones is an excellent reason to properly dispose of unused/expired medications.

By Diane Braun, Oct. 3, 2018 –

The month of October brings Red Ribbon Week, an event supported by the National Family Partnership as an anti-drug campaign.  Since 1986, this campaign has brought awareness to the general public about the dangers of drug abuse, including alcohol, prescription drugs and marijuana.

Did you know the greatest influence on young people’s decision to begin drinking alcohol is the world they live in?  This includes their families, friends, schools, the larger community and society as a whole.  Alcohol use by young people is often made possible by adults.  After all, teens can’t legally buy alcohol on their own.

Alcohol is the most used and abused drug among teenagers in America.  According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 31.5 percent of all high school students in America report they have engaged in “binge drinking,” which is when someone consumes five or more drinks in one sitting.

On average 11,318 American youth ages 12-20 try alcohol for the first time every day.  Youth who began drinking alcohol by the 7th grade are more likely to have academic problems along with substance use and delinquent behavior in both middle and high school.  By the time they reach adulthood, it will often lead to criminal activity and violent crimes.

Youth who drink make this choice because they want to take risks or engage in risky behaviors that are taking place among their peer groups.  They might have less connection to their parents and more independence to use alcohol.  Alcohol might be a stress-reliever or they might simply have a lack of information about the dangers of alcohol.

The risks associated with underage drinking range from physical effects (such as hangovers) to death from alcohol poisoning. Major risks include exercising poor judgment to drive while impaired and engaging in risky behaviors.

Most importantly, a growing brain can be harmed by alcohol use. With the brain continuing to develop into the 20’s, damage done by alcohol can cause major problems.

What can a community do to change this?  If we create friendly, alcohol-free places where youth can gather, the pressure to use alcohol will diminish.  Providing programs, including volunteer work, where young people can grow, explore their options, succeed and feel good about activities without alcohol are proven to prevent use.

Educating young people on the dangers of “doing drugs” and showing what healthy choices can do to impact their lives is essential.  Providing resources to youth who are involved with underage drinking helps by letting them know that it’s never too late to stop the abuse and start making smarter choices.

Encourage young people to become involved in athletics and after-school activities such as clubs.  Create opportunities for older teens that have made the commitment to be drug-free to become mentors to younger students, showing by example how to make smart choices.

Parents, know your teen’s peer group.  Who are they spending time with?  What are they doing?

By focusing on the positives of prevention rather than scare tactics, youth will make decisions that will benefit them long-term without experiencing the effects of alcohol abuse.

By Lori Powell, LCSW – September 25, 2018 –

Throughout my life I have had the opportunity to meet people who have experienced multiple traumatic challenges in their lives. Some have been able to successfully work through their complicated issues, but others seem to have more difficulty managing their thoughts and emotions related to any change or significant event.

The difference is that some people have not fully developed their ability to be resilient. According to the American Psychological Association, the ability to be resilient is actually ordinary, not extraordinary.

The American Heritage Medical Dictionary defines resiliency as “the ability to recover quickly from illness, change, or misfortune.”

The American Psychological Association reports that research shows people who exhibit resiliency have developed supportive and caring relationships with friends and family, make plans they are able to complete, are confident in their strengths and abilities, manage their intense emotions and reactions to extreme events, communicate effectively, and work toward solving their problems appropriately.

The American Psychological Association also identifies 10 techniques that can enhance one’s ability to become more resilient:

1. Develop truly trusting, caring, and supportive relationships with friends, co-workers and family members. These relationships can be developed by spending more time with the significant people in your life.
2. Identify small positive changes in emotional distress. For example, acknowledge “I feel happier today than I felt yesterday.” Journaling can help identify changes in emotional state on a day-to-day basis.
3. Change is a continuous process throughout our lives. A person might not be able to change a situation but can work toward solving smaller problems related to the situation.
4. Set smaller attainable goals to identify each success. An example might be, “I woke up this morning and ate my breakfast.” In some cases these are definitely achievements that can be celebrated.
5. Admit that the problem exists and work toward fixing the issue. When a person denies that he or she has experienced a difficult situation they are avoiding healing, which makes it more difficult to recover.
6. Identify self-growth by acknowledging successes and the goals that have been achieved. When an individual solves one problem they might feel more confident to solve others.
7. Realize that you are able to resolve problematic situations. This realization is created when each additional problem is solved.
8. Do not exaggerate problems associated with the incident. When a person views the problem realistically they are able to handle it more effectively.
9. Stay positive by focusing on a better and brighter future.
10.Identify your emotions and your needs, which includes being able to relax and participate in activities that are enjoyable, such as spending time with family and friends.

Please remember that everyone is able to develop their ability to become more resilient. With determination, confidence, support, and encouragement, any issue can be managed and resolved effectively.

By Whitney Eaton, LCSW, Sept. 18, 2018 –

I am sure many of you have heard of the video game craze that is disrupting our children’s ability to socialize, spend time with family, complete homework, and focus at school.  I call it the “Fortnite Battle.”

I have a child who spends every available moment playing this video game.  Fortnite: Battle Royale is an online game that many children are currently enthralled with.  At school, all the talk is about the battle someone won last night or the new “skin” or “emote” they bought.

Like me, you may be wondering just what all of that means. I decided it was time to learn more about it and thought it would be helpful to share some information about Fortnite.

First, what is this game?  In Fortnite: Battle Royale, 100 players compete against each other to be the last person standing in player vs. player combat.  Basically, the game starts out with players being dropped on an island.

While exploring, the player is able to arm himself with resources such as traps and weapons.  If the player comes across another player they engage in battle.  A storm approaches, which causes players to move closer together.  In a battle that lasts 20 minutes, the goal is to be the last one standing.

The player is also able to build traps, stairs, and walls to help gather resources or defeat another player.  Another option is to just play with four players.  You can invite people to play with you.  This battle is one hour and you have unlimited lives.

So, why is this game so addictive?  The game definitely has many appealing features.  The graphics are cartoon-like.  It has lots of bright colors and crazy “skins,” outfits the players wear.  Some skins cost money, and of course kids want the coolest and newest skin available.

The game has been described as being a cross between Minecraft and Call of Duty.  It is a multi-person shooting game in an unrealistic setting, but surprisingly there is not a lot of blood and gore.

The game can also be silly at times.  The players know all the latest dance moves, called “emotes.”  Yes, your player can dance “The Floss” while engaging in battle.  In addition to dancing, players can also play basketball or beach volleyball.

Fortnite is rapidly becoming the way in which many teens socialize.  A player can talk with other players throughout the game.  Players are hosting tournaments where they can win prizes.  Also, when friends come over, a favorite activity is often playing Fortnite, watching the other person play, or watching random people play the game on YouTube.

Some students I spoke with shared some wonderful insight into the game.  Fortnite: Battle Royale is free and can be played on many different platforms including, Xbox One, Play Station 4, computers, and tablets.  You don’t have to be skilled to play.  You can basically hide out and gather resources through a major part of the battle.  Also, the creators of the game introduce new aspects of the game all the time.  New skins, new emotes, and new resources are often added.

As a parent, I want to know how my child is spending his time, especially if he is playing with others online.  Sitting with him while he played a Fortnite battle definitely helped me understand the game better and allowed me to make a more informed decision about letting him play.  I hope these points allow you to make more informed decisions about your child’s gaming time.

By Leah Lottes, LSW – Sept. 12, 2018 – When you think of anxiety, what comes to mind? Many people view anxiety as a feeling of worry and nervousness, but this isn’t always the case, especially when referring to elementary-aged students. There are many different types of anxiety, which is one reason why it may […]