By Beth Greene, MSW, LSW – March 5, 2019

Technology is the norm in our society today. One in three children learns to use an electronic device before they learn to talk.

Does your child get angry when you mention that an electronic device could be taken away as a punishment? Technology addiction is not yet an official diagnosis; however, studies are publishing more and more research about the real effects of excessive time spent on electronic devices.

Studies show that not all technology has negative impacts. Kids and adults can often be in denial of their addiction and say things like, “I need this for school” or “It’s just a game.”  

There are signs of technology addiction and ways to prevent the addiction from causing behavioral issues at home and at school.

It is normal in today’s society to use electronic devices, video games, and social media. However, excessive use of electronics can create addiction-like behaviors that we must be aware of in an effort to prevent unhealthy dependence.

Some researchers have compared social media today to a modern-day playground for children. It is normal for a child to become upset when their playground is taken away and they are not permitted to use their electronics.

When electronic devices begin to cause extreme behavioral issues you may need to start making changes regarding the electronic use in your home.

These are few signs you can look for in determining if your child has developed an unhealthy dependence to technology:

  • Your child has decreased interest in other activities they previously enjoyed.
  • Your child has increased mood swings and argumentative behavior regarding their use of electronic devices.
  • Your child becomes angry over small things but quickly calms when they return to their device.
  • Your child has difficulty unwinding to go to sleep after utilizing electronics.
  • Your child has increased lying or devious behavior, such as hiding their devices and/or using them in bed without permission.
  • Your child hides in isolated places with their devices to avoid confrontation.

There are ways to control the use of electronics. The first thing to remember as a parent is that our children learn from our actions more than our words.

Take in to consideration how much time you are spending on your electronic devices. Are you showing your child ways to stimulate their minds away from electronics?

Some researchers recommend a 72-hour digital detox if you are concerned with your child or family’s excessive use of electronics. You can expect your children to be more irritable during this detox; however, they will transition if you provide consistency.

After the digital detox you can start implementing and enforcing more structured rules about the use of devices in your home. For example, you may choose to implement no electronic use until homework is finished, no devices during meals, no devices one hour before bed, and devices must be in parental possession when the kids are in bed for the night.

The rules in each home may vary, but creating guidelines and being consistent with those restrictions may be vital to your child’s sleep hygiene, mood, and well-being.

By Lisa Cossey, LCSW, February 26, 2019 –

Most of us have heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” Recent research into food and the effects it has on the body and mind now have us saying, “Change your food, change your mood.”

Our brains are made of many neural pathways, transmitters, and chemicals that make up and regulate our thoughts and moods. Serotonin, the ‘feel good neurotransmitter’, makes us feel happy. When serotonin levels drop, it can make us feel sad or depressed.

Serotonin is directly linked with tryptophan, an amino acid found in many foods. Diets consisting of foods with low tryptophan levels lead to depleting serotonin in the brain, which in turn then leads to irritability, aggression, lowered mood, and impaired memory.

Diets including foods with high levels of tryptophan can provide the opposite effect and raise serotonin levels naturally. Turkey is high in tryptophan, so don’t relegate it only to Thanksgiving. Ground turkey can easily be used as a substitute for ground beef in most recipes.

Cottage cheese is also high in tryptophan and could easily be included in daily meals. Skip the chips at lunch and have some cottage cheese instead.

Another way to lower risk for depression, especially in women, is to drink coffee regularly. A National Institute of Health study tracked women over a ten year period (1996-2006) and found that women who drank coffee regularly throughout the week had lower reported depressive episodes than non-coffee drinking women.

How about a sweet treat to go with that coffee? Dark chocolate has been found to increase serotonin levels naturally as well, leading to improved mood. Bananas can also be included on a list of foods that will decrease negative mood-related symptoms.

Other amino acids, such as L-theanine and Omega-3, a fatty acid, as well antioxidants and minerals such as magnesium and zinc can all help reduce anxiety symptoms. Salmon is a great source of Omega-3 and can also alter dopamine and serotonin levels, packing a double advantage to reduce anxiety and improve mood.

Dark leafy greens, such as spinach and kale, contain magnesium. Other foods found to reduce anxiety symptoms include, Oysters, green tea, and blueberries. Flavonoids, an antioxidant found in blueberries, assist in regulating mood, in addition to many other health benefits eating fresh fruit provides.

The foods listed above are not a complete list. If you are considering a major change to your diet, or if you have food allergies or other monitored health issues, please consult a physician and/or nutritionist. Changing what you eat, even small changes, such as eating a banana for a snack or swapping out the iceberg lettuce in a salad with dark, leafy greens, can impact overall health and mood for the better.


By Brooke Skipper, LCSW, February 19, 2019 –

The word feminism is often criticized by society. There are many who may not even read an article with the word feminism in the title.

In all actuality, feminism is defined as equality of the sexes. At its core, feminism just means believing we are all equal and should, therefore, have equal opportunities.

A powerful quote by Gloria Steinem states, “Though we have the courage to raise our daughters more like our sons, we’ve rarely had the courage to raise our sons like our daughters.”

We want our daughters to be assertive, bold, to understand they can aspire to whatever path in life they choose. We’ve changed our clothing lines for girls to include items with the word “strong” instead of the standard “pretty.” We encourage our girls to explore science, sports, and business, which are typically viewed by society as “male.”

But what about the boys? How often do we let our boys know pink is not a representation of a sex, that they can take dance lessons, that crying is not just okay but natural, that they can be beautiful, kind, and sensitive? Instilling acceptance and equality in our sons can help avoid the toxic masculinity that can debilitate them in the future.

 Here are some ways we can raise our children to see each other as equal:

  • Teach them to feel their feelings. When our children cry, a knee-jerk reaction is to say, “Don’t cry.” This is detrimental on many levels, as we are teaching our children to suppress their emotions. When our sons cry, this detriment reaches another level if we say, “Be a big boy and stop crying.” Instead, let your son know that it is okay to feel upset and help them cope with their emotions.
  • Remember that household chores are for the entire household. Make sure your children know everyone is expected to help with all chores. Chores are about what is age appropriate, not male/female appropriate.
  • Expose children to strong female characters and teach them that women can be powerful. Encourage your children to be any character they want to be during imaginative play, regardless of if the sex aligns with theirs. If your son wants to pretend to be Wonder Woman, let him.
  • Don’t differentiate between toys or hobbies. Encourage your children to participate in activities and play with toys that appeal to them. Don’t stereotype an activity or toy as “for girls” or “for boys” only.
  • Encourage coed friendships. It’s great for kids to have friends who are the same gender, but it’s equally important for them to have friends of the opposite sex. Boys can learn that girls aren’t the weaker sex and can have great ideas of their own. 
  • Teach children that feminism is not male bashing, it is about equality. Being a feminist means you believe everyone should coexist equally. No one is less than or more than another. Defined in that way, why wouldn’t you want to be a feminist?

By Amy Steele, LCSW, LAC, RPT, February 12, 2019 –

Independence and self-reliance are valuable skills to equip children with as they grow. We want them to be able to take care of themselves and not have to rely on others meet their needs. 

To nurture and develop those skills we have to start early in childhood.  Starting as young as age 1 or 2, begin to give children small, simple tasks and encourage them in their efforts.  This takes consistency and day-to-day nurturing. It is not always easy and can sometimes be time consuming. 

Most parents can recall a time when doing something for their child was easier, quicker, or more peaceful than having the child do it.  Yet, each time we choose to do something for our child that they are capable of doing for themselves, we are taking away the chance for them to build confidence in their ability and learn important life skills on their way to independence and self-reliance.

Here are some tips for fostering independence in your child:

  • Consider opportunities. Identify tasks that are age-appropriate and safe (be sure to provide proper supervision when needed). Making a list of tasks can be helpful for you and your child.
  • Pre-plan to allow for extra time and the probability that there will be mistakes.  It’s easier for us to be calm and patient with the effort when we are not pressed for time.
  • Prioritize and go slow.  Pick one task at a time so your child isn’t overwhelmed.
  • Work together. Initially it may be good to share the task, especially if your child is resistant to the idea.
  • Give choices. Making choices is part of being independent. Allowing them to pick between two simple choices acceptable to you gives them pride and practice. (i.e. “Do you want to put the spoons or the forks out as we set the table?”)
  • Perfection is not the goal. Accept that it won’t be done as well as you could do it. If messes are made use it as another learning experience. Show your child how to clean it up with patience and understanding, assuring them that it happens to everyone.
  • Encourage problem solving. When questions come up, encourage them to come up with solutions to minor issues, even if they need to think about it a little, instead of rushing in and taking care of it for them.

Some appropriate tasks for children ages 2-3 include picking up toys and books, putting dirty laundry in the designated spot, throwing away trash, partially (working up to fully) dressing themselves, removing shoes and putting them away, and dusting with a sock on their hand. Kids ages 4-5 can make their bed, clean out things under their bed, feed pets, water plants, clear dishes from the table and wipe up their area.

At age 6-7 kids can sweep the floor, empty the dishwasher, gather trash from different rooms, fold clothes and towels and match socks.  By 8-9 years of age kids can walk the dog, bring empty garbage cans up from the curb, sweep the porch, put groceries away, and tackle simple cooking and baking with parental supervision. 

Encouraging independence at a young age, not doing for your child what they can do for themselves, will build confidence and self-reliance that they can build on as they grow.

By Katie Omohundro, LCSW – January 22, 2019 –

First popularized by psychiatrist Carl Jung, the terms “introversion” and “extroversion” have been used in a variety of ways. From “the shy one” to “the social butterfly,” there are a number of generalizations which are often mistakenly used regarding the introvert/extrovert spectrum. But once we know where we stand, what’s next?

Attention and energy are significant dividing points between introversion and extroversion, particularly where one puts their attention and how one gets their energy. Extroverts are more likely to focus on the outer world of people and things, while introverts are more focused on the inner world of ideas and images.

For introverts, understanding their strengths, as well as how to handle their challenges, is a multi-step process. The sooner we learn how to manage our differences from those around us, the more we can keep from draining our batteries.

Here are four things that conscious introverts have done to help them be more successful:

  • Reframing: Being an introvert is an asset.
    • Negative stereotypes about introverts are easy to come up with: unfriendly, withdrawn, shy, lacking social skills.
    • The gifts of introversion are many – but less understood. Introverts may just be processing all the information in ways that are much different from extroverts.
    • Introvert and extrovert brains are wired differently! What an asset it would be to have the best of both worlds and have a super team of both introverts AND extroverts!
  • Make re-energizing a high priority.
    • Introverts get re-energized from the inside – from their ideas, impressions, and feelings.
    • Introverts need considerable ‘down time’ for that re-energizing to happen.
  • Create ‘introvert’ ways of doing things.
    • “Normal” in our culture is extroverted.
    • Research shows that up to 75% of people are extroverts. That’s 3 in 4 people!
    • Getting good at being an introvert on purpose makes life a lot easier.
  • Develop “extroverting” skills.
    • Sometimes it’s smart or essential to act like an extrovert.
    • It is important for introverts to recharge those batteries and be ready to take on that draining task of talking in front of peers.
    • When introverts are prepared and use their skills and preventative measures to keep that energy-level up they will be more successful.

It is believed that everyone has both an introverted and an extroverted side, but typically one side is more dominant than the other.  Understanding where we are on this spectrum is half the battle of learning how to manage our energy and learning ways that work for us so we can truly thrive.

Author and Marriage and Family Therapist Marti Olsen Laney writes in her book “The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World,” “Our culture values and rewards the qualities of extroverts.

America was built on rugged individualism and the importance of citizens speaking their minds. We value action, speed, competition, and drive. It’s no wonder people are on the defensive about introversion.”

For those that identify more as an introvert, the world may make them feel isolated, weird, or misunderstood. When an introvert first learns they are an “innie” and then learns how to tap into their skills and ways to recharge, they can be unstoppable!

By Katherine S. Baker, LCSW, January 29, 2019 –

It appears to me that good manners seem to be lacking these days.  Many of us were taught from childhood how to be polite.  We learn to say please and thank you, how to be respectful to our elders, how to be nice to other children and animals.

However, as our society has become more mobile, fast paced, and “I want it now!” the use of manners seems to have decreased.  With the rise in divorce rates, a prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse, and increasing world violence; many families are struggling to survive and thrive.  Manners are tossed aside.

Take notice, adults having temper tantrums in the fast food drive through, young and old not saying please and thank you but demanding and expecting others to treat them as a King or Queen.

Being rude and insensitive seems to be pretty common these days.  Without good manners people get offended and hurt.  Communication breaks down.

As human beings; we make mistakes, get in a hurry, and sometimes forget how to be nice in the daily rat race.  It can be easy to slip up and accidentally cut off another driver or rush through the door without noticing someone else waiting to go through.

Being able to say you are sorry and mean it can heal many a wrong.  The importance of good manners seems obvious to me but not to others who want to bully, demand, and want entitlement for things not earned.

It is important to acknowledge and appreciate good manners from others.  Give positive feedback when you see someone doing the right thing.

Be a role model for good behavior.  Remember young and old are watching how you respond and manage situations.  Manners create expectations for how people will act.

Would you give yourself a thumbs up or thumbs down to these statements?

  1. I try to be polite and considerate all the time.
  2. I say please and thank you.
  3. I use the Golden Rule (treat others like you would like to be treated).
  4. I keep my word.
  5. I turn off my cell phone in meetings, banks, doctor’s office, etc.

Tips for adults interested in improving children’s social behavior include the following:

  • Stress to children the importance of treating others the same way they like to be treated.
  • Help children understand the harm caused by thoughtless, unkind words and actions.
  • Role-play difficult situations for children in order to demonstrate appropriate responses.
  • Establish a politeness policy for basic manners.
  • Teach children the importance of thinking of others, like writing thank you notes.

Manners have changed a lot through the years and are still changing.  They are more relaxed than they were 100 years ago.   Our society needs manners to function in a healthy and productive manner.

The lack of manners and self-respect does not seem to be working.  Use your good manners- teach your children and let’s strive for a healthier community, city, state, and world.

By Diane Braun, Jan. 22, 2019 –

When asked which of these is a symptom of alcohol overdose, which would you choose?

  1. Irregular breathing   B.) Confusion    C.) Vomiting   D.) All of these.

The answer is D, all of these.

January 22-27 is National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week (NDAFW).  The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has been sponsoring National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week since 2010 to educate youth and shatter the myths about substance use and addiction. 

NDAFW happens every year in January and is a week-long series of educational events that link teens with scientific experts.  Since its inception, NDAFW has continued to grow, with more than 2100 events held throughout 50 states and 35 countries last year. Activities focus on general drug use or on specific trends of concern in individual communities.

NIDA has produced a wide variety of resources for organizers of events and promotional activities, including resources for parents and educators. Classroom activities specific to the week and other year-round lessons on drugs and alcohol, including lesson plans, are available on the NDAFW website. 

Free booklets with science-based facts about drugs and alcohol are available and include NIDA’s most in-demand teen publications. New this year is the “Opioids: Facts for Teens” booklet.

An on-line chat with National Institute of Health scientists and science writers is available on Thursday, January 24 from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm EST.  Teens in schools around the country can submit substance use questions in an anonymous forum.  Registration is available on the NDAFW website. In previous years, more than 50 schools participated with more than 10,000 questions submitted.

Youth can be curious about substances they see and hear about on social media. Misperceptions can happen when they only follow certain views.  Making sure your child’s questions are answered is vital to keeping them safe. 

The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids recommends:

  • Always keep conversations open and honest.
  • Come from a place of love, even when you’re having tough conversations.
  • Balance positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement.
  • Keep in mind that teachable moments come up all of the time — be mindful of natural places for the conversation to go in order to broach the topic of drugs and alcohol.

Take this opportunity to educate yourself and your child about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Begin a dialogue so they will feel free to come to you with any future questions or concerns.

By Jaclyn Durnil, MSW, January 15, 2019 –

Telling a child that someone has died can be difficult. Most children are aware of death, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they understand it.

Children may have seen someone die on television or in a movie, or some of their friends may have lost a loved one.

Experiencing grief can be a confusing and scary process for kids.  Grieving is a set of emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and physical reactions that can vary depending on the individual and the nature of the loss.

During the grieving process children may have a difficult time processing the actual event and coping with the loss of the loved one. One of the primary feelings can be fear – fear of not knowing what can happen in the future or fear of the unknown.

Some children might have a more difficult time with the grieving process. It’s very important to be patient and understanding. Long-term denial of death or avoiding grief can be unhealthy for children. Grief can easily resurface and cause more severe problems.

Children experiencing grief may exhibit these types of behaviors:

  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Regression to younger behaviors, such as separation anxiety
  • Expressing a desire to be with the deceased person
  • Lack of interest in playing with friends
  • Changes in grades or school behavior
  • Loss of interest in activities that once excited them

Children are constantly learning and growing and may revisit the grief process several times. Events such as birthdays, graduation, holidays, etc. may be difficult for children at times.  There is no “normal” period of time for someone to grieve.

Simply being present and attentive to a child who is grieving will help as they express their feelings.  At times children may worry about how their parents or caregivers are adjusting. Children may find it safer and easier to talk with someone else such as a teacher, friend, Youth First Social Worker in their school, etc.

No one can prevent a child’s grief, but simply being a source of stability and comfort can be very helpful.  Very young children often do not understand that death is a permanent thing and may they think that a dead loved one will eventually come back.

For many children, the death of a pet will be their first experience with grief. They build a connection with their pet that is very strong, and when they no longer have that bond, it can be extremely upsetting. It is important to let the child grieve for their pet instead of immediately replacing the pet with a new animal.

During that period is an opportunity to teach the child about death and how to deal with grieving in a healthy and emotionally supportive way.  At times, children may seem unusually upset as they are unable to cope with grief, which can lead to adjustment disorder.

Adjustment disorder can be a serious and upsetting condition that some children develop after going through a difficult event. If a child is not recovering from a loss in a healthy way, it is important to consult with your child’s doctor.

By Callie Sanders, LSW, January 8, 2019 –

Music is a universal language. It is the gateway for optimal brain health, longevity, and happiness.

In the world of research, neuromusicology explores the nervous system’s response to music and how it activates every part of the brain. Studies performed on musicians reveal significant brain health and well-being.

The largest fiber bundle in the brain, the corpus callosum, is said to be larger and more symmetrical in musicians. It is responsible for connecting the right and left hemispheres, allowing communication between both sides. It is also involved in several other functions of our body, such as eye movement, vision, and sensory perception.

The lack of musical ability does not keep a person from enjoying its benefits. Listening to upbeat music can have positive effects on mood. It naturally helps to lower the stress hormone cortisol. On the contrary, sad music has benefits too, both cathartically and revolutionary, that increase self-awareness.

Music also stimulates the formation of brain chemicals and hormones. One chemical particularly stimulated is the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is responsible for the “feel good” state. It also stimulates the hormone oxytocin, which helps us bond with and trust others. So continue to play, listen, and enjoy music whenever possible.

Another important area of life where music is beneficial is at work. Not only does music ignite more creativity and productivity, but when employees are allowed to pick the music, productivity and task completion accelerate, stress lowers, and work is more manageable.

The universal language of music, as a whole, supports social behaviors such as empathy, kindness, and cooperation. Children should be involved with music as much as possible. Encourage your child to join the band or choir at school.  It’s a great way to boost self-esteem, self-awareness, and a sense of community.

Because I am part of a musically inclined family, music has and will always be a staple in my life. I encourage you to listen to genres that aren’t familiar to you and play an instrument you are familiar with or learn a new one. Encourage your child to do so as well.

Happy listening and have fun playing!

By Jenna Whitfield, MSW, January 2, 2019 –

Is your teen getting enough sleep? If not, it could be impacting their life in negative ways. According to webmd.com, lack of sleep is one of the top sources of stress for teens. The recommended amount of sleep in order to function and perform well is 9 to 9.5 hours of sleep.

A whopping 91 percent of teens do not achieve the required hours. Although the majority of teens get less than recommended amounts of sleep, almost 75 percent of parents are unaware that their children are sleep-deprived due to various reasons. The question most likely coming to mind for most parents is, “why is my teen not getting enough sleep?”

The first situation keeping students away from a restful night is a jam-packed schedule. While being involved in extracurricular activities can have many benefits for a teen’s social development and mental well-being, there are also downfalls. If they are constantly moving from activity to activity while trying to juggle school work, family time, and friends, they may have limited time to sleep.

The second factor playing a role in sleep deprivation is having a digital device near their bed. It’s true that we live in a technology-driven world, but your teen’s screen time could be cutting into much-needed sleep time.

I’ve had students share that they even go as far as keeping the sound turned on their phones at night so they can wake up if someone sends them a message. Others have shared that they regularly play video games past midnight.

These behaviors are becoming more and more popular, but oftentimes teens do not realize how their screen time is impacting sleep. Encouraging your teen to limit screen time, especially at night, can help establish healthy routines.

There is much research on how sleep deprivation affects teens. They are in a crucial developmental period and sleep is extremely important to their brain development and well-being.

When a teen does not receive an adequate amount of sleep per night there is a higher probability he/she will experience one or more of the following consequences:

  • Increased risk of injury
  • Inability to self-regulate behaviors
  • Decreased ability to focus in school
  • Increased risk of depression
  • Increased risk of drug or alcohol use
  • Increased risk of obesity

Don’t worry! While there are a number of potential consequences, there are also a number of symptoms to warn the teen and his/her guardian that they may be facing sleep deprivation.

Behaviors to look out for include, but are not limited to:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • More easily displays aggression/ anger
  • Misses more days of school than normal
  • Exhibits laziness
  • Falls asleep in class or while doing homework
  • Sleeps 2 or hours later on weekends
  • Naps for more than 45 minutes regularly

If these symptoms are making you think of a specific teen, it may be the time to talk about the importance of sleep. Convincing a teen to limit their screen time or to take a break from their busy schedules might be challenging, but in the end everyone can benefit!

If you need advice on how to start this conversation at home, reach out to a Youth First Social Worker or a counselor in your child’s school.  Remember, sleep is important for everyone, so make sure to take care of your teen and yourself!