By Jordan Beach, MSW, July 31, 2018 –

Thinking back to childhood, it’s fun to remember those friendships that helped shape us into the person we are today.

Sometimes, if we’re really lucky, we are able to maintain those relationships through our teen years and even through adulthood.  We seem to have less time for friends as adults, and our ability to develop and maintain new friendships seems to become more difficult over time.

You’ve grown up.  You have a career, a spouse, children, and your life is full. Sometimes, even with all of these wonderful aspects of your life, it can feel like something is missing.

It is possible that you miss the platonic bond you once had with friends. You need someone outside the walls of your own home to talk to, share hobbies with, and help you feel complete.

We know that having friends is important, but who has time to maintain friendships? If you’re like me, you have a laundry list of things you need to accomplish every day, and making new friends is not on the top of that list.

Is it even necessary to have adult friendships?  The answer is yes.  Having adult friendships actually benefits your health.

Having friends helps to reduce stress and anxiety. Having people who are there for you during both good times and bad also helps you to cope with life situations and gives you a sense of belonging.

According to the Mayo Clinic, those who have strong friendships later in life have longer, more fulfilling lives than those of their peers.

Making friends as a student is easy. School is a common place where you meet every day, allowing those relationships to flourish.

How exactly does one make friends as an adult? First, let me say this gets easier as your children get older. Once your children are in activities, you again find yourself surrounded by adults who have similar interests, and you will be spending lots of hours together at places like the practice field, band competition or dance studio.

But it is important that these friendships are deeper than the carpool line. Once you find other adults you enjoy, you’re going to have to work to maintain that relationship.

This might seem counter-intuitive. You’re thinking, “But these friendships are supposed to be helpful and enjoyable, not extra work.” The truth is – it’s both.

It’s extra work to schedule time to spend with people who are outside of your immediate family. The payoff for that, though, is fulfilling relationships that help you grow, provide you with a support system, and live happier and longer.

By Laura Arrick, LCSW, July 24, 2018 –

 “You will never understand what I am going through.”
 “This is the worst day of my life.”
“I am worthless and wish I was never born.”

If you are the parent of a teenager you may have heard these words on more than one occasion. Your child could be riding the normal emotional and psychological rollercoaster of adolescence, or it could be something more alarming.

 Mental illness affects younger populations at a greater rate than once thought. With increased knowledge and better screening tools, the number of adolescents with serious concerns is growing.

 According to Mental Health America, as many as one in five teens suffers from clinical depression.

 The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry defines clinical depression as “an illness in which the feelings of depression persist and interfere with a child or adolescent’s ability to function on a daily basis.”

 If left unaddressed, depression can lead to substance abuse, self-harm, suicide, and other destructive behaviors.

 The symptoms of depression can be wide-ranging, but there are some basic warning signs:

  • Persistent sadness or crying
  • Poor performance in school
  • Withdrawal from friends or activities
  • Hopelessness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Increased fatigue
  • Poor self-esteem
  • A change in eating or sleeping habits
  • Substance use
  • Suicidal thoughts

Depressed adolescents may display an increase in irritability, anger, or hostility, extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, or frequent complaints of physical illnesses (headaches, stomachaches, etc.).

These symptoms may come and go on their own with all teenagers, so it can be tough to tell when a teen is in trouble. Think about how long the symptoms have been present, how severe they are, and how differently the teen is acting from his normal self.

If you feel your child may be experiencing clinical depression, get help immediately. Call the local mental health center to get an evaluation or United Way’s 2-1-1 line to get linked to other community counseling options.

If your child’s school is served by a Youth First Social Worker or another counseling professional, they can help connect you, too.

Parents can often feel hopeless and lost when it comes to helping a child who may be depressed.

Here are some tips for talking with teens:

  • Offer support. Try not to ask too many questions. Teens often have no idea why they feel the way they do and have difficulty expressing their feelings in words.
  • Be gentle but persistent. It can be very uncomfortable for kids to open up to their parents about personal matters. They may feel ashamed or afraid of being misunderstood. It is very likely they will shut you out at first, but you shouldn’t give up. Be gentle with your approach, but don’t shut down communication completely.
  • Listen without lecturing. Do your best to resist the urge to criticize or judge. Be attentive and allow your teen to open up. Meet them where they are, not where you want them to be.
  • Validate your teen’s feelings. Don’t try and talk them out of how they feel even if their feelings seem irrational or silly to you. At least acknowledge how they feel so they will keep talking and not shut you out.

Parents who heed the warning signs of depression and seek professional help can help protect children from more serious or even tragic consequences.

By Youth First Staff – July 17, 2018 –

Bullying is not a new problem. Children, parents, teachers, and other school staff have always dealt with incidents on the playground or name-calling on the bus, but these days bullying no longer ends with the school day.

Technology provides many positive benefits in our personal lives and educational system. Cyberbullying, however, is one negative outgrowth of 24/7 connectivity.

The term cyberbullying is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “the electronic posting of mean-spirited messages about a person, often done anonymously.”

With social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter and the ability to share photos and videos via social media and text, it’s almost impossible to keep up with the rapid growth of cyberbullying.

According to the DoSomething.org, at least 43% of American teens have been bullied online, and 1 in 4 has had it happen more than once.  Seventy percent of students report seeing frequent bullying online. Girls are about twice as likely as boys to be victims and perpetrators of cyberbullying.

Victims of cyberbullying experience low self-esteem, increased use of drugs or alcohol, poor academic achievement, and anxiety or an unwillingness to attend school (stopcyberbullying.gov).

Because these acts do not typically happen on school grounds, it can be difficult for schools to intervene.  Parents must play a key role in educating children about acceptable uses of technology and what to do if they encounter cyberbullying.

Start by being involved in your child’s online life.  Know passwords, “friend” or “follow” them on social media sites, and look at websites your child frequents.

Educate children on how to use the internet safely and establish firm consequences if they abuse technological privileges.  Encourage children to protect passwords and avoid sharing them with peers (not even their best friends) or in public places. Make sure they don’t post any personal information on the internet such as a phone number, address, or even their favorite place to socialize.

Due to the fear of losing access to technology, only 1 in 10 students report telling their parents when they have been cyberbullied. It is important for children to feel comfortable coming to parents with this type of information.

Start by educating kids on what they should do if they encounter cyberbullying.  The website stopcyberbullying.org promotes the “stop, block, and tell” strategy.  Parents can easily share the following steps with their children:

1. Stop: Immediately stop interacting with a peer who is cyberbullying.  Encourage them to not respond to the peer in any way.

2. Block: Block the cyberbully from continuing to communicate.  Make sure children know how to block someone from their social networking sites or other technology.

3. Tell: As soon as they encounter a bully of any kind, children should tell their parents. Parents should remain calm, listen carefully, and involve the child in decisions about what to do next.

The next steps may be as simple as blocking a phone number or as involved as talking with your child’s school about the offense. Refrain from contacting the parents or guardians of the bully. They may become defensive and may not be receptive to your thoughts.

Sometimes just offering your child moral support is enough, but don’t hesitate to inform and involve others in order to put a stop to cyberbullying for good.

By Youth First Staff, July 11, 2018 –

For instant access to local, national and world news all you have to do is turn on the television, browse the internet or pick up your cell phone. Technology provides us with constant updates and images from natural disasters, political uprisings, and violent crimes.

Has our constant exposure to violence, suffering, and cruelty desensitized us? How do we raise children who care and have compassion for others when the “real world” can seem so harsh and uncaring?

Harvard educator Richard Weissbourd writes about parents who believe happiness and self-esteem are the foundation for morality. In other words, “feeling good” will lead to “doing good.” He argues that high self-esteem alone does not lead to caring for others, however.

Weissbourd offers some tips for shifting your parenting focus from self-esteem and happiness toward caring and responsibility:

• Tell your children the most important thing is being kind and helpful to others.
• Help your child appreciate others by not allowing them to treat restaurant servers, store clerks, or babysitters as invisible.
• Don’t allow your child to quit a team or club without thinking about how it will impact the entire group.
• Don’t let your child simply “write off” friends he or she finds annoying or fail to return phone calls from friends.
• Expect your child to help around the house and offer help to neighbors.
• Support your child’s growth and maturity, including the ability to manage feelings and balance the needs of others.
• Praise children for accomplishments, but avoid constant praise. When parents offer praise too often children may feel constantly judged.
• Avoid making achievement the goal of life. Too much pressure to achieve can cause kids to see others as competitors or threats.
• Don’t try to be your child’s friend. Being close to your child is good, but it is important that they see you as an authority and role model.

Children can show signs of empathy and concern for others from an early age. Reinforcing this behavior is one of the most important things parents can do. Parents must also take action when they see their child being hurtful or cruel.

The American Psychological Association suggests keeping your focus on the act and not the child personally. For example, say, “What you did was not very nice” rather than “You are not very nice.” Parents should explain why they disapprove and connect their actions to how the other person feels.

It is also essential that children understand how deeply their parents feel about their behavior towards others. The issue will mean more to them if they know it is important to their parents. Keep it short and to the point. Your goal is to teach them, not make them feel guilty.

The example modeled by nurturing parents and other adults is often the biggest influence on the behavior of children. When children feel they have a secure base at home they are more likely to reach out and help others.

By Tiffany Harper, LCSW, July 3, 2018 –

Parenting today’s kids can be a challenge. Most parents remember a simpler time when TV shows were wholesome, phones were attached to the wall, and social communication was conducted by writing notes (oftentimes folded creatively and passed in class).
In those “simpler times,” it seems that values were also different. Because our children are exposed to so much, both directly and indirectly, it is important to make good use of “teachable moments.”

Teachable moments happen in the course of life, unfolding more naturally than if we planned a formal, sit-down talk. Teachable moments can be applied to any situation, but one important area of focus is technology.

Parents’ responses to their teen’s use of technology tend to exist on a spectrum. There are parents who try to protect their children from as much exposure as they can. They ban their kids from social media sites, restrict and monitor television and internet usage and maybe even read all of their text messages.

This can cause strained relationships between parent and teen. On the other end of the spectrum are parents who are totally unaware of what their child watches, posts, and texts. This can send the message that parents don’t care and lead to unwanted behaviors.

There is a middle ground, however. Most TV shows have ratings, and most movies are reviewed on websites like IMDb.com. Look for tips and details on why the movie earned the rating.
When in doubt, the best way to evaluate appropriateness would be to take the time to watch the show by yourself first and then with your teen. Perhaps there is a character who is deciding whether or not to have sex, drink with friends, or skip school. That opens the door for vital discussions with your teen.

It doesn’t mean a full-blown lecture is required, but it opens a dialogue and provides an opportunity to discuss what your expectations are as a parent as well as tuning in to how your teen is forming opinions about these issues.

Social media constantly changes, so it takes some effort to be up-to-date on the popular sites and apps. Occasionally checking in with your teen about what is being posted is tricky but necessary. Some parents demand passwords to their teen’s accounts, and other parents don’t know anything about the latest apps.

Non-judgmental, open-ended questions can be asked, such as “What did you think of Susie’s tweet about her breakup?” This promotes discussion about what is appropriate to post.

It is also a good idea to educate teenagers about their digital footprint, helping them understand that once it’s “out there” future employers and colleges can make decisions about them based on what has been posted, even if it was in the distant past.

Remember that not all social media is bad and all discussion surrounding social media doesn’t have to be serious. In fact it can promote bonding, as lots of laughs can be shared over watching “You Tube” videos with your teen.

Here are some guidelines for making the most of these discussions with your teen:
• Be clear and firm about your expectations.
• Try to be non-judgmental when your teenager is expressing their views.
• Lighten up, and use humor when possible.
• Take a closer look if you have reason to be concerned about your child’s safety.
• Keep it brief. A message can be conveyed in a small amount of time. Any conversation that lingers loses effectiveness, as it tends to turn into a lecture.

By Jordan Beach, LCSW, June 26, 2018 –

We live in a high-tech world.  Today’s children have been surrounded by technology since the day they were born.

As they get older it’s often more difficult to get kids away from their electronic devices to engage in active play. While it is important for children to understand technology, that importance does not override the need to be healthy and active away from these devices.

We know that children need 60 minutes of exercise a day, but how can you get your kids moving without starting a war in your home?

Here are a few ideas that might help motivate your child:

1. Try using an activity jar. Sometimes children are indecisive. Have them help you make a list of some of their favorite cardio activities. On the days they are unmotivated (or just can’t decide) you can draw an activity out of the jar as a prompt.

2. Whenever possible, get outside! The options for physical activity are endless when playing outdoors. You don’t need to leave your own yard to have a good time running and playing. You can play a game of tag, turn on the sprinklers, have a Nerf war, or practice their favorite sport.  All of these activities can be done in a limited space with little to no equipment.

3. If you’re looking for more adventure, take your activities away from home. Take a walk as a family, and if you have a furry friend bring them along! Check out community parks nearby, and make a point to try new parks. This will keep the outings interesting for your little ones. Inviting friends along is a great way to get your kids excited about outdoor play.

4. It’s clearly not difficult to get your family moving on a nice sunny day, but what do you do if it is raining or too cold to go outside? Utilize some of the same tools your child’s teacher uses in the classroom.  Go Noodle (gonoodle.com) is a great site to get your child up and moving. This would also give your child the opportunity to show you some of their favorite “brain breaks” from school.

5. If you’re trying to get kids away from electronics, try just turning on your radio and having a family dance party. Kids love this!

There is no denying that the older our children get, the more difficult it is to get them away from technology to play like kids again. However, we also can’t diminish the importance of active play. Turning off electronics is good for our children in a multitude of ways; most importantly, it keeps them healthy.