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 […]

By Marge Gianopoulos, Sept. 5, 2018 –

According to the Pew Research Center, 95 percent of teens currently report they have a smartphone or access to one; 45 percent say they are online “almost constantly.”

Since the advent of MySpace (Does anyone even remember that one?) and then Facebook, social media has become the primary way for teens to connect with their peers, friends and family.

In a 2014 Pew survey, 24 percent of teens stated they are online “almost constantly.”  In just four years the percent of teens using social media “constantly” has almost doubled.

Social media has been infused in our teens’ lives and apparently it’s here to stay.  Several years ago the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation started using tablets, and this year Warrick County high school students began using them as well.  Between the use of smartphones, computers, tablets, and gaming systems, how much screen time is considered healthy?

On Monday, September 10th, from 5:30–7:30 pm, Indiana Youth Institute, Youth First, Inc., Warrick County Cares, and Warrick County School Corporation will provide some insight for parents, youth workers and other adults who want to know how social media and screen time are impacting our teens.

Dennis Jon Bailey, WIKY Morning Show DJ, will conduct a panel discussion on the pros, cons and effects of social media and screen time.  The panel is made up of area professionals who have contact with youth and see firsthand how social media is affecting teens’ health (physical and mental) and academics.

The panel includes Warrick County School Administrators Ashlee Bruggenschmidt, Abbie Redman and Josh Susott; Warrick County Sheriff Deputy and School Resource Officer Mike Dietsch; Youth First Director of Social Work Laura Keys; Youth First School Social Worker Terra Clark; Warrick County Deputy Prosecutor Parker Trulock; and Vice President of the Psychology Program at Evansville Easterseals Rehabilitation Center, Dr. James Schroeder.

As a Pediatric Psychologist, Dr. Schroeder has conducted extensive research on screen time and the impact of social media on our youth and often writes for the Evansville Courier.  You can access his articles at http://james-schroeder.com.

In addition to the panel discussion, the real experts, local teens, will be available to show adults how to navigate the most popular social media apps such as SnapChat, Instagram, and Musical.ly.  Each of these apps will have a table where adults can learn from the teens. Teens will share the ins-and-outs of the app, explain privacy settings and demonstrate how adults can keep children and teens safe while online.

Youth in a Digital World: Pros, Cons and Effects of Social Media, will take place from 5:30-7:30 pm on September 10th at the Newburgh Chandler Public Libraries, 4111 Lakeshore Dr., Newburgh, and light snacks will be served.  Registration is required, as space is limited.   Register at https://warrickcoywc091018.eventbrite.com.

By Joan Carie, LCSW, LCAC, Aug. 30, 2018 –

For many families it seems that life never slows down. The busyness of the daily schedule sometimes prevents us from giving attention to our children’s most important phases.

For many of today’s parents, supporting the transition from childhood to adolescence can add challenges to an already chaotic family life.

There are popular beliefs about this journey, historically and culturally.  It is not always true, however, that mothers and adolescent daughters can’t get along or that fathers and adolescent sons engage in power struggles without communicating.

Parents will notice that peers become very important to the child during this transition period. The child may be frustrated by the decreased amount of time they are engaged in social time with their peers. Some student schedules are so tight that there is literally no daily time to engage in social interactions.

An increase in the academic, athletic, and other expectations of students during this time is also worth mentioning.  While there are systemic barriers to overcome, it is possible for adolescents and their parents to make this transition smoothly.

Separating from parents to find independence and a personal identity are natural during this phase of growth and development. Parents and children may need to take some time to grieve the loss of childhood as adolescence approaches. Simply acknowledging and honoring this can be helpful.

As children move toward independence, parents may find it helpful to be fully present in acknowledging their feelings about their children growing up. This can reduce the temptation to engage in power struggles over concerns such as curfew, dating, clothing, etc.

Here are some other key ideas that may be helpful during this transition phase:

  • Be fully present when interacting with your adolescent. Adults frequently complain about kids overusing electronics but are unwilling to check their own electronic use. If parents stop multi-tasking, make eye contact and listen, it will go a long way toward better communication.
  • It is important to find some common ground and connect with teens before going into the list of things they need to get done. Set aside some scheduled time with your adolescent. This is time away from peers and siblings and the other parent – individual time to really connect. This connection can go a long way when setting boundaries around independence and reducing the potential for power struggles.
  • Parents need to set clear boundaries about how they expect to be treated by their children, but enforce these boundaries in a kind and compassionate way. Adolescents learn how to treat others from these important interactions with their parents.

I liken the process of transitioning from childhood through the teen years to rocks with rough edges being thrown into rushing water. The force of the water smooths out the edges and eventually, the rock transforms into a smooth stone.

When kids react in a mean way, and it will happen, it is important for parents to let their teen know the behavior is unacceptable, remodeling how they expect to be treated.  Eventually this will transfer to the teen’s ability to set clear expectations as well.

As the adults, parents are still in charge. When teens say mean things to their parents, they are actually mirroring their own internal feelings. It’s not personal, so it’s important that parents not take these things personally. Don’t react negatively.  Get a little distance before addressing this behavior with your teen.

Keeping these ideas in your parenting toolkit will go a long way toward building a strong foundation for your relationship with your adolescent through the teen years.

By Kelli Chambers, LSW – August 21, 2018 –

Navigating the dating world can be intimidating and scary for both parents and teens. Many questions come to mind on how parents can best support their child and foster open communication.

How do we keep our teens safe? Understanding some of the “dos” and “don’ts” for parents will help make the dating process smoother and safer.

Here are some of the “DOs”:

  • Talk to your child about what a healthy relationship looks like. Your teen is more likely to make safer and smarter decisions when choosing a partner and maintaining a relationship when the expectations and definition of a healthy relationship are clear. Keep in mind, dating information for many teens comes from what is portrayed in the media, which is meant for entertainment purposes and may not be realistic.
  • Have a two-way conversation with your teen about dating. When teens feel they have a voice and are heard, they are more likely to abide by the guidelines everyone has agreed upon. Some good topics to discuss are curfew, group dating, private dating, meeting their date, and how to keep parents informed on their whereabouts and well-being.
  • Talk about safe sex. This includes the choice of remaining abstinent, using birth control, and understanding the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases. This is also a good time to speak with your teen about sexting. Establishing ground rules for using smart phones and social media is another way to keep your child safe and protected.
  • Discuss what to do when they are feeling unsafe. You and your child need to have a plan in place to help when they are feeling unsafe or uncomfortable. Have a texting code between you and your teen to help them get out of the situation they are in if needed. Your teen should never meet up with anyone they’ve only met online and have not physically met in person.
  • Keep a watchful eye out for danger signs in your dating teenager. It is important to recognize the signs of an unhealthy or abusive relationship. Some key signs to look for are jealousy, possessiveness, anxiety, bruising, low self-esteem, and depression.

Here are some “DON’Ts”:

  • Don’t stop talking to your teen about their relationships after dating starts. Continue to be invested in your teen’s dating life. Not all relationships are the same and they will need to have continued support.
  • Don’t be overprotective or too “hands off.” Being too overprotective can be harmful to your relationship and your teen may no longer feel comfortable confiding in you. Being too “hands off” allows your teen to be less monitored and can lead to poor decision making. Try to find a healthy balance between the two.
  • Don’t be too afraid to “VETO.” Sometimes interfering and vetoing a toxic or dangerous relationship is necessary. Your teen may be upset with you at the time, but their safety and wellbeing is the utmost priority.

Dating should be a fun time in your teen’s life, but it is also a learning process. Like any life experience, your teen will make mistakes and hopefully learn from them. Your support and involvement in your teenager’s dating life will help your child make smarter and safer decisions.

By Emily Sommers, MSW, August 15, 2018 –

Just like the teachers, school social workers come into the building several days before the first day of school to prepare for the new school year.  

One thing I have noticed upon returning is that “summer brain” is a real thing!  Summer brain is not a good or bad thing; it just means it is time to change patterns and create a new rhythm.     

As school social workers we briefly talk about problems with students, parents, and teachers and tend to spend more time discussing solutions to maximize the success we hope for in our work.  So, if the problem is summer brain…the solution is mindfulness!   

Mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment and noticing inner experiences like thoughts and feelings.  Research shows that mindfulness can help reduce stress and anxiety.  

Parents, children and teens may benefit from discussing their perception of mindfulness with each other and, hopefully, this article will encourage just that.  

What examples can you come up with where you are already using mindfulness?  You might surprise yourself and build confidence by starting there!  It is certainly very rewarding to do this with a classroom of students, no matter the age, who share their wisdom so freely.  

Here is a brief list to encourage mindfulness as we begin the 2018-19 school year. See if you and your family can add to the list.   

  • Create a “daily” gratitude jar where all family members can write down and contribute one good thing (or more) about their day or something they think they did well.
  • Establish a particular space at home for everything that will be needed for the following day to ensure backpacks are loaded up and ready to go. Making lunches together the night before can also be a family mindfulness activity.
  • Frustrated with an activity? Take a time-out and come back to it later.
  • Check your self-talk…is it kind and encouraging?
  • Write some positive inspirations and post them around you.
  • Deep breathing exercises and stretch breaks can be very helpful.
  • Challenge irrational thoughts by asking yourself, “Is this something that I can do anything about today?” If so, take the necessary steps to do just that.
  • Eat mindfully.  Notice how your food looks and smells. Rather than rushing, eat slowly, mindfully and take in all of the senses.  
  • Make a daily inventory of the things you felt you did well and those you felt you might have done better.
  • Remind yourself it happens a little at a time…not all at once!
  • Journal!  Journaling can benefit by providing an emotional and physical release as well as providing insight and inspiration.
  • Take a walk or enjoy any exercise you prefer.
  • Get outside in nature…enjoy the sunset and take in all of the sights, sounds and smells! 
  • Experience a loving-kindness meditation…YouTube has some great examples.
  • Listen to music.
  • Take time to laugh.

Easy does it.  Remember, mindfulness is all about the daily practice, and the more we practice something the more permanent it becomes.  Good self-care has a positive ripple effect to all of those around you, too.

By Christine Weinzapfel-Hayden, LCSW, August 7, 2018 –

Most schools have been on summer hiatus. You’ve had close to three months with your children living a relatively carefree summer life.  Hopefully you’ve had the opportunity to create some new memories with your family.  

It is probably a little hard to believe these summer days together are coming to an end.  If you are like me, you and the kids may have relaxed your routine through the summer months.  Now the question is, how do you get back on track?

For starters, try not to stress.  Start talking to your kids about school to get them excited about the upcoming year.  Speak with enthusiasm and talk about the new year in positive terms.  Also, go back-to-school shopping together and let your kids have input on their supplies.

Give yourself time to gradually get settled back into a bedtime routine.  If your child’s school-year bedtime is 7:30 pm but you’ve been letting them stay up until 9:00 pm during the summer, you’re going to need some time to adjust their bedtime.  Try pushing their bedtime up 15 to 30 minutes at a time.  

You’re also going to want to start getting them up earlier in the morning, working towards the time they will need to be awake during the school year.  If you have younger children who have gotten into a habit of taking naps during the day, this would also be a good time to start eliminating nap times. 

You might have also noticed your grocery bill has gone up significantly during the summer. Part of this is our tendency to graze and allow our children to graze throughout the day.  Once school starts, their opportunity to snack on a whim will be gone.  To help make that transition easier, it would be a good idea to cut back on the snacks.  

Start getting back into the routine of eating meals at specific times. It seems that morning routines are the hardest at the start of the school year (and sometimes all year).  Start practicing your morning routine now.  If you’re going to need your child to eat immediately after waking during the school year start practicing now.  

It’s also a good idea to start planning for afterschool activities now. Once school starts schedules seem to explode.  Start figuring out which kids are going to participate in particular activities and whose responsibility it will be to get them to and from practices and games.  

If you make an effort to organize your calendar now, you will feel better about your schedule later.  Hopefully this will help alleviate some stress for everyone as the days start getting busier. 

The start of the school year sneaks up on us every year. Don’t let this be a dreaded time for you or your children.  Make going back to school fun and start preparing early. This will help your new school year start more smoothly and be a more enjoyable experience for all.

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.