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 […]

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.