Helpful Articles

We often find that reading articles can offer a different perspective, important information and useful insight to readers. Here, you will find articles related to various wellness and mental health topics. Check back periodically for updates, as our aim is to keep you informed about the latest news and relevant information in the field.


How to Help Teens Cope with Cyberbullying
by Katie Hurley, LCSW
From Psychology Today
Posted November 21, 2017

A 15-year-old girl is asked to share a topless photo on Snap. Her gut instinct tells her that she shouldn’t send the picture. Her two close friends tell her to ignore the request. But the request keeps coming, and she likes the boy making the request. Added to that, another group of girls encourages her to send it. They make it sound like this is the new normal for teen dating. She loses sleep over it for several nights. She talks about it obsessively with her friends, to the point where they avoid her at lunch to avoid the conversation. 

In the end, she doesn’t send the picture. She sends a heartfelt message about how much she likes him but that she doesn’t want to send that kind of picture. The boy takes a screenshot of the message and uses it to torment her for weeks to come on Snapchat, Instagram, and group text. The girls who encouraged her to send the photo get in on the tormenting. The stress of the situation causes migraines, stomachaches, and missed days of school. Not to mention, she’s completely socially isolated. 

With the near constant use of technology among teens and even younger children, many parents worry about cyberbullying. Headlines about cyberbullying are overwhelming at best and leave parents feeling helpless. Can cyberbullying be prevented in this online world?

According to the latest statistics compiled by StopBullying.gov, 9 percent of students in grades 6 to 12 experienced cyberbullying, and 15 percent of high school students experienced cyberbullying. 55.2 percent of LGBTQ students experienced cyberbullying.

Understanding cyberbullying 

Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over electronic devices, such as phones, tablets, or computers. It can occur via SMS (text messaging apps), email, social media, instant message, chat forums, or even gaming systems. Cyberbullying can include the following:

  • Sending, sharing, or posting harmful, negative, or false information or content about someone
  • Sharing photos or screenshots that can be damaging or used to humiliate or embarrass someone
  • Sharing personal information to humiliate someone or damage someone’s reputation

Due to the public nature of social media and the ability to share digital information swiftly across multiple channels, cyberbullying can reach far and wide. Damaging photos and content can easily be shared from school-to-school and across state lines before a teen seeks help. Cyberbullying is particularly difficult to manage because most things posted online are permanent (or difficult to remove) and it’s hard to recognize. Teachers and parents can’t see cyberbullying as it occurs the way they can other forms of bullying.

The scope of cyberbullying

Cyberbullying can happen to any child or teen using digital devices to communicate at any time. Recent data compiled by Websitebuilderexpert.com showed the “friendliest” to “meanest” states when it comes to online bullying. Despite legislation that classifies cyberbullying as a crime, Nevada ranked as the state with the highest rates of cyberbullying. 

New Hampshire, on the other hand, ranked as the friendliest state with the lowest percentage of hostile comments and the fifth lowest percentage of people reporting online harassment. 

Anyone using digital devices to communicate, share content, or connect with others can experience cyberbullying. The best thing parents can do for teens immersed in a digital world is engage in frequent conversations and talk openly and honestly about expectations and what to do if cyberbullying does occur.

How to deal with cyberbullying

Research shows that cyberbullying on social media is linked to depression in teens. It’s essential that parents remain engaged with their teens and talk about ways to seek help.

  • Don’t judge or fix: Teens need parents to listen without judgment. They also don’t want their parents to start calling other parents or the school right away. The best first step is to listen and ask follow up questions to understand the scope of the cyberbullying. Unconditional support is key. If you listen, empathize, and work together, your teen will continue to seek your help.
  • Document everything: Take screenshots of any cyberbullying found on devices and send them to your phone. Document your conversations as well. Rehashing cyberbullying with school personnel and other authorities can be anxiety producing. Stories might lack details or seem different when teens are under pressure. Documenting your conversations will help you help your teen communicate what happened.
  • Identify a safe person at school: Teens need a touchstone at school – someone they can go to when overwhelmed by the real-life fallout of cyberbullying or to seek help in the moment.
  • Respond thoughtfully: Resist the urge to blast out your concerns on your own social media channels. This won’t help your teen and might make it worse.
  • Work together to formulate a plan: Your teen needs help, but your teen also needs the autonomy to use problem-solving skills that work for her him. Brainstorm possible solutions, including the best point person at the school (this might a counselor or specific member of the administration), and work together.
  • Use the tools within the apps: Chances are your teen knows how to block users and protect passwords, but it can’t hurt to review privacy settings, scroll through friend lists to identify potential fake accounts and report fake accounts, harassing comments, or inappropriate photos. 
  • Talk about upstanders: Discuss the importance of reporting bullying or inappropriate content even if it doesn’t directly impact your teen, leaving positive comments when others are leaving negative ones, and reaching out to kids being victimized online. When teens are empowered to help other teens, they learn that they have the power to combat online negativity by sprinkling kindness and support.

Cyberbullying can leave lasting effects, including depression and anxiety. If you suspect that your teen is the victim of cyberbullying, talk to your teen and make a plan to get help. 

 

When the news intrudes: Helping kids make sense of the media
by Devorah Heitner, PhD
From The Washington Post
Posted March 8, 2017

Long before I worked on issues of digital citizenship, I worked as a Holocaust educator. Every day, I met with schoolchildren, working side-by-side with survivors.  Our aim was to talk with elementary schoolchildren about horrific events in ways that built empathy and resistance to racism and xenophobia, but without unduly traumatizing them or desensitizing them to images of violence.

In today’s media environment, we face similar issues daily with our children. Although I wasn’t ready to have a conversation with my 5-year-old about it, he saw the video of a police officer fatally shooting Walter Scott in North Charleston, S.C., in 2015. Once my son had seen that video, I had no choice. We had to talk about it in a way that he could understand just enough.

News travels quickly online. Parents need to understand that our kids will see some raw footage that hasn’t been edited, interpreted or contextualized. It’s best to be prepared so that we know how to react when the time comes.

Many of today’s parents watched or read the news with their own parents. Increasingly, as our kids get old enough to have phones and social media, or to simply be near them, they will see news in their social networks. And while news media might give more context to what kids are seeing, there are many more new outlets now, of varying quality. We need to teach our children to be discerning consumers of news.

The media environment can be a treacherous place for kids. From political news that’s hard to process to unedited violence on YouTube, it can be challenging for adults to handle. Imagine what it’s like for kids. Not to mention that the sheer media information load is staggering, with the barrage of new outlets that are always on, always competing for attention, and seemingly multiplying by the week.

Here are some ways to teach digital literacy to kids, and to help them understand what they are seeing.

  • Open the conversation. Talk and listen to kids about what they are reading and watching. Share what you are reading as well. Try to put it into context for them. Offer perspective. For kids of all ages, if they are concerned about what they are hearing or reading, be sure they know they can talk with you about the news.
  • Be proactive. With our country in what feels like a very tumultuous time, don’t let elementary-age kids watch or read the news on their own. They need help processing what they see, and we need to help our kids understand how to at least try to make sense of what they are hearing and how to move forward.
  • Get specific. While sometimes it feels good to generalize while watching the news with other adults (e.g., “the world is going to hell”), we should be specific about our concerns with our kids. If we are anxious or concerned about the news in general, it is helpful to give reasons the news concerns you.
  • Know your platforms. YouTube isn’t a curated media environment. Neither is Snapchat or Twitter. If you think that your kid might get curious about beheadings, police killings or other traumatic content, you should use these platforms with more parental mentoring and guidance.
  • Expose the algorithms. For middle school and high school kids, introduce them to the concept of the “filter bubble.” Our searches and social choices feed algorithms about our preferences that make it more likely we’ll be shown news that confirms, rather than stretches, our view of the world. Use this graphic from the Wall Street journal to illustrate the point: Blue Feed, Red Feed.
  • Teach skepticism. Advise them to look for terms like “sponsored content” and to turn on their skeptical brain when they read. But we should never make kids feel dumb if they are taken in by a fake news story. We want our kids to have healthy skepticism and to be aware of anyone who attempts to dupe them.
  • Check sources. Teach kids to check out who produced a story and to consider how different sources might compare in terms of trustworthiness. Walk them through a fake news story and show them how to read critically, discern bias and detect manipulative techniques. Here are some good suggestions about how to do that.
  • Create to understand. Encourage kids to share their experiences. Blogs are a low-barrier way to do this. Or maybe they can get involved with the school newspaper or TV station and get real training in student journalism. Help them understand the difference between simply sharing raw footage from a march or other event and doing a reported piece like a journalist would.
  • Model limits. Parents need to make sure we are using the news in a healthy way. If watching the news is upsetting enough that it keeps you up at night, then model for your children not watching right before bedtime. This is  yet another reason to turn off the devices — or leave them off the nightstand, at least!
  • Don’t share until you investigate. Rumors spread quickly online. Teach kids to look at the source and fact-check before they share something, especially something that could be alarming.
  • Take an action. If one particular issue is concerning to your child, consider what concrete action you can take as a family. You may all feel less helpless and overwhelmed if you can donate winter coats to a newly arrived refugee family, for example. Another possibility: Some adults and their middle-school-age children are writing letters to their representatives.

Between wanting to be informed and the permeating torrent of media, it’s not realistic to shut it out of your child’s life completely. In teaching our kids good digital citizenship, we don’t want to do that anyway. With a little mentorship, we can help fight the incursion of fake news with what always defeats ignorance: knowledge.

 

5 Top Parenting Challenges and How to Deal with Them
by Susan Newman Ph.D.
From Psychology Today
Posted May 24, 2016

Rebecca Eanes, creator of Positive-Parents.org asked some 9,000 parents what behaviors in their children upset them and made them “lose their cool.” The ideas she has for disciplining and moving away from conventional parentingwill go a long way in minimizing the upsetting challenges the parents reported and that almost all parents face at some point: aggression, tantrum throwing, whining, back talk and not listening.

In her new book Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, Eanes tradespunishment for solutions and presents new ways of disciplining that lead to a more positive parenting experience. I asked her how parents can cope with the five top challenging behaviors. 

Q: When you did your parent poll, Aggression headed the list. You caution parents to respond and not react. What can parents do to curb a child’s aggression—let’s say your five-year-old just hit a friend?

A: We must, first and foremost, make sure that we don’t act aggressively toward their aggression, which is so often the case in traditional discipline when a child is spanked or shamed for hitting. This means we have to be in control of our reaction. The next step is to get the child out of the situation. I recommend a time-in, putting the child onto your lap or sitting near you. The purpose of the time-in is to calm the child down and get his or herbrain out of that reactive fight or flight state. Much of the traditional discipline techniques do not calm children’s brain but, in fact, do just the opposite, and a brain locked in that state can’t reason well. This is why we take the time-in which both sets the limit of “I won’t let you hit” and provides space and skill to calm down so that he or she can be rational again.

Once the brain is out of fight or flight, discuss alternatives and ask the child how he or she is going to solve the problem, which in this case is an upset friend.  We need to be teaching our children to be emotionally intelligent by practicing scenarios that will greatly lessen the chance that hitting will occur.

Q: Tantrums. In your book you write that parents need to understand that tantrums are a plea for help for emotions that are too difficult for children to handle. What is the difference between a young child’s tantrum and one of an older child?

A: There are different types of tantrums, and we tend to use this word for any outburst that a child has. True tantrums are total emotional overwhelm and are common in very young children. They have underdeveloped prefrontal cortices, and this is the part of the brain that regulates emotion and social behavior. We often think of tantrums as some manipulative ploy to get their way, but this would require the brain power of a region not yet developed enough to produce it. The emotional overwhelm sends them into that reactive state, and just providingempathy and a loving presence to help them through it is really all they need. This will lessen as their brains mature.

Older children may “tantrum” or essentially “throw a fit” if they feel they are being treated unfairly (adults do this, too, unfortunately). This is a signal that they need help developing better emotional control and learning how to express emotions appropriately.

There is no simple technique that will stop tantrums by children of any age, and the complex reasons behind the behavior are as unique as the children experiencing them. Of course, limits should be set on hitting, kicking, throwing things, slamming doors, and other destructive behaviors that may result from an outburst. Ultimately feelings cannot be punished away; they must be worked through. It comes down to determining why a tantrum is occurring and giving children the knowledge and skills needed to move beyond tantrums.

Q: Whining is so annoying to parents. It’s a “step-up,” so to speak from a baby’s crying. Like a baby’s cry, whining in an older child tells you he wants something. A parent can feel as if she’s being manipulated. What’s the best way to address a child’s whining?

A: Many experts advise parents to ignore a child who is whining, but again, I don’t believe that ignoring the people we are closest to does anything positive for the relationship. In the book, I recommend these four approaches.

1. Listen. Often children just need to feel heard and understood. Acknowledge the upset that’s causing the whining.
2. Look for the reason behind the whining. Is it signaling hunger, tiredness, or built up frustration? The solution could be as simple as a sandwich.
3. Provide lots of preemptive cuddles and laughter. Laughing releases the same built-up negative feelings as crying (or whining). Spending time giggling and connecting every day will reduce whining.
4. Teach children to use their “strong voices.” You might say, “I care about what you’re saying, but I can’t understand that voice very well. Can you tell me in a strong voice?”

Q: Not Listening. Kids tend to tune out when a parent makes a request. How do you get children to pay attention or cooperate—to hear what you are saying or asking?

A: Ironically, the way parents typically try to gain cooperation from kids actually causes them to tune us out. Nagging, lecturing, counting, and demanding do nothing to foster cooperation. Punishment or the threat of punishment may compel the child to act, but this isn’t real cooperation.

First, keep the bond with your child strong. Children generally cooperate well when they feel close and connected. They want to please people they are in good relationship with. Secondly, think about your expectations. It’s hard for many children to switch gears quickly, so asking him to leave his Lego building “right this minute” and take a bath is expecting quite a lot. Let’s give them same courtesy we would like to have given to us and allow them a reasonable amount of time to comply.

Try these tips to gain cooperation:

Rather than barking orders across the room, try to get your child’s eyes and attention and then use a firm but respectful tone.

Use “I want” statements rather than “will you” statements. “I want you to pick up these toys” instead of “Will you pick up these toys?” Asking leaves room for a “no” answer.

Ask once, give a reasonable amount of time to comply, then take action. We complain about having to ask our kids a dozen times to do something, but we don’t need to be asking a dozen times! If they don’t comply on their own, get up and make it happen.

Q: Back Talk. We are talking about respect—or lack thereof—when we look at back talk. It is a form of challenging you or your authority. Much of reducing or eliminating back talk has to do with conflict resolution…and communication.  What are the key things parents should keep in mind that will minimize back talk and keep it from becoming a chronic problem?

A: You’re right, the biggest issue parents have with back talk is a feeling of being disrespected. We are tempted to shut it down immediately in order to prove our authority, but children learn the valuable skill of conflict resolution by being in conflict with people, and that means firstly by being in conflict with parents. Rather than being quick to shut down back talk, we can use it as an opportunity to teach our children how to respectfully communicate their disagreement and state their case.

You might encourage positive communication by asking, “Why is this important to you?” or “What other ideas do you have that meet the needs of all involved?” Of course, you don’t want to engage in a back-and-forth every time your child challenges you. If something is truly non-negotiable, use a short and respectful statement to disengage from the argument, such as “I’ve already answered that” or “I won’t be arguing about this.” If your child resorts to being truly disrespectful, you might say, “I understand that you are feeling upset, but speak in a way that doesn’t attack me. If you can’t do that right now, take a break and come back when you’re ready to.”

You should absolutely model boundary setting in the way you allow people to treat you because you want your children to be able to set those same boundaries with others.

Finally, being too controlling and being too permissive both elicit back talk. Reflect on whether you have been either if back talk is becoming an issue in your home. Children need a firm but fair leader who takes their opinions respectfully into account and also knows how to stand firm when needed.