* Encourage Youth to Participate in IPRC Survey – A Resource for Our Community *

By Davi Stein-Kiley, Courier & Press, Jan. 31, 2017 –

The domains of influence on our youth are many – school, community, friends, family, peers, and of course individual perspectives, differences and choice.

Perhaps you are already aware that in the 2014 Indiana Youth Survey conducted by the Indiana Prevention Resource Center, Southwestern Indiana students reported the following:

  • 25.8% of 12th graders reported binge drinking within the last month
  • 11.3% of 10th graders reported smoking cigarettes within the last month
  • 5.8% of 12th graders reported using prescription drugs within the last month
  • 21.5% of 8th graders reported feeling sad or hopeless within the last year
  • 15.4% of 8th graders reported considering suicide within the last year
  • 11.4% of 8th graders reported that had planned suicide within the last year

To view complete results go to youthfirstinc.org.

Why are these results so important to track?

Alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs are serious threats to the health, safety, and futures of our youth, families, and communities. Alcohol and other drug use are also the leading causes of crime among youth and major risk factors for teenage suicide and teenage pregnancy.

Study after study shows alcohol and other drug use interferes with school and life success. Students who are regular users are less likely to do well in school and less likely to graduate.

Youth who start using alcohol before the age of 15 are five times more likely to have alcohol dependency problems as adults than someone who begins drinking at the legal age of 21. Studies also show alcohol and other drug abuse is harmful to brain development in teens. The brain is not fully developed until age 24, so preventing, reducing, and delaying drug use is essential in helping our young people reach their full potential.

The Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC) was established in 1987 to help Indiana based alcohol, tobacco and other drug (ATOD) prevention providers enhance services in their respective communities.

A visit to the IPRC website http://www.drugs.indiana.edu/ helps Hoosiers recognize the amount of data that is collected to assist professionals in examining the course of potentially addictive behaviours and how they impact health outcomes in Indiana. There are also survey questions about mental health.

IPRC developed the Youth Survey in 1991, and schools have the opportunity to use the survey to gain greater detail about the lives, beliefs and perceptions of our young people. Participating in the survey provides everyone with working knowledge of risk factors that influence the use of drugs and alcohol as well as mental health concerns.

Among the risk factors measured are the perception of drug availability, community norms/favourable attitudes toward drug use, lack of commitment to school, rebelliousness, peer and problem behaviour, early initiation into problem behaviours, family management and conflict, friends who engage in problem behaviours, and school rewards for prosocial involvement.

According to the U.S. Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (2013) it is important to look for clusters of risk and protective factors that have a cumulative effect on the overall outcomes for a community and for our state.

Youth First has supported looking at the data in Southwestern Indiana to gain perspective on our regional needs for service and intervention.  Participation in the survey by 8th, 10th and 12th graders helps everyone have a better sense of how to help young people secure a healthier future.

Knowing the risk factors is also a way of understanding our weaknesses and building on strengths. We can assess and measure, inform and educate, plan, monitor and evaluate our health risks.

The survey will occur again this spring in area schools. Please encourage your teen to take part, and watch for Youth First’s report of outcomes that will help guide our work in assisting youth and families in our community.

* Believe It or Not, Birth Order Does Matter *

By Diane Braun, Courier & Press, January 24, 2017 –

My husband and I have three children who are now all adults: two sons born 2 ½ years apart and a daughter born three years later.

As our children were growing up, I noticed our sons were very different even though they have the same parents and grew up in the same house.

It was fascinating to me that our oldest son was always the thinker — looking at every situation from all angles before making a decision or answering a question.  My mother said he was “born old,” demonstrating more patience and maturity than others his age.

My second son has always been impulsive and never hesitated to try a new sport or activity.  He was described by his older brother as the true example of the Nike logo “Just Do It.”  A gifted athlete, he could step into any sport and do well. We had our share of trips to the emergency room, however, when his impulses outweighed caution.

According to Meri Wallace, author of Birth Order Blues, “Some of it has to do with the way the parent relates to the child in his spot, and some of it actually happens because of the spot itself.  Each spot has unique challenges,” she explains.

Simply by virtue of being a couple’s first child, a firstborn will naturally be a sort of experiment for the new parents.  Going “by the book,” new parents will be extremely attentive to the firstborn, strict with rules and overly cautious about the little things.  This in turn may cause the child to become a perfectionist, always striving to please the parents.

Firstborns tend to be reliable, conscientious, structured, cautious, controlling and achievers.  Firstborns are diligent and want to be the best at everything they do.

In contrast, if the couple has a second child, they might raise the second born with less stringency due to their experiences with the firstborn.  They might also be less attentive to the second since there’s another child competing for attention, and they probably will be less inclined to call the doctor’s office for every little scratch and bruise.

In our family, my youngest son was also the middle child.  Middle children tend to be people-pleasers and peacemakers, thriving on friendships and having a large social circle.  Their daring nature is often a ploy for getting attention and can be described as rebelliousness.

Even more important than birth order is creating an environment that is positive, safe, healthy and stimulating.  Though peers, siblings, genes and circumstances all play into how a child’s temperament develops, Wallace states that “parents still are the major influencing factors because, truthfully, the first year of life is the bonding with the primary caretaker that impacts upon self-confidence, trust and the ability to interact with another person.”

Birth order, along with other factors, does play a role in the traits of each child. Focus on each child’s personality and adapt your expectations to their individuality to produce confident, productive people.

* Recharge Your Brain with Downtime *

By Deena Bodine, LCSW, Courier & Press, January 17, 2017 –

As a Youth First Social Worker, I’m fortunate each year to facilitate the Reconnecting Youth program with a small group of high school students.  This year, the group selected some “pay it forward” activities to complete.

One of the activities involved writing encouraging messages on post-it notes that were then placed anonymously on student lockers.  One of the students penned, “Think smarter, not harder” as her words of encouragement.  Her message got me thinking.

Our kids are often faced with high expectations at school, fewer opportunities to unwind through recess and the arts and a busy extracurricular and social calendar.  The same can be said about our adult calendars.

This non-stop agenda doesn’t allow for much downtime.  Downtime allows our brains the opportunity to refresh, recharge and make sense of what we have recently learned or experienced.

Downtime can be characterized in three forms:

Good, quality sleep.  There is a great deal of information about the importance of sleep.  I have witnessed the effects of inadequate or interrupted sleep firsthand in myself and my children.  I’m guilty of sacrificing sleep for the sake of more urgent tasks. It’s important to remember the important role of sleep and its impact on our health and brain function.

Idleness or time spent awake doing nothing.  Examples of this include lying awake at night before falling asleep or meditation.  Meditation allows us to refresh our ability to concentrate and to attend to tasks more efficiently.

Time spent on mundane tasks.  Mundane tasks are also essential for learning.  These tasks, such as feeding a pet, putting toys away or cleaning a room give learners a much needed break from sustained brain activity.

Even closing your eyes, taking one deep breath, and exhaling can help refresh the brain and takes practically no time.  Carving out some time at the end of the day or the end of the week to engage in meditation or mindfulness is good practice.

Other great opportunities for downtime include vacations and holiday breaks.  Unintentionally, our family created a great deal of down time over winter break.  Illness hampered our travel plans, and we had two weeks free of athletic practices and games.

I now recognize just how re-energizing “doing nothing” was for our spirits.  I think I’ll make more time for just that.

In the wise words of a high schooler, we need to “think smarter, not harder” and allow our brains more downtime.  Fitting downtime into busy schedules is easier said than done, but it is well worth the effort.

* Bullying Prevention – Climate Change From the Inside Out *

By Emily Sommers, Courier & Press, Jan. 10, 2017 –

At the beginning of a new school year, bullying prevention initiatives kick off to help students get the year off to a good start.

Bullying is defined as repeated, harmful behavior against someone. Schools have different ways of communicating the message of “no tolerance” for bullying and the school being a “bully-free zone.” This may include a guest speaker at a large school presentation or in-class/small group presentations involving the school counselor, home school advisor or Youth First school social worker.

As a Youth First social worker, I have been a part of both types of presentations as we seek to educate and refresh students on having a safe school. The goal is for students to take away information about the different types of bullying — physical, verbal  and relational.

We also discuss cyberbullying with our middle and high school students, as the use of technology and social media sites is on the rise and starting at an earlier age. According to cyberbullying.org, cyberbullying is “when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones.”

We discuss why bullying occurs and how it feels. We want students to know what is really behind the mask of a bully — a hurting person who is trying to gain power in a negative and hurtful way through their actions. We do this to foster compassion.

In the words of Lisa Seif, local private outpatient therapist and community advocate for our youth, bullies are “hurting people who hurt other people with their words and actions.” Bullies are experiencing their own inner conflict, and that is what is referred to as “behind the mask.”

We don’t typically have to spend a lot of time discussing how it feels to be bullied. A show of hands almost always reveals students present have either experienced bullying or witnessed it happening to someone else. Common reactions include fear, embarrassment, sadness, and anger.

 We talk about the “bystander,” who sits back and watches, versus the “upstander,” who takes appropriate action against what is happening to them or a fellow student.  We suggest ways students can take a stand, including confident action/attitude, nonthreatening communication, feelings statements, and simply walking away and not engaging.

Conclusion of bullying prevention presentations will typically include every school having a united front or a no-tolerance zone for bullying.

How can this be achieved? It is important to continue the conversation with students. Give them resources and talk about safe people inside and outside the school including parents, principals, vice-principals, teachers, counselors, home school advisors, Youth First school social workers, and friends who are making good decisions.

Youth and students are listening! They demonstrate insight every time we have this necessary conversation with them.

Parents, please help keep this conversation going throughout the school year.  Your child may need a refresher now that the year is half over. We need your help, as bullying is not isolated to the school community and often takes place outside of school.

Most importantly, bullying prevention is about being a friend to yourself first and establishing the necessary climate change “inside” so it transmits “outside” in the home, school, community  and in friendships and relationships. That means maintaining a healthy balance with the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual parts of ourselves.

* Getting Your New Year Off to a Great Start *

By Whitney Eaton, LCSW, Courier & Press, Jan. 3, 2017 –

As the New Year arrives, I often find myself in a time of reflection. It’s the time of year for beginnings and endings, looking forward and back.

What were my greatest achievements? What were some of my biggest challenges? How did I handle those challenges? What did I learn?

Looking back can help me plan what I want to accomplish going forward. What do I want to continue? What do I want to try? What should I avoid? Contemplating these things helps me with the ritual of setting a New Year’s resolution.

Setting a New Year’s resolution is usually an attempt at self-improvement. However, many New Year’s resolutions are hard to maintain and end in failure. It is really difficult to turn our good intentions into long-term success.

If you find yourself having trouble setting and maintaining your resolutions, here are some steps to help:

Try a “New You” challenge. Think of a different habit you could track each month. At the end of the year you will have twelve new habits. For example, in January you could resolve to eat more vegetables. In February you could get more organized by cleaning out closets.

Write your resolution down and post it somewhere that is often visible to you.  This will serve as a reminder of your goal and help you stay on track.  Also, writing down your goals makes it more likely for you to achieve them.

Make a plan. Sit down and write up a step-by-step plan to achieve your goal. Write down baby steps you can take each month.

Write down the barriers to maintaining your resolution. Next, find solutions to your barriers. If your resolution is to save more and have an emergency fund, a barrier might be that all of your paycheck goes to pay bills. A solution could be to sell some of the old toys your children are not playing with anymore to establish the emergency fund.

Have an accountability partner. Share your resolution with someone who will help you keep it. This could be a spouse, parent, co-worker or friend, someone who is going to remind you kindly that you don’t really need that $7.00 coffee.

Celebrate success. If you have achieved some of the small steps toward reaching your larger goal, celebrate!

Having trouble thinking of a resolution?  Use some of these prompts to find yours:

I’m going to do better at…
A new book I want to read is…
A bad habit I would like to break is…
A place I would like to visit is…
A good deed I would like to do is…
Something I want to do differently is…

Breaking habits or trying to form new ones can be difficult.  Practicing a few of these steps can help you stay on track with your goals and get the New Year off to a great start!