* Fostering Responsibility and Independence in Your Teen

By Valorie Dassel, Courier & Press, Feb. 13, 2018 –

Being a parent is often described as the greatest joy of one’s life.  It is amazing that an experience that is often described so fondly is also characterized by most parents as the greatest challenge they have ever faced.

A wide set of emotions can be experienced on this journey, particularly during the pre-teen and teen years.  Families are often extremely busy, which can result in many emotional reactions from parents as well as teens.

If we can relate to the developmental challenges our children are experiencing, it may help us to respond in a manner that results in the least resistance and greatest gain.

There are many physical, emotional and mental changes teenagers are experiencing.  Most teens are at the developmental stage of approaching individualization.

The beliefs, values, and subsequently the choices of most pre-teens are primarily based on what their parents have taught and modeled.  As our children approach the teen years, they begin the process to become their own person with their own set of values and belief systems.

During this process parents may interpret the teen’s behavior as rebellious and disobedient.  Decision-making skills are the last skills mastered during the development of the teen brain.  As teens seek independence, they often experience conflict between wanting to have a good time and their desire to be taken seriously.

Independence for teenagers can be translated to finding ways to “belong” outside of the family.  Research indicates that parents have the most influence over their child’s decisions.  Their peers often take a close second.

Social media creates greater access and a closer bond with peers.  Now more than ever, parents should facilitate this independence while maintaining a healthy relationship.

Independence and responsibility must occur in harmony; otherwise the teen may feel out of control and act accordingly. Parents must allow consequences and use discipline when necessary to help teenagers make better decisions.

For many parents this transition can be difficult; allowing your child to fail is tough. The old adage “A mother is only as happy as her saddest child” can ring very true while we allow them to experience the pain that can go along with poor decisions.

It may also feel as though you are losing your close relationship with our children as they nurture their friendships more than familial relationships. With work and dedication, most parents find maintaining good communication and providing rules that strike a balance in time spent with friends and family often results in healthy and enjoyable relationships.

Dinkmeyer & Dinkmeyer provide good guidelines for parents to follow when deciding whether or not to get involved in a problem their teen is experiencing.  In their book, Parenting Teenagers, Systematic Training for Effective Parenting of Teens, they discuss the importance of deciding who actually owns the problem before forcing parental involvement. The following questions are encouraged to be explored:

  1. Can anyone get hurt?
  2. Are any rights being disrespected?
  3. Is anyone’s property threatened?
  4. Is my teen unable to take this responsibility?

If any of these questions are answered with a “yes,” then both the parent and the teen own the problem.  Joined problem solving and parental monitoring should be in place.

If each question has a response of “no,” the teen would own the problem and be allowed the independence to make a decision regardless of a potentially natural consequence occurring.

Raising a teenager can feel stressful and chaotic.  It is important to schedule time to enjoy each other without conversation over tense subjects.  Remember -they will quickly pass through the teen years and potentially raise a teen of their own someday!

* Reconnecting Youth Helps Students Make Positive Changes

By Tiffany Harper, Courier & Press, January 30, 2018 –

My favorite program to facilitate as a Youth First Social Worker is Reconnecting Youth (RY). This program is taught in a high school classroom setting and is co-facilitated by Youth First Social Workers and trained teachers. It hones in on three major components in a student’s life:  school achievement, mood management, and drug and alcohol control.

To improve school achievement students are taught strategies to raise grades, improve attendance, and demonstrate a better attitude in the classroom.

To assist with mood management students are taught coping strategies and encouraged to share their struggles with one another in order to combat issues such as depression and anxiety.

To reduce drug and alcohol involvement, they are encouraged to place themselves in sober environments, use refusal skills, and set goals to reduce or abstain from substance use.

In the RY classroom an atmosphere is created so students can feel welcome, bond with others who may or may not have similar life experiences, and learn major life lessons that can be applied in their everyday lives.

Students are encouraged to set goals on a daily basis in an effort to improve life success. It is an incredibly rewarding experience to be involved with this evidence-based program.

Students express the most appreciation for the portion of the class called “shared agenda,” during which students share struggles and successes with each other and offer support and encouragement.

A student from class this year made some heartfelt statements during the class graduation ceremony that illustrate its direct impact on student growth and functioning:

“Sophomore year I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety after making a second suicide attempt. I felt ashamed to be depressed and I felt so different from everyone else, but in reality I wasn’t. To me RY was a safe haven, a place I finally felt like I belonged. I learned I wasn’t so different. I remember walking in on the first day thinking ‘I don’t think I belong here,’ but boy was I wrong! My classmates taught me that being sad was okay and that there is no shame in asking for help. I learned how different our lives are and even how similar. I gained friends I thought I’d never have and even some self confidence! I finally realized how precious life was, especially mine…I know that going forth in life I will be a much stronger person thanks to this program. RY taught me to love and appreciate myself and every little thing in life and that is something I will never forget.”

As teens navigate through challenges in their lives, Reconnecting Youth can provide support, bonding, and encouragement to make healthy lifestyle choices and good decisions. You can find more information on Reconnecting Youth and Youth First’s other programs at youthfirstinc.org.

* Youth First Unveils 20th Anniversary Celebrations

Youth First, Inc. hosted a ribbon cutting on Thursday, February 1st unveiling its 20th anniversary celebrations. The year ahead will include an anniversary edition of the organization’s signature auction, an awards reception, and a celebratory gala. These events will honor the community that has stepped forward to support Youth First over the years and serve as a springboard for the organization’s future endeavors.

Featured speakers at the unveiling included Dr. William Wooten, Youth First founder; Carol Lynch, Youth First Board Member; Jim Back, Edward Jones Financial Planner; and Parri Black, Youth First President & CEO. The Southwest Indiana Chamber marked the occasion with an anniversary ribbon cutting and light refreshments were served.

The organization will highlight the Edward Jones Emerald Gala celebrating Youth First’s 20th anniversary on April 21, 2018, at Tropicana’s Riverfront Pavilion. Limited sponsorships and tickets are available. The gala features an anniversary edition of Youth First’s Passport to Adventure auction as well as a formal dinner, dancing, and other entertainment. This event commemorates Youth First’s 20th anniversary by honoring all of the supporters who continue to protect and heal the hearts of youth and families.

Prior to the gala, Youth First will host an auction preview and awards reception presented by Romain Cross Pointe Auto Park on April 19, 2018, at Tropicana’s Riverfront Pavilion. All are welcome to preview auction items at this reception which will also honor young people who have benefitted from Youth First’s programs and services. This event is open to the public and free to attend. The winners of the Don Mattingly Youth Award and the Carol Lynch Advocate of Youth First Award will be named.

About Youth First, Inc.: Youth First’s mission is to strengthen youth and families through evidence-based programs that prevent substance abuse, promote healthy behaviors, and maximize student success. Youth First partners with 59 schools across 7 counties to provide 39 Master’s level social workers who assess needs, develop and implement prevention plans, and connect students and their families to community resources. Youth First also offers afterschool programs involving parents and caregivers to strengthen families. For more information about Youth First, please visit www.youthfirstinc.org or call 812-421-8336.

* Life Lessons Learned From Organized Sports

By Ashley Hale, January 23, 2018 –

I am a big believer that taking part in organized activities can instill principles and life lessons that kids will utilize in their teen years and beyond.

Most of my childhood memories revolve around sports.  From ages 5-18 sports were such a huge part of my life.  I loved competing.

At age 15 a huge curveball was thrown, curtailing my sports career.  I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder and was told I had to stop participating in everything but basketball.

I pushed through basketball for another 2 years until I had to stop because my body was giving out.  Saying I was devastated is an understatement.  I knew playing sports was very important to me, but I never realized just how important until the opportunity to play was taken away.

It took two whole weeks to gather myself enough to sit down with my coaches and deliver the news.  I was sure I would walk out of the room totally devastated, but to my surprise I didn’t.

I still remember the exact words my coach said:  “Ashley I’ve watched you give 150 percent since all of this started.  It kills me that you can’t play anymore, but you know the game so well and we’d love for you to stay with us to be another eye and help with coaching and stats.”  I was speechless.

That changed my perspective completely.  I immediately realized that just because things don’t exactly go our way doesn’t mean we can’t make the best of it.  There are so many valuable lessons I learned about life and about myself that I gained from participating in organized activities.

  • The value of hard work – I had to work hard to achieve my goals and reach my potential. You can’t snap your fingers and be the person you want to be.  You have to set goals, put in effort, and be consistent.
  • Teamwork – For a team to be successful we had to work together. If a piece of the puzzle was missing, things were out of whack.  We had to figure out how to make them fit together to reach our common goals.  What may be out of reach for one individual can often be accomplished through teamwork.
  • Discipline equals success – It’s a lesson you learn quickly in organized sports; you get out what you put in. If you want the joy of victory you must put in what it takes to improve and excel.
  • Overcoming adversity – Life sometimes isn’t fair and obstacles arise. Through organized sports I learned to sit back, review a situation, make appropriate changes and try again.  The feeling of accomplishment after a setback provides the same high as the adrenaline rush right before a jump ball in a basketball game.

The greatest thing I learned is that although sometimes we lose the things we love most, with support and determination we can make it through. Medical issues took me out of the game but they didn’t take me out of the amazing friendships, bonds, and lessons years of participating in organized activities gave me.

In fact, if it wasn’t for key influences from coaches, teammates, my parents and friends, I know I would have had a much larger mountain to climb.

* Promoting Better Sleep Habits With an Anxious Child

By Laura Arrick, LCSW, Courier & Press, January 16, 2018 –

Child:  “I can’t shut my brain off.”

Parent:  “But you have to get to sleep.  Quit stalling.  You have school tomorrow, so shut your eyes.”

In households with an anxious child this can be a common bedtime conversation.

There are many forms of anxiety, but one shared characteristic is overwhelming thoughts. These thoughts often start out as rational worries and fears but over time can become irrational and all-consuming.  An anxious brain has difficulty letting go and moving on from these thoughts, and nighttime can be one of the most challenging times.

To promote optimal health, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that children ages 6 – 12 get 9 – 12 hours of sleep and teenagers ages 13 – 18 get 8 – 10 hours of sleep each night.  Following these guidelines on a regular basis leads to improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and improved mental and physical health.

The typical reasons children are not getting enough sleep include phone or computer usage, video games, homework, jobs, extra-curricular activities, etc.  These things can usually be managed with some parental guidelines.  Anxiety is less obvious and harder for a parent to help with, often leaving both the parent and the child at a loss.

Here are some strategies to think about to help your child manage their anxiety and still get the right amount of sleep each night.

  • Establish a “before bed” routine. Give your child at least 30 minutes before bedtime to wind down. This means turning off all electronics and phones and spending some time getting ready for sleep.  It could include reading a book in a quiet room, taking a bath or shower, listening to music in a dim space, or journaling.  Work with your child on what this might look like for them.  This is a proactive way to set them up for success before they hit the pillow.
  • Have white noise in the room. There are plenty of options that are quiet but effective at drowning out the thoughts in your brain, including a fan, music, sound machine, or an app on your phone.
  • As a general rule try and help children avoid caffeine and snacks before bed. Often the snacks chosen are high in sugar, which does not help the body and mind wind down. Snacks that promote sleep may include bananas, oatmeal, yogurt, cheese with whole grain crackers or bread, or a glass of milk. These all have natural components that promote sleepiness.
  • Have your child keep a journal. Encourage them to spend time reflecting on their day and writing down all the worries and fears they have bottled up. Getting it out of their head and on paper can relieve some of the tension they are carrying to bed.
  • Don’t be afraid to allow them to get up and do something different for a short period of time. If you find they are still struggling after tossing and turning for 30 minutes, let them get up and do something relaxing and calming. They may be swirling those overwhelming thoughts in their head and can’t break the cycle just lying there.

Anxious children can get a good night’s sleep; you just have to find what works for your child. Hopefully some of the suggestions above will help them leave their worries behind before their head hits the pillow.