* Pornography Viewing Starts as Early as Elementary School

By Amy Steele, LCSW – June 5, 2018 –

Surprisingly, the average age of a child the first time they see internet pornography is 11 years.  Kids don’t have to be looking for pornography; it is programmed to find them.

To think that it won’t happen to your child leaves them at risk for stumbling upon sexually-explicit material online (whether they are looking for it or not) that they are not developmentally able to handle, emotionally or mentally.

Tweens and teens are at the age of natural curiosity about sex. When presented with the opportunity and such easy access, many are choosing to view pornography – and doing it more than once.  Today’s porn content is drastically more graphic, violent, deviant and destructive than anything ever seen before.

Highly sexualized, violent material poses many risks for a developing brain.  In the adolescent years when brains are still developing, viewing porn can deform the pleasure centers of their brain.

Neurological research has found that pornography is particularly addictive because of the neuro-chemical release in the brain that occurs while viewing it.  For many youth, the euphoric “high” that occurs quickly develops into a coping style for escaping emotional distress.

Studies have shown that kids who viewed pornography for hours each week have less gray matter in their brain than those who did not view it.  This means there are fewer neurons and neuro-connectivity in the pleasure centers of the brain, leaving the brain craving more while making it harder for the same images to provide pleasure.

Therefore, young viewers seek more graphic and violent content, an indicator of addiction.  Males make up the majority of those addicted to pornography, but females are also addicted.

Youth that view pornography once a month or more are at a greater risk of developing depression, anxiety, sexually permissive attitudes, preoccupation with sex, inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality, unrealistic ideas about sexual relationships, insecurities about body images in females and insecurities about sexual performance in males.

As an adult, they are more likely to be unfaithful to their spouse.  Fifty-six percent of divorce cases involve one party having obsessive interest in online pornography.  With the increase of internet pornography and pornography addictions, there has been an increase in violent sex crimes, an increase in child pornography, and sex trafficking is at an all-time high.

Parents, it’s time to let LOVE overpower the discomfort of discussing this topic. Talk to your tweens and teens about pornography.  Keep revisiting it; this is not a one-time conversation.

Look for teachable moments in the media and daily life.  Remind your child of your family values.  Tell kids where pornography may pop up online and what to do if they find it – turn it off and talk to a trusted adult.

Reassure them they will not be in trouble if they come to you right away.  Teach them about responsible online behavior and rules.  Establish house/family rules such as computers/laptops must be in main living areas; devices must be kept out of bedrooms; phones must be turned into parents at night for charging.  Block pop-ups on computers.

Most importantly: Frequently check kids’ phones, tablets and computers. Read their texts and emails.  Look at their pictures, social media and other apps.  This is not an invasion of privacy.  It is your responsibility as a parent to keep your tween or teen safe in the age of technology.

* Benefits of the Great Outdoors on Mental Health

By Donna Wolter, LCSW, May 29, 2018 –

Warmer weather is here again, so that means we will be enjoying the great outdoors! What a long winter it has been!

Research continuously shows that being outside can improve our mental, physical and spiritual well-being.  Several research studies I’ve read recently validate that being outdoors or even looking at pictures of nature positively changes the neural activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain.

Stanford researchers concluded in a study that walking in nature could lower the risk of depression. The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, reported that people who spent ninety minutes in a natural environment showed less activity in the area of the brain that is associated with depression compared to people who walked in an urban setting.

An article published in Business Insider by Lauren Friedman and Kevin Loria listed 11 scientific reasons you should spend more time outside:

  1. Improved short-term memory. A study with University of Michigan students found that the group that took a walk around an arboretum scored 20 percent better the second time they took a test compared to the other group that retook the test after walking around in a city.
  2. Restored mental energy. One study found that people who looked at pictures of nature vs. city scenes experienced a boost in mental energy.
  3. Stress relief. One study found that students who spent two nights in the forest had lower levels of cortisol (a hormone often used as a marker for stress) than those who spent time in the city.
  4. Reduced inflammation. Inflammation in the body can be associated with autoimmune disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, depression and cancer. A study showed that students who spent time in the woods had lower levels of inflammation than those in the city.
  5. Better vision. In children, research found that outdoor activity may reduce the risk of developing nearsightedness.
  6. Improved concentration. In one study, researchers discovered that the participants who took a walk in nature vs. those who took a walk in the city or those that just relaxed, the nature walkers scored the best on a proofreading task.
  7. Sharper thinking and creativity. College students who took a walk in nature were much more accurate repeating a sequence of numbers back to the researchers after their walk.
  8. Possible anti-cancer effects. Early studies have suggested that spending time in forests may encourage the production of anti-cancer proteins.
  9. Immune system boost. The cellular activity that is connected with a forest’s possible anti-cancer effects is also an indication of a general boost to the immune system, which we need to fight off less serious illnesses like colds and flu.
  10. Improved mental health. When you spend time outdoors and combine it with exercise, studies show that anxiety, depression and other mental health issues can be reduced. Water made the benefits even better.
  11. Reduced risk of early death. Many studies have shown a strong correlation between a person’s access to nature and living longer, healthier lives.

Let’s get off the couch, get outside and reap all the wonderful benefits of the great outdoors!

* Summer Resources for Tri-State Families

By Sarah Laury, LCSW, May 22, 2018 – Courier & Press

The countdown to summer has officially begun.  There are only a few short weeks until school is out for the summer.

Many families look forward to the days of swimming, relaxing, and vacationing.  Most are also excited about sleeping in, staying up late, and taking a break from the daily grind of homework and packing lunches.

For some families, though, summer break can come as a financial and logistical hardship.  During the school year many families rely on the national school lunch and breakfast program.  With this program, families can take advantage of subsidized school breakfasts and lunches to help lighten the financial load that comes with feeding their families.

In addition to the meal programs, many families count on afterschool programs to provide a safe and structured environment for their kids in the afternoons.   This time of year many families are scrambling to make arrangements for child care and making financial preparations for the increased cost that comes with kids being home for the summer.

Our community has several resources in place that families can access to help alleviate some of this strain and hopefully allow for a more relaxed and enjoyable summer.

The EVSC has a free summer lunch program for children ages 18 and under that runs Monday – Friday throughout the summer.  From May 30 – June 30, lunch will be served at Cedar Hall, Dexter, Evans, Fairlawn, Glenwood, Lodge, and Tekoppel.

Lincoln and McGary offer breakfast and lunch from May 30 – June 23, and Lincoln will serve lunch only from June 26 – July 28.  Vogel will serve breakfast and lunch from May 22 – July 28.  Times vary by site.  Adult meals are available for purchase.  See this link for locations, dates, and times:  https://district.evscschools.com/acadprog/summer_lunch_programs

Warrick County School Corporation offers a summer meal program for children ages 18 and under.  Adult meals are available for purchase.  Dates and locations are as follows:

  • Loge Elementary School: July 16 – July 27 – Lunch Monday – Friday from 11:00 – 12:00.
  • Tennyson Elementary School: July 16 – July 27 – Lunch Monday – Friday from 11:00 – 12:00.
  • Chandler Elementary School: June 4 – July 27 – Lunch Monday – Friday from 11:00 – 12:30.  In addition to lunch, breakfast will be served between 8:00 – 9:00 am Monday – Friday during the following dates at Chandler Elementary School:  June 4 – June 29 and July 17 – July 27.

Boys and Girls Club of Evansville is open during the summer – Monday-Friday from 9:00 – 4:00 at two locations.  The One Main Unit on Bellemeade Avenue serves children ages 6 – 17, and the Fulton Square Unit serves children age 5 (must be enrolled in kindergarten) – 14.  Annual membership is $10 per child and a payment plan can be arranged if needed.  Activities include game rooms, tech lab, and arts and crafts.  See website for application and additional information or call 812-425-2311. http://bgclubevv.org/

YMCA of Southwestern Indiana offers free summer programming for school-aged children Monday – Friday throughout the summer at their Caldwell Community Center location.  See brochure for additional information or call 812-492-6716. http://www.ymcaswin.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/CommunityOutreach14Corrected-1.pdf

K Camp is a free 4-week kindergarten readiness program sponsored by the United Way and EVSC.  The program runs from June 4 – June 29 at two different locations – Lodge Community School from 9:00 am -12:30 pm and Caze Elementary School from 8:45 am – 12:00 pm.  To register, call 812-421-7274. http://unitedwayswi.org/k-camp/

Showplace Cinemas 2018 Family Film Festival – Eight weeks of family- friendly movies for $1 per person and concession specials at multiple Showplace Cinemas locations.  For exact dates and show times, see http://wkdq.com/showplace-cinemas-announces-2018-1-summer-movie-schedule/

Evansville Parks and Recreation City Pools offer weekly family nights at two different locations.  On family night, 2 adults and up to 4 kids can swim for $5.  Family night at Mosby Pool is on Wednesdays from 6-8 pm and at Rochelle-Landers Pool on Thursdays from 6-8 pm.

Have a great summer!

* A Mother’s Wisdom

By Diane Braun, May 8, 2018 –

When asked to name the one person who was their strongest supporter, loved them unconditionally and influenced them the most, the majority of people would name their mother.

The maternal bond is strong, and for those of us who grew up with a woman who was tough on us for no other reason than to make US tough enough to handle life’s experiences, we realize (perhaps too late) that all past Mother’s Days should have been spent expressing love and gratitude with words rather than gifts.

According to a Fundivo survey in 2016, eight out of ten Americans planned to celebrate Mother’s Day, spending over $21 billion dollars on the holiday. I can remember drawing pictures, making cards, buying flowers and candy for my mom over the years.

My mom was always appreciative and returned the favor when I became a mom. She was a first generation American, born to Polish and Ukrainian immigrants who came to this country in the early 1900s. Her perspective on parenting came from her own parents:  raise healthy children who become productive adults.

She told me many times that her parents considered themselves successful because all eight of their children survived childhood and became adults who got married, had children and supported themselves. She did not have a relationship with her mother that involved shopping, going to movies or out to eat.  She simply knew that her mother loved her because she took good care of her.

Low attachment to caregivers, as in the mother-child bond, plays an important role in later behavior and delinquency problems. The closer a child is to their mother, the less likely the child will be at risk for delinquency.

Research has shown that a strong adult in a child’s life can make a difference in not only their attitude about themselves and the world around them, but also in their decision to make healthy choices about drugs and alcohol.

Mom wisdom, aka “Mom-isms,” is a term I recently learned that not only made me smile but made me realize that everyone needs someone in their life giving this advice.  Examples of “Mom-isms:”  “When you have your own house, then you can make the rules.” and “So what if Sally’s mom let her do it. If Sally’s mom let her jump off the Empire State Building, would you want me to let you do it?” and “I’m doing this for your own good.”

Who in your life challenges you to be your best with love and understanding?  Is there someone who is looking out for you, making sure you get honest advice to keep you safe? Have you realized as an adult that this advice needs to be passed on to your own children?

My wish this Mother’s Day is that all mothers know how important they are and continue to dish out the wisdom that comes with love and devotion to their children.

 

* Make Sure Your Child is Safe Online

By Jordan Beach, MSW – Courier & Press – April 24, 2018 –

As a school social worker, I work with kids every day. I like to think that I’m pretty up-to-date on all the newest apps that students at my school use.

I want to be in tune with the ever-changing social media aspects that fill our children’s lives, but if I’m being honest with myself, I know that’s not true.  By the time I figure out what I believe to be the “newest” app, my students are telling me they aren’t using that one anymore and they have moved on to something new.

So what can you do to ensure your child is being responsible online, especially if you find it difficult to even keep up with the apps they are using?

For starters, do your research. Know what apps are popular. Most parents know the basics: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Musically…but what are we missing?

  • Yik Yak: Yik Yak is an anonymous social media site that takes zero personal information to create. Every post from every user is anonymous. This is especially concerning in the hands of younger students who often struggle with using social media in a positive way.
  • Ask f.m.: This app is set up in a question/answer format.  This again is troubling for younger users who tend to use social media for validation. Questions and answers can be posted either using a name or anonymously.
  • Kik: Kik is essentially another way for kids to text each other. It thrives on giving a more “face to face” feeling by using images, and pictures are part of its allure. However, this app is easily accessible and often times used as a way to meet strangers. This app certainly puts your child at risk to predators.
  • Voxer: Voxer turns your phone into a walkie-talkie style device. Youth enjoy the app for this diversity in communication styles but it also poses a concern to parents.  Messages on this app can be saved and replayed.  This is both a blessing and a curse.  Again, this app is concerning when used inappropriately to put people down.
  • Other Programs to be aware of: Programs or instructions to “jailbreak” a phone are easy to find. This means the phone is free of limitations imposed on it by its manufacturer and carrier. Once your child’s phone has been “jailbroken” they can add apps that don’t come directly from an app store.  Most commonly apps being utilized in this way are used to hide other apps from the main screen.  Do some research about these jailbreak apps so you can see what the icon looks like.  This will help you identify if one of these apps is being used on your child’s device.

So what steps can you take to keep your child safe online without being the type of parent that is watching every move they make? As our kids get older we want to give them some additional freedom to learn and make mistakes, but we also need to know they’re safe.

Here are some tips to ensure your child is safe online:

  1. Talk about it. Know what apps they’re using and ask them to be transparent.
  2. Have active accounts and befriend them on major social media accounts.
  3. Have their passwords. Don’t abuse this, but letting them know you have the ability to log in and see what they’re doing at any time can be helpful.