* 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.

* Discuss the Dangers of Underage Drinking at Prom and Graduation

By Diane Braun, April 17, 2018 –

Prom and graduation are two of the most exciting events in a teen’s high school experience.  It’s a time to celebrate the end of the school year and remember for the rest of their lives.

Unfortunately too often prom and graduation night end tragically for teens that die from drinking and driving or alcohol poisoning.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one in three deaths from alcohol-related incidents occurs during prom or graduation weekend.

Drug-Free Action Alliance has developed a public awareness campaign to provide parents with accurate information about the health risks of underage drinking and the legal consequences of providing alcohol to youth.  The campaign encourages parents and the community to send a unified message that teen alcohol consumption is not acceptable at prom and graduation time.  It is illegal, unsafe and unhealthy for anyone under age 21 to drink alcohol.

Here are the facts:

  • Parents who give alcohol to their teen’s friends under any circumstances, even in their own homes, are breaking the law.
  • Parents who knowingly allow a person under 21 to remain in their home or on their property while consuming or possessing alcohol can be prosecuted and everything associated with such a violation can be confiscated, including personal property.
  • Parents can be sued if they give alcohol to anyone under 21 and they, in turn, hurt someone, hurt themselves or damage property.

Parents play a major role in their children’s choices about alcohol and other drugs.  Underage use of alcohol is a serious problem that too often leads to harmful consequences for youth and their families.

Parents can help their teens and their friends remain safe by taking responsibility, getting involved and setting limits.  Always be clear about your expectations.

You may have talked many times about healthy choices, but it’s important to be very clear about no alcohol use before the age of 21.  Parents should discuss the dangers of a) drinking and driving and b) getting into a car with a drunk driver.

Present possible scenarios and what to do in these situations.  Set a curfew that you can be awake for.  Make sure teens are home at the agreed-upon time and you see them walk in the door.  Use that time to hear details of their evening.

If hosting a party, do not serve or allow alcohol.  An adult who provides alcohol to a minor is breaking the law and risking that teen’s life.  Indiana passed a social host liability law in 2014 which prohibits anyone from “furnishing property for the purpose of enabling minors to consume alcohol.”

Parents and teens are encouraged to make the decision before spring events to be safe, which means staying alcohol-free.  Make sure your teen understands your expectations and the consequences.  Healthy choices and good communication can create those happy memories that last a lifetime.

 

* Grief Camp Helps Kids Struggling With Loss

By Heather Miller, LCSW, Courier & Press, April 10, 2018 –

“On Saturday, I’m going to help with Camp Memories.  I’m excited!” 

“What’s Camp Memories?”

“It’s a day-long program for kids that have lost a loved one.  It’s a great day.”

“That doesn’t sound fun.  That sounds sad.  What do you do all day, talk about people dying?”

This is typical of the response I receive when mentioning Camp Memories.  Grief is a subject that often makes individuals uncomfortable.  The idea of spending an entire day centered on loss is unimaginable to many; however, it’s one of my favorite programs.

When children lose a loved one, they experience a mixture of emotions.  Obviously, there is sadness and at times anger, but loneliness is also a key emotion related to grief.  After the death, the child must return to school where not many, if any, of their friends and classmates have experienced grief as they have.

According to an article in Social Work Today by Kate Jackson, this feeling of loneliness and standing out may lead to isolation.  Often, children cope with isolation by experiencing an increase in anxiety, substance abuse, and physical complaints.

At Camp Memories, losing a loved one is the common denominator among participants.  Children spend an entire day surrounded by other people their age that have a true understanding of what they’ve experienced.

Camp Memories began three years ago as a way to address the need to help children in our community cope with grief.  The Youth First program takes place on a designated Saturday from 8:30 am – 3:30 pm.  Master’s level social workers facilitate the program.

Camp Memories incorporates a variety of activities including sand tray therapy, normalizing grief through games, art therapy activities and free play.  Participants spend the day processing their experiences in a safe environment.  Additionally, parents participate in an opening and closing meeting to keep them informed about their child’s day.

At the beginning of the day, children are typically hesitant about participating and nervous about what will be discussed.  As the day progresses they begin sharing their experiences as well their emotional responses to these experiences.  Sadness, anger, guilt, worry, and fear are some of the common emotions children express throughout the day.

As the day grows to a close participants are smiling, chatting, and having fun playing with their new friends.  Allowing them an opportunity to talk about their grief through activities geared for children helps them make sense of their emotions.

In my experience as a facilitator for Camp Memories, I have seen children enter with grief weighing heavily on them.  I’ve seen these same children leave with a much lighter sense about them.  This is why this program is so important and beneficial.

Youth First’s next Camp Memories is scheduled for May 12 at Washington Middle School.  If your child has experienced the loss of a loved one and is interested in participating, please contact your school’s Youth First School Social Worker or Laura Keys at 812-421-8336 x 107.  Space is limited.  This is a free program that depends on donations to continue providing grief support for children.

* Five Steps to Better Communication With Your Teen

By Katie Omohundro, LCSW, Tuesday, April 3, 2018 –

Communication can be a tricky thing. When you add an adolescent with a growing brain and fluctuating emotions to the mix, communication with the goal of balancing freedom for teens and control from caregivers can be a challenge.

Here are five points to consider that may help improve communication and your relationship with your teen:

  1. Change your mindset.  Being flexible helps. This does not mean we should go against what we believe is best for our children. You should be flexible, however, and try to understand your teen’s perspective. Doing this instead of digging in your heels to show “who’s boss” will encourage better flow of communication.
  1. Allow your child to grow up. During adolescence kids go from having their parents as the center of the universe to avoiding them and thinking they’re clueless. These reactions are perfectly normal. It can be difficult to avoid fighting the quirkiness of adolescence, but allowing time for your teen to navigate through these changes and grow up to make healthy decisions is part of growing up. Coaching rather than micromanaging encourages kids to maneuver through life while feeling confident they have someone to help them along the way.
  1. Make each moment a teachable one. Asking ourselves what really matters during these years can help keep things in perspective. Be present and find those teachable moments. Avoid constant lectures on touchy subjects like schoolwork and chores and the urge to give unsolicited advice. This helps focus the conversation on listening and hearing what is important to your child.
  1. Be real. Being honest with your teen about how you feel allows them to see your struggles and vulnerable side. If you’re afraid your child is going to get involved with a crowd that’s into risky behaviors, it’s okay to let your child know you worry about him and don’t want him spending time with people known to make unhealthy decisions.  Don’t let fear drive you. If you’re too strict and intrusive it can lead to teen rebellion, which isn’t good for anyone. Being authentic and vulnerable will make it easier for your teen to show you that side of them, too.
  1. Validate your teen’s feelings and emotions. Validate your teen by letting them know you understand their feelings. Validation does not mean you agree with or condone the behavior but rather means you’re not judging. Validating feelings allows teens a safe space to open up and allows parents to meet teens where they are.

The foundation of a healthy parent-teen relationship begins with trust, mutual respect, and the ability to pick and choose battles. Figuring out what our “non-negotiables” are (such as no drinking or no texting while driving) is a must. Share these with you teen so they know where you stand. Every child needs guidance, especially during adolescence.

Although the adolescent years may seem to drag on, they’ll be gone in no time. Finding a balance that works for you and your family can make those years enjoyable when it comes to communication and a healthy relationship with your teen.

* JUULing – Vaping Gets a New Look

By Jordan Beach, MSW, Courier & Press, March 27, 2018 –

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are turning into a thing of the past.

I would love to tell you it’s because less people are using them and all forms of cigarette use are becoming obsolete, but that is not the case. The growing popularity of e-cigarettes has just taken on a new form called “JUULing,” which is a type of vape made by JUUL Labs.

According to the manufacturer’s website, its mission is to “eliminate cigarettes by offering existing adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes.”

The company says the product is not intended for minors. However, young people are using it, and medical experts are concerned about the health risks.

JUULing is essentially the same concept as vaping using an e-cigarette, but the device itself is much smaller and more discreet. The size and style can make it especially appealing to kids or others who might want to hide use of this product.

Like an e-cigarette, this device needs to be charged, but the difference is it can be easily plugged into a laptop or charged in a car using a USB port. Small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, the JUUL may easily be passed off as a flash drive and brought into homes and schools without the knowledge of adults.

Vaping flavors like fruit medley and crème brulee may also attract a younger market, though the manufacturer states that its products are not designed for anyone under the age of 21.

Outside of convenience stores, these products can also be purchased online through the manufacturer. There are steps to verify the buyer’s age and help prevent minors from making a purchase, but according to news reports, underage users are still finding ways to buy it online.

Using a JUUL has to be better than smoking traditional cigarettes, right? They are made without tar and some other well-known cancer-causing chemicals used to make cigarettes, but they are not harmless.

The manufacturer says one cartridge used for a JUUL contains as much nicotine as an entire pack of standard cigarettes. The American Academy of Pediatrics says nicotine is both highly addictive and toxic. Nicotine has been linked to nerve damage in developing teens. A newly published New York University School of Medicine study suggests nicotine delivered via e-cigarettes puts users at a higher risk for cancer and heart disease.

JUUL products are also expensive. A “starter pack” purchased online will cost just under $50. Each time you need more cartridges it will cost about $25 for a pack of four. This is not a cheap habit (or addiction).

Parents, it is important to educate yourself on the appearance of a JUUL so you know if your child has one with them.  Also, it is important to have conversations with your children about the dangers of these substances. When something doesn’t look dangerous or is advertised as a safe alternative, it is easy for teens to overlook the dangers that lie beneath the surface.