* Helping Your Child Transition to High School

By Valorie Dassel, LCSW, LCAC, Courier & Press, August 8, 2017 –

The transition from elementary or middle school to high school can come with a wave of emotions for both students and parents.

Often times, there is excitement surrounding the new environment, both socially and academically.  Anxiety is commonly experienced among incoming freshmen.  These anxieties often stem from social and academic changes.

The opportunities for change can increase a  sense of self and positively affect academics.  As parents, it is important to nurture our teenager’s development during this transition.

In a retrospective research study conducted by Akos and Galassi (2004), adolescents identify homework and grades as the most difficult aspect of transitioning to high school.  Often times, high school courses demand more studying and homework outside of the classroom.

Parents should talk with their teen about academic expectations.  Discussions should include preparing them to increase organizational strategies, time management and good study habits.

If elementary or middle school has been easy for a teen, they may begin high school with a relaxed attitude toward grades.  If high school proves to be more academically challenging for them, the teen may have a difficult transition.

Priorities for a teenager can often be difficult to navigate. Students may want to do well academically, but new social opportunities may interfere with academic success.  During this developmental stage, friends become just as important to the teen as their family, and they also want instant gratification.

When they are faced with the choice of doing their homework or hanging out with friends, they may opt for the more immediate and “fun” reward of socializing.  Parents can lend support by encouraging set study times and monitoring assignments being turned in on time through the school’s website.

High school includes social adjustments as well.  Typically, the high school student is coming from a social network where they knew exactly where they fit in to an unknown social environment in a new and larger student body.  This change offers exciting opportunities for most.  For the student who has desired different or more friendships in elementary or middle school, it offers the opportunity to reinvent and develop many more relationships.

Throughout freshman year, social groups tend to go through many transitions.  Often times, new friends are added to established groups of friends.  Sports and extra-curricular interests involve an increased amount of time spent together and new friendships are formed.

With a larger student body, there is greater opportunity to find friends who share similar interests and values.  Parents should encourage involvement in activities to promote social connectedness and the protective factors provided.  Spending time constructively makes it less likely the teen will be involved in negative social behaviors.

If the social adjustment is not what your teen expected, they could be struggling with feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression.  Open communication at this time is crucial.

Communicate understanding and brainstorm peers they have something in common with.  They often lack the social awareness to build friendships.  Work with them on how to initiate conversations and suggest non-intimidating ways to “hang out” outside of school to nurture friendships.  This will give them the skills necessary to work through their social difficulties.

The transition to high school offers many exciting opportunities.  There are also going to be difficulties on this journey.  Maintaining an open and positive relationship and communication between parent and teen will make it easier on the entire family.

*Create a Sense of Purpose for Youth

By Wendy Lynch, MSW, Courier & Press, August 1, 2017 –

After a busy day helping kids as a school social worker, I often come home from work feeling the need to decompress.  Many days I find myself trying to process the daily struggles of my students.

My husband and I regularly discuss what it means to help a child in need.  How can I serve all the kids I meet with effectively?

There are many directions this conversation can go, but one concept we often discuss is the necessity for  youth  to feel a part of something — a need for connection, a sense of belonging  or perhaps best said, a sense of purpose.

Research shows that teens and young adults that seek purpose have higher levels of life satisfaction and happiness.  While recognizing these needs is important, the more challenging component is to how best connect  youth  to this sense of purpose.

When I recently listened to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg give an eloquent commencement speech to Harvard University graduates, I was impassioned by his message of “purpose,” because it was so reflective of many of my interactions with the kids I serve through  Youth  First.  Mr. Zuckerberg’s thesis was that “finding your purpose isn’t enough; the challenge is to create a world where everyone has a sense of purpose.”  (You can find Zuckerberg’s speech on You Tube.)

 With this in mind, I often find my conversations with distressed  youth  gravitating toward  the things in life they care about — people, ideas, and dreams — and how I can best point them toward  these  connections.  So how might one do this?  Zuckerberg offers three concepts that can help you lead your child towards a sense of connection, belonging and purpose:

  1. Encourage participation in something bigger than yourself.  Examples include community service, sports, drama, music  or clubs.
  2. Try to create the feeling or environment where the child is needed.
  3. Help facilitate an environment, attitudes  and goals where there is always something better ahead to work towards.

In my experience, I believe it is productive to help your child see a bright future and focus on what is to come rather than what is in the past.  According to William Damon, author of “The Path to Purpose: How Young People Find Their Calling in Life,” benefits can include living longer and healthier; valuing humility, gratitude and integrity; being more academically engaged; being more pro-socially oriented and engaged; being interested in how their actions affect others  and more.

The teen years are a time to explore one’s inner and outer world and seek new experiences.  Hopefully, these experiences will also create time for self-reflection so that teens can discover what gives their life purpose and meaning – what makes them feel alive.  Parents can set an example for their teen by modeling a sense of purpose in their own lives.

Guide your teen toward finding their purpose in life.  Help them break down their purpose into achievable goals and take action to support them until they’ve achieved their goals.  Pride in what they accomplish and service to others can build a capacity for a greater purpose that endures into their life well beyond the teen years.

* Avoiding Parent-Child Power Struggles

by Terra Ours, LCSW, Courier & Press, July 25, 2017 –

It’s the end of the day and you’re exhausted.  Suddenly, you find yourself engaged in a war with your child – one you are determined to win.

You’re staring at him; he’s staring at you.  You’ve told him to go clean his room and received a firm response of, “No!”

Panic sets in as you struggle to come up with your next move and think, “What do I do? I’m angry and he’s angry.”  The result is an explosion as you hear yourself yell, “I said go clean your room NOW!”

This is an example of a parent-child power struggle.  Power struggles can leave parents wondering, “Why won’t he listen to me? Why do I have to yell to get him to listen?  Why won’t he just do what I ask?”

Fortunately there are simple solutions to avoid power struggles and increase desired behavior. The first suggestion for avoiding a power struggle is to not engage in one.  Once you have engaged in a power struggle with your child, the odds of winning are not in your favor.

Decide what rules are most important to you.  For example, you may decide your child cannot use electronics until homework is complete.  Be firm but gentle when reminding your child of your expectations.  Children learn more from a gentle approach and action versus screaming, negative words and idle threats.

If your child attempts to engage you in a power struggle, simply wait for everyone to calm down and utilize it as a teachable moment.  This may mean delaying the conversation until the next day.

Explain to your child that it is okay to feel angry; however, it is not okay to yell at you.  Ask your child to identify a more healthy way they could respond the next time they feel angry.  Role play more healthy responses to prepare safe ways to manage difficult feelings.

If this happens, explain to your child that you set the consequence when you were angry or upset and you now realize the consequence is too harsh.  Set a fair consequence and be sure to follow through.

Find ways to empower your child.  Give them choices.  For example, “You can clean your room now or you can clean your room after supper.”  You are stating your expectation but empowering your child to decide when to complete the task.

You may also decide to problem-solve together.  Try to come to an agreement on rules and family expectations.  Create a family contract and have everyone sign it.  This creates a win-win for everyone.

Praise your child when he follows through on expectations. Offering positive praise will motivate your child to have more positive behavior. Always focus on what your child is doing right and not just on what he is doing wrong.

Use empathy.  Try to understand your child’s side of the story or how they view something.  This will build trust and open healthy paths of communication.

Always remember to take a time-out if you feel angry.  Children learn by what they see, and our best teaching moments are when we can calmly show our children how to respond to stressful situations.

Youth First Announces Board Chair, New Members

    

YOUTH FIRST ANNOUNCES BOARD CHAIR, NEW MEMBERS

Youth First, Inc. is pleased to announce that Angela Brawdy has been named Board Chair effective July 1, 2017. Angela is Director of Compensation and Benefits at Shoe Carnival. She has been a Youth First Board member since 2012.

The following individuals have also been named to the Youth First Board of Directors:

  •  Danielle Falconer, Senior Vice President, Marketing & Communications – Field & Main Bank
  •  Dennis Lamey, Retired Business Executive, Banking Industry
  •  Stacey Lloyd, Human Resources Manager, Shoe Carnival
  • Ann Muehlbauer, Tax Director, Berry Global
  • Kyle Wininger, Vice President, Harding Shymanski & Company

They join 27 other Board members who are responsible for setting the organization’s direction, developing resources and providing the oversight necessary to ensure Youth First meets its mission.

 

* Understanding Social Bullying

By Tiffany Harper, LCSW, Courier & Press, July 11, 2017 –

When people think of bullying, they often picture physical bullying, such as knocking books out of someone’s hands, tripping them  or intimidating them.  Bullying can also take other forms, however.

Social bullying, also known as relational aggression, is a form of bullying that has grown with the boom of social media and cell phones.  It is relational in nature and causes harm by damaging someone’s social status.  It is often done covertly to avoid detection by adults.

Examples of social bullying are:

  • Posting about someone on social media, directly or indirectly naming the victim
  • Texting rude or negative comments
  • Excluding someone from a peer group
  • Refusing to allow a peer to sit with one’s group
  • Convincing others not to be friends with a peer
  • Starting and/or spreading rumors
  • Indirect communication directed at a peer such as eye rolling, laughing

This type of bullying is more common in females and can start as early as kindergarten. Today’s society has displayed social bullying as entertainment in movies such as “Mean Girls,” where it is glorified but then neatly resolved in the end. This does not usually happen in real life.

Victims can struggle emotionally with negative effects, including depression, social anxiety, hostility and low self-esteem.  There can be large shifts in one’s social network, as this type of bullying often results in loss of friends.  This can be devastating to a young person, as their focus shifts from family to friends during adolescence.

If you find your child in a situation like this, be aware that the innate desire to protect your child could cause you to act quickly and impulsively and ask questions later.  Since it is important to develop and maintain an open and trusting relationship with your child, it is imperative to react slowly and carefully. Whether you found out about your child’s bullying on your own or your child opened up, your response can be instrumental in getting them to talk further.

Listening with empathy is the  first  step.  Allow your child to tell you what has been going on and try to ask any questions you have with controlled emotion.  Avoid placing blame or giving your perspective right away.