* 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.

* 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.