Monday, September 18, 2017

Small Acts of Kindness: Counteracting Bullying

My book, The Bully and the Booger Baby: A Cautionary Tale, is a school story about bullying, but it also offers strategies to children, parents and teachers to address the bullying dilemma. I sometimes think that if children were given motivation to do kind things for others, for no apparent reason or  for self-reward, the motivation for being nice might also help to address bullying.

Though the holidays seem to be the season in which kindness abounds, kindness should be a part of the very nature of our everyday lives. Before retiring from teaching, one of the projects that I assigned my students each year was my Random Acts of Kindness lesson plan. I required the students, for a period of two weeks, to practice at least 6 random acts of kindness. Three of those acts were to be acts of kindness demonstrated to a stranger (with all precautions for safety and parental guidance being taken into consideration).  I also asked the students to introduce an element of “paying it forward” in hopes that the recipient of their act of kindness would respond by doing an act of kindness for someone else. At the end of the two- week project, the students were to report to the class what their acts of kindness were and what, if anything, the responses were.

Of course some students took it more seriously than others, and the project was a success with them. With others, I decided, it was going to be a work in progress. I persisted in doing the project each year, though, as I saw it as a way of helping children to look outside of themselves and their own little worlds to see that kindness and compassion should always be an important priority. I wanted them to realize that even one little kindness can make a difference in someone’s day and, yes, possibly even in their lives.

In learning of a new study about small acts of kindness, I feel that my student project over the years may not have been an exercise in futility. New research conducted jointly by the University of B. C. and the University of California found that children who perform their small acts of kindness tend to bolster their own sense of happiness and well being. The researchers also surmised that such acts of kindness may even help to counteract bullying behavior.

Approximately 400 Vancouver elementary schoolchildren were asked to report on their happiness after four weeks of participating in one of two scenarios. One group of the nine to 11-year-olds were asked by their teachers to perform acts of kindness, such as sharing their lunch or giving their mom a hug if she appeared stressed. The second group was asked to keep track of pleasant places they visited, such as a playground or their grandparents’ house. While both groups reported a boost in happiness, the children who were kind said they wanted to work with a higher number of classmates on school activities.
The study found that being kind had some real benefits to the happiness of the students. It also had some real benefits to the school community and community at large. Professor Kimberly Schonert-Reichl stated that those findings mean it’s likely teachers can create a sense of connectedness in the classroom simply by asking students to think about how they can act kindly to others and that may help reduce bullying behavior.
 The take-away from this is that parents and teachers can help foster the personal happiness of children, as well as make a positive impact on dealing with the bullying problem in schools by stressing to their children and students the importance of demonstrating kindness and compassion to others, and that can, in turn, help to reduce bullying behavior.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Thirteen Reasons Why: Detecting and Preventing Suicide among Teenagers:

Perhaps you or your teens have watched the popular Neftflix series, Thirteen Reasons Why (based on the novel by Jay Asher), which is about the tragic harm that bullying can do and how it can lead to teen suicide. I watched the series and found it to be compelling.

 I strongly advise that parents who plan to let their tweens or teens watch the series should watch it with them. Watching the series with your son or daughter is a good way to open up discussion with them about such topics as bullying and suicide that they may be reluctant to discuss with you otherwise.

 I warn, however, that the suicide scene is graphic and can be upsetting to tweens or teens. It was upsetting to me. 

 If you and your teenagers watch the series, be sure to watch the 30 minute trailer at the end of the entire series. The actors, and producers of the series, as well as psychologists, discuss with the viewers the impact of what they just viewed in the series – the impact of bullying – and the very real impact and prevalence of teen suicide.

Teen suicide is a serious problem. This blog post provides information about its causes, strategies for detecting the signs for potential suicide, and its prevention.

According to both the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Center for Disease Control, suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth ages 15 to 24. Teen suicide affects everyone. Family and friends feel a guilty sense that if they had only done something different, the suicide could have been prevented. Therefore, it’s important to understand its causes, how to detect potential suicidal vulnerability, and how to help prevent it.

Causes of Teen Suicide

As teens grow up, they often feel stress, self-doubt, confusion, social and interaction problems with friends, peer pressure, concerns about succeeding, and pressure to meet parental expectations. Some teens suffer from clinical depression as well. Most teenagers experience such feelings to a certain degree at some point in their growing years. Those who are overwhelmed with such feelings and are unable to deal with them are more at risk for suicide.

There are several causes for teenagers to potentially want to take their own lives. Anxiety or depression left untreated can be a contributing factor. Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness can cause teenagers to contemplate ending their lives. Other contributing factors are lack of success in school, bullying at school, violence at home, divorce, death of a loved one, rejection by peers, and the suicide of a friend.

According to the Center for Disease Control, such pressures of life make it too difficult for some teens to cope. As a result, sometimes overwhelmed teens welcome suicide as an escape from the pressure and pain.

Detecting Teen Depression and Potentially Suicidal Teens

According the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, parents should be on the lookout for specific signs in their children that could be indicators for a potential suicide risk. Such indicators include withdrawal from family and friends, as well as a lack of interest in activities the teens formerly enjoyed. Parents should look for any change in eating and sleeping habits or in hygiene and personal appearance.

In addition, parents should watch for personality changes and rebellious or violent behavior. Difficulty concentrating, decline in the quality of school work, and persistent boredom and malaise are possible signs as well. Persistent complaints of stomach aches, headaches and fatigue could be symptoms of emotional problems that can be signs of potential suicidal tendencies.

Equally important signs to watch for include statements from teens that they are bad and that they feel terrible inside. Other verbal hints include such statements as, “I won’t be a problem for you much longer. It’s no use. Nothing matters anyway.” Such statements from teens are clear indicators that they may be at least contemplating suicide.

If teenagers start giving away cherished possessions or throwing away favorite belongings, a way of getting their affairs in order, parents should consider such behavior an indicator of the risk for suicide. In addition, parents should watch for any signs of hallucinations or bizarre or strange thoughts.

Teen Suicide Prevention

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, if teens threaten to commit suicide, parents should take the threat seriously and immediately seek professional help from a qualified mental health professional. Parents should not hesitate to ask their teens if they have suicidal thoughts. Such a question will not put the idea into children’s heads, but will, instead, assure teens that someone cares and open up an opportunity for discussion about it.

Parents should determine if their teens are suffering from depression and, if so, get medical treatment for the depression. Counseling is a good preventive strategy for depressed or potentially suicidal teens as well. Counseling can provide teens with coping strategies for dealing with their life problems. Frequently, once teens learn how to cope with problems, their suicidal desires dissipate.

It is essential for parents to treat their teens with understanding, compassion and respect. Parents should demonstrate unconditional love, offer emotional support, and make their teens feel important, loved and wanted. Parents should demonstrate to their teens that overcoming their problems and life challenges is possible and that they will help them with such challenges.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The 2016 Presidential Election: Adult Bullying Takes Center Stage

 Donald Trump has put a very public and ugly face to what bullying looks and sounds like. Our children our watching, and that matters very much! Consider that when you cast your vote on November 8, 2016.

John F. Kennedy wisely said, “The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.” The words of our beloved former President Kennedy, whose life was tragically taken by the assassination of a madman in 1963, are especially prophetic for the 2016 United States Presidential election. So were the words of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, in saying, “The only danger that America really needed to fear would come from within: If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.
The importance of being informed this election year and voting wisely is more important than at any other time in our country’s recent history. What is at stake is stark! I have tried to think like Trump supporters in an attempt to assess why they would support such a candidate, but I have found that task impossible and incomprehensible.
I feel that voters have a moral imperative to become more informed about the actual facts about the real Donald Trump and not just swallow his hype and attention-getting sound bytes. To do so would mean that voters should study the policy differences of both candidates and become informed about the Constitution of the United States of America - ( at least more informed about the U.S. Constitution than Donald Trump, who apparently believes it has 12 articles in it, seems to be ). It would mean reading reliable sources and viewing universally trusted and more non-partisan news media on television and radio and on the Internet rather than limiting themselves to the bias and frequent misinformation of the pundits on Fox News (an apparent favorite of Trump supporters).
Below are some actual facts about Donald Trump, based upon his own words and behavior displayed in his rallies and other public appearances. These are facts that voters need to know:
Mr. Trump’s style, personality, racism, and insults are not patriotic, much less presidential. Such style does not lend itself to the ability to govern, to accept compromise, or to understanding the viewpoints and objectives of others. As a representative of the US, he engenders more an image of distrust, win at any cost, and selfishness.
Mr. Trump’s personal criticism of one American-born citizen and its extension to an entire population is the epitome of class racism. In addition, it reveals a basic flaw in Mr. Trump’s childish bullying practices and paranoia: the rulings that are deemed as “unfair” because he didn’t get what he wanted.

Mr. Trump’s proposal to build a wall separating Mexico “and have Mexico pay for it” promotes a first step toward isolationism, a tactic that will, without a doubt, cause harm to the US economy, citizenry and our country’s image throughout the world. His position for non-support of NATO is another step toward dangerous isolationism.

Mr. Trump  has spoken of global warming as a hoax, but seeks permits to build a(nother) wall to protect his golf course in Scotland (citing coastal erosion and a rising sea level). This is a prime example of his hypocrisy.

Mr.Trump changed his position on gun control, especially in regard to assault-type weapons. While once supporting an assault weapons ban and longer waiting periods, his recent switch is an effort to gain NRA support and paint Mrs.Clinton as one who would “abolish the Second Amendment”.

Mr.Trump made an extraordinary plea for a foreign power to continue cyber espionage against America. In Donald Trump’s own words: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said at a press conference in Miami, Florida on Wednesday. “I think you’ll be rewarded mightily by our press!”

Many have questioned whether such a call by a presidential candidate is a crime or is treasonous. At the very least, it is a statement that makes it apparent that Mr. Trump lacks the judgment and temperament to assume the role of the president of our country.  Federal law does say that it's illegal to "counsel or induce" someone else to commit a crime, and a former federal prosecutor says Trump's statement "approaches the line."

Mr. Trump’s persistent criticism of Muslims and his suggested ban on immigration are counter to long-established values and practices that are inherent in the Constitution and in the American experience. His brash blanket statements reveal the wrong things about American character.

In the poignant appearance of Muslim lawyer Khizr Khan and his wife whose son, Humayun, an Army captain who posthumously received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery after he was killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq in 2004, is a testimony to the cruel injustice of Donald Trump’s proposed Muslim ban and his ignorance of the U.S. Constitution  and to his apparent lack of awareness of what really makes America great already. 

As his wife, Ghazala, stood silently by his side, Khan held up a copy of the Constitution and asked Trump if he had ever read it and said, “You have sacrificed nothing.”

You can view, by clicking the link provided here, the heart wrenching appearance of this intelligent, patriotic, and grieving Muslim mother and father in their DNC convention appearance talking about the loss of their son and passionately addressing  Mr. Trump for his Muslim discriminatory statements.

Quoting Tony Schwartz, the ghost writer of The Art of the Deal, a man who learned a lot about Mr. Trump during his writing process, "People are dispensable and disposable in Trump’s world. If Trump is elected President, the millions of people who voted for him and believe that he represents their interests will learn what anyone who deals closely with him already knows—that he actually couldn’t care less about them."

The possibility that Donald Trump could be elected as President of the United States of America is a frightening one. If that were to happen, it would be a constitutional disaster for our democracy and a catastrophe for our country’s  freedoms, safety and security. I am paraphrasing the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, when she stated that the fact that anyone who can be baited with a Tweet has no business anywhere near the nuclear codes. And to think that, as a nominee of the Republican Party, Donald Trump will soon be given, as is traditional, National Intelligence Security briefings! These are all the types of thoughts that keep me awake at night.

Note: My various blogs are, not only meant to be informative for various types of reading audiences on various subjects, but are also intended to be promotional and lend public exposure to my published books.

I am the author of three award-winning children's books that aim to advocate for the well-being, education, and entertainment of children. The books include What Would You Do? A Kid's Guide to Staying Safe in a World Strangers (published by Headline Books, Inc.), Scary Ghosts and Playful Ghosts: Children's Tales of Fright and Delight (published by Crimson Cloak Publishing), and The Bully and the Booger Baby: A Cautionary Tale (published by Write Solution Ink).

Readers may also access book information, as well as useful information and resources that advocate for the education, well-being and entertainment of children by visiting my book website, Melissa Harker Ridenour Books.

Purchase information for these books can be accessed via my Amazon Author Page.