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.