September 21, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Hello MindSite News readers!  Some of the strongest friendships our children may ever make are in school and college, and in this issue we’re featuring a package about writer Hua Hsu’s memoir Stay True, which revolves around a close friend in college who was carjacked and killed in a senseless act of violence.

The award-winning book, which just went into paperback this month, is discussed by MindSite News arts and culture writers Sarah Henry and Melissa Hung.

Also in this issue: Finding out the roots of a young son’s bullying (and stopping it), teaching kids patience, mental health reads for middle-schoolers, and Girl Scouts making mental health a top priority. And more.

Stay True: A Memoir is about the enduring power of youth, friendship and grief

Credit: Hua Hsu Instagram

Hua Hsu’s gripping memoir about an unlikely friendship with another Asian American student at UC Berkeley – and his grief, pain and guilt after that friend is senselessly murdered – won a Pulitzer Prize. The book, now available in paperback, “captures the urgency of adolescent friendships with precise prose that pulls you back to what it was like to be 18 or 19,” writes reviewer Melissa Hung in her first-person essay. “He writes about how time seemed to stretch on and on at that age; how you stayed up deliriously late; how you laughed so hard that you thought you might die; how you moved in packs even while yearning to set yourself apart.” Although writing the book did not lessen Hua Hsu’s grief, notes writer Sarah Henry in her essay, “it has allowed him to move forward, reconcile confusing feelings and recall the joy of friendship amid the horror of what happened.”

How one father helped his son retire from his “bully era”

As soon as fictional spy Austin Powers hit our screens in the late 1990s, his catchphrases and roster of associates took the culture by storm. Mini-Me, a smaller-scale duplicate of Powers’ main nemesis Dr. Evil, became nearly as recognizable as the villain himself – and was an equally enthusiastic ne’er-do-well. That was the point; Dr. Evil created Mini-Me to follow in his footsteps. Likewise, it’s often the case that us parents want our children to enjoy what we enjoy and feel the pride of performing to our level of skill or higher. But when one Ohio father, Collin, got a call from his 9 year old’s school to discuss his behavior, he told Fatherly that having his son follow in his footsteps was the last thing he wanted. 

Collin, whose last name remains hidden to protect his privacy, had been a schoolyard bully near the end of middle school. He figured it was the best way to receive the attention of his parents, who avoided giving him the praise and recognition he wanted for his accomplishments. They hoped, instead, that their silence would prevent Collin from growing arrogant or big-headed. But their strategy backfired. “It [brewed] classic insecurity that manifested itself in the form of name-calling and pushing kids around,” he said. Similarly, Collin’s 9-year-old son admitted that insecurity about what his fellow classmates truly thought of him caused him to become a bully, too. 

The boy saw himself as average in sports. So when anyone complimented his speed or ability to throw a football, he believed they were mocking him. But the pair resolved the problem with honest and open conversation. Collin simply asked him, “Why? I know you’re not a mean kid. What made you want to give all these kids such a hard time?” Leading with a conversation, rather than punishment, created the space for support and redirection to help his son make better choices. He’s no longer a bully either, Collin said, but rather a boy who other kids seek out to de-escalate tense situations.

Nobody is born with patience. But can we teach it?

One of my favorite things about this phase of my daughter’s growth is her inability to understand increments of time. (For reference, she’s a kindergartner.) When she asks to “stay up just ten more minutes” before bed, I know she thinks that’s enough time to build a house in Minecraft and make a new batch of slime. So, it’s totally normal that she fumes when I tell her we’ve got to make a 15-minute detour on the way to her favorite playmate’s house. My point? Ten minutes for her is both no time and forever, so when it stands between her and what she wants to do, I have to talk again about patience. 

Besides, the Washington Post notes, our culture has grown accustomed to the fast pace of the internet and on-demand services. “Young kids are supposed to be egocentric because their whole world is revolving around them, ” explained Michele Borba, an educational psychologist based and the author of Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine. But that also means we have to teach them patience. It doesn’t come naturally to any of us. “We live in a social world and we can’t have everything we want when we want it — that’s where patience and self-control come in,” says psychology and human development professor Pamela Cole. “The years between toddlerhood and kindergarten are critical for developing patience.”

So, how can you teach it? The Post points to a handful of options, and here is my fave: Play! Classic call-and-response games like Red Light, Green Light or Mother, May I are perfect to help kids learn the skill of waiting, experts say. Board games teach children to wait their turn as well. Also, validate your child’s feelings. Adults don’t like to wait, either, and we can acknowledge that we understand children feel the same way.(Also, we can show off our skills at waiting, even when we’d rather not.) Finally, visual aids are good — in fact, they’re the biggest help in my house right now. We use a big wall calendar to mark a “yes day” or when Friday is coming and my daughter can spend the night at Grammie’s house. She gets joy out of making an X on every day that brings her closer to what she’s been waiting for.

In other news…

Mental health reads for middle schoolers: One thing writers love to do is read and NYT bestselling author Nic Stone is no different. Her novels for middle grade readers address building new friendships, first crushes, racism, class privilege, and self-discovery. But this week, she’s in the New York Times citing her favorite YA books about mental health. It’s a subject she’s been familiar with for a long time, ever since her first mental health crisis at age 14.  Honorable mention (from me) for younger ones navigating anxiety: Are You Mad at Me? By Tyler Feder and Cory Feder

Reimagine your kids’ after-school snack menu: If you are what you eat, then ultra-processed foods feel really, really sad. Maybe there’s a better punchline there, but new research shows that ultra-processed foods like chips, pop or soda, TV dinners, sugary yogurts, and even (my favorite!) pre-packaged bread are linked to depression. “We don’t have a lot of energy when we are feeling depressed,” clinical psychologist Susan Albers told NBC News, “so it’s easy to reach for those foods when we are low energy and don’t have motivation to cook or to grocery shop — just open a package and they are ready to go.” Researchers say they’re unclear on whether the diet or depression comes first, but they already know that whole foods high in fiber and other essential nutrients are linked to good mental health. Score one more point for the ol’ apple a day.

Rates of pediatric suicide on the rise: “Historically we thought that suicide is a problem of teens and adults, but younger children are expressing similar thoughts that may have been ignored before,” pediatrician and developmental specialist Paul Lipkin told CBS News. Or, they may not even mention they have a problem. Jason Lance learned after his 9-year-old’s suicide at school that the child had endured bullying. As youth mental health struggles become more apparent after the isolation of the pandemic, suicide prevention experts and pediatricians urge speaking with children about mental health and how to get help. “It’s never too early to start a conversation with kids about recognizing mental health distress and doing what we can do to help them have better coping strategies and foster resilience,” said Lisa Horowitz, a NAMI staff scientist and pediatric psychologist. 

Girl Scouts make mental health a top priority: In a press release, the largest girl-led organization in the world, Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) recently announced it’s making mental health an even greater priority. Adding to mental wellness programming launched in 2021, GSUSA has created three new badges to help girls navigate various mental crises they may face. Geared toward girls in grades 4 through 12, learning experiences are designed to provide useful tools to identify and explore their feelings and find help, when needed.

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. Services are free and available 24/7.

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Type of work:

Courtney Wise Randolph is a native Detroiter and freelance writer. She is the host of COVID Diaries: Stories of Resilience, a 2020 project between WDET and Documenting Detroit which won an Edward R. Murrow...