March 9, 2023

By Courtney Wise and Diana Hembree

Hello, MindSite News readers. In today’s newsletter, we talk about how to avoid power struggles with kids, an LA father’s innovative parenting group for Black dads, a children’s mental health podcast for parents and caregivers, and more. Plus, you’re invited to a live conversation with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation. Read on!

Avoiding power struggles with students

via Twitter

This article from Edutopia was so gratifying – and so applicable to parents – that we wanted to share it with all of you. Middle school teacher Sarah Wysocki was plagued by students who loved to make “poppers” – in this case, “paper folded to make a very loud, extremely annoying noise when opened.” She first responded with a stern “teacher look” and tried to redirect the students to something more constructive. But when the poppers made a comeback, she decided to try asking open questions in response to this and other mildly disruptive behavior – and it worked. 

Wysocki began asking if there was a trick to producing the loudest, most annoying sound possible (“It turned out there was.”) This led to a discussion of origami, boredom and pet peeves (she explained to the class that one her pet peeves was loud noises). She told the frequent poppers that they could earn the right to make a loud noise, which naturally took much of the fun out of the game.  But it ended the power struggles and opened up some good discussions.

Buoyed by her success, she asked a student who kept putting in his ear buds – despite requests to take them out – what he was listening to. It turned out to be Ukrainian music..”This led to a wonderful conversation about his home country, Ukraine, and how he was feeling toward his new life in the United States,” Wysocki said. “I asked if I could listen to his music, and then we looked up the band online… After our conversation, I thanked him for sharing his music with me and asked him to take out his earbuds, which he happily did.” If she had simply demanded he take out his ear buds, she said, she never would have learned how he was adjusting or had such a rich interaction.

In Donuts With Dads, a Black father extends his healing journey to the community

via Twitter

Bobby Brown is one of many Black men redefining what masculinity means. He is intentional about protecting his mental health, something that often looks like being vulnerable with other Black men seeking to heal from generational and radicalized trauma. Other times, it looks like equipping his children with the emotional and mental health skills he lacked growing up. He lets his children speak up and talk back. “[My children] are confident in the way they walk, the way they talk and in the way they express themselves,” Brown told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s so different from how I was raised. That is no fault of my parents, they weren’t equipped with the tools.”

Brown’s efforts to heal himself and support his family have spilled over to benefit other Black fathers in his California community. Four years ago, he founded Donuts with Dads, modeled after the peer mom support groups his wife often attended. His group meets regularly, in-person and virtually, often with kids in tow, to lean on each other for father-to-father support. “When we live in the emptiness, it’s almost impossible to realize the joy and beauty of life because we’re running on fumes and not honoring ourselves,” Brown said of the group. “Self-care is our way to fight back.”

Tremendous pressure” over college applications undermines students’ mental health

via Twitter

Even high-achieving teens are stressed about college. High school senior Gregory Woodson has good grades, healthy relationships with his peers, and is employed as a martial arts instructor 20 hours per week. Still, he told the Los Angeles Times, he’s overwhelmed preparing for college. “It’s horrifying,” Woodson said. “It’s a lot of pressure because I feel like I have to choose now. I have to figure out what I want to do exactly.”

Woodson’s experience isn’t unusual, said US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. Based on his conversations with teens, he says, the college admissions process is a “tremendous pressure that is affecting their mental health…being less about growth and exploration and more about checking boxes and fitting into a narrow definition of success.”

In the end, teens said they just want more support and help navigating the application process from the adults in their lives—from teachers to school counselors and parents—rather than pressure to be nearly perfect. Myla Westbrooks said talking things out with her family “dramatically reduced her worries about college and her career.” With a long term goal is to be a chef and restaurateur, she’s starting at community college and majoring in culinary arts. “I’m excited that it’s my last year [of high school],” Westbrooks said. “And going to college, I don’t know how I feel about that. I’m kind of scared. But it’s a new level of education and I’m excited for that.”

Join MindSite News for an important live discussion on youth mental health with youth advisory board members from Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation and a Q&A led by BeMe Health, a mobile mental health platform for teens. During this discussion, we will gain valuable insight directly from young leaders regarding the mental health problems youth are grappling with and learn more about the Born This Way Foundation’s mission of supporting the mental health of young people and its work to build a kind and braver world.

In other news…

If you’re one who worries about what your kids are reading, for the most part—don’t. You can largely trust them to select books that reflect what they need to read, according to this profile in The Atlantic about one of my favorite authors, Judy Blume. It recalls attempts to ban Blume’s books and accusations from politicians that children should stay away from her “nonsense,” opting instead for material that would teach them history or something. As Amy Weiss-Meyer writes, “Blume explained that it wasn’t either/or—that her books were elective, that kids read them “for feelings. And they write me over 2,000 letters a month and they say, ‘You know how I feel.’” (If your kids are in a school district that bans books, you can get a list of great kids’ books for them to read from your local library – which may include many of the ones that are banned.)

Scott Teichmer of Battle Creek, Michigan is a suicide prevention facilitator—and a survivor of attempted suicide. He told Second Wave Media it’s part of his life’s purpose to help others in a mental crisis recognize that healing is possible. “If we want to prevent suicide, we all have to have the philosophical perspective that if somebody is still here with us, there is still hope — period,” he said. To adults concerned about the youth in their lives, particularly as data shows youth suicide rates have risen over the last twenty years, he advises focusing energy on what can protect them, rather than what puts them at risk. What does that mean? Prioritize building healthy, supportive relationships with the children in your life. Young people well-versed in constructive coping mechanisms, problem-solving skills, and emotional regulation “are better equipped to understand themselves as human beings navigating this tricky thing we call life,” he said.

Scrambled: The Children’s Mental Health Podcast is a show by parents for other caregivers. The hosts are Chad Douglas, a former broadcast journalist, and Nikki Shields, a therapist of more than twenty years. Douglas’s child has struggled with mental health, while Shields experienced anxiety during her childhood. They use the podcast as a platform to share resources and information with other parents about childhood mental health.

Fewer American teens are driving these days. What’s going on?  Dawn Johnson had to issue her teenage son Derek an ultimatum to get him to start driving. “He spends a lot of time playing video games,” she told the Washington Post. “That’s where his community is. So he doesn’t really need to go anywhere to hang out with people.” But Derek might actually be anxious about the idea of driving solo on the road, said Joanna von Staden, a licensed clinical mental health counselor who specializes in children and teens. “The parents keep coming in and saying: ‘I don’t get it, they don’t want to sign up for driving school. Are they lazy? What’s going on?’” Her teen clients told her, “The disinterest is really stemming from a level of anxiety — specifically around getting older, and having this huge responsibility.” 

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...

Diana Hembree, MS, is MindSite News co-founding editor. She is a health and science journalist who served as a senior editor at Time Inc. Health and its physician’s magazine, Hippocrates, for four years,...