April 27, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Hello, MindSite News readers! How you can equip your children with the empathy and tools to stand up to hate when their classmates are bullied. Plus: Mattel has come out with a Down syndrome Barbie. The research linking cell phones with Gen Z’s mental health crisis. Changing the conversation around autism. And more….

How can I help my children stand up to hate?

In the Washington Post parenting section, licensed clinical professional counselor Phyllis Fagell shares the story of a Black man who encountered hate at school as a sixth grader:

“‘The first time I got called the ‘n-word’ I was standing outside my sixth-grade classroom exchanging a book from the lockers,” says Kimu Elolia. He wasn’t prepared for the weight of the word or how it would leave him feeling paralyzed and isolated for weeks but says he “didn’t have language to explain what I was experiencing.” Elolia, 29, is the creative producer for Sonic Union and now creates podcasts for children designed to foster empathy for the Black experience, which he says will incentivize them to stand up for one another.” 

Via Twitter

Around one in four students like the young Elolia have been bullied for their race, national origin, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation. In her column for the Post, Fagell gives some excellent advice for helping kids understand how and why to stand up for one another, including validating their fears and offering choices of how they can react. “Kids may overestimate social risk, but never underestimate the courage it takes to take a stand against hate,” she writes. “Here’s how parents can arm kids with the practical skills and empathy they need to defend targeted peers.” You can read the whole column here.

Cell phones and Gen Z’s mental health crisis

Six years ago, when psychologist Jean Twenge first told NPR that her research suggested  higher rates of cell phone use were connected to an increase in loneliness among teens, many of her peers were skeptical. Some even said the San Diego State University professor was causing unnecessary alarm. Twenge has recently come out with a book called Generations, with more research to bolster her argument. This time, people are listening.

“I think the picture is getting more and more consistent,” said MIT economist Alexey Makarin. Generations examines mental health trends over time across five different age groups, from the Silent Generation to Gen Z. She found that from 1976 until 2012, the way teens spent their time outside of school was largely the same. But in 2012, when smartphones became ubiquitous, teen outings with friends took a nosedive.

Today, in the most recent data, more than a fifth of 10th grade girls “spend seven or more hours a day on social media,” Twenge said, noting to NPR that leaves little time for anything besides school and sleep. “Every indicator of mental health and psychological well-being has become more negative among teens and young adults since 2012, The trends are stunning in their consistency, breadth and size.”

Dismantling myths about autism

If you have a child with autism, you likely know that misconceptions about autism abound. April is National Autism Awareness Month, and  The Los Angeles Times is publishing a series of articles to raise awareness about the condition. This week, the word was all about breaking down what autism is – and what it isn’t.

Put plainly, autism is a neurological and developmental condition that affects how people interact with others, communicate, learn and behave. Why people develop autism is less understood; in some cases, the cause isn’t known. Moreover, how people experience autism “is as different and varied as the human experience itself,” said Eric Garcia, author of the book We’re Not Broken: Changing the Autism Conversation.

The article points out that like other diverse communities, “some people in the autism community prefer to be called autistic,” while others prefer to be described as “a person with autism.” Others don’t really like the term “neurodiverse.” The author, Michaeleen Doucleff, suggests that “When in doubt, it’s generally helpful to politely ask a friend or loved one what their preferences are, rather than assuming.” 

In other news…

Mattel debuts its first Barbie with Down syndrome: Toymaker Mattel has made strides in recent years to diversify its lineup of Barbies, following past criticism about the doll’s service of unrealistic beauty standards. It’s common now to walk into any big box store and find Barbies of different sizes and skin tones, using wheelchairs, wearing hearing aids, and even living with vitiligo. The company has now introduced its first Barbie with Down syndrome, “the most common chromosomal condition in the US today,” the Associated Press reports

“This means so much for our community, who for the first time, can play with a Barbie doll that looks like them,” National Down Syndrome Society President and CEO Kandi Pickard said in a statement. “This Barbie serves as a reminder that we should never underestimate the power of representation.”

Ellie Goldstein, a model with Down syndrome, gave an emphatic endorsement as she cradled her new Barbie: “It looks like me, and it’s beautiful, and I love it to pieces.”

Another state legislature has introduced legislation to allow students to take mental health days. This time, it’s Ohio, reports WHIO-TV. If passed, House Bill 38 will provide students three mental health days per school year. School districts will have discretion to excuse students from attending school or to create a mental health program students would report to in lieu of regular classes. “We’ve heard from educators, we’ve heard from students, this is something that they are advocating for, this is something that they’re saying is needed. And you know, it gives students a voice,” Rep. Willis Blackshear (D-Dayton) said.

Wolf is a new memoir about a man’s triumph over childhood neglect and abuse. Carter McNamara was ready to walk out of his therapist’s office when she told him he had PTSD, he recounted to the Minnesota Post. ​​“I was never in the military,” he told his therapist, who responded: ‘You weren’t in the military, but you were in a war and you were only 10 years old. And when you looked behind you, there were no other soldiers to back you up.’” 

That revelation sparked McNamara’s journey of healing detailed in Wolf: A Memoir of Love and Atonement, his self-published memoir. He survived severe emotional abuse and neglect by a mother who herself struggled with mental illness and addiction. For a time in adulthood, McNamara struggled with addiction, too. He told the MinnPost that writing the memoir was an attempt to help others and himself. “At the very broadest level,” he said, “I would want this book to help people who were abused as children be inspired by at least one story of how facing that can change your life and improve your relationships.”

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...