June 29, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers! In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams has ordered all NYC public schools to offer mindful breathing exercises daily, starting this fall. New research finds a parent’s cancer takes a deep financial toll on children under 18. And a sinister new AI twist to the grandparent scam, which even in its current form leaves many older people humiliated and distraught. And more.

Mindfulness exercises mandatory this fall in New York City public schools

New York City Mayor Eric Adams recently announced a new policy aimed at promoting youth mental health. This fall, all students in grades kindergarten through 12 will be required to complete mindful breathing exercises during class time for two to five minutes per school day. In practice, it will likely resemble this example outlined in the New York Times: Take a deep breath. Relax your body. And slowly exhale through your mouth. Then, repeat six times.

Adams asserts the plan is a tangible and immediate way to improve students’ emotional well-being and address a youth mental health crisis that has only grown within the past three years. “Thousands of years ago, other cultures were learning how to breathe, but in today’s world, we have never been taught,” Adams said during a press conference addressing the policy. “We think that it’s just, air goes through your nostrils and you move. No, there’s a science to breathing,” Adams added, before being led by students in a breathing exercise.

While mental health advocates support the idea of mindfulness training, they argue that it should be part of an expanded mental health program connecting schools to mental health clinics and mobile response teams to students in crisis. Dawn Yuster, the director of the School Justice Project at Advocates for Children, is one such critic. She expressed concern about a $5 million cut to mental health initiatives supporting 50 high-need schools that face high rates of police intervention for students in emotional crises. Mindful breathing is important, Yuster said, but added “that’s certainly not a replacement for other really critical programs and services that are at risk of being discontinued.”

Children of parents with cancer more likely to lack adequate food, housing and transportation

A new study by researchers at the American Cancer Society (ACS) found children of parents with a cancer history in the United States are more at risk of having unmet needs for housing, food, transportation and other necessities than their peers whose parents did not have a cancer history. The findings were published in JAMA Network Open.

“Cancer is a life-threatening disease and parents with a history of cancer are often saddled with worry about paying for food, the rent or mortgage, and other monthly bills,” said Dr. Zhiyuan Zheng, senior principal scientist of health services research at the American Cancer Society and lead author of the study.

On top of that, a parent’s cancer diagnosis is hard on children, who may be unsure of how to react or cope, the ACS said in an unrelated article. Many children know that some people die from cancer, so they may worry that their loved one will die, too. It may be hard for them to express this fear in words, but they may regress in behavior, such as having bathroom accidents if they’re very young, or acting out in school if they’re older. They may also act more dependent or clingy.

To help them cope with their emotions, ACS noted, it’s important to be honest with them about a loved one’s diagnosis and leave space for them to safely share their feelings. Be sure that you’re clear as a caregiver about all information before sharing it with a child, so you can answer questions that may arise. Besides honesty and open communication, give children additional reassurance during the illness. The ACS also urges you to keep to your routine as much as possible: Predictability and anchoring rituals can help increase feelings of safety and security. 

‘Grandparent Scam’ targets older adults, leaving many fleeced and distraught

Summer is upon us, and so are a proliferation of vacation scams, including one that law enforcement calls ‘the grandparent scam.’ So, how does the grandparent scam work? Typically, older adults are contacted by someone claiming to be their grandchild who is in serious trouble and in need of money immediately to resolve the problem. Scammers may have done research on Facebook to see where your grandchild is traveling and found you in the contacts. They may call and say “Hey, grandma!,” and if you say, “David, is that you?,” they’ll say yes, explains the Consumer Federation of America. They’ll then claim to be the victim of a car crash or hiking accident and need $5000 (or some large sum) for their hospital bill in order to get out of the country. Some even volunteer to come to your house to pick up the money. And in a sinister new twist, reports USA Today, artificial intelligence (AI) grandparent scams can actually clone your grandchild’s voice.

According to last year’s Elder Fraud Report from the FBI, total losses reported to the Internet Crime Complaint Center by seniors increased 84% from 2021, with approximate losses from the grandparent scam of $3.8 million. Being the victim of a scam is often a humiliating experience for people, not only upending their bank balances, but their mental health from having been conned by someone they trusted. This article, also from the Washington Post, examines the personal stories of people, both young and old, whose emotional wellbeing has been shattered by phone scams.

So, how can you protect yourself and your money? Earlier this week, the Washington Post shared readers’ tips on how they’ve learned to remain safe from would-be thieves. Be skeptical when someone claims to be in an emergency, and never share personal information with the caller, including your address, phone number (even though they’ve ‘dialed it’), names, or anything else. Never wire money or buy gift cards at a caller’s suggestion. Hang up immediately and call the person they want you to believe they are. If your loved one isn’t reachable, don’t panic. Call their parents or someone else close to them to verify what the caller claimed—even if the caller begged you not to. Most importantly, report the call to law enforcement right away.

In other news…

“Reality overload” is inspiring youth to take greater interest in fantasy and sci-fi novels for escape. As youth mental health worsened over the past three years, fantasy fiction book sales rose significantly, according to recent reporting from MindSite News, which was republished by Yes! magazine. Experts suggest the parallel trends represent both a symptom and countermeasure to depression and anxiety induced by the pandemic. “Readers are suffering from reality overload,” wrote English professor Esther Jones in an essay cited by MindSite News. “Young people today have unprecedented access to information about which they may have little power to influence or change…. The fact that the setting or characters are extraordinary may be precisely why they are powerful and where their value lies.” 

Two+ kids are great—but a lot of work. How do parents handle it? Fatherly offered up 15 solid tips for navigating the glorious chaos of parenting multiple children. At the top of the list: Don’t compare your kids to other children, including one another. Family therapist Fran Walfish said it’s human to slightly favor one person over another sometimes, especially when bonding over shared interests. This includes your children. But stay self-aware so that favoritism isn’t shown. “Sometimes, it’s the child who is less responsive to you who needs more of you,” Walfish said. “Do your best to deliver the needs of each individual child. And never, never compare your kids to each other or to other children. It only demeans and makes your child feel less valued.”

Suggestions for young adult summer reading: If you or your young person have interest in stories that honor youth of color navigating what it’s like to grow up LGBTQ+ while also struggling with disorders related to mental health, add anything by author Mariama J. Lockington to your list. In the Key of Us, just won a Stonewall Honor Award, and her latest release, Forever is Now, is getting strong reviews. Here’s what Kirkus Reviews had to say about all three of her books.

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...