January 19, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers! In today’s parenting newsletter, we bring you an in-depth look at myths about the teenage brain, share a new You Tube series that dares to ask if road trips with kids can be fun, and look at strategies to help parents put the kibosh on school bullies.

Our roundup also includes abusive sports parenting during the World Cup, a guest essay on the right tech to support LBGTQ+ youth, the dangerous isolation of youth in a Michigan county’s juvenile jails, and new inroads made by The Confess Project, an innovative barbershop movement for the mental health of Black boys and men.

Teen psychologist Dr. Barbara Greenberg will be back next week, and in the meantime, you can send your questions to her at info@mindsitenews.org. We look forward to hearing from you.

Myths about the teenage brain

In case you missed it, the BBC has offered a fresh and bright look at the teenage brain, which undergoes substantial transformation during adolescence. One teen excitedly described the mental metamorphosis from childhood to post-puberty existence as a sensation akin to their head exploding. It’s rife with mood swings, a desire for social — and parental — approval, hefty spoonfuls of risk-taking flavor, and little consideration for the consequences their actions might have on the future. But as it turns out, that’s the good news.

The reason: In the past 20 years or so, researchers have begun to understand what’s happening in the teenage brain and have found that while it’s not as malleable as the brain of a preschool-aged child, the adolescent brain is still highly sensitive, with a huge capacity for learning. The neurological and psychological changes taking place simultaneously just make the process of development a little more overwhelming. 

The bottom line: The behaviors we parents and caregivers find most frustrating in their teens can be turned into strengths — if we partner with them appropriately. First, don’t dismiss your teens as “over-dramatic” – they’re just learning how to sail a vast new sea of emotions. “It’s so much harder to process a disappointment over an exam result if you’ve never faced a serious failure before,” the article notes. Meanwhile, thrill-seeking teens can be guided toward activities that nurture their adventurousness and creativity. After all, as they grow up, they may just be the ones on the frontlines taking on the risk of saving our fragile world.

What if family road trips were actually fun? YouTube boldly goes where few parents have been before

via Twitter

New York Times writer Laurel Graeber opens her story on the YouTube kid series “Jam Vnn” this way: “Few family expeditions are more fraught than long-distance road trips. What parent hasn’t longed to take the kids on a highway journey that is free of bored whines, back-seat battles and the terrifying possibility of having to put “Baby Shark” on endless repeat?” Her witty and all too relatable story introduces a new series on road trips,  “Jam Van,” on the YouTube Originals for Kids & Family channel. But these road trips are short (10 to 12 minutes), with visits to places like New Orleans, Nashville, Los Angeles and Seattle, and songs from musicians like Lin-Manuel Miranda, Sheryl Crow, Trombone Shorty, and Fitz and the Tantrums. What’s not to like? 

World Cup scandal highlights a big problem: The nightmare sports parent

The mother of U.S. soccer player Gio Reyna was recently agitated by remarks about her son’s inappropriate behavior overseas, comments that U.S. team coach Gregg Berhalter made about him in a private talk on coaching picked up by the media. Neither the talk nor the media story mentioned her son by name, but Reyna was so incensed that she leaked 30-year-old personal information about the coach to the United States Soccer Federation, causing an uproar and prompting an investigation, according to the Washington Post.

Besides exposing dirty tactics in the sports world, the story highlights the problem of nightmare sports moms and dads, one featured by MindSite News last September  in Heaven Jobe’s story “Out of Bounds: Coaching Alliances Call Foul on Abusive Sports Parents.” Read it and the Post story for more on what the Positive Coaching Alliance and the National Alliance for Youth Sports are trying to do about it.

Can the right kind of tech help address the mental health crisis among LGBTQ+ youth?

Image: Adobe stock photo

The increased visibility of LGBTQ+ people in pop culture, combined with positive policy change, have left young people more able to define themselves and to feel confident expressing their identity. 

But here’s the downside: Most LGBTQ+ adolescents still come out to a hostile and rejecting world, with a national Trevor Report survey reporting that 45% of LGBTQ+ youth have seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. There are also new opportunities to provide help. Kids who don’t get support at home can use technology to connect with online support and resources – if we continue to create and support those tools. In a guest essay, Amy Green, the head of research for HopeLab, a social innovation lab and impact investor, writes about the need for the right tech.

How parents can squelch school bullies     

According to a series of fast facts at StopBullying.gov, 20 percent of adolescents surveyed nationally said that they’ve been bullied. With its far-reaching effects on mental health, bullying  plays a significant factor in the existing youth mental health crisis, researchers suggest. “We know that victims of bullying can experience negative impacts across all domains of their lives,” clinical psychologist Amanda McGough told CNN. “It infringes upon their mental, emotional, physical, social and academic functioning.” 

Social media has only exacerbated the dilemma, allowing the bullying that used to end at the close of the school day to invade kids’ home spaces. “Now, that interaction carries over to home and is inescapable,” Nikki Pagano, a North Carolina-based licensed clinical social worker, told CNN. So just what can parents do to help their children – whether they’re being victimized or doing the bullying? 

First off, incidents of bullying should be reported, even anonymously, and kids should be taught to report bullying they witness, including another student being excluded, teased, humiliated, threatened or physically hurt. In fact, bystanders have a lot of power in these situations, writes CNN columnist Michelle Icard, a parenting educator and author. That’s because they’re often still able to speak up on behalf of a victim who may fear a bully’s retaliation. She adds that bystanders who offer affirming support to victims with words like “I saw what happened and that wasn’t right,” or “It’s not true what that person said to you” can help prevent the victims from feeling like total outsiders.

If your child is the bully, first check in with them to gain their perspective about what happened and reinforce your family’s expectations about behavior — ensuring that you’re modeling the right behaviors yourself. Remind them that how they treat others has a big impact. Also, remain open to the idea that they may need help from cognitive behavioral therapy or other support.

In other news…

Black barbershops continue to make inroads destigmatizing mental health: Last year, MindSite News published a feature on The Confess Project of America, an organization founded by Lorenzo Lewis seven years ago in Little Rock, Arkansas, to help Black men and boys cultivate mental health strategies and coping skills. It’s since grown into a network of 1,500 barbers trained as mental health advocates across 50 cities in the US. Earlier this week, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution published a story on a barbershop down the street from MLK’s old home that serves its community through the project.

 Concerns about youth isolation in Wayne County, Michigan juvenile jails exacerbated by Covid quarantine: Tiffany Jackson, a spokesperson for Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, told the Detroit Free Press that, “out of an abundance of caution” and “to minimize their risk and reduce ongoing spread,” some boys held in juvenile detention have been confined to their rooms for 10 days in response to a COVID-19 outbreak that began in late December. They’ve not been out for recreation, showers or other daily activities, she added, though social services continued in their rooms and they were given hygiene kits. The news elevates concerns about the isolation of youth detained in Wayne County, which the Free Press reported as a problem identified by parents, youth advocates, and the youth themselves even before December’s COVID outbreak. 

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.

How I Passed a Test to Be a Grief Therapist Without Really Trying

As an investigative reporter, I wanted to see how hard it would be to game the system and pass a test to be certified as a grief counselor – without taking the course. It turned out to be ridiculously easy. Keep reading

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Type of work:

Diana HembreeCo-founding editor

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,...

Courtney WiseReporter

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...