March 2, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Hello MindSite News readers! In this edition, we look at the exploitation of migrant children, in which many unaccompanied minors as young as 13 make the treacherous trip to the US, only to be taken in by “sponsors” who illegally force them to work in dangerous jobs and hand over their money. We also look at how grief has shrouded the nation — and especially children — in the wake of one million Covid deaths.

Plus: We check out the Washington Post’s advice on helping kids survive peer pressure, how bullying is different than when we were kids, and mindfulness podcasts and meditation for kids.

Thousands of migrant children are being exploited and forced to work dangerous jobs across the US

Last weekend, the New York Times published an extraordinary investigation that revealed record numbers of unaccompanied migrant children are being exploited and overworked in dangerous jobs for well-known corporations across the nation, from sawmills and auto factories to construction sites and hotels. The federal government knows the children are here and is responsible for placing them in the homes of adult sponsors charged with keeping them safe from trafficking or exploitation. But alarmingly, the Department of Health and Human Services loses contact with nearly one-third of migrant children almost immediately after their placements.

Just as troubling as the labor exploitation, the Times examination found that some sponsors take on children solely for financial gain. Nery Cutzal was only 13 when he moved to Florida under the impression that a sponsor he met online would support him while he went to school. “It was all lies,” Nery said. The man expected him to find his own shelter and pay fees of over $4,000 for everything from completing HHS paperwork to buying dinner. Not securing work to pay the “sponsor” wasn’t an option. “Don’t mess with me,” the man threatened. “You don’t mean anything to me.”

Children: The invisible mourners 

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in over one million American deaths, casting a blanket of grief over the entire country.

So begins psychologist Julie Kaplow’s essay on the nationwide mourning in the wake of the pandemic. Its toll has left millions of children devastated and unmoored –  a research letter published last fall in JAMA Pediatrics asserted that roughly 8 million kids lost a parent or primary caregiver due to a pandemic-related cause. As a result of this ongoing trauma, American culture has had to confront our hesitance to openly discuss death and grieving, writes Kaplow in a guest essay for MindSite News.

via Twitter

Our society’s culture of silence surrounding bereavement has made it hard to express our grief, Kaplow says. Such avoidance may make people feel pressure to “get over” a loss too quickly, or feel fearful about what to say in the wake of death, potentially exacerbating the sense of loneliness and isolation among the bereaved.

Still, what Kaplow calls “good grief” can be experienced. It’s healthy to have “open dialogue about grief,” which can validate mourners’ experiences “and ensure that those who do need a higher level of support receive it,” Kaplow said. It can include loved ones honoring the dead by enjoying the same activities or foods they enjoyed, or leading community service related to a cause they cared about. As Kaplow writes, “Grief, after all, is a natural part of life and a reflection of the love we have for the person who died. As the late Queen Elizabeth II once famously said, ‘grief is the price we pay for love.’” (See also our recent story on profound grief, “Prince Harry and His Decade of Magical Thinking.”)

Helping kids navigate peer pressure

via Twitter

There are a handful of myths about peer pressure that the Washington Post debunked for parents this week. One is that peer pressure is always coercive,  although there are times when it is, especially in the event of “sextortion” – someone threatening to post compromising photos online unless someone does X. It’s a good idea for parents to teach kids refusal skills by walking them through a hypothetical scenario of someone asking for a nude selfie or asking “how would you advise a friend in the same situation?” 

But peer pressure is not always bad. Want to make it work for your kids? Employ the “ripple effect” of peer pressure to their advantage. “Being receptive and influenceable is … an adaptive trait,” said economist and author Robert Frank, whose book, Under the Influence: Putting Peer Pressure to Work, was published in 2020. “We of course caution kids not to do what the jerks do, but the earth we inhabit can be a dangerous place,” he said. “We can learn useful things from what other people do…If there’s something we’d like to see kids do more of because it benefits them, let them see another kid do that thing and be praised for it.” 

The new face of bullying

Bullying looks different than it did when we were kids. Although adults might imagine physical bullying is a major concern, John Rovers, professor at Drake University and lead author of a recent study examining the relationship between bullying, mental health, and suicidal ideation, says “that really has remarkably little effect.” These days, identity bullying – harassing someone on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity – was most correlated with high distress and suicide attempts, according to a recent article on CNN. Cyber and social bullying were close behind. 

“Identity is so incredibly important for kids and teens as they develop, and not being able to be themselves without fear of judgment or bullying from others is not only isolating, it can significantly alter their confidence, peace of mind, and ability to see a future for themselves that’s free of pain,” explained child and adolescent psychiatrist Neha Chaudhary to CNN in an email. “People just want to be themselves, and be loved for who they are.”

In other news…

One of my personal goals this year is practicing mindfulness as much as I read about it. And since my preschooler has been noticing my meditation attempts, I thought it would be good to introduce her to the practice as well. That led to a quick Google search that turned over Like You, a mindfulness podcast for kids. Episodes are about 15 minutes long, include a guided breathing exercise, and cover topics such as what to do when you feel afraid or when waiting is super hard, and how different feelings may be related to one another. They conclude with affirmations and a feel-good song. My daughter loved it, and it’s one I plan to keep in regular rotation. The next season debuts in spring, but there’s an archive of a few dozen episodes available now.

Healthy lives begin at home. That’s what I took from a research alert on Science Daily referencing a study on “protective parenting” from a team of scientists at the University of Georgia. Knowing what your kids are up to and being involved in their lives can improve their physical and mental health outcomes in adulthood. “Early life experiences really affect physical and mental well-being throughout our lifespan,” said Kelsey Corallo, lead author of the study and a recent doctoral graduate from UGA’s Department of Psychology. “Even if we don’t have a lot of tangible memories from very early on in life, we know how we felt, we know how loved we were and how supported we were, and these things get embedded in us.”

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.

Recent MindSite News Stories

Good Grief: How to Mourn in a Healthy Way

The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed over one million American lives, casting a blanket of grief over the country. Despite its challenges, the pandemic has given us an opportunity to address the topic of grief and how best to cope with […]

Continue reading…

For Depression and Anxiety, Exercise Better Than Meds or Therapy: Study

Exercise of various sorts and durations was more effective than either medication or psychotherapy and “should be a mainstay approach in the management of depression, anxiety and psychological distress.”

Continue reading…

Therapy as Reparations: Working for Free Mental Health Access for Black Americans

Black Americans are descendants of people who have experienced unprecedented trauma for generations. Dr. Brian Dixon is calling for free psychotherapy as reparations.

Continue reading…

If you’re not subscribed to MindSite News Daily, click here to sign up.
Support our mission to report on the workings and failings of the
mental health system in America and create a sense of national urgency to transform it.

For more frequent updates, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram:

The name “MindSite News” is used with the express permission of Mindsight Institute, an educational organization offering online learning and in-person workshops in the field of mental health and wellbeing. MindSite News and Mindsight Institute are separate, unaffiliated entities that are aligned in making science accessible and promoting mental health globally.

Copyright © 2021 MindSite News, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this email because you signed up at our website. Thank you for reading MindSite News.

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...