Thursday May 18, 2023

By Diana Hembree and Courtney Wise

Hello, MindSite News readers! Today we bring you a special edition that includes two MindSite News original packages. One series – about the power of fantasy fiction for kids and teens – includes powerful first-person essays from YouthCast Media Group contributors. The other story is a multimedia journey across the country to schools working hard to provide emotional support for their students in a time of lockdowns and mass shootings, with kids often taking the lead in innovative and joyful ways. Don’t miss the delightful video musings from a 5-year-old on what makes her feel better.

And tune into the speakers’ series from community-based behavioral health care agency Caminar this Friday (5/19) from 12:00pm – 1:30pm PST. MindSite News founding editor Rob Waters joins as a media partner and co-moderator on Caminar’s panel “How can we restore hope and resilience in our youth?” Register here.

How Fantasy Fiction Boosts Youth Mental Health

For too long, science fiction and fantasy have been relegated to the sidelines of literature. I remember, at age 13, reading Fahrenheit 451 at my high school in Fulton County, Georgia, and learning from my teacher that I was the first and only girl in her class to ever do a book report on science fiction. It’s a book that changed my life and is so eerily descriptive of today’s alienated, book-banning, and social-media-drugged society that it should be required reading.

That’s why my co-editor and I were thrilled to receive three submissions about science fiction and its importance to mental health from the young writers of Youthcast Media Group, a frequent collaborator with MindSite News.

Science fiction and fantasy books don’t just warn us of the dangers of being drugged by screens, violence, and lying authoritarian politicians, and they don’t just offer fanciful tales of dragons, wizards and space travel. In the words of an English professor writing in the online magazine The Conversation, science fiction and fantasy builds mental resilience in young readers and offers them “a way to rethink social dilemmas.” It also offers a path toward hope and self-acceptance.  

In the following essays, Kendall Covington and Hermes Falcon of Youth Media Group explore the power of fantasy fiction. In Young Readers Struggling With ‘Reality Overload’ Drive Surging Sales of Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books, they chart fantasy fiction’s soaring popularity during and after the pandemic and examine its importance to their own mental health. We’re excited to feature their work in this package. –Diana Hembree

Fahrenheit 451 to Harry Potter: The Power of Fantasy Fiction for Youth Mental Health

Two young writers explore fantasy fiction’s soaring popularity during and after the pandemic and write about its importance to their own mental health.
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‘Hope Was Still Waiting for Me’: Finding a Sanctuary in Fantasy Fiction

“Watching the protagonists try to solve world-threatening problems made my own feel smaller and easier to handle.”

-Kendall Covington, writer
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No Illusion: Fantasy Fiction is My Safe Space

“By reading fantasy fiction, I got to see people like me overcome obstacles I thought impossible.”

–Hermes Falcon, writer.
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Click below to register for this Caminar/MindSite News event on strategies for restoring hope and resilience in young people:

Anxiety from Mass Shootings and Lockdowns: Kids Are Not Alright, But They’re Working On It 

Third grader Gabrielle Clerjuste, 9, and second grader Jonathan Ruha, 7, pose for a photo on the buddy bench at Veterans Memorial Elementary School in Naples on Monday, May 15, 2023. Both serve as friendship ambassadors at the school.

Despite the political targeting of “wokeness” in some communities and fake grassroots groups funded by dark money that oppose social-emotional learning, schools in Texas, Florida and elsewhere are providing emotional support for children – with the kids themselves often taking the lead. Children across the country are fighting off worries, spreading kindness and talking about their feelings in schools with the help of their teachers. This MindSite News story by Michele Cohen Marillco-published by USA Today on its website –looks at all kinds of student-led kindness projects, from friendship benches to peer counseling.

One of the story’s protagonists is Mason Tepper, now 11 years old, who remembers sirens blaring as ambulances rushed to a nearby July 4th parade in Highland Park, Chicago, after a horrific mass shooting there. He was running for election to his school’s student council last fall when he came up with an idea: Worry-Free Wednesdays, a way to acknowledge kids’ worries and relieve them.

“Every Wednesday before school, kids can write their worry on a Post-it note and put it in a box so no one sees their worries. They’re lessening their worries by getting it out of mind and helping be positive,” said Mason, who won his election and created the box. He even made a logo with a colorful “evil eye” that symbolically wards off evil and sold T-shirts to benefit The Balance Project, a nonprofit based in Highland Park that supports mental health access and awareness. Find out what else kids and teachers at other schools are doing to help each other through these hard days in this in-depth multimedia story.

Teen psychologist Barbara Greenberg on the “collateral damage” of estrangement

Barbara Greenberg, Clinical Teen Psychologist

Writing in Psychology Today, clinical teen psychologist Dr. Barbara Greenberg, a MindSite News advisory board member, discusses how those of us caught in the middle of a rupture can experience significant tension and stress. Not only is it exhausting being torn between opposing sides, but “holidays and get-togethers that were formerly sources of joy now become an exercise in logistics that belongs in a war room, not in your living room,” she says.

One piece of her advice: Try not to take sides. Find out what other counsel she offers to avoid collateral damage.

In other news…

School avoidance linked to severe anxiety is on the rise after the Covid pandemic. Jayne Demsky started the School Avoidance Alliance after police showed up at her door to take her son to high school. (He had been attending school less and less before stopping entirely.) “There’s no book on this, it’s not spoken about,” said Demsky. “It’s very scary and parents feel a sense of helplessness.” Find out what the Alliance, whose aim is to get chronically absent kids back to school, is doing about it.

No, really – a Florida teacher is under investigation for showing students an animated Disney film with a gay character. Under Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say  Gay” law, which is being challenged in court, teacher Jenna Barbee is being investigated by her school and the Florida Department of Education for showing it. She was told, she says, that her students will be interrogated about the film one by one “with or without the permission of their parents,” according to an NBC story. “Do you know the trauma that is going to cause to some of my students? They are fifth graders,” Barbee said. “Some of them can barely come up and have a conversation with me…and now an investigator is allowed to come in and interrogate them?” She added that “I am not and never would indoctrinate anyone to follow my beliefs. I will, however, always be a safe person to come to that spreads the message of kindness, positivity and compassion for everyone.”

A Detroit high schooler is helping to lead work toward better student mental health. An 11th grader at Martin Luther King Jr. High School, Perriel Pace is the student representative on the local school board – and she’s using it to push for social-emotional learning and mental health discussions. She noted that at her previous school, the first two weeks were devoted to building trust and relationships, which resulted in fewer fights and students treating each other better.

Culture heals: Helping Minnesota students with African American-centered therapy. In 2022, a survey found that a full third of Minnesota students were in crisis and grappling with long-term mental health problems, including depression and anxiety – more than at any time in the history of the survey. But some African American students were also contending with hopelessness.

“What they’re facing, you know, especially African American boys…they do have this fear of the future …they have feelings of like, ‘Does anyone accept me in my future?” said Abe Gebeyehu, a school mental health practitioner. As he told MPRNews, he works with the Wilder Foundation’s Kofi Project, which runs a culturally specific school-based mental health program for African American youth that offers counseling, books on history and culture and introductions to local Black chefs, artists and community leaders. “The idea is for the kids to understand…that culture does heal,” says Benita Amedee of the foundation.

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.

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, and as news...