March 23, 2023
By Courtney Wise and Diana Hembree
Hello, MindSite News readers! In today’s news roundup, we look at why middle schoolers are often under-appreciated (and what you can do about it). We also explore stories on how to talk with a loved one about suicide, the dangers of jellyfish parenting, and how your own stress and anxiety levels may affect your children. And much more.
Embracing our amazing, contradictory tweens
Middle schoolers have a bad rep – but it’s not their fault. It’s our own emotionally-charged memories of that time, seasoned with the awkwardness of puberty that colors our perception of 11- to 14-year-olds, says former teacher Deborah Farmer Kris. While reporting on tweens for CNN, she says, a sales clerk told her, “[They] scare me because those were the worst years of my life.”
On the other hand, middle schoolers were Farmer Kris’ favorite group to teach. It can be a good time for parents and caregivers too, she said, if they change their mindset about how challenging tween-hood will be. In the article, she provides a handful of tips to help you do just that. For starters, embrace their contradictions, said school counselor Phyllis Fagell. And if you want to see their best, remind them how likable they are. “In my experience, middle schoolers are at their best around adults who delight in the fact that they are often smart and silly in equal measure,” psychologist Lisa Damour told CCN.
Tweens also need to know how important they are to you. No matter how distant, rude or moody they may seem, they are still children who need your love and support. Farmer Kris quoted acclaimed author Toni Morrison on what guided her parenting — something that applies to even the most sullen middle schooler: “When a kid walks in a room — your child or anybody else’s child — does your face light up? That’s what they’re looking for.”
How to talk to a loved one about suicide
There are blows in life so violent…I can’t answer!
– Cesar Vallejo
“Sadly, if, like most people, you have friends, colleagues, and relatives, you are likely to learn at some point that someone has lost a loved one to death by suicide,” writes teen psychologist Dr. Barbara Greenberg in a recent column for Psychology Today. Suicides in the U.S. also rose 4% during 2021, she notes, and increased by 8% among 15- to 24-year-olds. A Healthy Minds survey of college students in 2021-22 reported that 15% said they had seriously considered suicide — the highest rate ever recorded in the 15-year-old survey. No age group is immune, even children 10 and younger.
“If someone confides in you about a death by suicide, they clearly want your support,” writes Greenberg, an advisory board member and columnist at MindSite News. ”They are likely feeling devastated, shocked, and maybe even (unfairly) guilty that they didn’t see the ‘signs’ and prevent the death of someone they cared about greatly.” She advises that relatives and friends offer support, love, comfort and meals – and listen while avoiding judgment or talk of blame. She also offers 10 ways that you can support the bereaved, and yourself, during this dark time.
Join MindSite News for an important live discussion on youth mental health with youth advisory board members from Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation (BTWF), and a Q&A led by BeMe Health. During this discussion, we will gain valuable insight directly from young leaders about the mental health problems youth are grappling with, and learn more about the BTWF’s mission of supporting the mental health of young people and their work to build a kind and braver world.
In other news…
Struggling youth write away loneliness, heartache, and the stigma of mental illness by sending letters to one another. “One thing across our generations is people tend to feel like, ‘Parents don’t understand me’, and you sort of have inherent trust in someone your own age,” said Diana Chao, founder of Letters to Strangers. She spoke to EdSurge about how the nonprofit organization she founded nine years ago is changing lives.
Once without a home herself as a teen, Detroit’s Amber Matthews now works to serve the city’s unhoused youth. Her story and efforts are the focus of a new longform essay series from Eleanore Catolico in the Detroit Metro Times. “There are a lot of homeless youth that I’ve come across that have so much potential and drive, and they really want and have aspirations,” said Matthews, “But their living situation sometimes is so bad that they have to put their aspirations and dreams to the side just to try to survive…Every week, I’m in a meeting trying to figure out, ‘What can we do?’” (See Catolico’s writing for MindSite News here.)
If you’ve noticed that your child or teen is more stressed lately, do a check on your own stress and anxiety levels first. Kids are always listening and watching, and according to the New York Times, studies show links between children’s emotional health and that of their parents. “Now it’s time for us to realize that our hurt can become our kids’ hurt, and if we want to heal our children, that process may well start by seeking the help we need to heal ourselves,” said Times columnist David French in a beautifully written op-ed.
There’s really no debate about it—overuse of social media is awful for your teen’s mental health. What can parents do to limit its impact? Here are 4 pieces of advice from a group of experts who spoke to the Washington Post:
1) Designate screen-free times and spaces. For example, make mealtimes and shared family rooms in the home phone-free zones. 2) Have honest conversations with kids about social media and create a “safe use” plan with them. Actually incorporating kids’ input into the plan is crucial to getting them to stick with it. 3) Teach kids how to use technology mindfully. Not all social media engagement is useless. Connecting with friends is important, and some digital apps can be used for school research. So, help teens check in with themselves about the time they’re spending online. Is it to speak with a friend or just scroll because the screen is there? 4) Delay social media use as long as possible. Said US Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy: “My belief is that 13 is too early.”
Beware of “jellyfish” parenting: There are animal names for all kinds of parenting styles, and the latest animal to join the lineup is jellyfish, according to Fatherly. Opposite the authoritarian, or tiger, parenting style, jellyfish parenting is overly permissive, Fatherly observes: After all, jellyfish lack a backbone. Such parents, the digital magazine adds, appear to either be modeling the way they were brought up or mistakenly believe that permissive parenting is synonymous with good parenting. To hit the parenting sweet spot and become a dolphin – er, authoritative parent, reflect on your own internal and mental wellness first. “All parenting starts with us,” said author and parenting expert Sarah Ockwell-Smith. “By that, I mean focusing on our own demons, making peace with our own upbringing, and working to understand our triggers. If we don’t focus on being a calmer parent, then it doesn’t matter what techniques we try to use.”
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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