Written by Tony Tramelli, MA, LPC
Every generation of adults looks to the next generation with some sense of trepidation. Beliefs and values within a society change over time. Although it may seem that the world has always changed drastically from one generation to the next, in the past this has actually happened quite slowly. There has always been a sense of continuity between generations. We are usually informed and influenced by those that came before us.
However, the generation that is coming of age today is experiencing something drastically different from any previous generation. Today’s youth are being shaped in large measure, not by their elders, but by the smartphone and social media. These individuals were born between the years 1995 and 2012 and are being called the iGeneration. They have grown up with smartphones, and they do not remember a time without the internet. The oldest of this generation were adolescents when the iPhone came out in 2007, and juniors and seniors in high school when the iPad was introduced.
Long before the introduction of smartphones and tablets, people have been discussing the negative effects of screen time. The belief was that sitting in front of the television or playing Nintendo was going to “rot your brain.” There is a false belief that smartphones and social media are just new versions of televisions and videogames; that all we need to be worried about are decreased attention spans. This is simply not the case. The impact that these technologies are having on the teenage experience is neither fully appreciated nor understood. Today’s technologies and social media have changed everything, from the way teenagers socialize to the way they define themselves and their self-worth.
The iGeneration is quite possibly physically safer than any in history. They are less likely to drink and use drugs, get into a car accident, or engage in sexual relationships. Although physically safer, psychologically they are increasingly vulnerable. The year 2012 marked the moment when more than fifty percent of Americans owned a smartphone. Since that year, rates of teen depression and anxiety have increased dramatically. Boys’ depressive symptoms increased by 21 percent from 2012 to 2015, and girls’ symptoms increased by 50 percent during that period.
The same years also saw a dramatic rise in suicide deaths. Three times as many 12-to-14-year-old girls took their own lives in 2015 than in 2007, and twice as many boys. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among middle school, high school, and college aged students. Current research correlates time spent online to depression and anxiety, and according to a study done this year, the average American teenager is spending about nine hours a day consuming digital media. The average tween is spending about six hours per day doing so. As our young people increasingly use online social media to connect, they are ever more likely to feel alone, worried, left out, and depressed.
The large amounts of time being spent on these devices has different effects at different stages of development. When we look at very young children using smartphones to play games and watch videos, our main concern is the immediate gratification that they are experiencing throughout the activity. Young children’s brains are being wired to expect that same immediate gratification in everything they do. Of course, nothing else in this world delivers the same type of immediate stimulation that the phone does. Because of this conditioning, they are much quicker to get upset or lose control when they experience any boredom or delay in gratification. This makes it almost impossible to enjoy other types of activities that may not result in the same sort of stimulation. More time spent on phones or tablets equals less time engaging in imaginative play, which is an integral part of their cognitive development. Unlike time online, however, imaginative play has been shown to improve social skills, patience, and empathy.
As children get older and start using their phones more for social engagement, we see the issues broaden in scope. Adolescents are not experiencing the same type of social interaction with their peers as past generations, nor as is appropriate for their social development. A recent study by the PEW Research Center reports that only about thirty five percent of teenagers interact with their friends face-to-face on a daily basis. This lack of engagement in real life peer relationships can hurt their ability to develop healthy relationships in the future. Relationships arise through experience and require certain skills, for example, reading facial expressions, interpreting voice inflection, and feeling empathy. If adolescents are missing out on time spent with their friends, they are missing out on the opportunities to learn about and practice those skills that enable healthy relationships.
It is not simply the amount of time spent online rather than with their peers that is concerning, it is what our youth are doing online and why they are doing it. The large majority of teenagers are online because they want to make sure their posts and comments are getting “likes,” to be sure that their friends aren’t doing anything without them, to ascertain that nothing bad is being said about them on social media, and to be able to retaliate if there is. Adolescents are basing their overall sense of selfworth on the reactions and opinions of possibly thousands of individuals that they have never met, while maintaining an online persona that extends across multiple social media profiles – a persona that has to be managed, updated, and defended constantly and vigilantly. Keeping up with this task is incredibly stressful, anxiety provoking, and age inappropriate. It is all too much for the adolescent brain to handle. They desperately need time away from technology, away from the pressures of social media, time to be themselves, time to be kids.
Younger and older youth alike need to be shown an alternative to this type of existence, and this must be shown to them by the important adults in their lives. These issues with technology are not limited to the young. The average teenager is spending about nine hours a day online, but the average adult is spending about ten and a half hours per day consuming some sort of digital media (email, texting, social media, television, etc.) How can we expect our children to limit their screen time, when most of the adults in their lives are looking at those exact same screens?
Our society needs to rethink and repurpose how we use to technology. This happens first and foremost within the family. Parents can set personal limits and boundaries with technology to better their own lives, while at the same time setting good examples for their children. One easy way to do this is to limit the amount of time we spend with our devices. Make an effort in the evenings to unplug and connect with one another. Provide other sources of enjoyment and entertainment; art projects, board games, reading, writing, etc. It’s also smart to be conscious of where we are using our devices. Do we have our phones out at the dinner table? How about at a family party? At Church? At a parent teacher conference? Are we texting or checking social media while we are conversing with friends or family? We surely have all been guilty of some of these things at some point, but for many of us it is a constant struggle.
These devices came with a promise to keep us connected like never before, but what they have done instead is made it almost impossible to connect with those around us. We are in a constant state of distraction, trying desperately to be present in the moment, while being pulled in a thousand different directions. As adults, we have the luxury of remembering a time when things were a bit simpler, when personal and societal boundaries were more clear and appropriate. The iGeneration does not have this same insight. It is up to us to show them a better way, to inform and influence them as the previous generations did for us.
Tony Tramelli, MA, LPC
Tony provides therapy to individuals, couples, and families on a number of issues, including depression, anxiety, grief, behavioral issues, and academic problems. Tony especially enjoys working with young adults and their parents toward financial and emotional independence during the launching process. In addition, Tony provides therapy for individuals, couples, and families struggling with issues around technology, including internet, gaming, and pornography addiction. He provides presentations and seminars to schools on technology-related topics.
How Children Understand Death
Written by Katie Taggart, MSW, LCSW
In order to be able to support a grieving child, it is crucial to understand how a child understands the basic concepts associated with death. Generally speaking, most children come to understand these concepts by the age of seven. There are, however, always exceptions and one cannot assume what a child knows based on age alone. If you want to know what a child understands, ASK—ask them to share thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Understanding the four concepts of death are directly connected to being able to grieve and mourn a death. When a child does not have full knowledge and understanding, he or she is at a clear disadvantage in his or her ability to cope.
Concept 1: Death is Irreversible
Young children who do not yet understand this notion will expect the deceased to return. They are the children who will ask, “Where’s grandpa?” right after attending the funeral. They view death as a temporary state; they may believe their loved one is simply on a long trip. Sometimes, adults often reinforce this belief by stating, “Mommy went away,” or “We lost dad last night.”
Many times, adults feel uncomfortable and unsure of how to explain death, therefore, they use vague phrases that add to the confusion of young children. Children are not able to mourn if they do not believe that death is permanent. It is necessary for children to understand that death is irreversible, if they are to incorporate the death into their life.
Concept 2: All Life Functions End at the Time of Death
At an early age, children tend to believe all things are living; this contributes to their imagination and their ability to “make believe.” This does not pose a problem in their day-to-day life. When a death occurs, however, this can cause a great amount of upset. Children can become very concerned about how grandpa can breathe in the casket or worried that mommy will be afraid of the dark if she is buried. Children may become concerned with the suffering of the dead. It is important to teach and reteach the concept of alive vs. dead. Start basic by explaining that only a person who is alive can breathe; only a person who can breathe can feel or hurt. Be sure to emphasize that once a heart stops beating and lungs stop breathing, a person can no longer feel, think, feel hunger or pain.
Concept 3: Death is Universal
Everything that is alive will die. Animals die; plants die; people die. Children typically believe that they will not die or that their own parents/siblings are not going to die—until they do. Once a loved one dies, it is common for children to fear that other loved ones will die as well. If a sibling or classmate dies, it is common to fear they will die themselves. If a child cannot make sense of something, he or she will create an answer. This is often referred to as “magical thinking.” A child may tell himself that the reason his mom’s car crashed is because they fought earlier in the day. This blame and shame will prevent a child from discussing the death, fearing that will reveal his secret that he, in fact, is the reason his mom died. This magical thinking can be counteracted by learning that all living things will, at some point, die. Children should be reassured of their fears and told that while some parents die young, most do not. Further assurance should be given that their own parents do certain and specific tasks (i.e., drive safely, obey laws, go to the doctor) to carefully take care of their health.
Concept 4: Death is Caused by Physical Reasons
When a loved one dies, children must understand WHY the death occurred. As stated above, if the why is understood, the child is less likely to create blame and shame. This certainly does not mean that, as adults, we have all the answers to explain cancer or suicide. It does mean that we have to have basic explanations that will address common questions. In the case of cancer, it is helpful to explain cancer is not a sickness like a cold that will spread to others or a sickness that will just need a little medicine. This is also one of the many reasons why the phrase “She went to sleep and died,” should never be used. Did her heart stop beating while sleeping? Did her lungs stop breathing? Did her brain stop working? Our bodies keep us alive and when they do not work properly, we die.
Use simple, direct explanations. Use clear, concise language. Avoid clichés or double meanings. Pay attention to what the child is asking—don’t give more information than is asked. If you are unsure, ask for help when talking with your child.
Katie Taggart, MSW, LCSW
Katie has extensive experience serving clients with chronic and terminal illness as well as grief and loss. Katie provides private therapy to clients of all ages and enjoys working with both children and adults. She believes in the companioning model of grief therapy and “walks alongside” her clients during their grief journeys. In addition, she provides counseling to seniors, their families and caregivers throughout the continuum of senior living. She provides grief and anticipatory grief services for children, adults, families, classrooms, and school faculties. You can contact Katie at the WCPA office, (314) 275-8599.
A Guide to Talking to Your Loved One with Dementia
Written by Amy Neu, MSW, LCSW
“I think he just wants to disagree with me, no matter the subject. The only safe thing to talk about is the weather…but wait – he argues about that too! We end up going at it, and then I feel guilty. He’s able to forget the argument, but I’m left stuck with it in my mind. It’s the same thing over and over. I know he can’t help it, but I am just getting so angry all the time.” – Frustrated spousal caregiver
I hear this issue from many family caregivers – spouses, adult children, siblings – who care for their loved ones with dementia. They often feel like they no longer can carry a “normal” conversation along with their loved ones. Heightened emotions arise seemingly out of nowhere; a once simple question about what a person wants for breakfast can escalate into a heated spat about burnt toast from 30 years ago. Attempts to reminisce about a first date can turn sour when an argument ensues about the color of the dress the wife wore during their first meal.
The daily grind of dealing with the communication issues (in addition to of course the physical, mental and emotional stressors) for weeks, months, and years for families of loved ones with dementia is grueling. Below are several tips for guiding your conversations with your loved ones:
- Plan ahead whenever possible. Try not to start an important conversation if you do not have the time or patience to carry it out. Minimize distractions – for example, go to a private space; turn down the volume on the television.
- Take a break if you feel yourself becoming angry, agitated, or argumentative. When you are frustrated, your loved one will feed off your heightened emotions, and their behaviors will escalate too. An easy way to get a break is to say, “Let’s hold on for a minute. I need to use the restroom.” Go into the restroom, take a few deep breaths, and give yourself time to regroup.
- Sidestep arguments about facts. For example, I worked with a client who lived with her mother with dementia who would worry constantly about storms coming. The family would try to ease her fears and reassure her that in fact no storms were in the area. They would show her the forecast online and watch weather reports on TV to convince her that she was safe. This seemed to agitate her mother even more. After talking through this issue with me in session, the next day when her mother said, “There’s a storm coming! We need to be downstairs!” my client calmly said, “Okay, we’ll keep an eye on the weather today. Thanks, Mom. I’ll let you know if I see any clouds or raindrops and then we can go downstairs if we think that’s best.” Her mom relaxed and they were then able to move onto other things that morning. While her mother would continue to bring up storms, now my client felt that she could handle the issue. This made both my client and her mother feel less anxious and more capable in the situation overall.
- Use “Yes, And…” Don’t correct – redirect! Nobody likes to be told when they are wrong, forgetful, or have inaccurate information. For our loved ones with dementia, when we point out that their words, memories, or logic is faulty, it has a profound effect on them. They often will either lash out and escalate an argument or withdraw and become embarrassed and quiet. Either way, their brain is not receptive to new information in this state, and interactions become increasingly difficult. I tell my clients to remember the cardinal rule of improvisation: Don’t Deny. Take out words like “No” and “But” and replace them with “Yes” and “And…” This same principal holds true for us and our loved ones with dementia. For example, I worked with a family where the father with dementia told his son, “I have a doctor’s appointment on Tuesday.” The son responded, “No dad, your appointment is Thursday,” and they started bickering back and forth. The son showed his dad his appointment written on the calendar for Thursday, and the dad insisted someone wrote it in on the wrong day. Take this same situation and apply the improv rule: The father says, “I have a doctor’s appointment on Tuesday.” The son responds, “Yes, you do see the doctor this week, and we’ll be sure you get there.” The conversation ends, and they move onto other things.
- Be compassionate with yourself and seek professional guidance when needed. Make an appointment for yourself with an experienced professional such as a clinical social worker, counselor, or geriatric care manager. They will be able to give you information on communication strategies, supports, and resources, and will help you care for your own needs as a caregiver. Regularly use your personal and professional resources for respite care. Even a few hours to yourself or out with friends can make a big difference for your own well-being.
Many of these strategies aim to reduce fear and anxiety for your loved one and increase their sense of security and well-being. As family caregivers work toward achieving these goals, as a result, they often report their own sense of security and well-being increases because of these more productive, less confrontational interactions.
Amy Neu, MSW, LCSW
Amy specializes in serving the elderly and disabled, along with their families and caregivers. She has significant experience counseling families within medical systems and during transitional periods from home to alternate levels of care.
“For Parents Only”
Stay Off the Grass: The Challenges of Parenting an Athlete
Written by Eric Stein, M.A., L.P.C.
Participation in sports is one of the healthiest, most beneficial activities our children can experience. Through athletics, our children learn much needed social skills. Athletes must employ strategies to manage anxiety, stress, injury and failure. Children learn how practice and hard work lead directly to success. Team sports foster the development of leadership, while teaching how to care for one’s body. Athletes learn they are not entitled to success and that the world doesn’t revolve around them personally. As the years pass, the lessons learned and relationships built far outlast the polish on any trophy.
However, over recent years, there has been an influx of student athletes being treated on adolescent psychiatric units for suicidal ideation. These adolescents are intelligent kids with good grades and bright futures. They come from upper middle class families and have both parents involved in their lives. Many of these patients are receiving letters of interest and scholarship offers from division one schools all over the country. With all of the positives listed above, what could possibly be making these young people contemplate suicide? These students often cite parental pressure as their foremost stressor.
We have all been to a sporting event that has fallen apart at the seams—not because of what happened on the field—but because of what occurred on the sidelines. A fun learning experience can quickly turn into an emotionally damaging event in a child’s development. Children profit when parents adhere to a standard of beneficence. Are we, the parents, placing our children in sports to benefit their development and to give them joy or to fill some need in our own lives? How we, as parents, approach sports, school, practice time, and even failure can impact both our child’s athletic performance and their personal character.
Parents that complain openly about coaches in front of their children set up an adversarial mindset and damage the integrity of the player-coach relationship. When we as parents take it upon ourselves to approach coaches, we rob our child of many important lessons. The first is how to effectively approach adults about what they want or feel they deserve. Our children will have bosses in the future and they need the experience of negotiating as a subordinate. Second, pressuring authority figures for our child sends the message of entitlement. We are telling our children that they deserve more playing time without learning what they must improve upon. Third, when parents repeatedly step in for a child they damage the child’s self-image of independence. Without meaning to do so, we tell our child subconsciously, “You are not capable of handling your own business.”
Children today are often not allowed to learn about failure. Competition for scholarships and desirable jobs is at an all-time high. Successful families fear that failure in the classroom will have great negative effects on their child’s future. Athletics can be a way to fail without long-term implications. We are not helping our children if we protect them from failure. Failure is a part of life, and it draws many similarities to chicken pox. As a child, the infection is irritating and may put you down for a few days. Ultimately, you overcome the infection and carry immunity for the rest of your life. When exposure to the virus is postponed until adulthood, the consequences can be much more severe. People that fear failure face paralysis. A boxer with a perfect record enters the ring with much more pressure than the challenger with a few prior losses and less to lose.
All children should be encouraged to diversify their athletic experiences. The first question college recruiters ask about high school athletes is about the other sports they are involved in. Players involved in one sport year round have three main problems. One, they show increased frequency of sport-specific injuries. Two, they are more inclined to burnout in college, and three, they show a decrease in the amount of possible gains after high school. Recruiting coaches are not looking for a finished product. They want to find enthusiastic kids who can grow in their programs.
All parents play a large part in promoting the physical and mental well-being of their child. We should allow our children to encounter failure. Encourage them to navigate through embarrassment, discouragement, and other emotions that come with a loss. Allow them to see the need for self-evaluation, change and growth with the belief that they can be more effective in the future. Our job as parents is to provide the resources for children to meet obstacles and to provide encouragement so children will continue to face those obstacles to completion. We do not need to help our kids overcome impediments. We should never aim to assist by lowering the bar for them, and we should remain mindful that we ourselves do not become the hurdle. Always check to see whether our actions are that of a spectator or that of a distraction. As parents, we cannot force the love of the game, but we can definitely foster contempt for it.
Parents are the wallet that buys the gear, the car that transports to every event, the consistent example of support, the hands that clap for a strong effort and the shoulder to cry on in defeat. Let the players play, coaches coach and the officials officiate – parents have enough responsibilities off the field.
Eric Stein, MA, LPC
Eric offers counseling for adolescents and adults facing emotional concerns, anger and disruptive behavior, academic issues, athletic challenges, developmental disabilities and persistent mental illness. He has extensive experience working with individuals navigating through disabilities. Eric is an athlete himself and frequently provides counseling support to athletes and their families to promote mental wellness, peak performance, and good choice-making.
How Schools Can Help Children and Parents of Divorce
Written by Jennifer Van Luven, MSW, LCSW, CDM
The divorce rate in the United States has been high for a long time, leaving many children living between two homes. School aged children are the most effected by divorced parents. Teachers find themselves in the middle of divorcing families and parental conflict, not knowing how to support the parents or children who report to their classrooms every day.
Developing a strong working relationship with your students’ parents is never easy. When those parents are divorced, it is even more important for teachers to be sensitive to the needs of their students and both sets of parents. Here are a few tips to help you cultivate a successful relationship with everyone involved.
Learn the Custody Arrangement Take the time to find out which parent is custodial. Your school probably has this information in the student’s permanent records. The custodial parent is the person to whom all correspondence and primary contact should be directed. This is the person you invite to attend conferences and contact when the need arises. If parents share 50/50 custody, it is important to include both in all correspondence. Always have a copy of the current custody agreement in the student’s file and request that both parents provide updated copies if changes are made.
Speak with Outside Resources Do you need to speak with the child’s doctor, guardian ad litem, tutor, grandparent, or outside therapist? When working with families in legal transition, where both parents share custody, it is always necessary to obtain both parents’ signatures on release forms. Wanting to speak to helping professionals or include family members, such as a grandparent who provides transportation for the student, is wise. These conversations can provide information that assists the school to know the child’s circumstances and respond helpfully. The release is necessary, signed by both parents.
Be Sensitive to Seasons and Events Be aware of the times of the year that may be more stressful for the children of divorced parents. Holidays, in particular, may bring out latent fears and concerns in children. This is a time when children fear their world will unravel and their old family rituals be gone forever. Another time that could be problematic is events such as a school play, banquet, or a sporting event where both parents may attend. Depending on their family’s circumstances, students may wonder if their parents will sit together or apart, if they will argue at the event, and if it will hurt one parent’s feelings if the child visits with the other parent after the event.
Include Both Parents If both parents show up for a conference, treat them both with respect. Even in the most amicable of divorces, there is bound to be underlying tension. Stay focused on the needs of the child and direct the conference with that in mind. Avoid overly personal revelations from parents who want to dish the dirt on the other one, if you possibly can. Remember, no matter your feelings toward either or both parents, your first concern is always to work in the best interest of the student. If the relationship between the parents is a sound one, where they strive to work together for the good of their child, then the custodial parent will keep the other one involved. If not, it is not the role of a teacher to involve that other parent. If the school needs to do so, then a counselor would assume that responsibility.
Use Inclusive Wording Always, always work to protect your student from embarrassment over his or her family situation. Even though, as adults, we are accustomed to relationships that do not always work out, in the eyes of a child, the broken relationship is one that is deeply personal and loaded with emotion. Always address letters home not just to “…the parents of…” but to “…the parents or guardians of…” Try to never say something such as, “I will call your mother if you do that again…” Substitute words such as “your family” or “your home” to avoid hurting the student.
Provide Support and/or Counseling Schools should think about offering support groups and counseling for those students whose parents are divorcing or divorced. If you can offer such a program, and steer a student in that direction, they may find it incredibly affirming. Such groups normalize student’s experiences and provide support and problem solving assistance.
Jennifer Webbe-Van Luven, MSW, LCSW, CDM
Jennifer has extensive experience in family law and court room testifying. Along with private therapy services, Jennifer provides services to families who are in the midst of transition, as a Parent Coordinator, Co-Parent Counselor, Custody Evaluator and a Divorce Consultant.
SUICIDE: Prevention, Intervention and Postvention in Schools
A workshop for school professionals*
Friday, October 20th, 2017 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Suicide among adolescents and young adults continues to increase every year and is now the second leading cause of death in individuals of middle school, high school, and college age, exceeded only by accidents. Suicide is responsible for more deaths of 10-24 year olds each year than all natural causes combined. It is vital that all school personnel have up-to-date information regarding suicide warning signs and prevention strategies. Consistent with this ethical obligation, new Missouri statute requires schools to develop policies for training all staff in regard to suicide awareness and prevention.
Topics Covered Include:
- Statistics, Risk Factors, and Warning Signs
- Suicide Myths vs Facts
- Protective Factors: helping students find hope
- The Three Tiers of Prevention: universal, selective and indicated prevention methods
- Training Gatekeepers: outlines and methods for training school staff, students and parents
- Meeting the new legal mandate for training
- Informed suicide risk assessment
- The step-by-step process to use with students assessed to be at high risk
- Intervention methods: what to say, what not to say
- Developing the Safety Plan
- Re-integrating a student who attempted suicide
- Postvention: how to prevent contagion and support your school community after a suicide death
Presenter: Amy V. Maus, MSW, LCSW specializes in school consultation, providing faculty inservice training, parent education presentations, seminar programs, and on-site case consultation to dozens of area schools each year. She is co-author of The Care Team Approach: A Problem Solving Process for Effective School Change.
Date and time
Friday, October 20th, 2017
9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Lunch 12:00 – 1:00 on your own.
West County Psychological Associates
12125 Woodcrest Executive Drive
St. Louis, MO
Who Should Attend
School Social Workers and Counselors
Professional Development Coordinators
Care Team members
$90 per attendee
Continuing Education certificate provided, must attend full program.
How to Register*: Click here to register online. Payment is expected at time of registration. Questions or concerns? Call WCPA at (314) 275-8599 or feel free to visit our website: www.wcpastl.com. Register Today – Space is Limited.
* This presentation is also available for school groups at your site. Call for information.