By: Eric Levene, MD, Chester Pediatrics (White Plains, New York)
It has been a scary week for our country. First, days of hearing about bombs being sent to many of our leaders as well as people who broadcast the news. Then on Saturday, we hear about the senseless shootings at a house of worship in Pittsburgh.
Our thoughts go out to the families that lost loved ones in such a senseless way. We are humbled by our first responders, running into the gunfire to save the innocent. Our prayers go out to those who were injured and wish all a speedy recovery.
Our country was founded on the principle of political and religious freedom. It is simply unconscionable for people to be targeted during worship, and unthinkable that it would happen in the United States in this day and age. This violence occurs at a time when there is an increase in religious harassment on college campuses and online. But how do we this explain to our kids, how do we reassure them that their house of worship they will be safe? What’s next?
First thing is to reassure our children they are safe. Listen to their fears, validate what they are feeling, and let them ask questions. Keep your explanations age appropriate. Early elementary school need simple concrete answers. Take them to schools and houses of worships to show them they are safe. Ask principals, ministers, rabbis priest and imams to talk with them about the safety of the buildings. Schools are already doing drills to prepare students. Ask your house of worship if they are prepared as well. Suggest or run a program for students to make them comfortable.
Older elementary and middle school students need to ask more detailed questions. They are just developing opinions and are able to understand more. Ask them open-ended questions. Remind them they are safe and encourage them to talk with their school and religious leaders. Let them hear how the community is working to keep them safe.
Older middle school and high school students will have varying opinions and are developing political and religious views that might be different than their parents. Encourage the students to talk, if not to you but to people they respect. Listen and ask what can you do for them. They might have different views than you, validate them and discuss with them how to be civil with those that hold different views.
Observe your kids. Look for changes in behavior, appetite and sleeping patterns. Limit your younger children’s television viewing and try to limit their online news. Watch your conversations with your spouse and friends in person and the phone. Maintain your normal routines. The more normal life appears for your kids the better. Do enjoyable things as a family.
Martin Luther King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. And hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Update: Season 2 of 13 Reasons Why returns, May 18th. It picks up in the aftermath of the Hannah Baker’s death. In this season the other characters start their journeys toward healing and recovery. However, a series of ominous Polaroids lead the characters to uncover a sickening secret and a conspiracy to cover it up.
Netflix said season 2 will carry a warning at the beginning of each episode pointing viewers to resources on their website, 13reasonswhy.info.
The Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, based on a book of the same title, has brought the topic of teen suicide front and center. You may not know about the show, but your teen likely does. While many parents, educators and health professionals have concerns about the show’s graphic nature and portrayal of suicide, teenage depression is an important topic that should be discussed in the open.
The Netflix series covers some of the very intense issues of bullying, teenage sex, alcohol, and drug use that are part of the complicated equation of teenage depression. Your teen needs your help in learning how to navigate these topics, hopefully, way before they ever happen.
Follow these 13 suggestions to help navigate this issue:
1 If you have concerns, call your pediatrician for a consult, which can often be initiated with or without the child present. The normal ups and downs of teenage emotions can make it difficult to determine when depression should be addressed. All pediatricians will be a resource to parents on teenage depression. Many pediatricians are comfortable initiating a workup for depression/anxiety, and some will prescribe treatment medication.
2 Make sure your teen has a yearly well care visit. Well care is a time to mature and strengthen the relationship between your teen and his/her pediatrician. It also serves to model for your teen that you trust and value the pediatrician’s input.
3 During the well care visits give your teen the privacy to fill out any written questionnaires, and encourage your teen to be honest. Most doctors use a “Teen screen” to identify teens at risk for depression, among other things. In addition to being a validated way to determine depression risk, these screening devices show your teen that the doctor is interested in their mental as well as their physical health. They set the stage for further conversations. These screens are usually covered by insurance, but sometimes engender a small co-pay or co-insurance.
4 Ask your teen his/her understanding of the show and ask to watch it together. If your teen doesn’t feel comfortable watching with you, watch it alone and use each episode as an opportunity for discussion. Be open, non-judgmental and do more listening than talking.
5 Go beyond the standard sex talk and discuss issues of consent with your teen, including that consent can change within a sexual encounter. Respect and communication are key between partners.
6 Remind your teen that sex and alcohol don’t mix and that a person under the influence of drugs or alcohol cannot give consent.
7 Talk with your teens (and younger kids) about bullying in all its forms. Teens need to be reminded that gossip is hurtful – in person or online. Ask your child to share examples of bullying and discuss options for dealing with it.
8 Give your teen suggestions and use role play to prepare them to handle difficult situations related to sex, drugs, alcohol and bullying.
9 Encourage your teen to look out for friends. Watching out for others is being a good friend, and a quality to encourage in our kids.
10 Remember that you are a great influence on your teen. Share your views on difficult matters while recognizing that teens are forming their own views. Remind your teens that they can tell you anything and you will not judge.
11 Be available for picks up – no questions asked
12 If your child thinks a friend or acquaintance may be depressed, encourage them to notify a teacher or school counselor. These people can then evaluate the person your child is concerned about without revealing who tipped them off.
13 Keep the lines of communication open. Just by having this kind of conversation you are letting your teen know that you are open to discussing difficult topics and willing to help.
Links for information on Teen suicide
Warning Signs of Suicide – afsp.org
Talking Points for Families – SAVE.org
Talking Points for Families – commonsensemedia.org
Comments on 13 Reasons The program
By: Dr. Deborah Schwartz (Chester Pediatrics– White Plains, NY)
As your child is preparing to start or return to college, take time to discuss the stresses of college life. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), encourages families to start the conversation now about mental health challenges, including what the privacy laws are and how mental health information can be shared. Starting this conversation may not be easy, but it is a useful tool to keep channels of communication open between you and your child.
There are many colleges that require incoming freshmen to complete online courses about alcohol and drug use. There are also some families that have a family history of mental illness and substance abuse. Use this as a springboard to start the talk. These conversations may help your child to be proactive about their own physical and mental health.
The excitement of being out of the house for the first time, in a new environment with new people, may mean your child has not considered the other emotions they may experience. Not only are they having to deal with the pressures of living away from home, but they are navigating the task of that innovative but rigorous college academic schedule and the social pressures of fitting in with their new group of friends. This combined with poor eating habits, curtailed sleeping hours, and drug and alcohol use, all contribute to feelings of sadness. There will be days that they may feel down or overwhelmed. These feelings can be normal. However, sometimes these feelings of sadness can turn into more overwhelming emotions.
Mental health issues are common. NAMI reports that 1 in 5 young adults will experience a mental health condition. Thirty percent of college students report feeling so down the previous year that they found it difficult to function.
It is important that your child finds a good emotional outlet. When looking to unwind or clear their heads, they should try to take some time for themselves. Engaging in an activity that makes them feel good is always a great start. Whether it be taking a walk, going to the gym, FaceTiming a friend from home, or getting lost in a good book.
Sometimes it may be difficult to assess whether whatever your child may be feeling is an early sign of an emerging mental health condition or part of a normal response to a new situation. Make sure to educate yourself about the services that the school provides so you can help guide them to the best resources possible. Knowing that they have support at home and at school is essential and will provide ease to your family during this very exciting and new time!