Fieseher: Dinosaurs, toy trucks and pink crayons

Dinosaurs, toy trucks and pink crayons

Here are some disturbing facts: In the US, the suicide rate for men (25/100,000) is over 3 times the rate for women (7.5/100,000) *. FBI records indicate that 98% of mass shootings are done by men (women account for only 9 of the 250 mass shootings from 2000 to 2017). Surprisingly, the solution to both problems may have to do with dinosaurs, toy trucks and pink crayons.

Let me explain.

As the father of 3 girls, my children were interested in stories about “people” and interpersonal relationships. They noted that Peter Rabbit ventured alone in Mr. MacGregor’s Garden (and almost became rabbit stew) while his bunny sisters stayed together to pick blackberries. They sympathized with the toy bear Corduroy who was missing a button in the toy store and felt unwanted and unloved because of it.

While they didn’t always stay within the lines in their coloring books, my daughters had no problem using every crayon in the box, creating some very colorful and sometimes bizarre masterpieces.

Like most of their peers, my girls played with dolls and recreated interactions between them often involving feelings and emotions.

My grandsons are being raised differently. They enjoy playing with their toy trucks and excavators. Their stuffed animals are dinosaurs who fight evil monsters and dragons to save the day. Books about relationships tend to be “boring.” The pictures they draw in their coloring books tend to be done mostly in primary colors or dark shades. The pink crayon has never been touched.

In a recent guest essay in the NY Times, Ruth Whippman, the mother of three boys, suggests that the gender differences in which we raise our children may have a lot to do with the reason that men are more likely to resolve conflicts violently. This may explain the differences in suicide rates and gender percentages of mass shooters.

The toys and stories we give to boys emphasize individuality and a black and white or good versus evil mentality. There is a winner and a loser, and the winner is always “good.”

Boys learn that cooperation requires no emotional interactions other than the specialized skills of superheroes or construction toys working together. Boys don’t need to consider how the bulldozer feels about working with the backhoe.

Ms. Whippman suggests that this may be why boys are generally unprepared to deal with the complex social interactions and emotions of adult life. Stories and TV shows about the male figure (not necessarily human) vanquishing evil monsters fosters a more aggressive set of values in resolving conflicts.

Many boys learn at an early age that pink is a “girl’s color” and might emasculate them in the eyes of their peers.

In being less aware or considerate of the feelings of others, it’s much easier for men to objectify others and treat them as less human or less worthy of fairness or consideration. When that objectification is turned inward, males, especially in their teens and twenties are more vulnerable to suicidal tendencies.

Male thinking usually values the concept of choosing to do what’s “right” over how that solution affects relationships or the feelings of others.

5 Reasons Your Ambition Is Good For Your Kids’ Brain

Prioritizing the Social and Emotional Learning in Students’ Digital Lives During the Pandemic

The intersection of SEL and digital citizenship supports students’ unique digital challenges.

There is no doubt that the last 18 months have taken a tremendous toll on students’ mental health and wellbeing as they adjusted to drastic changes in their schools and communities. As we continue to navigate the ever-evolving hurdles of this pandemic and gear up for a new school year, educators recognize the importance of supporting students’ social and emotional wellbeing, understanding that it’s fundamental to academic success.

When thinking about social and emotional learning, it’s important to acknowledge the ways in which young people are interacting, learning, and communicating with one another. If it wasn’t already the case, the pandemic cemented the role of media and technology in young peoples’ lives as they learned to navigate Zoom classes, maintained connections with friends and family, and navigated a sea of fast-changing information about the world. The digital context in which young people are interacting is core to their life experiences, emotions, relationships, and identity development and is something schools will want to address as they enter the new school year. As a result, the social and emotional wellbeing of students, particularly in and around the digital world, must be a priority for both educators and families.

Uncertain Environment

One of the most immediate concerns teachers and school districts are dealing with is the conflicting guidance around the Delta variant. Just when everyone thought things would look a bit more “normal” by the start of the new school year with in-person learning, we’re now dealing with conflicting messaging, policies, and continued uncertainty on how school will look in the coming months. This uncertain environment will require flexibility and resiliency. The social and emotional implications for young people will continue to be a priority across all learning environments. While social and emotional learning (SEL) is already a priority in many schools, the evolving influences of COVID variants will require a flexibility to adapt SEL for a socially distant classroom setting, hybrid or remote learning as well. Technology will continue to play an important role in students’ various learning environments. But how do students apply social-emotional competencies in the digital world? Schools will need to support students specifically in this area, as students increasingly use technology for learning and life.

Mental Health

After a difficult year, educators must be mindful of the struggles students will have transitioning back to school and back to socializing in and around classrooms. These struggles may include experience with illness and death in families, isolation and loneliness, inadequate access to school resources, or poverty and job loss. Students have been through a lot, and there’s a great need for additional support from schools. In addition, students are participating in a polarized, contentious, and confusing online environment, whether it’s media they’re consuming or interacting with on social media. In our Common Sense research, we found that teens and young adults are exposed to more hate speech than ever before on social media platforms, and the content they are exposed to tends to be targeted at them by their race, gender, and/or sexual orientation. The frequency with which young people reported encountering hateful content online has nearly doubled in the last two years (from 12% to 23%). Furthermore, the problem with disinformation and misinformation on the internet and social media is a huge problem, so much so that U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has declared it a “serious threat to public health.” Meanwhile, 38% of all 14- to 22-year-olds report symptoms of moderate to severe depression, up from 25% in 2018. These unique challenges highlight the importance of not just teaching SEL but also digital citizenship: the responsible use of technology to learn, create, and participate.

Back to School: 5 tips for supporting children’s mental and emotional well-being

Back to School: 5 tips for supporting children’s mental and emotional well-being

Recent research from the Kaiser Family Fund reports that more than 25% of high school students experienced worsening emotional and cognitive health during since March 2020, and more than 20% of parents with children ages 5-12 reported similar worsening conditions for their children.

As we move into the new school year, helping to provide our kids and teens with the necessary support, structure and tools to help them manage their feelings and adjust to ongoing changes of daily life is imperative. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance states that “students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction in the fall 2021 is a priority.”

Below are a list of tips and suggestions on how to better manage children’s emotional health and wellbeing as we head back to school:

Tip No. 1: Share information. The CDC is a great resource for learning how to talk to your child about COVID-19. It’s important to provide children with appropriate support sooner rather than later. Talk with your child, be emotionally supportive and understand worries may extend beyond the anxieties that may come with heading back to the classroom for a new school year. Be proactive about learning what steps you can take to help reduce the amount of stress in their lives and help provide a strong support system for getting through possible challenges that may arise.

Tip No. 2: Help them feel secure. Going back to school may be daunting for children, especially after the stress and disruption of the pandemic. The CDC emphasizes — Be reassuring about their safety and validate their feelings by emphasizing that it’s OK to feel upset, scared, anxious, down and even angry. You might also share how you manage your feelings to help them learn from you. Make sure your children know they can ask questions at any time. For adolescents, consider walking them through the use of self-care tools like the Sanvello app to help navigate difficult emotions.

Tip No. 3: Listen and watch. Parents, friends, teachers and family may often be the first line of defense for a child who may be struggling with their mental and emotional well-being yet unable to articulate their needs. Let them know you are here to listen and it’s safe to share how they’re feeling. Pay attention to more than just their words – it’s critical for parents to be aware of their children’s moods and uncharacteristic changes in behavior so they know when it’s time to seek expert support.

Tip No. 4: Help define boundaries and create regular routines. Consider limiting exposure to news coverage – including social media – and prioritizing and establishing a regular routine that provides children with structure when not in the classroom as this may help better manage children’s emotional wellbeing. For example, consider after-school activities, sports or hobbies that interest your child.

Top Tip: Take Action. Make sure to discuss your concerns with your pediatrician or family physician as soon as possible. Your doctor may recommend a plan of action or even a counselor who might help find ways to reduce any unhealthy stress and improve overall health.

What a Children’s Book Taught Me (and My Students) About Grief

What a Children’s Book Taught Me (and My Students) About Grief

I had been a mental health counselor for many years when my younger son died by suicide at age 16 in 2018. Before that happened, I had often steered clear of grief work. I stayed in the “safer” zones of anxiety and self-esteem. Throughout my tenure working with students in grades four to nine, I taught a wide variety of social-emotional skill-building classes—even substance abuse and suicide prevention—but I skimmed the surface. Loss and grief were…too heavy, depressing, unwieldy.

When I look back now, I see myself as afraid. I tiptoed around the counseling landmines of death and trauma. I felt honored and privileged to explore others’ pain, but did so with clinical detachment and a dedication to problem-solving (“Let’s fix this!”). Naiveté led the way. I thought, despite the overwhelming statistics about traumatic loss, that my family would be immune to tragedy.

I didn’t educate myself more fully until I was faced with my own grief head-on and it was shocking, profound, debilitating. When I was deep in my sorrow—I’ll always carry a portion of it with me—I became a student again.

I returned to the enormous notebook from the GGSC’s Summer Institute for Educators , reapplying the lessons about resilience, gratitude, and mindfulness to myself. I amped up my meditation practice with Headspace. I absorbed video classes for professionals on depression, post-traumatic growth, and trauma and the body. I went to therapy, sought out therapeutic massage, and found grief yoga; I read books and websites about loss, grief, and hope. I used my jewelry workshop, collage, and paints to create art and reframe my guilt and hurt. I stared at trees, rode my bike, climbed mountains, and watched the sunsets from the comfort of my patio, surrounded by my well-tended gardens. The list goes on.

All these practices taught me a lot about grief. I learned that if I wanted a post-traumatic growth story of my own, I needed to shift the question from “Why?” to “What?”: What now ? What next ? What for ? I could not bring my son back, but I could work to develop a mental health screening form to be incorporated with all the other back-to-school paperwork families needed to complete for the following school year. I could make my experience accessible to students, offering small group social-emotional sessions where I answered their questions about my son’s death and the loss honestly, openly, and in developmentally appropriately ways in those initial months. I continued to teach and counsel with this new lens, sharing strategies for carrying grief and trauma with students and staff.

Despite all that knowledge and effort, I still felt exhausted and self-critical. The daily work of helping current students and their families navigate crises was overwhelming, while trying to come to grips with the times I’d missed opportunities for deeper work with former students and missed the signs of my son’s struggles. I decided to step away from school counseling and gave my notice to the school in January 2020.

A healing story

The pandemic gnawed at everyone’s mental health — but children are particularly affected

The pandemic gnawed at everyone’s mental health — but children are particularly affected

Ask almost anyone on the globe and they’ll tell you that the past year and a half has been less than ideal. The isolation, the uncertainty, and the time spent without the usual routines have been challenging and took a toll on all of us. Kids have been hit especially hard during the pandemic, and the mental health issues that they are faced with are too often left out of the spotlight. There are 2.2 billion people under 18 in the world, around 28% of the world’s population. Teenagers (10-year-olds to 19-year-olds) make up 16% of the world’s population. With social distancing and school closures, isolation has become a major component of our day-to-day life. As necessary as the response was for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, it has come at a high cost.

While school-age children may have experienced short closures in the past, the amount of time many schools closed their doors during 2020 and into 2021 was unprecedented for them. The resulting lack of regular routine and social interaction can help explain why many are experiencing , or have experienced, increased stress, anxiety, and feelings of helplessness.

The impact of the pandemic, lockdowns, and school closures on children will depend on a range of factors:

  • Educational status;
  • Developmental age;
  • Whether they have special needs;
  • Economic security (or lack thereof);
  • If they’ve had a parent quarantined due to exposure or illness.

If you’re worried about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on your children’s mental health, a good first step is to speak to a doctor, and potentially get a referral for a mental health practitioner. Even if your child isn’t showing any clear signs of distress, it’s better to ensure that everything is alright.

If you don’t have a primary doctor, a good first step is to find a family medicine physician to be prepared if and when you need to contact someone.

Research findings on the pandemic’s impact

The following are some of the results of studies that have looked at the impact of the pandemic on children.

Research on loneliness has a bearing on the situation. A review of 63 studies with more than 50,000 participants found that loneliness and social isolation increased the risk of depression up to nine years later. That research suggested that duration, rather than intensity, was the most important issue, which means that the fallout of school closures and social distancing could be marked. So keep in mind, any effects the pandemic has had on children is unlikely to simply go away — it may be a problem for years to come.

More directly related to the pandemic, there have been several studies that demonstrated a big impact. One recent questionnaire administered in China to over 3500 children and adolescents measured depression, anxiety, and coping style. Over 22% of respondents were depressed, higher than the estimated 13.2% that would have been expected in the country.

Living with Children: Parenting questions, true or false?

Living with Children: Parenting questions, true or false?

We interrupt this weekly column with a three-question quiz, following which you will find the correct answers.

1. True or False? Telling a child that her feelings concerning a decision you have made are irrelevant and that you will not discuss the matter with her is likely to cause psychological damage to the child, including trauma to her self-esteem.

2. True or False? Answering “Because I said so” to a child who wants to know the reason behind a decision you have made is likely to cause psychological damage to the child, including trauma to her self-esteem.

3. True or False? Refusing to help a child with a problem she brings to you is likely to cause psychological damage to the child, including trauma to her self-esteem.

In each instance, the correct answer is False, which means that children are much, much sturdier than the general public has been led to believe. And who, exactly, are the primary sources of said belief? Why, mental health professionals, that’s who! Trust me, I am one.

To any of the above statements, most parents know that False is the correct answer, yet they act to the contrary. Why? Because most parents are intimidated by powerful emotional responses from their children, and children — the post-boomer species, that is — have a reputation for emoting powerfully when things are not to their liking.

So what if children don’t like a decision you make, a boundary you set, an instruction you give, or a consequence you levy?

As Bob, my favorite uncle, was fond of saying, “Whadda they know?” The answer, according to Bob: nuttin’.

Children have no sense of life’s big picture. You do, presumably. And so what if you could, given more thought and time, have made a better decision in any given situation? Will your cognitive impulse control problem traumatize your child? No. Therefore, give it a shrug and move on.

Which brings us to the most powerful four words in a parent’s vocabulary. I heard them a fair number of times, and I am not beset by “Because I said so” trauma (albeit I may not be the best judge of that). Those four words are simply affirmation of the legitimacy of your authority.

Does an Army private have to obey a lieutenant only when said officer is able to give a reason that satisfies said private? No. The private must obey simply because the lieutenant says so. In your home, mind you, you are not a lieutenant, you are the Emperor/Empress. Embrace it, and in the process, help your child comprehend how the real world works.

Concerning Question 3, two FACTS: First, children do not know what they need; they only know what they want. Second, children have a low tolerance for frustration. Putting the two together, one arrives at JR’s Parenting Axiom Number 14-D: Children usually ask for help before they truly need it, if they even need it at all.

Parents should be conscientiously conservative when it comes to helping children solve problems lest they — the parents, that is — become enablers and their children become obnoxious whiners.

We’ve already covered the four most powerful words in the universal parenting vocabulary; here are the seven most powerful: “You don’t need my help with that.”