Anxiety: Plugged In Or Out? How Can We Help Mitigate The Effects Of Social Media On Our Kids?

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guest post by: S. Helen MacKinnon

The impact that social media has on kids is undeniable. A recent article in the New York Times highlights some of the more concerning issues.

I don’t think we need  much convincing that social media has had an impact on all our lives and it is not going away anytime soon. I am a neophyte when it comes to social media, but in my work with children and their families over the past 30 years has allowed me a first hand insight into the world of children and their families.

What can we do as parents, counsellors and educators to mitigate the impact that social media is having on our young people? As in any situation where we are trying to teach children, we ourselves need to be the role model. We need to examine the message we send our kids when we are engaged in use of our own devices. What parameters do we have for ourselves when it comes to use of devices?  Do we actually have discussions with our kids about amount of usage, times and places that are no go zones for adults and kids? Do we understand the  safety issues and if not do we educate ourselves about these issues and discuss them with our children?  Yes, with any privilege comes responsibility, both for us as the adult and for our children whom we must guide to be ethical digital citizens. Don’t let their media skills fool you! Although they appear to be very savvy in the area of technology, they do not have the life experience or a fully developed brain that allows them to project the outcome of what they may see as just having a little fun or wanting to fit in. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anxiety: Threat or Gift?

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A guest post by : S.Helen MacKinnon

Often I am asked the question, ” Why do so many kids today suffer from anxiety ?” There is no easy answer to this question but there are many more questions that we need to ask. In particular, “What is it that appears to be causing such an increase in child and adolescent anxiety? Is it related to social media?  Are we over pathologizing what may be normal reactions to stressful situations in our environment. According to Dr Stan Kutcher, a leading psychiatrist from Dalhousie University, “anxiety is a gift we have inherited from our ancestors to protect us from threat and to kick-start ambition; to fight it we have to face it.” In order to “face it” we need to  first of all understand what is happening and then respond to it in a manner which will allow us to maximize the outcome.

In other words we can use the anxiety or stress, to benefit us in our day-to-day functioning.  If we see it as a gift, we respond from a totally different  repertoire or mindset than if we see it as a threat. A gift is something positive, something we welcome, something that may make things easier for us, or at times may challenge us and help us grow. How can we work with our kids to help them understand and see anxiety as a gift? What are some strategies that will help them develop a different mindset?  Additionally, what part does social media play and are we, as parents, educators, and counsellors, contributing to the mindset of threat or gift? In my next guest post I will explore these very questions and discuss ways to unpack the gift of anxiety.

 

 

13 Reasons I Personally Choose NOT to Watch 13 Reasons

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  1. Picking up the pieces. I work with so many vulnerable youth and one in particular convinced me to not watch.  This young person was incredibly triggered by watching the show and made me realize that I did not need to watch it in order to know the harm it could cause to those who are at risk.
  2. Was I curious?  Like most of you yes, and I do understand that it is compelling for both adults and youth to want to watch the series, but I also chose to not read the book years ago for some of the reasons I am about to discuss. For those who did watch … this is not a criticism, just a choice I want to make for my own reasons.
  3.  I think young people need to know that there are adults who while they may be very curious about the series will still choose to NOT watch . I know this show was NOT created to really help young people , otherwise they would have based the series on solid research around suicide,  how it is portrayed in media and the impact on youth.  I do realize the creators say they consulted with medical experts and had good intentions however, I do think they missed out on some valuable helpful information when it comes to suicide. Stan Kutcher , a Psychiatrist and mental health expert from Dalhousie University whom I respect believes the show could be dangerous to young people who choose to watch it.
  4. I do not need to see the show to be informed and personally I have NO desire to see a child die by suicide (even if it is television). Some things on TV are even too graphic for me.
  5. I choose not to be triggered by watching the show. I have worked with too many vulnerable youth. I know that I need to practice self-care . Watching this series is not going to make me a better parent , School Counsellor or Psychologist . Being able to discuss sensitive topics is essential and I believe I can do so without actually watching this series.
  6. I plan on reading as many articles as I can that give informed information that is helpful regarding the series .   The National Association of School Psychologists gives important information on how to do so responsibly.  Dialoguing and engaging youth in thoughtful conversations around sensitive topics is essential.  Yes, I certainly know a lot and I mean a lot have already chosen to watch and will watch this series , some will do so with their parents most I am guessing will watch on their own. Parents who watch can and will open a conversation that is useful and helpful with their child. I am just saying for me , I want students to know it is OK to not watch if they have not already done so.
  7. I want all people to know that suicide is complex. We are learning more and more about the brain . I am sure new research in the future will give us a better understanding of some of the complexities.
  8. I want students to know the protective factors, risk factors and warning signs of suicide. We have Canada Mental Health come in every year to speak to all our grade 10 High School Students.
  9. I want all students and adults to become more literate when it comes to mental health. All staff at our school are trained in the go to educator series. You might want to consider this for your school.
  10. I want students to know how to have better coping skills.
  11. This show is NOT hopeful . Students need HOPE in as many ways as possible.
  12. Suicide is never a solution. It is an irreversible choice regarding a temporary problem. THERE IS HELP!  If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or know someone who is, talk to a trusted adult, like your School Counsellor or call Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868.
  13. School Counsellors across the world (#scchat) work very hard to let others know that they work diligently daily to help and serve students . They do save lives . They may possibly be the unsung hero in a child’s life , but that is not often the way they are depicted on tv or in movies and from what I have read definitely not in this series.   There are also lots of other people who do like parents, teachers, administrators, support staff, coaches, psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors, and friends. I want youth to reach out and keep asking for help until someone they trust makes that difference. WE DO CARE!!!!!

The opinions expressed in this article are mine alone. This is my choice and although I listed 13 reasons I could have listed many more. I do not regret my decision. I know it is best for me.

RESOURCES:

Canada Mental Health responding to Netflix series .

Personal Wellness livebinders : Several topics and resources can be found here .

For Educators Teen Mental Health teenmentalhealth.org

Connect Teen: 24 hour support 403.264 TEEN Link to website.

Kids Help Phone: A space for you. Link to  website

Police / Emergency : 911

Teen mental health Reasons To Live

I love this short video that our wellness team put together for our  Jack Summit .

What if ? … #immooc

What if

we lived in a world where there was PEACE?

we had schools filled with HOPE and LOVE?

there was no child abuse or sexual abuse ?

children did not have to live in homes affected by alcohol or drug abuse ?

we did not have children who came to school starving?

we lived in a world without violence?

there was no bullying ?

kindness was on the minds of all?

no child would die by suicide?

all students with mental health disorders recieved the supports and treatments necessary?

we had all the supports necessary to assist students with special needs?

every adult who worked in schools were passionate about what they do?

every teacher, counsellor and administrator had everything they felt they needed to meet the needs of students?

no child was left out or discriminated againgst?

all people were treated like a gift to the world?

schools had enough money to do all the innovative things they wanted to?

creativity , fun and joy abounded in our schools?

music and exercise were a part of every student and educators day?

schools were more like the most comfy inviting home you were ever in?

every student LOVED coming to school to learn?

we were all more grateful?

hugs were given freely and respectfully to those who wanted or needed them?

School Counsellors  were seen as essential in every school , at every level K-12 in our country?

schools could easily access any resources and supports they needed in an easy , timely and helpful manner?

What if some of these came to reality? What if we all educated from the heart? Innovative practices would be so much easier.

 

What We Say and Do Matters

People have been asking me if I am really serious about retirement and yes I am , but that doesn’t mean I don’t really love my job anymore . I absolutely do. I plan on making this year great! Why? Because each and every day I work with students and what I say and do matters.

I am far from perfect, but I really try my best to help students and create a positive environment in the school I work in.  I love collaborating with educators and others that I know truly care.

I am often reminded that what I say and do matters and that is a scary and awesome responsibility. I never want to hurt a child or anyone for that matter, but I am human and I make mistakes . When I do I need to say sorry , make amends and do my best each and every day to be the best person I can be. I also recognize that I can be that one person who changes the trajectory of a students life , making a positive difference that they remember for a lifetime.

Does what you say and do matter?  … you bet. Students are watching us daily … so as I enter my retirement year I want my students to know that I love what I do and will continue to do so until the day I retire. I love being with them and helping them as much as I possibly can. I look forward to this year and will treasure the memories I make with each and every person that crosses my path.

What I Say and Do Matters  … and so does what you say and do.

There Is An Artist In All Of Us

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Five years ago I did not paint and now thanks to great friends and my experiences in ETMOOC  , I have more confidence and find it one of the most rewarding , therapeutic experiences that I can imagine. I take mini courses and I watch lots of youtube videos to get tips. It is so much fun.

I have keratoconus a progressive eye disease, ( I was diagnosed later in life ) so I think partly that diagnosis has driven me to create visually in case my vision ever gets really poor. Painting is therapeutic and healing for me. I have played sports all my life and I absolutely love to read,  both which can bring me flow , but nothing brings me the kind of flow that painting does.

Painting brings me flow the kind of flow that was discovered by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  Fifteen hours can feel like five minutes for me. I love that it brings me joy and that I am completely absorbed in the process. It is fun and easy and yes I think anyone  can benefit from art and painting.  If I can you can too.

 

I plan on using the painting that I did above,  thanks to the online instructions from theArtSherpa ( see below) with our students. Art and Counselling definitely go together . Paintings tell stories often times with hidden messages.

Process for students:

Today we are going to embark on a journey of letting go of any negativity and go with the flow. For the next two hours you are not allowed to say to yourself I can’t . If you hear yourself speaking those words take your note pad and write I can … I will.

So let’s begin this process by being mindful and breathing. Lead students through a short mindfulness process to begin. Let them know that they are going to create a special painting today and that there are no mistakes. They can create their trees and painting anyway they like even if it is different from the paining they see. Like mine birch trees do not produce multi coloured leaves , but I did just because I wanted to visually and I  love the effect.  This seminar is about being yourself and letting go.

If they would like to follow the step by step instructions here they are:

  1. Write messages of hope and their dreams for their future in pencil on their canvas.
  2. Ask students if anyone would like to share their hopes and dreams with others.
  3. The size of canvas it up to the student. Have students bring the size of canvas they want to work on.
  4. Divide your canvas into six equal sections. They don’t have to be exact and you don’t have to measure them. Tell students they can estimate.  So begin by saying Today we are going to create . We are going to start by painting a rainbow with trees, you can use any method you like to paint your colors on your canvas. I used upwards stokes, but really any would work. Start with red, orange , yellow, greens,  blue and purple.
  5. Guide students through the process being as creative as you like in explaining what they can do next. Constantly remind them it is ok to make mistakes ( really there are no mistakes, but they may perceive them as such). Remind them that their perceived mistakes lead to more creativity and it is ok to be as creative as they wish going with the flow and what their heart wants to paint.
  6. Trees can be very symbolic and you can discuss this with students.Trees are strong and unique just like each of them. Birch trees can mean new beginnings. You can discuss with students what they believe their trees mean for them. I chose nine trees, but they can choose any number that means something to them. I also chose to add flowers and really birch trees have no colorful flowers, but I like the effect. The lovely thing when you create art just for the sake of it is that there is no right or wrong . There are no mistakes. It just is … creative , how wonderful and freeing.
  7. The rest of the directions are below in the video. You can watch and create your own instructions.
  8. Most importantly have fun and trust the process.

Check out the video below for detailed instructions:

If you decide to do this process with your students , please share your creative ideas with me @sspellmancann.

Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life

Pablo Paccasso

Important Videos : Therapists and People I Respect

 

Below you will find people’s work I admire and have utilized in my own practice. While not a comprehensive list, it is an important list to me as I believe the wonderful learning that I have had has made a great impact on me and the students I serve. Many of the people in theses videos I have had the great honour to meet in person and dialogue about the amazing work they have done. Some have become friends for which I am truly grateful. I would have loved to have met Victor Frankl and Leo Buscaglia, but am fortunate to have cherished their books and videos. I have and will continue always to pass on the wisdom from their works.