Social Media Safety

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February 23, 2017 | Sonja McLean, LCSW

 Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, etc. All examples of social media outlets, with the potential to be harmless or incredibly destructive, especially to our unassuming youth. Protecting your youth from the harmful side of social media is becoming more and more difficult and proper education is becoming the one safeguard against this.

When we think of negative social media use by our teens, often times sexting is the first concern that comes to mind.  When talking to your youth about safety risks of using social media in this way, keeping an open dialogue and setting strict limits is imperative.  In her book, “There’s No Place Like Home for Sex Education: A Guidebook for Parents”, Mary Gossart notes these basic tips:

  • Ask questions: Find out what your youth thinks about sexting. Have any of their friends experienced this? And how did your youth respond?

  • Help your youth brainstorm ways to overcome peer pressure and remind them that your door is always open!

  • Remind them that when they send something, those words and images are now “out of their control”. 

  • Encourage your youth to count to 10 before hitting send and to consider the ways their message could be used.

  • Help your youth realize that impulsivity can “come back to haunt them” and then they have no control of what can happen.

  • Be honest with them when you talk about risks and consequences.

  • Set appropriate expectations for social media use.

  • Ask your youth what impressions they want to give to people and how that impression can change based on what they send. 

  • Keep listening!

If you want to learn more about how to talk with your kids about social media, sexuality, or healthy decisions, ND Post Adopt Network has these books available for check out:

  • There’s No Place Like Home for Sex Education: A Guidebook for Parents by Mary Gossart
  • Breaking the Hush Factor: Ten Rules for Talking with Teenagers about Sex by Karen Rayne

Want more information on social media safety? Check out our webinar, facilitated by Jessica Schindeldecker of the Fargo Police Department!

 

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Dr. Brené Brown on Empathy

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February 23, 2017 | Sonja McLean, LCSW

“What is the best way to ease someone’s pain and suffering? In this beautifully animated RSA Short, Dr Brené Brown reminds us that we can only create a genuine empathic connection if we are brave enough to really get in touch with our own fragilities.”

Supporting a Grieving Child

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February 23, 2017 | Sonja McLean, LCSW

I attended the ATTACh conference fall of 2016 in St. Louis.  Cynthia Agbayani of Lifeworks Outreach Services, Inc. spoke on helping adopted youth grieve losses.

Agbayani noted that a youth once told her that their “heart was cracked” and another stated “if I start crying, I won’t stop”. Too often we assume we know what youth are feeling throughout their journey in foster care and adoption and treat them accordingly, but do we stop to ask them how they perceive their experience? It’s scary and uncomfortable to talk about grief and all too often we tend to avoid it, saying “it’s okay”, “don’t be sad”, “don’t cry”, “it’s fine”.  While we come from a good place in saying those things, we really may be dismissing the true feelings a child is sharing with us.  Their feelings are hurt. They are scared. Their hearts are cracked. And they are opening up to tell us that and we are essentially telling them to stop when we use those common statements.

There is a difference in grief vs. trauma. Processing grief leaves a general feeling of sadness, it can bring relief, and if there is anger, it is usually non-violent.  Processing trauma can lead to feelings of terror, feeling unsafe, and anger maybe physically violent (Levine and Kline, 2007). While grief is healed through emotional release and tends to diminish over time, trauma involves flashbacks, startling, and other symptoms that may worsen over time.

With grief, Agbayani stresses the importance of clearly and honestly answering primary questions for youth, such as “will I ever see my parents again?” or “what will happen to my parents?”.  Glossing over this information will cause confusion and further stress for a child. Your ability to answer these questions for your child and assist them in managing their grief will impact your child’s ability to develop a secure attachment to you as they continue to age.  Normal mourning may include expectations of return, persisting memories, fear of additional losses, and feelings of sadness that will come and go.  Symptoms of failed mourning could include feelings of anxiety, insecurity, as well as blame and guilt.  Youth may have bursts of overactivity, and may have an increase in anti-social, delinquent or depressive behaviors.  They may feel like something is medically wrong with them when there is not, or may become more self-reliant.   Keep in mind, while not all youth that demonstrate these activities have “failed mourning”, they are things to keep in mind as you parent youth from tough places.

To help a child grieve losses, here are some ideas given by Agbayani:

  • As the caregiver, make a list of what may be triggering to your child so you can pay attention to those situations.

  • Provide your child with age appropriate answers to questions they have, regardless of how uncomfortable that question may be for you.

  • Allow your child choices in situations that permit this.

  • Stick to routine as much as you are able.

  • Help your child practice answering questions that peers, teachers, and other adults may ask them (and help them in understanding that it is okay to not share personal information if they do not feel comfortable in doing so).  Give them ideas of what words to use.

  • Make a safe container to hold your child’s heartbreak and anger.

  • Help your child recognize their strong feelings and sensations.

  • Make a life timeline, listing memories, stories, happy and sad times.

(Levine and Kline, 2007)

And keep in mind, youth are not so different from adults. When we are struggling or grieving, we often call our friends or family, or find someone to talk through and process our experiences with. Your child also needs to process their grief with others who listen with empathy in order to grieve successfully (James and Friedman, 2001).

Grief does not completely go away. It will come and go in various ways as your child ages. How you talk about it with your child now will have a huge effect on their ability to handle their grief as they get older.

If you have questions on helping your child process their experiences or would like recommendations for services or providers, please feel free to contact me at postadopt@pathinc.org or 701-551-6349.

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Books referenced in this post:

Trauma Through a Child’s Eyes: Awakening the Ordinary Miracle of Healing, by Maggie Kline and Peter A. Levine

When Children Grieve: For Adults to Help Children Deal with Death, Divorce, Pet Loss, Moving, and Other Losses, by John w. James, Russell Friedman, and Leslie Matthews

Choosing Professionals

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October 5, 2016 | Sonja McLean

I would like to address a very common question that is coming through the ND Post Adopt Network. Families are wondering how they can find appropriate service providers. They note that when they are looking for therapists, psychiatrists, etc. many are very good at their jobs, but not all are well-versed in the realm of adoption or foster care. They state that it is difficult to find a service provider because wait lists are long and the number of professionals who understand the complexities of adoption narrow options even more.

When choosing a professional to work with, you do not need to necessarily ONLY look at service providers that have the experience of working with adoption, but you do need to note their willingness to learn and understand your family dynamics, your children, and your story.  Here is a great list of questions to ask providers prior to working with them:

1. Do you have experience with foster and adoptive families? If so, how much?

2. How often do you work with them?

3. What adoption-related training have you received?

4. Can you connect me with one or two families willing to give a reference?

5. Do you offer therapy for both the family and the child

6. Will you accept payments from my insurance provider?

If you find a provider that you feel a strong connection with, encourage them to seek adoption specific trainings or to contact the ND Post Adopt Network for information and tools to help them enrich their practice!

Information compiled from “Strengthen Your Forever Family: A Step-by-Step Guide to Post-Adoption” by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.

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