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News from a School Social Worker: Taking Care of our Kids

Being a kid is exciting and thrilling. There’s something new to learn at every turn. Being a kid is also incredibly hard. There’s something new to learn at every turn. Throw in a global pandemic when the whole world is learning hard lessons at every turn and you’ve got the makings for stressful stew. This isn’t the kind of comforting stew your grandma (or your friend’s grandma) used to make. This is the kind of stew that leaves everyone feeling hopeless and lost.

Blank screens

My sister, Abby Musegades, is a social worker at a school district in Minnesota. I spoke to her in February to learn what she’s been seeing and talking about with her kids. For a large part of the year, her school district was virtual. In January it opened up for the younger kids, but the older kids are still doing virtual learning. She is grateful to have at least some of them back in the room. So much trouble and pain can be hidden over the computer screen. Especially when many of them keep their videos off. I had asked her if she was seeing an increase in suicidality. She said, “I don’t know if I have necessarily seen first-hand a rise in suicidal thoughts, but I think that is absolutely related to the fact that I am not able to access students in the same way as previous years. Right now, students can avoid or hide behind their screens. In pretty much all of our 7/8 grade classes, the students keep their screens blank and only respond to questions through the chat. It is so difficult to be able to identify students who may be struggling or who may need to reach out. I also think parents are having to take on more of that role of noticing those concerns when they’re also working at the same time. We might be missing students who need support. I would say the number of risk assessments I would typically complete in the school year is similar, but I have no doubt that there are many students that I am missing.”

Increase in Anxiety and Depression

Abby says she’s seen an increase in anxiety/depression amongst her students as well as their parents and families. “When the caregivers are overwhelmed/stressed, it impacts the children. Many of our parents have reached out to me because their children have lost interest in activities or reaching out to others. I have some students who have not reached out to their friends since the pandemic began.”

Warning Signs

Her school recently held an online event for parents, caregivers, and friends about warning signs to look out for. These community events are vital to helping our youth. We can’t catch problems if we don’t know what to look out for.
Red flags: Loss of interest in activities they typically enjoyed, isolation, withdrawing, not sleeping well or sleeping too much, losing an appetite, much more irritability, low tolerance for frustration, doing poorly at school or not attending school, feeling hopeless, apathy, talking about death.
Abby says the signs to get help ASAP are: “Writing a letter or a will, saying goodbye to others, unusual cleaning out of things, giving away possessions, access to lethal means, suicidal threats or statements.”

Middle School Students

“I am most concerned with our middle schoolers. This is the time when peer interaction, exploring self-identity and individual thought are so important and they are extremely impacted by the isolation of the pandemic… If they do not have the ability to be a part of extracurricular activities, they are extremely isolated by only seeing blank screens on the computer and being at home all day.” On the other side of this isolation, Abby says she’s also “hearing a lot of concerns about separation anxiety once the students start to return. There is a general sense of fear and having to leave the comfort of their homes and parents…”

Attendance Problem

Abby says, “From a school perspective, our biggest concern is attendance. We have students who have literally not accessed their education all year. We have students who will turn on their video to a blank screen and then leave. I think students are struggling to see the purpose in school and the motivation to attend or complete any work. I am so concerned for what these next few years are going to look like for these students that did not have support at home to encourage them to access their education.”

By now, we have come to understand that even though we’ve been in the same storm, we’re not in the same boat. Abby says, “The opportunity gap is only going to further widen for our most vulnerable students.”

Finding Purpose

“Students are struggling with the “why” and the drive to learn. I am so worried that we are going to lose students’ love of learning because of how detrimental online learning has been for some of them. For many students, socializing and being around others is what motivated them to get to school and they do have that anymore. We need to help them find their motivation and purpose again.”

Now that We’re Back at School

It’s March 26, 2021 today and I checked back in with my sister. I wanted to know how things were going now that all of her kids are back in school. I wanted to know if things are better and if there are bad habits or issues from the past year of being in quarantine that are showing up now.

She says, “That’s a tricky question. I think our middle schoolers are really happy to be back, but I also think they are in a bit of a honeymoon stage.

The first few days after they returned, I noticed a lot of hoods and hats up.  There was a sense of awkwardness, wanting to hide and withdraw.  I have noticed more chatter in the hallways over the last couple of days.  It’s starting to slowly return to a feeling of normalcy.

I am getting more requests from teachers and parents for support with peer connections.  This is usually something that comes up in the beginning of the school year to help foster peer connections and feels a little strange to be doing it 2/3rds through the school year, but it’s been very apparent that these students did not feel connected to their peers or teachers during distance learning.  Many of our new students still feel like they do not know anyone and it feels like the first day of school when returning to the building.

In terms of bad habits, I have seen this for students of all ages, that there is such a dependency on their screens/electronics.  In a generation that is already so accustomed to a need for high stimulation, it appears to have become an even larger need and expectation for them.  Work habits are still pretty rusty.  We had to significantly lower academic expectations over this past year, and I think it’s going to take some time to increase that endurance for many of our students.”

How parents and caregivers can help

We hear over and over again how important structure and routine are for all of us. It is especially important for kids. If your student is still doing virtual learning Abby suggests that we “give students a visual schedule, put alarms/reminders on their iPads or phones for each class time, create task lists/checklists for the day, check-in on them when possible, reach out to supports (ask teachers to check in on the student, have a neighbor drop by), provide incentives for work completion.” She says it’s important that we, as parents, teach our kids how to ask for help from their teachers/staff. Isn’t that true for all of us? Remind our kids and ourselves, that asking for help is a sign of strength. We don’t need to do this alone. Connectedness awakens resilience.



Family Support Prevents Bullying

Bullying has been around forever. Plato probably has stories he could tell. Today it’s getting even trickier for kids (and adults) to manage now that everyone and their baby has a cell phone and social media account. If a kid was being bullied in school before social media, they may have found some escape when they came home from school, but now with 24/7 social media, there’s no escaping it. The CDC reported that 15% of high school students said they were bullied electronically last year.

Short and long term effects of bullying

Bullying can lead to truancy from school, which can cause decreased academic learning, increased risk of substance abuse and difficulty with social relationships. Long-term risks include chronic depression, addiction, self-destructive behavior and suicidal thoughts.

“In September 2018, a report by YouthTruth found that 1/3 of students said they were bullied at school last year. According to USA Today, that’s an increase from two years ago, when one in four students reported having been bullied.”

Some of you may remember Burger King’s “No Bully” ad campaign. They set up an experiment with a group of high school kids picking on another kid in a Burger King. In their scenario only 12% of people stood up to bullying. Yes, it’s a commercial for Burger King, but it’s still a good example of how hard it is for people to work up the courage to step in, even adults.

Get involved

The best way to help our kids is to be involved in their lives, to have open and honest conversations and to let them know the importance of standing up for others. Families are kids’ most important resource. The more quality time you spend with your kids, the better they will be at accessing their resilience.

A recent study found that young people with good family relationships are more likely to intervene when they witness bullying. Even though interventions are rare, peer interventions are very effective at stopping bullying. The study also found that sixth-graders were more likely to intervene when they spotted aggressive behavior than ninth-graders, which proves how important it is to continue anti-bullying efforts into high school.

5 things families can do to foster resilience:

  1. Increase quality time with extended family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins)
  2. Increase family activities (bike rides, game night, hikes, etc.)
  3. Talk about intergenerational family strengths, values and stories
  4. Share family meals
  5. Talk about social media and limit screen time for everyone (parents included)

We may not be able to end bullying completely, but we can equip our kids with the resources and confidence to be a part of the solution, not the problem. And as that Burger King commercial shows, adults could definitely use some help in this department too.



The Truth About Video Game Addiction

It was less than five years ago at a dinner with friends that I got in the middle of a heated debate about video game addiction. One friend thought it was ridiculous, just something the addiction industry was pushing to try to make money. Another friend countered by retelling stories about people who had spent days in front of the TV playing video games without a break. There was a story about a man so addicted that he didn’t leave his chair for three days and died from developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT). She shared another story about parents who found their 9-year-old daughter sitting on a urine soaked cushion playing “Fortnite” because she didn’t want to take the time to go to the bathroom.

The stories go on and on. Children and adults drop out of school, stop going to work, and avoid socializing except through video games. Their sole focus becomes the game, and when it gets taken away, they can turn angry and violent. Sound familiar? These are classic symptoms of addiction.

Symptoms of Video Game Addiction

If you’re concerned about yourself or a loved one, here are some symptoms to look out for:

  • Obsession with the game
  • Lying about the amount of time or money spent on gaming
  • Neglecting social life
  • Losing track of time while gaming
  • Experiencing bouts of anxiety and anger, particularly when not playing video games
  • Changes in personal hygiene

According to recent studies, gaming addiction causes similar changes in the pleasure center of the brain as those seen in long-term drug addicts. A person may plan to sit down for an hour but unintentionally continue playing for 4 – 5 hours without stopping.

At first, gaming increases dopamine levels in the brain. Over time, those addicted to video games will experience normal dopamine levels while gaming, and lowered levels while not gaming. This leads to dependency and addiction, much like drug or alcohol addiction, with similar effects on the brain. Increased play time means increased dopamine levels in the brain. The gaming addict may not notice the need for more and more game time as it grows slowly over time.


Dropped out of high school at 15 to play video games

In this Tedx Talk, Cam Adair discusses his video game addiction, the damage it caused to his relationships and mental health, and how he overcame it. If you take a few minutes to read through the comments left on this video, you will see there are so many people struggling with gaming addiction.

  • “The hardest thing about a video game addiction is that no one takes it seriously, therefore its really hard to find support. I told one of my closest friend that I was addicted to video games and she replied ” but its not really an addiction” even though she knew i was playing 14 hours a day 5 days a week.” – Ch3ls3yxxSubs
  • “I’ve been struggling with this for a long time and I want to break this cycle. I have developed no/little social skills and I’m paying the price at the age of 29.” – Chad P
  • “I game so much so I can forget about real life. Honestly, real life sucks in my opinion. Gaming is great.” – Uganda Knuckles

 WHO recognizes “Gaming Disorder”

Recently the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized “gaming disorder” in the International Classification of Diseases. This is big news for both those who are trying to get help and the people wanting to help them. In the past when those dealing with this addiction tried to talk to loved ones or reach out for help, they were often not taken seriously. There are many stories of people trying to talk to their friends about their addiction only to result in being laughed at or told it’s not a real addiction.

Finally, with this new classification, insurance companies are more likely to cover treatment. It may make those that are addicted more likely to seek treatment, while also encouraging more therapists to learn about how to treat these addicted individuals.


Help is available

Even though many people are just starting to accept gaming disorder as an addiction, there is help out there. If you are looking for an intervention for yourself or a loved one, or if you need advice on the best treatment center to fit your loved one’s needs, please call our free service line at 877-229-5462 or email us. An ARISE® Intervention is an effective way to help your loved one enter treatment and recover their hijacked brain.



The Link Between Social Media and Teen Depression

A Social Media-Dependent World

For better, or for worse, the widespread use of social media has changed the landscape of communication forever. The way we socialize, make and maintain friendships is different. Not only is is it a different world for adults, the way children communicate and use technology has changed.

There are a lot of benefits of living in a digital world – it’s easier to stay connected than ever before. However – our newly digital lives also come with risks.

Risk for Youth in the Digital World

Relying on social media for communication and socialization can cause children to miss out on developing critical social

girl in a grey shirt holding a cell phone with bracelets on her arm

skills. They may also be subject to cyberbullying, feeling left out and setting unrealistic expectations for their lives. All of which can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.

It is import to monitor the amount of screen time your children are getting, as well as the different social media platforms they are on and any changes in behaviors they may exhibiting while using social media.

It’s not exactly a secret that teenagers often pass harsh judgments in real life – behind a screen they often feel even safer passing statements that would otherwise be difficult to verbalize face to face. Combined with the face pace of digital communications, these conversions can often be difficult to process for teenagers.

Symptoms of Adolescent Depression

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Mood swings
  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Changes in self-care habits
  • Not sleeping, or sleeping too much
  • Agitation
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Headaches, stomachaches
  • Isolating
  • Suicidal thoughts or ideation


When depression occurs in adolescents these symptoms are likely to start affecting their school performance negatively, impact relationships with friends and family and more. Teenage depression can be hard to identify, as onset can be gradual. It might seem like typical age-appropriate complaints – “I’m tired” or “I have a headache”. But it is important to watch out for warning signs, if your typically very social teenage begins to appear isolated, sad or unreachable this could be a sign of depression.

Helping Teens Navigate Today’s Digital World

Understand that social media isn’t good or bad – it’s a fact of our modern lives and we have to learn how to incorporate it with moderation.

Model appropriate behaviors.

Teach your children how to handle difficult situations when they arise online so that they are able to make positive choices and keep themselves safe moving forward. Keep an open line of communication with your teenager so they know that you are there to turn to. The best thing you can do as a parent is be engaged with your teenager. Believe it or not – your teenage wants your help.

Understanding When It’s Time to Intervene

An ARISE® Internet and Technology Intervention for your teenager can help them get the help they need to take the necessary steps towards a healthy lifestyle and relationship to the internet and technology.

Our Certified ARISE® Interventionists will work with your family over a period of at least 6 to 12 months to ensure that both your loved and your family can learn more about the problem in a way that removes blame, shame and guilt and work on any underlying issues. Our goal is health and healing not just for your loved one but for the entire family.

If your loved one appears to be unable to leave the internet or their devices despite negative consequences, an ARISE® Internet & Technology Intervention can help. Call our hotline for a free consultation today: 1-877-229-5462 


Helping our Children Cope with Mass Trauma

Don’t we all wish we didn’t have to address the issue of how to help our children cope with mass trauma? If only our kids just had to worry about staying up past bedtime or what to say to their first crush. Instead they’re now having school drills in case of a mass shooting. According to The Guardian, just seven weeks into 2018 and we’ve already had seven school shootings. That’s pretty much one per week. As of May 18, 2018, there have been over 305 incidents, since 2013, in which a gun was discharged on a school campus in America, according to Everytown.

Neria, Nandi & Galea (2008) suggest that there is a particularly high prevalence of PTSD among directly exposed children. The prevalence of PTSD among exposed children was 38.4% at 1 month after the 1984 school playground sniper attack in Los Angeles (Pynoos et al. 1987), 27% at 3 months after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (Koplewicz et al. 2002), and 18.4% at 6 months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City (Hoven et al. 2005).

Our children are suffering and it’s not just the ones who were hiding under their desks as bullets flew. Kids everywhere are waking up scared to go to school.

“For each episode of mass trauma, the number of people and families impacted is multiplied… for every one person directly impacted by the trauma, five now show symptoms of stress or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD; Brom, Danieli, & Sills, 2005).”

blond girl in red shirt, brunette girl in white shirt with yellow stripes writing in notebook

Some signs of PTSD in children are:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Emotional numbing
  • Avoidance of situations that trigger memories of the event
  • Fears about death
  • Social withdrawal
  • Irritable, aggressive behavior
  • Problems concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping/Nightmares
  • Alteration in eating habits
  • Becoming overly attached to parents and/or siblings
  • Early use of substances, increased need for time with electronics, e.g., TV, video games, cell phones (or relapse in any of these)
  • Younger children may also experience “time skew”. They may mis-sequence the events when recalling them. Because of this many kids believe that if they had been paying better attention they could avoid future trauma.

What parents can do:

  • Listen to your child. Let them know they can talk to you about anything. If they want to process the event, let them do so. However, if they were directly impacted, resist the temptation to ask them to go through the details of their experience. Doing this can re-traumatize them. If you notice any of the behavior changes listed above, consider finding a family therapist so that you and your child can heal together.
  • Talk to the school counselor & your child’s teacher. Keeping them abreast of your child’s issues will help them understand your child better and how to handle certain situations.
  • Find a good therapist. Get recommendations from friends or the school counselor. Do your research and accept that it’s okay to get outside help. It may take a few sessions for your child to open up. This will be a new person for them. They need to see that this person will be there for them on a regular basis. It is always good to consider seeing a family therapist so that you can learn the tools to be there for your child in the long-term and be part of their healing.
  • Intervention. Children and adolescents have different needs than adults. They are moving through emotional and maturational developmental stages at a rapid rate.  It’s important to find an interventionist who specializes in children and adolescents and consider the whole adolescent, their biology, developmental stage, psychological make up, family and friend relationships and context. If you’re wondering if it’s time for an intervention, you can call our free service line and talk to our hotline manager (877) 229-5462.
  • Remember your other family members. If your child is dealing with PTSD, the rest of your family is also affected. There’s no way around it. Accept that everyone is going to be feeling the stress and anxiety of having a loved one suffering. Keep the lines of communication open. Take time for joy. Take time to unwind.
  • Self-care. No man is an island. You can’t carry this on your own. Can you take a daily walk? Cook a healthy meal once a week? You need to take some time for yourself. It’s the best way to be of help to everyone else.

We must find a way to end these horrible shootings. Until then, it is our job to make sure our children get the help they need. They are our future and we want that future to be filled with hope.

To learn more about what schools and communities can do to help children struggling with PTSD, check out the following links.

About ARISE® Comprehensive Care and Intervention for Young Children & Adolescents:

An ARISE® Adolescent Intervention for your child or teenager can help them get the help they need.

Adolescents and their families have different needs than adults. They are moving through emotional and maturational developmental stages at a rapid rate. We consider the whole adolescent, their biology, developmental stage, psychological make up, family and friend relationships and context.

An empathic, caring adolescent intervention that includes family members and the young Person of Concern in decision-making have proven an effective way to start the path to health and recovery.   

Our Certified ARISE® Interventionists will work with your family over a period of at least 6 to 12 months to ensure that both your loved one and your family can learn more about the issues in a way that removes blame, shame and guilt and works on any underlying issues. Our goal is health and healing not just for your loved one but for the entire family.

Call our hotline for a free consultation today: 1-877-229-5462 


Parents – Risky Apps to Watch Out For

Although privacy seems scarce in today’s society, it’s important to keep an eye out for your children on the Internet, especially if they’re of pre-teen or teen age. With the variety of apps and websites your children can access, checking up on them is a must in order to ensure they’re being safe and secure with their information. Here’s a list of the top 5 riskiest apps to watch out for – if you see these on your loved ones’ phones, it’s time to delete them for good.

1. Any apps that conceal pictures/videos such as Calculator%, Audio Manager, or Vaulty

These apps are perfect for hiding nude and/or illegal pictures and videos that your kids wouldn’t want to get caught having.

Although Calculator% looks like a regular calculator application, and even brings up an actual calculator after choosing the icon, by hitting a certain combination of buttons within the app, you can have access to a space to hide risky pictures and videos.

Audio Manager is another unassuming app that can hide dangerous pictures by asking for a password upon pressing the icon.

Vaulty also stores pictures and videos with password protection. However, it also takes a picture of anyone that types in an incorrect password.

2. Blendr

Nearly 330 million people use this app that allows you to chat, date, and meet with others nearby via GPS location services. Since no authentication is required for users to sign up, sexual predators can easily contact unassuming minors.


This application allows users to ask questions anonymously to other users, which seriously encourages cyber bullying. This app has been attributed to 9 suicides through 2012 and can be extremely dangerous if used improperly.

4. Snapchat

As you most likely know, Snapchat is an app that allows you to send pictures and videos to others for a specified number of seconds before it disappears. What people may not know is that these pictures and videos never actually disappear forever – experts can easily access them. Additionally, it’s very easy to screenshot these pictures and videos and send them around to others. There are even websites out there now called “snap porn” where nudes and other risky pictures from Snapchat are posted. Although this app is most likely on your kids’ phones, it’s extremely important to have a talk with them about being safe with what they’re snapping.

5. Burn Note

This app is very similar to Snapchat in that you can send messages to others for a set amount of time before the message disappears. It’s exclusively for messages, not pictures and videos. However, because of this secrecy, your kids may feel comfortable sending messages to others that they normally wouldn’t. It can also facilitate cyber bullying.

Experts say that the best way to monitor your teen or pre-teen’s app habits is to share an iCloud account. This way, whenever your kids download a specific application, it can easily be accessed by you as well. It’s also important to monitor their Internet habits to ensure they’re being safe with their information. After all, it can mean the difference between life and death.