Tag Archives: social media

@TechCounselor: Managing the culture of breaking news

By Adria Dunbar March 23, 2020

In the very beginning, social media sites, such as Facebook and Instagram, were more about connecting with people you know in real life or updating your profile to reflect the ways in which you hoped others would see you. The addition of the Facebook newsfeed (and its Instagram equivalent), however, changed everything.

The definition of news is “newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent or important events.” I don’t know about you, but in my experience it has become harder to filter that which is noteworthy and important from that which is not. My newsfeeds are filled with everything from sponsored advertisements to photos of random acquaintances’ travel adventures. Mixed in, there are local events that I’m interested in attending, close friends’ and family’s announcements of major life events, and comments addressed to me. The problem is a newsfeed treats each of these pieces of information with the same attention. It’s all breaking news, and we receive it as such, and this has an impact.

Breaking news! Someone I haven’t spoken to in 20 years made pancakes for breakfast.

Breaking news! A close friend is in need of help finding a counselor for her daughter.

Breaking news! A piece of legislation that impacts counselors and other mental health professionals has been introduced and needs counselor support.

How do we, as counselors, regain control of our newsfeeds? How do we help clients do the same? The first step is reflecting on the impact of this breaking news culture on your personal and professional life. Consider the following:

  • How much time do you spend filtering through your newsfeed? Is this an amount you feel comfortable with?
  • After reading your newsfeed, how do you feel? Happy? Productive? Or distracted and stressed?
  • In what ways do you find yourself mindlessly or mindfully interacting with your newsfeeds?
  • How do you access your newsfeed? Does the context affect your behavior? For example, I do not have the Facebook mobile app on my iPhone. I only check my newsfeed from my laptop to ensure that I am not filling random 5-15 minute downtime intervals with mindless scrolling.
  • Think about the timing of when you ingest breaking news. For example, checking a newsfeed first thing in the morning can set the tone for your day or decide how you direct your morning energy and attention.

The next step is to make changes that help you manage breaking news, such as:

  • Consider removing apps with newsfeeds from your mobile device.
  • Hide your newsfeed completely from the desktop version of social media sites.
  • Eliminate—or hide– people, pages or accounts that are not having a positive impact (both Twitter and Facebook allow you to “mute” rather than unfriend or unfollow).
  • Narrow your follow or friend list to 25-50 people and pages that are most meaningful to you.
  • Turn off notifications to avoid constant distraction

Technology, while helpful in many ways, has created a daily existence that calls for our attention to be pulled in many different directions at once. This can leave us, and our clients, feeling distracted, scattered, and stressed. By intentionally filtering our newsfeeds to better match our values, we can stop the relentless breaking news from breaking through so only that which is most important gains our attention.

Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we take care of ourselves when filtering information through social media and traditional media outlets. Let’s all please take care of ourselves so that we can continue to do the work of taking care of others. It’s OK to set boundaries, create buffers, and take breaks.

 

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Adria S. Dunbar is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership, Policy and Human Development at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. She has more than 15 years of experience with both efficient and inefficient technology in school settings, private practice and counselor education. Contact her at adria.dunbar@ncsu.edu.

@TechCounselor’s Instagram is @techcounselor.

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

@TechCounselor: Navigating social media with teens

By Adria Dunbar February 5, 2020

I recently did a presentation for a group of high school parents on social media use. Instead of focusing on their children, I began by asking parents about their own use of social media sites like Instagram and Facebook. As a counselor, I believe my reflections on this experience might be helpful to other practitioners when working with adolescent clients or their parents. To begin our discussion, I asked the following questions:

  • How many of you use social media?
  • How many of you have thought about changing your habits around your social media use?
  • What keeps you from making these changes?
  • How often do you feel pressured to post, like, or comment on someone else’s posts?
  • How many of you have had similar conversations with your children?

This was one of the most eye-opening discussions of social media use I have ever had with parents. I had assumed parents periodically reflect on their own use of social media and were having conversations with their children about navigating the digital world. Every parent in attendance said they participate in social media sites. They all had considered leaving or changing the ways in which they use social media, but maintained their connections for a wide range of reasons, such as staying in touch with family and friends; using the marketplace; monitoring children’s use; getting news; or learning about events in the community. In addition, almost all of the parents had even felt pressured to participate in an online social media platform in order to maintain relationships, support someone in their social circle or avoid awkward interactions. However, none of them had considered having conversations with their children about their social media use. Why is that?

Many adults and parents assume that tweens and teens know more about social media than we do. And this may be true. But, at the same time, adults can help children process their experiences in these environments. Younger people may know how to post stories, use filters, and increase followers more than their parents, teachers, coaches, or counselors; however, this does not make them experts in social media. Young people need help navigating the uncharted territory these online environments create. Most counselors and parents are aware of safety concerns involving online activity, but there are other big-picture aspects they should also consider asking about, such as:

  • Tell me more about the social media platforms and apps you use. How do they work? What do you like about them?
  • What are your interactions like? Are they positive, or do you sometimes get caught up in negativity or conflict?
  • What kinds of pressure do you feel equipped to handle on your own? What types of pressure leave you feeling unsure how to handle?
  • How do you filter who you allow into your social media and who you deny entrance?
  • What is your ideal number of followers or likes? What would reaching that number mean to you?
  • What will you do if someone you know from school or work sends a follow or friend request, but you question their intentions? How would you feel about blocking or unfriending someone?
  • How would you react if you saw something inappropriate or unkind on one of the more publicly accessible platforms such as Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter or Facebook? Would your reaction change if you knew that your response could resurface in the future or in a different app?

Keeping up with the ways in which technology is changing our relationships and world can be a lot of work, but we cannot allow ourselves to take our hands off the wheel. Although not all counselors choose to participate in social media sites, such as Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, or Snapchat, it is crucial to stay up to date on the ways these social media platforms impact clients’ lives and relationships. For those who work with child and adolescent clients, it is equally important to find reputable resources to share with clients’ caregivers. Websites like commonsense.org can be helpful as a starting point. Local libraries and schools often hold workshops or sessions focused on navigating digital spaces as well.

Just as we cannot expect parents to navigate the digital world without guidance, nor can we expect that adolescents will understand all the social nuances of the online social world without our help. By partnering with adolescents, and allowing ourselves to find vulnerability in our lack of expertise, we may be able to help them think through some big questions about who they are, what they represent and how they want to show up in the world—not just online but IRL (in real life).

 

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Related reading, from the Counseling Today archives: “#disconnected: Why counselors can no longer ignore social media

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Adria S. Dunbar is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership, Policy and Human Development at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. She has more than 15 years of experience with both efficient and inefficient technology in school settings, private practice and counselor education. Contact her at adria.dunbar@ncsu.edu.

@TechCounselor’s Instagram is @techcounselor.

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

The impact of internet self-disclosure on the counseling relationship

By Laurel Shaler December 16, 2019

It was only our third session, but “Anne” and I seemed to be connecting well. She was thrilled to finally have time for counseling, given her busy life as a stay-at-home mom to three young boys and with a husband who traveled extensively. Over time, Anne began to relax and feel more comfortable opening up about some of her painful past experiences. She started sharing that one of the particularly challenging times in her life involved her and her husband’s struggle to conceive.

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, however, I could almost see her wrestle to pull them back in. She stumbled to recover but seemed to be saying that she had no right to complain about their journey to parenthood because “at least” they had been able to have children. As my mind began to process what was happening, it hit me: She has seen my website.

Anne was one of my first clients after I opened a small solo practice. After leaving my previous clinical position and moving into counselor education, I had created a website on which I posted blogs and links to online articles I had written, listed speaking topics, provided links to videos as well as radio and podcast interviews, and shared about my books. Anyone who reviewed my website and read about me would learn that a part of my journey had been through infertility.

There was always a risk that students would search my name on the internet and come across my website, but that was a risk I was willing to take because I felt called to reach out to the community at large regarding topics related mostly to emotional well-being. Along the way, I shared a bit of my story.

When I opened my counseling office, I included the information about my practice on my website, but it did not occur to me that clients would review the website and bring what they found into the sessions with them. I knew that I would never be “friends” with clients on social media, nor would I search for my clients on the internet, and I included that information in my informed consent. But Anne’s reaction to her own vulnerability helped me realize that my internet self-disclosure was having a negative impact in the counseling room and that it might impact future clients as well.

Soon after my interaction with Anne, I consulted with another counselor regarding next steps. I did not want to shut down my website or stop speaking and writing, but I also did not want to cultivate an environment where my clients were so concerned about me that they filtered what they were saying so as not to hurt me (based on their own ideas regarding what would hurt me, that is). The counselor with whom I consulted had one suggestion: Separate my one website into two, with one being a personal website and the other a practice website.

I saw numerous flaws with this solution. First, I could not manage (or hire someone to maintain) two websites, especially with my private practice being very small. Second, a client could still easily locate my personal website by performing a simple internet search. (After all, the name “Laurel Shaler” is not a common one.) I thought there had to be another option for addressing this dilemma. I began to realize I could do several things to mitigate the effects reading my website might have on my clients, but at the same time, there were certain things I could not control. The same is true for any of us who self-disclose on the internet.

I cannot control a client searching for my information online, for instance. Because I have something of a public presence given my public social media accounts, trade books, and blogs/articles on the internet, clients are likely to run across some information about me that goes beyond the scope of my private practice. I have to be OK with that to maintain both an online presence and a clinical practice. Likewise, my clients need to be aware of the pros and cons of learning more about me over the internet.

What it will really come down to is the same factor that affects every counselor-client relationship: therapeutic rapport. If my client and I can establish safety and trust, as well as appropriate boundaries, and can communicate effectively, then we can more than likely work through whatever may arise as a result of the internet self-disclosure.

Through a self-supervision process, I have come to realize that Anne may have overidentified with me. In other words, in the same way she might not want to hurt the feelings of a friend, she did not want to hurt my feelings. She assumed that because I had been through an infertility journey that did not result in biological children, that sharing her journey that did result in biological children would upset me. Although I did not address the issue head-on at the time, if given a second chance, this is what the communication might have sounded like:

Anne: I shouldn’t complain because I know not everyone can have children, and I am really lucky and fortunate and blessed to have children even though I did go through infertility. I know it’s not the worst thing in the world, and others have a much harder time than we did. I shouldn’t have said anything about it.

Laurel: It sounds like even though you are grateful that your infertility journey ended by having children, that you had a hard time going through that experience. Can you help me understand why you think you should not say anything about your infertility?

Anne: Well, to be honest, I read on your website about your infertility journey, and I am so, so sorry for what you went through. I don’t want to compare my story to yours, in particular since I was able to have children and you weren’t.

Laurel: Your sensitivity to me says a lot about who you are as a caring and compassionate person. At the same time, I want this to be a safe space for you to feel free to openly share about your entire story. I want to encourage you to hold nothing back on account of me. You are welcome to read what I post — keeping in mind what you read may impact your view of me or our counseling relationship.

Anne: Yeah, I like what you write but did not want to offend or upset you.

Laurel: Thank you, Anne. I do not believe I will be offended or upset. However, if I am, that is my own issue that I need to work through with a counselor or supervisor. It would not be your fault. Are you open to exploring the infertility issue and the turmoil that brought to your life and marriage?

Anne: Yes, because it really messed me up for a while and my relationship with my husband too.

Laurel: OK, please start wherever you would like.

Anne: It all started …

Obviously, this fictional dialogue could go many different directions. This is a good-faith guesstimate of how the conversation might have unfolded based on the relationship I had with the client at the time.

In reality, even though I was a bit flustered internally and did not address head-on the client learning about me online, we were able to move forward with our therapeutic relationship. Anne came regularly to see me for about six months before she and her husband decided to pursue marriage counseling, at which time she needed to pause individual counseling.

My personal takeaways from this experience were twofold:

1) Counselors must think thoroughly and carefully about how having an online presence might impact their counseling practice and the clients they are serving. Counselors have to decide whether the two are compatible and if they can still be effective counselors. Is there controversial content that may lead a client to feel uncomfortable with the counselor? Is the counselor something of a “celebrity,” leading clients to be a bit star-struck and concerned about disappointing the counselor? Numerous aspects of internet self-disclosure need to be considered. Additionally, counselors must decide how to navigate the two or more hats that they wear. For example, counselors must decide whether to have two separate websites or one website that incorporates both a personal/commercial side and a counseling practice side.

2) If counselors have an online presence, this should be addressed early on in the counseling relationship. This can be part of a written informed consent, along with other information regarding the counselor not searching for clients online, not accepting or sending friend requests on social media, etc. This can also be addressed verbally in session, wherein counselors discuss their online presence and talk through how a client’s review of the counselor’s internet information might affect the counseling environment. Counselors must be aware that disclosing their online presence is, in and of itself, self-disclosure. Therefore, as with all self-disclosure, this must be addressed solely for the benefit of the client.

There is absolutely a way to have both an online presence and a successful counseling practice. Many counselors have done so beautifully. My personal experience taught me a valuable lesson about how these two can work in tandem rather than against each other. Anne — like all clients — deserved to have an authentic counselor with whom she could truly be transparent, without filtering herself based on information she knew about the counselor.

Although I believe knowing less about the counselor can be beneficial to clients, I am well aware that in our internet-driven and instant-knowledge society, many clients will desire to learn all they can about us before, during and after the counseling process. Getting out ahead of potential problems that could arise as a result may prove helpful for clients. Because my online presence is not going anywhere, this is an ever-evolving process that I must pursue for the sake of my clients.

 

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Laurel Shaler is a licensed professional counselor, national certified counselor, and licensed social worker. She is an associate professor in the Department of Counselor Education and Family Studies at Liberty University. Contact her through her website, drlaurelshaler.com.

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Counselors, represent!

By Carol Z.A. McGinnis November 13, 2019

Tragic events tend to mobilize local and national news reports with questions and concerns that relate directly to the work that we do as professional counselors. Shootings, disasters, immigration issues, and political fallout are just a few examples that come to mind at the time of this writing.

What is particularly troubling to me is the lack of counseling expertise represented in the news in response to these events. Instead, we often endure ad hoc theories from professionals with no counseling experience who errantly connect tragic events to mental health issues. These individuals may mean well, but they make broad statements that connect video games with shootings, promote mental health policy that is rooted in subjective ambivalent “right” versus “wrong” societal thinking (rather than empirical research), and engage in ignorant blaming or scapegoating that leads to even more conflict and mental strife for the general population. What better time for licensed professional counselors to provide empirical context for these issues and offer hope for healing when it is needed most?

At the same time, I think we can largely blame ourselves as counselors for this gap in the national consciousness. We have fantastic representation in our state and national counseling associations and plenty of empirical research on topics of interest, yet we are not insistent on providing that content to our communities. As counselors, we have been trained to advocate through appropriate channels that include citizen-driven activities to challenge federal and state legislation, yet we have not learned how to promote our profession in the times we are most needed. Alfred Adler and Carl Rogers both held a global vision for our profession that included change and advocacy for the community at large. So, where do we start?

As a whole, the general public would find it useful to know a little more about what we do as professional counselors. People need to know that we are trained to probe more deeply about family dynamics, to inquire about the presence of guns and the use of prescription or illegal drugs, and to listen for evidence of strained relationships that may need immediate attention. We need to share that we have expertise in evaluating suicidal thoughts and potential homicidal intentions and that we often determine neglect or abuse for mandated reporting. People often worry about the ramifications of going to a counselor; our presence in the news media can go a long way toward easing those concerns.

After a tragic event occurs, these basic counselor skills can be invaluable for parents worried about their teenagers, spouses concerned about the safety of their mate, and adult children fretting about the welfare of their elderly parents. We can provide confidentiality that may be just the ticket when social concerns, political stressors, and environmental issues seem to be ever-present. As professional counselors, we are qualified to share insights on what symptoms to look for in a troubled family member, what signs might be particularly worrisome when a child withdraws, and how to find help when a particular mental health issue is occurring. It is information such as this that often seems to be lacking when the larger community is hurting.

 

Action steps

You may be asking: What can I do? Here are a few suggestions to get started.

First, take a moment to consider your particular skills and expertise. Do you work with people who struggle with depression? What information could you share publicly that might help others to cope, have hope, or seek help from a professional counselor? Alternatively, if your experience is with anxiety, what compassionate message might you share for people who are afraid to go to the mall or to the movies? If you work with people through illness or grief and loss, consider what messages you might be able to offer when the community at large is suffering with a particular loss. As a licensed professional counselor, you have knowledge, awareness and skills that would be tremendously useful in times of strife. It is just a matter of getting that content “out there” in the public.

Next, consider how you may want to advertise your availability to news outlets and the general public. One way to do this is to write an email or a letter to your local news station to identify yourself and the work that you do. Be brief in your communication, pointing to the specific issue or circumstance for which you may be most helpful. Include a business card or a link to a website if you have one. This is not the time to expound on your many research interests or on why you became a counselor. Be concise, clear and direct in describing what you specialize in so that news outlets can easily place you into a resource category.

It helps tremendously to have a professional Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn account that can connect your expertise to an active news media database or digital rolodex. Give some time and attention to this virtual representation to ensure that you are abiding by the ACA Code of Ethics. Consider locking down your settings to avoid inadvertent negligence on the part of potential clients who may try to direct message you. As stated in Standard H.6.a. in the ACA Code of Ethics, it is important to maintain a professional virtual presence that is separate from your personal presence online. It may be tempting to connect your professional site to your personal account, but resist this temptation.

Your professionally oriented social media sites should be designed to help local and national news media locate you should a specific need arise. Likewise, make it easy for the general public to find pertinent information on your credentials, expertise, and research interests. These details should clearly inform the general public about counseling and the specific work that you do, with special attention given to technology/social media competency (Standard H.1.a.) and your social media policy (Standard H.6.b.). Note how you may be of assistance to the community and the means for contacting you as a news source. Be sure to “friend” or “follow” all pertinent news outlets and local organizations that may need your help, and then take time to keep up with any interactions that occur with these entities.

Also, take a moment to consider what populations or groups in your area might especially appreciate a free workshop or presentation on the topic in which you specialize. Advocacy often begins in your local area, and people are more likely to ask questions about the counseling profession when they have the opportunity to get to know you better. Churches, synagogues and mosques tend to be places where disheartened and disenfranchised people go to get support. Offering to discuss your services in these places can open up new opportunities for the general public to understand what you do. Public clubs, parent groups, and schools may also grant you the opportunity to speak on a specific topic. Once these populations have the opportunity to learn about your work, they can also advocate for inclusion of a counseling perspective from their news sources.

If someone is searching for you in your area of practice, how will they find you? Psychology Today offers a “find a therapist” option that is helpful to the general public, but it incurs a monthly fee that some counselors may find distasteful. Another option to consider is starting a podcast, blog or streaming channel to bring your professional identity into the public eye. Although these options take time and energy, the results can include bringing your expertise to the consciousness of your immediate community. The creation of a website can also be useful as a less dynamic online platform where these other social media delivery systems can be “housed” in a central location. A unique domain for this purpose can be purchased and maintained with minimal cost and low effort. Community websites that provide free postings for mental health professionals at the county or city level can also be helpful. You may need to dig to find these, but they do exist.

Finally, don’t be shy about introducing yourself as a professional counselor when you are “off duty” and, if possible, take time to volunteer for an Advocacy Day sponsored by most state branches of the American Counseling Association. There are very helpful tips and tools located on the ACA website that provide direction on how to interact with local, state and national legislators, and steps for developing ethical social media sites. Another useful suggestion is to include a pertinent hashtag with your counselor postings (e.g., #CounselorsAdvocate) that can bring attention to that topic. Be creative in using hashtags that are specific to your knowledge, awareness and skills (e.g., #counselorforanger, #askacounselor, #counselinganxiety, #counselorgriefandloss). Connect with similarly named social media groups, and offer your availability in times of community tragedy.

In short, when tragic or troubling events occur, take a moment to think about your own skills, and then reach out to offer your perspective as a professional counselor to the news media. We often hear about the impact of public happenings in clients’ counseling sessions and may feel that we cannot act outside of that environment without sacrificing client trust. But there is a way to do this in an ethical manner. Remember, we don’t have to “take sides” on a controversial topic to provide much-needed positive messages to our communities. It may take courage for us to make this happen, but it is important for us to promote what we do as counselors when the people in our communities need it most.

 

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Carol Z.A. McGinnis is a licensed clinical professional counselor, national certified counselor and board certified telemental health provider. She is associate professor and clinical mental health track coordinator for Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. She is currently president-elect of the Maryland Counseling Association and specializes in research that focuses on anger processing (www.anger.works) and videogaming. Contact her at cmcginnis@messiah.edu.

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

Five social, emotional and mental health supports that teens need to succeed

By Dakota King-White, Sade Vega and Nicholas Petty September 9, 2019

Many teenagers have been exposed to traumatic events, and most experience regular life stressors. Exposure to violence and other traumatic experiences can have a lifelong effect on learning and may negatively impact academic achievement. Among examples of traumatic events that some teenagers experience are community violence, school shootings, the loss of a loved one due to death, parental incarceration, divorcing parents, a parent or caregiver with mental illness, and substance abuse in the home. Within the school setting, the negative influence of trauma on teens may lead to poor concentration, declining academic performance, school absenteeism, and the decision to drop out. These challenges create barriers for the success of teens in the academic setting.

Schools across the United States have recognized the importance of providing school-based mental health support because these services benefit students academically, socially and emotionally. However, questions regarding the issues facing teens and the types of mental health supports needed to deal with these issues require further examination. Implementing a needs assessment can assist schools in uncovering the answer to these questions. The findings can then help determine what programming should be implemented to improve students’ overall development, such as teaching them social skills to help them become productive members of their communities and school settings.

We wanted to learn more about the social, emotional and mental health needs of teenagers, so we conducted a needs assessment in which we surveyed 198 high school students in a Midwestern city. The teens in our study identified the types of emotionally stressful experiences they have faced since attending high school. They also described what schools could do to make them feel supported and better able to deal with the related challenges.

The following sections present the five top issues identified by the students we surveyed, along with recommendations on ways that schools can support teenagers socially, emotionally and mentally.

 

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1) Social media makes peer pressure a 24/7 problem. Teens today are confronting certain pressures that teens in the past didn’t face. A prime example: Social media has become an indispensable part of teenagers’ lives. According to a 2018 report written for the Pew Research Center by Monica Anderson and Jingjing Jiang, YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat are the most popular online platforms among those ages 13-17, and most teens have access to these apps on their smartphones. Anderson and Jiang note in the report that 95% of teens have access to a smartphone, with 45% of teens acknowledging that they are online “almost constantly.”

This constant mobile connection creates the conditions for teenagers to consistently be exposed to peer pressure even outside of the school environment. Mina Park and colleagues in 2017, in a journal article in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, noted that hyperconnectivity to social media can also lead to depression, negative body image and eating disorders.

What schools can do to help: Teens must be given an outlet to discuss their frustrations when it comes to dealing with peer pressure. Students should be directed to their school counselors or other trusted adults in the school with whom they can share their feelings and pressures and get supportive, confidential advice in return. It is also helpful to allow for genuine conversations in the classroom about the importance of students being confident in who they are and embracing their differences. Safe spaces in schools allow teens opportunities to feel supported in a neutral environment, to accept who they are, and to embrace differences among their peers.

 

2) Bullying is a significant issue. Peer pressure is not the only problem arising from constant social media access. The other, and even more troubling, issue is bullying. Teens may experience, witness or engage in bullying situations, including cyberbullying, which is more prevalent among teens.

The Bullying Statistics website (bullyingstatistics.org) notes that cyberbullying may consist of teens sending cruel messages, spreading gossip or posting threatening messages on social media platforms, pretending to be someone else on a social media account, or sexting. According to recent statistics from the website, more than 25% of teenagers have been exposed to cyberbullying situations that have had a negative impact on them. Bullying can have a significant effect on teens socially, emotionally and academically. Some of the negative impacts include depression, anxiety, attendance problems, and decrease in academic achievement. However, many teens who experience cyberbullying do not tell their parents or guardians about these painful experiences.

What schools can do to help: October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and many schools across the United States take time to develop effective strategies to raise awareness about bullying and to prevent bullying incidents on their campuses. It is important for schools to create an environment in which victims of bullying/cyberbullying, or teens who witness the bullying of a peer, can talk to trusted adults about bullying situations. Help your students by providing safe places in schools where teens can disclose when they or their peers are being bullied, or even create a hotline for students to report bullying situations.

Additionally, offer professional development to teachers and other staff members on identifying the warning signs of bullying, and provide them with effective strategies to help students who are being bullied. Likewise, many parents are unaware of how to support their teens when they are being bullied, so invite parents to on-campus workshops where they can learn ways to address these issues with their teens. During the parent and family sessions, discuss the various types of bullying that take place, the warning signs of bullying, and school and community resources for victims of bullying and cyberbullying. Workshops for parents and families can add another layer of support for young people who are affected by bullying.

 

3) Students are concerned about their personal safety. In our study, the third top concern that students reported was anxiety about their personal safety. According to the National Institute of Justice, school safety is currently a common concern among educators and administrators across the United States. Teens may not feel safe in their schools because of gun violence on school campuses across the country or even violence in their own communities or neighborhoods. The National Institute of Justice has stated that more schools have increased their security measures to protect students. Many of these schools have instituted locked doors, security cameras, hallway supervision, controlled building access, metal detectors and locker checks.

More than half of the ninth- and 10th-graders and more than 70% of the 11th- and 12th-graders we surveyed reported that they had experienced a traumatic event while attending high school. These various traumatic events can cause students to feel concern about their overall safety in their schools and communities. This type of stressor can in turn affect how teens engage in their educational environments.

What schools can do to help: Trauma-informed methods must be put in place to support students and their overall safety. Trauma-informed approaches focus on ways to ensure that students feel supported, listened to, and safe. Among the trauma-informed approaches that counselors can create in their schools are to build trust and rapport with students and to collaborate with outside community resources to support students who have been exposed to traumatic events. By getting to know your students, you will notice when their behaviors change, and because you have built trust with them, you can approach them in a friendly way to address these changes.

In addition, provide training on trauma-informed methods for teachers, support staff and administrators at your school. This training will help them create resources aimed at the needs of teens. Additionally, educators can seek professional help for their own personal traumas so that they may better interact with students who are dealing with stressors. By ensuring that teachers and staff members have access to community resources and training about personal safety and trauma, schools are developing leaders who can help students socially, emotionally and academically.

 

4) Students need help coping with their emotions. Teens’ emotions run rampant during their high school years. Most experience a range of emotions, including anger, fear, frustration, disappointment and hurt. These emotions may mask some of the broader issues that students face and that ultimately affect their academic performance.

Some of the students in our study participated in a small group that focused on developing social skills. The single-gender support group addressed the students’ academic, social and emotional needs. The sessions offered teens a safe place to identify stressors in their lives and to discuss the emotions attached to those stressors. By talking about their emotions, students were able to identify yet other emotions that were hiding underneath their anger and aggression. Throughout this process, the teens learned how to effectively articulate their emotions and to identify the underlying factors that were fueling them.

What schools can do to help: Encourage a supportive environment and training for students, such as small support groups facilitated by school counselors, clinical counselors, school psychologists or social workers, as well as peer-to-peer support groups. Teach teens the proper social skills related to identifying their emotions, and explain that all emotions are OK to have.

Quite often, teenagers express only the basic emotions when talking to others, especially adults. However, challenging them to look deeper and to identify the true emotion can be effective. Teens need safe places at school where they can learn how to cope with their anger and the other uncomfortable emotions that they often face.

 

5) Dealing with grief is important. A final concern students reported centered on dealing with grief from the loss of a loved one. Those students in our study who had experienced the loss of a loved one or who had witnessed a friend going through such a loss reported needing a supportive outlet to deal with those losses. Students may experience various losses during their teen years, such as the death of a friend or family member, and they are often left to process their emotions about the loss on their own. If schools are unaware that students have experienced a loss, those students may go without the support that is needed to help them process their grief. A lack of support during this time can have a significant impact on teens succeeding within the academic setting.

What schools can do to help: Build rapport early in the year with students so that they will be comfortable sharing should they experience a loss. During times of loss, allow students to grieve. Provide additional assistance by forming support groups for students who have experienced loss. This type of support can be offered through collaboration with local counseling agencies, hospices or other entities that support families experiencing loss. It is also helpful to maintain a list of community resources that address grief and loss. This community resource guide can be shared with teens, parents or caregivers, and other stakeholders.

Transforming school into an emotionally responsive environment

Students who are well-equipped socially, emotionally and mentally at the beginning of their academic careers can better cope when hardships occur. As counselors, we can help our students succeed in school and in life by first learning to identify their social, emotional and mental health needs, and then providing resources such as social skills workshops and support groups for them. Additionally, we can lead by example by improving our own social, emotional and mental health through professional development workshops that emphasize social and emotional learning practices.

Remember, school is not just a place where students gain academic knowledge; it is where they prepare for life. By doing our part to create a safe and emotionally supportive environment, we can increase the odds that students will succeed beyond the walls of the classroom.

 

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Dakota King-White is an assistant professor in counselor education at Cleveland State University. Prior to that, she worked in K-12 education as a school counselor, mental health therapist and administrator. Contact her at d.l.king19@csuohio.edu.

Sade Vega is a student in health science at Cleveland State University. In 2018, she received the university’s undergraduate student research award for her research on assessing the social, emotional and mental health needs of high school students. Contact her at s.m.vega@vikes.csuohio.edu.

Nicholas Petty is the director of undergraduate inclusive excellence at Cleveland State University. Prior to working at the university, he was an administrator in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, where he earned national attention for his innovative approaches to behavioral intervention and student motivation. Contact him at n.petty@csuohio.edu.

 

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