Proposing legislation and strong opinions are at the forefront of the many debates on topics including gun control, mental illness and anti-bullying. Millions of people are being activated through #NeverAgain and participating in marches and accelerating conversations on prevention. What happens after the march or the letter writing to your state and federal leaders is over?
For Teachers, Administrators, Parents and Teens – what can / should we be doing? Regardless of what side of the debates you are on, there are things we can do every day that will impact a change, a real movement.
First, we need to accept that adolescent mental illness is real and getting worse. The always on nature of devices, social media and the internet means that the pressures from abuse (at home or school), bullying and cyber-bullying and blackmail (mostly from predators or inappropriate images) can feel “inescapable” for those on the receiving end. Given the rapid neurological development of adolescents - the negative consequences of abuse, bullying, blackmail can have lasting effect through to adulthood. The impacts of mental illness can show through a spectrum of outcomes including worsening grades, withdrawing from family/friends to more impacting actions like suicide and revenge.
Movements to stop bullying for good, remove all guns from society and prevent child abuse are all very long term in nature and in reality, almost impossible to accomplish. Following is a quick guide of actions that we at Digital Futures Initiative have seen positive impacts from the hundreds of thousands of student and parent interactions. These are things that you can action on immediately and be part of the solution in addressing suicidal, revengeful thoughts and helping to ultimately prevent the unimaginable.
Talk – stay involved in your child’s life both real and digital lives. Know when more/less controls can be used to help your children deal with the pressures and anxieties of growing up.
Empathy – show empathy and express love as a first step in understanding and dealing with issues.
Digital Hygiene – practice good digital habits that your children can learn from. Be more in the moment with your child, not your phone or work computer.
Get help – if you don’t know how to help or think there is a larger issue, get help. There is more stigmatism in not getting help than there is in actually seeking appropriate resources.
Teens / Adolescents
Stand up – we see the images of teens standing up to the POTUS and state legislators. It is just as cool and even more courageous to stand-up to a bully or a predator for either you, a friend, or simply a peer in need (whether a friend or not).
Meet someone new: That new kid who eats by themselves, that seemingly weird kid or the introverted kids who don’t look up. Go out of your way to meet someone new each week, show a general interest and truly understand something about them. Remember #EveryoneHasAStory
Take a Break - schedule digital breaks into your day, ie. Meals, 1 hour before bed (never after 9pm), limit checking updates to 3 x daily, be in the moment with friends/family
Give a Compliment – see something nice, say something nice. It is easy to make fun of, tease and bully kids who don’t look like you do or do the same things as you do. It doesn’t make them wrong.
Teachers / Instructors
Understand Victimology- understand that statistics say there are at least 1 student every class who is impacted by abuse, bullying, or other indicators of possible mental illness. Be mindful when discussing sensitive issues or when you see a change in behaviors from the norm.
Teach digital citizenship and relationships – give students the skills to make more informed decisions. Kids simply don’t have the life skills, tools or experiences today to keep themselves safe, accountable and responsible online.
Assign Random Acts of Kindness – Assign students with projects to do something nice for someone who typically does not get nice things done for them. Kids are inherently good. Encourage it!
It is easy to commit to an afternoon of protest, but much harder to action against the issues that that are closest to us that we know are wrong but simply allowed to happen. Take a stand today, together to engage the dis-engaged and make a difference, one act at a time.