Dear Medfield Public School Families, As the tragic news from Las Vegas continues to be present and available to us in every form of media, it seems as though it may be helpful to provide some guidance on how to talk to your kids about these types of tragic events, across the different developmental ages. Although we all try to do our best to shield our children from things that may harm or frighten them, it is not easy to keep all of the negative information from them. Tragedy leaves most adults unsettled, and young people can be affected to an even greater extent, as they have less experience negotiating the odds of something bad happening, and have little context in terms of their own mortality.
The American Psychological Association has provided the following tips on guiding conversations and generating meaningful discussion with your kids:
*Think about what you want to say. It’s OK to practice in your head, to a mirror or with another adult. Some advanced planning may make the discussion easier. You won’t have to think about it off the top of your head.
*Find a quiet moment. Perhaps this is after dinner or while making the next day’s lunch. This is a time and place where your children can be the center of your attention.
*Find out what they know. For example, there was a shooting at a school or a bomb set off in another country. Ask them "What have you heard about this?" And then listen. Listen. Listen. And listen more.
*Share your feelings with your child. It is OK to acknowledge your feelings with your children. They see you are human. They also get a chance to see that even though upset, you can pull yourself together and continue on. Parents hear it often: Be a role model. This applies to emotions, too.
*Tell the truth. Lay out the facts at a level they can understand. You do not need to give graphic details. For young children, you may need to have the conversation about what death means (no longer feel anything, not hungry, thirsty, scared, or hurting; we will never see them again, but can hold their memories in our hearts and heads). Say, "I don’t know." Sometimes the answer to the question is "I don’t know." "Why did the bad people do this?" "I don’t know" fits.
*Above all, reassure. At the end of the conversation, reassure your children that you will do everything you know how to do to keep them safe and to watch out for them. Reassure them that you will be available to answer any questions or talk about this topic again in the future. Reassure them that they are loved.
My advice is to unplug, get some exercise, and go do something fun with your kids. Even if they don’t seem affected right now, difficult things are happening in our world (floods, hurricanes, shootings, etc.) and the kids will eventually feel it. They need to know that they are OK.
Dave Worthley, Ed.D.
July 12, 2017
Dear Medfield Public School Families:
We truly hope that your summer is off to a fantastic and restful start! As an administrative team, we do our best to stay up to date and current regarding trends and issues that can either positively or negatively affect your children/our students. In doing so, we identified a few items that we urge you to consider. These topics are fluid, and will change as our kids change, but it is important that we pay close attention as our kids develop the skills to make healthy decisions, decide which relationships are positive and which are not, and also when to set their own limits around appropriate use of social media and technology. As we all know, the Internet is an unbelievably valuable source of information, and also provides instant gratification in just about any arena, from restaurant menus to Facebook Likes regarding the latest family vacation photos. There are some negative aspects as well. Some of the things I will discuss here may or may not be relevant to you or your child right now, but it is important to know what is out there, and what your kids may have access to in terms of internet content.
There are thousands of Apps available that are designed to keep users connected, but some of these Apps are dangerous. For example, in late May, the mainstream media informed us of an App known as The Blue Whale Challenge, which is a challenge created by a man in Russia (who is now in prison because of this, according to the BBC). In this challenge, the user of the application takes on a “curator” and is walked through a series of 50 challenges, from self mutilation to watching horror films at a specific time of day, with the final challenge being a completed suicide. It is important to know that there have been no confirmed cases of this in the United States. The majority of alleged participation occurred in the UK and in Russia. A case involving the suicide of a San Antonio teen on July 8th exists, and the parents of the teen are alleging a connection, but the investigation is ongoing. The game has been removed from Google Play and the Apple App Store, but some reports online caution that teens are using Twitter and Instagram to participate and recruit other players. It may also go by the name “A Silent House” and “Wake me up at 4:20.” The concept plays on the desire of acceptance and inclusion in the adolescent profile, and plays to kids suffering from anxiety and depression.
Along the same vein, the very popular Apps Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter each come with pros and cons as well. Many of our teenegers have not really known a world without social media, and the feelings that are created while using the social media are very real. There are a great deal of articles and research available that demonstrate the effects of some of these Apps on adolescent mental health. An article from CNN (Status of Mind Study) reports that Instagram, followed closely by Snapchat, then Twitter and Facebook, demonstrated negative effect on the mental health of adolescents. Basically, adolescent self-esteem is wrapped up in the perceived acceptance of other peers, as well as a never-ending comparison dilemma, in which kids compare their lives with the lives they see online, which only show the best parts. This carries into college, which is of great concern, as social media has turned into a way to gauge happiness, although students often mask the issues at hand.
In short, our message is as follows: Please speak with your kids often about what they are doing online. Ask them about things that they are involved in. When things like the “Blue Whale Challenge” come up, ask them if they have heard of it, and check the devices for content. Speak to your kids about the amount of time that they spend on Apps like Instagram and Snapchat. Some of our kids post close to 500 times per day! Check search histories to see what your kids are doing, and engage in conversation about what you find. This is a very real and uncharted territory for us. Telling kids not to be involved in certain digital behaviors is not going to work. Teaching kids how to manage their time, make good decisions, and pay attention to their digital profile will more likely keep them on the right track. And above all, we must model good digital use behavior. Also, ask your kids how they are feeling. Ask about pressure, depression and anxiety. Dive in and let them know you are always thinking of their best interest.
In terms of appropriate internet content for specific age groups, I feel that Common Sense Media (www.commonsense.org) is a great site that gives realistic information about what is happening in the digital world. In an effort not to inundate you with emails whenever we see a concerning internet, Netflix, or social trend, we will post articles and opinions and resources around the relevant issues facing our kids during this stage of their life on our website. Please visit www.medfieldsel.com, and click on the tab, “In The News.” This section will have information about the current topics that need attention. For example, in August, Netflix will air a new series that had mental health professionals concerned that looks at eating disorders, and it is being loosely compared to the “13 Reasons Why” series, in terms of potential fallout for fragile teens. There is information about the series on our site.
Please remember that this office, administration and the Guidance Department spends a great deal of time thinking about your kids and looking at the things that affect your kids. Even if you have the most well-rounded, highest achieving child, ask the questions and talk about what they are experiencing. There is no limit to the value of these conversations.
Sincerely, Dave Worthley, Ed.D.
June 14, 2017
Dear Medfield Public School Families:
As the end of the school year approaches, there are a few topics that I would like to discuss with you as members of the school community. Each new year bring with it a wide range of new experiences, and our goal as a learning community is to not only celebrate the achievements, but to encourage our students and each other to make and learn from mistakes, as this is the way to spark well-rounded growth, thus becoming better students, teachers, administrators, counselors, support staff, parents, and caretakers. The Medfield Public Schools have worked hard to put into place the resources to allow our students to grow not only academically, but also physically, socially, and emotionally as our students rise through the different educational levels.
Although the start of summer vacation allows for some much needed and well-deserved downtime for our students, it also means that the support of the counselors and all other support staff diminishes as well. In anticipation of the summer break, and in recognizing the needs of families in our community, the K-12 Guidance Office and the Office of Social/Emotional Learning have compiled a list of mental health resources, articles, and links to related services. While we understand that these resources can change over time, we do our best to keep the lists relevant and up-to-date. We invite you to explore our websites, as they are full of useful information regarding supportive services, local mental health treatment providers, managing stress, healthy choices, and the pursuit of a healthy emotional profile. The website of the Office of Social/Emotional Learning will provide parents, families and students with information on Medfield’s RISE Transition Program, both local and national Mental Health Resources, information on Social/Emotional Learning, and relevant articles associated with child/adolescent mental health, parenting tips, and other related content, The Medfield Guidance Websiteand Bloghave information for families related to all things Guidance, from navigating the college process to counselor thoughts on a variety of mental health topics, We are committed to the well-being of the whole child, and understand the need for a balanced experience for each student as they grow and develop, both at school and at home.
From the Central Office to the High School, Blake, Dale Street, Wheelock, and Memorial, the Medfield Public Schools are committed to the academic, physical and mental well-being of each of our students. Our students change rapidly, and we are ever-evolving to keep up with that change. It is exciting to be a part of a district with an eye not only on academic achievement, but also on the emotional development of each student. Please check out our websites, as I am confident that the content will be valuable as you head into the summer break and beyond.
Sincerely, Dave Worthley, Ed.D
April 28, 2017 - 13 Reasons Why
Dear Medfield High School and Blake Middle School Families:
My name is Dr. Dave Worthley, and I am the Director of Social/Emotional Learning. I have met and have worked with many of you, and look forward to meeting more of you as time goes on. As an academic community, we feel that it is important to keep the lines of communication open in as many areas as possible, be they academic, vocational or social. I would like to take a moment to discuss a topic that is on the minds of many of the middle and high school students across the country, and one that is very much on the minds of students in our school community.
Netflix has created a series which consists of 13, one hour long episodes and is co-produced by Selena Gomez. The series is called “13 Reasons Why”, and is based on a young adult book by the same name, which was written by Jay Asher in 2007. The series, which premiered on March 31st, tells the story of a fictional high school student (Hannah Baker), who leaves behind 13 cassette tapes after she commits suicide, and gives a copy of the tapes to each person who she feels contributed to her ending her own life. There are differences of opinion amongst experts in the field of Mental Health regarding whether this is a positive or a negative premise. That is for you to decide with your child. Most people have heard about the series by now, but some have not. The students I have talked to have mixed feelings about the series, which is understandable. Some feel that it is purely entertainment, and some feel that it sends the wrong message to kids who may not have the skills to cope with difficult emotions.
I have spoken and have been in contact with several schools in Massachusetts, and I feel that it makes sense to let you know what the kids are talking about, and to give you some direction as far as talking points, if indeed you would like to discuss this with your own children, which I strongly advise. The series depicts strong and graphic themes of bullying, sexual assault, drug use, and other social issues. While“13 Reasons Why” is very popular, some mental health experts are concerned. Dan Reidenberg, Executive Director of SAVE (Suicide Voices of Education) states, “The show does not address mental illness or present viable alternative to suicide.”
Some tips around this issue: ●Watch the show. Check out an episode, or part of an episode yourself. See what your kids are dealing with and talking about.
●If your kids are watching the series, talk to them about it. Discuss the show while watching it with them. Ask if they can relate to any of the situational content. Ask them how they feel about the series. Ask about if they are concerned about someone at school.
●The series shows kids keeping a lot of secrets from their parents and school counselors. This is not a new phenomenon, but it is a great talking point. Talk about how dangerous it is NOT to seek help from parents or counselors. This is a perfect, built in excuse to have this sort of conversation with your kids!
It is important to note that if your kids have questions, they should always feel able to access the supports that we have in place in our schools. These supports include Guidance Counselors, School Psychologists, Adjustment Counselors, teachers, advisory leaders, administration, or any trusted adult in the building.
Please know that a similar letter was sent to high school students about this topic as well. I am not reaching out to Blake Middle School students specifically, but encourage you to discuss these topics with your child. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this with your kids. The majority of students I have spoken with have either watched, or plan to watch this series, and I am hearing the same from educators both locally and nationally.
Best Regards, Dave Worthley, Ed.D. Director of Social/Emotional Learning