Tag Archives: trauma

What’s Going On? How We Can Confront Child Sexual Abuse in America

Runaway or Lost Girl Holding Old, Ragged Teddy Bear

By Karen Ethridge, PhD, & Tonya Davis, PhD (Alabama A&M University)

 

The child welfare system is charged with promoting the wellbeing of children by ensuring their safety and strengthening their families, so they may successfully care for children. While the child welfare system is comprised of a complex set of procedures that vary by state, finding solutions to combat the collateral effects some children face when placed into the child welfare system may be just as complex, if not illusive. Child sexual abuse has heightened awareness among the public. This increased awareness escalates the need for specialized treatment and knowledge of the short- and long-term effects of sexual abuse in children, especially in the fluid families of Americans today.

 

The National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS), state child protection agencies, and law enforcement agencies serve as three official sources of data on the incidence of childhood sexual abuse. According to research conducted by these agencies, child abuse has become an alarming social issue in American society.

  • On a yearly basis, the National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS) reports approximately 133,600 cases of sexual abuse among children.
  • Further data from the Survey of Child Abuse and Neglect report that 330,000 children are sexually abused in a year, with law enforcement citing some 150,000 cases each year.

 

Considerable evidence reveals:

  • At least 20% of American women and 5% to 10% of American men have experienced some form of sexual abuse as children.
  • The peak age of vulnerability for abuse of both boys and girls occurs between the age of 7 and 13.
  • The percentage of adults disclosing histories of sexual abuse range- from 2% to 62% for females and 3% to 16% for males.

There are numerous reasons that explain the rising number of sexual abuse reports. The first reason being the willingness to report and disclose. Another is the age group of children exposed to abuse appears to be younger victims. The last one is the heightened awareness from the general public and service professionals on the issue.

Mounting research indicates that childhood sexual abuse seems to be a major risk factor in negative adulthood psychological functioning. In fact, research conducted over the last decade indicates a definite causal relationship between emotional difficulties and sexual abuse. Children who have been sexually abused are more likely to meet the criteria for a host of psychological difficulties such as:

  • generalized anxiety disorder,
  • phobias,
  • panic disorder,
  • post-traumatic stress disorder, and/or
  • obsessive compulsive disorder.

 

The sexually abused child may be anxious in the presence of intimate or close relationships, and especially fearful when interacting with authority figures. Sexual abuse survivors who recount a single incident with a supportive parent are more likely to report minimal negative symptoms or none of the typical negative symptoms. The problems and symptoms described in the literature include:

  • post-traumatic stress,
  • cognitive distortions,
  • emotional gain avoidance,
  • academic difficulties,
  • impaired sense of self, and
  • interpersonal difficulties.

 

Quote from a Former Child Protective Supervisor 

“Child abuse by nature is threatening, disruptive and interferes with the child’s developing sense of security. They no longer believe in a safe, just world, so it shouldn’t be surprising that victims of sexual abuse are prone to chronic feelings of fearfulness or anxiety.”

 

Quote of a School Psychologist in a School Setting   

“Often times, these children show extremes in behaviors based on their age. Some children are hesitant to talk while others are very angry and act out in schools.”

 

Treatment for Child Sexual Abuse in the Child Welfare System

Most treatment settings for child sex abuse victims offer an array of psychological services intended to help the victim and their family cope with the immediate impact of the abuse. The services provided range from sexual abuse hotlines to individual and family counseling, group therapy, dyad counseling, marital counseling, and support groups.

Information about treatment programs normally adopts one or more of the four basic therapeutic aims:

  • Relieving symptoms
  • Destigmatizing
  • Increasing self-esteem
  • Preventing future abuse

 

Based on childhood sexual abuse research to date, an effective treatment program should include:

  1. Assessments of intellectual and social emotional functioning.
  2. Evidence-based techniques to address children struggling with more than one condition or more than one symptom.
  3. Social support services for the child and family members (i.e., non-abusing members)
  4. Systematic evaluation of the effectiveness of treatment including changes in the victim’s symptoms.
  5. Routine coordination of treatment with agencies that provide medical, social and legal services such as churches and other safe havens.

 

Call for Action   

Giving a voice to our youngest victims is the responsibility of every American. While childhood sexual abuse prevention education is one strategy, it cannot succeed in isolation. Additional services should have educational as well as a treatment-focused continuum that targets the general population and high risk groups (i.e., perpetrators or victims) to prevent recidivism. Compounding this problem is the fact that child sexual abuse is unpredictable – neither potential victims nor perpetrators can be reliably identified. Ultimately, our work is incomplete when it comes to altering the public’s opinion of childhood sexual abuse, as well as strengthening parental capacity to mature their child’s healthy emotional and sexual development. With increased knowledge and awareness, and effective treatment of sexual offenders, the public can help combat the immense societal problem of childhood sexual abuse.

 

References:

Beutler, L. E. ,  Williams, R. E. , &  Zetzer, H. A.  (1998). Efficacy of treatment for victims of child sexual abuse.  The Future of Children, 4(2), 153-175.

Cecil, C. A., Viding, E., Fearon, P., Glaser, D., & McCrory, E. J. (2017). Disentangling the mental health impact of childhood abuse and neglect. Child Abuse & Neglect, 63, 106-119.

Cohen, J. A., Mannarino, A. P., & Iyengar, S. (2011). Community treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder for children exposed to intimate partner violence. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 165(1), 16-21.

Silverman, W. K., Ortiz, C. D., Viswesvaran, C., Burns, B. J., Kolko, D. J., Putnam, F. W., & Amaya-Jackson, L. (2008). Evidence-based psychosocial treatments for children and adolescents exposed to traumatic events. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 37(1), 156-183.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect. (1993). National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect reports: Study of High Risk Child Abuse and Neglect Groups: United States, 1993.

 

Biographies:

 

Tonya Davis, PhD, is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist and a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor working in private practice for over 15 years providing counseling and assessment services for families and children. She has an extensive history of working with families and children from diverse ethnic backgrounds, as well as children who have experienced trauma. She currently serves on the faculty of Alabama A&M University as an Assistant Professor in the Psychology & Counseling Department. She completed her doctoral degree in School Psychology from the University of Alabama. She can be contacted at [email protected].

Karen Ethridge, PhD, currently serves as an assistant professor at Alabama A&M University. She received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Sociology from The University of Alabama in Huntsville. She earned her Master of Science in Psychology (with a concentration in Personnel Administration and Industrial Organizational Psychology) from Alabama A&M University in Normal, Alabama. She completed her doctoral degree in Educational Psychology from Capella University. Her research interests are academic self-efficacy and academic success in college students. She is currently the co-director of the Prevention and Learning Lab at Alabama A&M University where one of the goals is to focus on instructional learning and efficacy. She has worked with the Madison County Department of Human Resources as a Social Service Supervisor from 1998 to 2004. Since 2004, she initially served as an adjunct professor, then as an assistant professor at Alabama A&M University in the Psychology and Counseling Department. She can be contacted at [email protected].


Filed under: Children and Youth Tagged: abuse, child abuse, child abuse prevention, child sexual abuse, child welfare, evidence-based treatments, sexual abuse, trauma

We Lose Too Many Vietnam Veterans to Suicide: Here’s How You Can Help

 

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By Megan Lacy (Doctoral Student, Palo Alto University)

 

As our Vietnam veteran population ages, many may become increasingly vulnerable for death by suicide. Despite the fact that the Vietnam war occurred approximately 40 years ago, the moral injuries sustained are still felt by many who served our country. It is not unusual for Vietnam Veterans to have coped with difficult times by staying busy at home or at work. As retirement looms, it is not unusual for Vietnam era veterans to experience additional age-related risks such as social isolation, a feeling of burdensomeness, and changes in health status.

These changes can coalesce to hamper coping strategies that previously worked to manage mental distress, such as depression and posttraumatic stress disorder. Alcohol and substance use increases the risk of suicide as the abuse of substances, particularly alcohol, is strongly associated with both suicide attempts and deaths. So what should friends and family watch out for and what could be done in response to warning signs?

 

Warning signs:

In general, individuals most at risk of suicide are white older adult males who have health issues. As risk factors associated with veteran status converge on risk factors associated with later life , there are a few specific things friends and family should be aware of.

 

What’s going on in their life?

  • A major change in routine including retirement or loss of a job
  • The death of a spouse
  • A new medical diagnosis
  • A break up, separation or divorce
  • Not having a stable place to live
  • Inadequate family income

 

How are they behaving?

  • Increase in drinking or drug use
  • Sleeping considerably more or less
  • A loss of interest in things they typically enjoy
  • Social withdrawal
  • Impulsivity – engaging in risky behavior (running red lights, driving recklessly, looking like they have a “death wish”)
  • Becoming aggressive- examples of this are punching holes in walls, seeking revenge, getting into fights
  • Anxiety- worrying excessively about things they cannot control
  • Agitation and mood swings
  • Putting affairs in order such as giving away prized possessions or making out a will
  • Seeking out firearms access to pills
  • Neglecting personal welfare including deteriorating physical appearance or hygiene

 

What are they saying?

  • A sense of hopelessness:
    • “I have no purpose”
    • “I have no value”
    • “Nothing is ever going to get better”
  • Rage or anger: expressed toward people or things
  • Expressed feelings of excessive guilt, shame or failure:
    • My family would be better off without me”
  • Feelings of desperation:
    • “There is no solution”
    • “I just feel trapped”

 

What do they have access to?

Familiarity and access to a firearm makes suicide by firearm more likely. Any means by which a suicide can be attempted, including pills, is something that should be asked about. Veterans are more likely to own a gun and be comfortable using one making death by firearm a common means of suicide among this population.

 

How can you help?

Social support is one of the most effective protective factors against suicide (Cummings et al., 2015). However,  many veterans have isolated themselves and their friends and family struggle to talk to them. Inviting them to an event, writing them a letter or participating in a shared activity (building something, fishing, walking, etc.) are great ways to get things started.

Talk about it. Suicide is an uncomfortable topic but its best to be direct. Ask overtly if they are planning on killing themselves or have had thoughts about killing themselves. Just because they say no doesn’t mean that they don’t still have suicidal intentions so be sure to have additional information to provide such as a suicide hotline number for veterans, apps they could utilize (PTSD Coach), or a therapist’s contact information.

If your loved one has a plan or tell you they are going to kill themselves, call 911. Its better to put their safety first. Demonstrating your support by seeking additional help is always best. If you can, include them in the process of seeking immediate help. Calling 911 or visiting the ER does not have to be a one-sided decision.

These by no means are the only risk factors, signs or solutions for suicidality. However, engagement with friends and family has shown to be extremely effective against suicide. Demonstrating your support with regular calls or visits is an important step toward safety for many veterans.

 

Related Resources:

APA Psychology Topic: Suicide

Resources for Caregivers of Service Members and Veterans

When Will We Face the Facts about Suicide in Older Men?

 

References:

 

Chronic PTSD in Vietnam combat veterans: Course of illness and substance abuse (1996). American Journal of Psychiatry, 153(3), 369–375. doi:10.1176/ajp.153.3.369

Conner, K. R., Britton, P. C., Sworts, L. M., & Joiner, T. E. (2007). Suicide attempts among individuals with opiate dependence: The critical role of belonging. Addictive Behaviors, 32(7), 1395–1404. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2006.09.012

Conwell, Y., Van Orden, K., & Caine, E. D. (2011). Suicide in older adults. The Psychiatric Clinics of North America , 34(2), . Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3107573/

Cummins, N., Scherer, S., Krajewski, J., Schnieder, S., Epps, J., & Quatieri, T. F. (2015). A review of depression and suicide risk assessment using speech analysis. Speech Communication, 71, 10–49. doi:10.1016/j.specom.2015.03.004

Identifying signs of crisis. Retrieved February 26, 2017, from https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/SignsOfCrisis/Identifying.aspx

Lambert, M. T., & Fowler, R. D. (1997). Suicide risk factors among veterans: Risk management in the changing culture of the department of veterans affairs. The Journal of Mental Health Administration, 24(3), 350–358. doi:10.1007/bf02832668

Lester, D. (2003). Unemployment and suicidal behaviour. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 57(8), 558–559. doi:10.1136/jech.57.8.558

Military Suicide Research Consortium (MSRC) Newsroom. (2017, January 28). Retrieved February 26, 2017, from https://msrc.fsu.edu/news/study-reveals-top-reason-behind-soldiers-suicides

Nademin, E., Jobes, D. A., Pflanz, S. E., Jacoby, A. M., Ghahramanlou-Holloway, M., Campise, R., Johnson, L. (2008). An investigation of interpersonal-psychological variables in air force suicides: A controlled-comparison study. Archives of Suicide Research, 12(4), 309–326. doi:10.1080/13811110802324847

Price, J. L. (2016, February 23). Findings from the national Vietnam veterans’ readjustment study. Retrieved February 26, 2017, from http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/research-bio/research/vietnam-vets-study.asp

United States Department of Veterans Affairs. (July, 2016) VA Suicide Prevention Program: Facts about Veteran Suicide. Retrieved from https://www.va.gov/opa/publications/factsheets/Suicide_Prevention_FactSheet_New_VA_Stats_070616_1400.pdf

Van Orden, K. A., Witte, T. K., Gordon, K. H., Bender, T. W., & Joiner, T. E. (2008). Suicidal desire and the capability for suicide: Tests of the interpersonal-psychological theory of suicidal behavior among adults. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 76(1), 72–83. doi:10.1037/0022-006x.76.1.72

Van Orden, K. A., Witte, T. K., Cukrowicz, K. C., Braithwaite, S. R., Selby, E. A., & Joiner Jr, E. (2010). The interpersonal theory of suicide. Psychological review117(2), 575.

Warning signs of crisis. Retrieved February 26, 2017, from https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/SignsOfCrisis/

 

Image source: Flickr user Elvert Barnes via Creative Commons


Filed under: Aging, Violence Tagged: depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, suicide, suicide prevention, trauma, veterans, vietnam veterans

Historical Trauma in the Present: Why APA Cannot Remain Silent on the Dakota Access Pipeline

blog-standing-rock

By Susan H. McDaniel, PhD (2016 APA President)

Protesters being marked with numbers, put in dog kennels and shot with rubber bullets. These do not sound like events that should occur in modern day America. Unfortunately, according to media reports, these are some of the first-hand accounts of what is happening in North Dakota as protests escalate over the Dakota Access Pipeline.

For those unfamiliar with the dispute between environmental and human rights protesters on behalf of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and law enforcement, I would invite to you read the New York Times detailed summary of events. In short, there is a growing perception of injustice as a 1,172-mile oil pipeline that is slated to run from North Dakota to Illinois was rerouted near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation due its potential threat of contamination to Bismarck, North Dakota’s water supply.

Native Americans have been historically marginalized and mistreated by the United States. For instance, not all States recognized Native Americans’ right to vote until 1957 and many tribes experienced great loss of life, land and culture as the result of State and Federal legislation.

According to the psychological literature, chronic, systemic loss and mistreatment, as described above, may lead to historical trauma in which the pain experienced by one generation transfers to subsequent generations through biological, psychological, environmental, and social means. Studies show that historical trauma is linked to health disparities, including increased likelihood of early death due to chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, unintentional injuries, assault/homicide, and suicide.

APA’s mission is to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people’s lives.” This mission makes it incumbent upon our field and our association to speak out when the health and well-being of marginalized and other populations are being threatened and when possible to prevent trauma from occurring.

Due to the current proposed placement of the Dakota Access pipeline, we are concerned about possible leakage, which could harm the people of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. As psychologists, we are troubled by the potential for adverse neurological effects arising from exposure to oil-contaminated water.

In response to current events, I sent a letter on behalf of APA to President Obama with Dr. Jacqueline Gray, President of the Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity and Race (APA Division 45) that expressed:

  • Our support for the Administration’s hold on the construction of the oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Reservation, and praise for his consideration of alternate routes for the project; and
  • A request to urge law enforcement to show restraint as they try to diffuse the conflict.

It is critical that APA and the mental health community continue to show our support and bring attention to the issues impacting Native American communities and to help alleviate historical trauma.

In closing, I recommend you sign up for APA’s Federal Action Network to influence policy makers and make sure your voice is heard on critical issues in the future.

Dr. McDaniel is president of the American Psychological Association.

 

Image source: Flickr via Creative Commons.


Filed under: Culture, Ethnicity and Race, Health Disparities, Human Rights and Social Justice Tagged: #DAPL, #noDAPL, American Indians, Dakota Access Pipeline, environmental racism, health disparities, historical trauma, human rights, human rights abuses, law enforcement, Native Americans, police brutality, public health, public policy, racism, trauma, violence, water is life

9 Ways to Talk to Your Kids about the 15th Anniversary of September 11

talking-to-your-kids-about-9-112

By Robin Gurwitch, PhD

The assassination of John F. Kennedy. The explosion of the Challenger. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. There are few events in our nation’s history that have made an impact on all of us. Like most adults (and even older children and teens), I remember where I was when I first learned about the terrorist attacks of 9/11. I remember the discussion with my daughter, then 11, when she came home from school that day. We spent time discussing what happened, correcting misunderstandings, and talking through her worries and concerns. Much time was spent reassuring her of her safety and mine.

Children and teens have grown up in a world changed forever by these attacks. They have little or no memory of the United States not involved in the wars which followed the attacks. Media coverage of large-scale tragedies, including coverage of anniversaries of such events, can lead to emotional stress for some children and teens. The intensive 15th anniversary coverage of the terrorist attacks of September 11 may produce such distress.

Teenagers may have new questions about these events, particularly in light of recent terrorist attacks around the world. Young children may have questions for the first time as they watch or hear about this important anniversary. As the attacks have resulted in a war that is ongoing, more questions, worries, and new concerns may be raised. Finally, although the mastermind of the attacks, Osama bin Laden, has been killed, new conversations about ISIS and other terrorist organizations have taken his place in discussions about terrorism. Children may strive to understand how these events impact the future.

Parents and other caregivers provide a source of stability, comfort, and love in difficult times. As we reflect, remember, and commemorate the events of September 11, 2001, here are some tips to help your children as you watch coverage and talk to each other about the 9/11 15th anniversary.

 

1. Talk about it

Children may have many questions about what they are seeing and hearing related to the events of September 11 and the aftermath. For young children, they may not know what happened, except in large brushstrokes. For teenagers, they have grown up with 9/11 being a central part of their history.

  • Start the conversation—ask your children what they are thinking and about any concerns or questions they may have about the anniversary and resulting events.
  • If you make the first move in this conversation, your children and teens know you are comfortable talking about difficult topics. Even if they say they are not interested in talking, the fact that you are willing is what’s important. Continue to check in with your children. Believe it or not, taking the first step may lead to other talks about difficult events in your children’s lives now and in the future.
  • Check in to see what is being discussed at school and with friends. Be aware of how your child(ren)’s school will commemorate the 15th Knowing in advance can help led the conversation and help you to be more sensitive to your child(ren)’s worries and concerns as well as their desires to help to make a difference.

Many young children at the time of the attacks are now young adults. Parents should reach out to them as well. Just because they may no longer live at home does not mean they would not benefit from your support and an opportunity to talk about this event and what it means to them.

As you talk about this anniversary, also discuss where we are as a nation. Discuss how we can commemorate and continue to move forward, together. Our nation continues to change. As we reflect on this 15th anniversary, consider what beliefs and values about how we treat others you wish to share with your children and teens. Consider how hatred was the impetus for the terrorist attacks and discuss how you would like to see this change in today’s world.

 

2. Reassure

As you talk about the events of 9/11, remembering and commemorating this anniversary, assure children of all ages about what is being done to keep our country safe from future attacks. Take this opportunity to talk about your family’s emergency plans (or to make a plan), assuring them that in a crisis, your primary concern will be their safety and protection.

 

3. Be observant

Although it has been 15 years, the events of 9/11 changed our nation and the world. With the intensive coverage and discussion of the September 11th events and the anniversary, some children, may have increased distress.

 

  • Be mindful of any behavior changes you notice in your children. Reactions to stressful events include mood swings, increased irritability, changes in sleeping or eating patterns, and problems with attention and concentration.
  • Young children may be more demanding, regress in their behaviors, and act younger than their age; teens may be more withdrawn as well as impulsive. As routine returns, these behavior and emotional changes will likely subside within a short time, however, if prolonged, it’s important that you to seek professional support and counseling.
  • Even if children were not directly impacted by the attacks, coverage of this event may bring up losses that children may have experienced in their lives, “triggering” emotional distress.
  • Military children may have experienced parental deployment(s) in the last 15 years. Coverage of the anniversary is likely to include discussion of the wars resulting from the terrorist attacks. For these children, stressors associated with deployment(s) may arise. If concerned, parents should consult their pediatrician or mental health professional, not just for the child, but also for the entire family.

4. Be patient

Stress, as we think back to the events 15 years ago, not only affects our children, but it affects adults, too. We need to be a little more patient with ourselves and with our children. Children are masters at reading our moods and our distress. It is ok to share with them, at a level they can understand, our memories, and our progress for ourselves and for our country. A little extra attention, particularly when they do something well (e.g., chores, homework, get along with siblings) will also go a long way.

 

5. Connect

When I reflect on 9/11, I remember reaching out to my family and friends, both near and far. I know this was true for most of us. Children and teens feel most secure and are most resilient when they have connections with others. One of the best connections is a strong bond with you.

 

  • Take time to engage in activities with your child. This can be anything from reading a bedtime story with your child to reviewing the day with your tween or teen or even cooking together. Help your child maintain other important connections such as time with friends, extracurricular activities, and involvement in school activities.
  • This is also a time to consider connections with the larger community. Consider how you and your family want to mark this anniversary. It may be with an act of kindness toward others, including first responders who help on a daily basis or toward members of our military and veteran community who support our country’s freedoms. At anniversaries, communities and faith-based organizations often sponsor events; check these out! Discuss with your children how they may want to commemorate and make a difference on this anniversary and in the future. Validate your children’s ideas and see if you can incorporate them into your activities.
  • Reach out again. Reach out to family and friends. Reaffirm or restore connections.

 

6. Limit TV time

The deluge of images that will be replayed as the media marks the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks can easily overwhelm children and teens, especially younger children.

 

  • Be sure to let the youngest children know that the footage on the news and the internet is being replayed, and the disaster is not happening over and over again.
  • In fact, for young children, exposure to coverage is recommended to be extremely limited.
  • For older children and teens, it is best to watch coverage together and talk about concerns and answer any questions. This is a way to begin the conversation, to discuss the history of the attacks and how it has shaped our world. Review how far you have come.
  • Remember, tweens and teens may gather much information from social media sites. Talk to them about what they are “hearing” from peers. As you talk, gently correct any misinformation and misperceptions.

 

7. Show compassion, tolerance, and respect

Use the events depicted on the news as a platform from which to teach the importance of compassion and charity.

 

  • Help children to develop tolerance and respect for others. This can result in a decrease in bullying behaviors in schools and an increase for respecting diversity in general.
  • In the face of recent events in our country and around the world, hatred and intolerance, and fear seem to be on the rise. But, this does not have to be the case.
    • For Muslim families, children may face hatred and intolerance more so than other children, particularly now. Unfortunately, Islamophobia seems to be on the rise. The 9/11 anniversary may exacerbate this. Families can address this directly with their children and teens. Check-in to see how this unfounded fear is impacting them at school, in activities, and with friends. Discuss and even practice what children and teens can say should someone bully or belittle them or their religion. Most importantly, they need to know that they do not have to face this alone. You are there for support—You have their backs. As parents, you also do not have to address this alone. Talk to school administrators, your faith-based leaders, and reach out to community leadership about how these issues are being addressed. Just because it exists, does not mean it should continue or that there is nothing to be done to change it.
  • In the aftermath of all events, we see acts of kindness, heroic and selfless actions, and support for each other. Share these stories from 9/11, too.
  • Again, this anniversary presents an opportunity to share your beliefs, values, and hopes for how we treat each other and our vision of the future.
  • Your children will also have ideas of how to promote these ideals. Listen and support these—you may be surprised at what they have to offer!

 

8. Maintain routine 

No matter what else is happening in the world, routine is important to children of any age. They need the opportunity to play and to interact with other children. Friendships in the teen years are extremely important to their development; incorporating opportunities to spend time with friends into weekly routines can build important connections. Routine is important in the classroom and at home. Routine helps to provide a sense of stability for children, a feeling important after a crisis occurs or as they watch news about a crisis event.

 

9. Volunteer together

 

All children gain a sense of control, security, and empathy when they help others, and in the midst of crisis, they really can emerge as active agents of positive change. Encourage them to help support local charities and crisis relief efforts as you remember, reflect, and commemorate the 15th anniversary of September 11. Or better yet, join them in doing so! Communities, faith-based organizations, and national charities often sponsor activities for families to become a part of the giving. Be a role model. Discuss together how these activities can make a difference.

 

Special Consideration:

 

In the aftermath of September 11, thousands of children lost a parent. In the years since, more parents have died who may have helped in some way on that fateful day and in the weeks afterward. These children have grown up “in the shadow” of 9/11. Their traumatic loss was a national loss. Their grief, a shared grief. Yet, they also needed to grieve their loved ones, out of the public eye. They needed to cope and to adjust to life without a parent. There are no “rules” of how to do this. Goals, choices, and world views may have been significantly shaped by 9/11. Take time to discuss these. Guilt about actions taken or not taken are common in the aftermath of traumatic deaths. Hopefully, children directly impacted by the attacks have had support to cope with any reactions, their grief, and guilt.

Many children had parents who were also changed forever by their involvement in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. For all of these children and adolescents, 9/11 has also shaped who they have become and goals they may set for their future. As the anniversary is covered, and stories and images repeated, these adolescents and young adults may experience stress reactions as before, but this time, hopefully, with support from loved ones, it will not be as difficult.

I think about my friend, an EMS responder in NYC. She gave her all at Ground Zero, and continued to do so. She also worked to help her two young children cope with the aftermath of these events. Like others, health concerns have developed. Like others, anniversaries bring memories. Like others, she also takes time to hug her children a bit more and to reflect on changes and progress over the years. She shares her story. She is one of thousands whose lives changed on 9/11. I thank her for what she did and I commend her for where she is now.

 

After a traumatic event, many, particularly those impacted, strive to make meaning of the tragedy. Following 9/11, thousands of children had a parent killed or injured. More have experienced life changes due to the terrorist attacks. Over two million children have experienced parental deployment(s). Consider with your children, teens, and young adults how they have made meaning of what happened. How has their “life narrative” changed? For example, a son of a first responder killed in 9/11, pursued a career like his father and is now a first responder. Meaning making is unique for each person, but it can be an important part of the healing process.

 

For those directly impacted by the terrorist attacks, know that services remain available for families. Never be afraid or embarrassed to reach out—they can make an important difference (even 15 years later). For families who received services, know that this anniversary may bring up thoughts and feelings that seemed to have been resolved. This is common. It is ok to reach out again for support. This anniversary may also give rise to renewed commitments, strengths, hopes, and dreams for a brighter future ahead.

 

As I write, I have many emotions and thoughts that rise to the surface. These attacks changed me and I acknowledge these changes. I became part of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network and reaffirmed my involvement in the American Red Cross and the American Psychological Association’s Disaster Response Network. I shifted much of my professional work to focus on how to improve family relationships in our military families coping with deployments and renewed my resolve to support our understanding of how disasters, including the impact of terrorism on children. I made new friendships that have lasted for 15 years. Finally, on this 15th Anniversary, I will FaceTime with my daughter. I will reach out to family and friends near and far. I will reach out to say, “I love you” and “I’m glad to have you as a part of my life.” Together, we will reflect on where we were and where we have come. And, we will talk about what we hope for our future.

Related Resources:

 

Biography:

Dr. Robin Gurwitch has been involved in understanding the impact of terrorism and disasters on children since the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, providing direct service, training, and conducting research. She is a member of the APA Disaster Resource Network, American Red Cross, and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Dr. Gurwitch was recently appointed to the HHS National Advisory Committee on Children and Disasters.

 

Image source: Flickr user Josh Liba via Creative Commons


Filed under: Children and Youth Tagged: 9/11 anniversary, children and media, children's mental health, media, parenting, September 11, trauma

We Need to Talk About How Race-Related Trauma Hurts Black and Brown Youth in Schools

School girl victim of violence

By Dawn Henderson, PhD (Associate Professor, North Carolina A&T State University) and Alexis Lunford (Research Assistant)

Witnessing or experiencing race-related trauma damages the psychological wellbeing of minority youth. African American, American Indian, and Latino youth not only encounter race-related trauma in their neighborhoods but also in school. Schools should be a safe space for all children, but some disturbing data prove otherwise.

  • The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice reported African Americans and American Indians between 20 and 34 will more likely experience death from police than any other ethnic group. Just within the past two years, African American, American Indian, and Latino youth have witnessed, via social media or directly, police officers kill fathers— for example, Antonio Zambrano-Montes, Allen Locke, and, more recently, Philando Castile.
  • Teachers, school personnel, and resource officers often enact violence against children of color. Hyman and Perone (1998) wrote about this understudied aspect of school violence more than fifteen years ago and while the CDC does not provide any indicator, a disturbing 2015 video captured a school resource officer at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, SC violently wrestling an African American female to the ground while other students numbly watched.

Minority youth not only witness or experience physical violence in school, they also deal with constant alienation, discrimination, and microaggressions. In our work with suspended youth, we have uncovered these encounters and are capturing them more intentionally through interviews with minority students.

  • Alienation manifests in our interviews with students like Natalie[1], a Latina, who mentioned, “I felt like I did not belong, like I wasn’t worth anything and didn’t mean anything.”
  • Discrimination—Teachers and school personnel discriminate against minority youth in discretionary discipline practices and recommendations for advanced courses. Racial discrimination can increase anxiety and depressive symptoms among youth (Chavous et al., 2008; Cogburn, Chavous, & Griffin, 2011).
  • Microaggressions (intentional or unintentional language and behavior that is derogatory or negative) are evident for students like Samantha, an African American female:

I was the only black child, well the only black female in the computer engineering science class. And the teacher wouldn’t help me, he kind of pushed me [to] the side and he’s always like you can figure it out. But then Billy needed help so he just raised his hand and the teacher would assist him. But when I raised my hand he would overlook [me].

When youth like Natalie and Samantha begin to internalize the belief “I wasn’t worth anything and I didn’t mean anything”, it is obviously a detriment to their mental health. While Natalie and Samantha survived and are in college now, the scars from feeling alienated, encountering discrimination, and emotional abuse in public school remain etched onto their psyche.

Unfortunately, a number of African American, American Indian, and Latino youth may not be able to survive the emotional assault; they will either lash out in aggressive or self-destructive ways or leave school completely. The National Center for Education Statistics reports African American and Latino youth between ages 16 through 24 have the highest high school dropout rates.

 

How do we counter race-related trauma and build resilient youth and schools?

In order to decrease race-related trauma among children of color we will need to target the context in which they spend much of their time—schools. We offer a three-pronged approach to how schools can provide a context for intervention.

 

  1. Adopt Stress Reduction Practices in Schools 

blog-racialtraumagraphic

Stevenson (2008) wrote, “student-teacher relationships are stressful interactions that have the potential of being perceived as threats or challenges by both parties and that this primary appraisal is followed by a secondary appraisal of controllability or self-efficacy” (p. 356).

Adopting stress reduction practices, such as mindfulness, in schools to use with youth, teachers, and other school personnel can reduce tension and mitigate conflict. The work of the Holistic Life Foundation shows that mindfulness reduces stress-related behaviors by using meditative practices to improve attention, reduce stress, and increase self-regulation among adults and children. If we can identify ways to adopt stress reduction practices in school, we can reduce racial tensions.

 

  1. Support Advocacy through Youth –Adult Partnerships

Advocacy through youth-adult partnerships centers on improving community and civic engagement among youth. These partnerships can link youth to social support and provide opportunities for them to address racism and participate in decision-making in school. These types of activities can improve school engagement and build a number of skills for youth, such as social competence and self-efficacy (Zeldin, Christens, & Powers, 2013). In addition, training teachers and other supportive adults to model mindfulness in youth-adult partnerships only boosts the ways that youth manage stress and build resilience.

 

  1. Facilitate Truth and Reconciliation Groups

Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRCs) are a restorative justice process used in global human rights violations. Modeling TRCs into smaller groups in schools can potentially bring together multiple stakeholders such as youth, teachers, parents and other community members to address racial disparities in schools and develop solutions. These groups may not only foster partnerships between youth and adults, they may also increase opportunities for parents and other community members to inform school practices. Androff (2012) indicates TRCs can target problems states fail to address because they rely on individuals impacted by the issue and foster collective action—such as redesigning discipline practices.

Reducing race-related trauma in public schools will require us to understand how it occurs and then identify ways to reduce stress, racial anxiety, and support the abilities of minority youth, their parents, and communities to drive decision-making in schools. This is a lofty goal but it can be accomplished if we work together to support youth of color and show them that they matter.

 

References:

Androff, D. K. (2010). Truth and reconciliation commissions (TRCs): An international human rights intervention and its connection to social work. British Journal of Social Work, 40, 1960–1977. doi: 10.1093./bjsw//bcp139

Chavous, T. M., Rivas-Drake, D., Smalls, C., Griffin, T., & Cogburn, C. (2008). Gender matters, too: The influences of school racial discrimination and racial identity on academic engagement outcomes among African American adolescents. Developmental Psychology, 44, 637–654. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.44.3.637

Cogburn, C. D., Chavous, T. M., & Griffin, T. M. (2011). School-based racial and gender discrimination among African American adolescents: Exploring gender variation in frequency and implications for adjustment. Race Social Problems, 3, 25–37.

Hyman, I. A., & Perone, D. C. (1998). The other side of school violence: Educator policies and practices that may contribute to student misbehavior. Journal of School Psychology, 36(1), 7-27.

Lanier, C., & Huff-Corzine, L. (2006). American Indian homicide A county-level analysis utilizing social disorganization theory. Homicide Studies, 10, 181–194.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2015). The condition of education 2015 (NCES 2015-144),Retrieved from the U. S. Department of Education website: https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=16

Stevenson, H. C. (2008). Fluttering around the racial tension of trust: Proximal approaches to suspended Black student-teacher relationships. School Psychology Review, 37, 354–359.

Zeldin, S., Christens, B. D., & Powers, J. L. (2013). The psychology and practice of youth-adult partnership: Bridging generations for youth development and community change. American Journal of Community Psychology, 51, 385–397. doi: 10.1007/s10464-012-9558-y

 

Biographies:

Dawn X. Henderson, PhD, is a Community Psychologist and member of Division 27 (Society for Community Research and Action) of the American Psychological Association and Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at North Carolina A&T State University. Her research includes how trauma occurs in the public school system and interventions targeting economically disadvantaged ethnic minority youth. Alexis Lunsford is a Research Assistant and graduate of Winston-Salem State University. Any comments or feedback can be sent to [email protected].

[1] All names listed are pseudonyms assigned to protect the identity of the students.

Image source: iStockphoto.com


Filed under: Children and Youth, Culture, Ethnicity and Race Tagged: African American youth, American Indian youth, children's mental health, discrimination, Education, Hispanic youth, Latino youth, microaggressions, mindfulness, prejudice, race-related trauma, racism, resilience, school dropouts, stress, stress reduction, trauma

Racial Trauma is Real: The Impact of Police Shootings on African Americans

blog-racial-trauma

By Erlanger A. Turner, PhD (Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of Houston-Downtown) & Jasmine Richardson

There have been many changes within the criminal justice system as a means to deter crime and to keep citizens safe. However, research demonstrates that often times men of color are treated harshly which leads to negative perceptions of police officers. The recent shootings in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas have exposed many individuals and their families to incidents of police brutality that reminds us that as a society work needs to be done to improve police and community relations.

In light of these recent events, many people have witnessed these traumatic incidents through social media or participation in marches in their cities. The violence witnessed towards people of color from police continues to damage perceptions of law enforcement and further stereotype people of color negatively. In a study published in the American Journal of Public Health (Geller, Fagan, Tyler, & Link, 2014), the authors reported that 85% of the participants reported being stopped at least once in their lifetime and 78% had no history of criminal activity. What is more concerning is that the study also found that those who reported more intrusive police contact experienced increased trauma and anxiety symptoms. Furthermore, those who reported fair treatment during encounters with law enforcement had fewer symptoms of PTSD and anxiety.

 

What is Racial Trauma?

In addition to the mental health symptoms of individuals who have encounters with law enforcement, those who witness these events directly or indirectly may also be impacted negatively. In an attempt to capture how racism and discrimination negatively impacts the physical and mental health of people of color, many scholars have coined the term “racial trauma” or race-based traumatic stress. Racial trauma may result from racial harassment, witnessing racial violence, or experiencing institutional racism (Bryant-Davis, & Ocampo, 2006; Comas-Díaz, 2016). The trauma may result in experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, feelings of humiliation, poor concentration, or irritability.

 

Effects of Racial Trauma on Communities of Color

Decades of research have noted the impact of discrimination and racism on the psychological health of communities of color (e.g., Bryant-Davis & Ocampo, 2006; Carter & Forsyth, 2009; Comas-Díaz, 2016). Although not everyone who experiences racism and discrimination will develop symptoms of race-based trauma, repeated exposure may lead to the following. According to a report on The Impact of Racial Trauma on African Americans, Dr. Walter Smith notes the following effects of racial trauma:

Increased vigilance and suspicion – Suspicion of social institutions (schools, agencies, government), avoiding eye contact, only trusting persons within our social and family relationship networks

Increased sensitivity to threat – Defensive postures, avoiding new situations, heightened sensitivity to being disrespected and shamed, and avoid taking risks

Increased psychological and physiological symptoms – Unresolved traumas increase chronic stress and decrease immune system functioning, shift brains to limbic system dominance, increase risks for depression and anxiety disorders, and disrupt child development and quality of emotional attachment in family and social relationships

Increased alcohol and drug usage – Drugs and alcohol are initially useful (real and perceived) in managing the pain and danger of unresolved traumas but become their own disease processes when dependency occurs

Increased aggression – Street gangs, domestic violence, defiant behavior, and appearing tough and impenetrable are ways of coping with danger by attempting to control our physical and social environment

Narrowing sense of time – Persons living in a chronic state of danger do not develop a sense of future; do not have long-term goals, and frequently view dying as an expected outcome

 

Coping with Racial Trauma

Racial trauma or race-based trauma often goes unnoticed. These hidden wounds that adults and youth of color experience are worn like invisible weights. Hardy (2013) provides the following eight steps to heal after experiencing racial injustices in our community.

  1. Affirmation and Acknowledgement: This involves professionals helping the individual to develop a sense of understanding acceptance of racial issues. This step is important because it opens the door for us to dialogue about issues related to race.
  2. Create Space for Race: Creating space allows an open dialogue with our communities about race. Hardy notes that we must take a proactive role to identify race as a significant variable and talk openly about experiences related to race.
  3. Racial Storytelling: Gives individuals an outlet to share personal experiences and think critically about events in their lives. This provides an opportunity to hear others voice how they have been treated differently due to their race and it helps expose hidden wounds through storytelling.
  4. Validation: Can be seen as a personalized tool used to counter devaluation. This provides confirmation of the individuals’ worth and their redeemable qualities.
  5. The Process of Naming: With the scarcity of research on the effects of racial trauma on mental health, there is of course no name as of yet making it a nameless condition. This in turn increases the doubt and uncertainty. By naming these experiences we give individuals a voice to speak on them and also recognize how they impact them. If we apply a mental health condition, individuals may experience symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  6. Externalize Devaluation: The aim for this step is to have people focus on increasing respect and recognizing that racial events do not lower their self-worth.
  7. Counteract Devaluation: This step uses a combination of psychological, emotional, and behavioral resources to build self-esteem and counter racial attacks. This helps prevent future kiss if dignity and sense of self.
  8. Rechanneling Rage: By rechanneling rage, individuals can learn to gain control of their emotions and not let emotions consume them. This is an important step because it empowers people to keep pushing forward after adversity. This may include taking steps to engage in activism or self-care strategies such as spending time with family.

 

Biographies:

Erlanger A. Turner, PhD, is a Clinical Psychologist and an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Dr. Turner’s research focuses on access to child mental health services, health inequity, help-seeking attitudes and behaviors, and cultural competency in clinical practice. He teaches courses at UHD in clinical psychology, multicultural psychology, and child psychopathology. Dr. Turner is also a blogger for The Race to Good Health. Dr. Turner is a member of the American Psychological Association and the Association of Black Psychologists. He has served in numerous leadership positions throughout APA and APA Divisions. He earned his B.S. in psychology from Louisiana State University and an M.S. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. Dr. Turner is currently Chair-Elect for the APA Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest and he was recently appointment to the Behavioral Health National Project Advisory Committee for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health.

Jasmine Richardson, BS earned her psychology degree from the University of Houston- Downtown (UHD) and is a former research assistant at the UHD Race, Culture, and Mental Health Research Lab under the supervision of Dr. Turner.

Note: An earlier version of this blog was published on BlackDoctor.org

 

References:

Bryant-Davis, T., & Ocampo, C. (2006). A therapeutic approach to the treatment of racist-incident-based trauma. Journal of Emotional Abuse6(4), 1-22.

Carter, R. T., & Forsyth, J. M. (2009). A guide to the forensic assessment of race-based traumatic stress reactions. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online37(1), 28-40.

Comas-Díaz, L. (2016). Racial trauma recovery: A race-informed therapeutic approach to racial wounds. In Alvarez, A.N. (Ed); Liang, C. T. H. (Ed); Neville, H. A. (Ed), The cost of racism for people of color: Contextualizing experiences of discrimination. Cultural, racial, and ethnic psychology book series (pp. 249-272). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association.

Geller, A., Fagan, J., Tyler, T., & Link, B. G. (2014). Aggressive policing and the mental health of young urban men. American Journal Of Public Health, 104(12), 2321-2327

Hardy, K. V. (2013). Healing the Hidden Wounds of Racial Trauma. Reclaiming Children And Youth, 22(1), 24-28.

Image source: Flickr user blogocram via Creative Commons


Filed under: Criminal and Juvenile Justice, Culture, Ethnicity and Race, Human Rights and Social Justice, Violence Tagged: coping, discrimination, mental health, policing, racial bias, racial discrimination, racial profiling, racial trauma, racism, stress, trauma

How to Talk to Our Kids about the Tragic Shootings in Louisiana, Minnesota and Dallas

Diverse kids holding hands

By Robin Gurwitch, PhD

Families around the country are coming together to talk about the officer-involved shootings in Louisiana, Minnesota, and the ambush of police officers in Dallas, Texas. These events come shortly after the violence in Orlando. In fact, it seems that acts of violence are in the news on a regular basis.

As a nation, we are trying to wrap our minds around what is taking place all around us. Protests related to police injustice, protests about gun violence, protests about tolerance, vigils for those killed in all of these events are happening in many communities across America.

In the aftermath of these events, we are also witnessing many acts of kindness. These have included hugs between protesters and police officers, hand-holding among all genders, races, and ages. Offering lemonade to those standing in the heat.

How do we begin to explain all of this to our children when we, as adults, are having our own difficulties with what is occurring?

First, we need to ask: What do children understand or believe about what they are seeing and hearing from the media, social media, and family?

It is important to include our children in these important conversations. Check in to see children what they are thinking or feeling. This will shape the talks. Feelings may include worries and anxieties to fears about safety and security. There are similarities and there are differences in the talks across families. Families of color are having to talk to their children about how to act should they be stopped by police officers. Is it fair that these discussions must still happen in 2016? Absolutely not.  The fact that this is still necessary is an example of the injustices many face daily.

All families should talk about diversity, the reality of racism and discrimination, and the importance of respect, tolerance, unity and justice.

These events, as horrific as they are, are opportunities for families to come together to discuss how to treat others. It is time for a frank discussion about realities in our society and equitable treatment of all who live in our country. This is a time to share values and beliefs, a time to share our wishes for the future. Research shows us that hate and prejudice are not ingrained—they are taught, they are learned. This is a time to turn the tide and teach our children about the kind of society we want for their future.

While events before and since Ferguson have spotlighted systemic injustices, it is important to also recognize the good done by the majority of police officers on a daily basis in communities around the country. It is important to note for children that as shots rang out in Dallas, police protected protesters and ran toward the sound in hopes of keeping people safe. Police and other first responders can be a resource of help. Families’ experiences may vary widely, so discussions will also vary. While not shying away from the realities of current events, be mindful of the age of children as you talk with them. We are at a long-overdue “tipping point” for improving relationships and trust in our communities. We can and should all be a part of this change.

The protests about police injustice and the attacks on officers are not an “either-or” issue, but are two important, interrelated conversations.

Following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, residents championed the importance of acts of kindness. We should discuss this with our children, too.

As children may be worried about safety and security issues, it is important to share with our children what communities are doing to keep everyone safe. It is also important to help children consider how they would like to show an act of kindness. This may be participating in a community event/vigil for healing. It may be writing a letter or creating a drawing for community first responders or other positive figures in the community; it may be helping a neighbor or a friend in some small way. Rather than tell our children how to act with kindness, let’s be role models by our own actions and words. Let’s include them in the conversation. Oftentimes the ideas of children, even the very young, and teens surprise and impress us! We all have heard the quote, “children are our future,” perhaps now, more than ever, we need to decide what kind of future this will be.

For more information and tips, check out the resources and articles below.

Related Resources:

 

Recent News Articles:

Biography:

Dr. Robin Gurwitch has been involved in understanding the impact of terrorism and disasters on children since the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, providing direct service, training, and conducting research. She is a member of the APA Disaster Resource Network, American Red Cross, and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Dr. Gurwitch was recently appointed to the HHS National Advisory Committee on Children and Disasters.

 

 

 


Filed under: Children and Youth, Criminal and Juvenile Justice, Culture, Ethnicity and Race, Human Rights and Social Justice, Violence Tagged: Children, children's mental health, Dallas, difficult dialogues, excessive force, Louisiana, mass shootings, Minnesota, police brutality, police shootings, policing, race relations, racial bias, racial discrimination, racial profiling, racism, social justice, trauma, violence

How to Talk to Our Kids about the Tragic Shootings in Louisiana, Minnesota and Dallas

Diverse kids holding hands

By Robin Gurwitch, PhD

Families around the country are coming together to talk about the officer-involved shootings in Louisiana, Minnesota, and the ambush of police officers in Dallas, Texas. These events come shortly after the violence in Orlando. In fact, it seems that acts of violence are in the news on a regular basis.

As a nation, we are trying to wrap our minds around what is taking place all around us. Protests related to police injustice, protests about gun violence, protests about tolerance, vigils for those killed in all of these events are happening in many communities across America.

In the aftermath of these events, we are also witnessing many acts of kindness. These have included hugs between protesters and police officers, hand-holding among all genders, races, and ages. Offering lemonade to those standing in the heat.

How do we begin to explain all of this to our children when we, as adults, are having our own difficulties with what is occurring?

First, we need to ask: What do children understand or believe about what they are seeing and hearing from the media, social media, and family?

It is important to include our children in these important conversations. Check in to see children what they are thinking or feeling. This will shape the talks. Feelings may include worries and anxieties to fears about safety and security. There are similarities and there are differences in the talks across families. Families of color are having to talk to their children about how to act should they be stopped by police officers. Is it fair that these discussions must still happen in 2016? Absolutely not.  The fact that this is still necessary is an example of the injustices many face daily.

All families should talk about diversity, the reality of racism and discrimination, and the importance of respect, tolerance, unity and justice.

These events, as horrific as they are, are opportunities for families to come together to discuss how to treat others. It is time for a frank discussion about realities in our society and equitable treatment of all who live in our country. This is a time to share values and beliefs, a time to share our wishes for the future. Research shows us that hate and prejudice are not ingrained—they are taught, they are learned. This is a time to turn the tide and teach our children about the kind of society we want for their future.

While events before and since Ferguson have spotlighted systemic injustices, it is important to also recognize the good done by the majority of police officers on a daily basis in communities around the country. It is important to note for children that as shots rang out in Dallas, police protected protesters and ran toward the sound in hopes of keeping people safe. Police and other first responders can be a resource of help. Families’ experiences may vary widely, so discussions will also vary. While not shying away from the realities of current events, be mindful of the age of children as you talk with them. We are at a long-overdue “tipping point” for improving relationships and trust in our communities. We can and should all be a part of this change.

The protests about police injustice and the attacks on officers are not an “either-or” issue, but are two important, interrelated conversations.

Following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, residents championed the importance of acts of kindness. We should discuss this with our children, too.

As children may be worried about safety and security issues, it is important to share with our children what communities are doing to keep everyone safe. It is also important to help children consider how they would like to show an act of kindness. This may be participating in a community event/vigil for healing. It may be writing a letter or creating a drawing for community first responders or other positive figures in the community; it may be helping a neighbor or a friend in some small way. Rather than tell our children how to act with kindness, let’s be role models by our own actions and words. Let’s include them in the conversation. Oftentimes the ideas of children, even the very young, and teens surprise and impress us! We all have heard the quote, “children are our future,” perhaps now, more than ever, we need to decide what kind of future this will be.

For more information and tips, check out the resources and articles below.

Related Resources:

 

Recent News Articles:

Biography:

Dr. Robin Gurwitch has been involved in understanding the impact of terrorism and disasters on children since the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, providing direct service, training, and conducting research. She is a member of the APA Disaster Resource Network, American Red Cross, and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Dr. Gurwitch was recently appointed to the HHS National Advisory Committee on Children and Disasters.

 

 

 


Filed under: Children and Youth, Criminal and Juvenile Justice, Culture, Ethnicity and Race, Human Rights and Social Justice, Violence Tagged: Children, children's mental health, Dallas, difficult dialogues, excessive force, Louisiana, mass shootings, Minnesota, police brutality, police shootings, policing, race relations, racial bias, racial discrimination, racial profiling, racism, social justice, trauma, violence

Responding to the Tragedy in Orlando: Helpful Responses for LGBTQ People and Allies

morelovelesshate

By Glenda Russell, PhD

What took place in Orlando on the morning of June 12, 2016 was a hate crime and an act of terror. In one sense, hate crimes are always acts of terror: Hate crimes victimize not only the individual or individuals who were directly impacted but also the communities of which those individuals are members. Feeling a certain level of confusion is a frequent part of being in a community that has been impacted by a hate crime. It is critical that we call the event what it is: a hate crime. Having strong reactions to such events makes sense. These reactions are not pathological, and it is likely that many other people share them.

What we feel is not about a personal weakness; this is about a community and political experience that may be felt on a deeply personal level. It is a collective experience, and collective problems are best solved through collective means. This event, despite its horror, will not stop the movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer rights. It is important for us to keep that in mind and to call upon the strengths we have built as a community as we move forward. Here is what we know can help based on over two decades of research.

 

Helpful Responses for LGBTQ People

 

1. Cultivate a “movement perspective.”

This horrible moment is part of what sometimes happens when people insist on their rights. We are part of a community that extends across time and place, in this nation and beyond. We are also connected to other movements for equality. We must keep this in mind and resist the temptation to see one person in another stigmatized group (the shooter) as representing all members of that group (Muslims, people of color, etc.). We all benefit from seeing the broader movement for equality as a struggle we all share.

It does not mean the movement is ending or even in trouble. The event in Orlando is part of a bigger backlash. The movement will go forward despite such events, though that may not feel possible now.

We have the power to make that happen. It requires us to work, but is there any more important thing to do with our energies?

 

2. Do something.
  • Active coping is virtually always better than doing nothing.
  • Read a book on queer history.
  • Think of 10 good things about being LGBTQ.
  • Express your sadness, anger, and fear or whatever you’re feeling.
  • Get your friends together to talk about this event.
  • Resist the temptation to reduce the Orlando tragedy to a matter of mental illness. Research shows that people with diagnosed mental illnesses are no more likely to commit violent acts than people without such diagnoses.
  • Send money to your local LGBTQ community center.
  • Volunteer with a community organization.
  • Attend a Pride parade in your city.
  • Go to a queer chorus concert.

 

3. Pay attention to your allies.

When danger is afoot, it is tempting to focus exclusively on possible sources of danger. While it is important to be as safe as possible, it is also important to focus on who your allies are. Movements rarely make progress solely through the efforts of people who are the targets of oppression. We need allies. Pay at least as much attention to our allies as you do to the people who are against us. Tell your straight and cis friends what you would like them to do. Hold yourself accountable for being an ally to oppressed groups of which you are not a member—including Muslims. This helps you to be aware of your privilege—which, in Suzanne Pharr’s words—you can “spend well.” You’ll feel less powerless, and you can create positive change in the world.

 

4. Watch for the negative messages about our community that may float around.
  • Actively resist such messages.
  • Learn the truth about who we are.
  • Read some LGBTQ history to remind yourself of what an amazing movement we have.
  • Read about LGBTQ elders and what they have accomplished.
  • Take note of the remarkable strength, courage, and creativity of so many LGBTQ youths.
  • Remember and heed the words of the great South African freedom fighter, Steven Biko, who said, “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
5. Find and make use of your LGBT and allied community. 
  • Go where you feel safe. Play when you feel like it.
  • You’ll be contributing to the community even as you get good things from the community.
  • Support community events.
  • Use the Orlando tragedy as a way to re-energize yourself and your local community.
  • Have hot sex, and play safe.
  • Look at everything you have gained from the LGBTQ community, and dare to pass it on to others.
  • Do the usual things that help people, especially in times of crisis.
  • Take care of yourself.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Eat well.
  • Be careful what you put into your body.
  • Get some exercise.
  • Pay attention to the temptation to isolate.
If You Are a Mental Health Professional:
  •  Share your knowledge and skills with others.
  • Help our communities to know the truth about our lives.
  • Be willing to talk with your clients about their reactions to Orlando.
  • Teach your students about privilege and oppression.
  • Show others that being LGBT or Q is a gift.

 

Biography:

Glenda Russell, PhD is a licensed psychologist who works at  Ethnography & Evaluation Research at the University of Colorado Boulder; she also teaches adjunctively there. She has conducted research about the consequences of stigma for more than two decades. Among other publications is Voted Out: The Psychological Consequences of Anti-gay Politics. She works as a consulting partner with  the North Star Project.

The original version of this article was featured on Dr. Glenda Russell’s website: http://drglendarussell.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Responding-to-Orlando.pdf

 

 


Filed under: LGBT Issues, Violence Tagged: hate, hate crime, healing, homophobia, LGBT, Orlando shootings, self-care, terrorism, trauma

7 Ways to Talk to Children and Youth about the Shootings in Orlando

orlando

By Robin Gurwitch, PhD

Once again our nation is coping with a violent tragedy.  In the aftermath of the Orlando terrorist attack, we find ourselves distressed, grief-stricken, and even angry that such a horrible thing could happen.  Children and teens may find the event even more challenging.  Here are some suggestions on talking with your children about what happened.

  1. Engage in age-appropriate honest discussions

Children and teens may have watched news coverage of the event and its aftermath and/or heard adults around them talking about the shooting. To best help youth, let them know that talking about it is a good thing. You can help by starting the conversation with your children. It may start with, “As you know, there was a terrible shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, FL. Many people were killed or injured. I want to talk to you about this and answer any questions or worries you may have.” Be honest in your discussion, but the gruesome details are unnecessary to share.

Keep the conversation at a level that the child or teen can understand. In other words, what you may say to an 8 year old may be very different than the language you may use with a 16 year old. Remember, your frank discussion, while difficult, will help separate fact from fiction and clear up any misinformation or misunderstanding. Children will “fill in the gaps” with ideas that may be far more frightening than the reality. Because of this, try to be mindful of your adult conversations about the attack as, again, children may not fully understand what they hear.

  1. Monitor social media and television exposure

Young children should not watch this at all. Older children and teens may have some exposure, but it is important that we discuss what they are seeing or hearing with them. With teens, we can often ask, “what have your friends been posting or saying about the attack in Orlando?” This may open the door for further conversation. Remember, as adults, we also need to take a break from coverage. We are also vulnerable to stress reactions, including worries and anxieties.

  1. Promote human values  

Because this attack happened at a gay nightclub, there may be questions about the attack’s location. It is important to let children and teens know that no one deserves any act of violence for their sexual orientation, gender identity or, for that matter, race, religion, culture, or other beliefs.  We live in a time when fear-mongering and hate speech directed at anyone who is different are heightened in our country. It is important to share with children and teens the values and beliefs we want them to develop as we help to shape their world view. For parents and other important adults in the lives of LGBTQ youth, it is essential that we provide extra support and understanding as this tragedy unfolds. Unfortunately, hate speech may occur and we need to remind our children and teens in the LGBTQ community that they are not alone.

General resources for LGBT youth and their parents include resources from the Family Acceptance Project, which works to prevent health and mental health risks for LGBT children and youth, and “What Does Gay Mean?” – a brochure to improve understanding and respect for LGBT youth, available from Mental Health America for a minimal cost.  The Public Interest blog will explore needs of LGBTQ youth in a future post. We also must not overlook the fact that Muslim youth may be the targets of Islamophobic attacks in the aftermath of this terrorist attack. They will also need compassion and support in the days and weeks ahead. Encourage children in both of these groups to seek out a trusted adult to share their questions, concerns, and worries as they may experience the event in a more personal way than others.

  1. Recognize safety and security

Concerns related to safety and security are often paramount after tragedies. Talk to children and teens about the heroic response from law enforcement and ongoing steps being taken. Share with youth that communities across the U.S. have plans to help keep residents as safe as possible before, during, and after any disaster or terrorist attack. This is an opportunity to discuss family plans for safety. For all children and youth, providing an extra dose of patience, attention, and love will help everyone during this time.

  1. Anticipate possible stress reactions

In the aftermath of tragic events, particularly terrorist events, you may see reactions to stress and trauma in your children. These may include difficulty sleeping and changes in appetite. Encouraging proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep is helpful. There may also be problems with attention and concentration. For many children and especially teens, there may be an increase in irritability and mood swings (above what we would expect). Children and youth may think about this event, even when they don’t want to. Keep the lines of communication open and check back in with them often in the days and weeks ahead.

  1. Accept possible reminders of suffering or loss

Traumas such as this recent shooting may bring up personal suffering or losses, whether or not the loss was the result of violence. Help children and teens remember how they have successfully coped with past hardships and encourage them to use similar strategies now. Grief and loss are unique for each of us and children and teens are no different. These emotions follow no timetable. Building and maintaining a strong social support system is paramount to the healing process. Besides family and friends, support systems may also include faith and culture-based organizations.

  1. Foster hope

The aftermath of the Orlando terrorist attack also reminds us of the goodness in people. As we watched thousands respond to the call for blood donations, we witnessed the desire to help, the wish to say, “we stand together; we are united; we will persevere.” Children and teens may wish to find a way to help. Consider making a donation to the American Red Cross or similar organizations from monies they have earned.  A handwritten note to responders in Orlando, as well as in your own community for the work they do every day, can be another positive contribution.

Consider age-appropriate ways for your children to volunteer in your community, your neighborhood, and in your cultural or faith-based organizations to help others. These and myriad other acts of kindness remind us that while these acts of terrorism seek to threaten and cower us, the effect may be the opposite. These acts bring out our strengths and assure us that we will support each other today and into the future.

Distressing reactions to this tragedy will likely lessen over time. If they persist or interfere with day-to-day functioning, a psychologist can help you develop a strategy to move forward.  Go to APA’s Psychologist Locator or reach out to your state psychological association for resources in your area.

For further tips on talking to your kids during tragedy, check out these resources:

And for your own self-care in these difficult times, check out:

 

Biography:

Dr. Robin Gurwitch has been involved in understanding the impact of terrorism and disasters on children since the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, providing direct service, training, and conducting research. She is a member of the APA Disaster Resource Network, American Red Cross, and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Dr. Gurwitch was recently appointed to the HHS National Advisory Committee on Children and Disasters.


Filed under: Children and Youth, Violence Tagged: Children, children's mental health, gun violence, hate crime, homophobia, islamophobia, LGBT, LGBT Pride Month, LGBT youth, Muslim youth, Orlando shootings, parenting, stress, teenagers, teens, terrorism, trauma