Category Archives: Self-Injury Disorders

Eating and Self-Injury Disorders: Finding the Door to Recovery (Guest: Melissa Groman, LCSW)

BTRadioIntDisorders of eating can affect both young and old. Their self-abusive characteristics are difficult to understand and, at times, can be even more difficult to manage and treat effectively. Melissa Growman, LCSW, shares valuable insights in this interview from some of our most popular programs in the archives. –JDS 

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Eating and Self-injury Disorders: Finding the Door to Recovery, Melissa Groman

Beliefs, and the thoughts they bring on, can either guide a person’s life and keep it on course, or they can erupt into feelings that torment an individual without mercy. When that happens, any behavior that covers and soothes emotional pain and anguish is an option.

Difficult to Address

According to our guest on this program, eating and self-injury disorders are difficult to address because they serve their purpose, at least in the short-term. Like other behaviors that can become addictive, bingeing and starving, or the compulsive cutting of one’s own flesh, provide welcomed distraction and relief from much deeper pain.

These behaviors can become a cycle of self-abuse that occurs in more adolescent girls and young women than you might think. Ultimately, the cycle becomes a trap.

Is there hope for change?

Ambivalence is an Issue

Better is Not So Far Away, Melissa GromanOur guest on this program, Melissa Groman, psychotherapist and specialist in eating and self-injury disorders, suggests that, although recovery from these disorders is possible, ambivalence toward recovery can be a major obstacle. In this program, Melissa will share with us why this is so, what it takes for recovery to become a reality, and what caring parents, other relatives and friends can do to help.

Melissa Growman, LCSW

Melissa’s trademark warmth, sensitivity and profound understanding of human nature permeate her work. She has more than 25 years of experience helping people live healthy, satisfying lives. Although she maintains a busy private practice, Melissa writes regularly for a number of magazines, websites and blogs. This program features her book, Better is Not So Far Away: Decide to Recover from Bingeing, Starving or Cutting. (27:43)

www.melissagroman.com

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Has “Depression” Lost Its Meaning? (Dr. Larry F. Waldman)

Special Report, Has "Depression" Lost Its Meaning?Dr. Waldman addresses a significant issue regarding how the word “depression” is often used; his insights and explanations here are absolutely on-target. It is important to note that children generally manifest depression differently than adults. (As one of my college professors once lectured, “Depressed adults VEGETATE; depressed children AGITATE.”) A depressed child is often seen as a behavior problem. Too often, while the behavior is being addressed, intervention for depression is either delayed or not addressed at all. So, whether we’re considering depression as it affects youngsters or adults, it’s a topic needing a LOT more understanding. With our thanks to Dr. Waldman, we present, “Has ‘Depression’ Lost Its Meaning?”  –JDS

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Dr. Larry F. Waldman, Has "Depression" Lost Its Meaning?Recently, I overheard an adolescent tell her friend, “I was so depressed yesterday but I’m fine today.” Her friend replied, “Yeah, I understand; I get depressed sometimes, too.”

This conversation reflects the very common misuse of the term “depression.” Most individuals mistakenly refer to depression when, in fact, they are simply sad or unhappy. We all occasionally “get down,” get “bummed out,” or have “the blues,” but these feelings usually last a few hours or a day or two, and the individual can manage their life—eat, sleep, work, socialize, etc.

True Depression is Serious

True depression, sometimes called clinical depression, is far more severe than a few hours or day or so “down in the dumps.” An average episode of clinical depression lasts approximately six to nine months; in some cases it can last a year or more. It is a deep, prevailing sense of sadness and darkness, often accompanied with the thought that, “I will never feel better.”

Truly depressed persons cannot carry on with their lives because they are unable to focus or concentrate, have no energy, cannot sleep or sleep excessively, cannot eat or overeat, and strictly avoid socialization. Depressed persons typically develop low self-esteem and anxiety. It is also common that physical symptoms accompany depression, like head- and/or backaches or GI distress. The term depression has clearly lost its meaning.

Depression at times is brought on by some negative environmental event but just as frequently depression begins with no apparent cause. Individuals with family members whom have struggled with depression, and thus may be genetically predisposed, are more susceptible to this kind of depression with no obvious precipitant. (Psychiatrists refer to this as “endogenous” depression.)

Depression is Dangerous

Depression is dangerous: People with clinical depression lose their ambition, confidence, and their jobs–even their careers. They have great difficulty fulfilling their role as parent and/or spouse and thus those relationships become tenuous. Depressed people may abuse drugs and/or alcohol in an attempt to ameliorate their symptoms. Finally, the prospect of suicide becomes more likely as the depressed patient becomes convinced they are defective and “will never feel normal again.”

Dr. Larry Waldman, Who's Raising Whom?To suggest that one can be depressed yesterday but be fine today, like the two teens referenced above, is ludicrous. This failure to appreciate the true gravity of the word depression is significant, also. Persons with clinical depression don’t get the family or social support they deserve because others think we all “get down” now and then.

Employers will be most considerate if an employee breaks their ankle but will provide relatively little understanding to the employee who requests time off for depression. Until recently, insurance companies covered physical problems much better than mental ones.

Finally, the depressed person may not fully understand their condition, feeling shame and refusing help.

Treatment of Depression

Treatment of depression requires a multi-faceted approach: consider medication; receive psychotherapy; eat right; sleep right; exercise; and socialize. Lying in bed in a dark room, waiting to feel better, will only prolong the depressive episode.

It is important that we cease misusing the word depression and recognize the serious medical/psychological condition it is. ###

 

Speakers Group MemberLarry F. Waldman, Ph.D., ABPP is a licensed psychologist who has practiced in the Paradise Valley area of Phoenix for 38 years. He has worked with children, adolescents, parents, adults, and couples. He also provides forensic consultations. He speaks professionally to laypersons, educators, corporations, and fellow mental health professionals. He teaches graduate courses for Northern Arizona University. He is the author of five books (currently) involving parenting, marriage, personal wellness, and private practice. His contact information is: 602-418-8161; LarryWaldmanPhD@cox.net; TopPhoenixPsychologist.com.

 

 

When Outbursts Mask Depression in a Teen (Dr. Laurie Hollman)

Dr. Laurie Hollman, Unlocking Parental Intelligence, When Outbursts Mask Depression in a TeenOn one of many Saturdays, a thirteen-year-old spent the day screaming, throwing things, criticizing everyone for hours then slamming her door to her chaotic messy room and sleeping for hours.

Barely revived for dinner, she complained about the food, yelled at her mother for not knowing she was a vegan, and tossed her full dishes in the sink.

Her mother was angry, tired, and felt disrespected. She didn’t deserve this treatment and took it personally. Was this what the beginning of teenage life was going to be? Could she tolerate it?

Have you ever experienced this kind of scenario?

Earlier in the day this distraught mother had yelled,” What’s wrong with you?” sarcastically fed up and beside herself with her incorrigible child. Her husband was no help: “Now you’ve done it. She’ll never speak to you again.”

They had an argument about how to raise kids, something they’d done since she was a baby.

Something was “Hidden”
But by the end of the weekend, the thirteen-year-old’s mother shifted her tone and asked once again, but in a gentle voice, “Sweetheart, what’s wrong?” To this change of maternal voice, her daughter let forth a torrent of tears.

“I have no idea!” she said.  “I wake up with a weight on my shoulders and force myself out of bed. Everybody and everything irritates me. I don’t want to be this horrible person, but I think I’m going crazy.

Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child's Behavior, Laurie Hollman PhDThis was the opening her mother needed to understand that the outbursts were hiding a deep insidious depression overtaking her daughter. There were no outward stressors beyond the norm of lots of homework, dramas with girlfriends, and frustrations with teachers. Her grades were decent, she got to school on time, and nothing traumatic seemed to be happening, or had it ever that she could remember.

This mother, however, was reminded of the depressions that crept through the female side of her family; now she knew it was her daughter’s turn.

Signs of a Struggle
The outbursts were just outer signs of a deep internal struggle with a biological base that made everyday life seem like a torrent of wounds. Her child’s revelation opened the door to a wish for help that had been conveyed indirectly through all the complaints, messes, and screams.

They weren’t bids for attention; they were demands for support and help. And once this mother no longer felt personally provoked, she could see with different eyes that the baby she had nursed and cuddled needed her warmth and strength again without judgment or accusations.

Learning, Help and Love
That cold weekend turned into a warm one as mother and daughter shuddered and cried together. Regaining composure the mother explained depression to her daughter. They google searched the signs and symptoms and knew this was beyond her daughter’s immediate control. She needn’t be blamed or accused of anything. They would work it out with help and kindness. This surely wasn’t about discipline, messy rooms and outbursts; it was going to be about learning, professional help, and above all … love.###

Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. has a new book out, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Familius, and wherever books are sold.

 

Teaching Young People to Use “Courageous Dialogue” (Guest: Charmaine Hammond)

BTRadioInt-300x75-300x75As The Changing Behavior Network and its sister site, “It’s About Them,” have grown and developed as resources, so have the missions and the careers of former guest authors and experts on the show. Charmaine Hammond is an excellent example. In this interview taken from our February, 2012 archives, she speaks of her early experiences with young offenders while working in corrections and dispute dispute resolution. The topic is about a vital skill: communicating effectively with others. Indeed, there is value in teaching young people to use courageous dialogue. Today, Charmaine still speaks on this topic (and others) as she addresses organizations and corporate audiences in presentations and keynotes across the US and Canada.

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Charmaine Hammond, teaching young people to use courageous dialogueHave you ever needed to speak up to someone, to pose a concern or problem, but didn’t do it because you were afraid of what might happen if you did? Or perhaps you really didn’t know how to do it. Confrontation is tough enough for adults with some experience in the matter, but it can be a huge obstacle for young people. The consequences of an unpleasant outcome can affect them for a long, long time.

Listen in as Charmaine Hammond offers insights into what she calls “Courageous Dialogue.” She’ll show us how we can use it, and how we can teachbounce forward, charmaine Hammond, courageous dialog, the ask and share the skills with children and teens. She’ll also tell us about something she calls “The ASK.”

Charmaine is a registered social worker with a background in corrections and dispute resolution, and plenty of experience with young offenders. She is also the author of Bounce Forward, an information-packed book on the subject of communication. Her website is www.charmainehammond.com. (21:38)

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“I Want to Die:” Helping the Severely Depressed Youngster (Michael Bushman)

BTRadioInt-300x75-300x75There’s not doubt at all that they youngster who says or thinks, “I want to die,” is struggling with a profoundly serious issue. The severely depressed youngster needs hope, they need help, and they need them quickly.

Mike Bushman, Michael Bushman, Suicide Excape, I want to die, suicidal thoughtSevere depression in our young people is not only a serious concern, they may rarely talk about it, especially to an adult. A sense of hopelessness can cause a youngster to feel that things for them will never be any better, that their circumstances can no longer be tolerated. At that point, even suicide makes sense to them.

So why would they talk about it, especially if their decision is made, or nearly so?

What are these young people experiencing, and why? What are some of the signs that could suggest they are struggling with depression? What can we do to help? How can we offer hope that deeply difficult moments rarely last, and that they are not worth the cost of a life?

Michael Bushman, Suicide Escape, the severely depressed youngster, how to deal with depressionMike Bushman, this program’s guest, has a deeply personal and powerful perspective on severe depression in young people. The insights and interventions he shares can and do make a difference in how to deal with depression.

For 25 years, Mike worked as a congressional aide, lobbyist, press secretary, investor relations executive, corporate and marketing communications leader and global policy head. Then, in 2012, he retired to return to his first passion: writing.

Mike has authored two novels reflecting the future we would face if we as a country continue on our current divisive political path. This newer book, Suicide Escape, is a unique combination of novella and memoir addressing deeply personal stories of teen depression and despair. The book reflects what Mike has learned and what he wishes he knew and understood as a young teen dealing with thoughts of suicide. (27:03)

www.MBushman.com

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Helping and Empowering the Self-Defeating Child (Guest: Leslie Rogers)

 

BTRadioInt-300x75-300x75One nice thing about the years The Changing Behavior Network has been posting programs is the fact that we have a great set of archives. Here’s one from November of 2013. It addresses issues of the self-defeating child. Our  thanks to Leslie. –JDS

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Leslie Rogers, self-defeating child, Created to SoarIt seems that some kids have a way of hurting their own outcomes with self-defeating gestures and behaviors. What they’re doing doesn’t make much sense sometimes, issues with the self-defeating child go on and on.

What’s happening with youngsters that makes them so hard on themselves? Is there a way to help these young people climb out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves? Can we help them and point them in a more positive and more productive direction? Fortunately, the answer is “Yes.”

Our guest on this program, Leslie Rogers, will help us understand how a child or teen’s negative thoughts, beliefs and feelings can limit their potential and rob them of hope. Leslie will also offer insights into how we can empower these young people to move beyond their self-defeating ways. And, when that happens, EVERYONE wins.

Creaated to Soar, Leslie Rogers, Dianne MatraversLeslie, a mother of four, has long had a passion for the well-being of young people. She knows, first-hand, the sort of self-defeating thoughts and feelings that come at youngsters today from all directions. As a result of what she has gained through her own journey, Leslie shares through her writing, her speaking and her mentoring that young people do have the ability and the power to discover who they are and where they are going.

Leslie is the author of two children’s books, Created to Soar and It is ME. (27:50)

http://www.gigglequick.com

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Childhood Trauma: Helping Youngsters Recover (Guest: Christy Monson)

BTRadioInt-300x75-300x75This excellent interview with Christy Monson was featured under a slightly different title on April 6, 2014. Unaddressed, the effects of childhood trauma can be substantial. Christy has some great insight on the issues affecting the traumatized child, and how we can help these youngsters recover more quickly and more effectively. -JDS

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Christy Monson, childhood trauma, the traumatized childHow does one explain and process tragedy, trauma and loss to a child? Although youngsters have the ability to handle these circumstances as well as most adults, how we help and support them certainly matters.

In this program, Christy Monson, will share her insights and interventions for recognizing the behaviors and reactions of the tragedy-affected youngster and how we can help the grieving, traumatized and hurting child heal with our love and support. As Christy will explain, our role in helping this child stabilize and recover is a very important one.

Love, Hugs and Hope, When Scary Things Happen, Christy MonsonAn experienced Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Christy built a very successful counseling practice in Nevada and later in Utah. She is the author of Love, Hugs and Hope: When Scary Things Happen. This book for children is the focus of this program.

Christy has authored other books, also, including the soon-to-be released, The Family Council Guidebook: How to Solve Problems and Strengthen Relationships.

www.ChristyMonson.com

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Video Games: The Newest Plague (Dr. Larry Waldman)

Larry Waldman, video games, addictive video gamesVideo games are like crack cocaine to today’s youth. Many children, especially boys between the ages of 11 and 16, spend untold hours involved with these electronic games, often from the time they come home from school until they finally go to bed. Far too many kids spend essentially entire weekends (and most of their holiday and summer breaks) playing these “games.” I regularly hear reports from parents that their children engage in “gaming” to the neglect of homework, reading, eating with the family, or going out with the family. No-shows to college classes are at an all-time high due to students missing class to play video games.

Addictive

To say that video gaming is addictive is not an exaggeration. These addictive games are brightly colored, quite visually and orally stimulating, very life-like, and, most importantly, are self-regulated. Kids whom are unable to sit and concentrate for 15 minutes in school will spend an entire afternoon alone in their room intensely focused on a video game.

Promotes Lethargy and Obesity

Children of previous generations watched too much TV—this writer included. Nevertheless, those TV-watching kids managed to occasionally pull themselves from the “boob tube” to get out and interact and socialize with peers. Today’s “gamers” are socially isolated. “Virtual friends”–other kids who play along remotely–are considered “best friends” by many “gamers” today, though they have never met in person. Because of video games, today’s kids do not have the same opportunities to learn social skills as did children of previous generations.

Data on the epidemic of obesity in US adults (60%) suggests that the early bad habit of excessive TV-watching may be part of the reason many adults today fail to exercise. If the majority of the previous generation of TV-watching kids are now obese as adults, even though they got some exercise as children, what can we expect from the current generation of kids whom are not active even as children?! In 15-20 years we are going to see some of the largest “tushes” known to man—but their thumbs will be long and lean. (Some newer games encourage activity, interestingly, but their use is in the minority.)

Promotes Violence

Finally, and most significantly, we must consider the medium of these games to which are kids are addicted. The overwhelming majority of these video games involve violence—graphic violence, replete with screams, life-like blood, and gore.

In the 1970’s and ‘80’s many research studies were conducted which documented the negative psychological effect excessive TV-watching—and its associate violence–had on kids. Today’s “gamer” views more violence in an afternoon than I did throughout my entire childhood of watching TV.

WRWI firmly believe it is no coincidence that many of the young men who were responsible for some of the recent shootings we all have heard about were reported to be active “gamers.” I am not about to argue that video games caused these tragedies, but I have to wonder if electronically killing thousands of “aliens,” monsters, or “bad guys” over hundreds of hours of video gaming, could distort a young person’s reality or desensitize them to the value of life?

Pilots learn to fly via simulation. Maybe we should start calling this process video “training”—not gaming. I am waiting for the first defense attorney to use the “Gamer’s Syndrome” as a means to defend their client.

The Result

Every older generation thinks the younger generation is “going to hell in a hand-basket.” I remember when I got into the Beatles and my mother thought I had “lost my religion.” Having worked with hundreds of children over the past 40 years, I have become truly worried about the impact video games are having on our youth. I am fearful that soon we will have a generation of under-socialized, impulsive, impatient, entitled, apathetic, aggressive, obese young adults. To this health professional, video games are the newest plague.

What to Do

Parents, please toss out the X-Box or, at least, limit its use. Take a walk or hike with your child. Take a bike ride. Do something fun, active, and interactive; go to the gym together. It will be good for you and your child.###

Larry F. Waldman, Ph.D., ABPP is a licensed psychologist who has practiced in the Paradise Valley area of Phoenix for 38 years. He has worked with children, adolescents, parents, adults, and couples. He also provides forensic consultations. He speaks professionally to laypersons, educators, corporations, and fellow mental health professionals. He teaches graduate courses for Northern Arizona University. He is the author of five books (currently) involving parenting, marriage, personal wellness, and private practice. His contact information is: 602-418-8161; LarryWaldmanPhD@cox.net; TopPhoenixPsychologist.com.

 

 

Why Our Kids Don’t Need Any More Hoops to Jump Through (Dr. Kris Costa)

Dr Kris color cropped finalOur kids are being ambushed at every turn, and earlier than ever—with messages about nailing test scores, getting into the right schools and performing to superhuman standards. If that alone doesn’t freak them out, they are peppered with constant reminders that they won’t be happy without the best-liked Snapchat story, Kardashian-like rear ends, the latest phone upgrade, or hitting it out of the park scholastically, athletically, musically, socially and even sexually.

They are ramped up from the moment they step foot into school, with all eyes on the prize of so-called “success” and being “cool:” being a star athlete, performer or scholar (or all of the above) so they can get their shot at being accepted into their dream college. Yet, when the rubber meets the road, all the effort in the world may not do the trick. This is unsettling, especially given that many families are sacrificing incredible amounts of energy, money and time in hopes of reaching a goal that has become elusive and often unattainable, plus it’s proving, in many instances, to be downright unhealthy.

Breaking Records; Breaking Hearts

Each year, higher education institutions break records; it’s not unheard of to have over 50,000 applicants in a given year. Multiple SAT retakes, essays galore and “crazy hoop-jumping” (as one of my university students calls it) have become the new norm. The median GPA’s and test scores across institutions continue to skyrocket to unprecedented levels.

BOOK COVER FINALIt used to be that students performing at the level of today’s “average” could write their ticket to most anywhere. In my case, I sent in my fifty-dollar application fee and left it to fate. There were no essays;  no incessant milling over early decisions and early action choices; no worries that I hadn’t applied to a dozen or more institutions “just to be safe,” and no $50,000 a year price tag. At the time, I was less mature and articulate than most fifth graders of today. Those days are gone.

Today’s process has become less than humane, to say the least. It tosses parents, educators and children alike into a pressure cooker that often leaves mental health and healthy development by the wayside.

The Truth on the Big Screen

One night, I nestled in with my daughter, Tori, a senior in high school at the time, to watch the movie Admissions. It was the perfect cap-off to the whirlwind two-year journey we’d completed, stomping across several states and at least a dozen college campuses. She had finally finished her eleventh and final application to round off her applications to “reach,” “mid-line,” and “safety” schools.

Throughout the movie, colleges rejected candidates left and right, despite their being national champion gymnasts, chess players and nonprofit founders with 4.0’s and perfect scores. The humor helped diffuse the tension of a process that had been a major source of strife for Tori and her friends, all of them anxious about what was to come as they awaited highly-anticipated decision letters.

Despite the tremendous value of education, our practices, policies and mindsets need some major shifting. Not only do we need to take well-being into account, but it needs to be made it a top priority, right from the get go. The data is clear. We do better when we are mentally grounded. The anxiety of today’s hyper-competitive market is disrupting learning and healthy development. The U.S. National Center for Health Statistics reports eleven percent of us from ages twelve and up are on antidepressants.

According to a Lancet 2012 Global Mental Health Report, the pressures of today are most intense between the ages of fifteen and forty-four, making it a prime time for problems to emerge if we are not careful. Numbing behaviors like over or under-eating, cutting, drinking, drugging and hookup benders are taking a toll. In too many cases, ramping up perfectionistic behaviors are modern traps for our children and teenagers.

Three Things They Need to Know

Instead of creating more hoops for our kids to jump through and wondering why they are so anxious, depressed or constantly acting out, here are three things we need to repeatedly tell and show them:

1. It’s not worth it if you get sick. Striving for excellence can be healthy and rewarding, and the opportunities of today are, in many instances, worth reaching for. But constantly pushing the boundary to the point of ill health is counterproductive and unsustainable. It can also lead to lifelong habits and behaviors that can breed dire consequences. Pace yourself. There will be all kinds of bait and traps along the way telling you to ignore the warning signs of your body and brain. Find and respect your threshold. This is one of the most important skills you can ever learn.

2. The adults “in charge” have a lot of work to do. We can’t keep pushing you through endless hoops and fanning the flames of perfectionism while expecting you to be healthy and happy. Sometimes we get a bit too overzealous in trying to help you find your way in this complicated world. So here goes: We are not perfect. We’ve told you to work together, but we have a long way to go in this area. Please don’t give up on us. There are lots of us that can help make it better: policy makers, educators, leaders, mental health clinicians, health care providers and beyond. We will band together and stand up for and with you. We will stop creating more hoops and start building bridges that help you truly thrive. You deserve nothing less from us.

3. You are enough. When our culture screams you will never be enough, answer back: You are enough! Yes, competition is steep, and there will always be someone who is further along. That’s the beauty of human potential. Don’t let it deter you from embracing your own multidimensionality and celebrating where you are in your own unique developmental process. Watch out for prescriptive, superficial notions of “cool” and “success.” You are not great because of your rock solid abs, designer shades, beautiful cello piece, grand slam, SAT scores, what college you get into it or what job you eventually land. You are valuable and precious just as you are. And that smile on your face when you are not jumping through hoops is priceless. ###

 

Dr. Kristen Costa speaks not only from her 20+ years as a mental health clinician and educator, but as a parent. Known as “America’s Stress and Burnout Doc,” Dr. Kris is the author of the award-winning book, RESET: Make the Most of Your Stress, and she’s a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and Psychology Today. [website]

 

 

Scared Justice: Fighting America’s War on Youth (Kenneth Johnson)

BTAboutThemAn eleven-year-old Florida student was handcuffed, taken to jail, and charged with a third-degree felony for having a plastic butter knife; a New York pre-K student is suspended for having too many bathroom accidents; a Mississippi student was arrested for breaking wind; a Tauton, Massachusetts second grader was suspended and forced to undergo a mental health evaluation for drawing a picture of Jesus on the cross; a California student faces a judge on criminal charges of being tardy too many times; and a Baltimore, Maryland student risked suspension for nibbling on a Pop Tart in the shape of a gun. We see it all the time in the headlines. For those who are unaware, there’s a war in America that’s been going on for some time now.

KJohnsonphotoEvery year, we are arresting over 2 million students. Far more students are suspended and expelled. Studies have shown that a child’s chances of dropping out increases by 50% for every time (s)he is suspended out of school. Presently, some 7,000 students drop out each school day. Most of these suspensions, expulsions, and arrests take place just before standardized testing. The reason for this, scholars posit, is what’s being called the Test-to-Prison Pipeline (a variation of the older School-to-Prison Pipeline theory). Simply put, a child that is suspended/expelled or incarcerated cannot take the standardized test and therefore the overall test results will be higher. This is critical in states like Florida where a school’s funding is based on how well students do on these tests.

Most juvenile arrests in America today are predicated upon what criminologists call the “Super Predator Myth.” This myth was first postulated by Professor John DiIulio, Jr. as a research-based theory of juvenile crime. Later, his research was found to be fundamentally flawed in every conceivable way. However, Pandora’s Box had already been opened by this junk science theory. We became a nation fearful of our youth and with the wrong-headed notion the only way to keep them from turning into murderous thugs was to arrest and try them as adults for felony crimes.

Today in America, the prison system is such a booming business. Private prisons, like the Geo Group, publicly trade on the stock market. Most of America’s population of inmates first came into the criminal justice system by way of juvenile arrests. The primary reason that an incarcerated person leaves a juvenile detention facility is because they have reached the age of majority and now must be transferred to an adult prison to finish out the rest of their sentence.

Rather than being a nation of law and justice, we have turned to “scared justice” tactics where laws vary based upon a person’s income, race, age, and other factors. And, no place can this injustice be more finely felt than by our nation’s youth.

KJohnsonbookHARD TALK; STRAIGHT TALK

In the fields of Conflict Resolution and Restorative Justice, professionals and writers are now focusing a tremendous amount of time on pathways to engaging in difficult discussions. Each field of conflict study has its own thought leaders with their own ways of tackling this endeavor head-on. But why are we seemingly in need of such study and works?

Part of the problem is the manufacturing of fear in the public over juvenile crimes. One major culprit is our nation’s School Resource Officer program. The other player in this social malaise is Hollywood.

While SROs are used practically nation-wide, the data on their effectiveness is less than compelling. While their stated purpose is to safeguard the students, national crime data reveals they generally arrest students for innocuous offenses when traditional school-based disciplinary procedures would be more effective and beneficial. In protecting students from school violence and shootings, the data also reflects they generally are ineffective with them mostly arresting students on baseless charges.

One of the best publicly available arguments against SROs can be found in the Justice Policy Institute’s “Education Under Arrest: The Case Against Police in Schools,” where it looks at the chronic failures, duties, dangers and case law surrounding SROs. For instance, in the Supreme Court case of J.B.D. vs North Carolina, involving a 13 year old student who was arrested without being read Miranda rights, the court found juveniles do not possess proper understanding to appreciate Miranda. Ultimately, the report delineates five ways to improve schools without needing SROs. These suggestions ranged from properly training and supporting staff on issues of behavioral disruptions to building quality relationships between staff and students.

Ironically, these suggestions are things which are best handled through Conflict Resolution and Restorative Justice strategies. In my book, Unbroken Circles for Schools, I specifically addressed how using Peer Mediation with Circles, Panels, Conferences, and Justice Circles can create a community of care which improves classroom instruction, addresses behavioral issues, builds relationships, provides counseling options, and identifies issues early on in order to render SROs needless in schools. The JPI piece proposed using government funds to purchase varying national plans but, as I note in my book, effective strategies already exist in the public domain.

Hollywood is also just as guilty of culpable harm. Specifically, shows like “Beyond Scared Straight” perpetuate a myth while fostering practices proven to actually harm children as bad, if not sometimes worse, than what SROs do by arresting children needlessly.

According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, “A study by Anthony Petrosino and researchers at the Campbell Collaboration analyzed results from nine Scared Straight programs and found that such programs generally increased crime up to 28 percent in the experimental group when compared to a no-treatment control group. In another analysis of juvenile prevention and treatment programs, Mark Lipsey of the Vanderbilt Institute for Public Policy Studies found that youth who participate in Scared Straight and other similar deterrence programs have higher recidivism rates than youth in control groups. And a report presented in 1997 to the U.S. Congress reviewed more than 500 crime prevention evaluations and placed Scared Straight programs in the “what does not work” category. Despite these findings, Scared Straight programs continue to be used throughout the United States and abroad.”

Again, the OJJDP focused on the very same solutions which the JPI looked at. Naturally, like with the JPI, the OJJDP urged for costly programs to be employed by schools and communities. However, like I stated before, effective Conflict Resolution and Restorative Justice solutions are already in the public domain and used daily by trained and certified professionals.

A common saying, “A leopard can’t change its spots,” is often used in reference to criminals. The meaning behind this is that a child who does wrong actions now will only do worse actions later as an adult – a flawed line of logic at best. I say, “If you paint spots on a lion cub, it doesn’t make it a leopard.” Ultimately, I contend that officials are making children out to be worse than they are. In fact, most, if they were given a little extra attention, could become tremendous benefits to society as adults.

Research has come forth saying that children are facing massive issues with underemployment by their parents, broken homes where they may have only an extended family member at best to serve as guardian over them, domestic violence in the home, substance abuse in the home, untreated illnesses, lack of proper nutrition, homelessness, child neglect, and sexual molestation to name a few. In fact, where I live, homeless kids have coined the term “couch surfing” to refer to how they spend their nights sleeping on the couches of friends, relatives, or anyone else that would take them in for the night. These are the children that our schools seemingly target.

What’s more troubling is that the children actually suffer more once they are incarcerated. This is because most states exempt juvenile detention officers from state child abuse and child neglect laws. In Florida, which is a top arrester of youths in America with over 58,000 arrested per year, a number of detention facilities have recently gone under review for children being allowed to die in front of guards without any call for help, children being sexually molested by staff, unnecessary beatings, and the list goes on and on.

There is a solution to this social justice dilemma. The crux of the problem is that the community must become engaged and press for resolve since schools and law enforcement refuse to take responsibility with this issue. This is a hard discussion topic for a society where many trappings of the traditional community are gone due to our nomadic existence and where the media colors our understanding of reality with sensationalized stories and filtered-out stories. This makes collaboration between nonprofits and religious institutions , on this issue, all the more critical for lasting change to take place since these are the unsung heroes doing most of the unseen social justice work in this nation.

WORKING TOGETHER; MAKING A DIFFERENCE

I suggest that interested stakeholders in the community, as well as Conflict Resolution and Restorative Justice professionals and advocates, agree to assemble at a neutral venue and break bread to talk about the problems facing their community. After all, this is how America got started! Once the problems have been stated, then the community should evaluate resources that each group can bring to the table. Since I pretty much wrote the book on this issue, here are some suggestions that I would make for consideration:

Have the school district do away with SROs. There’s simply no need for them. National statistics show time and time again juveniles make up less than 1% of the violent crimes committed in America. These are officers that can be put out on the streets to arrest real criminals, direct traffic, or engage in a number of social benefits inherent to law enforcement.

Have the school engage in Restorative Justice (RJ) and Peer Mediation practices. RJ has been proven far more effective on juveniles than any other group at reducing recidivism and also making lasting, positive behavioral changes. By the same token, peer mediation has been proven effective in handling issues typically tying up vital time normally handled needlessly by teachers. A good program should be a balance of daily circles, peer mediation, and conferencing.

Creating a peer counseling corps can offer critical support and assistance for students in needs. Like peer mediators, peer counselors are trained by professionals in the field and given similar skill sets as adult professionals in the field use in their own practices.

Establish a Neighborhood Restorative Justice Center (NRJC) as a deferment option should a child still end up in the court system. In many states, like Florida, there are already laws on the books allowing this sort of deferment but officials refuse to establish these centers. An NRJC, created by the community, allows the student that final, yet critical, opportunity to seek out atonement for their actions and to seek the help that they need.

There’s no other way to put it other than to say America’s war on youth is a national scandal. However, if handled properly, the communities around America have an opportunity to make a significant impact on the overcrowding of prisons, increasing tax revenues, increasing productivity, and re-engaging the “American dream” which has historically been our driving force in becoming a superpower in the global marketplace.###

Ken Johnson is a private researcher, writer, lecturer, and consultant on issues of culture and conflict. Organizational architecture and anabolic (positive) conflict are just some of the key issues he investigates. Though written for the school system, his book, Unbroken Circles for Schools, has core concepts which can be applied to various life applications. To learn more about Ken and his work, CLICK HERE to visit his website.