Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.

Friday, April 8, 2016

MHS/MVMMS PTO Meeting: Stress Management for Teens

Many parents came out this past snowy Monday night to learn more about helping their children and their children’s friends sort out and address responses to stress. The MHS and MVMMS PTO’s joint session focused on “Helping Teens Manage Stress and Painful Emotions” in an engaging and compassionate presentation prepared and presented by two of our own high school parents who are also psychologists, Lynda Field, PhD and Lisa Coyne, PhD. Also attending were Supt. Taymore, MHS Principal Farrell and Asst. Principal Fogarty, MVMMS Principal Conway, and Asst. Supt. White-Lambright.

Some quick facts:
·               Teens report symptoms of stress at about the same levels as adults in like categories (like “being irritable or angry” and “feeling nervous and anxious”) BUT they’re more likely to report that stress has no effect on their physical or mental health
·               35% of teens lie awake at night while 26% overeat or eat unhealthy foods, and 23% skipped a meal
·               Girls report stress more than boys (but it’s unknown whether they experience more stress or report more, since we socialize boys and girls in different ways)
·               Compared with adults, teens underreport stress, set aside less time to manage it, and when they do address it they generally do so by engaging in sedentary activities (leading to poorer physical health)
·               Of teens in Gr. 9-12 in the last 12 months: 17% considered suicide (22% of females and 12% of males), 13.6% made a plan (17% of females and 10% of males), and 8% attempted suicide one or more times (11% of females and 5% of males)
·               Warning signs = FACTS (feelings, actions, changes, threats, situations)

What is a loved one to do? Listen and voice concern. Indicate that you can get help. Seek that help. Let the teen know you care. (70% of all people who commit suicide give some warning of their intentions; 80% never attended counseling.)

What will help your teens cope?
·               Authentic connection with others (not social media since it is not authentic)
·               Validation (we need to truly listen to our children, make eye contact, and really hear them when they talk with us)
·               Purpose and value: connect them to options that help them find these things
·               Plans for the future
·               A safe environment
·               Stay away from caffeine since it’s an anxiety producer – substitute water instead
·               Assertiveness training since having a “voice” helps teens maintain control over situations
·               Take breaks from stressful situations
·               Employ sleep routines: get up at the same time every day, go to sleep at the same time every night
·               Practice mindfulness (great resources are available below)

What is the high school and middle school doing to address this issue? These topics are included in the health and wellness curriculum at MHS and there are discussions around yoga and mindfulness strategies in this year’s freshman seminar. They hope to share more techniques with staff next year so they can help students employ these strategies before a big test or assignment. The middle school also includes the topics in the health and wellness curriculum. Principal Conway also mentioned that there is a task force of twelve staff members who have met since December to talk about social emotional learning, and they hope to represent some of the results in this coming year’s School Improvement Plans.

What happens when students leave for life after high school? Have a conversation with the teen before he/she leaves regarding expectations around communication (What will the boundaries be? How often will you communicate, and what method will you use?). Find out about their dorm’s culture if at college, and also what services the health department provides.

Some districts have classes to provide coping mechanisms – does Melrose? The Middle School offers a fitness/yoga class. That’s not currently an offering at MHS, but they could potentially do clubs. Principal Farrell said that maybe there are simple (low cost) things they can do to help.

Explain crisis teams. Each Melrose school building has a crisis team (including an administrator, nurse, school psychologist, and staff members). There is also a district crisis team that learns about best practices and develops protocols for the schools. A group called “Educators Supporting Educators in Crisis” works together to support each other under circumstances such as the recent death of a local teacher, where some Melrose teachers and teachers from other districts provided substitute coverage so that staff members from the affected school could attend the late educator’s funeral.

What if families can’t afford mental health services for their children? The school works to help find support services for low or no cost. When critical, the school will excuse a student from class in order for him/her to receive services in the school from an outside agency.

Are there other ways that schools can help reduce unhealthy adolescent behaviors? Yes – one example at the middle school is offering “no homework weekends” about once per month. At the high school there is a grant-originated course called Mentoring Violence Prevention (MVP) in which students learn to empower bystanders to intervene and diffuse abusive situations.

The full presentation, along with resources, can be found here: http://melrosehigh.melroseschools.com/2016/04/caring-community-presentation/#sthash.Dq8Hz7KK.dpbs.