The heartbreaking rash of teen suicides lately has been a wake-up call for many parents – about adolescent and teen depression, about bullying – online and off, about how we all treat each other.
What can we do?
Most Boca Raton schools are aggressively addressing bullying. Boca Middle School is leading with the way with a highly visible program that sends the message bullying will not be tolerated. Student ambassadors are trained to take action when they see dangerous situations arise.
The Safe Schools Institue, a county program housed on the Don Estridge Middle School campus, is working to address mistreatment, promote positive behavior and elminate negative behavior.
“We’re taking it seriously here,” said Kim Mazauskas, bullying prevention and intervention coordinator for Safe Schools, adding that the adult response to bullying is critical. “It takes all of us to be vigilant and looking out.”
And that may start with the parents.
Eyesonbullying.org has some great information, including warning signs
that your child might be bullied.
Here’s what to do if you suspect your child is being mistreated:
- Report it immediately to the school principal or school police. Have as much information about the incident as you can; document as much as possible. They will start investigating within 24 hours.
- Understand that the school will investigate from every angle and try to find the underlying cause.
- Take the threat seriously, but don’t panic. Kids should be encouraged to come forward and not suffer in silence.
Every school has an anonymous hotline for reporting incidents of bullying.
Palm Beach County schools are implementing a six-day lesson plan that deals with compassion, bullying, etc., an effort that will be tied to a national campaign. Teachers are trained on how to intervene, and how to foster a nurturing atmosphere.
Parents can do the same by teaching tolerance and compassion at home. Use these national incidents as an opportunity to talk to your kids about these issues. Have them read the Oct. 18 issue of People magazine, which profiles kids who were bullied because of their weight, their race, their nationality or sexual orientation. Some of the offenders are being charged with serious crimes.
Soon, Safe Schools will also be training our kids about ethical use of social media and texting. By Nov. 1, students will have an “acceptable use” policy for technology and cellphones.
“We can’t keep kids off computers, yet we have to teach them how to use it responsibly,” Mazauskas said.
Find more information from the Safe Schools website.
If you suspect your child may be suffering from depression, there are some local resources to help.
Boca Raton’s Promise is on a mission to educate parents and teachers about the warning signs of depression and other mental illnesses.
“We know that depression has many faces and it comes in degrees,” said Rita Thrasher, executive director of Boca Raton’s Promise.
Starting next month, the organization will be showing videos on the topic for middle and high school students and their parents at Sugar Sand Park, with licensed professionals on hand to answer questions and lead a discussion afterward.
This is an underfunded effort, as little recent data is available on how widespread the problem is.
Four years ago, 51 percent of Boca schoolchildren attended private school, Thrasher said. That has likely changed with the recent economic downturn, but Boca Zip codes don’t qualify for county funding on issues like these.
Trying to establish a system for early identification of mental illness in young people can be difficult in Boca, where school principals have refused to show the group’s films on teen depression.
But legislation passed last year requires teachers to be trained in suicide prevention – enough to be able to spot warning signs.
“We’re going to break the silence in Boca,” Thrasher said.
You can reach Boca Raton’s Promise through its website. For help, you may also try the nonprofit Center for Group Counseling, or a private local psychologist or psychiatrist.
Some tips for parent on talking to your kids about these issues from the KidSafe Foundation, run by two local moms who also contribute to BocaParent’s 3-Minute Guru:
- All children need to know and be told regularly that they are loved no matter what. Tell them all the time, not just when they are in a moment of crisis or conflict.
- Emphasize to your children/teens/young adults that embarrassing and humiliating things do happen in life – and that with the Internet it is worse. But also remind them that the moment will pass. The escape of suicide is not the answer.
- Help build your children’s confidence, broaden their social circles, put them into situations in which they can do well and prosper. Show them life outside their own – volunteer for others who are less fortunate.
- Remind your children that you are available and they can come to you with anything – nothing will be too daunting. Explain to them that there is help and support out there and you will be there for them.
More resources online for parents and kids: