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Reading between the Lines: Why You Should Pay Attention to 13 Reasons Why


For some, entertainment is an escape from our daily lives, but for many others entertainment is a sensationalized account of real issues we may face. “13 Reasons Why” originally published as a young adult novel, was subsequently adapted into a series by Netflix. The series chronicles the life and subsequent suicide of teenager Hannah Baker. In the series, Hannah posthumously provides 13 cassette tapes to fellow teenagers she has come in contact with, detailing the trauma she and others endured in the weeks prior to her death.

The dark turn of the show may make it difficult for some viewers to watch, covering topics such as drug abuse, sexual assault, bullying, and suicide. While the show is effective in pulling the viewer in, it does little to prepare the viewer for what’s to come, which begs the question: when is it appropriate to address the topics of sexual abuse and suicide?

To answer this question, it is first essential that parents and educators become familiar with the content described in this series, thus providing a basis for future conversations. What “13 Reasons Why” has accomplished is opening the dialogue surrounding assault and suicide between adults and teenagers. For many, the unimaginable trauma of suicide and sexual assault, which is vividly played out on the screen for viewers to watch, is a subject that is not easily broached, however, it allows adults to empathetically gaze at the issues many teenagers face.

As parents and professionals, it is important that the conversations surrounding sexual assault and suicide be had, no matter how difficult they may be. Discussing the depictions and representations of each character may alleviate some of the concerns parents may experience, as well as allow parents the opportunity to correct some of the inaccuracies presented in the series. As teenagers who may view the series, it is imperative that it be known that there will be someone who takes these issues seriously and is willing to address them. For each of us, the series can shine a light on the importance of being intentional in how we interact with each other and how we respond to those hurting or in need of support.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide please call the National Suicide Prevention lifeline, a 24-hour free and confidential service, at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

To speak with someone regarding the issue of sexual assault please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline, available 24 hours a day, at 1-800-656-4673.

Additionally, if you or someone you know is affected by the topics discussed in the series, please feel free to schedule an appointment with one of our therapists here at Cornerstone by calling our Intake Department at 312-573-8860.

Cyber-bullying: What it is, what to do, and how to prevent it


Any form of bullying can hurt a person’s self-esteem due to feeling not deserving of love and belonging (Brown, 2010). In the Bible, Joseph, a favored son, was bullied by his brothers out of jealousy because of the dreams God had given him. Goliath was a bully who taunted others and used power and stature to intimidate. Although these are examples of traditional bullying that occurred in the Bible, a different type of bullying has emerged in modern society called cyber-bullying.

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Cyber-bullying is when someone uses an electronic device to “threaten, harass, tease, or embarrass another person” (Greenfield, 2015, p. 144). With the development of the Internet and social media, we are now connected to others 24/7. Depending on the age group, 20-40% of young people have been cyber-bullied (Tokunaga as cited in Greenfield, p. 144). This is concerning because, unlike traditional bullying, the victim is unable to experience relief by not being around the bully. The online identity that is viewed as a “tethered self” (Turkle, 2012, p. 155) can be verbally abused by large amounts of people constantly. In 2012, a survey of US, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, showed 44% of suicides from the previous 15 months were due to cyber-bullying (LeBlanc, 2012 as found in Greenfield, p. 144).

What makes cyber-bullying so prevalent?

Anonymity seems to offer people permission to experiment with a new identity on the Internet (Suler as cited in Greenfield, p. 113). Moreover, for Digital Natives, time spent online is significant, creating more opportunities for impulsive, even harmful, choices in online interactions (Whitson, 2014). Research shows that starting at age 11, kids create a different online identity that is more rude, sexy, adventurous, or risky (Kidscape as cited in Greenfield, p. 121). Additionally, the Internet can lack typical social consequences that deter traditional bullying such as the victim’s facial expression and body language, social disapproval, and the fear of getting caught, which seem to make even those who have never bullied more likely to bully online (Greenfield; Whitson). This may contribute to ideas that cyber-bullying is not wrong since research shows cyberbullies have less remorse than traditional bullies (Greenfield, p. 146). It also speaks to the “diffusion and dilution of responsibility” of online activity (Robson & Witenberg as cited in Greenfield, p. 146). For example, who will catch the bully, how will they prove the online activity was done by that person, and what are the consequences? Thankfully, schools and the legal system are improving in navigating and litigating this difficult arena.

What makes it so dangerous?

As mentioned before, the permanency and continuity of cyber-hate appears to offer no solstice for the victim. Bullies attack something about a person that can confuse the victim, troubling the view that one is valued and effective in the world. This feeling of being wrong or not good enough can bring about anxiety and depressive symptoms. The victim may feel more insecure or ashamed, begin to isolate from others, and even believe the perspective that bullies have amplified and declared as truth about the victim (see Brown, 2010). The viral nature of cyber-bullying can lead victims to make poor conclusions about their worth and identity (Whitson, 2014, p. 68). When feeling down, a youth can believe they are not worthy of love and belonging, even doubting the love received from family and friends because of the perceived overwhelming online evidence of what others believe to be true about the victim. The hopeless feeling of being unable to stop it, change it, or challenge it can lead a person to thoughts or acts of suicide. If you have been cyber-bullied, seek additional support to work through difficult emotions, find belief in yourself as a person who is worthy of love and belonging, and develop a resilient identity that is valued and that you define.

What do we do about it?

If cyber-bullied…

  1. Tell an adult
  2. Disengage from it, don’t add to it
  3. Block harassers and log off
  4. Use privacy settings
  5. Take screen shots
  6. Do something to stop it with help of adults
  7. Empathize with victims

How do we prevent it?

  1. Keep person-to-person connections strong
  2. Educate kids about Netiquette
  3. Monitor kids online
  4. Write an online agreement for family
  5. Take breaks from tech and view it as a privilege
  6. Adults hold kids accountable for online behavior

The previous two step-by-step guides can be found in the chapter on cyber-bullying in the book 8 Keys to End Bullying referenced below. For more information on overcoming bullying and understanding the impact of digital technology on our world, view the references used for this article.


Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden.

Greenfield, S. (2015). Mind change: How digital technologies are leaving their mark on our brains. New York: Random House.

Turkle, S. (2012). Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. New York: Basic Books.

Whitson, S. (2014). Key 4: Deal directly with cyberbullying. A chapter from 8 keys to end bullying: Strategies for parents and schools (pp. 66 -95). New York: Norton & Co.

 

 

Back-to-School Season


This time of Back-to-school season can cause a variety of different emotions. After a long summer of relaxation, fun in the sun, and little responsibility, children can have a hard time adapting to the level of structure that learning requires. However, going back to school does not have to be a dreaded experience for parents or children. Below are some tips for back to school preparation that can help.

  1. Highlight the benefits of school: Discussing the possibility of new achievements, and past academic successes can be a source of encouragement and excitement for the upcoming school year. This can also stop the complaining and negativity about starting school as summer begins to come to an end.
  2. Reestablish routines: The summer tends to be a lax season and this could mean bed times tend to get pushed back and schedules are not as busy. Reestablishing a bedtime routine that ensures restorative sleep will support physical health, emotional and psychological well-being. We all know the feeling and are far too familiar with the consequences of a restless night, which includes: headaches, stomach discomfort, confusion, and grumpiness. However, research links poor or inadequate sleep with children to reduced neurobehavioral functioning and cognitive problems that ultimately impact a child’s ability to perform in school. Due to the importance of sleep, it is imperative that good sleep patterns are exercised at home. The National Sleep Foundation recommends school aged children should sleep nine to eleven hours per night. Establish a bed time that allows for enough sleep, be consistent every night, turn off screens at least 30 minutes before bed, and create a routine before bed that prepares the child for bed time. Getting used to a routine takes time, so start at least a week before the big day.
  3. Prepare for the unknown: Starting something new can trigger uneasiness and even fear. If your child is attending a new school, schedule a tour prior to the beginning of the school year. Being exposed to the new environment will ease fears, provide a chance to ask questions, and help to feel more prepared to tackle their first day. If your child is attending the same school, chances are your child will have a new teacher and this too can be difficult for children. If the school offers meet and greets, take advantage of this opportunity to familiarize yourselves with the teacher’s style and expectations. If your child’s school does not offer meet and greets, do your research by reaching out to other parents who may have worked with this teacher in the past or by sending an email to introduce yourself and ask questions.
  4. Organize school supplies: Involve your child in the organization process. This can build excitement about a new school year and also help them to practice this valuable life skill.
  5. Ask questions and be available: Check in with your child about how he or she is feeling about going back to school. Validate his or her emotions by showing your concern. Share a time in your life where starting something new was difficult for you and express to your child how you managed and coped. Your disclosure can both serve as encouragement and better align you with your child at the same time.

Tips for Back-to-School


The back-to-school season can be stressful for everyone involved. As parents, we want our children to have the best school year yet. Parents, here are three tips to keep in mind while supporting your children to prepare for the upcoming school year.

1.       Remember that this is a time of mixed emotions.

Dread. Excitement. Worry. All these (and more) are experienced as the return to school draws near and each is a very real part of the back-to-school process. See if you can think back to your school days and what this season was like for you. Although this isn’t exactly what your child is experiencing (because everyone’s experience is unique), it can help parents remember that there is more to this time of year than our excitement that the kids are out of the house after all summer home. Check in with your child about his/her thoughts and feelings about going back to school and watch for clues that can give insight into his/her perspective about this time of year.

2.       Create and follow a routine.

Transitions are difficult, and the transition into a new school year is no different. Transitions often trigger emotional distress; routines can help to decrease and manage the stress that may arise. Some important things to think about when working to develop a routine include sleep, healthy food, homework time, fun time, and relaxing time. Beginning the routine before the first day of school can help your child more slowly transition back into the school year rather than abruptly going from a fun summer to sitting in a classroom.

3.       Prepare in advance.

Taking time to visit the school before the first day can decrease some of the stress of the first weeks of school. Help your student find his/her classroom(s) and work together to make sure he/she can confidently open that pesky locker. If your child is attending a new school building, figure out where the office, bathrooms, gym, and cafeteria are located. After purchasing all of the necessary school supplies, take time to organize the supplies and put your child’s backpack together so it is ready for the first day. Help your child decide what clothes he/she will wear and what he/she wants to eat for lunch. These aspects of preparation can happen well before the last days of summer and can help to decrease the stress of the quickly approaching first day of school. If your child has received special services at school in the past, reach out to school staff to ensure that all necessary supports are in place for the first day of school.

Although these strategies can be helpful for many students, each child and family is unique and you are the expert about your child/family. Thinking through what has helped your child during previous transitions and back-to-school seasons can help you generate more ideas of how to best support your child in the midst of this season.

Resources:
Back to School Psychology 101: Tips for Parents. Retrieved from http://www.massgeneral.org/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=3716
Dealing with the back-to-school blues? Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/school-rush.aspx

Cornerstone Counseling Center of Chicago