As technology becomes more engrained in our daily lives, parents have greater responsibility to teach their kids about cyber safety.
“The thing that makes youth more vulnerable to cyberbullying and/or dangerous digital materials is simply access,” said Andrea Kamwendo, an adolescent health educator for LifeSmart Youth. “Youth are far more connected to social media and the internet now more than ever. A recent study done by Common Sense Media…shows that 89 percent of teens ages 13-17 have their own smartphones. The study found that 81 percent of teens use social media, and 38 percent of those teens say they use it multiple times an hour. This constant access to each other and the world beyond allows for access to dangerous and/or inaccurate material and people they do not know personally, and it makes it more difficult to get reprieve from any bullying they might experience at school.”
LifeSmart Youth has been serving youth for 75 years, administering programs like “Step Up for Kindness” to prevent bullying and “Cyber Safe in Cyberspace” to teach adults best practices for guiding their young ones through safe social media and internet usage.
“Young people need to understand that for all the benefits of online access, there may be just as many drawbacks,” said Kamwendo. “Often, youth do not consider the risk they are taking when ‘friending’ someone or allowing someone to ‘follow’ them that they do not personally know. Child predators are becoming increasingly savvier at using these online platforms while young people think they are invincible.”
Kristen Martin, a juvenile community prosecutor in the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, said that “it is not uncommon that children will tell us that they are friends with, follow or chat with individuals that are strangers to them. It is important to engage children in a conversation about digital strangers and what is appropriate information to share and what is not. It’s important to remember [that] when you post to the internet, you no longer control that information or how far it goes or reaches.”
The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office provides a free program called “Project Cybersafe,” which focuses on identifying cyberbullying behavior and its consequences, while also highlighting the potential dangers of social media. This program has impacted 50,000 students in Marion County since its start in 2011.
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When Eileen Misluk first met one of her new clients, a 13-year-old girl suffering from severe anxiety, she started the therapy session by asking the girl to help her tear tissue paper into different shapes. By the end of the session, the girl was laughing and making eye contact. She was excited to come back for a second session to make art with the paper pieces.
“This teen became empowered and was able to address her anxiety and fears by enhancing her strengths, and this was all done by engaging in art therapy,” said Misluk, adding that this type of therapy taught her client to “manage her anxiety, use coping skills and build self-esteem.”
Misluk is an assistant clinical professor of art therapy at Indiana University-Purdue University’s Herron School of Art and Design, which offers a master’s degree program that allows students to meet the requirements necessary to become registered art therapists and licensed mental health counselors.
For Misluk, art and dance helped her work through challenging times in her life. Through her personal experiences and those of her clients, Misluk has learned that art therapy can be “empowering.”
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According to the Centers for Disease Control, one out of nine women experiences postpartum depression. Unlike the “baby blues,” which lasts only a few days or weeks, postpartum depression can last for several months or years after a mother gives birth.
Postpartum depression is a mood disorder, and like other mood disorders, it can be characterized by sadness, crying, extreme fatigue, guilt, disconnectedness, loss of interest in enjoyable activities and hopelessness. However, postpartum depression also has its own uniquely identifiable traits.
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The greater Indianapolis community is diverse in race, ethnic groups and religions. With that diversity comes the need for quality cultural programming for youth and families.
“The state of so many issues in our country is based around deep-rooted racism that is set up in our institutions,” said Natalie Spriggs-Trobridge, youth program director at Peace Learning Center. “The more that people understand this, the more that we can work on dismantling it. That is how we create equity to give everyone a fair shot in life!”
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In 2003-2013, Celia was a young child participating in College Mentors for Kids.
“What I remember most about my mentor is that she genuinely cared for me and was interested in me,” said Celia. “I am the oldest child and I have a younger brother, so she definitely took an older sister role for me. She was someone I looked up to and had fun with.”
Celia is now a university senior studying social work. She volunteers with College Mentors for Kids, paying forward the service that was rendered to her as a youth.
Mentorship relationships have shown positive impacts in a number of ways. According to College Mentors for Kids, just over a year ago 62 percent of their third to sixth grade Indiana mentees passed ISTEP in math and 67 percent passed ISTEP in English and language arts.
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Central Indiana is home to an amazing variety of out-of-school programs for youth, ranging from summer camps and scouting to academic and arts enrichment to mentoring and leadership development opportunities. There are many different ways for youth programs to meet the needs of young people and foster positive youth development, and there is healthy debate among youth development professionals over what and how this should be done. Yet there is research to suggest that quality matters in youth programming; young people who attend high quality programs tend to do better than those who participate in mediocre programs, and it’s even possible for a program to have a negative effect on kids (if things go horribly wrong).
So how can we know whether a program is high quality, and more importantly, how can we start using this information to improve youth programming in our communities? Happily, a scientifically valid and reliable tool to measure youth program quality exists and is already in use in Marion County: the Youth Program Quality Assessment (YPQA), which was developed by the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation. The YPQA measures various aspects of four key components of quality youth programs: safety, support, interaction, and engagement. It is based on extensive empirical research and works in all settings and scales. Rather than looking at the usual outcome measures that only tell part of the story, the YPQA measures program quality at the point of service—where there may be the greatest impact on young people.
MCCOY has facilitated the YPQA process for several cohorts of local youth-serving organizations, and recently offered its own staff the opportunity to go through the YPQA External Assessor training. Although strictly speaking YQPA external assessors are supposed to have direct program experience (and I have very little, being a career fundraiser), I jumped at the chance to go through the training and learn more about what constitutes a quality youth program. I definitely enjoyed the experience, although it was a lot to process (and two and a half long, exhausting days). I always enjoy meeting program staff; their dedication and wisdom keep me inspired to do what I do. I think their thoughtful questions and analysis of different subtleties in the scenario videos we watched helped me eventually pass the qualification test, since I had quite a learning curve to overcome.
The YPQA assessments for the current cohort will take place over the coming months, and I look forward to playing my part in this important step for the Indianapolis youth development community. I do have an ulterior motive; the YPQA will also help advance the aims of the Early Intervention and Prevent (EIP) initiative, the subject of my work at MCCOY, which will better coordinate nonprofit services so that children and families get the services they need when they need them to reduce the risk of child abuse, neglect, and delinquency. We are currently hard at work preparing a strategic plan for the EIP initiative and I am certain that program quality—and our experience with the YPQA—will have a strong influence on our work.
Engaging young people in the programs youth organizations offer is easier said than done. And the reality is, the fact that youth simply “show up” doesn’t mean they’re invested or engaged in the activities. So how do we create better opportunities for young people to really get engaged in? Better engagement ultimately leads to better results. Here are some ideas to jump start your youth engagement approach:
- Be youth-centered, not just outcomes-centered. Build relationships, and respect young people’s relationships with their peers and families. While building relationships, help build futures by planning for what happens when they’re not at your center or program.
- Pay special attention to how your center’s programs coordinate with each other. Tailor your services so they’re accessible and allow young people to pursue their goals across interests.
- Encourage personal choice and social responsibility in the young people you work with.
- Get to know what the young person’s support safety-net looks like; who are the key people who make a difference in his or her life?
- No matter what the program, focus on assisting young people achieve greater self-sufficiency and confidence.
Some of the tips above are adapted from the Transition to Independence Process (TIP), developed in a partnership with the University of South Florida and the Department of Child & Family Studies. Click here for many more resources about the findings.
Around 40 youth development professionals and community leaders gathered recently to learn about the Youth Program Quality Assessment (YPQA). This is the strategy we’re employing within the Ready by 21 Quality Counts initiative to improve the quality and reach of youth programs in Central Indiana. Erica Curry, from the Forum for Youth Investment, presented a dynamic workshop designed to get on board early those organizations who want to pilot the project with MCCOY and build overall quality improvement. YPQA sites will be eligible for comprehensive training and custom technical assistance – all completely free.
If you’re interested in learning more about YPQA or becoming a pilot site, please e-mail Kirsten Eamon-Shine.