The Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed a bill designed to significantly reduce bullying of school age children. It will address both face to face bullying and cyberbullying by banning the use of e-mails, text messages, Internet postings and other electronic means to create a hostile school environment for others. It is comprehensive and emphasizes prevention but mandates that schools publish an anti-bullying policy and create an anti-bullying curriculum for students.
Every adult working in a school would be required to report bullying incidents and principals would have to investigate and take disciplinary action if they determine bullying has occurred. The goal is to create learning environments that provide safe, welcoming climate for all students. YHC supports the message that bullying will not be tolerated. Clear policy, procedure and programs lead to prevention. We will be working closely with Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center, Helping Kids Thrive and other programs to help schools develop an comprehensive approach to reducing bullying and increasing safety.
Risky Behavior In Teens
Dr. Laurence Steinberg, an internationally recognized researcher has published research comparing differences with adolescents who know their peers are watching and when they are not in the presence of peers. What he has found is that they will take greater risks and that there is an activation of the brain areas associated with reward. The hypothesis is that in the presence of peers adolescents may focus on the potential rewards of decisions, relative to the potential costs and that this might lead to them making riskier choices.
This research may highlight what we have intuitively known about the powerful influence of peers and the way in which judgment is impacted potentially leading to greater risk. With the advent of fMRI’s researchers like Dr. Steinberg are helping us concretely understand the way the adolescent brain directs behavior. Adolescents find themselves in situations where reward seeking is aroused and yet they do not have the ability to put the brakes on. Education is important but it alone is not sufficient to stop a teen from engaging in risky behavior. He cites driving as an example. Teens driving with other teens in the car are more likely to have a crash while that is not true for adults. Some states have moved to graduated licenses until they reach a certain age or number of hours. This policy eliminates the impact of peers and the inclination toward novelty seeking, sensation seeking, and reward seeking arousal.
Ending An Epidemic
Millions of teens are in abusive relationships yet parents are often the last to know. A recent survey done by the CDC indicated that 1 in 11 high school students had been the victim of physical dating violence in the past year. One in 5 report they have been hit, slapped or pushed by a partner and almost a third say they have been involved in an emotionally abusive relationship. The lack of awareness and understanding allows the abusive behavior to not be taken seriously and can sometimes even be viewed as teenage silliness. Some states have begun to pass legislation that mandates policy about partner violence including education and prevention.
We must teach children and teens what it means to have healthy relationships, free from harassment, fear and abuse. The CDC report found that teens who have been the victim of dating violence were more likely to have sex, binge drink get into fights and attempt suicide. Dating violence can tip off a cascade of negative health consequences. We know that prevention can work and encourage a proactive approach. Prom season and the accompanying increase in dates and drinking offer a perfect time to raise awareness. This responsibility is with schools, parents, clergy and all influential adults. A card outlining 10 signs of abusive relationships and four steps for creating a safety plan and a 24 hour toll-free helpline is available from www.jenniferann.org.
Easing Pediatric Pain: Acute or Chronic
The ABC’s in medicine of airway, breathing and circulation are now being added to with DEF, reduce distress, promote emotional support and remember the family. Dr. Ann Kazak of Children’s Hospital Philadelphia has developed evidence based tools which can be used when children face painful procedures, hospital visits or other potential sources of medical traumatic stress. They are available at www.healthcaretoolbox.org. Included in the web site are hand-outs for children and parents on coping with illness, injury, hospitalization, instruments for assessing pain, stress, coping and psychosocial support, educational materials for health care professionals including a pocket card for assessing patients’ needs after injuries and a pocket card with brief screening and intervention recommendations. By helping children and families with pain and possible trauma future health care needs and procedures can be approached with less anticipatory anxiety.