Bill would help oust Delaware teachers who pose clear threat to kids

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The News Journal | Jessica Bies

A new bill would let the state Education Department immediately suspend educators' licenses if they are arrested or indicted by a grand jury for a violent felony, or where there is a clear and immediate danger to student safety or welfare. 

Currently, the education department cannot take away teachers' licenses unless they are fired or they resign/retire after official notice of allegations of a sexual offense against a child. 

That can be a lengthy process that involves hearings and appeals, especially if the teacher hasn't been convicted of a crime yet. In the meantime, those educators are still in the classroom, said Earl Jaques, D-Glasgow, which leaves students in danger. 

"This way, we can move a little quicker," said Jaques, who is one of the bill's sponsors and chair of the House Education Committee. Though first introduced Thursday, he fully expects the bill to get approved by the end of the month, before the legislative session ends. 

Upon request, the state Education Department provided four real-life examples of educators whose licenses have not been suspended, despite serious allegations of misconduct. For legal reasons, DOE could not provide the educators' names: 

  1. A male educator has been accused three separate times by three female elementary students of touching their thighs and making sexually inappropriate comments. No criminal charges have ever been brought and he has not been fired. After the third incident, he resigned but then was hired at another school in Delaware and is currently teaching. Under the current law, the state has no grounds to conduct an investigation or revoke his license. 

  2. One educator was accused of not reporting child abuse as required by law. The educator took a disability pension and was still technically employed by the school district, so the state didn't have jurisdiction and couldn't legally investigate. 

  3. A principal who stole money from a parent-teacher association took a plea deal and was put on probation; thus no action was taken with regard to his/her licensure.

  4. An educator was charged with a felony for pushing an autistic student and causing him physical injury. The educator’s license remains fully effective and he/she could take a new job at another school despite the charges being investigated.

The new legislation is backed by the Delaware State Education AssociationDelaware Department of Justice and the Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children, among other organizations. 

Under the new bill, the education department could temporarily suspend educators' licenses or certificates for up to 60 days, pending an investigation and hearing. If it's determined an educator is a danger to students, their license will remain suspended until disciplinary action is taken — the education department itself can't fire teachers; that's up to the board of whatever school district the teachers work for. 

Alternatively, if the educator is found not guilty of the underlying criminal charges, they can request that their license is reinstated. 

Because personnel records are confidential and not all educators are charged with felonies, many such cases escape public notice. But in 2014, a 16-year-old Smyrna High School student, who had an ongoing sexual relationship with a teacher, filed a lawsuit against him and the school district.

The suit blamed 38-year-old Donovan J. Garvin and the Smyrna district for acts of sexual assault and battery that were committed against the student, identified by the pseudonym "Jane Doe."

The suit further alleged the district had "actual or constructive notice of prior misconduct by Garvin, which endangered students and subjected them to sexual abuse. The case was settled in May 2015, before it went to trial. 

Attorney Raeann Warner, who represented the girl, has said it was unfortunate Garvin used his position to prey on a vulnerable student.

"What is more troubling is that the suit alleges that other teachers warned Garvin to stay away from plaintiff, apparently recognizing the inappropriateness of their relationship," Warner said in 2014. 

Garvin was arrested in 2013 following an investigation that started after the discovery of a cellphone containing communication between him and the girl. The relationship apparently began in 2012 when the girl, then 15, was a sophomore. She was a student of Garvin's the previous school year.

According to the 13-page lawsuit, the two had sex on at least 10 occasions. Some of the assaults occurred in Garvin's classroom, according to the victim's attorney.

Garvin was charged with 10 counts of first-degree sexual abuse of a child by a person of trust and one count of sexual solicitation of a child to engage in prohibited acts. He pleaded guilty to a single count of child abuse and was sentenced to 13 years in prison and 2½ years of probation. He must also register as a sex offender and is prohibited from having contact with minors, except for his own children.

During Garvin's sentencing, Warner said a deputy attorney general informed the court that Garvin was let go by other school districts for allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with students. His license was never revoked, which allowed him to secure employment elsewhere.

Warner could not comment on the case specifically, but on Monday did say: "In general, this bill appears to be intended to give the department more information and flexibility and power to act to protect children, which is a great thing." 

The new bill also makes it easier for the state education department to take action against teachers who are fired but not formally charged, said Shelley Meadowcroft, director of public relations for the Delaware State Education Association. 

If, after being investigated, a teacher or paraprofessional isn't found guilty, the education department can still issue a "non-disciplinary letter of concern" outlining the bad behavior. If an educator receives three letters of the concern, the education department can choose to suspend, limit or revoke their license. 

Meadowcroft said that creates the ability for the education department to track a teacher's behavior, even if they switch school districts multiple times. 

"Not all school districts talk," she said, which makes it difficult for administrators to know if an educator has a history of misconduct. 

With the new bill in place, "No matter where you are, they can still go in and say no, you're done, three strikes, you're out," Meadowcroft said. "It gets them out of the school immediately, which is a good thing." 

Not only that, but all final orders issued by either the secretary of education or the Professional Standards Board would be considered public documents, subject to the Freedom of Information Act. 

That's notable because, as mentioned above, personnel decisions are often considered confidential, and it can be difficult to determine why a teacher was fired or suspended. Most of the cases the Department of Education investigates involve physical aggression or sexual misconduct, officials told the News Journal in 2016

USA Today has also investigated teachers who sexually abuse students, and has found many of them continue to work with children. Officials put children in harm’s way by covering up evidence of abuse, keeping allegations secret and making it easy for abusive teachers to find jobs elsewhere, the investigation found. 

Joshua Alcorn, chief engagement officer at the Beau Biden Foundation, compared the phenomenon to what happened in the Catholic Church.  Priests were often moved to different parishes when allegations of sexual abuse began to surface, allowing them access to new victims. 

Alcorn said the Beau Biden Foundation wants to make sure educators accused of serious crimes aren't allowed to continue teaching. 

“We’re interested in making sure predators don’t have easy access to children and institutions have a way to protect the children in their care from predators," he said. 

"Strengthening child protection laws is one of the main tenants of the foundation.”

Parenting Tip of the Week - Promoting Social and Emotional Learning

PREVENTCHILDABUSE.ORG

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Developing the social and emotional skills of children is a critical way to ensure that they grow up into healthy, well-adjusted adults. Many schools are now integrating social and emotional learning into their lesson plans. Parents also play a role in promoting SEL! Here are six suggestions for ways that parents can promote social and emotional learning over the summer break.

Six Suggested Ideas to Promote Social and Emotional Learning

  1. Visit a local library and read a book with a SEL component. You can use stories that you read with your children to help them understand SEL concepts in action. Let your child choose a book from a list like this then sit down and read it together. Make sure you discuss the motivations and actions of the characters.
  2. Create cooperative learning games that your child can play with siblings or friends. Playing games among peers with a cooperative goal is a great way to reinforce SEL concepts like understanding and patience. Some great examples of these games include “Cross the River” or “Human Knot.”
  3. Set a goal for the summer and help your child keep track of it. Agree on an age-appropriate summer goal with your child and help them track their progress. For example, your child may set a goal of being able to read thirty new words by the end of the summer. Help them create a graph to track their progress to reinforce concepts like determination and help children learn to deal with emotions like frustration.
  4. Start a summer journal. Buy some cheap notebooks for your child and encourage them to keep a journal of their thoughts and feelings over the summer. Whether they choose to draw pictures or free-write, journaling can help children keep sense of their thoughts and feelings and express them in a healthy manner.
  5. Create chore lists for each week of summer break. Age-appropriate chores can teach children responsibility and the importance of follow through. Parents can change which chores their child is responsible for from week to week while keeping the routine constant.
  6. Check-in with your child’s feelings. Simply asking “how are you feeling?” every day shows your children that their emotions matter and that you. This also helps children learn to label their emotions and learn to deal with them in an appropriate way.

Integrating social and emotional learning concepts into your child’s summer break is a great way for parents to reinforce the concepts children are already learning at school. The more time that parents dedicate to these concepts, the better equipped children will be for a future full of learning! For more information on social and emotional learning, visit CASEL.org.

Delaware Expected To Be The First State To Ban Child Marriage Outright

THE NEWS JOURNAL l SARAH MUELLER

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The Delaware Senate voted unanimously Thursday to become the first state in the U.S. to ban child marriage, no exceptions. Legislation prohibiting minors from marrying under any circumstance is headed to the governor's desk where he is expected to sign it.

Right now Delaware is one of 25 states that allows a child of any age to get married. And while most state laws require that people must be at least 18, they allow for exceptions, like pregnancy or parent consent.

"We're leaving girls with no protections," said State Rep. Kim Williams, who sponsored the legislation. "I don't want children to have to make a decision about marriage until they're 18."

Kelsey Lee is a family attorney with the nonprofit organization Unchained At Last, which helps people who were forced into marriages. Lee says most of the time the marriages are between an adult male and a girl. That leaves the girl without the legal protections adults have, such as hiring a divorce lawyer.

The Loopholes That Allow Child Marriage In The U.S.

"Children here in Delaware cannot file a legal action in their own name. A parent or guardian would have to do it for them. We know children who are forced to marry — it's almost always the parents, so it is highly unlikely that the parent will allow them to divorce."

Lee also points out that minors are also not allowed to enter into contracts, so their spouse, for instance, would have the house in their name. And Lee says that very few domestic violence shelters will accept minors.

In Delaware, more than 200 minors got married between 2000 and 2017. In more than 90 percent of the cases, girls under the age of 18 married adult men.

The legislation would also eliminate the statutory rape exception in Delaware law. The state bans sex between a minor and someone who is 30 years old or older. But it's not considered rape if the two are married.

Critics of the bill say parents should be allowed to let their kids get married without government interference. They also raise concerns about the state interfering with religions or cultures that support arranged marriages.

State Rep. Stephen Smyk was one of 11 House members who voted against the legislation. He said the state already has safeguards to protect minors. Delaware allowed minors to marry with just parental consent until 2007. Lawmakers then added the requirement that a family court sign off on the marriages.

"The bill heading to the governor ignores multiple scenarios," Smyk said. "The blanket ban on marriage under age 18 might unfairly exclude couples with legitimate reasons for seeking such unions."

A spokesman for Gov. John Carney says the governor plans to sign the legislation after a legal review.

EMOTIONAL NEGLECT DURING CHILDHOOD IS JUST AS HARMFUL AS PHYSICAL ABUSE, SAYS SCIENCE

BABBLE.COM l CHAUNIE BRUSIE

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Editor’s Note: This post is not intended as medical advice. Always consult a medical professional or physician before treatment of any kind.  Also, an earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Dr. Rahil Briggs as Dr. Rachel Briggs. We apologize for the error.

You’re probably pretty confident that you’d be able to recognize whether you or your child was being physically abused, but what about emotional abuse?

Abuse is abuse no matter which form it takes. And according to experts, emotional abuse in the form of childhood emotional neglect can actually be one of the most harmful.

"Neglect is the most damaging of all,” says Dr. Diane Robert Stoller, also known as “Dr. Diane,” a Boston-based neuropsychologist and co-author of Coping with Concussion and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. “Neglect is not being seen.”

As Dr. Rahil Briggs, PsyD, director of the HealthySteps program and associate professor of clinical pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine explains, there is actually no distinction between emotional and physical abuse. All types of abuse fall under the umbrella of trauma. And trauma encompasses everything from physical trauma, like a child being beaten or hurt, to emotional pain and neglect.

“Trauma is not just a house fire or a car accident or something very headline-worthy,” she adds. “It can be very traumatic to children to consistently, constantly, and in a predictable way have their emotional needs disregarded. Or even worse, be told that they shouldn’t have them as children, if they are just asking for basic care and comfort.”

The effects of emotional trauma

Unlike physical scars, the long-lasting effects of emotional trauma are harder to see. Emotional neglect can take place in the form of a family that provides all of a child’s material needs, but never takes the time to get to know them. Emotional trauma can be in the form of a parent battling the demons of addiction that is unable to be fully present. Emotional trauma can look like a parent who favors one child over another, or a parent who is too busy to attend any of his kid’s sporting events. Emotional trauma, in a nutshell, is the repeated and consistent neglect of the emotional well-being of a child.

There is a lot of interesting research on how childhood emotional neglect affects both our mental and physical health. For example, one study found that childhood emotional neglect actually increases the reactivity of the brain’s amygdala, which controls how we interpret and respond to stressful stimuli. But all types of trauma can lead to a wide range of negative effects, both in childhood and later in life, including:

  • Higher rates of negative behavioral activities, such as drug use
  • More physical health diagnoses, like cancer and heart disease
  • Increased ADHD
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mental health disorders

According to Dr. Diane, childhood neglect is more likely to cause a child to grow up in fear, learning to either become very aggressive or withdrawn, and turn blame inwards. And because that consistent trauma triggers the autonomic nervous system, neglect also has long-lasting physical effects, as well. Dr. Briggs likens the physical toll that emotional trauma takes on the human body to a car being driven at top speeds 24/7 without a break. “The car would break down faster,” she explains.

What does emotional neglect look like?

Ironically, as talk to Dr. Briggs, I essentially ignore my 3-year-old as she clamors for my attention. So, am I neglecting her? Am I ruining her forever?

Dr. Briggs assures me that ignoring your kid now and then when you’re on the phone is not a problem — it’s a repeated pattern of neglect that causes damage.

“It can be quite overwhelming to parents; there are 24 hours in a day and if you think to yourself, ‘Well, I have to be emotionally responsive to my child all 24 of those hours’, that’s a benchmark that no one can, nor should, meet,” she explains.

Instead, she suggests starting with something as simple as talking with your kid at the end of the day and remembering that some positive stress for kids is necessary for children to learn and grow. Dr. Diane also points out that children require different emotional “watering,” just like plants.

“That parent is supposed to be able to see … when to water it and when not to,” she explains. “Certain plants you need to water every day; other ones you need to water every week.”

I was relieved to discover that I wasn’t a horrible parent after all, but not so relieved to discover that my daughter had adorned her entire body in green marker while I was on the phone.

How to identify emotional neglect in yourself

Outside of green markers, however, one issue adults may encounter is coming face-to-face with their own childhood trauma once they become parents. Because so many people have yet to recognize their own emotional trauma and the subsequent impact it had on their lives, it can take an event, like becoming a parent, for that trauma to come flooding back.

Dr. Briggs notes that if you notice yourself having “abnormally intense” reactions to your child’s crying, or if you are unable to parent the way you want to, you may have some repressed childhood trauma that needs to be dealt with. She even adds that parents who have had trauma in the past tend to struggle intensely with sleep training, simply because they can’t handle the thought of their baby crying.

Dr. Diane explains that you might even recognize the effects of emotional abuse in yourself in something as simple as how you react to acts of kindness, such as compliments or a hug. Ask yourself:

Do you immediately stiffen up when someone reaches for you in a hug?

Do you have a hard time getting close to people?

Do you think someone is lying if they compliment you?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, a history of childhood emotional neglect may help explain why. “If you’ve been neglected, someone being nice to you feels uncomfortable,” Dr. Diane says. Other symptoms include: excessive independence (because you learned quickly that you couldn’t count on anyone for your own needs) and caregiving to others (due to the lack of caregiving provided to you). All of these things can lead to the creation of an emotional wall that prevents you from allowing people to get close to you.

If you suspect that you may be a victim of childhood emotional neglect, there is hope. Overcoming childhood emotional abuse for yourself so that you can parent effectively starts with assessing your own mental health with a mental health provider.

Like many physicians, Dr. Briggs believes mental health check-ups should be just as common as physical check-ups. She states, “There’s no health without mental health, and there’s no childhood mental health without parental mental health.”

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For Delaware's most vulnerable babies, cuddling can go a long way

THE NEWS JOURNAL l MEREDITH NEWMAN

When Donna Francisco poked her head into the hospital room, she found tiny Luke asleep in his open crib, the only noise coming from the machines he was hooked up to. 

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"Caution: Fragile bones. Please be careful" read a small sign taped to the bed at Nemours A.I. du Pont Hospital for Children. Nurses helped Francisco pick up Luke, and she sat with him in a nearby rocking chair. 

For the next 30 minutes, she would rock him while reading the children's book, "Corduroy" to him and then singing "You are My Sunshine" before she left. 

Franciso is a cuddler, a hospital volunteer who spends a few hours every week holding, singing and reading to the smallest and weakest babies in Delaware. At Christiana Care Health System and Nemours, the cuddlers belong to an exclusive club of volunteers — one that consists of a long wait-list, a vetting process and extensive training.

Luke's parents likely were taking a short break or a shower or maybe picking up a shift at work. Their son was born prematurely, and the hospital declined to give his age or diagnosis.

Some of the babies in Nemours/A.I. duPont Hospital for Children's NICU will be in the hospital for months, and their moms and dads can't be there with them 24/7. That's where cuddlers come in (and sorry, both hospitals aren't in need of any more cuddlers).

Doctors say there's more to the cuddling programs than holding cute babies. For NICU babies, hearing words when volunteers sing lullabies or read books can help with cognitive development. And for babies exposed to opioids in their mother's womb, the skin-to-skin contact helps them battle the toughest moments of their young lives — withdrawal. 

“The role for me is to cuddle and make that baby feel secure," said June Emory, a volunteer at Christiana Care. "You can see it in their little faces, they’re struggling for these first few days. And so we’re offering that little extra TLC.”

At Nemours, the Baby Bookworms program is focused on the cognitive development of newborns, said Judy Lieberman, director of volunteer services. Most of the babies the cuddlers read to at Nemours have "medical challenges."

"It's really about language nutrition. The more words an infant hears, it will affect their cognitive development," she said. “Yes, cuddling is just as important and comforting. But they’re affecting that child’s future.”

According to the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, the more words babies, including those in the NICU, are exposed to, the better prepared they are to start talking. 

The Nemours cuddling and reading program started about a year ago as a way for high school and college students to get involved with volunteering during the summer, Lieberman said.

It's since grown to include dozens of volunteers of all demographics and has made its way into different hospital wings, she said. The volunteers have recently started reading to children in the cardiac unit. 

"Different units have seen the impact and they’re asking us to come to their floors," Lieberman said. 

Since Christiana Care's Cuddlers program started in 2014, more than 7,184 babies have been cuddled, hospital officials said. 

Dr. David Paul, chair of the hospital system's pediatrics department, said most of the Christiana Care cuddlers focus on babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome, a condition that can result in babies being irritable, sleep-deprived, prone to tremors and vomiting and difficult to feed.

As the opioid epidemic continues to worsen in Delaware, state and hospital officials are seeing a growing number of babies born addicted to drugs.

From 2010 to 2015, there were 1,172 babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, according to state health officials. The rate doubled from 11.9 babies per 1,000 births in 2010 to 23 babies per 1,000 births. 

When babies are exposed to opioids in utero, they experience withdrawal symptoms when they're born, Paul said. And these symptoms can be painful. 

"It's especially important for those babies to be cuddled during that period of time," he said.

Cuddling can help soothe babies who experience withdrawal symptoms, Paul said. Human touch can also help offset the negative stimuli babies experience in the NICU, particularly bright lights and loud noises. 

The cuddlers are a part of Christiana Care's non-pharmacological management approach. A majority of babies exposed to drugs during pregnancy will require morphine to help with withdrawal symptoms, Paul said. 

175 Conversation Starters for Family Discussions

AHAPARENTING.COM l DR. LAURA MARKHAM

Parents often tell me they don’t know where to begin to have a “real” conversation with their child. These questions will get you started. Rather than badgering your child with them, use one as the jumping off point for a two-way conversation. Start by asking your child the question, and listen to the answer, remembering to reflect back what she’s saying so she knows you understand.

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Don’t shy away from expressing your opinions; kids are often curious what parents think. Just be sure that you listen first, and that you listen more than you talk.

And resist the urge to lecture, which will make your child tune you out. The point is developing the habit of conversational back and forth that deepens your relationship.

These questions also work well to launch family dinner table conversations.

Getting to Know Your Child

  • What are the three most interesting things about you?
  • Name five reasons you’re glad to be alive.
  • If you could have any super power, what would it be and why?
  • If you had a time machine for a day, what would you do with it?
  • What’s your favorite song? Why?
  • What do you want to be when you grow up? Why?
  • What’s your favorite movie? Why?
  • Why do you think kids put rings in their eyebrows and noses and bellybuttons?
  • How about tattoos?
  • Do you think you would ever want to do that? Why or why not?
  • If we could go anywhere you wanted on vacation, where would you choose? Why?
  • If you could have a conversation with anyone in history, who would it be?
  • What would you want to ask them?
  • What is your earliest memory?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • If you could change one thing about your appearance, what would it be?
  • If you had to choose only three words to describe yourself, what would you say?
  • Is there anything about you that inspires other people in any way?
  • What is your idea of an ideal day?
  • Would you rather live in a castle, on a boat, or on a cloud?
  • If you were invisible where would you go and what would you do?
  • What is a quality you wish you could have more of?
  • If you could ask anyone for help, who would it be and why?
  • What scares you the most and why?
  • What makes you feel better?
  • What do you worry about the most?
  • What is your biggest goal this year?
  • When do you feel the most proud of who you are?

Your Relationship with Your Child

  • What is your favorite thing about our relationship?
  • What is your least favorite thing about our relationship?
  • Do you think you can tell me anything? What would you be most likely to want to lie to me about? Why?
  • If you got into really big trouble, how do you think I would respond?
  • Is there something I can do better that I am not doing now?
  • Do you feel like you could talk with me about anything at all?
  • If we had a special day together what would you want to do?
  • Do I ever embarrass you?
  • What are the most important things I have taught you?
  • If you had to choose only three words to describe me, what would you say?
  • If you and your parents switched places for a day, what are the first things you would do?

Family

  • How do you think your friends' families compare to ours? Are they about as close? Closer? More distant? Why do you think that?
  • Do you think your friends talk to their parents?
  • What do you think makes a family close?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how strict are the parents in this family? What is the ideal number?
  • Is the discipline in our family fair?
  • What’s the best thing about our family?
  • If you could change one thing about your parents, what would it be?
  • What are the most important things your parents have taught you?
  • What do you think are the most important qualities of a good parent?
  • What do you think makes a happy family?
  • Tell each person in the family why you’re glad they’re part of the family.
  • How do you think our family is the same or different from other families?
  • Do you want to have kids when you grow up? Why or why not?
  • What kind of parent will you be?
  • Do you think you will be close to your siblings when you grow up?
  • How many of your ancestors can you name and what do you know about them?
  • What is your favorite family tradition?
  • What three words do you think best describe our family?

Blended Families

  • Do blended families take more work? Can they be as happy as birth families?
  • Do you ever miss your dad?
  • Do you think things would be different if your dad was still with us and I had never met your step-dad? How?
  • Even though your step-dad is not your biological dad, you know he adores you. Do you feel close to him?
  • You know, to your little sister you are completely her sister, not her stepsister. Do you feel that way, or is it different for you? Do you feel close to her?
  • When you both grow up, do you think you will stay connected?
  • Do you think it’s harder for children who have been adopted than for children who weren't?
  • Do you think it’s a good idea for kids who were adopted to look up their birth parents? Why or why not?

Values & Character

  • What traits do you most admire in other people?
  • Did you help anyone today?
  • Did you have a chance to be kind to anyone today?
  • Is it hard to make the choice to be kind sometimes?
  • Do you think it's okay to lie about your age to get into an Amusement Park with a cheaper ticket? Is it ever ok to lie?
  • Do you think your parents ever lie?
  • What kinds of lies do your friends tell their parents?
  • Does it matter if a person makes a moral or immoral choice, if no one ever knows?
  • Is it ever ok to cheat, in academics, sports, business?
  • If someone you loved was very sick but could not afford the medicine to get better, would it be okay to steal the medicine?
  • Do adults automatically deserve respect? How do you earn respect?
  • What could our family do that would make the world a better place?
  • What do you think the biggest problem in the world is? How about in our country?
  • How important is money? Do you think there is enough money in the world for everyone to have enough?
  • How would you change the world if you could?
  • What do you think the "take-away" message of this movie is?
  • Do you admire the hero in this movie? Why or why not?
  • Do you swear? How many of the kids at school swear? What do you think about swearing?

School & Learning

  • Who is or was your favorite teacher? Why?
  • Do you think there is a difference between being smart and being wise?
  • What are the best and worst things about school?
  • What do you know how to do that you could teach someone else?
  • How common do you think cheating is at your school?
  • What would you do if all the other kids were planning to cheat on the final and you knew that doing so would lower your grade?
  • Do you respect your teachers? Why or why not? Do you think they respect you?
  • What do you think makes the most difference in how kids do at school? Hard work, innate ability, parental supervision, peer attitudes, how good the school is?
  • Do you think it makes sense to admit students to a college based only on academic achievement or should an attempt be made to achieve racial and ethnic diversity as well?
  • Do you think kids from wealthier school districts have an unfair advantage?
  • What do you think about home-schooling?

Emotions

  • Do you know what EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) is? If someone has a high EQ, what are they like?
  • Are you able to tell me or others when you are upset? 
  • How do you feel when someone is angry with you? How do you act?
  • Are you a "cup is half full" or "cup is half empty" kind of person?
  • What do you do to cheer yourself up when you feel down?
  • Have I never not noticed when you're sad?
  • What is the best way for me to help you when you feel grumpy?
  • When do you like me to hug you? When does it embarrass you?
  • What hurts your feelings? How do you act when your feelings are hurt?
  • When you get really angry, how do you help yourself calm down?
  • When you make a mistake, are you able to repair things so that you end up feeling ok? 
  • What are the different kinds of courage? How do you define bravery?

Drug and Alcohol Use

  • Why do you think it's illegal for kids under the age of 21 to drink alcohol? After all, many parents do it.
  • Why are marijuana and other drugs illegall?
  • What would you do if you were in a car and the driver had been drinking or smoking marijuana?
  • What if the driver was a grown-up, like your friend's parent?
  • What do you think happens in the brain when people smoke marijuana? Why shouldn't kids smoke it?
  • Have you ever thought that I drank too much? Acted differently when I drank alcohol?
  • When do you think kids are ready to try alcohol?
  • Do you know any kids or adults who you think have alcohol or drug problems?
  • When do you think kids are ready to try alcohol?
  • Do you know any kids who have tried alcohol or drugs, what do you think of them?
  • What do the kids at your school do at parties?
  • Have you been to a party like that? Have you ever been offered a drink? A marijuana cigarette or other drugs?
  • How did you handle it?
  • What would you do if you were at a party and someone passed out from drinking alcohol?
  • Would you be worried about becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs?
  • Do you think coffee is a drug? When do you think it’s ok for kids to start drinking coffee?

Friendship & Peers

  • Who is your best friend and why?
  • What traits do you look for in friends?
  • Do you think you're good at making friends?
  • Where do you consider yourself on the shy to outgoing continuum?
  • Have you ever been mad at one of your friends? How did you handle it?
  • Do you think there is a such thing as peer pressure? Do you ever feel peer pressure? Do you think some people are more susceptible to peer pressure than others? Why do you think that is?
  • What do you think makes a person popular? Are wealthier kids more popular? Kids who mature faster?
  • Are you popular? Why or why not? Would you like to be?
  • What do you think leadership is? What makes a good leader?

Bullying

  • Who gets teased at school or in your activities, and why?
  • Does the teasing ever go overboard?
  • How can we define what's ok and what's overboard?
  • Does the kid getting teased think the teasing is bullying, or not?
  • Who leads the teasing?
  • Do the kids who aren't leading the teasing feel they have to join in?
  • How do the kids who get teased react?
  • Do they stick up for themselves?
  • Does that help or make matters worse?
  • Does anyone else ever step in to stick up for the kids being teased? (My son once defined a friend as someone who didn't join in the teasing, even if they did nothing to stop it!)
  • What do you think the teasing does to the person being teased?
  • How does it affect the people doing the teasing?
  • If it is the choices we make that express who we are, what does teasing someone say about us?
  • Do you ever get teased or bullied?
  • If you did, what could you do or say?

Love, Sex & Marriage

  • At what age do you think people can fall in love? At what age should people marry?
  • Do you think people should be married to have sex? If not, how should they decide whether they’re ready?
  • What do you think changes when you have sex?
  • How do you think love is different in real life than it is in the movies?
  • What would be most important to you in looking for a spouse?
  • Do you think any of the kids at school are not virgins? What do you think about that?
  • Do kids at your school actually “date”? What do you think about the idea of “friends with benefits”? Does the girl benefit as much as the guy?
  • Do you think girls and guys have the same needs from sex and relationships?
  • Do you know anyone who’s gay? Does anyone treat them differently? What do you think about that?
  • Why do you think people get divorced? How do you think it affects the kids?

Body Image and Gender Roles

  • How do you think ordinary peoples’ bodies compare to the models and actors on TV? How does it make you feel to watch them?
  • What do you think of the way girls and guys in high school dress these days?
  • Do you think girls look better with or without makeup?
  • Is there a difference between "attractive" and "hot"? Between "hot" and "sexy"?
  • Who decides whether someone is pretty or attractive?
  • Is attractiveness innate or is it something we can make ourselves? 
  • Does making ourselves attractive have a cost? (for instance, comfort, or adventure, or fun.) Is that different for girls than for boys? 
  • Is someone pretty who acts ugly?
  • Is someone pretty who is in rags but acts bravely and with caring?
  • What matters most, attractiveness or being strong, smart, brave, responsible, caring, etc? 
  • How would you define “sexy”? Is it important to be “sexy”? Are some of the kids at school sexy? How does someone know if they’re sexy? Is it important that your future boyfriend or girlfriend be sexy?
  • What are the most important qualities you would want in a boyfriend or girlfriend?
  • Do you think most girls are glad when they reach puberty? Why or why not? Do you think most guys are glad when they reach puberty? Why or why not?
  • What's the hardest thing about being a girl?
  • What's the hardest thing about being a boy?
  • Do you know anyone with an eating disorder? Why do you think kids develop eating disorders? Why do you think there’s such an emphasis on thin-ness in our society?
  • Can you name three things that you really like about yourself that have nothing to do with what you look like? 

Spirituality

  • Do you believe in God? Why or why not? If so, how do you picture God?
  • Do you ever talk to God?
  • Is spirituality the same as religion or different?
  • Has religion played a positive or negative role in history?
  • Do you have good friends who practice religions that are different from ours? Acquaintances? How are you like them? How are you different?
  • Do you think there is one best religion? Why or why not?
  • What do you think happens after death?
  • What do you think is the meaning of life? Why are we alive?
  • How will you know if you’ve had a successful life?

5 Questions Teachers Wish You Would Ask Them About Screen Time, Tech, and Internet Privacy

COMMONSENSEMEDIA.ORG | Caroline Knorr

Classroom-technology-SB.jpg

9/05/17 - "No TV until your homework is finished" used to be the easiest way to separate school work from screen time. Today, with IMs, YouTube, texting, and social media, that boundary is super blurry. And because middle and high schoolers often have media and technology as part of their lessons and take-home assignments, it's tough for parents to know where to draw the line. Fortunately, the folks whose job it is to prepare kids to take on the world (including the digital one) know all about managing screen time, multitasking, online privacy, and even using tech tools at home. And they know your tweens and teens pretty well, too. Teachers -- who are on the front lines of the tech-infused school day -- are experts at helping families manage this stuff so that kids can learn. Here are the questions teachers wish you'd ask about the issues that affect students the most.

How much non-school-related screen time should I allow on a school night?

Rather than allotting a certain amount, first list out everything your kid needs to do in a 24-hour period. Assign a time limit for each activity -- for example, 30 minutes for chores, one hour for physical activity, 45 minutes for reading, 20 minutes for dinner, etc. Don't forget to add 9 to 12 hours for sleep! In the remaining time, figure out how much can be used for screen-based entertainment. It will probably vary throughout the week. Try the American Academy of Pediatrics Family Media Plan to calculate a schedule that works for your family.

How can I curb my kid's multitasking during homework?

In the classroom, teachers who use tech often have to personally monitor students to make sure they're focusing on work, not fooling around on their devices. At home, it's a good idea to reduce or eliminate multitasking because it really takes a toll on learning -- and and drags out homework duties. Set up a homework zone in a common area where you can keep an eye on their activities. Make it device-free if possible -- although sometimes kids legitimately need them for study apps or for checking assignments. Keep devices out of the bedroom, because texting and sleeping is about the worst multitasking kids can do. If they have to use devices and you can't closely supervise, consider downloading a parental control app that limits access to entertainment during homework, such as unGlue. You can also enable Restrictions or Guided Access on iPhones or use Google's Family Link on Android devices to help keep kids on task. But you'll probably still need to spot check.

What do I need to know if my kid has to download an app or register for a site for homework?

Teachers who use technology or expect students to use it at home generally have a plan for keeping you in the loop. They should supply a list of the tools that kids will need access to at home and a process for notifying you if anything changes during the year. One of the most important issues with kids using technology at home is student privacy. Your kid's school ideally vets third-party vendors to ensure that they're not taking advantage of your kid's information. If your kid has to register for anything, read the privacy policy on the company's website and provide only the most basic information required.

What should I do if I find out about cyberbullying by kids in your class?

Teachers definitely want to know if there is cyberbullying happening. Ideally, kids are learning about digital citizenship either on its own or in the context of their instruction (for example, a team project using Google Docs that students have to collaborate on), so it should be something that is discussed and dealt with. Tell the teacher -- or have your kid report it -- so it can be worked out using the school community's conflict resolution methods, just like any other problem affecting students. Teachers can keep an eye out for more of this behavior in school. They should also have clear systems in place to monitor and moderate any class activity online for inappropriate behavior or bullying.

How can I use technology at home to support in-class learning?

Nearly every app for kids in the app stores is labeled "educational," but not all of them are really good for learning. If you're looking for tech tools that you can use to support your kid's in-class learning at home, think of three broad categories: instructional tools that teach academic subjects; creation tools that let kids express themselves; and communities that offer a supportive, collaborative sharing space. These can be apps, websites, games, design programs, and social worlds. Here are some to try:

Instructional:

Khan Academy
PBS Kids
BrainPOP
IXL
Google Art Project
One Globe Kids Friends Around the World
CK-12

Creation:

Minecraft
Algodoo
Procreate
Popplet
Explain Everything Classic
Animoto Video Maker

Social:

DIY
LittleBigPlanet 2
Historypin
Project Noah
Figment
Scratch

The secret Instagram accounts teens use to share their realest, most intimate moments

Mic | Taylor Lorenz

May 3, 2017 - If you ask anyone under the age of 21 where they post most frequently on Instagram, chances are they'll tell you it's to their finsta.

Finsta stands for "fake instagram." It's a separate, locked account with a nonsensical name that teens use to share everything from bad selfies, emotional rants, funny memes, screenshots of texts, homework help and more to a small, select group of friends.

Unlike a teen's "real instagram" or "rinsta," where their image is carefully curated for public consumption, finsta is intimate and messy and, according to every teen we spoke to, way more authentic than their main profile.

A finsta vs a rinsta profile

Source: Erica Snow

The good, the bad and the ugly

Esther Choi, a 17-year-old in Suwanee, Georgia, says that she only posts "the best parts and the big, good parts of my life," on her rinsta. "It's not the full picture."

Finsta is where she gets real.

"On my finsta, it's the good, the bad and the ugly. It's a more multifaceted version of me," she says.

For instance, Choi says that when she goes to a concert she'll generally post a single photo of the show to her rinsta, but finsta is where she posts screenshots of the song lyrics with deep analysis of what they mean to her in the caption.

A rinsta and a finsta

Source: Andy Wang/Instagram

"It's almost like, if you're a political candidate, your rinsta would be your platform page, where you post the best version of yourself," she said. "But your finsta would be your secret real account where you let your closest friends and family follow."

"You're the same person on both, just one is way more personal than the other," she said.

Two apps in one

Why did these accounts start cropping up? Most teens we spoke to said finsta was a backlash against the overly curated image you're expected to portray on social media.

They said that they wanted to keep their main insta accounts for casual followers, teachers or parents who like to keep up with their life, but they also wanted a space to vent and chat and get real with their friends. 

Group chats and Instagram Direct don't work for this because everyone would have to be following each other.

"My main account is what I use when I meet new people," said Isabel Mitchell, a 17-year-old in Belmont, California. "Like if I meet someone at a friend's house and I'm like, 'Oh what's your Insta?' That's where you keep acquaintances, mutual friends and general friends. My finsta I only allow really close friends to follow."

A rinsta photo vs finsta

Source: Mic/Instagram

Size matters

Most of the people we spoke to had around 1,000 followers on their main Instagram accounts, but only between 20 and 100 on their finsta.

"My rule of thumb is if I would have a convo about something serious in real life, I'd let them follow my finsta," said Andy Wang, a 16-year-old from Naperville, Illinois. 

"I think the reason it's popular is because most people are thinking about applying to college and jobs," Mitchell said. "Parents always say, 'Watch what you're posting.' Finsta is kind of like a loophole."

"I think nowadays students and teens have become so aware that what they're posting publicly on social media is going to be viewed by colleges and employers. So that's why they keep a finsta," said Chaze Vinci, a 16-year-old from Franklin, Kentucky.

Alice Wilder's rinsta vs finsta

Source: Mic/Instagram

Vinci says that he keeps an unofficial ranking of social networks in his head. "Facebook is for people who are like, professional contacts. Your main Insta is for people who you know pretty well. Snapchat is for people you know closely and chat with all day, but finsta is for your real closest friends. Only the people you trust. "

Yet that trust can sometimes be betrayed.

"One of my friends started complaining about her orchestra director on finsta," Vinci said. "She started talking about how that class sucked the life out of her and how she hated it so much. Someone who was following her screenshotted and sent to the school's administration. She ended up getting suspended from orchestra for a week."

However, betrayal of trust is rare. Most teens keep a tight lid on who is allowed to follow them and cull their numbers regularly.

A 21st-century scrapbook

When asked why they didn't post rants or more sensitive emotional content to more ephemeral platforms like Snapchat or Instagram Stories, many said that they wanted the intimate record of their life that finsta provides.  

"I think young people have a need to journal and want to document parts of their life that isn't always for public view," said Maris Bock, a 19-year-old from Viroqua, Wisconsin. "You want to be able to look back on that stuff." 

"I like finsta because I still want a record of the funny stuff that happened to me, or even just a great dog I saw on campus, without it like, contributing to the 'vision' of Alice Wilder that exists on the internet in a public way," said Alice Wilder, a 21-year-old from Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

"Even now, I look through my finsta from when I was a senior in high school, and I'm like, 'Oh, this is selfie I took before I had a college interview. I remember picking out that outfit.' It's nice to have those little moments captured. I want to have that so I can remember," she said.

Rinsta is the real finsta

The terms rinsta and finsta are both sort of misnomers. Finsta pics are a lot more "real" than anything posted on people's rinsta or "real" Instagram.

Hannah Hooper, a 19-year-old from Little Rock, Arkansas, is leading the charge to swap the two terms or at least merge more finsta into Insta. "I actually made the hashtag #BringFinstaToRinsta," she said.

"It's just all backward because we call our 'fake Instagram' our finsta, but in reality the finsta is a more real representation of who we are," she said. 

Hooper says that she's made a concerted effort to post more finsta-type content to her rinsta and has, so far, seen a positive return. "I've gotten way more likes than I expected," she said.

But while likes matter a lot on a rinsta, part of what is so freeing about finsta is that it's not a numbers game. You know your best friends are all there and they'll always come through.

Andre Sebastian, a 23-year-old in Palo Alto, California, doesn't see the finsta phenomenon fading anytime soon.

"I don't think finstas will go away," he said. "It's not a hard thing to maintain. I have a Facebook, Twitter, main Instagram account, Snapchat and finsta. I have them all for different reasons. I think finsta is useful because it separates Instagram into two very useful social networks in one app."

"It's like a journal entry," Wilder said. "I know old people had LiveJournals, so maybe it's like that."

Your brain is particularly vulnerable to trauma at two distinct ages

Quartz | Vivian Giang

Our brain’s ability to process information and adapt effectively is dependent on a number of factors, including genes, nutrition, and life experiences. These life experiences wield particular influence over the brain during a few sensitive periods when our most important muscle is most likely to undergo physical, chemical, and functional remodeling.

According to Tara Swart, a neuroscientist and senior lecturer at MIT, your “terrible twos” and those turbulent teen years are when the brain’s wiring is most malleable. As a result, traumatic experiences that occur during these time periods can alter brain activity and ultimately change gene expressions—sometimes for good.

The “terrible twos”

Throughout the first two years of life, the brain develops at a rapid pace. However, around the second year, something important happens—babies begin to speak.

“We start to understand speech first, then we start to articulate speech ourselves and that’s a really complex thing that goes on in the brain,” Swart, who conducts ongoing research on the brain and how it affects how we become leaders, told Quartz. “Additionally, children start to walk—so from a physical point of view, that’s also a huge achievement for the brain.

Learning and understanding a new language forces your brain to work in new ways, connecting neurons and forming new pathways. This is a mentally taxing process, which is why learning a new language or musical instrument often feels exhausting.

 “We start to understand speech first then we start to articulate speech ourselves and that’s a really complex thing that goes on in the brain.” With so many important changes happening to the brain in such a short period of time, physical or emotional trauma can cause potentially momentous interruptions to neurological development. Even though you won’t have any memories of the interruptions (most people can’t remember much before age five), any kind of traumatic event—whether it’s abuse, neglect, ill health, or separation from your loved ones—can lead to lasting behavioral and cognitive deficits later in life, warns Swart.

To make her point, Swart points to numerous studies on orphans in Romania during the 1980s and 1990s. After the nation’s communist regime collapsed, an economic decline swept throughout the region and 100,000 children found themselves in harsh, overcrowded government institutions.

“[The children] were perfectly well fed, clothed, washed, but for several reasons—one being that people didn’t want to spread germs—they were never cuddled or played with,” explains Swart. “There was a lot of evidence that these children grew up with some mental health problems and difficulty holding down jobs and staying in relationships.”

Swart continues: “When brain scanning became possible, they scanned the brains of these children who had grown up into adults and showed that they had issues in the limbic system, the part of the brain [that controls basic emotions].”

In short, your ability to maintain proper social skills and develop a sense of empathy is largely dependent on the physical affection, eye contact, and playtime of those early years. Even something as simple as observing facial expressions and understanding what those expressions mean is tied to your wellbeing as a toddler.

The research also found that the brains of the Romanian orphans had lower observable brain activity and were physically smaller than average. As a result, researchers concluded that children adopted into loving homes by age two have a much better chance of recovering from severe emotional trauma or disturbances.

The teenage years

By the time you hit your teenage years, the brain has typically reached its adult weight of about three pounds. Around this same time, the brain is starting to eliminate, or “prune” fragile connections and unused neural pathways. The process is similar to how one would prune a garden—cutting back the deadwood allows other plants to thrive.

 “At that age, they’re starting to become more understanding of social relationships and politics. It’s really sophisticated.” During this period, the brain’s frontal lobes, especially the prefrontal cortex, experience increased activity and, for the first time, the brain is capable of comparing and analyzing several complex concepts at once. Similar to a baby learning how to speak, this period in an adolescent’s life is marked by a need for increasingly advanced communication skills and emotional maturity.

“At that age, they’re starting to become more understanding of social relationships and politics. It’s really sophisticated,” Swart noted. All of this brain activity is also a major reason why teenagers need so much sleep.

Swart’s research dovetails with the efforts of many other scientists who have spent decades attempting to understand how the brain develops, and when. The advent of MRIs and other brain-scanning technology has helped speed along this research, but scientists are still working to figure out what exactly the different parts of the brain do.

What is becoming more certain, however, is the importance of stability and safety in human development, and that such stability is tied to cognitive function. At any point in time, a single major interruption has the ability to throw off the intricate workings of our brain. We may not really understand how these events affect our lives until much later—which is why efforts to unlock the secrets of the brain’s inner workings remain so vital.