Informed Citizen – DIY Humanities Week #1

Former librarian Julie Edwards delves into the topic of fake news, how it spreads, and how you can take control.

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Go to the link below to listen and watch this great presentation on protecting your information and knowing what to believe in this time of crisis.

Informed Citizen – DIY Humanities Week #1

Can I file for unemployment if I can’t work due to COVID-19?

Yes. Montana is extending unemployment benefits to individuals who are told to leave work without pay due to COVID-19. Even if your employer tells you that you can return to work when the business reopens, you are eligible for unemployment benefits. To apply, visit https://montanaworks.gov/ or call the Unemployment Insurance Division at (406) 444-2545.

To learn more, read our article “COVID-19 and Unemployment Benefits” on MontanaLawHelp.org. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, try our smart search bar. Or call the Montana Legal Services Association HelpLine at 1 (800) 666-6899. Support free legal information for all Montanans at mtlsa.org/donate/.

Do you know how to find free tax filing software online?

Look for online tax filing programs that say “IRS Free File program delivered by…” and then the name of the business offering the free tax filing. A new IRS rule says that businesses must use this specific name to help taxpayers more easily find free tax filing options. So, make sure you’re using a tax filing program that says “IRS Free File program.”

To find in-person help with tax filing near you, visit MontanaFreeFile.org. Support free legal information for all Montanans at mtlsa.org/donate/.

Alex Clark
Community Outreach Assistant
Ph: (406) 543-8343 ext. 220

Montana Legal Services Association

1535 Liberty Lane

Suite 110D

Missoula, MT 59808

HelpLine: 1-800-666-6124
Websites:
www.mtlsa.org / www.MontanaLawHelp.org / www.JusticeForMontanans.org

What Works – And Doesn’t Work – In College Applications

 

What Works – And Doesn’t Work – In College Applications 

Today, I finished training three new counselors—Meredith, Rhiannon and Monica—who worked in admissions at Cornell, Sweet Briar and Harvard respectively.  During lunch, I posed the following questions to them, and I’ll share their responses here.

After you read an application, what is the biggest turn-off?

1. Arrogance

When confidence goes too far and a student is entirely too self-impressed, it’s not a likable quality.

2. Dishonesty. 

Nobody likes to be lied to.  One of the trainees said that she would count up the total number of weekly hours a student listed for activity involvement.   If the total number exceeded the total number of hours that exist in a week, she knew that something was amiss.

3. Trying too hard to be impressive.

Tell the truth and be proud of what you’ve done.  But don’t try to add marketing oomph to your messages.

What qualities always resonated?

1. Confidence

Confident kids are proud of what they’ve done, but they don’t feel the need to add a dash of marketing to make themselves sound more impressive.

2. Honesty.

A kid who was comfortable enough in her own skin to admit what she didn’t know or wasn’t good at always shined through.   The trainees were clear not to imply that everything is worth sharing.  Just don’t lie about whatever you do mention.

3. Authenticity

Just be yourself.  All three counselors agreed that this was the most important one.

KEVIN MCMULLINKevin McMullin is the Founder of Collegewise, a national college admissions counseling company, co-founder of The Princeton Review and the author of If the U Fits: Expert Advice on Finding the Right College and Getting Accepted. He also writes a daily college admissions blog, wiselikeus.com, and has given over 500 presentations to discuss smarter, saner college planning.

6 Warning Signs of Suicidal Thoughts

Apr 03, 2019

Sad teen girl with suicidal thoughts

Being a teen is tough and as a parent, the day to day mood swings, likes, and dislikes of your teen can be dizzying to keep up with. With all this going on, it’s important for parents to keep an eye out for more serious signs that their child may be having suicidal thoughts and are in need of a lifeline.

Whether a parent has heard it before or not, nothing brings about more fear for a family when their child runs off screaming, “I wish I were dead!” Screams that perhaps began in tears or angst over a family argument, relentless bullying from so-called “friends,” or a progressive tumble into a deep depression.

Parents, and others, might be tempted to look the other way, writing off the behavior as “typical teenage rebellion” or as “a kid who just needs attention.” Needing attention is exactly what this child needs and sometimes they don’t know how to best let you know. The warning signs of suicidal risks and what you can do about them are important to understand as dealing with them early on is key to healing.

What Parents Need to Know About Teen Suicide

The thought of teen suicide is a nightmare for many parents but the reality is that parents need to be thinking about it and paying attention to their teens. According to the Population Reference Bureau, teen suicide is now the second leading cause of deaths in teens, just behind accidents, with 10 out of 100,000 teens dying by suicide each year. This is a scary fact, but parents should know that prevention and intervention are two ways that they can help their teens.

The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System reported that in 2017, 17.2% of high schoolers reported considering suicide, a number that has increased 25% since 2009. Teen suicide is a growing problem and there are numerous reasons that a teen might resort to suicide as an extreme solution. The question that remains however, is what can parents do to prevent teen suicide by identifying and addressing patterns that may indicate suicidal thoughts?

The seriousness of teen suicide can’t be overlooked and here are 6 warning signs that your teen might be having suicidal thoughts:

  1. Withdrawal from Usual ActivitiesWhen kids who have been typically interested in their social life and extracurriculars begin withdrawing from friends, activities and family gatherings, it is important to wonder what might be going on for your child. Sometimes withdrawal is a sign of depression which is a leading cause of suicide.
  2. Depressed MoodSymptoms of depression can include, but is not limited to, fatigue and decreased energy, difficulty concentrating, feelings of guilt, hopelessness and helplessness, notable changes in sleep patterns such as insomnia or excessive sleeping, notable changes in appetite such as overeating or appetite loss, and persistent sadness. It is also not uncommon for those who are depressed or suicidal to ignore hygiene and personal appearance.
  3. Frequent Outbursts of AngerTeenagers typically have mood swings, all of which need to be addressed. Mood swings that may be more concerning are those that seemingly come out of nowhere and without understandable context. Some of these mood swings may come with threats of violence and self-harm, expressing their sense of hopelessness in an aggressive way. Mood fluctuations between extreme anger or manic behavior and irregular or depressed mood may be signs of bipolar disorder or other mental illness.
  4. Current Family Difficulties or Traumatic Life EventsChildren and teens often experience their parents’ marital conflict or divorce as life altering and traumatic. Hopelessness and helplessness often begin within that child when these difficulties go undiscussed. A death of a loved one or even a family move may leave a child feeling lonely and ignored and sometimes their way of coping is to withdraw or to become angry.
  5. School DifficultiesStudents who contemplate suicide sometimes tell a friend or write about it in school essays. Their feelings of hopelessness may come from a variety of school experiences. Academic pressure from parents or from schools may feel insurmountable especially when the message is that the student is not “good enough” unless they have a perfect score.

    Bullying is a pervasive school problem that students often do not disclose because of shame and embarrassment. Adults may minimize the effects of bullying, but students experience the trauma of such harassment on a daily basis. Currently going beyond name calling and shunning, cyber bullying with mobile devices takes the harassment to a viral level. Students are subject to physical and sexual threats, altered Instagram posts, group humiliation and rejection sometimes accompanied with bribes in order for the bullying to stop.

  6. Self-InjurySometimes the cry for help appears in more hidden, but destructive, ways. Self-injury often begins as a way of self-soothing, with some students report that cutting, or self-mutilation, is a way that they still see if they can feel.

    Substance use of alcohol and drugs temporarily numbs the pain. Food binging sometimes begins as a way to “swallow” the pain while purging is a way to “express” it. And sometimes the student feels as if they can “disappear” or stay in control through restricted eating or anorexia. A disregard for one’s own life can also appear in careless behavior such as reckless driving, unsafe sex, or maintaining destructive and abusive relationships.

Depression and Suicide

Untreated depression and anxiety in teens can often to lead to suicide because it’s hard for teens to find the help that they so desperately require. Sometimes depression and anxiety can be difficult to identify for both teens and parents; the teenage years are volatile enough and a serious case of depression could easily be written off as a moody teen. Even more, teens might not be able to accurately vocalize that their mental health is suffering, if they can even identify that that is the source of their unhappiness.

Depression and suicide have a lot of the same symptoms and warning signs such as:

    • Emotional changes
    • Low self-esteem
    • Loss of interest in usual or social activities
    • Changes in appetite and sleep patterns
    • Social isolation
    • Poor academic performance and increase absences from school

Bullying and Suicide

Bullying and cyber bullying can also play a role in suicidal thoughts and suicide. In fact, the link between the two is so strong that Yale University reported victims of bullying in it’s various forms are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide.

Now that so much of our lives are online, kids not only have to worry about bullying at school and social activities but this bullying can continue online, at all times of day, easily broadcast to every person they know. For teens, this means it can feel inescapable and lead to feelings of shame. And according to dosomething.org, only 1 in 10 online bullying victims will report abuse to a parent or trusted adult which is another reason why it’s critical for parents to pay attention to the warning signs.

Social Media and Suicide

Not only is all that time that teens are spending online and on their phones leading to increased cyber bullying, but it’s also leading to teens playing the comparison game and constantly thinking they are not enough. As a teen, everything feels incredibly important and powerful and this really is true for the effects that social media can have on their mental health: cyber bullying, comparison traps, and social isolation can seriously and negatively impact our teens.

Encouraging healthy amounts of screen time, addressing social media FOMO, and reminding your teens that you are available as a resource can help ensure that your teen remains in a healthy headspace.

What Parents Can Do to Prevent Teen Suicide

Knowing tips about how to prevent suicide is the first place parents and others should start if they notice changes in their teen and their behavior. Having this knowledge and the right resources can help you prevent teen suicide.

  • Pay AttentionAs tempting as it is to look the other way, denial will not help your child. Notice the changes in your child’s appearance, mood, and academics. Trust your gut and use a little detective work—talk with their school counselor, network with other parents who might be “in the know,” check their grades and homework, look in their backpacks and room, and use an Internet filter to keep them safe while they’re online.

    Find an opportunity or an open door to talk with them. Try saying something empathetic such as “I’ve noticed you’re not really yourself these days. It seems like something is bothering you. I’d like to talk about it with you if you’d like.” Be prepared for a shrug, an outburst, or getting blown off. At least you’ve said something. Keep saying it with love and without accusation; don’t try and talk them out of their feelings or minimize their experience. As difficult as it may be to understand or comprehend, listen for the message underneath their behavior.

  • Seek HelpIf your child exhibits signs of depression, anxiety or feelings of helplessness, it is important that you seek assistance. Ask your doctor or school for a referral to a good mental health professional to assess the emotional changes. Be open to family therapy and open to what your child is saying about their inability to cope.

    Be courageous in hearing that they may have thought about ending their life. Work together to make small and significant changes in their daily experience to help elevate their mood, keep them safe, and intervene where necessary. Sites like Help Guide are helpful online resources for teens and parents.

  • Create a VillageYou will need support as a parent; spend time with friends who may understand your angst because they have teenagers too. Reach out to school counselors as they may have their pulse on the academic environment and school day. Involve your network who may be connected to your child; perhaps older siblings or family members are connected to them in cyberspace where they may be able to educate you and fill you in regarding your concerns.
  • Talk About ItDon’t be afraid to ask your teen (or anyone else) if they are so hopeless that they feel ending their life is an option. People who receive support from caring friends and family and who have access to mental health services are less likely to act on their suicidal impulses than are those who are socially isolated. Ask your teen what you can do to be helpful.

    Keep your own stressors in check and examine whether or not your expectations are exacerbating your child’s issues and be realistic. One conversation is just a beginning; keep up the conversations as there is no easy fix. It is not helpful to tell your child “why don’t you just find other friends,” or “how about we redecorate your room?” These are not harmful statements, but the conversation cannot end there.

How Parental Control Software Can Prevent Teen Suicide

Parental control software may not immediately come to mind as a tool parents can use in preventing teen suicide, but it can be incredibly valuable. Parental control software can provide parents with a window into their teen’s online activity and online searches. The visibility that PC software provides can give parents crucial visibility to patterns that might be taking place as well as allowing them to set up alerts and reports for searches that their child is performing online.

Teens contemplating suicide often turn to the Internet when they’re not finding support or answers in other areas of their life. It’s a place of anonymity and there are plenty of sites and people that not only provide information on teen suicide, but encourage it. A teen with less than stellar mental health might begin searching things like “I feel so alone” or “am I depressed” and these searches alone should be enough to tip parents off that there is a bigger problem than your teen just being moody. Those searches might later escalate to ones like “ways to self-harm without a knife,” “how to commit suicide,” and “easiest way to commit suicide” all of which provide a staggering number of search results on Google with upwards of hundreds of millions of hits.

With PC software, parents can block websites that discuss suicide and set up alerts and reports for searches their child performs online. Paying attention to changes and serious warning signs of suicidal thoughts in real life is incredibly important but parents shouldn’t overlook the significance of their teen’s online activity.  Acting as a second set of eyes, PC software can help parents see more and in the case that your teen might be having suicidal thoughts, it can be key in helping you prevent it.

Teens go through a very turbulent and emotional time in their development but hopefully their difficulties do not emerge as suicidal thoughts. Spending time with them doing things they like to do, talking with them about their day and your day, and encouraging them to find some safe social connection is good for all teen… and it’s good for you too.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, visit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-8255 for more resources.

Charlene Underhill Miller, PhD

Dr Charlene Underhill Miller, a psychotherapist in Southern California, working with parents, couples and families. She is a frequent and popular speaker to community groups, a professor, a wife and mother. www.underhillmiller.com

Family Game Night

 

Family Game Night 

We all know that spending time with our families is important, it offers feelings of stability, security, and ultimately love. With all of the demands on our time it is important that families be intentional with their time. Family Game Night is the perfect way to bond with your family, create memories, and have fun. Here are some tips to help Family Game Night be a success at your house.

Time

Ready, set, go! Begin by checking your calendar to find a free hour or so for everyone in your family. Many people become overwhelmed thinking that they must block out an entire evening or that game night must be a weekly occurrence. The frequency and duration of a Family Game Night isn’t the focus, it is simply setting aside time for those most important to you: your family. Also, the best way to keep everyone’s attention is to keep things moving. Some games can be more like a marathon than a sprint. Designating a time for game play, and for each game played, helps to keep the time flowing and everyone focused on the game, parents included.

Games

The first step to a successful game night is choosing games that will hold your family’s interest. If you have a range of ages in your family this can be tricky. To create buy-in let your kiddos pick the games. Thankfully manufactures show the suggested age-ranges on the side of most board games, which should help you steer your kids in the right direction. That might mean each child choose one game and all games are given time limits (15-30 minutes each). The littlest members of your family will most likely have no interest in playing. Let them sit on your lap and engage where they show interest, but have separate activities set out for them so that they are near the fun.

Sportsmanship

One of the best lessons that you can teach your kiddos during a game night is sportsmanship. Remember, children do a much better job emulating our actions than they do our words. Keep these things in mind as you play:

Be Patience– even when your child has dropped the dice on the floor 700 times, show your child that you can wait nicely and help them to get back on track.

Winning Doesn’t Matter– That old adage “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” is important to keep in mind as you play with your family. Remind children that playing fairly, being kind to other players, and having fun is what games are all about. Winning and losing is just a small part of the story.

Be Flexible– Are pieces to a game missing? Improvise. Did you realize 5 minutes into the game that it just isn’t a good fit? Scrap it and try again. Did you kids get hungry? Take a quick snack break. Rigidity is one of the fastest means of making a fun night anything but fun.

Manage Your Expectations– Life in general, and parenting specifically, seems to be smoother when you enter a situation with your expectations low. If you envision a picture-perfect hour of nothing but joy, love, and gratitude… you are sure to be disappointed. Instead plan on a few bumps along the road and count the smiles as worth any bumps.

 

 

Armed with these few hints you are ready to plan and execute a Family Game Night that will be a building block for many family memories.

Tessa Jurewicz is an accomplished writer who is passionate about helping parents find joy in raising a family. She has honed her passion while teaching elementary-aged children for fifteen years and earning a Masters degree in Early Childhood Education. She practices discovering joy daily in raising three young children of her own.

Kids and the Joy of Giving

It’s often said that the holidays are for children. We love to see the season through our children’s eyes and we love to present things for their enjoyment. We think of giving our children gifts but we might not remember to give them the best gift the season has to offer: the gift of giving.

While you’re planning things this month to give to your children, in the form of presents, trips to see Santa, cookie-decorating binges and other fun, remember to get them involved in giving to others. While certainly this can include giving to a local charity or volunteering to deliver meals to the underprivileged, these are mostly family events and family decisions. What I’m thinking of here is much more personal. Children need to choose, buy (or make) and wrap gifts for other family members, with as little help from you as possible.

Our desire to achieve holiday perfection gets in the way here. We know what each person in the family wants and we may have already decided what each person will receive from each child. We are tempted to just tell a child, “Wouldn’t this be a great gift for Daddy?” or for Grandma or whomever and short-circuit the child’s own thinking. We might even buy the gift ourselves, just letting the child wrap it. We might even do the wrapping, just letting the child sign the tag.

As you know yourself, giving gifts is lovely fun. Part of gift-giving is deciding what to give. Another part is doing the actual shopping (or making). Then there is the wrapping. Finally, there is the giving of the gift. When we do just about all of these steps for our child, letting him do only the handing over of a package we decided on, purchased, and wrapped ourselves, we have limited the pleasure our child gets from the holiday season. And we have allowed him to think that he only has to be concerned with what he gets not what he gives.

So, if this has been your path in the past, this is the year to do things differently. Any child old enough to understand the idea of giving someone else a gift – from about age three on up – should do her own pondering of what each recipient on her giving list might want. The giving list should be short – probably just immediate family members for older kids and just the parents for tiny folks.

What to buy should be restricted only by feasibility and cost. Do not try to steer a child’s choice of gift in any way. Instead ask, “What will you give to Daddy for Christmas?” and see what the child says. If she has no ideas, don’t supply any. Say, “What do you think Daddy likes?” If you still get nowhere, say, “Well, think about it. I’ll ask you again later.”

Thinking about others is the hardest part. Your child may come back with something the child would like. The younger the child, the more okay this is. Remember that your child’s understanding of each family member is filtered through the activities they do together. So your preschooler may suggest that Daddy would like a ball or some Legos. This is fine. Don’t correct him.

The next step is going shopping. Your child will likely need a stipend from you for this and a dollar limit. There’s no need to spend the entire amount if the child is happy with something less expensive. So you and your child might go shopping for Daddy and might buy him a ball for $.99. Your child does all the choosing with minimal guidance from you. Great.

Maybe your child thinks Daddy would like a new car or something else that is out-of-the-question. Instead of completely redirecting, suggest that the child could buy Daddy a model of the car he would like to have or a toy version of it. It is, after all, the thought that counts.
If in the past your family gifts from the children have been gifts chosen and purchased by adults, then it’s a good idea to let everyone in on the new method. This way Daddy won’t be surprised by getting a ball or a Hot Wheel from his son or daughter and he will help your children think of and shop for similar gifts for you.

Now watch on Christmas morning, as your children are excited to see the gifts they chose be opened and admired. Notice how happy they are and how involved they are in the act of giving. You wouldn’t want to deprive them of this joy.

Giving, not getting, is the most fun the season offers. Let your kids in on it!

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

DR. PATRICIA NAN ANDERSONDr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.

The 10 Warning Signs of Cyberbullying

Oct 10, 2018

With the rapid advancement of mobile technology and the increased demand of smartphones, many children are being given access to mobile devices at a young age. What many parents sometimes are unaware is that access to these devices has the potential to create a dangerous scenario for children and teens; cyberbullying.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that children in third through fifth grades that own cell phones are more likely to be victims of cyberbullying. “Parents often cite the benefits of giving their child a cell phone, but our research suggests that giving young children these devices may have unforeseen risks as well,” said Elizabeth K. Englander, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Bridgewater State University.

It has been reported that up to 43% of children have been victims of cyberbullying at some point in their lives. And up to 58% of those kids have NOT told their parents. It’s important for parents to pay attention to their children’s behavior, both on and off their devices, in order to be aware of and help to prevent such situations.

SIGNS OF CYBERBULLYING

Below are 10 tips for parents to help spot the warning signs of cyberbullying:

  1. Uneasy, nervous or scared about going to school or outside.

    This is a major warning sign that your child is uncomfortable in their school environment or being around their classmates. Some other signs to look out for are if your child continuously asks you if they can skip school by staying home or if they make calls asking to come home early during the school day.

  2. Nervous or jumpy when texting or using social media.

    Does your child become extremely anxious about their phone, tablet or laptop, especially while you’re in view of the device? Keeping devices in commonly used areas is an easy way to help maintain a watchful eye.

  3. Upset or frustrated after going online or gaming.

    Have you ever witnessed your child get so angry at what’s happening on screen that they slam their device shut or throw it mid-use? This outburst of anger can be a red flag, as kids may do this as a way to distance themselves from bullies.

  4. Unwilling to discuss or share information about their online accounts and activity.

    Increased secretiveness is another big warning sign when it comes to online bullying. Children will try to hide what is going on in order to keep it quiet since many victims are afraid to speak out, especially to parents. Having a family contract that establishes rules for your children and their online passwords and accounts is just another way to help protect them from bullying and give you, as parents, some peace of mind.

  5. Unexplained weight loss or weight gain, headaches, stomachaches, or trouble eating.

    Health-related symptoms like these are just some of the many ways bullying can take its physical toll on a child. Parents need to be aware of these signs because if they continue for a long period, their child’s health can go downhill very fast.

  6. Trouble sleeping at night or sleepy during the day.

    Restlessness is a huge factor when it comes to cyberbullying. Children are unable to sleep because they are tormented by what the cyberbullies are saying about them. This fatigue can then affect the child throughout the rest of the day, making their school day even harder, as they attempt to deal with schoolwork and classmates.

  7. Loss of interest in favorite hobbies or activities.

    If your child has suddenly lost interest in their favorite sport or hobby, it may be an indicator of cyberbullying. They may be trying to distance themselves from others making fun of them or attempting to fit in. Talk with your child and continue to encourage them to do what makes them happy, not others.

  8. Child suddenly seems depressed or anti-social.

    If your child seems to be severely unhappy and only wants to be in their room by themselves, it could be a warning sign. To boost their mood, try planning a family outing or even a game night to get them up and out of their room. This will also let your child know that your family is there to support them.

  9. Withdrawn from close friends and family.

    This withdraw could be an attempt to push people away and distance everyone in their life, especially from those doing the bullying. Make sure your child knows you’re there for them if they want to talk about anything.

  10. Making passing statements about suicide or making a suicide attempt.

    This is an immediate red flag. These signs should not be taken lightly! Contact a professional immediately and get the school involved, if needed. Make sure your child knows that your actions are only because you’re trying to help them.

 

It can be difficult to recognize the signs of cyberbullying without becoming a  helicopter parent, who is overly anxious and suspicious about what your child is doing on their mobile device. But noticing one or more of these signs can help you pinpoint distress in your child’s life. If that’s the case, create a safe space with open communication for your child to communicate what’s going on in their life and check out the 6 proven ways to stop cyberbullying.

 

Emily Hartung