Safe Harbor Coordinator
Connecting Communities in Action
I was chatting with someone the other day about how early childhood trauma affects the brain, and they couldn’t comprehend how the brain wouldn’t remember things but the body would. He couldn’t plug it into his understanding that rebellious or disobedient behavior could actually be a manifestation of childhood trauma. A child couldn’t possibly be cognitively be aware of that choice between selfishness “I want it” mentality vs. “I can’t help it” behavior. So how would one be able to discern whether a child’s behavior is simply a matter of exerting control over their lives, or that their behavior is a protection mechanism that their body has learned from trauma? Which is it? Is there something wrong with you or is this about something that happened TO you? For parents, teachers, caseworkers, business owners and everyone else, this is certainly a hot topic, and no doubt a daily dilemma, when it comes to understanding child abuse in all of its evil forms. I want to encourage you that even in our busy schedules, it is imperative that we give our hearts, minds and souls to the work of understanding trauma and how childhood abuse exacerbates behaviors in the adolescent and young adult years. We owe it to future generations to help them build resilience by preventing childhood abuse. Remember it's only information plus application that yields transformation! As you learn more, you’ll know more and see more!
Safe Harbor Coordinator
Connecting Communities in Action
Teen Dating Violence
Today, I want to talk about what unhealthy relationships look like. Maybe you are a parent or caregiver who is concerned that something about your child’s relationship is a little “off.” Hopefully, by the end of this blog, you will have a better insight into what I mean by teen dating violence, the many forms that it can take on, and how to help yourself, a friend or your children.
Relationship abuse is defined as “a pattern of unhealthy behaviors towards a current or former intimate partner in order to gain or maintain power and control. Usually, the behaviors start off subtly and get worse over time. Common factors of relationship abuse are intimidation, fear, and manipulation. Anyone can experience abuse regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, class, or religion.”
Teen dating violence can manifest in physical, emotional, sexual, and digital forms. To be clear: abuse is not always physical.
How Common Is Teen Dating Violence?
Digital Dating Violence
One of the most common forms of teen dating violence is digital abuse and digital violence. This involves the use of phones, tablets, computers, laptops, tracking devices, cameras, etc. in a way to gain, maintain power or control over someone. One form of digital dating violence involves engaging in stalking or harassing behavior against another person even after they ask you to stop. This can take the form of negative comments or reviews on social media sites. It can also include leaving continuous messages even after you do not respond. These do not have to escalate in order to be abusive, but they can. They can simply be unwanted pokes, waves, DMs or comments on your profiles. It can include escalations as you do not respond. For example, if a person says hello, that is acceptable. From there, if they begin to use extra question marks or exclamation points (“where are you???” or HELLO!!) this is a sign of a potential problem. This can also escalate to the point of personal insults, threats to break up, threats to withhold sex, etc. You do not have to know someone to experience digital abuse and digital violence.
Emotional Dating Violence
Emotional abuse includes non-physical behaviors that are meant to control, isolate, or frighten you. This may present in romantic relationships as threats, insults, constant monitoring, excessive jealousy, manipulation, humiliation, intimidation, dismissiveness, among others.
When we talk about physical violence, most people think of punching, slapping, kicking, pushing or shoving. It can also include forcefully grabbing someone by the hand, arm or other body part. When it comes to teens, physical violence tends to start out much less obvious and then escalates. It can begin with play fighting, tickling, sitting on top of someone, shoving or pushing, etc. The more that a victim ignores or justifies this behavior, the more room the abuser has to escalate their behavior. Choking, suffocation or strangulation can be signs of physical violence.
What Should I Avoid Doing?
Most importantly: DO NOT JUDGE! If your child calls you, do not bring up the irrelevant. If your child calls for help, their safety and wellbeing should be your number one priority. Do not ask what they were doing sneaking out, if they have been drinking/using drugs, etc. Do not criticize what they are wearing or what they are posting on social media. (All of these are legitimate concerns. However, there are conversations that you should be having before a situation like this comes up.)
Sadly, one of the most common things that we see in teen dating violence is ageism. Parents and other adults will say things about relationships that can be very damaging. Avoid using phrases like “puppy love,” “it’s not that serious,” “you’ll find someone else,” etc. These can all make a teen feel as though things are “not that bad.” Not only will they not trust you enough to come to you, they will think that you do not understand them as an individual. They may feel as though they cannot have a conversation with you and they will be less likely to come to you in the event of abuse. They may also justify the behavior of their abuser, even if you did not talk about the specifics of the behavior.
Do not assume that you know what is going on in your child’s life or what dating looks like now. Ask questions and avoid judgement or reactions that may shut down the conversation. Acknowledge if you make a mistake or make your teen feel as though you are not listening/understanding.
Risk And Protective Factors
Risk factors are things that can increase the likelihood of adverse experiences. Protective factors are things that can decrease the likelihood of adverse experiences. When it comes to teen dating violence, risk factors may include (but are not limited to):
What Can I Do as a Parent?
Talk to your child about the signs of teen dating violence. Prepare them for what to do if they are ever in a situation that makes them uncomfortable and offer to pick them up wherever they are, whenever they call. Know who your children are around and have contact information for parents if your child is leaving the house with their partner or others. Offer to be there no matter what and stick to it.
By: Michelle Williams
Teach Your Children to Love Themselves Enough to Stay Away from Drugs and Alcohol
February is the month of “Love” and when you think about love, loving yourself is a good place to start. Kids seem to fall in love with a lot of things in this life, but loving themselves seems to get lost on the list.
According to psychotherapist Dorothy Ratusmy, in an article on insighttimer.com “When we teach our children that it is okay to expect much of them, and if we are demanding to the point of making them accountable to our happiness as parents, then we raise children who only know value through the worth that others place on them.” She goes on to ask this question: “What happens when a child is raised receiving the message that they are in some way not good enough, not deserving, and possibly unlovable?
When we mistreat others or diminish their worth, we can create co-dependency, where by others look to us for their sense of esteem and for feelings of good enough. We would never want our children to grow up looking to others to feel worthy and receive approval.
May we realize that the pressure we place on our children for having certain standards of intelligence, beauty, competency in a specific skill or talent , and if we judge them as somehow different or less than what we would deem as good enough, we can create much damage.
According to an article by Shamitna Sergaion, on HoneyKidsasia.com, here are five ways to teach kids self-love:
Make them feel important. Nothing boosts your kids’ self-esteem more than knowing that they’re valued and appreciated. Make them feel important by having them play a role in day-to-day activities. Making decisions, joining in on grocery runs or even letting them help you with your work will constantly allow them to feel that their presence and thoughts are of value. You’ll find them wanting to willingly come forth in the future to take on challenges and believe that they can overcome them.
Compliment them the right way. How many times have you said “Aww, you’re such a pretty girl?” or “Wow, you’re a strong boy” to kids? We’ve all done it. But making surface level compliments like these can actually cause more harm than good to children’s self-esteem. Complimenting their intellect and praising good efforts (rather than just good results) builds your child’s self-worth more than you can imagine. If you tell them an A is great and C is a great effort, they won’t determine their worth based on grades. At the same time, they’ll likely strive to achieve the A with better effort. Compliments are a big part of kids’ lives. They act as a reward and assure them which behaviors are acceptable and commendable. So, compliment them, but try to do it the right way.
Ask them how they feel about themselves.Sometimes, kids need to be nudged to look within themselves and figure out how they feel about their achievements and setbacks. Ask them questions like, “How do you feel about winning that game?” This will reinforce that feeling good comes from within and not from the approval of others. It creates an avenue for them to be in touch with their emotions. They’ll begin to feel closer to themselves and to you as they show more interest in expressing. Show them how to treat themselves to something they like, to celebrate without any specific reason. Exercise self-reflection with them for a check-in on what ticks. This is how they’ll learn to give thoughtful attention to their mental health in the future.
Self-love isn’t being selfish. Explain to your children that loving themselves is as important as caring for others. We’re often taught formally to be kind and to care for others but forget to do that for ourselves. Self-love takes the form of a shield to set healthy boundaries and that’s not being selfish. So, there’s no reason to feel guilty about doing so. This will enable them to respect themselves and others, hand-in-hand. When they learn to feel loved and happy as a result, they’ll be able to spread that positivity to their relationships. Instead of being caught up in conflicts, they’ll spend less time worrying or hating others and direct their energy into being more kind and caring. That sounds like a win-win to us.
Most importantly, tell them self-love isn’t linear. Yup, that’s a tough pill to swallow. Tell kids that self-love takes time, growth and practice. It’s not a ticket to lifetime happiness. The reality is that it’s a journey and a work-in-progress. Remind your kiddos that they may not always love themselves and may even feel lost in the process. But emphasize that it’s okay and human to feel so. What’s important is learning to pick themselves up again and to move forward. Teach them to reassure themselves this way: “I don’t love myself today. But tomorrow is a new day and so, I’ll try again.
”Taking all of this self-love information into consideration and trying to implement the teaching steps into your children’s lives will ultimately help you raise a child that loves themselves enough to make good decisions including staying away underage drug and alcohol use.”
Idea Girl Company
January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month. The hypothetical story below highlights just one way that trafficking predators can target young people. That is why it is so important for parents to have open communication with their children and know what they are doing and who they are talking to online. It is also important that young people are educated in the fact that someone they meet online might not be who they say they are and can potentially try to lure them into any number of dangerous situations.
An 11-year-old girl is playing an online game through social media as she has done many times before. She has always enjoyed conversations with another "14-year-old" gamer in the chat feature of the game. After some harmless flirtation back and forth, the boy asks for a nude photo of part of her body. Thinking it was just a playful act and though very nervous she decides to proceed, after all what's the harm? A week goes by, and they are gaming together again and the "14-year-old boy" asks for something a bit more risqué, and of course she refuses. He then proceeds to tell her that if she doesn't comply, he will send the previous photo to all her friends including her parents and that she will get into big trouble. And thus begins a 6-month journey of SEXTORTION - the act of fraud and coercion used by perpetrators and traffickers to trap young, naïve girls and boys into a life they never thought possible.
My name is Al Meyers serving Cattaraugus County in the role of Safe Harbor Coordinator through Connecting Communities in Action. After several years of working hard to contact schools, agencies, and community businesses regarding this topic of the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, I am still amazed at how many parents, business owners, teachers, social workers and clergy still believe that this "kind of thing" only happens in big cities. That fallacy of course is quickly put to rest when one realizes the ease at which online predators can access young people through apps and the gaming chat rooms to almost any online activity where he or she might be connected to other players around the world.
Sure, maybe some parents can hold off on getting any device for their youngster for a few years, but eventually that young person will have access to the Internet. If they are not educated properly, they could potentially open themselves up to getting trapped or manipulated in some way by an online predator.
January highlights the Human Trafficking Prevention Movement to bring about awareness and help parents protect their children. This year perhaps we as a community could prepare our kids with the appropriate internal tools necessary to resist and report ANYONE who begins to take advantage of their vulnerabilities. Please reach out to me if I can be of assistance to your school, youth group, or family. And may we all work together to pave the way for future generations. The more you know, the more you'll see!
Safe Harbor Coordinator
Connecting Communities in Action
Teen Safety During the Holidays
Teen Safety During the Holidays
The holidays are upon us, and many teens want to participate in parties or other social celebrations. It can be really hard to know how best to keep teens safe and healthy, while still allowing them to enjoy time with their peers. With that in mind, here are some tips:
Establish expectations. Sit down with your teen and discuss your expectations for holiday socializing that make you feel comfortable and still allow your teen the freedom to engage with their peers. Be specific. If you are worried about parties where they might drink alcohol or engage in other risky behaviors, then discuss party rules.
Research community events. If you’re worried about drinking at a private party, community events are plentiful and can be safe alternatives. Check out https://enchantedmountains.com/events for a list of events, including the Jingle Bell Jubilee, A Boy Band Christmas at the Casino, free ice skating at the William O. Smith Rec Center, and Holiday Valley’s New Year’s Eve Celebration and Torchlight Parade.
Host a virtual party. If you’re concerned about where your teen or their friends may be, encourage your teen to host a virtual meetup with friends. There should be some planned activities for it to be fun. For example, your teen might suggest an ugly sweater contest, a 2022 trivia game, or have a dance party where they act as a DJ and play popular songs for everyone to dance to.
Host a holiday gathering at your house. It is not that difficult or expensive to throw a fun teen party, and it allows you to monitor the teens so that there are no alcohol, drugs or other risky behaviors. Offer lots of snack foods. Let your teen make a music playlist to play all night and plan party games. Make sure your TV is tuned in to a holiday movie or the “ball drop” shows for New Year’s. Let your teen decorate the party room with Christmas lights or other party deccorations.
Establish rules. If your teen wants to socialize outside your home, make sure you establish and discuss rules. Examples of rules might include:
Once you have established rules for party-going, lay out the consequences for breaking the rules. Again be specific. For example, if they disregard curfew, the curfew will be reduced, or if they leave the party without permission, other privileges will be forfeited. These should be reasonable consequences that you will be able to enforce.
Discuss possible scenarios. If your teen plans to go to an event outside of your home, then discuss possible risky scenarios they might encounter, and ways they can handle those situations to keep them safe without embarrassing themselves. For example:
Suggest an alternative activity. One way to refuse a risky behavior, but still save face with friends, is thinking of something better to do.
Blame the parents. Encourage your teen to tell friends “I can’t – my mom will kill me!”
Make an excuse. Help your teen develop an honest answer they can have waiting in their back pocket for risky situations. For example, if your teen plays sports, they could refuse drugs by saying, “No, I’ll get kicked off the team if I get caught.”
Gather support. Encourage your teen to find a friend who shares their values so they can back each other up. It’s much easier to say no, when you have friends saying no with you.
Socializing is an important part of teen development, and there are ways for them to enjoy their time with friends and still be safe. You just need to provide leadership, guidance and boundaries to your teens. Even if you think you have already talked about making healthy choices, it’s very important to repeat this message. Be specific about your concerns. Directly discuss alcohol, drugs, driving impaired, and sex. Ask them how they plan to keep safe and avoid actions they will regret. One of the top reasons teens say they choose to make responsible choices on a wide range of risky behaviors is because they don’t want to disappoint their parents. That’s why it’s important that you take the time to talk about the potential risks your teen may encounter, and be very clear about the family rules, before your teen attends any gathering. Reinforce your belief in their character and in their ability to act responsibly.
Director, Cattaraugus County Probation
As adults we all know how fun but stressful the holidays can be! There are many demands on our time that are unique to this time of year. Between preparations for family and friend get-togethers, food, shopping, and travel, there are many things taking up your time while still trying to maintain your regular schedule. Your teens are also feeling the stress as they have these added demands as well. Some signs that your teen may be under stress or feeling anxious are mood and/or behavioral changes, losing interest in things, and more frequent complaints of health issues such as stomach aches or headaches. If you notice that your teen seems to be showing signs of stress or anxiety there are some ways to help them work through it.
Chamorro, C. (2021, December 14). Tips for teens: Surviving and thriving during the holidays. Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, https://www.teenhealthcare.org/blog/teen-holiday-stress
Luminis Health. 2019, December 16). Tips for helping teens manage stress during the holidays. https://living.aahs.org/children/health/tips-for-helping-teens-manage-stress-during-the-holidays/
With school back in session, life can seem much more hectic than normal. Not just for you but for our children as well. They’re back to waking up and adhering to a schedule, worrying about tests and homework and the social nuances of life. Which is exactly why we need to talk about resilience and how important it is for all of us. Resiliency is our ability to bounce back from difficult or challenging times and situations. Whether it is a low grade on a test, a breakup, struggles at home or with friends, resiliency plays a big part in how we grow as individuals.
Sadly, the CDC is reporting a 40% increase in “high school students who feel persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness since 2009.” There was also a 44% increase in high school students who had developed a suicide plan during the same time period. Suicide is at a 20 year high for teens. Hospitals all over the world are seeing this. Those numbers are scary and we need to understand that our kids are struggling more than ever. The pandemic of course has added a whole new level of pressure. Between hybrid learning, school closures, lack of social interaction and precautions such as masking, life has become more stressful and sometimes more difficult to navigate. If someone is already struggling with their mental health, then every single stressor (no matter how little it may seem to you) will pile on until they are overwhelmed.
So, let’s talk about resiliency. I want to start with an analogy of a public pool. Imagine that life is the pool and the water is the daily stress placed on us. Every public pool has a lifeguard, right? In this scenario, we as parents, guardians and teachers are the lifeguards. We have navigated that pool and know the potential challenges. Our kids also look to us to throw them a life vest when they begin to slip beneath the surface. Yes, they know how to swim but the tides change in this world pretty regularly. The news is a constant source of negativity and sometimes mental health is a punchline in the media. Mental health is not a punchline or a joke. “Everyone has anxiety” is no more helpful than telling someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one to “get over it.” And we, as lifeguards have a duty to keep our kids focused on the important stuff.
What important stuff? Goals, college applications, driver’s licenses, prom, career aspirations and most importantly (I cannot stress this enough) how to be healthy. Mental health struggles can be made worse due to lack of sleep, inadequate nutrition, stress and conflict in the home such as fighting, financial concerns and alcohol and substance misuse. These conditions can lead to behavioral issues and outbursts and deteriorating mental health. At the end of this blog, I will include resources to explain the lifeguard analogy a bit more. The videos were produced by the Mental Health Association and do a great job of expressing why we must put in the extra effort.
How Can I Help?
The answer to this question depends on your role in a child’s life. If you are their parent, you can:
If you are a teacher there are still ways that you can contribute to resiliency. They include:
By: Michelle Williams, Student
Did you know that there are a lot of great activities available for youth in Olean? Please check out these Fall/Winter Schedules at the Olean Rec Center! Also, to learn more about the Olean Rec please read the article about them in the September issue of the HCC newsletter!
The Gowanda Central School District, like many schools and communities across the nation, is engaged in a constant effort to keep their students healthy, safe and free of the abuse of alcohol and other drugs. Surveys have shown that kids who stay drug-free do it due to parental disapproval as the main reason they abstain. Unfortunately, too few kids report having had meaningful discussions with their parents about alcohol and other drugs.
To educate parents about the growing concerns of students using and experimenting with drugs and alcohol, Gowanda’s strategy is to require that one parent or guardian attend the District’s Drug & Alcohol Parent Forum. In coordination with the Village of Gowanda Police Department, the Cattaraugus County Sheriff's Department and Kids Escaping Drugs, the Drug & Alcohol Parent Forum is a 90 minute program that addresses recognition of drugs and drug paraphernalia, signs and symptoms of abuse, health risks associated with abuse and the liability as a parent for hosting and/or purchasing alcohol and other drugs.
Attendance is mandatory for parents/guardians of students entering grade 5 and grade 9, as well as for parents/guardians of students new or re-enrolling to Gowanda Middle School and Gowanda High School. Parents must attend the forum to allow their child to participate in any Middle School/High School special events. Once this requirement is met, it is valid for the remainder of the child’s career in each school.
The event was very informational. It was apparent to parents/guardians how important it is to talk to their kids about abstaining from participating in extracurricular activities involving alcohol and drugs. After speaking with several parents after the event, some of the feedback was regarding how they wished the presentation went into further discussion on the gummies. Parents were shocked by how similar they looked to actual candy and that really concerned them. Some parents even thought it would be beneficial for parents of elementary school kids to attend.
Overall, it was a great event with positive feedback. I look forward to seeing the effects of it in the coming years.
By: Brittney Olszewski
Healthy Community Alliance
Summer is here! Soon there will be graduation parties, outdoor get-togethers, swimming, camping and so much more! With that in mind, HCC just wants to say that this is a great opportunity for some positive family fun. This is also a good time to speak to your children about the dangers of alcohol and substance use. Sometimes it can be difficult to know what to say or how to start the conversation. The website www.talkitover.org provides a number of resources and conversation starters to help parents and caregivers with talking to their children of all ages. You can search by topic such as alcohol, marijuana, vaping, mental health and much more. The content is also organized by age to provide information on age-appropriate conversations. For example, when having conversations with younger children, look for teachable moments to casually talk about things that they may have seen or heard such as on a TV program. Keeping communication open with your children is an important protective factor in helping them to stay healthy and make good choices!
Looking for something fun to do with your family over the summer? Check out the Greater Olean Chamber of Commerce Events and Community pages Greater Olean Area Chamber of Commerce | Olean, NY (oleanny.com)!
By Tara Estright
HCC Community Coalition Coordinator
HCC Member Blog
Serving Cattaraugus County
Funding was made possible (in part) by Grant Number 5U79SPO1556 from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of SAMHSA.
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