MS School Counselor Blog
January 21, 2022
Supporting your teens mental health
Good day everyone! I would like to take this opportunity to say a heartfelt happy new year to all of you. I hope that you had a lovely holiday break and had a chance for rejuvenation and relaxation. A new year is usually a time for resolutions and changes in behaviors that no longer serve us. Instead of thinking of it as a new year’s resolution, (doing something for 365 days is an awfully big feat), I feel it’s a bit more realistic when we think about setting intentions, to take one day at a time, one hour at a time, one moment at a time. Last year was a pretty exhausting year with the global pandemic, so we should not put unnecessary pressure on ourselves that may cause more stress than is necessary. You can start fresh every single morning by putting the right foot forward.
Speaking of stress, we want to do everything we can to be sure that our students have the necessary tools to cope with stress. Dr. Ovid, pediatric neurologist, warns of a silent tragedy that is unfolding in our homes today and concerns our most beautiful jewelry: our children. Over the past 15 years, researchers have given us more and more alarming statistics on an acute and constant increase in childhood mental illness that is now reaching epidemic proportions. Jaw dropping statistics that we need to pay attention to are that 1 in 5 (20%) of children have mental distress or mental health problems or illness and about 70% of these mental illnesses can be diagnosed before the age of 25 (ubccpe.instructure.com, 2022). Children’s brains continue to be molded by their environment, physiologically, well into their twenties. We as human beings, possess multiple and complex mental health states, and experience various emotions and exhibit various behaviors at different points in our life. These emotions and behaviors are influenced by the interactions that are continually occurring between our brain and the environment. We recognize that adolescence is a turbulent time. If you see any major behavioral changes that seem to be more than just a difficult teenager going through a phase or if you have any concern that radical or progressive changes are happening to your teen, you must seek help for your child. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as a “state of wellbeing in which every individual realizes their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community” (WHO, 2002) When is it time to worry? There are two general characterizations of adolescent behavior that can help in making If you see either a severity in mood and change in function. Any exaggeration or deepening of a teen’s mood swings or a predominance of one mood over another-especially anger, sadness, or irritability and especially if it lasts longer than two weeks- is a sign of possible psychiatric problems (The Teenage Brain Jensen, 2015).
We know that human beings are social creatures. We need companionship of others to thrive in life, and the strength of our connections has a huge impact on our mental health and happiness. In addition to being a time of great promise, adolescence is also a time of unique hazards. Adolescents are not the only ones who must navigate this exciting but treacherous period of life, but parents, and educators must, too. As parents of teens, we brace ourselves for what may be a roller-coaster ride that in time, evens out. If we want our children to be happy and healthy individuals, we need to be ready to implement a structured environment, by setting boundaries, offer a balanced lifestyle, provide nutritious food, spend time outdoors, spend time eating together, provide opportunities for “boredom”, because boredom is the moment when creativity awakens. There is increasing evidence of the effect of excessive internet use on mood in adolescents, and several studies have shown a connection between depression, poor academic performance, and the inability to curb time spent online, thus adults need to intervene by limiting screen time and encouraging social face to face interactions. As adults, we need to take control, and try to think for our teenagers until their own brains are ready to take over the job. If the human brain is a puzzle, the teenage brain is a puzzle awaiting completion. The most important part of the human brain (frontal lobes), the place where situations judged, decisions made and actions are weighed is the last part to develop, and that is why we need to be our teens’ frontal lobes until their brains are fully wired and hooked up and ready to go on their own (The Teenage Brain, Jenson, 2015).
Teens by nature are moody, worry a lot and are prone to being irritable and restless. If you have a child that is angry, frustrated, bitter or basically “triggered” by something, it is critical to remain calm, count to ten, connect with them, listen to them and recognize their feelings before you expect them to change their behavior. What you don’t want to do is ridicule, or be judgemental or disapproving or dismissive. Know that they are just as puzzled by their unpredictable behavior and the uneven tool kit they call their brain. The most important advice that can be given is to stay involved and be a good role model and instead of waiting for the calm after the storm, be the ‘calm’ in the storm.
TEENS & SOCIAL MEDIA
Being socially connected to others can ease stress, anxiety, and depression, boost self-worth, provide comfort and joy. On the flip side, lacking strong face to face social connections can pose a serious risk to your mental and emotional health. While social media platforms have its benefits, it’s important to remember that social media can never be a replacement for real-world human connection. Childhood and the teenage years can be filled with developmental challenges and social pressures. For some kids, social media has a way of exacerbating those problems and feuling anxiety, bullying, depression and issues of self-esteem.
On February 16, 2022, the counseling and technology department will be co-presenting a community series on Internet use/social media and its effect on mental health. During the session the counselors will be talking about brain development and provide suggestions that parents implement at home to help maximize their child's intellectual, social and emotional potential. The technology team will offer practical tips on how to set parameters on children’s devices and home internet usage. We hope to see you there.
December 17, 2021
There are many things to be thankful for- despite our unique circumstances and the chaos of the world around us. As we embark on three weeks of “winter” holidays, it feels like the perfect opportunity to take a moment to pause, see the beauty on this island, thank our brains and bodies for allowing us to learn and move, find joy in the simple things in life, and be peaceful. One of the most practical ways to radiate peace is to remain open and mindful in your attitude. Make it a habit over the holidays, anytime you feel distracted or less than calm, to find your center again. There is joy and bliss at the core of your awareness, but it is often difficult to find because of constant mental activity. When our brain gets caught up in negative narratives, it is important to reset yourself and practice savoring the moments that make us feel special.
Research has proven that being kind to others provides a chain reaction to have others be kind. Likewise, practicing moments of self-love, allows us permission to pause, and truly take care of ourselves and when we do that, it’s easier to give to others (the old adage, “put your oxygen mask on first”, comes to mind). Brain imaging studies indicate that kind, empathetic and compassionate feelings cause physical changes in the brain. Acts of kindness generate emotional warmth. Feelings of thankfulness increase an individual’s sense of self-worth, self-esteem, empathy, compassion and confidence. Engaging in kindness is reported to boost neurotransmitters in the brain that create feelings of well-being and satisfaction.
During this time away from school, be kind to yourself and others, reflect, be grateful, and be aware of the positive things in your life. Focus your attention on all the wonderful things in your life and the people in it.
Wishing you all peace, harmony and love during this holiday season.
November 19, 2021
World Kindness Day
World Kindness Day was on November 13, 2021. The purpose of having a day for kindness is to highlight and encourage good deeds. It serves as a reminder to all of us that simple acts of kindness have power and that together, we can create a kinder world. People are innately good. People love and give and care every day, we just have to pay attention. And when we do, we generally feel better about life, and are inspired to do better for the people around us. When we take the time to look around our community to see what people are doing, it will make you smile. When you open your eyes to the countless ways people make a difference here at CIS and in Cayman, it is contagious. Caring is contagious. It only takes one tiny spark to make kindness spread like wildfire. Look for opportunities while you go through your day to infuse kindness into someone’s day. Here are some effortless ways to make a difference.
- Hold the door open for someone
- Smile at others
- Compliment someone
- Tell someone how much you care about them
- Offer to help someone
- Write a kind note to someone
- Sit with someone who is alone
- Give someone a hug
Scientific studies have shown that kindness has a great number of physical and emotional benefits which support people to be happy, confident, well-rounded individuals. I came across this great article in The New York Times by Jane Brody, called How to Nurture Kindness in a New Generation, which encapsulates the notion that “it is better to give than receive. ”The article reviews a concept called “prosocial behavior” or acting in ways to help other people and how there is a direct correlation between when we help others or practice compassion, our brains release chemicals that help us calm down and feel better. Practicing kindness releases serotonin that actually counters symptoms of anxiety and depression. One recent study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology looked at the positive relationship between mindfulness meditation and prosocial behavior. The findings showed that participants who had trained in mindfulness reported feeling more empathetic, more tender, sympathetic and compassionate. There is now increasing evidence that mindfulness meditation helps people be more prosocial. Does mindfulness make you kinder? Mindfulness is the quality of being present and fully engaged with whatever is happening in the moment and meditation is the training ground for learning mindfulness.
This week, all of the Grade 7 students participated in a mindfulness body scan exercise which is often used as a stepping stone for other meditation practices. During a body scan you mentally scan over every part of your body from head to toe. The body scan can help students become more self-aware and present, stay positive, feel more relaxed and less anxious and sleep better. This practice can help increase awareness of sensations insight into deeper emotions without judging or trying to change them.
Tilly's Challenge - Reminder
In August, during our first full school assembly of the year, we met Tilly, a grade 5 student who had a very inspiring speech related to Spreading Kindness. Tilly reminded us that we all have the opportunity to create positive change. She challenged each of us at CIS to do a simple act of kindness each day. The benefits associated with giving and receiving kindness are tangible and result in overwhelmingly positive outcomes for the world around us. Science confirms the advantages of practicing kindness for the body and mind. Please read below to learn more about the benefits of kindness.
When practicing random acts of kindness, don’t forget about YOURSELF!
October 29, 2021
Bully Prevention Month
We are all working to raise children who are confident, innovative, passionate, inspired, creative and engaged citizens and leaders. October is Bully Prevention month. Our middle school met for an assembly to talk about the importance of standing up and speaking out when they see mean, rude or bullying behavior. We shared this powerful video.
After watching the video, I am certain that there will be great opportunities during your dinner conversation to talk about the positive impact that speaking up has on your child.
The middle school students have been having counseling lessons on the topic of creating a positive school environment and to provide them with the necessary tools to use when faced with being teased. Bullying is the repetitive targeting of a person, and it is the nature of the repetition that causes the harm. The grade 6 students made some wonderful public service announcements related to increasing bully awareness and prevention. (see below)
At CIS, we teach our students to be upstanders. We tell them that, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem!” It is important to remind your child that it is paramount to be a buddy, not a bully, speak up when a person is being mean and to tell a trusted adult if the behavior continues. Oftentimes, students say “I don’t want to be a snitch or tattle-tale. My response is that we are all part of this community and if someone behaves in such a way that requires you to be a tattle-tale, then perhaps it's their negative behavior that needs to be addressed.
Standing by and watching an injustice take place and not stepping in to help is giving power to the bully. As parents it is important to be there to help our children deal with bullies and likewise it is important to recognize if our child is the bully. No one wants to believe that their child could be causing someone else pain, but if you are hearing bits and pieces through the grapevine about your child, you need to take note and have conversations.
It’s important to talk with your child about how to be an upstander. It can be scary to watch another person being attacked verbally, physically, socially, or online. Kids often do not know what to do. Below are a few ways to be an upstander.
Don’t encourage the bully in any way.
Say something – Tell them that’s not ok. Encourage your child to use his/her voice.
If it is physical, keep a safe distance and help the victim get away. Do not jump into the mix. Go get an adult.
Reach out in friendship.
Help the victim in any way you can.
Be supportive of the victim.
When you see someone alone, invite them to join you.
Tell an adult.
October 1, 2021
Welcome 2021-22! It’s the start of a new school year, and it’s natural to feel a mixture of excitement and apprehension—especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The new school year comes with very real questions and concerns about friends and fitting in for parents of teens, as well as many teens. Everyone wants to feel like they belong, especially kids and teens. During the early teenage years, friendships become more intense, close and supportive. The amount that teenagers communicate with their friends increases. As part of the regular push in counseling classes, I met with all of our Grade 7 students to cover four essential questions covering the topic of CLIQUES. I hope that my lesson sparks a conversation with your child around the dinner table.
What is the difference between a friendship group and a clique?
Are cliques positive or negative forces in a school community?
How can cliques be controlling?
How can it be powerful to make friends outside of your clique?
Activities will help students:
recognize the types of cliques at CIS
explore ways to integrate all students and form new friendships
learn how to communicate with people outside of their friendship group/clique
Cliques are ever present in our lives and cliques exist on every level of the social ladder. When adults think about teen cliques, they fall back on the notion that cliques are bad. And they certainly can be: cliques create boundaries to adolescent friendships and can promote unacceptable behavior. It is our role when educating our students to have them focus on positive group interaction and steer clear of negative groups as some cliques can breed an atmosphere of exclusivity where the leaders can be toxic. Cliques are perfectly normal. When a teen is in a positive peer group, they get a lot of support from friends. Adolescents go through lots of ups and downs when it comes to their feelings, and having a good group of friends can ease the burden. They learn to depend on others, and they learn how to let others depend on them.
While it's human nature to want to fit in, our preteens and teens need to keep in mind there are both positives and negatives to aligning a particular group. As they push for increasing independence from their parents, they turn to their peers for guidance, acceptance, and security. Teenage friendships tend to be based on personal similarity, acceptance and sharing. Safety, for those whose self-esteem and self-confidence is still shaky, lies in fitting in and having a place to belong. Most kids find a group with whom they “click” in a healthy way. Teens who find a positive friend group grow into adults with a healthy self-esteem. They know how to make solid relationships with people who can be there for each other through good times and bad. Some of the numerous benefits of being part of a healthy clique are; creating friendships with like-minded people, helping to build your child's “who am I” identity, and being able to adapt into a social hierarchy are all important life skills to learn. Having healthy friendships will help your child feel connected to the world. Studies have shown that healthy friendships also have a positive impact on overall health and well-being.
Conversely, some people get swept up into a negative clique that does give them some security, but at the price of their individuality and maybe even their values. Teens whose only social group is a negative clique are often insecure in their relationships and lack the self-confidence to assert their creativity or individuality. If you notice that your child seems more anxious or unsure of themselves, or you find that they question where they stand with their friends, you need to pay attention. Cliques can damage a person’s sense of identity. No longer will your teen have a clear understanding of their likes and dislikes but instead will just go along with the group. They may even struggle with their moral compass as the pressure to belong increases. Be sure you are encouraging your teen to broaden their circle of friends. Friendships are important to your teen, as they should be. If your child’s friends do not appreciate them for who they are, then they are not healthy friends. If you have concerns that your teen is in the wrong group or that they are being excluded altogether, you can always reach out to me and I will do my best to help.
Parents - WE NEED YOU!
Parents are children’s first teachers, guiding their little ones through the fundamental skills children will use their whole lives, from eating and sleeping to talking and walking. Parents know what “works” for their children. Parents know what moves their kids and stalls them, what scares them and frees them. How can a parent help be sure that their child is in a positive clique? As with most things, helping kids develop the social skills and self-confidence needed to find a healthy friend group takes some parental effort. Good modeling, opportunities to develop healthy interests and relationships, and good values are the keys.
Model diversity in your own friendships. Talk about how knowing different kinds of people enriches your life in different ways.
Help your child develop good social skills. Kids who know how to be a good friend are kids who attract healthy friendships.
Foster empathy skills. Kids who can walk in another’s shoes are not likely to participate in hurting or bullying others.
Follow your kid’s lead in finding the activity or sport that they are passionate about. Good friendships often develop from participating in a shared interest.
Help your child develop a mind of their own. Kids who have confidence in their own values are less likely to fall in with the crowd. Encourage assertiveness about the things that matter.
If your child does fall into a clique, don’t be critical of the “friends.” Do be critical of any mean behaviour. Go to the root of the problem and talk to your young person about what they are getting out of being in a group that won’t let people be who they are and whose popularity
Connect with other parents. Talk to them about how they think the year is going, and make an effort to maintain a positive outlook. Set up playdates for your child with their friends and, before or after these play dates, chat with parents. Talk to your children each and every day. Keep in mind, talking to them is listening to them, too. Ask questions but be willing to hear the answers. School is such an important time for children—and a great time for families to support each other. Let's make this school year a success from the beginning! As we begin a new school year, I hope your child will blaze new trails and seek new horizons.
Sincerely and in Partnership,
May 31, 2021
Stick With Me
This is a fantastic read, from a teenagers perspective.
Dear Mom and Dad,
Please stick with me.
I can’t think clearly right now because there is a rather substantial section of my prefrontal cortex missing. It’s a fairly important chunk, something having to do with rational thought. You see, it won’t be fully developed until I’m about 25. And from where I sit, 25 seems a long way off.
It doesn’t matter that I’m smart; even a perfect score on my math SAT doesn’t insulate me from the normal developmental stages that we all go through. Judgement and intelligence are two completely distinct things.
And, the same thing that makes my brain wonderfully flexible, creative and sponge-like also makes me impulsive. Not necessarily reckless or negligent but more impulsive than I will be later in life.
Please stick with me.
So when you look at me like I have ten heads after I’ve done something “stupid” or failed to do something “smart,” you’re not really helping.
You adults respond to situations with your prefrontal cortex (rationally) but I am more inclined to respond with my amygdala (emotionally). And when you ask, “What were you thinking?” the answer is I wasn’t, at least not in the way you are. You can blame me, or you can blame mother nature, but either way, it is what it is.
At this point in my life, I get that you love me, but my friends are my everything. Please understand that. Right now I choose my friends, but, don’t be fooled, I am watching you. Carefully.
Please stick with me.
Here’s what you can do for me
1. Model adulting.
I see all the behaviors that you are modeling and I hear all of the words you say. I may not listen but I do hear you. I seem impervious to your advice, like I’m wearing a Kevlar vest but your actions and words are penetrating. I promise. If you keep showing me the way, I will follow even if I detour many, many times before we reach our destination.
2. Let me figure things out for myself.
If you allow me to experience the consequences of my own actions I will learn from them. Please give me a little bit of leash and let me know that I can figure things out for myself. The more I do, the more confidence and resilience I will develop.
3. Tell me about you.
I want you to tell me all the stories of the crazy things you did as a teen, and what you learned from them. Then give me the space to do the same.
4. Help me with perspective.
Keep reminding me of the big picture. I will roll my eyes at you and make all kinds of grunt-like sounds. I will let you know in no uncertain terms that you can’t possibly understand any of what I’m going through. But I’m listening. I really am. It’s hard for me to see anything beyond the weeds that I am currently mired in. Help me scan out and focus on the long view. Remind me that this moment will pass.
5. Keep me safe.
Please remind me that drugs and driving don’t mix. Keep telling me that you will bail me out of any dangerous situation, no anger, no lectures, no questions asked. But also let me know over and over and over that you are there to listen, when I need you.
6. Be kind.
I will learn kindness from you and if you are relentless in your kindness to me, someday I will imitate that behavior. Don’t ever mock me, please and don’t be cruel. Humor me-I think I know everything. You probably did as well at my age. Let it go.
7. Show interest in the things I enjoy.
Some days I will choose to share my interests with you, and it will make me feel good if you validate those interests, by at least acting interested.
One day when the haze of adolescence lifts, you will find a confident, strong, competent, kind adult where a surly teenager once stood. In the meantime, buckle in for the ride.
Please stick with me.
April 23, 2021
Connect with Nature and Feel Healthier!
On April 22nd we celebrated Earth Day. This is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to take a moment to appreciate mother Earth. Our beautiful Earth is constantly giving to us. Today, as we celebrate and appreciate our amazing planet, let’s remember that we too must do our part and plant seeds for a brighter future. Science is showing how we’re all deeply connected with Earth. By radiating our heart energy into Earth’s energetic fields, we are helping to uplift all living beings and Earth herself.
Also, ecotherapy or green therapy has been proven to calm a person's mind and is a nature based approach to healing. Experts believe that when we interact with nature, it has a positive impact on our mood. When you spend time in a natural environment, you’re more likely to use your senses to experience your surroundings. Calming sounds, like birds chirping or the rustling of leaves, can help you detach from traffic, work conflict, and ordinary stressors of everyday life.
As a matter of fact, we have a number of passionate Grade 6 students who spend their free time on their very own garden project (see picture). The garden has evolved tremendously since its inception and is home to both vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruits. These “green” students are living our community principles of sustainability, kindness, partnership and good intent. We thank them for caring about our environment and look forward to seeing the “fruits of their labour”.
This week, our grade 7 class had the extraordinary opportunity to participate in a “Wild Cayman Week”where they explored the overarching theme for Core Extension which has been “change”. Here is a short excerpt from the Grade 7 team “Students began the year by exploring connections in complex systems and were challenged to focus on the impact of change within these systems. This semester they have explored and reflected on ways that our world has changed over billions of years, the impact that humans have had on the globe, and ways in which they as individuals can impact these changes. There is no better way to learn about our wonderful island than to go see it through the lens of learning. Students had the chance to visit sites around Cayman that they may or may not have visited before, this time with the goal of learning how to protect and conserve our environment and specifically the species they have chosen to focus on.
Through experiential learning, service learning, site visits, and expert guest speakers students had the opportunity to put their learning into action. Students collected videos, photos, interviews, and experiences throughout the week that will play an important role in completing a documentary film project about their learning experience and the changes they recommend to help save the amazing creatures on this island.”
As we celebrate our earth, I challenge you this weekend to spend some time outside so you can appreciate this amazing island we live on. Please take a walk on the beach, lay on the grass, dig in the dirt or visit a mangrove. Send your loving thoughts to our planet and give thanks.
Lastly, I wanted to share this BEAUTIFUL VIDEO with you.
March 19, 2021
CBC K-9 Demonstration
The CIS middle school community welcomed the K-9 Unit of the Cayman Islands Customs and Border Control (CBC) to our flex time today. We met two canine’s, Megan, an English springer spaniel and Bobby, a black Labrador. The trainer of the K-9 unit demonstrated how amazingingly talented these beautiful creatures are, by being able to sniff out cocaine from a row of suitcases and also drugs from a line up of teachers. Thank you to Mr. Mike for being a good sport and having marijuana “planted” on him. The officers spoke about their recent busts of a large amount of cocaine coming into the island and an excessive amount of marijuana seized in a recent house arrest. The students had an opportunity to ask questions and received very informative responses from our guests. We found out that their canine teams assist local law enforcement agencies when requested. It was also discovered that the canine team has become the best tool available to detect and apprehend persons attempting entry into Cayman islands with firearms. Not only firearms, but we also learned that the CBC routinely conducts inspection operations on arriving and departing international flights and intercepts narcotics, weapons, currency, and other illicit items at the country’s international ports of entry.
The CBC have some “new recruits” that are currently being trained as detection dogs. As part of the training, they need to be around people when they are not “on the job”. In order to help socialize the dogs, we will be joining forces with the CBC and they will come during our lunch period and students will have an opportunity to pet, walk and play with these special animals. As you can see from the picture, the dogs will have no problem, feeling the love.
We thank Officer Leonard Hydes for arranging this special visit. If you would like more information about the CBC, you can visit their website at https://cbc.gov.ky/
March 9, 2021
Happy International Women's Day!
As we celebrate International Women's Day, please take a look at this link as it is a wonderful guide for parents to help celebrate this special day with your family and do what we can to truly make a positive difference for women and girls.
March 8, 2021
“The future belongs to those who believe in their dreams”- Eleanor Roosevelt
Happy International Women’s Day! While others around the world continue to experience masks and lockdown and could all use some sunshine and Vitamin D, we need to feel gratitude for the life we are leading here in Cayman. Generally the month of March for middle school students tends to feel like it is dragging on endlessly, the good news is that by the end of the month signs of spring are “blooming”. March is national alcohol and drug awareness fact month in Cayman. Some of our students are pursuing the competitions to raise awareness found HERE on their website. The middle school students have been participating in a prevention education series called Teen Safety Matters. Some of the learning objectives for the classes are that students will understand the importance of personal safety and mental health/ substance use and abuse education. Students will learn and practice using refusal skills to avoid alcohol and drug use. All of our middle school students know about the 5 Safety Rules and have now identified at least one “safe adult” to prevent, recognize and respond appropriately to unsafe/unhealthy situations. If you have not received the I choose you… not from your child, please ask your child who they identified as their safe adult.
Thank you to the wonderful turnout to our first of many parent coffee mornings. Supporting your child’s mental health will be a topic of one of our upcoming coffee mornings. Watch the newsletter for details of topics for our CIS community series. A gentle reminder that there is now a community series of events that parents can get involved in. We will have a meeting on Tuesday March 30 at 5:30pm that will focus on “mental health”.
Some fun activities to try with your child:
Click here to get 6 questions to check if your child is Addicted to video games.
February 12, 2021
Dear Parents of Grade 6,
As the month of February is in full swing, I wanted to write you a quick note to keep you posted on what has been happening from a social/emotional perspective here in grade 6. As the middle school counselor at CIS, I have the great fortune to be teaching a number of counselling classes throughout the year. In grade 6, the classes have been focused on the following: learning the difference between being mean, rude, and bullying; types of aggression; speaking up when there is a conflict; how to be an upstander and report; and how to develop healthy relationships. We received some very important feedback from an anonymous survey that was conducted. When asked if they feel there is a bullying problem at CIS, 63 percent of our students said “No” and 37 percent of our students said “Yes” that they believe there is a problem with bullying at CIS. If the students answered “yes,” we wanted to know what type of bullying is the most prevalent. The following is the cross section of where the students believe we have issues.
As we can see from the above table, cyber bullying is the most common type of bullying that the students reported. Thus, it is important to continue to be vigilant about and monitor your child’s online presence. When I spoke to the group about the reason for this number being so high, they said it is generally around online gaming (Discord, Fortnite, and Grand Theft Auto), as well as inappropriate group chats (on both their phones and computers) that include relational aggression such as talking behind a person’s back, exclusion, and writing mean or toxic words. We will be using a reputable prevention education teaching resource from the Monique Burr Foundation. Their mission is: To protect children from bullying, digital dangers, abuse, and exploitation with comprehensive, evidence-based, prevention education programs. You can read more about it here. I have attached a parent letter from the organization to this email. It gives you some key pointers to have a successful conversation with your child and special activities that you can encourage to facilitate conversations.
We are super happy to report that not one student in grade 6 listed physical bullying as a problem at CIS. As we practice putting our kindness into action, we will be continuing to address the fact that verbal and relational aggression make up the remainder of the types of bullying that are occurring.
For your information, we wanted to let you know that in the coming month, we will be inviting a constable from the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service (RCIPS) to talk with your child about the dangers of online use (including sexting). We will be sending a separate letter home to parents with details of the date and more specific content of the presentation.
As always, please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or concerns about your child’s social-emotional well being.
Welcome Back from what we hope was an invigorating, yet relaxing winter break. We are so energized in the middle school as we now have our very own designated learning space. The students and staff have been buzzing with excitement. Despite many staff members moving locations, you can still find me, along with our middle school coordinator, Ms. Sarah Parham, in D5. Please know that our door is always open.
This week we welcomed a new family to CIS. Our committed student ambassadors took some time out of their winter holiday to give the new grade 6 and 7 students a tour and tell them a bit about our amazing community. Thank you to our student ambassadors for living our community principles each and every day.
January 8th, 2021
Shout Out to Student Ambassadors
I have noticed that Santa Claus was very generous this holiday season, with many of our middle school students receiving new devices. With this new opportunity comes great responsibility, both from not only the child, but also the parent. We understand that middle school is a time of immense change and uncertainty, it is impossible to pinpoint, predict or prepare for ALL the turbulence that may be ahead, but knowledge is power. With the new opportunities and freedoms of the online world, it is important for parents to stay educated and in tune with their child’s online activity in order to help keep them safe. Many parents have strict household rules including curfew, social restrictions and places their children are not permitted to go without an adult. Often, however, the online boundaries do not exist. Children are left to explore and socialize in their online world on their own. This is not the first time I have written about the trials and tribulations of managing our kids’ screen time. Here are some additional reminders to think about when your child is experimenting with and exploring their new device:
Ask your child to show you and teach you how to use the apps that they socialize with (one of the popular ones MS kids use to chat on their computer is called Pushbullet which is an app that allows students to send and receive SMS messages, send photos, files, links on their laptop. Snapchat continues to be popular and dangerous if used inappropriately)
Remind your child that WHAT GOES ONLINE STAYS ONLINE
If your child comes to you and shares something inappropriate, try your best not to overreact. Your reaction will determine if they are open to talking to you about things they are uncomfortable with or not sure about in the future. Try and listen and help guide them through the situation and provide support on how to handle it.
Thank you & I am here for you!
As we begin 2021, I want to say a sincere thank you for welcoming me into the CIS community. I feel so very fortunate to be working with such a special group of young adults. I understand one of the hardest undertakings to deal with as a parent can be watching the pain of social changes. During this time, kids are trying to fit in and experiment with their social power. This can be anything from friend groups changing to gaining “power” through establishing some sort of dominance. Unfortunately, name calling, dirty looks, or exclusion are common ways middle schoolers try to gain power. For the most part, these times are essential for you to listen and empower your kids to handle these situations in the right way- not a time for you to “fix”the issue for them. You can always remind them to visit their helpful school counselor :-) As always, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or concerns, or compliments.
Coming Up Next Week:
Social Emotional Skills to help Middle School Students THRIVE
December 11, 2020
The Middle School Leadership council is flourishing. We wanted to express our gratitude and say that we are very proud of our Protect Our Future Jr. team for organizing the middle school campus clean up last week. We feel so thankful to be part of such a caring and supportive community. Our students and staff were able to put our sustainability principle into action by working together to make a difference, beautifying our campus, while helping our world. We had more than 180 participants involved in the campus clean up. A big shout out and thank you to the middle school teachers who made sure everyone was on task. Thank you to Protect Our Future Juniors and their fierce and passionate leader, Lilly Langevin.
We are living in a world where we need to be hyper-vigilant about the fact that our children have easy access to illegal substances which can harm their development. Recently, it has come to our attention that teenagers on island are being exposed to a variety of foods that contain illicit drugs found in food such as brownies, gummy bears and rice krispie treats. Please take a few minutes to educate yourself about marijuana and teens. Here is a parent resource to help deal with some of the tips on discussing marijuana use with your child.
Many teenagers believe that marijuana is safer than alcohol or other drugs. When talking about marijuana with your child, it is helpful to know the myths and the facts. For example, teenagers may say, "it is harmless because it is natural," "it is not addictive," or "it does not affect my thinking or my grades." However, research shows that marijuana can cause serious problems with learning, feelings, and health.
December 4, 2020
Short-term use of marijuana can lead to:
- School difficulties
- Problems with memory and concentration
- Increased aggression
- Car accidents
- Use of other drugs or alcohol
- Risky sexual behaviors
- Worsening of underlying mental health conditions including mood changes and suicidal thinking
- Increased risk of psychosis
- Interference with prescribed medication
Regular use of marijuana can lead to significant problems including Cannabis Use Disorder. Signs that your child has developed Cannabis Use Disorder include using marijuana more often than intended, having cravings, or when using interferes with other activities. If someone with Cannabis Use Disorder stops using suddenly, they may suffer from withdrawal symptoms that, while not dangerous, can cause irritability, anxiety, and changes in mood, sleep, and appetite.
Long-term use of marijuana can lead to:
- Cannabis Use Disorder
- The same breathing problems as smoking cigarettes (coughing, wheezing, trouble with physical activity, and lung cancer)
- Decreased motivation or interest which can lead to decline in academic or occupational performance
- Lower intelligence
- Mental health problems, such as schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, anger, irritability, moodiness, and risk of suicide
At CIS in health class, our students study the dangers of drug use and the side effects on the teenage brain, resisting peer pressure, but it is always great to have the same message come from the home front as well.
For more information about marijuana, drugs, and teenagers, you can check out:
November 20, 2020
We have had a very busy month of learning and excitement here at CIS with so many interesting events and activities taking place on campus. Our student leadership have been super busy organizing the upcoming community dodgeball tournament that will take place on November 26. We had a wonderful turn out for our suicide prevention training last Saturday with 29 participants ranging from Grade 6-12. The mental health awareness group is now working on organizing the Gracious Givers project that will take place in the month of December. There are some students who have expressed interest in the training, but could not attend this weekend, so we will be running another training in March. More information on specific dates will be forthcoming. The sustainability section of the leadership team is working on our campus clean up that will happen on December 2. Our EC/ES mentorship program is well underway with 16 students signed up to visit and help our youngest members of our community, either at lunch or after school. Our grade 8 girls are getting excited to attend the slumber party party next Friday evening. We will be participating in a variety of team building activities throughout the evening and into the wee hours of the next day. These activities will offer them the chance to feel empowered, strong and together. We will be focusing on building each other up, rather than discouraging each other. We plan on watching a wonderful documentary called Finding Kind. More details will be sent home in the coming week.
Starting next week, I will be going into classes to talk about some of the challenges our students may be having related to social and/or emotional development. In grade 6 we will be talking about how to keep organized in a very different world from elementary to middle school. We will offer strategies that students can use to balance academics with their social life. In grade 7 we will be talking about being a positive contributor to our community by using respectful language. At the moment some of our students are using words such as “sus”, “symp” and “gay” as insults and we need to educate everyone that name calling goes against our kindness principle. In grade 8 we will be delving a little deeper into respecting others by using appropriate language. We will also talk about the negative impact that judgement and rumors have on a person.
As always, I am at your disposal to talk anytime. My door is always wide open and I am a phone call away.
October 30, 2020
Bully Prevention Month
Our Middle School Leadership (MSL) is now in full swing. This is an active learning experience for our enthusiastic students, as each week subcommittees meet at lunch to help make a positive impact on our school community. The MSL gives students an opportunity to develop leadership by organizing and carrying out school activities and service projects. In addition to planning events that contribute to school spirit and community welfare, the MSL is the voice of the student body. The House/Elements group is planning a middle school dodgeball tournament for November 17; the Events Management group is helping Mr. Jared plan the upcoming volleyball tournament on November 25; the Mental Health group have focussed on bully prevention month (see writeup below); our Sustainability group has planted trees on campus and is now going to plan a campus pick up event. The ES Mentorship Program has also begun with some of our passionate leaders working with the Early Childhood and Elementary school students during their lunches, as well as after school. We are very proud of the accomplishments and initiatives that our students have given their time and energy to support. A special shout out to our high school student mentors Lilly, Zoe and Ainsley for joining us each week for dynamic, enlightening conversations about empowering self, others and our community to be positive contributors at CIS.
The month of October is Bully Prevention Month. As Middle School Leaders (MSL), we are trying to raise awareness about the issue of bullying at Cayman International School. MSL has been discussing the issues that have been experienced by CIS students. We feel that students sometimes say hurtful things and use hurtful language, even if they aren’t doing it on purpose. Even if you are “just joking”, some people may not take it that way. We wanted to remind you to be careful with your words, and to always think before you speak. If you see something happen that you know isn’t right, stand up and speak out. Be an upstander, not a bystander.
We hope you had a happy October, CIS!
Prepared by Kylah Murphy on behalf of MSL
October 2, 2020
Keeping up with the ever-changing world of technology, social media, and internet
Technology, social media, and data protection in general are ever changing and unlike anything experienced in the past. Social media has forced us to merge technology and psychology with the invention of “emojis”,”influencers” and “likes.” Unfortunately, our children are facing a social media “addiction” where they are hooked on the cycle of engagement online. In early September, Netflix released a very thought-provoking, worthwhile documentary called The Social Dilemma which attempts to uncover one of the most significant advances in all of human history, the discovery of social media. Unfortunately, modern technology has pushed our minds in a different direction, thus modifying our behaviour. The film examines the various ways social media and social networking companies have manipulated human psychology to rewire the human brain and what it means for society in general. It is an eye-opening, jaw-dropping look at the world through the lens of social media.
We all know that since the invention of the internet, relationships are different now. The internet is making humans behave differently and engage in negative or unnatural behaviour. Social media manipulates our minds via a mechanical approach using algorithms to give an instant response, to catch negativity and amplify it. There is a section of the film that highlights statistics on depression, anxiety, and even suicide rates of teenagers that correlate with the rise of social media. It is clear that we are all spending too much time on our phones.
The documentary underscores the dangerous human impact of social media and recognizes that the world has become a darker place where humans are responding with fear or anger, and social media has created a civilization of tricking people. Computer philosophy writer and computer scientist Jaren Lanier describes social media as “dopamine farms that are changing your thinking.” Sadly, this generation is finding their worth through social media “likes,” yet we are worth so much more. How can we expect our students to find themselves? How can students find their worth when they're manipulated online? We need to empower this generation to know themselves, travel, and take breaks from social media, and we need voices to give perspective and try to think without manipulation. Research has proven that when a person goes off a screen, they become happier, have “me” time, and society becomes more peaceful. When we talk with people face to face, we connect, and people believe in facts, rather than conspiracy theories. We urgently need to send the message to our children that they are WORTHY!
If you would like to have further dialogue regarding this topic, my door is always open. Alternatively I can be reached via WhatsApp at 328-4408.
Until next time,
What is the Leadership Council in the Middle School?
We had a very busy week hosting our first leadership meeting in the middle school for the 2020-21 school year. We had a record number of attendees with 36 members at the lunch meeting. We are anticipating the exciting upcoming events that will be organized in the coming months. Middle School Student Leadership (MSSL) is composed of representatives from all grade levels in middle school. These students are asked to sign a contract that states that they will not only uphold their commitment to the leadership team, but also that they will be an ambassador for CIS and their family and represent the larger CIS community. The members of MSSL are also a liaison between the Leadership Council & their respective homerooms. Representatives meet once a week (Thursdays) as they plan and execute the events and activities listed below. We have identified five subgroups that members can sign up to be a part of (note: members can sign up for one or more subgroups).
Sustainability: Students sign up for this subgroup if they are interested in taking on projects that protect our planet and future. Initiatives such as beach clean ups, tree planting, building eco bricks, and taking part in school recycling are just a few examples of areas that we will concentrate on this school year.
Event Management: This subgroup works very closely with our Athletics and Activities Director, Mr. Jared. The event management team will be involved in helping with the special events that take place on campus. Some examples of areas of responsibility may be setting up tournaments, helping with score-keeping, organizing equipment, publicity, promoting and marketing events, and organizing school spirit events.
Elementary Mentor Program: This subgroup works with our younger students during free time (lunch, breaks and after school). Some initiatives that they will be responsible for may be, but are not exclusive of, refereeing soccer games, playing on the playground, reading to younger students, participating in art projects, and generally spreading kindness and helpfulness to our younger community.
Mental Health Ambassadors: This group of students will be participating in projects that attempt to reduce the stigma and raise awareness surrounding the importance of talking openly and honestly about mental health. They will promote healthy habits to the greater CIS community. This subgroup is fortunate to have the chance to work in partnership with our high school students who belong to the Alex Panton Foundation. The Alex Panton Foundation is a not-for-profit with the primary objective of raising awareness of mental illnesses affecting children and young adults in the Cayman Islands with a particular focus on anxiety and depression. They will also have the opportunity to participate in a suicide prevention training course.
Elements/House Events: Each of our homerooms has been assigned a specific element (air, water, fire, earth). These elements span across each of the grades in the middle school. This subgroup of leadership students will work closely with our middle school teachers and students to help continue to build a sense of community through fun team activities. Each of the activities will have an element of friendly competition between the different houses. Some of the activities may include trivia challenges, scavenger hunts, team games, intramural activities, school spirit challenges, and much more.
If students in Middle School want to participate in Leadership Council, they can sign up HERE. The next meeting will take place on Thursday, September 24 at 11:35am in the ARC.
Shining a light on suicide prevention
Suicide prevention remains a universal challenge. Every year, suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for people of all ages. September is suicide prevention month. All month, mental health advocates, allies, prevention organizations, survivors, and community members unite to promote suicide prevention awareness. More specifically this week, we are recognizing World Suicide Prevention Day created by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP). Observed on September 10th every year, World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) provides the opportunity for people, across the globe, to raise awareness of suicide and suicide prevention.
Remember that nothing is more important than a person’s life. You can make a difference- as a member of a society, as a child, as a parent, as a friend, as a colleague or as a neighbor. You can raise awareness about the issue, educate yourself and others about the causes of suicide and warning signs for suicide, show compassion and care for those who are in distress in your community, question the stigma associated with suicide, suicidal behaviour, and mental health problems, and share your own experiences. How we communicate about suicide—both in the media and in prevention messages—makes a difference. Messages and images about suicide prevention can encourage hope and encourage people to seek help, celebrate life, and help people to understand that suicide is preventable and mental illnesses are treatable (save.org)
Social media can be a huge positive for many young people - banning it isn't the answer. We need to ensure young people feel they can safely talk to the adults in their lives about distressing things they have seen or heard without fear of punishment or losing access to social media. Recently, there was a very disturbing and graphic post on the social media platform, TikTok, where a person died by suicide in the video. Please talk to your child about appropriate and safe social media use. You can find some helpful tips for supporting your tween to have a safe online experience here.
What are we doing in the middle school @ CIS?
Health Class: One section of our grade 8 students are currently enrolled in health class and will soon be studying a unit on mental health. As part of the unit, each student will be making a 2 minute presentation on suicide prevention that they will share with the other grade 8 classes during flex time. They will also watch the short film called Step Closer: A World Suicide Prevention Day Awareness Film. Step Closer is a short film with a positive message encouraging connections and the idea that we all have a role to play in working together to prevent suicide. You can watch the two minute film here.
Suicide Prevention Training: We will be offering a suicide prevention training seminar. Participants will receive a certificate of completion. This free training provides tools a person can use to help people who might be contemplating suicide by recognizing the signs, bringing up the subject, and offering support. Sign up for Suicide Prevention Training HERE (please note that this training is available to our CIS community, including teachers, parents, and students).
Light a Candle: Each evening for the month of September, we are asking the CIS community to join the Light a Candle Campaign which was established to to show support, remember a lost loved one, for the survivors of suicide, and to raise awareness for suicide prevention. You can read more about the campaign here.
Dear CIS Community,
I would like to take this opportunity to welcome you to a new school year. My name is Andie Urquhart and I am thrilled to serve as the new middle school counselor at CIS.
The journey through middle school is truly exciting - it's complex, dynamic, fun, frustrating, enriching and wondrous, and it follows many different paths. I promise to be right alongside our middle schoolers to guide them through this transition from childhood to adolescence. This is my 25th year welcoming new families back to school from their summer vacation.
For some community members, the start of a new school year is exhilarating, yet for others, it may be a time of trepidation and worry. Emotions may be particularly elevated due to the impact of Covid-19. Hopefully your time spent at home during the pandemic allowed you some opportunity to pause for reflection, practice gratitude, and allow yourself a chance to follow your passions. Some may have enjoyed the break and found it relaxing. Others might have experienced a crisis - loss of financial security within the family, loss of a loved one, feelings of loneliness and isolation. Some experienced a mix of both.
It is critical to recognize that mixed emotions are normal. Following a pandemic, we need to learn new ways of being and living. With new safety protocols in place, our world is recovering and we are all beginning to heal. We are now in a position where we are approaching uncharted waters, having to start school with specific guidelines being implemented, yet we are able to join together again to learn at CIS.
As we begin the school year, it is important to keep in mind that knowing the facts helps reduce stress, so stay informed. Our strong community principles of kindness, partnership, sustainability, and good intent are wonderful reminders for all of us as we begin the new year. These are extraordinary times that we are living in right now. We don’t know what might be affecting someone’s life, making the current situation even worse (emotionally, physically, financially). Many of us are fortunate to have multiple connections to help us through a crisis, but loneliness and anxiety are still a concern.
We tell our students that if they need to, they should reach out for help. Be patient and kind with each other. Listen to one another, and remember that mental and emotional support is available to you. My door is always open, and I will work very hard to establish trust and rapport and to respect student’s privacy so that they are free to explore issues, feelings, and behaviours. If you have a question or concern, please feel free to reach out to me by email at email@example.com. I look forward to meeting you all in person very soon.
Middle School Counselor