Friday, June 28, 2013

My New Counseling Tools for 2013-14

Friday, June 28, 2013

Counseling Tools 
This year school,  I have some new tools that I am going to incorporate in my office.  My goal in adding these tools is to become more efficient, keep better documentation,  and manage my time! 
Here are my new tools:

Our department created a twitter account to disseminate information regarding SAT/ACT dates, scholarships, school workshops, parent conferences, and lots of other resources.  Check out my twitter page to see the great resources available for high school counselors

This is a great way to message your parents and students.  When you sign up for Remind 101, you will receive a number to send to your students and parents.  Once you give out your number, students and parents can respond to receive messages.  

This is really going to help me get out a lot of great information during the year.  

Download your calendar to this program and parents can request up to three possible appointment times.  Once you get their email, you can confirm an appointment time.  

This takes the guess work out of finding a common time!

Want to put a lot of information in a little space?  QR codes allow students and parents to use their electronic devices to scan and read the information.  

Saves on paper!

Create a radio station to get out information for parents and students.  

At the beginning of the year, I will create a radio station for my incoming freshmen and their parents.

Create and post binders for students to search  websites and information.  

I have several binders that I send out as resources.  Check out my pinterest page.

Google Docs
Thanks to the Elementary School Counselor Blog and JY Joiner Counselor Blog, I will be using more paperless forms this year to document meetings.  One form I created was the Senior Meeting form that I complete with my seniors at the beginning of each year.  All the answers will be saved electronically and sent to parents.  

I am very excited about less paperwork!!
See my form...

Infographics are interesting and informational. is a free application that allows you to make your own infographics. 

 I have lots of ideas of how to use infographics and include information about our school (attendance, conflict, behavior, etc.) to share with students, parents, and staff.

This is a fun site that allows you to create animated movies for students.  

I created my first story about peer mediation and it was really easy.  

Haiku Deck makes a simple, beautiful presentation just perfect for counselors.  

Check out Susan Spellman Cann's site regarding Haiku Deck.

I am so going to do this!  On Voki, you can create an avatar with your voice to deliver information in classrooms (especially since there is only one of me).  

This is really cool.  I will share mine once it is finished.

This a very versatile site that allows you to keep up with blogs, create project based learning opportunities for students, keep a calendar, provide updates to students, and communicate with parents.

Check out all the ways you can use Edmodo.

Wix is a website that you can access for free to create webpages for your counseling department.  I am creating one for our department, each counselor, and my peer helping group.  

I will post our site when it is complete.

I love the idea of using images from your school to create inspirational posters.  I will be creating several posters to use during Bullying Awareness, Dating Violence Awareness, Conflict Resolution Day, and Apply to College Early Day featuring our students, teachers, and staff members. 

This website allows you to create videos to present information to your students in a fun and cool way. 

Finally, I think I have found a great way to categorize my time for our ramp application.  This site allows you to download the spreadsheet and log in all your activities.  Yes!

This is a great site to buy your business cards, pens, stationary, t-shirts, coffee mugs, calendars at a great price.  Check it out!!

I save millions of website, forms, photos, and information each year.  Diigo lets you access those links anywhere and share those resources.  Also, you can highlight information and put sticky notes on important information.  Love it!

Now, I would love to hear from other counselors about the tools that you are using to make your life simpler.  

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Georgia State University Conflict Resolution Symposium

Wednesday, June 26, 2013
I am so excited to be part of the conflict resolution field!!  Since 2005, I have been a practicing mediator, peer mediation coordinator/trainer, and part of the conflict resolution leadership through the Association for Conflict Resolution, Kennesaw State University, National Association of Peer Program Professionals, Conflict Resolution Education in Teacher Education, and Georgia State University.  As a conflict resolution leader and specialist, I have found the practice adds a tremendous advantage to my counseling skills when working with students, staff, and parents.

If you would like to experience the advantages of adding mediation and conflict resolution to your professional skills, consider attending the Georgia State University Conflict Resolution Symposium on October 17, 2013 at Georgia State University. As a participant, you will receive invaluable information, meet conflict leaders in the field of education, law, criminal justice, business, and receive information on how to get involved in conflict resolution. If you are currently involved in the conflict resolution field, GSU is accepting proposals for those who want to present their knowledge and skills.

The theme for this year's Symposium is: "Getting to Peace: Using Art as a Tool for Conflict Resolution".

Symposium Video

Want to know more about the symposium?  Contact my friends Kelley Alexander or Tahirah Varner at

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Secret Pain

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The first time I experienced self injury was in the 90's.  I was teaching a history course and one of my students was always using objects to carve on himself. One day I noticed that he was using an eraser and rubbing it wildly on his skin.  After I called attention to his behavior, he amped it up a little more by taking a paper clip, carving various adjectives in his skin (I cannot repeat them), and blowing ink into the bloody cuts. I was horrified!!

In those days there was little information for teachers about self harm so I truly thought he was just a disturbed kid and I limited my contact with him. Now fast forward seven years, I have my counseling degree and secured my first high school counseling gig.  Suddenly, I went from viewing students from an instructional to a personal-social perspective.  In my new position, I noticed a lot of kids who exhibited the same types of behaviors as my former student.  Being curious, I knew that I needed to learn a lot more about more about this phenomenon!

As a school counselor, my first real case of working with a student who self injured was with a young girl who was known to cut.  The girl was rather open to me about her cutting and even exposed them to me.  Red lines covered her arms, legs, and feet.  She told me the reason she cut herself was so that she would not take out her anger on her mom who had married a man she loathed. I often suspected there was sexual abuse by her stepfather, but she never revealed that to me.  A year later, I had another young girl who was in a turbulent relationship with her boyfriend.  She was often kicked out of class and she would show up in my office crying and upset.  Most days she would be able to pacify herself, but other days she tried to harm herself in my office by smashing her head on the table or the wall.  Talk about stressful! I would have to call her mother to come pick her up so she could go to her therapist. The last situation I would like to share involved me talking to a former student who called me in the middle of the night to tell me that she was going to harm herself.  She told me that she had a razor, who she had named Ernie, and that he was the only one that made her feel better.  While I had my daughter dial 911, I tried to persuade her to put Ernie in another room while we spoke.  She told me years later that while we were talking she was cutting herself deeper and deeper...this is truly chilling!

I could go on and on about the other cases that I have experienced as a school counselor, but I think it is important to know a little about why students self harm and what you need to do if you suspect or realize a student is involved in self injury.  The first time you experience a self injury situation it can be overwhelming. As a school counselor, it is imperative that you receive training from an experienced therapist/practitioner and gather great resources to help you work with these students. A great website to use for resources and information is S.A.F.E. Alternatives.

In regards to training, one practitioner who I admire is Kaye Randall. Kaye Randall is a licensed professional counselor from South Carolina who provides training and resources for school counselors in the area of self injury.  From her seminar about self injury from Developmental Resources, called See My Pain,  I learned how to identify the characteristics of self injury, the reasons for this behavior in students, and strategies any school counselor can use in schools.

Origin of Self Injury

Randall believes that self harm is an addictive behavior that has emerged from our "quick fix" culture.  Students who self injury tend to use harmful behaviors to manage emotions that are too painful to express.

Characteristics of Americans Who Self Injure
  • 3 million Americans engage in self-injury
  • Many experience abuse such as sexual abuse or neglect
  • 40% are males
  • The age of self harm is steadily decreasing
  • Potential loss of a parent either through divorce or death
  • Have a tense or abusive relationship with parent(s)
Personality Characteristics of Those Who Self Injure

Perfectionist qualities
Negative body image
Inability to cope with strong emotions
Inability to express emotions
Frequent mood swings

Screening for Mental Health-Characteristics of Adolescents Who Self Injure

Signs that a Student is Injuring Himself or Herself (Smith &  Segal, May, 2013):

Unexplained cuts and scratches
Blood stains on tissues or clothing
Possession of sharp objects
Frequent "mishaps"
Wearing long sleeves during hot weather and/or wearing lots of bracelets
Frequent trips to the bathroom
Irritability and isolation

Help Guide for Those Who Self Injure

Cycle of Self Harm (This can be put on an index card and shared with student)

Cycle of Self Injury

Why do Students Self Harm?

According to Randall, some of the reasons why students self harm include:
  • Relief from feelings
  • Only coping skill they have acquired
  • Preventing dissociation
  • Physically expressing pain
  • A method of communication
  • To self nurture-ritual of action and then nursing the wound
  • Self punishment
  • Reacting previous abuse
  • Establishing control by determining the when, where, how deeply
Why Teens Self Harm

Methods of Self Injury

Five major techniques of self injury:

1. Cutting
2. Burning
3. Burning
4. Hitting self
5. Hair pulling

10 Ways Teens Self Harm

Misconceptions about Self Injury

According to Cornell University researchers, Caicedo & Whitlock, there are 15 misconceptions about self harm:

1. Only females harm themselves- 30-40% of males are self injurers.
2. Self harm is a failed suicide attempt- in reality, self harm is an attempt to avoid suicide.
3. Only teens self harm- although over 50% of those who self injure are teens, studies have found that children as young as seven and even adults self injure.
4. Self harm is attention seeking- while some may seek attention, the majority of those who self injure hide their behavior.
5. People who harm themselves are crazy- self harm is a coping mechanism that is not understood by the majority of people in society.
6. It is untreatable-  there are many therapies and medications used to treat self injurers. The important thing is that the behavior must be replaced with another coping mechanism.
7. People who self harm are manipulators- self injury is more about relieving stress and tension than attention.
8. People who self harm have a personality disorder- most people who self injure have no mental health issues.
9. Self injurers only cut themselves- some people pull their hair, pick their skin or burn themselves.
10. People who self harm are "goths" or "emo"- anyone from any ethnic background, gender, socio-economic group, age, or social group can self injure.
11. People who self injure enjoy the pain or don't feel it- people who harm themselves often feel pain which reconnects them to their bodies.
12. No one can help a person who self injures- the best help is mainly to listen.
13. All people who self harm have been abused- reasons for self injury are multifaceted.
14. Someone who self harms can stop at anytime- self injury can be an addiction.
15. Self injurers are a danger to others- generally self injury is a private practice which is never revealed to others.

15 Misconceptions About Self Injury

Strategies for School Counselors:

At the beginning of the school year, it is important to train your staff regarding self injury protocols. The website, Educators and Self Injury, provides copious resources for educators and a sample protocol for schools.

Educators and Self Injury Resources

It is important to remember that self injury cannot be treated in an school environment; therefore, it is important to have a list of mental health agency referrals on hand for students and parents. Also, it is important to have resources for parents so that they can educate themselves about this behavior.

Parent Information About Self Harm

Techniques by School Counselors

Counselors can provide additional strategies for students when they feel like harming themselves:

1. No Harm Contracts-ASCA Ethical Standards suggest that school counselors notify parents and students of behaviors that schools associate with school harm.

ASCA Article on School Counselor and Ethical Considerations for Students Who Self Harm

2. Students can keep a trigger log on days that they harm and don't harm.  Discuss with students what worked on the days they did not cut, what triggered the event, and the significance about the times they self harm.
Impulse Log

3. Use props to show how important it is to talk about feelings rather than letting them build up inside.  One activity includes blowing up a balloon (each breath is an issue) until it will not go any further.  Illustrate that cutting is like popping the balloon, but talking lets the problems slip away one by one.

4. Have students keep a journal or blog.  Students can join a positive online website like
S.A.F.E. Alternatives.

5. Put together a comfort kit for students:
  • Index cards with next steps.
  • Small journal
  • Hand lotion
  • Names of people they can talk to at school, home, etc.
  • Sand timer
  • Object representing strength
  • Handout of eight questions to ask yourself before you self injure
  • Distraction techniques
6. Prevention Strategies

The Mayo Clinic found that there is no way to prevent self injurious behavior, but there are ways to reduce self harm:
  • Identify students who are most at risk and offer help-students can be taught resiliency skills. Nan Henderson's website on resiliency is an excellent resource to use.  See her Resiliency Wheel for students in crisis.
  • Encourage social interactions like clubs and social groups.
  • Raise Awareness to educate staff and students.  Each year, school counselors can raise awareness through Self Harm Awareness activities.

  • Promote programs that encourage students to seek help-Peer Helping programs are a great resource to help students get information and seek assistance.                                    National Association of Peer Program Professionals
  • Reduce the harmful impact of social media-there are several websites that promote self injury and students should be taught critical thinking skills to know how identify harmful social media sites.

Distraction Techniques (Kilburn & Whitlock; National Self Harm Network):
  • Reach out to others (students can call 1-800-DONT-CUT).
  • Express yourself creatively though a journal, a song, or drawing, or writing poetry.
  • Nurture yourself by taking a bubble bath, watching a funny movie, listen to music, or take a shower.
  • Find constructive activities like cooking, cleaning, doing homework, organizing your room or dying your hair.
  • Do something fun like finger painting, going to the movies, playing on the computer, or going out for ice cream.
  • Physical activity-exercise, dancing, deep breathing exercises, scream, or punch a pillow.
  • Displacement-draw a red line on yourself, snap a rubberband on your risk, put bandaids on where you want to self harm, take a photo of yourself and write how you feel on it.
  • Reinforcement-think about not wanting scars in the summer or set a target time of how long you will not self harm. 
Distraction Techniques

Feel free to tell me about your successes and challenges with working with SI students and any resources you use in your practice.

Here are some additional resources that you can explore...


Self Alternatives

National Self Harm Network Resources
SOS Self Injury Packet
Self Injury and Related Issues
Mirror Mirror
Tips for Teachers
Responding to Students Who Self Mutilate
Self Injury Posters

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Student by Day, Exploited at Night

Sunday, June 9, 2013
Recently in one of our local area papers, I read about two high school girls who were arrested for drugging and sex trafficking a middle school student. The middle school student was prostituted to over 20 men by these young ladies (I use this term loosely).  To my dismay, one of the johns was a former student from my current high school. As I looked at the picture of these two young girls, I imagined that they could be any student walking the halls of my school.  What was so surprising is that their pictures showed two innocent looking girls who barely looked like they could drive a car much less pimp out a 14 year old girl. How were these young girls able to hide this horrible secret? Fortunately, a hospital social worker saw the warning signs and reported the situation to the authorities. 

How many students in our middle and high schools experience this same type of horror; student by day and sex slave by night?  It is almost like a Lifetime movie where the naive young girl is enticed by a handsome young man or kind woman to hang out in the evenings.  Gradually, the pimp lavishes the youth with gifts and attention; she is persuaded to wear seductive clothes to be noticed by others; she may experiment with mind altering drugs; and ever so slowly she becomes trapped in this unforgiving lifestyle. After reading this news article, I began to wonder who were the students in my school in this same situation and how can they be identified?

Six Stages of Grooming a Minor for a Sexual Relationship

To be honest I know that sex trafficking exists, but I have not thought of it as a local issue. I often think of sex trafficking as occurring in Singapore, in the Red Light District, or in the movies. If one were to look through the catalogs of movies in our lifetime, you would see numerous movies glorifying and normalizing sex with minors.

Some Movies include:

Lolita - an older man has a burning desire for a young preteen.

Pretty Baby - stars Brooke Shields who is involved in prostitution with her mother in New Orleans.

Walking the Halls-Lifetime movie about a school cop who runs a high school prostitution ring.

Angel- school girl by day and prostitute by night.

Taxi- stars Jodi Foster as a adolescent prostitute.

Not only are movies normalizing the sex industry, but so is the music industry.

So I am riding the bike in the gym and this song comes on.  Normally, I don't pay much attention to the lyrics, but then there was this one moment when I realized what the song was all about...drugs and prostitution.  Sorry if you like the song, but to me it was really offensive. So offensive that I only included a couple of lines.  I have attached the lyrics if you want to read more.

Tell That B---- Hop Out, Walk The BoulevardI Need My Money ProntoGet It In The Morning Like Alonzo, RondoGreen Got Cheese Like A Nacho


Here is another popular song that I caught my daughter listening to last year called Porn Star Dancing by My Darkest Days. You guessed is about a stripper.

She wraps those hands around that pole
She licks those lips and off we go
She takes it off nice and slow
Because that's pornstar dancin'

She don't play nice, she makes me beg
She drops that dress around her legs
And I'm sittin' right by the stage for this
Pornstar dancin'

Porn Star Dancing

I first heard about minors in the sex industry as a novice high school counselor. It was rumored that two of our teenagers reportedly were working as strippers along with their mother in a night club.   In fact, if you asked me to identify the characteristics of a child who has been involved in sex trafficking I would not have an answer for you.

From my research, I would like to share some information for school counselors about sex trafficking, its warning signs, and steps to take if you think a student is involved in this type of activity.

Definition of Sex Trafficking

Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST) is the buying, selling, or trading sexual services through prostitution, pornography, stripping, or other sexual services.  Other terms for sex trafficking include sex slavery, child exploitation, or child prostitution.

How widespread is the problem in the United States?

Statistics say that over 1.68 million teens run away each year and the majority of those teens become involved in sex trafficking. In fact, over 100,000 minors are enslaved in the sex trafficking in the US each year.

Major contributing factors
  • AGE-13 is the average age in sex trafficking.
                         Prom Poster
  • Child abuse
  • Running away from home

Runaway Prevention Curriculum

Warning Signs:
  • Older boyfriend
  • Signs of trauma (physical or mental)
  • Traveling with older male who is not her father/guardian
  • Chronically running away from home
  • Delinquency
  • Homelessness
  • Special tattoos
  • Substance Abuse
  • Not free to come and go
  • Fearful that law enforcement may be involved
  • Owes a large debt
  • Few possessions
Who are the Traffickers?

50% of the pimps are from the local area.

What can schools counselors do?
  • Educate students-school counselors can provide education, facts, and information to counteract common cultural norms regarding the sex industry.
  • Model behavior:
  1. Stop using words that normalize the sex industry as innocent (ho, pimp, whore).

  2. Challenge the stereotypes and myths about prostitution.  

    3. Challenge people in your circles or family to stop patronizing socially acceptable sex industry venues (i.e. strippers for bachelor parties).
    4. Support tourism companies that have signed the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children in Travel and Tourism.
    5. Do not visit countries that support sex trafficking.

State Department Report of Countries

   6.  Support agencies that work with exploited youth in your area.
   7.  Educate students and parents about internet safety.

Wired Safety
  • Educate students about the dangers of pornography and its impact on society.
Stop Porn Culture

  • Interrupt jokes that are against another groups of people.
  • Educate students about the myths regarding rape.
Rape Myths
  •  Do not support companies, agencies, or media that encourage and/or glorify sexual violence.
  •  Build male allies to stand against the rape culture.
  •  Educate parents on appropriate sexual contact and help them create a safety plan for children.
Safety Plan Template
Resources for Educators from NSVRC
  •  Boycott companies/media that exploits children sexually.
  • Report suspected child abuse.
  • If you hear students blaming the victim of rape, inform them that most victims do not lie about rape and the majority go unreported.
  • Support local rape shelters with donations.
  •  Raise awareness about rape. April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Sexual Assault Awareness Month
  •  Become part or develop a SART.
SART Tool Kit
  • Give facts and practical tips for individuals to fight against child sex trafficking.
The school counselor can be an integral part in educating staff, students, and parents about the underground culture of sex slavery.

Educators Resource Guide from Unicef
High School Educators Toolkit
State Department Resources
Sex Slavery US Map
Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation
FBI Prevention Strategies
Lesson from Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation
Men as Partners in Ending Demand
Truckers Against Trafficking

If you have any experiences in working with students in sex trafficking, please feel free to share any information, tips, or ideas.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Electronic Heroin

Friday, June 7, 2013

My school has a no electronic use policy in the classroom; however, as the year progressed I noticed more and more students connected to technology in the lunchroom, in the hall, in the gym, and in the classroom.  I understand that teachers can grow weary in asking students to put away their electronics and sometimes just give in to the inevitable.  A friend of mine told me that her niece is so addicted to her cell phone that she has learned to text with her toes so that she does not get her phone taken away (wow!).  And speaking of taking up cell phones and I-pods, our front office is constantly giving back electronic devices and getting blasted by parents about their students' phones being confiscated when they need to be able to reach their teen. By the way, have you ever tried to take up a cell phone from a student?  I have and it is like taking a bottle of alcohol from a drunk or a drug from an addict. Believe it or not, there is a scientific term for cell phone addiction called nomophobia. In 2008, nomophobia was coined by British researchers as the anxiety one feels when he or she is without his or her cell phone. The danger of our technology addiction is that it inhibits our ability to wait and delay instant gratification.

Do Students Suffer from Nomophobia?

My Experience with Technology Addiction

I am walking by a math classroom where the teacher is teaching a lesson and I see the majority of the students on the back row texting, on social media, or listening to their I-pods.  I stopped in my tracks and stared incredulously at the students who were totally unaware of my presence.  In fact, it is April and the majority of them are seniors and to make matters worse they are not academic scholars by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, I know I stood silently watching their activities for 2-3 minutes until one of them looked up with a sheepish grin.
  I walked over and held out my hand to one of my seniors and his face changed from surprise to horror.  He said, "No, please don't take my phone...PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE!"  I did not waiver from my stance.  "Oh come on, it is not a big deal she doesn't care if we have out our phones!" I stood like a rock and the whole class turned to our direction.  Suddenly, this small affair was getting lots of attention and I am sure they were waiting to see who would cave first.  At this point, it is the typical high noon scene.  The older experienced gun fighter, the young novice who needs to prove himself, and the glaring crowd thirsting for blood.  At this point, I knew what I needed to do and that is take the crowd out of the equation so I asked to see the student in the hall.  He agreed to follow me outside and I turned to him to discuss the situation.  At first, the student became defensive that I was asking for his phone only when everyone else was doing the same thing.  Next, he began to bargain with me to work out a deal that he would only pull it out when the teacher was not talking.  Last, he came to accept that he was not being a responsible student and that he could not pass if he continued using his phone during class (sounds a lot like the grief cycle...interesting). At the end, we walked to my office and we spoke to his mom about how this situation could impact his graduation and his ability to leave her house in the fall.  I always like to use this image that the student will be stuck with his or her parents for another semester and his or her friends will be off experiencing new freedoms. Fortunately, this situation worked out, but I have had situations where students, who I did not have a relationship, get aggressive when I have asked them to put up their phones in the classroom.  So, my question is what is the reason for this extreme behavior in our teens with technology, particularly with cell phones?  What are the reasons they become distracted, feel the need for constant connection, and act as if their technology is a bodily appendage being hacked off by Leatherface or that clown thing from SAW I, II, III, IV? Well, you get my point.

I think I can give you some insight about this new phenomenon behind the need from technology by our teens.

What Does the Research Say?

So, its is rewiring our brains.  In fact, Newsweek magazine warned America that being constantly connected to technology can create panic, depression, and psychosis (July 16, 2012). Our need for constant connection creates stress on our bodies and this stress is rewiring our brains. In his book, Digital Invasion, Dr. Archibald Hart wrote that being constantly connected is causing a major shift in our brain function. These shifts include increase of brain speed, loss of our capacity to contemplate, loss of the ability to problem solve, and inability to create meaningful relationships. Richard Stout, a California Family Psychotherapist, warns about cell phones and their use. He says that everyone has 24 hours in a day and if we choose to use the majority of that time in the electronic world then there will be problems in our everyday world.

Physical Changes to the Brain of Cell Phone Addicts

Problems that Emerge from Constant Digital Connection


One problem of constant connection is the idea of being able to handle tasks in our everyday world and keep up in our electronic world.  Although it is a popular idea in education for students to multitask,  neuroscientists say that the human brain is not structured for multitasking.  In fact, Dr. Hart gives an illustration in his book about the negative impact of being a multitasker.  If one applies to the Top Gun Naval Pilot program, the Navy gives these candidates a standard ability test. If the test indicates the person is a multitasker, the program will reject him or her.  The Navy requires that its pilots complete tasks in sequential order rather than starting and working on several different tasks.  According to Dr. Hart, the reason we multitask is mainly to overcome boredom.

Sleep Deprivation

Researchers have found that 9 out of 10 middle school students have a cell phones. With this large number of students being constantly wired together, it takes significant attention away from academics and can lead to sleep deprivation.  Dr. Suzanne Phillips conducted a focus group of teens and found that the majority of teens slept with their cell phones. One of the reasons students gave for sleeping with their phones was that they often felt pressured by their friends to be available to talk even in the middle of the night.  I can attest to this fact as I have often caught my own son up at 2 or 3 am talking to someone on the phone. Also, I have spoken to many students who tell me that they were exhausted from being up all night talking to a friend who was bored or having a problem. As teens need at least 9 hours of sleep per night, sleep deprivation can lead to irritability, loss of concentration and memory, anxiety, and even depression.   In fact, there is a growing body of evidence that internet addiction causes the brain to mimic the brains of drug addicts (Carnegie Melon University). In images of the brain, texting floods the pleasure center of the brain like a drug. When there is a negative text or a lack of text, the person needs to continue that behavior to receive that same pleasure. Due to the shrinkage of the brain tissue loneliness, depression, mood alteration, and a loss of connection to reality become evident (Web MD).

Teens Sleeping with Cell Phones

Impact on Relationships

Another negative impact of constant connection is the loss of relationships and the loss of empathy for other human beings.  This loss of empathy for others has created negativity in the form of cyber bullying. About 1 in 10 teens participate in text blogging and out of those texts 1 in 5 teens are bullied. Text bullying has become more common than face to face bullying and can feel inescapable. In fact, text bullying can have long range impact such as resurfacing in the future causing mental anguish. If you have ever been involved in a situation with teens who have been the victim of gossip or bullying on social media or via a text message, it takes a lot your energy and causes the student to be anxious.  Every year I go into the freshman classrooms and speak to students about the dangers of getting involved in cyber bullying and sexting.  I speak about the consequences of being charged with distribution of child pornography or being rejected by a college or employer because of their "digital footprint".  Many students are surprised by the seriousness of the penalty for these activities, but others just giggle and not take my warnings seriously. 

What can counselors do to educate parents and students regarding cell phone addiction, the dangers of social media, cyber bullying, and sexting?

1. Educate parents and students about setting boundaries for technology use and the signs of technology addiction.

Signs can include:
  • The need to respond immediately to a post or text.
  • Constantly checking the phone even when it is not ringing or vibrating (phantom vibration).
  • The student is unaware of his or her surroundings.
  • The student feels anxious without his or her device or withdrawal.
  • The student's grades are dropping due to time spent on his or her device(s).
Signs your Teen is Addicted to the Smartphone

2. Educate students and parents about cyber bullying and its impact on students. 

A great resource is to download free lessons from Common Sense Media.  In addiction, Common Sense Media has free resources to use in the classroom and to give out at parent nights.

Tips for Preventing Cyber Bullying:
  • Teach kids to be empathetic.
  • Help kids to understand the difference between cruel and funny.
  • Educate kids on who to speak to if they experience or know someone who is experiencing cyber bullying.
  • Teach kid's upstanding skills.
  • Show kids that they have the power to stop the cycle.

Common Sense Media Kit for Educators (Grades 9-12)
Cyber Bullying Information for Parents
Resources for a Parent Education Workshops on Cyber Bullying

3.  Educate parents and students on the definition of sexting and its legal consequences.

The FBI suggests that law enforcement and educators provide regular presentations regarding cyber safety and its consequences on students' future lives or digital footprint. 

Advice for Young People
  • Think about the consequences of taking, sending, or forwarding a sexual picture of yourself or someone else underage. You could get kicked off of sports teams, face humiliation, lose educational opportunities, and even get in trouble with the law.
  • Never take images of yourself that you wouldn’t want everyone—your classmates, your teachers, your family, or your employers—to see.
  • Before hitting send, remember that you cannot control where this image may travel. What you send to a boyfriend or girlfriend easily could end up with their friends, and their friends, and their friends.
  • If you forward a sexual picture of someone underage, you are as responsible for this image as the original sender. You could face child pornography charges, go to jail, and have to register as a sex offender.
  • Report any nude pictures you receive on your cell phone to an adult you trust. Do not delete the message. Instead, get your parents or guardians, teachers, and school counselors involved immediately.

Source: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Tips to Prevent Sexting; (accessed July 6, 2009).
FBI Publication on Sexting
Sexting and Cyber Bullying Legal Consequences
Sexting and Relationships Lesson Plan
Project Safe Childhood
Internet Safety Resources for Educators

4. Educate students about how employers and colleges make decisions about them based on their digital footprint. 

Tips for Parents and Students about Good Digital Citizenship
How Colleges Link at Students' Digital Footprint
High School Lessons on Students' Digital Footprint

Additional Resources

Bully Statistics
Cell Phone Addiction
What Teachers can do about Students Texting at School
Pew Institute Cell Phone Study