Teen Dating Violence: Can You Spot the Warning Signs of Abuse?

By Liz Bergren

Teen Dating Violence: Can You Spot the Warning Signs of Abuse?Entering a romantic relationship for the first time is an adolescent rite of passage. We get thrown into the complexities of what it means to love and be loved, touched, and potentially hurt and/or rejected. Our early romantic relationships can help shape and influence the success of our relationships in adulthood. As we learn to relate to others, we learn skills such as self-awareness, communication, conflict resolution, and intimacy. Healthy relationships can teach us positive lessons and bring us opportunities for personal growth. Sometimes a teen’s desire to be in a relationship blinds him or her to unhealthy behavior—both his or her own and/or that of the other person—and this can sometimes lead to abuse. As someone who works with teens, I know firsthand that early intervention by adults plays a crucial role in preventing potential long-term physical or emotional damage.

It is important to acknowledge some common facts about abusers and victims.

  1. Abusers and victims can be anyone. An abuser can be someone of any race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, or gender. So can a victim. It is typical to assume that an abuser is most often a male and the abuse exists primarily in heterosexual relationships, but that is not necessarily the case. It is important not to assume which person is the abuser or the victim based on appearance, gender, or cultural norms.
  2. An abuser can be a very loving person and, in turn, be very lovable. It is relatively common for an abuser to feel remorse and do things such as buy gifts or romance another person. The origins of abusive behavior are often complex, and it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact reason the abusive behavior started or if it can be changed. Even when abusers are made aware of their behavior and they attempt to change, they often return to the abuse, even after repeated apologies and promises to never do it again. The redeeming qualities of an abuser (affectionate, kind, charismatic) often make it difficult for the partner to leave the relationship, because he or she may believe that the behaviors can change over time.
  3. Abuse is not always visible. As a former teacher, I have worked with students who have been in unhealthy relationships. It is important to note that physical abuse is not always visible from the outside and that abuse comes in many forms, not just physical. Abusers who use physical violence will often injure their victims in places that can be hidden. I knew of a student whose abuser would pull her hair on the back of her neck where it was very hard to see the evidence. I knew another student who was repeatedly shoved against the passenger door of the car. The only evidence of abuse was recurring earring infections from when her piercings hit the door. Those infections could be easily overlooked or blamed on poor hygiene.

An adolescent is most likely to report abuse to a peer, not to an adult. It is important for adults who work with teens to educate themselves on how students’ lives outside of school might interfere with their school lives. In some cases, the abuse is happening during the school day. The symptoms of an unhealthy relationship listed below can be mistaken for signs of standard teen growing pains. This is why it’s difficult for school personnel to confirm whether symptoms are signaling abuse. Spotting someone who is being abused requires keen observation.

An adolescent who is in an abusive dating relationship may display the following symptoms:

  1. A general change in affect or behavior. A student who is being abused can become withdrawn, fearful, or angry. Such students might lose interest in normal activities, act out, lose weight, or change how they dress.
  2. A change in social life or friend group. When I was a teacher, I paid close attention to students in the hallways, and I would often stand outside my door to greet students as they came into my class. I was always on the lookout for any interactions that would warrant intervention. Notice if a student’s partner is often waiting for him or her after class, or if the partner comes up in conversation more than is normal. Do you see public displays of affection in the hall? Do they seem aggressive or unwanted? Digital abuse may show itself in repeated texting, perhaps hundreds of texts a day. Is a student excessively using his or her phone? Does the student show changes in body language when around his or her partner? A student may have had an active social life prior to the relationship. If there is a noticeable change of friends or the number of friends, that may be a red flag. Watch for patterns of behavior that exist in a social group. Do members isolate? Do they exclude others from their group? Are they secretive?
  3. A drop in grades or general change in classroom demeanor. When stress is high or students’ safety needs aren’t being met, it is almost impossible for them to maintain grades or a positive attitude in school. Were they active participants in class, but now are not? Did they consistently turn in their work, but now do not? Were they on time and present in class, but now are late and/or absent? It can be difficult to answer those questions because of the natural volatility that sometimes comes with adolescence. Again, many different things can cause changes in school attitude. If a romantic partner has become a priority in this student’s life, it may be appropriate to consider how the relationship is impacting his or her school performance.
  4. Drug and alcohol abuse. Drug and alcohol abuse can be a common coping strategy used by teens who are struggling. When things are out of control, teens often find a means to numb their emotional pain. It can be hard for teachers and other adults in teens’ lives to know if drugs or alcohol are being abused because the symptoms or behaviors can be confused with other things. Watch for signs of drug abuse in their eyes and their affect in the classroom.

It is appropriate and sometimes necessary for teachers or other school personnel to inquire about students’ well-being, especially if there is behavior that is out of the norm. If you notice any changes that are concerning or are negatively affecting a student’s academic performance, approach the student and share your observations. Be warm, empathic, and demonstrate genuine concern. If students trust you, they might open up and share what is happening. At times, they might be so afraid of backlash from their partner that they will refuse to share. Be sure to contact parents and/or a school administrator with your concerns.

Liz BergrenLiz Bergren is Free Spirit’s education resource specialist. She is a former teacher with 15 years of classroom experience. In addition to being a teacher, she spent five years working for Park Nicollet’s Melrose Institute where she counseled and taught classes to patients who struggled with eating disorders. She has a B.A. in health and secondary education from the University of St. Thomas and an M.Ed. in family education from the University of Minnesota.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

Suggested Resource
The National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence is an excellent resource for more information on adolescent dating violence.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2017 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Teaching Strategies | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oh, the Drama! 11 Scenarios to Help Teens Work Through Sticky Social Situations

Adapted from How Rude!® In a Jar®: Prompts, Tips, Skits, and Quips About Social Skills, Good Manners, and Etiquette by Alex J. Packer, Ph.D.

Oh, the Drama! 11 Scenarios to Help Teens Work Through Sticky Social SituationsWith summer right around the corner, teens will be spending a lot more time with their friends. Drama and arguments are bound to follow. In group discussions, use these eleven manners challenges to get teens talking about how they can politely deal with problems . . . before they occur.

  1. You’re eating dinner at a friend’s house. You take a mouthful of soup and discover it’s burning hot. Other than spitting it out and getting your tongue to sue your hostess for $4 million, how could you deal (politely) with this situation?
  2. Your best friend spends half the time you’re together texting other friends. You think of sending your friend a text saying, “PUT DOWN YOUR %#@$& PHONE AND BE WITH ME!” but maybe there’s a better solution. What is it?
  3. You brought a great present for your friend to his Bar Mitzvah party. Three months later you’ve heard nothing from him, and you’re wondering why. You could send a “Thanks for nothing” note, or . . . what’s a better way to handle this?
  4. Your friends are great one on one. But when they get together, they’re like boorish marauders. It really bothers you when they make fun of people with disabilities. How can you address this without being drawn and quartered yourself?
  5. One of your friends always chews with his mouth open. It’s gross—all those saliva-slimed, maggoty, masticated morsels of chopper-chomped chow. (Told you it was gross.) How could you address this delicate subject with your friend?
  6. A friend posted a photo on social media of you drooling in your sleep. You’re angry and humiliated. Think of a rude way to respond and then a polite way. Which is better and why?
  7. Your friend is chronically late and always shrugs it off with lame excuses. You could give him some of his own medicine by standing him up, but that just brings more rudeness into the world. What’s a better way to resolve this?
  8. Your friend always invites herself over to your house and then never leaves. Short of screaming, “INCOMING MISSILE!” and locking the doors after she dives out the window, what would be a polite way to deal with this?
  9. A friend floods you with hundreds of unwanted texts a day. Think of a rude and a polite way to respond. Which do you think would work better and why?
  10. You’re at a restaurant with friends. You all chip in, but as you leave, you notice the kid who paid the bill didn’t leave a tip. How can you handle this so the server isn’t stiffed and your friend isn’t miffed?
  11. Your friend bailed on going to the movies with you by saying she was sick. Later you learn she went out with someone else. Instead of getting even by giving her measles, how could you handle this politely?

For more etiquette challenges, plus writing prompts, tips, skits, and quips, check out How Rude!® In a Jar® by Alex J.Packer, Ph.D.

Alex J. Packer, Ph.D.Alex J. Packer received his Ph.D. in educational and developmental psychology from Boston College and his master’s degree in education from Harvard. He has been headmaster of an alternative school for 11- to 15-year-olds, director of education at the Capital Children’s Museum, and president of FCD Educational Services, a Boston-based provider of substance abuse prevention services for schools worldwide. To learn more about Alex, visit him online at www.alexjpacker.com.

How Rude!Alex Packer is the author of How Rude!®: The Teen Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior, and Not Grossing People Out.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2017 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Character Education | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

How Students’ Emotional Needs Impact Their Learning

By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D.
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.

How Students’ Emotional Needs Impact Their LearningThink back to a time when you were forced to attend a professional development training or staff meeting. I bet you remember little about the content and a lot about how you felt during that time. That’s because, as Dr. Robert Sylwester stated, emotion drives attention, which drives learning. In other words, how you feel determines how well you learn. Feeling forced to be somewhere causes you to focus on your base survival needs; you were unable to think at a higher level at the training because you felt trapped.

Consider your students’ feelings. How many of them are feeling forced, trapped, scared, lonely, or manipulated because of the content or you? Evidence on how our brains function suggests that emotion (the automatic chemical reaction within our brains) is significantly intertwined in the learning process (Weiss, 2000). Feelings, the physical and mental response to emotion, are what can hamper or promote attention. And attention—or the ability to avoid distraction—is necessary for learning.

When our emotions are negative, they will “down-shift” energy from the prefrontal cortex to the reptilian brain and put us in fight or flight (survival) mode. That leaves little brain energy for the higher, more evolved prefrontal cortex—where reasoning, creativity, and higher levels of thinking reside. When our emotions are positive, they will “up-shift” brain energy to the frontal lobe and the prefrontal cortex—allowing us to think clearly and at advanced levels.

We can help students up-shift in the classroom by giving them the tools of self-regulation to manage their emotional responses. I have framed a scaffolding of activities based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory and the stages of self-regulation that you can use to help your students develop stronger and more appropriate emotional responses.

Stage 1: Modeling and Observing. Students have little to no self-regulation; they need a strong sense of safety in the classroom.

Students need:

  • Predictability in the environment, such as knowing the daily schedule, lesson objectives, and consequences or rewards
  • A sense of security with the teacher and others in the classroom in order to take intellectual risks
  • Consist mood and classroom management from the teacher and others; knowing how to expect adults to interact with children
  • A comfortable classroom, such as a room with places to sit, stand, or stretch; a learning space that is pleasant and joyful

Stage 2: Copying and Doing. Students are just beginning to develop self-regulating strategies but are still in need of lot of support; they need to feel a sense of belonging in the classroom.

Students need:

  • To learn how to listen to others, such as through specific listening strategies
  • To understand others’ differences and how these differences make us all unique and important
  • To know how to express themselves in a way that is appropriate, respectful, and thoughtful
  • To know how to care for themselves and others, such as working productively in groups or by themselves

Stage 3: Practice and Refinement. Students are ready to try ideas and make those ideas their own; they need to foster their individual strengths.

Students need:

  • Assistance in building their self-esteem and confidence through finding and celebrating even small successes
  • To become aware of their own talents and put their talents to use in and outside the classroom
  • Strategies in maintaining a positive attitude, such as reflective practices and reframing difficult situations through positive self-talk
  • An understanding of all students’ individual significance, which may be gained through group work, passion projects, and student-led classroom discussions
  • To learn how to set a vision for the future by employing goal-setting practices that focus on the type of person they’d like to become (not necessarily what they’d like to do in the future)

Stage 4: Independence and Application. Students have demonstrated their abilities to maintain effective emotional management; they need to create their sense of autonomy.

Students need:

  • To reach for self-actualization or for becoming their best selves by committing to community service or taking on intellectual challenges to learn more about themselves
  • Assistance in refining talents by showcasing or promoting their talents through differentiated products
  • Strategies for increasing concentration and persistence, such as study strategies or long-term projects that require substantial planning
  • Opportunities to benefit others through caring initiatives, such as service learning projects, leadership development courses, or volunteering for worthy causes

Emotional responses, or the ways we manage our feelings, play a significant role in how we behave, make decisions, retain memories, and interact with others. Knowing what level of self-regulation your students possess can guide you to what they need to rise to the next level of effective emotional management.

Cash, R.M. Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing, 2016.
Maslow, A.H. “A Theory of Human Motivation.” Psychological Review 50, no. 4 (1943): 370–396.
Weiss, R.P. “Emotion and Learning.” Training & Development 54, no. 11 (2000): 45.

Richard CashRichard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.

Free Spirit books by Richard Cash:

Self-regulation Advancing Differentiation Revised and Updated Edition Differentiation for Gifted Learners

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2017 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Teaching Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Teaching Students About Climate Change

By Garth Sundem, author of Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Character: Choices That Matter Around the World

Teaching Students About Climate ChangeSex. Drugs. Evolution. Cancer science. Climate change.

Climate change is one of those things: You just know that no matter how you teach it, you’re going to end up talking to parents. No matter how you slice it, this is less than awesome. But that doesn’t change the fact that you’ve been tasked with wading into the landscape of preconceived notions and intractable beliefs to help your students identify some version of the “truth” . . . whatever that may mean. Gird your loins, educator! It’s time to teach climate change.

And it’s funny: Just as Free Spirit Publishing reached out to me about writing this post on teaching climate change, my wife, a school psychologist, was teaching fifth graders about puberty at Mackintosh Academy, a gifted school in Boulder, Colorado. And, for my day job as a science writer for the University of Colorado Cancer Center, I had been chatting with cancer researchers about the challenge of working with patients who disbelieve Western medicine.

For example, yesterday I talked with Benjamin Brewer, Psy.D., director of Clinical Psychology Services for the Blood Cancer and Bone Marrow Transplant Program at the CU School of Medicine. It’s easy for most of us to think that we have a tough job . . . until we compare it to his.

“I’m kind of the guy that people on my team come find when a patient has a different worldview about medicine,” Brewer said diplomatically. (Don’t worry—this does come back around to teaching climate change!)

Brewer says a patient’s challenging beliefs tend to start with fear (“They can’t confront the authenticity that they have to go through this procedure,” he says) and lead to what he calls “Googling for beliefs”—searching for support for what they already believe.

Here’s an experiment you can try at home: Go to Google and type in the words “chemotherapy” and “poison.” Recently, the top result was an article titled “The Truth About Chemotherapy—Toxic Poison or Cancer Cure?” It had been viewed 40,000 times and shared on Facebook 12,000 times. And the takeaway was pretty clear. According to the article: “The truth is that chemo is toxic, carcinogenic (causes cancer), destroys erythrocytes (red blood cells), devastates the immune system, and destroys vital organs.”

In fact, of the first ten Google results, only one, from Cancer Research UK, could be seen as even remotely impartial. Other results included goodies like “Chemo is toxic poison. I used natural therapy to beat cancer” and “Chemo kills—the facts about chemotherapy and real cancer cures.”

“When you Google ‘chemotherapy is bad’ you end up on the chemotherapy is bad channel,” Brewer says. In other words, people who explore their beliefs online find support for their beliefs.

How does a patient know to believe a doctor instead of some guru on Tumblr? Brewer has thoughts on that, too: “I can tell them how accomplished a doctor is in his field, that he’s discovered cancer-causing molecules . . . and it’s surprising how completely ineffective that argument is.”

Instead, Brewer says, it’s “like a Chinese finger trap—you kind of go back a little bit to get out of it. If you keep pressing from the scientific view, people can shut down and go the other way quickly.”

The strategy Brewer uses is to “engage their curiosity.” In short, his tip borne of hundreds of hours of experience in literal life-and-death situations is that rather than teaching, he tries to meet patients where they are to explore their beliefs together. At the end of the day, he respects patients’ decisions and defends their decisions to the rest of his team as long as patients have made those decisions with clear eyes; you can choose to treat cancer with marijuana as long as you understand that all the real evidence says this is an exceptionally bad idea.

In this post about teaching climate change, the takeaway is that you can’t teach climate change. You have to explore climate change. The first rule of Fight Club is similar, but it turns out that you can at least talk about climate change . . . in some districts.

If you want to explore climate change with your students, let’s move from moderately relevant theory to practice. Check out this awesome lesson by my friend Kristi, Ph.D., who dictated the following to me:

“Take a small [reusable food container], about twelve inches by eight inches. Put in a block of sand or soil. Take warm water and put it in to represent a lake. Put plastic wrap on the top. Over the landform, you add an icepack, and you can watch the water cycle. That’s your control. Then you can do things like using one of those infrared thermometers to take the temperature of the lake or the temperature of the ice pack. Essentially, with climate change, you increase the temperature of the lake, and you watch the increased water cycle and the overall effect. The condensation happens quickly; the ice will melt. It’s amazing, when you make minor adjustments to the lake temperature, how big of an impact it makes on the water cycle in general in this closed ecosystem. Or you can also do a single ice cube and do a cold lake, a medium lake, and a hot lake. Everything is ramping up. You can watch. If you want to go totally crazy, you can plant simple grasses in the soil in your ecosystem—see if there’s an effect of having vegetation.”

I often have little idea what Kristi is saying. This can be not a good thing. On the other hand, it leaves room for interpretation and personalization of instructions. For example, what I hear is, “You should eat all of the Reese’s Easter eggs.”

Maybe I’m hearing what I am predisposed to hear. And that is the danger for your students. If you teach, they may hear only what they want to hear. But if you engage with them in the collaborative process of exploration, you may both discover new points of view. Let the objectivity of your experiments be the “truth.” And if these experiments result in the amalgam of peanut butter and chocolate, please consider sending them to me via Free Spirit Publishing.

Author Garth SundemGarth Sundem is a TED-Ed speaker and former contributor to the Science Channel. He blogs at GeekDad and PsychologyToday.com. He has been published in Scientific American, Huffington Post Science, Fast Company, Men’s Health, Esquire, The New York Times, Congressional Quarterly, and Publishers Weekly. Garth grew up on Bainbridge Island, Washington, and currently lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife, two kids, and a pack of Labradors.

Free Spirit books by Garth Sundem:

Real Kids, Real Stories, Real ChangeReal Kids, Real Stories, Real Character

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2017 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Teaching Strategies | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

11 Ways to Green Your Classroom

By Liz Bergren

11 Ways to Green Your ClassroomMost of us are aware of the urgent need to create a more sustainable environment. Climate change is on our minds and is a current source of political debate. According to the EPA, the temperature of Earth has risen 1.5 degrees over the past 100 years. It projects that the Earth’s temperature will rise another 0.5 to 8.6 degrees in the next 100 years. We have seen changes in our weather, such as excessive rainfall, droughts, and heat waves, and impacts on animal behavior.

Teaching kids the importance of reducing their carbon footprints is essential for the health of our planet. As fall approaches and you get ready to start a fresh school year, consider the following strategies for a “greener” classroom and school.

1. Get kids competing.
Kids love competition, so consider turning recycling into a contest. See who can recycle the most excess paper after a project. Have kids inventory what they recycle at home or which parts of their home lives they consider to be “green.” Tally up totals and offer a prize for the biggest recyclers. Turn recycling into a grade-wide competition by putting bins in the hall to see which class can collect the most paper or other recyclable products.

2. Bring in a local professional.
Find someone in your area who is responsible for recycling, waste reduction, or reusing materials and invite that person to speak to your class about ways to “green” your classroom.

3. Look to nature for art supplies.
There are so many colors in nature! We can use them for dyes for homemade playdough or even to make paint. A great class project could include students researching colors in nature and bringing those sources to class. Potential items for natural dyes include beets, mustard seeds, turmeric, and spirulina. Discuss the potential harm that toxins from traditional art supplies could do to the environment.

4. Have a taste-testing day.
When I was a teacher, I used to have my students explore how chemicals used as herbicides and pesticides on our food can impact our health and the environment. We would discuss the differences between conventional farming and organic farming and sample produce from both. I’d assign each of my students a different fruit and give them the task of tracking down one piece of conventional fruit and one piece of organic fruit. Then we’d cut up the fruit and discuss the differences in texture and taste. Anything to eat is always a big hit in the classroom. Obviously, there are some constraints to this project, as it requires money, and allergies are always important to consider.

5. See who can make something out of recycled or discarded materials.
Look to discarded fabric or old clothes for sewing projects or collages. Use old eyeglasses, string, or beads to make jewelry. Reclaimed wood or other surfaces can be a canvas for paint.

6. Bring living things into the classroom.
If you bring in a plant, then students can have the experience of caring for something. Have them take turns watering and pruning. If possible, have a class pet, perhaps a lizard or a fish. Students will be able to monitor the animal’s environment and understand what it needs to be healthy and comfortable.

7. Choose eco-friendly pens and pencils.
If you do a little searching, there are many places where you can order pencils and pens made from different recycled products. Making these available to your students can spark conversations about how so many things can be recycled and turned into completely different products. Check out theultimategreenstore.com or ask about recycled school supplies at your local office supply store.

8. Designate rules for paper use.
Create a lesson that explains how paper is produced and how overconsumption of paper takes away from our forests. Have students create a class plan for reducing paper consumption.

9. Use hand towels instead of paper towels.
One way to reduce the use of paper towels in the classroom is to have students bring in their own hand towels to use for handwashing. This is easiest if you have a sink in the classroom, or students can simply take their towels with them to the bathroom for washing before lunch. Have students bring their hand towels home for washing once a week.

10. Encourage students to join networks or organize school campaigns.
Share with your students local organizations that work to keep your area clean. Arrange a walking field trip to pick up trash around your school. Have your students brainstorm ways to get the whole school or grade involved in the reduction of litter or water use or in the overall protection of the environment.

11. Model environmentally healthy practices.
Go paperless as much as you can, which isn’t too hard anymore. Use digital presentations to avoid the use of paper for homework. Assign online homework if your students have access to digital devices. Bring a reusable cup or bottle to class instead of plastic water bottles or coffee cups. Reuse paper for passes or thank-you notes. Encourage healthy practices for your students and find teachable moments to help the environment.

Liz BergrenLiz Bergren is Free Spirit’s education resource specialist. She is a former teacher with 15 years of classroom experience. In addition to being a teacher, she spent five years working for Park Nicollet’s Melrose Institute where she counseled and taught classes to patients who struggled with eating disorders. She has a B.A. in health and secondary education from the University of St. Thomas and an M.Ed. in family education from the University of Minnesota.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2017 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Teaching Strategies | Tagged , , | Leave a comment