Monthly Archives: February 2014

Real Youth Voice

Such a great perspective. I work in a juvenile detention center leading a theater workshop every week, and it IS a thin line between getting kids to open up and pushing them too far. I’ve found though, that most of the time, they really appreciate having someone trusting to listen and truly hear their story. It takes a lot of time to get to this place, though.

Bowl of Oranges

Here is the question that I am grappling with – how do we help youth share their voices in a way that serves them, rather than the adults encouraging them to do so?

Maybe part of the problem is that youth voice is not fully integrated into any aspect of child welfare work. So when anyone makes a concerted effort to included it, it comes off as that – a very serious effort to do something different. When I attend panels where youth are asked to share their stories, sometimes the questions are so leading or the adults are working to push a certain agenda, it is uncomfortable. I am often tasked with asking young people to participate in a myriad of speaking opportunities, so this is an issue that hits me very personally.

There is a fine line that we walk when we ask youth to share their story…

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What Makes Sibling Bullying Acceptable?

By Michelle Silver 

We are always taught that violence against others (peers, partners, the elderly, etc.) is completely unacceptable.  Parents who are violent towards their children are considered to be serious offenders, so how did sibling violence become a tolerated norm?  Parents are often told that sibling rivalries and aggressive behavior are normal and can even be beneficial to help kids develop problem solving and competition skills.  But in fact, sibling name calling, physical fighting, and bullying can have long-term negative effects on a child’s mental health.  Studies have shown that youth who are consistently bullied by their siblings exhibit higher levels of anxiety, depression, and anger.  Victims of sibling bullying are also more likely to experience bullying at school (Skinner & Kowalski, 2013).  The effects sibling bullying can have on the victim can even continue into adulthood and lead to long-term lower levels of self-esteem and self-worth.


Prior to reading this NY Times article, I hadn’t given much thought to sibling bullying.  Most people in my generation consider a little bit of sibling rivalry and playful fighting to be part of normal life and everyday fun.  But how much is too much?  The answer to this question certainly depends on the individual, their mental state, age, and how often and serious the sibling bullying is.  If one sibling is constantly belittling the other, or if parents are unaware or subconsciously choose a favorite child and treat him/her differently, that is when sibling rivalries can have negative effects.


It remains surprising that sibling bullying is so rarely studied despite the fact that it is much more common than peer bullying.  What can we do to increase parental awareness about sibling bullying?  Firstly, parents must be aware of the negative effects that siblings can have on each other in certain circumstances.  The more openly they engage in family conversations and establish what is and isn’t acceptable, the better off the family will be.  Parents must also set positive examples for children by not calling their spouse or children derogatory names or engaging in any form of physical aggression.  They must try as often as possible not to favor one child over the other or take sides in conflicts, but rather serve as the mediator for talking through problems.  Parental monitoring and strong relationships with children will likely contribute to lower levels of sibling bullying, since usually problems occur when parents are not around.  When siblings begin bullying behavior, parents must try to intervene as early as possible, especially for younger siblings.


It is critical that we begin to address the issue of sibling bullying, something that has sadly become both accepted and expected in our society (Skinner & Kowalski, 2013).  Sibling bullying is different from traditional peer bullying, since typically siblings are both the victims and perpetrators in different situations.  While few interventions have targeted sibling bullying, the interpersonal level (families, friends, and social networks) of the socio-ecological model would likely be a good place to start intervening.  Even something as simple as parental workshops about sibling bullying could begin to put this widespread problem on their radar.

A Call to Action: Facing Domestic Violence Head-On

By Anne Scheps

Between 1993 and 2010,domestic violence among adult women in the United States has gone down by 64 percent.” We should be content with this number, right?  Wrong. It cannot be ignored that this was a result of hard work behind the scenes. In recent years, there has been an astounding difference in the ways domestic violence is discussed and handled and much of the credit can be given to activists like TED Talk speaker Esta Soler.

Soler, founder and president of the organization Futures without Violence (, says in her discussion, “And for all those years, I’ve had an absolutely passionate and sometimes not popular belief that this violence is not inevitable, that it is learned, and if it’s learned, it can be un-learned, and it can be prevented.”  The key argument she presents in her talk is that domestic violence is not a hopeless problem.  Part of her early project was to take pictures of women who came into the hospital with cuts and bruises all over.  She would use a Polaroid and hand over the photo as soon as it printed, so that the women would be able to use it as evidence in court when they were trying to prosecute their abuser.  Is this the best way to deal with the intricacies of domestic violence?  What about the relationships and the difficulties the women faced trying to separate from their abuser?  Looking into this problem, Soler also took legal action and managed to work on passing the Violence Against Women Act.

I think a lot more can be looked into here.  Soler’s talk doesn’t go into the causes of domestic violence and how we as a society need to approach the issue from a different angle. Current discussion is paving the way for real solutions.  As I was perusing the other TED Talks centering on domestic violence, one came up titled, “A men’s issue” and another called, “Violence against women – it’s a men’s issue”. It’s interesting that two talks are centered on the premise of looking at men.  It should be acknowledged here that both men and women can be perpetrators of domestic violence, but as this talk focuses on women victims, we will specifically focus on those instances when men are acting as the abusers.  Society needs to call them to action. Although I didn’t watch the talks about the problems with who we blame for domestic violence, I loved the point the titles drove home – the importance of engaging men in preventing domestic violence. Too long has society been focused on changing the victim’s response, changing how the victim can do things better, how the victim can make the situation healthier.  It’s time to focus on changing the culprits.  And although I do not think rape or domestic violence is a completely preventable, it makes a difference who we focus on.  The victim is just that. A victim.  Changing the perpetrator’s beliefs will make more of a lasting impact.

Too often, domestic violence becomes a boxed-in concept.  It morphs into something unreal, not applicable, destructive in its foreignness.  As a society, we need people like Esta Soler to fight to discuss the realities of domestic violence.  It is activists like Esta that break-through the walls we put up.

TED Talk given by Esta Soler, “How We Turned the Tide on Domestic Violence.  Hint: The Polaroid Helped.”:

Lockdowns, the Norm for Children Living in the 21st Century

By Michelle Silver

Sadly, school shootings have become a topic we discuss all too often.  Gone are the days you could send your children to school on the school bus and know they would be safe for the day.  But what changes have taken place over the past 20 years that have turned innocent children into killers?  Who deserves the blame—the individual, parents, society?  It is easiest to blame the killer for taking the lives of others.  However, perhaps environmental characteristics provide more insight about what has led to the increased number of school shootings over the past two decades.

Schools are places within communities that nearly everybody has a connection to in one way or another.  Overall, they represent academic growth and positive youth development, however, they are also the locations where many people have some of their first negative encounters (Hall & Friedman, 2013).  Schools provide access to many people at one time, which can present an ideal situation for a shooter if he/she wants to harm as many people as possible.

Students that commit school shootings are frequently labeled as troubled individuals that are bullied or social outcasts. Oftentimes they have family and peer relationship problems and mental health issues.  Combine that with a large school setting where they are largely ignored by teachers and students and it can be a recipe for disaster.  Fatal school shootings are more common in urban, predominately minority middle-high schools that are publicly funded.  Only  2 out of 134 school shootings since 1966 took place at private schools (De Apodaca, Brighton, Perkins, Jackson, & Steege, 2012).  Researchers hypothesize this to be the case because of more homogeneity among students in private schools, while public schools tend to bring together a more diverse group.

Despite efforts to increase school safety and a recent $29 million dollar increase from Congress, bringing the total budget to promote school safety up to $140 million dollars, there have been no major decreases in the number of school shootings (Fox News, 2014).  Yet 90% of schools in the US have taken increased security measures since the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in 2012, so therefore we are not allocating resources effectively.  Perhaps funds would be more effective if they were used to implement school depression and mental illness screenings for all students, and to develop programs for youth with mental health problems.  All too often mentally unstable individuals get their hands on guns, in which case our prevention efforts fail.  Discussions about firearm possession and usage should also become a routine part of regular physician appointments when talking about other risk behaviors such as drugs and alcohol usage.

While there is no simple answer of who is to blame for the increase in school shootings and no one best way to prevent them, multi-level interventions have great potential.  Due to the increase in individuals with mental health issues slipping through the cracks, our focus must shift to fix the system so that these individuals are identified early, get the help they need, and are not able to get their hands on a gun.

New Texting Crisis Center Hotline: Beneficial or Not?

Is it possible that texting is the new way of helping young adults through tough situations?  Crisis Text Line, a new organization started by Nancy Lublin, receives text messages daily from struggling youth asking for guidance.  The messages zoom through to specialized therapists trained to handle traumatic situations.  Kids are given answers, and more importantly, someone to talk to who will emphasize and use the mode of communication most relevant to their lives. The issues range from divorce to sexual abuse and nothing comes lightly.

On the surface, there’s not a lot to complain about.  Kids need help and if there are people able to quickly reply to their needs, what could  be missing?  I see it as modern society attempting to bridge the gap that so often exists between the mental health resources available in the community and the youth that act too “cool” to reach out and take advantage of them.  I think this will be a great excuse to get some data collected on how youth are reaching out for help.  Are they more comfortable using texting to receive guidance?  Or is this too impersonal?  I think, as of now, my opinion is that this Crisis Center will be a gateway to bigger and better modes of online/convenience therapy.  Texting is great for quick answers, but can it really solve the underlying teenage angst that exists and persists?  Will it create too much of a “casual” atmosphere for serious issues, making them seem less important or down-playing the necessity of actually going in and seeing a therapist?

My question for fellow researchers and critics looking at the new texting crisis center is this: how can we be sure that this method of quick, real-time therapy actually works?  I was perusing their website and found that they have data scientists, engineers, and other very focused individuals working for the organization to make it reliable and trustworthy for the kids using the texting.  But how is success measured?  With a lack of direct contact, although the confidentiality aspect is important and necessary for the mission of the organization, who is managing what is happening to these kids when they stop texting?  Can it even be monitored?

Despite all the questions presented, I believe this is a step in the right direction.  We’ll see where technology takes us in the coming years, but for now, many youth are glad they have a confidential, convenient, modern, place to share their feelings or even just to talk to someone that will respond and will care about how they are doing.  Sometimes, that’s enough.

Welcome to the Pathways4youth Blog!

Hey everyone!  I’m Anne and I’m a sophomore studying psychology at the University of Michigan.  Working under Dr. Sarah Stoddard as part of the Pathways4youth research team, I am exposed to a lot of noteworthy and interesting articles about positive youth development and the ways in which society is actively searching for methods to help those adolescents struggling, whether it be with substance abuse, violence, or inner conflicts like low self-esteem.

I wanted to start this blog as a medium through which to convey how we as researchers, educators, and innovators, are breaking down barriers.  By instilling in each child a knowledge of their true potential, we can face the challenges together!

This blog will be short snippets and musings on current events dealing with youth development.  Enjoy!