All posts by sastodda

What are you doing for National Youth Violence Prevention Week?

By Michelle Silver

Youth violence is unfortunately a widespread and prevalent issue.  Homicide is one of the leading causes of death among those ages 10-24 and in 2011 over 700,000 people ages 10-24 were treated in the ED for assault injuries (CDC, 2013).  Youth violence can be prevented and we must take measures to educate ourselves and others about this important issue.

This week (April 7th-11th) is National Youth Violence Prevention week.  The goal of the week is to raise awareness about youth violence among students, educators, parents, and other community members.  Each day of the week is dedicated to a particular topic that relates in some way to youth violence.  There are many activities associated with each day, with the hope of engaging people in people and helping them realize that they can help build safer communities.  Activities range from role playing, class discussions, teambuilding, contests, personal stories, and many more.  For suggested daily activities by day visit:

The day by day topics are as follows:

Day 1-Promote Respect and Tolerance

Day 2-Manage your Anger

Day 3-Resolve Conflicts Peacefully

Day 4-Support Safety

Day 5-Unite in Action

Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE), a partner of the National Youth Violence Prevention Campaign, has also created a pie chart visual with each section of the pie being an element of a community (link here).  These range from medical, to parents and schools.  When clicking on any of them, you are then presented with a long list of ways you can help protect youth and build a safer community.  The goal of the pie chart is to allow you to choose an area of interest and then to provide you with ideas of how to get involved.  The large pie chart and long list of options for each section are guaranteed to help you find a feasible and meaningful option that helps prevent youth violence.

For more information about National Youth Violence Prevention Week visit:

We challenge you to get involved in Youth Violence Prevention week in any way that you can!  


Finding Your Purpose, and Why it Matters

By Michelle Silver

Discovering your place in the world is no simple task, especially for an adolescent.  Yet it remains one of the most important processes of our lives.  Working towards establishing purpose helps youth travel a pathway to success, allowing them to form an identity, set goals, and eventually achieve those goals.   Adolescents with a sense of purpose are motivated individuals that are working towards something meaningful to them.  As a result, purpose driven adolescents are thinking about their future from a young age. This helps them overcome typical adolescent struggles and decreases the likelihood of participating in risky behaviors such as drug and alcohol use and violent behavior.  Because positive purpose helps adolescents overcome risk factors, it has been termed a ‘promotive factor.’

Establishing a positive purpose during adolescents can lead to better overall well-being, as these individuals exhibit more pro-social behavior, dedication to school and activities, and higher levels of self-esteem and achievement.  These individuals have less negative outcomes and are more likely to succeed.  Youth with a positive purpose mentality are also better equipped to handle failure, changes to plans, and difficulties along the way.  Youth who have developed a sense of purpose are able to get through everyday tasks with less difficulty than those without a positive purpose, since these individuals are able to recognize the relevance of completing what some may consider boring or useless tasks, to their future.  While purpose is something that must ultimately be developed individually, it has been linked to perceived teacher and school support.

Purpose development begins by determining what you are passionate about.  You must also identify which goals are most important to pursue and learn about options to pursuing them.  For adolescents, discussions with adults, teachers, or even peers can offer insight and bring new ideas to the table.  After goals have been identified, the individual must then have the dedication to pursue the goal.  A few ways that motivation can be fostered are through engagement in meaningful activities or by keeping a personal journal.  Finally, adolescents take action which helps them get closer to their goals.  Some potential ways to do this are by participating in activities that are connected with the goals that were set, interacting with school and community members, and by reflecting on activities, which helps connect them with the larger goal.

Promoting the development of purpose development within a positive youth development framework is a growing area of research.  Stay tuned for upcoming interventions that the Pathways4Youth Lab is conducting about purpose in the future!  

Do Alternative Methods to Incarceration Exist?

By Anne Scheps

As I get deeper and deeper into my literature review examining the community’s role in effective reintegration of juvenile offenders, I have also been gaining much more insight into the experience of incarceration as a whole. Questions have been coming to me that I am desperately (and futilely) trying to find answers to. If the prison system is not working, if we have such a high recidivism rate, what can we do to keep society safe and rehabilitate criminals so that they stay out of facilities? How do we create a supportive, caring environment for juvenile delinquents that fosters the values we want them to bring back to society? Can there be an alternative to incarceration? What would that even look like? Through my research, I’m finding that there are no clear-cut answers. Every article, researcher, news cast, has its own opinion on the best way to handle crime. Watching a recent TedTalk about the neurogenesis in incarcerated adults has spurred my desire to write this blog post because it brings up what I think is the most important point we all need to remember when it comes to the prison mass industrial complex: change is possible. As Daniel Riesel mentions in his talk entitled “The neuroscience in restorative justice”, neurogenesis is happening constantly within all of our brains. Cells are dying and re-generating, meaning that in lay-man terms, even psychopaths who have committed horrible, horrible crimes can reinvent themselves and learn a new path to morality. What if we could apply this to less serious offenses?

As most of my work deals with juvenile offenders, I have developed a passion for impacting the way the justice system approaches the youth involved with it. If Riesel suggests that adults are malleable, are not juveniles even more so? If I were in charge of reforming specific policies within juvenile justice, I would focus on giving the kids positive role models, stable resources, and a sense of hope for the future. With the current system, they are surrounded by other offenders who only exaggerate and exacerbate their criminal activity. The youth learn destructive habits and form relationships with other youth who will only lead them down a worse path. Can we change this?

E-cigarettes on the rise, especially for teens

By Michelle Silver

A few weeks ago over spring break in southern California I was struck by a friend of a friend smoking an electric cigarette.  His smoke session topic of discussion was what he should call his new business, an e-cigarette shop located in San Diego.  Just looking around the street we were standing on I saw a couple of these smoke-less smoke shops, a sight that was rather unfamiliar to me living in Ann Arbor.  However, e-cigarettes are on the rise, especially among adolescents. Between 2011-2012 e-cigarette usage among 6th-12th graders increased  from 3.3-6.8%, with the total number of students having ever tried an e-cigarette by 2012 topping  1.78 million (CDC).

The e-cigarette argument is a loaded one; on one hand e-cigarettes provide past smokers with a safer way to continue the motions of smoking and maintain the nicotine fix with what are thought to be many less harmful effects.  However, e-cigarettes are becoming widely available with much more lenient regulations.  As a result, they are ending up in the hands of many middle and high school students.  Many long-term cigarette smokers reported starting their cigarette habit when they were young, so will these teens become life-long e-cigarette smokers?

Regulations of e-cigarettes are virtually non-existent and variable by state.  There are no requirements about package information about what ingredients are used (including low levels of carcinogens which have been found), and age restrictions are often not enforced.   Despite controversies about who should be able to buy them, where they can smoke them, and information about the e-cigarette being made available to the consumer, most people would agree that harmless or not, youth should not be smoking them.

Perhaps more efforts should be put towards marketing these devices for serious cigarette addicts instead of teens.  Flavors like gummy bear and cookies and cream are a deliberate attempt to market towards kids and teens, which I don’t find acceptable.   Among teens in the CDC 2011-2012 study, 7.2% claimed to be non-cigarette smokers, but e-smokers.  More efforts need to be put forth to make sure these devices are marketed to the people who may truly benefit from them, instead of kids and teens. Additionally, since the effects of e-cigarette smoking are not entirely understood, more preventive efforts should be taken, especially with the lives of younger people in mind, before the potentially harmful effects are irreversible.

For more general information visit: or information on new Michigan legislation regulating e-cigarettes visit:

You’ve Got 24 Hours…Go

By Michelle Silver

Neknominate is the latest drinking game that’s sweeping social media.  The goal is to outdo the person who nominated you in a drinking related challenge and then continue the chain by nominating a few other friends.  Participants have somebody record themselves completing the challenge and post it to various social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube.  Challenges range from chugging a beer as quickly as possible to downing two pints of straight liquor.  By completing alcohol related challenges in under a minute or two, the effect the alcohol has on the individual is delayed and exacerbated since it hits them all at once.  Most commonly individuals experience severely impaired judgment and an inability to recognize and react to danger, only after consumption is completed.  The “game,” which began in Australia, has swept across the world and is now quite popular in the U.S.  Not surprisingly, Neknominate has turned deadly and already claimed the lives of five young men in the U.K.

The question then becomes who should be held responsible for the deaths of the Neknominate victims.  Is it the fault of the victims for completing the challenge, the people who nominated them, or does the blame fall more on social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube that allow the posting of these videos?  Should schools and parents be held accountable for the lack of resilience young people exercise these days with regards to peer pressure? This complex question unfortunately has no simple answer, which is part of the reason why the game is still taking place.

The game, which I initially thought was out of reach for graduate students like myself, has now become a frequent piece of “news” that pops up on my own Facebook timeline.   Challenges have spread to people that I know and the worrisome thought of what I would do if I was “neknominated” has crossed my mind, since I am certainly not a supporter of the deadly game.   Despite the threat of being bullied and tormented on various forms of social media for not completing the challenge, I think what I would personally do is not acknowledge the nomination and ignore it as much as possible.  I do realize that this might not be easy or possible for everybody, which is why other people have tried faking the challenge with water if they are under pressure to complete the nomination even though they don’t want to.

One thing is for certain, that social media has taught us how quickly information and movements like Neknominate can become viral and spread all around the world.  In response to the game, two Toronto teens have shifted the nomination drinking game into a charity campaign.   Instead of nominating somebody to compete in a drinking challenge, you nominate somebody to “#feedthedeed” by spreading awareness about a charity organization of your choice.  This is a great example of how to flip a negative and deadly game into something positive.  Hopefully more people will respond to Neknominate challenges with #feedthedeed instead of putting their own lives and others in danger.

For more about Neknominate visit:


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.