All Posts Tagged: delray beach

How Does Virtual Reality Therapy Help School Anxiety?

The start of a new school year is just around the corner. While many children are happy about heading back to the classroom and seeing their friends again, for some kids, a new school year embodies fear and school anxiety. But, what if your child could go into their classroom in a non-threatening way, interact with a new teacher and classmates, and learn effective methods for coping with the anxiety-inducing situations they dread in school? With virtual reality therapy, they can do just that.

This innovative treatment is emerging as a high-tech solution that lets kids challenge their fears in a safe, realistic environment, but in a way that gives them control. VR therapy can be used across age groups and can be adjusted to the child’s developmental age as they mature.

Additionally, this therapy can be tailored to vary the complexity of school phobia scenarios. For example, one child might be apprehensive about taking exams, while another dreads interaction with their peers. Both can be helped with virtual reality therapy, which is a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and in-vivo exposure therapy, but with a state of the art twist.

For example, if your child has a high level of test anxiety, as studies indicate anywhere from 15% to 25% of students do, virtual reality therapy will allow them to mimic test taking in a non- or less stressful environment (just like in-vivo exposure does) in order to overcome their negative thought patterns (“I always fail tests.”) through cognitive behavioral therapy. In a test-taking scenario, the virtual reality simulated distractions and stresses of taking exams would be minimal to start with, and then slowly be increased as the child learns to process and adjust to them. At the end of the therapy, the child will be able to face an exam with reduced or minimal fear.

What Happens During Virtual Reality Therapy?

Because most kids relate so well to video games, virtual reality exposure therapy seamlessly integrates treatment with real-world interface. It helps children retrain their brain so they have a defense against problems like meeting a new peer or being bullied, which makes them feel more comfortable about situations at school. VR therapy has also been successful in teaching or improving social cognitive skills and emotion recognition in high-functioning autistic children.

When kids go through VR therapy, they first learn coping skills to help them stay calm under a stressful circumstance. Once they are comfortable with these strategies, they continue on to virtual reality therapy, where they view computer-generated environments and use an avatar to experience interactions with adults and other kids.

As you can see in this Today Show video, the teens have the freedom to pause or review and repeat their avatar’s interaction with others inside the setting until they feel confident about the situation. A therapist listens in on the virtual reality session and offers feedback and coaching to help the child navigate the difficulties that have created their school refusal.

Studies have shown that virtual reality therapy actually “rewires” the brain so that the areas relating to sociability and attention are heightened. This leads to increased awareness and understanding of social cues, enhanced perception of the give and take in conversations, and more control when faced with real-life school issues. In studies done after kids have gone through virtual reality exposure therapy, scans have shown that the regions in the brain associated with social skills and those sections that exchange information during social interactions are heightened.

This interactive and visually stimulating approach to treating school anxiety delivers a dynamic platform that can simulate an unlimited number of phobia situations. By targeting a child’s specific fears, it provides meaningful close-to-life scenarios with immediate feedback, which greatly enhances the child’s ability to cope under stress.

Did You Know?

Our Children’s Center focuses specifically on offering a variety of clinical, therapeutic, educational and supportive services to children ages two through twenty two in a warm and welcoming environment.

For more information about how our child psychologist team can use virtual reality therapy for your child’s school refusal, contact the Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at (561) 223-6568.

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Sexual Abuse by Teachers is on the Rise

Lately, it seems like it has become common to see news stories involving the arrest of teachers who are being charged with sexual abuse and misconduct involving their students, some of whom are as young as 11 years old. Schools are expected to be a safe environment for children, but these arrests make people realize kids aren’t as safe as we’d like them to be when we send them off to school.

Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct & Exploitation (SESAME) is an organization that describes itself as a national voice for prevention of abuse by educators and other school employees. It has compiled alarming statistics on the incidences of sexual abuse in schools nationwide, reporting that just under 500 educators were arrested in 2015 (2016 statistics were unavailable as of this writing):

  • Of children in 8th through 11th grade, about 3.5 million students (nearly 7%) surveyed reported having had physical sexual contact from an adult (most often a teacher or coach). The type of physical contact ranged from unwanted touching of their body, all the way up to sexual intercourse.
  • This statistic increases to about 4.5 million children (10%) when it takes other types of sexual misconduct into consideration, such as being shown pornography or being subjected to sexually explicit language or exhibitionism.
  • Very often, other teachers “thought there might be something going on”, but were afraid to report a fellow educator if they were wrong. They didn’t want to be responsible for “ruining a person’s life,” although that is exactly what they are doing to the child if they don’t speak up, thus allowing the abuse to continue.

Reasons for the Increase in Sexual Misconduct

So, why are we suddenly seeing a rise in the number of cases of sexual misconduct and teacher/student relationships? It may be partially due to more transparency as schools seek to report what they formerly kept hidden and tried to deal with on their own. More than likely, however, the upward trend is due to the use of social media and cell phones.

The Washington Post ran a story in 2015 that related how about 80% of children age 12 – 17 had a cell phone and 94% had a Facebook account that year. In 2014, The Post says about 35% of the educators convicted or accused of sexual misconduct had used social media to gain access to their victims or to continue the teacher – student relationship.

Today’s technology makes it easy for predators to discreetly prey on children. Students usually have their phones with them at all times, which allows the perpetrator free and unmonitored access to the child. Even children without cell phones can be targeted through their laptop, tablet, or personal computer.

  • The Department of Justice notes that about 15% of children in the 12 – 17 age group who own a cell phone have received nude, semi-nude, or sexually suggestive images of someone they know via text.
  • 11% of teenagers and young adults say they have shared naked pictures of themselves online or via text message. Of those, 26% are trusting enough to think the person to whom they sent the nude pictures wouldn’t share them with anyone else.
  • About 26% of teenagers and young adults say they have participated in sexting.

Signs of Sexual Abuse by Teachers

If you are concerned your child might be being sexually abused, there are warning signs you can look for. Keep in mind that the presence of one sign doesn’t necessarily mean your child is in danger, but seeing several signs should alert you to the need to ask questions.

In general:

  • Unexplained nightmares or sleep problems
  • Refusal to eat, loss of appetite, or trouble swallowing
  • Sudden mood swings, insecurity, or withdrawal
  • A new or unusual fear of a certain person or place
  • Exhibits knowledge of adult sexual behaviors and language
  • Draws, writes, dreams, or talks about frightening images or sexual acts
  • Thinks of themselves or their body as “bad” or “dirty”
  • Not wanting to be hugged or touched

In teens or adolescents:

  • Running away from home
  • Drug or alcohol abuse or may be sexually promiscuous
  • Either stops caring about bodily appearance or compulsively eats or diets obsessively
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Attempting suicide

What to do if You Suspect Sexual Misconduct by an Educator

If your child tells you about being abused or if you suspect it, your reaction is very important.

  • Don’t overreact and don’t criticize or blame the child
  • Don’t demand details
  • Don’t downplay their disclosure because you’re trying to minimize their feelings (or yours)
  • Do listen calmly and keep in mind that children seldom lie about sexual abuse
  • Do assure the child it is not their fault
  • If necessary, seek appropriate medical care for the child
  • Notify local law enforcement, as well as the appropriate child services organizations. You can call ChildHelp: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) or RAINN, the national sexual assault hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

A Child Psychologist at our Children’s Center Can Help

Child victims of sexual misconduct often experience anxiety and/or depression, as well as feelings of guilt and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For this reason, consider making an appointment for your child to speak with a mental health professional who is experienced in dealing with child sexual abuse victims.

Psychotherapy can help them find a safe place to share their feelings and allows them to talk through things they might not want to tell a parent or family member. It will help the child learn coping strategies so they can deal with the emotions surrounding their exploitation. Therapy will also teach them how to better manage the stress of the situation.

For more information about how our child psychologist can help, contact the Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at (561) 223-6568.

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Sleep Away Camp and Separation Anxiety – Tips from a South Florida Child Psychologist

Summer is here and sleep away camp is just around the corner for many children. Some kids look forward to seeing friends from last year and are eager to take a break from their parents and siblings. Others dream about the adventures to come. Still more think about the new friends they’ll make and the independence they’ll get to experience. But the idea of being away from home can also bring up anxiety in children, as well as homesickness and depression. With that in mind, our child psychologist has some tips to help hold off or reduce your child’s summer camp separation anxiety.

Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Children

It’s a good idea to listen to your child’s concerns before they ever leave home – whether they are heading off for sleep away camp or not. It’s not unusual for a child to go through day camp separation anxiety when they attend a local summer program, even if they will be home every night.

Children with separation anxiety might have physical symptoms, such as:

  • Stomach aches, upset stomach, vomiting, or nausea
  • Trembling
  • Feeling faint or lightheaded and dizzy
  • Having headaches
  • Difficulty sleeping, having nightmares, or being afraid of the dark

Additionally, your child’s summer program separation anxiety might show up in the form of:

  • Being very reluctant to go to the camp
  • Crying or being overly clingy or whiny
  • Worrying excessively about possible harm coming to them or to you (or to another family member) while they are away at their summer program
  • Needing to keep a parent or caregiver in their sight at all times
  • Acting distressed when they can’t be with their caregiver or parent
  • Becoming physically ill if they are separated from their loved ones
  • Avoiding activities or refusing to participate in events that will take them away from their parents or caregivers even briefly
  • Being afraid to be in a room by themselves

How to Help with Summer Camp Homesickness

Our child psychologist recommends the following steps to help reduce or eliminate depression and homesickness in kids who are attending day camps or leaving home for a sleep away camp:

  • Let your child know that it’s okay to be worried, particularly if this is the first time they will be going to an overnight camp. Also let them know that about 90 percent of summer camp children feel anxiety and homesickness on at least one day of camp.
  • Help your child practice being away from home by letting them spend a night or two with a friend or a relative before they leave for their summer program.
  • Talk positively about the new friends they will make and the fun adventures they’ll have. Also – and this should go without saying – do not tell your child about any negative summer camp experiences you might have had! There’s no need to add to their anxiety.
  • Help your child choose something comforting to take with them to camp. For example, they can pack a family picture or a favorite book or toy to give them a familiar “anchor” to home.
  • Remind them of the successful outcomes they’ve had and the fun things they’ve enjoyed when they’ve been fearful of new experiences in the past.
  • Give your child lots of extra attention in the days before they leave for their summer program or day camp.
  • Send your child to camp with stamped and pre-addressed envelopes and paper so they can write to you. You might even go as far as printing out a calendar for your child so they can mark off days and see how fast the time is going.
  • Discuss your child’s fears with the camp administrators so they are aware of your child’s concerns and so you know what their plan is for dealing with homesick children.
  • It’s best NOT to reassure your child that you’ll come get them if they are too upset. Most kids get over their anxiety after a day or two once they get into the routine of the summer camp.
  • When you drop them off for camp, don’t drag out your good-byes. Make it brief and leave before your child gets too worked up about your departure.

Keep in mind, your child’s separation anxiety may still continue no matter what you do. In these cases, it is best to seek the help of a child psychologist. These professionals can help your child identify and change their anxious thoughts. Through role-playing and modeling of positive behaviors, your child will learn coping strategies to lessen their fearful response to their approaching sleep away camp experience.

Connect with a Child Psychologist at our Children’s Center

For more information about how a child psychologist can help with your child’s separation anxiety at sleep away camp, contact the Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at (561) 223-6568.

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Suicidal Ideation – Does the 13 Reasons Why Series Influence Teen Suicide?

As a parent, are you aware that Netflix recently launched a new teen drama series based on the young adult novel, 13 Reasons Why, by Jay Asher? In the series, the main character, Hannah Murphy, commits suicide after experiencing a lethal combination of bullying by her peers, an incidence of stalking by a classmate, and the petty cruelty that can make life in high school a hell on Earth. The teen records a series of cassette tapes (these are her 13 reasons) which detail her motives for choosing suicide. On the day of her death, she mails the tapes to the thirteen classmates who influenced her suicide, in the hope they will listen to them and understand how their actions can affect others. While the Netflix series may open the door to frank discussion on several topics between the teens who watch it and their parents (suicide, bullying, stalking, rape, sex, and depression are addressed in the drama), there is concern that the show amounts to suicidal ideation by over-glamorizing suicide. And, because the drama is popular with teens, there are fears that it will increase the risk of vulnerable adolescents taking their own lives.

Furthermore, much younger children have access to this show, as well as to additional overwhelmingly adult-themed programs on Netflix and other online and streaming services. Because of the content of some shows like 13 Reasons Why, it is critical that caretakers use parental controls to block and prevent their children’s access to programming that is above the child’s content level.

Does Suicidal Ideation Raise Suicide Risk?

Across the country, many school districts have sent warnings to parents about the hit series, especially now that the drama has been renewed for a second season. In Colorado, where seven teens in one small locality have committed suicide since the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year, the Douglas County School District temporarily removed all copies of 13 Reasons Why from its library shelves until it had a chance to review the content of the Jay Asher book.

Did they go too far? While we know that suicide is the second leading cause of death in teens, do we really know that books, movies, or television shows increase the risk of a certain behavior in impressionable teens? Is it possible that media coverage can spread “behavioral contagion,” which is defined as the situation in which the same behavior spreads quickly and spontaneously through a group?

The answer is unquestionably “yes,” according to Madelyn S. Gould, Ph.D., a psychiatrist at Columbia University. She states, “The magnitude of the increase [in the number of suicides] is proportional to the amount, duration, and prominence of media coverage. We know from a number of studies that the celebrity status of a suicide victim increases the impact of the suicide.”

In her abstract on the subject, Dr. Gould cites a study relating to suicidal ideation (Martin, G. 1996. The influence of television in a normal adolescent population. Arch. Suicide Res. 2: 103–117.) in which “students reporting frequent exposure to television suicide reported more suicide attempts.” This means that the glorification of a person’s death can present a compelling case for choosing death to a person who is already actively considering it. Add to that the feeling of being alone in their pain and the rapid sharing of condemnation and bullying via social media and, like Hannah in 13 Reasons Why, it’s possible a depressed teen might be pushed over the edge.

Suicide Warning Signs

Just as with an adult, adolescents who are considering teen suicide generally show unmistakable warning signs. In fact, four out of five teens who attempt to take their life give signals about their intent before their attempt.

These suicide warning signs can be:

  • Feeling down or depressed for more than a week or two
  • Sharing feelings of worthlessness, self-contempt, or of being hopeless and unsure of ever being happy again
  • Making jokes about dying or about suicide
  • Giving away possessions they formerly cared about deeply, such as favorite clothes or  mementos
  • Losing interest in activities or relationships they used to enjoy
  • Talking a lot about the suicide of someone important
  • Isolating themselves
  • May have insomnia or may over-sleep, may be lethargic
  • May exhibit extreme mood swings or have violent outbursts of grief or anger
  • May have had a significant recent loss (for example: they may have lost a close family member, been diagnosed with an serious illness, may have lost their freedom or security in some way)
  • Indulging in high-risk behavior, especially if this is not characteristic of the person
  • An increase in drug or alcohol use

Your teen needs to know you care about them and are taking them seriously. If your adolescent or teen exhibits some of these behaviors and you are concerned, either ask your child directly or have someone they trust ask them if they are considering suicide. It is okay to say the word “suicide” – simply using the word will not increase the chances of them acting on the idea.

If they are considering suicide, show empathy for their feelings and refrain from judging them. Enlist the aid of a mental health professional such as those at our Children’s Center, your child’s pediatrician, or a suicide crisis hotline. The crisis hotline is especially critical if your child is in imminent danger of attempting suicide.

Never leave your child alone if they are threatening suicide. If you believe your child is in immediate danger, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) in the United States.

Teen Depression? Our Children’s Center Can Help

If your child is showing signs of teen depression, don’t wait! Contact the experts at our child-focused Children’s Center for help. To reach the Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida, call us today at (561) 223-6568.

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