Welcome to MindScape
Raising a teenager today can be challenging, especially if they struggle with anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties, or general stress management. As school counselors, we collaborate with the mental health counselors in our School Based Health Center to better understand today's most pressing mental health issues your teen may be facing.
Parents, as a partner in your teen's development, we've created this MindScape blog just for you. We'll share our expertise and bring you mental health tips, relevant topics, and links to valuable resources that will help you navigate these teenage years with ease.
The MindScape Team
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How Are You Feeling?Posted by The MindScape Team on 11/15/2023
At any moment, you can scroll through social media and know exactly how someone is feeling just by the emoji that pops up on a post. Imagine how easy it would be to know exactly what your teen is feeling if an emoji popped up each time you engaged with them. Okay, we realize A LOT of emojis might pop up at once — happy, sad, content, anxious, excited, depressed, confident, embarrassed, proud, or disappointed, just to name a few — but there would be no mistaking their emotional state.
It is common for teenagers, like adults, to feel worried, stressed, or sad with the ups and downs of daily life, but opening up about their thoughts and feelings can be difficult. Many teens don’t have the social-emotional skills to express themselves or can’t find the words to describe their emotions. As adults, we know that talking about our feelings and sharing what we’re going through can often put things into perspective, but teens often don’t seek out help on their own and might need your encouragement to feel comfortable opening up.
If your teen vents about something that’s bothering them, teach them to “sit” with the experience, rather than remove the cause of emotional discomfort. Help them discover that they can handle discomfort and then move on. If you raise concerns with your teen and they don’t want to speak with you, suggest other trusted adults they could speak with. Sometimes it’s just easier for them to talk to someone else.
If you find your teen is persistently struggling with overwhelming emotions to the point that it interferes beyond their school day and daily life, you might wonder “How do I help my teen navigate this?” These situations can feel overwhelming and isolating. So, begin by reminding yourself that anxiety is a normal emotion. Everyone feels anxious at times. Then, consider speaking with your teen’s primary care provider. It’s an appropriate place to begin when seeking more support. Having another perspective can be helpful. Remind your teen that talking with their doctor or other health professionals is private and confidential unless they’re worried about themselves or someone else’s safety.
When it comes to your teen’s health and wellness, we have staff on campus who can help direct you toward appropriate and available services. Your teen has access to:
• School Counselors: In addition to supporting your teen’s personal and career goals, our school counselors offer brief social-emotional interventions to students and make referrals when supplemental support is needed. They also provide psychoeducation around mental health topics, such as anxiety and depression, to our entire student body.
• Adjustment Counselors: Our adjustment counselors provide one-on-one short-term, strength-based, and solution-focused support to referred students based on the severity and complexity of the individual’s needs. They also offer a variety of groups and programs for students who need more support.
• Riverside Clinicians: In affiliation with Milford Regional Medical Center, our on-campus School Based Health Center provides therapy to referred students during the school day. The clinicians can also help connect your teen with additional services like psychiatry through the Riverside Community Care Clinic.
• Cartwheel Care: We recently partnered with Cartwheel Care, a new telehealth mental health service available to students. Your teen can see a licensed clinician (usually one hour, once a week outside of school hours) within seven days of a referral. Services include assessments, therapy, medication, care coordination, and parent support.
The most important takeaway here is that you and your teen are not alone. Don’t hesitate to reach out directly for professional support. No matter how you or your teen are feeling, you don’t have to go through this alone; hope and help are available. To learn more about our mental health and wellness supports, visit www.valleytech.k12.ma.us/mentalhealthwellness.
What’s Your Game Plan?Posted by The MindScape Team on 8/2/2023
In the Game of Life, players must choose whether to begin a career or go to college. Of course, each path has clear advantages in the board game, but when it comes to helping your teen navigate their high school career choices and future career plans, they have more than two paths to consider.
You may find yourself asking them, “What’s your game plan?” With so many opportunities to ponder, the best option for your teen may not be so obvious to them. To help your teen weigh their career readiness options and formulate a post-secondary game plan, our school counselors and career enrichment teachers work collaboratively to encourage their career development, from our freshmen and sophomores exploring potential career paths and identifying character strengths to our juniors and seniors developing their Career Action Plan.
We’re dedicated to helping you, help your teen chart their course by fostering their vocational training, academic, and social-emotional well-being while promoting their individual talents and a curiosity for learning as they become career and life ready.
In Career Enrichment classes, your teen is introduced to various career pathways and encouraged to discover what interests them or, more importantly, what doesn’t. Students get schooled in Career Development, where they gain the knowledge, skills, and experience needed to navigate a myriad of career, college, and military options available for success after high school. The curriculum starts with the exploratory process and basic technology skills, financial literacy, career development, resume writing, and employability, and then advances to Co-op cover letters, resume refinement, mock-job interviews, and shop portfolio presentations. In addition, there is post-graduation career planning, professional networking and informational interviews, and personal budgeting for entry-level employment.
These positive career development experiences help your teen build transferable skills, provide context, motivation, and vision for their current and future academic work, and serve to increase school engagement, high school graduation rates, and post-secondary educational success.
To balance out the Career Enrichment curriculum, our school counselors help your teen build a course schedule that is challenging without being overwhelming while keeping their post-graduation plans on track. In the fall, school counselors present workshops to our juniors and seniors as they prepare to complete their Career Action Plan, which includes a helpful timeline and resources to consider while looking at these pathways: Workforce, College, and Military.
Your Plan of Action
Now that you understand the career development and planning process our students are offered, we encourage you to talk with your teen about their plans as we work together to help them chart their course and prepare them for their career.
Take a moment to check in and ask, “What is your game plan?” The answer will vary depending on the progress of your teen’s post-secondary planning. Be patient and listen to how they respond. Then ask some follow-up questions:
• Why do you want to work for that company, attend that college, or serve in the military?
• How will you achieve your career goals: by working, going to college, or enlisting?
• What job, program, or branch appeals to you?
• What are your long-term career and life goals?
• What credentials or experience do you need?
• What if your Plan A doesn’t work out? Do you have a Plan B?
Allowing your teen the space to think, reflect, and answer these questions is a helpful way for them to consider how their career interests could play out across all available avenues. With many career opportunities within many industries, we encourage our students to think about the bigger picture. From Co-op placement (end of junior/early senior year) to thinking about working part-time/full-time trade work or attending a community college, there are many exciting ways to put their career game plan into action.
Check out our Career Planning Checklist to help you and your teen think about and discuss where they want to go with their career and how they might get there.
Press On!Posted by The MindScape Team on 2/15/2023
Let’s agree on one thing; parenting is REALLY hard some days. Whether we’ve chosen to raise our teens as our parents raised us, or we’ve taken a “different” approach, like our parents before us, we must remember our teenagers are growing up in a different world than we did.
Sure, the same issues, such as peer pressure, academic expectations, and trying to fit in, can be A LOT for our teens to handle while navigating this rapidly changing world. For some, the lows are temporary, but for others, the lows are ongoing and more serious, which may be a sign of depression. Depression can interfere with relationships, the ability to attend school, and complete schoolwork, which over time, can manifest internally and impact all aspects of one’s life.
When it comes to teens, it isn’t always easy to differentiate between normal growing pains and depression. To help you recognize some of the signs of depression, we’ve composed a list and some helpful strategies to help lower your teen’s stress, find their footing, and build confidence.
Lack of Interest
As parents, we might wonder if a lack of interest in a previously enjoyed activity (like sports or hobbies) is a typical teenage response to growing up or if their loss of interest and lack of motivation is a sign of something more serious. I don’t want to pry, but I want to know more. Should I encourage my teen to stay involved or push them to try something new altogether?
Strategy: Give your teen a little space, but monitor the situation. Find moments to check in and listen to how they are feeling. It may take a few attempts, but an open, honest conversation shows them you care and can make all the difference. Make it a routine, and pick a time to check in each week.
Fatigue & Sleep Problems
Part of the reason teens stop doing what they enjoy is that they’re tired from a lack of sleep. When they were younger, you likely established a routine for them. Now they’re setting their own routine, getting home late from sports and activities before they eat, do their homework, and go to sleep. Or they may be up early in the morning trying to complete their schoolwork. As a result, they may feel overwhelmed and fatigued. But if your teen has these feelings and is sleeping to avoid the day and escape their responsibilities, this is a common sign of depression, not a lack of sleep.
Strategy: Make time to connect with them, and as a family, practice self-care by establishing an after school/work and sleep routine that supports everyone’s changing schedules. Monitor your teen’s extracurricular activities and make suggestions to cut back when they seem to be over committed.
Typically, teens want to have friends and connect with other like-minded individuals who understand and appreciate them. But when they withdraw from the people they enjoy being with, it is a red flag and a common sign of depression.
Strategy: You want to know why your teen is withdrawing. Did something happen? Is there a shift in their friend group? Or are they pulling away only to gravitate to new people? Keep the lines of communication open, even if your teen withdraws. Talk with them about how they’re feeling and help them understand why it’s important to keep peer relationships open and why you are concerned.
It’s typical for teens to have mood swings, an outburst of anger one minute and seeming happy and cheerful the next. If you notice these shifts without a precedent event, and a decreased mood for an extended period of time, there may be more going on. If their mood is persistently negative or they seem emotionally overwhelmed, you want to know if their mood is appropriate or if this is a sign of something more significant at play for your teen.
Strategy: Avoid telling them what to do. Instead, listen closely and try to help them navigate their feelings. You may discover more about the issues causing their shifting emotions by lending an ear and offering support. You do not need to fix how they are feeling, but let them know you are there for them.
Recognizing the signs of depression is vital to getting your teen the right help. If you notice any of these signs, please contact your teen’s counselor or primary care physician. Talking with someone who can help your teen realize that “the current situation is not the final destination” will help them Press On!
Be Bold, Be Brave...Posted by The MindScape Team on 11/14/2022
What does it mean to be bold, to be brave? The answer can be found in Principal Steele’s welcome speech on the first day of Freshmen Orientation. In this long-standing tradition, he invites the freshmen into our unique community with its strong sense of belonging and a culture of pride, passion, and professionalism. Like a playbook, he sets the tone for their next four years. He challenges them to leave behind the childish ways of grade school, take responsibility for their actions, and most importantly, be respectful of others and our school.
Last year, as students transitioned back to in-person learning, there was a dramatic shift in the energy on campus. We noticed the younger students were struggling to embody the expectations of our school culture. There was an uptick in peer conflicts, social media bullying, and vandalizing bathrooms. It was eye-opening when not only our staff noticed this shift, but also the upperclassmen. They were baffled at the behaviors they witnessed and wanted to work together with the administration to find solutions that would teach the younger students what it means to be a BVT Beaver.
One can always point to the pandemic as playing a major role in magnifying the stress and anxiety among adolescents today, but it was not the sole cause of these types of behaviors. A likely attribute is the pressure of growing up in today’s technology-driven world and the never-ending allure of social media. Teens, and adults alike, are drawn in, unable to truly hit the “off” button, and step away. We knew our students were excelling in their vocational and academic pursuits, but there was another piece to the puzzle. We needed to take their education one step further and explicitly teach them how to foster respect for themselves and others. These types of skills fall under the umbrella of social-emotional learning and character development.
In true BVT fashion, we jumped into action, researched existing curriculums, and ultimately chose a program called Character Strong. This research-based, social-emotional learning and character education curriculum was the most natural fit for our students. The juniors played a vital role in working with the freshmen during shop as they adjusted to our campus culture. We couldn’t have been more excited to collaborate with our student mentors to help them educate and inspire our freshmen.
What Does It Mean to Be Character Strong?
The Character Strong program is aligned with the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning standards. The lessons are fun, interactive ways to build a strong school community, help our students develop positive relationships with their peers, increase a sense of belonging, and improve self-awareness. As we prepare our students to be career, college, and life ready, this program will continue to enhance that effort by encouraging our students to practice everyday skills that will support their future endeavors.
Character Strong in Action!
There was a buzz around campus on September 22nd as students hurried through the halls looking for their assigned classrooms. With a bit of nervousness and excitement, students found themselves randomly grouped with peers in their grade, along with one academic teacher and one vocational instructor.
The new gathering served as an exercise in dealing with discomfort in a safe setting while building comradery within the group who were sharing the same experience. In our fast-paced culture of constantly connecting through technology, it is easy to get stuck in a routine, foster the same connections, and be on autopilot throughout one’s day. This break in routine provided a unique experience for our students and teachers, who brought their unique style of engagement to the learning setting.
In the first lesson, students were introduced to the curriculum and how they would benefit from the experience. The setting allowed students and teachers an opportunity to learn about each other. Some students were nervous, some reluctant, and some jumped right in and met the challenge to be bold, be brave, and shared their stories with the group:
“I liked being able to share my thoughts with students in my grade I haven’t met before.”
“It was kinda awkward at first, but I think that’s how all things are at the beginning.”
“It was pretty cool!”
Our staff also said they enjoyed the curriculum, meeting new students, and how authentically they showed up. Some even asked for more time with our students in this casual environment, creating genuine conversation and connection.
Consecutive lessons will focus on topics such as empathy, leadership, and wellness. As our students and staff embrace the experience and share more of their insights and stories, it is our hope that they encourage each other to take a leap and Be Bold, Be Brave, Be Beavers, as we navigate this new journey together!
Building WellnessPosted by The MindScape Team on 8/3/2022
Adolescence is when children tend to start exercising their independence from their parents, and parents tend to grant their teen more autonomy to make decisions. Research suggests that teens don’t always make the best choices when it comes to healthy habits. Like many things in life, the path to wellness is not accomplished in one big leap. There are, however, several small steps adolescents can take every day to balance their physical and mental health. When your teen’s mental health seems unbalanced, it’s time to revisit the basic three tenets of wellness; sleep, nutrition, and exercise. These building blocks influence each other and directly impact a teens well-being.
Get Your ZZZZs: Doctors recommend that adolescents sleep 9– to 9½–hours per night to be at their best. However, research shows that most teens get somewhere between 7– to 7¼–hours per night, leaving them in a deficit zone. When teens don’t get enough sleep, they often struggle to wake up, can be irritable or moody, and have trouble concentrating during the school day. Educate your teen on the importance of sufficient sleep and help them understand that endlessly scrolling on their phones is not a healthy way to fall asleep. Share with them some mindfulness apps like Sleep Cycle, SleepScore, or SleepWatch, which contain sleep segments. Help them understand that sleep is one of the most important building blocks to their health and well-being.
Good Eats: Eating healthy is another important step in the wellness journey and goes hand in hand with healthy sleep. Does your teen skip breakfast? Do they avoid planning meals and make poor food choices? Do they skip lunch and eat when they get home? Teens can be guilty of all these unhealthy eating habits. Studies show that to keep our brain and body in peak performance, we need the right combination of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. When teens skip meals, or make poor food choices, they are prone to mood swings, irritability, and have difficulty focusing. It’s time to educate your teens on the importances of nutrition and help them work healthy eating patterns into their day.
Get Up & Go: The final wellness building block is exercise. Physical activity is associated with a wide range of benefits, including improved mental health. Exercise releases endorphins and serotonin, which are the “feel-good” chemicals that help improve our state of mind and reduce anxiety, stress, and depression. Talk to your teen about their exercise habits and encourage them to get outside and move, join one of our sports teams or a local gym, take a yoga class, or work with our athletic trainer and use the fitness room after school. Better yet, join your teen on their exercise journey. It’s a great way to spend quality time together while modeling a healthy lifestyle. Encouraging your teen to incorporate healthy habits into their daily lives empowers them and gives them a strong foundation for adulthood.
Achieving IndependencePosted by The MindScape Team on 2/16/2022
Parenting a teenager is complex and in some ways, more challenging than ever. Today’s teens are constantly connected to their peers via cellphones and social media platforms and often have trouble disconnecting and being present. Parents, you have a tough role of managing the balancing act of caregiver vs. disciplinarian. Some days your teen is great, and other days, you may experience this:
Your teenager comes home from school, grunts a hello to you (if you’re lucky), and immediately goes up to their bedroom. You may see them only when they emerge to find some food or use the bathroom. Or maybe you do see them, but only to argue, be yelled at, or have a door slammed in your face.
You may find yourself feeling resentful when the effort and love you give your teen is not reciprocated. Here is some good news, child development studies show us that many of these behaviors are normal and even healthy. When a child reaches adolescence, they start to experience an increased desire to “individuate,” meaning they want to separate themselves from their parents and learn how to become independent. They want to make their own plans and decisions, spend money on what they choose, and hang out with new and different peers.
You may notice your teen behaving in new ways, such as not completing their homework, breaking curfew, or trying a new wardrobe style. They are essentially practicing to be adults but still need your guidance. The road to adulthood can be rocky and often painful. Teen’s communication and problem-solving skills are not fully developed. They can be overconfident in their abilities and push away the people closest to them, like immediate family members, even when in need of connection. In attempts to individuate, teens innately desire to connect with their peers. As a result, they may have trouble disconnecting from social media such as Snapchat, Instagram, and Tiktok because online platforms are a part of building and maintaining those peer connections.
Parents often bear the brunt of a teen’s attempts to develop the skills to be a responsible, independent, well-rounded member of society. Why are you the target? Because teenagers expect that their parents will still be there for them no matter how poorly they behave. So, how can you help your teen become more independent while still maintaining your sanity? Here are a few ideas:
Stay Connected: Offer an opportunity to connect, even if you are sure they will reject your idea. This shows them that you care and that you will be there for them, no matter how many times they try to push you away. If you can, give them advance notice, such as inviting them on a walk the following day.
Encourage Independence: Allow your teen to explore their independence. Remember that this is a natural process and a learning experience for them. As long as they are safe in doing so, let them try new things. If they have support around their healthy endeavors, they are more likely to talk to you before getting involved in situations that are less healthy.
Active Listening: If they talk to you, give them your full attention and when asked for advice, ask them what THEY think might be a reasonable solution. Praise good ideas when they have them!
Recognizing Consequences: While you want your teen to grow, there will be times when they make poor decisions. Part of parenting a teen is teaching them to recognize that their choices have consequences. As their parent and caregiver, it’s up to you to put fair, proportional consequences in place.
Parenting a teenager is stressful. You’ll make mistakes, just like your teen, but it can be rewarding. One day, they just may thank you for sticking with them, even when they made it so difficult for you.
Be the CalmPosted by The MindScape Team on 11/17/2021
We know adolescents thrive on routine and predictability. Unfortunately, during the pandemic, our world has been anything but predictable. As parents, you have probably seen some fallout from the many unknowns that your teen has been going through. But in the process, they have learned to expect the unexpected, pivot, and can change their course of action at a moment’s notice. Hopefully, you’ve seen their resiliency too.
Being back at school feels different this year. There is always some anxiety as students adjust to returning to BVT. Our freshmen are learning to navigate exploratory and a new school, while our sophomores are experiencing the true culture and norms of BVT for the first time. Due to COVID, our upperclassmen are now looked upon as leaders without having the traditional underclassmen experience. It all makes you need to take a DEEP BREATH! Ahhh...
As parents, it is essential to remember that anxiety is a normal and important emotion. Feeling anxious is our brain’s way of protecting and keeping us safe while motivating us to pay close attention to worrisome situations. Anxiety itself is not a bad thing. It is one of many emotions we must learn to live with, investigate, and be curious about. But as we know, too much of anything creates an imbalance. When anxiety interferes with daily life, you may see your teen struggling, and they might not know how to tell you what’s bothering them.
You may hear your teen express:
• My stomach hurts
• I have a headache
• I don’t want to go to school
• I have no friends
• I can’t sleep
• I feel sad
• I feel angry
• I want to be with you
When you see these signs, it’s okay to name the feelings for your teen. But try to remain calm as teens learn how to regulate their emotions from the adults in their lives. This dialogue is an opportunity to remind your teen that they are safe and it will be okay. Helping your teen navigate anxiety and its challenges are the building blocks for a resilient adult. Students who persevere through difficulty will discover newfound confidence and the ability to tackle future problems. Although anxiety is uncomfortable, think of it as a wave; the emotion builds, crashes, and always retreats.
We will work together to support your teen as they navigate their high school years. Whether it’s adjusting to BVT as a new student, trying out for a sports team, or getting up the courage to join a club, we’re here to provide your teen the tools to tackle the unpredictability and exciting road ahead.
5 Tips to Help Students Return to In-Person LearningPosted by The MindScape Team on 4/2/2021
With months of distance learning under our students' belts, many parents (and their children) have concerns about what it's going to feel and look like to return to in-person learning. To ease the transition, we created these five tips to help your child feel safe, connected, and prepared when they return to school:
1. Re-Establish Routines
Make sure that your teenager gets enough sleep and has enough time to get ready for school in the mornings. Our morning announcements start at 7:45 a.m., and the first class of the day begins at 7:55 a.m.
2. Rebuild Connections & Relationships
Help your teen identify teachers, counselors, or other staff members they can talk to when things get difficult. Remember, you can log into iPass, which opens new avenues of information and communication between parents, teachers, students, and counselors.
3. Remain Calm & Positive
Teenagers take their cues from you. If you need help, don't be afraid to reach out to us.
4. Identify & Validate Concerns
One of the most important things you can do is ASK your teen how they feel and what challenges they may be encountering. Let them know their feelings are valid and speak to them with kindness and compassion.
5. Focus on Coping & Problem-Solving Skills
Work together with your teen to identify what will help them get through each day. These can be simple techniques you can share with your child: carrying a calming stone in their pocket, deep breathing, and reaching out to a trusted adult.
Change is challenging for everyone. As mental health counselors, we are here to help you and your child bridge the gap as we continue to shift from distance learning to in-person learning. Together, let’s do our best to make this a positive transition.