Parenting During Challenging Times – questions answered

On October 11, the Rapid City Area Schools hosted a community forum titled, Parenting in Challenging Times. Our Speakers, Dr. Rich Lieberman and Dr. Scott Poland covered and array of topics on the most pressing issues impacting today’s youth. Below are list questions asked by those in attendance. They have been answered by our two experts.



Parenting During Challenging Times

Community Forum at WDTI

October 11, 2018


Questions From Parents:


What is the best verbal response to a student who mentions “I’m going to kill myself”, especially when you interpret the question as only a way for the student to get a reaction from an adult?  What follow-up actions should school personnel take?

We often hear from the adults, “Oh, she is just asking for attention”.  And we profoundly agree, she certainly is.  All school personnel are mandated to take action when a student talks about hurting themselves or others.


The best verbal response is an honest and caring response.  “You must be in a lot of pain but I am with you now and I will stay with you until we get some help.”


When a student says something, does something, writes or draws something that comes to the attention of school personnel, that staff member should supervise and escort the student immediately to the school counselor, psychologist, or social worker.  The school mental health professional will assess the student for suicide risk, inform the parent and provide resources such as community mental health agencies or other support services.


How dangerous is self-hair pulling?  How can this escalate into something worse now that my child started Middle School?  Counseling has not helped.  She does it secretly.

Your child may be suffering from what is clinically known as Trichotillomania (trik-o-til-o-MAY-nee-uh), also called hair-pulling disorder, which is a mental disorder that involves recurrent, irresistible urges to pull out hair from your scalp, eyebrows or other areas of the body, despite trying to stop.

Hair pulling from the scalp often leaves patchy bald spots, which causes significant distress and can interfere with social or work functioning. Young people with trichotillomania may go to great lengths to disguise the loss of hair like you mention.

For many young people with trichotillomania, hair pulling is a way of dealing with negative or uncomfortable feelings, such as stress, anxiety, tension, boredom, loneliness, fatigue or frustration.  Perhaps counseling didn’t seem to work because it was not the right therapy or because it was terminated too soon.  Some treatment options that have helped many people reduce their hair pulling or stop entirely:  Habit reversal training, cognitive behavioral therapy and medications.

Out of the 3.4 percent of South Dakota’s teenagers in the survey that received “medical attention”, how many attempted suicides after receiving such help?

That is a good question but because of confidentiality laws it would be difficult to collect such data.  What we do know is, those most likely to attempt are those who have attempted before and the six weeks that follow mental health hospitalization are high-risk days.  The recently discharged student should be monitored closely between home and school.  For this reason schools have established re-entry procedures for students returning from hospitalization that assure continuity of supervision, counseling and support.


In your opinion, is it a good idea to have books about “cutting” available to all kids in school libraries?

It depends, so what we would advise if a parent has a concern, is to have all such books reviewed by the school’s counselor, psychologist, or social worker before being included by the librarian.  There are also many excellent resources for students and for parents at:


A new Harvard Study shows that religiosity makes children more resistant to unhealthy behaviors such as drug and alcohol addiction, risky sexual behavior and depression.  Why do schools routinely ignore that fact and undermine and discourage religious beliefs?  Shouldn’t that change?

We do not actually agree that schools undermine and discourage religious beliefs.  As you point out, religiosity is a powerful protective factor for youth.  Both speakers tonight have participated on the National Emergency Assistance Team of the National Association of School Psychologists and they have responded to countless school shootings including Columbine and Red Lakes Reservation. Each time the school district crisis team collaborated with the faith based community in providing support after a horrific event.  As crisis responders, we are only interested in what “works” and for those who believe faith based counseling works, the research says it does.


What kind of treatment(s) would you suggest for an older teen (even biological child, 18-years old) showing signs of childhood trauma/detachment.

We believe the most appropriate therapy for a teenage student showing signs of trauma is a form of talk therapy known as Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy.  TF-CBT aims at addressing the needs of children and adults with post traumatic stress disorder and other difficulties related to traumatic life events.  A concerned parent should seek an immediate assessment if following a traumatic event some time ago; the child is still struggling with intrusive thoughts, hyper-vigilance/sleeplessness or avoidance behaviors.


Why are High School students allowed to have cell phones in classes during the school day?  I have observed distracted students on their cell phones:

  • Students snap-chatting during class
  • Students bullying during class
  • Students planning “skipping” during class
  • Students posting racial “crap” during class
  • Students cheating with their phones
  • , etc.

Indeed the cell phone can be most distracting to students.  Most districts have policies that allow students to carry cell phones (strongly advocated for by parents) but keep them stored and not allowed use in the classroom. At times the cell phone can actually augment a classroom lesson.  But if you have concerns, please check the student handbook and district webpage for the district policies and procedures.


In SD the mental health laws pertaining to juveniles has tried to “sugar coat” the language used.  “Serious Mental Illness” is no longer used in regard to minors.  Does it help a child to use non-specific terms about their condition?

We are not extensively familiar with the mental health laws pertaining to juveniles in South Dakota. It is always important to use developmentally appropriate language to explain to young people any psychiatric diagnoses that they have received. It is critically important to always refer to a young person as someone with a particular condition as that is only one of the many aspects of their personality and it should never be intended to presume that it affects all aspects of their life.



What is the best way to help kids deal with friends who’ve experienced suicide or attempted suicide?  What can they do or say to help friends through these situations?

If your child knew someone well who died by suicide, it’s very important for you to provide many opportunities for your child to talk with you about the loss. Please continually be assessing how your child is doing if they lost someone close to them to suicide. It may be very beneficial for your child to receive community based counseling.


Many children are placed a situation where their friend confides in them about their suicidal thoughts and plans. It is very important that parents prepare children for such situations and help them understand that suicide does not have to happen and it is not fate nor destiny. All children need to know the warning signs of suicide and the importance of getting adult help and utilizing crisis resources. It is our hope that if your child is ever in this position their response would be to their friend, that “I am here for you” and “there is help available” and it’s very important that we get adult help and immediately.


What is the best way to help kids deal with friends who’ve experienced suicide or attempted suicide?  What can they do or say to help friends through these situations?

There is some research on youth that indicates “kids are whom they hang out with” and this is always a concern to parents. We have talked with many parents over the years who wanted to forbid their child to hang out with certain friends. Parents often found this to be very frustrating strategy as their child increased their connections to the very friends that their parents did not want them to hang out with. Parents are encouraged to have confidence in their own child and to help them participate in a variety of activities and to have a wide range of friends and to know that sometimes there’s a particular phase that a child goes through and ultimately they will make better choices about who their friends are.


How can you get your teenagers to trust you enough to tell you the truth?

All parents want their children to trust them and whether or not this occurs and to what level often depends on a long history between parent and child. It is our hope that children always trust that their parents will be able to provide for them and will have their best interest at heart. To establish trust between a teen and their parents, it is important to provide stability and unconditional love in your home. It is also very helpful when children believe that parents are honest with them about issues that are going on in the home and with the family. Part of being a teen is striving for independence and parents are encouraged to find that shared time when their teen will truly talk to them and many teens have told us that they very much want their parents involved in their lives but would like parents to talk less and to listen more.


Which programs allow parents to monitor cell phone and Internet activity?  Is there an app that will allow parents to see where their kids are?

There are numerous apps that allow parents to monitor cell phone and Internet activity. Here are a few that we are familiar with:


Net Nanny



We recommend that at an early age when children are just beginning to have access to the Internet and a cell phone that parents develop a contract with their child and that their children know that technology usage is a privilege and not a right. Parents need to from the beginning know passwords and to regularly check all communication and all internet sites visited by their child. Very few children are paying for their own technology devices and usage. Parents have a right to know what is going on with regards to technology and their child.


What percent of bullies are clinically depressed?

Most of the research has focused on the link between being the victim of bullying and being depressed which is something that we stressed and in our parenting presentation. There is less research on the bully and often bullies are very calculating and get what they want and are rewarded and thus experience far less depression then those that they bully. There is a category called victim/perpetrator and that is the young person that is the victim of bullying in some situations but they are the perpetrator of bullying in other situations and they are at risk for being depressed. The relationship between bullying and suicide is not causal as it is impossible to rule out factors such as mental illness and adverse childhood experiences. It is important for all parents and school personnel to recognize that there is a strong association between being the victim of bullying and suicide. It is our recommendation that children who are known to be victims of bullying need to be asked about whether not they have thoughts of hopelessness and suicide.


Please give suggestions on how to help a 13-year old seventh grade male that is being bullied.

A student of any age who is the victim of bullying needs to be encouraged to let the adults that are in charge of that situation know about the victimization. Bullying occurs at school and in the community and even then the homes were children reside. The victim of the bullying should be assured that they do not deserve to be treated this way and that every step will be taken to stop the bullying. We have found it very helpful when a young person who is bullied finds their “niche” which is a place where they are treated well and an activity that helps them feel good about themselves. A few very positive experiences and interactions can go a long way to help the victims of bullying keep their self-concept high.


How can I help teach my socially awkward teenager make friends and build relationships?

Children vary a great deal in their comfort level and skills for interacting with other young people and with adults. Social skills are definitely something that can be taught and greatly improved. A socially awkward teenager would benefit greatly from social skills training provided at school or in the community. It is very important for children to observe their parents navigating many social situations. One suggestion is to carefully select social situations for your child and have your child anticipate those situations and role play them with you. We have often found that a socially awkward child who makes one good friend and is provided with many opportunities to interact positively with that one individual, has a greatly increased positive view of themselves.


Parents who are concerned about the well-being and safety of their child can contact 211 for resources, a school counselor or administrator, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800)273-TALK. The Crisis Text Line is also available from anywhere in the U.S. at 741741.