Behaviors of youth

Sixth, eighth and 11th grade students in N'West Iowa participated in the Iowa Youth Survey and produced some concerning results. 

REGIONAL—Parents should talk to their children and monitor their screen activity, which might be one of the best ways to respond to the results of the latest Iowa Youth Survey.

The survey highlighted a trend across the state that indicated an increase in suicidal inclinations among youth and that trend also is present in N’West Iowa.

Some local experts say parents need to talk to their children without the distraction of electronics. Talking to children and spending time with them might prevent or quell those suicidal inclinations.

The Iowa Youth Survey is given to students in sixth, eighth and 11th grades in all school districts every year. The survey is conducted by the Iowa Department of Public Health, Department of Education, Department of Human Services, Office of Drug Control Policy and the Division of Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning in the Department of Human Rights.

The survey reflects the be­­haviors of youth in Iowa — what they are doing for exercise, if drugs are a part of their life, if they have violent thoughts, etc. The 2018 survey was the 17th one conducted. The information is intended to assist the identification of youth development needs.

Dr. Dayton Vogel, a mental health counselor at the Creative Living Center in Rock Valley said he does not think enough youth would lie to skew the results.

“There might be some, but I think enough kids would give answers directly and honestly,” Vogel said.

‘Considering suicide’

Sioux Center School District superintendent Gary McEldowney said he always looks through the results of the Iowa Youth Survey.

He said the district is focusing on professional development for staff in connection with mental health. The district has added school counselors to all of the building levels and is working with providers to come to the campus to assist students.

Even though some of the results of the survey are not encouraging, McEldowney said many positives which provide affirmations to school staff.

“Mental health is an ongoing and increasing concern for us in schools as well as in our society,” McEldowney said. “Finding help for those in need and being aware of the challenges and struggles that many are facing are paramount. Ask questions. Ask for help. Asking is not weakness. Connect with others. Schools, families and communities need to be more connected now more than ever. Work together to find resources.”

Dori Wallenburg, clinical director of Family Solutions Services in Orange City, is concerned but not surprised at results of the Iowa Youth Survey. She said the Iowa Youth Survey results are an accurate representation of today’s youth in the area.

Wallenburg sees children and adolescents on a regular basis in her counseling role at Family Solutions Services. She said her patients have become “snarky,” have skewed perspectives on their worth and do not feel understood.

“I have heard far too many kids for far too long who have too much stuff and not enough love,” Wallenburg said. “People would be appalled to know how many kids are actively considering suicide.”

When the survey was ad­­ministered in late 2018, students in the three grades were presented with 212 questions. Some of the answers on some of the questions allowed students to skip. For example, if a student indicated he or she had never drank alcohol, the following four questions pertaining to alcohol did need to be answered.

Countywide results to each question are available and are broken down by gender and grade.

For example in Osceola County, 45 percent of 11th-grade females and 36 percent eighth-grade females have seriously thought about killing themselves; 35 percent of O’Brien County eighth-grade females and 11th-grade females have had those thoughts along with 28 percent of Sioux County 11th-grade females and 24 percent eighth-grade females.

Twenty percent of eighth-grade O’Brien County females and 15 percent Osceola County eighth-grade males and 11th-grade females have made plans on how to carry out a suicide. In Sioux County, 9 percent of 11th-grade females have tried to kill themselves along with 8 percent of sixth-grade Osceola County females.

Countywide results of the survey are available to the general public. Survey results specific to school districts need to be requested from the districts.

‘Get connected’

Wallenburg thinks exposure to information online, in movies and on television shows is a contributing factor. The developing minds of the youth cannot process the information properly and no one is providing them a filter.

“That, the bullying and parents who are more involved with work and not able to meet the needs of their children are factors,” Wallenburg said.

Talking to children without electronics is something Vogel, Wallenburg and McEldowney suggested.

“Be observant and trust yourself,” Vogel said. “I have long believed that parents are the experts on their kids. If you as a parent have a sense that something is going on trust it. You know when your kids are off. I don’t think we have near enough conversations with kids and young people.”

McEldowney recommended using the results as a conversation piece.

“Taking the time to talk together without distractions is a healthy step in relationship building,” he said.

If parents have mental health problems — depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder — they also should feel able to talk to their children about their experiences especially if the children are going through the same struggles.

Wallenburg said knowing a parent is navigating the same road can help a child work through things and better accept who they are.

“Get connected with your kids,” she said. “Sit down and talk to them at least 20 minutes every day. Do not ask them a barrage of questions. Do not be confrontational. Say, ‘I want to spend time with you. How are you doing?’ Sit and talk without any technology. Spend time with your child. They need it desperately.”

Wallenburg said parents should not hesitate to contact a clinician if behavior of a child or teenager is concerning.

“Their teen frustration and anger will pass much more quickly compared to your grief if you lose them,” she said.