By Jada Prevost and other staff
A sixth-grader struggles to deal with changes at home.
Another student gets upset when his girlfriend gets involved with someone else, creating a “chaotic triangle.”
A seventh-grader argues with her mom and brother and can’t seem to manage her anger.
Many students suffer from emotional or mental-health problems ranging from stress and anxiety to depression and need someone to talk to. At Okeeheelee, they have several options. One is to speak to a school counselor, another is to call a hotline counselor, and a third is to meet with a group and motivational coach Lauren Byles.
Byles, who’s in Portable 303, meets with 19 groups of students a week and talks with individual students as needed. It helps, students say.
“She makes you feel like you’re not alone,” the seventh-grade girl says. Thanks to Byles, she now gets along better with her mom and brother and knows ways to release her anger.
“She makes it fun (in the groups),” the 13-year-old said. “We earn tickets, and we can get food with that. It’s not just sitting down there and depressing and sad.”
The sixth-grader facing changes at home says Byles talks openly about using drugs, including flakka and bath salts, and how they can affect you. “That really helps you think about the consequences of using drugs,” he said.
He finds Byles easy to talk with: “She asks us questions, but she’s not pushy.”
Byles said students often want to talk about relationship issues. By category, she says that anxiety and stress are the top reasons that students need help, followed by anger management and impulse control. It all boils down to poor coping skills, she said. Teens have an issue dealing with problems correctly, leading to stress, anxiety, depression, addiction, and so on.
Without good coping skills, “drugs can easily fall into that place,” Byles said. It’s not uncommon for kids going through puberty to be curious and experiment, she said. The most popular drug, “hands-down,” she says, is marijuana.
Byles and school counselors try to offer better ways of coping. Byles suggests putting cellphones down and doing something to take your mind off the problem, such as coloring, drawing, crossword puzzles, or Sudoku. It creates a new pattern of how to react, she said. It helps ease your mind, and you can think more clearly after you relax and are calm.
For depression, writing is a good outlet, Byles said.
Due to the brain’s development, puberty is a time of poor decisions, poor impulse control, and poor judgment, she said.
“It’s a rough age. There’s so many hormones,” Byles said. “Your brain chemistry is actually telling you to be more defiant … towards your parents and adults” as you gain independence.
Every week Janier Sideregts, Okeeheelee’s eighth-grade counselor, sees 30 to 50 students with emotional issues or problems. Ways to feel better include spending time with friends, listening to music, reading, or screaming into a pillow, she said. Students can also dial the 211 hotline and press 1 to speak with a counselor at any time.
Is there any one thing students can do to prevent problems?
“Stop posting stuff on text messaging, Snapchat, Facebook, social media,” Sideregts says. “It cannot be erased.”
How to cope when problems arise:
Put the phone down and stop texting and posting.
Do a mind-absorbing activity such as reading, coloring a page, or completing a Sudoku puzzle.
Do something you enjoy, such as talking with a friend.
Try using a fidget cube, which are less distracting than the spinning toys.
Call 211 and press 1 to speak to a counselor at any time.
Sources: Counselor and motivational coach at school