Category: News

An Intrapersonal Narrative of LGBTQ+

by Javier Cabrera-Rosales, Board Member, Positive Images
(Originally published in March 2017)

The mission of Community Matters is to; “wake up the courage” of young people to speak up when they know of and/or witness any acts of intolerance and injustice in their schools and communities. We are grateful to collaborate with many mission-driven organizations like Positive Images, who are on the forefront of addressing the needs of LGBTQ+ young people in the Santa Rosa, California community. Our guest blogger this week is Javier Cabrera-Rosales, former Director of Programs and current Board Memeber at Positive Images.

Many times in the common narrative we hear the terms “high risk population”, “mental health challenges”, suicide, depression, anxiety, and many more descriptions commonly associated with LGBTQ+ youth and young adults. The truth is that LGBTQ+ folks still suffer a myriad of struggles on a daily basis; yet for this blog I want to address the intrapersonal connection that is so vital for the resilience and survival of many LGBTQ+ adolescents and adults.

I have been working with young LGBTQ+ people for over five years, and I have noticed the power that is harnessed when each one discovers the internal tools they can access to use in the outside world. Many of us growing up saw very little of the successful, thriving, strong, and respected LGBTQ+ characters in our media, society, and in our own cultures. Certainly, the historical image of what it means to be LGBTQ+ has just recently become a positive one, and that negative stigma still haunts us today. When we do not have healthy role models and have no concept of what it may mean to grow up in a society as a queer person, certain patterns are created: isolation, alienation/lack of belonging, social anxiety and a plethora of other symptoms of not feeling connected.

This now brings us to the question, if we cannot change the world around us to be more accepting overnight, then how do we cope and/or strengthen our internal-selves to take on the day-to-day struggles?

Support is a key, crucial ingredient.

Positive Images is a non-profit organization in Santa Rosa, offering support to young LGBTQ+ folks throughout Sonoma County for over 26 years. Through a balance of therapeutic models, life coaching techniques, and a deep understanding of constant change and fluidity in our world, we are able to help our members find their own voices and build the tools they need to protect themselves. Self-reflection, accountability, practicing feedback, group facilitation dynamics, and engaging in difficult dialogue are just a few of the skills that youth gain through our programs.

In our current, diagnosis-and-therapy-happy world, at times it is easy to forget that people truly are the experts of their own experience, and simply offering them the space to explore those experiences can be life changing. Out of the desire for emotional safety and erasing the fear of ridicule, LGBTQ+ folks are relieved to disclose some of the profound thoughts and experiences they have in social (school, household, medical offices, et cetera.) settings. In this way, Positive Images provides the oldest remedy possible: unconditional love and attention.

Sexual Misconduct In Our Schools And How Students Hold The Key

by Rick Phillips, Founder, Community Matters

Sexual abuse and molestation present a significant and growing concern in our schools and communities. Unfortunately, inappropriate touching, sexting, porn, grooming, date rape, and other forms of sexual abuse are becoming more incessant. Educators, law enforcement and legislators are struggling to find solutions to this disturbing trend.

While some instances of sexual assault clearly go unreported, the AP found 17,000 official reports of sexual assaults at schools between 2011-15. Some of the assaults that happen at schools are caused by teachers or staff, while roughly 20% of educators also suffer sexual harassment or assaults.

Often, the reaction to these troubling issues has led to harsher laws and policies, along with increased consequences, all of which have not proven entirely effective in solving the problem. What has proven to be successful is a multi-tiered approach that includes engaging all school stakeholders – staff, families and students – and implementing prevention-based education initiatives with clear policies and practices that are restorative.

All school staff can benefit from further education about sexual harassment so they are better prepared to identify and address it. Clear understanding of the difference between bullying and sexual harassment and assault can better equip educators to deal appropriately with the issue, explain the difference to students, and support students in coming forward with their experiences.

Additionally, families need to be educated and supported in understanding the issues more clearly, to learn the most effective ways to communicate with their children and the steps to take when their children tell them about any concerns they have.

A third and critical stakeholder that is often overlooked are the students. Engaging and empowering students is very effective because they are often in the best position to prevent, stop and report incidents of sexual inappropriateness. Students see, hear and know things adults don’t and they can intervene in ways that adults can’t. They are generally aware of any incidents before adults are informed. These factors put students on the “front lines”, where they have tremendous power in setting social norms of kindness, connectivity, and the courage to speak up, all of which contribute greatly to having a safer school with a positive climate.

Here are some specific actions students can take to prevent and address sexual misconduct:

1. Notice and identify what is happening and think about the harmful effects it may cause. When students have increased awareness of the covert and overt ways sexual misconduct occurs, they are more able to identify it and willing to take action.

2. Recognize and determine the type of misconduct, the severity, who is involved, and the environment in which the incident is happening. Assessing and discerning the situation helps to determine the appropriate action to take and whether it should be reported.

3. Reach out and befriend a fellow student who may be targeted. These students are most vulnerable and likely to be subjected to manipulation and mistreatment. By creating connections, students show their support and model positive behavior to their peers that demonstrates a culture of looking out for one another.

4. Be an upstander, not a bystander. By speaking up and acting, students model positive peer pressure and their actions indicate that sexual misconduct is not acceptable on campus.

5. Reach out to a trusted adult and report potentially dangerous situations. Helping a student who is at risk and might otherwise not seek help can help ensure that the student gets the support they need before the situation worsens.

Young people are in a unique and vital position to make a positive impact in preventing and stopping sexual misconduct. We believe that students at all levels hold the key! They are ready to serve as change agents and upstanders in their schools and communities. When they become concerned, they want to do the right thing. What the evidence tells us, is when we engage, equip and empower young people, they can and will play a critical role in looking out for each other, resulting in safer schools and communities.

When we utilize a multi-tiered systemic approach, one that engages and empowers the whole school community, we significantly increase the likelihood of reducing and stopping incidents of sexual misconduct in schools and we keep our children and young people safe.

The Power of Youth to Reduce Alcohol and Drug Abuse in Schools

by Sami Ryan

“We all act like it’s just fun, that everyone’s having a good time. But being here today and hearing everyone’s story, you realize that everyone is also struggling with it, either with family and addiction, or friends going too far. There’s more to it, for all of us.”

High school student, Northern California

I overheard this comment from a student at one of our Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs (ATOD) Prevention Trainings, and it stuck with me. When ATODs are such a pervasive and prevalent issue facing teens, especially vaping, how do we help them connect with one another and provide space for them to share their stories in a safe, meaningful way? When given permission to be vulnerable, to open up to one another, we see time and again that students are desperate for connection, beyond their Snaps or Instagram posts. They want validation that the problems they are struggling with aren’t unique to them.

The big question, the one we are constantly working on here at Community Matters, is how can we connect young people to one another, deeply and meaningfully, so that they can answer their own questions and enlist support from each other? The answer, we have found, lies in our peer-to-peer framework which postulates the following: engage, empower, and equip young people to be contributors, not just consumers, at their school. When young people feel valued, seen, and heard, they will begin working towards creating a better school.

With this fundamental principle as our foundation, the ATOD Prevention Training addresses the perpetual problem of teen alcohol and drug use, abuse, and misuse. While other alcohol and drug prevention trainings might suggest a “just say no” approach or rely on fear-based teaching, Community Matters focuses on empowering youth. The question we ask is: can we encourage young people to become upstanders, increasing their likelihood of standing up and speaking up when they witness dangerous or unhealthy choices being made by their friends?

The ATOD training design provides a safe, structured, deep dive into the unique experiences, beliefs, values, and assumptions youth have around ATODs.  Once they realize how complex their own feelings are towards ATODs, and recognize that other students are grappling with this ambivalence, the conversations deepen, the connections grow, and they begin to realize how important it is to learn what to do or say when they see their friends entering dangerous situations.

The most meaningful point in the training I’ve witnessed is when participants drop into a Restorative Circle together. With guidelines such as listen from the heart, speak from the heart, say just enough, and don’t rehearse, the students begin sharing with each other, and eventually dive deeper when asked to answer “Who is harmed and how by ATODs.” As students begin sharing, the energy in the room changes. Students frequently say that they share things in that circle they haven’t ever spoken aloud to another person. There is immeasurable power in being heard, of sharing your story, of opening up to your peers and having them respond with empathy, compassion, and ultimately, understanding. An understanding that says “I see your pain, and I recognize it, because I too have experienced a loss that could have been prevented.”

At this stage of opening and increased awareness we then ask students if they are ready to learn tools and techniques on what to do or say to support their friends in making healthy and safe decisions around ATODs. It is a moment of transformation as the students become eager for ways to prevent a future story from being shared in a future circle of a tragic ending to a preventable situation. By the end of the second day of training, students have learned six “Upstander Actions,” communication skills such as Exiting, Supporting, Reasoning, Active Listening, Directing, and Getting Help, in order to develop their toolbox of being an Upstander.

As trainers and program designers, we can’t take credit for much. We can set the stage, hold space, initiate conversations, facilitate not as a sage on the stage but as a guide on the side. But at the end of the day, it’s the courage and compassion that lives in each student we are lucky enough to meet; the courage that helps us step up when it’s easier to step back, to speak up instead of stay silent.

So, the answer is yes: waking up the courage and compassion of young people does in fact increase their likelihood of standing up and speaking up when they witness dangerous or unhealthy choices being made by their friends with drugs and alcohol.

Now that we’ve found a way that is working, it is our responsibility to keep going.

For more information on Community Matters’ ATOD Prevention Prevention visit

Sami Ryan is a former Training and Program Development Coordinator for Community Matters. She worked on the design and development of Youth Empowerment Trainings, as well as training youth directly in the field. Sami supported the development of Community Matters’ ATOD program in addition to delivering this training in schools in Northern California.

What are “Restorative Practices” in Schools? Hint: It’s Not Restorative Justice

by Paul Osincup, Restorative Practices Trainer, Community Matters

One of the first questions I ask administrators and teachers when I facilitate trainings on restorative practices is how much experience they have with it or what they know about it. After working with educators in school districts all over the country, here are three things that are consistent everywhere I go:

  1. Administrators and teachers are always open to learn about strategies that will help them decrease classroom disruption and increase social responsibility and inclusivity.
  2. When I first mention restorative practices, many people in the room think I’m only talking about restorative justice.
  3. Educators are predisposed to “initiative fatigue” and don’t want this to be just another thing to add to their plate.

Restorative Justice (RJ) is a formal process where a person who has caused harm to an individual or group has the opportunity to meet with those who have been harmed or affected. They create a shared agreement about how the offender can repair the harm and all parties can reintegrate and move forward. RJ is used in the criminal justice system as well as at some colleges and universities and K-12 schools in conjunction with traditional disciplinary procedures.

Restorative Practices (RP) according to Ted Wachtel, Founder of the International Institute for Restorative Practices, RP is “…a social science that studies how to build social capital and achieve social discipline through participatory learning and decision-making.”

The simplest way to understand it is that restorative practices involves a continuum of interventions and strategies that are both proactive and responsive. Restorative Justice is ultimately a subset of restorative practices and is primarily only responsive in nature. On the continuum below, RJ would be considered a form of “Formal Conference” on the right.

Proactive RP Strategies:

  • Strengthen Relationships
  • Build Trust
  • Develop Community

Responsive RP Strategies:

  • Manage Conflict and Misbehavior
  • Meet Needs/Repair Harm
  • Restore Relationships

At Community Matters, we know it’s crucial to have evidence-based strategies to respond to disruptive behavior, and we also know that prioritizing relationships and connections creates a community where students develop a sense of social discipline resulting in less disruptive incidents to respond to.

So, how does it all work?

Well, that usually takes us two full days to explain but I can at least give you some proactive and responsive examples based on the RP continuum. For example, classroom circles (second from the right on the continuum) can be used proactively or in response to an incident.

A teacher who’s trained to facilitate classroom community building circles will use circle guidelines, a talking piece, engaging prompts, and activities to help students get to know one another personally throughout the year and create meaningful connections with their classmates. Once these connections are established and the kids begin to develop trust with each other and a familiarity with using circles to speak honestly and listen actively, that same teacher may choose to use a circle to respond to an issue. For instance, she may ask the students to respond to a note she received that the class was not good for the substitute the day before.

Ideally, about 80% of the RP work that is being done in the school is to build community to foster a positive school climate, while 15 – 20% is responsive in nature.

Whether I’m facilitating a workshop focused more on community building and the proactive side of things or on facilitating formal conferences to respond to student behavior, I’ve found it’s important to remind the participants that restorative practices is not a separate curriculum or initiative designed to replace your current curricular, behavioral intervention, or disciplinary models. Rather, RP is a way of being. It’s a tool to enhance your current practices, and a catalyst for youth voice. As a former Associate Dean of Students and university disciplinary officer, I understand the overwhelm and “initiative fatigue” that happens when we’re given a new program or curriculum to add to our plate. What I love about restorative practices, however, is that it’s really just a collection of tools you can incorporate into your school culture as you see fit.

Restorative practices help kids learn the basic skills it takes to be a member of a community, like empathy, listening, and conflict resolution, so it’s easier for you to teach them more complex skills like reading, writing, and math. Reclaiming the role of relationships and connection in schools isn’t just another thing to add to our plate… it is the plate.

National Bullying Prevention Month – The Power of Student Voice

by Jade Sizemore, Outreach & Program Coordinator, Community Matters

Bullying can take many forms, from physical aggression and intimidation to more subtle behaviors that might not be apparent to an onlooker. In honor of National Bullying Prevention Month, we would like to draw attention to all types of bullying, especially those that are less obvious yet pervasive. Seemingly subtle put-downs, teasing, and acts of exclusion, are all forms of mistreatment that can lead a child to feel insecure and unsafe.

With teachers and administrators already facing unmanageable workloads, we must begin to view students as capable contributors to a culture of change. Student bystanders see, hear, and know things adults don’t, can intervene in ways adults can’t, and are often on the scene of an incident before an adult. They are the first “boots on the ground”, and are a critical resource for positively impacting the crisis of bullying in our schools.

Given our experience with providing support, training and consultation to more than 2,000 schools, we know the “inside-out” approach is key to successfully shifting this social paradigm. This relationship-based approach is built on a foundation of restorative practices and utilizes students as resources for minimizing and preventing acts of bullying and violence. It emphasizes the power of student voice and the importance of youth and adult relationships.

Let’s do more than instruct our youth. Let’s empower them.

Using a peer-to-peer approach that empowers student voice is the quickest, most effective, and most cost-efficient way to change social norms on campus. By training the socially influential leaders of each clique on campus to be examples of courage and compassion, the social acceptability of bullying can be eradicated. This is the model employed by our Safe School Ambassadors® Program (SSA).

Evidenced-based research has proven that implementing SSA is a long-term, sustainable solution. For any school climate improvement program to be impactful, daily attention must be given to even the most subtle discrimination, intimidation, exclusion, and microaggressions. Here are some things to start paying attention to today:

• Ingenuine or passive-aggressive compliments
• Students being called by new nicknames- possibly an insult or type of taunting
• Gossip- both on and off-campus, including stories related to social media
• Exclusion or withdrawal
• Unexplained absences or complaints of feeling unwell

Bullying is not an inevitable act of youth. It is a conditioned behavior that can continue into adulthood. But there is a solution. Intervention must be swift, and discipline needs to be focused on restoration rather than punishment. Community Matters offers programs and services that help to create educational environments where learning potential is maximized, discipline incidents are reduced, and children can become caring, responsible citizens.

This work we do is vital, and we look forward to continuing collaborative partnerships with those who also believe that compassion and empathy are the key to our future. We extend our appreciation to all the organizations around the country that help to shine a spotlight on this urgent epidemic. And finally, we are ever-grateful for the thousands of students who day-in and day-out express their courage and speak up when they encounter meanness, intolerance and injustice. Together we are making a difference.

How Youth Empowerment Leads to a Positive School Climate and Academic Success

By Diana Curtin, CEO Community Matters

When effective youth empowerment is integrated as an integral way of operating, it is transformative for students, adults and schools. National best practices and current research validates that when schools make youth empowerment a cornerstone of their comprehensive school climate efforts, schools become communities where staff and students feel connected. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that feeling connected at school is the strongest protective factor for students to decrease substance use, school absenteeism, early sexual initiation, and violence; and notes the strong correlation between school connectedness and academic success.

We define youth empowerment as an attitudinal, structural, and cultural process whereby young people gain the ability, authority, and agency to make decisions and implement change in their own lives and the lives of others, including youth and adults. In schools where young people are empowered to have influence on decisions and afforded opportunities to lead and serve, they naturally feel more self-confident and have an increased sense of pride, ownership and connectedness for and at their school. This sense of empowerment naturally leads to a more positive school climate that supports increased competence, academic achievement and overall student success.

Best practices for increasing student voice and empowerment in schools include offering a variety of opportunities for students to have influence in decision making in the classroom, on the playground, for the campus and for the school. Even the youngest of students have valuable insight and can provide input and ideas, they just need the avenue and encouragement to be contributors and to be heard and acknowledged. It makes sense to consider and value the opinions of the largest population on campus – the students. The following youth empowerment opportunities incorporate leadership, service, input and decision making:

  • Serving on a climate committee, site council, parent-student organization etc.
  • Student Council and committees
  • Student led clubs and initiatives that they drive
  • Student led campaigns that promote a value or initiative they stand behind
  • Leadership opportunities for more than just the leadership classes (consider the playground/campus, classrooms, and projects)
  • Community service opportunities for the school and community that include a service-learning component
  • Peer mediating, mentoring and tutoring
  • Restorative Practice leaders
  • Serving as a Safe School Ambassador

As the CEO for Community Matters, I am a firm believer and advocate of our evidence-based Safe School Ambassadors® (SSA) Program as a best practice youth empowerment platform that has been active in 2,000 schools across the US and five countries. I have witnessed how this program transforms the lives of students and schools by empowering and equipping young people to find and use their voice to effect positive change.

The SSA Program fosters school safety by empowering influential students to safely intervene when they witness mistreatment such as bullying, cyberbullying and other harmful behaviors that can lead to tragedies such as suicide and gun violence. Consider this incredible statistic: on average, student Ambassadors intervene with actions two or more times per week. During a school year, these individual actions add up to more than 2,400 interventions, which impacts the entire school by establishing a more positive climate and culture.

SSA is a long-term prevention and early intervention program. Because climate and social norms in a school are created over time, it requires a concentrated and time-oriented approach to change the established norms. Therefore, the SSA Program is most successful when it is implemented and championed with a long-term strategic approach in mind. It is most effective when implemented over a 3-year timeframe, allowing it to develop strong roots that anchor it firmly into school culture and practice. After the first three years of Community Matters providing the SSA Training, schools are provided the opportunity to move into a sustainability model whereby the school takes over implementation and leadership of the program. With this approach, the SSA Program and the premise of effective youth empowerment become embedded into the school practices as a way of thinking, communicating and behaving.

When effective youth empowerment becomes the way of operating, school climate becomes more positive; one built on relationships, inclusivity and connection. As the school climate warms, students feel safer, more engaged, and are better equipped to lean in and learn. When these conditions are present, we see academic achievement and overall student success increase.

Student ambassadors train against bullying, violence

September 9, 2019 KUAM News

About 400 recruited students from nine private schools and one public high school participated in the two-day Safe School Ambassadors® training that was hosted for the sixth year by the Judiciary of Guam in partnership with the Guam Department of Education.

Read the article

Pat Kerrigan interviews Community Matters CEO Diana Curtin

August 1, 2019 KSRO Radio

Pat Kerrigan speaks with Community Matters CEO Diana Curtin about our mission and the Safe School Ambassadors® Program, and how it changes the culture on school campuses.

Listen Now

Safeguarding Schools Inside-Out Instead of Outside-In

April 20 2019 by Karen Bossick,

Most schools adopt an adult-driven, control-driven, outside-in approach to secure schools. They rely on school resource officers, punitive policies and, often, metal detectors. That approach—keeping trouble out—may work at an airport or in a prison but not in schools, says Community Matters founder Rick Phillips.

Read the article

Bullying, Cyberbullying and Teen Suicide: Risks and Prevention Strategies

by William Grace Frost, former Director of Strategic Relations, Community Matters

Data recently published by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), indicates that suicide is now the #1 cause of death for 11-14 years olds in America.

The first time I heard this statistic, it nearly took my breath away. Then after the shock wore off, my next thoughts were, “It must be a mistake or a misprint. How is it possible that anyone so young could feel such despondency and hopelessness as to want to take their own life, and even worse, that suicide could rise to the top of the mortality tables for these young children?”

Research shows that suicide-related behaviors are caused by a myriad of factors, and are often not related to a single cause or incident. We also know that bullying/cyberbullying is one of the contributing factors in students turning to suicide as a “solution” to their problems. Even though the vast majority of youths involved in bullying/cyberbullying do not choose such a rash resolution, we know that it’s a contributing factor in many specific cases and that it increases a child’s risk of suicide contemplation.

The death of a Sonoma Valley, CA, teen who killed himself in 2015 after years of bullying is but one tragic example. The boy’s father said that his son had been a target of bullying since elementary school. By the time he reached high school, with classmates continuing to pick on him and encourage him to take his own life, it became too much for the boy to bear.

The National Crime Prevention Council has found that 43% of teens report being bullied on-line and 81% claim that it’s much easier to bully someone with the use of social media. Despite the best efforts of policymakers and educators, bullying/cyberbullying has become a national crisis affecting school children all across the U.S., regardless of the school’s demographics, and regardless if it’s rural or urban, public, private or charter.

Due in part to teens and pre-teens mostly-unfettered access to the internet and their prevalent use of social media, the bullying phenomenon has reached epidemic proportions.

To a large extent, cyber-aggression and face-to-face bullying in all its forms are:

disproportionately targeted at many of our most vulnerable populations including youth of color, students with disabilities, LGBTQ youth and those who are regularly exposed to violence, alcoholism or drug abuse at home or in their neighborhood;
filtering down into younger and younger grades due to increases in cell phone use;
becoming meaner because hurtful things written on-line often emboldens the aggressors with a perceived sense of anonymity;
more socially and emotionally damaging due to the fact that:
kids access social media 24/7, leaving no “safe harbor” for them at home or “recovery-time” for the ones being continuously tormented by cruel messages, and the accumulated stress leads some students to start looking for a “way out” of situations that seem hopeless;
young people’s underdeveloped frontal cortex’s do not provide the proper discernment needed to make good decisions about what they should and shouldn’t post on social media;
compromising photos, rumors or embarrassing incidents often get spread school-wide in nearly an instant, leading young children to think that their lives are no longer livable because “now everybody knows”.

Although researchers have yet to make the direct correlation between bullying/cyberbullying and suicide, we do know that the prevalence of both phenomena is on the rise, and that they have the potential of being very costly to students, families and schools, and to the insurance pools whose charge it is to mitigate the risks.
So how can we mitigate the risk of student suicides?

Creating safer schools is a relationship opportunity that needs a people solution. What’s needed is training, training, training – with the students to wake up the courage of bystanders and then equipping them with non-violent communication skills to effectively intervene and report when they see or hear incidents of bullying, cyberbullying, hazing, harassment or any other mean-spirited behavior – and with the adults who are uniquely positioned to provide valuable guidance, trust and insight for students’ conduct, both on campus and on-line.

At Community Matters, we know from years of practice and research that the most effective strategies empower young people to be part of the solution. This is done by engaging their empathy and providing the skills to safely intervene and support each other, instead of joining in the mistreatment or remaining passive bystanders. Enlisting students as part of the solution, whether on-line or in person, is a key determinant in improving school climate, and schools that focus on creating a safe and inclusive climate have been shown to have fewer incidents of all forms of mistreatment, including cyberbullying.

The simple fact is that when students look out for one another and feel confident and competent to speak up, everyone feels safer, relationships improve, bystanders become upstanders… and the number of risk-oriented incidents and associated costs are vastly reduced.

One example was reported to us recently by a teacher at a school in northern California:

“We recently had a pair of students have a very public Twitter posting “altercation” which led one of them to consider suicide and post cryptic messages concerning others on Twitter. Three of our students who had been trained in bullying prevention techniques intervened by supporting the victim, directing the attacker to stop what they were doing, and then getting help from an adult, just as they were trained to do.

Both our site principal and I received multiple messages from the [trained students] about this event and we were able to make contact with the students involved and intervene in time. The student is now getting support. This was a potentially dangerous situation that was stopped in its tracks because of the courageous and skillful actions taken by classmates.”

Positive outcomes such as this take place in middle and high schools all across the country where students have been empowered to find their voices on behalf of bully-targeted peers.

Another part of the equation is staff training. Training for school administrators and staff needs to be oriented towards developing trusting relationships with students. One of our credos at Community Matters for teacher-student relationships is “They won’t care what you know until they know that you care”. Teachers need to become “hall-friendly”, regularly taking the time to meet and greet students with words as simple as “Hi Bobby, great to see you today; I hope you have a good one.” Adult-driven relationships such as this help create a sense of belonging and connectedness, which research shows are the most important elements for student well-being.

Here are some other things we can do to support students in being both “cyber-safe” and “school connected”, and hence, less likely to become despondent, and potentially suicidal:

1. Staff members need to talk with their students about the realities of internet security, such as the fact that:

Nothing on the internet is ever truly anonymous;
Even though Snap Chat‘s postings “disappear”, people can, and do, take screenshots of their content before they “vanish”;
What gets posted to the web can negatively affect everything from their reputation, to their friendships, to future employment.

2. Let teens know that they can choose to protect their tweets; according to Twitter, they should know that:

People will have to specifically request to “follow” them; each follow request will also need approval; their tweets will only be visible to users they’ve approved and others will not be able to retweet or quote their Tweets;
They cannot share permanent links to their tweets with anyone other than their approved followers.

3. Some other good general rules about internet and social media for both adults and young people include:

Always use a strong password and use login verification;
Watch out for suspicious links, and always make sure you’re on the site you think you’re on before you enter your login information;
Never give your username and password out to untrusted third parties, especially those promising to get you followers, make you money or bring you notoriety;

4. Set up a Google alert for their name (adults can do this too) so that when any mention of their name comes up on Google, you know first. Information is still power. Let your student athletes know that many NCAA and NAIA sports teams are doing this as well.

5. Talk with them about appropriate online behavior before there’s a problem. Impress the importance of treating each other with kindness and respect, whether on-line or face-to-face.

6. “Think before you post” is a great general rule of thumb in coaching young people to minimize cyber meanness, insensitivity and thoughtlessness. Often just taking a deep breath or two and the reminder to “think about it and the possible harmful repercussions” prior to posting will decrease the potential hurtfulness. If they wouldn’t say it to the person’s face or out loud, they shouldn’t say it online.

Results of such trainings over the past 20 years have told us that we can reduce the risk factors for those youths who feel marginalized, helpless or hopeless due to the cruel and thoughtless behaviors of others, and consider that suicide is the only way out. Going forward we must continue to explore and monitor emerging research that helps us strengthen our practices in preventing students from wanting to end their lives, and we must never stop training everyone involved in education to be aware and skillful in inoculating our youth from the terrible epidemic of bullying/cyberbullying.