Helping Students Cope with Mental Health Issues

As she sat in her virtual tenth-grade geometry class, Amanda heard the teacher explain the proof, but the teacher’s voice failed to register with her. Rather, Amanda found herself preoccupied with her own chorus of thoughts: I’m so far behind in school. No one knows. No one cares. I don’t have any friends. I only disappoint my parents. I’m so alone. I don’t want to go on like this. I want the pain to end. Then, she went on to imagine what her funeral might be like.

The pandemic and all its sundry effects continue to impact the population. But the most significant impacts of the pandemic impact those in the population least able to cope with them: students, those with lower incomes, and African Americans. Among students, many struggle with depression and suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide). According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five students age 13-18 deals with a serious mental illness. (Here is a pdf with facts, figures, and resources you can share with your teachers, parents, and staff.)

It is important to note that having thoughts of suicide (or thoughts of one being “better off dead,” known as passive suicidal ideation) are not unusual for students, particularly students age 13-18. One study cites the prevalence of suicidal ideation among students in this demographic is roughly three times that of the overall population.

While thoughts of one’s death or making plans for suicide may not be unusual for teens, they can be dangerous. Such thoughts are important to bring into the light and deal with, without fear of shaming or stigmatization. To a student such as Amanda, living in the isolation of her mind and rehearsing these thoughts over and over again with no outside voices to weigh in can lead to preoccupation with death, and rationalization that taking her life is the only logical course open to her. Helping struggling students come out of the darkness of their self-imposed isolation and talk with someone else is critical to breaking that cycle.

Most schools don’t do a good job of helping students break that cycle. Christian schools, particularly Christian schools serving less affluent populations may not talk about it at all. But though not many Christian schools may talk about mental health struggles openly, the data show that Christians experience mental health struggles just as much as those in the non-believing community. What can you do to recognize signs of mental health struggle among your students?

Any of the following behaviors or behavioral changes might indicate the presence of struggle in a student:

  • Unexplained or frequent absences from class, particularly a pattern of absences
  • Lack of participation in class, or in social activities, or a lack of attentiveness (distraction)
  • A change in physical appearance, particularly a sudden change
  • A lasting change in mood (sad, angry, antagonistic, detached, disinterested)
  • Unusual crying
  • A drop in grades and/or a pattern of turning in assignments late, incomplete, or carelessly-completed
  • Self-deprecating remarks or humor
  • Self-harming behavior
  • Sudden change in eating habits (weight loss or weight gain)
  • Regularly drawing or doodling images that reflect emptiness, isolation, hopelessness, or death
  • A verbal admission of feeling depressed or hopeless

What can Christian educators do to help students who might be struggling with mental health issues?

  • Talk openly about the reality of mental health struggles, and the facts that they’re not unusual, or anything to be ashamed of. Mental health struggles are no different from other physiological illnesses. Would you be ashamed if you had a cold? Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues are no different. Conditions can be treated, symptoms can be improved, and people can recover.
  • Acknowledge that Christians struggle with feeling hopeless, depression, and thoughts of self-harm. The Apostle Paul reports being “so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” in 2 Corinthians 1:8. Many Christians struggle with similar feelings today.
  • Talk about Christians needing the help of one another (and the Lord!) to navigate the troubles of life. We weren’t created to walk the Christian life in isolation. God tells us in his Word that we need one another in the Body of Christ for support, encouragement, prayer, other practical help, and accountability (see Hebrews 3:12-13). The tendency for everyone who struggles with sin or shame to struggle secretly. Encourage them to come into the openness of community, and find God’s grace sufficient for the ways in which they struggle.
  • Personally pursue students. Spend time checking in one-on-one with students, getting to know them and their struggles. Pray for the insight and discernment to know how to help them. Pray that the Holy Spirit would bring any hidden struggles into the light.
  • Privately engage students in whom you notice red flags. Schedule a time to speak with those students offline—ideally, in person. If that’s not an option, engage them over Zoom or Google Classroom…but make time to talk with them. Let your student know that he/she is noticed, loved, and important to you, and to the Lord.
  • When you talk with your student, don’t try to be a counselor. If you’re like most teachers, you don’t have a counseling background. You don’t need to act as though you have one! Talk with your student. Acknowledge the signs you’ve observed in them. Ask them how they’re doing. Listen attentively and actively to what they share. Empathize with them, letting them know they’re not unusual or hopeless. Walk with them to Christ, as the One who perfectly understands them and is with them in the midst of their struggles.
  • If you suspect your student struggles with suicidal ideation, ask your student if they have had thoughts of harming themselves, or of committing suicide. If they respond that they have, ask if they have a plan for how they might carry it out. Then, ask them if they plan to act on those desires. If your student says that he or she is considering acting on their plan, offer to take them to the emergency room right away, or call 911 for them. Stay with them or stay on the call with your student until help arrives. If your student says that he or she is thinking about hurting themselves but won’t act on those thoughts right now, encourage them to speak to a counselor immediately. Notify your supervisor at the school, and contact the student’s parent or guardian immediately to share what you’ve heard. Don’t hold that conversation in confidence. The most important thing right now is to help that student find access to other caring voices who can speak into his or her darkness and provide a different perspective.

     

Here are some additional resources you can turn to for more information on helping students deal with depression or thoughts of self-harm:

Most of all, as a follower of Christ, you have the power to pray for the student in your care. Whether your student is a learner in your class, your child, or a friend, you can intercede before the Throne of God on that student’s behalf. And you can incarnate the love and wisdom of God by being physically and emotionally present with that student as he or she navigates these sometimes dark roads.

Tim Geiger (M.Div.) is Executive Director of Children's Jubilee Fund. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Tim has lived in or around the city most of his life. His undergraduate studies done at the Community College of Philadelphia, Tim went on to earn a Master of Divinity Degree from Westminster Theological Seminary. He is ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. Prior to serving at Children's Jubilee Fund, Tim worked for the Internal Revenue Service, The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and Harvest USA, where he also served as Executive Director and then President from 2012-2019. Tim lives with his wife and daughter just outside of Philadelphia.

Children's Jubilee Fund is a 501(c)(3) organization established in 1997 to provide tuition grants to Christian schools in the Philadelphia metro area that serve underprivileged students. These grants are then awarded by the schools as scholarships to students who meet income and residency guidelines. Each year, Jubilee provides hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants that, in turn, help hundreds of students in Philadelphia, Delaware, Montgomery, and Camden Counties achieve their God-given academic and personal potential. Children's Jubilee Fund is an entirely donor-supported organization.

How to Pray for Jubilee Schools in January 2021

January is an occasion for new beginnings and new hopes. As you’ll see below, many of our schools are looking forward…but all of them continue to deal with the lingering impacts of the pandemic and other problems lingering from last year. Please ask the Lord to help our schools in the days to come.

Pray for our Schools

  • Four of our schools are going through leadership transitions (or had a transition in September). As this is not a typical school year, these new or interim school leaders face challenges the likes of which their predecessors never would have dreamed. Pray that the Lord would grant wisdom to these leaders in particular (and all of our heads of school in general), that they would know how to honor the Lord and bless those whom they serve during these unusual times.
  • The news of recent political unrest has been difficult for adults to process. Children lack the objectivity and capacity to wrestle with these issues well. Many of our students deal with fear, depression, and anxiety as a result of hard news that seems to throw their world into chaos. Please pray that the Lord would protect the hearts and minds of our students and their families, and that they would be drawn to him instead of living in dread of their fears. Please pray also that our schools’ teachers and administrators would know how to talk about these issues with their students in a way that shows that the Lord is their Strength and their Shield.
  • All of our schools continue to cope with the effects of the pandemic. Most take a hybrid approach, with the majority of students in person for part of the day and at home the rest of the day, and with some students exclusively virtual. As you might imagine, this approach can be disruptive not only to the process of education, but to the attention spans of students, many of whom benefit from the structure of being in a supervised classroom. Please pray that the Lord would cause the work of our schools’ teachers to be effective during this difficult season, and that their students would learn all they need.
  • Some students in our schools struggle with hyperactivity and impulse control. Please pray that the Lord would grant these students the strength and self-control to master their bodies and thoughts and minds, and that they would not distract themselves or anyone around them.
  • As has been stated previously, this is an unusual year with unusual circumstances for teachers. Many teachers work extra hours helping students and preparing alternate lesson plans for virtual and hybrid students. Please pray the Lord would grant them endurance and patience with joy during this season.
  • Many students who receive Jubilee scholarships live at or below the federal poverty level. These students are most at risk for economic harm from the current crises. Many experience food insecurity and housing insecurity (12 million U.S. renters are currently at least $6,000 behind on their rent as a result of the pandemic). Please pray that the Lord would provide for these students and their families’ needs, and that these students would still be able to learn effectively even with these stressors weighing on them.


Thank you for praying! Visit our website at jubileefund.org to learn more about the mission and ministry of Children’s Jubilee Fund!

Tim Geiger (M.Div.) is Executive Director of Children's Jubilee Fund. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Tim has lived in or around the city most of his life. His undergraduate studies done at the Community College of Philadelphia, Tim went on to earn a Master of Divinity Degree from Westminster Theological Seminary. He is ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. Prior to serving at Children's Jubilee Fund, Tim worked for the Internal Revenue Service, The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and Harvest USA, where he also served as Executive Director and then President from 2012-2019. Tim lives with his wife and daughter just outside of Philadelphia.

Children's Jubilee Fund is a 501(c)(3) organization established in 1997 to provide tuition grants to Christian schools in the Philadelphia metro area that serve underprivileged students. These grants are then awarded by the schools as scholarships to students who meet income and residency guidelines. Each year, Jubilee provides hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants that, in turn, help hundreds of students in Philadelphia, Delaware, Montgomery, and Camden Counties achieve their God-given academic and personal potential. Children's Jubilee Fund is an entirely donor-supported organization.

Corona Crisis for Children

Last week, I performed a site visit to one of our Jubilee Network schools in Philadelphia. As I walked from classroom to classroom, I saw what one might expect nine months into a pandemic: socially-distanced students wearing masks. Desks were all six feet apart (have you ever tried that with a class of seven-year-olds? Not easy!). All the “specials” (classes typically held outside the primary classroom—like music, art, science—even lunch) were being brought in to the primary classroom to minimize students’ time in the corridors. Student movement into and out of the building were carefully choreographed, so that everyone remained socially-distanced. Seeing the planning and work these modifications took made me appreciate how simple things were, and how much we took for granted, just nine months ago.

Much has changed in our schools during the long months of the pandemic. For sure, our schools have become more tech-savvy and more able to accommodate the demands of pandemic education. But all the additional work comes at a cost—a cost borne not only by schools, but by teachers, students, and parents.

Virtually everyone with whom I’ve spoken feels the strain. And some are being crippled by it. Three of the five schools I’ve connected with over the last two weeks have reduced their synchronous learning time each week (the time teachers actively engage with students in real time) due to teacher burnout. Turns out that managing two classrooms (on site and virtual) simultaneously takes a lot more energy than managing one!

Students feel the pressure too. Not only are they impacted by the changes in the classroom and at home because of the pandemic, but they are struggling with anxiety, depression, hopelessness, loneliness, and anger at higher incidences than a year ago. Recent data suggests that the majority of students are impacted by these conditions, though not all to the same degree. That said, other recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also shows a 24 percent spike over last year in emergency visits for mental health issues among 5-to-11-year-olds and a 31 percent rise among 12-to-17-year-olds. So, a significant number of students are impacted significantly by these changes.

Parents and guardians, in some ways, bear the biggest burdens. Not only do they experience their children’s suffering, but many of them also need to help students navigate school work because direct time with teachers is cut. Parents of children in need of school-provided support because of learning or emotional differences may see those services either less effective because of the virtual environment in which they are administered, or because their children are struggling more profoundly than nine months ago.  

Plus, many parents and guardians are struggling with the financial fallout of the pandemic. Philadelphia-area unemployment is stubbornly higher than the national average. Heads of households, particularly those of color and those working in service and hospitality industries, are disproportionately affected. Food insecurity now affects one in five Philadelphia-area residents. There are real concerns about a pending wave of evictions after January 1, when federal protections expire and millions of renters currently behind in rent payments will be at risk for losing their homes. Again, people of color will be disproportionately affected. All this weighs on the minds and hearts of parents and guardians in our schools. Their children see what’s going on, and suffer secondhand stress. In turn, this impacts peers, teachers, and schools.

Everyone is in crisis right now. What can we do?

Be honest. Acknowledge this is hard. As a society, we’re collectively experiencing something that hasn’t happened since our great-grandparents’ era. This is a hard time. The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is:

“a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
       a time to mourn, and a time to dance…”
                                                           (Ecclesiastes 3:4)

My own opinion is that for most of us, 2020 definitely falls into the weeping and mourning category. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to acknowledge that present reality. It’s where many of us are.

And that isn’t necessarily a bad place to be. We don’t often seek God unless we feel we need to. Today, God is the only One who can truly give us what we need. Perhaps he wants you to reach out and seek him now.

Pray. God promised his people in the past: “…[C]all upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you” (Jeremiah 29:12). He told them to do that while they also were in the midst of a national crisis, uncertain about their future. Praying can be difficult, particularly when you don’t seem to know what to say. All God wants us to do is to tell him what we’re feeling and what we’re afraid of. And he wants us to know that he hears us, and is with us.

Give your students a place to speak. As adults, we’re anxious. But as we pointed out earlier, kids are even more anxious than we are…but lack the resources to talk about and understand how they’re feeling. Help them do that as much as possible. Ask your student how he or she is hearing and experiencing the circumstances around them. Ask what they’re afraid of. Don’t be surprised if they can’t talk about it easily—most kids can’t. But be present with them, acknowledge that what you’re both going through really is hard, reassure them that you’ll always be with them and that God loves them, and pray with them.

Realize the hard “now” is not forever. This is a hard season. But the pandemic will end. Things will probably begin improving in a few months. Perhaps some time in 2021 life will be relatively normal again. Sometimes just acknowledging that a hard thing isn’t a forever thing is helpful.

Get help coping for yourself or your student, if you need it. There is no shame asking for help. These are bigger issues than any of us can work through on our own. If your student could use some help with anxiety, depression, stress, or other issues, the best place to begin finding help is with your pediatrician or school. One additional resource might be Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Pediatric Psychology Department.

There are several good free print and video resources available to you as well. Here is a link to some from the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF). And here are some resources put together by EPIC Church in Philadelphia.

For yourself, finding a trusted friend to talk with can sometimes be enough. But if you feel as though you’d benefit from some more professional resources, some options are:

_____________

This is a hard time. And it is a defining time for us as a people. But you aren’t alone. And we aren’t alone. We have a God who loves us and, somehow, will bring us through.

Tim Geiger (M.Div.) is Executive Director of Children's Jubilee Fund. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Tim has lived in or around the city most of his life. His undergraduate studies done at the Community College of Philadelphia, Tim went on to earn a Master of Divinity Degree from Westminster Theological Seminary. He is ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. Prior to serving at Children's Jubilee Fund, Tim worked for the Internal Revenue Service, The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and Harvest USA, where he also served as Executive Director and then President from 2012-2019. Tim lives with his wife and daughter just outside of Philadelphia.

Children's Jubilee Fund is a 501(c)(3) organization established in 1997 to provide tuition grants to Christian schools in the Philadelphia metro area that serve underprivileged students. These grants are then awarded by the schools as scholarships to students who meet income and residency guidelines. Each year, Jubilee provides hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants that, in turn, help hundreds of students in Philadelphia, Delaware, Montgomery, and Camden Counties achieve their God-given academic and personal potential. Children's Jubilee Fund is an entirely donor-supported organization.

What to Do with Students During Thanksgiving Break

Thanksgiving Week is here! If you have kids at home, what that probably means is looking for ways to keep them active and engaged. That’s a problem for many households this year, because the activities we’re used to around Thanksgiving Break just aren’t happening this year.

If you’re looking for ways to engage your student this week, here are ten ideas to spark your creativity, and to jump-start some good and fun times with your kid. A couple of these ideas are adapted from the blog post 16 Free or Cheap Things to Do With Your Kids During the COVID-19 Pandemic on Kiplinger.com.

  1. Make a treat for a neighbor. No reason for this, other than they’re your neighbor! Be spontaneous and make some cookies, a loaf of pumpkin bread, or even just a pan of brownies from a box. Make sure your student washes his or her hands before they start (and make sure neither of you are showing any symptoms of illness—if you are, this might not be the thing to do until you’re better). Ask your student to make a colorful card to go along with the goodies. Wrap your treat in plastic wrap, leave it on your neighbor’s doorstep, and then call or text them for a contactless fun time!
  2. Cook a meal together. Sometimes, the best times a family spends together can be in the kitchen. Do you have a favorite meal? Teach your student how to prepare it as you make it together. Talk with your student about your history with that particular food—why you like it, when you first had it, your biggest cooking fail, etc. Just have fun connecting with your student while you teach them how to cook!
  3. Color together. Adult coloring is a new fad, but I’ll tell you what…few things are as relaxing as sitting down with a student and coloring a picture together with good, old-fashioned wax crayons! Leave the hectic and crazy world of 2020 behind, and let your biggest decision for the next hour be whether to make the sky pink or purple. And—no skill required! You can have some great, spontaneous interactions with your student around an activity like this. And it feels special just to do something together. You can print some great free coloring pages from Crayola.com.
  4. Take a virtual museum, zoo, or aquarium visit. Okay, I know that it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea to go to a museum. But there are all kinds of museums out there—and this way, if you get bored, you can just click “Close”! And it’s all free! The Philadelphia Zoo has a bunch of informational and fun recorded introductions to its animals. The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History walks you through many of its exhibits. The Pittsburgh Children’s Museum’s Museum At Home Page provides virtual tours and instructions for at-home activities you and your student can do together.
  5. Have a family Bible study. Turns out, Bible studies don’t have to be limited to just reading! God wants His people to dig into His Word, to understand it, and to be changed by it. The Center for Parent and Youth Understanding is a Christian nonprofit based in Lancaster, PA that has a whole host of resources for families. One of them is their Family TableTalk program, a series of free, downloadable PDFs that give parents and students an easy way to dig down deep into God’s Word.
  6. Make an Advent Calendar. Advent is the season of the Church Year that covers the four weeks before Christmas. During Advent, we remember why Jesus came as a real baby on Christmas—because we need Him to save us from our sins. Part of the fun of Advent is counting down the days until Christmas comes—and one way to do that is through an Advent calendar which (guess what!)—you can make at home! Parents Magazine gives you some instructions for easy to moderately challenging Advent calendars you can make with your student. Extra points if you can find ways to incorporate Scripture verses into your Advent calendar!
  7. Make a Scripture Tree. Great way to claim those extra points from #6! Use a small artificial tree, some paper, and some twine or string to make a Scripture Tree—a great way to read and memorize Scripture with your child during Advent. Use a small (two foot) artificial tree (or make a flat tree to hang on a wall from a piece of cardboard). Print out the Scripture verses from this web page on regular printer paper. Using scissors, cut the paper into strips so that one verse, Scripture reference, and day number are on each strip. Fold the strips in half, so that the printed side is on the inside of the fold. With a marker or pen, write the number of the day on the folded tip of the paper. If you’re using an artificial tree, use a hole punch to make a hole at the open end of each folded strip. Then use a piece of string or twine to tie it onto a branch of the tree, numbered side facing up. If you’re using a cut out, flat tree, forget the hole punch—just tape the folded strips to the tree, numbered side facing out. Now, each day during December, find the strip with the number corresponding to the day of the month, untie it, read it, and try to memorize it! Ask God to help you understand how that verse relates to the coming of Jesus as a baby in Bethlehem, what it means for His relationship with you now, and for His coming again!
  8. Have a scavenger hunt. Whether inside or outside your house, make a list of items for your student to find. If your student has siblings, have them play either against each other or as a team.
  9. Play Twenty Questions. It’s a great game requiring nothing other than imagination and a little time. Play with your student or as a family. Here are simple instructions about how to proceed.
  10. Have some online fun together with Google Arts & Culture. Google Arts & Culture is an interactive feature that challenges students to exercise their imagination, to learn about the world around them, and to have fun while doing so. One note for parents and guardians, though: this Google feature is not Christian-friendly and may have some links to activities or information you might find objectionable. As with all activities, do them alongside your student and help them understand what they see and experience from a Christian perspective.

Tim Geiger (M.Div.) is Executive Director of Children's Jubilee Fund. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Tim has lived in or around the city most of his life. His undergraduate studies done at the Community College of Philadelphia, Tim went on to earn a Master of Divinity Degree from Westminster Theological Seminary. He is ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. Prior to serving at Children's Jubilee Fund, Tim worked for the Internal Revenue Service, The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and Harvest USA, where he also served as Executive Director and then President from 2012-2019. Tim lives with his wife and daughter just outside of Philadelphia.

Children's Jubilee Fund is a 501(c)(3) organization established in 1997 to provide tuition grants to Christian schools in the Philadelphia metro area that serve underprivileged students. These grants are then awarded by the schools as scholarships to students who meet income and residency guidelines. Each year, Jubilee provides hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants that, in turn, help hundreds of students in Philadelphia, Delaware, Montgomery, and Camden Counties achieve their God-given academic and personal potential. Children's Jubilee Fund is an entirely donor-supported organization.

Say “No” to Bullying

October is National Bullying Prevention Month.


Jesse paused before walking into the school building. He breathed in deeply and felt a twinge of pain from his ribs, which still ached from the punches he received the day before. Ninth grade wasn’t supposed to be so tough, he thought.

Every day for the last two months, Jesse’s classmates found new ways to torment him. First, it was name-calling and other verbal taunts. Then, it was a series of pranks. For the last week, there had been a series of physical incidents—the worst of which had been yesterday. Things were getting worse for Jesse. He didn’t know how long he could endure it—or how to make it stop. He seriously entertained the thought of simply not going into the school building at all.

Jesse is a victim of bullying. And he isn’t alone. Studies show that one in five American students ages 12-18 experiences bullying[1]. 95% of those students report being bullied at school. And, we should note that bullying is not a problem only in secular schools. Like many other social problems, bullying exists in Christian schools, as well.

And bullying is a problem that has wide-ranging consequences for its victims. Data shows that victims of bullying are known to experience higher incidences of mental health and behavior problems than non-victims. Such outcomes might include depression, anxiety, sleep problems, low self-esteem, and even thoughts of self-harm and suicide. And those outcomes can last beyond adolescence. Into adulthood.

Victims of bullying are also at risk for lower academic achievement, dropping out of school, and social disengagement. The consequences are real. Students who are bullied pay a high price for the selfish and sinful behavior of others. Some of the emotional wounds suffered as the result of bullying last a lifetime.

In elementary and middle schools, I was bullied. I can still clearly recall some of those experiences. My teachers, parents, and school counselor all gave me the same advice: either ignore the bullying, or fight back. The few times I did fight back only succeeded in inflaming the situation, reaffirming my own powerlessness. And for those who have ever been victims of bullying, it is understood that ignoring the problem—either by victims or adults who are aware of the situation—only gives it permission to continue.

While on the surface it might appear that power is at the heart of bullying behavior, the opposite is actually true: fear and insecurity are at its core. Fear and insecurity on the parts of those who become bullies lead them to find security and identity by controlling others. Through humiliating others, they feel strong. Through doing so publicly (which is how bullying most frequently happens), bullies attract other insecure people to themselves. This both affirms the strength of the bully and allows the bully’s followers to live vicariously through his or her displays of power. In reality, though, it’s all an act. Bullies can only mask their own weakness and insecurity through frightening others.

This is why it’s necessary for teachers, parents, youth leaders, and other caring adults to identify when a student they love is being bullied, and to intervene. Only real power can defuse a bully’s bluster and end a cycle that will wind up only hurting innocent victims. How can you tell if a student is being bullied? Here are some things to look for:

  • Students who suddenly seem withdrawn, depressed, or anxious
  • Students who suddenly avoid school, church, or neighborhood venues that might be locations where bullying occurs
  • Students who suddenly stop using social media or their phones altogether
  • Students who have unexplained bodily injuries (bruises, scratches, etc.), torn clothes, or missing property
  • Students whose eating habits suddenly change
  • Students who engage in self-harming behaviors (cutting, eating disorders)


Sometimes, though, there may not be visible signs of bullying. Parents can be proactive in four ways to detect and stop bullying:

  1. Pray for your student, that the Lord would protect him or her from those who would wish to cause harm.
  2. Talk regularly with your student, asking diagnostic questions that might lead to bullying or other hidden problems being exposed. Ask about interactions with friends, about interactions with other peers, about how your student feels about him/herself. Ask him or her what’s currently making them happy and what’s making them sad or fearful.
  3. Watch your student and note how he or she interacts with peers. Can you see any visible or sudden changes? Does she suddenly seem more passive and shut down when with friends? Does he suddenly make excuses not to spend time with others?
  4. Monitor your student’s phone, social media, and app usage. About 37% of all bullying victims have been cyberbullied. Cyberbullying can take several forms: mean and hurtful comments about the victim, rumors about the victim, or threats of violence. Cyberbullying can be either direct (via text or instant messaging) or public (via social media). Cyberbullying is far from harmless, and must be stopped as soon as it is discovered.


What can you do as a parent or other responsible adult if you discover that your student is the victim of bullying?

  1. Pray and ask God for wisdom and discernment to deal with the situation.
  2. Talk with your student and affirm that you will make and keep them safe.
  3. Ask your student to share details with you about the bullying (Who? When? Where? What have they done? How long has it been going on? Who else knows?)
  4. If there has been violence or threats of violence, call the police.
  5. Elevate the situation immediately to other adults who can help shut down the bullying and hold the perpetrators accountable. This may include teachers, school counselors, and administrators if the situation occurs at school; youth leaders or pastors if the situation occurs at church; coaches if it occurs in a sports league. If appropriate, notify the bully’s parents or guardians and hold them responsible to intervene. Adults who know about bullying are responsible to stop the bullying.
  6. Continue talking with your student to determine how they are dealing with the situation and people involved. Determine where they might need additional assistance and interventions.
  7. Leverage the resources you have at your disposal. School counselors can connect your student with other resources, inside and outside of the school. Church leaders, particularly youth leaders, can provide spiritual care, encouragement, and a path toward healing. Counselors, social workers, and other therapists can provide emotional support and identify ways to create a climate of safety in which the student can begin to thrive.


Here are links to some other free resources you might find helpful:


Bullying in our schools and communities is never acceptable, it’s never normal, and it’s never harmless. Bullying winds up hurting us all. Let’s take steps to rein it in, and help students who have become victims to recover and thrive!


                                                    

[1] Cited under “Bullying Statistics” heading of the webpage stopbullying.gov/resources/facts, last accessed 10/20/2020. Data was gleaned from studies by the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 

Tim Geiger (M.Div.) is Executive Director of Children's Jubilee Fund. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Tim has lived in or around the city most of his life. His undergraduate studies done at the Community College of Philadelphia, Tim went on to earn a Master of Divinity Degree from Westminster Theological Seminary. He is ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. Prior to serving at Children's Jubilee Fund, Tim worked for the Internal Revenue Service, The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and Harvest USA, where he also served as Executive Director and then President from 2012-2019. Tim lives with his wife and daughter just outside of Philadelphia.

Children's Jubilee Fund is a 501(c)(3) organization established in 1997 to provide tuition grants to Christian schools in the Philadelphia metro area that serve underprivileged students. These grants are then awarded by the schools as scholarships to students who meet income and residency guidelines. Each year, Jubilee provides hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants that, in turn, help hundreds of students in Philadelphia, Delaware, Montgomery, and Camden Counties achieve their God-given academic and personal potential. Children's Jubilee Fund is an entirely donor-supported organization.

Screen Time, Part Three

Over the course of this three-part series, we’ve been looking at children’s use and over-use of screens and related technologies. In Part One, we looked at the dangers of students misusing screens. In Part Two, we looked at three ways parents and guardians can help students better understand the dangers they face.

Today we come to the third and final installment of the series, where we look at what parents and guardians can do to help students set and maintain helpful boundaries with their screens…and what they can do to help students who struggle with respecting those boundaries.

If you are the parent or guardian of a child or adolescent, you likely have already had to wrestle with the issue of how can I shut down my student’s screen when I think they’ve had enough? Limiting screen use or limiting time spent on particular apps can be a challenge for two reasons. First, as we discussed in the earlier two parts of this series, online content (particularly video content with motion accelerated to faster-than-real-life) can be addictive. Second, looking at screens themselves can be addictive. In other words, establishing and enforcing screen time boundaries and limits can be difficult because our kids are already addicted to their screens and preferred content.

But parents and guardians still need to do their jobs of looking out for their students’ best interests. Those best interests include their health. According to a recent Census Bureau survey cited in Time Magazine, children and teens who consistently spend a lot of time in front of screens (particularly smartphones) may have higher incidence of depressing, anxiety, and suicide than those who spend less time on screens.

What can parents and guardians do to help kids limit their screen time and to use the screen time they do have more wisely?

Here are seven examples of what you can do.

  1. Set an example for your kids. Limit your own use of screen time. Tell your kids why you’re doing this, and then do it consistently.
  2. Use trusted resources to make certain that the apps and other content your kids use is appropriate for them. One good resource is Common Sense Media, which provides information on specific apps, shows, and other content so that you can make informed decisions about what’s best for your child.
  3. Set up and enforce regular screen-free times during your child’s day. Examples of such times might be during meal times, one hour prior to bed, or during school or homework times. On weekends, it might be wise to set a regular two-hour window when your child needs to turn in his or her phone, and stay off of all other screens.
  4. Set up and enforce no-screen areas in your home. Experts encourage children’s bedrooms to be one such area. Another might be bathrooms, or any place with a closed door where your child could spend extended, unmonitored periods of time with a screen.
  5. Use apps to limit the amount of screen time your child has available to them throughout the day. If you use an iOS device, the Screen Time app works well for this. Certain cell service providers, such as Verizon, have apps (like Verizon’s Smart Family) which allow you to shut down any connected device for any period of time. Both of these apps allow parents and guardians to also limit the usage of particular apps.
  6. See if your internet provider allows you to set an internal timer in your Wi-Fi router’s settings so that it will automatically turn off the router during certain periods of the day or night. This is a good back-up plan to make certain that students can’t just go to a Wi-Fi enabled device to get around data restrictions on their phone or tablet. If you can’t configure your router’s settings to turn it off for certain periods of time, use this simple hack: plug your router into a lamp timer, which will turn it on or off during certain times of the day or night.
  7. Use some sort of monitoring software to make certain your child isn’t purposefully or accidentally viewing content that isn’t appropriate for them. Some examples of such software are Mobicip, Net Nanny, Norton Family, and Bark. If you want a no-cost alternative to these paid services, you can configure the parental controls on your devices and router to avoid particular apps, and not allow certain content. Your data or internet provider often provides explanations of how to configure parental controls on your website.

    Whatever you do, explain your plan with your student. To the extent you can, ask them to actively participate with you in creating the limits of your plan. Then, stick to it—even when it’s difficult to do so. In the end, your student will thank you for it.

Tim Geiger (M.Div.) is Executive Director of Children's Jubilee Fund. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Tim has lived in or around the city most of his life. His undergraduate studies done at the Community College of Philadelphia, Tim went on to earn a Master of Divinity Degree from Westminster Theological Seminary. He is ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. Prior to serving at Children's Jubilee Fund, Tim worked for the Internal Revenue Service, The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and Harvest USA, where he also served as Executive Director and then President from 2012-2019. Tim lives with his wife and daughter just outside of Philadelphia.

Children's Jubilee Fund is a 501(c)(3) organization established in 1997 to provide tuition grants to Christian schools in the Philadelphia metro area that serve underprivileged students. These grants are then awarded by the schools as scholarships to students who meet income and residency guidelines. Each year, Jubilee provides hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants that, in turn, help hundreds of students in Philadelphia, Delaware, Montgomery, and Camden Counties achieve their God-given academic and personal potential. Children's Jubilee Fund is an entirely donor-supported organization.

Screen Time, Part Two

In last week’s post, we looked at three dangers of excessive exposure to screens:

  1. Content offered on screens is meant to be addictive;
  2. Content offered on screens can be dangerous because it can manipulate the way content consumers think and act; and
  3. Excessive screen use can lead to emotional, social, and mental health problems.

Each of these dangers is particularly problematic for children and adolescents, who lack the self-awareness, self-control, and discernment to protect themselves.

What can parents, guardians, teachers, and other caregivers do to help children understand and control the images and messages they see online? This week, we’ll look at how to help kids understand. In our final post in the series, we’ll look at ways parents and caregivers can take control of the situation.

Understand

Here are some talking points to help your kids understand what they’re being exposed to online.

1. Nothing on electronic media is morally neutral. In other words, kids need to understand that the content to which they expose themselves will do one of two things: it will either make them wise and more godly, or it will lead them away from God and the safety he provides.

The Bible tells us in Psalm 101:3 to avoid even looking at anything that is “worthless,” or that would lead us astray (actually, the entire psalm deals with the topic). The reason? We become like the things we expose our eyes, ears, minds, and hearts to. That’s why the psalmist says in this verse: “I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me.” He knows that whatever he sets his eyes on will literally cling to him and either lift him up, or drag him down.

Electronic media is like that, too. Staring at content designed to shock, scare, sexually arouse, anger, or even entertain (yes—too much entertainment is bad for you, too!) will have a subtle effect on the viewer. We wind up thinking the very ways that we’re taught to think in the media we consume. We wind up speaking and acting the ways patterned for us in that media. Help your child understand that he or she is literally being programmed by the things that he or she watches or listens to—and that isn’t always good.

2. Self-control is good. This is a concept that seems to have fallen by the wayside in our modern era. Artificial intelligence (AI) is at work to keep feeding content to us content consumers. When the algorithms determine that we enjoy watching content that has certain tags, it will automatically feed us more, and more, and more. It’s like being at an all-you-can-eat buffet…there’s so much good.

And the reason why it’s so hard to just put the phone down and walk away is that the pleasure centers of our brains have been reconditioned to crave more and more content that we find enjoyable. It literally takes a force of will to close the app or turn off the phone and to focus on something else.

Kids often end up consuming endless hours of AI-curated content because they don’t know how to walk away. They don’t know they are able to exercise self-control. Talk with your kids about the importance of taking control of their own minds and bodies by setting limits on the time they spend on apps and in front of screens. If they sit passively before a screen filling their minds and hearts with content, they’re being shaped by whatever they watch. But they can take responsibility for their own bodies and minds, and get up and walk away. Sometimes, just being told they have the ability to do this can empower a child to make different choices.

3. Your kids have an enemy, who is trying to destroy them. That enemy is Satan, the devil. Satan’s mission is to destroy the fruit and joy of salvation in the lives of all God’s people. He is after your children, and can use media to infiltrate their hearts and minds.

Satan does not tend to tempt us by exposing us to extreme, implausible thoughts or circumstances. Rather, his habit is to put otherwise good and appealing things in front of us and ask us: Why don’t you just go ahead and take it? You know you want it.

He can do that through entertainment, humor, good-sounding music, and even using the words of someone else we might admire or trust to entice us. Friends sharing links to content they might find funny or provocative might provide a vehicle for that temptation. So might AI offering your child a virtually limitless menu of entertainment.

Don’t get me wrong: not everything is a vehicle for temptation. But kids need to be aware of the fact that there is someone at work behind the scenes to expose them to harmful ideas, worldviews, and behaviors. They need to either be wise enough to avoid those traps, or they need a parent, guardian, teacher, or caretaker to steer them away from danger.

In the third and final installment of the series, we’ll look at how parents, teachers, and other caregivers can actually help kids set boundaries or even change behavior regarding screens and media.

Tim Geiger (M.Div.) is Executive Director of Children's Jubilee Fund. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Tim has lived in or around the city most of his life. His undergraduate studies done at the Community College of Philadelphia, Tim went on to earn a Master of Divinity Degree from Westminster Theological Seminary. He is ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. Prior to serving at Children's Jubilee Fund, Tim worked for the Internal Revenue Service, The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and Harvest USA, where he also served as Executive Director and then President from 2012-2019. Tim lives with his wife and daughter just outside of Philadelphia.

Children's Jubilee Fund is a 501(c)(3) organization established in 1997 to provide tuition grants to Christian schools in the Philadelphia metro area that serve underprivileged students. These grants are then awarded by the schools as scholarships to students who meet income and residency guidelines. Each year, Jubilee provides hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants that, in turn, help hundreds of students in Philadelphia, Delaware, Montgomery, and Camden Counties achieve their God-given academic and personal potential. Children's Jubilee Fund is an entirely donor-supported organization.

Go Therefore and Make Disciples…of Children

One of the more well-known passages of Scripture is what is frequently referred to as the Great Commission. In Matthew 28:18-20a, Jesus tells his disciples:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

What a marvelous invitation from our Lord! In saying that we should make disciples, he not only gives his people a mission to fulfill, but he also implicitly says that there is a large population of people “out there,” among and around us, who will listen to the good news about Jesus and begin to believe in him as Savior and Lord.

Yet, Christians frequently fall short in fulfilling this mission. We tend to focus on the “baptizing” aspect (that is, seeing people profess faith in Christ)—but not so much on the “teaching” aspect (what difference being a Christian makes in everyday life). Both aspects are necessary for new disciples to grow in faith.

The process of discipleship is what Christian schools are all about. Much more than focusing solely on transferring the information and life skills of academics, Christian schools help students answer the question: What difference does being a Christian make for me as I interact with the world?

Teachers, staff, and administrators actively love and get to know their students. In many cases, they also get to know and love their students’ families. School staff and leaders help students work through conflict, deal with disappointment, respond to peer pressure, and exercise self-control. They help students develop biblical worldviews about things like sex, money, entertainment, their own bodies, and their relationship to the world. All this is what Jesus commanded when he said discipleship was “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

Students in Christian schools learn that being a Christian is so much more than following a code of conduct. Being a Christian is having a relationship with the living God of the universe, who loves them and gave his only Son on the cross, so that they might become his true sons and daughters.

2020 has been a hard year in many respects, but trusting in the fact that Jesus is firmly in control of all of the circumstances that we’ve experienced, Jubilee network school staff and leaders continue working diligently to help their students understand that God really is in control of the world and their own lives…and that he’s truly working all things together for their good (Romans 8:28). That’s discipleship.

Please pray for our network of schools, and for each of the teachers and administrators who will begin afresh with their ministry of education and discipleship in just a few weeks. Pray that the Lord would make many disciples in the year to come…and that he would strengthen and deepen the faith of them all.

Tim Geiger (M.Div.) is Executive Director of Children's Jubilee Fund. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Tim has lived in or around the city most of his life. His undergraduate studies done at the Community College of Philadelphia, Tim went on to earn a Master of Divinity Degree from Westminster Theological Seminary. He is ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. Prior to serving at Children's Jubilee Fund, Tim worked for the Internal Revenue Service, The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and Harvest USA, where he also served as Executive Director and then President from 2012-2019. Tim lives with his wife and daughter just outside of Philadelphia.

Children's Jubilee Fund is a 501(c)(3) organization established in 1997 to provide tuition grants to Christian schools in the Philadelphia metro area that serve underprivileged students. These grants are then awarded by the schools as scholarships to students who meet income and residency guidelines. Each year, Jubilee provides hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants that, in turn, help hundreds of students in Philadelphia, Delaware, Montgomery, and Camden Counties achieve their God-given academic and personal potential. Children's Jubilee Fund is an entirely donor-supported organization.

How to Pray for Our Students and Schools in August

As we begin August and anticipate the start of the fall school term, many of our students, their families, and our school leaders and teachers are anxious.

This fall term will be unlike any seen in our lifetimes. COVID-19 hijacked the school calendar, and most schools will at least start instruction either exclusively or partially as they ended school in June—online. Extracurricular activities will be non-existent. Many of our schools are uncertain how they will fare financially. Many of our parents are either unemployed or have had their hours or pay reduced. And, each of our students is faced with uncertainty, challenges, and temptation to fear the future.

God tells us in Scripture that he is “our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). He encourages us to come to him with the things that trouble us, and he promises to listen, and to respond.

Please join us here at Jubilee in praying for out students and schools this month, by praying as follows—and however the Lord leads.  

 Pray for our students’…

  • Physical safety, that they would not be injured in violence in their neighborhoods, and that they would not contract or transmit COVID-19
  • Emotional health, as many see their neighborhoods scarred by violence, looting, closed businesses, and graffiti
  • Self-image, as many black and brown students live in the self-awareness of racial inequality
  • Provision, as many families are still unemployed or underemployed, and may be facing eviction or food insecurity
  • Recreation, as city pools and playgrounds remain closed
  • Spiritual health, that they will remember they are loved by Jesus, even when their circumstances are difficult
  • Learning, that the summer slide that so frequently impacts students would not be made worse this year by the shortened school year
  • Relationships to our schools, that all of our students would re-enroll for the fall even if parents are unable to pay any tuition
  • Protection during the summer from abusive behaviors around them. Incidents of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of minors all increase during times of stress and anxiety.

Pray for our schools…

  • That the Lord would provide for their financial needs this year, and that they wouldn’t have to furlough any teachers or staff
  • That the Lord would make it clear to our schools’ leaders exactly how and when to resume classes
  • That the Lord would grant teachers with wisdom, patience, creativity, and joy as they begin the fall term using online platforms to interact their students
  • That school leaders would receive godly wisdom and intuition to know how to budget and otherwise plan for the rest of this year
  • That our schools’ leaders and teachers would remain firmly rooted and grounded in the Lord, and resist the temptation to fear or become discouraged

Thank you!

Tim Geiger (M.Div.) is Executive Director of Children's Jubilee Fund. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Tim has lived in or around the city most of his life. His undergraduate studies done at the Community College of Philadelphia, Tim went on to earn a Master of Divinity Degree from Westminster Theological Seminary. He is ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. Prior to serving at Children's Jubilee Fund, Tim worked for the Internal Revenue Service, The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and Harvest USA, where he also served as Executive Director and then President from 2012-2019. Tim lives with his wife and daughter just outside of Philadelphia.

Children's Jubilee Fund is a 501(c)(3) organization established in 1997 to provide tuition grants to Christian schools in the Philadelphia metro area that serve underprivileged students. These grants are then awarded by the schools as scholarships to students who meet income and residency guidelines. Each year, Jubilee provides hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants that, in turn, help hundreds of students in Philadelphia, Delaware, Montgomery, and Camden Counties achieve their God-given academic and personal potential. Children's Jubilee Fund is an entirely donor-supported organization.

Jubilee provides emergency aid to some schools

Throughout the month of April, Jubilee publicized a campaign raising funds to pass along to Jubilee schools hit hard by the sudden COVID-19 financial crisis.

Why are these schools in need? Most of our schools work with very thin financial margins. In other words, they tend to live month-to-month, and don’t have much of a financial cushion to fall back on when an economic downturn hits.

The COVID-19 health crisis and subsequent shutdown of the nation’s economy have had unprecedented impacts on working families in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor through April 11, 2020, Pennsylvania has lost over 1.3 million jobs during the first month of the crisis, making it the state with the fifth highest effective unemployment rate in the nation, at 21.9%. New Jersey lost nearly 700,000 jobs during the same period, making it number eleven in the nation, with an effective unemployment rate of 16.7%.

As I delivered the laptops donated by Jubilee to students who needed them to participate in distance education, I was struck by the fact that some parents who were there to pick up the laptops also took home boxes of food provided by the schools. Many of our students belong to families whose hourly and service-sector jobs were the first to be eliminated in the financial crisis. And, they’ll likely be the last to be re-employed when a recovery begins. As a matter of fact, one of our heads of school informed me just last Friday that an astounding 91% of her school’s families were either completely unemployed or had work hours cut.

What this means for many of our schools is that families who paid even partial tuition are generally unable to make tuition payments any longer. Schools who depended upon April, May, and June tuition payments aren’t receiving them. Plus, many schools hold their annual fundraisers in the spring. Those have now been cancelled, and the critical cash they would have brought in to the schools to pay current expenses is lost.

Faced with the prospect of many schools cutting staff and programs, Jubilee began its emergency campaign on March 30. As of April 30, a total of $80,681 came in. Jubilee will add $60,000 of its own reserves to this amount, so that we will be able to distribute $140,681 to our hardest-hit schools. We hope that this emergency infusion of cash will allow many of our schools to retain current staff and programs, as well as to retain students whose parents are temporarily unable to make tuition payments.

To many of you who responded to our campaign, our schools and our students thank you for your generosity!

 

Tim Geiger (M.Div.) is Executive Director of Children's Jubilee Fund. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Tim has lived in or around the city most of his life. His undergraduate studies done at the Community College of Philadelphia, Tim went on to earn a Master of Divinity Degree from Westminster Theological Seminary. He is ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. Prior to serving at Children's Jubilee Fund, Tim worked for the Internal Revenue Service, The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and Harvest USA, where he also served as Executive Director and then President from 2012-2019. Tim lives with his wife and daughter just outside of Philadelphia.

Children's Jubilee Fund is a 501(c)(3) organization established in 1997 to provide tuition grants to Christian schools in the Philadelphia metro area that serve underprivileged students. These grants are then awarded by the schools as scholarships to students who meet income and residency guidelines. Each year, Jubilee provides hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants that, in turn, help hundreds of students in Philadelphia, Delaware, Montgomery, and Camden Counties achieve their God-given academic and personal potential. Children's Jubilee Fund is an entirely donor-supported organization.