"Now THAT's Italian!!!" Patty Ragu staying at the Turck Family Farm 1976
Good day to you all,
My new website is up and running and almost completed !!! Thanks to my buddy Mike Moyers from JustRiteDesign (www.justritedesign.com) for all of his efforts!!! For those of you who may not know; I am a Mental Health Practitioner and Co-owner of Crow River Family Services, LLC; a mental health agency in central Minnesota. I utilize a lot of experiential-based creative interventions (learning by doing) through skills training* to help kids develop social skills/competencies to increase their mental health and functioning through rehabilitative care reducing the level of impairment they experience due to a mental health disorder.
All of us need to experience a sense of belonging. According to Erik Erikson (one of the founding father’s of psychology) in his 1970 book “Identity, Youth, and Crisis” identity development happens in adolescence but it can’t happen apart from a social context.
In my previous blogs I discussed bullying as a major problem in our schools and how damaging this behavior/attitude can be to young people (what kind of social context is this?). For youth, what larger social context do they have than being a student? In his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” psychologist Abraham Maslow described what has come to be known as: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs where he described 5 levels of need. The first level is related to our physiological needs (air, food, water, sleep, etc.); without Level 1 needs we simply cannot survive. The second level is related to safety (security of body, employment, health, etc.). The third level is related to love and belonging (friends, family, etc.). The fourth level is related to esteem, (self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect for others, respect from others, etc.). and the fifth level is related to self-actualization (morality, problem solving, lack of prejudice, etc.). Now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand the importance of the first two levels and for anyone who has ever been bullied or has felt like they just don’t fit in. The third level makes a ton of sense too. Kids that don’t experience a sense of belonging (or fitting in) are not only at risk for not achieving Maslow’s higher levels of need; they are at higher risk for mental health issues, to engage in delinquent behaviors, experience poor academic outcomes, low self-esteem, and in general–have a poor self concept (Keen, 2004).
So what happens to kids when they don’t experience socially beneficial inclusion or belonging allowing them to develop social competencies while avoiding socialization environments that place them at-risk (drug abuse, violence, etc.)?
Without opportunities for “positive” peer group participation these youth are at-risk for not developing social competence, and instead placing them at further risk of isolation, delinquency, relationship difficulties, and behavioral and mental health issues (Anderson-Butcher and Conroy 2002; Koster et al., 2009; Newman et al., 2007; Nyberg et al., 2008; Stewart et al., 2008).
Positive experiential learning opportunities can help young people develop social competence, increase self-esteem, promote self-confidence, increase leadership skills, improve cooperation, and teach natural consequences (Brendtro & Strother, 2007; Collins, 2003; Long, 2001; Stepney & Davis, 2004). When given real life opportunities to engage young people in experiential learning opportunities; maintenance of these skills is more consistent than in a traditional one on one counseling meeting (Williams, 2000).
My family has been on the same farm since 1875. Growing up on my family farm was all about experiential learning…problem solving, cooperation, self-discipline, dealing with frustration–figuring out how to connect the dots and navigate life’s path–which supported us in developing self-confidence and self-esteem through accomplishing tasks and experiencing actual achievement. It’s not news that gardening has proven to be a therapeutic activity, but opportunities to get kids “back to these roots” has been more challenging as youth culture has changed over the years. According to Walt Mueller in his book, “Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture” he reports that major influences have changed significantly over the years. In the 1960′s major influences in a young person’s life were: family, school, friend/peers, and church. In the 1980′s these influences had shifted slightly and were: friends/peers, family, media, and school. In 2000, the major influences had changed even more and media had taken over the top spot as the major influence in a young person’s life followed by friends/peers, family, and school. How do you think our media teaches youth how to get along with others, how to deal with frustration–to persevere through adverse, difficult situations; problem solve and experience resiliency?
According to Dr. David Walsh in his 2004 book, “Why Do They Act That Way-A Guide to the Adolescent Brain” the average youth in the United States was consuming an average of 40 hours of “screen time” every week (TV, computer, cellphone, video games, etc.). Recently he advised me that this number had climbed much higher (over 50 hours/week) according to a study published by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2010. Walsh reports that young people today live in a culture that demands easy, fast, fun–now. We have a society that unknowingly promotes entitlement in our youth and subsequently more and more youth don’t know how to navigate life–to solve problems or to think effectively in order to make good decisions. Getting back to the roots—(giving kids the opportunity to learn by doing) supports them in learning the skills (healthy ingredients for living) necessary to develop social competency and be productive members of society. To learn how to put these ingredients together is to gain the confidence and abilities necessary to become socially competent and socially conscious human beings. These are opportunities our kids desperately need–not only in school but in their community; to contribute and participate in something bigger than themselves, and to make a difference. Experiential gardening groups impact social skill development in at-risk youth by providing a safe, cohesive space to grow; to grow flowers and vegetables and to grow connections. A tomato seed doesn’t turn into a tomato overnight much less spaghetti sauce. Tomatoes require good soil, water, sunshine/heat, care, and diligence over several months time. Other ingredients such as garlic, onions, peppers, rosemary, oregano, etc. are also necessary to make the sauce complete. None of them grow overnight, however with hard work and commitment, they can be grown successfully—but the art and necessity of hard work has gotten a bad rap.
In her 2009 book, “Bright-Sided-How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America”, Barbara Ehrenreich suggests an error in our thinking and our behavior. ‘If we just think positive thoughts good things will happen to us and if good things aren’t “happening” to us we are not thinking like we ought to be.’ Not only is this foolish; it is dangerous and disempowering. It dismisses our responsibility to authentically address difficult circumstances or truly support others facing them. Ehrenreich references a new movement of the last decade that many evangelical Christian pastors embrace suggesting if we keep a positive attitude, we’ll receive that ‘pot-o-gold’ or realize our American Dream of ‘having it all’. Not only does Ehrenreich highlight the flaws of this “easy, fast, fun, now” brand of thinking; she also poignantly reminds us that this type of thinking purports that if you believe enough you can surmount any difficulty. This suggestion implies a lack of faith or positive thinking has brought hardship to our lives and if we would just think more positively everything would get better. Not only does this misguided mantra contribute greatly to an ever increasing sense of entitlement in our society it also blames those experiencing difficult or tragic situations for not thinking more positively or not pulling themselves up by their non-existent bootstraps. How are young people supposed to learn that it’s not about immediate gratification with this cultural prescription? It’s no longer about persistency and resilience or working hard to make a difference—the intrinsic value of these skills and this ideal seems to have been lost. Experts today say that the United States is at-risk to fall behind in the global economy because we don’t have enough kids going into science and engineering—is it because like a tomato seed, you can’t get there overnight.
In his book, “Last Child in the Woods” Richard Louv talks about “Real World Learning” related to a national effort studying environment-based education that issued a report in 2002 that has “been largely ignored by the education establishment”. He reported, “The findings are stunning: environment-based education produces student gains in social studies, science, language arts, and math; improves standardized test scores and grade-point averages; and develops skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, and decision-making.” (Louv, 2005 p. 204-205) Later, in the book he first quotes then references Taylor and Kuo’s literature analysis of several studies: “Some of the most exciting findings of a link between contact with green space and developmental outcomes come from studies examining the effects of outdoor challenge programs on children’s self-esteem and sense of self…It is interesting to note that four studies included longitudinal measures and found that participants continued to report beneficial outcomes long (up to several years) after their nature experience” (quote from Taylor and Kuo’s analysis, Louv 2005 p. 225). He goes on to write: “Studies of outdoor-education programs geared toward troubled youth–especially those diagnosed with mental health problems–show clear therapeutic value. The positive holds true whether the program is used as an add-on to more traditional therapy or as therapy in and of itself; it can even be seen when outdoor programs are not specifically designed for therapy. Studies over the past decade have shown that participants in adventure-therapy programs made gains in self-esteem, leadership, academics, personality, and interpersonal relations.” (Louv 2005 p. 225). “‘These changes were shown to be more stable over time than the changes generated in more traditional education programs’, according to Dene S. Berman and Jennifer Davids-Berman, in a review of such programs for the Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools.” (Louv, 2005 p. 225) I think these outcomes are a no brainer. Perhaps they are referring to a more current practice when they are referencing “more traditional education programs”. Getting back to the roots seems a bit “old school” to most kids today—I wonder how kids ever learned anything back in the day? Funny though isn’t it? Back in the day, we were not worried about leading the global economy—because we were. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that we can look to other countries and learn from them; about hard work, about appreciation for the opportunities we have, and about hard work and not thinking the rest of the world owes us something especially when we use 75% of the world’s natural resources. Maybe it’s time we remember we reap what we sow, and get back to the roots…
In 1976, Patrick Lubrano from Brooklyn, New York came to stay on my family farm and we became friends. I was ten years old. I recently reconnected with Patrick and was surprised to find out he was “Patty Ragu”–you remember the little kid in the Ragu Spaghetti Sauce commercial who said, “Now THAT’S Italian!” Patrick told me his time on the farm changed his life. It has changed many lives. Unfortunately over the years the family farm has nearly disappeared. In the 1950′s forty percent of all families lived on a family farm. Today that number is less than two percent. The sheer accessibility for kids today, to touch nature in such a powerful learning environment has nearly vanished. “Back in the day” someone in a person’s extended family at the very least was somehow connected to a farm and kids had more opportunity to touch nature and experience learning in this potent environment–to learn about life and living and from time to time stood in awe. Do we live in a consumer or contributor society? Do we figure out how to fix what we have or do we just keep throwing things into the landfill? It’s a bit odd, but then again not really. There were 40% of families in the United States on a family farm in 1950; today that number is under 2%. The divorce rate in the United States increased from 1950 to today at an eerily similar pace…
I just published a new photo site that you may find interesting and wanted to share it with you–it’s called, “Getting back to the roots…”
(“Skills training means individual, family, or group training, delivered by or under the direction of a mental health professional, designed to facilitate the acquisition of psychosocial skills that are medically necessary to rehabilitate the child to an age-appropriate developmental trajectory heretofore disrupted by a psychiatric illness or to self-monitor, compensate for, cope with, counteract, or replace skills deficits or maladaptive skills acquired over the course of a psychiatric illness.” MN Statute 256B.0943, Subdivision 1, Paragraph (p))
(Anderson-Butcher D Conroy D E 2002 Factorial and criterion validity of scores of a measure of belonging in youth development programs)Anderson-Butcher, D., & Conroy, D. E. (2002). Factorial and criterion validity of scores of a measure of belonging in youth development programs. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 62(5), 857-876. doi:10.1177/001316402236882
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Keen A W 2004 Using music as a therapy tool to motivate troubled adolescents)Keen, A. W. (2004). Using music as a therapy tool to motivate troubled adolescents. Social Work in Health Care, 39(3/4), 361-373.
(Koster M Nakken H Pijl S J Van Houten E 2009 Being part of the peer group: A literature study focusing on the social dimension of inclusion in education)Koster, M., Nakken, H., Pijl, S. J., & Van Houten, E. (2009). Being part of the peer group: A literature study focusing on the social dimension of inclusion in education. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 13(2), 117-140. doi:10.1080/13603110701284680
(Long A E 2001 Learning the ropes: Exploring meaning and value of experiential education for girls at risk)Long, A. E. (2001). Learning the ropes: Exploring meaning and value of experiential education for girls at risk. The Journal of Experiential Education, 24(2), 100-108.
Louv, R. (2005). Last child in the woods. New York: Algonquin Publishing of Chapel Hill.
(Newman B M Lohman B J Newman P R 2007 Peer group membership and a sense of belonging: Their relationship to adolescent behavior problems)Newman, B. M., Lohman, B. J., & Newman, P. R. (2007). Peer group membership and a sense of belonging: Their relationship to adolescent behavior problems. Adolescence, 42(166), 241-263.
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(Stepney P Davis P 2004 Mental health, social inclusion and the green agenda: An evaluation of a land based rehabilitation project designed to promote occupational access and inclusion of service users in north somerset, UK)Stepney, P., & Davis, P. (2004). Mental health, social inclusion and the green agenda: An evaluation of a land based rehabilitation project designed to promote occupational access and inclusion of service users in north somerset, UK. Social Work in Health Care, 39(3/4), 375-397. doi:10.1300/J010v39n03_10
(Stewart M Reutter L Makwarimba E Veenstra G Love R Raphael D 2008 Left out: Perspectives on social exclusion and inclusion across income groups)Stewart, M., Reutter, L., Makwarimba, E., Veenstra, G., Love, R., & Raphael, D. (2008). Left out: Perspectives on social exclusion and inclusion across income groups. Health Sociology Review, 17(1), 78-94.
Williams, B. (2000). The treatment of adolescent populations: An institutional vs. a wilderness setting. Journal of Child and Adolescent Group Therapy, 10(1), 47-56.