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Exit Strategies: An online talk by Dr. Dale Wisely

Here is a 30-minute video presentation by Dr. Dale Wisely.

Tragically, the overwhelming majority of deaths of teenagers occur as a result of high-risk behavior. But the consequences of risky behavior can also lead to disability, unnecessary suffering, legal problems, and other serious troubles.

In this presentation, Dr. Wisely presents ways for parents to better understand why teenagers get involved in high-risk behavior. Dr. Wisely then outlines a parenting approach that may better prepare teenagers for avoiding and extricating themselves from dangerous situations.

Dale Wisely, Ph.D. is Director of Student Services at Mountain Brook Schools. He is a founding board member of All In Mountain Brook. Dr. Wisely is a clinical child & adolescent psychologist. 

Yik Yak no longer available on or near MBJH & MBHS campuses

yik-yak-appThe makers of the notorious social media app Yik Yak have made it unavailable on or near the Mountain Brook Junior High and Mountain Brook High School campuses.

Yik Yak made a program available whereby they block, on request, the use of the app on or near middle school and high school campuses. This is called “geofencing.” So, we looked up the GPS coordinates of both campuses and submitted those to Yik Yak. The app appears to be blocked on those campuses. We also submitted the GPS coordinates for the elementary schools, but Yik Yak does not have a program for blocking those.

Yik Yak appears to have made another positive change by requiring that users enter and verify their phone numbers. Previously, Yik Yak did not require user input of any information in order to use the app, allowing a level of anonymity which encouraged the use of the app for making threats and for bullying.

There have been a number of arrests of individuals who have made serious threats on Yik Yak. The company appears to be cooperating with law enforcement in holding its users accountable for serious criminal conduct.


Dale Wisely, Ph.D.




Suicidal thinking in very young children.

In the current issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (November 2015) there is a research report, and accompanying commentary, about suicidality (that word refers to suicidal thoughts, gestures, attempts, and actual deaths) in very young children, age 3-7.

Fortunately, deaths by suicide in young children are very rare, however, this study suggests that suicidal thoughts are common among children with clinical depression and other forms of psychopathology.

When I began my career in the early 80s, psychologists and psychiatrists were just beginning to recognize that children, including young children, can suffer from all kinds of psychiatric disorders one sees in adults, including the whole range of mood disorders such as depression and bipolar illness. Prior to that time, most mental health professionals believed that if a child appeared depressed, it was strictly because there was something wrong with his or her family or social situation, not because of the biochemical/psychosocial reasons that seem to contribute to clinical depression.

We know much more about suicide in adults and in teenagers. We know, for example, that in the last 10 years or so, teen suicide rates are actually stable and are considerably lower than they were 30 years ago, in spite of the widespread myth that there is an epidemic of teen suicide. Similarly, suicide among the elderly is stable. On the other hand, in the last 10 years, suicide among middle-aged people has risen nearly 30%. It has always been true that adults are much more likely to die by suicide than teenagers and children. The short guide to the demographics of suicide deaths is: Older more than younger; whites more than blacks; men more than women.

When an individual has mental illness, particularly, but not exclusively, depression, suicidal thinking, suicide attempts, and deaths by suicide are a risk. Because we know that even young children can suffer from mental illness, including mood disorders, the question of how suicidality affects these children is something we know too little about.
Continue reading Suicidal thinking in very young children.

Monitoring v. Spying

First, let us thank Mountain Brook-area counselor Michelle Pruett, who made us aware of a resource, linked to below. This is on the website of a commercial product, which we aren’t endorsing (or recommending against either!)

Parents now have a number of tools they can use, if they wish, to monitor the online/cell phone/social media activity of their kids. But, the issues surrounding how to do this, how much privacy is appropriate at what age, and so on, can be complicated.

We don’t endorse the spying approach and the infographics in the link below do a good job of distinguishing between spying and monitoring. Spying, in brief, is when a parent secretly observes what their kids are doing on, for example, cell phones, without letting the young person know. The argument many parents use for this approach is that it increases the chances they’ll “catch” their child up to no good.

We’re less interested in catching and more interested in prevention. As a rule, then, bringing your kids in on the fact that a parent will be monitoring, makes more sense to us.

Again, we’re not endorsing the product, but you may find the infographic interesting.


Bad Apps, 2nd edition

Note: This is a revised version of an article I posted on All In Mountain Brook a few weeks ago. Originally called “7 Bad Apps,” I’m dropping the number 7 so I can add entries on new bad apps as I become aware of them.

Bad Apps

by Dale Wisely

We have three daughters, all adults, two married, one now a parent herself. Due to the timing of their births, Mrs. Wisely and I missed some of the more difficult decisions about cell phones. Our first daughter did not get a cell phone until college; our second not until she started driving; and our youngest was, we think, 14 when she got her first phone. As children and teenagers, our daughters had neither the benefits nor the risk of tablets and smartphones.

If we were raising children now, I am sure we would struggle with the timing of introducing various devices, particularly cell phones. We would struggle, as parents do, about how much to get up on our kids’ business, when it comes to technology. There’s nothing easy about it.

But, as of 2015, I can report that there are certain social networking apps for smartphones we would not allow our children to have on their phones. Period.

I will list examples of bad apps. Let me give credit to this website: This site has a list of good apps and bad apps. I’m reluctant to declare any social media apps as safe or “good,” because all have the potential for abuse. I’m more willing to say that some apps are just plain bad, in the sense that, for whatever reasons, they have been especially notorious for misuse by young people.

There are probably other bad apps. There are apps that aren’t on this list which people can use in a variety of unwise and abusive ways. Anyone with a smartphone can use the camera to transmit inappropriate photos, the messaging features to spread ugly rumors. But, this list is an example of apps that seem to be particularly associated with trouble. (That’s my criterion for including an app here: Evidence that it’s overwhelming being used for evil purposes.) If you have other candidates for Bad Apps, email them to me at

After School. This is an anonymous social app, designed for high school students. It may hold the distinction of being the most notorious app in this list. It has been pulled from the Apple app store more than once because of the prevalence of bullying, harassment, and exhortations to violence via the app. As of this writing, it is not available on the app store. I will not to be surprised if it doesn’t resurface with a new name and design at some point.



Ask-fm. I actually have mixed feelings about posting this one. This app is popular among Mountain Brook youth and has been the vehicle of some significant misconduct. It is why it is on the list. In fairness to the people behind this app, there is nothing inherently wicked about the concept. I’m not completely confident that the bad outweighs the good. I AM confident I would not have allowed my children to have it.  The idea is that a user can post a question for others to answer. Sounds innocent enough. But, because of the ability to post anonymously, we see questions such as “Who hates (insert name of peer here)?” Answers then can amount to social bullying and harassment. It is my opinion that no child or teenager should be permitted by a parent to use this app.

Burnbook. A new kid on the block, Burnbook has already gained notoriety. It’s another app that facilitates cyberbullying, lewd online conduct, and abusive behavior of various kinds by a anonymous posting and a lack of accountability. I downloaded the app myself on March 26, 2015 and found a Mountain Brook Junior High “community” on it, with lots of posts. Burnbook, ya burnt!

2 screenshots of the Burnbook app, captured March 26, 2015. The left shows there’s a Mtn Brook Junior High “Community” and the right shows a few recent posts.


KiK Messenger. KiK is an instant messaging app. We have been aware of it as a popular app among elementary students. It is notorious for bullying and for child exploitation. In a 2014 article in The Trentonian, a pedophile said KiK is well-known in pedophile circles.  “I could go on it now,” he told the paper, “and probably within 20 minutes have videos, pictures, everything else in between off the app because I know they’re both still active. That’s where all the child porn is coming off of.”  I just (on February 19, 2015) Googled this product and founded stories from just yesterday about the pedophile-KiK connection. Here’s a typical one from just a few weeks ago. Here’s one where a convicted sex offender called into a local TV station to warn parents about KiK.


Omegle. If you Google the name of this app, you’ll find the promotional line “Talk toomeble Strangers!” That pretty much covers it. (I’m including the app’s logo here in case you don’t believe me. Who would blame you for not?) Omegle is a free chat website that allows users to communicate with others without the need to register an account. This means anonymous use. Do you notice a pattern in these? Among other things, this site offers anonymous video chat. Sound like trouble?

Secret and Whisper are two anonymous messaging apps. Again, anonymous. This lack of accountability emboldens people to say dreadful things and, of course, to read awful things said by others. Like many of these apps, use as a platform for cyberbullying is common. UPDATE: 4/30/2015: The company behind the Secret app folded and issued refunds.

yik-yak-appYikYak. This one rolled through Mountain Brook like a runaway truck on fire a couple of years ago, died out a bit, then picked up again early this academic year. It has probably been more nationally notorious than any of the others on this list. It is, yes, an anonymous messaging service based on GPS location. A user is able to see anything posted by other users within an approximate 5-mile radius from that user’s location. Given that students attending any school probably live fairly close to each other, this makes it a perfect vehicle for bullying and harassment, with no accountability. It has also been used as a vehicle to make violent threats, including threats against schools. In fairness to this app, after a start-up that included active efforts to encourage the use of the app by high school students, this company has taken steps to discourage it’s use by people under 17 and to filter bullying content.

Don’t get bogged down in the details. An argument can be made that the problem here is not the technology and not the apps. Here are two major points. First, when it comes to social networking, anonymous more or less equals bad. Second, but more importantly, we cannot just give our kids these sophisticated devices and then relinquish responsibility for what they do with them. Ultimately, no one can be more effective for supervising, monitoring, and guiding teenagers in this than their parents.

Let me add that as a potential resource for youth and for parents who want to more about these apps and about kids’ use of social media in general, I found a number of excellent videos about these apps on the aforementioned