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Youth survey reveals mental health differences between girls, boys


Every other year, students in Rock County’s middle and high schools take the Youth Risk Survey.

Developed for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the survey covers everything from drug and alcohol use to sexting, texting and screen use.

The results are reported across all students and by gender.

Of the 50 questions asked of high school students, only four showed more than 15% difference between genders.

Of the 40 questions asked of middle-schoolers, only three resulted in more than a 15% difference between genders.

For all ages, the greatest differences between genders were found in responses about anxiety, depression and bullying, with girls reporting significantly higher incidences of all three.

Local advocates say there is a reason for those differences, and they’re working to reduce the cultural biases and violence against girls that drive those numbers. At the same time, they recognize that such surveys don’t always reflect the reality of boys’ lives.

The numbers

More than 5,000 students in 14 Rock County high schools took the survey. These subjects showed the greatest difference in responses by gender:

  • Anxiety: 64% of girls and 37% of boys reported problems with anxiety.
  • Sexual or dating violence: 37% of girls and 14% of boys reported being victims of rape, sexual assault or intimate partner violence.
  • Bullying: 52% of girls and 31% of boys agreed or strongly agreed that bullying is a problem.
  • Depression: 41% of girls and 23% of boys reported experiencing “prolonged, disruptive sadness.”

The survey also was taken by more than 3,000 students in 14 Rock County middle schools. Subjects that showed the greatest difference in responses by gender included:

  • Anxiety: 64% of girls and 44% of boys reported “significant anxiety.”
  • Fights at school: 30% of boys and 11% of girls reported they had been in a physical fight in the last 12 months.
  • Depression: 41% of girls and 23% of boys reported experiencing “prolonged, disruptive sadness.”

What’s going on

Why are these differences so stark between boys and girls?

Despite all the changes in gender roles in the last 50 years, boys and girls are inundated by old-fashioned messages about how to behave.

It’s not just Rock County students who give those responses. It’s a national issue, said Shari Faber, project coordinator for Janesville Mobilizing 4 Change, an organization committed to preventing substance abuse and promoting mental wellness.

“I do think some of it is still those cultural biases are still out there,” she said. “Boys are supposed to ‘be a man’ and ‘suck it up.’ I think that’s still prevalent in our society.”

Girls continue to struggle with social pressures over appearance, weight, who to be friends with and behavior, she said.

In addition, the teen and tween years are a time of dramatic change.

“They’re physically changing. They’re biologically changing. Their hormones are going crazy. They have changes in their social lives. They have changes in their brain development,” Faber said. “So there’s a lot going on that adolescents are dealing with on a daily basis. It’s a very challenging time in their lives.”

However, that’s true for boys as well as girls, so why do girls report higher rates of anxiety and depression?

Unfortunately, girls face a greater risk for trauma than boys do, Faber said.

By trauma, she means sexual assault or abuse, physical and emotional abuse or neglect, separation from a parent or caregiver, having a parent with a mental illness or having a parent in jail.

When girls and women experience trauma, they are more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, Faber said.

“It’s kind of a double-whammy,” she said. “Not only are girls more at risk for trauma, but it’s also more likely that the trauma will follow them into adulthood.”

Janesville Mobilizing 4 Change recently received a grant to help reduce the impact of such trauma on all children.

Handle With Care is a program that allows police officers to contact schools when a child has experienced a difficult situation, such as witnessing the arrest of a parent.

Another program helps drug-endangered children. When police are going to make a drug bust in a home where children are present, they make sure county social services workers are on hand immediately.

“Otherwise, it can take hours for someone to get there,” Faber said.

Children still will suffer, but the long-term impact of that suffering can be reduced, she said.

Asking the right questions

Therapist Kristen Hopkins works with adolescents at Associates in Psychotherapy in Janesville.

The difference in survey responses about self-reported anxiety and depression might come down to which questions were asked.

“I wonder if they assessed for feelings or anger or rage,” Hopkins said. “Because what you will see is that boys will absolutely report anger as their kind of vehicle for expression of anxiety and depression.”

Girls are more likely to use more emotional language, while boys are more likely to label feelings using masculine or male-accepted terms, she said.

Differences in emotional responses certainly show up in the survey. At the middle school level, 30% of boys report being in a physical fight in the last 12 months. That’s 19 percentage points higher than girls.

Boys also are more likely to disappear into a video game or “anything that is an exit door” from what is going on in their lives, Hopkins said.

Boys might go out for a night of underage drinking, but those “exit doors” can also be good things, such as going hunting with their dad, she said.

“Girls are more likely to sit with their feelings,” Hopkins said. “They’re given permission to do that when they’re very young. They’re asked, ‘How do you feel about that?’”

What kinds of questions gauge the mental wellness of boys?

“That’s probably a question for a researcher,” Hopkins said with a laugh. “But I would ask young men questions about their actions before I asked them about their feelings. I’d ask them about school attendance. I’d ask them about the amount of time they spend alone.”

She acknowledged that those questions might seem stereotypical, and she stressed that many young men she sees can articulate their feelings. But there are others who tell her, “I snapped again. I punched a hole in the wall, and I don’t even know why.”

The bottom line: Boys need to be given ways to talk about their feelings.

“Until we’ve given our young men the language and skills to identify and discuss their emotions, we can’t expect them to process them,” Hopkins said. “They’re just not there yet.”

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Rock County 911 dispatchers now can track cellphones


Emergency dispatch operators in Rock County have a new tool that allows them to track 911 callers faster and more accurately than ever before.

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The service is free to registered 911 centers from RapidSOS Clearinghouse, a company formed by former Federal Communications Commission commissioners, according to news reports.

Dispatchers can start a search for the cellphone within seconds by keying in the phone number. A Google map with a dot representing the phone appears almost instantly, said Kathy Sukus, director of Rock County Communications.

The dispatcher can then track the phone’s movements.

Sukus said the tool has already been put to use, guiding Janesville police to a caller who was suspected of being suicidal and who became evasive.

“We could see where he was walking,” Sukus said.

Sukus said dispatchers led police to the man. She did not know the outcome.

At first blush, the technology seems to pose questions about privacy and government intrusion, but Sukus said:

  • It only works if someone calls 911. No one can use it to track a pre-selected number.
  • The system is active for a matter of minutes after each call comes in and then it shuts down, so if dispatchers don’t begin tracking promptly, they lose the ability to do so later.
  • Because of those two features, it could not be abused by a 911 employee for personal reasons or by police wanting to track someone because, again, it doesn’t work unless that particular phone calls 911 and the tracking feature is engaged quickly.

Police who want information on a cellphone’s location must continue to do as they have in the past and submit a search warrant signed by a judge to the technology company, Sukus said.

Anthony Wahl 

Red circles on a monitor at the Rock County Communications Center in Janesville show the general location of a cellphone used to call 911. Other red markers show where the phone has been.

The system works even if someone turns off the phone’s location function, because calling 911 turns it back on, Sukus said.

The technology works for hang-up calls, or for someone who starts talking and then is cut off, but the dispatcher must start the process promptly, Sukus said.

That feature could come in handy “if someone abruptly takes the phone from them or something bad happens,” she said.

Attackers in domestic violence incidents often try to break phones or otherwise keep the victim from calling.

About 85% of Rock County 911 calls are from wireless phones, Sukus said, so the new tool is a valuable one.

Despite the new capability, “we still encourage people to tell us their location (when they call 911) because we don’t want to rely on the technology,” Sukus said.

The technology works for iPhones of the IOS version 12 or newer and Android phones version 4 or newer.

The IOS 12 came out in June 2018; the Android 4 in 2011.

RapidSOS also accesses data from Apple, Google, MedicAlert, Uber, wearable technologies such as Fitbits and connected homes and cars. The number of different programs and devices is expected to expand, Sukus said.

Devices don’t need to be modified to allow a dispatcher access to the GPS data. It’s automatic, Sukus said.

Anthony Wahl 

The new RapidSOS Clearinghouse technology works with Google Maps to show the current and former locations of a cellphone that has been used to call 911.

Sukus said the 911 center already had the ability to direct responders to a cellphone’s location, but it was accurate only to 100 meters—about the length of a football field—and is more cumbersome to use. The new system is accurate to within 15 meters, or about 49 feet.

RapidSOS doesn’t work with the dispatch center’s number for nonemergency reporting, 608-757-2244.

Wisconsin and other states are working to upgrade their 911 systems to something called Next Generation 911, which will have many of the same features and could be here in three to five years, Sukus said.

Next Generation 911 will be able to tell how high off the ground the cellphone is, but RapidSOS can’t, she said.

Watergate redux? Trump impeachment inquiry heads for live TV

Back in 1973, tens of millions of Americans tuned in to what Variety called “the hottest daytime soap opera”—the Senate Watergate hearings that eventually led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation.

It was a communal experience, and by some estimates, more than 80% of Americans tuned in to at least part of the Watergate telecasts. They were offered by ABC, CBS and NBC, as well as PBS, which won acclaim and viewers by showing not only the live hearings but also the full-length replays in prime time.

Seeing the witnesses lay out the case against the president moved public opinion decidedly in favor of impeachment.

But this time might be different.

When the House impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump begins its public phase Wednesday, people will be watching on screens large and small. Many, in fact, are likely to be watching the proceedings on more than one screen, with real-time reinforcement of their preexisting views of Trump on social media platforms and other venues that did not exist in Nixon’s time.

In the Watergate era, there was no Fox News or nationally prominent conservative talk radio shows, which today are favored by many of Trump’s supporters. Nor was there the equivalent of MSNBC, which caters to left-of-center partisans.

“People now have a far greater variety of options as to how to consume this,” said professor Tobe Berkovitz, a former political media consultant who teaches communications at Boston University.

“Everyone might watch the same hearing, but then people are going to divide into camps in terms of how they want to engage with the analysis,” he said. “You’re going to pick who you want to interpret and propagandize.”

Two decades before Watergate, Americans had their first collective immersion in live telecasts of a high-stakes Washington hearing when Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wis., polarized the country with his relentless pursuit of suspected communist sympathizers. Joseph Welch, a lawyer representing the Army, is remembered to this day for his question to McCarthy in 1954: “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

The Watergate hearings produced a comparably memorable catchphrase, when Sen. Howard Baker, R-Tenn., summarized the gist of the complex inquiry into a politically motivated break-in: “What did the president know and when did he know it?” A damning answer eventually surfaced after the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, as the Senate’s Watergate Committee was officially called, obtained secret Oval Office tapes that implicated Nixon in a cover-up.

In the runup to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment by the House in December 1998 and acquittal by the Senate two months later, there was a similar dramatic twist when disclosure of Monica Lewinsky’s semen-stained blue dress undercut Clinton’s claim that he had never had sex with her.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, said Americans expecting an equally dramatic moment in the upcoming impeachment telecasts might be let down, given that so much important testimony already has been presented in closed-door sessions.

“If you’re expecting revelation as opposed to confirmation, you’re going to be disappointed,” Jamieson said. “It’s going to seem anticlimactic unless something new is discovered.”

She noted another contrast between Watergate and the Trump inquiry. Nixon and his top aides struggled to communicate persuasively with the public as the investigation unfolded, whereas Trump and his advisers are making intensive use of advertising and social media “to make sure his base stays locked down.”

Will the upcoming impeachment telecasts change many minds?

Mark Meckler, an early leader in the tea party movement, predicts a lot of Americans won’t even watch the broadcasts because they’ve already reached conclusions.

Many Trump supporters won’t tune in “because they think it’s a sham process,” he said. “And I don’t think most people on the left will watch because they already know the conclusion in their minds. To them, the president has been impeachable since before he was elected.”

But Darrell West, a longtime political science professor who is now vice president of the Brookings Institution, said the telecasts will boost public interest.

“They will put human faces on the closed-door testimony,” he said in an email. “Viewers will be able to observe what people say and how they say it as well as the manner in which they answer questions.”

West acknowledged that most people have made up their minds on Trump’s guilt or innocence.

“But the testimony doesn’t have to shift very many people to be politically influential,” he wrote. “If only 10% are affected negatively by the testimony, Trump’s removal number jumps from 50 to 60%.

That would represent an enormous hit for him and could lead some Republican Senators to consider a vote to remove the President.”

Arthur Sanders, a professor of politics at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, recalled that public support for Nixon’s impeachment grew as the televised Watergate inquiry progressed, while most Americans remained opposed to Clinton’s ouster at every stage of his impeachment process.

“The Democrats hope this follows the Nixon model—Trump has always hoped it follows the Clinton model,” Sanders said.

Death list for Nov. 11, 2019

John B. Wilson

Anthony Wahl 

Music teacher Kim Schram works with a kindergarten class to count the beats within the song “In the Hall of the Mountain King” during their class at Washington Elementary on Thursday, Nov. 7.