Dr. Anthony Pantaleno, Psychologist

Pantaleno Psychological Services, PLLC

Helping teens, young adults, their families, and professionals who work with them

 

358 Veterans Memorial Highway, Commack, NY 11725 

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Cell Phone: (631) 543-8336

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Dr. Pantaleno has been selected as the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)School Psychologist of the Year for 2013. Click here to see the award ceremony:

NASPConvention Keynote

Article in NASP May 2013 Communique

and

NYSUT Article Honoring Him

He is deeply grateful to all friends and colleagues for these honors and will strive to uphold them and the professionalism they represent.

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EVENT at Hofstra University

The Edge of Therapy: Students, Yoga and Mindful Practice.

Dr. Pantaleno is a panelist.

Monday, 3/3/14, 4PM-8PM

Click here for conference follow-up and handouts.

SPCA Private Practice Presentation by Dr. Pantaleno & Dr. Honor April 4, 2014.  Please click for details.
For SCPA Mindfulness in Clinical Practice Issue, please click here.
For Dr. Pantaleno's article about teen suicide and cyberbullying, please click here.
For Dr. Pantaleno's articles in Newsday, please click here.
For Dr. Pantaleno's article about borderline personality disorder from SCPA Newsletter, please click here.
For Dr. Pantaleno's article about Mindfulness-Based Stress-Reduction Practices Within Public Education Policy, please click here.

"Teen Suicide and Cyberbullying 2010:  An Educator’s and Therapist’s Perspective" 

by Anthony Pantaleno, Ph.D.  © April, 2010

     In the seventies and eighties, it was cluster suicides – the bonding of small groups of young people who had pledged to take their own lives together for reasons which made no apparent sense.  Then in a flash, it was Tuesday, April 20, 1999… the Columbine massacre and the beginning of a string of school shootings and school violence which continues to this day.  Here come the front page headlines, the photos, videos, and audio clips, the Today Show and dozens of other media venues springing to life to cover every aspect of our national shame.  Enter the 21st century – the internet, the cyberbullies, the suicides related in some manner to the emergence of a faceless tormentor out there in the crowd.  These phenomena all share similar elements -- a tragic and heart-rending human response to the loss of young lives, and the feelings of disgust that humanity seems once again to have found a new low. Yet, there is a hopeful element amidst all of the tears and the sorrow.  Many more people globally are starting to wonder how to put an end to the madness, how to do something meaningful as a personal individual statement, how to make a small contribution that hold up the light of hope, love, and respect for one another – qualities that have somehow been lost in the media surge to satisfy the seemingly endless human appetite of our most primitive aggressive and sexual drives – welcome to “the Jersey Shore."


     When we study the societal response to teen suicide and violence over the past forty years, most of the calls to action offered up by the “experts” all derive their motivation from externally-imposed solutions.  “Ban the music that these kids listen to,” “Install more metal detectors at the entrances to schools,” “Create school committees to study the problem and establish policies to punish the kids who commit cyberbullying,”“Legislate Facebook, Twitter, Formspring, and the rest of the social networking sites,
“Lets have an antibullying assembly and get a speaker that the kids will really relate to,” “Let’s wear tee-shirts that say we oppose violence of any kind.” 

     As an educator and therapist of thirty-plus years, one cannot criticize these intentions.  They are well-meaning and may be very sincere responses for sure, but in our very human way, they are often knee-jerk responses to individual tragedies that occur within individual communities.  The events come and go, the faces come and go, and we are left in a system which seems to revert back to the political and societal sameness that existed before the event occurred… waiting for the next tragedy to erupt. 

     There is another way into the heart of this problem, another approach that does not come by trying to legislate human emotion and behavior from without.  This alternative path is an invitation, an invitation to look within, and in finding our true hearts, develop a belief in our own being that is so strong that it can withstand any attack or circumstances that try to invade our personal space from “out there.”  As a child, we enter the world with a sense of wonder.  Seeing our first snowflake, tasting our first orange, being knocked off our feet by our first wave at the beach – these and thousands of other experiences all are stored by our sensory memories.  Soon, however, there emerges this entity which will come to run much of our life if we are not careful.  This entity starts to register that it likes this experience, that it doesn’t like that experience, and that it “hates” certain experiences.  Enter the ego – the unseen part of our experience that judges, evaluates, labels, categorizes, solves math problems, tells us just how much salt to add to the spaghetti sauce, “loves” this person, and rejects this other person. 

     Western educational systems have fed the ego and empowered it, so that most people do not register those sensory experiences as pure sensory experiences any more.  Human experience is controlled by the ego, or the “mind."  We process our experiences not as sensory experiences, but as cognitive experiences.  In a word, we “think” about experience more than we may feel experience.  Our egos become addicted to wanting more – more money, more status, more predictability in our lives, more control.  Multi-tasking becomes the master.  Our ego “forgets” that it really does not exist on its own as a definable and separate entity.  It is a mind-product, mind stuff, a human evolutionary tool that tries to understand experience.  BUT IT IS NOT TRULY A “SELF,” with its own personhood.   While educators are reduced to being evaluated by the standardized testing scores of their individual students, their classes, their schools, or their entire school district in state “report cards,” we have too often lost touch with the personal side of our students and the humanity of the very children we teach.  The test scores will fade away, but what messages will our children take away from their years in school into the rest of their lives?  How many children will develop big egos, but lose the ability to relate to the world at a more spiritual level? 

     Recently, I was giving a workshop to a group of about twenty-five seventh graders on stress reduction.  I told them that I would invite them to try something that was very simple to describe but very hard to do.  “OK, people.  Here it is.  I want you to close your eyes for three minutes – no peeking.  I want you to breathe in slowly to a count of four, hold the breath to a count of seven, and very slowly exhale to a count of eight.  We’re then going to repeat that sequence three times.  I’ll be doing this practice with you and counting on my fingers.  If anyone finds that it’s not comfortable to do this, just sit quietly until the rest of the group is finished.”  After three minutes, I opened my eyes to a classroom full of eyes staring back at me.  “No way, that’s impossible,” said one young girl.  A young man was scowling at me so I asked him to share what was on his mind…"That was B-O-R-I-N-G!”  One girl in the back fell asleep, some shared that the experience was very soothing, and one boy said that he was aware that his mind just kept thinking of so many other things.  “Yes,” I gleefully shouted back to him, “You got it!  When you sit quietly, your mind takes control, takes the steering wheel and takes you away.” “But”, I continued, “you can learn to take the wheel back whenever you want.” 

     Welcome to the world of learning how to turn off the thinking mind – even for a minute.   Since we mostly exist at the level of thought, our minds are always churning out a waterfall of thoughts about our experience.  Much of our thought process is driven by experiences of the past, and is even more driven about what may happen in the future.  We have to be taught to live in the present moment – to nurture our inner lives that exist moment by moment, in the present moment, to return to our sensory perspective of looking at life through the eyes of a child.  We need to be taught to let go of the past and the future, the two places our thinking minds will always be trying to pull us to, and to come into presence.  This is not a comfortable place at first, because we have become strangers to it.  Our mind will try its best to keep us out of the present moment.  It doesn’t like to be there. 

     So where am I going with all this as it relates to teen suicide and cyberbullying?  I suppose at the most basic level, it all comes back to a re-examination of the childhood adage that was universal to our upbringing in America – “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”   In the year 2010, I would change the ending of that sentiment to “words can never hurt me…unless my ego is so fragile that I think that my ego (i.e., my thinking mind) is truly ME.”

     Over the course of my entire professional training, I am slowly coming to understand that all human suffering can be traced to a “disconnect” – the human tendency to exist mostly in our thoughts, our “doing” minds as some scholars have aptly named this facet of human” experience, and to exist apart from our capacity to be in the present moment of our “being” minds.  The doing mind is a noisy, but necessary problem solver, without which, mankind would have never realized the miracles of our time.  However, the being mind is still, it has no agenda, it exists to absorb and observe the moments of our lives, in the present, and without any judgment, criticism, or goal-setting.  The field of neuroscience is teaching us that the brain does not have an endpoint of growth; it matures and grows over a lifetime.  That’s the good news!  We are all capable of changing the way we react to experience and painful emotions. 

     Most adults have experienced a period of deep depression, the growing spikes of anxiety in the face of a difficult challenge, a rush of anger or even rage, the sharp cutting feeling of being rejected, the emptiness of loneliness, the despair in losing a cherished relationship, or the guilt in realizing that our words or actions hurt someone that we truly love.  We run from these feelings because they hurt.  They are so painful.  Young people, and adults as well, try to dull the pain with alcohol, drugs, driving way too fast, shopping sprees, cutting themselves or overdosing with sexual behavior and other diversions that try to cover the hurt.

     What if we just stopped for a moment? What would we hear?  The silence would be deafening for a second or two, and immediately followed by a flood of thoughts, a waterfall of self and other judgments, a bottomless pit of analyzing our actions, and the sometimes erroneous conclusion that it is really our unacceptable and despicable egos/minds at the center of this raging river.  We do not accept ourselves as we are, with all of the good, the bad, and the sometimes very ugly parts of our being.  We do not accept others in our lives, especially our harshest critics.  We want the people in our lives to be different from the way they are.  We want situations to be different than they are.  Good luck, world!  People and situations are always going to be the way they are going to be.  It is how we choose to experience them all that may eventually do us in, or give us the insight and wisdom or “wise mind” to accept reality just as it is. 

     As teenagers, we all learned to run away from these sometimes overwhelming feelings because that is what we watched our elders do.  Why do we not teach our children to stop and to learn to navigate the space of their own interiors?  When we turn down the volume of our thinking minds, a deep inner peace can begin to dwell in us.  It has always dwelled in the shadows while our thinking minds held it at bay.  “Being mind” holds the promise of developing an inner resilience that cannot be pierced by the mean- spirited arrows of life.  We cannot fix the problem of teen suicide from without --because it is a phenomenon that finds its roots from within.  Suicide at any age can only present itself as an option when those souls who become lost try and kill the most reprehensible parts of themselves – their unending and searing emotional pain.    

     They have not yet learned the truth – that they are not their thoughts.  All human thoughts are like so many waves on the beach that sometimes crash loudly on the shore, but our true nature is part of a much larger ocean.  Teen suicide, and all forms of human suffering will end when people begin to search for and nurture the inner life.  The hurts of the past will not exist there.  The worries and fears of the future will not exist there.  The inner life exists outside of clock time.  It is the final teaching mission of our schools, our churches, our corporations and other institutions, and our world communities.  A new hope and respect for our own interiority will bring us all a sense of peace that no metal detectors, internet blocking technologies, or other external solutions can ever hope to achieve.

 Where Do We Go From Here? 

     Social and Emotional Learning, or SEL, is an evidence-based approach to education that integrates the academic, emotional, and social dimensions of learning. SEL improves school and life outcomes for children by helping students manage their emotions, build effective relationships, and work through life’s challenges in constructive and ethical ways. Rigorous research links SEL to a range of positive results, including:  

• Improved attendance and stronger commitment to learning and healthy development;

• 9 to 10 point decreases in negative behavior and emotional distress that can lead to school failure;

• 11 percentile point gains on standardized test scores in reading and math;

• Improved school climate and greater student engagement;  

• Long-lasting benefits and a substantial return on investment

 The evidence that SEL works is leading more school districts and states to incorporate SEL as a core education reform strategy. As interest builds, maintaining the quality and depth of SEL implementation is crucial. Research shows that only high-quality efforts get the results our children need.

     Social and emotional learning has a diverse and growing base of supporters that include district and state school leaders, leading researchers, policy makers, philanthropists, and major education organizations. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, convenes the field and works to advance SEL science, practice, and public policy. As recent coverage in Edutopia and a forthcoming story on CNN in the Morning suggest, interest by teachers, parents, and media is also on the rise.  

      The Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Act (HR 4223) was introduced in December, 2009 by Congressman Dale E. Kildee (D- MI), Congresswoman Judy Biggert (R-IL) and Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH). These leaders are now working to include this legislation in the bipartisan overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). HR 4223 authorizes the US Department of Education to:  

• Reach More Children with Evidence-based Social and Emotional Learning

Award five-year competitive grants to states and school districts to develop and implement social and emotional learning.

 • Measure and Broadly Share Results

 Study the impact of funded programs on student achievement, attainment and behavior.

 • Support Teachers, School Districts and States

  Establish a National SEL Technical Assistance and Training Center to provide high quality information, professional development, and research-based tools to teachers,  school leaders, families, states, and other stakeholders.

     The Academic, Social and Emotional Learning Act, HR 4223, has strong support in the education community. Supporting organizations include: American Council for School Social Work, American Federation of Teachers, American Psychological Association, ASCD, American School Counselor Association, Coalition for Community Schools, Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, First Focus, National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Education Association, National Middle School Association, and School Social Work Association of America. 

     Lead sponsors and SEL supporters are now encouraging lawmakers to co-sponsor HR 4223 and include SEL in their priorities for ESEA Reauthorization. For information, contact Andy Wade at 312 / 226-3770 or e-mail awade@casel.org or Ellin Nolan at 202 / 289-3900 or enolin@wpllc.net.

 Post script: 

The pieces of life’s puzzle present themselves in so many amazing ways.  Just recently, sitting in church one Sunday afternoon, where my youngest daughter Kaitlyn was serving mass, it hit me!   As the words of the following prayer were sung by the choir, I realized I had received this gift from beyond… 

The Image of God (R. Levulis) 

We were created in the image of God

Each face, each race in the image of God,

He made the earth with tender care,

A home for all of us to share.

Though our eyes may deceive us on life’s road that we trod (my underlining)

Each child was made in the image of God,

Underneath every skin there’s a soul deep within

That was made in the image of God.

 

Anthony Pantaleno is a School Psychologist at John Glenn High School in East Northport, NY and has a private psychotherapy practice in Commack, NY.  He may be contacted at www.drpantaleno.com.