The Red Line

The Red Line

In 1934 as part of the New Deal, the government created the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC) and the Federal Housing Administration with the goal of preventing foreclosures through mortgage refinancing.  The Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC), a government sponsored lender, proceeded to draw maps of American cities to determine which areas were worthy of mortgage lending and which areas were too high-risk. The HOLC color coded communities into green, blue, yellow, and red areas. Each area came with a definition.

Green – “hot spots,” new, well planned sections of the city

Blue – completely developed areas – these areas were still good but not new

Yellow – areas in a transition period, characterized by age, lack of care

Red – “high-risk” areas predominately with residents of Color – labeled as areas with detrimental influences and poor maintenance– were considered undesirable areas

 

The term “redlining” was coined to explain this practice of denying loans and services based on a neighborhood’s demographic makeup. In 1968, the Fair Housing Act made these maps and practices officially illegal, but the long-term ramifications continue on 50 years later.

We, as parents, teachers, youth workers, or mentors have often grown up with “red lines” in our lives, especially those of us raised with a faith-based background. Red lines are topics, or even people, we aren’t sure we want to be involved with.

For example, ask those around you how sex education was handled in their home growing up. Based on those who I have asked, the answer was one of three things:

1. We just knew not to do it

2. We didn’t talk about it

3. In 5th grade health class.

 

A red line. An area too risky to walk into.

When we, as adults, walk on eggshells regarding certain topics, teens know. When we talk around topics, they pick up on it. Teens know walking on eggshells is a tool adults use to avoid the long-term ramifications of knowing the truth – to avoid the potential fallout associated with the truth. Teens know you aren’t willing to ask the hard questions and believe you aren’t willing to hear the true answers.

 

Here are a few topics that are commonly redlined by adults…

  1. Sex – You talk about sex, right? Talking about how bodies are changing and developing. Talking about respect for their body and for other’s bodies. Asking about impulse, self-control, and definitions of couples/partners. Asking if they are sexually active. Talking about consent and sexual assault.
  2. Suicide – When you suspect a child is struggling, are you direct? Asking, “Are you planning to kill yourself?” or “Are you planning to attempt suicide?” opens the door to keep people “safe for now” according to Living Works. Then ask follow-up questions such as, “Do you have a plan?” “When do you plan to kill yourself?” “Do you have access to ____ (whatever means needed to attempt suicide)?” “Have you attempted suicide before?”
  3. Drugs/Alcohol – Ask the direct question, “Have you been drinking?” or “Are you using drugs?” You can also ask, “What is your drug of choice?” or “How often do you use?” They might lie at first, but the ability to ask these questions opens the door for later conversations because they know you see them and you care.
  4. Mental Health Issues – Are you willing to ask about feelings of depression or anxiety? Are you willing to talk about their friends who may be struggling with these things? Ask youth if there is someone they are worried about.

 

What are the redlines in your past? How do they impact your interactions now? Who do you need to stop walking on eggshells around? What hard questions do you need to ask? What you choose today impacts the future.

**If you want to see these redlining maps or a picture of these ramifications, you can find more here.

 

 

Beth Nichols is Teen Life’s Program Manager. With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, her perspective is invaluable.
Defiance or Survival?

Defiance or Survival?

You are running errands at Target. You see a mom with her pre-teen. The girl mentions that she is hungry, and her mom explains that they are almost done at the store and will get some lunch once they get home. As you stand in the check-out line, you see her eyeing the candy. She asks for some. Again. Mom says, “No.” As you watch, you see the child has opted to steal the candy from the store as opposed to waiting until they get home.

Pause for a minute. How would you handle that situation? What if you were the parent? If you are like most parents I know, you proceed to lecture your child on stealing and add a few lines about how you told her she could eat at home. You drag her back into the store, purchase the candy, make said child apologize, and then take her home to do chores and earn the money back you just spent. Or you repossess her allowance money. You confiscate the candy and promise more consequences.

Now, think of the most challenging youth you know. It may be a student from your classroom at school. Maybe a teen from your church. It may be a youth who is involved with the legal system. It may be your friend’s child. It may be your own child. How do you really view their challenging behaviors? As defiance? As a lost cause?

Each day as parents, school staff, and youth workers, we confront behavior. Sometimes it’s minor disrespect. Sometimes it’s fighting in a hallway where someone is physically hurt.

Consider this:

Is a child or youth’s inappropriate behavior intentional defiance or is it a survival skill?

Even asking that question probably raises a few eyebrows. Most of us have the same gut response. I told (fill in a name) not to do that. They did it anyway. They have no respect for me and need to have (fill in a consequence). But is that really the full story? For our children, we know their story and their history. For other youth – students we see twice a week at a sports activity or church, students in our support groups – we usually only know part of their story. It is much harder to see their needs.

In the words of Dr. David Cross, “Having compassion and understanding helps us to see the need. Seeing the need is changing your frame of reference so you realize that these aberrant behaviors are survival strategies rather than willful disobedience. If you look at your child’s behavior through the lens of his history, his actions make perfect sense. We don’t know all of the potential hurt so we can’t always understand what it takes to survive. How we view behavior changes everything.”

Is the behavior functional? No, most likely not. However, it isn’t fruitful to remove a child’s survival strategy, no matter how negative, without giving them a new strategy. Demanding a child stop stealing food without providing for the very real fear that they will not have food is not going to be successful. Demanding that a child use their words and not fists when they have had to fight to protect themselves or a family member will not change the behavior, without first providing another strategy.

A few questions to consider:

Who is the child or youth in your world that makes you feel like you are spinning your wheels?

How can you change how YOU see their behavior? Can you see their needs not just their actions?

What tools can you provide to the youth in your life in order to increase their success?

 

**The survival vs. willful disobedience concept was introduce to our team while attending a training on Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI.) More information on TBRI can be found here.

 

Beth Nichols is Teen Life’s Program Manager. With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, her perspective is invaluable.
Seismic Shifts – Can You See Them?

Seismic Shifts – Can You See Them?

Seismic shifts are defined as small changes and adjustments by tectonic plates, or the plates that move under the earth. Tectonic plates shift at a rate of approximately 2 to 5 cm a year. To put it in perspective, that is about the rate that your fingernails grow. But collectively over time, multiple seismic shifts lead to earthquakes. Some are small and barely noticeable. Others are large and massively destructive, such as the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 that killed over 225,000 people and displaced millions. To quote Jonathan and Thomas McKee in their book The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer, seismic shifts are “small changes and adjustments that cause a massive transformation.”

Culturally, we have experienced many seismic shifts over the last 15 to 20 years. A few examples as given by the McKees:

  1. Family structures have changed. My husband teaches 4th grade. In his classroom of 24 students, he has only 4 students who live at home with both their mom and dad. Everyone else lives in a varying family structure.
  2. Technology has advanced. Obvious as this one may sound, let me remind you that Apple only released its first iPhone in June 2007.
  3. Smaller community is more common – According to the 2009 Pew Internet and American Life Project, the average size of an American’s core network of close friends has dropped by 1/3 since 1985. Some studies suggest that loneliness is at an all-time high, affecting as much as 45% of the population.

 

Now, take a step back and think about the youth you work with every day. Not only have they been impacted by these cultural seismic shifts, but they are also impacted by personal seismic shifts as well. Seemingly small events, some obvious and others not, can result in a seismic shift in behavior. We have all seen it – the barely noticeable but definitely occurring movements or the big explosions that catch us off guard. It could be a comment on social media, a picture shared without permission, the gain or loss of a part-time job, a change in the status of a long-term friendship. Even expected transitions such as starting high school, or the added freedoms that come with learning to drive or having friends that do – these all result in shifts.

How aware are you of the small shifts? Do you see them when they happen? Do you look for them after the destructive quake has happened to see if there is a cause? Seeing the small shifts and processing them is instrumental in working with teens.

The other aspect of seismic shifts is the reality that we can positively impact teens by purposefully having small, but meaningful interactions. It’s as simple as noticing when someone seems like they are having a bad day or remembering to ask about a situation that they mentioned previously. It could be providing a resource they might shrug off today but grab onto down the road. It’s showing up to an event or listening well to a concern. The opportunities to create shifts abound if we are looking for them.

 

Do you see the seismic shifts in the lives of youth around you? Are you purposefully loving well and creating seismic shifts of your own?

Beth Nichols is Teen Life’s Program Manager. With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, her perspective is invaluable.
Making A Better 2018

Making A Better 2018

During my last support group of the semester, we discussed 2018. One student, a senior and a teen mom, shared that she was more motivated than ever to graduate on time in May. Her son is only a few months old, and childcare is an ongoing challenge for her. Even though her path is far from easy, she was excited for what the new year would bring.

Are you excited?

Many of us spend this time of year reflecting on where we want to be. Statistics says that almost half of us will be setting resolutions and goals for 2018. Among the most common goals are: I will exercise every day and eat healthy. I will read one book a month. I will budget my money better. I will get organized. I will travel.

According to Nielsen Analytics Firm, “Only 14 percent of people over 50 actually achieve their resolution, compared to 39% of people in their 20’s.” Many times, people in the 15-24 year-old range have a reputation for not being consistent or not being motivated. However, that just isn’t the case. Students and young adults are willing to take risks and to follow through on those risks. Resolutions are a perfect example of this.

The older we get, the more we allow scars of the past and fear masked as wisdom to get in the way of achieving our goals. We get into our routines and ruts. We insulate ourselves. Our dreams and goals become safer, tamer, less challenging, or perhaps even less world-changing. We don’t have to push ourselves to change, and no one will force it upon us. We calculate our risks and then discuss all of the pros and cons before making a commitment. We often fail to reach them, and in turn become a bit disenchanted with goal-setting.

However, the teen moms I have in my support group each week are more than willing to take risks and follow through with commitments in order to achieve success. What can we learn from them? The mom I mentioned, who is excited and driven to graduate on time, is a great example. She knows that it helps both her and her child in the future for her to do so. Financial difficulties and lack of sleep, among other challenges, are not deterring her. She knows what she wants and knows the path she will need to walk this year in order to achieve her goals. And I believe that she will succeed.

As you make resolutions for 2018, or even if you don’t plan to make any, take a minute and take a page from the students and young adults around you. Encourage your children or the students you interact with each day or week. Ask them what their goals are, and push them to reach for their dreams this year. Statistically, they are more likely to succeed, and they will remember who cheered them onward and who the naysayers were. Pursue your own dreams with zest and passion, and don’t allow the potential risks or the fear of failure prevent you from moving toward an amazing 2018.

 

What are your goals for this year? How can you help the teens in your life reach their full potential in 2018? We are wishing you a Happy New Year full of opportunities and possibilities!

Beth Nichols is Teen Life’s Program Manager. With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, her perspective is invaluable.
Great Holiday Expectations

Great Holiday Expectations

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – or at least it’s supposed to be. Trees are decorated, lights are strung, stockings are hung, lists are made, and parties are planned. Emotions can skyrocket to the highest highs and then crash all in one week.

Last year for Christmas, my 6-year old provided me her Christmas list. At the top was an iPhone. I initially just laughed it off, but as the season progressed, the iPhone quickly became the only thing on her list. So, about 2 ½ weeks before Christmas, I put on my Grinch face and told her that she wasn’t getting an iPhone for Christmas. She laughed and told me, “It’s okay.” I was shocked. She had been talking about it non-stop for weeks. Noticing my surprise, she added, “I asked Papa for an iPhone, and Papa always gets me what I ask for.”

Oh, expectations.

It’s a season full of expectations.

Expectations of ourselves. Expectations of others. Expectations in the form of gifts and Christmas lists. Expectations about family interactions. Expectations about memories to be made and thank-you’s to be given and received. Expectations about traditions.

Expectations can be overwhelming for children, youth, and adults alike during the Holidays. Often, they present themselves in the form of deregulated, unusual, or frustrating behaviors in our young people. Older children and youth often aren’t able to immediately convey how these expectations impact them, but if you take a step back then you can see.

You can see it in the teen who struggles with depression this time of year. Or the youth whose behavior spirals downward as they struggle to manage the anticipation of Christmas approaching. You see it in the young adult striving toward perfection this season in order to balance the pressures of extended family being around. Or in the child who struggles with the memories of happy Christmases with a person whose loss of relationship is still fresh. You can see it in the teen mom who is trying to balance her own wants with the desires of her child and for her child.

In addition to expectations we place on ourselves or have placed on us, there are all these other expectations around, often propelled through TV and social media. My holiday season doesn’t actually look like the commercials. Nor does it look like Instagram. There isn’t snow falling outside (thanks, Texas) as we all sit and laugh by the fireplace. There isn’t a long table filled with extended family members who are all using their manners and talking about non-controversial topics. There will be no new Lexus. My kids and their cousins aren’t wearing matching, Christmas coordinated outfits as they play kindly together with their new toys.

There’s an old proverb that says, “Expectations are just premeditated resentments.” At first, I wasn’t sure if I agreed. But the more I reflected on it, the more I realized how true it is, in normal everyday life, but especially during the holidays. Chasing expectations or trying to live up to others’ can be a holiday joy killer. For ourselves and for our families. For the students we work with. The gift might not be perfect. That family member might not come. There might be fighting when the willingness to play nice wears off. The money might not be enough, or the dread of impending debt can be crippling.

Flash back to the iPhone conversation. I quickly explained again to my daughter that I was not getting her a phone and neither was Papa. She was devastated. However, had the expectation of the phone continued to grow for 2 ½ more weeks, the devastation would have grown as well. With the expectations of an iPhone now put to rest, my daughter was able to enjoy the gifts she did receive without the disappointment on Christmas morning.

So, what can we do to help manage expectations this Christmas? Here are some simple questions for yourself and the youth you work with:

      1. For yourself: What expectations placed on you by others are weighing you down this year? Who do you need to let down gently? What personal expectations do you need to lower or adjust?
      2. For youth that might be struggling this holiday: What are their plans for the holidays? What are they anticipating about the holidays? What they are nervous about or dreading during Christmas?

Sometimes our youth seem hyper-expectant and overtly emotional, and other times they seem to blow off the holidays in apathy. My experience has been that all still feel the pressure of expectations. It has also been my experience that talking to them about their interpretation of expectations can be freeing for them and allows us to see what needs or struggles exist.

As you head into this season, start by checking your own expectations and then helping those around you understand their own expectations. You might just be surprised at how it changes Christmas.

 

Beth Nichols is Teen Life’s Program Manager. With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, her perspective is invaluable.