The Masquerade

The Masquerade

This week, my 5-year old son John came down the hall and introduced himself as “Kevin.”   When I turned around from washing dishes, I realized he was wearing goggles- Minion goggles from his Kevin costume. For the next hour, he only answered to “Kevin” and ignored anyone who called him by his actual name. We all had several good laughs when someone inadvertently called him by his true name, causing much playful indignation.

Masks.

Designed for fun. Designed for camouflage. Designed for protection. Designed to make a statement. Worn by people of all ages and stages.

An excerpt from “We Wear the Mask” – a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar:

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.

 

Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

We wear the mask.

 

Unlike my 5-year-old, too often the students we work with wear masks for protection and/or camouflage. They are anxious about being seen for who they really are. They do not want to be singled out for fear of being targeted. They do not know what to do with the hurt that they carry. They do not know if they will be accepted.

The same things could be said about us as adults.

What can we do? How can we help the students we love (and ourselves)? A few suggestions for pulling back the mask:

  1. Be present. Show up – Be consistent – Follow through – for the students in your lives and your adult friends. Allow others to make their own decisions. No one pulls their masks back without trust and relationship.
  2. Ask students how they feel. Stick to the basics – sad, mad, scared, and glad. This is probably a new idea to many of them and to many adults. Give them a script – “I feel _______ when _______ happens.”  It isn’t always easy, but it makes a huge difference when a person can identify and own their feelings.
  3. Model authenticity with appropriate boundaries. In the words of Madeline Fry– “Healthy vulnerability recognizes when to share and when to remain silent. This helps you strike the balance between guarding who you are at your core and expressing it.” Learning boundaries takes practice in a world that pressures you to share and say yes.

 

Eventually, my son took off the goggles and informed us all that we could call him John again. Our hope is that everyone, students and adults alike, have a safe place to remove their masks and be called by their true name.

May you be that person for someone else and may you have those people in your life as well.

 

 

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

Citizenship & Community

Citizenship & Community

Citizenship.  For some, the word invokes images of Boy Scouts saying the pledge of allegiance or students volunteering at the library.   Most of us would define the word by a reference to service of some kind.  Many of us older adults mourn the loss of citizenship among our students.   Many think of citizenship as a product of a bygone era, no longer possible or practical among our digital generation of teens.

My son has been learning about citizenship in his martial arts class.  In each class, there is a simple lesson geared toward the 3 to 5 year-old students about picking up trash, saying hi to a new student in class, helping an elderly person who lives in your neighborhood, opening doors for others, etc.

As I listened to his instructor, I realized that while the stated character trait was citizenship, it was ultimately about community:  Who do you know? Who can you serve? Who do you need to add to your community?

Our youth need community as much as ever.  Too often, we get caught up in thinking that adolescence is about moving away from the family and friends a child has always known. In reality, adolescence is about forming identity within your own developing community – a new community that both includes and extends beyond the community you grew up knowing.  As adults working with teens, do we point our youth in the direction of where they could find community and a place to serve with their newly developing identities and gifts?

I have found that service, or citizenship, becomes a natural and organic outgrowth of people who have a place to belong.

A few ideas to help guide your teens as they seek to develop their own community:

  1. Create a community of adults that your child can talk to or spend time around. They can be all different ages and life stages, but they need to be a safe place where they are welcome, and loved, and can receive help and advice.
  2. Help youth identify their passion. Tell them what they are good at. Tell them what you see in them.  Encourage them to try out art, or music, or sports, or writing until they find their niche.
  3. Help teens find a place to serve. What are his/her interests? What do they want to explore? Who do they want to be around more? This could be in the context of a local non-profit or serving at a church. It could be a club/community group geared toward their interest. Community is built through service.
  4. Develop relationships with people from various cultures, religious backgrounds, and political belief systems. This allows the teens in your life to see that different people with different life experiences can all be at the same table.

 

Like with adults, community in adolescence doesn’t happen naturally. It takes work and showing up – something we as adults still need help our students with each day. But the benefits are worth it.  Youth who are plugged into a community, and who are serving there, have more opportunities to become successful, do better in school, and are more likely to believe that someone will be there for them if they need it.

Citizenship and Community are intertwined. How can you help the teen in your life find their place to live and serve?

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

Repost: The Good of “13 Reasons Why”

Repost: The Good of “13 Reasons Why”

*This is the first in a series of three blog posts that we released Summer 2017 regarding season one of the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.” Subscribe to the Teen Life Podcast to catch our upcoming podcast series breaking down season two of the series. This is a great place to start though!

Part 1 – The Good of “13 Reasons Why”

Part 2 – The Ugly of “13 Reasons Why”

Past 3 – What To Do After “13 Reasons Why”

 


 

13 Reasons Why is a wildly popular series on Netflix. While Netflix does not release viewing numbers, Variety reports that it was the most tweeted show of 2017 thus far, having received more than 11 million tweets within the first 4 weeks of its initial release. The show is based on Jay Asher’s book by the same name and details the events leading up to the suicide of Hannah Baker, with 13 tapes identifying someone who played a role in her decision.

The series starts with: “Hey, it’s Hannah, Hannah Baker. That’s right. Don’t adjust your… whatever device you’re listening to this on. It’s me, live and in stereo. No return engagements, no encore. And this time absolutely no requests. Get a snack. Settle in. ‘Cause I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended.”

This Netflix series highlights several hot topics including: suicide, rape, drug and alcohol abuse, bullying, and slut shaming. Be forewarned that it contains explicit language and several graphic scenes displaying sexual assault and suicide. Also, be aware that if you are parenting teens, then they probably have seen it or know about it, and so should you.

To start our series of blog posts, we wanted to discuss what 13 Reasons Why does well. We felt it was important to cover what issues are shown accurately in hopes that it makes you, as a parent or pastor, watch with eyes open to see what conversations you need to have with the students in your life, conversations held in private and without judgement. While not an easy watch, we hope these positive takeaways raise awareness of topics that are relevant for youth today. Our next blogs will cover what topics are missing in 13 Reasons Why and will provide a discussion about what should we do now.

13 Reasons Why accurately portrays several facets of life youth face daily. While there is some exaggeration, many of these scenes display an element of truth. Here are just a few of the things you can look for while watching the series:

  • 24/7 access to technology
  • The prevalence and speed at which cyberbullying happens
  • The students’ inability to disconnect, making them constantly vulnerable to online bullying
  • Confusion over sexual consent
  • Pressure to use alcohol and drugs combined with the likelihood of ending up in unintended, difficult situations
  • The difference in perception of sexual activity for males and females

Ultimately, all of these are tied together by the realization that hiding information will make it disappear or will allow youth to avoid consequences. At the end of the series, it shows the reality that hiding is much more difficult than being able to discuss the truth and take responsibility for your actions.

“What does [suicide] really look like? Here’s the scary thing: it looks like nothing . . . It feels like a deep, always blank, endless nothing.”

Hannah’s quote above, repeated at least twice during the series, reveals the truth that suicide does not have one specific look or feel. While there are risk factors that increase the likelihood of dying by suicide, it does not ever look or present the same. Our main take away from 13 Reasons Why is that even though suicide does not have a set appearance, little things can make a huge impact in a person’s daily life. As seen in the series, there are several moments that were brushed off as being unimportant or insignificant from the other students’ perspectives.

There are also several interactions with adults that were not handled appropriately, but on the surface, many of these seemed relatively minor. But Hannah, when telling her story, indicates that if even one of these moments had played out differently, it could have changed her decision to end her life by suicide.

As Hannah said herself, “You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything affects everything.”

No one can have a full awareness of another person’s story and struggle. We as adults need to model that every opportunity to treat someone with kindness and respect matters – that the little things can quickly become big things. And that is the main reason why we at Teen Life do what we do. Oftentimes, one hour a week seems insignificant in the scheme of a person’s life. However, we firmly believe that what happens in that one hour, or even in a single interaction, can impact the perspectives and lives of the youth we are privileged to serve. 13 Reasons Why begs you to be aware of how you treat others and how your actions can impact their lives. We’ll leave you to reflect on how you impact others with one last quote from Hannah, who maybe says it best:

I guess that’s the point of it all. No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue.”

To start a meaningful conversation with a teen you know, ask them, “Is there anything you have wanted to talk about recently that we just haven’t had the opportunity to discuss?” Share your ideas in the comments about ways you can invite meaningful conversation with the teens you work with. 

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

Reach In

13 Reasons Why. Kate Spade. Anthony Bourdain.

Suicide has been all over the news and social media the past 6 weeks. If you have missed it, you weren’t paying attention. Or you have been trying to avoid it. But it’s an important conversation to have and to keep having.

As I read through articles related to 13 Reasons Why for our upcoming Teen Life Podcast series and scrolled through articles about Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, I noticed a trend. Somewhere in the article (often at the bottom) was a disclaimer. It went something like this:

How to get help: In the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also can provide contact information for crisis centers around the world. (via CNN.com)

Or this

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org. (via people.com)

 

Both of these disclaimers have value and I believe should be included in media articles related to those who have died by suicide. It is definitely an improvement over nothing. It starts a conversation about suicide prevention and awareness – which we need. However, there needs to be more. As a friend of mine pointed out recently on social media:

“Reaching out isn’t always gonna happen. It. Ain’t. That. Simple…if we’re depending on the hurt to “reach out,” we’re doing it wrong. We’re a community. Communities have to reach in to help those who are hurting.”

 

Reach in. Show up. Be in community. Look for warning signs. Ask hard questions. Be patient. Persist.

A few questions to ponder:

  1. Who is in your community? Do I need to expand my community?
  2. Who are you concerned about that you need to check on?
  3. Do you know the warning signs for suicide?
  4. Am I teaching the youth I live/work with to be in community? To reach out? To ask each other hard questions about suicide?

 

I’ll finish with more words of from my friend above:

“None of this is simple. None of this is easy. The starting point of this conversation is awareness and suicide prevent. But if we leave it there, we failed. Reach In.”

Beth Nichols is Teen Life’s Program Director. With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, her perspective is invaluable.
How Aware Are You?

How Aware Are You?

Recently my husband and I were watching Brain Games on Netflix. The episode we were watching was called “Focus Pocus”, and it was about attention. It gave several tests for viewers such as counting the number of passes in a scene and watching a pickpocket in action before selecting him out of a lineup. Despite considering myself someone who pays attention to details and despite knowing I was playing a brain game, I was amazed at all the things I missed. It led me to contemplate what am I missing in other people, and even what am I missing in myself.

Then, I heard a presenter speak on Mindful Awareness. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines “Mindful Awareness” as:

Paying attention; on purpose; in the present moment; while being non-judgmental.

Sounds simple, but we all know it’s not. Listening isn’t intuitive. It’s something we talk about in our Teen Life Facilitator Training. Many of us aren’t even aware of how poorly we listen.

To get a better idea of how mindful you are as a listener, ask yourself a few questions:

  1. How often are you solving a problem before the person talking to you has finished telling you the problem?
  2. How often do you catch yourself planning your next words and missing the end of a conversation?
  3. How often do you steer a conversation to or away from a topic?
  4. How often are you “fine” until that one sensitive topic gets mentioned?

During the presentation, it also discussed how our awareness of our own thoughts, feelings, and situations impacts our ability to pay attention to others.

A few self-awareness questions to consider:

  1. What do I bring to this situation/conversation from my own personal story?
  2. Has anything taken place recently that might be influencing this situation/my decision making?
  3. What is going on just below the surface that might result in a negative outcome in this discussion?
  4. Am I taking the time to meet my own needs in order to be available to meet the needs of others?

Having “Mindful Awareness” is not easy and takes practice, especially when working with teens. It requires stopping, taking a few deep breaths, truly listening, observing the situation, being aware of your own feelings, and then proceeding toward the goal.

But it’s worth it! The more aware we are of ourselves, the bigger impact we can make when interacting with others. And we might even get better at life’s brain games while we are working on it!

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.