Combating Fear in the Face of School Shootings

Combating Fear in the Face of School Shootings

Teenagers are pushed to face their fears and overcome them all the time. They fear failure, rejection, stress, the unknown, and so many other things. As adults, our job is to help them give voice to their fear and then figure out how they can find courage in the face of difficult times. But what happens when fear is deadly, random, and unpredictable? How do we respond to the understandable fear after a school shooting?

Fear cannot be ignored.

We see fear of bullies, failing a test, heights, being left, parent’s divorcing, humiliation, missing the shot, letting people down, getting sick. And now teenagers have to add the fear of getting attacked at school? We have to add the fear of our children not coming home at the end of the day?

It isn’t fair. It doesn’t make sense. But it is real and it is something that needs to be addressed.

While we do not have any answers for the tragedies that are taking place all over our country, here are a few ways that we can help combat fear.

 

Be ready for the crisis.

It is easy to react after a tragedy occurs. Once something horrible happens, we look for answers and start having conversations. But what  if we had already started these conversations? What if the ground work was already laid so that when something horrible happened, we were prepared?

It is important to talk to teenagers and kids about what is going on – in their school, city and country. They know something is wrong. They can read adults, and most have access to social media or the internet where they are probably getting more details than you would see on the evening news. We can’t avoid fear and difficult situations that happen across the country. So we need to start having conversations today. Develop a relationship with your student where you can have difficult conversations all the time. That will make these hard topics more manageable.

Here are a few tips to being ready for conversations:

  • Be shock proof: Remain calm when talking to your teens. Be genuine, but don’t let your own fear color the conversation.
  • Ask good questions: Resist the urge to lecture, but instead ask questions about what they have heard and how they are feeling.
  • Keep it appropriate: Conversations are important, but only if they are helpful. Don’t scare or over-share if your kids aren’t ready for it.
  • Be part of the solution: Get involved. Use the resources of schools and organizations, but don’t put all the responsibility on others.

 

Know your resources.

Speaking of being ready for a crisis…this is crucial! When something happens, you don’t have to walk through it by yourself – utilize the resources in your community, school and church. Maybe a resource is as simple as having another trusted adult on call if your teen would rather talk to someone outside of your house. Or be prepared if your child wants to talk to a counselor (whether it be their school counselor or another professional). Ask your church and school what resources are available – is there a series coming up that will address things like school shootings? Are support groups available on their campus? Is there an article or podcast that gives a different perspective?

There are so many resources available, and it will be incredibly helpful if you already know where to look first. Here are a few places we recommend:

  • Youth Specialties Blog: While these blogs are aimed at youth workers, they are a great resources to parents as well!
  • Teen Life: I may be a little biased, but Teen Life offers lots of great resources from our blog and podcast to Support Groups on school campuses.
  • Google: Earlier this week, someone asked us for an online resource after the Parkland shooting and by searching “how to have conversation with child about school shooting,” I found several great options!
  • Preventative Resources: Use resources like Michele Borba’s book or blog to talk about healthy things kids need to focus on. Start with this blog post!
  • Local Resources: Know what organizations are in your area! The Warm Place and Real Help For Real Life are two in Fort Worth but do some research around you.

 

Believe your kids.

It is so important to believe your kids, especially in times of fear and trial. I think sometimes we dismiss students as being dramatic or exaggerating. While teens can be dramatic, and they can exaggerate some details, is it worth not believing them if they are being completely truthful?

In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, several students said that they weren’t surprised by the identity of the shooter. They had always joked that he would shoot the school. How terrible is that? Not only that they perceived the danger, but that they either didn’t share their concerns with adults or those adults didn’t take them seriously.

We have to give our teens the benefit of the doubt. If they express worry about a classmate or friend (whether that worry is about violence or suicide or depression), we need to listen. Validate what they are seeing, teach them how to get help and how to find resources for their peers.

 


 

Fear is all around us, and it is not something that is going away, especially with the digital world we live in today. Your teenagers are more aware of what is going on around the world than we ever were. They probably knew about the Florida school shooting before you did. Instead of hiding from fear, let’s learn how to cope, have positive conversations, and find helpful resources.

 

What are some resources you have found in times of tragedy? How have you helped teens combat fear?

Karlie Duke was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is our Communications Director. She is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories.
Raising Baby Grown-Ups

Raising Baby Grown-Ups

As the mom of a baby, some days the teenage years (and stages without diapers) seem forever away. Other times I look at the high school boys that my husband coaches, and I see my baby grow into a full man in a matter of seconds. I can’t begin to imagine how fast these years are going to fly by, but I honestly can’t wait! I do not wish this phase to pass, but I also do not dread the teenage years like many parents – they are full of opportunity. If you are dreading the teenage years or are ankle deep in raising baby grown-ups, I hope you’ll indulge my new-mom-optimism and let me restore some hope.

I recently just finished Jen Hatmaker’s newest book Of Mess and Moxie. There are so many nuggets that could be pulled from this book, but I especially loved a chapter near the end called “String Eighteen Parties Together.” Jen is all about her teenagers and brings a perspective that is rare in this culture where teenagers are considered difficult, lazy, full of drama, and a parent’s worst nightmare.

As someone who works with teenagers and will someday raise teenagers, I probably highlighted half of this chapter, and it was full of wisdom in these areas:

Choosing to like teenagers – Jen simply states, “I planned on adoring the teen years, so I do.” If you are predisposed to hate the teen years, you are probably going to be miserable for a solid 5-8 years of your child’s life. But what if we chose to enjoy adolescence? Maybe you have littles like me, or maybe you are in the middle of teen years, or maybe you are looking back on the teen years with relief (or regret). Whatever your life stage, you can still choose to enjoy teenagers. In my experience, they are hilarious, honest, and full of energy. They may eat you out of house and home and fill your house with mud and stinky shoes, but there will also be moments where they send you a text that makes you laugh out loud, or make a decision that proves they’ve been listening this whole time. Choose right now, today, to enjoy the teenage years. Having the right attitude can make a huge difference in your own response.

Finding friends to walk the teen years with – Jen Hatmaker discusses the importance of having people around you who will not only encourage, but also help lighten you up and give perspective. We were all teenagers once. You probably drove your mom crazy, but it is so easy to forget that when you are staring a big teenage problem in the face. As she puts it, we need to “handle this stage with solidarity and grace, not shock and superiority.” If you are parenting without the help of friends, church, or community, then I encourage you to get some help! Life is so much better when you have people to laugh and cry with. Find people who are raising kids around the same age as you and cling to their support and similar experiences. Seek out those who have already raised teenagers and listen to their wisdom. Surround your teens with other people who don’t have teens but can be mentors, unbiased voices, and trusted confidants. It takes a village!

Remaining approachable and shock-proof – You have heard us say this before, but we have to be a safe place for teenagers! This requires us to be a place where they can ask questions and be honest without fear of our reactions. What they say is not a deal-breaker. The questions they ask cannot shake us. The things they admit do not change our feelings about them. This is so difficult but so important. If you freak out, cry, yell or react in a way that scares them, they won’t share with you again. Instead, make it known that you are there for them. Ask questions about tough topics so they know you won’t scare easily. It will probably be just as awkward for them as it is for you, but ask them about sex, parties, friends, doubts, fears and goals.

I will leave you with this last quote from her book that made me nod my head and write “Amen!” in the margins of my book:

When you have no earthly idea how to respond yet, just say: “Tell me more about that,” or “I’m listening and need a bit of time to think about this,” or “I’m glad you told me, and we will work this out together.” Keep it open, keep it mutual, stay on the same team instead of isolating your kid. Our teens need to know that we are for them and with them, not just when they are performing well but in struggle, failure, calamity. This is, after all, exactly how God loves us.

 

Keep up the good work, you are doing great work in the raising of teenagers. You are raising the future adults and parents of the world, and these years will pass in a flash! We are here with you, cheering you on and loving your teens. Have you found something else that has helped you raise teenagers? Share with us! 

Karlie Duke was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is our Communications Director. She is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories.
5 Christmas Movie Lessons for Teens

5 Christmas Movie Lessons for Teens

I may have a Christmas movie problem…I love them all! The classics, the musicals, the cartoons, the cheesy ones, the funny ones, the Hallmark ones and everything in between. If it deals with Santa or snow, count me in! To some, these movies may feel silly, boring, or annoying. But they would be wrong, and I am about to prove to you why you (and your teenagers) need Christmas movies in your life.

Most follow the “Christmas Movie Formula” which usually includes a problem at the beginning, a love interest being introduced, a conflict that causes everything to derail before the happily ever after. I’ll admit, many Christmas movies are predictable, but I dare you to find a genre of movies that includes more hope, joy, or inspiration.

Plus the Christmas music. And the snow. Come on!! How could you not love these movies?!

Christmas movies have lessons that apply to life in general, but these lessons specifically apply to teenagers. If the students in our Support Groups grasped these lessons, I truly believe their lives would look completely different.

So here we go…below are 5 lessons that we can learn from the greatest movies of all time. (Please note that there are spoilers. If you have not seen any of these movies, stop what you are doing, go borrow it from your friend, and have a movie night.)

Everyone needs a place to belong. (Elf)

In this hilarious and heartwarming story about Buddy the Elf’s journey to find his family, it is easy to see the importance of belonging. Despite the silliness and sugar obsession, Buddy is desperately seeking a place to belong. In this movie, there is a transformation that takes place in the life of Buddy and all those around him when he becomes his best self under the love and care of a family.

Teenagers are the same way. They desperately want a place to belong and feel safe. They want to be accepted for themselves. Please do not overlook this! We can encourage teens, give them a place to belong, surround them with people who will invest in their lives, and find situations for them to excel. Teens look to peers, but mostly they are going to look to you for belonging that lasts.

 

The small things make a big difference. (It’s a Wonderful Life)

This movie is the definition of a holiday classic. It tells the story of George Bailey and his life that is successful not because of the big things, but because of the small things that have added up over a lifetime. After wondering if his life was worth living, the movie ends with the most beautiful picture of people from all stages of life – people who benefitted from the small things.

Teenagers need to understand that the small things they do matter. Showing up at school, being kind, respecting parents and teachers, serving others, being honest – these small things add up over time and can change lives. Let us encourage the small things, and not just the big accomplishments. Look for ways to praise and recognize the everyday successes.

 

Using your gifts & talents is key to success. (Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

Who doesn’t love these animated Christmas movies?! Rudolf and Hermy the elf decide to run away together to escape the judgement and shame their differences bring. While others have made them believe that their differences make them wrong and weird, they eventually realize that their skills and talents make them uniquely qualified to help in ways others cannot – even saving Christmas!

How many times do teenagers feel this way? They think that they are different and failing because they do not have the right opportunities to actually use the things they are good at. Helping teenagers find their passion and talents is crucial to them finding success. They are going to fail in areas where they feel incompetent. Instead, encourage their skills, point out their gifts, and help teens find opportunities to utilize them.

 

Progress is important, no matter how small. (How the Grinch Stole Christmas)

The Grinch is a classic Christmas redemption story. We start with a grouchy, Christmas-hating, exiled character and watch him transform into a lovable Grinch with a heart that is too big and cheeks that are warm. The catch is that he made small changes throughout the entire story, but Cindy Lou Who was the only one who noticed.

So many times, teenagers stop making progress because they don’t feel like their small changes are being recognized or making a difference. They are so wrong, though! When they pull their grade up 3 points, get an extra hour of sleep, offer to help with a chore without being asked add up over time and make a major impact. Progress and change, no matter how small should be celebrated.

 

 

A little hope and a lot of community go a long way. (White Christmas)

This is my very favorite Christmas movie, no contest. And I cry at the end every single time during “The Old Man” scene where 151st division comes together to honor General Waverly. After the General is rejected by the army and is only left with his struggling inn, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis decide to bring his community together to help out. Surrounded by loved ones and with the hope of snow and more profitable days, the General’s attitude completely transforms.

Teenagers need community and hope. This is the number one thing that we find in our Support Groups. When they find a place to belong and see hope that their future can be different, they will change their attitude and actions. When teens are struggling, hope is the first thing we should look to offer!

 

What do you think of these Christmas movie lessons? Do you have other favorite Christmas movies that we can learn from? We would love to hear from you!

Karlie Duke was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is our Communications Director. She is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories.
Curse of the Zombie Teenagers

Curse of the Zombie Teenagers

Sometimes as a new mom, I feel like I am experiencing a small part of adolescence all over again. Sleepless nights, learning new skills and little control over hormones are just a few things that remind me of those teenage years.

The most debilitating of these “symptoms”? Definitely the lack of sleep. I feel like I can barely function some days.

While facilitating a Support Group at a local Alternative High School this week, we talked about school and discussed how they felt about it. With only one exception, everyone in the group mentioned tiredness and how it affected their school performance. They were falling asleep at their desks, unable to focus on their work, and too tired to even come to school some days. They were walking Zombies!

However, when I asked how they could make school better, none of them talked about getting more or better sleep. Isn’t that interesting? Even though sleep is the one thing they need, they didn’t seem to see how missing out on sleep or going to bed late could negatively impact their whole day.

A few weeks ago my son, Sawyer, went through a sleep regression that had him waking up every 2-3 hours through the night. I had gotten used to waking up once a night but two or three? I was thrown for a loop!

That week and a half, I noticed several things. I was unfocused. I was grumpy. I was lazy. I was emotional. I found myself apologizing to my husband more than usual. Now I am not saying that during normal weeks I am never unfocused, grumpy, lazy or emotional (because I am), but I notice significant increases in these areas when I am tired.

If tiredness can have this affect on me, imagine the impact that the lack of sleep can have on teenagers! According to this WebMD article, there are several surprising effects that lack of sleep can cause:

It can cause accidents. Did you know that driving sleepy can cause similar reaction delays to driving drunk? When our students don’t get enough sleep, they could be a danger to others and themselves!

It can impair memory and learning. Not getting enough sleep can harm cognitive processes. This means that it affects alertness, focus, attention, and reasoning. When teenagers don’t get an adequate amount of sleep, they also won’t be able to remember what they experienced throughout the day, having a major affect on learning and retention.

It can lead to depression. Sleepiness can contribute to the symptoms of depression and anxiety. It can also create a vicious cycle – lack of sleep causes depression, and in return, depression can make it hard to fall asleep. Our teenagers do not need another thing that leads to depression and anxiety.

It can cause health problems. Sleep deprivation can cause many health issues from heart disease to obesity. It makes sense if you think about it. Our bodies need sleep to function and when you take that away, your body suffers and tries to make up for it in other ways.

It can impair judgement. When teens (or people in general) do not get enough sleep, they cannot accurately assess events or experiences which can lead to a lack of judgement. This can also apply to a lack of judgment about the affect of sleep-deprivation!

Teenagers are in one of the most important periods of growth. Their brain is developing, their body is growing, they are learning to interact socially. To do these things positively and set them up for success in the future, they need sleep. Plain and simple, this is one of the best things you can teach your teenager today.

They don’t have to be Zombies just because they are teenagers. They can be functioning, smart, witty and alert – if they get the sleep they need!

Let’s encourage teens to turn off the television or gaming system, put down the phones and go to bed at a decent hour. They may push back at the request, but they will be thankful when they are healthy, productive, happy, and making good decisions.

 

How have you seen the impact of lack of sleep? What things can we do to encourage teenagers to get more sleep? Share your ideas – we would love to hear them!

Karlie Duke was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is our Communications Director. She is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories.