Shifting Gears

Shifting Gears

We live in a world that invokes anxiety in even the most tranquil souls. A pandemic, social isolation, social media, job insecurity… the last 12 months alone have gone beyond the average social drama. Current reality is so far beyond the imaginable that even soap operas are losing their appeal.

As anxiety producing as current events are, isn’t it perhaps anxiety itself that has driven Americans to our current state?

When we are secure in our own well-being and sense of self, we are better at winning and losing graciously. We do a better job of looking out for others’ well-being because their well-being doesn’t feel like a threat against our own.

So how do we break the cycle? How do we help teens learn to regulate their emotions, and how do we teach them to be more empathetic?

The National Association of School Psychologists gave a press release in October 2020 on ensuring student well-being during the election. Although it’s framed in the context of school and the 2020 election, it’s one of the most comprehensive lists on shaping empathy and emotional well-being in kids and teens.

Here’s my general interpretation of their list.
Build a shared sense of community. It’s all about trust and respect: adult to adult; adult to teen; and everything in between.
Be the change. If you’re not, they won’t be either.
Help the people around you feel safe. No matter the political climate, no one deserves to feel marginalized or at risk.
Create an expectation of acceptance. Racism, systematic inequity or violence are never ok. Bullying is never ok.
Ask questions vs. leveling accusations or generalizing. Stay curious and encourage students to do the same.
Funnel interests and energy into positive actions. Taking action and helping others is empowering.

But how do we do that?

Dr. Lori Desautels, assistant professor at Butler University in Indianapolis, specializes in neuroscience in the classroom. She calls anxiety “our nation’s new learning disability” and is a strong advocate for co-regulation in the classroom, as well as explicitly teaching social-emotional skills.

Her methods are similar to Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) strategies and start with adults learning to calm their own anxieties in order to create a contagiously calm atmosphere. Instead of “managing” a household or a classroom, adults “co-regulate” emotions, equipping students with the skills they need to negotiate stressful situations and to learn.

The concept is not new, though it is easy to forget in the moment. By setting the example first and foremost, by “being the change,” we help those around us feel safe. We calm others’ state of “fight or flight” and set the groundwork for building trust and acceptance.

We can teach teens language to identify their emotions by responding to perceived defiance and arrogance with “That must feel very…” “This must make you feel…” “You sound so…” Desautels says instead of answering a complaint or encouraging their escalation, hear the feeling and mirror that. Wait for their response.
Using a 2×10 strategy strengthens trust and helps teens feel seen. Intentionally taking 2 minutes for 10 days in a row to ask about their passion or their lives is a game changer.
Creating a 5 to 10-minute ritual at the beginning or end of the period, interaction, or day creates ‘family privilege’ with teenagers. Because students live chaotic lives and often lack trust-worthy adults, working on mindfulness or Focused Attention Practices will support predictability and encourage a calm state.

When the stakes feel high, it’s hard. When we don’t feel that we have a network of people who help us co-regulate ourselves, whether at work or at home, it’s very hard. But it is essential work.

As parents, teachers and administrators, anxiety is a lion we must learn to tame daily with great intentionality. In doing so, we help position those entrusted to our care to thrive.

Resources:
https://www.nasponline.org/about-school-psychology/media-room/press-releases/nasp-guidance-for-ensuring-student-well-being-in-the-context-of-the-2020-election?utm_content=bufferfbc49&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer&fb

https://www.burnedinteacher.com/blog/ep-028-dr-lori-desautels-helps-us-coregulate-ourselves-and-our-students

http://revelationsineducation.com/how-neuroscience-helps-kids-heal-from-trauma/

 

Kelly Fann

Kelly Fann

Marketing Assistant

Kelly has lived in three countries and worked with teens across the world, encouraging them to pursue their passions and to be kind. 

Ask Culture and Guess Culture

Ask Culture and Guess Culture

I was scrolling through a Facebook group recently and one of the members shared this Tumbler post. For the original post the author is referencing, see here. To summarize the post, someone who lives in New York has a friend asking to stay in his home. The first time he and his wife had a ready excuse. The second time, he’s asking for advice on how to say no to the request, and essentially what would be the nuances of rudeness in a direct NO versus another excuse.

There are the predictable myriad of comments ranging from “How could she?” to “What’s wrong with asking? Just say no.” One of my favorite comments is, “If you need an excuse, tell her you’re going out of town. If you need an honest excuse, go out of town.” Who actually goes out of town to avoid saying no?

Until one reader leaves this comment:

This is a classic case of Ask Culture meets Guess Culture.

In some families, you grow up with the expectation that it’s OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.

In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you’re pretty sure the answer will be yes. Guess Culture depends on a tight net of shared expectations. A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won’t even have to make the request directly; you’ll get an offer. Even then, the offer may be genuine or pro forma; it takes yet more skill and delicacy to discern whether you should accept.

All kinds of problems spring up around the edges. If you’re a Guess Culture person — and you obviously are — then unwelcome requests from Ask Culture people seem presumptuous and out of line, and you’re likely to feel angry, uncomfortable, and manipulated.

If you’re an Ask Culture person, Guess Culture behavior can seem incomprehensible, inconsistent, and rife with passive aggression.

Obviously she’s an Ask and you’re a Guess. (I’m a Guess too. Let me tell you, it’s great for, say, reading nuanced and subtle novels; not so great for, say, dating and getting raises.

Thing is, Guess behaviors only work among a subset of other Guess people — ones who share a fairly specific set of expectations and signaling techniques. The farther you get from your own family and friends and subculture, the more you’ll have to embrace Ask behavior. Otherwise you’ll spend your life in a cloud of mild outrage at (pace Moomin fans) the Cluelessness of Everyone.

As you read through the responses to this question, you can easily see who the Guess and the Ask commenters are. It’s an interesting exercise.

Mic drop.

The concept of Ask Culture and Guess Culture really struck a chord with me.

I have spent the vast majority of my life as a Guess. As a teenager, I very rarely conflicted with anyone, because I avoided all conversations that might result in a no or any other kind of conflict. My parents called me the “easy child.” Other parents praised them for my obedience. I lived with a low level of very well-concealed anxiety that had me taking prescription medications to calm my stomach for a period of time. Everyone blamed school and stress.

In hindsight though, in the context of this comment, I believe that a fair share of that internalized stress was a fear of risk. A fear of the unknown, of failure, of a NO.

My father used to say, “What’s the harm in trying? The worst that can happen is they say no.” And logically, I knew it was truth. But emotionally, it was terrifying.

The commenter is right. The farther I wandered from home, the more I was forced to learn to interact as an Ask, but it is a conscious decision every time. In my heart of hearts, I’d really rather wait until the answer is 99% Yes before we talk about it. The only real exception is when advocating for others. Somehow asking is easier when it doesn’t feel selfish, right?

As a parent, I’m with my dad. I want my kids to ask fearlessly and not to dwell on the No’s when they happen. I want every question to be valid and heard, even when it doesn’t produce the desired result. And even then, the balance between bulldozer and fearless self-advocate is essential. I don’t really want kids who ask for forgiveness instead of asking for permission. Ask respectfully, but ask away!

So moving forward with this new awareness of the two ways to view the world, I’m hoping to be more intentional about fostering an Ask Culture in my home, by validating and honoring requests, even when the answer is No. As a Guess though, I’m suddenly aware of what I’m modeling. Am I being overly cautious or am I just being polite?

What about your experience and Culture? Are you an Ask or a Guess? Is your spouse the same? Are your kids the same? How does it affect your household interactions? How does it affect your teens in school?

Tell me in the comments. I’m fascinated and I want to hear more! 

Kelly Fann

Kelly Fann

Marketing Assistant

Kelly has lived in three countries and worked with teens across the world, encouraging them to pursue their passions and to be kind.

Not Your Average Teen Drama

Not Your Average Teen Drama

Grief is an odd friend in our house. Between culture shock kinds of grief and mourning three of our four parents, all but one grandparent and too many friends, we’ve had our fair share. Even since we’ve been self-quarantined, I’ve lost three friends. (None of them to COVID-19.)

There is an odd pause in the collective breath when someone dies and you can’t be together to laugh and cry and remember.

We were made for connection. The Bible says it. Brené Brown says it. I’d say at this point in our world history, we can all make a footnote that says 99.9% of us agree: isolation is not a natural state of humanity. Weddings, funerals, birthdays and graduations are a thing. They are a thing because we were made to celebrate and to grieve together.

From toddlers to teens, our kids are grieving too. They are unruly and restless and not interested in school work. They might act angry sometimes, but anger and angst go hand in hand with grief. And instead of getting together to shake their fists at the sky and dance to angry music, they are forced to stay home in our worldwide time-out while they grieve the loss of what they had hoped. For prom. For graduation. For their summer jobs and trips with friends.

I think we will all look back in twenty years and, having traveled and caffeinated and danced, we will mostly agree that many of the things we are grieving now were frivolous. But at the moment, whether they are voicing it or not, our kids are just sad. And that’s ok. It’s ok to feel sad and to move through the emotion. We will all come out the other side.

As parents and teen workers, one of the most vital things we can do is help them name what they are feeling and create an atmosphere of emotional connection. Whether that’s helping them prank a friend’s yard (save the tp for a more momentous occasion and get creative) or offering a shoulder to cry on, even when all we get is attitude. Start looking for markers to help them commemorate this life event, even when the life events they expected have been marked off the calendar. (Read more about markers here.)

When my toddler starts into a fit these days, something he rarely did until about a week ago, I’ve started pulling him in close and asking what’s making him sad today. Then we pick a friend to FaceTime and bake something. We’ve been baking a lot.

Don’t be afraid to pull your teens in close and ignore the newfound homeschooling power struggle for a moment. No one will remember that late assignment twenty years down the road, but they will remember how you made them feel when the world came crashing down.

We are all grieving the loss of normalcy. We all need a virtual funeral to grieve our expectations and regroup. So schedule your days, pick one fun thing a day to do together, bake a little more than usual, but most of all, give yourself, and your teens, a lot of grace. The struggle is real.

*We’re excited to have Beverly Ross join us in our Impact group next month to speak more on grief. Usually exclusively open to monthly donors and church partners, you can now join Teen Life’s private Facebook group for FREE until further notice due to the Coronavirus. Check out the Teen Life Impact Group for support, discussion, videos, and exclusive content. Join the conversation with Teen Life and our Resident Experts, like Beverly, where we will cover new topics each month that are relevant to living and working with teenagers. In the meantime, you can find more on grief in these posts.

Kelly Fann

Kelly Fann

Marketing Assistant

Kelly has lived in three countries and worked with teens across the world, encouraging them to pursue their passions and to be kind.

We Got This: COVID-19

We Got This: COVID-19

We are living in strange times these days. But I assume you already know that.

Who would have thought, even a month ago, that a flu-like virus (aka COVID-19, aka coronavirus) could shut down such a large portion of the western AND eastern world? Big brands are closing stores to limit contagion, restaurants are closing dine-in seating, governments are imposing curfews and quarantines. Schools have “extended” spring break for various amounts of time, depending on where you live.

Someone bought up all the toilet paper.

I read this article a couple days ago and it calls this a “Pearl Harbor moment” for America. It’s an interesting analogy on a couple levels. Before Pearl Harbor, America wasn’t going to enter WWII. It didn’t affect us. Right now, every American individual, business and government is deciding on some level, “Am I in or am I out?” Pearl Harbor hurtled us toward an unknown, but it also created allies. America rallied. Men enlisted; women volunteered. Society was changed forever. And in many ways for the better.

The current pandemic is harder to define. In some ways it’s harder to identify where to be a helper because we are used to thinking individually, instead of thinking of the whole. We buy up all the toilet paper- at best, thinking if it comes down to it, we’ll offer some to our neighbor, but we have a hard time just taking what we need and leaving some for others. We think that being at low risk for the virus means it doesn’t matter if the kids go to daycare or if we go to the zoo. We have a hard time understanding why “flattening the curve” matters enough for us to socially distance. At this point, before the real crisis, we are taking a breath. And what we do next affects everyone, whether we realize it or not.

And it’s uncomfortable. Partially because it’s inconvenient. But also because social distancing doesn’t feel as concrete as volunteering. No one is getting community service hours for staying home and limiting contact with people.

It’s a hard concept. But staying home is the selfless thing to do. Ask any of my Italian friends. (This video is a great snapshot of what they are saying.)

It’s also an opportunity.

It unites us.

We are all in the same boat. Italy, France, Norway, China, South Korea, the United States…parents, teens, toddlers, infants. We are socially distanced, but in many ways, we are more connected than ever. We are allied in experience and emotion, and for the first time in history we are able to personally witness that experience and emotion and to participate together. Seriously, when was the last time mega corporations kept stores closed for the greater good?!

Stay home, but take advantage of your time to emotionally connect.

Play board games with your kids.
Use some of these non-COVID related questions to spur dinner conversations with your family.
Eat meals together!
FaceTime your parents.
Send cards to people in nursing homes.
Sit on your front porch and talk to your neighbor (sitting on their own front porch).
Call your friend you haven’t seen in a while.
Maybe make a friend who is quarantined in another country. I bet they’d love to practice their English.
Use the situation to teach teens to toddlers about why what we do affects the people around us.
Maybe we’ll find a solution to the digital divide for teens from hard places!

We probably all need a reboot and a slow motion moment together.

We got this.

Kelly Fann

Kelly Fann

Marketing Assistant

Kelly has lived in three countries and worked with teens across the world, encouraging them to pursue their passions and to be kind.

Seeking Connection

Seeking Connection

We are hard-wired for connectivity.

In the wake of another high school tragedy, I’m ever more convinced that we are losing the art of connection. I say this because, in the case of Nathaniel Berhow, none of the people he interacted with regularly had any clue that he was angry or sad or depressed enough to walk into Saugus High School and shoot five people. He was a “regular guy” who kept to himself.**

We are made to be connected, yet so many of us feel disconnected. Not just alone in a crowd, but lonely in a crowd.

Too many people lack the connectedness of authentic relationships. People who know you, who see you.

I was recently struck by something author and life coach, Martha Beck, said. “Loneliness is proof that one’s innate search for connection is intact.”

Chronic loneliness affects up to 47% of Americans and an estimated 9 million people in the UK according to MDLinx. People long to be connected and seem to be coming up short.

Even more astonishing is that people who report suffering of loneliness also have mortality rates similar to those of a person smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

15 cigarettes a day!

A 2018 study by Cigna and Ipsos found that among the lonely, Generation Z is the loneliest. The study notes that “Feeling like people around them are not really with them, feeling shy, and feeling like no one really knows them well are among the most common feelings experienced by those in the Generation Z (adults ages 18-22).” Students were also found to be the loneliest.

Loneliness plagues our society: the chronically lonely and everyone, who aware or unaware, knows someone who is lonely. Or who will at some point in their own lives feel lonely.

There are many reasons why loneliness or feeling disconnected from society might require external intervention. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help.*

There is one solution that both sides of the equation have in common. It’s obnoxiously simple.

Be kind.

Simple acts of kindness are the easiest way to start building connections.

If you are lonely or sad or angry, take a small step toward healing with some small act of kindness.

Even if you don’t feel like you need anything, but want to make the world a better place, go out of your way to be kind to someone.

In looking beyond our own feelings and seeking to help others, we build connection where none existed and strengthen connections we already had. Because kindness can be the heart of connectivity.

In the 1970s, Dr. Robert Nerem performed a health study using rabbits. The crazy thing is that he discovered as much about the importance of kindness as he did about health. The rabbits that were supposed to be declining in health fared 60% better when they had a caretaker who was kind to them.

The results are two-fold. It actually improves your own mental health and consequently your own physical health when you consider others first. And it improves the health of the people around you too.

One of our favorite books at our house lately is Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller. The main character asks, “But what does it mean to be kind anyway?”

I think most people over 10 can come up with a few simple examples, but it seems that many people over 10 have trouble executing on them.

Here’s the thing. It’s so easy to start.

Hold a door open.
Make eye contact and smile at the cashier the next time you check out.
Ask a friend how they are doing and actually wait for the answer.
Take cookies to your neighbor.
Volunteer at a local charity.

You can choose a commitment level. Kindness is usually free. It doesn’t have to take much time. But it changes everything. Better yet, it connects us all.

We are a lonely crowd.

But we don’t have to be.

And maybe we can start healing the tragedy that is plaguing our schools and communities. Maybe we can start seeing the Nathaniels in our midst. It probably won’t fix all the problems. But it might be a good start.

*If you are lonely and looking for more ideas on where to start, check out this article from Good Housekeeping.
**To read more about high school shootings, have a look at our 2018 post, Combatting Fear in the Face of School Shootings.

Kelly Fann

Kelly Fann

Marketing Assistant

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.

Kelly has lived in three countries and worked with teens across the world, encouraging them to pursue their passions and to be kind.