What To Do After “13 Reasons Why”

What To Do After “13 Reasons Why”

*This is the third in a series of three blog posts this week regarding the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.” Check out the first two posts if you missed them!

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”

 


 

Here’s the truth. 13 Reasons Why is a Netflix original show. It is entertainment. People have ranted and raved about whether it should or should not be out there. Well, all that attention means a second season is coming. This is a testament that any press is good press. It brought a lot of attention but to what end? I hope it promoted meaningful conversation between teens and adults, and I trust that this week we have encouraged more good discussion. That is why we wanted to end our blog series with this particular post.

One thing I felt was missing from the whole show was examples of people seeking out help and succeeding. Why is that? Is it that it would have taken away from the entertainment value? I don’t believe so. I think they missed a major opportunity to model for teenagers how to seek out helpful resources. The direction to a website in the opening of each episode was nice, but all that is there are crisis hotlines and links to click further and try to figure out how to get help. What would have been more effective, I believe, is showing in every episode some examples of someone successfully seeking and receiving help.

With that as the background for this post, the goal here is to give you, the reader, ideas and some direct resources to help a teen in the real world who is struggling. This should not be seen as a replacement for continued training or adhering to any law directing you how to respond. But rather, this post could be a reference tool to get you to the resources needed to be ready and have on hand if the time arises. Though, truth be told, all of us hope we never have to use these resources.

First, just the fact that there is a show about suicide is enough to bring up the discussion about such a serious topic. You don’t have to watch the show for that conversation to start. You could watch any number of shows if you need a starting place, but none of those are going to have the answers. Only an open and honest conversation about what your student is facing and needs will meet the desire for discussion that is there. So take the opportunity. Ask questions and invite conversation, then listen.

Second, look locally at what is available. In the Fort Worth area, there is a Suicide Awareness Coalition. Attending these monthly meetings has kept the conversation in front of me and our team and helped us not lose sight of the seriousness of the situation. In addition, there are often classes, seminars, or workshops you are able to attend. These are usually geared toward licensed professionals but can be attended by anyone. I have gained a lot of helpful connections and tools this way.

Third, personally check in on the resources. Call the national hotline yourself. Time how long the wait is. Make note of the prompts and be prepared to communicate those to someone you might need to share that resource with. Visit local organizations that offer services. Ask specific questions related to the things teens you work with have brought up. It is very helpful for you to simply be able to say, “I visited this place and the people there really want to help.” This is so helpful because many times people in a severely depressed state don’t believe anyone wants to help them, and they need a lot of reassurance from someone they trust. You want to be confident in the resources you are suggesting if you ever need to be that person.

Fourth, once you are equipped with information and resources, you will feel prepared if a situation happens. This happened for me just a few months ago. I had a friend call, and he was actively suicidal. I found this out by asking pointed questions like, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” and “Do you have a plan?” When the answer to these questions were both, “Yes!” We called the local crisis line together. I was so glad I had the number in my phone. They gave us some options of places to go, he picked one, and I took him there. I stayed for about 4 hours. Yes it took time, but I was so glad I stayed until he got medical attention and checked into a program to get help. I am convinced he would have killed himself if I had not been there.

Fifth, the last scenario you want to be prepared for is what to do if a teen you know does kill themselves or if a friend of theirs does. This is where the above resources come in. They will help you be prepared to reach out or be able to listen and ask helpful questions. Again, here locally there is a resource called LOSS Team. This is a volunteer led group that is available to survivors of suicide. They are specifically trained and equipped to help handle a loss. If you don’t have one in your community, reach out to local counseling services for groups or to a local church that may offer a resource. As with all grief, everyone handles a loss to suicide differently. It is important to know that grieving a suicide is different than other grief though. Knowing this is the important piece. Finding a resource specific to people who have lost someone to suicide is the ideal situation.

To be clear, what you are doing here is not equipping yourself to be the professional, long-term solution to help someone that is thinking about suicide. You are educating yourself to be a first line of defense, working in a preventative way to significantly reduce the number of students who end up in a place where they feel so hopeless they don’t know where to turn when they have suicidal thoughts. That’s right I said “when.” The truth is many of us, including myself, have thoughts of suicide at one time or another. The problem comes when we believe the lie that we are the only one, and that means we have no hope of recovery. Instead, we need someone like you to come alongside us and walk with us through that dark place until we get back to where we can find the reason for living again.

What is missing? What other resources are you aware of that can make a huge difference in helping teenagers as they navigate stress, anxiety and depression? Their struggle, or yours, does not ever neeed to end in suicide. Let’s pull together and raise awareness to end suicide all together. 

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
How to Track Your Teen

How to Track Your Teen

I often get asked how parents can regulate their child’s technology use. How they can monitor the activity on their teenager’s device? What app works for limiting access to inappropriate sites? All good things to be thinking about and asking. The difficulty is the answer may surprise you.

There is not a good solution. Not if you are looking for a single, all-things-covered, monitored, and blocked appropriately app or software solution. Things are changing too fast. I remember the first time this hit me was probably 5 years ago. I was talking with some students from a local private Christian school. The discussion was about what they do during their day. One thing that came up was how they play games on their school issued MacBooks. I was interested and said, “Don’t they block that stuff?” The students laughed and said, “Of course they do but we always find a way around it.” Almost implying that was a game in itself. The challenge of finding a way to get around whatever limits had been set felt like an invitation to try to out smart the system. I have since learned that the makers of these game sites are on the side of the students here too. They constantly tweak the URL (web address) or how the page is configured so that the specific link that was blocked is now available again. And you know if gaming sites are doing this so are “adult” and other sites.

So what do you do as a parent or youth minister who is undoubtedly providing WiFi to students who see it as “fun” to try to access content that is at the very least questionable?

First, you need to be in regular conversation with your student about how they are using the internet. It is true some people see it as an entertainment device or a toy, but it is much more healthy to think of it as a tool. The only way this foundation can be built is to have open conversations with your kid. We have written about this several times. Simply go to our blog page and select the “Technology” category to find a post that strikes a cord with you.

With that foundation, it is time to take the next smartest steps. (Side note: I am assuming here that you are allowing your kids to use smart devices. One day I will write a detailed blog about the appropriate age kids should start using devices, but it is a moving target. For this conversation, let’s assume that you are dealing with teenagers. Kids under 13 should have very limited, heavily restricted access to devices.)

1. Educate yourself. This doesn’t mean you have to know everything, but find trusted resources that you can learn from. Know what information to look for about current trends and how they could be affecting your teen. I just came across a book recently called The Tech-Wise Family that I can recommend as a place to gather some ideas on how to set boundaries and establish good guidelines in your own home. I also recommend the website netsmartz.org. It has tools for schools and parents to talk to kids of all ages. The key here is finding something that guides you toward how to handle things. (If you are interested more in tech trends and future, Wired.com and CNET.com are the place to go.)

2. Use multiple tools. The problem I mentioned above that your teen will see any restrictions as a challenge to try to sneak around can be dealt with in two ways. Make sure they know you are setting up restrictions that will apply to everyone and by using multiple layers of tracking, blocking, restricting. First, set up opendns.com. It’s easy, and the great thing here is it filters at the internet so any device connected to your home Wifi (or wired if you’re old school) will be filtered no extra per-device software needed. Second, use your router’s settings to time limit or block access completely. The key here is to simply search YouTube for your router model and then look for a video of someone showing you how to set up restrictions. Not all routers have this so it may involve some financial investment but it is totally worth it to have time limits and another layer of filtering to catch things OpenDNS doesn’t. Third, use the device specific parental controls. Again, YouTube is your friend.

3. Use specialty tools. I believe the use of tracking or filtering apps should be your last line of defense. While they work, it typically gives a false sense of protection. This is because devices are constantly being updated. When you set an app up to monitor, you assume it is working but that is not guaranteed, and you don’t want to believe your child is safe and not check when they could have gone days or weeks without any filtering on their device. That being the case, I currently do not have a specific recommendation for a filtering or monitoring app. There are lots of options out there, and I recommend reading the reviews on your App Store to decide the best one for you.

4. Be creative. The bottom line here is to work this out so that your teen learns how to regulate themselves so you don’t have to be their brain forever. One suggestion I often make is to simply use the same App Store login on all devices (in my case Apple) and set my device to be the main one and download all new apps. This way I get “notified” anytime someone downloads something and can go back to where we started and engage them in relationship to talk about that specific app. Maybe this will prompt you to think of other creative ways to force a healthy conversation and teach rather than having to focus on how you can police every move. Something most of us don’t want to be doing anyway.

If you are struggling to think about how you can do this, maybe especially with your older teen because you think, “This really sounds invasive. Shouldn’t they have some privacy?” Think of it this way. My wife has full permission to get my cell phone, unlock it (because she knows the passcode) and read every single text message she wants because I have nothing to hide. For your teen, there should be no need for them to hide anything, especially the poor decisions they might be making. You, as their parent, should be the most safe person for them to talk to about everything that is going on. If they don’t know that, tell them and show them until they believe it. This will change a lot more than internet use in your family.

I truly hope this is helpful. The internet is not going away, and it is only going to “invade” our lives more. The old idea that we can just ignore or stay away is not going to be reality for my kids or yours. We must be in the conversation and diligently teach our kids how to navigate the complexities of the internet and social media.

What other ideas do you have on this? I am constantly learning and I know I can learn from you too.

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
4 Tips to Parent Smarter

4 Tips to Parent Smarter

This post was originally titled “Parenting Isn’t for Everyone,” but that sounded a little too negative. That said, it is still true; however, it is also true that anyone can benefit from parenting if they choose to commit to the path of parenting. Does that seem confusing? Let me try to come at it this way. It is possible for everyone to be a parent. We see this all around us. The act of, or result of an act, that ends in being a parent happens all the time. The difference is that some people choose to continue on the parenting path and others choose to quit.

 

This was my dad. He quit being a parent. He chose to let other life choices distract him from being the father and husband he had committed to be, and instead quit all of it. Since becoming a parent myself, it is becoming more and more real how he could have given this up, it is hard. Some days are VERY hard to parent. I mean there is the whole “I’m not adulting today” movement that has caught on. This is often related to parenting, but they are two very different things.

 

I am guessing this sounds likes a downer of a post but stay with me. The foundation for wading through this very real journey is that parenting is very hard and very worth it. I want to offer the four reasons below in hopes that they will help you, and me, be a better parent. My hope is that trend will then continue until you are done parenting – something many people believe doesn’t happen, but I assure you it does. You may never stop feeling like a parent, but your parenting will end maybe even sooner than you think.

 

These 4 tips aren’t about whether you should be a parent or not. They’re about when you are a parent and what you can get out of that. So if you haven’t had kids yet, use this as a way to decide how you will handle things if you do. If you have kids, use this to reframe or renew your perspective about being a parent.

 

  1. Parenting isn’t about you. This is one I am having a hard time with. My tendency is to take things personally. I want my kids to be a reflection of me. I mean people say this to us all the time, even my good church friends. “You can tell you’re good parents because your kids are so good.” Or some version of that. We really need to change this. Yes, there is influence and modeling, but your kid is their own person. They make their own choices starting at an early age, and it’s supposed to be that way. Our job as parents is to teach them values, character and morality. Then, it is up to them, and it’s not our fault if they choose to throw that stuff out the window. This also means we don’t get the praise if they choose to succeed. That hurts a little, but maybe it’s the way it needs to be.

 

  1. You can’t compare your situation to anyone else’s. This past January, we finalized an adoption. Our family grew, in less than 3 minutes, by 3 people. There are now 9 of us requiring a 12 passenger van to transport us anywhere we go. We have people tell us all the time, “I don’t know how you do it,” or “I could never do that. It’s a lot of kids.” You know what, you’re right. But you also need to know you have no idea how hard this is for us. There are many days that the only reason I make it is because I don’t quit. Does that make me a horrible person because I don’t love every minute of parenting? No! It makes me not a quitter. My commitment is strong and with that comes the decision to not complain and use “what if” phrases, which leads us to number three.

 

  1. Realize balance is about making everything equal. Many of us see parenting as something that gets in the way of us accomplishing what is really important in life. I know this because I have felt that and heard plenty of talk socially about that attitude. This was recently emphasized for me at a business event I went to. The speaker said, “Balance is not dependent on circumstance. It’s about what you choose to spend your time on.” This choice puts us as parents in the mindset that when I am choosing to spend time with my kids, it is valuable time. This also means that when I am choosing to spend time on work, that is valuable time. I once heard an interview that was highlighting a dad who had his 3 year old say that she didn’t want him to go to work, and he realized what was most important. WHAT?! No, she’s 3. Yes spending time with her is important, but she has no perspective. It’s just as important that she know her daddy is spending time working so that their family has their needs met. It’s also important so that she also learns to love work. I mean this with the assumption that you don’t become a workaholic. But we also have to realize that work, in it’s proper place, is a great part of life and needs to be seen that way.

 

  1. Parenting ends sooner then you think. Andy Stanley is a preacher and speaker who has a great perspective on this. He and his wife break parenting down into 4 stages. If you stick to these stages, you will have a greater peace about being a parent. If you try to jump ahead or skip a step, you will regret it – most likely in the teen years, the years I hear are the worst but that I am looking forward to. Why am I looking forward to them? Because I’m done parenting by then. I am working my butt off to work through the first 2 stages, discipline and training, so that I have the opportunity to then coach and be a friend to my kids in their teen years and beyond. What I’m saying is parenting is done at around age 12! This perspective has yet to play out for me, so we will see. What if you already have a teen? Is it too late? No! Start shifting your perspective and making small adjustments that let your teen know you are 100% there for them, but you are done trying to correct every error or miscalculation on their part. You want them to make the right choice every time, but they won’t. So offer to be there, but let go of hovering and trying to catch them at every corner so you can make sure they choose correctly. Instead, take the posture of coach. Remind them what you have taught and trained them in and offer to help them figure out how to get back on track, but ultimately it is their choice.
These 4 tips do not lead to parenting bliss. They are a learning process that I am guessing never ends but rather shifts and changes over the years. My hope is that reading through this helps you make a positive shift in your parenting so that you can be committed to the process to ensure the highest possibility of success for your child. In order for them to succeed, you have to stick to being the parent, and in order for you to feel like you have succeeded, you have to make sure you know what success looks like.

I do not have this figured out. What would you add to this? What perspectives on parenting have helped you stick with it through the hard times? How have you hung on when it feels helpless or pointless? Share with us, I definitely want to keep learning.

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
The Power Of Service

The Power Of Service

This past Friday night, we hosted a packing party at the Birdville High School cafeteria. It was an amazing event that is also a fundraiser for Teen Life to keep offering our programs in the schools. For this event, we asked people to reach out to friends and family to sponsor them to come and serve by packing 10,000 meals for hungry kids in our area. This went over extremely well. It was so exciting to see everyone come together to fill bags with rice and nutrients that families without food can benefit from.

 

We were able to capture a time-lapse video of the event that you can watch below! As I put the clips together, watching the hustle and bustle that was going on and thinking about how much effort and dedication went into making this happen, I was blown away at how it all worked together.

 

I am writing this blog as much for me, and us as an organization, as I am to share with you. I believe there are some valuable principles that can be seen from an event like this.

 

In the past, we have hosted a 5K Run/Walk. The benefits of this have been amazing. People were exercising, accomplishing a goal, being outdoors. All of these benefits helped anyone that came feel better about themselves and doing it with others helped build a stong bond. So I am not arguing that this service focused event is better, but it is different and I would recommend it if you are hoping to help people connected to your organization experience some of these benefits.

 

  1. There is power in numbers. We packed 10,000 meals with around 70 people and that means over 1,600 families will receive a bag of food with 6 servings in it. These numbers are great! I am so glad that we could be a small part of providing something meaningful.
  2. It’s not about the recognition. The people that served and the ones that will receive the meals will likely never meet, and that’s exciting to me. The fact that people would put in 3 hours of work for people they don’t know and probably never will says a lot about the human race. We care for each other even from a distance.
  3. Modeling has huge benefits! We had around 20 elementary age kids show up to help pack meals. They were able to scoop the food, weigh it, carry it to the boxes and even tape the box. This is a big deal because it gave them the opportunity to know that the work they do is valuable. These kids packed over 600 meals with just a little help from parents. It was amazing to watch the joy they had working hard to get the job done.
  4. We had some “firsts” at this event. It was the first time we were at a local school. It was the first time we had a current student join us. It was the first time we had an alumni from one of our groups join us. It was the first time over $50,000 was raised! These partnerships, extended relationships, increased funds, and more exposure all mean that Teen Life has more opportunities to reach teenagers and change lives.
It was a process planning this event and it is hard to believe it is already over. Thinking through all of these things gets me excited about what next year could hold.

What is an event you have attended and noticed details that help you live better? Share them with us, we always love learning from you.

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
How to Find Anything

How to Find Anything

It is becoming increasingly obvious that you can find anything on the internet. Or can you? Have you tried to Google anything lately? There are thousands of hits for just about any topic. Then you have you wade through the sites and information that is not helpful before you find something actually helpful or what you are looking for. So here are some ideas that have helped me narrow my searches and maybe they will help you too.

Oh and what does this have to do with teenagers? Well they believe everything they read on the internet, so you need to have a plan for helping them eliminate the hurtful, unnecessary or down right wrong searches so they can learn to discern the truth too. (This is an obvious overstatement but there’s truth in there too.)

 

  1. Think just outside the box on things that return way more hits than you can search through. In our context, people tend to look for “problems with teenagers,” or “counseling for teens,” or even “at-risk teenagers.” Just a slight change can be a huge help. One of those changes could be thinking on the positive side. A lot of organizations are trying not to focus on the negative aspect (i.e. “problems, at-risk”). So using positive termS such as “support,” “life skills,” or “parenting help” can return different results that might be more helpful.
  1. Think of technical terms, not the common words people use. This can be a little more difficult if you are not familiar with the terms that could be helpful. However, you can do a search for those things first, like searching “counseling terms” or “student services/programs” and pay attention to the words used in the results. Then use terms you see to do an alternative search. Things like “positive reinforcement” or “alternative discipline,” or for education search “accelerated classes or programs.” These don’t always come to mind because they are not the common words used in our everyday conversation, but they can be a huge help in narrowing your search for the right help.
  1. Don’t hesitate to type full sentences in search. It’s a funny thing to say because I still feel like I have to help Google search for things by typing in just the right thing. The truth is, Google can handle my full sentence much better than I can. In addition, I find that other people who have asked the same question may have posted it on a forum or FAQ and, at times, there is a helpful answer.
  1. YouTube! People post videos about everything. And if they come up at the top of the list, it’s usually because people have actually found them to be helpful – unless they’re being funny or stupid. You can also pay attention to the number of views, but I find a different indicator even more helpful. I look for the length of the video. If someone is not able to explain what they are doing in a video that is less than 10 minutes, it tells me there is too much explanation. Truthfully, I find videos between 1:30-3 minutes long to be the most helpful. I hope these tips are helpful to you too.
  1. Crowdsource it. Use your social media channel (I’ve found Facebook to work best for this, even if you never post anything else) to ask friend for input. Ignore their opinions and use the suggestions for resources they offer, unless of course you know someone really does have insight on the topic or task. Facebook is actually making this even easier by suggestng links to resources when it notices you are talking about places to suggest. This can also be helpful if you tag someone that you know is an expert in the field you are looking for help. Most likely, you will not get a response from the person them self (although this can happen), but people connected to them will see the post and you will expand your crowdsourcing beyond your circle of online friends.

 

That’s it. What ways have you found to be helpful outside of an old school Google search?

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.