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. 

The Fake News Effect

The Fake News Effect

“We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented. It’s as simple as that.” – The Truman Show

Social and political polarization is at an all-time high. Conspiracy theories, strong opinions, and stereotyping are taking over social media channels. I don’t point this out to scare you, but it is so important that we are well-informed, especially when it comes to what we are consuming online.

Earlier this fall, Netflix released a documentary called The Social Dilemma. It is full of eye-opening interviews about how social media and sites like Facebook, YouTube, Google, Twitter and others can manipulate users to stay engaged on the site so they can make money. It shares the dark side of the internet, but it is not something that is brand new.

One of the main problems that The Social Dilemma discusses is the danger of “fake news”. They quote an MIT study that found fake news on Twitter spreads six times faster than true news.

Think about that! Six times!

How are we (or our teenagers) supposed to know what is reality when false information is spreading at a much faster rate?

These social media platforms have algorithms that target users and often times put them in an echo chamber so that they will continue coming back to the site. As you scroll through your feed, you might think, “How can they believe that? Don’t they see the facts? Don’t they see the information I am seeing?” But they don’t. Their feed looks drastically different than yours.

The algorithm could set off a chain of events like this:

  • You like a friend’s post about their trip to Disney World
  • A video pops up about the top 10 attractions at Disney World
  • You go down a rabbit hole of watching families take surprise Disney trips
  • A Disney Vacation group is recommended
  • Events coming up at Disney start popping up on your feed
  • You see ads for Disney travel agents, plane tickets, and Disney hotels

And it goes on and on…

This is a light-hearted example of how social media can take you down a path where you find yourself on a plane to Florida for a week-long vacation at Disney World. But it can also manipulate your thoughts on COVID-19, the election, and more. It can quickly give information you agree with and polarize you from others who maybe weren’t originally that different from you.

The Social Dilemma said, “We have less and less control over who we are and what we really believe.”

This can have devastating consequences when we start sharing news sources that haven’t been checked, or when we share information that is false or exaggerated. It is so important that we do a “Fake News Check” when we are going down our rabbit holes online. Here are a few things that you might find helpful as you try to navigate what is fake vs. reality:

Check your source.
Remember your old research paper days when you had to cite sources? Channel your favorite English teacher and start digging into the content you see on social media. Before you share or like a post, ask some of these questions: Is this source credible? Is it unbiased and backed by evidence? Is it current? Does it properly cite quotes and research?

There is so much information on the internet. It is easier than ever to find an article or story that backs your beliefs, but is it accurate? Is it reality or are you falling into the fake news trap? Checking your sources is a great place to start!

Follow different voices.
When you are scrolling through social media, do you see the same opinion over and over again? Does everyone you follow look and sound like you? Especially lately, it has been so tempting to unfollow and unfriend people who hold different opinions than me. There are definitely times where it is healthy to unfollow toxic accounts, but I would encourage you to make sure you are reading posts that might challenge your worldview – it is vital for growth and empathy!

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to get caught in an echo chamber where I am not open to the thoughts and experiences of others. Be intentional about who you follow and how you can grow.

Start conversations.
When you start to go down that rabbit hole, talk to someone. When you are getting worked up because of what you are seeing in your Facebook feed, run it by someone else. When you are overwhelmed, set up some boundaries. Just being aware of the fake news trap is a good defense, but make sure you are surrounding yourself with people who will hold you accountable and engage in positive discussions. This is especially important for teenagers!

Here are some discussion questions that you can use to start a conversation with your teen or other loved ones about social media:

  • What are you seeing on social media this week? What have you been watching? What have you disagreed with?
  • Are there any boundaries that could help you manage social media and friends better? How can I help you with that?
  • What are some negative things about social media that you don’t enjoy? What is a positive thing about social media?

Social media isn’t going away anytime soon. But there are things that we can do to stop the spread of Fake News. There are boundaries that we can set to limit its influence in our lives. It’s time to start talking about it so we can take control back! Sit down with your teen, your spouse, your friend and start a conversation this week.

*If you want to see more posts on The Social Dilemma, head over to our Teen Life Impact Facebook Group. It is a group for adults to find support and resources. We promise to check our sources 😉

Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Marketing & Development Director

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.

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.

Education and Race with Dr. Jackson

Education and Race with Dr. Jackson

Listen & Subscribe:  iTunes | Google Play | RSS

 

Recently, Chris and Karlie got to have a conversation with Dr. Tishara Jackson about race, and especially how it impacts the education system and our teenagers. Dr. Jackson is an intervention counselor in a local school district and has been a friend of Teen Life’s for a long time! We are thankful for her advice on how to start race conversations, the appropriate language and terminology to use, and how we can educate ourselves.

This podcast episode is full of resources, tips, and a different perspective that is needed. Our schools are not always equal, and no matter the race, teenagers are aware of the racial discussions that are taking place in our country right now. Let’s take a minute to listen and learn how we can have these conversations well to empower the teenagers in our lives!

 

About Us:
With 20 years of experience in education and nearly 15 years as a certified school counselor, Dr. Tishara Jackson has gained extensive experience and training in helping teens and young adults who have difficult lives and the adults who care for them.  Since 2012, she has been an intervention counselor within a leading Texas school district, providing counseling services for students from elementary through high school with negative coping skills. Dr. Jackson is a Texas Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor (lic.# 15299), with a B.S. in Speech Pathology and Audiology, M.S. in School Guidance and Counseling, and an Ed.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision. To have life balance, she enjoys having good food with family and friends, lounging in bed with a good book, and playing with her dogs.
Chris Robey is the CEO of Teen Life. Earlier in his career while working as a youth minister, Chris earned a Masters Degree in Family Life Education from Lubbock Christian University to better equip his work with teenagers and families. Chris’ career and educational opportunities have exposed him to teenagers from a variety of backgrounds. Follow him on Twitter!
Karlie Duke is Teen Life’s Marketing & Development Director, joining Teen Life after graduating from Abilene Christian University with a degree in Communications and a minor in Family Studies. Karlie has worked with teenagers for the past 10 years and is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram!
Have a question?
If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below.  We would love to hear from you!
The Accidental Ally

The Accidental Ally

I remember getting the late night phone call that two young men from the youth group I led had been arrested and put in jail. They were African American brothers who lived with their very conservative grandmother. On top of being in jail, they had also found out that their grandmother kicked them out of the house, so now they were homeless.

They had gotten into a fight at a local gas station that was racially charged, and one of them used his belt buckle as a blunt weapon defending himself. The local police department arrested them on the ambiguous charge of “Suspected gang violence”.

At the time I was pretty young, single, and lived in a rather large, church-owned parsonage. To me it made a lot of sense for these guys to have a safe spot to lay low and let things simmer down with their families. The problem was, I wasn’t family and I didn’t know how to make that happen.

So, I contacted a local attorney that I knew to take their case pro-bono. He bargained with the DA for the brothers to be under my care for six months with certain stipulations (I.E. getting a job, going to school, obeying a curfew) in exchange for their release and reduced charges.

With that started some of the most important six months of my life learning more about what it meant to be a young black teenager in a small town. I learned about systemic racism, fatherlessness, inequities in the education system, and police brutality. My life was never the same.

But, this post isn’t about that. I’ve been thinking a lot about this period in my life lately, for good reason. I’m so thankful for those months of learning and laughing with those guys. Yet there has been another question nagging me as I’ve considered race in our country – why was it so hard for them, yet so easy for me?

These guys got into a scuffle at a gas station. The video footage showed that it wasn’t much at all, but it was a fight. And it ended up with them in prison, homeless, and with multiple school suspensions. Their entire futures were put in jeopardy for a fight.

I on the other hand was living in a home, basically rent-free, that was WAY too big for me. All I had to do was make a few phone calls to find the right people to help. And for some reason, the DA considered me trustworthy enough to release them to my custody, even though I wasn’t family.

You see, the more I think about this story, it wasn’t that I was special.

I was white.

There should have been zero reason those brothers would have been released to me with such ease. Local law enforcement asked very few questions. There was no house visit. It was just a brief meeting with me, the DA, and their attorney.

For those who do not believe white privilege exists in this country, I ask you to be more self reflective. I’ve always loved thinking back on this time, but what I should have been thinking about is how inequitable everything was. Why was I so easily able to pull strings for their release, yet the hammer fell so hard on their shoulders for a mere fight?

You see, I was an accidental ally. I, through my whiteness stumbled into a situation where my whiteness was able to benefit a person of color. Yet, white privilege was so strong in my mind that I didn’t even understand the inequities I was up against, and yet still used my whiteness to get what I thought was just and right.

I write this during a time of great upheaval in this world along the lines of race. Hard questions are being asked of white people and systems that we have been ignoring for far too long. In so many areas, I’ve been an accidental ally – a white person willing to help when asked, and feel good about myself when my whiteness creates better outcomes for people of color. Most of the time I don’t even realize I’m doing it.

That is how powerful white privilege is.

In this particular story, I was merely an ally. I helped and I learned, but I didn’t use what I learned to challenge the system on behalf of my friends. Now it’s time to be less an ally, and more a co-conspirator. That is, locking arms with my friends of color and using my privilege to affect change at the systemic level.

We at Teen Life believe there is much to be done in the arena of public education in terms of race and equity. As an organization, we believe we can do better in naming race and injustice in the schools we serve and work towards better, anti-racist policies – especially around discipline, justice, and mental health. We want to do this on purpose, and with conviction.

But this is the lane we operate in. Think about where you operate and serve. What do you care about? How are the organizations you care about asking the hard questions around race and equity? How can you be asking hard questions around race and equality to affect positive change in your arena?

We would love to engage with you on this – please comment below with your response!

Chris Robey

Chris Robey

CEO

Chris has worked with teens from a variety of backgrounds for over a decade. He has a desire to help teenagers make good choices while also giving their families tools to communicate more effectively as choices are made.

5 Areas of Focus for Social Distancing

5 Areas of Focus for Social Distancing

Listen & Subscribe:  iTunes | Google Play | RSS

 

Here we are…still social distancing! In this podcast episode, Chris and Karlie discuss 5 different areas of focus that can help shape this unique time of social distancing. They will talk about the importance of…

    • Physical movement
    • Mindful moments
    • Self-care
    • Tech breaks
    • Generosity

It is so vital that you take care of yourself and encourage teenagers to do the same. We might have to change our expectations, and that is OKAY. But let’s make the best of this time of social distancing due to COVID-19! While we hope that life can return to “normal” soon, we want to continue to equip teenagers to grow, learn, and thrive today while also maintaining hope for the future.

 

Resources:
In this interview, we mentioned the following resources:

About Us:
Chris Robey is the CEO of Teen Life. Earlier in his career while working as a youth minister, Chris earned a Masters Degree in Family Life Education from Lubbock Christian University to better equip his work with teenagers and families. Chris’ career and educational opportunities have exposed him to teenagers from a variety of backgrounds. Follow him on Twitter!
Karlie Duke is Teen Life’s Marketing & Development Director, joining Teen Life after graduating from Abilene Christian University with a degree in Communications and a minor in Family Studies. Karlie has worked with teenagers for the past 8 years and is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram!
Have a question?
If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below.  We would love to hear from you!