Support Group Update 2018

Support Group Update 2018

Summer is officially here, and I did not want to miss the opportunity to share the ways your support, donations, and encouragement have impacted the 1,204 students who participated in Teen Life Support Groups this school year. Each week, I get to see the impact these groups make. These teenagers are more than numbers, campuses and school districts to me. I get to sit in their circles, hear their stories, and talk about their futures. I get this perspective most weeks of the school year, but I know that most of you are not Teen Life Facilitators.

You are in your own trenches – in your homes, classrooms, and churches. You are doing hard work, but you don’t always get to participate in the intentional conversations that a Teen Life Support Group can encourage. Each week, Teen Life Facilitators encourage the group to share their thoughts, experiences, and hopes. We talk about stress, relationships, internal resources, school, the ups and downs of life and more. In a 45 minute group, I can witness a bond and trust between 10 strangers that many people would have to work weeks or months to develop.

How is this possible?

Teenagers crave a safe place to talk and share. And Teen Life is able to step in this gap with the help of our volunteer facilitators and school staff.

Still a little skeptical? Here are some of the things that we heard from our facilitators this school year:

Last week, we challenged the students to work on building relationships with people they would like to be closer to. One of the students was set on picking someone else other than his biological father. He mentioned that the relationship is over and beyond healing. He seemed to have hard feelings regarding his father, but really liked his mom’s boyfriend. This week, he told me that, even though he said he did not want to pursue a relationship with his father, he decided to write a letter to him saying he wanted to build their father-son relationship. His father answered back with the same desire. It looks like the healing process has begun in this young man’s life.

Lots of great sharing from the girls. This was the week I started to really love leading this group. I feel like It’s a highlight of my week and one of the most important places I’m able to serve right now.

As always, you think your efforts are going by the wayside and then the girls open up about how much they feel they have learned and grown. One girl, who shared on paper that there hasn’t been any growth, then shares that it really helps to laugh with the other girls in the group because this makes life not seem so hard.

Though it isn’t fun when the group comes to a close, there is no doubt that [the last lesson] is my favorite. Today, I can’t tell you how many times I heard the phrase, “None of my peers have ever complimented me like that before.” The students were very moved by all that the other group members had to say about them. We concluded the group by reminding them that you cannot control your circumstances, but you can only control yourself. We also encouraged them to use what they learned to possibly help someone else in the future.

These stories are what make the numbers really mean something. Like I said above, the teenagers in our groups aren’t just numbers to me, our staff, or our facilitators. However, this year, we had our biggest year yet! I am so thankful to be a part of an organization that not only seeks to help as many teenagers and families as possible, but that takes the time to hear and invest in the individual stories.

Now that you’ve heard a few stories, here are some of the numbers from the 2017-2018 School Year:

Number of States

Number of School Districts

Number of School Campuses

Number of Students in Support Groups

Number of Facilitators Who Led a Group

This group update is so exciting for me to write! It shows that not only are we able to reach more teenagers each year because of our supporters and volunteers, but schools see value in equipping students outside of the classroom. The school counselors, teachers, and administrators that we work with want to give their students every opportunity to succeed and get the resources they need.

So I want to say thank you for another great school year. Thank you for supporting, encouraging, and giving to us. Thank you for trusting us with your teenagers. Thank you for inviting us on your school campuses and giving us a space to empower teens. Thank you for being a part of our groups – for sharing and being vulnerable. We could not do it without you!

 

Karlie Duke was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is our Marketing & Development Director. She is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories.
The Unexpected Loss by Suicide with Vanita Halliburton

The Unexpected Loss by Suicide with Vanita Halliburton

In the third episode of our series on The Unexpected, Chris and Karlie sit down with Vanita Halliburton. Twelve years ago, Vanita’s teenage son, Grant Halliburton, took his life by suicide. Following his death, Vanita co-founded the Grant Halliburton Foundation to strengthen the network of mental health resources for children, teens and young adults; promote better mental health; and help prevent suicide.

Vanita uses her experience with the unexpected loss of her son to help educate and encourage. In this conversation, we talk about the warning signs for a crisis, symptoms to look for, questions to ask, and how to help a teen who is hurting.

This interview is full of wisdom in the midst of a terrible situation. We would love for you to listen and share with helpers who come in contact with teenagers who are hurting or in hard places. Let’s continue the conversation and take a look at mental health for teens!

 

 

Listen & Subscribe:  iTunes | Google Play | RSS

Resources:

In this episode, we mentioned the following resources:

About Us:

Vanita Halliburton is co-founder and executive chairman of Grant Halliburton Foundation, which was established in 2006 following the suicide death of her teenage son Grant Halliburton. Vanita is a frequent speaker on youth mental health and suicide prevention to students, educators, counselors, parents, community groups and professional conferences. She speaks from the heart about her son’s battle with depression and bipolar disorder, his suicide at the age of 19, and the need for a collaborative and comprehensive approach to suicide prevention in our community. In addition to serving as president of the Grant Halliburton Foundation, Halliburton serves on the Texas Suicide Prevention Council, The Girls Group advisory board, and Good Life Family Magazine editorial advisory board.

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 6 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!
A Guide to 13 Reasons Why

A Guide to 13 Reasons Why

* Warning: Spoilers of 13 Reasons Why Season Two and discussion of graphic content ahead.

 

The popular, controversial Netflix series 13 Reasons Why returned two weeks ago with Season Two. It was as interesting, graphic, provocative and disturbing as the first season. I can see why teenagers identify with it and parents fear it.

Last year, we received several questions and concerns around the first season of 13 Reasons Why. As an avid Neflix fan, I decided to watch the show to have a better idea of what teenagers were being exposed to and to help parents, teachers, and other helpers have positive conversation in the midst of a controversial series. After watching Season Two, I have a few thoughts, tips, and questions that I hope will help you have educated, positive, and relevant conversations with the teenagers in your life.

 

What is 13 Reasons Why?

13 Reasons Why is a Netflix Original Series about Hannah Baker, a high school student who chronicles her inner struggle and the 13 reasons why she chooses to kill herself on 13 cassette tapes. Season One revolved around these 13 tapes and the individuals (both teenagers and adults) who appear on the cassette tapes she leaves behind after her death.

On the show’s site 13ReasonsWhy.info, Netflix describes Season Two as follows:

13 Reasons Why Season 2 picks up in the aftermath of Hannah’s death and the start of our characters’ complicated journeys toward healing and recovery. Liberty High prepares to go on trial, but someone will stop at nothing to keep the truth surrounding Hannah’s death concealed. A series of ominous polaroids lead Clay and his classmates to uncover a sickening secret and a conspiracy to cover it up.

This show is suspenseful, entertaining, relevant, and revolves around issues many of our teenagers see in the halls of their school. While the series is set in a public High School, I believe the target audience ranges from middle school students to young adults. Not just teenagers are exposed to the situations portrayed.

To start a conversation about 13 Reasons Why, ask your teen the following questions:

  • Have you heard of the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why? 
  • Have you or any of your friends watched the show?
  • Would you be willing to talk about what you have seen or heard?

 

The Content of 13 Reasons Why

The content of 13 Reasons Why has been described as graphic, disturbing, dangerous, tragic, and intense. At the beginning of the first episode of Season Two, the actors of the hit series also give the following disclaimer:

13 Reasons Why is a fictional series that tackles tough, real-world issues, taking a look at sexual assault, substance abuse, suicide, and more. By shedding a light on these difficult topics, we hope our show can help viewers start a conversation. But if you are struggling with these issues yourself, this series may not be right for you, or you may want to watch it with a trusted adult. And if you ever feel you need someone to talk with, reach out to a parent, a friend, a school counselor, or an adult you trust, call a local helpline, or go to 13ReasonsWhy.info. Because the minute you start talking about it, it gets easier. 

The stated purpose of the show is to start conversations, but I want to make you aware that the conversations can come with a price when watching the show. 13 Reasons Why includes bad language (the F word is used often), female nudity, sex scenes and other mature content.

Besides this, it also portrays intense scenes and conversations about substance abuse and the detox process, rape, gun violence, anxiety attacks, suicide, self-harm, bullying, homelessness, pornography, and masturbation. The scene that many people have a problem with this season includes a graphic depiction of a teenage boy getting sodomized by three classmates.

If your teenager is aware of the show or has watched 13 Reasons Why, ask the following questions:

  • Who would you talk to if negative feelings were triggered by the content in 13 Reasons Why?
  • What scenes and conversations seemed accurately portrayed?
  • How could the show and/or characters have approached the situations differently?

 

Watching 13 Reasons Why

I am not the parent of the teen, and I am also not recommending 13 Reasons Why for you or your teen. However, if your teen has already watched the show or is going to watch it, please don’t let them watch it alone! I have heard from several teens that the content mentioned above can trigger negative thoughts and actions.

Melissa Henson, the Program Director of the Parents Television Council, warned parents and adults by saying:

For kids who are already at risk, who are being bullied or abused, the show may only serve to trigger those feelings and create dangerous real-life circumstances. We urge parents and schools to be alert and on guard in the weeks and months ahead.

I understand that we live in a dangerous world where teenagers have access to Netflix on their televisions, phones, gaming systems, laptops, and tablets. We would be naive to ignore this show by saying, “My child would never watch that.” I would encourage you to set guidelines, have a discussion, and ask your teen to watch it with an adult if necessary. This series might not be right for you or your teen, but whether you watch the series or not, it can start a positive conversation about what your teen is exposed to every week in the halls of their school.

At 13ReasonsWhy.info, there is a discussion guide that has helpful tips and questions for watching the show and engaging in conversation. Some of these include pausing to talk about issues in the moment or skipping scenes that feel uncomfortable. This could be a great resource if you choose to watch the show!

Start by asking:

  • What would change if you watched the show with an adult present?
  • How can this show start a positive conversation between teens and adults?

 

As I said above, many teenagers and young adults identify with the characters and situations portrayed in 13 Reasons Why. For this reason, it can be extremely dangerous. As teenagers see themselves and their friends in the characters, they may also seek the show for answers, guidance, or understanding. Let me be clear – while I do believe this show portrays relevant content, it is a scripted drama. It was made to draw people in, shock audiences, and make money. Some pieces may look like real life, but it is not real life.

A final note: For season one, we wrote a series of blog posts. This year, be looking for a series of podcast episodes that will take a deeper dive into the topics and issues raised in season two of 13 Reasons Why. Check out The Teen Life Podcast to subscribe so you won’t miss these episodes! If you have any other questions, thoughts, or concerns, please leave a comment or send an email to info@teenlife.ngo.

 

Karlie Duke was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is our Marketing & Development Director. She is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories.
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.
Seismic Shifts – Can You See Them?

Seismic Shifts – Can You See Them?

Seismic shifts are defined as small changes and adjustments by tectonic plates, or the plates that move under the earth. Tectonic plates shift at a rate of approximately 2 to 5 cm a year. To put it in perspective, that is about the rate that your fingernails grow. But collectively over time, multiple seismic shifts lead to earthquakes. Some are small and barely noticeable. Others are large and massively destructive, such as the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 that killed over 225,000 people and displaced millions. To quote Jonathan and Thomas McKee in their book The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer, seismic shifts are “small changes and adjustments that cause a massive transformation.”

Culturally, we have experienced many seismic shifts over the last 15 to 20 years. A few examples as given by the McKees:

  1. Family structures have changed. My husband teaches 4th grade. In his classroom of 24 students, he has only 4 students who live at home with both their mom and dad. Everyone else lives in a varying family structure.
  2. Technology has advanced. Obvious as this one may sound, let me remind you that Apple only released its first iPhone in June 2007.
  3. Smaller community is more common – According to the 2009 Pew Internet and American Life Project, the average size of an American’s core network of close friends has dropped by 1/3 since 1985. Some studies suggest that loneliness is at an all-time high, affecting as much as 45% of the population.

 

Now, take a step back and think about the youth you work with every day. Not only have they been impacted by these cultural seismic shifts, but they are also impacted by personal seismic shifts as well. Seemingly small events, some obvious and others not, can result in a seismic shift in behavior. We have all seen it – the barely noticeable but definitely occurring movements or the big explosions that catch us off guard. It could be a comment on social media, a picture shared without permission, the gain or loss of a part-time job, a change in the status of a long-term friendship. Even expected transitions such as starting high school, or the added freedoms that come with learning to drive or having friends that do – these all result in shifts.

How aware are you of the small shifts? Do you see them when they happen? Do you look for them after the destructive quake has happened to see if there is a cause? Seeing the small shifts and processing them is instrumental in working with teens.

The other aspect of seismic shifts is the reality that we can positively impact teens by purposefully having small, but meaningful interactions. It’s as simple as noticing when someone seems like they are having a bad day or remembering to ask about a situation that they mentioned previously. It could be providing a resource they might shrug off today but grab onto down the road. It’s showing up to an event or listening well to a concern. The opportunities to create shifts abound if we are looking for them.

 

Do you see the seismic shifts in the lives of youth around you? Are you purposefully loving well and creating seismic shifts of your own?

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

Generosity Changes Everything

I recently finished a business book, which not to brag, is a pretty big deal for me. Just finishing a book, not the business part. But the fact it was a business book is important and has my mind spinning about how I interact with people and help our readers interact with teenagers. The book, Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi, is essentially a networking book. While that sounds stale and uninspiring, the motivating force behind his book and world class networking skills is what has got my head spinning – generosity.

Now, I’m probably a few weeks late on the generosity post, but this goes way farther than presents. Ferrazzi posits any relationship and connected group of relationships (a network in this case) is best when done from a standpoint of generosity. That is, when seeking out a new relationship or even finding someone who can help you must start with what you can do for them. This seems upside down (which as I’m getting older seems to be where all of the good stuff is), but it makes a lot of sense. If I’m seeking out someone who can be of help to me, I will likely get that help much more freely if I have something to offer them – especially when it comes to people of influence. Everyone is wanting something from them, but if you have something you can offer them that is helpful and timely, they might choose you to build a relationship.

Reading this book also got me thinking about another highly influential book in my library – Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers. Dr. Chap Clark did a research study at a large California high school to get a reading on teen culture as well as how they interact with adults. The book is stunning because it paints a rather grim picture of adolescents really being on their own when it comes to adults. What Clark dubbed “The World Beneath” encapsulates a hidden subculture of teenage life where teens live and function without the help and guidance of loving adults. 

So, why are there no adults? Dr. Clark theorizes that since the mid 1960’s, adults have increasingly withdrawn from teenagers and become more protective of what they have. Institutions like public schools, civic organizations, and even churches have become adult institutions that teenagers have to exist within. Fewer and fewer adults interact with teenagers for the joy of doing so. For Dr. Clark, a lot of adults have trouble relating to teenagers in a way that is not corrective or directive.

There is a lot more to this book than what I am describing, but suffice to say it made an impact on how I interact with teenagers. I want to be someone who a teenager can see as a safe place to talk, think, explore. I try my best to help them think and encourage them to make a good decision based upon what they know. I don’t walk in their shoes. I don’t know what they go through. But, I can help them think.

And that brings be back around to the generosity stuff. I believe if we start from a stance of generosity when we work with teenagers, our relationships will be so much more robust. But, we need to think a little more about what they need. And, that is where this generosity stuff gets good. If we are willing to give of our time, our resources, our experiences, and our people, what an amazing impact we could have. If we were generous with patience and grace (both of which teenagers need in abundance), we would stand out as someone who could be trusted.

You see, teenagers need more than your advice and direction. They need your generosity. What would it look like to be more generous with a teenager in your life?

(Another great resource on generosity can be found in a recent Michael Hyatt podcast found here.)

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s COO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.