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.
5 Ways to Face the Storm

5 Ways to Face the Storm

What a week here in Texas! Our thoughts and prayers are with all the people in Corpus Christi, Houston and the surrounding areas. It’s a heartbreaking situation, and if you are interested in helping, it will be a long and expensive process, so now is the time to jump in with a donation or work out a way go in person and help. You can donate through this YouCaring site that J.J. Watt started and has already raised over $20 million, but the recovery will be long and expensive, so a donation now will help when later many people forget about the efforts that will take months or years.

All the news about the storms reminded me about something we talk about in our Facilitator Training as we explain what is happening at the core of what we do. In a very different way we all face storms in our life. Teenagers are especially susceptible to intense, potentially life changing storms. These life interruptions can make or break a teenager and their future.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post on the specifics about how we can think about this considering how buffalo and cattle handle the storms that blow over the Rockies. Each handling it in their own way. This came from Rory Vaden’s book Take The Stairs. I have continued using this analogy since reading the book years ago.

Today though I wanted to take this idea further. The 5 parts to facing a storm in life are foundational principles that will help any teenager form a perspective that will give them the courage to face the challenges they encounter.

 

Prepare Yourself First

Preparing yourself is often something we feel we should do after we take care of everyone else. For a teenager, this preparation can be anything from learning an effective mental exercise, to a list of resources in their phone, to prioritizing who they would call first, second and third in an emergency. When we face hardships, our natural reaction is to work quickly to remove them. The truth is the quickest and easiest way to handle a difficulty is to know what to do when it happens. Any of these are relevant approaches, but you know what prepares them the most? Their mental preparation. We do not enjoy thinking about the worst case scenario, but when we take the time to do this, we gain the benefit of feeling we would be able to handle something tough if it comes our way. The bottom line is we handle it best when we are prepared.

 

Model Calmness for Your Teen

Modeling is an opportunity to show a teenager how to stay calm and collected through a life storm. In the buffalo example, the young ones know what to do becuase they watch how the older ones take action when the storms begin to approach. We can do the same. I have learned from years of working with teens that many of us parents try to only do this ourselves. The truth is you need to intentionally involve other adults you trust in your teen’s life so that they will have multiple respected adults to watch and talk to about what is happening. They will likely never share everything with one adult, especially if their only option is you as their parent.

 

Attack the Situation with Confidence

I prefer to say confidence because courage can sometimes sound like “sucking it up”. But “Attack with Confidence” sends the message that I am prepared, resourced and intentionally moving toward the situation because I believe I have what it takes to handle it. Since our natural tendency is to remove all pain, it is counter intuitive to think that you could be in an offensive position when you have an unexpected pain point. But it really is true. Consider what you have faced before, think about how it made you stronger and move forward expecting to learn something once again that will help you face the next challenge. We can never remove the stress from life, but we can believe we have what it takes to make it through.

 

Enlist a Community

I touched on this above, but it is much deeper than that. Did you know that the thing that makes people the most happy is being with other people? I heard last weekend that a study showed that people who were not in community but joined a group of some kind cut their odds of dying in the next year in half! In half! That is worth it right there. But there are more benefits. For about 3 years, I was in a group of other directors of nonprofit programs. I learned a ton from these people both about what to do and what not to do. Our group helped make me and our organization better even though they didn’t have any direct impact on decisions made in our organization. Here’s the key though, be sure you include people different than you in your community. It will help stretch you and help you see how drastically varied perspectives can be. Often you may find that things in your life aren’t really so bad and the hard work you are putting in is worth what you get out of it.

 

Celebrate the Survival

Once you have gotten through a difficult time, it is important to recognize, if only in a small way, that you made it. Your family can set the tradition here. You decide how things get celebrated. The point in this is to put emphasis on the fact that you survived. No one is saying you have to survive a certain way or have to look tougher on the other side, just make it through. Then as you draw on the strength that got you through, you will be able to pull yourself together and continue to grow into the new you. By seeing every situation you face as a chance to grow, to learn, to become more self-aware and others-focused, you can celebrate more on the other side because you will feel accomplished rather than beat down each time you survive what life throws at you.

What do you think? Do you have examples of times you have survived and how it made you better? Share them with us or at least share them with someone close to you so it can help them have a different perspective 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.
Helping in Helpful Ways

Helping in Helpful Ways

When tragedy strikes, everyone wants to help. This is admirable and well-intended. But what happens when our help is not helpful? What if helping gives us more peace of mind than it gives the victims relief?

With Hurricane Harvey wrecking the coast of Texas, this idea has hit a little closer to home. It got me thinking about how we can really help in this situation or any other disaster that arises. I believe that everyone truly wants to help. They have the best intensions to make a difference and improve others’ circumstances. Maybe we just don’t know where to start!

Hopefully these three principles will help you help others better:

 

Do your research!

To be helpful, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. So many great organizations and groups of people are already working to do good. When a tragedy happens, first look at who is already helping. Maybe you can donate clothes to people who are already collecting items. Or perhaps you can donate to an organization that is equipped to help people in need. Instead of people doing their own thing in small quantities, you can collaborate with others to make the effort more effective.

How can you research? Start with Google! Go to social media. Ask your local school, church or city. Talk to friends and see what those around you are involved in.

I couldn’t even count the number of opportunities to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey that I have seen the past few days. There are tons of great options to help with the destruction of Hurricane Harvey, but here are a few to get your research started:

  • American Red Cross: you can give by phone, text, online or mail to help people affected by Hurricane Harvey.
  • Salvation Army: you can also donate by any of the ways listed above to help with long-term relief efforts.
  • LiveBeyond: give online to help this nonprofit provide disaster relief.
  • Oliver & Otis: buy their Texas Strong t-shirt & 100% of the proceeds with go to LiveBeyond disaster relief.
  • North Texas Food Bank: donate online to provide food and water to those affected by the hurricane.

 

Help in realistic ways!

Everyone has a different capacity to help and different gifts to use. Help in a way that is realistic and applicable to you! The links above involve financial assistance. This is a great option, but there are other ways that you can help. What is so important here is that you only commit to what you can handle. If you choose to volunteer, finish the time you committed to help. If you want to start a food drive, make sure you have the capacity to collect and distribute the supplies. If you pledge money to an organization, give within your means. It does not help anyone if you start something and don’t follow through.

Here are some ways you can donate your time, home and supplies to help Hurricane Harvey victims:

  • Voly.org: register to volunteer and get notifications when needs in your area arise.
  • Airbnb: offer your home to those in need of emergency accommodations.
  • TangoTab: this app gives a meal to a person in need every time you eat out!

 

Offer help that is needed!

Finally, you want to make sure that whenever you offer help, you are offering something that is needed. I love this article which talks about disaster relief creates its own disaster. It lists several examples of help with was well-intended but necessary from sending winter coats to Honduras in the Summer to tens of thousands of teddy bears sent to the children of Sandy Hook.

Check with organizations to see what is actually useful. Give to locations that provide lists of items or a registry of sorts. Don’t assume that your junk is needed just because they have lost everything.

I would encourage you to put yourself in the shoes of the person affected by disaster. What would you want? What would you need? What would you find overwhelming?

In times of trial, we want to help. We want to give, donate, and send everything we can. The problem is that we should first check our motivation. Are you giving to truly help those affected or are you giving to feel like you made a difference? Sometimes the best thing to do is to donate money to an organization that can provide supplies that are needed. Or maybe people need thinks like water or diapers. It doesn’t have to be fancy or Instagram worthy to make a difference!

What do you think about this? What other ways do you know of to help those in need, especially as it relates to Hurricane Harvey? 

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.
A Few Words For Helpers

A Few Words For Helpers

I had an encounter with a situation recently that got me thinking about how we as adults can best help teenagers. A little context:

Upon arriving at my office, I had a friend of our organization waiting on me with a teenager sitting next to them. It was obvious there was something going on, so I sat down with them to talk through the issue.

It turns out the teenager wasn’t related to the adult, but the adult had a mentoring relationship with this teenager and knew their mom. In recent weeks the family situation had disintegrated and essentially this teenager was dumped on our friend and threats were made that the teenager was going to be kicked out of the house. So sitting in front of me was a well meaning adult, and an unrelated teenager who had nowhere else to go.

Tough doesn’t even start to describe this situation.

In fact I would argue these kinds of situations are the reason many adults don’t want to work with teenagers much outside of their own family situation.

It’s messy.

But the truth is, we need more. Teen Life has opportunities daily to interact with teenagers from all walks of life, cultural and religious background, and social status. Some have incredible families and support structures, while others have literally nothing. Some have advantage while others seem to have the world actively battling against them.

But the one thing they all have in common is this – they need support and presence from adults. No matter how well off they might seem, someone has to be there for them who have lived longer and has more life experience. This cannot be replaced.

Thinking back on our friend who came into our office, I think about how much they were trying to be supportive and available to a teenager who was losing everything. But, she was there. She showed up. What we talked about that morning would seem to help others as they help teenagers, so here it goes:

  1. Know your boundaries

Our friend was well meaning, but needed some help (and permission) to set boundaries not only with the teenager, but with their parents. Both were misbehaving badly and wanted someone to be a part of it. In the counseling world it is called “triangulation”. Simply, when people are in pain or at a loss they find someone else to project the stress they are feeling onto so it won’t hurt so bad or they won’t have to deal with the problem.

Boundaries are crucial when working with anyone, especially teenagers. They teach and protect. Knowing what you are wiling to do and where you need to stop can allow for a clear path through a difficult situation.

  1. De-escalate the situation

When you come upon a situation where there is stress, do everything you can to calm the stress. Find a way to create space for everyone to cool off. Go on a walk. Play with playdoh. Build something with legos. Write or draw. Listen to some music. As a helper, find a way to create safe space for clear thought. When teens and families are in a state of stress, clear communication and resolution is relatively impossible. Find a way to de-escalate and reduce the stress.

  1. Know your resources. 

Most communities have some support system in place with professionals and lay people equipped to serve vulnerable populations. Whether it be a local non-profit, faith community, or school, there is help to be found. Often for the helper of teenagers, their issues and demands can be daunting. But if you know there is help available, it helps you to stick around.

Typically these resources can be found either via web, call in services (like the National Suicide Prevention Hotline or 211), or by making a few phone calls to community leaders. Our experience has told us we are only a few phone calls from getting the resource we need. Don’t be afraid to make a few calls.

  1. Refer, refer, refer. 

I’m sure you are a smart person if you are willing to help a teenager but, you don’t know it all. Don’t be afraid, especially after having a working knowledge of the resources in your community, to refer to trusted sources. Bring the community in to help. Let them shoulder some of this load.

So in summary –

Know your boundaries,

De-escalate the situation,

Know your resources,

Refer, refer, refer.

What do you think about this? How have these ideas helped you in the past?

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