13 Reasons Why: Making Noise or Making Change?

13 Reasons Why: Making Noise or Making Change?

Recently, season 3 of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why was released. Because of its implications on teenage culture, Teen Life has been following this show since the beginning, and last month, I finished the 3rd installment of this controversial series.

Let me start by saying that this show is not one I would recommend teenagers watch. I would not even recommend that adults watch it with its mature content and language. However, I know that teens continue to watch it, and so it begs the question: Is 13 Reasons Why helping or hurting teenagers?

In this third season, the Netflix show covered sex, drugs, abortion, prostitution, gun violence, bullying, sexual abuse, illegal immigration, steroid use, and sexual identity. These are issues and topics that today’s adolescents are wrestling with, but is this the format to discuss it? To quote one of the characters on the show, “But you’re not making change, you’re just making noise!”

Wow.

What a quote! And so applicable to almost anything in our culture, especially with this age of social media driven content.

So many people want their ideas, problems, concerns, and injustices heard. That is not a bad thing at all, but there is a difference between making change and just making noise! Here are a few ways that we can encourage teenagers (and ourselves) to make more than just noise.

Be willing to listen.
There is so much injustice going on right now in our country and world. It isn’t right and it shouldn’t be tolerated, but before you shout your thoughts, be willing to listen. Listen to those who have been hurt and marginalized. Listen to different opinions in a respectful way. Noise leaves little room for other voices, but change cannot happen with just one person, so listen to those around you!

Have a purpose.
If your goal is just to be angry, that is not the best way to motivate change. Have a purpose behind your words and actions. Pick a cause that you are passionate about and work to make our world better. We can’t all be champions for every issue – there isn’t enough time! But we can be allies and friends to those already doing good work. We can be encouragers. We can pick a few things to put our resources and energy behind!

Look to change yourself.
Change is difficult. Like 13 Reasons Why shows, a culture and attitude cannot change overnight. But you can start with yourself! Be honest and evaluate how you can change and grow. Do you have bias you need to face? Are you being inconsiderate to other points of views? Are you invalidating the feelings of others? This type of reflection is not easy and can even be painful at times. Be willing to ask hard questions and start conversations to grow.

Noise drowns out everything else where change is willing to listen. Noise stays the same while change has purpose. Noise is passive where change takes action. Noise can stay behind a computer device or screen while change starts a bigger conversation outside of social media.

In the midst of racial injustice, sexual abuse, school shootings, suicide and more, we need to be having conversations. While I might not agree with the method of 13 Reasons Why, I will encourage you to be brave enough to talk about difficult topics with teenagers. They know what is happening. They see more than we realize at school and in the lives of their friends. They listen, absorb, read, and investigate. Please don’t let them take on this task alone! Show them how we can start conversations to make change. Be more than noise this week!

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.

3 Ways to Help Prevent Suicide

3 Ways to Help Prevent Suicide

 useRecently, I learned of a death by suicide by a prominent pastor – on the eve of National Suicide Awareness Day of all days. It was especially tragic because he was quite vocal about the topic from his writings and the pulpit, even going so far as to establish a non-profit promoting mental health and suicide prevention. He struggled quite publicly with his own depression and mental health and tried to keep the topic front-and-center, especially on social media. 

Yet, he still died by suicide. 

This was a tough one as I have a lot of friends in the clergy and have some unique insight into the stressors they face daily. I can understand the pressures that might bring someone to contemplate such a horrible outcome. But the question is, how does someone who is so vocal to the point of founding a non-profit still succumb to suicide? Is it just inevitable? Is it even preventable? 

After tragedies like this one and so many other high-profile suicides the common refrain is to urge people to ask for help or call the national suicide prevention hotline. These are definitely worthy actions to encourage. Yet, my guess is those who died by suicide likely gave that same advice at some point. 

So, are we missing something here? 

First of all, like most tragedies, suicide is not 100% preventable. Despite our best efforts, those in extreme darkness will choose this outcome no matter the best intentions of those who love them. Yet as those who love students, it would be good for us to understand what might drive someone to take their life.

Numerous studies have shown the actual act of taking one’s life comes by impulse more than we think. Often times we perceive suicide as being planned out meticulously like in “13 Reason’s Why”. Yet as survivors of suicide are interviewed, almost half in some cases report the attempt coming after a crisis less than 24 hours before. In fact, 1 in 4 survivors reported their suicide attempt within 10 minutes of the impulse!

Often these suicide attempts are aided by substance use and deteriorating mental health as well. But the bottom line is this – even though some suicides are long planned out, many more are an act of impulse in the immediate aftermath of a personal crisis!

So, as we talk about suicide, we also need to talk honestly about what is going on with the victim and what we can do to help. We need to understand that suicide can be (but not always) prevented by actual intervention on behalf of the one doing the outcry. While we can encourage the potential victim of suicide to act (i.e. ask for help, call a hotline), there are some tangible things we can do as helpers to intervene. 

• If you suspect someone might be contemplating suicide – ASK THEM. You won’t be putting any ideas into their head that are not already there.
• Never let someone you suspect is suicidal to be alone. Keep doors open and conversations ongoing.
• Remove any means that could complete suicide. Remove any guns, ammo, pills, rope, sharp objects, or anything that the potential victim could  use to inflict self-harm.

Why?
Because 90% of suicide survivors do not make another attempt! When we as helpers take basic actions like being present, asking good questions, and recognizing the impulsivity of suicide, we can save lives! 

It is time we recognize our roles as helpers to those who are genuinely struggling to find their own voice. We have a role to play for our family and friends who have lost hope. To step into this role demands courage and action. 

I highly encourage you to follow some of the research at Means Matter – a study out of Harvard working through the question of impulsivity and the means of suicide. This work has been formative for me as a helper of students to understand more tangible ways to help those contemplating suicide.

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.

Good Enough

Good Enough

A few weeks ago, I got the email. It was from the state of Texas and it was notifying me that STAAR scores were available for 2 of my kiddos. I knew it would be coming because I had seen several social media posts of parents applauding their own children for how well they had done:

“Only missed 1 question!”
“Perfect Score!”
“Mastery Level Scores!”

However, statistically, those students were the exception, not the rule. No one was posting about their child who scored in the “Did Not Meet Grade Level” or “Approaching Grade Level” categories.

We live in a world that quantifies and ranks. Our students are no exception. They have GPAs, Class Rank, ACT/SAT scores, STAAR, band chairs, athletic depth charts, and more. Even my elementary aged kids can tell you their reading level or Lexile level. They can tell you how many students in their class did not pass STAAR last year. They announce a valedictorian at my daughter’s middle school at the end of 8th grade. The list goes on and on.

I was sitting in Karate with my youngest a few weeks ago. As he has moved up belt levels, it has become more challenging for him. He isn’t even in first grade yet, but here is yet another ranking system to compare everyone. He is frustrated and disheartened.

In the middle of the class a few weeks ago, his instructor stopped and had everyone sit down. He turned to the long string of parents watching along the walls and threw out this line:

“Better is always good enough.”

Again:

“Better is always good enough.”

Twice. Because maybe we didn’t hear him the first time.

Such poignant words I needed to hear. I am naturally bent toward perfectionism – just ask my husband. I push myself hard and want to be at the top if there is a ranking to be had. But for many, that ranking system only reinforces that they are not good enough. That they did not pass or make all A’s or make the first string. Students (and adults) feel they could never possibly achieve enough and at some point, they quit trying. In karate, it looks like a child earning a stripe for a skill they haven’t mastered yet but have worked really hard on for the past few weeks and are improving on.

Let’s take that to a different level – Many of the students we encounter everyday have faced very real struggles or trauma in life. There will probably never be a top rank in any traditional system for many of them. But what if we, as a group, shouted from the rooftops that better is always good enough. What if we adjusted our expectations to reflect that philosophy?

Today, she actually tried and did her best on the math test and brought home a 60 – but she actually tried. Better is always good enough.

Today, he apologized after disobeying everything you said. Better is always good enough.

Today, she yelled at another student, but she didn’t get into a physical altercation with them – better is always good enough.

Today, he asked for help instead of just quitting – better is always good enough.

Too often we want our children and the students we work with to be the best. To reach the stars. To be the top. But sometimes, in reaching for the stars, we miss the small victories. The victories we need to applaud in order to keep the students in our lives more motivated and trying. We need to acknowledge that what is a victory for one student would not even be on the radar for another student. That a victory might not be a win by everyone else’s standards.

But to be successful in helping our students, our children, our peers we need to have a moment for Better Is Always Good Enough.

Beth Nichols

Beth Nichols

Program Director

With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, Beth’s perspective is invaluable. She has had the opportunity in both her personal and professional life to encounter youth from a variety of situations. 

Traveling New Roads Together

Traveling New Roads Together

Last month, I had the pleasure of training a group of college students preparing to be camp counselors. My main purpose in the training was to equip them to support kids from hard places. Many of the camps they would be doing would take them into areas of the city where behavioral issues and lack of family support would be likely prevalent.

During the Q&A session at the end, questions kept coming up about how they should handle discipline. One counselor asked, “Can we make the kids do pushups if they are misbehaving or late?”. This is a common form of discipline within sports or camps, and I have never liked it. Personally, I think it can be pretty degrading to a kid to give penance in the form of a pushup – but despite how much I despise the approach, I answered – “Yes.”

But I had a caveat.

“As long as you do the pushups with them.”

The group laughed, but the point was taken. When you make kids do pushups for misbehaving, is any connection made? Or are we further cementing our authority and power? However, when we do pushups with the kids, connection is created and there is some sense of shared responsibility.

Because if the kids are constantly misbehaving or late – does the fault completely lay on their shoulders? Or is it a power play for the adult to dish out the discipline without also taking some of the blame? 

As helpers of students, we often forget the power of vulnerability and connection when it comes to how we correct. It is much easier to point out the mistakes with our kids. It’s much harder to admit our culpability.

This concept rang true to me as I read through a recent study on teenagers and cell phone use commissioned by Common Sense Media. The main takeaway of the study showed that 1 in 3 teenagers take their cell phones to bed and report checking their phones multiple times overnight.

Simply put, this is a horrifying trend. Numerous studies have confirmed the “blue light” emitted by screens should be eliminated at least 30 minutes before bed, and cell phone be removed from the bedroom for any chance of quality sleep. Why on earth would teenagers do this to themselves?

Well, because we do. The same study reports 61% of adults check their phone within 30 minutes of going to bed. Simply put – we adults have developed some nasty habits with our devices and our kids are watching.

An interesting thought that came out of the same study showed the number of teenagers who think their parents are spending way too much time on the phone went up by 11%. But teenagers own assessment of how much time they spent on devices was more muted. While they thought their parents spend way too much time on the phone, they felt like their time was just about right.

This study highlighted how teenagers can develop really unhealthy habits and suffer loss of sleep and health as a result. As an adult it would be easy to just tell a student to not take their phone to bed. If so, prepare for a fight.

It’s like this in so many aspects of our parenting and mentoring of students. We are quick to point out their issues and tell them where they should change, but even with the lightest of scrutiny, we as adults aren’t doing much better. 

This isn’t just about cell phones and sleep. It’s how we deal with our stress. It’s how we self-medicate. It’s about our anger. It’s our discontent. Do we not realize our kids are watching us, even if they seem aloof?

This offers opportunity for connection. For example, if you know your teenager is taking their phone to bed, you likely are as well. Instead of laying down the law, why not share your own struggle and create a plan to deal with it together?

Or maybe you struggle with anger or outbursts. Maybe acknowledge that with your kid? Apologize? Even ask for help?

When we choose connection with our teenagers, we build relationship. It’s the harder road, but it is one that acknowledges our humanity as well as respects where our teenager is developmentally. 

We cannot ask our teenagers to travel roads we do not presently travel. By choosing vulnerability and connection, we choose to travel those roads together.

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 Ways to Connect with a Teen

5 Ways to Connect with a Teen

In my Teen Life Support Group last semester, I had a student who seemingly did not want to be there. She refused to talk. She crossed her arms. She kept her head down. After the first week, we talked to her and said that she didn’t have to talk but needed to participate as a member of the group. She reluctantly did the activities, but still never spoke a word.

A few weeks later, another student asked about my family. I explained that my parents live in Alabama, and I don’t see them very often because of the distance. Immediately, my standoffish student spoke. “Wait, you’re from Alabama? Me too.” In that moment, we had created a connection.

Connection. It sounds so easy, right? But how often do we strive to achieve it and come up short? Sometimes, finding a commonality is like finding a needle in a haystack. Some days I wonder if I have anything at all in common with the teens I’m with. Some days I wonder if they even want to connect with me at all.

In their book, The Connected Child, Dr. Karyn Purvis, Dr. David Cross, and Wendy Sunshine walk through a series of connecting principals to help us as parents, teachers, youth ministers, or friends of young people who are struggling and yet seem to reject our help. In order to connect, we have to engage with students. Here are five of their strategies:

 

  1. Behavioral Matching: Reflect your student’s behavior or physical position. This increases their ability to feel safe. It’s less complicated than it seems. When my daughter wants to talk at night, I lay down next her instead of standing over her.  If my smaller child wants to play with cars on the floor, I sit on the floor as well. Find the natural comfort behavior for your teen and match it without even mentioning it.

 

  1. Playful Engagement: Be playful in your conversations. We adults often want to get to the point, address the problem, and fix it. But they often need us to break the ice. We do that by showing that we can have fun. When my teen doesn’t want to do something they deem embarrassing, I do it first. If they are frustrated, say “Whoa? I didn’t know you were the boss!” Let them know they are safe even in disagreements. You can have a deeper conversation once there is more connection.

 

  1. Create Eye ContactWe live in a world where students don’t look at each other. They look at screens. But the eyes are powerful.  Look your students in the eyes and they will know they are cared for. As parents, how often do we yell down the hall or up the stairs. How would things change if we spent more time looking in our teenagers’ eyes?

 

  1. Share Healthy Touch: Give a hug. Pat them on the back. Hold their hand. Play with their hair. If you aren’t sure if it’s ok, ask permission. Students often want to know you care, and you don’t have to use words to show up.

 

  1. Be aware of your tone of voiceAre you loud? Are you frustrated? Are you talking quickly or slowly? Do you even know? You can start and end a conversation just by using your tone. You also can be authoritative without being demeaning or unkind.

 

Connecting through engagement is hard, but as Dr. Karyn Purvis says, “When you connect to the heart of a child, everything is possible.”

My student from Alabama? After she learned we were from the same place, everything shifted. That tiny connection was all it took to help make our group safe for her. She was able to talk through some significant things happening at her home all because of connection.  

A week after group ended, the interventionist stopped me in the hall.  She raved about how this girl was totally different than she was 8 weeks before. What a powerful lesson about the potential power that can be unleashed with just a little connection!

 

Beth Nichols

Beth Nichols

Program Director

With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, Beth’s perspective is invaluable. She has had the opportunity in both her personal and professional life to encounter youth from a variety of situations. 

Confronting the Momo Problem

Confronting the Momo Problem

The “Momo Challenge”.

Did you hear about it? Did it cause panic among your circles? Did you see emails, Facebook posts, and texts warning you about this terrifying internet presence?

Momo is scary, terrifying, horrible, dark, and twisted. But it is also fake – a hoax. Even though this particular character was fake, it brings up a great question – how do we confront internet and social media issues with our children?

Before I go further, let me give some context for those who haven’t heard of Momo. According to this CNN article, “The [Momo] challenge is the latest viral concern/social media fad/urban legend going around Facebook parenting groups and schools. It’s described as a “suicide game” which combines shock imagery and hidden messaging, and it supposedly encourages kids to attempt dangerous stunts, including suicide.”

According to Facebook posts, the scary, large-eyed doll figure called Momo would pop up in the middle of YouTube videos aimed at children like cartoons and toy reviews. Momo would then ask children to engage in destructive behavior – hurting themselves, loved ones, and even encouraging them to kill themselves. Reportedly, Momo also warned viewers against telling adults about what they were seeing and hearing. It is a horrifying thought that these messages would sneak into videos that parents and adults trusted to be safe for children.

However, while there have been Facebook posts, testimonies and stories, there has been little to no evidence that these Momo Challenge messages exist – no screen shots or recordings. According to experts, Momo is nothing to be worried about and stories of the challenge have been perpetuated by fearful exaggeration.

Now here is the problem with Momo – are children scared of the figure because they saw it in a video? Or are they scared because of the stories and pictures they have seen from parents and peers? Which begs the question – did we make this problem worse by talking about it? And how do we handle things like this in the future?

Here are some things to keep in mind while having internet, social media, or cyber-bullying conversations with you children and teenagers:

 

Question without telling.

When asking teens about current things that you are seeing in the news or on Facebook, start by asking non-leading questions. Instead of asking about Snapchat, for example, ask what apps they are using on their phones. Ask how they interact with friends via the internet. Ask if they have seen or heard anything scary or inappropriate on the internet or their phone apps.

By all means, please ask your teenagers what they are watching, listening to, interacting on. If you have younger children, have them watch videos with you in the room, check their view history and regulate what they have access to. But try to avoid telling them the shortcomings of social media and the internet if they are using it innocently. Open the door for your kids to talk to you without making them worried or afraid of what you might tell them. 

 

Talk without projecting fear.

It is understandable if you are worried. But your kids don’t need your worry and fear projected on them. This is especially important when you are talking about cyberbullying and worrisome content.

For example, maybe your teen received a less-than-nice message on social media. While this is not ideal or even acceptable, it also doesn’t mean that they are being bullied. However, if you project that fear onto your child, they will look for bullying in every situation in the future. Let them hold onto their innocence for as long as possible. Use accountability and some boundaries to check on them without placing rules that will raise anxiety or stress.

 

 Ask without assumption.

Don’t assume that just because an app is popular, your student has it on their phone. Even though Snapchat could be used with some negative intent, it doesn’t mean that your teen is using it for anything besides sending silly pictures to friends.

You should ask. You should question and keep your teenager accountable. But please don’t assume that they are doing something wrong or hiding something from you. When you start a conversation with assumptions, your teen will most likely start their response with defensiveness. Healthy conversations will include questions and an open discussion – they will end with accusations and assumptions. Give your teen the benefit of the doubt and show that you are willing to listen first before reacting!

 

 Discuss without an agenda.

Sometimes, you need to have discussions with your kids even if you don’t have something specific you need to ask about. When you open the door for discussion at all times, not just when they are in trouble or you are worried, they are more likely to come to you on their own instead of you always having to seek them out.

They may think you are being dorky and they may roll your eyes, but ask, “What is the newest app these days?” Ask the cool ways to connect with friends online. Start a conversation about the newest video game craze. Show that you are interested in them. Teens want you to ask – despite their reactions – they want to be heard and cared about. Be an adult who hears about the scary, dangerous, fun, exciting things first because that is the kind of relationship you have cultivated with teenagers.

 

As I wrap up, I want to encourage you to be invested in the social media practices of your children. Know what they are watching, downloading, playing and using. Ask other adults, and stay aware of trends and possible dangers.

Hopefully you did hear about the Momo Challenge, but I also hope you will do research and ask around when you hear legends and rumors. While we don’t want to be naïve adults, we also don’t need to believe everything on internet. Above all else, start conversations with your kids and teens. Ask questions, engage them, and also trust them!

You are doing hard work in an constantly changing world!

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.