The Good of “13 Reasons Why”

The Good of “13 Reasons Why”

*This is the first in a series of three blog posts this week regarding the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.” Sign up for our mailing list so you don’t miss the other two blog posts!

Part 1 – The Good of “13 Reasons Why”

Part 2 – The Ugly of “13 Reasons Why”

Past 3 – What To Do After “13 Reasons Why”

 


 

13 Reasons Why is a wildly popular series on Netflix. While Netflix does not release viewing numbers, Variety reports that it was the most tweeted show of 2017 thus far, having received more than 11 million tweets within the first 4 weeks of its initial release. The show is based on Jack Asher’s book by the same name and details the events leading up to the suicide of Hannah Baker, with 13 tapes identifying someone who played a role in her decision.

The series starts with: “Hey, it’s Hannah, Hannah Baker. That’s right. Don’t adjust your… whatever device you’re listening to this on. It’s me, live and in stereo. No return engagements, no encore. And this time absolutely no requests. Get a snack. Settle in. ‘Cause I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended.”

This Netflix series highlights several hot topics including: suicide, rape, drug and alcohol abuse, bullying, and slut shaming. Be forewarned that it contains explicit language and several graphic scenes displaying sexual assault and suicide. Also, be aware that if you are parenting teens, then they probably have seen it or know about it, and so should you.

To start our series of blog posts, we wanted to discuss what 13 Reasons Why does well. We felt it was important to cover what issues are shown accurately in hopes that it makes you, as a parent or pastor, watch with eyes open to see what conversations you need to have with the students in your life, conversations held in private and without judgement. While not an easy watch, we hope these positive takeaways raise awareness of topics that are relevant for youth today. Our next blogs will cover what topics are missing in 13 Reasons Why and will provide a discussion about what should we do now.

13 Reasons Why accurately portrays several facets of life youth face daily. While there is some exaggeration, many of these scenes display an element of truth. Here are just a few of the things you can look for while watching the series:

  • 24/7 access to technology
  • The prevalence and speed at which cyberbullying happens
  • The students’ inability to disconnect, making them constantly vulnerable to online bullying
  • Confusion over sexual consent
  • Pressure to use alcohol and drugs combined with the likelihood of ending up in unintended, difficult situations
  • The difference in perception of sexual activity for males and females

Ultimately, all of these are tied together by the realization that hiding information will make it disappear or will allow youth to avoid consequences. At the end of the series, it shows the reality that hiding is much more difficult than being able to discuss the truth and take responsibility for your actions.

“What does [suicide] really look like? Here’s the scary thing: it looks like nothing . . . It feels like a deep, always blank, endless nothing.”

Hannah’s quote above, repeated at least twice during the series, reveals the truth that suicide does not have one specific look or feel. While there are risk factors that increase the likelihood of dying by suicide, it does not ever look or present the same. Our main take away from 13 Reasons Why is that even though suicide does not have a set appearance, little things can make a huge impact in a person’s daily life. As seen in the series, there are several moments that were brushed off as being unimportant or insignificant from the other students’ perspectives.

There are also several interactions with adults that were not handled appropriately, but on the surface, many of these seemed relatively minor. But Hannah, when telling her story, indicates that if even one of these moments had played out differently, it could have changed her decision to end her life by suicide.

As Hannah said herself, “You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything affects everything.”

No one can have a full awareness of another person’s story and struggle. We as adults need to model that every opportunity to treat someone with kindness and respect matters – that the little things can quickly become big things. And that is the main reason why we at Teen Life do what we do. Oftentimes, one hour a week seems insignificant in the scheme of a person’s life. However, we firmly believe that what happens in that one hour, or even in a single interaction, can impact the perspectives and lives of the youth we are privileged to serve. 13 Reasons Why begs you to be aware of how you treat others and how your actions can impact their lives. We’ll leave you to reflect on how you impact others with one last quote from Hannah, who maybe says it best:

I guess that’s the point of it all. No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue.”

To start a meaningful conversation with a teen you know, ask them, “Is there anything you have wanted to talk about recently that we just haven’t had the opportunity to discuss?” Share your ideas in the comments about ways you can invite meaningful conversation with the teens you work with. 

Beth Nichols is Teen Life’s Administrative Assistant. With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, her perspective is invaluable.
How to Track Your Teen

How to Track Your Teen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey Mom, Put Down Your Phone!

I had an interesting conversation in my group the other day. We got to talking about the students’ relationship with their parents, and it quickly turned into a discussion on family time and phone distractions. For probably the first time in one of my Support Groups, every single group member was on the same page! Here are some of the things I heard around the table that day:

  • My mom makes us have “family time” and watch a movie but stares at her phone the whole time.
  • My parents are constantly on Facebook or playing Candy Crush when we are together.
  • Why do they say I’m always on my phone when they are even worse than I am?
  • My dad always sends emails at the dinner table, but I get in trouble if I look at my phone.
  • I tell my parents “family time” doesn’t count if they are on their phones but they say all that matters is that we’re in the same room.
  • Were your parents always on their phones too?

First, let me just admit that I am not yet a parent, but I struggle with this as well. When I sit down to watch a show with my husband, it is easy to mindlessly scroll through Instagram or Facebook out of habit. Sometimes I don’t even notice I’m on my phone until he points it out! Second, it is never fun to get called out by teenagers, but my group issued a challenge that I feel obligated to pass on!

Also on a side note, I laughed out loud when they asked about my parents and their phone use when I was a teenager. When I was in high school, we didn’t have internet on our phones, and we certainly didn’t have fun games like Candy Crush (RIP Snake Game). This is fairly new territory for parents!

Technology isn’t going anywhere, phones aren’t going to phase out, and social media will probably always be king of the internet. So how can we better model how to balance family, work, and fun? We have to be the example in this area; otherwise, our kids will never learn acceptable boundaries and healthy practices.

Before I offer some suggestions, there are a few things I would like to point out about their statements and questions.

1. They watch you and notice.

You know the phrase, “Do as I say and not as I do”? That doesn’t fly with teenagers. They watch you. They see what you do and will push back if what you do is different than what you say. Telling teens to put down their phones while yours is still in front of your face sends a clear message that you probably aren’t intending to communicate.

2. They don’t see a difference between work and social media use of phones.

They don’t care if you are on your phone for work – if they see your phone out, it is a distraction no matter what it’s purpose. Sending email, making calls, checking your Facebook, it is all the same to them. If you are on your phone when you should be spending time with them, your excuses don’t matter – just so you know 🙂

3. They think you have a technology problem.

This absolutely cracks me up! As adults, we read books, listen to podcast, and attend seminars on helping our teenagers manage social media and their phones. We talk about this generation and their problems with connection, but they think adults are the ones with the problem! I am not saying that teens have technology under control or use it appropriately all the time, but until we prove them wrong, I do believe we are the ones with the problem.

4. They actually care about “family time.”

When they were having this discussion, they weren’t upset that they had to be present for family time. They were mad that their parents were violating the time that they set aside. One student even said that he enjoys hanging out with his mom when she isn’t distracted by her phone.

I really don’t want you to miss this point, so I will say it again in case you’re still in shock…teenagers actually care about “family time”! Even when they act like spending time as a family is the worst inconvenience, the stories they tell when you aren’t around would say otherwise.

 


 

As I said above, this is a newer problem for parents. Just like we are trying to figure out how to help our teenagers have boundaries, we are walking the same blurry line. I want you to have a good relationship with your teenager. I want you to be able to take advantage of family time – if they are willing to set aside their phones, don’t ruin it by being on yours!

While I could write several blogs on this topic, let me start with two tips that I believe could make a huge difference in your home!

Do what you ask of your kids.

This seems simple and like a no-brainer, but the more I talk to teens, the more I realize that we are failing at this. While their are perks to being an adult and setting the rules, when they are around and watching you, follow your own rules! If you ask them to put away their phones for a specific time or activity, do the same. Do they have a time limit on how much they can be on their phones? Try to stick to a similar schedule!

They are watching you, and you set the example of how to interact with your phone. This is especially true for when you drive. Ouch…but if you don’t want your teenager to text (or tweet) and drive, put your phone away in the car. Don’t text, don’t have phone conversations that can wait until you get to your destination, don’t be catching up on your Facebook comments while you are driving your kids. Show them how to be responsible and safe!

 

Make “family time” sacred.

Find small ways to make the time you spend as a family special. While it may be unrealistic to expect your teenager to put their phone away anytime they are are with a family member, you can set aside specific times that are phone-free. Some examples could be dinner time, the first 15 minutes after they get home from school, special family activities, or when you watch tv or a movie as a family. Once you ask them to make the activity you decide on phone-free, follow the rule above and put yours up as well!

This might mean that you put your phone on “do not disturb” to keep you from reading texts, checking email, or answering phone calls. Unless it is an emergency, anything on your phone can wait until that sacred time is over. You communicate the importance of family time by your actions. Distractions and phones can kill a family moment – don’t let your teenager down by not giving them your full attention!

So, what do you think? How have you set boundaries in your home? How have you made family time sacred and special? Share with us – we always love new ideas!
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.
Learning to Unplug as a Family

Learning to Unplug as a Family

This post was originally written by Sarah Brooks for her blog over at Life as of Late. Her blog is a great (and hilarious) commentary on parenting little ones, but she also has a unique and honest perspective on parenting teenagers in a digital world. We wanted to share this post here because we love the heart and suggestions behind this blog, BUT we also wanted to share this so you will head over to her blog and give her some love. If you are struggling with how to parent in the midst of Snapchat, Instagram and other social media sites, she is your gal, and her posts on social media will change your life! Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us, Sarah!


 

Junior high is a rough time. It’s awkward, it’s pimply…you’re trying to figure out who you are and where you belong. You’re trying not to panic about your body parts that are growing and doing weird, new things.

Junior high is a lot of social experimentation. Not necessarily experimenting with drugs and alcohol, more like experimenting with friendships.

Learning what is kind vs. what hurts people’s feelings. Learning what traits draw others in vs. alienate the general population. Learning the difference between high-energy and just plain obnoxious.

I wouldn’t wish my junior high self on my worst enemy.

But.

When I had a bad day in junior high – when I was super obnoxious and alienated everyone in the vicinity with my hyperactive energy – I got to go home, relax, maybe watch an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and start again the next day.

My social life took a break at 3pm and reconvened in the morning.

Now?

It. never. stops.

If social media is communication for teens….if social media is their social life, then as long as they have a phone in their possession, their social life never ends.

Their friends follow them home in their pocket. They sit with them on the couch. They hang out in their bedroom.

Their bad days don’t just last from 7:30am to 3pm, they last 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

They do a terrible job of unplugging.

Actually, let me rephrase that.

We do a terrible job of unplugging.

We can’t expect our kids to know how to unplug when we’re still replying to work emails at 10pm. We can’t expect them to turn it off when we spend every spare second mindlessly scrolling through Facebook.

 

 

starting small

I don’t have teenagers. I have small kids. But all too soon those kids will grow into junior high kids. And then high school kids.

And I don’t want to wait until we have an issue before we start setting technology boundaries.

And, really, I don’t want to wait until I see a screen addiction in my children before I start addressing the addiction in myself.

So here are a few of our family rules. It isn’t exhaustive, just some ideas that are helping us pave the way now for better conversations later.

Not yet for teenagers, for ourselves. For our family.

 

1. TECH-FREE ZONES

When my oldest was 3, we went to the park. I let him run up ahead and start playing on the playground while I finished up an email. He ran to the top of the slide, looked down at me and said, “Mommy – will you come play with me? You can bring your phone!”

Oh, ok, daggers in my heart.

Here’s the thing: I was emailing a friend of mine about a fundraiser we were having to support orphans in Africa. I mean, couldn’t have been doing anything better with my phone. But did my son see it that way? No. He saw a mom with a screen in front of her face.

It’s not about never being on your phone.

It’s about finding good times and places to use technology.

It’s about asking your spouse and your kids, “Hey, when am I on my phone when you wish I weren’t?” Turns out there’s always an answer.

Here are a few of our tech-free zones:

  • dinner table (both at home and at restaurants)
  • riding in the car with spouse
  • playing at the park
  • anywhere we play with our friends

 

2. LIMIT DOUBLE-SCREENING

If you’re going to watch tv, watch tv. If you’re going to play on the iPad, play on the iPad. If you’re going to read on the Kindle, read on the Kindle.

It’s ridiculous to play Candy Crush while watching tv while texting while watching YouTube videos. That’s a straight up self-control issue.

Cut the double, triple, quadruple screen time.

Choose one and go with it.

 

3. MOVE THE PHONE FROM THE NIGHTSTAND

Can you imagine what would happen if we reached for something other than our phone first thing in the morning?

Can you imagine if we started our day with our spouse and with our family instead of with the world? Work? Instagram?

When our kids see us make this a priority, it sets the stage for the later rule of no phones in your room overnight. Period. (Like, really. See this post.)

 

4. MAKE PEOPLE MORE IMPORTANT THAN TECHNOLOGY

When Daddy comes home from work, we put down the Kindle and run to greet him. When grandparents FaceTime, we pause the tv and talk to them. When friends are over, screens get turned off and put away.

We’re not on our devices all the time. Not even a lot, really. But if there is ever a choice between greeting someone we love and continuing to watch Paw Patrol, the screen will never win.

And if my kids have a hard time turning it off or putting it away without whining, we lose the privilege for a while.

People are more important than technology. Always.

Unplugging is hard. But watching our kids learn their value and identity from an online world they don’t know how to turn off is harder.

We’ve got to figure out how to unplug well now.

 

WHAT RULES DO YOU HAVE FOR YOUR FAMILY?

impart your wisdom, oh interwebs.

Sarah Brooks is a blogger, mom of 3 boys and social media expert! She has spoken across the country at various groups, churches, and schools about social media (the good, the bad, and the confusing), most of which stemmed from a post she wrote called Parents: A Word About Instagram. As a Millenial herself, she is passionate about bridging the gap between parents and teens on all things social media. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram!

How to Find Anything

How to Find Anything

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Holding Back the Future

I remember watching The Jetson’s growing up. I appreciated it, but I loved SilverHawks (go ahead, make fun), Transformers and Star Wars. I am a big fan of TV shows and movies that dream about what the future will be like.

One of my favorite ideas though is flying cars (I thought the Hoverboard was pretty cool, too. The one from Back to the Future, not those fake ones on Amazon that catch fire…)

It’s exciting when I see companies like Uber investing in fururistic ideas that can and will make a difference. I’m serious about this, flying cars (though at least 10 years away) are something that could change things for the better, and I’m ready to see it happen.

What is it that has kept things like that from happening sooner? Why haven’t we seen real progress in the development of technology? Lots of people have ideas on this, but I believe there are underlying issues that apply to more than future progress that affect our human ability to either feel the need to change or complacently coast with what we have.

When our focus in on control rather than exploration, we don’t even recognize that something is missing.

When we try to stay too safe rather than coach kids on how to navigate failure, we miss opportunities that failing can teach. We also miss out when we fall into the trap that we should teach practical over principle in education.

I saw this YouTube video the other day from Boyinaband #DontStayInSchool. His whole premise is that the education system did not teach him what he needed to learn. The fact is if he had been taught the skills he talks about, he wouldn’t have remembered them because of his attitude not because of his ability to learn. The truth is if we lose site of the benefit that comes from learning the basics of education and using that as a foundation to then understand life skills like budgeting rather than complaining that “no one taught me how to pay my taxes,” we have drifted into the zone of not seeing life for what it is, an opportunity every day to learn something new. The skills we learn in school are about the principle, not the information.

Here’s the thing, some educational approaches do need to change but the more important change is to tell our kids that it’s up to them to learn everything they can with the tools they have. If they don’t learn how to pay taxes or what your basic human rights are, that rests fully on their choice to not go find those things out. It’s up to us as parents to help our kids learn along with the school and not assume they are getting all they need. I tell my kids all the time, some things seem pointless, but it is your opporunity to ask, “What can I still learn here?”

So what can we do? At the core, we can encourage excitement about learning, engage relationships, stop blaming everyone else for kids not learning, and take responsibility for our part. By not having this approach to life, we are suppressing a future that desperately wants to be seen but we are being held back by the distraction of the blame game.

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