Death of “Future Me”

Death of “Future Me”

Recently I stumbled upon a short podcast series by the New York Times entitled “Odessa”, which chronicles the physical re-opening of Odessa High School out in West Texas after the shutdowns of the spring and early fall of 2020. The series focuses on the marching band and the many struggles they faced as Odessa faced a COVID surge on top of school reopening.

In a later episode of the series, a student introduced in the first episode starts to exhibit a significant change in behaviors. A teenager once vibrant and socially active suddenly fell off the map. She stopped attending school, returning texts, and showing up to band practice. While those who knew and loved her made sure she was safe, otherwise she became completely disengaged.

After a while the interviewer was able to connect with this student and it was interesting to hear how she was doing. She said overall she was fine, but just wanted to be alone. In fact, her and many other students reported the same. They didn’t seem to be depressed or anxious, but they also didn’t really want to engage in any meaningful way with their friends or adults.

Also recently I read a really compelling article that got me thinking about stories like the one above, and even my own story in a way. The article cited a psychologist who explored aspects of consciousness and he divided our experiences as being either in the “experiencing self” or the “remembering self”. That is, the present moment and about 5 seconds before and after are what we experience. But we also have another “self” that is in the past telling us stories about times already gone. He did a lot of work in understanding how our two senses of “self” interplay with each other and how we need to be aware of how much noise each “self” is making.

Yet, this article expanded this framework to include what she called the “anticipating self”. That is, the part of us that hopes, dreams, and expects. Typically the “anticipating self” is a bit more optimistic about things and hopes for the future to be just a little better. The author posits that it is this “self” that drives us to make positive changes and choices.

We choose to eat better because we hope for better health.

We save our money because we envision ourselves being financially secure.

We make the better, harder choices so tomorrow will find us in a stronger position.

In other words, our “anticipating self” is the driving force to make better choices.

I think about this teenager featured in the “Odessa” podcast. As the episode ended, several school counselors were interviewed about the behavior of this student and those like her.

They said they had lost all motivation. No hope for the future. Anything beyond today became fuzzy or opaque.

In other words, their “anticipating self” was incapacitated.

If you know much about adolescence, you know that the “anticipating self” is a new developmental tool available to teenagers as they enter those early teen years. Children don’t often dream about what’s going to happen to them in 10 years. But as adolescence settles in, thinking about tomorrow becomes more of an option. I call this a new “tool” because often adolescents don’t use this tool, even if it is available to them.

This pandemic has caused so much uncertainty to the developing mind of an adolescent that they choose to silence the “anticipating self”. This last year has been so hard that thinking about anything positive for the future feels like a fools errand.

I believe this is why we are seeing such a surge in mental health issues with teenagers. When there is no real future, no real reason to engage with our “anticipating self”, then what is the reason to engage or even, hope?

As I work with teenagers these days, I’m especially mindful of helping them talk about the future in a positive light. And, it’s incredible to see how they respond. Often, they have forgotten that a positive future is even a possibility.

Because, it is. Let’s do everything we can to help teenagers engage with their “anticipating self”. What if, instead of engaging in the doom and gloom of this moment, we helped students anticipate what could be better or different? What if we rejected the notion that things are only going to get worse?

Let’s revive our anticipating selves.

 

 

For more tips on helping teens look for hope, check out this recent post.

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.

The Quest for Hope

The Quest for Hope

This week is HOPE Week at my kids’ school put on by their HOPE Squads. For my elementary aged students, it’s a week of dressing up and having some extra fun in the classroom while talking about how to be kind and caring to others. For my middle schooler, the idea is similar but slightly more advanced. At her school, they are talking about having hope and looking for others who might need some hope or who are displaying signs of depression and/or suicidal ideation. Talking about hope and planning for dress up days with my children has really made me think about the quest for hope.

Hope is defined by Dictionary.com as “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best: to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence: to believe, desire, or trust: or to place trust; rely.”

As the pandemic continues, the research has indicated that students are struggling – they are lacking hope that life will return to normal post pandemic. While it’s too early to definitively link increased anxiety, depression, and suicide rates directly to the pandemic, the early numbers continue to show that the rates for these and other mental health crises is on the rise among our students. (See related articles here, here, and here.)

So how do we, as adults working with students or with our own children, look for and point to hope as we continue to navigate life in a unique season? A few ideas.

  1. Start by admitting hope is hard to find some days. It’s normal to feel sad or mad and helping the students in our lives normalize these feelings is so important. They are not on an island alone.
  2.  Talk to students about self-care. Ask what are students doing to take care of themselves on hard days? It can be reading, playing games, watching tv, listening to music, or writing. Talking in advance about positive ways to handle stress empowers you as an adult to encourage them to utilize these ideas as the need arises.
  3. Encourage connections. Where are the places your child can interact with peers and adults in a season with many limitations?
  4. Identify places you see hope and talk about them. Even our oldest students are watching and looking to us as the adults. If you are excited about something, share it. If you are able to see how a struggle turned out for the best, talk about it.

As always, if you need help – seek it out. Support groups, counseling, crisis lines. This applies not only to our students, but to us as adults. Your students and children are watching and will know if you are struggling too. They also learn how to ask for help by watching you and me.

Searching for hope can’t last only a week at school. It has to be a day in, and day out endeavor for all of us. As Andy tells Red in the classic movie Shawshank Redemption: “Hope is a good thing, may be the best of the things. And no good thing ever dies.” May you find hope this week in the midst of the chaos.

Beth Nichols

Beth Nichols

Director of Operations

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. 

All I Want For Christmas Is…Groups!

All I Want For Christmas Is…Groups!

One of my favorite parts of my job is getting to lead a Support Group each week. This year, I spent my Wednesday mornings with 6 high school students who laughed, questioned, shared, and began to trust each other by the end of our time together.

It was awesome.

But the best part came during our last meeting when the students had a chance to share encouragement with each other through symbols. Each group member passed their sheets around and added symbols to describe each person. Some of these symbols included things like: strong, easy to talk to, brave, calm, keep a secret, safe with, smart, and spend the day with. It was so encouraging to get your own sheet back and see what the group thought of you.

While I had fun looking at my own sheet, I loved hearing what symbols excited my teen friends. One boy was so excited because several people said they would like to “spend the day with” him. To give some context to this teenage boy, he consistently kept the group on our toes. He was routinely 10 minutes late to group, told the most outrageous stories, and always managed to sprinkle several curse words over the time we spent together.

Overall, he was a mess. But on this day, with these symbols, he was floored.

He smiled a huge smile and declared that he didn’t want group to end so we could continue hanging out each week.

As a group leader, this was a huge win! I was able to watch a student who had little confidence but always turned group into a joke come alive. After hearing what the other groups members had to say were our strengths, we then talked about our own inner strengths and how we can use them to help others. This same boy who rarely had a serious moment shared that he felt his strength was “persistence.” He talked about the ways he had overcome hard times but was still here and moving forward.

That is what we want to help all teenagers see as they go through Teen Life Support Groups. They have strengths. They have the ability to move forward, even when life is hard and unfair. They have people who are in their corner – peers and adults who are cheering them on.

Can you imagine going through High School with little confidence, support, or hope? How hard are those teenage years even in the best circumstances?

But we can help. We can give support, encouragement, hope, and a place to be safe and heard. We can give teenagers the gift of Support Groups! I am passionate about groups because I see the impact they have each week. And there is still time for you to join Teen Life and equip teenagers this holiday season!

You can equip, encourage, and empower students by giving to Teen Life!

May more students receive hope and support in 2019. May every school who needs Support Groups have access in the near future. May we all look for ways to help schools and students this season and the coming year!

If you want to be a part of a student’s story, you can give and sponsor a Support Group or teenager here.

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.
Repost: Helping Students Find Hope in Hopelessness

Repost: Helping Students Find Hope in Hopelessness

A few weeks back, I was sitting with some students from a really tough part of our city and working through some of their resources. Part of our groups involve identifying and building up the student’s sense of courage, connectedness, self worth, and capability. What we noticed with this group is a general lack of self-reported capability. This seemed to be the trend throughout the group of young men.

This was a strange happening in my experience. Generally, a group of young men will tend to overstate their courage and capability from a place of machismo or even lack of self-esteem. It’s a coping mechanism everyone uses from time to time to protect us from being real with each other.

Yet for some reason, these young men decided to stop with the charade. Several of these young men were facing criminal charges as adolescents and were in a general “holding pattern” as they awaited what their PO (parole officer) or presiding judge had to say about their case. They felt like they had no real recourse and that the mistakes they made would follow them for the rest of their lives.

These young men were between the ages of 15 and 17, and at this early age, they were experiencing something reserved for people typically much older – hopelessness.

This hopelessness echoes from their upbringing, family structure, and their neighborhood. It’s a general sense that no matter what happens, they are doomed to the same cycle they have seen over and over again. My guess is this hopelessness has been ingrained earlier than my arrival into their lives.

So today, I am wondering as a “helper” of students, what can I do to bring hope to those whose hope has escaped at an age where hope should abound? I have a few things I have been thinking through along these lines, but I’d like to hear more feedback from you!

  1. Help students see their “preferred future” – This is technique based in solution focused therapy, but it is a really great tool to help the hopeless imagine what their life would be like if things were different. I typically ask students the simple question, “What do you want?” I usually don’t have to be a lot more specific than that. And with that question comes glimmers of hope. You see, even in the darkest night of the soul, the soul still knows what it wants.
  2. Help them work backwards from their “preferred future” – When they establish the goal, help them identify simple, realistic, and controllable steps to start walking in that direction. I wouldn’t even focus on what it would take to accomplish the desire. Really, this is likely too much to handle in the moment. Instead, what would it take to at least turn in the right direction and even take a small step? Maybe it is simply getting more sleep, finding a new job, or asking for help. Try to stay with the small and manageable tasks.
  3. Help them to think about how things will be different when they get to their “preferred future” – In other words, will this make much of a difference? Often the solutions we want won’t really fix anything, but sometimes they do. Helping students think about what things need to be different for their futures to look more positive are very simple. Sometimes life isn’t as horrible as we think it is in our worst moments.

One of the most unacceptable circumstances for me to witness is a hopeless student. I’m not okay with it. None of us should be.

So with the three simple ideas I posed here, what would you add to help students find hope in hopeless situations? We would love to hear back from you!

 

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s CEO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
The Unexpected Loss of a Parent with Malaya Bizaillion

The Unexpected Loss of a Parent with Malaya Bizaillion

 

We all dread the unexpected – we worry, plan, and avoid it at all costs.

In the first episode of this series, we are talking to Malaya Bizaillion about life after the unexpected happens. At just 9 years old, Malaya lost her mom, Jenny Ross Bizaillion, following an unexpected illness that took her life only 19 days after going to the hospital. Now as a graduating senior in high school, Malaya shares her story with grace and wisdom. Malaya gives hope in the midst of loss and is an incredible voice for teenagers who are living life in the midst of the expected burden of loss.

We talk about grief, heavenly birthdays, grace, and how adults can be helpful.

If you have experienced the loss of parent, or are walking through life with a teen who has a similar experience, this is the podcast for you! We invite you to join our conversation with Malaya Bizaillion.

 

 

Listen & Subscribe:  iTunes | Google Play | RSS

Resources:

In this episode, we mentioned the following resources:

About Us:

Malaya Bizaillion is 18 and a senior in high school. She will be attending Abilene Christian University in the fall of 2018 to major in Social Work. She is so excited to see what the Lord has in store!

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!

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