The Trauma of No School

The Trauma of No School

It’s been 8 weeks. Eight weeks since life felt “normal.” Eight weeks since my kids went to school, since my husband and I have been out for a date, since I worked in the same location as my co-workers. Eight weeks filled with fun memories with my husband and kids. Eight weeks filled with hard decisions, fighting siblings, and days spent trying to spin all of the plates. Eight weeks filled with joy and guilt and frustration all mixed together. While eight weeks seems so long, in many ways, I also know that this too will pass. That the hard days will give way to better days.

However, for many students, the last eight weeks have looked very different than for my family and me. Truthfully, traumatic might be a better word to describe it.

I read an NPR article this past week entitled Closed Schools Are Creating More Trauma For Students. This article put into words what so many of us at Teen Life and so many of our school partners are thinking and saying. Closing schools is traumatic for so many of the students that we as facilitators at Teen Life interact with each week. For many of our students, school is one of the few places they feel safe and seen. One of the few places where there is a caring adult who is willing to help when life seems overwhelming. A place where someone is available to help process feelings in contrast to a place where students can be easily triggered.

Between closed schools, social isolation, food scarcity and parental unemployment, the coronavirus pandemic has so destabilized kids’ support systems that the result, counselors say, is genuinely traumatic.

Cory Turner

Closed Schools Are Creating More Trauma For Students (NPR)

Schools provide much needed “check-ins” for students of all ages. Cook Children’s recently reported that they had seen 6 cases of severe child abuse in one week as the stay at home order began, when they typically see that many cases over the span of a month.

So, with all of this potential trauma, what do we do now? Here are a few ideas.

  1. Maintain some level of human connection – Zoom calls, phone calls, FaceTime, MarcoPolo – whatever works for you. This applies to adults and students alike.
  2. Check in with the students you know. Text, call, interact on socials. If you are a parent, take a few extra minutes to talk about what concerns your child has and what they wish for or miss the most.
  3. Normalize the feelings. It’s normal and appropriate to be frustrated or sad or mad. Or to be all of those at once. Help the students you live with and interact with remember that as Franciene Sabens states in the NPR article: “It’s OK to not be OK. I mean, most of the world is not OK right now.”
  4. Lastly, start planning for how to transition back to school, even when that seems an eternity away. Students will still be figuring out what happens next and how has life changed after many months away from “normal.”

“School leaders should right now be planning for the future, asking how they can best support students when they come back to school, Laura Ross, [a middle school counselor in Lawrenceville, Ga] says, “making sure that we’re prepared to deal with some of those feelings that are going to increase — of anxiousness, of grief, of that disconnect that they had for so long.”

Cory Turner

Closed Schools Are Creating More Trauma For Students (NPR)

I cannot tell you if or when life will look like it did before COVID-19. However, we at Teen Life hope that you are able to continue to serve the students in your lives for the next 8 weeks, 8 months, or 8 years despite the trauma experienced and the inevitable challenges that lay ahead today and in the future.

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. 

Navigating COVID-19 with Teenagers

Navigating COVID-19 with Teenagers

 

Listen & Subscribe:  iTunes | Google Play | RSS

 

In this episode, Chris and Karlie take time to catch up about how the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is impacting teenagers and life in general. As we continue in this new and uncertain situation, join the discussion on how you can personally deal with COVID-19 to better help teenagers. We talk about self-care and how adults can model stress management for the teenagers in our lives.

It is important to stay positive, especially when teens are paying attention to our words, moods, and stress levels. Teens know what is happening – let’s be honest, they are on social media more than most of us – so Chris and Karlie also talk about what they need to hear from you.

Your mental health is important. The mental health of teenagers is important. Let’s make an effort to have positive conversations about COVID-19 with the kids and teens in your life.

 

Resources:

In this interview, we mentioned the following resources:

About Us:
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 8 years and is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram!
Have a question?
If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below.  We would love to hear from you!
Average Teenage Behavior or Warning Sign?

Average Teenage Behavior or Warning Sign?

 

Listen & Subscribe:  iTunes | Google Play | RSS

 

How do you know what is normal teenage behavior or a red flag that should cause concern? Adolescents are constantly changing and it is difficult to know when to ask questions and how to recognize warning signs. In this podcast episode, Chris and Karlie discuss symptoms of mental illness that also closely resemble average teen development like withdrawal, need for privacy, and change in interests.

Join the conversation on how we can encourage and talk to our teenagers about mental illness and signs of concerns. As a caring adult in the life of a teenager, you will find practical tips and questions to engage teenagers in a positive conversation about life changes. This is an episode you won’t want to miss as Chris and Karlie tackle a topic that so many young people face today.

 

Resources:

In this interview, we mentioned the following resources:

About Us:
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 8 years and is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram!
Have a question?
If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below.  We would love to hear from you!
5 Conversations to Have As School Starts

5 Conversations to Have As School Starts

I originally wrote this post two years ago with 3 conversation starters, but I want to revisit and add a couple of conversations that I believe will be helpful. So buckle up, school is here!

 


 

It is that back-to-school time of the year again!

I can hear the cheers and tears from the Teen Life office. Whether you are looking forward to getting back to a routine, wondering how your baby has grown into a high school senior, or are trying to figure out how your youth ministry is going to hold up against football season – you have a role to play in this upcoming school year!

Before teenagers start back at their middle or high schools, or the graduates leave home to start their college adventures, take time to have bold, encouraging conversations! You have an opportunity to help students set goals and think about where they want to be at the end of this 2018-2019 school year.

By having healthy conversations (check out this blog post), this school year can get off to a great start from the very first day! Here are some goals to help teenagers think about as they start school:

 

Grades

Grades are important. They help you graduate high school and get scholarships for college. They are a reflection of what you have learned and how hard you have worked at a particular subject.

However, grades don’t define your student or their worth. Students will put pressure on themselves about what kind of grades they should be making before you say a word. Instead of starting out the school year with a lecture about responsibility, finishing homework before video games, or the consequences for poor test grades, ask your student these questions:

  • What do you want your grades to look like at the end of this school year?
  • If you improved your grades and school work from last year, what would that look like?
  • How can I help you succeed this school year?

If you allow them to set their own goals, they will take more ownership in their school work. Instead of working toward your expectation, they will be stepping up to the standards they set for themselves – what better lesson could you teach a teenager? Help them set realistic goals and hold them accountable throughout the year with {friendly} reminders. Don’t expect your B student to make a 4.0 this school year, but encourage them to improve and continue to grow!

 

Friends

As you know, friends and peers have a huge influence during teenage years. They can impact grades, decisions, activities and attitude. While they are old enough to choose their own friends, as the adult, it is okay for you guide them in these choices. When it comes to friendships they have at school, start a conversation by asking these questions:

  • What relationship last year provided the most encouragement?
  • How do your friendships impact your performance at school or in extracurriculars?
  • Are their any relationships that provided drama or stress? What can you do to make that relationship healthier?

They probably aren’t going to react well if you ban them from hanging out with their best friend. But maybe you can open up the door for healthy conversation if you ask them to share first. Teenagers are smarter than we often give them credit for! If they are in an unhealthy relationship, let them talk through what that looks like and what they could do to either get rid of the friendship or set up healthier boundaries.

 

Extracurriculars 

It seems like today’s teenagers are busier than ever. Not only are they expected to go to school during the week and church on the weekends, but they also have to be involved in multiple extracurriculars, join school clubs and complete crazy amounts of service hours.

That is what colleges expect, right?

Extracurriculars are good and character building, but it is important for students to set goals not only on how to better themselves through these activities, but also how to find margin and rest in the midst of their busy schedules. Especially if you are talking to a teenager who is involved in multiple sports, activities or volunteer opportunities, encourage them to set healthy goals by asking these questions:

  • How many extracurriculars do you think you’ll have time for with school and other responsibilities?
  • How can you improve and use these experiences to help you in the future?
  • What can you do to make time for rest, friends and fun?

Have them prioritize their activities – there may be some new opportunities that arise this year, but if it passes what they can handle, it is not worth taking it on. They are teenagers, but they are still allowed to have fun! Please don’t allow your teenager to live like an adult. Help them take advantage of the freedom and fun that comes with adolescence. If they feel like they need to give up an activity to better balance their time, help them make the decision that is best for them (even if it means giving up that sport you love).

 

Physical, Mental, & Spiritual Health

Coming off the last conversation, it is so important for teenagers to take care of themselves! While culture is talking more about mental health, we cannot ignore it in our homes, churches or schools!

Please make sure you are having these conversations with your teen. Are they aware of signs of depression or suicide in themselves or friends? Are they motivated to improve in any of these areas? This conversation could be touchy or emotional, and is really three conversations, but don’t shy away from it! Start with these questions:

  • Do you feel like you have someone you can talk to about health? Especially mental and spiritual health? Who is that person?
  • What would you do if a friend came to you with a health concern?
  • What could you do this school year to improve in each of these areas? How could we help you accomplish your goals?

Be willing to ask your teen about the current state of their physical, mental, and spiritual health. Do they want to change anything? How can you help? Can you get them a gym membership or cook healthier meals? Could you help them seek the guidance of a counselor? Does one of their friends need a trusted adult to talk to? Can you start a family Bible Study? Consider what they need for themselves and from you.

 

Boundaries

Teenagers are trying to find identity and values at this phase of life. As the adults in their lives, it is our job to guide and teach while also giving them a safe space to try and sometimes fail. Teens won’t be perfect – I wasn’t at that age and definitely still make plenty of mistakes! However, we can help them set some boundaries in place to protect and direct as they gain the confidence and understand they need to truly succeed.

Maybe boundaries look like a curfew, or a time restraint on social media or Netflix. Maybe they want to limit how often they hang out with a certain friend or which event they want to avoid. Let them start the conversation and try not to jump in at the beginning with what you think is best. Here are a few questions to get this final conversation started:

  • What personal boundaries would help you succeed this school year?
  • How likely are you to say, “No!” when someone crosses your boundaries?
  • How do you think the boundaries we have set could be helpful? Are their any boundaries you have concerns about?

The beginning of school is a great time to talk about boundaries and expectations for the school year. Some rules will change over the years, and some will stay consistent. Some teenagers will even have intelligent boundaries that they want to set for themselves – give them that opportunity!

 


 

You have the power and the opportunity to help teenagers see their future and set goals to reach it. Ask good questions, listen with empathy and work together to set realistic goals that will allow them to not only enjoy but also take advantage of their teenage years. These are great conversations to have at the beginning of school, but we also encourage you to revisit these topics – ask how they are doing with their goals and if anything has changed. This is just a starting place!!

Are you willing to have these conversations? Share what goals the teenagers you talk to set! How will you help hold them accountable?

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: The Ugly of “13 Reasons Why”

Repost: The Ugly of “13 Reasons Why”

*This is the second in a series of three blog posts that we released Summer 2017 regarding season one of the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.” Subscribe to the Teen Life Podcast to catch our current podcast series breaking down season two of the series. This is a great place to start though!

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”

 


 

As a younger Millennial myself, I was both intrigued and disturbed by 13 Reasons Why. While watching the 13 episodes of season one, I saw why it was so popular. I understood why teenagers were flocking towards its authenticity and courage to face topics that are often shoved aside. I got how this polarizing show was starting conversations and making an often overlooked population feel heard and understood. These are all positive things; however, I saw several things that made me nervous.

Teenagers are at a vulnerable age, especially since they are so heavily influenced by the media. While I do agree with several of the things that this series can contribute to our culture, here are some things that I believe were lacking in 13 Reasons Why:

 

  1. The Modeling of Healthy Conversations

Unfortunately, I do not think that 13 Reasons Why showed healthy conversations in the series, either between teens and adults or between peers. If you watch the series, you will see conversations between peers that end in fights, curse words, and bullying. Whether it is conversations with Hannah or about her, there was very little understanding or empathy from peers. Even after Hannah kills herself, the peer response is to hang up a poster, lay out flowers, hide secrets, and continue to spread rumors. Teenagers who watch this series will not leave with a good sense of how to respond to a situation like the one portrayed.

When it comes to the adults, I found myself getting so frustrated with the conversations that were portrayed! Why in the world would a teenager watching this show confide in an adult after watching so many fumble the opportunities presented to them. Parents are invasive, oblivious or downright awkward. The school staff is also incredibly unprepared and even negligent in the case of the school counselor. This is not an accurate representation of the school staff we interact with.

While unhealthy conversation happens more often than we would like, and adults are sometimes unprepared for topics like suicide, rape and bullying, I wish 13 Reasons Why would have taken the opportunity to show positive adult and peer relationships. Kind words, empathetic mentors, and adults who are engaged and present can make a huge difference. I believe we see this message in the show, but they do not actually show what healthy, positive conversations actually look like in this context.

 

  1. Spirituality and Mental Health

Where suicide is concerned, mental health often plays a vital role. While it is not always a factor, I was surprised that the series did not address mental health at all, especially after everything Hannah Baker goes through. From loss of friendships, a new school, and the stress of a struggling family business to rape, bullying, and suicide, Hannah needed help. Mental health is something many people shy away from, but there is nothing shameful about being aware of your mind and seeking help.

In addition to mental health, spirituality was completely absent from the show (unless you count the brief scene about tarot cards). By statistics alone, several of the characters would have some sort of belief system that they would turn to in a situation like this. There is not a single mention of prayer, forgiveness or a higher power throughout the 13 episodes. I know the impact my belief in the healing power of Jesus Christ has had in my own life, and I was disappointed that spirituality was not given a role in this series.

In our Teen Life Support Groups, we find that spirituality plays a huge role in the lives of students, whether they agree with my beliefs or follow a religion at all. To ignore the power and impact of spirituality, especially in times of stress and sadness, is a disservice to the characters and the audience watching. I firmly believe that we have to take care of and address the whole person – body, mind, and spirit – to truly have a healthy sense of self.

 

  1. The Big Picture

Obviously, 13 Reasons Why is told from Hannah Baker’s perspective – I understand that there must be a narrator to drive the story. However, because this series is told only from her view, I believe we miss the picture.

The other day, I asked a teenager who had watched the show what she thought of the series. Her response was, “What happened to Hannah was awful, but she was being dramatic about a lot of it – it’s unrealistic.” Understandably, Hannah had many things to be upset about. From her perspective, so many things went wrong that she had no choice but to kill herself. She was brokenhearted, her reputation was destroyed, she lost her spirit and soul, and she felt completely out of control. I cannot imagine some of the things she goes through in this show, but while she was begging for someone, anyone to care, she failed to care for those around her.

“Some of you care, none of you care enough, neither did I.”

Hannah makes this statement in the very last episode, and it is so true! She did not show empathy or understanding to the other characters. While she is caught up in her life and how wronged she feels, she missed the broken home of one of her peers who is thrown out by mom’s abusive boyfriend. She missed how her own words and actions affected peers when she lashed out or made a scene in public. She avoided her own lack of courage when she missed the opportunity to save a friend.

In the midst of so much wrongdoing, I wish Hannah could have seen her classmates. Was it her fault? Should they have treated her the way they did? Absolutely not! But we need to teach teenagers to see the big picture and empathize with those around them.

We hope this helps you generate some context for opening up conversation with the teens you work with. What other questions are driving your conversations? 

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. 

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.