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. 

The Unexpected of a Traumatic Injury with Tyson Dever

The Unexpected of a Traumatic Injury with Tyson Dever

In this episode of this series, we are talking to Tyson Dever, author of Trauma is a Team Sport, about life after the unexpected happens. As a young adult, Tyson’s life was forever changed after a distracted driver of a fully-loaded cement truck hit his car. This car accident left him paralyzed from the waist down, and changed any plans he had for the future. However, in the midst of this unexpected tragedy comes hope and the fulfillment of lifelong dreams.

Join our conversation with Tyson Dever and his co-author, Sarah Paulk, as we talk about tragedy, recovery, motivation, and the will to thrive.

If you have experienced an injury or traumatic event, 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 Tyson Dever.

 

 

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Resources:

In this episode, we mentioned the following resources:

About Us:

On March 11, 2005, Tyson Dever survived a car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. On that day, Tyson lost his ability to walk and life as he knew it changed forever. What Tyson gained was a desire to inspire people to be determined in life and to live life completely. Today, Tyson lives independently, drives, fishes from his own bass boat, hunts using a rugged track chair and shares his message with audiences across the nation.

Sarah Paulk is a professional writer, editor and collaborative author. After graduating from Abilene Christian University in 2004, with a degree from the department of Journalism and Mass Communication, she became a regular contributor to nationally distributed magazines, and has been featured in supplements to The Wall Street Journal and USA Today. Sarah lives in Fort Worth, Texas with her husband, Brock, and their two children.

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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Defiance or Survival?

Defiance or Survival?

You are running errands at Target. You see a mom with her pre-teen. The girl mentions that she is hungry, and her mom explains that they are almost done at the store and will get some lunch once they get home. As you stand in the check-out line, you see her eyeing the candy. She asks for some. Again. Mom says, “No.” As you watch, you see the child has opted to steal the candy from the store as opposed to waiting until they get home.

Pause for a minute. How would you handle that situation? What if you were the parent? If you are like most parents I know, you proceed to lecture your child on stealing and add a few lines about how you told her she could eat at home. You drag her back into the store, purchase the candy, make said child apologize, and then take her home to do chores and earn the money back you just spent. Or you repossess her allowance money. You confiscate the candy and promise more consequences.

Now, think of the most challenging youth you know. It may be a student from your classroom at school. Maybe a teen from your church. It may be a youth who is involved with the legal system. It may be your friend’s child. It may be your own child. How do you really view their challenging behaviors? As defiance? As a lost cause?

Each day as parents, school staff, and youth workers, we confront behavior. Sometimes it’s minor disrespect. Sometimes it’s fighting in a hallway where someone is physically hurt.

Consider this:

Is a child or youth’s inappropriate behavior intentional defiance or is it a survival skill?

Even asking that question probably raises a few eyebrows. Most of us have the same gut response. I told (fill in a name) not to do that. They did it anyway. They have no respect for me and need to have (fill in a consequence). But is that really the full story? For our children, we know their story and their history. For other youth – students we see twice a week at a sports activity or church, students in our support groups – we usually only know part of their story. It is much harder to see their needs.

In the words of Dr. David Cross, “Having compassion and understanding helps us to see the need. Seeing the need is changing your frame of reference so you realize that these aberrant behaviors are survival strategies rather than willful disobedience. If you look at your child’s behavior through the lens of his history, his actions make perfect sense. We don’t know all of the potential hurt so we can’t always understand what it takes to survive. How we view behavior changes everything.”

Is the behavior functional? No, most likely not. However, it isn’t fruitful to remove a child’s survival strategy, no matter how negative, without giving them a new strategy. Demanding a child stop stealing food without providing for the very real fear that they will not have food is not going to be successful. Demanding that a child use their words and not fists when they have had to fight to protect themselves or a family member will not change the behavior, without first providing another strategy.

A few questions to consider:

Who is the child or youth in your world that makes you feel like you are spinning your wheels?

How can you change how YOU see their behavior? Can you see their needs not just their actions?

What tools can you provide to the youth in your life in order to increase their success?

 

**The survival vs. willful disobedience concept was introduce to our team while attending a training on Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI.) More information on TBRI can be found here.

 

Beth Nichols is Teen Life’s Program Manager. With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, her perspective is invaluable.
About the Group That Couldn’t Understand Me

About the Group That Couldn’t Understand Me

Teen Lifeline started over seven years ago at an alternative school in Birdville ISD. Since then, we have expanded into eight different school districts in Tarrant and Wise counties, covering a wide variety of school settings. Each district and individual campus has a distinct “feel” to it based upon the teachers and students involved. And as the districts get bigger and bigger, so does the breadth and diversity of their campuses.

As we grow into new districts and schools, we have to ask ourselves the question – “Do Teen Lifeline groups work with students in ________ school?” In other words, can a life skill curriculum and support group process reach across all ethnic, socioeconomic, and cultural lines?

While this might be a clumsy question, you get the idea. When we go into a school with students and teachers from neighborhoods or cultural backgrounds much different than my own, am I being effective? Will I be accepted?

These questions were bouncing through my brain as I walked in the International Leadership Academy (INA) of Fort Worth ISD last week. INA is an immersion campus of sorts working with students of immigrant and refugee families in Fort Worth. Many students come from war-torn areas of the world or are children of immigrants seeking citizenship in our country. Most students speak very little english and many students have experienced some kind of trauma. With the frustration of language barriers and unmet needs from the stresses of being in a new country, you can imagine how much support these students need.

When I showed up at the front office on Friday, I had students from Mexico, Columbia, Nepal, Uganda, and Burma meet me for group. These middle school students spoke very little english and when they arrived, they thought they might be in trouble.

As we walked down to the group room I wondered, “How in the world am I supposed to do a group with these students? What would I have to offer students who couldn’t understand me or each other?”

And I’m not going to lie – it was difficult. Everything moved at an excruciatingly slow pace, and I felt like I didn’t get much accomplished. What typically takes three minutes to do in a normal group took thirty. Most of our communication involved hand signals, drawing, and showing them pictures of what I was talking about on my phone.

But, there was something going on in that group. While very little was understood verbally, connections were slowly being made. Being new and lonely in a new country, someone took the time to listen, even if they didn’t really understand. Routine, structure, and purpose were introduced during that hour that might not exist in other places of someone’s life who is in a new country.

This is why I believe our groups have an impact – in many different settings. While the nature of impact differs from group to group, students are given a safe place to reflect on life and figure out new ways to think and make decisions.

And no matter where you come from, life is better when you feel safe and heard.

 

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