The Place Where No-One is Turned Away

The Place Where No-One is Turned Away

Working for Teen Life the past seven years has afforded me the opportunity to walk the halls of many schools across our area. Every campus has a look and feel – even a smell! Some come equipped with the latest technology and new carpet while others seem to barely keep the lights on. These campuses are the epicenter of everything – education, culture, social life, development, relationships – all of it. Think about it – in our ever-fracturing society where everything is done online, the public school is the one place where ideas are exchanged and problems are solved – face to face.

What used to be done in houses of worship and other public spaces can really only be found in public schools. And the reason for this is why I am endlessly fascinated with public schools especially – there is no requirement for entry. Public schools have no financial, educational, socio-ethnic, or religious requirement for entry. Simply put – if you live within a certain boundary of a public school – you can go and learn!

To me it is kind of like our national park system. A long time ago, our nation’s leaders decided to reserve wide swaths of land, preventing anyone from exploiting or taking advantage of its natural resources. This would be a public space for all to enjoy nature without barriers to entry (save a daily fee, I guess).

You get to see nature in it’s most preserved state and know that you won’t see a shopping strip or oil rig. It will never be exploited for profit, and nature can just be enjoyed – by everyone.

Public schools in this way have to take everyone who passes through their doors. They have to accommodate all levels of learning and manage classrooms that are ever diversifying. Walking through the hallways and watching how the women and men work with their students is really a beautiful thing to watch.

For many students, the public school might be the only safe place they experience. For some, it is a shelter from abuse. For others, it represents a hot meal and badly needed resources. For others, access to compassionate adults who can advocate on their behalf.

This is a time of year where we shift back to the ebb and flow of the school day and calendar. Even those who do not have kids in school feel the effects of this time of year. We at Teen Life are so excited to start another year helping students on public school campuses across our area, and nationwide! Within the next few weeks across our nation, students head back to the classroom and our educators get back to work. Let us be looking for ways to support those who serve any and every student who come their way. It is a calling unlike any other.

Pray for our educators. Check in with them. Ask what they need. Provide it if you can. Support them. Advocate on their behalf.

School is back! Let’s lean into our local schools and make this year the best one possible!

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s CEO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
Citizenship & Community

Citizenship & Community

Citizenship.  For some, the word invokes images of Boy Scouts saying the pledge of allegiance or students volunteering at the library.   Most of us would define the word by a reference to service of some kind.  Many of us older adults mourn the loss of citizenship among our students.   Many think of citizenship as a product of a bygone era, no longer possible or practical among our digital generation of teens.

My son has been learning about citizenship in his martial arts class.  In each class, there is a simple lesson geared toward the 3 to 5 year-old students about picking up trash, saying hi to a new student in class, helping an elderly person who lives in your neighborhood, opening doors for others, etc.

As I listened to his instructor, I realized that while the stated character trait was citizenship, it was ultimately about community:  Who do you know? Who can you serve? Who do you need to add to your community?

Our youth need community as much as ever.  Too often, we get caught up in thinking that adolescence is about moving away from the family and friends a child has always known. In reality, adolescence is about forming identity within your own developing community – a new community that both includes and extends beyond the community you grew up knowing.  As adults working with teens, do we point our youth in the direction of where they could find community and a place to serve with their newly developing identities and gifts?

I have found that service, or citizenship, becomes a natural and organic outgrowth of people who have a place to belong.

A few ideas to help guide your teens as they seek to develop their own community:

  1. Create a community of adults that your child can talk to or spend time around. They can be all different ages and life stages, but they need to be a safe place where they are welcome, and loved, and can receive help and advice.
  2. Help youth identify their passion. Tell them what they are good at. Tell them what you see in them.  Encourage them to try out art, or music, or sports, or writing until they find their niche.
  3. Help teens find a place to serve. What are his/her interests? What do they want to explore? Who do they want to be around more? This could be in the context of a local non-profit or serving at a church. It could be a club/community group geared toward their interest. Community is built through service.
  4. Develop relationships with people from various cultures, religious backgrounds, and political belief systems. This allows the teens in your life to see that different people with different life experiences can all be at the same table.

 

Like with adults, community in adolescence doesn’t happen naturally. It takes work and showing up – something we as adults still need help our students with each day. But the benefits are worth it.  Youth who are plugged into a community, and who are serving there, have more opportunities to become successful, do better in school, and are more likely to believe that someone will be there for them if they need it.

Citizenship and Community are intertwined. How can you help the teen in your life find their place to live and serve?

Beth Nichols is Teen Life’s Program Director. With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, her perspective is invaluable.
13 Reasons Why: The Role of Adults

13 Reasons Why: The Role of Adults

In this final episode of the Teen Life Podcast’s series on the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why, the Teen Life staff is talking about the role of adults in teenagers’ lives. Adults have a great responsibility when it comes to raising and encouraging teenagers. We wanted to take a look at the adult relationships in 13 Reasons Why, both good and bad, to discuss what we can learn.

The Teen Life Podcast wants to equip adults to better help teenagers, and this conversation is a great resource! In this episode, we are talking about parents, counselors, school, divorce, and the reason teenagers don’t always trust adults.

Are you an adult connected to a teen? Are you unsure of what to say or how to help? Join our conversation about the role of adults – we can be an incredible resource for our students!

 

Listen & Subscribe:  iTunes | Google Play | RSS

Resources:

In this episode, we mentioned the following resources:

About Us:

Beth Nichols graduated in 2003 with a degree in Social Work from Abilene Christian University. She completed her Masters Degree, also in Social Work, from the University of Tennessee in 2004. Beth previously worked as the Program Manager for Communities in Schools of the the Heart of Texas and is now the Program Director for Teen Life. She believes teens are learning to navigate the world in a unique way, and is excited to have the opportunity to work with students and their families.

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!

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!
3 Ways to Follow Through

3 Ways to Follow Through

Saying nice things to teenagers is easy…following through is the hard part!

How are you doing?

We should get lunch sometime.

I want to hear about ____ next time I see you!

I am praying for you.

What can I do for you?

How many times have you said or asked a teen something similar? How many times do you actually follow up and go to lunch? Do you ask them about that conversation a few months down the road? Do you remember that anniversary or date that means something to them?

Recently I went to lunch with a teen who talked about the power of following through. In the midst of loss, she needed people who would actually show up. Who would stop right there and pray for her. Who would send follow-up texts telling her they were thinking of her. Who would ask about lunch and make it happen. She said the nice things people said meant nothing if they weren’t backed by actions.

I have a confession. I am guilty of this. I have relationships with many students that I counseled at camp, volunteered with, or have been invested in for years. When they come back from college, I tell them we should get lunch. When they graduate high school, I say I want to hear about their plans. I tell them to call or text me if they need anything. In theory, I am saying and doing all the right things, but do I really expect that teen to call me when they get overwhelmed the first week of school or when they get in a bad situation with friends? Have I shown that I am worth calling? Or have I only shown that I can say nice things but am too busy to check in when it counts?

Ouch.

Writing that hurts. Maybe it even hurts for you to read?

But we can change that! We can be better, more supportive, and more invested. Here are three easy ways to follow through and mean it.

 

Be specific.

If you are going to ask a question, ask if you can do something specific. Instead of, “How can I help?”, ask things like, “Can I take you to lunch next week?” “Can I drive you to your next counseling appointment?” “Can I visit the grave of your loved one with you?” “Can I bring you a Sonic drink during your next shift at work?”

Let them know what you will do and when you will do it. If they aren’t ready for your help yet, they will let you know, but they will also know that you care and that you are trying.

 

Follow through in the moment.

Similar to the previous point, instead of setting some hypothetical lunch date in the future, get out your calendar and find a day that will work. If you are telling a teen that you will be praying for them, stop right there and pray for them before they leave. When texting a teen about something that is going on, ask if you can call right then instead of putting off the conversation.

We all get busy – teens and adults alike. Instead of using busyness as an excuse, get in the habit of only making promises that you will actively schedule time for when you make the commitment.

 

Check in down the road.

So you went to lunch. You prayed. You asked the right questions, and showed up at the right time. You are awesome! But more than showing up in the moment, we have to be willing to follow up down the road.

A year after their friend died, check in and let them know you are thinking of them. If a parent died, ask if you can come over on a birthday, Mother’s/Father’s Day, or ask if they need someone to take pictures before prom or go dorm room shopping. If they mentioned that they are seeking counseling, ask how that is going. Do they feel like it is helping? What have they learned? If you promised to pray for them, tell them that you are! Ask if the request has changed and how you can better pray for them moving forward.

 

Lately, I have had several conversations with people who said that when they were at their lowest, they don’t remember the words that were said, they remember the people who showed up. Who sent flowers. Who stepped in the gap when they knew a day or occasion would be particularly hard. Who sat beside them and just let them question, cry, or celebrate.

Teenagers need you to show up, not have all the right answers. We can do that! It might take a shift in our thinking, but let’s seek to be as intentional with our actions as we are with our words.

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.
13 Reasons Why: Relationships

13 Reasons Why: Relationships

 

In this episode of the Teen Life Podcast’s series on the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why, the Teen Life staff is talking about teen relationships. Relationships are a critical part of a teenager’s life, and for this episode, we are focusing on romantic and friendship relationships between the characters in 13 Reasons Why.

The Teen Life Podcast wants to shine a light on the different relationships teenagers might experience and offer some insight into the importance of healthy relationships. In this episode, we are talking about love triangles, loss of virginity, dating relationships, friendships, and isolation vs. community.

Is your teenager trying to navigate new relationships? Are you unsure of what they are going through? Join our conversation about teen relationships and share this with a friend who could also benefit!

 

Listen & Subscribe:  iTunes | Google Play | RSS

Resources:

In this episode, we mentioned the following resources:

About Us:

Beth Nichols graduated in 2003 with a degree in Social Work from Abilene Christian University. She completed her Masters Degree, also in Social Work, from the University of Tennessee in 2004. Beth previously worked as the Program Manager for Communities in Schools of the the Heart of Texas and is now the Program Director for Teen Life. She believes teens are learning to navigate the world in a unique way, and is excited to have the opportunity to work with students and their families.

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!

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!
Going Beyond “Good Job”: How to Praise Teens

Going Beyond “Good Job”: How to Praise Teens

Have you ever experienced a scenario like this:

You’re talking to a teen and they tell you about a situation where they had to make a choice. A friend was pressuring them to do something wrong, something they have always done. In the past, this teen would have chosen to go along with their friend, to give in to the pressure to do something they know is wrong. This time though, they chose to do the right thing. They tell you that they ignored their friend all weekend and chose to stay home. The teen chose to not participate in the wrong-doing.

You say something like, “That was a great choice!” The teen looks at you, shrugs off your comment and moves on.

This teen just revealed a life changing moment for them and they get a “great job”. We think we just praised them for doing the right thing when in reality, a moment was missed to truly dig deep and offer meaningful praise to a teen who is struggling. The teen doesn’t feel heard or like they made the right choice. They feel like a child that got a pat on the back.

This scene is played out often, and I have come to learn that these are moments where a lot of us fail. It is sometimes too easy to give a standard response, to simply say “great job” with a pat on the back.  While this may feel good to say, it doesn’t necessarily hold any weight when it comes to developing a trusting relationship. These placating statements we are guilty of using in everyday life are what causes the eye-rolls, the shrug offs, and can shut down further communication because they are meaningless.

True praise for teens, especially those who are in tough situations, requires more heart. The word ‘praise’ actually comes from Middle English meaning “attach value to”. If praise is meant to attach value to, then we need to work on our approach to praising. We need to dig deeper into using meaningful praise in order to ensure that our teens know they have value. This means using words to ensure that teens feel heard, that they know they did the right thing, and the qualities they possess to continue doing the right thing.

In the scenario above, I have experienced the difference that occurs when I have used this deeper approach to praise. I point out how they made a tough decision to move beyond what they have always done. I make my case by detailing the qualities they exhibited such as being responsible, setting an example, and made a brave choice. The responses from teens when they are given this praise is more positive. They might not have anything to say, they may even respond shyly if they have never experienced someone going beyond “good job” in their lives but you will see the change. There is a light that shines when someone feels valued.

For teens that rarely or never experience positive interactions with adults, changing our tune on praise helps them see that they have worth. Attaching value to their actions changes the tone of conversations and encourages teens to continue to make positive choices. They learn that they have value that is seen by someone in their lives who wants better for them. I challenge each of you to move beyond “good job” and search for ways to attach value to the teens in your life.

Shelbie Fowler is currently a volunteer for Teen Life and has her Masters in Family Studies. She is passionate about being an advocate for family life education in order to grow families stronger.
13 Reasons Why: Sexual Assault

13 Reasons Why: Sexual Assault

In this episode of the Teen Life Podcast’s series on the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, the Teen Life staff is talking about sexual assault in the context of the show and our culture. Teenagers are bombarded with messages about sex every single day, and the popularity of the #MeToo Movement has shed a light on the problem of sexual assault in our culture. Season two of 13 Reasons Why addresses rape, consent, male rape, and virginity.

The Teen Life Podcast walks through these difficult topics in order inform and equip adults. Teenagers are struggling with these issues and need safe adults to be willing to have conversations around sex and sexual assault.

Do you know a teenager who has been sexually assaulted? Do you have a teen in your life who has been exposed to the topic of sex? Every single teen needs us to pour good advice, love, and a listening ear when it comes to this sensitive and vulnerable subject.

 

 

Listen & Subscribe:  iTunes | Google Play | RSS

Resources:

In this episode, we mentioned the following resources:

About Us:

Beth Nichols graduated in 2003 with a degree in Social Work from Abilene Christian University. She completed her Masters Degree, also in Social Work, from the University of Tennessee in 2004. Beth previously worked as the Program Manager for Communities in Schools of the the Heart of Texas and is now the Program Director for Teen Life. She believes teens are learning to navigate the world in a unique way, and is excited to have the opportunity to work with students and their families.

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!

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!
Repost: What To Do After “13 Reasons Why”

Repost: What To Do After “13 Reasons Why”

*This is the last 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”

 


 

Here’s the truth. 13 Reasons Why is a Netflix original show. It is entertainment. People have ranted and raved about whether it should or should not be out there. Well, all that attention means a second season is coming. This is a testament that any press is good press. It brought a lot of attention but to what end? I hope it promoted meaningful conversation between teens and adults, and I trust that this week we have encouraged more good discussion. That is why we wanted to end our blog series with this particular post.

One thing I felt was missing from the whole show was examples of people seeking out help and succeeding. Why is that? Is it that it would have taken away from the entertainment value? I don’t believe so. I think they missed a major opportunity to model for teenagers how to seek out helpful resources. The direction to a website in the opening of each episode was nice, but all that is there are crisis hotlines and links to click further and try to figure out how to get help. What would have been more effective, I believe, is showing in every episode some examples of someone successfully seeking and receiving help.

With that as the background for this post, the goal here is to give you, the reader, ideas and some direct resources to help a teen in the real world who is struggling. This should not be seen as a replacement for continued training or adhering to any law directing you how to respond. But rather, this post could be a reference tool to get you to the resources needed to be ready and have on hand if the time arises. Though, truth be told, all of us hope we never have to use these resources.

First, just the fact that there is a show about suicide is enough to bring up the discussion about such a serious topic. You don’t have to watch the show for that conversation to start. You could watch any number of shows if you need a starting place, but none of those are going to have the answers. Only an open and honest conversation about what your student is facing and needs will meet the desire for discussion that is there. So take the opportunity. Ask questions and invite conversation, then listen.

Second, look locally at what is available. In the Fort Worth area, there is a Suicide Awareness Coalition. Attending these monthly meetings has kept the conversation in front of me and our team and helped us not lose sight of the seriousness of the situation. In addition, there are often classes, seminars, or workshops you are able to attend. These are usually geared toward licensed professionals but can be attended by anyone. I have gained a lot of helpful connections and tools this way.

Third, personally check in on the resources. Call the national hotline yourself. Time how long the wait is. Make note of the prompts and be prepared to communicate those to someone you might need to share that resource with. Visit local organizations that offer services. Ask specific questions related to the things teens you work with have brought up. It is very helpful for you to simply be able to say, “I visited this place and the people there really want to help.” This is so helpful because many times people in a severely depressed state don’t believe anyone wants to help them, and they need a lot of reassurance from someone they trust. You want to be confident in the resources you are suggesting if you ever need to be that person.

Fourth, once you are equipped with information and resources, you will feel prepared if a situation happens. This happened for me just a few months ago. I had a friend call, and he was actively suicidal. I found this out by asking pointed questions like, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” and “Do you have a plan?” When the answer to these questions were both, “Yes!” We called the local crisis line together. I was so glad I had the number in my phone. They gave us some options of places to go, he picked one, and I took him there. I stayed for about 4 hours. Yes it took time, but I was so glad I stayed until he got medical attention and checked into a program to get help. I am convinced he would have killed himself if I had not been there.

Fifth, the last scenario you want to be prepared for is what to do if a teen you know does kill themselves or if a friend of theirs does. This is where the above resources come in. They will help you be prepared to reach out or be able to listen and ask helpful questions. Again, here locally there is a resource called LOSS Team. This is a volunteer led group that is available to survivors of suicide. They are specifically trained and equipped to help handle a loss. If you don’t have one in your community, reach out to local counseling services for groups or to a local church that may offer a resource. As with all grief, everyone handles a loss to suicide differently. It is important to know that grieving a suicide is different than other grief though. Knowing this is the important piece. Finding a resource specific to people who have lost someone to suicide is the ideal situation.

To be clear, what you are doing here is not equipping yourself to be the professional, long-term solution to help someone that is thinking about suicide. You are educating yourself to be a first line of defense, working in a preventative way to significantly reduce the number of students who end up in a place where they feel so hopeless they don’t know where to turn when they have suicidal thoughts. That’s right I said “when.” The truth is many of us, including myself, have thoughts of suicide at one time or another. The problem comes when we believe the lie that we are the only one, and that means we have no hope of recovery. Instead, we need someone like you to come alongside us and walk with us through that dark place until we get back to where we can find the reason for living again.

What is missing? What other resources are you aware of that can make a huge difference in helping teenagers as they navigate stress, anxiety and depression? Their struggle, or yours, does not ever neeed to end in suicide. Let’s pull together and raise awareness to end suicide all together. 

Ricky Lewis is Teen Life’s Founder. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
13 Reasons Why: Recovery

13 Reasons Why: Recovery

We are continuing our series on the hit Netflix series 13 Reasons Why as we talk about recovery. This is not an easy topic, and season 2 of 13 Reasons Why handles recovery in many different ways. Whether you have seen the show or not, you will want to join our discussion to know what teens are being exposed to when it comes to recovery from the loss of a loved one, an attempted suicide, substance abuse, sexual assault, and more.

Recovery is not a straight line. It can be messy and difficult, but we must do our best to equip and empower students to recover well and to reach out for support when they need it.

Do you know a teenager who is trying to recover? Listen to this episode for insight into how recovery is talked about in the media and what we can learn from it. Let’s show teenagers a better way to recover!

 

 

Listen & Subscribe:  iTunes | Google Play | RSS

Resources:

In this episode, we mentioned the following resources:

About Us:

Beth Nichols graduated in 2003 with a degree in Social Work from Abilene Christian University. She completed her Masters Degree, also in Social Work, from the University of Tennessee in 2004. Beth previously worked as the Program Manager for Communities in Schools of the the Heart of Texas and is now the Program Director for Teen Life. She believes teens are learning to navigate the world in a unique way, and is excited to have the opportunity to work with students and their families.

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!

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!
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.