The Red Line

The Red Line

In 1934 as part of the New Deal, the government created the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC) and the Federal Housing Administration with the goal of preventing foreclosures through mortgage refinancing.  The Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC), a government sponsored lender, proceeded to draw maps of American cities to determine which areas were worthy of mortgage lending and which areas were too high-risk. The HOLC color coded communities into green, blue, yellow, and red areas. Each area came with a definition.

Green – “hot spots,” new, well planned sections of the city

Blue – completely developed areas – these areas were still good but not new

Yellow – areas in a transition period, characterized by age, lack of care

Red – “high-risk” areas predominately with residents of Color – labeled as areas with detrimental influences and poor maintenance– were considered undesirable areas

 

The term “redlining” was coined to explain this practice of denying loans and services based on a neighborhood’s demographic makeup. In 1968, the Fair Housing Act made these maps and practices officially illegal, but the long-term ramifications continue on 50 years later.

We, as parents, teachers, youth workers, or mentors have often grown up with “red lines” in our lives, especially those of us raised with a faith-based background. Red lines are topics, or even people, we aren’t sure we want to be involved with.

For example, ask those around you how sex education was handled in their home growing up. Based on those who I have asked, the answer was one of three things:

1. We just knew not to do it

2. We didn’t talk about it

3. In 5th grade health class.

 

A red line. An area too risky to walk into.

When we, as adults, walk on eggshells regarding certain topics, teens know. When we talk around topics, they pick up on it. Teens know walking on eggshells is a tool adults use to avoid the long-term ramifications of knowing the truth – to avoid the potential fallout associated with the truth. Teens know you aren’t willing to ask the hard questions and believe you aren’t willing to hear the true answers.

 

Here are a few topics that are commonly redlined by adults…

  1. Sex – You talk about sex, right? Talking about how bodies are changing and developing. Talking about respect for their body and for other’s bodies. Asking about impulse, self-control, and definitions of couples/partners. Asking if they are sexually active. Talking about consent and sexual assault.
  2. Suicide – When you suspect a child is struggling, are you direct? Asking, “Are you planning to kill yourself?” or “Are you planning to attempt suicide?” opens the door to keep people “safe for now” according to Living Works. Then ask follow-up questions such as, “Do you have a plan?” “When do you plan to kill yourself?” “Do you have access to ____ (whatever means needed to attempt suicide)?” “Have you attempted suicide before?”
  3. Drugs/Alcohol – Ask the direct question, “Have you been drinking?” or “Are you using drugs?” You can also ask, “What is your drug of choice?” or “How often do you use?” They might lie at first, but the ability to ask these questions opens the door for later conversations because they know you see them and you care.
  4. Mental Health Issues – Are you willing to ask about feelings of depression or anxiety? Are you willing to talk about their friends who may be struggling with these things? Ask youth if there is someone they are worried about.

 

What are the redlines in your past? How do they impact your interactions now? Who do you need to stop walking on eggshells around? What hard questions do you need to ask? What you choose today impacts the future.

**If you want to see these redlining maps or a picture of these ramifications, you can find more 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.
4 Thoughts As I Exit Teen Life

4 Thoughts As I Exit Teen Life

What an amazing time the last 10 years have been. I want to take some time today and share why it might matter to you that I have gone from Program Director, to Executive Director, to CEO, to Founder, and finally to the first Teen Life Team member to resign.

You see, none of those roles have been easy, and my guess is there are things in your life that are not easy either. I hope that sharing from my story over the last decade will encourage you to stick with what is in front of you.

I am excited and sad about my transition away from Teen Life as Founder, but I am also thankful since I do not believe this will be my last connection to Teen Life. The reason for that is I think I will be able to use the skills I have learned at Teen Life wherever I go next, and I will use the principles that helped me learn those skills and tools to learn new, and even better ones, down the road.

That said, here is a behind the curtain look at what I have gone through since beginning Teen Life in 2008.

 

This job was not my first choice.

I have shared with some of you that when Teen Life started I was reluctant. It was new, I thought I still wanted to be a youth pastor, and I felt this new opportunity had been forced on me. I even went and interviewed at a couple of churches in the first 2 years we were getting started. What I can tell you nearly 10 years later is I fully believe that Teen Life was the right path for me. Not only for me but for the teenagers we have learned how to help. I believe that what changed was my ability to feel one way and act another, learning along the way how to adapt and make the necessary changes to build and grow an organization.

 

I feared failure was inevitable.

When we began offering groups, one school invited us onto their campus. We had an amazing opportunity to be in the classroom with students who needed our services. I knew we were making an impact and the students voiced that too. The problem was I was afraid that schools would not keep inviting us. I figured one school was kind enough to give us a try but that other schools would not be as inviting. I was very wrong, and it turns out my fear of failure was part of the problem. Not that I shouldn’t be afraid, but that if I had been more willing to try things early on we might be further down the road now. Thankfully, we have overcome that deficit, and this school year we have trained people who are working with over 1,000 students in 17 school districts and 3 states with 14 people being trained in Tennessee next week!

 

Trust is greater than suspicion.

I started reading a book recently that put this phrase in my mind. In Virtual Culture by Bryan Miles, he talks about how people want to be trusted. I want to be trusted, and I am sure you do too. The fact is I have learned a lot about how trust is a big part of an organization’s success. The ability to trust our volunteers is a necessary decision to help us effectively work with more students every school year. The trust that we have that schools will tell us how we are doing, along with the trust that the people I have invited to be part of the Teen Life team are going to do their job is a weight that is sometimes hard to carry. But it is worth it when you are pouring  yourself into something so meaningful.

 

Continuing to learn is required.

Read, listen to podcasts, prioritize conferences! These things are key to successfully replenishing and expanding our thinking to progress whatever task or project we have in front of us. I have learned so much from Donald Miller, Michael Hyatt, Ken Coleman & Rory Vaden. These virtual mentors have helped me grow and develop the skills needed to create the structure that will sustain the Teen Life organization after I am gone. I wish I had been introduced to these godly, intelligent men sooner.

 

With those lessons in mind, I want to close my time with Teen Life with this.

Supporters and friends, there is a bright future ahead for this organization. Chris Robey, Karlie Duke, Beth Nichols & Stevie Stevens all are doing a great job and will continue to as they stay laser-focused on how to equip, encourage, and empower teenagers to live life better. Your continued support of this team, our volunteers, this organization and your local school is vital to this success. I would urge you to ramp up your support. Become a trained volunteer, tell your local school, donate through our Teen Life Gives Back fundraiser going on now, pray that we continue to provide services that teenagers need and schools can’t live without.

Thank you all for your amazing support these past 10 years. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for Teen Life!

Ricky Lewis is our Founder and former CEO and has been with Teen Life since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
Teen Life in Transition

Teen Life in Transition

With mixed feelings of sadness and gratitude, we wanted to let you know that our CEO, Ricky Lewis will be leaving Teen Life at the beginning of May. With his family, Ricky has decided to pursue an exciting ministry opportunity in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania as a Chaplain and Bible Teacher. This role will involve helping the school rewrite their program and curriculum that directs the growth of students’ spiritual lives.

“I am excited about this role because of the challenge it will provide in a new culture, the way I will be able to use the skills I have been developing the last 10 years, and the opportunity this will be for our kids to experience life on the other side of the world, literally.”

Ricky Lewis has been with Teen Life from the very beginning, starting as Program Director in 2008, then he transitioned to Executive Director and CEO. He has played a critical role in helping Teen Life grow as an organization and has shaped our curriculum and Support Groups into what they are today. While we are going to miss Ricky and his family, we wish them the best as they transition to Africa and the ministry opportunities they will continue to encounter with teenagers across the world.

In the midst of this transition, we are also excited to announce that the Board of Directors has named Chris Robey as the new CEO of Teen Life. Chris joined us in 2012 as Program Director, and transitioned to COO in 2017. In 2001, he graduated from Midwestern State University with his Bachelors Degree. After this, he served as a youth minister in Vernon and Granbury, TX while earning his Masters Degree in Family Life Education from Lubbock Christian University in 2010. All of Chris’ experience and education has helped him to better equip Teen Life’s work with teenagers and families.

“I am thrilled to serve as the new CEO of Teen Life! Ever since I began as Program Director almost six years ago, it has always been about our work and mission in the schools we serve. I look forward to more students being served by our amazing facilitators through our Support Groups. Teenagers and schools are being equipped, encouraged and empowered through a program that is getting better and better every year. Our future is bright, and I’m glad you are a part of it!”

In addition to Chris’ new role in Teen Life, Karlie Duke will take on the new role of Marketing and Development Director for Teen Life. She will continue to oversee Teen Life’s communications while also assisting Chris with fundraising events and opportunities. We are also excited that Beth Nichols will be transitioning to a full-time role as Teen Life’s Program Director starting June 1, 2018. She has been instrumental in developing our Support Group program and equipping our volunteer facilitators, especially during this time of transition. We know that our school districts and facilitators are in good hands with Beth in the role of Program Director.

Exciting things are continuing to happen for Teen Life as we are looking to expand our Support Groups to Tennessee through a training in Nashville on April 17. We are thankful for your continued support as we navigate this transition, and encourage you to reach out to us if you have any questions or concerns.

Ricky, thank you again for almost 10 years of serving teenagers through Teen Life! We are praying for your family as you continue to equip, encourage, and empower teenagers.

Teaching the Power of ‘No’

Teaching the Power of ‘No’

Two letters in the English language seem to be some of the most difficult for people to say to each other: No.

I have struggled with saying ‘no’, and my friends, family, and the teens I have worked with also struggle with saying ‘no’. Despite the struggle we have all experienced with saying ‘no’, we place high expectations on teenagers to be able to say it when they are being put under pressure in serious situations by their peers. Saying ‘no’ is such a powerful weapon and is a concept that we should be teaching teens through example. 

Why is saying ‘no’ so difficult, even for adults? Here are some reasons that lead to the internal struggle of verbalizing ‘no’. 

 

We are (kind of) brainwashed.

Since being a child, I have been taught that saying ‘no’ is rude. I should not refuse any food at a table even if I know I do not like it. I should not reject a friendship even if I do not enjoy that person. I should never reject a gift, no matter how horrible it is. Then, as a teenager I was told to say ‘no’ to boys, sex, drugs, alcohol, and any other ‘rebellious’ behavior. It felt like a sudden shift from never saying ‘no’ to being forced to say it in situations that are uncomfortable.

As adults, we need to focus on how hard it really is for teenagers to go from the expectation of never refusing anything to refusing those things that they may feel pressured into doing by their peers. Trusted adults should help teens understand when saying ‘no’ is acceptable and how to say it tactfully in those tough situations.

 

Saying ‘no’ once does not mean ‘no’ all the time.

As a teenager and young adult, I always worried that if I said ‘no’ to going out or spending time with friends, those people would never invite me out again, or I would be forgotten. This constant worry of being left out is a concept that can carry over into adulthood if it is not addressed early on. Teenageers have a need to be liked and accepted by their peers which can lead to difficulty navigating negative situations.

Adults should be models of what healthy friendships look like, which often includes saying ‘no’, even when everyone else may be saying ‘yes’. Helping teens understand how to build trust that someone will be there even when they say ‘no’ occasionally is an important aspect of learning how to develop their boundaries. Saying ‘no’ to hanging out is not the end all be all and can actually be really beneficial. Teens need to be reminded that saying ‘no’ does not need to include long excuses or reasons. If a person is truly a friend, they will still be there even when you sometimes say ‘no’.

 

How we can help teens learn the power of ‘no’?

Encourage teens to be assertive when the situation calls for it. This is a difficult concept (even for some adults), so it is crucial that we educate teens on how to be assertive without becoming aggressive. This can start with talking to teens about these topics:

Help teens understand their boundaries. What are they comfortable doing and what makes them uncomfortable?

Ask teens about their priorities or goals. Understanding how their decisions now can affect their futures can be a good incentive to learn to say ‘no’ when it matters.

Teens often have a role model that they admire. Ask them who are their role model is and why. Are they a role model for someone? I know several teens that have talked about how they need to be better because their younger sibling needs them. This can be a great incentive for a teen to learn how to say ‘no’ assertively in any situation.

 

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.
On Taking People Seriously

On Taking People Seriously

Over the last few years, I’ve grow to be a huge fan of the band The Avett Brothers. For a while I didn’t know a ton about who they were – I just loved how their music sounded and pretty much had them on repeat at our house. In fact when one of the songs comes on the radio, my two year old daughter shouts the title at the top of her lungs. Yeah, we might have a problem…

Recently a documentary was released on the Avett Brothers called May it Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brotherswhich I highly recommend. What struck me about the documentary was the relationship central to the band – the two brothers who are the primary singers/songwriters. They are four years apart and, well, brothers. How do they make it work? Most sibling-based bands don’t really last because, well, they are family. Families fight. Bands fight even harder. When you mix them, they typically don’t last very long. These guys have been doing it for almost twenty years!

So why have they stood the test of time? Well, I’m sure there are many reasons, but there was one specific scene in the documentary that told the story for me and got me thinking more about how we interact with teenagers.

The scene started with the younger brother sitting in the studio hammering out a new song, but he had gotten stuck on some of the lyrics. But what made this scene work is the older brother taking the song seriously. It was striking. It was obvious the younger brother was proud of the song, but really wanted the older brother’s finishing touches – even his blessing in a way. After the older brother listened to the song itself and understood what the song was was about, he was able to help the younger brother figure out the best path forward, and the two of them ended up creating an incredible song.

And in so many ways, this is what helps a sibling band – one that on paper is destined to fail – last almost twenty years.

And I believe that this idea is something that creates a protective factor for a teenager – adults who take teenagers seriously.

For most adults, teenagers are so easy to dismiss. I hear all the time people say, “Oh, they are just teenagers!” And sometimes it’s really hard not to take that stance.

Teenagers tend to be:

– Moody

– Unpredictable

– Inconsistent

– Hard to pin down

– Always trying new things

– Pushing back or against

– Contrarian

That is a lot to handle for so many of us. It is much easier to just dismiss than to actually engage. But, I think that is where we miss opportunities with teenagers. What if we took them seriously? It doesn’t have to mean they are right or they need to be corrected. Even if we think what they are going through is rather silly or unimportant – it’s still their stuff.

And, what has it meant to you when someone older or wiser takes you seriously? Maybe they thought what you were going through was rather silly or unimportant. But they still listened. They still empathized. They stayed and heard you.

My guess is it made all the difference for you.

And my guess is it will make all the difference for the teenager in your life.

So the next time a teenager is sharing something about their day or a problem they might be facing – take it seriously. It might surprise you how well they respond – and come back to you again.

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s COO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
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.
4 Lessons From Career Day

4 Lessons From Career Day

Last week, I had the privilege of speaking at my son’s school to 5th graders about their future career. Something I am sure they were excited about. Really though, they were! They expressed interest and asked good questions.

My goal was to share with them what all I had done and then leave them with some ideas for how they can continue on a path that will help them choose a meaningful career (or careers). The reality is that any job you do can have meaning, and I chose to focus on that. I listed my first 10 jobs for them. These jobs included: roofing, small engine repair, a sporting goods store, Pep Boys and more. I learned things at each of these jobs. Maybe not as much at the time, but looking back, I can see that I learned important lessons.

The small engine shop was my first job. At age 12, I started learning how to fix small engines and enjoyed riding the go-karts around to “test” them. The lesson I learned though is that not everyone knows how to run a business. That guy still owes me money. I have moved on, but the lesson still remains. I want to work with people who will prioritize taking care of those they are partnered with.

The summer I spent roofing, I learned that is not something I wanted to do the rest of my life. It was hot and hard, and I knew I wanted to get a degree and work in the A/C as much as possible.

At Pep Boys, I worked the parts counter. Looking back I realize that what I was doing was helping people get to work and take their kids to school because the parts they bought helped fix their car or keep it running. These are important things when you rely on that car to get you where you need to go.

Each of these lessons were meaningful but mostly in the way that I am looking back on them. Maybe you reminisce the same way and can still learn from things that happened years ago. But what about your teenager? Likely they are going to go through a similar process of learning years later about what they went through. So what can we help them learn now? I shared some ideas with the 5th graders, but these ideas also translate well to the teens you work with.

Keep school a priority. I remember not liking English, especially in high school. I felt I had enough of those classes and didn’t need to keep taking an English class every semester. I was tired of English, especially writing. I felt it was a waste of time because I had no intention of being a writer. I’ll give you a second for the irony of typing that to sink in. Besides this post, I am also writing donors, partner organizations and school administrators. I write those people using a persuasive style to help them understand why we should work together and how our program makes an impact for teenagers. I would tell teenagers today that you never know what skills may become important later in life.

Try different things. In addition to what I listed above, I also worked as a painter, at a gas station changing the oil on cars, and as a waiter (for 4 days). Each of my job experiences helped me learn something about how to handle what I am doing today or how I do not want to handle what I am doing today. We should all encourage teens to try different things. These years are formative and a great opportunity to try things that can teach basic skills to help them build on what they are learning.

Keep Reading. This is possibly the most important one. I spent too many years not reading, and these last few years, I have spent as much time reading as I can. Encourage your teen to pick up books, listen to them, sit at the library and read. Fiction, nonfiction, historical, biographies. All of these can be beneficial. I think the important thing is to stay focused on 2 areas. Reading things we both agree with and disagree with are important. Both of these help us grow and because we are reading, we don’t have to worry about emotions getting in the way. We get to simply learn, grow, and better understand how to engage the world around us.

Find unique solutions to old problems. Lastly, I shared that many problems the world is facing are not new. They have been around since humanity began. They are similar because most of them are grounded in relationships. The difference is teenagers today have a unique opportunity to address problems in a new way. I believe, and I hope you do too, that each of us is different and unique enough that we can bring a new perspective to these old problems. I believe that youth today will find solutions no one has ever thought of, and as the adults around them, we need to encourage those ideas and help them carry them out.

 

I hope this not only helps your teenager, but also you as you have conversations about the future. If we can have a perspective that is future focused, it helps us engage in ways that encourage rather than squash the creativity and uniqueness inside each student.

Ricky Lewis is our CEO and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
It’s Time to Change the Filter

It’s Time to Change the Filter

Middle school and high school years are hard. They are full of uncertainty – about where to sit at lunch, why their bodies are changing, who likes them, and how to navigate these awkward teen years. And what about parenting?! It is full of questioning your own parenting tactics and their success on top of wondering if you can trust anything that is coming from that child’s mouth. Take all of these insecurities, add a jaded filter, and you have a complete and utter mess.

What do I mean by a jaded filter? Everyone comes into a situation with a set perspective (or filter). We refer to rose colored glasses. We ask if people see the glass as half empty or half full. We bring our backgrounds, ideas, past experiences, optimism, pessimism, trust issues, and more into every single conversation.

And that can change everything.

Recently, our staff went to a full-day training where the speaker showed this YouTube video. Hopefully you have seen The Sound of Music and won’t get the wrong idea after watching this video, but take a look at the power of perspective and background:

If you have seen The Sound of Music, you know that it is the opposite of a horror movie. But when you change the background music and take scenes out of context, it can take a completely different tone.

The same is true of our conversations. If we have in our mind that a conversation is going to be negative, we will see it through that light. If we pull every bad interaction out of context, we will only see that relationship through that lens. But our filters also have the power to improve situations – like if we assumed the best before starting a discussion. Or remembering all the good things that our teenagers have done instead of focusing on the bad.

This is a small shift, but it is crucial to our relationships, especially if we want to be good listeners. Here are a few tips on how to change our conversation filters:

 

Discover your current filter. First, you have to be honest and confront your own perspective. Before we can change our filter, we have to face the current one. Take a few minutes to think about past conversations. Identify what has affected your conversations, interactions and relationships. These questions are a good place to start:

  • Are you putting unfair expectations on a conversation? Where do these expectations come from?
  • Is there an unrelated, bad experience from earlier in the day that could affect a confrontation with your teen?

 

Address your teen’s filter. Just like you are coming into the conversation with a filter, so is your teenager. Maybe something happened last week that has made them angry at you. Maybe something happened at school to put them on the defensive. Maybe a different adult relationship has made them distrustful. In order to have a neutral discussion, you also have to address their filter. Ask them similar questions as the ones above. Clear the air and be ready to listen in order to find out about their perspective.

 

Reset both filters. Now that you are aware that you both have filters, the trick is to reset and change your filter to be less biased and more productive. We have to consciously set aside our filters to be open to the conversation in front of us. We also have to help teenagers set aside their filters as well. Try some of these tactics before your next conversation:

  • Be open and address that there could be something that is affecting the conversation.
  • Apologize if there is something that happened earlier to impact their filter.
  • Ask how your teen’s day has been before you jump into a conversation.
  • Ask, “What would it take to go into a conversation without any preconceived notions, ideas or judgements?”
  • Remember the things you love about each other before starting the discussion – focus on the good memories!

 

Let’s change our filters and have positive conversations with teens – no more horror filters, disrespect filters, anger filters, or disappointment filters. Each interaction can be a fresh start and a learning experience. How have you seen filters impact your own conversations? What others tactics can we use to change our filters? Share your 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.
Choosing Kind

Choosing Kind

“When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.” – Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

Before the holidays began this year, a new movie called Wonder premiered based on a book of the same title written by R.J. Palacio. This is a story about a middle-school boy named Auggie who has a facial deformity and struggles to learn to trust new friends as he begins his journey in a public school setting. He is bullied, shamed, and loses a bit of his child-like trust on this journey. More importantly though, Wonder reveals through several narrators how one act of kindness by one person can make ripples throughout an entire student population. This story really left me wondering about the way I treated my peers growing up and even now. I have asked myself, “Have I chosen kind over being right?” The answer is not always.

R.J. Palacio wrote this story after her own child had an encounter with a girl with a facial deformity, and her response was to remove her crying toddler and leave. Since that moment, she has felt guilt and anger about her actions. Why? Because she missed out on an opportunity to show her child how to react in kindness. She missed out on a moment to teach her child that just because someone looks different from us, our first response should never be to run away, even though that is often easier. We should choose kindness, even in uncomfortable moments.

The interesting part about how she tells the story of Wonder is that it is based on the children’s perspectives. The adults are shown through the eyes of their children which helps us understand a little more about what is being modeled in their homes. The bully in this story is shown with his parents one time, and that one moment is enough insight for us to see that he has only been told that he is never good enough. We see how a friend’s home life is nothing but a mother who drinks and is never there to support her. This friend ends up lying all the time and distancing herself from what she sees as a ‘perfect family’. These are teaching moments for how quick we are to judge others, to be right, and to justify our actions, but we are often slow to choose kindness.

Wonder does an excellent job of setting up on how our negative reactions can bring another person down. As Auggie struggles to cope with overtly negative interactions, he becomes distant, sad, and disinterested in things he enjoys. The thing that changes him slowly is when one person makes a choice to sit with him at lunch. That’s it. One person showed up and started a ripple effect. I know it may seem like a fantastical set up, that only one person can have an impact, but according to relationship experts, multiple positive interactions with one person can actually make up for negative interactions.

The magical ratio for positive to negative interactions is 5:1 and was originally developed by John Gottman. This ratio means that for every 1 negative interaction, it takes 5 positive interactions to overcome that 1 negative moment. How powerful is it that to overcome one negative comment we need five positive comments to feel better? Our human nature calls for us to need positive interactions on an emotional, physical, and spiritual level in order to thrive. Otherwise we simply struggle to cope as Auggie does in Wonder. I have no doubt that we can all remember a person who has hurt us and never made up for it in some way, those memories are more prominent because we need positivity to continue on. One moment of kindness changes everything within us.

Teenagers are primed to be shown how to be kind, what steps it takes to stand up to for themselves or for others, and the majority want to do what is kind but may be intimidated. Wonder talks about ‘precepts’ and how these are words to live by, they’re kind of like life quotes that reflect a person’s values. I think the easiest step to take in making a decision to be kind is to choose our own precept and then encourage teens to find theirs. R.J. Palacio even wrote a companion book to Wonder all about precepts because she believes it is important enough for everyone to understand how our thoughts speak into our words, and our words are turned into actions.

NPR did a quick interview with R.J. Palacio on her inspiration which I touched on briefly.

This link gives more insight into how the 5:1 ratio can be applied in a classroom like setting.

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.
Combating Fear in the Face of School Shootings

Combating Fear in the Face of School Shootings

Teenagers are pushed to face their fears and overcome them all the time. They fear failure, rejection, stress, the unknown, and so many other things. As adults, our job is to help them give voice to their fear and then figure out how they can find courage in the face of difficult times. But what happens when fear is deadly, random, and unpredictable? How do we respond to the understandable fear after a school shooting?

Fear cannot be ignored.

We see fear of bullies, failing a test, heights, being left, parent’s divorcing, humiliation, missing the shot, letting people down, getting sick. And now teenagers have to add the fear of getting attacked at school? We have to add the fear of our children not coming home at the end of the day?

It isn’t fair. It doesn’t make sense. But it is real and it is something that needs to be addressed.

While we do not have any answers for the tragedies that are taking place all over our country, here are a few ways that we can help combat fear.

 

Be ready for the crisis.

It is easy to react after a tragedy occurs. Once something horrible happens, we look for answers and start having conversations. But what  if we had already started these conversations? What if the ground work was already laid so that when something horrible happened, we were prepared?

It is important to talk to teenagers and kids about what is going on – in their school, city and country. They know something is wrong. They can read adults, and most have access to social media or the internet where they are probably getting more details than you would see on the evening news. We can’t avoid fear and difficult situations that happen across the country. So we need to start having conversations today. Develop a relationship with your student where you can have difficult conversations all the time. That will make these hard topics more manageable.

Here are a few tips to being ready for conversations:

  • Be shock proof: Remain calm when talking to your teens. Be genuine, but don’t let your own fear color the conversation.
  • Ask good questions: Resist the urge to lecture, but instead ask questions about what they have heard and how they are feeling.
  • Keep it appropriate: Conversations are important, but only if they are helpful. Don’t scare or over-share if your kids aren’t ready for it.
  • Be part of the solution: Get involved. Use the resources of schools and organizations, but don’t put all the responsibility on others.

 

Know your resources.

Speaking of being ready for a crisis…this is crucial! When something happens, you don’t have to walk through it by yourself – utilize the resources in your community, school and church. Maybe a resource is as simple as having another trusted adult on call if your teen would rather talk to someone outside of your house. Or be prepared if your child wants to talk to a counselor (whether it be their school counselor or another professional). Ask your church and school what resources are available – is there a series coming up that will address things like school shootings? Are support groups available on their campus? Is there an article or podcast that gives a different perspective?

There are so many resources available, and it will be incredibly helpful if you already know where to look first. Here are a few places we recommend:

  • Youth Specialties Blog: While these blogs are aimed at youth workers, they are a great resources to parents as well!
  • Teen Life: I may be a little biased, but Teen Life offers lots of great resources from our blog and podcast to Support Groups on school campuses.
  • Google: Earlier this week, someone asked us for an online resource after the Parkland shooting and by searching “how to have conversation with child about school shooting,” I found several great options!
  • Preventative Resources: Use resources like Michele Borba’s book or blog to talk about healthy things kids need to focus on. Start with this blog post!
  • Local Resources: Know what organizations are in your area! The Warm Place and Real Help For Real Life are two in Fort Worth but do some research around you.

 

Believe your kids.

It is so important to believe your kids, especially in times of fear and trial. I think sometimes we dismiss students as being dramatic or exaggerating. While teens can be dramatic, and they can exaggerate some details, is it worth not believing them if they are being completely truthful?

In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, several students said that they weren’t surprised by the identity of the shooter. They had always joked that he would shoot the school. How terrible is that? Not only that they perceived the danger, but that they either didn’t share their concerns with adults or those adults didn’t take them seriously.

We have to give our teens the benefit of the doubt. If they express worry about a classmate or friend (whether that worry is about violence or suicide or depression), we need to listen. Validate what they are seeing, teach them how to get help and how to find resources for their peers.

 


 

Fear is all around us, and it is not something that is going away, especially with the digital world we live in today. Your teenagers are more aware of what is going on around the world than we ever were. They probably knew about the Florida school shooting before you did. Instead of hiding from fear, let’s learn how to cope, have positive conversations, and find helpful resources.

 

What are some resources you have found in times of tragedy? How have you helped teens combat fear?

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.