What To Do After “13 Reasons Why”

What To Do After “13 Reasons Why”

*This is the third in a series of three blog posts this week regarding the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.” Check out the first two posts if you missed them!

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. 
It’s Not the Teacher’s Fault

It’s Not the Teacher’s Fault

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this. Mainly from students but also from parents who see the teacher as the problem in a particular class. I have to admit, I have even said the same thing when I was in school.

Even though this is an easy thing to fall back on, I have never felt comfortable (and the more I work with teachers and schools, I feel less and less comfortable) with this mentality. The problem has been that I didn’t know how to process this mentality in order to make it better, much less how to communicate to people how they too could shift their perspective, stop blaming and start making positive progress.

That is until recently. I just finished a book called Extreme Leadership. It is a business book, but the last principle they talk about in the book helped me begin to clarify why the idea that the teacher is the problem doesn’t compute for me, and I hope it won’t for you either.

In my experience talking with and dealing with teachers, they are smart people. They have put in hard work in school and the teaching exam in their state. Not to mention, they are often under paid but put in extra work so that the students they work with get the education they need. That being the case, I have not met a teacher who wants students to fail. If for no other reason, they don’t want a difficult student in their class a second time! But mainly because if they fail students, it is a reflection on them. I don’t mean to be naive here, I know there are some teachers out there that are in it for the wrong reasons, but they are the minority by far.

If we see it from this perspective, then what do we do when our student is falling or struggling with a particular subject or class? I believe the principle that is outlined in Extreme Leadership helps point us in the right direction.

This principle is the idea of leading up and down the chain of command. In the military, this means that subordinates must learn to lead up to their commanders in appropriate, helpful ways. The most clear definition of this is that if a group leader has been tasked with a mission, it is up to him to make his commanding officer(s) aware of the resources he needs to carry out that mission. If the commanding officer has to ask for more information, it is because the squad leader did not provide enough information to begin with.

An application to a student-teacher relationship looks very different, but it’s not about the details of the situations. It’s about the principle that makes this work.

If a student is failing, it is because there is a lack of understanding on the student’s part as to the requirements of the task or the details of the lesson. Because teachers make the lesson plan and have their own way of learning things that drives how they teach, a student may need to get creative in how they ask for clarification. So it is up to the student (and a parent helping them) to get creative in how they seek help from the teacher. The hope is that they help the teacher give them the information they need by being very clear on what is not making sense to them.

I do understand this sounds like a backwards approach. Isn’t it up to the teacher to be clear, teach, and make sure that students get the lesson they need? Well, yes, but this is about more then one class or lesson. This is about learning more than a subject; it is about learning how to deal with people, to expand your brain power to think about how you can contribute to the solution instead of focusing on the problem.

What would happen if you shifted your perspective to one that says, “I’m going to own the problem and find a solution.” rather then “It’s the teachers fault!”? What ideas do you have for dealing with difficult people or situations that are different then our reactionary response?

Ricky Lewis is a long-time supporter and friend of Teen Life. He was the Executive Director for many years and continues to be an asset to our community. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.

5 Tips to Better Listen to Your Teen

5 Tips to Better Listen to Your Teen

All of us that work with teenagers have a difficult task. How do we sort through the noise of adolescent life and glean the important information students are trying to tell us so that we can be a helpful adult in their life? Of course, there is no perfect answer but as I have worked with teenagers for over a decade, some things have stood out as effective listening strategies. Teen Lifeline even uses more than 10% of the time in our 1-day Facilitator Training to talk about how to listen better.

 

To set this up, you will need to set aside some assumptions. First, as adults we have to believe that we do not have all the answers. This requires a daily reminder for most of us and for some like me, multiple times a day. I tend to think the life experience I have equals relevant information for the kids in my house or the students I work with. The problem here is there are too many details missing for us to make that big of an assumption. This is not to say that there is no value to our experience, that is a big part of what we rely on to learn from. I do believe it is true though that our experience is not the most important factor but instead how we handled that experience. That said, we must be willing and able to hear what a particular student is going through (really hear it) before we can realize the most important lesson we can share from what we have learned and model for them the “how” of handling things rather then the “what to do” in a particular situation.

 

Once we have our mindset in the right place, we can move forward with developing our listening skills.
 

1. Don’t be afraid to admit you missed something. As humans, our brains are constantly processing what is coming our way. This includes engagement in conversation with anyone. The difficulty is that it is hard to stop this process from happening since we are wired that way. Since this is true, it is completely appropriate to admit your brain was thinking about something else and you need the person to repeat what they just said so you can make sure you are catching what they are sharing with you.

2. Intentionally pause 15 seconds once the person stops talking. The key here is to do this intentionally, allowing time for the person to be done with their thought. In addition you can use this time to form a response either to summarize what you heard, ask for clarification or offer advice. If you are intentional about this, you are less likely to fall prey to number 1 above.

3. Limit your comments. This takes a lot of practice because we all want to believe that what we think is valuable. However, it is important to realize that it is only valuable if the people you are sharing it with see it that way. If you decide going into a conversation you are only going to speak things related to the conversation, it will help you listen more intently and offer more helpful, relevant questions and thoughts.

4. Pay attention to what matters, not every word they say. If you have worked with teenagers for longer then 6 weeks, you know that not everything they say is important or helpful to knowing what is really going on. That said, we have to work hard to listen carefully and catch the pieces that are most important to focus on those. Once you practice this a few times, it gets easier and you will find you’re able to listen for words, phrases, inflection or even pace of speech that tips you off to what is important.

5. If you can’t listen now, ask the person to wait. As adolescents, and this applies to younger kids too, there is a tendency to just jump in and start talking whether the person is listening or not. At our house, my wife has started handling this very effectively. She will say “I really want to listen to you because you are important, but I can’t right now. Give me a few minutes, and I will focus on what you want to tell me.” Yea, she is pretty good at this stuff!

So now it’s up to you to decide. Is this helpful? Does it bring up thoughts or questions you want to share? Comment below or reach out to us on social media or by email. We want to keep growing, and we hope you do too. If you did find this helpful, take a minute to forward the email, post it online or tell a friend – you don’t even have to give us credit (though we are okay if you do :). 

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 4, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Teen

How to Get the Most Out of Your Teen

I have worked with teenagers now for over a decade. In that time, there have been significant changes in environment, social interaction, and educational expectations, but one thing has remained. Teenagers generally don’t feel they can talk to their parents.

I’m coming from a place where I sit in groups with teenagers who are strangers to me and within 30 minutes of talking to them can get them to share who the most important person in their life is and why. I’m writing this not as the parent of a teen but as someone who works with teens, so this is also for any youth worker that wants their conversation to get better. I’m hopeful that this helps you, and I’m also hopeful it helps me as I start to create an environment for conversation with my elementary school kids that will carry into their teen years – because we all know if I wait, it’ll only get harder.

In fact, today I was sitting in a group that has been meeting sporadically for about 12 weeks. One of the students brought up the difficulty she is having talking to her dad. There are lots of things involved with this situation, but I believe if her dad read these tips, he could learn so much more about his own daughter.

With that in mind here are the tips I have found to be helpful, and I hope you can apply to your relationship with your teen as well.

 

Talk less.

As a parent, it is difficult not to fill the silence. Resist this urge. In our training for group facilitators, we teach that counting to at least 10 (counting to 30 is better) when silence begins can help us wait long enough before assuming the other person is done talking. With kids, they are often just processing out loud, something most adults have decided needs to be internally. For them, it is normal to say out loud what they are thinking because they are trying it out. Let them. The fact is, they will become uncomfortable too and will likely say something else to fill the silence. 

 

Really listen.

Deciding at the beginning of a conversation this is about them, puts you in a position of listening rather then looking for what is wrong and correcting, or even worse, that there is a problem when none actually exists. Listen just to hear, listen to learn, listen to be able to repeat back. Make an intentional decision to not be thinking about how to answer or how to tell them what they should be thinking or doing instead. There is a stage of life for that, but it should mainly apply to kids under 9 years old.

 

Ask great questions. 

You can decide to do the others, but asking good questions is a skill – asking questions that invite more information, that don’t put them on the defensive and that show empathy are key and vital to getting the most out of your teen. Here are some suggestions to get you thinking:

  • What bothered you about feeling that way?
  • Have you ever thought that before?
  • What do you think will happen if you do that?
  • How do you think this might affect your future (or those around you)?

These are just some ideas to get you thinking, but the point here is to ask open-ended, inviting questions without making assumptions or projecting your bias onto the student you are working with.

 

Don’t correct unless safety is a concern.

This is so hard because we as parents tend to think that this is our full time job, or maybe that’s just me. It is easy to feel that if we don’t correct or advise in a situation with a kid, we are depriving them of a learning opportunity or wasting a teachable moment. What if the teachable moment happened without us saying anything? As I mentioned above, at this age, kids are trying things out. Allowing this in a safe way actually helps them learn better.

Here’s how I would suggest using this…

Simply decide to allow a whole conversation to happen without correcting, unless it is something dangerous. It will be hard, but do it. Decide to do this on a regular basis, but you have to realize how often that makes sense – once a week, twice a month, 5 days a week. Whatever it is, allow your conversation to be driven by your child or the teen you’re working with without any advice or correcting on your part (don’t worry too much, the odds of having the same conversation again are good). The value you will gain by doing this will open doors you never knew existed as they feel more comfortable sharing because they won’t feel so judged.

 

Create a safe environment.

One of the best things I have ever heard was a story about a father who told his kids that the old truck sitting out by the barn that didn’t run was a “safe zone.” It was the one place they could have conversations and tell him anything without any punishment. Consequences sometimes are unavoidable but he committed to no punishment. They knew that anytime they needed to tell something they feared they would be grounded for or worse, their cell phone would get taken away, they could tell him in that old truck.

You can do this too. Declare a safe zone in or around your house. At our house, right now, it is simply that my kids can tell me, “I need to tell you something but I don’t want to get in trouble for it.” I have given them permission to share anything because I would rather be in the loop than be seen as the enemy when it comes to decisions that affect character and life lessons my kids experience.

 

Reassure them about everything.

This is an extension of the listening tip. If you really are listening, you will hear opportunities to come back to and reassure them that you are there for them. A simple recognition of their interest or a question about a relationship they told you about can help them know that you truly care. This isn’t about you, so you can’t measure this based on how many times you think is enough. You have to keep reassuring until they tell you to stop or until that season has passed and it is no longer an issue.

 

If you work with teens, knowing how to get more out of conversations is vital to their success. Maybe you have some better ideas. Take a minute to share them below. We love hearing from you and learning together.

 

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 4, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.