My Mom heart is just sick.
Over a month ago, Kai’s SGL (small group leader, through our Middle School church program) texted me asking if Kai was watching or talking about a show called 13 Reasons Why. Nope- never heard of it, either of us. Applause to Bridget for staying on top of teen trends!!
Time passes….life gets busy. Kelly & I attend a parent workshop and they mention it. I see Kai for about 2 hours between that and our back to back separate trips…. it doesn’t come up. Then—
While our Family Ministry team was in Atlanta for a family leadership conference, we were discussing this show and what professionals were saying about it. Thanks to technology I texted Kai right then asking again had she heard of it. With her permission here was our convo:
Phew. Saved by the bell. Thankfully I was standing right next to Shannon (our High School Pastor that she trusts and respects) during a gas station stop to snap this crazy picture of him. See, he told her no, not me 🙂
What could have just happened there? I’m traveling, Netflix is at her disposal and I could have been thousands of miles away, while alone, my 14 year old sees things she can’t un-see. She experiences, through the dramatization of television, topics that she may/may not be ready to fully grasp– with visuals her brain isn’t prepared to handle. Whoa. We missed a landmine for sure.
I’ve been sharing pretty openly on Social Media things others are writing about this show. THIS IS IMPORTANT. I’m not saying “boycott Netflix” or Selena Gomez, or even the actors in the show. What I’m saying is that this is TV-MA for a reason. I’m not even sure, given my history, that I can watch a graphic rape scene— or that I have any desire to watch a teen girl kill herself. Would I cry? Really?? YES- I’d sob. And I’d probably be emailing my counselor for her next available appointment, because just like I’m telling Kai, I can’t un-see it either. And I hear LOUD AND CLEAR that teen suicide is a rising problem. A quick Google search proves that with state specific stats and resources:
( Douglas County, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Colorado Health Institute 1 and 2 and there’s much more) Your state search will probably bring up similar stats, resources and information.
So as parents, what do we do? What if we “can’t talk” to our kids because they won’t talk, or they don’t listen? I’m thankful, Kai and I have good conversations…but I still get tons of eye rolling, storming off because I say it wrong, or she mis-interprets it. It’s trial and error and I make PLENTY of errors. Better not Best. At least we’re talking.
Pulled from my personal parenting and the advice of experts, here’s a how-to to get the conversation going:
- Go somewhere together.
The car is an amazing place to talk. They probably won’t even notice, but take the route with the most traffic. We will typically run an errand (or I’m just chauffeuring her around…) and I’ll throw in a fun stop for a Chick Fil A frosted lemonade or a Starbucks Frapp.
- Be Cazh! (slang for casual Mom)
They shut down when we lecture AT them. So— Say things like “Hey, another mom was asking me…..” or “I saw on Ellen’s FaceBook….” “What do you think about…..?” “Are you seeing <insert topic> at school?”
- If the door opens, don’t go running through it. Linger there a while. Let them think, talk.
As tempting as it is for me to jump right in, I’m practicing the art of listening. Yesterday’s car conversation went something like this when I felt the urge to jump in “Well I think…no. Sorry. I’m not throwing my opinion in…..unless you ask for it. Sorry. I’m listening” Which soon lead to “Ok Mom…what’s YOUR opinion”- read in teen voice and be sure to roll your eyes as you read– but she did ask. I was able to follow up with a story of how I felt a similar way before and what I remember about not only how I felt then, but the outcome. Then I ended with “Maybe consider……”
- Ask leading and follow up questions. The power is always in the follow up.
Specifically to a show like this (in no PARTICULAR order, you have to see where your conversation goes)
-What are your friends saying about 13 Reasons Why?
-Do you feel left out that you haven’t seen it?
-What do you think about teen suicide?
-How do you think that show would help you understand it better?
-What questions do you have about friends who talk about wanting to hurt or kill themselves?
-Have you ever felt that way?
-What was going on during that time for you?
**This is not an arsenal to fire at them; pick and choose a few questions ahead of time and then see where it goes
***I have a teenage girl; conversation with a teenage boy will be different, but from what I hear from parents of teen boys and the experts, the car can also work with them. Make excuses to take them somewhere.
- Teach them how to be resourceful. Make sure they know how to reach out for help WITHOUT YOU. Hard, I know. But equip them.
Give permission that other adults are ok to go to (and give some examples). If you don’t have trusted adults in your child’s life (trusted by them, trusted by you) make recruiting some a top priority. Grandpa, Aunt, neighbor, another friend’s parent, teacher, coach, troop leader, college student, church leader, etc. Find them….reach out. Ask them to be willing to invest in your child/teen…and then facilitate the opportunity for those relationships (the best and man will be organic…but if you have to enroll them in a training session or something to get them intentionally around that person more, do it.)
It’s messy, schedules are chaotic, teens can be MEAN and closed off…. BUT—- We can have these conversations; we can equip our kids. We can do it. It takes work and if the ground work for open communication isn’t already there, its going to take work to establish that. But it’s worth the work. Take the time. Keep trying. Write out questions you can ask before you get in the car so they are in your brain. But put in the work. As parents, the most important job we can do is raise the children entrusted to us. Go be strong…. I believe in you!