I will never forget the email a middle school student sent to their school corporation bravely admitting that he or she could not stop thinking about suicide.
Because the student used an anonymous email address and couldn’t be identified, the superintendent shared the email with the entire school community in hopes that someone might recognize their child in the words.
A reader of my blog, whose child was part of the school system, reached out to me for help. She said she thought of me as someone who knew what to say to hurting children, and she asked me to draft a response she could send to the anonymous student.
After reading the original letter, I provided some words of encouragement and information that I thought would be helpful for this hurting young person. It was a very difficult letter to read, of course, but … there were two statements I couldn’t stop thinking about: “I can’t tell my parents,” and “I really need someone to talk to.”
Since many parents were frightened it could have been their child who wrote that letter, an outpouring of affirming messages were sent in reply to the anonymous email. The outcome of this particular student’s situation is unknown, yet I know that the community of parents was forever changed by this young person’s courage. They were inspired to connect with their kids in ways they hadn’t before.
Many parents, some for the first time, saw the vital importance of offering unconditional acceptance and undivided presence to their children, regardless of their age.
First of all, let me say how no words can alleviate the pain you may feel right now. It is real, it is raw, and it is perfectly understandable.
Of all the worries that you and your parents have had over the span of your life, having your senior year disrupted by a global pandemic was never a blip on anyone’s radar. In fact, if you’d written a fictional English essay about this just two months ago, your classmates may have laughed because it sounds far-fetched. Yet here we are, dealing with a reality that is stranger than fiction.
My heart breaks for you because my daughter is a high school junior. It’s easy for me to imagine how we’d feel in your position. In short, you’ve been sucker-punched, hit by a curve ball out of left field, and no plan B can compensate for how cheated you may feel to lose the final 2 months of your high school career.
Years ago, I sat in on a conversation between two young widows. One woman had just lost her husband, and her friend – years ahead in her grief journey – shared what another young widow once told her.
“When you grieve,” she explained, “you’ll often grieve in advance. You’ll feel sad because of what would normally happen this Saturday, yet won’t happen now because he’s gone.”
In many ways, this principle applies to you. You’re grieving your senior year – and every highly anticipated milestone. You’re mourning what was supposed to happen but no longer will: prom, awards day, senior banquet, senior trip, championships, banquets, senior skip day, college T-shirt day, touring your elementary school in your cap and gown, and – of course – walking across the stage at a May graduation.
I’ve never been one who readily embraces change.
If anything, I like to stick to the plan, stay focused, and make it work.
But right now, we’re all changing plans. We’re canceling, re-prioritizing, and uniting to save lives in a global pandemic. What sounds like a plot out of a grossly exaggerated Hollywood movie is shutting down our society, and the strangest part is, we have no prior experiences that even halfway prepared us for this predicament physically, mentally, emotionally, or financially.
Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring – much less next month or next year. And while I spent the first few days of this crisis panic shopping and spending hours online to read articles and stay informed, I quickly concluded that I don’t want to live through this history-making event feeling constantly panicked, scared, and anxious.
I don’t want to be so glued to the news that I miss this extra time with my family as we hunker down and help flatten the curve of the COVID-19.
Everyone is worried about teenage girls today – and with good reason.
In short, they are struggling. From epidemic levels of anxiety, depression, and loneliness…to a mental health crisis that’s starting younger and younger…to a suicide rate that’s hit a 40-year peak…to the stress of technology and a promiscuous culture, girls face challenges and trials that pain us and haunt us as they flash across headline news.
Like teenage boys, they’re growing up in a fishbowl. They’re scared to death to fail because perfection is the bar. They juggle insane workloads and intense pressures to succeed, and they feel anxiety over realities like our country’s current quarantine, which has quickly ushered in a new era of fear. They’re the first generation of teenagers to be more stressed than their parents.
Today’s girls feel overwhelmed emotionally – yet unsure how to talk about it. They get bombarded by images that make them feel inadequate, and rarely do they get downtime because technology and social media create an intoxicating pull to constantly connect with friends.
The fear of writing may never replace spiders as the number-one phobia. Yet as a teacher, I’ve met many parents who feel uncomfortable – and yes, a little afraid – when it comes to writing. Some confess their dread of sending me an email, half expecting me to return it marked in red.
The problem intensifies when their children struggle with writing. How can parents help?
Sure, you can hire a tutor. But here are 8 ways you can improve your child’s writing.
I remember the early days of social media, when everyone was happy and just excited to share space.
Back then, we couldn’t get enough of each other, and we spent hours catching up and reconnecting with old friends.
Today, sadly, a lot of that congeniality is gone. After years of sharing life highlights, we think we know each other better than we do. We speak without filters and struggle with envy or comparison. Rather than act like family, we act like jealous siblings. Spending too much time together, with no parents to referee, has begun to take its toll.
We are different people than we were a decade ago, and more drastic than changes on the Internet are the changes in Internet users. Generally speaking, we’ve grown testy and dismissive, quick to write off or tell off anyone who doesn’t agree with us 100 percent or who rubs us the wrong way.
The problem, of course, is that no two people see eye to eye on everything. Even best friends have opposing opinions, and that’s okay if they’re respectful. On social media, however, we get to skip the real-life challenge of trying to work through differences or bite our tongue to not be rude. Instead, we can join tribes of like-minded friends who second our opinions and make us bold in speaking our mind. While tribes can be beneficial, issues arise when tribes become echo chambers where every voice and story heard only affirms the group mindset.
In these echo chambers, pride grows, minds shrink, and tribes fall under the illusion that they are always right and the rest of the world is wrong. They forget how even a broken clock is right twice a day, and how every human being has something valuable to teach us.
My late father-in-law enjoyed college football, but he never let the outcome dictate his mood.
In fact, he often joked, “Don’t let your happiness depend on 18-year-old boys.”
That is easier said than done, right? Especially here in the South, where football is like a religion, victories and defeats can dictate moods for weeks or months on end.
Why the obsession? Why is football a billion-dollar industry? I find it interesting (and kind of crazy) that Americans will pack stadiums and pour money into a sport that revolves around one ball. Many people care more passionately about who dominates that one ball than they do eternal matters.
Yet God’s genius is that He can use anything – even one ball – to speak to us. He meets us where we are and often tells epic stories in stadiums and arenas. Through both lows and mountaintop moments, we can experience Him, learning lessons about life and character that can only be taught through exhilarating, high-stakes events.
“Except for during the summer months, today’s teens now, for the first time, feel more stressed than their parents do. They also experience the emotional and physical symptoms of chronic tension, such as edginess and fatigue, at levels that we used to see only in adults.” Dr. Lisa Damour
I was saddened to hear it – yet not surprised.
According to the American Psychological Association, today’s teens are the first generation of teenagers to feel more stressed than their parents, at least during the school year.
We saw it coming. We’ve read the heartbreaking stories. We’re seeing the dire consequences, how young people today are lonelier than senior citizens and report poorer health. How rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011, when smart phones became ubiquitous, and the suicide rate among teen girls is the highest it’s been in forty years. How iGen is on the brink of the worst mental health crisis in decades.
What is provoking so much stress? I believe it’s a perfect storm of many factors.
One interesting dynamic of life is the universality of what feels most personal.
Those hard feelings deep inside you that hesitate to admit? That inner wrestling you do in your quest to find peace? The pain that keeps you awake at night in bed, tossing and turning as your mind spins restlessly and relentlessly?
It is all part being of human.
God planted in us a desire to be with Him.
Friends, I’m thrilled to share a guest post from Sissy Goff, author of Raising Worry-Free Girls, which releases this week! Sissy has counseled teen girls for almost 30 years and is one of my most trusted sources of parenting advice. Sissy read 23 books on anxiety as research for Raising Worry-Free Girls, so it is packed with wisdom and hope. Grab your copy and share this message with friends. Thank you, Sissy, for being a gift to today’s moms!
I once read a parenting book that frustrated me.
The wisdom was amazing, but it felt like the author was saying, “I raised great kids, and here’s how you can, too.” There were many 1 + 1 + 1= 3 insinuations like:
Taking kids to church + studying God’s word + surrounding them with godly people = godly kids set for life.
I believe in intentional parenting, and I believe it’s really hard to love someone you don’t really know. For our children to know, love, and understand God, it’s important that we take them to church, share Scripture, cultivate character, and encourage healthy relationships.
But what some parenting books ignore (or skim over) is the fact that even the best parenting doesn’t guarantee results. Jesus was the perfect teacher, yet one of his disciples betrayed him. His perfection could not override the free will that God gives to everyone.
Additionally, a child who looks like a role model can be more distant from God than a child whose life is in shambles but who has a deep, desperate faith. A young adult who thrives in their twenties may self-destruct in their forties. There is no guarantee that any child is set for life, no matter how well-adjusted they seem as they leave home or enter the real world.
It takes a thousand good choices to get where you want to be in life.
Every choice has a consequence and creates a trajectory for your life that can launch in a meaningful direction or take you down dead-end roads.
Even small choices you barely think about – like the choice to get out of bed, the choice to go to school or to work, the choice to study for a test, the choice to show up for a family member or friend – matter tremendously by impacting the future.
In his best selling book Make Your Bed, Admiral William McRaven shares life lessons he learned during Navy Seal training. McRaven says if you think it’s hard to change the lives of 10 people – change their lives forever – you’re wrong, because he saw it happen every day in Iraq and Afghanistan through the choices people made.
He says the average American will meet 10,000 people in their lifetime, and if each of us change the lives of just 10 people, that could add up to big numbers.
The choice of a young Army officer to go left instead of right down a road in Baghdad, for instance, saved the driver and his squad of 10 soldiers from close-in ambush.
In Afghanistan, an officer sensed that something wasn’t right and made the choice to direct an infantry platoon away from a 500-pound IED, saving the lives of a dozen soldiers.
McRaven points out how these choices saved not only the soldiers, but also the unborn children of the soldiers, and their unborn children too. Generations were saved by one decision – by one person.
A mom of five kids (all teenagers) once told me that something they discuss a lot in their home is RECOVERY.
Her husband’s big question to their kids is, What will your recovery be? He tells his teenagers, “You’re going to make mistakes, and hard things will happen, but what will your recovery be? How will you respond when things don’t go as planned?”
I love this concept because it’s so relevant, especially to teenagers. More often than not, this is the season of life when adult-sized problems, disappointments, and heartbreaks begin to manifest.
An accident they didn’t see coming.
A romance that ended with tears.
A mistake they’ll always regret.
A dream that didn’t come true.
A curve ball that changed their plans.
A setback that felt like punishment.
“My daughter told me I need to get a life,” my friend said, and we laughed because her daughter is in sixth grade.
Like many kids her age, she is pulling away from her family. She is craving more time with friends. She adores her mom, yet she’s excited about her budding independence.
Chances are, you had a rich and interesting life before you had children. You had passions, interests, and the energy to stay awake past 10 p.m. on a Friday night.
But having a baby shifted your priorities. You became perfectly content nesting at home and marveling over your miracle. As your baby grew up – especially if siblings came along – life became a circus. Some days your only goal was survival. You had to put things on the back burner to conserve energy. You sacrificed things to make room for a new calling.
I have a confession: If I had to choose one audience to write for – adults or teenagers – I would choose teenagers.
Why? Because they’re easier to influence. They are moldable in ways that adults are not.
I first discovered this while writing an article on teen depression. At the time I was blogging for parents, but during my interview with the doctor, she made a remark that stirred in me a desire to help a younger audience.
“The reason I love working with children and teenagers,” she said, “is because they’re so resilient. You can change the whole trajectory of their life. Early intervention is key. It’s a lot easier to intervene effectively when they’re young instead of years later, when they’ve been depressed so long the illness becomes incorporated into part of their identity.”
In short, adults are hard to change. We are more set in our ways, our beliefs, and our mindsets. Children, on the other hand, are still forming their identities and mindsets. They are what parenting expert Haim Ginott once called “wet cement.”
“Children are like wet cement,” he said. “Whatever falls on them makes an impression.”
When my daughter was 6, she showed an interest in art. Since I’m not artsy person, I did what non-artsy moms do: I signed her up for art lessons.
At one camp, they told us to send to kids in old clothes they could get dirty. After picking her up the first day and noticing the paint splattered everywhere, I understood why.
The art they created was unique, and when I told the teacher how innovative her work was – and how my brain didn’t think that way – she told me the secret to making art is to not be scared of making a mess.
Immediately a bell rang in my head. I knew exactly what my problem was, why I couldn’t make great art with my kids at home.
Because I don’t like messes.
The root of this is a perfectionist personality, a mindset I acquired as a teenager and will likely spend the rest of my life trying to overcome. Honestly, I think many women and girls share this mindset with me. At some point, we’ve bought into the allusion that life should be perfect – and anything less is wrong or not good enough.
I learned a lot about art, imperfection, and finding beauty after destruction while visiting Greece last summer with my family. Words can’t describe how breathtaking this country is, yet its beauty is not the shiny, polished, and perfected kind we’re used to seeing in America. No, in Greece there is a natural beauty that has evolved over time. Its charm and allure come from age, character, and a rich history.
Chances are you’ve heard of Santorini, one of Greece’s top tourist destinations. You may have seen the jaw-dropping pictures that look unreal, yet I can attest: the photos aren’t fake. Santorini really is this stunning.
One of my best friends in the world initially intimidated me with her beauty.
It sounds silly now because she’s incredibly kind and humble, but before I knew her and all I could base my opinion on was her exterior package, I was wary.
I met Mary Alice as a newlywed. I was a new girl in a new city, eager to make friends.
And when I saw her one night at a party – this tall, thin, gorgeous blonde surrounded by friends and family who were celebrating her move back home – I jumped to conclusions. She was so pretty I assumed she must be full of herself, a blonde snob who I’d probably have nothing in common with.
But as fate would have it, our husbands were fraternity brothers. And when she and her husband invited us to their home a few weeks later, I agreed to go for my husband’s sake.
To my surprise, that night was an answered prayer. Within two minutes of actually talking to this gorgeous blonde, I realized I’d pegged her wrong. I immediately fell in love with her sweet nature, gentleness, and self-deprecating humor.
For months I’d prayed for a friend who I deeply and easily connected with, and little did I know, she’d be the one. She’d be the new friend who felt like an old friend thanks to that priceless gift called chemistry.
A mother told me about an incident from her college days that could have ended tragically.
She didn’t drink in high school and was naïve as a college freshman, so when older girls in her sorority took her and some pledge sisters out and gave them each a pint of vodka, she obediently drank it.
Hours later, she passed out behind a dumpster. The girls who gave her the alcohol were nowhere to be found. Thankfully, a guy friend from high school was walking by and saw her. He picked her up and carried her back to her dormatory.
Another college girl was not a big drinker, yet her brother’s friend noticed her stumbling outside during a party and wandering off alone. He took her home to make sure she was safe, and only the next day did they realize that someone drugged her drink.
Then there was the college girl who needed a ride home from an off-campus party. She waited 45 minutes, and as she tried to get in the car of that night’s designated driver, a strong hand pulled her back.
It was a guy she’d taken to a formal, who told her, “Don’t get in that car because I saw that guy doing cocaine earlier.” This girl didn’t feel like waiting for another ride, but this guy insisted, so she stayed. On the way home, the designated driver hit a tree and severely injured his passengers.
What saved each of these girls was a guy who chose to do the right thing. A guy who knew them and felt compelled to look out for them like a sister.
It was one of the meanest blog posts I’ve ever read – yet I found myself laughing.
Apparently I wasn’t alone because overnight, this blogger gained 20,000 Facebook followers. Many followers were people I knew, moms like me who were stressed out by the chaos of mid-December and craving comic relief.
The blogger’s timing was spot-on because she made us laugh about the quest to create “magical” holiday memories. Problem was, her sarcastic essay centered around another blogger’s article and her list of overachiever ideas for mischievous elves.
She shared the blogger’s name, linked to her website, called her white trash, and quipped about the ridiculousness of her suggestions. Because she was funny – and because so many moms felt overwhelmed and inadequate in creating these magical memories – her article went crazy viral. Everyone shared it, even women who would never speak this way themselves.
It didn’t hit me how wrong this frenzy was until the next day, when I suddenly felt ashamed and regretful for laughing along. The blogger she targeted was a real person with a genuine desire to help parents, and by no fault of her own, she’d become the laughingstock of the Internet.
I had a friend in college who kept a quote on her bulletin board that I’d found in a magazine.
It reminded her to stay strong, to be mindful of the truth she knew deep down: that she deserved better than her current boyfriend, who often treated her poorly and made her cry. Their relationship was rocky, but since there were good moments and fun times too, it was hard for her to cut the cord and move on for good.
The quote was: It’s better to be by yourself for the right reasons than with someone for the wrong reasons.
Today she is happily married, so we can laugh at this old mantra that helped her be brave. I’d forgotten about it myself, buried it in the past, until it resurfaced in recent years as I’ve re-entered the world of teens through my writing and life as a mom.
“The number one growing demographic of at-risk kids are teens who come from upper-middle class homes. Why? The more resources they have, the less resourceful they become. Possessions without perspective can lead to real trouble. If I were to do the parenting thing over, I would reward less and rewind more. Instead of giving them all this stuff, I would take the time to debrief experiences and offer perspective on them. Less ribbons and more reality… offered with tender, loving care.”
Tim Elmore, Five Changes I’d Make if I Could Parent Over Again
It was an innocent post of four girls who had gone to dinner, taken a picture, and posted it on Instagram.
Within minutes, one girl received a text from her mom asking her to take the picture down. The mom had received a text from another mom whose daughter was crying at home because she wasn’t invited to dinner, and she thought it’d be best if the picture was deleted.
I understand the mom’s intention. I know what it’s like to have a daughter who is scrolling through Instagram and realizes she was left out. Nobody likes to see their friends having fun without them. And for a mother there is nothing worse than seeing your child upset.
But what I’ve realized about scenarios like this is how it doesn’t help the child when we hastily try to fix whatever makes them sad. If anything, we prevent them from developing the coping skills they need both now and in the future.
Because here’s the thing: If you’re on social media, you’re going to have moments where you feel left out, forgotten, or excluded. This fact remains true whether you’re 16, 46, or 90.
I remember the incident clearly, doing cheer stunts in my family’s front yard with a babysitter from my older brother’s grade.
I was 9 years old, shy, and overweight. The babysitter had already stunted with my sisters, and she insisted that I try too. I didn’t want to, but after more prodding I finally relented.
What happened next was devastating.
“Ugh,” she said, trying unsuccessfully to lift me from under the armpits as I stood on her thighs, “she’s heavier than Alice, the top of our pyramid!”
I had worried this might happen – and that is why I had hesitated. But what pained me more than having this fear manifest was the careless remark my babysitter made.
You see, my brother is 7 years older than me. And at the tender age of 9, I was savvy enough to do the math and let this comparison to a 16-year-old girl do a number on my self-esteem and the body image I’d have for many years to come.
My friend once got booted from a friend group because she didn’t have Asahi tennis shoes.
The story is laughable now, but when it happened in 7th grade, it crushed her. She’d worked so hard to get “in” with the right girls, and between her need for their approval and a lack of designer clothes, she was an easy target to pick on.
Her turning point came at school one day as her friends talked about her. Finally wising up, she looked around for new company. She spotted two girls sitting on a wall nearby, and though she didn’t know them well, they’d always been kind so she walked toward them. Immediately they embraced her and soon became the best of friends.
My friend found her happy ending for one big reason: she was friendly beyond her friend group. She didn’t paint herself into a corner by only being kind to a select group of girls. Girls often make this mistake as they find their people and form their squads. They get so tight with their inner circle they shut out everyone else, and when their circle hurts them or when changes happen, they have no where to go. Peers aren’t quick to embrace them because they burned too many bridges.
A mother once told me about her 6th grade daughter getting kicked out of her friend group over the summer because a new “leader” took over while their family was on vacation.
Clearly her daughter was hurt, and when the new school year started, she made new friends. Friends she could count on. Friends she could trust. Friends who wouldn’t drop her or suddenly turn their backs.
A few months later, her old friends wanted her back. They started being nice again, and while the girl found this satisfying, she also knew better. Being burned had taught her what a real friend looks like. And though she continued to be nice to her old friends, she didn’t want them back.
She told her mom, “They are my 50/50 friends, and I want to be with my real friends.”