Get More Curious! Tell Me More!
In March, Tammie Colón, Kelly Monroe, and I decided to visit five of the thirteen Gatekeeper groups in our area. These are groups of teenagers who come together regularly to promote awareness of mental health issues in their school. The groups vary in size from ten teens to over fifty. The youth we talked to were enthusiastic about helping their classmates find the help they needed; not as mini-counselors but rather to engage their classmates and bring them to an adult when there is a need.
Tammie, Kelly and I wanted to find out what the primary stressors were for kids these days. Lucy Flowers from PVFF facilitates all thirteen of the groups, and she organized our meetings. We decided that bringing pizza with us would help to assure a big crowd of kids and show them that we meant no harm. We met with groups at high schools in St. Mary’s, Wapakoneta, Delphos, Ada, and Elida. We were amazed at how open and engaged the kids were with us.
We asked them two questions:
Twenty years from now when you are talking to your children about your time in high school, what would you tell them were the most significant things that caused you stress, worry, and anxiety?
What do you think we should be doing together to find solutions to these problems?
All of the kids talked about the stress of schoolwork, homework, and taking tests which is what we expected. But they spoke of the added pressure of performance whether it was in school or sports. They called it “adulting;” acting like adults before their brains were fully formed. From the time they start high school they begin to worry about college.
"We have to have an outstanding resume` before a college or university even considers us for admission," one student told me. "We take AP courses, do community service volunteer work, join clubs at school, and get into sports. It all looks good in our applications."
One parent told me about his daughter who is in one of the Gatekeeper groups, “She often doesn’t get home to start her homework until 9:30 PM because of all the activities she is engaged in.”
Wow! Things are a lot different from when I graduated from high school in 1969.
“Ok! Lots of pressure from school stuff. What else?” I asked them.
“We have too much technology.”
“What? Too much technology?” I can’t believe you’re saying this.
"We're so busy performing in school or sports, and then we have our faces on some screen that we don't have time just to hang out."
“FOMO.” They said.
“Fear of Missing Out.”
“Is that a real thing?” I said.
"Yes! When we see our friends doing a bunch of fun stuff, we feel left out.
This issue of “FOMO” came up in most of the groups of students we talked to and was as significant a cause of stress and anxiety as performance in school or sports. We only had about thirty minutes with each group so we had to get to the second question: What should we do about it?
One solution was to set aside a day at school periodically to do creative, non-technical and non-performance stuff like art. One student suggested, “We’d like to have a wall in one of the back halls we could use to draw on.”
“You mean graffiti?” I said.
"No. Just a place where kids could get together to interact with one another without the pressure of performance; a place where we could talk."
Another solution was to have therapy dogs come to the school periodically or even to have a therapy dog at each school especially during testing periods. "We love dogs and just hanging out with a dog is great," a student said. The dog solution came up in every single group.
The kids offered a third solution to the Let's Talk Campaign – www.letstalk.care. I challenged each of the thirteen Gatekeeper groups to get one hundred of their parents, grandparents, and coaches to watch the Let’s Talk video and to give them a pamphlet explaining how to start a conversation with their kids about drugs, suicide, and their strengths. If they got the one hundred adults to sign the official contest sheet that Lucy designed, the Board would buy their Gatekeeper group custom made tee shirts. A student said, “That’s fine teaching our parents how to talk to us. But we need to learn how to talk to our parents about this stuff. We need a Let’s Talk for kids.”
“You mean, Let’s Talk 2.0?”
“Yes,” the whole group said. The group of gatekeepers in Wapakoneta volunteered to write and perform little vignettes that demonstrated how any young person could start a conversation with their parents; talking about what is most important to them.
These conversations with the five groups took less than thirty minutes each, but every group was eager and enthusiastic about the fact that we had come to them to check in with a group of kids and ask them two simple questions:
What is happening in your life right now, that is stressing you out?
What is your solution to the problem?
All of their solutions were simple, reasonable, and involved connection and conversation; human interaction.
Your practice of mindfulness can help you connect with another. How? Sitting on your cushion for 20 or 30 minutes and focusing on your breath, your body, or extending loving kindness readies you for the day. Now when a moment arises you can step back and become less defensive and more curious. In fact, this is the key to any human interaction – curiosity. We are all too quick to react defensively, to express an opinion which often leads us to “talk at” another. Let’s try responding in love and curiosity where we “talk with” another. What if we all took a more curious stance. A conversation would start out this way: “That’s an interesting point of view. Tell me more about what you think.” The kids all recognized that this was something they were missing; a human interaction that begins in a conversation.
Why not try that this month? Instead of expressing your opinion, become more curious.
“Tell me more.”