In March this year, I met with the Gatekeeper group at Wapakoneta High School to listen to the concerns, fears, and worries they faced as young people. There are now 19 Gatekeeper groups in Allen, Auglaize, and Hardin Counties and the first one began in Wapakoneta. Gatekeeper’s goal is to promote mental wellness and a listening ear for their friends. On this cold day in March, the group talked about FOMO (fear of missing out), performance anxiety around school work, and the pressure they felt to make it into a good college (even as freshmen). The students also expressed their gratitude to have a group of friends with whom they could talk openly about their worries and have some fun too.
The kids started talking about the Let’s Talk program because of the challenge I made to every Gatekeeper Group. If they could get 100 parents to watch the video the Board would buy the group tee shirts. Unfortunately, the Wapak Gatekeepers just missed it. We talked a bit about how they could get more parents to watch the video for the next contest.
Then one student spoke up when I asked them if there was anything else they wanted to talk about. She said, "Mr. Schoenhofer, It’s great that you are getting our parents to talk to us. But we don't really know how to talk to our parents."
That was a revelation. It never occurred to me that not only did I have to get parents to take time with their kids but that the kids weren’t really sure how to talk with their parents about the crucial and troubling issues they experienced. Many of them shared their feelings of anxiousness, sadness, and persistent worries. "How do we talk to our parents about that stuff?" Another student asked.
Others had doubts about their worth and value because no one talked to them about the things they were good at. They didn’t know how to share the little victories they experienced in school or with friends. The things that were important to them. “Would you like to help me produce Let’s Talk 2.0?” I asked them.
They couldn’t believe it.
“You mean you are really going to do something about this?”
“Yep! But you are going to have to put this together with me because only you know what your friends need to hear,” I said.
The rest of that school year and into the beginning of this school year the group met to talk about how they could produce a film that would help their peers break the ice with their parents about relevant topics in their lives. Jennifer Zwiebel, the Wapakoneta School Social Worker and Lucy Flowers, the Director of School Outreach for PVFF worked with the kids to develop a plan. Then Cody Ridenour and Chad Stearns from Modo Media started rehearsing with a small group of brave souls who volunteered to star in the video – “LET’S TALK: The Talk Show.”
All I can say is “OMG!” Jarod, Ashley, Haley, Austin, Veda, and Dalan were enthusiastic about producing a video that would help their friends start these important conversations with a parent, a grandparent, or a coach. Here’s a sneak peek at some of their ideas:
"Trap a parent in a long car ride. When you bring up a hard topic, they can't leave at 70 miles per hour."
“Practice with another adult first, like an aunt you trust, so you feel more comfortable talking about what is important to you.”
“Offer to peel potatoes for supper. Who can refuse to listen to a kid peeling potatoes?”
“Take a long walk in the woods or a park. Better yet, walk the dog.”
Then we talked about how to get the conversation going. They asked me, “How do you get started without freaking out yourself or your parent?”
“Start off easy,” I suggested. “Say something like, ‘I’ve been feeling pretty worried lately,' and then see what happens. It's like a dance. You make a move, and then your dance partner makes a move and pretty soon you are gliding along the dance floor. That's the way a conversation works."
As I watched them perform on stage for the video and then eventually joined them as their guest star, I wanted to adopt them all. They were so genuine and earnest and heartfelt in wanting to have this connection with an adult who loved them and cared about them.
Now we are eagerly looking forward to the time when Modo Media finishes the final production. I can't wait for the premiere at Wapakoneta High School, and then I hope that all 19 Gatekeeper groups that Lucy and Tanya from PVFF facilitate, will adopt Let’s Talk 2.0 and show it to their schools. Who knows maybe another Gatekeeper group will take up the challenge from the kids at Wapakoneta and let us help them produce another version of Let’s Talk 2.0 for their school and community.
Connecting with those we love dearly is the best way to prevent drug abuse or suicide with this
generation of kids. But more importantly, it is the best way to promote that deep sense of self-worth and confidence we all need to thrive. In building each other up, we are strong when it counts the most.