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Adolescent Development

Top 10 Highlights of 2017


Reimagining Adolescence: A Workshop for People Who Love Adolescents – We launched this training in early 2017 and receive tremendous feedback. In this training we explore how culture, biology, society, and psychology all intersect in the developing adolescent. We loved the people we met around the state; parents, teachers, youth workers, social workers, etc. and everyone of them are to be honored for their commitment to impacting the lives of young people.

Urban Youth Workers Institute National Conference – We love spending time in Southern California, on the beautiful campus of Azusa Pacific with Larry Acosta and his awesome staff from UYWI. Joining Larry and his team each year to invest in urban youth workers is always a highlight for us. The hard work of ministering to at-risk/at-potential youth is unparalleled in so many ways. The resilience of these saints and the kids they reach in inspiring.

Youth Leadership Academy – Elgin Community College hosts the Youth Leadership Academy, a six year intensive for 7th grade through 12th grade that focuses on character development, life skills, and service learning projects. Each student accepted to and completes the program will receive two years of free tuition at ECC and upon completion of an Associates Degree will receive another two years of free tuition at Judson College. This program deters the school to prison pipeline that often exists in impoverished communities.

Community Conversations – We hosted and facilitated community conversations on a variety of difficult topics this year. During these discussions, we addressed some of the following; parenting in the digital age, depression & suicide, anger & anxiety, self-harm, adolescent development, conflict & communication, the impact of popular culture, and current drug trends. These community dialogues are intended to make the general public aware of the issues adolescents face today and best practices for walking alongside them.

Faith Forward – Faith Forward is an annual gathering of forward thinking Christian leaders. This is one of our favorite annual gatherings and it continues to give us life in the work we do. We had the privilege of teaching a breakout session there on Family Systems, Attachment Theory, and the Imago Dei.

Not At My School: Anti-Bullying Program – This was a new initiative in 2017. It is aimed at elementary and middle schools to help create safer, more welcoming, and healthier social and learning environments. Working with the young children who participate in this program was so much fun. Several of the classes we worked with developed Not In My School groups that continued the work of shaping the culture of their schools. These students leaders inspired us all throughout the year, and continue to do so.

Race and Racism: A Visitor’s Guide (An Adult Learning Community) – We cautiously and hesitantly launched this class at a local church. The purpose of this class was to help white Christians deconstruct their whiteness. In the context of a learning community, several people engaged in the difficult work of learning about and challenging their white privilege and supremacy. This work continued after the class ended but this community still journeys together online and in personal relationships.

Grant Coordinator – Our founder, Chris Schaffner, took a new community-based position at the end of the summer. He continues to lead Conversations on the Fringe but in addition to that he is the coordinator for the Drug Overdose Prevention Program through the state of Illinois. He oversees 38 counties and works with three sub-contractors. The work they are doing together is making a difference in the lives of individuals and families impacted by the opioid epidemic that is ravaging our country. There were 64,000+ overdose deaths in 2016. Chris, along with his team,  trains and distributes Naloxone (Narcan), an overdose reversal medication in all 38 counties.

Foster Care – Chris and his family have also entered the world of Foster Care in 2017. Their home has always been a respite for those in need of a warm bed and hot meal but this year they began the process of becoming licensed foster care parents. They’re hope is to offer their home to older teens that are among the hardest to place, so much so, that many age-out of the system without foster care placement. Please pray for them as they continue their journey into “loving the least of these”.

Willow Jean – The number one highlight of 2017, we welcomed Willow Jean Schaffner into the world. Chris’ son and his significant other gave birth to their first grandchild. They are thrilled to transition into grand-parenting and readily accept the title. Willow represents hope and audacity at a very dark time in our country’s existence. Her smile and big bright eyes shine light into that darkness and continues to motivate us to do the work we’ve been called to.

A warm and grateful thank you to all of you who supported us in 2017. We look forward to some new opportunities in 2018.

May 2018 usher in a growing awareness of your intrinsic value to the human race and to the ushering in and growth of the Beloved Community, in which everyone is welcome to.

Grace and peace,

CotF

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How Rape Culture Is Implanted In Boys At An Early Age


Just turn on the news and you will see stories from the #metoo and #churchtoo movement. This movement is driven by large numbers of men and women (mostly women) who are reporting sexual misconduct among powerful people in politics and Hollywood. It is starting to feel like a reckoning that has been a long-time coming.

As a father of three girls and a son, I am concerned with the culture they will have to navigate and the influence of that culture on their understanding of power, gender, and equality. Unfortunately, as research is revealing, our children are being indoctrinated in rape culture ideas before they turn five. Let’s look at some of the ways this happens:

1. “Go Give Everyone A Hug Goodbye”

How often do we force young child to display affection to people in their lives? Sometimes it’s a familiar person and other times it’s someone less known to the child. Yet, we push them into the arms of someone even if they have no desire. What we teach our children when we do this, is their personal and internal boundaries do not matter.

2. “Boys Will Be Boys”

When a boy makes an unwanted gesture towards someone else that is aggressive or sexual in nature, we often minimize their behavior and chalk it up to “boys being boys”. When we reduce their behaviors to genetics they cannot be held accountable for their actions. This type of entitlement can grow into unwanted sexual advances in which the young man expects sexual favors in exchanged for his attention, financial investment, and time sacrificed for the object of his affection.

3. “Dress Modestly”

School dress codes are notorious for perpetuating the idea that boys/men are weak-willed in their sexual urges and the girls/women should be hypervigilant, keeping themselves appropriately covered at all times, so as not to trigger their male peers. This idea also tells young girls that they are not in charge/have no power over, and that men define the relationship the can have with their own bodies. Another damaging concept from the modesty movement is girls who dress less modestly clearly invite sexual advances.

4. “He Must Like You, That’s Why He’s Picking On You”

Can we please stop telling our young girls that when a boy in her class hits her, pulls her hair, or calls her a name, it’s because he secretly “likes” her? This is so clearly damaging and sends the wrong messages to both the girls and the boys. Girls can learn to believe that aggression and love are inseparable, and as that plays out into the teen years, intimate partner violence  has the potential to increase as well.

The idea that if a young man loves someone he must violently protect or prevent her from leaving. This leaves our young men so emotionally fragile and gives them a ready excuse for their behavior, “I couldn’t help it, I love her”. This does not extrapolate well into adulthood.

5. “Relentless Persistence Is Romantic”

Lastly, the notion that love is persistent is damaging. It can seem innocent and passionate on the surface but it has more insidious roots. Relentless pursuit of another in the face of opposition from the one being pursued is called stalking. It is coercive, manipulative, and can lead an eager young men to challenge the idea that “no means no” actually really does mean “No”.

Our children a constantly receiving messages as they grow that shapes the way they interact with peers of all genders. Let’s be sure we are not intentionally or unintentionally laying the wrong foundation for how they connect with one another.


chrisChris Schaffner is a counselor and veteran youth worker. He is also the founder of CONVERSATIONS ON THE FRINGE. CotF is an organization seeking creative and innovative ways to bridge the gap between the mental health community and those entities (particularly schools and churches) that serve youth in contemporary society.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the Conversations on the Fringe Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Conversations on the Fringe. 

Top 10 Blog Posts of 2017


Here’s our annual list of most viewed blog posts for the year. We did not publish as much content this year as we have in earlier years but we got more traffic on the site. That’s largely due to a couple of cultural phenomenons, such as Thirteen Reasons Why on Netflix and continued race and racism related issues. There were a lot of people looking for answers to some hard questions this year. Here’s what we saw from you…

  1.  Thirteen Reasons Why Discussion Guides
  2. Addressing the Racial Climate in Your Youth Group
  3. Trauma-Informed Youth Ministry
  4. Beyond Whiteness: Resources on Race for White Congregations
  5. After Text Message Case, Words Matter Even More
  6. Language Matters
  7. The Art of Connecting with Kids on the Fringe
  8. A Report on Eating Disorders (by a 12 year old)
  9. A Report on Bullying (by a 12 year old)
  10. Youth Ministry and the Post-Modern Learner

We added two new content creators this year as well, Patti Gibbons and Melissa Rau. Patti is penning our Fringe Parenting articles and Melissa helped curate and write the Thirteen Reasons Why Discussion Guides. We’re excited to share more from each of them in 2018 and are looking to add a couple fresh voices as well.

Thanks for your support this year. We believe deeply in the work we’re doing and couldn’t do it without your support.

Merry Christmas,

CotF

NEW CotF Initiative for 2018


Race and Racism: A Visitor’s Guide to Deconstructing Whiteness

We are excited about our new initiative for 2018. We have been piloting a workshop/conversation for white Christians looking to begin a dialogue in community/churches on race and racism. It is unfair to ask People of Color to do the hard work of educating us on issues related to race and racism so we have developed a one day training for white Christians who hope to lean into this difficult topic, who want to listen and learn how to become better allies to People of Color and begin the process of building the beloved community.

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION

If you and your church feel stuck and are unsure where to start, this day long training will give your community the tools it needs to start their own journey towards healing and racial reconciliation.

National Youth Justice Awareness Month October 2017


On September 30, 2015, President Obama issued a proclamation recognizing October as National Youth Justice Awareness Month. There are approximately 50,000+ youth in detention centers modeled after adult prisons. Overcrowding and ineffectiveness continue to plague the juvenile justice system. Reform is needed. If you are interested in leaning into this conversation, here’s a video to get you started, along with a discussion guide.

DISCUSSION GUIDE for Childhood Interrupted

VISIT CAMPAIGN FOR YOUTH JUSTICE for more resources

OR CONTACT THE HOPE DEALER for to schedule a training/workshop on working with youth in the criminal justice system

What We’re Watching


What We’re Watching is our new monthly review of film and screen media. We hope to share potentially useful and powerful media to discuss with others in an attempt to gain understanding of the world around us. We hope this is a helpful endeavor. Let us know if there are resources you’ve discovered that are worth sharing.

In Audrie & Daisy, directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk employ powerful visuals to tell the true stories of two adolescent girls, ages 14 and 15, who were raped by classmates and, after reporting the incidents, were tormented in person and online via social media. One teen survives her ordeal; the other takes her own life due to the responses of others. Parents and those who work with you in any capacity can learn a lot from this documentary, including the importance of teaching about consent and digital citizenship.

Audrie & Daisy also highlights how finding the strength to speak out can often change the trajectory of an assault survivor’s life and how social media can be a healing tool, not just an instrument of bullying.

Audrie & Daisy is currently showing on Netflix and is approximately 95 minutes long.

 

Addressing the Racial Climate in your Youth Group


When you spend time with youth, their parents, and your volunteers – wherever you are in your community – be alert. Are you hearing put-downs and slurs? Pay attention to the tension between the different groups of students you are working with. There are early warning signs that there is racially driven tension among adolescents. Left alone or ignored, these attitudes and behaviors can create the perfect storm for larger problems.

Safety is of the utmost importance. Are direct threats being made? Are there imminent threats? These situations required an immediate and well thought out response. More direct behaviors indicate that there might be a problem with your church’s climate. Is this the type of ministry you want? Is this the type of ministry your students, parents, and volunteers want? Ask them and listen closely to how they respond.

Make sure your students, staff, and volunteers know the proper reporting system if and when they hear problems. Make this an expectation and set up an efficient reporting system, like an anonymous comment box, text or email, or a specific staff member. After those problem are reported, there must be proper follow-up.

Here’s a list from the SPLC (Southern Poverty Law Center) of things to consider when present in your ministry, church, or community:

  • Casual Pejoratives: Do you hear certain words used regularly in a derogatory manner? That’s so gay. That’s retarded. Are the words “bit**” or “ho” casually used to label female students? Challenge the use of these slurs and work to establish and maintain a climate where casual slurs are uncommon.
  • Skits and Plays: Skits and costumes can convey bigoted and stereotypical messages: the “day-laboring Mexican,” students dressed as “rednecks,” “gangbanger/thugs,” people in blackface. Holiday plays and skits are often steeped in stereotypes and bigotry. Set expectations beforehand about appropriate costumes and cultural sensitivity. Discuss the inappropriateness of caricatures or disturbing representations that are rooted in bias and bigotry.
  • Marginalized Students: Engage students who appear to be left out of group activities, during game time and group discussions or in other ministry settings. Watch for changes in social clustering and ways in which students align. Check for signs of hostility, depression or a marked change in behavior. Reach out to the student’s parents or guardians as appropriate. Alienated students – either as individuals or in groups – are more susceptible to bias-based bullying.
  • Student Recognition: How does your church recognize student achievements? What do those achievements say about your church’s values? What messages are sent to students who don’t receive recognition? Overemphasis on achievement can lead to a sense of entitlement while reinforcing the dominant culture as well as contribute to feelings of frustration or inadequacy in others. Who is spotlighted and who is ignored? Athletes are often at the top of the food chain in many settings.
  • Staff Discussions: How are staff/volunteers/adults talking among themselves when outside of ministry settings? Are the adults making negative comments about the “kids from the trailer park”? Are they telling casually bigoted jokes? Do they define their students by a label, such as; the gay kid, the nerd, the gamer, the black kid, etc.?
  • Your Own Perceptions: Pay attention to the comments or complaints you automatically dismiss or discount. Also pay attention to your automatic thoughts about particular students. Often, your first thought is a reflection of unconscious biases. Explore those thoughts with an open mind and willingness to become more self aware and learn from others.
  • Don’t Forget Other Spaces: You will find yourself wherever students gather, such as; schools, gyms, parks, etc. Follow the general rule, “If you see something, say something”.

Every person in your church – from the worship leader to the incoming 6th graders to teenagers on social media – should understand the climate you are trying to cultivate in your spaces. These ideas are not about politically correct but are our best attempt to create spaces where everyone can belong to the community of God’s people and participate equally in kingdom service.

5 Things You Can Do To Combat Racism In Your Organization

  1. Call it out, EVERY TIME! – Don’t let it slide. By being consistent in addressing blatant racism and microaggressions, you communicate that it is unacceptable. Even if the individual(s) responsible don’t have a change of heart, at least the behavior becomes restricted and controlled.
  2. Start seeing color – The notion of being “colorblind” is ridiculous. There are obvious differences; from skin tone to cultural practices. Don’t just notice them, VALUE and VALIDATE them all. By being colorblind, we reinforce the idea that the universe will remain centered on whiteness since it is the dominant culture in most places. What we are saying is ALL I SEE IS WHITE!
  3. Stop being an ally – People of Color are not people in need of charity. By saying we will be allies we are saying we will come to their rescue. Instead, just be a good human. We can align ourselves with marginalized groups of people but we need to keep our savior-complex in check.
  4. Do not put this on the kids to fix – Kids are the

I leave you with this Benediction from Bishop Woodie White:

And now, may the Lord torment you.

May the Lord keep before you the faces of the hungry, the lonely, the rejected and the despised.

May the Lord afflict you with pain for the hurt, the wounded, the oppressed, the abused, the victims of violence.

May God grace you with agony, a burning thirst for justice and righteousness.

May the Lord give you courage and strength and compassion to make ours a better world, to make your community a better community, to make your church a better church.

And may you do your best to make it so, and after you have done your best, may the Lord give you peace.

After Text Message Case, Words Matter Even More


We’re excited to announce we have a new content creator to focus on parenting issues. For years we have tried to serve parents of fringe kids or parents on the fringe and we are fortunate to have Patti Gibbons join our writing team and to share her hard won wisdom with all of us. (Click here for Patti’s bio)

Her first post is an important one and addresses a growing concern among parents. Take a few minutes to read it and share your thoughts with her. She would love to connect.

After Text Message Case, Words Matter Even More

By Patti Gibbons

Two teenagers meet while their families vacation in the same place. A friendship develops and the teens discover their homes are relatively close, about an hour apart. They connect on social media and exchange texts and messages about their lives, their families, their problems. Though they rarely saw each other in person, they called themselves boyfriend and girlfriend.

That all sounds pretty normal these days, right?

Pervasive use of technology and social media allowed this relationship to develop as the teens supported one another through family struggles, serious personal issues like depression and eating disorders, and the ups and downs of teenage life.

But, this is the beginning of a story that ends in a charge of involuntary manslaughter. The weapon? The words typed into those messages.

As parents and adults who care about the lives of our children, that is a stunning statement. The words of one teenager to another were found to have made her responsible for his death by suicide.

This turns up the heat on the conversations about technology use directly, and tangentially about social media, cyber-bullying, privacy, and even the First Amendment. It should give us pause. A long pause.

On June 16, 2017, a Massachusetts judge found Michelle Carter, now 20, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter following a trial that revealed that she, then a teen, engaged in what prosecutors called “wanton and reckless conduct” sent text messages urging Conrad Roy III to take his own life at age 18. She has not yet been sentenced as of this writing.

Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz decided the case in a bench trial, saying, “Ms. Carter’s actions, and also her failure to act, where she had a self-created duty to Mr. Roy, since she had put him into that toxic environment, constituted, each and all, wanton and reckless conduct.” [NPR]

In her texts, she urged him to act on his suicidal ideation, “You just have to do it,” one text said. After his death, she organized a fundraiser in Roy’s name, presenting herself as an anti-suicide advocate, posting on Facebook, “Even though I could not save my boyfriend’s life, I want to put myself out there to try to save as many other lives as possible.”

It is clear from the accounts presented at trial that Carter and Roy each had troubled histories with depression and other mental health concerns about which they shared with one another openly. This situation turns on both the words she said and the actions she failed to take. [New York Times]

As parents and adults who care about them, what can we take away from this case?

First, we can be diligent in teaching our children that the words they say matter and that they will be held accountable, perhaps even legally, for what they say. From this case, in particular, we learn a new limit to the First Amendment right of free speech. Not only can we not yell fire in a crowded theatre, we can’t encourage a person to take their own life.

Second, we can be diligent in communicating to our children that they, along with each and every human being, has intrinsic worth and value. There is no person they will ever meet in person or interact with online to whom harsh, demeaning, insulting words need to be said, whether we like them or agree with them or not. This is especially true for social media where there is a harsh and pressured teen culture of comparison, evaluation, and judgement. This is contrary to the prevailing culture online today, even among adults. Perhaps we can all grow this way?

Third, we can culture open dialog with the children in our lives about using their online presence for good. Talking to our kids about finding positive words to use to influence the world, be more authentic, and impact their friends in ways that give life.

A Report on Bullying by a 12 Year Old


Chloe is a 12 year old (nearly 13 now) 7th grader from Central Illinois. She wrote this amazing piece on bullying. It’s such a powerful and insightful paper and it’s written by a tweenager.

Have you ever been bullied?

In this paper, I will tell you about the effects of bullying. Being bullied is terrible. There are a lot of different forms of bullying. Some forms include physical, emotional, cyber, and sexting. Sexting can be a form of bullying. It is one that is common but no one really talks about, but can still have the same effect as cyber bullying.

There is a lot of bullying in schools. School is where a lot of bullying starts. One effect is not being able to learn what you need in life because you stop going to school because you were being bullied. Another effect is depression, anxiety, drug use, and even suicide (Effects of Bullying, 2017). Usually if you are LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender), you get bullied more. If you are LGBT, people treat you like you don’t exist. Usually they will try to hurt you if you are LGBT. You could also not be able to sleep because you are worried about being bullied at school the next day. Being bullied could lead on to drinking and taking drugs, and then you could die from an drug overdose.

Cyber bullying is where people get bullied the most today. People who get bullied on social media will be more likely to have depression (Effect of Bullying, 2017).  Sexting is also a form of bullying. Sexting affects how you look at yourself and could lead to bad self esteem. Poor self esteem is when you think you are ugly, dumb and you say bad thing about yourself. Sexting is when you send a nude of yourself and then the person you sent it to sent to all his/ her friend and then they kept sending it on and on then they would begin to tell stories about you, your body, or your behavior. And then you would have bad self esteem because of what people said about your body type. Sexting could also lead to anxiety because you try to starve yourself because of how you look at yourself or how you think others look at you. Some people even take pills that say it will make them skinnier but actually can’t. You can still die from a drug overdose if you take a lot of those.

The biggest effect of bullying is suicide. There are 4,400 death per year because of bullying. One of the most common suicide death are cutting him/herself, and taking drugs to die from a drug overdose. Another effect that leads to suicide is depression. When  someone suffers from depression, they tend to think everything is sad and you feel lonely. 10-14 year old girls will be at a higher risk of committing suicide study have shown (Bullying and Suicide, 2017).  Also, people who get bullied or have depression may take drugs because they think it will make them happier, but that can and will lead to a drug overdose if you keep taking them.

Bullying is a real problem. We need to put a stop to it. The suicide numbers will go up each year if we do not put a stop to it. People who are LGBT, an outcast, or people with disabilities should be treated equally. No one should be bullied because of who they are, they are all human beings, then they should be treated the same way as everyone else. And not just them, NO ONE should be treated like that. How as a nation or school or anyone, can we put a stop to bullying?

 

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