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Language Matters to Adolescents


How we think and what we say has the power to give life or take life. As a counselor, I spend all day helping people explore the connection between their thoughts, beliefs, and actions. This model of therapy is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is best explained in the image below:

It is important to note that everyone does this. This is the normal flow of thoughts -> emotions -> behavior. The problem occurs when the thought process is distorted. This can happen because of bias, lack of information, or the language we use to describe a situation or individual/group of people. When we do any of the above, we engage in distorted thinking and this leads to behaviors that are based on those distortions, increasing the likelihood we will harm ourselves or others. (see cognitive distortions)

When I think about marginalized or vulnerable youth, language matters. The language a society uses to refer to a person’s distinctiveness shapes that society’s beliefs and ideas about that person or group of people. Words are powerful; Old, inaccurate, and inappropriate descriptors perpetuate negative stereotypes and attitudinal barriers. When we describe people by their labels of medical diagnoses, mental health conditions, skin color, or sexual orientation, we devalue and disrespect them as individuals. In contrast, using thoughtful terminology can foster positive attitudes about persons with distinctives that are different than the “norm”.

Fag. Sissy. Spaz. Retard. Nigger. Bitch. Cripple. Slut.

Now, imagine this scenario…

Imagine you’re a gay teenager who has been struggling with substance abuse for a number of years. You have tried to stop many times but failed. You are likely to begin thinking of yourself as a failure as you heap on the shame and regret. You’ve done some pretty awful things to the people you love in the process of supporting your addiction and have also done some things you’re too ashamed to talk about, like selling your family’s stuff or sleeping with a drug dealer for drugs. You find the withdrawals are so overwhelming that you can’t just stop and you resort to doing whatever you need to do, no matter how bad the behavior, to avoid being sick again. You now stay high most days just to avoid being sick and because it gives you a break from the self-loathing. Two thoughts run through your head on a regular basis, “What the heck is wrong with me” and “I am a piece of crap because I continue doing ____”. When you have these thoughts, and they are now frequent, you use drugs, or other unhealthy behaviors, just to push them out of your mind because if you keep thinking about those thoughts you tell yourself you might as well kill yourself.

Our words and the meanings we attach to them create attitudes, drive social policies and laws, influence our feelings and decisions, impact our culture, and affect people’s daily lives and more. How we use them makes a difference. People first language puts the person before distinctives, and describes what a person has, not who a person is. Using a diagnosis or condition as a defining characteristic reflects prejudice, and also robs the person of the opportunity to define him/herself as a child of God. (i.e., person with substance abuse difficulties, student who self injures, the individual that suffers from depression vs. addict, cutter, depressed.)

The Sapir–Whorf hypothesis is the basis for ideologically motivated linguistic prescriptivism. The Sapir–Whorf hypothesis states that language use significantly shapes perceptions of the world and forms ideological preconceptions.

Another consequence of using labeling language is that it paves the way for moral disengagement. Anytime an individual or a group of similar individuals are marginalized, moral disengagement has occurred. Moral disengagement is the cognitive process by which one clears away any mental obstacles to treat the individual or group poorly. As social beings, we cannot intentionally bring harm to one another without shutting off our empathy. Moral disengagement makes that happen. If you are going to “other” or “vilify” a group of people, for instance LGBTQ youth, you first have to change the way you see them. It would be nearly impossible to marginalize an entire group of beloved children of God but it is way easier to marginalize a group of fags, queers, and dykes.

A theology of the Imago Dei is one that placed our belovedness as a child of God, made in God’s very own image, before any other identifiers. It doesn’t mean we don’t have those distinctives that make us unique but it does take away the ability to separate people into value-based groups based on those distinctives.

So, what is your theological starting point? Is it Genesis 1 (original blessing/Imago Dei) or Genesis 3 (the fall of man/sin)? It really does matter. It shapes the story we tell ourselves about the youth we serve. Do we approach them through the lens of the Imago Dei, believing the truest thing about them is they are the embodied image of the living God? Or, do we immediately see them as broken and in need of fixing? What we believe will ultimately impact HOW we do ministry and how we think and talk about them, as well as the words we choose to use, shapes the narrative about God, the world, and their place in it.

Reimagining Adolescence: A Workshop for People Who Love Adolescents (June 17th, 2017)


Reimagining Adolescence: Kids growing up today are living in a world that is fundamentally different from the one their parents grew up in. This poses challenges to even the most adept adult. In this workshop you will discover the systemic cultural changes that are creating a whole new developmental experience for our kids as they attempt to find out their true identity and place of belonging.

This 1 day workshop is for all of us who struggle to understand the challenges adolescents face in today’s world. Join us as we explore the developmental, physiological, social, cultural, and spiritual complexities of guiding adolescents through contemporary society. This event is perfect for parents, grandparents, teachers, social workers, coaches, youth workers, or anyone else that love kids and desire to walk alongside them as they navigate an increasingly difficult world.

Here’s a sample of what you will cover in this workshop:

Adolescent Development

  • Primary tasks of adolescence
  • What drives adolescent behavior
  • Brain development
  • Sexual development
  • The Imaginary Audience (social)
  • The Invisible World
  • The Impact of marginalization

Mental Health Considerations

  • Systemic Abandonment
  • Identity Incongruence
  • Mental Health
  • Developmental Assets/Relationships
  • Discovering mission and purpose

LUNCH ON YOUR OWN

Surveying the Landscape

  • Pop culture influences
  • Toxic gender training
  • Shame and image
  • Culture and diversity
  • Technology

Praxis

  • Understanding power and agency in adolescents
  • Universal considerations
  • Listening better
  • Revisiting Developmental Assets/Relationships/Communities/Organizations
  • Empowering and letting go
  • Becoming friends with kids (mentoring)
  • Inviting them into adulthood (celebration and ritual)

If you are interested in attending this event, register soon. Space is limited!

There are two ways you can register:

Image result for eventbriteImage result for facebook logo

Creating and Supporting Developmental Communities


Kids are going to need more than just developmentally supportive relationships with adults. They also need developmentally supportive communities. 

The Search Institute has been researching developmental assets for youth for the better part of 50 years. The higher number of assets a young person has the higher the likelihood they will become thriving and contributing adults. The lower the number of assets, the higher the likelihood they will engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as bullying, substance use, or unsafe sexual practices. These behaviors often carry over into adulthood.

Conversations on the Fringe initiatives aims to equip individuals, organizations, and communities with tools to become asset rich and therefore increase the number of assets available to developing youth. We believe this will dramatically impact the outcomes of their journey into adulthood.

In 2017, we are highlighting three community-based asset developing programs. Each program exists to equip adults, organizations, and communities with real skills, tools, knowledge, and experiences to make a greater impact in the lives of the young they love and serve. You can choose and customize the program that best fits the needs of your youth and community.

RealTalkRealTalk Drug Prevention Program

RealTalk Drug Prevention programs are geared towards those who wish to have honest conversations about drugs and alcohol, providing science-based research drugs of abuse and adolescent brain development science.

bullyinglogoNOT IN MY SCHOOL: Anti-Bullying Program

This program helps to nurture safe school and social environments through empathy and character development by equipping students with skills to increase emotional and social intelligence.

No automatic alt text available.True North Student Leadership Intensives

Every student has leadership potential waiting to be nurtured and released. When young people assert their leadership they have the potential to unleash a powerful force for creativity and change.
Contact us today to find out about cost or if you are interested in scheduling one of our community-based program at your school, church, or organization.

Conversations on the Fringe

P.O. Box 74

Delavan, Illinois 61734

Phone: 309.360.6115

Email: cschaffner@fringeconversations.com

Check out our other Fringe Initiatives too!

Conversations on the Fringe: 2016 Year in Review


2016 was our busiest and most fruitful year to date. There’s so much that happened over the year that we’d love to share with you but we’ve condensed it down to the highlights. Thanks for making 2016 an awesome year. We’re looking forward to journeying through 2017 with you.

Grace and peace,

Chris Schaffner

Founder of Conversations on the Fringe

 

Top 10 Blog Posts

  1. Youth Ministry and the Post-modern Learner
  2. Teen Gender Dysphoria and Christmas Shopping
  3. Sex, Aggression, and Adolescents
  4. How to Talk About Intimate Partner Violence with Your Students: A Guide For Youth Workers
  5. Stages of Sexual Identity Development for LGBTQ Youth
  6. Imaginative Hope
  7. Trauma-Informed Youth Ministry
  8. White Privilege
  9. Protecting Against Sexual Abuse In Youth Programs
  10. This is Your Brain On Opiates

 

Highlights

  • Youth Specialties Facebook Live Q&A Series (self-harm, addiction, depression/suicide)
  • Can the Church Be Good News to LGBTQ Youth for the Illinois Mennonite Conference
  • Can the Church Be Good News to LGBTQ Youth at Simply Youth Ministry Conference
  • Conflict Management at Youth Leadership Academy at Elgin Community College
  • Reimagining Adolescence at the Faith Forward Gathering
  • Racial Reconciliation Experience at National Youth Worker Convention
  • Student Retreat at Heights Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque, NM
  • Guest Lecturing at Eureka College on Systemic Abandonment and Moral Disengagement for the Juvenile Criminal Justice Program

 

New Initiative in 2016

Innovative Disruption – Helping churches disrupt the status quo and discover innovative ways to reach marginalized and vulnerable youth.

Fringe Life Support Training – Helping churches help hurting youth through pastoral counseling, spiritual direction, and mentoring.

RealTalk Drug Prevention – Working with communities who desire to have honest conversations about effective drugs and alcohol prevention among area youth. We offer a variety of educational opportunities for students, parents, schools, and communities.

Reimagining Adolescence – We explore the developmental, physiological, social, cultural, and spiritual complexities of guiding adolescents through contemporary society. This event is perfect for parents, grandparents, teachers, social workers, coaches, youth workers, or anyone else that love kids and desire to walk with them as they navigate an increasingly difficult world.

AND…CHRIS RAN INTO BILL MURRAY!!! (That was a personal highlight, even though he locked up and could barely talk to him.)

 

Dreams for 2017

True North Youth Leadership Training Online Cohort – This online student leadership cohort is aimed at nurturing and activating your student’s leadership through individual and group projects that will directly impact the community they live in.

Fringe Learning Labs – Learning Labs fill in the gap that traditional youth ministry education doesn’t address. We provide an affordable, customized training experience for volunteer and staff youth workers to explore difficult issues facing yout today; issues such as race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and mental health.

Prisoners of Love: Teen Dating Violence Education

Dirty Little Secrets: dealing with the Problem of Porn

Digital and printed resources for youth, parents, and youth workers

Incorporation as a 501c3 nonprofit organization

Youth Ministries That Nurture Resiliency In Vulnerable Youth


Young people are living in a world that seems hell-bent on breaking those who try to navigate it successfully. Likewise, the church in America has a tendency to break people as well, especially its young. If our students, children, and community youth are going to move out of adolescence into functional adulthood they will need to be resilient.

So, what exactly is resilience? Resilience is the ability to ‘bounce back’ after a tough situation or difficult time and then get back to feeling just about as good as you felt before. It’s also the ability to adapt to difficult circumstances that you can’t change, and keep on thriving.

Rick Little and the fine folks over at the Positive Youth Development Movement have identified the 7 Cs: Essential Building Blocks of Resilience. They say “Young people live up or down to expectations we set for them. They need adults who believe in them unconditionally and hold them to the high expectations of being compassionate, generous, and creative.”

Competence: When we notice what young people are doing right and give them opportunities to develop important skills, they feel competent. We undermine competence when we don’t allow young people to recover themselves after a fall.

Confidence: Young people need confidence to be able to navigate the world, think outside the box, and recover from challenges.

Connection: Connections with other people, schools, and communities offer young people the security that allows them to stand on their own and develop creative solutions.

Character: Young people need a clear sense of right and wrong and a commitment to integrity.

Contribution: Young people who contribute to the well-being of others will receive gratitude rather than condemnation. They will learn that contributing feels good and may therefore more easily turn to others, and do so without shame.

Coping: Young people who possess a variety of healthy coping strategies will be less likely to turn to dangerous quick fixes when stressed.

Control: Young people who understand privileges and respect are earned through demonstrated responsibility will learn to make wise choices and feel a sense of control.

carl-jung

This is a great grid to think through when creating programs, purchasing curriculum, and planning events. Can our efforts increase resilience in the most vulnerable youth? I think they can but it will take thoughtful intentionality.

  • What if our we created more opportunities for students to lead (in big church)? Would that increase their competence to have their leadership validated and nurtured by other leaders?
  • What if we taught a series on confidence (I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me)? Sound familiar? Are we driving this truth deep into the hearts of young people? I’m not talking about the notion that I can achieve but more the notion that I can overcome.
  • What if we continued to beat the drum of integrity and character but laced it with grace so when they fail they are able to get back on track without having to avoid the shame monster?
  • What if we did more than just allow our kids to babysit for the Women’s Fellowship Coffee? What if we actually gave our students meaningful work in the church and community? What if they led teams with adults? What if they helped plan services? What if they researched their community needs and church leaders valued their work so much that it might actually alter the organization’s mission?
  • What if we offered more than shallow platitudes to manage the hurt and pain they experience as they navigate life? What if we deliberately included emotional and social intelligence in all our teaching and small group curriculum? What if we actually modeled self-control and appropriate vulnerability of emotions? What if we taught coping skills to kids in our youth group?
  • What if we allowed teens the power of choice? What if we allowed them to make wrong choices and were there to help them process the consequences of those choices? What if we encouraged rebellion (minor rebellion) and autonomy instead of conformity? What if we didn’t overindulge youth so they develop a sense of entitlement and instead taught them the value of work and earning respect?

I wish I had learned many of these lessons growing up. More than that, I wish I had been surrounded by a great herd of adults that walked alongside me while I learned these lessons, encouraging me, walking beside me, challenging me by raising the bar, modeling resilience, and not giving up on me when I screwed up. I imagine that sounds a little like heaven to a vulnerable teenager and that’s the point, isn’t it?

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week


For more information on and help for eating disorders please visit the following:

 

National Eating Disorders

National Institute of Mental Health

Something Fishy

Conversations on the Fringe

Mercy Ministries

Suicide Prevention


Almost inevitably, family members and friends are drawn into the painful world of suicide.  In light of the numerous cases of suicide over the last month we think it would be helpful to give some guidelines for families and friends of those who struggle with suicidal ideation. 

If a family member or friend is acutely suicidal, it may be necessary to take away their credit cards, car keys, and checkbooks and to be supportive but firm in getting them to an emergency room or walk-in clinic.  If the person is violent, it may be necessary to call the police.  These are difficult things to do but often essential.

The National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association, a national patient-run advocacy and support group based in Chicago, makes the following specific recommendations to family members and friends who believe someone they know is in danger of committing suicide:

  • Take your friend or family seriously.
  • Stay calm, but don’t underreact.
  • Involve other people.  Don’t try to handle the crisis alone or jeopardize your own health or safety.  Call 911 in necessary.
  • Contact the person’s psychiatrist, therapist, crisis intervention team, doctor, or others who are trained to help.
  • Express concern.  Give concrete examples of what leads you to believe your friend (or family member) is close to suicide.
  • Listen attentively.  Maitain eye contact.  Use body language such as moving close to the person or holding his or her hand, if it is appropriate.
  • Ask direct questions.  Find out if your friend (or family member) has a specific plan for suicide.  Determine, if you can, what methode of suicide he or she is thinking about.
  • Acknowledge the person’s feelings.  Be empathetic, not judgmental.  Do not relieve the person of responsibility for his or her actions.
  • Reassure.  Stress that suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems.  Provide hope.  Remind your friend or family member that there is help and things will get better.
  • Do not promise confidentiality.  You may need to speak to your loved one’s doctor in order to protect the person.  Don’t make promises that would endanger your loved one’s life.
  • If possible, don’t leave the person alone until you are sure they are in the hands of competent professionals.

There are several excellent advocacy and research organizations, many of which have patient and family support groups with suicide prevention and mental illness. 

If you or someone you love is suicidal, we recommend contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 800-273-8255. Additional crisis and suicide hotlines are available in the category below, Crises and Suicide.

AIDS

AIDS Hotline
(800) FOR-AIDS

American Social Health Association: Sexually Transmitted Disease Hotline
(800) 227-8922

CDC AIDS Information
(800) 232-4636

AIDS Info: Treatment, Prevention and Research
(800) HIV-0440

National AIDS Hotline
(800) 342-AIDS

ALCOHOL

Alcohol Hotline
(800) 331-2900

Al-Anon for Families of Alcoholics
(800) 344-2666

Alcohol and Drug Helpline
(800) 821-4357

Alcohol Treatment Referral Hotline
(800) 252-6465

Alcohol & Drug Abuse Hotline
(800) 729-6686

Families Anonymous
(800) 736-9805

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Hopeline
(800) 622-2255

CHILD ABUSE

Child Help USA National Child Abuse Hotline
(800) 422-4453

Covenant House
(800) 999-9999

CRISIS AND SUICIDE

Girls & Boys Town National Hotline
(800) 448-3000

International Suicide Hotlines

National Hopeline Network
(800) SUICIDE

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
(800) 273-TALK (8255)

National Youth Crisis Hotline
(800) 442-HOPE (4673)

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

National Domestic Violence Hotline
(800) 799-7233

National US Child Abuse Hotline
(800) 422-4453

MEDICAL

American Association of Poison Control Centers
(800) 222-1222

America Social Health: STD Hotline
(800) 227-8922

OTHER

Shoplifters Anonymous
(800) 848-9595

Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention
(800) 931-2237

Teen Help Adolescent Resources
(800) 840-5704

PREGNANCY

Planned Parenthood Hotline
(800) 230-PLAN (230-7526)

RAPE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN)
(800) 656-HOPE

National Domestic Violence/Child Abuse/ Sexual Abuse
(800) 799-7233

Abuse Victim Hotline
(866) 662-4535

RUNNING AWAY

National Runaway Switchboard
(800) 231-6946

National Hotline for Missing & Exploited Children
(800) 843-5678

Child Find of America
(800) 426-5678

SUBSTANCE ABUSE

Poison Control
(800) 222-1222

National Institute on Drug Abuse Hotline
(800) 662-4357

Cocaine Anonymous
(800) 347-8998

National Help Line for Substance Abuse
(800) 262-2463

The Trinity Of Depression


Beck (1963, 1964) noted the way depressed patients interpreted their current life experiences.  The depressed person tended to distort their experiences; they misinterpreted specific, irrelevant events in terms of personal failure, deprivation, or rejection; they tended to greatly exaggerate or overgeneralize any event that bore any semblance of negative information about themselves; they also tended to obsess over making indiscriminate, negative predictions of the future.  It is important to note that the depressed person’s cognitions reflect a systematic bias against oneself.  Because of this overemphasis of negative data to the relative exclusion of positive data, the label “cognitive distortion” is most appropriate when describing the thinking of depressed persons.

When an individual suffers from cognitive distortions they develop other idiosyncratic negative thematic content not observed in those of nondepressed persons.  This is referred to as the Triad of Depression.

A negative view of self.  The depressed individual shows a marked tendency to view himself/herself as deficient, inadequate, unworthy, and to attribute their unpleasant experiences to a physical, mental, or moral defect in himself/herself.  Furthermore, they regard themselves as undesirable and worthless because of their presumed defects and tends to reject himself/herself (and to believe others will reject him/her) because of it.

A negative view of the world. His/Her interactions with the environment are interpreted as representing defeat, deprivation, or disparagement.  He/She views the world as making exorbitant demands on him/her and presenting obstacles which interfere with the achievement of his/her life goals.

A negative view of the future. The future is seen from a negative perspective and revolves around a series of negative expectations.  The depressed person anticipates that his/her current problems and experiences will continue indefinitely and that he/she will increasingly burden significant others in his/her life.

I can name countless students who present in our ministries like this every day.  What are we doing, teaching, and modeling that would challenge the negative views of themselves, their world, or their future?  The triad exists when there is no hope.  Are we telling a story that communicates that there is hope for our personal redemption (through Christ), reconciliation in our relationship (with the Father), and a guiding, sustaining presence when times get dark (by the Spirit)?

How Thin Is Thin Enough?


Our friends over at Fuller Youth Institute published a great post today about the messages we are sending our young girls.

They referred to an article in the Huffington Post about photos of models that have been touched up to make the model look thinner.

As a father of three young girls I’m concerned that when they see the touched up photos they compare and contrast themselves to a fictional image.  We have got to continue to pull back the curtain on these tricks of the trade or our girls will kill themselves striving for something that is impossible.

Now I know this may sound fanatical but we work first hand with young girls who suffer from image distortions and eating disorders.  It’s no wonder they struggle so much when confronted with images such as this.

Here’s a great song by Jonny Diaz called “More Beautiful You” that speaks to this same issue:

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