Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Sunday Reflections: In Which The Teen Writes a Poem About Sexual Harassment

TRIGGER WARNING: THIS POST TALKS ABOUT SEXUAL HARASSMENT

I know it’s been a rough week in a lot of ways for us all between the mix of politics and loss, but it was also a really rough week at the Jensen household because of everyone’s arch nemesis: sexual harassment.

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On Friday, I received a text from my daughter explaining how angry she was about the sexual harassment she had received by a “friend” the night before. This friend got into her sports bag and took an item of hers and put it on himself. She asked for it back repeatedly and he refused. Finally, she approached him to take it back and he proceeded to say some sexual things to her that she says made her feel “scared” and “dirty”.

They are 15 years old. And I’m sad to say that this is not the first time she has experienced some type of sexual touching or harassment. But it is the first time that she has come to me so visibly shaken and expressed feeling scared and dirty. Scared and dirty. Scared and dirty. Scared and dirty. I just keep hearing this over and over again.

This is what sexual harassment does.

As we talked about it and processed it and tried to determine what we were going to do, she shared with me that she was so upset about it that she wrote a poem. She has given me permission to share that poem.

Are you done yet

Undressing me with your eyes?

Are you happy

Now that you’ve made me cry?

 

You’ve stared at me

It’s felt like hours

You’ve smiled smugly

Enjoying your power

 

It’s like you can’t see it

My hatred that churns

You can’t see the effect

That makes my skin burn

 

You make me sick with fear

But I won’t say a thing

I’m far too afraid

Afraid of what it will bring

 

I’ll keep my hatred inside

Put on a pretty smile

You’ll never see me break

My tears will stay in for a while

During our discussion of how she felt about what happened, she kept saying she didn’t want to do anything about it. At one point I said to her,” I know you don’t want him to get into trouble but he also needs to know that he can’t do this to others going forward.” To which she replied, “I’m not worried about him getting into trouble, I’m scared he’ll be angry and hurt me.” That was the moment the undid me because I am far too aware of how often boys and men do respond with violence and retribution in these instances. She’s not wrong.

As a mom and a woman, I’ve been incredibly angry and upset about these events, as you can imagine. I’ve seen this all play out over and over and over again in this world and my anger is compounded by the fact that this is my baby girl we’re talking about.

I don’t have any fancy resolution to this post. I don’t have a neat and clean way to wrap this post up. The truth is, this will keep happening. It will happen again to her. It will happen to her younger sister. It will happen to her best friends and worst enemies. It will keep happening until we find a way to seriously address the issues in our culture that allow this to keep happening. And we have to stop shrugging this off and protecting the boys and men who do this. We have to talk about the patriarchy and power and privilege and toxic masculinity and sexism and why we choose to protect men instead of their victims. We have to change the dynamics. All of them.

Until then, I’m just going to be over here raging because I had to listen to my daughter talk about how someone who was supposedly her friend made her feel scared and dirty.

I’m pretty mad at you right now world. I seriously am.

Sunday Reflections: Where are the children?

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When she was two, The Teen and I were shopping at Sears when Things 2 suddenly disappeared. In a panic, I began running around the store calling for her. Each moment that she was missing the intensity of my panic increased. I ran. I screamed. I shouted. I searched.

Soon, recognizing my distress, others joined in on the search. The store itself was just about to shut it all down and call a Code Adam when we found Thing 2 hiding in one of the clothing racks.

I’ve thought about this story a lot in the past couple of days as news came out that our government had lost almost 1,500 children. I thought about this story as I read about how ICE agents were separating children from their parents as they crossed the border into our country seeking asylum. I thought about the panic that I felt. I thought about the fear. I thought about the growing anguish. Please note, although both of these reports are about issues relating to immigrant children, they are separate news stories. It should also be noted that not all of this has just recently started happening, some of the reports go back to 2015 and 2016.

As ICE separates children from parents at the border, public outrage grows

I think, too, of a friend of mine that just lost their adult son in their twenties. I think about the incredible grief that they are experiencing. About the ways that their lives have shut down. About the ways their life will never be the same.

US lost track of 1,500 undocumented children

I think about the long term effects of childhood trauma. Of all the teens that come and visit us in the Teen MakerSpace and just the ways that divorce or having a parent incarcerated has and will continue to effect them.

Trump on Abused Immigrant Children: “They’re Not Innocent”

And I think of what it must be like to be a parent trying to bring your children to a safer country. To a country where you hope that you can escape violence or dream of a future where your child can get an education, a job, a house with a wife and two cars and a garage. But when you arrive there, strangers rip your child from your arms. They place your children in cages that resemble dog kennels at the dog pound. And then they lose them.

Abusive Conditions for Women and Children in US Immigration

Reports have said that some of these children are being trafficked.

U.S. Placed Immigrant Children With Traffickers, Report Says

Other reports say that some of these children are being sexually assaulted.

ACLU Report: Detained Immigrant Children Subjected To Widespread Abuse by Border AGents

All of these children are being traumatized.

The Federal Government Lost 1,475 Immigrant Children | Teen Vogue

Whatever is happening, all of these children are being traumatized. I said it twice because it’s really important that we understand what we are doing to a generation of children.

Childhood Trauma : Long-Term Effects and Symptoms

This is not the first time in our country’s history that this has happened. During slavery, children were ripped from the arms of their parents and sold off as property. Native American children were taken from their parents on reservations and placed into boarding schools to “tame” them. Japanese Americans and their children were placed in concentration camps during World War II.

No, the idea that we can be cruel to children is not a new one to our nation, and yet I find myself stunned at the recent news. I routinely read about bias and how even as young as kindergarten and preschool our nation’s children who happen to be anything other than white can be singled out, disproportionately punished, called on to participate less frequently and more. I don’t want to romanticize how our country treats its children. I don’t want to act shocked or stunned that this is happening. History has shown us who we are and what we are capable of doing.

And yet, there is something about this story that takes us to a place that I can not fathom. I can not fathom as a mother or a Christian or as a compassionate human being how anyone can rationalize ripping a crying child from the arms of a screaming parent, placing them into a cage, and then . . . losing them. I can not imagine government agents handing children over to traffickers. I can not imagine anyone doing the various things that I have read that our government and its agents are in fact doing to children.

I can not fathom as someone who has spent their lives learning about the development of children and advocating for their well being how anyone in a position of power that is supposed to care about people, represent the people, and put policies into place that provide for the well being of our country can think anything about this is a good or acceptable idea. These policies and practices will scar a generation of children and we will be left to pick up the pieces.

And please, do not suggest to me that since these children are not American citizens that we don’t have some type of obligation to them. Children are the most vulnerable among us and we have an obligation to all of the world’s children to do the least harm possible to them. Whatever is happening in the world of adult politics, if we can’t even agree to do our very best to take care of children, then we have genuinely lost the plot. The very basic tenant of very basic humanity should be that we do everything we can to nurture and protect children. It’s not even a selfless act, to be honest, what happens to each generation of children effects the adults they will become and the future of not just them, but our country, of our world. They will soon be our doctors, our lawyers, our teachers and our policy makers. What we are doing has immediate and long term implications. It really is that dire.

The long term effects of childhood trauma include physical health issues, mental health issues, substance abuse, and troubles bonding and forming meaningful relationships. It shapes their view of self and their view of the world. It impacts who they are and who they will become. There is both a high human and dollar cost associated with childhood trauma.

I thought we had all agreed that at a bare minimum, we all had an obligation to the least of these, the most vulnerable among us, our children.

Today I am celebrating 23 years of marriage to The Mr. All together, we have been together for a quarter of a century. That’s a really long time. We have had some really rough moments: we lost a child in pregnancy, we lost a house to a flood and an economic crisis, we’ve lost friends and family members, and there are times when we didn’t know how we were going to feed our children and pay our bills, but at the end of the day, I get to come home to this lovely man and two amazing children whom I richly adore. I can’t imagine any of the things happening to my children that I have read about in the last two days. And as my heart celebrates my blessings, it also aches because I look at what my country is doing to someone else’s children and I am angry, afraid, and heartbroken.

Today I will celebrate with my family and snuggle my children. Somewhere else, there are parents who had their children taken away by the U.S. government and its agents and no one can tell them where those children are.

This can not be acceptable for any of us.

Sunday Reflections: This is what happened when the The Teen asked me if .gov websites were trustworthy

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I’m sitting in the Teen MakerSpace when my phone beeps and I see I have a text from The Teen:

“Are .gov websites trustworthy,” she asks.

And before responding, I pause.

In the past, I would have said yes without that pause. That’s one of the things I have always taught my teens, one of the first things you learn in library school, how to determine whether or not a webiste is authoratitive, biased, etc.

.Com is a commercial website, so you have to consider a lot of factors before deciding whether or not it’s a trustworthy source. Who is producing the site? What are their goals? What type of bias do they hold?

.Gov is a website produced by a government organization or agency. Those sites have always been considered reliable. They are full of facts and figures and data. WHO, the FDA, the EPA, the USDA, etc. – these are all government websites that get cited and used frequently and have been considered reliable – trustworthy – sources of information because they are produced by government agencies.

But after my brief pause, I answered The Teen’s question with a no. Government websites aren’t a trustworthy source of information in the year 2018 because data is being scrubbed, whole phrases are being banned, and a very anti-science bias is being pushed.

These are just a few of the discussions that you can find regarding this topic:

How Much Has ‘Climate Change’ Been Scrubbed From Federal Websites? A lot

Breast Cancer, LGBTQ Info Removed On Government Website

2017 Was a Big Year for Scrubbing Science from Government Websites

A webpage about lesbian and bisexual health was removed from US Government websites. This is a pattern.

These important pages have already been deleted from the White House Website

So I told her no; no having a .gov web address does not make an informational web resource trustworthy. And then I thought about the implications of what that means for us as a country: we can’t even trust our government websites to give us complete and accurate information. The very agencies that are tasked with keeping our water safe, our food safe, and protecting our health and well being, are being forced to remove and stop discussing the very information we need to keep us safe and informed because of the political agenda of people in power and those with enough money and political clout to influence them.

As a librarian who regularly works with the general public to find and evaluate information, I no longer feel comfortable telling the general public – even my own teenage daughter – that they can find a government website trustworthy while doing research for a report. Her question was, is a .gov website trusthworthy and the correct answer in the year 2018 is no. In a government that is supposed to be by the people and for the people, the fact that the answer is no should worry us all.

Sunday Reflections: Helping Our Teens Plan for an Uncertain Future, or, what about jobs?

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Yesterday I was driving when they announced on NPR that the unemployment rate had hit a new low of 3.9% and then they followed up that bit of news with the rejoinder that this was in part because many people had simply given up looking for jobs. The trouble is, many people will look at the number and think everything is fine, without paying attention to the caveat. I’ve been thinking a lot about jobs for a variety of reasons, one of which is that The Teen, now almost age 16, is being asked to start planning for her vocational adult life and it’s complicated.

I’ve also been thinking about jobs a lot because The Mr has been searching for a new job . . . for almost three years now. He actually loves the job he currently has, but while other managers are put on a rotating schedule he has been forced to work weekend thirds for the past six years, and as a family with school age children this means that we get to do exactly nothing as a family unless it’s the summer and we do the very delicate work of coordinating schedules. Also, working nights has proven to take a very real and personal toll on his health. The most recent job he applied for told him that they actually took the posting down after a mere 48 hours because they had almost 400 applicants in such a short amount of time that they were overwhelmed. The posting was supposed to be up for 2 weeks because they took it down in less than 48 hours because they had too many applicants.

The Mr and The Teen steal a rare moment together because he's not working at night or sleeping during the day.

The Mr and The Teen steal a rare moment together because he’s not working at night or sleeping during the day.

In 2011 the library that I was working with at that time laid off several staff workers, including a dear friend of mine. It took her 3 years to get a new job in the library field. Three long, hard years. She is happily employed now, but I will never forget the dark valley of unemployment that she walked through and the torment and toil it took for her to find a new job in a profession that she loved that is constantly shrinking and less willing to hire professional, full-time staff. I have several other friends currently looking for new librarian positions and the outlook isn’t proving any better for them.

So it’s not enough to look at an unemployment number, because there is more to the story. How many of those people are employed at full-time hours with a livable wage and benefits? How many people are underemployed and working multiple jobs? How many people have simply stopped looking? The economy and the health of our nation is about more than a simple number. As someone who currently works in a community with a high poverty rate, I see the stories that this number fails to tell you.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about jobs because, as I’ve mentioned, I work with teens and they are being asked daily to plan their vocational future. What will you be when you grow up is a more pressing question when you are just a couple of years, or even a few months, from being that grown up. The other week on Twitter I followed the hashtag #CILDC, which was a live tweeting of the professional conference Computers in Libraries. At one point several attendees tweeted this statement:

“42% of today’s workforce will be affected by automation within the next 10 years; 85% of jobs in 2030 haven’t been invented yet.”

Did you see that? 85% of the jobs in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet. 2030 is a mere 12 years from now. That means that teens today are tasked with trying to plan for careers that don’t even exist yet. How do you plan for the unknown job market? Many of our teens are planning for careers that will cease to exist or radically change shortly after they enter the job market. That’s a huge task to ask of teens, and the librarians and educators who are tasked with helping them. We are being asked to help teens prepare for a future that is so radically unknown and by all accounts unknowable.

Don’t get me wrong, the future is always truly unknowable, but it does feel like were are living in a time with rapid change and incredible insecurity when it comes to career planning. And yes, we can look at other periods of time and see this happening. But the task seems daunting when you are in the process of filling out college applications and choosing majors. What if my field ceases to exist? It’s not a question I ever considered in my teen and young adult life, though I suppose I should have.

Random pic of The Teen because people like pictures in posts

Random pic of The Teen because people like pictures in posts

For me, even as a librarian, I have seen incredible change in my field in the last 25 years. In the beginning, there was considerable trust in and support for public libraries. But over time, we have culturally witnessed a slow shift away from public entities, especially if it involves using tax monies, and the idea of community good. Some parties have worked hard to instill a distrust in anything community natured while at the same time working to undermine things such as support for teachers, unions, and a wide variety of institutions and professions that were once seen as both necessary and beneficial. Every year librarians convene in state houses to beg for state support as the ALA and other organizations lobby members of Congress for national support. Every year librarians are asked to do more and more with less and less. And if you are a librarian who is searching for a job, you may have to be prepared to move great distances and start completely over because the professional jobs market appears to be shrinking.

It’s even worse if you are a librarian who wants to specialize in young adult/teen services. In the early 90s there was a tremendous push for and recognition of the need for YA librarians. Teens, we began to understand, were a unique age group with specialized developmental needs who deserved trained, dedicated staff who would meet their needs and help retain this age group as both present and future library users and supporters. But it turns out, teens in the library are challenging for some staff and when budget cuts need to be made, this is often the first place administrators will look. It doesn’t help that culturally, teens are often and easily reviled as difficult, abrasive, and rude so cutting teen services has far less impact then cutting things like children services; we still on the most basic level agree that we have a responsibility to take care of our children, and the younger and cuter they are the better. And don’t get me wrong, I love children of all ages and love being involved in children’s services, I just hate how expendable our culture views teenagers in comparison to the regard, esteem and responsibility we feel towards our younger citizens. Teens, although they are loathe to admit it, ARE still children who need nurturing, support, guidance, boundaries and more.

See, I like kids. Especially this one, because she's my other precious baby.

See, I like kids. Especially this one, because she’s my other precious baby.

So this idea of teens and jobs comes full circle. It’s both about the job of being a librarian who works with teens and about helping teens plan for an unknowable future.

So jobs, I’ve been thinking about them a lot. I currently know several highly regarded, passionate and experienced librarians who are looking for new jobs for a variety of reasons and the professional field out there is not pretty. Then I hear facts and figures like almost 400 people applied for a manager job in less then 48 hours. And then I hear the news that 85% of the jobs just 12 years from now do not currently exist. At the same time, I hear our country’s leaders celebrating a unemployment number that has an asterisk by it and see the teens in my community leaving to attend the daily community free meal and I can’t help but think, this is funny math.

A healthy economy and a healthy community is more than just a low unemployment rate and it’s hard for me to celebrate this report when I still see so many people around me sincerely and genuinely struggling to find good paying jobs that aren’t killing them emotionally and physically, that allow them to truly parent their children, and allows them to put food on the table with any sort of regularity.

How do we help our teens plan for such an uncertain future while they live in such unstable times? This is the question that haunts me.

Sunday Reflections: The Truly High Cost of Childhood Trauma

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I first ran across the research regarding the long term effects of childhood trauma last year, and have commented frequently on how important I think this research is. As someone who works with teens, and even though they don’t like being called children in many ways teens are in fact children, I have felt compelled to read as much as I can about the long term effects of childhood trauma. And, I suppose, as an adult and a parent who has lived with childhood trauma, I have been interested to learn as much as I can about it. As parents, the long term effects of childhood trauma can very much effect how we parent. It turns out that the sins of the father can in fact be generational, not because of familial curses or a retributive god, but because the effects of childhood trauma can be passed down from generation to generation.

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I wrote about the long term effects of childhood trauma earlier this week in discussing THE FALL OF INNOCENCE by Jenny Torres Sanchez, a book that looks at a teen who suffered a traumatic event as a young child. She believes that she has learned to deal successfully with her trauma, but a variety of events that happen in high school illustrate that she clearly has not.

There is a huge emotional and mental burden that exists when we discuss the long term effects of childhood trauma. It can effect bonding and stability. It can mean the adaptation of unhealthy coping mechanisms which are then passed on to the next generation of children. But because I am writing this in America and America no longer seems to care about the emotional or physical or mental health of its citizens, not even its children, let me discuss the high cost of childhood trauma in terms that many Americans do seem to care about: cold hard cash.

Child abuse and neglect costs our nation $220 million every day. – Source: http://www.preventchildabuse.org/images/research/pcaa_cost_report_2012_gelles_perlman.pdf

Childhood trauma is wildly expensive, both immediately and in the long term. It’s not just expensive for the child or the family of the child, but it comes at a great cost to us all.

There is a high monetary expense that comes along with the long term effects of childhood trauma.

But first, let’s take a moment to discuss childhood trauma. Childhood trauma can occur in many ways: physical and emotional abuse, sexual abuse or assault, divorce, observing parental domestic violence, loss of a home, natural disasters, food instability, sudden death of a parent or sibling, chronic illness, and chronic bullying are just a few sources of childhood trauma. Childhood trauma is an event that effects the emotional or physical well being of a child and effects their stress levels.

Of course not all children will respond to childhood trauma in the same ways. Personality is a factor, as is personal resilience. Children with more stable homes and supportive parents will have different responses to childhood trauma. When we talk about privilege, we must acknowledge that some children are more privileged than others and this privilege can help insulate them from the same traumas and impacts how they respond to said trauma. The point is, not all children will respond in the same way to the same trauma because no two children are the same.

So what, in fact, are some of the long term effects of childhood trauma?

Mental Health

Mental health issues can be caused by childhood trauma and can effect children long into their adult lives, especially if they do not have the resources necessary to help deal in effective ways with the childhood trauma. We know that 1 in 4 adults in America struggles with mental health issues, and there is a real financial cost for society that comes with these mental health issues. In particular, many adults who have experienced childhood trauma can experience PTSD, depression and anxiety.

Physical Health

Many adults who have experienced childhood trauma also have higher rates of obesity, eating disorders, and heart disease. In addition, many adults experience addiction, which we will discuss below. These physical effects all come with a cost.

Addiction

Addiction can also be caused by childhood trauma. As we wrestle here in America with the opioid crisis and we talk about doctors over prescribing pain killers, I think it is important that we acknowledge the role of mental health issues and self-medication in addiction. Back in 2006 when I had a very traumatic pregnancy that ended in a loss, I was prescribed a pain medication to help me with the physical pain that resulted. I was surprised when taking that medication also helped to dull the emotional pain that I was feeling and remember calling my cousin and saying, “You know, I understand now why people get addicted to this stuff.” I was in a very bad emotional place and that medication that I was prescribed really dulled that emotional pain, which is why I personally decided not to take it. But I had other factors in place that helped me through that difficult emotional time and helped me with the pain. I stood at the edge in that moment and realized how easy it would be to fall into substance abuse and addiction.

Incarceration

Reason studies indicate that there are high rates of sexual abuse among incarcerated individuals, especially incarcerated females. It is believed that the high rate and long term effects of sexual abuse among women is directly impacting the higher number of incarcerated females, and we know that there is a high societal cost to incarceration.

Job Instability

Mental health issues, addiction, low self-esteem and poor coping methods can all impact job stability. And high job turnover means higher training costs for businesses. And although I believe there are many factors that are contributing to the need for families to rely on housing and food assistance, including a lack of full-time jobs that pay a livable wage, I also believe that it is possible that one of the long term effects of childhood trauma is job instability, and it contributes to the need for government assistance.

I believe that we, as a society, should do everything we can to help decrease the amounts of childhood trauma happening. In addition, I believe that we should do everything we can to help our children deal with this trauma in healthy ways to help our children heal and develop healthy coping strategies. This would include seriously addressing issues like childhood hunger and health, including providing affordable health care, and improving every American’s quality of life by creating a country with more stable jobs that provide a truly livable wage. I believe that we should do this because it is the humane thing to do, because these are our children. But if that argument doesn’t work for you, I also believe we should do this because it saves us more money in the long term.

As a society we can choose to invest in public education, affordable healthcare, and creating systems where families can thrive and maintain a healthy work/life balance or we abandon our children now and pay in the future by funding prisons, watching our workforce dwindle to a handful of privileged few who have earned an education that can sustain our future, and having to find knee-jerk reactionary ways to handle things like the opioid crisis. One approach seems to make more sense than the other because it invests in healthy children and a healthy society. Investing in happy, healthy children today will minimize the amount of money we have to spend cleaning up our mess tomorrow. And clean up always seems to cost more than just doing the right thing from the beginning does.

Childhood trauma doesn’t just effect the child, or the immediate family of the child. It ripples out in both space and time causing a myriad of effects that have a lot of repercussions for society as a whole. When one part of the body is sick, the entire body is sick. When our children are sick, when they grow up to be sick adults, then we as a nation are sick. No man is an island; what happens to the most vulnerable of us happens to the whole of us. I can’t help but look around at our world today and see how truly sick we are, and I think one of our first steps in healing and finding true health has to be doing a better job of caring and providing for our children, not just because it is the humane and moral thing to do, but because all of society will benefit from it. If we don’t invest in the health and well being of our children now, we’ll just be paying for it in different and more negative ways in the future. I think we should chose health.

Sunday Reflections: What if we are our own worst enemies? A reflection on librarianship.

I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy; we fought ourselves. And the enemy was in us.” – Platoon

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When I was a teen, I was obsessed with the movie Platoon, in large part because Charlie Sheen was one of my James Deans. Yes, I know it turns out that he was absolute trash, but we didn’t know it at the time. But because of this obsession, I had purchased the Platoon soundtrack – on vinyl thank you very much – and memorized the closing speech which contains the line above. The line above has always stuck with me and I keep thinking about it lately in terms of the MLS and the devaluing of libraries, in part through the devaluing of the library profession by none other than librarians. Hear me out.

Before I begin, let me just take a moment to say that I have the utmost respect for paraprofessionals. I myself started out as a paraprofessional YA associate before choosing to go on and get my MLS. Some of my best friends are paraprofessionals, including my best friend who happens to be a nondegreed director of a small, rural library. Our very own Amanda MacGregor, who is my most trusted reviewer and someone I go to frequently for advice and information, is not an MLS librarian, though I believe you all know I love, value and respect her fiercely. This is not a diatribe against paraprofessionals or anyone who works in the library; it is, however, a reflection on how we talk about the profession and the lingering effect it has and how people perceive the value of the library.

Time and time again, I hear many people talking as if the MLS no longer matters in any way, shape or form, and this concerns me. There is even, recently, a vote discussing whether or not the director of the ALA – the American LIBRARY Association – should hold an MLS. And I was surprised by how many people felt that this prerequisite was an obviously absurd idea. I feel quite differently about this; I believe that the director of the ALA should be a person who holds an MLS from an ALA certified school. To me, to forgo putting someone with an MLS as the director of the ALA would be like putting someone who doesn’t have a background in psychology in charge of the APA or someone who isn’t licensed in medicine in charge of the AMA. I want someone who has the education, knowledge and experience to be directing the organization.

But it’s not just about whether or not the director of the ALA should hold an MLS. More and more, I hear professional librarians talking as if the MLS education is completely unnecessary, and I would argue that this is harmful to our profession. What we say and do matters and transforms how people think about our profession. If we ourselves devalue our profession, than why shouldn’t our public, including community boards and legislators? I think of it somewhat as branding, and we are hurting our brand.

One of the last library systems I worked at went from having a staff of around 80 people and 12 MLS librarians to around 40 employees and only 2 MLS librarians. All specialists, including children’s librarians, were done away with. But of course, none of the services or programming were, so now fewer and less invested people are tasked with doing the same responsibilities. At another library, the retiring MLS director was replaced with the city’s marketing manager who had never worked in the library. The benefit is that the library gets a lot of good marketing, but the daily business of the library – it’s philosophy and foundations of the library in the community – was no longer at the core.

In contrast, at one system I worked at an individual from the business world was hired to be an operations manager, but this person worked closely with the library director, an experiences MLS librarian, to keep the foundations of librarianship at the center while blending those ideals with that of the business world to keep the library moving forward in terms of budgeting and HR practices.

But what happens when we start saying that librarians and librarianship aren’t really necessary in libraries? What happens when we devalue professional librarians? I would argue that those outside the library community see this and take that discussion one step further. If librarians aren’t important, if the education and experience isn’t important, then perhaps libraries themselves aren’t that important?

How many times have I, an MLS librarian, been asked if I am a volunteer? Too many too count. How many times have I been asked why I need a degree to do my job? Again, too many to count. The truth is, we don’t do a very good job of informing our public about what we do, why it matters, and why having educated and professional librarians involved in the library is important. And if it doesn’t really matter, then why should our communities support them with their tax monies?

Have you ever worked at a library where it has been suggested that staff could be let go and replaced by volunteers? I have, and it’s very disheartening. But I also think, we do this to ourselves in some ways. When staff are reduced, workloads are not reduced in kind. We replace retiring professionals with paraprofessionals to reduce staffing costs and the library is populated with fewer and fewer librarians. Sometimes, there are no professional librarians to be found.

This conversation gets tricky because not all libraries are the same. For example, there are a lot of small, rural libraries out there being well run by passionate paraprofessionals and a just a handful of staff to cover the circulation desk. You can not compare a small rural library with a large urban library system, it’s like comparing apples to oranges. But when even our largest library systems begin to do away with professional librarians, it definitely communicates a message to the larger public about the value of both librarians and libraries. And I would argue that this message is not in our favor.

These past few weeks we have seen public school teachers fighting for respect and pay that matches their job. We demand of our teachers a degree and hold them to a standard, and yet teachers are another maligned profession. We do not culturally value teachers, in part I would argue because it is seen as a feminized profession, much as librarianship is. But these past few weeks, teachers have united together and demanded to be fairly compensated for their work.

In comparison, I continue to see librarians degrading the profession in the ways that we talk about our field, in the ways that we don’t demand adequate compensation for our jobs, or the ways in which library directors eliminate professional staff and professional development when forced to make budget cuts.

As I mentioned, I was a paraprofessional before I became an MLS degree holding librarian. I have been dedicated and passionate about my job every step of the way. But getting my degree changed who I was as a librarian. My education really helped me understand so many aspects of both my job and my teens. It made me a better librarian.

The irony is that today, when I hear people say that they want to get their MLS, my knee jerk reaction is that I want to tell them not to do it. Not because I don’t believe in it, I think it has tremendous value and I think it helps establish us as a profession. No, I want to tell them not to do it because I understand that the job prospects for MLS librarians are shrinking. Libraries now hire fewer and fewer librarians, and we are often inadequately compensated salary wise for our level of education and experience. Many libraries now only want to hire degreed librarians in management positions, though it is hard for MLS librarians to get the experience required for those positions because we aren’t hiring librarians in non-management positions for them to get the necessary experience.

So yes, I would like the director of the American Library Association to hold an MLS degree from an ALA certified school. To me, that helps communicate the value of the library profession to the public that we serve. I would also, for the record, like the ALA to spend part of its financial resources marketing the idea of libraries to the general public in much the same way that you see the AMA marketing the medical field to the public. And for the record, I am not an ALA member because I can’t afford the fees.

But this post isn’t really about the director of the ALA, as I mentioned, I’m not an ALA member and I don’t get a vote. But what this post is, I hope, is a reflection on how I worry that we librarians have become our very own enemies when it comes to branding and marketing of libraries. If we continue to devalue the educational foundation of our profession, does that not in some way devalue the idea of libraries themselves? I would argue that it is possible that it does and we see that in the ways our boards ask us to replace full-time professional positions with 2 part-time paraprofessional positions and the ways in which our legislators slash our hours and our budgets.

The conversation is, of course, bigger than this post. For example, do we need age specialists? I would argue that we do. I know that my teens are better served because they have a librarian who has taken the time to study adolescent development, just as babies are better served by someone who has studied early childhood development. And of course, there is something to be said about paraprofessionals who have worked with and trained with good, quality librarians. And there is something to be said about how overwhelmingly white our profession is and about how in a profession dominated by women men rise to leadership positions faster and more often. These are all valid conversations that we need to be having.

My point is this: I would like us all to consider the ways that we talk about our profession, our education, our experiences, and the very concept of a library and to consider the ways in which we may be undermining our very own profession. I want us to consider whether or not we are being our own enemies and to make the changes necessary to be advocates instead.

Sunday Reflections: This is What Happened When I Took My Teen to See Love, Simon

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Last night I took The Teen and a friend to see Love, Simon, the movie based on Simon VS. The Homo Sapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli. I have never been in a movie where the audience whooped and hollered and audibly gasped and applauded so loudly. And it was a pretty full theater. It was an epic, joyous experience.

I also had a very profound and personal conversation with The Teen about this movie afterwards. And no, this is not a post where I will share with you that she came out to me, because if the movie taught me anything it’s that that information would not be mine to share. My revelation is about me.

But first, some background.

I became a Christian when I was in high school. I’m a 45-year-old woman who grew up right as the AIDS crisis was being discussed in the news. In all fronts of my life I was constantly being told that about the “gay agenda” and how abhorrent the gay lifestyle is.

I then went on to college and got my degree in youth ministry from a conservative Christian college, a Nazarene university. The Nazarenes consider themselves a “holiness” denomination. At the time I went to a Nazarene university you couldn’t go to the movies, you couldn’t dance, and The Mr had family members who wouldn’t even let cousins go swimming in the same pool because it was considered mixed bathing and inappropriate.

But I also found a safe sense of self and place in the conservative Christian church. I knew I belonged, I knew what I believed, and I knew I had a purpose. For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged somewhere. I felt safe. I felt at some type of internal peace that I hadn’t known I was lacking.

This was all at the height of the Christian Evangelical movement. I only listened to Christian music, I went to Christian concerts, I frequented Christian bookstores. I often wrestled with what it meant as a teen librarian to give teens access to materials that were against my personal beliefs.

But I also began to notice a growing disconnect with the message of love I heard preached from the pulpit and the absolute anger, violence and hatred I heard spoken by my fellow Christians regarding marginalized groups, particularly the GLBTQ community. And as I my heart filled more and more with hate for the other, I felt less and less Christlike, and further away from my God.

At the same time, I had become friends with several members of the GLBTQ community, and couldn’t help but notice that they did not have this same level of hatred in their hearts. In fact, they were often more loving, more kind, and more accepting of others than my Christian peers. They seemed, in fact, more Christlike in that the way they lived their lives modeled more truly the lack of judgment, the lack of hate, the abundance of love that Jesus preaches over and over again in the Bible that my faith is supposed to be based on.

Slowly, over time, I began to believe that if we were to say that God loves, saves and forgives anyone, then that has to include everyone. And over time as my understanding of who I believe God is changed, I started to go to a more progressive church that better reflected my understanding of my faith.

But it came at a great cost.

I lost friends, family, and that very sense of place and security that had brought me out of some of the darkest places I had ever known. I had to start all over again, and in my 40s, and that was . . . hard, to say the least. Not as hard, of course, as it is to be a member of the GLBTQ community in a world that actively seeks to dehumanize you, but it was still amazingly hard.

So last night after Love, Simon, The Teen looked at me and asked me what I thought of the movie and I surprised even myself because I started crying as I explained my answer. You see, I really care about people, I really care about teens in particular. I have dedicated my life to serving and advocating for them in libraries this past 24+ years. It has been challenging and I have learned and grown a lot. But I am also in a state of constant tension regarding my beliefs.

I want teens to feel radically free to be themselves because I hate that identifying at GLBTQ puts a teen at a higher risk of suicide and homelessness because of how much our world hates them. I don’t want to in any way contribute to that. But I have also been taught for most of my adult life that to accept someone as GLBTQ is to lead them to sin and eternal damnation, and as someone who cares about them, I don’t want to contribute to that either. It often feels like no matter what I do or believe, I am hurting teens. That’s the power of indoctrination, it’s so very hard to shake.

I now identify as Methodist, a Christian denomination that is very much wrestling with the issue of being a member of and accepting members of the GLBTQ community. For the past few years, the church has been in a constant state of possible split over these very issues.

I explained all of this to The Teen in the best way I knew how: I’m a 45-year-old woman who grew up in a time where the GLBTQ lifestyle was completely demonized and I come from a conservative Christian background that is slowly changing as I come to better understand what it means to be a follower of Christ and to live in alignment with the simple commandment: Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.

I’m a work in progress. As a human. As a librarian. As a mother. As a friend. As a Christian.

I’ve lost a lot on this journey. I’ve gained a lot on this journey. The journey is just beginning, every evolving, never ending.

I’m trying to raise my children differently as Christians. I believe that they are more loving, more accepting, more Christlike. My prayer for them is that they will be.

But I’m not going to lie, I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat because there are those that tell me I am leading them to hell by raising them to be so loving, and as a parent that terrifies me.

I am glad that we went and saw Love, Simon, not just because it was a triumphant and joyous movie, but because it helped us to have a conversation I think we really needed to have about who I was, who I am becoming, and why it is sometimes so very hard for me to embrace things that are so much easier for her. I want her to know that the journey of faith isn’t a smooth, straight path, but a rocky one that is challenged again and again and that sometimes, you have to make hard decisions to stand up for what you believe in.

I also want her to know that I love her with a fierce passion and that I believe God does too, no matter what happens in this life.

Sunday Reflections: It’s Okay to Sit a Moment in Your Pain

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Vague spoilers for A Wrinkle in Time appear in this post. If you are totally unfamiliar with the story, read at your own risk of being spoiled.

At the beginning of A Wrinkle in Time, Meg Murray’s father has been missing for 4 years. It’s the 4 year anniversary in fact as she sits in the prinicipal’s office and he tells her that it’s time to move past her hurt and be the good girl Meg that they all miss, in part because that Meg was easier to deal with.

Around the 1 year anniversary of a very complicated pregnancy loss that almost took my life my pastor told me the same thing.

People like to put limit on other people’s pain.

You see it time and time again on social media. Smile, be happy, put it in perspective. Those constant memes with glorious sunsets that remind us all that these are First World Problems, that someone somewhere definitely has it worse, and if you just think positive thoughts and choose to smile then life is really awesome.

It’s a Lego Movie mentality.

Everything is Awesome.

Except, of course, when it’s not.

The truth is, it’s okay to sit for a moment in your pain. It’s actually important that we do so. We have to take the time to really and truly grapple with our life experiences and the emotions that they cause in us. The way that those moments change the landscape of who we are.

Because that’s what they do, moments of pain can change who we are. When a piece of us is stolen, when we learn a horrific truth about the reality of life, when we are betrayed or let down, or when we betray or let down others. It changes you. And yes, that changing doesn’t have to be some permanent hardship, but it’s okay if you sit in the darkness of your soul for a while and really wrestle with what it means to be hurting and human.

“Everybody loves you when you’re easy,” sings Sarah McClachlan in the song Black and White. That lyric has always stuck with me because I recognize the truth of it. Sitting with someone as they sit in their pain is hard.

For a while, Meg Murray sits in her pain. She steeps herself in it. Her father is missing. She doesn’t know what happened to him or what it means. She is entitled to her pain. She is entitled to her anger. No matter how uncomfortable it makes us.

But she doesn’t stay there, because one of the things A Wrinkle in Time is ultimately about is hope. And love. And healing. Meg finds hope and in finding that hope, she learns more about herself and her place in the world. Meg Murray takes a grand adventure and moves from anger to hope, but she does so in part because she learns that the source of her pain can be found, her questions answered, her world righted again. Not every child gets that chance. For every found father there are fathers who have no desire to be found. For every sister screaming into the darkness I love you and I always will, there are sisters who won’t answer the phone and haven’t talked to their siblings in years. Meg Murray is one of the lucky ones.

Lots of our kids are not, in fact, Meg Murray. Breakfast will not magically appear tomorrow morning. A loving Dad will not be rescued from the darkness. Bullies won’t reconsider the harm they are causing to those that they bully.

Yesterday I sat in the movies with my two daughters and I watched a childhood favorite come to life, and I was profoundly moved to share this inspiring moment with my girls. I looked over at them and I wept as they saw a family come back together in love and heard time and time again the affirmations made to our dear Meg.

But I also thought about every one of my kids who won’t get that, the happy ending and the words of affirmation. And my heart also ached. But also I thought about this: it’s okay that Meg needed to sit for a while in her pain and anger. Sometimes that’s where we need to be. And we need to allow our kids and teens to be honest with themselves and with their pain while also giving them hope that they can move out of the darkness. And that, ultimately, is the hope that A Wrinkle in Time provides. We can fight the darkness, but it is, indeed, a fight.

Sunday Reflections: If We Want to End Sexual Violence, We Have to Change the Way Adults Talk About It

Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence, Rape

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Some weeks (months?) ago, the news broke out that a high school near me was embroiled in a horrific sexual violence case. At first, the media kept referring to it as “hazing”. After a lot of push back, the media and community have started to use the terms sexual assault. Hazing in itself is not okay and can often be deadly, but by calling it hazing the language was minimizing the sexual violence that was taking place. This is just one of the many ways I have seen this case discussed that have caused a lot of concern for me.

Before I begin talking about the fall out, let me share what I can about the case. Originally, five students from a team sporting event were arrested for “hazing” fellow team mates in the locker room. This “hazing” involved male team mates violating other male team mates in ways that are too clearly sexual assault and rape.

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I’m not here to talk about the case, because at this point it’s an ongoing investigation and what I have heard is all media reports, speculation and rumors. But I am here to talk about the way adults in the community talked about it after the news broke. As often happens, we learned about this via the media and people began to share the news on Facebook. Soon, the comments started flowing and, as always happens, the comments reveal how much of a problem adults and the way that adults view and talk about sexual violence contribute to the problem. We can’t change the culture of sexual abuse until we change the way adults talk to and about sexual violence.

Of course one of the first statements that started pouring out was: BOYS WILL BE BOYS. This is a false and harmful statement. A vast majority of boys and men never sexually violate others, because they can in fact practice self control and restraint. Make no mistake, sexual violence happens a lot, but this idea that “boys will be boys” is a harmful beginning point. It excuses male behavior by suggesting that men are primarily oriented towards violence and that they lack the ability to learn, grown and practice self control. Not only is this statement untrue and harmful, but men should be angry at what this presupposes about them. Men can and should be held accountable for their actions. These boys made a choice to violate others, they should be held responsible for that choice.

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Many other respondents tried to excuse the specifics of this case by suggesting that THIS HAPPENS EVERYWHERE. While I hope that is statistically untrue and that a majority of high schools don’t have rampant sexual abuse happening in their locker rooms, I want to know why the adults felt comfortable shrugging this off as ‘it happens everywhere” instead of demanding to know if it does, in fact, happen everywhere, then how can we stop it because it’s not okay. Even if it happens somewhere else, why are we willing to accept it as happening in our communities and to our children? If it does happen at other communities, what can we do in our local community to change the culture and make our kids safe? A child who wants to participate in sports should not have to be willing to submit themselves to abuse in order to participate. That is an unacceptable starting point. Students involved in extracurricular events should be held to a higher standard, not a lesser one.

Many commenters reported that this had in fact been going on in this specific school for years and others wanted to know if that was true, then why hadn’t someone spoken out sooner. WHY DIDN’T THEY REPORT IT SOONER is a very common talking point. Well, it turns out that some may have but, as frequently happens when reporting sexual violence, their complaints were ignored. But the comments themselves reveal why those who are victims of abuse don’t come forward. Revealing abuse in this type of setting often puts the victims in an even more dangerous position. Now they must navigate the hallways of their school with a target on their back as the investigation happens and the popular kids – and the abusers are often the popular kids – harass, bully, and vilify them. Or they are pulled out for their safety and everything about their lives is suddenly upended. And if their families stay in the community, they are forced to live among a life-time reminders and triggers. There are so many very real systemica barriers to victims of sexual violence coming forward and reporting. And that doesn’t even get into the shame, guilt, self-blame and questioning that can happen before a victim is even ready to come forward. There are both personal and systemic barriers that can cause a delay in when an event happens and when it is reported. And truthfully, statistically we know that a large number of victims will never report because those barriers are very real.

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Especially when a sports team is involved, the victim who comes forward can be seen as a traitor because the sad truth is, we live in a culture that puts winning and sports above individual suffering. A lot of wrong doing is swept under the rug to keep the momentum of a winning sports team going because they produce revenue and positive PR. And make no mistake, PR is very important to schools and communities. The rating and success of local schools helps to attract new business, and new business equals growth, and growth equals money. The book MOXIE by Jennifer Matthieu does a good job of highlighting what can happen when students try to change the culture of sexual violence in a high school.

There has also been some question of which adults knew what and when, and whether or not things were covered up. A lot of people have come to these educators defense and suggested that this is a one time mistake and overall, they are good people. This is something we see again and again when we talk about racism and sexual violence, the explaining away of abusive behavior because overall, this person is really a good person. I can’t speak to what these adults knew and when, but if they knew and failed to act to protect the victims immediately, then they failed these children and may have engaged in criminal behavior (teachers are mandated reporters) and they don’t deserve to be in this position again. When I and other parents send their children to school, we need the full confidence of knowing that teachers and staff will protect our children, respond to their concerns, and follow the rules of the district and the law that has been established to help keep our kids safe.

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As someone who works with teens, I am frequently put in the position of having to determine how to respond when I have concerns about a teen’s safety. It is, in fact, a hard position to be in. As a public librarian, I’m not a mandated reporter and I often don’t have enough information, but I have gone to my administration frequently and said here’s my concern and we worked out how to respond and report. I have made many a call to either the police or the children’s protective services. I do not in any way seek to diminish how hard it is to be put in these positions because I have been often and it is no easy task. There are situations that I have been involved in that will probably haunt me until the day I die as having to wrestle with the safety of others is a hard position to be in. But I’m also a mother and a sexual violence survival and I want our go to response to always be: protect the children immediately.

As I read through the comments on several articles around this case, I was continually appalled by the way the adults talked about these events. My heart broke for the victims that might wander into these online forums and read what others were saying about this case (and I really hope that they don’t). And as always happens when I read the comments on reports of sexual violence, my heart broke again and again for the way that we blame and talk about victims, the way we fail to understand the hurdles that victims must face to come forward and be taken seriously, and the way that their life is shifted not just by the abuse itself, but by the way that others respond when they do come forward and ask for help to make their world safer. Sexual violence victims are abused over and over again by the ways that we talk about sexual violence in our culture.

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And in this post, I continue to use the term victims as opposed to survivors because these teens are in the thick of it. They are victims. One day, they will work through the events of what happened to them and may choose to label themselves as survivors, but this is new and real and raw and we are just learning that they are victims. They are victims that by all accounts this community has failed and is continuing to fail.

I have worked with teens in public libraries for 24 years and this is the first time that I personally have heard about a case like this and so close to home. This school is not my child’s school nor is it a school in the district in which I work and serve, but it’s not a story in a YA novel – it’s a very real community that affects the lives of people I love and respect. And as I read through the comments all I could think was this: we still have so much work to do to break down the toxic ways in which we respond to and talk about real life sexual violence. Yes, talking about it with our kids and helping to change it for the next generation is an important part of the process, but we have to also do the work of changing the way that adults talk about and respond to reports of sexual violence.

Some of my friends did a really good job of doing this work. They went online and repeatedly used the term sexual assault every time someone tried to downplay this as merely playful hazing. Many others reminded commenters that boys will be boys is an unacceptable statement. And these are the things we must do, over and over again. Use language and challenge others to use language that speak truth to the horrific nature of crimes of sexual violence. Call the language out, redirect the language, make sure that headlines and comments focus on the true nature of these crimes. We must do the work to continually challenge the way that we talk about sexual violence to help change the culture (when and if you can, I know that if you are a survivor yourself that this can be challenging.)

Things we can do:

  • Call out problematic language
  • Call out slut shaming
  • Call out victim blaming
  • Tell our family, friends and coworkers that jokes about rape and sexual violence are not okay. When someone tries to make a joke, point out that the joke is not acceptable.
  • Contact the media immediately when we see problematic headlines or reporting. For example, make sure they use active voice which highlights that sexual violence is a choice of the abuser instead of focusing on passive voice.
  • Redirect any questions or comments about the victim back onto the abuser. If someone says why were they there, re-direct and ask why did the abuser think it was okay to abuse someone.
  • Arm yourself with facts from RAINN and other organizations. Facts are important when discussing issues.
  • Familiarize yourself with the issues surrounding reporting, the obstacles for victims, and the many reasons why victims postpone or choose to never report. Knowing this information helps when people ask why they didn’t report right away.
  • Understand and remind others that everyone responds to sexual violence differently and no one owes us their story or their advocacy. Many survivors will choose to become advocates, but others don’t and that is also okay. Everyone gets to heal and talk about their experiences in their own way.
  • Make sure where you work has a solid sexual harassment/violence policy in place and that all staff are trained on the policy.

Systemic change calls for systemic solutions. We have to address the issues on as many fronts as possible. Lots of people are doing great work writing for and talking about these issues with kids and teens, but it’s not enough. We as adults have to change the conversation among ourselves.

Sunday Reflections: When Adults Fail, the Teens will Save Themselves

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On February 14th, there was another school shooting. This was the 18th school shooting in 2018 and 17 people were sadly and tragically taken from this mortal coil too soon. But this school shooting, or more precisely what is happening after this school shooting, is different. This time, teens are stepping up to the microphone and demanding change. When the adults in power have failed to save them time and time again, the teens have decided to demand change. The teens are going to save themselves, and save us all in the process.

Soon after the Parkland shooting, TLTer Heather Booth shared this important thread on Twitter with her own high school experience with tragedy and how the adults responded to it are different than how the adults respond to school shootings:

And she’s right, when it comes to school shootings, we have failed our kids time and time again. Currently the CDC is legally barred from even studying the epidemic of gun violence. At the same time, lawmakers are already talking about how to stop teens from eating Tide pods.

Author Maureen Johnson asked teens on Twitter to share with her how adults are failing teens, and they responded:

So the kids – teens in this case – have been very vocal. They are demanding action. They are using social media and the access they have to a platform and demanding that we listen. And listen we must.

Listen to teens like Emma Gonzales, Kyra and more. I am providing a link to one tweet each so you can find them on Twitter and read what they have been saying, how they are demanding that we act. They are writing their elected officials, asking us to sign petitions, and staging protests.

Emma Gonzales on CNN

Huffington Post: Teens talking about gun control after Florida shooting

Buzzfeed: Student texts during shooting

Many are also in the midst of organizing a National School Walkout. I am the parent of a teenager who has already twice had to debate whether or not to send my child to school in the midst of a social media threat of gun violence at her school. I have told her that I support her participating in the walkout if she chooses and she will not get in trouble at home for standing up for what she believes in.

I will say that I have noticed since the 2016 election that my teens are more politically involved and active then they have been in past years, and I’ve worked with teens for 24 years. Something has shifted. We need to be listening.