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One in Three: Teen Dating Violence and Michelle Carter – a guest post by author Heather Demetrios

Today we are honored to have Bad Romance author Heather Demetrios with us to talk about teen dating violence. She shares her experiences and thoughts regarding this serious issue and her recent release, Bad Romance.

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As a young adult author, I think a lot about what it feels like to be young and in love. It’s my job to figure out what makes a teen tick, what concerns them and influences them, what keeps them up at night. I often have to delve into my own past to do this with accuracy, mining my own adolescent struggles in order to articulate the teen experience with authenticity and compassion. Michelle Carter’s trial and recent sentencing to serve fifteen months in jail for her involvement in her boyfriend, Conrad Roy’s suicide has forced me to go back, once again, to the abusive relationship I was in during high school, one that led me to contemplate suicide myself and ultimately led me to write my most recent YA novel, Bad Romance (Macmillan / Holt June 2017). Like Conrad Roy, I wavered, undecided: I’d go so far as to grab a knife and hold it in my hand and wonder: how much will it hurt? Obviously I never went through with it, but, unlike Conrad, I had people in my life begging me not to kill myself, rather than a significant other encouraging me to go through with it. My significant other was the reason I wanted to end my life, and, in this, Conrad Roy and I are kin: we were teenagers whose partners held incredible sway over our very lives simply through their words: manipulative and cruel comments, suggestions, and demands that were hypnotic in their power to move us toward self harm.

Michelle Carter’s trial ended in a landmark ruling of manslaughter, one with far-reaching legal implications that lawmakers are, at present, attempting to untangle and which will be further examined in the appeals process. Her sentencing underscores what many people believe to be true: even if you didn’t pull the trigger (so to speak), your hand can still be on the gun. Regardless of whether or not Michelle Carter’s sentence was fair or if she should have even been on trial in the first places, there is this to contend with: teenager is dead in part because of his abusive girlfriend. This came as no surprise to me and, I doubt, to the thousands of people who have been, or are currently in, abusive relationships, physical or otherwise. And yet the larger problem of abuse hasn’t been the focus of this conversation. The controversial nature of the trial and sentencing has eclipsed what this tragedy is about: teen dating violence.

I want you to keep this number in mind: three. According to Love is Respect, a non-profit working to help teens in abusive relationships, Teen Dating Violence affects one in three teens in the United States. TDV isn’t limited to physical and sexual abuse—it includes emotional and verbal abuse which, as we’ve seen in the case of Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy, can be just as damaging as wounds that leave marks. The texts and phone calls between Ms. Roy and her boyfriend are a chilling example of the power young people are able to exert over one another and the vulnerability of teens in these abusive relationships. When Roy turned to his girlfriend, admitting his suicidal thoughts just a day before he was found dead, this is one of the conversations through text he and Carter had, as transcribed by the Wasshington Post:

Carter: So I guess you aren’t gonna do it then, all that for nothing…I’m just confused like you were so ready and determined.

Roy: I am gonna eventually. I really don’t know what I’m waiting for…but I have everything lined up.

Carter: No you’re not, Conrad. Last night was it. You keep pushing it off and you say you’ll do it but u never do. Its always gonna be that way if u don’t take action. You’re just making it harder on yourself by pushing it off, you just have to do it. If u don’t do it now you’re never gonna do it.

This is textbook abuse here. Carter’s employing manipulation, exploiting her boyfriend’s weakness while masquerading in the guise of an encouraging supporter in order to get him to do something she wants. This is just one of many disturbing interactions between the couple in which Carter establishes and maintains the unequal distribution of power between them. And it’s so easy. It takes seconds to send a text, to take part in ending a life with just a few words. This alone is reason to be more concerned than ever about teen dating violence. Technology gives abusers more access than ever to their partner. Intimate, dangerous conversations such as these can happen any time, anywhere. Social media gives jealous partners unlimited fuel for fire. Tracking apps allow boyfriends to see exactly where their girlfriends are at any given moment. The possibilities are endless.

To use the vernacular of my genre, being young and in love sucks. You’re a walking wound: all your insecurities and fears and hurts are on display and that vulnerability makes you a target if your boyfriend or girlfriend so desires. And because you’re young and haven’t yet figured out how to put on your armor each day, you often go into battle with nothing but your desire to be loved. To be seen. To matter. This can result in hellacious highs and lows that feel so life and death—and, as we’ve seen in the case of Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy, can often actually be life and death. Through pop psychology, we all now know that the whole “sticks and stones” mentality is retrograde: words can hurt, and they do. Since Bad Romance came out, I’ve had so many readers who have reached out to me about their bad romances—teens and adults alike. Whether I’m talking to librarians in Texas, the young publishing crowd in New York City, or teens at a school visit in Vermont, there will always be more than one woman in the group who says, Me too. Me too. There is always relief in these interactions, as though a window has been opened in a stuffy room. As though these women are finally giving themselves permission to admit what they’ve been through.

Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why has helped bring to light how many teens struggle with suicide, a conversation that needs to be had—and often. But we need to start talking about teen dating violence with the same gravity. Several organizations, such as Love is Respect, Day One, and Planned Parenthood, are trying to help teens through campaigns on Tumblr that aim to educate kids about what constitutes a healthy relationship and how to get help. Through the support and efforts of former Vice President Joe Biden, February is now Teen Dating Violence Awareness month. There are hotlines and online quizzes and free resources for teens—Day One even offers legal aid and in-person counseling to teens in the New City area. The efforts of countless teachers, social workers, and survivors is all in the hopes of changing that 1 in 3 number, to empower teens through education so that they know their rights, understand what is and isn’t healthy in a relationship, and to avoid tragedies like Conrad Roy’s suicide. What I think is particularly important to note in Roy’s experience is how the expected roles are reversed: here, the female is the abuser. For most people in abusive relationships, shame plays a huge role. In the age of Queen Bey and Nasty Women, no one wants to be seen as a doormat. This is even more so for teen boys in abusive relationships, who may find it very hard to admit that their girlfriends are abusing them, for fear of being seen weak or less masculine. The more we have these conversations in the open, the easier it will be for teens of any gender to get the help they need.

Though nothing “good” can come of what happened between Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy, the tragedy can be used as an opportunity to take a good, long look at the influx of teen dating violence and its far-reaching implications. I can’t help but think of my teen self: what would she have done if she’d heard about what Michelle Carter did? Would she have seen a bit of herself in Conrad Roy? I don’t think so. She would have needed to hear that teen dating violence isn’t just relegated to boyfriends who slap their girlfriends, or girlfriends who tell their boyfriends to kill themselves. She would have needed to see and hear, again and again, that jealousy and manipulation and control have no place in a healthy relationship. She would have needed teachers and parents and other adults who could recognize the signs of an abusive relationship and not just relegate that to teen drama. The stakes in young love are high and, yes, they can be life and death. And the sooner we respect the seriousness of teen relationships and validate the emotional pain teens are going through rather than grumbling about hormones, the sooner we can save the next Conrad Roy.

To that end, I’m offering free Skype sessions to teachers and librarians for their classroom or events with teens to help raise awareness about teen dating violence and get this important conversation started. I wrote Bad Romance for the express purpose of reaching teens who are in unhealthy relationships to help give them the courage to get out and, even more, I wrote it so that teens can avoid such relationships altogether—and help their friends do so, as well. I also have a resource guide which you can access here, in addition to loads of inspiration and information for teens on the Bad Romance website. I also have some availability for in-person workshops and school/library visits. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with questions. Together, I know we can change these statistics and help the teens in our lives have the healthy relationships they deserve.

Meet Author Heather Demetrios

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When Heather Demetrios isn’t traipsing around the world or spending time in imaginary places, she lives with her husband in New York City. Originally from Los Angeles, she now calls the East Coast home. Heather has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a recipient of the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award for her debut novel, Something Real. Her critically acclaimed novels include Exquisite Captive, I’ll Meet You There, and Bad Romance. She is the editor of the forthcoming anthology of epistolary essays, Dear Heartbreak: YA Authors on the Dark Side of Love, which features letters from real teens. Find out more about Heather and her books at www.heatherdemetrios.com. Tweet to @HDemetrios.

About BAD ROMANCE

Grace wants out. Out of her house, where her stepfather wields fear like a weapon and her mother makes her scrub imaginary dirt off the floors. Out of her California town, too small to contain her big city dreams. Out of her life, and into the role of Parisian artist, New York director—anything but scared and alone.

Enter Gavin: charming, talented, adored. Controlling. Dangerous. When Grace and Gavin fall in love, Grace is sure it’s too good to be true. She has no idea their relationship will become a prison she’s unable to escape.

Deeply affecting and unflinchingly honest, this is a story about spiraling into darkness—and emerging into the light again.

Trickle Down Economics May Not Work, But Trickled Down Hate Surely Does

text2Today is the last day of school and two teenage girls are sitting in my living room waiting to go to Six Flags. We’re skipping school on the last day of what has arguably been the worst year of school in their lives. You see this year, their school has been plagued by incredibly high amounts of sexual harassment, sexual violence and good old fashioned violence. This was not the case last year. This year seems, somehow, different.

In January of this year, my daughter began texting me from school, “Mom, I don’t feel safe.” All in all, she’s told me a couple of times a month in the last 5 months that she no longer feels safe at school.

On Monday, a mom reported in an online FB group that WHILE IN CLASS two boys held her daughter down on the floor and touched her inappropriately. Another boy tried to video tape it. Apparently no one in that classroom, including, the teacher, tried to stop it.

Last week, in this same FB group, it was reported a “prison brawl” had broken out in the cafeteria. It apparently started because one boy told another boy that she should be a slave.

We are apparently up to about a fight a day. And girls are not safe in the school hallways and classroom. Boys taunt them, ask them to suck their dicks, send them pics, or they just reach out and touch them because they think that they can.

This is a small, conservative town. It’s one of those safe, middle class suburban bedroom communities that advertises in Pleasantville like billboards to attract new taxpaying homeowners. The highly rated school systems is one of its major appeals. Along with the green spaces and walking path and splash pad. It is, or at least it was, the American Dream personified.

This is the same school my daughter went to last year. The same kids. But new and worse problems. Something has changed. It’s true, one of those things that has changed this year has been the school principal, and I definitely think that is part of the problem. But I also think one of the things that has changed is our culture. Things that were once hidden are now more out in the open. Hate, racism, sexism . . . they have been on full display of late and I can’t help but look at what is happening at my daughter’s school and think it’s trickle down hatred.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that these things have always existed in our schools. I have worked with teens for 22 years and I have sat in many a room and talked with many a teen and heard about the latest fight or heard them talk about how “boys will be boys”. But somehow, this year has seemed different. Perhaps it’s because I have known these kids since the 3rd grade and have seen a sharp and dramatic change in such a short amount of time. Perhaps it’s because this is my kid, my daughter. But mostly it’s because last year she never told me once that she didn’t feel safe at school.

That’s a powerful statement. “I don’t feel safe at school.” As a mother, your alarm bells will ring and your mama bear claws will come out. As someone who has dedicated their life to working with teens, I see something new and different happening to and in my teens and I despair. I fear that we are poisoning our teens with our hate. It seeping into them and coming out in ways that has intensified everything. Yes, teens have always fought, but are they fighting more? Yes, sexual violence has always been a problem in our schools, but has it gotten worse? Anecdotally I can say that for my daughter in this school, the answer is yes. I wonder if it’s true nationwide, worldwide?

Racism is taught. Kids are not born racist, they are taught it by their parents, their peers, their culture.

Sexism is taught. Kids are not born sexist, they are taught it by their parents, their peers, their culture.

Hatred. Anger. Fear. Selfishness. Greed. Violence. Power. All these negative traits, the very worst of who we are, are rising to the surface in ways that need to be addressed culturally if we love and want to save our children.

This year is over for us now and I will breath a maternal sigh of release. For a few months, there won’t be anymore texts saying mom there is blood on the floor and I don’t feel safe, please come pick me up. For a few months, we get a reprieve. But what happens next year?

As a mom, as someone who loves and works with teens, I implore you. I implore us all. Maybe we should take a moment to reflect on what’s happening in the world around us and how it is affecting our kids. Because I’m scared at what I am seeing and hearing.

Resources: #SVYALit and #MHYALit – Teens and Suicide, Teens and Sexual Violence Brochures

Due in part to the discussions I have been having surrounding the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why, I made an informational brochure on the topics of suicide and sexual violence for the teens at my library. I am posting them here for you and you can use them if you would like. A few notes though.

One, these contain titles that I currently have in my library on the subjects. I have been working on my next book order and I am working to make sure to include highly recommended titles and titles that feature diverse MC or are Own Voices on these subjects in my next book order.

Two, I think you can easily make corrections or additions by downloading book covers you have in your collection and overlaying them in a graphics program if you wish.

Three, we checked multiple times because I’m me for typos, so I hope there aren’t any.

I am also working on one to address the current drug/opioid crisis that we are witnessing nationwide and in the county that I serve, but that one is taking a little more time. I could quickly pull information off of TLT to make these two given some of our past projects, but I am just mow starting to really dive into the facts and figures of the opioid crisis.

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real talk sexual violence brochure page 2

real talk sucide brochure page 1

real talk suicide brochure page 2

 

In Our Mailbox: More Thoughts on 13 Reason Why, Teens and Libraries

Trigger Warning: Discussion of Sexual Violence and Suicide

So I received a message in my email asking my thoughts on 13 Reasons Why and programming. At the same time, Heather Booth was thinking about doing a book discussion and she tweeted out asking people their thoughts, so we called and talked about it. Here’s what I’m currently thinking about 13 Reasons Why, libraries, teens and programming.

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1. The Contagion Effect

In my previous post I alluded to the fact that for reasons that we don’t quite understand, when a school had one suicide they will often have a few more. The term I was looking for at the time is the Contagion Effect. Alexandra Duncan wrote an amazing thread on the teenage brain, mental health and the contagion effect with links to good resources and I highly recommend that everyone read it. When we talk about teens and 13 Reasons Why I think it is important that we keep this information in mind.

2. We Are Not Concerned with Teenage Intelligence, but with Mental Health

Some of the conversation I have seen regarding 13 Reasons Why suggests that this is adults once again not respecting the intelligence or depth of teens, and I think that is not what is happening here. This is about recognizing, as Alexandra Duncan mentions above, that mental health is different then intelligence. People who struggle with mental health issues, depending on what those issues are and where they are at in their treatment, can respond differently to the same input as a person who does not struggle with mental health issues. There are definite times when that mental illness works really hard to trick us into thinking things about ourselves, our worth, that are a skewed distortion of the truth and it’s easy to see how people in vulnerable situations may react differently to the graphic conversations and depictions of suicide depicted in 13 Reasons Why. It’s not about not respecting teens, it’s about respecting teens who may be struggling with mental illness and understanding how triggering this can be to some of them. It’s also about respecting experts who have dedicated their lives to learning about their field of study, remember it’s not just random adults and parents who are concerned with the on screen depiction but mental health experts with knowledge and experience.

3. Speaking of Experts

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I have no problem with the idea of having book discussions or programs on controversial materials or subjects, I just recommend thinking about how we approach those. For example, I have worked at libraries where we have had programs on teen dating violence and domestic violence. The difference is that I had an expert come in and do those programs, and I would recommend the same when talking about 13 Reasons Why which involves mental health and suicide. This isn’t just a program, it’s a program about a topic that is literally life and death and it’s important that we acknowledge the weight of that and respect it. Having an expert on hand to facilitate your program/discussion and to answer any questions is important to make sure that teens are getting the most correct information available to them. If our goal is to serve teens and recognize this important discussion that they are having, then let’s serve them well and make sure they are getting the best information out there on such an important and sensitive topic.

4. Remember, Programming is Opt In

The truth about any book discussion or program in a public library is that it is opt in. This means that our patrons make the choice to come. As long as our marketing is truthful and fully informs our audience of the content of the program and the sensitive nature of the topics, I do think if done well that we can talk about sensitive and controversial things. We put the program together and invite the public, each individual decides whether or not they want to come. Our library system is in its second year of hosting the Great Discussions program, which can in fact contain some controversial topics and discussions. The key is making sure in our marketing to fully inform our prospective audience of what those topics are.

5. What’s the Very Least a Library Should Do Regarding 13 Reasons Why

The popularity of the Netflix series has brought the topics of sexual violence, bullying, mental health and suicide to the forefront of teen discussion. Not only are teens talking about it, but parents, teachers and community members are as well. So this is where we put on our information specialist hats and be pro-active rather than reactive. At the very least, take a moment to review your library policy and inform staff what they are legally and morally required to do if they have a conversation with a teen who they suspect is in some type of harm or danger or at risk for committing suicide. This is an important conversation for librarians to be having with their administration.

Second, think of having some type of resource ready should questions come up. Make sure you have access to a couple of articles regarding the book and show, have a list of some companion reads, and – MOST IMPORTANTLY – make sure you have a list of local and national resources available. There is a National Suicide Prevention Hotline (shown below) and you may want to put up signs in the library letting that information be known. Locally you may also have some resources that you want to know about to share with patrons.

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And finally, a word about streaming the Netflix show in the library. Netflix contracts do not legally allow for the public sharing or streaming of Netflix content, with the exception of The 13th which has been given special permissions for public streaming. In addition, this show is rated M for mature, and if you haven’t watched it yet you should know that is has graphic language, graphic rape scenes, and a graphic depiction of suicide.

And I want to reiterate my previous concern that while it may be great that this book and this show are out there getting teens to talk about very real and important topics that affect them, not all teens have someone to talk to about these topics. And I would caution librarians to think long and hard about what types of conversations they want to have about teens regarding these topics. Know the law, know what your administration will and won’t support, know when and who to refer to, and remind teens that although we may be valued and trusted adults who are experts on the topic of librarianship, we are not experts on the topic of mental health but we will help them find the answer to their questions.

What about sharing our personal stories? I think that is a personal decision that each librarian has to make. And again, each library culture and admin is different so you’ll want to keep in mind what type of boundaries your admin wants you to have with your teens.

Teaching Teens Media Literacy 101

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In this post election season there has been a lot of focus on how fake and biased media influenced the election. It’s staggering to realize how much of an influence it has had. So yesterday I felt compelled to tweet to my teen (and adult followers) some tips for helping to examine the news and media we consume. The need for media literacy became even more evident for me yesterday when an article headline stated that Steve Bannon thinks that only homeowners should be allowed to vote. This is, of course, code for Steve Bannon thinks that only wealthy people who can afford to buy a home should vote. Decoded further, it really means Steven Bannon thinks only white people should vote, because white Americans still own a disproportionate amount of our country’s wealth. It’s a type of coded language – also known as a dog whistle (Dogwhistle politics is political messaging employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has an additional, different or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup.) – that can be easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention. Another example of this is the term “alt-right”, which is just a rebranding of white nationalism AKA racism. (See: AP Deems Term ‘Alt-Right’ A ‘Public-Relations Device’ That Enables Racism). Teaching teens how to really look at the media they consume has always been an important part of librarianship, but it is now taking on a new urgency. For an example of the influence on dog-whistles and the current rise of hate crimes, look no further than the current report by the Southern Poverty Law Center which reports a tremendous spike in post-election hate crimes.

Media Literacy 101




  1. A tweet string on media literacy.

    1) always review the source. Who? What? Why? Where? How?
    2) examine media bias
    3) examine personal bias



  2. 4) read entire piece
    5) after reading, write a real headline that summarizes article for self
    6) pay attention to what is AND isn't said


  3. 7) check for code words and euphemisms. Reread with real words in their place
    8) cross check with other reputable sources
    9) save for future


  4. 10) when talking w/others, be able to cite possibly multiple, reputable sources
    11) examine financial contributions of sources


  5. 12) to preserve freedom of press, pay for your news. Investigative journalists need to make a living. And we need them.


  6. 13) Differentiate between verifiable facts and stated opinions.
    14) Ask follow up questions! How? Why?


  7. 15) Put everything in context. Historical. Regional. Context matters.

 See Also:

Fake News and the Internet Shell Game – The New York Times

We Tracked Down A Fake-News Creator In The Suburbs

Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election

Some Fake News Publishers Just Happen to Be Donald Trump’s

How to Spot Fake News – FactCheck.org

From Hate Speech To Fake News: The Facebook Content Crisis

How To Recognize A Fake News Story | The Huffington Post

A Scientific Approach To Distinguishing Real From Fake News

How Fake News Goes Viral: A Case Study

Should I Share This News on Social Media

This post was edited 11/29 to add an introductory paragraph and resources. What tips and resources would you add? Please share in the comment.

Spending the Day After the 2016 Election with Teenagers

 

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolI have been a teen services librarian for 22 years, maybe 23. I have sat with teenagers through a lot of moments. Many elections. 9/11. I have talked with them about war, the economy, and yes, about their abortions. Some teenagers we see once or twice, others we come to know more personally. They tell us their hopes and fears. They share who they are at the deepest core of their being. Wednesday I sat in a room of teenagers as they processed what this election meant for them. I tweeted about what I heard and saw and gather those tweets for you here. Listen to our youth, I implore you. We are their voice. Whatever we do next doesn’t just affect us, it affects them. Now and in the future.

 

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Yesterday a teen came into the teen MakerSpace. She was shaking and gutted. She was drawn inward when she is usually so outgoing.
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Someone asked about the election and she said, “Do you know Pence wants to send gay kids away and torture them until they’re straight?”
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I know but I don’t know who else knew that she identifies as GLBTQ. In fact, 3 of the teens in that room did.
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Later a new teen brought up the election and it was getting heated, so I changed the subject. “Buy can we talk about Mike Pence?”, she said.
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“You’re really scared, aren’t you?”, I asked. “Yes, this cuts into my soul. They hate me,” she said.
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“They want to send me away and torture me,” she said. Here she was, standing before me, scared and dejected. Not scared, terrified.
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All I could do was tell her this: “There are many, many, adults who love you. We will continue to fight for your safety & civil rights.”
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But it honestly didn’t feel like much. It felt empty.it felt impotent against the backdrop of her very palpable fear.
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We have a handful of black kids who come to our space on a fairly regular basis. And they have increasingly shared the racist insults
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that have been hurled at them. We have had to intercede a couple of times in that very space to keep them safe. Racism is very real:
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I haven’t seen those kids all week. Not once. And I keep hoping they are safe and know that yes, they are loved. I miss them. I fear.
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Another teen posted this on her social media. She is 13. https://t.co/wb12FiRGYr
Another teen posted this on her social media. She is 13. pic.twitter.com/wb12FiRGYr
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These are kids. Our kids. Our communities. We are supposed to be mentors and role models. And we shape their world. We are responsible.
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But listen, here’s what these examples prove. Our kids are watching. They are listening. They are learning, both the good and the bad.
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We. Must. Do. Better. We must be better. For ourselves. For each other. For them. For our now. For our future.
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Rural Poverty and THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES by Mindy McGinnis

Sometimes, it is indeed a small world after all. Shortly after moving to Texas, I learned that author Mindy McGinnis lived just 10 minutes from the very library I had spent the last 10 years working at in the state of Ohio. This town was my home, the place where my children were born. It was also, at the time, the county with the highest poverty rate in all of Ohio. So while there were many aspects about Mindy McGinnis’ THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES that stood out to me, one that stood out most vividly is the depiction of rural poverty. THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES is set in a small, Midwestern town that is ravished by poverty and in my mind’s eye I could picture the very places around this small town that I thought Mindy might be talking about. And while all poverty is bad, each type of poverty has its unique challenges. For example, one of the greatest challenges in rural poverty is transportation. Rural communities are often spread out and don’t have public transportation systems, which makes things like going to a grocery story or doctor’s appointment quite challenging. There are usually fewer options in rural communities, and less options means less competition and less price choices.

Although I currently live in Texas, I work in a public library in another rural Ohio community that is also fighting high poverty. Many of my patrons don’t have the money to buy current technology, and even if they did have the money the truth is, there are still parts of my community that have no providers offering wireless or DSL Internet. Like many other places experiences high rural poverty rates, drug use and drug related deaths are reaching epidemic proportions. So as I mentioned, THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES resonated with me in ways that I can not even begin to describe.

Today, I am honored to host author Mindy McGinni who talks about rural poverty and the part it plays in her newest release, THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES.

thefemaleofthespecies

The Female of the Species addresses many issues within its pages; rape culture and vigilante justice being the most prevalent. A quieter issue raises it’s head though, one that is easy to overlook, shadowed as it is by the more controversial topics.

Rural poverty.poverty2Much of the time poverty is associated with urban life and that is certainly a truth that cannot go ignored. However, there is another face to poverty, one that looks picturesque. Farms with collapsed barns. Homes where no one lives anymore.

I was born and raised in a rurally impoverished area and now I live and work in one. For fourteen years I have been employed as a library aide at a local school where nearly forty percent of our student body receive free and reduced lunch.

During deer hunting season our attendance list shows double digits of our students are excused for the day to participate… and in most cases it’s not a leisure activity for them. They’re putting much-needed food on the family table.

Food pantry lines are long, faces are pinched, and during the summer months many of our students go without lunch because they depended on the school to provide it. Because it is a sprawling, rural community, people who have to weigh the cost of gas for the drive to the pantry against the food they will get there.

None of the characters in my book suffer the indignity of hunger, because I feel it’s an issue that deserves more space than there was room for within this particular story. But hunger breeds a specific type of desperation that calls for an escape, and this can open the door to darker things.

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Upper and middle classes know the need for a vacation. We all feel the cycle of our daily lives triggering stress, causing irritation and anger, and even pushing us towards exhaustion. So we take a “mental health day,” call off work for little or no reason, or we cash in those vacation days and just “get away from it all.”

We have that luxury.

Many of the jobs available to the working poor pay by the hour, and to take a day off means to take a pay cut – one that the budget doesn’t allow for. Vacation time may be possible, but the idea of affording to actually leave is laughable. Escapes from reality are sometimes sought not in a getaway, but in drug use.

There is a major heroin epidemic in my area. We have lost students in my small school district to it. One Twitter user already thanked me for mentioning the epidemic in The Female of the Species, saying that she hopes it may draw more attention to the issue. If it doesn’t, this should; last weekend alone multiple people OD’d, two of them in a mini-van with a four year old.

It’s easy to point fingers, lay blame, criticize and judge. What kind of people do this?

The desperate. The addicted. The hopeless.

Such descriptions aren’t solely the realm of the poor, but there are correlations that can’t be denied.

On my worst days – and we all have bad ones, no matter who we are – I can get upset, feel like giving up or just ducking out of reality for awhile. Stress is present in all our lives, no matter our socioeconomic standing.

But on these days I remind myself that I have food. I have clothes. I have a working car that I can drive to my next school visit, library appearance, or book club talk. I can fill the gas tank and go to work without having to worry about paying for that stop.

The small luxuries of our lives are something that most of us take for granted until they are taken away from us – a cracked phone that doesn’t work, the car being in this shop for a few days, the heat and electric always being on.

When you do have one of those days, think about those who can’t afford a phone at all, and are literally holding their cars together with duct tape. In the past I’ve had students that heat their home with the kitchen stove, and the children sleep with the pets to share body heat.

Spare a thought for them on your bad days, and if you can spare more than that, please do.

Publisher’s Book Description

Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it. When her older sister, Anna, was murdered three years ago and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best. The language of violence.

While her crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people, even in her small hometown. She relegates herself to the shadows, a girl who goes unseen in plain sight, unremarkable in the high school hallways.

But Jack Fisher sees her. He’s the guy all other guys want to be: the star athlete gunning for valedictorian with the prom queen on his arm. Guilt over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered hasn’t let him forget Alex over the years, and now her green eyes amid a constellation of freckles have his attention. He doesn’t want to only see Alex Craft; he wants to know her.

So does Peekay, the preacher’s kid, a girl whose identity is entangled with her dad’s job, though that does not stop her from knowing the taste of beer or missing the touch of her ex-boyfriend. When Peekay and Alex start working together at the animal shelter, a friendship forms and Alex’s protective nature extends to more than just the dogs and cats they care for.

Circumstances bring Alex, Jack, and Peekay together as their senior year unfolds. While partying one night, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting the teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever. (Katherine Tegen Books, September 2016)

More on Rural Poverty and America’s Rural Drug Crisis

Understanding the Epidemic | Drug Overdose | CDC Injury Center

Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts & Figures

About the Epidemic | HHS.gov

5 Charts That Show How Bad America’s Drug Problem Is | TIME

Rural Poverty Portal: Home

Why the Left Isn’t Talking About Rural American Poverty – Rural America

Child Poverty Higher and More Persistent in Rural America

Who’s Afraid of Rural Poverty? The Story Behind America’s Invisible

Hunger and Poverty

Additional Sources:

Social Mobility:

Cycles of Poverty:

How Poverty Affects Schools:

Karen’s Thoughts on THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES: Highly Recommended

femaleofthespecies femaleofthespecies2 femaleofthespecies3 femaleofthespecies4More From Mindy McGinnis

THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES 9.20.16 HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books
GIVEN TO THE SEA 4.11.17 Putnam Children’s Books
Available Now:

Back to School: How to support and respect LGBTQIA+ students

This time of the year means school is back in session, or nearly back in session, for many of us. It’s a good time for a reminder of how to support and respect LGBTQIA+ teens in classrooms and libraries, as well as be reminded of a few great resources. Obviously all of this goes for all people of all ages, but for a lot of queer teens who may be dreading heading back to school, it’s extra important. I know teachers, librarians, and others who work with teens are there to encourage and support all teens and are already aware of these issues and resources, but it never hurts to have a quick and easy list to be able to reference and pass along.

itgetsbetter2

Have other suggestions of resources or reminders? Add them in the comments!

Last year, The Chronicle of Higher Education had this great video post, ‘Ask Me': What LGBTQ Students Want Their Professors to Know.

This Mashable post, 5 accidentally transphobic phrases allies use — and what to say instead, is a good quick reminder of how much our words matter, too.

For more on words, check out this American Psychological Association Psychology Benefits Society post, Stop Saying “That’s So Gay!”: 6 Types of Microaggressions That Harm LGBTQ People and, on Buzzfeed, this post, 19 LGBT Microaggressions You Hear On A Daily Basis.

Are you familiar with the National School Climate Survey? From their site: “The 2013 National School Climate Survey(pdf) is GLSEN’s 8th biennial report on the school experiences of LGBT youth in schools, including the in-school resources that support LGBT students’ well-being, the extent of the challenges that they face at school, and insights into many other aspects of LGBT students’ experiences. The survey has consistently indicated that a safer school climate directly relates to the availability of LGBT school-based resources and support, including Gay-Straight Alliances, inclusive curriculum, supportive school staff, and comprehensive anti-bullying policies.” In this November 2014 TLT post, I summarize many of the main findings. The 2015 National School Climate Survey report will be released in Fall 2016!

While you’re looking at TLT, also check out this GLTBQ YA Resources for Building a Collection and Supporting Teens post. From there you can explore links on reading lists, blogs and Tumblrs to follow, resources, hotlines, and more. Two essential blogs to check out for reading recommendations, reviews, and great overall discussions by and about LGBTQIA+ people and issues are Gay YA and LGBTQ Reads. You can easily go spend a few hours poking around both sites—and they would be hours very well spent.

Campus Pride. From their site: “Campus Pride serves LGBTQ and ally student leaders and campus organizations in the areas of leadership development, support programs and services to create safer, more inclusive LGBTQ-friendly colleges and universities. It exists to develop, support and give “voice and action” in building future LGBTQ and ally student leaders.”

Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals. From their site: “The combined vision and mission of the Consortium is to achieve higher education environments in which lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students, faculty, staff, administrators, and alumni have equity in every respect. Our goals are to support colleagues and develop curriculum to professionally enhance this work; to seek climate improvement on campuses; and to advocate for policy change, program development, and establishment of LGBT Office/Centers.”

HRC Welcoming Schools. From their site: “HRC Welcoming Schools is a comprehensive approach to creating respectful and supportive elementary schools with resources and professional development to embrace family diversity, create LGBTQ-inclusive schools, prevent bias-based bullying and gender stereotyping, and support transgender and gender-expansive students.”

At Teaching Tolerance, a Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, check out this post, Best Practices: Creating an LGBT-inclusive School Climate. From their site: “It all starts with awareness. Often educators are unsure how to support their LGBT students in a meaningful way. These best practices were compiled to give school leaders the knowledge they need to create a climate in which their most vulnerable students feel safe and valued. Through inclusive policies and nurturing practices, administrators, counselors and teachers have the power to build an educational environment that is truly welcoming to all students.”

On Keeping Secrets and the Power of Stories: a guest post by Michele Bacon

woman covers her face with her hands

At 17, I was madly in love with a clever, playful, adorable boy. I loved him fiercely. And—to my utter surprise—he loved me. Together, Michael and I did theater, marching band, and speech team. Over three (mostly) blissful years, we shared everything: our most cherished dreams, our ugliest failures, our triumphs, and our personal insecurities.

I say this not to induce envy (or eye rolling), but to emphasize how serious our relationship was.

About six months after we broke up—when I was 21—I confided in him: I had grown up in an abusive household. Michael was stunned that I’d never told him.

I had never told anyone.

During my parents’ messy divorce, I spoke with the judge, lawyers, and a therapist I adored. My father didn’t like that therapist’s analysis, so we saw another therapist. We were dug into our church at the time, so I spoke with my minister, too.

Those adults were keen to help me, but I never divulged what my father had done to me and to my family. The horrors I experienced, heard, and saw were too embarrassing and shameful. I was broken, and I thought sharing my abuse would taint people’s opinion of me. And, in a way that is now difficult to understand, I was terrified that telling would get me in trouble.

Until a few weeks ago, I had told only three or four friends. But now I’m saying it (to the Internet, no less): I grew up in an abusive household.

Being hurt—physically, psychologically, or emotionally—changes a person.

It made me feel that I was less something than everyone else. I started believing emotionally or physically abusive relationships were okay. That heavy, awful feeling, defined how I viewed my place in the world.

It still does.

Now, let’s be honest, we all have at least one ugly secret that devours us from the inside as we try desperately to conceal it. Perhaps you pretend to not be dyslexic. You don’t talk about your twin who died at birth. You conceal your gender or sexuality. You are poor. You are passing. You’re losing your hearing. You’ve left your religion.

book cover: Life Before. Dirty red sneakers sit in front of a backpackIt doesn’t matter what it is; everyone has something. And we all have the right to keep parts of ourselves private. And I have, for a long time.

Last month, I admitted to a room full of people that I had grown up in abuse, and that my greatest childhood fear was that my father would murder my mother. After I spoke, several women told me, privately, that they had the same secret. Or the same childhood. Or the same fear. Me too echoed around me, and several people said they’d never told a soul.

That is the power of stories: Me too.

Imagine how my life would be different if I’d had that moment at 13. Or 17. Or 19. During my teen years—that amazing intersection of opportunity, energy, and idealism—Me too could have changed my life.

In the last month, I’ve shed the fear that everyone would reject me if I revealed my ugly secret, and I’ve realized that hiding what I perceive as shameful parts of myself doesn’t make them any less a part of me. In the last few weeks, stories have poured from the hearts of readers. They’ve said me too. This shouldn’t have happened to any of us, but it did. For the first time in my life, I am not ashamed. I am done keeping secrets. And I am sharing my story, and the ugly parts of me.

Stories are powerful, and sharing stories makes us stronger. These days, I walk into author talks at schools and libraries knowing someone might ask personal questions. I feel vulnerable, but I’m doing it, and I am encouraging other people to tell the stories they can bear to share. Your story might come at just the right time. Someone who is hiding in the dark shadows of shame may hear “Me too” and step into the light.

 

author photoAbout Michele Bacon 

Michele writes fiction for adults and young adults. She lives in Seattle with her family. Her first novel, Life Before, publishes June 7th, 2016. She loves hearing from readers, fellow writers, and anyone who would like to say #metoo.
You can find her:
Via email at writer(at)michelebacon(dot)com
On Twitter @michelebacon,
On Instagram as WriterMicheleBacon
On Tumblr as michelebacon

 

About Life Before

book cover: Life Before. Dirty red sneakers sit in front of a backpackFor seventeen years, Xander Fife has been keeping secrets. (Almost) no one knows about his abusive father. If he can get through this summer, he’s off to college, where real life finally begins.

What’s more, the summer before college will be amazing: lots of pick-up soccer, long days hanging out with friends, and an epic road trip. Xander also is banking on some long overdue nights with his ideal girlfriend, the amazing Gretchen Taylor.

Instead of kicking off what had promised to be an amazing summer, however, graduation day brings terror. When Xander’s mother is murdered, his family’s secrets are thrust out into the open, and Xander must confront his greatest fear.

Armed with a fake ID, cash, and a knife, Xander skips town and assumes a new identity. Hundreds of miles from home and in danger, one thing is clear: Xander’s real life is already in progress and just getting through it isn’t enough.

 

Teen lives in documentaries

Teens live amazing lives. We know that, but we don’t always see it. These eight documentaries peek into the complicated, emotional, thought provoking lives of teens.

Magic Camp

It looks a little like Hogwarts, and the greatest magicians of our time have emerged from its doors. It’s Tannen’s, a summer camp for aspiring magicians.

Maidentrip

At thirteen, she fought in court for the right to pursue her dream: to sail alone around the world. She filmed much of the footage herself over the course of her two year solo voyage.

Louder Than a Bomb

Chicago area high school teams of talented poets compete in the world’s largest slam poetry competition.

Hot Girls Wanted

Using Craigslist and the promise of a free ticket to Miami, the “pro-amateur” porn industry thrives on eighteen and nineteen year old girls, eager for fame and escape. Disturbing and frank.

OT: Our Town

Twenty years have passed since this Compton high school has put on a play. Now they’re tackling one set in a small rural town nearly a century ago.

Girl Rising

Nine girls from nine different countries were the inspiration for these stories, voiced by renowned actors.

Fame High

What does living a life of art really mean? Teens at this California high school for the arts strive to understand that, and decide if they have what it takes to succeed in this highly competitive world.

Medora

Like Friday Night Lights used high school football as the lens through which to view a small Texas town, here a high school basketball team on a miserable losing streak serves to illuminate a struggling Indiana community.