Teen Librarian Toolbox
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RevolTeens: Helping Teens Tell Their Story in the Time of Covid, by Christine Lively

It’s back to school time here, and we’re all scrambling to figure out what to do and what to say. Everything is different in the time of COVID 19, and everything is constantly shifting and changing, too. I have a son who is moving back to college next week to start his sophomore year and a son who will start his senior year in high school in September. I don’t know what to tell them most of the time. The data, the outlook, and our awareness change day to day and make any kind of certainty impossible.

It all kind of feels like we’re in the middle of a story right now. Perhaps you’ve heard of Pixar’s Storytelling Formula. It has been written about on the internet and in books and reveals some great universal truths about storytelling. One of the best rules is the framing for the story plot that goes:

“Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.”

 From 22 Tips on the Pixar Storytelling Formula  nofilmschool.com

It feels like we’re in the middle of that story right now. “Once upon a time there was a family. Every day, their lives followed the ebb and flow of the school year as their children attended classes, made friends, learned new things, and worked hard. One day COVID 19 came to their country and shut down the schools, made people sick and afraid. Because of that, nobody knew what to do or what was going to happen. Because of that, ____. Until finally ____.”

We’re in the middle of this mess of a story. We’re at the part where we’re looking everywhere for Nemo, or trying to find the core memory that will help Riley, or trying desperately to keep Boo safe and return her to her home. Everything is revolting and nobody knows how it’s going to turn out.

One thing I’ve learned is that adults really don’t know everything and teens always deserve to know that. None of us adults know how things will turn out, but we pretend we do. Teens see through us every time we try to sell them that nonsense. We hated it when our parents and teachers pretended they knew everything. Teens revolt and challenge our purported “expertise” and “the way things have always been” and become RevolTeens. In the midst of COVID 19, all of our pretense has been stripped away now. Teens have seen “behind the curtain,” and they know that adults are just making this up as we go. I hope that we’ll lean into that and keep talking with teens and young adults to help them get comfortable with the uncertainty. If we do it right, we can raise a new generation that embraces change even more fully, and feels ready to respond to it instead of feeling upended and hopeless. 

When school was first canceled, my instinct was to wait a bit and try to figure out what was going on and where this pandemic was heading. My sons were initially thrilled with the idea that they wouldn’t have to get up early for a while and would have a break. Then, we all slowly realized that this situation was not ending anytime soon and fear seeped into our lives. 

As a parent, I usually want to be able to give my kids some kind of certainty – rules, or experience, or at least guidance for “how things go.” The truth is, I don’t have any better idea of how things are or how they will be than my kids do. During this pandemic, I have been able to just be completely honest with them about that. I don’t have any idea what will happen, or how this will turn out. The kids have been fine with that answer, and we’ve had some really great conversations about our uncertainty and about what we do in the meantime as we struggle.

We’ve also learned that everything deserves to be questioned and torn apart. So many YA stories have a moment when what a teen thought was safe and predictable is taken away or changed and they have to start all over again. Often at the other side of that chaos and fear is the realization that things “before” were really not as great as they thought and the pain and fear of change has left them wiser, more wary, and ready for the next upheaval. That is definitely how I feel right now. They’re questioning the value of school, the way they learn, the expectations they’ve had for themselves, and their own ability to make good decisions. It’s been a tremendous time for reflection and reevaluation.

As educators and librarians, we’re all making the best of a lousy situation. We’re being forced to give up all of the physical structures, time structures, and relationship structures that we’ve relied on for years to ensure our patrons’ safety and access. While doing that, I hope that we’re questioning why we’ve always done things a certain way, and if change might improve or deepen our connections. School and our libraries will reopen as spaces for learning, connection, and stories. When they do, I hope that we will remember some of the lessons we’re learning now, and challenge ourselves to find different ways to connect with readers, communities, and students.

I don’t know exactly what my work as a school librarian will be like when school starts again. I do know that the way we work with students, circulate books, collaborate with teachers, and teach lessons will be different. I’m hopeful that some of the changes we make will make our work better, more meaningful, and that we’ll remember some of the great things we do in the time after COVID-19.

Right now, we’re all in the middle of the story of COVID 19. We’re in the chaos. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from RevolTeens in real life and in YA stories, it’s that the uncertainty is painful, but once we realize that nothing is as it was before, we can chart a new and better ending for our story if we’re brave enough.

I’m hoping our story goes like this:

“Once upon a time there was a family. Every day, their lives followed the ebb and flow of the school year as the children attended classes, made friends, learned new things, and worked hard, and the parents went to work, shopped, and cared for the children. One day COVID 19 came to their country and shut down the schools, made people sick and afraid. Because of that, nobody knew what to do or what was going to happen. Because of that, the family struggled and tried new things and new ways of thinking. Until finally the family put aside their expectations, lived day by day, and embraced a new uncertain but hopeful future.”

About Christine Lively

Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. I am a Certified Life Coach for Kids 14-24 and my website is christinelively.com. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively.

Morgan’s Mumbles: Preparing for Online Classes, by teen contributor Morgan Randall

I am an incoming freshman, and recently all my classes were moved to online, and in order to keep track of everything here are a few things I am doing starting my fall semester.

  1. Set up a work area

Make sure you have an area that consistently is your place to work, make calls, and take notes. This will allow you to have a place-specific from work, separate from your rest area.

  1. Put all your classes on a schedule

Write each of your classes out on the schedule, for every day so you know when to be on what call (or if you are in person what building and room to be in). This will allow you to allot time to other activities.

  1. Plan for study times for each class

While you are writing down your classes on your schedule make sure you also plan to study for each of your classes to guarantee you set aside time to study.

  1. Read the syllabi before class

Most professors will upload their syllabus prior to class, even though you will cover it during class the first week make sure you read it ahead of time so you are prepared for the year and write down any questions you have.

  1. Write down your grade breakdown

In your syllabus, your teachers should break down how the course will be graded. It should tell you how many points each assignment is worth, or the percentage it counts towards in your final grade. Make sure you write this down so it’s easy to refer back to.

  1. Know all major assignments

Once again, in your syllabus, you should find each of your assignments listed out. Make sure you understand the major ones, and have the due dates written down.

  1. Buy textbooks/any subscriptions you need prior to class

In the syllabus, necessary textbooks, and any subscriptions that you may need for the course, make sure you invest in these (they can be used or rented) but some courses require you have them as soon as classes start.

  1. Know how to contact your professor and TA

There should be some sort of way to contact them, including office hours and email addresses. Write these in the notebook that you can easily refer back to.

  1. Know any class-specific rules

This may include grace periods for assignments, and when to contact the professor about grades, or any other unique thing that the teacher requires. Make sure you are aware of these, so you can know the expectations of the class.

  1. In your schedule include tests/quizzes

Your syllabus should include dates of tests and quizzes, make sure you have these marked in your calendar so you are prepared for them.

Morgan RandallTeen Contributor

Morgan recently graduated high school and is currently enrolled to attend college in the fall getting her BA in Theatre and Dance with an emphasis on Design and Technology. She loves theatre, writing, reading, and learning. But something that has always been important to her is being a voice for those who feel like they don’t have one, and being a catalyst for change in any way possible.

Pandemic School, by Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

Today, teen contributor Riley Jensen is sharing her thoughts about starting school this upcoming year. Riley will be starting her senior year; it’s an important year with a lot of big decisions. She knows she wants to be a forensic scientist, which means college and tests and campus visits. She also has found her home, her people, in the theatre program. I did not think last year when I saw her perform that it would possibly be my last time seeing her perform on the high school stage. As her mom, this was very hard to read. We’ve cried a lot, talked a lot, and we’re trying to balance making the best decisions for her with the best decisions for our family with the best decisions for our community, all in the midst of a deadly viral pandemic in a state with really consistently high numbers of infection, hospitalizations and death. Here’s a look into the mind of a teen trying to navigate education in the pandemic.

This year while many other schools have made the decision to start school off virtually, my district decided that students would have a choice between online school and in person school. Only half of my schedule is actual academic courses while the other half is made up of extracurricular courses. So, I made the decision to do in person school since I can’t really be a teacher aide from home. Obviously students are required to wear masks and socially distance, but it can be hard to tell how many of the students will actually follow these instructions since they barely even listen to a dress code already.

Thinking about starting this school year has caused me a lot of anxiety. I have no way of knowing what my fellow students have done, who they have been in contact with or how well they’ve been following the recommended precautions. All I know is that if I get the virus at school I will be bringing it back home to my family.

It’s time to put on make up . . . But will the curtain go up again during senior year?

I also know that not everyone is taking this pandemic very seriously. I see people’s posts about them going out to restaurants or amusement parks or parties. I see them without their masks. I see them not being socially distant. I’m not completely innocent either. I’ve gone out and seen large groups of people. Nobody is really doing what they’re supposed to be doing anymore.

So, when I get back to school, I will be surrounded by people who have gone out and done things without a mask. I will be surrounded by people who don’t think this pandemic is that big of a deal. I will be surrounded by people who probably haven’t even looked at the number of cases in weeks. I will probably not be safe.

Senior photo by Rescue Teacher Photography

There are things I could do to make me more safe obviously. I could just show up to my extracurricular classes, but I don’t drive. I know that’s my own fault but that doesn’t change the fact that I still don’t drive. I could drop a few classes and sign up for early release, but then I won’t get all of the credits I need to graduate. At this point I don’t really know what to do, but I’m scared.

I am terrified of the thought that I might get sick and bring it home to my family. I’ve seen the statistics and I know that school is not a super awesome idea. It’s just so much to process. I barely even know what I want to do with my future, but now I have to figure out what to do without putting my whole family in danger of getting sick.

This whole thing is just stressful and scary and something that I never even thought I would have to think about. So, I’m just going to do my part in keeping everyone safe and hope that everyone else does the same. It seems that’s all anyone can really do at this point.

For Teens Making a Difference: A Twist on Gun Violence By Alex Richards

Today we are honored to host a guest post by the author of ACCIDENTAL, Alex Richards.

Even before I had the idea to write ACCIDENTAL, I have been consumed by the headlines. Toddler Fatally Shoots Mom In Walmart. Toddler Shoots One Year Old Sister. Toddler Shoots Two Other Children At A Daycare. Five Year Old Looking For Easter Candy Finds Gun and Fatally Shoots Brother. I read every story. Gasped and momentarily grieved. But, then, that was it. There was no follow up, and soon another headline replaced it and I would move on.

I think I stopped being able to “move on” once I had kids of my own. The idea of a child–my child–finding an unsecured gun–picking it up with curious fingers and accidentally firing it–suddenly became a thought I couldn’t let go of. And so, I tried to find out more, almost obsessing over the tragic, heartbreaking stories of accidental gun violence involving children. Mostly, what I wanted to know was: what becomes of these kids? How do they mentally process their actions in adulthood?

Despite having spent a few years as a researcher for a crime-based daytime talk show, most of my research led me down the same path: nowhere. Which makes sense. The children who have experienced these traumas deserve as much anonymity as they can get. And yet … that in itself got me thinking, wondering, digging deeper into research about gun violence statistics and laws. At one point, when I was writing this book, I read in the Washington Post that toddlers shoot people on a weekly basis in America. Weekly. When I started drafting ACCIDENTAL in 2016, guns were the third leading cause of death among children. Now, in 2020, they are the second–and the first among Black children. Statistics continued to haunt me–from nearly a quarter of all gun owners reporting that their guns were kept unlocked in their homes, to learning that one mass shooting happens every day, on average, in America. In addition to incredibly harrowing and useful facts at Giffords Law Center, I read a morbidly fascinating book called Melancholy Accidents, a collection of news clippings and stories of accidental shootings that go back centuries. I even found a very rare and powerful follow-up interview with a man who had shot and killed his sister as a child.

I went down the rabbit hold. Deep. And when I came out, I was surprised–or maybe relieved?–that there was very little information on what happens to the children involved in accidental shootings. Because, on the one hand, of course families want to protect their children’s innocence and help them process their actions privately. What these kids have been through is traumatic, and they need therapy, not follow-up interviews and more headlines.

But, also, I started wondering if there was another explanation. Studies have shown that a child’s earliest memory can change over time, and it’s all subjective. Something remembered at age five may not be remembered by age ten. Additionally, the likelihood of remembering something is aided when that memory is reinforced. If not, childhood amnesia could affect the fate of any thought.

Which brings me to ACCIDENTAL, and the idea that it is entirely possible for a young child to not necessarily remember having fired a gun. There is a chance that, if no one were to remind them, they might forget. It was compelling to me, wondering what might happen to the often faceless and unnamed children in the headlines, and if, by some miracle, a few of these kids were raised not knowing what they had done.

I tried to imagine myself in such a situation. If my son or daughter found a gun and shot someone, would I tell them about it? If they thought it was a toy, or hadn’t fully begun to understand the concept of death, would I remind them? Or would I try to shield them from it. Facilitate the forgetting. As a mom, I know exactly what I would do, and so I wrote this book.

For me, YA felt like the right space to explore this topic. I love writing teen fiction, trying to do justice to that frustrated, passionate, lonely, hopeful, complex and funny voice. I thought it could be really powerful to tell the story from the perspective of a teenager who had grown up not knowing, and then, one day, somehow found out. I mean, how do you deal with that realization? How do you process it? Obviously shock, denial, and guilt are the first emotions that come to mind, but I really wanted to dig in and see where it might lead.

With this story, I wanted to write a character who had never really thought about guns beyond their fixture in our society. I wanted to see Johanna’s thought process unfurl and see how she chose to process the information. Would she turn to activism? Would there be pushback from other students for what she had done as a child? It was important to me to explore the nuances of how this affected not just her but the people around her. The grandparents who lied to protect her innocence, the friends who stand by her, the boyfriend who may be in over his head, and the classmates who challenge her intentions.

Like many teens, Johanna experiences a lot of self-hatred. Because it is hard to be a teenager, even if you didn’taccidentally shoot and kill someone. I wanted to write a book that helped show teens there are ways to heal. There are people in your corner, there are ways to take action, ways to grieve, and there are ways to find closure.

Ultimately, this book is about hope and awareness. Gun control is a hugely important issue in this country, and Johanna’s story adds a unique perspective. Johanna could be anyone, and she could be everyone. Right now, teens are taking initiative, taking charge. They know they are the future, and what they do matters. What they read, what they learn, and what they do with that knowledge matters. Teens are ready to be the change they want to see in the world, and it’s our job to give them the tools to do so.

Author bio:

Alex Richards is a young adult author and freelance magazine contributor. She is a terrible navigator (just ask the African jungle she got lost in) but makes up for it with a dark sense of humor and home-made horror films. Raised in New Mexico, she and her family live in Brooklyn.

alexrichards.nyc  |  @alexgirlnyc

About ACCIDENTAL:

This timely, emotionally-resonant story about a teen girl dealing with the aftermath of a tragic shooting is a must-read from an exciting new YA talent.

Johanna has had more than enough trauma in her life. She lost her mom in a car accident, and her father went AWOL when Johanna was just a baby. At sixteen, life is steady, boring . . . maybe even stifling, since she’s being raised by her grandparents who never talk about their daughter, her mother Mandy.

Then he comes back: Robert Newsome, Johanna’s father, bringing memories and pictures of Mandy. But that’s not all he shares. A tragic car accident didn’t kill Mandy–it was Johanna, who at two years old, accidentally shot her own mother with an unsecured gun.

Now Johanna has to sort through it all–the return of her absentee father, her grandparents’ lies, her part in her mother’s death. But no one, neither her loyal best friends nor her sweet new boyfriend, can help her forgive them. Most of all, can she ever find a way to forgive herself?

In a searing, ultimately uplifting story, debut author Alex Richards tackles a different side of the important issue that has galvanized teens across our country. 

Accidental was released July 7, 2020 from Bloomsbury and it received a starred review from School Library Journal.

Praise for ACCIDENTAL:

“Richards deftly explores the myriad emotional struggles after an accidental gun death. . . Tragic, moving, and genuine.” –School Library Journal, starred review

“A valuable take on a timely issue.” –Kirkus Reviews

“[Johanna] is an admirable, convincing heroine who is determined to make things right for herself.” –Publishers Weekly

“A testament to the healing power of community, love and forgiveness. An honest, wrenching and important read.” –Sarah Holt, Left Bank Books

“A heartbreaking, powerful, essential read.” –Beth Seufer Buss, Bookmarks

“This book is haunting, but it is also hopeful. . . With heartfelt, brutal honesty searing every page, this is the kind of book that reminds readers that they have voices, and they can make changes.” –Ava Tusek, Second Star to the Right

RevolTeens: Texas Teen De’Andre Arnold Reminds Us All, Teens Need Fans (by Christine Lively)

Working in a high school means working with exaggerated, constant deadlines and pressure. Students are always reminded that their future success is dependent on them getting the best grades possible in the highest level classes; earning the highest possible test scores; and developing a resume full of impressive extracurricular activities. The pressure to not just get into college, but to not make mistakes is enormous and constant. Parents, teachers, counselors, and sports coaches usually have good intentions and want teens to be happy. We all know that just avoiding certain “mistakes” and following a straight ahead path makes life easier or, at least, gives kids the most options when they graduate high school. Teens see stories splashed all over social media and the press about people their age who have been accepted to every Ivy League college or received hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships. It’s nearly impossible for them to feel like they’re achieving success or doing the right things by comparison.

Compounding this pressure is the fact that those who are pressuring them are often the most well meaning and loving people in their lives. The parents, grandparents, teachers, and friends who used to celebrate every small achievement as a monumental and unqualified success when they were little – paint handprints on paper, riding a bicycle, turning a cartwheel – are now the very people who are worried constantly that teens aren’t doing or achieving ‘enough’ to make their (or their parents’) dreams come true. This pressure almost always comes from a place of love and concern, which is confusing and complicated for everyone involved.

Mary Hinson, who blogs at Mary Had a Little Blog and works with teens at a nearby public library, has long been a fan of TLTer Karen Jensen’s girls. She has come to see them in plays, sports and more.

When teens are faced with these heightened consequences and high stakes life decisions, they are also often confronted with unfair rules, stereotypes, and they’re unable to make their own decisions. At this developmentally rebellious time in their lives, they confront more rules, more expectations, and more responsibility than ever. They inevitably will want to REVOLT, and they should feel empowered to challenge the rules and to advocate for what they need.

What can help teens to mitigate this stress and to find a respite from the pressure? Having someone in their lives who thinks they’re wonderful – just the way they are. Teens need fans – they need an adult in their lives who thinks they are fantastic and who likes to spend time with them. They need someone who asks them about what THEY want without any pressure to answer correctly – someone who is truly interested in listening and is fascinated by what teens want to talk about. This person can be an aunt or uncle, grandparent, a boss or coworker at their job, a counselor, a school librarian, a family friend, a teen life coach, or anyone who is willing to step up and build that relationship.

What can a fan do for a teen? They can show them that they, just as they are, are important, interesting, and worthy of love. They can be a safe person to talk with about challenges and to brainstorm with about how to deal with them. A fan is someone who helps teens figure out what they want instead of instructing them about what they should do. They can be someone who just makes them feel good and take their mind off of the pressure for a while. They can in some cases be literal life savers for kids who feel that they have no one else to talk to and no safe place to be.

While I’ve always thought that kids simply cannot have too many people in their lives who care about them, the notion that it is especially important for teens was made clearer for me more recently when filmmaker and Oscar nominee Matthew Cherry, NBA player Dwayne Wade and actress/producer Gabrielle Union invited 18 year old high school student, De’Andre Arnold and his mother to be his guests at the 2020 Oscars. De’Andre had been suspended from his Texas high school for wearing his hair in locks, a longstanding family tradition. He was also told that he would not be allowed to walk in his high school graduation if he didn’t cut his hair. He refused.

CBS Texas Teen De’Andre Arnold Told He Can’t Walk at Graduation Unless He Cuts His Dreadlocks

When the news of his suspension and barring from graduation made the news, the producers of the then Oscar nominated short film “Hair Love” decided that they were fans of De’Andre, his hair, and his stand against an unfair and racist school rule. The story of the film “Hair Love” is that of a father struggling and finally learning to style and care for his young daughter’s hair. The film shows how central hair is to the identity of the Black family it depicts. Matthew Cherry, the film’s director has also been a proponent of the Crown Act which aims to make discrimination in the workplace based on natural or protective hairstyles.

Teen Vogue: A Brief History of Black Hair, Politics, and Discrimination

What was the effect of De’Andre’s fans coming forward to support and celebrate him?

CBS Texas Teen De’Andre Arnold Attends the Oscars

According to the February 9, 2020 New York Times, De’Andre, “said that he was feeling “pride, and validation too,” for the opportunity.  “It’s like, look at me,” he said. “The little kid with dreads is at the Oscars. While all the people at home are mad? I’m at the Oscars.”

While they may not get a chance to go to the Oscars and mingle with movie stars, every teen deserves the opportunity to feel pride and validation. They deserve to revolt against unfair rules and discrimination and know that there will be people beside them, cheering them on.

Find out more about Hair Love

About Christine Lively

Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively

More Than an Identity, by teen contributor Elliot

Today TLT teen contributor Elliot is talking with us about identity. Since we work for and with teens, it’s important to listen to them, which is why we have invited Elliot to be a contributor here. We hope you will enjoy their posts.

Elliot


Self discovery is one of the most important and most difficult challenges that a teenager can face. You live your whole entire life thinking that you know who you are until the chemicals in your mind start to change and hormones and coursing through your body altering everything you thought you knew about yourself. Never have I struggled more with my identity than when I was searching for my sexuality and gender identity.


In seventh grade I met a wonderful person who I will refer to as “S.” S was avidly searching for their identity and was experimenting with all sorts of sexualities and gender identities that I had never heard of before. When they introduced me to all of these terms “genderfluid,” “pansexual,” “asexual,” and so many more, my brain was so overwhelmed, but I was so excited that I finally had terms that I could relate my experiences with. I was so proud to find my place in the LGBTQ+ community. . . until people started only seeing me as part of the community.


Being part of the LGBTQ+ community is really special- you meet people who have gone through similar struggles as you and you have a place where you know that your identity is real and valid. However, a person who is part of the LGBTQ+ community is often seen as nothing more than just a member of the LGBTQ+ community. While I believe that this community is extremely important and a large part of the lives of those in the community, I also believe that the world needs to realize that LGBTQ+ people are more than their identity,


Growing up, as I was discovering who I was I was, people often associated my name with “that gay person.” Although that was a fairly true label for me, hearing that I was just “that gay person” to a lot of people dulled my self image and self worth. My friends got to be known for their amazing basketball skills, their beautiful artwork, and their stunning performances in the school play. They weren’t known as “that straight person” and I didn’t understand why I was being limited to being labeled solely on my sexuality.


The fact that my entire identity was based around my connection to the LGBTQ+ community made me dread the fact that I wasn’t cisgender or straight. I severely wanted to sever myself from the community just to get a chance of proving to the world that I was capable of doing amazing things that I could be known for instead. It got to a point where I started telling people that I was straight and I was “just going through a phase.” I truly did just about anything to get people to see that I am more than just my identity.


The point I want to make with all of this is that although it’s great to be proud of who you are, you shouldn’t make your whole life about your identity and you shouldn’t let anyone else make your whole life about your identity. Finding out your identity is amazing, but becoming your identity can be exhausting, depressing, and unfulfilling. The world needs to realize that not all people who are part of the LGBTQ+ community are the same. We are just as three dimensional as a cishet person and we shouldn’t be looked at for just our sexuality and/or gender identity. We should be looked at as people- people who just so happen to not be cishet.

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.

badromance

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.