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Little Gangs, a guest post by Lauren McLaughlin

I was supposed to be on a book tour right now for my YA novel, Send Pics. But, like every other author with a book hitting the shelves right now, I’m in lock down. So instead of hanging out with librarians, booksellers and fellow book nerds, I’m hunkering down with my family. Instead of reading aloud to a classroom full of teenagers, I’m homeschooling my ten-year-old daughter (using the loosest possible definition of “homeschooling”).

One of the reasons I was looking forward to getting out into the world and talking about Send Pics was because at heart it’s a story about friendship. Not just one-on-one friendship, but group friendship. It’s about the little gangs we form and how they get pressed into service in surprising ways. Friend groups are often forged in good times through shared interests (choir, sports, partying, etc), but it’s when things go awry that a loose association of buddies becomes a life raft.

Throughout my life, I’ve had a handful of little gangs, from the the neighbourhood kids I played with as a child, to the mother’s group I meet up with for dinner—and mutual support—every month. Along the way, I’ve drifted into and out of little gangs that were of such intense connection and intimacy it seems odd that they’re not all still a part of my daily life. But time, circumstances, and the natural arc of life have their way. It’s not permanence that defines these little gangs, it’s intensity.

So it was interesting, but not really surprising, when, in the midst of a global pandemic, two of my former little gangs reached out for Zoom chats within a week of each other. The first was a group of singers from my high school choir. I’ve kept in loose contact with a few of them over the years, but I haven’t hung out with the whole gang since the eighties! We span three different countries and four time zones. Staring at these familiar faces arrayed in a grid on my laptop, it felt like I was back in the high school music room. I half expected our old choir master to step in and tap on her music stand. We got each other caught up on the basics—jobs, families, etc—but there was no formality,  no politeness. We got straight into the heart of the matter, sharing our fears and frustrations, and looking for ways we could help each other. Lockdown has strained all of us in different ways, and the urge to reach out (even when thousands of miles made it physically impossible) was overwhelming. 

We could have done this at any time over the past ten years. Video conferencing is not exactly new. I think there was something about the pandemic that made us yearn for that connection, for that sense of belonging. We are a social species. For all our talk of American individualism and our tendency to worship lone heroes, we need each other.

In Send Pics, varsity wrestling captain Tarkin Shaw drugs and photographs his classmate Suze Tilman then uses the nude pictures to blackmail her into a sexual relationship. It’s a fictional story, but the crime is common enough. The ubiquity of cell phone cameras, the influence of alcohol, and the illusory sense of invincibility conspire to put teenagers (especially teen girls) in a great deal of danger. When I first came up with the idea, I dove into the data on these types of crimes. Time and again, I found parents, teachers, coaches, even law enforcement, rallying around the perpetrators while the victims were blamed, disbelieved, and, in some cases, driven out of town. I wasn’t about to sugar coat my story. It wouldn’t have been realistic to portray the town rallying around the victim when the perpetrator was a popular all-state wrestling champion. But as soon as I decided to pit Suze against the whole town, I discovered that I couldn’t bring myself to leave her completely on her own. Maybe it was a subconscious attempt to protect my own psyche from a story that would have been too dark. But no sooner did I sketch out the foundations of the story, than a little gang emerged. Of course Suze wouldn’t be completely on her own. She’d have her friends. While everyone else is conspiring to discredit and shame her, she finds shelter in her little gang of four. They may be vastly outnumbered but the strength of their bond is equal and opposite to the forces working against them. “Shields up” is their motto, their defiant stance against an unfair, unjust world they’re only beginning to understand. 

As we all hunker down in our social isolation, trying to keep the virus at bay—a virus we still don’t fully understand—don’t we need our little gangs too? I’ve read about people forming Zoom meet ups and WhatsApp groups with neighbours they no longer pass on the street since lockdown began. They just need that sense of connection, of belonging. Last week I Zoomed with my old “Happy Hour” gang, a group of New Yorkers I haven’t hung out with since I moved to London ten years ago. We’ve added spouses and children and a grey hair or two, but for all that’s changed, the group dynamic was the same. We could have been sipping martinis in the East Village. This weekend, I’m Zooming with my choir friends again. Nothing has materially changed since our last Zoom. I doubt anyone will have much in the way of news. But that’s not the point. We’re here for each other. That’s what it’s about. And even if the forces working against us are a gazillion particles of virus we can’t even see, and even if our only defence is our isolation, at least for a little while we can slip back into our little gang and say, hey, shields up. I’ve got your back.

Meet Lauren McLaughlin

LAUREN MCLAUGHLIN is the author of Send PicsThe FreeScored, and Cycler. She has also written the children’s pictures books Wonderful You and Mitzi Tulane Preschool Detective, both of which feature adoptive families. She is an adoptive mother herself. Prior to her career in fiction, she spent ten years in the film business. She produced commercials and music videos for such artists as Nas, The B52’s, the Spin Doctors, and Monie Love, then went on to write several screenplays, including Prisoner of Love starring Naomi Campbell, Specimen starring Mark Paul Gosselaar, and Hypercube (the sequel to the cult favorite Cube). She also produced American PsychoBuffalo 66, and several other feature films. She is a member of the improv comedy troupe Amorphous Horse, which performs in a variety of venues in and around London, UK. 

You can follow Lauren at:

www.laurenmclaughlin.net

Twitter: @LaurenMcWoof

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lauren.mclaughlin.books

Instagram: @laurenmclaughlin3

About Send Pics

At Jonesville High, casual misogyny runs rampant, slut-shaming is a given, and school athletes are glorified above all else. Best friends Suze, Nikki, Ani, and Lydia swear they’ll always have each other’s backs against predatory guys—so when Suze suddenly starts dating wrestling star and toxic douchebag Tarkin Shaw, it’s a big betrayal.

Turns out, it’s not a relationship—it’s blackmail. At first, Suze feels like she has no choice but to go along with it, but when Tarkin starts demanding more, she enlists the help of intelligent misfits DeShawn and Marcus to beat Tarkin at his own game. As Marcus points out, what could possibly go wrong?

The answer: everything. And by the time the teens realize they’re fighting against forces much bigger than the Tarkin Shaws of the world, losing isn’t an option.

ISBN-13: 9781948340267
Publisher: Dottir Press
Publication date: 04/21/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Praise for Send Pics

“A gritty read for a woke generation” — Kirkus Reviews

A relentless and fierce thriller crossed with an incisive story of gender, class and race. It grabs and grabs and never lets go. —CORY DOCTOROW, author of Little Brother and Radicalized

McLaughlin has crafted a compelling novel that is somehow both timely and timeless: a perfect storm of topical issues affecting our society―and especially connected teens―today, but also an enduring lesson in empathy which reminds us that the truth behind the clickbait headlines often is hidden. —E.C. MYERS, author of the Andre Norton Award–winning Fair Coin, Quantum Coin, The Silence of Six, and more

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.”

#MHYALit: Why You Shouldn’t Ban Your Kid from the Internet, a guest post by Laura Tims

MHYALitlogoofficfialWhen I was growing up, losing internet privileges was a common punishment in my family. It’s a common punishment in most families. Bad grades? No screen time for a week. Missed curfew? No internet.

 

It seems like a reasonable punishment. However, it may have unintended consequences.

 

Nowadays, twenty percent of adolescents have a diagnosed mental illness. That’s a huge number. But school counselors are typically understaffed and not equipped for longterm mental health care. When you’re under eighteen and you need mental health care, it pretty much has to go through your parents.

Imagine telling your parents that they need to pay for your therapy and medications, which even with insurance can be expensive, and drive you to appointments, which can be far away. This is assuming your family has insurance, a car, and the means to afford treatment. This is assuming that the guilt and self-blame, common with many mental illnesses, and the stigma of needing mental health care aren’t enough to keep you silent. This is assuming that you have a good enough relationship with your parents to come to them with this immense vulnerability. And even the most well-meaning parents don’t always understand what mental illness is – the fear that they’ll react with unintentional ignorance, dismissiveness, or self-blame themselves is enough to stop a lot of teenagers from speaking up.

 

It’s unsurprising that a lot of teens have little access to adequate mental health care. So they reach out wherever else they can – you see people trying to manage their own mental health and that of their friends’ at the same time, which, obviously, can be overwhelming. Oftentimes, they turn to the internet.

 

On December 28th, 2014, trans teen Leelah Alcorn died by suicide after posting a final note to her Tumblr. Among other things, she had been isolated by her parents and restricted from the internet for some time. Her death shone a light on what had already been going on – that plenty of teens share suicidal ideation on their social media accounts when they haven’t told anyone in real life.

 

Blocking access to the internet can cut someone off from the only venue where they might feel comfortable reaching out for help before they do something drastic. It creates an opportunity for someone to see the message and contact the authorities.

 

There’s also the fact that a lot of teenagers turn to the internet as their primary source of mental health resources. While it’s not a replacement for professional mental health care, there are tons and tons of blogs, videos, and forums online for DIY mental health care, which is sometimes all someone has access to.

 

Acting out is often a symptom of mental illness.  It can be the worst time to isolate a teenager from their best source of resources, or from their support group of friends. Even if you don’t think your teenager has a mental illness, it’s possible that they just don’t feel comfortable bringing it to you. There’s a stereotype of kids getting hysterical for no reason when losing access to their phones or laptops (often going along with the ‘millenials are too attached to their devices’ refrain) but if your teen reacts with seemingly unreasonable desperation or intensity to having their internet privileges taken away, it’s best to talk to them and see what it is they need instead of chalking it up to dramatics. You may be removing their only way to cope with a mental illness.

 

For a thorough list of online resources for mental illness and other issues, check out the resources page on my mental health blog

 

 

Meet Laura Tims

Laura Tims PhotoLaura Tims is a young adult author, a fan of humans, and a reasonably cute organism. Her debut novel, PLEASE DON’T TELL, will be out 5/24/2016, from Harperteen. Her second, THE BEST THING ABOUT PAIN, is coming 2017. She’s a Hufflepuff, an ENFP, a Cancer, and she likes pretty much everyone. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and her mental health blog.

 

 

About PLEASE DON’T TELL

Debut author Laura Tims writes an intense and utterly gripping contemporary YA tale perfect for fans of Pretty Little Liars. Joy has done everything to protect her twin sister…including murder.

Joy killed Adam Gordon for what he did to her sister, Grace. At least, that’s what she thinks happened. Now Adam can’t hurt anyone ever again, and her sister can be free from the boy who harmed her.

But someone else knows what Joy did, and they’re going to out her as a cold-blooded killer if she doesn’t expose the scandalous secrets bubbling just below the surface of her mundane town. As the demands escalate, and she finds herself falling for Adam’s half brother, Joy must figure out the blackmailer’s identity before everything spirals out of control.

ISBN-13: 9780062317322

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 05/24/2016