Presenting to teens about mental illness and resilience

I wanted to thank you for sharing your story and taking the time to engage with the youth. Many teens left your class reflecting on life and ready to open up about the issues they were facing with the other adult teen/youth workers at the YMCA Leader’s Club Regional rally.

Your class was a bridge that encouraged teens and some of the attending parents to have those difficult conversations about self love, authenticity, depression and teen suicide. One teen in particular, who identifies as transgender, expressed how your class helped him identify and accept who he is becoming. He also shared he once thought about dying by suicide and was ashamed but after hearing that others were facing the same issues helped him realize he was not alone.

It warmed my heart to hear this as I know from experience this is something that many teens today are unable to do. I believe your presentation and activity was extremely helpful and while I am sorry about the loss of your son and his story, your willingness to share is saving the lives of many teens.

–Janice Hughes, Youth Coordinator, YMCA Leader’s Clubs

I so enjoyed teaching a class for teens of the YMCA Leader’s Club from Florida to Virginia and honored to have been asked. (Thanks to Alex Chaffee along with Youth Leaders, Cameron and Claire.) This year, the regional summit was hosted by Midlothian YMCA. So I presented my story of Charles, showed some videos of him and I lead some activities of my own invention.

I asked the teens to do a quick skit called, “How heroin talked to Charles” so they understand how heroin talks to the brain. Charles actually told me how it talked him into stealing, and from that day, I had a new understanding of addiction and what happens in the brain.

Two teens volunteered to be my actors. One of the young men who volunteered suffered with stutter. I thought it was enormously brave for him to volunteer to be in front of a group of teens, many of whom he did not know, and act out his part. It goes to show you how safe these kids feel in this Leader’s program. I loved the program’s message of being “your true self.” I saw that repeated throughout the event in various ways and the young people take that theme to heart.

I introduced the #umatterchallenge, a brief 2-week challenge to get people meeting face to face and posting about their experience and new friendship on Instagram. Social media is not going away right?

I also wanted to add an interactive activity that would foster resilience.  I usually like to try one new thing with each teen class I present to. I tried finding what I was looking for online but the ideas were either too complicated or not exactly what I was looking for.

I wanted something that helped them understand the importance of developing healthy coping skills which is what is at the core of the behavior we see in children. I wanted their ideas and input on coping strategies for their own fears and problems–most of which we can’t fix or change. The only thing we have control over is how we react to these problems. I wanted to know their struggles. So I did what I usually do, I made up my own thing.

The resilience building game

I had them make post-it notes of problems teens face and stick them on the wall. I don’t think we realize how challenged these kids are. We tend to minimize their issues because they don’t have to “pay a mortgage.” But these teens are helpless in the face of some of our adult issues like divorce or death of a parent. We don’t teach them these life skills in school any more and the classes where we used to learn these practical skills, like home economics and shop, rarely exist  in favor of hard core academic subjects. We think we are equipping our kids with what they need. But truthfully, how many of them will use trigonomics versus life skills on how to handle a bully? How many of them know anything about grief from losing a loved one and how to move through that journey?

Life skills have been labeled, “soft skills,” which by its very name, relegates it to the bottom of anyone’s list of important educational topics. But in reality, given today’s culture, these skills are the most important thing we could teach kids.

It’s a gap so that’s where I plugged in. Because I know that managing difficult problems, and the lack of knowledge on how to handle adverse circumstances, is driving anxiety, depression and high risk behavior.

I know at first, they were hesitant. Not for long. Once they got started, they really got into it and were so engaged. My whole story, this whole topic, was a complete surprise. And they accepted it with grace.

After we posted the problems (see below), I asked them to tell me healthy and then unhealthy coping strategies. And we had such an open and frank discussion. We talked about face time with friends (not the app but real face to face interaction) and how important it was to offer your undivided attention. Listening to others and simply offering support to each other. Today’s teens are spending 45% less face time with friends compared with the previous generation. Compared to mine? Probably 75% less.

So they have fewer opportunities to learn valuable life skills that are important to managing relationships and life.

These kids are dealing with real issues with little guidance on what to do. It was obvious no one had talked to them about this. Their ideas were good and I so enjoyed these classes. You can click these pictures to see them larger and read what they say. In fact, you should do that.

What do you need? Post it notes. Sharpies. A wall. A story to launch the activity.


Hopes and Dreams

Author: Anne Moss Rogers

I am the owner of emotionally naked, a site that reached a quarter million people in its first 18 months. I am President of Beacon Tree Foundation, advocates for youth mental health as well as a writer and public speaker on the topics of suicide, addiction, mental illness, and grief. I lost my youngest son, Charles, 20, to suicide June 5, 2015. I was a marketing professional for years prior to losing my son and co-owned a digital marketing firm.

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