The new school year awaits...

goodbye-summer.jpg

There went summer.  Flew by in an instant.  Camp, sports, late nights and lazy afternoons - they all come to a screeching halt as the school year calendar awaits. 

Every outgoing summer I say that I'm  “ready for the structure of the school year.”  But as that reality approaches, I remember all of the anxiety that the school year ushers in along with the cooler weather. 

As I write this, I feel the pit in my stomach.  How does a working mother of busy teens get the kids to and fro?  The instability of schedules, school work, dinners…….

I think what most plagues me is all the unknown of the year.  What do new teachers bring?  How will the little one do at her bat mitzvah?   How will this year treat my high school aged child?  Will she be able to handle the stress that junior year brings?  What little traumas will happen to each of them at school this year and how can I help?  Can I help? 

The answer is often no.

I am trying to keep “Zen” this school year.  I want to ask myself different questions and hopefully, asking these questions will help to reframe my mindset around school year. 

As an avid reader of “Grown and Flown’ (which is amazing, by the way!!), I am reminded that these years are precious and few. 

So, here are my new questions: 

1.      How will I grow this year?

Instead of being afraid and anxious, how can I grow -- not only as a parent, but as a wife, a friend, a mother and a therapist?  The school year can be a restart for us adults too.  We can learn as much as our children from their little traumas:

  • how to persevere without control
  • how to sit in discomfort
  • how to show compassion
  • how to support and not fix

In other words, all of the things that as parents we HATE to do but all the things we NEED to do.  This year, I vow to continue to practice (without mastering!) these skills.  (And you know what? We don’t need to master these skills - we just need to be good enough.)

2.  How can I help my children grow?

See above.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

3. What are our family’s priorities?

After a bit of a health scare, my husband and I have spent a lot of time reassessing our life and priorities. Our number one priority?  More fun.  We know we need to command family time - it doesn't have to be a ton of time, just once a week.  It doesn't have to be a fancy vacation.  Just a place to play, have fun, and create family inside jokes.  Time set aside to connect without having to teach lessons….just to have some good old fashioned fun….screen free.  That creates memories.

4.  How to embrace my imperfections as well as the imperfections of those I love and care about?

I LOVE Brene Brown.  I PREACH her work.  Do I follow it?  Not as much.  The amount of pressure I put on myself to produce - not even to be perfect - is astounding.  Homemade, healthy dinner on the table (thanks to the health scare - a priority), get everyone to activities with required equipment, on time (even when the schedule changes on the fly), be funny, caring, have the cleanest house, make sure the dog has her prescription food…the list goes on.  

How about we practice self-compassion?  Maybe the dinner is the leftover chicken and veggies from the night before. Maybe little one wears the wrong color jersey to practice. I may forget to sign a waiver that is necessary.   Maybe the older one has to wait 20 minutes for the pick up.  I am good enough.  My kids are good enough.  And that has to be enough to for all of us. 

As I write this, as a mom and a licensed clinical social worker, I became aware of what the pit in my stomach signifies - fear.  Fear of imperfection, failure, falling apart, trauma - my own and those I love.  Let’s make a pact with each other - we are going to practice self compassion without fear.  It seems like that is the antidote to the pit in our stomachs.  Self compassion translates as compassion for others.  And that helps combat the fear. 

Let’s be ok with good enough - with ourselves and with our children.  Let’s have more fun this school year.  Let’s create imperfect memories.

 

Brooke Fox, LCSW, is a co-owner of Fox, Levine and Associates, Learn more about Brooke here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Follow up to "Thirteen Reasons Why, and Its Unintended Consequences", by Brooke Fox, LCSW

Dylan Minnette as Clay Jensen and Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker in the Netflix series "Thirteen Reasons Why" ©2017 Netflix

Dylan Minnette as Clay Jensen and Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker in the Netflix series "Thirteen Reasons Why" ©2017 Netflix

The response to my blog about the Netflix series, Thirteen Reasons Why, has been pretty overwhelming.  

Whether you agreed with my views or challenged them, I want to thank you for being part of the dialogue about the content of this series. As many of you have said, having the conversations about the very real issues raised in Thirteen Reasons Why, no matter how painful or difficult, is so important.

The variety of perspectives contained in the comments has been almost universally informative, often supportive, and occasionally, pretty tough to read.

I want to thank the people who said that this series was helpful to them and that it was validating to their struggles in the world. I'm grateful to those who made themselves vulnerable and told their stories, no matter how painful.  I also want to thank my colleagues who weighed in: both those who agreed with me and those who didn't. I appreciated all of the honest feedback from young people who commented, especially those who have experienced struggles similar to Hannah's. Your strength and resilience is powerful and inspiring. I offer my condolences to all who have experienced the heartbreak of suicide. And finally, I want to thank all of you fellow parents for weighing in as we navigate the challenges of modern parenting together.

I'm thankful for the dialogue to which my blog may have, in its own way, contributed. However, in reading many of your comments, it became clear that more than a few of you interpreted some of my words to mean that I "blame the victim". I was not.  Victim-blaming is never ok, so I'll attempt to clarify here.

In my statement,  "I believe we should teach our children to dig deep and find resilience, not point fingers at others and hold them responsible for our feelings and actions",  I did not mean that those who have experienced trauma don't have the right to feel whatever feelings their trauma has caused them: fear and anxiety, anger and rage, sadness and disillusionment, shame and guilt, hopelessness, or grief....all of those feelings are common and understandable responses to trauma that victims have every right to feel.

With my patients who have experienced trauma, no matter what the cause, or how deeply painful the psychological wound may be, I work with them to help them see that we all have the power within us to cope, and even to heal, and that power is often stronger than we might know. Sometimes, we need help from someone, often a therapist, to tap into it.  That healing is a process, and comes with work, and with time. When it happens, the trauma victim is able to release pain, and reclaim their personal power. And in taking that power back, they can decide, strengthened by their newfound resilience, which feelings they aren't ready to let go of, and which ones they are ready to release. In that transition, the person processing the trauma goes from victim to survivor. 

I would have loved to have seen Hannah going through her own process of finding her power again, in the face of all the horrors she experienced.  

As many of you have pointed out, teens face a plethora of painful and traumatic events that span a large spectrum of aggression -- many of them accurately depicted in the series.  The conversation with our teens that I hoped my blog post could help facilitate would be that they are strong and empowered to take on -- and get past -- even the most painful and difficult things. And above all, that they are loved. 

So, thank you for reading, and for talking. I am so happy that the series and my blog have sparked dialogue around the issues of mental health and suicide.  Since this is my life’s work and passion, I crave healthy conversations, especially with our kids, around these issues.  Parents and others with concerns, I encourage you to know the signs of suicide risk.

I continue to recommend that if you choose to allow your child to watch the series (again…no judgment here.  We are all in this together!), please watch it with them.  Process the struggle with mental illness. If your child is struggling, help him or her find find resiliency with the help of a professional -- even if it is buried deep within.

And finally, let them know that you love them, and that suicide is never an option.

If you are in crisis, there's help available. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741-741.

13 Reasons Why, and Its Unintended Consequences, by Brooke Fox, LCSW

Katherine Langford as Hannah in 13 Reasons Why © 2017 Netflix

Katherine Langford as Hannah in 13 Reasons Why © 2017 Netflix

I am a mom.  And I am a psychotherapist.  I have actually been a psychotherapist longer than I have been a mom.  That’s originally why I picked up the book 13 Reasons Why.  I was intrigued by its premise:  a teen takes her life, then leaves behind a record of who contributed to her decision, and how.  Intrigued is one word I have used -- but if I am being intellectually honest with myself and you, I was put off by the premise.  I was scared.  As a mom of two daughters, 12 and 16, facing this book seemed daunting.  I put it down.  Even therapists have their limits….

I buried this book, along with its premise, for a couple of years.  But like all things that scare us and bring out our vulnerabilities, this stuff comes back.  This time, it came back in the form of a Netflix series that my 12 year old daughter began begging to watch.  “All of my friends are watching it”,  “They are going to spoil the ending for me!” (umm……that’s already been revealed!), and the ever-famous, "You are too overprotective…".

Was I overprotective?  I don’t want to shield my younger daughter from how devastating mental illness can be, especially because it is my life’s work to help people combat these demons.  However, the premise still scared me. 

I made her an offer.  We would watch the series together, and have frank discussions.  This idea was rejected based on the fact that my daughter felt “uncomfortable” talking to her therapist mother about the subject matter.  My answer was that if she couldn't talk about it, she was not allowed to watch it.  Case was closed.

Well, the case was closed for her.  I decided to watch the series.  But this time, as a mental health provider, not as a mother.  Here is what I learned:  13 Reasons Why is irresponsible and disturbing.  I will make this an easy read, and put this into bullet points.

  • Nobody else is responsible for our mental health.  The premise of Thirteen Reasons Why disturbed me.  I understand that the author was attempting to illustrate the point that our actions have an impact on people and at times, that impact can be severe.  Small sins add up, and create a cumulative effect that can sometimes have dire consequences.  I agree with these assertions.  However, as a mental health provider, I work with people to find their power, and their voice.  And yes, I work with teens to do this as well.  We need to own and name our feelings as well as our actions.  I believe we should teach our children to dig deep and find resilience, not point fingers at others - as Hannah did - and hold them responsible for our feelings and actions. 
  • Thirteen Reasons Why is a suicide revenge fantasy.  Hannah received everything in death that she was hoping for: sympathy, deep regret, guilt, and ultimately -- love.  However, what the teen brain cannot process is the fact that Hannah is dead - permanently, and never coming back.  The concept of the permanence of death is not solidified for a teen at this point in development.  This makes suicide seem like an actual option if this can be achieved.
  • Mental health issues -- and the help that's available -- are barely discussed. Depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder are very real things that Hannah and other characters in the series struggle with. However, the opportunity to model both the struggle with the issues and the options that are available for addressing them -- whether that means talking with a trusted adult who actually listens, to pursuing the right kind of mental health support -- is missed. Instead, the focus is on suicide as a revenge act.
  • Girls are depicted as disempowered. I read a great article in New York Magazine by Anna Silman that discusses Thirteen Reasons Why, and the culture of misogyny our teenage girls face.  While this could have been a very powerful message in the book, it gets overshadowed by the revenge fantasy that Hannah's suicide provides.  How about addressing the boys' terrible behavior head-on?  How about calling attention to sexual assault and what we can do to change it?  I would have liked to see more outrage, and less disempowerment, from this show.
  • The suicide scene is cause for outrage. I am not for censorship.  I am not Tipper Gore from the 80's.  But this scene was, plain and simple, a tutorial on how to complete the act of ending your life.  It was graphic, It was bloody, and it was unnecessary.  The book ended with a pill overdose, and yet the series ended with razor blades.  Why?  What purpose did changing Hannah's method -- and graphically depicting the suicide -- serve?
  • 13 Reasons Why glamorizes suicide. The series, and the book, go against best practices for addressing suicide responsibly.  ReportingOnSuicide.org created recommendations as a guideline for the media on how to safely report on suicide. Research shows us that how suicide is reported has an impact on the public health of society.  According to ReportingOnSuicide.org:
    • Don’t sensationalize the suicide
    • Don’t talk about the contents of the suicide note, if there is one
    • Don’t describe the suicide method
    • Report suicide as a public health issue
    • Don’t speculate why the person might have done it
    • Don’t quote or interview police or first responders about the causes of suicide
    • Describe the suicide as “died by suicide” or “completed” or “killed                             him/herself” rather than “committed suicide”
    • Don’t glamorize suicide

13 Reasons Why breaks all of these rules.  Violating these guidelines puts our teens at risk.  Romanticizing the act of suicide in a medium that teens hold near and dear to their heart is dangerous and irresponsible. 

These are my two cents as a psychotherapist, not a mother.  My purpose of sharing my point of view was not to judge. The decision on whether or not a parent should let their child watch is a personal one. If you do let your children watch, please heed this advice: watch it with them.  Talk to them.  Assure them that you are here for them, that they are loved and empowered, and that suicide is never an option.

***

Brooke Fox, LCSW, is a co-owner of Fox, Levine and Associates, Learn more about Brooke here.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a Netflix series (rated TV-MA: Mature Audience Only, "specifically designed to be viewed by adults and therefore may be unsuitable for children under 17") based on the original YA novel of the same name by Jay Asher.