Martin Luther King, Jr once said, 'The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.' This statement has been a fact over the course of, well ... all time, and unfortunately, my perception is that the majority of our humanity has not grasped it quite yet.
I have been accused of being, what's the phrase, oh yes ... abrasively blunt. I would never utilize the word abrasive for myself, but I do strive to avoid soft language when I speak. I am a firm believer that soft language simply screws up communication. When people begin to insert a string of adjectives to remove any form of hurt feelings, then the simple - raw - honest - direct language has been lost. The fact is, all we truly have to offer others is an impeccable word and compassion. How others receive those two aspects is not a personal backpack that we are intended to pick up and carry. Think about that for a minute. How many backpacks are each of you carrying right now? Your loved one/spouse? Your child(ren)? Your boss? Your co-worker or a few? Your own? What happens when you begin to carry everyone else's burdens and responsibilities and emotions and responses and reactions and feelings? You cannot walk for the weight of the world literally crashing down on you. So, for the sake of NOT picking up baggage, put it all down for the remainder of this blog. Be free of the weight. Be free of the mindsets that are not your own. Be free of the world's idea of how you should think, feel, react, behave. Release every single agreement of how you are supposed to be in order to be accepted ... and just read. When you have reached the end. It is up to you if you pick up a few of those backpacks of mentality again. What you carry, is not my backpack to pick up.
The topic of this thought tonight is controversy because of all the posts I have seen on the Netflix series '13 Reasons Why'. I have responded to two and decided that this was the best way to place my own thoughts, instead of responding to other bloggers or parents that have not read the book or watched the series and are basing their reactions on what they hear and what they feel is meant to be based on others opinions. So here I go. (Having read the book two years ago and having watched the series ... twice) Creating controversy where it needs to be created. Because in controversy, action occurs.
Controversy for the sake of controversy is sin. Controversy for the sake of truth is a divine command. - Walter Martin
If you have read any of my previous blogs you will know that I have a steadfast belief that our society needs more mental health assistance for adolescents and I believe that as a society, we are failing our sons and daughters by utilizing avoidance and soft language in regards to sexual assault and suicide. I speak openly about this and I will not back down from how I feel on both topics. So as I write this I will provide you with facts. Statistical, direct, facts.
Let's begin with sexual assault. Do you realize that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives? Did you know that 8 in 10 cases of rape, the victim knew the person who assaulted them? Did you know that 8% of those rapes occur at a workplace? Now let's go into the horror of child sexual abuse. Are you aware that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before they turn 18 years old? How about 34% of the people who sexual abuse children are family members? One more stat you might not have known is that more than one-third of women who report being raped before the age of 18 also experience rape as an adult.
Now let's move onto suicide. Did you know that thousands of teenagers commit suicide each year in the United States? It is the second leading cause of death for 10-24 year olds. Studies have shown that at least 90% of teenagers who have committed suicide suffer from a mental health problem such as depression, anxiety, behavioral problems or drug/alcohol abuse, being victims of sexual assault or physical abuse or struggling with issues related to sexual identity. Did you know that teenagers do not spend a lot of time planning their suicide? It has been found that teenagers who have attempted suicide in the past or thought about it or even mentioned it in passing seeking help without directly asking for it, ultimately carry out the act after a feeling of failure or loss such as an argument or even receiving a bad grade on a test that they may be belittled for. Again, suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for ages 10-24 years of age.
Did you know that in the United States, there are an average of OVER 5,240 suicide attempts by young people in grades 7-12, EACH DAY. Also, did you know that 4 out of 5 teenagers who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs?
Now let's address these facts for those of you who are blessed enough to not be considered one of the 'broken' or a 'victim'. I am personally beyond exhausted with hearing the reactions of:
* Well, did you see what she was wearing?
* She was flirting with him all night.
* She was asking for it with the way she was looking at me.
* She didn't say no.
* It doesn't surprise me, she has more guy friends than girls, it was bound to happen.
* I heard she slept with a lot of people, maybe she just regrets this one.
* He wouldn't do that, he is such a nice guy, do you know who his family is?
* Why didn't you fight back?
The list of these goes on and on and on. It is sickening and does nothing but victimize the person assaulted in a way that is just as harmful as the actual rape was.
There are three reactions when an individual is in a situation that is threatening or traumatic. Those are the Three F's. --> Fight. Flight. Freeze. --> A person either fights, they flight (run away) or they freeze, completely paralyzed. The more trauma an individual endures, the more apt they are to fight or freeze, but the freezing becomes the majority in most instances.
Now, I'm going to address a lighter topic than the previous two. Bullying. If a parent says their child is too nice to bully, you have already lost the battle. If you believe as an adult that you do not or have not ever bullied, you have lost the battle. Reality Check, people. We all do it. The forms and methods vary, but it happens. Frankly, thanks to social media, it happens more than not. I recently turned 37 years old and I grew up with a cell phone but not with texting, FaceTime, Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter, KIK or any other method of social communication that is available now. I remember how stressful it was trying to grow into a young adult while trying to be accepted and making friends and finding myself, but I cannot imagine how that would be now. I see it, I have a teenager and an adolescent, I just cannot personally imagine going through normal life anxieties and having people literally stalk and creep and post comments to me daily.
Can you imagine posting a picture of yourself (IE: selfie) and thinking, "I feel pretty/handsome today. I like my outfit. My makeup/hair is on point. I feel good and confident and I am changing my profile picture today." only to have people post underneath it a series of this:
* (fire emojis) Hot!
* Why did you do your hair like that? I don't like it.
* Too much makeup today. Go wash your face off.
* Gorgeous, girl. I wish I looked like you.
* Damn babe. You are sexy.
* That color is not the best on you, but I like the shirt. Nice pic.
* TBH: I don't really know you, but you seem cool.
* TBH: I think you are a bitch. Don't talk to my boyfriend/girlfriend again.
* Miss you, let's hang soon. K?
* Delete your account.
Do you see the literal hurricane of emotions that creates? Now, how did you feel as an adult reading that? Can you imagine being a teenager and reading those about yourself? Would you tell your child if they came to you with this, "Oh, they don't mean it, just ignore it." or "Kids will be kids." ??
My 13 year old daughter asked me two days ago, "Why is it that every bathroom I have ever been in, I see people's writings on the bathroom stalls and they are all so mean? I've seen it in schools and restaurants and gas stations."
Because bathroom stalls were the original social media wall. Still are. People HIDE behind their phones, iPads, computer screens and bathroom stalls to say mean shit because they are too coward or in too much emotional pain or have no tangible way to face the real emotion behind it. Aggressive, angry actions cover emotions such as sadness, pain, abuse, loneliness, jealousy, being bullied themselves and the list goes on and on. BUT, we pick up that backpack and take what another hurting person has said out of an emotion that is not ours and we carry it, full of rocks and hurt feelings and we sleep with it, we shower with it and we work with it.
As parents, when we tell our children that they cannot be friends with someone based on how they dress, who their parents are or the grades they get in school or that they don't participate in sports, we are teaching those children to bully and judge and hurt feelings. If you think your children are not telling everyone else what you say, you are mistaken. If you think they are not telling the child in question what you said about them, to save their own asses for looking inconsiderate and mean, you are mistaken. Believe that. I've seen it first hand. It is painful enough to have a peer judge you because you want to be accepted. But to know an adult is judging you makes it ten times worse. Believe that. Adults are supposed to be safe places. Adults are supposed to have years of knowledge to teach. Adults are supposed to have built a couple of decades of practicing compassion and understanding.
If a child tells you, "I want it all to stop. I want everyone to stop. I want life to stop." YOU GET THAT CHILD HELP. Right then. No question. You find someone more knowledgeable than you in that moment if you need to, but you get them help. You do not let them walk away. You do not tell them to move on with life. You do not tell them to just get over what happened to them. Because children/teenagers/adolescents/young adults all speak different languages and in a world where soft language is demanded to sugar-coat what the real direct issue is, you create the inability to allow free-speech and testimony out of fear.
A sexual assault victim, an individual with suicidality, an individual who is being bullied ... they carry guilt, fear, sadness and shame with them everywhere they go inside their own backpacks and that load gets heavier daily. By not taking time to understand every action is a reaction to something in life, you are contributing to the problem.
Sugar-coated shit is still shit.
So let me share with you what your fears of watching something like '13 Reasons Why', or even reading the book, is causing. It is causing a blind eye.
I have read a handful of posts stating, "My teenager is not watching that. I am not watching that. It is graphic. I heard it was graphic. It will scar and taint my child forever. Why would I want to watch that?" Did you know (yes another question) that it was filmed as realistic as possible so that it would pay tribute to families who have experienced it first hand? Did you know that the executive directors consulted licensed professionals to spend time with the actors/actresses so that they would know and understand all elements of bullying, sexual assault and suicidality? So that they would know every emotion and reason that causes it and every emotion that is felt when it happens?
This is real. A real problem. An increasing problem.
A study was conducted on sexual assault. The statement began with the facts.
"Sally was raped by Brian."
As it transitioned through individuals it became:
"Sally got raped by a guy."
Then it became:
"Sally got raped."
The main question of the study is this.
WHY was the rapist's name dropped from the facts and the only thing remaining was the victims name? Why was the final information being passed around not, "Brian raped a girl."???
This study was later finished with the de-valuing of women needing to cease and it begins with men. Men who play poker and go on fishing trips or sit around watching sports with their friends need to stop listening to their friends say things like, "Did you see that waitress's ass?" Their response should not be, "Yeah man I did, it was nice!" It should be, "Man, I have a sister, you do as well, would you want someone talking about them that way? Don't say that."
The same can go for women speaking of men. We are all guilty of it.
If you have a friend, or notice someone you see daily, withdraw - change their hair drastically - dress differently - have a noticeable drop in grades - decrease social interactions or even communication - stop texting as much (phone doesn't ring as much) ... step forward. Say to them. "Hey, how are you? You matter to me. What's been going on?" Why? Because we have to do better. We have to be better to each other. We have to start being better at how we care for one another.
So, whether or not you feel your adolescent/teen should watch '13 Reasons Why' or read the book. Let me remind you of this fact.
1 in 4 adolescents are raped before they turn 18 years old.
This means that if your child is not the one. They know someone who is. They may not know who it is. But they know someone who is that 1 in 4. ONE in FOUR! So, the next time you or your child decide to judge someone because of how they change appearances, how they change interacting with their friends, how they seclude themselves or maybe they even begin to speak more freely and seem disrespectful ... remind yourself that little things add up to big things. Do not be the the final tape to someone's reasons why. Speak with kindness. Interact with compassion. Say, "Hey, how are you? You matter to me. What's been going on?"
Here are 13 Reasons Why:
1) Because being a human means being kind.
2) Because controversy leads to action.
3) Because we are raising the future.
4) Because ONE in FOUR.
5) Because educating yourself is more important than judging others.
6) Because it is the 2nd leading cause of death in teenagers between ages 10-24.
7) Because raising awareness helps solve the problem.
8) Because hiding facts teach children to hide their problems.
9) Because pretending it doesn't happen is enabling the behavior.
10) Because it is time to have difficult conversations with teenagers to help protect them.
11) Because it is time to cease soft language and create open dialogue.
12) Because rape shaming has to stop.
13) Because the statistics are too alarming to ignore any longer.
And following true form of the book/series. The added side of the tape gives us another reason and so will I.
14) Because the truth hurts. The truth is difficult. There is beauty in the broken.
The collateral beauty of this heart-breaking issue is that we are becoming more aware of what is needed to teach our sons and daughters respect and dignity and that their voices matter. Being heard matters.
Now, I am not ignorant to the fact that maturity levels vary. I have a son that will be 10 years old this fall. I would not want him watching this show or reading this book or hearing about it. He is not mature enough. But, I do teach him what is inappropriate by having conversations with him on how to not allow anyone to touch him in any way that makes him uncomfortable or that is an area that is private. I teach him safety plans for if it ever occurs. I teach him what to say to an adult he trusts if he needs to speak up for help. I teach him that police officers and school teachers/counselors and Sunday school teachers are safe places. I teach him to never be ashamed to tell the truth.
My teenager is mature enough. We watched it together (I watched it in completion by myself first). We made it a lesson and had open dialogue without judgement throughout each episode. My teenager has a safety plan. My teenager knows who to contact if she needs to. My teenager knows to not be ashamed. My teenager knows what small acts of bullying can do to someone who may or may not be emotionally struggling.
Disclaimer: I am a survivor. (I choose to not use the word victim) I was bullied for it as a teenager after I reached out to a couple of friends when I needed to talk. I had my name inside bathroom stalls. I was judged. I was de-friended. I was laughed at. I had horrible assessments made of my character and I had multiple rumors spread about me. Off-color remarks made my body a target for grabbing and swatting and my ears heard more than their fair share of inappropriate things that caused me to withdraw from athletics, cheering and even a handful of civic clubs. When I went to college I struggled with making friends and even going to class because of how I was treated as a teenager. It took me years to be able to go anywhere alone (IE: movies, eating) and to sit with my back to a door unless I completely trusted the person across from me with my life. Because that is what it felt like I was doing. Now I am stronger. I have a voice. I do not tolerate snide remarks or 'cat-calling' or anyone feeling they are entitled to put their hands on me.
Abrasively honest? No.
An advocate for truth and respect and awareness? Absolutely.
Survivors and victims do not choose what happens to them. It is not who they are. They are so much more than another person's decision to force themselves onto them. They are creative, beautiful, funny, intelligent, faith-filled, artistic, dancing, cooking, flower planting daughters and sisters and brothers and sons and they grow up to be mothers and fathers ... they are unfortunately 1 in 4, but that does not define them. Stop sweeping the problem under the rug and outcasting. Start raising awareness and speaking out.
So ... here is the final question that I have for you.
Are you ready to pick that backpack back up or are you ready to be a voice?
** If you or someone you know have been a victim of sexual assault, bullying or if you struggle with suicidal thoughts, please contact someone immediately. Never be ashamed to ask for help. **