Archive for the ‘EBOOK Excerpts: If We Spoke…’ Category

because when we’re away from you, on our own, faced with a choice,  we’re going to feed the most powerful need or go after the most enticing feeling… no matter how many times you warned us.  for us, NOW is the only thing that matters.  what feels best RIGHT NOW.  what choice avoids the most pain or discomfort RIGHT NOW.  we’ll cut class even though we know we have a test tomorrow because it’s more fun and we want to feel connected to our friends… RIGHT NOW.  we’ll smoke weed or take a drink instead of taking a stand against it because if we don’t, we’ll get teased or mocked… and RIGHT NOW, we’d rather laugh with others than get made fun of by others.

if our need for acceptance is stronger than our desire to feel like a leader or an independent thinker, then we’ll follow the crowd. if our need to avoid loneliness is more powerful than our hope for a “healthy” relationship, then we’ll choose to be with friends or boyfriends or girlfriends regardless of how “unhealthy” they are for us.  if our need to feel visible by our peers is stronger than our need to learn what the teachers is teaching, then we’ll goof off in class rather than quietly focus on the lesson. for us, it’s all about how we feel and what we need most in the moment, and if it conflicts with what you’ve taught us or what you want us to do, than your wisdom might  lose out, and often does. at least until we start to see or feel some real benefit to making the tough choice.  somehow, we need to KNOW that your wisdom will lead to feelings that are as great as you say they are… we won’t just take your word for it.  for example, if you want us to make the tough decision that will bring us a feeling of dignity or pride, but we’ve never really felt those feelings, then they’re not real to us. and because they’re not real, we won’t choose them over the feelings that are real, like feeling understood by our peers.  if we’ve never experienced the feelings of courage or  honor, than we’ll most likely choose the path of lesser resistance, like acceptance or connection.  a lot of the decisions and choices we make are to avoid unpleasant feelings like loneliness, shame, embarrassment, rejection or powerlessness… rather than in pursuit of feelings like dignity, honor, pride, self-worth and courage.

we act out in class so others don’t see that we don’t know the answers… to avoid feeling ashamed or embarrassed.  we have sex with people we know we shouldn’t, and sometimes don’t even want to, just to avoid feeling lonely and to prevent feeling rejected.  we’ll mistreat or abuse others, even though we know it’s wrong, just so we don’t have to feel powerless in our lives (which we often do).  are you starting to see? do you understand just a little better? does it make more sense to you now why we often ignore your advice and wisdom? it’s not because we think you’re wrong or want to piss you off (well, sometimes we do), it’s simply because your advice usually offers rewards that we’ll appreciate more when we’re adults … while we’re more focused on feeling as good and as safe as we can RIGHT NOW… IN THIS MOMENT.

as young people, we’re constantly being barraged by wisdom, lectured, and preached to by adults who have learned their lessons… but remember, just because your advice might in fact be “good” advice doesn’t mean we’re going to integrate it into our lives quickly. our priority as young people is to survive and feel as good as possible, and if it means defying you or ignoring your sage words… then there’s a possibility we’re going to disappoint you on occasion. so keep this in mind, and use your understanding of our motivations to more creatively try to motivate us to follow your leads… because frustratingly for adults, defiance is a normal part of the process of us growing up.

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in fact, when it comes to our underachievement, “laziness” is a lazy explanation.  beneath our appearance of lazy is always a more accurate explanation. our “laziness” could be the mask we wear to hide that we’re ashamed of having fallen behind. or it could be the mask we wear to hide that we feel unprepared, deficient in skills or embarrassed for not knowing something we’re “suppose to know”. for us, it’s less painful to be called lazy than it is to feel stupid. in our minds, lazy means we’re capable, but we just “chose” to not try. but if we try and fail, than we feel stupid, and this feels bad… so we just don’t try and take the “lazy” label from others instead of the “stupid” label from ourselves. at least this way, we protect our ego’s and keep our pride.

we sometimes underachieve because we’ve only been spoken to about achievement, and not inspired by people who have actually achieved. sometimes we don’t work as hard as we should because the adults in our lives don’t really know how to hold us accountable for our efforts in ways that motivate us… they just rely on shaming us or threatening us to get us to work harder, which rarely works (though there are a few of us, usually older, who are motivated by shame and threats… but we’re few, and you’ll have to know us pretty well to know this).

sometimes we perform below our abilities because some of our teachers and parents find it easier to blame us for our “laziness” than to look at themselves for new ways to inspire us (even though it is more our responsibility than yours). sometimes we underachieve because the expectations of us have been lowered so much for so long that we can do nothing but meet these low expectations. sometimes we underachieve because there are other activities that draw our attention or are more entertaining than studying. and sometimes we underachieve because we don’t value learning as much as we value feeling popular with our peers… and these aren’t excuses (although they may sound like them)… these are alternative explanations that you’ll need to know if you’re going to light a lasting fire under us. we’re young, and as such, we do require guidance, we do need to be taught and we do need limits and boundaries. we need to feel that people have faith in us to work hard and meet higher expectations. we may whine and complain and make excuses when you hold us to these standards, but it doesn’t mean we don’t need you to. for us, it’s not about who’s to blame for our low achievement, we just need help becoming competent, self-sufficient young adults… because despite what you may think or what we may say… we most definitely prefer success over failure.

we know it’d be much easier for everyone if we were all simply born with work ethic and intellectual confidence… but that’s just not reality for all of us. so if you know a kid who seems “lazy”… don’t be lazy… dig a little deeper and find the real reason we’re not working harder and achieving more… and then push a little smarter and harder to get us to.

is that why you don’t try harder to get to know us? are you so afraid you’ll find something dark about us that you won’t know how to deal with? are you so worried that you’ll end up feeling helpless to fix our “problems” that you don’t even try to understand why we’re struggling? we may put on good shows that make you think we’re fine, but we’re often struggling with, or questioning something in our lives. we need you to not be afraid of us or of our truth. we need you to understand us or at least try to. we wonder about the big issues like future, love, death, loyalty, suicide, sex, temptations and right and wrong, whether you wish we did or didn’t… and we also wonder why it seems so uncomfortable for so many of you to just sit down with us and talk about these things.

there’s a lot of scary, unpleasant stuff in this world and we know how overwhelming life can be, but if the adults in our lives don’t show us how to be brave enough to face the demons that lie inside all of us, how can we be expected to rise above our demons? maybe when you were young, you were told simply to move on and quit whining, or maybe people treated you like a freak if you did express such confused or provocative thoughts… but whatever your reasons were for bottling stuff up, they don’t help us.  it’s a different time now and we’re exposed to different things. we can’t keep bottling up our fears and confusions because they just keep collecting and it feels like poison inside us.  we’re young and haven’t been around that long and every day we’re exposed to new ideas, experiences, social issues and pressures, and every time we come across something new (which is all the time, especially with all the new technologies and media), we have questions or we feel new feelings that we can’t quite get our heads around.  it’s true that we hate admitting that we don’t know everything and feel overwhelmed at times… just like everyone else, but we want you to know that if you choose to ignore the stuff that weighs us down because it’s “too stressful” for you, or because you love us so much that you can’t bear to acknowledge our pain, then we are much more likely to act in risky ways or make poor decisions.

inconvenient as it may be to you, we as your kids or students would be much safer and would feel much more supported if you had the courage to want to know what lies inside us, even if it disagrees with your beliefs or how you were raised… and we may even need you to help us find the words. if we have to keep our insecurities, fears, confusions, doubts and anxieties bottled up because everyone’s too prideful, rushed or scared to ask us what’s going on, we’re much more likely to be destructive… but if we have adults in our lives who show us how to be brave and help us look inside ourselves with confidence and fearlessness, then we’d be much more likely to make better decisions and build healthier relationships.

because that’s the best way to get us to live healthy lives. if you have a problem with drinking too much, the best way for you to prevent us from developing a drinking problem is for you to do the hard thing and get and stay sober.  as you may know, behaviors and habits can get passed down from generation to generation… just like eye color or height can get passed down.  stuff like hot tempers, aggression, drinking, violence in relationships, drug use, promiscuity, teen pregnancy, poor work ethic, dishonesty and even eating disorders get cycled through families.  we learn from the environments we grow up in, and if certain behaviors are “good enough” for our parents, many of us will just end up mimicking what you do when you’re around us. what we’re asking is that you find a way to break your bad habits… if not for you, then for us.

we’re asking you to look in the mirror, even if it’s painful. and we want you to know that preaching to us about the dangers of  bad habits isn’t nearly as loving, or effective, as showing us the courage to break them.  and while parents might feel they’re doing the right thing by lecturing us to not follow in their footsteps and to learn from their mistakes, for us, they’re just empty words.  breaking habits and family patterns takes strength of character and courage, and if you can’t do it… how are we supposed to be able to? and while some of us do have the resiliency to resist following the unhealthy leads of our parents, a lot of us are just too vulnerable and impressionable. and we’re not saying it’s easy. but we need you to understand how important it is to us that you dig deep and figure out how to be better role models for us than your parents may have been for you.

and if you do show us how to free yourself from the patterns and scars of your pasts, than we’ll absorb your bravery and resiliency and have the futures we all want us to have. the truth is that we do love you and look up to you, even when you’re doing dangerous, scary or unhealthy stuff… and we just need you to show us how to walk the paths you want us to walk.

and slowly crush our confidence. it seems that many people with authority or experience think that because we are young, or because we’ve had difficult lives, or because we’ve somehow been oppressed for how we look or how much money our families have, that we’re not capable of the same successes as other, more privileged people.  making things easier for us is far more oppressive than challenging us. making things easier for us only sends the message that you think we’re not as capable as everyone else… and it keeps us from building our mental muscles to their fullest abilities. the dangerous thing here is that because we’re young, we’d much prefer things to be easier than harder.  and because of this, we’ll usually just accept the lower standards rather than ask to be challenged. and if you do lower your expectations of us, we’ll end up just feeling pleased with ourselves for accomplishing small, basic tasks, rather than feeling the pride of pushing ourselves beyond what we thought we were capable of.  the bottom line here is that we are capable of more. it is not in our “best interest” to make things too easy on us. and the only way we’ll find out how great we can become is by being challenged and inspired to work harder and aim higher. so even though we may not have had easy childhoods, we won’t benefit from being patronized… but we will benefit from your faith in us to do better.  if there are people in our lives who don’t allow us to “coast” or use our lives as excuses, than you’ll get to see us shine and overcome.  otherwise, if people keep relying on lowering the standards to “build our self-esteem”, we’ll grow up unprepared, hiding behind false arrogance and not knowing how amazing real confidence rooted in ability really feels.

in fact, and we’re sure this will sound strange, but it’s really logical why some of us do it. and we want you to know that cutting ourselves, or burning ourselves, actually works when we want to feel something different. we’re going to try to explain it to you, so read slowly and carefully, and pause when you’re reading to make sure you understand. because we need you to understand and not just run to call 911 or hurry us to the psyche unit (although for some of us, an evaluation and an opportunity to focus on our mental health might actually be necessary). you see, when we go through any experience, we end up feeling things inside. when bad stuff happens, we feel sad, scared or overwhelmed. when good things happen, we feel excited, joyous or connected. being affected by our experiences and relationships is inevitable. and when we feel painful or confusing things, if we don’t have the self-awareness or vocabulary to understand our feelings and label them correctly,  sometimes they just stay stuck inside us. and if these feelings stay stuck inside us, and we remain confused by them without any way of communicating them or asking for help, they eventually turn toxic and overwhelming… which leads to desperation because we so badly want the pain to go away.  and it’s this desperation that can lead to us cutting our own skin. in trying to figure out how to release these stored up, overwhelming emotions, we sometimes end up turning to physical pain.  again, this may sound strange, and you might be asking yourselves “why cause physical pain to try to deal with emotional or psychological pain?”… and again, it’s not that complicated, so keep reading.

for those of us who are younger, emotional pain can feel nameless and faceless and beyond our own understanding… which is why we cut (and so you know, we’ll use all kinds of things like scissors, hard plastic, sewing needles etc). we’ll cut ourselves because a cut to our skin is obvious, isolated, and healable… which inside pain isn’t (at least not in our younger minds). in addition, a cut to our skin is something we are in control of, where as the emotional pain we’re feeling is usually caused by someone else, and therefore, beyond our control. so it boils down to choosing actual physical pain which we’re in control of, over abstract emotional pain which we feel like we have no control over… and it’s not to kill ourselves, and it’s not always for attention. often, it’s just for the release of brain chemicals that happens when we cut. often, it’s because the people in our lives aren’t taking our experiences seriously enough. often, it’s to punish ourselves for acting in ways that we’re ashamed of. and sometimes, it’s for the excitement we feel when we’re doing something wrong or unhealthy. unfortunately, it is a coping strategy that has become much more visible and as such, many of us have adopted it as a way of dealing with our feelings… but if you think about it, it’s no different than drinking, smoking, having sex or engaging in any other risky behavior… it’s just another attempt by us to feel like our lives belong to us, and not to the forces affecting us.

look, we know it scares people when we do this, and sometimes it scares them so much that they turn a blind eye to our reality… but if it scares you, imagine what it’s like for us to feel so overwhelmed, and so unprepared to deal with our lives…  and so alone that we have to turn to causing ourselves even more pain as a way of coping. so if you know a kid, or suspect a kid you know is cutting themselves, try your best to approach them without panic and judgment, and do your best to engage them in a conversation about what they might be feeling and needing. because the more supported we feel by the adults in our lives… the less likely we are to cause ourselves harm.

for so many reasons. some of these reasons are healthy (like when we’ve been in a longer term, honest, committed, trusting relationship and have talked about sex with our partners and doctors). and some of the reasons are unhealthy and self-destructive (like when we’ve been abused when we were younger and have confused ideas about boundaries, or when we have been made, over time, to feel more like objects than like whole people).  for us, whether we’re straight or gay young men, or straight or gay young women, having sex is often a very confusing experience. even if we seem confident in our decision making or choice in partners, we’re often wondering and doubting inside our own minds. we wonder about our attractiveness. we wonder about our sexual “skills” or if our partners are enjoying us physically. we wonder about what our partners are thinking or whether or not they actually like us, or are just using us for our bodies.  many of us are even wondering if we’re causing shame to our families, really want to be having sex or even if we’re ready to have sex. for a lot of us, we sleep around because we’re looking for something that we feel we’re missing. we’re looking to feel loved. we’re looking to feel appreciated. we’re looking to feel useful, or to feel like we’re good at something.  for a lot of us, sex seems like the gateway to adulthood, and if feeling like “a kid” doesn’t feel so good, we rush ourselves. we have sex with more people than we should and more frequently than is healthy not to make adults angry with us (although sometimes we do)… we often sleep around just because we don’t value ourselves enough or feel that we deserve relationships defined by safety, respect, intimacy and trust.  many of us, male or female, gay or straight, allow ourselves to be used because we’ve learned through media, friends and family that our greatest and only real asset is our bodies. for us girls, we’re often portrayed as things, or objects or toys… and for us boys, we’re often glorified for treating women as numbers or conquests. and this is no different for those of us who are gay.  magazines accentuate body parts and sexualize everything. music videos illustrate sex more as a sport, activity or a competition rather than a relationship. songs refer to us girls as bitches and whores and smuts and chicken heads and all kinds of other demeaning words. and boys are being taught that to be a man, they have to have sex as soon as possible with as many women as possible. nowhere are any of us really being taught, especially by the media, that sex can and should be something shared, something mutual, something discussed and something safe. instead, a lot of us teenage boys feel entitled to say what we want to girls, and a lot of us girls feel like we have no choice but to be treated like less than boys.

you see, for us young women, we spend so much time being whistled at, harassed and pressured to be sexual, that eventually, we start to feel powerless to stop it.  and once we feel powerless to stop it, we often unknowingly start convincing ourselves that we “like” it just to avoid feeling powerless. and for us teenage boys, we put so much pressure on each other (and we get it from our elders as well) to start having sex, that we stop thinking about how the other person might feel or what they want. eventually for all of us, having sex stops being a meaningful experience, and simply becomes something to do.  sadly, many of us aren’t having sexual relationships defined by care, thoughtfulness and connection. and many of us don’t have healthy relationship role models in our lives… and in the absence of couples to look up to, or adults to speak to openly and honestly, we often end up mimicking what we see, watch, read about and hear. but don’t misunderstand, we’re not all victims and we’re not all sexist pigs and we do understand that there is such a thing as being sexually confident. and many of us do know about safe, safer and safest sex… but the point is that many of us don’t know what we need to know and do hide our insecurities, questions and doubts… which is why we need the adults in our lives to push through their own discomfort and sit and talk with us.

and it doesn’t matter if we’re white, black, hispanic, asian, indian, rich, poor, suburban, urban or in college… we’re all eligible for gang membership. and there are hundreds, maybe even thousands out there just waiting for another member.  bloods, crips, MS 13, latin kings, vice lords, surenos, nortenos, skinheads and white supremacists are the more common gangs, but there are countless other “sets” or factions in all regions of the world. each gang also has their own distinguishing features which you can keep a look out for. if you see any of us getting tatoos, doing grafitti, wearing beads, specific sports clothes, hats or team emblems or only some colors and not others, we might either already be connected, or we might be considering joining.  what we want you to keep in mind is that while the word “gang” often stirs fear and outrage, the factors that drive many of us to join gangs are very similar to the factors that drive people to join fraternity’s, sorority’s, high school cliques or even church groups. obviously, the activities of street gang members differ greatly from other groups or communities, but if you’re trying to understand us, or even influence our decisions to join gangs, having a greater perspective beyond what the media portrays will help.  for a lot of us, the main reasons we’re willing to mug, steal, hustle drugs, cut people, rob people or even die are simple. we’re willing to do all these things for loyalty. for the sense of belonging, safety and importance that comes with being a part of a community. we’re willing to sacrifice our futures, and sometimes even put our real family members at risk because the other gang members would do the same for us… and knowing this with certainty can make us feel amazingly powerful.

many people assume all gang members must simply be “rotten” or “evil” to do the things many gang members do, but it can be far more complicated. for those of us who grow up around constant violence and threats, we learn to seek safety in numbers and shut off our consciences or emotional switches. this “shut off” allows us to do some of the awful things we do without the regret, guilt or remorse most people would feel. and this doesn’t mean we are “evil”, it just means our survival instincts are overpowering our senses of right and wrong and our loyalty to our gang, our color, our flag, our neighborhood or the friendships we’ve made give us all the justification we need. sadly, any young person who knows deep loneliness, powerlessness, fear or invisibility is at risk of being recruited into a gang, especially the young people who don’t feel connected to or seen by their own families. so even if you don’t think the kids in your lives have any real reason to seek out the perks of gang affiliation, if you have any doubts, be sure to take a deeper look and ask the right questions… and than listen. this will give you the best chance of knowing where we stand, what we’re into, or what we’re considering getting into.

it’s an “emotional management” issue that people have labeled as an anger issue.  the problem is, we’re just not as angry as we often look. but we are hurt. we are overwhelmed. we are scared. we are ashamed. we do feel powerless. we do feel neglected, rejected and abandoned. and we are lonely and we do feel more hopeless and helpless than we’d like. and instead of being taught how to face and feel our real feelings, we reflexively just flip them in our heads and hearts into anger… which is why people think are problem is with anger, and not the real stuff underneath.

disguising our real feelings as anger has become a habit for those of us who you label as “angry”. instead of being taught that all emotions are natural and actually useful and beautiful, we learn to ignore them, deny them, repress them, or drown them in alcohol, drugs or other distractions. think about it. think about how you judge or perceive different feelings. do you look at depressed people as fragile or weak? do you get irritated with yourself when you let yourself feel lonely? think about what feelings you would choose to show if you had the choice…  would you feel more comfortable showing sadness? or anger?…  to express shame? or anger? … to convey loneliness or powerlessness or hopelessness?… or anger? and while you’re thinking about which feelings you think are more acceptable, keep in mind that we’re teenagers who think appearance is everything… and looking weak is not an option.

for most of us, the choice is easy (even though it often doesn’t feel like a choice)… and that’s to show the emotion that others see as more powerful, and not the ones that make us look weak or vulnerable.  as kids, most of our sense of self revolves around how others see us. and we’d much rather be seen as angry than ignorant, embarrassed, stupid, sensitive or even thoughtful.  it’s just how we’ve been conditioned. by our families, by movies, by athletes, by singers/rappers and performers.  we’re taught feelings are for wimps. tears are only shed by babies, “little girls” or the weak.  we’re taught power is gained by overpowering others, and not by picking others up.  we’re taught strength is measured by physical ability and not the capacity to do right when all others seem to be doing wrong. and we’re taught that confidence is measured by how little we care about what other people think about us, rather than by how true to ourselves and our own hearts we can be.  these statements may sound dramatic or exaggerated… but they’re really not. it’s how a lot of us think… without knowing it’s how we think.

these thoughts might be more extreme for some of us than others depending on where we grow up or who raised us, but the basic points about which emotions are more “acceptable” to others are pretty true for most young people. it’s just how a lot of us have been raised.  it’s an aggressive world we live in and we often feel like if we don’t match the aggression… then we’ll become the victims. and no one likes feeling like a victim. we’ve confused aggression with power and we’ve never been challenged to develop our emotional vocabulary or self-awareness. and we’ve never been taught that it takes far more confidence and courage to look directly at our vulnerabilities, than to look away from them. nor have we known many people who have role modeled the bravery to express how they really feel, even if it makes them “look” weak in the eyes of others.

we’ve only learned that anger looks strong and most, if not all other feelings look weak… and this is why so many of you think we have “anger” problems. which we don’t. so if you really want to address our “problem” and teach us how to “manage” ourselves in healthier ways, try not to address the anger you see or we show… look deeper, put a little more thought into your approaches with us, be more curious… and most of all, role model the courage to feel and express all of your emotions… not just the ONE that media says makes us look tough.