13 Reasons Why You Need to Talk to Your Children

Steeped in controversy, the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” has brought greater awareness to teen issues such as bullying, depression and suicide.  It’s raw.  It’s violent.  It’s difficult to watch.  But it’s real and the reality of what many teenagers go through on a daily basis.  Long before it became a series, I read the book, “13 Reasons Why.”  And yes, I did watch the series with my daughter (who was 19 at the time), which sparked some great conversation.

Regardless of how you feel about the series, it was my past naivete that leads me now to face these types of hard topics head on.  Our family’s personal experience with some of the same issues addressed in this series doesn’t allow for me to ignore the painful truth.  Yes, even for a semi-functional family.  A two-parent family.  A loving family.  A church family.

Whether you choose to watch it or not, alone or with your child, I implore you to consider 13 reasons why you need to talk to your children about these types of difficult topics.

  1. What we think is minuscule could be monumental to your child.

I’ve always joked that my daughter was a drama queen, or when she was younger that she was sensitive.  Emerging into the teen years, I oftentimes made the mistake of dismissing her “end-of-the-world” events with it “just being her.”  Yet the reality is that some of those events were truly traumatic to her.  The more I poo-pooed them, the less she shared.  As a result, she suffered silently.  Our wake-up call came when she overdosed, which thankfully she recovered from. But it taught me a painful lesson on not recognizing the importance of taking her hurts to heart.

2. Bullying is real and it’s harsher that we might imagine.

Bullying has reached new levels, compared to when I was a child.  And we can easily miss cues that it’s become an issue for our child.  I naively believed that my daughter’s middle school years were smooth sailing.  It wasn’t until she was in high school that I discovered just how painful that time was in her life.  None of my children have been spared from some form of bullying.  And it didn’t just happen at school…it happened in the church.  It extends to an online world, in which you can’t seem to escape the bullying.  Pictures, posts, snap chats, Tweets, and comments can follow a child around ruthlessly.

3. Everyone reacts differently to bullying.

The way someone responds to taunts, name-calling, or harassment depends on so many different factors.  Some people seem to handle it better than others.  Certainly, the answer is never to end one’s life.  Yet we can’t dismiss the deep hurt that some feel, to the point where it feels like there is no other option.  Because of this, we need to be available to our children so they can talk to us if there are issues of bullying.

4. Our children need to understand the impact of suicide. 

Some felt the Netflix series glamorized suicide.  In some ways I can understand why, but it also depicted the deep pain and anguish felt by the main character’s parents, friends, and yes, even her enemies.  Suicide is a very uncomfortable topic but it’s so important.  My daughter (thank God) was able to see the effects of her overdose on our family.  This isn’t always the case.

5. We need to understand the climate our teenagers face on a daily basis.

At one point in the series I turned to my daughter and asked, “Is this really what school is like?”  It seemed almost too vulgar to believe.  Yet she confirmed that it was indeed what she had experienced.  Our children face a daily barrage of foul language, unkindness, gossip and backstabbing.   While we’d like to believe they’re untainted, it’s safe to say they’re affected to one degree or another.  And let me assure you, it takes place in both public and private schools.  It’s naïve to believe that our children aren’t affected by a school’s climate.

6. The sexualization of females (yes, in middle and high school) is real.

Slut-shaming, crude remarks and sexual assault are realities that females face everywhere—even in school.  Evaluated by looks, body parts and how far one goes…is an unfortunate part of this sinful world.  Being taken advantage of, emotionally or physically, can significantly impact a person’s mental health.  This type of behavior should never be downplayed.  And when we see teenage girls posing in provocative or suggestive pictures online, let’s pray for them.  Most are confused and have falsely come to believe that their worth is tied up in how they look.  We need to have open and honest conversations with not only our daughters but sons when it comes to the sexualization of females.

7. Our children need to know the value of a true friendship.

I don’t want to spoil the story-line for those who may not have watched this series, but I have to say it’s extremely sad the main character missed the opportunity for a true friend.  She had one, even though she partly blamed that person for her death…the reality is that this individual genuinely cared for her.  Trust is a real issue in friendships, especially for teenagers.  One minute someone claims to be your best friend and the next, they stab you in the back.  While these events are painful, they reveal if someone is a true friend.  Our children need to know that a crowd of friends who will dump you in a second can never replace the worth of one good friend who is there for a lifetime.

8. A bad reputation isn’t always built on truth.

A bad reputation is hard to recover from.  Once gossip spreads about someone, it’s really hard to take it back—kind of like trying to get toothpaste back into the tube.  It’s messy and nearly impossible.  While we can create our own bad reputations, sometimes they’re built on lies.  It’s extremely painful to be known for something that you’re not.  This is a good reminder to our teens that what they say about someone could result in long-lasting damage.

9. Even with the best intentions, we can miss the mark.

Another issue that critics had with this series is how the guidance counselor failed to help the main character.  I don’t know if the intent was to throw professionals under the bus.  Yet the reality is that teachers and others can fail to see a need.  Even her parents missed the mark.  No one could have ever convinced me several years ago that I would find myself sitting in a room at Children’s Hospital, with no privacy, because my daughter was there on suicide watch.  Or that I would have to fight to get her out of a mental institution.  I’ve always had the best intentions for my daughter but clearly, somewhere along the way, I missed something.  It’s important to acknowledge this reality—not to place us on a guilt trip, but as a reminder of our imperfections and God’s perfect grace.

10. We can’t blame everyone around us for the way we respond to our feelings.

Critics have also brought up the way the main character blames everyone for her decision to end her life.  It’s a reminder that we must take personal responsibility for the way we react to our feelings.  We can feel angry, hurt and frustrated about what others do.  It’s what we do with those feelings that rests squarely on our shoulders.  When someone decides to end their life, it’s on that person.  It’s a choice.  A terrible, heartbreaking, permanent choice that cannot be undone.

11. Pain is temporary. Death is forever.

Watching my daughter suffer through some pretty painful experiences were the hardest times of my life.  In the moment, it feels like the pain will never end.  Our children need to know that it doesn’t last…but death, oh, there is no coming back from it.  We need to share with our children those moments in our own life when it felt like the pain would never end.  They are not alone in that thinking.  They need to know that God will see them through because He has a wonderful future awaiting them.

12. Suicide is grisly.

Unlike other scenes where the cutting of wrists looks like a simple slice and then you just relax and stop breathing…the scene in “13 Reasons Why” was graphic.  It was bloody.  Death was slow.  It was very difficult to watch.

Suicide isn’t romantic.  It’s also not the answer to life’s problems.  While it’s not an easy topic to discuss, it’s critical we talk to our children about it.

13. God has entrusted these children to you.

Our responsibility to parent goes beyond providing shelter, food and clothes.  We have a holy obligation to point our children to the saving grace of Jesus Christ.  The spiritual implications of this cannot be underestimated.  The devil wants to do everything he can to thwart your efforts.  He will use all means of doing this—depression, eating disorders, self-harm, pornography, sexual immorality, drug addiction, alcoholism and the list goes on.

We can’t talk to our children if we’re wrapped up in our own world.  With our eyes fixed on our phones, computers and television sets.  We need to purpose to set aside time to talk with them.  We have to be willing to get out of our comfort zones and deal with the hard stuff of life.

Don’t be lax in the reality that there’s a battle waging for their souls.  Mom, Dad…YOU are their champion!  You are their warrior!  You are their safe place.  Do not ignore or make light of this role.  It could make an eternal difference…

 

A Misunderstanding of Sacrifice

I thought I understood sacrifice those sleepless nights I was nursing a newborn or comforting a child woken up by a bad dream.  I thought I knew the meaning of sacrifice by braving the cold and rain to watch my child play football or reading the same story five times in a row.  I thought I got the meaning of sacrifice when I spent my own birthday money on a toy for my child or gave up a career to stay home when my children were young.

Sacrificing my time, sometimes my sanity, and most definitely my wants.

I had a misunderstanding of sacrifice that I wouldn’t come to realize until the later years.  When my role as a mom would change because now they’re adults and I have to bite my tongue just to keep the peace.  When I would have to push aside my need to rescue and allow my children to make mistakes.

Sacrificial parenting is a way of surrendering what I think or want and trusting God with the outcome.  It’s giving up my need to be right or to have my say so that a relationship can stay intact.

It’s hard.  Oh, is it hard.  The heartache it can cause is indescribable.  But so is the wonder in seeing how God can turn an entire situation around or give you glimpses of good in the midst of difficulty.  It’s a reminder that my sacrifice is nothing compared to God’s, who gave up His own Son so that we might have eternal life.

The more I reflect on His sacrifice, the less I focus on myself.  The more I surrender, the greater my faith.  Like Abraham, who was ready to sacrifice his son—literally—God will provide my “ram.”  The way that points to God’s faithfulness in each and every one of my children’s lives.

Sacrifice is less about giving up something and more about entrusting everything to God.  It’s nothing about me and everything about Him.

 

Should Mothers Be Forced to Work?

There’s a lot of things that should be illegal…but choosing to stay at home and raise your children?  Are you kidding me?  Apparently, that’s the belief shared by an Australian magazine writer.  Columnist Sarrah Le Marquand, a mother of two children, says it should be “a legal requirement that all parents of children of school-age or older are gainfully employed.”  So, she’s not targeting the parents of little ones but still…it’s a little twisted to cite the reasons for this being 1) a loss to the economy and 2) untapped potential in the women who choose to not work.

 

I became a stay-at-home mom just before I had baby #2.  It was fairly easy to make this decision because financially, we couldn’t afford to put two kids in daycare.  Basically, I would be working just to send them to daycare.  That became even truer when baby #3 arrived.  When my oldest became school-age, I decided to homeschool.  My reasons for that could be a whole other blog.  But I did this for several years.  In fact, the first time my children were put in school my oldest was in 5th grade, my middle child in 2nd and my youngest started kindergarten.

 

I didn’t run out and get a job.  In fact, my first job was very part-time when my oldest entered 6th grade.  When he was in 7th (the other two in 4th and 2nd grade), I tried full-time work.  It lasted a few months.  For our family, my immediate availability was most important.  So, I went back to part-time work and eventually became a professional writer who worked from home.

 

Untapped potential?  I found value in being a mom.  Whether I worked or not, that didn’t change this truth.  It doesn’t diminish anyone’s value, whether they decide to stay-at-home, work part-time or full-time.

 

Gender equality is something I tend to poke fun at, to be completely honest.  When Donald Trump was elected as president, the feminists cried about how the women’s movement would be negatively affected.  I have yet to see that happen.  Women have a great deal of opportunity to contribute significantly to this world.  In the workforce, yes.  But also in in their families (and sometimes doing both!)

 

If feminists are all about equal rights, why do they squash the desire of some women to have that right to stay home and raise their children?  They’re thinking is one-sided.  If women are supposed to support one another, why aren’t we cheering on those who stay home?  Those who work?  Why aren’t we celebrating one another and the different choices made available to us?

 

Motherhood is one of the greatest privileges I’ve been granted.  While I would never change the ability (and sacrifices made) to be able to stay home, I would never question another woman for choosing to do things differently.  Equality is defined as “the state of being equal, especially in status, rights and opportunities.”  Our status as a woman is not defined by choosing to work or not work.  Our rights give us the choice to choose between working and not working.  Opportunities means the ability to make full use of our skills in the workforce and/or in the home.

 

Feminists get frustrated with women who don’t do things the way they think it should be done.  That’s not equality.  Equality is found in Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

 

I choose to celebrate the uniqueness of God’s creation, not only in man versus woman…but within my own gender and the advantages we have in choosing what’s best for our family.  With His guidance and direction, we can’t go wrong, no matter what we decide.

Let Go

She slipped out of my hands.  The pull of the current was too strong.  I couldn’t reach her.  Desperation enveloped me as I attempted to grab at something, anything.  But she didn’t fight to make her way back.  She seemed to accept her fate, her mouth not saying a word but her eyes telling a story.  “Let me go,” they seemed to plead.  Never mind my screams that pierced the dark night.

She doesn’t want to be rescued.  My attempts to intervene unwanted.  Quickly and yet at the same time it seems like slow motion, she is drifting away.  Our eyes lock, mine pleading for her to come back and hers pleading to let her go.

For a time I run along the banks—she’s still in my sights and although I know she isn’t safe, there is some reassurance because I can at least see her.  I haven’t completely lost her.  Maybe around the bend a branch will catch her and I can make a daring attempt to bring her back safely to the shore.  I will die trying! 

Yet it seems the more I try to keep up, the faster she drifts away.  What scares me the most is that she seems to have no fear.  She sits back comfortably, unaware and unafraid of the dangers that lurk ahead.  No concern regarding the unknown.

While initially she seemed alarmed at our separation, now she appears almost relieved.  As this reality hits me, in a panic I realize that now she’s nothing more than a dot…I can barely make her out because she has gone so far from me.  But there is nothing—absolutely nothing I can do.  It’s out of my hands.  She’s gone.  No possibility of a rescue.

Exhausted from my efforts, I fall to the ground.  The tears flow freely.  But a gentle breeze comes along and wipes them from my face.  The sun is shining so brightly I now have to squint.  Warmth envelopes me.  Peace floods me.  Comfort surrounds me.  And suddenly I know—that although she’s out of my reach—she is safe in the arms of my Father.  My tears like prayers He collects in a bowl.  The sun a radiance that gives light to even the darkest moments.  And the warmth of my Father’s love that reminds me of hope.

She is not completely lost.  He still has her in His sights.

I get up from the ground, brush off the dirt and look not in the direction I last saw her…but heavenward.  I don’t have to worry.  I don’t have to fear.  As great as my love is for her, His is even greater.  He’s got this.  He’s got her.  I can truly let her go because He never will.

 

NOTE:  Taking a little break from the Prodigal Child Series I’ve been doing, as God laid this on my heart to write and I wanted to share.

Experiencing the Thing You Judge

I guessed her to be 17 or 18. Her earlobes had been stretched enough you could see through them. She had a piercing on her lip. And on her hip she carried a baby.

Sipping my soup, watching her, I couldn’t help but think that in a different time and place—under different circumstances—my heart would have been full of judgment.  In the wrong frame of mind, I might have even made my feelings obvious.

What does it take to soften a heart hardened by judgment?  Experiencing the very thing you judge.

Sometimes God has to knock us off the pedestal, bring us down to ground level, to show the true condition of our hearts.  He’ll interrupt our cozy world and shake things up enough to get our attention.

We might fall into the trap of putting too much stock in our own efforts.  As a parent, I had it all figured out.  If I do A and B, well, naturally I’ll get to C.  Instead, parenting one child in particular turned out to be more like a complicated algebraic formula.

The day I learned my then 17-year-old daughter was pregnant was more than a shaking of my world.  It was like an earthquake—everything came crumbling down.  Mixed in with the obvious concerns of what she was going to do, was what I was going to do when others found out.  It didn’t take long for my mind to go there…concerns about how I was going to look as a mom.

What I had once cast judgment on, was now going to be cast upon us.  And the judgment did happen—upon our family as a whole, myself as a mom and my daughter.  But I’m happy to say that we experienced more grace than we did judgment.  That’s how the church is supposed to function.

Judgment is something I still struggle with sometimes—I cannot lie.  The human side of me can easily go there.  But it doesn’t take long to remember our family’s journey.  It reels me back in and reminds me of God’s goodness and grace.

Back to Panera Bread—because where else would I be sipping soup?  As I watch this young mom place her baby in the high chair, sit down and interact with him…a smile starts inside and then transfers to my mouth.  I doubt she gets many smiles her way.  I’m honored to be in a place where I can offer it.

Who could use your smile today?  Who could benefit from an encouraging word instead of a disparaging one?  Parenting is hard enough without making it harder for others.  One never knows where life will take them, so it’s better to err on the side of grace.  After all, isn’t that the point of the cross?

Pressing through When Hard Pressed

It brings out the best in me.  But it also brings out the worst in me.  Motherhood.  Never is one pressed harder physically or emotionally than when challenged as a mom.  Emotions pressed hard.  Heart pressed hard.  Beliefs pressed hard.

Pressed hard when running on little sleep because the baby’s days and night are mixed up, or the youngun’ is sick with a fever and cough.

Pressed hard when homework time becomes a battle.  Or the juice gets spilled…yet again.  Or the walls get colored on with permanent marker.

Pressed hard with the bickering…the inability to follow simple directions…the whining…and the backtalk.

Pressed hard when the driving lessons start…the introduction of the first boyfriend…coming home late from curfew…when poor decisions are made.

Emotions pressed hard can run amuck.  The heart pressed hard can break.  And beliefs pressed hard can be questioned.

Yet in these times of being hard pressed, there is a way of pressing through.  It’s God’s Word in our heart, bringing hope to the soul.  It’s God’s grace giving us the ability to endure.  It’s God’s peace seeing us through the challenges.  And it’s the promises of God giving us assurance.

When Grace Overshadows Shame

“I do realize the pain I can cause…”

“I’ve disappointed you…”

“You say you’re proud of me, but why?  I’m trying to remember the last good thing I’ve done.”

 

These were my own words, penned from a heart that desired to do right but couldn’t seem to get there.  I ran across this letter, written to my father when I was just 16 years old, in a box of mementos given to me by my stepmother more than a year after his death.  I couldn’t believe he kept that letter all these years.

 

Now on the other end, as a parent with children who have probably felt some of the same things, I get it.  In fact, it wasn’t that long ago my own 19-year-old daughter expressed to me that even though I tell her how proud I am of her, she still feels like she’s a disappointment to us.  It can be difficult to separate the disappointment we have in our children’s choices from them as a person.

 

I made some pretty bad choices myself as a teenager.  Yet my dad would tell me he was proud of me.  Perhaps what he was really saying is that he saw the potential in me.  He saw the places where I shined, more than those dark places.

 

I won’t lie.  My daughter can certainly stir things up.  Sometimes it causes chaos, anger and hurt.  Yet I can still tell her that I’m proud of her.  Why?  I see beyond the surface stuff.  I see the places she has overcome and done well.  Sure, I can get caught up in all her wrongs and fixate on those…but God nudges me back to grace.

 

The words I wrote when I was 16 years old could be echoed today, to my Heavenly Father.  I’m sure I’ve caused Him pain and disappointment.  I know there are times it seems like goodness is so far from me.  But I know…because of His Word…that He loves me anyway.  My heart is able to receive this truth.  Why?  Because grace overshadows my shame.

Dear Devil – A Letter Regarding My Children

 Dear Devil,

 

This letter serves to put you on notice that you must take your hands off my children.  They don’t belong to you…and they never have.  They belong to the King of kings and Lord of lords—the One I dedicated their lives to not only in a formal dedication service in the House of God but more importantly, in my daily surrendering of their lives to Him.  I give them to God because they are HIS and HIS ALONE.  I surrender them to the One who created them, who is continuing His work in forming and shaping their lives.  Because He who began a good work in them WILL carry it on to completion (Philippians 1:6).  And it IS a good work being done in them.  Devil, you have no right to try and intercept God’s plans for their lives.  Plans to prosper my children and not to harm, plans to give them a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).

 

Not only do I declare that you have absolutely no authority over their lives, but I put you on notice that you have messed with the wrong one.  I am a Warrior Mother, persistent in my prayers and faith.  Although I may get weary at times, God will give me renewed strength to carry on.  Although I may get discouraged, God will encourage me through the truth and promises of His Word.  I stand on the Word of God, my solid Rock.  Try as you might to bring me down, I will not slip and fall.  I will STAND!

 

I will be strong in the Lord and in HIS mighty power, by putting on the full armor of God so that when you devil, scheme to do harm to my family, I will be able to take my stand.  For I recognize that my struggle is not with my children but it’s against the rulers, authorities, powers of this dark world and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  It’s not what my children do or say.  That’s not my struggle.  It’s a spiritual battle for their souls.  Therefore, I will put on the full armor of God so that when the day of evil comes, I, as a Warrior Mother, will be able to stand my ground.  And after I have done everything, TO STAND.

 

I will stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around my waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with my feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, I will take up the shield of faith, with which I can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  I will take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  And I WILL pray in the Spirit on ALL occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, I will be alert and always keep on praying for my children (Ephesians 6:10-17)

 

Devil, I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to take your hands off my children.  They are not yours!  They belong to God and He has given me charge over them.  I am a Warrior Mother and my prayers WILL reign victorious.  In the name of Jesus, AMEN!

Dear Youngest Child

More sure of myself as a mom—and yet, having greater awareness of my flaws—there are benefits in being the youngest child.  I’m more in tune with what works and what doesn’t.  I’m definitely less strict but in some ways a bit aloof from the whole idea of parenting.  It’s easier to let things go, which is partly why the youngest is accused of being spoiled.

 

By the time you came around, I had a greater understanding of how parenting isn’t a formula and what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for the other.  Still, it doesn’t mean you were immune to my mistakes.

 

I oftentimes teetered between holding you too close because you are my baby (a title the youngest is stuck with regardless of age) and letting the reigns go so loosely that I might have appeared disinterested.  It must have been unsettling to not know which way I’d go.  But being a mom to the youngest is scary, because it’s my last chance at doing things right.  It forced me to look at my own failures and inconsistencies.  It showed how far I’ve come but also how far I have to go.  As a result, I was often disappointed in myself and therefore, took it out on you.

 

At times I didn’t think I had what it takes to be a good mother.  I didn’t know what to do when you clammed up and refused to talk, when my mother heart knew something was wrong.  You probably felt less important when you discovered there were fewer pictures and videos of you.  I wonder if I missed important moments because I was too busy.  I’m sure that sometimes I was too wrapped up in what your siblings were doing to notice your world.  I probably didn’t trust you enough to do the right thing, which made you suffer the consequences of the wrongs made by your brother and sister.

 

For every mistake—real or perceived—that I’ve made, I apologize.  If I could take them back, know that I would.  But more importantly, know that my love for you is fierce and unconditional.  And there is nothing that could ever change that.

 

My hope is that when I say I’m proud of you, that you believe it.  Not as a result of anything you have done or will do.  I’m proud of the person you are and the young man you are becoming—which includes your mistakes.  Perfection is not something I have (or will ever) expect from you.  If I didn’t do a good job at showing this to you, I hope you know it now.

 

Thank you youngest child, for putting up with my sometimes impatient and controlling ways.  Being the youngest isn’t always easy.  But you’ve done well.  I am a much better person because of you.  You have taught me a lot about laughter and not getting so worked up about little things.  And for that, I am grateful.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE “Dear Firstborn” and “Dear Middle Child.”