13 Reasons Why: Season 2

First, the good news. Season 2 of this internationally popular Netflix series will include content warnings, support referral advice from cast members, a downloadable discussion guide, and a less glamorous portrayal of suicide. Producer Brian Yorkey, quoted in BuzzFeed, hopes that viewers will understand that “Silence, in the case of things like teen suicide and sexual assault and teen mental health, is the enemy." Now the bad news. Season 2 trailers give the impression that suicide may devastate your family and friends, but it leaves glamour, intrigue, and romance in its wake. For a teen whose experiences parental neglect, social rejection, bullying, or assault, what could be more seductive than stratospheric popularity? thumbnail of 13-Things-You-Should-Know-About-13-Reasons-WhyMore bad news: It looks as if Season 2 will once again portray mental health care as incompetent and unprofessional. I would love to be wrong about my hunch, because distressed teens are unlikely to seek treatment if their perception of mental health care is bleak. I hope this article I wrote for the ACA last year provides context and guidance for all adults who care for young people. I am also heartened by the proactive steps the producers of 13 Reasons Why have taken to encourage healthy discussion on suicide prevention. I hope my readers will do the same. This article and are excellent places to start.

Conflict, Camp, and World Peace

Conversations online and off have focused recently on stopping violence and conflict. From Ferguson to France, people have discussed, debated, and demonstrated more passionately than ever. When human rights are in question, we speak of “ridding,” “routing,” “crushing,” and “eliminating” the scourges of terrorism, extremism, and racism. Forgotten has been any consideration of coaching people through conflict. And although the civilized world agrees that peace is paramount, it is an oversimplification to believe that extrication from cultural blights requires a single, destructive method. Or simple resolve. As much as any snuff metaphor has appeal, the path to peace requires construction, not destruction. We must renew our commitment to teach empathy, emotion regulation, and forgiveness. Summer camp is the best way to do that. More than 150 years ago, summer camps were founded in this country by progressive educators who clearly saw the limitations of the traditional classroom. They created a complementary institution to fill in the gaps. To do that, they brought young people from inside to outside; from sitting and listening to running and playing; from memorizing to creating; and from dependence to inter-dependence. Today, research has validated the intuition of camp’s founders and the hope of all parents who have laid down their hard-earned money for an experience that is ostensibly recreational: Young people grow in self-reliance, social skills, physical and thinking skills, and sense of adventure faster at camp than at school. And now it’s time to apply camp’s power to accelerate positive youth development to the worldwide problem of violence and conflict. Ironically, that process begins by embracing the notions that disagreement and fear of differences are human. Endowed with an understanding of our nature, camps have shed the zero tolerance policies that have failed at schools and have begun training their staff to recognize bullying, intolerance, poor sportsmanship, and harassment. Then, instead of kicking kids out of camp, these professional youth leaders teach new skills to campers and praise incremental improvements in their behavior. There will always been some egregious misbehaviors that will get children expelled from camp, but today’s enlightened approach is about recognizing youngsters’ underdeveloped skills and coaching them to win-win outcomes with their peers and caregivers. With compassion and creativity, there are ways for everyone to get their needs met. And just as an addict can abstain from substances when sobriety is reinforcing, so can young people abstain from cruelty when kindness feels so good. There is no such thing as a bully with a secure attachment to a reliable group of friends. Terrorists justify the elimination of life and liberty—in the form of murder—in the name of an idea. The rest of the civilized world sees the flip side of the same coin: We begin with the ideas of liberty and justice for all and remove it—in the form of imprisonment—only after a crime has been committed. This is a timeless dialectic, but it does not portend our destiny. Because ideas are so potent, let us further one idea we know works: Transporting young people from home into a beautiful natural setting to join a community of their peers and participate in supervised, unstructured play. High quality camps are both proving grounds and laboratories for civilization. The campers learn how to get along and the counselors learn how to coach the kids toward kind behavior. Only when they are combined can a classroom education and a summer camp experience tip the current cultural imbalance toward durable world peace. It’s time to sign up.
Dr. Christopher Thurber is a clinical psychologist and former chair of the American Camp Association’s Committee for Applied Research & Evaluation. He is the co-creator of and serves on the faculty of Phillips Exeter Academy. He can be reached at: [email protected]

5 Mistakes Camp Directors Make

1. Believing in accreditation standards. Some standards are minimum requirements; others are best practices. None is a guarantee of quality. Of course, abiding by national or provincial standards helps ensure that you won’t be convicted of negligence should a serious accident or death occur at your camp. But how many directors run around the day before an accreditation check back-filling safety logs and stocking safety equipment? That kind of “mirage compliance” is disingenuous, wasteful, and potentially damaging. True investment in camp quality means reliably implementing procedures that exceed industry standards. Yes, you should start with accreditation standards. But then become your own toughest critic. 2. Relying on criminal background checks. Even the best checks only tell you whether a prospective employee has been convicted of a crime, not whether he or she is a predator with a sketchy past. Failure to request personal references—and then talk with each of those references—is asking for trouble. Adults who want access to children are cunning. Find out what a previous employer, and an adult mentor, and a community leader think about that carefree university student you are about to hire. Know how to spot a candidate that’s too good to be true and call a former boss or two not listed on the applicant’s résumé. 3. Reading from the staff training manual. The death knell of any staff training workshop is standing up in front of your staff and reading from your manual. Research on learning is clear: Lectures are the least effective of any teaching method. So stop. If you’ve spent time editing that tome and added an index, it will serve as great reference material. But learning how to resolve conflicts, treat homesickness, spot abuse, supervise effectively, and lead by example can only be done with active engagement. Videos, role plays, scenarios, games, projects, writing exercises, and small group conversations will always trump lectures in both intellectual engagement and lasting impact. This year, switch from rows to circles. 4. Allowing double standards. How many of your staff swim with buddies during staff swims? How many wear life jackets in power boats, stay off electronics, keep their language clean, and use appropriate physical touch with each other? Remember, their example is their most powerful teaching tool. When staff follow the same rules as campers, they earn the kids’ respect. But when you let them slack off, that respect dissolves. Their vain attempt to look cool also introduces serious safety risks. Moreover, if you fail to fire seriously under-performing staff, you erode staff morale by condoning mediocrity. Exude integrity. 5. Limiting training to six days or less. No director ever has their staff on-site long enough to teach the policies, values, and leadership skills necessary to run a safe, intentional, and powerful program. That’s the reality. Kids are complicated, parents are demanding, and your own conscience keeps reminding you of all the things you have to let slide in order to check the minimum number of boxes before opening day. Then there’s the concern that you may be working the staff too hard before the kids even arrive. Yikes! The answer is simple: Combine fantastic on-site training with exciting, self-paced, online training. This modern combo allows you to cover everything you want in a simple, efficient, easy-to-document way.

Combating Violence with Empathy: A Good Gal Without a Gun

Antoinette Tuff is more effective than a SWAT team at disarming a dangerous shooter. As some of you will remember, this 33-year-old bookkeeper at an Atlanta elementary school used human connection to prevent the slaughter of innocent children, faculty and staff. That’s powerful stuff, considering how frequently we hear that “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” I recognize that sometimes deadly force is necessary to stop violence or the imminent threat of violence. I also recognize that empathy is the last thing on most people’s minds when they are staring down the barrel of a loaded weapon. Therefore, I recognize what an extraordinary human being Ms. Tuff is. On that hot August afternoon in suburban Georgia, a whole team of armed guards at school could not have accomplished with she did with her kind words. I applaud her weapon of choice. Lock and load your ability to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes I say. Empathy is remarkably effective. When one person treats another person with compassion, the emotional connection can dissolve anger and soften hearts. Sound too touch-feely? Well, consider the feeling of a bullet touching—piercing—your body. Given that painful alternative, a peaceful approach has unique appeal. In this case, the 20-year-old shooter entered the school carrying multiple weapons and more than 500 rounds of ammunition. He was clearly ready for battle. Ms. Tuff responded with calm, kindness and respect, three powerful antidotes to rage. She called the shooter “sir” and “baby.” She shared moving chapters of her life story, including her attempted suicide after her husband left her. She told him about her son, who is hearing impaired and legally blind. In essence, she told him about her own diploma from the school of hard knocks. I’m sure he could relate. And whenever someone can relate, magic happens. © AFS Intercultural Programs USA Expressing empathy—an understanding of how another person feels—causes immediate physiological changes. The person’s heart rate lowers; their respiration slows; their blood pressure decreases; stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, stop being secreted and are slowly metabolized. The mind and body gradually relax. Empathy is the verbal equivalent of a tranquilizer dart gun. It can work that quickly. Empathic remarks don’t always soothe the soul, but they’re almost always a better alternative than killing someone. That’s why hostage negotiators are not called kidnapper assassins. Blasting someone between the eyes is the opposite of touching their heart. Positive feelings are the opposite of violent impulses. But make no mistake, empathy takes practice. So, let’s practice with a less violent, more prosaic example of negative emotions: frustration with homework. Imagine you’re sitting with your child, your student or a young family friend. Head in hands, the youngster declares (as many do), “Math sucks!” Sound familiar? Of course it does. Your options at this point include: agree, disagree, punish, problem-solve or empathize. Here’s what each one might sound like: • Agree: “You’re right. Math is stupid.” Result: Devaluing an essential life skill and fundamental academic discipline. • Disagree: “Math doesn’t suck. It’s elegant and important.” Result: Devaluing the child’s feelings and increasing frustration. • Punish: “I don’t ever want to hear you say that word again!” Result: Anger and possible loss of credibility (of you as a teacher who understands young people). • Problem-Solve: “I’ll show you how to do that.” Result: Math problem is completed, but attitude about math remains unchanged. • Empathy: “Math can be difficult” or “Numbers can be really confusing” or “You’re struggling to find a solution to that problem” or “It can take a while to derive an answer” or even “I can see you’re frustrated right now.” Result: Connection, leading to physiological calm, clearer cognition and enhanced ability (at this later point) to problem-solve. Attitude and approach to math may even become more positive. Nobody thinks clearly—about math or anything else—when they’re angry and frustrated. Leading with empathy and kindness paves the way for change. Problem-solving is best when the mind and body are calm. Seeing the problem, whether it’s algebra or an armed gunman, is easy. Solving the problem is harder. And force isn’t always the answer. In her 911 call, Ms. Tuff is overheard talking to the gunman: "It's going to be all right, sweetie. I just want you to know I love you, though, OK? And I'm proud of you. That's a good thing that you're just giving up and don't worry about it. We all go through something in life. No, you don't want that. You going to be OK.” As police surrounded the school, the gunman surrendered, without harming anyone. How differently things might have ended if Ms. Tuff had rushed into her desk drawer or purse and pulled out a gun.

What Signal Does Your Sign Send?

All camps have signs. You passed a few on your way to where you’re sitting now, reading this blog post. What did they say? Some probably listed archery range rules, others pointed visitors to the office and one showed the mileage to Rome. No doubt there is a sign currently located at the top of the road with your camp’s name on it. All of your signs have words that convey facts and directions. But what else do your signs say about loyalty to your mission, attention to detail and commitment to children? Faded letters and peeling paint are so common that visitors might think these elements are quaint or—worse yet—“campy.” I feel quite the opposite. Dilapidated signs risk being unclear to participants, which can pose a safety risk. However, they are abundantly clear on one point: your apathy. Take the sign in the photo above, for example. (I’ve cropped it closely to avoid identifying its camp of origin, but I can disclose that the photo was taken in North America in August.) If the owners or directors did not care enough to repaint this sign before the season started, then what assumptions can I make about how the waterfront is run? Some questions that come to mind include: Are the underwater parts of this waterfront as shoddy as the parts on land? Were the docks installed properly? Did the aquatics staff check for underwater hazards? How strictly is the buddy system enforced? What about the other rules? Do the lifeguards keep their eyes on the water? Do they regularly perform lost bather drills? Where is the rest of the safety equipment, such as ring buoys, rescue tubes, reach poles and a backboard? (None of it was handy, by the way, even though this camp was in-session.) As a parent, this sign raises so many questions about quality and safety that my recommendation to my child would have been: Stay completely off the waterfront. Spend your time on the sports fields and I’ll take you to the beach when camp is over. Or, I might have withdrawn him on the spot and asked for a refund. Extreme reaction? Only if you have a selective sense of quality or believe in crossing your fingers. Another striking thing about this decrepit sign is its negativity. Whereas “NO DIVING” is the industry standard (and less clear when worded as “Jumping Only”), the admonition “NO SHOES, TOWELS, ETC. ON T-DOCK” could easily be reworded in the positive. “Leave All Belongings On Shore” is positive, clear and welcoming. Linguistic research on negatives has concluded that people often do not hear the negative part of a sentence, especially when it’s more than two words long. For example, “NEVER SWIM ALONE” is sometimes heard and recalled as “SWIM ALONE.” If I say to you, “Do not imagine a blue polar bear,” what image immediately comes to mind? Scientifically speaking, better comprehension might be achieved with the phrase “ALWAYS SWIM WITH A BUDDY” because it contains only affirmative statements. On the subject of negativity, some readers might feel that this post itself is downbeat. I prefer to think of my attitude as determined, not harsh. Signs are the informational face of your organization. Their conscientious upkeep conveys a confident smile whereas their neglect is the graphic equivalent of a smirk or frown. Fortunately, it is quick and inexpensive to send just the right message to your young participants and their parents this summer. Grab a scraper and a paintbrush and give those tired signs a face lift today.