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Talking to Teens via Netflix’s Cheer

 

Teens. Tough to crack. Tough to talk to, and they certainly aren’t wanting to spill their personal lives to parents, teachers, or mentors. If they are fortunate to have real, well-meaning, caring friends, they are luckier than most these days. Even then, they live in a harsh existence of social media fomo, one-upping, sexuality-exploration and the list goes on. So guess who might just have come along in the nick of time to blast the doorway for casual conversation with teens WIDE OPEN? Jerry, Gabi, Lexi, Ladarius, and the gang! Why not use Netflix’s newest phenomenon, Cheer, as the caveat to more comfortable conversations with teens on their terms? We CAN! We WILL! We MUST!

Just take the statistics and harsh realities that recent studies have shown, as a snippet of the challenges facing teens, and the confusion and angst that those of us from the 80’s, 90’s, and early 2000’s can’t even begin to imagine what a high school cafeteria’s politics consist of these days. We do know that teens are living in a more fluid sexual era with both preferences and gender identity as well as exploration. But it’s still incredibly hard to open these conversations without teens rolling their eyes at a well-meaning adult. We also know that a greater number of kids who grow to be adults are self-advocating for assistance after familial abuse, but starting THAT conversation is still. Just. So. Hard. I recall a time, about five years ago, when “Woman Crush Wednesday” was a conversation starter I used with the LGBTQIA Alliance I helped manage, for young teens in my school where I taught. I could sense a feeling of discomfort despite my attempt to be trendy in what was meant to open up a conversation that it’s okay to be gay! However, I would have killed for an easy line to make students feel like they have a place in this world, like their struggle matters. So, in the spirit of convincing teens that their place in this world is entirely their own making, here are some easy “openers” that won’t ostracize you as crazy when you attempt to subliminally support your teen through an open conversation…keep in mind, teens don’t hear what we say, no, they read between the lines at all times.

On sexual abuse and healthy relationships:

What you say:

“Isn’t Ladarius’s drive to succeed and win, so awesome, after all he’s been through? I hope he is in a healthy relationship now with a partner who supports him through every emotion he is entitled to feel.”  

What they (teen/s) hear:

Trauma can be overcome with positive support and the right outlets or hobbies to strive for our best version of ourselves. Maybe I could overcome some challenges of my own like he did. Maybe the bad times won’t last forever. Maybe I feel nervous about my sexuality NOW, but Ladarius is proof that life after high school will open up so much for me in relationships.

On drug, alcohol use, and risky behavior with peers:

What you say:

Oh man, Lexi can tumble and has so much talent to offer the world, and she worked so hard to get where she is. I hope she can stay out of trouble now that she’s back on the team again.” (Instagram stalker to the team that I am, she IS back at Navarro – woo!)

What they hear:

Maybe when my mom/dad tells me I can’t stay out past midnight or that I can’t do something that seems sketchy with friends, MAYBE it’s because they just want me to be someone that reaches my own goals in this life.

On the notion of self-harm or feeling out-of-place, low self-esteem:

What you say:

“Jerry has such an amazing personality even though he’s not the best on the team. They need him there. See how much everyone loves him because he’s so kind and supportive? I need him to give ME a Mat Talk every day!”

What they hear:

Maybe I matter and everyone needs me here (in the world or on a team) even though I kinda suck at (insert activity/hobby/sport – yes, remember teens are the MOST self-deprecating of all species – they might be the best at something and still feel they are lousy).

On social media, bragging peers, fomo, and quiet talent:

What you say:

“You know it’s so cool how Morgan has this quiet strength about her? Like she’s overcome so much, and she’s soooo good at cheering, but she doesn’t brag, and she kinda hangs back and lets her talent do the talking. She is someone to admire”

What they hear:

Maybe __________(insert any name of a loudmouth classmate) gets a lot of attention, and I’m way more quiet than them, but maybe my own quiet talents will rise to be noticed if I just keep working hard or I let my accomplishments scream louder than my Snapchats.

On anxiety and academic/sports success:

What you say:

Man, Gabi has so much pressure from those who are trying to seem supportive. I’m sure she finds herself feeling anxiety to please everyone. You know though, tuning out the world and staying focused on the joy of simply cheering probably puts her mind in its own Happy Place.”

What they hear:

Maybe instead of allowing myself to feel so much pressure to succeed, I can tune out the people who stress ME out while I focus on the academic, sport, hobby, etc. that makes all the crappy times and anxieties disappear.

There are a million ideas to use from the show. Having these conversations feels more organic and comfortable than just, “Son, let’s talk about the text you got from Joey last week…” (Cue teen rage/panic/fear)… Now, of course, these ideas above just scratch the surface. The end-game here is to open up the conversation in a way that might just keep spit-balling into Season 2 while we watch our favorite team take on Daytona! “We CAN! We WILL! We MUST!”

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