Wednesday, October 27, 2010

    Let's Start Talking...


    It’s striking to me that over the past few weeks, there has been little conversation on youth ministry blogs about the suicide of Tyler Clementi—an eighteen year old student at Rutgers University who jumped off of the George Washington Bridge after his roommate used a live webcam to broadcast Clementi’s sexual encounter with another young man. Tyler was clearly deeply embarrassed and ashamed. His final facebook status said, “Jumping off the gw bridge. Sorry.”

    Are we avoiding this conversation because of his sexuality? Because we are uncomfortable talking about suicide? Because we just don’t know what to say? Because we don’t know where to draw the line between public and private?

    The rate of suicide among our young people seems to be increasing. It’s terribly scary.

    We have to take the time to have conversations with our youth about sexuality, vulnerability, and how our actions have an impact on others. A rumor, practical joke, or intentional embarrassment can literally ruin the lives of those we love and care about.

    Teenagers, or for that matter all of us, easily forget that we say and do really matters.

    Over the next several weeks, Brian and I will offer some posts that suggest ways to have these conversations with our youth. We look forward to sharing the conversation with you and welcome ahead of time any comments or ideas that you may have.

    15 comments:

    Christopher Wesley said...

    Jacob,

    It's true that suicide is something we need to talk about more with our students, unfortunately, there's been a lot of bureaucracy that's made it difficult on who and how to contact I think that's why we need to talk about it on the front end, teach students warning signs and be more proactive than reactive. I'm looking forward to the upcoming articles you'll write.

    Jonathan said...

    Looking forward hopefully to the articles and what others have to say.

    Teasing under the guise of "just messing with you", sarcasm, etc. has always been an issue, but it seems in the last few years in my ministry I've seen even greater lack of verbal responsibility as well as lack of understanding how deeply words can cut among some teens I work with/know. It seems so ingrained I've found it a real struggle effectively address.

    Jonathan

    bethegospel said...

    Looking forward to it. Also I would say that you nailed it on the head for me - I simply just don't know what to say.

    Big Mike Lewis said...

    We've become so politically correct, that to speak truthfully is to be insensitive or bigoted. I will not touch the topic until I have freedom to do so. Until then, I will preach the Gospel of Jesus.

    Nathan Eaton said...

    I look forward to these upcoming conversations. I don't think anyone talks about it because they do not know what to say about the situation. I know this from experience as my father-in-law committed suicide just four months ago. I serve on a church staff as a full-time youth pastor and after about 2 weeks it seemed to have been forgotten by our church. This has been an extremely difficult time for my wife and I, and sadly the church hasn't been there to minister back to us. This is possibly because nobody knows what to say, but we translate it into lack of care. That may not be completely true but I believe that there is some truth to it.

    It would be nice to know how to handle these situations. I hope that we will never again experience knowing someone who committed suicide but we do not know what the future holds.

    hope2011 said...

    When I was in high school one of my friends in my youth group tried to commit suicide and the youth pastor at that time never addressed it. Some youth even mocked her, thinking she was just doing it for the attention. While the pastor at the church addressed suicide in a sermon, the youth pastor never spoke on it. It's definitely a touchy subject but something that needs to be addressed. I look forward to y'alls tips in the coming weeks.

    Jacob said...

    Hey Everyone:

    Thank you for all of the comments. We're working on the posts. We also hope to have some guest posts from professionals who deal with these issues on a daily basis.

    Nathan, please know that we are keeping you and your family in our prayers...

    Mary Lou said...

    Not knowing what to say is a huge part of it - to grieving family members AND to teenagers. Last year at our local high school, two students took their lives. The first death was hard, but the second one was traumatizing. I think there is "community guilt" with suicide that is ironically lived out in isolation. We all feel like maybe we could have helped if we had paid closer attention, but after the fact we go to our separate corners to think about it.

    I look forward to your upcoming articles. I pray that I will glean some wisdom to help my young people.

    Tim said...

    Jacob,

    You mentioned the issue of sexuality in your post and yet no one has touched it here in the responses. I think it's instructive to see how that issue is ignored in its connection to this tragic event. If we have the discussion about sexuality we might have to admit that in our society at large and especially in our churches people who pratice an alternative sexuality are treated as the obivous 'other' or they end up the butt of so many jokes. I for one think this is central to this case. The victim in this case was seen as vulnerable because of his sexuality. This should give us pause the next time we hear one of our students refer to something or someone as 'gay' in a derogatory way.
    I look forawrd to seeing how this plays into the discussion.

    Brian said...

    Thanks all for comments and thoughts as we work on pieces for this series.

    I had to ponder Mike's use of the term "politically correct." The real origin of this word refers to politicians who just say what they need to in order not to offend their constituencies. I agree with Tim that in order to really address this issue we have to address the issue of intolerance of GLBT individuals. For me, welcoming all into the Church is not a matter of political correctness. In fact, it is often just the opposite because it is likely to cause dissent and friction. I welcome "the other" because I understand this to be at the core of our faith because for Jesus there was no "other." We are all children of God.

    dew said...

    I actually did a class on Tyler Clementi. I teach faith formation for middle schoolers at at a Catholic Church. I set aside the issue of what type of sexual encounter was involved because I felt the lesson to be learned applied to all young people both gay and straight.

    I talked first about the commandment "Thou shalt not steal." I maintain that this extends to not stealing someone's privacy, secret, self esteem, reputation, etc, etc. And that is exactly what happened to Tyler. His roommate stole something private, personal and intense from Tyler and splashed it across the web. In his case it was an encounter with a man but it could have been any number of moments.

    I also talked about how the web provides a level of detachment and we must guard against that leading us to do things we might not otherwise do. For example, I do not believe Tyler's roommate would have stood in the room with a video camera. Nor he would have set up a screen in the hallway to show his video. He only did this because he could hide behind his laptop. I urged my students to think before the posted anything to the web or said anything on Facebook — would I say or do this if I had to look someone in the eye when I did or said this? If they wouldn't look at someone and say it, don't say it on Facebook or Twitter or AIM. If they are not willing to tell me what they were doing on the web, don't do it.

    Lastly, I suggested that Tyler took his life because he felt alone. I then reminded them that they are never alone. Jesus stands with them. Perhaps Tyler was embarrassed or felt he had done the unforgivable. But God forgives all. God loves even the worst sinner and Tyler was far from that. Though he felt alone, there were many who would have stood with him if he had only reached out to them.

    I also urged in this class, and others, that the kids think about who they can turn to when things go really wrong in their lives. When something really bad or tragic happens, we are not thinking clearly. At that moment, we don't know where to turn. But if we have already thought about where to turn, it becomes instinct. Bad moments = call my 'person'. Make it ingrained.

    Sorry for the long post but I was really touched by this very tragic story. Tyler remains in my prayers.

    Sammi said...

    I am looking forward to the conversation because I don't know what to say or do. And I don't know why people don't take it serious until something negative happens.

    Brian said...

    Dew,
    Thanks for sharing your approach. we've posted it on the main page just to make sure everyone sees it. Thanks!

    John said...

    I do think that a lot of youth ministry people and blogs are avoiding this because of the sexuality issue. While I think it is important to talk about bullying in general, I think it is critical for churches and youth ministries to address the sexuality issues that are behind many of the recent high profile teen suicides. Here are two of my own blog posts that address this:
    http://johnvest.com/?p=693
    http://johnvest.com/?p=703

    Brian said...

    John,thank you for sharing your thoughtful and helpful essays.