For many, the tween to teen years find kids under continual social pressure to partake in at-risk behaviors including sex, drugs and alcohol use. Holli Kenley has written a wonderful new book that can help tweens to teens navigate the social pressures and help them make healthy decisions.
I’m pleased to welcome back Holli Kenley!
What motivated you to write Another Way?
Another Way would not let go of me! What I mean by that is the first draft of Another Way – entitled Rachel, Please Wait – was written 20 years ago. At that time, I was a middle school teacher and my daughter was just turning fifteen. Concerned about the social challenges and pressures she was facing as were other kids, I wanted to create a piece of writing which would offer them a compass for navigating those exciting but often turbulent years. As much as I tried, the manuscript did not get picked up for publication. I put it away and continued on with life – raising my family, teaching, and entering graduate school to pursue a career in Psychology.
Over the years, the computer and the disks as well as any hard copies I had of the original draft were long gone. In 2009 while I was helping my older sister move, she stumbled across a Xeroxed copy of Raechel, which I had given to her for her teen daughter. I took the manuscript, tucked it away, and did not pick it up again until the fall of 2013. As I read through it, I knew it needed major revisions. In fact, I could see I needed to rewrite the entire novel in order to make it inclusive, relevant, and appealing to the audiences of today.
Although every generation has its challenges, over the past 20 years the advancements in our technological wonders along with other avenues of change have drastically increased our access and exposure to and consumption of social excesses and dangerous influences. With a mature but more compassionate and empathic understanding into human behavior and with my unwavering belief in the capacity of individuals to create healthy change in their lives given the tools to do so, Another Way was authored. It is not just another novel – but a healthy program and process of self-discovery and empowerment. For individuals searching for another way of being, I share a message which I hope will not let go of the reader.
Who is Another Way for? What do I want the readers to take away from it?
As this generation and ensuing others continue find their way amidst conflicting messages and complex challenges, Another Way equips and prepares young people and their care-givers by offering a compassionate pathway in choosing a well-prepared response.
Another Way was created with three distinct audiences in mind.
For tweens to teens, Another Way is an opportunity to learn about themselves. I welcome readers to come alongside Chloe Wheeler, Amanda Hill, and Tyrell Fields – three of the main characters – as they discover their worth, their voices, their unique levels of readiness, and their power to make healthy decisions. When reading Another Way, I want our young people to learn how to make their own choices based on what is important to them and to make them when they are ready – not succumbing to what everyone else is doing. I want tweens to teens to learn how to value and respect themselves, and how to make decisions which will build them up – not tear them down. In order to do this, I encourage young people to not only take a journey with Chloe and her friends, but to make it a personal and an interactive experience by creating their own Circles of Worth, or Codes of Conduct, and by participating in the Individual Study Guide or Book Club Questions. The huge take-away for youth? To be empowered!
For Parents and Guardians
For parents and guardians, there is much to take-away! Another Way is a tool to begin a safe, comfortable, and relevant conversation with their children around topics such as sex, drugs, alcohol, bullying, and other at-risk or anti-social behaviors. And then, I hope parents will continue their conversation with their kids by tapping into the Conversation Starters (free download Another Way – Parents / Guardians ) or utilizing the Book Club Questions to discuss the characters, their experiences, and how the characters and their children can learn to make healthy decisions based on individual worth and personal levels of readiness. A huge take-away for parents and guardians is the opportunity to become invested in the decision-making process with their children as they utilize the format of Another Way to integrate their personal beliefs and values into the lessons and to sustain a healthy engagement in their children’s lives. And lastly, I want parents and guardians to feel better equipped by providing them with concise but relatable resources: Offering Another Way To Parents (Appendix of Another Way); and Parenting Styles and Strategies (free download Another Way – Parents / Guardians).
For Youth Leaders, Mentors, Pastors, & Counselors
Another Way was also created for youth leaders, mentors, pastors and counselors. Another Way, along with its supplemental materials, is a program of self-discovery and empowerment, written in an open flexible format allowing for the integration of spiritual practices and/or wellness principles. Based on the lessons within Another Way, a Curriculum Guide For Another Way: Lessons Plans for Facilitating Discussion (Payloadz – Youth Leaders ) , has been designed specifically for the goal of leading discussion groups similar those in the story. The major take-away for professionals is to provide them with a repertoire of healthy decision-making processes and strategies to utilize in their various roles with youth.
What can parents do to help their children overcome the peer pressure to conform? And what can adolescents do to help themselves?
In answering both questions, I would like to discuss the importance of worth and its relationship to conforming to peer pressure versus healthy decision-making. First, worth is a strong and very powerful emotion. However, it is abstract in nature and we usually don’t think much about it until it is goes up or down! As children are developing, their self-worth is being created and finely tuned each and every day. How children are treated by others, what their life experiences are teaching them, and how they perceive themselves greatly impact their self-worth. This is important. Although there are exceptions, I believe that when children have a strong positive sense of worth, they are more likely to make decisions which will enhance or augment their self-respect and self-worth. On the contrary, when children are lacking in a strong sense of worth or value or they don’t feel good about themselves, their level of vulnerability increases exponentially; and thus, they tend to be drawn towards more risky and reckless behaviors.
Therefore, in order for our children to develop an awareness of their worth, I encourage parents to begin a dialogue early on with them about their worth. Start by setting aside one-on-one time on a consistent basis with each child, establishing a routine for safe comfortable conversations. It is important for parents to keep the focus on their child and to be really good listeners. Consider the following conversation starters:
On a scale of 1- 10 (10 being great! 1 being not so good!), how do they feel about themselves? Why? What would make it higher?
How do they see themselves? How do they think others see them? Use the scale of numbers or choose characters from books, TV, or other sources as a basis for comparison and discussion.
What do they like about themselves and dislike? Why? What would make them feel more confident, valuable, or secure?
What do they feel they are good at? What do they feel they are lacking in? What can parents do to help?
How do they feel about their environment – what messages are they telling themselves? Do they feel safe? Why or why not? Do they worry, feel anxious, or sad? Why? What is going on?
Do they feel that they matter? Why or why not? What would make it better for them?
Do they feel loved? Why or why not? What can change that or make it even better?
Having these conversations may feel awkward at first. But over time, it will take on a natural flow. Don’t give up or give in. Letting our children know we are interested in and care about their worth contributes greatly to their worth.
Secondly, because of the relationship between worth and decision-making, it is important to understand how and from where our children derive their worth, especially as they enter their impressionable adolescent years. In other words, what sources or influences are they turning to in order to fit in, to feel accepted, and to feel better about themselves? Children look outward. This is important. Children look to their social environments – what is popular, cool, and what everyone else is doing – for those feelings of acceptance, belonging , and of worth. How can parents help their children to look inward and what role can parents play in helping their children invest into healthy sources?
Begin a dialogue early on with children about what people, places, things, qualities and characteristics are important to them. Age levels and developmental stages will determine the topics, but starting this process early is critical in gathering information about sources of worth.
Because the pre-frontal cortex (the area of the brain regulating reason and judgement) of children’s brains is not fully developed until age twenty -five , having a concrete behavioral tool or plan in place is critical in helping tweens and teens to take an abstract concept and make it applicable to their daily lives. Drawing from the three part exercise in Another Way, Chloe Wheeler (the main character) creates her Circles of Worth, Circles of Investment, and Circles of Action to serve as a personal compass for navigating social influences and pressures and for making healthy decisions based on her levels of readiness. Utilizing Chloe’s Circles or other creative strategies, spend time with your children helping them to discover, define, and determine their worth.
The process is a follows:
Circles of Worth – Discover their worth: Explore with children who or what is important to them. Not only are these tangible people and things – such as family, friends, soccer team, English class, a TV show, or a certain brand of shoes – but it also includes qualities, beliefs, values, and personal characteristics – such as honesty, faith, being a loyal friend.
Circles of Investment – Define their worth: Discuss with children how to invest into their sources of worth so that what they are saying is important to them matches up to what they are doing.
Circles of Action – Determine their worth: Identify specific behaviors to put into action which will support what is important to them. At the same time, identify behaviors which will jeopardize what is important to them.
Note – For further details, please see Appendix in Another Way.
The purpose and the power of the Circles, or other similar tools, are to steer non-judgmental on-going conversations with children about their sources of worth and to provide them with a personalized process with which to live it out. In addition, parents can provide valuable over-sight and involvement as their children stay connected and invested into how they are feeling about themselves and how their choices are impacting them, either positively or negatively. And lastly, parents are encouraged to remain supportive of healthy decisions but also to provide a loving healing response for their children to begin again, if they stumble and fall.
What tips do you have for parent conversations regarding sex, drugs, alcohol and other at-risk behaviors?
Our children are being bombarded each and every minute of the day with messages from their sources of social influence about what is cool, what is normal, and what they need to do in order to fit in and to feel better about themselves. Even though I have shared this, I can’t stress enough how important it is to start the conversation early on and to keep it going. Of course, the degree to which a topic is explored should be age appropriate. A few tips for starting the conversation regarding sex, drugs, alcohol and other at-risk behaviors include the following:
Use third-party sources as topics for conversation. Children feel much more comfortable when they are not put on the spot. Utilize the characters and storyline from Another Way – or other books, TV shows, movies, videos, or songs – and discuss the themes, messages, and choices of the characters. Ask children what they liked, didn’t like, and what they would do differently or the same.
Draw upon stories in the news with celebrities and other well-known individuals who experience the consequences of unhealthy choices. Make the conversations real and relevant. Invite children’s questions and give them room to explore their feelings.
Utilize other sources of news, either locally or nationally, for topics of discussion. With compassion, inviting conversation around tragic as well as triumphant stories can provide a powerful venue for meaningful dialogue.
In the news, on social media, or other places, seek out healthy relevant role models. Learn about their lives, their stories, and what has contributed to their successes.
In closing, not only must parents be willing to start the conversation but they must make a commitment to sustain it. Although it doesn’t feel like it at times, especially during the tween to teen years, the literature is clear that parents remain the most important influence in their children’s lives. During their children’s lifespan, the most valuable gift parents can give them is to make themselves available and present, and to create a safe harbor into which their children can turn during the good times and the difficult ones.
Holli Kenley holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology; she is a California Sate Licensed Teacher and a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Counseling with teens, adults, and couples, Holli’s areas of training and experience include sexual trauma, abuse, addiction, codependency, domestic violence, betrayal and cyber bullying. Currently, Holli works in the field of psychology as an author, speaker, and workshop presenter. She has authored numerous published articles and five recovery books including Breaking Through Betrayal: And Recovering the Peace Within; cyber bullying no more: Parenting a High Tech Generation, and Mountain Air: Relapsing and Finding the Way Back…One Breath at a Time. Holli’s newest book and first novel – Another Way – was just released March 2015.