Founder, Speak Life Performing Arts Company
I feel as though we have walked through a door and emerged in an unfamiliar world. The life we knew is gone, and in its place is a world of declining mental health for which no one was prepared. From businesses being shut down, to changes in our daily lifestyle, the pressure of life’s new dos and don'ts is hard to navigate. I don’t know a parent, teacher or caregiver that has not wrestled with the reality that if we are still struggling post-pandemic, our kids cannot be OK.
Childhood experiences shape our future reality. Put another way, the mental health of this generation will be the society of the next. This is a jarring truth when we look at the unstable terrain we now live in. Much was taken from our kids over the last two years. The day-to-day routines of school, outings with friends, parties, graduations, extra curricular activities, hobbies, vacations, time with extended family and other life milestones were replaced with heavy doses of fear, division and isolation. Kids spent their days navigating the newest restrictions while being bombarded by arguments about politics, masks, vaccines, etc. It's not surprising that our kids are struggling when we look at how heavily divided our culture is. The result has caused a rise in bullying, and cyberbullying. According to one government study there has been a 70% increase in cyberbullying stating, “The schoolwork moved home, and so did the harassment."
Our kids were already struggling to manage the mental health issues caused by social media. Teen suicide was on the rise. Increased isolation and lack of resources available to students has only escalated this crisis. Lack of in-person contact caused a dehumanizing effect in their screen based interactions. The absence of real connection became an incubator for cyberbullying. It’s easy to forget that there is a real person behind those posts and comments. Hateful words, cruel jokes, harassment and exclusion have been given the perfect environment to thrive. If our kids are going to recover from the effects of social media on their mental health and truly be OK, we need to inject the missing ingredient…EMPATHY. How can empathy make a difference? Co-Author of The Musical Imprint, Neuropsychologist, Dr Sarah Allen says that, “If we want our kids to learn something, they need to feel something!”
What if there was a way to introduce empathy to students through a medium that will not just deliver facts, but captivate them with feeling?
My husband Dan and I are the directors of Speak Life End Bullying the Musical. Following the Columbine shooting that shook our nation, we were inspired to develop a program now seen by over 400,000 students. Thanks to the Justin Simmons Foundation, Speak Life End Bullying the Musical is now available on film to schools nationwide. The musical tells the story of four students as they navigate their daily lives in the chaotic hallways of high school. What we discovered is that the arts have the unique ability to evoke feelings of connection and empathy. By telling real stories through the medium of the arts, it motivates students to choose positive changes in their words and actions. Bottom line, empathy is the key to change.
Our mission at Speak Life is to reach one million students in one thousand schools in one year! Schools, community youth programs, churches, home-school families, youth camps... the list for where this film can create impact is endless. This digital tool is emerging at exactly the right time. Kids have suffered such loss during an already difficult and formidable time in their lives. We need to meet them where they are, with real solutions. Words have the power to change everything. We need our kids to not just know this truth but to feel it through the power empathy ignites. Speak Life End Bullying the Musical inspires students to use this power to speak life. Ending bullying becomes the result.
If just one student is moved by empathy and begins changing how they treat their peers, a life could be changed. If that child finds hope to believe their life has meaning and brighter days are coming, more lives could be saved. If those children discover the power they have in the world to change lives for the better, a generation could be transformed. If our kids are truly going to be OK following the events of the last two years, we must get involved in bringing programs like this to our schools, communities, and homes. This generation is counting on us to help them find the tools they need to emerge from this season of turmoil with strength and determination. The time to get involved is now.
Let me leave you with three things that we can do to support our child's mental health:
1) Sit and listen in the hard moments. Make sure they know they are not alone.
2) Create opportunities that inspire empathy to grow. Be a part of the solution.
3) Speak Life to them. Because words change everything.
Visit speaklifethemusical.org to request more information on how you can become an advocate to bring Speak Life End Bullying to your school and community!
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