Photo Credit: MTV.com
With school back in session, kids aren't the only ones who could stand a bit of homework. As parents, we sometimes forget the pressures of being in high school (and for many of us, this lapse of memory is intentional). We swore that we'd never be like our own parents -- stuffy, disconnected and out of touch -- but life, work, marriage, divorce, finances and stress get in the way and we drift from our teens. Luckily, for us temporarily confused moms and dads who can't get more than a grunted response to “How was school today?” there is something that can give us some insight into the lives of our teen students. Here's your assignment: Free of any offspring, cozy up to a computer or TV, find episodes of MTV's If You Really Knew Me, grab a box of tissues and open your mind and heart.
Watching If You Really Knew Me can be emotionally draining, but in a positive way. The documentary-type show focuses on the non-profit organization Challenge Day, which was once featured on Oprah. The one-day program was created for middle and high school students to build connection and empathy, and fulfill the vision that "every child lives in a world where they feel safe, loved and celebrated." Students and faculty gather for Challenge Day workshops with leaders from the organization who take them through groundbreaking exercises.
Though each episode takes place at a different school, they all have one thing in common: Student cliques were present. Whether you were a jock, nerd, cheerleader, homecoming king, popular, punk, stoner, brain or geek back in the day -- or the parents of any one of these -- you can relate. In one episode alone, a female teen revealed her hidden pregnancy to the group, a black student confessed his hurt over racial slurs and a loner opened up about his depression over feeing neglected by the other students.
The Challenge Day instructors encourage the kids to be open and honest and not to judge, but to instead support each other and embrace what they have in common. The students cross physical boundaries and lines taped onto the floor by acknowledging pain and difficulty in their lives. They show love and encouragement for their fellow participants by raising their hands high, signing gestures of love. Many become teary, some flat out cry, and there is a lot of hugging, apologizing and forgiving. The end result is incredible: Kids who have never communicated with each other bond, there is balance, unity and equality. School hierarchy disappears and students are allowed to be peers without pressure. Think of it as a modern-day Breakfast Club.
The show gives a rare and unseen look into what teens are going through in school. It reminded me to talk to my middle school daughter more often and more in depth about her relationships and the pressures of surviving the social issues of being a student, Do yourself a favor and check out an episode of If You Really Knew Me. Then watch one with your tween or teen and discuss it. You and your kid might just get to know each other a little better.
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