Teen Safety Week addresses mental health and a sense of belonging | SteamboatToday.com

Teen Safety Week addresses mental health and a sense of belonging

Patty Oakland
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

From 4-6 p.m. Thursday, May 11, the Teen Safety Fair at the Steamboat Community Center will bring together community members standing up for your safety and teen safety. This week is a play on words called “In the Same ‘Boat,” but it is bigger than that. The phrase originates from the mid-1800s and was used by primarily Greek people to refer to the risks passengers in a small boat would face at sea together. In a small community, we do ride the proverbial waves together.

I choose In “The Same ‘Boat” from an interaction with a teenager about eight years ago who told me “I wouldn’t understand.” What the teenager described to me is an emotion that many of us can be all too familiar with, regardless of age — feelings of uncertainty, isolation and search for belonging. We closet our personal struggles, traumas and can then lose track of compassion toward others who also have their own closeted struggles and traumas.

I am motivated by our teenagers as they navigate these waters and by the community of support available. Did you know there are community members who care about you? School Resource Officer Lisa Eifling and I discussed what could be done to support the teenagers of Yampa Valley. In a short time, this week was created, because there are so many people in this community who want to show their support of each of you.

Everyone can feel isolated, alienated or like we don’t belong. While the Yampa Valley is a beautiful community, sometimes (or maybe all the time) we don’t feel like we fit in or feel numb. Finding belonging and creating spaces for each other are also very possible in this community.

This week we focus on teen safety. But in the end, this is the opportunity for all of us to show a community response. Specific events like prom and graduation can create feelings of further isolation and alienation. But you are not alone.

Finding belonging doesn’t necessarily look like what we find in TV shows, movies or books — or even what appears on social media. The Mayo Clinic states, “the sense of belonging is fundamental to the way humankind organizes itself.” Believing we have support and are not alone increases our resiliency and ability to navigate through our lives healthier and more effectively.

So how do we do this? It is really hard to take the reins of our lives when we are feeling isolated, and if you don’t feel like you can take the following steps, seek medical and mental health help immediately. There are people waiting for you, to support you and who want to help you.

Let’s take the oars of our boat and start to paddle.

The following steps to increase our sense of belonging are tips from the Mayo Clinic.

• First, we have to put ourselves out there and make the effort. It feels uncomfortable to be vulnerable and every person we meet may not be open and accepting but keep putting in the effort and practice self-talk.

• Action is often needed to feel motivated, so don’t be discouraged. You are awesome! Be mindful of others. Think less about yourself while with others and make the other person or the group your focus. Making conversations is critical to increasing your sense of belonging. Mutually ask questions, self-disclose skillfully and listen to people’s responses.

• Keep an open mind. Consider new ways of thinking and try new activities and meet new people. Practice acceptance. Recognize that others have different ways of being, which don’t have to change you. Focus on similarities rather than differences.

• Validate the feelings of others. We don’t have to understand their feelings to treat them with kindness. Validate your actions. If it is challenging, encourage yourself and others and validate your actions. It can be discouraging sometimes, but it does get better by continuing to put in the effort.

While developing friendships and relationships over apps and digital platforms can be easier and find people of similar interests, research shows the emotional connection is not the same as face-to-face interactions. We know that some of these online interactions can be safe, but most are untruthful, deceitful and dangerous to our emotional selves and potentially our physical selves. Online relations develop a separate life that can feel easier than the one we are living in. But we have a life in which we must interact and make meaningful connections — all of our belonging depends on it.

As I am being vulnerable and putting myself out there trying to create a platform for resources and support and wanting a culture of safety and community — the digital comments have tended to be primarily negative. The only reason I share this is, that we are all looking for belonging — and it starts with each of us. We have to be stronger for one another and not tear each other down.

Yampa Valley Teenagers, we care about you and the choices you make. Come to the Teen Safety Fair today to connect with people who are standing up for your safety. We are all in the same ‘boat and remember that you have a crew across the community to support you.

For information or to get involved, visit SteamboatSprings.net/teensafety.

Patty Oakland
John F. Russell

Patty Oakland is the civilian investigator for the Steamboat Springs Police Department.

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