Story as a Path to Healing: An Activity for Youth

Brené Brown says the two most powerful words when we are in struggle are: “Me too.” These simple words can lift us out of loneliness in seconds. To know we are not alone. To understand we are seen. To trust we are heard. It’s powerful. 

Youth Need Honesty & Brave Space To Be Vulnerable

Youth need to know this comfort, this power. With suicide, self-harm, depression, and anxiety rates at record highs among students, as leaders we have to make every effort to lift the “masks” we are wearing and let our vulnerable selves be seen. The days of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and putting on a smile have proven to be damaging. Thankfully we are more aware of the need for honesty. Hence, “Me too.” 

When I read this New York Times article that gave teens a voice to articulate their pandemic experiences through poetry, prose, and art, I knew I needed to use their stories to help boost the young people in my care. I thought that if my youth could hear the experiences of other teens, maybe it would help to lift them after a year of loss, disappointments, fear, and isolation. I wanted them to find a space where they could breathe a deep “Me too” sigh.

The New York Times, through its Learning Network, asked the question, and more than 5,500 responses poured in. In words and images, audio and video, they reported that it was, in many ways, a generation-defining disaster… But many also surprised themselves… And, perhaps most important at a time of life focused on figuring out who you are, they reinvented themselves.

Coming Of Age: Teens on a Year That Changed Everything
New York Times

Storytelling: A Healing Activity

Instead of meeting indoors with our students, I have been hosting Fire Pit Sundays in our backyard for the last few months, so on one such night I let the students know we would be doing something a little different and invited them to join us. When they arrived they found the article printed out and lining our fence. After our usual dinner and highs/lows, I invited them to take their time and read the stories of students all over the country and their pandemic experiences. 

The students took about 30 minutes walking the fence and taking in each story. Then I handed out journals and encouraged them to take some time to consider the stories they’d read, journal about the ones that stuck out to them, and then to begin telling their own, whether through writing, drawing, doodling… whatever they wanted to do to express themselves and their feelings (I made sure to have plenty of colored pencils and markers available).  

The students were so quiet and engaged for at least an hour during this whole process, and the only reason they stopped was because parents were arriving to pick them up. But before we dismissed, we took a few minutes for them to share (if they chose) a bit of their own stories. It was a holy moment. 

This evening wasn’t an end in itself but simply a few steps forward in what will be a long road of healing from this last year. We hope to continue this process of journaling and storytelling. We may even write our own stories out for our congregation to read, so they can share a moment of healing stories. So they can hear someone say, “Me too.”

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

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