Life's Tool Box – A Guide for Parents and Educators

July 23, 2010

The Stud Finder – Looking Beyond the Visible

Filed under: Tools for Life Posts — by Life's Toolbox @ 10:40 pm
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The Stud Finder -Looking Beyond the Visible 

You may be thinking -what a strange choice of tools . . .  a stud finder?  After receiving several emails this week seeking my opinion of a new MTV show, I asked my Dad about tools that help you see beyond the obvious.  If You Really Knew Me documents high school students participating in “Challenge Day”, a one day conglomerate of games and exercises aimed at breaking down stereotypes and cliques and giving teens a chance to expose their real selves.

I was actually introduced to Challenge Day years ago when MTV produced Surviving High SchoolThat wonderful documentary followed a group of 11 teens chosen from different segments of a California high school (i.e. cheerleader, resource room student, gang member, etc).  They spent months with trained facilitators engaging in various eye-opening activities.  In addition to team building exercises, they visited a suicide hotline and an ex-anorexic model’s photo shoot, each time challenging them to think and feel in new ways.  After these powerful experiences, these teens invited others from their school to participate in Challenge Day.  Watching this powerful day, the spontaneous leadership these students offer is riveting.  I’ve shown the tape many times to parent and professional groups, and always emphasize what is possible when we give teens the right tools.

So now, what does a stud finder have to do with If You Really Knew Me?  My Dad explained that a stud finder works magnetically to find the studs or support beams inside your walls (actually it finds the nails in the studs, but that lets you know where the studs are).  It’s useful information, if you want to do something decorative, like hang a picture, or to make significant changes, like cut a new doorway.  Teenagers on the MTV show revealing what’s behind their “walls” is a very literal version of a psychological stud finder.  But it’s the controversy about the show, and the questions I’ve been getting in emails that really made it interesting to talk to my dad about this seemingly magical tool that sees what we can’t see.

One of the things I spend a lot of my professional time on is bully prevention.  I probably speak over 50 times each year to parents and educators about it. I have the wonderful opportunity, through the BRAVE Bully Prevention and Social Leadership Development Initiative, to visit dozens of classrooms and engage middle school students in workshops on bullying, bystanders and social responsibility.  I helped develop BRAVE (the acronym stands for believing in the rights and value of every individual) in response to schools’ requests for help with bully prevention, and after a careful review of the extensive research on how to decrease bullying from European, Australian, and other international studies.   There are, of course, multiple ways to address the complex issue of bullying, but one thing seems clear from all the research – one shot interventions – no matter how grand or powerful – are not sufficient.

The stud finder gives us a start – a way in.  Here’s where I should bang my nail.  I shouldn’t cut here – there’s a support beam holding up the house.  My Dad reminded me that the stud finder can’t tell you what you’ll find when you open up the wall.  (In the case of recent construction in our home – we found nails, but the studs themselves were largely rotted and eaten by hungry termites!).  A lot of important stuff, what’s the insulation, where’s the wiring (some newer stud finders do indicate the presence of wiring), what else is hidden in these walls, can only be discovered if we roll up our sleeves and use other tools to peel away the layers.

I watched one of the MTV If You Really Knew Me episodes, and was moved, just as when I watched the Challenge Day held in the context of the more extensive work described in the Surviving High School documentary.   But I was also worried.  What partial knowledge are teens sharing and learning that would benefit from more careful exploration, and who will be there to guide them in the process.  Is there any risk that Challenge Day rips away supports that first need some buttressing, or are better left untouched?

As for tearing down stereotypes and cliques . . . I want to know what impact this highly emotional experience has on the participating teens and their school, weeks, months and years from now.  As a researcher, I’m eager for clear, thoughtful studies that help understand how and if Challenge Day works, and reassurance that it, at least, does no harm.

Even with my reservations, comparing If You Really Knew Me to the fairly limited tool of the stud finder, there is something positive about what it offers.  If a tool gives you the experience of finding something important, and lets you bang in a nail with confidence, you’re not yet a carpenter.  But maybe you’re one step closer.  Bullying, social ostracism, cliques and peer violence in schools need lots of attention.  Maybe MTV has hit the nail on the head.  Are parents, teens, schools, communities and governments prepared to pitch in and build a culture where we truly believe in the rights and value of every student? To succeed we’ll need more to challenge the status quo for more than just one day.  And of course, we’ll need all the right tools.

You can view videos of If You Really Knew Me on the MTV website


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