Saturday, 16 January 2021

I Interviews

Interview: Shannon Perry

Author of Stand: Staying Balanced with Answers for Real Teen Life

Q: You actually had ten teenage girls help with the contents of this book. Talk about that process.

A: I was so honored when the teen girls I approached agreed to help write the content for the book because they are all remarkable young ladies.  For eight weeks, we met in my home for three hours each week and I had a topic prepared that we would discuss.  One week we would talk about boys (which was ALWAYS interesting), and another week we would talk about communicating with parents effectively. 

The girls’ ages ranged from 12-18, so they would divide into groups by ages and discuss the questions I gave them for that topic.  Then, we would all come together as a group and share.  That was always interesting because the younger ones were often more graphic than the older ones!  They know so much, so it was never awkward for the younger and older ones to talk about the topics and they all learned a lot from one another.  I know I learned the most!  One of the greatest parts for me was hearing their stories, and they asked me to be sure to include some of those in the book.  They also gave me some marketing advice by saying, “Ms. Shannon, girls our age will buy this book if you have a cute cover on the book, good stories inside, and they know you’re not preaching to them.” J

 Q: This book as well as your book for parents, THE OVERLOOKED GENERATION, stem from a new mother/daughter conference that you teach. Tell us about that. 

A: I wrote the “In Her Shoes” mother/daughter conference to help moms and their teen/tween girls learn to effectively communicate on a host of important issues. We have been blessed to have a number of the conferences “paid forward” through generous donations of people who have attended this conference or some of our women’s conferences. Because of their generosity, we have already done a free conference in Maryland and nine more free, paid-forward events are being scheduled. There is no charge to the church to host it and no charge to anyone to come. We hope these first ten become a domino effect so that we can offer these free in every state.  The “In Her Shoes” conference is full of fun skits, relevant teaching, and break-out sessions for the moms and daughters. These conferences were birthed from my own desire to see moms and their girls communicate on a whole new level. I want them to have the kind of relationship I now have with my mom. She’s my best friend, but that didn’t happen overnight. We had to learn to listen to each other.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges that teen/tween girls face today?

A: The challenge teen girls have always faced is still alive and well today -- esteem.  So many girls want to know they belong somewhere, that they are valuable to others and that others see something in them that is special.  That’s why girls often find themselves in compromising situations -- they are desperate to be loved -- so they do desperate things to get that love and approval, whether it’s in a dating relationship or even a friendship.  Most girls enjoy being in a group where they have common interests with others, and when they can’t find where they “fit,” we start to see things like cutting, binge-eating, or other disorders begin to surface.  While loneliness is not the sole contributing factor to these issues, it is certainly one that digs in hard to make girls believe they are invaluable and unimportant.   Another area that the girls told me that was difficult for all of them is communication with parents.  It was shocking to me to hear that because the girls in my group all have pretty good relationships with their parents, but this was still a concern for them.  As a result, there is an entire chapter in Stand where the girls and I offer different scenarios with parents, and suggest healthy ways to respond to parents.   For example, how can teens approach their parents when they have to talk to them about a difficult situation?  We offer some tips on starting a difficult conversation with parents. 

Q: One of the important things you stress in the book is how girls communicate with their peers.  Why do you think this is so important?

A: As girls and as women, we like to talk.  As I always share in my women’s conferences, we have been given a God-given gift of gab because it’s been proven that women have about 25,000 more words to use each day than men do, and we have GOT to use them!  The problem is, if we don’t know how to use our words in positive ways, we get into a spiral that affects us negatively, alters relationships, and the result is girls self-harming, starving, sleeping around or drugging to get the “fix” they are looking for by fitting in.  Listen, girls are going to “fit” somewhere because they have that need, so we have got to teach our girls how to communicate with their friends because this is where the landslide often begins.  What’s one of the first things girls do when they get mad at someone?  They STOP talking to them.  Then there are hurt feelings because friend A may not even know what she’s done to friend B, but now she’s mad too and now no one is talking -- except to gossip to their circle of friends.  Then rumors start, more anger builds and there are more hurt feelings.  It’s a vicious cycle, so our girls have got to learn how to constructively confront issues…or as we all say, our drama Queen kicks in.  Some of the ideas offered in Stand to help girls learn to talk with their friends and peers include talking with friends who are “all about me.”  That’s the friend that you have who always has to talk about herself, or has the gift of spinning everything back to herself, no matter what.  We teach the girls to have the courage and confidence to deal with on-sided friendships.  One of the BIGGEST things the girls in my sessions brought up was “friend drama.”  For example, one friend calls another friend always asking for advice.  Many girls find themselves in an uncomfortable situation when they have someone going through tough times and they begin to lean on them like they’re a personal counselor.  We have seen many teens even slip into depression as a result of carrying a friend’s load when the problem goes on for an extended period of time.  If a teen girl finds herself in friend drama and longs to end it, they have to let their friend know that they love them, but don’t feel qualified to help them with certain issues.  If the friend with the problem heeds the warning, the friendship will be stronger.  If not, it will be strained and difficult.  The book helps walk them through different scenarios to deal with all types of relational issues.

 Q: What types of issues does this generation of teen girls face that their parents did not, and how can that generational gap be overcome?

A: Obviously, technology plays a part in many of the issues that today’s teen girls face that their parents did not.  For example, if someone was going to bully us, they had to talk with us in person.  Now, anyone can bully teens in the privacy of their own home, in their bedroom, at school or wherever they go – as long as they have a cell phone or computer.  It doesn’t take long to see a report on the nightly news of how many teens wind up taking their lives because of being bullied via technology.  In my generation, we were bullied in person and we could say what we wanted to their face and walk away. Today, bullying can transcend physical into mental abuse.  That’s why I talk a lot about the choices we make in the book.  Whether online or in person, our choices can be tracked, monitored and saved forever.  For example, if teens make one wrong choice, they can end up in the news with millions of hits on YouTube.  The lives of today’s teens are literally open books, and the choices they made with the technology in their hands today can affect their future forever. One of the girls in our group who is an extremely accomplished kid shared her heart-wrenching story of how she raised her shirt and flashed a guy.  It only lasted, she said, about 10 seconds, but that 10 seconds will haunt her for the rest of her life.  She said, “Miss Shannon, I’m always wondering where that video will show up, and if my mom or dad will see it and freak out because I know there’s nothing I can do to get rid of it.  It’s there for life!”  And she’s right. 

Cutting and self-harm is another issue that was not a huge concern a generation ago, and as a result it’s very misunderstood.  Of course many of us wonder why someone would want to MAKE themselves hurt -- it is foreign to how most of us think.  I never understood it either until I was forced to deal with a cutter in my own life.  When I was a school counselor, I had a fourth grader come to me who was cutting.  I will admit, I was NOT familiar with self-harm and had to really begin asking questions fast to understand.  This girl had a lot of anger toward her parents and I knew it.  She was quiet, introverted, and as a result, she turned every feeling inward.  The problem was, she eventually stopped feeling so that she could “cut” them out of her life by not having a relationship with them.  As time went on, I became her mentor both in and out of the school setting.  My heart broke for her, so I began researching self-harm and WHY she was cutting.  The more I understood the subject the more patient I could be with her.  I learned that people self-harm because they want to feel alive – ultimately, they just want to feel anything.  Once they become numb, self-harm, such as cutting, gives them a high, literally releasing endorphins and feelings of euphoria. The problem is, my mentee began cutting too deep when she was angry, and almost lost her life at one point.  With her parent’s consent, we hospitalized her and I was determined to be there for her.  I was there for her from the time she began cutting at age 10 until she stopped at age 22.   She is now my assistant on the road, and is getting her Master’s Degree in Counseling so that she can share her scars with others to remind them there are other ways of dealing with the pressures they are facing.  We did include tips in the book for the girls who are tempted to cut, as well as advice for those who have friends who are cutters and how they should respond. The book is raw and real, but so are girls who are tempted to cut and we had to meet them right where they are with truth because that’s what sets them free.

Q: You address sex, rape, gender identity and purity in the book. Do you believe that purity is still a goal of teen girls today? Why or why not?

A: I most certainly do.  I believe many of our teen girls get a bad rap and get lumped into the “everyone’s doing it” category.  I can tell you that according to the girls in our study group, everyone is NOT doing it.  I believe we need to focus more on why girls are tempted to give in when it comes to the pressure of sex than to harp on “just stay pure.”  They need reasons.  While God’s Word is clear about purity, girls want to know that their value will not be compromised if they make RIGHT decisions about sex.  Unfortunately, we are living in a culture that is doing everything it can to confuse our girls and tell them that not only does it not matter what they do with a guy, it doesn’t matter what they do with a girl.  The issue of “gender identity” was something I addressed long before our government decided that we should be accepting of everything that goes against God’s Word.  I am very clear on this issue with the girls, and I give them Biblical and “real-life” reasons as to why it is important to refrain from same-sex relationships.  I did find it interesting in our group that they feel very pressured to be “accepting” of being with another girl, so as Christians, we’ve got to know how to address this issue because it is not going away.  One of the first things I do is tell the story of a girl who got saved at one of my events.  She was engaged to be married to her female partner, owned a gay bar and had no intentions of leaving the lifestyle…until she was prayed for and then confronted with a very important question. I simply asked her how the church had failed her.  She told me that when she was a teenager, she had tried to tell her youth director that she was struggling with same-sex attraction and her youth director dismissed her and shut her down.  Although I think that most in the church today would like to know how to address this issue, unfortunately, we still have a lot who don’t know where to begin.  God led me to ask her a very important question that day and then I followed it by telling her I loved her. She looked at me like I had three heads!  She then said, “How can you love me?  You don’t even know me!”  I explained to her how I could do that because Jesus loved me and He had put that love in my heart for her.  She didn’t say much after that, but that night after my conference, she accepted Jesus.  She went home, broke off her engagement, sold her bar, and is living a sold-out life for Jesus because LOVE was the key to reaching her.   I let her know I completely disagreed with her lifestyle, but I loved her.  She even helped me with the section in the book about same-sex attraction. I also address how girls can respond to those around them who are struggling in this area.  The book deals with victims of date-rape, as well as offers strategies for staying pure in the chapter called “Taking Out the Trash.”  The girls in our study group had a LOT to say in this area.  We discuss the advantages of remaining pure, morals and what to do when temptation comes, how girls feel when their friends have boyfriends and they don’t (are they more tempted to fool around to find their esteem?) and much more.  I also address the girls who may have already had sex, reminding them of God’s grace and how they can start over.

Q: With human trafficking becoming a massive issue, how can girls learn early on to protect themselves? 

A: One of the ways we know traffickers prey on girls is online.  They present themselves to be someone they’re not, and girls go meet them somewhere and they are never seen again. One of the biggest things that I discuss in the book is that if they only know someone online and have never met them, NEVER volunteer to meet them somewhere.  The same girl who was a cutter tells a story about meeting a man and woman online who were traffickers who attempted to lure her.  Women know how to lure our girls to get them into the ring.  They prey on girls who are vulnerable in all respects.  Maybe they are in a lower socio-economic income bracket so the traffickers promise the girls more education, money, they befriend them, buy them things and the girls fall into the trap.  Reminding our kids that if they are promised anything in return for sex, to RUN!  Traffickers are slick, and they manipulate with kindness, generosity and “love” that they know these vulnerable girls are looking for.  Educating our girls on the kinds of things that these people do is crucial. 

Q: You also have a new CD that includes music for the “In Her Shoes” event. Talk about that.

A: My mom and I actually wrote the title cut, “In Her Shoes,” and Mom makes an appearance in the music video. My mother has been battling cancer these past few years, and every day with her is precious. We also have another tune I wrote with Lifeway’s Songwriter of the Year, Paul Marino, called “Overlooked.” The music video for that song was directed by Jeff Kubach who has won a Telly Award for his work, along with his resume’ of TV shows Survivor and Burn Notice. The CD has some fun songs and some worship songs as well.

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