Imagine that you’re scrolling through your favorite social media feed. You see a picture of your friend, Joe. He looks sad, and the caption reads, “I don’t know how long I can take it.” Suddenly, you’re worried. Obviously, Joe is struggling with something. You want to help, but you feel a little lost. What should you do?
Students encounter this kind of situation all the time. Their friends are struggling with bullying, depression, school violence, dating violence and suicidal thoughts. Students might want to help, but they don’t know how. That’s why Power Up, Speak Out! gives students a road map. It’s called using your E.D.G.E. And you can do it, too. Here’s how to start.
Using an example like Joe, begin by letting students know that you’re going to give them a tool for situations like this. On a board, write down the acronym E.D.G.E., and explain what it stands for: Empathize; Don’t Judge; Give Resources; and Encourage. Explore each idea.
Ask your students what empathy is. If they need some help, describe empathy as the ability to understand and share someone else’s feelings.
Ask questions like, “Why would it be important to let Joe know you empathize?” You want students to recognize that Joe might be scared or embarrassed to talk about his problems. If students can let him know they want to understand what he’s going through, that can really open up communication.
Have students brainstorm what they could say to Joe to show empathy. If they need suggestions, offer a few statements such as: “Sounds like you’re having a hard time. Do you want to talk?” Or, “I want to understand what you’re going through.”
Explain that if Joe feels judged, he probably won’t want to talk about his problems. See if students can come up with some questions they shouldn’t ask Joe. Some questions to avoid might be, “Why would you post something depressing like that?” “Why do you act that way?” Or, “Why do you let your situation get you down?”
Have students come up with a list of nonjudgmental things they could say. Offer suggestions: “I’m here to listen.” “You’re not alone.” “I want to help. What can I do to support you?”
Make it clear that students don’t have to solve Joe’s problems. Whether he opens up to them about his problems or not, they can offer other resources. Also, giving Joe choices can help empower him to feel like he’s capable about making decisions of what to do next.
Have students make a list of resources available at their school for Joe. The list might include a school counselor, other teachers, coaches or parents. Then, have students make a second list of resources available outside of school. This might include national or local hotlines.
When offering resources, be gentle. Don’t tell Joe things like, “Don’t be an idiot—go talk to the principal about it.” Avoid trying to push or guilt Joe into using the resources. Instead, try something like, “You have choices. I can tell you about some different people you could talk to.” Or ask, “What do you want to happen next?”
Read about the Crisis Text Line and how it serves young people who are increasingly turning to their phones to find support in the midst of a crisis.
In our example, Joe might be unresponsive. That’s OK. Maybe he’s embarrassed or ashamed. It might take time for him to feel ready to talk. In the meantime, encourage him.
Have students make a list of things they could say to encourage future communication. They could say: “Anytime you want to talk to me, you can.” Or, “I care about you and I want you to feel better. Let me know if there’s anything I could do.”
Finally, if a friend had other information that made them think Joe might hurt himself or someone else, they need to talk to a trusted adult. Even if Joe wouldn’t want them to. If students are worried about anyone’s safety, it’s time to get a trusted adult involved.
Students might worry about being a tattle tale, getting into trouble or losing Joe as a friend. However, it’s the right thing to do to get Joe the help he needs. Have students talk about their own fears about talking to a trusted adult concerning Joe. And then have them brainstorm ways that they can overcome their fears.
After the lesson, type up and print out a cheat sheet with all the lists of things to say or to avoid saying. Label them clearly. Give a copy to each student.
Kids need to know that someone cares about them and wants to help them. Using E.D.G.E. can give students a concrete road map for potentially hard but much-needed conversations with their friends.
Check out Speak Up at School for strategies on how to respond to biased remarks and how to teach students to speak up, too.