I remember how shocked my third-grade teacher was that I knew the word "hyperbole."

The day I used it perfectly in a sentence, her eyebrows raised so high I thought they would leap fully off her forehead into her frozen blonde bob. "Where in the world did you learn such an advanced word?" she asked. She looked at me strangely for the rest of the day.

Sure, it was a big word for an 8-year-old. But what she didn't know is that my father taught it to me that morning and told me to use it in a sentence in class just to see her reaction.


The middle-aged white woman had been not-so-kind to me, one of only two black children in the class, all year long — seating me in the back, not letting me read out loud to the class, never ever letting me answer the hard questions despite my hand always being first in the air.

Yes. That's me.

Unbeknownst to me, my parents had already filed a complaint and could only assume that despite the fact that I was a well-behaved and academically advanced child, her assumptions about my race led her to have very low expectations for me.

When I got in my father's car that afternoon, he asked if I had done as he instructed. I told him yes and described her incredulous reaction in detail.

And then he smiled. He was proud of me, and while I didn't understand why, I knew right then and there that somehow, by showing her that I was smarter — different than she previously assumed — I had done something good.

That was the day I became a Stereotype Defier.

You see, we Stereotype Defiers are everywhere. In fact, you yourself may be one. We move through our lives making choices (sometimes even subconsciously) about what we will do, say, be, or enjoy in order to confound others' expectations of us.

Sometimes the choices seem harmless: “Um, no. I don't want to be the woman with a pink glitter phone case in a business meeting full of men. I'll take the gray one please."

Sometimes those choices push us to do better and showcase our talents: “Oh, you think because I have a disability, I'm not smart? Well watch me ace this test and show off with the extra credit a bit."

But other times the choices are a bit more pernicious:

Like if you were the Asian kid who really, secretly did love math but pursued English in college because you just couldn't be that guy.

Or if you're a woman suffering a hurting, broken heart but buried your pain deep inside because you refused to be seen as sensitive or weak.

Or if you've ever offered to pay for people at a group dinner knowing that you barely had enough money to get by for the week because God forbid they know you're poor.

Or if you're a single mom but you volunteered for a senior position in the PTA that you know you don't have time for, but no one expects the single mom to be that involved so you overcompensate.

Or if you worked hard to get rid of your Southern accent because you know what people think about people who are "country."

No matter the scenario, we Stereotype Defiers try to convince ourselves that the negative stereotype we face is actually a motivator pushing us to be great — even as we narrowly define greatness as “the opposite of whatever they think."

Living your one wild and precious life within the confines of another person's limited opinion limits your freedom, your brilliance, and your joy.

We tell ourselves that we make these choices not just for ourselves, but for others. We worry (often nobly) about how those who come behind us will be perceived as a result of our actions today.

But the irony in that reasoning is perfectly explained by something that researchers call “stereotype threat." When people worry that their performance might be seen as confirmation of a negative stereotype about a group they belong to (race, gender, socioeconomic, or otherwise), that stress and self-doubt can end up significantly reducing their performance — ultimately creating the very outcome they were trying to avoid by defying the stereotype in the first place.

In other words, worrying about the opinions of others and how they might reflect on us causes us to do and be less than who we really are.

Still, we tell ourselves that we enjoy the thrill of the raised eyebrows, of proving “them" wrong.

But often, hiding behind the short-lived thrill of defying a stereotype lies the very dangerous fear of fulfilling the stereotype. And fear is the ultimate killing machine — RIP dreams, RIP authenticity, and, many times, RIP good old-fashioned fun.

So what is this thing that we've given so much power over us?

The word stereotype originates from the 18th century world of printing — it was a tool for the printing press that allowed printers to more easily reproduce text instead of having to place letters in order one by one; It was a single metal plate made from a mold of the original letters. In non-technical terms, a stereotype was a printing tool that made it easier to copy something because the work of actually reproducing the original was too painstaking, too hard.

A stereotype mold being made. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Now think about that in the context of modern stereotypes. A stereotype as we know it today is a collection of traits that we associate with specific groups of people that makes it easier for someone to categorize an individual person. Too often, this happens because the work of fully knowing the unique, complex individual person is too painstaking, too hard.

And when you follow that logic, why would we ever consciously make any choices guided not by our own instincts, desires, or intentions, but by our desire to reject a misconception that someone else created as a shortcut to accommodate their limited capacity to know us?

We deserve so much more.

In her famous TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story," writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says that stereotypes are not always inaccurate. They are just incomplete. Yet somehow, we have been tricked into thinking that we can never be what others presume about us, which, ultimately, robs us of our humanity.

Junot Díaz, another writer, calls stereotypes a sensual cultural weapon. But guess what? The only way we let the weapon harm us is by allowing its very existence to become an internal GPS, guiding us to go left, go right, slow down, take this route or that one when in fact the stereotype has no idea what your true destination is supposed to be.

Here is what I learned during my years of Stereotype Defier rehab: The most powerful challenge any of us who are routinely and unfairly stereotyped can give to the incomplete picture that exists in the world — and to the people who apply those stereotypes to us — does not come from breaking the mold and proving them wrong. It comes from our agency, our choices, and our wholeness.

Let me say it another way.

We defy the stereotype not by intentionally being something different, but by intentionally ignoring it in favor of being exactly whoever and whatever we want to be, exactly however and whenever we want to be it.

Even if that means embracing behaviors that others deem stereotypical.

Living your one wild and precious life within the confines of another person's limited opinion limits your freedom, your brilliance, and your joy. And that burden is far too heavy to carry. So why not just put it down?

Go ahead and cry.

Bring fried chicken and watermelon to the office party.

Have another baby and stay at home to raise her.

Go back for seconds and fill up that plate in a room full of skinny people.

Laugh loudly on the subway.

Shop at the thrift store.

Stick that WWJD bumper sticker on your car.

Retire your title of Stereotype Defier. And as much as you can, just be your authentically angry, emotional, country, flamboyant, occasionally late, beautiful self.

The original print of you is so much better than a stereotyped copy ever could be.

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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The energy in a hospital can sometimes feel overwhelming, whether you’re experiencing it as a patient, visitor or employee. However, there are a few one-of-a-kind individuals like Elaine Ahn, an operating room registered nurse in Diamond Bar, California, who thrive under this type of constant pressure.

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There are a lot of reasons to feel a twinge of nostalgia for the final days of the 20th century. Rampant inflation, a global pandemic and political unrest have created a sense of uneasiness about the future that has everyone feeling a bit down.

There’s also a feeling that the current state of pop culture is lacking as well. Nobody listens to new music anymore and unless you’re into superheroes, it seems like creativity is seriously missing from the silver screen.

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A lot of folks feel Americans have become a lot harsher to one another due to political divides, which seem to be widening by the day due to the power of the internet and partisan media.

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Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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Mom and stepmom become best friends and hope to inspire more togetherness

The "Moms of Tampa" are officially besties and loving it.

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Tiffany Paskas and Megan Stortz, aka the Moms of Tampa, weren’t always the best friends that they are now. The unique story of how they became that way is catching a lot of positive attention and shining a light on how we might rethink co-parenting dynamics after divorce.

Stortz and her ex-husband Mike (married now to Paskas) share custody of their 11-year old son, Michael. At first, like many moms and stepmoms, Stortz and Paskas never spoke to one another.

Paskas explained to local NBC affiliate WFLA, “We just didn’t know it was okay to talk. We were under the impression, being children of divorce, that the ex and the new never intermingle, so it was like, best to stay away. So that’s kind of how we dealt with the first four years.”
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Due to a perfect storm of supply chain issues, product recalls, labor shortages and inflation, manufacturers are struggling to keep up with formula demand and retailers are rationing supplies. As a result, families that rely on formula are scrambling to ensure that their babies get the food they need.

Naturally, people are weighing in on the crisis, with some throwing out simplistic advice like, "Why don't you just do what people did before baby formula was invented and just breastfeed?"

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