women, men, communication

A customer totally ignored this young woman's signals that she wasn't interested.

Ask a random woman if a man has ever made her question her safety just by talking to her, and chances are you're going to hear an immediate yes. Not all interactions with strangers lead to discomfort, of course, and sometimes it just comes down to basic gut instinct. There are also varying levels of discomfort when men talk to you as a woman, from "Oof, this is awkward" to "I feel creeped out right now" to "I wonder if this guy is a serial killer."

When a man starts talking to us in a way that makes us uncomfortable, we generally make it known in some way. Most of us won't come out and say, "Back off, dude," unless the behavior becomes super egregious, because 1) it may not be in our personality to be blunt, 2) we expect that the guy will take the hint eventually or 3) we sense that confronting the man would make us even more unsafe than we already feel.

More often than not, we make our discomfort clear in our body language and the way we respond to questions. Long story short, if we don't show we're interested, we're not interested.


A viral video from TikTok News shows an interaction between a 19-year-old woman selling stickers at a retail shop and a man who kept asking her questions about herself. It's a masterclass in what not to do as a guy and a perfect example of what signs to look for to determine that a woman isn't picking up what you're laying down.

Watch the interaction:

So first of all, after the first few questions about her age and where she goes to school, the guy should have gotten the clue that she was not interested in conversing with him further. Her answers were short and to the point. She didn't offer any additional details, nor did she reciprocate with questions about him. If a woman is interested after you strike up a conversation, she will not answer your questions this way.

She didn't add what she's studying or whether she likes school. She didn't ask, "How old are you? Do you go to school?" She shows no interest whatsoever in keeping the conversation going.

Second of all, her body language is a clear indicator. She's not smiling warmly. She's not leaning casually over the counter toward him. She doesn't go over to him when he asks for help. She stands still, fidgets sometimes and only moves when she needs to in order to do her job.

This is the body language of a woman who is uncomfortable. Not "just shy." Not "playing hard to get." Uninterested and uncomfortable, clearly.

Why wouldn't she just refuse to answer his questions, or be direct and tell him to leave her alone? For one, she's working. He's her customer. There's a certain level of courtesy and friendliness that is customary and expected from an employee working with the public. And it's not always easy to gauge exactly when it crosses the line into inappropriate-enough-to-say-something. While this guy's behavior got creepier and creepier as he ignored her cues that she wasn't interested, nothing he said was clearly problematic.

That's part of what is so frustrating about interactions like this. It's not like the guy is being gross or saying anything over the top. It's the relentlessness that's the issue. Question after question about her life. Some might say he was trying to be friendly or "just making conversation." No, he wasn't. Conversation is a two-way street. It's not a man peppering a woman with personal questions continually as she gives one-word answers and clearly doesn't want to keep talking.

Is it possible that he just isn't good at reading social cues? Sure. Is it possible that he thought he was flirting and that she would feel flattered by it? Sure. Is she still uncomfortable? Yes. Is his refusal to give up still creepy and inappropriate? Yes.

I'd venture a guess that nearly every woman out there has been in this young woman's shoes, unsure of whether our safety is at risk. It's easy to say, "Oh, come on. He was just talking." But this is a man who doesn't seem to respect boundaries in conversation—why would she expect him to respect boundaries in any other way?

Women constantly have to calculate whether men who make us uncomfortable are just awkward or if they are a threat, and it sucks. Just as we have to look for signs of potential danger, we certainly should be able to expect men to look for signs that we're not interested.

And if the man actually did notice her signals and purposely ignored them, then she was right to be wary. Being friendly is one thing. This is entirely another.

Connections Academy

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

True

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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