Are you a Taylor Swift devotee?

If so, you already know that the artist whose most earnest pop songs you belt out at karaoke is about to embark on a huge tour in Spring 2018. And if not — you probably still know.

Thanks to a load of publicity about the tour's kickoff, all of us probably know at least something about Swift's upcoming worldwide extravaganza — such as that she's using something called a "rocket sled" to torpedo herself from one side of backstage to another. Sounds terrifying. But hey, she's the professional.


Swift's first show of the tour was done for a select group of VIPs — a very special group of superfans.

On May 5, Swift played a private show in Arizona.  The attendees, all of whom had been sworn to secrecy, were 2,000 local foster kids and their families. And if you're thinking, "oh my god," let me assure you that's what was running through the invitees' minds as they opened the email from Arizona Association for Foster and Adoptive Parents (AZAFAP).

"We first thought this was a spam [email] or something," Janine Waldera tells me. She took her grandchildren, whom she's adopted, to the show. When she accepted the invite, she says, she also agreed to abide by strict rules of confidentiality. No phones, no cameras, and no telling anyone about the specifics of the show. (So if you came to this post looking for a setlist, friend, stay for the feels instead.)

Photo by Janine Waldera, with permission.

The show itself? Like nothing anyone expected. AZ Central reports that concert-goers were greeted with tables of snacks and drinks at the University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Then Swift came out, said hello, and asked if anyone would mind if she did her entire two-hour show. Unsurprisingly, everyone held their peace.

"It was overwhelming to see so many people that came," Waldera told AZ Central. "[Swift] told all of us that we had more energy than if the stadium was filled and a sold-out concert. Kids were so excited, screaming, dancing, and they let everybody walk around."

But no one had seen anything yet: Swift, who's been a lighting rod in popular culture  ("do we love her or do we hate her?" seems to be the concept behind her latest album) had a few more surprises. After giving the kids and their families even more sugar — she served pizza and brownies and, oh my god, this show sounds amazing because do you know how much that stuff costs at the stadium? — she took the time to meet with everyone. In the parking lot, AZ Central reports, Swift's parents handed out souvenirs.

The concert was may more than just entertainment.

Sure, the kids had a great time with Swift, but they also got to meet other kids who have had similar experiences. And the invitation, AZAFAP president Kris Jacober told reporters, was "like a miracle." One that's especially poignant in May — National Foster Care Month.  

"The association's been around for 13 years," she said, "and nobody has ever made us an offer like this. I know this doesn’t happen every day. We just are deeply appreciative of her kindness toward our families."

Swift was sending an important message with her show: Foster families deserve to be seen and recognized.  

Waldera tells me that one of the best parts of the evening was families making connections with each other. "It was a great way of networking with other families," she says. As for the kids? "It's a memory my children will always cherish."

"There was no way we could have afforded to take our children to this amazing concert," she enthuses. "Taylor was so generous with her time, and she made all the kids there feel like they were rock stars!"

Photo courtesy of Janine Waldera.

Call it what you want (isn't that a Taylor Swift song?), but the night was truly magical. And even if you aren't a fan of her music, we can all be fans of the fact that Taylor Swift is an artist who gives back to the community.

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.

TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

As a Gen X parent, it's weird to try to describe my childhood to my kids. We're the generation that didn't grow up with the internet or cell phones, yet are raising kids who have never known a world without them. That difference alone is enough to make our 1980s childhoods feel like a completely different planet, but there are other differences too that often get overlooked.

How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

And '80s hair? With the feathered bangs and the terrible perms and the crunchy hair spray? What, why and how?

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