Long before she became Lady Gaga, the multi-Grammy Award-winning entertainer was simply a girl named Stefani.
And Stefani wasn’t always treated kindly by her peers.
We know this mainly because of her mother. Cynthia Germanotta detailed her daughter’s difficult childhood experiences in a recent op-ed piece on The Daily Beast web site titled “Raising Lady Gaga: Why It’s Time for an Emotion Revolution.”
According to Germanotta, Stefani was – as her adult artistic persona would bear out – “creatively and unequivocally her own person.”
But standing out from the crowd as an adult, especially as a world-renowned performing artist, is far different from doing the same thing as a vulnerable adolescent.
Contrasting with the norm often made Stefani a target of those around her. Children, wrote Germanotta, “would sometimes taunt, humiliate, or exclude her.” This meant, she added, that Stefani was forced “to learn painful lessons about the dangers of cruelty and the importance of kindness.”
Those so-called “lessons” carried with them both good and bad implications. The bad aspects involve the emotional price they exacted.
“(T)his mean-spirited treatment,” Germanotta wrote, “did more than sting in the moment – it shook Stefani’s confidence. The persistent, thoughtless cruelty of her peers caused Stefani to question her identity and self-worth.”
And the good aspects? The experience ultimately has helped the adult Lady Gaga to connect and bond with her many fans, at least in part because a fair number have endured the same kind of painful adolescent angst.
It was through that bond that Born This Way Foundation was founded.
So, too, was the hope that Lady Gaga and her mother hold for what they’re calling an Emotion Revolution.
What is the Emotion Revolution?
Pay attention to that term: Emotion Revolution. It’s a focal point of Born This Way Foundation, which Lady Gaga and Germanotta formed in 2012 as a means of – and this comes directly from the organization’s web site – “connecting young people in safe ways and empowering them with the skills and opportunities that will inspire them to create a kinder and braver world.”
The Emotion Revolution is the second university partnership for the Born This Way Foundation. The first was in 2013-2014 with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the National Council for Behavioral Health and the National Association of School Psychologists.
The research involved conducting thousands of surveys aimed at gauging the attitudes of young people toward mental health services.
And it divulged something that in retrospect seems obvious about a generation to which the Internet appears all-important: As Germanotta wrote, “(J)unior high and high school-age kids prefer to receive mental health services online or through texting.”
The research, which the groups presented to the American Psychological Association, prompted Born This Way Foundation to partner with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. According to its own web site, the Yale Center specializes both in crafting “effective approaches for teaching emotional intelligence” and partnering with school organizations of all sizes “to foster the emotional intelligence of all students and adults.”
“Our goal is to create a ‘call to action’ to America’s schools to take seriously the social and emotional development of youth,” says Marc Brackett, Ph.D., the organization’s director.
And how are both the Yale Center and Born This Way Foundation hoping to do this? By launching what they are calling – here’s that term again – the Emotion Revolution. To be specific, on April 9 they began conducting a nationwide, online survey of high-school youth. In the survey, Brackett says, the students are being asked “how they’re currently feeling in their schools – and how they hope to feel.”
The ultimate goal, Brackett adds, is to take the information gleaned through the survey and, through association with a range of organizations, including social media outlets such as Facebook, “to create a resource center for schools that will contain strategies and tools to help them create those positive experiences in their schools.”
The online survey, which is aimed at teenagers in high school grades 9-12, offers respondents the opportunity to speak their minds. And, this is important, to do so anonymously.
U.S. teenagers have it tough
Just how bad is the situation for U.S. teens? Some would say bleak.
In a May 19 article published in the Harvard Business Review, three people involved with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence – director Brackett, developmental psychologist Diana Divecha and psychoanalyst Robin Stern – cite a variety of sources, including a 2014 report by the American Psychological Association, as evidence for this negative view:
• The rate of psychopathology among U.S. teens is five times that of 75 years ago;
• The rate of attempted suicide among U.S. teens is higher than most other countries (a statistic especially poignant for Spokane, considering five Spokane County teens have committed suicide since the beginning of the year);
• According to noted adolescence scholar Laurence Steinberg, U.S. teens “trail much of the world on measures of school achievement, but are among the world leaders in violence, unwanted pregnancy, STDs, abortion, binge drinking, marijuana use, obesity, and unhappiness”;
• A 2013 report by the American College Health Association, which surveyed some 123,000 students at 153 colleges, determined that “more than half experience overwhelming anxiety, and about a third feel intense depression during the school year.”
The upshot? “Teens in the United States,” Brackett, Divecha and Stern say, “are in dire straits.”
Emotion-based education offers hope
But the three author/experts go on to argue that, bad as it might be, the situation isn’t hopeless. In an April 10 Time magazine article, Divecha and Stern wrote that anything is possible for communities that educate teens about their emotions.
Teaching kids about their feelings,” they wrote, “can mean the difference between whether a personal setback becomes chronic failure or strengthens resolve, whether a disagreement with a friend festers into anger or is navigated gracefully, whether the intellectual insight is fanned or extinguished.”
Schools across the nation are gradually paying attention. A May 5 Seattle Times article stated that more than 800 schools across the country, including about two dozen in Seattle, are using a decade-old, Yale Center-created teaching approach regarding emotions called RULER – an acronym that stands for Recognize, Understand, Label, Express and Regulate.
And on May 11, the Connecticut Commission on Children – in partnership with the Yale Center and Born This Way Foundation – announced the state’s launch of its support for the – here’s that term again – Emotion Revolution and its online survey.
“This movement empowers young people to create schools and communities where emotions matter,” said Gayle S. Slossberg, a Connecticut state senator.
“Connecticut has the opportunity to be a model for the nation,” Slossberg said. “As an education policy maker and mother, I hear the voices of students telling us that emotions matter. They want to be leaders, and the Emotion Revolution will give them the tools they need to effect change in our state and across the country.”
Media outlets, and the Inland Northwest responding
Media outlets ranging from Time magazine and USA Today, to The Wenatchee World and The Register-Guard in Eugene, Ore., are getting the word out about the Emotion Revolution. So is a growing roster of independent and chain newspapers stretching across the country.
The same is true regarding the Emotion Revolution in the Inland Northwest.
For one thing, the Yale Center’s director Brackett is scheduled to be a keynote speaker at the Young Child Expo & Conference, which will be held Sept. 30-Oct. 2 at Spokane’s Davenport Grand Hotel. The expo is presented by the Gonzaga University School of Education and Los Niños Services.
For another, The Spokesman-Review is teaming with KHQ-TV to give the Emotion Revolution initiative an Inland Northwest presence. In the planning stages is Oct. 24 Spokane live-stream event coverage of the Emotion Revolution Summit to be held that day at Yale University. Yale University President Peter Salovey, and both Lady Gaga and Cynthia Germanotta are slated to attend; so will hundreds of young people from across the United States. Study findings will be shared, and educators, academics and policy makers will be on hand to connect with attendees. In addition to the Spokane live-stream of the Yale event, plans are coming together to provide same-day local programming around better emotional health.
Organizations aside, individuals both on their own and through the groups they represent also are working hard to get the word out.
Tony Stewart is particularly grateful that The Spokesman-Review and KHQ are co-sponsoring the planned local live stream of the Oct. 24 Emotion Revolution Summit. As a co-founder of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, one who has served the organization in a variety of positions over its 34-year history, the retired political science professor has long been concerned with the issues being addressed by both the Yale Center and Born This Way Foundation.
Three years ago, Stewart was invited to speak to summer school classes in the Coeur d’Alene School District. And, he says, over the course of six one-hour classes, “I discovered from the students the depth of bullying that goes on. One of the students even talked about one of his friends who had committed suicide. And so I promised them I would work on it.”
One thing Stewart did was to bring a national expert on bullying – Steve Wessler, author of “The Respectful School: How Educators and Students Can Conquer Hate and Harassment” – to Coeur d’Alene. One result of his visits, Stewart says, has been the formation of several school-based, student-headed Respect Clubs.
Change has begun to occur.
“It’s miraculous what’s going on,” he says, “and what I’m saying to you is that’s what I think Yale is trying to do.”
Enthusiasm about emotions is contagious
That kind of enthusiasm about the Emotion Revolution online survey, Stewart says, caused the Task Force’s board of directors to vote unanimously last week to email information about the survey to all the school districts in the five northern counties of North Idaho.
“So we’re very much on board in trying to get the word out on this project,” Stewart says. “I think the data can be used in schools all over America.” Also on board is Inland Northwest Business Alliance, said the organization’s General Manager Marvin Reguindin. INBA is the region’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, ally (LGBTA) chamber of commerce.
“Participating in the planning of Emotion Revolution is consistent with INBA’s vision of creating an economically robust and civically engaged community through acceptance of diversity throughout the region,” says Reguindin, adding that INBA sees potential in connecting area college and university Gay Student Unions (GSA) members as role models to high school and middle school LGBT students.
Jim Straw, Freeman High School Principal, was an early supporter of the ideas behind the Emotion Revolution. And he’s clear about why.
“There are some things going on with our kids right now that we just don’t understand,” he says, “and we need to do what we can to figure it out. They need some help, and we need to talk to them to find out how things are different than they were for us.”
One of the differences, Straw notes, is that students today seem to have far less down time.
“One issue that we as adults don’t get is this idea of being plugged in all day,” he says. “You know, never being able to get away from any of the social media. Just the stuff that comes across the Internet all the time, because now it’s on your phone. These kids never get away from it. And I don’t think they realize the effect it has on them.”
Straw believes the online survey is a good step toward their finding that realization.
“This is their opportunity to let us know what help they need,” Straw says. “You look at some of the stuff that is happening, locally, nationally, we have to find a way to provide them the support that they need.”
Those who work with teens see the value
Deb Crapes is also a fan of what backers of the Emotion Revolution are attempting to do. Crapes is a career specialist at the On Track Academy, an alternative high school offered through Spokane Public Schools that specializes in educating students – many who come from poverty-stricken backgrounds – and preparing them both for careers and higher education.
She sees every day, first hand, the part that emotions play in the lives of teenagers who have “untapped potential.” Regarding the importance of paying attention to emotions, Crapes says, “I think it’s huge.”
“And with our population,” she adds, “a lot of them don’t have positive mentors in their lives. So a lot of it spills out in schools because we are their mentors.”
Which explains why she supports the intentions behind the Emotion Revolution.
“It’s been a pretty sad year what with all the suicides,” she says. “So I just think that anything I can do to give information to help comfort students is a win-win situation.”
Jeremy Clark, a 25-year-old youth advocate at Cup of Cool Water Ministries, comes in regular contact with emotions and how they affect the young. The Christian-based nonprofit organization he works for serves Spokane’s homeless street youth by providing both essential needs (food, clothing, shelter) and longer-term skills (workshops, mentoring).
And almost by necessity, he meets teens who display a range of emotional instability.
“I would say that if somebody’s at risk, they’ve typically experienced external influences, like abuse and neglect,” he says. “And that could be family or bullying.”
His work, he stresses, involves making the teens he deals with “feel understood. I think that’s a big first step. And you do that on an emotional level first.”
To Clark, then, the Emotional Revolution survey may not the ultimate answer to the problems facing the teens he works with. But it’s a big step in the right direction.
“I think it is a good place to start,” he says. “It’s part of the puzzle.”
Lady Gaga still seeks an answer
The experts, from social scientists to those who work in the classroom or on the street, all seem to agree: The Emotion Revolution is an important step in figuring out how to alleviate the pains traditionally associated with teenage years.
Let’s, though, allow Lady Gaga – the woman who grew out of the girl named Stefani – to have the final word. She, more than just about anyone, can speak from both sides now.
Speaking about the Emotion Revolution in a video interview, Lady Gaga emphasizes just how personal the initiative is for her.
“I know what it’s like to feel depressed,” she says, “to feel humiliated, to feel isolated. And I know too many young people that, no matter who they are or where they come from, they’re feeling the same way that I do.”
The “beautiful” part of this connection, she says, is how the very thing that set her apart as a child is now the forum for what brings her closer to her fans – “the way,” she explains, “our sadness bonded us at the shows.”
Yet, she adds, “I so badly wanted to understand why that cloud was there at all. How could I help to lift it, how could I be a part of a more global change?”
The answers she has found involve that very bonding, and the connection that can come with the sharing – and study – of the emotions that drive us all.
But especially those that drive us during the vulnerable teen years.
“Working together,” Lady Gaga says, “we can make the world a kinder and braver place where all voices are heard, all feelings are respected.”
A world where, she emphasizes, “It’s OK to be different.”
Have an idea for a speaker or presenter for the Oct. 24 event? Email INWemotionrevolution@spokesman.com
Participating organizations include: Inland Northwest Business Alliance & INBA Outreach; Greater Spokane, Inc.; The Spokesman-Review; KHQ-TV; Odyssey Youth Center; The Wenatchee World; The Register-Guard (Eugene, Ore.); Freeman High School; Spokane District #81; On Track Academy; YMCA Teen Centers Spokane; Cup of Cool Water Ministries; Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations.
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