The Real Tide Pod Challenge

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January 25, 2018

Dear Families,

I write today with a grieved heart. I struggle to find my voice of late. The words fail “to pour from my pen with feverish fluidity” as they did for Ralphie when he described his passion for the Red Rider BB Gun. Over the weekend, I contemplated why. I reached out to a lifelong mentor seeking words of wisdom.

As we dialogued over the phone, I asked her, “When does education get to be about education again? When will the worry that fills my heart day in and day out dissipate?” She listened patiently to my ramblings, in silence. At one point, I checked to see if my phone was still tracking the seconds. I audibly clarified whether or not I dropped the call. She confirmed for me that she was still on the line.



I know this silence. I utilized the same silence over and over again with my own students. This is the silence of reflection. Of contemplation. Of critical thinking. Emails flood my inbox on a daily basis with content I never imagined I would read. Content that turns my stomach. This week, evil, in the form of gun violence,  infiltrated schools in New Orleans, Kentucky, and Texas. A 14-year-old student battles for life after accepting the Tide Pod Challenge.  Why do our youth battle with such at-risk behavior?

How much is too much information to share? Should I bury my head in the sand and hope it all goes away? How do I keep the Halls of Middle School safe? How do I navigate the balance between emotional well-being and academic rigor? How do I… I stopped mid-sentence. She patiently asked, “Did it finally hit you?”

“Too many I’s.”


I can’t battle alone. I can’t make their choices for them. I can’t choose safety for them. The circle of influence expands in middle school. I know this from my own years navigating middle school with Maddy and Hunter. Parents take a back seat. It frustrated me on daily basis. I believe you too feel this same frustration if not on a daily basis, at least from time to time.

How did we go from instructing our kids to not take candy from strangers to “Please don’t eat the laundry detergent pods on a dare”? As a society, where did we take a wrong turn? How do we clean up the mess in society?

We fix our corner of the world. Together.

In one of her lessons, Maya Angelou encourages her listeners to “Pick up the battle.” She continues her challenge by saying “Pick it up right where you are.” We must pick up the battle for our teens.

But how?  I know I have shared this idea in the past. But the more our teens are bombarded, the more convicted I get that we must pick up the battle. We must battle our way into the circle of influence. I propose the following plan: Let’s all start a “Safe Zone” Journal with our teens.

The ground rules in our house are as follows: The journal exists between Paul, Hunter and me. Any of us can initiate a conversation through journaling. Whatever is written in the journal is not discussed outside of the journal. The response time between communications is 24 hours. No topic is off limits.

The practical application looks like this: Recently, Paul and I wanted to discuss the Juul epidemic in high schools with Hunter. We initiated conversation and placed the journal on his pillow. That was his cue to read and to respond. The benefits of this practice are many. We remain a circle of influence. We engage in dialogue that is void of emotion, fear, or defenses. We have a voice. We get a chance to scrub away the filth of this world and speak the truth. We have the opportunity battle for those who matter most right where we are.

That’s the real Tide Pod Challenge…washing away the stains left on our teens by a world that cares more about shock value than human value.

Honored to Serve You All,

Janet Worley

Food for Thought: Mild language exists in this video. Maya Angelou, “Just Do Right.”