Teen Life in Transition

Teen Life in Transition

With mixed feelings of sadness and gratitude, we wanted to let you know that our CEO, Ricky Lewis will be leaving Teen Life at the beginning of May. With his family, Ricky has decided to pursue an exciting ministry opportunity in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania as a Chaplain and Bible Teacher. This role will involve helping the school rewrite their program and curriculum that directs the growth of students’ spiritual lives.

“I am excited about this role because of the challenge it will provide in a new culture, the way I will be able to use the skills I have been developing the last 10 years, and the opportunity this will be for our kids to experience life on the other side of the world, literally.”

Ricky Lewis has been with Teen Life from the very beginning, starting as Program Director in 2008, then he transitioned to Executive Director and CEO. He has played a critical role in helping Teen Life grow as an organization and has shaped our curriculum and Support Groups into what they are today. While we are going to miss Ricky and his family, we wish them the best as they transition to Africa and the ministry opportunities they will continue to encounter with teenagers across the world.

In the midst of this transition, we are also excited to announce that the Board of Directors has named Chris Robey as the new CEO of Teen Life. Chris joined us in 2012 as Program Director, and transitioned to COO in 2017. In 2001, he graduated from Midwestern State University with his Bachelors Degree. After this, he served as a youth minister in Vernon and Granbury, TX while earning his Masters Degree in Family Life Education from Lubbock Christian University in 2010. All of Chris’ experience and education has helped him to better equip Teen Life’s work with teenagers and families.

“I am thrilled to serve as the new CEO of Teen Life! Ever since I began as Program Director almost six years ago, it has always been about our work and mission in the schools we serve. I look forward to more students being served by our amazing facilitators through our Support Groups. Teenagers and schools are being equipped, encouraged and empowered through a program that is getting better and better every year. Our future is bright, and I’m glad you are a part of it!”

In addition to Chris’ new role in Teen Life, Karlie Duke will take on the new role of Marketing and Development Director for Teen Life. She will continue to oversee Teen Life’s communications while also assisting Chris with fundraising events and opportunities. We are also excited that Beth Nichols will be transitioning to a full-time role as Teen Life’s Program Director starting June 1, 2018. She has been instrumental in developing our Support Group program and equipping our volunteer facilitators, especially during this time of transition. We know that our school districts and facilitators are in good hands with Beth in the role of Program Director.

Exciting things are continuing to happen for Teen Life as we are looking to expand our Support Groups to Tennessee through a training in Nashville on April 17. We are thankful for your continued support as we navigate this transition, and encourage you to reach out to us if you have any questions or concerns.

Ricky, thank you again for almost 10 years of serving teenagers through Teen Life! We are praying for your family as you continue to equip, encourage, and empower teenagers.

It’s Time to Change the Filter

It’s Time to Change the Filter

Middle school and high school years are hard. They are full of uncertainty – about where to sit at lunch, why their bodies are changing, who likes them, and how to navigate these awkward teen years. And what about parenting?! It is full of questioning your own parenting tactics and their success on top of wondering if you can trust anything that is coming from that child’s mouth. Take all of these insecurities, add a jaded filter, and you have a complete and utter mess.

What do I mean by a jaded filter? Everyone comes into a situation with a set perspective (or filter). We refer to rose colored glasses. We ask if people see the glass as half empty or half full. We bring our backgrounds, ideas, past experiences, optimism, pessimism, trust issues, and more into every single conversation.

And that can change everything.

Recently, our staff went to a full-day training where the speaker showed this YouTube video. Hopefully you have seen The Sound of Music and won’t get the wrong idea after watching this video, but take a look at the power of perspective and background:

If you have seen The Sound of Music, you know that it is the opposite of a horror movie. But when you change the background music and take scenes out of context, it can take a completely different tone.

The same is true of our conversations. If we have in our mind that a conversation is going to be negative, we will see it through that light. If we pull every bad interaction out of context, we will only see that relationship through that lens. But our filters also have the power to improve situations – like if we assumed the best before starting a discussion. Or remembering all the good things that our teenagers have done instead of focusing on the bad.

This is a small shift, but it is crucial to our relationships, especially if we want to be good listeners. Here are a few tips on how to change our conversation filters:

 

Discover your current filter. First, you have to be honest and confront your own perspective. Before we can change our filter, we have to face the current one. Take a few minutes to think about past conversations. Identify what has affected your conversations, interactions and relationships. These questions are a good place to start:

  • Are you putting unfair expectations on a conversation? Where do these expectations come from?
  • Is there an unrelated, bad experience from earlier in the day that could affect a confrontation with your teen?

 

Address your teen’s filter. Just like you are coming into the conversation with a filter, so is your teenager. Maybe something happened last week that has made them angry at you. Maybe something happened at school to put them on the defensive. Maybe a different adult relationship has made them distrustful. In order to have a neutral discussion, you also have to address their filter. Ask them similar questions as the ones above. Clear the air and be ready to listen in order to find out about their perspective.

 

Reset both filters. Now that you are aware that you both have filters, the trick is to reset and change your filter to be less biased and more productive. We have to consciously set aside our filters to be open to the conversation in front of us. We also have to help teenagers set aside their filters as well. Try some of these tactics before your next conversation:

  • Be open and address that there could be something that is affecting the conversation.
  • Apologize if there is something that happened earlier to impact their filter.
  • Ask how your teen’s day has been before you jump into a conversation.
  • Ask, “What would it take to go into a conversation without any preconceived notions, ideas or judgements?”
  • Remember the things you love about each other before starting the discussion – focus on the good memories!

 

Let’s change our filters and have positive conversations with teens – no more horror filters, disrespect filters, anger filters, or disappointment filters. Each interaction can be a fresh start and a learning experience. How have you seen filters impact your own conversations? What others tactics can we use to change our filters? Share your ideas!!

 

Karlie Duke was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is our Communications Director. She is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories.
Combating Fear in the Face of School Shootings

Combating Fear in the Face of School Shootings

Teenagers are pushed to face their fears and overcome them all the time. They fear failure, rejection, stress, the unknown, and so many other things. As adults, our job is to help them give voice to their fear and then figure out how they can find courage in the face of difficult times. But what happens when fear is deadly, random, and unpredictable? How do we respond to the understandable fear after a school shooting?

Fear cannot be ignored.

We see fear of bullies, failing a test, heights, being left, parent’s divorcing, humiliation, missing the shot, letting people down, getting sick. And now teenagers have to add the fear of getting attacked at school? We have to add the fear of our children not coming home at the end of the day?

It isn’t fair. It doesn’t make sense. But it is real and it is something that needs to be addressed.

While we do not have any answers for the tragedies that are taking place all over our country, here are a few ways that we can help combat fear.

 

Be ready for the crisis.

It is easy to react after a tragedy occurs. Once something horrible happens, we look for answers and start having conversations. But what  if we had already started these conversations? What if the ground work was already laid so that when something horrible happened, we were prepared?

It is important to talk to teenagers and kids about what is going on – in their school, city and country. They know something is wrong. They can read adults, and most have access to social media or the internet where they are probably getting more details than you would see on the evening news. We can’t avoid fear and difficult situations that happen across the country. So we need to start having conversations today. Develop a relationship with your student where you can have difficult conversations all the time. That will make these hard topics more manageable.

Here are a few tips to being ready for conversations:

  • Be shock proof: Remain calm when talking to your teens. Be genuine, but don’t let your own fear color the conversation.
  • Ask good questions: Resist the urge to lecture, but instead ask questions about what they have heard and how they are feeling.
  • Keep it appropriate: Conversations are important, but only if they are helpful. Don’t scare or over-share if your kids aren’t ready for it.
  • Be part of the solution: Get involved. Use the resources of schools and organizations, but don’t put all the responsibility on others.

 

Know your resources.

Speaking of being ready for a crisis…this is crucial! When something happens, you don’t have to walk through it by yourself – utilize the resources in your community, school and church. Maybe a resource is as simple as having another trusted adult on call if your teen would rather talk to someone outside of your house. Or be prepared if your child wants to talk to a counselor (whether it be their school counselor or another professional). Ask your church and school what resources are available – is there a series coming up that will address things like school shootings? Are support groups available on their campus? Is there an article or podcast that gives a different perspective?

There are so many resources available, and it will be incredibly helpful if you already know where to look first. Here are a few places we recommend:

  • Youth Specialties Blog: While these blogs are aimed at youth workers, they are a great resources to parents as well!
  • Teen Life: I may be a little biased, but Teen Life offers lots of great resources from our blog and podcast to Support Groups on school campuses.
  • Google: Earlier this week, someone asked us for an online resource after the Parkland shooting and by searching “how to have conversation with child about school shooting,” I found several great options!
  • Preventative Resources: Use resources like Michele Borba’s book or blog to talk about healthy things kids need to focus on. Start with this blog post!
  • Local Resources: Know what organizations are in your area! The Warm Place and Real Help For Real Life are two in Fort Worth but do some research around you.

 

Believe your kids.

It is so important to believe your kids, especially in times of fear and trial. I think sometimes we dismiss students as being dramatic or exaggerating. While teens can be dramatic, and they can exaggerate some details, is it worth not believing them if they are being completely truthful?

In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, several students said that they weren’t surprised by the identity of the shooter. They had always joked that he would shoot the school. How terrible is that? Not only that they perceived the danger, but that they either didn’t share their concerns with adults or those adults didn’t take them seriously.

We have to give our teens the benefit of the doubt. If they express worry about a classmate or friend (whether that worry is about violence or suicide or depression), we need to listen. Validate what they are seeing, teach them how to get help and how to find resources for their peers.

 


 

Fear is all around us, and it is not something that is going away, especially with the digital world we live in today. Your teenagers are more aware of what is going on around the world than we ever were. They probably knew about the Florida school shooting before you did. Instead of hiding from fear, let’s learn how to cope, have positive conversations, and find helpful resources.

 

What are some resources you have found in times of tragedy? How have you helped teens combat fear?

Karlie Duke was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is our Communications Director. She is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories.
Raising Baby Grown-Ups

Raising Baby Grown-Ups

As the mom of a baby, some days the teenage years (and stages without diapers) seem forever away. Other times I look at the high school boys that my husband coaches, and I see my baby grow into a full man in a matter of seconds. I can’t begin to imagine how fast these years are going to fly by, but I honestly can’t wait! I do not wish this phase to pass, but I also do not dread the teenage years like many parents – they are full of opportunity. If you are dreading the teenage years or are ankle deep in raising baby grown-ups, I hope you’ll indulge my new-mom-optimism and let me restore some hope.

I recently just finished Jen Hatmaker’s newest book Of Mess and Moxie. There are so many nuggets that could be pulled from this book, but I especially loved a chapter near the end called “String Eighteen Parties Together.” Jen is all about her teenagers and brings a perspective that is rare in this culture where teenagers are considered difficult, lazy, full of drama, and a parent’s worst nightmare.

As someone who works with teenagers and will someday raise teenagers, I probably highlighted half of this chapter, and it was full of wisdom in these areas:

Choosing to like teenagers – Jen simply states, “I planned on adoring the teen years, so I do.” If you are predisposed to hate the teen years, you are probably going to be miserable for a solid 5-8 years of your child’s life. But what if we chose to enjoy adolescence? Maybe you have littles like me, or maybe you are in the middle of teen years, or maybe you are looking back on the teen years with relief (or regret). Whatever your life stage, you can still choose to enjoy teenagers. In my experience, they are hilarious, honest, and full of energy. They may eat you out of house and home and fill your house with mud and stinky shoes, but there will also be moments where they send you a text that makes you laugh out loud, or make a decision that proves they’ve been listening this whole time. Choose right now, today, to enjoy the teenage years. Having the right attitude can make a huge difference in your own response.

Finding friends to walk the teen years with – Jen Hatmaker discusses the importance of having people around you who will not only encourage, but also help lighten you up and give perspective. We were all teenagers once. You probably drove your mom crazy, but it is so easy to forget that when you are staring a big teenage problem in the face. As she puts it, we need to “handle this stage with solidarity and grace, not shock and superiority.” If you are parenting without the help of friends, church, or community, then I encourage you to get some help! Life is so much better when you have people to laugh and cry with. Find people who are raising kids around the same age as you and cling to their support and similar experiences. Seek out those who have already raised teenagers and listen to their wisdom. Surround your teens with other people who don’t have teens but can be mentors, unbiased voices, and trusted confidants. It takes a village!

Remaining approachable and shock-proof – You have heard us say this before, but we have to be a safe place for teenagers! This requires us to be a place where they can ask questions and be honest without fear of our reactions. What they say is not a deal-breaker. The questions they ask cannot shake us. The things they admit do not change our feelings about them. This is so difficult but so important. If you freak out, cry, yell or react in a way that scares them, they won’t share with you again. Instead, make it known that you are there for them. Ask questions about tough topics so they know you won’t scare easily. It will probably be just as awkward for them as it is for you, but ask them about sex, parties, friends, doubts, fears and goals.

I will leave you with this last quote from her book that made me nod my head and write “Amen!” in the margins of my book:

When you have no earthly idea how to respond yet, just say: “Tell me more about that,” or “I’m listening and need a bit of time to think about this,” or “I’m glad you told me, and we will work this out together.” Keep it open, keep it mutual, stay on the same team instead of isolating your kid. Our teens need to know that we are for them and with them, not just when they are performing well but in struggle, failure, calamity. This is, after all, exactly how God loves us.

 

Keep up the good work, you are doing great work in the raising of teenagers. You are raising the future adults and parents of the world, and these years will pass in a flash! We are here with you, cheering you on and loving your teens. Have you found something else that has helped you raise teenagers? Share with us! 

Karlie Duke was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is our Communications Director. She is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories.
5 Christmas Movie Lessons for Teens

5 Christmas Movie Lessons for Teens

I may have a Christmas movie problem…I love them all! The classics, the musicals, the cartoons, the cheesy ones, the funny ones, the Hallmark ones and everything in between. If it deals with Santa or snow, count me in! To some, these movies may feel silly, boring, or annoying. But they would be wrong, and I am about to prove to you why you (and your teenagers) need Christmas movies in your life.

Most follow the “Christmas Movie Formula” which usually includes a problem at the beginning, a love interest being introduced, a conflict that causes everything to derail before the happily ever after. I’ll admit, many Christmas movies are predictable, but I dare you to find a genre of movies that includes more hope, joy, or inspiration.

Plus the Christmas music. And the snow. Come on!! How could you not love these movies?!

Christmas movies have lessons that apply to life in general, but these lessons specifically apply to teenagers. If the students in our Support Groups grasped these lessons, I truly believe their lives would look completely different.

So here we go…below are 5 lessons that we can learn from the greatest movies of all time. (Please note that there are spoilers. If you have not seen any of these movies, stop what you are doing, go borrow it from your friend, and have a movie night.)

Everyone needs a place to belong. (Elf)

In this hilarious and heartwarming story about Buddy the Elf’s journey to find his family, it is easy to see the importance of belonging. Despite the silliness and sugar obsession, Buddy is desperately seeking a place to belong. In this movie, there is a transformation that takes place in the life of Buddy and all those around him when he becomes his best self under the love and care of a family.

Teenagers are the same way. They desperately want a place to belong and feel safe. They want to be accepted for themselves. Please do not overlook this! We can encourage teens, give them a place to belong, surround them with people who will invest in their lives, and find situations for them to excel. Teens look to peers, but mostly they are going to look to you for belonging that lasts.

 

The small things make a big difference. (It’s a Wonderful Life)

This movie is the definition of a holiday classic. It tells the story of George Bailey and his life that is successful not because of the big things, but because of the small things that have added up over a lifetime. After wondering if his life was worth living, the movie ends with the most beautiful picture of people from all stages of life – people who benefitted from the small things.

Teenagers need to understand that the small things they do matter. Showing up at school, being kind, respecting parents and teachers, serving others, being honest – these small things add up over time and can change lives. Let us encourage the small things, and not just the big accomplishments. Look for ways to praise and recognize the everyday successes.

 

Using your gifts & talents is key to success. (Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

Who doesn’t love these animated Christmas movies?! Rudolf and Hermy the elf decide to run away together to escape the judgement and shame their differences bring. While others have made them believe that their differences make them wrong and weird, they eventually realize that their skills and talents make them uniquely qualified to help in ways others cannot – even saving Christmas!

How many times do teenagers feel this way? They think that they are different and failing because they do not have the right opportunities to actually use the things they are good at. Helping teenagers find their passion and talents is crucial to them finding success. They are going to fail in areas where they feel incompetent. Instead, encourage their skills, point out their gifts, and help teens find opportunities to utilize them.

 

Progress is important, no matter how small. (How the Grinch Stole Christmas)

The Grinch is a classic Christmas redemption story. We start with a grouchy, Christmas-hating, exiled character and watch him transform into a lovable Grinch with a heart that is too big and cheeks that are warm. The catch is that he made small changes throughout the entire story, but Cindy Lou Who was the only one who noticed.

So many times, teenagers stop making progress because they don’t feel like their small changes are being recognized or making a difference. They are so wrong, though! When they pull their grade up 3 points, get an extra hour of sleep, offer to help with a chore without being asked add up over time and make a major impact. Progress and change, no matter how small should be celebrated.

 

 

A little hope and a lot of community go a long way. (White Christmas)

This is my very favorite Christmas movie, no contest. And I cry at the end every single time during “The Old Man” scene where 151st division comes together to honor General Waverly. After the General is rejected by the army and is only left with his struggling inn, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis decide to bring his community together to help out. Surrounded by loved ones and with the hope of snow and more profitable days, the General’s attitude completely transforms.

Teenagers need community and hope. This is the number one thing that we find in our Support Groups. When they find a place to belong and see hope that their future can be different, they will change their attitude and actions. When teens are struggling, hope is the first thing we should look to offer!

 

What do you think of these Christmas movie lessons? Do you have other favorite Christmas movies that we can learn from? We would love to hear from you!

Karlie Duke was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is our Communications Director. She is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories.