5 Assumptions About Teenagers

5 Assumptions About Teenagers

Teenagers are easy targets to complain about…they cost a lot of money, eat way too much food, do weird and sometimes awkward things, spend a ton of time on their phones or gaming systems, and often cause drama with the whole going-through-puberty thing.

Anytime I tell someone that I work with teenagers, I often hear statements like, “Bless your heart.” Or, “I could NEVER do that, good for you!” Sometimes I get questions like, “Don’t teenagers drive you crazy?” “How can you handle working with middle schoolers all the time??”

But here is my secret…I often make assumptions when it comes to teenagers.

We all make assumptions. However, these are not the assumptions that the well-meaning people made above. It is probably not even the assumptions you would expect. In order to work with teenagers (and genuinely enjoy it), I encourage you to make some of these assumptions as well…

Assume teenagers are trying their best. Put yourself back in middle school or high school. Do you remember that feeling? Adolescence is HARD. You could not pay me to do it again…so I always assume that teenagers are doing the best they can in a very difficult situation. It would be really easy to assume that annoying or difficult teens are acting that way on purpose. But when we label students negatively, that is all we will see, and it is how they will continue to act. When you treat students like they are good kids coming from hard places, it can change everything for you and them. Let’s give some grace and some help when they need it.

Assume teenagers are searching for hope. Even the most troubled teenagers I know want their future to look better. They have dreams and goals. They want to graduate and go to college or get well-paying jobs. They want to start families and have a happy life. I have yet to talk to a student who wants their future to be worse than their present situation. Hope is a powerful motivator! Unfortunately, teenagers often don’t know where to start to reach their goals. Which is why we have to assume the next point…

Assume teenagers have the skills they need. When we talk to students in our Support Groups, we often talk about the resources, skills, and strengths that they already possess. We don’t always give them new skills; instead, we point out the people in their life who can help. We have them think through the strengths that they can grow and improve. We ask them to think differently about themselves while giving encouragement and hope. Teenagers are not dumb. They are not helpless children. It makes a big difference if we assume that they are capable. Will you be an adult who can help them realize their potential instead of telling them how they have messed up? Will you encourage, equip, and empower teenagers to face life’s challenges?

Assume teenagers are fun to be around. Teens are hilarious. They are fascinating creatures to watch and observe. They are adorably awkward. They often say exactly what they are thinking. They goofy and spontaneous and full of life. Why does this annoy us? What if we assumed that they are fun? What if we looked forward to spending time with teenagers instead of dreading it? Maybe they don’t need to be less exhausting…maybe we need to be less old. We need to change our own perspective!

Assume teenagers want to talk. You might be shocked by what teenagers are willing to share with adults. Within a few minutes in a Support Group, I can know about a teenager’s family, interests and hobbies, how their day is going, and how connected they feel to others. They want to talk. They are looking for safe environments to share and be vulnerable. Are you asking the right questions? Are you positioning yourself to be a trustworthy adult? Take the time to connect with the teenagers in your life. Be prepared to listen…really listen, without judgement or interjections. Have patience and be willing to ask two or three times.

I love teenagers. They are bold and fun. I encourage you to trade your current assumptions for something more positive. Teenagers have enough to deal with – let’s take our perceptions off their plate and assume the best!

Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Marketing & Development Director

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.

13 Reasons Why: Making Noise or Making Change?

13 Reasons Why: Making Noise or Making Change?

Recently, season 3 of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why was released. Because of its implications on teenage culture, Teen Life has been following this show since the beginning, and last month, I finished the 3rd installment of this controversial series.

Let me start by saying that this show is not one I would recommend teenagers watch. I would not even recommend that adults watch it with its mature content and language. However, I know that teens continue to watch it, and so it begs the question: Is 13 Reasons Why helping or hurting teenagers?

In this third season, the Netflix show covered sex, drugs, abortion, prostitution, gun violence, bullying, sexual abuse, illegal immigration, steroid use, and sexual identity. These are issues and topics that today’s adolescents are wrestling with, but is this the format to discuss it? To quote one of the characters on the show, “But you’re not making change, you’re just making noise!”

Wow.

What a quote! And so applicable to almost anything in our culture, especially with this age of social media driven content.

So many people want their ideas, problems, concerns, and injustices heard. That is not a bad thing at all, but there is a difference between making change and just making noise! Here are a few ways that we can encourage teenagers (and ourselves) to make more than just noise.

Be willing to listen.
There is so much injustice going on right now in our country and world. It isn’t right and it shouldn’t be tolerated, but before you shout your thoughts, be willing to listen. Listen to those who have been hurt and marginalized. Listen to different opinions in a respectful way. Noise leaves little room for other voices, but change cannot happen with just one person, so listen to those around you!

Have a purpose.
If your goal is just to be angry, that is not the best way to motivate change. Have a purpose behind your words and actions. Pick a cause that you are passionate about and work to make our world better. We can’t all be champions for every issue – there isn’t enough time! But we can be allies and friends to those already doing good work. We can be encouragers. We can pick a few things to put our resources and energy behind!

Look to change yourself.
Change is difficult. Like 13 Reasons Why shows, a culture and attitude cannot change overnight. But you can start with yourself! Be honest and evaluate how you can change and grow. Do you have bias you need to face? Are you being inconsiderate to other points of views? Are you invalidating the feelings of others? This type of reflection is not easy and can even be painful at times. Be willing to ask hard questions and start conversations to grow.

Noise drowns out everything else where change is willing to listen. Noise stays the same while change has purpose. Noise is passive where change takes action. Noise can stay behind a computer device or screen while change starts a bigger conversation outside of social media.

In the midst of racial injustice, sexual abuse, school shootings, suicide and more, we need to be having conversations. While I might not agree with the method of 13 Reasons Why, I will encourage you to be brave enough to talk about difficult topics with teenagers. They know what is happening. They see more than we realize at school and in the lives of their friends. They listen, absorb, read, and investigate. Please don’t let them take on this task alone! Show them how we can start conversations to make change. Be more than noise this week!

Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Marketing & Development Director

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.

Back to Baby Basics [Repost]

Back to Baby Basics [Repost]

I originally wrote the following post two years ago when our son, Sawyer, was born. But this summer has once again brought some changes for our family – this time form of a little girl named Janie.  
 

Having a baby and spending time at home adds new perspective and forces me to slow down. People expect you to take off from work, forget about house chores and just spend time with your sweet little one. So much importance is placed on enjoying and getting to know your baby – as it should be! But why does this only apply when our children are infants? Even though my kids are still little, I think there are several baby-parenting tactics that we should apply to parenting teens. They may be half-grown and independent (or so they think), but these teenage years are so critical for their development and your family!

Here are a few things that I believe we can learn from those beginning days of parenting that can benefit the relationship you share with your teenager:

Dedicated Meal Times

I am a huge believer in the power of meals and their ability to bring people together. Perfect strangers are friends at the end of a meal. Two people can begin a romantic relationship over a meal. And people are comforted, encouraged and uplifted through meal conversations. Meals are so important.

When kids are little, meals require a lot of attention. Meal times are all about them! As babies, parents have to put down everything to feed them the milk they need. When they grow into wiggly, independent toddlers, mealtime can turn into all out. When do we lose the desire to set aside dedicated time for meals? I know life is busy. I know it isn’t always possible to eat every meal at home, but teenagers need dedicated time from you!

This mealtime can look different for every family. Maybe it is ordering pizza and eating on paper plates. Maybe it is grabbing a quick bite after football practice at your favorite fast food restaurant. Or maybe it includes a homemade meal and set table (good for you!). Whatever your situation looks like, take time to silence phones, turn off televisions, get rid of distractions and share a meal with your family. Ask about school and tell them about your day in return. Find out more about friends and hobbies. Talk about future plans and silly things like their favorite TV shows. They need that time, and I bet you’ll find that you do, too! In fact, Andy and Sandra Stanley talk about this in a series on family. (You can watch it here! Start at 22:00 to begin where they talk about family dinners.) 

Intentional Routines

When children are little, we have routines for almost everything. A morning routine – wake up, change diaper, put on fresh clothes. A nightly routine – bath time, change into pjs, read a book, goodnight kisses. Imagine if we had routines with our teenagers…seems silly, right? But these don’t have to include reading them a book or rocking them to sleep. It doesn’t even have to be a bedtime routine!

A few years ago, Chris Robey discussed this very topic with Dr. Mark DeYoung in the podcast episode “4 Ways the ‘Check-In’ Transforms Relationships.” I encourage you to go listen to this podcast! There are so many benefits to asking teens how they are doing and making it part of a routine. I discussed a dinner routine above, but maybe your routine is as simple as asking one question in the car on the way home from school. Or asking them to say goodnight before they go to bed and speaking truth over them at that time. Create a routine so your teenager knows what to expect from you. Ask good questions and speak words of encouragement.

Realistic Expectations

When are babies are small, we expect them to act like babies. Duh, right? You wouldn’t expect my baby to walk, talk, or feed herself. If she cries, I am not surprised. When she has a blowout diaper, I don’t get upset with her. I am enjoying every moment of this baby stage – the good, bad, and the stinky.

We need to apply the same principle with teenagers. They are going to mess up, make decisions you don’t understand, get caught up in drama. I fear that adults often fall into the trap of treating teenagers like children while placing adult expectations on them. We hover and control while also getting upset when they don’t make choices we approve of. They are still trying to figure out who they are. They need a little guidance and a whole lot of grace! If you place unrealistic expectations on your teenager, you will be as frustrated as I would be if I expected Janie to change her own diapers.

Let’s go back to the days where our children were more important than clean houses and home cooked meals. I beg you to take the time to get to know your teenager! What do you think about this? Are there other baby-parenting practices that you can apply to parenting teenagers?

Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Marketing & Development Director

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.

Confronting the Momo Problem

Confronting the Momo Problem

The “Momo Challenge”.

Did you hear about it? Did it cause panic among your circles? Did you see emails, Facebook posts, and texts warning you about this terrifying internet presence?

Momo is scary, terrifying, horrible, dark, and twisted. But it is also fake – a hoax. Even though this particular character was fake, it brings up a great question – how do we confront internet and social media issues with our children?

Before I go further, let me give some context for those who haven’t heard of Momo. According to this CNN article, “The [Momo] challenge is the latest viral concern/social media fad/urban legend going around Facebook parenting groups and schools. It’s described as a “suicide game” which combines shock imagery and hidden messaging, and it supposedly encourages kids to attempt dangerous stunts, including suicide.”

According to Facebook posts, the scary, large-eyed doll figure called Momo would pop up in the middle of YouTube videos aimed at children like cartoons and toy reviews. Momo would then ask children to engage in destructive behavior – hurting themselves, loved ones, and even encouraging them to kill themselves. Reportedly, Momo also warned viewers against telling adults about what they were seeing and hearing. It is a horrifying thought that these messages would sneak into videos that parents and adults trusted to be safe for children.

However, while there have been Facebook posts, testimonies and stories, there has been little to no evidence that these Momo Challenge messages exist – no screen shots or recordings. According to experts, Momo is nothing to be worried about and stories of the challenge have been perpetuated by fearful exaggeration.

Now here is the problem with Momo – are children scared of the figure because they saw it in a video? Or are they scared because of the stories and pictures they have seen from parents and peers? Which begs the question – did we make this problem worse by talking about it? And how do we handle things like this in the future?

Here are some things to keep in mind while having internet, social media, or cyber-bullying conversations with you children and teenagers:

 

Question without telling.

When asking teens about current things that you are seeing in the news or on Facebook, start by asking non-leading questions. Instead of asking about Snapchat, for example, ask what apps they are using on their phones. Ask how they interact with friends via the internet. Ask if they have seen or heard anything scary or inappropriate on the internet or their phone apps.

By all means, please ask your teenagers what they are watching, listening to, interacting on. If you have younger children, have them watch videos with you in the room, check their view history and regulate what they have access to. But try to avoid telling them the shortcomings of social media and the internet if they are using it innocently. Open the door for your kids to talk to you without making them worried or afraid of what you might tell them. 

 

Talk without projecting fear.

It is understandable if you are worried. But your kids don’t need your worry and fear projected on them. This is especially important when you are talking about cyberbullying and worrisome content.

For example, maybe your teen received a less-than-nice message on social media. While this is not ideal or even acceptable, it also doesn’t mean that they are being bullied. However, if you project that fear onto your child, they will look for bullying in every situation in the future. Let them hold onto their innocence for as long as possible. Use accountability and some boundaries to check on them without placing rules that will raise anxiety or stress.

 

 Ask without assumption.

Don’t assume that just because an app is popular, your student has it on their phone. Even though Snapchat could be used with some negative intent, it doesn’t mean that your teen is using it for anything besides sending silly pictures to friends.

You should ask. You should question and keep your teenager accountable. But please don’t assume that they are doing something wrong or hiding something from you. When you start a conversation with assumptions, your teen will most likely start their response with defensiveness. Healthy conversations will include questions and an open discussion – they will end with accusations and assumptions. Give your teen the benefit of the doubt and show that you are willing to listen first before reacting!

 

 Discuss without an agenda.

Sometimes, you need to have discussions with your kids even if you don’t have something specific you need to ask about. When you open the door for discussion at all times, not just when they are in trouble or you are worried, they are more likely to come to you on their own instead of you always having to seek them out.

They may think you are being dorky and they may roll your eyes, but ask, “What is the newest app these days?” Ask the cool ways to connect with friends online. Start a conversation about the newest video game craze. Show that you are interested in them. Teens want you to ask – despite their reactions – they want to be heard and cared about. Be an adult who hears about the scary, dangerous, fun, exciting things first because that is the kind of relationship you have cultivated with teenagers.

 

As I wrap up, I want to encourage you to be invested in the social media practices of your children. Know what they are watching, downloading, playing and using. Ask other adults, and stay aware of trends and possible dangers.

Hopefully you did hear about the Momo Challenge, but I also hope you will do research and ask around when you hear legends and rumors. While we don’t want to be naïve adults, we also don’t need to believe everything on internet. Above all else, start conversations with your kids and teens. Ask questions, engage them, and also trust them!

You are doing hard work in an constantly changing world!

Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Marketing & Development Director

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.

4 Ways to Finish with Success

4 Ways to Finish with Success

At the end of 2018, our team decided to focus on finishing well by reading Jon Acuff‘s book, Finish. It was a great book to end the year with, but as I was reading, I couldn’t help but wish I had these tools at the beginning of 2018. My goals were already set, completed, or abandoned by that point. But the great thing about goals is that you don’t need a new year to start (even though it is pretty handy that 2019 just started).

I’ll be honest – I rarely finish books like this. But with a title like Finish, I knew this was one that would bother me if it stayed on my bedside table without getting read. Thanks to Jon’s ideas, I was able to read some parts and audiobook other parts without feeling like I was cheating – I simply finished and that felt great!

As Teen Life looks forward to 2019, we will be using many of the tips, tidbits, and tools from Jon’s book. While I will recommend that you pick up your own copy, here are 4 things that can help you get started as you set your own goals this year.

 

Take the Pressure Off

One of the first chapters in Finish is called “The Day After Perfect.” Man, this one hit me hard. It is easy to set a goal and excel at it for a few days, weeks, or maybe even months. But what happens when you mess up your perfect streak? How do you recover when you eat a pizza buffet instead of grilled chicken and spinach? How do you show your face at the gym again when its been a few weeks and you’ve lost your progress? It is so easy to slip into bad habits of staying up late, letting our houses get too messy, relying on our phone when we get bored, or focusing on the easy things at work instead of the important things.

Once we have a bad day, our goal is easy to abandon. Forget the new shoes you bought, the fancy planner, or that expensive gym membership – one mistake can derail progress, and that is wrong!

So instead, take the pressure off. Give up the idea that you are going to be perfect this year. Expect the imperfections instead of quitting when you meet them. In this chapter, Jon Acuff writes, “You will not be perfect, but do you know what’s even more important than perfection? … Moving forward imperfectly. Reject the idea that the day after perfect means you’ve failed. That’s just not true. You get to try again. Today, tomorrow, next week.”

 

Set Achievable Goals

Along with this idea of perfectionism comes the idea that a goal isn’t worth having if it isn’t the biggest and best. Who wants to lose 5 pounds when you could drop 30? It sounds so much better to say you are training for a marathon instead of a 5K. No one wants to set foundational goals for business when doubling income or growing to a new state is more exciting. But it is incredibly defeating when you set a goal that is out of reach, so Acuff suggests that you “cut your goal in half”.

Just like we talked about before, if you set a goal that is too big, the perfectionist in you is going to quit. Often, we would rather quit than fail. It makes us feel better to say we gave that goal up before we had a chance to fall short. Jon suggests that we stack the odds by making our goals more attainable. He doesn’t say that we should do less work, only that we should set goals that are within reach so that we will be motivated to do more and actually finish. When you reach that attainable goal, you are more likely to keep going day after day, month after month. You will do more with smaller goals than a big goal that you gave up on!

So cut your goal in half or give yourself more time! Try to lose 5 pounds this month instead of 10 (that way if you lose 8, you’ll have exceeded your goal instead of failing). Give yourself a week to reorganize your entire house instead of only taking a weekend. Grow your current business before choosing to add a completely new product. By setting realistic goals, you will do more and finish!

 

Make it Fun

In his book, Acuff says, “Perfectionism believes that the harder something is, the more miserable something is, the better it is. The lie it tells you is: Fun doesn’t count.” Does anyone else identify with this lie? I hate to run. I don’t really care if it will help me get in shape, lose weight, or be healthier. It’s the worst, so I don’t do it. Maybe signing up for a marathon shouldn’t be my goal anytime soon…Instead, I need to set a goal that is fun for me – like signing up for a cycling class or meeting friends to walk (and talk) outside. Your goal does not have to make you miserable, and if it is something that you hate, you probably won’t push through the hard days and imperfections to finish.

We need to find new and inventive ways to make goals fun again! Maybe that means doing research for work in the form of an interesting podcast or audiobook while you are driving. Or maybe you find ways to reward progress for a goal that is inherently “not fun”. Plan a beach trip after you drop the weight or get on Facebook for 5 minutes after you’ve worked hard at your goal for an hour straight. It is not cheating to enjoy your goals – you just have to get a little creative!

 

Eliminate Distractions

Now that we have tackled some of the lies of perfectionism, we have to protect ourselves from the destruction of distraction. Sometimes these distractions are intentional, sometimes they seem important and validated, often they could wait until after you completed your goal. Honestly, I am not good at staying away from distractions. It is something I still struggle with, but now that I am aware of what I am doing, these distractions are easier to overcome.

Do you ever say, “Let me check my phone really quick…”, and then look up an hour later find yourself deep in the depths of “Best Dressed” pictures from the latest awards show? Or did you glance at Facebook only to stumble across pictures of that high school friend who you haven’t seen in years. Your phone (with its social media apps and addicting games) can be a slippery slope. Or do you ever start you work day with a big goal only to spend the first couple of hours cleaning out your email and unsubscribing from every spam newsletter? That is a distraction.

Many times I will reach for the easy thing over the important thing. Not that the easy task shouldn’t get done at some point, but often I use it as a distraction to keep myself busy so I don’t feel bad about not getting to the difficult, time-consuming task that has to come next. I love Jon Acuff’s suggestion that you should ask your spouse or a close friend what your distractions or “hiding places” are. Chances are, they know them even if you don’t realize they are there. Let’s make an effort to set aside distractions (even noble ones) to get our goals finished!

 

We talk about goals often in our Teen Life Support Groups. We encourage teenagers to set small goals that they can accomplish that week and then we continue to build on them week after week. We ask them what worked and what was hard. We give new ideas for how to tweak goals moving forward to have the most success. Why does this make sense for teenagers and not for us? Why can I give better advice to others and then struggle with my own goals on a weekly basis?

In 2019, I hope you will join me in finishing. I hope you will change your expectations, set small, fun goals that you can build on, and minimize distraction for success. We can do this. We can finish!

 

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