Back to Baby Basics

Back to Baby Basics

This summer has brought some changes for our family. Huge change in fact in the form of a precious little boy named Sawyer. I promise to get to the point of this post soon, but first – who doesn’t love some cute baby pictures??
 

 

Having a baby and spending time at home this summer with him has completely changed my perspective. 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 I am a rookie mom and newbie parent, 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 alot of attention. Meal times are all about them, whether they are a babies and parents (mainly moms) have to put down everything to feed them the milk they need, or they are toddlers and it is all out warfare to get a bite of food in their moving, screaming mouths. 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. 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 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!

Last season of the Stay Calm, Don’t Panic! Podcast, Chris Robey discussed this very topic with Dr. Mark DeYoung in the 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

Sawyer is now a month and a half old. He is still a baby and therefore, acts like a baby. Duh, right? You wouldn’t expect my baby to walk, talk, or use the bathroom by himself. If he cries, I am not surprised. When he has a blowout diaper, I don’t get upset with him. 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 Sawyer to change his 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 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.
Repost: Why Empathy Matters

Repost: Why Empathy Matters

This week’s blog post is most likely to bring some deja vu to any dedicated readers of TeenLife. My name is Maddi and I work as an intern for TeenLife. This week I was asked by Ricky to find an old blog post that I connected to and repost it. After looking through many old posts more than once, I found one that was written pretty recently that really spoke to me. I have had my fair share of difficulties in life and have even participated in a support group provided by TeenLife since 2014. In this group I experienced, and continue to experience, true empathy. For the first time I was in a safe place that I felt comfortable talking about my troubles in. I had previously attempted to confide in my closest friends but found that to not be very helpful. Of course they had the best intentions and did their best to try and help me through my hard times, but there was no way they could have understood what I was going through. In this group I was in a place surrounded by people that weren’t trying to make me feel better by spouting the typical lines most people do. They understood what I was going through and empathized with me. I chose this blog post because most people choose to sympathize rather than empathize. My hope is by reading this you will realize how to be the type of person a friend can and will go to for help. 

This post originally posted in May right before our Spring Fundraising Event. 

Tomorrow is our Feed the Need Packing Party, and we are so excited to help more teenagers through the meals packed and funds raised through this fundraiser.

As we prepare for this fundraiser, I can’t help but think of the faces and stories of teenagers that I get to work with on a weekly basis. Their pain is real. Their success changes lives. Their questions are relevant. Their stories change my perspective.

You may be asking yourself, “How deep can you really go with teenagers when you only see them once a week for an hour? Do they actually share? What could they be dealing with that could rival adult problems?”

You would be shocked.

I can learn more about a teen in a one-hour Support Group meeting than many people can find out over months.

How is this possible?

Empathy.

Empathy makes all the difference in the world. In these Support Groups, we are not asking questions because we want to be nosy, tell them what they are doing wrong, or even fix their lives. We ask questions because we want to step into life with them, even when it’s hard and there is no easy fix in sight.

I absolutely love the Brené Brown video below. She expertly describes the difference between empathy and sympathy while revealing the power of showing true empathy in difficult circumstances.

When you watch the video, you can see that empathy is a powerful tool, especially when dealing with teenagers.

Just this year alone, I have had teenagers tell me about:

  • Broken home lives where they are forced to choose who they want to live with.
  • Families who encourage drug use while they are trying to stay clean.
  • Fathers who bring their mistress into the home while mom tries to keep the family together.
  • 30-hour work weeks to help the family pay medical bills.
  • A fear of graduation because that is when they will be kicked out of their house.
  • Extreme racism and name calling in a work environment.

Do I have the answers to these problems? Can I come up with magic words to make the hurt go away?

Absolutely not!

But I can listen. I can tell them that I am so sorry they are having to deal with such difficult life circumstances. I can sit in a chair beside them and step into their world for an hour a week. I can give them a safe, judgement-free zone to talk about their lives and problems.

I can empathize.

I encourage you to try some of the tactics mentioned in the video and to avoid phrases like “at least.” Step into a teenager’s shoes, crawl down into the pit with them, and show that someone cares and wants to listen.

In order for us to continue to provide these Support Groups and show empathy, we have our annual fundraiser. And so I also encourage you to get involved with our fundraiser! You can donate, pray, volunteer or simply share our fundraising page with friends to raise more awareness and help us reach our goal. It is not too late to make a difference in the lives of teenagers – join 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.
The Ugly of “13 Reasons Why”

The Ugly of “13 Reasons Why”

*This is the second in a series of three blog posts this week regarding the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.” Sign up for our mailing list so you don’t miss the final blog post!

Part 1 – The Good of “13 Reasons Why”

Part 2 – The Ugly of “13 Reasons Why”

Past 3 – What To Do After “13 Reasons Why”

 


 

As a younger Millennial myself, I was both intrigued and disturbed by 13 Reasons Why. While watching the 13 episodes, I saw why it was so popular. I understood why teenagers were flocking towards its authenticity and courage to face topics that are often shoved aside. I got how this polarizing show was starting conversations and making an often overlooked population feel heard and understood. These are all positive things; however, I saw several things that made me nervous.

Teenagers are at a vulnerable age, especially since they are so heavily influenced by the media. While I do agree with several of the things that this series can contribute to our culture, here are some things that I believe were lacking in 13 Reasons Why:

 

  1. The Modeling of Healthy Conversations

Unfortunately, I do not think that 13 Reasons Why showed healthy conversations in the series, either between teens and adults or between peers. If you watch the series, you will see conversations between peers that end in fights, curse words, and bullying. Whether it is conversations with Hannah or about her, there was very little understanding or empathy from peers. Even after Hannah kills herself, the peer response is to hang up a poster, lay out flowers, hide secrets, and continue to spread rumors. Teenagers who watch this series will not leave with a good sense of how to respond to a situation like the one portrayed.

When it comes to the adults, I found myself getting so frustrated with the conversations that were portrayed! Why in the world would a teenager watching this show confide in an adult after watching so many fumble the opportunities presented to them. Parents are invasive, oblivious or downright awkward. The school staff is also incredibly unprepared and even negligent in the case of the school counselor. This is not an accurate representation of the school staff we interact with.

While unhealthy conversation happens more often than we would like, and adults are sometimes unprepared for topics like suicide, rape and bullying, I wish 13 Reasons Why would have taken the opportunity to show positive adult and peer relationships. Kind words, empathetic mentors, and adults who are engaged and present can make a huge difference. I believe we see this message in the show, but they do not actually show what healthy, positive conversations actually look like in this context.

 

  1. Spirituality and Mental Health

Where suicide is concerned, mental health often plays a vital role. While it is not always a factor, I was surprised that the series did not address mental health at all, especially after everything Hannah Baker goes through. From loss of friendships, a new school, and the stress of a struggling family business to rape, bullying, and suicide, Hannah needed help. Mental health is something many people shy away from, but there is nothing shameful about being aware of your mind and seeking help.

In addition to mental health, spirituality was completely absent from the show (unless you count the brief scene about tarot cards). By statistics alone, several of the characters would have some sort of belief system that they would turn to in a situation like this. There is not a single mention of prayer, forgiveness or a higher power throughout the 13 episodes. I know the impact my belief in the healing power of Jesus Christ has had in my own life, and I was disappointed that spirituality was not given a role in this series.

In our Teen Life Support Groups, we find that spirituality plays a huge role in the lives of students, whether they agree with my beliefs or follow a religion at all. To ignore the power and impact of spirituality, especially in times of stress and sadness, is a disservice to the characters and the audience watching. I firmly believe that we have to take care of and address the whole person – body, mind, and spirit – to truly have a healthy sense of self.

 

  1. The Big Picture

Obviously, 13 Reasons Why is told from Hannah Baker’s perspective – I understand that there must be a narrator to drive the story. However, because this series is told only from her view, I believe we miss the picture.

The other day, I asked a teenager who had watched the show what she thought of the series. Her response was, “What happened to Hannah was awful, but she was being dramatic about a lot of it – it’s unrealistic.” Understandably, Hannah had many things to be upset about. From her perspective, so many things went wrong that she had no choice but to kill herself. She was brokenhearted, her reputation was destroyed, she lost her spirit and soul, and she felt completely out of control. I cannot imagine some of the things she goes through in this show, but while she was begging for someone, anyone to care, she failed to care for those around her.

“Some of you care, none of you care enough, neither did I.”

Hannah makes this statement in the very last episode, and it is so true! She did not show empathy or understanding to the other characters. While she is caught up in her life and how wronged she feels, she missed the broken home of one of her peers who is thrown out by mom’s abusive boyfriend. She missed how her own words and actions affected peers when she lashed out or made a scene in public. She avoided her own lack of courage when she missed the opportunity to save a friend.

In the midst of so much wrongdoing, I wish Hannah could have seen her classmates. Was it her fault? Should they have treated her the way they did? Absolutely not! But we need to teach teenagers to see the big picture and empathize with those around them.

We hope this helps you generate some context for opening up conversation with the teens you work with. What other questions are driving your conversations? 

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.
What Homeless Teens Can Teach Us About Belonging

What Homeless Teens Can Teach Us About Belonging

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 In this final episode of Season 3 of the Stay Calm, Don’t Panic! Podcast, Chris Robey talks to Benny Nowell of Sevens in Boulder, Colorado about the power of belonging. Through his work with homeless teenagers, Benny has seen the extremes teens will go to find acceptance and belonging and speaks to our role as adults to help teenagers find positive places to belong. Join the conversation and find out how simple words can make a big impact! 

In this episode, Benny Nowell discusses…

  • The importance of belonging, especially during adolescence.
  • How present, engaged adults can impact a teenager.
Ask yourself…
  • Am I present and engaged when interacting with teenagers? How could I be more present?
  • Who needs to hear an encouraging word from me today?
Go ask a teen…
  • Where do you feel you belong?
  • How do you make others feel like they belong? Who could you reach out to?
Resources:

In this episode, we mentioned the following resources:

About Us:

Benny spends time on the streets building relationships and raising financial support to do SEVENS full-time. He speaks to churches and youth groups about missional living and owns Barlow’s Premium Cigars & Pipes. It is his heart and passion for the marginalized that makes SEVENS a place of rest for their street friends.

Chris Robey is the Program Director for Teen Life. Earlier in his career while working as a youth minister, Chris earned a Masters Degree in Family Life Education from Lubbock Christian University to better equip his work with teenagers and families. Chris’ career and educational opportunities have exposed him to teenagers from a variety of backgrounds. Follow him on Twitter!

Karlie Duke started working as Teen Life’s Communications Director after graduating from Abilene Christian University with a degree in Communications with a minor in Family Studies. Karlie has worked with teenagers for the past 5 years and is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram!

Have a question?
If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below.  We would love to hear from you!
Strengths Are Better Than Weaknesses

Strengths Are Better Than Weaknesses

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 In this episode of Season 3 of the Stay Calm, Don’t Panic! Podcast, Chris Robey talks with Dr. Becky Taylor about the importance of helping adolescents focus on their strengths rather than their weaknesses. While it is easy for us to point out our own flaws, improving strengths are a greater motivator. Join the conversation with Dr. Taylor and find out how you can encourage teenagers to use their strengths to become more successful!

In this episode, Dr. Becky Taylor discusses…

  • The impact of focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses.
  • How adults can use relationship to encourage teens’ strengths.
  • Some ideas on how to help teens build talents and strengths.
Ask yourself…
  • Am I giving my teen opportunities to discover their talents?
  • How can I encourage and point out the strengths in teenagers?
Go ask a teen…
  • What are the things that you feel come naturally, and what things do you have to work harder on?
  • What are the strengths that help you meet your goals?
Resources:

In this episode, we mentioned the following resources:

About Us:

Becky Taylor, Ph.D., was appointed to the TCU College of Education faculty in 1998 to begin the school counseling program, and in 2009 she was appointed Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies in the College of Education. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor/Supervisor, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, an approved family mediator, and a Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor. Dr. Taylor’s research lies in the areas of risk and resiliency and its application through Solution Focused Therapy.

Chris Robey is the Program Director for Teen Life. Earlier in his career while working as a youth minister, Chris earned a Masters Degree in Family Life Education from Lubbock Christian University to better equip his work with teenagers and families. Chris’ career and educational opportunities have exposed him to teenagers from a variety of backgrounds. Follow him on Twitter!

Karlie Duke started working as Teen Life’s Communications Director after graduating from Abilene Christian University with a degree in Communications with a minor in Family Studies. Karlie has worked with teenagers for the past 5 years and is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram!

Have a question?
If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below.  We would love to hear from you!