How to Create an Inviting Environment

How to Create an Inviting Environment

It’s Thanksgiving Day! Many of us are rejoicing, thankful for the break from school and work and excited for time with family. Some of us are exhausted from the travel it took to get where the family is gathering or are emotionally drained because the Holidays remind us of the loss of a loved one. Still others are dreading the time spent with extended family. The stress and tension of years of unresolved issues makes it so hard to endure the time together, anxiously waiting for the moment when we are back sleeping in our own beds.

If you can relate to that last one, this post is especially for you. If it is not you, hopefully it will help you process through how you are creating an environment that your kids long to be a part of.

Even though I am not to the point of having adult children yet, I can tell you this is something my wife and I are thinking about often. It is also something I can speak to from the experience of feeling welcome at my in-laws home while I don’t at my parents’ home.

The core conversation here is about what environment you are creating that is so inviting that your teenager doesn’t want to go somewhere else during the Holidays. Isn’t that what we want to create for our kids so they will love being around when they are adults?

This question came to mind the other day when I was being interviewed on a Dallas radio station and someone called in and asked what you can do when a teen chooses to rebel and gets pulled away by gangs or a negative community that we know will lead them to a place they do not want to go (such as drug users). What a tough question to address! But I believe there is an answer and it begins with us as the adults.

So here are some ideas on how you can create the most engaging, exciting and safe place for your kids to be.

 

  • Stop talking negatively about your family in front of your kids. For some of us this is hard. There is so much emotion attached to our parents or siblings that it is hard to filter, and it just comes out. Think about it this way. Since our kids are highly influenced by the behavior we model, are we teaching them to talk badly about us by doing that with other family members? I want to be very aware of the way I, instead, model respect for my family so they learn that, even when it is hard, it is still right to have respect and love for family. It’s exactly what I want them to do for me.

 

  • It’s not the tradition that matters, it’s the consistency at each gathering that makes it meaningful. My wife is amazing, and one reason is because she leads our family in writing down something we are thankful for each day during the month of November. But the key is the flexibility she allows to make it possible. Some years we have taken the time to create a whole tree with “thankful leaves” on it, and other years we simply write them in her journal (even though we sometimes have to catch up after 3 or 4 days of not writing them down). The best part is our kids now remind us when we didn’t write them down and even get excited that November is coming so we will get to write our “thankfuls” down every day.

 

  • Try not to make them do it. If you are forcing your kids participate, it may be the wrong activity for your family, or maybe they just need you to help them see why it is important. The important thing here is to remember it is a long-term effect you are wanting. So changing the activity to find the right one will be worth it once they are bought into it being a part of what it means to be in your family.

 

  • Remember, they will talk about it the way you do. If you complain that the years they were growing up were crazy and hard and no one liked being around each other, that is how they will remember it, too. If, instead, we strive to point out the good things we remember and what we learned from the hard times, those will be the memories that rise to the top for all of us. I am reading The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch Holocaust survivor. Re-reading her story reminds me of the horrific experiences she had to endure, and yet she was ultimately able to see the good that could come from it. In a similar way, we can teach our teenagers to do the same.

 

I hope this Thanksgiving you will look for the ways you can begin to create an environment in your family, at home and around special events that your kids don’t want to miss out on.

 

How have you seen this happen? What can you share with the rest of us about how to create these spaces? I look forward to hearing from you!

Ricky Lewis is our CEO and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
The Right Conversation About Drugs

The Right Conversation About Drugs

This is Red Ribbon Week. All over the nation, students are hearing a message about not doing drugs. This is great news! They need to understand the problems with drugs and hear a message that doing drugs can be harmful, not only to yourself, but also to people you love.

 

That said, I often wonder if the message we are sending is the one teenagers need to hear. I had the privilege of attending a Red Ribbon Week breakfast this week. At that breakfast, students had been invited as leaders at their school to hear a message about why doing drugs is such a bad decision. I left feeling like the speaker really missed an opportunity.

 

Here’s why.

 

This particular speaker knows a lot about why drugs are a problem. He was a DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) officer and even ran an undercover business to trap and arrest drug dealers. So his story stock pile is far beyond anything I will ever have access to. On top of that, he used a compelling story from a family that has shared their experience publicly about their daughter who couldn’t overcome her drug addiction and died of a drug overdose. This story is a tough one to watch and unfortunately happens all too often in lots of communities around the world.

 

The problem I had with this speaker’s message was that it was definitely focused on the adults in the room. I even watched as a student laughed during his talk. Either they weren’t paying attention, or they thought the guy was terribly disconnected from his target audience. The room was mostly adults, but the attenddees that needed to hear his message and carry it back to their peers was the under 18 crowd in the room.

 

So where did he miss the mark? What could he have said differently, and what can we learn as adults trying to guide teenagers? I want to offer these suggestions for all of us not because I have it figured out, but because it is always good to keep reminding ourselves who we are dealing with and what we are trying to accomplish when working with teenagers.

 

First, recognize that the young people in the audience have probably heard several talks about not using drugs before. Because of this, it is important to put things in context for them. Explaining why they should care is much more important than sharing the latest data and stats. By sharing the information and then following it by explaining the reason it is important is because (for example), “That means 2 of your classmates will die of an opioid overdose this year.” This kind of context helps make the research and statics tangible so they will apply it to their life and share it with their peers.

 

Second, stop assuming teenagers understand what you mean by common terms. It’s much more effective to frame it for them. For example, this speaker used the term, “gateway drug”. This is an immediate turn-off for students. That term falls on deaf ears with any teenagers I talk to who are likely to use drugs. Why? Because it’s too easy for them to think, “Yeah, but not me.” So they ignore anything said after this comment. A simple rephrasing to, “I’m using gateway drug as a way to say it makes it easier and more likely for you to try other drugs. Not that it always leads to other drugs, but it lowers your inhibitions when it comes to resisting a friend’s offer for something harder.” Yes that’s what gateway drug means, but a teenager’s tendency is to push back against that term so you have to put it in context for them. The principle here being that you have to assume they will be defensive and explain why they should instead consider what you are talking about.

 

Third, give them a reason to pay attention. Let them know you understand they may not be tempted by drugs but that they know a friend who will be. Empower them to be the peer who knows what to do and how to step in. None of the students there left with an understanding of what to do if a friend is using drugs. They only hear, “Educate yourself and be a leader.” That can mean so many different things that they leave confused, not clear about what to do.

 

Finally, highlight the positive things that will be missed when drugs take over your life. The video was good, but it felt like an emotional tug on the heart strings that focused on all the negative effects this person’s drug use caused. These students need to hear things like, “You have a full life ahead.” “You have so much you can accomplish.” “You have a hope and future. Don’t lose it by smoking pot with your friends.”

 

Our family adopted three kids that should be living with their parents. Why? Because their grandfather thought smoking weed in high school was okay. The problem is that for him it led to Meth use and then to his daughter using Meth, and now three kids don’t get to live with either of their parents because of drugs. That kind of stuff should ignite anger in me, you, and the teens that hear it. It should inspire us to fight against the injustice that drugs cause.

It’s Red Ribbon Week. What way will you empower a teenager to stay off drugs and realize their ability to help a friend do the same this week?

Ricky Lewis is our CEO and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
An Intentional Shift in Parenting

An Intentional Shift in Parenting

I had a conversation the other day with a good friend who was talking about an example of middle school students who needed an adult to “hammer them”. That didn’t mean berate or mistreat them but rather let them know that their actions were not acceptable and that they could be punished for the way they were talking and acting.

 

Too often adults think that being permissable is the way to let kids know you trust them. There’s just one problem, they aren’t trustworthy. They are earning that just like you do with any new job you start or volunteer position or neighborhood. You must gain the trust of the others by showing you understand how to interact with the people around you. The written rules (or unwritten maybe) are not there to squelch your freedom but to guide the freedom we all have so that we can all enjoy living along side each other.

 

That prompted me to think about things that we as adults need to shift in the way we interact with teenagers.

 

1. Stop telling them to be who they are. They have no idea who they are! What this really comes down to is creating space for them to explore who they are in a safe, loving environment. Have a conversation, talk through how certain choices will help them be a better version of themselves each and every day. Read about historical figures who didn’t know who they were until late in life. This will help a teenager understand that the urgency they feel to know the meaning of their life by the end of high school is instead something they will be working on years into their career, or a second or third career. The world of America’s Got Talent and The Voice will never be reality for the vast majority of us.

 

2. Teach them how to make intentional choices, not emotional decisions. When my wife and I were getting engaged and I asked her to marry me she said, “No.” Wow! I did not see that coming! But then within 30 minutes, she had calmed down and let me know she just got really nervous and emotional, and she did want to marry me. I’m so thankful because 16 years later I’m a better man for it! We both questioned what that meant and had some very good mentors tell us it was part of making the intentional decision rather than relying on a “lovey” feeling to hold us together. This mindset applies to lots of other situations too.

 

3. Realize you are coaching, not training, by the time your child becomes a teen. I love Andy Stanly’s timeline for parenting that says at 13 you have taught your child everything you can, and it’s time to begin moving out of the way and start coaching your teen in the right direction. If you didn’t teach them the way to make good decisions before 13, your role still shifts from enforcer to coach. The up side here is that this approach can lessen your stress as a parent if you let it.

 

These 3 suggestions come not from parenting for me but from our support groups which is different. What I do know from parenting and from personal experience is that these 3 principles, paired with other adults willing to help your child by coaching them in the same way you will, can be the difference between them becoming a succesful adult or not.

How have you intentionally shifted your parenting to reduce your stress and act more long term with your teen? 

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
5 Ways to Face the Storm

5 Ways to Face the Storm

What a week here in Texas! Our thoughts and prayers are with all the people in Corpus Christi, Houston and the surrounding areas. It’s a heartbreaking situation, and if you are interested in helping, it will be a long and expensive process, so now is the time to jump in with a donation or work out a way go in person and help. You can donate through this YouCaring site that J.J. Watt started and has already raised over $20 million, but the recovery will be long and expensive, so a donation now will help when later many people forget about the efforts that will take months or years.

All the news about the storms reminded me about something we talk about in our Facilitator Training as we explain what is happening at the core of what we do. In a very different way we all face storms in our life. Teenagers are especially susceptible to intense, potentially life changing storms. These life interruptions can make or break a teenager and their future.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post on the specifics about how we can think about this considering how buffalo and cattle handle the storms that blow over the Rockies. Each handling it in their own way. This came from Rory Vaden’s book Take The Stairs. I have continued using this analogy since reading the book years ago.

Today though I wanted to take this idea further. The 5 parts to facing a storm in life are foundational principles that will help any teenager form a perspective that will give them the courage to face the challenges they encounter.

 

Prepare Yourself First

Preparing yourself is often something we feel we should do after we take care of everyone else. For a teenager, this preparation can be anything from learning an effective mental exercise, to a list of resources in their phone, to prioritizing who they would call first, second and third in an emergency. When we face hardships, our natural reaction is to work quickly to remove them. The truth is the quickest and easiest way to handle a difficulty is to know what to do when it happens. Any of these are relevant approaches, but you know what prepares them the most? Their mental preparation. We do not enjoy thinking about the worst case scenario, but when we take the time to do this, we gain the benefit of feeling we would be able to handle something tough if it comes our way. The bottom line is we handle it best when we are prepared.

 

Model Calmness for Your Teen

Modeling is an opportunity to show a teenager how to stay calm and collected through a life storm. In the buffalo example, the young ones know what to do becuase they watch how the older ones take action when the storms begin to approach. We can do the same. I have learned from years of working with teens that many of us parents try to only do this ourselves. The truth is you need to intentionally involve other adults you trust in your teen’s life so that they will have multiple respected adults to watch and talk to about what is happening. They will likely never share everything with one adult, especially if their only option is you as their parent.

 

Attack the Situation with Confidence

I prefer to say confidence because courage can sometimes sound like “sucking it up”. But “Attack with Confidence” sends the message that I am prepared, resourced and intentionally moving toward the situation because I believe I have what it takes to handle it. Since our natural tendency is to remove all pain, it is counter intuitive to think that you could be in an offensive position when you have an unexpected pain point. But it really is true. Consider what you have faced before, think about how it made you stronger and move forward expecting to learn something once again that will help you face the next challenge. We can never remove the stress from life, but we can believe we have what it takes to make it through.

 

Enlist a Community

I touched on this above, but it is much deeper than that. Did you know that the thing that makes people the most happy is being with other people? I heard last weekend that a study showed that people who were not in community but joined a group of some kind cut their odds of dying in the next year in half! In half! That is worth it right there. But there are more benefits. For about 3 years, I was in a group of other directors of nonprofit programs. I learned a ton from these people both about what to do and what not to do. Our group helped make me and our organization better even though they didn’t have any direct impact on decisions made in our organization. Here’s the key though, be sure you include people different than you in your community. It will help stretch you and help you see how drastically varied perspectives can be. Often you may find that things in your life aren’t really so bad and the hard work you are putting in is worth what you get out of it.

 

Celebrate the Survival

Once you have gotten through a difficult time, it is important to recognize, if only in a small way, that you made it. Your family can set the tradition here. You decide how things get celebrated. The point in this is to put emphasis on the fact that you survived. No one is saying you have to survive a certain way or have to look tougher on the other side, just make it through. Then as you draw on the strength that got you through, you will be able to pull yourself together and continue to grow into the new you. By seeing every situation you face as a chance to grow, to learn, to become more self-aware and others-focused, you can celebrate more on the other side because you will feel accomplished rather than beat down each time you survive what life throws at you.

What do you think? Do you have examples of times you have survived and how it made you better? Share them with us or at least share them with someone close to you so it can help them have a different perspective too.

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
What Can I Learn?

What Can I Learn?

School is about to start! Some of you are jumping for joy, and others are trying to figure out how to delay that inevitable day a little longer.
As the year starts, I hope that you are able to find a sense of why school is worth your time and effort. Don’t worry, I remember not wanting to go back too. Since then, I have learned a lot about the importance of prioritizing learning and have even begun the habit of reading multiple books at the same time. (Currently: The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork by John Maxwell, The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch, Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans and The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom).

For years I didn’t read anything because I felt I didn’t have time. Thankfully I began listening to things that helped me realize I didn’t have time NOT to read. The necessity of learning by reading and listening to podcasts and audiobooks has been made clear, and it has led me to one question that stands out in any situation I am faced with. This can be personal, business, relational or anything. If you embrace this one question and release the desire for control of the situation, the payoff is worth every ounce of effort you put into this change in perspective.

Here is the question: “What can I learn?” This applies to a positive situation, a negative situation, or a neutral situation. You can ask this anytime, anywhere, about anything. So how do we narrow the focus and apply this as the school year starts to get the most out of this year?

First of all, I assume that this blog is mostly read by adults, not teenagers. So if you are a teen, be sure to read below understanding that it is intended for someone helping you understand the concept. This may mean some things feel they don’t apply. I would ask that you talk with an adult about the information. Not because you can’t understand it, but because their life experience may help them read this differently than you. In the end, hopefully you will both be better off from simply having a conversation about it.

Use these steps as a guide to get the most out of this school year.

Don’t assume adversity is bad. The tendency more and more is to assume that when we meet resistance or conflict, we must turn the other way, fight, or reject the interaction. This is becoming more and more the case with teenagers who lack empathy and who have at their disposal a constant connection to be able to find the type of interaction they crave. There is no need to push through an uncomfortable exchange with a peer or teacher because it is easy to find a more pleasant one somewhere else

The problem here is that there may be a significant lesson to be learned. That may be patience or some self awareness or something new about that person that gives us insight we didn’t have before. If the immediate reaction is to remove the tension, we miss this opportunity. If we instead ask, “What can I learn?”, there is the distinct possibility we will get something signifiant from the interaction. It may be that we do not want to engage that person again. But we don’t really know that if we are retreating. We can know that if our brain is working to understand what we can get out of the situation.

You won’t waste a class ever again. Since becoming a more active learner, one of the things that stands out when listening to others is the comment that something is a waste of time. This is a very empty comment. Most often what they are meaning is that they would rather be doing something else. Not necessarily something more worth while, just something else. The truth is whether something is a waste of time is up to each of us. If we give that power to the person teaching the class, giving the lecture, or coaching us on fundamentals, we have willingly relinquished our ability to gain anything and better ourselves. The idea that you can learn in any situation reclaims that power and brings ownership back to me as the person choosing to spend my time a certain way. You may try to argue that someone else set your schedule, you had to take that class, or the company paid for conference you didn’t want to go to. Think about it, that is really beside the point. In any of those situations, you are still looking for reason not to engage and to blame someone else for why you are getting nothing out of the experience. Instead, look at it as a chance to either decide to seek out more learning from that person, or organization, or to eliminate them from your resources. You can’t know this though until you try to learn something from them first.

Have a plan to share something after a learning experience. The idea that you are always learning can be overwhelming. It can seem like you will never be able to recall what you need to know, and therefore, what’s the point. Truth be told, this is what kept me from reading much for about 10 years. I am a bit of a slow reader and thought if I can’t remember what I read, it’s pointless. What I have since realized is that the act of reading is part of the exercise. It helps keep my brain working and growing. I have also realized that sharing something I have learned helps me hold onto the most important parts. The Principles. After listenting and reading long enough, I now understand that there are some basic principles that drive most of what we do. In order for those principles to be reinforced though, we need to hear them often and in many different ways so that we can execute them in our particular situation so the people we are helping with our work can benefit.

Think of it this way. You may go to a three day conference but come home and apply one of the principles you learned in hours of training to work or family and it changes not just you, but the people around you. Maybe you listen to an audiobook for 12 hours, in increments of 30 minute commute trips to and from work. In those 12 hours, you can’t recall anything but you do know as you listened, you began to feel differently about your life, increase your confidence and become more self aware, allowing you to work harder be a better spouse or parent and see down the road possibilities that you never knew existed. It wasn’t about the content, it was about choosing to ask, “What can I learn?”

So how do you take this and begin helping your teenagers (elementary kids in my instance) have an attitude of learning? Where their default is not that things are boring, and they wish they were somewhere else, but that they are always looking to learn something no mattter how small? The sooner this can begin, the more they will learn, and the better off they will be.

Try this first: simply ask them daily “What did you learn today?” Then sit back and be okay with the answer. If they say, “Nothing,” keep asking until they get to the point that they realize the possibility to learn something from any situation they find themselves in. This foundational lesson will be invaluable and lead to a lot less wasted time (because they won’t see it that way). Don’t do what I did and miss out on a decade of potential learning simply because of a choice. Instead choose now to learn something from everything.

“What can you learn today?” Share with us what you learned just from this post. We love hearing from you.

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.