4 Thoughts As I Exit Teen Life

4 Thoughts As I Exit Teen Life

What an amazing time the last 10 years have been. I want to take some time today and share why it might matter to you that I have gone from Program Director, to Executive Director, to CEO, to Founder, and finally to the first Teen Life Team member to resign.

You see, none of those roles have been easy, and my guess is there are things in your life that are not easy either. I hope that sharing from my story over the last decade will encourage you to stick with what is in front of you.

I am excited and sad about my transition away from Teen Life as Founder, but I am also thankful since I do not believe this will be my last connection to Teen Life. The reason for that is I think I will be able to use the skills I have learned at Teen Life wherever I go next, and I will use the principles that helped me learn those skills and tools to learn new, and even better ones, down the road.

That said, here is a behind the curtain look at what I have gone through since beginning Teen Life in 2008.

 

This job was not my first choice.

I have shared with some of you that when Teen Life started I was reluctant. It was new, I thought I still wanted to be a youth pastor, and I felt this new opportunity had been forced on me. I even went and interviewed at a couple of churches in the first 2 years we were getting started. What I can tell you nearly 10 years later is I fully believe that Teen Life was the right path for me. Not only for me but for the teenagers we have learned how to help. I believe that what changed was my ability to feel one way and act another, learning along the way how to adapt and make the necessary changes to build and grow an organization.

 

I feared failure was inevitable.

When we began offering groups, one school invited us onto their campus. We had an amazing opportunity to be in the classroom with students who needed our services. I knew we were making an impact and the students voiced that too. The problem was I was afraid that schools would not keep inviting us. I figured one school was kind enough to give us a try but that other schools would not be as inviting. I was very wrong, and it turns out my fear of failure was part of the problem. Not that I shouldn’t be afraid, but that if I had been more willing to try things early on we might be further down the road now. Thankfully, we have overcome that deficit, and this school year we have trained people who are working with over 1,000 students in 17 school districts and 3 states with 14 people being trained in Tennessee next week!

 

Trust is greater than suspicion.

I started reading a book recently that put this phrase in my mind. In Virtual Culture by Bryan Miles, he talks about how people want to be trusted. I want to be trusted, and I am sure you do too. The fact is I have learned a lot about how trust is a big part of an organization’s success. The ability to trust our volunteers is a necessary decision to help us effectively work with more students every school year. The trust that we have that schools will tell us how we are doing, along with the trust that the people I have invited to be part of the Teen Life team are going to do their job is a weight that is sometimes hard to carry. But it is worth it when you are pouring  yourself into something so meaningful.

 

Continuing to learn is required.

Read, listen to podcasts, prioritize conferences! These things are key to successfully replenishing and expanding our thinking to progress whatever task or project we have in front of us. I have learned so much from Donald Miller, Michael Hyatt, Ken Coleman & Rory Vaden. These virtual mentors have helped me grow and develop the skills needed to create the structure that will sustain the Teen Life organization after I am gone. I wish I had been introduced to these godly, intelligent men sooner.

 

With those lessons in mind, I want to close my time with Teen Life with this.

Supporters and friends, there is a bright future ahead for this organization. Chris Robey, Karlie Duke, Beth Nichols & Stevie Stevens all are doing a great job and will continue to as they stay laser-focused on how to equip, encourage, and empower teenagers to live life better. Your continued support of this team, our volunteers, this organization and your local school is vital to this success. I would urge you to ramp up your support. Become a trained volunteer, tell your local school, donate through our Teen Life Gives Back fundraiser going on now, pray that we continue to provide services that teenagers need and schools can’t live without.

Thank you all for your amazing support these past 10 years. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for Teen Life!

Ricky Lewis is our Founder and former CEO and has been with Teen Life since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
4 Lessons From Career Day

4 Lessons From Career Day

Last week, I had the privilege of speaking at my son’s school to 5th graders about their future career. Something I am sure they were excited about. Really though, they were! They expressed interest and asked good questions.

My goal was to share with them what all I had done and then leave them with some ideas for how they can continue on a path that will help them choose a meaningful career (or careers). The reality is that any job you do can have meaning, and I chose to focus on that. I listed my first 10 jobs for them. These jobs included: roofing, small engine repair, a sporting goods store, Pep Boys and more. I learned things at each of these jobs. Maybe not as much at the time, but looking back, I can see that I learned important lessons.

The small engine shop was my first job. At age 12, I started learning how to fix small engines and enjoyed riding the go-karts around to “test” them. The lesson I learned though is that not everyone knows how to run a business. That guy still owes me money. I have moved on, but the lesson still remains. I want to work with people who will prioritize taking care of those they are partnered with.

The summer I spent roofing, I learned that is not something I wanted to do the rest of my life. It was hot and hard, and I knew I wanted to get a degree and work in the A/C as much as possible.

At Pep Boys, I worked the parts counter. Looking back I realize that what I was doing was helping people get to work and take their kids to school because the parts they bought helped fix their car or keep it running. These are important things when you rely on that car to get you where you need to go.

Each of these lessons were meaningful but mostly in the way that I am looking back on them. Maybe you reminisce the same way and can still learn from things that happened years ago. But what about your teenager? Likely they are going to go through a similar process of learning years later about what they went through. So what can we help them learn now? I shared some ideas with the 5th graders, but these ideas also translate well to the teens you work with.

Keep school a priority. I remember not liking English, especially in high school. I felt I had enough of those classes and didn’t need to keep taking an English class every semester. I was tired of English, especially writing. I felt it was a waste of time because I had no intention of being a writer. I’ll give you a second for the irony of typing that to sink in. Besides this post, I am also writing donors, partner organizations and school administrators. I write those people using a persuasive style to help them understand why we should work together and how our program makes an impact for teenagers. I would tell teenagers today that you never know what skills may become important later in life.

Try different things. In addition to what I listed above, I also worked as a painter, at a gas station changing the oil on cars, and as a waiter (for 4 days). Each of my job experiences helped me learn something about how to handle what I am doing today or how I do not want to handle what I am doing today. We should all encourage teens to try different things. These years are formative and a great opportunity to try things that can teach basic skills to help them build on what they are learning.

Keep Reading. This is possibly the most important one. I spent too many years not reading, and these last few years, I have spent as much time reading as I can. Encourage your teen to pick up books, listen to them, sit at the library and read. Fiction, nonfiction, historical, biographies. All of these can be beneficial. I think the important thing is to stay focused on 2 areas. Reading things we both agree with and disagree with are important. Both of these help us grow and because we are reading, we don’t have to worry about emotions getting in the way. We get to simply learn, grow, and better understand how to engage the world around us.

Find unique solutions to old problems. Lastly, I shared that many problems the world is facing are not new. They have been around since humanity began. They are similar because most of them are grounded in relationships. The difference is teenagers today have a unique opportunity to address problems in a new way. I believe, and I hope you do too, that each of us is different and unique enough that we can bring a new perspective to these old problems. I believe that youth today will find solutions no one has ever thought of, and as the adults around them, we need to encourage those ideas and help them carry them out.

 

I hope this not only helps your teenager, but also you as you have conversations about the future. If we can have a perspective that is future focused, it helps us engage in ways that encourage rather than squash the creativity and uniqueness inside each student.

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.
Worry Is The Answer

Worry Is The Answer

Do you worry? I do.

Is your goal to remove all of the worry in your life? It has been mine for most of my life.

I still distinctly remember the fear and worry in college of not knowing what was next. I even remember telling people closest to me, “I wish God would send a postcard with instructions so I know I’m making the right choice.” First, there was a flaw in my thinking that the choice was about what I should do rather than who I am. A lesson I have learned from many respected mentors and leaders like John Maxwell, Michael Hyatt, and others.

In our world today, there is a lot of talk about removing barriers, stress, anxiety and roadblocks. While this is often necessary, when it becomes our full focus and effort, we can lose an opportunity to understand where to find answers by moving too quickly past a learning opportunity.

No doubt this is not a new idea. I am sure it has formed out of the reading and listening I have done, especially the past 5 years. By listening to other successful people, new ideas come to light and clarity is gained. That being the case, this time it was a conversation with my 10 year old that brought the important piece to the surface.

I get to take my son to school daily. This is some great time spent together that I am thankful for. This particular day, I asked him two questions I ask two or three times a week.

“What are you looking forward to at school today?”

“What are you worried about today?”

This time he had a specific thing he was worried about. The elementary spelling bee was coming, and he had been invited to participate and was tasked with studying the word list. His worry was that he was not going to do well during the event because he had not been studying. Without really thinking I said, “You don’t have to worry about that. If you haven’t been studying, you won’t do well. So no need to worry, you already know.” This may sound harsh, but he understood what I meant as I went on to explain that if he isn’t studying, he should expect to not do well. But also that if he is worried and knows studying could help, he can choose. He can either not study and expect to not do well or study and be proud he did his best no matter what happens at the Bee. Either way, the worry is dealt with and not just ignored.

I think the lesson here is that we want to remove worry or ignore it, but it is possible that the worry may be revealing some useful information that could help us move to the next level.

So here are my suggestions for dealing with worry in your life and mine, not just removing it.

  1. Listen to the worry. Don’t dismiss it too quickly. You may miss an important indication that leads you to just the right answer you are looking for.
  2. Seek others’ input. We all need people around us to help us in life, especially through difficult times. Find a trusted advisor or mentor and confide in them what is worrying you and see if they can help you gain some clarity about the direction you need to head.
  3. Don’t let the worry turn into fear. I cannot count the number of things I have missed out on because I let worry turn into fear and defeat me from accomplishing something before I even started. I am working hard to reduce the number of times this happens in my life, and I hope you will too.
  4. Make a plan to process the worry. Maybe have a dedicated journal or app to record what is worrying you, and then spend time processing what you might be able to learn from the worry.
  5. Don’t hesitate to ignore worry when it isn’t helpful. Even though there are times this mentality can be helpful, we face a lot of worry in life, and the reality that much of it is not worth our attention is worth recognizing. So when you worry about things out of your control or that are unrealistic, simply say to yourself, “I’m choosing to worry about the things that matter.”

I’ll leave you with this. My son did participate in the spelling bee and he did pretty good, too. He actually did really good! He placed 3rd! Out of nearly 40 students in grades 3-5 at his school, he had the courage, stamina and focus to spell words I’ve never heard of correctly. Was it my comment that made the difference? Probably not as much as I would like to think, but the principle and mental perspective to think differently about what he needed to do, I hope, was helpful.

 

So what in your life have you ignored or tried to remove that could actually have some benefit or provide you with some insight as to how to take your next step and maybe even what that step should be? Let us know!

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.
How to Win at Regulating

How to Win at Regulating

It is likely that your teenager will get a new tech device this Christmas. That is, if they don’t already have one. I wrote about this in a previous post and talked about the ways you, as a parent, can monitor and regulate your teenagers use of devices.

Here, I am more interested in how adults in teenagers’ lives can empower teens to regulate themselves. You see, if we aren’t teaching our kids how to set up boundaries from an early age, all they will learn is to follow what someone else tells them to do. Or worse, they will learn to resist and rebel against what they are told to do. Our job needs to be that we help our kids understand the value in setting healthy boundaries and the benefit they will get from doing that on their own. The way I say it to my kids is, “I want you to make choices that allow you to have the freedom to choose to do whatever you want. That includes doing things that are wrong but knowing that when you choose those things, you begin to lose your freedom. So you make the right choices and maintain the freedom you have.”

Here are some ideas for how to help your student make their own choices and boundaries.

  1. Understand that this is a self-control goal. We all struggle with self-control in some area of our life. As students grow up, they will expose many areas in their life that need self-control. Technology use is just one of them. When we focus on the underlying problem, it is not just a battle for more technology time. So helping them see the importance of self-control is key. As they buy in, the idea that technology is a tool (not a toy) can help shape why it is important to regulate their own screen time.

 

  1. Finding the right monitor or software is not the solution. I love that Amazon Kindle for kids highlights that you can set time limits and access limits for your kids. But this is really about you as the adult not being engaged and relying on the tech to do the monitoring. This is not a slam on you as a parent, it is pointing out that if we are not watching and paying attention to what our kids are doing, we will miss when something doesn’t work the way it is supposed to. We also wrongly communicate that the device is in control. This is not something I want my kids to think. I want them to have the power over their device and not be controlled by it. Starting at 8 years old, my wife and I expect our kids to set their own timer for their screen time. This puts them in charge, and if they don’t use it responsibly, then they lose the privilege of using a device.

 

  1. Using technology is a privilege, not a right. Just because other kids get certain devices doesn’t mean everyone does. Just because the school lets a student have extended periods of iPod or ChromeBook use doesn’t mean that happens at my house. The use of technology is for those willing to accept the responsibility that comes along with that. This means that your teenager should be happy to let you look at their text messages, social media interactions and location tracking. The balance of this is that you, as the parent, handle this the right way. Ask yourself, “Have I created a welcoming environment where my teen knows they can approach potentially uncomfortable conversations without me “freaking out”?” If not, start creating that space now and changing the way you interact with your teen so they can learn the lessons they need to before they leave the safety of your home.

 

  1. Finally, be okay with mistakes. Teenagers are going to make mistakes as they learn these lessons. You must be willing to work with them. Understand you are in the coaching stage. It is really too late to discipline life lessons into them, although there are sometimes consequences of actions. But instead, you are there to hear from your teen how that decision has affected what they want to do and who they want to be. Then, help them find a solution to correct things and move on. Ultimately you are helping them learn how to make decisions so they can keep making the right ones.

I hope you and your family have a Merry Christmas and that your 2018 begins with some focused and intentional ways your family can work together even better this coming year.

 

What else would you add here? What have you seen work in trying to help your teenager self regulate and use their technology as a tool not a distraction?

 

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.
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.