Trading One Set of Good Things for Another

Trading One Set of Good Things for Another

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from one of my best friends regarding marriage. This one stuck in my memory for some reason I can’t explain. The advice was prompted by some of my anxieties revolving around leaving the “single life” – something at which I had become adept by virtue of the many years of practice. I was obviously excited about marrying the girl who had become my best friend in life, but I wasn’t really sure what it was going to be like sharing a life with someone else.

The thing is, when we do something new, old things have to pass away. This is a really hard truth as revealed by the millions of broken “resolutions” we find scattered amongst the first few months of the year. We all want to do things better and become better people, but in our efforts we forget my friend’s incredible advice:

“You have to trade one good set of things for another set of good things.” 

This advice was ringing in my ears when I read a recent blog post by Dr. Tim Elmore about some encouraging and discouraging statistics on teenagers. You can read it here. Dr. Elmore outlines some great news on teenagers balanced out with some bad news.

Smoking is down.

Junk food consumption is up.

Sexual activity is down.

So is condom use.

Drinking and driving is down.

Texting while driving is up.

Think if you were a charity or non-profit who worked diligently on the issue of drunk driving and seeing the stats fall, only to see traffic fatalities rise for essentially the same problem – impaired driving. Or if you worked tirelessly on educating youth that smoking kills only to see them eating potato chips for dinner?

Teenagers, like adults, tend to find things to help us cope with life. We all have them. Life is stressful and difficult, and we can’t always be on our “A” game. So, we justify certain behaviors so we can “get by”. After a while, we see the error in this thinking and try to change our unhealthy habits.

The problem is, changing an unhealthy behavior has to be followed with something good. We have to trade one set of things for another set of things. The only caveat is, what are we replacing it with?

I found this idea to be true in my own life recently. Since the beginning of the year I’ve tried to lose some weight (which I have) and clean up my eating (which I….kind of have), and found myself eating good during the day but eating unhealthy before bedtime. It’s like I undo all of the good I’ve done throughout the day with a poor eating choice at night.

And because of that, I struggle to meet my goals. I haven’t really traded anything.

As we walk alongside teenagers, we can’t just tell them to “stop doing things” and offer no real alternative or better path. Human beings tend to cope. And if we can’t find healthier ways to cope, we will only find other unhealthy ways.

We can’t get mad at teenagers or disparage an entire generation because they kind of act like us sometimes. Let’s help teenagers find ways to exchange an unhealthy set of behaviors for something good, sustainable, and life-bringing.

For more on this, I’d encourage you to read Dr. Elmore’s brief post about how we use these findings to bring about healthy change with our teenage friends. 

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s COO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
Loving Your Neighbor Can Save the World

Loving Your Neighbor Can Save the World

Doesn’t it seem like the world is literally falling apart?

Hurricanes.

Wildfires.

Earthquakes.

Nuclear war.

Political upheaval.

Racial tensions.

We live in what seems like really strange times. I’ve heard it said over and over again that we live in a time unlike any other – that things have never been worse than they are now.

And the evidence we see on the news and social media would seem to back that up. But, there is a problem we need to acknowledge before we sign off on these times being the worst ever.

What seems to be hidden in all of these stories and posts is the fact that we know about all of them – not only that we have access, but that it comes so quickly. And, this seems to be one of those years where all of the bad stories seem to come “rapid fire”.

This is not to downplay the horrors we see in front of us. What needs to be recognized is the effect all of these news events have on our psyche and how we respond.

We cannot deny what is going on around us. But we also should not deny what it is doing to us. Think about it – when you hear about all of the things I listed above, what is your natural response?

Fear? Denial? Anxiety? Defensiveness?

It could be many things, but usually when we get overloaded with story after story about suffering in the world, we become paralyzed. We don’t know what to do, how to help, or even where to start if we did want to help. This is a big world with many difficulties.

Some call it information overload or compassion fatigue. We want to help and care, but there is too much to help and care about!

Teenagers are growing up in this world, and likely are handling it better than adults like me who remember a time when information wasn’t as readily or as quickly available. But even so, we must help teenagers (and ourselves for that matter) overcome these overloads to see the needs and hurts in their own communities. While what is going on in other parts of the world seems overwhelming and needs help, so do many of the issues and problems facing our own communities.

Let us be people whose hearts go out to the suffering and needy in the world, but also making room for our neighbors and friends in the same situations. Let us be self-aware – with a willingness to step back and realize when we are feeling overwhelmed – to do the things we need to be available to serve our neighbors. This might mean shutting the laptop, deleting the social media account, or creating strict boundaries on what we consume.

The world might seem like it is crumbling, but let us not become overwhelmed to the point we fail to act on behalf of our neighbors.

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s COO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
About the Solar Eclipse and Distraction

About the Solar Eclipse and Distraction

Before you read any further, understand that I am not “anti-eclipse”.. Now that I have written that line, I don’t think it matters if I am.. It was probably going to happen anyways….

I realize when this blog is posted our recent solar eclipse will be a far distant memory – seemingly gone as quickly as the event itself.. Me, having not planned well and not desiring vision loss briefly walked outside, noticed how dim it was in the middle afternoon, honestly got a little freaked out, and went back inside to my air conditioning.. This is not to reduce the genuine interest people had in this event with some traveling across the nation to crowd into a 70-mile wide swath of land from Oregon to South Carolina – or watching the event streaming online for the entire day.

People were really into this thing.. And, why not? Natural events like this only happen periodically on different areas of the planet and it is rare for an entire nation to share in the spectacle.

But man, was it over fast.. I tried to imagine what it would feel like to be a person who traveled a really long way to view this thing a few minutes after it was over..To me, it would have to feel like a bit of a let down.. We drove all these miles for that?

Now what? 

And that is what has gotten me thinking about the eclipse, what kinds of behaviors are drawn out with these kinds of events, and how quickly they are forgotten..Seriously, the fact this blog posts on Thursday when the event was Monday will feel like such old news.. If so, do you remember we had an eclipse on Monday? Of course you don’t.

Events like the eclipse highlight a trend we see in culture.. Everything is the biggest deal ever, until it is not.. Think about it all of the happenings in a given news cycle, how big a deal we make of it, and how quickly we move on to the next thing.. Controversies happen, people demand recourse, feelings are hurt, it feels like the world is going to end, then we get distracted by something else and we forget about it.

We crave distraction.. It’s an easy thing to come by, and in abundant supply.. And, it isn’t always bad.. Sometimes life is genuinely difficult and a good distraction can help us clear our minds and give our soul the needed rest to better face challenges.. This is healthy distraction.

Our problem comes when distraction becomes habit.. Constant social media, news, alerts, emails, texts, controversies, politics, and so much more that listing them all would be distracting in and of itself – create ample room for distraction as habit.. It just becomes what we do.

And just like the eclipse, these distractions come and go quickly – assuming that another will follow.. But deep in our souls, we long for something more real.. We know eventually these distractions will just lead to another distraction, leaving us with the question – “now what?”

Distractions as habits will always lead us to a dead end.. Nothing new was learned.. We aren’t any better.. We just got better at being distracted.

But all the while, life is happening all around us.. Imagine all of the amazing things that were going on around us while we were burning our retinas staring at the eclipse.. Imagine all of the things we might have been missing when, at the end of the eclipse were asking “now what?”

Now what? Now, let’s get to the business of real things – relationships, feeling and doing, risking, confronting, crafting and creating.. Let’s be about the things that – at the end of the day – make us and those around us better.. Let’s make habits out of enduring things, investments in a better life to come.. Pop culture and at-large opinion makers will always tempt us towards the shallow and easily consumed aspects of our world.. But the less traveled road will take us slowly away from these things into the wild of real life.

What do you think? How have distractions become habits for you? 

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s Program Director, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
A Few Words For Helpers

A Few Words For Helpers

I had an encounter with a situation recently that got me thinking about how we as adults can best help teenagers. A little context:

Upon arriving at my office, I had a friend of our organization waiting on me with a teenager sitting next to them. It was obvious there was something going on, so I sat down with them to talk through the issue.

It turns out the teenager wasn’t related to the adult, but the adult had a mentoring relationship with this teenager and knew their mom. In recent weeks the family situation had disintegrated and essentially this teenager was dumped on our friend and threats were made that the teenager was going to be kicked out of the house. So sitting in front of me was a well meaning adult, and an unrelated teenager who had nowhere else to go.

Tough doesn’t even start to describe this situation.

In fact I would argue these kinds of situations are the reason many adults don’t want to work with teenagers much outside of their own family situation.

It’s messy.

But the truth is, we need more. Teen Life has opportunities daily to interact with teenagers from all walks of life, cultural and religious background, and social status. Some have incredible families and support structures, while others have literally nothing. Some have advantage while others seem to have the world actively battling against them.

But the one thing they all have in common is this – they need support and presence from adults. No matter how well off they might seem, someone has to be there for them who have lived longer and has more life experience. This cannot be replaced.

Thinking back on our friend who came into our office, I think about how much they were trying to be supportive and available to a teenager who was losing everything. But, she was there. She showed up. What we talked about that morning would seem to help others as they help teenagers, so here it goes:

  1. Know your boundaries

Our friend was well meaning, but needed some help (and permission) to set boundaries not only with the teenager, but with their parents. Both were misbehaving badly and wanted someone to be a part of it. In the counseling world it is called “triangulation”. Simply, when people are in pain or at a loss they find someone else to project the stress they are feeling onto so it won’t hurt so bad or they won’t have to deal with the problem.

Boundaries are crucial when working with anyone, especially teenagers. They teach and protect. Knowing what you are wiling to do and where you need to stop can allow for a clear path through a difficult situation.

  1. De-escalate the situation

When you come upon a situation where there is stress, do everything you can to calm the stress. Find a way to create space for everyone to cool off. Go on a walk. Play with playdoh. Build something with legos. Write or draw. Listen to some music. As a helper, find a way to create safe space for clear thought. When teens and families are in a state of stress, clear communication and resolution is relatively impossible. Find a way to de-escalate and reduce the stress.

  1. Know your resources. 

Most communities have some support system in place with professionals and lay people equipped to serve vulnerable populations. Whether it be a local non-profit, faith community, or school, there is help to be found. Often for the helper of teenagers, their issues and demands can be daunting. But if you know there is help available, it helps you to stick around.

Typically these resources can be found either via web, call in services (like the National Suicide Prevention Hotline or 211), or by making a few phone calls to community leaders. Our experience has told us we are only a few phone calls from getting the resource we need. Don’t be afraid to make a few calls.

  1. Refer, refer, refer. 

I’m sure you are a smart person if you are willing to help a teenager but, you don’t know it all. Don’t be afraid, especially after having a working knowledge of the resources in your community, to refer to trusted sources. Bring the community in to help. Let them shoulder some of this load.

So in summary –

Know your boundaries,

De-escalate the situation,

Know your resources,

Refer, refer, refer.

What do you think about this? How have these ideas helped you in the past?

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s Program Director, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
My Post That Made Everyone Mad

My Post That Made Everyone Mad

Recently I posted something online that had a little bit of “edge” to it (in reality, I was just frustrated about something and was venting), and someone close to me sent me a message about how it hurt their feelings. I remember feeling strange about the whole interaction to be honest. We cleared things up, but it made me think about how we interact, and what is considered normal these days. 

There has been a lot written about the potential effects of social media consumption, how it impacts our thinking and interactions, as well as what could be coming as a result of our conduct. Some say it doesn’t really matter, while others are waving red flags.

The truth is, we don’t really know a lot yet. Social media has only been a real player for the last 15 years or so. We can’t predict a lot of what will come of this age of social media connection, but we can make some observations based upon our experiences.

The aforementioned interaction left me wondering how we are supposed to interact, because what happened didn’t feel natural or right. First of all, I chose to vent a frustration on a digital platform to my followers (which aren’t many). Why did I do this? What was I hoping to accomplish with something like that? Upon examination, it was a cathartic exercise that didn’t really accomplish anything positive. I had some people who supported it, some people who disagreed, and then had people who didn’t know each other arguing about something I said.

Read that again: I had people who didn’t know each other arguing about something I said.

Isn’t that a strange outcome?

All of this happened without seeing, hearing, or being in the presence of the people who agreed, disagreed, or were hurt by what I said. Something that substituted for human interaction (social media) became the vehicle for picking up and dropping off feelings and thoughts, totally out of context and without a clear direction.

I haven’t posted anything since on social media. While my interactions weren’t particularly hostile, they gave me cause to think about how I want to relate to the people in my life. While I’m not against social media, I AM for being honest about our experiences.

My experience tells me:

  • People tend to think the worst of each other when they disagree on social media
  • Tone and context are completely lost on posts 
  • We post our frustrations to get a response (which is what I did)
  • We post our good stuff to curate a positive image about our lives
  • Because we read about what is going on with other people, we often do not pursue face-to-face interactions
  • Do you disagree with this? Or, does this resonate with you on some level?

 

To be sure, ask yourself these questions next time you are on social media for any period of time: 

  • What do I feel about the people I just interacted with online?
  • Do I feel any closer with these people?
  • How do I feel about myself?
  • How would this be different if I saw them face-to-face? 

As adults, we need to be thinking about these things. Teenagers are neck deep in this world and many we talk to are looking for something more real, authentic. We have the chance to use social media for the things that are useful, but leave the relationship stuff up to real and personal conversations. 

What are your thoughts on this? Has your experience been any different?

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s Program Director, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.