Traveling New Roads Together

Traveling New Roads Together

Last month, I had the pleasure of training a group of college students preparing to be camp counselors. My main purpose in the training was to equip them to support kids from hard places. Many of the camps they would be doing would take them into areas of the city where behavioral issues and lack of family support would be likely prevalent.

During the Q&A session at the end, questions kept coming up about how they should handle discipline. One counselor asked, “Can we make the kids do pushups if they are misbehaving or late?”. This is a common form of discipline within sports or camps, and I have never liked it. Personally, I think it can be pretty degrading to a kid to give penance in the form of a pushup – but despite how much I despise the approach, I answered – “Yes.”

But I had a caveat.

“As long as you do the pushups with them.”

The group laughed, but the point was taken. When you make kids do pushups for misbehaving, is any connection made? Or are we further cementing our authority and power? However, when we do pushups with the kids, connection is created and there is some sense of shared responsibility.

Because if the kids are constantly misbehaving or late – does the fault completely lay on their shoulders? Or is it a power play for the adult to dish out the discipline without also taking some of the blame? 

As helpers of students, we often forget the power of vulnerability and connection when it comes to how we correct. It is much easier to point out the mistakes with our kids. It’s much harder to admit our culpability.

This concept rang true to me as I read through a recent study on teenagers and cell phone use commissioned by Common Sense Media. The main takeaway of the study showed that 1 in 3 teenagers take their cell phones to bed and report checking their phones multiple times overnight.

Simply put, this is a horrifying trend. Numerous studies have confirmed the “blue light” emitted by screens should be eliminated at least 30 minutes before bed, and cell phone be removed from the bedroom for any chance of quality sleep. Why on earth would teenagers do this to themselves?

Well, because we do. The same study reports 61% of adults check their phone within 30 minutes of going to bed. Simply put – we adults have developed some nasty habits with our devices and our kids are watching.

An interesting thought that came out of the same study showed the number of teenagers who think their parents are spending way too much time on the phone went up by 11%. But teenagers own assessment of how much time they spent on devices was more muted. While they thought their parents spend way too much time on the phone, they felt like their time was just about right.

This study highlighted how teenagers can develop really unhealthy habits and suffer loss of sleep and health as a result. As an adult it would be easy to just tell a student to not take their phone to bed. If so, prepare for a fight.

It’s like this in so many aspects of our parenting and mentoring of students. We are quick to point out their issues and tell them where they should change, but even with the lightest of scrutiny, we as adults aren’t doing much better. 

This isn’t just about cell phones and sleep. It’s how we deal with our stress. It’s how we self-medicate. It’s about our anger. It’s our discontent. Do we not realize our kids are watching us, even if they seem aloof?

This offers opportunity for connection. For example, if you know your teenager is taking their phone to bed, you likely are as well. Instead of laying down the law, why not share your own struggle and create a plan to deal with it together?

Or maybe you struggle with anger or outbursts. Maybe acknowledge that with your kid? Apologize? Even ask for help?

When we choose connection with our teenagers, we build relationship. It’s the harder road, but it is one that acknowledges our humanity as well as respects where our teenager is developmentally. 

We cannot ask our teenagers to travel roads we do not presently travel. By choosing vulnerability and connection, we choose to travel those roads together.

Chris Robey

Chris Robey

CEO

Chris has worked with teens from a variety of backgrounds for over a decade. He has a desire to help teenagers make good choices while also giving their families tools to communicate more effectively as choices are made.

A Common Sense Intervention That Saves Lives

A Common Sense Intervention That Saves Lives

Growing up in a rather sheltered environment and experiencing the “military brat” existence of moving every 3-4 years, I never really understood or heard a lot about mental health issues amongst my peers as a teenager. We didn’t watch a ton of TV or movies, and most of the music I listened to was pretty tame compared to what was out there at the time. Plus, when you move a lot, most of your time involves getting to know new people – not necessarily understanding the challenges and stresses facing your friends. I didn’t really understand what depression or anxiety looked like, nor really cared much to talk about it. I was too busy trying to keep up and worrying about myself. 

It wasn’t until I started learning how to play guitar that I heard much at all about depression and suicide. There was a ’90s Christian band called “Caedmon’s Call” that featured a dark (by Christian music standards) song called “Center Aisle” lamenting a friend’s suicide. I remember being enamored by the complexity of the chords as I was learning guitar, but I was more struck by the intense emotions of the chorus line:

 “What crimes have you committed, demanding such a penance?

Could have waited for five more minutes and a cry for help.” 

This was the first time I had ever considered that suicide could become an option for a person feeling distraught or out of options. 

It made me wonder if any of my friends had ever considered suicide as an option. While I have experienced seasonal depression, I haven’t ever gotten to the point where I wanted to end it all. But, the more I learned, the more I understood the dark places people go to when they feel there are no other options available. 

The World Health Organization estimates suicide as the second leading cause of death of people 15-19 years of age. As someone who works with and loves teenagers, that isn’t just maddening – it’s a mandate for us to take action. For those so young in life to think there is nothing else to live for is an indictment on so many things. But instead of pointing fingers, let’s look at what could be some very promising research with a surprisingly simple conclusion.

In a recent JAMA Psychiatry article, research was outlined on a study of 448 adolescents admitted to a psychiatric hospital for suicidal thoughts and tendencies. Within that group, they formed a control group (this group received no treatment other than hospitalization) and a treatment group. The treatment group was asked to identify four adults in their lives that they perceived love and support from moving forward. Those four adults were then trained in suicide education and support measures and asked to check in on the teens after they left the hospital. These adults also received coaching and support from the study writers throughout the process. 

After ten years, the study checked back in on the control and treatment groups and while statistically small, the results were impressive. The control group had 13 deaths while the treatment group only had two. When you break the numbers down, even conservatively, the death rate drops by over 50 percent! 

I have to stress again that the numbers are way too small to draw any definitive conclusions, but for me it speaks to something incredibly important about our (yours and mine) work with teenagers – ADULTS MATTER

I think this study important for the following reasons:

  1. The students selected the supportive adults
    • It is so easy to feel alone as you struggle through depression and suicidal thoughts. To be prompted to identify people who care in and of itself is a healing exercise. And by selecting these adults, a connection is made that cannot be easily broken. 
  2. The adults accept the invitation
    • No one is forcing these adults to participate. But, if a struggling teen asked you to be a part of their recovery, wouldn’t you help? 
  3. The adults learned how to support the teenager
    • So many adults feel like they know what is best for a teenager. We were teenagers once, right? But a learner is a leader in this case. The presence of an adult who is willing to do what it takes to support the struggling teenager has significant influence. 

To me this isn’t just about suicide, though if it saved more lives, I would be screaming this from every platform I have. But, if the presence of a caring, informed adult can potentially save a life, how much more can it help a struggling teenager? The life of a teenager can be overwhelming and full of pressures. If more adults looked and saw the opportunity to learn and ask good questions, imagine what an encouragement we could be! 

I encourage you to read further on this study and the implications here and consider partnering with organizations who are putting volunteers out in the field like Teen Life here

Chris Robey

Chris Robey

CEO

Chris has worked with teens from a variety of backgrounds for over a decade. He has a desire to help teenagers make good choices while also giving their families tools to communicate more effectively as choices are made.

Repost: Helping Students Find Hope in Hopelessness

Repost: Helping Students Find Hope in Hopelessness

A few weeks back, I was sitting with some students from a really tough part of our city and working through some of their resources. Part of our groups involve identifying and building up the student’s sense of courage, connectedness, self worth, and capability. What we noticed with this group is a general lack of self-reported capability. This seemed to be the trend throughout the group of young men.

This was a strange happening in my experience. Generally, a group of young men will tend to overstate their courage and capability from a place of machismo or even lack of self-esteem. It’s a coping mechanism everyone uses from time to time to protect us from being real with each other.

Yet for some reason, these young men decided to stop with the charade. Several of these young men were facing criminal charges as adolescents and were in a general “holding pattern” as they awaited what their PO (parole officer) or presiding judge had to say about their case. They felt like they had no real recourse and that the mistakes they made would follow them for the rest of their lives.

These young men were between the ages of 15 and 17, and at this early age, they were experiencing something reserved for people typically much older – hopelessness.

This hopelessness echoes from their upbringing, family structure, and their neighborhood. It’s a general sense that no matter what happens, they are doomed to the same cycle they have seen over and over again. My guess is this hopelessness has been ingrained earlier than my arrival into their lives.

So today, I am wondering as a “helper” of students, what can I do to bring hope to those whose hope has escaped at an age where hope should abound? I have a few things I have been thinking through along these lines, but I’d like to hear more feedback from you!

  1. Help students see their “preferred future” – This is technique based in solution focused therapy, but it is a really great tool to help the hopeless imagine what their life would be like if things were different. I typically ask students the simple question, “What do you want?” I usually don’t have to be a lot more specific than that. And with that question comes glimmers of hope. You see, even in the darkest night of the soul, the soul still knows what it wants.
  2. Help them work backwards from their “preferred future” – When they establish the goal, help them identify simple, realistic, and controllable steps to start walking in that direction. I wouldn’t even focus on what it would take to accomplish the desire. Really, this is likely too much to handle in the moment. Instead, what would it take to at least turn in the right direction and even take a small step? Maybe it is simply getting more sleep, finding a new job, or asking for help. Try to stay with the small and manageable tasks.
  3. Help them to think about how things will be different when they get to their “preferred future” – In other words, will this make much of a difference? Often the solutions we want won’t really fix anything, but sometimes they do. Helping students think about what things need to be different for their futures to look more positive are very simple. Sometimes life isn’t as horrible as we think it is in our worst moments.

One of the most unacceptable circumstances for me to witness is a hopeless student. I’m not okay with it. None of us should be.

So with the three simple ideas I posed here, what would you add to help students find hope in hopeless situations? We would love to hear back from you!

 

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s CEO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
A Powerful Relationship “Hack” with Teenagers

A Powerful Relationship “Hack” with Teenagers

A while back, I received a text from one of our volunteers asking to meet in person. This particular person was an influential volunteer for Teen Life and had been really active with us in the past. But I felt like something was up. This person was always someone who communicated more over text and email and rarely, if ever, asked to meet in person.

It turns out I was right. My friend had ended up losing their job suddenly and was asking for prayers and any guidance on finding new work related to their field. I really felt bad for my friend.

Part of what we talk about in Teen Life volunteer trainings is the idea of using our intuition as a listening device. So often we are dulled to our instincts and don’t really trust the gift of intuition in our relationships. In our trainings, we teach the concept of intuition as our ability to understand something immediately without the need for conscious reasoning. That is, we just know something is true.

It’s a weird little quirk of being human. We have the innate ability to sense something is off or wrong – whether we know exactly what it is or not.

But for me it’s all how we use our intuition. Often we use our intuition to identify problems. But Teen Life believes our intuition offers us an opportunity to ask good questions. If we sense something is “off”, we want to be the kind of people who stop and say, “Hey, tell me more about that.” We teach five different intuition “indicators”. They go as follows:

Discernment – essentially our “read” on a situation, whether it is true or not.

Patterns – patterns can take lots of forms, often repeating the same story, phrase, idea.

Red Flags – inconsistencies in a story or telling of a situation.

Strong Emotions – strong language, intense emotions, anger.

Turning points – major events or stories in a person’s life.

As you work with teenagers, you have the opportunity to be a different kind of influence. Teenagers have strong emotions. Their stories don’t always add up. They say the same thing over and over. They have huge elements in their own story they are unaware of and tend to let slip by.

For the helper, our intuition presents significant opportunity. Imagine if you responded with a question instead of correction to a teenager cussing or expressing anger. What if we interpreted inconsistencies in a story as a place to express curiosity instead of accusation?

Our intuition is a strong tool for the helper. If you sense something is off, you are probably right. Or, at least you have the opportunity to be proven wrong.

All you have to do is ask.

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s CEO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
Thank You for 10 Years!

Thank You for 10 Years!

One of the best parts of working with a non-profit is the people who support your cause. Obviously, we love working with teenagers – serving them is why we got into this! But there is a whole other side of our organization that makes our jobs all that more enjoyable – our supporters.

One time a year, we all get together for an evening to celebrate what has happened with Teen Life over the past year and to fund what is to come. This last Tuesday we had our fourth annual Teen Life Dinner & Auction in Southlake, TX. Almost 200 of our advocates and new supporters gathered in a room to celebrate 10 years of Teen Life and dream about what is to come.

And, what a night it was – we raised almost $68,000 between sponsorships, auction items, and general donations. We were able to hear from some of our facilitators and counselors – we even had a trained facilitator at each table! We ate great food and enjoyed rich conversations. Really, it was an incredible evening. My head is still kind of spinning from it all!

If you were able to attend and donate to our dinner – Thank You! Your generosity will launch us into our next ten years with confidence that our students will have the support they need at their schools. And if you were new to the dinner – we are thrilled you know us and can talk about what we do to the people in your circles. We believe our organization is worth investing in because we are making a significant impact with such a simple service.

And if you were not able to attend the dinner but still would like to donate – we have an opportunity for you! We have set a stretch goal to get us to $75,000 raised by the end of the week! That’s only a little over $7000 to get us there – can you help? Check out our video and follow the donation button below. It is simple and secure to give – and goes a long way to make an impact.


So again from Teen Life – thank you! We are excited we get to continue this great work in our community – because of you!

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