4 Benefits of Kindness

4 Benefits of Kindness

There is something about the Holiday Season that just makes you happy. It is all about family and traditions, but it is also easy to get caught up in yourself and the busyness of this time of year.

That is one reason I love that Thanksgiving comes before the Christmas season! It is the perfect reminder that we first must show gratitude. It is a time to slow down, eat good food, and simply be together – no gifts or trees required!

I don’t know about you, but I am a more content person when I start with gratitude. As I think about things that can turn my weeks around, another thing came to mind…kindness!

It only takes a small act of kindness to make a big difference. When I think about difficult or busy seasons when I have been overwhelmed, I have often survived off the kindness of others. People brought meals after I had my kids. Friends sent treats when we were sick. Strangers put up my shopping cart when my hands were full. My kids told me they loved me when I was having a bad day.

As you can see, it doesn’t take much!

But the fascinating thing is that it can make an even bigger difference if YOU are the one being kind! An article by the Baton Rouge Clinic outlines eight ways that being kind can actually be good for you. It includes both physical and mental health benefits, but I want to focus on four…

Being kind increases self-esteem. Think about a time that you did something for someone else. I doubt you regret that act of kindness. In fact, it probably made you feel better about yourself for a few days. When you help someone feel better, it has the same effect on you!

Being kind boosts your mood. Being kind elevates serotonin and dopamine levels, increasing feelings of happiness, rewards, and motivation. Try an act of kindness the next time you are feeling down!

Being kind enhances your connection. When you show kindness, it is a great reminder that you are not alone. It promotes a sense of community and can help you connect in deeper, more meaningful ways.

Being kind can lower your stress. It has been found that showing kindness can actually lower the release of cortisol, a stress hormone in your body. Everyone carries stress around, but something as small as being kind to a loved one could help lighten your load!

Recently on the Teen Life Podcast, we spent some time talking about ways to encourage kindness in our teens. We gave practical ideas on how you can show kindness together. I encourage you to go give that a listen!

As we launch into one of the busiest times of the year, let’s commit to showing extra kindness – both for the benefit of others and ourselves!

Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Director of Communications

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.

A Seat at the Table

A Seat at the Table

Last week, as we were working through an activity in our support group, one of the young ladies asked if she could step out in the hallway. She had a mask on, so I wasn’t quite sure if she was upset, but the counselor followed her out to be sure. About five minutes later, she re-entered the room and finished the group. While this didn’t seem like much, I asked the counselor what had happened with this student.

“Well, she got very emotional all of a sudden and needed a second. Apparently, the issues the other students were talking about were exactly what she was going through. She wasn’t sad or upset. She just got overwhelmed with knowing she wasn’t alone.”

Can you imagine? Well, of course, you can. We have all felt alone.

Alone in our thoughts. Our struggles. Our fears. Our failures. Our pain.

Feeling alone is like a millstone around our neck. The weight and pressure of loneliness is unspeakable. Not until that weight is lifted do we understand how much of a burden it was.

And that is where so many teenagers find themselves. Despite living in a world that is overly connected, most teens would tell you they are lonelier than ever.

This year at the Teen Life Dinner and Auction, we spent time focusing on the concept of the open table. That is, we all long for a seat at the table where we know we won’t be judged and where we can connect. That’s all we really want most of the time. We want to hear that we aren’t alone and that we won’t be rejected.

During adolescence we find crucial developmental milestones taking place. Autonomy. Differentiation. Self-actualization. Reflection. Establishment of core values. Identity formation. In other words, the most important stuff!

But imagine going through all of those milestones feeling like you were the only one in the world that was experiencing these things.

When a teenager is becoming “themselves” through the process of adolescence, healthy relationships are crucial to positive outcomes.

An open table is key. A teenager needs a safe place to turn when life gets difficult.

Will that be you? Will you be the non-judgmental presence needed when no one else will help? We need more safe people. Period.

How do we start?

Be shockproof. No matter what a teenager says to you or does, take it in stride. Be safe. Be a welcoming presence.

In doing so, you welcome them to the table where they can find the safety and connection they need to make the right decisions and become who they were meant to be!

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.

Why teens need caring adults

Why teens need caring adults

When I was fifteen, I was thriving as much as a nerdy, idiotic, high school sophomore could. At least on the outside. I was a talented trumpet player in a competitive band; I had a decent social circle; and I was involved in extracurricular activities. But the inside was a different story.

I was full of anxiety, doubt, and a professional at self-deprecation. Every day, I was carrying an extra load of problems on top of the normal daily sophomore struggles. I had some life stress that was daunting, but the scary thing to me is that I had loving parents and mentor teachers and it still wasn’t enough.

Enter my One.

Around the middle of the year, I was clearly off. An adult I had known for a while noticed and reached out to me. Pretty soon that became a weekly check-in. It was simple. It wasn’t anything extravagant, planned out, or complicated but it was huge for me.

Even though I was lucky to have positive influences in my life already, having someone show up for me did wonders for my well-being.

I think about how much I would have benefited from Teen Life Support Groups when I was in school. Parents and teachers are great mentors and do have a huge influence on teens today. There’s no denying that, but a member of the community showing up for a teen in need can be just as, if not more, impactful.

Teens with mentors show improvement in their attitudes and attendance at school. Studies have shown that high school graduation rates are higher, teens are less likely to drop out, they have enhanced self-esteem, improved interpersonal skills, and more.

A previous Big Brother, Big Sister study showed that teens with mentors are less likely to begin using drugs or alcohol. Specifically, 6.2 percent of youth with mentors initiated drug use compared to 11.4 percent of their peers without mentors, and 19.4 percent initiated alcohol use compared to 26.7 percent without mentors. This shows that they can gain important life skills to stay away from drugs (LoSciuto, Rajala, Townsend, & Taylor, 1996).

So how can you Be the One?

Teen Life makes it easy to take training that equips you to lead Support Groups on a campus near you. If you want information on how to get involved with schools, email me at tobin@teenlife.ngo.

We don’t all have time to be on a school campus during the day though.

You can also help by going here: teenlife.ngo/partner. Any one-time or monthly donation helps us connect teens in schools with trusted adults and peer support.

It can also be as simple as checking in with the teens in your life. Teens need to know that we care. Because no teen deserves to feel alone.

Tobin Hodges

Tobin Hodges

Program Director

Tobin graduated with a Bachelors of Music from Texas Tech University. A teacher’s kid twice over, he taught for 13 years before coming to Teen Life. His entire career has been centered around helping students and teens from all walks of life become the best version of themselves.

6 Soft Skills for Every Teen

6 Soft Skills for Every Teen

As the school year revs its engine, it’s easy to get caught up in the hard skills that students need to succeed academically, like STEAM and language skills. But especially after two years of quarantines and unorthodox school routines, it’s also important to hone in on soft skills that will help teens succeed socially.

Hard skills are measurable skills related to a specific task. Your ability to use a certain kind of software or diagnose a disease are hard skills. They will get you a job. Soft skills are a group of abilities that allow a person to be more productive in every aspect of their lives: skills like empathy, self-control, and grit. Soft skills will get you promoted.

Just like academic skills, soft skills, especially social ones, build on themselves over time. Don’t try to cram them all into one conversation. But look for opportunities to model and teach good habits like these that will point your teenager toward long-term success in school, in business, and in life.

Here are 6 lessons that every student can benefit from.

  • A handshake and a smile go a long way.
    I didn’t learn this until I went to college, where I was fortunately surrounded by others who had learned and showed me the way. I’m sure you’ve experienced this too, but I’m often surprised at how quickly a situation can go from awkward to fun when I offer my hand and introduce myself.
  • Limit the time you spend on people who bring more drama than joy to your life.
    It’s not that things don’t happen or that you shouldn’t support your friends. But if you find yourself constantly trying to figure out why your friend is mad at you or how you can make reparations, reconsider the amount of time you have to dedicate to that friend.
  • “You don’t make friends. You find friends.” Dr. Lisa Damour
    This one is two-fold. If you are busy finding friends, you don’t have as much time to worry about whether or not you’ll be left out. Also, find the people who inspire you. Hopefully, they will help you become your best version of yourself too.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail. It’s a valid step on the path to success.
    As a recovering perfectionist, I fail at this regularly. However, I vividly remember a conversation with my dad during the college selection process, which rendered me a nervous wreck, where he told me it was ok to choose one and decide later it wasn’t for me. I can’t tell you how much better that made me feel. Sometimes we all need a reminder.
  • Ask for help when you need it.
    More people are willing to help you than you think; everyone needs help sometimes! When we learn to ask for help, we build relationships and emotional support, too. It even makes it easier for others to ask for help when they see it modeled for them. It’s a win-win-win.
  • Make eating healthy and sleep priorities. There’s no substitute for good health.
    There are countless studies on this one. Lack of sleep hinders your ability to make good choices, remember things, drive a car, and so much more. You cannot replace sleep with caffeine, good hydration, exercise, or pills. There is no substitute.

Of course, there are many other soft skills that we hope your teen is learning! Time management, healthy screen habits, and managing emotions are a few that come to mind.

Be sure to tell us in the comments which soft skills you have benefitted the most from! Which ones are you teaching your teenagers?

Kelly Fann

Kelly Fann

Digital Media Manager

Kelly has lived in three countries and worked with teens across the world, encouraging them to pursue their passions and to be kind. She’s been refining messages and telling stories for brands and non-profits since 2009.
5 Ways to Combat The Self-Esteem Issue

5 Ways to Combat The Self-Esteem Issue

If you’ve been listening to the Teen Life Podcast this summer, then you know that I had a heartbreaking encounter with a group of middle school girls earlier this year.

When I asked, “How good do you feel about yourself?”, I was met with overwhelmingly negative responses. I listened as each girl told me stories about how their self-esteem had been damaged by hurtful words, unmet expectations, or unfair comparisons.

I’ll be honest. It is rare to get a group of 13 teenagers to completely agree, but when it came to self-esteem and body image, they were all on the same page.

When I did some research, I found that body image issues can start as young as the age of three. This makes me incredibly sad as someone who loves teenagers and is also parenting toddlers.

But is there anything we can do to help? We know that self-esteem and body image is impacted by so many factors. To name a few, a teenager’s view of themself can be framed by family, culture, social media, television or movies, ads, and comparison to others.

While I don’t believe that there is an easy fix, we MUST take more of an active role in combatting this self-esteem issue. Here are some tips that I think would be a great place to start!

Change the way we talk about eating and exercise.
Let’s normalize talking about eating healthy and getting stronger instead of dieting and losing weight. Teenagers often come across ads and media that talk about the pill that will help you drop 30 pounds, or the workout program that will help you get your summer body, or the detox smoothie that will get rid of bloating. Our teenagers are constantly told that they have to eat or move a certain way to improve the way they look.

But what if we taught our kids to eat balanced and get moving to simply feel good? What if we encouraged them to listen to what their bodies need instead of pushing a “clean plate” or “restrictive eating” mentality?

This summer, I challenge you to invite your teenagers into food and exercise conversations. Educate them on healthy and appropriate choices. Cook together and eat a variety of foods – sweets, vegetables, fruit, pizza, and everything in between!

Take the focus off appearance.
It is easy (and honestly, sometimes lazy) to give compliments on outside appearances.

“I love your hair!” “That’s a cute dress!” “Have you been working out?” “You look great!”

A stranger could come up with one of those statements! That is why it is so important to praise characteristics that have nothing to do with appearance. We need teenagers to know that they are more than how they look on the outside.

I want you to look for one way to praise your teenagers every day for a week. No cheating – make sure you are praising an internal characteristic they possess! It could be their bravery, kindness, humor, resiliency, generosity, or joy. Make them feel seen and loved, no matter how they look!

Consider a social media feed detox.
The Dove Self-Esteem Project recently found that 1 in 2 girls say idealized beauty content on social media causes low self-esteem. That is 50%!!

We all know that our teens spend a significant amount of time on social media every day. I would encourage you to watch this short film from Dove on the Toxic Influence of social media. They also have another short video guide to Detox Your Feed.

Look at the social media feeds of your teens. Have conversations about what they are seeing and if they think it is making them feel better or worse about themselves. So much of what we see on social media is filtered, photoshopped, and fake. Make sure teens know that they are comparing themselves to unrealistic (and often toxic) goals.

After you have gone through their feed together, come up with a plan for who they should consider unfollowing, muting, or blocking. The accounts they engage with the most will shape what they see more of, especially for apps like TikTok!

Practice what you preach.
When I was sitting in that group of middle school girls, it was really easy to be shocked by how they were talking about themselves, but don’t I do the same thing? If we want teenagers to change the way they think and talk about themselves, we have to be willing to do that hard work as well.

Pay attention to the way you talk about yourself and your relationship with your body. Focus on desiring more energy instead of just trying to fit into a smaller pair of jeans. Or put on that swimsuit and get in the pool. Take pictures and post them without adding a whole bunch of filters!

If we want our teenagers to stop comparing themselves and become less self-conscious, we need to lead the way!

Employ positive self-talk.
Along those lines, we all need to use better self-talk and encourage our teens to do the same. Maybe this could look like talking to yourself out loud around your teen or walking them through your thinking process.

It could look like this: “I am thinking about changing because I don’t love the way my arms look in this shirt. But I actually think I look really good in this outfit! I especially love the color, so I am going to rock this today!”

This also might look like confronting teens when you hear them talk negatively about themselves. Don’t dismiss their negativity, but take the time to have a conversation about what they are thinking and feeling! Not only does this interrupt that thought process for them, but it also shows that you see them and care.

Do you think these tips would help you or your teen? Self-esteem is vital for our teens to thrive and appreciate themselves for who they are – no changes needed! Sign me up for a world full of confident and brave teenagers!

Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Director of Communications

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.
Navigating Your Teen Through the Summer

Navigating Your Teen Through the Summer

In some ways, it feels like I’ve just entered the parenting teens phase and in others, it feels like this is just the norm now and I’m in trouble. I say all of this to say that I, like you, am still learning and don’t have all the answers. But one thing I’m learning early on is that it is HARD parenting a teen when they are out of school. So whether you have summers off like your teen or you still work endless hours, here are some tips on how to actively keep your teen engaged over the summer.

Structured Time is Still Very Helpful and Might Be Necessary
Summer can bring a lot of free time which can be good for your teen but just remember that 80% of the year they are in a very structured environment. Going quickly to a loose environment can cause more stress than they probably even imagine.

Have an easy schedule that they could follow to give their day purpose. If I didn’t do this for my son, he would literally be on his video games for a solid 8 hours. Have some activities that give the day purpose like reading for pleasure, a summer project, learning a new skill, and some chores to help gain some ownership of their space.

Monitor Their Social Life and Calendar
Another thing summer brings is a lot of free time to hang out with friends. This is great! Let your teen take advantage of being with their friends when it’s not sandwiched between 5 minute walks to class and a quick lunch table chat.

If your teen struggles with putting themselves out there socially, encourage them to reach out or even set up a time they could have time with their friends at your house, a park, or any fun things around your town. It is important for your teen to stay socially active in a time when it would be easy for them to lose important friends and connections.

Encourage Them to Get a Job
This was never something I had to worry about in my teen years. I have had a job since I was 14 because it was something I needed to do for myself and my family. Jobs are a great way for teens to have a purpose during their less structured summer. Another benefit of them having a job is they now have their own income. You can decide what works for your family and how they can contribute to their own needs but this is a great way to start working on financial literacy and responsibility before they go off to college/trade school/adult life.

If they aren’t ready or can’t get a job another option is to find a place to serve in the community. Doing service projects can introduce teens to new areas of interest, foster a sense of belonging and connection, and support problem-solving skills.

Sleep!
Usually, the summer is the time you don’t have to set an alarm, have an agenda, or worry about how you react during the next day. So typically this could lead to late-night activities and sleeping away the next day. In reality, teens should be using the summer to create healthy sleeping habits for themselves. Make sure you set the boundaries with your teen on what a healthy sleep schedule looks like for them.

Most importantly, just remember that changes in schedules and routines are when teens can find themselves least connected to what they need. Keep that in mind as we navigate through the summer. When all else fails, just do what you know is best for your teen and in case no one has told you today:

You are doing a GREAT JOB and your teen is lucky to have you!

Tobin Hodges

Tobin Hodges

Program Director

Tobin graduated with a Bachelors of Music from Texas Tech University. A teacher’s kid twice over, he taught for 13 years before coming to Teen Life. His entire career has been centered around helping students and teens from all walks of life become the best version of themselves.