Imitation as a Form of Habit-Creation

Imitation as a Form of Habit-Creation

As a Teen Life team, we have been reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits. It has been eye-opening not just for forming personal habits, but it has also given me a lot to think about it when it comes to how teenagers form habits and even key beliefs.

It will come as no surprise, but one thing that makes a huge impact on our habits is our environment and the culture we are raised in. We tend to imitate the habits and beliefs around us. Where this becomes an issue for our kids and teenagers is that they don’t get much choice in the home or environment they are raised in.

As adults, we pass on our expectations and rules to the kids in our sphere of influence. We set the habits that they will imitate. We pass on the script of what is important, where they should focus their attention, and how they should behave on a day-to-day basis.

In his book, James Clear talks about several reasons we imitate those around us, but the simple truth is that the most attractive behaviors are those that help us fit in and feel like we are part of the group. He talks about three groups that we tend to imitate: the close, the many, and the powerful. However, when it comes to teenagers, I want to focus on the first two and how we can help our kids imitate the right behaviors at the right time.

Imitating the Close

We all know the couples that start to look like each other the longer they are married. Or the families who have the same mannerisms. The closer we are to someone, the more we are going to take on their habits as our own. This is a great concept when you are surrounded by people who love you and have healthy habits themselves.

We talk a lot about peer pressure for adolescents. But peer pressure is usually only a bad thing when they are surrounded by negative influences. Teenagers might not be able to choose who they live with or how their family acts, but they can choose which friends they spend time with. Who they choose hang out with matters!

It is important that we encourage teenagers to join a culture and group that has positive habits. If they want to be successful in the classroom, they need to find friends who make good grades. If a sport or extracurricular activity is important to them, they should hang out with people who are motivated in the same way. As James says, “Surround yourself with people who have the habits you want to have yourself. You’ll rise together.”

Imitating the Many

In addition to imitating those we are closest too, we also tend to follow the crowd in order to fit in. Think about it – if you are in a situation where you don’t know what to do or where to go, what is your first instinct? You will probably look around and do what the people around you are doing. It is often easier to go with the flow than try to stand out.

This is especially important for teens who live in a world where fitting in impacts social status, friendships, and self-esteem. However, as James Clear points out, “The reward of being accepted is often greater than the reward of winning an argument, looking smart, or finding the truth. Most days, we’d rather be wrong with the crowd than be right by ourselves.”

While we can all admit that there is a pull to get along with others and not rock the boat, it is concerning that we would rather be wrong or change our beliefs than go against the environment we find ourselves in. For teens, going against their culture, school, friends, family, etc. requires more effort than following the habits around them. Which is why sometimes they have to change their environment before they can change a particular habit.

We all have habits we wish to break or create to make us better. Habit-forming is especially important for our teenagers. Some of the habits they create now will stick around for the rest of their lives. While we can’t do the hard work of habit creation for them, here are a few ways you can help make their environment more conducive for positive habits.

  • Create and model healthy habits yourself – have the habits you want your kids or students to imitate.
  • Encourage teens to join groups that share similar passions and goals.
  • Foster a safe environment where teens want to gather – it could be your home, your classroom, or your youth ministry. Let’s help them find positive influences in a safe place!
  • Be intentional about what adults are in your teen’s life. Ask who they would want talk to. Surround them with consistent, caring influences.

Let’s be advocates for teenagers, the environments they are living in, and the habits they are forming!

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.

You can find it at school

You can find it at school

I’ve had the privilege of working with Teen Life for over ten years now in a multitude of roles. I’ve worked in the tall weeds of programming, recorded hundreds of podcasts, and even put together a budget or two. Throughout these years, I’ve enjoyed many incredible opportunities in a multitude of scenarios throughout our community. I’ve even met some really cool people who are doing truly groundbreaking work on behalf of the students in our neighborhoods.

Yet through it all, my very favorite thing to do is walk the halls of our local schools. It never gets old to me. Every school is different and has its own personality. There are different themes, decorations, nuances, and sensibilities distinguishing each campus from the rest. Some are new and innovative while others seem to be lost to time.

I heard it said a while back that the local “town square” has shifted from the local church to the local school. That is, for so many years the center of the community was found in the local houses of worship. Recently, many in the community are finding the local school to be the crossroads of education, socialization, culture, support systems, and other crucial aspects of local community. Whether this is good or bad is up for debate (and I mean, it is DEBATED).

One community-centric role that the local school is taking on is the role of mental health provider. For an institution already bearing the cultural weight of so many other roles, asking a school to provide space for mental health services on top of everything else is a tall task. To ask teachers who already have significant academic responsibilities to also stand in as mental health professionals goes well beyond their capacity. To find staff who are able to address the mental health needs of students, you have to look to counselors, nurses, and sometimes even SRO’s (local police assigned to a school). While they are much better equipped, there just aren’t that many of them available and they are expensive to hire.

According to a recent report from the CDC 42% of teenagers reported feeling persistently sad or hopeless and almost 25% reported experiencing poor mental health. This is not okay or normal!

From my vantage point we have an even bigger problem. The conversation around mental health and adolescents is more open than it has ever been before. As we walk through the halls of schools you will see posters and signs with quotes like “It’s okay to not be okay” or “be kind to yourself”. Our teenagers are leading the way with this conversation, and that part is encouraging at least!

Yet the disparity comes with access. It’s like saying “exercise is the most important thing” but there are no trainers or gyms in sight. Or if we emphasized a healthy diet, but only offered students fast food. Simply put – quality, accessible, and affordable mental health services are really hard to come by for adolescents!

This isn’t the fault of the army of mental health workers out there doing the hard job of serving the onslaught of issues. More so, this is a systemic issue of access and equity.

For me one of the most encouraging aspects of this CDC report was the recommendation that schools set aside more funding and prioritize better and more robust mental health services on school campuses. The hope is, if there are innovative and scalable interventions available to serve the mental health needs of students – local school campuses would be the place to find them!

On this blog, we focus on a variety of topics relevant to the betterment of the adolescent experience. Not often do we have the opportunity to simply plug what we do here at Teen Life and highlight how important it is to the mental health and wellbeing of students.

Teen Life provides Support Groups on school campuses during the school day led by community volunteers and counselors. While not a billable mental health service, we stand in the gap for teenagers to access quality mental health supports while they work to improve their circumstances. Life is so much better when you have peer support and mentorship from someone who is showing up on your behalf – week after week.

The CDC recommendations fall squarely into what we do here at Teen Life. And because what we do happens on school campuses – we believe lives will change and get better.

So if you are a parent, educator, administrator, or volunteer – make your voice heard to bring in mental health supports and services like what we offer. here at Teen Life. If it isn’t us – I know there are many more in your community ready to help.

Let’s rally to help mental health supports and services be available to any student who is in need!

Chris Robey

Chris Robey


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.
Dry January and Teens

Dry January and Teens

One trend that has recently taken shape in the last couple of years is Dry January. You may be thinking to yourself, “Tobin this blog is for teens and their issues. Every month should be dry for them.” You’re right. But this month could be a good time for you as a parent to practice, model, and educate on alcohol awareness and responsible drinking. 


First things first. Underage drinking is never responsible. Just setting that boundary for your teen and reminding them of the dangers of underage drinking is never a bad idea. But the temptation is definitely there for teens.

  • The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that 1 in 5 young Americans aged 12-20 drink alcohol regularly.
  • The 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey goes even further, saying that 1 in 3 high school students have tried alcohol at least once.
  • 10% of 8th graders have drunk within the past 30 days. That number jumps to 35% among high school seniors.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, adults ages 26 years and older who began drinking before the age of 15 years are nearly six times as likely to have an alcohol use disorder than those who waited until at least age 21 to begin drinking. 

One of the biggest dangers with underage drinking is the tendency to binge drink. In fact, 90% of the alcohol consumed by teens comes from binge drinking. According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 18% of high school students engaged in binge drinking within the past month. 


  • BE SHOCK PROOF – We say that a lot here at Teen Life but it is always the best advice. If your teen is coming to you with an issue regarding alcohol, hear them and love them. That is the first step to getting them help. A trusted adult can go a long way when a teen is in need.
  • HAVE CONVERSATIONS – Talk to your teen about the dangers of drinking. Check in regularly. Get to know the people they are spending their time with. Research shows that children of actively involved parents are less likely to drink alcohol. 
  • MODEL POSITIVE BEHAVIOR – If you choose to drink, make sure you drink responsibly. At times, you can turn down alcohol in social situations to show you can be sociable without alcohol. 
  • SETTING BOUNDARIES – Depending on the level of intervention needed, make sure alcohol is not available in your home. Supervise any parties or activities that your teen is attending. Encourage your teen to participate in healthy, fun activities that do not involve alcohol.

So whether you’re practicing Dry January or not, working with your teens on the safety of being sober is vital to their development. Always remember that being a teenager is hard. They need our help!

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.

Why Apologizing Matters for You and Your Kids

Why Apologizing Matters for You and Your Kids

I overreacted last week.

I’m sure that seasonal stress and staying up to wrap presents was a factor. I realized about halfway in that my tone was harder than it would usually be, and I softened it. But I hadn’t tempered my initial reaction in the same way and my son was embarrassed. Not so much of me, but in general.

We were walking home and I said, “Hey, I’m sorry I embarrassed you in front of those kids. I didn’t mean to.”

He said, “I know.” “I love you,” I said. He said, “I know. I love you, too.” And we talked about why I was worried.

Later, I apologized to the other kid who had been there. He said, “Oh no. You were right. But thanks for apologizing.” And everyone played together at the park for a while.

As parents, it’s hard to keep a neutral tone sometimes. We’re wired to protect and defend our kids. We’re tired and often frustrated. We overreact.

Honestly, even about 2 minutes after it had happened, I could see in my head how I could have handled the situation better. But fight or flight had kicked in before I got there.

The older I get, the more fearless I’ve become in owning and repairing my mistakes. To own the areas where we could have improved and just say I’m sorry. It wasn’t something I learned as a child or a teenager. I was afraid of being wrong. Afraid of talking about it or seeming weak. It wasn’t until well into my twenties that I had the confidence to admit mistakes openly and fully own them. And I’m pretty sure I lost out on deeper connections, better self-esteem, and less shame.

I’m hoping my kids will grow up with the courage to fail and recover again and again. I wasn’t always brave enough to do it.

In my experience, there are a few key factors at play that make us brave in the face of our shortcomings.

  • Feeling loved.
    When kids and teens know that someone loves them unconditionally, they’re more willing to be wrong because their identity isn’t linked to perfection.
  • Recognizing that failure in one moment is not failure as a whole.
    This is often called a “growth mindset.” When we recognize that we can learn from our mistakes, we are better for it and we are more likely to keep trying until we succeed.
  • Realizing that the whole is too important to risk and failure to repair my mistakes would put it at risk.
    At Teen Life, we talk a lot about being shock-proof. For me, this hit home when I started my journey to become a better parent. The stakes are too high to risk that my teenagers might not come to me with big things like drugs, mental illness or pornography. Teens are facing some pretty serious obstacles on their way to healthy adulthood.

    If we overreact to smaller things along the way, how will they trust us with the things they really need help with?

    If they don’t see us recover and repair mistakes, how will they believe that they can do it too?

  • Putting people over pride.
    If we don’t learn to set aside our own pride (or shame) and sincerely apologize, we’re sacrificing relationships. But sincere vulnerability can strengthen them. It’s that simple.

Parenting is hard. It requires us to look in the mirror and own our imperfections- and give ourselves grace. Apologizing is part of that process. So our kids can learn to do the same, too.

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.

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


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.