The Quest for Hope

The Quest for Hope

This week is HOPE Week at my kids’ school put on by their HOPE Squads. For my elementary aged students, it’s a week of dressing up and having some extra fun in the classroom while talking about how to be kind and caring to others. For my middle schooler, the idea is similar but slightly more advanced. At her school, they are talking about having hope and looking for others who might need some hope or who are displaying signs of depression and/or suicidal ideation. Talking about hope and planning for dress up days with my children has really made me think about the quest for hope.

Hope is defined by as “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best: to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence: to believe, desire, or trust: or to place trust; rely.”

As the pandemic continues, the research has indicated that students are struggling – they are lacking hope that life will return to normal post pandemic. While it’s too early to definitively link increased anxiety, depression, and suicide rates directly to the pandemic, the early numbers continue to show that the rates for these and other mental health crises is on the rise among our students. (See related articles here, here, and here.)

So how do we, as adults working with students or with our own children, look for and point to hope as we continue to navigate life in a unique season? A few ideas.

  1. Start by admitting hope is hard to find some days. It’s normal to feel sad or mad and helping the students in our lives normalize these feelings is so important. They are not on an island alone.
  2.  Talk to students about self-care. Ask what are students doing to take care of themselves on hard days? It can be reading, playing games, watching tv, listening to music, or writing. Talking in advance about positive ways to handle stress empowers you as an adult to encourage them to utilize these ideas as the need arises.
  3. Encourage connections. Where are the places your child can interact with peers and adults in a season with many limitations?
  4. Identify places you see hope and talk about them. Even our oldest students are watching and looking to us as the adults. If you are excited about something, share it. If you are able to see how a struggle turned out for the best, talk about it.

As always, if you need help – seek it out. Support groups, counseling, crisis lines. This applies not only to our students, but to us as adults. Your students and children are watching and will know if you are struggling too. They also learn how to ask for help by watching you and me.

Searching for hope can’t last only a week at school. It has to be a day in, and day out endeavor for all of us. As Andy tells Red in the classic movie Shawshank Redemption: “Hope is a good thing, may be the best of the things. And no good thing ever dies.” May you find hope this week in the midst of the chaos.

Beth Nichols

Beth Nichols

Director of Operations

With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, Beth’s perspective is invaluable. She has had the opportunity in both her personal and professional life to encounter youth from a variety of situations. 

Shifting Gears

Shifting Gears

We live in a world that invokes anxiety in even the most tranquil souls. A pandemic, social isolation, social media, job insecurity… the last 12 months alone have gone beyond the average social drama. Current reality is so far beyond the imaginable that even soap operas are losing their appeal.

As anxiety producing as current events are, isn’t it perhaps anxiety itself that has driven Americans to our current state?

When we are secure in our own well-being and sense of self, we are better at winning and losing graciously. We do a better job of looking out for others’ well-being because their well-being doesn’t feel like a threat against our own.

So how do we break the cycle? How do we help teens learn to regulate their emotions, and how do we teach them to be more empathetic?

The National Association of School Psychologists gave a press release in October 2020 on ensuring student well-being during the election. Although it’s framed in the context of school and the 2020 election, it’s one of the most comprehensive lists on shaping empathy and emotional well-being in kids and teens.

Here’s my general interpretation of their list.
Build a shared sense of community. It’s all about trust and respect: adult to adult; adult to teen; and everything in between.
Be the change. If you’re not, they won’t be either.
Help the people around you feel safe. No matter the political climate, no one deserves to feel marginalized or at risk.
Create an expectation of acceptance. Racism, systematic inequity or violence are never ok. Bullying is never ok.
Ask questions vs. leveling accusations or generalizing. Stay curious and encourage students to do the same.
Funnel interests and energy into positive actions. Taking action and helping others is empowering.

But how do we do that?

Dr. Lori Desautels, assistant professor at Butler University in Indianapolis, specializes in neuroscience in the classroom. She calls anxiety “our nation’s new learning disability” and is a strong advocate for co-regulation in the classroom, as well as explicitly teaching social-emotional skills.

Her methods are similar to Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) strategies and start with adults learning to calm their own anxieties in order to create a contagiously calm atmosphere. Instead of “managing” a household or a classroom, adults “co-regulate” emotions, equipping students with the skills they need to negotiate stressful situations and to learn.

The concept is not new, though it is easy to forget in the moment. By setting the example first and foremost, by “being the change,” we help those around us feel safe. We calm others’ state of “fight or flight” and set the groundwork for building trust and acceptance.

We can teach teens language to identify their emotions by responding to perceived defiance and arrogance with “That must feel very…” “This must make you feel…” “You sound so…” Desautels says instead of answering a complaint or encouraging their escalation, hear the feeling and mirror that. Wait for their response.
Using a 2×10 strategy strengthens trust and helps teens feel seen. Intentionally taking 2 minutes for 10 days in a row to ask about their passion or their lives is a game changer.
Creating a 5 to 10-minute ritual at the beginning or end of the period, interaction, or day creates ‘family privilege’ with teenagers. Because students live chaotic lives and often lack trust-worthy adults, working on mindfulness or Focused Attention Practices will support predictability and encourage a calm state.

When the stakes feel high, it’s hard. When we don’t feel that we have a network of people who help us co-regulate ourselves, whether at work or at home, it’s very hard. But it is essential work.

As parents, teachers and administrators, anxiety is a lion we must learn to tame daily with great intentionality. In doing so, we help position those entrusted to our care to thrive.



Kelly Fann

Kelly Fann

Marketing Assistant

Kelly has lived in three countries and worked with teens across the world, encouraging them to pursue their passions and to be kind. 

Mental Health in a Pandemic

Mental Health in a Pandemic

It’s September. As I type this it’s unseasonably cool, a wonderful 57 degrees. I’m drinking coffee in my office after dropping my kids off at school. And yet, I’m reminded by the mask next to me and the empty building. I’m literally the only person here. That life is still not “normal.” Six months in, we are still walking the tight rope between returning to a sense of normalcy and living in a pandemic. There are no simple answers, and everyone is making decisions based on what they believe to be best for their unique situation. Opinions are strong and stress levels are high.

As schools are starting, online or in-person, we are starting to see at Teen Life the impacts that life in the past six months have had on our students – the ones that live in our homes, go to our schools, and the ones we interact with on a regular basis. And honestly, it makes me stop and think about what we need to do now. Allow me to explain.

Today, I ran across an article on NPR stating what schools and experts have all been thinking for the past 6 months. Per the article, early studies suggest that “teen and youth anxiety and depression are getting worse since COVID lockdowns began in March.” In fact, the initial data collected between March and June 2020 indicated that for youth age 18 to 24, that 1 in 4 had “seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days.” Let me say that again 1 in 4. 25%.

But let me take it a little bit closer to home for some of us. Texas. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram posted this article in 2019 which references the CDC’s Texas High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey. In 2019, 18.9% of Texas high school students surveyed indicated they had seriously considered attempting suicide in the 12 months prior to the survey. 15% of students made a plan and 10% had made a suicide attempt. An astounding 38.3% of high school students in Texas felt sad or hopeless. Every statistic listed above is higher than the national average.

One more step. Let’s talk Fort Worth. Data from the same survey indicated that in 2019, 14.8% of high school students in Fort Worth had seriously considered attempting suicide in the 12 months prior to the survey. 12.6% of Fort Worth students had made a plan and 11.1% reported a suicide attempt. 33.5% of Fort Worth high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless. 1 in 3.

Those local numbers – that was before COVID. Before students were cut off from peers and other positive adult influences. Before the average of students seriously considering suicide, which Texas is consistently above, were estimated to jump to almost 25%.

The NPR Article makes a few suggestions and I’d like to summarize and expound on them here.

  1. Watch for red flags – Be on the lookout for sadness that persists for days, for anger that is uncommon for the student, for comments about wanting to disappear or indicating that no one cares.
  2. Check in regularly – It seems easy, but often is challenging when everyone else is always around. Be willing to listen to their thoughts and feelings. Don’t be afraid to ask directly if your student is considering self-harm or suicide.
  3. Look for opportunities for your student to interact – Maybe it’s sports, maybe at a job, maybe they can volunteer, maybe it’s allowing them space to interact with a mentor. Encourage your student to find a space to see peers and other positive role models.
  4. Seek help – If you are concerned about a student, ask for help. Find a therapist. Call a hotline number. Contact the school for a referral.

Mental health during a pandemic can’t be overlooked and it’s fitting that September is also National Suicide Prevention Month. Check in on your student. Check on your own mental health. Pay attention. What you do and your willingness to be active in students’ lives, can make a huge difference.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, reach out for help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255.

Beth Nichols

Beth Nichols

Program Director

With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, Beth’s perspective is invaluable. She has had the opportunity in both her personal and professional life to encounter youth from a variety of situations.
Ask Culture and Guess Culture

Ask Culture and Guess Culture

I was scrolling through a Facebook group recently and one of the members shared this Tumbler post. For the original post the author is referencing, see here. To summarize the post, someone who lives in New York has a friend asking to stay in his home. The first time he and his wife had a ready excuse. The second time, he’s asking for advice on how to say no to the request, and essentially what would be the nuances of rudeness in a direct NO versus another excuse.

There are the predictable myriad of comments ranging from “How could she?” to “What’s wrong with asking? Just say no.” One of my favorite comments is, “If you need an excuse, tell her you’re going out of town. If you need an honest excuse, go out of town.” Who actually goes out of town to avoid saying no?

Until one reader leaves this comment:

This is a classic case of Ask Culture meets Guess Culture.

In some families, you grow up with the expectation that it’s OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.

In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you’re pretty sure the answer will be yes. Guess Culture depends on a tight net of shared expectations. A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won’t even have to make the request directly; you’ll get an offer. Even then, the offer may be genuine or pro forma; it takes yet more skill and delicacy to discern whether you should accept.

All kinds of problems spring up around the edges. If you’re a Guess Culture person — and you obviously are — then unwelcome requests from Ask Culture people seem presumptuous and out of line, and you’re likely to feel angry, uncomfortable, and manipulated.

If you’re an Ask Culture person, Guess Culture behavior can seem incomprehensible, inconsistent, and rife with passive aggression.

Obviously she’s an Ask and you’re a Guess. (I’m a Guess too. Let me tell you, it’s great for, say, reading nuanced and subtle novels; not so great for, say, dating and getting raises.

Thing is, Guess behaviors only work among a subset of other Guess people — ones who share a fairly specific set of expectations and signaling techniques. The farther you get from your own family and friends and subculture, the more you’ll have to embrace Ask behavior. Otherwise you’ll spend your life in a cloud of mild outrage at (pace Moomin fans) the Cluelessness of Everyone.

As you read through the responses to this question, you can easily see who the Guess and the Ask commenters are. It’s an interesting exercise.

Mic drop.

The concept of Ask Culture and Guess Culture really struck a chord with me.

I have spent the vast majority of my life as a Guess. As a teenager, I very rarely conflicted with anyone, because I avoided all conversations that might result in a no or any other kind of conflict. My parents called me the “easy child.” Other parents praised them for my obedience. I lived with a low level of very well-concealed anxiety that had me taking prescription medications to calm my stomach for a period of time. Everyone blamed school and stress.

In hindsight though, in the context of this comment, I believe that a fair share of that internalized stress was a fear of risk. A fear of the unknown, of failure, of a NO.

My father used to say, “What’s the harm in trying? The worst that can happen is they say no.” And logically, I knew it was truth. But emotionally, it was terrifying.

The commenter is right. The farther I wandered from home, the more I was forced to learn to interact as an Ask, but it is a conscious decision every time. In my heart of hearts, I’d really rather wait until the answer is 99% Yes before we talk about it. The only real exception is when advocating for others. Somehow asking is easier when it doesn’t feel selfish, right?

As a parent, I’m with my dad. I want my kids to ask fearlessly and not to dwell on the No’s when they happen. I want every question to be valid and heard, even when it doesn’t produce the desired result. And even then, the balance between bulldozer and fearless self-advocate is essential. I don’t really want kids who ask for forgiveness instead of asking for permission. Ask respectfully, but ask away!

So moving forward with this new awareness of the two ways to view the world, I’m hoping to be more intentional about fostering an Ask Culture in my home, by validating and honoring requests, even when the answer is No. As a Guess though, I’m suddenly aware of what I’m modeling. Am I being overly cautious or am I just being polite?

What about your experience and Culture? Are you an Ask or a Guess? Is your spouse the same? Are your kids the same? How does it affect your household interactions? How does it affect your teens in school?

Tell me in the comments. I’m fascinated and I want to hear more! 

Kelly Fann

Kelly Fann

Marketing Assistant

Kelly has lived in three countries and worked with teens across the world, encouraging them to pursue their passions and to be kind.

Restorative Practices with Sarah Sampson

Restorative Practices with Sarah Sampson

Listen & Subscribe:  iTunes | Google Play | RSS


In this episode, Chris and Karlie talk to Sarah Sampson about the basics of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and Restorative Practices. Sarah gives some great insight into how to use belonging circles and sentence stems to have difficult conversations around race and privilege. She talks about some practical uses for restorative practices in the home and at school while also giving advice on how to advocate for SEL resources at your students’ schools.

Here are some good conversation starters:

  • A time I felt left out was…
  • I’m most conscious of my race when…
  • I cope with the difficulties race creates for me and others by…
  • I experience privilege by…
  • I make others feel more welcome by…
Remember, you don’t have to have all the answers – difficult conversations are uncomfortable. But it is important to empower teens to have these discussions by giving them a safe place to practice. Let’s give teenagers a place to grow and learn!


About Us:
Sarah Sampson is founder of Art of the Circle, an organization that provides trainings, consultation, experiences to schools, businesses, and individuals using circle practices based in Restorative Justice, Social-Emotional Learning, and Mindfulness. As the former Social-Emotional Learning Facilitator for Keller ISD, Sarah led the district-wide implementation of SEL and mindfulness-based activities for over 34,000 students. Sarah is trained in MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) through the UC San Diego Medical School. As a certified social-emotional learning, restorative practices, and yoga teacher, Sarah has developed training, curriculum and workshops to empower educators and humans of all kinds nation-wide.
Chris Robey is the CEO of Teen Life. Earlier in his career while working as a youth minister, Chris earned a Masters Degree in Family Life Education from Lubbock Christian University to better equip his work with teenagers and families. Chris’ career and educational opportunities have exposed him to teenagers from a variety of backgrounds. Follow him on Twitter!
Karlie Duke is Teen Life’s Marketing & Development Director, joining Teen Life after graduating from Abilene Christian University with a degree in Communications and a minor in Family Studies. Karlie has worked with teenagers for the past 10 years and is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram!
Have a question?
If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below.  We would love to hear from you!
5 Apps to Ask Your Teen About

5 Apps to Ask Your Teen About

Life has been crazy lately – especially for teenagers who are facing a school year full of unknown. But with disrupted summer plans, teens are spending more time online than ever before. They have had to go online for school, to talk to friends, to keep busy, and to stay connected to the world outside their homes.

If you’re like my family, screen-time limits have flown out the window, and we are all in survival mode to keep kids happy, entertained, and connected. It is understandable that expectations around devices are different right now, but one thing should remain the same – you should be talking to your kids about what they are viewing, watching, and downloading.

As adults, we need to help teenagers think critically about what they are consuming online. Here are a few areas where you can ask questions and engage your teen in conversation!

1. TikTok

This newer app is extremely popular with teens. If you haven’t heard of it, I would encourage you to do some research, but it is an app where users can create content (most are lip-synching videos) and watch other user-generated videos. It is fun and addictive, but many videos include adult language and content.

Ask teens if they have downloaded the app. Have they created videos? Who do they follow? Have any strangers tried to message them? What are their privacy settings?

2. Streaming Apps

There are a lot of streaming apps that have incredible content. Between Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO, Amazon Prime Video, Starz, and more, teenagers have endless choices of movies and tv shows to watch. While this opens up great options for family-friendly movies and educational shows, it also includes content that might be inappropriate for teens. There is not consistency among age-based content ratings, so do some research on what your teens are watching.

Ask some of these questions: What have you been watching lately? What do your friends like to watch? How do you know if a show or movie is appropriate to watch?

**You can also easily check the “recently watched” or “continue watching” lists to see what your teen is viewing.

3. Instagram

Instagram is not new, but it continues to be one of the most popular social media platforms for teens. It never hurts to check in on apps you know your teen has and loves, so start a conversation about Instagram! Encourage teens to follow accounts that will encourage and help them grow. It is easy to use Instagram as an unhealthy comparison game, but teens can choose who they follow and what content they digest.

Start by asking this: What Instagram accounts encourage you when you see their posts? Who do you follow that looks different than you? Is there anyone that you need to unfollow? How can you use your own Instagram to encourage others?

4. FaceTime/Zoom

Social-distancing guidelines are constantly changing, which might encourage teens to use video chat apps to connect with friends and family. This is a great way to stay in touch, play games virtually, or interact with friends “face-to-face”. However, since these apps are readily available on phones and computers, it can be tempting to use them inappropriately, especially if there is little adult supervision.

Check in by asking the following: Who do you talk to most often on FaceTime/Zoom? Has anyone asked you to do anything inappropriate while on video chat? What boundaries would help protect you while using video chat?

5. Gaming Apps

More time can also mean that teens will turn to gaming apps/consoles to keep their hands (and minds) busy. These can have cognitive and social benefits, but we should also encourage teens to find non-technology-related ways to occupy their time. Whether it is Candy Crush, Call of Duty, or Yahtzee, teens need to make sure their time is balanced.

What games do you like to play on your phone/gaming system? Have you checked your screen time lately? What could you do to lessen your screen time average by an hour this week? How else could you fill your time if you took a tech break for an hour every day?

Technology is incredibly helpful to learn, connect, grow, and entertain. The apps listed above are far from bad, but it is still important to be intentional about how we use our time. As we enter the last half of the summer, I hope you will look at your own tech usage and start conversations with your kids about how they can use technology to make a positive impact on their day!

Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Marketing & Development Director

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.